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Chasing the dream in spain

The diary of two probably mad people wanting to live in Spain.

The cucumber saga
26 June 2011

The cucumber saga rolls on. I personally, have never had a problem with Spanish fruit and vegetables, the local farmed produce is usually a lot fresher and tastier than the supermarket stuff, and quite often much cheaper. The scare has now had an impact on the supermarkets, all now have signs up proclaiming the safety of the produce. Lidl has a large one up saying (guessing a little due to lack of Spanish) that they are proud to have Spanish produce on the shelves of their 10,000+ european stores, and will continue to support the Spanish farmers, a good vote of confidence from a German store. Now I see an article in the local papers concerning UHT milk, apparently, it is now of 'poor' quality. It's not unhealthy, as in dangerous, just lacking in vitamins etc. Most people out here seem to buy it because of the long shelf life, although I personally prefer fresh milk, each to their own. It seems that not a week goes by without one food type or another being put through the rumour mill, who do you believe? Maybe I should do as my parents, and theirs did, a little of what you fancy does you good. One of my uncles used to tell me that living a 'healthy' life does not mean you actually live longer, it just seems like it! And if you tried to eat one of our Linda's salads (she will kill me when she reads this), you'd have to agree with him, nothing worse than a badly presented, boring salad, it grows on your plate faster than you can eat it. Next week they'll be picking on something else, and the stress of worrying about what you can actually eat will more likely kill you than the food itself!


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Moving on.
24 June 2011

Our rental contract expires at the end of July and we had been struggling to find somewhere to move to with a reasonable price tag. It just proves that the rental market here, in particular long term, has had problems with bad tenants. The apartment we were supposed to be moving to was no longer available, the present tenant was having problems getting a mortgage for their new place. It's lucky Linda can talk for England while travelling on a plane. She got chatting to a couple who lived in Almoradi, who happened to have an apartment in Algorfa empty, but only used it for family and friends. They offered to show us round Almoradi, we accepted. The meeting point was the town square in Algorfa, since we knew where that was. They showed us round their place and passed on a few nuggets of wisdom. When it came time to go back to Algorfa so we pick up our car, they said we might as well look at their place there, since I had parked outside it. After a bit more chatting, including the people in the neighbouring apartments, a bit of a wander round, we were pronounced 'good people' and offered the place at a very reasonable rent. Deal done. It's a little smaller than we wanted, but not small enough to be 'seagull' proof. It's a the end of the village, so not overlooked and not too noisy, but still within five minutes walk of the square. Its also directly across the street to where we were supposed to be going. It won't take much to personalise it, and it certainly won't need the amount of cleaning this place took when we moved in. Life is certainly looking up. We picked the keys up today. It just goes to show everything will be OK in the end, and it certainly is good to talk, just like the TV advert used to say.

Thanks for the comments about the last blog. I now know how to say in Spanish that I do not need a carrier bag, I will balance my shopping on my head! I do not seem to have been understood, perhaps I should have been a little clearer. We do take our own bags to the supermarket. I was just pointing out that this 'new and green' stance by the supermarkets is not what it seems to be, and things here never change that quick. Like most things in life, money seems to be the motivation, it's not all as green as it's made out to be.

I was just finishing a glass of wine when writing this, Linda had gone to bed and was reading a book. There was an urgent shout for help from upstairs. After ten minutes chasing 'Colin' round the bedroom, those things can take a battering, it's worse when the little blighters run across the ceiling, I am now back outside finishing my glass of wine. Linda has decided to get up and have another glass, she can't face going back up on her own just yet. I did win in the end, and it's the first one we've had in, and I bet she does not leave all the windows open tomorrow night!


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Plastic and paper
18 June 2011

Before the environmentalists amongst you start screaming for blood, I do recycle whenever I can, and it's easier to do out here. The following are just observations from everyday life in the sun.

Plastic. Namely carrier bags. There has been a sudden rush to be 'green' out here by the supermarkets, supposedly. Or maybe its something to do with some rumoured tax changes. They have all started a re-use campaign, and charging for carrier bags, apart from Lidl and the like who have always charged. You now have to pay three cents for a bag, but to compensate you for this the bags are bigger. We were used to paying for bags back home and they were more expensive. But a carrier bag isn't just a bag here is it? After it has been emptied of shopping, most people give it a new life, as a bin liner! I have been coming to Spain for about thirty years and I don't remember it ever being any different. What I can't understand is why they think this will make people use less bags, who is going to 5+ cents for a bin liner, when the humble carrier bag does the job well enough at half the price. So, until someone produces an economical, and preferably biodegradable alternative, people will still use bags. Or maybe it's just a money grab?

