Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bags of Bother In Bogota

[Last night, at the beginning of Greenwich Mean Time, our clocks went back by one hour] 

GMT arrived noisily on Sunday morning. 

The clock on the front of our bedroom phone had reached 2.21 am, which meant it was 3.21 am in my head. I had been so looking forward to an extra hour of sleep, but the loud ringing of the phone had other ideas. 

Woken with a start, Jo grabbed the handset from its cradle. A deep intake of breath, then: “Rocca – oh no”. 

Rocca is the eldest of my three daughters. On Saturday night she was supposed to be arriving in Bogota, capital of Colombia.

There was real concern in my wife’s voice: “Oh my God, Rocca. Are you OK?” 

I sat bolt upright. Colombia: drugs, kidnapping, shootings – I grabbed the phone. I knew this trip had been a bad idea, but Rocca (in common with all the women in my life) hasn’t listened to a word I’ve said for at least the last decade so there had been no point telling her this time. 

She’s 28 and incredibly headstrong. She runs an arts project in Uganda (another bad idea – “Yes, Dad, I’ll only be there for a couple of years; yes Dad, I know it’s dangerous; love you too, Dad”) and is, in equal measures, independent, smart and beautiful. The arts project is, like everything Rocca tackles, already a success. That’s probably why she was invited to Colombia: to speak at a conference about arts projects in notoriously dangerous places. 

Thankfully, of all my children, Rocca has inherited the fewest of my genes of chaos. These are the same genes that led me to leave my wallet on the roof of my car the other week, and that require me to have two sets of everything in my life. Sadly, though, she is not entirely immune to this deadly affliction and, just as our clocks switched an extra hour into our lives, she suffered a classic attack of Gutteridge chaos in the middle of Bogota airport. 

A few minutes after arriving in the crime capital of the world, as she grabbed a cup of coffee in an airport café, a thief grabbed her bag containing all her possessions, including her laptop, wallet and passport. Right now my daughter is stuck in one of the planet’s most hostile environments without a single dollar and no means of identification. Thank goodness for her organizational skills: she had carefully written out a list of all her usernames and passwords. Which, of course, was in the bag as well. Which means that every single part of her life had to be cancelled before the thieves completely took on my daughter’s identity. Trying doing that at 2.21 am. 

So if this blog post reads a little strangely, if my grammar fails even GCSE standards, and if my language betrays my grogginess, please forgive me: I’ve spent most of the night on the phone trying to help. 

Children never really leave the nest, do they? The most priceless feeling for a parent is to be not only loved, but also needed. Well, it’s not exactly priceless – I shortly have to work out a way of wiring funds to Colombia (I’m sure there must be some sort of money-laundering obstacles to face, but the emergency banking line isn’t open yet). 

The call in the middle of the night from a stranded or desperate child, however old and wise they’ve become, is not only the scariest part of being a Dad, it’s also the most rewarding. My spine still shivers at the distant memory of a call from Barcelona to say Ben had been badly injured in a road accident; I will never forget the frantic drive to the airport to grab the first plane out and the sight of my eldest, caked in blood, being wheeled out of the operating theatre. Or his smile as he winked at me and I realised he would be OK. 

I was there, and that’s what parenthood is all about. I’m always there for tearful phone calls about jobs and life and lost loves. And they know I always will be: whatever the time of night.


Justin Souter said...

Hey Tom - hope Rocca is doing well (as are you all), and has got herself sorted!

Clippy Mat said...

What an awful thing to happen in such a place. The worse of nightmares. Hope things are getting sorted for her.

Tom Gutteridge said...

Thanks so much for your concern. We managed to get some cash to Rocca thanks to an incredibly helpful lady called Ingrid at the Hotel Casa Deco. Bravo Ingrid, you saved the day.