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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

An Unorthodox Job Interview & the Festive Season

Steve Porter
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Doubting her own ability to teach English, Mary went along to an interview to try and talk herself out of getting the job. Every time the Director of Studies, who she would later call Princess Tara, put forward a reason why she was suited to the post, Mary found a counterargument to explain why she was not.

“We need a native English speaker.”

“But I am very weak on grammar.”

“You can pick that up as you go along.”

“I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m not even much good at spelling,” Mary admitted.

“Don’t worry. It’s all explained in the units and a lot of students just want to come to class to talk. Your CV shows you have plenty of experience working with adults in situations where you have to do a lot of communicating. That is very important in this environment. And besides that you have a degree.”

“Yes, but Community Education and teaching English are two very different things.”

And so it went. But Tara really needed a teacher and Mary got the post in spite of herself. Mary worked hard, studying grammar when she wasn’t in school and was soon enjoying her job. So much so, that the run up to Christmas caught her unawares. The Spanish festive season is an altogether more relaxed affair than in the UK. The fact that it is spread over two weeks from Christmas Eve to the sixth of January makes the first few weeks of December less frantic. In November we had been sitting on the beach at La Marina, debating whether or not to fly home for Christmas. Now there were only a few days to go and we were still undecided.

I was waiting outside a restaurant for Mary and Princess Tara to join up with some teachers from my school for an end of term night out. Mary’s boss was an Asian American whose mother was distantly related to Tsar Nicholas II. Tara drove up and down the street looking for a place to park her old Mercedes. She had promised herself a Merc after stress forced her to quit her last job in Wall Street, New York. Mary was in the front seat stroking Tara’s Siamese cat. Rasputin accompanied his owner on the long drive every day from the mountains of Alcoy.

The restaurant was full of young people singing and dancing loudly in the Elche way. Pedro was proud of this native characteristic. He told me about a holiday in Germany, where the sombre Teutons sipped their pints while Spanish groups clapped and danced. I still admired Northern European reserve, although of course, Brits abroad are not always shy. Wine was flowing freely. Some of the local girls were wearing masks. Mick said that Spanish women did not need them. That cooled the conversation with the local English teachers at our table.

With so many Scots present Princess Tara enquired about our family crests.

“You mean our clans?” I said.

“No, I mean your heraldry,” she replied. “I’ve seen photos of these marvellous crests on the walls of your highland retreats. Mary tells me you come from the highlands. Do you enjoy grouse shooting?”

I had downed a few Grouse in my time. But they were of the wet rather than the feathered variety.

The meal got under way with a large tray of delicias de Elche—dates wrapped in bacon. Courses of meat, fish and paella soon followed. Mick was watching his diet due to high blood pressure and Elche women are generally stick thin and very weight conscious, so when a tray of sweets arrived I was able to demolish about half a tray of small cakes on my own. My blood sugar level was so high that I thought I was going to have an out of body experience. Coffee was served. Mick lit a cigarette.

“Does your mother know you smoke?” asked Mary.

Mick exhaled. “If she does she must have a hell of good sense of smell because she’s been six feet under for the last twenty years.”

The Spanish women at our table looked on with mouths agape. Scottish sarcasm does not travel well.

On Christmas Eve, I was packing a suitcase in full view of our balcony. Still without tickets, we decided to take a taxi to Alicante airport to see if there was any chance of a stand-by flight. A few spare seats were available on a plane to Glasgow and we arrived in Stirling in time to celebrate Christmas with Mary’s family. The central heating there is always turned up high which was just as well as the frost failed to shift from the garden for a number of days. I watched re-runs of Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials. I wrapped up well for the odd excursion to the local supermarket, where I could no longer believe the cost of a few items. Then I returned to the warmth of the living room and read on the back page of the Scotsman about Alicante’s daytime temperature of seventeen degrees.

I was in a hurry to leave again. On the sixth of January, el día de Reyes, the day when Spanish children receive their presents from the Kings or Wise Men, we returned to Elche only to discover that someone had tried to prize our front door open with a crowbar. I could not open the door with my key though thanks to a strong bolt behind the door the thieves had been unable to enter either. The neighbour from upstairs came down to fill us in on what he knew about it. He kindly invited us in to his home while we waited for the locksmiths. His daughter showed off her new doll. A convector heater warmed up the room. We had no such luxury in our flat and since the cool weather arrived in November we had been sitting in our kitchen with the gas rings on full when dining. The neighbours fed us with turrón, a traditional honey and almond sweet eaten at this time of year. I declined the offer of a copita and had some coffee. Mary knew there was little chance of a nice cup of Tetley and took a sherry. Meanwhile, the locksmiths came, forced the door open and fitted a new lock.

Over the next few days, everyone passing below our balcony was a suspect. Top of the list was a nasty looking piece of work with an eye patch that lived in the flat opposite.

“I don’t know if he’s so bad,” I said. “I’ve seen him vacuuming and dusting, you know.”

“That’s just him trying to make up for his behaviour of the night before,” concluded Mary.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationFebruary 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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