Archive for the lavapies olympics Category

Floor Gymnastics with truncheon (2)

Posted in lavapies olympics, mean streets with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by cockroach1

Another quick word about the police, or more accurately, locals’ opinion of them-

While walking home the other day I came across this small poster slapped on a shop window at the top of my road:

(Left hand side) ‘The things they do because they feel like it’:

Use the siren so they can jump red lights

Drink in bars while armed

They’re cocky and full of themselves

Carry out extortion rackets on shops and bars

Nick your gear then they smoke it themselves

Let drug trafficers  get away with it but beat up the addicts

Park wherever they like but never have to pay a fine

They don’t even respect their own laws

Torture, mistreat, lie, kill, and enjoy total immunity

(Right hand side) ‘The things they are sanctioned to do’:

Hit your mother/father/child at a demo

Stop you, search you, and violate your personal rights

Fine you

Deport immigrants

Carry out armed checks in the street

Protect the order, law and money of the rich

Shoot you or hit you if they see fit

Live off the taxes you pay

Kill and get away with it



Lavapies (4) Floor gymnastics with truncheon (or ‘I predict a riot’)

Posted in lavapies olympics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2009 by cockroach1

Last Summer there was an eye-catching piece of street graffiti that sprang up in the neighbourhood. A cleverly painted silhouette falling like an exact shadow from one of those iron bollards that line the main streets and can catch you unawares right in the groin if you’re not careful. The shadow was that of a policeman with a semi-erect truncheon. A discreet and amusing reminder of the presence that hovers over us daily.

Recently local government inaugurated a project to send mounted police to patrol Lavapies. During a vacuous news report on a local television station, where the female reporter dashed around under the horses and officer’s feet, mostly asking dumb questions about poo, elderly locals expressed approval at the scheme, the police stated that they could better observe the goings-on from up there, and drivers expressed irritation at being stuck behind the horses on narrow streets. The most enthusiastic seem to be the small children who play with their families in the playground in the plaza – several times I have seen a group of toddlers daring each other to approach the nonchalant horses in small groups, only to return to their mothers squealing with mock fear and delight when one of them shifts a foot or twitches a tail at them. These are not the only modes of transport for today’s copper on the beat, however. There are also police on motorbikes, who can be seen hanging around posing like extras from C.H.I.P.s, smoking fags and gossiping while adjusting their balls. Also there are many patrol cars sliding through the streets like silent sharks on the hunt for prey. Regularly they also pull up in batches of three or four cars, so all the officers can stop and have a chat. And police on foot. In fact, let’s face it, Lavapies is a veritable constables tea-party. What are they all doing here, then? Why so many of them? And what are their relations with my neighbours, the locals?

I, of course, have never had a brush with the Spanish police so have no opinion based on experience. I say ‘of course’ not because I am an upright and law-abiding citizen, but because my profile makes me appear to be one. I am a white, blond woman, and not a particularly young one. Therefore, according to airport security guards, police, doormen etc, I am no threat at all. So I am indifferent to their presence in my neighbourhood- they never ever bother me. On the other hand, if you are African, Arab, Indian, or in any way ‘foreign’ (especially ‘foreign’ and ‘dark’) you are likely to be stopped on sight and asked for your papers. There are many illegal immigrants here who barely leave the house for fear of being stopped and deported. African residents and street hawkers demonstrated twice recently against alleged racism and police raids; it subsequently emerged that police in the capital had been given weekly quotas for arresting illegal immigrants.

And there is a darker side to police relations with the locals, fuelled by mutual antipathy and antagonism. Sometime last year there was actually a full-scale riot just up the hill on the border of the neighbourhood, in Plaza Tirso de Molina. The origin of the riot was the choice of the plaza by a group of far right protesters who had organised a rally here. It was considered as provocation by their anti-fascist counter-parts, as it is the site of Nationalist raids on Republicans during the Civil War, so they retaliated by organising disturbances. The police responded in typical heavy-handed fashion, and chaos erupted. Garbage containers were overturned and burnt, cars smashed up, stones, bricks and other blunt objects thrown at police, who retaliated by firing rubber balls back and smoke canisters. On the retreat, rioters damaged urban furniture, shop-fronts, banks and cashpoints. I knew nothing of the riots until I tried to withdraw money the next day and walking from cashpoint to cashpoint, discovered all of them had smashed-in screens. When I was told about the rioting I thought it was a joke, but this was no joke. It was a real riot.

That explains why this sport is one of the entries for the Lavapies Olympics. I must confess I have never, ever seen police batter anyone with a truncheon in full daylight on the mean streets of Lavapies, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If I wasn’t white and a blond female, with a passport, blue eyes and big knockers, (thus protecting me from racism of one sort, but exposing me to sexism of another sort) I might feel more intimidated. I am not afraid of the police, as I am sure most of my illegal neighbours are. A policeman is more likely to flirt with me than ask me for my papers. I am not a congenital cop-hater either. However, it would really, really amuse me if Banksy could come over here and paint this mural on one of our walls. Now that would get a reaction and amuse the locals no end.

