Friday, March 30, 2007

Born to be Wild

Been too busy running in and out of the chicken shed to make sure the new cockerel is not being victimised by the chickens.

They're a tough pair.

Anyway, walking up the track with the dog, who does partner see, but the Easy Rider boys.

They were on the quad today. When we first came here they used to ride round on Harley Davidson look-alikes.

Juan who-gave-us-the-cockerel with his mate or his relative or whoever he is. They all look the same. And they all look like Dennis Hopper.

And when they go on the bikes - or the quad, they still ride round with the flowing moustaches and no crash helmets.

I don't think they are in the market for a Ford Cougar.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Change of image

Damn. The dog's blog was looking better than mine. Probably because he is more photogenic.

Anyway of change of look was called for so I spent a happy couple of hours fiddling with every template available.

I really must must go and learn (X)HTML and every code under the sun.

So if there are no posts that's what I'm doing.

There will be something on Pippa's dog blog though as he's grown quite fond of his blog.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What day is it?

No it's not a trick question but sometimes the answer isn't so easy.

I did hear - anecdotally not from personal experience - that this question along with date, month and year, are some of the questions used to assess whether someone is suffering from dementia.

It is the typical sort of question that someone who works in an office would think is relevant. That's when your life is full of diaries, appointments and on-screen calendars with pop-up reminders that you invariably ignore.

In fact, you start to realise that it doesn't matter what day it is. If you go to work round here you invariably go six days out of seven. As long as you can count to six and you take the next day off that's all that matters. Or you might work seven days a week.

Anyway today is Tuesday. I know this because the Butane man comes around about 9am tooting his horn. So if you want a bottle of gas you leave yours outside and he changes it for you. Nobody is going to nick off with it because it is far too heavy.

Yesterday was Monday because the veg man came in the afternoon. Tomorrow is the only weekday when no-one comes so it is Wednesday. On Thursday the veg man comes again, and on Friday a different veg man comes (Friday veg man). Friday-man comes early, about 9am, and he toots his horn very loudly and then yells out "Twenty duros, everything for 20 duros."

Duros, note, not Euros. He is living in the past and has never changed his call. Just as well because if he called out the real prices no-one would ever go out to buy his veg. He is dearer than Monday/Thursday man.

So the logic goes - "Who comes today?" - and then you work out what day it is. Easy really. Apart from when the veg man doesn't come because of bad weather, or holidays, or some domestic incident, or you don't go out for anything.

You could look at the calendar, we have a couple of nice free ones from some animal feed suppliers. The Nagsa one is particularly stunning with great photos of Spain. But if you don't know what day yesterday was or tomorrow is, the calendar won't be much use.

The computer is though. I think one of the most useful and best-used of all the features on my singing, dancing, recording, calculating brain of the house is the day on the top right of the screen. So I can always cheat these days and nip in and look at the computer.

Aching muscles

Well, that says it all really. After all my contortions lying on my back and raising the desk in the air with my legs so that I could screw the adjustable legs down at the bottom (the desk's - not mine), I am now in agony.

A 50km cycle ride against the wind would have been easier with less after-effects.

Still the desk is at a better height, although it takes me some time to sit down at the moment. I never did have very good quads.

An hour forward

The clocks might be but I am certainly at least an hour behind. Regardless of what time I go to bed or get up, I am walking round like a zombie. And all this just for an hour's daylight in the evening. I would rather have it in the morning anyway. Zzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Yesterday helpful partner turned into The Welder and Grinder, so I decided to do something equally useful and raise the height of my desk. On my very own.

By a strange quirk of fate - probably called genetics - I have a long back. I also have long legs, but the back is apparently disproportionately long. To be perfect I should have longer legs - in which case I would be even taller than I am now, I'd be looking down on Naomi Campbell. Or I suppose I could have a shorter back which would be more sensible.

If you saw me in the street you would probably think I was tall and skinny with long legs, which is what most people think, rather than the apparent freak of nature I just appear to have described.

Is this fascinating description of my anatomy relevant? Of course. Particularly when sitting at a desk.

I spent many years sitting at a desk in front of a keyboard. Originally it was using typewriters. Harder on the fingers and slower, but easier on the eyes. After some years I started to get back aches and pains in my leg. No this is not going to be a boring post about my aches and pains.

Someone from occupational health came round and said I needed a different chair, but apart from that, everything in the office was fine. Computer, desk etc. So I got a new chair, and it was a bit more comfortable but not a lot.

Then I borrowed a colleague's chair. It was one she had bought herself (work would never buy anything like that, hah!), one of those where you appear to be kneeling but it actually pushes you into a good posture position. And that helped a bit too.

A bit later on, work decided to run a one-day course on this very subject. So being a right-on colleague, a good union member, and a senior manager as well, I thought I would set an example and volunteer for the course.

I say one day. To me a one-day course starts say at 9am, probably finishes at 5pm, and you might get half an hour or 45 mins lunch break. This was one of those that started at 9.30, finished at 3pm, had countless coffee breaks and nearly an hour for lunch, and went at the pace of the slowest. In fact, it could all have been condensed into two hours between 9-11am. But the trainer wouldn't have been paid for a day.

So when we had finished this course I was then expected to be qualified to wander round the building assessing my colleagues' working environment. On the basis of this minimal course, I certainly wouldn't have put my own workplace health in my hands, let alone consider myself capable of commenting on someone else's working conditions.

Imagine if someone took a claim through their union or a solicitor against work. "Who assessed you?" "Oh, she did." "And what are her qualifications?" "Oh, a one-day in-house course, total time spent learning about workplace environmental assessment no more than four hours."

No, I decided that was not a good idea. As did one of the secretaries for the same reason. I was even less impressed when later on management decided to change the furniture and I ended up with a lower desk. Not being of standard size, I didn't find a standard desk too useful.

So I spent a good few hours yesterday raising my desk. It had got lowered when we moved and until I started this blog I hadn't used the computer much so hadn't noticed it was too low.

First I cleared everything off the desk. I may be impractical but I'm not totally stupid.

But I am weak and feeble about things like this so I managed to raise four out of five legs, and only got one minor injury, but I was stuffed on one of the back ones. And being an idiot at this sort of thing, I had left the most difficult one until the end. Yes, the corner that has an extra shelf added on top, so has all the weight.

After trying to be so independent, I had to accept help from The Welder and Grinder, who of course fixed it in two seconds. In fact what had taken me hours, with countless rests or distractions, he would probably have done in five or ten minutes.

And then I went totally overboard and mopped the floor. Wow, what a productive day.

I don't think I'll take up welding or grinding just yet though.


What are dogs like?

Every morning ours comes in to wake us up for his early morning walk. Usually between 6.30 and 7am. Sometimes a little earlier, rarely later.

If The Early Morning Dog Walker (ie him not me - this is Men's Work) is feeling idle he tells Pipps to go away and come back in ten minutes.

Pipps trudges out, sighs, and flops loudly on the kitchen floor - where he can see the clock on the wall.

