Saturday, June 30, 2007

What a way to enjoy youself!

Festa Major has converted Terrassa from a normal busy city into a traffic jam. The Ramblas has a stage and a funfair on it and a parallel road has been upgraded to the major thoroughfare; except it isn’t made for the amount of traffic and so everything has ground to a halt. What precisely this festival means in terms of spectacle has not been made clear to me, but I have been promised a dragon.

To my plaintive call for fuegos artificiales (fireworks) to go with this dragon, I was informed that they were reserved for the end of the festivities; with the clear implication being that I was being greedy expecting all my treats at once!

After the let down that was Saint John’s Night’s Eve, I am reserving judgement until after tonight, but the reputation of the city is at stake!

The details of our new life continue to frustrate: there is, it appears always room for another piece of paper (or two if you count the photocopying) before normal life can be established.

We are girding up our loins to attempt to get to grips with the employment system in Castelldefels. Today, of course, was a holiday in Castelldefels so all our attempts to communicate by phone and by email were doomed to failure. It is, or it might be, the Feast Day of Saint Peter, so it was almost blasphemous for us to expect any municipal authority to respond to any communication that the ungodly might attempt, spurning the sanctity of such a day.

I am trying to remember how Saint Peter died: was it in the odour of sanctity or in the traditionally gruesome ways that early member of the church usually ended their days, or indeed a combination of the two. I am sure there is some grotesquely inappropriate confectionary that the Spanish have developed to celebrate the saint’s apotheosis. Going by the delicious cakes that we ate to celebrate Saint John, I do hope that Saint Peter’s cakes are at least on a par with the pastries of his holy colleague!

The Day After

No saint specific cakes, but something much better, fireworks!

One of George Bernard Shaw’s sayings which is sometimes trotted out to justify lazy perception came to mind during the evening festivities in Terrassa last night. Shaw said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” There used to be fairly marked differences between Spain and the UK; certainly on my first visit I was aware that I was in a very ‘foreign’ country where the policemen carried guns, murderously camp men in tight trousers killed bulls and the general population ate with relish the tentacled denizens of the deep.

In Catalonia today in Terrassa and Barcelona there are very few differences in everyday life (apart from the ones that I noted in 1958!) so when you are presented with glaring differences you are more than surprised.

My bank manager, who at present is probably having treatment after my daily abrasive visits to him, was completely confused by my request that I have a cheque book connected with my account. He hunted through screen after screen to see if this outré demand could be realised within the Spanish banking system. It could not. Not with my account. I was to come to him when I needed a cheque and he would write it for me.

This is the sort of arrogant paternalism that used to exist when bank branches in Britain had actual bank managers in charge rather than the uppity clerks that staff these money making concerns nowadays. But even then we were actually allowed to write cheques all by ourselves. This is yet another abuse of the banking system that I will Have to Open a File about: be afraid BBVA; be very afraid!

Leaving aside the continuing persecution by Spanish banks (actually just BBVA) last night was another example of how the Spanish do things differently.

The start of Terrassa’s Festa Major was marked by general genteel merrymaking compared with what would have been a drink sodden embarrassment in Britain. Wandering past the funfair in the middle of the main street we passed families strolling through packed streets.

In one of the main squares in front of the Cathedral a raucous band was playing as if the major requirement was sound rather than subtlety and people were dancing the Sardana. This is a Catalan dance which requires people to hold hands in a circle and perform a series of steps to the music. For Catalans this is much more than a dance, it is a terpsichorean statement of national identity. Like the human castles that Catalans build, these odd demonstrations of a deep tradition are very moving to watch.

It all seemed rather low key until we came to the main square in front of the City Hall where there was a gathering of people wearing large caricature heads representing the local governmental officials who watched their cavorting parodies from the opulently draped balconies of the civic building. A clear view of the little dance these grotesques stumbled through was impeded by the backs of two giants directly in front of our vantage point.

These giants are another feature of Catalan festivities. These enormous figures are hollow allowing a person to be inside the character and actually carry the giant around, making it look as though this twelve to fifteen foot monster was actually walking. The two tradition characters are a king and queen who dance together. These are clothed in traditional fairy tale clothes with regal crowns. The rest of the figures are odder. The two other giants in the town square where of a man and woman in clothes from the 1920’s or 1930’s. It has been explained to me that this period in Catalan history was one of affluence and importance hence the dated appearance. These characters dance too, to general acclaim and delight.

After a lightish meal in a restaurant whose menu was cut down to basic snacks because of the festivities we returned to the square where the giants had given way to something darker and more impenetrable.

The square was packed with people forming a rough circle around two groups of characters from whose ranks alternately a person would advance towards a microphone and speak. One group was dressed as angels and the other devils. As I didn’t understand a word that anyone was saying and as no one enlightened me as to what was happening, I will make my own assumptions.

Even though I couldn’t understand the language that was being used, I could tell that the people were speaking in verse. As the debate continued (with the devils having the best of the argument going on the response of the crowd) I was reminded of the vitality of medieval mystery plays in which this sort of dialogue was common.

Eventually from the side of the angels a debonair and assertive angelic form appeared armed with a sword. His clearly combative approach provoked a murderous response from the devils who killed the angel to whoops of delight from the crowd.

Then, to put it mildly, all hell broke loose.

Drums started an insistent harsh rhythm and the square was filled with muffled figures who began to tramp around in a circle, into their midst erupted hooded figures brandishing pitchforks from whose tines fireworks were soon spraying showers of sparks on the crowd. Fire eaters disgorged immense plumes of flame while the screams of the exploding fireworks, the rhythmic beat of the drums and the yells of the crowd added to the atmosphere.

The square was filled with the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder and eyes were soon streaming and devil after skipping devil entered the square spraying fire, not only on the tramping forms in the middle but also on the unprotected observers at the sides. From time to time whole sections of the outer circle of watchers would recoil as a volcano of sparks attempted to ignite clothes and hair!

A spectacular highlight in the action was when one of the devils carried into the square what looked like a Tibetan prayer wheel which, when engulfed by an extruded plume of flame from one of the fire eaters, exploded into an apocalyptic vision of fiery hell.

Dragons, covered in fireworks and breathing real fire cavorted in the square scattering spectators but with the tramping figures seemingly immune to the conflagration.

The drums continued to beat as fiery horses came into the square, all the time accompanied by whooping devils. At some points all you could see were gesticulating horned silhouettes waving pitchforks in front of a sheet of sparkling fire. It was like one of Goya’s black pictures brought to startling life.

This was not a quick experience – a pyrotechnic moment; it was a sustained ritual: the hypnotic beat of the drums; the shuffling, circling figures constantly showered with fire; an occasional piercing blare of a brass instrument and a crowd half fascinated and half frightened.

Eventually, after well over an hour, to immense acclimation, a devil pranced into the centre with what looked like a tombstone with a cross on it.

Immediately the centre of the square cleared as this funereal object was placed in the middle. At that point, I must admit that I felt some apprehension myself. My reasoning was that anything that a crowd of fire dancing maniacs was wary of should bloody well frighten me. The crowd, though yelling encouragement put their fingers in their ears. I followed their example and felt the soft whumph! of a massive explosion, followed by a shower of spent gunpowder which fell like gentle rain on us all.

A remarkable experience and one which left me absolutely filthy. I’m still wondering what to make of it all. But I certainly enjoyed it.

Whatever it was.

Thursday, June 28, 2007



And to prove it I have a wodge of paper which has been scrutinized, photocopied, checked, stacked, riffled, sorted, signed, stamped, signed over the stamp and stapled. And you don’t get more official than that!

For once the agency behaved impeccably professionally and did exactly what it should do; an unnerving experience. And we were allowed the keys days before the official start date.

That laxity, however, came back to bite us as the local government refused to recognise that we were living in Castelldefels because the contract we had signed said that we were commencing our tenancy a few days later. But that was (as it turned out) a minor inconvenience and was easily (for Spain) resolved.