Lavapies Olympics (3) Long Distance gobbing

Posted in lavapies olympics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by cockroach1

olympics10Not so long ago I was walking up from Tirso de Molina toward Sol and as I passed a doorway a huge blob of gob flew out into the street at about thigh-level, narrowly missing me, followed by the spitter himself. Now, I am not one to cause a scene but in this case I made my feelings perfectly clear.

‘Hey! Do you mind??! That could have hit me! Look where you’re spitting, for God’s sake. In fact, even better- don’t do it, it’s disgusting.’ He was suitably bashful and apologetic, and hopefully will think next time before launching a pavement oyster. Unfortunately you would have to make it a full time job remonstrating with all those who clear their noses and throats in the streets of Lavapies. Like China, the streets often ring with the charming sounds of hawking and gobbing. But even China tried to clear up its act a few years ago during the SARS crisis, as the realistation finally dawned that it isn’t the most hygeinic of practices, and can contribute to the spread of diseases like Atypical Pneumonia, (which is more severe than common or garden Pneuomonia and doesn’t respond to antibiotics), Tuberculosis and other contagious respitatory illnesses. As we are currently at risk from another apparently deadly virus, this time originating from pigs, you’d think people might think twice before depositing their phlegm on the streets for us all to share, but no, the practice continues here.

Culturally it’s something we Brits have not done for years- centuries even, apart from a brief return to fashion during the punk era when it was part of the punk ritual to spit on live bands. While it was a common practice in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, by the early 1700s it had become a habit best concealed publicly, and by the late 1800s it was seen as vulgar, especially in mixed company. The Nineteenth Century gave us the Spittoon, though even the use of these began to die out after the Influenza epidemic of 1918, and today it’s merely seen as gross and socially unacceptable. Unless you are a footballer. It’s not the only sport where spitting has been noted- baseball player Frenchy Bordagaray was once suspended for spitting at an umpire, and remarked drily that the punishment was ‘more than I expectorated’. Yet even footballers are now coming under attack for the habit of spitting on the pitch due to the danger of spreading swine flu. The Health Protection Agency in October this year said spitting ‘could increase the risk of passing on infection’ and also claimed ‘Spitting is disgusting at all times. It’s unhygeinic and unhealthy, particularly if you spit close to other people…. Footballers, like the rest of us, wouldn’t spit indoors so they shouldn’t do it on the football pitch.’ Hear hear, I say. poster_spitting

I have tried to be tolerant and culturally aware, but this is one thing I cannot abide. Maybe it’s because I was once spat on in the face during an argument in a restaurant kitchen. To spit in someone’s face is a universal sign of anger, hatred and contempt. For me it was far worse than being slapped. It made things revoltingly personal. I lose my temper approximately every five years or so, and on this occasion I literally saw red- a red hot rage that made me hurl a bucket of garlic mayonnaise followed by another bucket of olives at the spitter. I was then hustled physically through the restaurant, past rows of startled diners, forks raised in mid-air, and hurled like a sack of rubbish onto the plaza with the cry of ‘and don’t come back!’ Let’s hope the same thing happens to this vile habit- hustle it out of the back door and make it perfectly clear it isn’t acceptable, and isn’t going to be making a come-back any time soon.

Lavapies Olympics (2) Free-style pissing

Posted in lavapies olympics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2009 by cockroach1


There used to be a smell I identified with Madrid- a vaguely unpleasant, smothering smell that made me happy. There were many years, after my intial sojourn in the late eighties, when I returned only sporadically to the city, to touch base, and to watch it shape-shifting, coping with change after change. But the smell stayed the same. It was the smell of the underground. As you descended the steps into the mouth of the metro the odour would waft up into your face: a kind of hot drainy smell reminiscent of bad plumbing, heat, and mysterious urban filth. I loved it. As soon as my nostrils filled with this hot, noxious metro-breath, I knew I was back in Madrid.

Now the smell of the metro is gone, there is ventillation and good plumbing, and there are armies of cleaners keeping the place hygeinic. Like the city, the underground has cleaned up its act. Madrid has de-toxed from the inside, undergone a kind of colonic irrigation. But things on the surface are not quite so clean and orderly. There is a new odour in the air, one which you can find on street corners, down little alleyways, next to Municipal flower pots, lamp-posts, in doorways and the stairwells leading down to the metro. I am not talking about the ubiquitous smell of cigarette smoke, I am talking about the smell of pee.

