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Thursday, 22 December 2011

LOS GORDOS

So much is going what with Huesca winning 'El Gordo' and all the festivities before during and after I hardly have time to write. People are celebrating right now, even those that haven't won anything and likewise I shall be going out tonight despite the fact I am flying back to Old Blighty tomorrow.

While watching Rick Stein's programme last night which showed how the Spanish celebrate Christmas and how they enjoy food and wine all year round I was reminded why I live here and how accustomed I have become to this way of life. (Christmas in Britain will be an interesting time for me as I pour myself a drink and generally watch the feathers fly). I was surprised Stein didn't mention Turron which I have never liked much but this year two pupils have presented me with the above and both were delicious, the Turron, not the pupils. It seems the supermarket Turron is not as nice as the more expensive type being freshly made at the local cake shop. One of the said delicacies was given to me on a lovely Villeroy and Boch platter and Enate and Lallane wine is still being received with gusto so teacher is very pleased.

On the subject of Stein, he seems what my father would describe as an 'amiable bloke' but there is nothing worse than an Englishman who tries to speak Spanish. Now I know why the Spanish wince when I mess up the vowel sounds. His pronunciation of Aragon and Riojan and many other words was rather toe curling. He clearly adores people, food and wine and his Spanish pals seem to love him too. One lovely young lady referred to something as 'old fashionable' which I think would be a great name for an ale if it doesn't exist already. Looking at the elegant, slim, Spanish folk on this programme I got that dread that when I land in Britain I will have to brace myself for the gargantuan folk in my midst. It always shocks and baffles me as lunch in the UK often consists of going to a chemist's and buying a sandwich, a packet of crisps and an apple that never gets eaten. Or is it because I always forget that many people eat out of buckets and troughs when they get home or simply off their laps?

On the subject of gargantuan and crisps I am reminded also that my sister and her beau have gone beyond 'big boned'. If I had to think of two adjectives off the top of my head to describe them the words beached and famished come up. They refuse to speak to me as last year I told them they couldn't live with our mother and father so this year will be less Pinteresque but one wonders how long they think they can keep this up. I also won't have to sit, fascinated and appalled at them eating a tube of crisps, sneezing on their hands, putting hand back in tube, wiping nose with the back of their hand, repeat the former and then offer me some before wiping hands on trouser leg.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

REGIME CHANGE

It is voting day today where everyone expects the PP to win with a landslide or a tsunami because 'Spain needs a change' and everyone knows that all over the shop people vote in and then vote out either the Socialists or the Conservatives whichever they believe has managed to mess the country up. This time it's the PSOE to get a chastising from the voters but it doesn't seem that long ago that the public did an about turn and voted for them thanks to some terrorists who fancied a change and planted bombs on public transport. Not only is it a day of reckoning for the Socialists but the anniversary if you can call it that of Franco's death. Spain must be the only country where you can still do the Nazi salute and get away with it and the only place where flowers are left on the tomb of a fascist dictator, paid for with public money I am told. So it will be or has been a fitting day for the right to win

Meanwhile, the Oscences are leaving the crisis at home and heading out for the tapas competition which started last Thursday. The visperas, or the eve of many fiestas and competitions are often started days before just to get as much fun and delight as possible till the real thing gets in the swing. I've also noticed loads of Christmassy things in shop windows and the Eroski is laden with champagne and other delights that you don't normally see till after the Constitution and Imaculada and H reckons this has to do with the recession and not to a sudden realisation that Christmas can start in September as it does in Britain. 

The Spanish get it right when it comes to keeping the kids safe after school hours. Send them straight back there where they can play football before dinner or just hang out in the school with their friends. I walked through one of the schools here the other evening with a friend looking for her daughter and when we had managed to steer ourselves through the numerous youngsters playing football we walked through the corridoors that go beneath the school and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of kids some playing with counters on the floor or drawing in corners, others swinging from various things they could swing from, a lone girl dancing in a makeshift disco, kids hiding under football tables, others just running and darting in and out of the others. This particular school boasts its own theatre and church and also a cafe where parents could be seen relaxing and drinking knowing their kids were OK.


STOP PRESS: Yes they have definitely won and so far not much drama apart from the following. Somebody super glued the gates to about 37 schools in Zaragoza and numerous schools were painted with fascist symbols. A pregnant woman, or as she was described in the local paper, una mujer en avanzado estado de gestion, was unable to vote as her waters broke and she had to be rushed to hospital. Then there was the vocal, or chairman who had to be replaced as he was breathalysed on his way and gave a pissed reading. Another escandalo was when an auditor of the PSOE fainted and then had convulsions at the urns and had to be attended by a PP mayor. In various parts of Spain the police had to go out looking for committee members who didn't show up, probably because of the numerous fiestas that take place everywhere. In Soria flags with images of Franco had to be taken down from outside schools, and finally some poor bloke in his nineties voted and immediately had a heart attack and died.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Huesca gets a mention in Iberosphere's article on where all the money has gone in the last decade. In most of Aragon you can see evidence of money spent on ridiculous projects like the Palacio de Congresos which translates as an overgrown centre for the arts, so big that it is proving difficult to heat during the winter months and the only highlight was when Tricicle performed there or perhaps when the mayor got stuck in a lift with ex-president Gorbachev. Worse than the Palacio has to be the airport. The signs to Huesca International could give the impression that we have all mod cons till you turn up and there's no sign of life. Then there are all the bits of art spotted as you walk through the streets. Small sculptures peeping at you from behind trees and great big lummoxes sprouting up on roundabouts. I've read that there are villages and small towns all over Spain not just here that went on a spending spree, including one where the police have to walk everywhere as the council owes money to the petrol station that now refuses to fill their cars up. Street lights are being turned off amongst other things and when I asked a lawyer here what he thought he just laughed and said 'es igual' and added that most people were sick of talking about the recession and proved my point that so long as there is grub on the table no one minds who is in power or if the lights go out. It reminds me of the time H, who cooks the dinner and changes the light bulbs asked me what I would do without him to which I replied, 'sit in the dark and eat cakes'.

STOP PRESS: I have just read that there was a meeting of sorts where AENA, The Spanish airport operator reckons four companies are interested in doing their flight training there and hopefully before summer, which year we have no idea, things will come to fruition. This is how most things are done here, lots of meetings and lunch and papers to be approved and finally something gets built only to fall apart or remain empty for years. So, much of the same then. H has had an idea. He is now obsessed with a property tax a bit like the window tax in the 18th and 19th centuries. He thinks any house or flat standing empty in Spain, of which there are millions, should be taxed and the country will be saved. It's hard to say if he is joking as his sense of humour and radical ideas are often blurred. I refer to his outburst the other day that 'death is overrated'. I must say, I was a bit shocked to learn that what I was watching last night was an advert for Co-Operative Funerals. It looked so snazzy and stylish and groovy even. Even in death people are supposed to spend a fortune and look great and go out with a bang. No shrinking violets need apply. Despite the above opinion, H wants to go out to the strains of Queen's 'Don't Stop Me now'. I think for me, the song below will be the choice, but in the meantime, onwards and upwards.



Sunday, 13 November 2011

ARAGONESES POR EL MUNDO

There is a programme here called Espanoles en el Mundo which tracks down Spaniards who have left their villages and towns 'por una razon u otra', to live somewhere else usually described as a place 'donde todo es posible', or where they can 'cumplir sus suenos'. There is a similar programme in Britain where hapless Brits are followed around Spain where 'everything is possible and impossible at the same time' and where they can 'live out their nightmares'. What is alarming about the Spaniards is that they all say the same thing, that wherever they are now living, be it Burkino Faso or Milan, their life is 'la puta madre'. It's a programme designed to make other Spaniards feel they are missing something and is contrary to the belief that 'como Espana no hay nada', 'there's nothing, or nowhere like Spain', no place like home. Being a proud lot, the Aragonese made a programme called 'Aragoneses por el Mundo' which I believe has since been scrapped but provided a lot of laughs for other Aragonese folk as they watched Fran or Penelope living the Life of Riley in Omsk or Mogadishu. The general view is that anyone who leaves is mad or gay.

On our weekly pilgrimage to the LIDL I noticed a poster on the shop window that asked customers to 'apuntase en nuestra newsletter'. I presume the Academia Real decides whether or not an English word is feminine or masculine but maybe LIDL just took it upon themselves to decide what sex it is. It's the same with  el Prime Time. I suppose the word time is masculine in Spanish so that's why they put el. I've noticed as well that both the CHA/Izquierda Unida and PP/PAR have used similar slogans on their posters for the elections, Sumate. I'm not sure how this would translate in English but I guess it would be something on the lines of 'join us' or 'come with us' to enable change, or else.

