Friday, 9 July 2010

Week 44

With the weather being so lovely, we've been spending a lot of time at the beach. Some people are right at home in the sea: they run up and jump in with all the energy of David Hasselhoff and they emerge, unruffled, like models in Dolce & Gabbana perfume adverts. Sadly, I am not one of these people.

My approach is less carefree, more careful. On the rare occasions I do venture for a paddle, it's a right pantomime. I tentatively walk to the water's edge and dip a foot in to determine the temperature. It's invariably too chilly for my liking. I slowly inch myself in by degrees. Once the water has reached the tops of my legs, I stop for a moment. I pretend I'm admiring the views but in reality, I'm having second thoughts. I then scoop up some water, splash it over my arms and shudder. After 10 minutes of this rigmarole, I decide that I'd rather not go for a swim and I return to my towel sheepishly.

"The water looked a bit dirty, I'd rather not swallow it," I offer Will by way of explanation.

I'm marginally better in a swimming pool; at least there's no chance of getting stung by a jellyfish or colliding with a boat. And there are nice steps to get you down into the water. Last Friday morning we went to one of two outdoor swimming pools which were built on Montjuic for the 1992 Olympics. Piscina Municipal de Montjuic is open to the public from the end of June until early September and it must have the best views of any swimming pool in the world - you can see sights like the Sagrada Familia, Torre Agbar and the sea, while you're doing your lengths. Kylie fans might also be interested to know that this is where the video for her single, Slow, was filmed.  

A jar of tomato marmalade. It tastes like jam, but also like tomatoes

Something we have noticed about the Catalans is that they see absolutely nothing wrong with rooting through a bin. Everyone, from a grizzled curmudgeon to a dainty churchgoer, will stop and have a rummage now and then. This is partly because they are less fastidious, and partly because it's common practice here to dump anything unwanted but usable in the street, where passers-by can make off with it.

In Britain, the dumper of goods could be arrested for fly-tipping and the receiver of goods for stealing, so we use Freecycle, a network of internet groups which help people give stuff away for free. This is probably for the best, given that dumped goods will get rained on more quickly in Blighty, but I think it would be a good idea for councils to install weatherproof containers where usable things could be left for others to collect. It would save time, money and landfill, and it would re-connect us with the noble art of bin-diving.

I like new things as much as the next man, but people do buy an awful lot of needless crap: a new mobile phone every year, a new TV every three years. The UK throws away a third of all of all its food, uneaten. If people rooted through a bin more often, perhaps they'd start being more realistic about what they need, and what they throw away.
I've been trying to spend more time picking up stuff off the street, and my recent trash safaris have included some beautiful white orchids, which Christina thought were lovely until I revealed that I'd found them in a skip – she clings willfully to her wasteful consumerism, and stands by looking embarrassed when I stop to investigate a pile of 'treasure'.

Today, I happened across a real goldmine: several bottles of priceless vintage wine, there for the taking. I got two, but Christina's hoity-toity attitude prevented her from carrying off any more. Even so, we're both looking forward to enjoying these stunning vintages, which are probably worth at least a billion Euro each.

I'll probably be able to sell these and buy a massive house in Kensington and then do it up and sell it to some Russian oligarch and then buy two more even bigger houses in Mayfair and do them up and sell them to the Sheikh of Brunei and then I can buy BUCKINGHAM PALACE and do that up, cos its in a good location and I can put that on the market for twice what I paid for it so I can buy a MASSIVE GREAT BIG CASTLE ON THE MOON

Friday, 25 June 2010

On Wednesday night, we joined thousands of other people on the beach for El Noche de San Juan, the enormous party Catalonia (along with lots of other places) holds to celebrate the summer solstice. Anyone trying to get some shut-eye on El Noche de San Juan would be advised to try another country; not only is it a huge party – much bigger than New Year’s Eve – it is also the night of fireworks.
I absolutely love the fifth of November. Fireworks and bonfires look and smell brilliant, there’s lots of food and drinking, and it’s the night of the year on which we remember Guy Fawkes, the brave and sensible man who tried to blow up all of the country’s politicians. The fireworks displays I’ve seen in London are jaw-dropping displays of pyrotechnical expertise, but for sheer disregard for personal safety, the Catalans have us beaten hands down.
Your typical Catalan plan for the evening seems to be something along the lines of: start with a few beers, then wander down to the beach, carrying a huge bag of fireworks (while smoking, obviously), lighting them and throwing them at other people, all of whom are also carrying huge bags of fireworks. Arrive at the beach, where thousands of people are now randomly letting off fireworks in every direction. Continue drinking and letting off fireworks until midnight, when it’s time to drunkenly attempt jumping over a bonfire, for ‘good luck’. If you survive this and the ensuing four hours of Bacchanalian pyromania, celebrate by going swimming, drunk, at sunrise.
The best thing about is that it’s a family event. Everyone, from Nan to the toddlers, is armed to the teeth with explosives. Four-year-olds could be seen tossing lit fireworks up into the air, or at each other, while their mothers looked proudly on.
It’s a real pity that in the UK, you can’t throw a firework at someone else’s child for fear of being slapped with some sort of punitive lawsuit for frightening them, or causing them stress, or blowing a couple of their fingers off. This means that British children are growing up soft, while their Catalan contemporaries get a head start in the art of offensive fire. If you live in Britain and you care about your country’s future defence, it is your duty to go out right now and throw a lit firework at a small child. It’s the only way they’ll learn. 

Note the use of chiaroscuro in this picture of a small boy setting his dad on fire

After 10 months of living with Will, I'm a little worried that I'm turning into him. Perhaps it's inevitable that when you spend a lot of time with someone you start to take on their traits, much like dogs who resemble their owners.  
Here are some examples of my increasingly Will-like behaviours:

1. Complaining about the noise from TommyGun Sneakers. Initially, I didn't mind. It's cosmopolitan! I told myself good-naturedly. Now, after almost a year of incessant urban beats being piped into my brain from Monday to Saturday, I've realised it's not cosmopolitan, it's a bloody nuisance. But I haven't gone as far as using retaliation tactics. This week, the man downstairs turned up his music to drown out the music from TommyGun's. In turn, Will turned on our music, turned up the bass and placed a speaker on the floor. As I witnessed this spectacle, it afforded me a glimpse into the future. Today it's a speaker on the floor; in 10 years' time, he'll be furiously cutting down our next-door neighbour's tree because it's hanging over our garden fence in Surbiton.

2. Using the tablecloth to wipe food from my hands. I am ashamed to type this because when I first noticed Will doing it, I was livid.   

3. Picking my nose. 

It's just as well we're moving back to the UK in four weeks. I have friends there. Nice, fragrant female friends who will re-introduce me to The ways of Being a Lady. An evening with three excitable and/or pre-menstrual friends, a Sex and the City boxset and a Natasha Bedingfield CD should do the trick.   

I don't pick my nose actually, it's just Christina who does that

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Week 40

I have sad news: it seems that I am now too old to deal with the consequences of a night out and must resign myself to a lifetime of afternoon naps and BBC antique programmes. Where once a hangover was cured by a bacon sandwich and a can of Coke, now it drags on for days where I'm confined to my bed like a Victorian damsel, swooning as Will wafts smelling salts at me. Or fetches me a bucket.

