Word of the week: PANOPLY
Tennis 2 pm. Late. Lost child on Costamar beach. Why ask me? Tell them - watch out for bag snatchers
A bit peevish me, arrived ten minutes late. Big upliftt in social attitudes, not the first time I've seen Tony with his old time religion: Wants me in with his problem. No way, Tony baby!
In the early nineteen-eighties the building of Cristimar at the far outreaches of Los Cristianos was intended for resident occupiers attracted to the newly developing expansion projects on the arid desert south of the town. There were eighteen bloques of four floors each with lifts and parking spaces underneath. There was a bathing pool, a basket ball court and a tennis court in this delightful new complex. The tennis court was beautifully laid with a hard surface that miraculously shed rainwater. Securely fenced - one needed a key to enter, a key that had to be signed for at the Cristimar office. Here was our own court, sufficiently excluded from the town tennis courts and from the tourists who often waited in droves for a game, but here at Cristimar isolated enough to attract a few local people who preferred our quiet facilities. A few Brits lived here and it was the Brits and other local residents and their guests who used the Cristimar court. There was one local man living in the bloque overlooking the court who allowed his wife to play with us - but only if there were other female players in our bunch. Our only spectators were mostly resident children and our ubiquitous local dogs who came and sat around the boundary fence in the ongoing wilderness of rock, pale grey sand and cactus hoping for water. So we took water and plastic bowls and the dogs wagged and thanked us nicely but rarely stopped to watch play.
"Any one for tennis?" sounds like something from Noel Coward, it has a almost nationalistic ring to it and harks back to the days when the men wore long trousers and straw hats, the women in skirts and blouses on lawns fit for gardens but not for tennis and when everything stopped for tea, but we used that anachronistic call to summon our players. Lizzie advised me that the call came originally from Bernard Shaw in one of his plays, so here I stand corrected, for Shaw is almost as high as Shakespeare and poor old Coward is barely within reach. Yet, I could never get on with Shaw's Man and Superman, got lost in the verbiage and never finished it, yet I loved The Apple Cart and the notion of the USA applying for return to the British Commonwealth - but on their terms, naturally! But on our terms Tenerife could have been part of Britain as a naval base had Churchill invaded Santa Cruz during WW2. And I'm sure Maggie Thatcher would have claimed it as she claimed Las Malvinas in 1982.
"Any one for tennis?" would have had a firmer ring to it under the Lawn Tennis Association - but this was our tennis association, strictly for residents and their guests. Dolly played with us; a great net player yet she could stand up to Bob's service, the sureness of her shots clearly demonstrated that she was playing down to us. Joan hated being beaten by a woman yet Tony admired her.
It was a very busy two weeks, all our stock of apartments were occupied and we'd had three late arrivals who needed keys; now, thankfully, a break for a bit of tennis. Sorry for late, Joan had arrived already and now we were waiting for Tony and Bob the builder and possibly La Esposa our local lady. It's never been the same since Dolly left us, a great net player her drives from the shoulder magically converted into drop shots often defeated a longer-legged opponent. We called her "Dolly" but she didn't mind. She also organised the dogs and often joined the host of other dog-lovers who gathered on the Plaza in the cool of evening to give water on this bone dry island. In those early days of nineteen-eighties dog biscuits were difficult to get so she made lots of very dry toast mixed with fish paste or some of her chicken stock. Living alone - we were puzzled by the absence of a partner, though there were a few men callers. And there were children, Maeve had seen photos.
Then she disappeared. Other men appeared broke into her apartment and went away. Were they police? We never knew, and that was over a year ago, and we still worry about her. It was our husbandly suspicious resident who thereafter forbad his wife ever to play with us again. He informed us that we were bad company and he would inform the policia.
"About what?" we enquired, surely the terribly decent British as residents from Bloque D had the right to play tennis - on our own court! He spoke of drug trafficking and people who had been tortured and the car murder last year when they tried to dump the car in the sea with the bodies still in it. His wife had seen the men furtivamoverse ...behind the court and before that around the Banco de Bilbao with more strange people, the entrance to the bank blocked with cars.
"What's moverse?" I asked Joan.
"Erm - lurking about, I think. Our local guy doesn't like us very much."
From a distance we heard him on the second floor ranting at his wife. "If she leaves him we shall get the blame! Look out. He's bringing her." For a moment I steeled myself for a confrontation, but he came up and apologised very graciously. We heard tales of his brother - hermano, right?
