The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret – Ex Political Correspondent

(The following ended up on the desk of Bridie Moale, (CEO of Boomtown Bridies, PR to celebs), dog-eared, coffee-stained (or was it blood?) and pencil-smudged, a week after Bridie had returned from her business trip to Dubai, having left her best friend and sole business partner Fiona in charge of the company…)

Dear Bridie,

I hope you get this. If you don’t I don’t know what will happen to me. I could disappear off the face of the earth and no one will ever know. This is a REAL emergency and not a fake letter from some crook in Spain trying to get into your bank account. I’m in serious trouble and my life is in DANGER so we are talking serious.

A woman who has relatives in France has risked her life getting this to you so hopefully you will get it and when and IF you do please don’t a) panic as it won’t help me b) get angry with me for not telling you about my secret trip c) tell anyone about this. I want you to take a deep breath (that’s what Vera and Phil kept saying to me when I got ruffled, which at the time made me more incandescent but now I appreciate it) and put two feet on the ground (take off those wedgies first) and then get on the phone to the Secret Service. They must have one somewhere in the bowels of the Department of Foreign Affairs. You have got to swallow your pride and forget all the abusive comments you received when you jumped ship and pull ALL your political strings and get me out of here. If necessary go straight to the top and get the Gruffalo (even though he is up to the eyeballs with Lisbon and NAMA) to find someone in the D of F A (yes, I know what you’re thinking but this is no time for jokes) – not just a minion, but a person with clout and kudos. Someone with real power, not just someone who thinks he has power. I can’t believe a whole week has gone by. I feel as if I’ve been away for a lifetime and that I AM now living on another planet. It feels so weird not having any news from the outside and no chance of getting to a computer. They are like gold dust so I’m going through withdrawals without my face book and twitter. Life is so different here and we all live on the edge, on high alert code red twenty four seven. I have so much to tell you and lots of INFORMATION.

Where to start? You remember when you went off to Dubai to promote those Speedos with the hottest man in town while I was signing a contract with the human rights lawyer, Zahra M – I’d better keep her last name secret under the circumstances – anyway, the night you left I had to make a decision to go with her and meet this group. I managed to clear my desk and remembered to set the office alarm, so I hope all is well. Before I could change my mind I was whisked off on a plane with Z all the way to Kabul (via several other countries) to have a secret meeting with a clandestine women’s group. Z wanted me to meet the head of the underground, code-named M who has lots of low down on the elections, corruption, Sharia law and the general plight of women in Afghanistan. I know you are starting to get angry reading this as you told me to forget causes and focus on celebs, but I think this is important and someone has got to get Afghanistan on the map. All we hear about is body bags and soldiers and the opium trade and warlords (which is awful) but there is a whole lot going on inside the country, which is affecting ordinary people, particularly women and children and the media don’t seem to be interested in their stories. I love my job but it needs to be MEANINGFUL. I’m sorry to be a pain. I’m feeling emotional. It must be the valium. We got some smuggled in to the compound to calm us down a little.

On the plane I dyed my hair and eyebrows black (you should see me – I look like Marilyn Manson) and dressed up in a burkah (they are actually quite cool and comfortable and you don’t have to worry about tights or shaving your legs) and when we stopped in Pakistan in a safe house my mobile phone was taken as a precautionary measure (it felt like my child was taken from me, not that I’ve had one, but you know what I mean, I felt so bereft and cut off from the world) and was given a FAKE passport (can you believe it?) – I will not reveal my fake name – yet. It’s all too dangerous. We had to be very careful in Pakistan as the Taliban are everywhere and control everything, thanks to George W who poured money into the country to get them on side and the government gave it all to the Taliban! How dumb is that?

