My Life 3.7

My Brush with Special Branch



We made the airport with plenty of time to catch the BA flight to Heathrow. The driver, who I knew well, unloaded my bag and a small gift of a bottle of fine whisky from my Company’s partner, the President of a Company in Lisbon.

 We were partnered together in a bid for a Government licence. We needed a local partner, preferably an influential one. We’d dined that day in an exclusive restaurant, where an ex-Prime Minister and the Finance Minister had been present. He had chatted with them both, stopping at their tables on the way out.

 I was looking forward to getting home. I’d been in Lisbon for a week. Leaving some of my team there to keep thing running, I was taking a welcome weekend break.

 Walking into the terminal, I was right at the BA desk. I pulled out my tickets, patted my pockets for my passport, then stopped still. My passport!

 At the time, hotels in Portugal were still holding passports. I had forgotten to ask for it when I checked out.

 What were my choices? Call up Jão and get the driver to pick it up at the hotel and race back with it? - they might not give it to him.  Take a taxi myself and tear there and back, sweating, worried, heart pounding? - definitely not the way to start a relaxing weekend! And I could easily miss the flight and get stuck for another night.

 I wasn’t worried about the passport, Someone could pick that up for me and bring it to the UK – I could fax permission when I got home. And I had the second passport back home, so if something came up I was OK. I cursed, as I usually carried both.

 I was mentally prepared to go home, so I decided to do just that. Some call me obstinate. After all I am a Capricorn. But my personal motto is ‘there’s always a way’. So!

 I checked in. “Passport?” the smart blonde asked. I motioned to my case. “It’s all packed in there, do you want me to get it out?”

 I waited.

 “Oh, OK.” she smiled. “But you’ll need it for the customs”

 “Sure,” I said.

 I looked at the people passing through the Portuguese Customs. Many of the Portuguese were using identity cards, very familiar. I whipped out my building pass. Same size, photo, name, incomprehensible writing and code.

 Nervously, I approached the gate, joining a crowd of noisy tourists. I flicked my card out, holding it boldly out for inspection. Not a flicker!

 Phew! I sat down by the gate, relaxing a bit. But I knew BA would check on boarding.

 Sure enough, as the BA guy took my boarding card, he looked up at me.


 Er, I just packed it away in my bag!”

 “But you showed it to Customs?”

 “Oh, yes, no problems”

 “OK, sir!” He nodded me on.


Nice flight, a few drinks, pleasant meal, pampered in our front cabin.

We arrived at Heathrow, and reality returned.

 I was in the queue for the Customs. My turn came.

 Er, I left my passport in Lisbon!” I blurted. “I know where it is”

 “Here,” I pleaded, “here’s a letter from my employer confirming who I am.” We used that for health insurance.

 “Sorry sir, I’ll have to call a Special Branch officer”

 The bespectacled clerk stared at me. I felt exposed.

 Embarrassed, looking down, I sensed a tall figure arrive at the desk.

 “Look!” I said, I’ve got this letter, and other identification, will you let me in?”

There was a long pause, all kinds of things started passing through my mind.

 “Oh, I think we might, John!” came a familiar voice.

I looked upin amazement at my cousin David, The Special Branch Officer. I had no idea he would be here. Talk about a lucky chance!



Note: at the time of this story my cousin was in Special Branch. At age 40, he became a pilot for a large airline (a fully-fledged Captain) and now high up in the aviation industry. This was because after years of honing his skills detecting smugglers and criminals at Heathrow, the Police tried to put him back on the beat – for ‘experience’! He left. Being interested in flying, with a private pilot’s licence, he got himself on some training courses, and the rest is history! He’s not forgotten his Special Branch training and is also the Chief Security officer for the airline. Remarkably determined guy!


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