Archive for May, 2010

Grace the Wonder Dog (part 3)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2010 by cockroach1

I adored Grace. I loved putting on her collar and stepping out with her into the neighbourhood. We walked a lot. I wanted to socialise her, minimalise her fear of cars and noise, people and other dogs. In the street, despite her skinny frame and nervous temperament, people stopped and turned back to get a better look. They would comment on what a beautiful dog she was. Children in particular stopped and tugged at her ears or threw their arms round her neck and hugged her tightly. I was delighted to see how good she was with kids: treating them as puppies- she was always tolerant, patient and affectionate with them, even the tiniest toddlers. I strode down the street with my gorgeous blond dog and pretended she was mine for ever, like girly best friends at school. The responsability and rhythmn of walking and feeding her became incorporated into my daily routine, and I felt that in a way it was a novelty and a revelation to care more for something else than for myself. The first thing I did when I walked through the door was hug her and immediately take her for a walk, whether I felt like it or not. Walking through my front door to a happy welcome every day became a pleasure. Grace was never a tail-wagger, never a sloppy, goofy dog who pleaded for your attention. She was aloof and self-contained, affectionate in a lazy, wolfish way. But she did whine in the back of her throat when I opened the door, and she would heave her wasted body off the sofa and limp, tail swaying a little, to greet me. For her this was expressive. It touched me. Also she brought to my home a peaceful aura that only a curled up dog who occasionally snores can bring to a home. Suddenly I had permanent company and a household rather than just a house. I had what people call a ‘home life’, something cosy and infused with love and dependence, rather than just me sitting in my pants eating pizza and watching NipTuck obsessively. I was loved. I lived with someone and that other being loved me with far more devotion and faithfulness than any partner had done up until now.

On the other hand I sometimes felt resentful and worn out. I was beginning to experience, for the first time in my life, what it is to be a woman and look after everyone else before yourself. Getting up at 6.45 to walk her before work was killing me. It was even worse when she started to develop agrophobia. I don’t know whether she disliked the traffic or the people, or the overload of smells and sights, or whether she was just genuinely exhausted and in recovery but she became utterly lethargic about going out to walk. She was more of a coach potato than me. Some days I slipped the collar round her neck and she just looked up at me. It was the same look I got when I dealt her the Dog Whisperer rolled-up newspaper trick, when in order to startle a dog out of bad behaviour and get its attention you smack a rolled up newspaper on the floor near it. The first time I did that she rolled her eyes up at me, bored and totally unimpressed as if to say ‘Yeah?….. And your point was…? I got this look early in the morning when she didn’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I had to physically lift her off the sofa and drag her across the floor by the neck. She played dead like a sack of potatoes. Luckily I have parquet rather than carpet and could slide her along, otherwise she would have worked out a way to just dig her claws in and cling like a threatened Koala.

On top of the lethargy she developed an irrational fear that was becoming embarassing – a fear of black men. This wasn’t going to go down very well in Lavapies, and to be honest, the last thing I wanted was a white supremacist pet. She was so unsubtle about it as well. I remember sitting on one of the benches with her one night, having a quick rest halfway through our walk. An African walked past and as he drew level with us she jumped like Scooby Doo almost into my arms and hid her face behind me to get away from him. She would do this sort of thing all the time. She also shied away from groups of arabs. It was very race specific. I would cringe with embarrassment, after all, where do children and animals learn these kinds of prejudices if not at home?…. I could only assume she’d been the victim of some abuse while on the Estate at the hands of Africans or arabs. In general she wasn’t great with men, though she could be a fag hag in this respect, building an instant rapport with gay men and women.

She was also becoming expensive. I had known some money was going to be spent, but vets fees began to mount up, money I didn’t have but could hardly refuse to spend on her. I wanted her vaccinated and healthy. She was becoming jealous and a little difficult when she was out and about with me. I was her wolf-mother now, and she guarded me viciously, baring her teeth at other dogs if I showed them any gestures of affection or attention. I imagine there was a deep-seated fear I was going to be taken away from her, I did understand it. It was not a pretty characteristic however and it got worse. I was in the park with her one day chatting to a very nice young man with the cutest puppy. In fact it was hard to decide who was cuter- him or his pet. The puppy bounded over to me to say hello after I had been chatting to its owner for a while, and Grace growled at it, and before I had the chance to stop her, she nearly bit its head off. I don’t think it was actually hurt but it pelted into its owners arms yelping more in fear than pain, and he moved away suspiciously, eyeing up my hound as if she were a dangerous beast. I was to see this look again shortly, the first time I tried to re-house her.

This was no easy task. Do not think for a moment Spain is anything like the UK with regard to animals. It has the highest percentage of abandoned and mistreated animals in Europe, one of its least attractive features. Greyhounds in particular are dumped in huge numbers just after hunting season, when they have served their purpose. It was just after hunting season. All the refuges were full. I wasn’t going to send her to the municipal dog pound as I knew how little time animals have before being put down. The thought was unbearable, after everything else she had been through, to drop her at a dog shelter and run, in the hope she would be adopted before being injected. No, I had rescued this dog, and I had a responsability to see this through. I rang round all the privately run refuges in Madrid and was told the same story everywhere – ‘sorry, we’d love to help but we’re totally full. If you hold onto her till we find an owner we can put her on our database for adoption. It can take some time, though. Months or sometimes even years in some cases….’