I got through passport control at Kabul airport with no hassle. My companions said I was a cousin of Z’s who had been visiting relatives in Pakistan and there was a possibility I had swine flu. That got the officials moving and we were shooed out of the place like annoying flies. A complete lunatic who talked and gesticulated hysterically with his hands off the wheel for about half an hour then drove us off at great speed in a beat up old car. By this time it was dead of night and pitch dark and I was completely disoriented. The smells and sounds are so different from home. We ended up inside a high-walled compound and were then ushered into this small room, which was badly lit and full of women drinking coffee and smoking heavy-duty cigars. By this stage I was pretty jet-lagged and disoriented and even though Badger and Betty smoked like chimneys when I was a child I’d forgotten how horrible it was.

Anyway as soon as the door was closed and locked Z and I took off our burkahs and she introduced me to the group. The women were great. They were all wearing a mixture of clothes. A few wore burkahs but most were in jeans and t-shirts with fabulous jewelry. I was greeted ecstatically and given some really strong coffee – like really strong with lots of sugar in it and what tasted like a shot of brandy or something alcoholic.  That woke me up I can tell you. When the women heard I was from Ireland they immediately started to speak in English. I was amazed how fluent they were and felt such a loser – I can only speak English, have forgotten my Irish and have as much French as Julia Child. Can only say Bon Appétit (usually in the company of menopausal Betty, and her weird hippy friends when I need to fit in) with a lousy French accent.

Anyway I’m digressing. One of the women thought I was called Farah and wondered if the Ferrets originally came from Iran. I think Farah Ferret sounds a really cool name. I don’t think my Dad, would be too thrilled at the prospect of us coming from Iran. He seems to be anti everything at the moment. Talking of my parents, Bridie, you will HAVE to phone them, but ONLY after you’ve tried everything and have made arrangements to get me out. If I hit the headlines as a hostage or worse they will go ballistic and I’ll never hear the end of it. Mind you it might get my Dad out of his depression if he were to worry about me and it would give him something to do. My mother would probably say – well leave her there – maybe she’ll find a husband – I can just hear her. The big problem is Ronan (current boyfriend though relationship under severe strain) because I didn’t tell him I was going. I know, I KNOW it was wrong and I can see your face with those eyebrows disappearing into your head, but it was after all a top-secret contract and confidentiality is the name of our game. Come to think of it, I wonder if Ronan would even notice a) that I’ve gone b) not been in touch. You know he pays more attention to his allotment vegetables. At least Prince Charles talks to his plants whereas Ronan just gives them the silent intuitive bonding treatment, which involves hours of digging, weeding and trundling around with a wheelbarrow and watering can. Besides Ronan has NOT been very supportive towards our new business venture. When I told him he was a parasite he told me I was a capitalist slug! Vera says this is passive/aggressive behaviour (can’t see how pushing a wheelbarrow is either passive or aggressive). Phil suspects Ronan is ‘deeply threatened’ by the fact that I earn more than him but also assures me that this is ‘his problem’. Well actually no, Phil, it becomes my problem. I can’t understand why Ronan isn’t delighted to be a ‘kept’ man who can do what he likes even if it is gardening. What do men want? What makes them happy? Is it trying to control everything including women, children and goats like the Taliban? One minute they want to be looked after, the next, to be left alone. I don’t know where I am anymore. Anyway, Bridie, this is not the time for revenge or resentment, please leave Ronan out of this and Phil. I know Phil is your boyfriend, sorry husband – the wedding feels like centuries ago – it must be the valium or maybe the cigars have some opium in them but my head is very fuzzy – and that you tell him, Phil that is, everything but this time please keep this to yourself. You know what Phil is like – he will want to take control and resolve the situation on a very grand scale. He’ll go off to the press and spill the beans and then blab to Jo Duffy, who will make me out to be an idiot or worse he will go to Pat Kenny where I will become an international INCIDENT.

I am getting to the point but you need the background Bridie so you can brief the Secret Service properly. I stayed in the compound for three days and wrote down everything the women told me on wodges of paper which is wrapped in a scroll and stuffed inside my bra and no one has found it yet. I challenge the Taliban to search bras. Apparently they are not the puritans they claim to be, so I’m not taking any chances. I have the outline for a book, a bestseller at that. You have no idea some of the stuff that goes on here. A new law has just come out where a husband is allowed to starve his wife if she doesn’t have sex with him. Beatings are a daily occurrence but the worst is the isolation. You cannot leave the house without the permission of a husband or a father or some male. And there is a real crackdown on education. Little girls are being kept at home and not sent to school. If women are found reading any western material or anything with a hint of sex or love poetry they risk getting publicly flogged.

