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Donna Gee - Spain's Grumpy Old Gran

SHARE THE MOANS AND GROANS OF AN IRRITABLE EXPAT BRITISH JOURNALIST

Stop the bus in Spain - I want to get off where life is fine and fair
13 December 2015

Dashing up the steps of  an Alicante-bound jet at  Manchester Airport in pouring rain and a furious early-morning gale is a favourite memory of my ever-dwindling trips home to the UK.

 

The race across the runway to the aircraft was invariably sheer pleasure because I was about to swap the cold, miserable British weather for the Costa Blanca life I so adore.

 

Apart from the shivering, soggy climate, my visits to the UK continue to highlight why living in England today is more of a penance than a joy.

 

Yes, the beautiful countryside, unique historic buildings and ironic British sense of humour are still intact. But the breakdown of law and order and increasingly large sub-culture of yobbism, alcoholism and drug addiction is frightening.

 

I won’t go into the most controversial subject of all – the over-immigration which is polarising rather than uniting the country. That would be politically incorrect, even if my personal viewpoint is considerably less extreme than that of many native Brits.

 

One subject that really does make my blood boil is the unnecessary traffic chaos and the incompetence of the faceless bureaucrats responsible for the massive disruption on motorways and trunk roads.

 

Everywhere I drove, I seemed to be held up – from an enforced 30-mile motorway detour to accommodate a bridge-building exercise, to temporary traffic lights causing hold-ups on virtually every main road. The general philosophy of the transport bureaucrats seemed to be, ‘‘Cause maximum disruption to as many motorists as possible at the time the traffic is heaviest’’.

 

I don’t tend to drive in busy areas in Spain, but in ten years of part-time residence in the 

southern Costa Blanca, I have never seen a  traffic jam, let alone the gridlock of vehicles that snarls up UK cities almost permanently.

 

The Spanish attitude to traffic accidents and road maintenance seems to be the exact opposite to that of the British authorities. The priority after a pile-up is to get the traffic moving again – and to carry out repairs only when they are essential. Hence the road surface can be very iffy. 

 

The consolation Is that you’ll never be caught in a 10-mile queue on the M6, with two lanes blocked by a cone army and an invisible work force. In England, I rarely go out without being stuck in a queue of crawling cars.

 

I also had the dubious pleasure of clashing with the council jobsworths who monitor minor traffic offenders in Bury, Lancashire, where my UK home is. I lost the battle, of course, because being fair did not tally with their  mission to fill the town coffers with as much cash as possible from the softest touches of all – law-abiding motorists.

 

I was blissfully unaware that since the my previous visit to the UK, Bury Council had decided to prohibited one particular bus lane to other vehicles from 7am to 7pm on weekdays, rather than the normal 7-10am and 4-7pm double slot which operated for every other bus lane in Greater Manchester.

 

My ‘crime’ was that I went on a lunchtime shopping trip on a quiet weekday and, at 12.38pm, moved my little Kia Picanto into the empty bus lane momentarily to allow the only other car on the road to pass me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to check the hours of prohibition first – I naturally assumed the rules were the same as everywhere else.


Gotcha! The council spiders had set up a camera to trap heinous criminals like myself in their devious web. And three days later I received photographic evidence of my car tootling along in the bus lane at 25mph, plus a demand for £60 – reduced to £30 if I paid within 14 days.

 

How kind of them to penalise an unknowing pensioner for being courteous to another driver and clearly having no intention of using the bus lane to jump a queue or for any dubious reason.

 


A few days later I received a written reply from Bury’s Parking Services Manager  in which  grammar and accuracy were given low priority.   

(Sic) ‘’I have noted your comments, however, upon further investigation of your case it is apparent that full payment of the Notice has been made,’’ he wrote, as if that was a reason the fine could not be reversed.


‘‘I can confirm that there is ample signage at the entrance to the bus lane specifying the relevant start and end times. The onus is on the motorist to check the information before making the judgement to enter a bus lane.


”Thank you for your prompt payment, however, I would like to inform you that any further right to appeal is lost and the case is now closed.’’ 

That’s it, then. Guilty as charged, and no reference whatsoever to my explanation.                                                                                                   


In Spain, the Trafico has some weird regulations and if you are unlucky, you could find yourself forking out 100 euros for driving in flip-flops or carrying your shopping on the back seat.


