Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Sober, for a Month

'Being sober on a bus is, like, totally different than being drunk on a bus'.
Ozzy Osbourne

I haven't had a drink since last September, well, this September if you want to split hairs. Because you see, it's the ghastly month of Sober October once again. I am sitting here wondering if a cerveza sin alcohol counts against the rule of zero booze! It may do, so I stick instead to a soft lemony drink from Lidl that I call Sucedáneo de Acuarius

In its favour, it's cheap. 

There's a jar of smoked herring in the fridge, the rollmops that the Norwegians do so well. I found it in the local shop yesterday and brought it home. But how do you have a rollmop-session without vodka? Huh?  A glass of goat's milk just doesn't cut it.

Sober October is an excuse to give the liver a rest. I once managed a whole year off the booze, following an attack of jaundice in Guatemala. The local curandero told me to keep away from the grog if I didn't want to keel over, so there it was. In those days, I could always smoke weed to keep me going, but I gave that up, along with terbaccy, much to the relief of my tubes, these many years ago. 

A WhatsApp friend has sent me an article which says that,despite the assurances of Spain's best and brightest advertising executives, booze - even in small quantities - is bad for you. Taking a glass of wine with your pork chop will not help your heart manage to keep the beat. But, can you cook with wine, does that count? How about a custard trifle with a spot of sherry in the jelly? No? I thought not. Not that I intend to stay on the wagon a moment past Halloween. I have a hankering for a real beer or two.

My parents, along with most of the foreign population of Mojácar back in the 'early days' (before it became bourgeois), were heavy drinkers - brandy for breakfast types. They all died young: inebriated and cheerful, and leaving a sizable bar bill between them. This experience kept me generally wary of the hard stuff, and I rarely drink anything strong (rollmops and vodka excepted). 

Perhaps the new campaigns on the TV for low-alcohol whisky and gin are aimed at people like me. Have you seen them? Drink Beefeater 20%, it'll make you feel good. The advert is legal because - apparently - there's a strength limit on advertising booze. Of course, the advert is to persuade people to drink the proper stuff, not the gnat's-piss version. It's a bit like non-alcoholic beer - what's the fun in that?  

I have a count-down next to the bed. Every day I cross off another number on the calendar, working my way slowly down. Will I have lost any weight after a month on the soda-pop? I shall let you know.


Somebody commented on this elsewhere:  'Interesting, although I always go by the mantra "if you give up booze, it doesn't make you live longer, it just seems like it"'

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Our Place in the Stats

Facts Don't Lie 

It's my pleasure here to write what I want, when I want. No advertiser tells me what to put and I don't produce a mishmash of rubbish culled from the Daily Express, the Sun and the local Spanish daily, shuffled into a bland and clueless mess. 

Unlike other blogs, this one is written by me. It's free, independent and sometimes moderately amusing. There is no limit to space or time on this blog, but there are also no puzzles. Nor crosswords. Nor pro-Brexiteer far-right comment on the UK for that matter. Here, I stick to the subject suggested in the title: Spain.

I also rarely use the word 'woke' (not sure what it means, really).

The result? Huge numbers of visitors!


From Blogs-R-US here:

Spanish Shilling  daily visits     10

All other blogs daily visits        * 5

*Excluding readers from Pakistan and Cornwall

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Food and Drink en España

 There's a mental gauge commonly employed by the British, who are used to their own starchy cooking, on Spanish food - as to how edible might it be. It starts at the bottom with chicken and chips and ends in the stratosphere with something like calf's brains or entrails of some description. Squid in its own ink, maybe. Most of us work our way up to around the three quarters mark, with some surprising and agreeable results. 

Only a courageous few of us will ever try the bull's testicles.

Towards the middle of my own standard of the Spanish cuisine, comes the leg of a young goat cooked in a rich sauce, or the blood sausage known as morcilla. I'm told there's not much blood in the morcilla - just enough to give it some taste.

I was drinking one evening with some low Spanish friends who persuaded me to try the morcilla, and I found it - to my surprise - to be very good. I can now even eat it sober. Encouraged, they then offered me a piece from an innocent-sounding tortilla de sacromonte (which I knew to be a beef brains omelette). Eww

The things one does when one's drunk.

There are one or two things towards the high-end on my gauge which I don't like at all - those little baby eels (angulas) that one is meant to eat with a wooden spoon. Chicken livers (although, turned into paté and relaxed a bit, I suppose that they aren't so bad). Partridge en escabeche, a kind of vinegary sauce popular with hunters and (less so) with their patient families, peppered as they are with bits of lead pellet from the shotgun blast distributed unevenly among the slivers of breast.

My dad used to want to clear the house every now and again. He would put an operatic record on in the sitting room and then fry up some kidneys. Between the ghastly noise and the foul smell, we would quickly agree to leave him in peace for a time. 

Back to the blood sausage - my wife Alicia tells me that at the matanza, the pig-killing, they boil up an entire sack of onions, mix it with a slew of spices and some minced pig, and them wash it sparingly with blood. Too much blood, apparently, makes it go hard. 

