An inflatable woman under my lemon tree

To celebrate the success of the school inspection, in which I played my part by showing how we had raised the standard of PSHE & Citizenship education to conform to the new English National Curriculum standards, I had an unusually drunken Friday night in Finestrat ending at 2.30 a.m.

The evening began over a couple of pints at the bar Cantonet and my continuing conversations with Antonio, the retired Andalucian gipsy donkey specialist. Then it was wine and buffet supper at the Finestrat Cultural Centre for the opening of ‘Art on the Rocks’, an imaginatively titled exhibition of paintings by Mark Edwards. He is a rock climbing instructor but trained as a painter and has a rather stylised faux naive approach to the landscape. The subject of the paintings is mostly rocks: the mountain that towers over Finestrat, Puig Campana, and the spectacular Castallets – the ridge that looks like some fantasy castle battlement. Every morning I marvel at the landscape as I walk to Finestrat to get my lift to work. Earlier this week there was a beautiful red glow on the mountains.

I stopped and took a photo. All I could think of at that moment was the way I had not planned to be here. I had only wanted to get a teaching job in Canterbury again – and then the CRB disaster happened – suddenly I am in a place that is wonderful and entirely different from anything I could have imagined!

Mark Edwards’ paintings at the Finestrat Cultural Centre exhibition show a degree of engagement with the landscape that echoes my own feelings. Ever since I arrived here in late August ready to start my new teaching job, I have been unable to take my eyes off the geology. How did these rock formations arise? How does this ridge behave after it plunges into the Mediterranean, after its last visible feature – the great rock at Calpe? Underwater it must also have a spectacular form. Then it comes up again, out of the sea, and it forms Ibiza: the home of my long lost childhood, with Es Vedra, a towering rock that is a close relative of these great rocks, with the same geology running through its veins.

Ibiza, 1963 to 1967. It seems like yesterday and it seems like a thousand years ago. History taught by a man in army uniform under a photo of the Generalissimo above the teacher’s desk. Coca Cola for 5 pesetas. And a Jaguar E-type that arrived and looked like a machine from outer-space…

Finestrat reminds me so much of all that. The art exhibition rekindled may thoughts of those days, as the rock formations and the vegetation here are so similar. As I looked at the paintings I remembered that it is only a short time until my friend Barbara arrives from France, bringing the rest of my things which are in storage with her. My oil paints will soon be with me. Am I going to spend another year looking at them – testing the springiness of my palette knives and checking the brushes have not been attacked by moths – but not doing any painting? If Mark paints the mountains, I shall paint the valleys! There are exquisite winding valleys here with terraced fields snaking through the lower slopes, irrigated by a system of water channels engineered by the Moors when they controlled this part of Spain. When I was cycling up the valley to Sella a fortnight ago, I suddenly noticed the beautiful shape made by a pattern of these terraced fields winding around the valley, and I remembered the only big canvas I ever painted. It was a painting of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with the architect Antoni Gaudi sitting in front of it playing the blues guitar. It was a present for two friends of mine who were getting married in Zaragoza. Some time later, when staying with them, I noticed the painting was behind a wardrobe. Ihave never been particularly gifted with paints and canvases, but I do enjoy the making of a painting, the smell of the paint and the turpentine.

I decided to write a review of the art exhibition for the Costa Blanca News, for my debut in ex-pat costa journalism. We all ended up at La Bodega for the final part of the evening and it was pointed out to me that a previous editor of the newspaper was drinking at the bar. I went up to make her acquaintance and find out who is the present features editor of the paper. Unfortunately I had by now far exceeded any sensible alcohol limit, and after a futile five minute conversation with another person who was similarly inebriated, a friend came to the rescue and said, “Not that lady with the grey hair! The one at the other end of the bar!” I apologised for the confusion, but now only seemed to get a protests in return. “I haven’t got grey hair! Who they hell are you calling grey haired…?” I made a swift retreat.

At about 2.30 a.m. I decided to go home after someone said I was becoming a nerd and only seemed to talk about donkeys. I don’t care. Donkeys are my friends. And they are never rude to me! If I am indeed becoming a nerd, the donkeys will understand.

Plunging down the steep path into the ravine, through the snake infested canes at the rio Anxoa (except the snakes are hibernating) and up the other side, I arrived at my farmhouse carrying a wooden ladder. I have no idea where that came from so I can’t take it back. At my time of life, I think it is a remarkably healthy sign that I can arrive home from an evening’s drinking carrying a wooden ladder, having not been tempted to climb up it and fall off. It shows a degree of self-care which is very mature.

On Saturday morning I staggered out into the garden to look at my vegetables. There was a bright red inflatable woman fluttering around under my lemon tree. Somehow she had drifted there in the wind during the night, half deflated and trailing a couple of metres of string, and her arrival reminded me of the dead parachutist in Lord of the Flies, the corpse of an ejected fighter pilot whose silk parachute fills with the wind and drags him around the island, lodging in the trees. I stared at the goofy expression on the inflatable woman’s face. This could certainly not be mistaken for The Beast…

So, it was a rather surreal start to the weekend, but who cares? We passed the school inspection. And as with any Ofsted inspection, a Saturday morning hangover is par for the course.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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2 Responses to An inflatable woman under my lemon tree

  1. Karin says:

    After…as the kids say LMAO….I think perhaps you ought to consider going into the newspaper biz…after all that is one hell of a header for your post..and the final pic of Dora is priceless!

  2. housebound says:

    Problems solved [maybe] –
    The woman under your tree was a suspected stowaway on the recent Vulture 1
    launch (see “The Register – PARIS”)

    As for the London shoes, could it be that they were carried there with the (frustrated) intent of throwing them at unpopular personages, as is the practice in more eastern
    countries ?

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