VERY CIVILISED

When I'm not living in a mad house I like to get out as far away as possible from the town and its mad inhabitants. Recently we went back to the splendid village or rather small town of Benasque, which is close to Catalunya and France. There is nothing better than falling asleep to the reassuring sound of cow bells as opposed to the shrill sounds of the cow who lives next door at Primero D. That might sound uncharitable but try living next door to an animal who has driven her equally bovine husband mad. Dale Farm Latin style. Anyway, Benasque was a delightful escape and we had our fine dining in the restaurant Ansils in the village of the same name although it's also known as Anciles. If you like game and dishes like recao, potage and the fine wines that go with then this is the place to eat. Benasque is more upmarket and cosmopolitan than some of the other places we have visited in the mountains and has the highest ski resort in Spain nearby, Cerler, where King Juan Carlos fell down the steps on one of his visits. H and I were having a coffee outside the hotel Araguells in the sun, when we saw our lovely doctor who stopped to chat. I noticed there were no cars hogging the central streets and saw that on every entrance to the centre the council had put up signs saying no access to traffic except for the bleeding obvious. I think it's like this in most of Europe and most people obey the signs. It was a sharp contrast to Huesca were the 'easing in' is still going on poco a poco with a set of toy traffic lights permanently flashing amber, presumably so folk know that at some point in the future the bollards that are just visible underground will inevitably be up and running and no, you won't be able to crash into them as one idiot did recently when they installed them in the Plaza Lopez Allue.

I know it's a small world and that everyone here seems to be related one way or another but while I was away it was to my horror to discover that the imbecile who painted 'Marcos I will kill you' on the front door to the block hails from the village where we stayed. He had a bit of a reputation as a child, smashing things up that didn't belong to him and stealing keys with aplomb and he gradually worked his way to the bright lights and big city of Huesca where his mum thinks he is doing ever so well. He now lives in a rat infested squat on our street and continues to be a shitehawke.

I do have one regret during my stay in Benasque, that I didn't kick the man I saw hit and kick his dog that he had tied up outside the bar while he had a drink, just because it kept barking and crying. I have made a promise with myself that I will kick if I see this again, but I wonder how much my protesting and crusading will have any effect on the nobheads in this world.   

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

NIGHTMARE ON CALLE SAN LORENZO

Calle San Lorenzo is the kind of street that if you stick your head out of the window at any time of day you will catch a glimpse of life being performed on it. I did this earlier today and was greeted by the sight of Mr C being wheeled once more into an ambulance with a massive gash on his head, presumably because he fell or was tripped up by his unforgiving wife. She had already called the police, and not me this time, to help her lift Mr C off the floor and then she went to the charity across the road called San Vicente. A man from the charity came to help but couldn't and then wasn't too happy when he was accosted as he left the block by another woman in the street this time asking him where Caritas was as two forlorn Moroccans and their child looked on. He told her in no uncertain terms that Caritas wasn't in this street he was sure of it and if it was clothes or food they wanted then the only place would be San Vicente. She went on and on about how it was definitely called Caritas to which he more or less exploded and told her San Vicente had nothing to do with Caritas. The two Moroccans looked more bewildered and meanwhile all the kerfuffle with cars full of lazy folk who cant be bothered to walk anywhere in this tiny town, screaming obscenities as they tried to weave their way over the pavement, passing parked vans and then scraping the ears of the dispossessed and hungry lining the wall outside the charity. Two elderly men from the charity struggled with a shopping trolley they'd found or had donated and managed to get it off the back of their van but not without a struggle. Then an ambulance came and that was the last I saw of Mr C but I am sure once he has had a night away from his woman and a good meal inside him he will be back to protect his flat from her thieving hands once more.

Things got even more Halloweenesque when M rolled up with P in tow, lurking around the corner again and getting pally with Mrs C, standing outside my flat voices like fog horns, gossiping like Cissy and Ada, Mrs C bemoaning that her gas had been cut off presumably by the crooks who left her the exercise bike and home cinema. M said she, Mrs C, could come and have a shower at hers whenever she wanted, but Mrs C just said not to worry as she was made of stone. Although M is the spitting image of Les Dawson's character it is a bit disparaging to Roy Barraclough's as Mrs C looks more like Vincent Price's Witchfinder General crossed with the red caped dwarf in Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now. I can't give them the title of the Gruesome Twosome as that is reserved for my sister and her girlfriend ( more of them at a later date..) I did have alternative nicknames, the Martyr and the bogus good Samaritan but then M falls under both these terms so Mrs C and M they will remain for now.


Thursday, 27 October 2011

......AND WITTY AND GAY

I forgot to write about the big punch up that woke me up the other morning. It's hard enough getting to sleep with Mr C and his strange noises and bananas, but around five in the morning I heard the blood curdling screams of my Ecuadorian neighbours as they engaged in a fist fight with some Spanish girls and boys. It was hard to make out what was going on at first and the usual audience rolled up, me on the balcony, H hanging out the kitchen window and a neighbour further down the road who I often see smoking a fag and staring, bemused at the antics on the most exotic street in town. Two Spanish boys were being stopped by two girls presumably their girlfriends from beating up two Ecuadorian men who were being stopped by the patriarch of our neighbours next door. The girls kept pushing the boys into their car and screaming 'soy yo' to get the boys back to reality I suppose and stop them from killing the Ecuadorians. Once this was established the Ecuadorians broke free and starting slamming the car doors on both girls hands and kicking them. This of course meant the boys now jumped back out of the car to give the men a good thumping. Once again it was all repeated and the girls got the boys back in the car and the Ecuadorians AKA the Oompa Loompas started to kick the girls and punch them with a ferocity I've never seen men do to women. It was looking a bit West Side Story Part Two the Hard Version but then it turned into Fight Club when one of the girls then jumped out of the car and chased the now running Ecuadorian, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and punched his face about twenty times. I expected someone to suddenly say, 'God, all I said was.....' but I ended up screaming at them all to stop. Meanwhile H was cackling away at the kitchen window, laughing his head off as the car sped off and one of the Ecaudorians looked up at H and said 'senor, can you believe something like this could occur in Espanya?' To which H just laughed even more. Man few doors down with the cigarette just puffed away and turned to go back to bed. 

I FEEL PRITI

Mrs C seems to have chopped all her hair off, either that or Mr C has put on her coat and done a bunk. It won't be long before he does this after I found him wandering around our hallway at five in the madrugada a few days ago. I actually found him scratching at my door trying to find a way in or out depending on the way he was looking at it and judging by his view on life he was probably just desperate to get out for a snifter. He's been in that flat of his since March now. Mrs C is as manipulative as 'her upstairs' both of them bosom pals since my falling out over the bloody dog. M comes around to visit Mrs C now that no one else wants to know, with her dreaded canine fiend in tow. The other day she was trying to knock at Mrs C's door with 'discretion', the type of knock that martyrs do hoping  I might be in and fling the door open and have a go at her and then she can collapse in the street later and cry 'look what you've done to me!' for the billionth time. This time it was Piti scratching at my door and I couldn't help wondering what this fatal attraction is. He too is desperate to incur my wrath or end up in a cooking pot. Looking through the mirilla or spy hole I could see the pooch dragging on the lead and M lurking round the corner trying to keep him away with all the strength she could muster. Then H tried to have a go at Mrs C the other night and of course she took advantage and buttonholed him about how fed up she was with Mr C and tried to pile on the agony but she didn't reckon for a Dutchman who repeatedly told her he wasn't interested in her problems and that he just wanted to sleep and she was better off not shouting at Mr C as it was like talking to a plant and that Mr C's brain had gone years ago with the drink. It was quite surreal sitting here listening to the pair of them with their dreadful Spanish.

On the subject of his awful attempts at the langauge, the other day H wouldn't answer the door to a con woman at the door trying to get us to change our gas company. He mixed his verbs up and I heard him shouting at her 'vete, estoy muy preocupado', ' get lost, I'm very worried', when he meant to say 'Vete, estoy muy ocupado', 'get lost, I'm very busy'. On the subject of con women, a con man also called but I told him I didn't answer the door when my parents weren't at home but he manged somehow to worm his way into Mr and Mrs C's and a week later he rolled up, resplendent in fetching bright yellow hooded sweatshirt, not the sort of attire con folk should wear I would have thought, but nevertheless he entered said couples' flat with the details of their new cheaper deal with whatever gas company he claims to be from. He left the door wide open and had a gob even wider and proceeded to bellow and then bring a variety of goods promised when they had signed the deal. First up the stairs to Mrs C's dismay was an exercise bike. When she protested he said something on the lines of the old fella needed to dome exercise. Visions of Mr C on the bike, banana in one hand will haunt me if I let it but it was when the bloke brought up the home cinema that I realised something was getting out of hand. Even Mrs C was heard to mutter 'no, no, no, I don't think so'. She would do well though, sticking him on the bike to exhaust him so we can all get a decent night's sleep and she can watch movies instead of going out on the piss every night.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

YOU'RE ALL INDIVIDUALS


WILL THIS WIND?

