Saturday, 31 May 2008

Weather [el Tiempo]

Oh, for heaven's sake. It's June tomorrow. And it's still raining in Madrid. We had a couple of weeks of proper spring weather about a month ago, which we assumed would morph into several months of unbroken sunshine. Instead, we've had weeks and weeks of either continuous rain, or rain interrupted by very short sunny spells. Grrr. It's not supposed to be like this, and apparently never has been in the past. Anyway, it's good for the ever-growing (pun not intended) collection of plants on our terrace.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Nightmare Online

I reported a few days ago that I had ordered us a television and suggested that it was winging its way to us as I wrote. It turns out to be doing no such thing. Nothing whatsoever has been done about my order. I only discovered this yesterday when I noticed that no money has actually been removed from my bank account to pay for this item. After extensive searching of the Carrefour website (Spanish-only, thank you very much) I discovered how to log in and check the status of my orders. 'Awaiting data', it said. Hmm. They haven't actually asked me for any data, so I fired off an email. They replied that they need me to fax both sides of my DNI card. This is the Spanish ID card. I don't have one, 'cos I'm not Spanish. I do have an equivalent, an NIE (Foreigner's ID), but it's an A4-sized certificate, not an actual plastic card. But Carrefour Espana don't seem to be interested or aware of that.

Long story short, I decided to cancel the order. I've seen the exact same telly at the exact same price, and I can get it from there right now. But I need to be sure that Carrefour will cancel my order, because I really don't want to have to pay for 2 tellies.

So we've had a flurry of emails, which I've run through an online translation site that gives hilarious results. I (think I) keep saying 'just cancel the bloody order', and they keep saying 'fax us your DNI so we can process the order'. I say I don't have a fax machine. They say 'send your DNI by fax'. It's beyond a joke.

Don Colin will sympathise (search his blog for 'Carrefour' or 'printer') and read about the saga of the dysfunctional printer.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull Thingie

We went to see the new Indiana Jones fillum yesterday. I've seen a lot of criticism about it being geographically innaccurate, having a plot that requires a higher-than-usual level of disbelief suspension, and featuring some dubious acting. Nevertheless, this is an Indiana Jones movie, and we overlook these things because of the sheer entertainment value.

It does not disappoint. You'll sit there for two hours, and never once look at your watch. A bloody good romp, it is. Go see it.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Eurovision: UPDATE

It was the big day tonight. We hadn't been desperate to see it, but were a bit curious. We went out at about 10.30, heading off towards Anton Martín Metro station. There was supposed to be some live music happening at a bar near there, but it turned out to be not happening tonight. So we wandered around for a bit and finished up at an Irish bar, whose name is completely not Irish, but they had Eurovision on one of their tellies.

We'd missed the main show, and it was just entering the results phase. I wasn't too worried about missing the actual performances - I've seen most of them on YouTube, and it's the same old same old. It was interesting, though, to see the blatant block-voting favouritism. The Balkan states all voted for each other. Likewise the Scandiwegians (the people at the table in front of us all cheered whenever Norway got a vote). And the Iberians - Spain's Chikilecuatre got good marks from Portugal and Andorra.

I know Eurovision is not the same as the European Union, but it still stretches the imagination a bit that countries like Israel and Azerbaijan and Georgia are included. Anyhoo. Russia won. Spain came about 14th (out of about 24). Not bad considering it was a joke entry. And the UK came last! I knew their entry was terrible, but didn't expect it to do quite so badly - possibly to do with the fallout from the Crewe by-election and the staggering unpopularity of Wee Gordy Broon. Or maybe the shortage of land borders with other countries (I missed both the UK and Ireland votes).

>>End of update.

It's the big day tomorrow; the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Spain's main opponent (Dustin The Turkey from Ireland) was tragically and unfairly knocked out in the semi-final a few days ago. So this leaves a clear path to glory for Rodolfo Chikilecuatre with his excellent song 'Bailar Chiki Chiki', or at least it would do if any of the anonymous judges had a sense of humour. Ah well, the winner will probably be someone like FYR Fruit Salad Macedonia. Videos of these excellent songs are here.

