I have a couple of language exchanges, intercambios, each week. The idea is that we meet and we speak a bit of English and a bit of Spanish. One meeting is with a Spanish chap who takes his language learning very seriously, as an academic challenge. The other is with an Ecuadorian woman who has more practical reasons for wanting to learn English. Both of them do what every Spanish speaker does when I get going on this topic. They say my Spanish is good (but they have no answer as to why people screw up their faces in incomprehension when I try to buy a packet of fags) or that a few mistakes are all part of the fun. I say the same to them about their English - all jolly civilised.
I can't agree though when they trot out that old chestnut that it's all about communication though. It's obviously true - Byron and Dylan Thomas used language to communicate as do Sun journalists and HM Customs and Revenue. What my intercambios mean though is that language's main function is relaying messages and that isn't true, at least I don't want it to be for me.
I can go to Elda train station and with two fingers, the word Madrid on a bit of paper and a back and forth motion of my arm I can get two return tickets to Madrid. I understand that people buy chickens by clucking. But my birthright is Shakespeare and Marlowe and Enid Blyton. I want to say what I want to say, to mould language to my will and I'll be damned if I'm going to be reduced to flapping my arms.
I got involved in helping someone from the UK, brand new to Spain, to get a new clutch for his car. He had never met me before, didn't know what I was saying in the garage and decided that he could assist me by miming clutch. He stood on his right leg and moved his left leg in a clutch pumping sort of motion. I knew what he wanted and I could see the link between the action and his need. The garage-man on the other hand didn't and couldn't. He watched the action, turned to me, and asked if the man was dancing. Sometimes only words will do.
I know that it can never be perfect. I was reading the (Spanish) paper and the (Spanish) telly was on in the background. I suddenly heard a Brit speaking Spanish. Actually, it wasn't a Brit it was Ian Gibson and he's Irish. He's lived here for years, he's an author who writes learned books in Spanish. Nonetheless, it took me fewer than three seconds to spot from the pace and rhythm of his language that he wasn't Spanish.
So I know I'm never going to sound Spanish but if Arnold Schwarzenegger can get to be Governor of California with a funny accent maybe I can crack this packet of fags thing.
On the biblical three score years and ten concept I've still got a few years left to do it.