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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

A Small Trip in Time
Monday, January 17, 2022

El Oasys Parque temático del Desierto de Tabernas

I’ve got this new car. I say ‘new’ in the sense that I have recently acquired it rather than ‘brand new’ as with heated seats, airbags and a television on the dashboard. It’s a huge old white Mercedes diesel that takes several minutes to get up to speed, a bit like a boat. I imagine howling down a speaking tube to the engineers down below ‘full speed ahead – there’s a straight bit coming!’…

The other day I steered it to Mini Hollywood past Tabernas to see the recent additions to the zoo there.
The zoo is a generous 25 hectares of cages, runs and paddocks which backs onto the Mini Hollywood cowboy town, knees-up can can show and hangman’s rope. All coming highly recommended by this reporter.

We (there were three of us in my party) were met at the gate by the company biologist. I entertained him with my plans to seed the surrounding hills with wallabies to encourage tourism. You should try saying ‘wallaby’ in Spanish, by the way. He seemed a little out of his depth as I droned on about the empty space and lack of biodiversity. ‘But there’s over eighty autochthonous species in the park,’ he argued. Boring ones, I pointed out.

We passed through the gates and allowed an eager photographer to take my likeness in a cowboy hat and pistola (picture ready at exit) and carried on through the intriguing looking cowboy film-set cum Clint Eastwood memorial park, past a very surprised looking ornamental Indian wedged in a window and into the zoological garden, called the Oasys.

We had been invited to see the improvements on the reptile house, which is a large single-storey building with snakes, lizards, terrapins and crocs in large and well-decorated tanks (with no smells), good lighting, interesting displays and surprisingly frisky inmates. The hall appears to be the work of Dr Herman Schleich, a herpetologist, explorer and writer. He has spent many years in such odd places as Cabo Verde and Nepal and now lives in Tabernas, no doubt with a pet chameleon clinging to his shoulder when at home. He has done a fine job of the display.

We moved on to larger things, including a superb and dramatic stadium full of tigers. A guide holding a crib-sheet followed us around: she confessed to me that she preferred cats to snakes. We continued past marmosets, parrots, porcupines, prairie dogs, past the bar-restaurant, past the macaws, duck, pheasant, lynx and panther to another new enclosure, where the bears live.

The park is massive and the backdrop to the whole thing is, of course, the Tabernas desert. The whole effect is most dramatic.

Waiting beside the bear-pens and the deep valley below them was a train-wagon waiting to take us slowly off to the larger animals, including two lumbering hippos, a clutch of camels (of both persuasions), some wolves and a variety of deer who looked, on the whole, pleased to be behind a different fence. They have secretary birds and buffalo. Giraffe and wildebeest.

As we chugged slowly past (is that the best word for something that runs on electric? Chugged?), the clouds came to a rare decision and it began to rain, which is always an agreeable yet novel phenomenon in the desert. The hippos looked faintly pleased and the giraffe tutted and went inside.

We continued on foot back towards the spiritual centre of the zoo (I think I had already mentioned the bar?) and helped ourselves to some refreshments. A magnificent male peacock watched from a nearby wall.

From here, we repaired to the snake-shed for another look (via the bat-cave and a room devoted to animals tracks). I noticed on this second visit that there was a model head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (I’m generally quite observant that way) and a collection of fossilised lizards, crocodile and froggy toys, African and Asian denizens of the forest and desert floor rendered in wood, and several books on show from the pen of the Good Doktor Schleich.

The rain had stopped and we had been in the park for several hours. A bit wet but thoroughly satisfied. It was time to leave. The way out of the zoo takes you past a huge and little-visited cactus garden with perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty varieties collected from all over the warmer bits of the world. Some are in flower now, producing blooms which are rarely seen.

From here, you are in the alley behind the cowboy town of El Fraile, which you will suffer a strong sense of déjà vu.

As far as I know, and the museum of posters and projectors will back me up here, if it wasn’t shot in Tabernas, it wasn’t a spaghetti western. The museum, we’ve crossed the main plaza by now (without getting shot at by some loitering desperadoes) is crammed with posters of The Greats. I shall mention my own favourites here (sorry, Clint): Anthony Steffen, Giuliano Gemma, Lee Van Cleef, Bud Spenser and Terence Hill.

Marvellous, and, with the exception of Van Cleef, all Italians. Music from the greatest Italian composer of them all, Ennio Morricone, echoes from gigantic speakers disguised in the roof; that dramatic piece with the single chord - just as it did in a Fistful of Dollars: dum di di dum di… dum di di dum. People are outside in the plaza, gathering…

And then the Hero, upon being given a four-barrelled shotgun in The Stranger Returns, quips, "Old man, there'll be hell raised in the village tonight".

El Oasys is just to the west of Tabernas. Coming from Vera, take the motorway towards Almería and turn off towards Sorbas. Taberenas is the next town (the old N430 to Almería) and the park, still remembered as ‘Mini Hollywood’, is on the right, a few kilometres past Tabernas.

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Something Different
Sunday, January 9, 2022

It must be getting harder to come up with a new cuisine around here. We are spoilt for choice. We have Spanish restaurants, British, French, Arab, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Argentinean, Columbian and Thai restaurants. We have German. There are a number of Dutch places. We have nouvelle, hunt and fish restaurants. Beach-bar grub. Pizzas and burgers. There’s a Donner Kebab. Sometimes the menus are lovingly translated into Spanish even if the staff don't speak a word of it. Hey, you can always point.

We shall sooner or later even have both the Colonel and Ronald Macdonald, lucky us, probably situated in one or another of the increasing number of empty banks (with bullet-proof windows). We have tapa bars and bocaterias (submarine sandwiches). You can dine on Tex-mex or munch on paella. There’s still room here, I grant you, for both a Greek and a Suchi restaurant. In fact, and here’s a suggestion, you could even combine the two.

Not bad. In the old days, we just had chicken knuckles, lamb lumps, crotch-meat and sardine-heads. All that at fifty cents per customer with a bottle of wine thrown in for good measure.

Sometimes even a full one.

I was thinking that there is space here, however, for a really good off-world diner. Besides Dibbler’s rat-on-a-stick and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it’s a hard fact that the world is remarkably thin on decent alien eateries.

I imagine being served something colourful ('tastes like chicken') by a waiter with an over-indulgence of fingers. Perhaps a decanter of ('tastes like wine') darfle-grog. Do you see where I'm going with this? Pictures of the Planet Clunk would decorate the walls while squirty-music played sofly.

Perhaps my friends would come and throw bits of clump at each other.

So, it’s just a suggestion, but it could play well to the gallery, don’t you think?

Good Lord no. I haven’t had a drink all day.

Not even a darfle-grog.

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A Morning Bracer Sets One Up for the Day
Saturday, January 1, 2022

I won't say that I started the year with a glass of tequila, mainly because I was in bed by half-past nine. Age takes its toll. Breakfast will come around in due course, and maybe I'll have a rare Bloody Mary to set me up instead of my usual glass of warm goat's milk. 

The more seasoned workers out here in the Spanish shires like to start their day with a bracer, to help them get going until the whistle goes for their merienda, sometime around eleven. Now a morning nip in Spain could mean a brandy or an anís (or indeed a fiery mixture of the two called a sol y sombra) but taking that as a regular morning wake-up will eventually rot your liver with the consequence that your retirement years chewing a pizzle-stick while looking tolerably wise will be all the shorter. 

The answer (if you are a drinker, that is) would be to  pour some hot black coffee over the hootch - hey presto: ¡un carajillo! Whether it's un brandy (we aren't allowed to say 'coñac' any more) or something from the cut-glass aniseed bottle with a picture of a monkey on it. 

