A Minstrel in Spain
Chapter Twenty

New Neighbours

A woman rang me up and said that she wanted me to write a big band ar­rangement of a tune called Bridge over the Mountain. Her husband, who was a well-known singer, wanted to include this on his next record.

‘I don’t know that one,’ I said, ‘You’d better send me a copy of the mel­ody, and the text as well.’

‘We don’t actually have a text,’ she said. ‘We thought that you would per­haps write one for us.’

‘All right, just send the melody, then.’

‘We thought that you would write that, too.’

‘And who is going to conduct the orchestra, and produce the record? Don’t answer that. Is your husband any good, or do you want me to sing it, too?’ I said, laughing heartily.

There was a long silence, and, for a moment, I thought she had gone. When she spoke again a cold wind blew out of the telephone.

‘We have three girls,’ she said.

‘Well — congrat...’

‘Three girl singers.’ She spoke slowly and deliberately, as one does when talk­ing to foreigners and imbeciles.

She then played me, over the telephone, a pre-electric recording of a song called Come on Boy. This has always been one of my top favourites, because the composer hit on the ingenious idea of having the title serve as the text as well. That is to say—the text consists solely of the words ‘Come on Boy’, shouted, snarled and screamed about five hundred times.

This particular version had been recorded in the Simplon Tunnel, because of the marvellous acoustics, and the girls were screaming far away, deep in the bowels of the earth.

‘Hey,’ I said, admiringly, ‘That was f------ murder.’

‘They are very pretty,’ she said, defensively.

‘Well, I can get you three pretty ugly professionals for the recording. My cat can sing better than that.’

‘But what about the video clip?’

‘Ah yes, the video clip. I’d forgotten all about that! Now then, what will hap­pen to the record after it has been produced? Who will promote it?’

‘We’d rather hoped that you would ask one of your disc jockeys to get it into the Hit-Parade.’

‘Why didn’t I think of that before!’ I exclaimed.

‘Now, about the money.’

‘We thought of paying you from the record sales, and then, of course, there are the royalties, and .....’

‘Ten thousand dollars, cash in advance,’ I said.

There was a long silence, and for a moment I thought she had gone.

She had.

One of the problems of being an arranger, apart from that one, is that the very nature of the occupation turns one into a recluse. Like the novelist, the ar­ranger spends most of his time cooped up in a lonely room, dividing his time into periods of intense thought, followed by flurries of violent activity.

The concentration required is, therefore, fierce. The utter isolation of the job is not helped by the fact that most of us today work with a synthesizer, wearing ear­phones; thus cutting ourselves off completely from the outside world, and its everyday disturbances.

This is all very well if you are alone in the house. If you are not, the sudden ap­pearance of someone, however beloved, beside you, can be startling.

Peter Herbolzheimer is one of Germany’s most successful arrangers, and on one occasion he asked me to go over to Cologne and help him get through a pile of arranging, which was needed in a hurry.

I worked in the lounge, while he carried on in his workroom, several yards away.

His wife Gisela, who was copying the scores as we finished them, kept picking up the phone, saying a few words, and laying it down again. Intrigued by this, I asked, after a while, with whom she kept communicating.

‘With Peter,’ she said. ‘If I go along to his room he gets such a shock that it takes him a half-hour to calm down again.’

‘Well, I need to talk to him about this score, right away. I can’t do it over the phone.’

‘Oh dear,’ she said. ‘The best thing to do, in that case, is to make as much noise as possible going down the corridor, so as not to surprise him.’

As I walked towards his room, clearing my throat noisily, singing cheerful be­bop phrases and stumbling into bits of furniture, it occurred to me that she could also have telephoned through to warn him that I was coming. But it was too late.

As I entered the room I could see him, hunched over the synthesizer, wearing earphones rather like those worn by men who welcome in the planes landing on air­craft-carriers, hissing and moaning as one does while writing compli­cated brass figures.

I thought that he had seen me.

