Thursday, September 14, 2023

A Short Break in Foreign Parts

 Well, there's an experience: I’ve just been to the UK for a few days.

Since almost everyone who reads my Business over Tapas (a weekly review of Spanish news) will know the United Kingdom better than I do with my modest current score of just thirty days there in the last forty years, there’s probably not much I can add about the place, beyond noting that I never saw a single electric scooter in the local towns and villages in West Sussex - although I did notice that there are lots of expensive cars around, if not enough road for them all to share. I spent much of our time with my host on the country lanes stuck in long and tedious traffic jams.

That’s Conservatism for you, I thought. A fancy car in a queue.

I was staying in a place near Chichester: a genteel sea-village with a pebbled beach and a few fishermen dotted about selling dressed crab, and where some batty old dear knits woolen cosies and puts them on the lids of the letter boxes. To keep them warm, I suppose. The photograph of me posting a letter into one of these wholesome treasures unfortunately didn’t come out (due to the ill-placing of my chum’s thumb).

I did, however, pick up a joke:

A high court judge and his wife are returning from a very jolly dinner-party when they are stopped by the police.

‘Who are you, sir, and where are you from?’

‘I’m a high-court judge and I’m from Bognor’ said that worthy gentleman.

The policeman let them continue on their way.

‘But darling, we live in Chichester’ said his wife.

‘I know’, he answered, ‘but try and say that when you’re pissed’.

My old school friend and I had some distant memories to recall, a few local sites to explore, a decent curry to enjoy and a pint or two of local brew to quaff. Apparently, they hadn’t had any summer this year until I showed up. I expect they were glad to see me arrive. The temperature was high and the sky was sunny the five days I was there, but now it’s gone back to overcast with a chance of hail.

There are things about Blighty, you know, that never change.

Some travellers – the non-aggressive British word for gypsies, and I believe that’s now out-of-date as well – were occupying a field by the beach in the village and the local bars had all promptly closed with ‘gas-leaks’ and other tiresome issues, no doubt to remain firmly shuttered until the group had been moved on to pastures new by the local constabulary.  

They do like their doggies, the Brits. We had a meal in a Turkish tapa-bar (sic!), with the next table’s two customers in charge of no less than three dogs, the table behind with two more dogs and another table nearby with yet another pooch. All fulsomely excited, as only the canine-race can be, to meet new friends.

That wouldn’t happen in Spain – but then I suppose, neither would a Turkish tapa-bar.  

Of course, I had a good time munching pork pies and once a scotch egg in an otherwise rather boring art museum and, now returned home and suitably refreshed, I’m quite ready for una caña de cerveza and a decent tapa.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

The Pueblo Home

 During the fiesta in the small pueblo of Tahal in Almería, which falls in the early part of October, many local people who have moved away over the years to the City in search of jobs, wealth, comforts, distraction and a decent restaurant will return to the family home for a few days. They will be a bit better dressed, probably not wearing those ubiquitous carpet slippers, and will politely park their Mercedes down near the fountain to not unduly upset the locals with their old Renaults.

The pueblerinos will feel a little uncomfortable by their richer cousins but then they will reflect that – Bueno, they’ll soon be gone once again.

And so it is. Those villages more than an hour away from nowhere will have a small population, but a far larger number of maintained homes. The folk who moved to the city will keep an eye on the old property, fix the roof maybe, put in a proper cooker and a TV, and will visit once or twice a year (probably bring a hamper with them). There will be no tourism and the shop, if there is one, will be in the back of the bar. A van will regularly drive up the hill and honk its horn – the fish-man is here!

These villages are technically moribund, and there should be houses for sale there for those who crave a quiet and lonely life.

But few people want to buy, and the villages stay quiet – except for the annual fiesta with its enthusiastic band, its tin bar with tapas and draft beer set up in the square and the fireworks to round things off.

Those in the City will tell you of their home in the pueblo and enthuse about the tomates or the higos which can be found there.

The prettier pueblos nearer to the coast may count on foreigners buying property there, but again won’t see much tourism. A couple of shops and a bar or two, but most of the remaining Spanish population will be living on pensions.

Other pueblos, happily located nearer to Civilization, will have become dormer-towns and Goodness knows, they might have become perhaps a little funky over the years, but they’ll be full nonetheless.  

