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'

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