To celebrate our new found domesticity we went out for a meal and I continued my gastronomic experiment comparing the popular cuisines of Catalonia and Wales. The restaurant, this time was just around the corner from our flat. You know; the one on the beach with vistas del mar! Anyway the menu del dia was a little more expensive than yesterday’s experience, but given the occasion I though that we could splash out a little.

My meal was: empanada (mini pasties) to start; followed by a dish of paella marinara; followed by a small chicken cooked with lemon and bay; followed by chocolate tart. A bottle of red wine with fresh bread and a cortado to end the meal completed a more than satisfactory repast. “And the cost?” I hear you ask: 13€ - just over £9. Cardiff, I’m afraid loses out again. The score so far: Catalonia 2 Cardiff 0. There’s still time for Cardiff to pull something out of the bag. (That’s not strictly true!)

This has been such a casually momentous day: the completion of the blog title – that I am inclined to rest my ironic fingers; relax my sarcastic tone; settle my jaundiced thoughts; smooth my sneering grimace and simply enjoy the moment.


[Normal service will resume tomorrow – I can assure you]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

If it isn't one thing it's another!

It was hardly a shock today to discover that my new bank book when fed into the BBVA machine completely buggered the thing up.

The bank manager, who must now shudder each time he sees my cheery face looming towards him, had physically to dismantle the machine to extricate my miraculously unmangled book. His attempts to change my foreigner’s account to a Spanish resident’s account took on a more and more desperate tone as he desperately punched at the keyboard of his computer!

My BBVA file is now bulging with incomprehensible sheaves of paper (all of which I’ve signed) which are the inevitable consequence of having anything to do with a bank. The papers a bank forces on you are exactly like the essential information that you never read when downloading some program on the computer. I should imagine it more than likely that most of us would find out that we have probably sold ourselves into slavery if we care to read the detail of the small print which never sees the light of a pixel when we impulsively click on the ‘accept’ button in our desperation to add to the growing stack programs that we never use.

I reckon that we have all sold our souls to the devil (aka Bill Gates) and all it needs for the bargain to be sealed is for a drop of our blood to fall onto the screen and we will find ourselves living through a modern version of Dr Faustus. Bill ‘Lucifer’ Gates will tell us that we have had our days of power and importance by using the internet and that our souls will be instantly taken to Silicon Valley to be imprisoned on a duo core processor. After all, if you think about it, how does a simple little bit of metal and goo manage to do all those tasks if there wasn’t an entity physically there to ensure that the thing actually worked?

When the administration in the bank was finished I was gifted (how else to describe it?) by a call from the lowlife in the estate agency who, only three and a quarter hours later than promised, told me that the contract for the flat could be signed tomorrow.
This I will believe when the contract is placed in front of me.

To celebrate this unlikely tardy competence on the part of the overpaid leeches of humanity Toni, his Mum and I went out for a menu del dia. This is the first in a series of experimental comparisons to ascertain the real differences between Catalonia and Wales in the value for money lunch stakes.

So, the first restaurant in this scientific comparison was Cal Gendre in the Carrer de Baix in Terrassa. Although smoking was allowed downstairs, upstairs was smoke free and, though the service was a trifle tardy, we were soon given a bottle of rose (taking Toni into account) a bottle of casera and basket of bread.

Since the meals were all comparable I will only describe mine: Fideuá to start followed by chicken cooked in Cava with boiled potatoes and a sort of Cornetto to finish. I also ordered a further bottle of red wine and we had three cortados. All of this came to under 30€ that is under £21, that is £7 per person. I think that Terrassa is a clear winner over Cardiff! I look forward to cataloguing further successes for Catalonia and eating the evidence!

Just when we felt that the saga of finding of a flat was beginning to deflate into a simple tale, the problems with buying a car appear to have risen from the slime and start to pose insuperable barriers to successful completion.

The real problem (or rather problems) is (or indeed are) that I do not have a regular income and have no recent records of continuing money being paid into my account. Such a person in modern Spain should not and cannot exist; at least cannot exist and ask for credit, no matter how healthy his balance at the bank is.

The whole of Peugeot in Castelldefels has been thrown into confusion by my having the barefaced audacity to ask for 33% of the payment for the car to be in the form of finance when I do not have a regular income! Such (as the Catalans would say) face! I look forward to the struggles ahead with an anger fuelled exasperated exhilaration.

And when all is said and done, who can ask for more?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Give me strength, O Lord!

All brushes with officialdom in Spain should be looked on as preparation for the Camino de Santiago.
The endless walking; the suffering; the moments of doubt; the testing of faith; the illusory glimpse of salvation; the aching feet; eventual surrender, all of these can be the gift to the modern pilgrim trying to, in Pinter’s memorable phrase, ‘get my papers.’

The experiences today, trying to get the bank to give me a number to signify that the guarantee for the rent of the flat was secure, rapidly descended into the realms of disordered hallucination. The sleep of reason produces nightmares: how appropriate the best illustration of that is Goya’s etching!

To secure the Aval Bancario (Bank guarantee) for a flat, you need to have a NIE (Numero de Identidad de Extranjero) which is a document which says that you live in Spain. To get a NIE you need to be living in Spain in a house or flat. But to get a flat you need a NIE. Catch-22 is alive and well and living in Spain.

We have short circuited the system and I am now officially living in Terrassa – for days - before I move to Castelldefels!

I had to register with the police to get my NIE which cost 6€, but this money had to be paid into a bank not the police station! Off we traipsed with time running out to get things done before the dead time of the afternoon threatened. Having got to the bank we rushed back to the police station to – wait. And wait. And wait. Then, when the precious NIE was finally issued back we went to the bank. An institution that we had visited three times already that morning. Then back to the Notario, whom we had visited only once that morning.

This particular species deserves a few paragraphs to itself. What exactly is a Notario? What specific function does it serve? If any?

We had to go to an adjacent building to find this creature, using a rickety lift which wheezed its way up to the fourth floor where a Dickensian collection of people waited on a selection of chairs and benches while a self important group of people rushed around looking as though they might be doing something.

In Spain if something doesn’t move for longer than three or four seconds someone photocopies it and puts it in a nice little file which soon grows into a big important file as everything within reach is photocopied and placed inside. The Notarios’ lair was characterised by obsessive non entities walking significantly past vitiated, demoralised people waiting dejectedly for the prancing puppets to state the obvious and stamp or sign a piece of paper.

I am sure (or it ought to be true) that the original reason for existence for Notaries was to copy out legal documents. The photocopier has made their existence null and void but, like The Socialist Workers’ Party, they refuse to lie down and die.

We had to suffer the humiliation of listening to some non entity mouth inanities then some other some other pompous windbag say exactly the same things and then put a big important stamp on a piece of paper. And that was it. These busy, bustling people look at standard contracts and say they are OK. What is the bloody point of that? Hordes of innocent people have an extra layer of pointless legal meddling forced on them to what purpose? One thinks of the Court of Circumlocution or of Daumier’s incomparably accurate depictions of members of the legal profession. Dress them up in jeans and modern clothing and you have what I saw in Terrassa today. God rot them!

We feel, perhaps dangerously that we are over a substantial hurdle and that the rest of our brushes with government are going to be oh-so-much-easier. There is nothing like self delusion to give you extra energy for the struggles ahead!

Bring ‘em on!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who expects meaning?

Is it encouraging or depressing to find out that there are actual eternal verities? That your ordinary life experience leads you to believe that a unified theory of everything is not too far away? That life does indeed have a meaning?

That all of the above may be true because, wherever you are, anywhere in the world, banks, estate agents and insurance companies are self serving, incompetent, uncaring agents of evil.

Needless to say I can back up my assertion that the Gorgons, Medusa, Loki, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Bennett (I’ve always hated that oleaginous git) are the elemental motivating forces behind the life hating existence of the modern versions of the apocalyptic riders found in, you’ve guessed it, banks, estate agents and insurance companies.

