Lo Curioso de Ser un Guiri Españolizado

Volví a Inglaterra en 2011 después de 13 años en España, durante los cuales viví temporadas en Yecla, Almería, Mallorca, y Aguadulce.

Debido a eso, mis amigos ingleses todavía me llaman “Spanish Matty”, un nombre que me resulta irónico porque mis amigos españoles me llaman “Matthew, el guiri”.

Estos apodos no me molestan en absoluto. Con mi piel pálido y pelo rubio y rizado, está claro que soy guiri (pero quiero decir bien claro que NUNCA he llevado sandalias con los calcetines puestos debajo). Y, después de 13 años en España, hay muchos aspectos de mi carácter que han sido españolizados. people-at-a-funeral-104302974-5a557655f1300a0037f1f503

La primera vez que me enamoré profundamente fue de una andaluza. Mis hijos nacieron en hospitales españoles y tienen nombres españoles (Inés y Francisco). Saque el carnet de conducir en España. Compré una casa en España y firmé una hipoteca española. Y la primera vez que perdí un ser querido fue en España.

He pensado en esta última experiencia mucho recientemente. Perdí mi padre en febrero; seis semanas después, se murió mi madre.

En España, el tiempo entre la muerte y el entierro es muy cortado – el ser querido pasa al “otro lado”, la familia y amigos se reúnen en el tanatorio y esperan juntos el entierro. En Inglaterra el proceso es totalmente diferente: pueden pasar unas tres o cuatro semanas entre la muerte y el entierro.

La costumbre española me parece mucho mejor – más humana, más respetuosa, y mucho menos estresante.

La muerte de un padre o una madre ya es lo bastante difícil de procesar. Pero tener que revivir todas estas emociones otra vez semanas después – y delante de docenas de personas – es un puto suplicio: todas las cicatrices se abren de nuevo y el dolor resurge con una fuerza inaguantable.

No fui al entierro de mi padre. No pude; estaba demasiado enfadado. Me quedé en casa, destrocé dos guitarras y mi ordenador, y luego lloré hasta que dormí. La semana después, discutí con mi novia y rompimos de tal manera que no hay posibilidad de una reconciliación. Es curioso como el dolor provoca más dolor, las lágrimas más lágrimas, la rabia más rabia . . .

Como puedes imaginar, después de tal huracán de emociones negativas, me encuentro en un periodo de reflexión profunda. Soy una persona muy solitaria por naturaleza – da me un cuaderno y un boli y estoy en la puta gloria, creando escenas y personajes para mis novelas – pero hay una parte de mí, esa parte españolizada, que pregunta si habría reaccionado de tal manera tan autodestructiva si mis padres hubiesen muerto en España y recibido un entierro rápido y digno.


Football: the Joy of Hatred

In October, 1945, the Moscow Dynamos came to Britain to play a series of football matches intended to celebrate the post-war goodwill between east and west.

It was a disaster.

51fe4b211208ff1a3a8bb27dad5a6bc2A match against Arsenal ended with English and Russian players exchanging blows. A subsequent match in Glasgow was a pitched battle from the moment the whistle blew. The tour was cancelled, with the Russians claiming the British teams had been padded with “ringers” in order to ensure victory. Anglo-Soviet relations were inevitably soured by the fiasco.

George Orwell wrote an essay on the subject entitled “The Sporting Spirit” in which he explores the ‘vicious passions that football provokes’.

His conclusions are simple.

First, he states that, as humans, we naturally seek to belong to something that is bigger than ourselves. In older times, this would have been a clan or a tribe or a liege-lord. Now, it is football teams.

Having forged this allegiance, he says, it is then natural that we feel our choice to be better than all others and enjoy having this proved. Not only this, we derive active pleasure from seeing rivals beaten and humiliated – to merely win is not enough. ‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play,’ Orwell states. ‘It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boasting . . . and the lunatic modern habit of seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.’

And then there is the joy of being able to unleash animal passions that would be unthinkable in normal society: screaming, crying, hugging strangers, punching strangers, bellowing insults, throwing things at television screens. Football is, in Orwell’s words, ‘war minus the shooting’. He did not mean by this that it was important; he meant it was dangerous, because it provides supporters an excuse to respond to the raw nerve endings of the reptile brain.

