“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
Hola folks…I believe I left you back in 2005, when there was excitement in the air due to the imminent short story competition being run by the Cultural Department of the Ayuntamienta (Town Hall) There was a natural, keen interest among members of our Torrevieja Writing group to enter and everyone was busy scribbling away like mad, me included. Being fairly new to the town, compared to several others, I needed to do more research, which is something I always enjoy, so set to reading up on its history.
I soon discovered that Torrevieja and environs was home to a valuable substance, once known as “white gold,” now a common or garden product – sal (salt!). Roman soldiers in the area way back were paid salt in lieu of wages it was so precious, and put the town and countless acres firmly on the map of the world. In fact, Torrevieja was such a tiny pueblo, it depended on the product for its economic survival. The famous salt lagoons of La Mata and Torrevieja are now designated as National Parks and are home to a huge variety of bird species, with over 200 sighted on the lakes.
Delving further back into history, I was fascinated to learn that via 15th C Roman Chronicles – in fact – local salt funded the travels of Christopher Columbus! As it also preserved fish, salt was found to be invaluable when travelling long distances, and who could eat a boiled egg without it!
Meanwhile, just how was I going to handle writing a riveting story about such a place?! I’d already written a few, modest tales but never entered one in a competition before…Umm. An idea then struck which sounded a reasonable ‘peg’ on which to hang my story. I’d become a TIME TRAVELLER. I knew nada about such a mode of travel (Who does… ), but what the heck, I’d give it a go and it worked out a treat. I mentally travelled backwards and forwards at will, incorporating actual history, linking it neatly to fiction. Of course annoying doubts gathered along the way; they often do. But at least/last it was finished and the dreaded judging time arrived. The Palacio de la Musica was packed, fingers were nearly nibbled to the elbows, etc., and I thought I heard my name called out. It was! Wow and eek… I’d won first prize. Being something of an introvert when it comes to crowds and public speaking, AND being interviewed in Spanish, twice, was a bit disconcerting, while sweetened by a generous cheque and a most friendly reception. The international competition was held for two further years, when I was one of the judges, which was great fun and a privilege.
Before moving on, I’ll just share a few excerpts from my story:
“…Spain – after much barbarism (via) the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans – finally emerges as the most advanced of the provinces under the Romans. I became a Time Traveller before the Visigothic Kings succeeded Rome’s domination and witnessed too many tragedies… and did much century hopping when the Vandals were around…”
“Spain attained her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century. Although bloodthirsty, that period was exciting and the Moors left behind an admirable legacy of wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, (and) exquisite textile designs…”
“Men seem to have a penchant for war but, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look to the sky.”
“It is March 2lst, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. Around lunch-time, there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have been over 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast, and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp; my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable … I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and, inside Carlos’s villa, plates fall and smash on the filed floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes: in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish, along with 36 animals and 67 people are injured. As in many other households, tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’s wife Maria is making paella in the kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos is out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – now a bent, old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes; a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness as Maria was so full of life. The reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Fernando VII.”
Torrevieja slowly grew into a town buzzing with activity and industry and 250 ships were built in sight of the Casino. Two of the ships became famous in later TV and films: one in ‘The Onedin Line’ the other ‘Treasure Island.’
Today, it is a modern-leaning, fascinating and cosmopolitan town of 100,000 people, with beckoning, clean beaches and green parks aplenty, eager to cater to the curious traveller.
“In each human heart is a tiger, a pig, an ass, and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity!”
Now, where was I… Not ‘the bravest girl on the block,’ I nevertheless had a handy store of optimism and surprised myself by my determination to beat the pesky, would-be burglars I was aware of lurking like wary wolves. No exaggeration! OK there was no snowstorm, north wind blowing or eerie howling, but we (the seven or so couples residing on the site) knew that cigarettes glowing in the darkness of half-built houses, meant itinerants camping out and keeping watch. We quickly formed a “Neighbourhood Watch” after the window frame and intricate metal grille of the house behind us was removed and electrical goods stolen, and I disturbed a guy using a pole as a battering ram to break in the font door, three houses down. I never thought I could yell so loud… but three male saviours came running and the guy quickly disappeared. Although my brother: a building surveyor in the UK, had examined and put his “Seal of approval” on the standard and quality of our property, there was a small design fault in that the Spanish had a liking for a miniscule, additional, walled enclosure at the side of the house, in which they housed their washing machines, which was open to the elements, and – you guessed it – a burglar’s dream come true. We covered ours up pronto. Not so our neighbour, who unwisely left everything of value in one bag, available, along with his pin number… You couldn’t believe it! Perhaps, having lived through W.W. II, we were more stoic than we thought. You know… “Can’t let the buggers win…” sort of attitude. Fortunately, after that, the police made regular, visible appearances and the villainy was more contained and gradually lessened and more or less disappeared.
