The day would start with a small libation in the plaza. Late, perhaps, but it had been a long night. There were two bars, facing each other across the square decorated with a few mangled orange trees, a couple of old cars, several corrugated-sided Citroen vans, as often as not an orange dumper - Spain’s motorized pack animal - and, when not in service, a giant Chrysler from the fifties painted egg-shell blue which served as the village taxi. No one ever went to the smaller establishment, which sold ice-creams and was run by a succession of daughters from one of the local Families. We would use the old Indalo, hotel, restaurant and bar: the clubhouse, assembly room and social hub of the pueblo.
We had stayed there for several months – the price was a hundred pesetas a day for the three of us, rooms, food and drink included – when we had first arrived, and still regularly used the services of the upstairs restaurant where culture-shock and chips were served with a bottle of gritty red wine. We'ed all dine together. Tabs Parcell, the retired air vice marshal, would take his plate and put it under his shirt, next to his skin to ‘warm it’. Sammy, the flamboyant Italian-American homosexual from the merchant navy would handle the translation, under the impression that his bad ‘brooklinése’ would be comprehensible to a mojaquero waiter. Norma, another American expat, who ran an antique shop under the arch, would mutter ‘no, no’ to herself as we kept her glass filled. My dad, tall, freckled and red, known locally as ‘El langostino’, the lobster, would be sticking to whisky – he said the wine gave him gallstones. My mother, practical and in charge, would wander into the kitchen and pick up the lids on the various cauldrons to organize lunch.
The morning session, starting round about twelve, would place the small foreign community, British, French, American and a few others, around the wobbly metal tables of the Indalo, outside on the pavement, or inside, if the weather was bad, at the high marble bar. The inside bar was gloomy, dark, painted in shades of brown and stain, with a big mirror behind the bar together with a few bottles of strange cheap versions of better known brands. Diana, a retired nanny who had taught generations of children how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, appropriated the Green Fish, an unfortunately named Spanish gin, as her own. Diego, whose son these days has a bar on the beach, El Rincón de Diego, where there’s a large photograph of the bar from the old Indalo, would serve his motley crowd with a suggestion of pride. At a few pesetas a drink – a very large brandy cost just a ‘duro’ – the foreign customers soon got high-spirited and only the blistering sun managed to maintain any kind of order. Turkey Alan, a youthful cockney pocket thief, might be telling a story about his dog, a grateful looking greyhound, or perhaps old Cicero, a pungent American professor who lived by himself and spent his money on ‘whiskey and putas’, is noisily standing a round. Tony, a friend of my dad’s, drones on about women while nobody listens and Fritz, the dapper artist with the beard and the terrible laugh, might be sketching an approximation of the party while smoking a ‘dookeedoo’. David, a bald anthropologist who could speak several different North African languages, would be rubbing his short goatee gleefully and telling obscure and very filthy stories about his subjects in the Rif while his wife, Ursula, she of the gravelly voice, is asking me about school in a rather threatening manner as if she was seriously considering the job of ‘Matron’. Another round of drinks arrived. I had a Fanta.
Perhaps, if it was a hot day – it usually was – there would be a move towards the beach; not to swim, in particular, but rather to drink in one of the few places that existed in those days. Beach-land, traditionally inherited by the younger or dumber or less greedy members of the Families over the decades and centuries, was worth nothing. In 1967 we heard of land going for one peseta for ten metres. There were few takers.
There was one really good restaurant on the beach, however, run by French Algerians (they were known as ‘pied noirs’ and Franco smiled favourably on them). This was the Rancho del Mar, where Maxime’s quality food went for McDonald’s prices. Cheaper places, with simple menus, were the Puntazo, the Flamenco and the Virgen del Mar. Salad. Crotchmeat and chips. Sangría.
By three in the afternoon, the group would be building up again outside the Indalo. The post-office, ineptly run by Martín, who couldn’t read or write much, but spoke a bit of French, was open from three to five. I’d be sent to collect the letters, which would be passed to me with their stamps wrenched off by the old man, with the instruction to bring back the ones I couldn’t deliver, ‘…or throw them away’.
In the square, an elderly platinum blonde called Franny and her son Eddie, a semi-retired fifty-year old female impersonator, might perhaps have joined the group, both insisting on drinking Manhattans which they had long ago taught Diego how to make. Roger, who opened the first British bar, La Sartén, in 1968 could have shown up as well, together with Pop-eyed Peter (who was to run away with a mojaquera girl), Alan the Tin Miner and ‘Friggit’, a Swedish woman of doubtful morals. Giggling into his brandy, here's Chris with the long hair and moustache, a pink Mini Moke and a Danish girlfriend called Gitte. As the drinks continued, the group might have felt persuaded to sing, initially simple songs accessible to both the British and the Americans (‘I wonder whose kissing her now’, for example) followed, in the fullness of time, by numbers like ‘My little sister Lily’ and ‘Cats on the Rooftops’ (both also available in Spanish upon enquiry).
The evenings were more of the same. In La Sartén, where Roger would companionably allow you to ‘help yourself, Sport’, or the Zurri Gurri, a sensuous cave-bar run by a couple from Madrid, or the Witches Brew (captained by an American lesbian called Pat and her German friend, the scorching Rita) which also sold leather goods. Today, it’s the ‘Time and Place’.
In those far off times, when the Guardia Civil came in to a bar, conversation died. You had your papers ready. They could hand out some rough and ready justice. We were all a little worried to see them. My dad used to bribe them. ‘Have a drink with me’, he’d say and they’d have a brandy or a whisky and affably call him by his surname.
Later, after the bars closed at one, the only place open was the Pimiento, a disco run by Felipe, another pied noir. Drinks were slightly more expensive, but you could always dance to his collection of scratchy imported singles.
Far into the night, there was only one bar that had a license. It opened at four in the morning for the Garrucha fishermen. Thanks to its neon lights and white tiling, it was familiarly known as ‘the Lavatory Bar’. Pedro ran it and sold carajillos, black coffee with brandy, to the fishermen and, as often as not, the same thing for the surviving foreigners. I stayed with the Fanta. As the last members of the Mojácar Jets downed their drinks and raised their voices in song, while the municipal cop looked through the door and Pedro went ‘Shhh!’, an age slowly and drunkenly made its way to its final bow.