Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Day Trip

The odd things that happen in Spain. Yesterday we went to Almería to pick up two friends and to continue on to the Province’s other big city, El Ejido. Just along from our first destination is a feed store, so we stopped there for a few things, including happening on a clip to hold the dog safely in the car – the police being very keen on stopping you these days if your pet isn’t properly secured.

Next door at the stables, we transferred to Loli’s car, and four of us boarded along with two miniature ponies and a baby sheep that happened to be loitering nearby. The ponies jumped into the rear of the vehicle without much prompting. Noticing my surprise, Loli told me she once went to some children's pet-show with no less than eighteen critters in her buggy, including ponies, tortoises, chickens, rabbits and a slightly bilious coatimundi.

Today, we were off to a party for disabled children given by a physiotherapist called Beatriz, who with Loli and Barbara, makes up the senior members of Animo.

Loli’s vehicle has tinted rear windows, so our load of horseflesh was safe from the public eye, as long as our passengers didn’t neigh too loudly. Unfortunately, one of them was minded to produce ear-splitting whinnies through most of the trip, which included the part where we drove across the city of Almería.

I had the window down (to combat the smell – Dutch ponies can be stinky in confined quarters, especially after breakfast). We arrived at the lights at one point just as another shriek came from somewhere in the rear of the vehicle. A man in the car next to us looked up in horror. All he could see was Loli and me. ‘She’s had this cold for weeks’ I told him gamely ‘nothing seems to shift it’.

It was a good day with the children in El Ejido. We gave them rides on the ponies and told them stories about the sheep, a black and white male that stuck firmly beside Loli during the entire experience, as if his friend could somehow explain what the whole thing was about. A Wise King showed up towards the end of the afternoon and pulled presents out of a sack on the back of one of the ponies. Each child got a calendar decorated with his or her photo (I got one of me posing with our chicken, Maude). Barbara and Loli, co-writers of Manual Básico de la Hípica Terapéutica, both received hard-covered printer’s copies of their book.

Once again wedged into the car and lulled into drowsiness by another sustained chorus of bellows, we returned safely past any and all police check-points to the stables in Almería and, transferring to our vehicle, we continued home, the car full of tomatoes from El Ejido, some grain for our horses and a box of mixture for Maude.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Stuffed Bull's Head

The age old problem of 'what to buy someone for Christmas' has just been answered. A stuffed bull's head. These are not just any old bulls, these ones come from the top farms, breeders and some of them even met their ends at the hands of a famous bullfighter! Imagine the jolly stories you can make up as you swirl your glass of wine and ripple your pencil-thin moustache.
When I was around nine or ten, I came to Spain for holidays with my parents. We went to Playa del Haro (as it was comfortably called in those days) and saw a thrilling bullfight in Gerona. I got a large raffia bull's head to crown my experience and it decorated my bedroom in England for the next few years.
I found this flyer at the Sicab horse fair in Seville last month and thought that it would interest those Gentle Readers who don't like raffia. So there you are, your very own genuine stuffed Bull's Head.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Siege of Mojácar

It seems that this retablo, showing 'el asedio de Mojácar', is in Toledo. The wooden carving was made by Rodrigo Alemán (1470-1542) and the picture is part of a new collection of historical photographs held by the Ministerio de Cultura and the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España. The 'search page' is here.
Mojácar was attacked in 1488 as part of the final surge against the Moor. The fortified town either gave in after an agreement between the alcaide and the Christian leader that they would all get along peacefully (the disneyesque version suggested by a plinth at the fuente) or the more historically accepted version is that the whole town was put to the sword and repopulated by 400 properly Christian Spaniards from Lorca.

A slightly neglected copy of the retablo, made in 2004, is affixed to the back of the Mojácar church.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All This?

All this for 37 cars? That's not someone who cares for Mojácar.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Banco de Sabadell

Full marks to the Banco de Sabadell. I know that they are merely after our savings, but it's not often that you see an acknowledgement towards the foreigners who are living here full-time rather than those who are enjoying a short holiday here (and yet seem worthy of the spending of millions of euros in their pursuit). Tourists, you see, have no reason to be loyal. They'll take their next holiday somewhere else.
As the bank manager knows, there is a huge amount of money being pumped into Spain by those foreign settlers. There would be a lot more if the politicians woke up.

The Nice Picture from Carboneras

There you are, leafing through the various catalogues, magazines, webpages and so on, in search of that vital holiday: as guaranteed by the State and your Employer both. Hard work for fifty weeks means a fortnight of some rest and relaxation to compensate. Where to go?
There are the tried and true holiday destinations, where you pretty much know what to expect, having perhaps been there before, or from hearing reports from your work-mates. There are farther away resorts, with new and cheaper offers: well, why not?
There are new places as well, perhaps more exciting, or adventurous... and won't those same work-mates be jealous when they hear about your discovery?
So, Carboneras. It's a small fishing port in Almería, just along from Mojácar. It has some good and cheap fish restaurants and a castle. There's an attractive bay and some famously wild nudist beaches. The tiny and pretty village of Aguamarga is just next door. Carboneras also has, as you can see from the picture, a splendidly odd sculpture cum farmhouse, built in the early sixties by a Belgian who ended up being eaten by a tiger in Bengal.
But here's the thing. The Carboneras Tourist Board has to work with what it's got, which in this case is the most polluting power station in Spain (according to the European Environment agency) which, by the way, was cropped from the above photograph. The massive plant, accompanied by another behemoth, the Holcim cement factory, are within scant metres of the above oddity - jus' saying. The town is also known for the Hotel Algarrobico, an unfinished 22 storey hotel where completion was put on hold several years ago by the Ministry of the Environment because it was built both too close to the sea and also in a national park, breaking two planning laws in the event. However, with politics, inertia and a whopping demolition bill, no one has actually got around to knocking it down.
Carboneras isn't a bad place, the food is good and the people seem nice, but is it really the best choice for a holiday? Perhaps not.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

This Beats Garden Gnomes

So, what's this? A mansion in El Ejido, the Almería city famous for its farming under plastic and opulent wealth. The owner of this tasteful looking house, in a clear homage to the past, has seen fit to decorate his garden with a selection of mechanical hardware, including an old Moto Guzzi 98cc with a stick shift hanging from some chains, an antique 1950's Citroen stood on a plinth, and just inside the garden, to the right, an artillery piece. Is that a bit of a airplane disappearing around the corner? One day, I'd like to see inside the house!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spanish Invention

