Congratulations to the 2 winners:
Limitless travelling with K
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Congratulations to the 2 winners:
Limitless travelling with K
Once you’ve sent me your details, I’ll post the books to you.
Did you ever make mistakes when you were young? Rosie did. Years later she tried to put them right, but found it wasn’t that easy.
You can read her story in ‘Fragments of a Dream’
Set on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra, it will make you laugh, cry and reflect on life’s complexities!
A fascinating interview on TVE this week with Pedro Almodovar about his latest film, Dolor y Gloria, thought to be his most autobiographical yet.
The story draws on events from his formative years.
‘I had to look into the darkest part of myself,’ he said.
‘Although it starts from myself, as I was writing, it transformed into fiction.’
Yes! That’s what I love in novels, too. Stories that grow out of the writer’s experience of life, yet evolve their own reality.
You can keep all your fantasies and thrillers with their cleverly contrived plots. What move me most are stories that sink their roots deep into real-life events, yet stretch their branches towards the sky.
Elena Ferrante? Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Tim Winton?
In my own small way I, too, love to weave fact and fiction in my writing, and find it uniquely fulfilling.
As Almodovar says, ‘Writing is the only therapy to forget the unforgettable.’
Pain and glory, indeed.
An old-fashioned desk and chair in a quiet corner, untidy papers, a few mementos.
This is where I write when I’m at home.
I’m at my Spanish bank, wondering which queue to join. The one for the teller, alone behind a glass screen, or the one for the gestor, who sits at a desk and deals personally with customers’ accounts? I’m not sure, so I hover between the two, trying to see which moves faster.
Yesterday, in a different part of town, a cash machine swallowed my card and I caused a bit of a scene. I’d already stood for ages in one long line, and when I was left card-less and cashless, I butted in to another and asked what I should do. I must have raised my voice, because several people, waiting patiently, swung round to look at me.
It turned out that my card had expired. Silly me. I was told to go to my own branch to collect the new one. In England it would have been sent by post, well before the old card gave up the ghost. With blood pressure rising, and already weary from other bureaucratic nightmares, I steeled myself to accept that this was one more of those mysterious Spanish norms I hadn’t yet mastered.
So here I am today, waiting my turn and trying not to get rattled while clients in front of me deal with their transactions — mostly payment of bills which surely they could arrange by direct debit — when the silence is broken by an angry outburst. We all look up. A young man is letting rip in a torrent of broken Spanish, the gist of which seems to be that he has stood for half an hour, first in the queue for the cajero automatico, then in this one, only for the teller to say he can’t help him with whatever it was the machine wouldn’t do.
From behind his glass screen the bank employee, looking pale and frazzled, tries to explain the reasons for this problem and why he’s not authorised to deal with it, but the young man grows more and more upset, his voice louder, his gestures more expansive. The dozen or so other customers, all Spanish, standing in line or resting in comfortable armchairs, are quietly engrossed by the drama. I watch on, aware that this could so easily have been me, exploding with frustration in front of an audience. I feel relieved, restored. It’s as though the young man has taken all my pent-up exasperation and expressed it for me. I have become a detached spectator, like everyone else.
Despite this I’m uneasy. Because the young man is black. Everyone else is white. And judging by his Spanish, which is even more riddled with errors than mine, he has learned most of it on the street. He addresses the ageing employee with the familiar tu, he calls him tio (literally uncle, colloquially dude). I cringe for the young man, knowing only too well how often my own powers of expression have cracked up in offices with regulations as absurd as anything Gulliver encountered in Lilliput. The occasional joder (f*ck) has been known to escape me. But I am retired, one of the tribe of ex-pats who help prop up this country’s economy. He is a survivor, almost certainly African. Could this turn into one of those ugly racist incidents that I’ve heard about since the Brexit referendum in England, with insults and calls to go back where you came from?
I glance at the other patrons of the bank, middle-aged, middle-class, prosperous, wondering how they will react. So far all are calm, listening with interest but making no comment.
The young man is not calm. He is clearly distressed. His voice rises and wavers with emotion as he accuses the teller of treating him differently. He keeps repeating:
‘It’s because I’m black and an immigrant you don’t help me!’
At this point the woman in front of me steps towards him, tentatively, respectfully. She is old, even older than me, well-dressed, well-groomed and no doubt well-off. Gently, politely, she speaks to the young man. She explains that he is not being treated differently, that the rules are the same for her and for everyone else who comes to this bank. The clerk is only following instructions. Yes, they, the Spanish, think that the rules are ridiculous, too, but there are protocols and protocols have to be followed, and everyone has to put up with them, like them or not.
The young man is appeased. His anger begins to fade. Another employee appears, summoned by telephone, and goes with him to the machine to help with his transaction.
The woman rejoins the queue and we strike up a conversation about how hard it is for foreigners to navigate Spanish bureaucracy. I say that it often seems bizarre and illogical and she agrees.
‘Sometimes,’ she says, ‘I think we are like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, tilting at windmills.’
I’m amused, it’s so true, and I nod in admiration. How deftly she’s defused the tension. But I can’t help wondering how this scene would have panned out in Brexit Britain.
