Blogs in this series

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.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Twitching

I have pals who are very knowledgeable about birds. Those same people are likely to know about plants and trees too. If I know a few birds, a handful of trees and a couple of constellations, they can wax lyrical.

I've wondered about this in the past but it was a conversation about robins that reminded me. I was talking to a couple of students about Christmas cards. Cards are not a standard thing here. I mentioned that there were robins on Christmas cards. I translated robins to petirrojos. Nothing, not a glimmer. You know, like mirlos, gorriones, tordos, alondras, lavanderas. I was just digging a bigger hole; blackbirds, sparrows, thrushes, larks and wagtails were nothing to them. They just presumed my Spanish was as crap as it is. And these were a couple of professional, well travelled students who live in a small town surrounded by countryside.

I think that it's true to say that most Britons can recognise a big handful of birds. We know that we can mitigate the bad luck of seeing a single magpie with a friendly greeting. We know that those dusk time clouds of birds that settle on city centre buildings are starlings. I have no idea why but most of us can tell a crow from a kestrel. Sparrows, wrens, geese, gulls, cormorants, swallows and jays are known to us. This doesn't seem to be a city versus country thing. Country folk might better know which finch is which and whether it's a common or arctic tern but even if city dwellers are a bit unsure about the differences between swallows, swifts and martins they know that it's not a wagtail. And  even if we don't know the birds we know the names. If somebody were to tell us that's a such and such kite as against a such and such harrier we'd believe them because we know that harriers and kites are birds.

Now, obviously, some Spaniards know birds just as well as the most clued up of Britons. They know the difference between a bullinch and a chaffinch between a goldfinch and a greenfinch or between a sparrowhawk and a hen harrier but, for the majority of the Spaniards that I have ever spoken to about this, hunters apart, birds fall into three classes.

There are birds that float - these are ducks, patos. Even swans can be ducks. Then there are little birds. Sparrow sized birds. Theses are pajaritos which has no better translation than little birds. Finally there are pajaros; birds. and that includes everything that isn't a duck or a little bird.

Nice and simple at least.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Suavina

The other week I was driving around, enjoying the sun, when I heard an interview on the radio. The interviewee was called Vicente Calduch and he was talking about Suavina, a lip balm.

Back in 1880, in the town of Vila-real in Castellón, the local pharmacist, Vicente's great great grandad or maybe it was great great great grandad, spookily also called Vicente Calduch, created an ointment. He called it Ungüent de Vila-real. His target market were the local citrus farmers who got cracked and chapped lips as they worked on their crops.

That first Vicente had four sons, all of them became pharmacists and all of them sold the lip balm. One of them settled in Castellón and, in 1916 he opened a small laboratory to manufacture the ointment and gave it the more catchy name of Dermo-Suavina.

Laboratorios Calduch still make the balm. The formula is unchanged from the original but the packaging changed from wood to metal in 1940 and then from metal to plastic in 1965.

The packaging looks pretty retro. The little plastic tub is inside a small box and the typeface on both is sweet. I know that because I was in a chemist the other day and I suddenly remembered the story. I asked if they sold Suavina; they did. Very traditional, very vintage said the person serving me. And quite an interesting way to spend 2.20€.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

And all things nice

I think, in my youth I was misled about treacle and cocoa. Treacle, in a Heinz treacle pudding, isn't the same treacle as the bonfire night Parkin. Cocoa, rather than drinking chocolate, is the pipe and slippers staple that goes with the "You've been a long way away, thank you for coming back to me," of Brief Encounter, rather than the stuff I drank from the machine at Halifax Baths. This came to mind as Maggie and I sipped on a hot chocolate at the Christmas light turning on ceremony in Pinoso the other day.

Hot chocolate, the sort that is made either with proper cocoa powder or, more usually here in Spain, by dissolving low grade chocolate in hot milk or a hot water and milk mix, is thick enough to stand a spoon in and usually sweet enough to dissolve teeth on contact. In these here parts the chocolate is usually served with a sweet bread, called toña. Toña tastes like the doughy part of the French buns sold in the Yorkshire of my youth but Maggie seems to think it's more like the iced buns of Liverpool. Iced buns and French buns sound substantially similar to me. Chocolate y toña is served at lots of events. There is sometimes a pretence that it's for the children but the people at the front of the queue, with the sharpest elbows, are the grandpas and grandmas rather than their generationally removed descendants.

I wondered if there was a blog here. About the local food. Not the impressive stuff, not the main courses, like gazpacho, the rabbit stew loaded with a naan bread like pancake, or the local paella made with rice, rabbit and snails or even the made from nothing gachasmigas. I set about Google and came up with an insurmountable problem. Put something like coca amb oli into the search and Google finds, at least for the first 50 pages, things which are almost exclusively Catalan in origin. That's because Valenciano and Catalan are, linguistically, related.

My cooking skills are limited but they far exceed my skill in telling what I am eating. If I had to do that MasterChef tasting thing and to say what was in the food I'd just tasted I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between beef and pork never mind the flummoxing subtleties of herbs and spices. So, just because I've eaten various cocas, doesn't mean I tell you much about them. Maggie describes coca amb oli as fat pie (I think it's a flat bread made with lots of olive oil) but I always think of cocas as being the local equivalent of pizzas, something bready with a topping usually including tomatoes, peppers or aubergines and, often, something fishy. I could well be wrong though.

I thought about it more. There are rollitos, doughnut shaped hard biscuits often flavoured with orange or wine or anis  a sort of pernod or ouzo type drink. I think rollitos have a lot of lard, a lot of olive oil and a lot of flour in them. I like them. Maggie says they are boring but she thinks digestive biscuits are boring too so she's not the best judge. I'm pretty sure they are typically Pinoso though.

Then I remembered perusas. Perusas are what you get at the end of the meal in Pinoso when you have just eaten something traditional like rice. They usually come along with some of the local sweet wine called mistela. Just like the rollitos I like perusas and Maggie doesn't but we both describe them as dust cakes to visitors. They literally melt away once you've bitten into them. Google had no trouble with perusas. The first few search pages had the word Pinoso in the heading. The ingredients are similar, flour, sugar, oil, lots of eggs, anis and icing sugar to dust them off.

So, in the end, I decided there wasn't enough hard information for me to do a blog on the bits and pieces of the local cuisine.

Fiestas de la Virgen in Yecla

You may have seen my snaps of blokes in bicorne hats shooting off arquebuses (old fashioned musket type rifles) in the streets of Yecla. If you haven't, and you want to, there is a tab at the top of this page for my photo albums. The one you want is December 2018. You may wonder why.

Well, basically, in 1642 during The War of Cataluña 61 soldiers from Yecla, under the command of a Captain Soriano Zaplana, went off to fight in line with some treaty signed with a Catalan noble. The Yeclanos were in Cataluña for six months but they were never called on to fight. They all got back to Yecla safe and sound. They were well pleased so they went up to the Castle in Yecla, did a lot of praying and suchlike and then took a picture of Our Lady of the Incarnation, known as the Virgin of the Castle, down  to the town where she stayed in a church for a few days so that people could do even more praying and genuflecting. As the soldiers carried the picture down the hill to the town they shot off their guns Hezbollah or Hamas style. That was the start of the tradition. The Virgin in procession with lots of men shooting off guns. That's what you can still see today.