"Right. Let's not interrupt the man."
" - who went to buy a finca and grow grapes. But was sent away by men with foreign voices... For it was a meeting place and bury their dead people there."
We understood the problem - mafioso, OK! So we shook hands and he left us. His wife, when formally introduced, was Maria, but we knew her as La Esposa which delighted her, for marriage was the greatest event in her young life, a step closer to heaven, and tennis with los ingleses marked a turn towards social advancement. She held a sort of sheepish pride because we welcomed her as a player though she had about as much English as I had Spanish and as much tennis as I had knitting, so most of her talk came via Joan and Joan suspected she was - shush! probably illiterate... She translates: "There has been much policia - erm, enquiries for the man who came here and much known to the English policia... My - Our policia have been waiting outside Mas a Menos in cars for... Mi marido knows that it must be for the tennis that people play here that he is here for."
All this was new stuff. Our innocent tennis was held up for scrutiny and we, quite unaware, played on. The suspicion of her concerned husband was now even more unclear. We never found out about Dolly, a regular player, one moment alive and ringing with enthusiasm about baking and childrens' parties on the beach and keeping the dogs off - for they, recognising her as a giver of goodies, sometimes invaded beach parties. So she decided not to do beach parties any more. The name Trotter could have been false but there was nothing of classic comedy in Dolly's situation. She disappeared well over a year ago leaving an echoing vacant space and gone almost in the same moment that her chatty voice died, cut off with a snip of the scissors.
"I mean, Dolly was so... domestic.."
"Well, like settled, and regular - no problems... Good net player. Who is this man Esposa is talking about?."
"Buggered if I know! Was it drugs, do you reckon?."
"Some of these dogs have collars. Every time I see dogs I think of Dolly. And I have never seen a man watching us play - only the gardener."
"And Barrie. Why doesn't Barrie play tennis?."
"He's not really interested. We've been running his Island Tour business ever since I came here to escape my first husband. I do Island Tours too, but I don't do the late night stuff. And I've often wondered about Maeve, she knows everything. She went to look at Dolly's place, dog bowls everywhere, but she had taken all her clothes. Did you do missing persons, Alan?"
"Only juveniles subject to care orders, not adults - unless the adults are subject to a guardianship order."
"A bit like social work I guess, lots of funny things going on around here."
"If you want real funny you should go back home! Social work is a bit like Hell - paved with paperwork and good intentions."
"She gets around - does poor old Maeve. Yet, Sir Jasper never liked her."
"So, how is Peter?"
"Eyesight still a problem. He reckons Sir Jasper got so upset about Maeve that he died of a heart attack."
"Talking of birds, the first time Lizzie and I heard a skylark was when we were living at our first home together at Aldborough Hatch. We thought it an excellent omen for our future. Never heard a skylark since."
"There are no good omens around here, Alan mate. It's two-thirty, we're booked till three, hardly worth hanging on for." Joan apologised to esposa who said it was no problema. "We will play on Sunday at the same time and perhaps she will join us? But we should wait on in case Tony and Bob arrive and find nobody here."
Bouncing balls off racquets with a clear lack of enthusiasm we broke the restless wait with one last reference to Dolly: "Do you reckon she was wanted by the police?"
"Or the mob!"
"Or an errant husband! What about yours?"
"I don't think he'll mind. He sees us through a glass darkly, no magic in his soul. I mean Dolly just disappeared - like a midsummer night's dream, like these silly Newbies sort of came and went. I reckon they were the old guys from Atlantis who came to Tenerife for a bit of peace and quiet. They chose to live without modern life. I mean they couldn't have gone much further back in time unless they went Neandertal. They see us through a gap in time, like people who see unicorns. I saw one when I was a kid."
"Joan, you don't believe all that mythological stuff."
"Are all social workers pompous! There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Alan! When I was a kid a unicorn came into the garden. I hid, but it came looking for me. I said 'Shoo!' but it just stood there."
"I do believe unicorns are attracted to virgins."
"I was one then! So I went and told my mum. She believed me, told me not to be scared."
"So, mythology runs in the family."
"That's why I'm going home. She's very old now. Dad died three years ago and my boys have been looking after her. She likes 'Star Wars'."
"God! We're losing you too!"
"I wanted to keep it quiet. But now I've decided."
"I take it Barrie is leaving too?"
"He hasn't decided. You know, there were unicorns before history was invented."