The Covid evidently brought about a modest renaissance in the pueblos, after all no one wants to get sick and if one owns a place to keep one’s head down, then why not – but that’s over with for now. Maybe, to extend that thought, they’ve been joined – in the harder to reach ones – by a few survivalists turning their backs on modern life.

But when you can’t get decent coverage on your Internet, then being a hermit begins to lose its shine.  

Friday, September 01, 2023

The Snails of Palomares (reworked)


A USAF B52 was taking on fuel from a flying tanker somewhere over Vera (Almería) on January 21st 1966 when something went wrong – the two aircraft touched, and exploded. Debris rained down on the fields and coastline below, including four unarmed nuclear bombs.

I mean, ‘four bombs which hadn’t been armed’, rather than ‘four defenceless bombs’. That would have been cruel.

The gerfuffle as the remains of the aircraft, blobs of raw plutonium and the four bombs were re-secured by the Americans are well known. Two bombs landed on the ground in Palomares (‘falling open and melting everything in their path’ according to unverifiable reports) and the other two fell in the sea, where one was soon found while the forth was finally located in a deep trench off the coast several months later by Alvin, that cute little mini-sub that starred in the National Geographic magazines of the period. Antonio the wise old fisherman with the 150-metre ice-blue stare suggesting fully-fledged insanity may have helped. He was certainly cheaper to fuel.

Franco was on board the Fifth Fleet American destroyer for a brief visit and toying with a complimentary Easter bunny as the bomb was fortuitously hauled aboard.

A suggestion from the time was that the last bomb was in a very deep hole in the sea and was impossible to extract, so a plastic reproduction had been lowered off the other side of the ship to be triumphantly raised in front of the mad Caudillo to cheer him up.

Fraga Irribarne the Minister of Tourism, perhaps unaware of this sleight of hand, famously took a dip in the sea with the American ambassador at the time to show there was no radiation. On the other hand, they carefully enjoyed their frolic in front of the Mojácar Parador, some ten kilometres down the coast.

The Marines removed 800,000 tons of topsoil, fertile and safe, and took it to South Carolina, because, you see, there was no radiation.

It's now used to grow terbacca.

Roberto Puig, an eccentric architect, was meanwhile putting the finishing touches to his Hotel Mojácar located in the village of the same name (many, many years later, Pedro Sánchez, the future president, bought an apartment within the since-converted hotel). Roberto hired a van and drove over to Palomares and managed to secure part of a wing from the bomber, which he proudly affixed to the wall in the cave-bar under his hotel. The local wags said it had an unearthly glow.

A small desalination plant was built in Palomares by the Americans for thirty million dollars as a kind gesture (it was quickly closed down after the resident engineer moved to Mojácar to open a beach bar and, seeing that he wasn't coming back, the Catalan caretaker sold the guts of the building for scrap). A few rusting Geiger counters were left to record the ambient radiation level – if there was any – and new construction extending from Vera Playa into Palomares and Villaricos was given the go-ahead by forward thinking planners (see, I could have written ‘greedy capitalists’).

A recent test on Palomares snails (please pay attention here if you count gastropods in your carefully balanced diet) has shown a higher than normal level of radiation. Their stomach is their foot, so what they walk on, so to speak, they eat. Snail poop, we read somewhere, might spread radioactive dust.

Of course, a light wind, common in that corner of dusty Spain, will spread a lot more dust, radioactive or otherwise.

But one has to start somewhere.

The American Department of Energy, together with the CIEMAT Spanish atomic agency, eventually bought ten hectares of land which had been previously cleared by speculators ready for some building, although the dust already raised and blown to the heavens by the tractors and… no, I’m not going there.

Local ecologists have reacted to the news by saying that a much larger area needs to be sanitised.

The half-life of plutonium is a lot longer than ours.

For the meantime, my advice is, don’t eat the snails.

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Quiet Life, Free from Tourism


I always wanted to go to visit Machu Picchu.

And just stand on that hill.

The famous picture, rendered for once in black and white, occupied a wall in a Peruvian restaurant in Madrid that I used to go to. Unfortunately, the Pisco Sours were so damn good, that it was hard, after enjoying two or three of them, to remember if one had eaten yet. The crestfallen face of the owner as we asked for the bill just as the chupe de camarones was arriving…  

While I didn’t remember eating much there, I still remember that photo – the one of the bent mountain high in the Andes, with the abandoned Inca settlement tumbled down below.

