Sunday, October 28, 2007


I have now seen the ultimate height of idiocy in Spanish driving.

While driving at night in Castelldefels coming up to a busy roundabout, I noticed a car stopped on the roundabout – not on the pavement side of the road, but next to the roundabout. Then the reverse lights went on and the woman (sorry!) driving the car reversed back to a turning that she had missed!

It is a little worrying that the principle of circularity inherent in a roundabout had been lost on a qualified driver on the roads of Castelldefels!

An incident like that puts the everyday criminality of driving on the roads of Spain into some sort of context.

You can see the reckless overtaking and undertaking (I am aware of irony in that word); the speeding and the moving from lane to lane like a jinxed horse; the assumptions of rights of way with imperial disregard for other road users – you can see all these as a sort of heightened form of driving. It’s like speed driving: no not the use of velocity, the use of the drug.

Spanish drivers are considerate – as long as you play by their rules. It’s like R D Laing’s descriptions of the insane in ‘The Divided Self’: if you enter the world of the disturbed person then you will find that there is a logic and even ‘sense’ in the way that their universe is ordered. It’s just not the one that the majority of the population find to be real. The only difference between the insane in ‘The Divided Self’ and Spanish drivers on the roads of Catalonia is that the Spanish drivers are the majority and a timid look/indicate/manoeuvre British driver seems to be from another world.

I do not want to give the impression that I am god’s gift to advanced driving. I loathe driving and regard it only as a convenient means to get to a necessary destination.

I like arriving not travelling.

I am by no means impeccable in my driving skills and I realise that I have a nasty tendency to drive too fast. But I do manage the basics like always wearing a safety belt; using my mirror; indicating and showing at least some degree of consideration towards other road users.

To survive on Spanish roads, at least those in the vicinity of the city of Barcelona, you have to enter the world of the Spanish driver. I suppose if I was to continue the analogy with the delusional patients in ‘The Divided Self’ you have to believe that you are surrounded by multiple mobile Napoleons, all with the imperial right to do as they please and you must be a Napoleon as well. And believe in it too!

On a more pleasant note Alison and Bryn have arrived. They emerged from the arrivals gate in Barcelona airport confident in the knowledge that the information that I had given them about the convenience of Castelldefels as a centre for their stay in the Barcelona area was based on up to the moment first hand experience.

Of course, when they arrived and before they got into my car I was able to disabuse them of these comfortable assertions. What they actually found was a situation where the rail link between Castelldefels and Barcelona was broken because of the seemingly criminal incompetence of RENFE; the road system in something approaching chaos because of the construction work for the new terminal for Barcelona Airport; traffic congestion on an epic scale because of ham fisted attempts to ‘ease the problems’ and last, but not least, the closure of roads in Castelldefels because of the Marathon of the Mediterranean on the day that they both wanted to go to Barcelona.

Very unreasonably, I thought, they blamed me!

Earlier in the day I had my delayed celebration of United Nations Day with Toni’s family and, very pleasingly, by Caroline. I had a more than satisfactory haul of gifts and it was especially good that the extended family were able to see the flat.

Once again I was astonished by the way in which Catalans drink. OK, there were a few drivers and they are discounted, but the ones that were left leave a normal British person bemused at the lack of involvement with the liquid intoxicants which lubricate the vast majority of festive occasions in the Old Country.

I had bought red wine, white wine, Cava, two types of beer, fruit juice and various forms of fizzy drink. Three people asked for water; two people drank fruit flavoured fizzy drinks; one person (she knows who she is!) drank Coke Zero; two people drank nothing; I poured the drinks. And two people, just two, drank canned beer. The two people with beer, eventually, after much persuasion managed a second can during the afternoon!

I had made a martyr-like renunciation of alcohol because I was picking up Alison and Bryn later in the evening. This gesture lost all its value by the almost complete lack of alcohol consumption by my guests. What, I ask you, is the point of grand gestures of abstinence if no one around you is indulging in animal like excess? You don’t gain many points if you are, daringly, acting just like everyone else!

The arrival of Alison and Bryn in the flat (with Toni hors de combat on his bed of illness in the bedroom and therefore neatly eliminating the only moderating influence) changed my drinking habit for the day.

The now traditional bottle of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ Cava and a few bottles of El Corto went down very nicely thank you. We eventually remembered that I had prepared comestible refreshments which, once consumed, obviously allowed the consumption of a little more excellent Rioja. And then a little more. And then, probably, too much.

Ah how British it all was!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You are too late!

First things first: let me wish you all a happy and prosperous United Nations Day FOR YESTERDAY!

Yes, if you were planning to celebrate United Nations Day on the 24th of October(perhaps by sending a card or giving a present to anyone you might be acquainted with who has a connection with this auspicious day) you’ve missed it.

And if you know me you also know when United Nations Day is, so ignorance is no excuse

No, this is not a case of let’s-look-at-the-calendar-and-find-what’s-on-yesterday; this is a genuine wish to celebrate a day which focuses attention on the nearest this sad world has come to finding a forum to discuss ways of addressing the putrescent sores of criminal ineptitude which disfigure the body politic of the globe.

What can one say about an organization which regularly hosts gatherings which include the criminally insane, the exultantly megalomaniac, the murdering dictatorial, the self righteously bigoted, the strutting poseur, the smugly self delusional, the corrupted, the corrupting and the lost?

Well; it’s the best we’ve got and represents the most effective (!) gathering for tempering the excesses of men (let’s face it, it’s usually the males) who try to indulge their lusty power dreams without the tedious restraint of an enfranchised population to restrain their excesses.

It’s easy to be cynical when you hear the public proclamations of decency and freedom from our representative in the United Nations and realise that he speaks while the pernicious cancer which is, for example, the relationship HMG has with the repressive (but oil rich) regime of Saudi Arabia is eating away at our credibility.

It is difficult to be upbeat when you see African nations uniting to defend the murderous dictatorship of Mugabe. It is difficult not to feel impotent rage when countries like Burma and the Sudan continue to ignore the posturing of world opinion.

But surely Churchill’s faint praise of democracy must also be applied to this virtually toothless successor to The League of Nations. “It has been said,” Churchill declaimed in a speech to the House of Commons, “that Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms which have been tried from time to time.” Just substitute UNO for Democracy. And I’ve just realised what a terrible irony there is in that last sentence!

You may be wondering why it is that I feel so strongly about an organization which virtually every country in the world has condemned with contempt at some time or other. Yet I have celebrated this day throughout my life. When I was younger with the able assistance of my parents and, when I was older, with the able assistance of copious amounts of alcohol.

I will leave it to the more astute reader to work out the significance of this day for me and leave him with a picture of me sitting at my table, tapping out a short tattoo with my elegantly manicured finger nails and looking archly at the empty post box!

Robert is now back in Syria. It was his intention (and he managed it) to go to school today. This is not in itself remarkable, but when you consider that his travelling time from Barcelona to Damascus via Milan and then a five hour coach drive to his home will bring him home, looking at the clock, just in time for work –then I think this intention reaches into the realms of the heroic.

One does wonder, however, what the quality of his teaching was like after a day and a half of constant travelling. Exhaustion lowers defences and the barrier between thought and expression becomes as loose as an email! I am sure that an astute and observant student, listening with analytical attention to Robert’s utterances will have gained more insight into his character on this one day of physical depletion than during twenty weeks of perky conscientious teaching!

The alternative approach to exhaustion, of course, is one that I adopted after a particularly stressful journey back from Çinarcic in Turkey via Bucharest and Geneva. During this epic voyage (which seemed to span several lifetimes rather than the mere forty hours that it took) I utilized a fair variety of modes of transport including car, boat, lift, taxi, escalator, bus, foot, train and plane. At the end of my trip I found that I could lapse into a coma-like sleep at a moment’s notice jerking into hyper-hysterical attention for the briefest moments necessary for the maintenance of human existence and resuming my catalepsy, like a comfortable bed, at will.

As long as Robert was able to comatize himself with his eyes wide open, I am sure he will have survived the day. Perhaps he utilized his new ipod and plugged himself into one of the educational podcasts that I put on his machine and allowed the electronic impulses to flow into his tired brain and out through his mouth.

