Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


There was nothing on at the cinema. We often go on Wednesday, its the cheap day, just 4.20€. I'd have gone to see a Spanish film but Maggie wasn't keen so I had a beer, some double hopped Mahou, and settled in for the evening,

Nothing much on the telly either. Not on the Spanish telly anyway. So we were watching Lewis, dependable sort of telly. The adverts came on and I disappeared to find something to eat in the kitchen. I was surprised by how quickly the adverts were over. Shorter and more often on British TV. Seven minutes and we'll be back is standard on Spanish.

There's been a fair bit of UK election coverage on Spanish radio and TV. Britain has featured a lot with the people killed at Borough Market and the Spanish skateboarder not identified for days. On the 3.0 clock news there were shots of the various party leaders making their vote - UKIP, The Greens, LibDems - I didn't know any of them.

I'm working hard hardly working at the moment. I decided I had time to replace my contact lenses. The last set are probably a bit long in the tooth now. I think I got them in Cartagena, in 2012. It must be the fourth or fifth time I've gone through the process of an eye test - mejor, peor, parecido - better, worse, similiar.

I was in Consum, the supermarket, I planned my route through the aisles - bread, tea, cat food, meat, gazpacho, ham, veg, checkout. Not a wrong turn. Critical path analysis.

When I decided on a light lunch and was buying the stuff I bought some of that nice sheep's milk cheese, the cured ham of course, a carton of gazpacho, some olives and oil roasted peanuts in their skins - plenty of other stuff too - I cheaped out on the cold cuts - el Pozo.

Emails back and forth to Iberdrola about our power supply. They're going to put in a smart meter so I need to regularise our position a bit. All of the online calculators tell me I can get away with a miserable 3.75Kw supply which I don't quite believe but, if we can, then it saves getting a new boletín - a certificate to say that our wiring is up to a larger load.

Quiet afternoon. I felt I really should start planning the intensive course for July. Speaking exercises, grammar, a bit of pronunciation, was I going to use a text book? - the PET exams from the 2016 download. I tap, tap tapped it onto my lesson planning form. I've planned a lot of B1 courses.

Watering the garden from the aljibe, the big rainwater tank that we have in the back patio. The submerged electric pump that we inherited with the house is still going strong. I said hello to the neighbour as he threw some stuff into the communal bin just beyond our fence. I took our recyclable stuff to the bins in the village this morning.

The sky has been blue all day and the sun has shone. Just before I typed this we were sitting at the back of the house watching the sun go down. 9.30 ish and it's twilight. Not much traffic on the CV83, very tranquil. Nice view over towards the Sierra de Salinas. The cats were keeping us company.

All very routine, all very ordinary. Very much home.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Faster than Amazon

I work in a school. Well, actually, as my contract ended on the last day of May I don't. But I expect to again.

Sometime last year my boss told me that I should get a document equivalent to what I still think of as a Police Check or if I'm being just a little more modern a CRB check. Apparently it's now called a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check in the UK. The certificate that says the authorities are not aware of any reason someone should not work with children.

I applied for the Spanish equivalent in April last year. I tried to do it online but failed. Eventually I found the appropriate form on the Internet, downloaded it, filled it in, paid the small fee in a bank and took the appropriately stamped form to the Justice Ministry Office in Murcia. I was in the office fewer than ten minutes before emerging with a piece of A4 paper that said I had no criminal record. A reasonably complicated and time consuming process but hardly overwhelming.

Nobody has ever asked me for a copy of the form.

Some time ago somebody on one of the expat information forums asked about getting a Spanish police check. I'd forgotten some of the detail of my own application so I Googled the information to remind myself of the process before putting in my two penn'orth. I found that the system had changed. Instead of being a simple check on a person's criminal record it was now more specific, about sexual offences, and, presumably, the check itself was more wide ranging.

I made a note to myself to get hold of the newer form whilst I wasn't working.

In front of the telly tonight I've ben punishing my liver with whisky. Just before going to bed I was doing a bit of browsing and it entered my head to see how difficult the process was for the new sexual offences check. It was so easy that within ten minutes of starting I'd completed the process - free too.

Nice job someone at the Justice Ministry.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A swift half

I saw some article or advert about a micro brewery in Novelda a while ago.

We don't work on Wednesday afternoon; either of us. "Do you fancy a beer?" I asked Maggie. She said yes. We found the place OK. It looked decidedly closed but there was a bar next door and it seemed logical that the bar would have the local beer.

