Archive for June, 2010

Nothing like a good blow job.

June 28, 2010

I’ve just had a brilliant idea if you’re ever stuck in the traffic – blow your horn like mad and everyone will instantly get out of your way. Or at least that appears to be the idea of the dago driver, because they’ve got the tolerance of a gnat as far as most things go, but this is exceeded by their total inability to wait in traffic without making a blaring racket.

It happens every Monday lunchtime, the same brain-dead cacophony. There’s a local street market on Monday mornings, and about this time all the stalls are being packed up and the vans loaded, ready for a slow crawl out of the barrio. With most of the side streets closed, the traffic can only pass down the road right in front of my flat. There are four sets of traffic lights on the street, but drivers can’t see the set two blocks to my right, partly because most of the vans are coming out of a side street and blocking the view. So the patienceless pricks start leaning on their horns. I got so fed up that a few minutes ago I leaned out of my window and screamed at one silly baggage with one hand on the horn and the other out the window holding a cigarette, “Oiye tonta, son semaforos. No se va a cambiar solo porque tu golpeas el claxon como eso!” (Hoy, stupid, they’re traffic lights. They aren’t going to change just because you’re hitting the horn like that!) She nearly jumped out of her seat… no idea where the voice came from, but at least she stopped long enough for the traffic lights to change and move her on to the next block. Mind you, a couple of minutes later another horny bastard arrived under my window.

The Spanish really are crap drivers, especially on the motorway where they will be so close to your backend that you can see the colour of their eyes and whether they had a decent shave that morning. A psychologist once explained to me that it was because the Spanish have a very narrow personal space barrier and that they don’t sense the closeness. No dearie…they’re just shit drivers! And they never leave the middle lane. I was driving with a friend a while ago and jokingly said that when they repaired motorways in Spain they never bothered with the right-hand lane because so few people used it that it never got worn out. She came straight back and said that was because it was only used by foreigners and pensioners like me!

But statistically it’s true that the Spanish are the worst drivers in Europe – even worse than the Italians – based on insurance claims. And the men are the worst. The same friend that was ageist with me said that if you saw a bad driver and it looked like a woman it was a transvestite. Quick as a whip, she is!

But it’s quietend down now; the vans are gone and the intolerant car drivers with them …at least until next week.

(My apologies to gnats. They may have a very high tolerance ratio.)

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered.


World Cup Whimper

June 27, 2010

It was great to see England give Germany a thorough thrashing in a 1 – 4 victory in the World Cup. Okay, my take on it might not be totally in keeping with the stark reality, but as it was the first game I’ve seen in six years and only about the fifth I’ve seen in my entire life, I can be allowed a bit of journalistic licence.

My ambivalence to football, and sport in general, probably stems from the fact that as a youngun’ I was a shortarse, with the speed of a particularly lethargic Galapagos turtle, and, if there were twenty-three kids picking up for a football match, I’d be the one who spent ninety minutes walking around the pitch. But I was determined to see at least one game this time around, and what better one could I choose than to see England face their long-time rivals, Germany. Better still, it was happening on a steaming Sunday afternoon (at least in Spain), when cats would be curled up in the shade and bars would have the air conditioning on full belt.

I passed by my local caff this morning to reserve a table for myself and my lugubrious Irish friend, Mike, a sometime aficionado of The Pitiful Game. (A paraphrase of the line that is often quoted as being by the magical Pele, but the truth is that there is no definitive origin.Valdir Pereira, a Brazilian footballer, is thought to have coined it, but the English presenter Stuart Hall claims to have originated it in 1958. Anyone who has watched his signature TV series, It’s a Knockout, will be hard pushed to think that this inane plonker could possibly have come up with the phrase that’s synonomous with Association Football.) To make sure we had an uninterupted view of the game, I promised the darlingly delicious Andrea that we’d boost her earnings by having a few tapas and plenty of beers if she could keep what amounts to their version of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot open for us. 

