Wherever I turned in Granada there were people far too willing to help me settle in to life en España. Although driven by good intentions, I now realise with hindsight that most saw me as a great excuse to de-shelve and dust off their “English as a very foreign language” books, which would (or should) otherwise have remained in disuse. Unfortunately, this meant that – once released from my language-learning babes in the pensión – I was never really off duty. People seemed to spot my Englishness a mile off and assume their “help” was urgently required. All it took was for me to make my usual diffident, linguistically lumbering approach for information to a passer-by, a shopkeeper, a policeman, or a functionary with my customary cranking up to a quasi-Spanish sentence. “Er… perdón… por favor…”, and I’d be rumbled. As with Chechu in the restaurant, you would always get a three-second warning before hostilities commenced: “Plis… kip colm joorself… ah speek Eengleesh. But mah Eenglessh ees defecative. And dus, is best joo interromp me if ah em incomprensible.” As I have mentioned in previous lessons, many of these interlocutors had clearly received lessons from some Granada “Ur-teacher” figure who – together with his or her disciples and armed with a class-set of prehistoric “Janet y Juan” books – had set about providing a complete generation of Granadiños with a fingertip (rather than a grasp, you understand) on my native language.
I’ll be frank. I now had an ever-growing list of private students, ever so eager to part with their pesetas for a very low return. I was getting free food at the “six-penis” restaurant, undies washed and ironed back in the pensión, and had the promise of an unlikely Saturday job working with Sr. D’Avila in the exchange department of the bank as an interpreter. But something still gnawed at my conscience. I had been two months in Granada and had yet to score. In fact, I didn’t even know where to buy the kit, let alone get it off. Manolo, my trusty manager, had tried to comfort me:
“Meester Grammer, joo mus understan, for meny jeers Eespaneesh wimin hev suspigins of de Eengleesh mens. Dey think joo only want kees and coddle een der passidgeway… do joo reely have dis need, Mr Grammer?”
Does the Pope have a balcony, I thought.
“Well, er… no… perdón… of course not, but I would like… you know… to get to know more people… girl people.”
“Eef dis ess joor case, tomoorow ah show joo to mah dencing class. Ees fool of Eespaneesh lady who look for mens.” Now that’s what I was up for. Mind you, I could have done without the classes. I foolishly accepted once again. It did not even occur to me to stop, and question what kind of ballet school would take on someone like Manolo as a potential partner. As always, my desperate need overcame my better judgement. Manolo’s insistent assistance, however, was limited to directing me to the place of succour. Once there, enter sucker.
You don’t expect to find a bouncer on the door of a dance school. This was one very imposing Señora. From a distance, it was impossible to discover where the chin ended and the breasts began. The cleavage and dimple were as one. The make-up appeared to be an unhappy combination of embalming fluid and Leichner No. 8 stick, all finished off with a couple of coats of high-gloss lip paint which appeared to have been slapped on and pressed in with all the elegance of the grouting plumber. She seemed, however, to blend in with the environment, coming complete with castanets attached to her thumbs and coated in a blue-and-white polka-dot flamenco dress.
I was given a very long once-over, the Señora’s gaze dwelling perhaps that minute too long on my thighs and feet.
“Hchow beeg are joo in ballet shoos and flamenco boot?”
The question had taken me rather by surprise, not knowing whether I was being asked about my established dancing prowess or shoe size.
“Well, er…” The flapping was starting again. “…perdón… por favor… actually, I’ve only been here a few months, I’m a teacher and all this is a bit new to me, you see, what I really wanted was to…” A moley hand was raised in my face. She wasn’t interested in all that motivation crap. Fair enough, I thought, she wants to find out whether I was born to dance. What followed wasn’t exactly a tough entrance interview, just the obvious questions really: can I put one foot in front of another, and do I have a cheque-book?
“Floot, Grimy*,” interrupted Madame, “As a dancer joo mus moof wid cumfort and eligince… joo mus floot as eef on hairs. For dis, joo need adequate shoos – is ten tausind pesetas.”
Any flooting to be done would begin with me making a quick glide out of the door, I thought. I instinctively looked towards the exit, always so annoyingly distant on occasions like this. Things were clearly getting far more serious than I had intended. I’d wanted to find a different kind of talent, not fame as the new dancing divo “El Teeshirt” or the like. Señorita Galán, as she was named (“Ah em marry with de dance, Grimy. Mah castanets are mah loovers”), had other ideas for me.
