27 Feb A Brief History of Me. Chapter Five. Road trip to Andalusia.
The very day my mum decided we should move to Spain, she picked up a magazine advertising a 350 year old farmhouse for rent, originally built for the town mayor and now with an art studio, high up in the mountains of Ronda. The landlords were a family of British artists who had been there since the 1950’s and had since returned to the UK. The property had land with fruit trees, a swimming pool and a stream. Mum had just finished a job as art director on a music video and needed to decide whether to take the money and run, or stay and establish her career. She took the money and ran.
Mum and Jim rented the farmhouse for a few months through Spring and Summer while we decided what to do.
Our journey down to Ronda started with leaving London in the Alfa Romeo Spider that Jim had recently bought, a ferry to the north of Spain and then a three week car journey down to Andalusia. We timed our journey with as many fiestas as possible, passing through towns and villages with buildings and pavements cloaked in long green leaves and floral boughs.
As a family of three including one Black man and two white blonde females in a soft top car passing through rural Spain in 1992, we attracted a lot of attention. I struggled with this and would often sit in the back of the car with a towel over my head, reasoning that if I couldn’t see the people staring at us, they couldn’t see us. When I wasn’t hiding beneath the towel I was either hoping for a river to jump into and swim or writing melancholic letters to Malika , expressing just how deeply I missed her.
The farmhouse was beautiful and dreadful. The white washed walls kept perfect shade and the terracotta floor tiles moved in the shape of the sea. There were insects I didn’t recognise and the swimming pool at the top of the hill was powered by a miniature pump at the bottom. It took three weeks to fill. I also recall mum seeing a ghost a few times in the kitchen; a bearded man in a canvas smock shirt.
Malika came to visit and we spent our days either swimming or adorning ourselves in old lace beneath the shade of the lemon garden. We were sharing a bed and were both alarmed by the size of spiders and cockroaches, often fighting for the side of the bed away from the wall.
I spent a lot of time collecting pebbles by the stream, pretending I was a heroine in a Victorian novel, wearing skirts to feel more authentic. On some of my ambles I would walk up the dirt track to the bar of Jose, a small breezeblock building surrounded by dry land, where I would unscrew the plastic coin holder hanging around my neck and order a Seven Up or a Fanta Naranja. I would sit at the bar, slurping through a straw, while Jose would talk to me with his few English words and I would reply in my few Spanish words. One day I had saved up enough money to buy an album from his cassette rack and bought ‘The Best of Bob Marley’ for one thousand pesetas.
We stayed in the farmhouse for six months.
Eventually mum and Jim decided the distance from the airport was too great. Jim went off on tour and mum and I went to stay with a friend of a friend in Madrid. He was a lawyer and lived in a flat full of chrome, glass and leather. Mum spent her days rearranging his furniture and in the evenings we would sit in plazas to eat tapas and occasionally watch suitse shoot heroin in the doorways of expensive bars.
Two months passed and Jim and his band Carmel were due to play in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, so we travelled up on the train. As we arrived into the city, mum saw the sea through the train window and knew we had arrived home. That night we stood in the crowd at Carmel’s concert, mum spoke to her friend Jean Claude who ran a clothes shop for men, they agreed to open a women’s clothes shop, and by the next day Jean Claude had found a flat for us.
It was 1992, I was about to turn nine years old, and Barcelona was our new home.