Neil Smith

1 year ago · 10 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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Glory Days.

 Glory Days.

It was probably good to find out from the nervous looking guy that the cell was in Czechoslovakia. He sat opposite, looking as confused and worried as I was feeling. A burst of gibberish emanated from the cop by the door and the nervous guy turned back to me.

‘This organisation you say you work for, Cairdsport, what is their purpose in sending you here?’

‘Nobody sent me. The ski season is finished. I won’t be back until Christmas. I’m just goofing around and thought I’d visit some friends in Germany.’

My answer prompted more jabbering between the two of them. Nervous guy kept waving his hands in a hopeless manner which just annoyed the cop more. It had been three days now and the only thing I’d learned in that time was the name of the country where I was being held prisoner.

The talking stopped and I looked up just as the cop punched me in the face.

‘Fuck! What the fuck? Fuck sake!’

I tumbled from my seat and then Angry Cop was bawling in my face. Spit-laden rage blasting into me from close range.

I scrambled to my feet and realised that the guards outside the door had now become the guards inside the door.


Pointing pistols.

I quietened down and stepped back.

This was more adventure than the one I was looking for when I left home. Meeting interesting people and a change of scene from an out of season ski resort had been on the list. Getting shot by Soviet bloc psychos hadn’t. Fortunately, Angry Cop seemed to have gotten it out of his system and he also quietened down.

Yet more chattering between my inquisitors, more forceful than before, and Nervous Guy turned back to me.

‘Your illegal arrival has been reported to State Security. Your continued refusal to admit your mission has distressed these men in the Public Security and they have informed the correct authority that a foreign spy has been detained’

‘It would be to your advantage to inform what you do here and who sent you before State Security officials arrive. Not to do this means that you will be treated less well.’

‘How much worse can it get?’ I regretted the question immediately.

‘Do not ask me such things. Do not ask.’

Angry Cop spoke to him again then three shabby uniforms and one cheap suit left me alone in the locked room.

Jesus what a nightmare.

The dark walls ate up the meagre light from the overhead bulb and there was no window. Even the time of day was uncertain

I sat and waited.

A foreign spy he said.

A foreign fucking spy.

What a mess.

My face throbbed. I sat thinking about the last few days and how quickly and easily things had spun out of control.

It had been dark and raining when the truck stopped. Two hours I was standing at the service station and it had been a long few days before that. The driver spoke no English and I had no Hungarian so we had communicated in pidgin German. He was friendly enough and a big Liverpool fan it seemed. I’d be nodding off in the warmth of the cab then. . .


Bawled as if the man himself had just wandered onto the autobahn in front of us. Not as worrying though as the time he took both hands off the wheel to re-enact Bruce Grobbelaar’s ‘wobbly legs’ act in the European cup final. It wasn’t just Bruce that was wobbly then, my intestines also had a little moment.

When I was woken by the driver it was daylight and we were clearly no longer on an autobahn. The sun was trying to cheer up a grey morning and I was at a crossroads in the back end of nowhere. The driver pointed down a little road and left me to it.

So much for ‘you’ll never walk alone.’

After a while I was passed by a horse and cart. The driver shouted something and stopped so I climbed aboard. Apparently, I had gotten a lift to nineteen twenty-five. My new friend, like the truck driver before him had no English so we sat in silence for the twenty minutes that it took to reach the central square of a tired-looking village. The cart came to a halt and I dismounted, dragging my bag after me. The driver pointed to a building on his side of the road and clip clopped away.

The door was a big wooden effort, closed, with no doorbell. I couldn’t read the sign but its function was as clear as if it had ‘POLICE STATION’ written above it in neon. Outside was parked the worst excuse for a squad car I had ever seen. It looked like it had escaped from the circus. It wasn’t just a scabby Lada it was a scabby Lada that had been made even worse by its official yellow and white paint job and the addition of an oversize blue light on the roof. Truly, I was witnessing a cop car of the Keystone variety.

The first knocks produced no response so I hunted around, picked up a stone and tried again. This time the bangs were much more impressive and noises within indicated that someone had heard. A key turned, the door opened and an annoyed bloke in what looked like army surplus uniform looked out.

Inevitably my reply to whatever he had said wasn’t understood so we stood for a while waiting for inspiration. I pulled my passport from my jacket and handed it to him. He read blankly then shouted over his shoulder. A second cop appeared and they both read and muttered for a bit before opening the door wider and ushering me inside. I was led down a drab hall that smelled of bleach and brought into an office where my passport was handed to the senior officer. The man I would come to know as ‘Angry Cop.’ He took his turn at reading my passport while the first cop spoke. Seconds later I was arrested at gunpoint. I had my bag taken and my pockets turned out. The one time I protested I was hit with a baton then handcuffed. They weren’t great with English but they certainly got the message across. From then on, I was mister co-operation.

