More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 38

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

On rather better roads, there were all the speeding tickets gunning the fastest Skoda in the West through Croatia and Slovenia on the way home. I particularly remember one unpleasant situation just over the Slovenian border.

I had driven six or seven hundred kilometres out of Bosnia and then Croatia after several weeks on the frontline. Reaching Slovenia was an enormous relief: at last, a country at peace with itself, a degree of safety and decent roads. Through the border control, I gunned the twin carburettors that lurked under the bonnet of the Skoda.

Three or four hundred metres ahead, two policemen emerged onto the road and flagged me down. It soon became clear they intended to throw the book at me: speeding, dangerous driving, driving without seat belt, driving with a car in a dangerous condition (multiple bullet holes), etc. etc. It was getting expensive so I decided to play my trump card.

A few months previously I had enjoyed morning coffee with Slovene President Milan Kucan, a most amiable and respected man. I had jokingly observed that I sometimes had problems with the authorities as a journalist. He took out one his splendid embossed business cards and wrote in his own handwriting a brief endorsement: ‘For Paul Harris, a true supporter of Slovenia in its fight for independence. With respect, Milan Kucan, President’.

I presented the card to the officious guardians of law and order. I swear their mouths fell open. They were rendered momentarily speechless. Then, simultaneously, both sprang firmly to attention, saluted smartly and waved me on . . .

Twenty months of abuse eventually proved too much for the first faithful Skoda. It packed up in Tuzla, in the very north of government-held territory within sight of the front line, and, of course, nobody could fix the problems with the electronic ignition and electric petrol pump. That would have been the end – if