Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Attack of the Glums....


Got the latest of many rejections today. It's only actually rejection #15 for the novel. Perhaps I should try harder. Or count as rejections the 200 times there was no reply. The only interested party is very quiet of late, no contract or anything, but the book was supposed to be next up for an innovatory publishing venture. We'll see how it pans out. Like I say, very quiet. So I keep sending out submissions to agents, agencies, publishers and people who know people. It's a different book, it has potential, people (not related to me even) say they think it would sell. It's probably too late though; traditional publishing is probably dead. Kindle has put the fire out, as it were. So, any e-publishers out there, want to work together on getting a great book in front of the public?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Post Post Scriptum...

Nil Desperandum. I don't like to give up... it was an unlikely search string, but...


That's a load off my mind. LOL.

Post Scriptum.....

Well I never got near the Estanco. Or the café. At the crossroads to Fuengirola, there was the finish line for something, a massive crowd waiting, blocking the road.
Proteccion Civil were out in force, all through the town, as I found out when I went to the ex-bullfighter's Estanco on Gerald Brenan.

So I came home and Google.es-ed it. Couldn't find it anywhere.
Life in the Guiri's Bubble.

Sunday

Sunday...

Some routine things, some not so routine.


Routine: I buy the papers most Sunday mornings. There's a café catty-cornered across
from the Estanco; a combination tobacconist, newsagent, and off-licence. Both stand guard at the new road down to the coast, or at least the bit of tatty town-council maintained road that leads to it.Most weeks I have a coffee in the café. I don't read the papers. That gets saved for when I get home. I look at the people passing by since I usually sit outside, unless it's raining of course.

The people who arrive first are generally of the older generation. They all buy cigarettes with their copy of Sur or El Pais or El Mundo. These are the people who huddle in the doorway when it rains. The café's sun-canopy isn't up to the flash-flood downpours which deliver most of Southern Spain's rain. I know it's going to rain if I see the owner of the café winding in the toldo. Let's hope he doesn't do that today. The next people to arrive are generally guiris like me. Lots of them need the coffee for a hangover. I don't usually, and I don't today: but... sometimes I shouldn't have driven, I think. They will sit outside, even in January. I do too, but I'll be wearing a coat. If these fellow foreigners see the yellow ball, they won't, no they won't, wear a coat. Even if the temperature is 4 degrees C. The last to arrive will be younger Spaniards, meeting up before going to grandparents, parents or some family event somewhere. Possibly a communion lunch at a different time of year. Now, in November, maybe harvesting things at Grandma's country property. I finish my coffee and go home to read the papers.

Not so routine: today I am attending the birthday party of a friend's daughter. She is 6, also invited are 16 compañeros de clase, classmates. I am in charge of the party games. My pathetic Spanish will be attempting to explain the rules of Pass the Parcel. I expect it will be noisy. Luckily, another friend has suggested that I make them play 'Sleeping Logs'. This involves lying on the floor pretending to be asleep, when the music stops. I like the sound of that.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

At Home??

I feel a little less at home here today. There is an undercurrent. The kind that seethes in countries where there are a lot of immigrants and an economy that is in the toilet. That probably sounds like the UK to you, but I live in Spain. In Andalucia, in fact, not far from the Costa Del Sol. The word Guiri stops being a joke, and the word Ghetto is bandied about quite vigorously. And the undercurrent means it doesn't matter if you can defend yourself in Spanish, someone will answer you in Alhaurino or Coino and you're defending cannons with a pea-shooter. I imagine people recently arrived from Kerala will feel the same in Consett, Kilmarnock or Kiddiminster.

My students are of varying ages and nationalities. Some Argentines tell me they feel alien here too. I guess they do, but not like I do. I didn't feel like this, not when I first came. Perhaps it's just a cloud across the sun. It's not as if I've got a home to go to.


i) Home: Town

North Road, Thomson Street, fish-and-chips, rain:
Firth Moor and Redhall, money down the drain
Pease St, Penn St, Victorian-terraced crime;
South Park, graffiti’d, bandstand falling down.
Greenbank, the hospital, the benefit flats
Behind the doors of Albert Road
The secrets women keep:
Families on the margins
Dogshit in the street.