He waits the prescribed 10 minutes (obviously, watching the clock), and then comes in. Occasionally it's nine minutes.

There is no peace after that. He either runs in and out loudly, swinging his large tail around wildly and creating a nasty cold draught, or he sits at the side of the bed, battering The Early Morning Dog Walker with his huge feet.

Then there are a few loud stretches, a few HRRRMMMPHs, and some more running in and out. He is a loud dog in the morning, and we haven't even got on to breakfast time yet.

Anyway, I thought I'd have one over on the little monkey last night, so I didn't put the kitchen clock forward. I calculated that if I put it forward and he saw the clock, and came in at his usual 6.30am, that would be like 5.30am, which is a little too early for a Sunday. So I left it, thinking we wouldn't get a real lie-in, but we wouldn't be woken up at silly hours either.

Oh no. Pipps wasn't having a bar of that. He came in at quarter to six, ie real time quarter to seven. His normal time. He might as well have said, "Come on, I know the clocks have gone forward - who do you think you are kidding?"

I thought it was bad enough having a dog that could tell the time. But one who knows when the clocks go forward?

Edit - Pippa now has his own blog - so if you want to read any more about him please have a look.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Drop out, chill out, and - lose out?

Is that true? I can't decide.

It is some years since I left work and the biggest shock to the system is the change in the internet over those years. And how much everyone has moved on while I have been trying to chill out and relax.

I was on full-time internet access at work before, but I had dial-up at home - and tried not to do it very often. Dial-up was a pain. I sat there watching stuff loading, hanging, and then cutting off. The pounds signs were multiplying in front of my eyes as I thought of my escalating 'phone bill. For nothing - a broken connection.

Now, domestic broadband is normal. Most people that I know in the UK have a blog or a website, or both. And know how to write (X)HTML, and understand all the other technicalities that I am seriously struggling with right now.

I have to say the lure of endless olive groves here in Spain and the simple life was pretty strong. No consumerism. No commuting in and out of work and having to be in an office for up to 12 hours a day. Or being on-call outside the office. Or working unsociable hours.

But I do not have that simple life in the olive groves. Fortunately I don't have the office life either. I now have a strange mix of lives. A small semi-detached house in a tranquil coastal village within easy reach of a town and a provincial capital. Perhaps I have always really been a city girl.

And reluctantly I have had to buy a new computer. And a printer. And connect to the internet again. So I have rejoined the world. Or at least the virtual one.

I have had some excellent times over the last few years without worrying about any of this. Now I am trying to catch up. But it is quite scary how fast things move when you aren't watching them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What happens in Spain when you don't use surge protectors

When we first came to Spain we rented the villa from hell.

One of its attractions was that we could store all our worldly goods in the large garage underneath - and not have to pay storage costs.

So the removers soon turned up with our goodies. One of the first things I did was unpack the computer as I was sick of writing to people by hand. My handwriting is so bad they were probably equally as sick of it as I was.

All went well and I sat happily in front of the computer composing long letters to people I would never see again. Actually I have seen some of them, surprisingly.

One day, I turned on the computer, and got nothing. Like nothing. The screen tried to flicker into action but the box underneath (before towers were invented - or boxes were turned on end depending on your point of view) refused point blank to play.

After a few days of this, I figured it was not a temporary blip. We had met, purely by chance, a Spanish guy with a computer shop so took it to him.

Apparently the processor was stuffed and because the computer was so old (this is my nice IBM PS/1 bought in the early 90s) he couldn't find anything to fit inside, so the only option was to attach something outside the box.

"Wouldn't that be dangerous?" says me dubiously.

"No of course not, just try and avoid touching it."

Which is exactly what I've done ever since. And it still works, although it has no internet connection and now lacks a printer that can connect through ports rather than USBs. Nor was it expensive, so I do not feel ripped off.

Why did it stop working? Because we had two weeks of appalling rain, some storms and some power cuts. And we knew stuff all about surge protectors. Helpful (sic) woman acting as rental agent didn't bother advising us about surge protectors although was fast enough to mention them when we said we had a problem.

So, don't ignore advice about surge protectors.

We, or rather Helpful Partner, invariably asks people if they have them when the conversation turns to computers. When they say no, he promptly recommends they go and buy one (or more) immediately.

And do they? No.

And do their nice shiny computers go bust? Yes.

Out of three people who have ignored his advice, two have had to go out and buy new computers. In fact, one of those had only just bought a new computer. So for her that was two computers in weeks. For what? The cost of a surge protector at seven euros, or idleness, or it-won't-happen-to-me? Oh, and the third (lucky?) person had to pay an expensive repair bill.

Do these people all have surge protectors now? I actually don't know becuse it sounds a bit too much like rubbing their nose in it to ask again.

So, I will say again. If you have a computer and you are reading this in Spain or another country where power cuts are a way of life, buy a surge protector.

Unless you want an excuse to buy a new computer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Working in Spain

I was offered a job last year. It was legit as far as I know.

I answered an advert in an English newspaper based over here, and sent my CV. It was for a job I had done before, for many years. The next day I was asked to go for an interview.

It was a part-time job, which suited me fine, although when they rang me about the interview, it also turned out to be temporary, ie for a few months which wasn't mentioned in the advert. It was - in my view - not well paid, but it was a job.

Anyway off I went. The interview was pretty minimalist, and there was a bit of a test.

I'd expected the test, but couldn't really work myself up enough to treat it too seriously. Unfair, because if I'd been the interviewer I would have done exactly the same thing. It's a good way to weed out the dross. I went through it half-heartedly and then sat there fiddling around with a Sudoku puzzle waiting for them to come back.

This sounds arrogant and blasé. I had done this job for years. I was - and still am - good at it. It was a written test, and in any exam, I've always been hyper, so my writing was not good, although I didn't do the test badly. And I also knew they would get loads of people applying for this sort of job with no experience, and who wouldn't know where to start with the test, let alone the job.

They had someone else to see that week, but they would definitely let me know that week. And did they? Well I didn't hear from them so I figured it had bitten the dust.

Two weeks after the interview they condescended to ring me back. Did I want it? Well, I'd think about it and let them know. Well when? In a couple of days - my partner's not here. Can you manage tomorrow lunchtime? I'll try.

So I rang back the next day at 1pm ish (reasonable lunchtime compromise between English and Spanish hours I thought) intending to accept but with a few questions. The woman who had interviewed me was on the 'phone to someone else. Did she ring back? No, her colleague did - late afternoon - and helpfully told me they worked split shifts which had never been mentioned.

This job was advertised as a part-time job. Then it turned out to be three months temporary contract.

At the interview it was then holiday cover for three months, and out of those three months there was only nine days actual work. And no mention of shifts.

The next day when they rang back the Welsh rottweiler answered, as I was out, well, out of reach of the 'phone, ie in the bath and the mobile was on charge. My latest view was that I would take it - for the money obviously, and because I thought it would be interesting.