I have just emerged from a three-day, pastis, absinthe and kebab-fuelled hangover. This looks quite rock 'n roll written down - like I'm Lindsay Lohan - but the reality is quite different. I had one pastis, two absinthes and one kebab*, and have been put out of action for 72 hours as a result. 

On Friday night, we visited two of Barcelona's drinking institutions. The first was Bar Pastis on Carrer de Santa Monica. As the name suggests, this is a watering hole dedicated to pastis, the anise-flavoured liqueur that was introduced to France in the 1930s after absinthe was banned (they thought it made people go mad). Bar Pastis opened in the 1940s with the intention of replicating the bars found in the old port of Marseilles and in Paris' Latin Quarter. It's a cosy affair, with walls and ceilings that are crammed with pictures of all things French like Edith Piaf and the Eiffel Tower. 

Next up was Bar Marsella on Carrer de Sant Pau in El Raval. This absinthe bar has been going since 1820 - absinthe was never banned in Spain - where the likes of Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway came to drink and think. Here we got chatting to some British people who were celebrating a 21st birthday party. Or rather, Will got chatting to them. I sat nodding mutely: I couldn't hear a word they were saying because of the noise. Another reason to stay at home with a mug of hot milk.

*Okay, I also had two beers while watching football and red wine with dinner. Sorry mum.  

 The Tower of King Alphabeticus, which Christina knocked over on purpose

Having snapped the neck of my old acoustic guitar in a French campsite, I tried to repair the wounded instrument during our first week here. Unfortunately, the glue I used was too soft. “This is not glue, this is shit,” said the man in the guitar workshop on Carrer del Regomir, which I thought was a little unfair. I might be an idiot, but I wouldn’t try to fix a guitar with a poo. Anyway, when I could afford it I bought myself a cheap classical guitar, and since then I have been trying to learn some pieces by composers from Barcelona.
Modern classical guitars follow a Spanish design: they are all based, broadly speaking, on the designs of a luthier called Antonio de Torres, from Almería. Torres is sometimes called the ‘Stradivarius of the guitar’, despie the fact that Antonio Stradivari did himself make guitars, but you get the idea. Only a handful of Torres guitars remain, but his best work spent most of its life in Barcelona. In 1869, a teenage boy named Francisco Tárrega travelled the 600 miles from Barcelona to Seville to buy a guitar from Torres, who produced a modestly-priced model for him to try. When Francisco began to play, however, Torres was so impressed that he gave the 17-year-old guitarist his own instrument, a masterpiece which he made for himself a few years earlier and which, if you could really calculate such a thing, was probably the most valuable guitar in the world. Francisco Tárrega did not disappoint his benefactor, and became one of the most celebrated and influential Spanish composers.
In fact, though you may never have heard of Francisco Tárrega, I can guarantee you have heard a little bit of his work. In 1993, two executives from the mobile phone company Nokia were going through famous pieces of classical music to chop up into ringtones, and they heard a phrase in Tárrega’s solo guitar piece Gran Vals that suited their purpose. Bars 13-16 of this beautiful little waltz, composed in 1902, became the Nokia Tune: “duh-duh-doo-dah, duh-duh-doo-dah, duh-duh-doo-dah-DEEE!”
If Franciso Tárrega was alive today and earned a cent each time his phrase was played, he would make 200 Euros a second, or 18 million a day. Although, of course, he wouldn’t, because Nokia have trademarked the hell out of that thing and any long-dead composer who tries to get shirty with them is going to find himself in a world of legal pain.

Bernard Crabbins, hand explorer

Weeks 38-39

We apologise, again, for not updating the blog. We have dropped the ball. Then we have picked the ball up and then dropped it again, repeatedly, until the ball became bruised and traumatised. The ball is now in care, where it will stay until it stops taking drugs and acting all mental.

Not only have we not EDIT updated our blog not often enough, but there have been compliiants that our writing is become sloppy, too. What started as a noble endaevour has been repeatedly placed on the EDIT backburner because of work and stuff TINA CAN YOU SORT THIS BIT OUT and stuff.

Normal service will be resumed probably

Friday, 4 June 2010

Week 37

Those of you who read the blog often will know that there’s a trainer shop downstairs from us that plays hip-hop, reggae and R&B, loudly, from 11am until 9pm. Here’s one they’ve been playing recently. I can write the lyrics out in full, because the same words are repeated all the way through:

Something about you girl that turn me on
Oh, something about you girl that turn me on
Yeah yeah yeah yeah, turn me on
You turn me o-o-o-o-n, o-o-o-o-n

I'd say they play this five or six times a day on average. The whole song is sung through an auto-tune (the computerised voice effect that you hear on most modern R&B). Now, I won’t deny that these lyrics have a certain subtle poetry, but what this bloke is essentially singing is:

I’ve got an erection
I find you attractive, so I’ve got an erection
Yeah yeah yeah, I don’t fully understand the process involved
But I’ve definitely got an erection

Initially, I chalked this up as another victory for the geniuses who make modern R&B. Any day now, I thought, they are going to discover their own bottoms, and then they’ll have another bodily function to sing about. But then I realised that this song is actually very clever. More than any other, it distills the central message of all popular music, which is: let’s have sex.

Take any pop song from the last fifty years, and think about what it means. Are You Lonesome Tonight – if so, I have some suggestions; I Wanna Hold Your Hand – as a prelude to taking off your clothes; Ain’t No Sunshine – when she’s gone, which makes me sad on account of there not being any sex involved; Don’t Stand So Close To Me – or I’ll try to have sex with you; Do They Know It’s Christmas – probably not as they’re mostly Muslims but hey, I gave to charity… reward me with sex?

The list is endless. In the light of what I have learned from Tommy Guns Sneakers, even Bob the Builder’s Can We Fix It?  becomes a saucy ballad intended to lull Wendy the Builder into a receptive state. By isolating the central theme of all pop music so effectively, Somethin About You Girl That Turn Me On holds up a devastating critical mirror to everything on the radio. What is the point of all this bland, genital-gazing dross, it asks? What kind of species would turn its back on complex aesthetic systems like European and Indian classical music, both of which took centuries to produce, to listen to the dull uh-uh-uh of a copulating moron?

On the other hand, maybe it's always been this way. Was Mozart's Oboe Concerto in C Major composed purely to lull a buxom fräulein into loosening her bodice? I must go down to Tommy Guns Sneakers at once, and discuss it with them. 

 At the end of the 18th century, French scientists calculated the distance from the castle on top of Montjuic to Dunkirk, as part of an effort to establish the distance between the North pole and the equator (the metre would then be calculated as one ten-millionth of this distance). This line, known as the Paris Meridian, was a contender for the status of Prime Meridian – a title which eventually went to the Greenwich Meridian, presumably once it was realised that if the French had their way, the basis for all time standards around the world would be not Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) but Paris Mean Time (PMT).

 (is currently involved in some sort of ludicrous dance craze, and could not be reached for comment)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Weeks 33-35 (normal service to resume with another post tomorrow!)

(written Week 34)
Last Sunday, I said goodbye to Will for a few days when he drove to Marseilles for a work assignment. As much as I like my own company, I knew I was ready for his return when I actually enjoyed a 20-minute phone conversation with an employee from a mobile phone company.