I'm still opening bottles of imaginary champagne every time someone on the tele announces the words 'two trillion or three', needed, presumably, to save the euro but who knows. I asked a lawyer yesterday what he thought the rest of Spain was feeling about the 'crisis', what his colleagues were feeling for example and he told me he got the impression most folk were fed up with the recession, sick to death of talking about it but I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that as in this town most people seem quite content so long as they have a meal and a few beers in front of them unless they are Muslim and queueing up outside San Vicente de Paul across the road for food and clothing. Someone left some clothes all washed, ironed and neatly folded in bags outside said charity on Sunday and later some freeloaders who hang out in our barrio and their droogs helped themselves to the clothes and chucked whatever they didn't like or need in a heap on the street. So, on the whole nothing has changed. Most Spanish folk seem a bit perplexed and maybe miffed that what they started in the plazas up and down Spain has taken off around the world although I reassured some friends  that the Spanish had got a mention that they started it all on the BBC a few days ago. Like a lot of things in Spain the indignados and their protest started with loads of energy and enthusiasm but this time has quickly attracted the dog on a string type. My favourite memory of it here was the woman who is supposed to work in the wine shop who promised me half a dozen times that she would order some sherry that I had taken a liking to and months later she still can't be bothered to do it. I saw her several times giving her solidarity to the indigandos when she should have been attending to my alcoholic needs. 

Last night the BBC showed a documentary called Spain's Stolen Babies, an horrific, true story of how hundreds of thousands of women had their babies taken away soon after the birth and then were told the baby had died when really it had been sold to couples who couldn't have kids of their own or to anyone prepared to pay for a baby it would seem. Even after Franco had died the practice of stealing and selling these babies continued up to the eighties. It beggars belief and has scandalized Spanish society. The documentary told how doctors, priests and nuns colluded in this dreadful, heinous crime. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like living under such a regime with no one to turn to when something like this happened. Spain must be the only country that hasn't really addressed its past and until it does it will remain haunted and damaged by what occurred. My only hope is with the young people here who on the whole are fantastic despite not having a rosy future in front of them.

Lastly, on the subject of the indignados, I managed to get caught up in a melee involving thousands of demonstrators, a policeman and about fifty pissed off Aragonese or Huescan folk at a bus stop. I'd managed to miss the bus and there wasn't another for two hours but living in Spain I knew I would be fine waiting in any cafe undisturbed, fully integrated and with food and drink, pretty much like the bods the lawyer spoke about above. Then I went back to the bus stop and with a growing crowd of others waited patiently until a policeman rode up to us ( sounds rather quaint, as if he were on a bicycle) and said that the bus wouldn't be coming this way on account of the demonstration which was by now coming towards us full throttle instead.( The demonstration that up until then I thought were the screams of the bullfight next door). Out of the fifty or so Huescan folk waiting for the bus one quickly took control of the situation and said he, the policeman, had better do something or he'd have another lot of protesters on his hands. The policeman did, what most policemen don't, what he was told. He rang the bus company and then told us he was sorry but they weren't answering. 'You'd better do something' a woman said with a stubborn, fanatical look in her eye which quickly spread infecting me and some others who started to rabble rouse and protest that there were old folk here and how the hell were we supposed to know, no one had told us when we bought our tickets about any diversion. Suddenly someone saw the bus in question and ordered the berated copper to chase it. He did this speeding off on his BMW motorbike and more or less threw himself in front of the bus. He then hailed us all to run across a busy road which was now full of cars driven by insane, pissed off Zaragozans who had better things to do than go on a silly march or wait for public transport. Things like dinner and a fiesta that was still in swing. For a few moments I was planning an alternative, long, stressful route home but quickly and safely on the bus I tucked into the chocolate I had stashed in my handbag for such occasions and within an hour I was back in Huesca. Somehow I can't imagine this happening anywhere else at the moment. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

SEASON OF MISTS AND FRUITFULNESS PART DOS

The weather here is lovely and still warm enough to wear a T-Shirt which is why Henderson and I have had a bet on what it says on the front of Mrs C's after seeing the back which said 'UP'. He has gone for the obvious '*uck', but my money is on 'things are looking....'. She was in a buoyant mood yesterday screeching at Mr C on the hour but was a different woman when social services came this morning. While I think of T-Shirts in Spain with English words on them I am still puzzling over the one my pupil was wearing the other day. I think 'You've Aken on the Creon You Dont Liko Ther' might be Scottish for 'Does Anyone Know How to Crack a Nut?'

I woke up on Sunday afternoon looking like I'd lost the rugby to France complete with nasal strip and minus an ear which is the price you have to pay for a night out in Spain. Actually, I wasn't too bad considering the bar we went to insists its clientele ignore the law and smoke like bastards. Just about everyone had a fag, a spliff or a pipe in his mouth, even folk who don't smoke. It got so bad that at one point when we stepped outside to breath a man followed us, lit up a fag, looked at us aghast and said, 'it's impossible in there, I've come out here to enjoy my cigarette'. One of the regulars told me that they, the other regulars, have all agreed to chip in and pay the fine that will go to the owner Pepe if the police can ever be bothered to turn up and give it to him. I've always said this town is like the Wild West and there is a certain admiration for that anarchistic spirit the Spanish have but they are exceptionally stubborn on things that will eventually kill them or maim them. This bar has been in existence for decades and plays the best music. On first sight it looks a bit of a rogue's gallery with people playing cards and smoking drugs but we bumped into quite a few parents of pupils, plus a few bemused pupils trying to see what all the fuss is about and many respectable bank managers letting their hair down as the Euro dies. On a warm evening I've seen small children challenge one another to jump through it's doors, do a bit of a jig to the strains of Led Zepellin and run out laughing.


Saturday, 8 October 2011

I DON'T FEEL LIKE NEWSNIGHT TONIGHT

Things must be bad when Jamie Oliver is seen promoting what look like traditional British meals he claims belong to him via the Daily Mail. Is there no end to this man? Even herdsmen in the Pyrenees are fed up with 'that man Jamie' he is so ubiquitous. There is another cook on the tele who could get annoying just because his name is Nigel and he only cooks for himself. The reality concerning food in the UK was seen being served in the form of chunky chips, peas and something that resembled meat during lunch with future Big Society saviours on Newsnight last night. If I haven't dreamt or imagined it, these saviours are going to be paid £15,000 once they are trained to go out and tackle the problemos that blight Britain. There was an interview with a Big Society trainer/guru/tszar who looked like a bloke that someone in Parliament might have gone to school with. The one that never quite found his way. After him there was another interview with a vague looking boy from Newham, the type that has worry lines at the age of ten. One of the Big Society folk argued that even though they were all going to be employed they didn't want to appear they were working for Cameron or to be associated with him at all. I wonder if this sort of thing will catch on in Spain once Rajoy gets his foot in the door. In some ways it has already started with some police officers having to walk the streets as the council owes all the petrol stations money and now they refuse to fill up the coppers' cars. 

On the subject of politicians, Zapatero is determined to go out in style. The style of Generalissimo Franco. Zap has set election day for the 20th of November, the day Franco is supposed to have died and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera decades earlier. So now there is a photo doing the rounds of Franco on his death bed, full of tubes with Zapatero's face superimposed over the caudillo's. It is said that Franco was kept alive on a life support machine, some say in agony, so he could 'die' the same day as Primo de Rivera and now it seems Zapatero will too.