But no split shifts, and I wanted something in writing, and a no-smoking office. Spain brought in a no-smoking at work law last year, but when I had asked the colleague about this on the 'phone she paused before answering.

You can imagine people having the odd tab. I've worked in enough offices with smokers never to do it again.

I've had decent money jobs and never been pi$$ed around like that.

They didn't ring me again. I didn't ring them again either. So, no, I didn't take it.

They've advertised for staff since. For the same job, allied jobs, and also for head of department. I quite fancied head of department. But no, fingers burnt once.

After all, I didn't even get my travel expenses.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Neanderthal Man

I'm writing this listening to a one-hit wonder. I thought.

Flashback to Kate's teenage years, on holiday on the east coast of Yorkshire and taken to pub by parents (to drink non-alcoholic shandy I hasten to add).

For some strange reason, the only record anyone wanted to listen to was Neanderthal Man, by Hotlegs (who?). LOUD. VERY LOUD.

And for the benefit of anyone under 40 reading this (I doubt it) - pubs used to have machines with old vinyl records in. You put some money in, eg one shilling, two shillings, 5p, 10p, depending on the year, and got 1,2,4, or 5 plays. Bit of a cheek really - pubs charged you for beer and then charged you to listen to music. Although if you were lucky you got to listen to music of your own choice.

Back to the story. In this particular pub, after a few token gestures at other music, I don't know, say T. Rex or whatever else was around, on came Neanderthal Man. Not once, or twice, but on permanent repeat. Every single time we went. The effect was that of a total brainwash. Even my parents, haters of all things pop, eventually decided they liked it, they even put money into the juke-box and played it. And then - they went out and bought it for me.

Fast forward a few years. Well, more than 20. Make that more than 30.

I still play it now. It's the same vinyl single. Dance to it and sing to it happily. Until today. I looked it up on YouTube.

There's a fine video and a good reproduction of the song. It's 10cc before they were 10cc. I hate 10cc. I have always hated 10cc.

I have read this again and I haven't got this loud enough. I really dislike 10cc - almost as much as Elton John - in fact, I always have done, and I still do. Tuneless slop IMHO.

And I have spent more than 20 years telling Unmusical Partner (who likes 10cc) what a crap band they are and always have been.

I don't really know what else to say. Apart from Hotlegs is not 10cc?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Today I got on my bike

It's a bit of a pain when it's windy.

Did you know the Costa del Sol used to be called the Costa del Viento before some marketing person got their hands on tourism?

Or so I read in a book in the days before broadband access. And for anyone who doesn't speak Spanish - that's sunny coast, and windy coast.

It's normally always sunny, even when it's windy. But when it's windy most Spaniards stay inside. So do the rest of us, especially if we wear contact lenses.

Anyway, if you find that miracle window of opportunity, you can get out on the bike when there is a nice breeze, rather than a full gale blowing dust devils in your face.

And normally the motorists are ok too. Especially as they now have to leave a two metre gap when they go past a cyclist.

Of course in my village they don't know that. That's because half of them don't read, don't have a driving licence, don't have insurance, so certainly have no idea the law has changed.

Fortunately, because of all of the above, they don't drive fast either.

I cycled down the street to the crossroads and followed a car left onto the main road through the village. As usual there was some typical Spanish delay, so there was suddenly a three-car traffic jam.

There was nothing coming the other way so I indicated to turn left and started overtaking them. One of the motorists also twigged there was nothing coming the other way, so he did the same thing (although he wasn't turning left). Without indicating. Into exactly the same path I was taking.

Had this guy not seen me? Despite the fact that he was driving down the main street and I had pulled out behind him when everything was clear? Do cyclists not exist?

For all I know his eyesight may well be poor. People round here don't buy glasses lightly. My neighbour uses her husband's glasses when she wants to sew. Obviously not for reading because she can't. This guy may not even know how bad his eyesight is. Or his driving.

Sometimes assertive cycling means getting out of the way. And taking slight consolation in shouting helpful suggestions in loud English at blind motorists.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


That's probably a misnomer. School competitors is far more like it.

And the great thing about the internet is that you can track them down. If they have a public profile or a not-too-common name. I don't have a public profile, but I do have a common name. If you key in my name, you get screen fulls of other people, invariably American. Suits me.

Back to school-friends. She joined my junior school a few years after me, and promptly started competing for top places. Best score in the times table tests and things like that.

We tussled for the next however many years, and both won scholarships to the senior school. And after that - credit where it's due - she did better than me. When I got a commendation, she got a prize.

She was in the hockey team. Vicious game, I hated it. Or was it vicious women?

I used to beat her at high jump. I had longer legs.

We went off to separate universities. Thank goodness. Mine was a solid northern one, and hers was one of those not-quite-Oxbridge-but-pretty-good-ones.

I didn't hear anything about her for ages. Then I got my first proper job. And who was in the office down the road? Not ten minutes drive away? I could not believe it. There are few times in my life when I have been pretty stunned, but this was one of them.

"Oh, she's a lovely lass," said one of my new not-so-friendly colleagues. "You'll like her."

Get out of it. I'd spent 12 years being less than fond of her. Why would I like her now? And anyway, why do you like her so much when she's got a good degree, and you dislike me intensely because I've got one?

I went home and told my parents. "Guess who works for the same firm?" I said, dramatically. It must have had some effect because I got plied with glasses of Chablis and grilled salmon for tea. Very nice.

Fortunately we didn't have too much to do with each other. And later I left to do something really interesting like travelling round the world. No idea what happened to her until last night.

And when you have broadband access you have to make good use of it. So while the adverts were on, I suddenly remembered her and keyed in her name. (The adverts last a long time in Spain.)

There she was. Not quite as large as life as she had been before. (She could have made three prop forwards at one point).

And in a totally different career. She'd obviously retrained, taken some more exams, and got herself a new job.

Without any hesitation, I hope she's enjoying it. Even I've forgotten the childhood - and later - competitive stuff.

I didn't end up in the same job as we - coincidentally - started off in. Although strangely lots of our office colleagues at the time still seem to be around in the same area, doing the same thing.

So, here we are. The two brightest children in our year of junior school. She is not at the top of her profession, and I have chucked mine. All of them. For the moment.

And what she now does, is one of the careers I considered. Perhaps we should both have gone straight into law. But that isn't how life works is it?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Is someone watching me?

I don't mean watching over me, or watching out for me.

Is someone out there watching me - or us?

I thought I would do a pea pilaf today. Sadly when it came to chucking the rice in the pan it appeared I had used it all up.

So I shot out of the door before the shops shut at 2pm to buy some rice. And bumped into one of my occasional neighbours.

She is Northern European, so flits between her own country and here, where she has a Spanish, or rather I should say, Andalucían boyfriend.

"Hello," she said, with her best friendly face. She'd already spoken to me two days ago so I should have been suspicious.

Our rare conversations are normally hello, and possibly, it's a nice day isn't it. No reason to like or dislike her, we just tend not to have much to say to each other.

Until today.

"Oh, my amigo hasn't seen you for ages. He asks me - where are the English?"

