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Spanish Shilling

Some stories and experiences after a lifetime spent in Spain

What's in a Name?
23 February 2021

If I am faced with a word or name I'm not familiar with, I copy it out carefully. I expect most of us do. The majority of people have easy-enough names, while the ones that don't, use abbreviation or nick-names and the world moves forward gratefully. 

There are names which are very long, and as schoolkids, we would remember them for the pleasure of the thing. Ashok Rachanivarakonkul was in my class (he was an exchange student from Thailand) and I was a couple of years behind Hubert Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff, who later changed his name - much to our dismay - to Wolfe. 

When called upon to write to someone, or use his name in print, the thing is to spell it right. The Spanish, unfortunately, wouldn't agree. It's odd, because apart from the confusion between the letters 'b' and 'v' ('Is that Bee like in Barcelona or Vee like in Valencia?'), and the inclination towards writing haber instead of a ver, Spanish is phonetic and easy to spell. 

Whereas English, my dears, most definitely ain't. 

Names are the problem in Spain. The system here is different, peculiar and odd. As you know, the first last name (which came from the father) is the favoured name, the second last name (from the mother), less so, unless the owner prefers it. Thus José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero liked to be called Zapatero, not because of his mum, but because it sounded better: more presidential. 

But in the hospital, unaware of the nicety, they'd still call out for Rodríguez, and, you know, half a dozen would stand up: Rodríguez being a common name, like García, González and Fernández. 

No wonder Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba went by his matronymic.

In short, the system means that a child bears an alluring mixture of his parents patronymics - or first last names. They can now, by law, chose the procession if not the combination, making one's first last-name, second. 

Since this makes perfect sense to the Spanish, they are understandably confused by the system used everywhere else. We Anglos, baring complications, have a first name, a middle name and a last name. The Spaniards will usually pounce on the middle name and call you by it. Especially in the hospital. 'How are you doing Señor Paul?' and so on. Easy enough, unless you are asking at the reception after a friend (you probably don't know his last name, and certainly not his middle one). 'Er, fat, red-faced, balding...'.

Foreign names are considered slightly frightening by many Spaniards. Too many letters or not enough. In today's newspaper, Helen Prior becomes Hellen. Even a simple John becomes Jhon or Jhonathan (or even Yonathan). There was once a brand of Spanish denims called Jhon Jeans. Flared as I recall. I may have an old pair somewhere. 

My dad was called William, or rather more often, at least in print here, Willian. My own name is pretty simple, but even after being here for 50 years, and, I think, having made at least a modest splash during that time, people can still get it wrong. There's a mention of me in a book published by the Diputación de Almería, about how I ran an English-language newspaper in this province during fifteen years. So much for posterity, they've spelled my name wrong: Lenox Napper. 

Don't you sit down and copy it letter by letter? Really, must we all panic?

One day many years ago, an American friend had been stopped by the police and taken to the cuartel, the cop-shop, and they called in my father to translate. The Guardia Civil wearing his tricornio hat on the back of his head and smoking a Ducados wanted to see the American's passport. He laboriously tapped out the name with his trigger finger, click click, pause, click on the old typewriter...  

'Show me Señor Eric's driving licence' said the cop eventually. 

'His name is Barco, see, it says here, Arnold Eric Barco', said my father.

'Driving licence', said the irritated cop, 'why do you foreigners have such peculiar names, anyway?', he asked.

Arnold the American had had enough by now, and he tossed his international driving licence - a document which is printed in various languages for just such a moment as this - down on the desk, where it flapped open at the section in Chinese.

'What the good fuck is that?' asked the Guardia, aghast.

My father bent down over the desk and peered at the page, 'it's Chinese', he said.

'Get the hell out of my cuartel', roared the policeman, scrambling to his feet.

...
Perhaps this explains why everyone in Spain has a nickname, which is usually Pepe or Paco. In fact, when I was a kid, the local people used to call me Pipo.

I guess it's all to do with concern over the spelling.



