Every year, my wife and I try to get away for two weeks in Spain. We stay in a villa a couple of miles outside of a small town called San Miguel de Salinas. Although the town is quite close to Torrevieja, Orihuela, and Alicante, it is quiet and sleepy in comparison . . . Well, it is until fiesta time rolls around, which it seems to do on an alarmingly frequent basis, and then the skies over the town light up like there’s been a terrorist attack in a fireworks factory, and the sounds of amplified flamenco music and local indie bands mixed with the pyrotechnic explosions fill the air until the wee small hours. But most of the time it’s peaceful, and that’s the way I like it.
The first couple of times we went there, my head was filled with romantic notions of sitting outside on the terrace with a long, cold glass of something alcoholic that I would sip while typing profound and insightful musings on my laptop, which I’d expand at a later date into the basis of a prize winning novel. Then I would take my cane, don my panama hat at a jaunty angle, and venture out for an afternoon stroll. The reality, however, was ever so slightly different. First of all, the sun was so bright I couldn’t see a thing on the laptop’s screen, and secondly, there were comfortable sun loungers by the pool and ice cold beers in the fridge and the collection of paperbacks I’d brought with me that all needed to be read. So, my Spanish routine began to develop: take a beer from the fridge; grab the book on its own, alongside the pile waiting to be read on the sideboard next to the patio doors; step outside, and while away the day on a sun lounger, reading and occasionally imbibing a beer until it was time to go out and eat. This routine became so ingrained I could perform it with my eyes shut.
In the evenings we like to frequent the excellent eateries that can be found in the area, with our favourite being Pimientos Restaurant and Terrace. The food and wine at Pimientos are excellent, and we’ve spent many happy evenings there. How we came to discover the place is a story that involves hardship and suffering on a cruel and unusual level, but I’ll save that for another post.
Anyway, after we’d been going to Spain for a few years, the wife’s mother decided to invite herself along on our next trip. Now, my mother-in-law is a . . . erm, unique individual. This is a woman who upon seeing some magpies outside her window, in the middle of Cardiff, rings my wife to tell her she’s just seen some penguins. And she was being serious. She is well versed in the art of spouting nonsense. She is also a remarkably consistent woman having a bad word to say about everybody. Indeed, when she’s not talking gibberish, she spits so much venom, she gets fan mail from spitting cobras.
And so it was with some trepidation that we set off on this particular trip to Spain. Our first day there happened to be our wedding anniversary. I had booked a table at Pimientos for a romantic celebration of the occasion, but when it came time to leave for the restaurant, we discovered that the mother-in-law had assumed she was invited too. So, no romantic evening then, but we decided to make the best of it and set out in high spirits.
The welcome at Pimientos was as warm as the midsummer evening. We all chose from the menu and I ordered a bottle of good quality wine. The food came, and it was up to their usual high standards. My wife and I both tucked into our meals with relish, but not the mother-in-law, no, her food was poked at and prodded and pushed around her plate for at least ten minutes before she declared, “I don’t do be hungry, our Josie.” And drank the wine instead. She followed this up with several large vodkas and tonics, and finished off with a brandy.
When we eventually got her back to the villa, I assumed she would go straight to bed to sleep off the effects of the booze. I assumed wrong. She decided to join us on the terrace, where she drank more vodka and tonic while chatting incessantly in a voice that got louder with every passing drink. I guess you could say it had not been the evening I was expecting.
The next day, I was the first out of bed. I made some coffee and took it outside, grabbing my book and glasses from where I’d placed them on the sideboard next to the patio doors. Eventually, my wife and her mother put in an appearance. My wife got into the pool, and her mother proceeded to talk to her non-stop. After almost two hours of this constant chatter droning in my ears, there came a point where I thought I’d gone deaf, but it turned out she was just pausing for breath. This brief respite soon vanished when she started up again. I couldn’t take any more of it, so I made my excuses and went for a walk down to San Miguel.
When I returned, both of them were taking a siesta, and I had peace and quiet to read my book. However, when I went to get the book and my glasses, they weren’t where I’d left them, and neither was my pile of extra books to be read. A thorough search unearthed them in a drawer of a cupboard in the dining room. I put them back in their correct place on the sideboard next to the patio doors, little knowing I had just experienced the results of one of my mother-in-law’s many little foibles.
For the two weeks that followed, my books and glasses would disappear from the sideboard next to the patio doors, and turn up in various drawers and cupboards around the villa. Even the sideboard next to the patio doors made brief guest appearances as the sideboard in other parts of the villa. All of the furniture would be rearranged three or four times on a daily basis. It was like being haunted by a poltergeist with OCD.
The two weeks came to an end, and it was with some relief I boarded the plane to come home. At least in a few brief hours I would be free of the mother-in-law and the surreal world she inhabited, and I could once again set foot on planet Earth. But she had one more trick left to play on us.
We passed through passport control without incident, collected our bags from the carousel, went to leave and were pounced on by two enormous Customs Officers who bundled us into a side room. One wall in the room had a mirror running it’s full length. I’ve seen enough cop shows on TV to know we were being watched from the other side of the mirror. All I could hope for was that one of the watchers wasn’t pulling on rubber gloves.
We were questioned about where we’d been and the purpose of our visit. Our bags were opened in turn and the contents examined, and then they opened the mother-in-law’s rather large suitcase to reveal countless cartons of cigarettes. It seemed I had just been to Spain with a ruthless black marketeer, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The officers set about interrogating Mrs Big, who in turn, answered their questions and added irrelevant details and pointless anecdotes. The looks exchanged between the officers revealed a state of growing confusion. Was I in the presence of a criminal genius, or just a woman who was too sheltered to realise how much potential trouble she was in?
For two hours we were detained by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but in the end they let us go. And as they opened the door to let us out, I couldn’t help but notice the strange, haunted look in the officer’s eyes. I knew how they felt.