I only hope that he didn’t choose one of the more profane podcasts which also figure on the extensive list of freebies that I downloaded!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Forestalling elegant excess

One of the many things that I despise about Windows is that it makes executive decisions without reference to the poor user who has paid out good folding money for computer and programs that work in ways known only to God and Bill Gates. I never know if that juxtaposition is an example of oxymoron or tautology.

This time the program suggested that every word that I was using was incorrectly spelled and emphasised this by underlining each word so I could make my adjustments. As my spelling can sometimes exhibit wayward propensities, my confidence can be knocked by the merest wisp of a suggestion of doubt about my orthography. Having the whole of my typing dissed by the puissant omniscience of Microsoft Word was daunting to say the least.

The underlining of a word like ‘forestalling’ suddenly makes you think that you must have it wrong. After all, you reason to yourself, have I ever actually written the word before? When I last read it (how long ago was that?) did it have a different spelling from the instinctive one that I used? You then try other spellings, all of which look wrong. Then, after a while, all the alternative spellings start to look right. Then you think to yourself, well, I have a wide vocabulary, I’ll use another word. Then even your simpler alternative words are underlined. You begin to doubt your ability to communicate. Your world is falling apart.

Then salvation reveals itself.

The program has decided, unilaterally, to use a Spanish dictionary instead of the English one and, most cunningly, doesn’t let you know that it has changed and is now reading all your English words as poor spellings of Spanish ones!

I remember one person writing about the recent developments in cars and computers and comparing them. He said that if cars had developed at the same rate as computers and kept pace in terms of price as well, then today you would be able to buy the equivalent of a Rolls Royce for the price of a bicycle but that it would also stand a reasonable chance of exploding for no apparent reason.

Someone else wrote that if cars were sold with the same number of fundamental faults that quite ordinary programs have when released for general sale, the car manufacturers would never be out of the courts being sued for gross negligence.

Anyway I eventually noticed a few words at the bottom of the screen which indicated Spanish rather than English as the dictionary of choice (which explained all the underlined words) and I was able to double tap and get back to normal.

But still the nagging question of how it changed disturbs me. If that can change, what else is going on that I do not know about? Who or what is operating my machine? This is not a rant of a conspiracy theorist but the reasoned thoughts of someone who has known too many inconsistencies, faults, failures, inexplicable shifts in programs and momentary glitches for comfort.

Lunch today with Caroline and the usual conversational peregrinations through a variety of topics: easy talk at its leisurely best. I look forward to our next in a fortnight’s time.

Caroline displayed a tendency which she herself described as ‘Luddite’ about computers. This gave me the opportunity to wax lyrical about yet another Achilles’ heel: my infatuation with machines electrical. It turns out that Caroline’s computer is not performing at its best and it further turns out that Caroline has not been housekeeping and god alone knows what is lurking on her computer. Being the helpful sort of person that I am I immediately said that I had gone through a recent searing experience when my computer developed an illness which seemed to indicate that all the information (When did YOU last backup your files?) that I had stored on it would be lost. It took a few days but a saviour appeared and managed to save most of it and restore the operating system so that it, well, operated. I also said that I would try and find the card which I knew I had and send her the information about this professional electronic Samaritan.

This is almost always a disaster. It is a lose/lose situation: you won’t find the card and will feel bad with yourself and your lack of organizational effectiveness; you will feel bad about building up the hope of a friend only to have to dash the expectations by sad incompetence.

It was therefore with something approaching despair that I started the via dolorosa of drawer to cupboard to shelf to ledge to table in the vain hope of finding a small sliver of cardboard with the all important number on it. I should at this point emphasise that my PDA (palm top computer) has a faulty battery and it has proved to be impossible to replace it in this part of Spain. That would have been where I would have stored the address in the old days. These days meant that I had to find the original card or give it up as a bad job.

As in all the most clichéd stories I did find it in the last drawer of the last chest of drawers which was the last place in which it could be.

As in all the most clichéd stories I did also find two things that I have been looking for in a fairly desultory fashion for the last week.

All things work together for good in this best of all possible worlds!

I must now go and cultivate my garden.
Oh yes, before I forget, the title of this piece relates to the present that Toni gave me; but that is for another time and another place

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keep taking the tablets

Incipient colds are lurking at the edges of our physical health.

Toni looks a little groggy and has taken some efficient looking powders to combat the messy effects of our antisocial seasonal afflictions.

As I am still defiantly maintaining a summer wardrobe and stoutly affirming that the ‘summery’ temperatures encourage a beach orientated existence.

Given that the legendary Robert has stayed with us for a night, it was essential that he experience the delights of living by the sea and take at least a nominal plunge into the sea.

We had talked well into the night and it was good to be able to make pretentious conversazione with someone who regarded it as normal! God, when I think back to the talks we had in university, if any of them had been recorded we would have been put away!

Actually now I come to think about it, I did once record a conversation in college. As a joke, when I was preparing a meal and dismembering a frozen chicken with a largely ineffectual carving knife I turned on the cassette recorder (ah, such simple technology) to see how the conversation would develop. I set myself the task of initiating the interchanges with the intention of stimulating my companions to linguistic displays which could be the source of innocent merriment later. But after a few minutes I forgot that we were being recorded.

The ensuring tape, when we finally got to listen to it shocked us by the deeply infantile nature of most of the utterances and the general mood of surrealistically Pinteresque normality of our gnomic mode of communication. One member of the trio recorded took an unhealthy interest in the whole affair and used to borrow the cassette and listen to it in his room. As he was by far the most academic of us one can only wonder what intellectual substance he found in such an inconsequential load of chatter.

I suppose that the sad thing was that we generally thought that we were having conversations of the most profound nature where we were touching the very substance of philosophy itself. Out time would have been much better spent if we hadn’t subscribed to such illusions; but it would have been immeasurably duller!

Robert and my conversations were much more prosaic, but just as enjoyable.

It is also gratifying to find out that my one real skill has not deserted me.

I have always prided myself on being a dependable catalyst for encouraging other people to spend money.

Robert put up a token resistance to buying a 160GB ipod but by the time he was deposited in Barcelona airport to try and discover just which terminal he should have been waiting in for his flight to Syria he was the proud possessor of a gleaming black mp3 machine of Apple manufacture with a remarkably eclectic and stimulating collection of musical tracks!

I will be interested to her what sort of musical Odyssey he makes through my collection of idiosyncratic classics interspersed with oddities that have limited popular appeal. How can I forget going to an ENO performance of ‘Four Saints in Three Acts’ (one of personal favourites) and turning to the lady on m left at the end of the performance and saying breathlessly, “Wasn’t that wonderful!” To which she replied, “No!”

I sometimes plough a lonely furrow!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Music Plays On and On and On

Why do so many programmes on Spanish television have low level background music?

Some news programmes have wildly inappropriate music playing under even quite serious news stories at a volume which impinges on the consciousness without adding anything to the viewing pleasure.

Sometimes you ignore the crying interviewees as they tearfully relate some horrific experience and concentrate instead on the music playing behind their soul baring words and realise that some trite piece of American superficiality is the background music to human tragedy. It is vulgar and deeply irritating as the ‘name that tune’ approach to serious news reporting detracts from the message.

It is not only news programmes that adopt this musical affectation, but also sports programmes. I have just ‘watched’ a Catalan sports programme.

Perhaps I should define what I mean by ‘watched’ when we are talking about a programme on a subject about which I have minimal interest in a language I don’t understand. If you are the sort of person who can speak fluent Spanish, are conversant in French and remember, in detail, all those Latin lessons from school (sic.) then Catalan should be a language which has sufficient linguistic links to what you know to encourage you to believe that you have a fairly good idea about what is going on.

I, however, am not one of that polyglot number and so, like Shakespeare (though substituting French and Spanish for Latin and Greek) I stumble my way though watching by the ‘one in twenty words at best’ approach to foreign communication. The fact that it is television also allows you the luxury of attempting to read body language and facial gesture into the general communication mix. This, often, does not help you gain the actual meaning of what is going on but, like the British version of ‘The Magic Roundabout’ you substitute your own story to the pictures that you see.

