Monday, 25 October 2010

Looking at the River

This one is about Spain in the early 80’s and our three children, Jessica, Amber and Daniel. We live in what was once one of the most beautiful places on earth, Mojácar. It is a Moorish village set on a mountain overlooking the sea with a river-bed running alongside and down the valley from other beautiful little villages that are scattered about in the mountains. An archeological and historical treasure-mine. Our house sits between the river and the village, on top of faint remains of an old Phoenician city. At the back of the house we have Old Mojácar, a tall, flat-topped mountain where they say Mojácar used to be thousands of years back and, on its lower slopes, there is also the site of a Roman cemetery. Roman pottery and Moorish coins and turquoise we easily found everywhere, even our wild-boar, Theodore, used to encounter pieces when rooting through the dirt and put them in his bath for us. A walk down the river or along the beach after a storm and you could come away with a jar full of turquoise.
Many of the villagers from these mountain villages had never actually been to the beach or set their big toe into the sea. It was enough for them to just see it from afar and wonder. They were all working people that lived off the land and there is no vacation from animals and crops. Even though the main mode of transport was the donkey and the trip by donkey only took a few hours - I made it many times myself - most of them never showed enough curiosity to make the effort.
One day, while on a trip to Granada which is the big city nearby, we passed many rivers until we came to one that threw the children into a frenzy of excitement. This river had water in it. You may not find that so wonderful but for our children it was the first time they had seen water in a river. Up until then, they knew that a river was for galloping your horse full speed for miles or learning to drive in Papa’s old Lada, for sheep and goats to graze or even for filling with escombro, rubble. The very idea that water came from the mountains in the river and went to the sea was unfathomable. The river wasn’t the only surprise for the day: in the city of Granada they saw for the first time stoplights, and rode up and down escalators and elevators in huge shops full of all their dreams. They were so excited about the escalator that it never even occurred to them that you could actually buy some of these wonderful items. We left without having to spend anything. About ten years later Mojácar put a stoplight on the beach: it was never turned on and it wasn’t at an intersection but the school children would take a field trip down to look at it each year. After that Granada trip, we started taking the children on more excursions and exposing them to the real world. We still worried about Jessica when she later went to America because of things like walking on sidewalks, unheard of in Spain, or stopping at crosswalks again something never done in Spain, or talking to strangers, which is a must in Spain. She managed to handle all of these obstacles with ease so I guess the trips paid off in the end.
Once Spain gets a handle on some new thing they go crazy. First it was safety railings on the freeway with reflectors – we reckoned that the Governor’s brother had the company that made them - then came the roundabouts, which here include ‘through lanes’, abrupt turns, various signs hidden by bushes and pedestrian routes (inevitably ignored by the local transients) which are splashed through the whole ensemble. Lenox and I wanted to do a coffee-table book of Spanish roundabouts. The best one we saw – in Guadix – had seventeen ways around and through it but Mojácar is now proud to have some of the most unusual and useless roundabouts and traffic feeds imaginable. Then the road-designers introduced the sleeping policemen or speed bumps; after a trip to town you need new shocks on your car to deal with the stress of all the bumps. It is all in the learning process and in the interest in modernization and the search for tourist dollars.

Africa Fun Car Rally

Every summer loads of Moroccans come from every part of Europe to return home to Africa. So many that we even have free-way signs in Arabic. They always travel with a blue tarp on top of the car covering bicycles and other treasures that they are taking home to their families. The cars are so loaded with children and gifts that there is no suspension left.
One year Mojácar had a point-to-point fun car rally. Everyone was to dress up as something and their cars as well. The object was to stop in every bar along the way, have a drink and get a clue to the next destination. It was a lot of fun and many people turned out in costume to participate. We thought we would go as Moroccans. I had an old Renault truck. So we all dressed in kaftans, fezzes and djellaba. We overflowed the car with children and even Negrita the sheep to make it look authentic. A friend of ours who joined our party had thoughtfully remembered to sample some of Morocco’s best-loved herbal export, to get in the spirit of the event. Negrita came into each bar with us on our route and was treated to potato chips and peanuts. She was the first sheep to ever make an appearance in any of these establishments and was treated like a princess. She loved the trip as did we all. The only problem was that we were stopped by the police at every turn and our friend kept getting out and trying to unsuccessfully explain to the police the reason for the authentic Moroccan aroma, until Lenox eventually pulled him back into the car, got out and took off his hat and said “it’s me, Napier”. The police all laughed and said we looked very authentic. We still got stopped by police, unaware of this fun car rally, a couple of more times. We were even told that it was against the law to carry a live sheep in the car. We agreed killing her wouldn’t solve our problem so they let us go. We didn’t win the rally, but I think we had the most fun.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Jeannie in the bottle: Jeannie Juice