The celebrations were a bit of a movable feast at first but in 1691 a group called the Brotherhood of the Immaculate Conception was formed and, as a result, the town adopted that particular version of the Virgin Mary as their patron saint. The brotherhood commissioned a statue and when she was finished, in 1695, she replaced the original picture, from the castle, in the processions.

There was a bit of a blip in the celebrations in the late 1700s because of a fifteen year nationwide ban on the use of gunpowder. The Yeclanos kept asking for their fietas to be exempt and in 1786, Carlos III granted that concession. The guns, silenced for 15 years, took to the streets of Yecla again. The regulations for the revitalised fiestas, written in that year, remained in use right through to 1986. I presume that the style of the suits worn by the soldiers date from that time too.

There was another blip in 1936 when the Republicans set fire to lots of churches and burned lots of religious statues amongst them the 1695 Virgin. The one that gets an outing nowadays is a copy of the original. It was carved by Miguel Torregrosa in the 1950s and given a Papal blessing in 1954.

To be honest I'm not quite sure about all the details of the celebrations. It's a very male festival, and women are notable by their absence. Things like flag kissing and even flag waving are reasonably obvious but there are also children, referred to as pages, who have some part in the festival which I don't quite understand. The web in general and Wikipedia in particular has not helped. The key part though is that there are sixteen groups of soldiers (plus a couple on non aligned groups), each led by a Mayordomo, which dress up in those 18th Century clothes and process through the streets of Yecla shooting off their guns as they escort the Virgin from one place to another.

Should you ever decide to go you will need ear plugs. It is very, very loud.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Pale blue dot

Shortest day of the year, ages old festival. Rural Spain smells of wood smoke from the open fires and wood burners. Burning things is big here. Valencianos have a reputation for fireworks. The Fallas festivals in Valencia are about burning the old as the new life of Spring appears. There are bonfires at San Juan for the longest day of the year and bonfires in Santa Catalina just a couple of weeks ago, maybe full of symbolism, but also good for cooking sausage.

Back in the UK, when we lived there, one of our Christmas treats was to do a bit of a tour around those houses, beloved of the electricity generators, covered in myriad light bulbs. The light to chase away the darkness. I'm not sure how that plays any more. LEDs mean less power but the UK seems to be quite puritan, quite serious, from the odd titbits I hear. There's probably something bad about lighting up your house. If  the principal talking point of a 1977 video of John Noakes climbing up Nelson's Column is the scant regard for Health and Safety then it's probably basically wrong to bedeck your house with lights.

Here in Pinoso they turned on the town's Christmas lights on Thursday, on Constitution Day. The nativity scene was opened up too and there was singing opposite the church. We got cake and hot chocolate down where they set off the fireworks near the municipal tree - though of course it's not a tree it's one of those soulless traffic cone LED things. Good lights though and the weather has been lovely so the turnout was good.

Time to get cracking on joining in. We've had a star - guiding the three wise men, the magic kings - to the West on the front of the house for years now with a long sparkling tail. This year I've added another rope light, a curtain of twinkling LEDs and a light up reindeer on the garage roof. Not much by some standards but it took me ages to drill all those new holes for all those new hooks.

And this year we have company too. Generally Spaniards aren't big on lights in their homes. The countryside is not peppered with decorated homes. Our next door neighbour never bothers but there are new Brits a couple of doors up and they have strung some lights along the front of their roofline. Our homes shine, as beacons of foreignness, into the night sky warding off the evil spirits of the approaching winter solstice.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Number two of two

Chinese buffets are an example. The first time you go to one it's all a bit confusing. The second time, less so, and by the third time you actually get what you want and in the order you want it. I've heard that crows learn quickly but I think we humans are faster.

I've been helping a friend in his meetings with the medical staff at the hospital. If you've read this blog before you will know that I mumble and groan about my Spanish speaking ability all the time. I do speak Spanish though. I gurgle and trip over words, my Yorkshire accent becomes more pronounced and I abandon any clever constructions I may think I know, especially during the first few words, but I usually muddle through.

Hospitals are much less easy to understand than Chinese buffets but, crow like, I suspect we'll soon pick it up. Spanish hospitals speak Spanish which adds a layer of difficulty for non Spanish speakers. Not only do you not know which door to wait outside or knock on but it's not so easy, Blanche DuBois like, to rely on the the kindness of strangers. That's why I've been involved. The first time my friend, his wife and I traipse, en masse, into a new to us doctor's office the doctor asks if I'm the translator. I usually say that I'm a pal who speaks a little Spanish. That generally suffices though it possibly undersells my abilities. Most of we old Britons don't handle Spanish particularly well. When we say "A little" to the question "Do you speak Spanish?" some Britons actually mean they have no more than hello, goodbye, I'd like a pint of lager please and my postillion has been struck by lightning. Their economy with the truth can make my truth sound like an untruth.

I suspect that uncertainty about my abilities may be why one doctor gave us a bit of a drubbing. Her argument was that she needed a translator who could convey the nuances of what she was saying, someone who knew the hospital procedures and, basically, someone more clued up than me. She didn't say that last thing but I understood it anyway. I tend to agree with her. If I can't say dexamethasone and it's a word I need to know then it's not so good. There is also something in my personality that makes me unhappy about talking to strangers and I suggested to my pals that I may be a bad choice as a go between. I told them how, before Google Maps, I would buy a street plan rather than ask someone for directions. My friends though have decided that they prefer dealing with someone they know over someone more technically competent.

They were in the hospital the other day without me. They were working on the assumption that they were there for a procedure. Patients are pretty passive during lots of procedures from a CAT scan to a blood pressure check. Nobody needs to say much as they are strapped into an x-ray machine, they just need to go where directed. But the friends got scolded again. "What happens if there is some problem and you can't tell us about it?

When I keeled over last year and woke up in an ambulance I was able to talk to the paramedics, the next few days in hospital there were no real communication problems. I forget that for other Britons that isn't necessarily the case. The other day, on a forum, I directed a bloke who is having trouble with marketing phone calls to one of the "Robinson List" sites. It wasn't much use to him as it was in Spanish. I don't think that had even registered with me. Crap as I think my Spanish is it's perfectly useable for most situations and it's difficult to remember that for some people even the small things, like knowing what's in a can on a supermarket shelf, is a constant and repetitive daily problem.

Number one of two

I think it would be true to say that the majority of Britons who settle in Spain intend to learn Spanish. The general view seems to be that, after a year or so, we should be getting by followed by a general and constant improvement until we are fluent after maybe four or five years. A longish term project but with immediate gains. That's a vast generalisation. Some people never have any intention of learning Spanish. Others, particularly those who maintain regular and constant relationships with Spaniards through living, working or studying together, may expect to, and actually do, learn the language much faster.

There are as many opinions on learning Spanish amongst Britons living here as there are Britons. I often think that a chap who runs a famous English language learning organisation here in Spain has it right. He was talking about English but the idea holds good for Spanish. He maintains that most people learning English get to whatever level they want or need and then falter or stop. That expertise may be sufficient to get a beer or it may be enough to maintain a detailed conversation about the functioning of the House of Lords. It's a level that suits the individual. Job done, now to rebuild the outbuildings.

