...and Spaniards would return to their families for the most important religious festival of the year.
They were a young couple when my parents first went to live there. One evening Mum and Dad were having dinner with my visiting sister, brother-in-law and niece, and they heard screaming coming from next door. One of them immediately got up and went to see what was the matter, and found a little girl of six or seven hanging onto the bars of the locked gates which led through the front garden to the darkened house. She was crying in distress.
When they were able to make sense of what she was saying between hiccoughs they learned that her name was Blanca, that her parents were at the club and she had been at a friend’s house nearby. When she decided she wanted to go home by herself she had expected them to be home when she got there but when she saw the house with no lights and locked, didn’t recognise her way back to her friend’s in the dark and didn’t know what to do. She knew my parents by sight, so let herself be persuaded to go next door to await the return of the Nobles. My niece was two years older and took her under her wing, chatting to her to calm her down, until twenty minutes later they heard Noli and Nico’s car pull into the drive. The child had been told to await collection at her friend’s, which Blanca had forgotten, and all was resolved.
This was the start of a firm friendship with the Nobles, and they were to become essential in my parents’ lives as they aged.
Despite the small age difference the girls naturally gravitated towards each other when my niece visited from London. There was a memorable occasion when the club was hosting a fancy dress competition for the younger members, and they both presented themselves done up to the nines with as much makeup on as they could get away with.
Noli and Nico referred to their house as the ‘chalet’, or weekend home, for they had a flat – and jobs - in the city of
. It was in typical modern Spanish style with pretty red roof tiles and wooden shutters, a large garage on the ground floor, terracotta steps lined with ornamental tiles which led up to a large cool and airy verandah where we enjoyed many an al fresco meal. There was a carved wooden front door which opened into a large house with gleaming tiled floors, ample rooms and a light, minimalist décor. Valencia
At the front the garden had been mainly laid to gravel, with some hardy shrubs which could withstand the intense summer heat, helped along by a more modest version of the irrigation system used in the citrus plantations – half-buried, black hoses with minute holes in them which ‘leaked’ drops of water. This was switched on during the week when the property was empty. At the back they had the paellero, an ornamental tiled shelter with a fireplace large enough to accommodate Noli’s paella dish measuring almost a metre in diameter, next to a tiled table and benches protected by an awning – another superb setting for balmy evening meals soaked in sangría.
By contrast, my parents’ bungalow was an uninviting square, concrete structure, (picture above) whose stolid appearance was relieved slightly by the swimming pool at the end.
(Photo by Shane)
From the pool you could climb onto the flat roof via a large, ugly metal fire escape. Once up there, you would have been surprised to notice that it had lamps on metal stems positioned at regular intervals round the perimeter, crowned as they were with football shaped glass globes because, we were told, the previous owners had used the area for parties. They looked odd when you were looking up at them from street level, and the social use they had once enabled did no good at all to the roof, which always had to be patched up so it wouldn’t cause leaks below.
Some of the globes had been removed by the time this picture
was taken. John in the foreground looking, as he would call it
"fonzed and brit". (He loves spoonerisms...)
The garden area was a testament to my father’s determination to recreate his childhood memories of humid Buenos Aires, in the dry desert conditions of Valencia. Blue hydrangeas turned pink despite the acid soil mulches, then withered and died anyway; thanks to the use of the Nobles’ watering method of hoses with small holes partly buried under the soil, the rose bushes survived, producing small blooms with little scent and small leaves. At Dad’s request I brought over plenty of daffodil bulbs one winter, and carefully dug them in around the mud patch outside their kitchen, where they would see them and remember to water them regularly, but the hot sun was too much for them, and I only saw them once, the flowers hanging limply on their stems.
Worse still were the sweet peas, which made me wince with foreboding even as I carefully planted them and put up sticks, held together with string. He longed for the delicate petals and the sweet perfume to remind him of his mother’s garden, but no amount of watering could do it – they shrivelled as soon as the hot air swept past them in the summer months... as did even the sticks.
Further afield the citrus groves surrounded the cluster of garden suburbs or urbanizaciones, as they are called. The owners had long since yielded to the inevitable in establishing the rule that if you wanted to walk through his groves you were allowed to carry away with you any fruit that you could fit in your pockets, but bags were not permitted. Noli would laugh at this, and evening walks with her usually involved a shopping trolley, as I would glance nervously around, imagining armies of angry fruit growers bearing down upon us wielding big sticks.
“The bombona’s finished! The turkey isn’t ready!”
“Well put another bombona in then!”
“There isn’t one!”
“Well you order them, don’t you?”
“Why is it always my fault?”
“When is the next delivery?”
“After new year!”
“Oh my God!”
(Later, after Dad had gone next door...) “Noli says we can finish it off on the paellero – we can’t use their oven because they’re cooking stuff for their family party tonight!”
“The paellero? Are you MAD? How can we cook a turkey on a paellero?”
“I don’t know! It’s your fault anyway, if you had ordered a new bombona...”
...and so on.
(To be continued. Next time - the cesspit...)
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive
- from Lonicera's non-digital archive