Travellers Tales: 1978 and post Franco Spain

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That little excursion into Spain in the summer of 77 had given me ideas. My only previous experience of Spain had been 2 ‘package tour’ holidays with my parents to Lloret del Mar and Majorca. not quite the real Spain. In the Times Educational Supplement I spotted a classified ad for English teachers in a private school in Madrid. So I applied, got interviewed in a London hotel coffee shop and was offered the job starting in late September.

University came to an end with an average Economics degree, I helped put up and take down marqees for the summer including the beer tent at the first ever Reading Festival, headed to Greece for a few weeks then started the long journey from England south to Madrid via 3 weeks taking more tents down for Canvas Holiday around France, finishing up in the south of France near St Tropez. From there I took a train to Barcelona and then on to Madrid, dragging enough luggage for a year plus a pair of ski boots for some strange reason. I had most of Sunday in Barcelona so I wandered around on a lovely sunny day that was obviously also a celebration of all things Catalan. I thought I was in Spain only to find out that everyone else around me thought they were in a totally different and independent state. Hardly anyone spoke Spanish either. This was all very weird but I jumped on the ‘high speed’ Talgo tran to Madrid and 6 hours later pulled Into Chamartin station at around 10.30pm. Knowing I had to be at the school for 9.30 the next morning I decided to leave most of my luggage and my ski boots in the station and return for them the next day. I hopped in a taxi and got lucky..the driver noticed my Spanish was pretty basic so it was he who eventually found a small hotel for me somewhere in the centre of the city. I was exhausted and awoke the next morning with very little time to spare before 9.30 so armed with the address I jumped in a another cab and got to the school pretty much on time.

Our induction day went as planned and at around 5 they said ‘see you tomorrow’. We could all go – but I had no idea where to. I couldn’t remember the name or address of the hotel but knew the first letter of the name and roughly where it was. With the help of one of the more experienced teachers and Spanish speakers we eventually tracked down the hotel. I wasn’t to be reunited with my luggage for a couple more days but that wasn’t so important – the ski boots weren’t required yet. By the end of the week four of us had moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in an area called Cuatro Caminos and lessons were about to begin in earnest along with the first training session for the Sprungback rugby team, a madcap collection of Spaniards, French, Brits and Argentinians who wanted to play rugby in Spain. Our first match was in Zaragossa some 5 hours drive from Madrid and I was lucky enough to be offered a lift with a very friendly team mate who dropped me off in the town square at 10pm as he had another engagement. I was staying with the opposing teams captain and family who were meeting me at 2am in a bar somewhere. 2am!? And the match was the following afternoon…so I thought I had better grab some dinner on my own and kill the next 4 hours. It was fiesta weekend in the city so the place was buzzing and yet the restaurants all seemed pretty quiet. Turned out that eating at 10pm was on the early side! I eventually met my hosts in a cider bar at 2.30am who insisted we have more cider, then at around 3.30am they announced it was time to eat. This was now getting ridiculous and 2 weeks into life in Spain I still didn’t speak much Spanish. Well somehow we managed to chat, laugh and cry for another 3 hours before getting to bed around 7am. We kicked off at 2pm in the still very warm October sun and suffice to say the match was not an all time classic and of course then led to more copious amounts of cider being drunk before heading back to Madrid late that Sunday night. Now I knew I was in a totally different country. It looked like it was going to be a lot of fun if not involving too much sleep!

I accumulated more and more private lessons outside of the poorly paid school timetable, met Lola my first Spanish girlfriend (who had 10 protective brothers by the way), and tried to stay clear of the threatening fascists who milled around in the street outside the school. Turns out our neighbours were the Fuerza Nueva, the leftover ‘black shirts’ from the Franco days and who harboured a wish to return to the old ways of Franco, Hitler and extreme fascism. The Friday night of (what would have been) Francos birthday that November 1978 will live long in the memory with swastikas hanging from balconies, shots fired into the air and a street below full of Francos wannabe army in black shirts and shades. Lola’s brothers were all there apparently and didn’t take kindly to her stepping out with an atheist apolitical Englishmen. Life with Lola was beginning to get a little scarey! Saturday mornings playing football for the British Embassy team was feisty and competitive and preceded a long lunch that turned out to be great preparation for the occasional rugby match on a Sunday. Life in Madrid was rather different from how I had thought it might be but in a splendid way. Early morning starts to do a private class before people went to work, all morning at the school, a couple more private lessons in the afternoon, all evening at school then maybe one more private lesson at 9.30pm with a family before dinner with them at 10.30. It was exhausting but reasonably well paid and I lasted 12 months before deciding that teaching English was not for me. I had started helping a Paraguayan team mate from the Sprungbacks rugby team who was working on the first ever Spanish Rugby Yearbook – I was trying to find advertisers for the book. It was coming together surprisingly well when he announced he wanted to do a World Rugby Yearbook and would I meet with a couple of interested backers when I was back in London on holiday. And so began a fledgling career in media…

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