Friday, 29 February 2008

Dirty Stopout

Last night was InterCambio night at Café Madrid. MamaDuck and I went last week after a break of many months, and I was keen to go again. Sadly La Duck has been completely overstretched this week: it's reports week, and that means that she has had to spend every waking hour, and several hours that should have been sleepy, in producing reports on her students. So she was defo not up for the InterCambio, but relished the chance of having me out of the house and being able to use my laptop to do more reports.

Yay! A green ticket!

The InterCambio was great. I talked tontería with many people, including Armando who I met last September and liked very much, Luke from Inglaterra who I met for the first time last night, and a Spanish geezer who works for the government and knows Zap and Rajoy. He confirmed my thoughts on the latter!

We were kicked out at 2 am, and Antoine, the organiser, said we could go to a nightclub: he could get us in for free. Well. I went. It was quite amazing. The place apparently has no name. You enter through an anonymous door and it opens up into this huge, beautiful space. It was jammed solid. I thought I saw a bar, but the twenty deep crowd was just too daunting. I found a room that probably contained a dance floor, but it too was packed solid. My dad-dancing skills remained unused, my audience unentertained: unless the sight of a practically naked brown guy with muscles dancing on the stage rings your bell. I wandered around the place for a bit, and then tried to find the exit. Man, that was hard. I finally got out, and stumbled off in a homely direction. This involves walking up Calle Montera (part of the red light district) and into Chueca (the gay barrio of Madrid: we live in Plaza de Chueca itself, it's very interesting!). I was amazed by how many people wanted to have my babies for a small fee. And I suspect one or two of them wanted to have my money too. Hah! Spent it all!

I arrived home at about 4 a.m., and awoke at noon today. I had a bit of a hangover, and as you may know the only cure for this is to drink more. Today has been an exceptionally pleasant spring-like day, and I was able to wander around wearing a shirt and a lightweight jacket. No sweater, no scarf, no hat. Fantastico!

Me mola Madrid.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Having lived in an 'enlightened dictatorship' for twelve years (plus an 'endarkened dictatorship' for one year) before moving back to the free world, I'm finding it fascinating to be in the middle of an election campaign. Spain goes to the polls in a couple of weeks' time to choose a new government and Prime Minister (President?). Or hopefully to stick with the old one. It appears that as a foreigner I don't get a vote (how outrageous!) but if I did then I think Zap's the man. The contest is mainly between incumbent PSOE (Socialist) Zapatero and hopeful PP (Tory) Rajoy. My feeble Spanish is nowhere near good enough to understand what's going on here, plus I don't own a TV and I rarely look at Spanish language newspapers. So I am very grateful to my fellow bloggers for explaining their views of events. Notably:

South of Watford

The Bad Rash

Don Colin

Erik Wirdheim

Good work guys, keep it up (I know you don't need my encouragement, but hey, I need your explanations!).

It's all so weird.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Legal! [Con Papeles]

The key piece of documentation for foreigners living in Spain is an N.I.E (foreigner's identity number). While not strictly a requirement for E.U. passport holders, it is needed for tax and social security purposes. Sadly the procedure for obtaining one is a bit tricky. There's option A where you stand in a queue from 4.30 in the morning with no guarantee of getting seen. Option B involves paying someone else to do it for you - we were initially going to do this but the selected Gestor suddenly started wanting more money than we could give him. Option C. You phone up and make an appointment. This is a bit tricky, as the three lines are constantly engaged and they do not speak English. Around about Christmas I managed to get through, and was given an appointment for today.

This morning was a flurry of printing off and completing forms, having photos taken, copying passports. And then a few hours before our appointment someone told MamaDuck that we needed to pay the fee (a measly 6.80) at a bank in advance of the appointment. So we rushed over to the Foreigner's Registration Office, got the payment forms, and then started touring banks in the neighbourhood. All of these banks declined to take our money: they would only do so in the morning before 10 o'clock. Getting increasingly desperate, we were finally told to go to a branch of Santander Bank: the nearest one was at the top of the almost vertical street that houses the Rastro flea market on Sundays. It was quite a hike, but fortunately when we got there they happily took our money.

We got back to the Foreigner's Office just in time for the appointment. The procedure was completely unrelated to anything we had read on any website or in any book. As EU passport holders, all you need is your passport, a photocopy thereof, and the application form. No photos, no employment contracts, no property leases. And in return, you don't get an ID card (which I thought was one of the main purposes of the exercise). You get an A4 certificate with some words in Spanish and your N.I.E. number on it.

