Cockroaches and coffee


Recently it’s been hot. Holiday hot. Fruit has sagged and rotted in the fruitbowl in my flat, the air conditioning at work has broken down and is being fixed by a regiment of technicians while the students and I sweat and puff our way through classes, trickles of perspiration running down the middle of my back, and dripping from the ends of my hair. With the heat comes a cocky army of cockroaches who have stayed out of sight all winter, and when they have put in an appearance have been little yellowish-brown ones who are nowhere near as repulsive as their fat, black cousins. But the big boys are back in town, and I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I have taken to turning off my computer modem at night, as when I don’t do it I invariably find a small roach basking on its warm surface in the morning as though stretched out on its own personal sunbed. I found a small brown one reclining on my bread knife in the middle of a small pile of breadcrumbs the other day. Literally living on the knife-edge, cocky little bastard. Then the other night I discovered, just as I was going to bed, a huge glossy black monster waiting around nonchalantly by the front door like a cold war spy lingering in a rainy park with a newspaper under its arm looking out for its contact. Shifty, wary, and alert but unflappable as though it was highly trained and had every right to be there. It didn’t even run away when I loomed over it then veered away. I was too tired to start with the shoe/the rolled up newspaper/the upturned Tupperware container and the broom, so I just turned my back on it and went round the L-shape into the cubby-hole which is my bed’room’, got into bed and switched the light off. Surely it wouldn’t come all the way over there while I was sleeping. Surely….?

Surely enough there it was the following morning when Cocky called round for a breakfast meeting. And yes, it had come all the way round in the night to be next to the bed. I hadn’t noticed it, or it had wandered out of its hiding place after I had got up, as I turned round by the bed to find it standing there in the way, between me and the rest of the flat. I squeaked like a girl and lobbed a shoe at it, which hit it blind side and sent it skittering across the floor, revolving gracefully like Bambi over the sheen of my parquet. Then, in a balletic tackle and shoot that was worthy of the World Cup, Cocky stamped on it and kicked it out of the front door. Goal! Viva Venezuela!

This evening, sitting here on my sofa with my laptop in my lap, I looked up to see another little roach scurry out of the gap under the bathroom door. It received a hurled flip-flop in reply, and turned straight back round and under the door again. I feel as though I am under seige. I don’t want to start with the paranoia, that would be bad. Once, when I was a student, we had an infestation of ants in our house that just wouldn’t go away, and after a few days i remember flinching almost constantly, as everywhere I looked I could see crawling black dots out of the corner of my eye, sometimes real, sometimes imagined. I am starting to visualise shiny black creatures in every corner, on every wall and under every piece of furniture. This weekend just gone I replaced all the traps in the flat, so that once again it is positively land-mined with tiny charnel houses of poison and death. This means I haven’t seen any more black, glossy, enormous bastards, but the juveniles appear to have lived on to fight another day.


Overheard in the local bar this morning round the corner from the centre where I am currently giving intensive summer courses. I walked into the middle of one of those bar conversations between men that went like this:

‘In Barcelona they fined a guy €3,000 just for throwing a cigarette butt on the floor! Can you believe it?’

There was much tutting and shaking of heads. The bar was thick with smoke, at least four people smoking in a space no more than fifteen foot square. A young guy at the end of the bar (also smoking), commented

‘Well, legally they can do that here as well, they just haven’t yet.’ This was followed with more tutting and mutterings ‘Jo…’ which is like saying ‘Fu…’

Then the barman contributed,

‘Yeah, here in Madrid they get you for traffic offenses. They haven’t moved on to fag butt offences yet.’

A moment later I overheard this conversation initiated by the barman, regarding the request for an unusual category of coffee (of which there are many: café con leche, cortado, solo, cortado con leche, americano, carajillo etc):

‘You want a what?’

‘A short American.’

‘You can’t have a short American, that doesn’t exist, that’s an Italian.’

‘All right, I’ll have an Italian then.’

‘There you go…. one Italian. Short and very strong.’

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

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