Dear Auntie Bo,
Christmas is on top of us and in Spain, there are a few amusing differences to what you’re used to. All of the British trappings are now popular with the Spanish, except for Christmas Cake (thank Goodness). Santas waddle around, choirs sing carols and ‘villancicos’ – Spanish Christmas songs – and everyone has a jolly time. The oddest thing here are the nativity scenes which every household has: lots of little Baby Jesuses and donkeys and Wise Men all on a table with caves and straw etc. The other figures include anything vaguely matching, soldiers, cows, men carrying straw and so on, plus a peculiar little fellow sat on a jerry! This figure is apparently a contribution from Catalonia and is called ‘El Caganer’: The Pooper. In fact, excepting the chap relieving himself, they have a ‘belén’, as it’s called, with real live people in Garrucha. Bit over the top, but there you go!
The Spaniards celebrate their version of April Fools Day on December 28th. It’s called the ‘Saints of Innocence Day’ for some reason. Not that you can believe much of what you read in the papers anyway, but on this day everyone makes an extra effort to tell a whopper.
The Spanish are also partial to The Three Kings who show up on Twelfth Night bringing presents. They rumble up our hill in a decorated dumper truck and hand out goodies to the school children. Better register the nippers!
The traffic police are also very active at this time of year, handing out fines and prison sentences with seasonal abandon. You read that right – if you are caught way ‘over the limit’, or driving waaay to fast, they can give you up to three months in the slammer. This is because too many people are involved in horrible accidents on our roads and the politician in charge of the traffic authority is convinced that the motorists are killing themselves merely to vex him! I really think that there is nobody who goes out driving with the intention of ‘offing’ themselves – apart from the so-called ‘kamikaze’ drivers who go up the motorway the wrong way. Anyway, no one uses the roads anymore as we have all taken to driving down narrow lanes at night to escape being breathalised.
The days are warm but the nights are decidedly chilly. So we light the fire to keep at least one room habitable. It’s the tiles, the thick walls, the small windows and the ill-fitting doors and windows which lower the temperature, so the house ends up colder inside than any house in England. Unfortunately, when I carry in the wood, I’m also bringing in whatever has chosen to pass the winter in my woodpile, so, as the fire heats up the log, a few flies wake up under the impression that an extremely fast approaching summer is underway. The other day, a scorpion struggled out of the fireplace but I got him before he got me.
I suppose another small niggle is the water-heater. You either use gas (which often goes out halfway through a shower) or electric as I do. Of course, a shallow bath or a shower means no more hot water for a couple of hours… When people stay, we have to pin up a rota system in the kitchen!
The neighbours are very nice and we’ve just about got them talking English by now (joke!). They have brought us a type of Christmas cake which is made with flour and pork fat, little bits of pig rind and lumps of angelica and other dried fruit. Sort of horrible! Like the sixpence of old, there’s a little tin saint hidden inside the cake so one has to go slowly. Another typical pre-Christmas present around here is a ticket for the famous Christmas lottery which is held around the 22nd of December and gives huge prizes. I’m so convinced of winning that I’ve already ordered a new Rolls Royce! The lottery is usually sold in ‘tenths’ of a ticket, a ‘decimo’, but it still cranks out some major prizes – which are usually all located in the same pueblo. You see them all squirting champagne at each other the following day on the Spanish news.
The telly here is unbelievable. The other day I saw Al Gore’s film about global warming, followed by the eight o’ clock horror film (blood n’ guts everywhere) followed, at ten, by ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. Perhaps the television programmers figure that the grown ups go to bed early while the kiddies stay up to all hours! They may be right! The TVs are on everywhere – usually showing football. It can be quite a bother sat in a restaurant munching on a plate of paella only to have everyone roaring with glee as somebody scores against Barcelona.
It’s wonderful living out here and you can do what you want because, Dear Auntie, there is no dear auntie to keep you on the straight and narrow. Some of the Brits here can invent their own past or even use a different name. I mean, there can’t be that many retired colonels from the Guards, can there? Some of the Brits get into trouble – as there is too much booze around here. Nobody lives further from a bar than walking distance so it’s very easy to ‘go for death’ – especially since the measures are huge. Which brings me back to the drinking and driving problem! But there are other temptations too. Couples often split up here and people can find ‘unconventional’ relationships which they probably wouldn’t have managed back in Blighty. The Spanish seem to be rather relaxed about all of this and the country is littered with jolly ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ of all description. There is a large number of Eastern Europeans coming here these days and some of them find fresh lives as ‘girlfriends’ with an apartment thrown in and a daily visit from ‘Daddy’. All very odd!
The country goes to the polls next March, so all of the political parties are being ‘extra nice’ (apart from the Ministry of the Interior and its policemen). Election promises are alive and well - both coming out of Madrid and out of our regional capital, Seville, whose ‘Junta de Andalucía’ government is also up for grabs in March. By the look of things, the socialists will get back in again both nationally and regionally, but since I can’t vote in either of these, I’ll be surprised to even get a free lighter.
So Auntie, you must come out and stay next year. You don’t need to bring tea bags or sausages wrapped up in your socks. We can get everything here we want. In fact, with Sky TV, mincemeat tarts, Wychwood Scarecrow Ale, Christmas crackers, Marmite and Ribena all available locally, it’s more English here than in England!
Kind regards, Johnny