It would be too searing an experience to relive in words my morning; and that was speaking to only two of the ‘horsemen’ – but their sheer unfeeling nastiness will live in infamy and my memory. [And, to cap it all, I’ve forgotten the name for the linguistic device which links two dissimilar things in a single sentence, like the combination of ‘infamy’ and ‘memory’ in the last sentence. But it will come to me. It will.] {It didn’t, but the internet helped and reminded me it was ‘zeugma.’ Interestingly I remembered that the word was Greek for ‘yoked’, but I couldn’t remember the word. Just shows how bad my Greek is: on a par with Shakespeare’s!}

At least this morning is over and I suppose there are worse ways to spend your morning than sitting in a chair in front of the Commercial Director of the Bank threatening to withdraw all your funds. If you can thing of those worse ways do please get in touch with me, as that will give me strength for the bureaucratic tussles yet to come!

For my reader in Wales, the day has been glorious and, if I had not been sitting in front of a Commercial Director of a Bank, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.

Toni has informed me that the first days in any foreign country for someone trying to settle there are trying. I must learn patience and a Zen detachment. Given the fiendish reputation of Spanish officialdom I will need to develop this attitude in about 36 hours! Given a life time of dedication to instant irritation, my conversion to Patience will make Saul of Tarsus later life look like a slow evolution.

All things, as they say, are possible!

It is easier to find a Spanish film with English subtitles in Spain than it is to find an English Film with Spanish subtitles in Britain. So I was ‘fortunate’ in being able to see Santiago Segura’s “Isi Disi – Alto Voltaje” and understand what was going on.

With a plot that would have been rejected as hackneyed and unimaginative by the Teletubbies the usefulness of the script was made virtually redundant as any member of the watching audience over eight must have been here in similar stories many, many times before.

Apart from the language, this film was the stuff of children’s matinee cinema and was a clear commercial rip off of the characters created in the first AC DC presentation. The failed rock stars . . . ah, what the hell.

What’s the point in wasting time on a production that should never have seen the light of a single studio bulb? Santiago Segura should be ashamed of himself and I don’t know whether the film’s message of ‘not selling out’ is there as a completely cynical two fingers to the audience or a coded message to the viewers to have sympathy for someone hard at work making a lot of money by simple exploitation!

Did someone say, ‘exploitation?’ Are we talking about banks, estate agents and insurance companies again?

Calm! I must just contemplate this butterfly.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Shine on Spanish Sun!

St Johns Eve, it has to be said, was something of a disappointment.

Instead of the crackling of roaring fires over which people were jumping with reckless abandon, walking through the streets of Terrassa was like being in the middle of an unconvincing sound effect of some tin pot African dictatorship undergoing a periodic coup with desultory street fighting.

The occasional explosion with the accompaniment of what sounded like sharp gunfire made one think that this must have been what the Civil War must have sounded like as the fascist forces began their systematic sweep through the loyal country of Catalonia.

There were a few flamboyant fuegos artificiales but not nearly enough to make me use my recently charged camera.

I don’t think that many witches were intimidated by the activity of the night and I warn all denizens of Catalonia to be wary, as the forces of evil remain unscathed!

The evening terminated with the interminable ‘Apocalypto’ another self indulgent piece of Boys’ Adventure Story mixed with half baked spirituality that is becoming something of a hallmark of Mel Gibson’s directing style. The basic storyline is simple: man is captured and has to escape and try to save his pregnant wife and child. The twist on this hackneyed story was that it was set in Central America just before the appearance of the Spaniards and the action was concerned with Mayans and, of course, another Gibson affectation, the dialogue was in the local language.

The violence was graphic and convincing, which was more than could be said for the Jim Henson jaguar which appeared at a climactic moment in the film in fulfilment of an inexplicable prophecy made by a dying child to the vicious captors of the film’s genial hero. I don’t care if the jaguar was real; they should have spent money on producing a more convincing real animatronic version!

I presume that Gibson (credited with the writing of this farrago) was deeply influenced by ‘Lord of the Flies’ as the end of the film is a direct copy of the book. The lone fighter against the forces of bloody unreason manages to evade his pursuers until he falls to his knees on the beach, easy prey, but is saved by the fantastic appearance of Spanish galleons and a boat crowded with Conquistadors and priests: representatives of ‘civilized’ society as opposed to the callous human sacrifice society we have been viewing up to this point. The pursuers fascination by the apparition of other worldly creatures enables the hero to escape back to the forest for ‘a new beginning’ little realising that the Spaniard’s civilization will entail the complete genocidal destruction of the indigenous societies.

There are other parallels too puerile to note between Golding’s novel and ‘Apocalypto’, I only hope that Golding’s estate gets a share of the royalties from this film!

After a lazy Sunday morning, with me champing at the bit to ‘do something’ to get us fully settled in Catalonia and being constantly frustrated because it is, after all, Sunday, we went to Carmen, Toni’s sister for a large family lunch. We had a take away, but that term hardly does justice to the excellent rotisserie just around the corner from Toni’s mum’s flat. The chickens are cooked on a long spit which is turned over an oven fuelled with aromatic wooden logs: the flavour of the cooked chicken is superb. This place also has extras like Russian salad; sliced grilled potatoes; marinated peppers; seafood salad and giant rissoles. I do like rissoles, especially the game you have to play guessing what ingredients might have been added to the melange to give that distinctively, softly bland texture and flavour that I love!

I will only mention the visit to the open air swimming pool and the relaxing sunbathing because I know that the weather in Wales was pretty poor.

I suppose it will be a sign of my having settled in when I stop looking at the weather forecast for GB just so that I can have a private gloat and convince myself further that the choice that I have made is the right one!

The sun shines still!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The night draws on apace!

Sants railway station in the centre of Barcelona has been transformed into an eighteenth century vision of the grotesque and picturesque.
This underground cavern supported by vast concrete piles looking like sweptback slim-line funnels from some sleek yacht is undergoing what looks like a mixture of destruction and renovation. Solid shafts of sunlight penetrate the murky depths from jagged holes above illuminating well placed piles of rubble and discarded giant machines in such a dramatic way that one suspects that the whole thing has been set up for an artist like Piranesi to complete another set of etchings of the fantastic.

In every area in which I have been in Catalonia this week (God! Have I only been here a week? It’s certainly been an active one!) there seems to be a frenzy of building, rebuilding, restoration and casual destruction. Walk along virtually any street and you will suddenly encounter a gaping hole where an entire building has been ripped out leaving jagged masonry on either side to denote where the living inhabited limb used to be. In a rather touching act of architectural anthropomorphism Spaniards paint the newly exposed areas with an earthy ochre coloured paint almost as if they were applying a sort of iodine to the exposed flesh of the building!

Barcelona is a city of extraordinary casts.

I have never seen so many people proudly exhibiting such a bewilderingly large display of the doctor’s craft in swathing limbs and bits in plaster of Paris. I have seen so many people in neck braces that I was beginning to think that it must be a chic new fashion accessory. Legs, knees, arms all swaddled in medical white with sometimes a patch of material to give a collage like effect to the whole. One man had his hand swathed so completely that it became one white gigantic comma.

I think that there should be a new i-spy book of Plaster Casts because it would be a doddle to fill it in while walking around Barcelona and then I could claim my feather from Big Chief i-spy! For those of you who know what I’m talking about, did you ever meet anyone who actually got a feather from Big Chief i-spy? I tend to think that this was another of those comforting myths which kept me in place when I was young. Like milk tablets – that takes me back!

I have just been invited to join the family in their inexplicable activity of Scoobydo which appears to be a form of finger knitting which has struck this previously stable family unit like some sort of obsessive compulsive behaviour.

Toni has now given up after confirming his status as a non teacher by attempting to teach me how to do it. He is eating the strange mixture of nuts and seeds which keeps him noisly happy for hours. Carmen and Laura continue with their knotting like opressed labour in some Oriental sweat shop. Strange are the ways of the Catalans!

To day is St John’s Night Eve, the shortest night of the year when, as I recall from extensive listening to Mussorgsky’s “Night on a Bare (or Bald) Mountain” also known as St John’s Night (though I may have made that bit up) this is a time when witches are abroad and waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting.

