Friday, May 26, 2006

The Cold Cut

I was in Pamplona last summer when I was suddenly taken short by an urge for a haircut. You know how it is – by this time of life, you are not too keen on being wrapped in a sheet and seated in front of a huge mirror for twenty minutes contemplating your fallen chin while a flunky clips away at your head, but, on the other hand, you’ve just broken (or mislaid) your comb.
The somewhat gabby hairdresser lady established that I was a tourist, had once ‘run the bulls’ (madness!), loved to eat fish à la Navarro and pointed out that there was nothing like a trip to the ‘pelu’, the hairdresser, to pass some time. She motioned to Brad Pitt on the wall behind her and we agreed that, yes, I’d like to look exactly like him.
I had a ‘Number Four’. An electric clipper thing with a bit extra on the top (in case a future barber or member of Brad Pitt’s family reads this).
There’s a lady in Mojacar who seems OK. She looks like Lisa Minelli. She runs a hairdresser just downstairs from the office. I sometimes belch, break wind, sneeze, hoot or yap as I pass her office. It’s nothing personal, it’s just next door to a popular bar. Sometimes I inadvertently surprise her as I groan from a cold beer or snort from some minor blockage caused by a shrimp. It has occurred to me to be embarrassed by these small yet regular dramas, but I reckon it’s her move first.
Lisa once cut my hair, in the days before I knew about choosing a number for my grooming pleasure – now that I come to think of it, a convenience similar to dining at the Chinese (Numbah Foll - and easy on the MSG).
Normally though, I go over the way to this gloomy fellow called Pedro. The idea will come to me (must cut hair) as I pass his shop and, if it’s empty and Pedro is evidently immersed in his newspaper, I’ll go in.
Numero Cuatro I told him today. Easy on the top.
Walking back to the office, surrounded by flies attracted, I suspect, to the hair-gel that Pedro has slapped onto my head, I was visited by a violent sneeze. The kind that shrieks. Yaaahhh!
Just at that moment, as a bullet of snot ricocheted across the empty walkway, I saw a startled looking Lisa Minelli having a smoke on the terrace. I’m not sure, but I don’t think she was very impressed.

Monday, May 22, 2006

El Corte Inglés

Spain’s only surviving mega department store has now got all permissions to start work on its latest shopping experience, the El Ejido Corte Inglés. The store will be four stories high (according to the plans) and will have a 7,500m2 supermarket as the ground floor. So adiós to Miguelito’s corner sweetie-shop.
The Corte Inglés used to have a competitor, Galerias Preciados, but this was owned by a rather nasty enemy of the first PSOE government after Franco kicked off, and Felipe Gonzalez’ government simply… expropriated it. There’s a rather full exposé of the giant shop at if you're interested.
It includes this quote from the president and main shareholder, Isidro Álvarez, "no hay quien pueda con nosotros" (‘no one can beat us’).
The chain eschews advertising in the foreign language press (except the Diario Del Sur’s ‘Sur in English’) and, is the kind of shop that, this reporter at least, tends to go to as little as possible, usually making a U-turn just after entry.
Practically every city in Spain has at least one Corte Inglés and Almería is quite put out that the province’s second city should have stolen the march to become the first one in this hitherto rather forgotten province (Almería City still hopes for its own outlet).
The last one built that I know of is the one in Pamplona’s old-town. This particular one is nine stories high and is executed, for some ghastly architectural reason, in grey iron chapa. ‘Hideous’ is an understatement.
The department store is a kind of Bourgeois status symbol, with millions of Spaniards going about visibly holding their iconic shopping bags with the green triangles on it (even if they contain produce from other cheaper commerces).
The great debate about El Corte Inglés - or for that matter WallMart, is whether a super-store like this adds convenience to the shopper or whether it freezes out the small commerce ‘down-town’. Like anywhere else, it’s a debate where the Shilling decides.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


I had to meet some people in a hotel on Mojácar beach, the Marina Playa. Which is full - judging by the number of cars surrounding it. The town hall, which had forgotten about the necessity of a good parking lot, having ploughed up the grass park in front of the hotel a year or two back...
Anyhow, after I found my friends, we went to the bar which used to be called 'The Drowsy Duck' and is now, I think, called 'The Irish Bar'. Very atmospheric.
And quite large, at least 200 metres worth of merryness. The ceiling, as you may see, is decorated entirely by newspapers. The whole lot, and this is the unnerving bit, by old 'Entertainers'.
Now, like anyone in the free-newspaper business (that's quite a chunk of people these days), I don't like to see hard worked and well-produced copies of my newspaper doing service as wrapping paper, floor driers, or blocking out shop windows or perhaps sitting in out-of-date piles somewhere. It's not really why we bothered, don't you see?
The 'Irish Bar' papers on closer inspection date from the time when... (*the rest of this article has been removed by an injunction from the Vera Court).


