Friday, December 03, 2021

Whatever Happened to The Schrödingers?

 I suppose we all know where we stand when we come from the same village. We went to school together, grew up together, had the same football team, priest and accent. We slept with each others sisters (or attempted to) and then, By Gum, we married 'em. 

As we got older we worked the fields together, or opened a bar, or tearfully waved our hankies as one of us went off to Germany to seek his fortune. We bought a television and laughed at the same show; we got older still, sold an old farmhouse to an English family; and finally we died. Our companions went to the mass to see us off and that was that. If somebody remembers to pay for it, there'll be a photograph of us with our donkey or maybe our taxi glued to the funeral stone in the cemetery. 

Now, the extranjeros of course are different. We all came from somewhere else and mostly never knew anyone before we met up here. We could even, if we wished, rewrite bits of our past - not that any true expat would ever ask, or at least, listen to our story. There can, after all, be only so-many generals on the retired list. 

We are older, too. If the average villager is 37, then we are some twenty years their senior, and with poor dietary decisions and too much booze, we will quickly shoot to the top of the queue on the village Sick List. 

The cemetery that serves the village where I live, in a country not my own, is full of fellow Brits. Some of them have bits of English-as-she-is-wrote on the stones, things like 'My Hisband Bernie' and 'We Shall Met Again'. It doesn't matter so much, until you find that they've carved the marble to remember 'Brian' for eternity as 'Brain'. 

One thing though, we know what happened to the villagers, as well as to Bernie, Brain and the rest of us. All except for those who, for one reason or another, disappeared out of our routines. Some were the life and soul of the party, then abruptly went back to Where-ever-it-was that they came from, leaving behind them little more than some memories and a modest bar-bill. Somebody else, of course, quickly took their place.

And we wondered, as we went through the old photographs, what ever happened to Bertha and John, or Gitte, or the drunken Mrs Porridge? 

I suppose that it has become easier, in certain cases, with social media - I learned today of one poor chap who spent time here in our village in Spain and died this weekend in London of some horrible disease. But what of Erna who was a dancer and could still do the splits at eighty? She had come to us 'in her liddle car', because she said, she was heading for Austria but couldn't find the reverse gear. Some family was eventually dispatched from Copenhagen to take her home. But then what became of her...? 

The question is this: can you mourn someone when you don't know if they are dead? 

Now and again, a box arrives with the ashes of someone, who, last time you saw them, was singing something blue in the café down past the bank. He'd gone back to his country (he never did trust foreign doctors), no doubt was attended to by a doctor with a suspicious accent in his own national health service, and - well, the long and short of it - he wanted his ashes to be scattered in Spain. Anyway, the customs have him now and I wonder - does anyone have a spare fifty euros?

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Olive Weekend

I had spent Thursday and Friday with my daughter and family, who live an hour down the motorway, celebrating first Thanksgiving (where one eats too much) followed the next day by my birthday (where one’s interests traditionally turn to drink). Coming into the weekend, and now safely home, I found myself in bed feeling dopey and with a lungy cough. My goodness! With fears of Covid, no one came close to see how I was doing. The best I got was a brief call from below. ‘You all right up there?’ 

They probably thought I was in the final agony of the virus and that their next sight of me would be a gloomy corpse staggering down the stairs and shouting 'brains!' 

Luckily I slept most of the time and had practically nothing to drink or eat except for a box of chocolates I had been planning to give to someone for Christmas.

There was no high-temperature as far as I could tell, but I suffered from lethargy and while not sleeping or dozing, I found reading to be too much of a bother.

I’ve had all my shots: corona and ’flu, so it could have been anything. In the old days, they’d have called it a ‘dreaded lurgy’.

By an agreeable coincidence, I missed the three days of intensive olive-picking down on the farm and, as I was house-bound on Tuesday, I also didn’t have to lug them down to the almazara for them to be turned into oil.

Think of it as a belated birthday present.

                                Just kidding, they got me on the second harvest. 😀


Sunday, November 21, 2021

Brexpat Day

It’s time that those of us who are British by birth (or passport) and have the good fortune to live in Spain, with papers allowing us to stay, wounded perhaps peripherally by Brexit (we suddenly went from second-class citizens of Spain to third class-residents of Europe, with the appropriate strictures that have been thrust upon us), should celebrate.