But, as luck would have it, apparently it wasn’t going to be too long before there was an offer to re-house her. Becoming increasingly dejected about the whole procedure, I started telling everyone I knew about her. Maybe someone would know someone who… and in fact, somebody did. I was put in touch with a friend of a friend who was looking for a rescue dog. Funny isn’t it, how things can look so good on paper, everyone says how compatible you are, how perfect you’re going to be for each other and how you’re just going to love each other and then the chemistry turns out to be so wrong? A bit like internet dating or a blind date set up by misguided friends. It was a nice idea. It’s the thought that counts.

On paper it looked good even to me. I had met the woman, been out to her house in the outskirts of Madrid almost in the Sierra. She was a New Age hippy type training to be a masseuse and holistic practitioner- I’d been out there for an indifferent and expensive Shiatsu massage, but her heart was in the right place. The home was an untidy medley of rickety homemade furniture, long grass, bare feet, childrens’ toys strewn about under Athena-Buddha posters, wind chimes on the porch and rainbow washing. The garden was enormous and rambling, in fact, I’d be tempted to call it ‘land’ rather than ‘garden’. She had a small, friendly baby with a ridiculous hippy name I can’t remember now, a name which in Mayan means God of peace or something, and a daughter of about ten called ‘Luna’ (Moon). You get the general idea. They’d had a dog before, always had dogs in fact, but it had recently run away and been run over. The husband worked in travel and was away a lot. They were looking for another family pet. It all sounded so perfect, really. Except it turned out Grace wasn’t particularly taken in by New Age bullshit either. I hadn’t counted on her being such an opinionated hound.

It started out well. I was due to go away with work for 5 days, to Barcelona for Expoquimia with Angel and Pili and she offered to take the dog and look after her while I was away, with the end result that if it worked out they could keep her and if they weren’t sure I could take her back on my return. It seemed a very sensible proposal, no strings attached, which would work out for everyone. We all met in the Retiro. That day Grace behaved like a lady. She was docile and obedient, happy to run on the lead with Luna and roll around in the grass with her and the baby. The baby liked her and soon she was trotting around after him on the lead and sniffing him gently. The mother eyed her approvingly, and said,

‘She seems very nice. A good dog. Er.. will she get any bigger?’

‘Oh no,’ I assured her confidently. ‘No chance of that. She’s at least 2, shouldn’t think she’ll be growing much more.’

‘It’s just that we were looking for a big dog. We’re used to big dogs.’

‘Uh-huh?’

‘Luna seems to like her.’

It was decided that they would take her for now and with a heavy heart I walked back to the car with them.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the masseuse, ‘She’ll be fine, we’ll look after her.’

Grace jumped into the back seat with her new best friends and didn’t even look out of the window as the car drew away. She seemed to be part of the family already. I was aware that she was a pack animal and comfortable running with others. She needed her own pack. Two isn’t big enough. Still, I’d hoped for and expected at least a subdued glance as she left, possibly even some playing up. Dogs are such whores… I contemplated as I walked home along the terrace-lined Calle Argumosa, glad I was wearing sunglasses in the winter sunshine so you couldn’t see my eyes red and sore.

Near the end of the week I got a text message informing me that they wouldn’t, after all, be keeping Grace so could I collect her when I got back? When I got to the house it was dusk. Luna and I looked and called for Grace in the long grass outside. Eventually she came loping through the undergrowth like a big cat, eyeing me warily. She circled me a few times, slouching and trembling, as though I was there to punish her. When I crouched down to greet her all of a sudden she was all over me, snuffling and whining as her paws tangled in my hair and her tail wagged for the first time properly. Did Grace want to come home with me? I sensed that she did. Didn’t she like the new family, then? Apparently not. As soon as the father came home she refused to go inside the house, prowling round the garden instead and running for cover when he called. She didn’t much like the food they were giving her either, and started digging up bones in the garden. One day she had padded into the kitchen with her jaws clamped round and chomping happily on a skull. Not just any skull: the skull of her predecessor, the first dog who had run away and been run over. This was in front of the children. Repulsed, the mother had shooed her outside again and taken the dog’s head off her. To make her intentions even clearer, Grace had run away the night before, and had only just been found this morning by neighbours. They’d been worried sick all night.

‘Think you could just leave me here with these freaks, did you? Why do you think the other one ran away? You have got to be joking.’

The mother looked at the offending hound as I clipped on her collar and tugged her back dwon the steps to the car. She said,

‘She’s been a really good dog, though. She’s a lovely dog. Good luck’ Her eyes said ‘Get that devil vampire dog away from me and my babies. Don’t ever let it come near us again-‘

Grace the Wonder Dog (part 2)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 23, 2010 by cockroach1

I now had several challenges ahead of me: to house-train Grace, encourage her to eat, train her to walk on a lead, socialise her, vaccinate her, and eventually find her a home. My plan was to keep her for a few weeks, nurse her back to health and then to re-house her. It turned out I wasn’t alone in this task. With her uncanny seductive powers, Grace chose another new parent. This time it was Cocky´s turn. After a couple of days she had discovered the sofa, and it became her throne. She would haul herself onto it, fold her wasted limbs and sit regally waiting for visitors to come and stroke her. One evening Cocky came round and we sat like bookends either side of her and chatted. Every time he spoke she raised her head so she could gaze lovingly at him, and when he began tickling her chin, her eyes would roll back with pleasure and her head would slump blissfully in his hand until she fell asleep like that with her soft white muzzle in the palm of his hand, breathing warm puffs of breath into it. He was infatuated. It was another example of her extraordinary ability to get people to fall for her.

