Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Friday, January 06, 2006

Maxwell's Last Hours … Alan Thompson visits Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

I TOOK a New Year sunshine holiday break to Tenerife to recharge the batteries over the holiday period. I deliberately booked an up-market hotel complex outside the brash resort of Playa de las Americas. If – like me – you detest loud, noisy, lager lout infested neon-lit costa style resorts, Santa Cruz the capital of Tenerife and the Canary Islands, is well worth a visit.

I have for years now been interested in the life of the late disgraced publishing tycoon, Robert Maxwell. Having recently re-read two outstanding books on the subject ‘Maxwell: The Outsider’ and ‘Maxwell: The Final Verdict’ both by author Tom Bower, I decided it would be interesting to retrace his final steps before he boarded his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine for the last time in November 1991. What happened to Maxwell between that and his body being found at sea 24 hours later has remained a mystery ever since, and has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories.

I decided to stroll to the Hotel Mencey. The beautiful and elegant early twentieth century Hotel is where Maxwell had his last meal. I took the scenic route along the waterfront, the Avenida Jose Antonio Primo De Rivera. As I turned left to ascent I stumbled upon what is now a rarity in Spain; a massive statue of the former Head of State, El Caudillo himself, General Francisco Franco. The statue shows Franco in heroic pose with a massive sword on an angel type figure. The statue has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. It is surrounded by weeds and has obviously been uncleaned for years. This is probably a prelude to its eventual removal. It was only last year that the authorities removed the last remaining statue in Madrid. The Franco connection, and probably the reason the statue has survived, is very strong. It was from Tenerife, whilst Governor of the Canary Islands that Franco began the insurgency that would engulf Spain in a bitter and bloody civil war.

I arrived at the Hotel and entered through the huge entrance, being nodded to enthusiastically by the commissonaire on the door. The hotel oozed both class and splendour, a world away from the ugly concrete hotel creations that have been thrown up all over the island during the last forty years. I proceeded to the bar, past the vast reception, by this time gasping for a beer after the long walk up the hill. The hotel bar manager Leonardo duly served me the most expensive bottle of beer of my entire holiday stay. I asked him how long he had worked at the hotel and he replied twenty years. I said that that the hotel was mentioned in the book I was reading about Robert Maxwell. “Ah, Maxwell” Leonardo responded, “I was on duty that night and served Maxwell. He came in and enquired were the restaurant was and I showed him to it while his associate waited at the bar”. Leonardo then took me from the bar along a high marble veranda, though the restaurant door and showed me where Maxwell had sat. “He was served by Sergio Rodriguez. Hake, if I remember correctly” added Leonardo. “He then re-entered the bar ordered himself and his associate another beer and he stood right there” said Leonardo showing me the exact spot at the bar. “Maxwell then bid me farewell and joined the taxi driver who had waited in the reception area, Sergio then came running from the restaurant with Maxwell’s jacket which he had forgotten. He thanked Sergio and then left”. It was from there that Maxwell’s taxi driver took him to The Olimpyo, a coffee house/restaurant where he had one coffee before returning to the Lady Ghislaine. After thanking Leoanardo I jumped in a taxi to return to the city centre for a coffee in the Olimpyo and a spot of shopping.

The taxi, because of the one way system in operation at first headed away from the city centre back down the hill from whence I had came and swung right, past Franco’s statue. As I gazed at it for a second time the taxi driver, who had already asserted that I spoke English pointed at it and said meekly “Franco”, then without warning, he screamed “BASTA …DDDDDDD!” at the top of his voice. He then broke into a frenzied loud laugh as I landed back on my seat after nearly going through the roof. He continued laughing loudly. As I got out of the taxi and paid the driver he was still laughing, a man obviously happy at his work. I gazed at the Olimpyo coffee house, then walked over sat down in the sun and ordered a coffee. The restaurant is in the shade of the massive Civil War Memorial, which stands in the Plaza de Espana. It was unveiled in 1946 to mark the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Civil war. Again this memorial is in decline, with graffiti scrawled on it. This was the only graffiti to be seen anywhere in an otherwise spotlessly tidy city.

As I finished my coffee I couldn’t help thinking what must have been going through Maxwell’s mind as he finished his. His empire was teetering on financial meltdown, only his sheer force of presence had delayed the inevitable. His plundering of the pension funds would be exposed. He could no longer buy silence. He would be disgraced, possible gaoled. At nearly 70 there would be no way back, not even for Robert Maxwell.

I strolled over to the Calle del Castillo, the main shopping mall and after gathering some bargains I then hailed a taxi to return me to the southern part of the Island. Thankfully, the taxi didn’t pass Franco’s statue.

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