Mike and I rolled up at 3.30. Andrea had gone – as had everyone else. Not a client in sight. My forethought had been unnecessary, but I’m British – belt and braces – what the hell do you expect? Mike and I parked ourselves smack bang in front of the screen and ignored the query for tapas from Jacinto, in for the afternoon shift, other than some crisps – they’re free anyway. At five minutes before the off, a chap wandered in with a dog the size of a decent sandwich. I was torn between pissing him off and telling him that in Spain it’s illegal to bring dogs, even a runt like his, into a bar, cafeteria etc., or allowing him to swell the numbers and give Jacinto the chance to up his income by a few euros on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. I am (although you’ll never hear this said by anyone out loud, other than me) a bit of softie, so I held my tongue.

Elsewhere in the English world, there would be a big pre-match booze-up; the sinking of pints and gesticulating prognostications about the match and how this time ‘we’d really give it to them’. Here all was calm and sedate – how rowdy can you get with three customers, a sausage-sized dog and a barman! I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like in Finigans, an ‘Irish’ bar a few blocks away. It would have been jam-packed, full of smoke and bad language, as supporters would be fighting for space to see the match.

The game began with a slow start, and here I’m not talking about the match itself – which, quite honestly, didn’t get off to an instant roar – but in the café itself. And neither did it develop the full thrust of a rough and ready ‘sports’ bar, with stocky rugby types grasping pint glasses in their hands and pumping out great quantities of adrenaline. Of the thirty-plus blokes in the bar, there were only Mike and I and two others drinking beer. All the rest were drinking coffee or water, other than an older chap who had pushed the boat out with a freshly squeezed orange juice, and his mate, who was making up for the rest of them with a brandy the size of a bathtub.

As the game drifted into its opening minutes, a beautiful young girl, with long blonde hair cascading over golden shoulders came into the café. In one of those wonderfully serendipidous moments in life, she was wearing a thigh-length dress of red and white bands, the colours of the competing teams. Apart from mine, belonging to the oldest person in the caff, not a head turned as she made her way from the door to the ciggy machine in the corner. It’s probably the first time in her life she’s been so comprehensively ignored!

Had Spain being playing, the place might have been rockin’ and rollin’, but there was barely a murmur as Germany slipped home their first goal, and only a modest increase in admiration when their second went in. England’s goal got a slightly supportive rumble, and someone shouted, “El linear esta boracho,” the linesman’s drunk, when the ball bounced over Germany’s goal line and bounced back again, and the game went on. As Mike observed, as he took a pensive sip from his beer, “And what do you expect when you’re watching the game in an ice-cream parlour?”

The game was so enthralling that I drifted away to the conversations around me. I’d not seen the mixed group of Brits and Irish who sat behind us come in, but ten minutes into the second half I heard the limp-wristed version of a Southampton accent trill, “Has it started?” Like drifting in and out of a particularly stoned dream, my ears picked up the occasional phrases from the conversation behind, without being able to put a physical image to the speakers. It became obvious that the chat was between gentlemen who would once have been decorously referred to as ‘lifetime bachelors’, who appeared to be on holiday in Spain, but I nearly fell off my chair when I heard someone at the same table as the Southampton dearie say, “So, are you staying at a proper camp site?”

In a limpid attempt to support the failing Brits, the group launched into that staunch anthem, ‘Jerusalem’, which petered out after a couple of bars, in much the same way that most people, asked to sing the second verse of our National Anthem fall short, because they can’t remember the words. They went great guns at, “And did those feet, in ancient times, fall upon England’s mountains green,” slipped a gear while a couple pushed on to, “And was the Holy Lamb of God seen upon…” diminishing to total obscurity with “gardens…pastures green.”

Throughout the game Mike kept up an exchange of analytical text messages by phone with his football fanatical friend, Paul, in Dublin, who was sat outside a bar enjoying a coffee, (as if!), drawing comparisons with the 1966 World Cup match, the last time England hammered the Krauts – almost half a century ago!!!!!

While the German support on the screen erupted into ecstasy at their third goal, there was a faint ripple of applause from a solitary soul in the rear of the caff, although to be fair, even as a Brit and a football ignoramus, it did look like a pretty good one – and even I got excited then the Block Heads fourth hit the back of the net. (And a thought occurred, as I watched the English goalie grab at air, what a shame the Spanish word for goalkeeper is portero, the same as doorman.)

As the minutes crept on the crowd in the café began to disperse, obviously pretty sure that the Brits weren’t going to make a come-back. When the final whistle blew, once again there were only Mike and I in the bar. As we sipped our final beer, he showed me the message he had just sent to Paul. ‘Well there’s always 1966 … and 1945,’ referring to the last two decent victories England had over Germany.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered.

