Friday, September 28, 2007

Bills and bras

I went to pay the (Spanish) bills yesterday. At the moment I pick up any bills when I go back to Spain at weekends and then pay them during the week across the border in La Linea.

Naturally I can't pay them when I arrive home as it is Saturday and the banks are closed.

So I decided to walk to La Linea yesterday - it's about 35/40 minutes down Main Street, across the airfield, through the border and into the town centre of La Linea.

I've found out the same bank as the one in my village has different hours for bill paying. In the village you can only pay bills on Tuesday and Thursday between 8.30 and 10.30am. But there in La Linea you can only pay them between the 10th and the 20th of the month. I have no idea what happens if the bill comes on the 21st. You go to another bank I suppose. Or the post office. I would have thought all branches of the same company would have the same hours but clearly not.

First I walked into the wrong bank, forgetting this silly difference in payment days. Then I made it to the other bank which lets you pay bills on Tuesday and Thursday - up to 10 o'clock. So of course we all stand there waiting for people who are not paying bills messing around and asking a million questions about their account. Once it gets to ten to ten everyone starts looking at their watch. And tutting, and fidgeting.

Anyway I made it by five to, and paid the 'phone bill. I asked the bank clerk if he knew whether there was a Unicaja bank in La Linea, as that is the only bank where you can pay the water bill.

"I don't know," he said unhelpfully but with a nice smile.

"No, I haven't seen one," I said equally mindlessly.

I decided to go on a Unicaja hunt. Fortunately things like banks are usually located in the same street, so I just kept walking down the street, and passed a load - but no Unicaja.

Then, nearly at the end of the street, there it was. Unicaja. And it wasn't ten o'clock yet either. Perhaps they operated the bills-only-payable-the day-following-a-full-moon system. There were no signs. This was promising. The queue was short.

I asked the friendly woman if I could pay.

"No," she smiled back, unhelpfully.

"Well, it says I can at the top of the bill. Look."

"Do you have an account with us?"


"Oh, dear. If you had you could have used the automatic machine. But you don't so you can't." Another smile. "You need to go to the post office."

I went to the post office. There was a queue of about 10 or 12 people. Then I realised they all had delivery slips in their hands and were waiting to collect something.

So I went to another counter, with only two people queuing. Things were looking up.

"Can I pay this bill?" I said with a nice smile to the grumpy man.

He took one look at it, and the stupid foreigner, and snarled "NO."

But helpfully added "Ki-ee-ki-on-air-a."

I repeated it. He looked at me as though I was stupid and waved me off imperiously with a vague gesture in the direction of Calle Calloneras.

I decided it was unlikely to be Calle Banco (don't know it's real name) so opted for the next one along. Spot on. It turned out to be Calle Carboneras.

First en route I found the town museum. It has a lot of exhibits by Spanish painter José Cruz Herrera who was born in La Linea. I thought I would have a look at that on the way back if I couldn't find whatever it was I was looking for. Presumably a water office. Perhaps they had inter-company arrangements for payments.

I got to a crossroads - literally. This was a particularly naff-looking street. I had visions of the grumpy man in post office rolling around laughing having sent the silly foreign woman off down a back street looking for a non-existent water office.

Sometimes the street names change at crossroads but I crossed over and gave it a go anyway. And there it was. A few yards further down. The water office - and it was exactly the same company as mine. My luck was in. Wow. It had been worth all the effort.

There were only two people in front of me.

"Hola," I said. "Can I pay this?"

"No." Nice smile.

"No?" repeated the parrot. I was getting good at repeating people yesterday morning. "Why not? It's the same company."

"Yes," another nice smile. "But we are not linked," gesturing at the computer. "This is just for La Linea."

"So, what do I do? I only go back there on weekends and the water office is closed then." In fact the water office - and the telephone hours for the public - are only open from 9am - 1pm.

"You have to go back there," she said. Nicely of course, and looked very apologetic.

I went to the museum. It was closed. "For ever?" I asked. The guy shrugged his shoulders.

I am by no means a shopaholic. I do not fill my abundant spare time with wandering aimlessly round boring shops looking at things I neither want nor need.

But I did need two bras. I tried BHS. They were very large (I am not). I didn't like them, even if they had been smaller.

