Friday, 30 November 2012


Eve, the boys and I spent our first day in Frigiliana unloading the trailer and carrying our worldly goods up the street watched by the neighbours, mainly old widows in black and two village idiots who were referred to as such but loved and very much looked after by the caring community. These young men, probably in their late teens, were to become our companions for several weeks, following us wherever we went but never beyond the boundaries of the pueblo until they lost interest in us as a novelty. All they did was gape and occasionally laugh at something odd that amused them, sometimes taking their trousers down to defecate but always caught in time by a vigilant abuela ( granny ) or tia (aunty) never far away.
 Our new home on the top floor of an old house consisted of two bedrooms and a huge area with undulating floor which served as a sitting room, dining room and kitchen. The bathroom was not much more than a cupboard with washbasin and shower reached by stepping over a lavatory, but this minor inconvenience was made up by access to a large terrace that overlooked a beautiful valley peppered with olive trees and grape vines, a panorama of impressive mountains, Nerja in the distance and, beyond, the sparkling blue Mediterranean, all bathed in bright, warm sunshine from eight in the morning till nine at night.
 It was on this terrace, a few days after we had settled in, when Eve had just come back from ringing her mother from the local phone box and the boys were outside in the street playing with new found friends, that I made the biggest mistake of my life.
 We were enjoying a glass of cold white wine in the sun and I asked her how things were in London.
 'Mother is very upset,' Eve said.
 'Because of our move ?'
 'That and something else, which is pretty unsettling for me.'
  I waited to hear more.
 Major Bill had, for some reason, confirmed, since our departure, something Doris had suspected for most of their married life but never mentioned. During the war, when serving in the army in Normandy he’d had an affair with the French landlady of the house where he was billeted resulting in the birth of a daughter.
 'God!' I said lightly, amused by the idea of Major Bill getting into such hot water, 'You’ve got a half sister like me then, another little bastard. Sex rules the world!' and I added, to sort of minimize her distress and put things in perspective, 'Like sex has ruled us.'
 'What do you mean?'  Eve’s tone was suddenly uncharacteristically severe.
  I should have seen red warning lights flashing, but I didn’t. I blundered on.
 ' and Peter, and me and.......'
  'You and who? What do you mean me and Peter?  What do you mean?  You and who?'
 I was so taken aback by her quite unexpected rancour that I was nonplussed. We had surely both read enough books and seen enough plays and films concerning domestic upsets for her not to be so irked. She knew about my background, Eddy not being my father, my mother and  Pierre, Maman and her gossiping with prostitutes. In my humorous thrillers most of the conflicts arose out of sexual partnerships which went wrong.
  'Well...'I said, too lamely, ' I thought you might have been having an affair with Peter and ...'
  'And what ?'
  'I  had a brief affair in London.....'
  If, in the past few years I had been irritated by Eve’s lack of energy, not doing much to help when we were entertaining friends, smoking a cigarette unconcerned when I was moving furniture in the antique shop for her, or while I fed the children and put them to bed. If I had noticed that she was paying less attention to her appearance, not bothering with her hair, her nails, wearing the same clothes day in day out, there was one thing that I had never fully appreciated and that was her undeniable honesty and now, I realized, her naivety and total absence of suspicion.
 My insouciant confession devastated her.
 'How could you think I’d have anything to do with Peter like that ? And how could you......'
 'I’m sorry,' I said, reaching out for her. 'It didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t anything serious.....'
 She got to her feet.
 'I never thought you’d be like other silly men.  I never imagined that you could be so thoughtless and stupid,'  she said, then asked. 'Is she anyone I know?'
  'No. It’s in the past. It wasn’t serious. It didn’t mean anything.'
  She turned and walked straight past me, through the living room, quickly down the stairs and out of the house.
  I followed her, but the front door slammed shut.  I went to the bedroom window that overlooked the street. She was standing there confused, unsure which way to go, hugging her waist tightly, right hand extended with fingers holding an inevitable cigarette.
 I felt sick but not as sick as she must have then been feeling.
 What I had just confessed was hideous in its inexpectancy.
 I knew it would never be the same between us now.
 With but a few totally unnecessary words, I had lost her trust and respect. From now on I would not be able to show affection without her doubting my sincerity.
 I had destroyed our relationship. There was a chance I could make amends, of proving to her that it was a minor aberration and that she might forgive me, but right then I had no idea how I would do that nor how we would manage the future.  

