Sunday, 31 May 2009

Star Trekkin

We've just been to see the new Star Trek film: the story of the original crew before they joined the Enterprise. Bloody brilliant. I've never been mad keen on Star Trek movies, but this one really is special.

I don't think I'll be blogging much in the next few weeks: the Daddy-In-Law arrives tomorrow for about ten days, and I am flying back to England with him and I'll be there for about 12 days.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Attack Of The Clones - Part Two

So, this morning I had to go to the Police Station to pick up my Police Report. Once I have that, I can go to my bank, make the refund claim and pick up my new ATM card. Shouldn't take long, I thought, so I didn't take a book or anything. We all make mistakes.

The police gave me a queue ticket, number 92. The display in the Room of Despair said 121. There were nine other people in the room. I couldn't work this out. If it goes up to 999 and then round again, where are the other 878 people? I don't know, but in the first forty-five minutes another eight people arrived, and nobody left. Then a skinny police lady arrived at the door, and took a couple of people away. Ten minutes later she took some more. The next time she came there was a slight altercation when somebody accidentally tried to jump she queue. Easily done: she wasn't calling numbers, just 'next'. So we all showed each other our queue tickets, and got organised. I was next but one, and then I was next. When she called me in, she printed off a copy of the report, had me read it and sign it, and then printed off three more copies for me to sign. And that was it. No interrogation, no requests for evidence, no nothing. They could have just printed off the copies and left them by the door somewhere - all I would have to do is show up, sign the buggers, and take my copy. Deeply narked, I was.

Then I headed across town to my bank. It's only a small branch: there's the cashier, the manager, and one or two clerks. Today there was only one clerk, Paula, the one who speaks English. She was busy with a customer. I waited happily for a quarter of an hour, but there was no sign of their transaction approaching completion. After half an hour I began to pace the room, making sure that Paula knew I was there. Half an hour after that, Paula left her desk to adjust the air conditioning. I asked her how much longer she was going to be. Maybe ten more minutes, she said. Shortly after that she went into the boss's office for a chat, and then he came out. He crossed his arms and spoke to the customer.

'So, this planet you want to buy with our money...'


'What do you want it for?'

'I'm going to build lots of palm-tree-shaped islands on it, and build lots of little houses on them. I will sell the houses to mad people.'

'Okay, good plan, but have you considered there is a Crisis Economica on at the moment?'

'Yes, yes, but it is the duty of the banks to keep lending, to help dig us out of this hole you created.'

'Yes, of course. Okay, twenty trillion Euros is quite a lot, but I think I can trust you to pay it back.'

I am tearing my hair out by this time. I have no fucking idea what this woman wants or why it is taking so long to sort it out. I am also dying of starvation because I have had no breakfast, and I can't just leave, because I have no cash on me and my ATM card has been cancelled. In short, I am inches away from killing someone. The manager notices this, and comes over to talk to me. I don't particularly want to talk to him as he has no English whatsoever. But I have no choice.

I show him the police report. His eyes get slitty and he invites me to sit down.

'So, you were in Milan two days ago, withdrew some money, and now you are pretending it was stolen.'

'No, you arse, look at the date and time on here, when I reported it to your Tetuan branch, fifteen minutes after it happened.'

'Yes, okay, but you ordered a replacement card before this happened. Why was that?'

'Because it's split. Look.'

'Yes, okay, but the replacement card has been here for over a week, and you never bothered to collect it. Why not?'

'Because you never told me it was ready.'

And so on.

He gets a file folder and a fat red felt pen. Writes 'FRAUDE' on the front. Writes 'Keffieboy' under that. Fills in some forms and scribbles all over the copies of the documents I've given him.

Then he gets the replacement card that I'd ordered. I look at it. The number is exactly the same as the original. I tell him this is no good. He agrees, and cuts both of them up and staples the bits into his file. It is three p.m. by now, and I notice the cashier seems to be locking up the money.

I tell the manager I need some cash. He begins to say no, but then realises that this really, really, would not be a good move. He tells the cashier to unlock the money. She whinges like hell, but does it anyway.

Then we get down to me needing a replacement replacement ATM card. He asks the cashier to check the afternoon mail. Amazingly, there is a new new card for me - apparently when a card is cancelled, their system automatically orders a new one, and it takes two days to make them. They always hold cards at the branch, which is a relief, because I notice it is addressed to my old address in Chueca. He grills me about why I have not informed them that I've moved. I tell him I did, and he looks on the computer (which has finally finished the slowest boot-up process since 286s were hot). My old address is listed as primary, the new one as an alternative. It takes him 10 minutes to get the system to accept the new one as the real one.

It seems my PIN will have been sent to my old address (ex-neighbour Neil - free beer if you're reading this and can pick it up). Finally, the bank manager, after possibly the most exciting day of his life, thanks me for my patience (now I can spot sarcasm in Spanish), and we wrap it up. It is 3.45 p.m., which is a bit late for breakfast, even in Spain, and I am completely exhausted.

