Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

Adios

This is the last of my regular weekly postings

 

It's four in the morning. I've been binge-watching 'Mindhunter' and I just went to the kitchen to check on the sink, which has had problems draining. I boiled another five litres of water and poured it down with a litre of 6% wine vinegar which had been languishing at the back of the cupboard for years but it doesn't seem to make any difference. I'm at that stage in a non-practical man's life where I'm counting the times I buy the namby-pamby drain-cleaner solutions from the supermarket, comparing the cost with biting the bullet and getting Eduardo the plumber in to give a more lasting solution to the blockage. First world problems I know, but if the sink doesn't empty, the dishwasher might overflow and flood the kitchen, and if I can't use the dishwasher then I'll have to wash the plates by hand in the bath, which is a fate too tedious to consider.
 
Anyway that's my morning so far. Today however is a milestone, as it is the last day of my self-enforced blog publishing time-table. A year ago I made the New Year's resolution that I would draw up a weekly publishing schedule for my blog and spew out an original piece of content each Sunday. Much to my surprise, I've managed to stick to it. This is issue 53. I aimed for each post to be about 1000 words which I stuck to more of less, so that is 53,000 words. That's a lot of words, nearly a book in fact!
 
The exercise has taught me a lot. Sticking to a time-table has brought me a loyal if small regular reader-ship of about 60 people who take the trouble to read what I write. Some even comment and get involved with discussions which have at times become a little heated, even though I've mostly steered away from politics and religion. I've only marketed the articles on Facebook and Twitter, a single post for each article on each platform. On both, the topics that have had the most traction are Spain and Brexit, probably a reflection of the folk I interact with most on each of these.
 
I had no idea when I started these regular postings that 2020 would be the year of Covid-19. I had no idea people would be trapped in their homes and that I too would have a vastly different pattern to my daily activities. Looking back on it, the creation of a timetable with deadlines was probably the single best thing I could have done, as it helped me give form to a week where days could otherwise have been indistinguishable from one another, save for the occasional trip to the shops. If you're fortunate to live with other human beings, I can tell you first-hand, that being on your own during the pandemic has been far more trying than in regular times when one can come and go at will. At times it has felt like being in solitary confinement and I for one will be glad to see a return to normality in 2021, even though I'm not personally a very gregarious person. Even now my sleep patterns remain largely divorced from the clock as I'm so used to the feeling that there are no appointments to keep and nobody is going to be knocking on the door. (Hence writing this at four in the morning!)
 
I suppose, on reflection things could have been worse in 2020. Yellowstone could have erupted. No civilisation-killer asteroids crashed into the earth. Aliens haven't invaded and started shooting up the place. Apart from the pandemic and Brexit I think we've got off quite lightly really!
 
For those of you who are disappointed that my regular postings end today, I will continue to post sporadically as the mood takes me, however I plan to take the timetable principle and the allotted time to devote to another potentially more lucrative activity. I have not made a final decision as to what that might be. Someone suggested I should weave the Spain related anecdotes into a book which had not occurred to me. I had in mind a couple of other writing-related ideas, so I want to spend some time teasing these out and look at the best one to pursue.
 
In the mean time, here's a poem wot I wrote. I haven't written a poem since I was at school so don't laugh, but it's just a stream of consciousness thing about the things my nose encounters here on a daily basis, so don't go looking too hard for rhyme!
 
Of sun-born olive-branch bonfires
Of over-revved two-stroke engines
Of early morning bleached pavements
Of just-baked loaves off the bread-man's van
Of coiffured old women pebble-dashed in talc
Of elderly men dripping in Tabac
Of expresso and tostadas 
Of the secret smell of budding ganja
Of churros and chocolate
Of workman's sweat and builder's dust
Of puros scenting up the street
Of frying squid and boiling octopus
Of brandy, ponche and anis
Of sun-scorched earth and tar then rain, reminding us of life again
These are the things I smell in Spain, of life, of love, of being sane.

Crappy Christmas

Is this the worst one ever?

 

Well thanks to Covid it looks like a crappy Christmas for all with most countries having some sort of restrictions against seasonal revelling. No office Christmas parties, no wassailing and no door to door carolling (every cloud on that last one I suppose)!
 
I do miss office Christmas parties. One that sticks in the mind was back in the late 80's when a few dozen of us civil servants booked a Christmas dinner in the Novotel in Hammersmith, West London. Being the Civil Service, we'd already had a few drinks on the way there and were in true party mode by the time we pitched up and took our places at the table. It all looked festive enough and we were looking forward to getting stuffed with Turkey and trimmings.
 
Then something weird and unsettling happened. The first course came out, and, horror of horrors, it was Nouvelle cuisine. We looked down on basically empty plates, save for a few leaves and a squirt of sauce. Suddenly the air turned sacred blue as a bunch of hard-done-by office workers feared their main course would be a sparrow with a grape in its mouth. Words were had with the management, all the starters were returned and the hotel, sensing the bad publicity that a violent riot of incensed pen-pushers would bring, relented and cooked for us instead a traditional Christmas dinner (with all the trimmings).
 
If like me you're not a particularly religious person, maybe a bit spiritual, perhaps in awe of the real wonders of the universe like singularities but you're just not comfortable with the idea of an old man with a beard watching you while you're taking a shower, you may feel a bit of a fraud celebrating Crimbo. I've found a comfortable alternative that justifies partaking in as much Christmas cheer as you like. Also, you can observe all the good socialist teachings of Jesus and the new testament without having to buy into anything supernatural, divine or weird. It's called Christian atheism. Basically you just follow the moral and ethical teachings without acknowledging the existence of an overarching, omniscient, supernatural creator. It's really good as you can stuff yourself with as much Christmas pud and mince pies as you like without a pang of guilt (well until you get on the scales in January)
 
This also means you can enjoy Christmas carols and services without feeling like too much of an outsider. I came across a cracking version of Silent Night recently made by the American soul singer Michael Macdonald. If you know of a better version of a traditional carol, let me know!
 

 

 
Merry Christmas everybody!

Brexit: What's Next for Britain?

A few thoughts on where things are headed in coming decades.

 

I've been keeping this blog fairly free of politics but this weekend I seem unable to be thinking about anything other than Brexit. In a way, today is the most significant day since the referendum, if, as we are told, it is the last day by which a deal can be made. Though the last day of the withdrawal agreement is the 31st December, the thinking is there wouldn't be enough time to author and ratify an agreement beyond today.
 
