ROBIN HELLABY was born on 1 July 1953 in Lincolnshire, England; he traces his ancestry to Jersey and Ireland. He was educated at Nottingham High School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read Oriental Studies (specialising in Persian and Ottoman Turkish). On graduation, he went to Iran to work for the then Ministry of the Imperial Court as an English teacher at a new university on the edge of the Great Salt Desert. He was evacuated by the Italian Air Force during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. He then taught English in Istanbul and Cambridge, and authored various English teaching materials and readers.
In 1985, he joined the BBC’s Monitoring Service at Caversham, Berkshire, where he was mainly responsible for conveying news of the sometimes tumultuous happenings in East Germany to the outside world. In the 1990s, he set up his own language services business in Germany, which he eventually sold with a staff of 25 operating in five countries. At this point, he opted for a quieter life as a freelance translator. He was one of the first members of this profession to exploit the possibilities of electronic communication, enabling him to circumnavigate the globe eight times in eight years while supplying his clients with translations of everything from Noël Coward’s will to the European Lipstick Regulations. His travels eventually took him to a remote corner of South-East Asia where he met his soulmate. The couple now lead a tranquil life in a quaint village where they write, paint, make furniture and grow pineapples.
The Last Fandango is Robin Hellaby’s first published work. He is currently working on a sequel to The Last Fandango.
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Marco, 20, destined for Flamenco stardom; a tragic crime renders him paralysed - will he dance again? Spain, Morocco, Scotland, Monaco weave the threads of manipulation, secrecy, passion and hope.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/loqEM 451 views
|Literary Fiction Romantic adventure|
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Chaos sweeps through Peter’s quiet, orderly world from the minute he meets Marco - an outrageous, arrogant, divinely talented dancer, less than half his age. Aided and abetted by a quirky cast of colourful characters, their lives become irrevocably entwined with each other’s.
Against all the odds, Peter and Marco manage to build their own idyllic world, their adventures taking them from a mountaintop village in North Africa, to the flamenco taverns of Granada. Marco is prepared to use every trick in the book to manipulate his tyrannical parents and escape their domination.
Marco’s dancing career flourishes, and he looks destined for greatness, but bigotry and madness conspire to provoke a vicious crime that threatens to shatter their hard-won happiness.
The Last Fandango:
Publication history and critical response
The Last Fandango is a tale of romance, adventure, obsession and intrigue; the pace accelerates as the relationship between Peter and Marco triggers unimaginable consequences and complications. The locales – southern Spain, North Africa, Glasgow and Monte-Carlo – are not merely backdrops; they shape the plot and participate in it. Strong secondary characters add interest and different perspectives on the action, often mirroring the central relationship in their own lives.
The book is mainly intended as a good read, but it also raises and explores some questions that will strike a chord with readers of any age or gender: is there any hope of success for a relationship that starts out with obsessive infatuation? How can a relationship survive and flourish without physical consummation? When does the price of a relationship become too high to pay?
Ultimately, though, this is an optimistic tale in which love proves to be the strongest force of all.
A first version of The Last Fandango was released as a Kindle e-book for a few weeks at the end of 2016. On 1st January 2017 it reached position 7 in the bestsellers ranking for its category (amazon.co.uk). Ten five-star reviews (and no others) were posted before it was withdrawn for final editing (the text was reduced from 190,000 to 123,000 words). A small print run in the author’s home town also sold out within weeks.
Excerpts from verified reviews on amazon.com (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N40I8Y0) and amazon.co.uk (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N40I8Y0):
A gorgeous epic! I can honestly say I have never been more pleasantly surprised by a story. This is a beautiful journey filled with colorful characters and most unlikely lovers … one can't help but be fully drawn into this amazing world created by the author … It almost felt like I was traveling to these amazing locales along with the main characters.
My goodness what a read! I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages, I couldn't put it down; nothing got done till I finished it and then I was sorry I didn't read it more slowly. It is well written with a pace that keeps up right to the end. There's laughter, sadness, sex and violence and everything in between to keep you turning just one more page and, before you know it, another chapter.
