Tuesday, September 10, 2019

In Bed with a Book

Isn't that a terrific view?

I used to visit record stores and bookshops when younger. So nice to flip through the records, stacked in their boxes; so nice to angle my head and walk the bookshop shelves.
Following a trip somewhere, my suitcase home would hold a tee-shirt, a stack of albums and a selection of novels for ballast.
The money spent on those records...
The money spent on those books...
At home – Mojácar – there were never any local record or book shops of note, or if there were, they never lasted for long. After all, it’s a small place and, there’s not much of a market (especially for books, where half the population doesn’t read the language of the other half).
I tried Amazon for a while, but they have a pesky prime account which adds to the bill, and with our local charity-shop selling thrillers and whodunits at four for a euro, who cares how up-to-date they are?
My parents brought a quarter of a ton of books with them when they moved to Spain, as a kind of alternative activity to drinking. There was no TV in those days (there still isn’t in our house), and apart from a regular trip to the local cinema to improve our Spanish (‘Hands up’, being the first phrase I learnt), the evening pastimes back then were reduced to sleeping, reading or carousing.
Since I was thirteen, it was pretty much just the first two for me.
They stopped making records in around 1992 (and decent pop songs as well), so my record-buying days ended (I’ve got about 1,500 albums, all in stacks). As for the thousands of books, well they’ve just increased over the years and probably mated and had children.
The house is full of novels, with shelves of them in every room, a pile on the floor by the bed, a clump on the mantelpiece, a couple under the PC monitor (for height), boxes of them in the dining room, crates of them in the kitchen and even one on the table by the lavatory (with most of its pages missing for some reason).
My daughter has been putting them in boxes. She tells me not to worry and that they will be safe. I went out and bought some more last week just in case...
I expect I read less than I used to – what with social media and other Internet usage (for an apparent total of four hours a day average!) cutting into my time, but I’ve been in bed just now, with man-flu, so have been enjoying a good read.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

History through Tourism

As the Mojácar authorities continue with their plans to convert the 'pyramid mount' of Old Mojácar into a tourist magnet (yet otherwise appear to show little interest in the history of Mojácar), other experts across the province are following with their own 'cultural tourism'.
Our region is the birthplace of history, whether pre-historic daubs on the cave-walls of Vélez Blanco (where we desperately look for an 'Indalo' to prove an unprovable point), or the bronze-age Argar ruins of Antas (Wiki) and Fuente Álamo in Cuevas (Wiki) or the astonishing ruins of Los Millares (in Santa Fe de Mondújar) from 4.000BC (here). There's an interesting article on the importance of these sites to archaeologists here
Yet 'cultural tourism' visitor-numbers are down. La Voz de Almería says that visitors to sites in Almería controlled by the Junta de Andalucía - museums and archaeological sites - have fallen in the first six months of the year by over 24,000 compared with the figures from 2018. This includes a drop in the numbers visiting the Almería castle - the Alcazaba (Wiki) - from 142,000 to 116,000 visits, and the sublime castle of Vélez Blanco (Wiki).
The only 'cultural site' run by the Junta to have had an increase in visitors is the Centro Andaluz de la Fotografía in Almería City (unfortunately, the popular museum is rumoured to be in trouble with the politicians in Seville).
Almería is profoundly historical, and is valuable for more reasons than the potential tourist-dollars. As an archaeologist tells Almería Hoy: '...we have something called heritage that we have to promote. That is the perspective. Our 'grail' exists and is called El Argar, which is a colossal engine for the economy of any place and its value should completely change the economic appearance, not only of Antas, but of the entire region. If we continue to allow it to fall apart and let it be lost, we are allowing that inestimable value we have at the corner of our house to be lost. We must wake up the municipality itself, from the confluence and awareness of all citizens and all politicians'.
Is this the answer - to bring our history into focus through (and for) tourism?
Maybe.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Almería Fiestas