If you are really unlucky, you might even be fined for speeding in Barcelona when you have never been within 300 kilometres of the place. Fortunately, the photo accompanying the ticket showed a different make of  car – albeit with what appeared to be the registration number of my Kia Picanto.


A quick call to the Trafico sorted that one out. They cancelled the ticket even more rapidly than Bury council’s greed machine scoffed my credit- card payment.



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Why my fear of flying is just a Spainful memory...
05 December 2015

I used to be so petrified of flying that I'd lock myself away in the airport loo half an hour before boarding and demolish a quarter bottle of  neat Fundador.

Then I'd happily jet off to my destination full of carefree spirit, knowing that if the bottom fell out of the plane at 38,000 feet, I could ferry passengers and crew across the sky to safety using my own 40 per cent proof alcohol tank. 

Even in those days, I was aware that flying was much safer than driving. So, indeed, are the masses of nervous people today who are so scared of air travel that they think a Ryanair loo and a hot flush are the same thing.

So why did I ever get into a flap over what is statistically the safest form of travel on earth (or a few thousand feet above it to be accurate)?  

Global airline safety reports confirm there were a total of 90 commercial aeroplane accidents in 2013, just nine of which involved fatalities .

If you are set on meeting St Peter at the Pearly Gates ASAP, then I can reveal that making the trip on two wheels is by far the best bet.  The 173 people killed on those doomed trips may seem a lot but when you look at the figures in the context of 32 million flights worldwide, the overall statistic of one accident per 300,000 flights and one fatality every three million trips proves conclusively that there is no safer form of transport.

Yes, the riskiest way to travel anywhere is on a motorbike. Mile-for-mile, motorcycling is statistically  3,000 times more deadly than flying – and you are 100 times more likely to die travelling to Spain on four wheels than on a UK charter flight to or from the Costas.  

Feel free to double the car-death figure if you include the loony Spanish fly boys who have brought a new skill to the art of driving. It's called airborne overtaking and it's soaring in popularity on my local autoroute.

I was approaching my fifties (in age, that is, not maximum driving speed) when I finally came to terms with the fear-of-flying nonsense. During a rare moment of airborne sobriety, my pickled brain came realised that Fundador-mentalism at ground level was much more likely to kill me than an extinct bird trying to board Ryanair ‘s smallest aircraft.

So when I now squeeze myself into one of Michael O’Leary’s tiny 3,000-seaters, I am reasonably relaxed, albeit still with the ability to panic whenever turbulence is around. Admit it, you laid-back veterans of sky travel  - don't you cast a quick look at the cabin crew's faces whenever the engine sound changes or if the fasten seat-belt signs suddenly lights up? 

I'm sure the aircraft staff are trained to remain calm at all times. But I defy them to keep a straight face if and when a desperate dodo sticks its beak into the starboard wing and the engine catches fire.

For all that, it's great to be smugly dismissive of the occasional flyers who break into a round of applause when their holiday flight touches down. What's coming next - a windbound for the driver?

For me, the most sobering thought is that my daughter and her other half run  a major training centre for motorcycle riders in Manchester. 

I need a drink. Anyone seen my hip flask?

PS. A thought on the new menace of terrorism in the air. In the wake of the 9/11 horror, airline passenger miles in the United States fell between 12% and 20% while road travel rocketed. By the time the panic ended and sky travel returned to normal, academics estimated that 1,595 extra lives had been lost. I never could figure out the Americans.



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When your car goes bump in Spain...
13 November 2015

I used to be among tens of thousands of expat motorists who feared that coping with a road accident in Spain would represent the ultimate of ordeals.

 

OK, we would all have a problem if the other party involved was as physically aggressive as some of the lunatic speeders I see on Spanish roads, which are happily a lot less congested than their UK counterparts.

 

I’m talking about the stress, not only of having a bump, but the red tape that inevitably follows a collision. You know, things like accident report forms, dealing with insurance companies, organising repairs and the general inconvenience of it all.

 

Well, now I know – thanks to a blind young idiot who drove out of a service station near Alicante Airport straight onto the main road - and into my little Kia Picanto. In a Smart hire car of all things.