Free-style pissing seems to have become a city sport, so I can absolutely see why it appears in the Lavapies Olympics shortlist. People here- oh all right, men here (you don’t see many women dropping their knickers and squatting) have no problem whipping it out and marking the neighbourhood as their territory. Madrileños are known as ‘gatos’ (cats) so I suppose they are only behaving true to form, like stinky, strutting tomcats. Next time some pisshead who has come down to Lavapies from his clean, crime-free, safe, tidy middle-class barrio (neighbourhood) and decides to piss outside my front door, I will be very tempted to ask ‘Excuse me young man, would you do that at home?’ I would be tempted to believe that all this street weeing is a symbolic symptom of the locals not having a pot to piss in, but generally it isn’t the locals, whatever nationality. We live here, we don’t piss on our own doorstep.

So free-style pissing got my vote as one of the top sports in the Lavapies Olympics. The Incredible Ponce agrees with me in part, as he has been known to say things like ‘Ah, the smell of Spain- garlic… and sometimes piss. And deep fried food. No hang on, deep fried air, that’s the smell of Spain for me. Deep fried air.’ Like Posh Spice he has no qualms about expressing his distate, but he has a valid excuse, he’s Italian. Incidentally, I was told that after Mrs Beckham’s infamous ‘it smells of garlic here’ gaffe, she found it very difficult to order food in many of the city’s top restaurants. According to rumour, each dish she requested, waiters and waitresses would advise her very politely ‘I’m terribly sorry, Madam, but I don’t think you would like that dish. It is prepared with garlic.’ The charade continued often right through the menu, racked up to ridiculous proportions, so that she couldn’t even order a simple salad or dessert without being warned that it contained garlic.

So there you have it, the smell of new Madrid- for some it’s pee, for others it’s garlic, or fatty fried food. Lavapies, like a Third World enclave, is an oasis of gritty, unadulterated smells. Of course, statistically you are bound to come up with some good pongs as well as bad. Between my house and the plaza, for example, in just half a block, I regularly smell Turkish kebabs from the Kurdish cafe with its service window onto the street, incense from the Egyptian bazaar, Lebanese food and shisha smoke, the heavy sweet cologne of pomaded arabs and Indians, Patchouli oil trailing from some urban hippy, the fresh sharp sting of the desert air with a hint of mountains, traffic fumes, the rich stink of rubbish bins not cleaned out properly, flowers from window-boxes, the occasional overpowering stench of good weed, and of course, fresh and not so fresh pee.

Lavapies Olympics (1) bag-snatching relay

Posted in lavapies olympics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2009 by cockroach1


I have been fortunate enough never to have been a victim of this, the first of the Olympic sports of Lavapies, though I hear that a sporting handbag relay is a frequent sight in the neighbourhood. There is always something picaresque happening in and around the plaza, so it pays to have your eyes peeled and your ears pricked at all times.

When I say I have never had my bag snatched in Lavapies, this doesn’t mean that I have never been robbed or mugged in Madrid. In fact, if you’re not robbed in your first few months here then you can’t truly consider yourself ‘in’. It’s like a brusque frat-boy initiation rite.

Once, on the tube at rush hour on the way to work. 4 euros in my purse, choke on it, gypsy scum! Once, in the stairwell of a seedy hostal in Tirso de Molina in the late eighties. After stepping over junkies in the doorway, we were followed by a charicature of a scrawny gypsy Rose Lee, clutching at me and moaning ‘money, alms for the poor, help me, for the love of God, help me…’ while her other hand filtched the purse from my pocket. Once in the Retiro, sat on a bench with my boyfriend, just collected tickets and travellers’ cheques for our trip to the UK. A well-dressed arab apporached with an unwieldy map and asked for directions. My bag was on the bench beside me, the handle looped round my knee, until we were momentarily distracted. Once, a year ago, at the cashpoint in Tirso de Molina- jostled by two teenage Romanian chav girls who never even flinched when I unleashed my inner Amazon- ‘You will not touch me again, whore bitch!’ shove, ‘if you touch me again I will break your face!’ They robbed me of 300 euros right under my nose and I didn’t see them take the money. Once, a couple of years ago, in a shoe shop in Calle Mayor just off Sol, an area with the highest number of thieves per head in Europe. I put my bag down to try on a shoe and the fucking Borrowers made off with it invisibly. In the blink of an eye, you could say. Once at a street café in Serrano, bag on the floor by my feet, hassled-looking man approaching asking which way to the bus-stop.

Well, I could go on but it would be so dull. You see, from where I’m sitting, I’m far more likely to be mugged outside the neighbourhood than in it. I have never been threatened, pick-pocketed or even followed near my house. They always say you are safest in the thick of it, honour among thieves and so on. Madrid can be a mean city, let’s face it, it’s a European capital. But I am from Nottingham, you can’t scare me. I’ve wrestled with fat slags at closing time in dank victorian alleyways, I’ve held my own in chip shop queue brawls, I’ve repelled hordes of feral children unarmed and alone. And I think you can see this in the way I walk the streets. Nottingham girls are made of tough stuff, pride of the Midlands, we’re bred on pork pies and cross-country runs. I can hold my own in a changing room cat-fight, I went to an all-girls public school, what do you expect? I have respect in the Hood. Nobody’s going to be snatching my bag in Lavapies any time soon.