Whining and dining

June 25, 2010


At last! – I’ve got my dining room back! That doesn’t mean to say that it’s been out on permanent loan and only just been returned, nothing quite so metaphysical as that, no, what I mean is that I’ve finally got the use of my dining room again after complaining for ages that I didn’t have anywhere decent to eat in. Not that it got much use in the first place, living on my own as I do and eating mainly at my desk or at the rickety table on the terrace, although I live in high hopes of laying the full china service and linen napkins out for a delectable piece of totty one fine day, should that fine day ever arrive – and the totty, of course.

The reason I’ve got it back, or at least the use of it, is because I’d finally got around to giving my flat a thorough clean. During the clean up process I decided it was time to sort out the metaphorical wheat from the chaff and dump anything that hadn’t seen the light of day for a while and wasn’t likely to next year either.

I am an inveterate hoarder, emptier of skips, and collector of those odd little bits and pieces that will only take a bit of glue or a dab of paint to put right. It has been a life-long obsession and the area around my flat in Valencia is providing a lot of rich pickings, given the amount of refurbishment going on.

Being a skip rat was all fine and dandy when I was just picking up the odd lamp or bit of furniture to restore for my flat, but taking on a small village house as a refurbishment project has opened the flood gates – hence no dining room!

I rent a four-bedroom apartment in Valencia, so you would think there’d be plenty of storage space. Take away one large room as an office, another for an ironing room/wardrobe (that sounds terribly extravagant but it’s so small it’s twisting the truth to call it a bedroom in the first place), a single bedroom for the rare visitor and, of course, somewhere to lay my bones at night, and suddenly the only place left to store my finds is the dining room.

The original intention was to move everything to the village house asap but at about the time I bought the house my car, a Citroen Xantia with a roof rack that was big enough to carry most things, died on me. Having just shelled out what little folding stuff I had as a deposit on the house, there was nothing left to buy another set of wheels so for the last few months I’ve had to hire a car to get to the house to work on it. A three-door Opel Clio barely carries me, never mind a load of architectural cast-offs. Fortunately, my friend Michael, who lives near the village house, has a van, and in exchange for an overnight stay in Valencia delivers my latest gatherings to the house every couple of months.

Every time a load left Valencia the dining room was tidied up and an oath taken that it wouldn’t be filled again (although that didn’t include using it as a workshop to make a dining table from old wooden bed slats). Recently, though, the skips have been especially rewarding, with some of the best stuff I’ve found so far. Apart from the gems I take from my roadside shops, I’ve been buying the odd decorative item and they are kept in boxes in the guest-less guest bedroom. Apart from Michael and a couple of friends from Alicante, no-one but me has graced the beds in my house for almost a year so it seemed a pointless gesture keeping a room all nice and in readiness for Mr No-body to pay a sneak visit, especially as I’d bought a brand-new bed-settee earlier this year that was infinitely more comfortable than the single, sagging mattress in the guest suite. So a few weeks ago I rearranged my home, my ‘stock’ and my sleeping arrangements by eliminating yet another bedroom and shunting everything awaiting transportation to the country estate from my dining room to the now re-designated ‘storeroom’.

It was quite the ‘voyage of discovery’. I found things I’d completely forgotten I had, which, in some cases, was probably for the best, as they’d never get a look-in on the restoration list until well past retirement age. But it also gave me the opportunity to catalogue what was there, which I did by way of taking digital photos. I now know how many wooden doors, lengths of panelling, chandeliers, curtain rails, chests of draws, window frames etc I have in Valencia and, given an energetic day, will do the same with the three van loads of stuff in store in Michael’s garage (although then I will also measure the doors etc because the day after I did the move at the flat I needed to know the size of some shutters but they were stacked at the back of the pile and my aching bones said ‘no’ at the thought of dragging everything out again).

When everything was finally moved, stacked and stored, the dining room dusted, washed and polished I stood back and imagined sitting around the table with friends once again, although the number of people who actually dine at my flat are even less than the number of those who sleep there, but at least I’d have a proper table to sit at when I served my Marks and Spencer Christmas pudding for one when the big day finally came around.

Huh! Like they say, the best laid plans of mice and men…..!