Cocky had just been betrayed and then dumped by his partner and he was also out of a job at that time, and something struck a chord with him too. She became his project. Possibly it was the other way round- his seduction became her project. Either way it kept both of them busy. He started to visit every day while I was out, and take her for walks, then sit with her while he used the internet. In a very short time her pathetic bony flanks started to fill out a little with muscle as she got used to walking. We made great improvements over the next couple of weeks. Cocky taught her to understand commands like ´sit´, ´stay´and ´walk´. She started to eat dried food, she learnt to pee on newspaper or hold it until it was walk time. She no longer cried when I left in the mornings.

On the other hand she developed an incomprehensible habit, when she could no longer hold it in, of peeing and even a couple of times, crapping in my bed rather than on the newspaper.

‘You know I sleep here, you watch me get into bed every night.’ I muttered at her as I stripped the bedding yet again. ‘Is this how you repay me for getting up at 6.45 every morning to walk you before I go to work? Hmm?’

I checked out The Dog Whisperer. I watched a few of his programmes online and read everything I could find on dog training. I knew her behaviour had a perfectly logical explanation as long as you could understand dog-think. It´s just that I couldn’t. We’d had dogs when I was a child, so I spoke basic dog, but was missing some nuances here. Soon we built up an understanding though, that dog and I. I realised I was now part of her wolf pack. The important thing was to establish who was leader of the pack. Safe and secure for the first time in her life, having claimed the sofa as her throne, and with me running around catering to her every whim, Madam soon believed herself to be Top Dog. I knew that if I didn’t nip this in the bud there would be a power struggle later on, and I didn’t fancy my chances against Little Miss butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth. This was a manipulative princess who had sharp teeth and had grown up on the streets. I live in a small flat and there was only room for one alpha female, and I decided that it was going to be me.

The showdown came one evening when I gave her a juicy, grizzly bone from the butcher. You could tell she was a carnivorous hound, and I had started picking up chicken hearts and scraps for her, and sometimes a bone for her to chew on so she didn’t get so bored while I was out. I needn’t have bothered on that count: I have never seen an animal with such a patient capacity for solitude. She whined when I unwrapped the bone from its waxy white paper then took it carefully from my hand and padded away with it. However, I was less than happy with her choice of dining table, ie: my bed. The bone dribbled bits of goo and gristle. It was not the kind of thing you could eat in bed. I had put newspaper down where she could gnaw at it in a contained area. But no, she would be far more comfortable on my bed, which is in an alcove, walled in on three sides. How, you might ask yourself, does one remove a ravenous and suspicious stray who is guarding a bone from ones bed? Buggered if I know. I told her sternly,

‘Get down from there. Over here. Come on.’ She looked at me and folded her paws over the bone. I moved toward her and she growled feebly, a high pitched sound more like a frightened whine.

‘Get OFF my bed.’ I said.

She lowered her head and peeped at me shyly, giving me the Diana Spencers again. Don’t imagine that I felt like doing this, having this stupid showdown in my bedroom alcove. But if I didn’t set the record straight here and now she would believe she was running the show.

‘GET OFF!’ I shouted. Grace whined again, yapped and snapped her jaws in my direction. And then it came to me- thank you Cesar, even if you are a bit weird and a touch creepy. The cushion… Block the dog, move in steadily, it can’t bite you, it will back down eventually. I’d seen him do it on tv with a far more vicious beast. And that’s how I did it, got Grace off my bed. I pushed her slowly but insistently on the flank with a cushion, around the bed until she gave in and jumped off, shoving her head against my thigh, quivering in a total act of submission. I gave her back her bone and told her she was a good girl and must eat it over here, on the paper, and she curled up there like a good girl and lost herself in chompy heaven for a while.

My heart was thudding. I had done it, I had won! I was queen of the castle: for now, anyway. I hoped my home wasn’t going to be turned into a battleground in an epic fight to assert hierarchy. If I didn’t find her a bigger, more adequate home, this wolf was going to get too big for her paws. I’d been harbouring some vague passion, like a teenage crush, the idea that I might keep her after all. I was the best person for her, she loved me and nobody loved her fiercely the way I did. But how many single people do you know with dogs who don’t treat them like surrogate partners, and who don’t totally re-arrange their lives to suit the dog? Could I really go through with this or was it too hard? And possibly not even very healthy? I may have been a little optimistic when considering my own levels of commitment. I wasn’t sure that what I needed most in my life right now was a volatile love affair with a lesbian wolf. The shitting in the bed was really the dealbreaker for me. If I was going to share my personal space like this it would be with a man, not with a she-wolf. He doesn’t crap in your bed when you’re out at work (and hopefully not when you’re back home either). You don’t have to take a man outside to have a pee, and he can get his own dinner from time to time. Also he doesn’t generally spend half an hour licking his own arse and then come and try and kiss you.

