Tavener’s Tales 


A spell in the cells, a naked woman, enough drink to sink a pedalo, ROGER TAVENER recalls an extraordinary Daily Express assignment on the Costa del Sol with then assistant news editor Mike Parry in a bid to find the Black Widow.

PARRY sidles up to me in the Poppinjay and, under his breath and through this beard, whispers: “Do you want a foreign? ”

“Yes, of course.”

My mission is to investigate the current spate of bombings in expat enclaves and Brit holiday destinations throughout Spain. Exciting.

Little did I know the trip would end with me being manhunted across the Costa Del Sol by a fearsome secret army of murderous misfits.

That was bad enough. But the ETA bombers also wanted me silenced to put an end to my revealing articles hitting the streets daily. A twin death threat. Charming.

My attempts to hide in the shadows to evade the clutches of the highly-trained assassins would be hindered by having green hair, going deaf and driving a pink open-top jeep …

Parry, it emerges, has grabbed an office freebie to Torremolinos (probably no-one else wanted it). Budget flight. Classy. 

And he’s going too. 

Worse still. I later discover the arrangements, apparently, are cocked-up and we must share a room in a three-star hotel.

mike parry

In the air, Parry, pictured right, instructs me to concoct a tale about the Basque Separatists vowing to spill British blood the length and breadth of the country.

Exclusive line – the bomber-in-chief is a stunningly attractive and seductively mysterious Spanish woman know locally as the Black Widow.

Of course she is. Aren’t they all?

Parry urges me not to make any calls yet as it might knock the ‘story’ down.

To stand it up I must verbal an ‘insider’ from the Spanish anti-terrorism squad. And someone, a deepthroat, from the British consulate in Madrid who fed us this exclusive info. 

No Fake News back then. More heightened reality.

“File when you get off the plane, then we can get some refreshment,” he orders.

(My bloody name’s going on this.)

I write it longhand. He reads it and spins it even more. I dutifully file.

He checks in an hour later and sells it hard. 

“It’s going to be a bit of Page 1 and a turn. Would have been a splash but we haven’t got a pic yet of the Black Widow.”

Hardly fucking surprising as she doesn’t exist. Not worth arguing. I’ve got a week of this. Best consider getting a job elsewhere. 

We pick up the car. It’s a bright pink, elderly topless Suzuki jeep full of sand. Ken and fucking Barbie. Guess which one I am.

I flick the wiper washers on. The misaligned jets fire over the screen and at the driver. Me.

Check-in to our accommodation to some very strange looks from the reception staff. No, they haven’t got any other rooms. It’s peak season.

pink jeep

I think maybe Parry originally intended bringing someone else? Like one of the secretaries. Like Lorraine?  Maybe Lorraine is into flamingo-coloured cars … more of that later.

Wine time. About 3 pm.
She’s from Luton. Which is good because I lived there once and am a Hatters (Luton Town FC) supporter. So is she. We talk football, bombings, and Black Widows. By now we (and the wine) have convinced us BW (codename) is a reality.

After a while the girl says she may as well shut-up shop as there are no other customers and it’s 2 am.

Could we give her a lift home? It’s just around the corner and dangerous for her to walk. Yeah. Course. Pissed.

On the way to this corner, which is seemingly a very long way off, she asks whether we could also drive her to the airport because she wants to leave Spain. She just has to pick up a few things from her flat. Er, yeah. Course. Still pissed.

Parry is one-eyed driving. Not a lot different from his sober state; his sight is awful. Reminds me of the time we’d watched Portsmouth v Everton and got ejected by World Cup winner Alan Ball from the club VIP lounge for exceptional use of expletives. Out-swearing footballers. Impressive.

On the way back (in separate cars) Parry took a slight detour at 80 mph – through a fucking petrol station, via the narrow strip between the pumps and back on to the highway. Miraculously missing any punters filling their cars and the bowsers themselves. Fuck me. I mentioned it later in passing. “No problem old boy. I had it all under control.”

We eventually arrive at a run-down high-rise in the backstreets of a tawdry Torremolinos suburb. Parry is in the driver’s seat, and volunteers me to go and get the girl’s bags.

I have a bad feeling about this …

Up five floors in a ramshackle lift that takes ages. We enter a small, messy flat. Its walls adorned with military memorabilia – flags and pennants and pictures of men on parade saluting.

I’m sobering-up. Fast. 

I don’t get too long to compute the scene because behind the sofa a baby is gurgling and pleased to see its mum.

“Er, is that going too ?” “Yes”. 

Child-smuggling. Brilliant.

I’m looking for ways out. There’s a balcony which seems to be attached to the fire escape.

The girl emerges from the bedroom. Naked. Starkers. I’m actually not surprised. This will get worse before it gets better.

She says she’s going to the shower. It’s across the open-plan room. But stops and gives me a hug. She curls a leg around mine…My arms are stiff by my sides. And only my arms. Honest.

I hear the lift cranking its way up. It can’t be surely. Can it?

The door bursts open and a crazy-faced, tattooed skinhead in camouflage gear screams: “What the fuckin’ ‘ell’s goin’ on ‘ere?”

He appears to be heading for the knife drawer in the integral kitchenette.

By now I’m on to the fire-escape and literally jumping from landing to landing. No time for the steps. Knifeman is a few floors above. I see the carving knife flashing in the moonlight on each downward revolution.

widow spider

I hit ground level and, suddenly very athletic through desperation, jump straight in the jeep. “Start the fucker up’” I scream. What a time to have a convertible.

“You bastard, You were giving her one.”

“No I wasn’t. Drive …”


It’s a nightmare. Parry hears the fast-approaching, ever-louder threats and curses, sees the man and glinting blade in the rear view mirror. And, thank God, floors it.