 

And I can now reveal that getting it sorted ain’t anywhere near as bad as you might fear.

 

My Kia got the worst of it and while it remained driveable, the front offside ended up looking rather mangled. But I was lucky on several points. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, I had a passenger who speaks fluent Spanish – and the young man who hit me so Smartly was working for a major car rental firm.

 

In fact, he had been filling hire cars with fuel all day, which came in useful as an excuse. ‘‘Lo siento. Estoy muy cansado y no vi su coche,’’ he told my female friend as we filled in the obligatory accident report form.  In other words, he  was very tired and simply did not see my car.

 

Until that moment, I had no idea that such a report form existed. But what a good concept it is (not that the UK would ever adopt anything thought up by foreigners, of course).

 

The idea is that both parties in any accident fill in their respective versions of what happened - and also draw a diagram of the collision.

 

There were a couple of these forms in my glove compartment, where I had deposited all the documents relating to the car soon after I bought the vehicle five years earlier. Just as well I remembered they were there!

 

Fortunately there was no dispute about the circumstances of the accident so filling in the details was a formality, complete with a mutually-agreed illustration of the point of impact. Even if my contribution did look like the weavings of a spider across a Technicolor web.

 

Since the Smart car was insured on Europa’s all-embracing Axa policy, I already knew the scenario would not cost me financially. And from the professional and helpful way my insurers, Linea Directa, subsequently dealt with my side of the argument, I have absolutely no doubt they would have got me home muy pronto even had the Kia been undriveable.

 

And  what's more, there's no need to worry if your Spanish is not up to it - because their staff speak perfect English.

 

As it was, I was able to limp back to my house in Guardamar - some 25 miles away -  with only the car showing any bruises. Even though it was a Sunday I was able to make contact with Linea Directa – and within 24 hours all the relevant details, including the accident report form, were in their hands via phone and email.

 

Since there was no dispute over blame, all that was left was for me to arrange a repairer. And I doubt I could have found a better or more helpful, convenient and efficient company than the British-owned Elite Chapa Y Pintura, who were recommended to me by a friend.

 

The only inconvenience during the entire episode was having to leave the car at Elite’s repair centre in Los Montesinos – ten minutes from where I live – for the Linea Directa assessor to sanction the repairs. OK, I was without the vehicle for half a day, but since Elite provided me with a lift home and returned my vehicle after the assessor’s visit, I have no complaints.

 

As for as the actual repairs, they were completely painless since I was by then away in England. Elite collected the car from outside my home just hours after I headed to Manchester for a family visit. And two days later it was back, gleaming as new, to await the inspection of its returning owner.

 

My ordeal was behind me, my Kia looked as good as new, and I still had my full no-claims bonus. My fears about coping had been banished.

 

So if you’re an expat motorist worrying that it might happen to you, don’t.  Apart from the initial shock of the accident, I’d go through it all again. Any time.

 

Providing it's only a little bump, of course.

 



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What the Spanish REALLY think of the British invasion...
06 November 2015

Jose Monllor Perez is small, dark, law-abiding and enjoys nothing more than relaxing with his pals, a cerveza and a cigarette. A stereotypical Spaniard, you might say.

 

We all have our own views on what constitutes an archetypal native of this particular Iberian nation. But how do the Spanish see the thousands, nay millions, of British holidaymakers who swarm around their country seeking the sunshine that invariably shuns our own grid-locked island?

 

For the past 16 years Perez (pictured above) has been teaching Spanish to students of all nationalities (me included) at the Berlingua School of Languages in Quesada on the Costa Blanca – the majority of them English.

Teaching runs in Jose's family and after seeing 5,000 pupils pass through Berlingua’s doors, he’s a pretty good judge of character. The Alicante-born profesora is also a dab hand at another trait that runs in the family - art. And he paints a hilarious tongue-in-cheek assessment of the stereotypical Brit.

 

Spainly speaking, it seems we are an apologetic, dog-crazy, dirty, unfit, drunken bunch of tattooed hooligans. And those are our good points!
The bad guys apparently all wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas.

 

Here’s the lowdown on how Spaniards see us – as interpreted by Perez.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 1: ‘‘They are always saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. Sometimes I think that if you stamped on an Englishman he would apologise. And they say ‘thank you’ so much that the Spanish believe you thank cash machines after withdrawing money.’’

