I could just look through them for old times sake or just bin them. Mostly scribble, mostly undated., there is maybe some virtue in filling out the details in our daily lives, though many people would find such things boring, lacking in juice and fit only for the basura. Some of them so battered they'e unreadable, some got so wet the pages are now like cardboard. One had the remains of blood on the cover because I noted the time and date when that new born infant was thrown over the harbour wall. Bigger notepads would not have gone in my pocket...

Margit urged me to continue: "A diary is like a heart beat" she said; a friend of Sven and Maud Lidback who stayed with us on holiday for many years: two of our best people. We cherished the Lidbacks and it was they who introduced us to the Swedish church and the great Saturday musical concerts played on the best Hi Fi equipment on the Island. And it was Margit Ruth who kept the Swedish library who presented us with the Second Edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations which was given to her many years ago by one of her many English friends, one William Ridgwell. The quotations being mainly English are not exclusively so, but Margit felt the book belonged to the English. Somehow I felt unworthy of the high regard bestowed on us. It was quite humbling. A year later Margit returned to Sweden and we lost track of her. The Lidbacks continued to visit us from their Swedish home, Kaplansbacken Stockholm. We had plans to visit them in Sweden, but time took its toll, Sven died and Maud no longer came to us, only the Swedish church kept our line open with all the great composers.

Notepad 1

sept 91 Try Jacque's new place Joan and Barrie like it. Dead posh now. Mrs Mouthpiece!!!! !!!

Well, the old place had a touch of quality - but now he's moved from the shopfront entrance with steps and sliding doors on Casa del Mar, close to the half-demolished cinema that had no roof but still displayed its red curtains, to this new place with cane tables and chairs round the corner on the Calle del General Franco. Measured by popularity Casa del Mar or General Franco there was no difference, he was still proud of his food but perversely indifferent to his customers, one might say famously so, with one table who famously decided they didn't want pastries or cakes and then changed their minds and Jacque in a huff refused to serve them. Taken out of context, the incident began a life of its own and ever after he was expected to behave strangely, it was part of his oblique popularity and always a fight to find a place to sit. So we had to wait for a small table for two, and we sauntered up to the display counter between the diners, smiling as if we knew everybody present, to look at his delicious cakes and pastries. Some people did wave, probably some of our people so we waved back not really recognizing anybody in the dim light and hoping our casual acknowledgment would be sufficient in case we had to dash when a table suddenly became free.

"Don't look now," hissed Lizzie, "Mrs Mouthpiece has seen us."

Two years ago, to our immense relief, she promised never to return, because the time-share street people were giving her harassment which at the time we thought rather strange as street people only tackle couples and there was only her and her teenage daughter whose name I have forgotten. Now, to our total dismay she was here and breathing fire so I could hardly see for the smoke; if she had a companion he was well in the background as Lizzie and I held together for support. The restaurant became strangely silent as Mrs Mouthpiece broadcast her message. My first impulse was to get her sitting down, the act of sitting sometimes breaks the thread, but Jacque wanted us out. So we left.

She needed to know what we had done with her daughter. Lizzie reassured her that her daughter was not with us.

"Who was she with then?"

Alas we did not know.

"She's gone with Clive, then."

"Who is Clive, not our Clive, surely?"

No, my Clive," she screamed, "my husband."

"We've never seen your Clive, never ever!"

"I'll kill the bastard!"

On the narrow street outside Jacque's place people were passing pretending not to notice. Lizzie asked a key question that helped quieten her. "Where are you staying?"

"I don't know. Haven't booked anywhere." She was struggling between anger and distress and trying hard not to weep.

"You came on spec, this time of year? Damn silly thing to do. Everywhere is pretty well booked up!"

The poor lady had been a pain in the bum ever since she first stayed with us. Now we should do something if only for old times sake. "Why not stay with us?" I suggested. "We have a spare bedroom." We've done this hospitality thing before, not because we enjoy pain but in the interests of long term goodwill. Once more into the breach, dear friends!

"I couldn't, not know!" ...

"You were very angry at the time."

"Not with you two I wasn't."

Her baggage was still at the airport, so we settled for fish and chips round the corner.

She stayed with us for two nights. We heard a lot of family business, about Clive who wanted to do legitimate business but slipped into crime, got involved with some of the bigger boys, got scared, made a largish heap from his private equity fund then vanished. Eventually she got a phone call from our end, dear Clive had joined our happy band of outlaws and he needed some clean shirts - "All he could think about was clean bloody shirts!" she screamed. "So I told him to send me some money and he said it was all gone. Pay-offs, sweeteners, stuff like that. You know, I tried so hard, always worried about what he was getting into. I kept a nice home for him and Daphne. All gone. Where do I go from here?" Arms usually folded across her bosom were splayed helplessly.

On the second day a man called. It wasn't Clive. We backed off at this point. Wished her luck and waved farewell.

"I didn't know her as Daphne," said Lizzie, "strange kid. I bet Bernard knows what's what."

Bernard didn't know much: "One of these equity fund rip-off artists, he conned a high ranking policeman which didn't make him very popular. He's probably into time-share."

