The Night of the Two Doctors – Granada, Chite and Malaga
That Was Then
We walked, or more accurately stumbled back towards Plaza Santa Ana. I crossed a road without looking. Brakes screeched. A taxi stopped just in time. I thought that I’d be the subject of justified vilification, but the taxi driver just smiled and offered us a lift. Speaking in Spanish, he explained that he had a young family, but he had little money. Business was bad. He’d been driving around for ages, with an empty cab. He’d been praying for the chance to earn a fare. Suddenly we appeared in the middle of the street, as if from nowhere, as if by magic, as if by divine intervention. He said a ‘Hail Mary’, before crossing himself and kissing a crucifix which swung loosely from the rear view mirror of his car.
I didn’t think that I’d ever been the answer to anyone’s prayers before. I checked with Amaya, just to make sure. She confirmed that I probably hadn’t. It was a sobering thought. I probably never would be again.
The taxi driver continued to smile broadly. He couldn’t have been more cheerful. He was almost ecstatic. His faith had been confirmed.
La Movida, may have begun, but traditional values and religion still had a firm grip on Spain. For the most part, the country was a God fearing nation. Perhaps this may explain the superstitious nature of the Spanish people.
Superstition was a word originally used to mean the opposite of religion, the decorous and pious worship of the gods. The Roman scholar Varro, distinguished between the superstitious man, who feared the gods as his enemies, and the religious man, who was devoted to them as his parents. But, whilst the Roman Catholic Church may preach against what it defines as superstition – false beliefs and charms – faith itself can also be seen as a form of superstition – it’s just a matter of perspective. One man’s religion is another man’s superstition. When you believe in things you don’t understand, you may feel blessed, but you may also suffer.
Tonight I’d been the answer to somebody’s prayers, but on other occasions in Spain, I’d acted as a harbinger of bad luck.
Silent screams greeted my greetings of salutation performed with a glass of water. The Spanish believe that making a toast is like offering a gift up to God. Obviously, God would be very disappointed with a simple glass of water and therefore would shower down bad luck on anyone who offered such a disappointing beverage. Some people believe that such a mistake can lead to seven years of bad sex – an issue upon which you’ll hear no comment from me. Another faux pas, which caused raised eyebrows, was when I joined in a toast but stared at my glass. If you don’t look people in the eye while toasting you are once again bringing bad luck to all and sundry. Spilling wine (or salt for that matter) is another no no. I’ve seen people anointing themselves with their remaining unspilt wine and crossing themselves furiously.
Forget Friday the 13th, in Spain the unluckiest day is Tuesday 13th. Toast someone with water, whilst not looking them in the eye and knocking over some wine on a Tuesday, which happens to be the 13th day of the month, and you might as well leave the country while the going’s still good.
Another no no, don’t ever buy anyone yellow clothes as a gift, as you’ll be given the evil eye; superstition dictates that you shouldn’t give anyone yellow clothing, as this is very definitely bad luck. This supposedly comes from the idea that the colour represents sulphur and the Devil.
Also don’t buy family or friends something that cuts as a gift, such as knives or scissors; tradition says that this means that the relationship will be broken.
Speaking of friends, when I was initially contemplating busking, a Spanish friend suddenly said ‘mucha mireda’ or much shit. I thought that he’d heard me play, but apparently the phrase is akin to saying ‘break a leg’ – he was wishing me good luck.
Sitting in the back of the taxi, I had a chance to reflect upon my good luck – I hadn’t been run over for one thing. Here I was – I thought. Enjoying a hedonistic, pleasure seeking lifestyle, which I knew wouldn’t last forever (the days were slipping away) but which I was determined to enjoy. I’d come to Spain, searching for a life changing experience, but I’d come to realise that life didn’t need to change in any great or significant way, although perhaps my attitude to life did. I’d fallen for Spain, more than I could possibly have imagined, but if my life had changed in any real way at all, it was in the realisation that life is about living, giving and sharing multiple experiences – it’s not about that one moment, that one one thing, that quest for the out of reach, the intangible, the unobtainable. There’s no point seeking a life changing experience, there’s just a life that changes. Whatever life throws at you, you’ve got to make the most of it.
