The “Lockdown” and Associated Memories


One  of the benefits of the enforced “lockdown” has been the lack of outside sound, especially traffic noise. We have been able for the most part to enjoy a peaceful silence. However, for me, this was broken around 10.30 in the evening on 31st March. I was cleaning my teeth and generally getting ready for bed when suddenly my legs started to tremble. For a moment I thought this was the return of the quivers of excitement and stirrings in my loins that I had occasionally felt in my youth. Then I heard a small rumble followed by a thump. I peered out of the window. Had the garden wall collapsed? Was the neighbour’s house still standing? As far as I could see all was well. It must have been a distant roll of thunder. I went downstairs to check with my wife. She had heard and felt nothing. The earth had not moved for her! I joined her in bed and slept soundly.

The next day I heard on the radio that in Busot five kilometres away there had been a minor earthquake of 2.6 on the Richter scale.

This experience jolted my mind back to the last time I had experienced an earthquake in Spain. It was in February in 1969 in Madrid. I was sharing a flat on the seventh floor of an apartment block. The rent was cheap because the interior was unfinished and the furniture rudimentary; the beds had originally come from a hospital and had been bought at an auction. My flatmate, Tony and I had separate bedrooms but neither bedroom had a door.

It must have been the weekend because we had been out on the town and enjoyed a few drinks with our mates. Eventually we had staggered off home to our beds and had fallen into a drunken slumber. Suddenly I awoke and was aware of my bed moving rapidly across the room and out through the unobstructed doorway into the kitchen. I heard a great clatter behind me and saw Tony sprawled across his mattress with his bed wedged in the entrance to his room. In the confusion I was not sure if what I saw and felt was for real or a dream. Then I remembered that both beds were on wheels and I heard Tony shouting out not to go near the lift.

That Madrid earthquake had its epicentre off Cape Saint Vincent in the same zone as the one that had destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755. The one in 1969 was felt over much of Spain and registered 7.3 on the Richter scale. There were nineteen fatalities, four of which were caused by panic!

The following night several of the inhabitants of Madrid decided to sleep out in the Retiro Park well away from high rise buildings. Tony and I decided to wedge the wheels on our beds and risk staying in the open space of the flat.

The enforced isolation of the present lockdown reminded me of another incident that took place round about the same time as the Madrid earthquake.

During the time of Franco it was prohibited to have gatherings of more than five or six people in your own home for fear of the authorities thinking that it represented the nucleus of some kind of political uprising. This meant that you ran a real risk of being arrested if you held or attended a private party that had not been previously registered.

Nevertheless nobody paid much attention to this rule and I remember being invited by a colleague to join his Spanish friends and a group of expatriates at a Fancy Dress party that was being held at a flat in down town Madrid. It was a bitterly cold Saturday evening. Most of us took the bus or metro and were able to cover our meagre efforts of disguise with heavy overcoats and scarves which were of course taken off once we were safely inside.

The party was going extremely well; there were plenty of interesting and filling tapas, no shortage of drink and all sorts of unlikely couples had got together on the dance floor.

Suddenly the word went round that the police had become aware of the event and were on their way. There was no time to collect your coat but most of those present managed to escape through a window at the back of the building. Scattered groups of vicars, tarts, and ghosts were able to evaporate into the Madrid night except David who had the misfortune to be in the bathroom when the alarm was sounded. David was interested in everything, very sociable and always keen to practise his already excellent Spanish.

Dressed as a Roman senator, draped in a sheet and bare from the knees down he came back into the room and didn’t seem to be aware that the number of guests had thinned out quite considerably. He sat down on the sofa next to one of the few remaining party goers who was very imaginatively dressed in the grey uniform of a policeman. David eagerly introduced himself and congratulated his new friend on his superb fancy dress. The conversation continued in a stone flagged subterranean cell at the infamous State Police headquarters in La Puerta del Sol.

Eventually around four in the morning after an intense interrogation he was frog marched to a police wagon and driven deep into the countryside well beyond the outskirts of the city. There he was unceremoniously pushed out of the vehicle and left at the roadside.  

 In the freezing dawn his flimsy, hastily put together Roman toga was not the most adequate of garments for trying to hitch back into Madrid.