We went in. It wasn't a flash bar. It could probably do with a bit of a refit though the regulars probably like it as it is. There were lots of men, my age, playing dominoes or just sitting there nursing a beer. Fluorescent lights. There was a woman behind the bar and one female customer. We were a bit out of place. The beer, Exulans, was on display, a couple of third of a litre bottles on the bar.

"Hello, can we have a couple of bottles of the beer from next door, please."
"No. We don't have any." Moment of indecision. "Hang on though, I'll check in the back." The woman wanders off for a while. "No, we don't have any."
"Just a couple of whatever you have then, please."

We settled in, well we sort of perched on the stools at the bar, a bit uncomfortably. After a while the woman behind the bar engaged us in conversation. The problem it turned out was that the brewery was usually closed. The workers only turn up from time to time so the bar had not been able to replace their stock. Whilst she was speaking to us a man came to the bar to order another drink. As the woman continued to talk to us the man tapped a coin noisily and impatiently on the bar. The woman wasn't having that sort of behaviour and she told him so but it was obviously time for us to go. So we did.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

¡Uff, que calor!

I wandered in to do my session with 4A, the fourth year is the last year of obligatory secondary school. It was my last lesson with them before my contract ends at the end of May. They're a nice bunch but it's a big class and they tend towards noisy, no let's be honest, loud. I said hello and started whatever it was I was going to do but they weren't paying much attention - their energies were being taken up by an awful lot of fanning and expelling sufficient breath for top lips to oscillate. It's too hot, it's suffocating, we're going to die. The class teacher who makes sure that the noise doesn't turn into a riot, looked up from her computer. A brief conversation and she set the air conditioner going. My guess is that there are guidelines as to the temperature setting for the air-con and the youngsters wanted it lower. With a big grin on my face I set into one of those "When I was a lad air conditioners didn't exist, what a bunch of whiners you are etc".

It made me laugh, outside it was probably around 30ºC, not exactly roasting. It was warm but I was perfectly comfortable in my habitual boots, jeans and T shirt. Most of the pupils were in shorts.

in the staff room, after the ritual greeting, the first and main topic of conversation between any two or more teachers was the temperature. I was asked several times what I thought about the heat; unbearable eh? It must be worse for me coming from a country where polar bears and penguins roam. Lots of Spanish people aren't that hot on geography.

There's no doubt that it's warmed up in the last fortnight or so. It's still a long way from being hot but the summer sounds have begun. The spring flowers and green plants have taken on their summer shades of yellows and beige. The cigarras are singing in the garden but wood and metal aren't yet creaking as they expand or contract. The flies are out in annoying numbers. Everything is covered in a fine patina of dust and cars have a rugged he-man sort of dirty look. We haven't used any heating for ages, getting out of bed in the morning involves no more discomfort than creaking bones and heaving lungs. I've turned down the gas flame and upped the water flow on the water heater.

I've been asked three or four times whether I've been to the seaside - this is presumably because my arms, but only to the sleeve line, have got a bit of colour. It's because of the weeding I say. It has even been suggested to me that I may like to abandon long trousers for shorts.

It always amuses me. We Britons often complain about the weather - too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too windy, too still. Spaniards do exactly the same.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Invasive manoeuvres

You will remember we had trouble with a white cat that invaded our garden. The cat was nice enough but it didn't get on with our two. They hid inside, afraid to wander the garden. We were glad when the white cat disappeared.

There are colonies of wild and semi wild cats in Culebrón. Some probably get occasional food from humans but others live off what they hunt or can scavenge from the big communal bins. A young female tabby realised that the open door to our kitchen, at times, offered access to free food left over by our satiated cats. She was a persistent little cat, despite the water pistol, despite the occasional hosepipe assault, despite the shouts and clapping hands, she kept coming back. Our cats had no real problem with her, an occasional hissing but nothing profound. We are softies. We gave her food, always away from our house, but we did feed her. An easy if unreliable and sometimes contradictory feeding station. She was also human friendly, happy to be stroked.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to take her in. She would have to go to the vet and be checked. If she had something infectious then she was on her own but so long as she was basically fit the sofa and TV awaited alongside three square a day. Uncannily the cat failed to appear mewing on our window sill on the days when I was free to take her to the vet. Until this morning.

