Thursday, August 11, 2022

We've Got the Horses Ready

Back home and drinking one of those beers from the Aguila people that you have to turn for a moment upside-down. Gassy. Urppph. 

Alicia and me had been to Velefique this morning, a small village of 300 souls up in the hills beyond Tabernas (you remember - where they shot all the spaghetti cowboy films). The village is due to have its three-day-long fiesta starting on Monday, a Moors and Christians effort, and we were to supply the four horses and skilled and costumed riders. Not me, no, I'll be either in the bar, if it's open, or the chiringuito: the temporary tin-bar in the square next to what looks like a pop-group platform. Oh yes, it'll be noisy.

The councillor in charge of fiestas is called Ramón. He showed us where we could keep the horses, where the water was and so on (Alicia will sleep up there Monday and Tuesday). I complemented him on his pueblo, which apparently can trace its history back to the Romans.

They've already started on the decorations

So noisy indeed was the fiesta last week in next-door Senés, where we had brought our four intrepid riders and horses for another Moors and Christians hoopla, that the bar-owner and wife had upped stakes and closed for the season (only two days this time - the village is even smaller). No one likes to overwork, I agree, but closing up for the fiesta? The only place that served drinks in Senés during the thrash was the estanco, the cigarette shop who luckily has a side-line in beer. 

Well, and the chiringuito as well - probably the same crew, I shall have to have a look at them. Their old-bit-of-pig sandwich was delicious. 

Fiestas (or ferias) in Spain often overlap the single day saint's celebration (Almería, which kicks up its heels from the 19th carries on until the 27th, inclusive. Well, since the last day is a Saturday, we might manage a merrie and boozy luncheon on the Sunday, down at the playa, why not?).

But first, Velefique. I was reminded of a pretty village inland from Mojácar called Bédar, when my dad had bought three houses in 1966 for ten thousand pesetas (sixty euros). I opened a bar there for a few months sometime in the mid-seventies before deciding that hard work was not for me. I called it El Aguila, the eagle (there was a brand of smokes called El Aguila in those days, plus of course the beer. Marketing, I figured). Fifty years later, and Bédar is now a British colony where people complain about the dog-poop and have tea-parties. 

I'll check to see how much a house costs in Velefique during the fiesta next week. 

Assuming the bar remains open.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

The Send-off

I was at the Tanatorio waiting as the old friends gathered. The air-con was on (just as well, it was killer hot outside) and, as Andalucía always favours naked walls and plenty of marble, the echoes and reverberations of the various conversations were such, that even with my hearing-aids turned to Yowza!, I still couldn’t make out what anybody was saying.

Something about The Departed, I supposed, as I looked solemn and said ‘uhh’ now and again.

Eventually, we were called to the chapel (similarly accoutred, but with a wooden cross for decoration and this time, with the seats all facing the same way). We tottered in and filled up the room from the back rows first. I was seated at the front – I was going to say something apparently.

The boom-box was switched on, the coffin was brought in, someone sniffled and the show began.

The son was the first up. No one knew him, he’d flown out from Manchester. He had brought some notes which included some jocularities as one does: the time my father did this, the time he said that. We laughed dutifully (although I still couldn’t make out a word).

I was third out of five. No notes and I took my glasses off (there was someone in the audience who owed me some money from a long time ago and I didn’t want to see him).

The dead friend had run the local bar for many years, and then finally retired a couple of decades ago. Like many in the bar-world, he’d enjoyed a drink or two.

I remembered one hot evening when he had reached into the bottle cooler for a beer, found the temperature evidently to his liking, and fell asleep there, his head and shoulders slumped over the white wine.

Many of his customers are of course resting in the same cemetery which is now his new address. When the gates close each night, if you listen closely, you may hear a ghostly champagne bottle as it pops.

My point, as they played something from Frank Sinatra and we survivors staggered out into the hot afternoon’s heat, wondering who would be next, is this:

God, how old we’ve all gotten!