I found one of those awful high street lingerie shops. I decided to go in. It wasn't quite as bad as I expected. I was mildly entertained listening to a woman talking to the shop assistant about buying a sexy basque. I bought two bras. Very nice. I recommend La Senza.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another weekend of incompetence

Having failed miserably to achieve any degree of success with getting the gas water heater to ignite after the chicken shit incident, I now have a couple of other disasters to add to the list.

Coffee. The weekend before last I decided I wanted a nice strong black espresso. I swilled out the water container which was full of dust and rubbish from the strong winds. The coffee machine is in the patio, which is partly covered and - obviously - partly exposed. It's nice to sit outside with a coffee. And the kitchen table is full of other junk.

So then I filled the water container and went to unscrew the coffee container. It wouldn't move. I had another go. I hit the handle a few times. I ran some water through the machine in case that loosened up the dry coffee. Useless.

I put it on the floor, next to the wall, and kicked the handle. Hard. I had to put it on the floor because every time I hit the handle, the machine moved instead of the handle. But no, this did not work either. I went inside and got a nice solid black cast-iron frying pan. And hit the handle again. I spent at least half an hour doing this.

And gave up.

This weekend, knowing I couldn't have coffee, I psyched myself up to have manzanilla at breakfast time - camomile tea - not sherry. I put the kettle on. The gas went out. We have bottled gas (no mains gas - it's only just arrived in the cities, no chance in the villages). I lugged the empty gas cylinder into the patio - everything ends up in the patio. As luck would have it we had a spare full one ready and waiting.

I brought the new one in. I had forgotten how heavy they are. And I put the regulator on top. Then I clicked it down. It came off. I did it again, and again, and again......... and spent nearly an hour trying to get the regulator on. There is a knack to this which I once learned. It is not a force issue, but you have to get the regulator in just the right position. I have totally lost the knack.

I got a grapefruit out of the fridge and decided to leave it until next weekend. (The regulator not the grapefruit).

So where am I? No hot water for a shower/bath. No coffee. No cooking. Good one Kate.

I went into the chicken shed to change the water. The drinkers are basically like a jar - which you fill up - and then invert over a tray, and turn it round so it locks. The water drips through a small hole from the top bit. They are plastic. They get full of dust and recently it has taken me some time to undo them. In fact, it has been pretty much like the coffee machine saga - I have ended up trying to hold the tray and kick off the top. But it's worked.

So the other week I thought I would be clever and not bother locking the one that goes on the floor. It is self-supporting. I filled it up. And turned it over so I could carry it into the run. The water fell out. All over me.

I filled it up again. This time I was clever. Well, slightly more than the last time. I just turned it a tiny little bit so it locked. Turned it over and then unlocked it, so the next time, I wouldn't have any problems trying to undo it. Was I pleased with myself.

So pleased that this weekend I didn't remember I had done that. Picked it up and promptly chucked all the remaining water over me and the run, as the top and the tray parted company.

I so used to be a good feminist. If only Partner went back to Spain at weekends he would be able to sort all these niggling problems. But he is too busy falling asleep in the chair in GibFlat after working on the building site all week. The coffee machine is his fault anyway as he never empties it after he has made a coffee.

All is not gloom though. At least I have a decent corkscrew in the house in Spain. Using a Swiss Army Knife (usual method) is still a bit difficult with the weak wrist. The one at the top is a cheap bottle of Spanish white, cost - something less than 2€. Well deserved after all my trivial trials and tribulations. Opened with a Le Creuset corkscrew.

I originally bought a boxed set of wine goodies for my mum and dad for Christmas (thermometer, champagne stopper, corkscrew and champagne opener). After my dad died, my mum proudly said what a super box of goodies it was, and that my dad had bought it one year. A different sort of daughter would probably have said, "Oh yes mum that's great." But I bought the bloody set, it was expensive at the time, and there was a fair bit of thought went into it. So I pointed out that I had bought it. I don't know whether she believed me though.

This wine below cost more than £4 from Morrisons in Gib. I felt like a change so went for a Sauvignon Blanc which I am ambivalent about, from Chile (some good wines come from Chile), and it happens to be organic, which I didn't notice straight away. Would I buy it again? Yes. Especially after a an incompetent weeked.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I do, I do, I do

Listening to the radio (BBC World News) I heard about the German politician in Bavaria who is campaigning for a fixed period of seven years for marriage.

After that you have to get married again. And again. I would have had to marry the same guy three times by now.

What a waste of money. It's more likely to stop people getting married. What's the point if you have to go through it all again in seven years time?

Ridiculous publicity-seeking idea in my opinion.

A rate for the job

Some weeks ago I read a horror story about some Eastern Europeans working in the fields in the south-west of the England.

I guess in a way it was the usual story. They had paid money over in their home country for a trip to the UK in the hopes of finding the streets paved with gold. Or at least working hard and earning a decent living. Needless to state they ended up with little money, working long hours, housed in appalling accommodation (run-down caravans in this case), and scavenging in the fields for food.

It turned out the gangmaster had previously had his licence revoked, but he had been granted a stay of execution to sort himself out. Hardly a good recommend.

I got quite lost trying to work out how many subcontractors there were between the Eastern European pickers and the supermarket chains at the top. Nor could I work out where the added value was, apart from the fact that most people were able to deny responsibility or knowledge of this sad state of affairs due to the fact that there were so many different agencies involved.

Just to finish off that story, apparently the Gangmaster Licensing Authority ordered the gangmaster concerned to cease trading. Until the next time?

With this is mind I was discussing the situation of some Eastern European skilled tradesman working on the same site as my partner. They are working through a British agency apparently.

They were getting £5 an hour, a few quid less than Partner. And their contract was for a 60 hour week ie ten hours a day, Monday to Saturday, all at basic rate, with an unpaid half-hour lunch break.

"Terrible," we muttered. "Slave labour for people with a skill. People are so greedy, the world is going backwards."

At least if Partner wants to work overtime - when it's available - he does get time and a half.

We talked about it again. They are getting their accommodation paid for, which is expensive in Gib. It's in one of the cheaper hotels (although none of them are cheap in my view), so the agency guy must get a good deal on it. They get a food allowance as well apparently.

One of the guys told Partner he would have preferred a flat. I'll bet. When I've rented apartments here for a few nights they are much dearer than cheap hotels.

So then we thought a bit harder. They are getting an appalling hourly rate even though they are skilled tradespeople, and there is a shortage of their particular trade here. They are contracted to work well over the legal maximum for weekly working hours - which as we all know can be exceeded with individual consent. Presumably this consent is on the lines of "You want the job or not?"

But they have no accommodation costs, so they only have to buy food and they get an allowance to go towards that. The rest they send home to their families.

One guy was chucking it in to go back to his wife. He figured he could do as well back there. But he didn't rule out coming back.

In the end we couldn't decide whether we thought they were being ripped off or not.

There is no way you could work on Partner's wages and rent a property here at the going rate - or stay in a hotel. Let alone feed yourself, or me or the dog.

So if you look at it like that, they don't have a bad deal.

They certainly have a better deal than the Eastern Europeans working in the fields in the UK that I mentioned earlier.

But I hate seeing skilled tradespeople getting the run-around. And being paid rubbish wages for long hours. While lots of agencies and sub-contractors get the cream.

Sources: The Guardian and Partner.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Witty weasel?

I ended up looking at a couple of totally different blogs today and found this book quiz on one of them.

After half a dozen questions you are described as a book. I'm not sure what I think. Who's going to deny they are good, interesting, clever and witty? I'm certainly not (denying it), and anyway, naturally I am all those things.

And yes, I do have a serious side, and yes I am concerned about inequalities, and funnily enough homelessness is one of the issues that I consider to be a failing within a so-called (over) developed society.

But I don't crack jokes, I don't bring people together, and no-one has ever asked me what my name means. It comes from Greek and it means pure. I daresay if anyone wanted to know they could look it up.

You're Loosely Based!

by Storey Clayton

While most people haven't heard of you, you're a really good and interesting person. Rather clever and witty, you crack a lot of jokes about the world around you.
You do have a serious side, however, where your interest covers the homelessand the inequalities of society.
You're good at bringing people together, but they keep asking you what your name means.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I did it again with different answers, but the next books were even less like me.

So then I did the animal quiz. Turns out I'm a nasty weasel. I'm still clever though. But I can think of far more weasel-like people than me, who I wouldn't be sorry to see skinned alive.

