Every now and again, a word, phrase or quotation hovers, disappears only to return again and again, until it becomes almost a mantra on many writer’s minds. A while ago, I became fascinated by the word Labyrinth and it cropped up in reading matter on several occasions, until I found myself compelled to write about it. This time it was the word alchemist and its magical connotations. An alchemist, supposedly, can turn dirt into jewels, cure illnesses…make one actually believe in magic…And then the penny dropped as I recalled the book I’d read about, but not read, called ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho and my curiosity was further aroused. His story is an amazing one!
Born in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents in Brazil, Paulo, it seemed, was an unusual, slightly disturbed child, who happened to enjoy writing. For some reason, his parents did not agree that their son should be a writer, but should choose a more ‘worthy’ vocation in life. His rather questionable behaviour thereafter, lead his parents to have him committed to an Asylum for three years. Upon release, he travelled and became a hippie, and then a songwriter and political activist, which lead to imprisonment and torture. His thinking gradually then changed, and he walked the gruelling 500 km pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and felt a spiritual awakening, which lead him to write The Pilgrimage, which eventually sold well, after a slow start. His second book, The Alchemist, was a simple, while inspirational story, about an Andalusian shepherd boy. Sales were also weak, and it was said that he literally begged people to buy a copy….Incredibly, over time, it grew in popularity, until astronomical sales figures were reached and it was translated into 70 languages!.
Paulo met and married an artist named Christina Oiticica and they bought two homes: one in Brazil and another in France. He became so successful, sales of his books reached 65 million and he started a Charity for deprived children and needy elderly people, much to his credit. One wonders whether his parents lived to see their son’s amazing achievements? He has now written 26 books – one every two years, and continues to prosper.
The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words (Anon)
Oddly enough, though fairly happy with what I had read about alchemy, the word cropped up again in two places and so, I dug deeper, as I sometimes do…(curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.) Wow!
‘Alchemy’ (from Arabic and ancient Greek) is complicated and obscure and goes way back to an ancient branch of natural philosophy, historically practised in India, China and the Muslim world and in Europe in Western form. It was first attested in a number of texts written in Greco-Roman Egypt during the first few centuries. New interpretations of alchemy merge with New Age or radical environmental movements. Freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism, and in Victorian times, occultists interpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice and the merging of magic and alchemy is a popular theme.
Alchemy also has a long-standing relationship with art in texts and mainstream entertainment. William Shakespeare certainly mentioned it, and Chaucer, in the 14th century, began a trend for alchemy in satire, and alchemists appeared in fantastic, magical roles in films and on television, in comics and video games.
When it comes to medicine, how often has an accidental splash of liquid – or even a tear – combined in a Petrie dish with other mysterious substances, to produce some near miraculous cure? Now that is something to ponder on.
How well do you know the history of where you live?
A willing victim of the writing bug – there really is no cure – and having retired to Spain, I viewed the alphabet with positive eyes I’ll have you working your butts off shortly, I threatened, as any self-respecting writer would.
Recently roped in with other members of The Torrevieja Writing Group, I soon felt at home and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. Open to what was happening locally, I was aware of a writing competition announced by Torrevieja’s Ayuntamiento – great word – Town Hall. It was to be the First International Short Story Competition ever held, so I read the history of the town and wrote a story about its past and the precious commodity for which it is widely known: namely that white substance we can’t do without, Salt.
Excerpts from my entry Worth its Salt:
“…As for me, being older than the infamous Methuselah, and a time traveller to boot (invisible though we may be, there are – surprisingly – still a few of us around.), I daily count my lucky stars. The drawbacks are unimportant here and don’t affect my present quest, which is to take you on a journey backwards and forwards in time…So, gird your loins, or fasten your seat-belts, and come back with me to the year 218 B.C.
“…A column of foot-weary and dusty soldiers and their pack horses approach. At their head is Centurion Marcus (I’d clean forgotten how handsome he is…) See how his body armour reflects the fiery sun-rays as he rides his Barbary horse towards the Salinas: scarlet and gold cloak a vivid gash against the cobalt blue of the sky, billowing behind him. He is off to claim his salary of salt: Sal, a common if precious payment for work well done, and conquerors… Before they leave, one of the Romans will fall in love with a Spanish girl and, until now, only she knew that the child she bore had Roman blood in his veins.”
I noted: ”… Men seemed to have a penchant for war. And, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look at the sky. More centuries than I care to remember, pass. I even hibernated through one! And then Spain attains her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century.” Though… “the Moors left behind them an admirable legacy of some wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, colourful textile designs, outstanding tiles and other objet d’art.” Time moves ever on.