Friday, July 15, 2022


I'll never have a fluent-sounding accent when I speak Spanish. It's pretty good, but if I have an accent, it's an English one. Which stands to reason I suppose, since that's where I'm from. It's easy enough to spot although there's the exception maybe when I'm on the phone and my caller can't see me and realise that there's no way a tall blond/gray sunburned Swede with blue eyes like me could ever be from Murcia.

It's a pity really, as I only started to learn Spanish when I was thirteen. The sounds eluded me, whereas I began with French at the age of six, and thus, although I've since forgotten a lot of the vocabulary, when speaking to a Frenchman I tend to sound like an alcoholic from Lyon who must have just misplaced the words he needed for that particular moment. 

Also, in French, there are a hundred ways of saying 'you know what I mean, um, at the end of the day...' and other useless fillers to ward off actually saying something useful. In Spain, all we have is coño.   

We need context when we talk in Spanish - which means we need to know the society in which we are moving - the food, the geography, the politicians and the film-stars. So, there's another reason to watch the Spanish news on the TV. 

I clearly lean towards the parrot-theory of language: it's not what you say - it's how you say it. After all, no one is listening anyway, they are just waiting politely for their turn. One clever way to pick up the cadence and the various tics that belong to a language is to imitate it when speaking in your own. French lends itself to this - as we know from watching 'Ello 'Ello (here). And so why not Spanish as well?

We must then turn to the detail. It's easy enough to work the jota, the sound in such words as bujía, jamás and reloj, although they say that smoking helps, and it's a little harder to get the rr right: pero and perro. Then there's our friend the Ñ (called an 'eñe' - or 'enye' if you are missing it on your keyboard), which for some reason the British newspapers like to switch for the letter N, giving rise to such horrors as Espana, cono and Feliz Ano

The LL is easy enough, pronounced like the middle bit in William (although, oddly, there's a war in Spanish between the LL and the Y). Actually, the ll was considered as just another letter of the Spanish alphabet until 1994, as was the ch

It made playing Scrabble easier: a point which is rarely made. 

For us Brits, I think that the Spanish J is the big one, and here's Camilo Sexto singing his 1975 hit Jamás (Never!), if you feel like practicing the jota and singing along. 

After all, that's what your parrot would do. 

The confusion in Spanish between the letters B and V works in our favour I think, as we hear them differently. As the old Latin joke goes, the great thing about the Spanish is that they don't know the distinction between vivere et bibere; that's to say, between living and boozing. 

And who can argue with that?

One point that English-speakers need to remember when in the throes of speaking castellano (that's what they call it here) is to pronounce foreign words and names as a Spaniard would. I'm usually called Lenon (like the pop singer) Andrew is Andréu. William is Guílian. It gets worse. The singer JJ Cale is Jota Jota Kalay

My title BeeBapoRu refers to how one calls a popular unguent available at the farmacia which one rubs on one's chest. That's right: it's Vicks Vapour Rub as pronounced by the chemist. If that doesn't work by the way, then drink a Bloody Mary (un bludi) with plenty of salsa guorsesterechaer and lie down for a bit.

And practice that Camilo Sesto song.


Saturday, July 09, 2022

Being There: a Day at the Garden

Like many people, I'm not much of a gardener. Sometimes I remember to go and squirt everything with the hose, for which the shrubbery is suitably grateful, perhaps even rewarding me with a flower or two. Other times... well, I was doing something else, you know how it is. 

Here in our neck of the world, it's hot, and the garden (lovingly laid down by my mum back in the sixties) needs lots of attention. Unlike the household chores, which brings you back to where you were before you scruffied things up, or made lunch, or spilled a gin and tonic on the carpet, the garden moves slowly forward, and of course, upwards. 

There's even the odd occasion when, in a burst of enthusiasm, I find myself driving over to the vivero, to buy something which could be perfectly de-potted and decanted into that space near the olive tree which hasn't produced anything of interest since the dog dug up the marihuana plant last year. 

Gardening means pruning, cutting, digging, uprooting, weeding, bug-removing, planting and, above all, watering.

Three times a week, I say to myself, water everything you love and the garden will one day look peachy, just like it used to a generation ago. 

