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Arguing about all sorts: the third year of our Spanish adventure

This account of our life in Spain is loosely based on true events although names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories and from my diaries of the time. I may have also changed identifying characteristics and details of individuals such as appearance, nationality or occupations and characters are often an amalgam of different people that I met.

A showdown with a shady charlatan.
11 May 2014 @ 18:29

I told Adrian all about the incident and we heard nothing from Ricardo until he suddenly appeared one morning at the bottom of some land we'd bought at the edge of the village. Adrian was sitting in Pepe's dumper truck. He'd finished working for the Dutchman, so could do a few jobs for us.
One trick that Ricardo had pulled was advising us that we had to have the stone delivered to this land at the edge of the village. It had cost us 70 euros for each lorry load of stone and 70 euros for each load to be delivered to the land (I now suspect Ricardo was getting a cut of this hefty delivery charge). We would then have to pay Ricardo to bring it down in small loads to the village house in his dumper truck, where he would deposit it outside the garden and the Romanians would then wheelbarrow it down through the garden and tip the load next to the retaining wall. For each 70 euros of stone we were paying twice as much again to get it where it needed to be.
This particular day Adrian and Pepe were fetching the last of the stone from the land, when Ricardo, his son and 'Sid' (yet another British 'builder,' who was a pal of Ricardo's) accosted him.
'We need to talk,' Ricardo said.
'Okay, I'll meet you outside the bar when I've taken this to the casa,' Adrian said.
Just ten minutes before this I had been driving out of the other end of the village on the way back to the cortijo. I'd had to pick up Avril from school because she had a fever. And Ricardo had passed me in his van going in the other direction. 
'I wonder what he's up to,' I'd thought. There had been a man in the passenger seat and another one behind them. I continued to drive, but just as I got to the cortijo I had a funny feeling about what I'd seen. On a whim, I turned the Suzuki around and drove back down our track and onto the main road. I arrived at the bar five minutes later to see Adrian sitting, totally outnumbered, at a table, with Ricardo, the burly son and Sid.
I got straight out of the car, with Avril sleeping by now in the back, and strode up to the table.
'What's happening here?' I asked Adrian.
'We're talking about the bill,' he replied.
'I did the work and you have to pay for it,' Ricardo was saying. 
'But the bill doesn't make any sense,' Adrian said.
I was so glad I'd turned back. I could see my presence unnerved them (they all have that primeval fear of women).
Especially as the conversation was rapidly deteriorating.
'What are you doing here, anyway, Sid?' I asked. 'Are you the heavy?'
'Hey, leave me out of it. I don't even understand what's going on.'
'Well, you're here for a purpose,' I carried on, accusingly.
'No. I swear to God I didn't know you were going to have a big fight. They just asked if I needed a lift. I'm not getting involved,' the big, tattooed, earringed Essex boy said and he didn't utter another word, but concentrated on making another rolly and knocking back his mid-morning brandy.
Personally, I didn't believe him. It was too much of a coincidence and Ricardo had obviously thought that with two big blokes to intimidate him, Adrian would capitulate. We'd heard a few things about Sid; people can have quite murky pasts in Spain and I suspected he might be one of them. He was pals with Denise, our 10-day builder whom we'd recently sacked.
Since then we had found out that Denise was a wanted man. The Guardia Civil from Alhaurin el Grande had been up asking his whereabouts and Tracy, an Engish expat had told them exactly where to find him! Apparently a generator had gone missing at the last building site he'd worked. (It wouldn't have surprised me if he'd been mates with the notorious English rapist and murderer of young Spanish women, Tony King, who had been active around the time Denise lived there.) 
Sid wasn't that type though, as far as I could make out. Everyone reckoned he and his wife Shirley were fiddling the UK benefits system. He was registered disabled it was said, and apart from his obvious alcohol problem, he seemed as able as anyone else. His disability didn't stop him doing building work at any rate. He'd taken a roof off a friend's house, and then hadn't known how to put a new one on and had completely screwed up. Before he'd managed to get on the new one, moreover, there had been heavy rains and the first floor got ruined. Our friends then had to pay to get all the damage put right, as well as having paid Sid.
Our friend Patrick completely detested Sid and was always ranting about him. The story was that Patrick and Yvonne had helped Sid and Shirley, by cooking them meals, letting them bath in their house and so on, at a point when they'd had a 'cash flow problem' and couldn't get their house finished. Then, when they no longer needed them they practically ignored Patrick and Yvonne, which infuriated Patrick. 
'If that man was alight and he was burning to death in front of my very eyes, and I was absolutely dying for a piss, I was in agony dying for a piss, I would not piss on that man.'
We also caught Sid out lying one day. He was going on about how they'd managed to legalise their house. 
'Yes, we got this really good arquitecta,' he told us, 'and we've got permission for a two-storey even though the house isn't in the urban zone.'
'God, that's incredible,' I said, 'because I was told that's completely impossible to do, legally. Can you give me her number as we want to get our cortijo legalised?'
'Uh, I haven't got it on me at the moment. I'll ask Shirley.'
The next time we asked Shirley for the number:
'Uh, Sid is the one who deals with all that. You'll have to ask him.'
Their house was in fact too close to the road and there was apparently some law about it then being impossible to turn it into a vivienda rather than a nave.
So we usually gave Sid a wide berth. Anyway, back to the present action and the stand-off at the bar. By now I had turned my attention to Ricardo.
'You're a liar and a cheat,' I found myself saying. 'But it's not going to work with us.' 
I thought his son would explode at this, maybe get up and shake his fists a bit, perhaps go red in the face in outrage. But no, he was as tranquilo as anything; presumably used to his father being called a cheat and thinking nothing of it.
I then used a favourite phrase a Spanish friend had taught me:
'Extranjeros, si; tontos no' (we might be foreigners, but we're not idiots. Apparently it sounds better than what we used to say: 'No somos idiotas'). 
I pulled out the bill from my handbag and proceeded to dissect it.
'Take this one for instance: "17th November: 5 loads, 40 euros." I remember for a fact that on that day it was raining and no work was done at the house. Nada. And then this other one: 19th November: 4 pallets of thermal bricks delivered. We hadn't even started using thermal bricks by then. To charge us a thousand euros for work done over three weeks, you'd have to be working for us every day, all day long. The total should be closer to 300 euros, and that's what we'll give you.'
I then stood up, walked down to the bank, drew the money out, put it in an envelope and handed it to him. 
'Come on, Adrian,' I said, 'Let's get out of here.'
Adrian hadn't said much, letting me take over and that had taken the bunch of macho men by surprise. We got into the car. Avril wasn't well and I wanted to get her to bed. We were about to drive off when Ricardo walked up to the open window and flung the envelope of money into the car.
'Gracias,' I said. And off we drove (I think he had some strange idea we would now go  and get more money and put that in an envelope - in a kind of negotiation).
This was not, of course, going to be the end of it.