Frankly, I’d already needed to down three glasses of ruby Rioja in the bar outside just to have the will power to get in past the door of the dance school, and even then I very nearly pirouetted out again when I spotted a gaggle of betutued young ladies and rather more alarmingly betighted young men who had already made up their minds about my potential talent for flamenco with a quick group clock of my flapping calf muscles and wobbly bottom.
Once appropriately kitted out with some lost property boots and castaneted up, I was told to sit out the first fifteen minutes of class. Fine by me. Sat down on the boards, I had a privileged view of my female classmates (and a ball’s-eye view of the men). There were fifteen females in a room no more than four buttocks by three and things were heating up, believe me. There is no air-conditioning in dance schools: sweat motivates, you see. There was just one steamed-up window and one Englishman equally steaming along nicely. Those polka-dotted girls – arms raised, breasts rising, thighs flashing – would twist one way, turn that, clack their castanets, stamp their feet, and shout “aahhh…Yyyeeee!!” at every stomp. “Olé!” replied la Galán as each dance reached its foot-stomping climax. I had never seen so many breasts and buttocks collectively twisting, turning, and clacking in unison; I swear their top halves stopped moving a full thirty seconds after each “clack” signalled the end of the dance for their bottom halves. Sod teaching, I thought, I’ll sit down and die here.
Miss Galán brought me down to earth. “Grimy, in de behind row and look de mirror with attenshun.” I looked round just to check there was no other mug called “Grimy” in sight and realised the fickle flamenco foot of fate had finally found its way to my wobbly bottom. I stood up, recognised a 3/4 rhythm, and tried to spot myself in the mirror. Not difficult. I was the only one moving sideways instead of forwards, stomping two seconds after everyone else, holding half a castanet wrapped round my thumb the other round the wrist, and wearing corduroy trousers.
“Stoooooopppp!” bawled Our-Lady-of-the-Blessèd-Polka-dots. “Grimy, to de front!”
La Galán favoured a hands-on approach. Hands on whatever was the object of her teaching. “Lirn to feel joorself, Grimy. Speek to joor hchips and joor bottom and dey will moov wid joo.” So saying, she closed in on me, wrapping her meaty legs around mine, slapping one hand on to my left hip while the other glued itself to my opposing buttock.
“Hchere,” she emphasised with a squeeze of gripped hip and bottom, “joo are too relacksed. Hchere eez where joo mus begeen to feel like Eespaneesh man, no Eengleesh.” There was nothing I could say, la Galán’s hands far too dangerously close to what my school music teacher referred to as “your natural metronome” for me to ask how such a transformation could be achieved at my age.
“Get joor parts more steeff, Grimy.” I suddenly realised that all the stomping and gyrating had stopped and that I had rapidly and unwittingly achieved my first objective in coming to dance school: all surrounding Spanish female eyes were glued on me and my over-relaxed parts. La Galán took a renewed grip on my Englishness. “Feel joorself getting steeff… do joo notis de steeffness, now, Grimy?” I could, I could. I just hoped nobody else in the room could.
“Well… er… perdón… sort of… now what do I do?”
“Discharge joor macho feeling through de steefness.” Try as I might, I could not discharge. I bet it happens to many men, I thought, finding themselves so tightly gripped in dancing class. Then, suddenly, something wondrous happened. Ironically, my ineptitude was having a magnetic effect on the female class members. Whether out of love of The Dance or pity, out of the bevy there appeared two young beauties. Divesting themselves of their castanets, each one took up a post on either side of me and, blissfully, each reached out a hand. Together, buttock-to-buttock and in perfect har-mo-nee, we proceeded to twirl, click, stamp and “aahhh…Yyyeeee!!” together. “Olllééé...” rejoiced la Galán in appreciation. I felt inner joy, the like of which I had only come close to witnessing before when Mr d’Avila the bank manager learned to pronounce “Evry wikend I go in de sun and lie on de bitch” correctly. There, on my left, María Angeles; on my right, María Jesús. And, between the two, me. At last, in heaven.
Oh lay, indeed!
* See Lesson Two for Spaniards’ lunges at personal nomenclature.