Warning - do not read this book on a train where your shouts of laughter, or your tears, will disturb other passengers. The pace never slackens. This is a love story in which you will learn some of the finer points about funerals in Glasgow, Opening Nights on the Costa del Sol, spooning, how to achieve a quiet wedding in (Africa), and what Norwegians think about rice pudding.
A joy to read, beautifully written, engaging characters and great sense of place. Humour and pathos in equal measure. Highly recommended!
Superb! An enchanting, fulfilling, humorous, literate, cultural travelogue and love story. I wept
THE LAST FANDANGO – SYNOPSIS
- A Story of the triumph of love -
This tale of romance and intrigue unfolds against a tapestry of destinations as diverse as North Africa, Glasgow and Southern Spain.
In the Prologue (2009), Peter is awakened by a recurring dream in which his partner, Marco can dance again. Unable to sleep, he relives the events leading up to the tragic reality which conspired to destroy his dreams and render Marco paralysed.
The story flashes back to 1999 when Peter recalls his visit to The Village in North Africa, to stay with his old and eccentric friend Trelawney Towers. He plunges straight into the gossipy world of The Village’s eccentric expatriate population who include an elderly but imperious ‘Headman’ Greta; a mystery man Purvis; The local café owner, June; Marco’s best friend Beth and other colour characters who make up the inhabitants.
The latest rumour is causing panic, as a campaign started by Marco’s ex-naval father, Commander Blaine, and other more conventional inhabitants of the Village, threatening to ban bachelors and other ‘undesirables’ of is supported by the local Government.
Peter recalls his first chance meeting with Marco in Trelawney’s garden. Smitten by this striking young man, and fascinated by his arrogance and charisma, Peter is instantly infatuated.
During an extravagant party at Trelawney’s house, Marco borrows Peter’s bedroom to conduct a tryst with Zeki, a local man closer to his own age. Peter discovers that the drive to ban single men escalates, and is forced to return to Spain.
The Interlude returns us to the present day (2009) and in that ten year gap there have been many changes to Peter’s modest villa, Casa Morena, which has now been transformed, with help from Beth, into a thriving resort ‘reserved for the most discriminating of guests’.
Wheelchair bound Marco opens the morning post and excitedly flourishes a scarlet envelope containing a heavily embossed card – an invitation to join the celebrations of Greta’s 100th birthday in The Village. Although it has been ten years since they were last there, Marco insists that they accept the invitation and the three of them make plans to return.
Part II …
…picks up, back in 1999, with Peter’s sad homecoming to Casa Morena where he finds a letter awaiting him. Alex, his long-time friend, is suffering with terminal cancer and invites himself to pay a visit to Peter before the inevitable end. During his vacation Alex has a long and meaningful conversation with Peter, urging him not to make the same mistakes he has made, and open his heart to love.
Encouraged by Alex, Peter installs a computer into Casa Morena, and his relationship with Marco develops over the internet.
As his confidence with technology improves, Peter researches Marco’s family and discovers the vast wealth which the young man stands to inherit.
Just before Christmas Peter receives an email from one of Alex’s ‘buddies’ informing him of Alex’s death at his mother’s house in Glasgow. The funeral is arranged for the New Year and Peter tells Marco that he will be attending. Marco makes arrangements to join him in Glasgow.
During their stay Marco announces his intention to spend his gap year in Spain, attending the Academia Andaluz Artes de Flamenco, whilst deceiving his parents into believing that he is accepted on an educational project in Almeria. After some deliberation Peter agrees to the deception.
Visiting exiled Trelawney in London, Peter learns that Purvis and Greta have been hard at work reversing their ban from the Village and Trelawney has purchased a forty-year-old Rolls Royce Silver Cloud in which he and Purvis intend to drive across Europe back to North Africa.
Returning to Spain, Peter makes arrangements to update his villa and visits his neighbour, Don Victorio, an archaeologist working on the nearby castle excavations. A deal is struck between the two of them whereby Victorio will maintain the sham of Marco as a volunteer archaeologist, in return for a generous donation from the Blaines, while Marco follows his dream of Flamenco in Granada.
The Rolls breaks down in Barcelona and is towed the rest of the way to Casa Morena where it is abandoned by Trelawney and Purvis who continue their journey by plane.
