Tag Archives: Spain

Candle with care: I’m sick of the tick of the birthday clock

22 Oct

I USED to love birthdays. Particularly those big ones with a zero on the end. The ones when your boss would send you home early to have a quiet family celebration…only for all hell to let loose when you opened the front door.

One moment, silence and slight concern that nobody was in. Then, as you peered into the deserted hall, an explosion of noise as doors flew open, laughing faces appeared from nowhere, the kids rushed into your arms  –  and 100 voices burst into a chorus of you know what.
The party would go on forever as you ate, drank (too much) and caught up with the lives of surprise visitors from out of town and friends you’d all but lost touch with. Your boss and the colleagues who had masterminded the show would turn up after work and the party would go on through the night.
Yes, life was fun at 40…and blowing the candles out was a piece of cake.
How times change. Birthdays used to take forever to come round, yet I swear I’ve had four of them this year.
And the only good thing about the damned things is that if they keep coming, you know you are still alive.
I’d better amend that, because I don’t want my friends and to think I didn’t enjoy our little celebration at the weekend. Nineteen of us took our zimmer frames, hearing aids and skin tucks for a bit of a bash in Guardamar. It wasn’t a night at the Ritz, some would say more like the Pits. But, like so many local expats, my crowd love the bustle and boom of Vicente Jaen’s chaotic restaurant, where plates of freebie food fly at you from all angles before you even give your order – and then you are submerged by enough food to fill a herd of starving elephants.
There’s no written bill and the only till is the wad of notes tucked away in Vicente’s pocket. It’s all a bit of a shambles, really…but as irresistible as the march of time.

In the chaos, my plan for a table for 20 was redrawn as a 12 and an eight and I spent the evening  sitting with my back to most of my guests. The experience confirmed my mathematical theory that the volume of noise generated by a boozing Brit is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. The longer we celebrated, the louder some of us got (not me, of course)  – and the more disgusted looks headed like daggers in our direction.
It was all good fun and great to have so much support in the absence of my family, who are all in the UK. Thanks for the good wishes, cards and presents, guys, but you’ll have to remind me who gave what because everything got mixed up in the chaos of the evening.
One thing I did notice in the haze of alcohol (two gin and tonics – I can’t even get drunk these days) was that there were no candles on the cake.
Perhaps Restaurant Jaen is a no-blow zone, I thought. Because I could definitely have seen off all those little sticks of flaming wax. Well, three or four anyway – I can only eat a few in one sitting.
Anyway, in two years I’m due to hit another BIG birthday. I want whoever provides the cake to make sure it displays one candle for every year of my strife (pun intended).
I promise faithfully that when it comes to blows, every one of those candles will be extinguished in a couple of seconds.
And maybe the grandkids will let me help…
Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es), October 19, 2012

My life has gone to the mogs and that’s just…PURRFECT

1 Sep

THEY say that cats have nine lives. Well, my life has nine cats.

At least it seems that way as just about every waif and stray in the neighbourhood queues at my cat flap for its daily food fix.

Officially I have three moggies. The first is mad Molly, who is small, black, weirdly mis-shapen and has learning difficulties (the description of her previous owner, not mine).

MOLLY: Not intelligent enough to have learning difficulties

Poor Molly’s not intelligent enough to have learning difficulties. The cat flap’s been there for three years and she still doesn’t know how to use it.

MOGGY No.2 is Geoffrey (Geoffrey Boycat to give him his full name – apt for an animal that moves as slowly as his cricketing namesake used to score runs for England). My Geoff is a black, long-haired softie of a stray who was probably lost or left by his previous owner a long time ago.

Certainly someone cared for him because he was neutered and healthy when he first started coming to my place.

In fact, it’s possible he still has another home because he sometimes goes missing for a day or two.

MOGGY No.3 is Henry, a young tabby who turned up at my back door last autumn with a hairless, bleeding chest and a mega-miaow.

