A Winter's Tale

It's last orders at Juani's bar: Conil, Spain
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The Independent Travel

Little has changed in the seven months since I was last in Conil. Spring and summer have been and gone. The bad news is that Juani and the boys have moved to join her husband in Barcelona. The small bar that she kept on the Plaza de Franco – as the locals still call it, out of a mark of respect – was the most popular in town. It's been joined to the bar next door by knocking a hole through the wall. I wonder if the owners know? Juani never did get the hang of running a business; not sure which side of the bar she was supposed to be. Something she overcame by dancing on top of it at every opportunity. But then she never did know on what side of what she was ever meant to be.

Little has changed in the seven months since I was last in Conil. Spring and summer have been and gone. The bad news is that Juani and the boys have moved to join her husband in Barcelona. The small bar that she kept on the Plaza de Franco – as the locals still call it, out of a mark of respect – was the most popular in town. It's been joined to the bar next door by knocking a hole through the wall. I wonder if the owners know? Juani never did get the hang of running a business; not sure which side of the bar she was supposed to be. Something she overcame by dancing on top of it at every opportunity. But then she never did know on what side of what she was ever meant to be.

Ten years of practice couldn't quite adjust her from the state of being single to the one of being married. Apart from the ceremony, it was a condition completely beyond her understanding. At heart she was an artist, something her hand never came to terms with. In her boundless enthusiasm she'd hang her latest oil paintings on the bar walls for us to admire before they had a chance to dry. I've still got part of one on my favourite leather jacket. It might be worth something one day.

And like everything else, though the idea appealed, motherhood proved a bit of a bother. Not that she allowed it to distract her. She was out of the house as soon as the bar called to be opened, more often than not before. The boys had to learn to bring up themselves. At the ages of three and seven that might seem a little hard. Yet, though they're too young to appreciate it now, it's something they'll never regret. The experience of being raised by Juani might have seriously damaged their unformed brains. After cooking and eating their suppers, they'd turn up at the bar sometimes, hand in hand, just to make sure she was all right before putting themselves to bed. She must have moved out pretty quick because she didn't have time to take her paintings with her. I hope that the new owners leave them there.

We knew her days were numbered when the brewery stopped delivering and she was reduced to buying supplies from the local supermarket. She'd been using the back of the bills to sketch on.

They still talk about last New Year's Eve. It was the time that Spain changed over to the euro. It was the only night she made a profit: €150 (£100) is an awful lot to pay for a glass of beer, but in the confusion many did. She assumed the changeover was going to be one-for-one. Luckily, I had enough pesetas left not to get caught out. Though the art world might be a far better place, it'll be a sad day for the boys if she decides to take up parenting seriously in Barcelona. Left to fend for themselves, they were doing so well.

These days, the fishermen have taken to using Manolo's bar. Too many tourists were getting into Paco's and he put the prices up. Aside from his generous credit facilities, Manolo's good for the odd fag or two to see them through till their boats come in, if they ever set out. Fishing isn't what it used to be, Antolin keeps telling me. If overfishing is the problem they're doing more than their bit to solve it.

But the tourist season shone brightly on Manolo, what with the mass defection from Paco's, so the aftermath may see them through till Christmas. He charges €1 for a bottle of Coca Conil. They call it that because he serves it in recycled Coke bottles. He pours the rough white sherry from an old brandy bottle, always filling them right to the brim. And his really is the real thing. I shouldn't have had quite so many on my first night back, but then there's always such a lot of news to catch up on in Conil.

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