You probably knew that the submarine is a Spanish invention. There is an early example raised on the port in Cartagena. Designed and built by a local engineer called Isaac Peral in Cadiz in 1887, it ran on electric current. The earliest Spanish submarine, however, was built by a Catalonian called Narcis Monturiol and ran manually. For (presumably) rather short distances. A later version ran on steam.
But Spain has invented many other useful gadgets (a friend of mine here in Mojácar lives comfortably off a garlic peeler he came up with a few years ago).
The Autogiro being one such (or so I read here). This was a variation on the helicopter, with stubby rear wings and a forward propeller. A large free-spinning propeller pointing upwards kept the thing (more or less) in the air. A British version called 'The Flying Bedstead' used to putter loudly over our garden when I was a child in Norfolk. The autogiro was developed by Juan de la Cierva in the nineteen twenties. Another useful invention, the arquebus, comes from Spain, although Wikipedia appears to disagree, suggesting Hungary instead. Better luck, perhaps, with the easy-to-assemble Molotov cocktail, which was first used by the Republicans during the Civil War before finding its way to the Finnish resistance to the Russian invasion of 1939.
More peaceful inventions include the famous Chupa Chup, the gob-stopper on a stick, introduced by Enric Bernat in 1958. I know that he sells a lot of them to the Chinese and Kojak used to swear by them when solving crimes. Chupa Chups are often used to wean one off another Spanish invention, The cigarette. This was manufactured originally by Seville beggars, who would roll odd bits of tobacco collected from the cigar makers into tubes made from rice paper. The first commercial cigarettes in a packet appeared in 1825 and where commercially named as 'Cigarrillos Superiores' in 1833. They didn't carry health warnings in those days.
The fregona is a fine Spanish invention. I've no idea what it's called in English, but it is a sponge on a stick used for washing floors. It comes from a airman called Manuel Jalón Corominas, introduced in 1956. Another, the pencil-sharpener, dates from 1945 from the workshop of Ignacio Urresti. Then, two partners called Juan Solozábal and Juan Olive came up with the stapler in around 1930.
Finally, according to the comments that follow the Spanish original (an article which promises more inventions in a second part), much of the above is erroneous.
Now they tell us!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Underground Carpark

For those readers who haven't been up to Mojácar village recently - either because they live in California, Coventry or Kiev - or because they don't fancy a short drive up from the beach, here's how the famous dig is coming along. The picture comes from upstairs at the Town Hall's urbanismo building. The church is on the left and there's a narrow string of slightly worried shops and bars running along the top of the picture. Will it all be ready for Easter?

Quality Tourism

As the Mojácar Town Hall wonders how much to budget for the Madrid tourist Fair in January - the Fitur - I would like to suggest a few things which might be done to attract visitors (and package-tour trippers, for what they're worth to the local economy), all without breaking the bank.
A sign on the motorway exit to start with, similar (for example) to the one off Puerto Lumbreras (Ciudad de Alfarería) or the nifty models - rather mistreated these days - outside Nijar. According to a study made in a tourist destination in Cadiz somewhere, about 10% of the tourist traffic that arrived off the motorway was impulse-driven. How much would a sign cost?
Jacinto Alarcón, our old mayor, once recommended visitors 'to summer your winter in Mojácar'. The point is, the small and inadequate infrastructure in Mojácar is full during the summer and yet it is completely empty during the rest of the year when Mojácar, thanks to its extraordinary micro-climate, is extremely comfortable. That's a season to promote... and it would be directed to people willing to listen.
Make the pedestrian entrance to Mojácar near to where the cars are parked. Three hundred metres walk to the Plaza Nueva and another three hundred metres back...? Along a narrow road with a miserable pavement...? Put an elevator up to the back square and make it - now that we are building there anyway - into something attractive and vehicle free (dentro de lo que cabe).
Support up-market hotels, like the Parador, where the clients have money to spend, rather than run-down tripper hotels, whose agenda is to cut every corner, while encouraging their guests to stay within the walls.
Encourage foreign retirees to buy in Mojácar - they will be bringing in large sums of money and spending all year long. Stop treating those foreigners, now local residents in good faith, as pariahs: allow them a bowling green if they want one (no one here plays padel tennis). Perhaps celebrate 'International Day' like they do in the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol instead of the just-mojaquero-days like the Romería and the Día de la Virgen. Mojácar's reputation could improve.
A silly thing perhaps, but maybe a street name to honour the foreigners who, between them, brought this town back from absolute poverty? We don't have any Calle Fritz Mooney, Plaza Paul Becket or Avenida Bill Napier. In fact, while there are Calles de Rumanía, Francia, Suecia, Dinamarca etc... there isn't one honouring Inglaterra or Reino Unido. We are 50% of the population you know.
The sign in the photograph is good, isn't it? It comes from Granada and doesn't have any mistakes in the English. It's as if... they asked someone to check the spelling.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rosmari's Carpark III

Work has started to speed up a bit, some fifty days into the project. Soft 'fill' is being taken out of the upper side of the square. Already one unsuspected water pipe has burst. One can see the church with its protection and the metal chapa that surrounds the entire square. The best viewpoints being either from the upstairs of the Town Hall's urbanísmo department (above the Tourist Office) or from a handy stump outside the Vientos del Desierto restaurant. The leader of the Moros Viejos, the founding club from the 'Moors and Christians' festival held each June, has expressed his dismay in the speed of the obra to the mayoress, Rosmari Cano in a letter delivered recently.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Rosmari's Parking II

I was in the pueblo this evening for a look around and a drink. The two squares are now one, with our old house and the 'schoolmaster's house' demolished. As things stand, it's quite nice, although, with the high metal fence (to stop us seeing any rare artifact from the past two thousand years...?), the view is pretty limited. The church has a lona (a canvas cover) to protect it and rumours are about that the floor is already giving way. At La Sarten, the local foreigners are enjoying 'quiz night'. Some questions, however, remain best unanswered.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Lavatory Bar

In the old days, before the passing of Franco, the bars closed at 1.00am. Most of them no doubt closed a lot earlier, right after the black and white football game on the telly ended, but the bars in the tourist towns at least, would remain open for the boozy foreigners until the bell went. By the late sixties, prices for a gin and tonic had crept up to fourteen pesetas, and a beer cost anything up to a duro – five pesetas. Our town lush, Old Antonio, would patrol the bars in Mojácar on the look out for a drink, looking more and more dishevelled after each invitación. ‘Rubio, dame un duro’, he’d whine.

The local bars were dressed in simple stone, marble, slate, tiles and plaster. There might be a calendar for decoration, the obligatory shelf of bottles, Green Fish gin and so on, perhaps a TV or a radio or a juke box – or with luck, all three. Noise was the keynote of a good bar, with the walls rebounding the sound and lifting it on high.

The few foreign bars would be decorated with paintings from local artists (who always attempted to drink for free) and would have the lights on low. Music came from a record player.

By 1.00am, those who wished to continue with the business of drinking would move to our solitary discothèque, run by Felipe, a Frenchman from Casablanca. Felipe would charge a little more for a cubata, the generic name for a mixed drink, but he had a disk jockey and a dance floor. At 2.00am, according to the rules, he’d close the door and pretend to be shut while we finished our drinks.

This could take some time, as the next legal establishment, the Fisherman’s Bar in nearby Garrucha, didn’t open until three.

In those days, the local Guardia Civil had to provide their own transport, which would generally be an old moped. They wouldn’t bother hiding behind a road-sign to catch the occasional drunk driver – they couldn’t stop you without ‘probable cause’ anyway. At best, they might be in the village watching the small car-park and helping drivers reverse safely out of their space and away down the hill.

The trip to Garrucha took about fifteen minutes and included a drive through the dust, ruts, or puddles, depending on the season, of the floor of the riverbed, the oddly named ‘Rio de Aguas’ that, in those days, more or less divided the two towns geographically.

