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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

KNEES UP MOTHERFU****BROWN

Oh dear. I turn my back and look what happens. Student riots, Prince Charles trying to instigate a Green revolution, suicide bombers in Sweden, Wikileaks, man eating sharks, Madoff's son copycatting Damages, what else? Oh yes, my boss starting a conspiracy theory that his daughter, my pupil, doesn't know, at the age of five, any of the colours and numbers in English, ( more of this later, probably after Tuesday when I have to 'perform' for the parents and show them that 'hey, I'm a clown, I'm a teacher, a nurse, a mother, a psychiatrist! It's never good enough is it!! And yes, when your kids go home after an hour with me they will speak Spanish ). Just as I thought it could get better after a nice relaxing jolly week away in the mountains  Piti rolls up today like a whirling dervish in the back of a police car. Henderson was hanging out the kitchen window, one of his many twilight hobbies of late, and asked the policeman if he was here for the effing bleeder next door and the police man said 'no', rolled his eyes and said 'the dog'. Mercedes wasn't in as I could hear the policeman hammering on her door. When he left I heard Anselmo, Mercede's husband flush the loo ( all mod cons here) and told H that I thought A was in and ignoring the P's calls. 'No,' said H. 'That must be the man upstairs on the third floor'. 'Oh, you mean the one you can hear unravel the loo roll before he flushes away. 'No,' I said . 'You will hear Anselmo coughing any second from now'.  Cue pause.... and he did.
So there you have it. Never a dull moment here, there or anywhere. Boredom has kicked in and not content with a quiet life it seems most folk just want to kick off with or without reason. While students in London took it out on the Royals the effing bleeder ripped out all the letter boxes for the upteenth time and it looks like someone has done something with Piti. Maybe taken him off to the mountains and dumped him there but he made his way home, who knows.
Back to the boss. He reckons that his daughter, my pupil, doesn't know the colurs or numbers in English. This is after a year with another teacher, the lovely Hannah, and, I suppose, learning ONLY colours and numbers at school. If heads should roll it should be my boss for this inane remark. What he doesn't understand is that I will tell him after Tuesday's reenactment of what I do in class, that he shouldn't underestimate his daughter as she is a lot smarter than he thinks and that obviously she takes after her mother when it comes to barins  ( brains even) and beauty. I might even ask him if he is sure the child is his, or I might let Henderson get away with that one. Chutzpah goes a lot longer if it involves him. If you think all this is a bit much then you haven't been exposed to the bullshit here. There comes a time when cleaning or working in a supermarket beckons if it means that you 'missed a bit there' or you haven't stacked those right' and the proof is there for all to see. Rock on.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

NO MAKE DO

Christmas looms and mine is already looking Pinteresque. It being spent there rather than here. What else? Well, a certain percentage of Aragonese will, according to the local paper, spend more money this Christmas. Apart from the growing queue of Muslims and gypsies every day opposite our flat I don't see any dramatic effects yet of the current economic situation and last Saturday when we went out to the various tapas bars participating in the tapas competition we had to fight for somewhere to sit down. I have never dived into as many Spaniards graves and am getting quite good at it as the years roll by. Said competition offers a tapa that looks like nouvelle cusine and a 'penalti' beer or a glass of wine. I opted for the wine and Henderson complained about the 'penalti' and gave a torturous look everytime it arrived. If you dont know what a penalti is think what the amount of one large gulpful of beer looks like spat back into a thimble. The only snag of going out before one in the morning is the chance of bumping into your pupils or their parents and by the fourth wine and tapa and glimpses of pupils from 4A and B waving frantically and pulling at their mothers sleeves to say 'look mum! There's my teacher!' I thought I had  better go home or stay for a fifth and start telling the mums 'look! You see what they drive me to!'. At one point one of the mothers came over to say hello and remarked that I looked 'muy guapa' and instead of saying 'thank you' or, 'for a change' I think I said 'I know, it's amazing what a bit of lipstick and half a bottle of Somontano can do these days'. While we were in the first bar, Bar Rugaca, H's favourite and my nemesis or rather the bloke that runs it, I noticed I was finding it all too much what with the local football team Huesca on the tele playing against Elche. I looked up at one point and saw a player headbutt another. At the same time music was playing and a Chinaman had won the entire contents of the one arm bandit or 'tragaperras' as its called here. I often forget this word is feminine and say 'tragaperros' which everyone laughs at as it translates as 'swallowing dogs' but the former surely translates as 'swallowing bitches'.  It was at that point I started to miss the words 'time gentlemen please'.

JACKANORY

There are moments here where I think it can't get any better than this. Like yesterday when I did the storytelling at one of the libraries and the usual chaos ensued. Last year I was lucky to have a seperate room to do these stories but this year I am in Perpetuo Socorro or 'Perpetual Help' and there isn't a spare room so it's all a bit hit and miss as to who will turn up and disrupt things. The storytelling in October went swimmingly but yesterday I was that much away from screaming 'for the love of God will someone keep control of their charges!'. I am used to the chaos here but at the end of the session one of the mothers had the breathtaking gall and asked me if next time I could 'speak a bit louder as we couldn't hear some of the stories'. I think she meant shout as this is often the only way to get heard, raise your voice louder than the rest but as I reminded her, we are in a library, not Glastonbury. Nothing, apart from a Spaniard in a hurry as I have said before, get's my shackles rising as a Spaniard who tries to advise me on how to do things, be it teaching English or talking louder. Another mother complained at the noise being produced by the various bods who had come to cause noise as opposed to listen. Then one added 'couldn't you do it with one of those microphones, 'you know the ones,' she described and put her hand up to her mouth to let me know that 'yes, you know, the ones you might wear at the Apollo if you are doing stand up comedy, or at the O2 singing live or yes, in a small library and they can't hear you at the back. Apart from telling her that as difficult as it is to imagine, I am not a clown and despite being able to multi task I am not doing this while reading stories to kids. Next time I do it, in December, I will do a repeat performance of Peace at Last and shout 'THEN MUMMY BEAR WHISPERED!!!' with the help of a megaphone just in case.

While the Spanish are inclined to do my head in with their spontaneous, absurd and intransigent ways, the Brits are starting to rile with their attitude towards the weather. Already obsessed they have this year as well as last, decided to approach the subject with words such as 'treacherous', 'plummeting' and worsening' just to keep people in fear  as if North Korea, 'an evil country' as described by my dad on account of its ability to freeze petrol, wasn't doing a better job.

British chefs have become a bit of an obsession of mine in the last few years mainly for their use of language and the soaring price of their cookbooks. Jamie Oliver has one called 'Jamie Does' which if any of his programmes demonstrate, is ..'f*** all'. Henderson reckons that like Delia all Jamie does is teach people how to warm stuff up. In my latest edition of Woman and Home I am convinced that a certain Nigel Slater has no friends or lover to cook for and spends his time in Viennesse cafes eating apple strudel and confesses to not fearing a death with a fork in his hand while I misread it as one in his back.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

There is a joke I love and is often quoted, 'what do you call twenty lawyers at the bottom of the sea? '  'A start', and so it was that I saw about twenty or so councillors and presumably the mayor the other day congregating on the Plaza Bolinga, AKA Plaza Alfonso Batallador presumably to discuss the state of said plaza and what they are going to do about it. I think it was April 2009 that I wrote about the soon to be pedestrianisation of this square which has been an ongoing process of fifteen years and sunken pavements. Back then I was quite positive and hopeful that work would commence pronto but then I had to admit that my breath wasn't being held. The latest is that work on this area will take place after the Christmas holidays and will continue for three months,so like the lawyers above or should I say below, it will be a start but then again who knows? who cares? Not me any more.

I have forgotten to mention that the mayor Fernando Elboj is no more. He hasn't died but he has been replaced, last July I believe, by one Luis Felipe who only today held the door open to the Casino Cafe, AKA Cafe des Artes for me and Henderson. 'I hope you know who that was?' I asked old H and he misheard me and said ' yes, I did say thank you to that man for holding the door'. Not knowing what the new mayor looks like is probably a blessing as the last one was congratulated by Henderson on his 'retirement' some months before the last election.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

VIVA SAN MARTIN!

