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.
The narrow bar was packed to the rafters and in an uproar. I recognised the place as the bar where the famous Brooklyn bull runner Joe Distler was reputed to hang out. Up to now I’d avoided the place, as I’d imagined it to be full of pious, bickering, English-speaking taurine intellectuals. Not so. A sort of hellish pandemonium reigned. As Sharon kissed and hugged and high-fived her way through the sweaty, raucous crowd to the toilet at the back, I saw that she had taken to the madness of Pamplona like a duck to water.
The single-cubicle toilet was down a narrow flight of stairs. We squeezed in and I closed and bolted the door behind us. Sharon emptied the wrap on the cistern top and chopped adeptly at the powder with the edge of her Boots Advantage card. Someone began hammering persistently on the door. The fist was joined by one then several others. The hammering became a continuous thunder. Boots were added to the fists, then shoulders. A serious and concerted effort was being made to smash the door in.
We were in a race against time, it appeared. I braced my hands against the back wall and my backside against the door to form a buttress. But Sharon was in no hurry. The drama of the situation seemed only to relax her. She bent calmly and gracefully to her line, took it up her nose, then stood and inhaled deeply through her nostrils as though she were taking in the invigorating air on top of Beachy Head. The door by now was coming off its hinges, the thunder of the kicking deafening. Goodness knows how many people were out there, or what was the general point they were making.
Sharon tilted the rolled-up banknote in those long slender fingers of hers and angled it towards me. I looked into her eyes. The door was now right off its hinges and the shouting became a confused roaring. As those huge clouded eyes regarded mine, I saw that they were entirely serene. She was in her element. It was the calmest, profoundest moment of our relationship. It was worth going just for that. Holding her gaze, I unhurriedly slid the note from between her fingers and bent to the cistern top as the door and goodness knows how many people fell in on top of us.