What amigo? Turns out she meant her boyfriend. Why didn't she say so?

"We haven't seen him either," I answered. "He's been busy working."

"Oh, you are working," she said, helpfully or otherwise, misunderstanding me. "What are you doing?"

No, I'm not working. Apart from at this blog but that really isn't your business.

"How old are you?" was the next question. In all the time I have been in Spain no-one has asked me that. So I answered truthfully. And asked her how old she was.

"Fifty-two," she answered. I've no idea if that's true or not as she looks pretty good on it. "And my friend is 35. My daughter is 32."

Good on yer, sweetie. I said something feeble, like, "Well, fancy that."

"It's difficult for women of our age to get work isn't it," she said in that same very friendly fashion. Way too friendly.

Yes, I agreed, thinking I really must get to the shops before they shut, because pea pilaf isn't too good without rice.

Then she prattled on about having another home here in Spain (as well as the falling-down two-roomed ruin where they usually live). It seems they have a pre-fab somewhere out the back of the village and she had been trying to tidy the garden.

And then I escaped and went off for the rice.

So why have I suddenly had a long conversation with this woman, who has hardly spoken to me over the past few years?

If her amigo hasn't seen me, or my partner, we have certainly seen - and heard - him. We've seen him in his vehicle because he never walks anywhere. We saw him a couple of days ago driving into town with his van that doesn't have an MoT (ITV here in Spain), ie a roadworthy certificate.

And we've heard him in the morning when he gets up at 7am to work in the fields, throws his dogs out on the street, and then lights his first panatella of the day and promptly retches if he's had too much whisky the night before.

My partner has been sick with bronchitis for some time, but all the world must have heard him coughing. I am certainly sick of listening to him, but he's not been out and about as much as usual. Although other neighbours have seen him.

So why the sudden interest in our activities?

Do they think we've secretly started working and want to dob us in? Well, I came here not to work, and in all honesty I haven't done. But if I did, I couldn't be bothered with the grief of doing it illegally anyway.

Or maybe she's just lacking female company.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Work colleagues

Don't you just love 'em?

I'm not talking about the ones where the relationship stops just short of open warfare, as you jostle for prestige and promotion.

Or the ordinary back-stabbers.

Or even the seriously irritating incompetent ones.

No, I'm talking about the nice helpful ones - who are just lacking that bit of confidence.

They are hard-working, bright, probably not highly-qualifed but with some good exam results. And they help you get your job done.

Great. And when you try and encourage them to move up and on, or ask for more pay, they don't want to know. They are grateful for their job.

Anyway you keep helping them out. Advice, chat in the pub, whatever.

So how come one day they are on more than twice what you ever earned, and haven't spoken to you for years?

To be honest, I don't know to this day if it was a serious clever well-contrived plan that she had over the years, or just right place, right woman, right moment. And big eyes.

Anyway little sweetheart, wherever you are (and it won't be reading my blog), I'm dead pleased you've got on so well, and I do hope I helped you on the way a bit.

You've got the power, the glory - and even the honour - everything you probably ever wanted.

Shame you've always been so short and fat really, and your face is plastered with more make-up than you could slap on with a trowel.

And yes, I do feel an idiot for helping you out. I know I'm not the only one though. Wonder who you help these days? Apart from yourself. Wonder who you ever helped really?

I'm not busting my fat behind (well, mine isn't and never has been, unlike yours) running round after someone else, to get that extra buck, that pension, that golden handshake, and that seat on the board.

And it's me that's sitting here looking at the Mediterranean, in the sun, doing exactly what I want. Every day.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Winter jasmine

Although it's called winter jasmine, to be honest it's like spring here now.

The winter jasmine smells beautiful, day and night, and is full of flowers.

One of my neighbours went past yesterday when I was watering the garden, and told me how pretty I looked.

I preened myself, and then she added (in case I hadn't understood) "how pretty the flowers were."

Ah, well.

Winter jasmine only lasts for a few weeks - and then it fades and the flowers fall off - for the rest of the year it just sits there with green leaves.

There are lots of other spring flowers out now in the gardens, and in the countryside.

Most days the sun shines, there is a slight breeze, and a few clouds.

It's one of the nicest times of year to be in Andalucía.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

That elusive job

This is his story. All the way from the Valleys (South Wales - I keep having to remember the internet is global). Don't forget the accent, now then, or whatever they say with that sing-song sort of voice.

Over to him:

I will never forget that day. There were only three of us called into the headmaster's office.

There was me, Alan, and Phil.

I had only been in the headmaster's office twice before that.

Once was because I was late for assembly and I'd not finished my paper round in time to get to school. The other was when I had pulled Mrs Griffiths' wig off when I had bumped into her running down the corridor playing Tag (me not her).

Anyway, back to that fateful day. But not straightaway because I am Welsh.

My school isn't on the map. It isn't on Friends United. Hers is. Her junior school and her senior school. And her snotty classmates who don't really want to contact each other. Half of them are back in Yorkshire and the other half are in California. Anyway who am I to talk?

I don't think my school is there any more. Or at least not in the same existence. The school seems to have been re-incarnated and removed and closed. A number of times. In fact it seems to have moved at one point to the girls' grammar school. Have I missed out in life ? I would so like to have gone to the girls' grammar school. I might have got better results.

Where I went to school is in one of the most deprived areas of the UK. Perhaps it always was. I didn't think it was so bad myself, although I didn't like it.

Anyway the headmaster said, "Sit down boys."

We sat down and waited for the cane. He was standing behind his desk with his hand on the long cupboard door where the cane lived.

"Well done, Curly (Phil). You have got an apprenticeship in the print. I expected this of you. You are the brightest boy in the class.

"Well done, Alan, for getting your apprentice mechanic's job at Western Welsh Bus Company.

"And you boy, I can't really believe this. But as I have notification from your future employer and the Schools Career Service, I have to. Well done."

There were only three of us out of my class that got apprenticeships. There were two other classes. I have no idea what happened to any of them as they aren't on Friends United.

The headmaster said to me later, " I always expected you to get a job boy. Anyone that leaves the house at 5am at 11 years of age to go and do a paper round and sticks at it is always going to be in work. But I didn't expect you to get an apprenticeship."

This was when I was delivering newspapers to his house in Snobs' Row, before I went to work, still in my apprenticeship years. The paper rounds paid more money than the full-time job, so I kept them going, before and after work, and at weekends. The headmaster never liked me much anyway.

Lots of my mates went into the canning factory, better paid than being an apprentice. And when it closed they had no skill and no job.

When I started tech there were 25 of us apprentices, from a wide area. When I finished there were six of us who got our papers and were still in a job.

It wasn't easy at the time. There wasn't much work in the Valleys. Over the years there was less.

So I get a bit racked off when people come out of other jobs, with pensions, and take a short course, to retrain in a trade skill and get a qualification in a few weeks. It took me years and it was hard graft. It's never been an easy living and it's never been well-paid. But I've usually found work.

