Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Fab Video

I saw a link to this amazing video on Mac Thomson's Sandlander blog. Visually, fab. Quite a good chanson too.

Easy Ads

Having forsaken Dubai for Madrid last summer, I was quite hopeful that I would never see another tower crane or live next to a building site ever again. Well, I was wrong. Just out of sight of Plaza de Chueca, but not out of earshot, we have three major building sites. The noisiest is the reconstruction of Mercado San Martín (St Martin's Market), where for the last two months they have been pile-driving. They seem to have finished that (very noisy operation) recently, and are now quietly throwing up steel columns and beams. In the Plaza itself, there's a couple of buildings having their facades fixed.

In the last few days, scaffolding has been erected around the building that has the wonderful Taverna de Angel Sierra pub on its ground floor. I was a bit surprised yesterday morning to see floodlights being mounted at the top of the scaffolding - were they planning to work in the dark? But returning from a night out at the writer's group, we saw the reason for the floodlights.

Yes, to illuminate a chuffing enormous advert for EasyJet. I think that building sites involving scaffolding have to be surrounded by netting to stop stray bits of debris from falling to the ground and injuring people. And the EasyNet certainly looks more capable of doing the job than the ancient green stuff on the building next door but one. But it's intrusive and not pretty, and I hope it doesn't stay up too long.

I can't translate the words exactly, but I think means something like: stop imagining everyone neckid - go see.

Our square is a trendy little place, by the way, and frequently gets used as a backdrop for filming ads and music videos. The fruit and veg shop has been used for something - an advert or a feature film - that required a film crew the size of a Premier League football squad, using proper movie cameras rather than vidjo. On Valentine's Day this year, Ryanair staged a stunt involving hundreds of people having a group snog.

All very interesting.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Fire! [¡Fuego!]

Something's ablaze in the east of Madrid. Anybody know? Please leave a comment.

Five Things I Adore About Madrid

1) Sociability
The Spanish are very sociable people. I think they are trained this way in school, and I like it. Whenever you enter a lift, or a bar or restaurant, somebody will say 'Hola' or 'Buenas dias' or whatever is appropriate. When you leave, they'll say some variant of 'hasta luogo' (until later), unless they hate you or never expect to see you again, in which case they'll say 'adios'. I also like it when bar staff refer to me as 'caballero' - it just means 'gentleman', like the sign on the bogs, but it makes me feel good.

2) The Metro

Madrid's Metro system is extraordinarily good. And they keep on growing it. Recently-completed extensions make it the second-largest in Europe (the London Underground is 415 km long, Madrid is now 284 km with 282 stations, for less than half the population of London). Madrid's Metro is also the densest in the world - in the centre you are never more than 500 metres from a Metro station. I was on the platform at Gran Via the other day, and looking down the tunnel, I could see the next station (Sol). Amazing. And also very cheap: if you buy a 10-trip ticket, each trip is 6.7 centimos [correction: 67 centimos!].

The recent expansion cost a few billion Euros. But in terms of reducing car use and preserving the environment, it's a bargain.

3) Liveability

I love European (as opposed to British) town/city centres because they are designed and built for people to live in. In any European city, you will find that the centre comprises mostly apartment blocks of 5 or 6 storeys. The ground floor will be shops or bars or restaurants, and the upper floors will be apartments. It's a wonderful arrangement, and I believe it makes European city centres safer than those in Britain because people actually own (or rent) inner city space and are not going to stand for any shenanigans. I actually wrote my college thesis on this topic, so I know a bit about what I'm talking about.

And we are able to rent our tiny flat for 800 Euros a month: it overlooks Plaza de Chueca, a five-minute walk to Gran Via, ten minutes to Puerta del Sol. The equivalent in London might be Picadilly Circus: if there were actually any flats to rent there, what would you have to pay?

4) Reality
Possibly the wrong title for this section. What I mean is that your bus driver, your postman or your waiter will most likely be Spanish. In many of the restaurants that I frequent, the waiters are in their fifties, possibly more. They are doing the job that they have always done. What I have in my head here is that in England (say), you will never find a waitperson of that age. In Dubai (say) you will never find an Emirati working as a waiter. Never. It just doesn't happen.