Thursday, 22 November 2012


It was in the Andalusian town of Jaen, on the way down through Spain to our new life in Frigiliana, that I decided to avoid the East-West coast road which was renowned for its perilous twists and turns and, instead, head across the Sierra de Alhama on a route which looked pretty simple on the map if, perhaps, a bit longer.
Darkness fell more quickly than expected and, when we were heading happily for the town of Velez on a minor road, the tarmac surface ended and the headlights caught an ominous sign....  DESVIO...Diversion.
 I followed the direction indicated and, as we bumped along an uninspiring track for some twenty minutes, I started to worry about the low petrol, Eve started to worry about the trailer, the boys started to worry about their bicycles.
 Suddenly our progress was barred by a large plank propped up against a boulder right in our path on which was painted, in even more ominous red ...VIA CORTADA ....Road Cut.
 It was when I attempted to reverse, in order to go back the way we had come, that the trailer coupling snapped.
 Eve told me I was an idiot, the children started crying. I got out of the car and looked around with growing despair. We were on a bare mountain top with no sign of civilization in sight, a few skeletal olive trees casting eerie shadows in the weak light of an unhelpful moon.
 I  had no idea where we were nor what to do.
 Would we have to spend the night in the car ?
 Did we have water to drink ?
 Did we have anything to eat ?
 We could abandon the trailer but not the bicycles, that was made very clear. We could risk losing the record player, our collection of LPs, my valuable reference books, even my typewriter but we could not, on any account, leave the bicycles to the mercy of the savage bandits who might emerge any minute from nearby hidden caves.
 By torchlight we transferred the more valuable possessions to the car and, as we were tying the bicycles down on the roof, we heard a strange distant rumbling.
 Eve voiced the unnecessary opinion that it might be a herd of fighting bulls. Nicolas suggested a nastiness of giant bats, Matthew a haunt of disturbed ghosts. It was none of these.
 Quite unexpectedly, an enormous lorry loomed up out of the darkness and stopped, dazzling us with its headlights.
 The Guardia Civil ? Were we trespassing on government property ? Might they arrest us ? Or worse, were we in the presence of the feared bandits who would rob us, dispose of Eve and myself and kidnap the children to demand a ransom from Major Bill and Doris ?
 Eight very beefy, merry men got down from the vehicle, grinned at us, laughed at our predicament and asked us where we thought we were going ?
 'Frigiliana,' I said.
 More hearty laughs. Lots of comments we did not understand. We didn’t suggest it but,  as one man, they bodily picked up the trailer, loaded it on the back of the lorry, took the bicycles off the car roof, put them on the lorry as well, and signalled us to follow them.
 I have never driven so fast, nor so dangerously.
 'You have to keep up with them ! They could get away with everything' Eve, normally cool, calm and collected was in a panic.
 'Not our bicycles ...' the tears were about to flood the car.
  Down a steep rough road, onto tarmac, a straight run into a dimly lit town.
  'This must be Velez' Eve said hopefully, studying the map in her shaking hands.
  It looked terrible. Very few street lights, no neon signs, one empty bar, the whole place lifeless. We were being led to our doom.
 The lorry drove through it at speed.
 Eve found a pen and noted down the lorry’s number, then a mile or so out of the town we lost them. They just disappeared round a bend in the middle of nowhere again and we were faced with a fork in the road. I stopped the car, got out, stood in the still of the warm night air and heard the lorry in the distance.
 'They went that way ! '
  We were off again.  I put my foot down flat only just avoiding pot holes,
  'Not so fast, we’ll crash !'
  'All our worldly goods,' I said.
  'And our bicycles....'came a chorus from behind.
  Suddenly, gloriously, the moonlit sea was there in front of us and, a hundred yards along the coast road, the lorry parked, waiting.
  We purred along after that, passed the familiar fields of sugar cane on our left, the Mediterranean on the right and on down a short hill to the fishing village of Nerja, then up the twisting mountain road to Frigiliana.
 Midnight, the village still alive with people.
 Our saviours unloaded the trailer and the bicycles, refused recompense of any kind and drove off still laughing.
 With a few essentials, and the bicycles, we made our way on foot up the steep cobbled street to the place we had rented. The landlady, with a circle of women friends, was sitting knitting and chatting outside the front door.
 She told the boys the bicycles would be safe if left in the street, but they did not believe her, so she led the way through her living room to the stables at the back where they parked them next to a disinterested mule.
    The journey was over, we had survived, we went happily to bed, exhausted, and the next morning, under a blazing sun and bright blue sky, started our new life among people who had not only been incredibly helpful but whom we would discover did not consider anything important except total enjoyment.

