Richard Townsend: Spanish Practices

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for Spanish Practices. I’m sharing an extract from the book with thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to the publisher for providing the extract.


Spanish Practices’ weaves together nearly half a century of observations by Rico, an Englishman married into an eccentric family in a left-behind corner of Spain.
Among others, we meet Macu, the maiden aunt who runs the family wine business with an iron fist and controls the family purse-strings; mother-in-law Mamí, whose sons can do no wrong, except when they do; brother-in-law Chus, who has a loose interpretation of the marriage vows and a dangerous weakness for the bottle; and younger brother-in-law Sancho, who becomes pivotal to the family’s succession battles and their struggles with the local rival winery.
Initially an outsider, Rico is drawn ever deeper into the family mire as well as facing, with his wife Marina, his own fraught relationships with neighbours, local planning laws and the busy body ‘Authorities’.
Through the interplay of rivalries, conflicts and vicissitudes ‘Spanish Practices’ illuminates the idiosyncrasies of Spanish ways and exemplifies the travails of a society in the throes of wholesale transformation.



Just before we part company, Aunt Macu springs an unexpected question on me. In fact, it’s so far wide of our normal repertoire that it astonishes me: “Forgive me for asking something personal…” she says, “but I was wondering about your views of my nephew, Sancho?”

Instinctively, I take refuge in banalaties, saying, “we get on well” and think he has “a lot to offer”. She doesn’t respond directly, but after a pause, she says: “I didn’t realise he had so much fire in his belly. He’s usually so passive with me. But that row at the restaurant last year… it set me thinking…”

A few days later, she arranges the visit to the polígono with Ortega but this time, asks Sancho to join in my place. She wants his views about how the operation might work out there. Doubtless, she’s testing him afresh.

I take it from this that Aunt Macu is slowly dropping her reservations about her nephew Sancho. She’s starting to value his abilities – a suitable bearer for the mantle of late cousin José-Angel, the brother of Chábeli and Adelina, so adored by the clients.

Over the past few years, he’s made a reasonable stab at the outpost in Pueblo; at least he’s honest and well-liked; sales are steady and, unlike everything else, it just about breaks even. With a bit of support from a decent bookkeeper and herself in the background… Who knows? Maybe Sancho’s up to the challenge after all? After he repudiated his father’s surname, he even bears the names of the founder himself, verbatim!

With Aunt Macu’s car hardly roadworthy (she knows it’s unfit for the main highway) and Sancho still too poor to run a car of his own, they make the short trip in one of the trucks, with Sancho taking the wheel.

“So glad you’re coming along, Sancho… Never let it be said I’m not doing everything I can for you! And I can’t think of a bigger decision for our future – your future, should I say – than this one. Anyway, we must have a serious talk about that.”

“But Aunt, I can’t be wating for ever! I can’t exist on this salary anymore! And the shares you promised, years ago! What happened about that? You realise I’ll soon be 40? No more serious talks, please. We’ve had the same talks dozens of times already – about the role, about the shares, about the pay.”

“But what on earth do you need so much money for? Or shares? All family, aren’t we? I thought you’d broken off with Ana? You’re not getting married or anything! Or is it back on again?”

Sancho shakes his head. That relationship was doomed the moment Ana began (as he put it to Mamí) “shaping my destiny in terms of matching ‘his ’n’ hers’ dressing gowns”.

But he’s not ready to discuss his latest liaison. For quite recently, Sancho has fallen for Rocío, a nubile creature who, better still, is surely a braguetazo , as the only daughter of prosperous Tobillo merchant Gonzalo Caudal and his wife Lucía. Sancho frets about the wisdom of this coupling, though; because for all her charms, Rocío bears a stigma – one that the Pinars will certainly feel acutely, and one he can barely ignore himself. And that’s why he hasn’t had the nerve to break the news even to Mamí so far, let alone to his aunt.

As it happens, there’s no need to elaborate because, with the truck straining up the hill towards the roundabout just short of the polígono, there’s a toot from behind as an Aurelio truck cruises past, bottles and crates a-jingling at the rear on its way back to base in Tobillo. The mood sinks into despondence as Aunt Macu and Sancho reach the polígono. The symbolism’s all too poignant.

Superficially, the polígono confirms everything Aunt Macu already knows: that the whole operation would be far more efficient out here. Without it, the future looks bleak. But as Ortega waves his arms around enthusiastically, explaining where a second polígono will be sited and where he’s hoping to persuade a big supermarket chain to locate, her mind drifts elsewhere. How could she ever work out here, in this hangar in a random stretch of country with no link with her beloved Bárcena, other than an ugly stretch of ill-kempt thoroughfare? It’s not just the drive itself – a challenge enough, even with a vehicle upgrade – but the sheer magnitude of the dislocation, beyond the territory she’s inhabited for 50 years. She’d pine away! Even Tobillo looks attrative by comparison. Then she thinks of the Aurelio van, picturing their reaction to the move, how they’d gloat at the comeuppance of snooty Bodegas Pinar.


Spanish Practices is available from Amazon.

You can gfollow the rest of the blog tour here:

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