‘’I suspect he’s been in a fight but I can stitch it up, no problem,’’ said the vet. ‘’I would advise you to have him neutered as soon as possibly, though. Not only will it stop him fighting, it will also help to keep the cat population down and make him more of a house cat.’’

Twenty-four hours later, Henry moved in – neatly stitched, snipped and tucked. When his chest took longer than expected to heal, I took him back to the vet…and a blood test revealed he was FIV-positive, the feline equivalent of HIV.

‘’It’s nothing to worry about,’’ said the vet. ‘’He was almost certainly born with it. It’s quite common and he has a good chance of leading a normal life. Because he has been neutered, he’s highly unlikely to pass the FIV on, even through sharing food bowls with other cats.’’

All of which makes Henry a bit special. After all we’ve been mutually stitched up – him by the vet and me by Henry, who could have saved me a lot of money had he turned up on someone else’s doorstep! (I’m joking…wouldn’t be without him for anything.

Add to Molly, Geoffrey and Henry the half-a dozen feral waifs and strays which turn up at various times of the day and night – and the menagerie-a-trois moves into mega-moggy mode. And thereby hangs another tail…the tale of why I prefer cats to dogs.

Now I’ve written a couple of light-hearted articles in the past about the respective merits and otherwise of each species, so apologies to those who have previously been subjected to what follows.

HENRY: I had him stitched up - then he stitched me up!

Cats are to me the most mysterious, fascinating and wonderful creatures on earth. Not only can they read your mind, they can also manipulate it to their own advantage. That’s the voice of 40 years of cat ownership speaking. Oh, and I didn’t own any of my moggies – they owned me.

I was THEIR pet, not the reverse. If it didn’t suit them to live in my home, they’d have been off like a flash to appoint some other purr soul as honorary daily food-and-milk supplier. Some of us are cat people, some dog people and some, like myself, care for both. Only we usually have a preference and in my household, moggies have always held the edge. To start with, they allow their owner more independence.

If you’re not around for a few days, it doesn’t really matter as long as someone is there to feed them.

Leave a dog on its own for two days and you’re not only in serious trouble with the animal authorities, the poor mutt will also have moped itself into a candidate for the canine nuthouse.

Then there is the cleanliness issue.

Dogs love to pepper their noses with the ghastliest of savouries left for them by their fellow barkers. The browner and smellier the better for Fido and his pals, and the worse for those of us whose shoes squelch the stink into our rugs and carpets when we get home.

From my experience, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to house-train a puppy. It will pee and poo to order providing you let it out a minimum of 250 times a day.

But pop out yourself for five minutes and you open the door on your return to a mound of doggy dung and a floor awash with a ship-load of urine.

The yelps when Little Poo is left momentarily on its own are bad enough. But they are nothing to the yelps of human anger that boom into the stratosphere when Mr and Mrs Owner discover what poochie was up to while they were out of the room.

Yet to a dog lover, those Close Encounters of the T*rd Kind are all acceptable in exchange for the pure, uncomplicated love you are guaranteed in return for just being there.

Who cares that Fido spends all day rolling in mud, urine, vomit and the faeces of every animal on earth? It only takes a couple of hours to clean him up – and then those luscious licks and doggy hugs make it all worthwhile. Unless, like me, you’re already so browned off by those pooper bloopers that you’ve vowed never to have a dog again.

Cats are a complete contrast. House-trained before they’ve ever seen a house, all a kitten needs is a litter tray and it will wee and poo into it ad infinitum.

Mind you, removing the hail of stones that hurtle around the house in mini-puss’s attempts to bury the residue with its lethal back feet can take twice as long as clearing up after any untrained puppy.

Moggies also need no teaching when it comes to cleaning themselves. And thereby hangs another tale – plus body, head and legs.

Before you know it, puss has licked herself bald and is coughing up a two-ton hair ball. You rush her to the vet thinking she’s on her last legs but fear not…they all do it. Unless, like my Molly, the furry one suffers from feline asthma and vomits up nothing but wheeze.

GEOFFREY: Does he have another home?

If your cat is a Tom, then you have another problem or three. First and worst is his territory spraying, and the pungent, difficult-to-remove smell it creates.

Then there’s his sexual appetite, which he’ll inevitably impose on all the local moggettes – accompanied by a cat’s chorus loud enough to drown out a 30-piece orchestra. The solution to that one is simple.

Have Tiger Tom snipped in the bud when he’s a few months old and the spraying and s****ing will be a thing of the past. If you have a dog, you will of course need to take it for walks.

Unless you are a lazy bitch like one or two of my friends – and end up with a mutt that’s even fatter than its owner. In such instances, at least fatso and her pet won’t need a pooper scooper to clean up the dog mess, though not that many people seem to bother if the pavements in my locality at El Raso are anything to go by.

People not clearing up the mess left by their dogs in public places is a big problem everywhere. But here’s a question for you: If you saw a threatening-looking yob’s pit-bull pooing outside your home and he didn’t clean up the mess (the yob, not the pitbull), what would you do?

If your answer is ‘nothing’, score a brownie point for honesty. As for me, I’ll stick with my moggies. I just wish they could purr in English.

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) September 2, 2011

When the ‘charity’ collector comes calling…

26 Jul

I’VE never been sure what the Spanish law is regarding door-to-door charity collections.
On one hand I’m told it’s illegal, and that the people who ring my bell trying to raise money for a new school/hospice/orphanage/public toilet are in fact bogus.
On the other hand, you have those charity callers whose impressive documentation .and smooth tongue convinces you they are for real.
‘’Don’t give money to anyone collecting at the door,’’ is the clear message from both my community president and the local Neighbourhood Watch. ‘‘The odds are that they are not genuine.’’
Well, for the last two or three years, this cheerful-looking Spanish guy in his 40s, lways armed with identity card, badge, documents and flyers galore, has been doing his best to squeeze euros out of the expat community around my home.
Some people give, some don’t. And I admit he’s sweet-talked me into parting with a few euros in the past.
Weapon
But that was before I became Editor of The Courier – and in fact, before this newspaper even came into existence.
This time I was armed with a powerful new weapon and II plotted a scheme that would make or break him next time he came calling..
I would to tell him I was writing an article on residents being pestered by bogus charity collectors. I wanted take his photograph and put it in The Courier, at the same time confirming to readers that he was no Luis the Ladrón and represented a genuine cause.
I figured that an honest collector would agree instantly to being photographed since it would surely improve hisreturns…while an imposter would run a mile.
I was in the garden when he turned up in mid-afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
‘Hola senora, you Engleesh?’’
He clearly didn’t remember me – not that I wanted him to.
‘’Yes, I want to speak to you,’’ I replied in Spanish, going straight on the attack as he pulled his documents out of his briefcase.
I reeled off my proposal (well, hardly reeled it off – my Spanish isn’t particularly good) and then mentioned taking his photo.
He did not like the idea. In fact, it horrified him. ‘No photograph!’’ he snapped, quickly putting his papers back in his briefcase. ‘‘Definitely not. It is illegal to take photos in Spain.’’
‘‘It’s illegal to collect money door to door in Spain, more likely,’’ I retorted, uncertain whether this was in fact true.
With that, he thrust the leaflet alongside into my hand and stalked off to accost another potential victim.
The following day a respectable looking woman aged about 30 appeared at the front gate and began the charity sales talk. Or so I thought.
‘‘I’m sorry but there’s a great suspicion of charity collectors around here,’’ I said, lining up another photographic session. ‘‘People think you are not genuine.’’
‘‘Charity? I’m not collecting for charity, cariño,’’ she retorted indignantly. ‘‘I’m collecting for ME. For me and my family.’’
There followed a party political broadcast on behalf of Spain’s unemployed masses. She told me she had lost her job, her husband was out of work and his dole had been stopped, and they had three kids to feed.
How else could she support them than by calling on the generosity of more affluent people?
I know she could have been conning. But if she was, she deserved the €10 I gave her just for her acting skills.
Genuine or not, her face lit up at the sight of the money and she couldn’t thank me or hug me enough. ‘‘This will pay the lighting bill tomorrow, carino. I’m so happy.’’
And off she went with a parting shot. ‘‘Watch out for those charity collectors. You never know if their genuine.’’

WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE

TALKING of uninvited callers, I got into conversation the other day with two very nice ladies about…the end of the world.
Yes, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now although I am not a Christian, I have never been one of those ‘we’re not interested – clear off’ types.
Indeed, apart from the fact that they are invariably humble, gentle people, I have the greatest admiration for the courage of Witnesses in the face of adversity.
Namely the antagonism of so many people who resent their intrusion. It’s all very well to turn them away politely but firmly, but verbal aggression and rudeness is not necessary.
I’d also like to clear up one or two misconceptions about Jehovah’s Witnesses. First of all, they are neither crazy nor any more deluded than followers of any other religious order. Indeed, to me their message rings truer than most.
The mess that mankind has got the world into needs sorting urgently – and who better to handle it than Big G himself? And soon!
I would never have the courage or dedication to become a Witness. But I do wish I could truly BELIEVE because it immediately takes all the fear out of dying
‘‘I bet you get a lot more abuse than friendliness when you knock on doors,’’ I said to my visitors. ‘‘You are so brave to carry on despite all the resentment.’’
‘‘The strength to go on doesn’t come from us – but from Jehovah,’’ they replied.
I come from Jewish roots, but as a lifelong agnostic, I have spent my entire life wondering what existence is all about.
But there has to be more to it than eating, drinking and making a nuisance of ourselves.
Jehovah’s Witness literature often portrays their idea of the Paradise awaiting believers.
We see images of Mum, Dad and smiling kids strolling and playing in a sunny Garden of Eden, their pets – including lions and tigers – sitting obediently at their feet.
Beat you to it, guys. I’m in Paradise every time I sit in my sunny garden, full of glorious summer colour, with one purring moggy on my lap and another at my side.
In this life, that’s as good as it gets for me. It almost makes my chronic backache worthwhile…

‘Dirty, apologetic, drunken, tattooed dog-mad hooligans’

25 Apr

A SPANISH EYE VIEW OF THE AVERAGE BRITISH TOURIST…

Jose Monllor Perez is small, dark, law-abiding and enjoys nothing more than relaxing with his pals, a cerveza and a cigarette. A stereotypical Spaniard, you might say.

We all have our own views on what exactly constitutes an archetypal native of this particular Iberian nation. But how do the Spanish see the thousands, nay millions, of British holidaymakers who swarm around their country seeking the sunshine that invariably shuns our own grid-locked island?

For the past dozen years Perez, 43, has been teaching Spanish to students of all nationalities (me included) at the Berlingua School of Languages in Quesada in the Costa Blanca – the majority of them English.

Teaching runs in Jose’s family and after seeing 4,000 pupils pass through Berlingua’s doors, he’s a pretty good judge of character. The Alicante-born profesora is also a dab hand at another trait that runs in the family – art. And he paints a hilarious tongue-in-cheek assessment of the stereotypical Brit.

Spainly speaking, it seems we are an apologetic, dog-crazy, dirty, unfit, drunken bunch of tattooed hooligans. And those are our good points!
The bad guys apparently all wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas.

Here’s the lowdown on how Spaniards see us – as interpreted by Perez.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 1: ‘‘They are always saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. Sometimes I think that if you stamped on an Englishman he would apologise. And they say ‘thank you’ so much that the Spanish believe you thank cash machines after withdrawing money.’’

Next comes the obligatory condemnation of our drinking excesses. No, not getting sozzled every day and spending most nights, in the words of Billy Connolly, ‘‘talking to Hughey down the big white telephone’’. Something gentler and more refined than that – tea.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 2: ‘‘They drink tea at all hours – and with COLD milk. Uggh! I thought it was meant to be a hot drink!’’