You're a Weasel!

Cunning and conniving, the only thing darker than your motives is your reputation. People shy away from you, consider you slimy, and warn their children not to make friends with people like you. A rare few have even threatened to skin you alive.
The good news is that you're clever enough to keep away from others for the most part. You are most popular when screeching.

Take the Animal Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

I think I shall stick to reading blogs if I want to waste time rather than doing quizes.

The two blogs by the way are written by health service staff. The first one I read, Random Acts of Reality, is by someone who works for an ambulance service. The second one, Mousethinks, is a charge nurse in A&E - and that's the blog where I found the book quiz so I thought I would give credit where it's due.

I spent a night in A&E once (for work). I was there with a PR hat on because one of the local reporters wanted to do a feature post about the hectic life in an A&E department. It was Friday night and it was the most exciting night of the week. It turned out to be on a par with watching paint dry. I left about 5am for the three-hour journey home.

Fortunately Mousethinks works in a much more lively department so I spent a happy hour or two reading some good stories on the blog.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

September, September

September marks a change here on the Mediterranean. The schools go back and the holidays are officially over. People suffer from post-holiday syndrome. It's got a different name in Spanish but you get the idea and I am not being flippant.

In some cases, people may have taken a month or two for their holidays so you can see why it is such a shock to the system to go back to their city flat and their ordered life, work, and packing kids off to school. After spending one or two months on the beach every day.

Here in our village it is very nice because all the summer in-comers clear off and it is tranquilo again.

Sometimes the weather changes. But not every year. The first year we were here, our neighbours started to rebuild their house. As the rains don't usually start until later in the year, the roof was off. Was there any polythene around just in case it rained? Of course not. Did it rain? It bucketed. Big time Mediterranean rain.

So after a mere four months here we found ourselves running around on the remains of next-door's roof sheeting it all up (he finally borrowed some polythene from his employer), and helping to stem the deluge into the house.

Fortunately, although wet, it was also warm. But the first thing we did was take a hot shower just in case, and then we were invited to have a few drinks next door. I have to say they did very well at being hospitable, our Spanish was not brilliant to say the least, so it can't have been easy for them and it was a fair effort as a thank-you gesture.

I write this because it is looking pretty ominous again here tonight with those beautiful low grey clouds. And it is more or less the same date as that original deluge when we first arrived.

In Gibraltar this week it was meant to rain on National Day. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day with a few sun showers in the evening. The next day it chucked it down and I thought a few rainy photos would be cool.

They would have been if I had chance to use the one and only umbrella in the flat which was promptly taken by Hard Working Partner. And by the time I got out it was sunny again. This week has been alternatively sunny and rainy, although still warm.

Here are some Gibpix taken on three different days this week.

Outside the Trafalgar Cemetery

Queensway marina at dusk - showers threatening

Queensway marina a couple of (sunny) days later

One of the residents at the marina

Sunny in Spain - cloud hanging over the Rock

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gibraltar National Day 2007

Gibraltar celebrated National Day yesterday (10 September). It commemorates the referendum held in 1967 when Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly in favour of retaining British sovereignty - although the designation of the day and the annual holiday only started in the 1990s.

Everyone dresses up in red and white and there is a day-long programme of music and events. Much of it is in Casemates Square, including the traditional political speeches and release of balloons at 1pm. Thirty thousand red and white balloons are let off to represent the 30,000 inhabitants of the Rock.

It was just as well I decided to get the bus home from the Frontier on my trip back from Spain as I certainly wouldn't have been able to negotiate Casemates with any great ease. And the sun was pretty hot. Better still, the bus was free.

"No paga nadie hoy," said one of the passengers. (No-one pays today).

"Un día con mucha alegría," said another - whether in reference to free bus trips or the celebrations wasn't clear. (A day of much happiness).

Beneath the apparent alegría though, there is major political wrangling, which as ever, centres on Gibraltar's international status.

Spain has not given up claims to sovereignty over Gibraltar, and yesterday according to Gib radio, a couple of Spaniards were arrested for trying to unfurl a Spanish flag in Casemates. Major PR stunt. And behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, I would have thought, on Gibraltar's National Day. Or maybe any day.

