Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Spain, First Time

The thing with Gerry was, he was a property guy. Started off investing in some land on the Costa; when that went well, he took a stake in one of the golf course developments; then a small-scale timeshare, then a bigger one, and then another, moving along the coast, away from the Sixties high rises, inland from Fuengirola or Benalmadena.

He helped build the rookeries of retired Brits, salting away their money in the Spanish sun for the grandchildren, or so they thought. This was 1995: long before the property market tanked.

“I only go down to the Costa for business, these days,” he said, when we first met. “Totally overdeveloped, now.”

Apart from having no obvious sense of irony, he seemed a nice guy, and the best looking at that party by a country mile. A big, bluff bloke you really would buy a timeshare from.

“I have to go back there on Tuesday,” he said, looking out at the sleet trying to turn into snow. “You could come out with me, and see what it's like – no obligation, of course.”

The party was in a big flat in the New Town. Inside, the air was heavy with women's perfume and low quality weed. Outside, the rain was beginning to pick up.

“Are you trying to sell me a holiday villa, or yourself?” I said. “Either way, you're a little fast.”

That seemed to amuse him. “You decide, when you've seen the whole package,” he said. “Either way, you get the tour for free.”
I told him I was an old fashioned girl, but I let him take me home in his hired 4 x 4. "We'll see," was what I left him with that night.

We flew to Malaga after all on the Tuesday, and he installed me in one of his newest, finest, apartments. There was a pool, a mini-mart beside the faux-Moorish arch, and cranes just beyond it, building the next phase. Blue sky and sun loungers at the poolside; dust and grinding cement when you took a left turn. And lots and lots of old people. I mean, I was 45 then, but I was still bringing down the average age a long way.

“They migrate here for the winter,” he said. “Like the starlings.” Ornithology wasn't his strongest suit either; but he was kind, and took his time with me. I was feeling fragile that year: I felt like I needed looked after.

Gerry's own house was up in one of the pueblos blancos, the white villages up in the hills. It had me digging out my old sketch pad and doing some drawings, that place: the tiny lizards splayed like missing jigsaw pieces on the whitewashed walls, the mosaic of clay-tiled roofs, stretching away below the balcony.

By the end of my third week there, I'd moved in. I phoned Farrago Man, back in Edinburgh, and told him to look after the Dormobile.

“How long for?” he said.

“I don't know,” I said. “We'll see.”

It was too soon. Gerry was away a lot, working. Besides, he was the lord of the manor, in the village. Half of the locals worked for him – something he was proud of. He'd even started buying up any of the old properties that came up, to house his workers. "Keep the tourists at bay," he said, his eyes twinkling.

It was different for me, though. If I went down to the local bar and asked to play a few songs, I felt like the boss's wife. And when I was done, some kid of a flamenco guitarist would appear out of the woodwork and start tearing the place up, and the clapping and stamping of feet would start.

It wasn't that the people weren't friendly. It was the language barrier, mainly: I tried to learn Spanish, but the local accent kept confounding me, the way the ends of words would be chopped off, the letter 's' disappearing like it was some special treasure they couldn't share.

So most days I slept late, pottered about, painted a little, played guitar on the verandah. I wrote songs, some of which have stood the test of time.

I didn't write All I Can Think Of Is You until much later, long after I got that letter, and took Gerry's car to Malaga airport.

I did come back to Spain, not long after, but not to the Costa del Sol. Fifteen months I was with him, almost, but I still didn't look back once, gunning the Alfa along that little dirt track running east.

The letter was from Sumner, of course. No idea how he found out where I was. Farrago Man, I suppose: I guess he must have tracked him down first. Come to think of it, maybe Sumner had kept the Polaroid of the shop all these years. Maybe that's what happened to it. I never asked.

So I sat there, reading the letter, while the sun shone off the sea, like the song says. It was fiesta day, one of those celebrations they have in Andalucia where they stage mock battles to commemorate Spain being liberated from the Moors. It's all very Spanish, and they have a big barbecue in the town square. I could smell the meat cooking through the open window.

I don't know how long Gerry and me would've lasted if that letter hadn't come. Another thing I'll never know.

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