It’s the simple things that catch you out.
We had spent a couple of nights after the Mojácar fire camped in the office on the beach. There’s a small pied-à-terre up in the tower above the office – connected by a twisty climb of around sixty steps – a room equipped with a superb view of the sea, the mountains and, on a clear day, Gibraltar. There’s a fold-away bed and a tiny bathroom with a cold-water shower. Perfect.
The tiny apartment has probably been the host to all sorts of excitement in previous years (although my lips are sealed) and a cold shower is no doubt just the answer after a long climb up all those steps. It hits you when you are out of condition – slogging up sixty steps, then having to go straight back down again for supplies. Yoghurt, beer, smokes, shampoo and towels: the usual iron rations. Unfortunately the towels that I bought from the supermarket a considerable distance below were those highly coloured ones designed for the beach which, being made of polyester, are guaranteed to be one hundred percent non-absorbent. You would do better trying to dry off (after that cold shower mentioned above) by rubbing yourself with a sheet of glass.
What is the point in that? A towel that might look the goods, but doesn’t dry! It’s like a friend of ours who once came out from England to stay with us. Pork sausages and tea-bags scattered among his valises. He had rented one of those old fashioned bathing costumes you are likely to see on Blackpool Pier naughty postcards. A sort of vest and shorts in red and white stripes. I believe it even had a belt. The label from the costume shop said ‘don’t get wet’.
In the end, we left him on the nudist beach.
Our new towels each have a label on them with the ‘ingredients’ listed, in their case, in the ten languages of the ten EU countries (and no doubt a few other places outside the control of the Brussels demons) where these remarkable articles can be bought. A non-absorbent towel, despite its unarguably good-looks, would probably be a non-starter in any cold northern country. You’re not going to sell many of them to the Finns, it seems to me. So the polyester content was merely written in those ten languages: same, same, same, one with an accent, same, something in Greek that no doubt sounds like polyester (come to think of it – it probably comes from the Greek anyway), polyester again and then, the Romanian maybe, to be a bit different, with polyesther. All, as noted, lovingly written on the little white (polyester) label. Think about it, it’s a truly international word! Ugly perhaps, but even the Hungarians have thrown away the opportunity to introduce a completely different Magyar word which meant the same thing. And you know how important it is to keep the language pure – and safe from foreigners.
It’s the biggest difference between the United States of America and the (one day) United States of Europe (plus Turkey and, with a bit of luck, Serbia). Language. Well, and towels. In the USA, everyone speaks some form or other of English. There’s a bit of French in Louisiana and some Spanish in Texas and New Mexico, but essentially, everyone speaks English – even when they don’t. The immigrants to the USA want to join in, to become ‘Merkens. Not the same over here in Europe at all. Half the people just in England don’t even speak English. If there are currently twenty seven countries in the European Union, there are a lot more official languages than that. All supported by different kinds of dim-witted bigoted regionalists busily and angrily pushing their own confusing (but frightfully old, antique, practically millennial) languages. A generous chunk of the Spanish flat-out refuse to speak the language of the motherland, unless, of course, they’re talking to someone from another weird bit of the country… they’ll use Spanish as a lingua franca.
I says: ‘Uggh’.
So thank goodness for polyester, a word that cuts to the quick of our confused linguistic mishmash; unlike cotton – a useful ingredient, I would have thought, to put in towels and other articles of clothing. Baumwölle, algodón, coton, bumbac, pamut etc.
I rang up the manufacturer. ‘Sí’, said a voice. ‘Sí’ I answered back playfully. There was no ‘Yes, good morning, Consuelo at the phone, Plastic Towels and Underwear Incorporated. How may I help you?’ Consuelo, a Spanish girl’s name that ends, confusingly, in ‘O’. No wonder we can’t get a handle on the language. Sheesh!
‘Listen here,’ I say, ‘why don’t you use a bit of cotton in your towels?’
‘Well’, she answers, ‘we could, but there wouldn’t be any room on the label’.
‘But they don’t absorb’, I say, the water pooling round my feet. ‘They’re no bloody use’…
The first towel, the one I got, a simple design in red… yellow, green, puce, pink, orange, mustard and ochre, would have been just the thing to tie to a flagpole on a low-lying island in the Pacific. How ever much Global Warming helped the ocean wash over the land, that flag would always be there, defiant, colourful… and bone-dry.