Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a very British view of life in a small village in Alicante province, my experience of Spain, of Spaniards and sometimes of the other Britons who live nearby. The tabs beneath the header photo link to other blogs written whilst I was living in other parts of Spain, to my articles written for the now defunct TIM magazine and to my most recent photo albums.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

A damp squib

We've been to a few music festivals here in Spain - pop festivals, mainly indie bands - generally pretty close to home. I did investigate going to one near Burgos and another near Bilbao this summer but, even months ago, all the hotels were gone and we're far too old for that sleeping under canvas nonsense. A second factor in deciding against was that, when I did the sums and compared it to my monthly income, I decided that the best thing to do with the coming summer is to sit in the garden, perspire gently, listen to the cigarras sing and read books borrowed from the library.

Last century I worked for a youth club charity. We decided to hold a major fundraising event and we even hired an event organiser. She was well out of her depth and the event was destined to be a squalid failure. But the morning of the event dawned stormy and thundery; rain was falling in torrents. The event went ahead because everything was ready and there was no alternative. The dismal event and the financial losses were all put down to the weather.

In the book that we Britons call Don Quixote, often quoted as the masterpiece of Spanish literature, a work of two volumes with 1250 pages there is not a mention of rain. If it rains events, in Spain, are often scrubbed. Usually they are re-arranged but sometimes that's just the end of them. There's always next year.

I like festivals. I like the short sets and the multi stage thing. If one band isn't too good there is another to listen to and if they are no good either then there are vegetable noodles and falafels to buy. The truth is that I'm a bit old for festivals though. If I have to stand up for too long my back aches and my legs really begin to hurt. Maggie has a similar, but much more painful, problem with her hip. My contact lenses are another problem. They're fine till around 11 or maybe till midnight but, after fourteen or so hours in my eyes my blinking becomes non stop. There's another thing about later evening. The bar is now more battle ground like than earlier, the toilets are repulsive and the number of stoned (does one still say stoned for drugged up?) and drunk young people makes for more collisions and spilled drinks which have a negative effect on my good humour.

But I also have a theory. The headline bands at the festivals are probably doing alright. They probably spend their time travelling around the country in a Transit (does one still say a Transit as the generic for a mid sized van?) but they've given up the day job and they have a couple of albums behind them. They are, in a word, successful. And whatever happens tonight isn't going to change that. Their current reputation is made and their future will depend, not on tonight, but on their new songs and future albums.

The same isn't true of the bands at the beginning of the running order. If they do well tonight people might go out and buy their music (does one still buy music or does one simply steal it?) The opinion formers, looking for something to pad out their blogs, video channels and Instagram accounts, might say something nice about them. You can see, too, that the bands themselves get a buzz out of being on a big stage with a lot of kit. They put a lot of effort into doing as well as they can and they often look to be having a hoot of a time. Besides which the toilets are still smelling sweet, the bar is easy access and nobody is crashing into me because their motor control functions have been compromised.

We were going to a small festival in Elche this evening. The bigger bands, like Love of Lesbian and Sidonie, we've seen several times before, others, like Elefantes and Casa Azul, we've seen too but not so many times but bands like Kuve, Polos Opuestos, Atientas and Women Beat were all new to me. I was looking forward to it. Then, yesterday, via Facebook, not via the ticket agency that took my money, I find out that the event has been postponed and split in two with one day on the 20 April and another on May 12. We could have booked up lots of other things for this weekend but we didn't because of Elche Live. And why is the event cancelled? Because there is a high probability that it will rain this afternoon. Pathetic.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

La Movida y los 80's

A Scottish pal who lives here in Pinoso commented on one of my photos the other day. He said something along the lines that he was beginning to learn some of the ways and customs of Spain but that it would take a lifetime to learn the subtleties that his Spanish neighbours just know innately. Absolutely right. What a person learns about their own culture comes from so many sources, over such a long time, from so many clues and with so much reinforcement that it is difficult to simply learn it. That's why I know about Harold Wilson, his Gannex coats and the fact that he preferred tinned to fresh salmon. It's why I vaguely know who Katie Price is and what Delia Smith does but also why I'd never heard of Los Monaguillosh until today

I was in Elche this morning. Another class had been cancelled, my watch battery had been replaced and I had time to pop in to see the exhibition about la Movida in the MACE (Museu d’art Contemporani d’Elx). I hadn't realised, till I read the leaflet that I picked up after I'd looked around, that there have been other events linked to la Movida in Elche since January, with more things scheduled through to June.

Now my knowledge about la Movida is pretty basic. I think of it as being the time when Franco had been dead long enough for young people in Madrid to start making music and doing those counter cultural things that, pre Instagram, young people did - strange clothes, strange haircuts, writing poetry, publishing funny, short lived magazines and probably using a lot of drugs. A bit like late punk. I know the names of a few of the bands that were successful then, especially the ones that linger on, Alaska, Los Secretos and Mecano, but almost nothing else.

There was nobody else in the gallery - Spaniards call them museums but I'm sure the English word is gallery. The chap on the door said that there was a video to go with the exhibition and that it lasted an hour. He turned it on. A mixture of old age deafness, problems with Spanish and boredom meant that twenty minutes was all I could take of the video. It appeared to be people like the late Antonio Vega talking about how Nacha Pop did this or that and Herminio Molero doing the same about Radio Futura. The TV was in the middle of a lot of sheets of paper which, it slowly dawned, were enlarged pages of a fanzine. If there was an explanation I didn't see it.

I climbed the stairs to the top floor where there were a couple of display cases, one had some shoes in, the other proved my theory about the fanzine. The main thing though was around twenty perfectly decent photos of people standing next to dustbins or in front of peeling paintwork. Some of them wore goggles and lots had very spiky hair. The captions would say things like "Next to the bar La Bobia". I've just Googled the chap, Miguel Trillo. I think I should have been more impressed - he seems to be quite a famous (Spanish) photographer.

I love going to exhibitions. Even when they're not interesting and exciting I still think they are worthwhile. It's exactly like going to the pictures. You never know when you'll bump into something spellbinding. So the exhibition was OK but I just marvelled at the lost opportunity.

Where was the brief description of what la Movida was, where were the examples of writing, of art or at least the names that came out of it? Was the bar la Bobia an important club in the development of la Movida in the same way as The Cavern, The Marquee, Hacienda or The Ministry of Sound were in the UK? And if not la Bobia then where were the influential venues? Was there a Carnaby Street, a Malcolm McLaren, a Vivienne Westwood. This stuff is important, not just the Movida, the stuff that makes up the culture of a country. I don't know enough about it and I don't suppose that the typical Spanish 18 year old knows either. We should both get the opportunity. We may decide not to take it but at least it should be on offer.

Don't you agree David?

Oh, and the apostrophe in the title is theirs. I have a lot of trouble with commas but apostrophes aren't so bad. Castillian doesn't have apostrophes though Valenciano uses them.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Not just Cadbury's Cream Eggs

I think it was Catworth. There was a deconsecrated church and a theatre group called something like Reduced Theatre. Very reduced, just one man. Dressed as an Anglican vicar, he filled time as he waited for this evening's speaker, a speaker who will never arrive. Rural theatre. The ersatz vicar at one point bemoans the heavenly future of someone he knows - a Wesleyan and a Geologist - enough to consign anyone to a fiery eternity. My baptism took place in a Wesleyan church; my degree is in geology. The Cub Scout pack I briefly belonged to met in a Methodist Hall. The Grammar school I went to sang the Winston Churchill preferred version of Who Would True Valour See and we would all troop to the Anglican Church on Ascension Day. But that was closing in on 50 years ago now.

Now Easter in the UK, for me at least, was basically about chocolate eggs. I'm told it's also about rabbits now. That and a Bank Holiday for workers or the end of one term for people involved in Education. Not a lot of religion. Not a lot of cocks crowing thrice or Pontious Pilate and nothing about Veronica, the woman who wiped Jesus's face on the way to Calvary.

In Spain it's different. People still think Spain is a very religious, a very Catholic, country. The  statistics don't bear that out but nearly all Spaniards are brought up in a country that is conditioned by Catholocism, by rituals and customs related to the Roman Catholic Church, even if the number of practising Catholics, especially amongst younger Spaniards, is very low.

As a consequence Easter provides an incredible display of religiousness that fills the streets of Spain. It also fills the aeroplanes with people setting off on holiday but that's a different story. The variations on the Easter story are endless and that's where my ex Wesleyan, Methodist, Anglican and long forgotten religious indoctrination puts me at a severe disadvantage. On the TV news there are quick stories from all around the country of famous carvings, religious tableaux, graven images, carried through the streets by groups who form around them and maybe about the personalities who are involved in the groups. So maybe you have a carving called something like Our Chained Lord or the Black Virgin. This will be a wooden carving, possibly carved hundreds of years ago. or maybe in the 1940s after the original was burned or lost in the Civil War. The carving itself will be polychromed and dressed and go onto an ornate platform which may be fitted with wheels or carried through the streets on pained shoulders. The people who escort the figure often wear the tall pointed hats to hide their identity; the idea is that the people are indistinguishable, rich or poor, young or old. All together to pay homage. Not everyone wears pointy headgear. Women wearing mantillas and Roman soldiers are pretty common but there can be almost anything from people in doublet and hose or blacked up through to flying angels.

Your carving may go out on the streets on a couple of days during Holy Week or it may be out every day. It depends. Some groups, brotherhoods in translation for lots of them, may have several pieces of statuary so they go out with different floats on different days. The routes, the variations, from joyous to silent vigils vary from day to day. The discipline of the week may disappear with the joy of The Sunday of Resurrection or it may be that, Friday apart, the parades are as much about distributing sweets to the children amongst the spectators as they are about religious observance. The handling of the big floats may be of supreme importance with the dipping, reversing and lifting of the two or three ton floats being roundly applauded or it may be only of passing interest. Every town has its customs, its traditions and its idiosyncrasies from burning Judas to running at full tilt with the float of Mary on your shoulders, as she rushes to meet her risen son.

In the years we've seen lots of processions in lots of towns. This year we've been out in Pinoso, Jumilla and Albacete. In Albacete we went to see the Encounter, the part of the story where Jesus, fresh from the tomb, meets his mother on Easter Sunday. Two parades from opposite parts of the town bring in different imagery. In Jumilla it was the solemnity of Good Friday and for the rest we were in Pinoso including the procession from Thursday night to Friday morning where the lights of the town are turned off, muffled drums beat solemnly and black robed penitents carry just one float, the Christ of the Good Death, through the streets. The float is accompanied by lots of ordinary people carrying candles.

As an event I liked Jumilla best, overall Pinoso was my favourite though because it's ours, through our streets and with people we know. So the bronze to Albacete.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A cashless society

Going into a bank in Spain is often the proverbial pain in whatchamacallit. I don't have to do it often. Cash comes from holes in the wall and most things get dealt with on cards or online. If I do have to go into a bank I always think it looks as though the clerks have never dealt with this particular procedure before. It's all a bit slow, a bit ponderous and there are always multiple documents to be signed.

We have a few banks in Pinoso but there isn't a branch of my bank, the Santander. There is an office with a big sign outside that says Santander and I once foolishly supposed that I could go there to pay in money. I can't. A bit like the wrong type of snow, on the railway, I have the wrong sort of account. It was originally opened with a bank that was later absorbed by the Santander. The name of the account has changed at least four times since then but, apparently, it still bears some Mark of Cain which makes it inferior to a proper Santander account. Whatever reason the man in the office in Pinoso cannot put folding money into my account. I have had trouble with the other banks too. They simply don't offer services to other bank's customers. Some will take my money off me and pay it into my account but they charge several euros to do it.

I had a period of being paid in cash and, to avoid charges, I would drive to the nearest branch of my bank in Monóvar, about 15 kilometres away. The process was simple enough but the wait could be mind bendingly long. At least I learned not to be coy about using the Spanish queuing technique of asking who was the last person in the bank so that I knew when it would be my turn. Spaniards do not, generally, care for the one in front of the other British queue.

At work, for reasons, I was paid with a cheque. I last saw a cheque in Spain about ten years ago so I wasn't sure what to do with it. I took it to the issuing bank and asked. Well, first I waited for about twenty five minutes before I got to speak to anyone. The two cashiers dealt with a total of three people, in front of me, in that time. I showed the teller the cheque;

"Can I pay this in to my account?"
"Of course you can."

So, I asked her to do it. She explained that she meant that if I drove to my bank and queued there then I could pay it in myself. She did say that her colleague could give me cash for it though. So I went back to waiting. I handed over the cheque and asked for cash. I was asked for ID and the man made some huffing and puffing noise when I handed over the A4 piece of paper that is my official ID document. It's been in my wallet for a long time and it looks a lot like those remnants of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then he asked me for photo ID. This is all pretty normal. Everybody in the world seems entitled to ask me to prove that I'm who I say I am so I wasn't phased. I handed over my passport and asked if he'd prefer something Spanish, like my driving licence. He said he would. He asked me if I were resident and I suggested that a Spanish driving licence and a residence certificate may be a clue. He gawped at the computer screen for a while, made a copy of my passport, got me to sign two bits of paper and then, the part I really liked, bearing in mind that we are now closing in on 45 minutes.

"You shouldn't use cheques, you know, they involve a lot of bureaucracy."
"And is that my fault?," I snapped back, in Spanish.

He'd been condescendingly talking to me in English despite the fact that I addressed him in Spanish. He responded in Spanish that time. He assured me that I was not responsible for whatever process the Caixa Bank had agreed with who knows what supranational banking system and handed over the few euros that the cheque was worth.

Sometimes there are still reminders of the years that Spain stagnated while the rest of Europe moved forwards.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


I went to talk to Javier today. Javier is the very helpful bloke who looks after the Marble and Wine Museum in our local town of Pinoso. I went because I am considering trying to mount a little exhibition of my photos.

Although I take a lot of pictures I'm not a very committed photographer. I have pals who are. It's obvious, from the quality of their results, that they spend a long time in front of their computers fine tuning their photos with Lightroom. I don't have that sort of patience. When I go somewhere, or do something, I generally take the camera with me. I try to point it in the right direction but if the result is no good then it's no good. My post snap editing is about as basic as it could be. I've never joined a camera club and I've never entered a photo competition so the idea of an exhibition wasn't mine. I'm still not so sure if I want to do it.

All I thought about when Maggie suggested an exhibition was the cost, the work and the possibility of humiliation. Goaded on by her, I did sort out some snaps, taken in and around Pinoso, for printing. I don't think I've ever turned a digital image into a print before now. I used to nearly always print 35mm film. Bang the cassette into the envelope and off to BonusPrint - nice set of glossy 6x4s a couple of days later. Funny story there. A Briton I knew, here in Pinoso, took a film to be developed maybe 10 to 12 years ago. In his rudimentary Spanish he asked the photo shop for 6x4 prints. When they came back he was shocked - the cost was astronomical and the size was tiny. He seemed to have forgotten he was living in Spain. He was thinking in inches but the processors weren't. They did as they were told and produced the six centimetre by four centimetre prints and it was the bespoke size that cost him the money.

Whenever I see enthusiast paintings or photos for sale I'm always mortified by the price. Thinking about doing it myself I've begun to realise where the prices come from. Exhibition quality prints cost a fair bit of money. Individually the price is reasonable enough but if you're looking to do 25 then the final total looks horrifying. It's the same with framing. A few simple sums and you soon realise that if you do pretty well and manage to sell, say, half of the photos then simply covering your costs will make each individual framed photo quite expensive. And what about your profit, the price of selling your "art"?

I take my photos in the classic 2:3 ratio and so I bought 20x30 and 30x45 centimetre prints to mirror the same ratio. It doesn't seem to be a format that the ready made frame makers like. I wanted to frame up a couple just to give me an idea of what the finished thing might look like but it took a fair bit of hunting around to find anything of an appropriate size and those I could buy were hardly pretty.

So, back to Javier and my asking him about the process for mounting an exhibition. The Town Hall cedes the exhibition space in the museum for free provided that the councillor in charge OKs the exhibition content. Javier said he could help with hanging the pictures but the publicity and any sort of launch costs would be mine. It was then that I finally showed him the framed snaps. Dull as my people skills are it was pretty obvious that he wan't impressed by my photos. "Is this one of your friends?," he asked, pointing to the picture that accompanies this blog. It's a picture I like. Maggie doesn't like it much either. It was also pretty obvious as I looked at the cheap frames lying on the table that they weren't good enough - too flimsy.

Maybe I should stick to uploading the snaps to Facebook.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night

Weeds are my speciality. Other people may major in roses or gladioli or even alpine perennials but I do weeds.

Our garden consists principally of fruit trees, ivy and weeds. In good Mediterranean fashion we have a lot of bare earth but keeping it bare is a year round job. Rather than imagining that I am exterminating Martians as I hoe, (which I don't think has any relation to the word pair of hoeing and twerking), I amuse myself by listening to things on some wonderful, noise reducing, earphones that I bought from Amazon a couple of Black Fridays ago.