Lastly, I am still reeling from the images of the Duquesa de Alba's wedding. She is difficult to describe but a cross between the Bride of Wildenstein and Jade Goody or perhaps Jordan doesn't even come close. She is one of those women of a certain age who on hearing Flamenco can't resist toying with the hem of her skirt, pulling it slightly higher and threatening us with something worse than dancing. A smallish group of Spaniards seem to adore her with the rest of the nation either ashamed or bemused.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

ESTOY CURADA DE ESPANTOS

It's been a while since I wrote about Mr and Mrs C and their shenanigans. Since his fall in the Puerto Rico bar he has been sentenced to live in his home without leaving while Mrs C rants and raves at having to change his nappies and why won't he sign whatever it is he needs to sign so she can get her hands on his flat, sell it and move back to Brazil with the proceeds. A couple of weeks ago I heard them arguing about this and Mr C could be heard screaming 'no! not my flat!' All my calls to the police, doctor's and other related services here seemed to have been heeded but his wife has insisted on 'looking after' him, putting on the usual sob story whenever anyone came to the door. He really should be in a home or being cared for by someone who cares but like most things, nothing works and no one gives a toss. His family don't seem to want to know and in Spain it is often up to the family to take care of people once they are decrepit . The other night I heard him fall, something he had been doing for a while when he was able to go on the piss but continues to do now that he gets a 'chemical cosh'. It always sounds like he takes most of the furniture with him. As usual Mrs C screamed at him to get up and there is usually an argument but this time I heard nothing. About an hour later I could hear Mr C making strange noises but he does this all the time so I didn't think much of it. Later he started again and then when I went to bed I realised it was constant and imagined him wandering the house making these moaning noises. H thinks that Mrs C has been locking him in his bedroom because sometimes we can hear him banging on the door trying to get out. If you say anything to her she says something on the lines of 'look what I have to put up with'. Social services came and said everything seemed fine despite all our assurances things weren't and after years of drama from Mr and Mrs C  I felt there was little I could do until I realised something must be wrong for him to be moaning like that for so long. I knocked on her door and she took ages to answer and when she did I could see Mr C lying face down on the floor which makes a change from him lying on his back in the hallway and in the street for ten years. I asked Mrs C if he had been there all that time since I had heard him fall and she said yes, but to leave him. I said I wasn't to leave him and rang the ambulance despite her telling me not to ring, as the Gobierno de Aragon were coming the next day. The ambulance did come and I told them I believed Mr C had been lying there for hours. Mrs C seems to be losing the plot too as she told the ambulance folk that she had all her 'papeles de ingles' when she meant to say she had all her documentation in order. Henderson told me that while I rang for the ambulance Mr C managed to raise his head slightly off the ground to tell H 'eres un payaso', 'you're nothing but a clown'. His other favourite catchphrase directed at H over the years was 'eres un follonero', 'you're just a trouble maker'. We are both convinced that when Mr C comes to die his final words will be his beloved 'no speak inglish'. Somehow I don't think Mr C will be popping any clogs soon as he is determined, despite the  diagnosis and his woman's desire to have him dead, to stay here in true Aragonese style, in other words he aint budging. 

Friday, 30 September 2011

BEWARE TELEFONICA BEARING GIFTS

Freud allegedly said that the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis and having a certain amount of Irish blood I feel I can verify this. The Irish are often out on a different plane of existence when it comes to the overall perception of things and the side of me that isn't Irish worries about the side that is which sounds like the sort of thing an Irish person might say just to bamboozle everyone else but is a genuine concern as part of me doesn't know what the other half will come up with but it certainly keeps me on my toes. In some ways the Irish are like the Dutch, both kind, tolerant and amiable folk but give either of them a drink or a cause and suddenly you are engaged in hostilities. The Spanish, who I don't appear to share any blood lines with but live on top of, underneath or next to seem to be the least bellicose, but whenever there is a cause worth fighting for there is a rush of energy and enthusiasm which quickly burns itself out as soon as lunch or any kind of food for that matter is mentioned. Six months later it appears again but nobody seems to know what happened in the meantime. Like most things in Spain you have to be 'in the know' which really means you ought to be married to a Spaniard. If not you might find yourself standing on the street next to a soltero asking him what the hell is going on as tanks roll by. There was a Facebook page that sprung up a couple of years ago which was meant to be a rallying cry for the pedestrianisation of the streets in this barrio but nothing has been written since it started. It could have moved somewhere else but as I said, nobody will tell you unless you lie in bed with them every night and actually that is no guarantee either. Best to just be caught up in the moment and enjoy the ride.

Being 'in the know' is important if you want to participate in the numerous fiestas which never end here. There is always an abundance of them if you know which village is having them. Here there is no excuse as there are always plenty of posters advertising which fiesta is on in which village and nobody minds if you turn up uninvited. Like the romeros that are so popular here. The Spanish will walk miles if they know there is a sausage at the end of it. I  suppose it is like the English and a cup of tea. Offer this beverage and the English will turn up and do anything. 

I digress. What has all this to do with Freud and the Irish? The Dutch or the Spanish? Well I guess it is about cracking nuts. Sussing people out and as long as I live here the Spanish and the Dutch will always do my head in and likewise I will try my best to cause theirs a spot of bother too. Which leads me nicely on to Telefonica, that company that I am convinced is run by Monty Python. Take the other day and the nice girl employed by them. Without going into too much detail she thought she was multi tasking but really she was just adding to the confusion. Ask a simple question in Telefonica and a big book comes out from under the counter and details are required including proof of who you are. If you don't do this you will not get the answer you went in with but you will leave poorer or in my case dragging Henderson out of the store in front of bewildered shoppers as he raged Dutch style at said nice but over zealous sales girl who just pulled an unperturbed face which said 'tranquilo, no pasa nada', which translates as  'God, I only asked you for your phone number, identification number, proof of ID, what velocity your internet enjoys in order to tell you what the cheapest mobile phone contract would be'.

Having survived this we had to confront a number of roundabouts. If you have wasted so much time with needless bureaucracy most of the day or week you won't want to waste your precious time indicating to your fellow drivers which way you are going or not going as you approach or drive round any of them. Neither do you want to be sitting next to an enraged Dutch man in a twenty five year old Golf.

Suffice to say we won't be getting a contract for the mobile in the deluded belief we might get a better deal on our internet tariff.


Saturday, 17 September 2011

ON A LIGHTER NOTE

I'm still reeling from the riots I witnessed on my recent trip to the motherland but what has really fascinated me is the Yin and Yang of everything that is wrong with Britain today. I refer of course to the EDL and the Muslims Against the Crusaders. What they have against a soul group is anybody's guess. I suppose I should have started this blog with the line 'are there any Muslims against the Crusaders or anti-Muslims against the Crusaders in tonight?' and add 'you might like to leave now the pair of you'. There's something very disturbing about the image of men with beards and bald men acting like it was the Battle of Lepanto or something. The bit I'm getting at is the inability to shut up for just one minute during the minute's silence on September 11th. God they're trying. I'm beginning to wonder if the two groups are working together, agents provocateurs with a double bluff. Both looks or styles are a bit too contrived for me, like when the police dress up and pretend they want to buy drugs from you. Or Lady Gaga or the Archbishop of Canterbury. No one who puts that much effort into how they look should be taken seriously.

Reeling is one thing but recoil is what I do every time that man Ed Balls appears, looming into my living room. He has a similar sweaty composure as a bloke called Tony McNulty who may or may not have been the Minsiter ( Minister even..)of Employment. I've yet to suss out where our mayoress is coming from. Her name is Ana Alos but H calls her Ana a Los Cojones for reasons only known to himself. Give it time and we will see if she can drag the town somewhere near the 21st century. She may even live up to her name one day.

YOURS, ANGRY OF MAYFAIR

Folk are up in arms about some crap T-shirts Top Shop had on and have since taken off the shelves. Said T-shirts had the sort of crass remarks I see on  T-shirts here the difference being no one realises what they are wearing like the boy walking towards me yesterday with 'I Still Live With My Mum' and underneath 'Go To Your Apartment' minus the 'Let's'. Not as bad as the mannequin minus the legs and knickers wearing a top that says 'Girls Do It Better' that I saw in a shop window the other day. Of course they do.

A couple of days ago H and I were wondering where we could go and what we could do that was cheap or free and decided to drive up to a lovely river called the Alcanadre which is deep in the Sierra Guara about an hour from here. We like to go every summer and it's lovely this time of year now the kids are back at school and the tourists have gone.There is a waterfall and H said it reminded him of Australia, a bit like a billabong.  It will be the last time we go as there seemed to be a lot of flies about for an area that looks clean and tranquil. Before we left I wandered further upstream and discovered why. The lovely people who have been before us have had a communal shit by the looks of it with toilet roll, wet wipes and excrement and of course flies all along the otherwise pristine river. When we got back to the car there was a parking ticket underneath the windscreen, 200 Euros if you please. Slap bang in the quinto infierno or el conYo de Bernada as my friend Jon likes to say. I shall be notifying the proper autoridades soon to let them know that their nationwide promotion 'La Magia de Huesca' is working. H blames the French.

