Friday, 19 October 2012


It’s raining. Goodness knows the ground needs it. I can hear a gardener talking with his client in one of the neighbours’ gardens. I expect he’s explaining why he can’t do much today. One should be sympathetic, it was a fine day yesterday and the day before and the day before that and so on. Still, the grass will enjoy one more day of blowing in the breeze before it receives another no.1 cut. I don’t water my grass, or take any particular care of it. It spends the summer brown and bristling around the bare patches where the dogs run back and forth to the gate or where they have attempted to reach Australia by digging. But here’s the thing, this morning it’s as green as Ireland.
The sky really is as grey as lead: no point in complaining. Change is good, they say don’t they? A change is as good as a rest, even. I suppose it is. But I’ll never get sick of seeing the azure, cerulean, heavenly blue skies that are more common here, when the sun is so bright even a blind man can see for miles.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Reflections on a Short Story...

A very odd thing, came across this which I wrote for a creative writing course. It's some reflections on a short-story I wrote for assessment. This kind of reflection was an integral part of the assignment. Would it make you read the story, or would you run a mile?


            Exercise 5.1 threw up a description of a ‘noirish’- if slightly offbeat - private detective’s office. I wanted this scene to be a pivotal point in a story. Eventually I decided to work backwards from it. Why would someone go to a ‘Psychic Dectective’? To find a ghost?
            Seville is a great place for a mystery. History and the modern collide every day literally and metaphorically. The street names, as in most of Andalucia, can be as unashamedly named after Illusion, Happiness or Dreams, as a local notable.
            I chose first person narration, a style-used in most of the novels of the type admired by the narrator. Four drafts chopped down the ‘telegraph poles’ along the route of the story, as advised in the coursebook .* The teacher turned bookseller is based on a Spanish high-school teacher I actually met in Seville. Expecting talk about Spanish literature, I heard about a fascination for Chandler. The narrator’s lottery win and bookshop are just a bit of wish fulfilment, a sort of ‘write what you’d like to know’ and was a reshaping of a 250 word fragment from my notebook.
            I chose to set the time period of the story at six months after I conceived the outline plot; this may be a little too long for a short story. I kept much of the dialogue to a minimum, to move the story along. I did try to use dialogue at key points in the narrative: Leonore’s first appearance, writing her name and number on the card and, of course, the ending. This assignment has made me more aware than ever that I seem to be an instinctive writer, and I will have to be more disciplined when it comes to the ECA.
            The ‘femme fatale’ is a stock figure in this kind of story, and I found it hard to avoid a stereotype, although the paperback’s illustration must be one. Her name is from Poe, he used it in an eponymous poem and in The Raven1, wherein a quite different visitor pays a call on someone lost in books.
            I must confess to being influenced by books like The Dumas Club (Reverte),2  - whose writer’s name I stole for the Psychic Detective - which is about a hunt for a very different book.  Originally the book was going to be a pure plot device. However, when I decided on the ending, that was no longer strictly true.
            There had to be a reason to find such an unprepossessing book. One early draft had Franco writing it! Too surreal an idea! So, of course, Spain’s most famous surrealist made his appearance. Dali is a controversial figure for many reasons, but the one time communist did have close associations with Franco. According to one Spanish political commentator, Navarro (2003), Dalí sent telegrams to Franco, ‘praising him for signing death warrants for political prisoners.’ 3  
            When the woman disappeared, I decided the book would turn up. But how? I experimented with a mysterious parcel posted from somewhere exotic. But then I hit on the idea of it being found by someone who couldn’t read. Once Curro couldn’t read, the ending, of course, was easy. 

Well? Would you read it?



1. Public Domain Google Library

2. Peréz-Reverte, A.    [1999] (1993) El Club Dumas Alfaguara, Spain 1999
3. Navarro, V (2003) ‘The Jackboot of Dada, Salvador Dali, Fascist’ Counterpunch
    (On-line) available from
    [Posted 06/12/2003; Accessed 24/12/2007]

Thursday, 4 October 2012

An Inordinate Number of Spoons

Among the bric-a-brac, oddities and junk on offer at the local mercadillo, someone always has a stall with antique irons, rusted weather vanes and old cutlery. Every flea-market is the same. There will be boxy TV sets  too bulky for the modern Andalucian flat and townhouse. There will be mobile phones and digital cameras of dubious provenance. There will be incomplete sets of golf clubs and old-fashioned skis and barely-used cross-trainers. A man – it is always a man – will have a stall full of pirate DVDs, many will be pornographic. Or rather, two men will each have their own such stall; one British and one Andalucian. Moroccans will sell leather goods and second hand clothes, Danes and Dutch will sell herbs and potted plants. There might be a few stalls selling hand-made jewellery. Some of it will be beautiful and some not. Those stalls selling second hand jewellery will be the saddest of all. Wedding rings and engraved watches whose owners will most likely have died, unaware that their treasures are being picked over by the mercadillo magpies.  And the Germans will come, look at all the goods on display and buy nothing at all, except perhaps a beer in a nearby bar.
Yet all over Andalucia, from Benalmadena, through Fuengirola, all the way to Estepona; from inland Alora to Alhaurin, people flock to these flea-markets. Weekdays or weekends, it matters not, still they come. On the Costa proper, whether you are in Nerja or Nueva Andalucia, the tourists will visit these markets. They will buy stuffed donkeys or genuine Chinese sombreros - a kind of hat only seen in Spain in the days when Clint Eastwood was filming Spaghetti Westerns in Almeria. I guess Paella Western doesn’t have the same ring. Those tourists that have little girls in tow will buy flamenco dresses. These may also have been made in oriental sweat-shops.  
Those stalls with the irons, weather vanes and cutlery are often not actually stalls at all. Their wares may be laid out higgledy-piggledy on a large tarpaulin. Is it a reflection of the Andalucian diet that there are an inordinate number of spoons?

