Maybe I had spoken half a dozen times to each of them, Candy Lee and Rod, during the week at the “Pueblo Ingles” but it was enough to form a rudimentary friendship out of which we agreed, on a loose commitment, to hang out together during our outbound transit time in Madrid. Of course there were others that I had warmed to during the week but the coincidence of plans just worked out this way.
Rod and I turned up at the hostal I had booked on my incoming trip. Rod was busking it in true, freewheeling style and had come along in the hope of there being a room for him. The proprietress and her dog greeted us with neither recognition nor any outward show of cordiality. She explained that there was no single room for Rod but, on seeing our disappointment, offered us a family room to share instead. A deal was struck and Rod, graciously insistent that I take the double bed, sat himself on the furthest single, a piece of which promptly clattered to the floor. We didn’t feel inclined to spend time fixing it.
Meanwhile Candy Lee had judiciously booked a room at another hostal, the location of which was a mystery to all three of us. From there she had promised to arrange the evening’s social activity - a demonstration of the Flamenco at a restaurant. During inbound transit she had become enraptured by this art form at the welcoming party, which Rod and I had both missed, so she was intent on setting this right for us that night. Such open enthusiasm can be very contagious.
Rod and I scrubbed up, despite the absence of a plug in the sink and a wall-attachment for the shower head, and made our way to the reception area where a huge, flat-screen TV had appeared since my last visit. (It seems the investment budget had been allocated, this year, to the receptionist at the expense of the guests - perhaps the current European Championship football tournament had some part in that decision.) I led the way down the ancient, worn, wooden stairs and out across the square to the magnificent cerveceria of my previous discovery. I looked for Rod’s approval before allowing myself some satisfaction then we found a table, ordered beer, tuned in to the buzz and awaited joining instructions from Candy Lee.
Part way through our second round I drew Rod’s attention to the fact that a group of half a dozen water-colourists was seated behind him using his figure as a model. He turned and exchanged smiles to show that no personal space was being invaded - although we still found ourselves paying for our third round. By this time we had admitted to each other that, whilst meeting up with Candy Lee would be fun, the proposed formal entertainment held less appeal. By round number four the water-colourists had packed up and left, after shyly showing us their impressions of Rod’s back. They were, as I suspected, amateurs. Text message contact had finally been established with Candy Lee who told us she had been detained at the shops but promised to get a cab, straight away, to the cerveceria. We were reassuring ourselves that it must now be too late for the planned entertainment when the beaming Candy Lee arrived - it turned out her hostal was practically next door. We tried to appear disappointed as she explained that she had failed to book the Flamenco restaurant but it was evident that she was unfazed and up for an alternative experience.
I took this second opportunity to show off my local knowledge and led the way, retracing my route of a week earlier, to the next authentic Madrid experience - the wine bar. “How do you know all these places?” asked Candy Lee. I made a knowing, man-about-town gesture and swept us confidently through the door to a central table. The obliging, English-speaking waiter was not on shift this time but the young girl attending soon got our drift as we pointed our way through the menu. We began to discuss a plan for the next day which involved a return trip, via high-speed train, to Toledo. I opted out of this one, since my flight home was to be the following evening and the potential for missing it would create an opportunity for unwanted stress. Also it involved the unlikely event of meeting Katie at the railway station at 09.00. We had no phone contact with Katie and the station was an enormous, unfamiliar complex; but neither of these factors seemed to deter my companions whose commitment to Katie, the exploration of Toledo and, it seemed, the thrill of the high-speed train ride did not waver through two bottles of excellent red wine. When we called for the bill it was not with any intention of retiring. We tipped generously, North American style, then hit the street still hungry for Madrid...