Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

One of our clients left his mobile phone in the security area of Malaga airport during the very zealous body and shoe searches that they carry out prior to boarding these days. He wrote to us and asked if we would be in the Malaga area in the next few weeks and if so could we pick it up for him. As luck would have it, Carmen wanted to make yet another trip to IKEA and this would be a good excuse for me to do something else other than follow here around the store gradually losing the will to live. So I told the client that it wouldn’t be a problem and congratulated myself quietly on a crafty body-swerve.

Came the appointed day and after dropping Aya off at the school bus we made our way down to Malaga, not too bad a drive as it is all motorway, but I have recently developed a phobia about Spanish motorway road signs and could be heard deriding them all the way there. I love the one that says that you must keep one hundred metres between vehicles. That means that only ten vehicles are allowed per lane per kilometre. As there are two lanes, that brings it up to twenty vehicles every kilometre and it is enforced for sixty kilometres. So inbound to Malaga, a city of seven hundred thousand, there are only twelve hundred vehicles allowed on that sixty kilometre of road. Impossible, but you can bet your boots that the Guardia Civil Trafico will fine you if you break their code. There are myriad road signs on the motorway, prompting thoughts that the road planners work on a commission basis with the road-sign makers. Probably they are related.

We arrived at IKEA and had the obligatory breakfast of bacon butties, the only thing that makes the trip tolerable for me, and I soft-shoe shuffled off to the airport.   There my troubles began. The only car park available was about three hundred metres from the entrance to the terminal and once inside, after asking just about every staff member on duty, I was directed to the Lost Property department, as far away as it is possible to get from the terminal entrance. I must add here that I confused everyone I asked, and unknowingly gave the correct name to the task I had set myself. How? Spanish for Lost Property is ‘Objetos perdidos,’ and I was asking for ‘Objetivos perdidos,’ which roughly translated means ‘Lost causes.’ And so it nearly proved to be.

I knew as soon as I approached the desk that I was in for the long haul. The man behind the counter was as big a jobswuth as it is possible to get. He appeared to be a Neanderthal, put there to guard the treasure trove of lost property in his cave, and to make it as difficult as possible for the genuine owners retrieve their belongings. This wasn’t the first time that the phone had been asked for, the client’s brother-in-law had been there the week before and had had no luck, and I saw why. I had all the paperwork necessary, and there was plenty of that. I had an email authorising me to collect, a copy of the original claim form, a photocopy of the owner’s passport, my identity card and pages of emails relating to the lost phone, and I speak Spanish.

‘I’ve come to collect a phone, here is the paperwork,’ I said.

He shuffled through the paperwork and said,

‘There’s no photocopy of your ID card.’

‘I have my ID card here, you can make a photocopy with that machine by your right hand, it’s a photocopier.’

‘Can’t do that, it’s only for office use.’

‘This is office use, you need a photocopy for your files.’

‘But you have to make it’

‘Open the door and I will’

‘You can’t come in here.’

‘Where’s your boss?’

’OK, I’ll make a photocopy.’

Photocopying was done and then;

‘We’ve got lots of lost phones here.’

‘This is a lost property office, I expect you have. It’s a black and silver Nokia.’

‘We’ve got lots of black and silver Nokias.’

‘Here is the lost property report with all the details.’

‘How am I supposed to find the right phone without a reference number?’

‘You give all lost items a reference number, look in your files. You haven’t sent the reference number to the person who lost the phone. It’s not in the paperwork.’

‘When was it lost?’

‘Twenty-fifth of January this year, look in your records for that date.’

‘Uh?’

‘Open the log for 25 January.’

‘We don’t have a log, everything is on the computer.’

‘Well, search the computer for 25 January and then look for Nokias.’

‘Right.’

Ten minutes of looking at the back of his head and then, ‘Here’s the reference number you want.’

‘I don’t want it, you need it to get the phone. Can you go and get it, please?’

‘It’s not here, it is in the warehouse.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘Here’s a map.’

The warehouse was on the other side of the airfield, but to get to it you had to leave the airport in the opposite direction and retrace your steps to pass under a tunnel and go into the vortex which is the baggage area of the airport. Having worked in Customs I know these make the Labyrinth a walk in the park.

While he had been trying to find a reference number I had noticed a wad of papers on his desk entitled ‘Atomic Structures.’ It was written in English and so as soon as I had the reference number I asked him if he was reading them. He replied that he was, his eyes lit up, the sloping forehead miraculously assumed an Einstein configuration and a smile beamed out from the hitherto sullen countenance. I asked him if was reading for a degree and he replied that he had just finished his degree in Food Sciences. Here at last was someone who was interested in him and realised his worth. We had a chat about this and that, he was now a completely different chap and I decided not make the comment that had been formulating in my head about part of his course involving putting his brain through a mincer and instead asked what he was doing working in a Lost Property office.

‘There’s no work in my field of expertise,’ he replied.

This. sadly, is the problem with a lot of students these days, here in Spain. They are qualified up to the eyeballs and can find no work. So, having gained a degree, they go on to do a Masters and then possibly a Ph. D. And there are no plumbers or bricklayers to be found.

I digress. I followed the map to the south then did a one-eighty on a roundabout and headed north, under the tunnel and into the mass of hangars, warehouses and plant that lies behind the efficient running of an airport. The nearest I could get to the building I needed was five hundred metres so I walked across numerous other plots until I found it. There was a large notice on the door proclaiming that it was closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I thanked my lucky stars that it was Thursday. I approached the counter with trepidation. There were two more jobswuth’s there and they couldn’t decide who was going to talk to me. They stood there with their heads bowed and silently studied their steel toe-capped industrial workboots. I eventually broke the stalemate and spoke to one of them and he passed me on to his workmate. Fifty-fifty chance Ron, and you get it wrong, I thought. I gave him the reference number and he asked for all the relevant paperwork again. He scrutinised it and I asked him if he spoke English. He didn’t and so I translated for him. It could have been any old rubbish, he wouldn’t have known. He was so obviously confused as to what he had to do that I began to wonder if I was the first person ever to have got this far in an attempt to reclaim an item of lost property. My chest swelled a little and I looked around for hidden cameras. He led me off to an office in a restricted part of the warehouse and sat me at a desk and told me not to move. I started getting twitchy. Head bent, he started single-finger typing on his computer. Goodness only knows what he was doing, he had the reference number, he had all the relevant paperwork, all he had to do was give the phone to me, get me to sign for it and I would have been on my way. But no, he continued to tickle the keyboard and then ceremoniously picked up the phone and called a minion, if there was anyone lower that he on the minion scale. A chap appeared and the whole process began again, scrutinising of indecipherable paperwork and then he disappeared for a full thirty minutes and returned with a plastic evidence bag with the correct reference number on the outside and a black and silver Nokia inside.

‘Is this the one?’ he asked.

‘Yes it is,’ I replied, not really knowing whether it was or not, never having seen it in the flesh before. But it fitted the owner’s description and the reference numbers tallied, so I took it and hoped for the best.

‘Can you sign on that electronic pad, please?’ I was asked.

So I did, and nothing seemed to be happening, so I did it again and again and then the man staring at the screen said.

‘You have a very long name.’

‘Yes, I have,’ I replied, took the phone and made my way back to the calm and sense of order that IKEA is blessed with, in spite of its dreariness.

A day of Lost Causes indeed!