Now I can register to pay Income Tax and Social Security and become a tax collector (VAT) for the Government. I might even get a job!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Travels in Xanadu-du: Almost There

I spent the weekend finalising the design of the cover - Lightning Source (who'll be printing the book) don't want to see crop marks in the artwork, so the entire placement of the relevant stuff is down to having the bleed margins exactly right at a quarter of an inch all round, and the spine width as calculated by their system. I confess to being a little bit worried by this: the placement of stuff on the spine is the most critical part of the cover design. But I'm sure they know what they're doing.

And this morning, Colin sent me the last bit of his proof-reading work, and he had found a real typo. So that makes it worth waiting for! Anyhoo, I have now uploaded the files to the printer's website, and we have paid for the (compulsory) proof. I hope to have this in my hands within a week, and if it hasn't gone completely to ratshit, I'll place the order for the first edition.

Now would be a good time for those of you who haven't forked out yet to do so. You'll get a bonus full-colour map of Xanadu-du, signed by moi. You know you want it.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Damned Book Tag

Chevy Girl and Half Man Half Beer both tagged me with this, so here goes.

1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages

The actual nearest book is 'Hugo in 3 months Spanish'. I had not previously realised what an illiterate title this is. This might turn out to be a bit dull.

2. Open the book to Page 123 and quote the 5th sentence.
'No quiso abrir la puerta.'

3. Post the next 3 sentences.
'He didn't want to open the door.
Estuve enfermo dos meses.
I was ill for two months.'

4. Tag 5 people.

It seems like all my Dubai buddies have been tagged, so with apologies to Brits and Estadounidenses in Spain:

South of Watford

The Bad Rash

Colin Davies


And to Deepak in India, no apologies, I know you'll love this:

Deepak Morris

Friday, 22 February 2008

Learning Spanish II [Aprendizaje Español Dos]

You know I was doing Spanish classes two nights a week up until Christmas? Well, I didn't go back after Christmas because I was broke and I wasn't that keen on the teacher. Recently I've started a new arrangement. A friend of ours is teaching me Spanish, and in return I help her with her English. She's actually pretty fluent already, but needs to work on her accent, pronunciation and the more obscure bits of the English language. I'll have her talking like a Northerner in no time.

When we first arrived in Madrid we went to an 'intercambio' a couple of times. This is an informal social gathering of random people from pretty much everywhere and the idea is that you talk to people who speak the language you are learning. It's good fun but I stopped going because it clashed with my class. We went last night and had a great time.

Also, I was searching the web for a site that would test my knowledge of verb conjugations. I couldn't find one, so I've started to build one. You can play with the beta version at Don't click any of the links: they ain't working yet!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Travels in Xanadu-du: Update

To those of you who have already pre-ordered a copy of my book: thank you, thank you! To the rest of you, here's a little incentive. Several of my buddies have expressed a wish that I sign their copy (in the mercenary and entirely unlikely hope that I turn out to be the next J.K. Rowling). Sadly this is not possible, because the books will be printed in Milton Keynes and sent out from Liverpool in sunny England, whilst I am stuck here in Madrid in (currently) cloudy Spain. So, here's the deal.

There is a map of Xanadu-du. It will be printed in greyscale in the book, and you may well need to refer to it in order to follow the action. Pre-orderers will get a full-colour version of that map (the same size as the book), personally signed by moi. Is that cool or is that cool? So get your order in:

Have we gone to press yet? No. Awaiting final proofreading by Don Colin (no pressure mate!), and then we get a printer's proof, and then we are in production. We're still aiming at the end of February.

And I love you all! Mwaah! Mwaah!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A Nice Cup of Tea [Una Taza de Té Agradable]

Tea is not very popular here in Spain. There's a couple of reasons for that. One is that the coffee in even the grottiest cafeteria is fabulous. It's always made from freshly-ground beans, and it puts Starbucks to shame. The other reason is that the Spanish are as lousy at making tea as they are brilliant at making coffee. I never have tea when I'm out, but I do like a mug or two of the stuff at home in the morning.

Making tea at home is where we encounter the third problem. The dominant brand of tea in Madrid is Horniman's, and I'm sorry, Mr Horniman and company, I just do not like the taste of your tea. It doesn't even taste like tea. We tried Horniman's when we first arrived last summer, and gave it a unanimous thumbs-down. Fortunately, you can buy Lipton's at Corte Ingles. Another testament to the unpopularity of tea in Spain is that you can only buy small boxes - 24 tea bags is the only size they stock.

Anyway, I did a little shopping yesterday, but I could not be bothered to go to Corte Ingles for Lipton's, so I bought Horniman's instead. And guess what!

It still tastes horrible.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Robbed! [¡Robado!]