My other approach to language is based on extensive reading of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ – as indeed is much of my philosophy of life. I would refer the curious to an incident in one of the books where Pooh is visiting Owl and has to listen to his lofty conversation. Pooh being a bear of little brain whom long words bother, has slipped into automatic mode and is responding to Owl’s monologue with a random selection of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

I have refined this technique over years of trying to bluff my way through various countries using their languages by limiting my random, though encouraging responses to the affirmative. This usually encourages the speaker in foreign tongues to believe that I am fluent in that particular language. This is all well and good and ‘hands across the sea’ stuff, but it all falls into ashes and despair when the foreign conversationalist demands something more than a monosyllable as a response. Encouraging smiles, raised eyebrows and a general demeanour of hearty acquiescence, which is my equivalent to the required sentences has got me into all sorts of interesting scrapes in the past!

So the fact that the programme I was attempting to watch was a sports programme; that it centred its interest on football; that it was a discussion programme; that it was in Catalan all meant that this was something which on my Interest-ometer registered negative results. But the one thing which did prod my jaded resentment into some sort of apathetic notice was the music droning on in the background.

The programmes choice was a tuneless, meanderingly inconsequential piece of instantly forgettable jazz. Once again the music was too low to have character, but too loud to be ignored. Its effect was akin to the results you get when you wipe your glasses with a balm infused tissue. When you next look out onto the world your vision is impeded by a gauze-like veil which softens and smudges your view. The same is true with the music behind programmes.

I feel that I am as one with the immortal words of Mr Growser from Toytown (if that allusion has to be explained, and if you are not already humming the theme tune, then you should be grateful for your youth!) “It’s disgraceful! It ought not to be allowed!”

Alas, I allow that phrase to slip more and more easily to my lips nowadays.

Thank goodness!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Free and easy

There is a naked man on the beach.

In Spain this does not usually constitute news as there are many nude beaches along the coasts, but I was not aware that the beach in front of our flat had this designation. There are not many people on the beach today, though the sun is shining and the skies are clear blue. Is the lone man a dedicated naturist making a bare statement seeking to liberate the beach or is he a daftie who forgot his bathing costume and disports himself defiantly?

Who knows; who cares?

The continuing story of my medical treatment has now reached the stage, as I have previously mentioned, of getting my medication. Given my problems with the medical centre this is a major break though, though the problems do not stop there.

A simple duplication of my British medication is impossible because of “different protocols” so one tablet is now two; one brand name has given way to another; one dose has been doubled and one prescription seemed entirely different and didn’t have the active ingredient anywhere on the box or on the paper inside. After a few phone calls and one phone call back from the doctor I was advised to visit the surgery and make an appointment to see him. Thus, the first of my visits to the medical centre today. The second to see the doctor revealed that the medication I had been given was indeed the wrong one. Thus, back to the pharmacy where confusion reigned. I did get a replacement box, but the shop assistant actually tried to charge me for it! I refused to pay holding up the other box and muttering “incorecto!” like a sort of incantation to get my way. Eventually, after giving my telephone number, I was allowed to leave with my appropriate pills and later had an almost completely unintelligible telephone conversation with the lady in the pharmacy (I understood that much) which I have decided meant that she was accepting the cost of he wrong medication to compensate he for the price of the right one. Well, she has my telephone number and she can always make another attempt to get me to do something other than nothing! And anyway Toni might be home then.

I suppose that there is a law which states that how ever much time you appear to have available to complete a series of tasks they will all, inevitably, gravitate towards one particular time slot for their actual completion. So tomorrow, along with other less pressing requirements, now has Toni’s arrival in Barcelona airport together with the courier arriving at the flat with the precious Barça tickets while the rubbish needs to be taken to the bins.

A second law states that if to complete one task you leave the centre of operations then, inevitably, all the other tasks will require your immediate presence in the centre – In which you are not, if you see what I mean.

I look forward to a fraught fugitive time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Doctor in the house!

In the old days, before the introduction of the National Health Service, people had to pay for their medical services at the time that they used them. The doctor’s bill was waiting for them; no payment – no treatment.

I can hardly pretend that the situation is now the same for me with the way in which I see the doctor in Castelldefels, but there is a similarity in the way in which entitlement is treated. I get the feeling that I am regarded as a leech on the system and they are much more concerned about how my treatment is going to be paid for then my own personal care.

I am perhaps being unfair, but the medical centre is rapidly taking over the hated mantle of Most Obnoxious & Officious from the other likely contenders for the title. And believe me they are worthy contestants and have a proven track record of mindless paper pushing futility to back up their claims to be considered.

Toni reminds me that his experience of dealing with large organizations in Great Britain was also dispiriting with the obtaining of his National Insurance number possibly the most distasteful. So I should think and remember before I castigate the Spanish authorities that my own country is not guiltless in making newcomers feel exasperation and high minded despair.

Toni has just phoned in high dudgeon as it appears that his firm has not been telling him what be loosely regarded as an approximation of the truth about the job in Madrid. It turns out that the job, which was presented to Toni as some sort of short term rescue operation is actually a full time position with employment for the next twenty two months!

Toni is returning by plane on Friday (as he told them he would) and to hell with the consequences. Employment in this area is not really a problem and he should be able to find another job if the circumstances demand with very little trouble.

Meanwhile the dealings with the medical centre grow in complexity.

Today I have seen a nurse. He was, I imagine, in his teens, but that did not stop his being quite severe about my weight and entirely dismissive of the amount of exercise that I complete each day. I fought back in the only way open to me: kiss of death to machines.

I have often found that, in spite of my well known love of gadgets, I often provoke mechanical crisis on many of the entities that I fain would love. For someone who loves computers as much as I do, I seem to have spent more than my fair share of time wallowing in self pity in front of an unresponsive screen praying for activity.

On one notable occasion I actually talked to a frozen keyboard and asked, in what I took to be a very reasonable tone of voice, if it would very kindly unfreeze itself by the time that I had made and drunk a cup of tea. It didn’t and I retired to my bedroom and wept.

Admittedly this was in the days of the notorious QL computer when a page of A4 could take up to a minute to save to its little microdrive. And I might add that I had to get the typing that I was doing done that day. I eventually went to bed at about five in the morning (after retyping everything that I had failed to save) and got up two hours later for school. Ah, happy days!

That was with a Sinclair computer; cutting edge – the affordable hybrid between a disc drive (too expensive) and a cassette drive (too slow) which allowed the illusion of top end computing for a reasonable sum of money. For those interested there is (of course) a web site about the QL at though now I look at the address I feel both a sense of national identity and total confusion! Not that much different then form my usual experience in front of a computer!

So, kiss of death to machines. The child nurse decided to take my blood pressure and asked me to lie down and relax. Now perhaps I am unusual, but the two actions of ‘lie down’ and ‘relax’ when set in a medical context seem to me to be oxymoronic.

I have never recovered from a particularly invasive medical examination carried out with gusto by a lady doctor when I got a job in the local steelworks. My defences were, as they say, down – as indeed were my trousers - when the lady doctor did such things that anywhere outside a doctor’s surgery would have been regarded as legally dubious and a certain invasion of an innocent lad’s privates (sic.)

So my defence was attack and the blood pressure machine failed to work. The child nurse had to rely on the old ‘pump it up by hand’ method and, lo and behold, my blood pressure is high pero solo un poco! Well done Catalonia! However, the CN (child nurse) was not to be outdone and demanded that I return tomorrow for an electrocardiograph or gram or whatever. Almost as an afterthought he gave me an injection for la gripe which I think is a good thing.

I have, at last, managed to get a prescription for my regular drugs. I did to have to pay, but only about €10 which is £7 which is hardly excessive for a month’s supply of four drugs.

Perhaps things are beginning to work out and the last bastion of bureaucratic insanity is gradually becoming more human! One can but hope.

I am beginning to wonder if Toni is going to make it to Friday with the present firm. As far as I can see they are exploiting their workers with a callous disregard for anything other than the well being of the firm. I think that Toni is being misused in the same way that an illegal immigrant would be treated; being shunted from one workplace to another with very little remuneration. I think that this job had a very definitely limited life span and he should be actively looking for a new position.

We will see.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another test past!

Another milestone.

This is blog number 300!

And as I typed those words, outside the rain started to fall. Is this, I ask myself, significant?

Rain at night time is more than acceptable; that is what I call well regulated weather!