Just around the corner from my flat a gymnasium has been gutted and for almost a week I’d walked past two tall sets of climbing bars made of beautifully grained pine. The reason they’d stayed on the street for so long was that there was nowhere for me to put them – but now there was, so home they came. Apart from making a beautiful plank tabletop I couldn’t see any use for them, but now I have, as the steps up to a sleeping platform I’ll eventually put in one of the bedrooms which has a tall sloping roof.

Meanwhile, I now have half a dining room. The wall bars and two large window frames, complete with windows, are covered over with a length of cloth to at least provide a semblance of tidiness. I just pray that nothing big turns up before Michael can get here with his van. I was so looking forward to eating my Christmas pudding for one at a proper table.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered.

Bare arse nekid

June 14, 2010

On one of the few sunny days during my recent visit to the UK I was sitting in the back garden of my son Jim’s house sinking a few beers while his brother Tom looked after the barbie, reminiscing over past scrapes we’d got into while under the influence. Jim reminded me of the time he streaked at a Lancashire v Derby cricket match, when he accepted a bet from some of his friends.

Most streaks happen at sporting events and a quick dash from the sidelines to the centre of a cricket pitch or tennis court suddenly seems a lot further naked than when fully clothed, but Jim didn’t quite get his balls over the bails when he realised that security men were hot-footing it in his direction. “I realised I wouldn’t actually get to the centre of the field so I just started doing cartwheels and spinning around,” He couldn’t be accused of being totally naked because he still had his socks on!

It was students from the University of South Carolina who allegedly did the first streak in February, 1974, but the British took the idea to their naked hearts. Of course, the Brits would say that they started the craze when Lady Godiva sauntered through the streets of Coventry on horseback wearing nothing but her hair, but whoever lays claim to starting the craze, there’s always someone willing to strip to the buff and do a run, all for a bit of a laugh.

The first recorded streaker in the UK was in April, 1974 when a man, naked except for white sandshoes a cornflakes box over his head with a couple of holes cut for him to see, ran along a Yorkshire railway line, before running around Angela Eddon’s house and knocking on her door.  “He was carrying a white bag and said he had not had love for two years, so I told him to clear off and get some,” said Mrs. Eddon. “I asked him to get dressed and leave but he said he wouldn’t until I sang I’m Sitting On Top of the World with him.  So I did…  He climbed on a van roof, I stood on the ground – and we sang.”

The King of the Streakers, though, is Liverpudlian Mark Roberts who, with almost 300 streaks ‘under his belt’ holds firmly onto his place in the Guinness Book of Records. Serial streaker Roberts has streaked at everything from Wimbledon’s Mens Final, Royal Ascot, and Mr Universe to the Liberal Democrat Convention and the National Lottery. Wearing a specially prepared velcro-seamed outfit similar to that used by strippers his clothes come off in a split second and he’s off and running. 

“Why do I streak? It’s a buzz. If I didn’t get the crowd reaction every time I go on a pitch or jump out of an audience, if you don’t get the buzz, there’s no point, because the point of a streak is humour – to make people laugh.  And in the 7 years I’ve been doing it, it’s the same reaction every time.”

But at least Jim won’t be trying to compete with Mark Roberts’ record. “I just remember a wall of sound, laughter, wolf whistles and screaming, and looking up at the sky as I spun round. It was fantastic – but I won’t do it again!”

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered.

You’re a long time dead

June 14, 2010

I’ve always had a thing about graveyards, or more precisely, gravestones, and the weird and wonderful things people inscribe on them. I remember seeing one in a village graveyard somewhere in the Lake District that was dedicated to someone who’d spent his life obsessively following cricket, which, in itself is pretty bloody weird to me. The granite slab was decorated with carved balls, crossed bats, cap and other cricketing impedimenta, and inscribed with all the obvious cricketing references; ‘he’s hit his last ball’, ‘his stumps have finally been pulled’, etc, although it didn’t say when it was that he ‘bowled his last maiden over’, (a reference that will mean absolutely nothing to most of you foreigners, and I don’t intend to try and explain it). It was wonderfully kitsch, but one a couple of places along the row had me giggling giddily. The base on which the ornate cross stood had cracked, causing the cross to tilt at an angle that would have made the Titanic in its death throws seem upright. But what creased me up was that the dearly departed lying below it had been a structural engineer! I wondered how he’d explain his way out of that in the afterlife.