Mobile phone lady: How are you today, Christina?
Me: Fine thanks. How are you?
Mobile phone lady: Good, thank you. How's your day going?
Me: Er ... yes, very well thanks. 

Will was due back on Thursday night but alas, I received a text from him that evening saying that he couldn't withdraw any money from his bank, meaning he was unable to pay for petrol and road tolls. Oh dear. After various frantic phone calls and money transfers which proved fruitless, it became clear that Will would be spending the night in his car.

The following day, I embarked on a mercy mission to Marseilles to secure his safe return with my trusty friend, Visa. This involved a 9-hour bus journey. It was all a bit of a rush and I just about had time to buy myself a bottle of water and a Twix before boarding.

Right, I said to myself as I settled into my seat. This journey is going to last nine hours and you only have a Twix to keep you going. Consume with caution!

I snaffled the entire thing before we had left Barcelona.

With the Twix taken care of, I spent the rest of the journey trying and failing to read my book, listening to the driver's choice of music - Haddaway, The Corrs, Spanish-sounding stuff - and looking at vineyards and the cities of Perpignan and Montpellier.

We finally rolled into Marseilles at 10pm on Friday night where I was greeted by a tired and hungry Will. I treated us to a McDonalds in the bus station, then we got in the car and drove straight back to Barcelona again. So just to clarify, I travelled 1000km in 18 hours to rescue my boyfriend from another night of sleeping in his car. I intend to use this as my Get Out of Jail Free card for some time to come.

The cleaning ladies make their presence known at a rally for workers' rights

(written yesterday)
        Imagine the look on a plumber’s face if he finished a job for you and you said “right, I’m happy with that, so send me your invoice and I’ll look into paying you around 45 days after I receive it. Unless I’m busy, or I make up some rule that says you have to wait longer.” You would, I think, end up with no water, and quite possibly a spanner where it wasn’t welcome.
                This, however, is exactly how the Finance People from publishing companies talk to freelancers: despite working for large organisations with high turnover, they’ll often hold off paying until they feel like it. I landed in Marseille the other week with three different companies owing me money, but none of them had paid on time. My meagre cash flow had dried up, and I had no money to buy petrol for the drive back to Barcelona. I also have no credit card. I ended up sleeping in my car twice and waiting under a flyover for 30 hours until Christina arrived with a working bank-card. She had to take the bus, a nine-hour journey.
               I know of one freelancer who tearfully phoned a company for whom she’d done a month’s work, begging to be paid (I believe she had invoiced some 6 weeks earlier) so that she could make her mortgage payment. I also happen to know that the finance director of that particular company had a rule that freelancers should not be paid if it meant the company going into the red at the end of the month, thereby saving the company the interest they’d have to pay if they went overdrawn. He probably earned five times what she did, and he put her home at risk to save a few quid. This is something a freelancer learns: finance people aren’t there to make sure you’re paid – they make sure you aren’t paid, or at least not until it’s convenient for them.
         What do finance people even do? I can see the need for an accountant, but what is the point of someone who takes six weeks to press a key to make a BACS payment? Wouldn’t a pigeon be more effective?
         Anyway, that’s why we haven’t posted in ages – I’ve gone insane with rage. I spent the last three weeks jumping up and down on the spot, my face a mask of beetroot-red apoplexy, screaming obscenities and punching myself in the nuts. It helps me to relax.

EDIT: I should just point out that it's only finance people I have a beef with. Editors and features editors are nice, hard-working people who are never any bother, and if it was up to the people who actually create the magazines, I'm sure they'd pay me bang on time. Please continue to commission me. Thanks. I love you.
Molasses and sugar in massive quantities. I want to get in there and muck about.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Week 32

 A few years ago I lived on a small alley off Shepherd’s Bush Road. There was a park nearby, which enjoyed a enviable location between a large police station and an extremely cheap off-license. This park was a must-visit destination for Gentlemen of Leisure who, having checked out of their accommodation at the police station, would head straight for Best Wine and then the park, the nearest spot where one could hold the sort of impromptu liquid-based picnic that these chaps seem to enjoy so much. While the park was obviously the place to be for al fresco drinking and goading one’s aggressive dog, it was lamentably under-equipped where bathroom facilities were concerned. Luckily our front door, situated as it was on a nearby alley with plenty of cover, provided a ready solution to their straining bladders. My flatmate and I used to fantasise (usually after picking up some urine-stained post) about running the leads from a car battery through the letterbox, electrifying any stream that touched the door, but we never went through with it; neither of us wanted to have to step over a dead tramp first thing in the morning.
    Here in Barcelona, we also live on a small alley, and again we are regularly visited by people who mistake our front door for a servicio. Everywhere in the winding streets of the gotico you’ll see the tell-tale streams, usually emitting from some shaded corner. Again, it’s an area that invites such activity: there are lots of nice bars, and plenty of cover for someone who is just at the right level – drunk enough to hose down a wall, but not so drunk that they’re not shy about someone seeing their little fireman.
          I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never done it myself and luckily we’re on the second floor, so it only bothers us when we’re going in and out of the building. However, the stench in the little porch where the post-boxes are was getting a bit much last week, so I went down to the bottom of the stairwell and began sweeping and mopping. A full two hours later, I had swept and mopped my way right up to our door, and the whole stairwell was clean as a whistle.
    Then, just ten minutes after I’d finished, Christina beckoned me to the front door. The old lady from across the hall was re-mopping the stairs! She cannot have been unhappy with the quality of my work – you could have eaten your dinner off those steps – so I can only assume that my neighbour was trying to mop up some of the credit for my labour. She thought she’d let some of the others in the building see her mopping, and they’d assume it was her that had done the lot! Well, I’m not having it. I want you all to know: it was me who did the stairs, not that bucket-come-lately from Flat 2.

 A modernist vase in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

You know those nights out where you spend a bit too much money and although it feels like someone is standing on your head for the entire following day, it was cash well spent? Well, Tuesday was not one of those nights. We did, however, manage to spend 100 Euros without leaving the building.    

It was 11.30pm and we'd decided to head out to a bar with my sister who was visiting. We closed the door to the flat and instantly realised that one set of keys was in the lock on the other side meaning that we couldn't get back in with the keys we did have. Thus ensued the following:

1. Will set about trying to lever the door off with a makeshift crowbar (a broken stair railing)/throwing himself at the door in a bid to break it down/trying to pick out the pesky key with a hairpin;

2. me wondering whether I was to spend another night in the youth hostel around the corner (see week 20) and angrily calculating how much this latest fiasco was likely to cost;

3. my sister feeling quite awkward.

After an hour we conceded that a locksmith would have to be called. Will did very well with his Spanish over the phone and a cerrajero was with us within half an hour. He prised the door open with a screwdriver and we parted with 100 Euros.

By this time it was almost 2am. We had a cup of tea and went to bed. But hey, at least we didn't have hangovers the next morning. We might have spent a lot of money, but we definitely had no hangovers and no fun. Yeah!   

I don't know what to make of this   


Friday, 30 April 2010

Week 31

I have always had a pretty low opinion of coach drivers. They are the losers of the HGV fraternity: not man enough to drive a lorry, not free-spirited enough to take to the open road as a trucker. But now, they have gone too far.