Of course, the unconventional will order something less known, maybe a ponche (a late friend of mine thought it was the the fountain of youth and would switch to it, he said, when the brandy was paining him). Ponche, it comes in a silvered bottle, is pretty good stuff. It's a sort of sweet-orange syrupy little number. 

Huh, I just got corrected by Google (or, in this case, Gargle) who says  'The genuine Spanish ponche is made with five top-quality natural products that come from different parts of the planet: the skin of the best Andalusian oranges, cinnamon collected in Sri Lanka, vanilla from Mexico, cloves from Madagascar and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands'. Geez, it certainly makes Sloe Gin look a bit foolish.

Yesterday, I was in the local bar having my morning half a toasted pan de hoy soaked with tomato and olive oil ('un medio con tomate') and a coffee, when the fellow next to me surprised me with his order. It was a glass half-filled with crema de menta, topped up with warm milk and a spoonful of sugar. After he had tottered out back into the inclemence of the January sunshine, I asked the old girl behind the bar whether she sold many of those. She said, that no, but that he was a retired Guardia Civil, and he evidently liked the colour. 

There's a popular kiosk in downtown Almería, near where I live, which serves a breakfast drink called un americano. This rare beverage is a leche manchada - a milky-white coffee - with a shot of dyed Licor de Kola (a strange Valencian alcohol based on the African kola-nut which is said to be brewed by the true inventors of Coca Cola). Served with a twist of lemon, some vegetable dye and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The bad news is that the kiosk has been bought by a teetotal Saudi who is planning on trimming the morning menu, leaving any ambitious Almerían cafetero with an interesting opportunity. 

For those who won't go with coffee, but want to keep their drinking civilized, one could not do better than to emulate my friend Manolo, who always takes un tewe - a tea with whisky.  If he were Scottish, I suppose he'd be pouring it into his porridge. Hell, I personally don't say no to a tot of Cap'n Jack poured on my ice-cream.  

And so, we return by a roundabout route to the Bloody Mary. The secret of which, and don't tell anyone I told you, is a surreptitious squirt of dry sherry into the shaker. 

Thus the day takes of a joyous and propitious view, whether it's to work, relax, write, or recall criminals apprehended or otherwise. A simple libation before the serious business of surviving until the cocktail hour.  

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Here we are with a fine opportunity to write about Spain, and well done to the bloggers who usually stick to this fascinating subject. The truth is, for we foreigners (expats or immigrants - but that's for another day), we can never learn enough about this marvelous country. There will always be references in everyday conversation we shall miss - unless you had the good fortune to be raised here as a child.

In that case though, your reading will probably be in Spanish - as (y volvemos a lo mismo) their writers will be better informed. Their newspapers are better, too.

But, sometimes we foreigners, with some (or no) experience, decide to start up a newspaper or a magazine, together with some bloke who is going to wander around the bars and sell advertising, another chap with an old van who says he knows the area well and will deliver, a young whizz-kid for the layout on the computer (in my day, it was cut and paste) and a printer that we found - God knows how - up in Ciudad Real who won’t charge too much.

Between the adverts in the mag, we are going to have spaces, which will need filling. We are going to need a writer.

Now, the given. We are in Spain; we are continually learning about this country and we are all, readers and publisher alike, part of the same great adventure. We shall learn together about the geography, politics, language, literature, art, gastronomy, history, flora and fauna, films, music and folklore. What a fabulous opportunity!

But our readers are, apparently, unadventurous, and thus, let’s print articles about lipstick. Articles about the North American fox, about Coronation Street, the First World War, Red China, Marks and Spencer, Manchester, fajitas, Iraq and facelifts; maybe some brainless quizes, rants about Muslims in the British 'homeland' and the price of strawberries in Oxford.

There’s a splendid opportunity to write about sports (if such a thing grabs you), about the victory of the Spanish basketball team, the Spanish Grand Prix champion, our cycling and of course, our football. But no, with the exception of the odd incoherency about or from David Beckham, we will treat you to articles about Fulham or Arsenal.

