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Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lord Grantham and me

I've been living in Spain for ten years and five days now. We've owned the house in Culebrón for all but three months of that time. Despite that we've lived in Santa Pola, Ciudad Rodrigo, Cartagena and La Unión. We've rented six different flats all because of where we have found work. So it's nice to be finally living at home and paying just one electric bill, one phone bill and not having to move here and there for weekends or bank holidays.

Culebrón, or more accurately Pinoso is, nonetheless, the most British of all the places I've lived in Spain. Now don't get me wrong Spain is just outside the door. The mountain view is Spanish, the crops in the field are Spanish, the traffic is Spanish, the opening times are Spanish but Britishness crowds in here in a way that it hasn't in any of those other places. I say Pinoso by the way because that's where we go to buy bread and beer. In Culebrón we live right on the edge of the village and we only really venture into the village centre for events and to dump stuff in the recycling bins.

The English language is everywhere now. Lots of people can manage to communicate in a form of English. I was, for instance, rather amused when we had lunch with one of Maggie's pals in Cartagena. Her Spanish is good, basically because her family is Spanish, but despite her speaking Spanish to the waiter he always replied in English. Everyone wants to practise their English and most Brits speak Spanish so badly that we're glad of the help. But I'm not talking about language here I'm talking about Britishness.

Walk up the street by the Post Office in Pinoso and the chances are you will hear more English being spoken than Spanish or Valencià. The paper shop has a good range of British magazines, sells The Daily Mail and has some sort of selection of birthday cards to satisfy a particularly British craving. The only bar in the street is British run and I think the second hand furniture shop too. One of the two Estate Agents is British though I think they work with a Spanish colleague. The queue in the Post Office is often predominantly British and the chap behind the counter now speaks the English he needs for his job pretty well. The local supermarkets make concessions to Brits - Tetley tea recently appeared in Consum, though they seemed to have stopped stocking Stilton, whilst Más y Más has sold British tea for years and they occasionally even have Branston. The Algerian fruit shop sells Yorkshire Tea.

The other evening Maggie had been with me to Fortuna so we decided to have an evening meal in Pinoso on the way home. We asked in the restaurant if it were too early to eat as it was only 9pm. Good grief said the waitess. We sell dinner to you Brits from 7.30. There were, of course, no Spaniards eating so early. Last weekend we did our bit in supporting a friend who does the props for a local am dram group. Two short English language plays to a British audience. In the bar adjoining the theatre there is British TV and you order and pay at the bar just as you would in the Dog and Duck. On Saturday morning I usually join some friends to have a coffee. The waiter is most amusing and speaks a doggerel English that perfectly matches the doggerel Spanish of our group. Britishness everywhere.

In Ciudad Rodrigo there were no other Brits and whilst there were stacks of us in Santa Pola, Cartagena and La Union we were outnumbered by Spaniards and Spanishness. We just didn't have the critical mass that we Brits have in Pinoso. The home population of Pinoso has no problem with us as a group but our numbers and our economic power have influenced the way the town works. There is a notice in a bread shop apologising that the owner doesn't speak English. The barber, whose first language is the local Valencià to the point that he sometimes forgets Castillian words knows the meaning of the phrase "Just a trim, please." The bilingual children of longer term Brits have a valuable skill to sell.

Now this is fine. I'm British, I'm happy to be British. We're not a bad lot and we can be as proud of some of the things we've done as we can be ashamed of others. I'm in a good place. I can take my choice. Sometimes I fancy a curry or roast beef and they are easy to get where there are lots of us, other times I can do something quite Spanish. It's the same in the house. Whether I choose to get my news from the BBC or the RTVE website is up to me. Whether I listen to Spanish music or international music likewise.

Now Maggie is one of those people who were brought up on telly. She can easily answer questions about who was the host of 3-2-1 or what Jim Bowen's catch phrase was. Me, I like the telly OK too but I basically I use it for entertainment - films, drama and maybe some comedy. I soon get bored of the drama and it's seldom that I can be bothered to watch the second series. TV documentaries usually take far too long to get to the point and I much prefer radio. I probably prefer radio news too. Quiz shows and talent contests bore me or annoy me in equal measure. Maggie on the other hand likes lots of those programmes and she seems to particularly like those based on individuals - the cooking competitions, the talent shows, ballroom dancing, tracing ancestors. She can watch TV for hours and hours.

We have access to both Spanish and British telly. Maggie watches "her programmes, " the British ones as they are broadcast. If there's nothing definite that she wants to watch she usually skips through the Spanish programmes first and then, when or if she can't find anything she likes the look of, she switches to the British offer. Spanish TV is of very variable quality. The drama programmes generally have low production values and the variety and most of the comedy shows are risible. The home made product also has the decided disadvantage that it's in Spanish. We have to work to watch it, we miss key phrases, we don't get the references to celebrities or topical concerns. Imported product, usually American series, have the original English language soundtrack avaialble. I like to watch the occasional programme in Spanish in a vain attempt to hear a bit of Spanish and to keep up with the place I've chosen to live. I always put the subtitles on stuff on Spanish telly - with the English language stuff I get the best of both worlds - I understand the dialogue easily but I still get to read the Spanish version and with the Spanish stuff it means I may actually understand. We do usually see at least some of the Spanish news programmes and Maggie often watches a lunctime show in Spanish too.

But here's the rub, Nowadays not only am I living in a British community outside the house but inside it too. In all those rented flats our only offer was Spanish TV. I saw the same programmes as my Spanish students, I saw the same adverts and there was a point of contact but now that's gone and, even worse, there is almost nowhere in our house where I can escape from the sound of the howling mob on the X Factor, Lord Grantham complaining about Sufragettes or the pundits talking about the Best 100 Food Adverts Of All Time.

No blame here. We should just have bought a bigger house.

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