Paper. And lots of it. I am now about to take a leap of faith, and really join the Spanish system. Forms and more forms. One of the English forms I am filling out now is for HMRC, I wonder if they realise how hilarious some of the questions are? Are you leaving for health reasons?? Of course I am! The weather is rubbish and decent food is expensive! So I am now learning to queue for a piece of paper, to get another piece of paper, which entitles me to queue for the piece of paper I actually need. Timber!!! There goes another chunk of rainforest.


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Gone fishing
11 June 2011

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but I went out and bought a fishing rod from one of the Chinese shops. The purchase came about because someone overheard a conversation I was having in a bar one evening. The bar owners husband likes to fishing on his day off, and he said that if I had 'the gear' I could join him. His suggestion was the local Chinese shop, so off I went, and spent my €14, and became the proud owner of an eighteen inch long plastic box. I didn't want to spend a fortune, and this 'kit' seemed to have everything I needed, apart from bait. At this point I must explain that I am not a fisherman, I have only ever caught one fish before, over thirty years ago! I was still at school, and went with a friend to the river Roding, which is about six inches deep. No sooner had I set up and cast out, and opened a can of coke, I got a bite! Chaos broke out, neither of us had caught a fish before, and hadn't expected to either. The fight to bring it in was hard, the fish wasn't giving in, but perseverance paid off, I reeled it in to the bank. What a whopper, it had to be the largest three inch stickleback I had ever seen! What next? We both ended up in the river trying to get it off the hook, so you know where I'm coming from. I digress. So, on a bright Saturday morning I parked up outside the bar, armed with my plastic box, a bottle of water and a 'sarnie', and a tin of sweetcorn. Why sweetcorn I don't know, I wasn't even sure where we were going, and I have yet to see it growing in a river or on the beach??? My friend came out still munching his breakfast, and said we would take his car, gesturing towards the mercedes he was slumming it in, and told me to put my 'gear' in the boot. He nearly wet himself. He was expecting a little more than a plastic box and a Consum carrier bag (I need to mention the supermarkets here have just started charging for bags, I will now have to buy bin liners!). We went to river in the middle of nowhere, and proceeded to unload his 'kit'. Folding armchairs, umbrellas, TWO fishing rods, and a coolbox you need an HGV licence to drive! We caught nothing, despite my guide for the day realising that the reason we weren't catching anything was due to a lack of beer, which was rectified by opening the bar in his coolbox. I enjoyed the morning out and decided I would go again. I have been a few times on my own and caught nothing, not knowing why, until today. Due to some observations, and a few comments in between fits of laughter by someone not much older than one of my grandchildren, I have seen the light! Apparently my rod is only half the size it needs to be (sure I've heard that somewhere before???), and you don't cast from a beach with a float on your line. You just use a large weight with a trailing line with your bait on, umpteen thousand locals can't be wrong, and by eight o'clock you can't get a spot on the beach! Did I mention I had wound the line the wrong way round on the reel as well? Come on, you can't look this good and have brains as well, can you? So I will be going back again, armed with the knowledge this time, and hopefully bringing something home for the table, a Lenguardo would be nice, anyone listening upstairs?


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Second hand cars
06 June 2011