“At the end of the 18th century, King Carlos IV decrees that the Salinas salt works offices move from La Mata to Torrevieja, and plans are later drawn up for the building of a new town next to the existing one.” The town’s population swells to 1,500, industry is buzzing and the first commercial wharf is constructed. Pungent aromas of exotic spices drift up from the holds of numerous vessels, and many of the town’s citizens find work building over 250 ships. You may find it interesting to know that two of the ships are to be used in forthcoming films: ‘The Onedin Line’ and ‘Treasure Island.’ There is much optimism in the air.” Sadly, Mother Nature has something else in mind.
“…now it is March 21, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring Equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. However, around lunch-time there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have been 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`’villa, plates fall and smash on the tiled 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’ wife Maria,is making paella in her kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos in out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – by 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, especially for Maria, who was so full of life. As most of the survivors are now homeless, the reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Ferdinand VII.
Hold tight…forward we go, to the year 1975. So many flags and bunting? And the sound of trumpets? Is my memory failing me? Oh, of course… General Franco has died and Juan Carlos is proclaimed King. I again feel cautious optimism- with countless others. I am sure a Democratic State will succeed.”
“And now, back in 2004. after hovering over ’pineapple palms,’ admiring the colourful Lantana and Oleander: the ubiquitous Bougainvillea… we are in La Plaza de la Constitucion, a delightful, verdant oasis of calm (well, at present). Think I’ll linger awhile. There’s a Welsh choir due to sing at The Palacio de la Musica (excellent acoustics) not to mention an ‘Habaneras’ – a melodious song competition to look forward to. I must haves some ancient Welsh blood mingling with the Spanish and Portuguese in my veins, for I adore Welsh choirs!”
“Unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten you as to the mysteries of being a time traveller, for they are strictly secret. Sufficient to say that, one moment, oh so long ago, I was bathing my feet in the warm Mediterranean sea, while my husband Fernando Rodriguez and young son were picnicking nearby, and the next I was spirited away. They mourned me as drowned. They shed many tears, as did I. However, I was blessed to see my husband and son prosper”
“And now? I am putting in a fervent request – in triplicate – for retirement, for I feel the strong heart-beat of Torrevieja here in the Plaza. It augurs well for the future. A future filled with imaginative plans, hope and optimism. Yes, I think Torrevieja is well worth its Sal.”
The complete story Worth its Salt was published in Torrevieja Another Look, on the festive day of Saint Valentin, 14th February, 2005. My story won First Prize!
“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart…”
Fascinated by the customs of other countries, I was involved in some research recently and discovered several odd facts about Christmas. Unless you happen to be Italian, did you know, for instance, that in Italy an “old woman” named Befana delivers presents on the night of January 5th and even “goes down chimneys!” I bet all the octogenarians are queuing up, poor dears…
In Iceland, the Jólakötturinn (the Yule Cat) dominates the scene. Good children are given new clothes, but woe betide the bad ones, as they are eaten by gigantic felines. Oh dear!
In Spain, things are much more to everyone’s liking, especially the sometimes naughty children…
Being a mainly Catholic country, religious Spanish attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – also known as the “Mass of the Rooster” – as one was said to crow when Jesus was born, while the non-religious celebrate it in a traditional manner without the religious connection. Parks, and other green areas, are planted with hundreds of glowing Poinsettias, and outside many town halls and churches, creative “Beléns” are erected. A Belén is usually a religious scene, or a ‘cameo’ showing how people lived at the time of Christ’s birth. Some are beautifully constructed and lit, and often different villages and towns compete. They are also evident in many shop widows.
Christmas Eve sees most revellers partaking of generous feasts of festive fare when family and friends get together, continuing on the 25th… The streets and houses are decorated- often in lavish fashion – with festooned trees, coloured lights and bright decorations, as in many parts of the world. And, I can assure you, the Spanish know how to welcome and party!! Can you feel a BUT coming? For it doesn’t end on Boxing Day… Oh no! Apart from New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in the New Year (Wowie…) when the magical 5th of January arrives, children in particular get very excited, for it is the night of the Three Kings. And anyone who has seen the extravagant, colourful, procession of the beautifully dressed figures, will always remember it! I certainly will. We saw ours on the 5th night of the new century 2000, snuggled in our warm coats against the cold, and ducking to escape the showers of sweets being generously thrown to the children from the elaborate floats passing by. As custom decrees, most children put their shoes outside their bedroom doors which are magically filled with small gifts in the night. (Glasses of cognac, a Satsuma and walnuts are left for each King.) Then more festive food on the 6th! In the Basque country of Spain, gifts are distributed by a ‘magical man’ called Olentzero, and in Catalonia country, gifts are left in or near a hollow log in the image of a ‘funny man.‘
Heralding in a new century, the lavish firework display was another memory for the diary. It was the most extravagant I had seen since the end of World War 2…Oddly enough, nevertheless, the New Year’s eve of 2001 beat it hollow.
