This book is dedicated to Lisa, the most amazing mother one could ever wish for. Your infinite love, sage-like wisdom and limitless belief in my abilities have had such a powerful impact on my life.
This book is dedicated to our students. Thank you for your overwhelming support and for making teaching one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.
Last but not least, this book is dedicated to you the reader. We hope you get as much enjoyment from reading 'Pablo Morales around the British Isles', as we did in creating it!
BING, BONG! “Ladies and gentlemen, we shall shortly begin our descent to London, Heathrow. Please ensure your seatbelts are securely fastened and your seat is in an upright position. The weather in the UK is hot and sunny with daytime highs of 25 degrees centigrade. We hope you’ve enjoyed this British Airways flight from Barcelona and look forward to seeing you again shortly.”
As the announcement finished, Pablo Morales looked out of the window at the neat green and yellow fields of southern England far below and gave an audible sigh of pleasure. This was like a dream come true. A year ago, he’d been a helpless twenty-one-year old working in a dead-end job, living with his mother in a run-down house in Valladolid and pining for Maria, the girl who’d played him for a fool and taken all his money. Now he had his own flat overlooking Barceloneta Beach, a sports car and could afford to spend the whole of August on a sightseeing tour of the British Isles. And it was all thanks to a win on the Lottery with a ticket he’d almost forgotten to buy.
As Pablo waited to check into his hotel in central London, he caught sight of his reflection on the big mirrored wall. He liked what he saw. As a child, he’d been teased for being overweight. As a teenager, he’d been bullied for being clumsy, awkward and shy. But now he was a man, tall and slim with his floppy hair fashionably cut and designer clothes adorning his body instead of the ill-fitting second-hand clothes he always used to wear. He would show them! He was now a sophisticated man-about-town. Maybe he would meet someone special on this trip and the aching hurt caused by Maria would become a thing of the past.
This was the first time Pablo had stayed at a modern hotel and he was perplexed by the key to his room. It wasn’t a proper metal key that jangled in his hand; it was a swipe-card like the many credit cards that now adorned his wallet. Deep in his heart, he was a bit frightened of it and maybe that was what prevented him from using it properly and opening his door. He stood in the hotel corridor, dragging the card up and down the groove over and over again in as many different ways as he could imagine, but with no success. Then two teenage girls and their little brother came and stood outside the door opposite, waiting for their parents to emerge. The older girl was devastatingly pretty and Pablo felt his face turning to the colour of beetroot as he continued to struggle with the lock. Eventually, the six-year-old came over, took the card from his hand with a sigh and opened the door with a single swipe. Pablo thanked him profusely and stumbled inside, glad to escape the two girls who stood giggling behind their hands. If he was going to be a sophisticated man-about-town, he should know how to open a door!
Sitting on his bed and looking out at the London Eye in the distance, he kept his promise to phone his mother. He would have preferred to message her on Facebook or send her a quick tweet, but his mother would have nothing to do with computers and deeply distrusted her mobile phone which she only switched on when she was expecting a call.
“Yes, mother, I’m here safe and sound,” he said, trying to keep any trace of annoyance out of his voice. “No, I wasn’t sick on the plane. And I’ve had plenty to eat…and plenty of sleep. Yes, yes, I will. I’ll take my raincoat everywhere I go. I do know what the British weather is like. What was that? Of course I’ll change my pants every day. Goodbye, mother. I must go now. I’ll phone you again soon. Love you too. Bye.”
After a supper of cheese omelette with chips followed by apple pie and ice cream, which he took in his room, Pablo retired to bed. It had been a long day and he soon fell asleep, drifting into a dream that he’d had many times before. It was the one in which he was walking through the streets completely naked. Only this time it was the streets of London and everyone was pointing at him and laughing, including Queen Victoria (who was definitely not amused). He woke up in a cold sweat, sitting bolt upright in bed with his eyes wide open, gasping for breath. Relief swept over him as he realised it was just his familiar nightmare. To really be seen in public with no clothes on didn’t bear thinking about.
Next day, feeling vaguely guilty about not taking his raincoat, Pablo set off through the crowded streets on a sightseeing tour of London. He watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but didn’t join the long queue waiting to go inside because he didn’t want to waste the time. He took a boat-trip down the greasy grey water of the Thames, marvelling at the beauty of Tower Bridge and shuddering at the looming menace of The Tower of London, knowing how many cruel and barbaric things had gone on inside its solid stone walls. Then he went shopping in Oxford Street, enjoying the feeling that he could have anything he wanted, but only buying a couple of new shirts and a pair of shoes.
