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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

Not Long, Now
18 October 2021

I haven't had a drink since last September, well, this September if you want to split hairs. Because you see, it's the ghastly month of Sober October once again. I am sitting here wondering if a cerveza sin alcohol counts against the rule of zero booze! It may do, so I stick instead to a soft lemony drink from Lidl that I call Sucedáneo de Acuarius

In its favour, it's cheap. 

There's a jar of smoked herring in the fridge, the rollmops that the Norwegians do so well. I found it in the local shop yesterday and brought it home. But how do you have a rollmop-session without vodka? Huh?  A glass of goat's milk just doesn't cut it.

Sober October is an excuse to give the liver a rest. I once managed a whole year off the booze, following an attack of jaundice in Guatemala. The local curandero told me to keep away from the grog if I didn't want to keel over, so there it was. In those days, I could always smoke weed to keep me going, but I gave that up, along with terbaccy, much to the relief of my tubes, these many years ago. 

A WhatsApp friend has sent me an article which says that,despite the assurances of Spain's best and brightest advertising executives, booze - even in small quantities - is bad for you. Taking a glass of wine with your pork chop will not help your heart manage to keep the beat. But, can you cook with wine, does that count? How about a custard trifle with a spot of sherry in the jelly? No? I thought not. Not that I intend to stay on the wagon a moment past Halloween. I have a hankering for a real beer or two.

My parents, along with most of the foreign population of Mojácar back in the 'early days' (before it became bourgeois), were heavy drinkers - brandy for breakfast types. They all died young: inebriated and cheerful, and leaving a sizable bar bill between them. This experience kept me generally wary of the hard stuff, and I rarely drink anything strong (rollmops and vodka excepted). 

Perhaps the new campaigns on the TV for low-alcohol whisky and gin are aimed at people like me. Have you seen them? Drink Beefeater 20%, it'll make you feel good. The advert is legal because - apparently - there's a strength limit on advertising booze. Of course, the advert is to persuade people to drink the proper stuff, not the gnat's-piss version. It's a bit like non-alcoholic beer - what's the fun in that?  

I have a count-down next to the bed. Every day I cross off another number on the calendar, working my way slowly down. Will I have lost any weight after a month on the soda-pop? I shall let you know.

Like 3        Published at 10:57   Comments (0)

Give Us a Sign
11 October 2021

How often we worry about communicating. In Britain there are many different accents and slang, which help to breed a sense of belonging to a community as well as presenting a challenge to anyone outside it. Which is why the young need to re-invent themselves every generation. In Spain, there’s plenty of argot, but spoken Spanish is pretty much easy to understand wherever you come from, with the gypsy accent and the Cadiz accent being perhaps the hardest to grasp, although, apart from the dropped constanants and a few bits of vernacular, they are intelligible enough. The gypsies talk proudly of their special language, Caló, but no one appears to know more than a few words of it. Rather like me saying something remembered from my Latin classes.

Yup, in Latin they call that table ‘mensa’. Now there's a conversation stopper.

To make things comfortably more complicated, Spain has some regional languages that are being encouraged – or so it seems to me – so as to bring the local politicians into the centre of power. We all know that the Catalonians have ‘Catalán’, the Valencians have ‘Valenciano’ (which is the same as Catalán, but don’t say I told you), the Galicians have ‘Galego’ and the Basques have something that has nothing in common with any other language: it’s called in Spanish ‘Euskera’, while in the Basque country, it’s called ‘euskaldunak’.

Then those living in eastern Almería have something even odder – it’s called ‘English’…

It seems a pity that everyone living on the Iberian peninsular, Portuguese and Gibraltarians included, couldn’t all speak one language, but there you go. In a generation, few people in Barcelona will speak more than broken Spanish, and fewer still of the Galicians will be able to make themselves understood when they take a shopping trip to Madrid.
And as for the Basques…

The other day, three young cousins of my wife arrived to stay. You know how it is; a quick email and they’re on your doorstep the following morning. They were backpacking around Europe for a month before completing their studies in a university in Washington DC. They spoke, of course, American.

