Tom's First Word
Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Ibizan Life No 1.
When Tom reached the age of four Cheralie made a decision. We had managed to get him to write his name, but not much more. With a sad reluctance on my part, and a growing happiness on Cheralie’s, I donned my best dogrobbers (Harris tweed jacket, collar and tie, brogues) and went for a yomp around town, looking for a school. Despite the fact that we had been sailing in and out of San Antonio for 7 years because it is the only port in the western Mediterranean where one can anchor for free, I had not paid much attention to the location of schools.
Several hours later, sweaty and frustrated (nobody wears a tie in Ibiza except me on rare occasions), I returned to the boat empty-handed. The school gates I saw were all locked, either to prevent the students from escaping or, more likely, to stop casual nosey enquirers such as me. We re-grouped, me with a pipe of Balkan Sobranie and a mug of tea, Cheralie with her fags and a glass of wine. This enabled the grey matter to kick in and so we changed the plan.
The next day, dressed in a pair of old rugby shorts, a tatty Recce Troop Four Five Commando t-shirt, and flip flops, I got on the bus and crossed the island to the capital of Ibiza, called Ibiza. Now I was in unfamiliar territory, but with the aid of a phrase book and some determination I eventually found the island’s education department. It was a small nondescript office with no air-conditioning or even a visible external sign to explain it’s function. Simply finding it felt like a major discovery, similar to what Columbus must have felt I imagine. It was staffed by two very attractive and friendly females.
Nether spoke English, or even Spanish as far as I could tell. I had heard that something called Catalan was coming in as the new language to be adopted by the Balearics. This was worrying as I had only just managed to get the basics (beer, wine, gin, food and tobacco) weighed off. It had taken me some time to work out why I was often met with a stunned silence and dark looks in the supermarkets when asking for the location of the chicken (pollo) until I discovered the meaning of the Spanish word polla (penis).
As a result of this mispronunciation I had prepared a few sentences, and as we stumbled through so the younger of the two suddenly said, with a tinge of exasperation, “what school?”
“I’ve heard of a place called Can Coix?” She immediately dialled a number and spoke rapidly. I understood nothing.
“You go now.”
“Sant Antoni. Up the hill”.
Relieved, I thanked her, but as I was walking out of the door she suddenly said “where you live?”
“Aah,” I hesitated. “We live on a boat. In the middle of San Antonio harbour?” I muttered, as my heart sank. She pondered, chewing the end of her biro in a manner not befitting a public servant, then she wrote on a form as she spoke slowly for the benefit of a thick foreigner:
“Nu . . .mero . . . uno . . . calle . . . de . . . la . . . mar.”
Back on the bus I searched through the phrase book before I realised that we now officially lived at Number One, Sea Street.
I went straight up the hill and found, to my delight, Joanna waiting for me at the gates. Had she been there long, I pondered, as she led me into her classroom and began reeling off a list of items to buy. I thumbed through the phrase book, rapidly scribbling: chanclas (flip flops), toalla (towel), shorts de baňo (swimming trunks), gafas de natación (swimming goggles), I looked up quizzically; this was a school, wasn’t it?
We finally got down to books, pens, pencils etc. and feeling slightly relieved I managed “cuando?”
“Maňana por maňana, a las nueve.”
Tomorrow morning! At nine!!? I had expected a term’s grace at least, but it was not to be. I ran back to the boat and shoved the shopping list into Cheralie’s hand, whilst I walked back up the hill to do a time appreciation for tomorrow’s major event. It was going to be emotional; we had to get up at about six!
Sitting on the school wall watching another beautiful sunset over the wooded hills it suddenly dawned on me that Tom’s babyhood was over. I had spent almost every day of his first four years with him. I had also learnt that Spanish administration can work for you, as well as against you. It was a major turning point in all our lives.