A couple of days ago I took myself by bike to Valencia’s Cementario Municipal, something I do a couple of times a year, for no reason other than I like the ride and the place has some wonderfully kitsch memorials. Normally it’s quite quiet, but I was taken by surprise this time when I saw a crowd of mainly elderly people milling around. It turned out they were there for the departure of the Virgen del los Desamparados, the patron saint of the Valencian Community, who had spent the night in the chapel as part of her brief annual holiday away from the Basilica in the centre of Valencia. Of course, we’re talking about a statue, here, but it seems she doesn’t get out of the city much, so I suppose even a night in a cemetery is a change of scenery.

Just as I arrived, the bearers that carry her hefted her platform onto their shoulders and, swaying ever so gently, followed by a group of adoring, singing sycophants, began to carry her out of the cemetery – in reverse, possibly so she could get a last view of her home-away-from home until next years hols. As they approached the arched main gate they gingerly dipped to make sure the Sainted Lady’s crown didn’t clip the low metalwork of the arch. A group of young people busily gathering in the folding chairs used for the service were laying side bets as to whether she’d make a clean getaway. The hushed crowd watched nervously as their lady bobbed under the archway, then the grand candelabra in the entrance foyer, applauding each successful dip, ending with a tremendous ovation as she cleared the third and final obstacle, and once more emerged into unobstructed sunshine.

The cemetery is huge, and at almost every intersection there’s a map of the layout. While it falls short of actually having a ‘You Are Here’ arrow, at least you can work out where you are by the numbered aisles. As far as the map tells you, it has both an Islamic and British cemetery, the former, marked by a crescent moon, tucked as far to the back as you can get without actually climbing over the perimeter wall, but of the other I couldn’t find any sign other than the union flag at the bottom of the panel to tell me it exists. I set off in the direction of the Cementario Islámico interested to find out how different their form of burial was.

You walk through seemingly never ending rows of niches, spreading off in all directions, like rows of cottages in a pit village, but with too many windows and not enough doors. The departed of the rich and famous sleep in better homes that some of the living people I know, their sepulchres ornately outlandish in a sort of ‘wedding cake’ style of architecture. While some of the mausoleums and headstones give a nod in the direction of modernity, and not always a polite nod, as in the case of the particularly ugly erection of the Familia Cortes Muñoz, that stands like a two-storey homage to insipid pink marble and uninspired coloured leaded glass, most are decorated in the traditional manner; angels, crucified Christ, figures of the Virgen de los Desamparados and the like. Most have oval photos of the deceased, faded to sepia over time – although if I’m going to have a picture of me on public display for decades to come, I’d rather it was something of me in my prime, even if I’m not sure I ever had one. Many are decked out as forever spring in garlands of gaudy plastic flowers, the colours of which would never be found in nature. Scattered here and there are the niches of those who didn’t have the readies for a permanent memorial, such as Manolita Serra, who shrugged her mortal coil on 18-X-1988, and possibly her relative Maria Luise Serra, who joined her in heaven on 16-VII-1999, who had to settle for having their names and dates of departure simply scraped in the drying plaster with a stick.

Suddenly a siren as eyrie as a war-time bomb alert rents the air, warning that the cemetery will close in fifteen minutes. I sill haven’t found the Islamic cemetery and, as much as I like the architecture and tranquil surroundings, I don’t fancy spending the night here. I make a dash to where the sign told me it should be, only to find it locked up. Apparently I should have asked for the key.

I ask the attendant where the British Cemetery is and he points over the road to a small building, the British Protestant Cemetery, padlocked and chained, that looks drab and colourless compared to the Technicolor funereal theme park behind me. It would seem that the followers of Muhammad are deemed closer to God than the Protestant infidels, because at least they are allowed inside the Catholic domain of the Cementario Municipal.

As I leave, an elderly lady, not long from her niche, leans on her walking stick and carefully picks up some of the rose petals previously scattered at the feet of the Virgin. Across the street the florists put away their buckets of blooms and ornate arrangements, before hosing down the pavement, possibly hoping that there will be a decent crowd tomorrow to clear the shop before all they’ve got left are a collection of fading blossoms.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered

Take a deep breath.

