I was on leave and destined to join HMS Mermaid, my new ship, docked in Rosyth. We seemed to be cutting it fine; Hannah was ‘late’ – as if there is a definitive schedule that babies have to follow… We’d driven the car over nearby cobbled roads in an abortive attempt to help nature along. Monday approached, when I would have to leave.
Then, on the Friday a policeman arrived at our front door. Because I was between ships, the new ship didn’t have our house phone number, so they had resorted to contacting the local police to deliver a message: I was not to join my ship as planned, but to stay at home, since HMS Mermaid was called out for the Cod War. [There are some stories to tell about that time, when I eventually joined the ship and we faced the Icelandic ships; tense days when on more than one occasion lives were almost lost]. So by this strange quirk of fate I was fortunate enough to attend Hannah’s birth in Bolton hospital.
Valencia falla - as high as a building... Wikipedia commons
In Valencia it is considered by many to be the most important day of the fallas celebrations. Each neighbourhood has a group of people, the Casal faller, that works all year holding fundraising events in order to produce the fallas. These fallas are made of papier-maché and each of the figures is known as a ninot or doll; traditionally, many figures are satirical digs at famous people. Each group takes their ninot out for the parade so they can be seen and appreciated before they’re burned to the accompaniment of noisy bangers and colourful fireworks.
There’s an allusion to fireworks in my short story ‘Pigeon Hearted’, one of 22 cases from Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private eye, ‘in his own words’ – Spanish Eye.
“I’d just witnessed the first cracks in a breaking heart.”
Fireworks in daytime are not particularly spectacular, but that doesn’t deter my Spanish compatriots from setting them off. The clear blue sky was momentarily sprayed with silver and red stars as the single rocket exploded above the town square. Minutes afterwards, a profusion of colours darted above our heads, but this display wasn’t the transient starburst of more pyrotechnics. The palette that soared in the sky came from garishly painted pigeons released from patios, balconies, rooftops, and gardens. In the next few minutes, the number of male birds increased to perhaps seventy.
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