Most Britons find it hard to learn Spanish. The sounds are different, there are thousands of words and phrases to memorise, there are structures and formulas to grasp, copy and use and English keeps getting in the way. It's just one huge memory task. People blame their teachers, they maintain that they are too old to learn, they say they get by alright with a few words. As I said, as many opinions as there are Britons living here.

It's easy to see that Spaniards find English just as odd as Britons find Spanish. I'm reading a book at a moment and the character goes for a walk from one Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan up through Harlem and across to the Bronx. He follows Fordham Road. Now Fordham Road has a certain sound Britons but either the Spanish author, the Spanish proof readers or the Spanish editors don't share that sensibility. Fordham Road is also spelled as Frodham Rd. (possible but wrong) and Fhordam Rd. (impossible in my opinion). The point is not the misspelling but that it seems possible or even correct to Spaniards and my guess is that most Spanish readers won't even notice the error. I'm often Christopher Jhon on documents and there's something similar with the Pinoso Christmas programme. A local theatre group is doing Oliver Tweest, I presumed this was a spoof on Oliver Twist but no, it's a simple typo.

How people choose to learn is as diverse as the methods. Some take classes to try to learn - some want native speakers, others look for people from their own country with a good grasp of the language. Some sign up for miracle courses while others use applications on their mobile phone, watch films, listen to songs and podcasts, there are those who make vocabulary lists and there are even some unreformed types who buy books with CDs in the back cover. Methods and tips are a regular topic of conversation amongst the immigrant British population here. Some of those things come at no extra cost, some, like classes, cost money. Obviously enough most of the same things could be said about Spaniards who want to learn English except that the ones here are not living in a foreign milieu. They're home.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Comings and goings

We were going to try out the new Indian restaurant in Pinoso yesterday lunchtime. Maggie works till three and getting lunch around that time in Spain is absolutely standard. Nonetheless, on a slow day in a small town it's just possible that the kitchen will close if a restaurant is short of custom. I put my head around the door, to check. I was greeted in English. Open till six he said. It turned out that we'd had a bit of a communication problem. In fact they opened at six, not closed, presumably for we early dining Britons.

I knew about the Taj Mahal from simply passing by. The other day though, when I was quizzing, as one does, a student about toppings on pizza, they told me that they preferred pizzas from el Punto to the ones from Riquelme. According to the student the shop was about 300 metres from where I work. I'd never heard of them, I'd never seen their soiled napkins dancing in the swirling leaves, never seen their pizza boxes abandoned on the floor. Their Facebook page was created in July 2016 which suggests I've had plenty of time to notice them. Their takeaway offer seems to be traditional Spanish food as well as burgers and pizzas. I made a short detour from work and, right enough, there they were. They don't open Thursday lunchtime though.

Indian and takeaway denied us then. I wondered about La Picaeta. We went in there a couple of weeks ago. They gave us a business card with a new name and a new address. I'd heard an advert on the local radio to say that the restaurant was under new management but I think their launch day was today which wasn't much good yesterday lunchtime.

Maggie came up with a cunning plan. The dining room at Mañan has been putting out a blackboard advertising their lunchtime set meal for months now. Despite our thirteen year residence in Pinoso we'd never been there before today. We finally righted that wrong. Perfectly acceptable; nothing fancy but good and obviously well established - salad, starter, barbecued meat, pudding, coffee and a drink for a massive 9€.

So we've still got the Indian and the takeaway and the new Picaeta to try whilst the old Picaeta management, according to their card, are now running, los Coves. Ages ago we went to a bar/restaurant with that name up in Santa Catalina so I presume it's the same place. We need to check. Actually talking about Santa Catalina, we were up there last Friday and we found a bar with live music that we didn't know about - we knew the bar but not about singer - we must go back. At least we did manage to get into Estem Ací - the name for the new restaurant being run by the Uruguayan twins who formerly ran Oasis - shortly after it opened back in October. And, the other day I hesitated outside the bar in Rodriguillo, one of the outlying villages of Pinoso. I last went there in about 2006, shortly after that it closed for a long time but I'd heard it had re-opened. The hissing of the coffee machine and the chatter of voices emanating from inside the bar bore that out as I dithered on the threshold.

We're not exactly stay at home types so it seems just remarkable to me that there can be so many restaurants or bars that we haven't spent money in. After all the town, nay village, of Pinoso has only just over seven and a half thousand people!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Just get the form, fill it in and get it notarised

I still look at various expat forums every now and then. On one of the forums, the administrators try to rouse the troops a little with something they consider to be potential conversation starters. One of the questions that's cropped up a couple of times is about cultural differences. I maintain, and I still maintain that the differences between Spain and the UK are minimal. I don't mean that the two countries are the same but the basic premises on which they run are very similar and lead to similar ways of doing things.

In Spain traffic is organised and regulated, doctors wait, stethoscope poised, in health centres, dustbin lorries come with monotonous frequency, I can take photos of more or less what I want, I don't have to join a particular political party to prosper, health and safety laws are strong, you are unlikely to be slaughtered in a gunfight, slavery and human trafficking are not tolerated, the state doesn't kill people, there are laws to protect animals and consumers, entering and leaving the country is a reasonably simple process, I, and more particularly women, can dress as we wish, my internet access is not controlled or censored, people are not persecuted for their ethnicity, corruption is punished, bribery is not endemic, people pay their taxes and a long etcetera. Now that doesn't mean that everything is fine but, without needing to look at a map or consult Google, we are not talking about the problems you might encounter in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Myanmar, China, Nigeria, South Africa, The United States, Mauritania, Tibet, North Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan or Cuba.

I'm not saying that everything is hunky dory. Gitanos, gypsies (and I've never heard anyone suggest Romany People) get treated badly in tens of ways, there are racists here as there are everywhere, rich people find life much easier than poor people, transexuals get a rough time at school, children are abused by adults, the legal system seems to work better for the rich than the poor, dogs are abandoned in the streets and some donkeys, and sometimes trades unionists, get beaten with sticks. There are prostitutes controlled by evil pimps, there are laws which can be used to limit what I consider to be basic freedoms and builders will sit atop scaffolding dressed in shorts and flip flops and then suggest you pay in cash without the need for VAT. At times the process for getting planning permission or an insurance claim sorted out can seem interminable. I could go on.

I can't pretend that I don't notice the differences. But differences have a way of becoming normal. It's ages since we had to deal with the skein of bureaucracy that we had to deal with when we first got here. Residence documents, identity documents, registering with town halls, this and that piece of paper, new bank accounts, new insurance policies, cars to be bought, phone contracts to be sorted, new power suppliers to be compared, builders to be hired and a hundred more things, right down to recognising bleach in the supermarket, were a challenge at first. Those things came in an avalanche of activity. Nowadays they come along one at a time. It's just as much of a pain in the backside getting a new passport from the British as it is exchanging a driving licence with the Spanish. I'm helping somebody get a document we all call a residencia at the moment. The paperwork isn't particularly complicated but there is lots of detail that's a bit tricky. Just dealing with that one thing reminded me of that deluge of paper at the beginning. It's a miracle anyone survives it. It must be exactly the same for anyone heading for the UK from elsewhere.