Our nearest, lively, town: Torrevieja – just three miles away – has a buzz, even in the cooler days of winter. There are ample shops, a Salt Museum (the area famous for its generous salt lakes), an Art Gallery and two theatres, plus a multitude of cafes and restaurants. And I mustn’t forget our fascinating old Casino of Moorish design. It is a most pleasant place to sit and watch the world pass by while sipping a Café con leche or something stronger. (Although the Casino wasn’t completely destroyed in the serious 1829 earthquake, it was rebuilt in 1896 in the “Fin de Siecle” style by the architect Aznar. It became the “Sociedad Cultural Casino de Torevieja” and many Concerts, Balls; Art and Photographic exhibitions have been held there).
Despite the original, most annoying hiccups, there were so many distractions and the weather was so glorious, our enthusiasm was only slightly dampened. The fact that we could see that cobalt-blue Mediterranean sea lapping the shore in the near distance from our large solarium, was a huge plus and there were so many places to explore and friends to be made… Ever since living in a small, friendly community on a mountain-side in Wales during the last war, I had unconsciously hankered after a repeat of the rewarding experience. We all seemed to need each other for one reason or another. My husband made furniture and was a dab hand at DIY, and being a practical and helpful man, found himself, at 73, much sought after. In fact, during the first five years there, our house was a bit like Piccadilly Circus with human traffic requesting help of one form or another. In between the graft, we had many, jolly parties on solariums to celebrate everyone’s birthdays, new life, or their dog’s arrival in their household!
With not enough hours in the day, we continued to make our new house a home, and set about titivating it further, until satisfied. Meanwhile, there were acres of beach-side and countryside to explore and our car’s wheels were ever turning. Between Torrevieja nearby and Moraira: a favourite destination, further along the coast, were many attractive coastal towns to visit, one in particular called Altea. Chosen as a ‘seat of learning,’ the town houses a University and is justly proud of its cultural standing and artistic bent. Answering a call of nature, I soon realised the bohemian side of Altea by the shape of the handles in the loo; (“Shield your eyes, Mabel!”) and the ‘his’ and ‘her’ paintings on the doors were an amusing surprise… Many concerts are held in Altea, and the Cathedral at the summit is an impressive building. The day we were there, we were blessed by the impromptu, soulful, guitar playing of a visiting musician. Optimism was in the air! I wish I’d had my camera with me as the view from a high balcony across the ocean to Benidorm, was memorable with sea and sky competing and the ‘white horses’ playing by the hem of the rocks.
It’s a strange phenomenon, retirement, because every now and then, I was aware of not working – or going out to work – and felt a tad guilty just swanning around so much… (I didn’t know what was around the corner then) but I at least joined a Pilates class to save my ageing body from wrack and ruin. One other, equally important, issue was bothering me. I wasn’t writing!! How could that be… I set about writing a monthly “Donkey Oti” (think about it…) Urbanisation Newsletter” with the competent assistance of an aptly-named Ron Merry (always obliging) to distribute among our ever-growing urbanisation (eventually 172 properties). And, yes, our swimming pool was finished, and a large, handy supermarket built in walking distance, so lucky us. Things were looking up
As studying human beings and what makes them tick (from a lay person’s viewpoint) colours some of my time, I must introduce several characters who gradually peopled our “Urb.” The first – she could not be ignored – was a former, just retired, ex Fleet Street journalist, clutching a very RED pen… A Miss with a capital M, she showed much interest in my Newsletter, so I asked if she’d like to help. ‘In what capacity?’ she asked. ‘Assistant Editor?’ I suggested, for our Newsletter was growing as more and more casas rose to greet the sky and tenants filled them. For obvious reasons, I shall refer to my new assistant as Loretta. She proved to be a hard-hitting, down to earth, masculine-woman, who preferred dogs to most people; disliked children and smoked her living-room (who needed a brush?!) to a dull shade of yellow. BUT what tales she told of her travels around the world! Sadly, she is no longer with us, but we will long remember her acerbic tongue and strong presence.
Two other, male tenants rented a villa nearby and raised a few, conservative eyebrows. The older man of the two – well tanned – sometimes popped in for coffee of a morning wearing nought but a satin – G-string and a smile, and his partner, Marlon, was a sweet, most likeable guy. We hit it off straight away and he now and then asked my husband’s “permission” to whisk me off to shop… They were the source of great fun and we had a few, beautifully catered for, parties on their patio. They planned buying and running a small hotel and we inspected several likely properties further afield with them, but they were too fussy and ended up buying a house instead, and – being fidgety souls – ended up returning to the UK and opening a café there.
With gardens gradually blooming – with the ubiquitous, colourful Lantana, Bougainvillea and Hibiscus popular, plus the more reasonable cost of living when compared to the UK/Ireland and Sweden, and the more settled climate, the majority of newcomers in our maturing “village” seemed happy enough. And, although I wasn’t actively looking for more work, IT found ME! As many of the householders were part-time, we were asked to “Please look after our spare keys/switch on the electrics/buy a few groceries for visitors,”etc. With me being a bit of a soft touch, my husband held up his hand and said “Stop” and I became a paid “Home Service Operative” alias cleaner. Eventually, on a part-time basis, I looked after four/five villas for a few years. It kept the corpuscles working and me in trim. Although then in my 70s, I still had plenty of energy. Thereafter, I had a few minor health issues, so decided to cut back the work and concentrate on my writing.