Like 1        Published at 07:43   Comments (0)


Putting the Old Cars Through their Paces
17 February 2021

I bought my first car from a dealer in Almería. I was eighteen and had recently (that morning, probably) passed the driving test in Huercal Overa. The car was a kind of old Renault van called a 4F with the push-pull gears, but fitted with an Ondine engine rather than the usual 4L couchez-avec egg-beater. This meant that the old girl could thunder along at a rather better speed than suggested by the body and was just the ticket for me. The passenger seat was removable; it merely hooked in at the front, so it offered a rather nasty surprise to anyone sat next to me when I stepped on the brake, but with the seat removed and parked on the tarmac, I had room to stretch out full length on a thin mattress for a delightful snooze. That’s right: my first vehicle was a camper.

I remember belting one day down the wiggly line on the map laughably called a road which connected Mojácar with Murcia and all points north. In those far-off times, roads went through towns, rather than round them, which meant you could stop for a libation every hour or two. Trucks would work their winkers to let you pass. There were no discernable speed limit and no one took any notice of the signs anyway. There were occasional drain-channels that crossed the road which, if hit with sufficient speed, would cause you to leave a dent in your roof as the car dipped and you didn’t. On this occasion I was approaching Murcia at somewhere over a hundred kph when I saw two cops on the side of the road, just at the point where the road itself dropped about six inches and turned into a rutted track. No warning signs, of course. Spoil the fun. There wasn’t time to slow down nor was I inclined to, as the two grinning policemen waved me past, like fans at the track.

I think I broke a kind of automotive long-jump record that day.

The car took me to England in about 1972 on an early adventure in my life, the only time I have ever driven from here-to-there, all the way through to Calais and across the channel.

Crossing into France caused me some embarrassment as I stopped at the frontier and whipped out my passport at the desk with a merry ‘Bong-jour’ only to see a small package arc across my line of vision. It was a single and rather elderly prophylactic that I had kept in an inner pocket ‘for emergencies’. To my horror, monsieur le flic saw it as well. ‘Is ze engleesh gentleman goin to defloweur one of our fine French beautees?’ he asked kindly, picking it up and returning it to me. Sadly not.

The front axle of my passion-wagon fell off in Norfolk and a mechanic friend of the family told me that it would cost 50 pounds to repair and that the car wasn’t worth it. Yea, right. So, once fixed, and driving back home, again through France and into Spain, the old Renault van proved him wrong. It lasted another couple of years before I sold it, for a small loss, to the town hall of a nearby village.

A few years later, a Spanish friend with an odd sense of humour told our family of how he had just bought a strange foreign car: a brand he couldn’t remember (you could only buy Simcas, Renaults, Citroens and Seats in Spain in those days, peppered vaguely with a few enormous American Dodges and a strange kind of Austin making sure that the British car industry would remain a world power forever). He had left this car, he continued, in Almería, parked on some side-street and the problem was, as he explained to the police, he couldn’t remember where he had left it and, as they attempted to take down some details, he admitted that he had no idea what sort of car it was. Despite this unforgivable lack of crossing one’s tees and dotting one’s ee latinas, the car was eventually located and returned to its concerned owner… who promptly sold it to my father.

It soon became mine.

It was a two-tone Karmann Ghia 1500 Special and easily the worst car ever made. It had a rear engine hidden under a false boot and a large and empty space in the front, empty, that is, except for some rust and a sack of cement. Without this aid, the front wheels would lose all contact with the road once you got up to about sixty, which may have helped improve my reaction time and general driving skills but must nevertheless be seen as a major design flaw.

Sometime along the way, an old school-friend came to stay and asked to borrow the car. He seemed a decent sort, and played a lot of cricket. He wanted to go down to Marbella for some amorous reason. I gave him the keys. I have never heard from him or the car since.

I hope he’s all right.

I met my fastest and most terrifying car for the first time when wandering around in Madrid and suddenly saw her parked in the window of a second-hand car studio. This was a red Italian super-car, a 1967 Iso Rivolta with a gigantic American 327 cubic inch Chevrolet V8 engine in it, making the car capable of breaking the sound barrier. I was about 30 and in the mood for some muscle and so I bought it from the suspiciously grateful dealer for a million pesetas. The car brought me down to Mojácar in a personal record time, helped by not having any brakes at all. It was quite splendid. It turned out that the car had belonged to a political nutter who had shot some left-wing lawyers dead in a famous attack in Madrid in 1977. He obviously wouldn’t be using it for a while. To give you some idea of how fast this luxury four-seater was, the speedo – while unfortunately broken – went up to 300kph.

