Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Linguistic superiority

I like to support my local shops. Particularly when they are cheap. But I am also happy to pay a premium when they are open and no-one else is. Or I can't be bothered to walk to the supermarket for a couple of items that I forgot the other day.

Fresh produce - certainly here in Spain and Gibraltar is often fresher than it is in the big supermarkets. Much of it is grown locally, or at least within hundreds of miles so it is not flown in, or sitting around for days in frigitrucks travelling the length and breadth of Europe.

I usually speak Spanish in the Moroccan shops and English in the Indian ones. Or a bit of both.

The other day I went to one of our local shops in Gib. (Not the one in the picture above - that's a different one that I also use). They had been shut for a while so I asked if they had been on holiday or if they were closed for another reason.

Sadly it turned to be a funeral. In India - hence the reason for the long closure. As I'd been to India some years ago I asked whereabouts. They had gone back to Mumbai so I said chattily what a nice place it was. The woman looked at me slightly puzzled, and said "I don't think so."

Perhaps it has changed since I was there. Apart from anything else - everyone called it Bombay way back then. So I added "Oh it's a while since I was there." Note to self: Be very careful when commenting about places you have not visited for more than 20 years.......

Some days later Partner went to the same shop. He has a very chatty relationship with the owner and his wife. For some strange reason the owner often speaks to him in an Indian language. I have no idea which one. Gujerati maybe? I've asked Partner what he is saying and had an exasperated response: "How should I know? Hello and goodbye I suppose."

Mostly though they speak in English, and sometimes in Spanish - which is par for the course in Gibraltar.

There were some Spaniards in the shop, so the conversation was in Spanish. They were asking about the price of cigarettes. Now this particular shop sells cigarettes and spirits at pretty cheap prices - hence he usually has a queue. The Spaniards were umming and aahing about the price. Eventually they decided they weren't going to buy any. (Don't know where they thought they were going to find them any cheaper).

The shop owner smiled nicely at them and suddenly switched into English. "OK. Please your fucking selves." And winked at Partner. "Adios," said the Spaniards and walked out of the door - fortunately without any idea what he had said to them.

I have to say Partner was somewhat speechless - although very amused - as he has never heard this guy swearing in English before. But I am beginning to wonder what the shop owner is really saying to Partner when he greets him in his Indian language.

Friday, March 21, 2008

House guests (1) Freddy the Bread Bag Man

A while back, Partner went to the UK to do some work at my mum's house. On his return, he brought my dad's old rustbucket back (actually mine technically after my dad died) via the Plymouth-Santander ferry.

I spoke to him on the Saturday morning that he left. I never heard from him the rest of the day. On Sunday I waited anxiously for a call before he embarked on the ferry. No call. (We didn't have mobile phones at the time.)

I panicked and rang the ferry company. They wouldn't tell me whether he had checked in or not because the ticket wasn't in my name. Even though I had bought the ticket with my card and we were both members of the ferry company travel club. "Ring the police," they helpfully suggested. So I did. No joy from them either.

By this time my imagination had flipped and gone well overtime. Broken down? In hospital after an accident? Kidnapped? (Don't know why - but that one made its appearance in the many theories too). The departure time of the ferry came and went. Still no 'phone call to say he had missed the ferry. I didn't know what to do.

Monday morning and the ferry was due to dock. At last, I hoped, he might get off the ferry and ring me immediately. No. I went out to distract myself. When I came back there was a strange message on the answerphone. It sounded like him, but with a very odd voice, and he was somewhere noisy - talking to someone called Freddy.

My heart sank. He obviously hadn't made the ferry. He was still in England? Where? In a garage? He'd left a mobile number belonging to Freddy. It didn't work. I tried all manner of combinations of the numbers but got no joy.

Much later the same day we finally spoke. He'd made it down to Plymouth in the rustbucket but couldn't find a public 'phone. (???) He'd got terrible flu hence the strange voice - hoarse and spooky. He'd shared a cabin with Freddy and they had decided to travel in convoy as far as Madrid where Freddy was going. Freddy hadn't a clue how to get there, his Spanish was less than mediocre, and Partner was having problems with the rustbucket which was losing power going up the hills.

Partner stopped at the Three Js on the southern outskirts of Madrid. (Recommended). The next day he made it to the Andalucían province of Jaen but then decided to pull in at a garage rather than pay for a breakdown truck when the inevitable happened. He got home on the bus that day and a few weeks later went to pick up the rustbucket after the fuel tank had been cleaned out.

About four months later Freddy rang. He had been travelling round and was coming to our part of Spain. Partner and he had got on pretty well on the boat and so ever-generous Partner had offered him a bed for a night or two if he was passing. He had obviously decided he was, and turned up the same day.