 If it was not enjoyable it would be ignored. 

Sierra de Alhama.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


This is the 50th Post of the Blog that my father started in January 2012 to inform and entertain me but which got out of hand and has grown into a sort of autobiography.
It has proved popular, gathered a large number of regular readers so new Posts will continue to appear more or less every week.
All your comments, polite and rude, are much appreciated.

Thank you for reading! 



In July 1968, Eve, Nicolas, Matthew and I set off for a holiday that would change our lives completely.
We were the guests of Eve's model friend Marta who had just divorced her husband (my publisher at Macdonalds) and had moved to a remote mountain village in Southern Spain.
 In those days Franco was still dictator. There were rumours that Spaniards were not too civilized, that there were bandits in the hills, and that holiday makers disappeared from their hotels during the night never to be seen again. So we were a little apprehensive, not sure the trip was wise with our young boys but Marta, amused by such nonsense, assured us that we would have nothing to worry about where she lived.
 We flew to Malaga airport which resembled a film set for an old spy thriller, one short runway flanked by fields of burnt grass and palm trees, an arrivals hall that was little more than a Nissen hut, and a quantity of fierce looking Guardia Civil armed to the teeth, wearing comic opera hats and smoking cigars on duty at passport control. They let us through without a smile and Marta was there waiting for us.
 She drove us East along the coast road under a blazing sun, the sparkling sea on our right, dusty sugar cane fields on our left. We stopped in the small fishing village of Nerja for a coffee - hardly any shops, hardly any bars, only sandy beaches with fishermen having a siesta.  We then went up to the village of Frigiliana where she lived.
 From a distance the pueblo looked like a cluster of birds nests perilously stuck to the steep slopes of the mountains. Approached along an old mule track and through the crumbling Moorish defensive walls, the place became a maze of narrow streets flanked by ancient whitewashed houses with iron balconies hung heavy with bright geraniums in multicoloured pots.
 Every doorway was open and nearly every threshold occupied by elderly women in black and young girls squinting at their lacework. It was peasant Andalucia from the dung stuck between the cobblestones to the earthy smell of wine and chorizo sausage issuing from primitive kitchens. I loved its unaffected simplicity.

 Marta had renovated an old house and added a small swimming pool to a garden crowded with semi tropical plants. We stayed there for two weeks eating her out of house and home, lying in the sun and getting nut brown without fear of skin cancer which had not yet become a concern.
 In the evenings we wandered around watching weary farmers back from their vineyards and olive groves lead their tired mules through the living rooms of their houses to the stables at the back, their wives frantically mopping up the mess left behind. There seemed to be no shops till one peered in through the ground floor windows and saw crates of vegetables and fruit on display and mountain hams hanging from the ceiling - a grocer, or shelves of medicine jars, bottles of pills and packaged  cosmetics - a chemist.
 We sat at a café on the square in front of the church and drank wine at nine pesetas a bottle ( 50p ) while the boys played with the local children, coming back to us to ask what ‘tonto’ might mean ( twit ) or ‘mierda’ ( shit ). After only a few days we were the ones to ask them for translations they learned bits of the language so quickly.
  Inevitably we were tempted into looking for possible properties to buy. We were not interested in the new villas which were being built on the outskirts of the village, but old buildings which could be renovated as Marta had her house. This puzzled those we asked, for their ideal homes would have to be all modern brick walls and aluminium front doors and windows with plastic blinds.
 Unfortunately we were shown two or three amazing bargains with endless possibilities which started us dreaming. Why were we living in Somerset ? Why had we chosen to suffer the indignities of frozen pipes, grey clouds, winds and constant rain. As a freelance I could work anywhere in the world so why not come down and settle here ? It was safe, peaceful, sun drenched and unbelievably cheap. The boys could go to the local school for a few years before we had to think of advanced exams, Eve was even more keen than I at the idea as her parents couldn’t possibly come this far down every week-end and, at the back of my mind I felt the move would bring us closer together again whatever misdeeds we might have each committed.
 We made enquiries about renting a place for six months before buying anything to make sure we were not influenced by just a lunatic holiday idea, but by the time we left we knew in our hearts that we would risk the upheaval a total move from the UK would entail.