 

Next comes the obligatory condemnation of our drinking excesses. No, not getting sozzled every day and spending most nights, in the words of Billy Connolly, ‘‘talking to Hughey down the big white telephone’’. Something gentler and more refined than that - tea.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 2: ‘‘They drink tea at all hours – and with COLD milk. Uggh! I thought it was meant to be a hot drink!’’

 

The fun stops when we move on to the UK’s much-maligned drink culture, which arguably represents the most vivid stereotypical image of an Englishman in the eyes of 21st-century Europe.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 3: ‘‘The English drink far too much beer and wine and they all seem to spend all day in a state of drunkenness. ''

 

Of course, when we’re on the beach or by the swimming pool, all that booze makes us forget that our white skins are being roasted by el sol.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 4: ‘‘They just can’t take the sun. Their white skin never goes brown – it’s always bright red.’’

 

And then there is our perceived obsession with queueing.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 5: ‘‘They love to stand in a line waiting. Sometimes I think they make queues when there is nothing to queue for.''

 

The British attitude to pets is another peculiarity that amuses Perez.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 6: ‘‘They really love their dogs. We think they sleep with them, eat with them, take them on the bus, go into bars and get drunk with them – and then take each other home. They spend a fortune on their animals, but as for having a RABBIT as a pet, now that we cannot understand.’'

Perez confesses that the Channel 4 programme How Clean Is Your House?  sparked a suspicion among Spaniards that the entire nation is DIRTY.

 

‘‘That TV show is incredible,’’ he says. ‘‘The gardens are clean and tidy, but inside the houses it’s completely the opposite. If I go into an English bar after seeing that programme, I always examine the cups and spoons!’' Then, of course, there is our physical shape.

 

BRIT STEREOTYPE 7: ‘‘Their fitness levels are bad with lots of people overweight – and the guys all have tattoos and look like hooligans.’’

 

According to Perez, the Spanish also see us as bashful when it comes to discussing sexual matters and hmmm, let’s say anything involving personal excretions. But when it comes to using the F word, then there’s no holding us back...

 

Away from the wisecracking, Jose insists that only ignorant people actually BELIEVE these characteristics are representative of the nation. ‘‘Each person is an individual,’’ he insists.

 

‘‘There are Englishmen who do not drink tea, Spanish who don’t like flamenco, Germans who not have a moustache, Italian pizza haters, non-romantic Frenchmen and Russians who don’t belong to the Mafia.

 

‘‘Our brain wants to save energy and work quickly, so it creates stereotypes. It's easier to believe than that each person is uniquely different.’’



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Why I booted Telefonica's nightmare service
16 October 2015


 

After waiting several years for Telefonica to venture into the comparatively new urbanisation in which I live, their eventual arrival was more than overdue.

Now I wish they’d never bothered because my subsequent dealings with the Spanish national telephone service developed into one long, frustrating nightmare. That’s why I got rid of them – and reverted to a local provider here in the southern Costa Blanca.

As a result, I am at least 20 euros a month better off and can contact an English-speaking technician at their offices within seconds. On the downside, I can’t call the emergency services except from my UK-contract mobile – and have learnt to my cost that calling premium rate numbers in Britain is ridiculously expensive.

 From the start, Telefonica made me feel I wasn’t really wanted. I’m not talking about the engineer who installed my line and internet wireless equipment. He was remarkably quick and efficient…even if I did pay through the nose to be connected.

 The problems seemed to mount when I called their English-language helpline number, 1004. My first problem was in obtaining a bill. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t mail me one, depending on whether I wanted it sending to my Spanish or UK address. The best they could offer was online billing. Only I simply could not get my user name or password to work, even when they gave me new ones.

 Consequently, my only way of knowing how much I was being charged was to check my bank statement each month.

 The 1004 people also insisted that I provided my NIE number as well as my name and phone number every time I called them. That’s equivalent to BT asking for my passport number. Surely the fact I was the subscriber calling from my own private number – which they could clearly see using their own office technology - should have sufficed.

 In my eyes, they were just being plain bloody-minded.