As usual the observer needs to know more but doesn't fancy getting mixed up with the bottom end of the business world. People have been killed by the mobs on this holiday island.

Notepad 2

Sometimes an address get shoved in and I look at it trying to remember where it belongs.

It is said he had a special jacket the lining of which was made from the tongues of the poor.

Who did I write that about? Some local official who controls the open market place maybe, but do I need to keep it? ... Yes. The Man we have been talking about. Prestamista? Money-lender? Is that the right word? Petalmark it.

Big day in old Santa Cruz Calle de las prostitutas!!

Only this note about a certain street in Santa Cruz: Calle de las prostitutas (nobody seems to know its proper name) the which when passed is carefully not looked at but is widely known as a street of ill-repute. It is a nice tidy street and you may, as you hurry past, see a woman standing at her door. She looks quite ordinary so perhaps, lingering slightly longer than otherwise might be the case, you entertain the notion that maybe this street is a perfectly normal thoroughfare and someone is having a joke at the community's expense. Generalissimo Franco encouraged the so-called soft professions for women including a tolerant attitude to prostitution and this street was, in the Franco era, very popular with soldiers and sailors.

The normally phlegmatic Hamiltons lost their dog down this street: these brothers who quarrel like sisters in rivalry over domestic issues were united in outrage. Passers-by were staring. It wasn't the dog's fault; somebody (with a glaring look at Stephen) let Boris off the lead and the poor creature knowing nothing of what went on down there, simply trotted off to investigate. One enterprising lady stretched out a hand with something biscuit-like for the poor dog and Tom Hamilton almost screamed with rage. He wouldn't be seen dead, but he expected someone with more rustic sensibilities to go and get the dog. I didn't mind doing a helpful thing but it was rather like plunging in at the deep end as any well-meaning social-worker will tell you, because you just don't know what transference role you're getting into. At the top of the street my proper people were beckoning frantically but I - deliberately ignoring the squeaks and wavings hurled in my direction - stopped and spoke to the kind dog lady. She seemed a nice cheerful soul, about as sexy as a mop and bucket and not about to seduce me. Lingering, defiant to all calls to propriety, I found myself encircled amid great hilarity and terms of endearment by an ambush of women. One's first duty is to choose the weakest point of an ambush and break out of it, dear Boris winding in and out of the legs and feet came to my rescue, I grabbed his collar and shouldered my way to safety.

Where the hell is Bishop Auckland?

I wasn't going to write this up. It's weak and deserves a better voice: twice before, I found myself in similar circumstances when I was expected to do something but scared in case authority figures found out. We had a flight sergeant who was mostly drunk and our older cadets who seemed to mix freely with the WAAF girls. I ran out of the NAAFI hut and onto forbidden ground close to the flight-path area, got nobbled by a patrol and asked curtly what I as doing there. I should have stuck by my first excuse that I wanted some fresh air, but in pouring rain it sounded completely unconvincing. "Were they trying to get your trousers off, laddie?" It was their laughter that turned my escape from an adolescent prank only encountered on the playground and never in class and, God help us, never at home into something frightening with a shriek of WAAF women present, for something in me clung to the notion that sex was something special, one of the joys of marriage, somehow bound up in a vast female conspiracy, glowing like a hidden beacon (is 'hidden beacon' an oxymoron? OK, so it's a contradiction and is therefore an oxymoron and too close a recall to this ex-social worker who was daft enough not to recognize trouble). I should have called a case conference, got the case transferred to a female worker but that may have carried interest from management too close for comfort.

Whose shoes? People who leave shoes behind should be shot. Must be the Evans's

Especially when you parcel them up and wait at the post office counter to mail them back to the Evanses and they send them back to you disclaiming any responsibility, which probably means another wait at the post office. They could have sent the shoes on to their friends, but oh no, return them to sender! Waiting in the long line at this temporary building called a post office with jack hammers and concrete dust all around, right at the far end of town and halfway up Cardiac Hill where local people complained while the queue became longer and the theme of communal discontent filtered along the waiting line like a slow fuse until hubbub reigned. And me, outwardly calm yet inwardly raging! how can people be so stupid?

This is all part of the development plan where the bleak Southern desert will soon overtake the lush Northern estates where people of the North ask us poor Southern peasants what it's like living in a desert: A mark of superiority that will not outlast a lifetime of development along the southern coast when even now we can ask why the Northern crowd don't pay their bills and get electricity cut off in Puerto de la Cruz? Simply because they aint got the money to pay their dues!

Should we bother? I queried Lizzie. The returned parcel looks like the unwanted by-catch from some local trawler. I'm tempted to throw it out to sea.

Not on your Nellie! Leave it to our ever-lovin' Evanses to collect. They are out next July.

So we left it for the Evanses. who sent a rather curt letter telling us that their dear friends had not yet received their shoes, expensive snakeskin with four inch heels.

I sent a rather curt letter back saying the shoes would be here on their return to the apartment next year. We heard from a third party that the Dowsons lived at Peterlee, not far from the Evanses. Innit marvelous how some people think!

Peterlee not far from Bishop Auckland.

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Text & paintings © Alan Mann 2006 - 2012