And so, tonight, when the mood of the nation is chained to the competence of eleven complete strangers and a leather ball, have a think on why the pendulum of your mood swings up and down as the match progresses, or why your heart pounds and skips beats. Is it because you love the sport and delight in seeing it well played, no matter the outcome? Or is it something else entirely, a delicious taste of the dark and dangerous beast-brain which lurks within us all . . .


Are you a “looser”?

English is a savagely difficult language to write correctly. But some mistakes are easily rectified.

I have noticed large numbers of people recently using the verb “to loose” (I don’t want to loose you, for example) when the correct word is “to lose”. picture-of-quill-pen-ink-pot

The reason for this mistake is obvious: “to choose” – CHEWZE – rhymes with “to lose” – LEWZ – so it is logical to spell them the same way. Unfortunately, logic goes out of the window when it comes to writing English, especially in its British version.

Anyway, remember, the correct spelling is “lose” and not “loose” – the second word rhymes with LOO and is the opposite of “tight”.


My Mother’s Death: Thoughts

Last Friday, my Mother died suddenly. The stage 4 cancer she was suffering (and that doctors had confidently claimed could be cured) raged out of control and within 48 hours she was gone.

1186113_10151749176139565_325973711_nThis would have been a bitter blow at any point in my life, but coming three months after my Father’s death, it has hit my sister and me especially hard. The love and support of a parent is sacred because it is unconditional and absolute. Having been stripped of both parents in so short a space of time, I now feel lost, scared and alone; the pain is deep and raw, like a pulled fingernail, and the future seems dour and filled with clouds.

As is common with most creative people, I am utterly useless at the simple things in life – banking, remembering appointments, keeping track of documents, feeding myself properly – and Mum was my bulwark against all of that, an exceptionally kind and caring person who forgave me all the calamities and disappointments I caused her. Without her help, I am now exposed to the grinding gears of life and fear a fall into its grimy innards, where paperwork and penury will mash me shapeless.

Grief has not really registered as I am still grieving for my Father. My emotional reserves are empty, and I feel deeply guilty that I cannot raise myself to a new level that truly acknowledges the loss of my Mother. I suppose this will change with time, for the love between a mother and a child is unique: the biological element of having grown within the womb-warmth of another person creates a link that transcends any another in life.

I am a lucky to have a fantastic family, an exceptional group of friends, and a very patient, supportive fiancée. I hope that will suffice when the pendulum of pain makes its inevitable return sweep and my Mother’s death really hits home . . .

The Cancer Song

In late 1970, a man named Phil Lesh was locked into a difficult routine: at the end of each day, he had to drive from a San Francisco recording studio to the nursing home where his father was dying of cancer.

Lesh played bass in a band named The Grateful Dead. As he drove, he practised singing lyrics a man named Robert Hunter had penned to accompany a piece of music Lesh had written for the band’s ‘American Beauty’ album. The song was entitled ‘Box of Rain’ and Lesh had requested the lyrics be “a song to sing to his dying father”.American Beauty cover

The song  is an exquisite piece of music: its chordal structure and instrumentation are perfect, as is Lesh’s vocal performance. Lesh rarely sang lead on The Dead’s songs, but his hesitant delivery lends the lyrics a heart-aching honesty and emotional depth that a more accomplished singer could not have achieved.

The song is filled with wonderful imagery, but one line stands out to me at this juncture in my life: ‘Such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there . . .

Few words have better or more succinctly captured the overwhelming immensity of death and its aftereffects. My father was 72 when he died of cancer and yet, given his vast knowledge on books and militaria, his infectious zest for life, and his love for his family and friends, it now feels a criminally brief period.

IMG_2985Three months and nine days have passed since he died at home. The initial period of grief was like a huge ragged-edged vortex which sucked everything into it. Now, however, the outlines of the hole my father’s absence will form in my life have become clearer and less intimidating. I can put my arms around the grief now, can look down into it and see not what I have lost, but what I have loved.

Life is a short and fragile thing, while death is endless and immane. From dust we come, to dust we return. Yet there is comfort in reflecting upon the achievements and positive aspects of a lost loved one. Like a box of rain, my father chose to fill himself with all that was clear, clean and fresh in the world.