As we approached the car park, it was immediately clear that we would not be spending Sunday at the beach. Where once the Astra had stood alone, surveying the sea like a green sage, row upon row of coaches waited, their fat, sweaty pilots staring dumbly into the middle distance. The car was gone – but, thankfully, not far. It had been towed, along with all the other cars in the car park, to a scrap of waste ground on the other side of the road. Like every other car that had been relocated to make way for the vehicles of men who lack the social skills to drive a bus, it had been broken into.

Calm yourselves – calm. I know you want to find a coach driver, to physically slap him, to shout at his incomprehending face “why couldn’t you have parked your big stupid fridge of a vehicle over there, you fat berk? What was the point of moving everyone else's cars to an unlit car park, just so you could all park together?”, but it would be the futile. You would be Ahab, the tragic hero lambasting the great white whale, for nothing. No – we must rebuild.

Happily, this should be fairly straightforward. For one thing, the thieves broke the smallest pane of glass in the car, the quarter glass. Having found a more suitable parking spot, I spent Monday afternoon fashioning a new window for the Astra, from a piece of wood. This morning, I took delivery of a second-hand replacement pane that I ordered from Rotherham, which is about as close as I plan to get to ever going to Rotherham, so I have been spared the terrifying expense of visiting a mechanic as a foreigner.

Best of all, the thieves only escaped with one thing – my sat-nav. This device has been known to lead me up to sixty miles in the wrong direction, and was once unable to find the city of Leeds. They won’t get far.

"Ooh, you have a wooden window? I've been saving up for one of those for my Porsche."

Following on from Will's rant last week against Barcelona's alternative types, we found ourselves in a swarm of them on Saturday afternoon when we happened upon La Fira de la Tierra (the Earth Fair) in Barcelona's Parc de la Ciutadella.

There was a pop-up north African cafe where we enjoyed some mint tea in the sunshine, there were drums being beaten with a passion, digeridoos being played, colourful trousers billowing in the breeze, stalls selling organic beer and wheat-free cupcakes, a meditation tent - you get the idea. We passed an area where people were lying on the ground, being massaged by barefooted masseurs.

"Ooh, that looks really nice," I said, contemplating getting in the queue. 

"It looks bloody disgusting," Will spat. "I can't think of anything worse than being pummelled by some man's hairy foot." 

We pressed on. I was enjoying the laidback, happy, hippy atmosphere until we came to a stall promoting an all-natural, eco-friendly birthing method. At least, I think that's what it was. I can't be sure because I was too horrified by the promotional photographs, depicting a woman in the throes of having a baby, with everything on show, the husband weeping with joy (fear?) in the background. Why, oh why, would you let anyone take pictures of you in this state, let alone allow them to be displayed at a public festival? Far from making me think "okay, I'll pop one out without the help of drugs" this has only served to put me off having children indefinitely. So I'm sorry mum, but there'll be no grandchildren from me. 

P.S. You may have noticed we're running a General Election to see who'll be Prime Minister of our flat. I was enjoying a comfortable lead earlier this week, with five votes to Will's three. Someone has since changed their vote from me to Will. I will find out who you are. It shouldn't be too difficult considering a total of eight people have voted and most of them are probably members of my family.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Week 30

This week I had my first taste of pintxos, snacks on cocktail sticks which originate from the Basque region of northern Spain ('pintxo' means 'spike' in Euskara, the language of the Basque people). They usually come in the form of slices of bread topped with chorizo, ham or cheese, and the one I had was like an exotic sausage roll, if you can imagine such a thing. Pintxos are usually left on platters at the bar, you ask for a plate and then help yourself - a bit like a wedding buffet except you don't have to dance to Come on Eileen after stuffing yourself silly with chicken drumsticks.

The buffet concept is ideal for someone like me, someone who can't leave food alone if it's there. Will has started referring to me as a 'snaffler' because sharing a packet of Doritos turns into an extreme eating contest to see who can hoover up the most orangey crisps. But in my defence, I come from a big family. As fun as dinner times are when there's seven people around the table, there's always the underlying fear that if you take your eye off the potato for just a second, someone else will have it. Usually Dad. So eating takes on a competitive element and if you can leave the table having eaten everything on your plate - and ideally off someone else's - you're a winner.

This attitude is something that Will and I have always bonded over. Neither of us really likes sharing food which is handy when you're living in a country renowned for sociable dining. Whenever I've been for tapas here or at home, I pretend to enjoy the laid-back free-for-all but in reality, I'm compiling a mental spreadsheet of who's had what and if I don't get my fair share of patatas bravas then dinner is, quite frankly, ruined.

The grand hall of the Museu Nacional de Arte Catalan

I love Barcelona’s large population of alternative types. I enjoy the unusual haircuts, massive trousers and multiple piercings of this distinctive tribe. But while non-conformism is generally a positive thing, you can go too far, and that point comes when you start eating rice cakes.

Rice cakes, for those of you who don’t know, are circles of expanded polystyrene foam which have been impregnated with farts. When you crack one in half, the farts escape, and everyone in your home or office looks about and says “eurr, have you let one go? Who’s done a fart? Who’s – ohh, false alarm. It's Jenny, she’s having a rice cake.”

I observed a horrendous example in a bar the other night, while idly watching a couple over Christina’s shoulder. The man, if you could call him that, was a particularly strong example of someone who has gone too alternative. Not content with having bought some alternative-looking shoes, he had them up on the chair, in that self-conscious way that people lounge when they want to let everyone know that they’re alternative lounging types, and he was munching on some rice cakes he’d brought from home, presumably because the bar didn’t serve anything alternative enough. Even in a smoky Spanish bar, the farty whiff of rice cake was all too detectable. The two of them were just sitting around, talking – not drinking, like proper people – while their beers sat, half-empty and ignored, on the table. In half an hour, I never saw either of them take so much as a sip. For them, the bar was nothing more than a public place in which to consume rice cakes. 

Worse was to come. When the lady went off to the loo, the bloke started industriously picking his nose, rolling the bogeys up and dropping them on the sofa and the floor. Now, I’m not above a pick, we all do it. But on a public chair? Why don’t you just smear one on my arm, you disgusting beast?
          Then came the real nightmare: when his missus returned, the hand – the minging bogey hand – returned to the bag of rice cakes. He even offered her one – mmm! a snotty fart-cake! Yes please! Shaking with disgust, I could not help but watch as she munched away on her boyfriend’s nasal detritus. “We’re leaving,” I announced to Christina, the hot tears stinging my eyes as I choked back a throatful of vomit.

We returned to the same bar last night, but my apprehension was dispelled when I discovered that the Alternatives had moved on. They were replaced by a brown labrador in a neckerchief, with whom I spent a good part of the evening.

A bag of rice cakes can cost over a pound, but contains barely a few pennies' worth of rice. If you eat rice cakes, your breath will smell of farts.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Week 29

This week, a warning: cyber criminals are everywhere. Give them a chance, and they’ll gain access to your computer and invade your privacy. I found out the hard way when, this week, it happened to me.
            When you think of a cyber criminal you probably imagine a lone male, a geek turned to the dark side, surrounded by screens in a darkened room. You never suspect the enemy could be nearby, perhaps even in your own home.
           The warning signs were there all along. Every now and then, my ‘recent items’ would contain files I couldn’t remember opening. I’d leave my computer unattended for a while, and return to find subtle changes – things arranged differently, windows open or closed. In real life, I can sometimes leave a few clothes lying around, but in the digital realm I keep everything carefully arranged, and I can tell when someone’s been rooting around in there.
              Then, this week, the miscreant was unmasked. Returning from a trip to the bakery, I saw Christina exiting the spare room where I work. Her normal confident stride was replaced by the sort of guilty scuffle that a naughty spaniel adopts when it has been interrupted helping itself to some unattended leftovers. Glancing through the door, I noticed that my screen was on, indicating that it had been used within the last two minutes, and that my webmail was open.
“I haven’t been reading your email,” blurted Christina, “I haven’t, and anyway, if I had, then that’s completely normal and everyone does it. But I wasn’t.”

