Monday, April 30, 2007

¿Habla español?

Or if you do - can you hold a conversation with someone in Andalucia?

Some years ago, when we first came here camping, we went to a fine bar. Ok, I'll be honest, it was Bar Guerra in Los Boliches.

We practised our best Spanish there and the guys were really nice. So nice, that one day, one of them said, in superb English - "The day you can hold a conversation with me in Spanish as well as I can speak to you in English, then we will speak in Spanish."

That was a bit of a put-down, it has to be said. And this guy didn't just have the sort of "One beer, one glass white wine" English, he had really good conversational English. As he said in fact.

I went back on my own a few years later. He spoke to me in Spanish. My Spanish hadn't improved that much, but it was getting there. He also knew that he had seen me before, but couldn't remember when. Why would he? He must see thousands of tourists a year, some regular, some semi-regular. But that time we spoke Spanish together and he didn't bother with the English. I think we were discussing the lack of water/rain ie drought to be honest. We could have the same conversation now.

Well now I'm living here, I have a slightly different take on things. Or as Gaynor said to me (Pepe and Gaynor), "There is a difference between proper Castilian Spanish, and Andalucian Spanish." Thanks sweets, I'm not entirely stupid.

I thought about this when I took the dog for a walk the other morning. It was pretty quiet, but we met one of the guys who lives a few streets behind us who was off to look and see what had been chucked out at the local rubbish bins. As you do.

Hola, says me. Buenas dias, says him.

Ok, this guy did not say bwennas deeyas, as the books/tapes/CDs and Gaynor instruct. He actually said, or growled, bonna dia. It's nearly Portuguese the way they say it. (Portuguese - bom dia).

Sometimes it's bommm dia, or bonnn dia. Or buena(s). Or, as one of our neighbours said to us for ages bwrrrr. After a while you get the idea. It's a pretty loose variation on a theme. But it is never Buenas Dias. Unless you are speaking to someone from a city or the north where they speak much more clearly than in Andalucia.

I knew I had cracked "the Spanish of my pueblo" (as much as I ever will) when I could understand "aarr eeee oooohhh pahjah".

Meaning of course, that my next-door neighbour's husband had gone up to her daughter's garden just up the street.

"Ha ido por alla." You also need to know where pahjah is exactly. This involves many previous conversations because pahjah could mean the daughters house, the sister's house, the niece's house, you get the idea. It's important to know which pahjah it is, and you only know that if you have discussed each pahjah before. A lot.

So this is español. It's also Andalucian Spanish, from my particular pueblo.

I was going to write more but this has taken long enough. It took me long enough to learn too. I think I will write about my chichi next time......

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fridges in Spain

Is it me or is the specification for Spanish fridges just different?

We bought a perfectly good (electrolux?) fridge freezer many years ago in the UK. One or two days before we were due to go on holiday we noticed a mega hole out the back.

So we rushed off and bought a new one. As our neighbour used to say: "Everyone else has to worry whether and when they can afford a new fridge/washing machine/whatever. You two have the dilemma of deciding between AEG and Bosch."

So we bought an AEG. It was pretty good. Top rated energy efficiency, looked nice, sound recycling policy. And when it came it had a knock on the side, so the guy promptly offered us forty quid cash as compensation.

Yes we took it. And yes, it was legit, we signed for it and got a letter later.

It worked pretty well until the door seal went. Fortunately within 12 months. But they didn't fit a new seal. Oh no. It was a new door. There was no quibble, so good service and efficient fridge (even better with a new seal).

Fast forward to Spain. We left the UK fridge behind. The guy buying our house seemed to want it as he was being pressurised to leave his behind. For the sake of a fridge we didn't feel like a house purchase falling through.

And we bought one here. AEG as it had been good in the UK. Top energy rating yet again. Good recycling policy. Appalling badly fitting water collector at the back of the fridge that has to be emptied manually every week in winter and more often in summer.

We've seen others, in other people's homes. Similar different specification. Maybe the spec has to be lower because the prices here are certainly less than we paid in the UK. The door seal is ok so far (touch wood and it's out of warranty now anyway).

Heigh-ho the weather is warming up, so no doubt I will be on regular fridge duty for the next six months.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The cockerel - at last

Juan turned up on his quad. With his mate on the back, and another mate. And a cockerel. Three guys and a cockerel on a quad.

It took them an hour and a half to catch him the night before apparently.

So then they all trooped off into the shed to look at our chickens. Juan was impressed with the little one, Jimena.

Round here they call them inglés, probably because they are independent, aggressive, and want to go some place where the grass is greener.

He has a cockerel of the same breed, and thinks it would be an awfully good idea to put them together. An even better idea if we did a swap and gave her to him.

"They are very dear to buy," he said. And we could see the euros going through his mind as he started to offer all his family away in exchange.


So that's why we got the cockerel. Hmmm.

Anyway he is very cute. He is not inglés. He is obviously a mix and worth nothing to Juan. He must have a load of them.

The new cockerel is young and clearly frightened of Jimena who is well in charge of the chicken shed and has been for some time.

Husband told Juan he could bring his cockerel here for a while and see what happens. He'll need to be tough and fast to get anywhere near Jimena.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Camping in Spain.....and Land Rovers

Camping is fine in Spain.

In winter the place is full of Northern Europeans in campervans/motorhomes. A lot of the coastal campsites are chocka, but many people prefer to wild camp by the beach.

Partly for cost, but partly because it's nice.

Summer is a pain because it is full of noisy families, and the staff on camp sites can't keep up to the cleaning fast enough.

Anyway we splashed out on our first "proper" holiday in five years and paid for a camp site. I nearly died - 35Euros!!!! A night!!!!! And that was charging us for a small tent. Since when have the prices gone up so much?

You can still get a hotel for that price, although admittedly it won't be set in the midst of idyllic woodland where you can sit outside all day enjoying the peace and tranquility.

Nor will your Excitable Land Rover Partner go round every French person on site who he sees in a Land Rover asking them where they have been and discussing riveting things like parabolic springs.

He was very happy that all the Land Rovers he saw entering the site came to park next to us. Our own little colony of Land Rovers.

Never let it be said the French aren't polite though. The guy opposite with a Defender was happily setting off for the toilet in the morning - quite clearly clutching his toilet roll - when Excitable Land Rover Partner collared him to discuss tyres and springs.

Did Partner notice toilet roll? No. Did the French guy stand there patiently when he quite clearly wanted to be somewhere else? Yes.

I did have a quiet word with Partner when I could stop laughing, but it won't be of any use. If he wants to talk about Land Rovers with someone he would probably follow them down to the toilet block if necessary. And back. Without pausing for breath.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A new cockerel.....part 2

So the day after, (Men's talk) partner decides the best plan of action is to put a bird cage on the back of one of the bikes.

The cockerel would have plenty of space in there, and it meant there wouldn't be Man from Out The Back, husband and a cockerel all hanging off the back of a quad.

Although I did suggest Man from Out The Back might insist on putting the whole lot on the back of the quad, including the bike. We've seen stranger things.

Then he gets a supermarket carrier bag and sticks a few cans of beer in - remember, you don't get anything for nothing, so it is at least courteous to take something. And Man from Out the Back clearly drinks, as he's always zapping past on his way to the bar.

So partner walks up to the house and there is an old dear sitting outside on a sofa.

"Where's Juan?" he says.

"He's not here," says the old dear. Slim, old, and 84. Looked fit as a lop.

"He went out early this morning with another bloke, and he had a very bad head.

"Give me your hand," she adds.

"Why?" says partner suspiciously.

"Well because you are very handsome," she says and then grabs his hand and kisses it. He was glad the gate was locked from the outside and she couldn't escape.

So he went off round the corner to sit and wait for Juan (Man from Out The Back). In fact, he started drinking one of the cans of beer that he had taken for Juan.

After the proscribed 20 minutes and there was no Juan, he came back home.

So no cockerel that day. But hey, mañana, mañana.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Men's talk

We were offered a free cockerel - I think.

Partner was out messing around with his Land Rover in the street and one of the local guys who lives out the back came past on his quad.

I say "out the back" because that's how everyone describes someone who doesn't live right in the middle of the village.

Apparently he had some fertilised eggs for the guy who works at the horse stables over the road.

Did we want any?

"Well, thanks, but we've actually got a couple of chickens."

"What about a cockerel then?"

"Well, I used to have one, but sadly he died," said partner.

"I've got plenty, you can have another one," said Man from Out The Back. "Get on the back of the quad and we can go and get it now."

"Can't do that, I'm painting my Land Rover."

"Ah, well, some other time," and off he cleared on his quad.

So fast forward to this evening's dog walk, and who does partner meet but Man from Out The Back on his quad.

"What about that cockerel then?" he says again.

"Well what do you want from me?" says partner suspiciously, because you don't get anything for free round here.

"Nothing," he says innocently. "Anyway, you like animals, my mate Pepe says so. You always treat your dog well, and you don't just throw him out in the street like some of your neighbours.

"Where did you get your dog from anyway?" he added.

