Don’s the one

MY introduction to Don Quixote took place in a pub called The Clarence in the northern town of Dalton-in-Furness, back in 1974, and at a time when I was obsessed with a song called Pinball and the world seemed a much milder, progressive and optimistic place. On the wall opposite the bar hung a colourful and captivating image of two dark figures crossing an evening landscape – one tall and shabbily elegant on a broken-winded horse, the other small and fat, perched upon a mule. From the dust of Spain, Don Quixote and his devoted servant and friend, Sancho Panza, had strayed into a world of rain, bar-billiards and pigeon racing. It was an unusual subject for a Lancashire pub where old men with their ties tucked in their trousers occasionally reminisced about the trenches and chuckled over cards and cribbage boards, but it lifted the decor from fifty shades of nicotine and elevated the conversation of the clientele . . .

The landlord was a thoughtful old fellow called Reg – one of those landlords who could, and did, settle arguments with a few wise words. He was also a source of knowledge; and responding to my enquiry into the significance of the picture, he sketched the basic plot of Miguel Cervantes’ greatest work and the wanderings of Quixote and Panza through 16th Century Andalucia and eastern Spain, in search of adventure.  I had heard of Don Quixote, or Don Kwiksoat as he was often referred to in those days, but was unaware of the details. Reg filled in many of the blanks while serving pints of Lion ale.

I decided that the next time I visited a bookshop I would purchase a copy of The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha, long-winded, cumbersome and overwritten as they are, and follow his travels in search of fame, glory and the love of Dulcinea del Toboso. Then I ordered another pint of Lion bitter and played Brian Protheroe’s Pinball again on the jukebox.

The Clarence Inn, Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, England – Picture by Graham Robson

Almost forty-four years later I have accomplished my quest after suffering a number of false starts and abandonments. It has been a vast and weary struggle, progress being fatally interrupted by ill-advisedly embarking upon that other famously-unreadable book, James Joyce’s Ulysses, when a colleague told me no one had ever reached the end.

Looking back, having conquered the pair, I don’t know which provided the most torment – the nightmarish qualities of Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour pub crawl around Dublin or Quixote’s  doom-laden trek through the Spanish mountains. They are both celebrations of futility.

Here I am in my adopted home of Orgiva in the heart of the Spanish sierras. Orgiva has recently erected a fine statue of the fictitious Quixote because the town’s library holds one of the world’s most extensive collections of Quixote editions, published in as many as fifty languages and sourced from a huge variety of countries. Considering Cervantes sold his first copy in 1605, that’s quite something.

Morecambe might have a statue to its eponymous son, Eric; Barrow-in-Furness its Emlyn Hughes; Ardrossan a statue of William Wallace that actually looks like Mel Gibson; Dublin a baggy-coated James Joyce; and Tintagel a bronze effigy of a British king who never existed except in the minds of romantic poets; it is only fitting that Orgiva should honour a fictitious knight whose crazy world revolved around chivalry and graciousness. Long may his sad countenance watch over us.

One day I might return to The Clarence to see if the picture still hangs on the wall. Meanwhile, I shall revisit 1974 on YouTube for another encounter with Protheroe and Pinball.

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15 thoughts on “Don’s the one

  1. Good morning Alen

    I tried, and failed after about 50 pages, with Don Quixote, I tried and failed far quicker with Ulysses (I did manage over 100 pages with Moby Dick, but I failed with that too, give me a Terry Pratchett any day).

    But I always liked Pinball…

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    1. Ha ha. Hi Martin. I was thinking of tackling Moby Dick a few months ago but backed off. Glad I did. Pinball’s great. When I hear it I’m back in those times, wearing my old patched jeans and German trench-coat.
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. Well Al

    Just a few points:

    Don Quickset is a brilliant name for a concrete company.
    Despite the Clarence’s jukebox, my heart is, and always will be, with Doris Flanagan in the Golden Ball.
    With reference to Jimmy Clitheroe’s song, I would pay good money to see a bread eating cat.

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    1. Hi George. I listened to Pinball a couple of times last night and wondered about the cat. Poor thing must have been starving. Must say, out of that little group of pubs, after the Clarence the Black Bull was my favourite, but I didn’t like the Horse and Jockey at all. Ah, those were the days.
      Cheers, Alen

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    1. Hi there and thanks for your comment. Yes, the library is on the main plaza, directly behind the statue, but don’t take much notice of the sign with the opening hours on because it seems to open and close whenever it wants to. I think you have to make an appointment to see the Quixote collection, but I’m not sure. Hope it’s getting warmer for you up there; been bloomin’ cold down here lately but just beginning to feel the spring emerging in the past few days.
      All the best, Alen

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  3. Hey Al, I think it’s the second line where the cat is eating the bread! The lyrics are brill, forgot all about that record, 1974! Think I was a bit younger then, on the pub thing am I correct in saying there was a Lancaster Arms? My memory fails me on that one. Kim

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    1. Hi Kim. I think we were all a bit younger back then. Yes, the Lancaster Arms was on Lancaster Street and it was just an end house with a bar in the back room. Proper old-fashioned place. And there was another on Broughton Road which I think was called the Prince of Wales. Memories, misty beer-coloured memories.
      Cheers and see you soon, Alen

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  4. P.S On the book thing, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence was the one I never got through, the cookery bits were good though, worth a look for that I suppose.

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    1. Hi Carol. Landlords don’t seem to stay long in one place these days. They used to be part of the furniture but now they come and go without getting to know their customers. Or maybe that’s just me looking back through tinted specs.
      Cheers, Alen

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  5. I was about to get outraged at the idea of Dalton being in Lancashire, but then remembered that 1974 was the year that the county on my birth certificate, Westmorland, was turned into Cumbria. The Furness peninsular suffered the same fate.

    Never read the Don, but recall Ulysses taking me a whole anguished summer to read. Still remember the relief of finishing it.

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    1. Hi Paul. There are people who insist Dalton is still in Lancashire, in fact the Lancashire red rose flag still flies above the town. Such is the grip of the past.
      Cheers, Alen
      PS “Anguished”. That sums up Ulysses perfectly.

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  6. My message about the chuckle brothers. Sad loss of another Northener. Well covered in press tv etc. I am now as the email below …had bother with it in uk It googlemail.com……..just drove under a road stating ‘ Texting causes DEATH. Under it stated ‘ for further information text 364…. saville still dead gunnery manual and why a Sigrid Rausing building 3 hydro-electric dams at Corrour. All the best to you and your wife Fat Pete.

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