Clearly, any attempt at interrogation would have been pointless – I was dealing with a master criminal.

“I haven’t done it before,” she protested. “You’re not going to tell anyone, are you? Please don’t tell anyone! You can’t prove anything!”
“No,” I sighed, “I can’t prove a thing. Your secret’s safe with me.”

Castellers – builders of human towers known as castells – on the Portal de l'Angel this morning
Celebrity spot of the week: Dev from Coronation Street on the Barcelona Metro! Don't worry, you haven't accidentally stumbled across Heat magazine; this is, indeed, Will y Christina Barcelona.

For those of you wondering who on earth I'm talking about, Dev is a character in a popular British TV programme who runs a corner shop and who looks like he's deposited an entire tub of hair gel onto his head.

Yet for some reason, I find him strangely attractive. In fact, Dev is just one in a long line of unlikely celebrity crushes I've had over the years. There's been David Brent, the excruciating, tie-fiddling boss in The Office, and smug football pundit Alan Handsome. I mean, Hansen.

One celebrity it is perfectly acceptable to fancy is Dominic West from The Wire, a show which Will and I have become unhealthily addicted to. While Will appreciates The Wire for the script-writing, the drama and the other brilliant characters, I'm in it for lusting after Jimmy McNulty, West's flawed but loveable cop.

At first, I didn't have a bloody clue what was going on. This wasn't helped by the fact that I'd fall asleep as soon as the opening credits had ended. I have mentioned before how I'm not really suited to late nights and TV has a soporific effect on me, anyway. We'd usually start watching an episode at midnight, so it was game over for me after the first 10 minutes. It also takes a while to get to grips with the dialogue but once you understand what a 're-up stash'* and a 'shit bird'** are, you're fine.

We have finished watching the first two seasons and this weekend my sister, Catherine, was supposed to be visiting and bringing us season three. However, that's been scuppered by the volcanic ash fiasco. Never mind the British couples who stare forlornly from the pages of the Daily Mail because they were supposed to be tying the knot in Barbados, I want my Dominic West fix!

* According to the Urban Dictionary, this is when drug dealers are running low and they replenish their supply.
** An annoying person.   

The people on the castell get smaller and lighter as they go up, with the very top person (known as the 'exaneta') being small child – in this case a girl of about five or six years old. The castell is a success when the exaneta holds up a hand with the fingers spread, and returns safely to the ground

Friday, 9 April 2010

Week 28

"Camping can be a real pleasure if you bring all the right stuff," Will told me a couple of weeks ago during a camping trip in which we brought a camping stove that had run out of gas (my fault, apparently) and a punctured inflatable mattress that was too big for our tent. The Baden-Powells - founders of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements - would have been disgusted.  

Our destination was Siurana which is about a three-hour drive south-west of Barcelona. Getting to the village and campsite involves driving up steep, twisting roads and you're rewarded at the top with stunning views of green valleys and sheer cliffs. The area is very popular with rock climbers - in fact, Will and I were the only people at the campsite who weren't wearing technical clothing (actually, my leopard-print top could well be moisture-wicking but I can't be sure).

Everything was going quite smoothly until it was time to cook dinner on the first evening. Will lit the stove and it sneezed a trickle of gas. It had run out. Will threw the lighter to the ground in a rage and we had to abandon sausage and lentils for dinner at the campsite cafe.

Bedtime brought more kerfuffle. To compensate for its inevitable deflation during the night, we over-pumped the punctured mattress. This meant that it took up most of the tent and I felt as claustrophobic as I would on a packed underground train. I needn't have worried. By morning, we were lying on flaccid plastic, our bones chilled by the cold, hard ground. Next, it was time to trudge from tent to the communal bathrooms. This is another thing that troubles me about camping: people - strangers - can see you first thing in the morning. It's bad enough that Will has to witness my morning mouth crust and unkempt hair but I hate that other campers can see this, too.    

But enough of my whingeing: Siurana is a beautiful, idyllic place, it's great if you like walking and the local wines and olive oil are highly recommended. Just make sure you bring the right camping equipment for added enjoyment.     

This is where you have to sit when you forget the camping gas

This week has been Cinema Week. Christina and I went to see Shutter Island on Monday, which I would recommend, although it's not as good as the other, amazing, Scorcese/DiCaprio film, The Departed. The film's confusing psycho-drama was added to by the Cinema Verdi's popcorn, which contains an hallucinogenic quantity of salt, and the fact that we turned up after it had started  – the films at the Verdi start at the time on the poster, not after 45 minutes of adverts, so we missed a couple of minutes. What happened in those minutes? Crucial plot developments? Or just a long shot from a helicopter flying over the sea? No idea.

On Tuesday, I went to a film club in a bar in El Raval. Here I met a bloke who was from Barcelona, but had moved to Swindon for a while a few years ago. Why anyone would move to Swindon from anywhere, let alone Barcelona, is beyond imagining, but he told me he moved because he'd been offered a sweet job in the events centre of a big hotel. In Swindon.
          "It was crazy," he told me, "just absolutely crazy." I bet it was.

The film on Tuesday was Mediterraneo, which is a film of the novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but released two years before the book was published... about the same time it was being written, in fact. Still, it was funny and enjoyable, unlike Harry Brown, which Christina and I watched last night.
    Bleak is hardly the word for Harry Brown, a film in which sweet old men are murdered by drug-peddling rapist hoodies (and vice versa) on a massive council estate. It may have been well acted and beautifully shot, but I couldn't tell, because I was so depressed I could barely see. Films like that should come with a warning label, and a complimentary copy of Kung Foo Panda to watch afterwards.

Shutter Island: Good film, followed by salt-induced renal failure and a discussion about what the hell was going on. 4/5.
Mediterraneo: Decent Italian pacifist comedy, confusing thoughts of Swindon throughout. 2/5. 
Harry Brown: So depressing I cried myself into a dehydrated husk, like a big, sad pork scratching. 0/5.
Kung Foo Panda: Superb. 5/5.

A train of caterpillars walking nose-to-tail

Friday, 26 March 2010

I always knew my mortal enemy was out there, waiting for the moment to emerge as my nemesis. And now I have met him: he works in the internet/photocopying place on Carrer dels Canvis Vells.  

Like any city where there are lots of tourists, Barcelona has a lot of rip-off merchants. Go into the Carrefour supermarket on La Rambla and you’re likely to see a bloke carrying as many frozen pizzas as he can carry: dine in a restaurant on the same street, and you can eat one of those pizzas for €12 or more.

The man in the internet shop is a thieving scoundrel of a different order, a black-hearted scumbag of pure evil. His racket involves writing his prices on a tiny sign at knee level, at the back of the shop where you can’t see it, then being on the phone when you try to talk to him.
Oh, he’ll cheerfully print your document, but then, like Satan, he’ll ask his terrible price: THIRTY-FIVE CENTS A PAGE. Is it printed on sheets of platinum, you may ask, or the canvases of Renaissance paintings? Is the ink distilled from the venom of some rare desert spider? “Printed already,” he said, unable or unwilling to engage me in Spanish, “good paper. Printed. You pay, eight forty.”

Unlike the poor diners of La Rambla, I was not content to munch upon my supermarket pizza. I refused to pay more than twenty-five cents a sheet (and even that, I informed him, was daylight robbery). The miscreant’s reaction was to issue a threat: “Okay. You will not pay it now,” he snarled, “but you will pay for it. Later in life, you will pay.”

And so it begins. The carefree days of my youth are behind me, and my life is now a mortal battle between me and the man from the photocopying shop. Each time I walk down a dark alley, I will sniff the air warily for the whiff of copying toner, and my nights will be sleepless for the imagined rustle of Post-its. I will not dare to enter a branch of Rymans unarmed. How long before I am wounded in a stapling ‘accident’, before I lose a thumb to a dangerous biro? If anything should happen to me, at least my readers will know: it was him. It was the bloke in RJA & Sons Telecom.

 Leave anything lying around in Barcelona, someone'll paint something on it

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't read Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and you don't want to know what happens, DO NOT read this blog entry. 

One of the nice things about living in Spain is reading books that are set here, as it's exciting when you recognise the streets and the landmarks described; it makes the book feel more personal somehow. Before coming to Barcelona, my friend, Fiona, lent me The Shadow of the Wind, an epic page-turner set in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War. Will and I drove into the city on 26 September last year, and while he sweated over the terrifying traffic, I was gazing up at Mount Tibidabo which I instantly recognised from Zafon's descriptions.

A couple of months into our stay here, Will had started reading the novel and one evening, we decided to walk over to the church on Carrer de Santa Ana which the book's protagonist, Daniel Sempere, lives next to.

"Oh, that's the streetlight where Daniel sees the man with the burnt face," Will observed as we headed back towards Portal de l'Angel.

"Yes, Julian Carax!", I blurted.

Oops. Will hadn't got to the bit of the story where the man's identity had been revealed, so I'd ruined the entire novel for him which he won't let me forget in a hurry. Will is now reading another book I've already read: The Woman in White (just to clarify, it's set in England not in Spain), so I'm currently living in fear that I'll reveal all whether it be in my sleep or after a vodka drinking binge.

So yes, it's lovely reading books about Spain but only if you don't have a loose-lipped girlfriend who tells you what happens at the end.

Caterpillar plant, Parc del Garraf

Friday, 19 March 2010

Week 25

A significant feature in my daily routine here in Barcelona is the Mercat St Josep, or La Boqueria. I know we’ve mentioned this market a few times before, but it’s where we get most of our food, and when you move abroad it’s important to go on about how wonderful it is buying fresh ingredients from a market stall, and how sorry you feel for all the idiots trudging around supermarkets back home, so that you can forget about how you haven’t got any money or friends or central heating and there isn’t a proper pub within a thousand miles.
        La Boqueria is also a big tourist destination, and while most people want a picture of the great stacks of fruit and veg or the weird and wonderful creatures on sale at the fish stalls, the offal stalls are also a draw. Here, there’s a wide variety of animals’ bits on sale: hearts, lungs, kidneys, heads, cakes of pressed blood and whole livers, surprisingly massive, hanging from shiny hooks and drawing horrified gasps from some (typically American and British) onlookers.
    It’s a classic case of ‘one man’s meat’ – there are things are eaten by these very people that would turn the stomach of a Spanish butcher. Chicken nuggets, for example, which are made from the eyes, brains, reproductive organs, skin, feathers and faeces of chickens, beefed up with maltodextrin and water (and beef extract, for flavour). By the time the mashed skin and faeces have been salted and fried, they taste okay – like something that has been salted and fried. They are even shaped to look like chicken wings or drumsticks, giving you a strange, rubbery, boneless imitation of what was once normal human food, at a fraction of the cost (to the manufacturer, that is: if you can get people to pay you to eat turds, you’re hardly going to pass the saving on to your customers). But if you find meat and offal to be disgusting, what else are you going to do? You can either inure yourself to the icky meat, or you can be a vegetarian, or you can eat chicken nuggets – which, as I may have mentioned, are made out of shit.
    On the other hand, it could be that the Spanish butchers are a little too relaxed about plunging their gloveless hands into piles of carnage: normally when paying at the carniceria, I get my change handed back with an added smearing of meaty goodness. If I’ve been buying mince, any bank note the butcher hands me will have a few little chunks stuck to it. I then have to try to remember which hand is covered with meat-germs, and try not to let it enter a pocket (or, worse still, a nostril) until I get home. Usually I forget, and end up affectionately stroking Christina’s hair while thinking oops, that’s the beefy hand, but it still beats going to Tesco.

Montgat, a town 15km up the coast from Barcelona, where quite a number of cats live on the beach in some sort of cat hippy community

I have always harboured notions of being an air hostess. I like the idea of being perfectly made-up, smiling a lot and offering beverages and perfumes to holiday-makers. The only thing holding me back is that I'm absolutely petrified of flying. As I write this, I'm 40,000 feet in the air and my pen keeps slipping out of my sweaty hand.

I'd never set foot on a plane until I was 18 and until that point, I thought flying was a very glamorous mode of transport. These suspicions were only confirmed many years ago when one of my siblings - who had gone with dad to collect mum from Stansted - reported seeing Pat Butcher at the airport. Pat Butcher! Off Eastenders! Off the telly! A place of glamour, indeed.

But it seems the more I fly, the more terrified I become. As I board the plane, I sniff the air for signs of burning engines and I try to get a good look at the pilot and co-pilot. Are they drunk? Have they had enough sleep? Do they look capable of getting us to our destination safely? As the plane taxis towards the runway for take-off, my stomach lurches. Is it too late to get off the plane now? Yes, it's probably too late. Here I must sit for two hours with my entire body tensed like a Christmas cracker waiting to be pulled. Can't we just stay on the ground? The plane has wheels, we can just drive there. Why has no one thought of this before? I'm not sure what we'll do when we get to the English Channel, but we'll sort something out. Have the cabin crew closed the doors properly? What if they haven't closed them properly and we all fall out of the sky? Oh God!

It's because of this reasoning that Will drove us to Barcelona. We pretend that it's because we wanted the adventure of driving through France, but we both know the real reason: flying reduces both of us to a pale-faced, jibbering mess.

Anyway, I have to stop writing now. The plane has jolted slightly and we're probably all doomed. I'd rather be anywhere other than here right now. Even if Pat Butcher was sitting next to me.   

Friday, 12 March 2010

Week 24

Some pleasures in life are best enjoyed alone: listening to a Richard Marx album, for example. Similarly, I've developed a Dunkin' Donut addiction which I've been hiding from Will. From Monday to Thursday evenings, I babysit four Spanish children and on my way there, I often steal into the Las Ramblas branch of Dunkin', select their most fattening, chocolatey offering, squirrel it into Liceu Metro station, where I sit at the platform, often letting a train go by so I can snaffle away in peace.

