Hey! I paid for that rucksack!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by cockroach1

(Pope’s visit, Part Three)

The Church is organised crime

And in August it came to pass that an army of bright-eyed Catholic youths descended on the capital from all over the world, kitted out in Papal merchandise: caps and matching rucksacks. But the armies of ‘darkness’ were also there to meet them, marching on Sol from the opposite direction. The police had officially denied them full access to the plaza, so as not to clash with the ‘cristo-flautas’. But clash they did, in glorious, absurd Madrid style. As the Puerta del Sol filled with the Pope’s chanting fans, the protesters streamed in along one side, flanked by police, the idea being that they would shuffle past in a thin contained line, and then veer off up a side street, out of sight, out of mind. Only the first part of this plan was successful, the rest was chaos.

The protesters filed into Puerta del Sol chanting slogans like,

‘Tu papa es un nazi!’ (Your pope’s a nazi!), ‘La juventud del Papa, tambien se lo machaca!’ (On one thing you can bank, you christian kids all wank!), and ‘Os han engañado , la virgen ha follado!’ (What they told you was a trick! That Virgen’s had some dick!).  Then they kept coming, and coming, so many of them that they filled up the Plaza from the rear, breaking through police lines, and eventually mixing with the ‘cristo-flautas’ in a massive, sweaty, boisterous, angry soup, so that now the soldiers of God and the soldiers of darkness were all eye-balling each other, and shouting slogans back and forth at each other in a roiling, swaying, atheist/religious rugby scrum.

The Patriotic right-wing chanted,

‘Yo soy Español, Español, Español !’ (I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish!)

to which the left-wing replied proudly,

‘Yo soy Pecador, Pecador, Pecador!’ (I am a Sinner, Sinner, Sinner!)

A wave of ‘Be-ne-dicto!’ from his supporters was echoed with the cry, ‘Pe-de-rasta!’ (Pea-do-phile!). Tiring a little of this inexplicable abuse, and not in possession of such a range of lyrical and satirical slogans, the cristo-flautas, as their opponents warmed to their theme, were subjected to cries of,

‘Menos crucifijio y mas trabajo fijo!’ (Less crucifixion, more stable work!),  ‘Menos religion, mas educacion!’ (Less religion, more education!) and ‘Tu mismo cristiano, que te paga el Vaticano!’ (Let the Vatican pay for all your Christian bollocks!)

Eventually there were so many soldiers in the ‘army of darkness’ or the Kale-Laico (see glossary) that they overwhelmed any attempts to contain them, and they took the square; the police had to strain in heaving lines around the metro exit, from which more bemused christians emerged, to shouts of,

‘A los leones, tirales a los leones, a los leoooooones…. ‘ (To the lions, throw them to the lions, to the liooooooooons…. to the tune of ‘Guantanamera’.) To add insult to injury, every time a passing priest had to pick his way gingerly through the rioutous masses, the anti-pope protesters recoiled in mock shock-horror and yelled, wide-eyed,

‘Cuidado con los niños , cuidado con los niños !’ (Careful! Keep an eye on the kids! Watch out for the kids!).

Not wanting to miss their moment, the lesbians in the crowd began chanting,

‘El Papa no nos deja comernos la almeja!’ (The Pope can take a hike- I’m a pussy-loving dyke! – literally ‘The Pope won’t let us eat each other’s clams!)

And somewhere near the Puerta del Sol, up a crammed side-street, on Calle Preciados, groups of  ‘Cumbayá’ from all nations of the world huddled together in their matching, state-sponsored merchandise, like EF foreign-language student groups, pointed at and mocked, with the accusation,

‘Esta mochila he pagado yo!’ (Hey! I paid for that rucksack!) Some ‘brave’ christians broke free to mingle voluntarily with the sinners, revelling in their own martyrdom, drowning in a sea of ‘punki-flautas’ and ‘perro-flautas’, alternative gay men, hippies, lesbians, teachers, socialists, students, and anarchists.

Years ago, in one of his bland, christian rock numbers, Cliff Richards remarked, quite accurately,  ‘Why does the Devil have all the good music?’ He might also like to ask himself why he also has all the good slogans.

