Yes. The mop and bucket brigade are cutting down. We have, by a mixture of self interest and good nature - but mostly self interest - taken on more than we can chew. People phone us: "Look, you don't know me, but I'm a friend of the Clarkes' and I have this new apartment in Atlantica. They said you were OK and I wondered if you could take us on board. We've got a few friends who would like to stay in our apartment. Would you be willing..."
Where does 'enlightened self interest' come to an end? Do we expand, join the British Club, employ labour and get into the system? Or do we stop short of pressing business, enjoy more freedom, more leisure to deploy? Having worked for many years in the comparative silence of British local government, I really don't want to get into the Codigo Civil of Spain, traditionally accompanied by a thunderous pounding of rubber stamps, as papers get pushed around, an unrelenting barrage stultifying as shell shock. You find yourself behaving stupidly, half deaf, asking for repeated information - quot;No entiendo, 'migo". You get a look normally reserved for stupidos including los ingleses, which is exactly the same as British officialdom apply to their immigrants. No, these stupid British will stay out of the system, thank you very much. We are now in the same boat as our immigrants who choose to do the same in over-occupied Britain; keep your head down and stay quiet. So for us the alternative is clear. We cut down "Very sorry, old chap. We really can't take on any more. But we can put you onto some very nice people who have vacancies..."
We came here unburdened by ambition other than a pushingly persistent pleasure principle. No more rat race. We shall indulge intellectual pursuits, simple pleasures, music and books and each other, the sweetness of wit, the flight of birds and just a few good friends. But such things are not the way forward. To improve we must be registered, rubber stamped and work to minimum standards. It is progress. We should have seen it coming. We're getting into a right old mess if we're not careful. Why should we join the Owners' Association with its chairman known scathingly as 'the Banker from Bermondsey' and become enrolled in their management team? For we are not team people. We scrape along by standing in for friends in the same business when they go on holiday.
"What do you reckon, petal? Is pushingly persistent an oxymoron?"
"Yes it is. Work is becoming a four letter word. I'm glad you have seen it, my darling. Now we can go home for holidays, spend more time with the kids."
Two apartments are cut down for us; Anton and Maria decided to return to the mainland and D2/1 was put up for sale. So we beckoned to Derek and Emma Dellow who wanted to leave Paloma Beach for a larger apartment But the Dellows are now gone and we are not rushing forward to take it back, so maybe D2/1 will fade from our purview.
And one of our apartments in Los Angeles was removed from us by the owner who was quite certain we had installed someone in her apartment at Christmas and not informed her. We should have known. She was of a strangeness that suggested instability. We phoned her husband who didn't want to know, having washed his hands of the poor lady. Locally she was known as Batty Betty. To be fair, she kept her grievance to herself, our names were not broadcast far and wide as unscrupulous villains, but we were happy to say goodbye.
That brought us down to eight. But even eight apartments are too heavy a load when they are all occupied at once. And four in the morning is a bad time to be cleaning a bathroom and expecting visitors arriving on a dawn flight, while Lizzie is in Los Angeles 204 hoping the towels are dry enough to hang up for our people mercifully arriving later. Thank God some of them have keys supplied by their owners, but self-generated lets get their keys when they arrive. It doesn't often happen, but a whole night without sleep does not promote harmony in the house.
Six would be an ideal number. Ted and Lynn Forman returned home and we took on one of their apartments in Eucaliptus. They sold us their car, a Seat Ronda, only slightly old, they had it from new. "Enough is enough. We've got grandchildren. The Pearsons have asked us to ask you if you will take on their place, and the Pearsons are lovely people."
We have met them, Pat and Pat. Yes. We took them on board without stint.
"Hang on a minute! We're supposed to be cutting down!"
Pause for thought - "Well, yes, but they are the Pearsons. We know them."
"I think you rather fancy Pat, sweet prince!"
"Well, she's a damn sight prettier than Pat! Now we're back to nine!"