I have been told that sleep tonight is bound to be interrupted with explosions and fire. The celebrations of the birth of St John are six months before the birth of Jesus, hence the 24th June. Festivities in Spain include the burning of bonfires over which people apparently jump to prove their courage and to rid themselves of sin and disease. I await with interest the revelations that will come when I go and see how Terrassa celebrates. As long as there are fireworks I will be satisfied.

The Spanish, or perhaps the Catalans, seem to have a predilection for fireworks in their most dangerous forms. There is a form of conjuring known as ‘street magic’ which is performed, as the name suggests, in the street and close to the punters. In Spain they have the same approach but with fireworks.

I have not yet recovered from my experiences in Sitges when a whole troupe of hessian coated, sinister hood wearing visions from a Bosch painting of Hell showered a screamingly delighted crowd with fountains of fire from dangerously hand held fireworks. What a fire officer in the UK would have made of it all beggars description; the courts would have been busy for months!

I have great hopes for this evening (already there are sporadic explosions although the sun is still shining) and I hope to have a thoroughly pyrotechnically intimidating night.

Witches beware!

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's not the arriving it's the journey!

Chaos is not the same in all countries.

In Britain, the fatalistic acceptance of failure and even the grudging admiration for systems operating properly (i.e. not working) allows the Brits to indulge in their well honed repertoire of moans, groans and sighs. I speak not as an outsider; I too have come to accept the relentless dissatisfaction which is the lot of any Briton trying to Get Things Done. “We will be there before 11 am” and casually arriving in the evening; “We will call you back within the hour,” and surely any comment here would be superfluous; “The cheque is in the post!” all the great lies that we have to live by and, as the papers constantly remind a generation that doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about, it brings out the ‘spirit of the blitz.’

I was supposed to go to Castelldefels today to sign papers and hand over vast sums of money to ensure the apartment is ours for a year or so. The trip to Barcelona was uneventful; it was only when I went to the station in Barcelona from which I was supposed to catch the train to Castelldefels that the unusual discommoded me. The station announcer seemed to be encouraging people to go to Sants in Barcelona to catch trains to destinations like Castelldefels. What was not explained, or was said too quickly for my Spanish, was that there had been a derailment and there were no trains to Castelldefels at all. This I eventually gleaned by fairly desperate questioning of a uniformed man wearing a badge with a big i on it.

A trip by bus from Sants to Gava and then a train to Castelldefels did nothing to lessen the tension of the day. In spite of everything I was on time for my meeting with the Estate Agent, he of course was late. The convoluted negotiations could not disguise the fact that he and his firm would be getting over a thousands pounds for doing virtually nothing, and not even doing that nothing well.

To call estate agents blood sucking vampires is to dignify a semi evolved life form with an insult steeped in literary history and made famous by Hammer Horror films. I would rather compare them with nematode worms, but nemotode worms, at least have a useful function in breaking down human ordure in sewerages whereas estate agents etc etc.

It was considerable disgust that I left the den of thieves and returned to the town for lunch.

I think the restaurant was called Club Lancaster and was poncy enough for Toni to prefer virtually any other restaurant in town but, as Toni was languishing at home with sickness, I felt free to indulge myself.

God, I love this country! What can you say when a waiter having inexpertly dropped red wine on table, knife and serviette leaves the rest of the bottle as a sort of apology. And, later, when the same waiter failed to respond to the request for another glass of wine opens a new bottle, plonks it on the table and doesn’t charge for it on the bill.

And the food was good too. The restaurants here are as good value for money as the estate agents are, well, not!

And I’ve bought a car too. I think. The conversation with the car salesman (which went on for two hours) was a sobering taste of what is to come if I try and survive in a country that doesn’t speak English as their first or even second language. The use of a computer to translate Spanish into English produced a sort of gobbledegook which, given the absurd flexibility of English, resulted in a laughably ungrammatical sentence which still made sense to an English speaker!

I wonder what I’ve actually put a deposit down on. I hope it isn’t pink or red. I’m almost sure that it is blue – but more than that I would not like to volunteer.

The journey back to Terrassa was, quite frankly, a nightmare. The eventual train from Castelldefels to Gava disgorged what seemed like half the population of Barcelona into a series of buses. And, if you’re still with me about the idea of national chaos being different depending in which country you are in then the behaviour of the Spanish and Catalans showed how unlike their British counterparts they were. There was very little grumbling and the arrangements of the buses were workman like and efficient.

Yes we did (even I did) cross the tracks to get to the exit to get to the buses, but the queues were relatively orderly with only the usual scumbags shamelessly pushing in. As with traffic, pushing in is a way of life in Spain so it is not marked with violent horn blowing or vociferous muttering. The queues were quickly directed into buses and we were soon on our way; and I managed to keep the seat next to me free by judicious placing of various bags. Result!

Sants in Barcelona was a nightmare; not because of heaving masses of humanity pushing, shoving and generally behaving badly, but rather because my single question to an information guide of “Terrassa?” with a stylish upward inflexion produced an immediate series of instruction on how to get to my train in faultless English! To my crestfallen question, “Do I really look so English!” he replied, “Sorry!” I’m not sure what to make of that exchange.

The train journey to the wrong Terrassa station (miles away from Toni’s home) seemed to last for eons and I was only mollified by the fact that my return was greeted with applause and a bowl of substantial chicken soup with Toni saying that he had seen me on TV as part of the downtrodden masses attempting to get home in spite of the traffic chaos. The last bit about being on TV was not strictly true, but I had been filmed in Gava as our tortuous procession of the dispossessed waiting for a purposeful train wended its weary way towards a bus.

Tomorrow has to be less stressful and much more peaceful.

Doesn’t it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Weighed in the balance and found wanting - again!

When I first went to Greece I went with the best of intentions. I had studied and researched the museums and excavations that I wanted to visit; I had bemoaned the fact that one could only spend a mere morning or afternoon on the Greek sacred island of Ios or whatever. I arrived in Athens late determined to make an early cultural start.

But the sun was shining and I discovered that the Greeks actually produced Newcastle Brown looking bottles filled with Retsina for mere pence. I was instantly corrupted and this holiday marked the end of my ostentatiously artistic ventures abroad. From henceforward I searched for the sun and the warm waters of the Mediterranean in which to bathe.

A similar epiphany has taken place with regard to the house or flat in Spain. The overriding consideration in the quest for the appropriate domicile was a suitable repository for my books (and of course, naturally, somewhere visitors and family could be entertained so that they would realise just how unfortunate they were not to be living in Castelldefels!)

The first house that we saw today was almost perfect: adequate accommodation with an interesting arrangement of rooms and a large lower room which could take all my books. It had a small (very small) garden and a terrace. It had a parking space and a sun roof. Perfect. But in the wrong place, or, as we say in Castelldefels, on the other side of the motorway. The house was empty so everything in store would fit. But it was in the wrong place. The wrong bloody place!

The afternoon was given over to a mendacious estate agent (Gosh!) who took us to a truly horrible flat that we had not asked to see and none of the properties that we had asked to see. We were taken on a grand tour of locations where there might be properties but not to the sea front where we wanted to be. By the time that we were ready to go to our last port of call we were in a thoroughly bad mood, not made any better by the conflicting attitudes we were beginning to develop about exactly what it was we were looking for!

We had no great hopes from the last property and the estate agent who was supposed to be showing it to us was late. The generally poor mood continued and developed.

When we went to the flat we were show in detail and in a logical order the various attributes it possessed. It had a reasonably sized swimming pool and the block of flats had their own private entry directly to the beach. There was a parking space in a generously proportioned bay (I was told) and then we taken round the flat. The living area was generously proportioned and the terrace adequate with views of the pool and the beach and the sea. The main bedroom was adequate but the other rooms somewhat small. The kitchen had been refurbished and the bathroom and loo were adequate.

My carefully dispassionate description hides the glaring, incandescent and truly wonderful fact that it was directly on the beach!

So! To hell with the books! The flat is directly on the beach: from the pool, through the door and onto the beach.

