WHEN Jon Clarke strode into our lives I immediately knew that nothing would be the same again.
His initial communiqué arrived in the form of an email stating matter-of–factly that he had picked up a copy of The Olive Press at Granada Airport and, upon reading it, had been overcome by the feeling that we were in desperate need of his help.
He was, he said, a Fleet Street journalist who now lived in Ronda, several hours’ drive to the west of the Alpujarras.
He also informed us that he would make his way over to us as a matter of urgency to discuss how he could help us.
It was a warm March day as we waited for him in the shade of an olive tree in the car park a few days later. A car approached along the valley and even though it was far off, I had an intuitive feeling that it was Jon.
Marcus began to fidget and grind at the coins in his trouser pockets with his clenched fists like he always did when he was nervous.
Several minutes passed before the battered Subaru swung into the campsite car park and eased into the only available slot, which was marked ‘Private: No Parking’.
Physically tall, Jon was wearing a crumpled cotton jacket, blue jeans and scuffed shoes.
“These bloody roads,” he spat, adding: “It’s beautiful round here, but there’s no way my wife would let me live here, it’s far too remote.”
It wasn’t long though before he paid us another visit and we sat with him in the town’s pizzeria, which had a splendid garden filled with orange trees.
He sat down and – just as he had done when we first met him – pulled out the latest copy of The Olive Press from his leather case, slapping it on the table between us.
I couldn’t fail to notice that – once again – it was covered in more red ink and scribbles.
“The newspaper is great,” he started out.
“But,” he continued. There was always going to be a but, “you chaps are still not bold enough with your headlines!”
I squinted at the paper to see what he meant.
“Exactly,” he exclaimed. “Look, I know a thing or two about what makes a hit and what makes a miss. Tiny headlines and weak captions look like failure to me.
“You see this caption?”
It was a story about a local girl who had been injured by a wild boar during a fiesta. There was a stock photo of a boar and a caption: “The girl sustained injuries in the attack.”
“That’s weak,” said Jon, pointing at the much-abused newspaper.
“The headline should be ‘BEAUTY SAVAGED BY BEAST – VILLAGE IN SHOCK’ and it would be in bold caps in 90 Times Roman.
“And if they hadn’t caught it, I’d have a close-up of some snarling teeth and ‘WANTED: HELL BEAST ON THE LOOSE’.”
“Hmm,” I said, taking a sip of wine.
We went through the whole newspaper in this way. By the time we’d finished, Jon had demolished The Olive Press, making it seem like the most inept attempt at a newspaper in the history of mankind.
“But don’t mind me,” he finished, “the story’s still great… and it’s up to you whether you use me or not.”
Battling a Blair Babe
It was a battle between the time-worn rural ways and a puffed up, arrogant British MP – the Olive Press jumped into action
I opened the door and Jake, one of our distributors, burst through it and made for the sofa where he sat panting and groaning like a wounded animal.
I stared at him, not really knowing what to say. He was covered in dirt and looked like he’d been dragged down a barranco backwards.
“What the hell happened?” I asked. I hoped he hadn’t had some kind of accident while delivering newspapers; insurance was one luxury we couldn’t afford.
He continued breathing heavily for a moment and then, eyes aflame, he let loose.
“That cow!” he said. “She’s out to get me. She thinks she can just walk all over people and get away with it. She’s destroying my life! Everything I’ve worked for is ruined!”
“Whoa,” I said, trying to make sense of what he was saying.
“Who are you talking about?”
Jake began pacing around the office, rigid with anger.
“Five years I spent building that house. Five years! I put everything I had into it. I worked on it day and night and put all my money into it. All my money!” he said practically in tears.
“But what’s happened to your house? Who’s done this?”
Jake fixed me with his red-rimmed eyes, and his voice had dropped almost to a growl. “Margaret Moran. Have you heard of her? The bane of my life.”
I confessed that I’d never heard of her. ‘Why should I’, I asked?
“She’s a politician. A Labour MP. My MP back in England, as it happens. I moved here to Spain to escape her kind of scum but she’s following me.