Six is our agreed number. We will keep Patrick and Patricia Pearson, but we must lose another reserved one to keep the weight down, for I really don't like the idea of Lizzie traipsing around the streets late at night. OK, it doesn't happen often but I worry myself sick when it does. We were going to keep our two Cristimar apartments on the other side of the pool and the occasional lets of the Dellows' D2/1, until our good friends Tom and Stephen Hamilton bought it as a permanent home. Three-bedroomed apartments are scarce. Big families are quite delighted and often book ahead for next year. But then, we don't get very many big families, so perhaps we should let one go. Maybe Anne and Keith will take one of our big ones. If they agree we'll be back to eight.
OK, so assume we're back to eight. What next, clever dick? Next, Parque Margarita 609. There is much difficulty with this complex. The owner of the land was not fully paid and is now claiming some properties standing on that land. The owner of 609 is sticking it out for a favourable outcome. A local abogado is handling the legal side. Derek and Brenda Way are looking for business, maybe they will take it on, leaving us with seven. But what about D4/2? Rarely do we get to let the Bee-Bees, for rarely do they return to their homeland and mostly they let to their relatives. Out of niceness, should we keep our tally to six and a half? Dammit D4/2 is only across the hallway! OK. We settle for six and a half. Berenca will be pleased. Bernardo has increasing fits of depression, an occasional booking will be a bonus while he visits relatives on the Peninsula.
We want to keep Bernard's place in Los Angeles. Cheerful little Bernard, we could never let him go. "That two hundred pounds under the door! My God! That's a lot of money! We had nothing left in the kitty! No, we keep Bernard."
We saw Bernard only rarely; the first time when he tossed his keys to us, and other infrequent occasions when he appeared with different lady friends, and then, before we got our long dormant telephone up and running, a message from Mas a Menos told us he would ring back in twenty minutes. Spot on, I picked up the Mas a Menos phone: "Where are you speaking from, Bern?"
"Sarfend. It's me epicentre, like. Charlie, he's one of my blokes. He's at 204 for a week. Do me a favour, Alan mate. Slip him a couple of hundred. I'll send you a cheque. Anuver fing. Don't let him see you do it. In an envelope under the door late at night. OK?"
It took much scraping around to produce enough readies for the peseta value of two hundred pounds. We had our diorama to pay, but it could wait. At that time we were too anxious to acquire new business to worry about rates, we would be like the rest - late payers.
As for Bernard: "He's a little sweetie,in the clothing business down Southend way, gives his people holidays, his form of bonus, I guess," this from Joyce Stedman who ran apartments at Parque Santiago and played tennis with our group. "He never lets to rubbish."
Bill Stedman wasn't so sure. "If he doesn't want this Charlie geezer to see you, what does it mean? It could mean that he's the sort of prat who'll be round for more when he's spent the money you fixed him with."
As it happened there were no problems with Charlie. I didn't see him. He didn't see me. Next time Bernard came out he brought a rug for our smallest bedroom that served as the office. He wouldn't let us pay for it. "You did me a favour, right!"
No, we must keep Bernard. So we'll stick at six and a half.
The owners of D4/3 appeared on the scene almost three years after our arrival. Our first contact came with a knock on our door and a polite request to use our newly connected telephone. Tomaso with an invalid wife would have benefited from a ground floor apartment, but D4/3 was the only one available with its doleful view over dusty wasteland soon to be covered by builders and the noise of diggers, drills and hammers. They had no English so their visits were accompanied either by Bernardo or Berenca. We sensed some resentment that the English had taken the best view leaving them with dust and rubbish. "I am not certain if these people are worthy of friendship," advised Bernardo. "They are saying of things that - or which - are dergro - " He shrugged. "Descarnio! no? I lose this word, dammit!"
"'Derogatory', Berni dear."
"Thank you, Lizzie. They want some persons to manage D4/3 when they are at home. They are from Seville. Do I mention the names of Manns?"