But that was then, before they invented air-bags, satellite navigation and eight-track. Today I drive an old Mercedes lovingly made in 1984 which, at a top speed of around 100, is a bit slower than I’ve been used to, but it does mean that the traffic cops and those ugly speed trap gizmos on the motorway will leave me alone as I chug effortlessly past. These days, that’s enough for anyone.



Like 3        Published at 10:15   Comments (2)


Chris Takes His Medicine
10 February 2021

We were talking yesterday of some of the old times and I remembered this story about one of the many differences that exist between Spain and the UK; and while we should celebrate and encourage those differences - after all, Spain is a wonderful place to live and Britain isn't - this particular item may not be the finest example in Spain's quiver of attractions and curiosities.
I refer to the humble suppository.

Chris had long hair and a thin moustache. He favoured pink shirts and kept his things in an off-the-shoulder handbag. His girlfriend was a pretty looking Danish girl and was seated beside him on a train chugging slowly north towards Granada. They had arrived in Mojácar that summer of 1968 in a purple mini-moke, a type of low-slung jeep. Chris was a writer doing research on Carlos, a murderous ex-bodyguard of Trujillo, the assassinated dictator from the Dominican Republic, whose disgraced minder was now running a beach-bar in our quiet resort. According to my dad, Carlos made a good Cuba Libre and one should always try and forgive and forget.
Chris’ research, once he got around to it, involved a few talks over a glass of rum with Carlos about his ghastly experiences as a torturer, inquisitor and bodyguard and Carlos, a short black fellow with a nasty look to him, must have taken offence at one of Chris’ questions on one occasion.
Or perhaps he just had a hangover that day.
The jeep was found, smashed to pieces.

Chris and his girlfriend, Gitte, decided to take off to Madrid for a week for some research and a release from the volatile Carlos. On the way to the train, Chris visited a farmacia to get something for a cold he’d picked up.
We are in the train again. It’s just left Linares where it had stopped for lunch. In those days, the conductor would go through the carriages asking what everyone wanted to eat and would then phone through to the station, where twenty seven portions of meat and fifteen of fish would be waiting, chips, salad and wine, together with a small plate of membrillo (a lump of quince jelly) for ‘afters’.

Restored by his piece of stringy goat and back on the train, Chris sniffled again and remembered his package from the chemist. He opened it up and extracted a metal-foil wrapped bomb-shaped item. The carriage, drowsy from its lunch, watched with mild interest.
Chris had never seen a suppository before and, as he peeled the foil off the plug (principal ingredient: cocoa butter), he decided he couldn’t eat it so, after a moment’s thought, decided to ram it up his nose.
The carriage stirred in anticipation. ‘No’ said some old girl in black.

No?, thought Chris. Perhaps, since it’s a streamer, I should open another. He placed the second suppository, with its agreeable smell of cocoa butter, into his other nostril and sat back with the air of a man who has conquered a new adventure. The two suppositories dangled slightly from his nose and he found that had to hold them in place. It takes practice, he thought.

His girlfriend tittered suddenly and the carriage, released, burst into laughter. Chris smiled around his temporary nasal embellishments and winked gamely at an old fellow near the window, sharing the joke.

The man sat facing Chris lifted himself partway from his seat at this point and made an explicit motion towards his backside. ‘Aquí’, here.

Chris, his face the colour of his shirt, excused himself and went to find the lavatory. He told us afterwards that he could see the tracks flashing by when he looked down the pan, and that there wasn’t really enough room to comfortably continue with the treatment.



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Beggars Can't be Boozers
08 February 2021

Times are hard. We have a beggar installed outside each of our supermarkets these days. Each one of them appears to have his patch and of course, he'll have a dog. Except for the old Romanian woman at the Co-op who looks like she just ate hers. I've seen little old ladies come out of a shop with a piece of meat saved for the hound (and a scowl for its master). It's hard being a beggar - especially with the new hard-to-climb-into dustbins we now have serving our community. So, to be a beggar, the first thing you will need is a friendly looking dog; and the second thing is a good stomach.
And remember, most of us are just a paycheck away...

