So, Chris, where are you from originally?
Well, I was born and grew up in Leicester UK until National Service committed me to the RAF for 3 years. Then, as my father had been a ‘bobby’ all his life, ı decided to join the Exeter city police in Devon. Only it didn’t work. I wasn’t fitted out for it. This became obvious when I mistakenly stopped a police car that was chasing some robbers by smashing the windscreen with my truncheon.
And after that?
I tried various jobs like trainee management with a well-known chain store and after that a pharmaceutical representative in the Surrey area, which I enjoyed tremendously. Finally in an attempt at something different I took on a Northamptonshire country pub. Again not really successful, my handicap being a depressed basset hound, a neurotic donkey, an oversexed cockerel and a delinquent goat, all contriving to put me out of business. So I decided that if I was going to be unsuccessful, I might as well do it somewhere warm.
Why did you choose Spain?
Well I knew Costa Brava since the late 1950s and into the ‘60s, in particular Tossa de Mar. At that time the atmosphere grew on you. Sunshine, beach, great parties and fantastic music. The Beatless had made their debut in the UK and Spain had Johnny and Charlie with ‘La Yenka’, Los Bravos with ‘Black is Black’. Then there were Edie Gorme and Los Panchos. All together with flamenco and rumbas it was magic.
You love music?
Couldn’t live without it. All types right across the board. Pop, big band, jazz. You name it. I still play guitar, sing country & western, oldies and blues numbers in the Abastos neighbourhood of Valencia.
And then you came to Valencia?
Actually no. Cullera was where I arrived first and it was there that I set up the first pub in the region. There were no licenses for ‘Pubs’ so they gave me a ‘Cafeteria’ license and said I could name it a pub… whatever that was.
Was it a success?
Not the first week. Nobody came in so I started what was probably the first ‘Happy Hour’ in the region. We were packed every night. Even today occasionally people will stop me in the street and say, “Hi, Mr. Happy Hour”. After all these years. Amazing, really.
Then you moved into Valencia?
Yes, and rented some wonderful premises for what was to be ‘El Gran Desastre Inglés’. And it certainly turned out to be a disaster. Problems over ownership of the premises made it impossible to even complete the conversation.
What did you do?
Went into agency work like jewellery, ceramics, porcelain, toys and even onions. Yes, would you believe it – even onions! After that, together with a friend, I set up a company manufacturing golf course maintenance equipment which gave me the opportunity to travel all over Spain.
Regarding your autobiography, why the title ‘The Spanish Cheese ‘Sanwish’ Without Bread’?
Well, years back I went into the Barrachina cafeteria (long since gone) in the centre of Valencia and there was a sign which read, ‘SANWISHES’. I took this to mean that the humble English ‘sandwich’ had arrived so I ordered a cheese sandwich. The waiter then asked if I required bread with it. I said, “No” just to see what could happen. After several trips to the kitchen he returned with two plates, one with cheese and the other ham, and told me to work it out myself!
There are many such incidents in your book and many characters as well.
That’s true. My autobiography is even dedicated to Doris Wilson, a brave character from Bermondsey I neither knew nor met but whose memoirs I read. When I found out about her, I was convinced that she was worth recognition, albeit posthumously. Reggie Bowler was another character and wonderful raconteur. He knew the author Ernest Hemingway, both in Africa and Valencia. In fact, they were both banned from what was the Hotel Metropol in front of the bullring. Continuing the fiesta which had started at the La Pepica restaurant on the beach, they squirted the hotel customers, including the mayor, with gin-filled water pistols. Other characters in the book include El Colorado, Dirty Harry, El Zorro, the X-File lady and many others.
When and where is the book available?
Available this month, it will be on sale through www.amazon.co.uk, www.waterstones.com as well as www.authorhouse.com. The book launching will probably take place on Friday, 28 May* in the Abastos neighbourhood of Valencia around midday. Finally, for those who would like to know more about authentic Spanish characters together with notes on original places, please note that my website is www.thespanishcheesesanwish.com.