I didn’t quite take that in when it was first said to me. I probably looked a bit surprised, possibly a bit shocked and nodded and walked away.
And then I found out it was a joke. With a serious side.
Unfortunately, although that word is barely adequate, images of orange jumpsuits these days only seem to appear in barbaric videos trotted out by Daesh as they execute yet another innocent victim in some disgusting way.
But in 1995, when those words were spoken to me, another regime had a reputation for acts of unspeakable violence carried out behind closed doors, in the deepest recesses of the offices of their terror police. And orange jumpsuits!
I was going to Iran!
Granted that it’s not your typical holiday destination. You are unlikely to bump into Jim in his Union Jack shorts tucking into a full English or Sonja, on her 18-30 holiday with her friends, drunk beyond reason and vomiting merrily all over her shoes. Well, Iran is a dry country so there was no alcohol for the latter and shorts were banned as well. But it had so many attractions.
Iran appealed on so many different levels, especially to my Autistic brain. It was an ordered society, strictly regulated. It had clear rules on dress and conduct. It was dry and I wouldn’t bump into Jim (Nice guy but the Union Jack shorts really don’t match his grey socks or grey string vest!) and, in the West, we thought it was evil!
Or, at least the Sun did!. Ah the Sun. Read by Jim of course. Probably Sonja as well. That harbinger of doom, the mouthpiece of political incorrectness, the hater of all things un-British!. Like the French. And the Germans. And Iran. Which was easy to spell. And a four letter word. Ideal for the Sun.
Iran was portrayed as secretive. It was evil. It hated us. We hated them. They didn’t trust us. We didn’t trust them. They didn’t like women. We had page 3 (and the page 7 fella, for those who read beyond page 3!).
But was all that true ?.
Let’s find out shall we ?.
I recall the flight vividly. A BA flight packed with Iranian businessmen and a small group of intrepid travellers led by a university professor. I recall the instant the captain told us we would be entering Iranian airspace and how, in an instant, the atmosphere changed. The onboard alcohol vanished and was hurriedly replaced by handfuls of extra strong mints, the women formed an orderly queue for the toilets and entered as a made up, casually dressed traveller only to emerge in dowdy clothes, hair scarf and sans lipstick and blusher. The transformations were dramatic and worthy of Mr Benn himself. Men straightened ties and buttoned up shirts and then sat, for the next forty minutes, solemnly as owls.
I was as prepared as ever. I had read and digested all I could. I had liaised with the travel company so much they were sick of me and my questions. I had the right attire. I had the right attitude. I was ready for Iran and all she could throw at me.
If you are reading this and, for whatever reason, you believe that everything in your country is fine, then please stop reading at this point. I regret to announce that I am going to be saying something you may find upsetting. I do not want you to be upset. I don’t want to wear an orange jumpsuit. It’s not my colour!
Kind regards, Me.
Tehran is an absolute dump. It’s a terrible place. Utterly bereft of any charm. It’s horrible. It’s really nasty. It’s grey. It’s polluted. It sucks.
Out hotel backed onto the Alborz mountains or, as I affectionately called them, “those sticky brown looking things covered in dirty frosting!”. Down in the lobby we had been greeted by dour looking receptionists who snatched our passports from us and then pored over every detail as though looking to catch us in a mistake. Did each facial feature match ?. Was every blemish in the right place ?. Were those pointy ears natural ? Or Vulcan ?. Had we got our visas ?. Were they in date ?. Who had the Iranian Embassy let in ?. Had they gone mad ?. Who in their right mind let Patrick come here ??.
Whilst our leader and the rest of the group conversed in huddled whispers I took a step back to admire the lettering above the reception desk. “Death to Israel. Death to the USA. Death to Great Britain” it yelled at me, in brass letters about 18 inches tall. I was impressed. It was stylish. It was neat. It was all spelled correctly. And it was obviously polished assiduously. I told the receptionist that. Somehow, he didn’t share my enthusiasm. He probably thought I was mad. I am not, my Mum had me tested. But he probably thought I was anyway.
So that’s how it began, my trip to Iran, in a strange hotel, in a capital even its mum couldn’t love.
But the best was yet to come..