Money doesn’t take you far,
A shop, a store, a mart, a bar,
So looking for the cheapest link
I chose a shop to buy a drink
My pocket full I entered in.
To buy a jug of Spanish gin
I picked a brand I didn’t know
It cost the lot, I turned to go
My bottle in a plastic sack
I toddled out, my mind turned black.
I left that market in a fog
And saw a beggar with his dog
The man was holding out a cup
I tipped my jug and filled it up
Am I to drink that, asked the mooch.
Of course you can’t – it’s for the pooch.



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Say 'No' to Coconut Brandy
03 February 2021

 

 

There's nothing quite like flopping into one's favourite armchair at the end of a hard day's work, kicking off one's shoes, switching on the telly for some mind-numbing rubbish and opening a nice bottle of honey rum. Or perhaps cinnamon gin. What say we all have a round of coconut brandy?

You get my point. There is almost no barman in Spain who knows how to make a cocktail, so instead, the marketing geniuses dream up these sweet and sticky mixtures in the forlorn hope that someone will not only buy a bottle of some glutinous krème, but will return, fresh-faced and smiling a few days later, and buy another.

The other day, I asked our local hostelier, an Italian, to make me a gin martini. I should have known better. I got served a large glass of Martini (e Bianco) with a cherry in it molto bene. Then he stood around, with an intrigued expression on his face, to watch me drink it. Could I have a glass of gin to go? I said.

Spain does have a cocktail (un coktel) which is the Cuba Libre. It's rum and coke. Known for short as 'una cubata', it has now come to mean any hootch with a fizzy mix. Gin and tonic, vodka and orangeade or even whisky and cola (uurrrp!). I have even been asked (I briefly barred) for a creme de menthe and lemon Fanta.

This may be why the Spanish are not generally known for public drunkenness - a couple of those babies and you just want to crawl off and die.

Actually, there's another cocktail that does the circuit, the Kalimotxo, which is an alarming mix of Coca Cola and vino tinto. It's popular in outdoor botellones, where you drinks what you gets, but otherwise it's rarely found.

There is an untold number of varieties of booze on the shelves behind a bar. Most may be for decoration - I assume you don't drink much Green Chartreuse or Triple Sec or Licor de Amor (it's purple - I think that's all you need to know) - while some of them are merely cheap imitations of better brands, which is why most brands of gin in Spain remind us of the Gorden's product. Which in turn explains the 'unfillable' tops to many of the brands here: bottles that often need a loud smack on their bottom when opened fresh. The downside of this being that one can easily spill a gout of grog onto the floor before adjusting one's aim.

So we come to a new drink, launched today in Cadiz. It comes from a Granada distiller and is called Licor de Crema de Turrón, a sort of Nut-Nougat Cream Liqueur. The photograph in today's paper showed a table with various half-filled glasses of the drink, a few bottles and whatever promotional material seemed appropriate, and a small number of youthful looking entrepreneurs with that slightly wistful look that people get when they know that - somewhere - they will have overlooked some small but vital point to their business plan.

I should just add here that I am grateful to my friends who had dropped by this past Christmas and kindly brought me a bottle or two of 'good cheer'. Indeed, admiring my stash this morning in the cupboard above the sink, I see I've got plenty of Tequila, four bottles of scotch and two of Spanish brandy which should keep me afloat through the year. No bottles of Sticky Toffee Pudding Rum (yes, it exists!), no Calisay, melon liquor or, thank goodness (and to my relief), any nut-nougat cream liqueur.

To which I raise my glass to the good taste of my friends, neighbours and readers.



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Fond Memories
01 February 2021

Going through all the boxes of photographs, I found this one of my son, Daniel, when he was little, posing with a donkey apparently called Bella.

For some reason, there was always a number of animals in or around our house in Mojácar (there's even a downstairs lavatory still known - many years after the fact - as 'The Pig's Bathroom'): dogs, cats, tortoises, donkeys, wild boar, chameleons, horses, mules, ducks, chickens, peacocks, pigs, guinea pigs and rabbits.

What with attrition, disease and the passing of the years, most if not all of them have now moved on to their Reward.

Following the death of my wife six years ago, I moved to Almería where I now live with Alicia and her riding school and her animals: horses, chickens, an ostrich, cats, birdies and a coatimundi.  Some of them have died (generally, we must bury them on the farm), many are going strong (the cockatiel that has the run of the sitting room can live, I'm told, for up to 35 years. This I find hard to believe as I've already saved his life four times in the past twelve months), and still others are arriving. With all of this, I've now got a podenco, a Spanish hunting dog who has been repeatedly warned that she is not allowed to eat the chickens that wander about the ranch.

