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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

I briefly ran a bar in the hills and made some very nasty tapas. Urrrpf.
01 December 2020 @ 18:50

My first (and penultimate) foray into business was to open a bar in the Almería mountain village of Bédar in 1976, when I was a just a young lad.

The Bar was called 'El Aguila': The Eagle (because of the view). I sold a local brew called Aguila beer and Aguila cigarettes (clever, eh?).

The beers, served in small bottles of 20cc (known as quintos or - if you can pronounce it - cervecillas) came from a warehouse in the nearby gypsy-town of Cuevas, and I could fit seven crates of them in my car. Thirty to a crate. The smokes, a brand similar to Ducados (strong black tobacco) came from a shop in Bédar called 'la tienda de Simón', which sold everything - from a wheelbarrow to a shower-bucket. A tin of butter to a postage stamp. Cigarettes and a tot of brandy. A useful place indeed.

Creating a bar takes a bit of work.

I had three old houses in Bédar, bought by my father for ten thousand pesetas (sixty euros) off of Old Gregorio in 1966. My father, whose Spanish at the time was non-existent, wasn't sure if he'd just paid for a very expensive lunch at Pedro's bar or if he was now the owner of three houses bought - apparently - off someone Pedro refered to as Hermano. Herman to his friends.

I fixed them up, slightly. Knocked a hole through the walls. Built a kitchen somewhere, brought in a few mattresses and a sofa. The three houses, now one, had electric but no mains water. Nor did the rest of the village, of course.

I put in a wrought-iron window terrace in the larger room for the bar, placed a plank of wood on top and, with a couple of bottles of banana brandy found at Simón's, was about good to go.The cross-eyed water man - who brought supplies in four large clay cántaros on his donkey - kept everything sluiced down, and the lavatory on the terrace was strictly soak-away.

The doctor from Los Gallardos came for an official look. He said the downstairs was fine, but the upstairs was off-limits. Three rooms and a terrace for the public to enjoy: a bit of razzmatazz for the Bédar denizens.

The bar in theory was to be run with EJ Whyte, an Irish American who lived in Bédar and was responsible for bringing fellow-American artist Fritz Mooney to the area on the back of a BSA in around 1962. However, after enormous trouble getting work permits (think on this Brexiteers) - many trips to Almería, papers, fruitless visits, long walks up and down looking for obscure offices and people who had 'gone out for a coffee', stamps and photographs... EJ finally told the little man in the employment office in Almería to shove it up his backside, leaving me, as it were, in sole control.

The card in the photo is the official permit to handle food. They give you a nail-brush and peel your eyelids.

Thus, I ran the bar by myself (sometimes my friend and local builder Juanico joined me - once arriving with a live and evidently stolen sheep which, after meeting a violent end on the bar-room floor, improved the tapas for a week or so). Beers and tapas. A quinto beer and a really quite horrible tapa cost 10 pesetas (seven céntimos in today's money). Since the local youth liked to play chinos (spoof) for a round, I found that I was drinking rather a lot. Perhaps many bar-owners do. I remember one in Los Boliches who used to surreptitiously finish all the dregs from the returned glasses. I rather doubt he's still going today.

My tapas weren't very good. I had bought a chapa, a large piece of iron plate, off Juan el Fraguero from Mojácar, and this was put on a small gas-fire. I would cut frankfurters sideways, sliced down the middle, with a squirt of hot sauce. I also offered costellitas: the bit of bone on the end of a rib with a nub of gristle hanging off it, also with a squirt of hot sauce. Bédar has long since had trouble with ulcers, apparently - it was good hot sauce. Then there was the mysterious bits of off-cuts in the bag of costillitas from the butcher's daughter in Cuevas. Juanico identified them as being rams' testicles. Apparently she must have liked me, he reckoned.

I had a record player and four of five records - the most popular being Nat King Cole singing in Spanish. Nat's accent was worse than my father's, but the clientele seemed indulgent.

My neighbours weren't convinced I wasn't running a brothel. One day, old dad came in for a chatico de vino (six pesetas). After about a dozen of these, he was sure that the place was of a moral rectitude seldom found in Spain. Several of the local kids actually carried him, gripping his arms and legs as he sang one of Nat's most popular numbers, home to his missus.

The bar was fun - sometimes. But it wasn't a money-maker. At threepence a beer, I wasn't making a fortune. My girlfriend didn't like it much, once hitting me on the head with a beer-crate.

Realising I was not cut out for the hospitality business, I rented the place out after a few months to some Brit football enthusiast called Roger for a 'Greenie' - our name for a 1,000 peseta bill (6€) - per month. He was popular with the local lads and no doubt improved their soccer skills. Of course he never paid the rent (he probably lost it on chinos), although the tapas improved slightly...

The rest of the house, about two thirds of it if you counted the creaky bits upstairs, carried on as mine. The ceilings were made of beams, cane and plaster. Some of the beams were made of pine and others were just pita, the century plant stalk. I can tell you, they aren't very firm after a few decades...

One day, EJ came down from Madrid to stay the night. I left him the key to the house and drove to Mojácar. EJ relates that he suddenly woke with a terrible thirst, remembered there was a bar next door, and battered down the intervening wall using a butano-bottle as a sledge-hammer. He says he served himself a cool beer from the bar and meekly went back to sleep again. House guests, hey?

A few years later, I fixed up the whole building properly into one large and slightly eccentric house.

It's sold now.

Like 4


GuyT said:
02 December 2020 @ 22:28

Very funny article. Three houses for ten greenies... those were the days.

PablodeRonda said:
05 December 2020 @ 07:11

Very entertaining. As for prices, I can remember when I first came to Spain (San Sebastián) in 1970 aged 20, wine was 1 peseta a glass and a glass of beer 8 pesetas. I could get a menu of the day for 50 pesetas!

Doncolin said:
05 December 2020 @ 08:43

I also first came to Spain (Alicante) in 1970 but can't for the life of me remember the prices. But I can well recall that - being allowed then to take only 50 quid out of the country and having blown 37 of that on a flight I hadn't panned to take - I could hardly afford 2 weeks of menús at any price . . My memory is of lots of tinned frankfurters and bread . . . And a night of getting very ill on Anís.

eggcup said:
05 December 2020 @ 10:27

Yes, I enjoyed the story. I was in Madrid around 1988, aged 23 and I could go to a cinema for, in British money, 60p (10 tickets in what they called a 'bono' were £6). I would have a glass of red before the film and a glass after, before walking home slightly sozzled. So a good trip out for £1.

anthomo16 said:
05 December 2020 @ 11:45

brought back many memories I used to be a "trolley dolly" in the early sixties and did many flights to Spain. The stuff we could buy was fantastic and so cheap - had many good stays

Ripley said:
28 February 2021 @ 17:33

I am a relative of Freddy aka Fritz Mooney and have discovered him recently on YouTube. As I am doing a genealogy project on the family tree along with photos, might you be able to connect me with any friends that might still have pics of Fritz? Please respond at your earliest convenience. Thank you. Best regards,John

lenox said:
28 February 2021 @ 21:31

Hi John. email me at lenoxnapier (at) gmail dot com

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