We might be safe but we don’t know where we are. We’ll go a few miles and then have a drink and sort it out. Parry wants an explanation. He’s incandescent with the belief I was “shagging” the barmaid.

We have a drink. Calm down. It’s sorted. What a laugh.

It’s 3.30 am. Parry agrees to drive if I navigate.

Navigate? Yeah. The hotel. But I don’t know where it is. I don’t even know it’s name. You booked it. Yeah but the paperwork is in the hotel.

Fuck me.

No sat navs or Google maps.

Well, it’s along the coast one street back. We’ll drive the length of the beach-front and maybe we’ll recognise it.

It was then the blue lights started flashing. A glance in the wing mirror confirms the worst. Cops. 

“Good evening officer, what a lovely town you have here,” offers Parry in his egregious best ‘I’m certainly not pissed’ voice. “May I be of assistance?'”

“You are driving the wrong way down a one-way street and on the wrong side of the road. And also appear to have taken alcohol.”

Excuses that we’d only just landed and had had just one on the plane didn’t take off. Apparently the airport was in the opposite direction.


Nicked, we were separated and put in the cells. I’m assuming I’m going to be rogered at any moment by some huge, hairy prisoner. A Spaniard in My Works, as John Lennon almost said.

After what seemed a lifetime, the lock turns in the heavy door and I’m ushered out. They were going to breathalyse Parry, but didn’t have any bags left after a run on tourist drunk-drivers. We get a severe warning and freed. 

We think that’s it for the night. Not quite.

Staggering towards us in the middle of the road is what appears to be a naked person.

Getting closer it’s a woman.

Fuck me.

It’s the barmaid.

Feeling a little guilty for some reason, we stopped to offer help.

She still wants to get to the bloody airport. Naked. No money.

I was gang-banged on the beach by my boyfriend and his mates as punishment.

We can’t go to our hotel for clothes for her as we don’t know where it is and the shops are shut.

“You’ll have to give her your t-shirt, she’s your bird,” says Parry, wearing a white business shirt. He’s lost his tie.

“She’s not my bird and girls look good in bloke’s proper shirts.” Parry wasn’t about to surrender one of his Marks and Sparks self-ironing numbers.

I agree to the cover-up. But great, I’m now half naked myself…

Her blonde hair’s roughly tousled, she’s caked in dried seawater and compacted sand. Her  eyes are red raw and mascara is staining her face.  She looks like she’s been manhandled to say the least.

“I was gang-banged on the beach by my boyfriend and his mates as punishment.”

Jeez. Shocked. Maybe we should go back to the cop shop or hospital? We might be able to dump her there, I think.

“No, no, no. You don’t understand. You can’t fuck with the Foreign Legion.”

“The French Foreign Legion?” Parry and I in unison.


“No, the Spanish Foreign Legion. Their base is in Malaga. They are beyond the law. Criminals on the run mostly. They exist but not in the real world. They are outsiders.

“I fact it’s lucky you found me, because I can warn you they are searching for you and will punish you too. My ex-boyfriend is a Legionnaire and they are blood brothers.”

Yeah, really lucky. It’s been a very lucky day. And I didn’t do anything beyond attempt to help a damsel in distress.

We drop her at the airport at about 5.30 am with a few euros to phone her parents who are going to credit card her a ticket and buy some clothes.

About 6.30 am we somehow find the hotel.

Time for a quick nap before resuming the BW hunt.

Some 30 minutes later I’m woken by huge pressure on my body. Legionnaires? My face is being scraped with a Brillo pad. I open my eyes slightly. It’s an orange Brillo pad.  

Christ, Parry’s trying to shag me. He’s calling me Lorraine and things are fairly advanced …

We realise this awful scenario is happening at the same time.

“Sorry,” says Parry, stumbling back to his single bed.

It has never, ever been mentioned between us again.

Worse still, the station made it into a jokey jingle which was constantly played to promote his daily show.

Re-wind to Spain and we drum up a follow-up. Luckily a bomb has gone off somewhere - “The Black Widow Strikes Again” - and Parry announces he has heard a relative is seriously ill and must return to London immediately.

Leaving me to take on the Foreign Legion.

I can’t show cowardice and quit, especially as I’m getting good copy.

NO. I can’t change the car. I know, it’s the peak season. I hide it miles away. I buy a big hat and big sunglasses to disguise myself. 

So I have a few wines and go for a swim in the hotel pool.

I wake up early with a pain in my ears. The TV is very muffled.  My balance is a bit off. Something wrong with my bloody ears.

I go to shave. My hair is green. My face is scarlet. I look like a fucking deaf, pissed leprechaun.

Taxi to the hospital. I have an inner ear infection from chemicals and bugs in the pool, which have also bleached and discoloured my hair.

It’s really difficult interviewing people and filing while deaf. Somehow I busk it. I’m constantly wary of Legionnaires lurking in the shadows.

Still the Black Widow weaves her evil web across the Costas. Bombs everywhere and by now I have some real contacts and the story’s a good ‘un.

But the Foreign Office says they have intelligence the terrorists are now targeting journalists who are portraying them in an unsympathetic light (me) and advise that I should leave.

Parry, back in the UK, says I must stay. I would’ve anyway. He gets me good space.

Eventually, after several days hiding behind broadsheet newspapers, I’m safely on a plane back home.

“Why is your hair green? giggles a female in the seat next to me.

“It’s a long story. And it’s worth a drink.”

She agrees and summons a flight attendant … and another story is about to take-off.

Tavener’s Tales: Lost in France

*CLARE DOVER asks: Where was Nureyev?

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre