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Thursday, 1 November 2012

TOTAL FOOTBALL

Football seems to be forever in the news these days but not for the game. I once met someone who met someone who knew someone who had been to a football match and that person was me. It was at Arsenal Stadium but I can't remember who they were playing although I know men who could tell me who the other team were if I could remember what the weather was like that day. Not knowing the rules I kept cheering every time the other side scored much to the annoyance of the Arsenal fans seated around me who were busy listening to the cricket. My only other football experience took place in a launderette in Acton during the 1998 World Cup. The owner had perched the television on top of one of the machines and I found myself in a trance due to the fancy footwork of one Dennis Bergamp. For a brief spell I understood the passion football fans have for their beloved game but like most things for me I was soon bored and moved on to other deviances. 


There is a saying 'like a red rag to a bull'. There is probably one that says 'like a red light to a Spaniard' which may mean a brothel or a traffic light. When it comes to the traffic light a Spaniard has to go through it if it kills him which it often does and all the people trying to cross the zebra. If you attempt to go through a red light anywhere south of Paris expect the fellow at the other set of lights to do the same and anticipate a crash. There is also an unwritten rule here that when you approach a junction especially one with a roundabout you must step on the gas if you see a vehicle approaching from the left. He won't indicate either way so just take the risk. Hopefully on seeing you he will slow down as he knows and understands your game. Henderson always stops at the lights even if there is no one crossing them. People in Britain do this and visitors will remark how polite they all are or stupid. I have no time for such silliness and this once rubbed off onto H as we came up to a roundabout and could see another car quite far off to follow the unwritten rule without any angst. H's instincts told him to stop but he couldn't help himself and so he tore out. For some peculiar reason the other chap decided to put his toe down and before you could say the Non Flying Dutchman he was up our jacksy. The occupants of both vehicles screamed abuse and gave the fingers in the usual fashion and went on their way. 'How dare he break the unwritten rule!' we both exclaimed. 'He should never have sped up like that!' we both agreed. 'We could have been killed!' we both rejoiced. It was then I knew I had arrived.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

TODOS LOS SANTOS

Is it the X-factor? Strictly? The Jimmy Savile Roadshow? The Jimmy Saville Row Show? No it's none other than the relic of Don Bosco in a supine position. It appears to be his body but is only his right arm accompanied by a look-a-like of his entire body. The relic is doing the rounds via 134 countries before it settles in his birthplace, Italy. He will be received at the top of my road with some folkloric act and then after the mass he will be paraded around town till he stops at Maria Auxiliadora. Don't ever doubt that this is a Catholic country. Despite the Halloween celebrations at the school this morning many of the children told me they would be going to see Don Bosco. Who he? you may well ask. He was a Catholic priest who set up a school for boys in Turin based on three pillars, reason, religion and loving kindness.

Today I had one of those moments when you know you have integrated. I went to buy a lotto ticket and got into a bit of a debate with the man who sells them. He asked me if I wanted to buy the 'hokair' ticket and although I guessed he was saying the Spanish version of the English word Joker I found myself chatting away about the hokair without agonizing and distressing myself.

Apparently, when it comes to starting a business, Spain is one of the most difficult places in the world, ranking 136th out of 185. Somewhere behind Afghanistan....apparently. I could have told the World Bank this several years ago but they would never have listened.

I think my eyesight is going. This morning I thought I saw my neighbour propping up the bar wearing a checked shirt he often wears but on closer inspection I realised it was a jamon with a tea cloth draped over it.

Tomorrow is Todos los Santos and I made a point of buying flowers not only for the dead but for me and the rest of the living.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

ACT NORMAL, THAT'S MAD ENOUGH

When I was growing up people used to call the police in London the filth or pigs or Babylon or maybe the fuzz or rozzers or even 'evening Cunstable'. Nowadays if I wanted to start a riot here in Spain all I would need need to do is walk up to a policeman and tell him his mum is a prostitute. Nothing riles a copper here more than those words hijo de puta. Tell him his horse is gay or he is an imbecile and he might agree with you but saying his mum is a whore will definitely get the feathers flying. At most riots you will hear those three words shouted and see coppers losing it and beating the nearest person they can get hold of. A good friend shouted from her balcony at two policemen to stop giving her brother a parking fine and they completely ignored her. When she screamed the equivalent of 'your mum is a slag' they went mental and she was arrested and ended up in court. She was fined but told the judge it was worth it just to call the police those dreaded words and at fifty euros she wouldn't mind doing it again. En fin.....  judging from the following video I remember why I never, ever spend summer in my barrio. The Aragonese are famed for being strong willed and here the police, plebs, party goers and rogues give as good as they get.




Monday, 24 September 2012

HEIGHT OF FASHION

I like to know what they are up to back in the Motherland in case I ever have to go back there on a permanent basis. It's important to be aware of what I might be dealing with so I brace myself by watching among other things, Downton Abbey which I'm told is very popular with men and women. I can see why as it speaks volumes about the psyche of the English and their class system which still exists despite their protest that it doesn't. It gives a sense of order, calm and strength in our mad world and could work as a substitute for alcohol as it is perfectly anodyne. The last offering was enlivened by Maggie Smith whilst being served dinner by a slave ' Are you really that tall?' she remarked. 'I thought you were on stilts or something'. 

I will have to start using this line every time I see a woman wearing those prostitute shoes that have sadly arrived in the village. It took a while but they are here. The ones that make you look like you have shit or shat yourself. The ones that should only be worn behind closed doors and with a straight face and a promise you certainly will not be going out dressed in them. What is it with these shoes? The shoes our ancestors wore that now give them bunions were quite cute things compared to these monsters. Do they reflect economic times perhaps? Some say we must be grateful that we have the freedom to make plonkers of ourselves and have the photos to prove it but I'm glad the bottom of my wardrobe looks like the aftermath of a stampede in hotter, sandalled climes.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

ECCE HOMO

Extraordinary things happen the world over. In the USA it sometimes involves a shoot out with many dead or a man trying to eat another man which leaves the rest of the world shaking it's head and muttering, 'only in America'. In Ireland someone will chop down a tree or stare into their breakfast and claim to have seen something resembling Mary Mother of God with everyone else moaning 'Jesus Christ almighty tonight, what next!' In the UK nowadays or at least since the death of Queen Victoria most natives can still be heard muttering from behind their newspaper 'this country has gone to the dogs!' God knows how the average Muslim ends his sentence of disbelief when his fellow men go on the rampage whenever there is a hint that the rest of the world is taking the piss. Nevertheless, I now reside in a country where folk end their conversations of astonishment with 'Spain is different'. These words are often uttered when someone points out that on the news they saw a psychopathic rabbit from Galicia attacking journalists hell bent on a photo and an interview with its owner or the never ending stream of bastards evading the law at everyone's expense or perhaps a tube driver getting the sack, not for getting a blow job from a transvestite while driving the train but the delay he caused passengers when he refused to pay the transvestite and a brawl ensued. So it is with the recent 'silly season' story of the attempted restoration by Cecilia Gimenez of a fresco in the Santuario de Misericordia near Borja here in Aragon.

The Santuario is different. It lacks the feeling of desperation at Lourdes or the dreaded scramble to see the Mona Lisa. A rare calm is felt once you enter the little church which houses the fresco. Nobody pushes or steps in your way. Everyone takes their time to be a witness to this mystery. People float in with a respect and tranquility not often felt in a country where noise is part of the culture. Some feel the need to pose and pull a predictable face but you get the sense that they are aware of their uniform behaviour. Meanwhile others contemplate the image holding it in reverence. We tried to locate Cecilia with the help of a lovely man on the door of the church who seemed the genuine type and only glad that we had come to give her our support. Away from the crowd we found a charming woman who was still in a state of shock from all the excitement, something she had never anticipated while living all her life in that remote and isolated part of Spain. She told us how she had been happily married and adored her husband and how their two sons were crippled and although life was hard she was content until now because she doesn't know what to think. She is dreading the idea that she has been denounced to the authorities and what the outcome may be. The main thing will be to try and rescue the fresco which she told us had been suffering on account of it being painted directly onto a wall which was now damp. Her consolation was the amount of support from all over the world from people who want the image to stay as it is. When we left her home a young woman bounced up the stairs and greeted her with a kiss. One of many who are behind Cecilia all the way. So many young people pay homage to the painting and there are as many that think the world of her too.

Cecilia has achieved something most artists of the 21st century will never achieve. Not fame or fortune but the ability to articulate something about the human condition. Maybe because she invested her heart into the restoration the result is hypnotic. It is easy to dismiss it as the biggest botch job and moralise how the descendants of the original artist must feel which is one of consternation. However, it is Cecilia's version that has struck a chord in the hearts and minds of many and whatever is decided, to keep it as it is or to restore it I wish her all the love and support. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

I NEED A VACATION!

Visiting my family in Britain has left me a bit of a wreck as it has been what is slowly becoming the annual holiday in an 'immense lunatic asylum' ( Check out Louis de Bernieres). On my last day there was a woman in the local Co-Op threatening not to pay as she was frightened her money was going to bite her. Later there was a mix-up with the post I was trying to send back to Spain and I think the stamp has been stuck on the sender's address side of the envelope as I was only charged two quid which I didn't question at the time on account of a man behind me roaring at everyone 'whatever you do, don't lost it!!' So I can expect the post to go back to where it came from which should be a laugh as my parents live in one of those places George Mikes describes in his wonderful How to be an Alien. Chapter One, How to Plan a Town. 'Make sure nobody can find the houses.......put all the streets with the same name in the same part of town'. To give an idea to what I am on about my parents live in a place that could be loosely named 2, Riverside Cottage, Seaview, but this is two doors down from another property called 2, Riverside, The Laurels, which shares its neighbours 2, Riverside House, Residential Home for the Elderly, Room 2 which is opposite Flat 2b, Riversdie, off Riverside Close. My package could be languishing in any of them.

Last night I found out Noel Gallagher charges 60 smackers to see him play. I can think of better things to do and cheaper like visit the incorrupt foot of Saint Teresa which  has winged or rather footed its way to Huesca where it will be displayed in the Convent of Barefoot Carmelites, resting presumably on route to Rome. I think the opportunity might have been missed as you could only venerate it at 6.30 during the mass which like the bus in Spain, always runs on time.

I leave you with a neat little number to get you through the day!


Monday, 30 July 2012

FABRA LA CABRA

Here's one I did earlier..............

On his travels through the Netherlands over fifty years ago my father remembers seeing hundreds of people on bicycles spilling out of the Phillips factory in Eindhoven. If you go there today I am sure it is no different with statuesque women bearing down on you screaming 'get out of the way' in English. Today in Spain you rarely see anyone on a bike if you don't include the Quebrantahuesos cycle race through the mountains and the kid that told me to 'largate!!' when I wandered into one of the many cycle lanes here. Said lanes were put in place a couple of years ago and can be seen mainly on the outskirts of town coming to a stop as you get closer to the centre. They are also in areas were you will never see a car and can cycle pretty much where you please. The newish motorway has a similarity to the bike lanes too. It is a wonderful motorway cutting down on your journey time and with lots of space for everyone to take over at speed and then it suddenly stops and you are forced onto the old road where most of the accidents happen. As a passenger I looked back and saw the end of the motorway and it was quite remarkable how it's just hanging there, unfinished, waiting for more money to be completed or perhaps planning permission. People tell me it's because after Llerida the land is owned by an Aragonese who is too stubborn to sell but who knows.

On my travels through Nigeria around twenty years ago I remember looking for a phone and coming across some new British Telecom phone booths that were empty inside. I asked the locals what was going on with the phones and they all laughed and said it was probably another scam by the then government to fleece the corporation of money and I didn't doubt them. Later I was told the electricity had been switched off by the power company NEPA ( Never Expect power At All/Again/Always) who had then gone around asking folk for money to put it back on again. The Spanish often make the Nigerians look like amateurs when it comes to fraud and scams, with airports up and down the country including Huesca, with no planes and no one coming or going but people still working in them. The ongoing domestic drama continues with a certain woman called Fabra who told the unemployed and/or the Socialists to go and fuck themselves. When you look at her father, Mr Fabra you get the idea who you are dealing with. 'Impresentables'  was how one of the locals here called them both. Fabra, is the type who says things like 'if everyone thinks I am a warlord then so be it, I don't care what anyone thinks'. You can't take these people anywhere, they will always show you up. The dad has a statue of himself at the gateway to one of the closed airports in Castellon. A statue of a plane stuck on its head. Gaddafi would be pleased.

I have found myself at marches lately but I do wonder why I am there considering I can't vote for any of the politicos who have disgraced or are disgracing themselves. It leaves me feeling like an innocent bystander caught up in the melee. It's lamentable that I feel a lot of my kvetching over the years was dismissed due to various reasons the main one my not being from around here.

So with a slow hand clap here is an advert that is enough to drive one to drink. If we all drink alcohol free beer, take our grub home in a doggie bag and cycle everywhere because 'hey! Gasol is doing it!' we might live in a better world.


Sunday, 15 July 2012

CHINESE HAND JOBS

'What possessed you to write the above words?' you might ponder if you had found them on my desk. Well I asked myself the same question and then remembered why you must always take a pen with you on leaving the house. Paper can be found anywhere, usually napkins, beer mats or backs of hands but a pen is essential if only to avoid annoying other folk at four in the morning who really don't want to know why you need to write down that hysterical or important thing your beloved has just said. You might end up with Blue Sky Peach scrawled up your arm and not know what it means ( I'm told it's a track on an Allman Brothers record) but it will at least be a souvenir of a good evening. If you do find yourself bereft of a pen you can do what I always do and remember things by giving them one word like a tag that will hopefully remind you of the nonsense of the previous night the next day. However, you must write these words down as soon as you get in otherwise you probably won't recall even those words especially when alcohol has been involved. So it was when I woke up this morning to find the above words carved into the first piece of paper I had found.