"Off the street, he was wandering round for ages," says partner.

"Yes, I know," says Man from Out The Back.

Typical Spanish conversation that.

"So anyway, if you come past in the morning, I'll give you a cockerel. A nice small one.

"And then I'll bring you back home on the quad," he said.

"Oh, and if I'm not around, just hang about, because I won't be long. I'll be back home before you've even managed to get half way down the hill.

"I'm off to the bar now. "

"I don't go to the bar," said partner.

"I know," said Man from Out The Back. Well that was obvious because everyone round here knows exactly what you do and don't do.

"I don't have the money for it," added partner. He could have added he didn't have the inclination but that wouldn't have been polite. "I like a beer at home though."

"That's all right, everyone always has a drink at home. I need to go to the bar because I can sell my horses and other animals through the bar. But you don't need to go. So I'll see you tomorrow then?"

And off he went to the bar. And Busy Partner came home to tell me of his appointment for the morning after.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Limited life

No not UHT milk or anything as obvious as that. TVs.

They are regularly found chucked out at the communal rubbish bins around here.

One of ours started to go a bit iffy last year. Blurred. Didn't like starting. Kept dying on me. But I persevered - there were just so many Spanish soaps to keep up with. It was about seven years old.

It had to go in the end though. So we promoted the small portable to sitting room status. We've hardly used it over here although Buffy Addicted Partner used it regularly on Thursday(?) nights back in the UK.

Now that's had it as well. I turned it on last night to watch the Spanish soap Arrayan and it fizzled and spat at me with blue lights shooting from out the back. A bit like a Roman Candle in March from your television.

It went out this morning and now I am Arrayan-less. Damn.

Personally I think it is all an international conspiracy to make everyone buy new digital TVs. Or it could be the dust and the damp.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The usual supermarket car park chat - about Land Rovers

"Hello, you speak English?"

"Yes, of course," said Helpful Partner. "What do you want from me?" Somebody always wants something here.

"I would like to buy one of these," he said, (referring to the vehicle). "This type of Land Rover."

"Well, you can, it will cost you around 8,000€."

And the woman said, "We can't afford that."

So Unhelpful Partner said that was the price they would have to pay for one that was not falling to bits.

"I only want it for in the fields," the guy added.

"Well, I know where you can get one for 2,000€, no papers, and looks rough, but hey, if that's what you want. You will need to spend at least six months working on it if you ever want to come shopping in it."

Then there was a long discussion about the garage where we bought the vehicle. How good were they, was there any after service, what about the language problems.....

The woman then said that she didn't mind paying if she got something decent. They lived up a dirt track and the Ford Littlecar (partner didn't remember the model as he switched off due it not being a Land Rover) couldn't cope in the mud.

It was also British registered. "You won't be wanting to use it here then when your tax and insurance run out," said Unhelpful Partner. "Although we know lots of people who do."

No, she admitted, running an illegal motor wasn't top of her list. Especially one that couldn't cope in the mud.

I wonder if Unhelpful Partner will get a beer from Roberto if they buy a 4x4 from him? I doubt it somehow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Three Stooges

Usually there are three of them. But they are not always the same three. We never see four of them. Maybe they don't all get on.

Our neighbour - who turned 80 this year - has suddenly taken up walking a few miles round the local country tracks.

When we first came here, he was busy renovating his house, his daughter's house, looking after his chickens, growing veg, bringing on flower cuttings.

Now he doesn't do any of that any more, so he goes out with his huge cane with a couple of other village guys and walks two or three miles every morning.

His wife hates leaving the house. I think she has agoraphobia. He definitely doesn't. He hates being inactive and stuck inside the house.

Sometimes he has a bad leg, but he looks as well now as he has done for a while.

I think it's pretty good. When I lived in the UK I didn't know a lot of guys who went out for a three mile walk every day. Well done Jose.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The price of beer

The price of beer has gone up. Sometimes it goes up and sometimes it even goes down.

Partly it depends on which bar you go to and whether or not they know you.

But in the last few years it has definitely gone up. Especially in the supermarkets.

The Determined Cyclist went shopping today to get some veg and decided to stop at the bar to avoid getting absolutely soaked when the sky became very dark.

It's only the second time this year he has been so he asked if the price had gone up. It had.

"Do you normally have a draught beer or a bottle?" she asked. (You can tell it was a long time since we have been).

"I'll have draught," he said, and sadly got out the 1.10€ to pay (previously a euro).

After she'd poured it and he'd paid, she added "The bottles are on offer, only a euro." And she went off laughing as he stood there cursing.