I travelled a lot as a young ’un in the seventies, at dollar-a-night places in Mexico and Central America, a few bucks more in the USA, and so on, as one could. The Americas, unlike Spain, hadn’t quite caught on to the idea of foreign money (except Yankee-green) in those far-off times and it was hard switching a ten pound note or a thousand pesetas into the local currency.

The thing was, there weren’t many travellers, or tourists, much beyond the crowds heading for Disneyland, Chichen Itza and Key West.

Now, of course, there are.

I missed my chance to visit Machu Picchu and now I'm told that it’s so full of visitors that I couldn’t imagine going there. Like the inspiring Mezquita in Córdoba or the Alhambra in Granada, their time as places to visit has passed. Santiago de Compostela or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Don’t go. They are done; cooked; crammed; despoiled.

There are too many of us, all wanting to take a picture as we finally, after a long and impatient queue, make it through the doors. We talk, we crowd, we flash, we hold our souvenir pamphlet and we smile at the Japanese tourists with their extendable selfie-sticks.

Next time, try Jaén or Ciudad Real. They may not be much, but they’ll be more enjoyable. By far.

In Mallorca, the locals have put up signs in English saying ‘Don’t bathe here, it’s dangerous’ and underneath, in the local tongue: ‘Don’t worry, we’re just fooling the guiris’.

Well fine, don’t live in a place with lots of tourists, why don’t you?

Forget Florence, or Venice, or Barcelona, or Benidorm, or Marbella or Mojácar – buy a house somewhere quiet, with little or no tourist potential.

Because if there is one, the temptation is high: rack up those rents and open a souvenir shop.

Now my town is on the coast, it’s a suburb of Almería City. It’s ugly and has no tourism whatsoever – frankly, there’s nothing to see and the beaches aren’t worth visiting. Which means that I rarely have to take a picture, except once a year when the local saint, looking a little pale, is hauled along the main  drag on a waggon pulled by a pair of bulls (relieved, no doubt to be spared other more onerous duties).

So, I was lucky. I got my travelling in early. Nowadays, I can see the world for a few pennies, from the comfort of my own armchair and with a pile of second-hand books from the charity store.   

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Pop Goes the Walter

It was a hot and steamy night - they always are, aren't they? - and I was wondering where the Jack in the Box came from. Perhaps I was asleep after all. Maybe I'll look it up when I get up in the morning.

Google was a trifle disappointing, as it only seemed to know about a cheap American fast-food chain operating under that name. Perhaps your hamburger is delivered to the table within a box, and when you unfasten the lid, the whole thing is abruptly lifted, bun, tomaydo and patty, to all go flying across the joint with a satisfying ¡Splatt!

I do like a novelty meal.

I later find, and thanks to The Cambridge Dictionary, that this artifice is defined as ‘a children's toy consisting of a box with a model of a person inside it that jumps out and gives you a surprise when the top of the box is raised’.

Which reminds me of a birthday I once attended in Dallas, where the figure inside the cake was not only real, but was found to be wearing just half of a bikini.

No doubt the top bit had gotten caught in the icing during her dramatic entrance.

It’s bound to be a popular thing, surprise visits from somebody are invariably interesting – if refined a bit by my fellow countrymen, who have ingeniously taken the concept one step further, as Facebook regularly tells us.

See, the Brits are always 'popping' into some place or other.

I imagine we are all sat around a table, chugging a beer, when, de repente, a small bubble appears on the floor to expand quickly and then, 'pop!', there's a Brit standing there, just like something out of Harry Potter.

We popped into Joe’s, they write, and we had a sandwich.

The half a pound of tupenny rice doggerel ends with ‘pop goes the weasel’, which, on further application to Google, tells me that the meaning of this Cockney song is to ‘pop’ (pawn) granddad’s ‘whistle and flute’ (suit) to pay for the groceries.

Which is what will allegedly happen to some of the Brits here if they don’t pull out their finger in Westminster and put up the pensions.

Those imported Bakewells don't grow on trees you know.

In Spain, the nearest thing to a Jack in the Box is a Caja Sorpresa, a similarly explosive receptacle, if only to be used once, to fire confetti into the air. Which sounds like we're at a wedding.

