The Fairy Godmother and the 11 District Nurses from the Valley: Part One

Due to some coincidental but remarkably welcome timing, my godmother Belinda turned up in Madrid on my first weekend there. Her sister Jen was a district nurse who took up a position in Wales a few years ago, and on her arrival discovered that many of her colleagues had never left Wales, let alone the UK. Deciding that this lack of worldliness could not be allowed to continue, she promptly put together a plan to show them a little of the world. So began an ongoing tradition in which a group of district nurses visit glamorous locations all over the world, including New York, Paris and London (where my godmother, a native Londoner, first joined the group), and culminating in Madrid. The group arrived on the Friday, and as I got off the metro at Santo Domingo and saw Belinda sitting outside a cafe drinking a black coffee and smoking a Silk Cut, I felt as though a small weight had been lifted. The timing couldn’t have been better; the three days I had already spent in Spain were long enough for me to have some idea of the city and to begin to get a feel for my place in it, but not so long that I wasn’t comforted by the sight of a familiar face and relieved at a chance to be amongst friends and let my guard down. After a quick catch-up, we were joined by the rest of the group, and I was instantly immersed in sing-song Welsh accents and raucous laughter. One of the women – Jan, I think it was – had been recommended a particular restaurant by a friend of a friend, and after a brief attempt at map-reading (the result of which was quickly disregarded), we set off en masse to hunt it down. We walked for twenty minutes or so through the swarming tourist tracks to the stately Plaza Mayor, which was dotted with unusually gothic streets performers (disembodied heads on tables seemed to be a popular feature) and ringed with pricey restaurants, where crowds of people were sat enjoying an evening drink. Once there, we began searching the shop fronts for the elusive restaurant, which was apparently ‘around here somewhere’, but to no avail. It wasn’t until Jan thrust a piece of paper into my hand, and asked me if I recognised any of the names on it, that I realised why we had been having so much trouble. Instead of the expected detailed directions, the paper was scrawled with a few choice words, placed one below the other – ‘Calle’, ‘Barcelona Sol’, ‘El Buscon’ – and then a final, cryptic sentence: ‘stand with back to igloo and look down main street’.  It took all my self-restraint not to laugh as I gently explained to her that the reason we hadn’t had any luck in our search thus far was that the word ‘Calle’ was not in fact referring to a ‘Bar Calleigh’, but was pronounced ‘Cay-ay’ and meant  ‘street’. Taking pity on the now disgruntled and confused group of women (and my own rumbling stomach), I went into Tourist Information and showed them the piece of paper, asking if they could make head or tail of it. The woman – rather wisely ignoring the igloo reference – informed me that there was a restaurant called El Buscón on Calle de la Victoria near Plaza del Sol (I’ve still no idea where the ‘Barcelona’ bit came from), which was – fortunately – only 10 minutes away. Before long, we had miraculously located El Buscón (an intimate restaurant with a local clientele and a rustic menu) and were comfortably seated at tables of four. However, my task was only just beginning; once it was discovered that I understood Spanish, I was employed as group translator, and called upon for various tasks, which mostly involved deciphering the menu or occasionally putting in a special request when the food on offer wasn’t up to scratch – usually including a side order of chips. Luckily our waiter was typically ‘espanish’ – friendly, attentive and outrageously flirtatious – and seemed to accept every request as a test of his hosting skills. We left feeling thoroughly spoilt, having eaten and drank far more than we eventually paid for, and I went home with my mind – and stomach – revitalized.

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