Of course I actually keep a weather eye out for the differences because they give me to something to blog about. Visitors are good for reminding you just how many things have become ordinary that aren't that ordinary to a British sensibility. We have visitors at the moment. We popped out last night to see the statue of Santa Catalina get moved from one house to another during the fiesta in her honour, had a look at the mediaeval market and just strolled around. The people milling all over the place, the apparent disorganisation of it all, the actual idea of shifting a statue around escorted by a brass band, the unshaven priest, the mayor mixed up in the crowd, the number of police officers on hand, the odd looking buildings, children on the street quite late in the evening, not paying at a bar until you're about to go, bonfires set up in the middle of the road and complete strangers offering you glasses of wine or barbecued sausage were all just a bit different. And we were only out for a couple of hours.

Mind you it's not all whimsical drollness. I had to work this morning so Maggie has taken our guests off to a bodega and restaurant after. Whilst they've been away, I've been talking to a pal who appears to have been swindled over the sale of the kit to heat her pool. She's bumping into something else that is just as normal a part of everyday life in Spain. The difficulty of complaining when something does go wrong. Again I'm not so sure that's all that different from the UK but it can seem like a very uphill process when you are faced with the intransigence of a company, a company that doesn't answer your phone calls or return your emails, a company that speaks a different language and a company that knows its way around whatever legislation there is much better than you do.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

One for the road?

I know it's perverse but I was pondering on the romanticism of the drunk the other day. Actually it was probably whilst I was in the HiperBer supermarket trying to decide whether to buy whisky or brandy. That pondering led me down Memory Lane - what was the name of that journalist? The one with the byline "so and so is unwell". The phrase appeared when there was no column because the man was too far gone to write. As I vainly struggled, synapses and neurons not doing what they should, that Mike Figgis film, the one with Elisabeth Shue and a Nicolas Cage bent on self destruction, came to mind. I liked the Cage character and I enjoyed the film. I occasionally wonder whether my own days will end in an alcoholic stupor.

That's where this post ground to a halt. I couldn't remember the name and I'd forgotten what the point of the post was going to be so I went to bed. When I awoke in the morning I was thinking Geoffrey. In fact it's Jeffrey, Google remembered, Jeffrey Bernard and it was the Spectator not the Evening Standard.

It's dead easy to drink too much in Spain. It's one of the stereotypes that exists about British  immigrants and Britons in Spain in general. Pint in hand and probably shouting. Not that Spaniards don't drink. Whenever I suggest to Spaniards that other Spaniards are pretty abstemious I often get reminded of botellones - when Spaniards gather together in a public place to socialise and drink alcohol. The participants are typically young people with a carrier bag laden with bottles and cartons full of booze, mixers and snacks. It didn't use to be at all unusual to see workers drinking a brandy or an anis alongside their coffee though, thinking about it, it's a while since I've seen that. What I've never seen is Spaniards drinking as though the stuff is going out of fashion.

The last litre bottle of brandy I bought was Terry, Spanish produced but perfectly palatable. It cost 8.69€ or about £7.70, J&B whisky was 11.65€ or about £10.32 though that was for the smaller 70cl bottle. Have a shot, un chupito, alongside your coffee and it will cost 1€ or about 88p for what would be a traditional double in a UK pub. I forget how much a 5 litre container of perfectly nice wine is from our local bodega but it's under 6€ - so the equivalent of a bit under 7 bottles of wine for not much over five of your British pounds.

Now imagine the situation. You are British. You're retired or you're not working. You are generally reasonably well off, comfortable cash wise. The weather is good, you can sit outside for a lot of the year. You're a little bit bored, not bored bored, but with plenty of time on your hands, you're a bit cut off from the world around you because you haven't quite mastered the local language and so what can you do with your time?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The headlong dash

In the olden days, when we British men reached 65 we could retire. Before I left the Sceptred Isle I checked with the pension people. Yes, I was OK, I'd paid enough into the system to be entitled to a full state pension when the time came. That's not true any more. Thank goodness for that Y chromosome though. Back in those same olden days women got their pensions at 60. As a man my first payment has only been pushed back a few months, not five years. Like the British scheme the Spanish pension system is creaking. Can you imagine the scenes at the government Christmas party when the health people are ostracised by the pension people? Are you the the idiots who are keeping all those old people alive?

I was reading the news last night and there was an article about pensions. It mentioned that the process of claiming is very long winded and it suddenly struck me that maybe I should be getting started. After all I've worked for most of the time that I've been here. I'm not sure what my entitlement is to a Spanish pension. I know that, as an EU citizen any pension earned in one country is added to any pension earned in another EU country. Now, exactly as in the UK, the Spanish Government is pushing up the retirement age. It was headline news  a few years back but if I ever knew the detail I've forgotten it. Fortunately Google knows everything. Since 2013 the date has been moving upwards, a month for a year. The start point was 65 so, this year it's got to 65 years and 6 months. Next year the move upwards will gain momentum and go up by two months a year until it will supposedly stabilise at 67. My pension year is 2019 with a birthday in January so I'll be able to claim a Spanish pension at 65 years and 8 months. I should get the British one at 65 years and 4 months.

To get a full Spanish pension you have to work 35 years and you have to do at least 15 years to get even a percentage of the pension. With a first, cursory, read of the pension information on the web I think that Spanish definition means the sum of my European Union working life. So I presume that I'll be well over the 35 years because I did nearly that in the UK and I've been here now for 14 years. It may be, of course, that as I don't have 15 years in Spain I'll get nothing here but I don't think that's how it works.

Whatever happens I presume my UK pension is relatively safe but it may not be. My Spanish work history may be the problem. I've never worked long hours and I've never had a decent salary here. On top of that most of the time my employers have fiddled the Social Security to reduce their payments. It's just possible that the aggregate of my British and Spanish pensions may be dragged down by my pathetic Spanish earnings. And, of course, there is always the uncertainty added in by Brexit.

To claim either or both pensions I, currently, have to go to the pension office in the country I last worked in and that's here, in Spain. So, even though the majority of my payments were made in the UK my pension will be paid in Spain through the Spanish system or at least that's what my very cursory late night reading, last night, suggests. I'm not quite sure how the mechanics of that will work, in the sense of who actually stumps up the cash but, to be honest, I don't really care so long as someone does. What I'll have to do is to read some stuff on the Internet so I have some clue about the theory of how it works and than I'll have to go and talk to some real people in an office to see how it actually works.

I'm having a bit of a trough Spanish language wise at the moment and the thought of ploughing through turgid government websites and dealing with lots of government offices does not exactly fill me with joy. There's money at stake though so, time to get reading I suppose.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Let justice be done

I don't usually know what your average Spaniard is talking about as they chat with the neighbours, keys in hand outside their house or have a drink after work in the bar. It's easy enough for me to ask real Spanish people real questions but asking for answers isn't the same as knowing what people talk about spontaneously. Of course the traditional media, newspapers, television, radio and the social media probably reflect what's going on in the street but not necessarily so.