And, from this plethora of beasties who all look up to me as a benign character (I bring them their breakfasts), comes a small fear of mine. When I, too, pass off this mortal coil to a Better Place, I can't help but imagine a misty empty field somewhere, a tree or two, perhaps the spirits of a few loved ones close to me... and then, with a drumming of mighty hooves, a hundred, a thousand critters will breast the far-off hill and run towards me, hooting, honking, barking and screeching, mostly (I hope) with a fond look in their eye as I try, against all odds, to remember their names.


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The Lavatory Bar
25 January 2021

In the old days, before the passing of Franco, the bars closed at 1.00am. Most of them no doubt closed a lot earlier, right after the black and white football game on the telly ended, but the bars in the tourist towns at least, would remain open for the boozy foreigners until the bell went. By the late sixties, prices for a gin and tonic had crept up to fourteen pesetas (around nine cents of a Euro), and a beer cost anything up to a duro – five pesetas. Our town lush, Old Antonio, would patrol the bars in Mojácar on the look out for a drink, looking more and more dishevelled after each invitación. ‘Rubio, dame un duro’, he’d whine.

The local bars were dressed in simple stone, marble, slate, tiles and plaster. There might be a calendar for decoration, the obligatory shelf of bottles, Green Fish gin and so on, perhaps a TV or a radio or a juke box – or with luck, all three. Noise was the keynote of a good bar, with the walls rebounding the sound and lifting it on high.

The few foreign bars would be decorated with paintings from local artists (who always attempted to drink for free) and would have the lights on low. Music came from a record player.

By 1.00am, those who wished to continue with the business of drinking would move to our solitary discothèque, run by Felipe, a Frenchman from Casablanca. Felipe would charge a little more for a cubata, the generic name for a mixed drink, but he had a disk jockey and a dance floor. At 2.00am, according to the rules, he’d close the door and pretend to be shut while we finished our drinks.

This could take some time, as the next legal establishment, the Fisherman’s Bar in nearby Garrucha, didn’t open until three.

In those days, the local Guardia Civil had to provide their own transport, which would generally be an old moped. They wouldn’t bother hiding behind a road-sign to catch the occasional drunk driver - they couldn’t stop you without ‘probable cause’ anyway - or, for that matter, tear along behind you shouting weedoo weedoo while waving their arms. For one thing, they'd have fallen off. At best, they might be in the village watching the small car-park and kindly helping drivers reverse safely out of their space and away down the hill.

The trip to Garrucha took about fifteen minutes and included a drive through the dust, ruts, or puddles, depending on the season, of the floor of the riverbed, the oddly named ‘Rio de Aguas’ that, in those days, more or less divided the two towns geographically.

Garrucha High Street was and remains, a narrow and ugly road that flows straight through the fishing village and away towards Vera and civilization to the north. In those times, it was a two-way street. Half way down it was the Bar Bichito, a bar with a special licence to open at 3.00am for the fishermen to have an early morning carajillo, a black coffee and brandy. This particular mixture always seemed like a good idea to the inebriates from Mojácar who would order a round as a song began to bubble up from within them.

Hitherto, the evening's drinking had been reasonably quiet, with the music taking the strain, but in the Bichito, fetchingly designed in white tile throughout and known to the foreigners as ‘The Lavatory Bar’, there was no music and entertainment had to be found elsewhere. The joint made ordinary local bars of the times look positively attractive. The door was on the end and opened into a narrow bar which stretched along in a small 'el' shape parallel to the street. There were two small tables and a few chairs just inside the door, and, if feeling faint, one could always sit outside on the curb. Otherwise, we stood at the chest-high bar (or even higher for some of the vertically challenged local fishermen), blinded by the bright lights and namesake decor and watched, between songs, as Pedro man-handled his one-spout Italian coffee machine. The toilet facilities, a throne with a long drop, were through the back and doubled as a storage room for the beer and soft drinks.