Joining the Torrevieja Writing Group was a wise and desirable move, and I – along with my husband – also joined The U3A (University of Learning). I became a group leader of the latter, which led to a lot of fun and meeting more interesting, talented people. I then learned that the Cultural Department of the Torrevieja Town Hall were running their first International Short Story Competition…
Spain is the soul-searing Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar by composer Joaquin Rodrigo, the Flamenco danced by Sara Pereyra Baras or Antonio Canales; palm trees swaying by the Mediterranean sea; tapas or a glass of chilled Sangria. Spain is the aroma from the orange and lemon groves; the salt lakes and flamingos, the joyful fiestas, and so, so much more…
The Year was 2,000 – a new century and an auspicious date to start our new and final chapter together. With both sets of parents sadly deceased and no grand-children to fret over… we finally, having experienced the joys of life in Spain on holiday on several occasions, decided to retire there. Ah, but which part?
We had explored La Mancha country: the patch-worked and windmill-dotted plains where Don Quixote roamed with his side-kick, where the mauve saffron crocus grows in abundance, and walked the castle ramparts where “El Sid” was filmed… Also, the slightly suspect delights of Marbella and environs (spot the fugitive?) and various other regions but were undecided. And then, my adventurous husband read an article which clinched the destination. “Hear, listen to this…” he said, excited. So I listened.
No less a body than The World Health Organization declared that one of the best regions, weather-wise and health-wise in Spain was The Costa Blanca, so that’s where we ‘stuck our pin.’ The weather in the United Kingdom was/is? world-wide notorious for having ‘four seasons in one day,’ and as his last job involved much driving, he would often nearly pull out his white hair in frustration, and one could hardly blame the government for that. For the weather, that is.
Our eldest son, Jason, had decided to, eventually, move to Denmark, as his partner, Ann was born there, which meant leaving our other two sons to live in our house in Essex. All three were mature and house-trained so no problems there.
The month of May saw us exploring Torrevieja (Alicante province) and environs. Our guide, a most pleasant Israeli guy, booked us into a comfortable hotel for three nights, took us to excellent, reasonably-priced watering holes and restaurants and showed us some tempting apartments and casas (houses). Decisions, decisions. On the last afternoon, we inspected a modest but pleasing two-bed-roomed casa in the Los Altos (the heights) area, a few miles from Torrevieja, and put down a deposit. ‘It will be ready in October – around the 2nd…’ we were told, and it WAS! (This last fact was a surprise as building was going on at a phenomenal rate but rarely finished to date.)
Glossing over the upheaval of re-organising our old home for our lads (phew) and having my flight cancelled by the airline at the last minute, with no choice about a replacement date (husband had driven our packed to the rafters car over with a friend) I finally walked once more on Spanish soil. Time for a gulp and a ‘pinch me’ moment…
We rented an apartment with my middle brother and his wife, and set about furnishing and equipping our new home, which was an absolute revelation. We were open-mouthed on choosing the basic furniture, to be asked ‘Would you like it delivered this afternoon?’ We plumped for the next day. Ordered curtains and light fitments were also brought, with the curtains hung and lights fitted with bulbs by the delivery men!! Wow and wow. Where was the famous mañana we had heard about? A most welcome introduction to Spain to be sure.
Our communal pool wasn’t finished, there was no supermarket nearby; we were using the builder’s electricity – so no bills – and had no TV for a year, so listened to more music, hardly a ‘Mayflower’ situation! (Doubtful Home-stickers had said ‘Aren’t you brave!’ which we found amusing.)
Then came the determined burglars, doubtless sent to test our resolve, but it only strengthened our determination to beat them! How did we do it? More soon…
Exploring further afield, we were struck by the almost comical comparison, size-wise, between the UK and Canada. Our roads were narrow and winding, theirs wide and impressive; our houses modest, many of theirs roomier, especially new-builds. And when it came to cars, ours seemed mostly ‘toy-town’. Food portions too made our eyes widen. Order a sandwich in the UK, and you received two slices of white bread with a filling, and that was it. No pickle or side salad; Canadian-style, you also received French fries and a salad. Our rationing system had been harsh! This extended to clothes. I was used to wearing a dress twice before changing. How embarrassing!
It wasn’t long before we all found jobs: husband eventually became a Driving Instructor, passing all the strict tests, while I became secretary to a Count de Salis, who had another home in Switzerland and was a friend of Charlie Chaplin‘s (I was very impressionable in those days). The company was Canadian Reinsurance and suited me just fine. Everyone was friendly, except one French Canadian girl, but she eventually forgave me for being English!!