I tapped him on the shoulder. I swear to God that I have never before in my life actually seen anyone rise vertically from a chair and hit the ceiling.

He came down white-faced and trembling, wrenched off the earphones, and, forgetting that I, too, was a loved one, came out with a stream of invective which would have done credit to an Irish stoker.

‘I told you so,’ said Gisela, after he had been put to bed with a sedative.

Arranging can be dangerous for your health, too.

In spite of the fierce concentration, or maybe because of it, arrangers still make blunders in the writing of scores. The job is damn difficult anyway, and is further complicated by the fact that all instruments have to be written in their transposed keys, to save having to pay the copyists the otherwise necessary trans­posing money. Some­times one gets tangled up in this after working without sleep for a few days and nights. The obvious errors get corrected during rehearsal, but now and then a blunder emerges that no one would have dared to write, but which sounds absolutely stunning. I made such a mistake in one of the scores I wrote for Peter, and put down some alto flutes a tone apart where they should have been in unison. With any other instruments this would have sounded pretty bad at that point in the score.

‘Stop!’ shouted Peter when he heard it. The tape ran back and we listened to it again.

‘How did you get that sound?’ he demanded, getting ready to add it to his own repertoire. I shrugged.

‘Skill? Talent?’ I said. Everyone in the control room began hitting me on the head with newspapers, rolled-up music, drumsticks, saxophones.

Linda was like a wandering gypsy. No sooner were we established in one house, than she was off looking for another better place to live.

We had discovered a corner of the Costa Blanca that we liked, not far from Benidorm, and a Belgian construction company, the owner of which was a kindly, bearded man, whom one at once felt could be trusted.

We bought 1300 meters of land, drew a plan of what we wanted, and told him to start building.

Six months later we visited our new house for the first time. The first de­posit had been sent, and the house should have been rough fin­ished up to the roof.

In those days, before the motorway through France and Spain had been com­pleted, a trip down from Saarbrücken was like a three day sa­fari, the wild ani­mals be­ing our fellow travellers. The roads weren’t fit for the volume of traffic they were having to handle. Worst of all were the Dutch cara­vans. Almost impossible to overtake without grave dan­ger, they took up most of the road and drove slowly. No sooner had you successfully passed one than you joined another mile long queue to pass the next. In the savage heat it was very trying on the nerves. Travel­ling at night was no better.

By the time we arrived in Benissa, where the house had been built we were ex­hausted. I drew up just over a small rise in front of the house and told Linda to close her eyes. Then I drove slowly on, savouring the moment to the full.

‘Now. Now you can look.’

There was nothing there. Someone had dug a couple of footings and thrown some cement in. Otherwise the only thing new on the plot was an enor­mous clump of weeds.

It was at that moment, looking down on the vague outline I’d scratched in the earth six months earlier, that we decided to increase the size of the house by one meter in all directions. Good job they hadn’t started. We altered the plans drastically.

The builder agreed to the changes, arrived next morning with bull­doz­ers and workmen and we watched the house grow rapidly before our eyes. Within a month they were up to the roof.

Everything we wanted in that house was given to us. Nothing was too much trouble. We chose expensive tiles, had extra windows, larger rooms, extra terraces, special bathrooms, a minstrel gallery with spiral stair­case—everything was put in with a smile. Before we had even re­ceived a bill for all the extra work and materials the firm went bankrupt. Nobody ever asked us for the extra money.

We decided to call the house My Spanish Heart after a tune by Chick Corea, but I never got around to actually putting the name up.

That house with an area of 240 square meters cost me 85,000 German Marks at a time when a similar house anywhere else in Spain would have cost over three times as much, and almost ten times if I’d had it built in England or Germany. Maybe the builder made a mistake in calcu­lat­ing the cost. This was the first time in my life that I had come out on top in a building project.

The second time was around the corner, because now Linda managed to sell our house in Auersmacher for such a profit that we got all of our building so­ciety in­terest back again. It was just enough to pay for the house in Spain. How she did it I will never know.