‘Get the lock changed,’ my brother-in-law said. ‘And fix a new security bolt as well since you’ve lost the key.’
Times are hard, and this place has been robbed before, even if they did only take a pile of old blankets. But a poor pensioner with a sick spouse can’t afford to lose the little she has.
I prepare the new vocabulary so I can call the locksmith. Bombin is the lock, cerrojo FAC the security bolt. Never a lover of telephones, I brace myself to explain what I want in Spanish. Serves me right for forcing my ESOL students to make all those phone calls in their speaking exams, I suppose.
After just one ring, I’m through. ‘Of course,’ says a very nice woman, politely overlooking the fact that I’ve said bombon (sweet) instead of bombin. ‘I’ll send the chico. If he can’t do it, my husband will come.’ Like many here it’s a family business, cousins, aunts, brothers, all playing their part.
I give her my address, being careful to pronounce numbers and letters correctly. How well I remember the Spanish students who tripped up on English vowels. It’s hardly surprising when the English letter ‘A’ sounds like the Spanish ‘E’ and the English ‘E’ like the Spanish ‘I’.
But my rendering of ‘E’ doesn’t convince her.
‘English or Spanish?’ she asks.
‘Spanish, Spanish,’ I say, and we laugh. With thousands of British ex-pats living on the costas, she’s clearly come up against this problem before.
We agree a day and a time. Right on the dot, the chico arrives, toolbox in hand, muscles rippling, beaming a beautiful smile.
Communication is fine. We discuss what he should do and he sets to work, removing a long screw from the existing lock. At this point he realises that he hasn’t brought a vital part.
‘I’ll be back in a moment,’ he says and goes out, shutting the door behind him.
A few minutes later I hear his footsteps coming up the steps. He knocks at the door and I go to let him in. The handle won’t turn. I wriggle it this way and that, but without the screw nothing moves.
‘The door won’t open,’ I say.
‘What? It won’t open?’
I try again. Nothing.
‘I’ll pass the key under the door and see if you can unlock it from outside,’ I say.
But he can’t.
‘If I had my tools here,’ he says, ‘I could do it.’
But his tools are on the floor beside me, and there’s no way those will go through the small gap.
Now this is a dilemma that I hadn’t foreseen. I’m locked inside my own flat, with the tool-less locksmith outside.
‘Is there another way in?’ he calls to me.
‘Only through the window. And it’s rather high up.’
I cross to the balcony, slide open the window, and the chico’s head appears below me.
‘Oh, I can get up there,’ he says confidently.
‘Are you sure? I don’t have a ladder.’
I have clearly underestimated him. Even before I finish speaking, his hands grip the rail, his head appears, his shoulders and his torso, and he propels himself inside and onto the floor. Now I know what those muscles are for.
‘Blimey,’ I say, ‘if you can do it, than so can a burglar.’ Mental note: remember to shut all windows when you go out.
Inside, with his tools, he changes the lock in no time and – hey presto! – the door opens.
One job done. Now to the security bolt.
‘Since you’ve lost the key,’ he says, ‘I’ll need to order a new cerrojo FAC. So I’ll come back on Tuesday.’
Sod’s law, I suppose. Not long after he’s gone, we discover we’ve got the key after all. Never mind, we’ll change it anyway, just to be sure.
Of course it might all be a waste of time. If there’s anyone else around who combines the skills of a locksmith with those of a cat-burglar, all the locks in the world won’t save us. Better get that insurance policy sorted.
The idiot foreigner’s been on holiday, playing at grandmas down in Oz. Oh, the simplicity of a well-ordered society. But now it’s back to reality and another dose of life as an immigrant.
At the local health centre, the receptionist tells us to come back another day. Her colleague’s off sick and she can’t cope with any more people. The truth is they’re all working to rule, because the public services are in crisis. Making life as difficult as possible for the public they serve is becoming a national pastime.
The next day we brave her fearsome glare and manage to get some answers. As a foreigner I can’t register with a doctor until I have a Spanish medical card. Ah, but I can actually phone the social security office and book an appointment! That beats queuing in the street. What’s more they send you a reminder by text. Wonder of wonders, we’ve entered the age of technology.
Buoyed up with optimism, I set off for my appointment, taking with me the documents that the health centre told me I’d need. I’ve even thought to get photocopies – oh yes, I’ve wised up to that one – originals AND copies of all documents are ALWAYS required – and they won’t do the photocopying for you. You have to visit a seedy little shop in a back alley and pay 60 centimos.
When I get to the social security office, the long queue throws me slightly. Don’t we all have appointments? Oh, of course, you still have to get a ticket with a number. Silly me. Anyway, the queue’s moving quickly, as are the numbers being called on the screen. Only five or ten minutes late, mine appears and I make my way to desk 9.
A weary looking woman asks what I’ve come for, and I explain that I want a medical card.
‘Have you brought your S1?’
‘My S1? But I gave it to the police.’ At least, I think I did. I’ve been to so many offices (not to mention Australia and back) that I can barely remember. But yes, I’m sure it was the police – I had to queue for a second time at 7 a.m. to give it to them.
