Outside The Box


I’d been optimistic that the drizzle would lift at some point and allow me to get out and about, but I’ve run out of day before that dismal blanket sulking above the mountain has run out of water.

I could read, I suppose, or tackle one of my hoarded crosswords – but those activities would mean sitting under the glare of neon light (I must get a reading lamp), and that doesn’t appeal. Let’s see what’s on the telly.

My first instinct is to reach for the daily newspaper, but experience kicks in and reminds me how futile that would be. For those unfamiliar with Spanish television, let me try to explain; television scheduling, like so much else in Spain, is not exactly formal.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve hurried through some minor mission in order to catch the beginning of a program, only to find, at the appointed time, that the previous show still has fifteen or so minutes to run, or worse, that the new one has already started, ten minutes early. There’s never any apology or explanation. That’s just how they’re rolling today.

On other occasions, programs are mysteriously replaced by others; underachievement in their ratings can have shows ‘pulled’ by the broadcasters at a moment’s notice, even mid-series. I’ve even seen it happen to shows they were heavily promoting just the previous night.

Imported films are usually renamed in Spain, as the original titles often lose their idiomatic meanings in translation. Couple that with the newspapers’ habit of offering, instead of a description of each movie, a simple paragraph that describes what happens in the opening scene, then try to guess what the film is; a typical example could turn out to be anything from The Godfather to Logan’s Run.

For good measure, add in the number of shows listed as Película Sin Determinar (film of as-yet-indeterminate identity) and you end up with a document about as reliable as a British Rail timetable.

So I opt to just power up the set and see.

The remote control doesn’t do its stuff until it’s been given a brisk thump against the arm of the sofa (something that passes for normal in this household) but a moment later I’m into some Spanish-made soap opera. I can’t tell you which one; I’m convinced that Spain only has around twenty television actors, who crop up in different combinations – and at a variety of apparent ages – in just about all Spanish productions. This one is supposed to be funny, I think. It isn’t.


Six people around a table ‘debating’ some current affairs issue. In the Spanish style, they are all talking at once, and nobody is listening. The only one who’s silent is the individual, I assume, who’s supposed to be chairing this scrum. He just looks bewildered as the sound level spirals ever upward.

Click ….. Thump. Click.

Colombian telenovela. Spain may have only around twenty television actors, but Colombia, it seems, has only five. Not only do these same faces turn up in each of these hilariously bad offerings, but they always seem to be given pretty much identical names in each one. Maybe that’s so the actors don’t have to remember too much. I blame the drugs.

The one saving grace of these Latin American monstrosities is their benefit to the novice student of Spanish; the absurd dialogue is not only pared to the bone, but repeated several times amid dramatic stares, all backed by climactic and wholly inappropriate music:

“You don’t understand, he was …. he was your brother.”
“He was my brother?”
“Your brother.”
“He was … my brother ….” (horror-struck expression, fake tear down cheek, cue mariachi band.)


Some guy with an American university sweatshirt and wild hair is trying to persuade me that aliens visited Earth in ancient times. Are they planning to come back? The persuasive evidence he claims to have turns out to be a crude picture of a bird scratched into a rock somewhere in Mexico.

I make a mental note to ask Sue to buy extra tinfoil, in case we need emergency headgear.


American detective series. Since the inception of digital television a couple of years ago, most of these can be switched into the English soundtrack, if that’s how they were initially made.

“Open up, NYPD!!” Half a second later – how could anyone inside possibly have had time to answer? – a single boot sends the door somersaulting into the apartment, the two cops going in right behind with pistols raised. I couldn’t live in New York, I wouldn’t ever dare go to the toilet in case it cost me a new door.

I make a mental note never to buy American hinges, either; they’re obviously rubbish.

I’ll never know what happens next, as they cut mid-sentence into an advertising break. These often begin with an animated screen saying they’ll be back in x minutes – two, three, five, whatever. This intermission doesn’t display anything like that, a dead giveaway that they’re about to show at least ten minutes – often twenty or more – of unbroken commercials.

Click again, but this time on the big red button. And there’s no point in my trying the free satellite channels, as it’s raining.

Crossword it is, then, the prospect of neon light suddenly sounding quite attractive.

“Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future; they explore neither truth nor lies. They gaze at the television.”
― Radiohead



2 thoughts on “Outside The Box

  1. Summed up perfectly Phil. The only thing I’d add is that sometimes after the commercial break, the programmes they return to isn’t the one you were watching but one being broadcast by a sister channel.

    Watch Spanish television and remain sane – it’s quite a challenge.

    • So true! Although it’s rare that I’m still there after the commercial break ….
      Thanks for visiting, Jack

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