Sunday, 30 September 2012


Anyone who's been watching the BBC's coverage of events in Southern Spain over the last month or so could be forgiven for tuning in next week to see if Plague or Famine is the next Act of God to be visited on the hotter part of the Iberian Peninsula. There have been serious floods from Murcia to Malaga via Almeria. A British woman is missing, presumed to have been swept away. The long drought has done no favours to the fruit basket of Spain around Lorca - and now this. Today in the Guadalhorce, the sun is shining. A neighbour is celebrating his 65th birthday with a barbecue - and why not? Celebrate our good fortune in being by-passed by the deluge. Maybe we'll arrive two-by-two, though, just in case.

At the local flea-market this morning there were more people than I've seen in 3 years. 3 days of rain will do that: there were no more stalls, nor any more variety of artifacts, bric-a-brac or broken cathode ray TVs than usual. And, of course, several displays contained an inordinate amount of spoons. But still people came, anything to get out. It was sunny, the traders will have a good day, and I'm glad of that. I had a coffee in the sunshine at a cafe across the road and felt good for the light on my face too.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Rain in Spain

Around about a month since the big fire and the rain has come at last. No rain to speak of since May. Sure, we've had enough drops to fill a bath for a tadpole, but that is in the entire five months. The smell on the air is ammoniacal: a smell I couldn't stand in the country of my childhood, since it meant it was raining and there'd be no playing out. Here, in Southern Spain, I welcome the smell. What's scarce has value, does it not? Several days of this steady and insistent rain might be too much. We do not need torrents - since this will leave this part of Andalucia looking like Morpeth does this morning in very short order.

The parched brown ground needs steady watering to return it to a healthy green. It's come too late for the olive harvest and this will soon be noted in the aisles of Sainsbury's and Waitrose if not in the shops of Greenock and Paisley.

So let it rain, let it pour, but please don't let it flood.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Fire on the Costa del Sol

At about six thirty yesterday evening, I was walking the dogs. A huge column of smoke rose behind the hills above Viña Borrego. It was so dense it looked solid. By the time I returned home it looked like a collapsing mushroom cloud, as though an atomic bomb had gone off in Las Delicias. The sirens had been going for a while. The helicopters began flying overhead from very early on. Unusually, fixed wing aircraft joined them very shortly afterward.

I didn't realise they were racing against the sunset. They lost. At sundown it looked like Earth was a two sun planet. Two sunsets in the same sky. The clouds stained red by the sun to the west, and the huge clouds of smoke reddened at the bottom by the flames. At full dark, the flying stopped. There was no smoke visible to the naked eye. I really believed it was over.

At dawn, I saw what might have been smoke on the other side of the hill. When the sun was up, the flying began again. It was the second story on the Spanish TV news. 2000 hectares, the fire-front extended 30 kilometres. It was – and is – out of control. The wind had shifted overnight and continues to shift. Six municipalities are affected – so far. Coin, Monda, Ojen, Alhaurin El Grande, Marbella. Every hour the news is worse. Calahonda is being evacuated.

This morning I did some translation between the Urbanisation's president and the owner of the Venta. His daughter Monica told me her contact at the Fire Brigade had told her they suspected arson. The roads to the coast are closed. So is the main Costa Del Sol toll road, the AP-7. And still the planes fly overhead. The military emergency services are helping. Around 6,000 have been evacuated from their homes. People slept in Sports Pavilions and shopping malls last night. Emergency State 2 has been declared. I'll go to the pub around 3.30, it's Friday, after all. It doesn't look like the fire will come back this way. I hope not.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A New Page In A New Notebook.

That was luck; finding a virgin notebook Not what you expect that. No recipes for pan-fried goat, no shopping lists, no half-finished doodles of that old man waiting on the corner of the street for his wife to come out of the supermarket. Nothing. What to put in it though? Hmm…. Notes in a notebook. Why not? Aha! Notes for a new novel in a notebook. I should stop now before I come over all Calvi on a winter’s night. Only it’s high andalucian summer, the sun is beating down and the stones themselves are about to surrender. I know how they feel. The weather forecasters predict a thunderstorm tonight – and high winds. It will be a change from the murderous heat. Perhaps that should be from the murderers’ heat, as I can well believe it could make murderers of us all. 

There. Look at that: the notebook is no longer new. The virgin page is breached by my sharp-pointed pencil. By this scribbling. Maybe the doodled old man would have been better. ;-)