Today came the sudden revelation that, living next to the beach, I was not making full use of the Mediterranean swept shore. Therefore, donning swimming trunks under my shorts and pausing only to collect an easy chair, book, pen, ipod, keys, oil, towel, goggles, back pack and the kitchen sink I sallied forth to take of the rays of the still strong sun.

No sooner had I finally managed to negotiate my way through our notoriously recalcitrant gateway onto the beach and had begun to plod my way towards the waves than I saw a bag lying on the fringe of the small dune outside our flat.

The bag was open and had what appeared to be papers or documents peeking out of the open edge. Closer inspection revealed a bag complete with wallet, cards and keys.

As I had seen a couple of ladies sunning themselves on the flank of the dune I approached them and was told it wasn’t theirs. The only other couple of people within sight denied any knowledge of it, though I suspect that they thought I was some sort of illiterate salesman tying to get them to part with a few euros.

I settled myself down and make a more thorough inspection of the bag. It was obviously a ladies’ bag and, as I riffled through the contents I realised that there were car keys, house keys, a French identity card, a drivers’ licence and bank cards. There was no money and no mobile phone.

Having had experience of replacing important documentation the frustration is something to be avoided at all costs, so I did feel sympathy for the absent owner. As there were bank cards and identity documentation I realised that ‘doing something’ was a pressing demand and not an action that could be left until after a relaxing read and soothing sunbathe.

For a moment I felt the same hesitation as when a bevy of hysterical children burst into my form room and told me that their teacher had collapsed. I rushed into the class and found that an elderly supply teacher had indeed fainted and badly gashed the side of her head which was pouring with blood.

AIDS publicity had been relentlessly showered on us via leaflets and lurid television commercials and for one absurd moment I hesitated to help my colleague because we had been informed that we were never to allow ourselves to become contaminated with fresh blood. What I thought my colleague had been getting up to which might have given her the opportunity to catch the disease in the first place god alone knows, but at least this tardy attitude lasted but a thought before I helped her up ignoring the blood.

As you go through a bag which obviously contained all the important identifying documents of a person you know that such a bag, which also had a wallet, would probably have contained money. Such a bag would probably have held the mobile phone of the person too. No money; no phone.

For a moment you think that, were you a clever thief you would remove all the quickly saleable items and then give the bag back and receive the thanks of the person. Perhaps if you were even cleverer, you would offer to bring the bag to the person yourself. In this way you would have found out where the person lived, where the car was kept and other information which could allow you to plunder the poor person more thoroughly at your leisure.

I sometimes think I think too much.

So I phoned the most hated bank in the world (you have to be a customer of BBVA to appreciate fully that statement) and gave them a ring informing them (eventually, when I was put through to an English speaker) that I had found the bag and within minutes the grateful owner was on the phone arranging to meet me.

The owner turned out to be a young French girl who was almost incoherently grateful to get her car keys back. Her car was parked in Castelldefels though she did not live there. She had been attending a farewell party as she was off on holiday and she had only taken her eye off her bag for two minute before it was taken. Money, camera, mobile phone all had gone. She had been quick off the mark and managed to transfer her mobile phone number; get her cards cancelled and inform the police. She had, however, as she said between delighted squeaks of relief had one of the worst twenty four hours in her life: no car; no money; no documentation etc etc. Her parents had tried and failed to get a flight to come and help her and so the finding of the bag solved a lot of problems at once!

And, of course, it gave me a warm comfortable feeling – which was just as well because I certainly wasn’t getting it from sunbathing!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A touch of sobriety almost

The trouble with the mountain on which the Monastery of Montserrat is situated is that it looks out of place in Europe.

The landscape leading up to the bizarre weather sculpted rocks is perfectly normal which makes the surrealistic setting of the monastery even more strange.

Te rock formations evoke the mesas and buttes of Death Valley rather than the more agriculturally lush surrounding countryside of Catalonia.

Our trip with the usual family contingent started with a visit to El Casot a typical masia or Catalan farmhouse which had been turned into a restaurant. This establishment was situated ten miles beyond men’s thoughts and only found after driving along near vertical single track roads. It was touching to find that the boundary between our road surface and the airy nothingness of certain death in valleys far beneath was a series of slender iron posts with a single smooth strand of wire slung between them.

Its position was spectacular with the unreal profile of the Montserrat peaks almost within touching range. This of course was a fallacy which was shown by the even more hair raising journey from the masia via a glorified concrete pathway before we picked up a ‘real’ road.

The meal was good with excellent Catalan bread. Due to my having misunderstood Toni’s translation for my choice of main meal I ended up with pig’s trotters and snails – a rather more adventurous choice than I would otherwise have made. Pigs’ trotters seem to have no meat on them at all and consist of bone and gristle covered thickly in fat. The fat being the delicious food that you are supposed to eat, augmented by the slimy deliciousness of the sails oozing gently out of their shells. Having said all that, I (sort of) enjoyed my dish, I think that the sauce was lively enough to give character to the whole meal. I was shocked however, to be asked by the waiter at the end of the meal if I had found the dish too spicy.

I still have a way to go to understand the Spanish definition of ‘spicy.’ I think that a korma would be about the limit of what they could eat in any reasonable Indian restaurant in Britain!

The monastery looked slicker that it had done for my first visit. Admittedly this time it was sunny and there was a more relaxed atmosphere than during my first experience of this monument to the religious heart of the Catalan people.

The restaurant was packed and the shops were doing a roaring trade, including the stalls outside which were selling a range of cheeses, honeys and different sizes of fig bread.

Carles, of course, injected a certain amount of secular noise into the otherwise reasonably religious subdued queue waiting to see the Black Madonna or Moreneta.

This small statue is located way above the high altar in the church in Montserrat on a raised plinth. She is accessible to the faithful (and also to we Anglican atheists) via a long queue which stretches down a side aisle and then ascends via a couple of flights of stairs to the Madonna herself.

The lady herself is a fairly squat seated figure holding the Christ child in one hand and an orb in another. As her adjective suggests she is in fact black and is protected from the elements and the faithful by a Perspex shield. Part of the orb, however, projects beyond this shield and this is the part of the idol that those queuing touch – for whatever reason.

Having touched (last time I kissed!) the orb we felt free to indulge our more carnal appetites firstly by having a well deserved cup of coffee and secondly by having a quick shop.

I was fully determined to buy a small version of the Moreneta as long as it was encased in an instant snowstorm globe. Alas, among the acres of poor taste pandering to the credulous church consumer there were no snow globes. I could have had the Holy Family in a gentle snow storm, but that was it.

Surely there is a niche in the marketing plan for someone who can show even less taste than the junk on view seems to indicate already exists. I am waiting to be called on a free-lance basis to advise on even more down market ideas to fleece the religiously inclined!

On the way back to the car I succumbed to the blandishments of a stall holder who started speaking English as soon as I started looking at the cheese. I think that I will have to resign myself to the reality that I will never be taken for a native of the peninsular. It is disconcerting though just to ‘be’ and be recognized as a foreigner before even my faulty grasp of Spanish nails the identification!

She plied me with increasingly tasty samples until I gave in and bought a cheese round and some eucalyptus honey.

Tomorrow Toni goes to Madrid for a week to help repair some machines for the company. Why they cannot find personnel in Madrid I do not know, but this away visit will possibly indicate their future intentions with his career. We will see.

The sun continues to shine.

Except at night, obviously.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I was weak and I did eat!

“The word ‘Inexplicable’ is,” as no writer I know has said, “a moveable feast.”

What is blindingly obvious and necessary to one person can appear to be unbelievably and recklessly surplus to requirements to another.

As a confirmed gadgetophile I am but a helpless pawn in the close mesh nets of the techno-manufacturers as they cast far and wide to ensnare the all too willing victims whose eyes narrow to blinkered tunnel vision centred on the latest shining, sparkling electronic object of sharply obscure desire.

The only new thing about computers recently which managed to interest me was the introduction of a new operating system. As with all new operating systems there was the usual chorus of dissatisfaction with the glitches which are a function of all computer innovations. Such objections are good for me as they lessen the necessity of possession.

So far; so safe.

The real problem was the broken lead for the in-car navigator. The complete lack of spare parts for the model which I had foolishly bought on the understanding that it was better value than the much better known versions shows that my faith in sales talk was misplaced. I have trekked through shops in Barcelona, Castelldefels, London, Reading and Gavá: an international quest. And I had found nothing that worked.