Maybe they could put someone inside the cake, make it even more of an event to remember.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Everything That’s Runny Contains Water (except my wife’s gravy)

 I saw a billboard today while driving along the main road towards the playa on my way for a swim – it was the local ice-cube company advertising its product and it said: ‘Probably the best ice-cubes in the world’.

I’m pretty sure that a couple of examples from Señor Freezer are rattling around in my iced-tea right now, gently melting and turning my beverage into watery-iced-tea.

Which is doubly refreshing.

Come to think of it, I suppose all the drinks we enjoy are made pretty much from water. Which they are always telling us we must drink lots of. So, are all drinks, essentially, just water with flavouring?

Starting of course with water itself (flavoured with salts and minerals), and finishing, by a circuitous route, with beer, which is after all merely bubbly water with some boiled hops and barley along with a judicious squirt of alcohol (don’t tell the Germans I wrote that). Indeed, the sober answer is this:According to The Brewer's Handbook, most beer contains about 95% water, and the remaining 5% is alcohol. Beer, in short, is mostly water but this is barely noticeable because of the flavour of other ingredients’.

The taste though, whether in beer or in whisky, depends on the water, so a distilled H2O won’t give much taste to the finished product, whereas a nice ‘fresh mountain stream’ might be just the ticket.  

Let’s see. Sweet sticky soda drinks are 90% water (we know what most of the rest is). Milk is about the same. Tomato ketchup is about 70%. Wine has 85% water and soda water is 90%, while sparkling water is 99% made up of our old friend agua, with a bubble or two added to help make us burp.

With all of the above, it’s clear that whatever one drinks (or sloshes on one’s chips), it’s all mainly down to water.

So, and sorry for asking, but why is beer cheaper than water in most bars? And with a free tapa thrown in for good measure!

Of all of these endless libations, only the stuff commercialised by the plastic water-bottle companies has a breakdown of the water and its minerals and salts printed on the label. No beer ever said ‘this brew has calcium, magnesium and sulphates’.

So, what is water?

Well, lessee, it takes two haitches and one oh, or two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen. A simple formula we all learned in school.

But with all of the free hydrogen and endless amount of oxygen in gas filling up the space around us – why doesn’t it all club together and turn into water? It’s no doubt just as well that it doesn’t, otherwise I’d be writing this piece while wearing some manly-looking water-wings.

The reason, apparently, is that most of the hydrogen around is already in the water anyway. The other reason is metastability (here if you insist), but I’m sorry I asked now.

Another puzzler about water – if it’s made up of inflammable oxygen and explosive hydrogen – why doesn’t it detonate every now and then?

It would certainly keep us on our toes if it did.

Mind you, you can always nuke it for an interesting reaction. Of course, rather than playing with steam-engines, I boil mine for a nice cup of tea twice a day. Boiling your water is a good idea as it kills anything that shouldn’t be there anyway.

Which I suspect is how we did so well in India.

Returning to the plastic-water-bottling industry (Motto: We do Our Bit for Pollution), an estimated 6,500 million emptied litre water-bottles will be obligingly cast into dustbins or chucked out of car windows or left on the beach or in the countryside this year in Spain (up 3% from last year, says the pwbi proudly). I don’t know how much of that is recycled, the plastic I mean (don’t worry about the water, it will return all by itself).

The good thing about beer (and the reason I drink it) is that it comes in either cans or in bottles made of glass, never plastic. Or better still, on draught.

Although I suppose it’s a pity that they can’t make beer-bottles out of cardboard.

The ice has now dissolved in my drink, adding its own secret chemical make-up to my beverage. I think I’ll chuck the dregs and go and get a brewski from the fridge.

Friday, July 14, 2023

It's Not Unusual

 Have you noticed how many people have taken to recording every scene with their telephone-camera? I suppose it's one thing taking a video of your baby to send to your family, or a short of you on your horse, or your new bicycle, but to record Tom Jones live... when you're there at the concert-arena... having just paid eighty euros? 

C'mon, you know you are not going to watch it later, curled up in bed with the squinty picture and tinny sound from your phone.

What would be the point of not enjoying it at the time, in full and glorious presence-vision, when you are part of the gigantic crowd of fans? Where's the drama, where's the excitement?

Many of your fellow concert-goers, admittedly, are spoiling your view of the event by waving their blasted iPhones in the air in front of you. 