Moral of the story: take a good book whenever you have to deal with cops or banks: if nothing else, you can hit them with it.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Attack Of The Clones - Part One

We were out with some friends last night, including a couple of visitors from the UK. The conversation turned to robbery/pickpocketing in Madrid, and we smugly declared ourselves robbery-free for over a year, and able to spot all the danger signs and avoid them.

I spoke too soon: I was robbed twice this morning by some asshole in Milan (the one in Italy).

I might not even have known about it, except I have a doohickey on my bank account that sends me an SMS whenever 50 Euros or more is withdrawn from my account. It's quite annoying, actually: I know when I'm taking money out, and I don't really need the added thrill of a vibrating phone in my pocket whenever 'computer says yes.' I've been thinking of cancelling the facility.

Now I'm glad I didn't.

I'd just settled down to some serious work when I got the SMS. Bingely-beep.

'We like to inform you that you have withdrawn 200 Euros from ATM at Poste Italiano.'

Feck! I throw on shoes and socks and head off to the bank. On the way I try calling the bank's hotline. A computer wants to attempt voice recognition of my ID number. It gets it hopelessly wrong both times-- my fault: it's obviously never heard Spanish spoken in a Yorkshire accent before. Never mind, I'm almost at the bank.

Bingely-beep. Shit!

'We like to inform you that you have withdrawn 100 Euros from ATM at Via Riccardo P.'

I storm into the bank. The two girls who look after problems are both busy. The cashier is not. Fortunately, he spikka a bitta da Ingles. I ask him to cancel my card. He asks me for ID. I show him the laminated passport copy that I always carry. He says 'this is a copy. I need original passport.'

I tell him that's at my house, but meanwhile please cancel the card. He can't do it, and he phones my branch in Chueca. He speaks to Paula, and passes her on to me. I guess she recognises my voice and generally grumpy attitude (Paula likes to call me from time to time and tell me I don't have enough money in my account to pay the bill that has just been presented) and tells the bloke to cancel my card. He does so.

'Now,' he says, 'you haff to go Police, tell them you card cloned, get denuncia, take to you home bank. Money refund will be two month.'

Well, this looks like fun. MamaDuck has been through the denunciation process once, and it took hours. Basically what happens (if your Spanish is rubbish) is you go to a specific cop shop near Plaza de España. They have a phonebox there that can connect you to a translator of most European languages, and Arabic (although I didn't see any options for Russian, Chinese, Gallego or Catalan).

When I finally find the place, the cops on the door ask me what I want. I garble something including the words 'denuncia' and 'ladron'. They tell me to wait, and after a minute or two a young lady, not dressed like a cop, appears and asks me what the problem is.

She takes a queue ticket for me, and escorts me into the Room Of Despair (actually Sala de Espere - the waiting room). It is full of miserable-looking people. She goes to the phone box in the corner and dials a number. Then she passes the handset to me and goes away.

I speak with a lady who has a very posh-sounding English accent. She is breathtakingly efficient, and the whole thing is done in about three minutes. She gives me a Police Report number, and I thank her.

In the lobby, there is a door to the room where I think I am supposed to collect the report. I try to enter, but the cops on the door stop me. They tell me it will take some time: maybe this evening, tonight, tomorrow or the next day.

I'll go back tomorrow to see if it's there.

I have no idea of how this can have happened: I'm pretty vigilant at ATMs, especially when it looks like there might be some kind of skimming device on the card slot. And it may be a mere coincidence that I requested a new ATM card a few days ago because the current one is knackered.

Friday, 15 May 2009

A Little Adventure

Today is a public holiday in Madrid for the patron saint, San Isidro. So we decided to head out to the country. Actually we decided to go to the mountains. We found a slight glitch when we got to the main station at Chamartín: due to engineering works, we would have to get off the train at Los Molinos (the stop before Cercedilla) and take a special bus to Cotos. It seemed fairly straightforward, so we did it, along with several other people who were obviously kitted out for some serious walking.

However, when we got to Los Molinos, the train doors declined to open. We ran down the carriage to another set of doors, and they failed too. The train continued on to Cercedilla. We hammered on the windows to attract the attention of some security guys who pressed the button from outside, obviously thinking 'who are these morons who can't open a train door?'

We pointed out the problem to the ticket inspector and the driver, who were both massively uninterested in doing anything about it. 'Get back on,' they said, 'we're leaving in ten minutes.'

So we did get back on, choosing a different carriage, and when we got back to Los Molinos, the ticket inspector pressed the button and off we got. Of course we had missed the bus up the mountain, and the next one was an hour and a quarter away.

So we strolled into Los Molinos, and found a very pleasant little town with some excellent bars and restaurants. We abandoned the mountain plan, and spent the day there.

The main street with snow-capped mountains in the background.

The restaurant where we had lunch is a converted ice factory.

Fields and mountains.

The Guadarrama River runs through it.

There are plenty of trees and green stuff in and around the town. But despite the brilliant sunshine, if you weren't actually in it, it was pretty cold (apparently the temperature here is always 5 degrees less than Madrid: I guess it's at least 1km above sea level). They always get snow in winter.