 Back in England the next six months passed by quickly. We put the Old Rectory up for sale. We were in the boom years when property prices had shot up and we got a better offer than expected so planned the great adventure, the emigration, the exodus for the following March and, with some determination tried to learn as much Spanish as possible from seriously tedious postal courses.
 By mid February we had sold all the furniture we did not want in the antique shop and put our more valued belongings in storage. A month later we were off in a new estate car and trailer loaded with our essentials -  the boy's bicycles, Eve’s paints, a record player, LPs, my reference books and typewriter.
 We spent a day in London with Major Bill and Doris who made it clear that they thought us totally irresponsible and could not forgive us for endangering the lives of our children. They gave us endless instructions on how to deal with foreign doctors, foreign food, foreign money, earthquakes and other disasters, then we were on our way.
 The Southampton - Bilbao ferry hit a storm in the Bay of Biscay so I, never a good sailor, remained in our stuffy cabin hugging a plastic bowl while Eve sat in the bar with a brandy or two watching the boys spend all their pocket money and more on pin ball machines.
  During  the drive down to Madrid we counted more mules, donkeys and oxen than cars, through La Mancha the boys spotted distant windmills but no sign of Don Quixote and, on the second day, as night fell more quicklyly than expected, we got lost in the wilderness of Andalucia. 

 Frigiliana streets 1969

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Dame Edith Evans, the actress, aged eighty, was quoted as saying 'When on location the marriage vows do not apply '. I found this statement convenient to believe though my overnight stays in London were hardly of an 'on location' category.
 The younger actress with whom I broke my marriage vows was a petite red head with laughing eyes and radiant smile who pretended to be vulnerable and in need of protection but of course wasn’t that at all.
 After watching her singing and dancing as a Pocahontas type hippy in the musical Hair ( sometimes in the nude ), I took her out to dinner during which she proved much more interested in what I had achieved than Eve had ever done, which made me feel I was worth knowing though aware that she was playing the part of the actress batting her eyelids at a future great author - Ellen Terry to my Bernard Shaw. Whatever her game was she boosted my confidence so I suggested another dinner the following week.
 Back home, aware that I might be infatuated with the young Miss Redhead and that this could be colouring my judgement, I got the impression that I was boring Eve, that she might have fallen out of love with me and that she was quite pleased not to have me around for the two days I went to London. I even suspected that she had met someone at an auction, an antique dealer perhaps, who paid her more attention that I did...
 One morning, at the Old Rectory, when she was out, a dishevelled but good looking young man came unexpectedly for coffee obviously under the impression that I would not be there. He was an artist who seemed to know his way around the house rather well. I watched him put the kettle on, make us coffee, and when he opened a kitchen cupboard to get a pot of brown sugar which I didn’t know we had, I became suspicious. When Eve turned up and found us chatting amicably, her face flushed, she was clearly put out and handled the quite unnecessary introductions badly.
 Once he had left she shrugged him off as someone of no interest whom she hardly knew . 'The lady doth protest too much', I thought.
 She did not mention him again. I did not mention Little Miss Redhead.
 The week that followed passed by extraordinarily slowly and I found it hard to concentrate on my writing. I was like a schoolboy in love for the first time, counted the hours when I would see Pocahontas again, at night, lying sleepless next to Eve, my mind wandering guiltily into pleasurable possibilities which would spell disaster.
 The next time I was in London I bought a seat in the front stalls of the Shaftesbury Theatre and watched the new love of my life perform, finding her ever more delightful.
 Applause - curtain - applause - curtain and, like a traditional Stage Door Johnny, I went round to the back stage, bouquet of flowers in hand, completely star struck and fifteen years old.
 Over coffee after an intimate dinner in a restaurant with suitable romantic atmosphere, I suggested we go to a night club, but she declined.
 'I’m tired, why don’t we just go home?'
  I hailed a taxi, gave the driver her Notting Hill address fully expecting her to get out and perhaps kiss me goodbye when we got there, but she didn’t.
 'Come on then,'  she said grabbing my hand, 'this is where I live. I haven’t got fleas you know.' and led me into her flat.

