Tales Of An Unconventional Youth Worker
Before we move on as it’s been a few weeks since the last ‘You’ll Never Do Anything With Kids‘ blog, just a quick catch-up as to where we are. Brian and Jean back in England leaving me on my own in the south of Spain with the ten kids; the mini-bus lying in a heap in a gutter somewhere on Costa del Sol and I’ve just made the Youth Office back in Bexley aware of our predicament, they were not ‘happy bunnies’. The wheel had well and truly come off of our expedition and our ‘road-trip’ to Morocco had all of a sudden become a fight for survival in Andalusia. Now I fully accept there are worst places to be stranded than on a beach in Andalusia but believe me when I say that even that has it’s own stresses.
The highest priority for me was to try to locate an AA approved garage and get them to take a look at our mini-bus. Problem was, I’m no mechanic but even I knew the news would not be good. Eventually after a few days I did find one back in Malaga that would do the work and accept our AA money vouchers, I had no choice but to take it but Malaga was a fifty mile round trip and we had access to neither transport or a telephone, which ever way you looked at it nothing was going to be easy.
Our position was made a good deal easier by a piece of luck that presented itself in the bar one evening when some of the kids started talking to a couple from Sheffield. It turned out that this lad Simon spoke fluent Spanish and better still he was happy to act as a spokesman on our behalf in dealings with the garage, and when trying to blag the campsite management. Si turned out to be a godsend and he and his girlfriend became honorary members of our little clan.
Without a vehicle at my disposal my options for getting to and from the garage was either the bus or to hitch-hike. I was no stranger to hitch-hiking back in the day and Spain as a country was very hitch-hiker friendly so I never had think twice about getting out on the main road and sticking my thumb out.
Much to my frustration despite us cutting a deal with the garage it still took five days for a tow-truck to appear to recover the ailing mini-bus, so for five days it just sat there at the side of the road while we were just left kicking our heels
The news of the mini-bus when it came was just about as depressing as it could have been. The engine was knackered they were going to have to fit a new engine which meant we were going to be stuck here for days waiting for an engine to arrive at the workshop and it was going to wipe us out of nearly all our emergency money for the journey home but the truth was we had no option. It was the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’, I sanctioned the garage to order a new engine. If there were any lingering doubts as to our next move once we were on the road again this simply confirmed we were heading straight home, but as I was now the only driver us getting back to Bexley all in one piece was far from a done deal.
Meanwhile our camp down on the beach had taken on something of a cult status and as the days passed it became a magnet attracting young people from far and wide. It would be fair to say that the kids, who were not having my stresses were having a great time.
Danny befriended these two lads from Leeds in the beach-bar one night, they were on a package tour and living in the Cosmos Hotel, across the road from the campsite. After a few days they abandoned all the comforts of their hotel room and moved down 0n to the beach with us. This turn of events had a few hidden bonuses. As they were now part of our clan we, that is all eleven of us; had access to the facilities in their their hotel room, including the bed, the toilet and more importantly the shower.
A pattern started to emerge. During the day all of our belongings were stored on the pitch we were paying for on the campsite. I must say our pitch began to take on the appearance of a refugee camp with a stack of eleven air-beds and the luggage of eleven people when all we were paying for was one pitch and four people. The campsite management must have known something was going on but no one ever said a thing. Whilst we had no vehicle the days were spent chilling of the beach, or hitching a ride into Fuengirola for a change of scenery and to break things up a bit. The good thing here of course was because of the age of the group I could give them a lot more freedom, freedom you would not give to a younger group
Most nights after the last of the tourists had left the beach the night people would start to gravitate towards the beach-bar, out would come the guitars, the light of the camp-fires and the smell of a BBQ attracting young people from all over. I remember a group from Manchester were regular visitors to our little enclave and then there were five young Germans from East Berlin who spent the night with us on a couple of occasions.
There was this one night when we went ahead with the BBQ although the food was pretty sparse when this group of Italian lads with a big stick happened by and started chatting. On seeing the slim-pickings on the BBQ they offered to go off and ‘rustle a sheep’ and with that they took their big stick and disappeared off into the darkness. When they next appeared some time later they were carrying food but much to my relief, it never had the appearance of a rustled sheep
We were happily living the ‘hippy dream’ and if our situation were not quite so serious, I could easily have spent the whole of the summer chilling beside the Mediterranean and doing not much else.
Things at the beach camp where about to taken a significant turn for the worse, that is if things could get any worse than they already were.
I needed to go into Fuengirola nearly every day to either use the phone, or go to the bank or simply get some food shopping but either way kids were left unsupervised for long periods
One day, right out of the blue, I got back from town to be confronted with the worst possible news; while I was away six of the kids had packed their bags and set out on the bus for Algerciras to catch the ferry over to Morocco, I was mortified. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it. It was a real kick in the goolies. I genuinely never saw it coming and it meant that when they got back our whole relationship had changed, and I could never turn my back on them again.
How long did I give them before I went to the police to report them missing, they were all over seventeen so would the police be interested, so for the time being all I could do was sit and wait.
Turns out, this youth work lark might not quite as easy as if first seemed.
Most disappointingly the six who ‘dun-the-runner’ included the three girls together with Ian; Danny and Richard, this certainly complicated the situation and I couldn’t just let it drift. Sue at sixteen was the youngest in the group and I certainly felt a sense of responsibility towards her.
As you can imagine, I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, lying there pondering my next move. It didn’t come much tougher than this. Of the ten young people in my care, six were in Morocco, and the mini-bus was broken and in the workshop at the garage.
At some point during the night I decided, for no particular reason, that mid-day was the deadline. If I had heard nothing by then, I would need to at least register with the police that I was missing half-a-dozen young people, before that I would need to call in to the youth office back in Bexley and make them aware of the situation, that was not going to be an easy phone call.
The five of us that were left for whatever reason decided to have breakfast in the Cosmos Hotel restaurant the next morning, I might have just been stalling for time because as soon as breakfast was over I would have to phone the youth office. To my everlasting relief, in the middle of breakfast the wanderers returned, looking a bit tired and disheveled but none the worst for wear. It seems they made it to Morocco and hated everything about it, they spent the whole twelve hours they were there being scared and would have been back sooner if they could have got an earlier ferry. But they were back now and I had the problem of deciding how I was going to deal with them, bearing in mind my options were extremely limited and in the end I just had to let it slide otherwise I figured the journey home, when it eventually came, could have been very tense and difficult.
With us all back together again I thought it best not to mention that half the kids had gone off to Morocco when speaking to the youth office it would have been an unnecessary conversation and one at least while we were still on the road should remain our little secret. It wasn’t as if anything could be done about it and I was trying to stop panic setting in.
All i n all we were living on the beach for thirteen days before we got word our mini-bus was ready and we were free to go but that wasn’t quite the end of it
More next week