5) Liberality
Having lived in the Middle East for thirteen years before coming here, I'm still coming to terms with the idea that people can do pretty much what they like, and it's not the end of the world.

People snog each other at bus stops. Nobody is forced to wear black clothes or white clothes according to their gender. You don't need to get a licence to be able to buy booze.

In Dubai, as a blogger, I always tried to hide my identity, and I always censored myself. Now I don't have to. But, oddly enough, I'm not finding a whole lot to criticise here in Spain. The bureaucracy is horrible, unhelpful and whatever, but I'm more relaxed about it than I was in the UAE. Probably because I feel like I belong here, and I don't have the threat of deportation hanging over my head the whole time.

When I left Dubai last summer, a few of my fans were expecting a massive diatribe about all the shit we endured while we were there. Well, there's certainly a book in there. But if I write it, it'll be for posthumous publication; there's nothing to be gained from slagging the place off. The UAE Community Blog is doing a pretty good job of that, anyway.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Four Spanish Words and a Phrase

These four words and the last phrase never fail to bring a smile to my face:

Pongo = I put

Bimbo = sliced bread

¡Bestial! = fantastic, amazing

Tonto = idiot, stupid (the Lone Ranger and...)

Metro station announcement: "Atención, estación en curva. Al salir, tengan cuidado de no introducir el pie entre coche y andén" = "Mind The Gap".

Literally, "Attention, the station is on a curve. When you leave, take care not to introduce your foot between the coach and the platform." I think I prefer the British version!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Never Mind The Bollocks. Pvnk.

At last week's Madrid Writer's Group meeting, I was involved in a conversation between two of the members. They were wondering who was the first person to say the word 'fuck' on television, and suspected it was to do with the Sex Pistols. I had to step in: I thought it was Kennneth Tynan - and I was right, clever old me. But then I had to tell my Sex Pistols story.

The Sex Pistols became notorious after their appearance on the 'Today' program hosted by Bill Grundy (broadcast in the London area only) . After an apparently inebriated Grundy had made a pass at Siouxsie Sioux, the following dialogue ensued between SP member Steve Jones and Grundy:

Jones: You dirty sod. You dirty old man.
Grundy: Well keep going chief, keep going. Go on. You've got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
Jones: You dirty bastard.
Grundy: Go on, again.
Jones: You dirty fucker.
Grundy: What a clever boy.
Jones: What a fucking rotter.

This was in 1977: the olden days. Subsequent to that, the Sex Pistols became more famous than God and were banned from performing pretty much anywhere in the UK.

As luck would have it, in the summer of 77, Ratbag (ex-gf) and I were going on holiday to Penzance in Cornwall. About as far from anywhere in the UK as you can get. Before we set off, I had read in the NME (New Musical Express - my weekly bible at the time) that a band called SPOTS were embarking on a national tour. They hinted that the name stood for 'Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly.' When we got to Penzance, I saw posters for SPOTS at the Winter Gardens. Woo-hoo!

We got tickets, and queued in the rain for the doors to be opened. There were kids in the queue who had ripped their best school shirts and dyed their hair blue or pink. The dye was not waterproof, and they had streams of blue or pink staining their faces and shirts. Nobody in the audience looked like a punk. But the guys on stage did. We all knew we were witnessing something historic, and it was no surprise when we discovered that they couldn't play their instruments (actually it was only SidVicious who really couldn't play), and the singing was somewhat crap.

So now you know; cuddly old Keefieboy is a closet punk.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Getafe v. Bayern Munich

I accidentally watched this game at an Oirish Pub nearby. I'd only gone there because I fancied some British beer. What a thriller it was. This is a quarter final match in the UEFA Cup. Nobody (except people in Spain and DubaiBilly) has ever heard of Getafe, but they are Madrid's number three team, based in an industrial suburb south of Madrid.