There has been one constant in the news for months. Cataluña. Every morning as I do those things that you do in the morning in the bathroom listening to the radio and as I move to the kitchen for my breakfast tea and toast I hear the pundits sounding off about Cataluña. There are lots of other things in and on the news but Cataluña just keeps coming back and back. Maybe they should start to have a section for Cataluña similar to the sports slot or the stock market updates. I have no idea about Cataluña; it's a political quagmire which causes apparently intelligent people to behave like children. I watched a Netflix documentary called Two Catalonias (it  was in a number of languages but the subtitles that held it all together were in Castellano so I suppose that if you watched it in the UK the subs would be in English). Every time someone made a point pro or anti independence the next section would have someone making exactly the opposite point using the same facts or events. I have never seen a documentary like it. I've never heard a debate like it. What seems to be happening is that people choose their viewpoint and then select facts to support that opinion.

But for the past few days Cataluña hasn't got much of a look in. Back in mid October the Supreme Court ruled that a tax on mortgages, called the actos jurídicos documentados, a sort of stamp duty collected by the banks and passed on to the Regional Governments, should be paid by the banks and not by the people taking out the mortgage. The duty varies from region to region; for instance it's twice as high where we live as in Madrid. Looking for an illustrative figure it seems that in Alicante you would pay around  2,250€ on a 150,000€ mortgage. There were lots of arguments about the sums but the loss to the banks was reckoned to be about 5.5 billion euros and it didn't do their share prices any good at all.

The day after the court decision a senior judge provisionally halted the judgement from taking effect and two days after that the top judge in the Supreme Court decided to call all the Supreme Court judges together to decide what to do. In the meantime nobody wanted to sign off on their mortgage and everyone with a mortgage was looking forward to getting money back. The judges meeting, which lasted two days, finished a couple of days ago and their worships decided by 15 votes to 13 to continue the system where the person taking out the mortgage paid the duty and not the banks. The headlines were all along the lines "Banks 15 The People 13" or "The Banks win". The Social Media exploded with indignation and I didn't need to go anywhere other than the supermarket queue to know what the trending topic in the street is today.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A little more sex please, we're Spanish.

This morning Spanish radio was quoting from an article in the Times. The original impetus for the Times story came from a scientific paper in the Lancet which predicted that Spaniards, by 2040, will be the longest lived nation in the World, overtaking the Japanese. It's not much of a predicted difference - 85.8 years for the Spanish and 85.7 for the Japanese. If RNE 1 can pinch an idea from the Times. which pinched it from the Lancet, I don't see why I shouldn't join in by appropriating information from the freebie newspaper 20 minutos. The prediction for the UK is 83.3 years by the way.

The 20 minutos title was "They drink, they smoke; why do Spaniards live so long?" In the piece it says that more Spaniards than Brits smoke, 23% versus 16%, the alcohol intake is more or less the same and both nations sleep, on average, the same number of hours.

The Times suggested a few key differences. Apparently Spaniards walk more, not in a strenuous way but in the idea of using their feet to get somewhere. To the shops, to school or just the leg stretching evening stroll to greet friends and make sure that nothing has happened to the neighbourhood without them being aware.

The journalist also noted that despite longer working hours in Spain the Spaniards still tend to get in a midday nap if they can. I've never found any working Spaniards who get the siesta, except maybe in the summer holidays, but if the Times says it's true maybe it is.

Then, of course, there's the famous Mediterranean diet with lots of fruit, veg, olive oil and red wine. Well, again, if that's what the journalists say I suppose it must be true but, to be honest, I don't see much of that diet in restaurants or in the answers I get from my language students. On the other hand the British newspaper reports that Spaniards don't eat the ultra-processed foods that we Britons do and that I go along with 100%. Anytime I go to an "English" supermarket here in Spain I'm overcome by the number of things you can buy in packets. Compare the goods at the checkout in any "normal" Spanish supermarket and you will see the raw materials of food making rather than the finished product.

The last of the lifestyle differences was that Spaniards have more sex than Britons - 2.1 times a week instead of 1.7 times.

And one last thing, not really a lifestyle difference but flagged as relevant. Some researchers in Vermont did a study of the ten most spoken languages in the world looking for lexical differences. Apparently it's Spanish that has the highest number of happy, positive words but, as the research was done in the USA, it's likely that their language sample was as Mexican, Guatemalan, Peruvian and so on rather than just Spaniards.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

One volunteer is worth ten pressed men

I'm working on Saturdays at the moment. It's ages since I worked weekends on a regular basis. If you don't know I supplement my pension with a few hours of English teaching each week. I don't much care for work of any sort, either paid or unpaid, but, taking that as a given, I find the face to face time of teaching and learning English with the students surprisingly enjoyable.

My Saturday morning group are a nice bunch. Eight young people, from teenagers to twenty somethings trying to get a B1 English qualification. B1 is what my sister, an eminently sensible person, would call intermediate level. It's not an easy qualification; the B1 indicator contains the idea of being confident in speaking, reading, writing and listening to English at a sort of familiar level - about things you know, concrete things, things you may be interested in and things you may encounter when faced with real English speakers in everyday situations. The exam strikes me as a reasonable test of those capabilities.

At the moment I have a couple of groups and a few individuals at this B1 level. I also have one group at the slightly more abstract, less predictable, B2 level. Anyone who is truly B2 level would have very little problem getting by in an all English language situation.

Whenever I start a new course I always ask the people why they want to learn English. Most don't. Amongst the youngsters, the teenagers, the most usual answer is that they're doing it because their family wants them to. In the University student and early on in their career group the most usual answer is that they need a qualification. I understand that. I know, for instance, that teachers need an English qualification to get ahead. I have no idea why. Fair enough if a teacher is going to specialise in English it's a good idea that they have at least a smattering of the language but I have no idea why a primary teacher or a secondary science or PE teacher needs English unless they are working in a bilingual school where one of the languages is English. I think it would be a hard world where astronomers needed a grade 5 in piano or clarinet to be let loose on their computers or where cooks needed a Yachtmaster Offshore qualification before being allowed to handle a skillet. But, then again, what do I know?

So the hunt for qualifications is not my preferred answer. Much better if someone tells me they want to learn English because they have an English boyfriend or girlfriend or because they have been inspired by the film performances of  Tilda Swinton. That person is much more likely to put in the sheer hard graft needed to speak better English than, say, an already employed nurse who needs a B2 to improve their promotion prospects.

I once did a course about the industrial archaeology of West Yorkshire. I've forgotten it all now but, for ages, I would remember some small detail from the classes as I drove past a lavish church on a barren Pennine hillside or a gabled house with tripartite windows. I joined the course because I hoped it would be interestings and I was receptive to the information because it was. I've also done a couple of food handling courses and a handful of first aid courses. They were well delivered by good teachers but I did them because I needed the qualification or, more accurately, because someone else required me to have that qualification. I don't remember the first thing about them. I am, on the other hand, eternally grateful to the YMCA training department for giving me the time and money to learn an extra, practical skill as part of my staff development programme. My typing may still be very two fingered but, without them, it would be even more hunt and peck!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Night glow

Sometime, at the beginning of last month, I fired up one of the butane gas heaters in the living room for the first time this season and, a couple of days ago, the pellet burner roared into life after a rest of  at least six months.

We're closing in on the time of year I really dislike in Spain. The time of year when you can't be sure that the washing on the line will dry, when it's colder inside than out. The time of the year when the water in the shower takes ages to run hot, when the bathroom mirror drips with condensation, when it's best to choose today's outfit the night before when the room is still heated. It's the time of year when I can't hear the telly for the roar of the pellet burner.

