INCIDENT 1: Sitting at a table on the main plaza in town drinking tea. To the left is a row of shops; to the right the headquarters of the Guardia Civil with its sentry turrets and gun-slots. A young guardia emerges from the building and passes our table. He’s carrying a large plastic sack – about the size of a pillow – that’s stuffed with what appears to be chopped hay and dried leaves, all mixed up together. “What’s in that sack?” I say to my wife. “Dunno,” she answers, “What do you think it is?”. “Dunno,” I say. “I suspect it’s cannabis . . .”
The officer strolls towards the shops and enters the pharmacy. Through the plate glass window we see him place the sack on a set of weighing scales – one of those big sets you stand on – retrieve a ticket from the slot and stick it on the sack. He then walks back past our table and through the doors of the headquarters.
I am left to ruminate on whether I would witness a similar sight in England – a young police officer lugging a sack of cannabis from Darlington police station, across the zebra crossing, past the Glittering Star, the Tubwell Tap and the Golden Cock to the town centre Boots pharmacy, then weigh the sack and walk back again. I don’t think I would.
There again, it might have been a sack of sweepings the gardener left after clipping the ornamental bushes outside the chief’s window. We’ll never know.
INCIDENT 2: Driving slowly along the seafront at La Herrradura when I hear a man shouting loudly and aggressively. Shouting is uncommon in Andalucia, unless it’s the type borne of excitement, or the bellowing of two old friends greeting each other across a busy street and conducting a conversation for the world to hear.
I see a stout man with a shaven head, no shirt, baggy shorts, tattoos on his arms.
“You f**king gobshite b**tard. Come back here and I’ll f**king paste you. F**king b**tard c**t.”
A Brit. A fellow countryman. I feel thoroughly ashamed. For the very first time my attention is drawn to the advantages of Brexit with its secure borders and need for visas making foreign travel more complicated.
INCIDENT 3: A beggar has detached himself from a group of three sitting on the church steps and he’s heading my way. Beggars fall into two categories in the Alpujarras: Spanish beggars are weatherworn, scruffy and smell of underarm sweat; northern European beggars are hippy types with long hair, dogs, and smell of underarm sweat and patchouli. This one’s Spanish.
I possess an inability to deal with beggars. They send me into a moral quandary. So I’ve developed a strategy: if they are merely sitting on the pavement with a cup in front of them, I walk past; if they approach me asking for assistance, I give it. This chap’s approaching. He’s small with tight curly hair and his clothes are scruffy. He looks like he hasn’t washed his face for weeks.
“Señor, can you give me a euro for I need to catch the bus to Granada,” he says. “I am a lawyer and I have to represent a client in an important court case.”
He’s probably aware of the startled expression on my face. His eyes are twinkling. He knows that what he’s saying is outlandish rubbish and he knows that I know this. But he’s delivered his line with the deadpan humour and precision timing of Les Dawson or Jack Dee, and he deserves a euro for sheer brazenness and ingenuity.
I slip him a euro and off he trots to his mates on the church steps. I recommence my journey, impressed by the entrepreneurial skills of the beggar, but mildly anxious in case I ever require the services of a lawyer and enter an office to find him sitting behind the desk.