“Now, kip colm Meester Grammar, jus kip colm. Leesten me: Joo will have now only a smoll preeck. But, plis, joo must try to breed slowly, very slowly.”
Somewhere, and it seemed as if it were from, oh way above the clouds so high, I heard Manolo’s familiar foreign language pot-shots at advice amidst a sea of angels in white jackets. For a few nanoseconds I had an horrendous vision that I had lost my mortal curls and gone to that great blackboard in the sky where the chalk no longer squeaks, where the tuck shop is forever open, and where, apparently, I was surrounded by people in white coats and where novel anatomical restrictions demanded that I would have seriously to bide my time for any descendants. But, far worse, my most terrible fears had come true: i) Manolo was to be my only company up there, and ii) expiration had done nothing to improve his fluency. I tried desperately to re-trace my steps…
As I raised my head after having slurped down another ladle-load of Chechu’s finest Gazpacho in the forecourt of the “Seex penis” restaurant (“Mah best deesh: eeza cold soap weeth two mates and grim peepers”), my attention was inevitably drawn to a poster blu-tacked onto the wall in front of me. It had clearly been home-baked by Chechu (cf. Lesson Three): charmingly enough adorned with assorted cut-outs of clichéd Spanish memorabilia (including the Giralda in an impossibly bright blue sky and the Alhambra set against the setting sun on the Sierra Nevada), all topped off with a bull sporting a rather constipated demeanour, and bilingually emblazoned with “y Viva España (‘Long lives for the Spain’)” around the top. On closer inspection, however, there were odd scarlet marks along the peaks of the Sierra Nevada which looked worryingly like tomato puree, and raised yellow outlines across the ramparts of the Alhambra which disappeared into the sun and which I had no trouble whatsoever in recognising as having their provenance in yesterday’s tortilla española. It had thoughtfully been divided across the middle into one Spanish and one Eengleesh section, no doubt responding to Chechu’s current clientele, and sounded, well, inviting. Perhaps – in parts – a tad over-enticing in translation:
I was still trying to get my head round the idea of religiously fanatical seafood when my musings were interrupted by Nacho, as he served me another round of warm crunchy home-baked loaf.
“Ees very recommendable, Meester Crème. Itch jeer eez deeferent and Chechu organize the treep and orll the restaurants he advance book. Orll hchees friend beeg chiefs, beeg discunt, and dilishoos tapas.”
And so I was hooked. I had seen little of Spain so far and the chance of making a gastronomic tour made it all the more appealing. I packed thoughtfully, using my trusty Plan A as a basis (see Lesson Nine), removing only the aftershave as this was basically a boys’ trip.
Chechu had taken the trouble to book with a company who provided an in-bus guide and – in the pocket in front of each seat – a guide book (“Cities of the Spain”) for each and every city on the itinerary, courtesy of the Granada Tourist Board, of whose existence I had learnt on the second day of my Granadinian life when – desirous of the directions to the Generalife Gardens – I was told by the assistant, “Wok strait, curve to the left, bend backwoods and the Gardens are closed by your hand.” I nestled into No Smoking H3 Left Aisle and opened the book: “Version English Number second edition printing” was emboldened on the third page. I sat up a little bit more in the seat, realising that comprehension of this tome might require a little bit extra concentration. Chapter 3 dealt with what was to be our first port of call, Madrid: “Industrious city, full of leathers, and their interiors, and a large peoples”. I read on, eager to find out what these large people and their interiors did with their leathers. “…excessively hot and cold, very elevated in the centre of Spain and during big war was besotted with the Nationalists”.
A sudden revving down of the engine and the sight of my fellow companions looking eagerly out of the windows interrupted my linguistic trudge. It suddenly became clear that the real objective of the trip was far from city tourism and rather closer to Chechu’s heart. After only fifteen minutes up the road – I swear I could still see my undies left drying on the pensión balcony – we were pulling in at a big sign which read: “Restaurante Los Rodeos: Pescados y tapas variadas”.
Chechu then informed me about the stop: “Meester Crème, ees boss chere Paco and beeg freend. Tapas, and a teacoop if joo want.”
The combination sounded interesting enough although 1025 a little early for it.
Then Manolo suddenly grabbed hold of my arm and whispered epicurean devotion in my ear:
“Leesten me well, Grammer, dees man has enormouse tapas and ween beeg price for hchees contents las jeer. Ess very tasty hchees fishy balls and crap paste. Orll good. But – and eef joo follow my advices – I recommend to you eating those toona, may and daisy sandwich.”
Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I remembered a section in the British Council Guide for GB Nationals On Long-term Contracts in the Exterior someone at the BC had so thoughtfully dropped into my briefing pack at the pre-posting orientation meeting…something about hot days and cold salads and salad cream and eggs…and…now what was it exactly? At which point, as always, I followed his advices and he led me, as ever, unto the table, and my fate.
The last thing I recollect after feeling my stomach wrench and myself passing out, was Manolo leaning over me in the ambulance. I distinctly remember spotting a drop of the wretched salad cream entering and exeunting his lip left and right as he mouthed his advice to me. Poor man, desperately trying to calm me down and me desperately trying not to get anxious trying to fathom what on earth he was saying to calm me down.