Fine, you're able to remember what it was you were worried you'd forget but realise you have complicated it all by writing under each word other words that spell out in this case, 'selling shit behind Steve's back'. How does this tie up? Then it all eerily comes back that you told H that unlike most people here you had no fear of the Chinese and their economy and was reminded of this every time  you threw anything broken and with the words Made in China written on it into the bin you also foolishly bought from them. The one  that had the bottom fall out of it which now stands as just a frame of a bin with a plastic bag inside. A kind of plastic bag accessory or perhaps a metaphor for the bottomless pit of Chinese shit the world seems to be subjected to. I added that I wasn't enamored by their selling techniques either which if my local Chinese shop owner is anything to go by involves snorting phlegm down the back of his throat while he tells you he has everything except the plastic sun visor you want for your children's school play. I mentioned to H the chairman of Mercadona Juan Roig felt the Chinese have a work ethic that the Spanish don't have, one that involves effort. This riled and offended many hard working Spaniards and people looking for work. Roig thinks the Spanish should imitate the Chinese and that the Spanish no longer pick oranges, with many having the same attitude to graft as those back in the UK who don't want to work alongside Poles picking cabbages but complain all the foreigners are taking the jobs. My conclusion is the Chinese are better and quicker at turning out shittier shit shite than the Spanish but until they, the Chinese that is, can get a million people to turn up at one of their fiestas ( San Fermin, Pamplona, 2012) they won't have that edge and attraction the Spanish have. Spain may have to come up with other concepts and adapt but if they sell anything it is by showing the rest of the world how to enjoy life.

And Jobs? This was Henderson telling me he would love an I-Pad but worries that he might end up divorced, giving up his job and food ( 'just give me water') while he spends the rest of his life messing around on the thing. He said he imagined Steve Jobs designing it and when he had run out of ideas he decided to facilitate other people's ideas in the form of apps keeping all of us busy and then every six months launch the next generation with a zillion more things we never asked for or needed, in effect saying, 'here you go, you got that one, well here's another one!', 'spend the rest of your life sorting that one out!'

What about the hands you wonder? H often asks me at what point do grown men, particularly Spanish men start putting their hands behind their backs when standing. He has hit that low point and I must admit I  found myself doing it too at a recent presentation of awards we both had to attend. He said he tried to put his hands in his pockets but this being Spain and hot he felt uncomfortable and clammy around the old feelers. He tried to fold his arms, no good, and then in front, not good at all he reckons, especially for a man as the hands reach cock and ball level. The worst for him was when he let them hang at his sides ( not his cock and balls I might add) and so it was that his hands found themselves behind his back. Solucionado! Can't see them, out of the way, they've gone now! Ole! Problem solved! Let's move on....

Saturday, 30 June 2012

HIGH WHY FIVE O

( Note to self. Never order from a menu with photos. Avoid drinks with stupid names and that have the potential to arrive carrying an umbrella. Stick to alcohol ).

Me: Excuse me, this isn't the drink I ordered.

Waiter: Yes it is.

Me: No it isn't, I ordered the Hawaii.

Waiter: That is the Hawaii.

Me: No it isn't.

Waiter: Yes it is.

Me: No it isn't.

Waiter: Yes it is

Me: OK, of course, you are right.

Henderson: What did you order?

Me: The Hawaii.

Henderson: Is that the orange one?

Me: Yes.

Henderson: But yours is Red.

Me: I know.

Henderson: Waiter, she ordered the orange drink, it's called an Hawaii.

Waiter: Yes, that's what she has got.

Henderson: But the one she has is red, smells of strawberries and look, here on the menu you can see there is a big difference between the red drink, the Exotico and the orange one, the Hawaii.

Waiter: Yes but we added some red syrup .

Henderson: So it's the other one, here, in the picture, the red one, the strawberry one, the one with red syrup?

Waiter: No. She has the Hawaii, the orange one, listen,do you want me to change it for you?

Me: I'm tempted, just to see if I get what I ordered, but no, leave it. I shall enjoy the Erotica.

Waiter: Exotico.

Me: Exactly.

Waiter leaves stage left.

Henderson: Does it taste of orange?

Me: No, it tastes of strawberries and red syrup.

Henderson: What's that they're playing on the radio?

Me: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the Sinatra version.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

BOBBY DAZZLER

Overheard in the classroom....

Teacher: ( Explains in Spanish and in English) OK kids, we are going to do a short dictation. All I require is for you to listen and write what I say but don't worry if you don't understand I don't mind repeating the words a hundred times, just please be quiet, raise your hand. Is that understood?

Kids mumble in general agreement and get ready.

Teacher ( Clears throat): Yesterday, Bobby went to Madrid.

Child A: Bobby que?

Teacher: Please, I told you I will repeat if necessary.

Child A: Vale, vale..Sigue.. ( OK, OK..carry on).

Teacher: Yesterday, Bobby went to Madrid.

Child B: Bobby went donde (where)?

Teacher (raises hand in silence): Yesterday..Bobby...went...to Madrid.

Child C: No entiendo nada.

Child A: 'Bobby went to Madrid'.

Child B: Estoy perdido. Now I'm lost.

Child C: Calla!! ( Shut up!).

Child A: He said.....

Teacher: Please be quiet, I asked you all to please be quiet and if you don't understand.....

Child A: You see, he told us to be quiet.

Child B: Where did Bobby go?

Child A and B start arguing.

Teacher: Will you please...

Child A to the teacher: I'm trying to help you out here!

Teacher: Right that does it, everyone please be quiet, I will start again.Bobby...went to.....

Child A: You forget to say yesterday.

Teacher through gritted teeth: Yesterday...

Child C: Espera, espera...Wait a minute.....

Teacher sighs.

Child C: OK you can go on.

Teacher: Yesterday, Bobby, went to Madrid.

Child C: Que significa yesterday?

Child A: I'm bored. 






Tuesday, 19 June 2012

FREARS AND LOATHING

I bet Stephen Frears didn't know where he was when he landed in Huesca for the film festival. My reliable sources tell me that he was asked if he had heard of this lovely beautiful town and its wonderful people who are unlike any other and he had to admit like most folk that he hadn't. He was here to receive the Luis Bunuel award and I regret not being able to televise the receiving of said award as there was a man behind Frears repeating every thing he said. This is also called translating but often sounds like you are parroting what someone says especially if it is for the benefit of the audience. So when Mr Frears started his thank you speech with the inevitable 'thank you' the little man behind him in the shadows said 'muchas gracias' and Frears being British replied 'muchas gracias'. It went on like that for about five minutes with poor Frears trying to tell an amusing anecdote involving Bunuel and having to pause to let the the little guy suffering from echolalia have his say. The festival managed to annoy further by showing clips of Frears' films all dubbed in Spanish which is so unnecessary and patronising to both the director and the audience. Frears was very gracious and as he left the stage he was ushered back on to stand in line with the young film makers who had received awards for their short films. There was a very touching funny moment when he looked at his award and then looked at the others and did a silent comic routine of 'how come theirs are bigger than mine?'. 