With general elections in a month's time, the Chief Minister of the current government, Peter Caruana (Gibraltar Social Democrats) is claiming that self-determination has been achieved, Gibraltar has a new modern relationship with Britain that is no longer colonial, and the new constitution that came into effect earlier this year marks a new beginning.

The opposition, on the other hand, denies there is any change in Gib's status. Leader of the Opposition, Joe Bossano (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party), claims Gibraltar has not been fully decolonised, and says the next United Nations sessions in October on decolonisation will indicate whether there is really any change in the relationship between the UK and Britain.

Who would want to be the British delegate in New York at this session? Not me. Trying to appease Spain and Gibraltar at the same time while maintaining your own credibility?

We will see what the people of Gibraltar think when they go to the polls next month. Perhaps, like many other countries, as Gibraltar is currently enjoying reasonable prosperity, a major construction boom, and continued investment from outside, Gibraltarians will vote for the status quo.

And apart from a rotten egg and a beer can thrown at the stage when the Chief Minister was speaking, there was little evidence during the day of people thinking much about politics.

Young people in Casemates

Hazel and Kenny

Green? One way to stand out amidst the red and white.

Caped crusaders?

The Queen's Hotel - Gibraltarian and British flags together

Outside The Sports Bar - Partner sporting his new T-shirt - bought that day so he didn't let the side down wearing the wrong colours

Sources: Gibraltar Chronicle and Gibfocus for the political background. The rest of it is mine (and Partner's).

Gibraltar National Day 2007 - fireworks

I loved fireworks and Bonfire Night when I was little. And when I was big.

Then of course I married the Fair-Disliking partner who also turned out not to like fireworks too much either.

We missed half the New Year display over the Harbour Bridge in Sydney 'cos he was snoozing away, deliberately trying to miss it, I think. The bit we did see was good.

Last night we decided to watch the fireworks for National Day. But we didn't know where to go to watch them. Someone suggested we went onto the roof of our block.

He fell asleep. Hah. I've learned my lesson though and climbed up the stairs to find just one other person there. My neighbour opposite, whose husband was also asleep.

I don't know whether I got shake on some of the pix because of it being dark and needing longer exposure time, or because I was simultaneously trying to watch the display, take the photos at the right time (not easy, I discovered, trying to guess exactly when a firework is going to explode into brilliant stars), and avoid falling over the edge of the roof.

It was pretty spectacular and the noise was amazing as every boom echoed right back off the Rock and reverberated round and round again.

Apparently there is a display for New Year's Eve. So I've got until then to get a new camera. A Christmas present perhaps? Hint, Sleeping Partner?

Edited to add: Alternatively, perhaps I should have read the PDF manual before rushing up to the roof and discovered that there was a fireworks setting. I did wonder why the thinking camera kept telling me to change from the night-time one. Still, as it took me an hour to find it in the manual today I would have missed all the fireworks if I had looked last night. Better some pix than no pix.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

My palabra

I have been tagged to choose my favourite word for International Literacy Day.

I am late. It was yesterday.

And as I am writing from Spain, I am going to choose Spanish words. Y tambien, voy a escribir un poco en español.

Bueno. Me encanta la lengua español, y hay muchos palabras que me gustan.

Guapa, precioso, estupenda, jazmín (con su olor de las noches de verano), chiquitito, calentito, y fuera.

¿Por qué fuera?

Well, when I first came here, one of the ways I started to learn Spanish was by watching TV. Mainly the news, and a few films. And I had to use sub-titles because everything was just too fast.

Later I started watching Spanish and Latin American soaps, still with sub-titles but the dialogue was pretty simple.

When you have heard Luis Mario say fifteen times in one episode of Gata Salvaje

"A mí no me interesa. No me interesa nada. Absolutamente nada."

you figure that he is not interested. At all. And soon I could watch without sub-titles.

And I watched Charmed - Embrujadas, Buffy - La Cazavampira, and Rex.

One day I was watching Charmed and Prue was waving her hands around as usual, and at the same time told someone to go away. "Fuera!" "Fuera de aquí!"

I though that would come in useful, particularly walking the dog when strays came up to aggravate him, or small children started being a pain.