Once again the lure of sun, sea and sand has conquered my dedication to academe. Sad really; but it is what I have been working towards for a number of years. I may not own it, but I’m going to be living in it.

So, tomorrow, back once again to Castelldefels to put down a deposit and try and explain how my complete lack of an income is no hindrance to my renting a flat for the foreseeable future. I’m not quite sure how that circle is going to be squared, but I’m sure that money will sort it out. I will be dealing with estate agents after all.

What is going to happen to all the stuff in store is anyone’s guess. This, as they say, is work in progress.

Meanwhile my continuing exploration of the Spanish psyche has delved into small spaces.

Although British people find toilet humour, well, humorous and laugh inordinately at references to toilets and attendant activities, they find personal discussion outside the realm of standup comedy intensely embarrassing.

Judging by the number of advertisements connected to one aspect of bodily evacuation, it is the horror of having anyone other than you realise that excreted matter might actually smell offensive! One masterly neurosis inducing advertisement asks the acutely psychologically penetrating question, “What do you loo say about you?” One is tempted to answer that it probably says that you are using the loo for the purpose for which it was invented – so much nicer than pooing in the sitting room!

I know that the advert is referring to the smell (or ‘stench’ as I’m sure Doctor Johnson would have preferred to have said) and judging again by the number of products that have been developed to counteract the smell of this particular bodily function they are onto a winner.

I particularly like the toilet blocks which also emphasise that they are antiseptic and disinfectant so it is hygienic rather than cosmetic to use one. And one what? We have been presented with bleach tablets, blue blocks, under rim attachments, in cistern slowly dissolving cellophane wrapped rings and in-an-out attachments. The last ones I bought for my ex-house I preparation for its new denizens, was an under rim strip which seemed to stretch half way round the bowl. The bewilderingly wide range of ‘fragrances’ that have been deemed suitable to mask the unpleasant odours of a particular part of the bathroom all have one thing in common: they emphasise the smell that isn’t there! The incongruity of young of pine forests or wild jasmine infused with rampant spring lavender bursting forth from the toilet bowl is always a little unsettling.

Having one toilet bloc is inadequate; having two is either boasting about the virulence of your bodily functions or proclaiming your unnatural nature when it comes to what goes naturally.

The well appointed and hygienically sound little toilet in the café in the plaza in front of the station in Castelldefels was not distinguishable or notable for its scent but rather for the design of its toilet block. This took the form of a little hollow canoe shaped boat on the deck of which was a hollow man in blue behind a hollow sail of green – all filled with de-odorising goo! I am sure that these elaborate constructions are well known to my reader, but to me, a toiletry innocent, they were a revelation!

If a man in a boat, why not a surfer riding a big wave; a lion attacking a water buffalo; Venus rising from a scallop shell; Margaret Thatcher fighting a bloated Edward Heath; the sinking of The Bismark; a working model of an artesian well . . .

. . . and I’m ready for my medication now nurse.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Very hot today.

I suppose I could just leave it at that. ‘Very hot today’ is, after all, one of those phrases that I have moved country to be able to use! I am now sitting on the balcony in the cool of the evening with a strong cup of coffee with only the noise of the traffic and the whirr of the gimmicky (but effective) USB fan to keep me company.

Talking of company; Carles has been exuding energy today. All day. And well into the night. If whatever is powering Carles could be bottled then the energy crisis would be at an end and we could finally treat the Saudis with the contempt that they more than richly deserve, after all the years of their treating the world as their personal playground in which they can do exactly as they please and buy their way out of the condemnation that ordinary mortals would have suffered just because of the monetary power of the rotting vegetable matter that has accumulated under their arid and bigoted country.

That’s better. There is something deeply therapeutic about a short rant (Though the Saudis deserve a much longer and more detailed one than I can give at the moment!)

The first attempt at house hunting was of limited effectiveness in spite of our attempts to set up viewings. After taking the train from Terrassa to Barcelona and then a walk to another station and a train to Castelldefels and then a walk to the centre we were rewarded with two viewings.

The first was excellently situated with direct views of the beach and sea and overlooking a small but adequate swimming pool. That is the positive and encouraging positive too, but the negative!

On his deathbed Saint Oscar’s memorable final words concerned the wallpaper. “The wallpaper is killing me,” he confided, “Either it goes or I do.” I felt exactly the same when contemplating the decoration; sorry I should have said ‘decoration’ which was seen in the bathroom and toilet. The tiles were of that ostentatious vulgarity which is only seen used by post modernist camp decorators on television trying to prove their virility by assuming that their mere word can make the unpalatable fashionable. The furniture was of a vulgarity and cheapness which would have been hard to match if you deliberately set out to produce the most vulgar display you could imagine. As it was let with furniture we would not have been able to change it, therefore it was impossible to consider. And the kitchen! Words fail me, but I would add that it had plastic curtains rather than kitchen unit doors. Ugh!

The second was a duplex of a much higher quality (and a much greater price.) There were two smallish rooms with a bathroom on one level and a much more reasonable sized en suite bedroom. The living room, dining room and kitchen were all open plan but at slightly different levels. The view of the sea was not direct but tangential, though it has to be said that the sea was very near. The advantage of a sun room was not lost on me, but neither of us felt that this was the perfect domicile.

I will pause at this point to sympathise with my reader who may be losing a certain patience with reading the carping criticism of someone trying to find just the right sort of sunny home by the sea in Spain when, as Maggie pointed out in her email from Cardiff, she, for example was just about to set off for a game of golf in the rain. But bear with me.

Oh yes, and I’ve tried out the sea in which I will be swimming. Not too bad for the time of year and it necessitated only a modicum of undignified squirming before happy acclimatisation was achieved. Much self indulgent wallowing and splashing and even a little real swimming. One couldn’t help the passing thought that this experience was part of the whole idea of coming to Catalonia in the first place!

Toni has lost all patience in the process of trying to find a new place to live and looks forward with real dread to the sequence of places that have been lined up for us tomorrow. On the other hand, tired and drained as I most certainly am, I feel theoretically invigorated by the prospect of being shocked by other people’s idea of gracious living!

As every teacher knows bus travel with kids is fraught with dangerous possibilities. I have had occasion to mention before the notorious trip which ended with one of my colleagues softly, but insistently swearing at a boy clutching a motorway red cone for the last thirty minutes of the journey home. That, believe you me, was one of the lighter moments of the Trip from Hell.

One axiom of bus travel with pupils is to recognize that anyone moving purposely towards the back seats should never be allowed to get there. Any disruptive or naughty pupil who makes it to the back seat will have his evil quotient exponentially increased to truly satanic proportions.

I was reminded of this simple truism when sitting in the back seat of a number 94 bus in Castelldefels. The scratched windows and black marker initials are par for the course on any form of public transport but the treatment of the grey plastic backs of the seats of the penultimate row were new and intriguing. At first I thought that they were merely the artistic swirls of a viciously stubbed out cigarette, but then I realised that they were more intentional than that. There were initials dragged – not incised – in the plastic. Pause for thought; and then a more flamboyant scorch mark indicated the answer. The back seat recidivists were obviously softening the plastic with their lighters and then inscribing their initials and other cabalistic insignia with matchsticks. Pausing, again, only to wonder why they would have both, I leaned back and contemplated the artistic scrawls that would have had an artist like Dubuffet in ecstasies. Not me though. I have never forgiven the dead Dubuffet for having an exhibition of his exorable ‘art’ covering the walls of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York the only time that I visited the place: all that winding space and nothing worth looking at!

I will be thinking of architecture tomorrow as I tick of the desirability of the apartments and houses that we are shown tomorrow.

Frank Lloyd Wright be with me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Catalan thoughts

Barca failed to win the league.

Gloom and doom from Toni’s mum who greeted us at the airport with an earpiece firmly plugged in and her attention focussed on the two games of importance being played out in two stadiums. A win for Barca and a draw or loss for Real Madrid would have clinched the league for Barca. Although Barca won, so did Madrid and even though the points were equal for both teams, the deciding feature in Spanish football is the ‘head to head’ meetings – and Madrid had the advantage. Ironically, in the UK, I think that Barca would have won on goal difference; but this is Spain and so miserable defeat!

