We left our hero on the boat to Vigo, a town of no fame or fortune, or consequence, or shops, or anything – except for one place of note. It was where the Generalissimo Franco had his summer residence, a sprawling, and well-kitted-out minor palace. I wonder who occupies it now. Franco cannot have been too fussy about his bolt-hole in Vigo if he was prepared to allow an onslaught on it by a posse of 700 English children, many of whom were thinking of Easter Sunday, and its promise of chocolate, which was looming up in hat well-known millpond, the Bay of Biscay. I was not a sweet-eater, and never have been (when Acid -Drop Spangles were dumped, that was the end for me).
On the bus to Vigo, we were given one very serious piece of advice. The Generalissimo had some orange trees. We were not to touch them, on pain of … I missed what the pain was assoviated with, because I don’t think I had ever clocked that oranges actually grew on trees. Bushes, perhaps, I thought. I quite brightened at the impending novelty.
We piled out of the rickety buses, and made our way to the gardens in which Franco (I think I knew that he was a ‘bad man’) kept his sumer retreat in tip-top nick. I detached myself from the oiks with whom I was obliged to mingle, and went off to have a look at an orange tree. Yes. They were right. Oranges, like apples, amazingly enough, sprouted from the branches of trees. I looked in both diections. And nabbed a more or less unripe orange, which I stashed in my pocket.
Back at the bus, an hour later, I noticed a bit of a commotion outside, and heard raised voices. Leaning over, I could see one of the teachers engaged in a heated contretemps with a man who was wearing a funny black hat on sideways. That would have been all right, but the man was carrying a gun, a big gun, possibly a machine gun. It was clear to me that the conversation was along the lines of ‘One of your boys has picked one of the Generalissimo’s oranges. Bring him to me that he may be shot. The other 699 may go.’
There was only one thing for it. I would have to eat the orange. Which I did, pith, pips and peel, all still pretty green, which was how I felt, in one motion. No-one has ever eaten an orange, ripe or otherwise, so quickly. Not long after that, the altercation ceased. I could only imagine that the guards had decided that a strip-search of 700 children would be a long job on a hot day. (You may say that it is more plausible that they were discussing the way the coach was parked, and you would be right, but that’s not how it felt at the time.)
Ever since then, I have had a love-hate relationship with oranges. They look all right. They look as if they might taste all right. But something, some invisible Spanish hand, always holds me back.
The wages of sin.