Then he had a long chat to a nice British guy who's been out here a while and they both bemoaned the exorbitant increase in the price of beer. In his village one bar has put the price up by 40% over the last six weeks. But the other bar still charges the same. So now he just uses one bar.

As for me, a couple of months ago I went to La Linea (across the frontier from Gibraltar) and after a hard day in Gib, fell into the bar for a beer.

It was near the frontier so I figured 1.10€ wasn't too much of a rip-off. Next time I went the guy obviously remembered me.

"A draught beer," he says. "Yes, that'll be great," says me. "A euro," he says.

It didn't stop there. The time after that I went to the bus station. There was a great woman in there who on a previous trip looked after my bags when I realised I had been a complete idiot and went hunting my camera which I had left on the bus.

She recognised me again with lots of nice Spanish smiles and I got a small bottle of beer. "Oh, is that 1.25€?" said the assistant (who was taking my money) to the other woman. "No, it's only a euro for her."

Sometimes us women get lucky.....

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The villa from hell

I try not to think about it, but when I do, I still shiver.

We rented our first - and only - villa in Spain unseen.

When I say unseen I mean we rented it from the UK having seen a mediocre pic and received a cursory description.

A bit like you do when you rent a villa for one, or two, or maybe even three weeks holiday.

So we paid our money up front, ie the first month's rent, and the same again as deposit.

The villa was not cheap, even though it was winter. But, it had three bedrooms, was detached, and had a pool, so seemed ok. We could take our dogs (not inside), and we could even put our furniture in their large garage while we found somewhere to buy.

And although the idea of a pool was nice on those warm sunny days in winter, to be honest where we were, there were few of those. When they did happen it wasn't warm enough to swim in the pool anyway.

In fact, the weather was mostly wet. Sometimes cold. Or both. At one point it rained incessantly for two weeks.

First my partner got sick. Then one of my dogs got sick so I put my foot down and brought both dogs inside and lit a fire (the wood cost extra, obviously).

The hot water was rubbish. It was tepid. When we first arrived after travelling through France and Spain, I ran a bath with such anticipation. What a let-down.

It didn't get any better either. He couldn't get a decent shave from the not-even-warm water. We couldn't get the grease off the dishes when we washed up. We ended up having to boil the kettle for hot water.

The not-so-hot water was gas-fired - using bottled gas. We were going through one in less than two weeks and getting water that wasn't even anywhere near warm. We complained. We spent a month complaining to the rental agent but got nowhere.

One day her husband strangely suggested we might get better results if we told the landlord we wouldn't pay anything more until it was sorted. The plumber came out. It was obviously his fiddle job as he came out about half past nine at night. He tweaked the gas heater and cleared off. The water was still tepid.

So we complained again. More than a month of lukewarm water in the middle of winter in a damp, cold house wasn't funny. The plumber came again late at night. The landlord had finally bitten the bullet and it was new heater time. They cost peanuts, we had spent more on gas. And I guess the plumber was tired again. He tested for any leaks with his cigarette lighter and left the mess for us to clean up.

The landlord came a couple of days later to finish some joinery work on the cupboard as the new heater didn't fit properly. He left a load of mess for us to clean up too.

We didn't care about the cupboard. My partner was not happy with either of the heaters, and said they shouldn't have been installed in a cupboard, so we always left the door open anyway, and didn't leave the pilot light on.

In the end we got sick of it all. The water was better to be fair. In fact the shower was so hot that it burnt, and you couldn't control it precisely enough to get the temperature just right, so it was back to the bath.

But there was no privacy. If the landlord wasn't up every day collecting eggs from his chickens or fiddling with his swimming pool, the rental agent was up trying to sell us a house.

I should probably have called this - beware the unseen agent. She had seemed perfectly legitimate - when I was in the UK. Once in Spain she really didn't want to get involved in sorting any of the problems, preferring to leave us to deal directly with the landlord.

The garage leaked and our furniture was getting wet. One of the three bedrooms was locked so we could hardly have friends or family to stay because there wasn't enough room.

So after two months we walked. It was meant to be our chill-out for the winter months on the Mediterranean before we decided what to do with the rest of our lives. It turned out to be an indescribable nightmare. It was one of those things in life that for us, wasn't meant to be.

Like everything time gets it out of your system. One day I was idly flicking through a Spanish paper on the pretext of learning Spanish. I think I had bought it because they were offering a pair of earrings for 50 cents or buy a paper from Monday to Thursday and on Friday you get a free pashmina.

And there was a story about a couple of British people found dead in that same town where we rented the villa. We didn't know many people there but I read the story anyway. They had died in the area where we had lived.