Terminology/ glossary

Punki-flauta (‘punk-flute’ = crusty punk)

Perro-flauta (‘dog-flute- = crusty with a dog on a rope)

Cristo-flauta (‘Christ-flute’ = God squaddie)

Los Cumbayá  (the happy clappies)

Kale-Laico – comes from the politicised youth branch of ETA, Kale Borroka (luche callejera – Urban Fight), mobilised to cause street disturbances and commit acts of political violence. Term used by the religious majority/right wing to refer to left-wing anti-church protesters. Translation would be something like: Laic Street Fighters


Pope? Nope

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2011 by cockroach1

(Pope’s visit, Part Two)

August sunshine glittered on the surface of the pool; frosted beers were handed out. A deliciously cool breeze from the Sierra rattled through the silvery olive leaves, the fig trees, the quinces, and the herb garden, stirring up the basil which had been grown from seeds brought from the shores of Lake Como. Brightly-coloured plastic balls bobbed in the swimming pool, thrown there by the cute-enough-to-eat resident toddler, who was now driving a toy truck backwards and forwards between his chubby legs, focusing intently on the task.

‘And did you know they’re hauling up to Madrid five or six important virgins from churches all over the country? In massive trailers, with police escorts? What the transport must cost, it doesn’t bear thinking about. And the insurance! Joder, these things are worth a fortune, they’re covered in gold, the robes, the adornments…. That must have cost a bomb.’

‘Four hundred special vestuaries ordered for priests. Who’s paying for that, then? The Papa’s not coughing up for that, is he? The Socialist Government is.’

Diego, who works for La Mutua, one of the biggest insurance companies in Spain, admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that his company, one of the official sponsors of the visit, was insuring the pope-mobile itself.

‘Does he know that a marica (poofter) is arranging his insurance?’ queried Anabel the Andaluz, studying her cerise nails and grinning through carefully painted lips.

‘Can’t you make its wheels fall off, or make flowers pop out of the bonnet or something? That would be so much fun.’

‘Like a clown’s car!’

I mentioned that the Incredible Ponce had been muttering darkly for weeks that Mahou was also sponsoring the visit.

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ I was told, ‘And Telepizza, Grupo Botin (the owners of Banco Santander), and Corte Ingles. We’re trying to boycott OpenCor, bit difficult- there’s nowhere else to pick up a good bottle of wine in the barrio, but you’ve got to make a stand, haven’t you? Telepizza’s easier to keep a wide berth.’

Our Italian friend Ana,  pulled a face.

‘Call that pizza?…’

‘Twenty million euros on subsidising their public transport while they’re here. They can’t do enough for the pious little bastards. And now a single metro ticket’s gone up fifty percent- it costs us, people like us who live and work here, one euro fifty now….’ This was murmured by a sleek young man in small speedos, sunning himself by the side of the pool. Just after this comment the toddler staggered to his feet, raised the toy truck above his head and gleefully smashed it into the sun-worshipper’s groin.

‘Pero bueno, Lucca, eso no se hace… le queda mucha alegria todavia con las joyas de la familia, tio…! Lo siento, lo siento….’ (Hey, Lucca, mate, you can’t just do that. He’s got a lot of fun yet to be had with those crown jewels! Sorry, sorry….)

His father scooped Lucca up in his arms and carried him away to be tickled, while the victim lay back, winded but laughing, no harm done.

Roberto the hairdresser sighed and drank deeply from his bottle of beer (not Mahou).

‘I tell you what, I’m sick of hearing about it.’ he said. ‘One of my colleagues, nice girl, from Peru, nice you know, but really religious, she can’t wait for him to get here. She’s wetting her pants. Spends all day in the salon wittering on about God, about how wonderful her God is. It drives me nuts. I couldn’t help myself, the other day, it just came out. But I said to her – ok, basta ya! (enough already!) I’ve had enough of hearing about your bloody wonderful God and how he looks after you all the time. And I tell you one thing, chica, I’m glad you think your imaginary friend is looking after you, because what kind of an almighty cock-up would your life be if he wasn’t there ‘helping’ you all the time, eh? I mean, you’re hardly en la gloria now, are you? Are any of us? Think about that.’

He glanced out over the pool, shielding his eyes for a second from the harsh, sparkling water and the yellow of the bright sun.

‘Why don’t they just pay their own way? I mean, imagine if Tina Turner came to Madrid. The State wouldn’t pay for that, would they? They wouldn’t pay for her and all her fans. And she really is divine…’

There was all-round agreement here.

‘Una Diosa, claro….’ (A goddess, you bet….)

