Viva Espana!

It was 1967 and Sandie Shaw had just won the Eurovision Song Contest with Pupper on a String.  The other big event for me that year was going ‘abroad’ for the first time.  My Dad had taken out a bank loan to pay for our family of five to go on a package holiday.  I can still remember that it cost £32 per person, all meals included!  My mum spent weeks saving up to buy holiday clothes for us, things that could only be tried on and then put away until the great event.  Passports were applied for and us children were added on to them – in those days you didn’t need your own.  Tickets were posted out the the travel agents (remember then?!) and duly had to be collected and kept safe.

Eventually the day of departure arrived, well actually the day before the flight!  My dad was wearing a suit my mum, sister and me all wore new summer dresses and cardigans and my little brother had short trousers and a shirt.  You didn’t travel casually in those days, it was a hugely important event and one to get dressed up for.  We were the first family in our cul-de-sac to take on such a daring,  or foolish, expedition.

We walked to our local raillway station, Dad carrying the heaviest case, Mum with a smaller one.  It was late afternoon and warm.  I remember my dad looking hot in his shirt and tie, waiting to catch the train to Crewe.  After the short journey to Crewe we found the train to London Euston, Dad catching his jacket on the door handle and ripping it in the process.   We then had to endure what seemed like hours of sitting on itchy seats, sucking barley sugars until we arrived. Then it was a taxi to Victoria coach station, from where we would travel to Manston in Kent to catch our flight.  This was the first time we had travelled by any of these means,  we had never even been to London before, it was all lnew and strange and the plane at the end was just the icing on the cake.

We boarded the plane and on looking out of the window, noticed, much to my mum’s consternation, that the wings were made up of lots of little square of metal riveted together.  She was convinced that the plane would have been moulded from one smooth piece of metal!  I thought it was magical, we landed at dawn, the sky still pink at the edges but already I could fee the promise of heat to come and it smelled foreign too.

I had enjoyed the meal on the plane, it felt so grown up to have a tray of little packets and dishes just for me and not to have to give any to my younger sister and brother.  The food in the small hotel in Blanes was interesting too. I can remember the first breakfast, there were huge brown glass cups of milky coffee, crusty rolls and  peach jam, no butter (I could see my mother making a mental note to pack tea and butter for next time)  I loved it, the jam soft and sweet and  tasted of musky sunshine, and even though you can now get it here, it ‘s not the same. My brother, being only 6, wanted what he was used to at home. Have you ever tried to mime ‘cornflakes’?!  Eventually a packet was produced, along with a jug of milk and a plate.  The staff gathered round to witness this breakfast phenomenon and gasped as they were sprinkled onto the plate and then had milk poured over them. They had obviously put some thought into the evening meal, each night was a dish  from a different cuisne, intending, I suppose to cater for the different nationalities there. I don’t recall every one, but one night we we re served with a plate of plain spaghetti and a separate bowl of thin, tomato flavoured water –  Italian evening! Paella was on the menu one night, yellow and garlicky and laced with oil. But the highlight of the week was when they did ‘English’ food.  As the plates were brought out, a buzz went round the dining room, what was it going to be?  Then the serving platters arrived  and a huge cheer went up from the British contingent – EGG & CHIPS!! It was the first time that week that most of them recognised what they were eating.  Though they  had been fried in olive oil and tasted completely different, it was still egg and chips!

Of course we didn’t speak a word of Spanish, no-one did in those days (well the Spaish people did obviously!)  so miming, accompanied by talking VERY LOUDLY, was the order of the day.  Fortunately for us children it didn’t matter much.  We just played  and taught each other how to count up to ten and everyone knew the words to ‘Puppet on a String’!

Other memories of that holiday for me, going to a bullfight and sitting baking in the afteroon heat, watching the gaudy, macbre procedure .The black bull becoming redder & stickier with blood, until, almost too weak to stand, was finally put out of his misery. Then, still twitching,  and minus its ears and tail was dragged round by horses, the dust and sand now coating the bloody wounds.  Drinking ice cold Coca Cola and Pepsi for the first time, its sharp, caramelly fizz tickling my tongue.  A Dutch couple throwing sweets into our balcony from theirs.  Going to a shop to  and buy some cotton to mend my dad’s suit jacket. The old lady, dressed  in traditional black, didn’t have any in that colour, so she took us through her shop and kitchen, across an alleyway to a neighbour who did.

And then there was the group of four ‘lads’  the leader nicknamed  Romeo. They never came on any of the organised day trips, preferring to sleep all day, having been out all night,  and went home as white as when they arrived – some things don’t changed do they?!



I used to think of ‘time’ as a line with no particular beginning and stretching far away into the distance before disappearing into  misty clouds.  In my mind the days were marked with notches, Saturday and Sunday being taller notches, as there was no school on those days and more possibility for adventures. At weekends and during the school holidays we would leave the house early in the morning and not get back till tea time.  We made dens and paddled or swam in the river, we walked with the dogs just to see how far we could get in a day, sometimes experiencing the wrath of farmers whose fields we were crossing. 

Time seemed to be endless, waiting for Christmas or birthdays felt like an eternity, but as the only treats or presents we got were on these occasions, the anticipation made up for it.  Although I enjoyed school, sometimes waiting for the bell to ring during double maths or biology felt as if time had stood still.  Looking at my watch every minute willing it to be home time.

With all my pregnancies, time seemd to drag interminably, I couldn’t wait for the baby to be born. The due date would arrive and pass and each day after seemed as long as the previous nine months, ending up with being induced.  Next time, I would promise myself, I’ll wait for the baby to arrive naturally, but by 40 weeks I was climbing the walls.  Each day not knowing if this would be the day, was driving me mad and restless.

Once they were born I was impatient for them to achieve those milestones that we are led to believe are so important – especially with the first.  Would they ever talk, walk, sleep!  I was fuzzy with exhaustion and the days seemed even longer. Would tonight be the night I got more than 3 hours unbroken sleep? 

I couldn’t wait for them to be old enough to go to playgroup, so I could have some peace and quiet for a couple of hours.  I was keen for them to start school so I could have time for myself instead of endless repetetive games and reading and re-reading the same stories.

Time shuffled on then all at once the last child was 18, how did that happen? She moved out, following her three older brothers.  The nest was empty and the house quiet.  Now I have all the hours I want to myself, time is looming large and empty, weekends and weekdays are all the same and time is dragging again.  This time I know I should make the most of it, because before you know it, it’s gone altogether.

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