My listening fare varies but I often download Documentos, a documentary programme, from the radio. I like the Selector too, a weekly bilingual update on New British Music. There are also a couple of language learning podcasts that I generally listen to each week. I sometimes listen as I cook too but gardening is favourite.

Today I was listening to Notes in Spanish. I've mentioned Ben and Marina's podcast before. I usually enjoy them though, sometimes, when they are clearing the junk from the house to clear space in their minds, talking about mindfulness or about the time tyranny of Spotify I do find myself rather shouting at the recordings. Today though they were talking about how younger people now use their phones all the time. I thought it was verging on paradoxical that I was listening on my own phone but as I don't see the point of Instagram and I guffaw when people post pictures of the food they are just about to eat in restaurants I suspect I am a long way from OPPA - old person phone addiction. The Ben and Marina idea that someone would use their Instagram or Facebook account to photograph the shirts they were considering buying and then ask their Facebook friends or Instagram followers for help seemed like an interesting idea in a sort of Orwellian or Huxleyian way. A real time virtual community.

There were a lot of weeds. I'd listened to B&M a couple of times so I went back to the Documentos programme that I'd downloaded on Saturday about the development of the Plazas Mayores in Spain. If you've been to Valladolid or Madrid or Almagro or Salamanca or Chinchón or Cordoba or Alcaraz or Santiago and countless other places in Spain you'll know what I'm talking about. The plaza mayor is the main public square, usually surrounded by colonnades, right at the heart of so many cities and towns in the Spanish speaking world. Something that made me snigger slightly, a reminder of the fast pace of change in Spain, was that programme told me that the Catholic Monarchs decreed that, where there were no Town Halls, they had to be built in these main squares. That was a royal edict in 1480. The first planned main Square was built in Valladolid in 1562. Maybe I misunderstood some of the detail.

The programme talked about the development of these squares for markets, for jousts, declarations of faith related to the Inquisition and bullfights - basically as open public spaces for lots and lots of things. I well remember years ago arranging to meet Maggie under the clock in the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca and finding myself in company of tens of people who'd arranged something similiar with their family, friends, lovers or partners. I wondered then how many people had done the same thing on the same spot for centuries.

Well maybe they don't any more. Maybe now young people only talk on WhatsApp rather than over a drink at one of the cafes in the square. But then it struck me what they actually do. They do meet under the clock, though with lots of changes of plan announced via WhatsApp rather than just arriving at the agreed time. They then sit in the cafes but they don't actually talk. They write to the friends at the table, and to their wider network of friends via their phones until the battery goes phut and that's when they have to decide to go home or to go to another bar with lots of charging points!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The language of Angels

Despite my best efforts none of my students would ever be confused with a native English speaker. It's the same for me. Try as I might, when I speak Spanish, I sound like an English person mispronouncing Spanish with the wrong cadence. Lots of Britons around here complain that, when they say something, in Spanish, to a Spaniard, they get a blank look but that, when they eventually get through and ask the Spaniard to repeat the offending word or phrase it sounds exactly the same, to them, as what they originally said.

Most of us are, apparently, deaf to some sounds and incapable of reproducing others.

We went to see a French film last night called Historias de una indecisa in Spanish or, originally, L'Embarras du choix, in French. It was a nice, enjoyable, light romantic comedy; very French with lots of style and even more eating and drinking.

One of the characters was supposed to be Scottish; in reality the actor was English. Either way the man knows how to speak English. I can't work out from the French trailers on YouTube whether he spoke French on the original French soundtrack or not. He does speak English on the French trailers.

In the version we saw, dubbed into Spanish, everyone speaks Spanish, including the Scottish character. There are some sections in English. At least they purport to be English. They are what the Spanish dubbing artists suppose to be English. I would have been hard pressed to understand them save for the Spanish subtitles. The pronunciation was risible, alarming even but the total effect was remarkably amusing. It reminded me of that scene in the Steve Martin remake of the Pink Panther where he is trying to say "I would like to buy a hamburger".

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Having fun

All the time we've been here and we've never been in Sax Castle before. It's only just down the road too, maybe 30 kilometres. We remedied that today with a theatralized visit. I saw the poster somewhere, sent an email and I was told to email back on a specific day as the visits were always oversubscribed. I did as I was told and got a couple of places. The story the players acted out was about the second Marquis of Villena taking possession of the lands around Sax Castle. When they were telling the story I realised that this particular Marqués de Villena was the one who lost the family the lands around Villena, another local town. He backed the wrong side at the time of the famous (in Spain) Catholic Monarchs, the ones who sent Columbus off to find some spices. There is still a Marqués de Villena, the twenty first. The eighth one set up an institution to protect the purity of the Spanish language which now produces the Spanish dictionary of reference. The Villenas are a bit like those Shakespeare characters - the Northumberlands, Gloucesters and Norfolks who are still very much there. It was a nice visit. The sun shone, the Spanish seemed easy enough and the price was right. It cost nothing. We were talking about that as we walked away. Lots of things, visits, theatre pieces, concerts and the like are free in Spain. Not all of them by any means but a significant number. Education for the masses and all that I suppose.

It's coming up to Easter. With my British hat on Easter was a few chocolate eggs and a long weekend with the Friday and Monday off work. Easter in Spain mobilises towns. Semana Santa, Holy Week, is a big thing. There are brotherhoods all over Spain who work all year to get themselves sorted out for Easter. Some of the parades are simply enormous. Last year I was in  a bar when the Foreign Legion, a famous Spanish regiment, were parading the Cristo de la Buena Muerte, the Christ of the Good Death, in Malaga. The volume on the telly was turned up and people stopped talking to watch.