When we had to visit the bank to discuss any money deals I was like the Invis­ible Man. With Linda around no one ever noticed me. I kept my mouth shut and they fell over one another to please her. It may have helped that Linda usually spent the whole evening of the PriMaBuBa, an annual affair rather like the Chelsea Arts Ball, exclusively with the director of the Deutsche Bank.

This event was an annual costume ball given in Saarbrücken by the actors and stage technicians of the local theatre, together with the lo­cal print­ers and commercial artists. It was a huge affair, like the Presseball had been in Ber­lin. Everyone turned up.

For the occasion the Congress Hall was turned into a festival area, with very many dance halls and discos, while the cellars beneath be­came a labyrinth of bars and amusement stalls. It was easy to get lost in the place.

The bank director would ditch his wife and spend the evening wan­dering around with Linda while I played, usually until five in the morn­ing. This was stan­dard practice, no one spent the evening with his own wife. There was no hanky-panky as far as I could make out. He was a nice guy, with a charming wife, and rich as could be. Many grateful widows had left him millions in their wills for serv­ices rendered. He only worked now for the fun of it.

Selling the house was not without its problems, though. Soon after the sale we were invited around to the local police station where we were both docu­mented, fin­ger-printed, and charged with fraud. The woman who had bought our house had dis­covered that the house was not connected to the main drainage sys­tem, and that the septic tank was on a neighbouring plot.

I had already given her agent a detailed plan of the house, showing the path of the drains, together with a Right of Way statement from the owner of the neigh­bouring land. This was strongly denied by the agent. He had never seen such a document.

We contacted our own agent. Disgusted by what he had seen and ex­pe­ri­enced in the world of estate agents he had taken another job in far away Trier, and was now a printer of newspapers.

We tracked him down and visited him in Trier in his lunch break, obtaining from him a sworn statement that we had given the plans to the other agent.

No sooner had we delivered this statement to our lawyer than we heard that our agent had retracted his statement. The woman’s agent had frightened him off with dire threats of perjury. We were back on square one, and stood a good chance of im­prisonment if a deliberate fraud were proved. The woman was furthermore demanding a goodly sum of money in dam­ages from us to pay for the canalisation, which had just begun to take place in the road outside the house. It was immensely bad luck for us that the council had chosen this very moment to do so, after ten years of constantly putting it off.

Things were looking critical when, one day, I casually mentioned the prob­lem to an acquaintance in the news department of the radio sta­tion. Two days later we heard that the case had been dropped against us. Quite without my knowledge my friend’s brother just happened to be the District Attorney for Saarbrücken.

A week later I found the mislaid house plans where they had fallen down be­hind my bookcase.

Once the house in Spain had been completed we began scouring around once more. Linda’s theory was that by selling the Spanish house we would then be able to afford to buy two more houses—and so on.

This would have worked out fine, except that we had landed with a Bel­gian-Spanish company which went bankrupt, as most of them did, before comple­tion. There was some terrible fiddling going on in the urbanisation, and we ended up with the com­pleted house, but with no water or electricity laid on. A clause, freshly invented by the receivers, stated that we’d have to pay another huge sum to non-existent architects before receiving the installations.

Linda dressed up to kill one day and went on her own down to Alicante, where she more or less bull-dozed her way into the office of the dele­gate of the housing min­istry, El Delegado.

There, in her perfect Spanish, learned during several years working in Gran Canaria, she convinced the man that I would be capa­ble, through my jour­nalistic connections in Germany, of exposing the whole sorry affair in the German press, thus causing immense embarrassment to the Spanish government. She was greatly assisted in this by a Spanish army offi­cer we had met on our travels.

This guy was not only a full colonel, and the local military judge, but his sister was married to the governor of Alicante. Phone calls were made. The dele­gate threat­ened to revoke the licenses of all electri­cians in our area. Suddenly we had the electric­ity.

As soon as our house began bristling with electric light and power, an oasis in the darkness surrounding us in the urbanisation, all hell broke loose around our ears. We were accused of corruption by all who had been with us in the grand campaign against the builders.

