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For a short while I worked in Southern Spain on the Ports as a
Shipping agent. I loved the job but like all good things it came to
an end entering the memory banks as one of those good chapters. I
remember my first day on the job standing there with my manager, who
was English but had lived in Spain for over fifteen years and had a
Spanish Wife, and the foreman of the Stevedore’s who loaded and
unloaded the ships.

The foreman was talking to me through my manager who was translating
and the conversation went along these lines.

“Do you speak Spanish?” said the foreman.

“Not yet” I replied “But I have lessons booked everyday for a
month so give me that long”

“You NEED to speak Spanish or the men will not respect you”

“Yep, I agree. That’s why I am going back to school. Give me a

He sort of then made a hmmpth noise, said something very fast and
loud in Spanish to my manager who then laughed and walked away
shaking his head.

I worked my ass off over that month studying Spanish. I was immersed
in the language and culture and this helped no end. By the end of
that month I could get by just fine when I was sober and thought I
was fluent when I had had a drink.

A rather large coal ship was in port and nearly unloaded about a
month later when the foreman shouted from across the deck on Spanish
“How long until this is supposed to sail?”

“You have three hours” I shouted back “If you need more tell me
now so we can rearrange the pilot” (A pilot is a local sailor that
knows the port inside out and backwards that navigate the ships in
and out of harbour).

“Three hours should do fine” he said followed by “Wait there a

At that he and the crew of stevedore’s headed for me from all over
the ships deck. Now I have to admit I wondered what was about to
happen at this point but I stood there hoping I wasn’t about to be
tied up and dropped into a hold in some sort of backwater initiation

They all came up close to me and stopped dead in a semi circle around
me looking dead serious when the foreman said in Spanish “Have you
been taking Spanish lessons everyday?”

I replied in Spanish “I must have because I couldn’t say a word a
few weeks ago could I”

“We agree” he boomed smiling “We were all just saying how well
you were doing with the language. We have all asked questions lately
and you have been talking very well in Spanish even if you do need
that silly little book every now and then that is in your pocket for
a word you don’t know.”

“Thanks” I replied.

Then he said to me in English with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on
his face “Yes yes you have. You have have earned our respect with
your efforts”

My chin hit the floor. They all started laughing as if on cue. “You
speak English!? All of you?”

With laughter booming the foreman replied “ Yes we do Nico and now
you can help us practice it as we have helped you practice Spanish!”

“You bastards! Do you know what a struggle this last month has

“Yes we do Nico. You have pulled that little book out of your
pocket so many times looking for the right words that you have still
managed to get wrong sometimes” There were nodding heads and
chuckling all round now. “But would you have tried so hard if you
knew we spoke some of your language?”

He was right of course. He was also a big fat git for doing it but I
understood why. The laughter between him and my manager on my first
day was after he said that they would not speak English for a few
weeks then to me. After that I was accepted with the guys I worked
with. I ate with them, drank with them and met all of their families
as they met mine. It was a fantastic time and I look back at it all
very fondly.

So what does this have to do with driving a mini across Spain? Well
that would be my managers fault. We became very good friends over my
time in Spain and after we had been back in the UK for a few months
or so I got a phone call from him early one morning telling me that
it was his wife’s fortieth birthday in a few weeks and he had
transferred £2000 into my bank account.

I said that I was happy for his wife but why was he giving me a two
grand present instead of her?

“I want you to find her a mini!” he proclaimed. “You know what
you are looking at and I wanted you to bring it over and have a long
weekend too. Take what ever it costs you for your time out of the
money and I will top it up if I need to”

I should point out here that this was back at the turn of the century
so everything was a bit cheaper then….Jeez I sound old.

“Err OK then. Three weeks to find one, fix it and get it to
southern Spain. Should be a piece of cake chap”

He laughed, I wondered how the hell I was going to manage this but I didn’t need much of an excuse for a boozy weekend away so the hunt for a decent mini was about to begin.

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