It seemed the family of these two people had been unable to contact their relatives, so had rung the British Consulate in Málaga, who in turn had called out the police. The police turned up to find the lights on in the house and the two bodies inside.

The next day (it was obviously tokens for the pashmina), I looked through the paper again, and there was a photo of the house. I knew it well. Too well. I had even washed down the main steps that were in the photo.

The second story gave a few more details. The two British men and three of their six dogs had died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty water heater.

Sources for the details of the deaths: Málaga Hoy, SUR in English.
The rest of the story is mine. The two guys didn't get to tell their story.

Edited to add: I occasionally re-read this story, because I still can't really believe it, and I have again today - 27 Dec 2007. But never without a shiver going down my spine.

And - a couple of specific links for those of you who read Spanish, or even who don't as it's easy enough.

This first one looks at the deaths and considered they could have been suspicious.

This one identifies the faulty gas heater as the cause of death. Or perhaps I mean the faulty landlord?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

"You're going to fall"

The neighbours have not had good luck.

Our winter jasmine flowers are starting to fade now, and I will soon need to cut them all back.

Last year, I was busy clambering on the wall with a nine or ten foot drop to the street. Not too high, but not a good idea to lose your footing.

So there I am like a little monkey, chopping back the jasmine, hanging onto the steelwork, and one foot on a step ladder.

Wickety witch from next door passes by and says: "You're going to fall."

That's great isn't it. Thanks, really thoughtful neighbour. How about, "Take care, dear."

I didn't fall. Fortunately. But a few weeks later her daughter's husband fell down on the football pitch, he had stitches up to his knee, and his leg was in plaster for a couple of months.

He was out of work anyway, but that meant another few months without work too.

Bad feng shui I say wishing me to fall. And the jasmine flowered beautifully this year.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Another day on the bus

Why is it that travelling seems to get harder as you get older?

Or is it that when you get older you need to cram a lot more into a shorter space of time?

And maybe going from A to B and back to A again isn't really travel. Just another business trip.

So yesterday I spent slightly more than 14 hours out of the house. Of which eight hours were on the bus. And it seemed like a long day.

Just under four hours were spent at my destination. That leaves around two hours hanging around for buses. That is probably about right.

I could have sliced around half an hour off and caught a later bus from home. The last time I did that, the bus hit unbelievable delays in Malaga and I arrived at the bus station with barely enough time to buy the ticket and get on the bus. (Which then left 15 minutes late....)

These days I would rather arrive with plenty of time and sit around in the bus station with a coffee and do the Sudoku. Or have a coffee and do nothing.

When I travelled years ago I had my timing down to a fine art. Rushed across stations and cities with minutes to spare and always caught the connection. But is it me or has traffic of all types grown so much that you can never rely on getting anywhere on time?

I still like travelling though. And I'm still a back seat kid. Nothing better than grabbing the back seat and stretching out on a long journey. Mmmmmmm.

And I had a good day out in Gibraltar. Roll on the next trip.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What price avocados?

I walked down to the bank the other day to pay some bills. While I was waiting I picked up the local free paper.

It's quite a good one, and even has a page in English. That's probably good news for the journalists as it means at least one page less to fill with stories. I can empathise with that.

But they don't translate one of the most interesting sections of the paper and that's the local agricultural news. Agriculture is one of the main sources of income around here.

Apparently the local avocado market is having a bad time. Growers are competing with cheap imports from Chile, Israel, the Dominican Republic and Peru.

Although the imported avocados are of a poorer quality, the major buyers and supermarkets are buying those instead of the local products. The strength of the euro against the dollar is an added factor in the price war.

On top of that, the harvest is 30 to 40% lower than normal owing to some of the hurricane force winds that the area has had during the winter months (I haven't noticed that many, but I was probably asleep).

Funnily enough the next day, Dog Walking Partner was chatting to one of the local growers (veg not avocados) and he was saying both the wholesale vegetable market and the supermarkets are trying to drive the prices down, so all the small growers round here are struggling a bit at the moment.

The local paper also gives some of the prices. They didn't include avocados, but lemons for example, go for 9 cents per kilo for the grower, the market then sells them for 50 cents, and the retailer then sells them on for 1.28€.

I've picked the most extreme example (being a good journalist). In fact you can buy them for less than that around here. I don't because someone always gives me some. Everyone has a lemon tree in their garden. But at that price they are not worth picking.

It's nice here is southern Spain. The sun shines, the scenery is stunning, and you can find a lot of peace and tranquility. But it's not easy to earn a living.

Sources: Informaciones, Jose Antonio.