In an evil day I tried a store called MediaMarkt and found something which appeared to work, but turned out to be a false lead. (That pun was intentional by the way.) However, the seeds of my own destruction were sown I saw the wealth of needful things laid out in bright lines along innumerable corridors.

I managed to convince myself for a few days that I was safe. But no.

You see, the actual object of my downfall was not the computer itself but the cover. The cover had a small screen on it. This could operate independently of the computer itself. It was in colour. It was, simply, wonderful.

So I now have a new portable computer. With a little screen on the cover. How can anyone resist?

Anyway, this is my first computer with a Spanish keyboard so that typing something like ¡Hola! is simple.

And all the decretals are readily to hand. Now I have used that word to stand for all the accents and bits and pieces with which words are sometimes encumbered. For the first time in god knows how many years I’ve just looked the word up and found that it concerns the decrees of popes. Not a word about accents. So I wonder what word I should have used.

Any help would be appreciated here.

Oh yes and I wasn’t alone in falling for a shapely-small-screen-on-the-cover computer. Toni bought one too!

It’s our weaknesses that keep us happy!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Medical Merriment!

My anomalous status continues to confuse the Spanish medical system.

The medical centre to which I am now (at least partially) affiliated has reached the stage where I have been allocated a doctor and I have even managed to see him. That was the simple bit.

The consultation went quite well. The doctor spoke passable English and with my little Spanish (how quaintly ambiguous that description is) we managed to communicate. I now am booked in for a blood test and god knows what.

The medication that I take was discussed and the confusion about the different ways in which the essential working element in the medication is dressed up with national trade names caused some confusion at first, but that was soon sorted out and I had a list of Spanish equivalents for the three drugs that I take.

The 75mg of aspirin now has become 100mg which is neither here nor there. The real surprise was the Glucosamine and chondroitin tablet that I take. This doctor refused to betaken in by the popular support for its influence on arthritis and he said that he couldn’t prescribe it. There was not medical evidence for it to have any effect on arthritic limbs so he couldn’t in all conscience add it to my list. So there!

Having had a very uncomfortable day with clicking knees (just before a turbulent electrical storm – can that be significant?) and having faithfully taken the Glucosamine and chondroitin tablets which had a signal lack of effect I did not feel like gainsaying him. Out they go!

The consultation, as I said, went well. He handed me a few documents, told me to go to room 17 to get my medication and then give the rest to reception who would arrange the further appointments.

That’s when things started to go wrong in a now fully recognizable way.

The pharmacist refused to give me any medication because I did not have my number. As far as I could understand from her torrent of Spanish, My Number (I feel that the capitalization is necessary) would probably be ‘somewhere’ in four days or so. Therefore my “Proxima semana?” which was greeted with stern amusement, seemed a positive step towards getting my prescriptions filled which is the only reason that I want a doctor.

So, empty handed, yet, paradoxically optimistic, I turned my attention to the reception desk.

My documents were accepted and a few cursory finger taps on the computer keyboard were sufficient to elicit that ‘I-can-do-nothing-you-don’t-have-a-number’ look which I have grown to recognize at its first frown. The deluge of Spanish at this point was overwhelming and, apart from the general negativity, I understood nothing.

Reinforcements were brought in and a man appeared from behind the filing cabinets who engaged me in a conversation that I have had at least five or six times before over that very counter.

The details of what he said and what he asked are not really relevant, but they do vividly illustrate the fact that no one appears to know what anyone else is doing or has done as far as individual patients are concerned. And I wonder what use the bloody computer is: they spend ages typing information into it, but that seems to be an en in itself and not part of some coherent database which might conceivably help anyone.

This time the debate was concluded by my showing my European Health Card (which I have shown on every other occasion) which had an immediate effect this time and was accepted as important and finished the debate.

I feel more and more as if I am a hapless character in a second rate Kafka short story. Though, there again, ‘Metamorphosis’; ‘The Great Wall of China’ and ‘In the Penal Colony’ are a more accurate reflection of the world in which we live in that ‘Cinderella’; ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ even if the latter three have a greater currency and recognition than the first three!

We will see if the exasperated, “Oh just do it!” approach of the administrator on the penultimate visit to the doctor translates itself into some sort of tangible card with a number that the computer recognizes. That will be achievement and ‘K’ will have managed to emerge successfully from the rigors of ‘The Trial.’

Robert and Antonia arrived today after a gruelling bus journey, long over night flight and another flight this morning. At least their room in Hotel Playafels has a vista del mar! Where they found the energy to go into Barcelona when they have another flight early tomorrow to Seville I don’t know!

They will sleep well – I only hope that their early morning alarm manages to cut through their deep repose!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Some things go right!

A day to mark with a white stone.

Not only lunch with Caroline, but also finding (at last) the correct lead for my in-car navigator.

I should have learned my lesson when I bought an Apple computer about the dangers of choosing something which was not the ordinary and popular choice. Tom-Tom is the obvious choice for in-car navigator, but no, I was sweet talked by a convincing salesman in Halfords into getting a Garmin machine which was "so much better value than the equivalent Tom-Tom." The lessons of buying an early Mac computer were lost!
I bought the Apple Mac computer when everyone else was buying machines that ran Windows.
I have to admit that the Mac was much better than the other machines. The operating system was more like Windows XP is now: an intuitive operating system which did (generally) what you thought it ought to do in the way that you thought it might do. As opposed, of course, to the DOS system where to get anything done you virtually had to sacrifice a chicken before the bloody screen grudgingly indicated that you were part of the way towards your objective.

The trouble was, of course, that everything was geared towards a DOS system and Apple Macs were very much in the minority. The school operated with DOS; magazines gave away software in DOS; everyone you knew offered programs in DOS. Even when programs were sold as compatible with Apple machines, they never quite worked in the same way as they did with DOS computers. I should have gone with the majority. Although as Ibsen wrote (via one of his characters) “The majority is always wrong.” Whatever than means.

Eventually, after a few court cases Windows had a system which was suspiciously similar to that of the Mac and all was well with the world. Then the ipod came along and Mac was the way of the world.

And at least I have an ipod (or three) and I find that walking into the electrical department of any reasonably sized supermarket and there are rows of inexplicable accessories for my mp3 player. I am now one of the majority. So I must be wrong!

All of preceding peregrinations were occasioned by Caroline’s observation that it was a relief to share a meal with someone with the same range of reference.

Living in a foreign country, especially one which is as near to us as Spain, one is struck by how much is the same yet subtly different.

Even with my limited Spanish I can tell when simple questions on quiz shows have answers that I wouldn’t have known even if I had been speaking fluent Spanish. I lack the basic knowledge of the faces of famous people; I’m not able to hum along with the theme tunes of childhood television children’s television series; basic facts of Spanish history, on a par with 1066 and 1215 and 1666, are unknown to me; basic understanding of Spanish geography are searching specialised knowledge for me – and so on.

In one way it is good to have a whole culture waiting to be discovered, but so much which is naturally acquired in a life time is only going to be imparted to me by accident.

Which is as good a way of expectation as any I suppose?
Who is spoon fed a culture ?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The roads to nowhere

You can tell that the summer season is over in Castelldefels because the road system is now in chaos.

A seaside town relies on the summer trade to ensure its survival through the winter. Castelldefels is not just a seaside resort; it does have the ‘other half’ of the town on the other side of the motorway which is a normal, busy, thriving centre. The tourist, however, is King and must be treated as the moneybags that he is.

During the summer it is all important that the flow of cash in the form of human visitors is kept as sweet and generous as possible so that the extraction of euros is as painless as possible. During the autumn and winter months however, the story is not the same.

At the moment our access to the motorway changes from day to day because the municipality is (as far as I can tell) changing the sewerage system. There are long black pipes lying by the side of the road all over the place. To accommodate these behemoths little yellow signs are sprouting up denying access to important roads, or suddenly changing the left to a right turn, or making a dead end of a road that usually goes somewhere.

This means that using the in-car navigation device has become even more problematical as you have to ignore the instructions of the schoolmarmly voice and turn in the opposite direction. She is spending more time saying, “Recalculating!” than actually telling me where to go.

