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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

Cigarettes, Alcohol & the Days under Franco

Steve Porter
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I could no longer cope with the emotional and physical consequences of drinking. A weak constitution rather than virtue led to the desire to give up alcohol. I didn’t achieve this through willpower alone. After meeting other people who had succeeded, I saw that a life without alcohol was possible. Before that, I had thought giving up drinking was unrealistic. I came to believe that it was moderate drinking that was impossible for me. I did not drink one day, then the next and that turned into a month. After a few months I relapsed and then it was back to not drinking for that day. I repeated this process of trial and error several times until the days and months without alcohol turned to years.

Smoking did not result in any emotional disorder but sinus pains led me to give that up too. It was much easier now that I did not drink or spend much time in bars. Or so I thought. Mary and Mick were not regular smokers but liked a few when they were out at weekends. One night in a local bar, fed up watching them smoke and drink, I forgot about my sinus troubles and asked Mick for a cigarette. He was not sure about giving me one at first. I smoked a few that night and quite enjoyed it. Wasn’t the weed supposed to taste vile when you started again?

It is a common fallacy that a short period of abstinence from a substance will improve your ability to handle it. If anything, the opposite is true. The next day, the sinus pains were back. I felt like a bullet had gone through one side of my head and out the other. I was gazing out of the train window at the high rise apartments, which dominated the coastal line from Alicante up to Benidorm and beyond.

“There are so many flats,” my mother said, “It’s unbelievable.”

“I know, that’s what we don’t like about this area,” said Mary. “It’s so built up; you miss the space of the countryside.”

“That’s true,” I said, “But all the development is strung along the coast. Go just a few miles inland and things are different.”

A glance out the train window confirmed this. On the right, was sea and buildings, and on the left, the perennial cracked sand below a mountain range, where cherry and orange blossom was breaking out on the trees.

“There are a lot of English speakers here but I don’t hear many in Elche.”

“No, Jean,” said Mary. “Elche’s not a holiday town. People come on day trips to see the palm forest and the botanic gardens. Few people stay longer than that.”

The train was approaching the vast holiday sprawl of Benidorm, sprouting out of the dry earth like Manhattan cut adrift. We went a few kilometres further on to a more sedate village and climbed through narrow streets lined with whitewashed cottages and plant pots. Below were Altea’s pebbled beach and the Benidorm skyline off to the right. It was cool at the top of the hill. But the sun was out, so we sat at one of the outdoor cafes and ordered some drinks.

An old man in a beret was talking to the only other tourists, a group of Dutch, who were not paying him much attention, and probably could not understand a word he said. He got up and made his way over to our table. He sat down, placing two hands on top of his walking stick and pointed his knees outward. It was difficult to understand his speech, which was hampered by the fact that he had few teeth.

“What’s he taking about?” my mother asked.

“Oh he’s pining for the days under Franco,” I said.

His diatribe on modern Spain became more and more acute until he turned to his own decline. He said that he had problems with piss and shit. I was glad that my mother did not understand Spanish. That became irrelevant as he went on to use visual aids by showing us his colostomy bag.

He saluted as people used to
In the years under Franco
When the streets were empty of AIDS and drugs
And the people waved and said ‘hola’
When the Spanish were glad to work
And there was no need for Ecuadorians.
Now that the white coast had eroded
To a playground for North Europeans
It was time to undress
And reveal the historic scars.
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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationFebruary 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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