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Showing posts from September, 2009

Weather superlatives

I've never seen rain like it!" - that's the line we get from neighbours and pals in and around Pinoso every time there's a big storm - and I've said before that the weather here is pretty extreme. The trouble with superlatives is that they leave you nowhere to exaggerate to.

Yesterday morning we were woken at around dawn by the thunder crashing and the lightning sparking. The power was off, the emergency lighting was on in the stairwell of our block of flats. Rain was seeping in through open windows. At around noon it was still raining but we thought a drive along the rain sodden coast would be amusing. Maggie's car, the Mitsubishi, never missed a beat as it splished and splashed through the streams running down the carriageways, waded through the lakes ponded back against sleeping policemen and picked a way through or around the banks of silt and rocks washed into the roads. It was still raining when we got back at about five in the afternoon. It was still ra…

More on Carthaginians and Romans

Since the last entry about this huge festival in the town we've seen a Roman Circus with gladiators and beheadings and dancing girls and chariot races, a procession of all the Roman and Carthaginian troops and a battle between the two armies for the city. It's been OK but it hasn't really caught my imagination in the way that Moors and Christians did the first time I saw them.

We have just been down to the camp where there are fifty eateries and bars based on each of the different groups. We hoped for a Bacchanalian or at least Epicurean orgy but all we managed were overpriced drinks in a sea of special deals!

A matter of routine

This is where I go to buy newspapers and magazines. As a genus they are called quioscos, kiosks, they exist everywhere in Spain. Common as muck. Nearly all of the quioscos in Cartagena are painted this deep red colour and lots are of a modernist design from the early 20th century. Not this one though.

Notice the TV aerial and the crowd of men using it as a meeting space.

I am right in thinking that this sort of newsstand never really existed in the UK aren't I? They were some in Central London, lots in Picadilly Circus as I recall, but they were never common in Walsall or Birkenhead to my knowledge.

Rhyming slang: Bankers?

There was an item in all the Spanish newspapers yesterday to say that the commissions charged by Spanish banks are the second highest in the European Union. The average charge for an average client to maintain a current account in Spain was given as 178€. Only the Italians charge more at 253€. If a customer isn't average and uses his or her account a lot then the estimated cost in Italy would be 1,540€ and 650€ in Spain.

For comparison, based on an average user, Bulgaria charges 27€, Holland 46€, Belgium 58€ whilst Germany comes in at 89€ and the UK at 103€ - in France the cost would be 154€.

The report also said that the four countries where the charges are most "opaque" were Austria, France, Italy and Spain. In fact the experts from the EU who were set the task of compiling this report found that in two thirds of the banks surveyed they were unable to determine what the charges would be from the published details. They had to go direct to the banks for further informat…

On the straight and narrow

The first, proper, train line in Spain was opened in October 1848 between Barcelona and Mataró. It was designed by an English Engineer called Joseph Locke, half the capital was English, the main contractors were called Mackenzie and Brassey and the four initial locomotives were built by a firm called Jones and Potts. That's why Spanish trains still drive on the left. It didn't occur to the British designers or engineers to do it any other way. They did however, make the same decision as I. K. Brunel (though he had to change his track later to fit in with the majority decision) to build to a wider gauge - 1.688 metres as against the more usual 1.435 metres.

Just as in the UK the market was soon dominated by major companies but instead of the initials being GNER or LNR the Spanish ones were TBF (Tarragona, Barcelona, Francia), MZA (Madrid, Zaragoza, Alicante) and Ferrocarriles Andaluces (Andalusian railways.) Just like in the UK the fat years were followed by thin and a quango,…

Still, officially, looking

The Official School of Languages. Not some back street academy run by a pack of St Trinians types. No, the real thing, the official thing. They do lots of English courses and plenty of other languages but they don't do Spanish courses. It was one of the first places I checked when I started the hunt. Despite all the setbacks we are still looking for a Spanish course or, at least, some Spanish practice.