As I got out of the cab, I realised that a lot of the ‘stuff’ that I think about is rubbish. But, with a profound sense of relief, and an appreciation of my good fortune, I went to bed and slept soundly.
Tomorrow would be another day.
This Is Now
The roads around Granada, may have improved considerably, but the local buses are still fairly slow. I came to this conclusion whilst waiting at yet another bus stop on our tour of just about every bus stop in every village between Granada and Chite. At this particular bus stop, the driver disembarked, but not before locking the door of the bus. He disappeared for what seemed like ages. A lunch stop, a smoking stop, a shagging stop? Who really knew what he was up to?
To cut a long journey short, we arrived back in Chite, far later than expected. It was our last night in the small town so we were determined to make the most of it. We cleaned ourselves up, changed and then dropped down to see Stuart and Olwyn. They informed us that tonight, Chite would be hosting a small summer fiesta – things were looking up. Stuart then told us that they were heading out to meet some friends at the agricultural bar, which we were reliably informed was open – did we want to join them? Not being ones to turn down a drink or good company, we tagged along.
We strolled towards Chite’s main square, chatting all the way. As we approached the bar, a man and two women turned to face us. They were standing beside a few rickety chairs and tables which had been set up outside the bar. I had the distinct impression that I knew at least one of Stuart and Olwyn’s friends – I’d seen that face somewhere before. ‘Peter, Elaine, Cecily, meet Andy and Tania, and Will and Tom’. Peter, was none other than Peter Capaldi, aka Dr Who and Malcolm Tucker. He was staying in Chite, with his wife, TV producer Elaine Collins, and their daughter Cecily. Although only irregular visitors to the area, they’d built up a friendship with Stuart, who’d previously collected them from the airport.
The Capaldi’s are a charming family. They were both interesting and interested. Tom couldn’t quite believe that Dr Who, was asking him about his ambition to become a doctor. Dr Who, the programme however, was the proverbial white elephant in the room. Reluctant to talk about show business, TV and film, we avoided the obvious conversations. Avoided that is until Tom mentioned ‘Skins’ and I felt comfortable enough to bring up ‘Malcolm Tucker’ and ‘The Thick of It’.
Who would have thought it? Show business in Chite. But, things were about to get even stranger and more unbelievable. Another couple arrived at the bar and joined our table. Peter and one of the new arrivals became engaged in a conversation about music – likes and dislikes etc. The talk turned to 80s music, familiar ground for me – home territory if you like. I joined in the conversation, quietly declaring my love of Indie music, The Smiths and Postcard Records. Elaine lent across and whispered ‘You know who that is, don’t you?’ ‘No’ I replied. ‘It’s Dr Robert from the Blow Monkeys’. I was shocked, excited and surprised. I was a fan back in the day. That probably explains why I involuntarily jumped, spilt my wine and shouted ‘Forget Dr Who, I’ve met Dr Robert’. I guess that it didn’t have to be that way, but the elephant in the room was unveiled. The elephant in the room was well and truly up for discussion. The night of the two doctors had commenced.
We chatted, long into the night. We talked about film, acting, producing, teaching, politics, family, music, The Smiths, Top of the Pops, guitars and Spain, The fiesta provided a backdrop to conversation. It’s nights like these, when everything unfolds in an unplanned and surprisingly pleasant way, that create the very best times and the very best memories. If we had been staying in Chite for a few more days, we would have been able to attend a party at which the two doctors ‘jammed’. Sweet music indeed. Life has a habit of springing up interesting surprises. Life can be both ordinary and extraordinary – If you celebrate both then you can’t go too far wrong.