After a false start, when Marco’s parents make last minute arrangements to travel with him to meet Don Victorio, he joins Peter in Spain. As soon as the Blaines leave, Marco and Peter set up home in Granada where quickly makes a name for himself as a rising star of the Flamenco world.
Attending a performance of La Furiosa, Marco is invited on stage to dance with her and, with a standing ovation from the audience of thousands, his stardom is secured.
Finally, Marco feels ready to commit to his relationship with Peter, but as they are about to consummate their love, an unwelcome telephone call informs Marco of a serious accident which has hospitalised his father, Commander Blain, and he is summoned back to The Village.
Part III (2000)
Peter follows Marco back to The Village, determined to cement their ties, discovers that the accident was little more than a ploy to lure Marco back under his parents’ control and the Commander is already back at home.
Furious and frustrated by his father’s trick, Marco again borrows Peter’s bedroom in Trelawney’s house for an hour’s fun with Zeki. The Commander, spurred on by the gossiping of the local snoop, and informed of his son’s pending indiscretion, bursts into the bedroom indiscriminately spraying the room with bullets. Marco is badly wounding his young lover is killed.
In a coma, Marco is helicoptered out to a local hospital where he lies critically ill for several weeks. Finally, he regains consciousness and is air lifted to Monte-Carlo where a top surgeon proceeds to operate several times with little success.
Commander Blaine is incarcerated in jail and takes his own life with pills provided by his visitor, Purvis. The family fortune passes to Marco.
Peter pledges to care for Marco for the rest of his life and makes the decision to return to Casa Morena with Beth where they set up their domestic household.
Two years later, Trelawney visits them and suggests they use the inherited wealth to turn the villa into a resort, which they do with resounding success.
The Epilogue (2009) - Awakened from the sleep into which Peter had fallen whilst reminiscing, Marco cajoles him into making plans to drive to North Africa and attend the 100th birthday celebrations of Greta, Headman of the Village.
Arriving at the Village they make a symbolic visit to the churchyard and then join the festivities at The Olive Branch. Greta makes a speech which ends with her handing over the guardianship of the Village to Trelawney and they all proceed to the churchyard once more to witness the ringing out of the bells. Hot punch is handed out in the chilly evening and as the last bells ring a waiter stumbles, spilling a jug of the liquid on to Marco’s lap.
Marco’s startled exclamation, reveals that he can once more feel his legs, encouraging him and Peter to dare think that one day their dreams may still come true - and the church bells ring out for the 100th time.
Although this story is about the love of two men, it is essentially a love story and is not a conventional 'gay' novel. Although it naturally appeals to to gay men, it has also had a very good reception from many women of varying ages; even some straight younger guys who have read it have given it the thumbs up, so it cuts across many markets.
Website published and now updated www.thelastfandango.com Facebook already established in both names of Robin Hellaby and The Last Fandango. Twitter established in the name of Robin Hellaby and tweets already sent out publicising an upcoming radio interview due to go out on Wednesday 15th November 1900-20000 and repeated on Saturday 18th November 2000-2100 on TRE (Talk Radio Europe). Gibraltar event also being organised along with selected personal appearances and book signing.
My agent is busy compiling a list of UK & European literary festivals for 2018 and the intention is to have a launch in Southern Spain.
My agent is also in discussion with Jack Maple Productions and the book is currently being adapted for the stage as well as an independent film maker with a view to adapting the story for film or TV.
This was James Baldwin’s second novel, and probably one of his most well-known pieces of works. Giovanni’s Room tells the story of a man who moves to Paris and his relationship with another man named Giovanni. This book is so important because it was one of the first to really show the complicated ways in which gay men had to manage their identity, self and place in a world that didn’t want them do exist. This story takes place in Paris, but one doesn’t have to have been to Paris to feel a connection to Giovanni, his bedroom, and all that happens to the protagonist, David.
The fact that A Separate Peace continually gets taught in high school English courses baffles in the best possible way, as Knowles’ best-known work is one of the most homoerotic bildungsromans ever written.
A Separate Peace
is an almost-love story between Gene and Finny, two students at Devon Academy who are torn between friendship and rivalry. Like
Catcher in the Rye and the later Perks of Being a Wallflower
, the novel perfectly captures the complicated longings of adulthood, when you’re beginning to feel things you don’t understand yet.