Then of course - and this is key to a happy horticulturist - remember to switch off the garden-tap after use.

Once you have forgotten to switch off the hose, and moved on to other duties like shopping, watching the TV or driving to Barcelona for the weekend, the gaily-coloured tube will carry on pumping water to that one surprised, grateful and eventually waterlogged and dead geranium until such time as the call to put on a cap, rinse one's face with Factor Fifty and go outside and water the garden returns. Which - at best - is every two days. It's not like forgetting to switch off the soup, or pull up one's zipper, or watch the news. When one is not in the garden, one is not switching off the hose.

The water bill, which arrives at the end of every two months, is suddenly through the roof. It's happened to me a couple of times, and blast it, it happened again this weekend. I forgot to turn the hose off. I had filled a watering can to access an outlying violet and then went off to save the world from the space invaders and, well, you know how it is.

By the time I had retaken Aldebaran, the garden was looking like the Red Sea. 

This brings about another problem; I mean, besides the bank-loan to pay the water company. 

The unseasonable flood has brought me a ton of weeds and stinging nettles. And snails. 

I am also pretty sure that my mum visited me last night. I wasn't asleep when she came. 

I'm in the garden now. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Heat and Dust

It’s getting hotter each time around, and worse still, it’s getting hotter earlier.

This may be because I’m getting older, and it’s just a subjective opinion, or it could be that the meteorologists, climate scientists and environmentalists are right: global warming is occurring and, on first impression, that’s not good.

The record high temperatures reported this year at the poles must be a concern. All that ice melting into the sea can only mean that, sooner or later, the coastal cities are in for a nasty shock. It’s starting already with Venice, and perhaps we have seen those mock-ups of London, the Netherlands or Seville under water. 

And really and for true, using less shower-water; or putting the plastic bottles in the right-coloured trash-container; or cutting out the inconsiderate use of ear-wipes, are all very commendable things to do, but at the same time – it won’t make an atom of difference. The major polluters: the oil companies, plastic container-users, the coal burners, those who chop down the forests and those who sell us the SUVs – none of them will slow down their drive for profits – even if it kills them.

Recycling – the great panacea to our industry-encouraged over-consumption – is more of a chimera that a reality. Did you see that mountain of unsold clothing dumped in Chile? Did you think that plastic can be melted down and used again? The Chinese don’t want our old plastic bottles or the sun-bleached sheets from the invernaderos anymore. How about those accidental fires over at the vehicle and tire-dumps?

Spaniards are worried about the climate-change which they are experiencing, but they are not necessarily prepared to do much about it. No one accepts a higher tax on petrol, or to eat less meat, muchas gracias.

We put up with not getting a free shopping bag from the supermarket – as we load all of the heavily wrapped-in-plastic products we took off the shelves into a cloth-bag. Who are we fooling here?

Those of us who are older must worry for our children and those that come after. We think that they won’t have it as well as we did: even if they can afford an air-conditioning system.

This latest heat-wave we have suffered in Spain – where baby birds fell from their nests – apparently half-cooked – in Córdoba, is said to be nothing compared to what is coming in the years ahead.

Most of Spain is on a high-plateau. The coastal bits are relatively benign, but the inland parts of the country suffer temperature extremes. Ándujar (Jaén) has just reported a new June record for Spain, at over 44ºC. Last year’s August 14th record of 47.4ºC in Montoro (Granada) still stands for the moment.  The World Meteorological Organisation says that this heat wave just settling down now was around 10ºC hotter than the usual for this time of the year in Spain and France and furthermore, ‘is a harbinger of things to come’.

Together with the fires (another sad record in Zamora this week with 30,000 hectares burned), the polluted lagoon at el Mar Menor in Murcia and the generic desertification, we are indeed facing an uncertain future.

Summer, by the way, began on Tuesday – what we just went through, that was Spring.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Did We Just Lose Our Vote?


There's a big fuss going on in expat circles (or at least, there should be) about a news item saying that the European Court of Justice has ruled on a case in France regarding the remaining voting rights of the British residents living in the EU.