I've been furtive about this because Will and I are trying to be healthy since we've become one of those couples who've moved in together and developed portly eating habits such as eating a whole wedge of cheese after dinner. I also realise I should probably be buying dried apricots and pulses from the market instead of giving money to fast food giants like Dunkin' and McDonalds. 

Aah, McDonalds. On New Year's Day, I had a raging hangover and nothing else would do but a Bic Mac with all the trimmings. I found myself alone in the flat as Will and our guests had gone for a walk. It was the perfect opportunity to sneak down to Portal D'Angel's branch and bring my meal back to the flat for an undisturbed meat-fest. I had just bitten into the first delicious chip when the doorbell went. I sighed, put down my chip and answered the door. To three vegetarians. Had they been sent by the Locally-Produced-Organic-Additive-Free-Foods-Watchdog to lecture me on the evils of Ronald McDonalds' stinking beef empire? Thankfully no, it was just my friends who were staying in hotel down the road. That said, there are many ways to enjoy a Bic Mac meal but under the watchful gaze of three veggies is not one of them.

Still, at almost 7 Euro for a Big Mac meal over here, it's not exactly cheap dining. You're better off going for one of Barcelona's menus del dia (menus of the day); they're a real bargain and you can get a decent, three-course lunch with a drink, sometimes for as little as 7.50 Euro. I think I'll keep my doughnut habit though, you've got to have some vices.

A pocket for poo-bags gives this coat an extra touch of chic

We returned, a couple of weeks ago, from a day out in the Catalan countryside to find that the only free parking space remaining in Barcelona had turned from white (the colour of free parking) to green (the colour of envy, and parking fines). An hour later, we pulled into a desolate-looking patch of ground overlooking Mar Bella beach, to the north of the city centre.
“Is this fine? I don’t know if this is fine.”

“It should be alright. None of these other people have parking tickets.”

"Maybe they live here. Is that rusty lamp-post going to fall onto the car? It's probably fine."

And there it has stayed. I feel a strong sense of guilt about my car, parked some 4 miles from our flat. This is the workhorse that carried Christina and I around France on our way here, moved us into our flat, and has taken us on a number of nice trips since then. It has put up with Christina’s use of the side door pocket as a rubbish bin, her refusal to admit that the sat-nav is better with a map than she is, and her incessant complaining and messing about with the radio. Every time Christina, who cannot drive, has said “Will, those traffic lights are red, you’d better stop”, the car has held its tongue, and every time she has waited until we are just a fraction of a second past the turn-off before saying “that one!”, it has patiently waited for the next turn-off before turning around. The car is a trooper.

In fact, I was just thinking about how reliable the Vauxhall Astra is the other day, as I was jogging along the beach, on my way to check up on it and run the engine for a bit. Which is probably why the bastard wouldn’t start. Still, at least it’s got a sea view.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Week 23

Firstly, an apology to anyone who was taken the time to look at our blog recently and been disappointed: we’ve dropped the ball lately. I promise to resume normal service as of this Friday.

Regular readers will be pleased to hear that I am not a racist any more. I have been listening to a lot of Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis, and Hitler absolutely wouldn’t have liked them, so I’m back in the multicultural game. As an immigrant myself, I was never going to be all that successful with the politics of the far right.

That having been said, I wonder what Hitler would have made of my recent purchase of a copy of the Sunday Express. Much like the Führer, both the mid-market papers in the UK (that’s the Daily Express and the Daily Mail) are strongly critical of immigration, regularly portraying migrants from Eastern Europe as a threat to the British way of life. Interestingly, however, these two papers are also the only British papers printed in Spain, as they have a market in the large British communities on the Mediterranean coast. Of course, Brits over here are ‘ex-patriots’, not ‘immigrants’, and they have done nothing wrong moving to a new country to enjoy a better quality of life and cushy free health care (the last WHO ranking, in 2000, placed Spain’s health system at 7th in the world, and Britain’s at 18th).

Politics aside, my furtive leafing through the papers at the tabac has uncovered only one with a cryptic crossword – the Sunday Express. At €1.90, it’s also a lot cheaper than the broadsheets, which cost around €4. Before you begin spitting with rage at your screen at the thought of my giving money to the noted pornographer Richard Desmond, who owns the Express along with TV channels like Red Hot Only 18 and Erotika, let’s take a look at that crossword:

Charming foreigner holds object (6). P---T-

A Pole, a charming foreigner? Can it be that the Express’s crossword setter is sneaking cleverly coded liberal messages into that conservative organ? 

Spectators at the marathon on Sunday

I had been intending to write all about how spring has sprung in Barcelona, how the blossom is on the trees, how the days are getting longer, warmer and sunnier - all of which was true until the temperature plummeted and it began snowing heavily earlier today. Will and I have just ventured outside, thinking it would be all magical and festive but the reality is, it's bone-chillingly cold, Christmas was months ago and the ground is like a slushy bathroom floor after someone's had a shower and not closed the shower curtain properly. 

However, this latest meteorological development allows me to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes: discussing the weather. It doesn't matter how much tapas I eat or how good I get at rolling my 'Rs', because I will always have that innate British ability to twitter on about how sunny/windy/hot/cold/muggy/foggy/snowy it is. I check the daily forecast with the kind of anticipation that other people might reserve for checking their lottery numbers and I love to deliver a weather report to Will every morning, whether he likes it or not.

Last Sunday was beautiful, so Will and I took the car out to the Parc Natural del Garraf, a great chunk of wild-looking, mountainous countryside which lies 30km south-west of Barcelona and feels a million miles away from the bustle of the city. It offers sweeping views of the coastline and there are plenty of walking opportunities; on our two-hour hike, we saw nobody else but a couple having a picnic and we heard nothing but the far-off hum of a tractor.

It's times like these when the difference between mine and Will's childhoods becomes apparent: he's a country boy who can identify herbs and trees, while and I'm a suburban type who's better at identifying the best London Underground route from Woodford to Brixton. When Will suggested we forget about the path, cross over some fields and go off the beaten track, I was aghast. But we'll get eaten by cows or shot at by a farmer! I thought in a panic. Luckily, I was saved by a sign telling us that the fields were private property. Ha, country boy! We're sticking to the nice, official path for right-thinking people and there's nothing you can do about it.

 Sunny Barcelona. How we laughed

Friday, 26 February 2010

Week 22

I am having a very angry week. It's not PMT; the reasons for my rage are perfectly just. The main culprit is Vodafone España, the company which provides me with access to the internet. They disconnected me a week ago because I hadn't paid my bill (oops) but I've paid it now (twice). Will and I have spent most of the week in the Vodafone shop around the corner which is officially the Place I Hate Most in the World, and it's mainly because of a particular po-faced employee who would sooner shove a SIM card up her arse than help you.

We've also been on the phone to their customer service deparment which involves being on hold a lot, listening to an intensely irritating tune that sounds like something you'd hear in Clinton Cards with a bit of Right Said Fred's Deeply Dippy thrown in for good measure. At the time of going to press, I am still internet-less which is so annoying as I could really do with wasting some time on Facebook.  