Freddy had bought a rather flash campervan for around 30,000€. He parked it up outside the house. Obviously he wasn't bothered about a bed with us but Partner offered him the use of the shower in our little house. Freddy said it looked fine. In fact he said the little house looked so nice he would use the large double bed as well. Before we knew it he had carried in his lap top so he could mess around with his mobile phone internet connection.

We all sat down in the patio for a beer. "It's rather good here, I think I'll stay for a week," he announced.

Partner and I gulped. A couple of nights for someone who you have shared a cabin and a few beers with is one thing - but a week? When he had a perfectly good campervan?

"What do you say darling?" said Partner, in the way that men do.

"Nothing to do with me." (Oh no. I have learned a few things in life and one is not taking someone else's decision.) "It's your decision. Sweetheart."

Partner gulped again and couldn't find a way to say No. Stop. Taking. The. Piss. So naturally he said "Yes. That sounds fine. No problem at all."

We'd both done the sums. Freddy was paying nearly 20€ a night on the campsites for his expensive rig. Now let's see, seven times 20€ makes a saving of €140 for Freddy. Smart guy.

We went shopping later on. He offered me 20€ towards the food and drink. In the past I would never have dreamed of accepting it. "Thanks," I said stuffing it quickly into my wallet.

I cooked for us all for a few days. He obviously got bored with vegetarian cooking half-way through the week though and started eating out, or heating up some meat stuff he had in the freezer in the van.

We were going out one morning.

"Well, I think I'm just going to do....(whatever it was,)" said Freddy. "And then I'll go out later."

"OK," we said. "But either you need to stay in the guest house until we come back, or you need to go to your caravan, because we are locking the main outside door." We had visions of this guy gaily wandering out to his campervan and leaving the door unlocked. He looked a bit put out.

When we returned he contrived to miss the bus so Partner gave him a lift into town. He was out all afternoon and most of the evening. I think it was at this point that he stopped eating with us. We thought he might have got the huff and change his mind about staying the week. Not a chance. He stuck it right out.

Every morning we were graced with his presence in the patio. I kept his margarine in the fridge and brought it out for him. If I was late he would call for me to bring it. He invariably left his dirty plate on top of the dishwasher (hardly a long way to go to load it - he was sitting right next to it), the top off the margarine tub, and his empty bread bag sat next to the dirty plate. The rubbish bin was also within arm's reach. But hey, I just love running round after people. Naturally he left his smelly shoes and socks out in the patio too. Like why would he take them inside to where he was sleeping? Nah. Much better to share them with everyone else.

We developed hysteria through the week. Especially when he started moaning about something. He moaned about most things. We alternated between escaping out of the house - and banishing him to his campervan, and rolling around inside our main house stuffing our fists in our mouth so he couldn't hear us laughing.

He could be quite good company sometimes. He would have been better company if he had put the bread bag in the bin, the top on the margarine tub, his plate in the dishwasher and his socks and shoes inside his guest accommodation.

The morning for his departure arrived. He had a flat battery. I nearly died. Partner got his jump leads out faster than - well, let's just say, very fast. We merrily waved him off.

And the moral of the story? Don't offer accommodation to someone you have shared a cabin with for one night, and if you are daft enough to do so - don't say yes if they decide to stay for a week.

We have seen him since by the way. Not often. Fortunately.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Royal Engineers - Freedom of Gibraltar

The Corps of Royal Engineers celebrated their freedom of Gibraltar at the weekend.

On Saturday they assembled in Casemates Square, with the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the former serving members of the Royal Engineers who are now in the Royal British Legion, Gibraltar branch.

The band had performed a concert the previous night in St Michael's Caves. After listening to them in Casemates I regretted not having made the effort to go to the concert.

I used to like military bands, but as I grew up and associated the music with war, I distanced myself from it.

But they were very good and played a great range of music in Casemates - for free - while the Chief Engineer inspected current serving REs and RBL members.

The Royal Engineers were granted the Freedom of Gibraltar in 1972. They have a long history of involvement with Gibraltar, from raising the first corps in 1772 to digging out many of the 30 miles of tunnels within the Rock.

They celebrate their freedom every two years. This year they were inspected by Chief Royal Engineer, General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue.

After the inspection finished, the band marched up Main Street, followed by the Corps of Royal Engineers, and then the Royal British Legion, who were applauded as they marched around the corner to the final destination in Cathedral Square.

Partner spoke to one of the RBL members in the pub on Sunday. We were surprised he had been in the parade as he is in his late 70s. He admitted he was finding the marching a bit hard as he got older. So very well done to him and all his colleagues who turned out for the parade. You all deserve our respect.