I was talking to my neighbour about Charmed. "Embrujadas," I said. But as Adelina can't read anything she can't read the title when it comes up on the television. She describes the programmes as a film, or a telenovela, and then talks about the content.

She finally worked out I was talking about Charmed because she then did a beautiful impersonation of Prue waving her hands to move something, and said "Ella con los manos." Her with the hands.

So because fuera is a very useful word, especially when snarled correctly, I am choosing that one. More importantly, it will always remind me of my illiterate - and very sharp - Spanish neighbour. I still find it strange that here is a woman of my mother's generation who can't read and write, when my grandparents and their parents could all read and write.

In fact there are people younger than her in our village who have never learned. Mostly their families help them when necessary, and when they go to the bank they sign with their thumb.

So fuera is my word. For my neighbour and all the other Andalucians whose families work in the fields and haven't had the opportunity of education.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

City life - déjà vu

We met in Sydney. In a youth hostel to be specific. A private one where you shared a room with anyone regardless of gender. If there weren't any beds and the staff liked the look of you, you got the offer of sleeping on the floor in the TV room to wait for a bed to come up.

Anyway we moved on from there. We rented a small studio flat, and he cheerfully went to work on the dockyard. Early start and reasonably early finish too. I didn't do a lot.

This was more than 20 years ago.

When I was packed off back to Spain a few weekends ago I didn't realise it was so he could go looking for work.

Even worse he found it. And rang me up to tell me about it and that I had to be back on Sunday.

So come Monday morning, we both slipped back in time the odd 20 years. Got up together, had coffee and toast, I made his sandwiches and he set off for work with his tools and his overalls.

And then I had the rest of the day to myself. Just like Sydney. So when I had done a quick mop-out, I sat around thinking about the similarities - and the differences.

He's working on a big site again. He worked on a dockyard in Sydney on an island. The place he's working at strangely enough is also called locally "the island" probably because it is on reclaimed land.

Gibraltar reminds us of Sydney. It has a similar climate, a spectacular setting, beautiful harbours and maritime views, and a British colonial heritage.

People seem easy going and happy - a bit like Aus when we were there in the late 80s. Maybe those are some of the reasons we feel at home here.

We're in a flat again, but this time it is slightly bigger. It has a bedroom, and it also happens to be ours, not rented. All we had in Sydney were a couple of rucksacks and what we had crammed in them to travel - in my case round the world, in his case to Australia for the third time.

Everywhere is within easy reach of our flat. And if we don't feel like walking, there is a good bus service.

We have a dog too. The large furry monster rescued in Spain. And we have not just one, but two Land Rovers, an English one and a Spanish Santana. Add to that a few bikes, although only one was bought, all the others were rescued and repaired. And we have the house in Spain (complete with chickens). So now we have a bit more than two rucksacks. After more than 20 years together and 15 years non-stop busting a gut in the UK I think we should have something to show for it.

We aren't rich, we aren't poor. We'll never be rich - hopefully we will never be poor either. It's a matter of opinion and it depends on what you use as a comparison. Rich to me is being able to afford one of the nearly £3m houses that poor Grafting Partner is working on. I wouldn't want one. If I was rich enough to afford a house here, it would be an old colonial one in the town, not some modern statement house on the waterfront.

But flat life suits - at least there aren't too many floors to mop out - and that's a major advantage. And city life is such a change. Hay que cambiar - as a Spanish friend once said.

No more of this

Well after cleverly getting a job on The Island, there’s no more of this chilled-out relaxing in the evening over an idle sandwich for Adrian and Pippa. It’s early bedtime all round.

Life of a flat housewife

One has to support one’s partner and get up at the same time when he is going to work. Well almost the same time because there obviously isn’t much point in getting up when he takes the dog out as there is nothing for me to do.
So when he comes back I get up and helpfully butter the bread and make the odd sandwich. He does the toast and coffee, naturally, as that’s men’s work.
Then I have the rest of the day to decide when to go to Morrisons/Safeway, and when to mop out. Best to leave the mopping out as long as possible, I mean, until the afternoon because then the floors dry faster.
It’s too exhausting to think about going to Safeway straightaway, so it’s suitably mindless to wash up the breakfast pots, move the bedding off the floor, and settle down to a couple of hours messing around ie working on the computer. There we have it. A hard life, but we support our partner.