"Please do not mention the names of Manns."
The people below us - with the children - also had a telephone but were not willing to share their bounty with others, so the name of Mann held a certain prominence in Bloque D and in Bloque E, particularly for one rather attractive lady who was known to 'entertain' gentlemen visitors and who always delicately closed the kitchen door so she would not be overheard. A blessing and an encumbrance. Some local people were not willing to pay, expecting the telephone of the wealthy British to be free to all comers. For us it was very handy for putting ourselves about, checking on flights and warning other holiday managers about that squalid bunch thrown out of Basi's apartment in Los Angeles. And once at six in the morning a thunderous knock preceded an errand of mercy to the mainland. The poor man forgot to pay, but Lizzie received a huge bunch of flowers for finding the numbers.
So this modest five door Seat Ronda became ours. We entertained Ted and Lynn to dinner, simple spinach flans with egg sauce followed by gammon and tiny new potatoes, then jam roly-poly and English custard, and proper coffee. Then we looked at photos of their two grandchildren and I noted a certain pensive look on my sweet Lizzie's face and resolved to speak with her later. There was a tearing sense of loss, almost envy. I could feel it. Then we drove our friends to the airport in our newly acquired car and bid them farewell.
So, with our telephone and modest Seat Ronda we were equipped to expand our business.
"But we don't want to, do we my darling?"
"No, my petal, we do not."
Apart from shedding owners, there are a few customers we would like to lose: the Indian family, for example, with their uncontrollable daughter.
Mrs T., the lady we unkindly dubbed Mrs Mouthpiece, who clutched at people who tried to escape her incessant mouth. I was occasionally gripped but hadn't the slightest idea of what she was talking about. Being nice one could say it was like a bubbling stream - but that would lend false enchantment to her charmless chatter. She came out with her rather beautiful daughter who was so unlike her mother that we assumed she carried her absent father's genes, and possibly his forbearance.
Or the very superior retired army officer whose disgust at the mindless majority could have got him into serious trouble with British kids and heedless parents who received the benefit of his opinions. Lizzie and I were included in his mindless majority, or would have been, had I not stepped on him quietly but firmly. Unlike our superior mobile home people, who sailed away never to return, our retired officer returned to us for three years on the trot. On his final stint he saw black refugees herded together on the beach and surrounded by police. In 1990 it was becoming a normal occurrence. Our retired major marched up to the police, walking stick under his arm, and told them what he thought about it.
His wife Betty was bigger and stronger than he, mainly silent and subservient, a sort of female batman. "No thank you. Betty will do it," was his normal reply to offers of help. She took him away from the police who were threatening to arrest him. He spoke of rivers foaming with much blood. "Dennis had black soldiers in his brigade," his wife said quietly. "They were never any trouble."
"May, June and November are often slack periods. We should use them constructively," says my Lizzie, with her mind on home visits, adoring Amber Rose her granddaughter, shopping on Wanstead High Road, meeting neighbours who want to know, walking in the rain, and water you can drink straight from the tap.
I use November to do Christmas cards. Our yellow card book is hauled out, the list consulted, cards written mainly to customers and put by for Christmas mailing. We do something like eighty-odd cards hand written and about twenty news letters typed and photocopied mainly to relatives and close friends. It is using the slack period constructively - when I can force myself to be constructive.
January we received a return letter from Betty. Dennis had died in November from a malignant tumour on the brain. We imagine she must have taken care of him for years as his condition worsened.
But only a few to lose. Our customers are nice people but, like customers in a shop, mainly faceless. Lizzie who worked as a teenager at Jones Brothers - part of the John Lewis Partnership - remembers that faceless scenario. "Remember your customers," her supervisor told her, "and they'll be back, they know when you take an interest in them."
But sometimes it's terribly difficult. Why don't they all go home, I sometimes ask myself? Steadfastly I shall refuse to take on any more business.