Friday, 25 January 2013


Our first winter in Spain was spent marvelling at the fact that there wasn’t any to speak of, except for occasional bursts of torrential rain which caused water to cascade down from the gutterless rooves flooding the cobbled streets. The whitewashed houses turned grey, which would have been depressing if the sun hadn’t come out within a few hours, and the only inconvenience suffered was the resulting rising damp which one just had to accept, that and, in our case, the too soon visit of Eve’s parents who came to check up on our chosen way of life. They thankfully thought we were demented to live in such a primitive environment  but unfortunately liked Nerja enough to rent a holiday apartment down there for an early summer holiday. They were never going to leave us alone.
 Eve had an older sister Joey ( Josephine ) whom I have not mentioned before as she hardly played a part in our lives, she was an aloof young woman who took no interest in her younger sibling and seemed to me to only judge everyone and everything by the mores of the social set she admired.  She preferred to frequent titled people, Debretts was her bible, the Tatler, Country Life and Queen magazines her main source of information about the world.
 A year or so before our own wedding she married the heir to a shipping line, gave birth to a daughter but suffered a more than usually severe post natal depression which resulted in her coming under the care of various psycho analysts. She managed to get through a few unhappy years pf domesticity but these ended in an unhappy divorce and she returned home to live with her parents.
 So it was that in May, Major Bill and Doris came down to stay in their rented flat with Joey for six weeks.
 Eve and I went to collect the three of them at Malaga airport and were appalled by her condition. Joey behaved like a perplexed, troubled child, lifeless, unaware of her surroundings, totally devoid of energy or conversation. When I attempted to talk to Major Bill about what the doctors thought of her state of mind, he categorically denied that she was ill and that those who said she was were talking utter rubbish. He claimed that, as a child, she had always lacked energy and that all this business of sending her to psychiatrists was only the unnecessary meddling of her ex husband.
  Concerned, Eve suggested Joey should stay with us up in Frigiliana where she could judge for herself the seriousness of the situation and, for the next few weeks, the poor girl lay inert on her bed not wanting to eat and only talking about an impending disaster from which she would not be able to escape, her feelings of distress and persecution becoming increasingly delusional.
 Aware that Doris was incapable of standing up to her husband’s insistence that nothing was wrong, Eve and I attempted to drum some sense into Major Bill facing him with the fact that Joey was suffering from Manic Depression and should be flown back to London as soon as possible for treatment.
 'Nonsense, nonsense, you’re all talking nonsense,' was his reply,  'Our flight back is booked for the 30th June and we’re not leaving till then.'
 Unfortunately Joey perked up shortly after this confrontation which, as far as he was concerned, proved that we were all dramatising a minor problem and that he had been right all the time while we feared that her recovery was a clear symptom of Manic Depressive psychosis in which there are alternating moods of elation and depression.
  With only two weeks to go before their departure date and Joey livening up, eating normally, wanting to go shopping with Eve and even insisting on going down to the beach to get a sun tan to please her psychiatrist with whom she suddenly claimed she was having an affair, we let things be and saw them off at the airport, all much happier than when they had arrived.
 Four weeks later Major Bill rang from London to tell us that Joey had unaccountably fallen out of a 5th storey window of their apartment in Westbourne Terrace and died.

 Eve went to London to attend the Coroner’s inquest, returning two weeks later with a full account of the appalling tragedy.
 Joey’s death at the age of 43, was recorded as 'suicide while of unsound mind'. At about nine o’clock on the evening of July 24th, she had left the sitting room where she was watching television with her parents, gone to her own room, opened the window wide, taken off her shoes, arranged these neatly side by side on the floor, climbed up on the window sill and hurled herself into oblivion.
 At the inquest Major Bill denied that she had ever been mentally ill, though she had been in psychiatric care for five years. He just could not bear the thought that people would think there was madness in his family - a 19th century man with Victorian values who was never to be forgiven by his younger daughter.
 Eve’s guilt at not having argued Joey’s case more forcefully with her parents or taken her sister back to London herself, could not be shaken off easily and this, in turn, became a serious problem for us. She understandably found relief in the company of partying people down in Nerja, but the demons in the bottles she consumed slowly but surely took her over.

