Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2009

Street names

I wrote this article for the October edition of The Inland Magazine. I thought there wouldn't be any harm in adding it to the blog as well.

I often think that one of the most difficult things about settling into a new country, after the language, is getting a handle on the culture. As a Briton I know the significance of 1066, Morecambe and Wise, Alf Ramsay, Big Ben and the SAS. For most of us reeling off a similar list of Spanish dates, people or events would be much more difficult. Yet in every town and city there are clues plain for all to see in the names of streets, plazas and avenidas of all Spain.

The number one street name in Spain is Calle Miguel de Cervantes – named for the chap who, in 1605, published the first of his two part work Don Quixote or more accurately el Ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha probably the most famous Spanish literary work of all time, It's the book about the would be knight and his squire wandering around Spain having adventures- he&…

Hunkering on down

When I first moved to Ciudad Rodrigo I joined the library. It seemed like a small part of settling in. That and registering for the doctor.

There's a library just up the road, by the white church there. I popped in a while ago and I asked about Internet access. They turned me down because I'm not on the padrón here, a bit like being able to say that you're a ratespayer. It didn't feel like a big loss, I can get on the Internet using the dongle thingy and not only do I buy books nowadays but I could always use the library in Pinoso without any difficulty as we are back and forth from there all the time.

Anyhow, yesterday morning I was in the town centre and there was a book fair on. Spanish towns and cities often have book fairs. Lots of little cabins some selling new books, or old books, some have religious books or engineering books or maybe it's just a stand representing the Worshipful Society of Bookbinders. Quite rightly the local libraries were represented. Be…


With the best will in the World no advertising copy writer could describe the Mediterranean Coast of Spain as untouched. So it's remarkable just how much variety, and beauty, there still is amongst the concrete hotels, the rows of identical houses and the industrial estates.

A little while ago I mentioned the Mar Menor and la Manga strip. For those of you with longish memories that's the place where those poor Leicester City footballers were wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting some local women back in 2004.

Anyway, we hadn't done the northern end of the strip until today. I thought it was pretty impressive. The weather is still warm and it was very peaceful as we drove down the little road surrounded on both sides by sparkling, shallow, salty water. The sea is let into the salt pans which are then sealed so the wind and sun can drive off the water to leave behind big fat salt crystals. A couple of JCBs and a lorry were working one of the salt pans. The racket from t…

Navy Boys

I don't think the Spanish Navy is very big. From a quick Google it seems to consist of 28 ships including the oilers, the support vessels and everything else. So the question is why do I keep bumping into Navy officers?

When I was in Ciudad Rodrigo over in Salamanca I taught English to a bloke who was a lieutenant with a ride on one of their 6 frigates, the Canarias based in Rota down in Cadiz. This evening I met a chap for a language exchange and his ride is on the S-70 Galerna class submarine Tramontana built and based here in Cartagena

There are currently four submarines in the Spanish Navy all built in the mid eighties. The original design is a French one but France retired the last of this class in 2001. The Pakistanis still use them though. The replacement S-80 boats are being built by the Cartagena based Navantia shipyards. They should be finished in another four years.

Anyway the interesting thing was that this chap told me that back in December 2008 his boat sprang a lea…

On Industrial Estates

Nearly everyone who visits us asks if the water is safe to drink. Some of our visitors try to bargain on market stalls. When a leftover donkey goes past it's as though that's the proper Spain, the Spain that wears flouncy frocks and sombreros.

I was wandering through an Industrial Estate yesterday and thinking about how they're all so similar, everywhere. I'd got to the shopping centre and I was having a coffee in the chain ice cream parlour when an sms arrived from the garage to say that they'd finished servicing my car and that it was ready for collection. The man who completed my paperwork wore a white shirt that sported the name of the garage and his department.

I had a conversation with my language partner about the endless varieties of coffee you can order in a bar (Spaniards have more words for coffee than Innuit have for snow!) and, as I walked home I saw a group of people sitting on the grass outside their block of flats on folding chairs with the inevitab…

Good Luck

In the UK it's Friday the 13th but here in Spain it's Tuesday the 13th: the day when things go wrong.

