Archives for posts with tag: San Sebastian


I am sitting in a ratty armchair in a cafe called KOH TAO, or at least that is what is written on the window. There are rustic and rudimentary bookshelves, rickety tables and a mish-mash of chairs seemingly rescued from skips. Too late I realise they offer BIG COFFEE. The cafe is filling up now. There is a brick-look wall with a “Banksy” style painting on it. Looks Palestinian. Ethnically challenged, anyway. I am still laughing inwardly at the Chief Rabbi or whatever on Radio 4 this morning saying that the current renewed conflict in Gaza is “something to do with Iran,” before being told by the presenters that he was still on air and suddenly snapping back into pious platitude mode. This place seems to attract the less physically repulsive members of society. There’s not much room, and crossing my legs results in a terrible testicular tangle. The chatter is drowning out my headphones, Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. I may have to resort to something more… plentiful. Actually I think I may have to bugger off elsewhere. My brain vibrates when buses go by. They look like they’re going to hurtle through the window when they come round the corner. I don’t know the name of this street, but that one there is Okendo, with the bus stops and the hotel, the Inland Revenue and a bookshop. My brother-in-law works at the hotel, which is a five-star, so he gets to do things like fix Lou Reed’s broadband connection. Lou Reed slapped his hand and screamed, “DON’T TOUCH MY COMPUTER!” which his interpreter translated as, “He says he prefers to be alone at the moment.” I explained about the electric shock therapy and that seemed to make it all OK, although he still thinks Lou Reed is an imbecile. He may have a point. A girl is now sitting cross-legged on her chair, so I pretend to myself to be outraged by this (because I know people who would be outraged) and make ready to leave. Actually I quite like it, falsehood notwithstanding, and certainly wouldn’t object if more girls sat cross-legged on rickety chairs in cafes.


(I was halfway up the hill, at an old gun battery, looking out over the sea. A fishing boat came in. I took a picture of it.)


I think the spiritual significance of this place is probably false. As far as I know, Franco stuck this big Jesus here looking over the city. I’ve been watching The Devils (1971) recently, so to me it is a cross between Orwellian and Ken Russellesque. The statue itself, creamy against the pure blue sky, has very clear lines, like precisely shaped marzipan. The right hand is held up in blessing, the left points demurely to one of those sacred heart things on his chest, like a junkie’s tattoo. The hand is massive, possibly to make it more easily distinguishable from the bottom of the hill. Looks a bit Wreck-It Ralph close up. The folds of his robe look like the pastry enveloping a sausage roll. The longer I sit here, the more I resent the statue’s presence. It seems nothing more than a fascist symbol. It is perched on top of an old fortification. There are many of them round about. They are something to do with Napoleon. I could go inside and find out what exactly, because there is a museum inside now, but I don’t feel like it, having been sent into a sulk by fascism. I will wait for said sulk to pass over before continuing.


The question I had in mind was a very vague one, along the lines of, “how do I fit in here?” I haven’t really got much of an answer, and to be honest wandering around pondering such impenetrables is pretty much my default activity. It helps me think about the place, and its convoluted history and how that inevitably impacts on me. The effects of fascism are all around me, and the church’s role is, I think, fairly cancerous. At the moment I don’t see any belief in God there at all, but I am aware that is just the mood I’m in, which is impacted upon by the current cloud of child abuse hanging over us all. I tried to get down the hill as directly as possible, trying not to double back uphill to find an easier route. Towards the bottom one path was closed off for safety reasons, so my plan was slightly scuppered and I ended up at the furthest end of the harbour. Violence and blame were on my mind. I have been attending a season of films about the Civil War in the Basque Country. In one of these films – LAUAXETA – A LOS CUATRO VIENTOS (1987) – there was a hotel in Bilbao operating as normal, a luxurious restaurant and so forth, while the city was under siege. The patrons were (of course) in league with those besieging them. It was like a strange dream. It was a terrible film, truly awful, but I kept thinking how good it might be to re-edit the footage, some of it very beguiling recreations, into something less narrative-driven and more oblique, more affecting. But at the end the audience (mostly old enough to have lived through it) applauded.



Back by the sea, bloody Barnacle Bill. This is a cafe at the far end of the bay. I have never been here because it is (relatively) new, and usually when I am out this way it is in the evening or late afternoon, when the sun is already behind the mountains. It is midday now, and sunny, so I am sitting outside. It’s a nice view, the island with the city in the background. I came to collect my bike, which I left at the office when it was raining. I am glad I am not in the office today.

I have a bun with some yellow jammy-type stuff on it and some dessicated coconut. So although I’ve never eaten one before, I’m not expecting anything too novel. I don’t think it’ll be anything special.

An elderly lady and her South American care worker are sitting at the next table and I have been eavesdropping. They seem new to each other, so now I know the old lady’s life story, with the emphasis on property acquisition.

My coffee is a bit cold, and the woman who served it wasn’t very pleased that I didn’t have anything smaller than a twenty to pay with.

Three people have come to sit at the remaining sunlit table (the rest are already in shadow). They look like smokers, so I was expecting a lungful, but so far they have contented themselves with nail biting, smartphone fiddling and telephonic conversation. They don’t seem likely to talk to each other, which suits me. But I have put my headphones on just in case. They’ve got whopping great sandwiches now. Puts my bun in the shade. I am eating the coconutty bits first. It doesn’t remind me of the coconut-coated products at Derby bus station in the 70s, which is what I was hoping for. I am obsessed with bus stations in the 70s, with their draughty shelters and fantastic fonts. The cafes had machines to dispense soft drinks. The liquid was sloshed around as if it were milk being churned. The yellow jammy bit turns out to be apricot. Its flavour has all the intensity of a gentle slope. I am reminded of the description of mass-produced sliced bread as, “nauseating gunk fit only for filling in the cracks in the wall.” Stodge rules.

Dionne Warwick sounds remarkably like Sandie Shaw at times, which brings us back to the gentle slope analogy.

A bearded man in an olden days fishing boat has just landed on the island. He got out of the boat and another bearded man got in. Maybe they are pointless smugglers.

A sparrow comes close to check out the crumb availability situation.

These Bacharach and David tunes, for all their delicacy, are pretty primordial: “let me grieve,” etc. “Your soul’s salvation will be fatally imperilled if you choose to exercise your right to reject my affection.” Heavy stuff.

The sparrows are ganging up now, like some kind of twee Hitchcock sequence.

‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ suddenly brings out the autumn chill in the air. This is sad. And like it or not, every word is the stone cold truth. I think of Dusty Springfield’s grave in Henley-on-Thames, me standing there at night wondering what to do, taking a break from a wedding reception around the corner, worried that someone might see me, alone in a churchyard, wearing a suit and holding a glass.

It’s time to go home.

(Thanks to Write Around Town and their Writing Maps and the unknown photographer)


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