We said our goodbyes and walked home at about 2:00 am. The night and day had been long – almost as long as the spirit measures which ensured a sound nights sleep. Our celebrity evening, had become a celebration of our holiday. It was going to be hard to get up in the morning – I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to leave. Time would tell.
With little choice in the morning, but to move on, we started driving towards Malaga. However, a certain amount of late night alcohol induced tiredness initiated a decision to stop off at what turned out to be a very lovely little beach. Located just to the east of Almunecar, Playa de Cabrio, is approached via a bumpy and pot holed dirt track. The approach could have been better, but the unspoilt, black sand and shingle beaches were a delight. Two beaches, both with gently shelving profiles led down to a warm sea. The beaches were connected by a short causeway. Our decision to stop was fairly spur of the moment, but it delivered more than a moments worth of promise. We stayed for longer than anticipated. We even found time to hire a kayak. We provided most our own entertainment, but the beach also provided some of its own. As we lounged, a slightly shifty looking man was arrested by two none too gentle policemen, right in front of us. He resisted arrest, but resistance was futile. Shortly afterwards, a women in a beautiful and elegant wedding dress, suddenly appeared on the beach – she dived into the sea, fully clothed – a matrimonial ritual, a celebration or a matrimonial failure? It was impossible to know or understand. It all happens in Spain. We put everything down to experience, stored up the experiences and moved on.
That Was Then
Tomorrow was another day, but the days were running out. When I’d arrived in Spain, the days and weeks appeared to be endless, and for a while at least time lost its meaning as one day joyfully drifted into another. Then I reached that stage where the number of days past, was equal to the number of days left before a return to the UK beckoned. From that point onwards, time speeded up exponentially.
Life continued to be lived in a similar way, but perhaps at greater speed and perhaps ever more frantically. We enjoyed, we indulged and we took advantage of all that Granada had to offer. Clubs, restaurants, cinemas, shows, cafes and bars – always bars. I felt like I was becoming more Spanish, more cosmopolitan – I ate late, I enjoyed good food, I knew how to enjoy myself and I lived in the shadows. I felt European, but my language skills were limited – Amaya naturally took the lead in conversations, but when it came to ordering drinks I was practically bilingual.
Time may have been running out, but I’d had a fantastic time and I was determined to make the most of what little time still remained. I spent my last few days in Granada, revisiting favourite haunts. The nightclub in a cave house, the Alhambra, a fantastic bar that caused queues to form just because it uniquely sold toasted sandwiches made in a ‘Breville’ toaster, the Plaza Nueva, the Plaza Santa Ana, the Albaicin, the Mirador San Nicolas, and a quite delightful cafe which sold the very best chocolate and churros I’d ever tasted. There was much that I would miss, but I’d made friends, I’d had adventures, I’d busked, I’d read Hemingway, I’d met Joe Strummer, I’d fallen in love with life and I now more clearly than ever understood just how much more the world has to offer than the limitations imposed by introspective patriotism, borders and a fear of the outside. Travel not only broadens the mind, but it widens our horizons and raises our spirits – travel broadens our outlook on life.
This Is Now
I didn’t really know what to expect from Malaga. I’d only stayed there once before, and while one night spent in a dodgy hotel and a brothel in 1984, might not be representative of Malaga today, I had limited expectations.
We arrived straight from the beach. We’d booked a room at the ‘Novotel Suites’. We were dishevelled and slightly sandy, but we weren’t turned away. The hotel was modern and modular, almost ‘space age’ in design. The rooms were impressive – large, bright and very contemporary. They cleverly utilised space; everything was hidden away, but easy to find – a microwave oven, a sink, a fridge, many wardrobes and a TV with a free selection of recent movies. There were plenty of shelves, extra hanging spaces and a hidden space for suitcases. The living room area included a coffee table which rose up to become a dining table or desk at the press of a button. The bathroom was small, but included a bath and a separate shower. Power points were everywhere, as were electrical switches. From the bed, you could control all the lighting and various other gadgets in the room. However, what was perhaps most impressive of all (considering my last stay in Malaga) was the fact that our room included several floor to ceiling windows – It was nice to finally have a room with a view.