So the question that is on my mind is what is next for Brexit. I'm not thinking short term here. Whichever way you slice it, 2021 will start out as a humiliating fiasco. Whether a deal is achieved or not there will still be months of disruption as new ways of doing things are explored and new, unintended consequences of Brexit arise to surprise us. The only question here is how long it will take things to settle down to some sort of normality.
 
No, I'm thinking more of what will happen to Britain in the decades ahead. Geopolitics is a little trickier than it used to be. Immediately following Bretton Woods, the end of WW2 and the exploding of two nuclear weapons in Japan, American might and money was the only game in town. The USSR grew and was, probably for the purposes of political expediency, demonised by America to be a greater threat to its dominance as a world power than it ever really was. Then the USSR fell and for a brief period of time it seemed the world was for the first time truly mono-polar.
 
More recently though the US has become increasingly indebted and less innovative and industrious. Meanwhile the EU has expanded, its currency becoming increasingly important on the world stage, and China has undergone massive economic growth. Despite Trump's efforts to stop China eating America's lunch, she remains a massive industrial power and the growth of her domestic market with a new and enriched middle class means China is here to stay, even with her exports reduced. It is now looking as though the future will consist of a tri-polar world in which the major players will be America, the EU and China, with other BRICS countries emerging and aligning themselves with one of these three main players. I see this as the new world stage into which Britain as an 'Independent Sovereign Nation' has to fit.
 
Old world, old money thinking sees Britain as a nation of traders who straddle the globe buying and selling stuff. We're the nation who started the East India Company after all. The trouble with this 'old skool' thinking is that the world is moving from physical to virtual. If I wanted to order a ton of spice in 1600 when the EIC company was formed, the only way to do it was to travel to India or wherever the spice was grown and to do a face-to-face deal. These days all you need to do is go to alibaba.com and you can find dozens of spice suppliers all competing with each other to deliver to you your ton of spice at the lowest price. By way of experiment I requested quotes for a particular chemical I was thinking of importing into Spain last year, and I was still receiving emails months afterwards from prospective suppliers. Global trade is so fluid these days, the only thing in the way of a deal is the lack of a free-trade agreement, which is why Brexit seems so absolutely nonsensical to me. I was looking into exporting olive oil a few years back and I was struck by how the trade agreements the EU already has with various third-party countries make the process to arrange an export to most parts of the world very simple. The idea that Britain is opting out of these in order to make its own bespoke arrangements seems to me to be a recipe for disaster. The EU has at its disposal an army of around 800 trained and very experienced trade-negotiators who are bashing out new global deals all the time. Britain has Liz Truss! As Britain does not manufacture anything of note, I just don't see a future for Britain as either an exporter or some kind of trading intermediary buying from one country and selling to another, as in an increasingly virtual world there doesn't seem a way to add value. We can add markup but in a world where sales are increasingly made directly, who wants intermediaries taking a slice?
 
Speaking of intermediaries, another area that is about to change dramatically on the world stage is money. China has for several years been developing and trialling the world's first Central Bank backed Digital Currency (CBDC). They are already leading the field and more recently America, Europe and other countries have started researching the idea and publishing policy papers and so forth, making noises that they are about to do the same. The lure of a cashless society is too good for the banking community to pass up and clearly there is a fear that if China's CBDC gets a head start, it could ask its trading partners to use it, suddenly threatening the place of the dollar as the world's leading currency. Obviously this is all very new and it is quite difficult to foresee how things will pan out, but again, the odds are that there will be three main CBDCs, the Digital Yuan, Dollar and Euro. As with crypto-currencies one of the main characteristics of CBDCs will be transparent accountability. It will become much more difficult to launder dirty money through currencies that have an online ledger. Given the chequered history of UK banking institutions and London's existing reputation among anyone from Mexican drug lords to Russian oligarchs as the go-to place to launder money already, my guess is Britain will resist the race towards introducing a CDBC for the Bank of England and instead, the fiat pound will become the central clearing house for the world's black money.
 
As I see it, that's a Britain Johnson & Co are quite happy about. It seems to me that this government is more mendacious than any other in British history. I sense they have no vision for the British people, nor do they care what happens to them, as long as they keep making money. It's clear they have a desire for small government and I fear without the stabilising hand of the EU, centuries of hard-won social and employment protections are about to be thrown out of the window. The welfare state and the NHS will be gone, quite soon I should imagine. Health & Safety and pesky employment regulations will be thrown on the bonfire. I should imagine Scotland will fight for and probably win independence. As the realisation of what is being done to Britain starts to sink in, the will in Scotland to escape the Tories and rejoin Europe will become compelling. The situation with Ireland may take longer to fester but the north of Ireland will become a gateway for smugglers to bring contraband into Europe and measures introduced to counter this will increase tensions and will bring pressure on Britain from the EU and America to reunite Ireland. Again, though publicly affronted, the Tories will be privately delighted to lose Scotland and Northern Ireland, as in their view there will be less money going out and more for them to secure fortress London, which will, as the decades roll by, start to resemble some 18th century Bahamian island beloved by buccaneers and cut-throats.
 
I don't think it is accidental that many of the current crop of Tory nationalists did their degrees in history or classics. It came as no surprise to me yesterday to see Johnson's government boasting it will have gunboats ready to defend British fish. Their thinking is aligned with the glory days of Agincourt and Waterloo. They think in terms of Empires and battles, a mindset that is out of step with the modern world. The days of the opium wars and gunboat diplomacy are long gone. France is a nuclear power (the only one in the EU post Brexit) and China, Russia and America dwarf Britain in military might. I can't help thinking that if the British government continues on it's current selfish, belligerent path, there will come a time, given the way the world is shaping up, that it will end up being put in its place by being on the receiving end of a bloody good kicking!
 
 

Creepy crawlies & other critters.

..and things that go bump, bump bump in the night.

 

This week I've been caught up in cobwebs a couple of times in my house. It's as though really tiny spiders have been on manoeuvres, abseiling down from the ceiling in random places, setting traps for me to catch the almost invisible threads in my face. In fairness I don't get many bugs here in Olvera, just the occasional cockroach on reconnaissance from the drain in the street, and earwigs, which for some unknown reason are keen to hang out in my bathroom, keeping me company on towels and face-clothes etc.
 