You know (don't you?) that no one is going to watch your amateur and wobbly twenty-second cut on Facebook, and if you want to tell us about how marvelous is Tom Jones or whoever, then send us to YouTube (I've chosen Tom Jones here, because I have no idea what most of today's pop singers are called).

I could have written instead about Córdoba and its astonishing mosque (converted into a Catholic church a number of centuries ago). It's full of people all taking pictures with their phones - instead of feeling, for just a moment, the majesty of The Creator. 

I travelled a lot at a tender age, and have a few boxes of slides from here and there to show for it; and even went to a few pop-concerts (not Tom Jones, thankfully), but I was lucky: there was no social media (or mobile phones, or even a land-line at home in Spain) in those times. In fact, no one besides me knew where I was unless they happened to receive a surprise post-card out of the blue.

Dear Mum and Dad, having a wonderful time. Send money. Besos.  

A good memory should be treasured, not peered at over the years. Besides which, how many photos, clips, archives and scrap-books have been lost or mislaid since they came back from the camera-shop, or since I moved digs? Yes, I know I've forgotten lots of things I've seen or done, but I'm all the richer for still having the memories (I think) of the important events.

And anyway, life is about collecting experiences, not 'likes'.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Usual

It’s always nice to see when a new café opens near where I live. Sometimes, I even make an effort to visit there and have a coffee or a beer and a tapa, depending on the hour.

I live in a working-class neighbourhood, so the cafés are open early, five o’clock early, and generally call it a day by one in the afternoon. The bars will last a little longer, perhaps closing around five – after the lunch trade, or even staying awake until the wee hours of ten thirty or eleven at night on the weekends.

My tap-room habits aren’t what they were, and I tend these days to stay home and raid the fridge or put on the kettle according to my inclination.

In the morning, I might drop in at the café opposite and have a coffee and a tostada. Since this order never varies, the girl will smile when she sees me and shout through to her partner who will cut a small loaf length-ways in half and put my bit in the toaster. He'll then cover it with shredded tomato and I'll round it off with salt, pepper and lots of olive oil. Good stuff. 

Of course, if I wanted something else, maybe a tostada with tomate y jamón on it, or with butter and jam (locally called 'un mixto'), then it's easier to go to one of the two other nearby establishments, who will know exactly what I want, because I always have the same when I'm there. 

It saves on the conversation.

It used to work the same way when I was younger - that place for gin & tonic, that one for a beer and, oh my, that one for a beer as well. Well, sometimes you have to order, but with training, they'll just plonk down the right drink in front of you. 

I remember Diana, an elderly and eccentric British lady, coming into the Sartén (a famous bar in Mojácar) one evening and arranging herself on a bar-stool. 

'The usual?' asked Simon, by way of greeting. 

'Oh yes, rather', answered Diane. 'By the way', she said after a short pause, 'what is my usual?'

'Creme de mente you silly old cow', said Simon, reaching for the bottle.

So today, I crossed the road for my breakfast coffee and tostada, to find a new girl behind the bar. 'Café con leche', I said, 'y una media con tomate'. 

'You want that in a glass or a cup?'

'Warm or hot milk?'

'What sort of bread do you want?'

So many questions. I wonder if she'll charge me the same as the usual girl does - which is just 1,20€ plus the few bits of straw from the stables that have collected in my pockets during the morning. 

Brenda Lee keeps giving me a mental nudge as I write this. 

But Brenda, it's As Usual!

I think I've got the record somewhere. 

It beats watching the television.        

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Smoke 'Em if You've Got 'Em

As Colin over at his blog 'Thoughts from Galicia' will tell you, our friends the Spanish sometimes fail to tune in to what is happening around them, which explains their approach to roundabouts, queuing and indeed smoking. 

And, I suppose, feeling any embarrassment. 

I was in the pharmacy for what was probably just a few minutes, locked in a queue behind some customers, one of whom was loudly telling the rest of us about her aches and ailments. The one at the head of the queue was taking a long time and, I confess, I lost patience, gave up and left.

There’s another chemist just around the corner and, well, nobody was there. I got my packet of aspirins from them and felt that some progress had been made after all.

The printers, the main reason I had come all the way downtown, was closed. It apparently shuts on Saturdays. Bloody thing – I needed to get some photocopies made.

But, come to think of it, back near the house, there’s an estanco, a cigarette shop – and they have a printer which would do the trick (kind of, I would need to aim a little lower and just print up a few photos).