Skipping ropes are gone now, a car park’s on the green,
the shops are on the bypass, the church is multiscreen.
The Dun Cow and White Horse, boarded up and closed
and every week a sushi bar: Emperor’s new clothes.
Twenty buses on every route where no-one wants to go;
and the town is surely dying:
homeless in the doorways;
moondogs on a string.

ii)Home: Thoughts from Abroad
(Kipling’s Grandchildren)

If you were born in a piece of pink,
that country’s changed its name
and you’ve got a British Passport,
but can’t say where you’re from.
Toddling through the Rhineland
and teenaged East of Suez;
you’re troubled in a boarding school,
somewhere must be home.
Later you get restless
for something you can’t name.
So you dig out your old suitcase
and take the shilling too,
another uniform outpost
- there’s nothing else for you.

iii) Home: Not Dry

‘And where do you come from?’
‘That’s really, really complicated.’
I wish I knew is left unstated.

And yes, the stranger takes it wrong:
‘English, Scottish, Irish, what?’
I’d like to say I’m a Hottentot.

‘You know, it’s just been so-o long…’
I take a slug; it’s Spanish beer,
then just tell him, ‘I’m local here.’

Friday, 11 November 2011

Full Moon in the Morning


It's a beautiful day. It was beautiful before the sun came up over the horizon. Hereabouts, Phaeton has to drag the sun's chariot above the mountain skyline. So in the early morning, the moon has the sky to his lonesome. The moon, full of water and himself, dropped like a stone this morning. I took five minutes to watch it sink in the sky. Makes you feel small when you stand still and watch it move so quickly. As quick as time itself. Or as slow. Because time is relative, didn't someone say? Some mornings I feel he is a relative, Old Father Time perhaps.

It will still be a beautiful day when I take my stroll to the Venta this afternoon. For talk about nothing and nostalgia. Or I'll say nothing, still 'L'Étranger'. The Square Peg, the Oddball. We'll see. Perhaps the condensation on my glass of San Miguel will seem like diamonds and the conversation pearls.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sunshine And Chocolate


Today is a day sent from wherever all the good things come from. Crisp as Ryvita: the big yellow ball is high in the cerulean blue. Wisps of clouds do anything but scud, they are as languid as a 30's lavender luvvy. It's not hot, its cool. The tourists are still in shorts, the locals are in anoraks, overcoats and scarves. Guiris fall somewhere between the two. The quality of light is the kind which brought daubers of all standards here to Andalucia. The province's name itself is a call to the light to 'Come!' Such things don't seem too fanciful today. I feel like I could see for Townshend's miles, or at least drive without glasses.

Only last Thursday the rain was coming down in cataracts. No coincidence that the slab grey of the sky made me feel like I had them. Is it just vitamin D? Sunshine and Chocolate and I'm set for anything, it feels like. Sunshine and Chocolate and some good music. One thing it's good to know, it will stop raining sometime. Sometimes I forget that. Days like today and you fool yourself into thinking it'll never rain again. Neither is a healthy attitude, though. Yin and Yang, dark and light , man and woman, sunshine and rain. The symbol is a visual truth, if you want to be all metaphysical. It's an idea as beautiful as a chinese rose, and it makes me as happy as a sunny day.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Café Culture

What's in a name? Quite a lot I suppose. Especially if it's a name for your business. There are fewer punning and bad- joke-English-named businesses in the town now. More than anything, this has brought home the "Economic Situation" to me. Some brave locals take over a failed Brit café from time to time. But the indigenous population has no more brass in pocket than the Guiris, so it doesn't always work.