Back in town the pedestrianisation of the Plaza Lopez Allue has left the shopkeepers there a bit peeved with them saying said pedestrianisation is having a negative affect on their trade. I don't get this about the whole affair. Without the car this town is going to crumble. They are presently building a car park in the centre of town, are using a space that was once occupied by houses as a makeshift car park which needs constant policing, have pedestrianised part of our barrio and yet it is all too sudden or too much for people to cope with. I would like someone to explain how trade is being killed up in the square when I have never needed to go by car. This is a town where everything and everyone can be found within a twenty minute walk. I say everything, I am still waiting for the sherry I have asked for or attempted to order ten times now. I have found a distributor on the internet, the one that probably supplies the shop I am trying to buy it from and I look forward to paying said shop a visit to say ' Y tu Donde compras?' the other promo that attempts to save the town from going under.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

WALK ON BY

In George Mikes' How To Be An Alien he talks about people on the continent wearing their best on Sunday and folk in England wearing their worst. I must admit that this is still true at least in my parents' house as I witnessed my father, who is the owner of many jumpers, wearing his 'favourite' with the elbow missing. I thought it might be just attention seeking but judging from the state of his Barbour jacket, the opposite of the ones I see here in Spain, I think it is just the norm with him. British people have a strange dress sense. In big cities people look quite slim and sophisticated but miserable and self obsessed. Go further afield and look around you in the post office queue and everyone looks like they are wearing their pyjamas with a dash of autism. However, I did my own study last night, inspired by my aunt who I mentioned before with her own 'survey' and had a butcher's at the crowds milling around outside the Cafe Centrale here in the centre of town. Admittedly it was two o'clock in the morning and in the rough end of 'El Tubo' and my investigation led me to believe that most people here have no idea how to dress either but in a different way to the English or the Brits. It's still 'Cardiff with a suntan' or maybe Merthyr Tydfil, with the shortest of skirts with high heels for women and the men wear their trousers on the hip with very few adopting the trousers round their arse look which is slowly creeping in. I'm trying to remember my most ridiculous outfit or look from my salad days and I guess it would have to be the amount of make-up I once wore which had some small children telling me I looked like a clown. There is also a fading memory of some Dr Marten shoes that I thought looked lovely with my dress. 

There are a couple of condemned houses on our street and they have been for some time. This didn't stop a family moving in and living there for a couple of years. From time to time as I walked past these houses I would remember that they were about to collapse but when in Rome do as the Romans do, which here means nothing. On Saturday nobody was allowed to walk up our road as one of the buildings had given up and partially collapsed. Nobody was killed for a change, and the latest is that well yes, they will have to be pulled down. I presume they got the family out and the caged birds they had pinned to the side of the walls. It will be interesting to see how many police and fire folk will be needed for the espectaculo. The other day I counted about twenty milling around. I am sure there will be lots of men congregating with their hands behind their backs, the same ones who appear whenever there is a big hole in the road.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

MY RIGHT FOOT

While we were in England I made my mum watch a programme called My Hoarder Mum and Me which took a TV presenter, Jasmin Harman and her mum on a journey or an attempt to get rid of the stuff that clutters up her home, the mother that is. Her mother was quite extreme and had to sometimes sleep on whatever space she could find on the floor. I wonder how many people suffer from what can appear to be a  mental disease and seems to affect loads of people in Britain including my mum and is something I have to seriously keep an eye on. I have always felt it was a fear of letting go, of leaving the past behind where it often, if not always, belongs. My problem is with bits if paper and not writing stuff down in notebooks enough. Henderson calls my mum's house 'the house with the stuff around the edges' and everywhere you look there is stuff from the past she can not or won't throw away. Jasmin Harman's mother couldn't bear to throw away a load of Sindy and Action Man dolls away. Her son threw them on the table and said of their intertwined bodies, ' they look like an orgy!'. With my mum it is our old school books, Christmas cards, stuff that may come in handy one day but generally over forty year's of 'stuff' accumulated and an unbearable feeling of loss if anyone tries to interfere and throw 'her stuff' away.  Hoarding, especially the extreme kind, is not recognised as a mental illness but I think in extreme cases it is. I can never remember a time having a cup of tea with my mum and not having to share the sofa with hundreds of books, magazines, unopened mail and beside me anything from a plastic vegetable rack full of scourers, brushes, bits of twine and other things that won't be thrown away because they are bound to be needed a few days later. It is a trait I have inherited and have battled with and I am sure it has also got to do with a range of things including the Second World War and all its impact on people when they had nothing and had to salvage and make do with what they could find, and maybe superstition, the idea that if you throw away something useless or broken but sentimental, then something awful might happen or you might need it at a later date and the idea of not having it around is too much for some people including Harman's mum and mine. Harman's mother got too distressed if asked why she would need bits of cable she found in the street. I suppose a certain amount of control is involved. When people are asked what they need with the rubbish that surrounds them get annoyed and upset that you are asking and it gets worse if you suggest they get rid of it.

Still on this subject, a friend on Facebook mentioned the most useless thing they owned was an antique monocle which set people off, writing in their useless 'stuff' they can't or won't throw away. Mine included a beautiful pair of Charles Jourdan high heels that I can get my left foot in but not my right. I added that I might just wear the left shoe and don a  slipper on the right. Other useless things include a Biba coat that makes me look like Fagin and a set of forks from the one euro shop which bend when I eat mashed potato. I think I may have thrown the forks away but not after keeping them for a while just to demonstrate to friends the uselessness these shops. I am also haunted by another pair of shoes that have a snow globe of the Eiffel Tower in the heel. This is the sort of madness I left behind in England but for some reason have kept the evidence under my bed just to remind me of where I came from. Nowadays I buy shoes that I wear till they fall apart. women are often obsessed with shoes and there is no denying a beautiful shoe but perhaps that is what they should remain, a beautiful thing to be looked at, not worn. The heel height of women's shoes in Britain is ridiculous and vary rarely seen here. I am talking the type of bondage shoe favoured by Mrs Beckham who will probably be a cripple by the time she is forty.

Monday, 5 September 2011

STILL ONE IMMENSE LUNATIC ASYLUM

It's hard to fathom that this time last Saturday we were sitting peacefully in a garden on the edge of the New Forest and now I am off to see the latest Almodovar film, The Skin I Live In. Quite a lot has happened in the last month or so. One minute we are whizzing round the mountains and canyons of the Pyrenees, the next we are flying over the charred remains of the Sony factory in Enfield. The next few weeks I guess we will be asked by our Spanish pals as we ease ourselves back into the life here, 'what the hell happened man?' to which I will reply that when the Brits or in this case, the English do something, they like to do it well. Whether it's Royal weddings or producing the best comedy or teenage pregnancies and thieving, we leave no stone unturned in the pursuit for perfection. The first week in England seems like a bit of a bad dream, like it never happened as we watched agog at our fellow countrymen and women charging through the streets, bored out of their brains waiting for something to happen. 

Other things that I remember from our airing in the motherland are the propensity for religious or God fearing moments especially in the way some folk speak. You only need a storm on the horizon and people start to think it's Armageddon or that if it does rain heavily it will wash away all the obvious sins, or worse, that 'the Gods are angry'. I picked all this up as I went along, listening in on other people's conversations or gleaning info from my aunt, the one who says she likes to do 'her own survey' on the madness of the masses. There does seem to be a constant obsession with money, buying stuff to add to all the stuff you already have and the end of the world. For a nation that on the whole doesn't believe in much they do go on about what's right and wrong and when will there be a decent trial on all of this. Then there's the idea that the sort of everyday horrors that occur in Britain don't happen anywhere else, that the rest of the world or at least the countries people think about emigrating to are free and dancing around enjoying themselves with no crime rate and cheap booze. I was shocked at how cheap the drink is in England and amazed at the news that Torquay is the spiritual home of many a Scots man who gravitate there and nourish themselves on something called Buckfast fortified wine. It's also known as 'wreck the hoose juice' and is said to contain as much caffeine as ten cans of coca-cola. Sounds like the 'Calimocho' the youngsters like to drink here.

