We had landed in Spain.
It was the equivalent of a walled-city from the time of Don Quixote or so my mind would have it. We drove in at the end of a working day with the errant knave of a motor doing its best to convince us that its gallant attempt at a final grail quest was over.
French cars, eh?
As I drove along the road leading us into the centre, I did my fake tourist-guide impersonation. This involved me concocting spurious back-catologue knowledge of the city that I had never heard of until that moment. The lady of the car would listen, roll her eyes, and occasionally say,
“You’re talking a load of old bollocks. The Moors had nothing to do with this place.”
“Ah, ah, that is where you are not quite in the right. It was the Moors who sacked Charlemagne’s rear-guide who were massacred as they were retreating back to France.”
She gave me one of her, ‘Absolute bollocks’ looks. I wanted to continue with my newly created history of Spain when she of the ‘bollocks’ pointed out a place of interest.
It has to be said that I was talking a certain amount of bullshit, as I later discovered that it was most probably the Basques who attacked the rear-guard so valiantly protected by Roland, he of The Song of Roland and not an abortive attempt at creating a successful follow-up to ‘Joe le Taxi’ in the pantheon of great French Eurovision winners (pardon the on running sentence).
So, what was my detractor’s point of interest?
It turned out to be nothing other than a British School of English. It was a big affair and seemed to have been well established in a prime location. I viewed it sceptically.
“Yes, but there is probably not much call for English teachers here; it’s too cold.”
The temperature was definitely leaning towards balmy, ‘super-balmy’ as some foreign-language learners of English, and sporting stars, would say nowadays. I even caught my youngest daughter Euro-trashing her way through that particular phrase the other day. Anyway, let’s say that it was still warm, very warm, perfectly warm, ideal for a summer’s eve, just what the doctor ordered if that doctor hadn’t been the one to be called upon to certify the dead of Roland’s last continental assault on the charts.
“It’s still making that noise,” she reminded me. “We ought to stop here and take a look at it.’
My mechanical skills revolve around just that, looking at it.
I can raise a bonnet. I can change the oil. I can replace the water. But when it comes down to the fine details of a wankel, I am all at sea (see). However, now that I was a seasoned traveller, I thought it best to at least have a go at fixing the persistent problem that had plagued us since our arrival. When I lifted the bonnet and rested my hands pensively on the front grill, I almost lost all of my fingerprints.
Hell itself hath no fury like a French car insulted.
“Turn the engine on,” I asked Sonya. “Turn the engine on.”
She did as I asked and the engine surged into life. Indeed, it surged and then surged some more.
“You don’t need to press the accelerator,” I shouted above the noise of the revving engine. “Take your foot off the accelerator!”
Peace was restored. I looked and looked. I turned my head to listen and I listened. Some Spanish people who were out for an evening stroll (promenade) took interest.
“Eres tu frances?”
I smiled back at them.
“Hay una problema con su coche?”
“No,” I replied in my best Spanish, “we are tourists. English.”
“Oh, English? Rolling Stones, The Beatles? We know well.”
“Yes, me too.”
After a time watching me staring and listening to the old engine, the couple probably got bored and wandered off into the warmth of the evening.
“What did they want?” My linguist asked.
“They just wanted to tell me that they liked the Stones and the Beatles.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Oh, never underestimate the cultural legacy of England. Nobody makes music quite like we do.”
A note of confusion entered the air between us. The engine was still idling and the noise was still there. I did my looking again. I looked some and I listened some and then I hit upon an idea.
“Perhaps it’s this,” I said scooping at a collection of dry dead leaves that had gathered by the base of the windscreen wipers. And, with that, the noise was gone. Leaves, eh? French cars and leaves all in cahoots to spoil our great adventure. I had solved it. I had ridden to the rescue and cleared the problem and had established myself as a master of car-maintenance. Now our journey could continue.
” Let’s stay here for the night?”
“Here? But it’s miles away from where we are going.”
“Exactly. We have been travelling for a long time now and you must be tired. Don’t you fancy stopping off? It looks like a lovely city and we could have a drink and some food. I’m sure we can find somewhere cheap for the night.”
The lady of the lake was being nice to me, considering me. My motor-fixing skills had obviously impressed her.
“There’s a tourist office back there. Let’s go and ask.”
That’s how they do it.
That’s how they make you do things that you wouldn’t have done if you were on your own. They take situations and use them to their advantage. They present solutions as if it had been you who had thought of them. They bribe you with a triumphant drink and play to your puny self-image as the fixer of all things.
That was how it started and I had no idea that the chain of events had been pushed into motion. Over twenty years ago now and I am just seeing what a sucker I truly was.
We spent that evening in a cheap pension that appealed to my sense of Spain. The pension doubled as a brothel which went some way to explaining why some women shouted over at me when I was parking the car.
“Hey, guapo, guapo. Muy guapo.”
I was obviously a bit of a looker back then.