We had a brief stay in a hotel and soon moved to a third floor apartment in the centre of Huelva. It had a balcony overlooking the crowded, bustling street below and a newspaper kiosk on the corner. Marky and I used to sit on the balcony floor and laze away the heat of the summer, catching an occasional breeze. We spent hours shelling and eating sunflower seeds, as well as eating green olives and pleasantly spitting the stones over the edge of the balcony to the pavement below. Five points for hitting a passer-by and ten points if they looked around without spotting us giggling on the balcony.
It wasn’t long before we were put to better use and enrolled in a Montessori School. Initially put in a class full of Spanish kids, I couldn’t understand a thing. I was only armed with hello, goodbye, the basics of verb construction and counting one to ten in Spanish. Unfortunately, none of this was any use when everyone talked at a hundred miles an hour using words that would have been beyond me even if I recognised them, which I didn’t.
After a few weeks of teachers waving their arms about and doing a sort of slow motion baby talk at me (one thing I did understand was “Estúpido Inglés”), my parents arranged for separate tuition by a Spaniard called Rodrigo. Presumably the reasoning behind this was it was better to be taught by someone who could speak English but wasn’t a teacher, as opposed to a teacher who couldn’t speak English. And so Marky and I were to have lessons with one other English boy in a small basement room in the school, separated from the Spanish kids.
Rodrigo was an amiable man who spoke fair English. He was tall, tanned and shaggy haired. Somehow, he had been talked into teaching us, so he got some books and set to it. The subjects he approached were Spanish, English, Maths, History and Science. It didn’t look like he had any syllabus to follow as the chapters and subjects seemed to be picked at random. I had no idea about the equations and diagrams of test tubes he drew with chalk on the board, but History was interesting. He showed us pictures of English kings and an occasional battle, with arrows showing where one army went and more arrows drawn in different colours demonstrating some fact or other that escaped me at the time. The English lessons were limited as Rodrigo’s English wasn’t as good as ours. The Spanish, however, was absorbing. Foreign language skills aside, it seemed Rodrigo’s efforts were in vain and our education, at best, treaded water.
One evening, I fell really ill. My face felt swollen and my head hurt. I was so hot that Dad went out to get a thermometer and eventually came home to take my temperature. It was 105 degrees fahrenheit. I began vomiting and it was one of the worst nights of my life. A doctor visited the next day and said I had mumps. Bedridden over the coming weeks, I was caught up in dreams, some of which encroached upon real life. I remember dreaming about a mathematical equation which was so important that I woke everyone up running about and shouting it aloud. After some time, I was awake but my mind was still in the dream. I tried to impress upon my parents that the equation was world-changing and watched Marky openly laugh at me. But the equation sucked me back into the dream. I wish that I could remember the detail of that equation. In the coming months, I was stuck between a dream and reality many times and it lasted hours each time before I returned to the real world. It felt like I was going mad.