‘Oh no,’ says the woman. ‘We’re the ones that need it, not the police.’
‘But they wouldn’t give me my certificate of residence without it! And they told me that the certificate was all that I needed to get my medical card.’
She shakes her head. ‘We can’t give you a medical card without the S1. The police shouldn’t have kept it.’
I can see she’s not going to back down so I try another tack. ‘The health centre didn’t say anything about the S1 either. They just told me to bring my UK health card.’ (Which I don’t have, because as far as I remember paper cards went out years ago with the advent of computers. What a brilliant idea – a computer data base – have they thought of that here?)
She’s not impressed. ‘Well, if that’s what the health centre told you, they’re misinformed.’
‘Look,’ I say, launching into surprisingly fluent Spanish, ‘there seems to be a breakdown of communication here between the various offices. Each one tells you something different.’
No answer. She turns to my other documents. My certificate of registration with the local council took several visits to obtain but she’s not happy with it.
‘It’s dated November,’ she says. ‘That’s quite a long time ago.’
‘What?’ I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. Of course there’s no point saying I’ve been away in Australia.
‘We consider these certificates to have a life of 3 months,’ she explains.
‘3 months? You mean I’ve got to go back every 3 months and get another one?’
She must sense that I’m angry because she begins to back down. ‘Don’t worry, it’ll probably be all right. But we must have the S1. You can’t have a health card without it.’ She embarks on a monotonous spiel about reciprocal agreements between countries in the European Union.
I can see I’m getting nowhere. ‘So I’ll have to go back to the police station,’ I say. ‘Or ask for another one from the UK.’
She gives me a nod. ‘It might be quicker to get one from the UK.’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I think it might.’ Going to the police station would either involve another early morning queue, or throttling a policeman. Which might get me arrested. Or deported.
I wonder what papers you need for that?
Captain Mainwaring is alive and well on the Costa Blanca. I saw him on the number 27 bus, wearing a check shirt, stay-pressed trousers and plimsolls. His wife was with him, freshly coiffed and perfumed, in a jewel-encrusted black wool poncho. It must have been his wife because he hectored her throughout the ten-minute journey.
‘No compras nada! Then when he comes to the house you can tell him, there’s nothing here. Nothing! If he doesn’t like it, he can stuff it.‘
Who is ‘he’, I wonder? Do they have a son? A ne’er-do-well, who sponges off his parents? Or maybe he’s just a poor relation, or a chance acquaintance that Mrs Mainwaring has taken under her maternal wing. She’s been getting in food, it seems, in case he turns up with another hard-luck story.
Whoever, he is, he’s no match for Mainwaring. ‘Poor?’ he rants. ‘Of course he says he’s poor. He’s the bueno and the rest of us are the tontos. Well, if he turns up again, I’ll call the police, and then we’ll see who’s tonto.’
Under fire from the Captain, her resolve weakens. The young man will have to defend himself. She’s only got energy for her own survival.
‘But he phones me on my mobile. What am I to say to him?’
‘Tell him to speak to me. I’ll tell him where to go.’
By now her voice is barely audible. ‘But he doesn’t have your number.’
‘Well, give it to him, woman. Do you know it?’ He makes her repeat it, write it down. ‘Now if he calls, there’ll be no excuses.’
She says nothing. She’s shrunk into her poncho, ready for another few decades of oblivion.
Today I got to know Felipe. I’d often seen him walking around, confident and cheerful, weaving in and out of the strollers on the promenade, along the paths through the gardens, over the grass and under the palm trees.
From time to time he’d turn up on the terrace of the cafeteria where customers drink coffee and read newspapers.
‘One of these days I’ll kill that dog,’ said Paqui, the waitress, when he nearly tripped her up with a tray of cups.
But today she runs out in bare feet to greet him. ‘Felipe!’ she cries. ‘Where have you been? It’s four days since you came to see me.’ She carries a bag of broken biscuits, and leads him off for a private feast.
‘Where does he come from?’ I ask, intrigued. Is he a waif and stray, or simply a free spirit, scorning the discipline of outings on leads?
Nobody seems to know. The dueña thinks he belongs to the people who run the restaurant of the arrozes. They feed him on kitchen scraps and leave him to fend for himself. An elderly customer says, no, he arrived with a family who owned one of the villas and when they left, he chose to stay. Life is good here with all the bars and cafes, and if he’s not after food, he spends his time following a lady dog.
‘There used to be three or four of them,’ says the dueña.
‘No wonder, with him and the lady dog,’ says the customer.
‘Now the others have all disappeared,’ the dueña tells me. ‘Maybe they died off in the winter. It’s a big problem – people come here for the summer, then go away again, and lots of dogs get left behind.’
‘The problem is the children,’ says the customer. ‘They want pets but don’t realise the responsibilities.’
We nod, three old people with the wisdom of experience. Down on the beach Paqui is running along the edge of the sand, skipping in and out of the waves, swinging her arms.
There’s no sign of Felipe.