The game got off to an ignominious start, with Getafe's Ruben de la Red being sent off in the sixth minute - for the life of me, I don't know why. The first half was scrappy, but Getafe managed a goooooooooooooooooooooool in the 44th minute (Cosmin Contra). The second half was also a bit messy, but a few of the Getafe players were taking dives over the slightest breath of a tackle, whereas the Germans just got on with playing football. I really, really hate the theatrics of Latino players, especially these days when video replays can show what really happened. So I was not remotely impressed when one of the Getafe players managed to produce a nosebleed after rolling around the pitch for a bit. Neither was the referee. But apparently UEFA has not yet introduced an automatic send-off rule for such shenanigans.

The game went on, both teams pretty evenly matched. In the 88th minute, Bayern equalized (Franck Ribery). Gol, said the commentator, without any bias whatsoever. And so the game went to extra time. Getafe scored in the second minute. And then again in the third minute. So, 3-1, you'd think it was settled, wouldn't you.

But Bayern never gave up, and I absolutely couldn't believe it when they scored five minutes before the end, and then again right on the final whistle. Incredible! And then I expected it to go to penalties, but after watching adverts on the telly for ten more minutes I went home. There's nothing on the internet to say what happens next: surely not a replay for a quarter final?

UPDATE: I've just seen on Reuters that Bayern won on the 'away goals rule': meaning they scored more goals in their away from home game than Getafe did. So, that's kind of OK. 'Cos I'm really pissed off by the acting from some of the Getafe players: no need for it whatsoever; it's disgraceful and dishonourable. So nerr.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Madrid Writer's Group

I've been meaning to go to the Madrid Writer's Critique Group for about two months, ever since I found out about it via Abha Malpani, who left a comment on one of my posts.

Last week, MamaDuck and I finally got around to going, and we met some very interesting people. We went again last night, met some more interesting folks, and I suspect that our Tuesday evenings henceforth will be taken up with this. I've added a new section to my sidebar that links to some of the writers I met. The list will no doubt expand as I get to know more of the members.

On the topic of POD (Print-On-Demand), I found out this morning that has turned evil. Apparently they have a new policy of not selling POD books unless they are produced by BookSurge (which Amazon owns). They will still list POD books from other sources, but will no longer sell them direct. Which strikes me as a form of blackmail. They are using their market strength to force people to use BookSurge. Now, that might be ok, if it wasn't for the terrible reputation that BookSurge has. There are stories all over the internet about BS producing books with upside-down pages, or back-to-front page order, or just generally poor quality. Whereas Lightning Source products are extremely good, and very hard to distinguish from traditional offset-printed books. Add to that the higher costs of BookSurge production coupled with the deep discount now being required by Amazon, and you have a situation where POD books will become significantly more expensive than previously, and POD publisher's margins will be squeezed to the bone. Not a happy scenario, and I hope that Amazon will wake up one morning and see sense. Yeah, right.

This will run and run, and I don't think it will ultimately benefit Amazon. This looks a lot like a monopolization of a market sector. Sadly the remedy for that is legal action, and we all know how long that can take.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Weather: You Like it or Not

We have endured our first Madrid winter, and, happily, it was not nearly as horrible as we had been led to believe it might be. A couple of weeks ago we thought that Spring had sprung. It's been sunny and dry, and depending on the wind-chill factor (which can be very significant up here at almost 700 metres above sea level), warm. And this is great, because it means we can use the terrace for sitting out on, and eating and drinking, and this effectively doubles the size of our flat.

But today has been pretty horrible. It's been overcast all day, with little spots of rain through the afternoon. About half-an-hour ago (7pm), the heavens opened and the rain came down. It brought some hail with it too, and a whole lot of thunder and lightning.

The thunderstorm has passed now, but it's still raining quite heavily.