I was dumped in this beige, windowless room which has been my home for the last three days. The table in the centre was bolted to the floor as were two steel chairs. There were a couple of blankets in one corner, a galvanised trough for a toilet in another and that was it. Nothing about this room said ‘enjoy your stay’.

The three resident police tried to question me almost immediately and at some length. None spoke English. My dodgy German and high school French were met with blank looks. Several pointless interviews took place where I listened to incomprehensible babble and responded in kind. They tried intimidation, smacking batons on the table and shouting. Intimidation was followed by straightforward violence, smacking their batons down on me. This left me bruised but made me no more informative or informed and so after a while, the trio retired to consider their options.

The two junior police were straight from the catalogue of stereotypical Henchmen. Deferential to the main man, with half a brain and not an original thought between them. They liked the simplicity of violence and hadn’t a clue what to do when it became obvious that violence wasn’t going to produce a result. They were just small-time school bullies who had grown up to become small-time police bullies. In the nineteen thirties they would have been first in the queue to join the Hitler youth. Their boss didn’t seem any more impressive as a human being but he was undoubtedly one of those kids who started shaving in primary school. Although age was softening his physique around the edges, he was still a bull of a man with a barrel chest and immense physical presence. He also had a hair trigger temper which I was making worse with every unhelpful response.

On the second day they brought in Nervous Guy, a skinny, balding bloke in a grey suit, cut from cloth so thin it was damn near transparent. He was a Russian-language teacher from a local school. His English was good but hesitant, probably not used often. There was a good chance that most foreign languages were discouraged in this parish. He looked almost as out of place as me. He was clearly unsure of himself and not comfortable in an interrogation situation. His air was that of a mouse, brought in by the cat. A mouse that wants to get out again. To that end he was doing his best to be a good, helpful mouse.

From Nervous Guy I found out that I was in Czechoslovakia. Accidentally but also illegally. Christ knows how I got across the border. I thought the point of all the guards was to keep people out. Although I was beginning to believe that keeping people in was probably just as important. He translated questions and relayed my honest but ridiculous answers back. Knowing the story didn’t make the police any happier though. The more I said, the less they believed. They grew increasingly exasperated at my wilful refusal to come up with a sensible tale and the more answers I gave, the more annoyed they got until the senior guy’s meltdown left me with a sore face

When the pressure in my bladder couldn’t be ignored. I walked over to the corner and peed in the trough. I hadn’t washed, changed clothes or brushed my teeth in three days but even my personal odour faded into the background as the smell of urine spread around the room.

Still I waited.

Eventually there was a noise in the hall and the door opened again. Two new guys stepped inside. Better dressed, better hair, better shaved. No crappy uniforms for these lads. One had a severe frown on his face and equally severe razor cut hair. He wore a dark three-piece suit which he never unbuttoned. He said nothing upon entering the room nor at any point afterwards. His colleague was also in a suit but his was a lighter, sportier style. If the first guy’s inspiration was Humphrey Bogart, this one was channelling something of a Don Johnson vibe. He was older and looked more relaxed or perhaps resigned was a better word. This was the guy who had been sent to clear up a mess and it wasn’t, in all likelihood, his first mess.

For an optimistic moment I dared to dream that they were from the British embassy although that seemed a bit hopeful, and so it proved. The door was locked behind them from the outside and they sat down at the table. The older one put some papers on the table, read for a few moments then paused to look me over before speaking.

‘Mr. Jack Drummond. We were informed of an apprehended spy by our colleagues in the Public Security. They identified you as an illegal foreign operative and as such you are now for us in State Security to deal with rather than the local police.’

‘You claim to be a ski instructor from a village in . . . Scotland. You stated that you hitch hiked from England, through France to Germany. In Germany, somewhere past Dresden you were picked up by a Hungarocamion truck which entered Czechoslovakia near Usti nad Labem. Having fallen asleep, you failed to notice the border and were woken by the driver and let out at this village. When questioned you said that you were pointed in the direction of this office by a man you stopped on the street. You were carrying a British Visitor passport when arrested in this Public Security office. Such a document is not recognised in Czechoslovakia but even if you had a normal passport you have no visa for this country.’

‘Your reasons for being here strain credibility and the journey you describe seems bizarre and pointless.’

‘In your possession you carried a holdall containing a small amount of sterling currency and some Deutschmarks along with clothing, toiletries and a Walkman personal stereo. For the latter you also had two cassettes, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen and Graceland by Paul Simon.’