Having explained the wonders of the traditionally abrupt demise of the family pig, she moved to the subject of goats. We should get a baby one and then feed it up to be milked every day (by whom?). We would go and talk with the shepherd who lives just down the road together with his large and scruffy flock. The plan was that I should drink goats' milk. Perhaps build me up, I don't know. 

While the goat itself - at least a young one - is more or less edible, and its cheese is first-rate, I've never been able to bring myself to quaff a glass of goats' milk. I somehow imagine it's full of bits of stringy hair. 

There's currently a brick of it in the fridge, unopened, and waiting for my attention. Me, I'm waiting for the expiry date to come around, so I can say - well, I had to throw it away, it would have been off.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Tapas with the Police

Working hard at the stables - there are always extra jobs need doing beyond the thrice-daily watering and feeding - we were pleased to be invited by a client's parents to the opening of their new bar in downtown Almería. 

One thing and another - a sick horse and a lorry-load of hay -  and we were a day late. 

This afternoon, we dropped by the bar which has the intriguing name of K9, suggesting both dogs and the Boys in Blue - not a bad idea since it's located in front of the city's police station. We found they had a table waiting for us. The other table, in reality five tables pulled together, was for a large party due to arrive imminently. 

The bar soon filled with policemen, in special Policía Nacional tee-shirts. Cadets, maybe. We weren't sure whether to feel very safe with the twenty or so cops sitting down beside us, or perhaps a little nervous instead. A looky looky man was the next person through the door. His expression as he took in the company was almost worth the visit.

We were served tapas and drinks. Almería is famous for its tapas, and any three of them are enough for a full meal. Turkey meat balls, patatas bravas and a yummy shrimpy thing. The owner then sent over a tray of home-made sweet puddings and I almost went into a sugar narcolepsy (never a good thing in front of The Law). I asked about the K9 deal and he told me that he used to be a member of the police canine squad.

A nice change from home, and no washing up to do...

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

If You Want to be Appy for the Rest of Your Life

Events in far-away Afghanistan are disturbing: an old-fashioned cult of fundamentalists, who are against women, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuals, schools, miniskirts and democracy, have taken over the whole country in just a week. 

It makes one think - could the Vox (a fundamentalist group with a similar ideology, tidied up a bit for those nostalgic for Franco) do the same thing here in Spain?

No one appears to have been prepared, which is profoundly odd. It certainly caught-out those who think that a sling-shot isn't as powerful as a bomb, or that a Book can be beaten by Western Thought. Presumably, the Afghans knew that the allies were pulling out and that the Taliban would take over. Apart, or course, from the huge majority of people who live in the country and, as always, didn't have a clue. I don't suppose they have the Internet or the Pashtun equivalent of The Daily Express in Chaghcharan. Perhaps they thought it would be a good thing anyway - their own destiny rather than that of some gum-chewing invaders. Isn't life odd. 

But there are still chores that must be done: the animals need to be fed, the women stoned and the crops watered (and in the Afghani case, turned into opium).  

Such were my thoughts yesterday as I picked a large and amiable country-rat out of the chicken-feed and sent him on his way. Luckily my wife doesn't read my stuff - she doesn't speak English - so the rat has some more days of fun and toil to look forward to before we must put out the poison. 

The chickens had managed half-a-dozen eggs between them since the day before. Unfortunately, I have become a little tired of eating eggs over the past month of holidays and our riding-classes (and egg-buyers) are still a week off. 

Needless to say, horses don't have holidays.

One of the tasks before us - as of yesterday - was to acquire a new bombproof pony for our younger riders. We have a school located just outside Almería City catering to riders of all sizes, prices on request. So, we took the car out of the garage, washed the dust off it, and headed off to a village in Granada where the Duke of Wellington has a major estate - the gift of a Grateful Nation following the Napoleonic Invasion. 

Perhaps the Taliban will give Donald Trump a chunk of land for him to build a mansion on and to be be quietly exiled to - for services rendered.   

Driving up from the coast, we passed the frontier pueblo of Fiñana on our right. Fiñana is a sad place. It has a population of around 2,000 souls (it was 5,000 a generation ago). The citizens spend their time, whenever they find themselves near a window, looking out at some 120 gigantic aerogenerators - those giant windmills that spin all day (and perversely wink either red or white lights all night). These generators bring electricity. I read that one of them can power 500 homes. There are currently nineteen of these parks in Almería. Just crossing into Granada - the first time we've been out of Almería in over two years - we saw a second enormous clutch of 130 more of the windmills located on that enormous plane south of Guadix.

So why is Spain's electricity so expensive with all these machines that can reach up to 100 metres in height working on the free energy provided by the wind? Huh? Would the Taliban or Vox approve? Shouldn't we be using candles?

After getting to Granada, we were obliged to rely on another example of modern tech, in the shape of a rolling map on the mobile phone which would, we hoped, bring us to our destination: a small farm in the hills some 20kms beyond the city. 