Actually, they didn’t, because they were deaf. They signed in American: although they dropped their vowels, invented meanings, used their own slang and were otherwise difficult or impossible to make head or tail of. To my surprise, there is no single, international, all-useful deaf language. Quite the reverse, everyone seems to have their own. The cousins enthusiasticly folded their fingers too dam’ fast and they never stopped. Don’t talk with your hands full, I wanted to tell them at the dinner table.

Here, try some of this…

Oddly, you begin to pick it up quickly – or, at least, your own version of it, even as you are wondering exactly who is the one with the handicap!

Of course, they would write things down for us as necessary with the family pen and notepad and were great fun besides. Being energetic young kids, they drank and smoked like troopers and stayed up late with my son and his friends on the Playstation. With fingers like that, said the kids, it’s no wonder they keep winning…

On one occasion during their short visit, three of us: a Spaniard, my son and I, together with the three of them, went out for a boozy dinner – hands and fingers flying – in a pork and chips place on the beach, the other tables staring and wondering who we were, you must try the Licor de Pacharán and so on; and we followed this with a trip to our friend’s house where we drank a bottle of whisky, never stopped talking for a second, smoked ourselves blue and generally partied until dawn. Yet, all the while, you could have heard a pin drop.

The neighbours didn’t bang on the walls, we didn’t shout and bellow as we left round about sun up and the loudest sound would have been my stomach churning.

They went off to Madrid on the six o’clock bus to go to some important international congress of signing as delegates. Several hundred of them let loose in Madrid.

Blimey, that must have been a riot!

Like 4        Published at 22:23   Comments (1)

04 October 2021

A report in today’s El Mundo recommends having a good kip after lunch – known to residents and visitors alike as ‘la siesta nacional’ – or, in modern parlance, the ‘yoga ibérico’. Doctors recommend it for obscure medical reasons, common sense supports it as it keeps you off the street during the worst hours of a hot day and it’s even an institution that is gathering adepts in other countries. Indeed, one can now read about having ‘a power nap’ in American literature. Just the ticket after a hard morning’s gardening, a bottle of wine and a heavy lunch.

Meanwhile, the European Union is committed to stopping the siesta and many multinational companies are now operating in Spain with a ‘nine to five’ philosophy.

They probably make their staff sit on hard wooden chairs as well.

The bottom line is always the cash. Spain considers that ‘you work to live’ and the Anglos, stiff with their protestant guilt ethic, say that ‘you live to work’. Silly really, but that's just one of the many civilized reasons why we chose to come and live here, gracias.

I suppose that the Spanish nine-to-fivers experience rather mixed results from insisting on this calendar as, while they may receive business from abroad after the two o’clock watershed, they won’t get many ‘walk-ins’ during those last hours of their working day. They also will, without any doubt, be off their top form following an unsatisfactory sandwich and a soft drink. For the rest of us, I can say that it can be quite a nuisance when you wake up after a hearty siesta, shower and then take a taxi to some office clean across town to discover that it shuts at five for the day.

Five is hardly a late hour in a country which rarely goes to bed before midnight.

Indeed, much of Spain’s business is carried out over a beer or a glass of wine, either during the leisurely lunch which helps make living in this country such a pleasure, or during the evening, when the office-workers slip next door to the local cafeteria for a beer and chat, perhaps with a client. This explains why my subscription news-letter about Spain (a modest income, but one needs something to do) is called 'Business over Tapas'.

The Spanish say that most deals are made outside the office.

Between this agreeable state of affairs and the burgeoning Anglo presence in the business world, the battle lines are drawn.

Movistar, the phone company, appears to have embraced the European working clock – at least, it has taken to sending me irritating commercial messages round about three in the afternoon on my cellphone when I am usually fast asleep. I can't imagine 'Management' being at their desks, but maybe those poor employees with broad South American accents aren't so favourably treated.

A rare intrusive call around four o’clock the other day came from some gruesome English local newspaper that clearly prefers the British work-schedule, wanting to talk to me about a classified advert selling home-made sweet chutney that I had placed in the parrish rag. Not to buy a jam-jar mind, but to ask me if I wouldn't like to advertise with them.

It ruined that day’s nap entirely; as I was left wondering why the Lista Robinson hadn't kicked in. That's a service here in Spain which stops all unsolicited phone-calls. It operates pretty well as a rule.

The Spanish siesta is an institution that has worked for hundreds of years and is based on the soundest of experience and principals. Many of Spain's victories and defeats over the centuries have been down to a refreshed army captain making a late-night raid against the French or (in the case of the Invincible Armada) a look-out's inopportune kip. Oddly, I recently read somewhere that the siesta was introduced by Franco - a claim probably written by some stringer for the telephone company during his lunch hour. After all, goes the logic, if the Generalísimo invented it then it’s OK to give it the bum’s rush and adopt instead those miserable Anglo hours.

So take no notice, and close the shutters after the lunch is over, allowing both the cocido madrileño and your body to settle confortably. You will then be better able to face the long evening ahead.

Like 0        Published at 08:36   Comments (1)

Daring Days with Food and Drink
29 September 2021

There's a mental gauge commonly employed by the British, who are used to their own starchy cooking, on Spanish food - as to how edible might it be. It starts at the bottom with chicken and chips and ends in the stratosphere with something like calf's brains or entrails of some description. Squid in its own ink, maybe. Most of us work our way up to around the three quarters mark, with some surprising and agreeable results. 

Only a courageous few of us will ever try the bull's testicles.

Towards the middle of my own standard of the Spanish cuisine, comes the leg of a young goat cooked in a rich sauce, or the blood sausage known as morcilla. I'm told there's not much blood in the morcilla - just enough to give it some taste.

I was drinking one evening with some low Spanish friends who persuaded me to try the morcilla, and I found it - to my surprise - to be very good. I can now even eat it sober. Encouraged, they then offered me a piece from an innocent-sounding tortilla de sacromonte (which I knew to be a beef brains omelette). Eww

The things one does when one's drunk.

There are one or two things towards the high-end on my gauge which I don't like at all - those little baby eels (angulas) that one is meant to eat with a wooden spoon. Chicken livers (although, turned into paté and relaxed a bit, I suppose that they aren't so bad). Partridge en escabeche, a kind of vinegary sauce popular with hunters and (less so) with their patient families, peppered as they are with bits of lead pellet from the shotgun blast distributed unevenly among the slivers of breast.

My dad used to want to clear the house every now and again. He would put an operatic record on in the sitting room and then fry up some kidneys. Between the ghastly noise and the foul smell, we would quickly agree to leave him in peace for a time. 

Back to the blood sausage - my wife Alicia tells me that at the matanza, the pig-killing, they boil up an entire sack of onions, mix it with a slew of spices and some minced pig, and them wash it sparingly with blood. Too much blood, apparently, makes it go hard. 

Having explained the wonders of the traditionally abrupt demise of the family pig, she moved to the subject of goats. We should get a baby one and then feed it up to be milked every day (by whom?). We would go and talk with the shepherd who lives just down the road together with his large and scruffy flock. The plan was that I should drink goats' milk. Perhaps build me up, I don't know. 

While the goat itself - at least a young one - is more or less edible, and its cheese is first-rate, I've never been able to bring myself to quaff a glass of goats' milk. I somehow imagine it's full of bits of stringy hair. 

There's currently a brick of it in the fridge, unopened, and waiting for my attention. Me, I'm waiting for the expiry date to come around, so I can say - well, I had to throw it away, it would have been off.

