Wednesday, 27 February 2013


When the John Lindsay family took over our Frigiliana house, we moved down to Nerja and rented an old three storey town house opposite a beautiful little fisherman’s beach. Eve commandeered the attic as her sleep-in studio and furnished it with a mattress and cushions on the floor but little else, while Nicolas, Matthew and I occupied rooms overlooking the street which proved noisier than expected. Our new way of life was, however, ideal for the boys. Wearing nothing but swimming trunks all day, they were in and out of the sea from the moment they woke up till nightfall, only coming back to the house when they were hungry.  
 Though I was determined to finish my novel by the end of May, I found it impossible to work in my new quarters because of the incessant din and shouting from below, Spaniards, with their strong vocal chords and loud voices, not known for respecting decibels. I tentatively mentioned to Eve that I might rent a little apartment on the outskirts of the town where things might be more peaceful and the joy that lit up her face when I suggested this told me that my presence in her life had become a much greater burden than I had imagined.
 The next day I found myself a perfect two-bedroom flat in a modern block, well away from the centre of town. It was fully furnished so the boys could come and stay whenever they wanted. 
  I did not, at first, see the move as a wrench from family life, but soon realized that I had never lived alone. From parental homes to boarding school to shared flats and married life, during my forty years I had spent my whole life with others. Solitude and complete peace was an odd experience, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and, overnight, I grew up into further adulthood coming to the conclusion that never being quite alone from birth tends to blunt maturity.   
 After a few days, Nicolas and Matthew turned up, each with a little suitcase in hand. They would come to stay with Daddy every weekend, Eve’s idea which struck me as being close to a divorce arrangement. When I settled them in their beds that night, I asked them if they thought Mummy would be alright alone by herself and they yawningly informed me that she wasn’t...alone that is. 
 'Easy Rider’s moved in,' one of them said.
 'Ahhh.....' I managed without showing too much surprise, and switched off the light. 
 Easy Rider was one of the flower power people and so named because he owned a Harley Davidson Chopper and had modelled himself on Peter Fonda’s character in the film of that name. He wore a sweatband round his forehead, had long sticky hair, sported small round sun glasses even at night, a leather waistcoat over a bare chest, jeans torn at the knees and buttoned up boots. He was from Cleveland Ohio, had served in the US army in Vietnam, but never talked about it, indeed he hardly ever talked at all. On the few occasions that I had sat with him and others at a café, he had struck me as a quite comical figure, but now I had doubts whether I would find him that amusing. 
    I was surprised that he had replaced me and Alan Tobias in Eve’s life so quickly and felt a certain unease at the thought of him becoming a hero in my son's eyes because he gave them pillion rides on his wretched machine. I went to bed and tried to pretend that I didn’t care.  
  I now concentrated hard on finishing my novel ( The Girl with a Peppermint Taste ). I sent it off to Triton Books and was amazed to learn by return that it was not only accepted but would be published in the autumn to catch the Christmas market. Within a couple of weeks phone calls started to plague Eve at the house and telegrams found me in my hide away. 'Come soonest - stop - Booking press interviews - stop - You will be on London Transport buses - stop.'
 I had no idea what the last bit was about, but I packed my bags and got on a plane to Heathrow.
 On arrival at the publishers I was informed that The Sun newspaper was to serialize the novel, an episode every day from the first week in September and that an interview with one of their journalists had been arranged for the next day.   
 'The Sun, serializing the book ?' I made a face. 'Do we want that ?'
  'You’ll be able to live for a year in Spain on what they’re paying. They’ll also be promoting the serialization and book on buses all over London and with 60-second dramatization spots on television.  I can’t tell you what that’s worth !'
It wasn’t what I had hoped for at all. I had never thought of a serialization in a daily newspaper, they weren’t that common, and The Sun wasn’t exactly an intellectual medium nor the sort of tabloid I particularly wanted to be associated with. The Observer or Sunday Times supplements would have been preferable, but I wasn’t a dilettante author. I was writing for money, earning a living by putting pen to paper and not dreaming of the Pulitzer Prize, so I didn’t argue.                         

 The following morning I waited in the Triton office for the Sun journalist. I had expected a man, but was mistaken. A young woman  arrived at eleven precisely and my first impression was of a prim, extremely serious academic who might grant me ten minutes of her valuable time if I listened to her questions.
  The second impression was of an attractive female, dark haired, early thirties, wearing a long Laura Ashley dress because she would have preferred to be a pert Victorian miss than a 20th century tabloid reporter.. I was not instantly smitten, but very nearly, which got me into a great deal of trouble. 