If the explosions inside are heart stopping then the missiles just launched can only mean two things. Civil war or the fiestas of San Martin, the barrio next to mine. If you brave the cold you will be rewarded with a hot potato and chocolate and then get chased by gigantes, or cabezudos, a kind of overgrown puppet with a big head but with someone inside it. You see something similar in England but it is usually a bear at a football match or someone handing out leaflets. Here it is in the shape of a giant papier mache black woman and her accompanying clown and they chase children up and down the streets of the barrio San Martin, often with what looks like a baseball bat. I took my sister and her friend once and of course they found it all sinister but you get used to these things after a while

Meanwhile back at the ranch the folks next door are still at each others throats despite the warning from Mercedes. Piti the Priapic Poodle has been on his best behaviour or rather he hasn't been home much as Mercedes has to dump him on anyone who will have him after the police were called out for her a few times after his renditions continued.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

LA COMMUNIDAD PART DOS

Then there was the time he decided he would ring me every day just for a chat. I say a chat but it was more of the heavy breathing type of natter only he kept asking for English classes or there was a dull silence on the other end, so dull that I knew it had to be him. I did wonder if he was thinking on the lines of the dreaded 'disciplina ingles' that the Spanish like to joke about. Little does he know how restrained I have to be as there is nothing I would like more than to give him a good kicking. His only knowlege of the lingo is 'speek eeenglis?' anytime anyone remotely foreign passes by, that's when he isn't throwing stuff at them, anything he can lay his hands on, cigarette butts, yoghurt pots, the entire content of his ashtray slammed against the railings of his balcony for added effect. He likes gardening too, which involves him 'trimming' his ivy that has grown around the balcony and then dumping it in a great pile on the street below. The men who work in the office below his balcony are often greeted by him gobbing on their heads or if they are lucky a shower of confetti, his bills and ours probably, being torn up and launched into the air. There is an almost poetic feel to his actions as he goes about his daily business and perhaps he should be accompanied by music wherever he goes, maybe the theme tune from the Omen. He is outstanding at being the most odious git anyone could aspire to and deserves a medal. Sometimes he tells me to 'go back to Germany' in Spanish, or 'importada', an import or something like that. I saw him the other day chasing his cleaner up the road, the poor woman turning around every few seconds to tell him to leave her alone and that she didn't know him so God knows what he has done to her. Mercedes, who is la presidenta this year, had a little 'chat' with his 'wife' the other day to complain once more about his unreasonable activities nocturnal and otherwise, and seconds later all I could hear was a wailing banshee, her screaming, the 'wife' that is not Mercedes. 'How could you?' she cried, and 'cerdo!', 'pig!' etc. She has one of those annoying voices at the best of times, the 'wife' again not old Merche. A sound that resembled toothache while waiting to have your head cut off by terrorists would be more soothing on the ear. I was seriously worried by this sound she was making but the other neighbours just told me to leave her to it and hope they, the 'wife' and Mr C, kill one another and do us all a favour. The Spanish have an expression for when you die or pass on that goes along the lines of he has gone to 'el otro barrio', to the other neighbourhood which isn't reassuring as I always thought it might be run on the lines of Canada or New Zealand and not a place where you find yourself in a queue with Mr C and Piti the Priapic Poodle and looking at your maker and telling him/her, 'these two have got a lot of explaining to do'.

LA COMMUNIDAD

It seems incredible that I am on the verge of losing my voice when the effing bleeder's wife next door hasn't shut up for nine years. The month of August required someone or other from the community to ring the police due to the shennanigans of her husband and her good self. He first started to take a nap in the hallway nine years ago and since then has slowly progressed up the stairs and drops right outside my door in a state of inebriation. Now he has decided to go the other way and starts nodding off by the letter boxes downstairs, the very letter boxes he stole from with the aid of tweezers and when he was caught out and reported he decided to break them instead. He opened all our mail which then led him to tell everyone in the lift that he had paid his mortgage off but we, the neighbours however, were 'hipotecados', mortgaged up to the hilt. He still tries to push this argument when I tell him off for lying in a state all over the floor and proceeds to tell me I have 'nothing', unlike him who has paid off his mortgage presumably, as the rumour goes that he embezzled the bank where he worked, believed to be Santander a while back. He recently had his phone cut off as his wife has to bang on our door at four in the morning to ring the police for her when he goes on one of his rampages.The police have been known to come round four or five times in one day thanks to his wife locking him out or leaving her keys in the door so he can't get his in. This sparks a massive row and him banging the door and screaming at her to open up. The other day he faked a robbery. I heard him shouting downstairs and ran down thinking someone was being attacked but there was no one there just him hallucinating again telling me he had been robbed by some gacho (?), his money and ID taken. The next day he couldn't get in so started to ring all the door bells and then the police came again and told him to look for a room at the Hostal San Marcos who didn't want to know and sent him packing. He came back, did a repeat performance and was then carted off by the police who threatened to take him to Santa Clara which might mean the nunnery down the road or slang for the 'manicomio', the local mental institution. Maybe they should have called Saint Jude the patron saint of lost causes. The following night a woman with no teeth was calling up at the window asking him or telling him 'por dios', to let her in. I could then hear her high heels prancing around the flat till his wife slung her out. I say his wife but theirs is a weird relationship as they argue morning noon and night and really should enter a contest as they have had thousands of arguments all around the same time of day that you can set your clock to them. Henderson says he found the woman in a magazine, the neighbour, not Henderson and says she is really a Brazilian prostitute and as a man of the world I don't doubt his analisis. The woman seems to be deliberately driving the man insane and to drink in what appears to be an attempt to kill him so she can inherit the flat but he is a typical Aragonese, very stubborn and despite a pickled liver has no intention on going anywhere for a while. He must be about 80 by now and she not much younger than him. Outstanding really. Chapeau as they say here, I take my hat off to them. They defy any medical advice. I call him the effing bleeder but Henderson uses another more appropriate but unspeakable to polite ears word and begins with the letter c. He is actually called Antonio and is on first name terms with the police. He also has 'mucha fama' when it comes to court houses too and the community where we live has denounced him several times. The worst was when I had the unfortunate task of being 'la presidenta' of the community for a year and ended up denouncing him for having a J Arthur in front of the flats. If you are not familiar with rhyming slang the above is also known as a cab rank, but if you are still none the wiser let's just say he was masturbating which was the word I had to use when the judge asked me to explain what exactly it was that Mr C was up to that night he caused so much misery and disbelief amongst the neighbours. The denouncement on behalf of the the community was termed 'humiliating injustices'. Mr C was unaware that someone had filmed him in the act of self abuse and despite having a young ambitious lawyer grill me as if I were San Lorenzo himself, the judge found him, Mr C, guilty of what the judge classed as 'movements which evidently constitute an action which goes against the most elemental, moral and ethical norms of a citizen'' and which 'perturb the normal daily life of the rest of the community who shouldn't have to put up with such behaviour'. He added that Mr C's complaint or appeal that someone had had the audacity to film him having a good old tug was invalid as it wasn't as if said movie maker had filmed Mr C in the intimacy of his home, 'the very place he should have carried this act out in the first place'. I particularly liked the judge's conclusion that  my testimony in his opinion was one of 'forma verosimil and con franqueza' which shouldn't need a translation.
I think his priceless behaviour though was when he went to Brazil with his lovely lady wife and came back here without her. Mercedes upstairs asked about said wife and Mr C said 'oh her, she died'. A week later the woman in question came back to Spain and almost gave Mercedes a heart attack as she came spinning round the corner on Mercy Lane. There was also the time he flew head first down the stairs at Bar da Vinci and ended up in hospital for six months. We all thought we had seen the back of him but there he was, delivered by taxi, back to do it all again, a real trooper, smoking like a bastard and standing naked on his balcony pissing off it. He tried that again recently despite being denounced and just missed a copper's head, the one who had only moments before told Mr C that if the police were called out once more he would be fined 3,000 Euros. Perhaps his defining moment was when he was caught having a piss in the hallway just by the famous letter boxes and was again caught on camera and as he zipped his trousers up he waved a finger at the camera and said, 'Yo no', 'not me'.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

PLACIDO DOMINGO

While lying in bed with 'anginas', swollen glands I believe, I couldn't help hearing a debate that was emanating from the tele which was all to do with poppies and seemed to have been sparked off by one Jon Snow. Why anyone would listen to him in the first place I don't know as he is I believe a news reader for Channel four and once in a while is allowed to play with a swingometer.

Poppies aside, I realise that above glands are a result of recent revelling in the mountains and one or two parties down here in the town. This has become a bit of a recurring theme over the past few years as the weather changes abruptly and I find myself inside smoke filled bars rather than outside on the terrace. These and Henderson's insistence on leaving the windows open whenever we stay in the mountains regardless of plummeting temperatures at night.

We recently went to my favourite restaurant in the province, Casa Frauca and as always were not let down with dishes of potage, spinach crepes, wild boar, lamb shank and the best cheese cake and chocolate 'soup' I have tasted in a while. With a nice Enate I pondered a thought I had years ago that had the words 'come the revolution', 'fine dining', and 'I will probably be' in it. The chef came and sat with us a while and said they had been worried what with the recession and all but turns out they broke all their records that day despite the country being on its knees. Without any more information it could sound like the place was full of decadent folk or those up to their eyeballs in debt but if you do find yourself in the valley of Broto, head on to a village called Sarvise to above restaurant and for around fifty euros you can eat like a king.

We also had a few shindigs too, just to burn up some calories. Our friend Rosa put on a mountain of 'picoteo' for her birthday and invited a bunch of the nicest friends you could wish for. We all took turns in blaming the local 'mafia' from preventing the town from advancing, Especially the theme on shopping which we all seemed to agree on. Another topic was on how one must be careful what one says in Spain about folk as they all seem to be related. This led to a catch phrase of sorts 'hostia!somos primos!' which translated into English is even more disturbing, '*uck me! We're cousins!'