It's a long way across the city of Almería to get to the Paseo so, rather than put the kids in danger, we took them to the beach instead. Indeed, only four riders showed up in the Paseo, plus a few carriages. The organisers need to plan things better. Why not allow riders in the fairgrounds (where there is plenty of room) during the day like they always used to do?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Aku Aku and the Old Mojácar

'Once upon a time, Mojácar, in the province of Almería, was a place located somewhere outside the known world; a secret place where special people, half-hidden and forgotten, yet completely happy ended up. Artists, painters, bohemian foreigners, crazy Englishmen, one of the Glasgow train robbers. A hippy era, of parties on the beach, with a little smoke and some fantastic beach bars...'. Thus begins a recent article in the national newspaper El País based on one of our beach bars, the famous Aku Aku - which in known for its great paellas and sublime summer concerts (proper music, not bad bands reprising Stairway to Heaven and Knocking on Heaven's Door for the millionth time).
Mojácar has changed of course from the 'secret place' of forty years ago into a tourist destination without much to recommend it. The Town Hall, with the support of the local merchants, has turned the village and its beaches into a money factory.
Where else does a residential village have concerts every night for the length of the tourist season (which never seems to end and yet is satisfyingly short)?
The article makes a similar point as somebody says '...The Aku Aku is of the little that still remains from that time, it maintains the spirit. Now you go out there and you find a gang of youngsters wandering around noisily with plastic penises stuck on their heads: a bachelor party. I once saw a group with a dwarf attached by a leash. The one holding the leash was so drunk that it was almost the dwarf who was leading him...'. (There's an agency that rents dwarves in Benidorm, seriously!)
Many articles that appear in the national press are reproduced by the local tourist department, but probably not this one. If for no other reason than that the town is conservative, run by the Partido Popular, and the Aku Aku is a beacon of the opposition PSOE, where the President of Spain was recently photographed in mufti, enjoying a paella with his family.
There are of course many other places in Mojácar where the old spirit survives, as the article itself points out. Many of these though, are chiringuitos, beach bars, and the Town Hall wants to extend a beach-wall and promenade through their land (where the diners sit) which will make the playa more pleasant for visitors, dwarfs and others included, and more remunerative for those who own businesses on the other side of the road.  
If you are visiting Mojácar for the first time, then before you leave, go and have a meal at the Aku.
Tell María I sent you.


Monday, August 12, 2019

The Fiesta Magazine 1979.

It's forty years since the Mojácar fiestas of 1979. What has changed in that time? The program had a small budget and barely ran to colour. The adverts were decidedly 'home-made', and the content was modest. There's 'un saludo' from our mayor of the time, Francisco González (Barbara Napier, then Beaumont, worked for him as his secretary).
Francisco - better known as Paco Marullo - was Mojácar's first democratically chosen mayor, voted in to power in April 1979. The foreigners didn't have the vote in those days, and there were certainly less of us, but we enjoyed a respect and 'una convivencia' that no longer exists today.
The first article in the magazine is a 'biografía' of our famous Canadian pop-singer resident JJ Barrie (No Charge and other hits).  JJ gave a concert that Sunday night.
Another item in the magazine is an interview with El Mister. This was an Italian called Aldo Cecchi who acted as the Mojácar football coach. Aldo was in the diplomatic service and had been the coach in Toronto before retiring to Mojácar. He was married to Yola, the sister of Silvio Narizzano (another local resident and the director of the movie Georgy Girl).
There is an interesting article from Martín Navarrete (as the local journalist from the ABC always signed himself) about the village square, the Plaza Nueva.  The article - purportedly written by the square itself - laments the changes brought about by progress: the old arches demolished and the trees gone.
There is some poetry in the magazine from local mojaqueros, including José Luis Molina, Pedro 'El Parral' and José Maria Montoya, and an article in both English and Spanish from my father Bill Napier which begins 'Where in the world is there a village that can attract so many different nationalities from so many diverse backgrounds and make them feel that this is their home?...'.
The new 2019 fiesta magazine, forty years later, is full of colour. It is professional, slick, is in two languages and is aimed at the tourists. Does it still preach 'convivencia' with the foreign residents?
Perhaps not. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Recycling? I've Never Cycled.


