A Lizard in My Luggage
Mayfair to Mallorca in One Easy Move
A LIZARD IN MY LUGGAGE
Copyright Â© Anna Nicholas 2007
This eBook edition published 2011
All rights reserved.
The right of Anna Nicholas to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Condition of Sale
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher.
Summersdale Publishers Ltd
46 West Street
For Marvellous Merzle,
In having completed this book, it would be inadmissible of me not to mention a handful of kind and patient souls who have encouraged, chastised and galvanised me into action. I thank my dear friend Alice Hart-Davis and literary agent, Stephanie Cabot, for setting the ball rolling, Kate Cook for unlimited inspiration, and Paul Richards for his wisdom and editorial prowess. Thanks are extended to Guillem Puig for correcting my childlike Mallorcan, and to the one and only Sari Andreu for being Sari.
I would like to thank Roger Katz for backing an untried horse, and Pere and Margarita Serra, the proprietors of the Serra Newspaper Group, for their unwavering generosity. Also, thanks go to IgnacÃo Vasallo, director of TurespaÃ±a London, for his support, and to TomÃ¡s Graves for his book,
A Home in Majorca
, which acted as an excellent point of reference. A special mention must go to Debbie Seaman, author of
The Fearless Flier's Handbook
which has been my trusty companion on many a shaky flight. I am indebted to the Mallorcan community of our mountain valley for their acceptance and friendship. Finally, inestimable thanks to my sister, Cecilia, my nephew, Alexander, and to the two hillbilly boys, Alan and Oliver.
About the Author
As a freelance journalist, Anna Nicholas has contributed to titles such as the
and for the last four years she has contributed a weekly column to the
Majorca Daily Bulletin.
She is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has been an international invigilator for Guinness World Records. She has also organised an expedition to carry a grand piano to a remote tribe in South America, which was the subject of a BBC TV documentary.
The local vernacular used in this book is mostly in the Mallorcan dialect. Although Mallorcan is derived from Catalan and is believed to have been spoken for more than five or six centuries, it varies greatly when written. During the Franco era, Mallorcan was forbidden in Balearic schools and this has made it an oral language, reliant on Catalan when transcribed to print. The vocabulary and spelling often vary greatly from village to village in Mallorca. I have taken advice from local language experts and so hope to have accurately transcribed the Mallorcan language to print. However, I apologise unreservedly to any fervent linguists who may care to differ.
One â Rubble
Two â London: August
Three â Downing Tools
Four â Donkey Work
Five â Watering Holes
Six â London: October
Seven â Plumbing New Depths
Eight â Unearthing Treasures
Nine â London: December
Ten â Fowl Play
Eleven â Animal Rites
Twelve â Breaking New Ground
Thirteen â Toad in the Hole
Fourteen â London: April
Fifteen â Orange Grind
Sixteen â Stone Walling
Seventeen â Restoration
It's noon. A fat gecko, its eyes as large as marbles, locks on to me with an unblinking stare as I grapple with a crude, rusty key, the size and weight of a small hammer, just above his head. I want him to move but he hugs the wall like a watchful Spider-Man, daring me to engage key with lock. I know it's a male, a he, just by the way he surveys me. Everything in this country is machismo so why shouldn't that include geckos with big ant guts? He's looking disapprovingly at my bitten painted nails, orange kitten heels, fake designer handbag from a trip to Dubai, and thinking, for crying out loud, what's a house like this doing with a woman like that? He's a good psychologist too. He knows I don't like insects, snakes, small, fast moving vertebrates and anything with multiple legs, hairy limbs and antennae. And exactly why am I faltering at the door? Am I seriously scared of a lizard? Get a grip. I push the key firmly in the lock. Simultaneously, the reluctant, portly custodian of the house shimmies up the door and ducks into a groove in the stone wall. Vanished into a smudge of darkness. Good riddance. I shudder and attempt to turn the key. It won't shift and here I am, up a dirt track drive in the sort of heat that could melt bones and trigger tantrums. Cicadas are hissing accusingly at me from the grey contorted olive trees and a voyeuristic frog is peering over a discarded can in an old septic water tank, willing defeat.
Â Â This is no simple Yale or Banham lock. It is blackish and seigneurial, displaying a few distinguished brown spots of corrosion at the edges, and fashioned out of wrought-iron from centuries ago. However, the key, its faithful lifelong partner, is old and battered with age and unable to engage in happy union as once it might. I use the time-honoured practice of the short tempered and impetuous, and start kicking the door. It shudders but refuses to budge. Four hundred odd years of Spanish craftsmanship and solid oak are not going to give way to a petulant, hot and bothered Londoner with a blatant disregard for anger management.
Â Â There's a strange humming in the distance, an angry, gnawing sound that grows louder until it soon explodes into a cloud of hot, powdery dust three feet from me. A young man with tight, black curly hair and a set of teeth and comely muscles normally reserved for matinee idols is silencing the engine of a motorbike and waving cheerfully at me. Oh God, who's this? Do I have to share the humiliation of being incapable of opening my own front door with a total stranger, and a foreigner to boot? He saunters over to me with a look of concern and it's not just for my sanity.