We won't be watching the show at home, for the simple reason that we do not have a television. We decided not to ship our caravan-sized set from Dubai, and reckoned we'd get a new one when we got settled here. But the general tightness of money and endless spate of robberies meant that the project was delayed somewhat. Anyway, we haven't been robbed for a couple of months now (yayy!), so there's a bit of spare cash, and a shiny black TV designed by the bloke who did Darth Vader's helmet is winging it's way to us as I write.

I've also been trying to find a replacement for our combination microwave/grill/convection oven which we did ship from Dubai, but which stopped working just before Christmas. Puzzlingly, none of the shops in Madrid sell these. I even asked the assistant at one of them if they could source such a thing. I might as well have asked him for a grilled stoat bocadillo. They all have microwaves with grills, and some of them have table-top ovens, but none have the full combination. Most strange.

I have found an online shopping service, though. They will buy anything you like from a range of British stores, and ship it to Spain. I've asked them for a quote, and will not be surprised if the shipping costs more than the oven (damn heavy things, mirowaves: which is odd, considering how small the waves are). If any of my Spanish readers have any ideas about where I might find a combi oven in Madrid, please let me know.

¡Bailar Chiki-Chiki!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


I've just come back from El Pub where I watched the final of the European Champion's League. As it turned out, both teams were English - Manchester United and Chelski, but the game was played in Moscow.

What a game! Man U seemed to have the advantage most of the time, and they scored first (Ronaldo), in about the 26th minute. But Chelski pulled back (Lamppost) just before half-time. No more goals in the second half, so it went to extra time. No goals there either, so it went to penalties. And it was 4-4 after the first round of penalties, so it went to sudden-death penalties. I really hate these penalty situations: if a game gets to this stage then it means they are both equally matched and you may as well decide the result by tossing a coin, and save everybody the stress. Or just declare it a draw and saw the cup in half.

So Man U won in the sudden-death bit, and they deserved to, but what a crap way to have to do it.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


One of the dubious delights of living in the centre of a big city is the constant flow of buskers who selflessly spend their time playing music for our entertainment. Plaza de Chueca, with about two hundred outdoor seats, is a magnet for these good folks. The most popular instrument is the accordion, but recently there's been a spate of bad trumpeteering.

Now, the accordianistas I could just about tolerate. One or two of them I could even enjoy. But I would be very happy if I never heard one of these trumpeters again. At first, I thought it was one guy with nothing better to do, who appeared at least once an hour with his overamplified backing tracks and unmuted instrument. But closer inspection reveals there are at least three different guys, but they all play exactly the same repertoire. Badly. I really don't need to hear Hello Dolly, When The Saints Go Marching In and others upwards of ten times a day.

But there is some good stuff. There's a troupe of percussionists who sometimes wander through the square and don't actually accept any money. Then there's 70s Bailarina - an ageing wraith who wears a long blonde wig and original glittery 70s disco gear and who gamely bops away to the likes of Adam and the Ants and Iggy Pop.

The star of the busking show, though, has to be The Fire Guy. He shows up at about 11pm or midnight, and juggles with fire. He's really incredible and we always give him some money if we are down in the square (I don't think it would be a good idea to throw a couple of Euros from the seventh floor).

Recently, MamaDuck bought me a guitar, which I am now trying to re-learn. I used to play in a band when I was a teenager, over thirty years ago, and haven't touched a guitar since. Guess what: it's not like riding a bike! It occurs to me that I might go and practice in the square - people might give me money to go away.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Meet Terry

Warning: bad puns ahead.

Many moons ago, I had a ball of fairly dense foam with a map of the world embossed and printed upon it. It was a 'stress-ball' and the idea was that you could squeeze it as hard as you liked, but it would always return to its normal shape. So if you were upset or angry about something, you could just squeeze hell out of this thing, and it stopped you getting into trouble for hitting other people (that happens, you know).

A few weeks ago, MamaDuck got me a present. Being the tease she is, she made me close my eyes, feel the object, and try to guess what it was.

'¡Es un toro!' I say. And I was right. It's made of exactly the same material that my stress-ball was, so I reckon it's a stress-bull.

A thing like this has to have a name. I named him Terry. In my head, I was thinking 'Terry the Toro.' MamaDuck didn't know this, of course. She thought it was 'Terry-Bull'.