Life of a decorator/painter - at 50

Up between 6am and 6.30am. Walk dog. Try and avoid cats, especially bloody Marmalade, whose real name is Harvey. Failed miserably today and ended up on my arse.
Make and drink coffee. Only one cup as there are no toilets on the job. Cut bread and make toast, let woman do her one contribution of the morning ie buttering and making the sanis.
Decide to walk to work. Got bollocked yesterday when I took the bike across the sand that the masons had laid for some paving. Bloody tools were on the path and the day before I had fallen over them carrying the bike.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Postscript to "Paul"

Dog Walking Partner was out at the weekend. He stopped at the local pub to talk to a few guys who were inside.

I say he stopped at the pub, he actually stood outside chatting through the open window. So did the dog with his paws on the windowsill because he likes Brian.

Millions - well 20 or 30 - of RAF were standing around in uniform outside.

One of them said to Partner:

"Do I know you?"

"I don't think so," and then he twigged. "Unless you met my woman on the bus last week and didn't turn up when we had arranged to meet."

Much laughter from his mates. "He always does that," said one of them. "Even with us. You can't rely on him to turn up, he just changes his mind or finds something else to do.

"If he's not there within two minutes, we just walk off."

Guess I was lucky he sent me a text for the first cancelled meeting.

Oh and how did he spot the Partner? Well, I think the dog was a bit of a give-away, I'd described him as a cross GSD/Husky. And big. The pub is also just round the corner from our flat which I'd also mentioned, and he had been in there the previous Saturday.

Strange guy eh?

But no stranger than the one this Sunday. "Hello, do you speak English?" he said as he got on the bus in Málaga. Well, sometimes I look English, and sometimes I look indeterminate. This was obviously an English-looking day.

Plus, he looked English, so I was obviously looking at him too closely. It turned out he was Scottish. I really struggle with the accent, I have to say.

We discussed where the bus stopped. He was off to Manilva which is south of Estepona. Sometimes the bus stops there and sometimes it doesn't. I didn't think this one did. I offered to ask the driver.

No, he would get off at Estepona and get a taxi and go to Carrefour. (He had just flown in that day). I didn't think Carrefour would be open at 7pm on a Sunday evening.

As you do, when you have the odd two or three hours to kill, we started chatting. Well, when I could understand the Scottish accent we did.

He wasn't quite as nosey as Paul. Or perhaps he was differently nosey.

He was in computers and worked for a multinational company. He was here for a year. His wife was in Scotland. He had spent a lot of time working in the Far East.

He could speak Korean and Chinese. Which apparently he had learned horizontally. His words not mine. He thought he would learn Spanish the same way. I said encouragingly that he would probably get lots of opportunity.

We got on to how long we had been married. Twenty eight years him, and twenty two me.

"And have ya been a good girl all that time?" (said with Scottish accent).

"Yes," I said, puzzled, thinking what's it got to do with you?

"I don't believe that, you're kidding," he said.

"No," I said, wondering when he was going to change the subject.

"You don't know what you are missing. Life's very short you know."

I knew exactly what I would be missing. One husband, half the property and cash, and the only thing I would acquire would be a piece of paper telling me I was divorced.

I added that I was a bit too old for playing silly games and that sleazy affairs held absolutely no interest for me.

At which point he seemed to lose interest in me. Especially when I didn't scribble down my email address and give it to him.

I was thinking about getting a different bus this week. But hey it passes the time.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I've always liked travelling independently.

When I was in my early teens I went off happily youth-hostelling with a map and a rucksack and thought it was a great adventure.

Later I started taking holidays in Europe - usually based round work, or an activity or a course.

Then in my early 20s I went on my world trip - one of the best things I've ever done.

And now here I am travelling up and down the Costa del Sol every weekend.

The trouble is, it's not really travelling at all. It's a weekend commute. It happens to be in a pretty nice location, with a permanent view of the Med from the bus, but it is still a commute.

And after a few weeks, the three-hour journey between Málaga and Gib starts to drag a bit. Even if you do manage to get the back seat to yourself.

It's even worse if the bus is full of jabbering tourists (of whatever nationality), screaming kids, or as happened yesterday, a vomiting woman sitting next to me on the back seat (with her two kids who at least weren't screaming).

