From before it even began, this journey of ours has had amazing coincidences and strokes of luck (and some bad ones too – sorry Eddie!) My life in Spain began in Galicia 45 years ago, with Brendan and Brian Hughes. I ended up, by chance really, in Alicante, and met with Brian’s widow Ana – another friend from long ago. Then, another happy coincidence, I come here, Relleu, to write. A place I’ve never heard of, only to find that Christopher North, who owns the flat, knows of Brian’s work…
Ana has just recently retired. Fantastic seeing her again. She’s been very kind, putting me up and putting up with me. Here’s a (not very good photo – she’ll kill me) of her with some of the many books she’s translated (inc. Henry James):
So much of this journey has been about music – Onwards, through Spain, Song and Memory. And books. Laurie Lee, Quixote, Jackie Kay, Machado… This is a song about books, written and sung by my pal Paul Cuddihy (I’m on fiddle and backing vocals). Bit of a rough recording, on a phone at my kitchen table in Glasgow. So it also serves to remind me of home, and friends:
Valencia is famous for its oranges. Not bad here either , in the Province of Alicante, …
Christopher is a great host. He’s introduced me to friends, interesting locals and locales, taken me on fascinating walks – made all the more educational in the company of Chris Lambert (it’s like the Monty Python ‘Bruce’ sketch round here) who is a geologist and expert on the area. From Manchester – good by me!
Oddly I had just referred to Bernard MacLaverty in the book I’m writing, when I met them for a drink and Chris returned a book Christopher had lent him…
At the end of the month I’m delivering a lecture at the University of Alicante. We’re working on a number of projects and proposals with them, so my friend and colleague, Mark Anderson came over for a series of meetings at the uni. He took an afternoon off and took me, with his wife, Izzy, to a great eatery in a village near here.
Apt that Mark should appear towards the end of this journey – I started it with him, in Laurie Lee’s Slad, Mark being a Cotswolds lad too.
Alicante, and its mountains, are beautiful – as you can see. But its Civil War history is tragic. The city was, brutally, taken by Italian forces given to Franco by Mussolini. In exchange, Franco gifted him more than half of Spain’s olive production – the main crop in this area, and an important source of employment and income. In Italy it was repackaged as ‘Italian’ olive oil. The ‘deal’ – Trump would have liked it – lasted throughout Franco’s reign, and beyond. It’s only now that the industry is beginning to recover.
This village, Relleu, continued to suffer under various Francoist mayors and politicians. Sometimes a PSOE (Socialist) mayor would fight back. I’m talking to and interviewing locals with personal stories to tell. As soon as I can, I’ll upload them.
We started out in Vigo on the Laurie Lee route – and I take it up again tomorrow, when I make my way from Malaga, to where Laurie finished his trek, in Almuñécar .
My son and nephew – son of my brother Paul who played a crucial role in my teen (mis)adventures in Spain – are coming out to join me. Emma, my daughter, hoped to come too, but this is a decisive time in her academic career, and couldn’t. Daniel and Mike have busy lives too and can only be here for 5 days. Not enough time to walk it all. A mix of walking, busking, local buses. (First I’ve got 9 hours in buses from here to there! Starting 6AM….) The odd cafe, and Caña, no doubt, memories and reflections.
See you at the end of the road, amigos. Thank you for now.