 I was to learn that when you are guilty of having a furtive love affair, which is in fact downright adultery, life becomes quite unbearable if you still love the person you are betraying. In the cold light of day I realized I had been incredibly foolish.
 'It’s not love between us you know,' the actress had said to the author at some time in the middle of the night, 'it’s wonderful lust!'
  And that was all it was as far as she was concerned, but for me it was blatant infidelity.
  On the train journey back to Taunton my mind reeled with what I had got myself into.
See you after the show when you’re next in town my darling!' she’d said when parting. And I had agreed.
  It was thus that I committed myself to a clandestine affair and would risk the break up of a twelve year marriage, would worry about tell-tale whiffs of an unfamiliar scent from my clothes, fear the discovery of lipstick traces on my shirt, worse, blunder into a chance give away remark.
 My liaison with Little Miss Redhead lasted a month, that is four Tuesday night visits to the theatre, dinner after, then back to her flat, time enough to learn how to lie, deceive and be competently disloyal to my wife.
 I handled it well of course, an inherited trait from my mother no doubt plus the years of training I had had lying to Eddy on her behalf.  
 On the fifth Tuesday the actress left a note for me at the stage door informing that she was otherwise engaged. It was obvious that she had found the arms of another. I never saw her again, missed her fun loving company for quite a while, but nothing more and, in my mind the episode thankfully became a simple misdemeanour.
 One weekend shortly after, I took Eve and the boys to a Cornwall seaside resort for a change, believing that a night in a hotel might revive shows of affection between Eve and I which had definitely waned. The boys played in the rain and gumboots on the beach while we watched under an umbrella not holding hands. We were weary parents aware that we had lost our youth and possibly more.
 By the end of a very wet summer we decided we should seek the sun, so we flew down to Nice to stay with Maman, my mother and Eddy in their magnificent new house -  La Maison Blanche -   in Cagnes sur Mer.
 The blue skies, the sparkling Mediterranean, lunches in the warm open air and the balmy nights sitting on the roof terrace staring at the stars brought it home to us that our lives could be more enjoyable than the one we had settled for in cold, grey, damp Somerset. So we decided on yet another move, which proved pretty dramatic.  