"More like a deer than a horse for they had cloven hooves and that's genuine kosher. That New Zealand guy Dennis had that great eagle that died out, what was it - Harpagornis Moorei! Lots of animals have disappeared leaving us with a tiny remainder of the exotic past. They reckon that ninety percent of animals formerly existing on this planet have turned into myths and legends. The unicorn, the roc and the Great Auk have all gone leaving us with folk memory and fairy tales."
"Oh dear! That puts my poor little unicorn a bit out of place. Let's ask Tony, he's a chemist."
"What the hell's a chemist got to do with it? Your unicorn was probably the very last unicorn in a hopeless search for a lady unicorn."
"It must be awful to realise you are the last one on earth! That's what these Newbies are doing, they are the last of the last! And why do we call them Newbies? It sounds too bloody Australian! Voyagers is a much better description. Human achievement will have levelled off in sport, in science, in economic values, in values of social care. Now they are dying out and trying desperately hard to keep the human race as a going concern. They've got nowhere else to go except leave home and find things to put right elsewhere. It's the calm before the storm of extinction, when children are no longer the fruit of the future, just a hopeless cry on the horizon when you look around saying - which way is forward? What would you do if there was no Lizzie?"
I lost out on that. Such an appalling thought never occurred to me: a desperate search through life's forests looking for a companion to love and hold fast, I was lucky to find a way through the mess of my early life.
I am familiar with the sight of welfare, of derelict old age, and don't want to get there on my own. Noting the destructive grind of earthly years I admire the cheerful courage of life seen through old eyes and an almost sentinel obligation to create a good impression on those who stop briefly to pass the time of day. And the luckless ones without companions who can't be reached and silently await death.
I fought an impulse to go home and reach for Lizzie. We had worked a busy two weeks with all apartments full and three late arrivals needing keys and we had passed through a period of emotional stillness not noticing each other. But now there is time and she is only a few thousand yards away on the other side of the pool with a pile of ironing and I really want to get to her, make some coffee, be helpful.
"So, these Newbie guys who've jumped the net are trying to save mankind and once they've made the jump they're stuck with it. No come-back. Poor old Bjorg with all his big titles tried a come-back, didn't work, poor sod! He'd lost championship tennis for ever. Loved Borg. He was the first guy to make a million from tennis."
The gate opened with a crash and Tony arrived. Yesterday his flight was delayed for three hours. Today he had to go back to the airport to sign for a reclaimed piece of luggage. Now huffed and puffed and bloody annoyed: "Hold up on the autopista. Two taxis crashed. I tell you, these people went straight from a donkey culture to a car culture with no intervening period of civilisation. They're just like bloody monkeys! When I first came here only half the buggers could read or write!"
Oh yes. He'd heard all this before, didn't hold with the notion that the illiterate old Guanches were visitors from a distant culture; they were generous-spirited and noble savages - yes, we all know that. He didn't hold with unicorns or Newbies: "That's Devil's work. There's no Parallel Universe in God's world. We can show parallels in chemistry but who is going to show me a parallel universe! Are we playing tennis or what?"
"Tony, we've got ten minutes left before the next lot."
"Helicopters! Worked my guts out trying to get here. Why did I bother! But there is something -"
Couldn't suppress a snort. This God-fearing man plumps his speech with strange expletives. "Tony, there isn't really time for a knock up. The next lot are hanging round the gate."
"Darn the kids! Kids should be banned!"
"Sorry Tony. They are entitled. They live here"
"Why aren't they in school, for pity's sake!"
"Sorry Tony, school holidays till September."
"Just like our kids. I tell you, there's no hope for the future when they're off school for three whole months. I won't have unsupervised kids in my pharmacy. That's why I have security people to stop them from stealing. There's no hope for the future when kids get three months holiday from school."
Joan, who has reservations about Tony, started moving toward the exit: "Tony, you need a few feathers. Hope is a thing with feathers."
"Dead right Joan. When I drive through Leytonstone I'm always overtaken by the crushing futility of existence, but I always find hope when I reach Wanstead. Our Harold was a magistrate you know. If he saw a unicorn he would have it impounded under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. Who are you quoting with feathers?"
It came out on her brisk step to the gate: "Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite poets."
I was left with Tony; a bad flight, a bad time with lost hand luggage. I mean, how can you lose hand luggage? And it must have been clear to him that Joan didn't like him very much. But what he speaks is very different from what he does. It is his wife who insists that he comes out to their apartment because he needs a holiday away from the job and away from the work he does with elderly and isolated people - in this I join him in one of my greatest fears. He has this hard prickly shell outside a softer centre. He's knocking on my door because I was in social work and a natural recipient for such confidences.