The fun stops when we move on to the UK’s much-maligned drink culture, which arguably represents the most vivid stereotypical image of an Englishman in the eyes of 21st-century Europe.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 3: ‘‘The English drink far too much beer and wine and they all seem to spend all day in a state of drunkenness. ”

Of course, when we’re on the beach or by the swimming pool, all that booze makes us forget that our white skins are being roasted by el sol.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 5: ‘‘They just can’t take the sun. Their white skin never goes brown – it’s always bright red.’’

And then there is our perceived obsession with queueing.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 6: ‘‘They love to stand in a line waiting. Sometimes I think they make queues when there is nothing to queue for!’’

The British attitude to pets is another peculiarity that amuses Perez.

Jose Monllor Perez: ‘Every person is an individual'

BRIT STEREOTYPE 7: ‘‘They really love your dogs. We think they sleep with them, eat with them, take them on the bus, go into bars and get drunk with them – and then take each other home. They spend a fortune on their animals, but as for having a RABBIT as a pet, now that we cannot understand!’’

Perez confesses that the Channel 4 programme How Clean Is Your House? has sparked a suspicion among Spaniards that the entire nation is DIRTY. ‘‘That TV show is incredible,’’ he says. ‘‘The gardens are clean and tidy, but inside the houses it’s completely the opposite. If I go into an English bar after seeing that programme, I always examine the cups and spoons!’’ Then, of course, there is our physical shape.

BRIT STEREOTYPE 8: ‘‘Their fitness levels are bad with lots of people overweight – and the guys all have tattoos and look like hooligans.’’

According to Perez, the Spanish also see us as bashful when it comes to discussing sexual matters and hmmm, let’s say anything involving personal excretions. But when it comes to using the F word, then there’s no holding us back…

Away from the wisecracking, Jose insists that only ignorant people actually BELIEVE these characteristics are representative of the nation. ‘‘Each person is an individual,’’ he insists. ‘‘There are Englishmen who do not drink tea, Spanish who don’t like flamenco, Germans who not have a moustache, Italian pizza haters, non-romantic Frenchmen and Russians who don’t belong to the Mafia.

‘‘Our brain wants to save energy and work quickly, so it creates stereotypes. It’s easier to believe than that each person is uniquely different.’’

Spain’s Costa-cutters shame Britain’s airport rip-off boys

30 Mar

Car-park charges in the UK are enough to drive any motorist insane – and the rip-off boys are getting greedier and greedier. Particularly those who have a captive audience.

Like airports.

I returned to Spain from Manchester on Sunday knowing I’d be flying into Alicante’s new state-of-the-art terminal, an amazing edifice which cost the cash-strapped Spanish well over £500 million.

The Madrid government invested 628.67 million euros in expansion works which will double the airport’s capacity and cater for up to 20 million passengers per year.

When my daughter Lisa met me on my arrival in Manchester three weeks earlier, it cost her no less than £12 for an enforced two-hour stay in the Terminal One car-park (well, I paid it actually – that’s what parents are for).

And while Lisa might have got away with the £2.20 minimum charge had she
parked up to see me off on my return to the Costa Blanca, she’d inevitably have got carried away with emotion, hugged me for an hour, and forked out another £8 for the privilege.


So she just dropped me off and vamoosed, leaving me to find that my flight was being delayed for well over an hour for technical reasons.

We eventually arrived at Alicante half an hour late and by the time we got back to my friend Valerie’s car, it had been parked in the airport’s new 2,700-space multi-storey facility for an hour and a half.

At Manchester prices, that would have meant another £8 – to pick up a passenger who had already paid a fistful in airport taxes as part of her air fare.

In the event, Val’s 1 hour 38 minute stay cost me 2 euros and 95 cents.
That’s less than one-third of Manchester’s rip-off tariff – at an airport which must be desperate to recoup their massive investment as quickly as possible.

Exactly the same charge, based on a minute-by-minute reading which equates to just 70 centimos for half an hour, is levied at other major Spanish airports, including Madrid’s main Barajas facility, Malaga and Barcelona.