A totally unexpected day out. Thank you, San Isidro.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Two Little Words

I typed two little words that made me very happy yesterday. They were 'THE' and 'END'.

Yes! I've finished the first draft of my novel Tybalt & Theo. I had been aiming for 80,000 words, but ran out of story at 75,000. I started it in October last year, although I didn't work on it every single day, and at one point (just after halfway) had almost convinced myself that I couldn't finish it. I worked on it for 68 days, producing an average of 1,100 words a day, although there were nine days when I wrote 2,500 or more. My best daily total was 3,369.

So, what's next? Well, I'm going to print it all out and take a red pen to it. And then write a splendid query letter and detailed synopsis to send to literary agents. You might think the synopsis should come before the book. That's never worked for me: I have written two or three as the book has progressed, but what happens in the book is nothing like what the synopsis said should happen.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that the first one-third of the book is on the peer-review website It's had almost 300 very positive reviews, some of them from published writers and professional editors. So I know it's not a pile of tosh, and it does what it was intended to do, which is make people laugh.

However, writing a good book has never been a guarantee of getting published. And in the current economic climate, publishers are less willing than ever to take on unknown authors. But you've got to try, haven't you?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

WiFi Magic

The weather has been pretty fab here in Madrid for about the last week. Our new flat doesn't actually get much in the way of sunshine, although it does get plenty of light because of the big windows. So it's pretty cool, and we're expecting to get through the summer without too much difficulty: the apartment has no A/C, but I don't think we'll need it.

It has become my habit to knock off work at around four or five, and go to a bar across the road for a caña (small beer). We like this bar because the husband and wife who run it have Middle Eastern roots (he's Palestinian, she's Iraqi). Inside, the bar is teeny, but when the sun shines they have a terraza - half a dozen tables out on the pavement. They don't have WiFi, though.

Today, I thought I'd try an experiment. Went to the bar and took my MacBook with me. Left the WiFi switched in the apartment. I think WiFi has a range of about thirty metres, but maybe I'm wrong, or no good at estimating distances. Anyway, I'm sitting outside the bar now, writing this, and connected to the Interwebs.

How cool is that? Very, I reckon.

Update: Just had a Skype call with my son, including video. Awesomely magical!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

How Blue Was My Billy?

Since moving into our new flat, we have been short of bookcases. We had lots of these in Dubai - 'Billy' bookcases from IKEA. But we decided not to ship them here because of the cost/bulk/weight thingie. It just would not have been worth it: it would be much cheaper to buy new ones when we arrived. As it turned out, our previous flat was way too small to accommodate such a luxury. The books remained in boxes.

Our new flat is somewhat bigger, and has a perfect space in the dining area to fit two six-foot tall Billys. We checked the IKEA website, and were pleased to see they now do Billy bookcases in royal blue laminate. This would make a pleasing contrast with the light oak flooring and peachy/orangey kitchen cupboard doors. Sadly, IKEA still do not do online shopping, so today we went to IKEA (East) to get them. There are two other IKEAs in Madrid, but we haven't figured out how to get to them by public transport.

It has been well over a year since we visited IKEA East, and since then they have built a massive shopping mall, La Gavia, that connects the formerly free-standing IKEA and Carrefour buildings. It's 45 minutes on the Metro, followed by a 400 metre walk to the mall entrance, followed by an air-conditioned 400m walk to the IKEA entrance, followed by a decidedly dodgy lunch at their cafeteria and probably a kilometre to get round both floors of the store.

I should add that I have not been to a proper shopping mall since we moved to Spain, apart from one or two in England, and they don't count. I really felt like I was back in Dubai for a few minutes there.

All the walking was decidedly knackering. We queued for ages at the checkout, and then went to arrange delivery (you would not believe how heavy these boxes were). That involved another lengthy queue, and I knew from looking at their website that the delivery would cost more than a bookcase. I was quite prepared to have to wait a few days for the delivery, and was amazed when they said it would be this evening.

So, I'm quite pleased with myself. I have assembled one bookcase, without any swearing or left-over screws and whatnot. It stands in the dining area now. It's very nice, but, oh boy, isn't it blue?! I'll do the other tomorrow, in half the time because now I know how to do it.

It is very blue indeed. Blue, blue, blue.

I expect the blueness to wear off when it is full of books (I'll put the blue ones somewhere else, obviously), and MamaDuck is even now plotting to put pots of trailing ivy on top of them.

All good fun.

*This post is not sponsored by IKEA, but it should be.

Saturday, 2 May 2009


A friend of ours, a life long Real Madrid supporter, invited us to join him at a nice little bar in Chamberí to watch Real play Barcelona. We were joined by two other friends, one of whom supports Barca, and the other one pretended to. I am a football agnostic. 90% of the other people in the bar supported Real Madrid.

A matanza is a social/practical event that takes place when a farmer wants to slaughter one or more of his pigs. Slaughtering a pig and dealing with the resulting skin, meat, organs and blood is not a one-man job, so the Spanish turn it into something of a party with as many willing helpers as they can manage.

It was an amazing match, which Real Madrid lost 2-6.

We decided that Real had been well and truly matanza'd.