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 EspaƱa, 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

Friday, 5 February 2010

Week 19

Will has returned home for a few days which leaves me free to listen to Part-Time Lover by Stevie Wonder as much as I like, spend ages deciding on an outfit for the day and eat ice cream for dinner. Hooray! One of the downsides, however, is that my attempts at frugal food shopping will be a shambles.  

Will is a savvy shopper, I am not. I think it’s because he generally loves cooking more than I do and he is far more patient when it comes to buying ingredients. We get a lot of our food from La Boqueria, the famous food market on Las Ramblas where you’ll see everything from sheeps' heads to goose barnacles to herbs to spices to er … potatoes. I enjoy its hustle and bustle to a certain extent but if I’m there too long, I turn into a bored kid who’s been dragged to Allied Carpets on a Bank Holiday Monday.

I recently went there to buy some tomatoes and Will gave me a pep-talk beforehand:  

“Walk around the market first, smell the tomatoes and compare prices before you buy anything,” Will advised. I nodded sagely. But I don’t want to!, screamed my inner brat. I just want to buy the first tomatoes I see and be done with it!

It’s because of this laziness that I once parted with 16 Euro for some fish that should have been half the price, and it’s why I return home with strawberries that I could have got for 1.49 a kilo but why do that when you can pay 4 Euro for the same amount? By the time Will returns, I expect he’ll find me weeping down the phone to the bank, pleading for loan in order to pay for some expensive mushrooms.

Some cauliflowers, decorating a roundabout

As Christina will tell you, I am a skilled healer. The World Health Organisation refuses to acknowledge my work or the work of my subordinates, Nurse Hotty-Botty and Dr Cuddles, but my powers are beyond doubt. I mention this because Christina has been ill this week. I diagnosed her as being properly ill, rather than what we specialists call ‘girl ill’; confined to her sickbed, feverish and drowsy, Christina’s only hope lay in my special healing magic. She is now much better, and it’s all thanks to me. Let me tell you how.

Medicine is simpler than you think. They* like to dress it up with fancy words and white coats, but there are actually only three medicines: the Lemsip, or a variant thereof, the cuddle (see above), and thirdly – probably the single most important development in medical history – the hot water bottle. For almost every ailment, a hot water bottle applied in some way will do the trick. In the case of Patient C (Christina), I prescribed two to three hotty-botties a day, to be taken with a Lemsip, some pyjamas and a few old episodes of Seinfeld. Worked like a charm, despite the fact that I have no idea if what I bought was Lemsip. It could have been a hot, lemony mug of toilet cleaner for all I know, but my healing touch obviously made it good.

As a result of Christina’s being covered in germs – and thanks to her congested nasal passageways, snoring at shouting volume – I have spent three nights on the camp-bed this week. It has been fun, like camping out in my own home. I may extend the concept by putting up a tent, and possibly starting a small fire in the middle of the floor on which to toast marshmallows. I could even go on an adventure holiday around the flat, hiking from room to room before setting up camp.

*yeah, you know,Them.
A street in Poble Nou