On the subject of family, Spanish women don't change their surnames when they get married. Traditionally children take their father's name before their mother's but now the Spanish government has decided in the name of equality to allow either parent's name to come first. The whole thing is explained better in today's Guardian and how some famous Spaniards would have had different names under this new rule like the architect Gaudi would have been Cornet.

I prefer the idea of English translations of Spanish names, famous or otherwise, like Dolores Fuertes, Strong Pains and Faustino Cebollero which might be Faust the onion maker, and not forgetting Domingo Malo, Sunday Bad.

Lastly, the rats. How could I have forgotten? I saw two last week in the same spot, running under a broken door in 'el Tubo' the grottiest bit of our street where all the bars are. This area is usually awash with vomit and a sort of treacly feel underfoot but the alcohol spills must surely keep germs at bay and the morning vomit cleaner does his rounds with machine and hose. Anyway, the following day there was 'mucha consternacion' when a photo appeared in the local paper with a rat in 'el Coso', the main high street, and a selection of locals looking on aghast. The 'audacity of the beast! Running along the main thoroughfare in 'plena dia!', the middle of the day! What next? Foxes? Fireworks in the middle of June? I'd like to think there was just the one rat running around town but we all know this is never the case especially if you have lived anywhere in London where por supuesto, the rats are the size of cats. The next day the same photo appeared but this time the shocked onlookers had all been airbrushed out. I have yet to get to the bottom of this but it must surely have something to do with being associated with the dirty beast.

Night night, Yours Miguel Campoviejo.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

SHIT OR SHEET.

What was I saying about the lack of shops to go mental in? Maybe I should count my lucky starts (...and stars even ) and be grateful that rampant consumerism hasn't arrived at the shores of this town. The ,'Y tu? Donde compras?' 'and you? Where do you shop' posters seen all over the shop have been taken down and been replaced with what I predicted, a sign that tries to justify why I should part with my dosh here and not there, there being the Internet, Zaragoza or the outside world. There are about six arguments put forward as to why we should all be shopping here and not there and they are very reasonable arguments like 'if I have a problem I don't have far to go to sort it out and they sort it out quickly' and 'I believe in my town' or 'I love my town and I want to see it grow', or 'I know the people who sell to me and this means I can go about my shopping in a way that doesn't give me a nervous breakdown' and so on. Yes, all valid arguments but in reality we are talking about a 19th century service most of the time or a 21st one that tries its hardest to rip you off. My own Jihad against certain shops has been supported by many locals who agree with me that the owners and staff live in a delusional world. I have countless stories from the natives along with a few of my own on the shocking lack of customer service. On top of this, hardly any shops are open Saturdays. Of course not all are like this and I am welcomed with open arms at the LIDL, Mercadona, Schlecker, Lacasa butcher's, Vilas cake shop to name a few. Yet I am hardly going to go to another town for my fodder or order cake over the web, and I am really talking about shops that purport to be open for trade but receive their potential customers with a frosty air and a sneer not seen since I was bitten by a Doberman back in 1970.The real problem though is the lack of choice or the choice being as I have said before, between cheap schlock and overpriced schlock. This might all seem uncharitable and you may argue 'what do you expect from a small town such as this?' but sadly, the combo of rudeness and shite stock will not entice me and apart from a select few I will have wares peddled to me in other ways from now on.

On the theme of wares, my buys of the decade involve several sheets that appeared fine on buying but had that amazing trick of not being able to hook over the last corner of the bed and so always ended up pinging off. Not an easy task at any hour of the day. I am not alone with the sheet saga as I have stayed at several Spanish households where the same thing happens. I have been battling with a set of pillow cases that I need a shoe horn to fit the pillow in too.

A new shop has opened up on the main high street, 'el coso bajo', and it is called Class but with a K.
Another one that goes by the name of Feliciti, ( Happiness I suppose ), has opened up nearby and it has been given six months by Henderson. I spotted it a while back in Zaragoza and it is the sort of shop I made a bee line for when we first arrived as before the joys of the Internet were shown to me I would beg people to send me tea or books and other life savers. I never bought anything though but just drooled over some of the delicious looking condiments and provisions they have like Champagne marmalade. I went in there the other day drawn by the multitude and was struck by the way people looked at the produce on display like it was the most exciting thing but I had to agree with Henderson as I witnessed some rather stylish bog brushes languishing next to the very expensive wine section.

On a more positive note, the lack of goodies and products needed as I said to get one through life in the least prickly way have made Henderson and myself that bit more self sufficient, a trait I admire in New Zealanders. If we haven't got it we make it type of attitude. Not the pious bean counting make do and mend cult that seems to be sweeping certain areas of British life though. There is a limit to these things and someone needs to sell me stuff. So I will be getting my Champagne marmalade from Fortnum's not Feliciti I am afraid.





Lastly, my obsession with pavements, streets and ramps will be featured here today, my favourite being the pram ramp in the old quarter. I've added a vending machine too for a bit of colour as it is doing a fair bit of trade in the early hours of. An attack of the munchies it seems judging from the stoned bods who turn up to devour its contents.



Monday, 11 October 2010

BESPOKE

Something has been troubling me today. More than Jeremy Paxman grilling Tory MPs on child benefit, Ken Loach and his 'communist claptrap (sic), and the general unfairness of it all,  I want to know how the Spanish dub Stephen Hawking every time he appears on the tele. I've asked around and most Spanish people tell me a 'normal' voice is used but I find this hard to believe and hope they make their voice sound electronic just to keep up with the general absurdities.

Less troubling is the fact that from Zaragoza to France there is nothing in the way of a shopping centre to buy one's necessities of life in the way of a decent wine glass, a pillow and some bed sheets. There are of course shops here and I would prefer to stay in town and give my money to the local traders but unless there is a shop that I haven't found the only solution is to head to that hive of masochism, IKEA and stock up on things that are supposed to make life that bit more bearable. I could get the things I need locally and pay a fortune or make do with schlock on offer but following the logic of my Dutch father in-law who sent his son miles on a bicycle just to get beer that was a cent cheaper, I schlepped off to the desert once more in pursuit of the above goods. As usual this involved a fit of pique at the till when I picked up one of those large carrier bags that will never be used again and found it to be half the size and nothing fitted in it. Instead of annulling the price or whatever it is they do in most shops in Europe we were told that we would have to go to customer services to get the bag thing sorted out. Twenty minutes later a plastic card was given and I returned to the girl on the till who asked for ten cents more and gave me a new bigger bag. So much for Swedish efficiency. Talking of Swedes there is a saying in Spanish that you can see in the restaurant in IKEA, another beacon for the Spanish to get as much free drink down their Gregories, which says 'Hazte el Sueco!!' This apparently means to pretend not to hear or understand when someone is talking to you. I'm informed that when the first tourists came to Spain in the sixties they came in the form of Swedish women who 'pretended' not to understand the Spanish. Not sure about this one though. Just as I am not sure about the Swedish groceries on offer as you leave the store. It comes in the form of what looks like rations, pickled fish and brown stuff. Anyone who eats this stuff is a degenerate and I can't see the attraction at all yet Spanish people were lapping it up.

On the subject of shopping which is fast becoming my pet hate of the year, I can give one example of why it is so difficult to buy anything here. I wanted to get some perfume that is only sold in one shop in this town and after that, Britain and Japan. The woman who runs the shop wasn't there the other Saturday when I went at half past six in the evening. The following week she told me that sometimes she doesn't open till seven at the earliest and prefers to stay open late, even till nine. I should have known this and am surprised she opens at all as most shops don't on Saturday afternoons. This all leads onto some adverts that have sprung up all over town which just have the words 'Y tu? Donde compras?'. 'And you? Where do you shop?' I have a sneaking suspicion it will be followed up with more adverts trying to persuade us not to go trundling off to France, Zaragoza or Barcelona to get our wares. In answer to their question I am afraid I will be shopping on the Internet from now on when it comes to goods and as for clothes, Saville Row or something like it beckons.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

When I was younger, oh so much younger than today, I used to wake up with a start accompanied by a realisation that I was 26 and still not, what? Prime Minister? Hadn't? Wot? Written a novel? All that loomed before me in those brief moments on arising was the endless throb of eternity and a desire to achieve something of merit during my life here on planet earth. When I see who became leader of the Labour Party yesterday I feel so much better those days seem to be over and that well, nothing matters really, unless you are Ed Milliband's bother ( Ha!) David. The look he wore on his face yesterday was Shakespearean, envious and one that suggested he was about to commit an honour killing. I think he wasn't voted in because he is too much like Tony Blair. The sort of personality that leaves you looking round the room going 'is it me?' He starts every sentence with the word 'look' which immediately harks back to those inane conversations people had with Blair. All this obsession with the two brothers and the recent papal visit just remind me that not much is going on in the world and everyone is just waiting for the next disaster or news that aliens have landed.