I loved this dog with all my heart. If ever I was going to have a dog it would be this one. But I wasn’t going to have one at this stage in my life. It just wasn’t feasible. Besides, I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with my role as mother. I worried about her from the minute I left home to the minute I got back at night. Would she be all right? Would she get scared? Was she comfortable? Was I doing this right or was I causing her suffering? Was I even feeding her properly? Along with the maternal role came all the maternal guilt as well. I observed myself fussing over her, smothering her with kisses and watching her every move anxiously. I saw what kind of mother I might be, given the opportunity. A fear blossomed in me day by day- the fear that comes with responsability. This helpless creature depended on me for its wellbeing; if I didn’t feed it and look after it it would die, and this status quo would continue 24 hours a day for the rest of its life. Soon I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want a dog right now and if this is what it’s like having a pet I certainly didn’t want a baby. Now or any time. Grace certainly helped me with the biological clock issue that seems to have gripped so many of my peers. Oh no, I’m ok thanks, I think I’ll just stay over here in my selfish little corner all alone, independent just the way I like it, not skivvying and arse-wiping for anyone. No, really, like I said, I’m fine.

It was time to get onto the adoption agencies.

Grace the Wonder Dog (part 1)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2010 by cockroach1

Recently I received an email with photos of a beautiful healthy dog romping around by the riverside. These pictures illustrate the happy end to a tale that began a year and a half ago, the story of Grace the Wonder Dog.

Last year I was working for Angel and Pili, before they downsized and headed for the hills of Soria. The premises were offices above a warehouse in an Industrial estate in Fuenlabrada. Not the most edifying of locations, and feindishly difficult to get there and back without a car. I started the job in September, and soon the sandals and sleeveless tops gave way to fleeces, hiking shoes and waterproofs. In the mornings and again after work I trudged half an hour in the wind and rain (and a couple of times even snow) from the tram station, along faceless boulevards, under motorway bridges, round roundabouts, past railway lines, stepping over rubbish and dead rats through the deserted streets of the estate to get to work. Every day I would walk to the local restaurant for a menu del dia with Angel and Pili, and we would pass a sort of tinker’s yard with a large olive tree in the middle of it, a rusty caravan listing on stacks of bricks, piles of scrap metal and paint cans. There was a scruffy-looking puppy on the loose, and tied to the tree, a skeletal white dog, always lying on its side. Occasionally it would raise its head as we walked past.

According to my friends the owner inherited a female dog a few years back when he bought the land, and kept her tied to the tree. Every season the local estate dogs would come and impregnate her, and there would be a litter of puppies to house. Angel and Pili had taken one of them home. The original dog had since died, and the latest prisoner was one of her daughters. Almost every day they would stop and chat to the owner, a toothless moron who was always tinkering around in the yard. They would enquire after the dogs. He seemed to think it was ok to keep the female tied up like that- Angel and Pili told me she´d been there for two years, wearing the same tight collar since she was a couple of months old. No amount of commenting that she looked thin, or maybe needed exercise made any difference. He was one of those dangerous creatures- people who say they love animals yet have no idea how to look after them. After a while we started bringing scraps of meat and left-overs from our lunch for them, and it would become a daily ritual to feed them. They were both obviously starving. Despite her background, when I approached the skeletal dog cautiously, expecting an understandable antipathy, I found her to be gentle and docile.

Then one day he informed us he was going to get rid of the female dog. Some gypsies from the shanty town the other side of the estate had told him they’d take her. Back at the office we re-grouped and came up with a plan. You see, there’s no way we could let that happen. Not with a team comprised of me, Angel and Pili the Soft Lass. The dog would have been going from the frying pan straight into the fire- either living out her days as a virtual stray and scavenger at the camp, or possibly fattened up and sold on for illegal dog fights. At that time I was out of the house 12 hours Monday to Friday, so adopting a dog was highly impractical, but something moved me to say ‘I´ll take her home until we find somebody to have her.’

Why did I do that? Maybe a knee-jerk instinct to stick up for the underdog. Maybe because I can´t stand cruelty to anything/anyone vulnerable and powerless. Probably because she symbolised for me all that is hopeless and screwed up about the female condition. No control over her life, alone, unwanted, left out in the cold, repeatedly screwed by the male of the species, pregnant, giving birth alone in the cold of winter only to have her babies taken away from her. Another reason I was moved to take her in was that once, over 12 years ago when I was living in Ibiza, one of my best friends now, let´s call him La Contessa for now, did the same for me- without knowing me very well he took me in off the street like an abandoned stray and nursed me back to health. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. He saw something in me and he gave me a chance. I decided to give that dog a chance.

I went to visit her in the yard. She raised her head and tentatively I stroked her. She was moulting and great clumps of hair came out in my hand yet still she rolled over and gazed at me with eyes of devotion, her flanks quivering at the physical contact and affection.

‘Don´t worry´, I told her, ´You’re coming home with me tomorrow. It´s going to be all right.’ As I got up to leave she also struggled wearily to her feet. When I turned to go she jumped up onto her back legs and rested her paws on my chest. That way she could look me straight in the eye. They say rescue dogs choose you. This dog definitely chose me right then and there. You could hear the sound of heart strings twanging like broken guitar strings. On her hind legs, eye to eye with me, with that sweet, ice blue gaze of supplication, she was the Princess Diana of dogs.

The Toothless Moron was happy to let us claim her; anything to get her off his hands. Angel and Pili took her to their house first and washed her, then they brought her round to my flat. Their sons had her on a lead and she staggered crazily like something on a cakewalk. She had never had any exercise and had Shaun the Sheep wasted limbs- little more than twigs. She looked like a true anorexic- her head too big for her body. The first night she huddled on the mat in the corner by the front door, and refused to come and sit with me, so I sat on the floor with her with my arm round her and spoke quietly to her. She seemed to like the sound of my voice, and I could see her ears swivelling as I told her I was going to take care of her. I stroked her and when I reached her flanks it brought a lump to my throat. There was something so pathetic about those scrawny haunches- where there should have been sleek dog-muscle there was nothing but a bag of fur and bones. She was a wreck yet still she was the most beautiful dog I have ever seen: wolfish and wild-looking, all white with ice-blue eyes. An alsation/husky cross, but the result was a small, dainty hunsky. I have a thing about tragic blonds, and to me there was something so elegant and deeply sad about her that I called her Grace after Grace Kelly. She wasn’t frivolous or bumptious enough to be called Marilyn, and Diana was just too much of a cliche.

