I am sitting at the computer desk, looking out on wet Saturday morning in northern England. The garden is green and there is a hint of the new growth that will make it better. Rain is steadily dripping from on high and the temperature is laid flat at the feet of zero. And yet my gaze is somewhere warm, somewhere back in time, somewhere on a shoal of months standing out from the past.
I am sitting in the plaza major with my wife-to-be and we are watching a river of faces flowing past us. These are Basque faces, crowned by truly black hair. Nevertheless, there is colour in them. Primary hues accompany each as they follow their days to wherever they will lead. We are back there now watching ourselves unfold…
A cold beer sat before each of us. The heat was already reaching upwards and we had nothing to do. After our brothel-stop, we moved on to a campsite on the outskirts of the city. We slept well, undisturbed by the comings and the goings of a thriving business. The morning arrived with a distinct bite of the months to come, so we arose, showered, dried and dressed, before making mugs of soul-warming tea.
We had taken to walking into the city in order to look for work. Sonya had convinced me of the efficacy of such plan. It was a beautiful city. It was in Spain. It had a bullring. And it had bar after bar after bar. And each one was a gem in it’s own right. We were sitting at one later that morning having done circuits of the city, finding English language schools and popping in to drop off rather basic CVs. I had been asked to return to meet the owner of a little place called Lexis. It was a language shop that sold English. I could speak English, was a teacher, had taught TEFL, and needed a job.
The person who greeted me at the shop was a huge upper-middle-class chunk of a man. I stand at six-feet-three, but he was another three inches and an extra five or six stones. He was a member of the Received Pronunciation Brigade and that would have normally not encouraged me to like him. His height and his class allowed him to look slightly down on me; he knew it and so did I. Nevertheless, John (later to become Big John) was welcoming; almost encouraging.
“We are not open at the moment, school holidays and all that, but the Jefe will be back around five. I’ll give the CV to her. Right then, if you don’t mind, I have some work to complete. Where did you say you were staying?”
I hadn’t told him.
“Camping, well. It’s probably alright at the moment with the weather being as it is, but in another few weeks we will see a change. We get a lot of rain here and it can get very cold.”
“Oh,” I said rethinking our plans. “How cold?”
“Well, we see a lot of snow in winter. We’re not far from the Pyrenees. The campsite will be closing down for winter in the next couple of weeks.”
We shook hands, Sonya said goodbye, John didn’t say ‘toodle-pip’, but he may have well done so.
After our stay in the plaza, a couple of beers, the stroll in the ever-so-warm sunshine, a sleep (siesta), shower, shave, and a coffee from one of the many cafeterias (cafe con leche was just the best), we made our way back to the neighbourhood in which the school was to be found. In Spain, neighbourhoods are called barrios and they all have their own characteristics. The one that the school was in was a barrio mainly inhabited by people from Andalusia. Oddly, these fellow Spaniards were referred to as foreigners because they were not Basque.
That made us double aliens.
It was in the Basque Country that we began to understand the importance of identity. The Basques did not truly see themselves as being Spanish neither did they see the Basque Country as belonging to Spain. El Pais Vasco is something else, as are the Basque people and their language. In the following ten months we were to learn an awful lot about shared Basque/Spanish history as well as taking a retrospective of our own. What we found there had largely disappeared from our own culture and had been replaced with quick consumerism and and a liberal dollop of popular-culture.
“This is Marian,” John announced.
She was the owner, the jefe as John would have it, and she shook my hand with a professional smile and a perusal of me and my CV. She was in her early forties and spoke English well having spent some time in London.
“So,” she said in her best posh-London, “you have come to Spain for work. Are there no teaching jobs in England?”
I explained that there were plenty and that I had come to Spain to work and to see and to experience a different culture.
“This is not the Costas,” she informed me. “Here is similar to England. It gets cold in winter.”
She went on to tell me that she needed somebody whom she could trust. She didn’t want a ‘fly-by-night’ who was just after a good time. She made it sound like we were being romantically introduced rather than professionally.
“You can read my references,” I offered. “My last employers spoke highly of me.”
“Yes, I have seen them. When can you start? Our new term begins next Monday.”
“Well, Monday it is then,” I replied.
“You have somewhere to stay?”
“Yes, we are on the campsite at the moment.”
“You can stay with us, for the time being,” John offered. “We have a spare bedroom and Demma’s from Yorkshire. She will love to have somebody to speak to.”