Garrucha High Street was and remains, a narrow and ugly road that flows straight through the fishing village and away towards Vera and civilization to the north. In those times, it was a two-way street. Half way down it was the Bar Bichito, a bar with a special licence to open at 3.00am for the fishermen to have an early morning carajillo, a black coffee and brandy. This particular mixture always seemed like a good idea to the inebriates from Mojácar who would order a round as a song began to bubble up from within them.

Hitherto, the drinking had been reasonably quiet, with the music taking the strain, but in the Bichito, fetchingly designed in white tile throughout and known to the foreigners as ‘The Lavatory Bar’, there was no music and entertainment had to be found elsewhere. The bar made ordinary local bars of the times look positively attractive. The door was on the end and opened into a narrow bar which stretched along in a small 'el' shape parallel to the street. There were two small tables and a few chairs just inside the door, and, if feeling faint, one could always sit outside on the curb. Otherwise, we stood at the chest-high bar (or even higher for some of the vertically challenged local fishermen), blinded by the bright lights and namesake decor and watched, between songs, as Pedro man-handled his one-spout Italian coffee machine. The toilet facilities, a throne with a long drop, were through the back and doubled as a storage room for the beer and soft drinks.

The fishermen and the old municipal cop would look on in a friendly way as the small group of plastered Britons, French, Germans and Americans, depending on the draw, would start on their lengthy repertoire. A family favourite of ours was ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now’ (an old song immortalised in the late sixties by the New Vaudeville Band) followed, perhaps, by the popular drunken bawl ‘I’ve Got Sixpence’ or perhaps ‘Bless Em All’. A cockney couple, Pat and Tony Farr, had taught us a number of songs, such as ‘I’m One of the Ruins that Cromwell Knocked Abaht a Bit’ or ‘I’m Henry the Eighth I Am’ and so on.

More carajillos as Pedro, face pitted with acne, would tell everyone to hsss, to be quiet. People are trying to sleep (apparently).

Things could only get worse as the Rugby Songs were unleashed. Rugby Songs are England’s answer to folk music and run along the lines of ‘My Little Sister Lily’ or ‘They Were Tattered, They Were Torn…’ with lots of lines ending in –uck and so on. Curiously, many of them are set to opera music, which gives the performers a chance to really crank out the key words with enthusiasm. At times, even the extranjeros can be loud.

The ride home was always uneventful I’m sorry to report. No accidents or arrests. But those were different times. Cheap, basic and fun.

Rosmari's Underground Parking (update)

Apart from the hive of activity that is Bartolo's nick-nack shop, the cigarette shop and the lotería (we never close), the village of Mojácar is dead this windy Sunday morning. Up by the Church, the Mayoress' plan for an underground car-park totters on, slowly. As the pictures show, nothing much has been accomplished so far, beyond removing the parked cars from the two upper squares and closing off the entire area with 'chapa'. One section of this stamped metal has ceded under the heavy wind, blocking off the narrow run into Liberio's house. Liberio the Carpenter is not amused. 'Will this crap be finished by Easter?' I ask him. 'Maybe the following one' he says.
LATER: apparently, on Monday 7th November, work started on the demolition of the two houses centred in the photos. The one on the left, originally built as two apartments, was our first home in Mojácar in 1966.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Welcome Home

One of our oldest residents decided in May to return to England. She had lived abroad since the fifties, first for many years in Tangiers, and later here in Mojácar. Her house is a beautiful home bathed in light and our friend is always full of cheer and warmth. Sometimes there were parties around her pool - a chance to catch up with some of the older residents who don't 'get out much'.
Family pressures obliged her to move to a nice country retreat near Brighton, and it was with a mixture of surprise and pleasure that I heard her voice on the phone a few days ago. 'I'm back', she said. 'No more England for me'.
It seems that she had missed her home and her friends and, despite being 93 years old, she is back here 'for good'. With so many people leaving - or wishing they could leave - it is great to see what must be our oldest resident back amongst us.
Another small garden party yesterday. Tapas, wine and some good laughs. I think that all of us present felt both pleased that she had returned, and in some way, we felt confident that we too will stay.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


We went to see some horses yesterday, at a large lettuce farm between Cuevas and Pulpí. I know the owner from years back and he has - besides any number of thousands of hectares of lettuce - around a dozen Pura Raza Española horses and a donkey. Barbara, who has a blog about horses and riding therapy at Animo, rode a beautiful nine year old mare around the ring, bareback as usual.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Day in Granada, with Friends

Barbara is now getting the Animo work with hippotherapy going again, and we now have a new therapy horse here in Mojácar (see Animo) . As a small part of this, we went to Granada yesterday to meet a Japanese friend who works in a similar field at the Tokyo University. Aki speaks some English, and his uncle, here on the left of the photo, speaks a bit of Spanish as part of his studies into Flamenco. So, as they had a spare day or two before returning to Madrid (and on to Vienna), the three of them (that's Student Nim in the middle) were able to spend some time with us - which, ineviatably, included a visit to the caves of the Sacromonte to see some real Flamenco.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


A large group of people turned out today for a walk from Mojácar Pueblo down to the Hotel El Puntazo to support the Spanish cancer association. Among them was our mare Cuqui. You can meet her over at Animo.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Mojácar Square

This is the square in the old part of Mojácar that is being made-over as an underground car-park. In the picture, taken last Thursday, the square is, for once, without any cars. It looks rather better than usual. Will it look like this (smarter and so on, but similarly spacey) after the work has finished... sometime next Spring?
One must hope for the best, while recognising that our ayuntamiento and its alcaldes have never managed to improve the pueblo in thirty years of attempts (atentados, a good mis-translation) . Much has been written elsewhere about this project (the estación de metro) which has the unqualified support of the local Partido Popular: members, supporters and honorary Romanian Glee-clubbers; with the horrified resistance from everyone else, including those who chose to live in Mojácar because of its beauty, magic and appeal.
Still, they had their chance in the local elections last May.
The house on the right of the picture, with a whimsical no-parking sign in front of it, was our old house, bought new off a very young Juan García in 1966 for the peseta equivalent of 540 euros: two apartments, upstairs and down. I stayed upstairs for the school holidays while my parents were there full-time. Downstairs, a Frenchman called Michel rented for 18 euros a month, which he could rarely afford, preferring to bring along a melon on the first of the month and then stay for dinner.
We eventually sold the place to Joan Noble (an artist type with hair died a fetching shade of blue) and she lived upstairs and rented out the downstairs to a succession of restaurants and bars. The town hall was the final buyer, buying it earlier this year for a fortune, so as to have clear title to knock it down (a figure not reflected in the latest budget for the final tally of the underground car-park).
Behind the now demolished block, is a flash of brickwork. This is the relic from the same Juan García's demolition, as mayor, of an old ruined house there which was built over a narrow street-tunnel - the famous Arco de Luciana, known in English as Lucinda's Arch. Lucy was a Mojácar girl who fell for a Christian prince who died in battle in 1488. She promptly threw herself to her death (or perhaps tripped over the entrance to the tunnel, built in around 1890). Never mind - it was pretty and attracted tourists with their cameras.
After Juan idly had it knocked down, a succession of mayors promised to replace it. Salvador, Carlos, Gabriel and Rosmari. None of them ever did - or ever will. Even - and here's a thought - by putting it somewhere else. Luciana wouldn't mind.
So, as work begins on the upper square, dooming the casco viejo to an eternity as a non-pedestrian village, the mayoress admits in a sparsely attended pleno (there were four of us), that she doesn't like the final plans for the square's embellishments either: stone sails to soar above the streets.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Food and Some Sex

