Those who laugh at this advice are very wrong, for running away from trouble in the face of heavily-armed goons has saved my bacon on at least one occasion. In fact, tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of my not getting beaten up by heavily-armed goons in Tunisia, who were at one stage charging straight for your humble author armed with big sticks and steel toe-capped boots.
When faced with hairy-arsed Tunisian police charging straight at you armed with big sticks and steel toe-capped boots, damn right I'm going to run away and not stick around to help them with their enquiries. And so should you.
So, here's what happened in Tunisia, and let this be a lesson in the art of surviving through cowardice to you all:
|"Bollocks to this, I'm off"|
Tunisia, at the time, was under the cosh of a what one might call a government quite used to dealing very firmly with dissent. Though welcoming to tourists and their money, they weren't particularly open to such wacky ideas as "freedom of expression" and "democracy". So - of course - that made it the ideal place to hold a UN Conference on freedom of expression and democracy.
Some Tunisian freedom groups, fresh from having their heads stoved in by government heavies, decided it would be an ideal time to stage a demonstration asking if they could - if the President didn't mind - have a little bit of freedom and democracy to speak their minds regarding being oppressed and beaten up by government heavies all the time. The world's press, bored out of their skulls from being stuck in a press centre for three days with all the best world leaders failing to show up, thought they might like to get out, stretch their legs, and go and take a look at Tunisian street politics in action. Idiots.
|This is what a typical conference media centre looks like. No wonder people try to escape|
I had recently been on the corporate Hazardous Environments Course - after which I had been presented with a nice certificate which said I knew what to do in a hazardous environment - and recognised that this could possibly be a hazardous environment. Remembering my classics (The Tale of Sir Robin in Money Python and the Holy Grail), I knew exactly what to do in the circumstances.
|"Where to, bud?"|
As heavily-armed government heavies in riot gear bore down on us, the taxi driver also knew exactly what to do, and floored it.
Time was a blur, but I was back at the conference centre within 20 minutes of leaving, clutching my precious taxi receipt. Over the next couple of hours, my colleagues in the world's Fourth Estate arrived back in various shades of agony, nursing bleeding heads and bruised limbs, our generous hosts having taught them a lesson in local values. The Discipline of the Baseball Bat, as scholars of Irvine Welsh might say.
The following morning's press briefing was a tense affair. Journalists, as a rule, don't like being in pain, especially at the hands of their otherwise generous hosts who had thoughtfully provided free air conditioning and a wireless network that was clearly being monitored by state goons. The puffy-faced minder sent to look after us was given both barrels, especially when it emerged that all the remaining seminars, meetings and press conferences on press freedom had somehow been double-booked and were now cancelled. And Qadaffi had cried off too, suddenly remembering as he crossed the border that he hated Tunisia and everybody in it.
To make matters worse, the man from the official state news agency, immediately recognisable in a cheap jacket stained with sweat (possibly not his own) with the word "PRESS" written across the shoulders - whose role up until then had been to wander round the press centre making sure nobody wrote anything that criticised our generous hosts - had tried to circulate an open letter for us all to sign.
|Imagine this, on a nylon suit jacket several times too small, worn by a sweaty man with a walrus moustache, clearly used to expenses-paid lunches|
It declared "We, the undersigned, thank our generous Tunisian hosts for their wonderful hospitality, and I am completely uninjured". That went down like a cup of cold sick, as you can imagine, and as signing it seemed to be compulsory, most of the names appeared to be fictional. James Bond had signed it three times, all in different hands.
You could tell where Sweaty Ali (for that was his nickname) was in the room by the cries of "Look, just fuck off, will you?" I signed it "Lunchtime O'Booze of The Daily Gnome" just to make him go away, and he seemed well pleased. Luckily, it was the last day of the event, and we were able to retire to our luxurious beach-front hotels to write up the copy we would file just as soon as we left the country. And to get drunk, as well.
And if you think those were trying circumstances, the worst battle was yet to come. My editor turned down my expenses claim on the grounds that a phone call I had made back to base to say that I was alive could not be itemised.
It's a hard life in the press. That's why I prefer to drive a desk.