Living in Spain, warts and all

OK, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks or so. I’m sorry that I haven’t had the time or inclination to commune with my keyboard. And most of all I’m sorry that I agreed to have family here for such a protracted period.

Visitors, even though you may love them dearly (or not, in many cases) do tend to suck the very life force from you for the duration of their stay, and at the same time remove from you any belief in ownership of your own property, time or mind.

That’s my excuse, anyway – and I’m sticking to it.

But don’t think you’re getting away lightly with it. Like the fire-breathing teachers who forget to set you homework one week and then hit you with a double whammy the following since it was clearly all your fault for not reminding them, I have managed to store up plenty to say. Oh, joy.

Where to start? Well, we enjoyed (jajajajaja (that’s a Spanish laugh, by the way)) local elections here in Spain last Sunday. An interesting exercise, quite different from that with which we were acquainted in the UK. And one that I undertook alone, since John was away and none of my friends had registered their entitlement to vote. Here, it is not enough to be on the padrón (which is each town’s register of inhabitants, and as such really equates to the electoral register); individuals are obliged to go to the ayuntamiento to lodge a specific request for entitlement to vote – and the closing date is some considerable time before election day, too, just to make it as user-unfriendly as possible.

Anyway, given that I was a Spanish local election virgin, I took the time to investigate procedure first, petrified that I would enter the official polling station and then bottle it shamefully in the face of the bewildering array of booths, papers and mocking veterans, turning tail to exit rapidly in exactly the same way as I have always done in betting shops. Pathetic creature that I am.

I therefore mugged up on Steve Hall’s excellent site (a must for all expats in Spain), and Steve, love him, prepared me at least in part for it.

I therefore knew that, unlike the UK format, I would need to select a single list (from four options) of candidates (18, for Bullas) for my party of choice, and further that I would then need to place that list unmarked into an envelope to post into the transparent votes box. Without Steve’s guidance, I would inevitably have messed that up, since my recollections of UK elections always involved biros and crosses.

That for which I was not prepared, however, was the fact that the booth containing the choice of available lists was actually screened off from prying eyes for the voter’s privacy by …. a net curtain. Oh, that’s fine then! The anonymity of my political allegiance remains fully intact, right? And then the polling officer whom I approached to proffer my official voting authority and my ID shouted my name across the width of the room so that three different people could concurrently strike my name diligently and in fluorescent marker pen from their lists of potential voters.

To add insult to injury, this officer announced loudly and correctly “Deborah Fletcher!!” for the edification of all and sundry, and then caused some consternation among the marker pen brigade by following it immediately with “Jessica Fletcher!!!” and a beaming grin at me. I have encountered this many times before and I’m not sure whether they expect me to be flattered or impressed. I am neither.

The outcome of the local elections in Bullas and a goodly number of other constituencies saw a swing that echoed the UK general election in 2010. Bullas has been a stronghold of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (centre left) since 1974, I believe, but has emerged now with a strong shift in favour of the Partido Popular (liberal conservatives). This must have been a forgone conclusion – the PP candidates and groupies were already celebrating well into the night on Sunday, and “GRACIAS – PP” posters two metres high were slapped all around the town very early Monday morning. I’m sorry, but I am totally unable to believe that anyone in Spain works that fast – they must have been printed and ready-pasted weeks in advance!

Most people believe that this will be reflected forcefully at the general election next year, and Zapatero (PSOE) is already muttering that the people of Spain are laying the blame for the recession at the feet of the socialists. Sound familiar? 

Talking of general announcements to the world at large, we often have vans crawling slowly through the town bearing loudspeakers atop that blare out this advertisement and that civic announcement. We realised the error of our original misconception that the townsfolk in the rural areas communicate via smoke signals when it became clear that these vans were actually the tangible aspect of the local grapevine. However, I hadn’t really been fully aware of the extent of their indispensability until just before the elections.

I generally hear their tinny racket approaching, over-loud distorted voices backed by the most awful and annoying jingles, and switch off. But I was somewhat interested as the elections approached to hear just what downright lies the different parties were propagating, so I tuned in on this occasion.

But no party manifestos were forthcoming – instead, I heard the scratchy voice shrill out the following:

“No alcachofas (artichokes) on Monday. If you work with artichokes, do not attend work on Monday. Artichokes on Tuesday. All other fruit and vegetables on Monday. No artichoke workers on Monday”. The van had been commissioned by the local canning factory to let employees know their forthcoming work schedule.

In my usual weird way I found this to be extremely amusing, and wondered if at any time I would, by extrapolation, hear something along the lines of, “Fernando Hernandez Sanchez, no asista usted al trabajo el lunes – es despedido” (do not come to work on Monday – you’re sacked).