Like 3        Published at 09:40   Comments (1)

Jeepers! Head for the Hills!
21 September 2021

The American embassy has sent out a warning: ‘News media report volcanic eruptions have occurred in La Palma, Canary Islands. Evacuations are underway in Cabeza de Vaca and El Paraiso. There are reports of ensuing forest fires as well. U.S. citizens are advised to monitor local news and government websites for detailed information, including precautions to take and possible evacuation instructions’. There’s a satellite map, here.

The Canary Islands are a long way from the Spanish mainland, being in the Atlantic Ocean some 600kms off the Western Sahara. In the improbable event that the eruptions turn the island of Palma into an explosive Karakatoa, the resulting tsunami (says a concerned article at the NZ Herald) where ‘…anywhere between 150 and 500 cubic kilometres of rock could slide into the ocean at 100 metres per second…’, adding, ‘The immense force caused by such a landslide would generate huge waves, hundreds of metres high, that would spread across the Atlantic and hit the coast of the Americas at heights of up to 25 metres…’. Concentrating more on the American East Coast than elsewhere, a 2008 clip from The BBC on YouTube explains what could – conceivably – happen. Another (better) hair-raising video from Naked Science, with the notable quote ‘…It’s a new-born baby island, barely passed its four millionth birthday…’, can be seen on YouTube here. Both British-made documentaries appear to be more concerned with the US than with Europe (or even the UK). Even the ABC is more worried about Manhattan than it is about Cádiz.

Shades of Hollywood’s Roland Emmerich and his disaster film ‘2012’.

The tidal wave reaching Spain – at least the Atlantic coast, would apparently be less severe and the tight entrance into the Mediterranean would stop anything much more than a heavy sea rising a few metres inland.

Volcanic eruptions are quite rare and can be dangerous – as the good people of Pompeii found out – briefly – to their cost (although the current tremblers in Yellowstone could herald something better described as catastrophic). However, Spanish volcanologists say the chance of such a scenario is infinitesimal. The Olive Press also looks at the rank improbability of a mega-tsunami here

In all, the likelihood is that the Palma eruption could continue for some time and, as the TV whimsically noted on Monday, the lava flowing into the sea will fortuitously cause the island to grow in size (!).

We read in El País in English that ‘The president of the island council, Mariano Hernández Zapata, called the scene ‘devastating’ given that the molten rock ‘is literally eating up the houses, infrastructure and crops’ on its path toward the coast’.

As the island of La Palma – really just a small portion of it – is in eruption, and everyone who lives or in holidaying nearby are hurrying across the hills to catch a glimpse of the treat (except of course the Americans), the President of Spain passed up a formal visit to the UN to meet instead with the startled neighbours while the Minister of Tourism is looking into the possibilities of making the new volcano a tourist attraction.

Meanwhile, to keep us on our toes, Sicily’s Mount Etna has just erupted.

Not that it’s necessarily happening at all, mind – some negacionistas reckon it’s a fake.

(Written from the top of the Sierra Nevada with a handy scuba suit and a tin hat)  

Like 2        Published at 12:21   Comments (1)

The Homecoming
13 September 2021

Goodness, there’s another row between the Daily Express and the EU. On this occasion, the Spanish – at the very least – have said that those Brits living in Spain, as we delicately put it on Facebook, ‘under the radar’ – that’s to say, without the appropriate paperwork – will be summarily ejected from the country when discovered.

If we might assume that this will be the case for all of the EU-27, not such a leap perhaps, then there will soon be quite a large number of tearful Brits waiting on the quayside for one of London’s fine destroyers to dock.

One can imagine the call from the captain: ‘Form an orderly queue please (they already had, of course). You can bring with you one small suitcase, no pets and no foreign companions’.

Bickering between themselves as to whether they were expats (or exexpats) or rather immigrants, the deported Brits shuffle slowly forward to the gangplank.

‘I suppose this is all to do with Brexit’, says one redundantly.

The problem doesn’t end there.