Last night we went to something titled Incienso y Mantilla, Incense and Mantilla (those lacy shawls worn as headgear) at the theatre in Jumilla. I bought the tickets in the last week of January and even then there were no tickets left in the stalls. It was a complete sell out unlike the Karl Jenkins or the Chopin and Liszt concerts that we also bought tickets for at the same time. Now my knowledge of the Easter goings on is both limited and quite extensive. I've seen it a lot but, then again, I'm not Spanish, I'm not a Catholic and I'm not a believer. I know something of the brotherhoods, I know something about the various religious floats, some of the iconography and how things are organised. There are things though, like saetas, that I know but I don't know. The saeta is a religious song that gets sung during Semana Santa. If I hear one I know it's a saeta but I don't really know what they are. Then again I couldn't give you much of a low-down on Christmas Carols either.

Anyway, so we go to hear Joana Jiménez and her incense and mantilla thing at the theatre. The crowd were in raptures. Right from the start the cheering, the clapping the shouts of olé were in full flow. I've never seen roses actually thrown on to a stage before. Who takes roses to a theatre? Presumably that's why Tom Jones gets knickers. At one point the photo on the backdrop was a famous Easter carving, used in the processions in Seville, called the Jesús del Gran Poder literally Jesus of the Great Power. I was a bit surprised but I recognised the image. So did everyone else in the theatre because they cheered and applauded the photo! The singing and dancing wasn't really flamenco but, as most of we Britons think that long tight dresses, with flounces at the bottom, for the women and tight trousers and slicked back hair for the men, along with lots of tap dance type stamping, equals flamenco then it was flamenco. I have no idea how a knowledgeable Spaniard would name it.

Maggie said she took some people to see a house in Jumilla. She was along with a Spanish agent who had limited English. Maggie was telling the people that Jumilla has impressive Easter processions and the agent understood. He agreed. There are a lot of believers in Jumilla he said. We met some of them last night.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Pumping gas

When I had my first cars in the UK, when you could get five gallons of cut price Jet petrol for a pound, there was always someone to serve you. By the time I left I bought fuel in supermarkets and you served yourself. Not so in Spain. When we first arrived nearly all the petrol stations had attended service. I never particularly cared for it. I'm one of those trainspotter type people who keeps records; I like to know how many litres of fuel per 100 kilometres the car is using. The blokes and blokesss at the filling station tend to stop on a round figure's worth of fuel. I suppose it was a habit from the times when people paid with cash. Less change to faff with. Petrol pumps that turn off automatically, as the liquid backs up the hose, and change conscious pump attendants played havoc with my number crunching. There was another reason for my dislike of attended service. Pull up at self service, pump your own fuel, pay with a credit card and the amount of language required would be within the grasp of your average Homus Erectus. Attended service, on the other hand, requires substantial human interaction and language skills.

There wasn't a lot of choice in petrol stations back then either. You could go to Campsa, Repsol or Cepsa stations. Campsa was the name of the old state company and the name belonged to Repsol by the time we got here so the fuel was Repsol too. Those two companies also controlled most of the refinery capacity in Spain. There is and was a BP refinery at Castellon and I'm told there were BP petrol stations too though I'd be hard pressed to remember having ever seen one.

Out here in the fields, to quote the Who, we still generally get attended service though there are now fewer attended service stations than there used to be. Lots of stations have attended service hours and card machines for the rest of the time. My guess is that in the bigger, busier towns and cities it's nearly all self service though most of the stations still have someone to look after the shop or to sell coffee even if they don't have much to do with selling fuel. I've seen lots of complaints from people asking why they should have to pump their own fuel, especially in the stations with no staff at all. Moans along the lines of - is it safe?  - what about people with reduced mobility? etc. Some of the regional governments have even legislated against staffless filling stations on the grounds that they are safeguarding jobs. Ned Ludd is alive and well.

Nowadays there are more retailers though the choice is still quite limited; Galp, Petronor (which is actually Repsol) and Meroil are pretty common and there are occasional Shell and Agip stations. The big expansion though has been in the cut price suppliers. Cheaper fuel has been available in Spain for years now. At first the stations were few and far between and usually linked to supermarket chains but, now, they are everywhere. There's even one in Pinoso. Price differences are substantial. In the order of 12 to 15 cents per litre.

Spaniards tend to have shared views on things. Go swimming too soon after eating and you are going to sink. Drink hot drinks whilst you eat and expect health complications. Online shopping is risky. One of those certainties is that cheap fuel is poor fuel. The big brands, the known brands are safe but some unnamed fuel isn't. Some friends were assured by a main dealer that the reason the engine on their car packed up was because they habitually bought cut price diesel. When I've pointed out to Spaniards that all the petrol comes basically from the same refiners (Repsol, Cepsa and BP) their answer has been, as one, that the full price people put stuff into their petrol, that makes it good, whilst the cut price people don't, which is why it is bad. I've heard it so often that I half believe it and so I tend to fill up alternately with cheap and full price fuel. I never really believed it wholeheartedly though because I know that Spain is in Europe. I know that the EU puts controls on lots of things, amongst which, I'm sure, is fuel quality. If it says 95 octane then it's 95 octane, if it says Gasoleo A then it's proper diesel whether the stickers on the pumps say Bongofuel or Repsol.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago as I accelerated the car onto the A31 the engine warning light came on and the power fizzled away. It wasn't a pleasant experience trying to get to the hard shoulder but the car fired up again and we got home. The chap who looks after the motor found a fault, a seal had gone on the hose into the turbocharger. He fixed it. Obviously he'd found the fault. But later the warning lamp lit up again. The second time I was in the middle of an overtaking manoeuvre. There was a lot of headlight flashing from drivers wondering why I had overtaken only to slow right down again. The mechanic had another go. He found clogged fuel filters. We had a conversation about fuel quality. He refused to be drawn on the question of cheap versus expensive fuel. He told me a story, a story that he stressed was only hearsay, about mislabelled fuel, cheap fuel sold as expensive fuel. I thought back to the day that the car first coughed. I'd been to a cheap fuel station.

