I ARRIVED fresh faced in the spring of 2006, dispatched to The Daily Telegraph’s Madrid desk to provide British readers with light-hearted tales of holiday mishaps on the Costas and the strange things Spaniards got up to at fiestas.

Plus countless stories on how Spain had finally broken the pact of silence to explore its dark past; that of the Spanish Civil War and ensuing fascist dictatorship, and the inevitable calls to dig up Franco from his tomb in the Valley of the Fallen.

Spain was booming. The periphery of the capital was a construction site, literally, as the Madrid ring road was being dug up and sunk underground, transforming the rubbish-strewn ditch where the Manzanares pitifully trickled into the wonderful recreation area now known as Madrid Rio.

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Fiona when she first arrived in Spain and 15 years later pictured with Olive Press Editor-in-chief Jon Clarke.

Cranes stretched their lofty arms over the city, transforming the skyline with skyscrapers in the swanky business district and modern apartment complexes in spanking new suburbs to house a thriving class of affluent workers mortgaged to the hilt but full of optimism for their bright future.

But traditional Spain was omnipresent. Bar floors were still strewn with discarded prawn heads and restaurants were still family-run, offering classic Spanish fare with a €10 menu del dia in overlit, smoke-filled dining rooms.

People mostly shopped at their local markets back when they still contained butchers, fishmongers and vegetable stalls, not collections of food outlets offering exotic international fare from arepas to poke bowls.

Then the crisis struck and suddenly news from Spain became less a distraction from the weighty world issues of the day and more an ominous threat that could destabilise the Euro.

I started to write about bank bailouts and debt restructuring, construction company crashes and home repossessions … followed by corruption scandal after corruption scandal.

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Podemos leading a march for political change in 2015.

A powerful indignado movement led to the birth of Podemos and an end to Spain’s two-party system, bringing with it political instability and the rise of the far right.

The Basque separatist cause waned and was replaced in Spain’s narrative with the struggle for an independent Catalonia.

Then Brexit busted the European project entirely – at least for Brits, upending rights taken for granted when we made the move to Spain.

The last year has been overwhelmingly dominated by the pandemic, presaging an economic crisis that threatens to run deeper and longer than any previous one.

But at least they finally dug up Franco!


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