You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
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Mexican Diary # 6: Dolores& Alexander…
…are my new landlady and her partner and also my new friends. They made me feel welcome immediately.
On the first Friday I was invited to join them in their outdoor bar area. This was a fully equipped pub, complete with music, TV and well stocked shelves of every spirit and liquor available in Mexico. I’ve been in respected establishments in England offering far less choice. This turned out to be a wild night – with just the three of us – dancing to the lively Mexican music, which I have quickly grown to know and love. When I offered my admiration to their elegant dancing style, Alex got it into his head that he was going to teach ME how to dance: “Uno, Dua, Tres!” He kept saying, as he held his arm about my ample waist and held my other hand aloft. But sad to say, just like in days of olde, when I even signed up for ballroom dancing evening classes – I just couldn’t get it. This did not deter Alex one little bit though, and a strange sight we must have made. I’m sure that you can remember that famous scene in Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ when Baloo the bear dances with King Louis the Oran Utang – well imagine Baloo the bear dancing with his twin brother and you’re starting to get the picture.
It was agreed that on that Sunday we would go fishing together – they knew just the spot. Well, having read Ernest Hemmingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and even being able to remember the old black and white film with Spenser Tracey, I got myself well prepared.
This anticipation was unfounded however, as we drove for about an hour, to a lakeside restaurant. Dolores’ daughter Grace and her baby Lily came with us, so we were a car full. Grace is twenty and spent the entire journey applying make up to her face – don’t ask me why – but this proved to be no small feat given the appalling state of the Mexican roads. Lily was very sweet and seemed to find me amusing so we all got on fine.
When we arrived, we had a very acceptable dinner sitting in the shade by the lakeside watching the various water taxis, water-skis and those infernal omnipresent Jet Ski’s meandering, skimming and whizzing past. I commented on my dislike of the dreaded jet ski – “But they’re FUN!” replied Grace – to which I had no answer.
I reminded Dolores about the fishing, which I had understood to be the main purpose of our trip and I had noted that no fishing rods were thrown into the boot of the car on departure, this was making me wonder where we were going to rent our rods from as there was no visible sign of a fishing shop or indeed anyone else fishing. Dolores kept saying “Later, later” as she pocketed tortillas and pointed to the other side of the picnic area, which looked pretty unsuitable to me. Eventually to my utter dismay she produced a roll of fishing line, a small packet of hooks and another similar one containing tiny weights. She handed me this gear and led me to the opposite bank. “I’ll show you” she announced, as she threaded a measly piece of tortilla onto the tiny hook – so THAT’s what she was saving those for. She unwound a decent length of fishing line and then commenced whirling it around her neck like those cowboys with their lassos always did, in those crappy Western movies beloved by my old Dad. She eventually let go it and it flew skywards, landing a few seconds later in the lake. She slowly pulled the line back in and gave it to me – “Now you!” she said and walked back to her family.
I distinctly felt like a little boy who had been given something distracting to get on with whilst the grown ups were left to talk – an all too familiar situation, reminiscent from my childhood. In fairness to them, it must have been quite a strain, having to talk in English and explain every little thing to this Inglese gringo. In fact Grace’s English is very good, Dolores’s is very fair and Alex’s is as good as my Spanish – but we still get along fine.
So there I am twirling this piece of fishing line around my head like Audy Murphy on a bad day, when I looked around me. Behind me, well within ‘striking distance’ were two young lovers doing, – well what two young lovers DO on days like this. I sensed another one of those ‘guess what happens next’ scenarios coming on, so preceded with extreme caution. After all, he looked like a big bloke and clearly didn’t wish to be disturbed – not even to have another ear piercing.
With every other cast, the line would insist on getting snagged on the rocky bottom and I was quickly getting through the tortillas and more importantly the weights and hooks. What happened next is almost too embarrassing to admit. An elderly Mexican ‘Viejo dama’ who had been studying my ‘style’ came over and took pity on me. She took the line from my hand and showed me how to do this thing properly. Her cast went about twice as far as mine, and after a few attempts she had hooked a fish, albeit a tiddler about four inches long. Clearly a veteran at this activity as in the rest of life, she then produced a bucket, threw the fish in it and told me to fill it with water. I walked down the jetty, filled the bucket with water but as I began to walk back, the fish spotted his lucky break and leapt out of the bucket and returned to the lake. I explained this to my newfound Mexican fishing instructor as best I could, to which she shrugged her shoulders in despair and went back to doing whatever it was she was doing before deciding to take pity on me.
So eat your heart out Ernest Hemingway, the sun rises on me too.
A Night at the Races
Last night I was invited to accompany Dolores and Alex for a night out at the races. It was agreed that I should join them after my Spanish lesson. Dolores wrote special instructions for me to hand to the taxi driver and I was set.
Dolores had explained that they both liked to have a weekly night out, betting on the dogs and never having been to a dog track – even though there used to be weekly meetings at a racetrack in Ramsgate – I decided that it would be an experience at least, and besides I wanted to be sociable towards Dolores and Alex after all of their many kindnesses.
I was dropped off outside a casino, where I was immediately frisked by a security guard. My bag was searched and I was asked if I had a camera on me, which was strictly forbidden. “Oh I guess that’s because you don’t want me to use flash and frighten the dogs?” I surmised. “Si Senor!” replied the bouncer – rather sarcastically I thought. I made my way inside and was dismayed and disappointed to see that it wasn’t a dog track at all. Instead, what greeted me was a sort of beautified, glorified, Ladbrokes betting shop –clad with those intimidating wall to wall TV’s and decked out with comfy chairs complete with waiter service et all.