Maybe I should be more careful about eating and swimming too!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Surf 'n' turf

We went to see some friends on the coast the other day. Alicante province is loaded with Britons. It's where most of we British immigrants live. Here, on the Costa Blanca, down in Malaga, on the islands of course - Balearics and Canaries. Notice the trend? Coast and Mediterranean. There are plenty of us in Murcia and on the Costa Brava too but less so. We're everywhere of course. You'll bump into Britons absolutely everywhere. In the museums in Extremadura, in the countryside of Huesca, in the most obscure corner of Salamanca, we'll be there. We're an adventurous bunch.

The coast is maybe 60km away from Culebrón, just an hour, but it's not the same as where we live. It's odd though, there are stacks and stacks of us in Pinoso. I've no idea why. I mean, in our case it was pure chance. We set out from Santa Pola, on the coast, looking for somewhere we could afford. By Pinoso we could just about do it. I think that lots of people like Pinoso because it's nice. It has lots of bars and restaurants, the countryside is nice too and there's always something going on. I think that people also think, we did, that we were in Spain. Not in the sort of place that people go on holiday but the sort of place that people live.

I like Benidorm. It's brash and full of chips and burgers and biker bars. It's an extreme example. I wouldn't like to live there but it's nice to visit. It's also very, very Spanish. Lots and lots of Spaniards choose to holiday or live there. It's as Spanish as some village in Guadalajara where you might still see the occasional donkey or where people drink from wine skins because they want a drink and don't expect someone to take their snap. It's not the same Spain but it's just as Spanish. In just the same way that the traffic free roads around Pinoso, the rice with rabbit and snails and the local dance group with swirling skirts would be well out of place in the middle of cosmopolitan Madrid.

So, as I said, we went to the coast. It's a lot warmer on the coast. As we drop the 600 metres from our house down to the sea the temperature slowly increases; sometimes by as much as 7ºC. The traffic increases too and the number of people and the number of houses. Basically then the coast has better weather and more people. There's more of everything. If we're lusting for an Indian at home the nearest one is about 30km away. The nearest place to get a battery for my watch is 40km away. Get the idea. Now, when we were with our friends on the coast, there was an Indian in the town. No batteries for a Tag though. It's probably true to say that the coast is a little less Spanish than our rural spot in one way. Where there are lots of tourists Spain bows to the foreign presence be that in Santillana del Mar, Barcelona or Altea. So restaurants open for dinner as well as lunch, the restaurants adjust their times too and, of course, there's even more English.

It's great to visit but it's not that easy to get gachasmigas or even faseguras.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Suspended in time between pole and tropic

I just popped into the opticians; some sort of strange feeling in one eye. The optician tells me its a bit of physical damage that should clear up. The optician says she's heard that I give English classes. Pinoso can be a very small place.

The other day I was told that someone was going to ask me for classes. In turn I enquired about the person who had asked about me. From just a first name my born and bred Pinosero informant was able to tell me who it was, who the family were etc. As I said, it's a very small place.

On Sunday we had Villazgo, the local event to celebrate the granting of a town charter to Pinoso back in 1826. Maggie and I saw the original document, signed by the King Ferdinand VII, when we did a little tour of the town archive. Fernando VII is often labelled the worst king that Spain has ever suffered. As we walked from the parked car to the main stage for the event we bumped into someone we knew. Maggie knows tens of people through her work at the estate agent. We said hello, we chatted, we said goodbye and five metres later we bumped into someone else. And so it went. Several encounters later I left Maggie, to be nice to people, whilst I headed for the stage. Even as my surly self I found myself exchanging words with three more people on the way to the, now half completed, opening ceremony. As I half listened to the speechifying I chatted to a neighbour from the village. I didn't know the person who was giving the speech but the neighbour did. A couple of people amongst the great and the good on the stage nodded at me. Apart from Maggie's celebrity we've been here a long time; both of us work in town, pointing my camera at most of the things that move in Pinoso also gives me a certain notoriety and, because we're Britons, our presence is more noted at some of the events we go to. As we wandered the Villazgo stalls and stands we spent much more time talking in English than Spanish but we probably spoke to nearly as many Spaniards as Britons. A couple of the British conversations somehow turned to questions about snippets of Spanish history. History which I knew.

On Mondays I work both the morning and the afternoon at the local language school. It doesn't really make sense to go home for lunch. For the past few weeks I've gone to the same bar but sheer happen stance meant I was short of time today so I went to a different, nearer place. Not a bar I use regularly. In fact the last time I was in there was last August! The bar didn't advertise sandwiches nor did they advertise the pop-like beer I often drink. I ordered as I shed my coat and faffed with my backpack. Then I set down to read a bit of Eliot (I just had to slip that in, I don't read a lot of poetry but for one reason or another I'd decided to revisit the Four Quartets which I last read, in its entirety, as I travelled to and from my first youth work job in Leeds in the late 1970s). When it came to coffee time I asked for an Americano, the woman repeated the word with a quizzical look, so I changed my order to the older, more Spanish name, for a watered down espresso.

One of the conversations I had today was with someone, a British couple, who are a bit fed up with Pinoso. They find the place a bit humdrum, a bit limited in its horizons, a bit short of decent food, half closed half the time and all closed the rest. It made me realise that I'm not. That I quite like the food, that I like that I know a few names in the town, that I can cobble together enough Spanish to have a conversation of sorts, that I know what's going on both locally, historically and nationally and that, despite my natural reserve and my well cultivated surliness, I'm pretty much at home here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Carnaval, Carnaval

In the UK there's Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday - today. I'm sure there used to be a pancake race between a couple of local mayors where I lived for a while in Huntingdon. Towards the end of the early evening news there'll be school fete type footage of some people somewhere flipping pancakes as they run. Tomorrow you may even see a couple of people with ash crosses on their forehead. Exciting times. Now in Rio on the other hand at carnival time hundreds of scantily clad people dance around the streets.

