They were the first billboards for Mojácar. One was a construction company, another advertised the Tío Edy (a small German hotel run by an ex Luftwaffe pilot) and two more promoted Mojácar’s first knick-knack shop, an establishment down to the rear of the pueblo called ‘Jean-Pierre’.
The souvenir shop was owned by Felippe Paccini, an ugly Corsican who had arrived in town in 1970 claiming that ‘he had been thrown out of many places during his life, but he wasn’t going to be pushed out of Mojácar’.
Actually, I’ve just heard that he was wheeled out last week. RIP you French bastard!
My dad, myself and another Mojácar resident called Tony Hawker had decided late one night in the spring of 1971 to remove these billboards in a daring terrorist action. Not having any useful connections with the IRA, we used saws. The four signs fell, one after another, around four in the morning following on from a rather heavy night in the Bar Sartén. One sign was in front of a house on the playa and as it fell, we saw a surprised – and we hoped – rather pleased looking man peering out at his improved view.
We knew the cops pretty well: the Guardia would come by to visit our house once a month on their mopeds to get our signature to prove their patrol schedule and to try a whisky or two. Relations were most friendly and it was a very chastened corporal who told us, three months after the event, that we were to report to the Vera calabozo, the clink. The two other advertisers had ‘let us off’, but the Frenchman wanted his pint of blood.
My mum packed a suitcase and we went to collect Tony who lived somewhere in the pueblo. We arrived around five that afternoon in Vera only to be told that ‘the beds hadn’t been made yet’ and to go and get a drink. The lock-up was in the downstairs of the Vera town hall, looking into the church square. Our cell was ample, with an en-suite thunderbox. One wall was decorated with a large mural of Jesus going about his business clearly chalked by a previous inmate. There was evidently time to kill.
Our suitcase had been searched by another apologetic policeman and the vodka confiscated. We were left with a radio, a few books and some lavatory paper. Tony, a thin man in his forties, had some ‘Bustaid’ slimming pills which, it was claimed on the street, would get you high.
My mother visited constantly, bringing my dad vodka in a Casera bottle (well, it fooled the jailers). Otherwise, supplies had to come through the window of the next-door cell, inhabited by a young villain, and passed through into our quarters in exchange for a small coin or a cup of good cheer.
The judge saw us on the third day. Our excuses fell on deaf ears. ‘¿Cuantos años tienes?’ he asked Tony, who was dressed in a rather scruffy leather suit. ‘How long are you?’ translated the interpreter. ‘About this long’, said Tony, holding his hands a generous distance apart.
He was returned to ‘solitary’ where he complained bitterly through the walls of his jail-mates, ‘a bucket of shit and two thousand flies’. My dad and I were returned to our own quarters and released on bail two days later. Tony was let out on bail the following day.
Franco had an amnesty about that time for evil-doers and we were released from the threat of a three month stay in a proper jail. Well done the Caudillo!
I was seventeen at the time – making me one of the youngest old lags in the business.
The following year, the same Frenchman had another run-in with a foreigner. Paccini lived upstairs from Til, a Swiss sailor who owned a restaurant in the village (‘the customer is always right… except at Tillies’). A misunderstanding arose as to who owned Til’s roof-terrace and after Til had tossed Paccini’s bricks, cement and bathroom fittings into the street, Til found himself in our old cell in Vera. The window had been covered by chicken wire and the young felon had departed so Til was unable to get any refreshment during his stay.
Next to visit the Vera clink was Eddie, a film type who had been denounced for some form or other of wickedness. He arrived at the calabozo in his Rolls Royce, leaving it wedged in the narrow street outside. Within an hour, the gaoler had allowed him his freedom, if he would only agree to move his car.
Cheap Pete was a small and very American character who bought and sold antique carpets ‘by the yard’. There’s a street named after him in the pueblo (‘Calle de Pedro Barato’). He married Josephine and inherited a step-son, a large red-headed bruiser who took a violent dislike to Pete. The subsequent fight was so noisy and bloody that the local police felt honour-bound to put the two of them in the Cooler for three days. With the calabozo near to capacity, they placed them in the same cell. For one reason or another, Pete lost a lot of weight during his captivity.
Fritz was an American artist. He was known for his loud ‘haw haw haw’ laugh, his beard and his bottomless capacity for booze and illicit substances. For some reason – the accusation was ‘gamberrísmo’ – he was locked up in the brand-new Mojácar cell, a small room that gave onto the street. By the evening of his first (and last) day, he had managed to decorate his new abode with several paintings, a radio, a carpet and a pot-plant.
By 1980, the cops had appeared to have given up on the foreigners.
I’d call it a long-term truce.