Other wonderful things spotted include the still growing amount of people in mobilty scooters puffing away on fags which you don't see here in Spain. Instead you just see dozens of folk in neck braces. People are still growing in the UK and I am as fascinated as the last time I saw them but trying not to stare at the souls stuck in obese bodies, struggling as they stuff their faces with pasties. I'm not surprised there are so many as I meandered through the queue at Marks and Spencer, passing sweets and chocolates of a variety I had never seen before but couldn't wait to get my chops round. Give me a month and I would be catching up with the rest of the nation. The trips to the supermarket lasted hours as I savoured all the wonderful things on offer, half of which didn't get eaten and are now rotting away in my elderly parents' fridge. Here's to the next trip to the 'immense lunatic asylum' that is my native sod.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

SOMETHING IN THE WOODSHED

There are lakes under the sea. There's a snail that's made of metal. There is a shark that eats its siblings while still in its mother's womb and then there are people who do things that you and I find unbelievable. So, my feet had hardly touched the motherland and the flames of discontent ignited to welcome me home. It was ten years ago that I upped tools and downed sticks or whatever it is you do when enough is enough. Enough being sick of having stuff, spanners, dog shit, you name it, thrown at me by kids who dared me to stare at them so they could threaten me with my life. Kids in the street accosting an old Jamaican man for cigarettes and when he told them to piss off they started on me. 'Why you lying?' they asked when I told them I had no money or fags. The list goes on. The stories my mum told me she had learnt from her neighbourhood. The bacon put on a dead Muslim woman's body while she lay in the hospital morgue. The couple over the road who disappeared suddenly because the wife was embezzling money, got caught and ended up in prison. The woodshed next to her house someone was using to make up their bags of heroin to sell on. The police running across my mum's garden in a no longer gentile London suburb as there was a crack den down at the back of someone else's garden. Crack den down, crack den down. Sounds like a bloody hoe down. Ho' down the crack den down the back of my garden. I love Britain. I love England. I love most of the people but whenever I come back I feel like I am in one giant lunatic asylum.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

RAZONES TO BE CONTENTO

H's friend B came over from the Netherlands so I had two crazy Dutchmen to keep me entertained. With him and his lady friend we spent some hours tasting all the food Rick Stein missed, on account of him not knowing that 'Aragon Existe'. I guess the most memorable has to be Callizos in Ainsa which is highly recommended but our lunch will be forever embedded in our minds for various reasons. Firstly, the wonderful Red Kite that made a swoop for the raw red meat the restaurant staff had presumably left out on the wall under our table to keep the tourists amused. It was quite a sight as this amazing bird of prey made a grab for it. Moments earlier and it could have been a West Highland Terrier that had been sniffing around. Then the food. This restaurant is noted for its cuisine but also for the presentation and the way the food is announced and explained everytime it arrives which kept the French family on the next table amused as we, that's H and pal and me and K, grappled with the parmesan sticks wrapped in what looked like condoms. 'No, your supposed to eat them!' they roared as they looked upon as savages. That was the starter or one of them. The olives dangling from a Bonsai were lovely as were the unfertilised eggs of an angel. Then we tucked in to some bacalao tempura which unfortunately came in the exploding version for H's mate who didn't need this kind of trauma having spent time in Bosnia and other war torn places as a journo. Said contents went all over his camera just as the Red Kite made off with more scraps. After cleaning him up with all the serviettes ( no, not napkins, but the Spanish serviettes designed to be used in their hundreds) a restaurant can muster he nearly sat in what was left of the tempura which had managed to land on his chair. Shaken but scrubbed he settled down to the next course which translated rather ominously as 'Lamb caught in the cross-fire'. It was delicious but then we felt some drops of rain. Only slight drops, nothing fancy, the kind that can keep a conversation going about whether it will or not, you know, suddenly open up and wash us and everything in sight into the river below. I was in no doubt that it would but tried to keep everyone's spirits up by saying otherwise. The conversation continued with all of us saying that 'it was going to be one of those showers that lasts a few minutes and anyway, look, it's going that way, the sky is blue over there', when suddenly the heavens did what they are supposed to do and I found myself aiding and abetting the owner who was now clinging to an enormous parasol and various wine glasses. We must have looked like a bunch of drunks going down in a sinking ship. No one could stand or walk what with the force of the wind but miraculously we made it indoors clutching various bottles and glasses and spitting leaves and twigs. We left the food to its fate and as I looked back at the remains of the garden there was one bloke, probably Aragonese, determined to finish his lunch with that stubborness they are famous for. Thankfully the restaurant put us in the basement and brought us our puddings. H's mate was OK here while the storm raged above, but his PTSD was almost triggered off by the waitress announcing that what he had in front of him was a delightful mix of goats' yoghurt, candy floss and dulce de leche which sounded the perfect antidote until she then clanged a big metal spoon against the side of his dish to evoke the 'sounds' of the Pyrenees, presumably the bell around the goat's neck as it was thrown from a great height. I had visions of him, H's mate, not the goat, in a straight jacket by the end of the meal and being attended by a priest from the nearby Opus Dei monastery we passed earlier. On top of this we had a kid ( no, not the orphaned offspring of the above, just a typical Spanish child eager to please) bouncing up and down the stairs giving us all a running commentary of how the storm was getting on and my pud had space dust in it which was unexpected, pleasurable and thank God, not being eaten by B.

Monday, 25 July 2011

DON'T TO HOUSEWORK

One thing that always strikes me as un poco raro about the Brits is their passion for DIY and doing up everything from driveways to rooms they will never use. They seem to think that one day, when all this is finished they can start to live but it's never finished, there is always something to 'do up'. That's what I like about Spain. No one ever bothers to do anything up so everything either falls down or gets left for another day, year, decade as right now we are having too much of a good time. There is a limit to all this of course and there does come a time, in our case almost ten years when we thought 'mmm, perhaps we should clean those curtains or maybe paint over the cracks in the wall'. Cleaning is still for me, one of those things that once done you realise you have to do for the rest of your life to achieve results so I gave up on the whole cleaning thing years ago. I got sick of looking at the dust on the tele and going 'God, I only dusted that a few days ago'. That's when I decided that I would try and live like Quinten Crisp and leave the dust to it's own devices. Alternatively I could employ a cleaner like most Spanish households do these days and then they can fret over the dust and can be seen scrubbing frantically from street level. But, I would rather spend the money on more worthy causes.

I mentioned the Golf yesterday and on our travels today the man who owns the paint shop said 'una curiosidad, have you by any chance had that Golf for what? Thirty years?' We told him we were the proud owners of a twenty six year old Golf. Yesterday, she, the Golf, who goes by the name Poo on account of her previous number plate, trundled back from Zaragoza with the sofa bed rammed in her boot when I asked H a similar question. 'Is she really twenty six years old?' We should write to Top Gear when we have the money to get a new car and offer her to the team there and see what they come up with. I am convinced this car can go on forever but H says no. This car has only had one previous owner. A British general who was based in Germany and therefore needed a left hand drive and then there is us. Me and this mad Dutchman. This wonderful car brought us safely over the Pyrennes here ten years ago and if I haven't said before I will miss her when she has gone.

Lastly, the title of this blog has been inspired by a thank you card sent to my boss from a child who didn't like said boss smoking. So she sent her a card saying 'don't to smoking'. JUST DON'T.

Friday, 22 July 2011

NO IKEA

We found ourselves in the wasteland that is IKEA but thanks to H's ability to get up at an unearthly hour despite the shindig the night before, his military manoeuvres, and staunch northen European time keeping we got the sofa bed needed, stuffed it into the back of the Golf and still had time to watch the Spanish chomping at the bit to get at the meatballs and unlimited drinks in the upstairs restaurant. He had it home, assembled and me lying on it in less time than it took for most people to get round that dreadful store. The alternative was to hunt one down in Huesca and then spend the next six months ringing up enquiring as to its whereabouts.

There are moments when it seems the whole town is asleep and any visitor would wonder if we had all been murdered but especially now the big fiesta is round the corner. I find this time of year always a bit disconcerting and want to get away as San Lorenzo is responsible for the biggest binge fest this side of the Pyrenees.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

LA HOSTIA

Just watched Rick Stein's take on Spain and its grub and sure enough he went across Northen Spain taking in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country, Navarra, down to Tudela and then headed straight on to Catalunya without a by-your-leave and therefore not stopping for a glimpse of Aragon. In a way I am glad as there are lots of delights here culinary and otherwise and we don't want him encouraging more Brits to come with all their gushing enthusiasm and badly pronounced Spanish, wandering around looking for somewhere to eat. Last week he said it was still OK for people to have a fag in a restaurant in Spain which is not true and shows how badly researched a lot of these programmes are. The fact is he would be spoilt for choice here with some fine restaurants in and around the mountains. This weekend we are going to Casa Frauca in a tiny village tucked in the Pyrenees. A restaurant that needs no explaining.

I tell pupils not to worry too much about their pronunciation. As long as the other person understands it doesn't really matter. They get so pained with the criticisms of other Spanish people who invariably don't speak another language and of course the teachers who keep telling them to aim for that bloody English accent. It takes a lot to crush a Spaniard but criticise their English and they often become painfully insecure which is the worst thing when you are trying to learn. So I was surprised to see on the above programme a guy who made his own wine chatting away in English and Rick Stein saying it was 'so great to be standing here drinking and eating with an intelligent Spaniard who is fluent in English' and then the Spanish guy referred to the sheep they were going to eat as being the ones in the 'hurdles', the ones they could see grazing in a field close by and Stein corrected him. 'Flocks'. 'You mean 'flocks', 'hurdles' are what they are kept in'. The Spanish guy took this on the chin and went on and emphasised the word 'flock' in a calm, assured manner that was quite becoming not the usual 'this bloody language! Why can't everyone just speak Spanish!' 