To remind you further that we are now living in Spain – presumably at our own free will – we will offer you the week’s or even month’s television entertainment. The 'full TV satellite guide' from Britain. Good Lord, it's snowing in Birmingham.

With rare exceptions, the items we shall reproduce for your reading pleasure will appear unsigned. Yet, some poor joe wrote (or translated) them. Writers usually get tuppence for their efforts anyway, but they do like to see their name in print.

When one of our local newspapers prints some piece – apparently to fit some hole on page nineteen next to the advert about cesspit repairs (seventeen years experience, man and boy) – as often as not, there will be no credit for the writer.

Much of the material which appears in our local newspapers and magazines if not about Spain will probably have one thing in common, one general point of union. The articles will come from the Internet.

You can imagine.

‘Geoff, I’ve got a hole on page 32’.

‘Don’t worry, Alice, I’ve found a bit on the Pyramids’.

Another kind of scrip will sometimes float around in a newspaper. Sometimes it will be labelled ‘advertising feature’ and sometimes not. It will be an article handed in by an advertiser with, let’s say ‘not entirely impartial recommendations’ regarding building, eating, investing, shopping, funerals (ahem!) and buying a second hand car. Since these ‘puffs’ are invariably set in Spain, the reader might fall upon them with more enthusiasm and unalloyed relief than they in fact merit.

I like good writers. I think that they make a newspaper worth picking up. I think they entertain and educate the reader.

I think a good writer is worth paying something. I think it’s an opportunity worth taking. 

Forget plagiarism, cynical and bad editing and gratuitous puff pieces. Ask to read something decent about Spain.

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Christmas Dreams
Saturday, December 25, 2021

I'm dreaming of a blue passport,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where I need a Visa,
to visit Pisa,
And there is nowhere I can go.

I'm dreaming of a blue passport,
now that we've got our country back.
May our future be dreary
...and shite,
and may all our citizens be white ...



¡Felices fiestas!

The carol is mine, I can't answer for the picture.

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Gimme a Glass of Milk (inna Dirty Glass)
Monday, December 20, 2021

Spain has always had an interest in milk, even if, until recently, you couldn’t find a cold glass of it anywhere.

The old milk was a definite bluish colour and came in a 1.5l glass bottle with a narrow top and a metal cramp, like a coke bottle. This stuff could sit in the sun for weeks without losing its taste and often did. Apparently, to help it last, they took the cream out of the milk and added a shot of pig fat. The blue colour came, apocryphally, from the formaldehyde that kept the mixture quiet. This explains why breakfast cereals came to Spain rather late. Pour that broth over your Frosties, it would have eaten them before you could.

Later UHT milks from different companies, now mostly in the handy tetrabrik box, became acceptable for coffees and so on. A cup of (proper) tea would be flustered by this stuff, but you can get used to anything. Now, we even have sippin’ milk in the supermarkets. Tastes good.

While milk has never been considered a serious drink (despite the best efforts of some of the producers to tell us different in the usual kids adverts), it has certainly spawned a whole slew of versions. We have milk with vitamins, milk with calcium, skimmed milk, partially skimmed milk, milk with royal jelly, milk with acidophilus (a handy bacteria apparently found in drool), specially flavoured chocolate, vanilla and strawberry milks, rice milk, soya veggy milk and even the ubiquitous goat's milk (which I still haven't tried). In point of fact, I doubt if many of them ever loitered under a cow. Certainly our pet calf, Petit Suisse, refused point blank back in her heyday to drink one particular brand, the Valencian-produced ‘Leche Ram’. I see the company has since gone pear-shaped. Perhaps the calf knew something.

There's a thing that looks like milk but isn't - the exotic Valencian horchata made out of a tuber called chufa, or tiger nut. Obscure maybe, but served cold it hits the spot. It is also one of those rare drinks that can't be mixed with booze, no. While warm milk will take kindly to brandy, horchata is decidedly abstemious.

