Now I know that this is hardly the most topical of blogs… but I really ought to get something banged out, and faute de mieux, I thought this might fit the bill . It all started when I was asked by no less a personage than Maxim Gorky, to write an account of the 27th of September. The deadline was the 15th of October, which I managed to keep to. Of course it wasn’t really Maxim Gorky who asked me; he’s long gone, now… but the idea was his, and there have been numerous attempts to keep his idea rolling. Two years ago twentyseven women writers were asked to record their 27th of September, and this year twenty seven blokes – amongst whom me – have done it. I guess the book will be published sometime next year. So here goes:-
THE TWENTY SEVENTH OF SEPTEMBER
And then the twenty seventh rolled around like I knew it would. Of course, in the way that these things inevitably turn out, it was set to be the least auspicious way to spend a day that I can think of. I toyed with the idea of writing about the day before, or the day after, and even – perish the thought – of just gathering bits and pieces from earlier or later days and cobbling them together and pretending that the result really was my 27th of September – (3*, 3*)… ooh, and the digits of 2010 add up to three, thus:- 3*, 3*, 3*. From a numerological point of view the 27th of September 2010 is powerful magic. It would not be wise to mess with it; there might be hideous unforeseen retribution, and besides, what would Maxim Gorky think?
So I bit the bullet, and here I am setting out to record that commonplace and ordinary day. I didn’t take any notes, though; it was not that sort of a day, and when finally the evening came, I was too exhausted even to hold a pen, so I am relying on my memory. It was, after all, only yesterday.
It was the opening hours of that day, from midnight on, steeped as I was in meat and wine, that laid me so low. I finished the evening with a pacharán, in a vain attempt to burn off some of the pig that I had just eaten, much of which was still stuck in the interstices of my teeth. After just one copa though, we left that dim red-lit bar, saying goodnight to Maiquel and Kiko, who thought we were aguafiestas. As we tripped down the cold stone street my arm slipped comfortably around Ana’s slim shoulders, just like a hundred thousand times before. That would be ten times a day for thirty five years and more. I’m a very physical person; sometimes it would be more than ten times.
As always, I ran up the four flights of stairs, racing against Ana in the lift. I see stairs as an opportunity for a little physical exertion, so that when I’m not actually running up and down stairs, I can indulge myself with a little more wine and a little more good food, with less probability of becoming a toad of immobility. Ana knows that one of these days she will find me red and bursting and dead of a heart attack in mid flight. She’s probably right, but until then she indulges my childish behaviour and never fails to laugh as the lift doors open to reveal me leaning against the wall, apparently bored with waiting, and yawning… but secretly panting. I think she loves me.
This time it was easy: it was a very slow lift, and wasted a lot of time telling you that the doors were closing, and then that the doors were opening, things that would be obvious to anybody but a complete halfwit. Again I slipped my arm around her shoulders as we padded down the carpeted corridor to room 406.
“And don’t try any funny business,” she admonished as she fumbled with the key in the lock. “Your breath smells like the fumes from a badger’s arse.” I didn’t want to let on, but I was far too stuffed with pig and fuddled with wine even to be thinking of “funny business”.
Instead we slipped, the pair of us, into a crapulous sleep, as the waning moon cast silver shadows on the golden stone of the city, and the drunks hooted and groaned in the gardens down by the river.
The next I saw of that day was the pale blue sky of its eight-o-clock. I didn’t much like the look of what I saw, so I rolled over and went back to sleep till ten. And then, at ten, I slipped on a linen shirt, same blue as the sky, so I looked like the day. It was a cheap shirt: three, if I remember rightly, for €10. I think it was a second as a consequence of being too short. It barely tucked into my trousers, but it was OK so long as I didn’t bend over or sit down.
I beat the lift down the five flights to the breakfast room (in the basement), and by the time Ana arrived I had poured the orange juices and ordered the fried eggs. Bacon, sausage and toast with butter… it’s a breakfast I wouldn’t dream of having at home, but in a hotel… well, you’d be a fool not to go for it.
Ana sorted out the packing and the room, and, to get me out from under her feet, sent me out to get some money from the cash machine to pay our laundry bill, which came to €4,35. This took me rather longer than an hour and a half, by the end of which I had succeeded in saving us no less than three Euros in commission. I was by this time sweaty and irritated, but felt that it was all worthwhile, as I had only put €6 into the pockets of the fuckers at the bank as opposed to the nine they had originally demanded.
Ana waited by the aqueduct with the bags and the crates of wine, while I fetched the car from the underground car park. What was I thinking? I suppose in an intimate diary one ought to write about what one is thinking… but don’t forget that I’m not feeling so good: I have a hangover. I don’t think I was thinking anything. I remember that I relished the deep growl of the engine of the car, and the screeching of the tyres on the newly painted floor of the car park. And I was wondering just which parts of my body would be hurting the most at the end of the eight hour drive I was about to undertake. Would it be the muscles at the top of my outer thighs, the already bruised coccyx, or the place where my shoe dug into my heel?
But maybe I was thinking… maybe I was thinking of the risk you take every time you get out on the highway. You’re safer up in an aeroplane than you are strapped into your ton of hurtling steel and plastic and glass, with only the quickness of your reactions and your innate judgement of speed and distance to protect you from life threatening inanimate objects and the thousands of crazies and incompetents who inhabit the roads. Best to stay at home if you can… but sometimes you just have to get out there and go.
So we rocketed away from Segovia, heading south, on a sunny day with the sky above us laced with vapour trails. We had not even been racing along those long and lonely roads for as much as half an hour when we saw the terrible thing.