June 12, 2010

These days we’re pretty well aware of the effects of smoking. It can cause coronary thrombosis: a blood clot in the arteries supplying the heart, which can lead to a heart attack; cerebral thrombosis: the vessels to the brain can become blocked, which can lead to collapse, stroke and paralysis; if the kidney arteries are affected, then high blood pressure or kidney failure results and a blockage to the vascular supply to the legs may lead to gangrene and amputation. As if that weren’t enough, smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers. This is particularly true of lung cancer, throat cancer and mouth cancer, which hardly ever affect non-smokers. And as a smoker you are more prone to bladder cancer, cancer of the oesophagus, cancer of the kidneys and cervical cancer. And don’t think that giving up the obnoxious weed immediately will make a lot of difference, because for ex-smokers it takes approximately fifteen years before the risk of lung cancer drops to the same as that of a non-smoker.

But what I bet you didn’t know is that it makes the night noisier and closes bars; at least it does according to the FEHV, Federacion Empresarios de Hostelería de Valencia, the hotel, restaurant and bar association of the city. Frankly, I’d rather have that than having a leg lopped off! To be fair, though, they aren’t actually saying that smoking in itself does that, but that not allowing smokers to enjoy their polluting habit in the buildings themselves does.

What they don’t say is that the buggers who can’t smoke in the nicotine fumed establishments also make the streets filthy with thrown away dog-ends and empty fag* packets, but there again, they aren’t going to admit to that in much the same way as the gun lobbies say that simply owning a gun doesn’t mean you are going to shoot anyone. A smoker who has a cigarette end or empty packet isn’t necessarily going to sling it on the pavement, but just look next time you are out and you’ll see just how many do. At least we now have a law that fines anyone who allows their dog to crap on the street and then doesn’t pick it up, (them, not the dog – that would be carrying legal responsibility a bit too far!), so perhaps we should have a law for foulers of the footpath of the fag carrying type.

But back to the FEHV. They are supported in their endeavours to once again allow smoke-filled bars, by ECO, the national association for Empresarios de Calidad de Ocio, a group that supports quality in leisure and pastimes, and the Associación de Discotecas de Valencia, (self explanatory, I believe). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find a pub, club, bar, restaurant or whatever filled with cigarette smoke a very quality experience, but here we have a national association who’s members are supposedly supporting exactly that, trying to get the laws changed to foul up their premises, subject their clients to the all the risks mentioned above (including passive smokers who, apparently, have a higher risk of suffering from lung cancer, brain tumours, renal cell carcinoma, breast cancer, ear disease, asthma…the list goes on, than those avoid a smoky atmosphere), and snogging someone who’s mouth taste like an unwashed ash tray.

If you look at the logo of the Associación de Discotecas de Valencia, it looks like a set of earphones…or is it a set of sound suppressors that men who operated a pneumatic drill have to wear? So what it’s really saying is that if you want have a jolly good time at one of their discos you better take a set of sound suppressors with you, because if you don’t, the next thing you will be wearing on your ears is a set of very powerful hearing aids.

But I suppose these three fine bodies can take some pleasure in the fact that, despite the Government pushing for a ban in all enclosed public venues, and not just those over one hundred square metres, and the miserably inefficient World No-Tobacco Day (why the hyphen?) held recently, smoking is actually on the increase in Spain since the introduction of the anti-smoking ban in 2006. The Minister for Health, Trinidad Jiménez accepted the legislation hadn’t achieved all of its objectives, (personally, darling, I’d say that if smoking has gone up the legislation hasn’t achieved any of its objectives!) while tourism authorities say that the current liberal legislation actually attracts visitors to the country, where tighter controls don’t allow them to blow out obnoxious fumes in their own country’s pubs and restaurants.

‘Go figure’, as our American cousins might say, but as some states in the UShave actually banned smoking on beaches, the current situation in Spain seems incredibly lenient by comparison. So if I have to walk around a pile of fag ends on the street, I suppose it’s better that sliding on the dog shit that used to litter the pavements.

*For any American readers, a ‘fag’ is English slang for a cigarette, not what you think it is.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered

On yer bike!