At the same time, yoghurt has done just fine. I think I first tried yoghurts here in Spain as a child. The Danone people (a company from Barcelona), were putting out their early flavours by the time I first arrived here in 1966 (they actually started in 1919, selling the stuff in farmacias) and apart from the plain one (add jam and sugar), there was at least a strawberry one going strong. How long they might have lasted outside a fridge is probably best not to think about.

These days, there are an untold number of flavours clogging up the nation’s cold-shelves, with anything that grew on a tree or a stalk being processed into a yoghurt cup (although, if you look closely, most of them won't have the word 'yogur' written on the lid).

For the purists like me, one can even get ‘Greek yoghurt’ (thicker than the usual stuff). I had a summer job in Crete when I was seventeen and took a permanent liking with anything to do with the island, from Katzanzakis to Backgammon. Spain is not, with the notable exception of the oddly-named Oikos, very kind to Greece (try and find a Greek restaurant, a pair of gentleman's crapcatchers or a bottle of ouzo).

Together with the yoghurt, another milk-based little number on the shelves is guajada, a set rennet made from sheep’s milk. It comes in a little stone pot. With a squirt of honey, it’s pretty good.

Where Spain triumphs is with its ice creams. The main area for ‘artesanal’ ices is the interior of Alicante and Valencia provinces, notably Jijona (also famous for its nougat). Heladerías cover the main streets and offer dozens of alternatives. They (thank goodness) are all licenced, so you can put a shot of whisky on top of your tart. In fact, tarta al guisgüi (as the purists would spell it) is one of the best and most august of Spain’s postres, together with the ice-cream bar with two or three flavours (vanilla, strawberry and chocolate), natillas (a custardy thing) and the ubiquitous flan, the crème caramel. Then, there’s leche frita, or ‘fried milk’ – it comes in caramel covered chewy lumps – to try as well (probably just the once).

Before the fridge came along, and those fat blue bottles of Puleva ‘milk’ were still being used for arcane cooking reasons, Spaniards would often put condensed milk (which I think came from Holland) in their coffee. They still do, and as a ‘bonbón’, your morning coffee will give you a good kick-start.

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Orgasm on Aisle Three
Monday, December 13, 2021

A story from my late wife Barbara Napier from 2011

I was having lunch with some friends, long time Mojácar residents, when one started to recount her recent experiences in a new supermarket that has just opened.

Having lived here for so long, she told us, she was at first amazed by the size and amount of well-known products that she hadn’t seen or thought about since her time in England. After having put her coin in the trolley, she had slowly started to wander aimlessly, her mouth wide open, just admiring and reminiscing over all of the goodies.

The only problem with the giant store, she admitted to us, was that every time she touched the trolley she got a small electrical shock. Not to be deterred from her adventure, she gingerly pushed the trolley around the shop, still getting a shock from the static electricity every time she touched it. it was probably to do with her shoes, she thought.

A salesgirl came up and asked if there was a problem since she had heard my friend shriek several times. My friend explained about the recurring jolt and was politely treated as the girl’s dotty grandmother. The typical middle-aged woman who probably lived alone and most assuredly had a dog that absorbed her world, the type of client you treat with respect but underneath it all are silently laughing about.

My friend - I will call her Linda for the sake of the story – thanked the girl for her concern but bravely said she would continue, and began to carefully push the trolley around by just touching the little plastic pieces on the corners of the push-bar.

When arriving on aisle three, just in front of the butchers’ stand, she leant over to look at some frozen goods in a glass top freezer when -ZAP- she received a much stronger strike which seemed to pass across her chest and, to her unalloyed pleasure, an instant and unexpected orgasm. Linda said that her nipples shot up like chapel hat-pegs as she shrieked in delight, much to the consternation of the butcher, who, for his part, must have thought it was the nice-looking skinned rabbit that must have attracted the customer's abrupt howl.

