My old mate Jaime had his 50th birthday party last Saturday and Maggie and I were invited. The party was in the flat that Jaime shares with his ex girlfriend Pepa in Betera just north of Valencia city.
There were about a dozen people at the party. It started ordinarily enough. People were coming in from all over Spain and most of them had to be picked up from a bus or train station so it took a while before we were all assembled. Most turned up with a bottle in their hand or a gift for Jaime. Plenty of hugs and handshaking. But this is when it started to differ from any party I've ever been to.
Pepa was masterminding the do. She'd sorted the food, the cake, the drinks etc. but, as people settled in they weren't offered a drink, either soft or otherwise. As people stood or sat around chatting there was no music. The food was rolled out and people filled their cardboard plates but the group stayed close to the table - none of that retreating to your favourite perch with a plate stacked high with twiglets and sausage rolls. Wine was poured into our paper cups but when we stopped eating both the food and drink were whisked away. There was no all night nibbling allowed. No more drink was offered and the Spaniards seemed happy to sit there without food, without drink and without music. No thought of dancing, no drunken mates to be helped.
There was a birthday cake, in fact there were two, one from the current girlfriend and one from Pepa. A tense moment. We got a glass of bubbly to lubricate "Happy Birthday" but most of the guests took a swig and then abandoned the rest. That too was tidied away once it had served its purpose. We were offered coffee but not as the signal to find our coats and hats, rather as the customary end to a meal.
Maybe three hours later, after a heated discussion on the abuse of maternity rights and the state of the Nation's youth followed by a quick foot massage the party was suddenly over. Everyone who was going got ready to leave, those of us who were staying began to unpack our jim jams.
Actually by now I wasn't much to do with the party. Unable to keep up with the language I'd been quick enough to down several of those glasses of fake champagne before they disappeared into hyperspace and then I helped myself to a bottle of Scotch and settled into the comfy chair in the corner.