To see the end result of all the work on the casa, take a look at the house now:

And also another of our completed projects:



Like 1


Finisterre said:
28 May 2014 @ 10:50

This must have been awful at the time, but I have to say it's hilarious (and gripping) to read about. You go girl! Am cracking up at the thought of all these outraged machistas sitting there in silence while you tell them what's what, and then flinging the envelope of money back at you in a grand gesture that I already know is going to be revoked. Ah, the Latin male ego. I have intimate knowledge of it myself, and you have to laugh. Or you'd cry.

(Required disclaimer: Not ALL Latin me, obviously)

eggcup said:
28 May 2014 @ 21:34

Thanks Finisterre. Yes, the men were a bit pathetic - all that macho posturing. They're scared of their mums and that makes them scared of all women. Further along the line you will hear about the one and only man I ever felt I wanted a fight with! He was a Spaniard who was trying to engage in one of the favourite rural pastimes - encroachment and stealing their neighbour's land. I really wanted to grab hold of this one and have a proper physical scrap - a feeling I'd never had in my whole life. But that tale is for another day.

Finisterre said:
28 May 2014 @ 21:57

I shall look forward to that!

The men are such a funny combination of courtesy and aggression in these situations though. I suppose no funnier than the Brits, but I've grown up with them so know what to expect. The cultural differences are so small and yet so large... like giving people the finger, which is par for the course in certain situations in Britain but seems offensive beyond belief here.

I was riding a bicycle on the road once in our city, and this middle-aged man on a scooter decided I shouldn't be, so he came up behind me and beeped loud and long, in that way that's intended to make you jump rather than warn you. So I gave him the finger and he actually pulled up right across me to shout at me! I was so furious I gave as good as I got, but the whole encounter was very weird indeed because I also couldn't help finding it funny that *he* was so cross.

eggcup said:
28 May 2014 @ 23:37

I've had a couple of nice noisy rows over parking spaces - always with young men. One made the mistake of trying to be clever by saying something in English, so I had him then, because I switched to English as well and then he looked really thick. Another time, I'd been waiting for a while for someone to pull out of a parking space, had my indicators on etc., when a car full of young men which suddenly appeared, swooped into the space. I got out, wagged my fingers at them for a bit, told them I'd been waiting and it was my space and to be fair, they pulled straight back out and let me in. This has never happened to me in the UK and I've done a lot more driving and parking there. So it may say something about Spanish men.

Finisterre said:
29 May 2014 @ 00:17

Yes, that's my experience too - they don't revert to complete Neanderthal behaviour, or at least not in my experience. I've been here five years and haven't seen a single fight, for instance, although obviously they do happen because you read about them now and again. That's another thing I love about Spain - the newspapers don't sensationalise crime like ours do. It's not all 'SICK BEAST MURDERS CHILD - and we've got photos of everything from the murder weapon to the weeping mother!'. Anyway, I seem to have digressed somewhat!

eggcup said:
29 May 2014 @ 00:44

No, you haven't. And anyway, we're allowed to digress. Today's South Wales Echo's front page was about a babysitter allowing her male friend, a known paedophile to rape a three year old boy. My husband said 'Don't tell me!' Well I wish I hadn't read it either. The papers are full of it. And as you say that's not my experience of 'Ideal' our Granada paper. On the other hand I once read that Spain is second only to the USA for child internet pornography. You don't want it shoved in your face every day; but you also want to make sure that it's not hidden, as though it's not really there and then maybe the perpetrators get away with it more. I don't know. It's all so exhausting. And I've got to get to bed! Thanks for your comments, Finisterre. It's been a bit quiet on the comments front lately. I used to stir up such controversy!

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