On the subject of the pope I recently saw some footage of Stephen Fry lambasting the Catholic Church while that Cringy Worthington Ann Widdicombe sat alongside muttering away at the home truths. I recently fell out of love with Mr Fry but this was him back on form. There should be a new verb, to be fried by Stephen Fry. I'll try to find the link and if I can be bothered will post it here.

On the subject of aliens, tonight I might do what I managed to do last week which is to go swimming but hopefully without the social awkwardness which involved losing my obligatory swim cap and being made to wear one that clung to my head and gave me a choice of two looks, one with my eyebrows pinned to my head or pushed down into my eyes. After struggling with said cap I picked the locker that didn't work and started the ball rolling with various men offering to help. Nothing can be worse for a Brit in swimwear being helped by athletic types all doing their best to work out how to fix said problemo while my clothes languished inside. Modesty is a word that doesn't normally apply to anyone in my family but I seem to have acquired it all of a sudden and finally once I managed to get into the pool I seemed to be dive bombed by policemen dressed in scuba gear and other 'tipos' who don't belong in the slow lane. The cap gave me a headache it was so tight and I lost the key to the locker.Watching it sink to the bottom of the pool I gave a groan of 'for f&ck's sake' only to be rewarded by another apparition in Speedups or whatever they are called, who retrieved it for me. In the ned ( I give up...) I left only to find the locker had 'disappeared' or rather numbers 68 or 89 lockers didn't exist and a life guard managed to locate it as number 45. Sadly these unwanted attentions are no longer flirtatious but of a benevolent nature and golf seems more seemly and pragmatic a choice in my attempts to lead a less sedentary life.

Friday, 24 September 2010

HOW MANY DOES IT TAKE?

The other day we received a leaflet that told us we could get a free energy saving light bulb by just pogoing along to the Post office to pick one up. Stuff like this usually goes in the bin but in the present climate I am puzzled as to why the government would be promoting this. There is a law in Europe that says that you can't manufacture the old style light bulb so unless I want to sit in the dark I find myself buying the one that saves energy. The leaflet carries the Plan E logo, and those of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce and the Institute for Diversification and Energy Saving. I wondered if maybe a light bulb company was behind it and had given the PSOE a donation on condition they bought a shit load of said light bulbs for every household in Spain and then we give our money to the government and they make us think we are getting something for free, like a jacket potato and hot chocolate at the local hop. At the top of the leaflet it says 'cada pequeno gesto cuenta' which I realise is the same catchphrase Tesco uses in its 'every little helps' adverts. Excusing the pun, but can anyone shed any light?

On the subject of leafelts ( ha!) I was handed one yesterday about the impending strike. I've been asking everyone if they are going and the general response is one of apathy which surprises me as this town is made up of civil servants who stand to lose the most if the labour reforms go through. I'll only go if there is a guarantee of a riot which usually happens whenever I find myself marching with others.

A friend back in London was asked last night at an art gallery opening 'what do you do?' to which he replied he cleaned the windows at the Victoria and Albert Museum. If I ever respond to this question from someone who works in the arts I think I will say something like 'and you? photographer? Isn't that something you do when you retire?' I realise I never get asked this question in Spain although a lot of people ask me what the hell I am doing here as they can't believe of all the dumps in the world I should walk into this one. I'm tempted to say I am only here for the beer but the main reason is to get out of the hole of a town and head for the hills. So I tell them I view the town as base camp. Strategically we are in the centre of the universe too.

Lastly, I seem to be neglecting my nemesis, the old mayor, and the new one needs investigating too. It was International day of the bike or something like that the other day and out of all the organisations involved about twenty bods turned up. Overnight, green strips have appeared claiming to be the new cycle lanes. It's on a par with the light bulb mystery as very few people cycle and those that do often have a pious edge like the little girl who told me to get out of the way as I walked along one the other day as the alternative was to walk on a strip of pebbles.There is the other extreme of course which is Amsterdam where you get screamed at by cyclists every time you step out of a building.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

VERY WORRYING

Along with obese people, gypsies, Muslims and the Pope my attention has turned to that other obsession of mine, pavements, or lack of. It also must include the wheelchair access provided in this town which is taken to extremes in the Plaza Lopez Allue. Along the steps that go up to the old quarter you will find what I suppose is a ramp for pushchairs or is it? An accompanying photo is due but in the meantime I am about to experiment with other photos so here goes....








Or is it?





Wednesday, 15 September 2010

the HUFFINGTON POST

I've just finished watching a BBC programme on the Vatican and the Pope and came away unscathed but filled with inertia. I don't know what the BBC was playing at with its sinister music and interviews with altar boys but enlighten it didn't. There was a much better programme on earlier about the Pope's visit to the UK and the preparations and responses needed if he is to survive his trip to what my friend's mother called 'a Godless country'. Later on I read that one of his advisers had remarked that on landing at Heathrow he thought he was in a Third World country. He obviously didn't give the old motherland a chance and would be better off watching an episode of Two Fat Hairy Bikers if he wanted to get even the slightest idea of what this country is all about. Perhaps, despite its faults it is the very country to find God except of course if you end up in a Bluewater shopping centre. He should have stopped off at the chapel at Heathrow. Devoted to all religions and where Henderson and I had a defining moment, an epiphany if you like when we realised we had to stop working there. The airport that is, not the chapel although that wouldn't surprise me if he told me he had.

Getting back to the Pope. Many years ago before I worked at the airport I was involved in numerous 'happenings', theatrical ventures and performances of one kind or another and one was to involve straddling the neck of a friend who was six foot three in her stockinged feet, don a burka and have a vada up The Edgware Road, maybe with a crash helmet for that extra special touch.. Those were more innocent times but we spoke yesterday about reliving our wasted youth and turning up dressed like this, resplendent with Tennent's Extra and start heckling the Pope. We could burn some Jeffrey Archer books while we are at it. Kill several birds by stoning them.

But now I am being childish and the most I could bring myself to do is to burn copies of Tony Blair's latest hagiography. While I was watching the BBC documentary tonight the words 'patron saint of Europe' came up and I wondered if it was him. I've also learnt today that some people who might be a bit timid when it comes to fire have started to move said memoirs to the crime section in bookshops which is a start I suppose but shouldn't end there.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

HEY FATTY BUM BUM

We got back some time last week and decided we should acclimatise ourselves by going up to one of the villages in the mountains and it was an excellent idea. No sooner had we arrived and we were being informed of the fiestas in the next village. We've been to them before but in February which is to celebrate San Blas. This one is similar but I am not sure which saint it is associated with but the idea is the same. You turn up at 1.30 in the afternoon nursing a hangover from the night before and do a 'ronda', following a band and entering all the village houses and being greeted with delicious grub and wine from a porron. It's difficult at times to keep up with The Spanish and their high jinks but I managed to pace myself and found myself still tucking into delicacies after most had gone home to sleep it all off. We settled into a wonderful chat with the proprietor of one of the restaurants, Rakel and friends Elena, Henderson and of course various dogs from the village and drank Pacharan till eight that evening and then went on for dinner. It was hard to picture ourselves a week before flying around The New Forest in a rented Vauxhall.


Some lasting memories of Britain seem so surreal now. Programmes where Daily Mail readers ring their hands at the idea of breast feeding in public. It's a programme hosted by people with names like Nick Ferrari and Gloria Hummingbird and other porn stars gone to seed. A comment from Eastenders was overheard from a woman whose husband had killed most of his family for her daughter to take care while on holiday in Spain as 'those Spanish can be a slippery bunch'. Other nightmarish souvenirs seem to be in the shape of shops that sell floral prints which on their own might be deemed quite pretty but together in one room made me feel ill. But, my main concern is how big people are getting. What can they be eating I ask myself every time. This is coming from someone who threatened to drink their weight in vermouth if The Labour Party had won the last election. All 55 kilos of it. I worry I am fat like most people I suppose who like their grub and notice that the fat around their tummy should have an eye kept on it. I am not talking a bit fat or a bit tubby though, people just seem enormous and in such enormous numbers. It becomes an obsession with me. I witnessed people tucking into great portions of food in pubs and then wolf down buckets of ice-cream, skips full of chips, and round off with pints of beer. Outstanding.

Another thing was The BBC's obsession with representing Muslims at every opportunity. Other groups must be so pissed off. Every time we switched on the radio in the car we had rented there was another story about Muslims and most of them boring and unjustified but occasionally speaking volumes. Muslims could become my other obsession as I witnessed three women in burkas being peddled along Oxford Street in a rickshaw. Later that day I saw a young Muslim girl from the top deck of a number 12 bus giving her friend a mouthful. I lip read the words 'where the *uck have you been?' as she took a drag on a fag. She looked as though she was carrying a can of Tennants Extra but as the bus sped off I couldn't be sure. Every other person looked mental as London will always attract those that don't fit in elsewhere and all manner of oddballs and queer hawks took turns in freaking me out and reminding me why I will never live there again.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

UN MANICOMIO ENORME

Someone once said that Britain is one giant lunatic asylum and after being here a few days I am inclined to agree. Very few people possess any elegance and most people seem to think nothing of dressing like a complete lunatic. I have also noticed since my recent arrival that we have gone from a nation of eccentrics and inventors to a nation that needs to be defined by what ever syndrome is de riguer and everyone seems to be a registered something or other. A quick stop off in any Dorset village or town and it feels like I have walked onto a set from The Avengers but without the sartorial elegance.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD.