She started in a small apartment on the beach and hung out at all of the beach bars; but she wanted to live on the fashionable street just on the outside of town. Most of the houses on the street were large mansions with beautiful big gardens. That is what she wanted, to belong to this high society group. It was the address that was the important thing for her. Having been born and raised by an alcoholic mother in the poorest part of a small mining town in north Wales, she wanted to be someone important. She had to bring up her three younger sisters because besides the alcohol, her mother was going slowly insane and the father had abandoned the family long ago. She left home at the earliest possible moment leaving her sisters to raise themselves and care for the mother. She never looked back or wanted to go back. It was as if they were not her family. She had invented a family of her own, who were of the highest class and pretended to be part of high society. She eventually really preceded her name with Lady………………
She married in Germany and lived there for a few years and learned to speak the language very well. After her marriage in Germany failed she moved to a small town in southern Spain. She was very attractive and intelligent but took to drinking and soon became the person that was passed around like a beggar’s hat, trying to find that man that could give her the money and prestige she so longed for and felt she had been born to. She had very thin hair and bad eyes and nostrils that you could see up, full of nicotine stained hair, so she always wore some sort of garish hat, covered in fake diamonds or other trinkets, and huge, bottle-bottom dark glasses with rhinestones. It was her look. I guess she wasn’t so pretty after-all. But in her modelling photographs she was. They can do a lot with an air brush.
After her marriage in Germany, where she had become both a model and a fashion photographer, she made out quite well financially in both her work and divorce. She was able to live the high life, in that little town in Spain, without having to work which suited the life she had invented for herself. The only thing was that the well would dry up soon and she would have to go back to a life of poverty if she didn’t find someone soon.
She found and started dating one of the most popular men in town, he had bright red hair and freckles and a sense of humor that kept the whole village laughing for days. It wasn’t just the jokes or funny remarks it was in everything he did. He was kind to everyone and people loved him. His name was Bill. He had a wife at home, Heather, who was very ill and not able to go out anymore so he was on his own a lot, this made him easy prey for the vulture. He and his wife were best of friends even though they had an open relationship, it was mutual and they lived separate lives but shared a common bond and great admiration for each other. As with most upper class English families a child was a necessity not a desire and it should be a boy, a girl was no use. They needed just one to carry on the family name and heritage. After three miscarriages Heather finally had a son, later to become my husband. Lenox had nannies and maids and people to care for him but there wasn’t much in the way of affection. He was sent away to school at the age of five, only to return home on the few English holidays. In England, most of Heather and Bill’s days were spent at the local pub but there was one side for the upper class and one side for the working class. They didn’t like this system and wanted to be able to associate with whomever they wanted. They found the working class to be a lot more fun. When Lenox was a young boy his parents grew tired of the life of the gentry and moved to the middle of nowhere in southern Spain: Mojácar. That is where they built their home and made a garden out of the desert. They had a wonderful life here until Heather got ill. Lenox was the youngest person he knew by fifteen years, so didn’t have much company but he had always escaped into the fantasy and adventure of books. He loved it here in Spain and hated going back to school. There were no rules here.

Jeannie was her name and she was quite a bit younger than Bill and she knew that his wife was at home ill. THAT WASN’T ENOUGH FOR THAT VULTURE TO KEEP HER GRIPS OFF WHAT SHE WANTED, she had found the one person that could give her the title and money that she knew she deserved. Jeannie also craved the respect of nobility. The day after Heather died, Jeannie moved in and soon married Bill. Jeannie was slowly killing Bill with her lifestyle, sometimes she would just disappear for two or three days, Bill never seemed to miss her much though. It was probably a relief to have her out of his hair once in a while. Traveling anywhere with her became so embarrassing as she ordered people about and would say things like don’t you know who I am, that Lenox quickly stopped accompanying them.

