Sombreros Are Becoming

Sombreros are Becoming by Nancy Johnstone

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Bored with life in Fleet Street, Nancy and Archie Johnstone left their jobs and moved to the Costa Brava in 1934 to build and run their own hotel. Within twelve months Tossa de Mar became the destination of choice for a vibrant group of international writers and artists. The first volume of Nancy’s memoir, Hotel in Spain, is a light-hearted account of their ups and downs before the Civil War erupted and darkness descended.

Her sequel, Hotel in Flight—also available from The Clapton Presscontinues their story after the couple refuse an offer of evacuation from the Royal Navy and convert their hotel into a refuge for children displaced by the war, eventually escorting them in a terrifying dash for the border as Franco’s mercenary army bombed and shelled its way to Barcelona. The children were immediately interned in a French concentration camp.

The Johnstones emigrated to Mexico in 1939, leaving nearly all their possessions behind them. Sombreros are Becoming is the third and final volume of Nancy’s memoirs, another light-hearted narrative recounting their journey to Mexico and the experience of rebuilding their lives in Cuernavaca.

They later went their separate ways. Archie defected to the Soviet Union in 1947, where he died in 1963. In January 1951, Nancy was seriously injured in a car crash in Guatemala in which her friend, the former head of the Spanish Republic’s Foreign Press Office, Constancia de la Mora, was killed. The same year she sold the hotel in Tossa de Mar and wrote to her publisher leaving a forwarding address; she was never heard from again.