June 10, 2010

A couple of weeks ago there appeared, stencilled on the tarmac of the streets throughout the barrio, a series of chevrons with the stylised symbol of a bike between them. Being a bit of a thicky, I couldn’t quite work out what they meant; could it be that bikes had priority down the centre of the road, or maybe it was some sort of artwork, a hangover from Ruzafart. It never occurred to me that what it actually means is that bikes must go in the direction of the arrows, the same as everyone else.

That was always one of the joys of cycling in Valencia, the anarchic way you could wiz down a street toward on-coming traffic, and then suddenly jump onto the pavement when it came to ‘chicken’ time. And it was always perfectly acceptable to ride down the pavement, so long as you did it with care. Now, just like everything else it seems, we’re being bound by a whole new set of rules, regulations and prohibitions.

Valencia is a wonderful city to bike in because it’s absolutely flat, other than the ramps up and down to the dried up bed of the River Turia. There are 130 kilometres of cycle track throughout the city, more than double that of a couple of years ago. As wonderful as that may be, and being a born-again biker since someone gave me his cast-off a couple of years ago I thinks it’s great to get anywhere I want quicker by bike than I could by car, a fair percentage of those carril de bici were created at the cost of car parking places – and anyone who has tried to park almost anywhere in Valencia can vouch for the fact that it’s easier to find a Greek with an EU farming subsidy that can count the number of his olive trees correctly than a parking space in Valencia.

Obviously no-one is going to be happy if you lop off a couple of feet from the front of their building just to build a cycle lane, so the space was taken off the roads. Where once cars were parked diagonally they now park nose to tail, losing about a third of the parking spaces. As a car user – or parker, in this case – it ticks me off no end that I can spend over an hour circling my flat trying to find somewhere to park after a car journey of only twenty minutes. They’ve even taken away all the parking in some narrower streets so the one cyclist every couple of hours can make his way unimpeded around the city. Daft I calls it!

And now we’re being encouraged to use our bikes, where do we park them? For decades most people chained their bike to a lamppost, until a few months ago a load of people turned up to find their chains had been cut and the bike removed. Most simply put this down to bike theft, which is the biggest cause of crime in Valencia, until someone reported that it was actually the police who were doing away with the bikes. It was discovered that they were doing so under orders from some dead-leg in the town hall, who said that the bikes resting against lampposts could cause electric shocks or short-circuit the lights, although apparently there were no records of this ever having happened. They eventually relented when local bike groups banded together and demanded the return of the bikes and fines, saying it was an underhand way of a financially strapped council trying to pull in the readies.

So then we’re told that as a further service to the city’s cycling residents, the Town Council would put in special bars where bikes could be chained up securely. Brill idea, but try finding one. Most of them are in out of way places where there was a bit of space. In Ruzafa, where the biking population is probably on of the highest in the city, the nearest bike park is about fifteen minutes walk from where any activity is, and on a ride around town a few days ago, I saw a brand-new, just been set in concrete row of nice shiny bars labelled ‘bicicletas’ plonked outside a long row of disused warehouses alongside an urban dual carriageway where nary a cyclist would wander. Although, having said that, I obviously did, or I wouldn’t have seen them, but I’d definitely never have parked there.

Valencia may never be Amsterdam, with it’s thousands of peddlers, but to be fair, the Town Hall is at least doing something, even if most of it is badly planned and mis-directed. And it’s a joy to discover the city on two wheels – even if you can no longer play chicken in the face of on-coming traffic!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered

Being a grandad is cool!

June 9, 2010

A short while ago the eminence gris of modern English literature, Martin Amis, said, on discovering that he was about to be a grandfather, “Becoming a grandfather is like receiving a telegram from the mortuary.” And guess where he said it …the Hay on Wye Literary and Arts Festival, a gathering where neither you nor I, or I anyway, would be seen dead, it being the sort of place where pompous arty-farties such as dear Martin can say that sort of thing, while trying to be a bit of agent provocateur for the Baby Boomer fraternity. But there again, I’ve always thought that Martin Amis was a bit of a toss-pot.

I’ve just got back from England after saying hello to my new grandson, Daniel Thomas Alexander Workman, and renewing my all too limited contact with my corazón, my little sweetheart of a granddaughter, Katie. And it was wonderful.