Every time we go to the dustbins these days, we are greeted (most of us) by an array of contenadores to put our waste in – glass, plastic, paper and general garbage. The general one – at least – is then hauled off six nights a week to some vile destination known only to the seagulls. Some people prefer to leave their trash in the fields or in the verges; some throw it off a handy cliff (video here, yes, he’s been identified by the police) while others neatly leave it next to the contenador (for company, maybe?), but most of us know to gamely lever up the heavy and sticky lid and to push our bin-liner of kitchen garbage into the box and out of our lives.
Waste management is, of course, a lot larger problem than Sr López from next door forgetting to divide the glass from the plastic in his trash, and probably reckons it’s a waste of time anyway.  
We gamely consider buying an electric car (maybe next year) and console ourselves that the ugly wind-turbines that dot the Spanish countryside are at least clean and save on the diesel-burning power stations – not that we see any difference in our electricity bill.
The accidental fire in Seseña, June 2016
Yet, our environment is still dirtier than ever. Madrid, Barcelona and Granada have been recently fined by Brussels for unhealthy levels of smog, while our practical solution to destroying plastic and rubber waste (by an accidental fire) and our record for being the second largest polluter of the Mediterranean (after Turkey) is not a happy one.
Worse still, the junk bled into the seas from our cruise ships, and into the skies with our airplanes, means that, unlike Sr López, we are simply fiddling while Rome burns.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Amor Vincit Omnis

As Facebook becomes ever-more concerned with racism, hatred and Boris Johnson, I turn first to something called Amor Vincit Omnis (here) which is a page dedicated to art and poetry. The writer, mvaljean525, works hard at preparing this beautiful site, with several new pictures and text (plus some video) uploaded daily. Each piece of art is accompanied by a poem: sometimes they are from the German or Spanish or Japanese (with their translation).
Where Facebook makes you reach for your keyboard, to post a frowny or send off some irate reply, Amor Vincit Omnis ('To embrace life with the wonderment of a child') is a soothe.

With dirty shoes and baggy pants.
I watched him walking by.
A little boy with curly hair,
and weary lonely eyes.
He came and sat beside me,
he talked of many things.
Poor people, having hearts,
richer than a king’s.
I noticed as he talked,
he was wise beyond his years.
As he told me of his life,
my eyes were filled with tears.
He said, “ I’ve learned that my friends,
are people that I find,
that show me that they care,
by treating me so kind.”
“And the most precious thing,
our heart will ever see,
Is the joy of loving others,
and the joy of love received.”
—-
The Most Precious Thing ………( Based on the Poem “Nature Boy” By Eden Ahbez)
Sharon Rose Mille

Friday, July 12, 2019

How to Rile-up a Brit.

