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La Viña Loca I:
Si tu Nena Dejate …

June 30 2000

December 1999. The season to be merry.

The bank which had employed me on a six month contract since 1988 was under attack from hairy-kneed Hibernians and not unreasonably, since I never did any work anyway, dispensed with my services as a money-saving measure.
“Great,” I thought, already having had half a mind (quite an improvement on my usual quota) not to renew, even if they offered. Now I would be able to spend time with my belovéd frisada in Switzerland. I could finish writing that damn novel. I might even learn to ski.

The curly one who had shared my life in an open-ended arrangement since 1986 was living and working among fondue-eating Helvetians and not unreasonably, since I was a pain in the arse to live with anyway, dispensed with my services as a sanity-preserving measure.
“Not so great,” I thought and promptly went to pieces in the comfort of my London home. The minutes passed like hours, the hours passed like decades but, at the same time, six months went by before I knew it. This could only be nature’s way of telling me to make radical changes to my life.

So May found me in Cádiz for a week with the self-imposed task of finding a cheap hovel in which to hide from life for a year or so, maybe to finish off that damn novel and upgrade my antediluvian computer skills.
With a heart still broken and spirit still fragile, I took a low cost flight to Jerez de la Frontera, a train to Cádiz and a room in the Hotel Imares in Calle San Francisco, familiar from our first ever visit. What memories. “What a dump!” (What’s that from?) Unlike Joe Orton’s Station Hotel, which “has a reputation for luxury that baffles the most undemanding guest,” the Imares is one of the cheapest hotels in old Cádiz, a fact that surprises no one. But it’s clean enough and handy for the centre of town.
Returning on Saturday night to my poky room with its delightful views of an Eighteenth Century light well that hardly deserved the name, I was plagued with doubts. That is after all what doubts do, plague one. Enthralling as ever were the alamedas by the sea, the lively squares, the people of all ages hanging out in the streets and bars. But crowded avenues can indeed be very lonely places and, as no-one spoke to me (except for a persistent beggar called Xavier, whom I was eventually forced to stab and throw into the sea), I went to my narrow bed wondering whether my plans should be abandoned – and, if so, what the hell to do with myself for the rest of the week.

It was, however, clear that there are limits to economy. It’s an interesting edifice, the Imares. Built round a large four-storey atrium, almost a glass covered courtyard, onto which all its rooms open, it can be, as one popular guide understates it, quite a noisy place. TV is provided but not in single rooms, so my only entertainment was a woman, loudly enjoying what I assume was sex, at two every morning — and at a few other, unscheduled times. There were other noises, not least the very loud movements and conversations of what sounded like four generations of the concierge’s family, which went on throughout the night but were neither entertaining for me nor any deterrent for my rampant neighbour across the hall.
Hence the upgrade to a double room from Sunday: an extra four quid a night but more comfortable and with a telly. Mainstream Spanish TV, as viewed by one who no speaka da lingo, will get an article of its own but what fascinated most, during my compulsive channel-hopping, was one of the local cable channels. Early in the evening we were treated to non-stop bullfighting action and then, until midnight, it was hard-core flamenco. After that, were the anuncios (adverts) for sex phone lines. A series of explicit porn scenes were shown (mainly girl-girl stuff, and far from unpleasant), with annoyingly positioned telephone numbers bearing legends like Busco un Hombre Verdad (I’m looking for a real man) or Me Gustan Grandes (I like big ones). I didn’t ring, not just from lack of qualifications but because it would just be too silly to ask if they spoke English.
Sunday had also brought some lightening of the spirit. Walking on the beaches and checking out a few estate agents’ windows had some of the old Cádiz magic working its way through the gloom, thanks partly to regular vino y tapas breaks. I decided to make a token effort on Monday, probably returning to Blighty feigning disappointment that there was nothing suitable.

Your conscientious reporter watched the box again on Monday and can therefore inform you that the cycle of films and numbers repeats every hour and is the same each night. So, when it all went wrong on Tuesday and I actually found a place to dwell …

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