This is just getting to the motorway. Once beyond Gava and you enter a new road system which is going to be part of the service motorway for the new terminal for the extension of the airport. As far as the schoolmarm is concerned you and the car are in the middle of the countryside. She doesn’t panic however and merely urges you in a general direction where there might have been a tractor track some time ago. And so you plough (literally as far as the voice is concerned) your way onwards until, with an almost audible sigh of electronic relief you get to the point where the new road joins onto the existing motorway system and you can begin to believe what she is telling you.

I went to Gava today in a futile attempt to re-establish my existence for the social services. Futile, because I arrived in the afternoon and the office was only open until 1.30 pm. My fault I should have known. But I used the voice to get me to the street.

When I say get me to the street, I mean it tried and failed. I always feel a little self-conscious when you are urged by the voice to go down an empty street, the entrance to which is flanked by signs which are round and red, and which is paved in a pedestrian sort of way. However, as no one was around, I did so and followed her instructions until she urged me to disobey a no left turn sign. I had to go the other way and she resolutely brought me back to the same impasse by another route.

I eventually parked the car and asked. And I was near enough to make the extra walk interesting without being devastating when I found the office closed.

Returning to Castelldefels I relied on my instinct and got onto the right road immediately.

I am intending, however, to rely entirely on the machine to get me to Judith’s hotel when she arrived in Barcelona at the beginning of next month.

I have touching faith sometimes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bite on!

I am beginning to understand that there are seasons in the battle between mosquito and man.

When I first arrived in Castelldefels I thought (due no doubt to shaky biology teaching earlier in my life) that living close to the sea would be something which would deter these spiteful insects from feasting on my body. I was confirmed in this supposition by the complete lack of poisoned proboscis piercing my skin in the first nights by the sea with doors and windows wide open.

Then there was a suggestion (no more than that) of precipitation and with this mere thought of rain the winged avengers swooped in and had their fill of blood. Windows were closed, electric devices were placed in plugs and the monsters were kept at bay.

It turned out that the sophisticated counter measures of the local supermarket were of less effectiveness than the fact that mosquitoes seemed to prefer Toni’s flesh and blood to mine. In Wales I was told by a member of the blood transfusion service (in the days when they were eager for my sanguinary flow) that my blood group, A+, was the most common in the country. Perhaps the mosquitoes in Catalonia are used to a different vintage and A+ is a little passé for the discriminating devotee of the liquor of the vein!

Whatever the reason, I was left comparatively unscathed while t
Toni’s legs began to resemble a relief map of the Pyrenees. At times like those you have to feign sympathy and keep close so that a mosquito can chose the tastier option!

This all worked very well until we came to the end of September when I was informed by Toni that we were now entering a more interesting period in the animal/insect conflict when the flying daggers would attack anything with a pulse.

Now my legs began to develop that tell-tale itch which if resisted and treated with ammonia (‘cos that’s all the anti bite liquid is) would calm and the little chappies in the blood would do their stuff and deal with the poison.

There was one bite just above the ankle bone which, in spite of an almost irresistible call to a sharp nail for relief I made a conscious decision to ‘ignore.’

My strength of purpose has been displayed many times. I made a conscious decision to be influenced by a Jimmy Saville advert and conscientiously ‘clunked and clicked’ for each car journey from that point; I gave up biting my nails; I have constructed IKEA furniture; I have sat though an entire performance of ‘Tristan and Isolde’; I have learned to like dry white wine after being a confirmed Sauterne drinker – I have the will. Sometimes.

It is one of the hardest things in the world to ignore a mosquito bite. I remember reading of one man in a concentration camp who decided to commit suicide by holding his breath. With an amazing breadth of determination he actually managed not to breathe until he reached the point of unconsciousness – and at that point of course, the automatic systems of the body kicked in and his body saw to it that he started breathing again.

Even when you are telling yourself that a scratch now will mean hours or days of misery later (together with an unsightly scab) your automatic systems are directing your unsheathed nails southwards for a long northward scratch. Usually this scratch will be of the cupped four finger kind. This sort of scratch is a harrow-type coverage of a whole section of the leg. Your brain is trying to tell you that you have an ordinary itch in the area and, if by chance the mosquito bite might be itched as well that would be an unlooked for bonus from something which was not intended to be specific.

This is the same sort of delusional reasoning that allows people to think that what they are going to do is merely scratch ‘around’ the bitten area. Or, in an even more delusional rationalization, merely ‘rub’ around the area.

We have all gone through it and all the fallacious reasoning that we use to gain relief.

At the moment, although it might be tempting fate, I can speak of such things in the past tense. My period of tastiness for the pestilential stingers seems to have passed.

I have however been informed that November too is a time of trial.

I only hope that they are not biding their time for a concerted attack to make up for lost Welsh corpuscles!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

It's all around you!

“Be watchful! Be vigilant; for your enemy, the devil, prowls around seeking whom he may devour!”

As my access to the internet is, to put it mildly, skittish, I have not been able to verify the exact wording for those admonitory sentiments. Are they from evensong? I feel I should know. And I do know that at least one of my readers will be shouting at the screen at my laxity of memory and be repeating the correct wording (and punctuation!) and stating the exact location of the opening.

One is reminded of Saint Anthony; he of the temptations. As far as I know the exact nature of the temptations that afflicted the poor man are not known. This explains why it was a very popular painters’ choice because it gave them the opportunity to exert their imaginations and paint subject matter which was generally forbidden by the strictures of the church.

For most painters the nature of the temptations could only be one thing: sex. They were therefore able to paint scantily clad females in all sorts of alluring positions as long as they remembered to paint a frustrated (and sometimes irritatingly serene) saint somewhere in the orgy of female pulchritude.

Some painters, especially of the Bosch and Grunewald school of demented ‘surrealistic’ visual expression also found room for the most fantastic demonic monsters, but generally it was the naked ladies that made the most convincing temptations for the single gentleman saint.

Jesus of course was tempted by the illusion of power offered by the shadowy personage mentioned in the opening; though 2 i/c to Satan is not a convincingly attractive proposition. And anyway a position already held by That Woman!

But I digress. History has shown that the lure of ‘sex’ has been generally effective: from your new wife waving an interesting piece of fruit for you to eat, to the good old fashioned beautiful Russian spy of the Cold War – it all worked!

Have times changed? Are we looking for something more than sex? [Rhetorical.]

There was that wonderfully kitsch film “Needful Things” with that Swedish actor that played Death at chess in the Bergman film (you can tell that I don’t have the internet!) who played a sort of curio seller who had just the thing you wanted, be it a rare cigarette card or whatever, for which you were prepared to sell your soul. Of course, it being an American film, he was not allowed to win, but he did survive the mayhem he had helped create and, striding through fire, he drove off in his satanic Rolls Royce.

We are now surrounded by small objects of desire - perhaps best exemplified by the ipod nano. This elegantly svelte gleaming miracle of consumer exploitation; this iconic apotheosis of manufactured necessity; this, this wonderful little gadget! Who would not want one? And before you say, “Well, I wouldn’t, for one!” I must warn you that I regard bad-mouthing ipods to be inverted Luddite snobbery of the worst sort; and not to own an ipod to show contempt for modern living which puts me in mind of the worst excesses of the Sacking of Byzantium. I speak, of course, as someone (as I might have mentioned this once or twice before) who owns (count them) three ipods. As Milton might well have put into the mouth of Satan, “Not to own three ipods argues yourself unknown the lowest of your throng!”

Perhaps in a modern version of The Temptation of Saint Anthony electronic devices of personal gratification would be seductively passed on conveyor belts in front of the holy man with the Evil One intently watching his itching fingers!

All of which is a typically digression laden preamble to my having seen a pictorial representation of a portable computer with a small screen on the outside of the cover together with illuminated buttons. Why there is a screen on the outside I know not, but it makes my boringly featureless portable computer cover with merely a vulgarly inert logo in the centre a thing of horror and repugnance to me!

Monday will find me wending my way to Gava to the Media*Markt® - an Aladdin’s Cave of screen adorned gadgetry – to gaze with unashamed desire at something I don’t need.

After all: what is life about? Be fair!

Friday, October 05, 2007

How clean?

The principal I know is simple: use the brush to bring the dust together into a little heap and then use the pan-on-a-stick to gather the dust and place the residue in the basura.