The view was quite impressive, it included the sea and the city centre, which was only about 10 minutes away. Tania and I were inspired, the boys less so. It took a while to persuade them to accompany us and to leave the TV and all the gadgets alone, but eventually we set out to explore Malaga.
There’s actually much more to Malaga, than one might at first expect. The birthplace of Picasso, is the sixth largest city in Spain, and it has one of the longest histories of any city in Spain. Malaga was founded by the Phoenicians as Malaka, in 770 BC. The name probably derives from the Phoenician word for ‘salt’ – fish was salted close by. From the 6th century BC, the city found itself dominated by Carthage. Then, from 218 BC, it was ruled by the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire as Malaca. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the end of Visigothic rule, it came under Islamic rule for 800 years, until the Crown of Castille gained control during the Reconquista. The fall of Malaga in 1487, to Christian forces, made the fall of Granada an inevitable reality. The Muslim inhabitants of Malaga, had successfully resisted assaults and artillery bombardments until hunger finally forced them to surrender; virtually the entire population was sold into slavery or given as ‘gifts’ to other Christian rulers.
Violence was to erupt again during the Spanish Civil War. During the initial stages of the conflict, the Spanish Republic retained control of Málaga – Its harbour was a base for the Spanish Republican Navy. As previously mentioned, Malaga suffered heavy bombardment and shelling by Francoist forces as a result of its importance to the Republican cause before finally being subjugated and forced to bear witness to a terrible massacre perpetrated by the Nationalists.
We headed towards the heart of the city. It was a real revelation. Grand modern buildings, linked by canvas awnings, concealed an historic core. The city was a delight – styled and stylised, it was a lovely place to be. Shops, museums, the cathedral, churches, parks, monuments, a Roman Theatre and Moorish fortresses, all neatly packed into to a relatively small area. Malaga is a interesting mixture of ancient and modern, the architecture contrasts, but at the same time it compliments in a quite magnificent way.
We headed towards Malaga’s most important landmark, the Alcazaba. It’s one of two Moorish fortresses found in the city, the other being the Gibralfaro The fortress’s entrance is close to the Plaza de Aduana and the Roman theatre; it forms part of the city walls. We passed through the Puerta de la Bóveda (Gate of the Vault), a typical Moorish defensive doorway designed to delay any attack or any attackers. Entering through an arch, approaching enemy forces would have come face to face with a solid and sheer wall – corralled and confused they would have been exposed and vulnerable to counter attack by boiling water or possibly boiling oil.
As we moved higher we passed through the Puerta de la Columnas (Gate of the Columns), which was built using Roman marble columns to hold up Moorish horseshoe arches. From here we entered the lower levels of the Alcazaba, via another defensive doorway situated beneath the Torre del Cristo (Christ’s Tower). This was where the first mass was celebrated following the victory over the town by the Catholic Monarchs.
We could sense the history of place – the bricks, blocks and mortar of the Alcazaba, have many stories to tell. We followed the contours of the hill, stopping to explore some of the buildings outer defensive walls and resting for a while in some quite charming gardens. Then, following a cobbled path, we entered the higher levels of the fortress and the Nazari palace. We explored courtyards and gardens, marvelling at the many glorious arches and wonderful fountains. The views from the battlements were impressive and expansive – all the way up to the Gibralfaro, and down to the city centre, the bullring, the harbour and the sea.
The Gibralfaro is situated above the Alcazaba, but it’s connected to it by a fortified double walled walkway. It was here in the Gibralfaro, where after a three-month siege by the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, that the Muslim defenders were finally forced to surrender. The fall of Malaga, removed any possibility of reinforcements arriving from North Africa – Muslim Granada was now isolated and alone – its days as a Muslim stronghold were numbered – the Reconquista was almost complete.
