by Michael Bloor
(first published in The Fiction pool, sept 22nd 2017)
Not many holidaymakers know about La Gomera: it’s one of the smaller Canary Islands and doesn’t have an international airport. We go there to walk in the mysterious cloud forest and we only rarely bump into fellow-tourists, so we were quite shocked to bump into Mr and Mrs Angela Merkel (he’s called Joachim).
The cloud forest is a wonderful place: four thousand feet up, on the slopes of an extinct volcano, it’s an unlikely survivor from the Jurassic Era. Tall laurels and tree heathers (yes, heathers that are trees!) provide a thick forest canopy, so there is very little undergrowth to impede hikers and there are plenty of old donkey trails to follow. The wild flowers are striking (gigantic dandelions, wild geraniums), but what really attracts us is the feel of the cloud forest, or the ‘laurisilva’ to give it its proper name. There are gentle mists that deaden sound, carpets of moss, and hanging lichens. Bit by bit, the ancient forest enfolds you and, belief suspended, you half-seriously start to explore for… secret things. This is a forest kinder than a lover, wiser than a book.
Tucked comfortably into some mossy tree roots, Dorothy and I were just finishing our lunch, when we noticed a burly, bearded guy silently staring at us some twenty yards down the track. Out of the mist behind him emerged a middle-aged couple with walking poles. The three of them advanced towards us; the couple were smiling, Beardie was not.
‘Bloody Ell, it’s Angela Merkel!’ The words were out before I knew I’d said them. Dorothy and I simultaneously gabbled an apology. We both feared a diplomatic incident. But Joachim (as we later learned to call him) laughed and waved his hands:
‘Please, no apology is necessary. It happens quite a lot.’
Angela smiled and nodded, ‘How are you enjoying the laurisilva? So peaceful here, is it not? I think it’s the most peaceful place on Earth.’ We forgot our awkwardness as we joined in an international hymn of praise to La Gomera. And Dorothy eventually went so far as to offer to share the remains of our lunch:
‘We were just going to spread some Gomeran palm syrup on biscuits…’
She dived into the rucksack and Beardie’s hand darted into his gilet. Too late, Angela snapped: ‘Lass es, Helmut!’ Dorothy and Beardie stared at each other – Dorothy holding a glass jar of palm syrup, and Beardie holding an automatic pistol. It was now Angela and Joachim’s turn to apologise. Dorothy started to laugh, rather hysterically, and suddenly we all became friends (not Beardie/Helmut, he respectfully retreated into the middle distance). It turned out that Angela and Joachim shared our enthusiasm for the sweet-and-savoury palm syrup, miele de palme. Between the four of us, we got through most of Dorothy’s small jar. Angela told us that so many young Gomerans were leaving the island for jobs in Tenerife that there were fewer and fewer islanders agile enough to climb their palm trees to tap the syrup. It seemed to us a sad symptom of what was a truly international crisis: I mentioned the disappearance of Derbyshire black puddings and Dorothy was very eloquent on the subject of Ayrshire new potatoes, grown on seaweed.
In this maudlin mood, sated with palm syrup, Dorothy mentioned Brexit. This might have been thought tactless as Angela was on holiday, but she didn’t mind a bit. Lying flat-out on a mossy bank, hands behind her head, she stared up at a giant dandelion, and said dreamily: ‘I do not know Mrs May very well, but I feel so sorry for her. David Cameron has passed onto her a very poor poker hand and left her sitting in front of a very big mirror…’ She paused, ‘Tell me what has become of Mr Cameron?’
‘There was a story in the paper, the day we left the UK. He’s just spent twenty-five thousand pounds on a posh garden shed, where he’s going to write his memoirs.’
Joachim snorted with disbelief: ‘He is going to write a book about how he accidentally dumped the UK out of Europe?’
This seemed to me a rather quaint way of putting the matter, but I couldn’t disagree with it. We drifted off to other topics –the secretive forest, the Fred Olsen Line and Joachim’s lack of any grey hairs. But the Brexit discussion had unsettled me. When we parted, a little later, we shook hands and I muttered quietly, so that Beardie/Helmut couldn’t hear: ‘If the Brexit thing doesn’t work out for us, Angela. Will you please let us back in?’
She patted my hand, smiled and said, ‘Of course, that would be lovely.’
Dorothy and I talked things over afterwards and we decided that the responsible thing to do would be to write a letter to Boris Johnson. A distinguished gentleman from the Foreign Office eventually came to record an interview with us. At the end of the interview, I said I’d like to tell the story to a wider audience, would that be OK? He paused at our front door, iPhone in hand.
He said: ‘You know, a poet wrote that a good story is a pearl spun around the grit of a truth.’