He arrived back at his hotel at half-past five, standing back and smiling politely as the maid who cleaned the rooms pushed her trolley past him down the corridor. He felt hot and dirty after his day out in the city. So he opened the windows as far as he could and then headed for the shower, planning to have a long refreshing soak before putting on his best jacket and braving the dining-room on his own. Meanwhile, the cleaning maid was trundling her trolley back up the corridor, wondering if her boyfriend would be waiting for her when she finished work at nine and would take her to McDonalds for a burger and fries. Lost in this pleasant reverie, she failed to look where she was going and pushed her trolley into Pablo’s door with a hefty thump. From where he was standing, with the shower water hissing loudly around his ears, it sounded like someone was knocking.
“Coming!” he called, wrapping a towel round his middle and heading for the door.
Of course, when Pablo opened the door and peered out, the cleaner was gone and there was nobody there. How strange, he thought, stepping further out of his room to peer up and down the corridor in the hope of spotting his unexpected visitor. And it was then it happened! His towel jagged on the door handle and fell off just as the door, right in line with the billowing draught from the open windows, blew shut behind him. Suddenly, he found himself standing in the corridor with nothing on and no way of getting back into his room.
A wave of panic swept over him, made ten times worse when he heard the voices of the two teenage girls coming up the stairs to get to their room opposite. What could he do? There was no cover whatsoever other than a pot plant on a stand that brightened up a dark recess of the corridor. The plant was large and leafy and Pablo reckoned it might just be enough to cover his embarrassment. So he nipped behind the display just as the girls came round the corner. They didn’t notice him at first. Then the younger one spotted him and he responded by giving her a beaming smile, as if this was something he did every day. He thought she was going to scream, but instead she bundled her gorgeous sister into their room and slammed the door shut behind them. Clearly, they thought he was mad!
What was he to do now? He couldn’t stay here all evening. Maybe he could carry the pot plant down to reception and get another key, but he would still be mainly naked and that would cause a terrible commotion. But he would have to do something soon. He was still wet from the shower and was beginning to feel very cold. Then he saw his salvation. The cleaning maid was coming down the corridor again with her trolley and on it was a pile of fluffy white towels.
“Excuse me,” he called. “Please may I borrow one of those?”
The maid, who was now daydreaming about her boyfriend proposing to her over their McDonalds, looked round with a puzzled frown to see where the voice was coming from. So Pablo gave an excited wave and, in doing so, knocked the pot plant clean off the stand.
“ARRGH!” shrieked the chambermaid, looking at the white figure standing in the corner with his hands thrust down in front of him like a coy schoolgirl. Then she ran off to tell the management – mercifully leaving her trolley behind her. By the time she returned with the hotel manager, the head of security and various other curious members of staff, Pablo was swathed from head to foot in white towels. Summoning as much dignity as he could, despite looking like a cross between a Roman emperor and a cuddly polar bear, he explained his problem and was duly let back into his room with the manager’s master-key, ignoring all the sniggering laughter from the crowd of on-lookers. He flopped down on the bed and stared out at the glittering lights of night-time London.
“Okay, my dreams have come true,” he muttered to himself, “but now so have my nightmares!”
Pablo was tired of London. He had visited all the sights, including Madame Tussauds and the Houses of Parliament, and was sick of the crowds and the queues. He thought about his flat overlooking Barceloneta Beach with its yellow sands and sparkling blue sea. He longed for some of that fresh air and freedom. So he decided to visit the English seaside.
There were plenty of places he could choose. He could go to Blackpool with its famous tower and golden mile of seafront. But that was in the north of England and it would take all day to get there. He could visit Newquay in Cornwall where the rolling waves were perfect for surfing, but that was just as far away. In the end, he settled for Brighton, the popular seaside town on the south coast that was only an hour from London by train.
As he emerged from Brighton Station into the bright summer sunshine, Pablo felt the same sense of excitement that he had on the plane a week earlier. Life was good. He was on an adventure to explore the world, learn more about himself and maybe find a girlfriend. He had a strong feeling that something special like that was going to happen today.
It was a long walk down the hill from the station to the sea and Pablo was soon sweating in the fierce midday heat. He looked forward to sitting on a sandy beach with a cooling ice-cream in his hand. That’s when he received his first shock. Reaching the promenade and looking over the railings, he saw there wasn’t a grain of sand in sight. Brighton beach was all stones! They crunched and slid from under his feet at he made his way towards the sea, holding his arms out for balance like a tight-rope walker at a circus.
Once he was used to them, the stones didn’t feel too bad. He made a hollow in them and lay back to sunbathe, enjoying the feel of the sun on his face. But it soon began to burn and, sweating even more now, he decided to go into the sea. He hadn’t brought a towel or swimming trunks with him, so he just went for a paddle. Leaving his shoes and socks on the beach, he rolled up his trouser legs and hobbled down the last few stones to the water. It was freezing! It frothed around his ankles, making a noise like an old man sucking his teeth, and ribbons of slimy seaweed stuck to his toes. Soon, his feet and legs had gone numb and he stumbled out of the shallows only to find that the tide had come in and flooded his shoes. He rescued them before they floated away, tipped out the seawater and put them back on, squelching back up the beach feeling less sure that this day was going to turn out to be a really happy one.