Three days ago Z was followed by the Taliban Gestapo and arrested. We are very worried about her. This meant that we all had to move out of the compound fast and find other safe houses. A curfew has been put in place and I’m technically under house arrest in a tiny room behind a garage somewhere on the outskirts of Kabul. So your best friend is virtually a hostage Bridie, a prisoner of war. Even though I’m terrified it’s also a bit exciting, like being in the Bourne Conspiracy only this time I would welcome the CIA. If I think too much about the punishments like flogging and stoning and possibly death I get panicked and then swallow another valium. I’m smoking cigars and that calms me down. Also the brandy helps. Last night the Taliban opened fire in the next street and I thought this is it Fiona.

The day we moved house we had to sneak out on to the streets having first covered our tracks. We buried all the cigar butts, dumped the alcohol and whipped into our burkahs. It’s a strangely powerful feeling walking through the streets peering out knowing that people can’t see in. And there is always the risk of an arrest. The Taliban drive around in really fast jeeps and block off streets, shooting rounds as they go and are free to arrest whoever they please. There are two other Westerners here with me. One is from the States and her parents are Afghan and the other is Canadian from an Iranian background so at least they look as if they fit in. They belong to a group who regularly visit bringing money to the women’s movement. They carry thousands of dollars strapped to their bodies. I can’t believe how brave these people are. I realize I’ve led such a sheltered and privileged life. I also realize how lucky I am and you are right Bridie, I was a terrible moaner. I promise I will never complain about anything again. I’ll even TRY and stop moaning about Ronan. Now I’m getting emotional again. Thank heaven for these cigars. They are called Poppiums – I’ve never heard of them – but they certainly help.

Now Bridie I want you to brace yourself for my last will and testament. I know this is doom and gloom talk but just in case the very worst does happen, this is what I need you to do if I don’t come back. I want you to tell my parents that they did their best, which wasn’t always great. Tell Mum that if she really wants adventure she should get out here and join the underground. Tell Dad to get real, get on line and find out what’s going on in the world and stop moaning – oops there is the kettle calling the whatever black. Tell Aunty Kitty that she is a liberal saint compared to the Taliban (that will really annoy her!) and if I meet with a terrible end, she is NOT to make me into a martyr or write to the Pope applying for a saint hood. Tell Vera she was right – life is full of surprises and uncertainty and give her my mobile phone as a gift (she was always telling me to switch it off – Oh its somewhere in Pakistan – so she can’t have it but you can tell her that was my last wish). I want you and Phil to have my furniture. I’m sorry the sofa is so wine-stained and the cushions need cleaning. You can have the red shoes, the ones you stole to wear at Bertie’s farewell party.  You can also use my tickets to the Electric Picnic; they’re in the top left- hand drawer in the kitchen under the gardening tools. Tell Ronan I’m really sorry I didn’t tell him that I was going and I can’t think what to give him. Oh yes, that avocado plant that I’ve been trying to kill for the last three years. Maybe he’ll give it a better life. If my life…. death…. you know what I mean, does become an international incident then Bridie I want you to tell the world the truth. I want you to promise you will maximize the publicity for the Boomtown Bridies. Why should Angelina and Brad get all the publicity? And when the dust has settled I want you to contact Gabriel Byrne’s website and let him know that I was his number one fan.

Bridie you will always be my best friend…. now I’m getting emotional again…. best of luck with life, lots of love from your friend Fiona – Code Name Fatima …not as in Our Lady Of but Fatima a famous Afghani heroine who poisoned three warlords and blew up a Russian tank…. and married a Taliban commander to get information…

Hurry up. Morale flagging. Supplies of valium, brandy, cigars and TIME running out.