After having a number of sleepless nights on being told my parents have been victims of what is known as a 'distraction burglary' I then found out that the nice folk up in the village where we spend a lot of time have just been relieved of the trauma inflicted by a local for extortion. It seems the villagers ,our friends included, were sent letters purporting to be from ETA demanding money and 'we know where you live' type threats. Our friend's cousin had her shop burnt down and everyone was paranoid and upset as they didn't know what was going on. If it wasn't ETA they thought it might be a gang of delinquents as the letter was badly written . The police told them it was someone local and the other day they set him up with some money hidden in a tin as he had demanded, and it turns out he asked for said tin and money to be left outside his house in the village. They told us about fifty Guarda Civil were waiting and he is now in the Nick. It is just another mind boggling story that makes you realise that nowhere is free from these arseholes. In my parents' case they have yet to find the perps even though one of them had the cheek to come back and impersonate a police officer in an attempt to get my folks out of their house again.



Our town is gearing up for the fiesta of San Lorenzo with everything in green and white and the smell of basil everywhere. I must admit to liking the pre fiesta atmosphere with everyone out and about buying 'pan de San Lorenzo' and getting their white clothes ready. There are already concerts going on and a good time will be had no doubt but I will be off as once it kicks in/off the only way to cope is join them and spend a week in and out of a coma. Seeing as I spend any number of weekends in this state throughout the year I don't need a saint for encouragement and for the sake of my sanity and liver I will be running in the direction of those hills.



Despite her upsetting experience my mother still has time to tell me some of her many stories. Growing up in Ireland wasn't easy for her and she told me the other day that she begged her granny to let her go and see Gone With the Wind and after crying so much her grandmother gave in. My mother told me it was just one of those wonderful nights that you can call a perfect moment worth remembering and the bit I like the most was as she got up to leave the cinema she genuflected as she would have done every Sunday in church. She realised what she was doing and pretended to twist her ankle but I thought it was brilliant and I think we should all genuflect if the film is worth it.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

FIGHT OR FLIGHT?

We ended up on a bit of a tour of the local airport which takes some beating. Where do I begin? Aragon is probably the area after Extremadura that is forgotten but then they would argue that Extremadura gets more benefits etc. Aragon is the place where they have big ideas that never bear fruit, never quite get up and running. This is quite common in Spain but I think here they have taken it par excellence. When the first stone was laid by the Conservatives the opposition slagged it off. Then the Labour party took some of the credit for its impending success. I am still waiting. There are some flights during the winter for, and I quote the ex mayor, 'rich people' who want to go skiing. The rest of the year it serves as a training ground for Chinese pilots which sounds even weirder as I write it.


The day we were there we saw some of the Chinese and they even approached us with a friendly air and a cheery 'hello sir' aimed in Henderson's direction which is to be expected as he often resembles some kind of 'man from Del Monte' or as some teenagers at a ski resort were heard to say, 'Mr X'. We went or rather gravitated towards what we thought was the bar but were met by a pitiful sight of a lone Chinese bloke watching Spanish tele and a conked out coffee machine in the corner. In the corridor we came across a noticeboard full of instructions or rather A4 pieces of paper with guidelines that amounted to civilising the Chinese during their stay in Spain which I thought was a bit rich especially the bit about spitting.


Later we went back to La Granja the place were Orwell stayed during the Civil War as it a very peaceful place despite its history and it is here we saw a Golden Oriole and his mate. This region is a wonderful place if you are a twitcher which I thought I was but was told I wasn't by Henderson as I don't get up at the crack of. and go racing up or down in search of what he coined The Lesser Spotted Dickhead. We didn't see the Oriole but we did see several Kites, Milano Reales who seem to put on a bit of a show when they fancy.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

VAYA CRISIS

We accompanied a friend to the dole office the other week as we have done for the past two summers just in case he needs us as witnesses to the usual confusion expected at such places. Normally things go quite well and only need three returns with required forms before you get any semblance of normality. The last two years have seen us in a queue of five, mainly North African men and us but this year was a bit of a shock as we had about thirty bods in front and had to wait three hours as opposed to the usual half hour.

Said friend needs to go back to his homeland and told the civil servant this who told him that he would need two weeks to let them know. He told then he was telling them now and they said OK, and let him fill out the form. A week later he told us the postwoman called round telling him he had some registered post and would need to sign for it. When he produced his DNI she, the Postie, told him, 'your DNI is out of date you know, by quite a few years'. He couldn't be bothered to tell her that A this was none of her business and B he didn't, as a European citizen, need said DNI. He had for a split second, thought she had said that he looked quite good for his fifty odd years. On opening the post he saw that he was given permission, signed sealed and approved, at his grand old age, to go on holiday or rather visit his folks in his motherland from none other than the Provincial Director and The Minister of Work and Immigration.

Whenever I go to the Mercadona Supermarket in Perpetuo Socorro, or Perpetual Help as Henderson calls it, I feel as though I have walked onto a Vic Reeves set with the abundance of weirdos, queerhawks and oddballs it seems to attract. I have never been in there without queuing with a gang of likeable cranks. They are not the maladjusted you might run into in Britain and are unlikely to stab you and I think they might just be a mixture of the very poor and inbred. I feel less scared than if I were in a bus queue in Hayes, Middlesex. Why even a man with a huge hearing aid and a toothless grin gave me the eye while I queued. I guess it was the least he could do. Next door is a bar with a rogue's gallery of male drinkers propping up the bar and two elderly women who I imagine are sisters and walk up and down to the nearby LIDL all day spying on everyone.

We've been hanging out at the highly recommended if you get there at four in the afternoon and leave at six when everyone else turns up swimming pool that goes by the name Piramide. It's only three euros to get in and has a bar and is surrounded by trees and birds. It has taken me a while to suss this one out. For years I went to two of the three local pools, all big and lovely with bars but full of people and no room to swim. One of them is notorious for youths who enjoy dive bombing and petting which I think are banned in Britain and the other one is full of fat gypsies who take up so much room but I have yet to be robbed by one as most locals tell me I will if I go there. There was a problem with which swimwear was de rigeur and at my age and shape can still get away with, but judging by the rest I think I have little to worry about for the mo' and rather like the idea that despite what I thought, Spanish people are not as obsessed and into grooming and slimming as some of their Latin American cousins are.

Lastly, and I am still unsure what the hell is going on, but I think the government has stopped the building of a motorway here. I was already told by a local that the other motorway, the one going towards Barcelona will not quite reach its intended destination this end on account of somebody refusing to sell their bit of land that would allow this but now it seems the motorway north is on hold and then I read a road near the village we often visit has seen its workers pack up and go. It has left a lot of disgruntled hotel and restaurant owners who were serving the workers and some have had to lay off their staff now thay are not needed. I'm off for dinner tomorrow so hopefully after asking around five people I will get an answer.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Well I have been extremely lazy and have adopted The Idler approach to everything but with a nagging doubt that I ought to be 'doing something' and a fear of an obituary that reads, 'she leaves five unwritten books, several unmade beds and unwashed windows'. The latter is something I enjoy not doing if only to watch the faces of my Spanish guests who think such a thing is immoral but are quite happy to let their dogs shit in the lift.

Things done include a recent trip to Zaragoza, a difficult city to understand which often seems an extension of what goes on here despite protests that they have nowt in common. Nevertheless, it is a city which boasts a heroine from The Peninsular War or The Spanish War of Independence called Agustina who on seeing the Spanish men dead or abandoning their posts, loaded a cannon, lit the fuse and wiped out a load of Napolean's soldiers. The Siege of Zaragoza is considered one of the most brutal of this war and left thousands of Zaragozans dead despite vicious street fighting which I would expect if the alternative is to end up speaking French. There is a Jota sung which includes the words 'the Virgin of Pilar says she doesn't want to be French, that she wants to be captain of the Aragonese troops'. It sounds better in Spanish unless of course you are not a fan of the Jota. Lord Byron included Agustina in his poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage where she is called The Maid of Saragosa. She is also immortalised in Goya's Disasters of War and served as an inspiration during the American Civil War.

On the subject of wars, my recent run in with Telefonica might have paid off as I received a letter with the word 'devolucion' in it which means they should be reimbursing me pronto with the 37 euros they claimed I had run up in a day. The day when according to them I had put the wrong 'nodo' in my computer and therefor didn't have the 19 euros a month deal that I had asked for. Friends have told me that most people don't bother to check these things or can't be bothered to complain and so just pay but I find this hard to believe. I'm just glad I opened a seperate account just for the thieving bastards as I knew something like this would happen. I think the bust up in one of Telefonica's shops with a queue of bemused witnesses behind me might have helped despite the shop assistant's pleas that 'this is a shop, you have to ring the customer service line and they will help you'. In the end I got her to ring said helpline to query the absurd accusation and subsequent siphoning of my funds and was told after half an hour of bullshit that I would be hearing from them within ten days which it appears I have.