Ach, well, it could be worse. I could be in England, where they've had snow. I guess it's all to do with global warming.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Cercedilla and Cotos

We had a brilliant day out today, to Cercedilla which is in the mountains to the north, on the way to Segovia. MamaDuck had been told about this place by some of her work colleagues. Their advice was that when you got off the train, you change for a smaller one that chugs its way higher into the mountains. This line ends at a place called Cotos (remember this, it's important), but we jumped off at the first stop, Cercedilla Pueblo.

What we needed to do was
a) Have coffee, and
b) Buy some bread to go with our picnic.

Wandering around the pretty pueblo, we discovered that there were no cafés, and no shops. So we walked back down the hill to Cercedilla proper, had some coffee, bought some bread, and then headed off up a pine-wooded mountain. It was fantastic to be away from the city, to see cows, to be surrounded by green stuff and country noises rather than city noises. Much of the noise was generated by the grazing cows, whose bells would bong whenever they chewed a mouthful of grass.

We clambered around the woods for a few hours, and headed back to the railway station around mid-afternoon. There was a certain amount of confusion at the station. Nobody there, including the RENFE station manager, knew which platform the train for Madrid would arrive on. We were advised to listen for announcements. There were a couple of dozen boisterous and happy students on the platform with us. By default, when you leave the ticket office, you are on platform 4, and it is theoretically possible that Madrid-bound trains could stop there. But they could also stop at platform 1 or 2, which are reached via an underpass.

When we were about 10 minutes away from the departure time, the RENFE signature tune was played over the speakers. Everyone fell silent to listen. The pre-recorded voice said 'proxima tren por...' (next train for...). Then the station manager said 'Cotos'. And then the machine-voice said 'via tres' (platform 3).

This was repeated a few times, and our companions heading for Madrid began making jokes about it. Hell, we all desperately wanted some advance warning of where the Madrid train was going to be - everybody had rucksacks, some had guitars, a few had mountain bikes. The last thing anyone wanted was to have to do a twenty-second dash through an underpass.

Announcements for Cotos continued. Probably two dozen in all. Someone compared the announcer's accent to that of failed Presidential candidate Mariano Rajoy. The next time the announcement was made, the Rajoy joke was extended to reveal that the name of the little girl (la niña) who spoke to Rajoy in his dreams and was his inspiration during the election campaign was... 'Cotos.'

It was all screamingly funny, and yes, about one minute before the train was due, we were told it would be on platform 1, so we all had to do the tunnel-scramble. Although there was a bit more confusion because Cercedilla station has both a platform '01', and a platform '1'.

We all boarded the train. As it happened, MamaDuck and I were in the same carriage as the students. There was another group of students and a mountain of rucksacks already in place in that coach. At the next stop, a third bunch got on. It was fun to start with, but after about ten minutes of the noise I would have quite happily jumped out of the window.

Finally we arrived at Madrid. We had overheard that most of them would be getting off at Nuevos Ministerios, the stop before ours. They all managed to get off with their kit, and there were a few minutes of silence. Then the train announcement said 'Proxima Parada...' (next stop...), and the remaining students all yelled 'Cotos!'

Oh, how we laughed. But I don't think anyone who was waiting for the 1534 to Madrid at Cercedilla station today will ever be able to hear the word 'Cotos' again without cracking up.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Getting Better at Not Being Robbed

What a great title, eh? But if you've been following the plot, you'll know that MamaDuck and I have been robbed a great deal more than you might consider to be reasonable since we moved to Madrid last August.

MamaDuck reports that she spotted a robbing crew on a Metro train a few weeks ago, and gave them such dirty looks that they had to move down the carriage to find a new victim.

Last week in a local pub, the friends I was with had not one, but two laptops with them. The bags were placed between my buddy and his girlfriend, but he went to the little boy's room, and when he came back he sat between the two laptop bags. The approaching robbing crew was spotted by his girlfriend: they were very clearly aiming for the bag on the outside. My buddy moved the laptop bag and the thieves made a swift exit.