The British embassy in Madrid has a Facebook page - Brits in Spain - where it dispenses wisdom and advice.
On the Pamplona San Fermin fiestas they say. ' For anyone heading to Pamplona to run with the bulls, it´s well worth checking out the official site advice to make sure you´re fully prepped. And it´s not all about the bulls, there´s live music, fireworks. . . basically a week of partying. There´s a reason why San Fermin is on everyone´s list of top fiestas!'.
The annual fiesta in Pamplona includes  (horror alert!) bullfights and the bull-running, where for eight days, around 2,000 young people run daily with the bulls as they are herded by some cows down to the pens behind the bull-ring for that evening entertainment. Six bulls and six mansos thunder through the narrow streets leading to their destination, intermingles with enthusiastic runners - the odd one of which will do himself some injury.
They've done it for years according to Wiki, and fifteen people have managed to kill themselves in the Pamplona bull-run since 1910: thirteen Spaniards, one Mexican and one American.
Most people consider it fun, or high jinks - a bit like driving a motorbike too fast or playing truth or dare (it certainly beats jumping off a hotel balcony, irredeemably popular with British holidaymakers), but it's only the British who, generally speaking, disapprove of Pamplona's attractions.
A jolly bull-run
This is because the British, with their extraordinary exceptionalism, consider themselves better than foreigners (you don't agree? tell me more about Brexit) and to balance this, they offer a kind of cult-like worship towards all animals (perhaps, in part, to teach those same foreigners a lesson). Who but the British would instigate a massive neutering program for feral cats to subsequently return them to the wild - and raise funds for this effort? Our local group of concerned ex-pat Brits are talking about a '100km radius of fixed felines' (the vets must be doing cartwheels for joy).
The Brits like to publish fake news about bullfights (Vaseline in their eyes etc) - and they may even find a Spaniard who doesn't approve (in brutal reality, most people here don't care one way or the other). The fact is that maybe one in ten thousand bovines will be a Toro Bravo rather than a hamburger bull - doomed as it is to a short life in a pen before an abrupt passing in an abattoir at 18 months of age). But their worst criticism is against their own citizens. Our local pet charity has been run by a woman who's American husband has never missed a bullfight in fifty years. He writes about his exploits and publishes his photographs, but nobody says anything. I am invited to a bullfight every couple of years or so with my Spanish wife by our friends and I get into all kinds of trouble. One jack-ass from the same charity even managed to stop me giving a speech (to raise funds for them) on the supposedly bland subject of our local history because of my bloodthirtsy enthusiasm for what is of course a fully-legal protected national fiesta! 
Thus, the Brits in Spain Facebook page, which is answered here by 360 people (by Friday afternoon), including Christine 'Its not on my list, it should be banned its cruel for the animals and if people do not realize by now that it is also dangerous I feel sorry for them that they do not have the intelligence to know this, plus fireworks which frighten even more animals both domestic and wild animals, often frightening to death young offspring, with loud bangs that they can either hear or feel the vibration of which distresses them. the entire horror show is a disgrace', and the succinct Priscilla 'Strictly for scumbag heathens'.
A recent massive anti-toro demo in Pamplona
Here's Lesley: 'Brits in Spain should not be promoting this' and Tracey: 'Shame on you promoting this barbarity' and here's the lovely Angela: 'Let's hope a good few humans are gored to death in this barbaric display of blood thirsty morons having a fabulous time drinking and having a great time watching animals suffer. Obscene and monstrous !!'.
The normal Brit in Spain post on Facebook from the embassy will attract about five comments (unless its about dogs, where it will rise alarmingly).
As far as Pamplona is concerned, it makes a fortune from its fiestas. A recent article in the Spanish press talked of the amount of beer sold during the San Fermines. In 2017, one and a half million people visited the city over the fiestas. The likelihood of this activity being closed down (or inflatable rubber-bulls supplied in substitution) because the Brit ex-pats in Spain and their free-sheets (check The Olive Press or The Weenie) disapprove seems a little unrealistic.
We Brits like Spain well enough because it's cheap, it's warm and the food is good. We don't seem in general to show much interest in the culture of the country and, beyond our fervour for saving animals - dogs, cats, donkeys and toros - from the Spaniards, we try to involve ourselves with our neighbours as little as possible.
  


