A Faint Hint of Irony

Just a blue line on a map, a map showing nothing but lines of elevation and a coastline, a blue line encircling a plan of buildings. It does not show the stripped banana fields, the cranes towering overhead, the stone house the farmer lived in. Already somebody has stripped the roof of its wavy tiles and pigeons are fluttering through the rafters. The doors were rather nicely panelled; somebody has taken those too - somebody with a market on the mainland for trad fixtures and fittings. A small fire smoking in one of the roofless rooms shows where street people have moved in. His first cousin Georgio says that this old farmer now has more money than he knows what to do with. He had two cars, a town car for Santa Cruz, and a parking car for shopping. For his wife the parking car; for him the town car. Another cousin drove both cars, and many were the arguments for which car, for neither the farmer nor his wife could drive, nor could they read nor write. An honest lawyer has sold their land. The wife remaining on the land, for it was said that she was buried there, maybe inside one of the retaining walls that hold the terraces in place.

Now there is only one car, and for him it is the life to enjoy. There is a bodega at the end of San Isidro that isn't even halfway to Santa Cruz where he spends time with other newly enriched poor farmers.

"'Enriched poor farmers' is an oxymoron."

Is it? OK Lizzie. But I'll press on regardless. It describes exactly. Call it 'wilful ignorance' if you like - another one for you to wrangle over! ...Pardon? 'Honest lawyer?' Let's be fair. The law turns in all directions.

He carries a newspaper. His cousin reads it to him. Many older men carry newspapers. The younger men who have no land have come unstuck. For them it is work in Santa Cruz or wherever they can find it. Younger men can read and write - mostly. It is they who write slogans such as SPANISH GO HOME - in English, would you believe! - against the Spanish building contractors from the mainland who bring their workers with them.

If we see the old guys on the plaza and one guy with an open newspaper we tend to walk past, talking without looking, trying to protect their 'armour proper'. The man reading El Dia remains silent until we are out of earshot.

What do they think? Do they deplore being left behind in the race? In London I remember feeling shocked when a boy due to appear before the magistrates was unable to read my report. Neither could his mum. His dad could just about manage, but it was so painful and so embarrassing for him and for me that I took over to read the conclusion. Earlier in 1943 I remember the bargees on Beeston canal gathered on one narrow boat while one of them read the newspaper aloud.

How do I know that this man with crisp straw hat and walking stick is not illiterate? He has a refinement and gravitas, similar to the man I met in San Lorenzo who, when I presented their business card, simply shook his head for he could not read the name nor the street where the stone-works were. But if I spoke it in my poor Spanish "taller de piedro" he knew immediately and kindly showed me. Not like living with a limp, a limp is alive, you can tell by looking. But for illiteracy there is no outward sign of handicap and you get the feeling you have unwittingly penetrated his dignity.

Some mainland Spanish are frankly contemptuous. The joke is: "Why do Canarians walk around in threes?"

The answer: "The first one can read, the second one can write, and the third likes to be seen with intellectuals!"

But limp or illiterate these people are kindly disposed and hospitable. I was offered coffee while the customer in front had his bill read out to him.

We too carry hidden marks. Others of the same ilk can tell. Many others can't tell that we are untouchable lavatory cleaners, carpet beaters, sweepers and polishers. We have invested in a shopping trolley and steadfastly - albeit reluctantly - decline to accept apartments that are beyond comfortable walking distance. Even so, within our small bailiwick we have managed to acquire 10 apartments keeping the bookings and accounts straight, which is damned hard work for two people but very good for our bank account.

We say nothing to the more affluent Brits though it must be quite obvious that the car we travel in is a John Brace Rent-a-car. We smile generously and say nothing. There's a lot to be said for saying nothing. And they say nothing either - maybe to protect our armour proper.

Here we are paddling around in this stream of consciousness thing until it becomes a brook with pebbles, rocks and sticklebacks, hard going for bare feet. But we have got a phone now, a definite status symbol. It has taken us two years to get it up and working. So, no more on the subject of affluence. I have already shaken it dry.

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