No introductions, at the airport Sharon marched up to me, ‘Sorry John, but we’ve got trouble. My sister, who’s got a few problems, has been arrested by the Guardia Civil. We all had too much to drink at Gatwick, and she had a row with her son-in-law.
On board we got split up, their seats were up the front. Apparently it developed into a fight, and as a result they’ve arrested my sister. We’ve sent Mark to sort it out’. Mark it transpired was the family’s ‘sensible’ 14 year old son.
It was two o’clock in the morning at Alicante airport. Back in April 2001 a family of five Londoners had booked our villa in La Marina for the first two weeks of September 2001: Then she rang again – could her problem sister, ‘who needed a holiday’ also come please, John? Later she rang again – could La Problema’s grown-up daughter, her partner and their baby also stay? ‘No way’ was the answer, but there was a one-bedroomed place nearby available so I agreed.
Where airport transport was needed I used a lovely old boy called Ted, 75 going on 39. He could take six in his people-carrier, and I could take the other three. In the holiday rental business I was more used to harassed Mums & Dads with excited youngsters. Families were our business – but not this sort.
Mark returned talking deportation of La Problema straight back. All then started arguing fiercely amongst themselves, firmly split into two camps. One was led by the skin-headed, tattooed husband of Sharon: ‘C’mon, let’s go, leave ‘er ‘ere – ‘ope they send ‘er back, she’s always trouble!’ .This attitude was directly opposed to a kindlier element, led by sister Sharon taking the view: ‘No, we came as a family – we stay as a family’.
Mark then returned saying the police were releasing La Problema uncharged. Her daughter, whose partner had apparently had the onboard fight with his mother-in-law suggested strongly to me that I immediately took the three of them away and Ted could then safely bring the rest.
After dropping the couple and little one in the other house Ted then arrived and I was able to observe the cause of the trouble. With a wild frizzy, orange perm the woman looked as though she had been to the electric chair and survived, crumpled clothes, lipstick and make-up smudged all over her unhappy, lined face. She said nothing, glaring round at everyone. I told Sharon firmly for them to all get to bed and that I would come back tomorrow.
The next morning with a heavy heart I mounted the patio steps. Calling Sharon, I suddenly jumped out of my skin as something moved near my feet, Somehow outside I missed seeing the sleeping body of La Problema, who was curled up like a dog on a beach towel.
Sharon came out and explained no-one was up yet, could I please come back in two hours? When I returned again I found out I had narrowly missed the first cabaret. Apparently the daughter and partner had got up with their child, and set off to explore their surroundings. On spotting the prone sleeper the row kicked off again, but this time in a new twist it involved mother and daughter rolling around screaming, swearing, fighting, scratching and kicking in front of their new utterly bemused neighbours.
La Problema demanded that I book her on the next plane home. Trying to keep cool, through gritted teeth I pointed out that I was not a travel agent and if she intended to stay in my house, she had better drastically improve her behaviour. Sharon apologised, assuring me that all would now be well. La Problema was ushered away to sleep it off while I outlined the facilities – secretly wishing they would all go home there and then.
For the next fortnight I felt like I was walking on thin ice. They were the talk of the neighbours, other holidaymakers and local shops and bars. Nearby was the large communal swimming pool and it appeared they were an almost daily family entertainment act with their language, fights and noisy daily rows.
I kept a very low profile, wincing every time the phone went, and slowly the two weeks passed. The saintly Ted ferried them around to beaches and local places of interest, and eventually, at last the great day for their departure came. As they had a night flight again I called round earlier to check the pick-up: Mark came running out of the house when he saw me.
‘Hey, John ‘eard the news ?
‘No, what news?’ I was instantly wary.
‘Well apparently two planes have hit the Twin Towers in New York – all flights round the world have been stopped!’ I felt the blood drain from my body. ‘You mean…. ALL flights?’
‘That’s what they’re saying!’
For the rest of the day and throughout the evening I held my breath as the world, New York apart, began to slowly return to normal, Yes, at last, they eventually went in the middle of the night, much to my enormous relief, still arguing amongst themselves at the airport. Oh yes, I remember Nine Eleven…
Three years ago my wife and I visited America and were awestruck at the ground-level Nine-Eleven memorial in New York on the site of the Twin Towers that were destroyed. It has all the victims names inscribed on marble all around the huge water feature, and flowers are placed there on their birthdays. It was very moving – but I have my own memories of that awful day during ‘The Rental Years’ as I call them.