Oscar Wilde is one of the quintessential gay authors in history. His flamboyant lifestyle and tragic death have made him iconic beyond the impressive canon of work he created.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
is a story that makes one wonder: What would you do to be beautiful forever? Vanity and beauty are two things that many gay men struggle with their entire lives due to living in a gay culture in which how good one looks supersedes most other aspects in regards to social capital and success. This book attracts gay readers all over the world because Dorian, who is not gay, is dealing with an issue that eclipses many gay lives.
4. Imre by Edward Prime-Stevenson (2003)
Imre is one of the first openly gay American novels with a happy ending. Described by the author as "a little psychological romance," the narrative follows two men who meet by chance in a café in Budapest, where they forge a friendship that leads to a series of mutual revelations and gradual disclosures. With its sympathetic characterizations of homosexual men, Imre's 1906 publication marked a turning point in English literature
4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier published in 1938 by Victor Gollancz.
Story of a young woman who marries a fascinating widower only to find out that she must live in the shadow of his former wife, Rebecca, who died mysteriously several years earlier. The young wife must come to grips with the terrible secret of her handsome, cold husband, Max De Winter. She must also deal with the jealous, obsessed Mrs. Danver, the housekeeper, who will not accept her as the mistress of the house.
Similarities - fight for the love of somebody, mystery and illness and hurdles to overcome. Difference in age of the two main characters. Both have slightly ambiguous endings.
Differences - Fandango is about two men in a relationship rather than a man and woman. Set in Africa, Spain, Scotland rather than only the UK. Style of writing quite different. Period different.
5. Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt and screenplay by John Lee Hancock, published in 1994 by Random House
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is atmospherically set in and around the city of Savannah, Georgia.
The story, unsettling and real, broke down the idea of the quintessential phenomenon of a true American city—only to reveal its quirks: its man walking an invisible dog; its voice of the drag queen; a high-society man in its elite community—all that somehow, unravels a murder mystery. Virtually seeming like a novel and reading like a tale, the non-fictional story is about the real-life events surrounding the murder.
The central narrative concerns the killing of Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute (characterized as "a good time not yet had by all") by an important Savannah socialite, respected antiques dealer Jim Williams. This results in four murder trials, with the fourth ending in acquittal after the judge finally agreed to a change of venue to move the case away from the Savannah jury pool. The book describes Williams' version of the killing, which is that it was in "self-defense"—the result of Hansford, who is prone to fits of rage, shooting at Williams with a gun that is on display, and Williams shooting back in self-defense—and not murder, pre-meditated or otherwise by Williams. The death occurred in Williams' home 'Mercer House'.
Similarities - both set in a slightly surreal location; Fandango in 'El Villaj' where foreigners outnumber local inhabitants, and Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil is set in Savannah where there is a marked difference between the well off and the poorer inhabitants. Same sex love affair is at the heart of both books. Shooting of one of the main characters occurs in both.
Differences - Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil is based on a true story whereas The Last Fandango is pure fiction. The relationship in Fandango survives the problems whereas the Midnight relationship comes to grief. Different period setting.
6. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, published in 1992 by McLelland & Stewart
In the final days of the Italian Campaign of World War II, Hana, a French-Canadian nurse working and living in a bombed-out Italian monastery, looks after a critically burned man who speaks English but cannot remember his name. They are joined by Kip, a Sikh sapper in the British Army who defuses bombs and has a love affair with Hana before leaving for Florence, and David Caravaggio, a Canadian Intelligence Corps operative who was questioned by Germans and has had his thumbs cut off during a German interrogation. Caravaggio questions the patient, who gradually reveals his past.
The patient tells Hana and Caravaggio that, in the late 1930s, he was exploring the desert of Libya. He is revealed to be Hungarian cartographer Count László de Almásy, who was mapping the Sahara as part of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya with Englishman Peter Madox and others. Their expedition is joined by a British couple, Geoffrey and Katharine Clifton. Almasy falls in love with Katharine and writes about her in his book which Katharine reads. The two thereafter begin an affair which eventually Katharine ends. Almásy declares that he has found the Cave of Swimmers. An archaeological survey is conducted on it and the surrounding area until they are stopped due to the onset of the war. Madox leaves his Tiger Moth plane at Kufra oasis before his intended return to England.