Thursday, July 04, 2019

Old Mojácar: Ancient and Modern Visitors

The Mojácar tourist office is excited about the excavation of Old Mojácar. According to La Voz de Almería, our ambitious tourist councillor has asked the provincial representative of the Junta de Andalucía to drop by Mojácar '...saying "We will have that help" that he considers "very necessary" to continue with the evaluation of the historical remains and their consolidation to attract more visitors...'.
Ah yes, visitors.
Indeed, the town hall has spent so far 100,000€ of 'its own funds', as the MemoLab archaeologists from Granada, 'together with eighty volunteers' (from nine countries!) continue to excavate the beautiful and unique mountain in search of historical data.
The group has so far found '...the existence of the remains of numerous towers, a community bread oven, some animal remains, a mosque, houses and some stone balls, as well as geometric drawings...'.
Old Mojácar, with its evidently artificial pyramid shape, has to be a lot more than a small (and improbable) XII century settlement.
It was probably originally shaped and used as a temple by people from a far earlier time. Seven hundred years being but an instant in archaeology.
Mons Sacra (sacred mountain in Latin), gives rise to Muxacra (the Moorish name) and later Mojácar. The Romans were here twice as long ago, indeed a Roman coin found a few years back on the mountain comes from the time of Probus (276 -282AD).
But there's every likelihood that the mount is far older.
Currently, the suggestion is that Old Mojácar was a settlement. Perhaps it was, briefly - perhaps settlers took advantage of what they found there from earlier periods.
It has a few disadvantages though. There's not much space on top, and the sides are steep (annoying for peaceful purposes). While briefly defensible until the food and water runs out, there's no escape route, no spring, no place for the livestock to graze or crops to be planted, no trees for wood or fruit, and not much point either when the Sierra Cabrera with all of those attractions is just a brief kilometre away.
The argument that the aljibe, the water reservoir on the crest of the hill (pictured) was filled with water seems improbable. Either it came from rain water (and don't tell Galasa), or it was somehow transported up the steep hill. The estimated 160,000 litres the reservoir holds would be the equivalent of  twenty thousand Mercadona eight-litre bottles lugged up from elsewhere.
There's almost no reason, besides a spiritual one, why people would populate such a place, especially with the welcoming and safer hills close by.
But tourism is never about reality: its job is to sell fantasy. So, as we eviscerate our Holy Mountain, a few more souvenirs are sold in the shops, and Mojácar (who has never shown the slightest interest in its fascinating
history), presses another button.     
 

Friday, June 07, 2019

Filling in the Gaps


Imagine, a business running for fifteen years - not a great success maybe, as I had put a million euros into it, but by now, worth quite a bit. It was a weekly free newspaper in English that started in 1985 and ran into three editions - Almería, Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol. Let’s tell readers about this great country, I thought, educate them (and me as well) about Spanish gastronomy, history, geography, society and politics.
The weekly print run was anything up to 47,000 copies, making it the 17th largest newspaper in Spain, and of course, the largest foreign-language publication around. For a while there, it was a pretty good newspaper.
Oh, there were problems. The Spanish media-agencies won't advertise in foreign-owned newspapers (did you ever see an advert for Coca Cola, J&B whisky, chocolate milk, Volkswagen, Parador hotels or maybe the Madrid Tourist authority in the Costa Blanca News or The Olive Press?). We received no ‘institutional adverts’ (Government sponsored advertising, ‘bungs’ really), like ‘Come and visit Andalucía’ or ‘Have you paid your taxes this year?’ and so on, the same as the ones that appear every day in all national newspapers.
The official Spanish newspaper circulation-run auditors also weren't very helpful, after auditing the paper for a year at 39,975 copies (thanks, guys), they then told me it was three papers and tripled the price. Which is probably why none of the foreign-language free press has a reputable distribution number (that, and it’s very easy to tell fibs when you are in publishing).
The paper started as a small local weekly. Edition Nº 1 had the adverts at the top of the page and the articles at the bottom. The two British couples who started it – a musician and a photographer and their two wives – evidently had little idea about what they were doing. In fact the guitarist, the alpha for the group, had wanted to open a radio station, but the senior cop in charge of foreigners for Almería had said no.
Speaking nary a word of Spanish, they asked Barbara, later my wife, to translate and – since she had a work permit to drive a mule-taxi – to head up the newspaper as the editor. The police-chief said that, bureaucratically speaking, that would do fine and it was all close enough anyway.
I was invited in after the first three months of production. Encouraged by my step-mother, I gave the guitarist some money in exchange for a third of the business, only to be told by the printer the following day that the newspaper owed an extra seven million pesetas, some 42,000€, and they weren’t going to print until they had that sorted.
The process in the beginning was to type up and collect material around the kitchen table and take it to the printer, La Voz de Almería, in the nearby city, which would be obliged to re-type the whole sixteen-page newspaper (with a couple of Spanish secretaries who had never worked in English before), using the system of the times: copper type-face, wire and screens. This was a difficult process, and it gave rise to multiple spelling mistakes and screw-ups.  Later, we moved the business into a small house I owned in the campo, converted into newspaper offices. Here we had two home-made light-boxes (a glass box with tracing paper and a strong light behind) to ‘make up’ the pages physically with glue sticks, tape and scissors, a couple of computers, a printer and a dark-room housing a large horizontal camera known as a repro-master. I manned the front desk and had a telephone, a fax and a potted plant.
Early editorial included the popular medical column from Terry and a cookery-based story from Jocelyne. We also had a ‘So you want to play bowls’ column which went on for an embarrassingly long time, plus something solemnly translated from the local press for the front page (this still seems to go on) and an encapsulation of the world news recorded onto a cassette in England by a friend, which was then played over the phone and taken down by one of our staff with shorthand skills.
Then by post would come a few months’ worth of Russell Grant’s astrology with the help of some London agency.
Features from various writers would later arrive to HQ along with the adverts, photos and checks by messenger service from the outlaying offices. Our photographer partner’s ‘From Macclesfield to Mojácar’ saga, with black and white pictures of cows, trees and motorway petrol stations, was finally put to sleep...
The paper, printed overnight, would be distributed in that first year around the province in English-speaking areas, which meant in the mid-eighties Mojácar, Turre, Bédar, Roquetas de Mar and Almerimar. The sales-manager (for want of a better title) was another expatriate musician, who spent most of his time either fighting with his wife or standing on his head. The business continued to haemorrhage and I even found myself paying my two partners’ house-rents...