Linda eventually managed to get the electricity laid on for several other houses. She be­came a bit of a myth in our area.

By the time the excitement had died down, and the whole urbanisation was connected to the national grid, and water laid on, the people in the urbanisa­tion, mainly Bel­gians, united in time of stress, had ceased all contact with one another. So it has remained to this day.

Meanwhile life went on in Saarbrücken. Having sold the house we moved into half of a very elegant house up on a hill near the air­port. This air­port had a very short runway, and dealt with only a couple of planes a day. If you wanted to fly anywhere the cost was prohibitive. I was booked to play one night in the new show Fancy Free in Hamburg. The flight, by way of Frank­furt, cost over five hundred marks. For this one night I was paid a thousand, but most of it was for the flight, hotel, and taxis. In the end I was short fifty marks. Put it down to experience.

I went to play a TV show in Berlin with Petula Clark and Caterina Valente. I asked Caterina about the session with John Keating.

‘Oh! That was great, really wonderful,’ she said. ‘You know how John always does things at the last moment? Well he had about fifteen copyists sitting around, and he was even writing new scores while he was conducting.’

Back home people had moved in next door. The new tenant was a rich phar­macist from Saarbrücken’s main shopping street. His wife phoned us late one night, when we were already in bed and invited us to a party. When we went next door there were only the two of them, both drunk. We drank Dom Perignon by the magnum.

The guy buttonholed me at once, going on and on about the prices of medi­cine and pills. It was a constant irritation to him that, when a med­ical preparation cost a couple of pfennigs more than a round figure, say at one mark and three pfennigs—the customer would always expect him to round it down for his benefit.

Did I realise how much revenue this lost him in a year? I looked around the luxurious living room, at the champagne, at his red-headed lux­ury wife, loaded down almost to the floor with jewelry. She was busily telling Linda what a prick her hus­band was, sitting in the back room of the shop all day like a senile old fool, looking at his classic car maga­zines. She spoke loudly, and it was impossible to misinterpret what she was saying.

His hobby was renovating old cars, something which doesn’t interest me too much. He had a Model T Ford, worth about a million marks, and sev­eral oth­ers. Luck­ily they weren’t stored nearby, otherwise I’d have been forced to go and swoon over them.

After a while we changed partners, and he started in to tell Linda about the pfennigs, while I got his wife putting her tongue in my ear and telling me about the silly old bugger, and how as she never got laid, and so on.

Some weeks later we had our bandleader Eberhard Pokorny and his wife Anna in for a coffee after we’d vis­ited a local Italian restaurant. It was around ten in the evening. No sooner had we sat down when the woman next door phoned up to demand whether we had a party going on.

I said that we had a couple of friends in.

‘Right. I’m coming,’ she said. A couple of minutes later she was hammer­ing at the door with two magnums of Dom Perignon under her arm. She must have bathed in the stuff.

After we finished the first magnum, Pokorny began talking about his father, whom he had hardly known, and who had just died.

‘Ooooooh, now I wish I’d known him better,’ he moaned.

‘Maybe you wouldn’t have liked him,’ I said.

‘Ooooooh, but I wish I’d known him better,’ he sobbed.

The woman next door was meanwhile telling everyone what a prick her hus­band was.

‘What a prick he is,’ she said.

‘Ooooohhh,’ moaned Pokorny.

I don’t remember much more of that evening, except that I slept the night on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom. Every time Linda tried to get me back into the bedroom I asked her to leave me in peace. I loved being on the cold floor. She put a pillow under my head and left me to it.

We first knew about our new newly newest neighbours, after the phar­ma­cist and his harlot wife moved out suddenly owing the rent, when someone began drilling a hole in the wall right by my sleeping ear at seven in the morning. Banging on the wall had no effect, and so I went next door and screamed at them, using all the rude words I could remember in German.