A dazed Linda tottered to the check-out stand having hardly bought anything; still in a dreamy smile over what she had just experienced. The salesgirl kindly asked if she had a pleasant time and hoped that she would be back. Linda said that she had enjoyed herself thoroughly and would also tell all of her friends about her experience.

She went straight home and e-mailed everyone she knew about her remarkable adventure and told them that they must try it.

On Linda’s return visit to the supermarket that afternoon - she urgently needed some sugar - she found that she still had the same issue with the shock from the trolley. The manager noticed and came up to ask her what the problem seemed to be. As it happened, they were standing just in front of the fridges on the famous aisle three. Perhaps Linda had made her way there on purpose.

She told the manager about the static electricity she kept receiving from the trolley and, while she was on the subject, about the remarkable and invigorating experience served to her by the freezer. He obligingly opened the door of the unit and nothing happened so he asked her to try. Linda told us that, while a little embarrassed about what might happen, and not wanting him to think she was just another dotty old woman, she opened the freezer; and –ZAP- received another instant orgasm. The butcher was shaking with laughter, as the alarmed manager said he would get it fixed right away. Linda told him that there was no need for that and that she really loved his new shop. When arriving at the check-out again, the salesgirl asked once again if she had enjoyed her shopping. Linda replied “more than you will ever know”.

The girl said that they had attached ground wires to most of the trolleys and that on her next visit she should look for a trolley that had a long dangly bit that touched the ground, and politely said once again that she hoped the señora will return. Linda said “Oh! I don’t worry any more about dangly bits, but I will most certainly be back and I have told all of my friends about it”.

Linda was just thinking of a restorative gin and tonic, and maybe even a rare cigarette, as she headed towards the exit when the girl called to her - Señora, you've forgotten your shopping.

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Whatever Happened to The Schrödingers?
Sunday, December 5, 2021

I suppose we all know where we stand when we come from the same village. We went to school together, grew up together, had the same football team, priest and accent. We slept with each others sisters (or attempted to) and then, By Gum, we married 'em. 

As we got older we worked the fields together, or opened a bar, or tearfully waved our hankies as one of us went off to Germany to seek his fortune. We bought a television and laughed at the same show; we got older still, sold an old farmhouse to an English family; and finally we died. Our companions went to the mass to see us off and that was that. If somebody remembers to pay for it, there'll be a photograph of us with our donkey or maybe our taxi glued to the funeral stone in the cemetery. 

Now, the extranjeros of course are different. We all came from somewhere else and mostly never knew anyone before we met up here. We could even, if we wished, rewrite bits of our past - not that any true expat would ever ask, or at least, listen to our story. There can, after all, be only so-many generals on the retired list. 

We are older, too. If the average villager is 37, then we are some twenty years their senior, and with poor dietary decisions and too much booze, we will quickly shoot to the top of the queue on the village Sick List. 

The cemetery that serves the village where I live, in a country not my own, is full of fellow Brits. Some of them have bits of English-as-she-is-wrote on the stones, things like 'My Hisband Bernie' and 'We Shall Met Again'. It doesn't matter so much, until you find that they've carved the marble to remember 'Brian' for eternity as 'Brain'. 

One thing though, we know what happened to the villagers, as well as to Bernie, Brain and the rest of us. All except for those who, for one reason or another, disappeared out of our routines. Some were the life and soul of the party, then abruptly went back to Where-ever-it-was that they came from, leaving behind them little more than some memories and a modest bar-bill. Somebody else, of course, quickly took their place.

And we wondered, as we went through the old photographs, what ever happened to Bertha and John, or Gitte, or the drunken Mrs Porridge? 

I suppose that it has become easier, in certain cases, with social media - I learned today of one poor chap who spent time here in our village in Spain and died this weekend in London of some horrible disease. But what of Erna who was a dancer and could still do the splits at eighty? She had come to us 'in her liddle car', because she said, she was heading for Austria but couldn't find the reverse gear. Some family was eventually dispatched from Copenhagen to take her home. But then what became of her...? 