Desk-top Publishing
In 1986, the guitarist-partner went up to Altea (Alicante) to meet a friend, a Swedish fellow, and the next thing I knew, we had a second weekly edition, this time for the Costa Blanca. At least he thought big. The other one, the photographic partner, in charge of camera-work and lay-out, preferred small scenes and scams like dropping adverts on the floor by his light-box (‘they didn’t fit on page’) and selling holiday-snaps of people down at the bar using newspaper-bought camera-film (‘I thought it was a perk’), and bouncing a cheque off me once for fifty pounds.
My by this time father-in-law, Barbara’s dad, warned me that I would never see my money again.
I was foolish, or maybe hopeful, and continued to pour in funds, eventually getting an agreement from the others that I would collect on my investment before any share-out following a successful sale of the business. Not that anyone wanted to buy it.
The Costa Blanca idea had been to sell a franchise, and we nearly did, with the buyers only deciding at the notary’s office to start their own competing newspaper instead. We could have supplied the material: we had IBM computers by this time and the repro-master which was used for taking both photos for paste-up as well as creating the paper’s full page negatives for the printer.
So instead, our second edition began. Larger than the Almería newspaper, our Costa Blanca edition had a staff of seven (including its own editor and various comisionistas, who sold advertising for a 20% bite), plus an office and what eventually turned out to be a crooked sales manager who creamed off the profits for a number of years.
One day, a second printer, Almería’s other newspaper La Crónica, introduced us to desk-top publishing with an Apple Macintosh Classic. Look, you can actually see the newspaper and make adjustments on the cute little screen!
This spelt the end of the photographic partner, who left the newspaper to further his career selling second-hand paperbacks at the Sunday market.
The guitarist-partner, who fronted a local pop group, wanted to play with a leggy superstar due to give a concert in Málaga that third summer. So, he engineered the launch of another, still larger edition, with an office in Benhavís near Marbella (it was somebody’s sitting-room), complete with an alcoholic editor and a junkie sales-manager. This involved a large investment and a massive print-run. We needed extra staff at home and while sending the completed newspaper to the printer via the dial-up modem helped speed things along (do you remember the sound those things made?), it was a lot of work and not much joy.
The musical-partner did indeed open for Tina Turner in that fateful concert, but was booed off stage, while his bassist was struck by a flying hamburger. It seemed that the vast Málaga audience wasn’t ready for Blue Suede Shoes.
Shortly after the launch on the Costa del Sol edition, and following on from running a monthly business insert for the paper for a couple of years from a separate office (where he was sleeping with his secretary), the guitar-playing partner also left the newspaper for good, leaving me as the sole owner (on paper, I already was anyway).
While the wives of the two ex-partners, both fast typists, continued to stay with the paper, a job being a job, I had to find extra staff who were, in theory at least, a bit more professional. I have no head for business and little sense about money (I had inherited 1,000 acres of Norfolk farm-land from an eccentric great grandmother), so carried on paying old print bills, lawyers and bankers, pointless wages, high commissions, rents, wasted trips and so on. A series of local accountants were more interested in various distractions than in controlling the outgoings, culminating finally in an Argentinean who..., well, more on him later.
The paper was huge, 47,000 copies and an unrivalled distribution network. While ordinary newspapers share distribution costs and end up in kiosks and supermarkets, a free-sheet must make its own way. An all-advert sheet can be left in people’s post-boxes, but not in a multi-lingual community, as who knows what language the tenants within might speak? The only answer is to create a hybrid: a paper with enough editorial-content to stimulate reader-interest in the hope that they will pick up a copy.
Our provincial Spanish daily currently claims an improbable twelve readers for every copy sold, which the advertisers apparently believe. Perhaps (and baring in mind current printing costs), other newspapers make similarly improbable claims.