LA ESCUELA DE IDIOTAS

Many people here don't pass their exam at the language school, La Escuela Oficial de Idiomas because according to their teachers they speak English like a Spaniard and should aim to speak with an 'English' accent. Which accent I would be intrigued to find out. Many students are unaware thanks to the misguided efforts of the folk at the language school that in Britain there are many ways to pronounce words like 'bus' and someone from the south of England will pronounce 'aunt' different to someone from the north which then puzzles students if the words 'ant' or 'aren't' come into the conversation. My favourite mix up is still 'Alaska' which the student thought I had said when I said 'I'll ask her', never mind that the furthest north I have been was to Norwich for the day. Or the time I worked for a FIFA agent here who repeated the word 'striker' as if I had said it like Arthur Mullard.

A student told me the other day that in the school where she works she had her purse stolen by one of the students there. She said she knew the boy in question and yet felt there was nothing she could do. I couldn't believe this and she then told me that the boy was Ecuadorian and she fears these folk and that many of them are threatening her and her fellow teachers and saying stuff like 'your problem is you don't have kids' or 'you don't get laid'. I told her about my Ecuadorian neighbours and how they don't frighten me with their childish dress sense, lack of taste in music, insults and penchance for knives. Perhaps there should be a paper at exam level 'Ecuadorians, why are they here in Spain?' This is the sort of thing that would have Brits taking the moral high ground and calling you a racist or xenophobe but there's nothing like tapping into that side of the Spanish as immigration is a new thing on them still. During the summer camp this year I could smell burning and asked the receptionist if I should be worried as living in Spain no one cares until the place is burning down before our eyes and she said it was probably 'Los Chinos' who were there at the same time praising the Lord and embracing everything with an Evangelical zeal. One of the little pupils at the camp, a Chinese girl adopted by Spanish parents confessed to me that there 'were too many of them and none of them speak Spanish you know'.

On the subject of exams maybe there should be one with the heading 'Matt Monroe or Principe Gitano?' Discuss. I have only just discovered that Matt Monro belted out a number of songs in Spanish. They are not so bad but I can imagine they are quite painful on the ear for Spanish people but not half as bad as ol' Principe or Rafael singing Aquarius.

THE LIGHTS OF BOHEMIA

On my way to the council yesterday I made a note of what was in front of me and how after time you get used to things, things that become part of your everyday life like the stuff you left back 'there' wherever you came from. I become part of the street as I stop and watch it go by.Whether it is the little kids shouting and whistling up at the parrot on the balcony whistling down to them, or the beggars and gyspies who line what can't be called a pavement as it's too narrow. The elderly couple who half carry their mentally disabled son up this 'pavement' as his wheelchair doesn't go on it. The knife sharpener man and his flute and bicycle. The 'artists' and 'poets' and other rogues already in the bars. The glimpse of the ex-mayor in a stylish new cafe, the passing hearse, the storks throwing their heads back and clashing their beaks while standing on one leg on the roof of the cathedral, the incessant ringing of church bells, H shouting out the window, 'no one's coming!'. The blind selling the ONCE tickets. It all takes on an air of 'Luces de Bohemia' but becomes 'normal' as 'normal' as the suet puddings and drizzle you left behind.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

SEASON OF WINE AND PAPERS

Spain is a wonderful place so long as you avoid anything involving paperwork. After helping friends with their paperwork at the INAEM or dole office now it was H's turn. For the past three or four years we have been here and as the years have passed so has the amount of folk in the queue. Five years ago it was us and four Africans. Last year the queue went up by about fifteen folk and this year there must have been at least fifty. H's papeles had been checked and checked again by a third party but of course there was something missing, a number that can't be written in ink or pencil but must be returned to whoever wrote it out on their computer and be written that way. This did not please his boss who he woke up at half eleven in the morning, but she did it and turned up all bleary eyed with said paper. The funcionario who had been dealing with H's claim had told him he could simply come back once the paper was rectified and didn't have to take a ticket or queue, just to hand the paper in to him. Of course this didn't go down well with the rest of the folk at the dole office in particular one bloke who was outraged that H was 'pushing in' something the Spanish are excellent at until someone who should know better does it. I was expecting the bloke to exchange blows and was kind of hoping they would just out of boredom or because I had been done in by the Murdochs and their crew these last few weeks and had somehow been warped beyond my usual character. Sadly, the bloke in question just kept muttering 'que moro!', what a nerve, or a bloody cheek!' but didn't do anything else. The civil servant also did that thing that all folk do when they are presented with a passport, he started to look through it. What for I don't know, just being nosey I guess. H now has to wait for the usual permiso from some director or another from Aragon, which will allow him to leave the country and go on holiday.

More paperwork landed in front of me, this time questioning my whereabouts or whether I was still a resident of Spain or did I spend more time in another country and could I please come down the council to let them know. I had fifteen days to do this so I legged it up there this morning rather disgruntled at the wasting of my time and hadn't they got better things to do. All the way there I was gearing up for a showdown but by the time I arrived I adopted an attitude of 'let's play with their tiny minds' as none of them know anything or what they are doing. Luckily there were few people there and I was seen in a jiffy. I told the women I still lived at the same address and nothing as far as I was aware had changed. She took my passport and started flicking through it looking for that elusive detail and then noticed that the passport number was different to the one I gave them ten years ago. This isn't the reason they asked me to come down to the office but it gave them a chance to do that troubled look you only see on the faces of civil servants and men looking at anything broken and irreplacable. She said she would have to ask her colleague what she should do and stood up and went to a woman right next to her and asked. Again I was hoping they might start something and was looking forward to the diplomatic row that would ensue but her colleague just told her it would be fine and to write the 'new' number in pen as the computer wouldn't allow them to do this.

That sorted I went home elated and did the biggest spring clean in ten years, chucking out a monton of papeles and other shite accumulated over time. A decent lunch was in order and once more the Tomate Jamon didn't let us down with their octopus salad, quails, torrijas and the aptly named wine Parraleta.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

THOSE WE DON'T SPEAK OF

Well the cloven hooved one, his son and their boon companion didn't get quite the grilling I thought they would and frankly I am getting sick of their socially unacceptable behaviour. They are a reminder why I left in the first place not that Spain is bereft of corruption and shady characters. If I see their fizzogs on the goggle box once more I shall drink my weight in vermouth. It amazes me that so many folk in the upper echelons of British society feared being left out from not being 'in' with what appear to be the uncoolest people on the planet. I feel chuffed I have never been invited to one of their parties. I'd rather watch over 500 mattresses fall, domino style, down the street as they did recently, landing our beloved town in the Guinness book of records.

Other novelties enjoyed have been the pupils' performance in the Piramide Theatre with their piss take of the X-Factor and Night at the Museum puppet show. Bruce Haak, Jimmy Hendrix and Frank Zappa were used in the drama classes and were a refreshing antidote to the usual crap they are forced to listen to.
I haven't found out who is responsible for the 'cancion del verano' this year, but it is everywhere, especially my head. Last year it was Shakira and the Waka Waka which tortured me throughout the World Cup.

For some reason it is necessary to pay to read the local rag on the internet nowadays. Nobody reads newspapers here. Too middle class. However, I do need this paper to glean any info needed like which roads will be closed or when and where the water or electric will be switched off but I also like to follow the antics of our mayoress and all the provincial stuff going on to get my kicks. Nothing like Spanish petit bourgeoisie society to keep an even keel. Now it thinks it is the Times and we have to pay I am left reading headlines like HALF THE SPANISH POPULATION DOESN'T KNOW WHAT AN ICTUS IS, and then a short piece on how a bus will be touring the country educating us all. It's organised by the Ictus Observatory as part of their campaign named '1de6'. I confess to not knowing what it means and intend to find out before the bus arrives.

Lastly, a typical conversation here.
Barman: 'Sorry we close at four'
Me: 'What time is it now?
Barman: Five past four, what do you want to drink?

Monday, 27 June 2011

I haven't commented much on what was a long term bugbear of mine, namely the pedestrianisation of part of our barrio. I walk through it every day and the workmen seem to be doing a grand job but it isn't without the usual complaints from the bar owners who were dreading the financial mess they would find themselves in as if the work to improve this area was only going to affect them and their pockets. I have heard people mutter and complain as they pick their way through the work in progress but I must add that said work with all its dust, drilling and inconvenience hasn't put folk off from dining and drinking out. The place is heaving and I even found myself with H having a vermouth while a man sawed into concrete and sent a cloud of dust into the atmosphere just to keep in the spirit of things I guess.

