Part One: The Early Years
Well, it took nearly 60 years but I made it in the end!
Obviously, when I was born in 1950 I didn’t yet know that Spain was my destiny; nor when I went to primary school and later to two different grammar schools, where only French, German and Latin were on offer. I did all three.
When I was 17 I didn’t know that Spain was my destiny either, as I was preparing to apply to study French and German at university. Then at my second interview for my first-choice uni they offered me the chance to start a new language ab initio (I knew my Latin would come in handy one day!) instead of either French or German in exchange for a lower grade offer! The deal was done – I chose Spanish instead of French (don’t ask me why…) and the rest is history!
So as I fetch up on Las Ramblas in Barcelona at the ripe young age of 20 to start my year abroad, I am stunned by this exotic new world of seedy, noisy, but exciting Mediterranean life in the port city of Barcelona in 1970.
After an exciting weekend in the Catalan capital (not that you would have known it was Catalan back then, since Franco was still very much alive and outlawing all public use of the local language), we set off – seven of us – in a hire car to drive across northern Spain to San Sebastián in the Basque Country, where we were due to spend three months studying at the university there. We’d planned to do the journey by rail, but it was Easter and all the trains were fully booked. So we hired a big car – a large SEAT. One snag – I was the only one of us with a driving licence!
One full day later – no motorways back then – and we arrived late at night in San Seb with nowhere to stay. However, Miss Pilling – we didn’t know her first name – who’d done Spanish A level at school, soon sorted us out with a fonda in the Old Part.
Tired as we were we couldn’t resist going out for a drink. When we discovered that a glass of wine was only one peseta a glass (less than 1p), it became much more than one drink! We thought we were in heaven, and with delicious pinchos (tapas) at only five pesetas and Santana’s Black Magic Woman on the jukebox, the night was long.
So was the next day. I was very ill in the night (must have been the effort of the long drive… honest!) and the next morning my nausea mixed with the smell of fish and the sea air made for a hangover I have yet to repeat in the following 40 years!
But I was in Spain, and it was fantastic, if only because it was so different to anywhere else I’d ever been, which actually wasn’t anywhere much at that time.
To be continued …