I went to the island of Mallorca for the first time at the age of thirteen. I was immediately awestruck by the abundance of small bars and restaurants that were everywhere, and remember my Mum and Dad stopping regularly during our walks at many of those establishments for a beer or a glass of wine, chatting to the patrons while my elder brother and I drank soft drinks and ate up all the free peanuts.
"God this is the life -- maybe we should buy a bar and just live the life, eh Billy," was the kind of thing my Dad would say as he reached over and ruffled my hair. Mum would smile knowingly at us, raise her eyebrows and say something like... "Mm, maybe one day... but you can always dream about it Billy," and I would stare adoringly at my father -- my heart pounding at the idea of living that way -- I could see my Dad proudly pouring drinks while my Mum made delicious snacks in the little kitchen behind the bar. My brother and I would have played all day in the warm water and the white sandy shore, only stopping occasionally to replenish our strength with soft drinks and salty bar-snacks.
Almost forty years later I signed the lease for the first and only bar I would ever own. It was a rather large establishment to the south of Marbella in Spain. There were 12 barstools in the bar, tables and chairs for about 36 customers and a terrace big enough for another 24 guests. It was also pretty run-down, had blocked plumbing and a kitchen that was rife with cockroaches -- The bar was one of fourteen hundred in the area -- madness, a friend told me. Maybe, I thought -- but I loved it -- I was at last living the life... or was I?
Despite engaging the services of a well-known firm of lawyers, I was scammed from day one -- even by the law firm, who managed to take 500 Euros out of my bank account without being able to explain why. The bar was deemed clear of debts by the same lawyers, yet I was forced to back-pay a terrace and garbage tax that had not been paid for 3 years by the previous owners -- costing me another 1 200 Euros. My electricity was switched off one morning and after making some phone calls was told that I had not paid the bill.
"What bill?" I asked -- the fact that I hadn't received one was irrelevant. At the bank I was I formed that bills could only be paid on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 and 10am, and only at one single branch in the whole town, and the next Tuesday being a public holiday, the bank was closed. When asked why I couldn't pay my bill at 10.10am or on any other weekday, the teller called security and I was shown out.
The insurance company that the bar had used over the past six years, suddenly informed me that I had to repaint the whole of the inside, get new extractor fans in the kitchen and also have the bar fumigated for cockroaches. This before they would let me open my business, in spite of the fact that the bar had been fully insured for the last ten years without a single complaint. These refurbishments cost me another 2000 euros.
To top it all, my blocked drains had to be replaced because they were 'under-dimensioned'. The owner of the building said that the problem was mine and that I had to pay for the new drains or close down -- and still pay the rent until I could sell the lease to someone else.
Still... somehow two months later I opened the bar, which thankfully soon became very popular, especially with the local ex-pats living there. We were full almost every night thanks to a brilliant bartender and charismatic staff -- and that's when the real trouble started.
Popular bars attract the sharks -- cocaine was flowing on the coast, and it was being sold in the popular bars -- I kept an eye on things and threw out the dealers after finding out that they were offering 'free' coke to my staff, which included my 19 year old daughter.
During the next year I was threatened by professional enforcers working for the drug lords, I narrowly escaped a mugging by five men, and had my new car vandalized. I physically threw out rowdy and threatening customers, and even sent my daughter home, as it was too dangerous for her down there.
I looked after and helped friends or guests that had been badly beaten up, I have taken stoned 15 year-old kids home to parents who didn't care if their children stayed out all night, and even carried a concealed weapon for self-defense. Then strangely while all this was happening, I unexpectedly met and fell in love with the woman that is still my wife today.
We began to relish the crowded evenings as well as being the most popular bar on our street, almost always full of customers. Eventually even the gangsters and dealers began to leave us alone -- and we decided that it was time to move on. I sold the bar that went bankrupt after eight months and remained closed for the next three years.
Now, some time later, I look back in wonderment at those years when I owned and ran that bar in Spain -- the characters, the friends, the comic situations, the joys of success and all the challenges and tribulations along the way -- and I ask myself -- was it really living the life?
Well, maybe not -- but possibly, living the dream...
Me and my Father's dream of a bar in the sun!
Author of "The Costa"
William Bengtsson was born and grew up in Tanzania, East Africa. He attended a British boarding school in Nairobi, Kenya. At the age of eighteen, he moved to his native country Sweden. Bengtsson supported himself as a singer and musician while studying Advertising and Communication in Stockholm, and later traveled the world. He began writing at an early age, influenced by authors such as Hemingway, Robert Ruark, and Somerset Maugham. Bengtsson believes it's never too late to start writing for personal enjoyment. More information on the Author's Website at http://billbengtsson.com
By William Bengtsson