"What's her name?," they asked at the reception desk. "I didn't choose this," I replied quickly, "Gertrudis". A couple of animal keepers in the waiting room agreed that it was a nice name. When Cristina, the vet, beckoned us in to the surgery she called the cat by name with a smile on her lips. "Basically fit as a fiddle, obviously she's got worms and fleas but she's a sturdy little cat - nice temperament too". I arranged an appointment for the sterilization next week, paid the very reasonable flu jab and deparastiation (is that a word) charge and we came back home.

So we now look after three tabby cats difficult to tell apart at a glance - Beatriz, Teodoro and Gertrudis.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The tyranny of mealtimes

I used to listen to the Archers. For those of you that don't know the Archers is a long running British radio soap. The reason that I started to listen was that it used to start at 7.05pm. By then I was usually in the car and on the way to a meeting. And, that's because evening meetings in the UK invariably started at 7.30pm. I don't know whether that's still true. I can't really speak for UK habits nowadays but my guess is that things haven't changed. Likewise I would guess that the most popular slots for dinner reservations in restaurants will be 8pm or 8.30pm. Countries have timetables and most people know that Spain's is a little different.

Making a sweeping generalisation, as though it were the truth, most Spaniards leave the house with a minimal breakfast around 7.30 or 8am and get to work for the usual sort of times – 8,8.30 or 9am. Shops and lots of offices don't open till 10am. There's a mid morning break for something reasonably substantial - a sandwich, fruit, yogurt and drink sort of sized snack. Lunch is somewhere around 2pm or 3pm and I think that the majority of people still go home or to a restaurant and have a quite hefty midday meal. There's time to do a few of the household chores as well as to eat before going back for the second stint of three or four hours work starting at 4pm, maybe at 5pm. Dinner is usually eaten anywhere from 9pm to 11pm and lots of people manage to fit in some sort of snack between lunch and dinner - it's a good time for a tapa. Now that's like saying that everyone in the UK works 9 till 5. There are as many working patterns as there are businesses but the idea of a morning shift and an afternoon shift divided by lunch is a sound generalisation for a good percentage of the population.

So, if a Spaniard were making a dinner reservation 8pm just wouldn't do - most would be still at work and the majority of restaurants would only just be gearing up for the evening anyway. You would be perfectly safe with a 9.30pm reservation, though in some places and at some times of year it may be a little early. 10pm would be fine. Later wouldn't be odd especially in summer or when something was going on. Events, theatre and stuff generally kick off quite early, maybe at 7.30pm or 8pm which doesn't quite fit with the hypothesis that everyone's still at work but I've been to lots of plays that start at 10pm too. In summer, for instance in our local fiesta, many of the performances start at 11pm or midnight.

At work, at the job in Pinoso, they asked me if I fancied doing a couple of intensive 60 hour English courses in July. The truth is that I would rather read a book and lounge in the garden but the tax man sent me a hefty bill this year and I need the money so I said yes. I didn't need to guess much at the timetable. We'd have a slot in the morning and a slot in the afternoon. My arithmetic was up to it; four weeks working Monday to Friday at three hours a session, fifteen hours per week or sixty hours across the month doubled up for the two courses. Probably 9am to 12 noon and probably 4pm till 7pm or maybe an hour later. Either slot would be very normal, very standard.

Then we ran into a snag. My employers run a playscheme in the summer and a venue change meant that the morning slot wasn't open to us. Then the Spanish timetable dealt another blow. We couldn't possibly start before 4pm, any earlier and people wouldn't even have time for a quick lunch. And getting home for the next meal meant that going much beyond 9pm was pushing it a bit too. Again the basic arithmetic that Miss Bushell had driven into nearly 60 years ago came into play. Nine minus four is five and that's less than six and six hours is what you need for two courses of three hours a day. In order to get in the 120 hours for the two courses we'd need 24 sessions. The neat package of the same time slot for a nice self contained 60 hour course was out of the window. Other internal timetabling considerations made it even more complicated until eventually we ended up with a course running across six weeks with a variety of time slots.

I once shared a house with someone who stuck to a strict eight hours work, eight hours leisure, eight hours sleep policy. He was completely out of step with society. He'd have had a hard time of it in Spain.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

En versión original

I'm going to talk about going to the cinema. Nearly all of this I've talked about before so, old, in the sense of long standing rather than aged, readers you can save yourself some time and stop now.