“She’s got it in for me, she’s trying to destroy me.”
With that he sank down on the sofa again and began to sob. After a moment he looked up, the dust on his face now muddied by the tracks of his tears.
“She’s cut me off from my house. Stuck a note on my motorbike telling me I can’t access my own land even though it’s a public right of way.”
“So?” I said. “Can’t you just ignore it? And anyway, what’s a Labour MP doing down here in deepest, darkest Andalucia?”
Jake took a shuddering deep breath and composed himself.
“She’s got heavies down there. A paid mob. That path is a public right of way, has been for centuries. It’s not just me, there are several of us cut off now. She says she doesn’t want anyone walking near her property so she’s building a wall or something to keep us out.”
A dispute between neighbours was what it seemed like. I sympathised with Jake; after all, I knew both him and his wife reasonably well.
They had two children, with another on the way, and we’d been giving him free adverts in the paper for his mini-digger service in return for some distribution work.
A thought occurred to me. “How do you know it was her that wrote the note? Maybe it was just one of the campesinos, God knows enough of them have got it in for foreigners.”
“Oh yeah?” he said “and where would a peasant get hold of some House of Commons headed notepaper and learn to write in English?”
This sounded too incredible to be true.
“What, so she’s writing messages ordering you off your own property in a foreign country on House of Commons notepaper?”
“Yep,” replied Jake, dejectedly.
Another thought occurred to me. “Have you got the note?”
“No, no, I didn’t think,” he said. “I’ve been there all night playing cat and mouse with her goons. There’s a bunch of us. The rest are down there now, we’ve got her place surrounded and she’s too afraid to come out. We’ll do whatever’s necessary,” he added, a touch menacingly.
Jake left, but not before I’d made him promise to get the note and keep hold of it. After he’d gone I found myself walking around the office, trying to get a grip on the situation.
I wondered what I was going to do. A sitting Labour MP from Luton South – here in the Alpujarras! I sat down at my computer and Googled ‘Margaret Moran’.
A picture of her came up on the screen revealing a short, middle-aged woman with dark brown hair.
She was mentioned in several newspaper articles which all referred to her close links with Tony Blair and his New Labour ideology, meaning she was a ‘Blair babe’.
Glancing at the stories, it seemed she had been the subject of a recent tabloid exposé over her astronomical office stationery expenses. Oh boy, I thought.
Right then, as if on cue, Jon Clarke rang the doorbell. I let him in and he flopped down on the sofa, shedding his journalistic appendages (laptop, camera, file bursting with papers).
He looked exhausted and was red in the face. After he had caught his breath he explained he had used the opportunity of being in the area to ‘research’ some restaurants for a new book he was writing on fine dining in Andalucia.
When he had sufficiently recovered he looked around the empty office.
“Where are the others?” he asked.
“They’re not avoiding me are they? What about Marcus?” he asked.
I explained how the flu had laid our editor low and he gave me a hard look.
“A good journalist should be able to work even though he’s sick. What’s his number?”
I explained that Marcus didn’t possess a phone and that he’d have to call Molly if he wanted to get in touch with him.
I added that it likely wasn’t a good idea as it was already late afternoon, and being at work was probably the last thing Marcus wanted to think about.
“Nonsense,” said Jon. “I need to speak to him, get him down here and working on that story about the dodgy mayor in Armillo. It’s important.”
“Jon,” I said, “something has come up and I think it might be important. There’s a standoff going on up near the hill where I live that I think we should follow up on it.”
I explained what had happened, how Jake had turned up in a mess and who had done it.
Jon went completely still as I told him what was occurring.
It was as if he was stunned. “You mean to tell me Margaret Moran, the Blair Babe, is here?” he stuttered.
“Yes,” I replied. “Just up the road near the writer Chris Stewart’s house.”
“Who else knows about this? Have you told anyone?” he barked.
“No, just you,” I said.
Jon started at me as if in disbelief. “We’ve got to get onto this immediately, there isn’t a moment to lose.”
Extracted from the book : Olive Press: News from the land of the Misfits, by Jason Heppenstall (available on Amazon)