read through a page and a half of Rod Liddle while devoting his mind entirely to Trubshawe and his cohorts on the Costas.
It would be good to see Juan again. They had last met at an international conference on carcinogens in processed food which had been held in Helsinki two years earlier. Picasso and Bognor had enjoyed a substantial dinner of minced elk and herring lubricated with akvavit and Pilsner. They had talked about art and football and life. The old Admiral held political attitudes to the right of the former caudillo and made no secret of the fact that he would have liked Franco or a lookalike to continue in unchallenged office for ever and a day. Bognor, by contrast, regarded himself as a man of the enlightened centre-left. Despite this, the two men seemed to have much in common; being essentially civilized, cultivated men who enjoyed reading books, listening to classical music, eating good food and drinking good wine. The minced elk and herring and the raw spirits and icy beer didnât really come into that category, but they were both reasonably gastronomically adventurous, as well as having a relaxed and non-judgemental attitude to life and their fellow man.
âLive and let live,â Bognor had said, a touch woozily, as he raised his schnapps shot in the general direction of his friend, the retired Admiral. The âAdmiralâ title which preceded Picassoâs name was something of a mystery and he never mentioned the sea or ships. Bognor wondered vaguely if it was an honorific title which went with the job, so that the head of trade investigations at the Guardia Civil was always called âAdmiralâ in the same way that the boss of Scotland Yard Social was always called âffiennesâ, or a certain sort of old-fashioned nanny was commonly designated âMrsâ as a concession to her status, whether she was married or not.
Madrid airport had been âimprovedâ since Bognor was last in Spain. A modern architect of the Rogers-Grimshaw school had obviously been at work, so the place was now enormous, took a long time to walk through and had not a straight line in sight.
Harvey Contractor joined them at the carousel and Bognor noticed a striking blonde of a certain age and confident, mature allure wander off to the toilets. She was wearing a politically incorrect coat. Real fur, Lady Bognor declared. A few minutes later she was back, pouting a little obviously, at the emerging suitcases. She was wearing a figure-hugging black trouser suit and jangly rocks. The fur coat had vanished. Bognor frowned and pondered. It was definitely suspicious and the woman had all the appearance of a high-class courtesan involved in some sort of smuggling scam. At the end of the day, however, it was none of his business. He decided to say nothing, just waited for the luggage to appear, wheeled it away with his wife, smiled at the customs officials and at the driver sent to greet them by Admiral Picasso.
The car was a Mercedes; the chauffeur wore a dark-blue suit, white shirt and striped tie. His English was unaccented and fluent. Contractor sat in the front alongside him; the Bognors lent back in the rear of the vehicle and inhaled the smell of leather. Class distinctions were still applying. They would share a hotel but Contractor would have a bog-standard single; the Bognors a mini-suite.
Spain rolled past outside the tinted glass windows. She had moved on amazingly in Bognorâs lifetime, but remained the most impenetrable of foreign neighbours. The Spanish capital had taken on a sense of style. The women had become svelte and soignÃ©e and the men well-groomed. When Bognor first encountered them the Spanish were drab. He thought of the women in black shapeless smocks and the men in blue overalls. That canât have been entirely true but it was how he remembered them. In those days the British had looked down on them, regarding them as third-world peasantry from a backward sad