Looking back, we made the most of every hour. Television was still a novelty, there were some excellent films to see and wonderful music to listen to. We attended a fabulous Jazz Concert featuring the Canadian Jazz Quartet Dan Vickery, played cards, went bowling, drove on wonderful WIDE highways to picnic near the many, clear lakes. The sheer size of the country was mind-boggling: the trees endless…conifer and deciduous aplenty. We journeyed past forests bursting with pines and spruces, green and splendid in their majesty. We explored nearby towns and environs, read voraciously (well, I did) and wrote dozens of cards and letters back home extolling the virtues and wonders of Canada.
We were wowed by Niagara Falls (twice), camped near a river when I heard my first rattler (but didn’t see it), I never moved so fast! Six of us hired a large tent and pitched it near Lake Penetanguishene (?) but never slept a wink as the men joked: ‘Hush… did you hear that? Could be a bear/snake or Indian…’ creeping up in the darkness, when all I saw were nervous Chipmunks.x
And then it snowed… Not snow as we knew it in England – where just an extra soupçon brings life to a sudden halt, but heavy snow and BLIZZARDS. At first, we were enchanted – the countryside was a beautiful landscape of glistening, silvery white, until getting to work was a chilly experience: ‘over-drawers’ and thick boots a must. But the street cars coped well for the most part and the snowploughs did an excellent job, except in outlying areas.
For leisure-time, our men made toboggans and we had great fun skimming down nearby hillocks. We were like pigs in mud! Then, quite suddenly, our tenure was changed by an innocent occurrence.
A guy we befriended on board ship: Tommy, was an “expectant father” when his wife was whisked into hospital, where she gave birth to a son, who – sadly – was not expected to live. He eventually returned home, naturally deeply upset, when the phone rang and an apologetic nurse explained there had been a temporary mix-up, and not only was the newly born child a girl, she was also in the best of health, once, ecstatic, he had high-tailed it to the hospital to be reunited with mother and new daughter, he called on us to share the good news and out came the shnaaps. By then, what had been a light fall of snow had become a raging blizzard, so we suggested he stay the night in our spare TV room. Apparently, not a good idea.
The next morning, our zany Latvian landlady– who we often found sitting on the stairs watching and listening to us as if we were suspect drug addicts or something, came up in a great state of anger and over-excitement shouting “You go, you go, no-one else stay here. Against rules!” And so, in another blizzard, we trudged the streets after work, in the dark, looking for yet another retreat.
We found one, and yet again, our landlady said. “I don’t allow locks on the doors!” What was it with Canadian landladies?! We later discovered why this particular woman didn’t like locks. She was riffling though our belongings. We double-checked and were proved right. What was she looking for?! We decided not to stay any longer, but before we left, the police arrived and arrested her for threatening a child with a baseball bat for hitting her only son. We certainly knew how to pick ‘em…
Roost No.4 was something else altogether and we had fun there. Friend Tommy was ‘overseer’ of a rambling rooming house in down-town Toronto. The basement was “going cheap” and apart from needing a clean and paint-up – which we soon accomplished, we moved in. We painted “Hernando’s Hideaway” over the doorway (from “The Pyjama Game” on at the time) purchased a few bits and pieces and soon made it comfortable.
A “very friendly” young lady occupied the large, ground-floor front room and I commented on how many men friends she was lucky enough to have and how clean she was… Naïve’s not the word! She vacated the premises after a short stay and two men moved in. On the third night of their tenure, we were woken up by, what sounded like a battalion of men from The Royal Mounted Police, (fortunately sans horses) and the new tenants were arrested for drug-smuggling. Oh, we did see life!
There followed a hiatus of calm and we went about our business and enjoyed life. There were countless cafes and restaurants to dine and wine in, and my company gave two fabulous parties; one in the summer on the Yacht Island on Lake Ontario, the other in the elegant house of our senior director at Christmas time, full of festive cheer. We drove to Ottawa and visited Montreal – where a cousin of my husband had moved after marrying a Canadian, calling on an Indian Reservation and meeting an educated “Chief Poking Fire,” and family. Educational and interesting.
Reading the above, you may be surprised to learn that, despite the good times and our great experiences, our feelings of homesickness grew rather than diminished. So, saying a sad farewell to the good friends we had made in Toronto, we returned to the UK. Home is where your heart is, after all. That’s not to say, once we had settled down again, that we didn’t miss Canada. We did and considered returning. But I then became pregnant with our first son and didn’t have the heart to deprive our mothers of grand-children!
Footnote: Many years later, we were lucky enough to visit Vancouver, and The Island, both of which we fell in love with. Two of our good, Irish fiends moved and settled there and were wonderful hosts. Canada is certainly a beautiful country and well worth a visit.
The year was 1957, and while World War II was well behind us, surely another war wouldn’t break out over the Suez Crisis, would it?! Meanwhile – with the complicated political shenanigans proceeding and hotting up – queues at the petrol pumps were creating huge problems and racked tempers for drivers in the UK, more specifically, my dear husband! As he was a “door-to-door salesman,” he really needed his van to make a living! The situation grew so serious, Canada House became a target for would-be immigrants and the queues vied with those at petrol stations.