I went to the Escuela Oficial today because a colleague of Maggie's had suggested that their noticeboard was loaded with people looking for intercambios, exchanges, half an hour of Spanish and half an hour of English over a beer a couple of times a week so that both sides get a bit of conversational exercise. As you can see from the snap the place was heaving with people. But, on the noticeboard, nobody, nothing; well I could have rented a flat or bought a car or got some translation work done but no inercambios. I left a little ad of my own. Fingers crossed.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum

We were in Culebrón for the weekend so we missed the start of the Carthaginians and Romans Fesival here in town. This evening it was the wedding of Hannibal and Himilce and we went to see if there was any cake going.

We were too far from the stage to enjoy the spectacle so we didn't stay long. Neither did we go on to see the wedding celebrations at the encampment - too old, what with being up at 5.30 this morning and with Maggie wanting to get up early tomorrow morning to prepare some school stuff  - but just being in town surrounded by people wearing togas, leather breastplates, those little metal skirts and carrying spears was pretty good fun. More to come I'm sure.

Ashamed of my education

Last week we signed up for a Spanish course and this evening we went to the introductory evening where they would tell us the details about when, where etc.

We got a Power Point presentation about the organisation, a non profit making body and though they didn't say it explicitly they implied that all the tutors were volunteers. Maggie and I began to feel uncomfortable. We may be a bit hard up but this organisation wasn't set up to help folk like us.

There were just seven of us who had signed up for the Spanish for Immigrants course. Of the three Moroccans one had no schooling of any sort, one had done two years of Koranic education and one had eight years school behind him. The Rumanian couple had completed Primary but not Secondary Education. We shuffled and tried not to say too much about our degrees and postgrad qualifications.

Fortunately the man who co-ordinated the Spanish courses had worked out what he'd got with us and he suggested optional ways that we might impr…

Fundamental research pays off

We were in a bar yesterday. Part of  our research  into the local area you understand. It wasn't in the Showtime bar which was orange and chrome, nor was it in the Reserva, the one with the "Cigar Store Indian" but it was in the one with the life sized pirates. On the bar was a tattily photocopied leaflet headed "Free Education." One of the courses on offer was Spanish for Foreigners. The last day to sign up was today at anytime between 7 and 8.30 in the evening so we went and did it.

It was a strange place where we signed up. An office in a block of flats with old looking furniture and outdated office equipment but with welcoming and friendly staff who dealt with us as though we had learning difficulties. Nonetheless they told us what the process was, made sure we knew where we were going etc. My guess is that it was some sort of local charity with Local Authority funding to provide grass roots, second chance, education in a run down area. I felt a bit of a fr…

¿Qué pasa?

We unemployed people have plenty of time on our hands if we choose not cook tasty meals for our loved ones, do the laundry or swab down the floors. I considered just reading the paper and tinkering on the computer as usual but, as we are still exploring our new town, I put on my Pith Helmet and set out to see what I could find.

Near the Roman Ampitheatre a young woman enticed me into the Byzantine Walls Museum. She was standing outside the place to drag in customers. Maybe she should try to persuade her employers to invest in a sign. "It's free," she said - sale made. Odd place; it looks like a block of flats, well actually it is a block of flats, it just so happens that below ground there are Byzantine walls built on top of Visigothic remains built on top of a Roman house with a Moorish cess pit thrown in for good measure. It's not up there with the Uffizi or even Monkwearmouth Station Museum but it was worth the stop.

Then the aeroplanes flew over (see last blog ent…

The Eagle Patrol

It sounds right doesn't it? Like Q Bikes. Eagle Patrol; it could be something out of the Boys' Own or one of those films that goes "Red leader this is Blue leader bandits at  two o clock angels 20: watch yourself Bingo."

The Eagle Patrol, Patrulla Aguila, the Spanish Air Force's equivalent of the Red Devils flew over Cartagena today trailing red and yellow smoke from their Casa C101 Aviojets. I wasn't expecting them, I'm amazed I got the snap.