 Even more frustrating was that when I rang to request temporary suspension of my ADSL each time I went to England (which reduces internet charges by 75 per cent or more), the 1004 operator insisted this could only be done by their business department.

 ‘‘But this is not a business line, it’s a private house,’’ I repeatedly told them. ‘‘Well, we have it down as a business number,’’ they insisted. ‘’You’ll have to ask them if you want it changing to a private one.’’

The punchline is that staff in the business department didn’t (or more accurately wouldn’t) speak English – and the English-speaking operators on 1004 refused to do the job in your behalf.

 During my 18 months as a Telefonica customer, I made several unsuccessful attempts to have the line switched to a private one, using my far-from-perfect Spanish – and when my umpteenth effort once again elicited the obligatory request for my NIE number, I snapped.

 I called 1004 and said I no longer wished to do business with them and would be instructing my bank to cancel my Direct Debit. The operator showed not the slightest inclination to persuade me to rethink. The clear message was, ‘‘If that’s what you want, please yourself. We don’t care.’’

 So I wrote off the extra amount I had been charged for the suspended service Telefonica didn’t suspend and told my bank to refuse any future demands for money from them.

 I’m well rid, I thought – and for six months or more I heard nothing. Then, out of the blue, I received a demand from a collection agency recently saying I owed Telefonica 55 euros and that  if I didn’t pay, the amount would be increased and I would face legal action.

 I would not even have known about the demand had the Correos not finally started delivering mail, a luxury my part of the urbanisation was not blessed with for some years after it was built.

 I toyed with the idea of ignoring the demand because I knew that in reality I owed Telefonica nothing while they owed ME at least 100 euros. But I quickly realised I was fighting a war I couldn’t win…so I swallowed my anger and wrote off another 55 euros.

This all happened some time ago,, so I cannot speak for Telefonica's current practices. What I would say is that if YOU are planning to become a subscriber, do so with caution. Better still, ask a few people who have done business with them how they got on.

 Most expats reckon life in Spain is generally much better than in the rapidly deteriorating UK, yet could you imagine British Telecom treating anyone with such an abysmal ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude?

 Still, at the end of the day, whether you get your telephone service from Telefonica is your call...



 



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Beware the power of Spanish power companies
09 October 2015

Isn’t choice a wonderful thing? And never is it more welcome than when some company or other crosses you and you tell them to stick it up their you-know-what.

I’m still quietly congratulating myself at the fact I have deprived a couple of airlines of thousands of pounds over the years. Voting with my purse was the only way I could protest meaningfully after being ripped off by their devious practices. So I refused to fly with them again until I felt I had deprived them of suficient revenue to balance  the books.

 One airline went too far when they charged me a £40 ‘administration fee’ in addition to their standard £30 charge to change the name of my travelling companion on a Manchester-Alicante flight. Since the original ticket had cost exactly £70, it amounted to paying for the ticket again just to alter the name of the person travelling.

And I kicked the other company into space when they refused to pay me for an article I had been specifically commissioned to write for their in-flight magazine. Why wasn’t I paid? Because they sacked the editor who commissioned it before she could publish my feature article, which I had spent a considerable time preparing. I never did find out if I was legally entitled to the agreed fee - but I've never used that airline from that day to this.

Between them, those two episodes cost me less than £200 – a tiny fraction of what those two companies subsequently lost in fares and goodwill from Granny Grump and her family. Having said that, I’ve now wiped the slate clean, partly because the flight options from Alicante and Murcia to the UK are becoming fewer and fewer every year.

Maybe I took things too far with my boycott but isn’t having the option of going elsewhere just great when there’s a viable alternative?

The big problem arises when you have only one choice – namely take it or leave it. Which is precisely where I found myself when HC Energia, the only electricity supplier then operating on my urbanisation, cut off my supply without any warning.

It’s not the sort of thing that happens in the UK. At least not without plenty of notification and some serious defaulting with one’s payments.

My ‘crime’ was that there wasn’t quite enough in my account to fund one of HC Energia’s direct debit demands. As I had no overdraft facility, my Spanish bank rejected it. Nobody told me, of course – or I would have coughed up the few euros involved at the drop of a switch.

Instead, the electricity company cut off my supply, Tommy Cooper style. Just like that.