That night I took her for another walk round the barrio. Walking Grace was like exercising a toddler on acid. To her, stepping out into the street was like leaving the mothership and exploring a brand new planet, without references, without gravity. She had never been out walking on a lead, never seen cars, buses, motorbikes, crowds of people, other dogs, and had never smelt or seen so many strange new things. She stuck close to me, constantly looking up at me to check for my approval/protection, occasionaly cowering or jumping back behind my legs. Reeling from lamp-post to gutter, wild eyed and with every bone in her body jutting out alarmingly, she must have been a strange sight.

That first night I lay in bed listening to her breathing. I worried she would crap everywhere or start scratching to be let outside. I worried that she felt imprisoned. I worried that she was disoriented and wanted her puppy, who we’d had to leave behind. In short, I worried. Every couple of hours she was up and pacing the flat, whining softly in the back of her throat. Her nails were so long and unkempt that they sounded like a multitude of tiny heels clacking on the parquet floor. I lay in the dark and thought, ‘Shit, what have I done?’ Followed closely by

‘And what the Hell am I going to do now?’


Yes, but is it Art?

Posted in Cockroach people of Lavapies with tags , , , , , on May 12, 2010 by cockroach1

God is dead, long live the Teletubbies

Today I was given the opportunity to see for myself how artistic and bohemian my neighbourhood really is. Every two years there is an event organised in which local artists open their own houses to visitors as exhibition spaces. What could possibly be more interesting than seeing lots of local art and the insides of local homes? I will happily admit that I am the sort of person who, if I am on the top deck of a bus and someone has their lights on and the curtains open, will have a jolly good peer inside. Nothing is as fascinating as how other poeple live. The Presidenta informed me that one of our neghbours is a photographer and was having a show at his house and would I like to go?

Of course, I said yes, and off we trotted, myself, the Presidenta, and two new neighbours, a beautiful lesbian couple, the sort of girls with clear skin and lovely hair who you look at and think ‘I wonder what it would be like to…’  As we mounted the stairs to our building- the exterior staircase which I have never been up yet, we went past a gorgeous old wooden door with a baseball fitted as a doorknob, a really original touch, I thought. ‘She’s an artist who lives there.’ the Presidenta told me. She pointed to another flat as we came round the corner – ‘and that´s a published writer who lives there, got very good critical reviews…’ What interesting people live in my block! We’ve got everything- ex junkie prostitutes, torero dressmakers, beautiful lesbians, little old me (of course), writers, artists and now a renowned award winning photographer.

Said photographer opened the door to us wearing a dazzling suit in Rupert the Bear yellow with black ckecks. It was a very small attic flat, decorated in ‘arty’ kitsch style. There was lots of red, red and white polka-dot curtains, a pair of white high heels nestling on a high shelf among figurines of saints and plasticine characters. The space was so small we had to kind of weave round each other to fit in. He offered us a glass of wine and we wandered around to take a look at the photos. I loved the series of pictures, and you could see why he had won a prize.Mostly the subjects were young men dressed in drag but with no attempt to feminize them or emasculate them. So the model might be wearing a short dress, a wig, fishnet stockings, heels and full make-up, but would still have thick stubble or a beard. The locations, on the stairs of the interior stairway or just round the corner in front of the local chemists, one foot up on the bollard posing while a noncholant African walks past in the background, gave them an extra sleazy and incongruous feel. The poses were totally trashy, legs apart, or splayed at the knees, expressions wasted or hungover, ‘de afters’, or stoned. He somehow had captured authentic images of that particular wasted time of day after a night out, when it seems like a great idea to dress up and snap photos of each other clutching half-drunk bottles of brandy, or waving weary cigarettes. On the tv he was showing a performance piece with the artist himself (50ish, portly), dressed in nothing but a pair of heels, wandering around trashed in some abandoned warehouse. The piece ended with him kicking over an old armchair and falling face down on the floor, his fat little bottom quivering, his heels sticking up like claws. I decided I liked this guy.

We said our goodbyes and opted to go to a few more of the local spaces on offer. Next we came to a flat with the front room turned into an exhibition space, carpeted entirely with turf. The room was full of the smell of real grass, there was a table, also turfed, which demanded that you run your hand over it. Up the plain white walls, reminding me of an Anthony Gormley installation were about a hundred spiders, each the size of a hand, crawling from the corner of the room up and over the ceiling. The impression it left was quite freaky. Not for the arachnophobic.

After this we visited a workshop shared by 5 or so artists, the work mostly of 6th form art project standard: shop mannequin torsos painted and tuned with copper wire, cut into segments then sewn back again with thick gardening twine, a torso with a flashing white light inside, a row of polystyrene heads with wigs, all painted different colours and with images cut from magazines covering them. Upstairs there was a jewellery room, then at the back a paper room where a man was making and binding notebooks in all types of different papers. His dog patiently lay under the workbench, tired and a little depressed that his space was being invaded and disrupted by so many strangers. Still, he rolled over and allowed the Presidenta and I to tickle his ears and talk doggy nonsense at him for a few minutes.