Later I saw him walk by in the wee small hours and was tempted to say something or invite him for a drink but felt best to leave the man alone and so there went an opportunity to meet a man I admire but I've never really been someone who is star struck and don't see the point of badgering someone just because you know them from the stage or screen and besides, I have such an inflated self importance that  I feel they should be approaching me. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

NEWSNIGHT NIGHT


On Newsnight the other evening someone remarked that the Spanish were very proud people and I couldn't help think there were many other adjectives they could have used. Very proud doesn't spring to mind when my neighbour Anselmo decides to switch the tele on at a quarter to one in the morning and proud isn't the word I feel could describe the woman he listens to who has a  programme which consists of her talking for an hour without pausing for breath. I am amazed at her stamina and wonder how we could harness her energy and save the planet. Maybe she goes to the academy here called You Talk where H threatened to scrawl 'a load of shite' underneath. He also wants to go back to the bus stop to enliven the advert for Bankia that says 'BANKIA, EL OTRO BANCO', and add ..IN THE SHIT.  Anyway, at a quarter to two the presentadora with the voice like a clanger on speed stops, the audience claps and Anselmo switches the TV off and goes to sleep and I lie awake thinking of  what noise I could make to wake him up just so I could look at him and say 'y que?'.

Then the screaming starts. Newsnight ought to come to my street around five thirty in the morning when the Kalimotxo, red wine and Coca-Cola, kicks in. They can watch girls falling in the road then getting up, grabbing each others' tits, falling down again, getting up, falling over, getting up, holding each others' ponytails while they vomit in my doorway,  then get about five of their pals to bundle on top of them creating a human pile, scream again like they are being murdered, start chanting a football song grab each others' tits again and run off into the night to the posher side of town.

I often decide its best to join in and find myself half way down a conga line which inevitably breaks up in the middle and I am left as head conga leading them around the bar and gently guided by the owner to the door which he slams, locks and mutters something about shitting on God just as the last of the line exits. Outside there is a momentary sobering up but soon everyone points out the bar next door hasn't taken its chairs or parasols inside so we continue here much to the chagrin of the waiters who just want to go home. They let us have one drink but start taking the furniture into the bar making it quite clear they will tip us off our chairs if need be. Everyone seems to have forgotten the bail-out, the desperation in Greece and I catch sight of a poster of Angela Merkel complete with Hitler tash and an armband with a Euro sign where a swastika might be. Alongside the poster it says something about a (bit late in the day?) lecture on economics supported by every left leaning political party of which there are many, but no sign of UKIP or I TOLD YOU SO. 

Saturday, 16 June 2012

GUMMI WORLD

When I have too much time on my hands I often end up shopping in the Dia Supermercado. It fascinates me how this business continues. There is normally one member of staff stacking shelves and from time to time a customer comes in, picks up a few things and the assistant runs back to the till. I have never known it to be any other way. While I was in there today I was approached by a tiny old woman who stopped and wavered beneath the shelves of chocolate muttering something so I asked her if she wanted me to reach up and get her the one she needed. She was delighted and her face lit up when I asked her if it was the metre long bar of almond chocolate she required. When I gave it to her she muttered 'que pena', 'what a shame/pity' and walked off. I have no idea what she was on about and can only conclude it was something that had happened to her years ago. I wondered how you would say 'what's up old crone/wise woman?' in Spanish and guessed it would be something like 'Que pasa, bruja?'  which is not quite the same thing. Bruja means witch and is a catch-all term to describe a woman who doesn't stand for any nonsense especially from children and men.  There are lots of old crones wandering around town trying to frighten people with their mutterings and proximity to death. If you listen to them they are often saying quite profound things and have a whiff of the occult about them. Later the above woman was hovering around the sweet section stuffing her carrier bag with chuches, sweeties. I see lots of people in supermarkets wandering around with old plastic bags stuffing them with goods. At first it looks like they are robbing the place but they always end up at the till emptying the bag of its contents and paying. Yet if you go in a supermarket with bags from other shops you often need to put them in a locker at the front of the shop. No one is allowed to waltz around with a rucksack on their back but a plastic bag is de rigeur. Some bigger shops make you seal your handbag in plastic. Anyway, the old ruler of the underworld crept up behind me muttering 'mamma mia' which I have never heard any one say here and always thought it was an Italian exclamation, and proceeded to empty her plastic bag spilling tons of bags of sweets, a huge bar of chocolate and a bottle of red wine. We both looked at my shopping. Two bottles of red wine and a bar of Lindt chocolate and although as far as I know we weren't related the words 'chip off the old block' ran through my mind.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

DON'T GET DONE BY DON

A few years ago I remarked to Henderson that I was having difficulty understanding how this country functions, how it works as all I could see was corruption on a massive scale and that was just the lawless hinterland I found myself in not the rest of Spain. I never imagined that it would collapse and despite the grim news I still hope that Spain can keep it together. I often think that when Franco died the Spanish went on a massive bender and only now are thinking about applying the brakes. It's as if they have just woken up and read the small print, whereas before they just shoved it in a drawer and resumed the fun and games.

We had an appointment at 8.30 this morning at our bank to do the Renta and were told to take a seat when we arrived. This was at the desk of the person who presumably would do our tax return and while we waited I noticed the back of the cash machine next to me was open and stacks of money lay next to it. The person responsible for filling the machine came along, said good morning and went about his work. I am not sure if this is just a very trustworthy place but it is the same bank that declares it has an alarmed caja fuerte or safe where the key is kept on top of a cupboard just as you enter.

Today we went to Telefonica to finally sort out some sort of contract for my mobile phone. I've been paying between 15 and 20 Euros a month pay-as-you-go and all I get is about 40 texts and a fifty second phone call to H before I get a message saying the credit is low. At first the girl told me that I might as well stick to purchasing credit as having a contract was going to cost about the same. When I pointed out that there was a deal where I could get unlimited texts and be able to navigate the web she said it would be 10 Euros or 13 if I wanted the calls to be 6 cents a minute. This all took about an hour with her talking into two mobiles at once with her arms crossed over her chest and then on a land line and then putting tons of info in a computer. This was multi tasking extraordinario and she even managed to serve someone else and have a chat with a pal on one of the phones. Of course all this infuriated H who expects things to run like Germany with the politeness and charm of the British sales man or woman wherever he goes. He complained that both the girls serving were wearing their sunglasses on their heads and then moaned about the other one chewing gum. He is definitely turning into my father. The girl who served us was very helpful but I fail to see how this sort of business can go on for much longer. The sort that takes hours and involves things that have nothing to do with your purchase. She did however tell me about Whassup or whatever it's called and its free calls and suggested I ring Telefonica to stop the 3 Euros 50 cents I have been paying for years that is apparently for mantenimiento, or maintenance as she reckons it is a bit of a con or a tonteria. I don't find it hard to believe that Telefonica has had a couple of hundred Euros out of me for nothing and I am thinking of trying to get it back. Sadly, as far as I know there is no Spanish equivalent of Dominic Littlewood or Rogue Traders to investigate this con so I will try to do it myself.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

PUT IT ABOUT

Spanish children cringe at the idea of wearing a uniform. They tell you it takes away your individuality, your freedom to express yourself, to choose your own clothes. The only time I see people wearing the same thing in Spain is perhaps those couples in immaculate Barbours or groups of people in the same coloured T-shirts emblazoned with some group they belong to. Then there is the uniformity of the big fiestas where everyone is in white with a coloured neckerchief pouring wine over their head.

