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Vernon Visits Spain for the first time

Vernon Visits Spain for the first time

Remembering Vernon- On the third birthday after his death, two years ago.

Two years have gone by since Vernon’s death and two – three years have passed since we left him with Joe Cocker’s band at the American bases in and around Orleans, in France.

During those years, sometimes there wasn’t any work with the band, and they had to look for work elsewhere. Vernon gets a variety of jobs and, finally, his then girlfriend, Pauline, manages to get him enrolled in a two-year Business Studies Course at Sheffield Polytechnic.

Vernon combines his studies with playing at Joe’s band. But Joe is also trying it solo. Successfully, it seems as some of his arrangements are beginning to be heard in London. Vernon realises that Joe’s band up North will soon come to an end. In July 1967, Vernon finishes his Business Studies and he and Pauline marry. The wedding party was celebrated playing with the band and then they had a little party. In September that year, they come to Spain on their honeymoon.

What comes next is how Vernon used to tell us about this first visit. I must say that I always argued with him that I had never experienced any such thing, and I was 10-11 at the time. In any case, if things in some parts of Spain were or had been the way he describes it here, Spain and its women have certainly changed a lot. I would’ve felt outraged, for one. But anyway, let’s proceed with his story.

The first thing I see in Spain

At school we studied “La Vida Española”, a textbook. It had a section on “El PaseoVernon's last birthday. 2018” with a photograph. In the village square, early evening, the young girls, all chaperoned, walk in an anti-clockwise circle. The young men form an outer circle and walk in a clockwise direction, eyeing up the girls. This is a form of disciplined courtship in a highly conservative society.

Riding through the main square of Irún, the first town past the French border, we saw with our own eyes this ritual taking place, exactly as described in my schoolbook. I was flabbergasted. This was 1967, we lived in the modern age, and here people were behaving as if they lived in the 19th century. This was the first of many surprises.

Problems with the “r”

We arrived at the hotel, went down to the bar and had a couple of “vinos” at seven pesetas a glass. I fancied aVernon's birthday cigar and asked for a “puro” but rolled the “r” far too long. The waiters started taking the mick.

“¿Qué??? ¿quieres un “puerro”, un “perro” o “un burro”? Only joking. I got my stogie in the end

Tapas and tigres

Vernon's 73rd Birthday with friends, Sue & JaneNext day we went to the centre on the bus and saw a man with a big hammer on his belt and other tools, maybe on his way to work. I asked him in my schoolboy Spanish if he knew a bar that did “tapas”.

“No problem. Come with me” as he beckoned us to follow. We ate and drank all afternoon. Then came the bill. Exorbitant. We didn’t know that in the Basque Country they charged for the tapas. Returning to the hotel we were violently sick and needed a siesta to recover.

Next day we went out in a boat to the small island and saw the lizards, climbed the Monte Igüeldo and saw the funfair and the magnificent view. Then back to the centre to the cathedral. The organist was playing Bach preludes and fugues.

After the visit to the cathedral, we went in a bar which said “Hay Tigres”. It was only years later I learnt that “tigres” were not only “tigers” but also “mussels, gratinés in breadcrumbs”. We explored every corner of the town and even went on a boat trip across the docks. Always on the move, everything so new, so much to see.

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And, for the time being, this is the end of the story. In his first visit to Spain, Vernon learnt the importance of the “r”, the fact that the same word -not just in English or French- may have different meanings (hopefully, Paloma’s students will connect the anecdote to the fact that teaching and learning a language is not just a question of linguistic but also of pragmatic and socio-linguistic competences 😊) and we’ll ponder on whether stereotypes may sometimes play tricks on our interpretation of the country we visit. I’ll leave it there or I could go on arguing… I thank you, Vernon, for the kids we’ve had and the life we’ve shared. In the distance or celebrating in the same place, family, friends, and students will raise a toast. And we’ll play some of your favourite music. Thinking of you. With all my love.

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