At the risk of being thought a bit smutty - here's a picture of a poorly-named restaurant - or maybe 'snack-house' might be better - which adjoins onto our local knock-shop, the Hotel Argar on the outskirts (damn, I'm doing it again) of Vera.
The delightful name of this establishment, clearly readable on the photograph, means in Spanish of course 'Eat, Eat'.
But, what is on the fare this evening (after a strenuous session next door)? I don't know what you're having, but I'm winding up my meal with a brandy and, as a special treat, a piece of the tarta de la casa.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mojácar the Beautiful

Ah - the beauty of Mojácar - sadly beaten down over the years by the speculators and the ignorant, but still a place to enjoy. Here is the magnificent 'Mojácar la Vieja' mountain with an old cortijo in front. A simply stunning... no, wait, hold on... some fucking idiot has gone and painted some crap all over the ruin.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

To Horse!

That's me riding bareback on a hispano bretonés being led by Trini, a trainer from Barcelona who is here with us for a few days. Trini has brought down two of these enormous and placid horses for Barbara to work with. You'll find more about this at Barbara's site Animo where she writes about therapy horses.

Monday, September 19, 2011

For Life

It all started, innocently enough, with imitators of servicemen wearing a tattoo on their arm, while some young tourists, inspired by seeing Indian women wearing a small stud in their noses, deciding to do the same. Tattoos and piercing slowly became a queasy but moderately fashionable idea, with young men sporting a modest earring or two and – generally speaking – society’s less-attractive girls found themselves considering a small tattoo on an intimate part of their body, or a ring through their nose or, worse still, their lip. At least the ring could be removed later, probably without leaving a mark.
The first non-regulation tattoo, you might say, that I ever heard of was worn by Erna, an old Danish woman who had been in the French Resistance. She was connected to a group called Les Papillons, and she had a tattoo of that brave collective, put on I hope after the war, high on an inside leg.
Around the same time as Erna, who had merely intended to drive to Lyon but, according to her, had missed the turn-off and not possessing a reverse gear in her ancient Renault, arrived in a cloud of steam in Mojácar, another old-timer called Benjamin Rappaport bought a house here. He too had a wartime memento, this one a number tattooed on his arm in some camp by the Nazis. Later, Sammy, an American pansy, arrived in Mojácar and opened a bar. He had a few blued and faded scrawls on his arms, and in his ear, an ear-ring.
For a while, Mojácar slept in peace. There was a girl with a stud in her nose called ‘Golden Snot’ who caused a small sensation in the eighties, but, in women, piercings and ‘tramp stamps’ were rare and generally un-admired.
But here we come to it: small tattoos and moderate piercing came to the attention of trend-setters, who these days are usually either film stars or football personalities, neither group known for either their intelligence or their humility. Small and coy became large and obvious; self-mutilation became suddenly fashionable.
Tattoos feed on being evident. Their owners choose their site for their visibility, and like to wear a reduced amount of clothing to show off their vanities. Some of these will be tattoos on their neck or forehead, or heavy ear-stretchers, rendering them entirely unemployable. Others, if one is to believe the hype, will have clitoral or penile piercings leaving their friends with the uncomfortable recollection of the story of the two young lovers with dental braces who, in a simpler age, got locked together while kissing.
Some people chose messages in Arabic or Chinese to tattoo across their chest or emblazon on their neck, which may or may not say ‘peace’ in those languages. In fact, they generally say ‘cretin’. Others list their children’s names – or the names of their lovers.
A girl I know has a number of different tattoos, pictures, designs and words inked into her epidermis by a high-speed needle. They hurt, but, she says, there’s a kind of ‘high’ in getting them done. ‘You want more’, she admits.
And in every town, there’s some guy with his equipment, ready to mark you up – for better or for worse – for ever. And with him, his assistant who will pierce your tongue, neck, nose, septum, lip, breast or privates. You may get an infection, but it’ll be worth it. Brad and Angelina both have them.
So, I feel sad for the girls, who have been peer-pressured into having a small ‘thing’ tattooed on their left shoulder, denying them a chance to wear a pretty dress.
For life.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fond Memories

Going through all the boxes of photographs, we found this one of our son, Daniel, when he was little, posing with a donkey apparently called Bella. For some reason, there was always a number of animals in or around our house (we even have a lavatory still known as 'The Pig's Bathroom'): dogs, cats, tortoises, donkeys, wild boar, chameleons, horses, mules, ducks, chickens, peacocks, pigs, guinea pigs and rabbits. What with attrition, disease and the passing of the years, most of them have now moved on to their Reward.
And there comes a small fear of mine. When I, too, pass off this mortal coil to a Better Place, I can't help but imagine a misty empty field somewhere, a tree or two, perhaps the spirits of a few loved ones close to me... and then, with a drumming of mighty hooves, a hundred, a thousand critters will breast the far-off hill and run towards me, hooting, honking, barking and screeching, mostly (I hope) with a fond look in their eye as I try, against all odds, to remember their names.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Muammar Qadhafi

From the Washington Post; a full-page advert from Wednesday, October 22, 1980. For some reason, I have this stashed away. Not much to do with Spain (despite his properties in Benhavís, Marbella), but maybe of historical interest. Consider: Carter and Reagan and their times have long passed, but a dictator like Gaddafi managed to last rather a longer time (he seized power in 1969). Camping in a truly provocative way with his tent in the Downing Street and Rose gardens... and the Western rulers kissed his hand.
It's worth reading - Gaddafi makes some good points. I'm not an apologist, but doesn't his country have rather a lot of oil?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bédar 1966

Bédar is a small white village in the high hills of the Sierra de los Filabres, overlooking the wide plain of Los Gallardos, Antas and Turre which is rimmed on the other side by the concurrence of a few descending mountains, the final one covered by the white cubed houses of Mojácar, with the Mediterranean Sea beyond. Bédar was a mining village, peopled in its day by the Moors, and re-discovered by the British in the 1880s when they set about opening up a number of hills between Águilas and Bédar looking for iron, copper, silver and other minerals.

By 1966, when we drove up the dusty track to the cracked and sun-bleached village, overlooking the empty mining buildings abandoned forty years before, there was just a few people left, hanging on with some small agricultural work or merely abandoned and living on smaller pensions while their lungs slowly subsided under the ravages of emphysema.

There was just the one bar, run by Pedro, an old man with a large chin who shuffled about in his carpet slippers and spoke a few words of broken English. That first time my parents and I went up there and had lunch, a paella possibly spiced with cat, washed down by glasses of Green Fish (a popular kind of Spanish gin, made in Murcia) with warm Fanta orange. The mayor happened by and, as far as my father could make out, introduced him to his hermano who may have sold him a line of village houses for 60 pounds. ‘I’ve either bought a house off somebody called Herman,’ my father admitted to his friends in Mojácar later that day, ‘or I had a very expensive lunch in that village up there’, gesturing vaguely towards the hills.