I was in England at the time so I wasn’t left in the dark. At least, not literally. The first I knew of the problem was when my keyholder phoned to say there was a notice glued to my front door in big red letters saying the electricity had been cut off.

Several days, several large banknotes and several mini heart attacks later, I managed to have the supply reconnected. I was also, as you can imagine, furious and immediately decided I wanted no more to do with a company that clearly had no concern for the welfare of its customers. 

The problem was that HC Energia (since renamed EDP) was the only company supplying our urbanisation. So it was a case of ‘don’t waste your Energia trying to switch cos there ain’t no-one else’.

I had no alternative to bite my tongue and stick with the devil I knew. And thankfully this particular demon has never given me any more hell.

That’s presumably because since I was cut off, I have always made sure there are funds in my account to meet every direct debit.

The fact that since last year I have had the option of switching to another supplier like Iberdrola may also be playing its part. But I doubt it….because I gather the devil I don’t know is also a dab hand at cutting people off at the slightest excuse.

Talk about a power struggle!



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Pain in Spain, Part 2: A night in the hospital of nursing nasties
25 September 2015

THE elderly holidaymaker was clearly in need of of a nurse. “Senorita, por favor,” whined the old man from Madrid

in increasingly desperate cries to the night nurses. In the dark hours of a Saturday evening, I had joined the occupants of the thinly-populated observation ward at Torrevieja Hospital after throwing a wobbler in at a local bar near my Guardamar home.

Actually, it wasn’t so much a wobbler as a faint distraction from life. Apparently I passed out as we waited for the bar quiz to begin and was unconscious for five minutes. Don't worry folks, it was quite a while back and I am happy to say I am in the best of questionable health!

Amid fears that I’d had a stroke, the hospital medics decided to carry out a CT scan the following morning. By the time they did it, the ward staff had blown my brains out with their attitude to the poor Madrileno.

I have nothing but praise for the hospital doctors, who were all knowledgeable, friendly, polite and sympathetic. Exactly the opposite, in fact, to most of the nurses.

The three girls on night duty ignored the increasingly agitated calls of the Madrileno, burying their heads in paperwork for at least 10  minutes as if to say “WE are in charge – we’ll come when we have nothing better to do.”

It wasn’t as if the patient was an irritating whinger who’d been giving them unnecessary hassle. Until then, he hadn’t uttered a sound all night.

The trio seemed to have forgotten that nursing is about caring. They gave the impression that they had no interest whatsoever in the patients as people.

I was merely No.31, the number above my bed, as I was to discover several times during the 18 hours I spent on the ward. My first personal trauma came when I asked a passing nurse, who smelt even more of garlic than her colleagues, if I could go to the loo.

‘’No es posible,’’ spelt out Ali Oli Breath, producing a bedpan and thrusting it onto the sheet beneath me.

Pardon the toilet humour but any woman who has used a bedpan will know how difficult it is to do a water-tight job. Ali Oli Breath didn’t even check and moments after she disappeared with the used pan, I discovered that the sheet I was lying on now had  liquid assets. For 15 minutes I wriggled about trying to park my backside on a dry bit.

Ali Oli Breath eventually condescended to change my sheets – her accompanying ‘tut-tut’ hardening my resolve to let my bowels explode rather than attempt to make the other stuff hit the pan.

I’d already experienced an uncomfortable ride being wheeled to and from the X-ray department by a Morticia Addams lookalike, an expressionless zombie whose long black tresses I found both hairy and scary.

I never got close enough to establish whether she was a member of the Ali Oli family. But at least Thing kept his fingers out of it and didn’t pop in to lend her a hand.

The worst deprivation of all was being denied food for my entire stay.

I eventually became so hungry that I threatened to rip the cannula out of my arm and discharge myself unless I was given something to stop my  innards rumbling.

Just go and ask the doctor, PLEASE! ”, I barked at Ali Oli Breath (Day Staff) when she insisted I still remained on the No Food list.

Yet  I’d by now been told by the doc that I could go home once my BP dropped to an acceptable level. Why on earth would I be starved when I was due to be discharged within a hour or so?

There was no logic to Ali Oli Breath kicking up a stink. She was making her own rules….and sure enough, the duty doctor took my side.

If the tortilla hadn’t tasted so good, I swear it would have ended up adorning Ali Oli’s face.