Photo of Joey

Thursday, 17 January 2013


 One September morning, while I was trying to inject a little humour into a chapter on Elizabethan eating habits for a commissioned  book on banqueting history, an extraordinary noise shattered the air above the pueblo. The rattle of the shutters, windows and doors was quite alarming and, fearing an earthquake,  I ran out into the street to see what was happening.
 Hovering a hundred metres or so above the church, was a helicopter that looked menacingly like a great metal insect. Inside the glass bubble under, the rotating blades, sat an ear-muffed pilot and next to him a man with a large camera. Suddenly the machine seemed to be sucked backwards and upwards into the sky and within seconds it was but a dark dot on the horizon.
 'They’re film people,' Eve said, returning from a shopping expedition.
 'Really ? What film people ? '
 'How should I know ? There’s a whole convoy of them coming up the hill.'
 'I’m going to have a look.' The thought of a film being made in the area was exhilarating.
 'Yes, I suppose you must.' It was said with the same disdainful tone she had used in the past whenever I had got excited over anything theatrical.   
 At the entrance of the village a crowd was milling around a number of  lorries, a transformer, two limousines and a mobile canteen. A stressed continuity girl with a walkie-talkie glued to her ear was crouching in the shadows of a caravan puffing at a cigarette.
 'What’s the film ?' I asked.
 'Figures in a Landscape. Malcolm McDowell, Robert Shaw, Joseph Losey directing ' She blew a cloud of smoke at me making it clear she didn’t need people around. Film crews have little time for anyone not on the production. I moved away.
 Malcolm McDowell had had a phenomenal success in the film "If..."  the year before. Robert Shaw had had a phenomenal success as a nasty against James Bond in "From Russia with Love" and as Henry VIII in "A Man for All Seasons". Joseph Losey had directed "The Servant" and "Accident", both domestic trauma stories of the type I wanted to write,  and these three gentlemen were going to work right here on my doorstep. I had to find out  if there was anyone on the shoot I had worked with in television, but the tense look on the faces of the technicians suggested this was not the time to make enquiries.
 I went home to plan a way to infiltrate the unit without making a nuisance of myself  and there, sitting on the sofa in the living room drinking a glass of white wine with Eve, was young Malcolm McDowell himself.
 I was astounded.
 He stood up. Grinned broadly and shook my hand warmly.
 'My sister, Gloria, worked with Eve as a model at Digby Morton’s when your book was published. She told me you were living down here, so I thought I’d call.' He then added
'Come up and see the shoot whenever. It’s just Robert Shaw and I playing two unidentified soldiers being chased by an unidentified enemy in an unidentified country'
 The next morning I took Nicolas and Matthew up the steep slopes of a mountain to a small plateau where everything seemed to be happening. Most of the village had gathered to stare in disbelief at the amazing network of cables which powered the innumerable spotlights and at all the other bits of equipment that had been hauled up there.
  Messrs McDowell and Shaw, in khaki uniform, their faces caked with mud, crouched in a hollow of the mountainside apparently hiding from some danger or other. Joseph Losey sat in a canvas chair just looking at them.  The lighting cameraman was taking his time choosing a shot.
 'It’s very boring,' Nicolas said, 'Can we go home now ?'
 My attempt to enthuse them with the thrills of movie making had understandably failed and the hope I had of them one day becoming film directors who would put my books on screen faded.  
  Before the production moved East along the coast to film the pursued soldiers escaping from blazing cane fields, Malcolm invited me to join him for a location lunch in a rambling old mountain farmhouse used as an HQ for the unit.
 I found myself sitting at a table alone with Joseph Losey, Robert Shaw and Malcolm. It was a golden opportunity for me to do a bit of hard sell, to pitch one of my stories, but the atmosphere between the three of them was painfully unpleasant. A belligerent Shaw stared menacingly at Malcolm throughout the meal, clearly wanting to pick a quarrel, while Malcolm totally ignored him.  Losey studied them both like a tired father in charge of two silly children, then Shaw suddenly stood up and, sneering at Malcolm, pointed at me and for no apparent reason said 'I don’t like your friend,' and left.
 I hadn’t said a word.
 Losey looked apologetically at me. 'It’s not personal. You’re the only one Robert can pick on as you’re not part of the production, the problem is that he is just learned from his agent that Malcolm is to get top billing over him because  "If..." is so successful. He can get very aggressive after a few drinks and he started early, which suits me, as he’s playing Malcolm’s  cantankerous old sergeant and the two hate each other.'
 Some units, I’d heard, are happy with the film crews getting on. Others not. In this case it was very much the latter and eventually all left and I never saw any of them again. 
 But, a few months later, a less stressed army of Hollywood actors and technicians turned up to film in Nerja - and I certainly managed to make the most of that. 