There were a few foreigners living in Bédar at the time, including a Dutchman and his Moroccan wife. The Dutchman collared my father the next time he braved the dusty track up to the small village. ‘You don’t want to live in this place’, he said, ‘there’s this mad Dutchman who has a house here and doesn’t like Englishmen’. ‘How interesting’, said my father, ordering another round of gin, ‘and what a curious accent. Where are you from?’

An elderly British poet called John Roberts lived in a house around the back of the village, in an area known as the Gypsy Quarter, with his mother. At the time of buying his place, he had neglected to buy off all of the family owners, inheritors in equal parts from some old miner, long taken to his reward. This meant that Roberts shared his house not only with his mum, long time suffering from dementia, but with a truculent couple who weren’t clear if they were gypsies or not, but knew that they didn’t like foreigners.

Howard the American hippie lived in the surviving wing of a ruin further round to the left. He smoked dope and lived off provisions he obtained from friends close to the American Forces PX in Madrid. He certainly carried a better brand of gin in his kitchen.

A British couple, retired as I remember from a rubber plantation in Malaya, lived somewhere below Pedro’s bar. The Rawlins said that they liked the tranquillity and the views. Mr Rawlins painted this picture of the church seen from the east (our three ruined houses were just out of view on the right) and gave it to my father with the following message written on the back:

To my friend Bill Napier, on the occasion of his birthday, 20 January 1969. B.R.’

For Jack

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mojácar Editorialised

Having struggled through the highlights of the Sol Times and the Weenie, I was just preparing to leave the café when the distributor for the local Spanish freebie 'Actualidad Almanzora' showed up. Not as many pages as the other two, but at least the articles are generally interesting (and always about local issues, with no regurgitated news, waffle or tripe).
The page three opinion piece by Savaronola is always worth reading. It's a proper article rather than fifty words lifted from the Daily Mail and this issue deals with Mojácar's woeful attempt at tourism. I'm going to paraphrase his thrust below:

Mayor Jacinto started the ball rolling in the mid sixties with 'residential tourism', where people buy a house, fix it up, buy a car, kitchen goods, furniture, and then keep the local bars and shops busy the year round. This brings in continuous funds to the community and also - to stretch a point - brings in a certain amount of civic pride. The new residents want gardens, clean streets and some culture: theatre, concerts, exhibitions and so on.
But, warns Savaronola, in Mojácar, a few local people, uncultured but drowning in greed, looked for short-term profit and, having wrestled control of the town hall, they soon changed the town's direction towards apartment building (higher profits, although lower full-time occupancy), multiple 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' hotels and a savage drop in the area's reputation abroad. They got their stash ok, those few - giving Mojácar the distinction of having the highest per capita wealth in the whole of Andalucía - if rather unevenly divided, but they never bothered much with improving their knowledge and culture.
Which is why we have padel-tennis competitions, a white-elephant football stadium, hotels at 32 euros with bed and three meals in the middle of August, several dying or dead hotels reduced to hulks (Moresco for example), overflowing sewage systems vented into the sea, and a reputation across Spain for botellónes and stag night parties.
Unsurprisingly, Jacinto's dream (he got us a Parador Hotel) has been betrayed by smaller men.
The editorial compares Mojácar to some other small coastal wonders, like Positano, Capri, Portofino, La Rochelle, Dubrovnik, Santorini, Rhodes and so on, all towns where there is no 'crisis' to worry about, and laments that we were herded into a crashed and ruined Mad Max film-set instead.
So, as we continue to allow our leaders to betray us, with the casco viejo of Mojácar as the next victim, we can turn away our faces from culture, civic pride and harmony, and simply try to sell-up before the whole place collapses in shame and despondency.
When those few miserable mojaqueros, the ones who ruined this area simply to stuff their mattresses with oodles of cash, come to buy our houses and businesses at 10c in the dollar, and we are all cut loose again, where on earth will we go?

Strong stuff? You should read the original!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pizza in the Pueblo

We had dinner in the Pulcinella the other night: four adults and two small kids. Basic spaghetti and pizza. The roof-terrace was packed and business must be good. They have a chap down in the street who approaches you as you arrive in the Plaza Nueva to send you upstairs. They also have a large sign in Spanish overlooking the Square, with a second, roughly translated into English. It would more likely read: 'Presented at the European Pizza Championships' (rather than submitted by).
Like many businesses here, they may not wish to consider employing a Briton for their occasional English posters and menus, but they seem happy enough when the shoe is on the other foot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Making an Entrance

Here's the thing. When you have parked your car in the 'Campo de Fútbol', you must then walk up the Avenida de Paris to get to the centre of Mojácar. You will be sharing this narrow bit of pavement with everybody else, coming and going.
It's not quite one metre wide.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


In our small corner of enchantment, we are accustomed to occasional swells and troughs in the local population of varmints. An English-language newspaper recently mentioned the plague of flies which had swarmed out of nowhere, covering the outside in unbelievable numbers. Yet, by the time the report came out, the mass of flies had gone, returning to the usual status quo, which is a nuisance rather than a serious bother. Where did they all go to? Unlike the Chinese, who were reputedly told to kill a hundred a day, no doubt on pain of having their own wings pulled off, we manage to avoid keeping tally, relying on an aerosol spray to do the job.

I once bought a trap for flies, a plastic pack crowned with a hook and a cardboard landing area and with a small lump of damp rhinoceros shit secreted in the bowels of the package. A sure-fly success with the moscas. Within days I had about a kilo of dead and rotting flies in my swollen bag, hanging in the arbour. I had to bury the whole stinking mess at the bottom of the garden. A few grasshoppers came along to mourn.

One summer we have a plague of mosquitoes; another time – as this year – there don’t seem to be any. We may have locusts, a plague of them stripped Mojácar in 1906 causing a catastrophic famine here, or it may be a simple swelling in the population of fleas, or scorpions, or mice. This comes about either because the particular thing which eats them happens to be in a decline that year, or because the particular thing which the plague eats, happens to be in abundance. Nature will eventually balance things out, saving the environmentalists or the household bottle of insecticide the trouble. Our current problem with the palm tree beetle is that, because it comes from foreign parts, there is no local creature that likes to snack on it. Give it time.

At the moment, in our neighbourhood, we are troubled by ants. They are those little ones which like sweet things and, as we found out yesterday, they have a particular regard for Sugar Puffs. A long line of them crossed the floor of the kitchen, headed for the larder. Meanwhile, a rather more obvious line of pieces of cereal was jauntily marching along the other way, out the door and down a hole on the terrace.

We are also currently blessed with woodlice: also apparently known as ‘roly polies’. The Spanish ones are nevertheless rarely able to roll into a ball, and prefer to lie on their backs with all of their legs waving futilely in the air as they wait for someone, unknowingly, to pass by and grant them release from this vale of tears. ‘Crunch, crunch yuck!’ as one of the kids said with disgust last time we had the problem with this particularly pointless pest, around twenty-five years ago.