Pieces of car in the middle of the road. I jammed on the brakes and slowed right down. A car upside down on the hard shoulder; four cars stopped; people running; a blonde woman throwing up her hands in the conventional depiction of horror. This was the unforeseen end of somebody’s journey, the beginning of a period of agony for some loved ones somewhere who did not even know yet. Should we stop and get involved? No, there were already a dozen people there; there was nothing we would be able to do.
Shocked, we travelled a little more slowly, and in silence for a while. There are millions of deaths every day in the world, some peaceful, some violent, some atrocious, but we still find it hard to be reminded of our mortality. Fifteen minutes later we were back to 120 kph as the first signs for the M50 came into view.
‘Shall we listen to the story?’ I suggested quietly.
Ana put the tape into the machine, and we were lulled by the gentle refined voice of Fay Weldon reading ‘Mantrapped’, a dazzling novel where the writer weaves her own autobiography into the bizarre story of her fictional characters. Soon we were captivated and still moving fast towards the south, in the sort of trance that comes with great speed, a mild hangover and fine writing beautifully read.
‘Do you want a rotten banana?’ asked Ana solicitously.
‘No,’ I said absently. The idea was not particularly appealing.
‘An apple perhaps?’
‘What are they like?’
‘Then I won’t, but thanks all the same.’
I started to feel sleepy, and shifted from one buttock to another. I leaned on the sill; I hung from the strap; I drove with both hands on the wheel, then just the right hand, then the left, with the right hand gripping the gear stick. I leaned across and squeezed Ana’s knee. I sat up; I wriggled down; I leaned my head against the headrest; I scratched parts of my body that did not really need scratching. At Turleque, just south of Tembleque – such names! – we turned off the road for a break. Bright primary colours, like McDonalds, the scurvy spirit of the age… meaningless muzak, a cod Don Quijote theme. We both went for the ‘Dulcinea’, which consisted of a coffee, a tostada and an orange juice, and very nice it was too. We drenched our tostadas in oil and tomato and gazed across the field of cut barley to where an endless procession of trucks and cars hammered, seemingly through the cornfield, on their way to Andalucía. I filled up with diesel while Ana cleaned the windscreen, which was so thick with squashed insects that I could hardly see out of it at all.
The break dissipated my sleepiness and we joined the moving throng again. At Despeñaperros I could sense Ana’s nervousness as I eased past the slow trucks on those dangerous bends. I don’t like to frighten her, but you have to get in front of these fuckers or else you’ll never get home… and besides, there’s the testosterone. Across the muddy Guadalquivir we raced and down into the olive groves of Jaén. The beautiful sierra to the south of the city appeared misty blue in the late afternoon sunshine. We started to feel that we were coming home, and then there were more sierras in the autumn afternoon sunlight: the Sierra Sur, the Sierra de Haranas, and finally Sierra Nevada. I get quite emotional when I see the sierras, coming from a country that doesn’t have any. ‘Just think,’ I said to Ana, ‘we live on the southern slopes of that.’
But she just grunted, because she didn’t want to miss the important bit that Fay Weldon was reading.
We stopped at Mercadona in Santa Fe for bread, bananas, beans and dog tucker. All supermarkets are villains, making the lives of farmers miserable by paying rock bottom prices, but Mercadona may be one of the best of a bad bunch. The products are good and the staff are always friendly and, as far as one can see, contented. What I don’t like is the lighting, and the mirrors on every column. I see myself coming and going and always illuminated by a light that is calculated to make tomatoes seem even redder than they already are. Now I am a very rubicund person; I don’t need the help of vegetable enhancing lights to make me look red. It’s not necessary: in other supermarkets, Carrefour, Alcampo, I look more or less like a normal human being. In Mercadona I see myself as a livid red head approaching from all sides, and, frankly, it depresses me.
The mirrors in the hotel in Segovia were not too good, either; they seemed designed to make a body look short and squat. So, I had started the day feeling short and squat, a condition exacerbated by the hangover. Now I was short and squat and bright red, with thin white hair. The accident we had witnessed to the north of Madrid, though, made me feel that even short and red and squat, I was lucky to be alive at all. But even so, I was longing to get home, where we have a mirror that makes you feel good about yourself.
As we emerged from the supermarket, yet another traffic drama was unfolding before us. A car was pulling out of its parking space just down the street, and the driver had left a jug half full of what looked like gazpacho on the roof. As he drove away it slipped and took up an alarming angle but did not fall off. It was a most precariously balanced situation. Everybody stared, transfixed; some hooted and hollered; a blonde woman put her hands to her mouth in the conventional gesture of horror, but a milder version than the morning’s event. Soon the whole street was full of people shouting and laughing. Cars in both directions sounded their horns – you’d have thought that Spain had won the football again… and through it all the gazpacho driver sailed blithely on down the street, his half finished jug of soup teetering desperately on the edge of the roof. He turned the corner at the end of the street, and we never saw him again. Somewhere, perhaps, a woman was grieving for her gazpacho.
Seven hours or so south of Segovia, the great sweeping curves of the arterial road give way to the twisting mountain roads of the Alpujarra, twisting like a sheep’s gut up into the southern foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It’s like Africa down here: beautiful savage landscapes with thorns and rocks and thin, poor soil. I’m coming home, and it’s here that my soul finds repose, and with the low evening sunlight of 27 of September 2010, it was all I could do not to weep a little at the beauty of it all.
Holding a crate of finest Ribera del Duero under each arm, I crashed through the fly curtains into the house. And there I was… master of the house, tall and slim and with a normal human complexion. I wasn’t at all short and squat and red. I felt quite pleased with myself. We heated up some chili and rice and washed it down with one modest glass of wine. I toyed with the idea of taking up the pen and writing this day down… but I was too knackered. I cleaned my teeth and by eleven o clock I was in my own belovèd bed and heading down the road to sleep. And I was already fast asleep by the time the twenty seventh of September 2010 slipped away, never to be seen again.