This is the season for mosquitoes. Around here, they fly around in large and voracious clouds that are said to be able to drain a person dry in under five minutes. The sound of their trillion wings beating is like a distant Japanese motorcycle race where the really frightening part, rather like the doodlebugs sent by the Germans over London in 1944, is when the sound stops.
The mosquito, male, is a dull kind of fly that sips nectar all day long at some flower with its legs crossed and smoking a cigarette, come to think of it, rather like the rest of us. Only we put gin in ours. It’s the female that causes the trouble.
Which just goes to show, once you wrench the fur off, how similar to each other all of The Earth’s many species are.
The female will land apologetically onto an exposed piece of flesh and inject a portion of saliva into the bite, a tonic that causes a moment’s anaesthesia, followed by a quarter of an hour of itching. She needs your blood to nourish her fertilised eggs. You need the saliva to catch Malaria and Dengis Fever. The mosquito considers the operation a fair trade.
Our mosquitoes are well-fed and voracious. Yet, despite their weight, they can still fly. They may need to take a run at it, wings flapping furiously, their cargo of blood churning and slopping around in their stomachs, but they can usually take off in the space of a few feet. However, there is a second variety which breeds in the giant un-drained swamps of Garrucha and Pueblo Laguna. Here, the insects are so heavy from generations of over-feeding, their wings have atrophied and these creatures have in fact lost the power of flight. They are about the size of a squash ball and are obliged to gallop across the land in the search for any exposed ankle. When fully refreshed, they can be easily, if messily, dispatched.
Our own observation is that neither mosquito pellets nor spray slows them down much, or, at least, we note that they can get in a few bites before they die. Sometimes they do both simultaneously, which can cause embarrassment to both parties. The only alternative to becoming an involuntary intra-species blood donor is to close the window at night (which has the added advantage of closing out the sound of those who don’t have to get up in the morning). The drawback to this is that it’s getting very hot now… very hot… ver…

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Birdies

I bought Barbara four of these 'Love Birds' when we were courting way back when. They were such a success that we built an aviary for them, with lots of nesting boxes. They bred with such unabashed enthusism that the aviary was soon filled up with these inseperables. Eventually, we cut a narrow tube in the roof so they could stroll out into the wider world, without anything being able to get in - short of an ocasional sparrow. I now have once or twice a season sparrow hunts with a butterfly net.
The Love Birds appear to keep their inside numbers at around eighty, with various more living outside.
I feed them on a basic mixture of all-seed ('mijo') and sunflower seed ('pipa') with the odd bit of bread or celery thrown in. They are happy to nest (if they have a small-entrance box) and will put bits of appropriate nesting material - such as spikes from the ferns and palms - which they carry tucked into their back or tail feathers. I put in clumps of palm leaves occasionally which they happily take to pieces. A friend built what could only be described as council-boxes... about forty of them in two rows hung on the wall.
The weather is right for them here. A birdie expert from the UK drops by our house on his annual visit to Mojacar in the summer and invariably marvels how they breed so well. He says that he has to put little heaters into their nesting boxes back home... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 13, 2006

I was at an exhibition this evening at the Monte Paul Beckett, a galery down in the valley near my house. The paintings were by an artist staying at the Fundación Valparaiso, an art centre just a bit further down the lane.
These events are usually fun as I get to see some of the 'old timers' who I knew in the 'sixties, 'seventies and so on. One chap came up and said '¿me conoces?' and it was the British Honorary Council from Almería from those far off times, Gaspar Cuenca. A pleasure to see him and to remember some of the old stories. Gaspar partnered up with 'Cheap Pete' and opened an antique shop in Almería in the mid seventies until Pete ('Pedro Barato' - he built El Palacio in Mojácar) dropped dead after winning a Royal Flush in a poker game.
I gave Beatrice Beckett, the widow from Paul and owner of the art gallery, a cartoon of her drawn by Win Wells in 1982. That's Win and Silvio (Narizzano')s house, the Moño Alto, in the middle of the picture.
It's always fun meeting the art set at these functions. Sometimes they even look at the pictures... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Something Different

It must be getting harder to come up with a new cuisine around here. We are spoilt for choice. We have Spanish restaurants, British, French, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Argentinean, Columbian and Thai restaurants. We have German. There are a number of Dutch places. We have nouvelle, hunt and fish restaurants. Beach-bar grub. Pizzas and burgers. There’s a Donner Kebab. We shall sooner or later even have both the Colonel and Ronald Macdonald, lucky us, probably situated behind Garrucha. We have tapa bars and bocaterias (submarine sandwiches). You can dine on Tex-mex or munch on paella. There’s still room here, I grant you, for both a Greek and a Suchi restaurant. In fact, and here’s a suggestion, you could even combine the two.
Not bad. In the old days, we just had chicken knuckles, lamb lumps, crotch-meat and sardines. All that at fifty cents a head with a bottle of wine thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes even a full one.
I was thinking that there is space here, however, for a really good off-world diner. Besides Dibbler’s rat-on-a-stick and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it’s a hard fact that the world is remarkably thin on decent alien eateries.
I imagine being served something colourful (tastes like chicken) by a waiter with an over-indulgence of fingers. Perhaps a decanter of (tastes like wine) darfle-grog. Pictures of the Planet Clunk would decorate the walls while squirty-music played. Perhaps my friends would come and throw bits of clump at each other.
So, it’s just a suggestion, but it could play well to the gallery, don’t you think?
Good Lord no. I haven’t had a drink all day.
Not even a darfle-grog.