As they disembark at the other end, in some British port far away from the eyes of the press, they will wonder what will become of them. This isn’t a re-run of Dunkirk – nobody in the UK wants anything to do with this.

Neither their relatives, anxious about the spare-bedroom and the drinking problem, nor the Home Office - notoriously unhelpful when it comes to dealing with new settlers from abroad - will wonder if they were in any way responsible for the 200,000 or so refugees who would be preparing themselves, in that British way we have, into making something of a fuss.

The UK is not the same as GB, as any number-plate enthusiast can tell you, because now it’s just another foreign country.

There's nothing else for it but to keep checking the Daily Express to see how this issue is coming along.  


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Writing to The Editor
09 September 2021

A good newspaper, even an ex-pat one, needs a letters page. There, the readers can have the last word on a subject raised in the publication. Letters are good for the readership (and thus, the advertisers) - being an elementary proof that there are indeed readers.

Good editors know that there are several subjects that can always be guaranteed to generate letters. Bullfighting is probably the most obvious one. An article about the beauty or the passion of the corrida will inevitably attract correspondence from those who consider it a barbarity. And why not, perhaps they’re right. Even though Fernando the Bull is in fact rather less intelligent that Rupert the Rat (according to a veterinarian friend), it probably isn’t right to torture dumb animals. Personally, I don’t care much. The corrida has tradition, bravery and catharsis to counterbalance the touchy-feely arguments against it and is, at any rate, a better way to pass the time than watching football (cue… letters…).

Another ‘red rag to the bull’, or easy provocation to the readers, is to write about minority languages. Catalan, Welsh, Euskera and whatever it is that they speak on the Scilly Isles. Apparently, it’s not that the nationalists want their people to learn whatever obscure tongue was preferred by the natives in the ninth century; it’s that they want them to use it exclusively, with the rather obvious problems for the next generations carefully buried under a rock.

Not that one wants to offend one's readers. Stimulate them, teach them about the subject at hand (Spain), amuse them and fortify them, while sometimes having some fun I suppose. That would be the editor's job. Printing some interesting letters from the public: that would be the editor's pleasure.

My dad used to write letters back in the sixties to the Eastern Daily Press. This was long before he bought his first typewriter. There would be one of these impassioned and eccentric missives printed four or five times a week to brighten up the newspaper. They never made much sense, but were extremely popular. A journalist once told him that the newspaper actually had a staffer who, among his other duties, was employed to interpret them and pull them into shape.

When I ran a newspaper here in Spain (many years ago), one of the regular columnists was a right-wing journalist called Peter Gooch who wrote about Spanish politics. He was a sort of Leapy Lee figure but armed with better grammar. He and I agreed from the beginning to occasionally ‘go over the top’ so as to generate remarks in the foreign bars along the lines of ‘I do like those Peter Gooch articles, he’s very sound!’ and letters of condemnation or approbation from the public. In politics, you can be sure to always displease half the people all the time.

Actually, all of the writers and all of the content was about Spain - no room for articles about Prince Phillip or the star from Carry on Dancing. In those days, people would come up to me and comment about the newspaper, usually when I was reading somebody else's. Well, I would say, why don’t you write me a letter?

There is, of course, one section of society that doesn’t read letters in the English-language press, and this is the Spanish authorities. Feel free to thank the local hospital staff in print in the local expat gazette, but know that no one who took bits out of you a few weeks ago in the operating theatre will ever know of your gratitude. Similarly, you shouldn't feel that a quick letter from ‘Disgusted of Arboleas’ to the Britz News regarding the proposed municipal pig-farm is going to make any difference. You will have to take the next step. Start a petition… Demonstrate!