‘These facts are enough to send you to prison Mr. Drummond. Smuggling contraband, non-declaration of foreign currency, cultural crimes and the very fact of your unauthorised, illegal presence are things that are taken seriously in Czechoslovakia. We have to ask what purpose you could have to take such risks. Why would any country send such a poorly equipped agent here? What could the English government hope to gain from your presence? You have no skills or resources and lack any linguistic ability. Unless your obvious incompetence and stupidity is some elaborate act, we can see no way that you could have achieved anything useful from this incursion over our border unless it was simply as a test of security and now that we have identified this weakness it has already been remedied.’

‘In our enquiries we have spoken to the border inspection staff and they confirmed the passage of a Hungarocamion late Sunday night. The vehicle was located and the driver questioned by Hungarian authorities. He admitted picking up a passenger although he stated that he didn’t know where you were from, couldn’t understand a word you said and had no idea where you were going. The driver however, though foolish, is not my responsibility Mr. Drummond, you are and at the moment you seem like more trouble than you are worth. This whole escapade is a stupid schoolboy joke and I have better things to do than babysit an idiot westerner.’

‘Some in my department want to make an example of you. A trial. A sentence, lots of fuss and, in a few years an official handover to your authorities. Personally, I view that as too much trouble just to turn an imbecile into a hero. My superior officer is far from certain that the English will even want you back. In the old days Mr. Drummond you would have been shot quickly and your body disposed of. No fuss. No delay. But I am told that these are changed times. That we have become more sophisticated and don’t act in this way anymore. Lucky for you.’

‘It has been decided to get rid of you. You will be deported later today at which time you cease to be my problem. You are officially banned from entering or applying to enter Czechoslovakia at any time in the future. Should you ever appear here again it will automatically be considered a serious crime against the state and you will be treated accordingly. Do not come back Mr. Drummond.’

‘Do you understand Mr. Drummond? You leave. You never come back’

I nodded. Mute. I didn’t trust myself to speak without making things worse. Inside though I was deflating with relief. Deported. Thank fuck. They would probably send me to Heathrow or Gatwick which was hardly next door to the highlands but it was so much more attractive than my current location. I signed the document they pushed across the table without knowing or caring what it said. The two agents then rose, knocked on the door and disappeared from view as it was locked behind them.

Some time later the door opens again. Angry Cop walks in at the head of the previous trio. One of them throws my holdall and jacket onto the table as they make ‘get yourself ready’ gestures. Rummaging through my belongings it seems like there is less stuff than when the bag had been taken from me.

‘Where’s the money? The music? What’s this shit?’

The protest dies on my lips as the two cops half-pull their batons. Killing me might be off the agenda but a little random thievery and police brutality clearly wasn’t going to cause these lads any heartache. I let it go. What’s the point of getting my head kicked in for forty quid and a tape player? I am marched along the hall for the second time in three days and we emerged into late afternoon sunlight. Outside sat the clown car I had seen on arrival and behind was a larger, newer motor which contained the two security agents. I am guided into the back of the two-tone, yellow banger, flanked by a cop on each side and we lurch away.

The drive is slow, bumpy and long. I keep an eye out for airport signs but see nothing more exotic than fields and houses. We trundle along.

In the dark we approach a bank of bright lights. The car stops and I am ushered out. I make to head for the terminal but then realise there isn’t one. Whatever this place is, it’s no airport. Ahead I see the two agents from the other car. They are talking to a small group of uniformed men standing at a barrier. Two of them have dogs on a lead and as I am shepherded towards them, I recognise their West German police uniforms. The Bundesgrenzpolizei.

Ah now wait a minute!

Deported he said but not to which country.

Here I was looking forward to a clean up and a comfy flight back to Britain when I was actually getting dumped at the German border a couple of hours down the road.

Bloody hell!

It was almost funny but for the realisation that I now had zero money and was still a long way from home.

My escorts drop off and I keep walking forward. Car doors slam behind me as I am ordered to halt, put down my bag and hold out my arms. The two dogs are brought towards me and an officer pats me down. My bag is checked then handed back.

‘Come into the office Mr. Drummond. We have to ask you some questions’

I sling the holdall over my shoulder, grinning now and march forward.

Bring it on boys. Give it your best shot.

This is a highly fictionalised version of a journey I took back in the nineteen eighties. The cast of characters is right but in fairness to the Czech police involved there was nothing like this level of violence used in real life. I was however every bit as dumb as the Jack Drummond character appears.  

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Neil Smith

1 year ago #2

I actually went back to what had,by then, become the Czech Republic in the mid nineties . The difference blew me away and I have no doubt it would be very different again today .

Pascal Derrien

1 year ago #1

Reminds me of my first trips in the eastern bloc a long time ago pretty cool write up mr Drummond 😉

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