The ECJ ruled on Thursday that the British, being non EU-members following Brexit, have no voting rights within the block.

In Spain, there are some bilateral agreements allowing votes in municipal elections for a number of countries. These include several Latin American states (but not all), plus Norway, New Zealand, South Korea and - for some impenetrable reason - Trinidad & Tobago. 

With Brexit, the Brits lost their vote in the European elections (not that any continental MEP was going to speak for the 800,000 or so Brits living in Europe), but, we were assured, we would not only keep our vote in local ('municipal') elections, but would be able to continue to run as a candidate. 

Indeed, despite the fact that most foreign residents don't tune in to their local municipality, there are a modest number of foreign and even a few Brit councillors here and there in Spain. 

Now it would appear, if the ECJ authority takes precedence over any bilateral arrangement, that all non-EU foreigners - not just Brits - would lose whatever modest suffrage that they had enjoyed since 1999 (the first municipal elections in Spain where foreign EU citizens, including Brits, could vote).

The problem is obvious. If the town hall must choose discrepancies or squabbles between voters and non-voters, it's clear which way they will go. Why waste time on people who can't vote for you - or indeed, against you?

The question is whether this is a storm in a tea-cup, or the future European policy. 

The next local elections will be held in May 2023. We need to know: will we have the vote. 

One Spanish friend wrote - give us back Gibraltar, and we'll let you keep your ballot-paper. Ah, if only it were that simple. 

Later: The British Embassy says that 'this judgement does not affect UK nationals’ right to vote and stand in local elections in Spain. These are provided by the bilateral agreement between the UK and Spain, which allows UK nationals who have lived in Spain for more than 3 years to vote and stand in local elections'. 

However, from El País on Friday: 'The EU justice rules that British residents have lost European citizenship with Brexit. The ECJ clarifies that UK citizens cannot vote or be elected in municipal elections'.

Now we need to hear from the Ministry of the Interior. 

It's likely that nothing will come of this... unless Vox gets into power of course.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Tourism in 2022

The summer hols are upon us. We shall pack our bags (or our hand-luggage if we are travelling with one of the cheapies) and jet away to somewhere warm, where we shall get drunk, have a brief romance, buy a souvenir, punch someone and be sick in a flowerbed. Perhaps we shall look wistfully at a property if there’s a rainy day, or discover to our surprise that the holiday business has become an industry.

Spain is no exception.

Ludicrous newspapers like The Express are always full of stories about why readers shouldn’t be holidaying here for one reason or another: whether it’s a limit to six drinks a day in the all-inclusive hotel, the ignominy of having to queue in the Non-EU line at the airport or the bar-staff that can’t understand you when you ask for a bacon sarnie.

The Spanish probably couldn’t care less what The Express thinks, short of a few small hoteliers who are worried that anyone is going to change their mind because of some inflammatory article about Etias visas and decide to stay for two weeks in Southend instead.

Meanwhile, Easyjet and other airlines cancel large numbers of flights from the UK for some reason or other. More queues, more anger, less time around the pool.

There are several issues of slightly more weight that worry the Brit tourist, such as the 90 / 180 day deal in the Schengen Zone, and the agony of whether a resident can use a British driving licence (both subjects sublimely ignoring the self-inflicted punch of Brexit).

Some of Spain’s destinations are crashing out of the tourist stakes – such as La Manga, which overlooks the Mar Menor: now a dying lagoon. Under extreme threat too from illegal wells is El Parque Nacional de Doñana in Cádiz.

So, tourism changes: it diversifies and it evolves. Now we read that the second kind of tourism, what might be called city-visitors – is facing a crisis as China considers halting all Chinese holidays abroad. They may not be much for bucket and spade tourism, but they do appreciate a flying visit to Madrid, Granada and Barcelona to see the sights.

Better news comes from Germany, where the travel agencies are mooting the idea of sending their senior citizens en masse to Spain for the winter months to save on energy (a sensitive topic in Germany at the moment). If Spain tuned in, they could convert some of their abandoned villages into merry North European retirement centres (and get funding to pay for it).