While Almásy is packing up their base camp, Geoffrey, in attempted murder-suicide, deliberately crashes the plane, narrowly missing Almásy. Geoffrey is killed instantly, Katharine is seriously injured. Almásy carries her to the Cave of Swimmers, leaving her with provisions, and begins a three-day walk to get help. At British-held El Tag he attempts to explain the situation, but is detained as a possible German spy and transported on a train. He escapes from the train and trades the Geographical Society maps to the Germans for gasoline. He finds Madox's Tiger Moth and flies back to the cave, but Katharine has died. As he flies himself and Katharine's body away, they are shot down by German anti-aircraft guns. Almásy is badly burned and is rescued by the Bedouin.
After he has related the story, Almásy indicates to Hana for a lethal dose of morphine; she complies and reads Katharine's final journal entries to him as he dies. She and Caravaggio leave the monastery for Florence.
Similarities - Doomed love between two people. Set overseas in a strange location to the people involved.
Differences - Love affair between a man and a woman, not same sex. One of the main characters dies. Different period setting.
7. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx published as a short story in 1997 by The New Yorker, screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
In 1963, rodeo cowboy Jack Twist and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar are hired by rancher Joe Aguirre as sheep herders in Wyoming. One night on Brokeback Mountain, Jack makes a drunken pass at Ennis that is eventually reciprocated. Though Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart, Alma, and Jack marries a fellow rodeo rider, the two men keep up their tortured and sporadic affair over the course of 20 years.
Similarities - Same sex love affair set over many years.
Differences - In Brokeback Mountain, although the two lovers meet frequently and keep up their affair, they both marry conventionally and against their true nature. In Fandango the lovers maintain their loyalty to each other. Different country and social settings.
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A SOLITARY RED CARNATION
The dream woke me again last night.The same dream. The one that has wrenched me from my sleep, trembling and perspiring, for the last ten years.
I dreamed that Marco could dance again.
It’s not a nightmare – it’s sheer joy, not terror, that overwhelms me
when I see Marco strutting out onto that starlit stage in Granada.Here he comes, his eyes fixed on mine – thumping and stamping his way across the boards, making straight for me! The nails in hisboot-soles smash against the wood with a din that ricochets like gunfire across the vast auditorium. The guitars and box-drums have fallen silent. He leaves the audience of thousands gasping in wonder at his utter mastery of the dance. His heels move at the speed of light – he reaches his arm out to me, his hand miming the clacking of a castanet.
I extend my fingers to touch his –
But, of course, there’s nothing to touch. Marco has vanished, like mist at daybreak. The stage is empty except for one solitary, blood-red carnation.
The scene shifts. A thunderous roar engulfs me, sucking all the breath out of my lungs like a tornado. It’s the moment the helicopter hauls itself into the sky from the Village churchyard, with Marco andhis father both strapped down inside – the last time they were ever together.
I see my old friend Trelawney, but no longer is he the unfailing tower of strength that saw us through the worst years of our lives.In my dream, he’s a helpless old man, trembling in confusion on the doorstep of his house in the Village, blood streaming from a gash onhis face.
There’s always blood in the dream – blood on my hands, blood drenching the bed where we spent our first night together.
And tears – of sadness, yes, but of joy and laughter too: as if from a vantage-point in the sky, I see us careering from Africa across to Spain, up to Scotland and all the way back again, our friends cheering us on as we crazily pursued our own dream and made it come true.
For a while. For that brief, golden era of our lives.
But that was then, and this is now, I remembered.
I could hear Beth snoring gently in her bedroom at the back of the house as I wandered through. I had no fear of waking her as I set about mixing a stiff drink to see me through the night. She’d shared all our experiences over the last ten years, but they hadn’t scarred her as they had me.
As I took my glass through to the lounge, I glanced across at the life-sized portrait of Marco at the height of his powers, and Beth’s intricate drawing of a honeycombed ceiling in the Alhambra Palace hanging next to it. When Beth sketched that drawing, she was no more to me than a friend Marco had known since his childhood. Now, she was closer than any blood relative I’d ever had. Over the years, she’d become the cornerstone of our odd little family.