It was a different story when I first came to Spain, probably because the place I lived was more rural. The agent who sold us the house told us a big lie. She assured us there were no spiders here, well, only the sort of 'gangly' ones that looked like crane flies. Several months later a spider the size of my hand appeared on the ceiling. We had a guest around to witness it. It crossed my mind that the best way to handle the situation was to calmly evacuate, take shelter in a neighbouring province and then implore NATO to make a tactical nuclear strike on my house. Fortunately my guest was less terrified of spiders than I was, and managed to wrangle the beast with a chair and a whip, ushering him in a bucket from whence he was dispatched to the chicken coup. Chickens are your best friend if you dislike creepy crawlies. They relish spiders and I've even seen them eat a baby snake (another critter I'm not keen to share living space with). For the record, a chicken's gullet is capable of grinding glass, so they make swift work of all kinds of bugs.
 
We had plenty of bugs there for the chickens to get to work on. Being an old property, the house had various nests of long standing. There was a thicket of ivy surrounding the tool shed from which beetles the size of rats would emerge every now and again. These would be redirected to the chicken run for sonderbehandlung. Indoors there was a huge fireplace, the insides of which was fitted with protective sheets of iron. From the gap between the iron and the wall, during the night when nobody was around, a predator would crawl out and prowl the living room. I first noticed this when I came down for a wee one night and, as it was a bright, moonlit night, I didn't bother turning the lights on. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something darting across the floor. It had the length and width of a six inch school ruler, and was galloping at the speed of a race horse. I reached for the light, but as I switched it on I was only able to catch a brief glimpse of the critter as it disappeared into it's lair. It was a giant centipede, or as I later found out when I looked it up, 'Scolopendra cingulata' or Mediterranean banded centipede which is a nasty piece of work. It is an opportunistic carnivore which can eat insects and small lizards, and if suitably provoked, endow you with a painful, toxic bite as well as a lifetime of nightmares. I figured I wasn't brave enough to tackle the nest by removing the iron plates, so instead I invested in an insecticide spray sold here called Zum (which smells truly awful and is probably banned in the rest of the civilized world). This is employed by spraying the floor and walls where it creates a barrier that is toxic to walking insects. I sprayed this all over the room and sure enough, in subsequent mornings I would come down to discover dead centipedes, some even larger than the first specimen I caught a glimpse of. 
 
Wasps were of course a problem. A Spanish chap give me a good tip. Keep away from them during the day time. If you're planning to disable a wasps nest, do it at night when they are home and asleep.  He demonstrated this in an out-building of his country house one evening on a nest about the size of a fist. He gave it a quick spray of lighter fluid and set it on fire. In seconds it burned to a cinder, wasps and all, without a single angry escapee, though to be fair, I may have missed some of the action as I had, as is my nature, turned and run as far away as was as humanly possible.
 
Probably the largest insect to have accosted me in those early days was some sort of locust. I was stood admiring a friends garden when I noticed something flying towards me. I didn't have a clue what it was. As is the case at such moments, time seemed to slow to a standstill. As my mind was saying "w h a t  t h e  a b s o l u t e  f u c k" in slow-motion,  the insect coming towards me just kept getting bigger and bigger. Then suddenly there was a thud and it landed on my chest. It must have been four inches long. There it sat, looking up it me as though it was trying to figure out whether I was edible or not. I made the decision for him and flicked it off with the back of my hand. Fortunately these things are tourists from Africa. We don't see them very often, and when we do they are generally on their own, not in crop-stripping plagues. Still it gave me the willies I can tell you.
 
Bigger still were the eagles, and trust me, these things are big. I was driving in the country one day and an eagle flew across the road, having emerged from a driveway. It flew right across the bonnet of my car, giving me about the best possible view one can get of an eagle in flight without actually riding one! In particular I noticed the talons were not much smaller than my hands. Some months later I saw another one in action. I was pottering about in the garden when an eagle swooped into the vegetable patch, presumably on the hunt for some unfortunate mouse or vole or whatever. The thing that struck me was deadly combination of speed and silence. I was lucky enough to be looking in the right direction at the right time to see the thing dive-bombing, but I could easily imagine that from the position of the prey, there would be no warning, just instant death from a blue sky. I had a pool in a private and secluded walled-garden at the time and was in the habit of doing the odd spot of sun-bathing in the nuddy. Subsequently I always kept my shorts on while catching a few rays in case a more myopic eagle than most mistook my member for a mouse! Imagine having to explain that one in A&E.
 
I don't get to see so much wildlife now I live in Olvera. There are always big birds flying around, vultures and so forth, though I rarely see them up close. Turtles in the river are about the height of entertainment locally, though further afield I've seen badgers in Ronda. The most puzzling thing I've seen was whilst driving to Ronda early one morning. Something strange was crossing the road near Montecorto. I had to do a double-take because it looked like a self-propelled coffee table. There were, what seemed to be eight legs hanging off a fringed table-top just a few inches off the ground, with a head and a tale that matched like those found on a Viking Longship, and the whole thing had the same hue as a red squirrel. You can tell from my inept description I'm no wildlife expert! I mused for a long while on this and did a fair amount of Googling. My final conclusion was that it was a pair of mongooses (is that mongeese?). They would have been running pretty much one behind the other, hence the eight legs. Given my eyesight though it may well have been a coffee table!
 
Incidentally, for those who know me or have read the blog post http://andaluciasteve.com/a-tale-of-two-wasted-ronda-hospital-visits.aspx I'm pleased to say I finally got to see the ophthalmologist in Ronda last week (one year and two months after my accident - thanks Covid) and she confirmed there is no permanent damage to my eye.

Units in Spain

How some old units of measure endure to this day.

100 Pesetas

My first souvenir from Spain was a banknote. Back in 1972, my sister's boyfriend at the time had a fortnight in Torremolinos and gifted a One Hundred peseta note to me on his return, knowing that collecting foreign banknotes and coins was my childhood hobby. I remember I was quite taken by the images of the people on each side of the note. They looked so dignified and interesting in a foreign sort of way. Spain abandoned the peseta in 2002 when it joined the Euro (and achieved world-record sales of BMWs and Mercedes as bundles of black money which would otherwise soon be rendered worthless, were quietly withdrawn from under mattresses nationwide and laundered through car dealerships who had never had it so good).
 
So it came as quite a surprise when I first moved here and started to parlez with the locals, that the value of most assets, houses, cars and so on were still valued in pesetas.
 
This became a bit of a nuisance when I started working with a Spanish estate agent. Typically I'd be in the middle of a conversation between him and some English speaking clients, translating with my crude command of Spanish.
 
"How much would it cost to build a pool in this property?" They would ask, and I would translate to the agent.
 
"Two million pesates" would come the reply.
 
As a rule of thumb, a million pesetas is 6,000 euros, so I'd translate,  calculate and tell the client 12,000 euros for the pool. A similar process would be required when folk asked me for quotes for kitchens, bathrooms, outbuildings etc. At times it became quite a challenge!
 
