Last night I was sat with Val and Kate in a restaurant in Puerto de Pollensa. We somehow started reminiscing about how difficult it was to phone someone in the UK from Spain, long before mobile phones were thought of. I contribute a tale of a trip to Granada and the then primitive Spanish telephone system. The story is this:
In November 1986 Ann, Kate’s mother, Laura, her sister and I are approaching the outskirts of Granada. It is a late holiday to recover from a harrowing year. Ann is in remission, we are optimistic and in good spirits. As we approach Granada the snow caps of the Sierra Nevada mountains are draped like clouds in the cloudless blue sky. Before entering the city we stop in a lay-by to review the map. As we ponder the map a man on a moped pulls up alongside us and taps on the window of our Seat Panda. If we follow him he will lead us into the city, and, of course, he knows of a nice affordable hotel. We shake off the worry that he has the appearance of a bandito and follow him into the beautiful and historic city. Predictably he pulls up in front of the most expensive hotel in Granada, and a concierge in a top hat and an confused expression approaches our battered rental car. As Laura is only nine years old I still my tongue and simply say a polite “no thank you” in appalling Spanish and drive off leaving the Bandito and the Concierge in a heated conversation.
Eventually we find a more suitable, modestly priced establishment: the Hotel Roma.
It was clean and pleasant. There was a central courtyard where we would be served breakfast and the evening meal. We were lucky to get a room as the hotel was hosting a party of German school children.
One evening we are quietly eating our evening meal as the German children gather noisily around their teacher in the courtyard. The teacher informs the proprietor in English that they are going somewhere cultural and will return at nine o’clock and they file out of the door.
Later as we sit at our dining table a phone rings. And rings and rings and rings. The phone is mounted on the wall not far from my head. The proprietor is either profoundly deaf or dead. I’m not, so, desperate to stop the racket I decide to answer it. A bad idea.
“Hallo, this is the Hotel Roma.” The line is poor; it fizzes and crackles.
“Gut, gut, I vish to speak vit my son, Hans.” Says the caller, “Is ‘e there?”
Through the hissing of the line I pick up the German accent and just catch the name Hans. Obviously Hans is one of the school kids.
“He is not here. He will be back at nine.” I carefully explain in the pedantic way the British speak to foreigners.
“Vot! Hans is not there?” Says the anxious voice.
“He will be back at NINE!” I repeat impatiently
But through the crackling of the phone line the concerned father is only hearing the word nine, or nein: German for no.
“You say NO!, Hans is not at the hotel! Ver can ‘e be!”
“No, I said NINE!”
This verbal tennis match with the word ‘nine’ continues for a few moments more, then, hearing the proprietor coming through from the kitchen, I terminate the call. As coffee is served I say nothing. It was all too surreal.
Somewhere in Düsseldorf or Hamburg a German Vater is staring at his telephone in anxious disbelief.
30 years later fuelled by wine I loudly relate all this to Val and Kate with emphasis on ‘zee’ German accent and the words ‘vot’ and ‘nein / nine’. Kate laughs, obviously thinking the story funny, but Val only smiles weakly. As I wonder why she isn’t laughing Val leans forward and quietly tells me that the group at the table behind me are Germans.
As we stand to leave a woman at the offended table gives me a look that says: “Thank God the British are leaving the EU.”