As we arrived, a small boy was heading off - at some speed - down the road on the back of a pony. On his return, we saw the animal for the first time. Beautiful, said Alicia. Ugly as hell, I mumbled into my mask. 

Granddad tottered out and said the boy had grown and now needed a horse. We duly crossed his withered palm with silver.

So now we must return in a couple of days with the trailer to pick up our new friend, who will no longer be called Manolito, but will now answer instead to Appy. 

I can only hope my friend the rat approves. 


Monday, July 12, 2021

Driving School

I found my first driving-licence the other day, in a box in the room that passes for an attic in our house with a flat roof. It was green and came from Nevada. I had bought it off a fellow called Fat Freddy for 100 pesetas when I was 14. The great thing about Nevada driving licences in those far-off days was that they didn’t have a photograph (as didn’t the Belgian ones apparently). All one needed for the driving licence to be an unqualified success was a typewriter and a steady hand.

My next one, four years later and now eighteen, I got from our local city of Huercal Overa. Don’t worry – despite its odd-sounding name, it’s in Almería.

To earn the licence (sixty pesetas plus driving school), I had to go through the tedious formality of learning to drive. My dad had a Renault 4 furnished with that interesting push-pull Gallic gear-stick and in this I took my first lessons. Sammy, a very camp bartender, was delegated to give me classes, or rather, tips on driving. But first, I had to teach him how the gear-lever worked. If you don’t know it, it’s a bit like stirring a bowl of lumpy soup with an umbrella.

Sammy taught me that, if it looks like you are going to crash into someone, then accelerate. That way, you’ll hit them harder that they’ll hit you.

Following these basics, I then went to driving school with a fellow called Casanova. He wasn’t such a big hit as his namesake (at least, in Sammy’s opinion), but at least he kept his hands to himself. I was now practicing with a Seat 600, which is about the size of a loose-fitting suit.  

A line was penciled in under the rear right window, used for reversing into a parking space. One simply had to turn the wheel sharply after passing the bumper of what would be the car in front.

I’ve always tended to park about a metre away from the verge thanks to this piece of basic training.

After studying the book they sell you and taking notes, and following a thumbs up from Casanova himself, the great day for the test arrived. Two elderly nuns and I were called to take turns to navigate the streets of Huercal Overa.

I was told that I could take the written test in English, which I did. They then said that there was a small problem, as they didn’t have the answers, and could I now take it in Spanish. I think the embarrassment may have helped them to allow me to pass on my first attempt. The two nuns? Failed dismally, poor things.

I’ve given a few lessons myself. A couple of years ago, in an old Mercedes driving though the river-bed, to three deaf friends of my daughter. My sign-language is still at a spelling-out-a-word stage, so telling them to S-T-O-P was a laborious affair indeed.   

My most recent classes were to teach my Spanish step-son, who was flunking at school in English. I thought, as we raced around the parking lot, I’ll just speak to him in English while we do this. Remembering Sammy, I taught him the two ways to stop: (‘press the brake firmly, or head for the nearest tree’) and reminded him of the one cardinal rule in driving in Spain:

Everyone else on the road is a complete idiot.


Monday, June 21, 2021

Expensive things, road taxes

Cars are fun and we all wanted to get a driving licence and behind the wheel as young’uns. Vroom vroom. They are useful for getting about, racing, picking up girls, doing the shopping, racing, speeding and racing.

They cost a lot to buy (unless your parents shelled out) and they are expensive to maintain. Then comes the taxes on them. There’s the garage tax, the petrol tax, the road tax, the wretched ITV and its associate taxes, the motorway tolls, the insurance and the fines for parking in the wrong place or speeding at the wrong moment.

Then there are the fines for driving drunk, or with a phone somewhere near to your ear, or for sticking your elbow out of the window when a traffic cop is low on his monthly quota.

Now Brussels wants Spain, which has been getting rid of its toll roads, to start charging for all and any motorway usage by 2024: to help finance their upkeep, apparently. The argument is that, those who use them should pay for them.

Currently, the State receives, between car and petrol taxes, plus the IVA placed on them, 30,888 million euros a year. Plus the fines collected by the insufferable DGT – 374 million euros. Plus what the ayuntamientos get.

Another calculation gives the sum that is spent by the government on roads – building and maintenance – at a rather smaller 2,800 million euros.

Why, that’s not even 10%!

And now they want us to pay for the road-upkeep (the fifteen kilometres on the autovía between Los Gallardos and Venta del Pobre in Almería have been mangled and potholed now for several years, if anyone’s asking)! Something called the Acex – the association of road operators – thinks that 5 cents per kilometre should do it.

Cars are fun, but they are expensive. It’s a great saving to live without one (and hitch a ride from the neighbour).

The long-term future for car-ownership is doubtful. Within a generation from now, they’ll all likely be public-owned (or more likely Amazon-owned) driverless cars which run on a credit-card. Luckily, for the dare-devils, there’ll still be those electric scooters (patinetes) available from the better shops, although now you will have to wear a crash-helmet while trundling along on one at a top-speed of 25kph.