I lowered myself onto one of the long chairs on the veranda. I picked up my book, but soon found it held no interest. Gazing in the direction of the unseen Mediterranean below, I let my mind wander. I recalled, with a shudder, what my life in this house had been like before
… well, before Marco.
I pictured myself embarking on the journey to Africa that led me to him, as the familiar bulk of the Rock of Gibraltar loomed into view on the horizon.
Invitation to The Dance
Even from thirty thousand feet, the Rock of Gibraltar exudes majesty and authority. It is the unmistakable, monolithic harbinger of your departure from a world where life proceeds, more or less, as you expect it to.
As the plane edged past the Rock on that bright September day, I felt the first tingle of anticipation, the thrill of adventure. This evening I’d be joining the autumn gathering of friends at Trelawney’s home, an event I’d attended for more years than I cared to remember. Now I could forget my ordinary life and immerse myself in the fantasy world that Trelawney had constructed for himself in his beloved Village, perched on a clifftop high above the African coast.
I caught one last, heartwarming glimpse of the Mediterranean before its turquoise waters vanished forever into the grey Atlantic. As our progress became steadier, I dozed off and by the time I awoke, we were already tacking and weaving our way down to land.
A solid wall of heat slammed into my face as the plane door swung open, followed by the familiar assault on my nostrils from the commingled fragrances of spice, sweat and sewage. One glance at the airport roof was enough to assure me that Trelawney had arrived. Noone else would dare be seen in the huge black fedora he always wore for airport trips “just in case anybody should miss me.”
When he met me at the exit barrier, I saw the rest of his attire hadn’t changed, either: a flowing white shirt of the finest linen; khaki shorts of a length that surely disqualified them from being called shorts; and boy-scout socks, replete with green ribbons peeking over the turned-down tops. But something was amiss. Instead of his usual aura of contented self-confidence, there was a sense of anxiety. His brow was wrinkled into a frown that did not bode well. Nevertheless, he wrapped his arms around me in a long bear-hug as soon as I walked past the barrier.
“My dear Peter! It is always wonderful to welcome you to my adopted homeland, and never more so than today. You must be parched. Let’s make our way to the vehicle immediately. Tamir is there preparing the usual refreshments as we speak.”
Trelawney insisted on treating his visitors in style, right from the moment they arrived at the airport. Thick, steaming hot coffee or ice cold beer would be waiting for us when we reached his ancient Land Rover, to be savoured as we watched the sun dip over the darkening sea.
We headed for the furthest corner of the car park where the battered green Land Rover stood. On the bonnet, a welcoming tray was set with bone-china coffee cups on saucers, silver spoons, and a plate of assorted English biscuits.
Tamir, Trelawney’s companion for the last seven years, strode towards us. Despite the indulgent life he had with Trelawney, he remained as svelte as he was when I’d first met him.
“Lovely to see you Mr. Peter, nice flight?”
I returned his kisses.
“Yes, thank you Tamir, nice flight, lovely to be back. You well?”
“Top form thank you, Mr. Peter!”
Tamir’s English had become expressive, if antiquated, during those seven years. You sometimes had the impression that he was a ventriloquist’s dummy operated by Trelawney.
“And I got important news!” he said.
“One thing at a time,” Trelawney intervened. The waspish tone of
his voice was unfamiliar. Something was definitely up. While Tamir loaded the luggage into the car, Trelawney and I sipped from our slightly chipped Spode coffee-cups.
“What’s this news of Tamir’s, then?”
“Nothing much. It won’t change things, I don’t suppose.”
Trelawney stared at the ground. It seemed unwise to interrupt him.
“He’s getting married.”
“What? You’re not being dumped again? But...”
“We’ll discuss it later. No surprise – I’ve told you thousands of times how things work here. But there’s other news as well.”
“There always is in that blasted Village,” I said. “It’s like a primitive organism, ingesting and excreting nothing but gossip.”
“That may well be so. But this is somewhat more serious than usual.”
Trelawney’s face clouded over completely; the bonhomie of his welcome had evaporated.
“There’s trouble with the government.”
This was unheard of. For decades, the Village had been a privileged enclave, untouched by anything that happened in the rest of the country.
“You remember that South African journalist who came to Mulberry Villa with the rather nice companion...”