A few months ago the Teatro Antonio Gala opened in the Recinto Ferial, (the site of the fairground, it's pretty much in the town centre), I have never seen a single advertisement for a show. There have been three, a contact on the council has told me. The theatre is the last vestige of a heavy investment programme in the Recinto. About four years ago, 3 English guys invested in a large corner location, itself catty corners from the proposed theatre site. The other investments and projects never came. Inevitably, the Brits called the place the Corner Caff. The thing is, Recinto -on its own- actually means enclosure. So the main drag actually completely passes it by, unless it's fair week, of course.

The Corner Caff, predictably, limped along for about 18 months. Then it was an Indian Restaurant for about a year, before the "local" - as they call commercial premises here - was split in two. The Indian restaurant is still going, although it feels less like dining in an aircraft hangar nowadays. The corner of the building itself lay empty for a year. Now it's a cafe again. Spanish owned and run, in fact.
It seems to do OK. It's called 'Callate y Come'.

It means 'Shut up and Eat.'

Fast Forward

Fast forward to now. The New Improved Venta Miralmonte has been open for a whole year. Pepe has spent a great deal of money on a place that he is leasing. I hope he sees some return on that. One would suppose so, when he sells on the lease, but who knows, here in Andalucia? In the past year everything has had a new coat of paint. Some of the older English clientele have been lucky to escape the whitewash themselves. Inside, things have changed a great deal. It's quite safe to look into the kitchen now.

It's so much better and I have no right at all to complain, but... I miss seeing local builders on their way home on Friday afternoons. I miss the risk of eating food from the dangerous kitchen. I miss 'el toque Andaluz': the sullen grunt of welcome, if the Landlord has had a bad night; the litany of things that are not on the menu today and, yes, even the glorious rudeness of Coino waitresses.
There's none of that now and, perhaps, that's why some people I know refer to the Venta as 'an English Ghetto'. Slowly but surely, the number of Spanish customers has diminished and I find that sad.

Pepe is a great guy. Always has a word, even for a customer as unprofitable as I doubtless am. The real problem is that the only Spanish I speak now is to Pepe himself and very occasionally to Monica his daughter. Monica is the real boss, although the glue holding the business together is Rita, her mother. Before I would speak a couple of hours of Spanish a week, now it's about 10 minutes if I'm lucky. If it wasn't for Intercambio my Spanish would be back to 2006 in no time. I'm still ashamed of it now, but I can get by, defend myself as they say in Spanish. Those two expressions for the same thing tell you something about the difference in culture, don't they?

The other thing, the worst thing, is the Venta is no longer a source of the bizarre anecdotes that it used to be. One day I'll just have to make something up.
One good thing is that view. That will never go.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Ex-Pat Files

Rumour control is sadly lacking on the Urbanizacion Montevista. Andres' wife has been ill. As Lori, the scary looking waitress, put it: her liver is pulverised. She said it in, well, Andalucian. Or more correctly in C___o, a sub-dialect of the province's patois. She does know two words in English and one of them, of course, is 'off'. Lori is from the town west of the Urbanizacion, the one where not speaking English is a badge of honour. I don't have many clients in C____. Personally, I like this attitude, and not just because I'm lazy.

No, think about it. How much, I don't know, Polish do the locals speak in Boston, Lincs? And you can bet Cletus from Sagbutt, Arkansas doesn't speak anything but 'Merican.

So, the rumours. Andres has confided to me, over a red wine or two , that he's on his toes after the summer. I haven't told anyone this, but everyone of course knows. This kind of thing moves osmotically through a community like Montevista. Naturally enough, this simple fact - or piece of hearsay - is not enough grist to the rumour mill. I have tallied 10 conversations like the following, since Andres told me:

'Umm.. Heard anything?' See, starts innocently enough. I reply:

'About what?' Delaying tactic this: often accompanied by a swig of San Miguel.

'Come on, Andres?'

'What about him? Not on holiday again soon, is he? Where is it this time, Bangkok?'

At this point Alf, Fred, Jose or Astrid leans forward and adopts a hushed tone, even though we're outside on the terrace and Andres is shaking his booty inside to the very loud strains of Malaga FM playing Alvin Stardust's Red Dress.