 


 



 



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Pain in Spain: Talking stents in a hospital to die for
15 September 2015

I WAS asleep when a chink of light  in the doorway alerted me. A man had entered Room 114.

A 6am intruder! The last thing I wanted on top of the angina attack that had put me in Torrevieja Hospital for four days and counting. Particularly with only a flimsy regulation-blue hospital gown for protection.
As I lay on the bed, squinting blearily into the darkness, the glint of metal told me the shadowy silhouette was on a business call.
He sat down on the bed - and  I realised he was brandishing two razors in his right hand.
My worst fears were confirmed. I was about to be shaved of my last vestige of dignity…by, of all people, the camp male nurse I had silently dubbed Dapper Diego.
I hadn’t the heart to protest as DD lifted my gown and, humming quietly, went to work. Donna’s pube train was at the sharp end of a potential disaster - and my only thought was that Diego might not mind the gap.
Five minutes later, the plucked chicken with the dicky ticker was ready for her heart-to-heart with the stentist later in the day.
More than 12 hours later as it happens. But of course, Torrevieja Hospital, like just about everyone in Spain, does everything manana.
Anyway, I eventually ended up at the mercy of  the guy whose job is to ping balloons into clogged up coronary channels. It sounds like a children’s party – and it might as well have been from the way the medical team laughed and joked their way through the entire procedure.
There was I, lying there with a catheter invading half my body via a gaping hole in  my femoral artery, and they were all cackling away in Spanish like kids playing doctors with a doll.
I certainly didn’t find it funny…though their trivialisation of it all did admittedly ease my own fears that my life was in danger.
Stentist? It was more like a dentist working upside down after administering laughing gas to himself and his staff.
And you’ve only heard a fraction of the story.
The previous weekend, an undertaker came to the rescue after I suffered a major angina attack at home. My good friend Mike, a funeral director by profession, was staying with me at the time and averted a potentially grave situation by calling the Spanish emergency services. Minutes later, I was in the back of an ambulance roaring down the N332 at 140kph with Vettel Mickey screeching behind in his rented Ford Ka.
I was about to receive proof – if any was needed – that the Spanish health service leaves the NHS standing. Even if it does seem to work at half the speed.
Torrevieja Hospital is a magnificent building with magnificent facilities …a credit to Spanish medicine in the 21st century.
That was evident from the moment I set foot – or rather wheels – on the premises.
I was whisked through the emergency admission process in a matter of minutes…with a slight hiccup when doctors discovered the handful of different medications Mike had grabbed from my bedroom drawer weren’t mine!
Assessed and then herded into a 32-bed observation ward, I shared the following eight hours with an array of characters of various nationalities in various states of discomfort.
Only an obligatory bland, salt-free apology for lunch eased the boredom. Plus the hope that I would be discharged later that day.
I suspect that is what the doctors intended because I was the only patient in the ward not to receive an evening meal.
Mind you, that changed big-time when the nurses got word of the poor starving waif in bed C-21.
They hunted around and unwittingly brought me a magnificent fully-flavoured meal that had clearly been intended for a non-coronary patient. Salt of the earth, those nurses.

For the next five days, home was a comfortable, modern en suite room of my own. And for me, Torrevieja is right up there with any British private hospital - with the exception, of course, that you don’t pay five-star hotel prices.
You get a much better view, too. Tourists would pay good money for the glorious panorama from Room 114 across the salt lake. Picture postcard stuff, particularly at night when the glow of lights on the far shore flickered on the water.
And in Dr Piotr Chochowski, I had the most caring of cardiologists. I’ve lots more to say  - but the main thing is that I’m not yet ready for my date with Mike and his Bury Boys..
And since I did not have to resort to private funding for the surgery, I still have more money than stents.



Like 0        Published at 14:54   Comments (2)


Orange you glad it was only 103 in the shade?
31 July 2015

If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, the saying goes. If the alternative is to melt away on a patio lounger at 103 degrees Fahrenheit, then gimme the chef’s furnace every time.

Even with every hotplate at Level 10 and the oven on maximum heat. 

My kitchen is ­currently like an ice-box compared to the garden, which has been in meltdown since the Spanish authorities sounded that Orange Alert at the start of the week. The bells on my orange tree have been peeling ever since. 

