Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bédar 1966

Bédar is a small white village in the high hills of the Sierra de los Filabres, overlooking the wide plain of Los Gallardos, Antas and Turre which is rimmed on the other side by the concurrence of a few descending mountains, the final one covered by the white cubed houses of Mojácar, with the Mediterranean Sea beyond. Bédar was a mining village, peopled in its day by the Moors, and re-discovered by the British in the 1880s when they set about opening up a number of hills between Águilas and Bédar looking for iron, copper, silver and other minerals.

By 1966, when we drove up the dusty track to the cracked and sun-bleached village, overlooking the empty mining buildings abandoned forty years before, there was just a few people left, hanging on with some small agricultural work or merely abandoned and living on smaller pensions while their lungs slowly subsided under the ravages of emphysema.

There was just the one bar, run by Pedro, an old man with a large chin who shuffled about in his carpet slippers and spoke a few words of broken English. That first time my parents and I went up there and had lunch, a paella possibly spiced with cat, washed down by glasses of Green Fish (a popular kind of Spanish gin, made in Murcia) with warm Fanta orange. The mayor happened by and, as far as my father could make out, introduced him to his hermano who may have sold him a line of village houses for 60 pounds. ‘I’ve either bought a house off somebody called Herman,’ my father admitted to his friends in Mojácar later that day, ‘or I had a very expensive lunch in that village up there’, gesturing vaguely towards the hills.

There were a few foreigners living in Bédar at the time, including a Dutchman and his Moroccan wife. The Dutchman collared my father the next time he braved the dusty track up to the small village. ‘You don’t want to live in this place’, he said, ‘there’s this mad Dutchman who has a house here and doesn’t like Englishmen’. ‘How interesting’, said my father, ordering another round of gin, ‘and what a curious accent. Where are you from?’

An elderly British poet called John Roberts lived in a house around the back of the village, in an area known as the Gypsy Quarter, with his mother. At the time of buying his place, he had neglected to buy off all of the family owners, inheritors in equal parts from some old miner, long taken to his reward. This meant that Roberts shared his house not only with his mum, long time suffering from dementia, but with a truculent couple who weren’t clear if they were gypsies or not, but knew that they didn’t like foreigners.

Howard the American hippie lived in the surviving wing of a ruin further round to the left. He smoked dope and lived off provisions he obtained from friends close to the American Forces PX in Madrid. He certainly carried a better brand of gin in his kitchen.

A British couple, retired as I remember from a rubber plantation in Malaya, lived somewhere below Pedro’s bar. The Rawlins said that they liked the tranquillity and the views. Mr Rawlins painted this picture of the church seen from the east (our three ruined houses were just out of view on the right) and gave it to my father with the following message written on the back:

To my friend Bill Napier, on the occasion of his birthday, 20 January 1969. B.R.’

For Jack

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