While I am writing this someone outside is screaming his head off. No one seems to mind. He might be getting murdered but even I can't be bothered to rush to the window every time screams and shouts are heard. Having been encouraged from an early age to make as much noise as he likes the average Spaniard will think nothing of waking you up in the early hours serenading you with a Jota or two. Parents will often look on in glee as their little one smashes up whatever is lying around the bar or cafe. Tourists especially Brits will look on and say 'How lovely. Spanish children are so loved, no one minds them making noise', until the Spanish parent snaps and shrieks at the kid to put a sock in it. Years later the child grows into the kind of adult who at four in the morning kicks every wing mirror off all the parked cars in the street shouting 'they love me, they love me not' moving on to the next vehicle once said mirror hangs limply to the side. Yet at least you can walk down the street at four in the morning on your own and know the chap won't lunge at you or start an argument. It is rare that a Spaniard will get into a fight, preferring to hug and kiss you instead. They don't have that warlike savagery that many Brits and Irish have after a few bevvies.They don't shag pavements or prostitutes in the street either, having tons of puti clubs to service their needs. 

Ah, the word puta and the diminutive puti. Almost held in affection. Most Spanish children will know what a prostitute is and this word brings great mirth especially when they learn English. There is a well known local case of a Spanish teacher who taught English who refused to say the words 'put on' when referring to 'putting on' clothes as it made the kids crack up every time he said them. The other day an eight year old kid told me that what I had just said sounded like the word puta. All I had said was 'put a saucepan on his head' as that was part of the crazy story we were reading. Even the word computer gets them rolling in the aisles. A parent recently told me that their child was counting in the back of the car as they sped along the motorway. When she asked what they were counting the little darling replied 'puti clubs'.

Monday, 4 June 2012

ENGLAND YOUR ENGLAND. DISCUSS.

George Mikes said 'compromise means that you bring together everything that is bad', and that for the British compromise is very important. He said it was the only place where you can burn and catch a cold at the same time. This is still true as every house I stay in when I go to Britain has a fire that burns my front and a draught behind me. It's all about suffering but grinning while you bear it. What other nation would send its young up a river in the rain accompanied by a philharmonic orchestra belting out songs while catching pneumonia.

Earlier that morning I witnessed a man on one of those Sunday morning debates confirm that it's a lie that everyone on the planet would be watching the Jubilee and he added places 'like Spain' wouldn't be watching it. Well  they were, perhaps not all day as they had better things to do like march up a hill to get drunk.

George Orwell wrote that the British or rather English civilization was or is 'your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and red pillar-boxes have entered your soul.' A lot of what he wrote in 1941 still rings true. That when you return to England from abroad 'you have immediately the sensation of a different air'. Then there is the English and 'their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance'.
He talks about the English love for flowers but as far as I know he never mentioned their hatred toward children or anyone trying to ruffle their child's hair. They still are a nation of 'stamp collectors, pigeon fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers,darts players and crossword puzzle fans.' You only have to walk into any WH Smith to have this confirmed today. Who else could come up with the idea of a cryptic crossword. Yet it is the freedom to choose. Not as I call it the 'group thing' that exists in Spain. The freedom to 'choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above.'



Sunday, 3 June 2012

JUBILEO EXTRAORDINARIO

I wonder what the Brits would do without their queen. Who or what else could motivate them into a baking frenzy and drape everything in triangles. Yet how long before most Brits will be cursing that they are all buntinged out and if they see another bowl of Coronation Chicken they will scream. I know how fickle they can be. It took me about three weeks before I realised I really didn't like Will.i.am. While on the subject of Coronation Chicken I noticed the one Jamie Oliver 'rustled up' in my Woman and Food magazine. The man is taking the piss.

Meanwhile I doubt if the Spanish and I would survive without their virgins and martyrs. It all comes down to how we can get the most out of a day with plenty of grub and drink thrown in. The big difference between Spain and the motherland is here there is a fiesta every day of the year, often involving a walk up a hill to a hermitage, eat, drink wine and roll back down again to be greeted by a brass band in the village square. This was one of the things that inspired me to come, along with a bat on a flag and to be some place where it didn't matter what time of day I was living. The other day Santa Quiteria was celebrated. She is a lesser known saint but one worth mentioning. She is supposed to have been one of nine sisters all born at once. Her mother wanted them all drowned so it wasn't a great start. She is often accompanied by a dog and is said to be the patron of rabies. It is claimed that dogs will calm down in the presence of her icon so I might leave one in Mercede's letterbox for that dreadful hound of hers.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

YOU BE 46

Ensconced at the foothills of the Pyrenees is the Sierra Guara where there is often an overwhelming sense of prehistory. Stop the car, get out and all you can hear are insects buzzing about and getting eaten by the many beautiful bee eater birds who turn up at this time of year. If you are lucky you might get to see a couple of Quebrantahuesos, bone breaking bearded vultures, flying above. We stopped for coffee in the Hosteria de Guara in Bierge and were instead tempted by the smell of ternasco, ternera and entrecote and the sight of the Somontano wine. At three o'clock there were a couple of people dining quietly, a French family and a Spanish priest and I wondered if this was a reflection of the recession but half an hour later loads of people turned up screaming and shouting for food and drink so no change there. During the meal the heavens opened and gave us one of those fantastic storms we get here which are great if you are inside but not much fun rambling through the mountains. The French kids were running in and out aghast at the size of the hailstones while the rest just ate on.


On the subject of prehistory, UB40 are coming to Huesca. I never liked them the first time round and am amazed when people ask me if I am going to see them at the Plaza de Toros and they are amazed when I tell them I am not. There is still the old joke 'where do you run to when the world ends?' Huesca. People here are still talking about the time Bob Dylan played in the plaza back in 1993.

On the subject of bone breaking bearded vultures, I see my sister and her beau are up to their usual shennigans with my elderly parents. The latest stunt to drive my folks crazy or out of their home so my sibling and her other half can move in concerns a dog my parents recently required. Said sister claims it bit her and then she, my sister, rang the love of her life to come and get her as she thought she may be scarred for life and need a tetanus injection. When her sweetheart rolled up my twisted relation apparently let out a scream that could be heard across the Hampshire borders, even thought the dog had 'bitten' her an hour before.. Just thought I would write that for the record.

Here she is............





Saturday, 19 May 2012

GREECE THE MUSICAL

I admit to being far removed from reality at times. I thought I just heard someone on the TV say the Olympics have been torched. In anticipation for more summer riots maybe where the Brits will win Gold for thieving and looting. H wonders why so many people are happy to pay for Seb Coe's auto fellatio. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

UNCIVIL REST


Should I be worried? Should I draw out my last 40 euros from the Caja Inmaculada bank and watch Europe fall to its knees. All I hear or read about in the press is that it is all about to collapse and  last night I had a uncanny desire to rush out to the LIDL supermercado and stock up on seeds in case it all goes to pot. I was spurred on by Robert Peston's exit from my TV screen. He sauntered off out of view, stage left, with the words 'not seen since the 1930's' echoing in my ears, after educating us all on what we already know about the state of the Euro. I'm not sure if he thinks he is Nostradamus with his 'I told you so' look in his eye or a modern day soothsayer journalist who can't wait for war in Europe.

