(Spain: somewhere on a narrow and dusty road to nowhere). I was driving along just this side of safe, with one eye on the speedo and the other on the rear-view mirror. Half asleep and all bored. Then, the mobile phone rang. One of the kids had been messing with the damn thing so I wasn’t immediately aware what was going on. The CD was belting out some fine blues and there was a thin weepy sound running below, just on this side of conscious. A mild arrhythmia over my heart finally helped me put it together – the damn phone in my shirt was vibrating and… yes… actually crying to be answered.
Which was a relief in one sense: I’m not going to keel over the steering wheel with a cracked pump and disappear with the old banger over the cliff. At least, not this time.
Talking on a mobile phone in Spain is illegal when you’re driving. Like many other agreeable activities that one can get up to behind the wheel, yes… many agreeable activities…
Whoa! I almost left the road there. And there’s one helluva drop on the right, down to a distant valley full of olive trees. Jeez – that was close.
So, since I don’t have a chauffeur like the head of the traffic department, an ambitious political oaf called Pere Navarro, and therefore can’t answer the phone and plan my next piece of business; and, unlike Mr Navarro, who is concerned about the heady mixture of saving lives, pissing people off and furthering his brilliant career in the ruling PSOE, all I’m after is a bit of peace and quiet, getting on with life and following the Spanish dream of being left alone. In fact, I just want to sell another set of encyclopedias without any interference from nobody to some family that probably doesn’t want them, can’t read and write properly and… Oh Hell! I'd better pull off the road.
Last thing I need is to lose some more points off my licence. They already took three last month for driving in carpet slippers instead of the approved brogues. Drivers don’t get corns and blisters in that cute fantasy life dreamt up by the city-living fat-cat pink champagne swilling socialist jerks that get to invent all these new intrusive laws while helping themselves to another brown envelope and, in passing, running our country into the ground.
There’s a handy lip on our roads, called the ‘arcén’. That’s where you go when you need to stop the car and do something else besides driving. Like kick one of those hidden speed-cameras to death. You don’t want to spend too long on the traffic-curb as it can be quite dangerous, with truck drivers thundering past your narrow ledge of safety or perhaps, if they are nodding off as their tachometer clicks into the red, they might drive straight in, through and over you.
Thumpity thump. The sod never even noticed. Probably thought it was a new kind of ‘sleeping policeman’.
Then, there are the Guardia Civil road-cops; ‘los primos’, we call them. The cousins.
You can’t loiter with your vehicle on the ‘arcén’ unless you have your emergency lights on, are wearing a kind of high visibility yellow fluorescent jacket, available at a store near you, and have placed your warning triangles both fifty metres before and behind to warn other drivers of your untoward immobility.
Pere Navarro is really looking to be remembered by history.
If they show up, the sheriff of Nottingham’s men are going to want to see if you carry a spare pair of glasses, an inspection sticker, a shoe-press, anything at all on the back seat (apart from mother), a nice clean driving licence and the rest of it – and of course, while they are there, they will be looking for illegal immigrants hiding under the spare wheel, traces of narcotics in the ashtray and an illegal radar trap apparatus stuffed down your jumper. Don’t worry about your insurance papers; they’ll have checked you already on their dashboard computer.
Now we have the ‘points system’, just like in real countries. How many times do second-rate politicians do that trick to help down the medicine ‘Oh, and in Finland you have to carry an extra pair of snow-shoes, so it’s not just here’…?
We start with twelve gold stars on our licences and the police are under strict instruction to start the carving. Aggressively. That and collect money like a carney at a fun-fair. They take any more off me and, shit, I’m walking home. It’s all right for the crazed traffic tsar; he can always get another chauffeur.
All this to answer the phone, which has stopped ringing by now anyway. Still, when you work for yourself, pay a fortune in gas and social security, you don’t want to miss a phone call – it might be a sale.
So, I hide the half-empty flask of whiskey under the seat, next to the crowbar; pull the stupid yellow day-glo number on, up over my head. Look like a booby. The price tag is flapping on my chest so I wrench it off and (no one looking) throw the bloody thing off the edge of the road.
To the boot of the car to get the triangles. You need to carry two of them – one for ahead and the other for behind. They had better not blow over; the cops might think I just threw them onto the road in a fit of bad temper.
I take the first one up the road and pace out fifty metres, forty-nine, fifty. Then back to the car and repeat the same process the other way. I will have walked over a quarter of a kilometre by the time I'm through with this but, anyway, I’ve dumped the second warning sign on the ground here on the curve and I've brought the phone and am now gonna…
There’s some bloke up-road from me. The hell he came from? He’s standing a hundred metres away, just by my front triangle. It trembles in the slight wind. ‘You wanna buy this thing off me?’ he shouts.
‘This triangle, you wanna buy…? He repeats.
‘You can sod off, you bastard!’
A huge trailer rumbles past and the triangle, grateful for the distraction, is blown off the border and flitters down into the valley below.
I’ve picked at the phone now for the re-dial and am walking back to the car, one eye on the chancer and the other out for the cops. I’ve got my surviving triangle tucked protectively under my arm where it gently rips my fluorescent pajama top.
It was a wrong fucking number. But you already knew that.