The question is this: can you mourn someone when you don't know if they are dead? 

Now and again, a box arrives with the ashes of someone, who, last time you saw them, was singing something blue in the café down past the bank. He'd gone back to his country (he never did trust foreign doctors), no doubt was attended to by a doctor with a suspicious accent in his own national health service, and - well, the long and short of it - he wanted his ashes to be scattered in Spain. Anyway, the customs have him now and I wonder - does anyone have a spare fifty euros?


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Letter to an Aunt
Monday, November 29, 2021

Dear Auntie Bo,

Christmas is on top of us and in Spain, there are a few amusing differences to what you’re used to. All of the British trappings are now popular with the Spanish, except for Christmas Cake (thank Goodness). Santas waddle around, choirs sing carols and ‘villancicos’ – Spanish Christmas songs – and everyone has a jolly time. The oddest thing here are the nativity scenes which every household has: lots of little Baby Jesuses and donkeys and Wise Men all on a table with caves and straw etc. The other figures include anything vaguely matching, soldiers, cows, men carrying straw and so on, plus a peculiar little fellow sat on a jerry! This figure is apparently a contribution from Catalonia and is called ‘El Caganer’: The Pooper. In fact, excepting the chap relieving himself, they have a ‘belén’, as it’s called, with real live people in the town next but one to us. Bit over the top, but there you go!

The Spaniards celebrate their version of April Fools Day on December 28th. It’s called the ‘Saints of Innocence Day’ for some reason. Not that you can believe much of what you read in the papers anyway, but on this day everyone makes an extra effort to tell a whopper.

The Spanish are also partial to The Three Kings who show up on Twelfth Night bringing presents. They rumble up our hill in a decorated dumper truck and hand out goodies to the school children. I had better remember to register the nippers!

The traffic police are also very active at this time of year, handing out fines and prison sentences with seasonal abandon. You read that right – if you are caught way ‘over the limit’, or driving waaay to fast, they can give you up to three months in the slammer. This is because too many people are involved in horrible accidents on our roads and the politician in charge of the traffic authority is convinced that the motorists are killing themselves merely to vex him! I really think that there is nobody who goes out driving with the intention of ‘offing’ themselves – apart from the so-called ‘kamikaze’ drivers who go up the motorway the wrong way. Anyway, no one uses the roads anymore as we have all taken to driving down narrow lanes at night to escape being breathalised.

The days are warm but the nights are decidedly chilly. So we light the fire to keep at least one room habitable. It’s the tiles, the thick walls, the small windows and the ill-fitting doors and windows which lower the temperature, so the house ends up colder inside than any house in England. Unfortunately, when I carry in the wood, I’m also bringing in whatever has chosen to pass the winter in my woodpile, so, as the fire heats up the log, a few flies wake up under the impression that an extremely fast approaching summer is underway. The other day, a scorpion struggled out of the fireplace but I am glad to report that I got him before he got me.

I suppose another small niggle is the water-heater. We use gas (which sometimes runs out halfway through a shower). Furthermore, if the washing machine is switched on or the toilet is flushed, the gas will go out. Yaarrgh. When people stay, we have to pin up a rota system in the kitchen!

The neighbours are very nice and we’ve just about got them talking English by now (joke!). They have brought us a type of Christmas cake which is made with flour and pork fat, little bits of pig rind and lumps of angelica and other dried fruit. Sort of horrible! Like the sixpence of old, there’s a little tin saint hidden inside the cake so one has to go slowly. Another typical pre-Christmas present around here is a ticket for the famous Christmas lottery which is held around the 22nd of December and gives huge prizes. I’m so convinced of winning that I’ve already ordered a new Rolls Royce! The lottery is usually sold in ‘tenths’ of a ticket, a ‘decimo’, but it still cranks out some major prizes – which are usually all located in the same pueblo. You see them all squirting champagne at each other the following day on the Spanish news.

