It’s been a bit husk-memoir-lite, lately, this blog, so I thought I’d retrieve a little episode from the 1980s from my mental archives. One I’ve been puzzling over recently, for no particular reason.
Here goes …
I’m working for an American company that publishes technical magazines. ‘European editorial office’, my card says (inaccurately), Boston being unwilling to fund anything more exact after their last experience of employing me. And, yes, the fraud, that’s me.
You see, as a journalist – I use the term loosely – I’m not too bad at researching, quite good at editing, but my knowledge of telecommunications – the main sector I cover – is what you might call basic.
Yet people keep sending me on trips to interesting places.
The only condition seems to be that I visit a factory or an exhibition or an army base (I also cover ‘defense’) or something. In return I stay in top hotels, eat fab meals and travel in little planes and chauffeur driven cars. Well, that’s on the good trips.
Knowing nothing – or not much – might be a serious handicap, you’d think, but actually it’s not. Kind colleagues often help me out. They know I work on a monthly, across the Atlantic. That my work flies out in bundles every Wednesday – and it’ll be ages before my report’s in print, if ever.
In other words, I’m no competition. And we all go out drinking together, anyway.
Odd things sometimes happen. And on this trip, they do.
We stayed last night in a hotel in Stockholm, but today we’re on an overnight ferry, to Finland. To a place called Turku.
Now, you may read that word, Turku, any way you like, but for me it’s forever a sound. It comes in the sentence, ‘Welcome to the Turku Telephone Company,’ spoken in a hoarse, gruff voice. Barely more than a whisper, but deep and loud.
Each word bounces along like a rubber ball.
The man speaking has a tremendous white moustache. And a twinkle in his eye.
He explains why his voice is so gruff. It’s permanent and – I may be making this up – something to do with World War II and the shortage of medicines.
Mr Gruff tells us lots about telecommunications in Finland. Details I soon forget – like everything technical thing about this trip. Even the scoop that my friend from Electronics Weekly picks up while we’re having after-dinner drinks with a Top Boffin.
Never mind. By the time my deadline comes around her report will be out, I can read it.
The roofs of Turku have a quaint charm and there’s much to see and buy in the indoormarket – but soon we’re leaving it behind, heading for a castle.
There we drink lingonberry champagne and snack on smoked reindeer canapés. And say farewell to Turku.
At the airport, later that day, I invest in a bottle of Finnish vodka and a pack of smoked reindeer to take home.
But what about the naked man, you ask?
Strictly speaking he’s already happened. A couple of nights back, in Stockholm. I kept him to last to entice you to read on.
So, to Stockholm …
I’m in a rather smart hotel, in my room, at night. A knock comes on the door.
Outside stands a naked man.
‘I’m on the press trip,’ he says, probably seeing how blank my face is (I’m trying hard to keep it that way), ‘I locked myself out of my room.’
He has a heavily accented voice, seems a bit agitated.
‘Please can you ring reception, ask someone to open my door?’
Of course I say yes. Offer him a cushion to cover his – embarrassment. He gives me his room number and I shut the door on him, leaving him out in the hall.
I can’t say anything quite like this has happened to me before.
Next morning we’re waiting for a coach and I’m chatting to Della and Bob, a couple of British journalists. A man wearing glasses taps me on the shoulder.
‘Thank you for last night,’ says the man, sotto voce.
For a moment I’m puzzled, then recognition dawns.
‘Oh, sorry, ’I say, in my normal everyday voice, ‘ I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.’ Then, being a polite person, I add, ‘You’re welcome.’
He scurries off. Della and Bob look at me. I explain to a burst of semi-muffled sniggering.
I know it’s hard to believe – especially me saying that – but, honestly, it’s true.
Anyway – here we are, now, in 2015 and I’m talking about this event. To my husband.
‘You know,’ I say, ‘I’ve always wondered why he got locked out of his room. And how he knew … You don’t think …?’
Husband shakes head. Looks like he’s thinking, oh dear, oh dear.
‘Of course I do.’
Those were the days.