Since we turned the clocks back we've had a couple of nasty, cold, wet, windy days but winter hasn't really arrived in inland Alicante yet. The mounds of leaves in the garden still say autumnal but winter is very nearly here.

Over the years we've owned six of the butane gas heaters. We were down to three and one of them wasn't working as it should - the fibreglass type matting was shredded and the gas was burning incompletely and unevenly. I whizzed it in the bin and did a bit of research. Whether we should buy blue flame as against catalytic or radiant heaters; which manufacturers were to be trusted and which not. I settled on a radiant type with 4.2kw output from a firm in Murcia and I was pleased when it was available at two different prices in two local shops. I could support local businesses and still feel like a wise shopper without going online.

I set up the heater pretty quickly. I know about hot water to soften the rubber pipes to make connecting the pipes easier, I know about the "sell by date" on the tubing, I know about the different pressures on the regulators and I had all I needed in the garage. But the stupid thing wouldn't fire up. Next day back in the shop the man didn't really believe me but I'd taken a gas cylinder with me. He couldn't make it work either. They got me another for the next day. The new one works.

It was Maggie who turned on the pellet burner. It fired up OK and I went out to work. I expected a toasty living room when I got home. No though. Cool, cold, miserable in the living room with Maggie in a thick cardigan. The pellet burner had given up the ghost. I sorted it out the next day.

The pellets in the heater were the last we had, leftovers from last season. I was sent to buy more. We've had trouble with the quality of pellets over the years and we now get them from a shop about fifteen kilometres from Culebrón. When I got there the shop was obviously open but the door was locked. I've seen this before. It's not an ironmongers that is overwhelmed with customers and the owner is quick to pop out to their warehouse. I waited, and waited. Two other people waited with me for a while. Half an hour. I got the pellets though and yesterday the living room was bathed in that reassuring orangey light.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Casa Mira

Maggie once helped some people, preparing to be official tourist guides, to get ready for the part of the exam they had to do in English. To be honest I've forgotten the details, then again I forgot why I'd gone back into the kitchen a while ago and I'll probably have to re-read this sentence to see where I'm heading, so that's nothing new. The point, though, was that these people had a scripts to learn for each of the places they were going to show. Word for word scripts.

Now there's nothing wrong with "This cathedral is a milestone in the development of the Gothic, marking a symbiosis of technique and aesthetic that characterises so many other great churches built before the onset of the Renaissance".  I have no idea what it means but that's probably because I'd bunked off school or had a note from my mum that day.

This morning though we had to get up early to get to Novelda for nine in the morning. Novelda is about 25 kilometres from Culebrón and it has some notable Modernista style buildings. Modernista is the stuff we Brits call Art Nouveau - all inlaid wood, and curved lines based on the shapes of plants and flowers. For the past couple of years the tourist office has organised a Modernista Weekend to celebrate the style and we'd signed up to visit a house, Casa Mira, that's not usually open to the public. It had only been possible to book a place by phone after a given time on a set date and it took me ages to get through; I reckon I must have dialled at least 100 times, but it proved to be worth it.

The chap who was showing us around adjusted his straw boater, checked his portable microphone and loudspeaker combo and away he went. He started by talking about how people from Novelda had taken advantage of the early development of railways in Alicante, he talked about how the businessmen had been wheeler dealers who risked their money and invested as distinct from the monied classes who just earn and spend. We got stories about how the entrance way was designed to impress prospective clients, about the current owner sitting at the window and chatting with neighbours, about the people who had worked in the house and so on. I'd be lying if I said that I thought the guide was one of those inspired types you remember forever but he was good enough. It reminded me that it's a long while since we got one of the robot voiced facts and figures monologue tours. So much the better.

No photos though, private property and all that.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thinly spread

I have been trying to think of a post for a few days and I couldn't. The rest is just space filler.

My bosses at work asked me if I could design a course for people working in "hosteleria" and I said of course. I nearly always say of course unless they ask me if I want to work with biting and dancing on the table aged children. I knew exactly what they meant with hosteleria, waiters and bar staff and suchlike. I see that the dictionary definition says hotel trade. It's quite odd how much difference there is at times between what Spanish people say and what books and dictionaries and text books say they say.

The book I'm currently reading is Los ritos del agua. As I read any book, particularly if it's in Spanish, I have to look up a fair few words. One of the great advantages of reading on an electronic book is that it has a built in dictionary so I can find key words without interrupting the flow too much. Anyway I came across a word, vahído, which the dictionary says means blackout or funny turn. I could see a use for that word given my personal history so I tried to remember it. I've been here a while now though and I know that it's wise to check with a few Spaniards whether a word is in everyday use before I try to use it in an everyday way. Lots of words are dictionary correct but hardly ever get an outing. Over the years I've struggled to learn several words that I thought would be dead useful - imbornal, escotilla, injerencias and ciclotímico spring to mind - only to find that they are double Dutch to most Spanish people. Nobody seems to use vahído.

Anyway, back to waiters and an English language course. So I asked my bosses if they could find a suitable book for me to lean on whilst I set about doing the basic course outline. As I trawled the Internet I was surprised how much stuff I found, in English, particularly worksheets and vocabulary lists, that I would disagree with. I know it's "better", at least it was better when I was at school in the 1950s and 1960s, to say "May I go to the toilet?" or "May I have more bread, please?" than to say "Can or Could I" but I think it's disservice to teach people "May I" in the 21st Century.

Then I got around to some of the things I would tell the Spanish food and drink people about the sort of things that I thought Britons living in or visiting Pinoso would like to see. One of the first was maybe to use British instead of English. Now I know that Scots like to be Scottish and the Welsh like to be Welsh but I think it may be asking a bit too much to expect a Spanish server to spot the difference between a Maesteg and a Renfrew accent.

Then I thought about information. About how we Britons tend to like things written down. Menus with prices, lists of snacks and the varieties of sandwich. Opening hours and a sample menu, to gauge the price as well as the range, outside the door. Things like that.

Next up were some of the things we do that are a bit out of the ordinary for Spaniards. Butter on bread and nowadays oil too, vinegar on chips, pepper alongside the salt. Drinking hot drinks like tea and coffee with hot food. Not thinking of vegetarianism or even veganism as something odd. Liking your food to be your food rather than having, for instance, communal starters in the middle of the table.

And I wondered about the confusion at times over simple words like eat and drink. Comer is Spanish for to eat but it also means to lunch. Ages ago, when we lived in Ciudad Rodrigo I often used to be in a bar, between classes, at around 4pm in the afternoon. Maybe a little late for lunch in a small Spanish town. It was common for a Briton, or a French person, to approach the bar and ask one of the waiters who looked after the tables in the street, on the terrace, if there was anything to "comer". The servers would say no and turn them away but I knew that inside there were lots of cold foods, tapas, sandwiches and the like that were just what the travellers were hoping for "to fill a gap." A simple misunderstanding. And we understand drink too. "Do you want a drink?" - as someone enters your house means tea or coffee, "Do you want a drink?" - as you talk about what to do in the evening means alcohol. Tricky.