It was interesting though, travelling around the country while working with the estate agent. He had lots of property all over the place, mainly in Murcia but also from Valencia down to Almeria. One thing I'd often see in old houses were mains transformers. Spain used to use a 110V electricity supply, and apparently still does in some places. Although all electrical equipment sold today is designed to run on 220V, there are still houses out there which I have seen that have a mixture of 110V and 220V appliances used in the same house thanks to crude transformers that are often unboxed and look like rusty relics from a bygone age.
 
It wasn't just the volts and pesetas that gave me a jolt back to the past. Another thing I noticed was that although Spain adopted the metric system in the 1850s, it was still common to hear other units used to described land length and area. The first one of these I came across was the fanega,  which the estate agent would use mainly when talking to farmers about the size of a plot in the country. My Spanish wasn't really up to diving into the conversation between two old guys rabbiting on at ten to the dozen in their thick regional, country accents, so I used to enlist the help of a young girl who worked in the office to figure this stuff out. She told me that a fanega was a unit of land area that was used in Spain in antiquity and that the funny thing about it was there was no consistent standard across the country. So a fanega in Murcia could be a different size altogether to a fanega in Andalucia. The web didn't help me much at the time (this was about 2005) but while researching this article, I came across a conversion chart that confirms this to be the case https://www.sizes.com/units/fanega.htm#land_area Just look at the Square Metre column and the wide range of different values across Spain. It's a wonder they managed to do any deals at all!
 
And the fanega wasn't the only one. Another measure I came across while working there was the  tahúlla which was used more in the north east of Murcia up towards Valencia way. Again, at the time I couldn't find much out about this online but I've just checked and the tahúlla possibly dates back to Islamic times, but is still being used today by some folk in Spain who can't get their heads around hectares. For the record, a tahúlla is equivalent to 1118 metres squared.
 
I thought I'd write about the units used in Spain as many of them would be unfamiliar to lot of my readers. However one unit used here will be familiar to everyone, even if the word used is different. Like most countries in the world, Spain measures TV screens and monitors in 'pulgadas' which means inches.  You can't keep a good unit down!

Sunday Blackout

How my electricity went down and didn't come back up

 

Last Sunday was a funny old day. As occasionally happens at this time of year, work was scheduled to upgrade the electricity supply, so it was announced that the power would be off between 8am and 10 or 12 depending on which part of the town you live.
 
Midday came and went but my electricity remained off. I had some chores to do and visits to make to recycle some bottles and plastics, so I just got on with it, expecting the problem would sort itself out. By the time I finished it was 14:30 and still no electricity. I visited my neighbour across the street and found her electricity had been restored some time previously. Perhaps it was just me.
 
I tried phoning the number of the electricity company but I butted up against an automated system and none of the available options resulted in a connecting me with human being. Then, for the first time in the two years it has been in my possession, my phone froze. The touch screen wouldn't respond. Phones these days don't have removable batteries and I didn't know how else to turn it off and on again. [I've since learned holding the power button for 20 seconds restarts the thing. Who knew?] All of a sudden with no phone, no computer and my neighbour now apparently repaired for comida, I felt completely out of touch with the world. I felt marooned.
 
At this point I started to be concerned. Everything in my house is electric except the hot-water boiler. I worried that I'd be eating fruit for dinner by candle-light, unable to heat through any of the meals I had in the freezer.
 
I thought perhaps the first thing to do is ask the police for help. This is very nearly an emergency, surely they must know what to do? I couldn't phone them, so I trotted off to the police station. It was closed. So then I thought I'd knock on the door of a few friends in the area, hoping they would be able to phone the police mobile number for me. Problem was, it was such a warm, pleasant, sunny day, that nobody was home.
 
On about the third door I knocked on I finally got a response. It was my old neighbour up in 'La Cilla' in the old town. I explained my plight and she found the mobile number of the police and gave them a call. They told us that if the problem was in the street it was the electricity board's problem but that they wouldn't come out if it was a problem within the property. They recommended getting an electrician first, to determine whether the problem was local or not, then if it was a problem with the supply outside the house, we should get in touch with them again and they would get hold of the electricity company.
 
So now the problem was how to find a domestic electrician on a sunny Sunday afternoon when Olvera was like a ghost town because so many people had gone off with their families to enjoy their houses in the country. My friend thought for a moment and rang her cousin, who knew an electrician. He was out of town, but her cousin asked if she had thought to try another distant family member, 'Cristobel'. She gave us his number and Cristobel was called. Thankfully he was in town and agreed to come right away.
 
I hot-footed it back to the house as fast as my over-weight frame would carry me, as I was walking whereas Cristobel would undoubtedly be in a car. As it happened I got back with about five minutes to spare, so was able to get my breath back. Cristobel arrived with another gentleman and started flicking the switches in my circuit-board. Everything in the house was absolutely dead.
 
Outside the house there was a fuse box. Cristobel requested a chair and he climbed up to test the fuses. I jokingly assured him I'd paid my bills. (When they cut your electricity off here, these fuses are removed by the electricity board!) He tested the supply with his meter but there was no juice. He took the fuses out and tested them but they hadn't blown. He explained they now had to test the next junction box on my neighbour's house to see if current was reaching there. However this box was much higher up on the wall, and since both Cristobel and his mate were quite short, something more than a chair was required. He knocked on my neighbour's door to see if he had some steps but to no avail. Then he had the bright idea of parking his car underneath the junction box and standing on the bonnet. It is a bit of a squeeze to get a big SUV down my road but soon he was on tiptoe peering into view the state of the fuses. He gave one a tap with the handle of his screwdriver as it appeared loose, and banged it back into its housing. Then he tested the supply voltage with his test meter. There was a loud 'bang' and a flash as he had forgotten to change the meter range from continuity testing to volts! Fortunately he didn't fall off the bonnet or otherwise injure himself, but he knew from the shock that current was reaching this junction box so he asked his colleague to check the supply inside the house. He flicked the switch and the lights came on! Yay! Tapping the fuse home had done the job. It was now 16:30 but at least I knew I would have hot food that night!
 
I asked Cristobel how much I owed him and he said twenty euros. I was more than happy to pay, and as I did so, wondered how many years ago it would have been England to get a pair of electricians out on a Sunday afternoon for the same money!

