Chapter 24: Suzanne – July 1977

Life for Suzanne was fulfilling but not very exciting she thought.  She loved the Pimlico house that she shared with her father in a pleasantly amicable relationship.  Neither felt pressure to spend time with the other yet they both enjoyed the times that they did.  Suzanne had fallen into a routine of cooking an evening meal that they shared and talked over the experiences of the day like an old married couple.  Sometimes Suzanne felt like a substitute for her mother but not often and she didn’t really mind.

Ziggy and Zorro were a great form of entertainment for them both.  The two young cats were constantly seeking and finding new adventures to amuse themselves and their owners.  Apart from a phase of racing up the living room curtains which Jack had firmly put a stop to; their games were harmless.  They played hide and seek springing out from their hiding place and wrestling the other to the ground in a flurry of fur.  Zorro liked to race across the polished floor and leap onto a rug at such speed that it slid across the floor with him on top like a toboggan.  Ziggy liked to lay in wait on the stairs ostensibly sleeping with his legs in the air then he would grab hold of Zorro from underneath as he came to investigate.  The two would then roll down the stairs locked in combat, which would end with a mutual washing session and a short nap.  In the evenings after dinner Zorro liked to lie on the back of the sofa and hang his paw over the side to pat Suzanne’s head.  Ziggy would sit on the arm of the sofa next to Suzanne or curl up beside Jack.

Suzanne’s work was demanding and she enjoyed the many challenges that she faced day to day.  Mr Lewis, who had become her unofficial mentor, was due to retire in a few weeks time and she wondered how his leaving would affect her future career.  He had been true to his word and become a stalwart supporter of her work.  He had introduced her into senior and influential networks, which had provided her with contacts in many of the civil service departments.  Suzanne was beginning to wonder if a sideways move would be good for her career and also may be more intellectually stimulating.  She had heard that there was a position coming vacant in the Home Office.  The post would be senior to her current role and it would be educational.  She had met some of the senior people and thought she may have a good chance if the post was not already earmarked for an internal candidate.  Henry Lewis would definitely know the answer to this conundrum and she intended to ask him the following week.

Her father, Jack, had settled into life in London.  He often spent the day at the British Museum or the British Library researching for some paper that he intended to write but somehow never ever got down to.  He sometimes ventured to Oxford to meet up with his ex colleagues and occasionally had visits from the same in London. When an overnight visit was organised Suzanne would help her father to entertain.  Actually she found the dinner table conversation extremely interesting, as her father’s friends were all formidable intellectuals.

Suzanne had maintained her interests in learning cooking and languages and added a new string to her bow by completing a touch-typing evening class.  She intended to use this skill to exploit the use of modern information technology that was starting to creep into everyday life.  Suzanne despaired sometimes of the laggard nature of the civil service but she knew that one day that they would have to change.  The whole world would be using computers.  She also harboured dreams of writing in the future.

Suzanne had also developed an interest in all things Spanish.  She suspected it had begun with her Mediterranean cookery course; her pleasure in the food soon lead to additional interests; first into learning the language, followed by the history and culture of the country.  An idea had then started to form in Suzanne’s mind.  She would travel to Spain and spend two or three weeks exploring some of the cities and areas that she had been reading about.  She would fly out to Madrid or Seville, hire a car and drive around the southern regions, particularly Andalucía, the area that fascinated her most.  At first her father was worried about her undertaking this adventure on her own.  However he understood that his daughter was more than capable of taking care of herself and also that she needed to have independence from him.

Suzanne spent several weeks poring over maps and travel books planning her journey.  She wanted to visit Seville, Granada, Malaga, Marbella, Cadiz, Jerez and Madrid.  She planned her route to make the most of the scenery and cultural opportunities and produced a detailed itinerary.  Next she contacted travel agents and obtained details and prices for flights, car hire and hotels on route.  She found a small local company who were very helpful and she struck up such a good relationship with Ruth that she almost felt that they ought to do the journey together.

Suzanne had thought extensively about travelling with a companion but her options were limited.  Her father she needed to have some space from occasionally and she knew that he shouldn’t become too dependent on her constant availability.  Her best friends were all too time limited, Penny with her family to care for, Rebecca with her business and Caitlin travelled constantly anyway.  She was quite good friends with a colleague at the foreign office, Shirley was in an equivalent position in a different department and the two women had struck up a good working relationship which had over time become a friendship.

Suzanne and Shirley had first socialised with other colleagues after work on a Friday evening, which had led to occasional plans to meet for a drink, a meal or a concert.  Suzanne didn’t think that she really knew Shirley well enough to spend several weeks in her company.  There would also be difficulties for them both to get leave at the same time from work.  This all left Suzanne as a solo traveller.  In some ways she was excited by this and in others apprehensive.

Not however trepid enough to deter her.  Suzanne booked her flights and a few hotels at key points on her journey but not for every night because she wanted to be flexible enough to change her plans to suit her needs.  Ruth hired a car for Suzanne to pick up at the airport as she could get a much better rate.  Suzanne had booked the final two weeks of May and the first week of June for her holiday; the most time she had had off work since she joined the civil service.

Looking back on those three weeks exploring southern Spain Suzanne realised that this journey was the first in her long love affair with the Spanish people.  She had had the best of times.  Driving along dusty roads and tracks, winding up and down mountain roads, bouncing over potholes and rough terrain marvelling at the wonderful views of the Mediterranean with glimpse of Gibraltar and North Africa in the distance, she was in heaven.  She stopped and ate at small bodegas used only by the locals as she journeyed, sampling the very best in simple local dishes.

In the evenings she would book into a small posada and settle herself into her room, wash and change and go out on foot to explore.  She wandered around taking in her surroundings causing a certain amount of curiosity and consternation being a lone woman traveller.  She soon gained confidence to practice her Spanish on the local people who were always surprised and delighted to hear a tourist speak in their own language however lacking in exactness.  She would talk to the cooks, often women in the local cantinas, asking them for recipes that she could try at home on her family and friends.  Although not deliberate in intent she had soon found that flattery of this sort earned her a friendly welcome wherever she journeyed.  She was often given gifts of bread fresh from the oven, or olives just harvested tomatoes still warm from the sun and speciality cheeses to take with her on her onward journey.

Suzanne had read a book by Washington Irving when she had been studying in Oxford.  His description of a journey that he made on horseback with a friend in 1851 had sparked her imagination.  Irving and his associate from the Russian Embassy in Madrid had journeyed across the deserts and mountains of southern Spain to visit Granada and the famous Alhambra a spectacular Moorish palace.  With this story in her mind one of the most spectacular parts of her journey was traversing the scorching dry planes and then climbing through the foothills towards the high snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada to reach the wondrous city of Granada.

Here she spent a couple of days exploring the winding streets and plazas of the city sampling its food and wine.  She made a pilgrimage to the Alhambra palace, which she found breathtakingly beautiful.  The Moorish design of the formal gardens with their network of waterways and fountains making the gardens appear like a cool inviting oasis amidst the heat of the desert.  She admired the ancient’s inventiveness and engineering skills that had enabled them to harness the melted snow and rain water from the height of the mountains to water and cool the palace gardens.

It was with great regret that Suzanne finished her journey back in Madrid a few days later and flew back to the UK.  She loved Spain and had felt at home there, she felt sure that she would return again and again.

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