Nerja in the 60's and Easy Rider

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


In the months that followed Eve’s sister’s tragic death, our guilt at not having argued her sad case more forcefully with her parents could not be shaken off easily. 
 Of the two of us I was naturally less affected and escaped dwelling on the reality by losing myself in work, but Eve took a long time to recover and eventually did so because of two Americans who came unexpectedly into our lives.   
 Alan Tobias, a New York artist, was an arrogant individual with extraordinary charisma. Physically in the same mould as Mick Jagger, though not a look alike, he could be rude, demanding and mean, but appealed to us because of his cynical sense of humour. He had the ability of sensing everyone’s Achilles heel within minutes of meeting them and could be quite cruel if they did not respond to his whims.
 I actually liked his company and found it convenient when I realized that Eve ( who first met him in a local bar )  found him disconcertingly attractive and helpful in making her forget the immediate past.
 While I wrote, she went down to Nerja to sit for hours watching him hurl paint at huge canvasses with extraordinary precision, an action painter whose work would have been successful if he had not been his own worst enemy and alienated possible buyers with his attitude of not suffering fools gladly. 
 Eve and Alan became inseparable. They smoked and drank themselves into stupors most nights and when he was kicked out of his accommodation for failing to pay the rent, she suggested he should come and stay with us. 
 As I had not seen her so happy and animated for a long time. I agreed, aware that if she was having an affair or about to do so it would conveniently negate the guilt of my own past infidelity. 
 Alan moved in. He commandeering the terrace at the top of the house where he could lob streaks of colourful oils at large sheets of hardboard to his heart’s content and sleep on a mattress under the stars. 
 Overnight Eve became a mother to her four boys. Alan, Nicolas, Matthew and myself in that order of importance. She cooked lunches and dinners, no longer went down to Nerja but sat with him and a bottle or two of wine in the moonlight by the pool while I, more often than not, went to bed early to rise at the crack of dawn to keep up my writing discipline.. 
 Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks passed, Alan painted, I wrote, the boys played with their village friends and Eve was at last at peace with herself.
 She washed Alan’s jeans, T-shirts and underwear, albeit along with mine and those of the children, She was in love and I was genuinely happy for her. I had no idea how long such a menage would last nor to where it might lead, but I was very careful not to rock the boat. 
 Then one morning the phone rang. 'Could I speak to Alan Tobias ?' a chirpy, young female voice enquired. 
 'Who is it ?' I asked.
  'Ellen, his wife,' she answered.   
 Alan had married  a 20 year old Danish girl in the States and, when they had decided to live for a while in Europe,  she had gone to see her parents in Copenhagen and he had come straight to Spain not wanting to meet his in-laws. He had told no one about her. She had rung from Malaga airport and was on her way to join him. The news devastated Eve. 
 Faced with this 'fait accompli' we had little option but to receive the young Mrs Tobias on her arrival. She was an undeniably attractive blonde, a little plump perhaps and not very tall. She was highly amused by the fact that her husband had wormed his way into our lives and managed to get his board and lodging free. It was, she claimed, something he was very good at.
 That night the agitated sounds the couple made as they shared  the mattress on the terrace directly above our bedroom kept me awake but completely shattered Eve’s composure. 
 Incensed at Alan’s duplicity and unable to control her rage, she leapt out of bed, dressed, grabbed the car keys and told me she would not be back till ‘they’ had left the house.  
 It took me the best part of the following day to get the Tobiases out of the house. Ellen understood my dilemma perfectly and was helpful, but Alan was not one to be graceful about his requested departure.  
 Eve returned that evening on learning that the coast was clear and, when the boys had gone to bed, we sat in the patio and discussed the future. I was really enjoying my new way of life but things had gone too wrong for her to be content. She needed more diversion than I and wanted to be surrounded by people. She suggested letting the house and renting somewhere down in Nerja for a trial period. She had heard of several  places in the town which were amazingly cheap to rent, the problem was finding suitable people to whom we could let ours.  
 Nicolas and Matthew had however become great friends with two American brothers of their age who often came to swim in our pool. When their parents showed up one day to collect them and looked round the house, they asked if we had ever thought of letting it. The mother was keen to stay in Spain for a few months so that the boys could learn Spanish. An instant decision was made. We would rent it to them for six months.  
 They were a more serious couple than Eve’s usual flower people and when I discreetly enquired about their financial status, the father informed me, very casually, that he was the mayor of New York, John Lindsay, which suggested that payment would be guaranteed and our home more than well looked after. 

