Beware of the chickens

There are a few things I’m still struggling to come to terms with in this ‘new’ country. The strange feeling of fitted carpet underfoot. The return to full brain-function as the grey matter cools in my skull to a bearable temperature. Grey skies in Summer. Insipid coffee but great tea. Cakes. People being nice to you on the telephone, in shops and in restaurants. Recent supermarket visits have been spent marvelling at the tiny packets of aspirin, the teeny bottles of shampoo, the ready meals and household products and cosmetics carefully packaged for one. This, in the place of ‘family’ packs, litre bottles, gallons of bodymilk, conditioner and washing powder, which are the only option in Spain, a largesse that even extends, for some reason, to multitudinous packs of tampons. Here everything’s so small! Look at that, you can still buy just ten cigarettes. If there was anywhere left you could smoke them.

The whole country seems to have gone organic. Food fascism has become a new religion among the middle classes. While I am absolutely in favour of slow food, locally-grown produce and respecting the environment, people seem unable to distinguish the appropriate level of moral outrage between, say, child molesting, and non-organic vegetables. And luxury items for the home seem to have a rather roundabout way to them, which in Spain would be more cut and dried. You get the real thing, or you don’t get it. Rustic, slick, traditional, old, new or tacky, but little cross-over between them. But here, for example, in a local boutique: an expensive candle elaborately conceived and produced, that smells of woodsmoke. What a strange way to go round the houses in order to conjure up nostalgia. Why not just build a bonfire?

Television continues to enchant and mystify me. Every time I turn on the set there is another programme featuring insufferably smug estate agents (since when did they become feted celebrities?) showing even more insufferably smug couples round houses most Spaniards would consider palaces. With a budget of half a million, they tut and moan,

‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly manage without three en-suite bedrooms. No utility room? Oh dear me, no. And I need a games room for the children. It…. it just feels a bit cramped, somehow, with only four bedrooms, and we did specify we wanted a bigger, open-plan kitchen with an Aga, it’s not quite right, no……’ And if they’re not considering buying houses, they’re doing them up (but this time it’s poorer people with terrible taste) or their neighbours are doing it up for them while they’re out, or a team of television people are doing the house up in 60 minutes, or a dodgy builder has done it up and made a mess, and now a celebrity is helping to do it up properly and put the damage right. The thought of my Spanish neighbours doing up my flat as a surprise while I am out brings me out in a cold sweat.

We can often come across in an unfavourable light, when compared with our Latin cousins. Take their pacifistic, hippyish ‘indignados’ who, during a protest motivated principally by politics and genuine social dialogue, dutifully removed stickers and posters from the shop windows around Sol, and cleaned up after themselves, offering Reiki and childcare facilities, the plaza festooned with slogans like ‘Warning, citizens thinking’ and ‘Lee mas’ (Read more). Compare this with our braindead Thatcher’s grandchildren, looting the country in an acquisitional fury, killing people in the process, setting about fire engines and ambulances, and afterwards justifying it with ‘Yeah, free stuff, innit?’ A friend who has a house on the market in East Dulwich told me about reports that the whole high street, just round the corner, had been looted and smashed up, every single shop…. Except Waterstones. Having said that, we are generally a nation in love with words and wordplay. Carved stone door-signs, in the same boutique offering woodsmoke candles, proclaim,

‘Any unattended children will be sold off as slaves’

‘No outfit complete without dog hairs’

‘Please remove your choos’, and

‘Beware of the chickens’.

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