Today we had a truly remarkable experience. We were having lunch in a very pleasant restaurant in Lavapiés. Just after the main courses arrived, a waitress ran up to MamaDuck and said she thought her bag had been stolen. Yes, indeed it had. For fuck's sake. She ran out of the restaurant. I followed after putting on my jacket (my jacket is now effectively my wallet: it would be just too ironic to run off chasing a thief, only to find my jacket had gone for a walk)

We ran down Calle Argumosa. Yelling, shouting. It was a fine day and there were many people sitting at tables on the street. Some of them got up and went for a run. We never saw the thief, and gave up the chase about halfway down the street. MamaDuck returned to the restaurant, I continued down the street a bit. And then a miracle happened. A man came up to me and presented me with MamaDuck's bag. Unbelievable! I walked back up the street, holding the bag high. Somebody said 'local hero!' and everybody started to clap as I walked past them. Lovely, it was. MamaDuck was somewhat stunned and amazed to get her bag, and its contents, back.

It's only a matter of time before we actually catch one of these worthless assholes in the act. Expect extreme violence. Possible jail time. Because we're not putting up with this shit no mo'.

Friday, 4 April 2008

North or South, East or West, Xanadu-du Is The Best

UPDATE: In light of certain comments made on this post, I have added a few clarifying notes: they are in blue.

I got myself entangled in an utterly bizarre exchange of comments on a blog last week, and I'm using that as an excuse for the lack of recent posts. I urge you to follow this link, read the original post, and then read the comments from I*maginate (the opponent) and Keefieboy (me, the Good Guy). If you haven't wet yourself laughing or died of bewilderment by the end of it, you can have a free copy of my book.*

There is this thing in England/UK, called the North/South Divide (and I'm sure there's a similar thing in Spain, probably called the Costas/Meseta Dividir, and in every country on Earth where the area around the capital city is more wealthy than the outlying regions). In all of these countries, you usually get a situation where intelligent and ambitious people (not necesarily the same set of people) gravitate to where the opportunities and the money are. Norman Tebbit famously summarised this: no work where you live? 'Get on your bike!'

Thanks to globalisation, it has become increasingly easy for anyone from anywhere to move to wherever they want. Thanks to the EU, I could fly into Poland tomorrow and make gazillions as the only plumber in town. I might have to learn how to do plumbing first, but maybe it's optional.

I*maginate's dribblings didn't trouble me much. There is no sense in which I feel inferior to any other Brit (or, indeed, anyone else on the planet) just because I happened to have been born in Durham City and raised in Doncaster, Yorkshire, in the North of England. I have lived in: Weybridge, Surrey; Brighton, Sussex; Leicester; Liverpool (2008 EU Capital of Culture, don't you know); Edinburgh (a very short gig, but I liked it!); Cardiff; Bristol; Bolton, Lancashire; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Dubai, UAE; Madrid, Spain.

The question is, where the fuck is I*maginate from? Latest betting is Waziristan, Pakistan (as suggested by an anonymous commenter: I have no personal knowledge/opinion), and she has not yet responded to that suggestion. She's certainly not a Surrey lass.

So, when a (supposed) Pakistani (who lives in Dubai, and as far as I know has no real comprehension of British society - and I only say this because she is very elusive about her origins and background) complains about hearing the word 'Scunthorpe' over the P.A. system at a posh horse race, and then goes on to denigrate a sincere questioner, you have to ask yourself: what planet are you on/from? The Real Nick commented about how weird it was that a Northerner now living in Madrid was having this fight with a (supposed) Pakistani living in Dubai about the supposed English North/South Divide. Weird, indeed.

This all happened on The UAE Community Blog, which is a kind of boxing ring for locals and expats and anyone who has ever had a connection with Dubai to talk tontería and have occasional fights like this. I'm not sure I wish we had something like it in Spain!

I don't have anything against Pakistanis (except those who support the Taliban/Al Qaeda/Musharraf) or anyone, really. I just don't like bad guys. I don't quite know where I*maginate sits: I'm sure she doesn't belong to any of the above-mentioned groups. But it really would be cool if she came out of her little closet and gave a little more information.

I'maginate is definitely off my Christmas card list.

*Documentary evidence required, terms and conditions apply.