The fishermen and the old municipal cop would look on in a friendly way as the small group of plastered Britons, French, Germans and Americans, depending on the draw, would start on their lengthy repertoire. A family favourite of ours was ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now’ (an old song immortalised in the late sixties by the New Vaudeville Band) followed, perhaps, by the popular drunken bawl ‘I’ve Got Sixpence’ or perhaps ‘Bless Em All’. A cockney couple, Pat and Tony Farr, had taught us a number of songs, such as ‘I’m One of the Ruins that Cromwell Knocked Abaht a Bit’ and ‘I’m Henry the Eighth I Am’ and so on.

More carajillos as Pedro, face pitted with acne, would tell everyone to hsss, to be quiet. People are trying to sleep (apparently).

Things could only get worse as the Rugby Songs were unleashed. Rugby Songs are England’s answer to folk music and run along the lines of ‘My Little Sister Lily’ or ‘They Were Tattered, They Were Torn…’ with lots of lines ending in –uck and so on. Curiously, many of them are set to opera music, which gives the performers a chance to really crank out the key words with enthusiasm. At times, even the extranjeros can be loud.

The ride home was always uneventful I’m sorry to report. No accidents or arrests. But those were different times. Cheap, basic and fun.



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A Hearing Device, Guaranteed to Miss Nothing in under Five Metres
19 January 2021

Age-related problems: losing some of that fine conversation that buzzes around me in a public place. Perhaps it runs in the family. My Great Grand-mother was famously deaf. She used an ear-trumpet to listen in to interesting bits of conversation and would reputedly swivel it away from boors half-way through their patter. Much to their dismay, no doubt. I don't suppose she needed it to listen to the wireless, or indeed the Old Boy playing the piano. People around her learned to shout. As it should be.
I wondered if I wasn't also heading in that direction. I had been thumped on the ear by my wife's brother a few years back, which broke my eardrum. So, I went to the hospital for a hearing test. They put you in a booth and tell you to wave when you can hear some shrieks over the ear-phones. After a while, the techie came in. When do we start, I asked. Start? he bellowed, we're finished: you're deaf.
So how about that? I either needed a girlfriend who had previously worked as an air hostess in a Zeppelin, or a hearing aid.
Hearing aids come in all sizes and conditions, and despite our excellent Spanish health system, they are not dished out free to deaf punters. The techie had a cousin who sells them in the oddly-named local town of Huercal Overa - starting at 1000 euros and going up to better than 4000, and that's just for one ear. Madre Mía. Do they still make ear-trumpets? 
I was complaining about this robbery over a beer, when someone said, loudly, why not try the Chinese shop? Well, I'll be boondaggled, they sell 'em for nine euros, with an extra battery thrown in.
So, now I can hear everything: the buzz of a mosquito, the early morning scream of the new cockerel that someone kindly gave me last week and lives in a cage outside my bedroom window, and pretty much all that lies between.
Indeed, I'm getting rather fed up with my hearing aid, and am thinking of taking it back to the shop. I'll buy some glasses there instead and take up using sign language.



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The Night Stalker
12 January 2021

We were in the feed shop, to buy some provisions – a bag of seed and some chicken pienso. The talk had turned to the local issue of the jineta, a large and nasty predator that creeps around at night, breaking in to the bird pens and creating carnage. A genet cat, apparently, although nobody has seen it. The farmers say ‘the ugly face of the killer genet’, although in truth it’s rather a nice looking creature.

 

 
Aziz invited us to come into the back. Aziz is a Moroccan graduate in international law, now working in Spain tossing hay and feeding the chickens. I went with Alicia. ‘There’s where he got in’, said Aziz showing us a modest looking tear in the bottom of the fence, ‘he killed sixteen pullets. He bites off their heads and sucks the blood’. We shivered. We had had problems with this thing as well. ‘Look, I’ve left a snare for him’. We looked (as did two very worried looking chicks lurking uncomfortably on the far side of the trap).
 
Back in the store, an old man was buying some pellets. ‘They only do what they are meant to do, it’s not their fault’, he said. ‘Are you a farmer?’ asked Alicia. ‘No, I’m a hunter’, replied the old man, adding ‘they are God’s creation: creatures of Allah (he nodded at Aziz helpfully). Alicia became annoyed, ‘it killed my pet rabbit and a cockerel the other night’, she said indignantly.
 