The other source of my disquiet is Will's Clothes Volcano. There's a wardrobe in our spare room. In this wardrobe, I store my clothes. But Will's side of the wardrobe is empty because he keeps his clothes on the chairs and on the floor. Naturally. It started with an innocent jumper hung on the back of a chair which has kept on growing, a bit like the magic porridge pot in the fairytale of the same name. No longer can the chair cope with the groaning weight of Will's vestments and the Clothes Volcano is spewing its molten, textile lava through the flat, taking in swathes of floorspace, leaving no floor tile unscathed.
After a lot of nagging on my part, Will put his clothes in the wardrobe yesterday but I know it won't be long before they're back out. The final straw will come when I find a sock in the fridge. You have been warned, Will. I am a woman on the edge (until I can get back on Facebook). 

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Week 21

I think there comes a time in life when the child-parent roles get reversed, and that time arrived this week when my mum and dad came to visit.

"Text me when you get back to your hotel," I said anxiously as they were leaving our flat in the early hours of Sunday morning after dinner and drinks. They were only staying a 10-minute walk away but I was worried they would fall down a pothole, get lost, mugged or similar. It wasn't just my concerns about their safety that highlighted a shift in our roles: my efforts to get them to eat anything remotely Spanish was like trying to get a two-year old to eat sprouts.     

On their first day, Will and I brought them for lunch to a tapas bar in the food market, La Boqueria, where you turn up, find a stool, squish in amongst the crowds, order some plates of tapas and enjoy. Or not. Mum wasn't happy that we weren't sitting on proper chairs, while dad's reaction to the little pieces of spicy sausage was to make a face and spit them out into a napkin. To be fair, they were a bit rank. On Sunday we went for brunch and mum was beside herself over whether the bacon would be crispy enough and whether the milk in her coffee would be the correct temperature.

That night, I desperately tried to think of somewhere suitable for us to eat. A tortillera was out of the question because mum doesn't like eggs.

"How about a Lebanese?" I ventured. No thanks. Frantically, I scoured the Rough Guide to Barcelona and found a restaurant called Cuines Santa Catarina where the food is described as "touching all bases - pasta to sushi, Catalan rice dishes to Thai curries". Surely there would be something here to suit? Thankfully, the meal passed without a tantrum.

So my parents appear to have developed the kind of dietary requirements that make Madonna seem unfussy, but I wouldn't want them to be any other way and I do miss them now.

Mr Pincers was a lot less talkative after his bath

More bad news from Barcelona this week. For most people, moving to another country would be an enlightening experience, one which would make them more tolerant and accepting of other peoples, but Barcelona has made me more of a curmudgeon than ever before. In fact, it is even worse than that: Barcelona has turned me into a massive racist.

It’s the restaurants and bars that have done it. By serving lovely food and drinks and staying open for as long as I want them to, these conniving institutions exact all they can from my meagre income, meaning that I have to stay in my flat and work all day. Unfortunately, my flat is above a trainer shop which blares out rap, hip-hop, R&B and reggae all day. Thanks to their inconsiderate attitude to volume control, I have been conditioned into hating these forms of music, just like Hitler would have done if he was still around.

It gets worse. Not only have I become an opponent of Music of Black Origin but by staying in all day, I am actually making myself more white. And when I do venture outside, the light is too bright for me, and my face scrunches into a violent squint. In the largely Chinese neighbourhood where I tend to buy my lunch, this tends to make me look like I'm ripping off some of Benny Hill's material from the 1970s. You know, the bits that definitely don't get played on TV any more.  

Suffice to say I am rather angry with Barcelona’s too-talented chefs and bartenders (and all people from ethnic minorities, obviously, but in a more general sort of way). My one consolation is that the UK will have a Conservative government by this summer, and as a card-carrying* hate-monger, they will probably offer me some sort of tax credits.

The only solution as far as I can see is to stop working at once and take my ignorant, pallid neo-fascism down to the beach, where it can limbo itself back into a lithe, tanned open-mindedness. I’ll leave earning money to Christina, who was a horrendous bigot before we moved here**.

*In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have actually made myself a card, but it is rather nice.

**This is completely untrue, as is practically everything in this post. Sorry for wasting your time.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Week 20

I tried to pay an English cheque into my Spanish bank account today, and was rewarded with an insight into the efficiency, intelligence and hard work that goes into the modern banking system.

“You can pay it in, but it’s a really bad idea” explained the nice lady in the bank. “It will take a minimum of 45 days, and there will be a charge of 30 Euros. Also the exchange rate will not be good.” So I sent it back to the UK, where it will go into my British account, so that I can take it out of a Spanish cash machine, to pay it into my Spanish account.

Once, when I was sitting on a train somewhere in south London, I had an idea that any rail or bus ticket should be refunded if the passenger could have completed their journey more quickly on foot. In that case, the 5.5-mile journey from Penge to London Bridge took two hours – I could have walked it in one and a quarter hours, so all my train fare bought me was a wasted three-quarters of an hour, and I should have got my money back. On the other hand, for people who get into a beetroot-faced paroxysm when their flight is delayed, this policy would help them to realise that for a journey of 1,000 miles, an hour’s delay is completely acceptable.

Looking at the map, I am certain I could make the journey from Barcelona to my bank in London on foot in less than 45 days. Given the 30 Euros, plus the extra 15 or so they’d sting me for in the exchange rate, I could feed myself, too. I’d have to take a tent and some good boots, but then the banks have some infrastructure of their own in place. Massive buildings, laws that are made in their favour, everyone else’s taxes, and that sort of thing.

So maybe I’ll do that: put on my walking shoes and set off on an adventure, to show the monstrous titans of finance just how rubbish they are in comparison to a good sturdy pair of man-legs. Anyone care to send me a cheque?

Our clothes dryer and winch-thing. We often winch each other down into the street.

When friends from home come to visit, you want to show them the best of Barcelona; the beaches, the restaurants, the boutiques, Gaudi's architecture, that kind of thing. Getting mugged is definitely not on the agenda.

Last weekend my friend, Eleanor, came to stay and on Saturday night we headed to El Born, which is a well-to-do area with some nice bars. As we walked along a well-lit, busy street, two men appeared from the shadows and tried to grab our belongings. It's not the first time this has happened to me in Barcelona so I think that some kind of fighting instinct kicked in because I wouldn't let go of my handbag. There ensued a lot of shouting and a tussle which involved me grappling on the ground with the thief. This is so undignified, I thought as I fell towards the concrete. 

I eventually lost the fight because – well, he was a good deal stronger than me. With no handbag, this meant no keys to my flat. This was bad news because Will was back home in Devon for the weekend so we had no way of getting back in. Several phone calls, texts, glasses of wine, and vodkas and tonics later, we couldn't get through to my landlord and we had to concede that we'd be staying in a hotel that night.

Eleanor and I traipsed wearily from hotel to hotel only to be met with funny looks and shaking heads from the night men telling us there was no room at the inn. We eventually found two free bunk beds in a dorm at a youth hostel a stone's throw from my flat. This was actually quite fun because at the age of 30, neither of us had been in a hostel for many years. 

"It's the crisis," said my landlord sadly as he met us the next morning with some spare keys. Whatever the reason, I am now on a mission not to be mugged again for the remainder of our stay in Barcelona. Some have suggested carrying pepper spray, others think a vicious-looking dog would do the trick. But I think I'll defeat the robbers with a style statement: I see that the bum bag is making a comeback this season so I'll invest in one of those.
The Parc de L'Espanya Industrial