Chemicals in Spain

The perils and pleasures awaiting you in chemists, supermarkets and hardware stores
 
In my early days in Spain I owned a little land and immediately found I was at war with weeds and insects. To keep down the fleas and ticks, the local vet hooked me up with a chemical that I needed to spray "all over everything", warning me not to get any on the dog, cats chickens or pigeons. I can't remember what it was called but it smelt awful and I had to wear a mask to avoid breathing it in.
 
The farmers were always recommending sprays as well. My apricot leaves started to curl-up one day and I made the mistake of taking a sample into a bar frequented by local farmers and asking their advice. Never do this! I nearly started WW3 as arguments raged about the best plan of attack. Again, I was steered towards various chemical sprays for  bugs and fungi, each one of which smelt stronger than the last. I read the contents of one of these and found it contained chemicals that were banned in many countries of the EU and beyond. Eventually it was removed from sale in Spain but not until I'd been using it for a few years. In anticipation of the ban my farmer friends told me they had stock-piled quantities so that they would be able to continue using it for years to come. Such was the dangerous nature of the stuff, I erected a steel cabinet in my shed and kept everything under lock and key in case a visiting child had an urge to play with my 'chemistry set'.
 
I'd always eaten apple skins prior to coming to Spain. Then one day I was having lunch with a farmer who had lots of fruit trees of various types. He started to peel an apple and I mentioned that I generally eat the skins. He didn't have to say anything. He just wagged a negative finger and mimed a spraying action. I got the message. Clearly as a fruit grower he doesn't eat the skins because of the chemicals which land on there!
 
I had flu one day back then and a Spanish friend laughed when I told him I was taking Frenadol, the sort of Beacham's powder they sell as a cold remedy over here.
 
"That stuff is rubbish, you want to get some Algidol" he said as he pulled out a pen and wrote down the name for me. So I bought so Algidol over the counter in the chemists and sure enough it dried my nose up a treat. The list of ingredients on the packet included 'codeine phosphate'  an opioid analgesic, which would require a doctors prescription anywhere else but Spain. Back then it was possible to get antibiotics over the counter too, and high strength 600mg Ibuprofen, though recent tightening of the regulations here are causing pharmacies to stop selling them.
 
You can see a theme arising here. Spain does have regulations for the sale and distribution for chemicals but they always seem to be lagging behind other countries, or sometimes ignored altogether.
 
Hardware stores (Ferreterias) and even general supermarkets in Spain sell a dizzying array of  chemical products in concentrations and quantities that shocked me when I moved over here. Back in blighty where I'd lived for forty years I'd seen many dangerous chemicals removed from sale, diluted to reduce their potential to cause death, or sold in 'child proof' containers so difficult to open that they challenge even the most ingenious of adults. Not so in Spain. My local Dia supermarket sells bleach in large yellow bottles with a red screw-cap which is not child-proof or even sealed. Rather than being on shelves out of harms way, the bottles are stocked on the floor at exactly the right height to provide an inviting challenge to an inquisitive toddler.
 
This article was prompted by a Facebook post in which several  chemicals got a mention.  The first one people generally seem to encounter when they first come to Spain is 'Agua Fuerte' which is sold in all supermarkets as a cleaning product. At first glance it translates as 'strong water ' though you would be in for an unpleasant surprise if you tried to drink some, as it is in fact Hydrochloric acid. It is quite popular here, probably because most of the water here is very hard, so the acid works well attacking tiles and surfaces that are stained with calcium. I used to drain my pool once a year and sweep it through with 10 litres of the stuff to get rid of the limescale.
 
Much stronger products are sold in the supermarkets for the purposes of cleaning drains. Sulphuric acid in a frighteningly high concentration is available as a drain cleaner but it will also melt the metal drain in your sink or shower so has to be used with great care by someone who really know what they're doing. Caustic soda is also sold as a drain cleaner here. It sounds like something you would put in your washing but in fact it is a powerful alkali. A bar owner I once knew used it to clean a blocked toilet, which subsequently blew back in his face causing some nasty burns.
 
Recently I was working with epoxy resin, to resurface the fretboard of my bass guitar.  I was advised that for cleaning, the best solvent to use was acetone, the essential chemical component in nail varnish remover. I thought I'd seen it in the hardware store so I trotted down there and had a word with the owner. He disappeared behind the counter and returned with a litre bottle of the stuff which, unusually did have a child-proof cap and several worrying warning signs hinting at fire and explosions. I knew little about acetone, so I asked my friend Google.  I was surprised what a versatile and nasty chemical it is. The first Youtube video showed a chap with a five litre bottle of bleach into which he injected 100ml of acetone. He did nothing more than leave it to settle overnight.  The next day there was a liquid layer at the bottom of the bottle which was neat chloroform! This is clearly powerful stuff!
 
My local Mercadona supermarket sells a product for cleaning glass in ovens and log burners. A friend recommended this but also issued a warning to be careful using it as it was nasty stuff. I read the small-print on the back and it contains hydrogen peroxide, but ten times stronger than you would use to lighten your hair! It's rocket fuel! Dye your locks with this stuff and you'll wake up bald as a coot in the morning! Again on a Youtube video, I found that this over-the-counter chemical mixed with the right quality of acetone leaves a solid residue that looks like salt. It is in fact acetone peroxide a.k.a 'The Mother of Satan' which came to fame when it was used in a failed suicide bombing attempt by the shoe-bomber Richard Reid in 2001.
 
Doubtless all these strong chemicals can be sourced in other countries but it seems much easier to find them here and Spain. The topic of the original Facebook post which inspired this article was a government warning about the danger of mixing cleaning products. As you can see from the above, this is advice really worth listening to.

Driving in Spain

What's it like motoring over here?
 
On the whole I prefer driving in Spain to the UK. Something about driving on the right-hand side of the road and changing gear with the right hand feels more natural to me. On the occasions I've returned to driving on the left I've found it took me a few days to get used to it, though when I return to Spain I snap back instantly. 
 
I saw a report recently that named Spain as the 11th safest county to drive in worldwide. https://www.atlasandboots.com/remote-work/worlds-worst-countries-to-drive-in/ This did surprise me a little as there are number of reasons I would have expected to relegate Spain to a much lower position on the list. One of these is the macho boy-racer mentality that seems to take-over normally sensible people as though they had been assimilated by the Borg as soon as they sit behind the wheel. I worked with a chap like this, Manolo, for three years and dreaded every journey. His specific problem was an inability to remain behind other vehicles that weren't travelling at less than supersonic speed. Many of the journeys we took would be on long, straight, single carriage roads between towns and villages in the Murcian interior, a rural area in which we would often find ourselves stuck behind lorries full of sheep or agricultural machinery being moved from one farm to another chaperoned by a flotilla of warning vehicles with flashing lights. Once caught behind something like this he would become agitated and start checking his mirrors and nudging across the line in the in the centre of the road to see if there was anything coming the other way, often darting back quickly when something was. Then the magic moment would come where he would drop a gear and seize the moment to power past his quarry, during which time I would often be slamming my feet down on imaginary brakes in the floor-well of the passenger seat. When life returned to normal he would then throw me a smug grin and say "Fernando Alonso". How I lived to tell this tale is one of the greater mysteries of my life.
 