The tourist season (why do they call it that, if one is not allowed to shoot them?) is over for another six months or so, and we have the cooling beaches and emptied restaurants to ourselves. We need no longer need to queue to get into the health clinics and the bar-staff will once again greet us enthusiastically by name and, if there’s a karaoke, will even let us sing ‘My Way’ twice in a single evening.

Many of our brothers have fallen by the wayside in this heroic struggle between Europe and Stupidity. Those without the correct paperwork must now resign themselves to shortened visits to Shangri-La to avoid the British winter, and even entertain the possibility of having to sell their villa to a German or (irony alert), a Pole.

Other Brits have found that imports from the UK are a disaster, with even a Christmas card taking several weeks and being steamed open by the zealous Spanish aduana, before charging the mortified recipient a fortune for the time wasted.

We can’t vote in European elections any more, but then, which Spanish candidate ever did anything in Brussels – or elsewhere else for that matter - for the expats?

So, battered and bruised yet oddly triumphant, we British expats can now celebrate being able to stay here without many bothersome issues to worry us. We may not be immigrants (how many of us have taken out Spanish nationality?), yet we have – in our muddling way – won the ring.

There is, as any Spaniard will tell you, no time like the present, so I suggest that we invite the skeleton crew over from the British Government in Exile (it’s in the apartment upstairs from the English library), because Thursday, (Thanksgiving Day for the Americans) is upon us, and anyway, I’ve already ordered the turkey.

From this year onward, we who survived the horrors of Brexit must never forget: Brexpat Day – turkey, baked beans and a nice cup of tea.

Won’t you join us?


Sunday, November 07, 2021

Taking a Few Steps

I was reading one of those noble and irritatingly pious posts that often seem to pop up on Facebook, tenderly placed there by someone who, while short on original ideas, nevertheless feels the urge to receive a small number of 'likes' each morning with his breakfast cereal.

The subject was the number of steps one should profitably make during one's day to ward off heart-attacks, gout and boils on the ankles. This number, says those who know, is 8,000. Eight thousand steps, count 'em: one, two, three... and continue. 

I have a cheap mobile phone among my possessions. It has a direct link to Facebook so that I too can post those occasional inconsequentialities that catch one's attention, along with the kitty pictures.  The phone is of the Chinese persuasion (and none the worse for that) and it comes with a number of useless apps, like a direct link to Amazon (for Goodness' sake) and an alarm clock.

It also has a tiny bean-counter within, which counts the number of steps I make daily, saving me the trouble of doing so myself. It errs on the side of caution and reckons I need to manage at least ten thousand shuffles during my active hours rather than the eight thousand recommended by American doctors, or perhaps it's just that the orientals take shorter steps. 

In reality, while this is useful information indeed - after all, one doesn't want to keel over while one is raiding the fridge - this service only works when the phone is nestling in one's pocket. 

I have found myself more than once walking back to the house to get the phone - not because someone might be calling (I'm retired, and no one calls me any more) - but to allow it to rejoin the count. Plus the steps it evidently missed.

Now, with time on my hands and an empty day to face, it's a wonder indeed that I generally clock up as much as 16,000 paces. My empty day begins as the day-light begins to arrive through the bedroom window (which is why I don't need an alarm clock). I have learned to ignore most of the farm animals, who start their early morning bellow round about 4am, just as I am settling back into bed after the second nocturnal trip to the lavatory. But the dog gets going at dawn, with an endless series of high-pitched yips. She is locked in with the horses and she also needs a pee.

Since I'm soon there - it's around 200 paces away - I also water the horses (there are 35 of them), feed the chickens, the rabbit and the ducks. Then I help Alicia with the feed, the repairs and the usual chores of an active stables. Horses drink a lot, and so I must fill their buckets three times a day.    

The phone doesn't care how I get my paces done. I thought that I could perhaps put the phone into a saddle-pocket and let the students pattering around the ring all day help put my score up to stratospheric levels, which could impress the lower echelons of the Chinese Secret Service as they closely monitor my activities through the ether. I could be increasing my count while sitting in the kitchen and eating a sandwich.

Of course, I'm fooling no one but myself with these inventions. I think I'll take the dog (and the phone) and walk into the pueblo and have a beer and a tapa, maybe see how I'm doing. 

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.