So, to be honest, with a bit of food vocabulary, a bunch of stock phrases, lots of role plays and a bit on our idiosyncrasies I think that building a fifteen hour course will be pretty straightforward.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Do I have a volunteer?

Pinoso has a pretty good theatre space and it gets a lot of use. Events are usually inexpensive or even free. The price being right I'm a reasonably regular attender.

The pre event news must have slipped me by, but, in this month's What's On, there were a couple of dates for theatre pieces presented as part of the first ever Pinoso Comedy Theatre competition. Tonight was the premiere. First up was Estocolmo: Se Acabó el cuento by Carabau Teatre. The evening was introduced by a chap called Javier Monzó. In towns like Pinoso there are a handful of people who make things happen and Javier is one of them.

Now my spoken Spanish is bordering on terrible. Under certain circumstances the idea of speaking Spanish is also terrifying. As a listener though I generally I understand what's going on. The radio or TV news or a film at the cinema aren't usually a problem for instance. Listening to real, conversational Spanish is a bit more difficult but, usually, well within reach. Sometimes though, before even the simplest language, I just get lost and bog down.

Listening to the comedy theatre tonight I soon gave up on the idea of understanding it all. I could just about keep up with the gist but I only understood about 10% of the actual jokes. What worried me more than anything though was that the actors in the two man show kept bobbing off the stage and pestering the audience for low level participation. Listening to comedy is hard enough but being a part of the show?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Jamaican nan wants to know why I love chocolate spread so much, but mi Nutella

So I'm in a restaurant. I have wine and rice in front of me, outside the sun is shining and I don't have to work. Someone passes who knows me. They ask how I am and I respond that life is terrible. If this were an English person they would give a sort of half hearted, well mannered, version of a smile. If the person were a Spaniard they may well ask why.

I arrived late at the Monday evening intercambio session a few weeks ago and a friend was introducing herself to a Spaniard new to the group. After the formalities she added that English people can be a bit difficult to understand because they, we, joke with the language all the time. I watched as she struggled to explain exactly what she meant but I realised that it was true. When Maggie asks if she should put the kettle on I can't stop myself asking if she thinks it will suit her. I often explain to my students that the greeting "hi" is probably somebody playfully responding to hello pronounced "'lo"  with its opposite and that "hiya" is another form of wordplay against high.

Yesterday evening a Spanish pal posted a list of English words used by Spaniards in everyday conversation for which there is a perfectly good Spanish word available. The list included things like apariencia instead of look or pasatiempo instead of hobby. Along with the like I put the comment, in Spanish, "It's not our fault" and he responded with "Nobody says that it is, Chris". Ooops, that wasn't what I meant at all.

Maggie often tells me that I compound my difficulties in speaking Spanish by giving similarly obtuse answers when Spaniards speak to me. But I can't help it. It's how I think.

To justify  myself to my Spanish friend I responded with a blog I found which started with - El peculiar sentido del humor británico  - the strange British sense of humour can seem disconcerting at first. With strong self criticism, an almost imperceptible sarcasm and a very dry style it may seem like a completely new language.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Roll your own

My dancing is terrible. In fact I don't dance. I can't clap in time, I can't keep rhythm, I can't sing. At junior school they wrested the triangle from my grip enraged with my inability to strike it at the appropriate moment. At Grammar School I was beaten for singing badly. It was presumed that I was singing so tunelessly to be rebellious.

I can't roll Rs either. This is essential for speaking Spanish reasonably well. The R at the beginning of a word has to be rolled and the double RR has to be rolled. To Spaniards I sound like a Benny Hill Chinese person.

There are dozens of YouTube videos with tricks, methods, advice and examples of how to roll Rs. They all start by saying that everyone can roll Rs. Just the same way as my music teacher, Philip Tordoff, told me that everyone could sing just a few moments before he set about me with a ruler.

Apparently the trick, for Rs, not for singing, is to put the tip of the tongue on the alveolar ridge and expel enough air so that the tip of the tongue vibrates. The tongue, to produce a Spanish R, has to be somewhere near where it would be if a British person were to say de. I can do that. I can make my tongue vibrate but there is some coordination necessary with my vocal cords and that just escapes me.

It is, as Mr Jones my Latin teacher used to say, a bugger.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Bàsquet: els equips cadet i infantil inicien la competició

I am often quite concerned by my Facebook feed. Apparently I have friends, acquaintances and friends of acquaintances who believe that wearing particular clothes is dangerous, that seeking a better future is intrinsically wrong and that arguing that people should be treated equally is woolly minded thinking. I listen to Trump and Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orbán knowing that Jair Bolsonaro is about to join their ranks and I wince. I think of my home country and its isolationist anti cultural bigotry and I wonder where it all went wrong.

My dad used to talk about how, in his youth, there was hope for a world order of sorts. People working together to solve common problems. Obviously we're now on exactly the opposite track. United Nations, World Trade Association, European Union. Forget it. We'll do better on our own.

On the most parochial of levels, with something very tiny, I don't like what's happening in Pinoso. I have some mobile phone application that collects news articles. Amongst others it takes the news from the local Town Hall. It's news that isn't news really but it helps me to keep up with what's going on locally. Since we got back from our holidays though I wonder if there has been a change of policy, if the news has been Marine Le Pen-ised; Pinoso for the Pinoseros? This was the crop of news headlines yesterday:

Música, jocs i màgia per celebrar el dia de la Comunitat Valenciana
Handbol: inici de lliga amb derrota
Bàsquet: inici de la competició
Futbol sala: resultats del cap de setmana
“Meldo” visita la escuela infantil municipal
Futbol: resultats del cap de setmana

You may notice that they are all in Valencian, the local language rather than in the worldwide version of Spanish or in both. I'm not that interested in the games and magic to celebrate Valencia day, the handball, what happened with the basketball or five a side teams or even about Meldo visiting the nursery but what if the news were about local taxes or changes in administrative procedures that had a direct effect on me? 

The last time I saw a full list of the nationalities living in Pinoso it read like this, ranked in number of people from each country: Spaniards, Britons, Ecuadorians, Ukrainians, Moroccans, Colombians, Bulgarians, Argentinians, Uruguayans, French, Paraguayans, Cubans, Brazilians, Romanians, Germans, Bolivians, Swedes, Algerians, Pakistanis, Italians, Norwegians, Dominicans, Georgians, Lithuanians, Belgians, Portuguese, Czechs, Russians, Venezuelans, Thais, Belarusians, Slovakians and someone from the United States.

It's likely that only a percentage of one of those groups speaks Valenciano. So am I to presume that the rest of us can go take a running jump?



Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Round midnight

It was just after ten and I was putting away my paperwork at the end of the class when a WhatsApp message pinged on my phone. It said that Maggie was helping a couple of friends out with a bit of a medical emergency. One of them was having trouble breathing and, at the local health centre, they needed someone who understood Spanish. Maggie stepped into the breach.

Later it was decided to transfer the ill person to the nearby hospital in Elda for tests and what not. We ended up going too and so, around midnight, we found ourselves hanging around in the Urgencias, the Accident and Emergency of the local hospital. Nobody was watching the telly high on the wall, someone was throwing up on the pavement outside, the drinks and snack machines were doing a slow but constant trade. The main activity though was waiting; staring at mobile phones or talking in small groups. Nobody looked rich, nobody looked well dressed, one woman was even in her dressing gown and nightie - when things happen quickly I don't suppose there is time to spruce yourself up. Quite a few of the men were in shorts despite it only being 11ºC.