Another queue, this time outside as I stood behind a couple of elderly ladies – one of them without much of a voice: more of a shrill pant than anything else.

Makes me glad I gave up the gaspers a long while back.

We finally boiled into the shop, the two old girls and me. There, things suddenly slowed down as the inarticulate lady wanted some smokes, but wasn’t sure which ones she was after.

‘MarlboroNobelDucados…?’ asked the stringy-looking attendant.

‘No’, she managed, ‘the pic-picture’.

‘Let’s see. I’ve got a fellow with his throat out; a rotting leg; no teeth and a dead baby’ said the shop-keeper checking through her stock of fags, ‘oh and one here of a collapsed eye’.

The two customers conferred as I wondered which one they’d choose.

‘The gentleman with his throat out’, they decided, passing across a 20€ bill.

Saturday, May 13, 2023


We have an old shower downstairs, just the thing for a quick wash, and when the gas-heater works, why maybe a shave as well. Otherwise, we could go to the bijou apartment upstairs and knock on granny's door to ask if we could maybe use hers. 

Not much chance of that, I reckon. I'm not certain she approves of me.

One thing and another, and not that it matters much during the summer months, but we live in a cold-water house, more or less. 

The water itself comes from a well. It's pumped into a tank below the sitting room (sometimes called the floating room when I forget to turn the pump off). From there, a second and needlessly noisy pump on the roof sends the water to the kitchen sink, lavatory and bathroom. 

And, of course, upstairs to la abuela: the irascible granny.

A gas-heater used to warm the downstairs shower, until it choked irredeemably to death early last year. The water, you see, comes from somewhere far underground (the River Styx, I suspect) and is heavily full of cal, apparently called lime in English. The cal clogs up the pipes and tubes, so we sometimes don't have water in the kitchen, or available for refreshing the toilet, or maybe it'll fail to go thrumming through the gas-heater, as explained above.

My wife's brother is a plumber, and he sometimes drops by to siphon the pipes with some dreadful product he gets from the cooperative. Vinegar, maybe. The gas-heater though, he told us while stroking his chin, was unquestionably fucked.

So, we bought a new one. Now, the new ones don't just run on butano, because that would be too easy. These ones need an electric socket as well (to light the display). Furthermore, they need a drafty chimney presumably to dispel any leaked gas; or, mind you, one could nail it to the wall outside until one of the neighbours (we live in an interesting barrio) happened to notice it. 

An inspector came by. Your chimney is too tall, he said, so I can't give you a special green Government-approved tick. 

Long story short, granny abruptly went to Her Reward last October (no doubt forgetting to send us a postcard once she'd crossed the River Styx, although one can never be too sure with the state of the Correos around here) and I thought - why not swap the small electric heater from her vacated rooms, and then buy a proper bath we could put in her quarters upstairs (now open to the rest of the household), to be fed by the brand new gas/electric heater previously introduced? We even have a short upstairs kitchen-chimney for it to blissfully sit under.

The inspector, we knew in our bones, would approve. 

My brother in law enthusiastically set up the tubing, as we erected the bath within a wooden frame in what used to be the upstairs larder (easier than putting it into the bathroom. For one thing, it would have had to have been installed vertically). 

I was a bit dubious. An old house with a bath upstairs sitting astride a pair of beams. But the first time I got in, the bath full to the brim with steaming hot water, I thought to myself, well this is a fine thing. The concrete beams won't give way and 


The bath, at least the end of it entertaining my head and shoulders, suddenly fell a couple of inches. I got out a lot faster than I had gotten in and went off to go and read my book about whales.

I like having a good soak, so the following morning I took the side-panels off and had a look to see what had happened. It was because we had put a small bit of wood in the wrong place and the bath had settled. No probs.  

The next bath-night, a few evenings later, the water-supply abruptly ran out. The tank under the sitting room was empty (it might have been my fault: I think I left the garden-hose running).

The following time for bathies, it was the butano-bottle we had brought up from downstairs. Empty, Blast it!

Then, the taps wouldn't work at all, they'd filled up with cal. I had to unscrew them and soak them in vinegar. 

The plumber cuñado then dropped by one day and told me I shouldn't run it very hot as the plastic pipes he had put in would melt. I said, what's the point of a tepid bath? So, now I use a kettle to, as it were, top it up. 