Due to our car hire coming agreement finishing at the end of July, we will need to buy our own car. This is not an experience I'm looking forward to. Second hand car salesmen rank alongside estate agents and insurance salesmen in my view of things, not the most popular of people, but we will have to deal with them. The only difference I can see out here is they are dressed in shorts and shades, but I'm sure behind the shades, they are of the same ilk. Cars tend to be more expensive over here, not the big fleet car market like in the UK and they tend to last longer. They don't seem to rust, they don't have to use salt down south, lack of snow, it's rare. They do however, suffer from faded and blistered paintwork due to the sun, and dents. Lots of dents! They are like a badge of honour here, the more the better. Apparently, we don't actually have to resident to buy a car, just have proof of a fiscal address here, like a house rental agreement or similar, they just need somewhere to send the road tax bill to. You also need your passport and an NIE number, as with everything here. You have to be careful buying privately, if the person you buy from has not paid his road tax for a few years, when you buy it, the bill passes to you! How nice, so it pays to check. At home they would just tow your car away and crush it for not paying, not here. Other different ways here include the insurance, it's not the driver here, but the car that's insured, so anyone over twenty five can drive it, very handy when family come out, no need to keep changing the policy and paying 'administration' charges. It also includes breakdown cover, towing is illegal here, and medical cover for everyone in the car. So although it looks a little more expensive compared to the UK, you get a lot more for your money. There is also a spanish branch of Direct Line, so you can get help in english if needed, worth considering. We were considering one of those van type things that everyone out here seems to have, no bigger than a car, but loads of room in the back for suitcases when the family visit, boring, but practical. The trouble with them is the ITV system, the equivalent to the MOT back in blighty. New cars here, do not need testing until four years old and then every two years until ten years, then every year after that. The problem is that these vans with windows, although having car seating in for five people, are classed as a commercial vehicle. That means a test every year by the looks of it, and every six months at ten years old. Sod that for a game of soldiers! So, still wanting to be practical, a Yaris Verso, or something similar looks the way to go, as these are still classed as cars, and will serve our needs. It looks like we have sold our car back in the UK, so Linda will sort this out when she goes back next week, then we will have to look at this more seriously. A new car would be nice, but a bit more than we are prepared to pay at the moment, and we don't do a lot of milage, only the airport run, time will tell. I might need to stock up on paracetamol for this one, bound to get a stress headache, it will be the first time I've needed any out here.


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The joys of driving in Spain
28 May 2011

The joy of the open road, driving on country roads, windows down, just drifting along and taking in the scenery. I should be so lucky! Just when I think I've got it all worked out, I come across something else that leaves me completely astonished. Being British, it seems it's going to take a while to learn to become a 'good' driver by Spanish standards. Car abandonment, or parking in English. Only a tourist would attempt to use a single parking bay, whereas a local person gets a nod of respect for taking up four spaces with a Fiat Panda, I'm not sure how many you need to use for a Volvo estate, I'll have to ask. The newly reduced speed limits, why did they bother? Only non residents take any notice of them anyway, unless there's a camera of course, despite what the Government says in the papers. The toll roads are a good example. Lots of people are speeding before they get off the slip road, and the tolls are like drag racing start lines, perhaps they need something more along the lines of the French toll system, although that too has some faults. Going shopping in a village. Why use that nice parking space twenty yards down the road from the shop you want to go to, when you could use that 'special' place for 'experienced' drivers right outside the shop. You can't miss them, they are painted red and white, and stretch right across the road (a pedestrian crossing in English). Parking here here is the marque of a really good driver, but an 'expert' driver would double parked here, or just leave the car in the middle of the road with the hazard lights on, not as a warning though, but to attract attention to what they have done so everyone can see how good they are! Pedestrian crossings have a special meaning to Spanish licence holders, more so if they have penalty points on their licence. I am not totally sure of he legal standing, but to the casual observer, it looks like you must get points taken off you licence if you manage to hit someone on a crossing. Maybe that's why the red paint, it might help keep the place looking tidy if a few people are having a 'successful' day ridding those licences of endorsements. The Spanish equivalent of the plastic pig, but this one has four wheels. They are about the size of a Smart car, but have a motorcycle engine. The licence requirements for these is minimal, being alive is the main one, but there has been a mention in the papers here that one might not actually be required at all! But you do have to respect people that drive one, it has the all the street credibility of wearing a shell suit. (Remember those, how many people still have one hidden in a wardrobe? You can't throw it out or take it to a charity shop in case someone you know sees you! A bit of a dilemma that one). You must need a very thick skin to put up with being overtaken by cyclists all the time. As for speeding, no chance, you'll have trouble doing 30kmh going downhill with the wind behind you. The one that takes the biscuit though, from personal experience, was on a roundabout, and nothing to do with a 'Rita' before you even think it! (There is another story here, involving one of Linda's weird curiosities and a black BMW, another time, maybe). This one should have been on YouTube, and would have been, if we both weren't too shocked to get a phone out to record it. The driver in question, who was Spanish, somehow managed to turn LEFT round a triangular traffic island leading onto the roundabout! It must of taken quite an effort to manage to do it. So there we were, stopped less than ten feet apart, facing each other on the roundabout. This person was obviously not an 'expert' driver, he didn't put his hazard lights on to let me know just how good he was. His wife, made the internationally understood gesture for sorry, please forgive my husband, he's an idiot, and then went back to tearing a seriously large strip off of him. So, one of us had to do something, and it was not going to be the other driver, he now having a 'major domestic', and losing badly by the look of it. It was a tight squeeze getting round him, you can't just bump up the curb here, they are huge, quite often in excess of eight inches, and we left them to it, still having a row and facing the wrong way on the roundabout. Seriously though, it can be a pleasurable experience once you get out of town, where it is total chaos. Driving along, past all those olive and orange groves, the fields of artichokes and other exotic things, has a remarkably relaxing effect, it's all so very laid back, and reminds us why we came here in the first place.