Three Christian names (or forenames, as I believe we are now supposed to call them) may seem a bit excessive, but this delightful selection actually harks back to the old idea of naming one’s offspring after family, forebears, or for some specific person who had been influential in the parent’s or family life. And, of course, because you simply liked the name. Young Danny (by which name he will always be known) would have only have had the D and the T to give as his initials had not a close friend of his mum’s died a few days before his birth. Hence the Alexander, which I think is lovely. Not only does it acknowledge the love and importance someone had in life, but, purely by chance it is also the name that, given the opportunity, I’d have chosen myself. Let’s face it, given the choice between Alexander and Derek, what would you have chosen!

But I wander off the grandparental theme.

It’s been said often enough that one of the benefits of being a grandparent, as distinct from a parent, is that at the end of the day you hand them back. I can put up with a certain amount of crying, mainly because after I’ve spent a couple of days with my little darlings I can get a flight that takes me two thousand miles away, and still retain the sylvan image of that angelic smile of the well-fed, content little angel … and I haven’t had to change a single shitty nappy. I can take the photos, bounce him/her on the knee, buy the prettiest little outfit I can find, and make all the ridiculous ‘oobly doobgly kichiii wabadaba’ sounds I like, knowing that my friends will never hear me and think that I need a treatment of relaxatives or, more likely, that I’m just pissed again and that I won’t remember a thing about it in the morning. (And a word of warning about those who think that short-term memory fades with age … it doesn’t, and you invariably remember everything you said the night before and feel like a complete and utter pillock for having said it!)

So, far from being in accord with Mr. Amis, I disagree with him entirely. My grandchildren have given a new lease to at least part of my life. I enjoyed visiting my sons Tom and Jim, and their respective ladies, on my irregular visits to the UK, but now there’s the added incentive of being able to act a little silly with Katie – and with Danny in the future – and make her laugh. And that, dear Martin, is something you and your grandchildren will miss if all you can think of them is as one step nearer the grave.

And, apparently, being a grandad is cool! Hmm…not so sure about that one!

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered

Get your kit off!…going topless in Spain

June 2, 2010


At last we’ve had a few days of hot weather, enough to make everyone forget the long, wet winter and start shedding the scarves and big boots in favour of T-shirts and shorts. But with the balmy weather comes a re-appearance of the ‘sinca’, first commented on in the press last year, but now beginning to rear its ugly head again.

Far from being a new make of East European car, as it’s name might suggest, ‘sinca’ is an abbreviation of ‘sin camiseta’, ‘without T-shirt’, and some of the locals are getting very shirty indeed about its reappearance.

What was once only a form of dress seen on the beach, where it was perfectly at home with bikinis and thongs, people are now often seen wandering the streets of the city clad only in shorts and trainers (and for the ladies a bra-type top), with their T-shirt tucked in the waistband of their shorts. Where once this sort of dress was only seen among foreigners, keen for a few rays of April sun on their back after a long winter, (while the Spanish were still wrapped up in scarves and padded jackets), it is now being taken up by the Spanish themselves, men, women and children.

Some of the bars and restaurants in the city, desperate for income during one of the worst crises to hit Spain in living memory, are turning a blind eye to serving ‘sincas’ on their terraces, but many, especially in the Barrio del Carmen, the central city haunt for young tourists, now display a pictogram of a T-shirt and shoes, with the words, ‘Prohibida la entrada sin camiseta y/o calzado’, entrance forbidden without T-shirt and/or shoes.

In one of those curious moments of serendipity, while I was reading the article in Levante, a Valencian daily newspaper, an ancient building worker, covered in dust and grime and dressed only in a filthy pair of swimming trunks and a pair of grubby slippers, sat down at the table next to me with two of his co-workers, both dressed in dirty working clothes but at least wearing shirts. I ask him why he wasn’t wearing a T-shirt to sit outside a café, and he told me because he was dirty. When I pointed out that so were his colleagues, and ask if he didn’t think it a bit unpleasant for the other customers sitting at the nearby tables, he began to harangue me, shouting at me that he didn’t give a mierda what anybody else, thought, he’d do exactly as he wanted, when he wanted. His clothed companions averted their eyes in embarrassment, and when I left I thanked him for his consideration and tolerance.

No law, local or otherwise, exists to cover the case of ‘sincas’, but many see it as simply a case of being civilised, educated and respectful…three things sadly sometimes a bit difficult to find these days.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, , and Spain Uncovered