But plagues are always a short-term problem, controlled by the natural rhythm of the seasons. With a little patience on our part, we know that even the tourists will soon be gone and we will once again be able to enjoy our evenings without being obliged to wear some repellent.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Miguel Angel Gallery

My picture shows Félix Clemente Gerez, currently exhibiting at the Miguel Angel Gallery on Mojácar Playa, posing with visiting American artist Lynette Lombard. The exhibition continues through August 30th and is of a very high quality.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sex Talk

In a country like Spain, where there are brothels on the outskirts of most towns - large bars or hotels with names like ‘Club Los Angeles’ decorated outside with bright coloured lights, sex is no big deal. So, the girls inside might be drugged and under a 24-hour watch. They’ll have their passports kept by the brothel owners and they will have to perform a number of times a day to pay for their room. The police will not usually intercede and the city fathers – as often as not enthusiastic customers during the early evening – will turn a blind eye.

Almería is said to have over a hundred of these jolly clubs, with one of the nearest for Mojácar party-goers located on the outskirts of Vera slap-bang next to a snack bar with the rather unfortunate name of ‘Come, Come’ (it means ‘Eat, Eat’ in Spanish, nothing tawdry here. Move on people). Actually, there are some puticlubs nearer to home, usually apartments or villas hired by strange people from foreign parts, who, now and again, get arrested or deported.

The usual brothel has a number of girls floating around, in various stages of dishabille, bothering or chatting you up (you decide) as you order an overpriced drink from the waiter and nod politely at the mayor sat on the next barstool but one. In fact, many Spaniards use these larger places more for a ‘slap and tickle’ than a fully fledged ‘poke, rattle and roll’ upstairs for a reasonable price (it used to be sixty euros plus a shilling for the maid, last time I asked).

Sex used to be dodgy in the old days of Franco, although Spain has always had its cat houses and its putas. Now, of course, most of the fallen women are foreigners, particularly Romanians (the government has just taken away their rights to get any more honest work) and South Americans. Well, everybody likes something a little bit different.

We have sex workers, tarts or what have you; boys in hot pants and transvestites too; all cruising up and down the streets in certain areas, or in the town park, or on the highway. Now the Catalonians want them to wear fluorescent jackets so as not to be run over. That will be fun – makes them easier to spot, anyway.

Sex is also in evidence in shops and petrol stations, where the XXX videos are on the shelf next to the sales-clerk (and often next to a sellotaped picture of the girl with her boyfriend smiling innocently at the camera). How on earth do you sell those things, I asked the girl at the Mojácar gas station. Well, we have a number of customers who don’t want to miss any on them, she laughed.

The videos are frank and extremely self evident. ‘Let’s Fuck’ would be a rather humdrum title for one of them these days.

No one seems to mind.

We have Internet sex of all sizes, types and description, which is either viewed or not, depending on the inclination of the surfer. We have sex on TV, especially after midnight where – if the translator is working – you get to learn a lot of specialist French or Russian, and if not, your domination of the Spanish word aaarrghh improves no end. There will be adverts galore as well.

But now the bluestockings in the Government, aghast at any sexual inequality, want to put an end to all this fucking. Stage One is to pull prostitute’s adverts from the classified pages of the newspapers. Here’s the kind of thing they mean: ‘Mulata transformist, Miranda, new stunning 23cms. Loaded milk bottle. Private. Discretion. Very feminine. I dress as a woman for you…’ (culled from this week’s Weenie).

The proposal, creaking through the Govt, is to change the General Advertising Law - ‘La Ley General de Publicidad’ - to prohibit adverts ‘for sexual favours and for clubs dedicated to prostitution’ in newspapers and their digital editions, if readership is not (somehow) limited to 18 years or older.

Children, put down that paper at once – read the Beano, whydontcha!

Newspapers, of course, thrive on advertising – especially (and rather obviously) free newspapers. So this rule is going to attract some unfavourable press.

Prostitution, according to El País, is worth about 50 million euros a day in Spain. They say they get that figure from the Asociación de Clubs de Alterne. The Spanish Brotherhood of Brothel-keepers, fine people all. The same newspaper fails, unfortunately, to tell its readers how much the naughty adverts are worth to them on a daily basis, but the Euro Weekly’s Costa del Sol edition for this week has, on P.89, five small display adverts and four columns of classifieds dedicated to ‘XXX Relaxation’.

All this fuss comes from the fertile mind of the new Secretary of State for Equality, a chip of a thing called Laura Seara, who says that she is limiting the new rule to the press, but hopes to amplify it to the Internet and the TV, but ‘that will depend on Congress’.

So, is Spain going to end up like Nebraska? I hope not.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Short Drive in the Car

Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch, combined and in pantomime, appear to be a way of remembering how to cross oneself successfully. For me, they are a simple mnemonic to remember to leave the house properly equipped. As age creeps up upon me, I find I forget things. Like not doing up my flies or forgetting to brush my hair, or coming out without my glasses. However, there is nothing more irritating than driving down to the shops only to find that I had left my wallet at home. And while it is useful to know what time it is, and therefore if the shops are open or not, I depart from the list by not wearing or indeed owning a watch. One day, when they invent watches that tell us what year it is, then maybe I’ll reconsider.

So, my four stations of the cross have descended into three: zipper, not that this is really my immediate concern - unless of course I am entertaining - spectacles and wallet.

Unfortunately, a knot in a handkerchief won’t do. Firstly, because I would have to remember to carry a hankie, and secondly, because my list of vital things to remember before I leave the property turns out to be rather longer than the t, s and two double-yous mentioned above.

I need two pairs of glasses, one for reading and the other to keep the sun out of my eyes. These sun-glasses, usually originally belonging to somebody else, often tend towards being bent, scratched or hopelessly unfashionable, which explains how I ended up with them; but they are useful in the summer, especially if I find I need a short nap while talking to the vicar.

I like to carry a mobile phone. Mine has a short battery life – a couple of hours or so – and is rarely charged when I am. This makes it an optional item on my list. Keys of course: car-keys, house and that strange one on the key-ring that no one remembers where it came from. I must carry an ID, which these days, and thanks to the polizie, mean both a passport and a letter from immigration saying that they care. So much easier than the old Residents Card which I carried about with me for forty years. They’ll be making us wear a blue triangle embroidered on our shirt next thing we know.

My pockets are filling up. I’ve brushed my hair and had a pee. Shut the dogs away and checked that the door is locked. I’ve got the plastic shopping bag out of the kitchen (no sense in wasting three céntimos), turned the water off in the garden (hah!), put the chicken away in its cage, eaten its egg, checked my pockets again and added the coupon from the supermarket, a pen, a small camera… and am now ready.

But wait, I’ve forgotten where I had planned to go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recharging in Granada

Granada is such an astonishingly beautiful city. Contrasted with the City of Almería, a dump which had its only time in the sun in the early thirteenth century, Granada regains one's faith in the history and culture of Spain. It's not far from where we live, perhaps two and a half hours - supposing we don't stop in Guadix or Purullena (the troglodyte town where they sell pottery) - and it's a manageable size at something under 250,000 souls. But, what's there to see? Suffice to translate the sign above, which reads roughly as:
Give him some coins, Woman
Because there can never be in this life
Anything as hard to bear
as being without sight in Granada.
I'd leave it there, since the best thing is to rush out, now, and buy tickets (or a tank of gas) for Granada and see for yourself, only, I had one more small thing to say, and it needed a second picture.
It's this; they really do seem to care for their city. The streets are clean. Pedestrian streets are for walking around in (and not dodging cars, or having them double parked) and there is a sense of pride evident in the people there.
This is not Almería.