We had found the tracks – heavier and larger than a cat. We had also found the corpses. Now the other birds – a mixture of ducks, chickens and peacocks – were all locked in a horsebox, which, judging by the sounds coming from the other side of the door, they didn’t care for.
 
I had put something on Facebook. Don’t kill it, said the British. Kill it, said the farmers. It’s a rare species said the ecologists. They were brought here by the Moors, said a historian. Catch it and send it to the zoo, said a girl. It’s a viverrid said a pedant. I’ll wring its bloody neck myself, said Alicia.
 
An old news-story found on Google tells of the successful and humane trapping of a genet which had killed any number of poultry in Asturias. The unrepentant animal was taken off in its cage to somewhere quiet in the countryside and was freed. Ecologists, don’t you love them?
 
Tonight, we wonder what’s happening in the neighbourhood.
 
There’s a monster loose.


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Up On The Roof
09 January 2021

The infinity of space is a subject that makes us dream. The Hubble observatory, drifting purposefully around our planet like an extra from a Kubrick movie, brings us its extraordinary photographs of the births and deaths of far flung galaxies and star systems. A star some ten thousand light years away explodes in a cataclysmic act and consumes, in a moment, a dozen planets that had anxiously spun around it. Everything recorded with infinite detail by the space observatory as if it were happening in real time, and not, as the astronomical measure suggests, some ten thousand million years ago. The stuff of wonders!

Led by these thoughts, when I read in the press that there was to be a spectacular meteor shower called ‘the Leonides’, ‘with various shooting stars every minute’, I went up the ladder on to my empty roof-top, with a sleeping bag and a pair of binoculars which used to belong to a German officer and were found in the sands of the Libyan desert a few years after the Second War. They had probably belonged to Rommel. I had recently snapped these gems up in the Sunday Market off a gypsy.
That particular night was cloudless, the skies clean and the stars as cold and hard as a banker’s heart.
Lying in my sleeping bag and gazing at the firmament, after a few hours had crept uneventfully past, I suddenly saw a red light coming in from the West. I doubted that it might be a UFO, common enough round here during the sixties, when Mojacar seemed to abound with them, and when people would impatiently wait for a flying saucer story to end to cap it with another even more interesting one. Meetings these days with small green creatures being a rarity, and with the absence of a non governmental organization for their care, it seemed more likely to be a light from the Madrid plane – or possibly the plane alight – or perhaps the nub end of my wife’s cigarette.
Indeed, and she had brought me a cup of tea.
‘Any meteorites?’ she asked.
‘Nary a one, the astronomers must have got it wrong’.
Apparently, they were twenty-four hours out, which isn’t bad for several million light years; so, the next night found me on the roof again. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Alright, about five in the morning I could see some red sparks over to the East, but they were probably just an illegal exhalation from the local power station. The conservative provincial media, of course, eventually convinced our mayor a few years back that the smog which he’d complained about was nothing more than a collective delusion similar to something a group of shepherds might have seen a couple of thousand years ago in Palestine, and nothing more about this phenomenon has ever been said. Odd really, as I’m the only one who still has these visions, or maybe there’s still lots of sand in my binoculars.
Meteorites though, were not to be seen.
It rained the following night, but there I was, back on top with my sleeping bag, not this time to observe the stars, but to cover a leak over the bedroom.
In the old times, our craftsmen would build flat roofs because it was cheaper, less likely to fall down, and because furniture in those days didn’t complain over the odd dousing from a leak. Economics continue to play a role today and I should state that I’m lucky to be able to enjoy the use of my own roof as the new ‘pyramid’ style of construction favoured by some developers (one man’s roof is the next man’s terrace, and so on for fifteen steps into the mountain) can lead to additional problems from your ‘next floor neighbour’, and obtaining permission to fix a leak – often with the help of a lawyer – from someone who hasn’t been back since he bought his apartment five years ago can easily become complicated.
A flat roof has another overweening advantage which will become clear when our little town fulfills its intention to expand to seventy thousand souls, with the consequent and inevitable collapse of its road system. I’ll be able to park my helicopter there.
These days, I sleep fulltime on my roof; admiring the horizontal views (while they last) and the safer, vertical ones. I breathe the reasonably uncontaminated air with relish as I continue to watch the night sky for meteorites.
There are worse ways to live.
 
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