'Andres, he's leaving, Inma was ill.' they say, as if it were a state secret and a Franquista informant was smoking in the doorway.

'Oh that.' Then I get up and go to the bar to order a drink or drinks, depending on which of Alf, Fred, Jose or Astrid it is.

Whoever is still there when I get back, whether in expectation of the drink or more secret information I'm not sure.

'Cheers,' I say. If I play the inscrutable one long enough, whoever it is will say something ridiculous.

Like:

'The Mayor of A_______ has bought the freehold with black money!'

or:

'That blonde bloke, from the rock band - Status something or other - is putting a manager in.'

It's true that the Mayor of A_______ is under investigation for corruption, but the main witness is in hiding in Brazil and, anyway, a corruption charge is part of the election process, almost. The blond bloke is not R_____ P______ by the way. He looks a bit like him if you're sixty odd years old, too vain to wear glasses and wouldn't remember the name of the band he was in. But it's not him. I mean, Puerto Banus is half-an-hour away, come on! He is somewhat less likely to meet the beautiful people in A__________ or C_____________, and certainly won't in the Venta, hey?

I have a confession to make: whatever they come out with, I always try to top it.

So, listen out for RACE FM's local newsround-up;

'Dalai Lama to build retreat in rural Spain,'

'Jordan to run bar in Andalucia'

or 'BBC to try again with Eldorado.'

You heard it here first.

One Good Turn

The stench was… well, I thought I had a corpse for a hitchhiker. He’d been dot-and-carrying down the slip-road to Montevista, I’d seen him the moment I turned on to it.
His progress had been painful, and looked it. I'd vaguely recognised him: a blurred face from a blurred night in the Venta. He'd flagged me down. I had pulled up.

- ‘Can yiz gizza lift, man? Jes’ roon’ the cornah, like?’
- ‘I s’pose.’ I’m a sucker for the north-east accent. Sounds from when I was young.

He looked ragged: 18-hour-bender ragged. And the plaster cast on his leg could have been months old, or second-hand. He hopped around the car. It’s right-hand drive and gives the lie to the Spanish plates. I supposed that’s why he'd stopped me. The man struggled in – not bothering with the seatbelt. About 25 years old I thought, but a tough 25 they’d been, if so. It was 11 o’clock, a bright morning.

- ‘Been somewhere exciting?’ I asked, as I pulled away from the verge.
- ‘Malaga.’ He grunted.
- ‘Must have been awkward on the bus, that leg.’
- ‘Walked.’ He must have set off at midnight, if it was true.
- ‘Walked? All the way?’
- ‘Jist from Churriana to the motorway, then from Cartama.’
- ‘That’s still a fucking long walk.’ I said.
- ‘Roon' the one-way system, drop uz at house B6, thanks.’

He was actually filthy. I had no idea if he had walked as far as he said, but he looked and smelled like he’d been sleeping rough. With no access to toilet paper. I wound down my window.

- ‘This it?’ He was already struggling out.
- ‘Cheers, mayut!’ And he hobbled up the drive.

Yesterday, I was having a beer with Andreas in the Venta.

- ‘Someone arrested yesterday. Here in Montevista.’
- ‘Really?’ I slurped some beer, which occupied most of my interest at that point.
- ‘Si, he threaten someone with a gone”
- ‘A gone?’ I was intrigued, if mystified.
- ‘Seguro, Bang! Bang!’
- ‘Who was it? Fred?’
- ‘I no know, B6, I think.’

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Andrès

Most weeks a dog gets run over. Outside the old Venta that is. When it was still open, before Andrès retired much further inland - to die, as it's turning out – he used to chase the dogs off the road. Waving arms, throwing a stone near the stray. I reckon he saved quite a few of them from the crude butchery of being run over. No-one stops, when they hit one. I suspect some drivers twist the wheel a little to spread a little more of the remains around. Usually they'll be in a hot Seat hatchback in a painful shade of yellow. Maybe they'll have a licence, too.