The telly here is unbelievable. The other day I saw Al Gore’s film about global warming, followed by the eight o’ clock horror film (blood n’ guts everywhere) followed, at ten, by ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. Perhaps the television programmers figure that the grown ups go to bed early while the kiddies stay up to all hours! They may be right! The TVs are on everywhere – usually showing football. It can be quite a bother sat in a restaurant munching on a plate of paella only to have everyone roaring with glee as somebody scores against Barcelona.

It’s a wonderful living out here and you can do what you want because, Dear Auntie, there is no dear auntie to keep you on the straight and narrow. Some of the Brits here can invent their own past or even use a different name. I mean, there can’t be that many retired colonels from the Guards, can there?

Some of our British residents and visitors get into trouble – as the fact is, there is too much booze around here. Nobody lives further from a bar than walking distance so it’s very easy to ‘go for death’ – especially since the measures are huge. Which brings me back to the drinking and driving problem! But there are other temptations too. Couples often split up here and people can find ‘unconventional’ relationships which they probably wouldn’t have managed back in Blighty. The Spanish seem to be rather relaxed about all of this and the country is littered with jolly ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ of all description. There is a large number of Eastern Europeans coming here these days and some of them find fresh lives as ‘girlfriends’ with an apartment thrown in and a daily visit from ‘Daddy’. All very odd!

So Auntie, you must come out and stay next year. You don’t need to bring tea bags or sausages wrapped up in your socks. We can get everything here we want. In fact, with satellite TV, mince tarts, Wychwood Scarecrow Ale, Christmas crackers, Marmite and Ribena all available locally, it’s more English here than in England!

Kind regards, Johnny


*My thanks to Vickya for her kind comments elsewhere.

Like 3        Published at 1:50 PM   Comments (1)

Brexpat Day
Sunday, November 21, 2021

It’s time that those of us who are British by birth (or passport) and have the good fortune to live in Spain, with papers allowing us to stay, wounded perhaps peripherally by Brexit (we suddenly went from second-class citizens of Spain to third class-residents of Europe, with the appropriate strictures that have been thrust upon us), should celebrate.

The tourist season (why do they call it that, if one is not allowed to shoot them?) is over for another six months or so, and we have the cooling beaches and emptied restaurants to ourselves. We need no longer queue to get into the health clinics and the bar-staff greet us enthusiastically by name and, if there’s a karaoke, will even let us sing ‘My Way’ twice in a single evening.

Many of our brothers have fallen by the wayside in this heroic struggle between Europe and Stupidity. Those without the correct paperwork must now resign themselves to shortened visits to Shangri-La to avoid the British winter, and even entertain the possibility of having to sell their villa to a German or (irony alert), a Pole.

Other Brits have found that imports from the UK are a disaster, with even a Christmas card taking several weeks and being steamed open by the zealous Spanish aduana, before charging the mortified recipient a fortune for the time wasted.

We can’t vote in European elections any more, but then, which Spanish candidate ever did anything in Brussels – or elsewhere else for that matter - for the expats?

So, battered and bruised yet oddly triumphant, we British expats can now celebrate being able to stay here without many bothersome issues to worry us. We may not be immigrants (how many of us have taken out Spanish nationality?), yet we have – in our muddling way – won the ring.

There is, as any Spaniard will tell you, no time like the present, so I suggest that we invite the skeleton crew over from the British Government in Exile (it’s in the apartment upstairs from the English library), because Thursday, (Thanksgiving Day for the Americans) is upon us, and anyway, I’ve already ordered the turkey.

From this year onward, we who survived the horrors of Brexit must never forget: Brexpat Day - turkey, baked beans and a nice cup of tea.

Won’t you join us?

Like 3        Published at 8:00 PM   Comments (6)

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