The potted history of the situation was as follows: The catalyst for the joint British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt was the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser in the July of 1956 but because of bad vibes between Russia and the USA and talk of a ‘nuclear’ situation, Eisenhower intervened and the troops were withdrawn. Canada was still large on my husband’s horizon, less so on mine. Here’s what happened!
‘Im indoors, having a very positive and persuasive manner, somehow or other convinced me it was a sensible and advantageous move to live in Canada, and so we joined the queue, even though I shed a few buckets-full of tears at the thought of leaving my beloved family behind. (Hardly the “Mayflower” type at the time! I changed.)
And so, with large trunk and suitcases packed, he and I, with several friends and family members in tow, and tears galore, bade goodbye at Waterloo station. ‘I’ll never see you again…’ wailed my dear, maternal grandma, my mother was beyond words… and then the tannoy system informed us that ‘Due to a dock strike in France, the “Il de France” sailing to Canada has been cancelled. Passengers due to sail on her will be transferred to “The Italia” which will be leaving in the morning and docking in New York.’ Surely an omen, I thought! Talk about an anti-climax… everyone went home, except us, and we spent the night in a flat due to be my eldest brother’s home in London when he married a few months later.
The next morning, my dad, bless him, came all the way to Southampton to see us off. Mum couldn’t face it. We were the last on board ship, as there was a delay locating our trunk! Another omen?
I saw sense and pulled myself together. (‘If we don’t like it, we can always return,’ my other half soft-talked.) Our fellow shipmates seemed a pleasant, varied bunch; we were allocated a first class, huge cabin, and thoughts of walking down Time Square and exploring The Big Apple suddenly appealed.
Our very first, longer sea voyage (the previous short one being to the island of Jersey) proved to be most enjoyable, except for the presence of a badly scarred and obviously hostile German steward who we avoided when we could… All was fine and dandy – until we hit deeper waters and an unusual swell emptied the breakfast crowd like Houdini – my husband being among their number. Luckily I seem to have a good “sea stomach.” Soon all was tranquil again and we floated/swam in the pool; did lots of fine dining and sunned ourselves on a steady deck.
In the passenger mix, were famous British singers Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr, who serenaded us at the last-night party with their recorded and popular “Sing Little Birdie,” which was fun, and sailing past the famous Statue of Liberty looming out of an early morning heat-haze the next day was an exciting first. “Time Square” wasn’t and disappointed, but oh the delights of shops which never closed; supermarkets (?), air conditioning (?) and so much that was different in so many ways. It was June though and NY in June can be mighty hot for a Brit! We sizzled.
Generous, distant relatives: lovely, hospitable Bill and Mary Boyle, kindly accommodated us for three, action-packed, days when we ate our first pizza and hot dog (mixed reactions), visited Coney Island (a let-down but still a breeze – and we had the bruises to prove it! ) I bought a polka-dot dress in Macy’s, and we strolled in Central Park: an oasis of calm in a noisy, teeming city. The next day, we left – adrenaline flowing – for the land of the Maple Leaf and The Rockies.
After a comfortable journey, we arrived in Toronto in a near Hurricane – some Palm trees nearly bent double – disappointed our expected friends were not there to meet us (we’d telegrammed) and we felt like a couple of refugees. Oh dear. We telephoned another contact and a most generous couple met us, fed us and put up for the night! How lucky was that. The next day was a total turn-around.
Awaking to bird-song: we were near, huge, Lake Ontario, a bountiful sun beamed down and we were brim-full of optimism. We were spoilt by the choice of apartments to let, a temporary plan, and soon found a large, immaculately clean rooming house nearby which proved to fool us! The owners were German Canadians, seeming pleasant: the wife a “House-Frau” with knobs on… There were no locks on any doors, which should have been a clue. There being two, single men on the premises, made for an uncomfortable feeling. We didn’t plan staying long, which proved prophetic.
Our “missing friends” found us, so we invited them around for a meal and a game of cards the following week. We played the wireless quietly, aware there were two children asleep downstairs. Apart from dear H divesting himself of a tie, there was no strip polka or any other raucous goings-on, and our friends left at midnight. Oh, had we blotted our copy-book. The next morning, an irate Frau said:
‘You must leave next week. We don’t allow guests in our rooms.’ So that was that.
Roost No. 2 was something else… Imagine, if you will, the house in the film “Psycho” – innocent enough in daylight – but once dusk hovered, imagination came out to play. Nevertheless, it was solid, spacious, clean and had enough rooms to share with our friends, which worked well financially. It was near Castle Loma, Toronto’s only “Castle.” Again, there were no locks on any doors (?) The owners lived on the ground floor, we shared the first and a couple rented the floor above us. (Note: ‘He’ – we never met ‘them’ – played the organ every night from 11 pm to 12 pm. A noisy fact.)
Except for having to use the huge, creepy, claustrophobic cellar where the washing machine was housed (plus mysterious objects hidden and clothed), and where the sinister, gold-toothed lodger periodically appeared – quiet as a cat, making my heart pump – the arrangement with our friends worked well. We shared the housework, cooking and costs. Life was good.
Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing a writer who you may, or may not, be familiar with; but one, I’m sure you will return to, once you have enjoyed a taste of his excellent, entertaining books and writing style.
Hi Richard, it’s a pleasure to have you here today as my guest. Get comfy and take a deep breath as you’re now under the microscope so to speak! We’re all keen to learn more about you, so fire away.
What’s your earliest memory and your favourite one?
I remember living in Brixham when I was very young. Our house was at the base of what seemed to be a huge cliff, trains ran over the back. The station has long gone, the house was for sale when we were on holiday one year, we almost looked around; in the end, I couldn’t face it. My favourite memory is harder to pin down, I’ve had so many memorable experiences in my life, as most people have, there are all the usual ones, marriage, the birth and achievements of my wife and children., it’s hard to say which one was the best. I think that my favourite one must be when I was twenty, after passing my Second Mates Certificate of Competency and completing my apprenticeship. Standing on the bridge of a ship and realising that I was in charge of it for the next four hours. Exciting and terrifying all at the same time.
Where do you live? And have you travelled much?
I live in Brixham, after retiring here a few years ago. As you might have spotted, I was at sea, in a forty-year career I went to a lot of places. As well as the familiar ones like New York and Cape Town, I went around Cape Horn, travelled 600 miles up the Amazon, spent a lot of time in the South China and around the Indonesian Islands. I was on a ship that was flooded and somehow didn’t sink, survived a collision, a fire in an engine room, and was on a jumbo jet that crash-landed in Johannesburg after a bird flew into an engine. The smell of Sandalwood on the breeze at 3 am, moving across a flat calm sea; shot with phosphorescence, under a sky filled with stars, is another fond memory. I ended my career as a ship’s pilot on the River Thames, taking ships of all sizes through the Thames Barrier, Tower Bridge and up Barking Creek!
Did you have a creative background which guided you towards writing, or was it something you gradually drifted into?
I failed English at school, in fact, I failed all my O levels first time around, largely because I couldn’t be bothered. I had to retake them while working in a supermarket and scraped into the apprenticeship by the skin of my teeth. I never intended to be a writer, I had ideas but never wrote them down. I had trouble writing letters home. My mind must have been storing up all the experiences because one day after I had retired, I had a dream, which I kept having until I wrote it down. I thought, or at least hoped, that writing it down would be the end of it. Then I had another dream, which I realised was connected to the first. After that, I was away and the more I wrote, the more ideas I had. It was like watching a film in my head, I just wrote what I saw. I could slow the film down and rewind, but I could never fast-forward. Even now, after nine novels, I never see the end of a story until I get to it.
Have you a secret desire/dream or ambition you’d care to share with everyone?
Apart from Fortune, Glory and World Domination? Seriously, I’ve had a full life, I’ve been lucky, and I appreciate it. I’m not desperate for huge success, because I think that doesn’t necessarily solve problems, merely adds new and different ones. I’d like people to like what I write, and to be known as someone whose books were enjoyable. When I was just starting out, with one badly edited novel and no clue what I was doing, I received so much help and advice from other authors, for which I’m very grateful. I try to give back as much as I can by encouraging and supporting people who are at the same stage now as I was then, by promoting them and their work on my website. If I can leave my work as a legacy for my children and grandchildren to enjoy and perhaps benefit from in some small way, I think I will have achieved enough.
Which two people would you like to be shipwrecked with? And one you wouldn’t? (You can change the name… )
If I couldn’t take any of my family, they would have to be authors, so that we could swap ideas and develop new plots and characters to while away the time. My heroes include Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke, so if one of them were available, that would be fantastic. As I’m also writing crime fiction, Agatha Christie is a candidate, to help me learn the craft of dropping clues and leading readers astray. I’d also love to know the REAL story of her disappearance in 1926, there have been so many theories, the truth might be more exciting than anything she ever wrote. As for one person I wouldn’t, maybe the ship’s Captain who sacked me on my 21st birthday. Although it eventually got me the job of my dreams, it felt like the end of the world at the time. Other than that, there is nobody that springs to mind.
If someone gave you one million pounds tomorrow, what would you do with it?
That’s far more money than I would ever need. I’m not attracted by fast cars or fancy holidays. I know it sounds cheesy, but after I made sure that my family shared in my good fortune, I’d like to set up a way of using some of it to help people. I don’t know how but I’m sure I could think of a way to make it useful. Money is only energy after all: if you can, you should pass it around, keep it flowing.
You are now well-known as a writer. Have you another talent you keep hidden (like singing)?
I bake bread. When I first retired, as something to do, I started baking bread for a local shop. It was all Organic Sourdough, using Spelt and Rye flour, I also made various rolls, cakes and biscuits. It developed into too much work in the end, especially complying with all the regulations and keeping up with the paperwork. I was supposed to be retired and spending more time with the family. I was starting at 4 a.m. seven days a week and something had to give, I couldn’t stay at the level I was. I was faced with the choice of either expanding the business it had become or stopping, after a lot of deliberation, I stopped. I still bake every week for my family though, occasionally I’ll do something more for a special event. I put baking posts up on my website and I’m always happy to talk about techniques with anyone who’s interested.