If Monday’s 103-degree burn-up turned out to be the hottest sun day of this baking summer so far, then the rest of the week in my part of the southern Costa Blanca has also had a distinct taste of Britain about it. Not that stewing in a pan of hot-pot is my idea of enjoying the Spanish summer. The forecasters reckon that temperatures in the Torrevieja and Murcia are will remain in the 90s and above for another fortnight. The consolation is that I’m talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius, though I reckon the water in a boiling kettle is cooler than the steering wheel of my car these days. OK, I'm to blame for that - I'm too lazy to cover the windscreen overnight and by the time I get up next morning, the interior is invaribly suffering from severe sunburn. My lips are sealed on the time I get up!

The heat is also affecting my sense of humid. I mean humour. I am so disorientated by it all that I’m starting to believe that Chile is a South American ice-cream company. 

Don’t talk sweat, did I hear ­someone say?



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ALAS MYTH AND CONES - seeing the Manchester-Alicante light
22 July 2015

I am lucky enough to have two homes. One is a sunshine villa 30 minutes’ drive from Alicante airport, the other a modest semi 18 miles north of Manchester’s three flight terminals.

An airport trip at the English end is subject to an electrifying hazard in the form of 50 sets of traffic lights. The consolation is that no more than 47 tend to be stuck on red at any given time.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch your flight, you do at least face a delightful evening discussing traffic lights with the Spanish cabbie driving you to Guardamar on the N332.

Mention the super-hazard of every street corner in Britain and the taxi driver’s conversation is likely to consist of a quizzical look and the words ‘Que es trah-fick-lie-eat?’

Odds are he won’t know what you are talking about because, believe it or not, there’s not a single set of the things between Alicante and my Costa Blanca home.

At the Manchester end one can, of course, avoid the red-light menace by heading for the airport via the city’s Park-And-Don’t-Move service, otherwise known as the M60 motorway.

That trip is no fun either, and unless you give yourself at least two days to get to the airport, a couple of hours with your head immersed in 50 Shades of Red may well be less stressful than counting traffic cones.

Either way, both routes to the airport provide ideal material for a ‘100 Reasons to Escape Manchester’ publicity blitz.

What sort of voyeur gets a kick out of watching traffic cones breeding on the M60, for heaven’s sake? Last time I used the so-called ring road I counted 428 million giant ice-cream cornets during a six-mile crawl to the Trafford Centre. The 14-hour trip was marginally quicker than taking the car but my knees didn’t half hurt by the time I reached my destination. And I was suffering from orange-and-white colour blindness into the bargain.
One of the few perks of driving to Manchester airport via the city centre is that you can stop off for a coffee and a bacon butty. The down side is the £60 parking fine you’ll inevitably get in addition to burning off eight gallons of unleaded in a desperate attempt to park sideways on the single metre of kerb untainted by double yellow lines.

I appreciate that comparing the Costa del Salford with the Costa del Sol is akin to confusing Bury Market with the London Stock Market. But that’s a bourse-case scenario.

There are, in fact, many leisurely compensations for those who choose not to drive in what must surely be the wettest part of the UK. One is enjoying a morning swim to the office in downtown Mancunia’s high-street ocean, known to the aquatic community as the Sea of Umbrellas. The rush hour is so busy that there’s no choice but to do the crawl, and not only because the breast stroke is illegal and a butterfly as rare as an English Mark Spitz.
Which brings me on to football or, for the gob-fearing amongst us, the mouths of Wayne Rooney and Kompany.

Manchester is of course home to two top football teams, namely Bury and Oldham Athletic. Fortunately I don’t support Man United or Man City either, which is a bit of a relief since I don’t speak German (heaven help whoever puts the names on United players’ shirts) and with my flight back to Spain only 24 hours away, I’m pretty low on Sterling too (boom boom).

Oh, a geeky friend just called to say there are actually 49 sets of traffic lights between my Whitefield home and Manchester Airport. Using the bacon-butty route, that is.

I believe there are also 49 million traffic cones between Anfield in Liverpool and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

All paid for in Sterling, of course.

(That’s enough Sterling jokes, Donna!.There’s no Raheem or reason for repeating yourself – Editor)



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