Watching the daily running of the bulls through Pamplona’s narrow streets online this week has given me a wistful pang about not being there again. I once went to Pamplona’s feria three times in four years and ran with the bulls every morning. One year I took Sharon. The day we arrived, she took one look at the streets pullulating with thousands of handsome, drunk young men and did the psychical equivalent of a graceful swallow dive into their midst.
I had rented us a room in the town but she visited it only rarely and never slept there. I hardly saw her for the seven days. I should explain that when I went anywhere with Sharon at that time it was accepted that she would bestow her bountiful sexual favours on anyone and everyone except me. But I had had my brief place in the sun and adored her still. And the shameful truth is that after I was cast out of heaven, I became a sort of pander for her. So I was genuinely pleased to see this trainee social worker from Devon, passionate for animal rights, sustained by a diet of cigarettes, alcohol, weed and orange Tic Tacs, cutting a swathe of desire through the dense crowds of Spaniards, Basques, Australians, Americans and Brits at the religious gore-fest. She made one feel proud. The funny thing was that Sharon has a romantic heart. ‘You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince, Jerry,’ she’d say to me in her teacherly fashion.
I encountered her once early in the morning. I was walking down the street to take up my usual position on the corner of Mercaderes and Estafeta to wait for that morning’s bulls to gallop past. The bulls are run through the streets each morning at eight o’clock sharp. The corner of Mercaderes and Estafeta street is called Death Corner. It is a very narrow, but in my opinion relatively safe place to stand. The brave bulls are going full pelt by the time they get there, and the sharp right-hand bend takes them by surprise. They are too busy trying to stay balanced on their improbably tiny hooves to even contemplate going hunting.
She was sitting alone next to a fountain. Doubtless she had been leaping from one man to the next like a chamois and living the fiesta as intensely as the narrator of the Hemingway book. Even alone beside the fountain and sequestered in her thoughts she looked defiant, magnificent, totally in her element. ‘Hallo, Jerry,’ she said. ‘Running today, Sharon?’ I said. ‘Does the Pope wear a dress?’ she said, which is another of her characteristic sayings.
Until half past seven, runners are kettled into St Domingo street by a tape and a line of stewards while Estafeta street is cleared of comatose drunks and other obstacles. Perhaps 5,000 runners, half of them inebriated, are crammed into a cobbled street 150 yards long and eight yards wide, with tall residential buildings on either side, their balconies packed with spectators. Sharon and I are standing ten yards from the tape, waiting for it to be lifted so that we can take up our positions on Death Corner, when a steward forces his way into the crowd and arrests Sharon, telling her that women aren’t allowed to run with the bulls, especially women as drunk as she is. Sharon remonstrates with him. I remonstrate with him. The chaps around us remonstrate with him. There is some pushing and some shoving, creating a scene. The steward is obdurate. He signals to other stewards for assistance. Another steward arrives and he and the first steward take an arm each and propel Sharon towards the tape and eject her.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pairs of curious eyes, both on the ground and on the balconies, have noted the disturbance in the crowd then followed its moving epicentre, as Sharon, still remonstrating, sometimes struggling, is frogmarched through the crowd and pushed under the tape.
Scene. At the bottom of the hill six fighting bulls are waiting in the corral. Ahead of them 5,000 runners are crammed into a narrow street. Hundreds of spectators are lining the balconies above. Everyone is dressed in white topped with a red neckerchief. Everyone is chanting the traditional benediction to St Fermin. There is a final commotion at the tape and Sharon can now be seen walking tipsily alone up the deserted street. Five thousand men waiting for bulls turn to watch her go. In her white shirt and immaculate, skintight white jeans she looks utterly fabulous. Delighted cheering swells to a throaty roar of approbation. Sharon walks on, feigning unself-consciousness. But I know that she is judging the swinging of those hips and boyish buttocks to perfection.
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