Why are people so greedy that they want to take money from those of us who have spent our lives in one occupation - for a bit of pocket money, to boost their pension, and maintain their lifestyle?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Off to Madrid

No, not us, some Spanish guy.

Helpful Partner was on dog walking duty today as it was too windy for me. Dust in contact lenses and all that.

Anyway as he's wandering down the track he meets a woman who was busy emptying half the contents of her house into one of the communal rubbish skips.

Sitting on the back seat of the car was a motocross helmet.

Apparently her son had cleared off to Madrid and didn't want it any more, or the bike, or the quad (she'd sold those).

"Well, do you want it?" she said.

"Of course," says he.

The son had got himself a new life in Madrid and wasn't coming back so she was getting rid of everything. She'd probably bought it all for him anyway as Spanish children rarely seem to have to put their hand in their pocket.

"There's nothing here for young ones," says Helpful Partner, chattily as she drove down the hill slowly, and he proudly clutched his new helmet in one hand and the dog lead in the other.

"No money, no jobs, only sun," he added.

"That's right," she said. "He's got no friends here either, and he's enjoying life in Madrid. But it's all right for the likes of us, because we're older."

She didn't have the local accent, and she was pretty pleasant. She didn't speak English, only Spanish, French and Italian.

"Where did you live before?" he asked.


Post Script to Agua de Valencia

Helpful Partner has just read my post. And given me some kind feedback and some not so kind.

He has kindly told me I didn't look ten years older when I staggered red-eyed out of the toilet.

But that everyone in the bar could hear me for the ten minutes that I was crying in the toilet.

Agua de Valencia

I will always remember getting to 40. How could I forget?

Men seem to worry about reaching 30, and 50, but for me 40 was the one that made the difference.

There is no way you can kid yourself any more that you are that bright pretty young woman that has just left university. Even in your 30s, you can fool yourself that you are just in a slight extension of your 20s.

But 40 no. All your friends have kids, invariably more than one, usually two - one of each because your friends have ordered lives. Some of your friends or work colleagues have died.

Your female friends are dying their hair - not to look young and glamorous - but to hide the grey. (Not me - no grey hairs when I got to 40 - thanks mum).

Anyway, determined to face up to it bravely, I planned the annual holiday. By some strange quirk of fate, Helpful Partner has his birthday the day before mine, so we had started taking our holidays at birthday time.

Sometimes we celebrated on his (as it came first), and mine was a more restrained affair. Sometimes we partied for two days. And if they fell over a weekend we turned it into a birth-weekend. So much more fun than just a birthday. We have been known to make a birth-week out of it too.

This year, my birthday was clearly going to be the event. After much rejection of virtually every destination in the world, I decided on three weeks in Spain. Part back-packing, just to prove I WAS NOT OLD, and the hire of a villa plus car for a week.

I say villa but that is a bit grandiose as it was actually a quarter-detached house, ie a semi and a back-to-back all in one. And there was a brill pool about 10 yards away which was always pretty empty in the morning as all the Spaniards were still in bed.

I digress. For my 40th we had back-packed down the coast to Valencia and I had splashed out on a decent room which even had its own shower. Not too much of a splash mind, about 25 quid instead of 15-20 quid.

Our daytime activities on that momentous day have faded somewhat in my memory. I think we wandered round and didn't have much to eat. The previous day we'd eaten at La Lluna (C/San Ramon, don't know if it is still there, unlikely I guess), which was good but we didn't want to eat at the same place again. I think by 4pm we'd managed a few small tapas. Like tiny tapas.

I blame it all on the Rough Guide to Spain, sixth edition, p688. This was where I read all about Agua de Valencia. Water of Valencia is something of a misnomer. Anything further from water you can't imagine. Freshly-squeezed orange juice (yum), champagne (cava I should imagine), and vodka (ouf). I think they do it with gin too. It's slightly irrelevant as the orange juice masks the spirit and it tastes like a rather interesting Bucks Fizz, which pales into insignificance next to Agua de Valencia.

So I was determined to try it. When it got to a civilised (British) hour to try this racy cocktail for my birthday, we hit the bars. Now one of the best things about this delicious concoction is that the bartender makes it up freshly for you and it comes in little jugs. Actually they are not very little at all. You can get some three glasses of Valencian Water (hah!) out of one jug.

"Do you like it?" says Helpful Partner.

"Yes," I said (bit of a stupid question I thought but he is a beer drinker).

"Have another one," he said.

So I did. And then we went to another nice olde bar, wooden floors and dark, you can imagine it, and I had a couple of jugs there too.

In fact it was very dark in there. I really couldn't see very well. I staggered to the toilet, and gazed meaningfully in the mirror at this 40-year-old woman.

And opened the reservoirs. "Boooooo. I'm never going to be young again. Booooooo. I've had the best years of my life. Booooooohooooooo. What am I going to do for the next 40 years? Booooohoooooohooooo."

Eventually there were no more tears left in the reservoir, just a few dribbles, so I made an undignified exit and appeared back at the bar, somewhat baggy-eyed and probably looking ten years older than when I had gone to the toilet. Helpful Partner had finally twigged that he had been a bit over-generous in plying me with Agua de Valencia. He finished off the remaining jug and dragged me home. I think. Who knows?

I did not feel well the next morning. Not at all well. Sensibly, I had planned down to the finest detail exactly what we were going to do. Stagger half way across the city with an incredibly heavy rucksack to the bus station to get the bus down to Alicante and pick up the hire car and go to the villa. This was a great plan originally but on the morning of the Biggest Hangover Ever it was not such a good idea.

Helpful Partner was not sympathetic and we lurched off to the bus station. The bus driver was clearly not sympathetic. BUMPETY BUMP went the bus. BUMPETY BUMP went my head. The horrible sun was not sympathetic and shone brightly at me even behind dark glasses. Up and down, up and down endless sick-making hills. I super-glued my head to the headrest and tried to look not very ill/sick/vastly hung-over. More sort of the I'll-just-doze-off look and hopefully not vomit on the bus.

I can still remember it all too vividly. But it did make me think I needed to change my life.

Agua de Valencia. Your life may never be the same again.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Neighbours (1)

I don't really need to say any more, do I?

To be honest we like ours and - apart from learning Spanish - they have been helpful in lots of ways. Feeding us, for example, as though we were little waifs and strays.

"Here we are Catalina, my family isn't too keen on the bean stew today, would you like it?"

"Catalina, come and get the remains of the salad that the family don't want."

Said family really prefer burgers, chops, steak, anything fried really. Definitely not vegetables or salad or bean stew. They have aspirations and this does not include peasant food.

We on the other hand don't have aspirations, and although found it amazingly strange to be given meals (not even on wheels - just over the wall) we got quite accustomed to it.

Hopefully we have given back enough - for free - welding, decorating, lending tools, plumbing, flood prevention.........

Anyway, seems they've fallen on hard times and we don't get the meals any more. The son-in-law is out of work more times than he is in work, so they rely on the daughter's cleaning money that she earns a few mornings a week. The parents get a state pension.