In Spain it's Carnaval time too. In Pinoso we have nice little parade with hand made costumes. It's one of the few Spanish events that gets shunted to the nearest available weekend rather than taking place on the correct date or day. As far as I knew carnaval (with an a not an i) was a last gasp effort to have a good time before giving up the pleasures of whatever it is that good folk give up for Lent. I'd never thought much more about it before I decided to write this blog.

I was vaguely aware that there are big events in the Canary Islands and in Cadiz but I sort of presumed that they were all mini versions of Rio. Lots of cleavage, lots of sequinned top hats, bright colours, feathers, make-up applied with a trowel and more and more specific gay presence. I suppose I sort of knew that the name came from the word that means meat or flesh and that it was a bit of a celebration of the flesh, a bit carnal, a bit saucy. Nonetheless I was pretty surprised, when we saw our first carnaval processions in Cartagena. Those poor girls were sure to get a chill. Carnaval was big in Cartagena. Ordinary people, the people I worked with, would hire or make complicated fancy dress costumes and set out as gangs of droogs or as all the characters from the Wizard of Oz just to go out for a drink. It's biggish all over. The schools usually have youngsters in fancy dress in the run up to Carnaval.

Nearish to home (the round trip was 325km so it's not that near) the smallish Murcian town of Aguilas has a reputation for putting on a big Carnaval do despite only having a population of 35,000. We went to have a look on Sunday and the parade was brilliant. Band after band of just what we expected. Dancing troupes, groups of people acting out political satire and lots and lots of remarkably ornate floats with very loud music. We watched for over three and a half hours before giving up. My photo taking was somewhat hampered because the only seats we were able to buy, at 12€ a go, were in the branches of a small, ornamental, tree which reduced my field of view considerably. So there are almost no panoramic shots to show the breadth of the participation.

When I did a bit of background checking for the blog I found that the Spanish version of Carnaval owes a lot to a book called El libro de buen amor, the Book of Good Love written by Juan Ruiz who went under the name of el arcipreste de Hita. It's a book of Spanish poetry written around 1330. It's one of those works that unfortunate Spanish schoolchildren are forced to read. In the book there is a battle between don Carnal and doña Cuaresma. So a battle between a sort of  "Lord Lust" and "Lady Lent". Lent wins of course but only for the next forty days after which old lust runs free again. The book provides the basis for most of the Spanish events.

Along the way I found that, in Aguilas, a beast is loosed called the Mussona - a sort of half human, half animal figure which represents the duality of people - half civilised and half wild. If the beast was there when we were I must have blinked or looked the wrong way. Mind you I'm not even sure if the yellow bloke with the exposed (cloth) penis was don Carnal or not. I saw a lot of sequins and lots of feathers though.

Aguilas is in most of the "Top 10" type lists for Carnavales in the Spanish media along with the Canary island and Cadiz. In fact there are lots of competing lists. Ciudad Rodrigo, where we lived for a while, and where the event is characterised by bull running, gets mentioned in several but there are some really odd ones with lots of obviously pagan characters still doing the rounds. In Villanueva a wooden headed cloth and straw figure called El Peropalo is the centre of attention or in Laza in Ourense it's el Peliqueiro who has a big semicircular hat and mask combination with pigtails and flouncy pantaloons. In Tarragona there's a lot of devil burning and in Badajoz all the lists say that nobody goes into the street unless they are in fancy dress.

In fact it looks to me as though we have Carnavales a plenty to keep us in something to do each year for quite a long time yet. Maggie, you have been warned.

Friday, February 09, 2018

It's my arm doctor

As I remember it the, "it's my arm doctor" quote was some sort of running joke. It had to be delivered with a broad Scots accent. Something to do do with the housekeeper, Janet, from Dr Finlay's Casebook.

If you have any idea what I'm talking about then you'll be old. In turn that probably means you see the doctor more frequently than you would like. Our Saturday morning coffee group is a right little hot bed of knee replacements, cataracts, stomach protectors, heart bypasses, pain relief and epileptic fits. Actually, until I fell over frothing at the mouth, having bitten off large chunks of my tongue, I felt a bit out of the conversation. Obviously I go to the doctor's from time to time but the visits have been thankfully few and far between.

Yesterday I helped a pal with his visit to the doctor. The idea was that, as I speak a few more words of Spanish than he does, I could act as a sort of translator. It wasn't that difficult. A couple of questions from the white coated doctor, a bit of tapping on the computer and out of the office in under three minutes with a prescription and an order for a blood test.

Today it was my turn. Three months since my "event" and I had a follow up visit with the neurology department at Elda Hospital. "Right oh", said the white coated doctor, (all doctors in Spain wear white coats as far as I can see. It's like British doctors have stethoscopes though one must be easier to wash and cheaper than the other.) "the electroencephalograph is clear, anything to tell us?" - I complained about a few aches and pains but said basically no. She was nice about my Spanish and she gave me the alta, the up, the opposite of the baja, the down, the equivalent of a sick note. No more treatment, no more check ups, free to drive. In the clear more or less, with certain provisos, given that collapsing in a supermarket is not a sign of robust good health.

Speaking to people about their experiences with the Spanish health system  brings a mixed bag of responses. The few times I've used them they seem to have been first rate but not everyone agrees. I'm a great believer in normal distributions, the idea that most systems are made up of the reasonably competent with far fewer poor or excellent performers. I have no complaints about the health care I've received at all. In fact I would rate it as cracking.