Meanwhile, that other bone of contention, the Palacio de Congresos is in the news again. The builders are after more money, a quarter of a million, or is it half? Who cares? it was going to cost 15 million but in the end it is something like 35 million or as the paper ended the article on this white elephant the other day, hasta ahora.

On the subject of bete noirs, poor old Mr C hasn't left the bulding for quite sometime now. His wife still goes on the piss and seems to be revelling in his downfall with her coming back drunk three times a day and giving him more hell than she ever did when he was drunk wit her. She has been screaming that her life is an infierno and repeats this and other disastrous aspects of her life over and over again and now he can't drink and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's she seems to be either losing it or getting her kicks from his non responsive behaviour. I have seen him on the balcony several times eating bananas and the street below is littered with the blackened skins driven into the road by the passing cars. Yesterday we managed to get the number of one of his brothers as something needs to be done about these two as they gradually lose it completely . Nine years of letting the police, social services, the courts and Lord knows who else know of the situation has done nothing to help this couple as they surge along the road to hell.

LOS FATOS

Very few foreigners here will have spent time in a fato's home as a guest. Some may even have that privilege of being invited, once, to a dinner but it won't be repeated. It's not that you have done something to offend your host and of course there are exceptions but invariably unless it concerns their family and very close friends ( there is often no other type here) a  fato will not feel the need to entertain you in his home. There is another reason which is of course that the Spanish live outside, so there is often no need to go to anyone's house. You meet in the bar or a restaurant and take it from there. The British have the awful weather and the Georgians to thank for home entertaining and a chance to show off their home furnishings and DIY skills. I have had the strange experience of being 'shown round' many fatos'  homes and to this day I am not sure what it is about. It isn't the house warming situation either and my most memorable was being dragged off the street by a woman I knew as the cleaner cum nanny of a young pupil who insisted I follow her to her home of which she then proceeded to take me on a tour. It was probably to do with a feeling of inadequacy on her part, that she didn't want me to go to my grave thinking she was just a humble housekeeper who didn't live in as big a house as her employer who was also her neighbour. It does have a tinge of the Violet Bouquet character in Keeping up Appearances.

Over the ten years we have been here I have had the opportunity to get inside the homes of the Spanish via teaching. It is a great insight as you get to see and meet all sorts of folk not just the fatos. One thing that struck me from the beginning is the lack of books. I grew up surrounded by books and my mother's house is still full of them and all of them read, not on show. Likewise, all my friends and people I came into contact with back in Britain had books so it was something quite strange at first. The only books I have seen in Spanish homes are complete sets of encyclopedias and reference books depending on the students professsion, law books and medicine being the most prevalent. Another observance is the tendency to not switch on lights which makes me think that psychologically they like to be kept in the dark. As the class progresses and night draws in I often have to ask the student if he or she doesn't mind switching on a lamp. It always reminds me of the anecdote of Samuel Becket refusing to turn the light on supposedly to get rid of some unwanted guests. Likewise, you don't want to turn up at a Spanish home during the siesta, especially in the height of summer. Most children wouldn't dream of taking a siesta as it is wasting their life according to some I have asked, and therefore their parents decide it is a good idea to have them taught at this time. Entering a house around three in the stinking heat with all the shutters down and inhabited by people who want to rest and are averse to switching on lights is still a strange intrusive moment for me.

MUCHA ENVIDIA

I'm told that this small town is the biggest user of Facebook in Spain and I can believe it. Most folk here are quite happy to not block access to their page as that is the whole point, they want the whole world to see their wedding, communion, parties and other shindigs as this town is famous for being full of 'fatos', fatuous folk who think they are sophisticated and who need to be the best but are really quite the opposite. So now not only are they feeling inadequate on the street when their friends comment on their clothes and holiday choices they can top it up while they bitch about one another in the so-called privacy of their home. Being a foreigner somehow excludes me from a lot of this maybe because they are not sure how things are done outside their microscopic world, but anthropologically it is fascinating because it is so condensed. It is a beastlike thing this envidia, existing in all parts of the world but H tells me he has never encountered it like this before. I do think this has something to do with forty years of fascism and therefore isolation and the feeling of inadequacy that this brings and the sense of 'missing out', but also the last twenty years of folk lining their pockets and neglecting their duties has led people to care even less about the important things that make urban life bearable. However, I am told that the fatos reigned long before Franco could take some of the blame, with several interesting stories, my favourite being the big lottery win here sometime before the civil war. I need to investigate this story to get to the truth but it seems this lotto win led to the construction of mansions alongside the park. I have often wondered while wandering past these lovely buildings how they got to be and it seems the lottery winners blew it on building the biggest and finest houses in what was and still is a humble, agricultural village with delusions of grandeur. There are about ten of these mansions and are now either crumbling or being renewed and one is a residencia for old folk, another the offices of the CCOO, a union here and one that I have been in on several occasions, the Institute of Aragonese Studies.

It's that time of year when we are needed at the summer camps. The parents and children arrive from all over Spain and that is when you realise that fatos are indeed from round 'ere. It reminds me of Basil Fawlty and his 'better class' of guest. I suppose it is a choice then of being a fato or a pijo. I've been told that because Spain never really had a middle class as we know it there will always be this gulf between folk but the class thing is an English obsession and too long to go into now. Fato, pijo or 'normal' at least the Spanish eat sitting down and with a napkin and knife and fork. I have August to look forward to, the annual return to the motherland and all it entails and as insufferable as they are, the fatos know how to do food. They may promenade as if they are permanently dressed for a wedding but I am not looking forward to the sights that await me back in Britain. The two girls tucking into a bucket of tiramisu and profiteroles at the pub that does two meals for a tenner will haunt me for some time.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

IF I HAD A HAMMER

In response to the above conditional I would probably join in with the rest of the DIY enthusiasts the fine weather seems to bring with it. As soon as summer arrives and windows are left open, Spanish men turn up in their hordes with a tool box.This morning I was woken up by a man making repetitive noises with said tool above. He made it sound both productive and non-productive at the same time. I think the Spanish flag should be changed and a hammer could nestle in the corner somewhere as a symbol of what the place is really like. Across the road I have been fascinated with the latest use for cement too. I watched agog at some men who decided it was time to drill into a concrete floor to see if there was anything underneath. This started at the un-Christian hour of eight o'clock in the morning when it is legal to start making noise but everyone is either still in bed or working in an office somewhere out of earshot. Nevertheless it brought the usual gaggle of old geezers with hands behind their backs waiting expectantly for God knows what to appear. I was expecting a Fred West scenario but it turned out to be some type of tank, maybe water but I couldn't help thinking it might be gas and we would have a disaster on our hands as the men scratched their heads and ordered a cement truck. This truck also held me in a trance with its white and red stripes revolving around beneath my balcony. I thought it was an earthquake as it rolled up and parked right in front of the garage. Men then started behaving as you do on building sites, this one being the road, and drove up and down sloshing cement everywhere and quite a nice job they did of it and I guess it will be fine for another six months when they will have to dig it up again. I'm sure they know what they are doing. My favourite hammer story still stands, with H investigating an unearthly noise throughout the block we were then living in and finding a man making indentations in some wet cement up a wall. Later our Ecuatorian neighbours decided to put on that dreaded music of theirs which sounds like a hammer hitting a cowbell.

I realise why most Spanish people like to say that foreigners who speak Spanish speak it terribly. It's because they, the Spanish, are still at that level you find in places in England where white British folk still think it's funny to laugh at accents. They are at what I call the Benny Hill stage of immigration and you can see the look of annoyance that you seem to be deliberately and violently killing their language by misusing the feminine and masculine or are unable to roll your R's. This brings me to the Muslim woman H saw shouting at a Spanish woman the other day after the Spanish woman had muttered some insult or other as she passed the other who was struggling on the pavement to put some things in her shopping trolley. The Muslim woman shouted after the other in perfect Spanish but alas like the rest of us with an 'accent' and H heard her shout 'forty years of fascism and you still haven't learnt anything!!' as the other woman hurried on up the road. All the old ladies from the house a few doors down which masquerades as a hairdresser's came rushing out and did that thing that Spanish people often do when they realise they have offended you big time and tried to smother the Muslim woman with 'sorries' and 'calm down dearies'. H said the Muslim woman reacted just like me under such circumstances and duress and basically told them all to 'que te den'. Language is supposed to be a tool to make you feel 'at home' anywhere but it takes more than that to survive here. Nerves of steel, a tool box and a lot of cement.