PS. Thanks for your comment Jacqui, glad my scribbles give enjoyment to someone. As we are not yet fully in the system here yet, there are not many bad memories from here, most are good! Eating with friends takes on a new meaning here, none of this you have got the table for an hour and a half rubbish. Though personally, I prefer to entertain at home, and now have a growing collection of those brown dishes, Tapas evenings are great. We have spent many a night chatting with friends till the small hours, nibbling on tasty morsels washed down with a glass of 'tinto', it does not get any better! Family have now excepted the move, one daughter has now claimed wardrobe space, she travels with hand luggage only. We just get a text, got a cheap flight, will be out tomorrow on fight such and such, come pick me up! More than a sight change of heart from the original tantrums when we said we were going. She now manages to 'pop round' at least once a month. The other daughter is out this weekend, complete with one point five children, leaving her husband to watch the football and fend for himself. So only one 'guest' free weekend this month. We see more of them now than when we were back home!


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Walking the dog.
24 May 2011

Well, several actually. This afternoon we finally got round to doing 'our bit' for charity. Off we went, armed with some bottles of water, to a local dog rescue centre. We had volunteered to walk some of the dogs they have there, talk about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun. After half an hour lost in the middle of nowhere, the directions were not that good, we found the place. Not exactly Battersea dogs home, quite small really, but when we got out of the car, the barking really gave the place away. So, 'dogged up', off we go in thirty degree plus heat. Linda had got one with a bad legs, mine had 'issues'. We both ended going back quite quickly, mine just didn't want to go anywhere, every few paces it just wanted to sit, must have been a union rep in a previous life, stubborn as hell. Lindas' one, despite being virtually unable to stand, managed to 'wash' the brakedust off of both drivers side wheels of our car, that's gratitude for you! Lindas' second walk was suffering from brain damage, walking in a line was not easily done, standing up was a big ask, this was one of the two dogs I could have taken home. My second walk also had issues, mainly it's own shadow, nervous as hell. This one had given me 'the look' as soon as I'd walked in, and no, it wasn't called Harvey. I didn't walk many more, between the few of us that were there, we managed to work through them all. But going back for the next one, in fact all the time I was in the kennels, the second dog I took out had been staring me out, and was the other dog I could have taken home. Those take me home eyes followed me everywhere, it was a close call, but not practical at the moment, so I went home without one. Off home for a shower and a well earned beer, feeling that I'd been some help, but I know they will be there tonight, those eyes will be staring at me when I go to sleep. So much for the swinging brick theory, despite what people say, maybe I have a heart after all! We will going back shortly for another session, this time with more water.


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Dangerous tides.
21 May 2011

Myself, my wife and eldest daughter, were spending this afternoon on the beach. As usual, Saturday is very busy, not just with holiday makers as lots of Spanish families also hit the beach at weekends. Someone appears not to taken enough care, and paid the price for it. The crowds have dispersed a little now, the person is surrounded my multiple 'officials', but there does not appear to be any relatives here. At least they have now covered him up, it looks like a man, but then I am a hundred meters away. Unfortunately, as the season has not officially started yet, the usual lifeguards and and paramedics that would be here, are not. I was engrossed in a book as usual, so not quite sure wether he died here or has just been 'washed up', but I do think this is something that children should not have to see. The undertow current can be bad here sometimes, please be careful when you go swimming, people tend to over estimate their swimming ability, some, like this man, will pay dearly for it. An hour and a half later he is still here, face down. It was incredible how many people have a morbid curiosity with things like this, and can't resist a closer look. Maybe it is time to consider putting the emergency services here at weekends before the season starts, it may save some lives, and the heartbreak that a family is now going through.


