Life of an Immigrant (2)

At 7 am I joined the queue outside the police station. Storm clouds threatened but at least it wasn’t raining. A couple of dozen people lined the building, North Africans mainly, leather jackets, jeans, hunched against the wind, smoking and chatting. A couple from Slovenia, studying pharmacy on an Erasmus scholarship, chatted to me in English. They’ve been here a month and picked up more Spanish than most tourists learn in a lifetime.

At 8.30 a policeman unlocked the gate and handed out tickets. Mine was K13. We filed inside, passing through the security scanner and into a huge room with palms and rubber plants reaching to a high glass ceiling. Rain started to lash against it as we collapsed into the seats.

At 9.00 they started calling people. K1 went in and came out at 9.20. In the seat next to me a Portuguese guy told me he’d come to escape the crisis there, but still hadn’t found a job. By 10.30 they’d reached K9. Behind me a Mexican, fluent in English, French and German as well as his native Spanish, talked in English to the Slovenians about his  business trips. Two children, one African and one South American, jumped excitedly in the base of a dry fountain.

It was past 11 when my turn came. ‘Ah,’ said the young officer, ‘if you’re a pensioner you need an S1 form from your government before you can get the authorization that you’re a member of the European Union and access services here. In the meantime you can apply for an NIE (pronounced nee-ay – numero de identificacion estranjero) But first you have to go to a bank and pay 10 euros. Once you’ve done that you come back with the receipt, a photo and a copy of your passport. Then tomorrow at 1 o’clock you return to collect your number.’ The reason it’s so busy here, he said, is that all the Moroccans come across on the ferry to buy houses, now the prices have fallen.

By the time I left the building rain was lashing down and my umbrella flew open. Finding a bank wasn’t easy but when I did I had to join another queue. Then to a shop with a photocopier. A cafe con leche – hair-raisingly strong – perked me up a bit before I headed back to the immigration centre with the documents.

I then made a quick visit to the British Consulate to see if they could help me with the S1. The Union Jack was dripping in the rain from a first floor window of the building in a back street. No signs, just a staircase to a security door with intercom, and inside soft-spoken diplomats,courteous but unable to help. ‘You’ll have to phone the Overseas section of the Pensions service in Newcastle.’ Ha ha. On a mobile from abroad. Imagine how long that will take to get through all the menus and muzak.

A quick dash through the rain to a bar across the road, a copa of Rioja and a pinchito of goat’s cheese, grilled pepper and lomo, and the world seemed altogether a more hopeful place.

Life of an Immigrant

You’ll get fed up with me gloating about how wonderful the weather is – so hot this November morning in Alicante that I was gasping for water by the time I’d visited four different offices in

El puerto, Alicante

an attempt to register me as a resident.

Spain is certainly living up to its reputation of tiresome bureaucracy. The ayuntamiento is where you have to register but after waiting in a long queue I was directed to another building a few streets away. Off I went, only to discover that as a member of the European community I first have to get an identification number from the police station. Another walk in the hot sun. ‘Oh no,’ said the fearsome looking officer on duty, ‘this service has now moved a mile out of town.’ So back to the car I went.

At last I found it, only to be told that I’d come too late. You have to be there at 8.00 in the morning to join the queue. If you’re lucky you’ll get one of the 40 tickets to see someone later that day. After that I have to go back to the ayuntamiento to start the process all over again.

Oh the joys of being an immigrant. Still, at least the sun is shining. Next week they’re forecasting rain.

A Walk on the Wild Side

If you think Somerset’s roads are a challenge, just wander a little off piste and try its rural footpaths. Fingerposts and waymarkers tempt you forward then leave you in the lurch. Rusting gates groan on a single hinge or are fixed with chains and a padlock. Broken stiles see-saw precariously on rotted supports, and once you’ve wobbled across them you’re just as likely to land in an abundant crop of nettles or ankle deep in mud.

Each  twist in the path, though, turns a new page in a fairy tale. Ancient stone cottages tucked in the folds of the hills. Cider orchards, the trunks steeped in lush grass where the fallen apples lie until they’re vacuumed into a cart or collected in a basket by an old man with a bushy beard. Medieval barns and manor houses with integral chapels. Copses of oak and ash and chestnut, conifer forests so black and silent that the babes in the wood might still be sleeping there.

When the path leads upwards the slopes might look gentle, but don’t be deceived. On a humid summer day they sap your energy, but by the time you reach the top, the view makes it all worth while. A rolling landscape of tiny pastures pieced together with hedges and dotted with farms and villages. Hazy hills in the distance. The clouds making their way across the open sky.