Yesterday's dog might be my neighbour's; off on holiday – left the dog in the house. Fred was going round to feed it twice a day. It's not at home at the moment.

Thing is, even if it's not my neighbour's, I probably know the dog, this time. On the other side of the Coín road is the campo. Fincas, Ranchos and what the Spanish like to call “Chalets” dot the browning hills. I walk my dogs there: on a lead, crossing the road carefully. Anyway, any property with an impractical number of dogs will be owned, for sure, by a Brit. Their fence will be inadequate, dogs will dig under the chicken wire and do what dogs do. But their dogs are safe: they're in the campo aren't they? But the Coín road is 200 metres from their fence.

Chances are Andrès saved that particular dog more than once. He's in a bed now, wearing tubes, somewhere up by El Chorro, wishing he had a dangerous road to cross.

Hard Times At Montevista

The Policia Local crime scene tape has gone. I didn't notice it go. B12: still, perhaps forever, known as 'The Murder House'. The house itself looks sad; the cracks in the rendering grow wide in the heat. The weeds are high and not too handsome. If you walk past, a keen ear will catch the scurry of rodent feet. Funny, though: the cement mixer is still there, probably even works. Two stacks of plastic-strapped breeze-blocks remain untouched. Maybe it would be unlucky to steal them. It's hard to believe it's over a year since the German guy, Johnny Elvis, topped poor old Dee. He's banged up in the Jail down the road at Al_____ de la T_____.

But The Murder House doesn't look as bad as the Venta. It's falling down, as if Andres had been holding it up himself, until he left for the hills and a pickled retirement. When I walked past this morning, the door on the side, leading to the kitchen, was swinging on the hinges. It might have been burglars overnight, but I doubt it. Most likely they'd have left something behind, rather than take anything. No, it might well have been someone with an appointment with some brown and a roll of tinfoil. Anything's possible. Anyway, there's nothing as sad as an abandoned luncheonette, as Darryl and John might once have said. Because it wasn't actually legal, the restaurant aspect of the Venta: there was a licence to sell tapas: the large dining-room on the side had no building permit either. How fitting, that it is slowly separating from the main building.

So, various inhabitants of the Montevista Urbanizacion are bemoaning their inability to sell their property; Frank, Astrid, others that are still here and have been moving for as long as I can remember. Each and every one blaming the Venta and The Murder House - or indeed anything – except the ridiculous price they are asking and a hugely depressed market.

Humble Pie

No, that was Steve wasn't it? Before he burned the house down. No, this is about another kind of face, sort of. Not a small one. Chuck Woww will be intrigued to learn that ex-gravedigger Rod has been visiting a neighbour of mine.

A quarter K up the hill from me -as stone the crows fly- is a huge place the size of an army barracks. The owner of this beautiful villa is quite a nice guy: his wife used to take Spanish classes with my wife. She told me once, at a party at their Spanish teacher's house in the campo, that I was the only person she knew with longer hair than Rick.

Anyway, that's the cat out of the bag: the humble pie is the one I'm eating. The Quo man really does live in the area. He hasn't bought the Venta, though. Pity.

Fred And Rita

Fred and Rita live on the far side of town. It was a trek up to do their Spanish Class. A taxi-driver told them to look me up, although he knows I teach English. Serves me right for talking to taxi drivers. They're a nice couple; but I doubt I've taught them much in over two years. It didn't help that they kept flitting off on some mysterious property management business to Ireland. I don't know much about it, really. I saw on the UK news once that a middle-aged couple had been arrested by the Royal Navy off Ireland, smuggling coke. They were away at the time. They came back though, so I suppose it wasn't them.

Fred is from the West Midlands; a big guy, head shaved and a few tattoos. He's done some work in Event Security, been in Pub Management, that sort of thing. That's how he met Rita, on the pubs, relief management. Rita is a live-wire, at least whenever I see her. Fred has regaled me with dark tales about sectioning and suicide attempts. It's hard to credit it to look at her. She looks okay for over 50, some days.