Living in a new country in the midst of people of many nationalities, was a newish and heady experience and no less than fifty people of our acquaintance – from two urbanizations – got together and booked tables at an excellent fish restaurant in Torrevieja. You could have cut the ambience and electric atmosphere with a knife! The fact that my middle brother and his dear wife were present, plus a Scottish couple who had a holiday home near us, was also of significance. My brother had brought some ‘flying balloons’ over and the poor waiters – so good-humoured – had the devil of a time serving our food while being ‘attacked.’ The Scots: Katrine and Gordon, were more than ‘up for it,’ and Gordon, in particular, was the life and soul of the party. Possessing an infectious humour and warm personality, he was ‘flavour of the month.’ He later … wearing a red wig and Scottish hat, sang us ballads and strummed his guitar until the wee hours. We all remained good friends…
The rest of that January seemed very quiet…until a Dutch couple moved in nearby. While they behaved impeccably and were very pleasant, we noticed pungent odours drifting from their casa and, in fact, the wife of our President – who had stayed chatting to them too long – admitted she felt ‘squiffy’ when she arrived home…The Dutch couple had a romantic story to tell – told to yours truly – in that ‘he’ who had been in the British Navy, wrote his name and phone number on a slip of paper, sealed it in a bottle and threw it overboard (fortunately still at sea). It bobbed gaily along in the ocean, until it was washed up on a Dutch beach weeks later. A young lady, out walking, picked it up, read the contents and phoned ‘said guy.’ Footloose and fancy-free, he travelled to Holland and claimed the maiden as his own. You couldn’t make it up! They duly married, had children, and lived near us for several years.
Meanwhile, there was a Boules match to organize – on cleared waste ground nearby – planted and treed with seats and suitable pitch – and a holiday in the UK to arrange.
Before I wish you Adios, I must admit to a weakness for good quotations, and noted a few worth quoting, by no less a person than Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the acclaimed “Don Quixote.” He said: “Wit and humour do not reside in slow minds.” Comforting words. And another I’m fond of “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams – this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness, but maddest of all, is to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”
Wishing everyone a healthy Christmas, with no socks… (well, not under the tree) lots of noshy things to eat, maybe a few gifts AND an abundance of peace, fun and love.
Important PS I would like to express my heart-felt appreciation for the inspiration and assistance freely given by so many writers on the internet. You are stars in the earthly firmament. X
“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…
‘Mature’ rather than ‘old’ sounds more palatable to octogenarians (I know we’re only kidding ourselves…) but mentally, we are ‘all’ ages, depending on the mercy of the specific ailment we are suffering from on any particular day! I have no intention of being flippant about bad health (been there and have the clichéd T-shirt…) and will place it respectfully to one side for now.
Most days, having sidled out of bed (crablike) and pinched myself… I gently ‘reassemble’ (really!) of a morning, eschewing the unfavourable mirror – trust me, there is one – shower and apply minimal make-up (no mutton-dressed-as-lamb stuff for me!). A simple, healthy, breakfast follows, and then I welcome what the day has to offer.
Now retired to Spain, on warmer days (generous here!) we: ‘Im indoors’ and I venture near the Mediterranean sea around twice a week for breakfast or coffee or have same on our patio. When friends arrive from distant shores, we join them now and then for lunch or dinner; or go for a drive somewhere scenic, all of which is most pleasant.
There is, of course, a BUT. We don’t always feel like spring chickens, and we do have our ‘off’ days, weather-wise, so it is comforting to have indoor pursuits like music, TV, crossword puzzles (husband), reading and – in my case – writing.
And that is when the memories come creeping in!
1969. With three of my desired children born, the youngest son not yet one year old, a business to run (a large greengrocers/grocer’s shop) and a husband on the verge of having an ulcer, I did not want to hear my doctor announce: ‘An operation ASAP,’ after one of the first smear test results came back positive… That was on a Monday and I had the operation on the Friday, so hurray for a speedy NHS, then. The dreaded word: ‘Cancer’ was rarely mentioned then, so I told my biggest lie ever… and said I had a gynaecological problem – which was sorta true…(didn’t want to worry the folks unduly).
All went well, and with no chemotherapy required. I was elated, despite having to stay in hospital for two long weeks… (Gold stars for my darling Mum and husband).