Would you rather sit under a tree and read or go for a run?
I’d rather read or write at any time, but I do enjoy walking. Torbay has some beautiful walks, which I used to do with my dogs, before the inevitable happened. Now I still walk the familiar paths on my own, thinking up plots and having conversations between characters, as long as nobody else is in earshot. You get funny looks if you’re not careful.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you/or the most serious?
At college in 1982, which I was attending to study for my Mates Certificate, I was in the pub and saw a man I hadn’t seen for ages, he had a dark-haired girl with him. I remembered his previous girlfriend, who nobody liked, so after saying hello, I said, “what had happened to the awful blonde you used to hang around with?” It all went quiet as she replied, “I dyed my hair.” Five years later, I was their best man, so I think I got away with that one.
The most serious was probably when my wife was choking, I had to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on her. There’s a lot that can go wrong, the potential for all sorts of disaster. Once again, I got away with it, as she’s still here.
If you could pass another law, what would it be?
I’d like to make it illegal to be too busy to stop and enjoy yourself. Whether it because of pressure from work, your peers or any other reason, you have to take time to appreciate that you’re alive and take enjoyment from the wonders of the world around you, There’s no need to travel to exotic lands, or spend a fortune on the latest whatever, beauty is around you, it’s free and all you need it to take the time to see it. I learned that on a ship, you might be under pressure to get to the next port or pick up the next cargo, but in the end, you only went at a certain speed, the wind and currents could disrupt your progress and you got there when you did. It’s a valuable lesson, I know we all have things that need doing but there is always five minutes somewhere that you can take for relaxation. You’ll feel better for it.
What, if anything, really tests your patience?
People or organisations who come across as friendly, promise mutual things until you have done what they want, at which point, they don’t reciprocate and dump you. Or people who seem to have missed out on common sense. Fortunately, they seem to be dying out, you still get the odd one though. And traffic lights that turn red as you approach, on an otherwise empty road.
What makes you the happiest and what would you like to be remembered for?
A smile, or a compliment from someone who you’ve never met. I’d like to be remembered as a person who always did their best.
Thank you so much for the interview, Richard. Most revealing! I’m sure your many fans will have enjoyed reading your answers. Wishing you a mountain of good luck and mega sales of your books.
You can find out more about Richard on his website at richarddeescifi.co.uk. Head over there to see what he gets up to, click the FREE STUFF tab or the PORTFOLIO tab to get all the details about his work and pick up a free short story!
Thank you very much Joy for inviting me over for an interview… it is a great pleasure.
Where you born and what was your first memory?
I was born in Wickham, a village in Hampshire, not far from Portsmouth. My parents lived in a house that my mother grew up in from about the age of 8 years old. Her step-father was the village butcher, with a shop in the main square. We went to Ceylon, as it was called in those days, when I was 18 months old for two years, and my first memories were of noisy monkeys. Small macaques lived all around us in the forest, and they would come into the house at any opportunity to thieve food, my father’s cigarettes and my mother’s jewellry. I also have vivid memories of the scents and sunshine, and I remember swimming at a very early age in my rubber ring, following my sisters everywhere including into the water.
Most poignant memory?
Probably my most poignant memory is visiting my grandfather’s grave for the first time in 1998. He died on November 2nd, 1918 and was buried in a small military cemetery in the village of Poid-du-Nord , close to the Belgium border. My sister had done the research to locate his grave and taken my mother there for her first visit in 1996. David and I were living in Brussels and we took my mother back to lay a wreath on the 80th Anniversary of his death. She was only 12 months old when he died, and therefore never knew him. But it was still very emotional for us all. He was 31 years old and left a legacy behind that he could never have imagined. I am sure he would have been proud of his daughter, who lived to 95 years old; travelled the world, and his four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
What place you’ve lived or visited has remained special to you?
We have moved around so much as a family, and David and I have lived in six countries since we married in 1980. If I had to pick one place it would be our home in the mountains to the north of Madrid where we lived for 17 years. We had panoramic views from where we lived at 900 metres, across a valley to another mountain range and also over a plain for 50 miles. The weather was alpine with long hot summers, very dry so a lovely heat, and very old, crisp winters with snow. The sun was usually shining for about 250 days a year which was wonderful and I swam every day for two hours from May to October. The friends we made were amazing and we loved the lifestyle, spending most of our time outside. Great people, wonderful food, fabulous weather and memories.
Did anyone inspire you to write or was it something you naturally turned to?
My sisters read me bedtime stories and as soon as I could read I was off like a rocket. I was like a sponge reading books way above my pay grade. Every author I have read inspired me to write; as a child I would make up stories at the drop of a hat… especially when I decided at seven that I would take the odd day off school to enjoy other activities! I began writing short stories and song lyrics as a teenager, really getting serious when I had time on my hands during our two years in Texas in 1985. I used to write a lot of business reports and budgets during my career, and there was probably a hint of fiction in those too.