And here are two vids. In the first one the police officer half way through is saying "Avoid them". To me. I was so busy trying to get the rest of the band going round the corner I didn't realise the Royal Engineers complete with bayonets were rapidly bearing down on me.

Finally, the Royal British Legion finishing the parade in Cathedral Square to well-deserved applause from all the bystanders.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The job hunt

No not mine. Don't be silly.

Actually I have been to the job centre and naturally there was nothing for me.

There aren't exactly loads of jobs for a woman with two degrees - one in ancient and medieval history and archaeology and the other an MBA - a journalism trade qualification, ten years experience in press and pr, and ten years experience in the health service. No, not easily employable me.

But my smart partner on the other hand has a much more marketable skill. He too has his trade papers, but none of that unnecessary clart that I possess. And more to the point, his trade is in construction. So where better to look for a job than a place which is putting up new buildings right, left and centre. Particularly when there is a shortage of qualified decorators, although plenty of chancers who can just "do a bit of painting." (They invariably can't).

There were two jobs in there for him. One was paperhanging in commercial premises and the other was paint finishing (for cars). He can do both of those, so I told him this with great glee.

But by the time he had got to the job centre the jobs had gone so he asked about them. Apparently the paper-hanging job was only for a week, so the job centre had taken it down. Most people want a permanent job.

Wages in Gib are not good. Property is expensive. And like anywhere, I would not like to be a young person trying to start out and buy a home on a low income. People need permanent jobs. But I'm not young, and I have my home. And both Partner and I are quite happy with temporary work. We've gone through the bust-a-gut-for-seven-days-a-week syndrome and don't want it any more. Temporary work for a few weeks or a few months is fine for us. It means we can do other things with our lives, but it also keeps us busy and it helps out with the budget.

When we were in Sydney, we both got "casual" jobs. In my case I turned up at the Job Centre for 6am, and invariably got a start that day in a canteen or a sandwich bar. Usually it was to cover for someone who was sick or on holiday or who had just left. The employer rang and got someone to start a couple of hours later, ie as long as it took you to get there. If you were rubbish you only lasted the day. If you were any good, the jobs lasted for weeks.

Partner got his jobs through the union rooms. Having a more useful skill than me he also got paid nearly twice as much. His jobs lasted for months rather than days or weeks.

I did get offered a journalist's job in Sydney. It was full-time, for long hours and paid less than making sandwiches did. It was also miles away in a suburb somewhere in nasty air-conditioned offices. I wouldn't have got a free lunch either. I know there aren't any free lunches in life, but I didn't go hungry when I worked in catering in Sydney.

So I think it is a shame that there aren't more casual jobs advertised for those of us who just haven't got the desire to spend the next ten or twenty or thirty years of our life doing the same boring repetitive job. Still someone needs to dogsit while Partner is out grafting on some construction site somewhere.

Updated to add: He's just had a 'phone call and seems he has a start on Monday morning. Ah, I'm destined for a life of idleness it seems......

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another win........

The Spanish election has been and gone (on Sunday). The Partido Socialista, led by Zapatero, has won another term, and consequently the main opposition, led by Rajoy (at least for now), has another uphill struggle ahead of them.

Even though Spain is suffering a comparative recession, it hasn't particularly hit most people. And the ones it has hit are likely to vote socialist anyway. My next door neighbour, in and out of work on building sites, for example. He either supports the Partido Andalucista in regional elections, or the Partido Socialista.

Apparently Zapatero is planning to focus on jobs and economic growth. Whether or not his government will be successful or not largely depends on the international scene, and global economics - hence the current credit problem affecting the Spanish housing market and construction boom.

Anyway as I can't vote here, although I'm registered, it all tends to pass me by. (Registered foreigners can only vote in the very local elections, eg the equivalent of local council ones).

Onto something I can influence - but only to a limited degree.

What isn't passing me by is the endless succession of mosquitoes that keep sneaking into the house.

OK, so I don't use spray, and I don't use those funny things that you plug in while you are sleeping, that secrete deadly chemicals into the atmosphere to kill mosquitoes and goodness knows what else. Me probably, eventually.

So we start shutting the door mid-afternoon, and only sneaking out for essential tasks, like walking the dog, or picking some herbs out of the garden.

But at some point during the night, one of us will hear it. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Zzzzzz. Zzzzzzzz. We promptly dive under the covers for the rest of the night.

Under cover

Then with any luck, Amos* clears off into the rest of the house, and we can spot him resting during the day. Partner swats him and splats him all over the ceiling. (Not all the time - about a 50% success rate these days - used to be 100% when he was younger and his eyesight was better).

We have a peaceful night's sleep. The house is mosquito free.