Our first exploration of the city was almost complete, but we decided to make a little detour – we decided to walk back to our hotel by way of the harbour. As we headed down in the general direction of the sea, we encountered the elegant, palm-shaded Paseo del Parque. This area, which runs parallel to the sea front, is not only a charming walkway, but it’s also a quite remarkable botanical garden. Hundreds of exotic plants and flowers delight the eye, while your ears and eyes are drawn to the screech of the parakeets which nest at the very top of the tall palms. We marvelled at all the wonderful sights, sounds, scents and colours, before crossing over to the sea front itself.
Until fairly recently, Malaga’s port was off-limits to members of the public. But, it’s been recently regenerated and redesigned, and the developments have been spectacularly successful.
With sparkling sea, luxury yachts and huge cruise ships on one side, and designer shops, themed bars, restaurants and the ‘Pompidou Centre’ on the other side, we contentedly strolled along the wide and elegantly redesigned waterfront walkway – we may have stopped for a Mojito or two, but we generally kept moving. We were surprised and impressed by the mix of graceful architecture and genuinely spectacular views – we obviously weren’t the only ones. The area is a popular spot. People of all ages paraded up and down and then back again – families, couples, the young, the very young, the old, the romantic, the pragmatic, locals, tourists, the lost, the lonely and the occasional jogger.
We strolled without intent or intended direction, but we found ourselves heading towards a lighthouse and the Playa de la Malagueta. We emerged onto a wide, gently sloping, sand and shingle beach. It looked like nature at its best, but the beach is man-made. One side of the beach is protected by a series of huge boulders or ‘rock armour’ – the hard engineering protects not only the coast, but also a colony of cats. The crevices and cracks are home to many of Malaga’s strays.
The beach began to empty as a gentle breeze announced the forthcoming end of the day. We gazed out to sea and into the land. Darkness intensified. The sun began to set. Boats became silhouettes, as the harbour lights and streets lights shimmered. The lure and the lull of the sea was intense. We spoke in hushed whispers. I love the beach at this time of day. The crowds invariably depart. Peace and quiet reign supreme. We reflected on our holiday, and upon our good fortune. We rejoiced and embraced amidst an atmosphere of relaxed reflection. Everything was perfect – everything was calm – as calm as the waves that gently lapped at our feet.
It was time to head for home.
That Was Then
Engines revved as middle aged women cried, some wailed. Hollow faced shaven headed young men either looked for comfort or looked to the floor. There were emotional embraces, heartfelt conversations and long distant silences. Extreme sadness, grief, future loss and separation were prevailing sentiments, but they were dealt with in different ways.
I thought I was sad to be leaving Granada, but my sadness couldn’t compete or compare. It was as nothing compared to the anguish of this group of Spanish mothers who were about to lose their sons to the military.
We were in a coach station, but I’d never seen such raw emotion and deep-felt sorrow. For most of the women, tears were not enough. For most of the raw recruits, their fears were more than enough. Conscription was alive and kicking and had been a military tradition in Spain, since 1770.
Thankful, that I was heading back to the UK, rather than joining the army, I reappraised my situation. I was sad to be leaving Granada, but I’d had an amazing time – I had my memories and I’d be back.
I grabbed my bag, said a quick prayer (I hadn’t forgotten the mountain roads) and found a seat on the Malaga bound coach.
As we pulled out of the coach station, I took one long last look at the city.
Who was I kidding? I could hear the Moor’s sigh.
This Is Now
Social media often gets a bad press; this could be due to the fact that social media often makes the traditional role of the press an irrelevance. Where ‘Twitter’ and ‘Facebook’ lead the press often follows. To my mind the expansion of social media is a largely positive phenomenon. More often than not breaking news is now in the hands of the people; surely this is a step in the right direction. However, with great power, comes great responsibility. Today, Media companies line up to secure stories from their new and largely untapped hoard of free, freelance journalists. News is instant, communication is global, and stories that have relevance to the masses are able to be accessed by the masses before they are given priority by the press.