I was relieved of my wallet on a Metro train last Saturday. We were on our way to see a band, the marvellously named 'Jamon Everybody', but had to abandon that plan due to lack of cash and bank card.

It seems that I have a tattoo on my forehead that reads 'rob this rich guiri'. It can only be seen by thieves. I plan to get it changed to 'I gave already'.

I also plan to get three or four new wallets, stuff them with notes printed in Spanish that say things like 'I am a bit fed up of you nicking my stuff', and carry one in each pocket.


Monday, 11 February 2008

Archbishop Scandalises Nation []

The speech by the Achbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, a few days ago, caused an absolute uproar in the British press and beyond. You know the one - 'the incorporation of some kind of Shari'a law into British law is unavoidable.' Sorry, Rowan, you're wrong. It would be inexcusable. At almost any level, Shari'a is totally incompatible with Western standards of law. Williams says he was only talking about things like Shari'a as it relates to family and inheritance law, and suggesting that within Muslim communities in Britain, Shari'a might be an appropriate system. So, at the risk of putting my own thoughts into his head, this is what I think he means:

1) Blokes can have up to four wives

2) Blokes can divorce any wife at any time simply by saying 'talaq' three times

3) Blokes have the right to beat up their wives if they are 'disobedient'

4) The evidence of a woman counts for half that of a man in the eyes of a Shari'a court

5) Women belong at home and can only go out if accompanied by a male relative

6) You can marry your cousin

7) Etc

The Archbishop was taken aback by the strength of the reaction, and remains unrepentant. Such a clever bloke, they all say.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Travels in Xanadu-du: Get It While It's Hot!

The deal with the printer is confirmed, so we are now taking orders for my fantastic book, Travels in Xanadu-du. Orders will be shipped before the end of February. So get clicking on the banner below.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

This Week's Theme: Happiness [Felicidad]

About a week ago, BetterArf and I walked out of the front door of our building, heading for breakfast at Momma's Caff in Plaza de Chueca. I guess it was a pleasant morning. BetterArf declared to anyone within earshot 'I love Madrid, I love our flat, I love my job, I'm so happy!' Or words to that effect.

A couple of days ago, NZM sent us an email: a survey by British Expats found that 91.3% of Brits who have moved to Spain are happy.

And today, an old friend from Dubai who now lives in France emailed me and then Skyped me, and virtually the first thing he said was that I looked and sounded happier than I ever did in the UAE.

It's a funny thing. I don't usually think about whether I'm happy or not - it's more a case of where's the next bunch of money coming from. But I really am happier in Madrid than in Dubai. I feel completely at home here, even though I can barely speak the language. I love the food, the drink, the people, the chaos, the entertainment. The 'lifestyle'. It's just fabulous. They have a saying here - 'De Madrid Al Cielo' - From Madrid To Heaven - meaning that there's only one place better than Madrid. And I think they might be right.

Friday, 1 February 2008

An Unexpected Pleasure [Un Placer Inesperado]

Yesterday was the start of Carnevale. I'm not entirely sure what this is about (in fact I'm completely clueless). It's something to do with the lead-up to Lent (the 'Christian Ramadan'). I know there's a lot of stuff going on, 'cos this is Madrid and they like us to be entertained.

This being a Friday, and yesterday being payday (for BetterArf) we decided to meet for lunch. BetterArf has a three- or four-hour break between classes on Friday afternoons. But first she wanted to buy a camera, to replace the one I got her for her birthday in November (which was stolen just after Christmas) to replace the one that was stolen in August.

We agreed to meet at FNAC at Callao. FNAC is the best place to buy techno-stuff, music and books anywhere in Europe, except the UK. Outside FNAC there was a small amount of chaos. Men and women in the costumes of Moors, Romans and brass bands were thronging the street, evidently waiting to begin a parade. Well, I hadn't brought my camera, and FNAC had no stock of the one BetterArf wanted, so we moseyed on down to the dreaded El Corte Inglés.

ECI had the camera, but the very efficient sales lady pointed out that for an extra 10 Euros we could get a higher end model with a free goodie box containing a memory card, a battery charger, a carry case and a little tripod with yellow legs. So that's what she went for and it really is pretty damn smart. In fact, I'm jealous. It has a sexy matt-black finish, a 2.8 inch screen, 8 megapixels and 3x optical zoom. And it's made by Nikon (it's an LC15), who know their way around cameras.

So we left El Corte Inglés with the camera all set up and ready to roll, and found that the parade had started. It seems that a lot of the participants had come from the Costa Brava - I'm sure there'll be a lot of colourful revelry later on. The costumes were absolutely fantastic.

What choo lookin' at?

If the bank ever find out I'm doing this . . .

You didn't! I did.

Still lovin' it!