Well, I can’t do it. By the time that I have diligently brushed and swept and cleaned it actually looks dirtier than before I started.

As far as I can see the brush brings clumps of agglomerating dirt together in the hidden depths of its bristles and then when you think you are actually winning the constant battle against the air borne dust, the bristles deposit vulgar smuts and dust balls all over the place you have just ‘cleaned.’

I think the basic problem is that I am using age old techniques which do not use electricity in any way – apart, that is from bloody static electricity which is utilised by the broom to gather dust unto itself before rearranging it in unsightly concentrations in very sightly places!

I think what I am saying is that I need a Hoover. Something which works specifically well on tile floors and has a power cable and digital displays and things that allow me to regard it as a gadget and not as a mere household appliance. I think this need calls for an intensive shopping exploration and expedition with added intensive internet use.

This month promises to be an interesting one with a selection of relatives and friends either being in Barcelona or Castelldefels. I am much looking forward to seeing them all; I only hope that the weather is fine enough for the full resentment of my new life to hit the right spot!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

These things are sent to try us!

It’s not often that you find an organization that you can cordially detest more than Microsoft.

Trying to register with a doctor has exhausted my patience and my Spanish.

I will not bore you with the details of why it should be so difficult for a British citizen to register with a Spanish doctor; I will merely recount the efforts that I have made to achieve recognition by the medical authorities.

The last time that I tried to register it all ended in metaphorical tears with Toni in a towering rage, as angry as I have ever seen him, and with me flouncing out of the medical centre in stratospheric, incandescent dudgeon. The final straw was being told by some androgynous unqualified pipsqueak lording it behind the reception desk that it would be quite impossible for them to photocopy my passport (a photocopy of which they had demanded) because, “we are not a photocopy shop.”

After laying my hands reverently on a copy of the more impenetrable writings of Lao Tzu I felt at one with the universe and calm enough to attempt ‘The Medical Centre – The Return!’

After explaining my position and asking to be registered events followed a tediously familiar pattern. This institution’s answer to everything is, “You need to go to Gava.” Gava (the town next to Castelldefels) is where the Social Security Centre resides.

Having done this previously, I laughed and joked with the ‘expert’ who had been rolled out to deal with my request and resigned myself to another futile journey, but at least it would get the medical ball rolling again.

The traffic jam on the motorway stretched from just a few hundred yards along the journey to the outskirts of Gava itself. Unfortunately I had left my volume of Lao Tzu in the flat so I was not able to avail myself of the calming wisdom of the Oriental sage. Instead I contented myself with fuming in the stationary traffic and then after a snail’s pace progression wild vituperation at the inconsiderate drivers who refused to let me get to the turn off.

I was being guided by my electronic navigator which unfortunately had not been informed of the random street closures that turned the streets of Gava into a labyrinthine mess.

By more luck than judgement and with little help from the increasingly hysterical navigator I eventually found a car park and trekked to the social security office. After a long wait I was seen and informed that I shouldn’t have come to Gava.

What I needed to do was go back to the Medical Centre and ask to see the requisite person (the one who sent me to Gava in the first place) and get it sorted.

Back at the medical centre the ‘expert’ was not convinced and actually phoned Gava for clarification. The upshot of this was, that, as I was in the middle of deploying a blizzard of papers ranging from my baptism certificate (which includes my middle name, which my birth certificate does not – a long story, some other time perhaps) to my blood group card, the ‘expert’ told me that I would have to return to Gava. There I would merely need to flash my passport, NIE and padron and everything would be fine.

After the return to Gava avoiding the motorway and ignoring the electronic navigator and after a further long wait, I was told (I think you’ve probably guessed this, haven’t you?) that I needn’t have returned to Gava and I should go back to the Medical Centre and tell them to register me in a particular way. The officials in Gava, who are genuinely helpful, were concerned at my pointless journeying and referred to me as ‘pobre hombre.’ This time the woman who was seeing to me actually wrote something on the back of a piece of paper to tell the [expletive deleted] staff of the medical centre what they should do. Rather touchingly she added an official stamp to her scrawl to give it added gravitas.

Returning to the medical centre I handed over the scrap of paper now adorned with the inky smudge of authority and waited for my registration. The demand for papers was easily met and everything appeared to be going well until I was triumphantly informed by a stony faced receptionist that the padron was out of date. The dreaded word ‘manaña’ was then used – the kiss of death to any possibility of bureaucratic completion.

I, however, was filled with the light of possibilities and determined that I would not be stymied and I headed the car towards the station car park to make an assault on the town hall to get a new padron. No spaces were available in the car park and you have to see the car park to know what that means. All reasonable spaces had been taken together with spaces that didn’t really exist in this universe; spaces so unbelievable that you had to have great faith to squeeze the car through them.

At that point I almost gave up and went home, but a wrong turning took me into town and a car leaving (eventually) a space which was too good to resist.

As usual the people in the town hall were kindliness itself and, in spite of the long wait to be seen, I soon had a new padron in my clutches.

I returned, yet again, to my now customary parking space near the medical centre and made my final attempt to be registered with a doctor.

It was, needless to say, a failure. The people I needed to see were not to be seen and, in spite of waiting (!) I eventually saw a person who told me definitively that I would have to come back later.

I did and, with Toni’s incredulous help, I did, eventually manage to get myself registered with a doctor. The disturbing thing is that my registration was eventually decided by exasperated diktat rather than by the meticulous following of rules.

I have a doctor on a whim rather than by right.

We went out for a meal to celebrate.

Incidentally, Toni, who with his identity card was assured that his medical card would be a formality and be with him within a month, is bereft! Computer failure has ensured that his card is now a mass of wandering pixels and he will have to go through the registration process again.

I have a doctor: he does not.

Interestingly poetic; and the meal was excellent.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

They cannot be serious!

Just when you think that your bile is evaporating due to lack of irritation, white sided normal glasses come into fashion.

There can be no justification for these hideous innovations. They make women look ferocious and heartless while with men they merely emphasise the camp impulse that prompted their purchase in the first place.

I also take this self indulgent fashion statement personally. The white sides of the glasses are usually solid so people wander about with two isosceles triangles poking out from their ears. With that instinctive feel for what is the latest form of chic, the last pair of glasses that I bought were rimless with a thin wisp of metal at the sides which terminate in a small metal stub which is the only point of contact with the head. I achieve a sort of minimalist perfection while the rest of the world goes macro!

The white is, of course, an ideal surface on which to vulgarly emblazon the logo of the perpetrator of the horror.

The most hideous pair of these eye affectations were worn by a portly hip swinging waiter who sported white encased miniatures lenses in the shape of a Roman arena with flat, squat plastic sides large enough to contain great chunks of the initials DG. Says it all, doesn’t it?

Not content with giving me something more to detest in the world which stubbornly refuses to conform to my easy guidelines.

Is it really asking too much to see the demise of the three quarter trousers which look awful on the handsome and bloody atrocious on the sad seekers after lost youth who wear them for what they fondly think as instant rejuvenation?

Is it being unreasonable to expect millions of deluded motorists to admit the truth of a car sticker seen by a young lad on holiday in St Ives which stated the simple truth, “I’d rather eat worms than drive a Ford”?

I am being naïf when I aver that ‘rap’ that homophobic, sexist, violence celebrating rubbish that masquerades as music should be regarded as a Class 1 drug and be treated accordingly?

Three simple ways to make the world a better place. How much better the world would be. But do people even try to follow the simple precepts that I constantly articulate? They do not. If it wasn’t for the fact that I can look on the tranquil sea on a daily basis, I might despair!

One positive aspect of life in Catalonia at the moment is that there has been an outbreak of photo burning.

The British Royal Family is, of course, a bunch of parasitic, dysfunctional free loaders with grandiose ideas above their inbred station. They have no justification in a democratic society and they should be abolished at once. The last member of the Royal Family who had an authentic artistic sensibility was Charles I – and we all know what happened to him. Political nicety has never been a strength of the royals; why should it be when they believe that they are God’s anointed? And so on. I shouldn’t get started on the subject, but the photos that the Catalans are burning are of the Spanish Royal Family.