Lastly, I forgot to say that on my return from Zaragoza I noticed as I got off the bus that there were deep puddles and piles of debris littering the streets in Huesca. Henderson told me that while I was away the heavens opened for three minutes and a year's rain fell sideways and winds brought down trees and advert hoardings. He said he hadn't seen a storm like it before. The last time this happened I was trapped in a cake shop on the high street with the owner battling against the flood with a plank of wood and me noticing wires and cables lying nonchalantly on the floor and sticking out of the skirting boards.

Monday, 19 July 2010

It's Monday and the summer camp is over and out for another year. WC Fields said never to work with children or animals but maybe he should have put the adjective Spanish in front of those two nouns. That's unfair though as the kids just get on with things and it is the adults that drive you round the twist. Mainly the Brits and the Irish who think they have come for a holiday and soon realise that children are hard work and in Spain chaos is sometimes the very thing that will sort it all out in the end. I had to explain this to one of the teaching staff, a lovely Irish girl who had been residing in a God forsaken place in Spain called Ciudad Real not noted for its loveliness as a town, who although having spent some time in Spain, hadn't really been exposed to the gritty reality that is found in places like a summer camp. It's all very well hanging out in bars with like minded adults and putting up with the odd noise etc but once you are living and working here it is often a shock. I am amazed at myself for keeping cool as the camp often resembled a scene from The Lord of the Flies. Children in general are, depending on their age, living on another planet and it is this world that often shocks adults who can't remember what they were like when they were a nipper. Throw in a heat wave and children who carry either an anarchist or surrealist gene and there will never be a dull moment. The best thing to do is put on a 'show', a play of some sort and let them shine.


The other thing with Spanish kids is that they don't notice if things aren't working like a video player or a tele or if the chairs are broken. The 'recreation' room at the summer camp looked like a cross between an old people's home and a lunatic asylum from the seventies. The class windows are the same as last year, meaning they don't open, and the bright orange crimplene curtains were infested with mosquitos. For children this is fun as they tried to outdo one another with the amount of insect bites and general damage they had done to their bodies by falling off broken furniture or stumbling down piles of pavement left, presumambly for them to play on. The best bit was when we were told, not asked, to do an 'Earth Day' which by its very nature is a day of teaching kids how to look after the environment and all it entails. This is easier said than done when you are trying to stop Miguel and Jaime from cutting a bee's head off with a pair of scissors. My threats of decapitating them with some pruning shears didn't put them off either.

Earth Day ended up outside in pursuit of bits of nature we could use to decorate the mural we would then do and soon involved discovering a mountain of rubbish next to the classroom. 'Will this do?' they would ask as they produced various bits of crap perched on the ends of sticks. I did enjoy the conversations I couldn't help but overhear as we ambled along with five and six year olds discussing which 'side' they were on, Rajoy's or Zapatero's. The conclusion was that they all believed in Rajoy's side and then all went on to sing some old songs that insult Franco and his wife.


I am used to the school where the camp takes place, being permanently 'en obras', or falling apart so it doesn't bother me and in fact most of the time I don't notice but the visiting teachers do and every year they are by the second day, about to run away or take action. My explanations of 'this is how it is' just make me look like an insensitive bastard so I have to combine a concerned outlook with a practical one. The best thing I said to one of them was 'look, I live here, you will be back in Dublin in two weeks' which seemed to sink in.


The other thing that the visiting teachers are concerned about is the level of swearing used by all the kids and which somehow is socially acceptable although parents will tell you otherwise. If you tell a kid off for saying 'esta es una mierda', 'this is a pile of shit' when you are trying to do an activity they look at you like you are mad. It also applies to other swear words. I have yet to find the ultimate taboo but it certainly isn't the one that involves shitting on God.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

ONE SHOW DOWN TWO TO GO

Well it's not as though nothing is happening. Summer camp is here and we are back in 'La Granja' teaching the kids. We are dab hands at it now and as always the problems are the same. The other adults and the intense heat the kids are expected to work in. There have been moments were I thought I would pass out, like yesterday when we did the 'show', the final act when the kids do their performance for the parents and all the adults working at the camp have to present the awards. Two years running I have nearly died on stage. Problems this year with adults included a call at half two in the morning which I ignored from experience and found out the next day was made in desperation as one of the teachers had got pissed and was fighting with one of the young monitors. At least we haven't had any kids bitten by snakes and hallucinating and being ignored by everyone when I said we ought to take him to the hospital.

Football looms and I am not a fan by any means but I love the World Cup. I can get a fix of football in much the same way I get a fix of the gee gees when the Grand National is on or a plate of fish and chips everytime I go back to Britain. The same feeling of 'that will do me for a while' comes after each event. I love the way strange allegiances and weird scores to settle creep up on everyone. I never thought I would be cheering the Germans on and was satisfied to see Maradona go if only for the suit he was wearing but deep down for his hand of God. That support went right out the window when they played Spain. I want Spain to win if only because I live here and need an excuse for a party. This is proving problematic in this household as I am expected to root for The Dutch on account of Henderson's renewed pride for his ancestry.


On a lighter note, our mayor has gone and been replaced by another, Luis Felipe, who is the father of his, Henderson's, pupil. This is not a first as he taught the last mayor's son too.

Monday, 28 June 2010

MAY THE BEST MEN WIN

So England lost despite all the superstitions we rely on to get us through. Now the post-mortem where nobody seems to mention the above. When you have to rely on whether you are wearing a red shirt or which nationality the referee is you know you are doomed and maybe we should just admit that the players although good don't seem to be enjoying themselves and wear faces that look as though their families are being held captive. Maybe, we should just concentrate on what we are good at like making decent music. I pointed out to Henderson that despite the above sad news we can and will root for The Dutch and Spain but I think it would be wonderful if Ghana won.

We started the summer camp and like most years we often teach children of illustrious parents like The King of Bulgaria and Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. This year we have the honour of teaching the son of a Goya winning director, Javier Fesser. No less than six I am told for his film El Camino. He is also the director of several short films starring his son Javier and his then baby sitter Lucy which can be found on Youtube by the title Javi y Lucy.

Lastly, but going back to the football, Henderson and I seem to be getting a lot of mileage from the commentary and spend most of our time laughing at the harmless remarks such as ..'having a moan about the attentions of Skrtel'.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

It's been a while since I mentioned the Oompa Loompas next door. One of their daughters is called Myra and there is a sister with the misfortune of being baptised Brucella. One of their problems is an inabilty to communicate with one another without shouting up at windows or down stairs so at any moment you can hear someone with a gob on them screeching the above names. Myra has a habit of not responding so I am often treated to the sound of her name with all its murderous connotations at least ten times before there is a response. It's one of those things that although jarring on the nerves is nothing compared to their other antics so I just cope somehow. The other morning however was a chance for Henderson to have a lie-in and on hearing that name he leaped out of bed and starting screaming her name too. After each scream the father of said kid bellowed a sound as he obviously doesn't like to be outdone and Henderson has what has been described as a 'bar' voice, the sort of voice you do have to sit up and listen to. So for the past few days the mother has been bellowing expletives and various ruinous curses from the balcony at him for failing to see the error of his ways I suppose. There is a tendency here that one can do what the *uck one likes but 'you no'.

I also haven't been saying much about The Brits lately but living here I realise their passion for football, especially The English. Spanish people tell me it is the same here when I tell them most English men, the ones who like football anyway, have in their DNA the belief that they can and will win The World Cup again but here I don't see any flags hanging off balconies and I don't even feel like the football is on until Spain score and then you never hear the end of it with all the cars and fireworks kicking off. Or maybe it is just this town.

We start the summer camp again soon, once again in 'La Granja' where George Orwell spent some time during The Civil War. It's a very peaceful place despite its history and we always seem to have a nice time teaching here.

The mayor has been getting off lightly too. Maybe because he will be leaving soon. The subject of pedestrianisation has raised its head again this year with a debate on whether they should pedestrianise the Coso, the main thoroughfare through the town. The opinion is split with those who have travelled to other towns in Spain wanting it and those who find the idea of anything from 'de fuera' or 'outside' the influence of the devil.

Monday, 21 June 2010

BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN BIKE.

In an attempt to 'get away from it all' we decided to head for the hills and seek refuge in a bar there. Henderson likes to leave the house after two and before five as he is convinced this is the safest time to drive as The Spanish, being creatures of habit, will be found having lunch and then siesting during these hours. So there we were cruising along with the open road in front when I saw a sign announcing that some roads would be closed on account of the 'Quebrantahuesos' cycle race. Quebrantahuesos is a bird of prey which is known as a Lammergeir or Bearded Vulture but here it is called 'Bone Breaker' and for some ironic reason the cycle race is named after this bird. There is no worse sight for Henderson than grown men, whose wives he believes are left behind probably to have sex with saner men, dressed in Lycra peddling after other men's arses. It stirs something in him that has him shouting after them 'haven't you heard of a combustion engine?' The road was full of these men trying to conquer themselves, which is my theory as there is nothing left to conquer. We didn't see any women or black men participating so there must be something in it. Henderson still hasn't got over the shock of seeing some of them wearing what look like wonder bras.My heart was in my mouth everytime we came round a corner only to be faced with these maniacs and of course it wasn't long before there was a pile up ahead near Biescas. As we got closer we could see the motorists who had knocked down a cyclist hailed from The Netherlands, a country rife with bicycles. As we passed I could see two tall, bewildered blond folk who had no idea of the surrealism awaiting them.

It would get more absurd as we left this area and cruised the winding mountain road up to The Valley of Broto. We had just passed the village of Yesero when we came around a bend and found a crashed car and a Quebrantahueso cyclist stumbling around the road. My Spanish version of 'are you alright mate' would keep Henderson amused for the rest of the weekend but alright he clearly wasn't as blood gushed from every orifice. I rang the emergency services and spent ages answering questions till another motorist came and then he spent aeons trying to explain that an ambulance was needed. The problem was the surreal scene in front of us. The woman on the other end of the line was asking me if the victim was in the cycle race as they had their own emergency servive but although the man was dressed in lycra no bike was to be seen. The car had both airbags inflated but someone's head had hit the passsenger window as it was smashed. It looked as if the driver and passenger had done a runner or rather, had cycled off on the poor man's bike. In the end when the proper authorities took over it was established that the 'cyclist' was the driver of the car and he had nodded off. Unfortunately he hadn't been wearing a seat belt and had ended up flying into the window on the passenger side. Well, that's what he reckons.

Friday, 18 June 2010

AND BUT OR BECAUSE

We know quiet a few people who indulge in some of the many risk sports on offer here. One of them involves hanging off a cliff or boulder and is very popular in the Sierra de Guara in villages like Rodellar. I have to confess that as well as dentists, and planes I am not flying, risk or adventure sports could be added to my list of bete noirs. I was telling one of our bosses this last night over dinner at the Tomate Jamon knowing he is a fan of such stupidity. He told us he was at a place called Vadiello in said Sierras and was just reaching the bottom of a lump of rock he had climbed up when a bunch of nuns led by a priest came along. As he jumped down one of the nuns asked him what he had been doing. 'Climbing up there' he said. 'And what's up there?' the nun enquired. 'Nothing' he said. 'So what do you do when you get up there?' she wondered. 'Nothing' came the reply. 'And what can you see when you are up there?' Nothing', he retorted. 'And what do you do then?' she asked. 'I come back down again' said our boss. There was a bit of a pause and the nun looked at him and said, 'that's the stupidest thing I have ever heard' and marched off. I am with the nun.

Monday, 14 June 2010

BON VIVANT

We had the opportunity to visit a valley we have never been to before, the Valley of Benasque which is quite a schlep from here, tucked away in the corner of the province not far from Catalunya. We normally visit the Valley of Broto which we know quite well now so Benasque was a new view of the Pyrenees. It's one of the larger more popular resorts especially in winter with the ski resort of Cerler nearby. It has a different vibe to the one we are used to and quite a few surprises.

It has grown in the last thirty years with a lot of urbanisation but still has managed to look after the old part in a far better way than the one we have here in Huesca. In fact the people in the mountain villages seem a lot more open and sophisticated than the ones down here and there are a few theories as to why this is. One that they are closer to France and have more dealings with the French but also people up there are more used to foreigners in general and rely on tourism to make a living. There seems to be more of an entrepreneurial spirit too and you can find products and service that you wouldn't get here ever.
It is a village that has everything you need including a bar called Rabason,, resplendent with ancient cobwebs, Miles Davis and vino dulce. We had coffee outside the Hotel Aneto and later were invited to view the rooms which would probably be described as 'state of the art' but were designed and furnished with lots of wood and stone themes that fit in with the surroundings. The sculptor goes by the name Vicente Garcia Plana and uses a lot of natural materials. There was one space I wasn't sure about where you could sit and read which had heavy stones hanging from wire above your head. I think it's the kind of hotel that is busier in winter during the ski season as there were hardly any folk about. I love hotels and although we always seem to have friends to stay with I wouldn't mind sampling this joint.

We had dinner in a wonderful little restaurant called Ansils in the village of Anciles. Apparently, this was the only village not to get burnt down during the Civil War but I need to find out if that means in this valley or the whole of the province. These restaurants offer fine dining at a fraction of the cost you'd pay back in Britain and in beautiful countryside. I had the 'recao' de Anciles, which is like a potage and for the main course, partridge. The wine was from Riglos de los Mallos, another beautiful part of Aragon. The next day we visited the ancestral home of our friend Cristina's children. I have never seen a house like this in Aragon and it was more akin to a French chateux. The key was enormous and reminded me of the keys The Jews took with them when they were expelled from Spain hoping one day they would be able to return to their houses. Inside I came across many old books from the 17th century which were just rotting away and looked as if they had been rescued from a fire which is possible with all the stories of burning and ransacking during the Civil War. There was also a framed piece of a flag allegedly dating back to the battle of Lepanto which took place way back in 1571 in the Ottoman- Habsburg wars. The house was full of 'ghosts' and it was difficult to find its heart. Like the bar we visited the night before, the corners and walls were full of cobwebs the like which make a tearing noise as they scrape against your arm. The flag intrigued me and has inspired me to find out more on the battle.

Monday, 7 June 2010

THE MENTAL CONTINENTAL

People often complain here that there is nothing to do but at the moment we are spoilt for choice between an exhibition of the largest Playmobil collection or something like that and the Short Film Festival also known as The International One. I wanted to go and see a Bunuel film called That Obscure Object of Desire which I have seen loads of times but felt I ought to honour as it was this film which made me realise how mental the Spanish are. In those days, the days when I was much younger than today, I think films like this went out on Friday late at night and came under the title The Continental Movie or as Henderson would have it, shite and/or probably depressing. He does have a point that was pointed out by me when I told him that The Full Monty was the humorous version of Los Lunes al Sol, the continental depressing version of unemployment as opposed to the 'how can we make something funny out of something depressing but still get the message across version'. However, I love Bunuel as his films always conjure up the idea that it is so difficult to get what you want, especially here. Some things are just unatainable like the women who appear in the above film. This was a stroke of genius to use two actresses to play the same role and I must have been about twelve when I saw it and I was blown away when I realised he was directing two actresses as it is a subtle change and some people don't notice. Alas, I didn't make it to the screening or the homage to the Spanish actress Angela Molina. It's quite a relief to not feel I have to go to these events but tonight I am making an effort. I am always gutted that I can't see films here at the cinema in their original version, except Spanish ones of course, and tonight I am going to the renovated Teatro Olimpia to see a Ken Loach film called Looking for Eric. I invited Henderson but he claims Loach is every bit as depressing as Continental movies so has declined. I'm mainly going to see the inside of the theatre and to just soak up the cinematic experience that most take for granted.

I've just remembered that I went to a lecture on an Aragonese artist, Juan Jose Vera. It was part of a course at The Institute for Aragonese Studies that included Goya, Bunuel and Saura. I managed to sit for two hours watching and listening and at one point felt I might suffer from Stendhal Syndrome looking at shot after shot of abstract and surrealist art. Artists from Catalunya tend to be surreal and the ones from Aragon next door, abstract. If you go anywhere along the coast in Catalunya you will feel this sense of surrealism and it has something to do with the light I believe. In Aragon they are more abstract due to their surroundings except Bunuel who was from Bajo/Lower Aragon which is a completely different story.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

MAKE 'EM LAUGH

It's starting to get hot here and that feeling of inertia is kicking in so I didn't feel too keen on doing the story telling for the kids at the book fair yesterday. On a deeper level I think it was more due to the idea that far from the confines and safety of a library, this particular reading was outside, in a park and would involve more people. I'm not one for audiences and suffer from something that Howard Hughes was supposed to have suffered from, a dread of people watching me. It would not bother me to be more like him and never cut my nails again. Anyway, it became apparnet ( ha! love this new word, almost as good as the parnets, the parents..) on arriving at the fair that I would be required to wear one of those awful headsets and stand up in front of what looked like loads of people and read the stories. Totally unrehearsed and last in a line of others doing stories I felt a bit like I did years ago when for some unfathomable reason I was entered into an athletic competition and found myself surrounded by fit, blond, Germanic types in a stadium somewhere in Middlesex. That's another story, this one got worse as I watched the others perform what looked like theatre or circus storytelling in Spanish and French. My turn came and I had to stop myself from reading it in another accent just to confound the adults who had truned up ( To Trune up= To arrive expecting more than you bargained for..) for the chance to hear a 'native'. The kids are always fine and enjoy the stories but the bemused looks from the parents pisses me off. It's like they are trying to catch you out for saying 'gonna or 'somting like dat'. Perhaps next time I'll do it with a Jamaican accent, or even better, move my lips and have it dubbed. It did feel weird having my voice echoing around the park for all to hear. It wasn't held in the bandstand in the end. That had some kind of tarpauling going on in its roof.