Spain's appetite for partying is another reason I'm surprised there are not more deaths than there are. During the September Feria in Cehegin, an English chap I knew found himself driving towards another car on the wrong side of the road, and narrowly avoided a head-on collision.  He turned his car around and chased the other vehicle down. When he pulled the driver out of the car he found him to be blind drunk, having been partying all night at the feria. The drunk driver was laughing! Another town I knew about had three people killed by a drunk driver at their annual feria. For this reason I always look twice when crossing the road during holidays and fiestas in Spain.
 
It's not just the drivers, but the roads themselves that seem unusually dangerous here. Not long after I moved to Andalucia, the stretch of motorway connecting Murcia and Andalucia, A-92 was damaged by rain. Much of the road was built on a sandy foundation that just washed away! Huge swathes of dual-carriageway were reduced to a single lane for months to effect repairs. Locally too, I had to drive to a house in the countryside near Pruna in the dark one evening. The same rain had washed away a section of road which just came to a cliff-edge drop. It wasn't fenced off, there was just no more road. Had I been travelling a little faster and not stopped in time, that may have been the end of me!
 
The authorities are notoriously slow to fix issues. Well known accident blackspots can persist for years before anything is done. The artist César Manrique (who deserves a blog post all to himself) campaigned for over 30 years about the dangerous stretch of road near his home in Lanzarote where accidents frequently occurred. Nothing was done and Manrique eventually died in a car accident near the village of Tahíche on the very stretch of road he had been complaining about.
 
Which reminds me, the first time I drove in Spain was in Lanzarote. I hired a Fiat Panda which rather than having a clutch seem to have an "on/off" switch for changing gear. I was a little nervous having never driven on the opposite side of the road before, and to make things even more complicated, the car was parked perpendicular to the road, meaning I had to back out into traffic on a busy main road. It was a baptism of fire, but I drove all over the island in the brave little Panda during the following two weeks over some rough terrain and perilous mountain tracks but it never let me down. 
 
I have a poor sense of direction which is not good in Spain as signposts here are invariably misleading. I got lost driving back from Alicante airport one evening and drove merrily along for over an hour before realising my mistake when I saw a sign for Madrid. I don't know if it's just me, but the number of times I got lost driving back from Malaga airport is insane. I take no blame for this. It's all the fault of poorly thought out road-signs that are either too general to be of any help, or are actually lying. I think the folk who design them are taken with those novelty signposts in tourist traps that instruct you that Timbuktu is 2700 miles that way.
 
Speaking of remote places, I broke down one summer whilst driving on the road between Calasparra and Blanca. The route takes one through a flat, agricultural land in which there are nothing but grapevines as far as the eye can see. Luckily I had a phone signal and was able to phone for roadside recovery. 
 
"Where are you" the operator asked. Well I looked one way and then the other. There was absolutely nothing I could give to indicate may location. All I could do was say I was halfway between the two towns! I was told it would take a couple of hours to get someone out to me. It was July so it was really hot, about 36C and apart from the car, there was no shade anywhere. I sat in the car, but without the air-conditioning on it soon felt like I was in a bakers oven. I took to standing outside of the car with covering over my head. It took hours for the truck to arrive but it seemed like an eternity. Fortunately I'd stopped at a garage and bought a bottle of water before I'd set out. I was very glad that I did as waiting in that heat without water would have been dangerous. Since that day I've never driven anywhere without a drink in the car, just in case!
 
Now I don't want to put anybody off driving in Spain. It's a beautiful country and many of the roads are empty even in high season. Some of the roads are so picturesque in this part of the world that the big European motor manufacturers film their advertising here. However I write a "warts and all blog" that tries to tell it like it is as I have nothing to sell and am not promoting anything. I will finish with one more wart and one that drives me crazy (pun intended). That is the sneaky way the police catch you out with speeding tickets over here. Typically there will be a stretch of road near a junction or something that has a reduced speed limit. The police will hide out with their radar guns and catch all the folk who miss the sign and fail to slow down. This is low-hanging fruit and I'm sure they have better things to do, but they take it so seriously. A chap I knew was given an 'on-the-spot' fine in one of these stops. He didn't have any money on him, so they accompanied him in to town and stood over him while he took the money out of a cash machine for them. Quite frankly I think they'd do better to spend their time catching all the Fernando Alonsos and drunk drivers out there.
 
 
 
 
 

Language Learning Tips

A few ideas for improving your command of Spanish

 

It's a bit  cheeky of me to be giving tips about language learning. You might as well ask Donald Trump to teach you how to dance the ballet. I've never been good at languages. It was the only thing I failed at school and after nearly twenty years of speaking Spanish I'm still far from fluent. That part of my brain that processes language just doesn't seem to work very well in me.
 
However, having tried all sorts of things to improve my Spanish I am perhaps in a good position to say what has worked for me and what hasn't. Classes haven't. I think classes may have been the reason I struggled at school. Classes are the exact opposite of one to one' learning. My mind tends to wander when not engaged. I don't think I'm alone in that. I distinctly remember at school, there came a point after three years of French where there were one or two swats sitting at the front doing all the heavy lifting with the teacher while the rest of us were really just marking time until the next lesson, completely disinterested as to what was going on. I don't really blame the teacher for this, I just don't think a language should be taught to thirty or so people at a time.
 
Looking back on it, making the decision to learn a language and promising myself I would stick to it was the crucial turning point. I'd had what I'd later heard Tim Ferris describe as a  Harajuku moment, an enlightening self-realisation arrived at by defining a fear rather than a goal. I'd always dreamed of retiring to Spain one day and the fear that I faced up to was that this was unrealistic unless I knew the language, and that learning the language becomes harder as you get older. Therefore I drew a line in the sand and promised myself to do a little language learning every day. This was November 1999. To this day I still engage in a daily activity to increase my knowledge of the language.
 
I dug around on the Internet and found a few resources. In those days courses were nowhere near as plentiful on the web as they are today but the BBC had a Spanish course as did Manchester University, both of which were free. Neither however were very effective in getting me started on the road to speaking the language. The turning point came when I discovered the Michel Thomas method. 
 
