My family first came to Deià in 1978 and my father, James Stevenson, fell in love with the village. A year or so later he rented a house at Cala Deià which he kept for 17 years. On All Soul’s Day, I will climb the hill to the village church where he’s buried. I’ll tend his grave, place flowers and commune with his spirit.
The Spanish take the three days from 31 October to 2 November extremely seriously. Dia de Las Brujas is the Spanish name for Halloween. All Saint’s Day, 1 November, is El Día de Todos los Santos and a public holiday. All Soul’s Day on the 2nd is El Día de las Almas or El Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead.
Halloween has become extremely kitschy in Mallorca with shops selling wonderfully tacky plastic skeletons and the like and painfully sugary sweets. But Mallorcans have celebrated this day for centuries. They light bonfires and wear costumes to keep away the spirits.
All Saint’s Day is traditionally the day when Christians celebrate all the saints as well as honouring their own personal saint. They visit the island’s cemeteries and go to a special mass for the deceased. It is, apparently, the time when most flowers are sold on the island.
On this day, children traditionally make long necklaces made of sweets called ‘Rosari de Tot Sants’. Many schools still make them. Some bakers also sell them.
El Día de las Almas, All Soul’s Day, is the most serious of the three days and this is when I visit my father’s grave.
Dad was an educational psychologist who specialised in dyslexic and gifted children. He wrote a book about dyslexia and was one of the first specialists to recognise and diagnose the condition in the UK. By coincidence, I have dyslexia.
In 1978, Dad answered a classified ad in The Times newspaper offering a holiday rental at Alconasser between Deià and Sóller. I was 11. It was our first family holiday abroad and a momentous occasion for me.
The house we rented turned out to be Villa Alconasser which Charles Marlow now has in our rental portfolio. It looked pretty different in those days. The swimming pool was just a ‘safareig’ – water tank – full of frogs. My Uncle Tony was the only one of us brave enough to swim in it.
Dad loved Mallorca so much we rented Villa Alconasser again the next summer.
Not long after our second trip to Mallorca, my parents separated but Dad’s love affair with Deià continued. Working with school children, his year was similar to a teacher’s and he had his summers free.
Dad asked in the village if there was anywhere to rent. He was offered a little house down at Cala Deià which he rented all year round for roughly 17 years.
I have many happy memories of holidays at that casita and of adopting the many wild cats that used to live down on the beach. I even lived there one year when I was working for the Majorca Daily Bulletin. This house has recently been totally renovated by Deià’s Moredesign and is now almost completely unrecognisable.
My Dad loved to throw parties and always seemed to be catering for huge numbers of friends who came to visit him down at the Cala. He liked to act as a benefactor to the many starving artists and writers in the village, starting the annual Deià Art Prize to promote their work and personally funding the cash award for the winner.
Every year, the Deià Art Prize became a bigger and bigger event until hundreds of people turned out for Dad’s party in the village amphitheatre and the event was televised.
After Dad met his future wife Jacqueline at a party in the village 23 years ago, they happily shared his second home in Deià. This was a little casita on the cliff – an iconic property that features in many photos of the Cala. Dad could no longer walk up to it after he was disabled. We couldn’t bear to give it back. My brother Rupert continues to rent it.
There’s a film based on Dad and his brother Mark called Four Last Songs which is rather poignant for me because it features Uncle Mark losing his battle against cancer. Rhys Ifans plays Mark. During the filming Rhys fell in love with Deià and decided to buy a home in the village.
Dad was paid royalties for allowing the filmmakers to use his character, played by Hugh Bonneville.
Dad died of diabetes in November 2019 in Marseille where he’d been living with Jacqueline who is French. He was 81. None of could attend Dad’s cremation because it happened immediately.
In typical style, Dad left no will and no instructions with his wishes because he would never contemplate death. We felt that Dad’s ties with Deià were stronger than they were with any other place that he’d lived. So we decided for him that this would be the place to inter his ashes.
When we visited the graveyard and saw the plaques for so many people of his generation already there it seemed appropriate that he’d be together with his friends for a final party in the afterlife.
Jacqueline made him a special plaque in the style of English Heritage – he was very British. He sits between his closest friends, Del Negro and Beryl Graves.
Dad’s memorial was in September 2020. The town hall and mayor Luis were very helpful. It was a lovely ceremony and the weather was perfect.
Now, every year on All Soul’s Day, I put flowers next to his plaque and say a few words in private. Then I gaze out over that incredible view towards La Residencia hotel. But every day that I drive to work in Deià, round the corner and see that first breathtaking view of the village I say a little hello to him in my heart. And I feel that he’s resting in the best place in the world