I should probably have said that the daughter and her husband and their two kids live in a small house on the back of her parents, so there are six people next door.

There is a short wall between us that we lean on and chat over. Or used to. Recently for whatever reason this doesn't happen much. It could be because it is winter, and they don't like the westerly wind.

So they pull down the venetian blinds. Yes, venetian blinds. They have put up these naff venetian blinds between our two houses, so they can control the air, the sun, the wind, whatever really. The blinds go up when they want to watch what we are up to (not usually very much), and down if they want to be private.

They always go up when we have someone round. They always go down when they have someone round.

Today they went up for the first time in weeks. They obviously wanted to dry the washing.

We really must go to the shop and order some posh-looking blinds.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


For some years before we met he used to babysit for his sister. He got on well with his nephew and niece.

After we married, we stayed with his sister and her husband, and their two children. The children seemed nice enough to me, I was clearly a bit of an interloper, but they weren't rude or obnoxious - which is saying something.

Recently we had one of those family 'phone calls - from his brother's wife.

Sarah, his niece, had died in her sleep, aged twenty something.

He rang his sister, as you do in these circumstances. Then he told me to speak to her. Gulp. What do you say to a woman whose 20+ year-old daughter has died suddenly?

Sometimes a journalist is short of words. I said what I thought, which was highly unoriginal.

"I'm sorry, and I really don't know what to say".

Fortunately she'd obviously spoken to a few people before me, and kindly talked me through it in her immaculate home counties tones - not a trace of Welsh in them.

I staggered away from the 'phone leaving him to do a bit more family stuff. We agreed he would go to the funeral although I would have to stay here to look after the animals.

A few days later he rang his sister again to find out the practicalities of the funeral arrangements. Time, where to meet, all the formalities.

"10am at the church," she snapped.

This obviously didn't sink in well enough, so then he asked what time the family should meet at the house.

"Immediate family only," she snapped, again. As in, this does not include you - or our brothers - just go to the church with everyone else.

Sarah's immediate family means her parents, her brothers, and her long-term partner. Not you. Is this clear yet?

Well, like great, Sis. I'm only flying 2000 miles to the funeral of my niece and I'm no longer family.

He persisted and asked about what happened after the funeral.

"I suppose you can come back to the house," she conceded.

I rang round for prices for flights. It wasn't cheap, not helped by the fact it was half-term.

There was no offer of accommodation, or being picked up at the airport, or anything really. (Obviously, not being family). He really wanted to go, but not to be treated as though he was someone who had barely met Sarah.

The more we talked about it, the more disillusioned and offended he was by being dismissed in such an off-hand fashion. Everyone has family differences but this sort of occasion wasn't the time for it.

So he never went. He figured he wasn't wanted or needed. And when he visited his brother and his wife after the funeral and heard the report about the family in-fighting, he was glad he hadn't gone.

Sorry Sarah. Things don't always work out.

Pepe and Gaynor (1)

We met Pepe and Gaynor some years ago.

She's Welsh but met Pepe when she was living in America. He's Hispano-American.

I've lost track of the number of houses they have bought - and sold - in the last five years. Usually through the local church club that arranges English lessons for unsuspecting new ex-pats.

Glad I took my English lessons over the fence with the Spanish neighbours.

Pepe and Gaynor are good company. We usually meet them in the street as we tend to dance round each other.

"I would so like to look inside your house" she said one day as though I invite every toerag off the street to look at my untidy home. "We were quite interested in buying it before you did but we never got to see inside." You didn't have enough money sweetheart.


"We sold our house to some friends who had always admired our place". Hah! And what have the said friends been saying ever since about this house? And about you?

Recently, for some strange reason, Gaynor has had a bizarre urge to return to the (well-off) parts of the valleys. She has even bought a house there. And Pepe being such a dab hand at DIY has managed to restore it so that they made a fortune on it. Of course.

Now they just rent here in the winter. I'm sure the fact that they aren't buying (or so they say) is nothing to do with the fact that they want to avoid Spanish Capital Gains Tax for Non-Residents. Which they have avoided on most of their previous sales.

And having flogged the said place in the valleys, they are now upwardly mobile and looking at the south-east. "Only something modest of course".

Of course.

Funnily when we met them today and we got one of the many stories about their house-buying activities (and inquisitions about what we were doing), Pepe was silent. He tends to shut up when she is on a roll. And she normally goes bright red.

Anyway, we like them. For five or ten minutes chat in the street.


The Bike Mechanic went out for a test ride on one of his latest acquisitions.

Down the street he met Spanish Bike Man. We don't know his name (it will be Juan or Pepe or possibly Miguel or Rafa), so Spanish Bike Man serves the purpose. He rides a bike - but for transport from A to B rather than sport.

Much hand-shaking and back-slapping in the street, as you do with hombres. It's so macho here, the men can never keep their hands off each other.

Anyway, SBM admires the latest acquisition and asked if it was one of the rescued bikes that had been chucked out recently.

"Yes", says Bike Mechanic proudly.

"You could get 50€ for that you know", says SBM somewhat sadly and then launched into his story of having to spend more than 300€ on a new bike.

And why? Because he doesn't have the tools (ie spanners and stuff) or the knowledge to mend bikes. Punctures yes, but much more than that no.

So then these two men of the world had a discussion about education in Spain and England. Or perhaps Andalucía and England would be more accurate. SBM said he just hadn't received a good enough education to be able to restore bikes - and read manuals. This guy is not poor, he lives in a nice house on the beach front (hey, we can't afford that), doesn't work much that we can see, isn't supported by the state, he's always smart, and civil, so he is not some no-hoper.

Basically some years ago, people didn't go to school round here.

My next door neighbours are in their late 70s. José can read (slowly) and write but his wife can't. She was out in the fields picking beans when she should have been at school. José's parents paid a couple of pesetas for a travelling school teacher to come and give him lessons. I joke not. So he slowly reads out the news from the local paper to Adelina. I could read it faster in my crud Spanish.

These people are not my grandparents' age, they are a similar age to my parents. My grandparents could read and write and so could the only great-great-relly that I can remember. Great-great-aunt Ellen was one of those Victorian images who sat straight up in a chair and glared at all little girls. But she could read and write.

It's not just the oldies that need to sign for their money in the bank with a thumb print. You find women in their mid-to-late 40s or early 50s unable to read too.

Spain still has one of the poorer education records in Europe. And here in Andalucía, the kids and their families pay lip-service to school attendance, but really, young José or Manolito or Juane is going to go straight into the fields, goat-herding or building firm just like his dad. All he really needs to learn is to count beans/goats/bricks - and take the money. They usually manage that one OK. And all Maria or Ana needs to do is get married.......

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Surge protectors for your computer

We had a short power cut this morning. It only lasted for a few minutes. But it did remind me what I wanted to say today.

If you are reading this from Spain - or anywhere that has power cuts as a matter of course - make sure you have a surge protector for your computer, and anything that is linked to it.