They used to keep me on a retainer, 25 Euros a week to hold their hours on my timetable. I beat them down to that: they'd wanted to pay the same rate for weeks they were away. They did 3 hours a week and I got 50 Euros for those weeks they actually did. It was quite hard work; they couldn't understand why it wasn't just a matter of learning the Spanish word for everything they wanted to say. Not that they remembered even 'mañana' from one day to the next. It got to a stage where I spent more time trying to plan a class for them than anyone else. Nothing worked. You might not believe it, but I felt quite guilty about taking their money. I mean, they couldn't hold a simple conversation.

Anyway, quite a few months ago they went over to Ireland and the UK for a week and that was the last I saw of them. I rang their Spanish and Irish mobiles, got number unavailable or straight through to the Buzon, Movistar's answering service for mobiles. None of the texts I sent were answered. I kept their hours open: a deal is a deal, after all.

Until yesterday, when I saw the Brit registered, fire-engine red MG and Fred's pate glinting in the sunlight. The car was coming out of the fairground in Alhaurin. I suppose we'd call it the market square, but the Spanish means fairground. When I caught his eye, he hesitated, as though he thought he might be able to pretend he hadn't seen me. In the end, he pulled the car over, a young man was in the passenger seat. 'Number Two Son,' Fred told me.

He got it in first, before I did: they'd thought I'd left the area. They'd sent me loads of messages, tried calling me. Nothing had got through; but I knew that, anyway. I leaned against the car and texted him, the mobile chirped in his pocket. I told him I'd been really worried about Rita. Fred said she'd been fine.

'Call me,' I said.

'Hasta luego,' he replied.

Intercambio

Quarter to two on a Friday afternoon. Bar Triana 's owner nods at me and says something to his son. I can't hear it as I'm already on the way to the table in the corner. To wait. I do a lot of that on Friday afternoons. Intercambio: interchange. An hour of Spanish, an hour of English. Maria Ramirez's idea. I'm too lazy to have ideas like that. Besides, I'm not a great English teacher, just cheap. There are advantages, a Friday afternoon beer while I wait, for example.

The son comes over:

'Cervezita?'

'Si, un tubo, por favor.'

Maria has told me that -like all English - I am too polite. Maria is Alhaurina, needless to say. The young man takes a look at his watch, it's unusual for a local to wear one, unless they're Policia or particularly self-important.

My beer comes, Maria doesn't. Hasn't for the last four weeks. Last week I got a phone call about midnight, 'sorry couldn't make it.'

I sort out my bill with the owner. Might as well practise a little Español:

'Que diciste a tu hijo, cuando entre?'

'I bet him you would wait 25 minutes.'

Lunch


Alhaurin looks fresher, cleaner, somehow. The first sunny day in weeks. Cold, especially as the clouds cross the sun. There's enough blue for jackets for an entire Navy, however. I'm in Café 119, which used to be Pick Nick's, before it went under recently, unable to bear the weight of a heavy pun on the then owner's name. Two nice, optimistic, forty-something ladies from Rochdale or Bolton have been smiling through the windows at the downpour ever since; the strain of keeping the corners of their mouths up visible in the crow's feet around their eyes.

But today is better, I'm having a coffee there for a start. A family of four in short trousers and puffa-jackets have arrived on the terrace, bickering over whether to eat lunch or have a beer. The boy looks about 15 at most. I can see a singularly unattractive muffin-top between mum and daughter's respective crop-tops and trouser waistbands. It's not quite cold enough to zip up their puffas, evidently.