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Stopping on
18 May 2011

 After much consideration, we have decided to stop out here in Spain a bit longer, despite the weather being strange. We have decided not to buy a house just yet, and so are looking into a long term let to see us through into next year, it seems to be the sensible thing to do until we are totally sure the area where we are is for us. We have made a couple of small forays into the Spanish system though. Getting things done out here usually involves lots of phone calls, and if you give an English number people just look at you as if you are daft, or never ring you back. I am now the proud owner of a house brick masquerading as a mobile phone, it even gets a signal sometimes! Having a Spanish number does have some drawbacks, you get a few wrong number calls. It took several attempts to convince a Spanish woman one evening that my name is not Jose, and I don't know anyone called Jose either, she just wouldn't take the hint that having a 'northern' accent means you are probably not Spanish. You also get the odd sales pitch as well, but these can be quite funny really. If I get a greeting in Spanish when I answer the phone, I usually reply in Spanish out of politeness, this leaves me open to what comes next, the sales pitch. They could be selling car insurance or telling me I'm a lottery winner, I have no idea. They rattle on for a bit in Spanish and it then goes quiet, this is a pause where I am obviously expected to reply to the question I have just been asked, if I knew what they had said I would. Time to drop the 'no hablo español, inglés' into the mix, some hang up a this point, some tuff it out in English after a a bit of a pause and a sigh, got to admire those ones, it must be really hard for them. They do give up eventually.

 

The other thing we have done is open a Spanish bank account, that really passed a few hours on, literally. Umpteen signed forms, countless photocopies of passports and NIE papers and a note from my mother confirming my identity and that I did not have a psychotic killer cat called Jaws, I was eventually given a bank account. No debit card though, that is an 'extra'. Unlike back home, where you get free banking, everything here costs, not much, but costs all the same. A debit card would be €15 a year on top of the fee for opening the account, so we went for the straight bank book. All we really needed was something to be able to pay bills from, there's  no nipping in with a paper bill and paying by cash or cheque here, they like to take it straight from your account. The last thing I was given before we left the bank was a pin number??? It was then explained to me that due to the magnetic strip on the book cover, I could actually use it a cash machine, thats why the pin number, how novel! Anyway, it's up and running now, just in case we need one for the rent or paying bills etc, and it will be cheaper than using an English debit card in cash machine anyway. We will see how things go, they can’t be any worse than English banks, can they???



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Home alone for the week
02 May 2011

 Linda has gone back to the UK for a week, taking her farther with her that leaves me all on my lonesome. Her farther really enjoyed his stay here, just a little trouble with the high curbs, especially at night; we have not had any streetlights for well over a week on the main road outside our house. There seems to be quite a few streets with them out, no doubt someone will fix them eventually, this is Spain, so I’m not holding my breath waiting, and no-one has asked for a pound for the meter yet. Maybe this is part of the new energy saving drive they are having here, first drop the speed limits on the roads, and then turn the lights out to save a few more pounds, sorry, euros. Despite all the quotes in the papers, no-one actually seems to be taking any notice of the speed limits anyway. I do try to keep to them, but I am in a minority, with people regularly flying past me as if I were stationary. I even got asked by someone the other day as to what he should do, as people behind him were leaning on their horns in an attempt to get him to put his foot down. Don’t let them get to you I said, if they are late, they should have left in better time, stick to the limits, let them get the speeding fines. If you are at the front of a line of speeding traffic, the police are going to nab you, especially when the local coffers are running empty, and they seem to have sporadic bursts of activity every couple of months, sooner or later it will be your turn.

 

I have actually gone and bought a cheap Spanish mobile phone, having avoided it for quite a while. If you are trying to organise anything, and you get asked for your phone number, giving an English number gets you some funny looks, and you quite often find that no-one will ring you on it. So a cheap pay as you go seems the way to go, only need to top it up once every three months with five euros, just the ticket for those incoming calls. That should see the end of the ‘are you mad’ looks, till anyone sees the phone anyway, not exactly cutting edge, but it functions. Being portable has its advantages till we settle somewhere, and get a landline sorted out, although that may not be necessary. It seems quite common to use local companies, without a fixed line, and they provide a service similar to cable at home, but no wires, just a receiver on your roof, television, phone and broadband. Worth looking at when the time comes as they seem cheap enough, and they reckon to provide support in English, I wonder where the call centre is, it might even be in the UK! Wouldn’t that be strange?

 

I have been asked by one of the friends I have made if I fancy trying my hand at fishing, it sounds like it might be fun. He is making enquiries as to what licences are needed, and the equipment seems cheap enough, not worth buying expensive tackle till I have tried it. If I don’t catch anything, I can always nip down to Mercadona and buy a monster fish, and tell a few yarns about how it took two people three hours to land it, and of course get the photo with my ‘prize catch’. At least that way it may actually be safe to eat what I have ‘caught’ without making anyone ill, assuming it will fit in the oven. More shark anyone?



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