It reminded me of so many places with old plastic chairs or faded and lopsided posters on the walls, dole offices for instance, but, more than anything, it brought to mind my occasional overnight coach trips from Petrer to Madrid and on to Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo. A motorway service station and an A&E waiting room when the world has slowed down for the day are surprisingly similar places.

No particular news on our pal as I write- stable but not fixed.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Oh dear! I shall be too late!

Sleep's a funny thing for we older people. Put me in front of the telly or set me to reading in the garden and I'll soon be snorting away and dribbling onto my shirt. On the other hand staying asleep in bed is a problem. If it's not the bladder or my aching back then I just get bored. So today was quite odd because, when I first looked at my watch it was nearly 10am. That's the day gone I thought.

Getting up late on Sunday isn't a venal sin or anything but it does have a big disadvantage in Spain. It basically knocks out any daytime events.

Most people know that the Spanish tend to eat late - lunch from around two but maybe as late as four and dinner from maybe nine till around ten thirty. Summer times can be later. I remember reading a Blasco Ibañez (1867-1928) book where the family were preparing a grand lunch for friends and they were planning to eat at twelve thirty. I wondered at the time if the more modern, later, meal times were to do with changes in the working day and then promptly forgot all about it. I was reminded of the earlier sittings recently with the debate that has been going on about ending the clock changing that goes on every March and October. In a radio discussion someone was arguing that clock time and schedules were different things. He said that, before the time in Spain and France was moved to coincide with the time in Nazi Germany, Spaniards had always eaten at around one in the afternoon. When you think about it as Spain sets down to eat at 2pm the clocks are chiming one in England. In turn that made me wonder what the UK will do when the rest of the Union stops changing its clocks. Maybe the staunchest of Britons will argue for proper British time, GMT, to go along with blue pàssports and non pink driving licences.

So Spanish morning events almost inevitably finish at around 2pm. Markets and selling events will start to pack away even before that time. If you have an all day event everything will re-open for the evening session anytime after 5 or 6pm but if it's an evening only event it can start anytime from 8pm to midnight even in Autumn. Summer start times for evening events are often around either side of midnight. So, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes this morning and looked at that 10am watch I knew that it was unlikely we'd be going anywhere much today.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.

You may have noticed, I hope you've noticed, that I haven't posted for a while. That's because we haven't been in or around Culebrón for a long couple of weeks. Indeed we went for a remarkably enjoyable cruise around the Baltic from Southampton. The boat spent a lot of the time at sea and so, for days and days, we were without affordable Internet access unless you consider £80 for a couple of weeks WiFi to be reasonable. Once back in Spain it's taken us a while to get back onto an even keel. (Sorry).

The majority of the passengers on a Fred Olsen Cruise Ship do not have jobs. They have sizeable pensions instead. So, the very Anglo, second question of, "And what do you do?" isn't much use to pigeonhole individuals in an Orwellian, doctor good, shelf stacker bad, sort of way. It was substituted instead by the "Where are you from?" question. I suppose Huddersfield scores fewer points than Berkshire but I don't think it's as reliable an indicator. As an aside Spaniards very seldom ask what you do after they have your name. Instead they ask about your family, your food tastes or whether you like Spain. There doesn't seem to be the same need to peg your status.

It was a small boat and we were soon on nodding terms with dozens of people. We engaged in lots and lots of conversations with lots and lots of people. When we were asked where we lived we told the truth and so we'd get questions about weather, about food, about house prices or about bullfighting. Without doubt though the favourite question was what the Spanish think about Brexit.

I noticed that, when we were answering those questions, Maggie and I have different perceptions of some things Spanish. It has never crossed my mind that I will die anywhere other than in Spain whilst Maggie envisages a possible return to Albion. Apparently we have different ideas about everyday things like how clothes fit or how long the winter lasts too. On Brexit though we seemed to be in agreement. In our experience the Spaniards who live here don't think very much at all about Brexit. It's not an important issue on the street. It's there on the news from time to time but it's not a big item or a long item or a headline item. For your average Spaniard any question to a Briton about Brexit is more a demonstration of good manners than a question with an interesting answer. To be honest it has a similar status for me. What the Spanish authorities decide to do to we foreign immigrants after Brexit may cause me problems but the wayward behaviour of a bunch of British politicians a couple of thousand kilometres away is of very little interest. Not that it won't affect me of course. I'm just about to lose my vote in the UK and I'll lose my European and local vote too when I'm no longer a European citizen but..

Anyway it's good to be home. Every time I go back to the UK I find it much less like the place I used to live, which is obvious enough if you think about it. So I'm a little less comfortable each time. Mind you being fluent in English, even if it tends to be an old fashioned English, helps a lot and a couple of weeks of being able to say exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, was very nice.

BTW: The photos of the trip are in the tab just underneath the Life in Culebrón photo.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Horny handed sons and daughters of toil

There are all sizes of tractors. Probably the most common around here are really old, really beaten up and quite small tractors. Think of a tractor the size of a 1950s Massey Ferguson, the sort of tractor Peter Rabbit's Mr. McGregor would have, if he'd had a tractor. They use them in the vineyards where there is just about space for them to manoeuvre, they use them to haul trailers full of grapes to the local bodega, they use them for the almonds and to go to the bar. A couple of days ago four big tractors roared past the front of our house followed by a medium sized tractor hauling a trailer. They were going to pick almonds. I know because the tractors each had one of the umbrella like nets at the back which are fastened around the tree trunk whilst the tree is given a good shaking. Sherlock Holmes wise I could also deduce that they may well be picking almonds because, when I passed the industrial estate the other day, I could hear the machines working and see the mountains of almond shells in the yard. Oh, and when we were eating outside the village hall on Sunday a tractor and trailer rig went by and nearly everybody there shouted encouragement to the farmer. I could see almonds in the trailer.

Pinoso is rural, it's surrounded by lots of small villages and by vineyards, wheat fields, almond and olive groves and goodness knows what else. And that's the thing. Those people in the village, at the meal, who urged the farmer on, knew what he was harvesting and my guess is that they usually know what's been harvested because they have friends or family involved. I don't. Some things are obvious, the grapes for instance, and maybe peaches or cherries but there are plenty of fields with green things in them. They could be artichokes or peas or peppers or melons or potatoes or onions or aubergines. I may be able to tell close up but I can't guess from as I see the workers stooped over, picking by hand, or the tractors going to and fro.

We have farmers as a near neighbours. They have plenty of kit, sometimes though, for things like big combines or the mechanised grape picking, they hire it in. They work all hours. They work the fields under artificial light quite often. Yesterday evening a tractor started ploughing up the field, which has been fallow for three or four years, directly opposite our house. They finished, I think, though to be honest I'd stopped paying much attention to the noise by then, around 10pm. I'd suspect they stopped to go home for the evening meal. They started again well before first light, around 4.30am.

But why have they ploughed up the field and why was it so urgent? I don't like not knowing that sort of thing.