The Editor-Writer
By the mid-nineties, the printers could manage full colour. Prior to this we had ‘spot colour’ – a smear of either red, blue or green on the front, back and centre pages. But now, our newspaper was beginning to look good. In the late eighties, we had briefly been considered for acquisition by El Mundo’s editorial company. A few years later, we had attracted the attention of EMAP, who were looking for a title in Spain, but were considered by them to be a little too small. By the late nineties, a stronger buyer, United News and Media, were looking at our figures, but the deal crashed as United was itself bought by a Canadian investor and they quickly pulled out of Spain (their headquarters were in Granada).
I was aghast as my thousand acres in Norfolk had long dwindled to nothing, but I was writing a lot (a public school education finally paying off). One offer of a trip from Southampton to Manhattan on board the QE2 plus a return to the UK on Concorde was too good to miss, so Barbara and I squeezed into our formal-wear and took a rare holiday. Later, the sponsor – a Gibraltar cruise-company – was somewhat miffed when my extended three-week series of articles were reproduced across the editions in a miniscule size seven font by the apparently jealous staff.
Producing a newspaper has its attractions, especially before the Internet came along. The sense of immediacy: where what you write today will be read by thousands tomorrow. It’s hard work though and everything needs to be in the right place at the right time. First, you need to decide how many pages you want, which varies with the printer, but is always in multiples of four or eight, colour here and there, depending on the presses. You must have all the material collected and ready, as adverts often need to be designed from an old business card or a vaguely-worded drawing on the back of an envelope. Classifieds, advertorials (text paid by the advertiser), professional adverts from the British agencies in Marbella, Gibraltar or London: all ready for insertion. Space to add the regular features, something quickly needed for page seven, a photograph to illustrate an article... (before the Google-days came along we had some picture-books for this).
The paper would be printed out page by page and proofed. Repaired. The entire creation would then be sent to the printer on the modem (or driven there by me with the hard drive on the seat next to me in the car) to arrive by around 7.00pm, latest. Then it would be printed before the local daily newspaper which was prepared around about 11.00pm, but which would naturally take precedence if we were running late. Then the truck would take the copies – 27,000 in the case of the Costa del Sol – off to meet the local distributors who would then take them around to the many points we had – supermarkets, shops, bars, offices, agents, realtors and so on. Meanwhile, the sales-reps would be out selling adverts, and I would be at the bank or the printers discovering that, generally speaking, business is not about doing what you like, but rather what you don’t.
The Internet has of course killed all this. Why spend two euros to produce, print and distribute one copy, with restrictions on article length, pagination and delivery, when you can spend nothing (except time) to produce a cyber-newspaper without any limits to it whatsoever?
Barbara was long apart from the newspaper, and had started a centre for riding for the disabled with eight horses and four donkeys, introducing this novel therapy to Spain. It was called Ánimo, and had of course the support of the newspaper. She was once invited to meet Pilar de Borbón, the old King’s sister, another time she met the head of the ONCE (the Spanish blind association) and once even received an article from The Pope to put in as a ‘special’ within the newspaper. Padre Ángel, the director of Mensajeros por la Paz, came down from Madrid just to visit us. Of course, as equine therapy became known in Spain (and the, ah, commercial opportunities thereof), several centres sprang up, and the one in Seville was given half a million euros by the regional government – even though it was on the first floor of a building surrounded by gravel – not really being of much use to those imprisoned in wheelchairs.
Barbara’s Ánimo was naturally shunned by the fundsters, and the head of the ONCE told her shamefacedly one day that he had recently been in Australia where a senior charity leader said to him ‘Spain? You must know Barbara Napier...’.
A few more Norfolk acres had to be let go to keep it going for a while longer...
But back to the newspaper...