There has of course been the well orchestrated over reaction of the authorities with an arrest, imprisonment and the inevitable copy-cat burnings by a whole crowd of students on the campus in Barcelona. This was met by a judge’s response of demanding photos of all those who took part so that . . . And so the situation is developing nicely with the whole affair rapidly descending into judicial farce and doing nothing for the reputation of the royal family whose work rate and remuneration are both being made part of the scandal.

You might think that I would regard this developing ludicrousness with delight: another element of the anti-democratic in society biting the dust. But no.

I remember the actions of El Rey during the attempted coup of the generals after they had stormed the Cortes, firing bullets over the heads of the startled representatives. The King went on television, having rejected the ideas of the traitors, and made a speech urging the people to choose democracy. He did the right thing and the appropriate time – which is more than our lot have done over the last few hundred years!

However, this action was when he was a young man, recently installed on his throne by Franco. Since that time El Rey has made himself a family which grows from year to year and each day takes us further from that generous gesture for the future of Spain and makes us question the worth of the institution.
We’ll see.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Times they are a-changing

Today they have taken the refrigerators away from the hut-like café on the beach.

I assume that the beginning of October signals the end of the summer; though the people lying sunbathing on the beach obviously didn’t hear the official announcement. I assume that the same goes for those hardier souls who threw themselves into the cooling waters of the Mediterranean today secure in the knowledge that it wasn’t the Atlantic!

You can feel the pace of life in this part of Castelldefels slowing down. There is a distinct difference between the ordinary life of the town which continues in much the same way and the more seasonal life of the seaside portion of the town.

We are effectively divided from the town by the main road in exactly the same way as if there was a river flowing rather than the strip of asphalt. There are bridges which link us and you have to think about where you are so that you can navigate the town.

It is noticeable that there are starting to be major road and services repair works started and this will necessitate the closing of certain roads. Given the complex traffic system of no right turns and no entries and bollards placed at strategic intersections, a simple road closure can throw the whole of the traffic flow into confusion. I suppose that this is true in any busy town, but I am still learning alternative routes so my confusion is compounded by the unexpected.

Have now been a resident in Castelldefels for three months and I should be able to give an evaluation of my ‘home’ town.

Castelldefels is a sea side resort and a dormitory town for Barcelona. It is near the airport and there are excellent road and rail links with Spain and via the busy airport with the rest of the world!

Castelldefels is not, I would have to say, an architecturally interesting or distinguished town. Although its history goes back to the time of the Romans and before there is little of antique distinction about the place. There are a few older buildings with some interesting detail in their construction, but the majority of the town reflects its raison d’être: provision of flats near the sea and apartment accommodation near Barcelona. Accommodation is not cheap here; perhaps it ought to be considered in the same relationship as Brighton is to London (though without the equivalent of the Royal Pavilion!)

The beach is Castelldefels’ crowning glory. It stretches from Port Ginester (which is technically in Sitges I think) in the south to Gava and beyond in the north. It is not expansively wide, but even when it is at its most crowded; it isn’t – if you see what I mean!

There are, as you would imagine in a tourist resort, restaurants aplenty and it is not difficult to find a menu del dia for between €9 and €11 with three or four courses and always including wine and bread. In British terms it is astonishingly good value and even when the food is indifferent, it’s still worth it!

The town has a selection of little shops and a few larger ones; it’s still possible to shop in independent smaller stores in Castelldefels – though there is always L’anec blau which is an air conditioned shopping mall with everything that that entails.

Wales was once described as “So far from God and so near to England.” I suppose that the same could be said, tongue in cheek, about Castelldefels. The road system (traffic allowing) means that it is possible to pop in and out of the city of Barcelona, and when I get to know the parking places better, I’m sure that I will use the city more.

As a major European centre Barcelona offers all those things that Castelldefels might lack. A perfect juxtaposition.

As I type I can look out to see and note the passing of the lights of a fishing boat not far off shore; the last people are walking their dogs and soon the darkening beach will be deserted. At least until real darkness falls then the beach is a magnet for all sorts of naughtiness – some of which takes place near to us because the two globe lights at the end of the pool throw some light on the dune like mound on the other side of the fence and people congregate for a late night drink and a smoke – possibly.

A position like this is endlessly fascinating and I am still astonished that I am actually here. Each morning I walk out onto the balcony just to check that the beach and the sea are all still in place.

Eventually this child-like delight will lessen, especially as the weather gets colder and sitting in shorts and typing on the balcony might be an act of climatic denial. Then it will be time to reassess.

But I have to say that beach life (from the comfort of a well appointed flat with tumble dryer!) is the life for me.
Pass another glass of Rioja please!

Monday, October 01, 2007

What goes around comes around.

How do you judge when you have achieved the status of actually being a ‘grown up’?

When I was very young it came down to a number of simple tests; you were a ‘grown up’ when you could:
1 Have a bath and not regard it as some sort of punishment.
2 Spell words like ‘cauliflower’
3 Use joined-up writing.

As you get older (and no nearer to being a ‘grown up’) your list changes; you are now a ‘grown up’ when you can:
1 Have a serious, engrossing and informed discussion on financial arrangements for your pension
2 Clean the filter on the tumble dryer without having to be told to do it
3 Admit there are some classic texts in English Literature that you have not read and that you have no intention of reading: The Fairy Queen in its entirety springs turgidly to mind!

As I pointed out in my last blog entry, you cannot pretend to maturity when you have a 42 inch television given pride of place in your living room. When it is on its size, colour and speaker system ensure that it is the cynosure of every eye: it’s something you simply cannot ignore. When it is not on it still commands attention by its blank, stark potentiality. I understand that there are some televisions which, when they are switched off, act as mirrors: the sociological implications and metaphorical possibilities of that situation almost take my breath away.

So what can be done to combat this abnegation of intellectual responsibility; the availability of a mini cinema only a switch away from dominating a living space?

The answer, of course, lies in white goods.

My mother had firm views on present giving. One of the most oft stated, especially on the lead up to Christmas was that a household article could not be a ‘gift’ for her. It followed that however technologically advanced a Hoover was; however ground breaking its ‘beats as it sweeps as it cleans’ action; no matter if it had a light (which it did) to show up the dirt; trendy colours aglow – nothing would induce my mother to see it as anything other than a utilitarian necessity and in no way could it be gift wrapped to acceptability in the present stakes.

Life, of course, would be unutterably drearier without one. It is instructive to consider what we didn’t have when I was a child. No television, no central heating, no computer, no microwave oven, no automatic washing machine, no personal stereo, no hi-fi, no CDs, no DVDs, no video recorder, no transistor radio, no mobile phone, no dishwasher and, at last we come to the reason for this list.

We had no tumble dryer. What we did have was something called a Flatley (?) dryer which was basically a metal box with a heating element in the bottom and a series of wooden slats at the top on which you draped the clothes to be dried.

Well, as a counterweight to the self indulgent extravagance of a large television today saw the appearance of a tumble dryer.

This machine is something of a development on the last machine that lurked outside the front door of number 129 in the entrance porch hidden behind the slatted doors (I always considered the slatted doors as a humble tribute to the Flately (?) and a tangible reminder of ‘how we lived then’) As I recall that machine had a timer and two heat settings and a tube which vented the air. The present sleek monster is a condenser model which (in theory) condenses the water from the clothes and obviates the necessity for a hole to be cut in the wall or for a lolling colon to hang out of the window. We shall see.

It also has a vast array of buttons and lights on the front and indeed a light inside the drum. It is the sort of machine which makes you want a child: they have an instinctive understanding of complex electronic equipment. Though one is tempted to ask how complicated the blowing of hot air through clothes can actually be. Do all the buttons do anything or are they merely decoration?

If I am truthful I can genuinely say without even a tinge of mendacity [methinks he doth protest too much] I gained more genuine [ditto] satisfaction from the installation of the tumble dryer than the setting up on high the vast temple to all commanding god of the television.

It helps of course that the language of the television is Spanish and Catalan and spoken at such a rate that it doesn’t really cater for neophytes in these tongues as my good self.

A disturbing facet of this television, as vouchsafed to me by the Guardian of the Remote was that by a simple press of his thumb he can change the language of some films on the TV to English. I feel this is a temptation that I must resist.

The learning of the language however is now a necessity and a pressing necessity at that.

The instructions for the tumble dryer are only in Spanish!