Front of house - Maureen, I think it is - bustles out with notepad and pen ready to take the family's order. Mum does all the talking, barking their requirements before Maureen gets a chance to say good morning, what would you like or do you think the UN will agree to a no fly zone? Maureen's smile doesn't exactly slip but it slides a little and the crow's feet relax a little too. Perhaps it's the accent, an estuarine twang, but in an instant the North-South divide gets imported like all the best things we Gambas bring from England. So, a family of Essex Geezers most likely. Miss Geezer could be anything from 16 to 30 and she'll turn into her mum before she reaches 40, for sure. Geezer Boy looks sullen and even wears his shorts half way down his arse like a boy from the 'hood in some upstate penitentiary doing 5-9 for a drugs deal. Dad looks bald, beaten and barely alive. Mrs Geezer has the look of a woman who's lost the joy of being one, a long time ago.

They're just the other side of the glass from me, and I feel like they're a world away. I can't believe I come from the same hemisphere, never mind the same country. I'm waiting for a student. Sometimes I give an English class in one of the Brit-run places: the student orders the coffee and we talk about the menu, often the better students will engage the owner or waitress in conversation. In summer, in better years, we'll just eavesdrop and talk about what we've heard. In Spanish, naturally.

Maureen rushes out. She deals 2 all-day breakfasts (extra sausage free) and 'fish, chips and beans twice' off the arm. I reckon she's probably pretty good at waiting tables and that bodes well for their business. I hope so, they'll need all the expertise and luck they can muster. The Little Englanders attack their food. They've finished in 20 minutes. 20 minutes of complete silence. Mum's plate is empty, only the pattern left on it. Dad's left the beans, perhaps under previous advice from his ever-lovin'. Essex Boy has taken a single bite out of every component of his all-day breakfast including the free extra sausage. His sister's plate looks like Francis Bacon out of Jackson Pollock, but I don't think she's actually eaten anything. Everyone gets up to go, Mum comes inside to pay. I see the other three are almost down at the Estanco before Mum reaches the counter. Still, she'll find them, they'll be emptying the shelves of Silk Cut in time for Easy Jet's Thursday flight to Stansted.

20 minutes for lunch. I think about the last time I had lunch with someone. 2 hours. Feeding my brain with talk, as much as my stomach with food. I know that I used to be a 20-minute man, in another life. Someone else's life, it seems, now.

One For The Road

It was only about a month ago. That's right, it was a Friday evening: about 6.30. As I looked through the Venta’s double doors and across the terrace, the setting sun was turning the light from crepuscular to corpuscular. I wished there was someone to share a joke even as bad as that one. On other days I might have embarked on a lengthy translation into Spanish for Andreas the landlord. Only one thing worse than explaining a joke; yep, translating one. I waved my empty bottle and gave Andreas the eyebrows. Beer number 5. Not bad since 4 o’clock. Apart from one other person, who'd left in a strop an hour ago, a steady stream of jobbing construction workers had come through the double doors in the intervening hours. The early start to the weekend is a sign of the depression in the construction industry in Southern Spain. Two more Alhaurinos left in a flood of salutations or obscenities, their accent as inscrutable as their mien.

Then Johnny Elvis came in. German, 50-ish, wiry; one of those jobbing builders, a Joachim-of-all-trades, if you like. That wasn’t his real name, of course. When he’d first turned up at Montevista, he’d had business cards:

‘Johann L. Weiss, Baumeister’

they’d read. A master builder? Probably not, but as I’ve said before, emigration is the father of invention. And I’ve been known to tell a tale or two myself. Anyway, Fred or Frank or someone, one of the older Brits for whom English is one more language than they can master, misread the card. So Johnny Elvis it was. He spoke good English and had found it funny, or pretended to. That evening,he looked tired and stressed, but then most builders have for the last 18 months. I offered him a drink.

- ‘No, thank you.’ He said in the precise way Germans speaking English do. ‘I must buy my own , while I can. For you?’

I lifted my full bottle, shook my head.

‘I will get you one in, okay?’

I let him. It seemed only polite.

Andreas put two bottles of San Miguel on the copper bar top, and a shot glass with clear liquid beside Johnny Elvis’s. He downed the shot, smacked his lips and picked up the beer. Andreas piped up:

- ‘Dee she is looking for you. Before two hours.’