Luckily it wasn’t the neighbours, but workmen from the coal mines. The new neighbour was a director of the mines, and they were putting in a hot tele­phone line for him. They apologised and came back later.

They also installed a burglar alarm system which our new Siamese cat, Hanni­bal, kept setting off by leaping through an open toilet win­dow. (Susy had been shot in the woods in Auersmacher, a tragic af­fair. James, a big ginger Tom, and Hannibal were our new cats)

When the burglar alarm sounded there was a pause of perhaps twenty min­utes. We waited outside with several neighbours who had gathered to see the fun.

A car drew up, filled with security agents from the coal mine, who en­circled the place cautiously. Then a police car screamed to a halt with blar­ing siren, HAW-HEEE-HAW-HEEE, disgorging several Keystone Cops with drawn revolvers.

One of them charged past me, brandishing his gun.

‘Which way into the back garden?’ he shouted.

‘Are you kidding?’ I said. ‘It’s twenty minutes since the alarm went off. Do you think the burglar’s going to be standing around waiting for you? It was our cat.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Our cat. Hannibal. He sets the alarm off.’

‘Your cat?’


‘What kind of a name is that for a cat?’

‘Carthaginian, I believe.

‘You don’t say.’

‘Of course, it could have been James.’

‘James? Another cat?’

‘Of course.’


Repeated attempts at fixing the alarm so that it wouldn’t be trig­gered by Han­nibal failed. As the new tenant’s wife couldn’t remember to leave the toilet window closed the alarm was finally dismantled, and the house got broken into at once.

We met the neighbour and his wife on his fiftieth birthday for the first time. A telephone call invited us to the party.

The two front doors were beside one another, so that we only had to step into the garden to go next door. To my surprise there were about fifty people all standing on the opposite side of the road, staring at the house.

Our new neighbour Heidi-Marie let us in. This was the first time I’d seen her. She was aged about thirty-nine, very good looking, elegantly dressed, devastatingly coiffured and perfumed and wearing a little white chiffon see-through-off-the-shoulder Bordello blouse together with a short pale green silk skirt which, as far as I could make out, seemed to be slit all the way up the front to her neck.

When she sat down and crossed her legs, the front of the skirt split wide open rather like the curtains in a theatre, Another Opening, Another Show, displaying a large amount of slinky black nyloned thigh, which seemed to go on and up for ages, right up to the lacy hem of her innocent soft white silk reinforced panties. And she had this hard, turned-on look in her eye.

This all happened within seconds of my getting to know her for the first time. She spoke gaily, with no hint of the reticence usually shown by Germans, es­pecially the German wives of coal mine directors, greeting us as if we’d known one another for years. Apart from Linda the only other person there was her husband’s secre­tary. Of her husband there was no sign.

We sat for a good half-hour, drinking champagne and nibbling little canapés, while I stared deep into her crotch.

‘What about all those people outside?’ I said.

‘Oh, they’re only his employees. Never mind about them.’

After a while, the secretary opened the door and the people were al­lowed in. They crept in nervously, looking around like burglars who ex­pected to be caught red-handed at any moment. Heidi-Marie treated them with sneering contempt.

Suddenly she grabbed my arm.

‘Look. Here he comes, the King.’

Moving majestically down the staircase, pausing halfway with one hand on the rail, like Gloria Swanson, came her husband, Herr Professor Doktor Hans-Joachim Molders, Direktor of the Saarbergwerke. The waiting throng bowed deeply, heads banging the carpet. He surveyed the groveling cretins with satisfaction.

‘Arise,’ he said.

Heidi-Marie had a long-haired Dachshund, whose favourite occupation was sitting in the garden outside our window and looking in at the cats. When James saw him he used to stroll over to the window and start washing himself. This would start the dog off into a fit of hysterics, which only ended when I dropped the blinds to end the performance.

Sometimes, for fun, James would reverse the roles, and sit in the garden out­side the Molders’s window, staring in at the dog. The dog died while we were living there, probably from a heart attack.

Part Twenty-One >>>

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved