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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.