There’s a magazine I know that, while set in Spain, deals pretty exclusively with articles about nail extensions and highlights in one's hair. I wonder where they find those articles they write (or rewrite). It's a glossy that is filled with adverts. The editor claims to want letters. Sorry, can’t type with these fingers…

Another local mag provides a regular editorial along the lines of: ‘Cor ain’t it hot. Well, this is another great issue with a great article from Ben about cooking spinach on page nine and a super new competition for the kids on page fifteen. Till next time, have a smashing read. Yours, Bertha and Robin.’

They don’t get any letters either.

People don’t write much any more? How about the social media? Post an opinion there and watch the dust fly. Angry readers, happy readers, trolls, and all inbetween. The Facebook page for our village, which usually deals with missing gerbils and the best way to fry an egg, for example had 250 replies following the story of the man who brought his dogs and cats out of Afghanistan on an aeroplane. 

Social media has taken letter-writing to a brand-new age.

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Travel Broadens the Mind
01 September 2021

They say that travelling broadens the mind. Certainly, having lived abroad since I was thirteen and besides a few brief adventures beforehand, fingering the old bucket and spade a few times even before moving to Spain, I have never been at a loss when in the company of foreigners.

It probably helped that I came from an area which has no particular tradition of either superiority or paranoia; an area best known for being flat and cold: somewhere in the east. Our most famous son, you’ll want to sit down for this, being the Singing Postman. They say his guitar picking wasn’t up to much, but that he was known for his First Class Delivery.

There weren’t any foreigners in Norfolk in those days (‘them days’) except, of course, for the odd Londoner that had got lost. This was probably, along with the flatness, the cold and the terrible music, just another good reason for leaving. Years later, when driving my new wife along a Norfolk lane (a rare visit to England), we came round a corner and bumped into a troop of Nazi soldiers with their collars loosened, having a fag. While my wife wrestled with the possibility that the English were odder than she had originally thought, I asked an amiable-looking feldwebel the way to Downham Market as we were lost.

‘Somebody hass removed all zer signs’, he agreed, pointing vaguely West.

It turned out that they were shooting a piece from ‘Allo Allo’.

Living abroad, you need to be flexible with your language, your ideas, your culture and your understanding. People, you soon discover, are pretty much as friendly (or as disagreeable) regardless of where you happen to be: despite their sex, race, age and golf handicap.

We all pretty much know this by experience, so there’s not much point in banging on about it.

Travelling, for me, has a purpose. Usually it means that I am going to see someone for some fairly solid reason. The days of going on vacation with a rucksack and a copy of Lonely Planet seem to have passed and the opportunity to go on a group-holiday - a package - has, at least in my case, yet to arrive. Then again, I doubt one learns much from this latter kind of experience beyond knowing to watch out for the Shepherd’s Pie.

And the people in the room next door.

I live in a traveller destination anyway. Making sure that I’m not taken for a tripper by mistake, I go around stoutly wearing sweaters and long trousers when the tourists are in tee-shirts – which is bloody uncomfortable I can tell you during August.

Hell, I’ve been here so long I need a holiday.

Travel might be good for you, it may remove some of your day-to-day stress and it can be agreeable, exciting or instructive. It is no doubt wonderful once you’ve got there and taken your boots off with a satisfied groan; but for me, the actual process of travelling has become increasingly arduous. I don’t mind driving the two kilometres or so to the beach, but driving to Madrid has lost its charm. Nowadays, the stress of having one eye on the speedo, one on the mirror and none left to look out of the forward porthole is beginning to take its toll. The thought of driving all the way across Europe quite undoes me (and it’s not because of the French, who I get on well with). It’s more to do with my back.

Flying is, of course, uncomfortable, violent and embarrassing (ohmigod, I forgot to put on fresh socks and they’re going to think it’s a Nerve Agent). If you are flying to the UK, you are certain to be searched by some pimply redheaded bastard from Slough. I’ll grant you that, while the flight is cramped, it is, at least, cheap. Somebody told me they flew to Luton for 99 pence the other day - plus airport taxes and an extra pound for the lavatory. This, of course, doesn’t include the interminable waiting, or the last bit - the taxi or train to your final destination. Don’t forget the two-mile walk as well, lugging a bulging plastic bag and wondering if you can light up yet.