It is an example I strive to emulate.

For those who wish to listen to ‘Box of Rain’, here is a link:

The Grateful Dead – Box of Rain

Yecla, mi alma

Tuve 22 años la primera vez que vi el paisaje de España. Estuve con mi amigo, Miguel Ángel Cipriano, y estuvimos recién llegado al aeropuerto de Alicante – yo, bien llenado de cerveza; él bien cansado (quizás por haber pasado 6 horas conmigo, lleno de cerveza) – y pasamos por el control de pasaportes con las cabezas abajas.

Pero, luego, salimos del aeropuerto, y yo entré en otro mundo.

Fue mayo, a eso de los 19:00 de la tarde, y el anochecer había pintado el cielo de una rosa incandescente; las nubes jironadas ya estaban poniéndose de color carbón, y el crepúsculo que bajaba por mis espaldas ya brillaba con la salida de las primeras 7795891926_43d42cd4f4estrellas.

Y cuanto más nos acercamos a Yecla, más bonito se puso el paisaje nocturno, hasta, finalmente, llegamos, y vi el pueblo que es mi segunda casa: la cúpula de la Purísima, la silueta del monte arabí, las ruinas del castillo.

Creo que fue, en ese momento – y con esa vista delante – que me di cuenta por primera vez que poseía un alma.

Bueno, escrito así, suena un poco hiperbólico. Pero con esa edad – 22 – todo el mundo sigue siendo un poco (o, en mi caso, bastante) gilipollas, y no nos preocupamos por “tonterías” como tener o no un alma.

Para mí fue una revelación.

Tengo buen ojo por la belleza (normalmente, lo diría en el sentido de la belleza de la naturaleza – nunca he sido muy mujeriego – pero fue en Yecla, al empezar cierta clase en cierta academia, que aprendí lo que es un flechazo, el único de mi vida) y esa vista que encontré en Yecla me afectó de una manera insólita – como una piedra tirada a un pozo, oí el eco de algo allí abajo en las profundidades de mi ser de cuya existencia no había sabido antes.

Y es cierto que tiene algo este país que resuena en el alma anglo-sajón. No es casualidad que gente como Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Gerald Brenan o Paul Preston han escrito con tanta pasión sobre España: su paisaje, sus costumbres, su historia.

8499180177_538c8c0b12_bBueno, me apetecía escribir algo en castellano porque ya llevo 9 horas trabajando en mi última novela, que trata de los Nazis, un tema sumamente deprimente; y porque la vida sigue dándome golpes por todos lados – enterré mi padre hacía dos semanas, y ahora resulta que otro ser querido tiene cáncer.

Es en momentos así que me encuentro más y más buscando la tranquilidad de mis memorias y de mi imaginación. Tengo suerte, supongo, que solo necesito boli y papel para viajar a donde me de las ganas; pero a veces el alma desea algo más, algo real para saciar los ojos.

Y si pudiera elegir ver algo, ahora mismo, en este momento, sería esto: una española, vestida de Sevillana, bailando entre almendros y cerezos, sus giros y los movimientos de sus brazos causando el aire de llenar con las flores de las ramas, mientras el sol anochezca y el crepúsculo estrellado baja a mis espaldas, suave y silencioso, como una sábana de seda para tapar las heridas de este alma que encontré entre la sombra y la luz de España . . .

Proposals, Engagements and a Rae of Sunshine

I have been through an emotional meat-grinder recently. The vortex caused by my father’s death and by the failure of my legal attempts to regain contact with my kids (18IMG_3584 months now without seeing them) have completely swallowed one of the happiest moments of my adult life: I have got Rae (the little beauty pictured here) to agree to marry me.

One of my friends told me it was “essential you take her somewhere nice before you pop the question and get the ring out” but I knew that wasn’t necessary. As a writer, I can use words as a tool to make any location or occurrence feel special. Here is the poem I used to “soften” her up before I jammed the ring on her finger – jammed being the operative word, as the effing thing was too small!


I once did delve the shadowed depths

Beneath the ocean’s waves,

And saw its coral and its pearls,

All lit by light poured down from day.