She had been. I didn’t think she’d be looking at all if she’d carried on drinking at their house on Montevista. She’d driven home of course. Always did. Her 12-year old BMW Cabrio careering 100 metres or so further into the Urbanizacion from the roadside Venta. Charlotte, her daughter, always strapped in. After Dee had knocked down Jerry’s wall that time.

- ‘She has found me thank you.’ Johnny Elvis said.

I heard the sirens about 2 minutes before they flashed past the open double doors. And the screech of the tyres as they two-wheeled into the Urbanizacion.

‘Another shooting in B6, like last year, hey?’ I sniggered.

‘Not this time.’ Johnny Elvis said.

He wiped his hands absently on his filthy brick dust covered shirt. Then he examined them; very carefully, turning them over and over slowly.He sighed and said:

‘No, I think Charlotte has called them, as I asked her to. It is for the best.’

The sirens wailed again and the screeching tyres stopped in the car park in front of the Venta terrace and the Guardia Civil were approaching the double doors.
Johnny Elvis finished his drink and gave a sad smile. 

'Auf Wiedersehen,' he said, but I knew I wouldn't see him again.

Sorry For The Inconvenience

A big orange sign has gone up by the Los Chavos roundabout: 'Disculpa las molestias', it says. This means, more or less, 'Sorry for the inconvenience'.

It also means the road from Alhaurin to Coin is closed for major repairs. It's about time, the surface, particularly in front of the sad and empty Venta, has been leprous with potholes since before Andres moved to the mountains to die. The English expats are ecstatic: after years of cursing the terrible state of the road now they can wax vituperative on the 7- mile detour necessary to get to either town. For most of them the figure 7 is arbitrary. 'We never done metricals at school.' Just as well, since the diversion is actually 15 kilometres, around nine miles.

It is inconvenient, I suppose. The loudest complaints come from those who have retired. People with no timetable to stick to. My sympathy is for the few with a full time job. It won't last forever. The road is closed – except for residential access - for two weeks, they say. Even if that turns out to be a month, the diversions will only last a few days. Then the traffic lights will come in for some Anglo-Saxon treatment as one lane opens.

Me? I'm lazy, twenty hours a week max. I'll just leave early, and enjoy seeing parts of the area I haven't seen before. Life's too short to be Victor Meldrew.

What's In A Name?

It’s cold in the Venta in the winter. The double doors onto the terrace are always open, just in case people passing by assume the bar is closed. I don’t mean Manchester mist cold, or Newcastle nithering: you can’t see your breath outside, not at 11 in the morning. But it is cold inside. And the older the building the colder it is. Places designed to leak out the oppressive August heat don’t stay warm at this time of year. That’s why there’s a coffee in front of me; and if there’s a brandy in it, well it’s a traditional drink. Not for 11 a.m., I admit. It’s called a Carajillo; a short lung-tar consistency coffee with a shot of the house’s cheapest brandy. It should be drunk last thing at night, before you go home. The name means ‘little cart’. Too many and you would need one.

Andreas - whose name is Andres, but the Ventaboyos and OAPs from Bolton and Brighton can’t get their head round the Hispanic version – is shaking a not inconsiderable booty behind the bar. On a good day he looks 60, I know he’s 52. I ask him if he’s keeping warm.

‘Nooooo,’ he draws it out, answering in English, as he always does. ‘I like this music.’

The radio is tuned to MalagaFM, the soundtrack to your life; which sounds better in Spanish, but not much. The station’s unerring nose for the ripest of cheese is confirmed again: ‘My Coo Ca Choo’ is inspiring Andreas’ terpsichorean feats.

‘Hey, he has a residency in Nerja, you know.’

‘He play in Nerja?’ He stops dancing, looks at me like a dog at a bone.

‘Yeah, all this month.’

‘Dios, Alvin Stardust. Me voy.’ Shocked into Spanish.

I guess he does like the music, if he’s going to go to the gig. I order another way-too-early-see-me-home-drink and wonder if he’d be so keen to see Shane Fenton or Bernard Jewry.