28 Mar A Brief History of Me. Chapter 8. Our Family Shifts.
As with most creative homes, money generally came in fits and bursts. One day we were figuring out all the different ways to eat a potato, other days we were carrying a long list of essentials/desirables into the luxurious darkness of the Casa Gispert by the church, and coming out laiden with brown paper bags of coffee, toasted almonds, slabs of chocolate, pine kernels, juicy sundried tomatoes, roasted hazelnuts, jars of saffron.
Jim carried on touring and recording with the band, spending a lot of time away, and as my brother grew older and went to school, mum started taking on interior design jobs. She painted trompe l’oeils in people’s homes, created special effects with pigments on feature walls, designed and styled a chain of popular bars and hairdressers. We rented the flat we lived in, so when they sold the flat in Kilburn, they bought a tiny apartment around the corner. Mum decorated it and filled it with furniture from the flea market, including a four poster bed, old paintings and cast iron and marble side tables. She named it ‘The Passion Palace’ and long before the days of AirBnb, rented it out as a self catering apartment for long weekenders. We would prepare the scene before the guests arrived, filling bowls with cherries from the market, chilled Cava in the fridge and a strong written warning about the muggings in the neighbourhood.
From age 11 I started babysitting, dog walking, teaching English to the kids I babysat and, as I grew older, helping mum on her interior jobs along with the cleaning and laundry for the rental.
I must have been around 14 when Jim’s band Carmel lost their record deal with Warner Bros. Money got even tighter, stress was high, and Jim and mum’s already delicate relationship began to fall apart. They would eventually split when I was 16, and Jim returned to live in Manchester. My brother Zahir was too young to be fully aware of their split, he had always known Jim to come and go. I remember standing in the staff room at school, crying to my stone faced Catalan teacher, and seeing her soften as she touched my shoulder and reminded me to find comfort in reading.
I had wanted to choose Art for my Baccalaureate (equivalent to A Levels) but I was worried about the regular costs of new materials, so I chose my other love, Humanities. I studied Spanish Literature, Catalan Literature, History of Cinema, Latin, Ancient Greek, Mythology. Having never passed a single maths test in my life, this suited me perfectly. Alongside this I also drank a lot of calimocho (red wine and coke) on the beach at night with school friends, danced in my bedroom with Erasmo and spent endless hours writing, drawing and collaging my existential pain into my diary.
And then Alfredo entered our life. A small man with black curly hair and a round belly, who somehow made my mum fall in love with him and then fleeced her for everything she had. He claimed to be half Mexican, half Italian, a successful photographer who had worked for Reuters and won several awards. Within a couple of months he had moved in and was helping mum run the Passion Palace, yet for some reason we had even less money than usual and one day mum received a phone call from a woman claiming to be Alfredo’s girlfriend. We discovered Alfredo had been living several lives, with other girlfriends, affairs, a fake identity, fake jobs and had been spending the cash mum would give him to pay the rent for our flat on expensive leather bags and linen shirts. I was incensed, mum was in shock.
This was all unravelling as I was studying for my final tests and I did badly in everything other than Spanish Literature and History of Cinema, where I came top of my class in both, but it would mean I failed my Baccalaureate and couldn’t apply for university. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, but I knew that Barcelona now felt claustrophobic to me. I hated never carrying a bag and always wearing shoes I could run in in case I was mugged (I looked like a tourist target with my pale skin and fair hair), I was fed up of falling in love with boys who couldn’t love me back and I didn’t enjoy the increasing popularity of the cit: the hen dos, the stag dos, seeing the small family businesses closing their doors and designer shoe shops opening in their place. I felt like I had outstayed my welcome, both at home with mum and Alfredo, and in a city I no longer recognised.
I needed a space to start my own life. So at age 18, mum bought me a one way ticket to Manchester where I would stay with Jim for a few months until I figured out what to do. Without knowing it, here would end the Barcelona chapters. For about ten years I would try and return at least once a year to see friends, but I found each visit more and more upsetting. The city was changing so fast, every visit was tainted with heartbreak and grief for the magical streets that had held my childhood.
Next week, the Manchester years. xx