Monday, 5 May 2008

Who's Who in Xanadu-du

Early readers of my novel, Travels in Xanadu-du, have been whingeing a bit about being confused by the huge number of names that they think they are expected to remember. So I've done a Dramatis Personae, a Who's Who of Xanadu-du. I also wasted a couple of hours today in producing a podcast of me reading out the list. I'm supposed to know how you pronounce all these names, but there's a big difference between doing it in your head and trying to do it out loud.

Anyway, enjoy!

Sunday, 4 May 2008


We are planning to move house in August: much as we love our current flat, we absolutely have to have more space and a bigger kitchen with four rings on the stove and an oven (dreaming of steak and kidney pies and rosbif con puddin ye País de York). So we tend to spend weekends visiting other barrios (neighbourhoods) to see whether we might like to live in them.

Malasaña, which adjoins Chueca (where we live now), has been the subject of this weekend's exploration. It really is an interesting area - artistic, bohemian, slightly scary. Just like us! MamaDuck has blogged about a gig that she stumbled upon last night. What she didn't mention was a conversation that we had with Nacho, who is involved with that tiny theatre in some way.

I could lie and say we had this conversation in Spanish, but actually Nacho speaks English fluently. MamaDuck had first spoken to him as she was peering into the open doorway of the theatrette.

'You're not from this barrio, are you?' He asked.

She explained about Chueca/England.

After she had run home and destroyed my plan for a three-hour bath, we headed off to Plaza Ildefonso, where we bumped into Nacho. We had noticed on our previous visits over the last few evenings that there were always lots of cops about. Last night there were six at each end of the plaza. I mentioned this to Nacho, who said that ever since Dos de Mayo last year (when there was rioting in Plaza de Dos de Mayo), the police presence at weekends was nothing less than oppressive. He said that every Friday and Saturday night there would be at least two cops on every street corner, and this had been happening since last year's riot. This being the anniversary of last year's riot, the police had gone into overdrive to prevent a recurrence.

Apparently they are cracking down on people drinking in the streets ('cultura botellon' - I don't think it's actually illegal), and Nacho himself was stopped by police a few days ago. He was on his way to dinner at a friend's house, and the bag of ice cubes he was carrying was confiscated. Unreal.

The outdoor drinking thing is understandable. Consider this: if you sit down at one of the many cafe tables in Plaza de Chueca, a beer will cost you three Euros. That's for a doble, about half a pint. Lots of people do this, and it's not a problem. Lots of other people do something else. They bring their own beer, and sit around a bench if they can get one, or stand around in groups if they can't. The economics speak for themselves: you can buy a half-litre can of very acceptable beer from Dia for 44 cents. So that three Euro doble translates into almost 7 cans of beer. If you plan ahead, you could buy your beer from Carrefour Express: their cheapest is 25 cents (330 ml cans), so your three Euros buys you twelve cans!

Back to Malasaña; an up-and-coming barrio. It's very close to the centre, quite pleasing to the eye and very lively. But there are some dodgy-looking characters hanging around.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Dos de Mayo [Second of May]

UPDATE: Lots of videos now on YouTube - search for 'MOREworldVIEW La Fura'.

Two hundred years ago yesterday, the people of Madrid rose up against the French occupiers. Yesterday saw many celebratory events throughout Madrid, all but one of which we managed to miss. The one we didn't miss was a spectacular sound, light, music, theatre, acrobatic, firework wossname in front of the Ayuntamiento in Plaza Cibeles. Graeme at South of Watford has some useful historical stuff about Dos de Mayo, if you're interested.

The organisers were tight-lipped about the show, but I heard or read somewhere that there was no need for a big stage because the sky would be the stage. Two huge cranes were positioned at opposite ends of the Plaza, and they were used to lift various pieces of equipment that housed the performers. There were things like a giant treadmill, two gantries with a wall of people hanging from them, a steel cage containing the Bonaparte brothers and a wooden horse, and a gigantic golden puppet.

French tricolor projected onto Madrid Town Hall

Big wheel keep on turning

There was also lots of action on the ground - armies of rebels bearing torches ran through the crowd. The treadmill was rolled around the plaza. Two stretch limos with police escort forced their way to the stage. And in the air, a tightrope walker in Napoleonic costume crossed Calle Alcala from Casa de las Americas to the top of Ayuntamiento - real heart-in-mouth stuff.

A couple of dozen people being shot while dangling on a rope

It was absolutely sensational.

This looks like a useful site for hotels in Madrid or the rest of the world: Madrid Hotels