Meanwhile hybrid cars are still near silent and so threaten blind people and folk like me who don't expect to find one running them over on a pavement like I did yesterday. Henderson tells me there are technicians working on the problem now creating a noise making device for the hybrids. He came up with galloping horses or the sound of broken glass while our Basque friend Jon said it would be better if the car cried out 'ahi va la hostia!', a Basque exclamation of surprise just before it hit you. On this subject I did hear an incredible sound coming up our road the other day, something so loud that it drowned out the expletive roaring from my gob as it screeched past. H told me it was an electric pick-up van of sorts, Spanish style, which makes me think they should just put this noise in all those hybrid cars as you would get out of the way before you saw it.

Finally, a friend asked me how to pronounce the name Michael Douglas and then told me that whenever Michael's name is mentioned on the television it is pronounced more or less the way I said it but his father Kirk is pronounced Kieeerk Doughglass even when the pair of them are mentioned in the same sentence. Is there no end to all this madness!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

CHARACTER BUILDING BOOM

According to Pedro Cobo, researcher for CSIS ( Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas), Spain is no noisier than any other European country and it's was a 'hoax'  started in the 70s which suggested otherwise when some international organisation asked Spain to study some data on the subject and on getting no response Spain was placed high on the list of countries that have the highest noise levels. Mr Cobo's argument is the only difference with Spain's noise levels and those of other European countries is that the traffic noise continues longer into the night. He argues that any other noises are due to 'cultural characteristics' often found in Mediterranean countries. For all I know Mr Cobo may have been taken out of context but the comments that followed in the newspaper article all seem to reflect a bunch of pissed off Spaniards complaining about the general disregard for others when it comes to making noise. Major gripes seemed to be the ability to let everyone know what you are saying every time you have a chat on your mobile ( a universal problem I think) and not being able to hold a conversation without shouting at one another. The latter has always been a problem for me till recently when something happened and I found myself bellowing and butting in as much as the next man. I interrupted someone a few weeks back and on apologising once I'd grasped what I had done she replied sincerely 'that's OK, I often talk too much myself, so it doesn't matter, go on, what were you saying?'. That's when I knew I had cracked it. A word of advice though, never start a sentence with the words todo el mundo  (everybody) as most people will immediately interrupt and say 'everybody? NOT me..' before you've even told them what verb everybody should, mustn't, wants or likes to.

Not long ago I heard that the British were spending their cash on I-Pads and chicken and chips washed down with stout but were not into buying leather which sounds about right, or maybe I dreamt it. Judging from recent trips and excursions here in Spain I'd say the Spanish and I are hell bent on eating and drinking our way out of the recession. This town boasts at least two Michelin restaurants and the number one restaurant in Aragon 2011 and the past two months have seen numerous gastronomical promotions which have brought the locals out in droves. 

One of our excursions found us in Riglos which is a beautiful part of Aragon famous for climbers. The day we went it was being frequented by many young and some old people who cultivate a look which might be described back in the UK as 'crusty' but here is often referred to as 'hippy'. These people don't really bother me as anyone who makes themselves look so unattractive must be a dying breed but they seem to bother Henderson  who makes it a hobby judging people on what they look like.  I was more bothered by the price of our two peach juices. 3 euros eighty if you please. There's something really uncomfortable about being overcharged as you are never sure if that's the price, or if the owners think you are a gullible foreigner but it was my own fault for not questioning it so I had to let the resentful feeling brewing in my bones lie. 


Lastly, on the subject of judging people on their looks,  we had to go to the Dutch Consulate in Barcelona the other day and on entering a photographic shop to get H's passport photos done, the owner took one look at him and said  'don't tell me, you are here because you need a photo for your Dutch passport!' 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

HITS I MISSED

Last night I could hear hammering upstairs around eleven o'clock and can only conclude that it was Mercedes adding another nail to the cross she has to bear. Talking of crosses, it is only a matter of time before I head for the hills to escape the Pointy Hat Brigade, the KKK, AKA the Pentitents coming up the road to get me, H and any other Jews or heathens lying around. I'm interested in religion, theology and  history but lines need to be drawn when up against the Catholic Church.

I always know it's International Women's Day here in Spain as Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman get their yearly airing on the local radio.After last night's community meeting I would like to think that the few neighbours who could be bothered to turn up left with no doubt in their mind that this woman, meaning me, is not to be walked over or dismissed ever again. I hate these meetings and I stood my ground over several things knowing that the others are quite happy for muggings here to take the flack as no one wants anything to get in the way of their wonderful time. There was a box of paperwork from last year that needed shredding or burning and at first I didn't understand what the problem was as the reactions seemed to be a bit over zealous with the ensuing pushing and shoving away of said box by various neighbours across the table as if it were a bomb. Jesus from upstairs ( flat 1D not heaven) finally gave in and said he would take care of it. 

I've been wondering at what point did British newsreaders and politicians start to say 'our country' as in 'today in our country there has been...'. I know they didn't say this ten years ago in the UK because that was when I first came to Spain and I noticed that Spanish newsreaders and politicians would say 'hoy en nuestro pais ha sido.....'. which I thought was jingoistic or maybe patriotic. Back in the UK folk would say things like ' ....difficult times for the country'. So when it started I am not sure. Feel free to comment.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

ET TU BRUTE?

I have noticed that a certain type of Brit feels guilty if they feel they are enjoying themselves. Eating a nice meal or drinking expensive wine often has to be justified. There also seems to be two types after the age of fifty, the drinkers and the non drinkers. The non drinkers are often people who have had to attend AA because they have had a problem with alcohol and the rest seem to have mellowed when it comes to their drinking and drug taking and are now capable of having their wine and drinking it. I guess it doesn't matter so long as you know what you are doing.

Guilt is a funny thing and here in Spain it doesn't have anything to do with enjoying yourself with food and wine. Guilt is something dragged out when someone has done something you feel is an injustice and they look back at you and say 'y tu?' which roughly translates as 'and you? who are you? You are not perfect'. I suppose it is better to be accused of being another law breaking individual. In Britain if you knocked on someone's door and asked them if they would mind not playing the same song by Whitney Houston a hundred times a day or if they would mind not parking on your lawn with the engine running you would probably get stabbed, so here 'y tu?' is something you just have to put up with. When Spanish folk try to do the 'y tu?' number on me I often feel like telling them to forget it as I am Jewish and I don't do guilt but I know this will be met by a perplexed look and then a seething, confused anti-Semitism. Likewise, if a Brit tries it on when I have had too many Riojas I like to tell them I am a Catholic or better, that I am Spanish and I couldn't give a toss.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

ANARCHY OR DIE

There is grafitti all over town but one that has caught my attention of late is anarquia o muerte.  I'm not sure whether it presents me with a choice or a dilemma. I'm assuming it was painted by the same hand that  scrawled banqueros a la hojuera' (sic), which roughly translates as an invitation to throw bankers onto a bonfire  ( hoguera)or burn the bankers. My favourite up to now is Dios es gay, God is gay, which sparked a debate in this household as 'that must be a good thing surely?' Who knows what goes through the minds of the rebels of Huesca. We concluded that most of the warnings written on the walls around town can be attributed to Bruno, a young man who is predestined to damnation but whose mother thinks he is 'doing ever so well' during his Sabbatical. He is 'in' with some other tough guys who remind me of two particular characters in a Jacqueline Wilson book for children, Prickle-Head and Pinch-Face. I've decided to name two of the ones in our road, Bath-House and Rent-Boy. Their 'look' is a bit too well thought out. A contrived mixture of bovver boy, punk and a hard man you might imagine works in a garage across the road.