1  Malcolm McDowell
2  Robert Shaw
3  Joseph Losey 

Monday, 7 January 2013


 I didn’t.... Dig, that is.
 I wasn’t allowed to.
 In England, in Somerset for example, when I called in some builders to convert our little chapel room into an antique shop, I helped them with a bit of cementing here, a bit of painting there and made them lots of cups of tea.
 Not in Spain. Not in Andalucia. I was the owner of the property, a señor, a caballero, an hildalgo, so I was not to lift a finger, let alone dirty my hands. My job, if any, was to watch and approve and, though I had a state of the art wind-up measuring tape in a rather smart leather case, Manolo, the builder in charge, was a professional and preferred the well tried method of the stride, or his foreman’s feet - size 48. He did, however, appreciate the fact that I wanted to be of some use and, as I had a car, occasionally asked me to go down to Nerja on vital errands.. Thus I learned the Spanish for a length of string, half a kilo of nails, a pick axe handle and a packet of lethal black cigarettes. If you want to learn a foreign language there is no better way than to do so by acting as goffer to a native builder.
 I was content and so was Eve despite the major hiccough caused by my talking too much. The gamble we had taken was proving beneficial. We arranged for the boys to have private Spanish lessons and they got the hang of the language quickly, learning more from the children they played with than from the retired professor who was more often than not lost in a cloud of brandy fumes and heavy cigar smoke.
 When the pool was finished and the village kids heard about it,  they came knocking at the door, some in swimsuits, most in underpants. One girl of twelve who claimed she could swim, leapt excitedly into the deep end, thrashed the surface, gurgled and blew bubbles to the great amusement of her friends, and after a few seconds Nicolas anxiously gripped my arm and said he thought she was drowning. A second look at the floundering girl confirmed his fears, I dived in fully clothed and effected a dramatic rescue, after which I reluctantly decided that the joyous naivety of the villagers might sometimes be simple ignorance..

 Without a telephone and little contact with the U.K, no bills and very few letters bothering us ,we were able to relax like never before and enjoy the fact that we were now on holiday for ever. 
 August was our first taste of real heat. We discarded clothes, learned to close all windows and shutters to keep the house cool, remain motionless if not asleep between 2pm and 6 pm, and mainly live by night. It was wonderful.
 Most days we went down to the Nerja beaches favouring one which had a mile of sand and a single merendero ( beach café ) that excelled in fried eggs and chips and the inevitable paella. There were very few tourists then due to a lack off entertainment in the town other than one quite sophisticated bar, run by a couple of gay Australians, where we met a number of long haired Americans, young men who were escaping the Vietnam call-up and claimed to be artists but didn’t seem to paint, or writers who didn’t seem to write. With my strict discipline of completing at least three thousand words a day , I found Eve’s apparent admiration of their laid back, pot smoking way of life somewhat irritating, and I caught myself wishing that she might be tempted into a liaison with one of them which would annul my misbehaviour.
 They were an odd bunch, these Americans, and they made me feel  more staid than I believed myself to be. Their wide travelling experiences in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and the Far East, made me realize how ignorant I was of the world. Their language was peppered with rude expletives which surprisingly shocked me. Only a year before, Kenneth Tynan had offended millions of British viewers by uttering 'fuck' on television and I had thought this repressed reaction ridiculously naive, but now found that I too was being sniffily reserved. I put it down to my public school upbringing where, I realized, I had obviously been more brainwashed than I cared to believe..       
  I was also surprised that I didn’t miss London at all and relieved that I no longer had to compete with the more successful authors whose portraits had sneered at me from the pages of the Sunday supplements. I felt guilty that I had no desire to review other people’s books for the literary pages of the broad sheets, which my publishers would have welcomed as it was a sure way of getting reviewed oneself, but I disliked the necessary cow towing to the whims of agents, Fleet Street editors and PR executives. In short,  I had successfully quit the rat race and, right then, I was extremely happy in the company of the children all day, and peacefully writing outlines of brilliant ideas which might or might not bear fruit. Besides, at the back of my mind, in case we spent all our money too quickly, there was always the possibility of finding work in Almeria, a hundred kilometres East along the coast, the land of the Spaghetti Western where, rumour had it, film studios might soon be built and maybe a second Hollywood would be on my doorstep.
 As it happened, I learned that a famous film director was to shoot an epic story in and around Frigiliana that autumn, starring two famous British actors. In case I managed to corner one of them, I fished out my file of  'Unpublished Material' and stapled a few of the superlative storylines which might be turned into an Oscar winning movie.

1.  Supervising the digging of the pool
2.  The finished pool
  The patio of the house