"Tiene una bolsa?" she said so I fished out a Morrisons bag. And gave it to her saying I hoped there weren't any holes in it. It didn't matter as she missed anyway. Don't drink water and sit at the back of the bus, is my advice.

So last Sunday was nice and quiet. I had the back seat and the bus was fairly empty. I sat right in the middle, with my feet on the armrests and started to read the paper, settling in for a reasonable journey.

And then at Torremolinos, a few people got on. One of them marched assertively down the bus, looked me right in the eyes and said (in beautiful southern English)

"Can I get past you to sit in there?"

I suppose I could have said there are plenty of other seats mate, but it seemed a bit rude. So I moved my legs for him to get in and promptly put them back. His mate decided to sit in front of us. Quite right too. Two people on the back seat was already one too many in my opinion.

"You're going to Gib," he said. It was more of a statement than a question but I answered politely anyway. "Yes."

"What do you do there?" he asked nosily. "Nothing," I answered truthfully (in at least I don't have any paid employment there - I assumed that was what he meant).

The cogs whirred round a bit. Who is this woman that lives in (expensive) Gib and doesn't work? There was a pause, so I leaped in.

"What do you do?" Tit for tat. "Forces."

"Oh," I replied chattily. Then he said "I'm a musician."

Is he having a joke at my expense? Either he's in the forces or he's a musician. My lateral thinking is obviously faltering though.

"I play the trumpet for the RAF." I thought he was having me on, but no. So we eventually called a truce to the hostilities and relaxed a bit. Turned out his professional training was as a musician, and 16 years ago he was accepted into one of the RAF bands - the Central Band.

It sounded like a cool job. You get to play at lots of concerts round the world, and you get to visit British bases too. He'd been to Ascension Island, the Falklands, and Cyprus among others. As for concerts they were in America last year, and they were off to Japan next year.

They even got a daily foreign allowance on top of salary of around twenty plus pounds a day. In America they also got a $400 salary from their sponsor, but they were doing 19 concerts in 21 days from one side of the country to the other so I guess they earned that.

It didn't sound totally glamorous though. There were the bus journeys from London to Scotland, or the three-day bus journey to Budapest. Don't think that was one for my vomiting companion from yesterday who couldn't manage two hours from Estepona to Benalmádena.

They also got to go to conflict zones. Not to play, I might add. He'd volunteered to go to Kosovo but by the time he'd finished training, the post had gone so he ended up in Basra. Rather him than me.

The band was in Gib for a concert tonight and they were due to play two concerts in Spain, but apparently there were some bureaucratic problems so he had a week's holiday, and the Spanish concerts weren't happening. He had time on his hands.

When we got off the bus he bought me and the other guy a drink, and then I headed off for home and tea, thoughtfully prepared by Domesticated Partner, and repeated two and a half hours of bus conversation over tea.

We'd fixed to meet up on Tuesday evening, but he sent a text saying he couldn't make it, was Wed OK? Fine by us.

On Wed, I thought about checking with him, (save Exhausted Partner getting changed after work!) but figured he would have let me know if he wasn't coming. I stubbed my toe. I avoided the dog and kicked the chair. (It's a small flat). The front half of my foot rapidly turned shades of blue, purple and black. Not a good omen.

We limped down to the assigned meeting place. After half an hour I sent him a text. Like, this is a guy whose watch is set ten minutes ahead of time so he is never late?

Chilled-out Partner had another drink and we wandered back home. Somewhat later on I received a text. Good marks for inventiveness. They had been frantically trying to get their instruments across the border (came by truck) and on top of that he decided to indulge in a bout of food poisoning. One of those would have been a sufficient excuse, although preferably sent before we were meant to meet. Did we want to meet the next day?

Why don't people just say they have found better things to do and can't be bothered to meet up? The bus journey went really fast, he was good company and I enjoyed talking to him. It would have been good to meet again, but I'm a grown-up these days and I'm not going to lose sleep when people change their mind.

Alternatively you could say third time lucky. I didn't. And I didn't reply either. I hope your concert goes well tonight Paul. And thanks for brightening my regular commuting journey. Safe journey back to the UK. But don't agree to meet people in quite such a hurry again.