If you were invisible, what three things would you like to do?
I would love to have the additional superpower of being scent free so that I could get up close and personal with wildlife. I am a huge fan of Jane Goodall and would love to have worked with primates. What an amazing thing to be invisible and be able to observe these wonderful creatures unnoticed.
There are certain people who might benefit from having a poltergeist in their lives for a day or so. For example, world leaders who need to be knocked down a peg or two, and given a scare that makes them stop and remember their own mortality. They seem to feel that they are omnipotent, and some flying crockery, levitating tables and chairs, and home truths uttered in a deep and profound tone, might just do the trick.
I wouldn’t want to waste this invisibility; there are plenty of small but helpful things you could do, to bring some happiness, fun, surprises and gifts into the lives of friends and family and strangers you come across who need help, without them feeling obligated to you.
If you could pass two new laws, what would they be?
Although it is law that dogs should be micro-chipped in Wales and the UK since 2016, it is not being enforced, and thousands of dogs are still making their way into the rescue centres unchipped. Clearly that is not working. I think it is time to bring back dog licences which was abolished in 1987. This time however, I suggest that they make the dog licence free. It might encourage more to register their dogs and the benefit would be a card that gives you 15% off your annual pet check and vaccinations at the vet. Which are horrendously expensive. I would also like the government to set up free mobile vet clinics which will do the rounds in high risk areas offering free treatment as long as pets are registered. The cost of taking care of strays and rehoming is far more expensive in the long run.
I would also like much longer jail sentences for drunk or texting drivers who kill or maim others. A car is a lethal weapon, and if you get behind the wheel when you have had too much to drink, or you are in the act of texting, it is in my view, as bad as premeditated murder.
What two people would you like to invite for lunch (famous, dead or alive).
I would love to have Wilbur Smith to lunch. I have read his books since the age of 11 and bought every one he has written. I am just about to start his new autobiography with great excitement. He is one of the authors that inspired me to write and would love to ply him with wine and pick his brains.
The second person would be my grandmother who I was named after. Georgina was left devastated after losing my grandfather so near to the end of the war. He had been wounded three times and was back at the front for the final push. I can only imagine how desperate she must have felt each time he left for the front wondering if she would see him again. She struggled to bring up my mother for seven years before remarrying, and she suffered badly from asthma, long before there was medication to help. She died several years before I was born, at only 52, and my mother felt that her heart was broken. I would like to tell her that she is not forgotten, share stories about us all, and remind her that both of them live on in the younger generation and all those to come.
Name two of your favourite writers.
Well, I let the cat out of the bag with Wilbur Smith, but I do read everything that Bernard Cornwell writes, and love the way he brings history to life. I am looking forward to the next in The Last Kingdom series.
And I read and enjoy so many authors that I have come into contact with in our community and I would be hard pushed to name favourites.
What would you wish for if you could have ANYTHING?
Another 38 years with the love of my life….. Although he might look upon that as a penance!
What makes you crosser than anything else?
Oh wow, how much time have you got? More than anything I cannot abide bad manners. Courtesy at all levels of society, is one of the few cultural concepts, that prevent us from tearing at each other’s throats. It is part of the socialisation process of young children into responsible adults. It is clear, when you read the papers and see the stories of moped muggers, acid throwers and stabbings, that there is definitely a lack of socialisation in far too many homes and at school.
I get really miffed when I am watching a drama on television or a movie and people do not say please or thank you when given some form of service. It sends completely the wrong message and it will only get worse. The teachers say it is the responsibility of the parents and the parents say that it is down to the teachers. Someone needs to take control and sort it out.
Apart from reading and writing, what other ways do you like to relax?
I love music and movies. My husband and I have different taste in music, but both love fast action thrillers, epic adventures and films adapted from good books… Such as Dr. Zhivago and The Last of the Mohicans.
In the past we have enjoy travelling to various places but the glamour of flying has definitely lapsed. There is so much to see here in Ireland that we will be sticking close to home.
24 hours left on the planet!. How would you spend them?
I presume that this is for all of us…..I would probably leave a quick message of love and hope for all my friends on social media, wishing them luck in the next life. Then switch off everything and if possible sit outside with my husband and family, have a great meal, lots of good wine and make sure that we leave nothing unsaid. Then a last glass of Cava and a handful of pills and drift off to sleep holding my husband close. (I have read On the Beach by Nevil Shute, so have this all prepped should it become necessary).
Many thanks Joy for allowing me to speak my mind and share some of my experiences. It has been great fun.
About Sally Cronin
I have lived a fairly nomadic existence living in eight countries including the Sri Lanka, South Africa and USA before settling back here in Ireland. My work, and a desire to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world in the last forty years, has taken me to many more incredible destinations around Europe and Canada, and across the oceans to New Zealand and Hawaii. All those experiences and the people that I have met, provide a rich source of inspiration for my stories.
I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.
As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books… as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.
Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.