Compensating for Drift


The animated chart on the television screen by the cafeteria is a little disconcerting; according to the flickering arrow, the bow of our ferry will run aground on the north Brittany coast, somewhere around Plouguerneau. Watching for a moment, though, makes it clear that our actual path is a little way off from the ship’s heading, the Captain accurately following an imaginary line that will see us slide past Ushant and south into the Bay of Biscay and, ultimately, to Bilbao.

The discrepancy in our direction is, of course, to compensate for the motion of the wind and water, which have their own ideas about where we should be headed. Navigating on the sea is not like driving along a road. Were the engines to stop, we wouldn’t coast gently to a halt, but instead would be carried who-knows-where by the tides, winds and currents. ... read more

The Infection


Sue has some new students arriving today for a session of English speaking practice, so I’ve done the enlightened, supportive, modern-man thing and buggered off in case I’m given a job. That’s why I find myself in my usual cafetería but at the wrong time of day; instead of half-asleep workmen exchanging their grunts and nods over breakfast, this time those around me are the younger, noisier, late-lunch clientèle, each with one eye on his or her conversation partner, and the other on the incoming SMS or email messages on their now indispensible “es-mart-fonn”. ... read more

High Society


I’ve just passed El Miralrio, a gated community of opulent and somewhat vulgar modern mansions on a hillside overlooking the river Guadiana as it flows lazily into Mérida. I can imagine the great and the good – the politicians, financiers, and heads of administration – looking down on us all from this walled citadel as we scurry around trying to find a way to sustain all of their excesses. Just a kilometre or so down the road, though, I find myself gazed down upon from an altogether different high society. ... read more

The Charge of the Lite Brigade


In addition to stuffing the hire car’s glove box with paper maps, this time we’ve brought on our house-hunting mission a laptop PC and newfangled (for this time in 2006) route finding software. It’s the Lite version, given away free with some magazine or other, so on launching the program it’s always keen to remind me that some features may therefore be ‘missing, or limited in performance’. Maybe that’s why it drew a blank at breakfast time when we asked it the way to a small village called La Puebla de Sancho Perez, where we have a room reserved for tonight. The low-tech paper equivalent gets us there without incident, however. ... read more

La Cosecha


It’s olive harvesting season.

Including the bucketful I’ve just collected from our single olive tree, which Sue is currently preparing for its journey through soaking and pickling in brine, we’ve picked perhaps three quarters of our modest annual harvest; the fifteen or so kilos will be plenty for our own consumption and for small gifts for friends and family. We’re lucky to be enjoying some sunny winter days, so her work is being carried out on the terrace, in sunglasses and shirtsleeves, while I inspect the myriad of tiny scrapes and scratches my hands and arms have collected while working in the tree. No major damage. Nothing that one or two of Sue’s beers won’t fix, anyway. Come sundown the temperature will drop like a stone and we’ll be scurrying indoors to install ourselves around the wood stove and sample a couple of bottles. ... read more

Identity Crisis


The neighbouring village has a street market each Tuesday morning. I often enjoy passing an hour or so there, even though I rarely buy anything. Today, instead of walking or cycling there, I’ve decided to drive, as rain has been forecast – I like to take exercise, but at heart I’m a lightweight. The heavy sky and erratic gusts back up the weatherman’s words, and I’m satisfied that on this occasion my laziness is justified. Sure enough, as I pass the poplar trees and white walls of the cemetery and head out of the village the first heavy drops splatter the windscreen and patter and pop on the roof. ... read more

The Man on the Mérida Omnibus

“What time does the bus go to Mérida?” I ask a middle aged lady standing in what I hope is the bus queue.

It’s an easy enough phrase to get right, even with my less than perfect Spanish. Still, she looks at me as though I’ve just asked her to reupholster my tortoise.

“Well … it’ll be … the same as always … ” she stammers.

Clearly she has never heard the question asked outright. This common knowledge is as deeply engraved into the local world-view as though, sometime on the sixth day, the almighty stopped fooling about with Adam’s ribs for long enough to create the morning service from Guareña to Mérida, calling at La Zarza and Alange. ... read more

The Early Bird

I don’t usually get up this early. Alan, our rescue greyhound, opens one eye for a moment before deciding that there’s no threat to the household; or if there is, then Dad can deal with it as he’s up now anyway. He yawns luxuriously, breaks wind and settles back to sleep. So much for the Rapid Response Unit.

For the next twenty minutes the only sound to be heard is that of a half-asleep man being as quiet as possible – a cacophony, in other words, of wardrobe doors, crockery, window blinds, and poorly suppressed profanity. ... read more

El Taller Mecánico


Even with directions, the mechanic’s workshop proves tricky to find. After the sports hall take a left, go down the cobbled slope, turn right at the salón de fiestas, along the street, and it’s down there somewhere on your left.

The premises, when I finally track them down, hide behind two adjacent garage doors in an old residential terrace of unremarkable, white-rendered buildings. The doors are open, a radio is playing fuzzily, and a couple of vehicles stick their rumps out on to the poorly-surfaced street. ... read more

About Time?

The time of day in Spain has always seemed to me a little anachronistic. All of the surrounding countries, such as Portugal, UK and Morocco, are on Western European time (UTC), as geography dictates; they are all situated around, or slightly to the west of the Greenwich Meridian.

Spain, on the other hand, adheres to Central European time (UTC+01:00) as do France, Italy and Germany, despite the fact that Spain lies, for the most part, west of Greenwich.

Current Economy Minister Luis de Guindos wants that changed, and has issued a recommendation (PDF) that the Spanish government consider switching to the more appropriate zone. ... read more