And mountains have I wandered,

Explored both peak and cave,

And tasted chill, clear water,

From a frosted foothill’s glade.


And yet I find these worldly things,

Are worthless to me now,

For they were mere sketches,

I chose now to disavow,


To me your eyes hold lambent depths,

Free from the cold sea’s flow,

Your hips and hair hold shaded hides,

No mountain-side could grow.


For when two lovers choose to share,

and ask nothing in return,

Mere love may slip its moorings,

And mould one out of a pair,


And through your light and lifting love,

I find all I sought in me,

And in the vows we choose to swear,

We find we both are free.

Things I Miss About Dad

Dad and LoochTwo weeks ago, my Father died of cancer. The initial blaze of grief has now burnt itself out, leaving behind the cold, grey ashes of spent emotion, but I no longer feel quite so overwhelmed.

When a loved one dies, it initially feels like a huge, ragged hole has been ripped in the centre of Life. I now realise, though, that by talking about my Father, a definite silhouette is being shaped from the shadows – he is gone, but the legacy of who he was and what he did remains. It is small compensation for his loss, but a compensation nonetheless. Here are some of the things I miss most about him.

Children loved him

You can tell a lot about a person by the way children react to him or her, and children (for the most part) loved my Dad: his own children and grandchildren, his nieces and nephews; and those he taught in a scholastic career that lasted more than 25 years.

Why did children love him so much? The answer is simple: Dad possessed a fantastic imagination, and combined this with a child-like sense of fun and irresponsibility. Only six months ago, I had an angry phone call from my ex, in which she explained that my children were repeating an inappropriate limerick at school that began ‘My friend Billy had a 10-foot willy. . .’ the words of which had been carefully implanted in their minds during an afternoon being “looked after” by their grandfather.

It brought a smile to my face, as I had been taught the self-same rhyme as a child . . .

He taught me to revere the written word

I was not spoiled as a child . . . except when it came to books. Dad loved second-hand bookshops, and introduced me to the pleasures of nosing around amid dusty stacks early on in Life. When it came time to leave, I was often weighed down beneath a pile of books, but was never forced to leave any behind. As a result, I grew up with a deep-seated love of reading and the acquisition of knowledge.

His sense of Humour

Dad had a fantastic sense of humour – cheeky, irreverent, and rude – and he loved a wide range of comedy greats: Laurel and Hardy, Tony Hancock, Dads’ Army, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, Alan Partridge.

He was also a great lover of anecdotes, especially when they related to some minor mishap that had occurred to him or a friend. An example? Dad made a painted sign – FARNBOROUGH GALLERY – that was screwed to the woodwork outside my uncle’s picture framing shop. When a night of heavy wind struck, though, it whipped off the front half of the sign, leaving behind the words, ROUGH GALLERY.

He was kind, gentle and humble

Life teaches us lessons. Some of us learn from them and, in the process, develop wisdom and maturity; others ignore them, and merely grow old.

Dad belonged to the first group, and valued a simple, uncomplicated Life surrounded by family and friends, who in turn valued him for his kind, gentle nature.

He was also the most effortlessly talented person I have ever met – whatever he turned his hand to, he was good at, be it painting, drawing, cookery, DIY, motor repairs, sport or playing the guitar and piano – yet he was truly humble, and disliked any form of praise.

And so the grief begins . . .

DadMy father died on Tuesday. Through a constant whirlwind of creativity, I have kept ahead of the emotion, desperately laying lines of track in front of the steam train of grief that rumbled behind me.

But yesterday, the engine’s prong caught my heels and set me to stumble; the wheels were upon me in a moment, and I was crushed beneath their weight. I lie forgotten now upon the sleepers, a parched and broken thing, my lidless eyes fixed upon the glare of a dark and distant sun: my father is dead.

Emotion now leaks from me like water from a colander, leaving me feeling dirty and soiled. Grief is a carrion-feeder, and it has rolled me through its claws, spitting me out pecked, ripped and raw. The pain is physical: it slithers through hollows in my guts I did not ever know were there and grips at my heart, squeezing clumsy rhythms from its pulse; my body strains for release from a pain that is inescapable and coldly cruel: even the condemned man can at least draw comfort from the shadow of the noose and know that his suffering will end.

