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“I first contacted Paul because we needed an interpreter to help resolve an issue at Sevillana, the electricity company. He was very efficient and effective and the problem was quickly solved. I have since used Paul in other official settings, including my bank, Unicaja, the Provincial Payments Office and the Administrator of our Community of Owners. Excellent value for money.”
Bill Douthwaite, Ronda, September 2009

From North Devon to South Spain in six decades PDF
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 00:00

Well, it took nearly 60 years but I made it in the end!

Obviously, when I was born in 1950 I didn’t yet know that Spain was to be my destiny.

Nor when I went to primary school and later to two different grammar schools, where only French, German and Latin were on offer.  I did all three.

When I was 17 I didn’t know that Spain was my destiny either, as I was preparing to apply to study French and German at university.   Then at my second interview for my first-choice uni they offered me the chance to start a new language ab initio (I knew my Latin would come in handy one day!) instead of either French or German in exchange for a lower grade offer!  The deal was done – I chose Spanish instead of French (don’t ask me why...) and the rest is history!

So as I fetch up on Las Ramblas in Barcelona at the ripe young age of 20 to start my year abroad, I am stunned by this exotic new world of seedy, noisy, but exciting Mediterranean life in the port city of Barcelona in 1970. 

After an exciting weekend in the Catalan capital (not that you would have known it was Catalan back then, since the dictator General Franco was still very much alive and outlawing all public use of the local language), we set off – seven of us - in a hire car to drive across northern Spain to San Sebastián in the Basque Country, where we were due to spend three months studying at the university there.  We’d planned to do the journey by rail, but it was Easter and all the trains were fully booked.   So we hired a big car – a large SEAT.  One snag – I was the only one of us with a driving licence!

One full day later – no motorways back then – and we arrived late at night in San Seb with nowhere to stay.  However, Miss Pilling, we didn’t know her first name then (it's Rosalind actually), who’d done Spanish A level at school, and was better than the rest of us, soon sorted us out with a fonda in the Old Part of town (la Parte Vieja).

Tired as we were we couldn’t resist going out for a drink.  When we discovered that a glass of wine was only one peseta a glass (less than 1p), it became much more than one drink!  And when we found that the bars didn't close at 10.30 pm, as they did in the UK in those days, we thought we were in heaven, and with delicious pinchos (tapas) at only five pesetas and Santana’s Black Magic Woman on the jukebox, the night was enjoyable and long. 

So was the next day - not enjoyable, but long!  I was very ill in the night (must have been the effort of the long drive... he says!) and the next morning my nausea mixed with the smell of fish and the sea air made for a hangover I have yet to repeat in the following 40 years of my life!

But I was in Spain, and it was fantastic, if only because it was so different to anywhere else I’d ever been, which actually wasn’t anywhere much back then.

By the time I was fit to drink alcohol again two days later the price of wine had doubled to two pesetas a glass!  That’s one hundred per cent inflation!  The locals were up in arms, but we didn’t care, as it was still ridiculously cheap, less than 2d (<1p).  By comparison a pint in the UK in 1970 was about two shillings (10p).

Once we were billeted with families, the only affordable option, we spent the next three months enjoying our new surroundings and new life.  Typically mornings were spent on the beautiful beach of La Playa de la Concha, afternoons at lectures and evenings in the Parte Vieja checking out the range of delicious pinchos and monitoring the price of the wine, before heading back to our digs for dinner prepared by our landlady Snow White (Maria Nieves)!

The three months went quickly by, after which we were left to our own devices for three months.  I’d got myself work in the office of a local tour operator, which eventually turned into a job as a guide collecting British and Irish pilgrims from Lourdes in France and showing them the high life of this most beautiful of the Basque cities.

After my six months’ sojourn in Spain it was off to Stuttgart for a placement as a translator at Daimler-Benz, the car manufacturer.  But Germany just wasn’t the same and I missed the carefree, life-on-the-streets ambience of España.

The next several summers were spent repping back in Lourdes/San Seb, before the demands of a job in teaching and a new marriage made it too difficult to continue.

Over the next several decades we (my wife, first of all, then our two children) explored most parts of Spain through holidays and business trips.  Although the country changed dramatically and quickly after the death of Franco in November 1975, it remained a great attraction for us all.  Over the years our jobs took us to Madrid, Barcelona and Oviedo (Asturias) for short visits, which enabled us to experience something other than the sand, sea and sun of the ever more ghastly development of the costas.

Fast forward to 2000 and my wife and I decided to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary by touring Andalucía, a region we didn’t yet know.  Flight to Málaga, two nights in spectacular Ronda, two in stunning Arcos de la Frontera, a sherry tour in elegant Jerez de la Frontera, via  beautiful Carmona to two more nights in gorgeous Córdoba, surely the best of the big three Andalucían cities (Sevilla, Granada and Córdoba), then via Roman Antequera back to bustling Málaga and we were hooked on the region.

The following year, after several further visits to the area and lots of viewings, we bought a little apartment in the San Francisco barrio of Ronda, which we enjoyed for a number of years and which I still own.

After early retirement and divorce in 2005 I was able to spend lengthy periods in this beautiful cliff-top town.  Over a couple of years I did up two houses, one for me and one for a (now ex-)girlfriend and I got to know lots of people, locals and immigrants alike.  The social life was something I’d always craved, but never really had before, apart from when I was a student in San Sebastián, over three decades earlier.

Then finally in 2008, my somewhat chaotic life sorted itself out, everything came together at the right time and I was able to fulfil my dream of moving to Spain to live full-time.

So here I am, living contentedly in our little old house in one of the white villages near Ronda, dabbling in a bit of writing and translating and feeling a lot younger than the 60 years old I shall become in a month’s time! 

It took nearly 60 years to get from North Devon to South Spain, but I made it in the end!  And it was well worth the wait!

©  Paul Whitelock



Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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