You can buy individual ones from any electrical shop for about 7€ each. I have four - for computer, printer, router, and telephone. Total cost, less than 30€. You can also buy a posh job for 60 something euros that apparently protects the whole circuit in the house.

So, if you haven't got one for your computer, turn it off, now. RIGHT NOW. And go and buy at least one. If the shops aren't open, go as soon as they open. Seriously.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A good day for bikes

Just a short post today as we have been busy with bikes.

Or rather the Bicycle Mechanic has been restoring two excellent bikes he has retrieved from the side of Spanish rubbish skips, with hardly anything to do to them.

For anyone who doesn't know, all household rubbish is thrown out daily into a large communal street rubbish bin. There are loads of these, invariably between 10 and 20 yards away from your house.

The theory is that you only throw organic waste in them, and a bit like the UK, you are meant to ring the council if you want something different collected.

Anyway, the Spanish - being good recyclers, or at least some of them are - invariably chuck other rubbish at the side of these bins, and then there is a fight to get the most useful stuff.

Helpful Partner, aka The Bicycle Mechanic, is pretty fast at spotting Useful Stuff, so the front terrace has been littered with various bikes and parts of for the last week.

It's obviously getting warmer here and therefore round to new bike season, so the better-off Spanish are getting rid of their old bikes.

Here is a pic of him fiddling around with his two new acquisitions, bit of new brake and gear cable or something so he claims, a mere 5€, plus another euro for a couple of wheel nuts.

Why do we need all these bikes you ask? Well on the rare occasion people come to see us, we can go cycling together. Or when we are really down to our last euro we can flog them at the car boot sale.

We brought the tandem with us from the UK. The trouble is since I have become more confident on the bike, we can't ride together - and the only time we tried to get on it down the street the neighbours nearly passed out in hysterics claiming we were trying to kill ourselves. Hmm. Practice called for there.

Oh, and we actually went for a ride today too. The local carrot run into town for some shopping. Being a pair of total softies we invariably take a couple of carrots for some horses and a donkey that live next to the old railway line. No pix of Greedy One (the black horse who invariably tries to eat carrots AND fingers), but a pic of donkey, who is quite adorable. A darling. I so want to start a donkey sanctuary although it appears I have to be satisfied with a bike sanctuary for the moment.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Buses in Spain

Apart from the sun, and the music, and the coffee, and the beer, and the cava, and the scenery, and the history, and..and..lots more.. one of the best things about Spain is the buses.

I guess the services are so good because so many people used not to have cars.

In fact lots still don't, and many women still don't drive. Not where I am anyway.

So I can walk down to the main road out of the village and get on a bus to Málaga, every 40 minutes, for 1.85€. And for 40 or 50 minutes depending on traffic, I can gaze out of the window at the Mediterranean as someone else drives me down the coast. This is A Good Thing.

Alsina Graells in Spanish, English, and French.

In bus stations you buy the tickets from a little ticket office. You need to go to the one for the company you are travelling with. (In Málaga this excludes the airport bus which is a Euro fixed fare paid to the driver when you get on the bus, have the exact money ready.)

On busy buses you may find your seat number is included on the ticket. Invariably the Spanish either ignore this or can't read anyway. This then leads to lots of Spanish hollering at each other and trying to sit on each other's laps as the whole bus has to start playing musical chairs.

I watched this performance last week on the bus back from Gibraltar. On the way down from Málaga it had been pretty quiet, but coming back, on the 2.15pm bus - the Spanish had obviously got out of bed - it was pretty busy.

Anyway, when in Spain do as the Spanish do, so I ignored my allocated seat and cleared off to the back of the bus. I would not normally recommend this practice - I add quickly - but I had all my bags with me and wanted the space. Plus I've got long legs, and back ache...well those are my excuses anyway.

This was a good move although by fluke and not as calculated as it appears. Unless there are 52 people or whatever on the bus you are not going to get kicked out of the very last seat on the bus for taking someone else's seat, but I only worked that out afterwards. I was feeling smug. Those of us at the back looked on patronisingly as 20 people in the middle of the bus suddenly all started mass musical chairs just as the bus was due to leave.

A British guy hastily moved back one seat to join me at the back in case he'd committed the unpardonable of sitting in someone's else place, and then it all settled down, and off we went.

So in the back few seats we were two British, one German, one Austrian, and one undefined with curly hair and a flower pot hat. In front were three Spaniards. We happily chatted away mixing the languages, although the British guy decided to go to sleep not long after the Austrian told us he was a beggar..... He loved the Germans and the English, apparently we are generous, but the Spanish are not too keen on funding his lifestyle. He got off en route - presumably to go and find a nice supermarket to sit outside.

Coming out of Torremolinos and into Málaga we hit a delay. At this point the gypsy family in the middle of the bus decided to entertain us. The kids were obviously bored so the (say) 12-year-old girl started beating her younger brother round the head with a water bottle, on the tenuous grounds that he was behaving badly.

"SON OF A WHORE!!" they screamed at each other, while the said mother sat there watching the performance like the rest of us. Then they got bored with the water bottles as weapons and started fighting a bit more seriously with fists. Mother must have said something at this point as younger brother promptly whacked her one round the head. Father sat peaceably next to mother cradling sleeping babe in arms. And then they must have got bored and it fizzled out. Bummer. Not seen such good spontaneous spectator sport since I went to Elland Road and there were more missiles (mostly beer cans) on the pitch than players. And that was some time ago as Kevin Keegan was the main target.

I love buses. Practical details - 10.04€ between Málaga and La Linea (one way). Four buses a day. Clicky linky thingy here, (well it will be when I can work out how to do it...) Autobuses Portillo - autocares buses transporte de pasajeros Costa del Sol Málaga y Algeciras in Spanish and English.

If you want to go to Gib for a day trip and stock up at Morrisons on whatever you like - in my case Ecover toilet cleaner, cornflower, organic tinned tomatoes, vegetarian Cheshire cheese, and Nando's hot peri peri sauces - there are plenty of organised day trips from the Costa.

I used the Lux Mundi trip in Torre del Mar. Incredibly well organised. Buy ticket in advance, get seat allocated, and turn up to find name on seat too. Most impressed. Bargain price too, 12€ return day trip. Leave Torre del Mar bus station at 7am (about the only down side to the trip - especially if you live out of Torre), get down to Gib about 9.30, and then the queue to get over the frontier is all in the lap of the gods. Set off back from Morrison's car park at 4pm as I remember, and get back to Torre around 6.45pm. Recommended. So is Nando's sauce. Lux Mundi tel: (00 34) 952 54 33 34. Trips usually once a month on a Thursday.

I've posted some info about buses between Madrid - Burgos - Santander.

Buying a new computer in Spain

I think this is a long process requiring months of research and product appraisal. He doesn't.

To start with, it involves several months of deciding to part with the money. When you come from Yorkshire that's probably the most difficult part of the job.