Apart from skinheads and punks one can see many West Indian, Anglo Saxon and Black American youth sub cultures dotted around town. It's difficult explaining to pupils who think that having rastas ( dreadlocks ) being a Hippi ( which could mean anything here but generally requires shit catcher trousers and rolling your own), a Punki ( a mix of the above but maybe more facial piercings), Freaki ( difficult to explain but doesn't mean Freaks in the way it is used in English), Heavies ( liking Ramstein, a German Industrial metal band named after the air disaster, but probably never being aware of Deep Purple) and of course Hip-Hop (sung in Spanish) all have their origins somewhere else. If you are of a certain age you can guarantee a good night out with plenty of bars playing Los Rollings ( Rolling Stones) and Rubber (sic) Plant and if you are younger and keen for it you can get off your Facebook and seriously mashed up in the Monegros desert to the strains of Carl Cox and Busta Rhymes.

Every Thursday there is a special tapas promotion. You get a decent tapa and a glass of red wine or a beer for just one Euro. It doesn't take much to get the locals out and about and last Thursday saw them pack the bars in a state of frenzy not seen since Jueves Lardero, greasy or fat Thursday or what Anglos might call Pancake day which falls on Shrove Tuesday. On that day you can queue for hours for an oily sausage with the intention of giving up something for Lent. Judging by the wine glasses and other souvenirs of a good evening during the tapas night Lent seems to be only obeyed by children seen wearing a woollen ribbon round their wrist to remind them not to indulge.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

THE WAY I TELL 'EM, NO MORE

It's a strange emotion when you are able to open a bottle of champagne and send a wreath at the same time but I think that is what I will do later once I am sure Mr and Mrs C have gone and that I am not imagining their departure. If there are lessons to be learnt then number one would be that sometimes you have to appear to be a heartless bastard. H is already considering buying their flat but I've told him only if he gets the place exorcised.

Over a lovingly crafted meal in El Origen last night I had to listen to ten Spanish friends argue with H over who, politically, is to blame for the current state of Spain. I've had the same conversation several times with various friends and between the screaming and shouting every time Aznar's or Zapatero's name is mentioned it is always interesting to listen to the deathly silence and then grudging murmurs of agreement as they conclude that Germany or someone de fuera is going to be calling the shots from now on. It's great fun to sit back and enjoy whatever is on the menu and listen to folk bemoan the current situation while they drink the finest red wine and eat quality food that is locally sourced and would cost a fortuna back in the UK. I'm not sure the term chattering classes exists in Spain because everyone here has an opinion and you are going to listen to it, all of you and all at the same time. 


A couple of times we have made a joke about how we will go and see The Artist in the original version but it has been met with blank faces. We finally got to see it last night but not before we were subjected to a badly tuned radio station blaring out sounds in Sala Numero 4. Nobody seemed to mind and H and I thought we were just being uptight as usual to the unnecessary noise on full blast which I presume was being played in case someone  freaked out once the silent film started. I wasn't sure what to expect of this film but it was not so bad and if you haven't seen it don't read on because at the end I realised the actor couldn't act in the talkies on account of him being French. I wondered if this goes amiss with Spanish folk as no one here knows what a French person sounds like, and thank God the end of the film where the actors get to speak isn't dubbed in Spanish. If so, once more the Spanish are left perplexed at the punch line. 


Later we went for Chinese and made the mistake of not asking for the rice to be accompanied by the meat dishes. Rice seems to be served as a starter here and then your chicken in black bean sauce or whatever arrives twenty minutes later. The waiters keep checking to see if you have finished your rice so they can bring your meal. Later we went to the Rico Rico bar which has become our local of late as a refreshing change to Babi the Communist barman in the Rugaca and his crazy but nice clientele and their amazing way of doing my head in. The woman in Rico Rico seemed delighted with the news about Mr and Mrs C and at one point asked me why I hadn't bought a shotgun and got rid of them before.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

BORN TO BE ALIVE

Some people like bungee jumping or paragliding. Risk sports are very popular here but the one that some young men enjoy is I believe, called tailgating. It's fabulous. I often find myself screaming at my better half to pull over as some midget teenager has his car up our arse at 120 kph. It's most exhilarating. You feel alive. You realise you are glad this is not happening in the UK as someone would be stabbed by now. Another funny thing people like to do is beat their rugs over the balcony. This is not some euphemism for masturbation but a pleasurable act of defiance as you smother pedestrians with your DNA, dog hair, crumbs and any other shite that you can't bear to have on your carpet. There's nothing I enjoy better than finding my neighbour's fluff on my head. The best version so far was from a pupil who told me she thought a cat had entered her house when she realised her neighbour upstairs had thrown said cat's fur he had just brushed overboard and the wind had blown it into her living room. It's great fun if you don't weaken.

ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

Only the British queue and maybe north Americans. Not queuing starts somewhere around the Pyrenees and is tolerable till you reach Greece and find yourself in the sea after some old lady pushes you into it in the scramble to get on the ferry. In northern Spain you can wait patiently for hours behind someone being served and still be shoved aside by some new customer who enters on cue as the other one picks up her receipt. The words 'I think I am before you' are understood and sudden overbearing apologies are administered but not often. Sometimes the queue jumper will start to tell you their life story which usually involves their car which they tell you anxiously is triple parked. You tell them yours is now hemmed in by theirs and they will tell you some other sob story. You then spend the next ten minutes trying to outdo one another while the dry cleaning woman tells you to stop wasting her wonderful time. My Wonderful Time is a great but selfish recreation/invention/way of life. Once you have been here a while you start to understand that nothing is going to get in the way of yours either. It makes for a selfish society as everyone races along to the next meal or fiesta but when you come to die you will know you have lived. It's why Brits on holiday in such places feel like they have been let off a leash but a  Brit will become apoplectic in seconds if someone pushes in. It takes years to finally not give a shit and that bristling feeling that never quite goes away can be redirected to empower you in the scrum to get served. There is also no eyebrow or eye contact in a bar. Some waiters might take note of your existence and if they know you they may even serve you before the wedding party that turned up before. Most of the time you have to barge your way to the front and somehow make the barman or woman serve you and ignore the person next to you because they are going to do the same to you.

Yesterday we timed it right at the carnival. We stood at the top of the street and watched the floats and various folk dressed up. My favourite had to be the group of girls who decided to go in a dinghy standing up with the bottom of the dinghy cut out and them walking around in it with paddles but not knowing who the lead walker was. The last float was actually an ambulance that crawled along behind some boys who had made a makeshift bar on wheels and were dressed for summer. They had managed to fasten a beer pump on the side and were helping themselves to drinks as they floated along. As soon as we saw the ambulance we walked back down the parade and found a bar that was empty, got our drinks and ten minutes later the scrum arrived and we sat back, relaxed and watched the feathers fly.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

CROSS

Crossing the road in northern Europe is a bit different. You press a button, the light goes red, the cars stop. You burst into tears and start kissing everybody.

