Last year, jaded by the toxicity around Brexit, the election and wearying and wearisome vitriolic abuse targeted at me in a Facebook group for freelance journalists that I had I co-founded (and from which the admins I appointed to help me with the workload have now blocked me!), I had simply had enough. Fuck. That. Shit, I told myself.
At the age of 52, divorced and with a 14-year-old daughter who has better things to do with her weekends than to hang out with Sad Dad who drinks too much, I decided to quit London where I was born and have always lived. It was an instantly liberating feeling. The world was my oyster – I toyed with moving to my beloved Cuba – but I alit upon Spain.
Initially, I briefly considered Galicia but realised there was a reason it’s so cheap. It’s basically Wales. All rain and harsh winters. Ew. No thanks. So I started to look online for rental properties in the beautiful city of Sevilla. Then my good friend Annie Bennett, the Spain expert for the Telegraph, staged an intervention. Thank God she did. She said, “Bad idea, Euge. It’s overpriced, and between late June and early September the city is unbearably hot. Have you considered Valencia? I think you’d fit in just fine in Ruzafa…”
So I did some research (spent ten minutes on Google) and learnt that Ruzafa is variously described as either the Soho or the Shoreditch of Valencia. (In fact, it’s neither, and is not an especially helpful comparison.) But it is packed with townhouses split into apartments, and mansion blocks, and if you throw a tennis ball in any direction from one’s balcony, there’s a very high chance that you’ll hit a bar, restaurant or café. My kinda place, I thought.
And with rents less than half of a comparable property in Walthamstow, never mind Soho or Shoreditch, it would be good for the budget, too. “Fie, fiddly dee, a writer’s life for me,” I whistled. I came out in December for a few days with my great pal Richard Simpson, above left, ex-showbiz editor of the Daily Mail and “un buen huevo”, as they say. (Be careful, “huevo” can mean egg – but it can also mean a bollock, leading to some amusing misunderstandings. My friend the journalist Amy Booth lives in Buenos Aires, and tells a very funny anecdote about her boyfriend keen to show off his fledgling Spanish. He marched into a grocery shop and asked the shopkeeper, “Tienes huevos?” This translates as, “You got any balls?” He should have said, “Hay huevos?” – are there any eggs? – and was nonplussed when Amy and the shopkeeper’s wife collapsed, shrieking with laughter. But I digress…)
Where was I? Oh, yeah. So Dickie and I came out for a recce in mid-December during a very warm spell that saw us lunch in Plaza de Catedrál al fresco in our T-shirts. Over a few days, while Dickie did some work from the flat, I would scuttle around the city looking at flats.
Then – bingo! On my way to the airport to head home, I had an appointment to view a flat in Ruzafa with a letting agent called Jorge from Buenos Aires (above, being introduced to my old friend, Bloody Mary). A beautiful mansion block, Gaudí-esque, with medieval trills and leitmotifs. The flat was eight flights up, 81 steps (I count them every single day) and lived up to the promise of the whole building. It had just been “reformed” and the landlady has not scrimped. Light and airy with four bedrooms and two bathrooms, all fixtures and fittings were box-new and she had paid for three of the rooms to be tiled with antique mosaic flooring, while the rest of the flat had brand-new wooden lino. I fell in love that second.
I said to Jorge, “Is anyone else viewing?” He said, “Yes, you are the first viewing, and I have three girls coming to view after you.”
I said, “What do I need to do to secure it?”
He seemed highly amused by my eagerness, but stifled his laughter, and said, “Just sign here and send us a deposit after you return to London.”
So I did, and in early January gave a month’s notice on my property in Walthamstow.
I gave away or sold most of my possessions but still had quite a few “essentials” such as beds, home-office items and such. I used a removals company who specialise in overseas relocations and cannot praise them highly enough – speak to the lovely Sarah Hill at www.europeanmoving.org. Less than £2k to send a seriously hardworking Polish driver with a lorry, to load up and meet me in Valencia two days later. (He didn’t speak any English, having driven straight to London from Warsaw, and would drive straight to Valencia, meeting me there 36 hours later. Take note, Brexiteers. British workers would not do that in a fit!). We managed to communicate with claps on backs, the odd beer and Google Translate for anything especially tricky.
I stayed that night with Mum and Dad in Ealing and the next evening flew out to Valencia, where I had rented a studio for the night until my Polish friend would arrive. I arrived at 10pm, had a late supper and then asked a taxi driver to take me to a bar. He said, “A bar to meet women?” I found it a strange question, but in my mediocre Spanish said, “Well, not specifically, but yeah, that kind of thing.”
He dropped me in a street near Estación del Norte and the Plaza de Toros. As it was a one-way street, he pointed up the way to a bar and told me that was my destination. I thought it a little odd that I had to knock but assumed it was a licensing thing. Someone looked through a peephole and I was admitted.
Reader, I was in a puticlub.
(I shall do a separate post about this but in a nutshell, prostitution is not illegal in Spain and there are many puticlubs, which consist of a bar and seating, while upstairs are rooms, often rather sumptuous with Jacuzzis and such, where the girls hire clean sheets and so on…)
This was a very plush bar with generous seating, where a bevy of scantily clad girls looked up with interest and hope – no honey, no money, not because I am staggeringly good-looking, though there is that, of course. So their disappointment was palpable when I said I was only there to have a few drinks.
But they were by and large sweet girls and good-natured so I ended up sitting with them, having a laugh. In a normal bar, a large vodka and tonic is €7 or €8. Here, it’s €12 so not too bad. But you are expected to buy the girl you are chatting to a drink, which costs €30, and the girls told me that they get to keep €20 so it seems reasonable for them. I caused great hilarity because when I agreed to buy one very persuasive girl a drink –I tried to pretend it was for me. The madam treated my attempted subterfuge with appropriate contempt. I got on very well with two girls, a beautiful Cuban girl from Santiago de Cuba in the east of the island, near Guantánamo that I have visited, the most African of Cuban cities and a hotspot for the voodoo religion Santería, and in particular with a vivacious Colombian from Bogota with a great chuckle named Isabella (the girl, not the chuckle), and when I left some time later, we exchanged numbers.
It was to prove a very wise decision on my part…