I have had a love-affair with Spain for a very long time.
I don’t mean the kind of ‘one-night-stand’ affair that comes with bargain foreign holidays and two weeks of sun, sand and sangria. I hope it has been noted how I cleverly avoided the sex thing, but that is my point: Spain does not need sex as it is good enough to just be in the company of this wonderful country. Spain is courtly love, desired from a distance whilst still managing to be supreme in the clinches.
My true love, my wife, was once persuaded by a still young me to do the Laurie Lee/Ernst Hemingway thing and pack up all that she had in England in favour of a Spanish road trip with stop-offs. She wasn’t best pleased as she wanted to do an Italian road-trip, but I won the coin toss and Lady Luck can not be argued with. At that time, she had just finished a Law degree and I was in the process of becoming a teacher. The teaching thing was to be used as a passport and that passport was going to be used for our Spanish adventure.
It was one of my back to basics periods.
I had shorn myself of all but essentials during the preceding year. I was working as an itinerant teacher moving between colleges of further education on part-time wages. I was happy. On top of my teaching I had my below-the-radar landscaping company, Evans on Earth, and was able to make sufficient money to keep wolves away from our front door. Some burglars once tried to climb in through a small window that doubled as a cat-flap, but I chased them off with all the impassioned valour and self-belief of youth. I was a teacher, I was Evans on Earth, and I was soon to be a poetic adventurer. How’s that for a slice of fried gold (and self-admiration)?
The only thing that was holding us back was our three cats.
I loved my moggies. They were mine from a previous relationship and I had been granted custardy without any legal shenanigans. My wife, who was not my wife until later, had reservations about them, but she did love the most cartoon-like of the three, Whisper. This one had big clumsy paws that matched her general demeanour and worldly wisdom. She was cute and amusing and my not-yet-wife loved her enormously. The others were called Nestles and Suchard.
Suchard suited her name. She was languid in moment, ladylike in her affections, and had an air of a cat that was accustomed to a silver spoon. This helped her to put on weight as she visited any number of old-dears who thought that they had adopted her rather than vice-versa. Loyalty was not one of her stand-out qualities. Nestles, on the other hand, was one of the most loyal creatures I have ever known. She was an outstanding feline who would go for walks with us, bring me fresh supplies of mice, and generally provided huge amounts of unselfish affection that even stretched to waiting outside of the pub for us to emerge in order accompany us home. Leaving these three was going to be hard, but our intention was to settle and then bring them over to us.
I have a liberal use of ‘we’ and ‘our’ here that can be misleading.
We were renting a house back then, so that was not an issue. What was an issue was the old Renault estate-car that I had abandoned for twelve months in a parking space at he side of the property. It had sat there, shorn of attention and never having its motor massaged with a frequent start up. Surprisingly, it started almost first time, chugged in response to the tuning of the key and the pressing of the accelerator pedal, coughed out huge quantities of black smoke, hiccupped, stopped, and then restarted. All of this boded well for the journey.
Somehow, things were sorted to the point that we were able to travel.
The morning of our journey to Plymouth saw us packing last-minute items, stroking the cats, squeezing into the overly full vehicle, leaving in a cloud of black smoke, doing the Laurie Lee thing of waving goodbye to that part of our lives forever (that was me as my wife of the future was crying out of a not misplaced anxiety for our shared future). We had no insurance. We had no tax. But we did have my completely exaggerated belief in the fact that this was the right thing to be doing at that ripest of ripe times.
It looked a little like this (I think this is a Peugeot)
Our first obstacle came in the form of four flat tyres which announced themselves on the very coldest rump of the Pennine climb between Yorkshire and Lancashire. We waited in the rain for a recovery truck and I continued to dream of the plains in Spain.