GREEN CROSS

Crossing the road in southern Europe is very funny. You arrive at a zebra and find a car parked on it so move on to the next one. Another car pulls up just as you are about to cross and parks in front of you on the zebra. The driver and passengers get out and head somewhere nice. They look baffled when you shake your fist and threaten to call the proper authorities. Later you find yourself negotiating with a busy road and start to feel like Jaques Tati in whatever film it is where he can't cross the road. Fnally someone stops to let you cross but the car behind them thinks the car is stopping for the hell of it so decides to overtake. You jump out of the way into a car coming on the other side. Everyone beeps their horn, gives the finger and  life goes on. Much later you get to a zebra with traffic lights. There are other people so you feel safer. The lights are red yet several cars still go through with the drivers checking to see if the green man has appeared. He hasn't so technically they think they are in the right. Everyone starts to cross when a driving school car appears. I notice the instructor is obese and gesticulating madly. He is shouting to the pupil to 'go!go!go!' . The pupil has a look of horror and points to us in a way that says 'what about them?'. The instructor insists and the pupil weaves his way through the bemused locals. No one says anything. When things have calmed down you realise this is going to be repeated all day every day. There are cars and zebras everywhere and you start thinking it's time you learnt to drive and join them all. Then someone stops to let you cross the road. You are so stunned by this but they insist and do that thing with their hand, like they are giving you some privileged 'after you' moment. You hesitate, you start to cross, they start to drive, you stop, they stop. This goes on for a bit till the driver starts calling you names. It's hysterical. One day you arrive and it's chaos. There is a Dial-a Ride unloading people in wheelchairs from the back of their mini bus. There are cars double, triple parked on both sides. Lorries unloading beer crates. You start thinking about converting to Catholicism or maybe Hinduism. Nothing matters. You cross for the hell of it. It could be funny. Finally someone you know sees you and gives you a lift. You see a different perspective. Your friend approaches some speed bumps. They drive on the other side of the road to avoid them. You wonder whether you should have taken that teaching post in Kabul.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

AGENT STARLING

I have many interests but the main ones seem to be dinner and bird watching. I am not the twitcher I thought I was as H still likes to remind me that I have yet to get up at the crack of dawn to catch sight of the Lesser Spotted Dickhead known to roam these shores. I was therefore very interested to hear that I might not be jumping out of my skin anymore as I walk through the local park of an early evening. For a while now the council have been letting off fireworks in said park to get rid of the starlings that congregate or flock there around dusk. I say fireworks but as any one who lives in Spain knows they are more like canon fire and even when you feel prepared for another blast they will always catch you unawares and kick start your heart if the caffeine you've just downed hasn't already. I sometimes think it's the only cardiovascular exercise I get these days, being scared shitless by explosives and Spaniards behind a wheel. There is another method apart from the fireworks, strange noises emitting from a giant loudspeaker on top of a van being driven round and round the park in another vain attempt to shoo the birds away. I could see it wasn't working because as soon as either of these methods was put in place the starlings and the magpies just pissed off to some trees on the side of the park and crapped and sang away there instead. However, this is not the case and some 300,000 starlings are now down to 3,000 although you wouldn't know it judging from the shite that covers the benches in the park. I have been unlucky on a couple of occasions too although they say it's good luck to be shat upon from a great height by a bird, the feathered kind of course. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

WANTS AND NEEDS

I recently discovered that Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper is called 'The Last Dinner' or La Ultima Cena' in Spanish or at least that's how students will translate it, there not being another word for dinner. The Last Supper/Dinner could also translate as 'buffet libre' or 'self service Spanish style', the sensation you get whenever you find yourself in one, a Spanish buffet libre I mean. The feeling that this will be your last meal as you fight your way through the hordes of Spaniards desperate to eat. A Spanish self service restaurant is where I found myself yesterday in an obscure part of Zaragoza in a joint called Wok Dynasty, a kind of eat all you can/all you can eat Chinese restaurant. I made the fatal mistake of leaving the heaving queue to get a clean plate as the one in my hand looked dodgy, and even though I warned the woman behind me that I would be back as soon as I took one step to grab a clean one her daughter still managed to jump in my grave and grab the sea food I'd had my eye on. Telling myself to keep calm and adopt the Zen like attitude of the Oriental folk cooking the food in front of us I could still feel myself ripple slightly as a small hungry looking fellow appeared at my hip and dived in with his tongs. I had to admire his enthusiasm for cramming his plate with as many crustaceans as he could. I told myself there would be plenty to go round and heartburn would not be on the menu when another woman lunged for my modest plate of salmon and shellfish. There was a bit of a tussle but I stood my ground and returned to Henderson intact and able to warn him of what could happen out there in the buffet libre zone.

The reason we were there was due to the thrill that in the same shopping centre as the Wok Dynasty we could go to the cinema and watch films in the original version. This novel idea has been tried in Huesca but not enough people want it so we took a bus down to Zaragoza which takes about an hour and then a pleasant thirty minute walk to what most people take for granted, being able to listen to Meryl Streep play Margaret Thatcher in English and not dubbed in Spanish. I thought Streep did her best but I was left with the feeling that Thatcher's senility is a punishment for something. Punishment for being Prime Minister instead of being just a devoted wife and mother or perhaps for all the negative things people remember her, and it is all the more apparent when she is shown washing up her tea cup in the sink, the very thing she says she doesn't want to end up doing, as if it all adds up to nothing. I am no fan of Thatcher's but the hatred towards her is quite extraordinary and often seems more acute than hatred towards Hitler, people vowing to dance on her grave or celebrate with champagne when she dies. I am not sure but I think a documentary should be in the offing as there must be more to her life than just being a hated figure and ending up mad for it.There was so much more that could have been mentioned but in the end it is a Hollywood version and I await the documentary.

Briefly, returning to eateries and drinkeries, I did see an advert in Huesca calling for 'Vermoutmania', which added that you could 'drink all the vermouth you desire' for three Euros fifty. In Britain I don't think the word desire would be used and I am sure it is always the word 'can'. Perhaps 'desire' would be something misunderstood and ought to be replaced with 'all that you need right now' in the UK. Also, judging from the guts and numerous idas y vueltas to the buffet libre yesterday I think obesity has finally arrived here, so while they are willing to embrace the verb 'can' I will stick to the verb 'desire'. 


Sunday, 8 January 2012

OUT WITH OLD

Inspired by Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions I have compiled some of my own. I don't need to give up smoking or drink less or take up sport. Just a gentle nudge every now and then will do.


1. Ring aunts more often.
2. Sit up straight.
3. Keep my side of the bed tidy.
4. Learn to fly ( planes, kites, anything..)
5. Write more snail mail.
6. Try to go to bed at one o'clock in the morning, not two o'clock.
7. Avoid bullshit merchants.
8. Sharpen teeth.
9. Feed vultures in the Sierra Guara.
10. Tell 'Gruesome Twosome' they are upsetting me or let it lie.
11. Spend more brown coloured coins at check out, they always need them.
12. Keep quiet on aches and pains.
13. Rehearse aches and pains.
14. Less flannel.
15. Get to the point.
16. Stop thinking I have to comment on everything.
17. Slowly introduce louder clothes.
18. Grow humility.
19. Read James Joyce or forget it.
20. Write husband's resolutions ( with humour not devastation).