Thursday, 15 November 2012


This is the 50th Post of the Blog that my father started in January 2012 to inform and entertain me but which got out of hand and has grown into a sort of autobiography.
It has proved popular, gathered a large number of regular readers so new Posts will continue to appear more or less every week.
All your comments, polite and rude, are much appreciated.

Thank you for reading! 



In July 1968, Eve, Nicolas, Matthew and I set off for a holiday that would change our lives completely.
We were the guests of Eve's model friend Marta who had just divorced her husband (my publisher at Macdonalds) and had moved to a remote mountain village in Southern Spain.
 In those days Franco was still dictator. There were rumours that Spaniards were not too civilized, that there were bandits in the hills, and that holiday makers disappeared from their hotels during the night never to be seen again. So we were a little apprehensive, not sure the trip was wise with our young boys but Marta, amused by such nonsense, assured us that we would have nothing to worry about where she lived.
 We flew to Malaga airport which resembled a film set for an old spy thriller, one short runway flanked by fields of burnt grass and palm trees, an arrivals hall that was little more than a Nissen hut, and a quantity of fierce looking Guardia Civil armed to the teeth, wearing comic opera hats and smoking cigars on duty at passport control. They let us through without a smile and Marta was there waiting for us.
 She drove us East along the coast road under a blazing sun, the sparkling sea on our right, dusty sugar cane fields on our left. We stopped in the small fishing village of Nerja for a coffee - hardly any shops, hardly any bars, only sandy beaches with fishermen having a siesta.  We then went up to the village of Frigiliana where she lived.
 From a distance the pueblo looked like a cluster of birds nests perilously stuck to the steep slopes of the mountains. Approached along an old mule track and through the crumbling Moorish defensive walls, the place became a maze of narrow streets flanked by ancient whitewashed houses with iron balconies hung heavy with bright geraniums in multicoloured pots.
 Every doorway was open and nearly every threshold occupied by elderly women in black and young girls squinting at their lacework. It was peasant Andalucia from the dung stuck between the cobblestones to the earthy smell of wine and chorizo sausage issuing from primitive kitchens. I loved its unaffected simplicity.

 Marta had renovated an old house and added a small swimming pool to a garden crowded with semi tropical plants. We stayed there for two weeks eating her out of house and home, lying in the sun and getting nut brown without fear of skin cancer which had not yet become a concern.
 In the evenings we wandered around watching weary farmers back from their vineyards and olive groves lead their tired mules through the living rooms of their houses to the stables at the back, their wives frantically mopping up the mess left behind. There seemed to be no shops till one peered in through the ground floor windows and saw crates of vegetables and fruit on display and mountain hams hanging from the ceiling - a grocer, or shelves of medicine jars, bottles of pills and packaged  cosmetics - a chemist.
 We sat at a café on the square in front of the church and drank wine at nine pesetas a bottle ( 50p ) while the boys played with the local children, coming back to us to ask what ‘tonto’ might mean ( twit ) or ‘mierda’ ( shit ). After only a few days we were the ones to ask them for translations they learned bits of the language so quickly.
  Inevitably we were tempted into looking for possible properties to buy. We were not interested in the new villas which were being built on the outskirts of the village, but old buildings which could be renovated as Marta had her house. This puzzled those we asked, for their ideal homes would have to be all modern brick walls and aluminium front doors and windows with plastic blinds.
 Unfortunately we were shown two or three amazing bargains with endless possibilities which started us dreaming. Why were we living in Somerset ? Why had we chosen to suffer the indignities of frozen pipes, grey clouds, winds and constant rain. As a freelance I could work anywhere in the world so why not come down and settle here ? It was safe, peaceful, sun drenched and unbelievably cheap. The boys could go to the local school for a few years before we had to think of advanced exams, Eve was even more keen than I at the idea as her parents couldn’t possibly come this far down every week-end and, at the back of my mind I felt the move would bring us closer together again whatever misdeeds we might have each committed.
 We made enquiries about renting a place for six months before buying anything to make sure we were not influenced by just a lunatic holiday idea, but by the time we left we knew in our hearts that we would risk the upheaval a total move from the UK would entail.

 Back in England the next six months passed by quickly. We put the Old Rectory up for sale. We were in the boom years when property prices had shot up and we got a better offer than expected so planned the great adventure, the emigration, the exodus for the following March and, with some determination tried to learn as much Spanish as possible from seriously tedious postal courses.
 By mid February we had sold all the furniture we did not want in the antique shop and put our more valued belongings in storage. A month later we were off in a new estate car and trailer loaded with our essentials -  the boy's bicycles, Eve’s paints, a record player, LPs, my reference books and typewriter.
 We spent a day in London with Major Bill and Doris who made it clear that they thought us totally irresponsible and could not forgive us for endangering the lives of our children. They gave us endless instructions on how to deal with foreign doctors, foreign food, foreign money, earthquakes and other disasters, then we were on our way.
 The Southampton - Bilbao ferry hit a storm in the Bay of Biscay so I, never a good sailor, remained in our stuffy cabin hugging a plastic bowl while Eve sat in the bar with a brandy or two watching the boys spend all their pocket money and more on pin ball machines.
  During  the drive down to Madrid we counted more mules, donkeys and oxen than cars, through La Mancha the boys spotted distant windmills but no sign of Don Quixote and, on the second day, as night fell more quicklyly than expected, we got lost in the wilderness of Andalucia. 

 Frigiliana streets 1969

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