Then we headed to another house to view some more pretty good photography. All along the way we were offered nibbles and drinks and everyone we met was extremely friendly and open. Mostly the artists seemed to have a handful of mates lazing around drinking wine and greeting visitors. There was no hard sell in any of the houses we visited: in fact I didn’t see a price tag or a red dot on anything. When I asked one photographer in the last house we saw why this was, she said that’s because the event was more about showcasing local talent than selling it. It was more important to make contacts and get publicity and interest than sell their work. That seemed logical and a very laid back way of looking at it.

Not being biased, but in retrospect our neighbour’s show really was the best thing we saw all day, followed closely by the turfed and spider-infested living room. We saw some okay-ish stuff, some substandard art-school stuff and then we saw this (not part of the exhibition but round the corner on the way to another flat) – Espacio M.I.M., with the caption – ‘Meat is Murder’ space. Creative vegans.’ What the fuck is a creative vegan? The shop looked as though it was full of vegetarian cardigans and ill-fitting t-shirts. A couple of bad oil paintings hung along the back wall. Blatant mediocrity, just what we need in the neighbourhood! Sometimes it can get a little too earnest and artistic, a little too wanky and bohemian in Lavapies. While I applaud creative impulses and freedom of expression there really has to be someone around to mediate and put their foot down when it’s necessary. Otherwise it’s just like a school league table where nobody ever fails and everyone is told how wonderful and talented they are when in fact they’re not. They’re really not. I am of the Bansky school of thought that art does not have to be on the walls of a gallery, in fact this is only one type of elitist art. The fact someone paid big money for it doesn’t make it art. But neither does the fact that the artist is busy disappearing up his/her own arse make it art. Meat is Murder space for creative vegans?! Fuckin Hell….. Go away and take some decent photographs, or carpet your living room in turf and fashion a hundred realistic spiders to cover the walls with. Then you can call yourselves creative vegans if you like. Until then you’re just tossing off over your lentil cutlets.

Flashback! Back to the 80s

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2010 by cockroach1

I was invited round on Saturday night to my ex flatmate’s house for drinks. Before buying this flat I shared a house with him and 2 other girls. It was a depressing time: I was recuperating from severe facial surgery to remove a tumour from my saliva gland; I’d had to return to work too soon to pay the bills, and I was doing my first year of graveyard shift classes, dragging my sorry ass out at the crack of sparrow fart every morning to commute over an hour on stressy, crammed metros and buses to desolate industrial parks on the outskirts. All this within a year or so of a sudden and unexpected family bereavement. Living there didn’t help. I believe that in some way that flat was cursed. As soon as you crossed the threshold a kind of musty depression descended as though someone had thrown a mouldy old sheet over you. You could feel its stale clamminess settle onto your face within minutes. It hadn’t been decorated since about 1975 and whoever had done it then, if you’d been writing a school report for their effort, you would have written ‘could try harder.’ Although it was a spacious flat which is quite a luxury here, the lack of interior design was unforgivable. The walls looked as though they had been paint-balled with lumpy custard. It was dotted with occasional items of rickety Ikea furniture (Ikea are great, don’t get me wrong, but a whole flat of badly-put-together bookshelves, stools and tables?) Every time you put a cup of coffee down or picked up a book the furniture beneath it would twist, groan and wobble like a building caught in an earthquake. There was an inflatable denim pouffe in the living room that deflated like a marshmallow if anyone sat on it but took up at least a third of the floor space. I grew to harbour an irrational hatred for that pouffe. To add to the distressing decor in here there were forlorn posters of Ibiza and Formentera lolling off the walls. The faded images of white sand and pale blue sea, palm trees and bright sunshine were a constant reproach. Everything in the house was broken or hanging off its hinges. The drawers in my room jammed, the bathroom door used to crack open while you were on the loo with your knickers round your ankles, the fridge swung noncholantly open every time you turned your back on it, and the cutlery drawer had to be see-sawed up and down and rammed back into place with all the cutlery rattling like gnashing teeth. A Feng Shui House of Horrors.

To top it all, there were never-ending renovations going on not only outside my window in the patio below but also in the flat above, so no room in the house was safe from the banging, drilling and hammering. The landings were almost as bad as the flat, papered four floors up with grooved wallpaper in tobacco-stain yellow. There were apparently junkies who sometimes crept in to shoot up and crash out on the stairs. I never really noticed them but then one day the caretaker left a shrill note that they must be kept out at all costs as someone had found a human poo in the stairwell. Nice. In the lift someone had scratched ‘Fuck off jungle monkey Peruvians’. While moving in I was kissed in this lift, rammed in between my sofa and a handsome Columbian removals man who then proceeded to rip me off by overcharging me in a very calculated way. I still had some facial paralysis after the surgery and I had put on weight. I fell for the stacked torso and the cunning flirting and was outraged when he ripped me off. The feeling of impotence did not reside during my stay in this house; it was prolonged and heaped over with mild depression. Cold nights huddled in my room smoking joint after joint. I hoped it would end soon, and thank fully it did.

In the Winter the flat became as icy as a walk-in freezer and the central heating became a bone of contention, so small localised areas were heated expensively with electric heaters. Opening the bedroom door onto the corridoor to go for a midnight wee or to get a cup of tea made me feel like Scott pulling back the tent flap onto the Tundra. There was a dog left on its own for much of the day in the next door flat, and it used to howl and scratch incessantly. Like I said, there seemed to be some kind of curse on the place. The flat has been passed along to other friends desperate for accommodation as the original occupants have all moved out, and even now going round to visit sucks the life out of me.