What surprised me as we drove towards Terrassa in the dark was the number of fireworks which exploded in the sky to mark the victory of Madrid. The struggle between Barca and Madrid is about much more than football, so the number of ostentatious displays of enthusiasm for Madrid was more of a political statement than joy at a team’s victory. Even in Terrassa there were the traditional displays of enthusiasm by drivers tooting their horns. Each exuberant noise was greeted with a scowl from Toni’s mum and a muttered imprecation.

I know on which side my sympathies lie and so I continue to live under Toni’s mum’s roof!

Added to the disappointment of Barca not winning the league was the even more disappointing sight of the televised highlights of a bull fight in Barcelona! There was a demonstration from a group of anti-bullfighting protestors, but it was decidedly depressing to see a full bull ring with, yet again, no human fatalities to even things up. The bull fighter was awarded both ears and, something which I had not seen before on television, proudly paraded around the ring holding two bleeding chunks of gristle in his hands.

Disgusting! I had thought that the bull ring in Barcelona was going to be redeveloped as a shopping centre and thus bull fighting consigned to the murky past of animal cruelty in Catalonia. I feel that this is going to encourage me to join my first Spanish pressure group! To hell with Hemmingway and his self deluding macho crap – anyway, look what happened to him.

I think that I am looking more critically at how life goes along in Spain now that I am here for good than with the previously more accepting holiday eyes. I am much looking forward to making sweeping generalisations about Spain and Spanish Life from my very limited experience. It has never stopped me in the past so I see no reason to suddenly start being reasonable when I am living in the proof of what I am saying – even if, statistically, it might be a little one sided!

I shall start my observations by stating unequivocally that the Spanish are much more interested in delicious bread and pastries than are the British. Today we had a coca; a decorated flat loaf shaped creation crisscrossed with lines of a sweet custard-like consistency and decorated with pine nuts and crystallized fruit with sugar scattered on top. The texture and taste of the ‘bread’ was like a hot cross bun and it was altogether pleasant.

The ordinary bread is much tastier than the British equivalent, especially when treated to the Catalan method of preparing bread: soaked with crushed tomato and drenched in olive oil. Delicious, almost a meal in itself!

I almost had heart failure when (with Toni’s less than informed help) I used my card to find out the balance in my Spanish bank account by using a cash machine. The amount which was printed on the receipt indicated that over 95% of my money had gone. It was only after heart massage and general comforting that Toni realised that he had encouraged me to find out my daily withdrawal amount rather than the total. I sometimes think he is trying to toughen me up to the realities of Catalan life!

I have bought a new mobile phone to use in Spain. The assistant in the Terrassa branch of the Carphone Warehouse had a more than competent command of English and it turned out he had spent about a year in London, though as he pointed out, the number of Spaniards in the capital significantly thwarted his attempts to master the English language! He merely confirmed what I have long suspected: the centre of London is a wholly owned colony of Spain – it’s only fair after our refusal to quit Gibraltar!

Carles, or Plague Boy as we prefer to call him, has now brought low his mother, father and aunt. His uncle (Toni) is showing incipient signs that he too is succumbing to the malaise that seems to be a trademark of his nephew, and I await my own diseased fate with weary resignation. Carles is showing his versatility, his power is not merely confined to the colder months of the winter; he is equally at home in the more torrid months of summer.

I am at present the recipient of a menagerie of plasticine animals which are being deposited next to the computer by Carles. I only hope that there is some sort of antiseptic effect from this child friendly goo, otherwise I will be joining his uncle in illness.

One of the prices you have to pay for the comforts of family life. I have escaped babies for a number of years, so I suppose it is only fair that I start to pay now.

It’s a hard old life.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cutting loose!


The title of the blog is now a reality. I am in Catalonia!

Considering the length of time that it took to sell the house (I was rapidly becoming known as ‘the teacher who tried to go to Spain to live’) the actual process as soon as contracts were being bandied about was relatively quick.

It was not, of course, without its attendant horrors, otherwise selling a house would not be ranked with divorce and death as one of the most stressful things that you experience!

Although a vast amount of what can only be described as ‘stuff’ was already residing in the depositories of Messrs. Pickford I seemed to have amassed another house worth of possessions to join the two pallets of the library and assorted items ready to wend their way to Spain.

Pickfords made the wrapping and packing of the house look like an elegant art: the packaging of the television created an art object worthy of entry into the Tate Modern as a Christo wrapped original. If I had my way I would leave it in its bubble wrap covered state for future generations to wonder at!

The eventual settlement in Altolusso was something of a relief; its position was wonderful, but we never really got used to the maniacal shriek of harsh metallic brakes on the passing trains. I do not see how anyone short of deafness could possibly live in those flats. It may be ‘location, location, location’ that sells accommodation, but surely there must be audio limits to what you are prepared to suffer!

The last days there were difficult to take as we had all but gone and were irritated by the fact that somehow, we were still there. When you are making such a life changing move; the decision made – the last thirty or forty hours are unbearable.
Luckily my inability to pack came to the fore to help me. Toni, of course, packed his possessions impeccably with elegant economy within a couple of hours. My ordeal would have had Saint John of the Cross rethinking his concept of the ‘dark night of the soul.’ In all packing experiences there comes a moment of truth when you know, beyond all doubt, that what you want to pack will not fit into what you are using to pack it in. This moment came early in the process and yet, and yet . . .

You can define most people by their approach to the definition of the CDW concept. This is the ‘Can’t Do Without’ appellation of certain items that have to go into the case. This CDW is widely interpreted. For some people going on holiday without a full mini library of chosen reading matter would be unthinkable; for others a selection of bathing costumes is essential; perfumes for morning, evening, afternoon and tea time would be the difference between civilization and barbarism; everyone, thank god is different.

I have found that the (I have to admit it) imperfections of my corporal state are space consuming – especially if you are moving country. Consider: faulty vision has to be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. In my case with a combination of both. If you have faulty long and short sight then the combination and number of glasses increases. You have varifocal glasses, reading glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses, glasses to read with contact lenses, tinted lenses with – well, you get the idea and with supermarkets producing cheap single strength reading glasses for a couple of quid the sheer number of pairs of glasses increased super exponentially. And they all take up room. Contact lenses, you would have thought, take up no room at all – unless you wear daily disposable contact lenses and then you have box after box of them. Especially, again, when you stock up to come to a foreign country.

My medication also takes up more space than you would think. There was a time when pills were put in a bottle to be shaken out when needed. Nowadays pharmaceutical companies like their consumers to think that everything they take has important magical qualities and so they pack all pills in day specific blister packs which are packed in boxes. Even aspirin! Less than a penny a pill and one firm packs them as if they were life saving panaceas and charges accordingly! Space, space, space! I think that anyone would agree that specs and medics were CDWs – doing without them could be fatal! And then you have to pack clothes! It’s just impossible.

And it was impossible. Various things had to be left behind. Including the car.

I wasn’t thinking of taking it with me, but I was hoping to sell it before I left and use the pitiful amount I could get to go towards a new car in Spain.

The idea of taking abroad and driving, with Catalans with the disadvantage of a right hand drive car in a benighted country of left hand drive fanatics on the road was not a starter. The experience of being flicked a vicious V sign by an ancient driver as he overtook me on a mountain hairpin bend descending from Montserrat and being harangued by his equally ancient wife, just because I was sticking to the speed limit on a clearly dangerous road, has stayed with me as an indelible memory!

That experience changed my driving expectations in Cataluña for ever. I need to be able to fight back and restricting your sight lines by a driving position on the wrong side of the car is not to be recommended anywhere, let alone in Spain!

I woke on the first day of my new life to the sound of rain.

I do not feel homesick yet, especially as Welsh weather appears to have followed me.

Today has been a time to check on how much I have in my Spanish bank account and to think about what I have left behind.