We stayed in the Hotel Victoria NH which is central and comfortable.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Fire, Remembered

The brush-fire that burnt 2500 hectares of land in Mojácar two years ago has now been all but forgotten. Several houses were lost, some cars blew up, many trees and gardens went in a moment, animals died and, once again, our town had got itself onto the Front Pages for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t that the Town Hall hadn’t seen the fire coming, although another fire had burnt much of next door Turre’s Cortijo Cabrera only one week previously, it was their lack of useful reaction which should have peeved the local population.

I say ‘should have’ – people here put up with a lot. There’s no room here for complainers. Not if they ever want to see a job again, at the very least. Anyhow, Mojácar is apparently the richest town per capita (if a trifle undivided) in the whole of Andalucía.

Rather than declare a ‘State of Emergency’, our Mayoress was advised to let a visit by the surprise new (and unelected) President of the Junta de Andalucía José Antonio Griñán, come to see his new possessions, turn into a political opportunity to help our local tourism rather than our locals. Griñán, carefully driven ‘the long way’ to Mojácar Playa from Turre, where the schoolchildren had been lined up to sing him something straight out of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Song-Book, missed the burnt-out hinterland of Mojácar. No soot, dead trees or the smell of charred animals for our leader, but rather a plea to help our hotels (run mainly by Catalonian businessmen and with a staff overwhelmingly drawn from Ecuador) while sipping a sherry at the Parador. Following the meeting, the Andalucian Media, which receives 200,000 euros a day of public funds in ‘institutional advertising’, was duly told to run a few adverts for Mojácar tourism.

And that was that.

Here at my home, we lost a number of trees; in fact, their dried-out trunks are still falling in the high-winds (two fell earlier this week), and a few outbuildings. The garage lost its roof and the swimming pool its pump and some of the façade. I’m not complaining – the main house survived.

A surge blew all of our electric equipment. I rang the Sevillana and was given the modern version of the ‘Act of God’ excuse, that the surge was ‘fortuito’ and therefore not their problem. Accidents are so often ‘fortuitous’ these days, don’t you think? Does anyone have a CD player, or a spare amplifier?

The water pipes burnt during the fire, but the swimming pool held enough sooty water to help with the buckets. The roots of some trees burnt for days, and a bucket of water down a smoking hole would elicit a loud steamy whoosh.

The local fauna all died. Almost all were burnt to death, including some small birds we saw, as the fire hit, that flew off with burning wings. Not an image to forget. Other animals, our lazy tree-rats, the wild tortoises, the rabbits and voles all died. The wild boar may have escaped, but there are few foxes around these days. I remember, just two days after the fire, as we were beginning the job of cleaning up the house and charred garden, hearing the hunters out with their shotguns, in case any bird might have survived the cataclysm and was unable to hide behind the naked trees. Bang. Bang.

We had seen the smoke approaching in the high wind. A police car had fired its sirens – ‘run, run now!’ and, with the dog and a single picture wrenched off the wall by the door, we had fled the scene. We had met up with some house owners in the riverbed and watched as the hill between our house and the shocked group had suddenly glowed red. We learnt afterwards that one of our neighbours was just about to get into her car to escape the fire when the vehicle abruptly exploded, burning her legs and arms. She was forced to run back inside her house as the fire, borne on an incredibly strong wind, rushed against her home and around the walls, igniting what could be burnt, leaving everything else to smoke and soot. We found our shocked neighbour later and took her to the medical centre on the beach. A dozen fire-engines arrived that afternoon and worked until late in the evening. It was good to see them. We slept on the beach and drank tea.

The President of our autonomous Region wasn’t the only person who never visited our barrio to see the fire damage. The Mayoress never came by either. Not to do anything much, but to at least look indignant and shocked as we showed her the smoking ruins. I think we could blame the first fire, which was obviously not extinguished properly, and the ‘environmentalists’ who were campaigning at the time to save the dead underbrush, as it provided cover for our local wild tortoises.

What tortoises?

We were asked to report our losses to an office on the beach, itemised and with photographic evidence. A few months later, a letter arrived from Madrid. In the event of my house being entirely and completely destroyed by some act of nature, the Government of the Nation, it said, would be pleased to extend 15,120 euros to build me a new home. Kind of them, we thought, but luckily our house survived (if a trifle scorched).

Wild fires are regular occurrences in Spain during the summer, although this was the first one in Mojácar for twenty years. It was big enough to receive some press coverage. Even our local English-language ‘newspaper’ laconically reported that a British television personality of small standing had been staying on the beach during a fire but was unharmed. Well, it’s not The News of the World…

So, two years on. The fire cost me a few hundred euros in cleaning up and hiring skips for dead branches and other material, but, as the main damage – several hundred trees destroyed, the stables and store-room contents lost, electrical goods fried and a few domestic birds killed:

Well, put that down to experience.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lunchtime Blues

There’s something queer about the food these days. You go to a restaurant to eat and half of the menu is designed for some kind of wedding feast. It’s all got fancy-dancy for some reason. Perhaps the Michelin Man is seated at table number seven. What’s wrong with ‘sat’?

In the good ol’ days, food was food. No cream doodah then, no fennel sauces or roasted swedes. Simple stuff. A salad was lettuce, sliced onions and tomatoes with a heavy and oily aliño; now it’s got enough different kind of vegetables rattling around the plate to make a rabbit blanch. The main course used to be a plate of what one hoped were mutton chops (or were they perhaps goat?) or slices of pork (known collectively in our area by the foreign contingent as ‘crotchmeat’) or perhaps a plate of chicken knuckles with chips.

How to prepare chicken knuckles. Take one chicken, have at it with an axe, then drop result into a sartén with plenty of oil and garlic. Fry to taste. Riquísimo.

All the best crotcheramas (as we called them) could manage this simple fare, and with a bottle of really quite nasty wine, the whole thing, plus pan, came to around sixty Pesetas a head. Now, what’s wrong with that?

There was no menu and no price list. If you didn’t know what you wanted, or couldn’t understand the waiter, you wandered into the kitchen and pointed.

In those days, if we wanted a decent roast, we’d have to drive to the nearest butcher. He was a blood-spattered German trading six hours down the coast in the Calle San Miguel, Torremolinos’ high street. We’d fill up the plastic freezer box, spend the night on the piss, and head home the following day.

The twenty or so who made up the foreign community in the village in those days would be waiting for us on our doorstep when we returned. One of them was a retired air vice-marshal with a plummy accent called ‘Tabs’. My parents had left the door ajar one particular evening and had gone round the corner to the first and only foreign bar for a nip while the roast roasted. Tabs, on his way up the hill for a pink gin, smelt the rich smell of the roast waftin’ on the evening air and stopped by the house to invite himself to dinner. He went in and found no one around, so he checked inside the oven – as one does - to have a look at his potential dinner. Satisfied, he carried on to the pub for a large one and to obtain an invitation from my mother, in which he was successful.

Now our oven was one of those old Butano three burner ones with a lid and a slight wobble. When the hungry party returned an hour later to check on the roast’s progress my mother found that Tabs’ tour of inspection had, by briefly opening the oven door, put out the gas. Tabs later recalled that ‘no one had ever talked to him like that before’.

