1. Marbella

2. From Torremolinos to Churriana

3. Ben the Baker

4. After the Fashion Show

5. The Bronx

6. You are never too old to Learn

7. Peter from Poona

8. Rule Britannia

9. Sports and pastimes

10. The Constant Nymph

11. Ben rises to the Occasion



Fiesta in Ojen

'He that is of merry heart hath a continual feast.'

I was in high spirits when, accompanied by the faithful Stephen, I drove up the long, winding road to Ojen. During the summer, there seemed to be a ferias somewhere or other every few days. Down on the Coast, at such spots as marbella or Fuengirola, they were noisy fairs with side shows, foods stalls and unbelievable din. Tourists roamed, cameras at the ready to record what they thought were typical scenes of Spaniards enjoying themselves- all very typical and picturesque. But, up in the hills, in such villages as Benahavis or Ojen, things are very different. With hardly any tourists, these local ferias are truly for the men of war and woman of the village. And for the children - above all, the children. The tiniest strut about, dressed in the most ornate finery of brilliant colours. Little boys in black velvet suits and silk foulards ogle six and seven year old belles who flaunt their lace petticoats and silk, scarlet, flouncy skirts. It could be a production of Carmen in Lilliput. Their parents stroll around the village, swapping yarns, eating, drinking and dancing and eyeing with amusement the odd foreigner, who had stumbled across the fiesta. By foreigner (estrangeiro), they would include anybody who came from further than the next village. The man from the next village was labeled a 'forastero', merely a stranger. These ferias were almost the simple life planning affairs and although I was a mad foreigner (all foreigners are by definition mad) I accepted with the amused tolerance that the good natured Andalucian shows to mortals not fortunate enough to have been born Spanish.

I know Ojen as a quiet, sleepy, miniature town but that night there was noise and confusion everywhere. The local police were out in force and a very burly guardian of the law waved wildly, as I attempted to park in a tiny space. I was obliged to reverse up a narrow street and, avoiding a couple of trees and some other vehicles, stop the car a foot or two from a break in some railings and a sheer drop immediately beyond. Stephen offered to take over, but as he was not sure which was the sexual position of reverse on my automatic gearbox, he almost have me a heart attack before I chucked him out of the driving seat and finished parking the car myself, to hoots of applause, derision and encouragement from the highly amused bystanders.

The narrow streets were hung with diamonds lanterns and electric lights and music blared from loudspeakers placed in trees and dangled from walls. Somehow, I reflected, the Spaniards are impervious to noise. Cards roar down main streets with no mufflers; kids rev screeching bikes; neighbours shriek at each other across busy streets; radios and TVs are left on at maximum volume, completely unnoticed. I suppose the reason the people gesticulate so much in conversation is that they cannot hear what is being said in the general hubbub.

We had not made any arrangement to meet to Jacques and Jeannine in any specific place but since everybody in Ojen knew them, we had no difficulty in getting directions. We made our way across the main square near which we had parked to a bar where the noise level was even higher than elsewhere. The place was foggy with cigarette smoke which blended with the natural reek of garlic from the snacks which were served at the counter. The place was so crowded that you would have thought that every man, woman and child in Ojen were in the bar- together with the odd sociable cat and dog. However, we had no trouble spotting Jacques. Spaniards tend to be short, stocky people, and Jacques' black, curly hair floated above all the other heads and hats around. We fought our way across the floor. Jacques clasped me in his arms and hugged me. Stephen struggled to the bar and brought drinks, but we were so pushed and jostled that quite a lot of what should have gone down our throats got spilled.

'Where's Jeannine?' asked Stephen.
'She and Juliette are in another bar. Finish your drinks and we'll go over and join them. I slipped in here to see a couple of friends.'
'We certainly can't talk here. Christ, what a racket!'
'You won't find it much quieter anywhere tonight, Xaviera.'
In fact , I did not find the noise, overpowering though it was, troublesome, but the kids were a confounded nuisance. They were everywhere, scurrying about like mice in a pastry shop, tripping over my feet, pushing, shoving, squealing and generally getting in the way. Spaniards are among the world's most indulgent parents. Having dressed their children up like dolls, they let them run riot with just the occasional mild rebuke or half-hearted slap when things got too much out of hand. Each proud papa grabbed his daughters by the hand, patted their raven black ringlets while pointing to his own grizzled grey mane, plastered down for the great night with foul smelling brilliantine, to let the world know just how much his adorable daughters, surely the loveliest in all Spain, took after him.

Jacques made his found farewells to his friends. They were all exceptionally pretty women. 'Boutique owners,' Jacques explained with an airy wave of his hand. 'I have to keep them sweet, you know. Good for business.'

'Good for a hell of a lot of other things, too,' Stephen snorted, as we edged our way to the door.
Out in the street, we passed a group of teenagers, arms linked, who were marching along the street, singing at the top of their voices. Jacques led us into another bar where the atmosphere, though festive, was a lot quieter. There were a number of young boys and girls but virtually no children. This was less of a family dive than the first bar. Jeannine and her daughter were sitting at a long table and they pulled up chairs for us.
'Weren't you enjoying yourself over there, dear?' Jeannine asked Jacques with a light, mocking tone.
'Oh, you know how it is with business contacts,' her husband replied. 'We have to keep them sweet.'

12. The Magician

13. Say it with Diamonds

14. The simple life

15. Forced to Fast

16. The Persian Boy

17. Penthouse Pet

18. The road to Morocco

19. Have you anything to Declare?

20. Men of War

21. Fiesta in Ojen

22. Highway Robbery