Why do prices never make the least bit of sense? Are the airline accountants drunk the whole time? The girls at the Vera travel agency told me that the flight from Almería to Madrid can cost 600 euros return ‘but there are special offers for just 95’. Well, I’d rather pay the 95 euros but, what is it going to cost me? The Americans make the joke about obtaining cheap tickets or ‘upgrades’ that means you have to ‘wear a purple leisure suit’ (they say 'leeshoor suit') which is, presumably, something of an imposition. When I can, I’ll take the train.

One day, there will be a high speed train that will take one in comfort from the Vera train station to Madrid in the blink of an eye. It all sounds very exciting and novel. Until then, there’s the Murcia/Madrid Talgo which will do (leave the car at the station for a mere 15€ a day!). Some time in the bar, plus a few turns walking up and down through the carriages as the train deposits you, after four hours, in the middle of the Nation’s capital. Ver’ civilized, yes. Ah, the hurley burley of the city, where the finest sights and Man’s most noble attractions can be enjoyed while swivelling the wire postcard stand in the foyer of your comfortably appointed hotel!

So - these days I prefer a good armchair, a reading light and a small side-table, upon which the very best travel awaits me between cardboard covers and I don't even need to wear a face-mask. The characters and guides in the books piled on the table besides me are guaranteed to always be stimulating, refreshing and different. They will take me to the very best places, place me firmly into the most remarkable situations, introduce me to quite the most peculiar people and, in short, show me everything. They will know to offend, impress or attract me and they will have the good sense to leave me alone when the mood has passed.

I have made a lot of friends that way.


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If You Want to be Appy for the Rest of Your Life
24 August 2021

Events in far-away Afghanistan are disturbing: an old-fashioned cult of fundamentalists, who are against women, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuals, schools, miniskirts and democracy, have taken over the whole country in just a week. 

It makes one think - could the Vox (a fundamentalist group with a similar ideology, tidied up a bit for those nostalgic for Franco) do the same thing here in Spain?

No one appears to have been prepared, which is profoundly odd. It certainly caught-out those who think that a sling-shot isn't as powerful as a bomb, or that a Book can be beaten by Western Thought. Presumably, the Afghans knew that the allies were pulling out and that the Taliban would take over. Apart, or course, from the huge majority of people who live in the country and, as always with these revolutions, didn't have a clue. I don't suppose they have the Internet or the Pashtun equivalent of The Daily Express in Chaghcharan. Perhaps they thought it would be a good thing anyway - their own destiny rather than that of some gum-chewing invaders. Isn't life odd. 

But there are still chores that must be done: the animals need to be fed, the women stoned and the crops watered (and in the Afghani case, turned into opium).  

Such were my thoughts yesterday as I picked a large and amiable country-rat out of the chicken-feed and sent him on his way. Luckily my wife doesn't read my stuff - she doesn't speak English - so the rat has some more days of fun and toil to look forward to before we must put out the poison. 

The chickens had managed half-a-dozen eggs between them since the day before. Unfortunately, I have become a little tired of eating eggs over the past month of holidays and our riding-classes (and egg-buyers) are still a week off. 

Needless to say, horses don't have holidays.

One of the tasks before us - as of yesterday - was to acquire a new bombproof pony for our younger riders. We have a school located just outside Almería City catering to riders of all sizes, prices on request. So, we took the car out of the garage, washed the dust off it, and headed off to a village in Granada where the Duke of Wellington has a major estate - the gift of a Grateful Nation following the Napoleonic Invasion. 

Perhaps the Taliban will give Donald Trump a chunk of land for him to build a mansion on and where he can be quietly exiled to - for services rendered.   

