Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

Credit: Jeremy Clarke

Then there was the time I took Sharon to the Pamplona bull run. She looked very fetching in the traditional St Fermín costume of white T-shirt, white cut-off jeans, red sash tied around the waist and the red neckerchief symbolising the saint's martyrdom by beheading. She wore her neckerchief in a big rumpled V at the front, like a cowgirl.

The Sanfermines last a week. Hundreds of thousands of young revellers cram into the old fortress town's narrow streets and cane it. As well as the famous bull runs each morning, and the evening bullfights, there are fairs and parades and marching bands and pop concerts and a nightly firework display competition that is worth going for on its own. One year the Basque separatists exploded a bomb in a side street during the festivities and no one noticed. There is a special nude running of the bulls, without bulls, by animal rights protesters, and one for the kiddies one year with the bulls represented by a man with horns on his head. But excessive drinking is the main thing.

We arrived on the first day and parked the car in the grounds of a monastery, about half a mile from the town. We walked down to the town and joined the fray. At the first bar we stopped at, the barman, referring to Sharon with a tilt of his head, said to me: 'Novia?' Novia in Spanish means sweetheart or betrothed. It is pronounced 'nobia'. I looked at Sharon standing there at the bar looking beautiful, angry and stoned. Then I shook my head sadly. 'No nobia ,' I said.

Soon after that I lost her in the crowd and I didn't see her again for three days. But at Pamplona the people you go with are rarely the people you see most of. Then I bumped into her unexpectedly in the town square. Unlike my own and most other people's, her white T-shirt and jeans were still snow-white and miraculously uncreased. This puzzled me, until it occurred to me that she probably hadn't been wearing them much. She was alone and striding out purposefully. I thought she was going to ignore me, but she took my hand and asked me if I'd like to take some amphetamine sulphate with her. I said it would be a pleasant reminder of my golden adolescence and we repaired to one of the many bars on the square's perimeter. …

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