Later that evening the lack of sleep left me lying on the sofa in the idler position watching what looked like singing grannies, pogoing pensioners and dancing dogs. ' What is this?' I asked Henderson, who told me it was a talent contest to look for someone to perform in front of the queen. No wonder the country is on its knees. The BBC didn't come up with much better as it offered what basically is an ongoing conversation I have found myself listening to in the wee small hours of. The one were men battle out to the death whether Jimmy Hendrix or Jimmy Paige was the best ever guitarrist. My money would be on Jimmy, Hendrix of course, who was surely some kind of spiritual envoy.

Lastly, I need to work on my pronunciation of the name Virginia as a friend pointed out that I pronounce it Vaginia.

Friday, 4 June 2010

SOUND THE TRUMPET

If you haven't fallen asleep by five o'clock in the morning in Spain then you might as well get up as no way are you going to nod off again. I was asleep at this hour till a mosquito doing the rounds decided to give me a nip while I was having a nap. From then on it was a battle with the sofa and the ensuing sounds of life which seem to have a habit of ringing every half hour just as you are about to nod off again. I think I have said before that this is a country where people can manage to take the sound of fish frying to levels beyond those allowed by the European Union. If you are in any doubt that the Spanish are lazy I can assure you there are plenty who want to wake you up as they head off to work. If you suffer from insomnia the best thing is to get up regardless and try not to go back to sleep as you will be woken up by leaflet distributors ringing all the door bells, explosions of one kind or another and various diggers and jackhammers as men try to fix all the broken things.

We did go to one of my favourite restaurants, Tomate Jamon and had delicious tuna steaks and Enate wine. We had to leave a bit early and run to the terrace to have our coffee as the noise levels began to sound like experimental jazz. Henderson remarked that of the thirty or so people there he could count only five men and the noise sounded like a Miles Davis track. It might sound uncharitable but it may have to go on my avoidance list like the Granja Anita cafe which is unbearable at certain times of the day with all the grannies high on chocolate and churros.

Despite all the trials I am delighted that I now have Broadband and can write from my laptop. Telefonica seem to have improved as both Javier and Virginia, the young staff who helped me in the end are a lot nicer than the complete bitch who treated me with such contempt eight years ago.

On a lighter note, while throwing out old receipts and statements I couldn't help laughing when I found one from England. Most of my food shopping receipts in Spain are a long list of tasty morsels such as Rioja, quails and their eggs, fresh basil, fresh fish, olive oil etc and the one from England said What Car? magazine, crumpets, Heinz soup and a Ginster's pasty.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

SIERRA HOTEL INDIA TANGO ECHO

We launched into setting up the broadband again and four hours and several tantrums later, that I thought might end up in fisticuffs or someone storming off, I rang Telefonica. I spoke with a nice man but he seemed to be losing his patience with me as I had to get him to repeat all the letters he was calling out for me to type into my computer. It reminded me of the IKEA experience, the one where you wonder why the hell you are fixing or doing stuff that you pay other people to do. He didn't know the aviation code that I know so I had to make do with T for Teruel and A for Albacete which don't have the same ring to them. My keyboard and all the words on the computer are in English so it was a real test for me plus the mobile kept cutting out, and things were going well I thought until he couldn't take it anymore and went off only to come back to tell me that a technician would call and help me. Rather miffed at this I pressed at random a button and Broadband was born.

So the bandstand is undergoing essential repairs and will be ready for Saturday's book fair. There will also be a lunch for all those who have participated throughout the last year with the 'cuentaluengas', or storytelling but it will cot 12 euros which I aint got mate so won't be going.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Well finally we got the router last week but have only managed to get the WI-FI up and running which means I am writing this on my laptop. Broadband seems to evade us and I still don't know what we are doing wrong. We'll try again tomorrow. Life is just a series of sorting out 'stuff' on a greater or lesser scale which leads onto the latest saga with Trafico. Trafico or The Departamento Of. wrote to Henderson with a bill of about 18 euros thanks to the incompetencia of the ITV or MOT as it is known in Britain. For the last seven years his chassis number included the letters SSS when it should have read ZZZ and due to this he has been asked to cough up the above amount. We went to trafico with a friend who happened to know someone else who works there and to cut a very big argument short Henderson decided to just pay up and forget it when said mate told him he should first complain to the MOT lot and try to avoid paying. This is quite unusual in a culture where people don't often like to fill out complaint forms etc so it should be interesting to see who will ultimately get the blame and if he will get reimbursed, Ha!

On the way to trafico we walked through the park and saw that the roof of the bandstand where I am supposed to read childrens' stories on Saturday had collapsed or maybe it's 'en obras', being repaired, as I noticed the stage which surrounds the sculptures which are the symbol of Huesca, Las Pajaritas, has been dug up. The last minute option is often put in place and, with a bit of creativity and elbow grease is executed in time for the celebrations. Said stories will form part of the Feria del libro/Book Fair. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

DON'T CALL US.

'Just think, we'll have WI-FI and you'll be able to write your blog on the balcony' said Henderson in an attempt to to boost my negative attitude towards Telefonica. That was over two weeks ago when we ordered it and since then we have opened an account especially for said cartel. Last Saturday they assured me that despite the other assurance that we would have the 'router' in four days we would have it by last Thursday. Yesterday I got a text from them saying it would be delivered and installed ( despite telling them I would install it as I don't want to pay someone else 90 euros to do it ) on the 15th of June. I went into one of their other shops today and asked them about the Broadband/WI-FI offer in the window and how long does one normally wait for it to be delivered and the girl eagerly told me that it wouldn't be more than four days. The words 'really?' and 'sort it out' were then uttered from me and she has since assured me that I will be sitting on my balcon, laptop and Campari writing away pronto.

Afterwards I went to renew my subscription at the Aragonese Institute and to take out a book entitled Orwell en las Tierras de Aragon by Manuel Benito. I know one of the girls who works there, Elba, and she lent me her pen to sign the required form and I started to put the pen in my bag when I'd finished. 'That's my pen' she said. 'Oh, sorry, well, we are in a recession I suppose'. This seemed to make all the staff within earshot laugh and I realised another glib, unfunny remark is taken as 'el Humor Ingles'. As we left I remarked to Henderson that whenever I am in the Institute, which is about four or five times a year I never see anyone else using the facilities. It is housed in a lovely old building next to the park and I wonder how it is going to continue with the state of the economy as it is.


Later, with class 4B on the verge I played a pub quiz with them but minus the beer which I needed once the class was over. This is the last week as next week it will be too hot for children to go to school in the afternoons here. As they leave the classroom I often hear other teachers telling them 'Don't run!' and I feel a maniacal urge to shout the opposite adding, '..for your lives children!!' what with all the pederasts popping up in all corners of the Catholic world.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

YOU'RE GOING STRAIGHT TO HULL.

I think I may have the best translation for the word 'pijo' into English. It means a lot of things which could be loosely described as 'posh' or 'stuck up' but the best one would probably be 'poncey'. I realised this whilst giving an English class the other day when my pupil Raul didn't know what a kettle was. I described it and he said 'oh, you mean a tetera?' which is a teapot but could be translated as a baby's bottle, and when I said 'no, it is before the teapot, it is the thing to boil the water to make the tea', he replied 'que pijos sois', or 'what a bunch of ponces you English are'. I was quite flattered.

Later the same day I found myself in one of those bars that seems to be forever the rage in Spain, the dreaded 'retro' bar. This one was modelling itself on a sort of Irish-cum-Spanish bar with mock sepia photos of 'quite a while ago' but calls itself 'Friends International' or something like that, don't want to give them too much free publicity, not that they need it as it is always packed to the Sallies. It is a smoking bar like most in Spain and serves 'tostadas' which may or may not be 'tostados' as I am forever forgetting to memorise words by associating them into something feminine or masculine. I do this a lot with words such as cenicero which I called cenicera for a while until I made it a macho object by remembering it with an image of the Marlboro man. I have doubts whether this method works especially when most Spanish women smoke like bastards. While I was there I found out a friend is off to Hull to do a summer camp or assist on one of these trips the Spanish kids like to do by spending a fortuna and ending up with the family from the infierno. I didn't understand where she was going as she pronounced Hull as in Hooool to which I said 'never 'eard of it'. when I realised what she was saying I said 'ahh, Hull, Prescottlandia! Sorry, I am a ponce from the south'. Yet thinking about it later, even those from Hull wouldn't pronounce it Hooool.

Talking of Prescott, I wouldn't mind naming a doggie after him once I can afford to get one, a dog that is, not the pugnacious politician of the same name. The other names on my list being Hastings or Nelson. I am also impressed with just about every Formula One driver's name. Mr Kobayashi, Mr De La Rosa, Mr Sutil et al sound great names for a book or film.