Alan Tobias        John Lindsay (mayor of New York in 1969)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


One bright sunny day I was shopping in Nerja when I paused in front of a shoe shop to check if there was anything of interest. A tall man in a flat cap, tweed jacket, white trousers, the stub of a cigar stuck in his mouth, stooped next to me to study a pair of leather boots on display. His reflection in the window looked remarkably like John Huston. I turned and was astounded to see that it was John Huston, director, of The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen. etc.
 I smiled at him nervously, he grinned back, and walked off.
 I thought of following him, but instead settled down at a café to read a newspaper and saw, sitting two tables away George C.Scott - The Hustler, The List of Adrian Messenger, Patton. etc. 
 The waiter enlightened me. A major feature film was going to be shot in the town, an American production with Spanish crew. I obviously wouldn’t know anyone involved, so I reluctantly left it at that.  
 A few days later I was again walking around Nerja, this time with little Matthew, when we chanced upon the film unit setting up to shoot George C.Scott driving an open car down a narrow street and John Huston  sitting close by in the director’s chair. Though it was midday and sunny, the car’s headlights were blazing. 
'Daddy,' said Matthew concerned, 'The car’s headlights are on'.
 'So they are,' said I, 'why don’t you tell that man sitting in the chair. He’s the director, probably hasn’t noticed and should be told.' 
 Matthew, never one to be shy, went straight up to Huston, tapped him on the arm and said something pointing at the car. 
 To my excessive joy John Huston placed his arm round my little boy’s shoulders and puffed out a cloud of cigar smoke. 
 I sneaked up behind them. 
 'It’s called day-for-night,' the gravel voice explained gently. 'We put special filters on the camera lens that's over there, and when the film comes out it looks like night time.' 
 I stepped forward ready to apologize for my son bothering him, but the continuity girl got to him before me with a problem, so I backed away. 
 A few evenings after that when I was in a bar with Eve and a group of her flower power friends, a small, excitable, bright eyed crew-cut character, neatly dressed in pink shirt and sky blue trousers, joined us. He had met one of the American hippies on the beach earlier and introduced himself as Jack Martin, London based gossip columnist and European stringer for the Rhona Barrett Show in Los Angeles, a TV programme that reported the lives, loves, divorces and disasters of Hollywood celebrities. He was tailing George C.Scott wherever as rumour had it that the star was about to leave his wife. 
 I learned from him that the film, The Last Run, was a thriller supposedly set in Portugal, and that an unknown young actress would be playing opposite Scott.  He learned from me, after plying me with endless questions as columnists do,  that I wrote books, that Eve had been a fashion model and that, among other things, she had been presented at Court. 
 'Bobby has to meet her,' he piped up. 'Bobby loves anything to do with the British Royals.'
 'Who is Bobby ? ? I asked. 
 'Bobby De Haven,' he replied. 'Carter De Haven’s fabulously rich wife, heiress to the Firestone Tyre fortune. Carter, Gloria De Haven’s nephew is the producer.'
 'Princess Margaret’s husband once sat on my knee,' I said to excite him even more. 'We were in a taxi on our way to a pyjama party, He was wearing a nightdress.' 
 'Oh, Bobby will love you for that.  She will just love you. She must meet you as soon as possible.' 
 A few days later Eve and I were invited to dinner by Jack Martin to meet the De Haven’s. . Bobby was glamorous, but so worried about showing signs of growing old that she had a small piece of Sellotape stuck to the middle of her forehead to remind her not to frown.  
 I sang for my supper recounting details of the garden party I had attended at Buckingham Palace, elaborating a little on the Royals I hadn’t met and the debutante scene with its rigid etiquette. Carter, a rather worried man, did not take me too seriously but was entertained enough by my storytelling to suggest I should send him my new novel when it was finished.
 I was through the Hollywood door ! It wasn’t brilliant literature that got you anywhere, but frivolous gossip.  
 A few days later I ventured into an area of Nerja I had not frequented before and, feeling peckish, found a little bar tucked away down a narrow lane where the overweight, rather morose owner poured me a huge glass of red wine and served me a tapas of chick peas. The place was dimly lit but, when I got used to the darkness, I spotted a couple smooching in a corner. She was young and blonde, he old enough to be her father, and it was only after rudely peering at them for a bit longer that I recognized George C.Scott and his leading actress Trish Van DeVere. Surprised, but happy for them, I left the bar and went home.
 The next morning I was, by chance, joined at a café table by Jack Martin. I casually mentioned that I had perceived the two stars in a passionate embrace, and his jaw dropped. 
 Was I sure it was them ? Where exactly ? When exactly ? What were they doing exactly ? He wanted every detail. He then raced back to his hotel phone and, that evening, in Los Angeles, on the Rhona Barret Show, the news broke that Trish and George C were in the throes of a frantic affair, spotted in a romantic clinch in a dingy Spanish bar by a Barret ace reporter. Scott would shortly be divorcing his wife.  
 The outcome of my snitching on the lovers proved fairly traumatic for them, though they eventually married, but amazingly beneficial to me. A year later Jack Martin, ever grateful, let me his luxurious flat in one of the most sought after Kensington squares for an unbelievably low rent. I lived there happilly for ten years - but more of what happened there another day.

