3 January 1986
A Bar Without Ice
By D.G. MacDonald Allen
Photos supplied except Guidepost cover and the scanned page of “Bar Without Ice”
My attempts to learn Spanish before I left the Sceptered Isles were dependent on watching a programme called Vamos a Ver on BBC early Sunday morning, a time when I was not at my most receptive, particularly after the festive wine flowed past twenty-three hours fifty-nine on the Saturday. Also, we had a shop to run a few miles away and there was always the question of whether I would stay home and cook the Sunday dinner or my wife would go and open the shop. It was a green-grocer’s shop and we used to take more on a Sunday morning than any other day of the week . . .
When we arrived in Spain. . ., I had the basics. I was able to say Tengo sed [I’m thirsty] and Tengo hambre [I’m hungry], thereby ensuring that we would neither starve nor die of thirst. Thanks to the programme, I could converse on forged banknotes and gangsterismo en España but, even twenty years later, I have still not found the need, albeit I did have a phoney 5,000 pesetas note slipped to me by a local bank. It is strange what the BBC considers we should know. Recently, they have been co-operating in a programme shown on Spanish TV which featured semi-drunken expatriates which, as we all know, is never (hic!) the case and most of the characters speak a form of English that would probably be more suitable for a North London shabeen . . .
My old friend, the Professor Félix de la Fuente, once offered to teach me Spanish without charge, stating that he was “very bored and had nothing to do”. As he expected everyone to learn in a couple of weeks, I declined the offer as I didn’t think that our friendship could survive. He was given to beating his pupils on the head with rulers – you can always tell his successful pupils by the horizontal lines on their heads – and invariably tore up their books and papers. Not unnaturally, he lacked pupils. His greatest joy was to accompany me to government offices in trips to Alicante and elsewhere. “In government offices it is not permitted to call them dogs”, he would say “but in the telephone company it is possible and, if you wish, I shall call them dogs”. I explained that I was very fond of dogs.
His favourite word was ¡Oiga! [Listen!] and it would stop a camarero [waiter] at 50 metres. I got so used to impersonating the Professor that I had to stop, but the ¡Oiga! still works.
One day we were in the backstreets of Alicante and the Professor, who lacked a consort, having lived apart from his wife for very many years, asked me if I would care to visit a house where there were “bad women”. . . Having an enquiring mind, I said that I would join him. We went deeper into the barrio. Diving suddenly through a grimy bead curtain, the Professor bade me to follow him.
There was a single room, very smoky, and peopled, it would seem entirely by middle-aged plump females, each wearing a black skirt and a shabby white blouse. . . Okay, you’ve got yourself into this, I told myself, so get yourself out. In the corner there was a bar.
“ Which will you take?” asked the Professor, eyeing the dubious charms on offer.
“A gin and tonic”, I said, “but with ice”.
“There is no ice”, said the barman.
“ Ah, no ice”, said I, leaping merrily through the bead curtain and into the freedom of the street.
The Professor followed me, complaining rapidly, and I walked as fast as I could for several blocks.
“That was not a bar”, he said.
“Then what was it?”
“I am supposing that it was a a place where they are keeping bad women”.
“Professor, if you had told me that never would I have entered such a place”.
“But I did tell you and you said yes”.
“Excuse me, you know that I do not completely command the Spanish language”.
“But I told you in English!”
Well, so he did.
Featured image/Gary Pearce CC BY 2.0
Empty classroon/Don Graham, CC BY-SA 2.0
Gin tonic/Javier Lastras, CC BY 2.0
Bad woman/Sandra Dors, PD