Having (almost) decided to part with the money, the next dilemma is what to buy. Every trip to Eroski doubled in length as I peered at all the computers and tried to work out any visible difference or extract any meaning from the minimalist specification.

Then I tried to find some computer shops. It seems computer shops (English and Spanish) don't sell computers any more, rather they tailer one to your specification and chuck all the bits in a plastic coated tin box.

In reality nothing new there I suppose. It just means the choice boils down to either paying for far eastern bits that get assembled here, or you pay for far eastern bits that get assembled there.

I bought a few Spanish computer magazines so I could tell my Athlons from my Semprons and my Celerons. I even found Pentiums were still kicking on, so I began to feel more at home. Guia del Comprador de Ordenadores y Software was pretty good as was Personal Computer & Internet. Don't be fooled by the English title, it's all written in Spanish.

Asked a nice man in one of the English shops what would be an appropriate specification for someone who wanted a good (ie fast) word processor and to fiddle with a few graphics. Not bothered about games or music. He pointed me in the direction of some lower to mid-range specification saying that was usually what he recommended for people like me. AKA middle-aged women who sent a few letters now and again - possibly rising to the dizzy heights of including the odd photo. I did point out that in the past I found most computers VERY SLOW and VERY IRRITATING and that I was thinking about using it for work but he seemed to think the middle-of-the-range-box-with-nothing-in-particular-inside-it model would be just right for me. I didn't.

Then I rang Dell but never heard anything from them. They told me to look on the internet so I told them I didn't have internet access and that was why I was buying a new computer. Obviously not interested in a 40-something behind the times English woman with dodgy Spanish. I looked at HP/Compaq, Packard Bell and Supratech as they were about the only ones I could see - at Eroski of course.

After flicking through my two trusty magazines and 30 trips to Eroski I was starting to narrow down the choices. The smart looking black one with the naff silver bits, or the grey one that wasn't quite so well designed. At this point I had decided against asking the helpful young shop assistants if they knew any more than was on the price ticket.

He began to get bored.

"Just go to Málaga and get the Apple," he said.

At this point I should confess that I have lusted after an Apple for some many years. In fact I have never met a journalist who hasn't lusted after an Apple for their own private use. It's something to do with a delusional idea of belonging to an exclusive club - that those of us who work in the print and design field have a computer specially designed for our unique needs.

Or it could be mind-numbing sub-conscious programming. Too many years in a newsroom sat in front of a tiny black and white screen with a little apple logo on the top of the monitor. Surrounded by colleagues all gazing at the little apple for creative inspiration.

But that memory had faded over the years and membership of the exclusive club had been uppermost in my mind for some time - an indulgence for when I had a spare grand or so. However, the IBM wasn't going to let me join the club too quickly, and resolutely refused to have any breakdown whatsoever, so I never did buy the Apple in the UK. The only reason I ended up looking for a computer here was because the printer packed up and I couldn't find one with ports instead of USBs. Just for the record the IBM is still alive and well 12 years on, but without a printer.

Back to the Apple hunt. I got ready for the big day and made the trip to Málaga. Wow. Cool shop. Not quite awesome but certainly cool. And computers that worked fast without me typing words in and then waiting five minutes for them to show up on the screen.

I reported back. "They're good, and fast. Nice design, no awful tower, but they are cream. Everything else we've looked at is black or silver, why are they only in cream? Do you want go to Málaga and have a look?"

He didn't. He thought they looked all right on the pic and the spec was OK. As I'd been promising myself one for at least ten years he really couldn't see why I hadn't bought it there and then.

"I think they are nice, but they are dear," I said, thinking that was good enough reason. He ignored me.

I held out for a few more days, and then I caved in. We made a rare trip in the Land Rover to Málaga so I could walk out of the shop with it and take it home to play. I waited a few minutes for the guy to check it all over, grudgingly parted with my money, and staggered out with the large box.

We arrived home, plugged it in, switched it on, and it worked. Pretty simple really. Even I don't know why I spent four months prevaricating. I hit all the wrong keys to start with, having been used to Windows 98/Microsoft for so long, and was gutted to find there was no huge manual for me to devour. Even in Spanish it would have been good.

Despite not wanting music, photos, movies, dvds, games and comics (and certainly not the internet) I used every single application within the first few weeks. I made the most of one of his trips to the UK and in his absence bought my first ever CDs - nice loud Spanish music.

And he does look very pretty, handsome really I suppose. He even gets wrapped up when we all go to bed, so he doesn't get dusty. I have been known to wash his face and dust the rest of him. Everything else in the house is gradually going grey with ingrained dust, so he's definitely pampered and cosseted.

He can be a bit unpredictable, but by and large he's pretty well behaved.

Down sides? The cost of course - more than 1700E last year. And the fact that it came down in price a month or two after I had bought it, presumably when they brought out a slightly different version.

After care. A misnomer in fact. The telephone help line is awful and unhelpful. Their first response is to tell you to look at the Apple web site. When you confess to not being on the internet they immediately assign you to the backwoods moron category anyway. Then they spend a long time telling you to take out the Apple Care Programme for Idiots Who Do Not Even Have Internet Access. The only useful information I got out of them was how to eject a stuck disc, and had I not panicked I could have found it in the minimalist idiot's guide (124 pages, size of a CD).

The only way to find anything out about Apple is on the internet, where you can cheerfully spend all day reading the Apple web site, information pages, discussion groups and more.

I held out on signing up for the internet for another six months, but that's for another post.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Blogs computers and all that

There are some seriously good blogs around and I could get very distracted reading everyone else's. But my time will be better spent writing my own. I hope.

Tomorrow I will have to say something about my computer, which is still less than a year old and very independent.

He will like to be the star of the blog for at least a day.

He is an Apple or a Mac or whatever you want to call it. With even less originality I occasionally call him Hal.

But that's for tomorrow.

Good advice?

So, is my smarter older cousin 's advice to start a blog sound or not?

Anyway, methinks there is little to lose as I spend an inordinate amount of time writing old-fashioned letters about my travels around Europe to entertain people who rarely write back.

If they do, their letters are invariably full of detail about what the cat had for breakfast, how busy Asda/Tesco/Morrisons was, or how fast the kids are growing. My dog eats cats for breakfast, I know what Asda/Tesco/Morrisons are like, and it's hardly surprising that children grow up.

Nor is it surprising that I had itchy feet at forty really, if these events are the highlights of my friends' existence.

Time has moved on since I left the UK. Some friends originally told me to write a book (blogs not so prevalent then) - but like how many books are there about 40-year-olds chucking it all in to start a different life somewhere idyllic in Europe? Too many. I think a blog is much easier so cousin David wins out there straightaway.

But in deference to some of my friends, I will try and include a few flashbacks from the original trip. After all, driving on the pavement and uprooting trees isn't something I'd done before. Not really something you do very often in the UK, although by the looks on the faces of the French council workers it probably doesn't happen too often there either. Brownchurch roofrack 1 - tree 0. Anyway more travel snippets later, mainly from Portugal, Gibraltar, Spain and North Africa.