 John Huston.   George C. Scott.    Trish Van Devere. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


As often happens after experiencing a family tragedy, husband and wife close ranks and devote more time to looking after their children than dreaming of escaping into a world free of problems. We were already in dreamland so could hardly complain
 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 cascaded 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 twenty four hours, and the only inconvenience suffered was the resulting rising damp which one just had to accept.
 To our delight Nicolas and Matthew, aged ten and eight, were soon able to speak Spanish fluently, coping admirably at school where reading, writing and arithmetic were fiercely taught but other subjects rather ignored. Religious instruction - that is Roman Catholicism - was left entirely to the village priest who seemed to prefer playing dominoes in the local bar to enlightening the younger members of his flock about the powers of the Virgin Mary and her son.. We neither sent the boys to church nor went ourselves and were never admonished by anyone for this sin. If we'd had doubts that ‘quitting the rat race’ might be an educative set back for our offspring, these were quickly dispelled for they were now growing up in a caring community and had a safe, traffic free village and countryside to play in with children who were more influenced by their down to earth peasant family values than television and  twentieth century stress.
 I had so far managed to keep our finances healthy by writing two more humorous books, one on the history of banqueting 'Eat, Drink and Be Sorry'  the other 'A Bluffer’s Guide to Antiques' neither of which were likely to put me on the road to becoming an eminent author but, at Easter, a bizarre encounter set me on that very path.  
 Nicolas, Matthew and I were on the beach overlooked by the main Nerja hotel. They dug holes, filled buckets and built castles while I lay on my stomach reading. When I glanced round to check that all was well,  I saw to my embarrassment that they had buried a complete stranger in the sand, an elderly white haired gentleman who was not objecting to this amusement but seemed to be instructing them on how to cover him completely and not let his toes stick out.
 Mildly concerned, I sauntered over to make sure it was his wish to be so exploited and, to my astonishment, found myself staring down at an extremely famous face.
 The man was Norman Fisher, chairman of the BBC Television Brains Trust, a programme I had regularly watched on Sunday afternoons in the past. 
 'Should I pretend that I don’t know who you are ? Your gravediggers are my sons,' I said.
  'And very enjoyable company they are too,' he replied, pulling himself up and out of the sandy grave to shake hands.
 'There are extraordinary coincidences in life,' he went on. 'the first is that I have just learned from your boys that you are Drew Launay, the author of a zany detective book I have brought down with me as holiday reading. The second is that I happen to be on the board of Macdonalds who published your excellent  'Caviare and After' and 'I Married a Model'.
 The outcome of this unexpected  meeting was a dinner with him  that evening during which he informed me that he was also the Managing Director of another publishing house, Triton Books, and, as such, thought I was wasting my talent working on non fiction. He would gladly pay me an advance if I satisfied his editor that I could deliver a good novel and sign a six book contract.
 I agreed immediately, committed myself  to sending his editor the outline of an amazing story I said I had in mind, though not, in fact, having any ideas at all.
 Shortly after, I had to go to London on another matter. While I was away, Eve invited a number of her Nerja friends up to Frigiliana for an endless party and, when, a week later,  I got home from the airport late at night, I found the house commandeered by a colony of beatniks, some swimming nude in the pool, most lounging around in clouds of marihuana smoke.
 My feelings were mixed. I knew a few of them who clearly regarded me as  ‘square’ which made it difficult to be accepted by them and I wanted to understand why they so lacked ambition and could live off other people without qualms.
 They were seeped in mythical flower power, a sub culture rooted in the opposition to the Vietnam war, an excuse to avoid all responsibilities. They quoted Alan Ginsberg, had been to the Woodstock rock festival, they embraced psychedelic experiments, blew their minds with LSD and explored alternative states of consciousness which inevitably led to sex with anyone convenient. 
 I watched Eve in kaftan and hibiscus flowers in her hair wandering among them, happy to be the hostess to this new trend, apparently unaware that without my sniffed at daily writing routine, which paid for this lifestyle, her sycophants would probably ignore her and sponge off someone else.
 Among them, however, I found a young gum-chewing cockney girl whom I thought attractive. When I sat down, cross legged, beside her but refused a joint, she told me she thought my obvious irritation with everybody highly comical, adding that I shouldn’t be such a 'fuckin prick', then took me for a long walk up a mountain to study the universe.
 The stars did not inspire me as much as she did and she eventually became the main character in the novel I wrote for Norman Fisher - The Girl With a Peppermint Taste. 

Illustrations from 'Eat, Drink and Be Sorry'