Without the Pauls and Ceri and Dianne the last day would have been a haze of horror as we tried to get too much done in too short a time; they made possible the impossible and it ment that our last day was a rush of action which left us no time to think.

How considerate life can be sometimes! With a little help from my friends!

This blog is from some time before the 17th of June, only posted now because of my inability to link to the internet!

I am now having withdrawal symptoms because of my internet deprivation.

Sad, but true.

Living a train filled life in the lower reaches of Altolusso with the temptation of a dust filled, shop enticing central Cardiff dominated by earth movers and shakers should be the stuff of dramatic blogs charting the raging emotions and depleting bank balances of a high octane existence. But it isn’t.

My computer reaches out its electronic tentacles and finds serried ranks of computer users all around me, their wireless links seductively encouraging, but the sternly repulsing ‘security enabled’ label dashing connection hopes.

The days since the Move Out have been filled by finding just how many ropes, threads, strings, manacles, chains, scaffolding, flying buttresses, shackles, cables, locks, and all other metaphorical impedimenta impeding the surgical cutting of the ties that contain a person’s movement from his home country. Not, I must add, that I want to sever those links, but the normal process of ‘housekeeping’ so as not to leave any loose ends is an enervating series of brushes with Automated Authority.

I have now heard every variation of the computer generated insults that are non human telephonic responses to a poor human trying to gain an organic ear to list to the poignant tale of separation that is inherent in emigration.

The present front runner for the Orwellian Big Brother Prize for Bewildering Choice in Telephonic Response is the DLVC. Make one wrong choice to the stultifying plethora of alternatives and you will find yourself in the dead end of a proffered telephone number: your alternatives have narrowed to one set response – and this after wending your weary way through a thoroughly unsatisfactory set of numbered choices.

The best of the Big Organizations so far has been Customs and Excise! This was in response to an enquiry about income tax which encouraged a thoroughly pleasant man to be helpful and coherent and offer to send any further information that I might need to Spain. Gosh! This is in marked contrast to some other businesses which made my move to Spain seem as though I were going to settle on one of the more obscure chunks of rock in the unfashionable end of the asteroid belt.

The only thing that makes telephoning faceless bureaucrats and officials bearable is the loudspeaker button on a telephone handset. This at least allows you to continue with your normal life until something approaching a human makes some sort of contact. Unfortunately, in my experience, this always occurs when your normal life has reached a potentially sonically embarrassing stage.

The last time that I was carrying around a noisy handset which was playing a suitably moronic and immediately unbearable tuneless note sequence that, unbelievably, someone in the organization had actually chosen, the human response came at a time when I had just started to eliminate a certain quantity of waste, as it were! When you have phoned as many organizations in the last few days as I have you take such inopportune human contact in your stride. Though thinking about it, ‘stride’ was possibly not the most appropriate word to describe my response. When you finally get through to a human operator you have to cherish and nourish this contact or you are condemned to repeat the via dolorosa of gaining information all over again.

And again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Keep looking!

We are poor little lambs that have all gone astray: Baa! Baa! Baa!

There is nothing more alluring than finding yourself an outsider. You try and find your way into the special enclosure of those who are accepted in normal society and all the time you are pushed to the outside.

We poor fellows outside the law are trying to scratch ourselves into the circle of acceptability. And failing. That’s par for the course.

[SMR's note: This was supposed to be the introduction to a mildly ironic comment on something or other. The internet access was limited and I didn't get to finish it but, for reasons best left to history and red wine, I published what little I had written. The end result makes this blog entry read like the maudlin outpourings of a suicidally inclined loner! That was not, I have to emphasise, what it was supposed to be like. Here we have another example of the dangers of electronic publishing: all you have to do is press a button and it is public. I suppose that remains a danger and an advantage! Anyway I would like to reassure my reader that I have not stropped the razor and am now sitting by an open window in Terrassa and about to have a drink of the very excellent drink known as Sandevid Classic - a fizzy red wine concoction sold like Coke in plastic bottles and very much tastier. Try it!]

Saturday, June 09, 2007

To see, or not to see!

Friday 8th June - as you can see access to the internet is a moveable feast!

Saint Bob Geldof once spurred me to precipitate action after appearing on television and telling the audience that buying the record ‘Do they know its Christmas’ was “a moral imperative.” I was so impressed with an apparently dissolute member of The Boomtown Rats using language like that, that I bought the disc immediately! And it had cover artwork by Peter Blake. Who could ask for more?

I was reminded of the phrase “moral imperative” as I underwent the continual shock as I perused the extortionately priced, flimsy scraps of metal that masquerade as spectacles in the modern world. And why does Jaguar make glasses frames? How does car technology influence the rather basic design of two bits of curved metal connected to two bits of glass? The narrowness of the arms of the specs only allows the most discrete printing of the expensive name of the product. You have to get up close and personal to see the affluence indicator: pathetic. I wonder if, with its newfound kudos, Skoda will soon be producing glasses frames with its badge of shame transformed into the sparkling adjunct of sophisticated living etched on the lenses to show everyone how fashionable cutting edge folk live.

For the past forty years I have been astonished at how much opticians charge for their services. Any group of professional who rely so much on the “is it better with this lens or that one?” to define the parameters of their analysis of eye correction have not really found the science of their calling. OK I do admit that they can search for infection and eye disorders, but for the normal sight correction they seem to rely far too heavily on the subjective perception of the individual ‘patient.’

When I was eleven each new pair of specs seemed to take ages to appear after the initial ‘consultation’ and was vastly expensive. With the opening up of the comfortable restrictive practice of ophthalmic theft of the 1960s, it was a revelation to see how quickly a pair of specs could be made. And to see how quickly every saleable brand name jumped on the band wagon to ensure that the inclusion of name and logo bumped up the eye watering profit to be made from tawdry metal and plastic strips supporting bits of glass.

So, my articulation of “moral imperative” would seem to be a Solomon Eagle evangelical, apocalyptic call for repentance to the dispensers of fashion dominated eye correction. But, strangely, it relates more to me than to them.

Because of the way that I have been alternating my wearing of contact lenses and glasses I have been able to return a number of boxes of lenses to the optician. These have a clear monetary value and can be used by other contact lens wearers. I am therefore, owed a sum of money by my optician which can be expended in extra glasses. So far so boring. Allied to this lens return is the fact that for a period of time I paid twice for a ‘sight plan’ service through a standing order and direct debit confusion. As soon (!) as this was discovered I was repaid. I now think that the refund that I have been given refers not to the lenses but to this overpayment. The difference between the two is marginal.

Now this is the moral dilemma: should I say anything. The (substantial) refund did not cover the cost of the new glasses and £150 extra has been spent by me to cover the total cost. Four people worked out the refund after much consultation. Who am I to question their deliberations? Especially as the new glasses are even more flimsy and insubstantial than any I have previously possessed. Or is that specious argument? Who cares?

The tidying up of loose ends continues apace with new obligations creeping into my consciousness with every waking second. There is a panicky realisation that I now have seven full days before I emigrate.

‘Emigrate’: I think that is the first time that I have used that word. ‘Living abroad’ seems much less final – more like an extended holiday than a final settlement in a foreign country.

But this is the moment for which I have been waiting for almost a year: the one way ticket to another life.

Makes you think!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Double Pleasure and More!

Thursday 7th of June

There is nothing as invigorating as when making significant telephone calls.

You can be anywhere; be wearing anything (or nothing); look bored or fascinated; can be eating, drinking or fantasising; be reading impressive files or consulting the back of an envelope; be moving vast sums of money or ensuring your philatelic bureau first day covers get to Spain – whoops! Bit too much detail on that last one; verisimilitude always has a habit of creeping up on you and, as it was, biting you in the arse.

Today was the sort of day when, to be perfect, you should have a little list of easily ticked off tasks to complete. There is something altogether satisfying in obliterating, relentlessly, one easily fulfilled objective after another. It is especially satisfying when a disinterested observer suggests other easily completed struggles that can be dismissed with a minimum of effort. In a time period of less than an hour I managed (what an achievement!) to inform the Cardiff City Council, Amnesty International, the NUT, Tesco, Sainsbury, SWALEC, Welsh Water, the Co-Operative Bank and Uncle Tom Cobley and, indeed, all.