At an individual level, social media bestows on us the ability to stay in touch with friends (both old and new) from all over the World. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – where else can you meet so easily with likeminded (and not so likeminded) individuals and groups? Sharing experiences, thoughts and ideas? How else can you easily stay in touch with distant friends?
In distant times, days often began with a frantic search for a cigarette. Today, we are much more likely to wake up and reach for our ‘iPhones’ or our ‘Androids’ – social media is as addictive, if not more addictive than nicotine.
I woke. I yawned. I Face-booked.
I admired an old school friends artistic prowess, I grew angry about some right wing revisionism – ‘No, Thatcher wasn’t a visionary’ – I smiled as some cats did some mildly amusing things, I completed a quiz, which informed me that I should get out more often and I noticed that a friend from university, who I hadn’t seen for over 10 years was staying just down the road.
A couple of messages later and I’d arranged to meet John Gregory in Malaga.
On holiday with his son and two daughters, John was and is a great friend. He’d do anything for anyone and when you’re around him, things have a habit of happening – he creates opportunities and openings. In days gone by we’d shared drinks, late nights and a competitive interest in qbackgammon – I’d ‘smuggled’ John into France, together we’d run a nightclub, and it was through John, that I met Joe Strummer for a second time.
In May 1985, the original ‘Clash’ lineup were no more. ‘Clash 2’ minus Mick Jones and Topper Headon, decided to get back to basic. They were fed up with venues charging overinflated prices for their gigs. Inspired by an idea from their manager, Joe Strummer and the rest of the band embarked on a busking tour of Britain. Taking their acoustic guitars with them, but leaving their wallets and anything else of value behind, they hitched, busked and blagged their way around several northern towns and cities.
I dropped around to see John, one lazy afternoon when we were both living in Leeds. We chatted briefly, before I asked if I could use his loo. ‘Sorry mate’ he replied. ‘Joe Strummer’s’ in the bathroom’.
John met the band, while they were busking in Leeds city centre. When he found out that they didn’t have anywhere to stay, he naturally invited them to stay at his.
That evening, as I watched The Clash busk outside the University Union building, I found it hard to believe that I’d met Joe Strummer for a second time. It was only a year since our last encounter. He claimed to remember, but I wasn’t entirely sure.
What I was sure about however, was the fact that I was looking forward to meeting up with John. But before our much anticipated reunion, there were a couple of places that we wanted to see and a couple of things that we wanted to do.
Our first destination was Malaga cathedral. Originally built in 1528, the cathedral has never officially been completed – it lacks a tower on the west front. While original plans allowed for two towers to be built, a radical bishop donated the available funds to the American cause, during the American War of Independence. Consequently, the cathedral is often affectionately referred to as, La Manquita, or ‘the one armed woman’. We ventured inside. We were impressed by the sheer scale of the building and the soaring vertical columns.
Our next stop was the Picasso Museum. Located just around the corner from the cathedral, the museum is housed in an impressive sixteenth century palace. The museum itself houses an impressive collection of some of Picasso’s lesser known works, both early and modern. It was also home to a temporary exhibition of some of Jackson Pollock’s work – if I’m honest I was more interested in the black and white photos which inspired his work, rather than the work itself.
From the museum we moved onto and into Casa Lola – a quite delightful little bar, selling great wine and delicious food. Loud, noisy, busy and frantic – it was our kind of place. We enjoyed lovely tapas and pinxtos – the pil pil prawns, Iberian hamburguesas, flamenquins and croquettes were particularly good.
Full of food and full of culture, we headed off to meet John in the Paseo del Parque. One of the real signs of friendship is that time apart loses any real relevance. It may have been over 10 years since we’d last met, but in under 10 minutes we were as thick as thieves. We spent the rest of the day with John and his delightful children – Olivia, Sophie and Thomas. We headed to the port and back to the beach – we talked, we laughed, we reminisced and we drank ‘buckets’ of beer.
We couldn’t have had a better last night in Spain.