New Alicante terminal

The new terminal at Alicante: It can cater for 20 million passengers a year

How refreshing that a nation in desperate financial straits should put the passenger before profit, unlike the greedy ” fleece ’em for as much as we can” attitude in the UK.

When my sister flew in to Manchester from her home in the Middle East recently, fellow passengers on the delayed Jet2.com flight consoled her by insisting the plane was ALWAYS late in order to ensure that family and friends had to park up for at least an hour and incur that obligatory £8 fee.

I’m told that Stansted charge similar prices to Manchester, whilst
Heathrow’s initial £2.50 charge goes up to £4.30 after just half an hour (or at least it used to, though it may well have increased since those figures were reported).

Perhaps that’s why Spain is in a worse economic pickle than Britain…the Zapatero government prefer to remain needy rather than labelled as greedy.

So carry on with the overcharging, Britain. Enjoy squeezing the public to the pip.

I’ll continue to chill out on the cheap here on the Costa Lot-less.

65mph speed limit can ease motorists’ fuel headache

17 Mar

The answer to the ever-spiralling fuel costs facing British motorists could lie on the roads…of Spain.

As petrol prices continue to soar in the wake of the political chaos in Libya and other oil-producing countries, pressure is mounting in the UK for a cut in petrol duty, which with VAT accounts for two-thirds of pump prices.

But tax cuts are one thing David Cameron‘s government simply cannot afford in the current depressing economic climate.

The solution? Well, one way would be to follow the Spanish government‘s example by cutting the motorway speed limit and reducing rail fares to encourage drivers to become public-transport passengers.

I know 65mph on the M1 or M6 seems a ridiculously inhibitive limit but if it saves the average motorist 10p a litre, it surely makes sense. After all, if the government were to reduce petrol prices by 10p, there’d be whoops of delight from the AA and RAC.

My good friend Mike Thornton is sales manager of the BK Executive chauffeur-driven car-hire firm, whose fleet of luxury vehicles include Rolls Royces and Bentleys. And he is well aware of how much fuel can be saved by reducing speed by just a few miles per hour.

”By slowing down from 70 to 65mph, the average motorist would use 10 per cent less petrol,” he says. ”There are considerable savings to be made and if the government won’t reduce the price of fuel, then this is another way to put some money back in the motorist’s pocket.”

As someone who tootles around at a moderate speed and rarely uses motorways, I suspect my own savings would be minimal. But the revved-up racers who bomb around at the speed of sound could obviously save themselves a packet (not to mention the odd life or two)  if they actually had the sense  to slow down.

But the rocket men need not worry about having to come off their accelerator pedals because Britain is unlikely to adopt an idea that has been thought up by Johnny Foreigner.

I’ve grumped about it before, but one of the biggest weaknesses of the British psyche is our refusal to acknowledge that other countries sometimes do things better than we do. And in this case the Spanish have beaten us to the punch.

Earlier this month, they reduced the maximum speed on motorways and dual carriageways from 120kph (74.5mph) to 110kph (68.3mph) as a temporary means of saving energy.

The price of rail tickets on suburban and medium-distance services has also been reduced temporarily to offset the economic consequences of the rise in the price of crude oil.

These two limitations will be maintained while tensions in north Africa continue, and deputy prime minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is working on further measures like reducing street lighting and the energy costs of public buildings.

The Spanish authorities claim that the reduction in the speed limit could save drivers up to 15 per cent in petrol and 11 per cent in diesel.

Rubalcaba insisted that the tensions in north Africa do not pose a problem to supplies – but something had to be done to reduce the effect of rising fuel prices.

“Every ten-dollar rise in the price of a barrel of oil increases Spain’s energy bill by some 6,000 million euros,” he explained.

In 2008, a Daily Telegraph survey in 2008 found that of 27 European countries surveyed, Britain had the highest fuel taxes. Some 57p of the cost of a litre of petrol was tax, compared with 31p in Spain, 45p in Italy, 48p in France and 52p in Germany.