But the duende, the spirit of old granny, still wasn't finished with me. Yesterday, the bath full and steaming, I lowered myself in with a merry splash, my bottom catching on my way down a full and opened bottle of shampoo, which had been balanced on the bit of wood next to the tub, which reaching the bath-water just before I did, found me then firmly sitting on it.

To say I enjoyed a soapy bubble bath last night would be an understatement.

Monday, April 24, 2023

I’ve been Dubbed, Subtitled and Translated into Sign-language (Re-boot)

It seems that we can blame that old sod Franco for the size of the Spanish dubbing industry. Where other countries tamely put subtitles on their cinema or television screens, the Spanish are much more partial to James Dean’s mouth making a ‘hi’ movement as a strange and gravely Madrid-accented voice says ‘hola, ¿que tal?
There are those who are surprised to discover how their favourite star really sounded - think of Humphrey Bogart or Homer Simpson.
Sometimes, they don’t even remove the original soundtrack – just turn it down with the Spanish version bellowed out on top. There’s David Attenborough telling us about snakes in his whispery voice – which at least this viewer can – or at least could understand – if it wasn’t for the same bloke from Madrid thundering out something about serpientes venenosas rendering the whole thing impossible to understand in any language.
Franco didn’t approve of foreign languages – Basque and Catalonian of course – but anything else either. They might be saying something untoward, immoral or revolutionary. So he banned them. No one was to speak anything but Spanish – including the nation’s deaf, who were not allowed to use sign-language (and even today they sign in a rather furtive sort of way, as if they are still on the look out for a Guardia Civil).
So, forget subtitles, everything imported had to be dubbed. Except, come to think of it, pop music. It would have been a stretch having our friend from Madrid crooning ‘she loves yer ya ya ya’ in castellano over the Beatles. I can’t see many people buying the record either.
Anyway, in some cases, films were translated away from their original meaning – if immoral or faintly subversive – and represented in a more acceptable light. ‘She’s my girlfriend’, for example, might safely become ‘she’s my fiancée’. Of course, if the film strayed to far from the Catholic Church’s view of morality, or the Government’s view of political propriety, it would never be shown here anyway. Which is why everyone had to drive up to Perpignan to see Marlon Brando’s ‘Last Tango in Paris’ and why, between the death of Franco and the arrival of the Internet, they sold porn films by the lorry-load out of the Spanish gas stations.
Dubbed porn films, if you can imagine such a thing.
Televisions now have this special button for those who wish to see something in its ‘versión original’. Press it and – whoops – up’ll come the show in all its glory. My Spanish step-son, who is learning English and is fond of Bob Esponja, inexplicably refuses to avail himself of this useful service of switching him into SpongeBob SquarePants. Perhaps he doesn't want me to get the joke.
Of course, humour don't always translate, which makes watching Friends or Frasier a bit hit or miss when enjoying the Spanish version. And anyway, Niles was funny because of his voice!
The dubbers, there must be a small coterie of them working out of a cellar underneath a multiplex in Madrid, are usually unknown - until one of them ups and dies. Then the media will tell us that Paco Orbera was the beloved voice of Errol Flynn, Fred Flintstone, The fellow with the big chin in Gunsmoke and Bruce Willis.

In the City, there will be a few cinemas that show films in ‘V.O.’ with subtitles, usually lowbrow romantic comedies. They do well with the American students.