Â Â 'Is problem wees door,
' He sibilates his words smoothly, referring to me as senyorita, young lady, not the more matronly senyora, indicating that he's either in public relations, an inveterate liar, or in need of good specs or possibly all three. Still, he speaks some English. This will at least spare him from having to endure my spoken Spanish which has only recently graduated from
greetings to vocabulary worthy of the Peter and Jane books. To make matters worse, he is speaking in Mallorcan, the local dialect, which naturally poses even greater hazards for me.
Â Â 'Well, I can't turn the key. It's stuck. Can you try?'
Â Â 'No
, senyorita. Is very old.'
Â Â In Mallorca nothing is a problem, until you have a problem. He wrenches the key round and it emits a squeal of anguish. Then with a quick kung fu arm movement he strikes at the door and it creaks open, allowing a shaft of ruby light to caress the marble floor. I throw him a gracious smile and push my sunglasses back over my hot, damp hair.
Â Â 'Sorry, who are you?'
Â Â 'Me? Oh, I friend of Miguel.'
Â Â And who is Miguel when he's at home?
Â Â 'Miguel is friend of Joan who is brother of Jaume.'
Â Â The genealogy lesson doesn't stop here. 'Jaume's grandfather was doctor.'
Â Â I resist the childish urge to say, 'Doctor who?' and instead ask, 'So who is Jaume?'
Â Â He looks bemused and shrugs his lean brown shoulders.
Â Â 'Jaume is builder. Jaume work on your house.'
Â Â Ah! Now we're getting there.
Â Â 'Do you work on my house?'
Â Â 'No, Jaume leave kettle in field. I get for him now and go.'
Â Â I'm about to start all over again in an attempt to learn his name but stop. There are times when to question
further would result in entering what my family call the twilight zone, an enchanted territory in time and space where nothing can ever make sense. It's a world of alphabetical letters in jumbled order, where cats wear hats and the distinctly odd becomes the norm. So should I discover that Jaume the Builder really is brewing Typhoo tea in the manner of his British counterparts in my field under the full strength of a fiery Mediterranean sun, I shall know not to question it.
Â Â I nod sagely at the young Adonis and leave him to amble off across the courtyard and down into the wasteland of a field with its towering weeds and sad bowed orange and lemon trees, splashed with mud and grime from countless assaults on the turf by tractors, diggers and lorries. I walk into the
, a large, semi-lit, blank white space smelling of damp paint and cicadas. How does a cicada smell? Like my
, that's how. I clip-clop over to the arched doorway leading to the back garden and terrace. It is masked by heavy wooden shutters which surprisingly give way when I lift the wrought-iron levers. The sun engulfs me and I'm momentarily blinded, then deafened by a sudden blast from my handbag as the mobile phone bursts into song. I could throttle it but instead I trill in the way a public relations professional should, with a voice brimming with false enthusiasm.
Â Â 'Prudence! I was just thinking of you. I've literally just put the finishing touches to the brief and am about to wing it over to your office.' That's when I've actually written the wretched thing. 'Tomorrow? No problem, I'll e-mail it. Yes, it has turned cold, hasn't it?'
Â Â She rings off without the faintest idea that I'm speaking to her from a sweltering, empty house in the mountains of a Spanish island. Has she completely forgotten about my move or relegated the information to the back of her mind? The thought amuses me. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant and yet the work will get done, just in a different location.
Â Â Prudence Braithwaite is the officious secretary of Michael Roselock of Roselock Fine Jewellery, a client on the edge of a nervous breakdown who has disbanded half his staff through debt and has weakly left her to run his ailing ship. Neither of them has a clue what she's doing. Nor have I for that matter. Unnervingly, both persist in trying to embroil me in the mounting sagas of their company with daily hysterical calls that inevitably end with the fretful words, 'What are we going to do?' Much as I try to buoy them up, they've struck the iceberg and water's seeping in. I sigh and hurl the slim little silver spy back into my bag with venom. I call it Judas because it always betrays me. In my opinion the maniac who invented mobile phones really should have been shot at the prototype stage, preferably to the accompanying wail of a microchip pumping out a synthesised fugue.
Â Â My nameless friend pops his head round the front door, kettle in hand, and yells '
' so loudly it rebounds around the stark walls and vaulted ceilings and makes my heart thump. A minute later I hear the familiar whining sound of the bike tearing off up the track. Once again, I'm alone with the geckos and my many hidden detractors â living creatures that crawl and creep soundlessly in the undergrowth, observing my every move. I pop my shades back on and stride out into the sun, the insecure owner of a partially restored pile in a foreign country. Here, in the craggy northwest mountains of Mallorca, I feel light-years away from my flat in central London with the shuddering, creaky cabs passing my windows and the constant judder of coaches and lorries as they thunder by, night and day. The air is still and fragrant and the lisping cicadas with their monotone pulsating beat lure me into a state of momentary calm. The house is ancient, so old that we can only trace its lineage back three hundred years. It's almost double that according to local oral tradition â neighbours, shopkeepers, bar owners and the elderly
who eke out their days playing cards and reminiscing with their friends in the town square. Word has it that over the centuries this
played home to the local priests of our village church and was once a safe house during violent Moorish assaults on the island. During that troubled time it also served as a secret chapel for devout local parishioners, a sacred place for those in peril. Let's hope the magic still works.