The Final Years
We had moved out of my guest-house (I had to sell it anyway for printers’ bills) and into a rental-office on Mojácar beach. A couple of computer whizzes were now working for me, using the latest publishing programs and always asking for new, faster computers... Besides the worry of taking (somehow) 25,000€ a month in advertising income to cover all the costs, it had become fun creating the three editions.
To save something on those costs, I fired the editorial staff in both Altea and (by now) Fuengirola, preparing, writing – or collecting – most of the editorial myself.
Hard work, with huge financial issues to face (a print-run, and we had three every week, was and is very expensive). In those later years, from 1994 to 1999, I was also putting out a monthly Spanish newspaper, which I have to say, was a lot more interesting.
‘Good-will’ is important in a newspaper, as the advertisers need to feed off of your estimable reputation. Be on time, be smart and don’t accept crooked adverts (like the 6.000€ ostriches or the Costa Rica jojoba plantations which both featured among the advertisements in a rival publication). Watch out for independent financial advisers, as some of their customers may not be happy with either them or with you for recommending them.
We had a new office manager in Fuengirola who had come down from Alicante to take over from the previous one who had suddenly decamped with his new girlfriend, one of our more productive sales-reps (The intrigues that go on in a newspaper would make a great TV comedy show).
He told me over the phone that he had hired an energetic couple blessed with a distinctive Manchester whine who habitually wore matching track-suits.
This couple were very good at sales, working together with the sales equivalent of a good cop bad cop routine. They had been in ‘double glazing’ in the UK prior to their precipitous arrival in Spain in 1997. Soon they were running the Costa del Sol office and not much longer after this development, I had them (or maybe they had me) running the sales side of the entire business.
In 1999, they teamed up with my Argentinean accountant and obliged me to sell the business to them with a three-year buy-out for a considerable loss.
There wasn’t a choice.
I had a major business,  fifteen years of good will, three offices, staff, a truck and a personal mortgage on my house for 120,000€ for old printers bills. Within ten minutes of being braced, I was locked out of the main office and all the back issues of the paper (around 800 editions) were in the bin.
In the end, the risible agreement was never honoured and I was paid nothing.
Not a bad deal for the new owners – a business where all of the teething pangs have gone, where experience, routine and customers were in good shape and with possessions paid for – computers, office furniture and a truck. All one might need would be to change the name on the masthead while keeping the edition number, buy out the accountant and move the business to Benalmádena.
They say that history is written by the victors, but it must seem odd to readers how a successful multi-million business just appeared out of thin air.

The Last Lap
Barbara died in 2014 following a long and terrible illness. We had lost the private health insurance by around 2006 but were treated well in public hospitals in Madrid, Granada, Almería and Huercal Overa (plus, earlier, a private one in Pamplona), all of which cost money we didn’t have.
Now, without her, my living-costs are less.
So, I must count my blessings – such as they are. I’m still alive, still eating and still reading and writing. I can’t afford any luxuries, don’t have a pension and rarely see my three children (they are all in the USA). I now have nothing in my name, not even the car. As best I can, I help Alicia, my hard-working new Spanish wife, in our house outside Almería.
Along the way, I kept my honour intact.
Maybe it’s a public school thing.