Now, for all I go on about the desecration of Die Hard ('Jungla de Cristal' for some reason) by the dubbers - who I think must have some kind of cast-iron contract - at least the Continentals are prepared to look at foreign cinema, as well as their own (and the Spanish make quite respectable movies). In Britain, we think that everything good, if not ours, comes from Hollywood. When was the last time you saw a French film, an Italian TV show or a Spanish documentary? Bloody Americans – if there’s a decent European film out there, they’ll churn out a re-make (gotta have that Tom Cruise as the Good German who wants to murder Hitler).
In Greece or Portugal or Denmark or Poland (well, I’m guessing about Poland to be frank), you’ll sit down with the local version of popcorn and watch the movie in its original language, the subtitles wobbling there at the bottom of the screen and – in the Mediterranean cinemas at least – with the entire audience talking at once. It's just Spain that's being contrary over this.
I suppose dubbing can be useful. The first thing I learnt in Spanish was ‘Hands up’, which I have to admit that I’ve still yet to use in my private capacity. A German friend once told me that he’d learnt English from listening to pop music. Apart from coming out with some odd expressions occasionally ‘(‘Baby, light my fire’, ‘you’re my Rockafella’ and so on), he managed a certain fluency without, apparently, an undue amount of effort. Perhaps some of my readers might want to follow his example and start practicing singing along to Miguel Ríos or Camilo Sesto (If I were you, I’d save the Flamenco until a bit later).
And thus the dubbing industry, started and encouraged by Franco, had, by the time of his death, become so powerful (in a relatively small field) that it has managed to continue on into modern times.
One rare occasion when subtitles are used outside of entertainment is when a Catalonian politician holds forth on the TV, and his pronuncios are posted below: usually too briefly to be read. Curiously though, when a Catalonian politician wants to appeal to the larger public about something other than politics, why, he’ll address us in Spanish. This does not happen in the Basque County, however, where all declarations, political or otherwise, are made in Spanish.
Perhaps they don’t have a good subtitling service there…


Thursday, April 13, 2023

I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside (reboot)

 The weather is just perfect for an early-year swim in the sea. Perhaps if I didn’t live here I would take up my own kind offer and jump off a handy rock and splash about for a bit before staggering out for a refreshing glass of tinto de verano, easy on the ice. However, since I do live here, I tend to forgo the splashy stuff and get straight in to the bar for my order. I mean, it’s still too cold for us thin-blooded locals, and anyway, come to think of it, I haven’t swum in the sea besides a couple of ill-considered visits after an extended lunch for about twenty years.

I may have developed a very slight case of hydrophobia, the fear of water, which is apparently a side effect of rabies. As far as I know, no other signs of this dreadful plague are in evidence on my person and I wonder if it might just be a minor and slow-moving dose that I could have picked up that time I was savaged by a bad-tempered vole which I was attempting to attach to a hanky prior to parachuting the rodent from the roof of the family home while I was still of a tender age. Still, sixty years on and I’m still going strong, no twitches or obvious widow’s peak, although I do like to keep the windows open during the full moon just in case.

The sea is protected by Costas, a selfless organisation that makes sure that the primal brine isn’t sullied by anything beyond an occasional bather while the pristine sands of the coast are free from skyscrapers, dog messes, barns, garages, piers (a huge no-no) and, above all, any suggestion of permanence from those temporary ‘dismountable’ buildings which we call ‘beach bars’. Anything really, much beyond a happy sprinkling of ‘Blue Flags’ which denote ‘excellence’ in the beach facilities, cleanliness, showers and wheelchair access together with no interference in Mother Nature’s soft and salty embrace. So protected is the sea these days, that I wonder exactly what the showers are for – are they like swimming-pool showers, where you are meant to wash yourself down before getting in so as to keep the sea-water clean?

Apparently, the Costas people have decreed that any tussocks of grass which grow on the sand, or any seaweed washed up onto the shore, can’t be removed by the local town halls (except after midnight when the ecologists are all tucked up asleep on their futons). In short, the sea and the beach belong to us all, are to be left au naturel, and we have free access and use for all its treasures, except of course when told differently.

The other day, I took the dog down to one of those ‘unimproved’ beaches along the coast a way. It's along a dusty track on a cliff above some undisturbed coves. No metal benches, beach bars, life savers, peculiar white-painted cabins – with the inevitable ‘Goofy was here’ graffiti: no football or beach-ball courts, no playpens, swings or broken whirly-things, no flags, dustbins, informative signs in three languages, showers, accordionists, tulip-vendors or public lavatories. Just a few of those colourful motor-caravans as favoured by the wealthy trekkers from the far north that the police are now talking about fining after three days camping outside of the ‘approved areas’. Peaceful. I even anticipated seeing a few dolphins near the shore nodding and squeaking at us. They’re asking for fish really.

My dog seemed to be happy enough with the lack of clutter on that particular beach and ran about chasing pebbles and bits of flying seaweed (oops!). I took my socks off.

Things went well until I began to drive home with the window up to stop the cloud of sand and dust thrown by the wheels. The car stank of warm and wet hound and the thunderhead of dust, it turned out, upset a group of hiking Germans dressed in old-fashioned shorts who were coming the other way, intent on invading the next-door beach. Boy, did I get an earful.

On reflection, I should have been carrying a Blue Flag.