The next day we hear the zzzzzzzzz again. Dive under the covers. And so it starts again. How come mosquitoes are so intelligent? In the morning they've even been known to follow us out and buzz round us while we are having a leisurely browse on the internet.

You win one day. Or lose. Either way you have to start all over again the next. Bit like politics really.

If there is really anyone out there who hasn't heard it:

Knock knock
Who's there?
Amos who?
A mosquito. Boom boom.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Down to the beach - and a book tag

Yesterday we had a walk down to the beach, along the front, and back up past the fields.

At this time of year there is hardly anyone around, and so far, the urban sprawl from town hasn't swallowed up the few houses down at the beach that were originally a fishing community. It soon will, I suppose, and then this unspoilt beach will have another shiny promenade and be utterly characterless, just like all the rest.

But for now, it's just a peaceful beach - and very popular with Spaniards and northern Europeans alike because of that.

Isn't this the nicest little finca by the beach that should just cost the odd 40 grand sterling? In your dreams

Looking towards Málaga, just us and someone fishing

A new shower, for disabled people too.
Now - how to get the wheelchair up the platform?

The local beach bar

Going for a walk on the beach, with your donkey, two dogs, and a goat of course

And I am tagged for a book thingy by Blue. So, as this is my Spanish blog, and I have hundreds of books within arm's reach, I have picked a book about Spain.

So from page 123, Spain, The Rough Guide, here are the first five sentences. The only five in fact.

There's more to see than you can fit into a single day without exhaustion, and you're liable to end up agreeing with Augustus Hare that while the Escorial "is so profoundly curious that it must of necessity be visited, it is so utterly dreary and so hopelessly fatiguing a sight that it requires the utmost patience to endure it."

The monastery
Visits to El Real Monasterio del Escorial used to be deeply regulated, with guided tours to each section. Recently, they've become more relaxed and you can use your ticket to enter, in whatever sequence you like, the Monastery, Palace, Royal Apartments, Pantheon and Library; the outlying Casas de Aribe and Infante now charge separate admission. To avoid the worst of the crowds, try visiting just before lunch, or pick that time for the royal apartments, which are the focus of all the coachtours.

For sustenance or relief, you'll find a cafetería and toilets near the ticket office, drinks are ok but meals a bit of a rip-off.

I haven't been. But it is on my list of things to do while in Spain. Perhaps I need to organise myself a weekend break. That would be good.

Here is the nearest I got to it. It's not my pic, but it is pretty similar to the view we had when we travelled down through Spain and went past San Lorenzo del Escorial.

I've added another book tag on Clouds. Totally different.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A couple of bar tales

Yesterday was nice and warm. Partner cycled into town for the shopping. It being warm he decided to stop for a nice cool beer.

Tale 1
He was chatting to a German couple he has met before. They live in the country about 20-30 minutes from town. They are renting a small old house - there is no glass in the windows - and she would like to move, but all the other places are more expensive.

Sometimes they have friends round. Whenever they do, the external blinds between them and their Spanish neighbours go up so the neighbours can sticky-beak on their social gathering.

Of course when the Spaniards have friends and family round, the blinds stay down so no-one can see what they are up to. Drinking lots of bottles of spirits at a guess.

The German woman told Partner that she had managed to stop the blinds going up.

"How did you manage that?" asked Partner curiously.

"Well, I waited until the middle of the night when there was no-one around, and I really wanted to go to the toilet. Then I went outside and pissed on his wall.

"I did it a couple of times. I watched him afterwards wandering round trying to work out what it was. He stopped putting the shutter up though.

"There is only one thing to do with people who piss on you. And that is to piss on them right back."

Tale 2
The bar owner joined in the conversation. She asked the Germans if they knew - by sight - one of the homeless guys in town. He was also German, and used to sit near the supermarket with his dog. He was in his early 30s but looked much older.

Apparently the bar owner used to give him a sandwich sometimes. We often gave him a euro. Not all the time, but sometimes, especially in bad weather. He didn't beg and always said thank you.

He was a quiet guy, and just sat there all day, maybe with a carton of wine and a loaf of bread that he had bought from the supermarket.

The Germans didn't know him. Partner added that we sometimes gave him money.

The bar owner knew that.

"Yes, he used to mention you. The Englishman on the bicycle who also has a big four by four," she said.

When Partner came home he mentioned that they had been talking about the German man.

"I've found out what happened to him," he said.

I didn't like the sound of this story.

"Do I want to hear this?"

"Probably not."

I gave in. "Jail? Deported?"

"Dead. Found inside a contenador (large rubbish bin)."

Whatever your views of homeless people, and whether you give to them or not, to be found dead in a rubbish bin in your early thirties is a very sad ending to a life.

ETA: There is more on this last story on Clouds moving in

The contenador - for organic rubbish