To cheer himself up, he waited in a queue at the ice-cream kiosk on the seafront with some old ladies and lots of noisy children. At last it was his turn and he chose a large strawberry cornet. The scoop of pink ice cream on top of its cone-shaped wafer was already starting to melt as he sat down in a deckchair to enjoy it. He was about to take his first lick when there was a sudden whirr of wings above his head and a seagull swooped down and snatched the whole thing out of his hand. The bird flew off and perched on the roof of a nearby beach hut, swallowing it in a couple of gulps and then squawking loudly, as if laughing at Pablo. He toyed with the idea of buying another one, but changed his mind when he saw the queue had grown even longer. So he got up to leave just as the deckchair officer arrived and charged him for two hours rent even though he’d only sat in it for five minutes.
“Maybe this isn’t going to be my day,” thought Pablo, leaving the seafront and heading off to explore the town.
Built between 1787 and 1823, the Royal Pavilion was the seaside home of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Looking like a giant Chinese temple and filled with priceless rugs and furniture from the Far East, it is Brighton’s most famous landmark. But Pablo didn’t like it. He felt there was too much decoration, making it almost ugly. And it troubled him that such a vast fortune had been spent on a building when so many of the King’s subjects had been poor and hungry. So he hurried from the palace and headed for the shops, finding himself in The Lanes, the old part of the town where shops selling jewellery, old prints and expensive handbags are packed close together in a series of stone-cobbled alleyways.
He had reached the small square in the centre of The Lanes, where people sat at outside tables with their coffee and drinks just like in Spain, when he saw her. Maria! She was walking past with her long black hair swinging over her shoulders and her piercing blue eyes looking at the clothes in the windows. Instantly, all the wrong she had done him was forgotten. He was back to being a lovesick teenager, watching her from afar and worshipping every move she made. Rushing out from a shop in which he was buying some postcards, he ran after Maria, pushing people aside in his haste to catch up with her. At last he reached her and tapped gently on her shoulder, making her turn round. He greeted her with a loving smile that slowly faded from his face as he realised he’d made a mistake. It wasn’t Maria. It was somebody else!
“I’m s-s-so sorry,” he said, blushing a deep red.
“That’s quite all right,” answered the girl, looking him up and down with a smile. “My name’s Lucy. What’s yours?”
As Lucy walked along chatting to him in a friendly way, Pablo realised he might not have made such a bad mistake after all. Okay, he hadn’t met Maria again. But Lucy looked just as beautiful and seemed to like him, making it easy for him to be with her in a way Maria never had. Within half-an-hour, Pablo had told Lucy all about himself and felt he’d made a real bond with her.
“Would you like to come for drink?” she asked. “I know a special little bar near here. I think you’ll like it there.”
His throat went dry and his heart began thumping in his chest as he felt Lucy take his hand and lead him down the backstreets of Brighton.
The Wardrobe was quite unlike anything Pablo had visited before. As he sat at one of the small tables while Lucy went to the bar, he looked around with a puzzled frown on his face. He was the only man there. The rest were women, many of them wearing bright lipstick and dressed up in old-fashioned clothes that looked all wrong on such a hot day. Also, they all seemed to know each other, calling to Lucy in strange low voices as she waited to be served. Then someone put a coin in the jukebox and two of the women got up and began dancing together in a dark corner of the room. Pablo thought it was all very weird…until he realised where he was and what was going on! This wasn’t a normal bar and these weren’t normal women. They were men! Leaping up from the table just as Lucy returned with the drinks, he mumbled some apologies and pushed past her, knocking her wig by accident so it turned sideways on her head. Charging up the stairs, Pablo emerged into the sunshine and took a deep breath like a deep-sea diver coming up from the bottom of the sea. Lucy came out after him, calling for him to come back, but he took to his heels and fled, running all the way back up the long hill to Brighton Station.
As he sat on a seat gasping for breath, he thought of home and his parents. His father, who had died when Pablo was a child, had been the curator of the Museum House in Valladolid where Cervantes had lived and worked. All his young life, Pablo had been told the stories of the great Spanish writer and he knew Don Quixote by heart. Now he felt just like Cervantes’ sad hero. He had seen what he wanted to see, not what was really there. Don Quixote had his windmills, he had Maria. Both were not real. They were imagined. And he was a fool just like the Man from La Mancha.
Getting up wearily, Pablo wandered towards the platform where his train stood waiting to depart. He felt very miserable. His day at the seaside had turned out to be a total disaster, but at least it was over now and couldn’t get any worse. Then the station announcer said:
“Due to signal problems near Gatwick Airport, the next train to London Victoria will not depart for three hours…”