Her second marriage, to Bill, was actually to someone with blue blood, my father-in-law and even though he had a son, she took everything that had been in the family for centuries and showed them about everywhere she could. She threw a pool-party every Sunday and invited the cream of society and a few of her drunk, druggie friends. Bill was loved by everyone and had one of the greatest senses of humor. He kept every party going with his tall tales. No one could understand why he married her. Keep her as a mistress, maybe, but to marry her was hard for people to understand especially his son. She was always telling Bill that she knew the things belonged to Lenox but she would just use them for special occasions. There was a lot of family jewelery that she loved to flaunt about so everyone could see how wealthy she was and what lineage she had come from. She even did a documentary on Japanese TV about wealthy women in Spain. She proudly displayed all the family jewels and art that some how disappeared just before Bill died. Even though we have a copy of it on tape she said it had all been stolen. I think if it had been stolen she would have put up a big fuss and claimed on insurance, none of which she did.
They were both very heavy drinkers and partiers. Lenox moved out soon after his mother died because Jeannie had already moved in and taken over. She and his father were drunk from ten in the morning until night so it was impossible to have any kind of relationship with them. She was also very jealous of Lenox because she wanted to be the sole heir to the throne so to speak and didn’t like the competition. When she married Bill, she got to move into one of the big estates, on the little street just outside of town. Bill bought her a smaller house next door that was used as a guest house and would be kept for her should something ever happen to Bill, because in reality the big house belonged to Lenox. So did all of the contents. Lenox was in his early twenties at this time and spent his time travelling the world only coming home to visit from time to time because he found his step-mother to be unbearable. She was a very vicious woman carrying a large grudge against the world. She was jealous to the point of rage and deliberately hurt people that tried to come too close. She was jealous of all of Lenox’s girlfriends, because they were younger and prettier and may stand to hold the family fortune, that she now considered hers, so she did her very best to sabotage them. She never seemed to mind me too much because she didn’t see me as a threat. I was a country girl.

Lenox and I had been friends for quite a while and after we started going out we lived at my house, married and had three children much to Jeannie’s horror; more heirs.

When Lenox’s father died she had already hidden the family jewels and any important documents pertaining to Lenox, including a letter his father had written to him just before the end. Jeannie said that she would move back into her house only if Lenox agreed to pay her a yearly sum, on top of everything else she had. Then she decided it would be like living in the servant’s quarters and that would never do for Lady Napier. We bought her house and kept it as our guest house then we put a deposit on a house on the beach for her but she changed her mind and we lost our money. Then she did one of the worst things of all. She moved in next door: a large house across the lane facing the family home. She would live there like a bad dream for sixteen years. Like I said it was the address she wanted. She had already inherited most of the father’s wealth. By this time Lenox was happily married to me, we lived in my old cortijo on top of the hill, with children of our own, and we had no real interest in moving back into the big house but she wanted the extra income so much that she made Lenox sign away most things during his time of grief after the death of his father. She agreed to move out in one year and leave the family heirlooms in the house. She didn’t want to lose her status as Lady Napier, so she took most everything of value. Lenox didn’t mind that much because he was happy with his life and material things were not very important to him. He knew he would get them back to pass on to his children when she died. Lenox didn’t approve of his parents’ lifestyle even though he adored them so he grew up into a totally different type of person. He turned out to be a great husband and wonderful father.

As she deteriorated rapidly her intention had been to marry her life-long friend Peter – who worked at the Imperial War Museum in London. Peter was decidedly eccentric*. Peter was known in London as having once driven a Centurion tank clean across the city, followed – at a sensible distance – by a lot of irate police. The first time I met him he was standing on his head under the dinner table with the table surrounded by guests. No one seemed to take the slightest notice. I later came into the kitchen to find him having a deep discussion with a tin of biscuits. He was explaining to them that even though he was taking them next door to Coleman’s for tea he would not let them be eaten and they could all come home with him.

Peter died abruptly and Jeannie took to travel. She crossed the Atlantic on the QEII, Asia on the Orient Express, trips to Delhi (she didn’t like it), Moscow, London (to check her stash at her safe in Harrods), Virginia and three trips to Tonga, where on the last visit, she sent some of the family ear-rings to Queen Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe. Which must have come as a shock.

Not only did Jeannie’s alcoholism get worse she also inherited the same insanity as her mother and later, some of the sisters. It became a living hell for us, because now she lived next door and expected everything to be done for her. She attempted suicide about once a month on a regular basis which meant a late night trip to the hospital to have her stomach pumped and she was back on the booze before she got out of the hospital. Some of them are funny to recount but they were a nightmare at the time.
I became so tired of her constant demands and bullying that I began to dread every day and I knew nights were worse because that is when she would call even if it was just to breathe into the telephone.
As time passed she needed more and more care. She would spend her time in bed – she was losing the power to walk – and watched an enormous television while smoking endless Ducados and drinking at least a bottle of brandy each day. We would attempt to feed and clean her. Finally we put her into a luxury rest home where she could get proper care and the family could get some peace from the entire trauma that she caused. By this time I was starting to have health problems mostly to do with the stress of dealing with Jeannie twenty-four hours a day. It didn’t last long. She wanted to come back home and a few ‘Christian’ ladies (who rove around the rest-homes in search of ‘prey’) said they would look after her for a large fee. They charged more than the price of the Home where she had full time medical care. They soon stopped coming because by now she was so insane and really nasty that no one could stand to be around her. She was always naked and spread eagled making it disgusting just to go in and feed her, it was impossible to keep her clothes on. She was put back in the Home and things seemed to be going alright. She said she had written a letter explaining where everything was and that Lenox was only to read it after her death. Soon after she was talked into buying and moving to an apartment by some more commission-seeking good-doers and she took all the heirlooms with her to put in her apartment. Lenox then lost her house that he bought her, because she sold it even though she had strict instructions not to, so did the realtors and the caretakers, and the money went to these do-gooders. We had to get her certified in order to get her out of Lloyds of London (the infamous insurance company) because she was losing money hand over fist and she only joined to go to the yearly tea party and so she could say she was a member of Lloyds. Again everyone quit and the family had to resume full time care of her. The Home refused to take her back and her state mentally and physically had deteriorated to the point of no return. By this time she was disgusting to look at or be around. She had started masturbating with appropriate fruits and vegetables and then would want you to eat them. She spat at everyone and seemed as though she was talking in tongues most of the time. She needed to be fed, bathed and watched because she was doing crazy things like leaving money outside the door, having gypsies come to have sex for money and was constantly drunk and chain smoking. She started giving very valuable family things to people she didn’t even know. Even though we were constantly removing her stashes she seemed to find a way of getting someone to go buy her things. The phone calls became endless and incomprehensible but usually the phone was off the hook or in a puddle of booze or some other liquid. Her reputation had spread and no one would come to help for any price, so it was down to the family again. This had been going on for fifteen years by this time. She never did learn Spanish in her whole time here. Jeannie was always covered in brandy and food that she had tried to eat. She ate everything with her hands and most of her food intake was in the form of alcohol, the only nutrients were in the beer and orange juice she would sometimes drink.

One day Lenox got a call saying there was a fire in her apartment. Even the firemen couldn’t get in. When it was finally extinguished there was nothing but a puddle where she had been lying and the suitcase with the letters and valuables was under the bed, gone without a trace. So Lenox never got the letters from his father or the information about where the family things were. The fire damage was so great that all the valuable fifteenth and sixteenth century paintings had melted. The only good thing was that she was finally gone. Not only had the Lenox lost all of his family things he was out the money for the apartment too that was burnt beyond repair without insurance for fire or life. It turned out that she had been paying the insurance on her old house. Then he had to pay off her Lloyds account. It seemed that she insured one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers – even though she had left Lloyds – on Lenox’ advice, two years previously. She kept haunting us well after her death. Typical of Jeannie the only thing left unharmed in the apartment was a huge box of adult nappies that somehow seemed to survive. I could just hear her laughing at us. We didn’t want to even touch anything that she had left behind because it all carried evil spirits and Jeannie-juice. I felt no sadness on her passing. The funeral parlour gave us an urn full of ashes that her sisters threw off Old Mojácar, as was her wish, but I know there wasn’t anything left of her to put in the urn. When you went into her burnt-out room it looked like the Devil had come taken her himself and it was simultaneous combustion because only the spot that was burnt was where she lay and that just turned into a puddle the rest of the apartment was damaged by the intense heat.

A few suicide tales:
One night, late, we were called by Jeannie to gather my parents and the wealthy neighbors next door. It was very important she said. When we all had arrived she pulled out some paper with illegible scribble on it. It was her will, she wanted us all to sign it as witnesses. Knowing that it meant another suicide coming we took turns babysitting her. My mother got the first shift. We put her to bed and my mother just sat with her. We had gone through the house and found all her stash and threw it away for safe measure. She asked my mother to make her a cup of tea. When she brought the tea back they sat and talked until Jeannie fell asleep. About half an hour later people started to arrive in the droves and it was about 2:00am. My mother didn’t know what they were all doing there and they asked if Jeannie had been taken to the hospital yet. My mother still didn’t understand because she had been sitting right by Jeannie’s side watching her sleep. It turned out she had another stash, taken it and then called everyone she knew to tell them that she had just committed suicide and needed help. My mother was so mad; she could have just sat there all night and watched Jeannie die. Another trip to the hospital and her stomach pumped. The doctor said she really didn’t need to have her stomach pumped because she hadn’t taken a lethal dose but he felt it would be good for her because it is so unpleasant.
Jeannie always attempted suicide after midnight and always naked. When the phone would ring in the middle of the night Lenox and I would discuss whose turn it was before answering the phone. This time it was my turn. We got to the hospital and they didn’t think she looked that bad so we were put in a waiting pen then all of the sudden she started levitating, projectile vomiting and having convulsions. I was yelling as loud as I could. When the nurses saw what I was trying to hold down they changed her status to emergency and she was fortunately taken off my hands.
Usually she would stay the night after one of these attempts, in observation, but one morning at 5:00am we got a call from the hospital to come pick her up immediately. She was unbearable and they wouldn’t keep her a minute longer. It was Lenox’s turn so he said for them to take her to the bar and buy her a brandy and a pack of smokes and he would come as soon as he could and pay them back. They parked her in the bar but didn’t give her any of the things she wanted. She was in a rage after having to wait for Lenox without being able to have a drink or smoke. You think that would have taught her to at least carry a purse when she committed suicide. All she had on was knickers and a towel wrapped around her middle. On the way home she made Lenox stop at a fisherman’s bar to get a brandy and smokes. Lenox told her to wait in the car and he would be right back. Next thing he knew was that Jeannie had followed him in, after carefully wrapping the towel around her head so as not to show her thinning hair and sat down at a table, topless. I think even the fishermen thought he could have done better if he had paid a little more.
After one of these adventures she was admitted to the hospital because she was hallucinating and saw spiders and all sorts of things crawling on her. She was put in restraints but still managed to get the drips out of her arm so they took her to emergency to have a main vein shunt put in her neck. I just remember the sight of her coming out of emergency, sitting bolt upright, looking like Frankenstein and screaming and laughing. It is a memory I wish I could erase from my mind like so many other horrors she put us through. The stories of her suicides could fill a book but I think I have said enough.

*A London friend of Peter's writes to correct a few details about this remarkable and quite astonishing man. We (that's to say Lenox and François) have since written back and forth and with his permission, will add the following: 'Peter was definitely in love with her and heartbroken after she had left him. He was very intelligent and clever, with a PhD and had graduated from the prestigious Military School of Sandhurst. He was an imminent curator at the National Army Museum and very much revered in his field of work, liked and  loved by all his colleagues and friends. I can confirm that fact with testimonials from them if you wish. There was no ounce of madness in him. He was eccentric and anti-establishment, but certainly not insane. The episode of him driving the tank was not as Jeannie had told. He just drove the tank, which was an exhibit in the Museum forecourt at the time,  down the street in order to move it. The police was involved as a friendly escort. He was not a madman driving a tank across the city as stated in your article...'.