Driving up from the coast, we passed the frontier pueblo of Fiñana on our right. Fiñana is a sad place. It has a population of around 2,000 souls (it was 5,000 a generation ago). The citizens spend their time, whenever they find themselves near a window, looking out at some 120 gigantic aerogenerators - those giant windmills that spin all day (and perversely wink either red or white lights all night). These generators bring electricity. I read that one of them can power 500 homes. There are currently nineteen of these parks in Almería. Just crossing into Granada - the first time we've been out of Almería in over two years - we saw a second enormous clutch of 130 more of the windmills located on that enormous plane south of Guadix.

So why is Spain's electricity so expensive with all these machines that can reach up to 100 metres in height working on the free energy provided by the wind? Huh? Would the Taliban or Vox approve? Shouldn't we be using candles?

After getting to Granada, we were obliged to rely on another example of modern tech, in the shape of a rolling map on the mobile phone which would, we hoped, bring us to our destination: a small farm in the hills some 20kms beyond the city. 

As we arrived, a small boy was heading off - at some speed - down the road on the back of a pony. On his return, we saw the animal for the first time. Beautiful, said Alicia. Ugly as hell, I mumbled into my mask. 

Granddad tottered out and said the boy had grown and now needed a horse. We duly crossed his withered palm with silver.

So now we must return in a couple of days with the trailer to pick up our new friend, who will no longer be called Manolito, but will now answer instead to Appy. 

I can only hope my friend the rat approves. 

Like 2        Published at 19:03   Comments (7)

A Hot Bath
16 August 2021

I'm of the opinion that the best way to cool down on a hot day is to enjoy a cup of tea. It needs to be hot, not like the stuff the Americans drink, with bits of ice and lemon (if you're lucky) floating in it, but hot and faintly milky. My theory is that it cools you down by putting your internal AC in overdrive. Maybe a biscuit too while you're in the kitchen. Umm, lovely.

Even better is to have a long hot bath. Indeed, with no power or water cuts in Paradise today, for a change, and with everyone gone to the beach, I had soon talked myself into bubbling gently in a steamy soupy tub while practicing my scales.

The Romans had an impressive water system, based on the laws of gravity. Their aqueducts were designed to allow water to fall exactly seventeen cms per kilometre, a speed that allows for the smallest speed of flow. These aqueducts fed public fountains, some wealthier private homes, and above all, the public baths, which Romans felt was the nadir of their civilization. In their baths, they were cleansed physically and mentally. To a Roman citizen, the baths were civilization.

Rome, by the first century AD, had 420 kilometres of aqueducts feeding it from different sources. A hydrographer recently noted that New York didn’t overtake Ancient Rome in volume of water consumed until 1985, and the Romans, of course, had neither electricity or pumps, or rubber washers or plastic piping to help them.

Or immersion heaters, come to think of it. Maybe they had slaves lurking under the house armed with some fire-wood and an early plastic lighter instead.

Some of those remarkable aqueducts, built two thousand years ago and used to refresh all of their cities throughout the Empire, are still extant and there are even a few left in Spain, including some that still work! Water was rarely a problem which is how they could build such large cities.

I don’t care for showers. They are violent, fast, and efficient rather like a flight with Ryanair. To continue the simile, a bath is slow and pleasant, roomy and cultural (that is, if you read a book in the tub or listen to the radio or you like to sing). A bath has the same finality but takes its time, a bit like the train to Madrid.

Bathing has always been a civilized event, as can be shown by the Arabs with their hammam, and the Scandinavians, the Russians and the Japanese with their different traditions. Saunas, Turkish baths, Jacuzzis and the rest of them are for relaxing in and, yes, wasting a bit of water.

The average amount of water used by a Spaniard is apparently 135 litres per day. That's to say, a couple of goes on the lavatory, a shower, washing a few dishes and one's teeth, a shave, a coffee and a quick squirt with the watering can along the window-box.

According to Google, that's about the same amount that goes into my bath.

Luckily, we have a well.

Like 3        Published at 19:00   Comments (1)

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