The Michel Thomas method is an audio course that places you in a conversation between a teacher and two other students. Questions are asked and both you and the students offer your replies. Often the mistakes the other students make help you understand the correct answers. The course relies heavily on pointing out the similarities between English and Spanish, for example drawing your attention to word endings and giving easy to use formulas for converting between one language and the other (a technique that had been pioneered in the books of Margarita Madrigal's Magic key to.. series). The amazing thing about the course is that it enables you to start forming quite advanced sentences comparatively quickly because one learns rules for generating words, rather than lists of words themselves, thus building confidence. After completing the course I felt I'd really turned a corner and became quite thirsty for more Spanish resources.
 
I was still living in England at the time, though certain Spanish media were available online or via satellite. Euronews was a TV news channel that had audio streams that could be changed to a number of European languages. The stories would rotate every 10 or fifteen minutes or so and I found it useful to watch a story in Spanish, then rewatch in English to see if I had the gist. Spanish football was also available with Spanish commentary, so I started to follow that. Soon I was learning the words for corner, goal, penalty and chants like "estas ciega" when asking the referee if he was blind. The most revered word in football of course is 'goal', which is shouted long and loud by the commentator when someone scores. I was listening to a program on the wireless one day called 'Radio Estadio' that was broadcasting an important game featuring Real Madrid. At six o'clock the programme was interrupted briefly for the evening news and there had been a grave incident somewhere in the north of Spain with loss of life, so Prime Minister Aznar was making a solemn statement to the nation. He'd only managed to get a few sentences out when the commentator interrupted shouting "Gooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal a Real Madrid". Clearly nothing is more important in Spain than a ball hitting the back of the net!
 
In an attempt to build vocabulary, still back in 1999, I bought a Spanish newspaper and a highlighting pen. Each day I would read a story, highlighting any words I didn't know and looked them up. I found this a valuable way to build vocabulary and one learns a little of the culture and current affairs of the country. Over time I found if I learned about ten new words a day that was about right. More than ten was hard to remember. Less than ten and I felt I wasn't making any progress. Later on I realised there is only a certain vocabulary of reported speech in newspapers that is quite different to how people speak in real life, but it is still a good way to learn words.
 
I love music so I also sought out Spanish songs. The Columbian artists Shakira and Juanes were popular at the time so I got hold of the lyrics to some of their songs and learned to sing them. This was very good practice for pronunciation, as to be in-time with the music it is often necessary to enunciate faster than one would do by speaking, thus giving the mouth and tongue a workout. It also came in handy years later in Spain when belting out the Gypsy Kings Bamboleo at Karaoke as I'd already learned the words! Learning to speak fast is quite important. Try to plan what your're going to say in your head then say it as quickly as possible. People hearing you speaking slowly start thinking "Oh he's a foreigner, he won't understand me" then freeze like a rabbit in the headlights!
 
The wife and I finally made the move to Spain in the Autumn of 2003. The town we moved to had only a small number of maybe a few dozen Brits out of a population of 16,000 so my wife argued, quite correctly as it turned out, that we should avoid the English speaking community and only speak Spanish. This we did for over a year, making lots of Spanish friends in the process. It was during this time that I battled to make the transition from speaking textbook Spanish to that uttered by people with local accents, as described in my previous blog post the Gargoyle Folk. It was an important time that cemented everything together. I didn't speak to another English person other than my wife until over a year later, when a woman trying to arrange a delivery in a furniture shop turned to me and asked 'How do you say when in Spanish?' Seeing how far behind me in learning the language she was, I delighted myself in how far I had come.
 
During our year in isolation we made many Spanish friends. Though we lived in the countryside and some of the owners of the neighbouring properties only visited at weekends, they were nonetheless keen to get to know us and invited us to all sorts of social events, which really helped develop conversational skills. One to one learning is much more effective than a classroom situation. A good way to go is to find a Spanish friend who is keen to learn English, then meet up and do a half hour conversation in each language. 
 
We also watched Spanish television during our first year, mainly in the afternoon. There was an extended weather forecast was on at 4pm which was great for beginners like us, because the weather uses small vocabulary of words that are repeated most days like cloud, rain, sunshine etc so these soon become imprinted on the brain. We also watched Telenovelas which are like ultra-melodramatic mini-series. In one 'end of series' cliff-hanger I remember there was an evil step-mother who pushed a baby in a pram into the middle of a bull-ring then released the bull! God knows what was going on there!
 
These days there are so many more online resources than when I started to learn Spanish, many of which are free, ranging from language exchanges to online courses like Duolingo. I won't go into detail about any of these as there are already a million blogs telling you all about them. Instead I'll end with one last tip which helped me a lot in the early days. Don't worry too much about tenses. Tenses confuse beginners and can seem like a mountain of complexity to learn. The fact of it is though, Spanish people are much more accepting of the present tense than we are in English. It's perfectly OK to build a sentence like "I go to the shop tomorrow" where the tense is present but you use the word tomorrow to specify the future. I go to the shop yesterday would also be understood. Being understood is far more important than being correct. This is my motto for getting by in Spanish!
 
 

Funny Things They Eat in Spain

Warning: Don't read this if you are vegan/vegetarian
 
It was during my first week in Spain that I ascended an escalator in a big supermarket, turned a corner in to the meat section and was greeted by a rack of pig faces. It was quite a bizarre sight! It looked as though the left half a pig's head had been placed in a polystyrene tray and wrapped in cling-film. There were dozens of them, all looking the same way, which of course prompted a question in my ever curious mind. Where were the right hand sides of the pig's heads? Was there another shelf somewhere with dozens of pig faces looking the other way? I never found out. I consoled myself that at least they all had their eyes closed. Were they open, now that just would have been weird!
 
Even though I'm a meat eater, I was still troubled the first time I bought what I thought was an oven ready chicken in a small local supermarket. It looked like the ones in blighty, again sitting in a polystyrene tray wrapped in plastic. However when I unwrapped it I was in for a surprise. The head was still attached and dropped onto the counter with an unexpected thud! What I was supposed to do with it I don't know to this day. I think I actually closed my eyes when I cut it off with scissors and threw it in the bin. Yuk!
 