The most positive things I can say about the flat are that it was in a great location- i.e on the edge of Lavapies, and my flatmates, peripheral people in a group of friends, were (and continue to be) adorable. It was several weeks before I could get any of their names right- there were only three of them, but they were called Manu, Nani and Ani. Every time I addressed one of them I felt as though I should begin with ‘Mork calling Orson… come in, Orson…’ Their names gave me instant dyslexia. All pocket-sized Andaluzes with a repertoire of hysterical laughter and exaggerated mannerisms, they filled the House of Gloom with constant giggling and good nature. They all did different jobs, but as a social group, you could describe all of them as ‘modernos’. There isn’t really a translation except ‘young and trendy’.

Manu rented the room next to mine, and was a colourful character. He was a gymn-bunny who made up for his petite size with a stacked torso, and a sculptured face. I have always loved the way Manu dresses- he is eccentric and ironic and manages to carry off looks no-one else would be seen dead in. I remember he had a louche wine-red housecoat he used to wear after gentleman-friend callers had been round. The overall effect was part Puerto Rican pimp and part Uncle Monty. To my birthday party this year he wore a denim waistcoat with primary-coloured frayed patches stitched onto it, and the back emblazoned with the lurid words ‘Look at me!’ For the New year’s Eve party this year he grew a seventies porn star moustache which bizarrely suits him and makes him look butch.

On Saturday night he was wearing a truly startling outfit- a pale denim jumpsuit unzipped to the elasticated and nipped-in waist that looked as though it had been dragged from the costume cupboard of Boogie Nights. The moustache remained, and added to it was high hair, rising almost to a quiff. There were another couple of mutual friends there and a group of girls who at first sight frightened me a little, an intimidating blur of glossy hair and tits. It was like Valley of the Dolls in there. One of them, who I’d met before at the House of Doom was leaping around the living room laughing raucously, flinging her hair over her shoulder and pulling expressive poses and faces as she contorted her perfect body this way and that. Exciteable was the word that sprang to mind. I am always intimidated by groups of Spanish girls anyway. They make me feel like a potato in a basket of exotic flowers. Besides, having been to a girls’ public school I have a higly developed fear of big groups of women. Spanish girls are always awesomely groomed, feminine and very loud. Some might say they err on the side of tartiness. A lot of people might say that. But coquettish, sexy and glossy, everyone agrees. They are like brightly-wrapped sweets, sticky with lipstick and tottery on their heels. It is as though you opened the toy cupboard and a whole load of Latino Barbies fell on top of you in a big tangle of hair, smooth limbs and fake boobs. As it turned out this particular pack of women were sweet and friendly, and pretty soon I was ‘one of the girls’, a status that has never sat easy with me. I am more comfortable in gangs of men. Having two brothers and their possee around when I was growing up has made me a pack animal who prefers the rough and tumble of male company to the impenetrable and incomprehensible secret world of girls.

The overall effect of heavy lipstick, tumbling hair and fakeness was augmented by the arrival of a tall transexual with a pronounced Argentinian accent. One of those lean and aggressively pretty girl/boys who can just about get away with it. For now, at least. It was casually dropped into the conversation that Manu had married her recently to enable her to get her residence papers sorted. I was pleased to note how once again the Gay Mafia has rescued one of its own. It seems so Humanistic after all, the helping hand when you arrive fresh off the boat in another continent and another country. I often wonder how life would be if women, for example, offered each other the same kind of support network all over the world.

The Barbies eventually dragged me to a club with them. I was half-undecided, but they cajoled and persuaded me to go, and I found myself queueing with them outside a club I had been to once during Euro Gay Pride a few years ago. I had been drinking heavily on Plaza Vazques de Mella, waiting for a good friend from Seville to arrive. By the time he eventually turned up, several hours late in true Andaluz fashion I could barely speak or stand up. He told me were going to a club called ‘Spank’. Given his heavy accent I thought he was telling me the club was called ‘Spunk.’

‘Are you sure they let women in, darling? I’d hate to get thrown out, it sounds a bit…’ Not that it would have been the first time I’d been the only woman in a gay space. They did let me in, but whereas my friend got in for ten euros with his flyer, they charged me fifteen.

‘Hang on-‘ he asked the cashier, ‘Why does she have to pay more? Because she’s a woman? Because she’s blond? Or is it because she’s fat?’. You had to be there, really.

This Saturday night there was a huge queue, and as we stood and stamped our feet and surveyed the crowd I wondered if it was going to be worth it after all. These days I get eye-poppingly bored in clubs as a rule. One has to be on drugs to enjoy it. Otherwise it’s just a load of people staggering around to music they don’t particularly like in poor lighting on broken bottles, hurting their eardrums. But, after a short while one of the Barbies managed to blag us into the club on someone’s guest list, and as we deposited our coats and made our way downstairs I made out the strains of New Order’s Blue Monday. Maybe this was going to bearable, maybe even fun.

‘You’ll love the music,’ Manu told me and boy was he right.