The milk in those days was undrinkable. It came in two litre glass bottles with a thin neck. There was a slightly blue cast to it due to the fact that the manufacturer had substituted the cream for pork grease and added formaldehyde to keep it stable. This baby could sit in the sun all day. Tea, if we could get it, came in teabags brought out from England loose in people’s luggage, wrapped around the socks. Eggs and chips were the standby at home, and cocido in the restaurant in the square. Tabs would insist on the plates being warmed, without much success from the kitchen-wallah, so he would usually place his plate under his shirt for a few minutes to do the job. ‘Under trying circumstances’, he would say, ‘one tries to keep up appearances’.

Another dish of the time remains to this day a favourite of mine, although it is now extremely hard to find. You see, it’s too cheap. This is ‘Huevos a la Flamenca’, a small earthen dish with ham or some kind of donkey-sausage served with peas, peppers and a fried egg. The whole, cooked in tomato paste. I happened across one the other day outside Granada: delicious!

Food, back in those days, was scarce and no one was going to mess around with sauces. Actually, come to think of it, it may have been because you couldn’t get cream. Eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, salchichón, chicken and pork was about your lot. The local grocers, known in a gesture of Spanglish relations as ‘The Foodings’, had a few tins on the shelves plus ‘Spanish’ bread, truly awful chocolate, some rather nasty looking sardines and a rack of wine in returnable bottles (two Pesetas back). They’ve still got the chocolate. Credit was extended to favoured customers; a dried lima bean went into your jar for each Duro owed. This system was eventually overturned – literally – by an escaped chicken that broke into the store one night. Reportedly, it ate most of the evidence.

Tapas, even more than today, were the solution. You used to get a bloody good tapa in Andalucia with your quinto or your tinto. A piece of magra, lean pork, with some chips and bread. Two fried cordoñíz eggs on toast. A ham, cheese and alioli cherigan. A small plate of whitebait... a fat chunk of tortilla de guisantes... home made potato crisps (when was the last time?)... a few of those would set you up nicely.

So these days it’s all la-di-dah. The menu’s in English (and Spanish, and French, and Italian, and German...), the food is all poncy, the wine list is exhaustive (and exorbitant), the postres all come from those fine people at Frigo and, worst of all, You Can’t Get Huevos A La Flamenca.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Requiem for Dr Galindo

We have a village doctor called Dr Galindo. He is the old-style kind of doctor who looks after his patients. He may be on the ball with the latest developments in medicine or not: it doesn't matter, because he's a good man with knowledge and understanding.
Like the famous and much-loved Don Diego who died earlier this year after looking out for Mojácar for a lifetime.
Last year, word came that Galindo was being moved by the Servicio Andaluz de Salud and that a new doctor was to take over. We started a petition to keep Galindo and got 800 signatures. We passed them on to the mayoress who said she would see what she could do. But, as always, far-away paper-pushers triumphed and the new doctor, straight out of school, duly arrived to take over. She was very young and insecure, and would often send her patients on to specialists at the Huercal Overa hospital.
Everyone wanted Galindo back.
So, word came that he was at the Centro Médico on the beach. My wife, who has been ill for a long time, decided to 'change' to the beach to continue with Galindo's treatment.
Then, just after registering down there, we were informed that the young woman had given up in the village and that Galindo had returned... to be there for at least a year. However, despite the strength of our petition and rules that you can choose your doctor, my wife was told that she would have to stay on the beach for a minimum of three months before she could return to the village.
We can't afford 'private insurance' any more, after being stiffed by some fraudsters a few years ago, so a good doctor who understands B's condition is important.
So today, we passed by the village centre. Can we see the doctor? No, you are registered on the beach and anyway, he isn't here any more. We now have a new medic.
So, where's Galindo?
We aren't allowed to tell you that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Politics Killed the Goose

Those of us who wanted, voted on Sunday in our local town. The local people voted with trepidation, since a vote for the wrong party-leader will mean four years without any projects, work or favours for them or their families. The non-locals - those who were on the voting-list - voted with enthusiasm or with hesitancy; they voted with conviction or they voted doubtfully and, from those who were sent home to get their passports, they voted with a dash of anger. Some thought they could vote, only to find they couldn't. Others, as usual, didn't bother to come along at all.
Our town is an exceptional and beautiful place ruined by thirty years of 'democratic' elections, where mayors and their teams have exploited the pueblo for their own ends, turning Mojácar from a moribund municipality in the 1950s with less than 600 inhabitants to the richest town per capita in the entire region of Andalucía only fifty years later.
Not that the wealth is very evenly spread.
The Town Hall, unlike any other I've ever visited, has no photographic memorial to past administrations. No oil paintings of previous mayors. In fact, I can understand their point - since Jacinto Alarcón, the old mayor who famously 'gave away' properties to outsiders in the early sixties, there's been no one in the Town Hall worth honouring. Here, it's all about greed. We may have the highest proportion of misers in Spain, I don't know: no one has made a study. Our wealthy local class certainly doesn't spread it around. You won't see any privately funded public buildings or even a park bench with a brass plaque on it, donations from the Rich and the Good. Here, the various multimillionaires (some of whom whimsically claim to be socialists) keep their money safe and unspent. Mojácar is to be sacked and despoiled. It's the rule.
In our town, there have been a long list of cynical projects designed to mine the public purse, from useless and ill-considered buildings to pointless stadia. Many having already fulfilled their purpose before the first brick was laid. Much of our town has been knocked flat, in exchange for poorly designed monstrosities which, in these straightened times, are hard to sell or rent. On the beach, vast numbers of small noddy houses and minuscule apartments lie empty: you make more money per metre on petite dwellings than larger homes, you make nothing on parking lots or wider roads.
During those fifty years of massive growth, Mojácar inevitably watered down its local population of lordlings. While many returned from their uncomfortable exiles in other lands, attracted by the new wealth flowing into their pueblo, and considering their bits of land and properties, inevitably a new type of settler was filling up the town, the 'forasteros': the outsiders.
These were divided into the not-from-around-here Spaniards (who knew the ropes), the rich foreigners with rights (the northern Europeans), the poor foreigners with rights (i.e. los rumanos) and the poor foreigners without rights (the sudamericanos).
Some of us having, since 1999, the vote. Although, Spain being Spain, we had to ask for it. In triplicate.
In our town, the forasteros knew that they were here because it was a great place to live, better than wherever it was we came from. We were dismayed by change, by poor planning and by being exploited by the locals, secure in their power. We were more than them, yet we remained without any say in the future of our community. We were divided, tricked and unloved. The rents were raised as the customers fell: and no local person would drink in our bars or buy from our shops.
So now, despite its wealth, Mojácar is once again dying. There's no enthusiasm or poetry left here anymore. Everything is for sale. There's little reason to try and keep the dream alive. The forasteros must leave. Without us, there will be no work, no income, no community. And thanks to our 'hosts', there won't even be much to remember us by. Like the Visigoths, we shall soon be forgotten.
In a few years from now, even the local people will have to board up their properties and move away, once again, to Hamburg and Lyons in search of work. We need another Jacinto, not a RosMari.