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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part II. South West

The Ghost of Laurie Lee & a Tale of Loneliness

Steve Porter
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In the nineteen thirties, an English teenager called Laurie Lee left his home in the Cotswolds for Spain. He landed in Vigo and cut inland through the central plains. From there he went south to the coast at Cádiz. One of my few successes at school had been a comprehension exercise on Lee’s description of the city. Some of the images stayed with me. Maybe I was subconsciously looking for his Cádiz of “sailors, beggars and pimps; for the families who scraped the tavern floors for shellfish and roasted dogs and cats on fires of driftwood”.

Cádiz remains a relatively poor city by modern Spanish standards with high unemployment. But apart from decaying buildings and the odd homeless wanderer there were few visible signs of real poverty. On one occasion there was a report in the local paper about a foreign woman who was mugged in the Old Quarter but I rarely felt threatened. The worst incident was when one of a group of teenagers spat on my head from a great height. But then a travel guide had warned of the sarcastic humour of the Gaditanos.

We were far from wealthy, and living on a little savings. Yet, we would not have got much sympathy if we plead poverty while living on the paseo. In Vigo, I was accustomed to going out for meals and coffees. Such extravagances had to be cut back to special occasions. Each day I would get up and go down to the bakery to buy a baguette, which we ate with jam. There was a guy who often sat outside the bakery.

He wore a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off his face. At his side was a black dog. Sometimes I gave the guy a few pesetas. I guessed from his accent that he was not Spanish. Probably Dutch but then again the hat made him look Australian. He had camping equipment with him and sometimes at night we saw him heading for the dunes with the dog. I never did get round to asking him where he was from. Maybe he was the ghost of Laurie Lee.

At first we just enjoyed the free time, walking in the dunes in the footsteps of Laurie Lee, who had played the violin in streets or bars for money. My money had almost run out and Mary was paying the rent. She did glass painting and thought we could make a little money from that. She bought cheap wine glasses from a 100 pesetas shop and began to paint floral patterns on them. We sold them on the paseo Marítimo.

I was hired as her interpreter. It is not easy to understand the Andalusian vernacular but there are one or two useful rules. The Andalusians are in the habit of cutting off the end of their words. The letter ‘s’ is often dropped, while the ‘l’ sounds more like an ‘r.’ If an Andalusian shouts ‘Er Betty,’ he is not looking for his wife. He is a supporter of Real Betis, known as El Betis.

A woman stopped to admire the painted glasses one afternoon. She gave one a twirl and said she would take ‘doh.’ It took me a moment to realise she wanted two.

Occasionally, after a successful day, Mary treated me. We were in a café, enjoying the rare taste of ice cream, when a huge cockroach scuttled across the floor at impressive speed. Mary put her hand over her mouth, grabbed my arm and pointed. The cockroach was sprinting around, turning cartwheels, and doing press-ups. The other customers just got on with eating ice cream and talking about work, friends and the approaching carnival. It was as if we were alone on the set of an insect inspired Truman Show.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationAugust 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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