“Vaguely. I never met them.”
“And he wanted to buy the villa. Well, suddenly the government has stepped in to stop him. They won’t say why. But now they’re saying that houses in the Village can only be sold to families with at least two children, if you please.”
“So, what’s the problem? You don’t want to buy another one, surely?”
“No, of course not. Trelawney Towers is my name, and Trelawney Towers is my residence. But you know what it’s like here. You always get a warning when trouble is on the way.” He paused to mop his brow with a large handkerchief. “And you ignore that warning at your peril.
I don’t want any trouble when our residence permits come up for renewal, so I’m having to mobilise forces down at the Consulate. I’m having Sir Brian from the British Residents’ Association up to dinner on Wednesday.”
“That old screamer.”
“Quite. He has as much to lose as we do.”
“We? I’m just a visitor!”
“You know you’re part of the establishment here, Peter. You belong to the Village as much as we all do. Show some commitment for once!”
Trelawney was clearly rattled by these developments. If half of what he said was accurate, it could even evolve into a situation that would force him to abandon his home. And the idea of Trelawney living anywhere but the Village was simply inconceivable. On the other hand, with the detachment of a newcomer, I was tempted to dismiss it as just another of the petty happenstances of Village life that its residents liked to blow up into existence-threatening melodramas.
Trelawney took the wheel for our journey to his home. He produced a massive pair of tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles held together with sellotape and perched them on the end of his nose. I went to get in the front, but Tamir opened the back door for me.
“I have to sit in front with Mr. T. in case the glasses drop off, you see!”
I didn’t particularly relish the prospect of spending the longish drive hunched up next to the luggage in the back, with occasional bouts of mirth as Tamir rescued Trelawney’s plunging spectacles. But by now I was quite tired, so at least I could rest silently.
“Oh, I knew there was something else I had to tell you before you drop off, Peter. Had a couple of visits from a young Frog. Half French, anyway. Unusual specimen. Very dark, quite a charmer, but damned if I can remember his name now. Melvin, Marcus, something...
I was hoping for a speedy trip up to the Village, but I was to be disappointed. A strapping blond backpacker was standing by the airport exit road, thumbing a lift.
“It is of course an act of charity to give a lift to an ugly hitch-hiker,”
Trelawney said as he clanked down through the gears. “Pity this one doesn’t qualify. I’ll have to find some other way of being charitable today. Hutch up, Tamir, and make the fellow welcome. He’ll only want to go into town, I imagine.”
It turned out he was German. He introduced himself as Florian, a name I’d always found rather romantic. Although I could have spoken to him in his own language, I knew that Trelawney revelled in any opportunity to recount the peculiar history of the Village to newcomers. As I began to doze off, I heard him bawling out the familiar tale for Florian’s benefit.
“So, you see after the forest fire, there was nothing left of the Village but charred foundations and rubble, with burnt olive and fig groves all around – paradise on toast, they called it. The locals couldn’t be bothered to rebuild it and it lay there like an eyesore through the fifties and sixties. Used to be the most beautiful spot on the whole coast. You’d think you were on one of the Greek islands. Then the government came up with the idea of getting foreigners to buy the ruins dirt cheap, provided they would repair them, you know, make them liveable. So, that’s what we’ve done.”
Trelawney’s narrative was punctuated by violent gear-changes as we swerved to avoid the worst of the pot-holes in the “Airport Expressway”. “And we are, I’ll have you know, the only one hundred per cent foreign community within the whole country. The Head of State himself gave the project his blessing. Even sent one of his daughters to open our Village Hall when it was completed. A kingdom within a kingdom, he called us. Mostly English of course – you should see the Women’s Institute fête at the end of summer. The Ambassador comes up from the capital to award the prizes, but a few Frogs and Krauts and what not – er, I mean, well, we welcome other Europeans, all part of the Community vision you know...”
Florian was now attempting to contain some fairly violent squawking, although I couldn’t tell whether this was prompted by the prospect of the European vision being realised by the lady jam makers of a fire-struck African village, or by the slow but inexorable progress of Tamir’s left hand, which had carefully massaged each of his vertebrae and was now well on its way down towards the top of his underpants.
I dropped gently asleep, glad to be back in this wicked wonderland.
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