So, we last left our intrepid travellers landing in Buenos Aires as night descended with no phone and no directions as to where to go. Would Liz and I be alright? Or would we be left to wander the streets forlornly looking for help?
Of course not. I was just being artificially dramatic to create a cliffhanger ending in the style of the best Brazilian soap operas which play on their TV channels for most of the evening.
Liz had a phone and, in any case, trusty Mariano, my Argentinian friend and collaborator, was there at the airport to meet us.
We were therefore safely ferried to our hotel, bags were dropped, faces were refreshed and off we set to pick up a newly arrived and very much jet lagged Alex, multi instrumentalist and vocalist from the Big Heads. We passed by the rehearsal room to say hello to Dave Grohl lookalike Tomas of The Mamushkas, and Juan and Jose from local legends Katarro Vandaliko, who were lending extremely able backing on guitars and drums for the following gigs in Argentina and Uruguay.
They played us a couple of songs and all was extremely reassuring. Hugs all round and, very worryingly, Alex was starting to assimilate the local culture at an alarming rate by joining in with the custom of kissing male colleagues. Admittedly, there were no tongues involved and the manoeuvre was lips to bearded cheek, but – still not to be encouraged.
Male bonding achieved off we went. It was 10.30 at night and Alex who, even when not knackered, could sleep on a high wire strung between two skyscrapers, was coerced into finding something to eat. As the food was ordered in the bustling restaurant Mariano’s phone rang. “It’s a radio show”, he said. “They want to know if you will do a telephone interview now”. “Does the DJ speak English?”‘ I asked. “They want to do it in Spanish”, was the reply.
Now languages are one of my hobbies. I hate going anywhere and not being able to converse. At the same time I love the greater understanding that a little comprehension brings as you learn how people express themselves. So, I have a completely misleading grasp of French, German, Spanish and, many would say, English. Misleading in that I can appear to be conversant in a language while having no idea what people are talking about.
“I’ll give it a go, then” was my foolhardy response and Mariano passed me his phone.
Liz, meanwhile, was completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to conduct a radio interview in a foreign language and all she could see was that I was carrying on the completely unacceptable social practice of talking very loudly on a mobile phone in a restaurant. There was only one appropriate response to this and that was to strike up a very loud conversation with Alex to make it difficult for me to hear whoever I was talking to and so stop at once!
And so the interview began. Against a background of a bustling restaurant enhanced by marital misunderstanding the interviewer fired off his first question at machine gun speed. I had not a clue what he’d said. “Que?” Was my Manuelesque response and so the question was repeated. Again, not the slightest shred of comprehension on my part. Panic set in and quick action was required if British honour was not to be lost. I said what came into my head. “Yes, I am delighted to be back in Argentina and really looking forward to playing here again”.
There was stunned silence at the other end of the line. A silence which quite eloquently conveyed the message “what on earth is this half wit doing talking about that, when we’ve asked him something of far greater import?”.
And so a second question was ventured. Again, quite inaudible and unintelligible against the restaurant and wifely din, but a question which clearly contained the words “Margaret Thatcher”, who had died that day.
I had long ago discovered that, as an Englishman, discussing anything to do with “The Malvinas” in Argentina is best avoided, especially by telephone from a crowded restaurant on FM radio in a language which is not your first, in answer to a question not understood in the first place. It was then that I pulled my master stroke.
“I’m very sorry”, I said, ” but I can’t understand a word you are saying because my wife is sitting beside me and won’t stop talking in my ear”.
There was audible relief at the other end of the line from the two male members of the team who collapsed into gales of laughter. They were not dealing with a half wit and normality was restored by means of a macho cliche: the wife who won’t stop talking. Very unfair on Liz and, not for the first time, she had come riding to my rescue by taking the blame for a scrape I had got myself into by overestimating the extent of my abilities.
The aural equivalent of back slapping commiserations were conveyed down the phone and the interview proceeded in English, with no further mention of Margaret Thatcher nor anything connected to military skirmishes in the South Atlantic.
Disaster averted and normality restored: Englishmen conversing in English, the rest of the world joining in, and not a hint of men kissing each other on the cheek.