I was reminded when the presenter on the main morning show on state radio made it into a little pun - martes y trece - Tuesday and the 13th - because Martes y Trece were originally a comic triple act and later a double act. From a quick shufti at the You Tube clips they are not quite Morecambe and Wise, or even Mike and Bernie Winters come to that.

I started to have a look why Spaniards go for Tuesday rather than Friday and why we Anglo Saxons as well as the Hispanics have it in for the 13th. The only consistent Tuesday complaint was that martes, the Spanish word for Tuesday, is derived from Marte or Mars the Greek God of War and so there were links with destruction and what not. Bit thin I thought. The thirteenth has the Last Supper link (13 around the table) and all the Spanish sites talk about how the 13th book of the Apocalipsis (which must be Revelations) introduces the B…

Cartagena Naval Museum

Cartagena has a long naval history. It's still the main submarine base for the Spanish Navy and Cartagena turns up lots of times as a tag line port in Spanish history. The Spanish gold reserves were shipped to the Soviet Union from Cartagena during the Spanish Civil War for instance and Alfonso XIII - the present King's grandad - went into exile from Cartagena.

So I went to have a look around the very dusty and decrepit looking Naval Museum. As with so many museums in Spain it was locked and someone had to let me in. Good start.

It had some great exhibits - the ward room from a pre WWII submarine, big old diving suits, lots of torpedoes, huge submarine batteries, lots of guns and some really well crafted models but the layout and lighting were a joke. There was some sort of theme to most of the rooms - the Spanish Navy pre 19th Century, undersea exploration, naval weaponary and even naval art but that was as far as it went. Indiviidual exhibits may or may not be labelled, the…

Another thrilling episode

This is like telling someone about a Gambian stamp collection. Well maybe a little less interesting. Boring even.

Newspapers here give things away or sell things at reduced price just like they do in the UK. The system is different though.

Normally the newspapers gives away a collection card with their Sunday edition. This ensures a few extra sales amongst the weekday only newspaper readers. You have to register your interest in the offer within a few days of its start of using various codes either to one of those automated telephone services or via a text message. In either case the registration costs a euro or two. This means that the newspaper gets money from people who mean to take advantage of the offer but then fall by the wayside for one reason or another. The offers are usually done in co-operation with one of the bigger chain stores so you collect your MP4 player from Carrefour or your Mickey and Minnie Mouse bedspreads from Corte Inglés. I collected a set of kitchen knives …

Component based servicing

This has nothing to do with Spain. Well other than the fact that it happened, is happening, in Spain.

The Mini has a very simple dashboard display. The sensors and chips dotted around the car put up warnings on the display. It says in the handbook that this component based service ensures that service is timely and cost efficient. Right.

A SERVICE message in red came up the other day. With a bit of faffing around I worked out that this particular code meant brake fluid. Isn't component a posh word for brake fluid?

Now topping up brake fluid is not a difficult task. Open the bottle, open the brake fluid reservoir. Transfer an appropriate amount of liquid from bottle to reservoir. Close various containers and Bob it is. I did it on a regular basis on the MG.

But years ago brake fluid used to be hygroscopic, it attracted water and self diluted, so that it needed to be changed on a regular basis. Mind you the brake fluid I'm talking about was made from the roasted shells of cashe…

The Tower of Babel

Youth and young seem to be pretty inclusive words in Spain. When the TV news talks about the difficulties facing young people buying a first home they are talking about anyone under 35 not just teenagers. That in mind I wasn't too concerned about going to the Espacio Joven - the Young Space - to ask about language exchanges. A couple of people had told me that the "youth place" people were the organisers of a language exchange programme.

Espacio Joven was a busy office; there were lots of twenty somethings looking at notice boards full of information about jobs, flats to rent, courses and things for sale. I presume that Espacio Joven offers services and information to young people but it wasn't obvious what or how. I'm sure they will have an impenetrable website somewhere that explains it all in extremely long words!

As usual there was absolutely no indication of where to go or who to talk to - no enquiries desk, no notices explaining what any of the 10 to 15 pe…