O MacGuffin: A arte da crónica (1)

segunda-feira, maio 05, 2008

A arte da crónica (1)

Train in Spain by Jeffrey Bernard

It’s widely claimed that it was W.C. Fields who uttered the immortal words ‘Never give a sucker an even break’, but it isn’t so. God murmured them during an afternoon nap on the seventh day. A few million years later the Arabs coined the proverb, ‘One minute, life is in your hand. The next minute, it’s up your arse.’ And three weeks ago I was kept awake all night by two nightingales who were singing in an orange tree outside the bedroom window of my Spanish villa. Well, it’s not my villa actually, but you’d think a man could remove the nightingales before he lent you a few nights in the gardens of Spain. Keats, Granados, de Falla? Don’t make me laugh.

But to start at the beginning, they said, ‘Don’t fly all the way. See Spain. Get the train from Madrid and see the countryside.’ What they didn’t say was, ‘If you go by train the journey will take 13 hours and you’ll be surrounded by Moroccan shepherds shitting on the floor.’ Now I know that last bit may sound a little like a drunk with denture problems trying to sing a carol, but it’s quite true. They’re really amazing, are these people. Take me to the Race Relations Board if you like, but I’m here to tell you that the Arabs are quite ghastly. I don’t mind them shoplifting in Marks and Spencer with £5.000 in their pockets – money should be reserved for self-indulgences – and I don’t mind them squatting on the pavement outside my front door munching melons, but, when they’ve watched their flocks and then sold them I wish they’d go home by car. Anyway, I’d taken my right lung to Spain for an airing and that journey took another year off its life.

But I recovered over the next two days and, by a private pool in the sun that overlooked cork tree forests that went down to the shimmering sea, I gazed at the blue mountains of Africa beyond ,full, no doubt, of shepherds shitting by their flocks. It was a heavenly sight; but God, omnipresent and not wanting to be outdone by his own work, had put a couple of vultures overhead in that heaven purely for my benefit. If it’s not nightingales then it’s vultures. Why I’d been picked on like this was my main preoccupation for the next few days as I loafed among the bars of Tarifa. It also accurred to me that if Norman put morsels of octopus, chorizo and salads on the bar in the Coach & Horses and if he also sold quadruple vodkas for 45p to the accompaniment of strumming guitars and clacking castanets then he wouldn’t be a half bad bloke.

It was by the pool – put there by Him because I can’t swim – one afternoon that I met Helen, the resident English widowperson. A delightful and friendly lady, she had merely two faults that I could sea and hear: she said ‘Well, this is it’ in reply to everything I said, and she was accompanied everywhere by a dog called Roy. As Alan Rawsthorne once told me, ‘Never trust a dog with an unsuitable name.’ How right he was. Roy was right up Keats’, Grandado’s and de Falla’s streets and he took up barking when the nightingales came off the night shift. But she was potty about dogs was Helen and there was a stray one nearby that she fed every day. She’d park her car precariously on the mountain road every morning, get out and whistle and the feed left-over French bread rolls to this thing that would come wagging out of the rocks. I mean, you just don’t feed french bread to a dog. You might as well offer a cat a sandwich. Anyway, that was the routine every morning and after that she’d drive us to the market in Tarifa, or along the coast to a hotel owned by Nazi war criminals, where I’d have cocktails while she took Roy to the beach to bark at the bare breasts of tourists. I don’t think anyone liked Roy very much.

So there I was getting a healthy tan in the middle of a scenic, culinary and alcoholic idyll when He Who Must Be Loved played his last card of the holiday. I was sitting by the pool one afternoon wondering if any of the local oranges would end up on Charlies’s stall in Berwick Street when I suddenly got this God-awful pain in my chest. I guessed it might cost about £500 a week to be ill in Spain and anyway I want to be scattered in England and not fed to vultures or Roy. The only way I could get back to London was via Malaga and the only way I could get to Malaga as by taxi. Would you believe 160 kilometres in a taxi? It made my wallet break out in a sweat. Then the additional air fare to Madrid on top of that. Still, better than Moroccan shepherd smells. When I did get back I felt better. All a bit of a cockup, but that’s life, or, as Helen would say, this is it.

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