Basquetcase.

“A Catalan, a Basque and a Scot walk into a bar……”
Dani Montala – May 2019

Idurri was from the Basque country.

Idurri was a diving instructor.

Idurri was.

I’d never really met anyone from The Basque Country before. Dani gave me some pointers.

“I’ve never met a Basque that doesn’t love speed.”

He did not mean travelling at high velocity, just travelling high.

Idurri was driving all the way down from the Basque coast and was supposed to be with us by 9pm. I had been enjoying beers since I’d arrived a few hours before that and was tired from my journey.

Time wore on. As it grew later, and Idurri still was yet to show I wondered if he ever really would.

Somewhere around midnight, he bundled into the bar. After he settled and introductions were made, and we all had a beer in front of us, something began to dawn on me.

When I was 21, I left Spain with a very strong command of Spanish, certainly enough to pass a languages degree. But that was almost 15 years ago, and my Spanish is not what it used to be. In Lleida when they say they’re Catalan, they really, really mean it. This means that they don’t actually speak Spanish.

In short, I had long been struggling to keep up linguistically. But then came Idurri. Every time he spoke, a torrent of deep-pitched words would smash out like a volley of cannonballs, each syllable presented with an array of wild and empathic hand movements. Most lines would end in a huge smile, a flurry of laughter and a glint in his eye.

I would nod and laugh after each barrage, eager to make a good first impression while also praying desperately that he hadn’t actually ended with a question I would have to understand and respond to. I would then turn to Dani, because I hadn’t the slightest clue what had just happened. He struck me as a terribly friendly fellow, but following him was beyond impossible. As nice as Idurri clearly was, building a relationship with him was going to be a challenge. And not one I was sure I had the energy for after travelling for a month. Later Dani would confide in me, that if he were being totally honest about it, Spanish people had just as much trouble understanding him as I did

With my now sadly quite basic Spanish skills, I didn’t stand a chance.

The night wore on. I drank and stayed quiet, watching with morbid curiosity as the diving bag came out.

That diving bag.

Lleida is land-locked, near the border between Catalunya and Aragon. There is a very shallow river that runs through it, and maybe a small lake or two nearby. That diving bag had no business leaving The Basque Country. It had no business in Lleida, and it had no business being in Dani’s bar.

The bag, as far as a I could tell, was pretty much all Idurri had brought from home. Dani told me not to worry; the bag filled him with the same trepidation every time it was suddenly produced.

And with good reason., for it was filled with drugs.

Speed. Coke. Weed. Probably pills, poppers and valium too. A cold sweat fell upon me.

Three hours later we were in Dani’s flat. I could feel my teeth, and was unable to stop sticking my tongue out my mouth. I was sipping pint after pint of water. As 3am became 4, it was decided we would do another line.

And then, almost as soon as we had all done another line, it was bed time. BED TIME. I don’t know what your experience of drugs is, but I assure you, you don’t just do drugs then sleep like a baby.

Unless you’ve taken baby-sleeping drugs.

Exactly how or why it was decided we would waste time lying in our beds staring at the ceiling, I’ll never know, but that’s what happened for four very long hours. My mind was racing, and despite sleep being the thing I craved the most, it would be, for at least the next few hours, the furthest from my grasp. I stared at my phone, switching from app to app and back again, hoping something exciting might happen. Unsurprisingly, It did not.

As it approached 11am, I was lying in my bed, and sleep had almost descended. Dani, the lunatic, had already gone to work. Idurri felt this was the best time for me to be dragged out the flat for breakfast. My stomach was the size of an acorn, so I silently watched him eat a sandwich, as I chain smoked and slowly sipped down a coffee. We managed some polite small talk, and even though I genuinely wanted to like the guy, I wondered whether I could do another day of this.

I made my excuses, ran and cowered in my bed. Who were these people? I had done drugs in my youth. I had enjoyed most of it. I’m not here to judge controlled drug use, it really isn’t all that. But years ago, when I had experimented, drugs were for a special weekend, rare occasions to look forward to, hard sought out substances to be paired with one-off events.

In short, you didn’t do drugs because it was Tuesday. It also wasn’t really about taking drugs, then trying to pretend like drugs hadn’t happened. That always seemed somewhat counter intuitive to me.

In my young and untouchable early 20s, I remember being both terrified and very judgemental of the rave refugees that still did drugs in their 30s. Back then, they’d look old as fuck to me, how was the party not over for them yet?

They’d always be a few of them at bloc parties in the Westend, condescending to us kids about what drug taking should be, telling us we were just babies. In reality they were 100 years old and still attending parties with uni students in their early 20s. Isn’t that kinda like going back to your high school having long since left because you misguidedly think it’ll make you look cool?

For most people, in my experience, drugs is a phase. It’s the basic truth of diminishing returns. The first time is exciting and fun. Further down the line, you’re asking yourself what the point is and whether it’s really worth it. Not necessarily because of anything as overly dramatic as losing the kids, having turned to a life of crime or being reduced to prostitution to feed the habit. But simply because it gets boring. The abject fear, misery and self hatred that torments you the next day, can no longer be justified by the fun the night before. As I discovered in Catalunya, just like normal alcohol induced hangovers, the older you get, the worse the fallout the day after.

Drugs had laid me low and desolate, but clearly in this instance, I was the only human responding to drugs appropriately, because the other two were fine. So much so, it was decided the next day we’d go mountain climbing.

That morning. Spot the difference.

We began the day by making a packed lunch to enjoy at the summit of the hill. I packed water, Idurri packed weed. After stopping at a local bar in a small village for lunch, we parked the car about halfway up the mountain and began our ascent.

I like hill walking, I just hadn’t realised we would be running up the hill as if pursued by the very hounds of hell. To make a pathetic excuse, I was carrying all the water and food which weighed a lot in the heat, but really, a month of heavy drinking and eating had caught up with me, if my fitness had ever been particularly good to begin with. I slowly lumbered up the mountain like a fat angry bear, while the other two bounced up like gazelles. Gazelles on speed.

Bastards.

To get to the top of the hill, we also had to go cross country. Two thirds of the way up, we went off piste and cut through dense woodland brush and thicket. I followed faithfully. I was glad we did it, the views from the top were worth it. But it was not the leisurely saunter I had really been hoping for.

We descended and I wondered what would becoming next. I had decided there would be no more drugs for me whatever the case. Some miracles do happen though. While Idurri had been with us, he had also been tindering furiously with his app radius set to what I can only imagine was the further most reaches of Catalunya. Having not slept for at least two days and having climbed a mountain, Idurri had a date in Barcelona, which was about two and a half hours away by car.

In some respects, I was sad to see Idurri go, because he was, on the face of it, a very pleasant guy. But I was thrilled to see the back of everything that went along with him, above all that diving bag.

After a couple of days in Barca, Idurri would rejoin us in a small village outside Lleida for a big Catalan Sunday Lunch with some more of Dani’s friends, and then he would head back to whence he came, taking all the carnage with him.

Over the next two days, I recharged my batteries and tried to feel somewhat normal. I promised myself I would not take drugs again.

Sunday lunch rolled around, and the food did not disappoint. We were welcomed into a beautiful home with a terrace that over looked the flat plains to the west of Lleida. We were plied with wine and liqueurs, and chatter flowed happily.

Views for days.

A couple of hours later, Idurri was halfway back to the Basque Country, Dani was doing a shift in his bar and I was making cocktails on his roof terrace by myself, once again struggling to keep my tongue in my mouth.

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