Thank God that Paul Squared was there to provide the disciplined incentive through directed invective that a naturally indolent sybarite needs in order to do those things that are inimical to his character. I suppose that the ‘Virtual Parent’ approach to recalcitrant sluggards is the only thing that I understand!

The mail has been redirected and the interim period between the activation of the period of redirection has been covered by the sorting office keeping my mail until I call for it. The necessity of having some strategy which excludes the present recipients of my erstwhile communications should have been obvious from the preceding posts. I would be more relaxed if I could be certain that any stray letters were destined for certain destruction, but, in this vale of tears, we can be certain of nothing!

With a funeral looming, my lack of clothing is becoming something of a liability. My hurried packing of my case meant that I now have certain items of clothing, but not enough items to make, as it were, a full assemblage which will convince a congregation. Though there is a certain style to turning up to a funeral dressed in shorts and a seersucker shirt with white socks and Velcro fastened, distressed sports shoes – I choose not to do so. I have to admit that Tuesday (the day of funeral) is looming ever closer and all I have acquired are two leather belts and a nondescript pair of trousers; I still have to find a convincing alternative to the seersucker shirt!

I refuse to be sad at this funeral: Ray was not a person who would have wanted anyone to be sad, unless of course he could have worked some sort of carnal satisfaction from the vulnerability of sorrow! What a man he was: overblown, oversexed, and overall a Good Thing. For him I am prepared even to undergo the Rags of Popery ritual of a Requiem Mass! A good man, a phrase often in his mouth, as indeed were various other things of which we must needs be silent! For Ray the injunction to rest in peace doesn’t seem to have been in his repertoire while alive, so I can only wish him enjoyable unrest in the afterlife and a virile stream of ‘gentleman callers’ – and never were inverted commas more necessary!

Tomorrow, the search for clothes continues – otherwise questions about how I dress will not be answered with a simple direction.

A suite, a suite, my money for a suite!Ignore the actual date - go by the date on the page!


Two days for the price of one!

'The Prince' is a book much cited but rarely read. Those who emulate the eponymous ‘hero’ and imagine themselves to be the personification of the popularly recognised Machiavellian tendencies of the heir apparent to the seat of power rarely have the requisite qualities to justify their fond belief that they, and they alone have the power to dissimulate with panache and easy superiority.

I am careful not to link my opening comments to any actual persons, but I have experienced a woeful example of the shallow mendacity that some lewd fellows take for cleverness. Playing both ends against the middle asks the putative manipulator to show guile and cunning, and, above all to ensure that the ‘ends’ don’t meet and have a cosy conference, whose compelling topic is the manipulator himself.

God knows I count myself as (when the occasion demands) a mean hand at hypocrisy, but I am but an amateur when I compare myself with someone who can profess unending bonhomie to your face and then rant a forceful diatribe of vitriolic condemnation down the safe end of a telephone to a third party.

A meeting of the alpha and the omega of house purchase and selling, with a furious mediator vouchsafing extra shocking information produced a remarkably unanimous group whose ringing condemnation of the hapless perpetrator of mendacity would have penetrated even his brazen carapace of effrontery.

Clearing a house preparatory to selling is a mind crampingly stress exacerbatingly horrendous experience. What to keep? What to sell? What the hell? All normal approaches to material things become problematic. The cost of an article is in direct inverse proportion to its portability; its utility is of minor importance.

In all house clearances there is a ‘tipping point’ where a rational approach to the value of things suddenly is replaced by a complete exasperation with everything that you can handle and the only reasonable solution is found within the commodiously accepting maw of a skip. “Put in everything!” you scream, ignoring the effort and expense you went to in order to acquire the objects under consideration. There is something invigoratingly clean about throwing something away. Through to a dedicated shopper like me ‘discard’ is only a step away from ‘acquire.’

The best thing about today (ignoring the physical discomfort, the intermittent mendacity and simple gnawing hunger) was . . . well, thinking about it, there were a few good points.

Pickfords were, as usual, professional and excellent, showing once and for all that packing is a true art. The wrapping of the television in international quality smooth sided bubble wrap demonstrated a mastery of technique which was breathtaking.

Paul Squared was a tower of help and was directed and workmanlike when I was pacing about in an agony of something rapidly approaching panic and despair.

We have moved into a flat in Altolusso which has severely limited view from the mighty heights of the third floor, giving detailed views of various railway lines. The iconic building, on the site of New College, now serves a useful purpose (who knows what the teaching was like) as train drivers know that as soon as they draw parallel with the pile of overpriced dwellings they need to apply the brakes; brakes which screech with the fury of frustrated incarcerated commuters expressed courtesy of a class conscious class war warrior.

Another highlight was going to Porto’s restaurant for a gargantuan sea food platter. I preceded it with dressed crab on the grounds that it was not included in the platter! A bottle of oddly tasty rosé wine complemented the meal perfectly. Although Toni would have preferred the fish grilled rather than served in a sauce, I think we can count the meal a success.

So, all in all, a more than satisfactory day which takes me a major step nearer to a life in Catalonia. I speak as a homeless orphan looking for security or at least the sun.

The internet connection is proving to be something less than satisfactory so tomorrow will see me wending my (pedestrian) way as a dedicated city centre resident to Vodafone for elucidation of my internet denial.

I hope the assistant speak down to me - I might understand the technological double speak then!

Pity me.


It is gratifying to see that a notorious money launderer like Toni finds it so difficult to take his hard earned money back to Spain!

We spent over three quarters of an hour arranging for Toni’s pounds to be sent to his mother’s account so he can open a bank account in Spain when he returns.

The bank account that he did have was summarily terminated when he did not use the account for six months. There was, apparently money in the account, but that did not stop it being closed with no reference to Toni!

Banking is such a caring system!

Talking of caring, our exit from the bank was enlivened by yet another phone call from a bemused estate agent who was acting on behalf of my estate agent. The details of the call are not the important aspect: the illustration it provided of the shameless nature of some people who are prepared to rewrite history to their own advantage was, however, startling.

In spite of my ostensible carapace of cynicism, I realise that (at heart) I am an eternal optimist. I always believe that people are (at heart) reasonable. I clutch at shards of decency in otherwise contemptible folk, devoutly believing that these fragments show the hidden character. Alas, too often the shards merely cut rather than indicating something of worth.

Today another mask fell from a pleasantly engaging face and the hard lines of conceited self interest glinted in the sunlight indicating, yet again, that my positive take on humankind is more self delusion than sympathy.

It is one of the great wonders of Wales that a pint of SA and a mediocre lasagne can restore good humour and a more genial outlook on our sadly corrupt world.

I realise that the comments above make it seem as if I had undergone a life shatteringly negative experience – and that is not strictly (or laxly) true, but it does knock misplaced faith in ones fellow creatures. But, as the old saying goes, the money is in the bank! And, although money cannot buy happiness, in sufficient quantities it certainly lays the foundations for uneasy content – and that is as much as we should expect!

Living in a flat (though I’m sure that the builders of Altolusso would want us to call them apartments) has brought back some of the advantages and irritations of single storey living.

There is nothing more limiting on any tendency to overspend than the realisation that all the bags have to be taken from the car to the flat – across the parking area; using the electronic fob to opening the access door; calling the lift; entering the lift; pressing the floor button; exiting the lift; opening the corridor door which opens outward; getting through; opening the flat door; putting the stuff away. You’ll only want to make one trip. And your hand and fingers return to normal after a few hours: the ridges of compressed flesh gouged into your hands by the cruel knife of compressed plastic handles of carrier bags are not, I’m told, permanent.

The proximity to the railway line is an important factor in living in these benighted rooms. The railway noise is a relentlessly omnipresent irritation, though I think I would probably get used to finding that parts of radio programmes etc are simply lost by the noise of the passing traffic. Perhaps it’s all good training for the omnipresent plane noise in Castelldefels!

See, it’s me being optimistic again.