"Well, just look at these kids! Nobody in charge."
There were holes in the wire mesh where next door's basketball players had broken through to get a lost ball. Attempts had been made to repair the damage but kids being kids were adept at disrepairing it.
"Why don't they keep the ball down, for Christ's sake!"
"It's the net shots, Tony. They practice net shots, that means up in the air."
"OK, I'm not an idiot! Why don't they have a coach? It's lack of social control, Alan. Declining standards! I blame the parents. Godless parents breed Godless children. Nowadays it's all easy come, easy go."
Any moment now the social-worker tag is coming up again, so I just look pleasant and think of England: "OK, Tony. Well you're right about the parents. When I was a kid parenthood was a tightly managed affair and social experiences were limited in scope and kept in line with community levels of expectation and if I misbehaved I was punished, OK! We're like all other animals, Tony, cubs, kittens or kids, we just copy our parents - right! And if parents adopt a looser attitude between themselves then the kids will do the same."
"Alan, you should know it's not that simple! I mean, you see twelve-year-old girls showing themselves off in public. I'm not surprised Asian guys think English girls are easy meat! When you were a social worker you must have met - "
"Turn it off, Tony! I'm taking the key back." "Ven conmigo" with a nod to the senior child.
"Why is she following us?"
"Because I asked her to. She has to draw the key from the office. Call it community discipline. See you Sunday, two pm."
"Does that mean we're actually going to play tennis ...on Sunday?"
"Just with balls - no bible-reading. Don't knock it, Tony! Kids are quite well-behaved at Cristimar."
"Kids need more control, not less. I was in the scouts. We used to have Bible class after Sunday parade. Teachers should be encouraged to use adequate forms of punishment. Most devilment starts as mischief."
I have long felt that punishment for offences should be summary and swift, not drawn out for weeks to appear eventually before a magistrate in the juvenile court when the silly kid has probably forgotten about the offence. I don't want to agree with Tony, yet I do. He is a marshal for God's punishment whereas I am a mere follower, taking the cue from my father whose whacks with his open hand showed me the right way to go and only once in the headmaster's room for six of the best - K.D. Roberts, I'll remember him till I die! This raises a query: Tony is religious, in the few years I have known him very little religion has come forward. Now he is keyed up in an attitude of supplication, a big bother on his mind.
"What's up, Tony?"
"Unless it's raining, see you Sunday."
Half expecting the fossil of piety to forbid Sunday there must be something very big on his mind: "No, come on Tony. What's biting you?"
"Oh, well, it's social work stuff and I'd like t talk about it but I don't really want to bother you. It's this woman, she's one of us, went into a bad place in Playa knowing it was against the Lord's will and met two men who offered to help... I did warn her. These two women had nowhere to stay and once they were in her apartment she couldn't get rid of them, so these two men got them out, then they wanted a hundred and twenty quid for doing it."
"Sounds familiar! Interesting to know Ted Bear and Fred Bear are back with us, and it sounds like the same two females."
"You know these women?"
"Mind you, to be fair, time-share touts do just the same, you can get as many as ten of them in a one bed-roomed apartment. But I know of these two, they're part of the hippie commune who live in the caves behind Cristimar. The police do a hunt occasionally and drive them out of their hidey holes. I always warn my people."
"Alan, I advised her not to pay, for it's sinful work from a sinful place and when I see them I shall tell them they are bloody sinners. We are shapen in iniquity, Alan, and we are all sinful but we must try to save the ungodly so I must speak."
"For Christ's sake, why are they sinners? They do useful work in the community."
"Their useful work is work for drink and drugs and inspired by the Devil and they probably keep girls for sex. They must be driven from the pit of evil."
I won't mention the most obvious feature, that they are homosexual and probably have no dealings with prostitution. It's some years since Fred and Ted entered my mind. It's almost comforting to know they are still around. Two weeks ago Bob the Builder entertained the Belgian Bar with an awesome tale: Fred doesn't mince and he doesn't carry a handbag, has no female gestures, yet there is something in his attendance that marks him as the female half of a couple. The taunts of some local kids caused Fred to raise a finger and say "You're a bad boy," before head-butting the lad. Bob escaped before the police arrived, but the word was that Ted saw off the rest of the group.