I may have started when I was younger but I distinctly remember making plans to avoid dancing classes at school when I was 7 years old. Over the years I have gone to great lengths to avoid dancing. I was told that dancing was the key to sex when I was a teenager so I went to a couple of discos but I hated them. I decided that I could do without sex if it involved dancing. I don't dance. People are always telling me that I should. They tell me how much fun it is, how I'll enjoy it when I get started. They're wrong. It isn't fun, it's humiliating and I don't enjoy it - I detest it, I hate it, I loathe it and I would quite happily hurt the fools who continue to pester me about why I should dance. Today I went back to the Adult Education Centre for the "presentation" about the Spanish for Foreigners course. There were a couple of hundred people in the hallway pushing and bumping into each other, I was dripping with sweat having walked there quickly, there w…

Well it caught my attention

You're not fat. You're beautiful.

It's on the back of a van that delivers parcels and such.

Processes, people and paperwork

Years, nay centuries ago I worked in adult education - evening classes and what not. As part of the annual routine we would work hard from around April time to ensure that we had a full programme of courses to offer as September came around. We produced booklets with details of the courses, we advertised in the local newspapers, we updated websites and we did all we could to sell our courses.

We tried hard to describe the course, where, when, what people might learn from it and what was expected of them. In fact both the students and the teachers used to get fed up with the amount of detail we asked for and supplied.

Maggie and I want to do a Spanish course. We've done them before here in Spain but usually in small towns where a quick visit to the Town Hall or the library has turned up a leaflet which gives sufficient detail for us to know when and where the course is, how much it costs and how to sign up. In Cartagena, a city of 210,000 people it didn't prove so easy to find…


I was mopping the floors in the flat. You can do that with tiled floors. It struck me that the floor cleaning products in Spain don't smell anything like as strong as the floor cleaners in the UK. It may say fresh woodland or heady pine on the label but it doesn't have that institutionally clean smell that went along with the green gloss painted brick school toilets of my youth.

I suppose as most Spanish houses don't have carpets mopping out is the usual thing and Jeyes Fluid or Izal Pine may be just a bit overpowering as you settle down to watch the Estonia - Spain game with an eight pack of Mahou.

Work, education and pleasure

Maggie isn't taking to Cartagena. I think it's the sticky weather more than anything but our new flat isn't very comfy either. Part of that is the lack of those bits and bats we take for granted - pegs, kitchen bins, hooks etc. More than that though we're living in a city, not a provincial town nor the countryside, so there is the noise of traffic roaring past all the time and, well, 210,000 people packed into a smallish sort of space. Watching the telly is a bit of a juggling act between being able to hear it at all and risking the neighbours banging on the ceiling with a stick!. I'm sure it will all improve as we settle in and get ourselves organised. We shall see. Yesterday some people, a couple of young English women called Kate and Jane, interviewed me about working for them in their langauge school doing a few hours each week. The contact came through one of Maggie's teaching colleagues. It would suit me down to the ground and it sounded like straightforwa…

I hate it, I hate it, I hate it!

That was what Maggie shouted as we walked the local streets looking for a cheap housewares shop. "It's like being in a sauna."

It is remarkably humid today. Drops of sweat are running down my arms and onto the keyboard and the beads that form on my forehead suddenly coalesce into little rivulets that chase down the side of my nose, across my cheeks and down to the floor via my chin. Yet the temperature has been quite low, only 29ºC

Is this a one off or is our new seaport home going to be a bit stickier than our former Spanish residences?

Signing in

I got up at 5.30am, I am dripping in sweat, the connection is running very slowly and Windows is determined to install yet another Service Pack but, nonetheless, I wanted to register the fact that we were here.
Maggie is at her new school working. At 8.45 on the first day of term, unlike in Ciudad Rodrigo, there were other staff members kicking around. The caretaker greeted Maggie with a cheery Good Morning! (in English), introduced himself and said "You'll want to see the Head then?"

I came on to the flat and unpacked the stuff to the flat. It's a good job we haven't brought much as there is hardly any storage space - no shelves, cupboards etc. Now to go out and buy all those basic household items from salt and dishcloths to tea and rubbish bins. More sweating I suppose.