Alex and Dolores had beaten me to it and called me over, making me immediately welcome as always, offering me a drink. I plumped for what Alex was having: coffee with a glass of Anis on the side. The Anis was Mexican – nothing like Pernod or Ricard – it was a sticky, ever so sweet liquor, but went down very well with the coffee nonetheless, which incidentally, was the first decent coffee I’ve had since getting to Mexico. The reason that I was late was because I had stopped off on route to buy some wonderful Mexican cigars: TE-AMO ‘Miniperfectos’. I had decided to get these because, like many, when surrounded by a company who all smoke, I find it easier to resort to join in and start smoking myself. I know that this is weak wiled, spineless and shows complete lack of mortal fibre and fortitude, but then again, it’s a form of survival – and at least I don’t inhale harmful cigarettes. It’s a strange thing that even though I often start smoking cigars when abroad – for example in Greece, I also find the hot climate paradoxically contusive – I am able to immediately kick the habit on return to England with no noticeable cravings or regrets.
So there I was looking for all the world like the last of the great gamblers -complete with coffee, liquor and cigar and here’s the rub - I had already decided NOT to bet. I’m not judgemental about it or anything like that – it’s just not my bag. Twenty-six years ago, as a student, I had had a fantastic win: the 66:1 ‘Baron Blakeney’ o which I put £5 each way + tax, having eavesdropped over a conversation in the local pub. My £335 winning exceeded a terms grant at the time, it was 1979 and £335was a heap of money in those days – for example, my rent was £20 per week – all in. Anyway, when I admitted my ‘crime’ to the unwitting tipster – Alan Rogers – who became a good friend – he was delighted, but gave me a lecture. He told me that I was that rare thing – a winner – so long as I stopped there and then. He made me promise that I would never bet on horses again and thus remain on top. I agreed and have kept the promise I made to him that day.
Another interesting observation is that I simply don’t BELIEVE that I am going to win. As I sat there surrounded by all of those people: the bookies, the waiters, the cleaners, and even those dreaded security guards, (not to mention the owners of this establishment - who no doubt intend to make a profit,) I realised that they were all being paid and that their wages were funded by the ‘ill gotten gains’ taken from those ‘punters’. I’m sure that this desire and belief to win has to be there in order to enjoy the thrill and I’m afraid to say that I couldn’t muster it up from the depths. Not so though Dolores & Alexander – they had the grim determination of winners, indeed they made up for my wooliness in bucketfuls.
Alex followed the horses, on those ubiquitous TV’s that lined the room above head height, whilst Dolores favoured a game similar to our Lottery. She showed me how to mark her cards for her – choosing any amount of numbers from 1 – 10 on different tables. Every ten minutes these numbers changed on the TV screens and you won or in her case, Lost, accordingly.
I’m really sorry to report that both Alex and Dolores continued to lose – BIG time. They then made the classic mistake familiar to all gamblers – they started to increase their bets in order to win back the money that they’d already LOST – Which is of course a mistake. It was around about this time that I started to lose interest – it all seemed so inevitable all of a sudden – and so I began to take more notice of my surroundings.
The two ladies on the next table were clearly ‘working girls’, one of them had the longest, most amazing false fingernails that I have ever seen in my life. These must have made even the simplest of tasks – like tying Her shoe laces – impossible to accomplish, but then again, I don’t think that this was the first and foremost thing on her mind. I was both astonished and amused in equal measures to witness her switch allegiance from each of the three men sharing the table, as they paid her the attention that she so craved. The main procrastinator was a born orator and even though I couldn’t understand a word he said, I could still tell that he was a crashing bore. Dolores told me that he was talking politics, Surprise, surprise – he was left wing – natch – and wanted the rest of the room to know it too. I think that the best definition of a bore is someone who doesn’t realise that he is being boring, and this summed him up to a tee.
Dolores was very scornful of the girls on the game and suddenly- out of the blue – as far as I was concerned At least, announced to me that I was sitting too close to her and that in her country, my proximity was an indication that she was “like those girls over there!” I shamefully inched myself to a respectable distance – no doubt crimson faced as indeed I always had been as a child when ‘someone’ in the classroom had committed an offence – even though I wasn’t that naughty boy, my crimson face spoke otherwise – refuting my innocence.
After what seemed like an eternity of increasingly desperate and unlikely bets, we finally left. On our exit, Dolores commented that the place had definitely gone down hill – allowing ‘those girls’ in. Alex agreed and I had to admit that they didn’t seem too bothered about placing any bets but then again, neither had I. Paradoxically this had turned out to be the cheapest night out that I have ever had.
On our way home, we stopped off at a tortilla bar on the street. Alex absolutely insisted on paying – he had taken his bad luck with characteristic charm and good humour. What a lovely man he is.
Well I guess it wasn’t the experience that I was expecting but an experience it WAS nonetheless!
There is a postscript to all of this but it’s untidy. I know that I’m not a great writer but I DO try and keep it tidy – round things up neatly – but of course, LIFE isn’t like that. Last night – the following night to the one above, I was struggling to finish the dinner that Dolores had prepared for me. It was very rich and as usual a bit too spicy for my delicate English taste. It was at this point that Alex gave me a lecture, telling me that God would be angry with me if I didn’t eat my meat and went on to tell me about all of the starving people in the world for whom, even a tiny piece of meat would be welcome. I agreed with him but the irony of him losing more than my entire rent for the duration of my stay in one night ‘at the races’ was not lost on me.
You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page: