Archive for June, 2010

A severe case of foot and mouth

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2010 by cockroach1

I understand Edgar Allen Poe when he writes about the Imp of the Perverse: that little gremlin inside you that forces you to do or say the one thing you know you shouldn’t. Like stand up in the middle of a wedding ceremony and shout ‘I shagged the groom!’ when it is, in fact¨, true. It happens quite frequently to me in class, which is a worry. Although my particular perverse Imp never gives me any warning it is about to shoot its mouth off, and it seems to have a thing about dictators. In class a while ago I was trying to explain the ending ‘-phobe’ as in ‘technophobe’. The students seemed to understand the suffix, so I decided to go one step further, writing a series of words on the board to illustrate the opposite ending ‘-phile’ as in ‘Bibliophile.’

‘Now, can anybody tell me what this opposite ending means? Exactly, good! It means you love something… so If you look at this word, then, you’ll see…. (Francophile…… Oh, well done, nice one.) …. er, well, it doesn’t mean someone who loves Franco, even though it looks like it, it means someone who’s a fan of France. Someone who really loves France…..?’

They looked a little sceptical. Not about the terminology, about the concept. The Spanish really hate the French.

‘There are plenty of them. Really.’

But this was nothing compared to the insane example that popped uninvited into my head a few months ago when trying to explain what the word ‘quotation’ means. I have to put this into context before I illustrate my spectacular gaffe: imagine a job where every few minutes people are asking you off the top of your head to explain and contextualize random phrases like ‘pushing up daisies’ or ‘in house’ (as opposed to ‘in the house’), or ‘run a tight ship’. You spit out little gems of wisdom like a snowplough spewing out grit all day. And sometimes you get tired, and somewhere in the brain the synapses get lazy, or wires get crossed. So I surprised even myself when a student asked me,

‘What does quotation mean?’ and I replied

‘Oh, it means words someone famously said, like… er…. Hitler once famously said ‘Exterminate all the jews.’

Fuck, fuuuuuck!……. not that! Where did that come from? What is wrong with me?

Luckily the student didn’t catch my first example, and I kicked it under the carpet where it belonged and started again, with something appropriate like ‘and of course, Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ That’s a perfect example of a quotation.’

And an example without using a dictator reference would certainly make teacher look like less of a twat.


Mad about the boy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by cockroach1

They say societies can be categorised as masculine or feminine. Thus most Northern European countries are classed as feminine- the UK, Germany and the Scandinavian countries for example. While middle eastern cultures are of course masculine, as, it seems, are most mediterranean cultures. Spain, like Italy, may have its element of matriarchal control, but it falls squarely into the masculine camp. They don’t talk about the macho Iberico for nothing. He’s alive and kicking, and you’d better believe it. I firmly believe that matriarchs are created by cultures where women have few other options, so bossing and manipulating men becomes the only way to exercise any power. The metaphorical rolling pin becomes your sword, the plate of food your shield, and emasculating and coddling with ‘Mummy knows best’ becomes your most lethal weapon against menfolk. But let’s leave that discussion for another day.

One sign of a masculine society is worship of the young male. Not in that seriously wrong way like, say, some arab cultures where womenfolk: mothers, nannies, aunties etc, apparently grab the pre-pubescent boy, whip up his galabeya and plant adoring kisses on his penis. I’m sure I read that somewhere. I really hope I didn’t make it up.

Let’s look, then, at how young men are being portrayed in advertising around the city this week. There is a full-page ad in the free metro newspaper by Vueling which perfectly illustrates my theory that the hero is the boy. A family pose for a formal portrait, and apart from a beautiful fashionable young man with soulful eyes at the back of them, they are a pig-ugly, nerdy lot. The mother is vast and garishly dressed and though she is smiling she has a face like a pissed off warthog. The father is fat, goofy and wearing a greasy nylon suit. His sister is a skinny, speccy little thing with braces. The young man stares into the middle distance into a vueling cloud which is a thought bubble offering him flights to Ibiza for 35 euros. Clearly he cannot wait to get away from this bunch, and your sympathies couldn’t be with him any more than they already are.

Pulling into Plaza Castilla metro station this week on the way to a class I glanced up and out of the train window into the station, at an enormous buffed man in nothing more than tight white CK pants. The visual effect was unnerving- the poster was larger than life- much larger, and every muscle glistened on his perfect toned body. He was in a typical ‘man model’ pose: slouchy-crouching and staring intently into the train window at me. Food for sore eyes but a little startling until my brain made the connection that he wasn’t real. Later that day as I passed the same station on the way back and we paused to let people on and off a woman stood on the platform gazing to the right, looking for the exit sign. She didn’t notice that directly behind her there was another of these enormous young men in his pants, his 6 pack as defined as porphyria cobbles in a medieval street. This time his delicious torso was wrapped round a 20 foot metal column. What she didn’t realise was that her head was just about level with the bulge in his boxers. It really was enough to make your eyes water.

A couple of years ago there was an ad campaign for D & G which featured a gang of semi-naked male models lounging around languidly in a locker room- an image that, on first sight almost caused me to walk straight into a lamp post. Then recently another brand of mens’ undies advertised their wares on the glassed-in street hoardings by bus-stops, and the poster of the guy in his tight white pants (again) featured a clever tromp-l’oeuil which made it look as though his packet was bursting through the advert and had smashed a huge crack in the glass. It made you look twice, and then laugh.

Last year El Corte Ingles advertised their summer sale with an ad campaign starring a tacky pop singer with floppy blond hair and large latino features. In the swimwear ad he was pictured in large swimming trunks, more like bermuda shorts, and was flanked by two women, both wearing miniscule bikinis and heavy jewellery, both glancing in at him, the adored male. They didn’t mind sharing; they were clearly almost orgasmically happy just to be close to him. He had an arm slung casually round each of them and grinned smugly out at the camera with an expression like the cat that got the cream. This is a man’s world….

Seemed like a gratuitous excuse to reproduce this image...

An ad man’s dream

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2010 by cockroach1

As I walk around the city I tend to absorb advertising- on the metro, at bus-stops, on the sides of buildings, soaking in the images and slogans as if by a process of osmosis. Some of it slips down easily : ‘Sol embotellado de Andalucia’ -(Andalucian sunshine in a bottle). Some of it grates: for example, the constant airbrushed images of 14 year olds’ backsides in chemists’ windows advertising anti-cellulite treatments. It’s always the same camera angle: right up the gusset, as if the photographer is crouching on the floor and she is stepping over him- all the better to showcase the roundness, highness, pertness and sheer impossible flawlessness of her cellulite-free buttocks and thighs. Normally her knickers are wedged uncomfortably between her cheeks as well, hoiked right up the crack, just the way we girls like to wear ’em.

Then there is a series of metro ads that stun me with their lack of oomph. I mean, how difficult can it be, after all, to advertise a new shopping centre? Surely they can do better than this:

‘Look like a shop dummy only not made of plastic.’

or this:

‘I follow fashions. Especially when the fashion is to buy everything in sight.’ which makes you sound like a total fuckwit sheep, which on reflection, is what capitalism would love you to be.

There was the recent grammatically incorrect slogan advertising bilingual schools in the region (oh, the sweet irony) that had English teachers spitting feathers all over the city.

‘Yes, we want.’ which is a literal translation of the Spanish ‘Si, queremos,’ whereas in proper English the verb ‘to want’ is transitive, i.e needs an object or a verb.’Yes, we want… what? (object) or yes, we want….. to what? (verb). But not just ‘Yes, we want.’ Several million euros were thrown into smug advertising lunches to offer us that particular gem.

But there’s probably nothing more inappropriate than the 2 most recent slogans in the nationwide government campaign to halt domestic violence. Good intentions, yes, crappy, ill-thought-out campaign though. One of them featured celebrity endorsements, footballers, pop stars and so on, with the slogan

‘Don’t hit her, look after her.’ as if there are only 2 options, suggesting men only fall into the category of abuser or paternal protector, and women can only be victims or vulnerable dependents. How about ‘Don’t hit us. Oh, and by the way, we can look after ourselves’. For example. How about that new-fangled concept that we are all… er…. equal?

But the latest slogan takes the biscuit. The logo is a raised hand presenting a card, in red and black colours with a kind of trippy/70’s Queen video freeze-frame of the card being raised, to imply motion or action replay. The slogan encourages you to,

‘Saca tarjeta roja al maltratador’ (Show abusers the red card) – implying that wife-beating is a national sport. Or a game.

Well done whoever came up with that beauty. Go and treat yourself to a nice long lunch.

Trout fishing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by cockroach1

The Incredible Ponce has a theory about house guests, which according to him is an Italian saying. He says ‘Guests are like fresh fish. Wonderful for the first two or three days but after that they start to stink.’ A few months ago in the winter he had his share of stinky fish, in the bodacious form of Mayte. Mayte appeared out of nowhere, like a stray cat. One minute she wasn’t there, the next she was, with her feet firmly under his coffee table. She was the friend of a friend who asked the Ponce if he minded helping out a mate of his just for a few days, as she desperately needed a place to crash. Could she stay at his? Just for a few days. She was really desperate. The Ponce, being a fair and generous individual, obliged, and in she moved. He was working in a bar/restaurant in Lavapies then, and was out most of the time, so even though his flat is not really big enough for two, he agreed to put her up for a few days.

The first thing you noticed about Mayte were her lips. She had the sort of lips like suction pads you could have licked and stuck her to a window-pane with. They were so full of collagen they had an overhang with crimped edges. Like most trout-pouters, she was constantly licking them, as though feeling with her tongue to check they were still there. Don’t worry, Honey, those pillows are not going anywhere. They distorted her face, which was naturally quite pretty in a long, horsey way. She also had an impressive cleavage which she showcased in tight t- shirts and plunging necklines, and it wasn’t clear whether these also belonged to her or whether she had managed to get some sucker to pay for them. Ah, or she may have paid for them herself, you might interject, but something gave me the impression Mayte had probably never paid for a thing in her entire life.

At first she seemed very grateful, and the Ponce said she was a fairly easy house-guest. This was a good job, because they had approximately ten square metres each. His flat is basically a hovel. A cosy one, but a hovel nonetheless. It’s a studio about 20 metres squared, with a tiny bathroom and a kitchenette, or what in Spain they call a Cocina Americana (American kitchen). This is an excuse not to call it a breakfast bar. Or a hob with a sink next to it. It is a cramped space with barely any natural light, as it’s an interior and has one tiny window. He has a sofa bed which he pulls open at night. And here Mayte set herself up as resident… well, I’m not sure what. Parasite, is perhaps the best description. Here she could be found every time he came home, curled up on the sofa watching stuff on the computer, or reading obscure websites, smoking grass.

‘What’s she like?’ I asked him after a few days.

‘A bit of a loca. But she seems nice as well. A bit lost, but not surprising after what she’s going through…’

What exactly she was going through was never clarified, but darkly hinted at. It had something to do with displacement, politics, family rejection, and a severe identity crisis. After a week or so the Ponce started to grumble mildly about his house guest. She was apparently eating everything in the house that wasn’t nailed down, down to the last tin of tomatoes, stick of pasta, and seven whole trays of biscuits sent as a food parcel from his mother, from the local baker’s in Calabria.I don ‘t think she realised what mortal danger she was putting herself in: stealing gourmet food from an Italian that his Mother had sent for him. It still pains him to mention it today.

‘I suppose she’s got to eat.’ he conceded. ‘Not her fault she hasn’t got any money. It’s just that neither have I. And i didn’t even get to eat one of those almond biscuits…. not one….’

‘So, how long’s she supposed to be staying, then?’

‘A few days.’ he shrugged. ‘Aw, she’s not so bad, she’s no trouble really.’

‘But can’t she go somewhere else? She’s not even your friend.’

‘I know, but I feel a bit sorry for her. I don’t think I could chuck her out at the moment, she’s got nowhere else to go.’

One evening I popped round to the Ponce’s flat before he went to work. She was there, as usual, sitting cross-legged on the sofa bed smoking a joint. She had the laptop open in front of her and was reading aloud to the Ponce, while he was getting ready for work.

‘Sit down, sit down. Listen to this.’ she said, handing me the joint and continuing to read.

She was reading from a webpage which had compiled survivors’ accounts of kidnap and torture by secret police in the hidden detention centres in Argentina during the military dictatorship in the eighties. For almost an hour she read us harrowing extracts, in machine-gun Spanish from the collection of documents, court testimonies, statements and letters. I clung onto the spliff for dear life, as I had just come from a three-hour class, and this was like being beaten around the head with a blunt instrument. My head pounded, but it was interesting so I listened. Tales of left-wing journalists and writers, poets, activists and students raided in the middle of the day and dragged away never to be seen again. Repeated rape and electro shock torture to the genitals and breasts, beatings with pipes, rods, sticks, pistol-whipping, water torture, starvation, forced confessions, threats and all manner of imaginative brutality. There were stories of people being released bleeding and barely alive to find that their partners/friends/relatives who had been arrested with them, were now ‘disappeared’. If you were disappeared during this time, it generally meant you’d been killed and your body dumped out of a military plane into the ocean, although nobody had any idea this was going on until much later. Hence the ‘Mothers of the 2nd of May’ whose emblem is a white headscarf: the faithful and determined mothers with missing sons and daughters, who still held regular protests and vigils on the Plaza 2 de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Probably the worst way to bereave someone: take away their loved one and provide neither information nor a body to mourn. Unimaginably cruel. Most of these people didn’t even know whether their relatives were alive or dead, let alone the manner, hour or location of their death.

But the abuse didn’t end there. Mayte informed me that often whole families were taken, and if the parents ended up dead, it was policy to farm the children out for adoption with families that would provide a ‘civilising influence’. There was a theory at that time that activism, rebellion, Bohemianism were all inherent, present in the genes, so the best thing to do with these children with the hippy gene was to raise them in strict authoritarian families who would beat it out of them in the end. Families connected to the State and the Establishment. Often military families.

‘A lot of times,’ Mayte informed me, ‘the bastard General who’d tortured and murdered someone would take their children and adopt them into his own family. So you could end up growing up with your biological parents’ murderer as your adopted father.’

The Ponce had gone to work looking suitably solemn. Why, I wondered, was Mayte so engrossed in this disturbing topic.

‘You don’t know?’ she asked me, running her tongue over those huge, corrugated lips that looked like worn leather sofa cushions.

‘I might be one of those children.. I didn’t tell you before because I find it very difficult to talk about. I’m in the process of investigating it all.’

‘Yes, yes, of course, I can only imagine. Listen, you don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want to.’

But apparently she did want to tell me. All about it.

Mayte was brought up in a right-wing military family to which she never felt she belonged. Her father was distant and strict, her mother cold and aloof. There was never any filial bond between them. As she grew up she began to exhibit signs of bohemian rebellion, eventually becoming a real tearaway, and one day she was told the truth-she was in fact adopted. The details of how and why were not revealed.

‘I started to look into it then, to try and find out who I was. I found out I may be Argentinian, the child of disappeared parents. The day I called my ‘parents’ to ask them if it was true, that I had been sent over here from Argentina to live with them after my family had been arrested, that day they broke contact with me. They refuse to talk to me now.’ she said, rolling another joint from the Ponce’s stash.

‘My mother answered the phone and I could hear my father in the background telling her to hang up. Hang up on her! Put the phone down, do it now! he was shouting. She was crying. She hung up on me and I haven’t spoken to them since then. They won’t have any contact with me. An agency is helping me to try and trace my real family. I know my mother is alive, I just know it. I can feel it. I’ve always felt it somehow. She’s alive and I’m going to find her. I might even have brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles, who knows? They’re DNA testing me soon, that’s why I’m back here in Madrid.’

‘DNA testing?’

‘Yeah, then they can check it against the databases in Argentina and see if there are any matches. They’ve been compiling all this information for years- agencies, charitable organisations. It’s a charity that’s helping me with all the legal stuff and the testing.’

Poor girl. Cast off by her adopted family, alone in the world, possibly an orphan anyway, no idea who she was and not even sure what nationality she was. No wonder she was having an identity crisis. I felt desperately sorry for her. Sure, there was far too much pouting collagen and plunging cleavage for me to have taken to her instantly, but now I could see why she had done these things to herself. Now I could see why she had a constant need to be off her head, why she was apparently drifting with no cash, why she was so slutty-looking and attention-seeking. Anybody would be confused under the circumstances.

‘I don’t know what to say. That must have been awful for you.’

‘Do you know there are stories of people having recurring dreams in which they hear a melody being sung over and over. Kind of haunts them. And then years later it turns out that when they finally track down their mother that was the lullaby she used to sing them to sleep when they were a baby, even though they had no recollection of her at all. They remembered the song. All those years they were told they were somebody else, but they had a feeling they weren’t. Isn’t the human spirit magical?’ said Mayte, her eyes filling with tears. ‘I know my mother’s alive. I can feel her.’

She finished the spliff. The idea of a haunting babyhood lullaby embedded in your dreams sent shivers down my spine.

‘Listen, you couldn’t lend me a couple of euros, could you? It’s just that I’m really hungry and I’d love to go and get some fresh fruit and veg, you know. I’ve been holed up in here not eating very well. I stayed over at Javi’s last weekend and he gave me a yoghurt and a kiwi fruit, but I don’t think I’ve had anything fresh since then and I’m craving something healthy. Only if you’ve got it.’

I emptied my purse. There were only a few euros there but I gave them to her. Then I invited her round to mine and sent her back to the Ponce’s with a bag full of pasta, tinned goods, a bag of oranges, milk, whatever I had lying around. You can’t let someone starve like that. She was very grateful. She promised that next time she saw me she’d read my tarot cards for me, as a symbolic gesture.

‘I don’t think you should get things for nothing.’ she said. ‘I’d like to do something for you in return.’

Except she never did read my tarot cards. She seemed to be there for ages, festering in the Ponce’s flat, running the heating and the internet all day long, every light in the place ablaze. She ate and ate, she smoked all his gear in a way that suggested you’d have to prize the spliff from her cold, dead hand, and she never seemed to get off her arse and do anything to find another place to stay.

‘She’s pissing me off now.’ said the Ponce. He had taken to staying round at mine, sleeping on my sofa or spending the night with me, having dinner together then going back there.

‘She’s smoking all my fags, she’s cleared me out of everything in the cupboards. I mean, everything. I haven’t even got any ketchup left, she must have been drinking it.’

Still the succubus remained in residence.

‘Why don’t you ask her to go? I mean, you’ve been really kind, its’ been what- three weeks now? Nobody could blame you.’

The Ponce sighed and ran a hand through his mohican.

‘I can’t chuck her out though, can I?’ he said. ‘Poor bastard, after everything she’s going through… ‘

A mutual friend of ours had to drop something off for the Ponce and he called the landline to speak to him. Instead Mayte answered.

‘Yes, but who are you?’ she insisted when he explained.

‘What do you want? I’m not sure I should open the door to you.’

‘I’m one of his best friends. Who are you?’

‘A friend who’s staying.’

‘Look, I just need to drop something off for him. I’ll be round in twenty minutes, will you be in?’

‘Suppose. Oh, listen, you don’t have a sandwich or something you could bring me from your house, do you? It’s just that I’m a bit hungry and there’s no food.’

‘No I haven’t got a sandwich.’ replied our friend, perplexed by the surreal request from a total stranger.

Mayte herself provided the final straw one night when she came home smashed and accompanied by a stranger. The Ponce was asleep in bed when the key went in the door.

‘Oh, he’s in!’ she hissed, ‘Sorry, I thought he would be out tonight.’ The Ponce decided to play asleep and see what she would do. Mayte and her new friend took a seat and helped themselves to his stash.

‘Oh well, let’s have a spliff anyway.’ she slurred.

‘So… er…. isn’t there another room we could go to?’ asked her gentleman friend.

‘Nah, this is it. Sorry, mate.’

After they’d smoked and talked for a while she went out with the man and didn’t come back again until the next morning, when the Ponce threw her out. Orphan or no orphan, it was time for her to go. Bringing tricks back to his flat was not part of the deal. She protested, she pleaded, then eventually, reluctantly, she left. That night it was raining heavily, and at three in the morning the buzzer went.

‘What is it?’ he grunted, woken up from a deep sleep.

‘It’s Mayte, let me in, it’s raining out here, let me crash there tonight, please, I haven’t got anywhere else to go.’

‘Mayte, I told you, that’s it, go find somewhere else to stay. We’re done.’

Then the phone went. She stood outside in the rain and phoned him repeatedly and then buzzed at the door until finally he let her in.

‘Fine. Stay here tonight and that’s it. Never again. You need to leave.’

In the end Mayte hauled her inflated lips and her inflated chest out of there and was never heard of again. Over time the Ponce discovered various trinkets missing from his flat. A month or so later he got the electricity bill which was sky-high, and then, even worse, the phone bill. She had been there on Christmas Eve, when he had been working, and she had racked up over 100 euros in phone calls in one night only. It looked as though she’d called everyone she knew for a forty minute chat. The total bill was astronomical. But the Ponce was philosophical about it. If your philosophy is nihilism.

‘All that bollocks about her family background? That’s a pile of shite, that is. That’s her ‘hook’ story or whatever they call it. She read about it online and thought she could use it. She’s just a stupid whore who scrounges off people and spins them a sob story.’

‘She was good, though. I believed her.’

‘Oh yeah, she was pretty good. Not as good as me, though. If I ever see her again I’m going to make her face like a house.’ (This is one of the Ponce’s cheerful little Calabrian idioms meaning I’ll give her a good slap, from a colourful collection of sayings- well, for ‘sayings’ read ‘threats’ that always to me, seem somewhat maffia-based…always the face as well: I’ll break your face, I’ll make it like a house, like an arse, I’ll spit in it and so on ad nauseum. Just about everything unpleasant you could think up to do to someone’s face).

‘She fleeced me. That’s the last time I do a good deed for anybody. Serves me right for being so ‘nice’, see where that gets you?’.

Luckily the stink of fish began to recede after a few more days, the Ponce had his hovel back to himself and no-one rooting through his cupboards or hshafting his phone bill. Mayte? She was good though, you had to hand it to her: all that stuff about torture and murder, creepy military generals, mothers singing lullabies and blood being thicker than water. She had a natural ability to spin a good yarn, or to elaborate on one. There may have been some truth in her story after all, but it was clear that she was milking what sparse factual details there were for everything she could get. Like Sinead O Connor she also possessed  the talent to squeeze out perfect teardrops on demand. I envied her nonchalant flair for fiction. Seemed such a waste to use it to scam a couple of hundred quid and the occasional bag of groceries. It also seemed pretty disrespectful to all the people out there who really did lose their parents, identity, and half of their lives trying to get them back without turning it into a clever sob story.

Clubbed to death

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

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to this event. The thought of attending a ‘musical’ event like this would be enough to send most people running for cover, and most of my friends, when asked if they would like to go with me, gave varied answers, ranging from, ‘You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?’, ‘Sorry, staying in and washing my hair,’ and ‘Jesus, that lot look like a Salvation Army shop version of the Village People’ to the Incredible Ponce’s ‘A tacky club full of poofs and a band playing 80s music? Lemme at ’em!’ Unfortunately the only enthusiastic taker couldn’t come in the end. The invitation was from an ex student, and one of the band members is his cousin. I hadn’t seen this student for a while and was keen to catch up, so I decided to go on my own and find him and his wife when I got there. I had lost his mobile number, but he was sure to be there and it couldn’t be that hard to find him.

It turned out to be lucky that I hadn’t dragged anyone else along. For starters the neighbourhood was just weird. It was an open-avenued hive of Ministry buildings, tax offices and the headquarters of the National Lottery. To make it even more soul-destroying there were very few bars and an excess of banks. Young people wandered about aimlessly or kissed each other at bus stops beside fascist architecture and high-gated gardens. Parked in front of these mansions or pulling up at traffic lights were slick cars, their owners well-heeled middle-aged couples. The only immigrant face was in the one bar I could find where I gulped a quick coffee before heading off to find the venue.

The venue also gave me bad vibes. Maybe it was the fact that it was called ‘Cats’ in the same font as its musical namesake. Maybe it was the towering stacks of beef in suits who ushered me in. Maybe it was the concert venue itself, a cavernous somehow aggressively heterosexual space lurid with Heineken advertising and staffed by unsmiling barmen. The punters were rowdy and came across as a little arrogant. They moved in couples or same sex groups, confirmed pack animals, never alone in case they get picked off or singled out. Safety in numbers. I would have bet money I was the only woman there on her own. I got over being bothered by that situation a long time ago. I did a lap of the hall looking for my friend but couldn’t see him, so settled unobtrusively by the bar and ordered a drink. I’d stay and watch a few numbers, find him later. Maybe he wasn’t here yet; as usual I’d been British and got there on time, to a concert hall that was half-empty.

Things weren’t looking good for the Airglamboys. Maybe they would just be great and the surroundings and everything else would be forgotten. But eventually out they came with the dramatic entrance and stage presence of four new members to a school Christian Union meeting. I had been expecting a little pomp and campery, but in its place I got beer guts and a feather boa. There was a glittery plastic top hat that looked as though it had been picked up in a 1 euro shop. They failed to quell the enthusiasm of the rowdy crowd, even when they had the advantage of a microphone. In the end they gave up trying to introduce themselves and just played.

The first track was ‘Gimme, gimme gimme a man after midnight.’ As soon as they played the opening bars a fortyish woman near me wearing a Holly Hobbie gingham dress and snub-toed sandals started hopping round a lap of the central bar like a wound-up toy. She hopped on both feet, kanagaroo-fashion until she ran out of steam about halfway through the number. I could almost see the key turning down at her ankles. Her hair flopped up and down like bunny ears. So this is how it’s going to be, then. I am in a room surrounded by over-excited, sweaty forty-somethings. The second track was ‘Video killed the radio star’, the introduction sung in a suitably nasal tone but without any actual words, just ‘nah-nah-nee-nah- nah- nah nineteen-sixty-twooooo….noo-na-nyeah-nye-nye-na-naaaaa-‘ which was quite irritating. Hot on its heels came Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ with the repeated line ‘You are destructible……’ then came Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’, by which time the singer was just making up the lyrics in Spanglish as she went along.

I sipped my drink and look around me. The punters apparently were loving it. Spaniards love this track because it means they can all sing along and punch the air with their fists while shouting ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ and then sing along again, like a football chant to the final ‘Laaa la la la laaaaaa….’ and so on. They weren’t playing so badly, although the saxaphone was slightly off key, as was the keyboard. The choice of music perplexed me a little. It was hardly Glam Rock, was it? Just the generic 80s stuff. Give the public what the public wants, I suppose. I observed the public as though I had a nasty smell under my nose. Are these my peers, then? Is this my future? I was overwhelmed by the sheer waves of naffness. No wonder I spend at least some of my social time hanging around with people a decade younger. What hope have we got if we are ageist ourselves? No, it wasn’t the age, it was the type pf people. I had come here thinking it might be a good way to meet new people, maybe even (shock horror) meet folk my own age, maybe even straight ones. But looking around, there really wasn’t anyone I wanted to talk to. I couldn’t see my ex student either, though I would have liked to talk to him.

The final insult was Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ to which they missed the cue in. My peers were starting to get horny and drunk. It was at this point I started nervously looking around for the nearest exit. I can be radical when it comes to cut-off-points, and that was it. No, I didn’t want to stay and look for my friend. The thought of finding him and staying after all for the rest of the concert induced suicidal thoughts. Instead I now wanted to get away from there as fast as possible, without him seeing me. I already knew the email I was going to send him -‘such a shame, I was there but I couldn’t find you!’ I could see in my head a vivid image of my sofa and a neatly rolled spliff calling me home. You have to understand that these songs are my old friends, they are very dear to me, and nobody wants to stick around to watch that being done to them. Staying would only be condoning the slaughter. In this case, the 80s were definitely not better the second time round. This was a crass and culturally hollow version of my youthful years, like a political party picking a really good indie song as their theme tune. The kids with the asymetrical hairdos at least shared some of the rebellion, wackiness and furious energy of that decade. Not like this lot.

A week later, another Saturday night, and I find myself in another club. Full of rebellion, wackiness (if a little contrived) and furious energy (though the provenance of that energy is also questionable). This time I was dragged along by the Ponce and TioPepe who was visiting for the weekend from Seville. We went to El Ohm on Gran Via. I have been many times, many, many times to gay clubs, and I told them at the start of the night ‘Look,. boys, I’m just coming for a couple of drinks and then you lot go off to a club, I just don’t fancy going, but you all go….’ and yet here I was, on the dance floor in a sea of buffed muscles and bulging packets. It was the drugs that made me do it, Mother, it was the drugs. There were good pills, a rarity in Spain as far as I can see. For a few hours I vaccillated between Planet Ibiza, and my first rave which was in a house in the countryside in Cambridge. I was loved up, man, I was full of love for my fellow clubbers; I was almost gurning. I felt beautiful. Goddamit, I was beautiful, we were all gorgeous. TioPepe and the Ponce and I hugged, held hands, gave each other little massages and grinned at each other, creating waves of positive energy. But it didn’t seem as though the rest of the club reciprocated. Ah, unrequited love, always such a shame and such a waste of time. You see, for there to be a real rush everyone needs to be on pills, and they obviously weren’t. I looked around at the heaving dancefloor and the most prevalent drug was the testosterone fugging the air like a mist. That and the coke. Bright shining eyes and serious jaws, dancing determinedly as though they were at a Madrid’s Got Talent casting. Shifting eyes left and right, round and round, hunting out cock and nothing else. Gimme more, gimme gimme more, more…. It tickled my fancy that most of these clubbers would go on to a sauna, an afters, God knows where, with an insatiable appetite for sleaze, snorting more lines, smoking a hundred more cigarettes and probably rounding it off with a Viagra to keep that hard on going another seventeen hours. I suppose we were greedy too, after all, altered states are normally about greed, but we wanted more love, more spiritual connection. Here and now it seems they just want everything faster:charged batteries and more sexuality for this St Vitus dance that goes on for ever. There was a happiness missing somehow. But then you’re in a gay club in the heart of Madrid on a Saturday night, it’s not supposed to be happy exactly. How many people are having the time of their lives in a meat market?

The problem with clubs is that I used to love them and now I don’t. In fact, I can barely see why I liked them so much way back then. I listened to myself in the confines of my skull, lucidly twatted, and I sounded old, even to myself. ‘I can’t hear what anyone says, the air is full of smoke and shit, I’m sick of stumbling on broken glass, I don’t like the music, the atmosphere isn’t even any good, I’m going to feel like crap tomorrow and waste a whole day and I don’t really like the people…’ Yes, you are officially your mother now. This and plumping up the sofa cushions, you know you do it, you catch yourself at it… so just deal with it. I went to the toilet and in the cubicle the bowl was swimming with watery cack, the walls were dirty and slick with condensation, there was no paper, and some pig girl had peed all over the seat. Outside a line of loud brittle girls cackled at each other. One of them had a fan which she was wielding like a weapon. Alpha fag hags, God help me. Back on the dancefloor the Ponce and I eyed two impossibly stacked thugs who had stepped out of the pages of a Tom of Finland cartoon book. One of them was enormous, ridiculously tall and plumped up, he had virtually no neck or shoulders, just a humped slope from his earlobes to his elbows. His genitals were struggling to get out of his trousers like a couple of wriggling puppies sealed in a sack. His hair was closely cropped, emphasising his attractive but Neanderthal features. His companion was a slightly smaller version of the same. Same tight t-shirt, different colour. Same musculature, just a little less of it. The Ponce watched them dance, sleepy-eyed and smiling.

‘I would really love to see those two at it in the toilets of Los Gamos.’ he said wistfully. Los Gamos is the bar next door to my house where the toilets are small, cramped and cleanliness is not their most arresting feature. I could see his point. I’d probably pay money to see that as well, and I didn’t even fancy them. There was just something impressive about all that beef.

I left before the boys. It was around 5 a.m. and there was no way I could stand another couple of hours in there staggering around for no good reason I could think of. The pills were wearing off anyway, reality seeping in through the outskirts of perception. I walked back through a busy city centre, down along Calle Preciados to Sol and then up and over to Anton Martin. As I walked through Sol I looked left and up, smiling at the antiquated and wonderful TioPepe sign and the tagline ‘Sol embotellado de Andalucia’. Hence TioPepe’s nickname, because whatever else he is, he is always a dose of ‘Bottled sunshine from Andalucia’. I had been happy to see him. Ours is a close and long-standing friendship forged in the winding white streets of Ibiza town and on the dancefloors of Europe. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be gracing that many more dancefloors with him though. I’m sure he’ll drag me along to a few more before we’re done. But to be honest I’m all clubbed out. Clubbed to death, you could say.

Grace the Wonder Dog (part 4)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by cockroach1

The first adoption attempt had not gone in Grace’s favour. Sure, she’d wandered into the house chowing down on the exhumed skull of the recently deceased family pet, in front of the toddler and ten year old, but that’s just doggy grossness. Or calculated manipulation, the equivalent of the cocked head on one side, the fluttering of eyelashes above baby blue eyes, and the coy statement that ‘There were 3 of us in that marriage….’ There are few more disgusting or unacceptable things a new dog can do when its on a parole period for adoption. She made pretty sure they didn’t take to her. You had to hand it to this dog, she certainly got what she wanted. And she didn’t want to stay with that family.

So, back home she came, leaning on me in the car all the way home, her head finally resting in my lap and her eyes gazing up at me. Cocky was delighted, he cheered over the phone when I told him Gracie was coming back for a while. And the work of Educating Grace continued. Metaphorically I was tearing my hair out. Everything I read on the internet told me I would be looking after this rescue animal for a very long time. I advertised everywhere I could think of, and no-one took the bait. There was a race against time as well; I knew the longer she lived with me the harder it would be for me (and her) to separate, and I didn’t want to add to her troubles by causing her separation anxiety. The sooner I found her new owners the better. In the end it was lateral thinking and my sketchy knowledge of business (being a business English teacher, I must have absorbed it somewhere from some marketing seminar) that saved the day. I got to thinking that as it was going to be so hard to adopt her out, why not focus on her USP (Unique Selling Point)? Like Marks and Spencer I could sell her as ‘this isn’t just a rescue dog…. this dog is a Husky dog.’ There might be some husky-fancier out there who would fall for her Siberian charms. So I advertised her with photos on the biggest animal adoption database in Madrid.

That’s why a few weeks later I found myself in the car with Grace and TioPepe the Pimp, on a jolly to Navarra and on the way to a potential new home. A couple of days after I had posted the ad, a girl had called asking if they had any Huskies or Husky crosses. My number had been passed on, and here we were, negotiating a hand-over. The sketchy information I had from our phone conversations was that the girl was going to adopt the dog, but as part of the family. They were Argentinian and they lived in the countryside. They had a garden, they had always kept dogs, and they specifically wanted a rescue animal. Again, on paper it all looked great, but would the chemistry be there after all?

As it turned out, Grace and this family were a match made in heaven. By the time we left I felt like a matronly match-maker who had just pulled off a particularly beneficial matrimonial negotiation. Tio Pepe’s GPS took us straight to their door. We were met by a roly-poly family who warmly invited us in and upstairs for soft drinks, biscuits and a getting-to-know-you session. Grace took one look at the pale chintz sofa and went to jump up and make herself at home, but she sat obediently on the floor when informed that in this house doggies don’t get to sit on the sofa. As we chatted, and I recounted the story of her background and rescue, she sat quietly in between myself and the father who gently tickled her ears. A strange thing started to happen. Grace, who normally skulked in the presence of unknown men, seemed unable to take her eyes off him. Here was the weakest link, you see, right here was the target. Of all the family members, who obviously were dog lovers, here was the Soft Lad who didn’t just love dogs, he adored them. She leaned against his leg, she swivelled her snout to follow his every move and word. Her eyes started to roll with pleasure as he tickled her, and her head eventually came to rest on his lap. I could hear the faint strains of the soundtrack to Love Story piping up in the background.

On the other hand there may have been a simpler explanation than love at first sight. It could equally have been love at first smell. Daddy was a butcher by trade, it turned out, and for a carnivorous skull-chomping hound like Grace he must have smelled like one great big warm, succulent burger. Soon he suggested we go down to the garage and give her a snack. Himself a charicature of a butcher- tall, round as an egg and with rosy red cheeks, he was clearly moved by the tragic ribcage, the pathetic bony haunches and the Nancy Reagan carnival float head. In the garage the teenager took over. Dad handed her a huge bag of meat scraps ‘I bring this stuff back every day from work.’ he said, with a shrug. ‘There are 2 dogs next door and we feed them’. True enough, in the next door’s garden there were two sleek, well-fed dogs knocking themselves out against the fence because they had caught a glimpse of him. The girl began to feed Grace scraps. She sat eagerly poised like a kid waiting for sweeties, and very gently took each piece from the girl’s hand. There were chops, sausages, bits of steak, ham. Eventually Grace had eaten so much she began taking scraps and reluctantly hiding them in the corner of the garage, too puffed and full to even contemplate eating them. Dad smiled and said ‘I think she’s had enough for now, don’t you?’

We all agreed on an overnight stay. TioPepe and I had decided to go to Pamplona as it had been a long drive and we preferred to stay overnight somewhere interesting than drive straight back to Madrid. Consequently, if the next day they decided after all not to keep her, we coud pick her up on the way back. This allowed the family the chance to spend the night with the dog and see how she fitted in before making a decision. I didn’t want to pressure them to take her. Once again Grace barely looked at me as I got into the car. Hmm.. do I go with Mummy or do I stay at the House of Meat?….. oh well, they seem nice here….’

I knew these people were the right ones to adopt Grace because they fell in love with her after one night only, just as I fell in love with her under the olive tree after nothing more than a few meetings. They saw exactly what I saw- a noble, beautiful creature with a gentle disposition who would one day be strong, healthy and extremely fucking grateful. She was no fool. Dogs can have the emotional intelligence of a toddler, and a vocabulary of several hundred words. She had perfectly understood ‘I am going to get you out of here.’ Because I had rescued her she loved me and would do so for ever I imagine. But she also seemed to understand that she would be better off with these people in the long run. She seemed to understand the deal. Big house, big garden, long walks in the countryside, never left alone for more than four hours in the morning, fed fresh meat daily, doted on by a kind-natured family of Argentinian Weebles, what more could a dog ask for, really?

Cocky wept on the telephone when I told him.

‘I hate you….’ he whimpered into the phone, ‘You’ve taken my dog away from me. First my boyfriend’s left me, now my dog…. how could you? What reason have i got to get up in the morning now…’ He can be a touch dramatic, but he’s ever so good at it.

I cried too, but only after lights out in my cosy little alcove with the duvet rouched up around my neck. I’d given my wolf puppy away. The house was empty and silent without the clickety-clack of her claws on the parquet, her soft breathing at night and the finality of those great dog-sighs as she settled her muzzle onto her paws. Now there was just the ticking of the clock.

It was another six months or so before the pictures were emailed to me. Now I could physically see what my mind’s eye had always seen- a healthy strong animal. I could tell from her posture that she no longer staggered drunkenly, her head low and her nose close to the ground. Now she pranced like a Lipizzaner stallion, paws raised confidently and her head held high as she surveyed the world as though a little bit of it actually belonged to her. There was entitlement and sheer doggy intensity in those photographs. The family told me it had been difficult to take the photos as these days she never sits still ong enough. From a dog that was virtually comatose on my sofa for a month and a half, and who had useless, wasted limbs, that’s pretty good going. I immediately forwarded the photos to Cocky who replied shortly after ‘You are a bastard. You always know how to dig the knife in, how to make me cry.’ which wasn’t my intention. He did then go on to say she looked amazing and he was really happy for her.

A couple of months later I left the job. I had invested time, money (new suits) and a huge amount of energy into it, but Angel and Pili were at the end of their tether and I don’t think recruiting me had been thought through properly. It was mutually agreed that it wasn’t really working out. A couple of months after that the Summer came and the business went down the pan anyway. They headed for the hills and began their happy ending out in Soria. I was thrown back into the tricky, ever-diminishing job market. Beset by financial problems, denied unemployment benefits due to contractual complications, cursing myself for having given up another job for this one, and the proud owner of two new business suits I would hardly ever wear now, I sometimes asked myself why I had bothered going to work for them. But I knew (and know) that in fact there had been a point to the venture. Life often teaches us a sneaky lesson which is the opposite of what we were expecting from it. In this case I remain convinced that the reason I had to go and work for Angel and Pili for 6 months was purely to find and rescue Grace. It’s possibly the kindest, most philanthropic thing I’ve done in my life so far. She would never have lived through that winter. It was a cold one. Tied up out there she would have died of cold or starvation, or she would have died while giving birth yet again (the year before she had given birth in the snow alone, according to Angel and Pili). I only had to think of her life now compared to what it was, and a warm, contented feeling suffused me, as though I had weed myself. Her story for me is an inspirational rags to riches tale that illustrates how one kind deed can cause profound changes and reap abundant rewards. There are too many tragic blonds out there, too many sad endings. It was time to wrestle things out of the hands of the Gods and into my own and make a happy ending for once, and I had pulled it off. You never know who is going to turn up out of the blue and give you a helping hand. If there was hope of such a happy ending for Grace, whose life was so obviously screwed in every way imaginable, then there’s hope for all of us.

... but my heart belongs to Daddy...