Interview for Expat Magazine

 'Getting to Manana', pic taken by Dan

‘Get­ting to Man­ana’, pic taken by Dan

Spring lasted two days in Andalucia, but there were wildflowers everywhere for those two days

Spring lasted two days in Andalu­cia, but there were wild­flow­ers every­where for those two days

What were you doing in Eng­land before you moved to Spain?
I was liv­ing in the shadow of the Arse­nal Foot­ball ground, work­ing as Gar­den Edi­tor of Coun­try Liv­ing mag­a­zine, writ­ing a load of books about the finer points of cush­ions and can­dles, bring­ing up my two sons in an ama­teur­ish kind of way and watch­ing my life flash past. A cou­ple of years of Sudoku and Spi­der in Andalucía were the per­fect cor­rec­tive, slow­ing time down to a glacial pace.

Why did you decide on Andalucía?

Post­cards. One was a breath­tak­ing fla­menco dancer with a three dimen­sional meringue skirt in shock­ing pink and lime green. The other was a Moor­ish tum­ble of white houses among reg­u­lar tufts of olive trees snaking down a chalky hill­side. Sugar cube houses were there in abun­dance, but I the only fla­menco dancer I saw dur­ing my ten years in Spain was at Sadler’s Wells. I wanted warmth, space, alarm­ingly manly men who would nip out for a drink or ten on horse­back and be trot­ted home, slumped uncon­scious in the sad­dle. I wanted to sit out, glass in hand, watch­ing Tech­ni­color sun­sets, breath­ing the fra­grance of jas­mine and datura. After 20 years in Lon­don I was search­ing for peace, beauty and a mav­er­ick cul­ture where Nanny did not rule.
Also I could afford the South of Spain.

The May Festival of the Patios in Cordoba followed the Flamenco Festival. Brilliant excuse to visit.

The May Fes­ti­val of the Patios in Cor­doba fol­lowed the Fla­menco Fes­ti­val. Bril­liant excuse to visit.

And flights were cheap.

What were the highs and lows of set­tling into your new life in Spain?
The com­plete absence of fla­menco dancers doing their shop­ping in the local super­mar­ket came as a bit of a blow. It took me for­ever to mas­ter nurs­ery school Span­ish, though it has to be said that none of our chick pea farm­ing neigh­bours on the baked clay hill­side were much good at the sub­junc­tive either, con­ver­sa­tion con­sist­ing almost entirely of com­ments on the rain or lack of it. Find­ing a dead cat in the hold­ing tank whose water we had been drink­ing was a bad moment. I wasn’t wild about bull­fight­ing, and I was puz­zled – in a land where rose­mary and oregano grow wild — by the stolid plain­ness of the food. The Great Wall of Bureau­cracy was not good, with the extra con­fu­sion of being arbi­trar­ily assigned two sur­names so that nobody could ever find the pre­vi­ous cru­cial doc­u­ments.
Mere pec­ca­dil­loes. Every­thing else was fab­u­lous. Liv­ing on a build­ing site in a roof­less finca with nippy snakes and small bit­ing things was secretly rather exhil­a­rat­ing. I loved the muta­ble view of end­less blue and pur­ple hills stretch­ing to a sun sink­ing in a halo of e num­bers, the extra­or­di­nary land­scape and flora of El Tor­cal, our beau­ti­ful house and Moor­ish court­yard, genial Paco at the bar, the jas­mine, the fies­tas, my paint­ing mates, the slow loris pace of it all.

We had spectacular sunsets over mauve and purple mountains

We had spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets over mauve and pur­ple mountains

When and why did you decide to write Get­ting to Man­ana?
I have a lousy mem­ory and I wrote a jour­nal to doc­u­ment the – impor­tant to me – act of courage, of step­ping off the tread­mill. I wanted peo­ple like me to read it and feel that they could escape from sell­ing their soul to pay the mort­gage. It kept me sane when there was no run­ning water, elec­tric­ity, or any means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the out­side world. Get­ting to Man­ana was a place to ven­ti­late, but also to cel­e­brate. I loved my time in Spain.

Our daily walk in Spain was full of flowers, large pug marks, mystery beasts and giant sunwarmed rocks

Our daily walk in Spain was full of flow­ers, large pug marks, mys­tery beasts and giant sun­warmed rocks

An amazing moment of success in the courtyard garden

An amaz­ing moment of suc­cess in the court­yard garden

How did you then end up run­ning a riad in Mar­rakech?
Badly, is the short answer. We were way out of our depth in the most for­eign cul­ture you can find just a three hour cheapo flight from Lon­don. It seemed like a bril­liant invest­ment at the time. Per­suaded by a Moroc­can friend that let­ting a house in Mar­rakech was a short cut to undreamed of wealth, we bought and restored a roman­tic, long-abandoned riad in the Med­ina, the old quar­ter, a Unesco Her­itage Site. Some­how, up until this moment, we have failed to make a bean. But we live in hope. At least it stopped me spend­ing the money accrued from the sale of my Isling­ton house on shoes. Unlike Get­ting to Man­ana, Cin­na­mon City could not be called a love story. But Mar­rakech is a great place to visit – take the Tar­ifa boat and the overnight train from Tang­ier — with the most thrilling shop­ping. See

What made you choose your cur­rent home in Italy?
Two things made us decide to leave Spain. With­out a TV we couldn’t keep up with the local con­ver­sa­tional sta­ple, which revolved around ‘Coro­na­tion Street’. And the spher­i­cal baker down the hill built – with fla­grant dis­re­gard for the law, being a chum of the mayor – hideous orange houses ever closer.
From our enor­mous partly hab­it­able farm­house we now have a view of the Teron­tola rail­way line, a recy­cling plant and a car demo­li­tion yard. But the hills are alive with writ­ers and painters; there are jazz, opera and ball­room danc­ing beneath the stars; every tiny ham­let can offer you inven­tive, deli­cious and fat­ten­ing food; and wher­ever you look – apart from our house, of course – there is some­thing stun­ning upon which to feast your eyes. We pay our elec­tric­ity bill in a fres­coed palace, and the Co-op has a view of a turquoise lake with three green islands and a flotilla of yachts.

What are you work­ing on at the moment?
In the teeth of uni­ver­sal Italy-fatigue, I am writ­ing yet another book about Italy. I can’t help it, I love it. And the pecu­liar truth is that an expe­ri­ence doesn’t seem real to me until I have writ­ten about it. I don’t know what I think until I’ve writ­ten it down. I’m also hop­ing to retrieve and com­plete two-thirds of a screen­play I started (about an Eng­lish widow who has an Indian adven­ture) which Final Draft seems to have con­signed to obliv­ion. And I want to fin­ish my scary novel about a haunt­ing.
Apart from that, Sudoku and Spider.

And your plans for the future?
Dan Pearce, the won­der­ful man whom I met on the day I returned from buy­ing the finca in Spain, who has shared the fun and the fright­ful­ness of it all, asked me to marry him. So that’s what we’re going to do, this August, in another fres­coed palace.
Other major ambi­tions include a) keep chick­ens and b) com­plete an intel­li­gi­ble sen­tence in Italian.

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  1. #1 by Sheila on January 9, 2011 - 6:56 pm

    So proud to be the Crow on your beau­ti­ful blog. Thankyou! Sx

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