Nicolas and Matthew on a Cornwall beach
La Maison Blanche


Thursday, 1 November 2012


My trips to London, to contact people who might further my career as an author, bore fruit when I signed on with a new literary agent who claimed he would make me a household name within two years providing I concentrated on works of non fiction rather than novels. 'Publishers do not like taking risks on fantasy and make their money from reality,' he said and, to this end, straight away got me a contract to write a history of air disasters which plunged me into weeks of depressing research and months of doom and gloom at the typewriter. However, he also got me to be interviewed on radio and television which led to me broadcasting regularly for a while.   
 My first small-screen appearance was on an early evening programme for Southern Television to promote my book on luxury foods. On arriving at the studios I expected to have a chat with the interviewer before the programme to map out what we would discuss, but everything was done in a terrible rush. I was taken to the make up room where a very nice girl pampered me with cosmetics to make me look healthier, I was then more or less frog-marched to the studio itself where the host sat me down at a mock restaurant table laid out with silver cutlery, crystal glasses, porcelain plates, flowers and candles.
 'We’re on live, you know that,' he whispered sitting down opposite me. The floor manager counted five backwards on his fingers and the show was on.
 My interviewer asked me a number of banal questions relating to the book, giving me the impression he hadn’t read it, after which a waitress appeared with a bottle of red wine and poured me some in a glass to taste.
 'What is your opinion of this vintage?' I was asked, to prove, I suppose, that I was a connoisseur, though I had only written a very small section on the subject.
 I went through the routine of sniffing, twirling and studying the colour, took a sip and gulped, astonished.
 'I think it’s watered down Ribena,' I declared with a smile.
 Some of the technicians laughed, my host was not amused and the programme came to a rather abrupt end.
 That night I was rung up by my new agent who told me never to do that again and the following week I appeared on television in London, the North, East Anglia and in the Midlands, having learned that I should help the host with the questions rather than the other way round as they seldom did their homework.
 In Bristol, closer to home, I was interviewed on BBC radio and things were very different. 
 The producer and interrogator, Brian Skilton, was a serious, intensely professional young man who had read the book carefully and talked me through the programme well in advance. The broadcast was therefore a success and afterwards he invited me to a coffee.    
 'That went very well,' he said 'specially the anecdote about attempting to breed snails in Somerset for the french market though it's not true. I’d like you to do a humorous series about your life as a townie in the West Country for our breakfast programmes. Would you send me some ideas?'
 During the following week I submitted a few ideas, met Brian to tidy them up, then regularly set off to Bristol at the crack of dawn once a week to do a piece into a microphone, returning home for lunch always curious to know what Eve had thought of my performance.
 After the fourth time on air I suspected that she hadn’t actually listened to the broadcast.  After the fifth I came to the conclusion that she was not really interested in any of my creative activities and was, in fact, rather irritated by them. 
 She had lost her desire to paint, was bored now that both boys were going to school, smoking far too much and seemed to have lost what little energy she had. Was it the country life? Did she miss London? Apparently not. She just had nothing to interest her till I suggested we convert our empty chapel into an antique shop. She’d enjoyed going to auctions when we were furnishing the house, there was no competition in any of the neighbouring villages, we could probably fill the place quickly with second hand furniture and a few good antiques and, overnight, Eve found her enthusiasm for life again.
 It was going to be a serious business, so we invested in it. The old chapel was repaired, decorated and a sign hung outside proclaiming  ‘The Gallery  - Antiques’ . We bought a van, advertised the shop and within a month Eve was going to sales and returning with walnut bureaus, spindle backed chairs, countless pieces of porcelain, pottery and  glassware which she sold for a small profit to dealers and private collectors. During suppers the gossip from the various characters that came to The Gallery was discussed and the day’s takings excitedly counted. I learned with great interest that Mrs Evelyn Waugh had bought a Royal Worcester teapot - the author and family lived in Combe Florey three miles away - and that a small, white haired old lady from just round the corner who was interested in musical boxes was Arthur C.Clarke’s mother.
 One day a young man from London, with long hair, wearing a colourful shirt and flared jeans, bought the brass bed which Eve used as a display unit. 'I’ll buy as many of these as you can get me,' he said and handed her the address of his decor boutique in Carnaby Street. Brass beds were the rage apparently, attics in the West Country were full of them but he didn’t have the time to search. 
 Between writing about Boeing 707s crashing, going to the BBC in Bristol for the morning broadcasts and collecting brass beds from distant auctions, I drove to London with the heavy pieces tied to the roof rack of the van and delivered them to the wonderland that was Carnaby Street.
  It was in the young man’s decor boutique, an Aladin's cave heavily scented by smouldering joss sticks and crowded with anything from pine cupboards to colourful kaftans draped over Victorian papier maché screens, that I met the young actress who was to lead me astray. On learning that I was an author and broadcaster and wrongly assuming that I might be of some use to her, she handed me a free ticket to the Shaftesbury Theatre where she was appearing in the new musical Hair.
 That evening I sat in the stalls happily watching her sing and dance as a dizzy hippy in the nude. Afterwards, I invited her out to dinner.

Photo from 'Historic Air Disasters'
The Gallery - Antiques