Marvel Comic's Union Jack - definitely not a fat tattooed bloke in shorts
The year was 1982 and yet I remember the act of silent, unexpected heroism like it was yesterday.
I was 17 years old and on my first foreign holiday with my best friend Bruce. We were staying in a hotel-cum-stalag called the Hotel Olympic in Calella, Spain. This hotel was the first of several new hotels being built a street or two back from the sea front so, during our stay, it stood alone in scrubland like a pimple on a particularly unattractive arse.
However, it was the hotel’s unspoiled vista that afforded us the opportunity to witness an entire episode of criminality and justice as it unfolded like a vignette before our eyes.
We had spent the day sleeping off another monumental hangover on the beach and were returning to our hotel for the cycle of shower/eat/drink/fall over to begin again. We were probably two hundred yards from the hotel entrance when events began.
We were chatting idly as a woman emerged from the hotel entrance and started down the stairs. I think we both noticed her – I certainly did. But as she was (a) fully clothed and (b) older than 30, she didn’t warrant a mention.
Off to our right, a pair of men (locals, presumably) sat on a motor scooter, the engine idling. As the woman reached the foot of the stairs, the driver gunned the engine and started towards her. Again, neither Bruce nor I mentioned this. Maybe they were just going to the shops.
As they drew level with the woman, the passenger reached out and grabbed the woman’s bag which was held in place by a shoulder strap. As the scooter pulled away, the force dragged the woman to the ground. She lost her grip on the bag and the scooter started away.
By this time, we were still 100 yards away and although we quickened our pace, there was very little we would be able to do aside from helping her to her feet and acting as witnesses.
Then, with the timing of all the great men of history, our hero entered stage left. The scarlet shade of his skin and his Union Jack shorts marked him immediately as a Brit; his shaved head, beer belly and collection of questionable tattoos merely adding to the evidence. In fact, the guy – probably late 20s or early 30s – was one knotted hankie or sock/sandal combo away from being the ultimate Brit abroad archetype.
As he ambled around the corner, beach towel rolled neatly under one heavily inked arm, you could almost hear the cogs in his head start to turn as he analysed the situation: woman on floor; people rushing to help; two blokes on a scooter riding too quickly, one of them carrying a handbag.
In an instant, his mind was made up and his face took on a determined “not on my watch, sunshine” look. He stepped meaningfully into the road and, as the scooter passed, he punched the passenger square in the chest. The combined force of the left hook and the getaway speed of the scooter lifted the passenger out of his seat and deposited him dazed in the middle of the road as his partner made good his escape.
Our tattooed hero stooped and snatched back the bag and continued to walk towards the woman who we were now helping to her feet. As he drew level with us, he simply extended his arm so the woman could take back her bag. He never uttered a word, nor did he break his stride or look back. He just walked off into the distance leaving us all to wonder: Who was that inked man?