Spain is obviously a different country with a very different culture to the Britain I grew up in. The food they eat here and the relationship to food and to animals takes some degree of adjustment. The first house I bought was a country house, and the owner had a shed full of rabbits he bred for the table. I had him remove them before I took possession of the house as I didn't fancy myself having to kill and butcher rabbits. However a short time after I moved in, a neighbour invited me around for Sunday lunch. He introduced my wife and I to our meal, which was a live, white rabbit that was hopping around in his garden shed. You know what's coming next don't you? Yes he killed and skinned the rabbit before our eyes. Within the hour, bits of poor bunny, including his head were on a plate in front of me. I understood being served the head was quite an honour, but one I could have lived without if truth be told!
 
Heads are quite a thing here. One of the restaurants in Cehegin used to serve roasted goat's heads on a Monday night. They were brought out on a tray from the oven and placed on the bar. Each head was sawn in half, and as I recall served face down, so you could see the brain, tongue, sinuses etc. I'm going back a few years, but I think half a head and a few roast potatoes was pretty good value for one euro fifty.
 
My rabbit murdering neighbour invited me out a few weeks later to go snail hunting. Eager to integrate myself into Spanish society I was accepting all such invitations at the time as it seemed the right thing to do. The day came and I went with him and some family members on a walk in the 'campo' along a quiet road where I was assured lots of snails would be found. Now I'd seen bags of snails for sale in the market and they all had ornate spiral shells, which I'd assumed was the hallmark of some special edible species. How wrong I was. All sorts of varieties and sizes of snails were apparently fair game, some looking distinctly like the ones I'd had to put pellets down for in blighty to stop them chewing my Hostas. After a while, we had amassed several buckets full of sundry snails, which my neighbour took to the kitchen of his country house. I was hoping they would be well cooked or at least boiled for long enough to kill any remnants of 'snailness' but alas no. All he did was put them in bowls of vinegar and pop them in the fridge. The next day I was invited around for a snail feast. They were served in some kind of sauce which I had not been privy to the making of, but it tasted quite spicy, as though some cumin and chilli was involved. Much to my surprise they tasted quite good, though I don't think I'd go to the trouble of making them myself. Incidentally, this incident revealed the answer to question that had puzzled me since I first bought my house. The grounds were fenced in, and the fence mounted atop a small wall, two breeze blocks high. Dotted around the property, ceramic tiles were lent up against these walls. It turns out they were snail hotels, deliberately placed to provide a cool, moist, comfortable space for the snails to repair to so they could be easily harvested. I'd inadvertently purchased a snail farm!
 
Probably the most unsavoury thing I've known the Spanish to eat are wild birds. I've not seen this with my own eyes, but someone who does it showed me the equipment he used. I visited the country house of a friend of a friend one Sunday morning for a barbecue. Breakfast barbecues are not uncommon on a Sunday in Murcia when the weather is good which is often. On this occasion we were eating six week old goat (yes I know, animal lovers must be cringing by now, but when in Rome). So we were talking about barbecue and the bird topic came up. The guy went into his shed and brought out a large black net and a device that looked like a camouflaged military radio. It turns out it was a bird-caller. He turned it on and within a minute or two, birds started flocking into the olives trees around us. He explained how he would setup the net between the trees, play the bird sounds, and when enough birds had arrived, he would gather the net entrapping them. Then he would pick them out of the net, and, miming the action, described how he would spike them on a skewer, presumably while still alive, and cook them on the barbecue. 
 
"Which birds" I asked, visibly wincing a little in anticipation of the inevitable answer.
 
"All types" he said. "Whatever is in the net."
 
As you can imagine, I was extremely glad not to be invited back to see that in action.
 
The same chap provided the meat for a birthday party I was invited to a few months later. He worked in sales and drove all over Spain for a living, so contrived to bring back two baby pigs from a trip to Segovia, which those in the know will tell you is the best place to go in Spain if you're into eating piglets. The pigs were placed on olive branches which were laid inside a bread oven. I can't remember the cooking time but I think it was a good few hours, and when the pigs came out of the oven, the meat was succulent and falling off the bone. As is traditional, they sliced the pigs up with dinner plates which were then ceremonially smashed, and everyone was served piglet slices on a paper plate, which seemed somewhat ironic. I must say though it was delicious. 
 
The list of odd things I've seen in bars here goes on and on. Pancreas was something I tried but didn't care for. I was hoping it would taste like liver but no, it tastes, well, like pancreas. One bar surprised me by selling frogs legs as tapas. On the bar in a glass case in lots of steel trays were all the usual suspects. There was Russian salad, eggs stuffed with tuna, anchovies, tigres (stuffed mussel shells), then, unusually, a tray full of frogs legs. The tapas was free with a beer so I had to try them. They tasted a little like chicken. I was surprised to see them in Spain. This was in a transport cafe on an industrial estate, so it is possible they were there to delight visiting French lorry drivers. I pondered for a while as to what happens to the rest of the frog when it loses its legs. Perhaps there were choruses of ribbiting frogs pushing themselves around in wheelchairs somewhere.
 
Possibly the weirdest thing I've seen someone eating was after a bullfight one day. When a bull is killed, the animal is taken out and butchered. The meat, known as lidia is quite prized, as a bull bred for fighting is in pasture for five years to gain the necessary weight for the ring. I've never eaten any myself but it must be along the lines of Wagyu beef. Anyway, I happened to be in a bar near a bullring one day after a bullfight and witnessed a chap chewing a raw bull's testicle! I know it's rude to stare but it was hard not to look!
 
Probably my favourite curious culinary delight is Mondongo. There was a gastronomical society that met once a month in Murcia, mainly patronised by elderly folk who revisited their youth by dining on some of the meals they ate during the Franco period. As a foreigner it was quite an honour to be invited to join the club and I went to many meals over a number of years. We were even featured on regional television, such was the interest in what we were eating. You may know, the Franco years were characterised by extreme hardship, so good meat was expensive and hard to find. Mondongo was an ingenious use of two cheaper more readily available cuts of meat, sheep's stomach and cow's knees! It doesn't immediately sound very appetising, but trust me it was delicious. The dish is rice based and cooked in a large paella pan (I know I know, you don't have to say 'pan' because paella means pan). The tripe, bones and a little stock is added and, as it cooks, something magical happens. The cow's knees have very little meat on them, but the gelatinous fat in the bones melts and gets soaked up by the tripe and the rice. When it is served, the trick is to get a palm full of oregano, then rub your hands together to grind the leaves over the rice, and then the flavour of the herb gets drawn in by the fat. I really couldn't believe how something so simple and potentially unpalatable could taste so good. I don't have much contact with Murcia anymore these days, but if there was one reason to go back it would be to relive the Mondongo experience!
 
 
 
 
 
 
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An aside

 

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