As a young man, I pictured growing old as a series of stages. It is not. We grow old through a process of accretion: age gathers against us like drifts of dead leaves blown against the foot of a fence: the baby disappears below the infant, the infant below the child, the child below the adolescent . . .

But the ashes of each iteration remain, withered to charcoal, but still capable of combustion. And when the winds of Life blow hard, they lift the leaves, expose the embers, and ignite the fires of everything we have already been. Who among us can truly claim, on occasions, not to crave the warm reassurance afforded the baby? Or to feel sometimes the fear of a lost child?

Grief has stripped me bare, leaving all of these different aspects exposed, each one uniquely painful. The baby within me wails incessantly, the child strains and reaches out for arms that are no longer there to lift, hold and comfort.

And so I find myself today suddenly yanked into a future I never thought I would have to face, reflecting upon time wasted, words left unsaid, and the fact my own children will likely one day face this horror, too . . .

Yecla, mi querida

El año 2017 fue difícil para mí emocionalmente y, a veces, pensaba que no podría más con los golpes.

Pero, hace unos seis meses – cuando el dolor fue inaguantable – algo curioso empezó a ocurrir: empecé a soñar casi cada noche con Yecla. Los sueños fueroiglesia_purisima_yecla_t3000780_jpg_1306973099n (y siguen siendo) como ningunos sueños que he tenido jamás.

En primer lugar, no contienen nada de imágenes confusas ni indistintas – los sueños son totalmente coherentes, hasta tal punto que, al despertar, parece que realmente hubiera estado allí momentos antes. Y tengo la cabeza llena de sensaciones casi reales: el sonido de las campanas por la mañana; el olor del pan fresco por las calles; el sabor del café bien hecho; y la sensación del viento en mi cara, ese viento caloroso que sopla a finales de septiembre en Yecla, cuando el calor del verano se ve vencido por el otoño y el anochecer llena el cielo con colores rosados y dorados.

Pero, sobre todo, sueño con la gran belleza del pueblo, la belleza que solo se refleja en los ojos de un extranjero, porque para él (o ella) hasta el edificio más dilapidado o rutinario es nuevo e interesante. Sobresalen en mis sueños las calles rectas del centro del pueblo, sus iglesias, sus montes, sus olivos y campos.

Me he preguntado por qué mi mente hace estos viajes nocturnos a Yecla tan a menudo. Creo que es una forma de escapar de los estreses de mi vida, porque el año que pasé en Yecla hace 18 años fue, sin duda, una de las épocas más felices de mi vida. Tenía 24 años, y estaba lleno de grandes emociones, esas emociones que uno se siente cuando tienes todas las libertades de un adulto, pero ningunas de las responsabilidades.

Conseguí la amistad de un grupo de personas excepcionales prácticamente al llegar, personas que me cuidaban y que tenían la paciencia de pasar tiempo conmigo cuando mi dominio sobre el Castellano consistía en “Cerveza” y “Soy de un pueblo cerca de Londres”. (También tenía la “ayuda” y “cuido” de los hermanos Ortín Ortíz, quien llenó mi libro de vocabulario con tonterías – gracias a ellos fui a una ferretería buscando una “boina para hacer café” y dije “Hola, tengo mocos grandes” a un camarero cuando lo que realmente quería fue suelto para tabaco).

Otra aventura: mandé una carta anónima de amor a una de mis alumnas adultas en la academia donde trabajaba (escrita con la ayuda de un amigo español para que las faltas de ortografía y la escritura no revelaran mi identidad, una decisión que tuvo consecuencias desastrosas cuando la novia de mi ayudante encontró la carta y pensó que tenía un amor secreto).

No sé porque nunca tuve el coraje de decirle a la alumna como sentí, pero cuando pienso en eso ahora, entiendo un sentimiento expresado por un poeta inglés: que las palabras más tristes en cualquier lengua son, “Pudiese haber sido”.

Este año ya ha traído cambios: mi padre se está muriendo, he pedido la mano a mi novia, y ya voy terminando mi sexta novela. Llevo cinco años sin salir de Inglaterra, y más de ocho sin visitar mi querida Yecla. ¿A lo mejor ha llegado el momento de hacer otro cambio, y coger un avión?