It was strange. Going to the local surgery yesterday I asked someone how the system worked. It was really simple but I didn't know until I asked. Today, at the hospital, I walked in to the outpatients area and there were hundreds of people sitting on hundreds of chairs. I hadn't the faintest idea where to go or what to do. The woman I asked on Patient Services was dead helpful. She rang to check I was booked in and then walked me to the chairs by the right department. Once I was settled in I realised that the people were clustered around various areas - gynaecology or cardiology or whatever. The system was crystal but to me it initially looked chaotic. As I waited I noticed that there were other people as lost as me, people asking others how the system worked, whilst others, who knew the routine, were like fish in water. I suppose we humans learn routines very quickly.

I had a similar sort of thought as I was leaving. In the entrance area there were all sorts of people from lottery ticket sellers and the people who run the various stalls and stands to the hospital staff and habitual attendees - the  accustomed regulars and the lost novices. It was gratifying to think that, at least for the while, I can number myself amongst the bewildered and lost.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Saints and suchlike

There are a lot of Catholic saints. One for every day of the year with plenty to spare. Not that long ago if you were born in Spain on such and such a date then the saints for that day were a good name choice. I could have been Felix or Fulgencio for instance. If your parents decided to go with a different name then you get a second birthday, just like a Royal. So, as my parents went for Christopher, I could celebrate in July as well as on the day of my birth in January.

Not all saints have the same clout. San Anton, for instance, gets a lot of attention. He's the saint for animals and there's a lot of blessing of pets all over Spain, in his name, each January. San Isidro, the saint who looks after workers, is another popular one. There are lots and lots of widely celebrated saint's days. On the other hand, San Esteban, Saint Stephen, so popular with we Britons, is a forgotten man in Spain. And whatever words Shakespeare chose to put into Henry V's mouth Crispin Crispian's day does go by largely unremembered on 25th October. Well, except in Elche, because he's the patron saint of shoemakers and shoemaking, and they still do a lot of that there.

February 3rd is San Blas, Blaise in English, and that's celebrated in a fair number of towns around here. Today, for instance, in Sax, the Moors and Christians processions walked under an illuminated sign that said Sax for San Blas.

I read something on the Pinoso Town Hall website that was surprising in a couple of ways. It said that local bakers prepare a special bread for San Blas that is good as protection against throat ailments. In order for this to work properly the dough has to be blessed by a priest. There were pictures of our parish priest doing just that at a local bakery. The piece mentioned a specific bakery and showed pictures of the bread. It was very fancy as you can see from their picture.

Despite my years here I'd never heard of the bakery, the piece said that it is in a very small village on the outskirts of Pinoso, so, this morning, we went looking for it intending to buy some of the bread. Google maps had a location but there didn't seem to be a bakery there. We wandered around the village a bit and actually saw a delivery van from the bakery with an address on the side. The address was where Google maps had directed us in the first place but it just looked like an ordinary house. By ordinary I mean it had pot gnomes outside. I wasn't brave enough to knock on the door to ask.

Oh, and if you had made your own bread to ward off the sore throats then you could have taken that to church this evening, after Eucharist, and got it blessed. Or I suppose you could do what my mum says and eat chocolate with slices of orange.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Who ate all the pies?

It's been a funny old day. I was expecting music in the streets and a bit of exploration near Caravaca de la Cruz in Murcia but the weather has been terrible and I've hardly strayed from the kitchen and living room.

My food intake has been a bit odd too. Maggie made an apple pie which I was very happy to help her eat but that was a while ago. I just decided to have a packet of Knorr soup - Thai soup. Whilst I was waiting for it to thicken up I had some peanut butter on bread. My total committent to a healthy, fat and sugar free, diet is almost complete.

Spanish people occasionally ask me whether I eat British or Spanish. I suppose I tend to eat British unless I go out but, then again, most of the stuff I eat is probably without nationality. I don't do a lot of rice with rabbit and snails or faseguras but neither do I do a lot of roast beef with Yorkshires or steak and kidney pie. Spaghetti with mushrooms, bacon and onions in a yoghurt and balsamic vinegar sauce is Italian, British, Spanish or just a quick and tasty lunch?

I made, and burned, lentejas on Friday. Lentejas, lentils, is pretty damned Spanish but I think I used an Oxo cube in the broth which I presume was from a British source. Actually it's quite hard to give a specific passport to lots of food. I just looked at the Tomato Ketchup and the Lea and Perrins to see if the labels were in Spanish or English. They are in English but both are dead common and I'm sure I've seen them both with Spanish labels. I've even seen Worcestershire sauce labelled as Salsa Inglesa. The Lucky Jim peanut butter says it is American Quality but it was made in Germany and the label is in Spanish. The peanut butter we have on hand is called Lucky Nuts and is Spanish made with a bilingual Spanish/English label. We have lots of things, in the cupboard, that came from a very ordinary Spanish source but are obviously aimed at we Brits or, maybe not. I mean, after all, Mercadona sells Tetley tea in all of their supermarkets whether there are Britons nearby or not. We have marmalade in the fridge - the Mercadona own brand named in Spanish is in front of the Baxter's one named in Scottish. Other stuff is as Spanish as something very Spanish but it works for us - until very recently Fontaneda Digestive biscuits had the word McVitie's baked into them - same biscuit, different name on the box. And, of course, there is the Spanish stuff that most of us never even think of buying like sobrasada (raw, cured, spicy sausage) or membrillo (quince jelly).

At Christmas, for the language exchange party, my "bring British" contribution was Branston, Walker's cheese and onion, pork pies and brown sauce. The crisps and Branston were bought from the food store in the British bar Refugio but the brown sauce and pork pies came from a local Spanish chain supermarket. The majority Spanish opinion was that Branston tasted of vinegar and sugar, brown sauce was too spicy, pork pies were fatty and tasteless. All in all not a big hit. The Spaniards generally thought the crisps were a bit chemically too but that didn't stop them polishing the lot off. Most of the stuff, crisps aside, came home with me.

And I ate all the pies.