I’m sitting in a first class train carriage somewhere around Oxford. I didn’t intend to go first class – £115 standard from Derby to Poole was quite enough in the first place – but after standing for an hour in the corridor outside the toilet I thought better of it and upgraded.
I had no idea how busy the train would be. And it’s delayed. Only the smooth sliding doors separate me in my comfortable complimentary refreshments zone from the chaos that is the rest of the train.
There was literally no room when I got on. Well I say got on like it was a voluntary activity. In fact a station guard grabbed my case and shoved it into the nearest carriage and I had no choice but to follow, despite the fact it was already a seething mass of people, luggage, kids and dogs.
This is August in England. Cold, rainy, transport a nightmare. So why am I here?
Well, because the middle of summer is when the powers that be choose to announce the A level results. I’ve always thought it was a bad choice. The poor students have to spend half their summer in an agony of waiting, pretending to themselves that in fact a gap year waitressing around Europe would be a fine substitute for that language degree (for example) and the parents suffer by proxy while planning all holiday and travel arrangements around D day.
But, I am one of the lucky ones! Ellie got the results she needed to take up her place at Birmingham University and I am a relieved and happy mother.
Already tales are circulating of distraught kids who didn’t make it, having to rethink their lives at the tender age of 18.
I remember it myself. In the summer of 1988 I went off to school to collect my results with my best friend. Mine were good but hers weren’t and she didn’t get into Exeter uni. Instead of going through clearing and finding a place somewhere else, her father said she might as well stay at home and go into his business.
I don’t remember her making a fuss or there being much discussion about it. I felt bad for her but was so wrapped up in my own exciting exodus to Birmingham uni to study English that I don’t think I realized the depths of her disappointment.
In the years that followed she became depressed and then an alcoholic. She died at 40 from the drink.
I can’t say for sure that all her problems stemmed from that decision the day her A levels weren’t up to scratch, but I can’t help thinking it played a big part.
There’s so much pressure to do well, to achieve one’s goals, self imposed or otherwise.
And it’s certainly hard to take an alternative path in life. I am only too aware that the reason I am able to follow my own alternative La Chanca lifestyle – and enjoy it – is because I am supported by decisions I made earlier in life – to have a career, earn money, to get married, to buy property, to move to Spain.
And even before that, by my parents’ decisions to give me a good education and bring me up in a certain way.
I am 100 per cent sure that if I were living in La Chanca not by choice but by necessity, I would not be writing this blog about my midlife ‘adventure’.
La Chanca would be real life, I’d be growing marijuana along with the rest of them to buy my oversized TV to numb myself to the daily grind of life on the edge – of poverty, the city and society.
Only the other day another guy refused to drive into the area. I had a big argument with him but he insisted he wouldn’t take his car up there. I just don’t know what they expect will happen!
But La Chanca does still have the charm of its history that makes it a cut above other ‘disreputable’ areas.
I was discussing it with one of my English pupils – a very well-read and well-travelled woman, a teacher and university lecturer on education.
She said: “You can live in La Chanca because it has its own history and culture, it has active associations that look to promote the area and its people. It is a special place. You would never have chosen to live in El Puche, for example – another poor place with a bad reputation for drugs.”
And of course she was right. I drove through El Puche once, it was a terrible place, grey concrete houses, if you could even call them that, none of the colour and vibrancy of La Chanca. And of course, no view of the Alcazaba and the sea.
I think little by little La Chanca will cease to be marginalised, already it is valued by historians, artists, musicians, and the people that live there that want to keep their traditions and way of life alive.
I’ve learnt now that someone like me would generally choose to live the other side of the Rambla – that’s where I have to go to teach my pupils, that’s where the previous house owners moved to.
But I’m glad I chose this quirky, sometimes frustrating but always interesting ‘barrio’ – and I’m looking forward to spending my first Autumn there.