On release, I felt so well I did a good shop, cleaned where needed and cooked a celebratory dinner for us all. And then I haemorrhaged. Imagining a clanging ambulance dash to hospital to receive pints of blood, I was shocked to be told by the Matron on the phone. “Put your bed on blocks, tear up a sheet, climb in and lie still until your doctor arrives.” Oh dear. Hours later… a young, most annoyed, gruff… assistant doctor arrived.
“You’re very lucky, you know!” he said, frowning (My own, lovely doctor was on holiday). Injecting me with a needle the size of the Post Office Tower building… seeming surprised when I winced, he then gave me a HUGE tablet, on which I nearly choked (No exaggeration). I wondered, briefly, about his marital bedside manner, for his ‘professional’ one was the pits… I was still doubled up in pain (was that an ‘Exit’ sign I spotted on my retina?!) Meanwhile, he treated me as a damned nuisance. Fortunately, things changed.
After a few, perfunctory questions and ‘advice’? the reluctant doctor closed his black case resting on the bed, ignorantly trapping the cord of my husband’s striped pyjamas just peeping from beneath a pillow and proceeded to drag them across the floor like a comatose tiger. I had difficulty in restraining a giggle, but the entertainment wasn’t over, no siree. In his haste to escape, the doctor tripped over one of the bed blocks and flew through the – lucky for him – open doorway. By then, despite the pain, I was convulsed with laughter. Red-faced and furious, he returned to the room and released said offending pyjama trousers from his case. The patient lived. The cure? Humour…
That was over fifty years ago, and it still makes me smile.
If you’d like more tales from the past, keep in touch for ‘memorable memories.’
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.
As this post is a slight departure from the norm… I’d like to put strangers to my occasional ramblings in the picture, lest they send ‘the men in white coats’ to my door. Eldest son, Jason, is a blogger (among other things) and I have written the following in reply to his recent out-pouring of nonsense.
Who would have believed it, after all the years of shady shenanigans; coded glances and messages secreted in ancient lavatory cisterns, the truth was revealed by our eldest son to the unwitting world.
It is true, we ran a modest hotel in Bournemouth, before being pursued and approached by the Cirque du Soleil (not the Circus con Leche as stated by Jason). Seduced by our reputation – for ‘‘im indoors and yours truly were renowned for our prowess on the trapeze (despite the gathering years, and not known by many people) – the troupe were planning to ‘star’ us in a dazzling Spectacular, which would astound the public. While middle-aged, what we couldn’t do with our amazingly virile, versatile and talented forms, wasn’t worth talking about. Our stage names were Kermit and Dolly Rodriquez. Tragically, the spectacle was cancelled after Kermit developed a large corn on his big, right toe, and ‘delayed acne’ at the same time as my varicose veins became too prominent.
It was more than our lives were worth to comment further about the man with the withered hand. Then Jason suggested plastic surgery would be ‘rejuvenating,’ (and otherwise advantageous) and our planned retirement to sunny Spain fitted neatly in with the circumstances. It also meant that our other two sons wouldn’t be able to find us, thereby paving the way for our eldest son to inherit our vast estates and the oil-fields in Texas when we popped our clogs. We were astounded by his dastardly plan.
Quite a few Menu del dias and Café con leches later…
It is with huge relief that we have learned of a few, pertinent, arrests in the UK by MI5. This is most fortunate in that we were looking over our shoulders so frequently, we kept bumping into lamp-posts. We are also delighted to discover the truth about our eldest son. He arranged the plastic surgery to save our lives, which were in imminent danger at the time, and due to his magnanimous nature and a windfall from a grateful, former client (Jason was a ‘Professional Carer’ at one time, and not as he claims a Ninja assassin), he’s totally disinterested in our alleged fortune. Another massive bonus, we have been reunited with our other two sons, and so folks, as the sun sets in the Western, technicoloured sky, we are able to paddle in the Med. again with carefree hearts and be a united family..
And now for something completely different..
Three of us flying Lennicks are planning to publish a book of humorous poems, anecdotes, jokes and fifty word stories in the near future. So, do look out for The Moon is Wearing a Tutu. By Joy, Eric and Jason Lennick.
Available now for your reading pleasure – Food Glorious Food – a ten-story anthology, penned by various writers: members of WordPlay Forum. Published by Quirky Girl Publishing. A must for any occasion: beach or curled up in an armchair.
Keep an eye open (or two) for our up and coming anthology: Des Res. Another treat from WordPlay writers and the able Quirky Girl Publishing stable. (Both available from Amazon,
Kindle and CreateSpace..)
Coming soon: a brand, spanking new version of My Gentle War, a memoir written by yours truly. (No. 1 on Kindle in Memoir/Social History category.)