I mentioned this to Gill, and she came back with the fact that I may well mock, but that (because she lives in the town itself, and therefore has a finger on the pulse of all goings-on there far more than I) she has actually heard an announcement of a death and subsequent invitation to a funeral via the same channel.

Effective, I suppose, if a little impersonal.

On a more personal note, polling day started very unpleasantly for me when I arose to find Lady Jade, my dignified old German shepherd, collapsing to the left and unable to move her legs on that side, with her head and left ear skewed uncomfortably. She was frantic, having no understanding of her recalcitrant limbs, and thrashed around in fear in an attempt to move that which had become immovable. It looked to me as though she had suffered a stroke, which suspicion was duly confirmed by our wonderful vet Bernardina when she shot up to the finca to attend within ten minutes of my slightly manic call to her.

I, having sat on the floor unwashed and ungroomed to cuddle Jade tightly to me to make her still and to soothe her, and having screwed up my face and cried at the thought of losing her after so many years, arose to greet poor Bernardina looking like a red and blotchy yeti.

Bernardina, unfazed, immediately administered a large dose of corticosteroids by injection to Jade and instructed me to call her again at any time during the day if I saw a deterioration. Fortunately, I didn’t have the need – Jade made a great recovery within an hour, and while she will never again at her age be bouncing around like a spring lamb, she is certainly looking more sprightly than she has in recent memory.

So all’s well that ends well. We hope.


Comments on: "The art of communication" (8)

  1. So glad to have you back; I had visions of you wrestling with large snakes and falling off stone walls in rainstorms! Seriously, I could have written the 4th and 5th sentences myself. You’re psychic. I’m just saying…

    • Ah – bless you. It’s so reassuring to know that there are two of you out there who care whether or not I post – although you are much more discerning than my mum…

      I have yet to catch up on your recent prolific blogging. I know only that you put me to shame – you and Niamh ( and Jack (, all of whom I am an ardent fan, with your vastly different styles.

      When I first started blogging after encouragement from Jo Parfitt I was determined that I wasn’t going to be sucked in by the competitive element of attracting followers. Now I am comparing my measly 1000 hits in two months with, for instance, Jack going viral and am feeling a tad inadequate. But then I cannot with the best will in the world post daily, due to mundane intervention, so it’ll be what it’ll be.

      As far as the visitors are concerned, don’t get me going. These were mis suegros (and you’ll have to translate that just in case it falls into the wrong hands) and to be honest never again would be too soon :-\

  2. We are in the middle of a visitorfest and an election campaign both of which are proving to be an utter pain!

  3. Well, what can this miseryguts Scottish, fifty-one year old long-Spain-sufferer say?

    I´m bitten by you!

    • Well! Hello, Maureen, and welcome!

      What can I say in return? I may not be Scottish but I can rant with the best of you. And I can identify 100% with the “blog as the safety valve” approach you have adopted (although my initial safety valve was in fact the book).

      I can’t promise that I won’t bite again, and must advise that contrary to all accepted wisdom I am more than a tad attracted to garlic.

      Best regards x

  4. Hi Deb, I might now be able to react to your post with some clarity. To be honest, as I am wont to be in detriment to all personal advancement, I´ve left all voting up to “magic”. If by magic some entitlement arrives in my buzón, I clutch the card full of incomprehensible blabber and wander off to the primary school adress provided.

    El husbando has often tried to explain how the voting system works – seventy-four envelopes for people I´ve never heard of – but I can´t get my head round it, though I´ve read Paul Preston and Giles Tremlett and the incomparable John Hooper.

    So it´s interesting to see that you can follow the process Down There and furthermore nail to a tee the actual nature of the two main parties. Yet, ´tis more likely that election announcements here in Al Kala N´Har (sorry for the deficient Arabic) be substituted by a loud, lorry-borne rash of loose sofa cover promises, even on Sunday mornings, and when one, (oh all right me, myself, I), pointed out issues of noise pollution, I was encouraged to go and satisfy myself sexually with my very own extremities.

    So, thankfully, Spain is full of wonderful professionals, like your vet and mine, who actually make the country function and whom we love as the “real Spaniards,” much removed from the names on those long ballot lists.

    It´s interesting to note that Belgium has managed to function for a year without a government. ¡Gasp! – was Marx, were the anarchists right? Do we not, in fact, need a Spanish government? It was probably Locke or some such dead guy who said that countries have the government they deserve. But I say, don´t the Spaniards – and us peely wally folk that live among them – deserve a better government than they´ve got?

    What thinkest thou, oh bitten one?

    Mo xxx

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