Saturday, 10 December 2016
COMPETA: Flush with avocado trees, it is perfect for the penniless... just not in a storm. COMPETA: Flush with avocado trees, it is perfect for the penniless... just not in a storm.

An innocent abroad

HEAVY rains, ferocious dogs and evergreen British spirit lie in wait.

A SPLUTTERING Euro Weekly News van spat me out amid the stark void of the sierras, so clueless as to where I was that they might have blindfolded me on the way. Stranded for 24 hours with no money or phone, I was tasked with finding charity by throwing myself at its mercy. It had all seemed more romantic indoors. 

Throwing caution to the wind, I flung on my hood and made haste for the whitewashed village nestled in the hillside. I crept around the silent streets like a sly drifter and was barked at ferociously by a salivating sentry, a piercing silence in between its roars. 

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Spare a shilling?

Ignoring the buck toothed grin of an extra from Deliverance I dived under a thick avocado tree. To hell with orders I thought, I’ll see out my sentence in blissful ignorance under the shade. Just as my mind slipped briefly into that narcotic state of pseudo sleep, thick raindrops fell, and the skies thundered. I needed help. 

The undercover story was that my imaginary Spanish girlfriend, Maria, had thrown me out of the car after a heated battle of wills. I stuck to the tale because it was infinitely more plausible than the dawning reality that my boss was discreetly trying to assassinate another wayward writer. 

In the British quarters, by which I mean the only bar open, my story was met with wild laughter and disbelief but I wasn’t to worry, the party here would go on till the wee hours and we’d find a room for you. There were stories of home tinged with regret. 

Needless to say one thing led to another and, in evergreen British spirit, matters soon swept swiftly out of control. The bed I’d been promised disappeared, shuffling down the cobbled streets cackling in ecstasy, and I was utterly alone, angry, and craving shelter with all my being. 

A fitful sleep that veered between the terrible fury of being too cold for comfort, and vivid dreams of a crying statue of the Virgin Mary, was cut short by the barmaid, surprised to find a lonesome expat sprawled by the flickering embers of the fireplace.

I shuffled out into Saturday with ringing church bells and Johnny Cash between my ears. I quickly caught the attention of a wild haired Irish hippie raised in the slums of east London, and a privately educated Guardian reader prone to quoting philosophers with a slow and deliberate air. They had met each day for years, an odd couple studying the world’s woes, and welcomed me with coffee, cake and conversation. 

"To hell with orders I thought, I’ll see out my sentence in blissful ignorance under the shade

When the two went their separate ways I was offered the use of their tab in case I was hungry or still stranded. It was a gallant gesture of trust and goodwill and I was surprised by a surge of overwhelming gratitude. It was time to go and as I shivered back up the mountains to the agreed rendezvous the rain came thundering down. 

An old Spanish lady, fearlessly friendly, offered me a ride back to Competa, my erstwhile prison for a day, I hadn’t the heart to explain that an EWN rescue mission was due to beam me up like ET when the sun set and graciously accepted her kindness. 

Determined to escape the rain I sought sanctuary in the church, only to find its great wooden doors locked from within. Burning at whatever bitter irony was at work I swore at the sky. 

Hood strapped on I continued my march back up to the mountains. A stray dog appeared from the mist and walked by my side until the hail-storm began. 

Cloistered under a bending tree waiting on my lift back to Benalmadena I kept myself warm with a song before my saviour came and swept me away. 

Then suddenly it happened
I lost every dime
But I’m richer by far
With a satisfied mind
Money can’t buy back
Your youth when you’re old
Or a friend when you’re lonely
Or a love that’s grown cold
The wealthiest person
Is a pauper at times
Compared to the man
With a satisfied mind

Later I was to reflect that human kindness is still alive and well and to this day I am indebted to all those who lent a helping hand. In this dog eat dog world it’s so easy to believe we live in, they had no cause to look twice. In reply I can only perform my own small acts of charity in the future, and certainly mean to do so at the earliest opportunity.

When you’re alone, you will find kindness in the simplest of actions. 

The thrusting open of a car door, the scribbling of a telephone number, can raise your spirits so intensely you could smother a donkey in kisses and pledge to become a kind of karmic knight sowing sunshine and righting wrongs.   

I learned that life is about being open. If I had my phone handy, doubtless I would have either buried my head in it, or simply called a friend. 

Here, faced with the choice of asking for help or freezing to death, I found that a friendly smile opened doors another me would never have knocked. 

To be sure I was soaked, shaken and exhausted, but the experience of losing your ego, at the mercy of mankind rather than in the comfort of bed, is something I wouldn’t change for the world. 

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  • Simon

    Nice article Matt! Now don't forget those little acts of humanity you've promised yourself - it was a damn chilly morning in the plaza. BTW, the coffee was Irish, not the hippie. S.

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