It didn’t stop at New Order, oh no. In the course of the next couple of hours we heard Pump up the Jam, Billie Jean, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash ‘Should I stay or should I go’, Queen’s ‘I want to break free’, Softcell, several OMD numbers, and plenty of obscure synthesiser pop. I was in Eighties Flashback heaven. For once, my naff Embarrassing Dad dance moves were cool. People admired my flamboyant arm movements, my coy Madona-esque posing and my high camp prancing. Which, basically, is the only way I know how to dance, despite three seasons in Ibiza in my youth. The Spanish nostalgia for the 80s is almost as powerful as ours, which is another reason I love it here. Where else can you walk into a shop and hear Spandau Ballet blasted out without a trace of irony? Or go to Carrefour and be serenaded with David Bowie, Duran Duran, even Pink Floyd? For the first time in a long time I saw people weaving their way through the crowds to the dance floor grinning with genuine delight at the choice of music. The eighties theme had been confirmed when, on arrival I was introduced to the friend of a friend who commented appreciatively that I look somewhat like Cyndi Lauper, which in context was a massive compliment. I suppose I am a generic open-faced blond, so he was not so far off the mark from a culture that thinks all blonds look like Marilyn.

I looked around me on the dance floor and it was full of fey boys with asymetrical haircuts, and slightly freaky girls in bright colours with bows in their hair. They weren’t quite bright enough to be authentic though, they still looked too pretty, not like a dogs’ dinner like we used to look. Maybe this is just the 80s with a 2010 twist. I was impressed by a tall, pale boy with a well-constructed Bauhaus look- suited, with his Bryan Ferry hair swept back off his face, in braces, a tie and sharp shoes. The go-go dancers (who of course, were friends of Manu’s and came and kissed each of us when introduced) were fabulous. Forget all this buffed gymn body nonsense covered in baby Oil and thrusting at you. These boys looked utterly horrendous. They were dressed in white pants (and I mean pants, not American ‘pants’) and bandages, wrapped up all the way round their torsos, necks and heads, with a splash of flourescent yellow or shocking pink wig sticking out of one side of their head. They both wore lots of lip gloss and eye make up, and consequently it looked as though someone had mummified a pair of New Romantics. When installed on the podiums they didn’t so much dance as writhe disdainfully, which to me, gave them extra points. The eighties was all about posing, darling, and being very serious about it too. I loved them for their lack of glamour.

On the video screens there was a medley of Madonna’s ‘erotica’, with a piece by Yoko Ono which involved clips of flabby bottoms being spanked repeatedly, a clip from some fabulously kitsch sado-maso flick that appeared to have Ursula Andress in all her glory in a spangly bikini and face mask slapping some clean-shaven businessmen about the face, and a kitsch Spanish film with lots of female soldiers. We danced and we danced. For the next couple of hours I wavered between feeling like a teenager back in a genuine eighties school disco, and feeling like an elderly aunt who doesn’t get out much, who’s been taken out to to a musical hall performance by her nephews and nieces and can’t stop saying

‘So kind of you to think of me, I’m having a lovely time, so kind…’

I was no longer a dinosaur, or someone in the background at the club who the youngsters feel a bit sorry for. I was cool. No-one even batted an eyelid when I began pogo-ing with Manu to the Clash. They did look, yes, heads were turned in our direction. I like to think they were thinking ‘That’s authentic punk, that is. She was there.’ rather than ‘Fuck me, your auntie on speed!’

Talking of speed, the ambience was soon distorted by a German band called Chicks on Speed who were d-j-ing. All I can say is: it looked like she was. And I would have preferred her on Valium, quite frankly. She caterwauled her way through several Blondie numbers and a version of Burning Down the house. Then came what seemed like a lifetime of repetitive electro mix versions of 80s hits. She had obviously thought long and hard about her outfit, and on that count nobody could fault her. She wore a Bowiesque yellow Hello Spaceman jacket with impossible shoulder pads and black geometric designs printed all over it. On her head was a jauntily-tilted asymetrical hat in the same colours. Her  face was painted with an aggressive stripe of rouge, and heavy eye make up. She had square-jawed, androgynous features, almost could have been a pretty boy, but when she sang (and I use that term loosely) you could hear she was a woman. As she ploughed through her increasingly turgid set people slowly gave up dancing and wandered off the dancefloor. Slowly but surely she killed the atmosphere, sufficating it until it twitched and then lay still. Just goes to show there’s always someone waiting in the wings to spoil your fun. It was a shame her choice of music was so shite, as she was evidently a huge fan of the 80s and looked the part. But an outfit and a quirky name are not everything, dear. The eighties were about fashion and posing but they were also about talent. And the music. Let’s not forget those things. I think it was Eddie Izzard who talked about the wafer-thin line between being achingly cool (and he should know, as he is precisely that) and a total tosspot. The Chick on Speed, I am afraid, crossed than line. And I also crossed it, but I met her going in the opposite direction. For one night only I was cool. Cooler, in fact, than when I was doing it the first time round.

It took me back to a school disco my cousin took me to when I was about 13, in what must have been 1982. It was my first disco, I think. As I was dancing, giving it my best moves, a boy wandered over and leant in conspiratorially to tell me something. I smiled and cocked my head to catch the hoped-for compliment/ offer of a Shandy/ request for a date, and he said,
‘You dance like a tadpole in a bucket, you do.’
The casual cruelty of children…. At least this time, as I pogo-ed with Manu to the Clash, there were no teenage boys around to insult me. Sometimes things are almost better the second time round than the first. I find that hard to believe about the 80s, but given the enthusiasm of the Spanish ‘modernos’ for this decade, they may be onto something.