"Take my advice, Tony. Pay up and shut up. Don't argue with those blokes, you'd have more fun arguing with a Rottweiler!"
"Alan, could you advise her? Social workers are adept at moving amongst the community."
Just as I thought - Alan, you're a social worker, you can handle it sort of thing - all hopeful expectations for a social-work miracle leaving the active participants as bystanders. At this point I put the shutters up.
"Look, Tony, I'm not about to get my hand bitten off. Just put the money in an envelope and hand it over. Pray to God but keep rowing!"
"Old Russian proverb! And I'm sure they are not into prostitution."
"We know there are quite a number of people come here for sex. Sex drives the world. There's a club for it here. I'm sure you and Lizzie didn't come here for that. I mean of course sex with different partners."
"What does Maggie think?"
"Good God, no! We love each other in the Lord."
"See you Sunday, two pm."
I don't think he's the sort of person who delights in other people's confidences to be held up for the God-fearing flock to see as examples of mankind's evil. I can only hope that common sense strikes a chord in his search for the true path... But hang about! Tony arrived only yesterday. How come he's got all this stuff already about one of his flock with Ted and Fred as instruments of the Devil? There must be a religious grape vine, through Maggie perhaps; Maggie who is quite a sweetie and comfortably matronly, a friend of my Lizzie who is quite as sweet and not at all matronly.
I caught Lizzie thumping the ironing board, grabbed it and put it away. "Anything new, my Petal?"
"Watch it! This iron is still hot. Jenny Waite is coming 9th September - she's back with Clive!"
"Terrific! On my birthday! What happened to the new boyfriend?"
"We'll find out later. I've got news about Joan."
"Yes, she told me. Going home."
"We're dining out tonight. Harold and Claudia and two people from his fishing club."
"So, it's fish tonight and tight lines! By the way, Tony's on the warpath. Only arrived yesterday and there's one of his worshippers in trouble already with Ted and Fred!"
"Oh, goodie! I'll ask them for tea!"
"You mean Ted and Fred - or Tony and Maggie?"
"God's message goes by internet these days, my Prince! And I hate to tell you, but Claudia is also talking about going home for a break. She believes that what they are doing now has already been foretold and the page has to be turned. But she's promised to give us a little book about computers."
"Cruel Fate! The entire crew is deserting! You know, if I'd known today's tennis had been foretold, I wouldn't have bothered!"
"Shouldn't we be thinking about going on holiday, my good man?"
"Are we going for sex?"
"What on earth do you mean?"
"Maybe I'll talk about tennis after dinner... Tell me, Petal, am I pompous?"
"Just because you sound pompous it doesn't mean that you're not!"
I know the smile: "Well, thanks! For that you can pose naked on the veranda for two days while I do artistic things, then for a holiday you can book us into a tatty boarding house in Southend on Sea for two whole weeks with set meals, mice on the stairs, and pray it doesn't rain!"
"Never had sex in a tatty boarding house. Let's hope the beds don't squeak. Oh, and by the way, Maggie arrived here three days ago. They never fly together."
"Of course! And let us mind our manners next time." We were sitting politely at the small table when there was a brief commotion from the kitchen and Lizzie's voice came floating out: "Oh, fuck!" I can only hope that our loose language did not confirm their opinion of our carnal natures.
Lizzie giggled. "If they really knew about us they'd be terribly disappointed!"
Without delving deep into social theory one can declare that people see only what they want to see: remembering little Bernard of Southend who was convinced we were up to some funny stuff because we weren't old enough for proper retirees and must be undeclared bankrupts escaping from the law; and the mobile home people whom we disliked intensely who thought we were holiday people trying to do a dirty deal renting them an apartment. Often it goes with a funny look, a certain bewareness that we don't look right somehow - somehow we don't fit their assumptions of what Brits living abroad should look like.
We talk of love in jokey terms. We hug and hold and touch. We have evolved from the combative to the compatible, hoping that neither of us is going to make the same mistakes that crashed our former relationships. Having brought the monster SEX down to size many of my physical contacts include the companionable and the complimentary. When I think of the sheer wastage that drove me in my youth, the bitter self-hatred of sexual dependency that wouldn't leave me in peace, yet knowing that somewhere in the cosmos there must be better stuff than these short-lasting fixes. How my first wife put up with me I can't imagine.
And now we are together by day and by night and I look at Lizzie and tell myself: I don't deserve this lady.
I'll do a quick sketch while she is getting dressed for dinner.