I've always liked going to the cinema. At the height of it I might go 130 times in a year. When we got to Spain that more or less stopped. Films here are almost universally dubbed into Spanish. There are a few cinemas where it's possible to see films in their original language with subtitles and even a few where you can use a pair of headphones to tune in to an original language version whilst the sound in the cinema is in Spanish. For the main part though, if you go to see a film in Spain it will have a Spanish soundtrack. When our Spanish was worse than it is now we were basically wasting time and money because we couldn't understand much of what was going on.

The dubbing causes problems at times where there is some interplay between actors of different nationalities. For instance I saw one the other day about looking for a lost city in the Amazonian Rainforest. The main protagonist was English and there were lots of references to the Royal Society and suchlike so, when the explorer bumps into some tribe in the middle of the jungle he doesn't say "Do you speak English?" or "Do you speak Spanish?" instead he says "Do you speak my language?" Although it jars a bit it usually works alright.

Obviously enough a large part of any actor's charm is his or her voice. Hearing someone well known speak with the wrong voice, or hearing some well known section from a film spoken with strange words, wrong phrasing and a different rhythm and tone can be most offputting. You get used to it though.

Years ago we went to see Slumdog Millionaire. I mentioned that we were about to go or that we had been to someone who had seen it in the UK. They said that they had had some difficulty in understanding the film themselves and that they thought it would be doubly hard in Spanish. In fact it was an easy film to understand. The difference of course was that, whilst in the original, the Indian actors were speaking in heavily accented English with Indian pronunciations and structures once it had been dubbed into Castilian Spanish it was pretty much grammatically correct.

The same tinkering with what is said happens on the telly. Lots of the programmes are broadcast in dual language. So English language programmes are available dubbed into Spanish for the bulk of the population. All we have to do is fiddle around with the menus a bit and hey presto we have the programme in the original English. This doesn't work so well for us if it turns out to be a French or German series! We watch The Big Bang Theory in English. I usually keep the subtitles on and the subs are, obviously enough, in Spanish. This is so I can understand what Bernadette is saying and so I can pick up on any good slang type expressions. The subtitles do not speak well for the Spanish people. Mention of Wendy's or Dairy Queen is translated into hamburger joint or restaurant or maybe McDonald's. It's not an advertising thing it's because the subtitlers are sure that Spaniards will not know what a Dairy Queen is. I don't know exactly what Captain Crunch is or Fig Newtons either but I can hazard a guess and using cereals and biscuits seems, to me, like some form of subtle elitism on behalf of the subtitlers. It can only help to maintain the parochial nature of Spanish society.

Our nearest cinemas are about 25km away. There are two multiscreen places there within a couple of hundred metres of each other. One is part of a big chain and the other is an independent set up. Both get new release films but the Yelmo, the chain, gets them without fail. The Cinesmax usually does. The independent fills the screens with what must be cheaper films - current films but with a longer run, foreign films and even second run films. It also offers a screen for the films with lesser distribution so, although it's not exactly art house, it does show stuff that's away from the mainstream. The staff are very nice to us nowadays, greeting us like old friends rather than simple customers. I think we've even been greeted by name a couple of times and we usually have a giggle about the correct pronunciation of the title of a film when it is given in English. When we walked out of something because it was so bad for instance they let us go to a completely different film.

We went to see a Finnish film earlier this week. A very strange film that I enjoyed a lot. One of its themes is about refugees with Syrians and Iraqis working their way through the Finnish asylum system. One of the obvious problems that the asylum seekers have is that they don't speak Finnish but, in the Spanish version, everyone speaks Spanish and the dubbers are left with a difficult problem. The actors do their job and demonstrate their confusion, lack of understanding of what's happening to them etc. but the soundtrack flows with perfectly ordinary language and perfectly ordered grammar. There is a complete mismatch between picture and sound. It reminded me a bit of that scene in Love Actually where Colin Firth has learned Portuguese in order to propose to a woman he met but was never able to talk to. In the English version, as he declaims his love in a crowded restaurant the subtitles show that his Portuguese isn't isn't at all bad despite his making grammatical slip after slip. Small things, not large enough to mask the meaning - inhabit instead of live, over emphatic adjectives and inverted phrases - but wrong enough to make it obvious to us that he is a tyro in the language. When she answers in English she says that she learned the language "Just in cases." The faltering language makes the scene. In the Spanish version that is not allowed to happen. In films dubbed into Spanish that is not allowed to happen.