God doesn’t exist, anarchists do

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2011 by cockroach1

(Pope’s visit, Part One)

‘Peligro, que viene el Papa!’ (Watch out, the Pope’s about!) shouted the red and black stickers, illustrated with a creepy silhouette of a figure wearing a mitre and robes. The vestments were hitched up around his skinny ankles, as he pursued a group of children down the street, his Nosferatu claws outstretched to grab them. Another sticker just beneath it urged us to ‘Keep religion out of schools!’ An anarchist poster listing the clergy’s recent sex crimes informed passers-by, sternly,

‘Esperamos que Dios te perdona- porque nosotros no lo van a hacer’ (We hope God forgives you because we’re not going to.)

It seems not everyone was happy about the Pope’s imminent visit to Madrid, and the accompanying invasion of  adolescent ‘cristo-flautas’ (God-squaddies) for the Dia Internacional de la Juventud Catolica. Least of all, the Anarchists. A couple of weeks before the papal visit, all over the centre of town, pasted onto lamp-posts, bus-stops, shop windows, and the sides of rubbish bins, there was a flurry of this kind of propaganda. Stuck with that type of glue that makes the poster impossible to peel off without scratching it away with the edge of a key, or soaking it in detergent:


For centuries the church has been helping to build a hell on earth.

It has done all in its power to stop us making our own decisions about our bodies, our lives and our deaths, it has persecuted

homosexuals, defended racist theories, systematically kept

women down, ripped off the poor, and spread fear

and blackmail in order to dominate. Those they exploit have never been

people with their own rights in the church’s eyes… just a rich seam of

profit for them to mine. The abuse and rape of children which is

such a scandal in today’s society only illustrates this logic.

 God doesn’t exist, anarchists do.

It’s a fair assumption that anarchists would automatically be opposed to Benedicto riding into town. But why would the educational establishment, or at least a large proportion of teachers? ‘Keep religion out of schools!’ Is this a ‘faith school’ argument? Not quite. It’s more a question of money. There are arguments that this visit, sponsored by the state and private companies, has cost roughly the same as the recent educational cuts. Thesel cuts have not sat well with the throwing open of public-sector schools to tens of thousands of young pilgrims, providing them with free (or heavily subsidised) dormitory accommodation in sports halls and assembly rooms. Except it’s not entirely free. Who is covering their costs – electricity, water, security and air-conditioning, to name a few? The state schools. After all, the scathing retoric scoffs, the Catholic Church is such an impoverished institution it couldn’t possibly finance the tour itself…

So, Spain’s a catholic country, is it? In response to the Pope’s visit, a large demonstration was planned to coincide with the International Catholic Youth Day, bringing together teachers, gay rights activists, feminist groups, alternative christian groups, anarchists and so on. They were informed prior to the event, by the police, that their planned route would be changed, veering around Puerta del Sol to avoid ‘disturbing’ or ‘clashing’ with the cristo-flautas. Except it didn’t quite work out that way on the day, as is so often the case here. This was more than a rumble in the jungle, and the anti-papists were to prove that not only could they mobilise and take the plaza, but they also had much better slogans than the other side.

Beware of the chickens

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by cockroach1

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’.

The wheels of Madrid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2011 by cockroach1

I wake to the sound of birdsong, in a marshmallow bed, feather pillows foaming around my head.  What was I dreaming? The Incredible Ponce melting before my eyes, vaporizing into his own puddle of clothes, hissing, ‘Help me, help me….’ He was dressed as Brundle-Ponce, a half-man, half-fly, his skinny legs sticking out of leather shorts, an obscene stuffed leather fly’s abdomen hanging between his legs. Doc Martens, and wired fairy wings sprouting around his ears. He had his hair teased up in a frightwig, and two globular ‘eyes’ on his forehead, glitter stuck to his face. And beneath the make-up, his ‘cara de muerte’ (Face of Death).  What was the other thing he said?

‘Estoy arruinado! Me voy de Madrid mañana mismo.’ (That’s it, I’m ruined! I’m out of here, I’m leaving Madrid tomorrow.) Except it wasn’t him who left. I must have tapped my little red shoes together, and screwed my eyes up really hard, and finally the hurricane stopped.  There was another phrase from the dream, but I can’t remember it now.

Was that my little house spiralling past the window in the gale? My plants in their pots spinning off, out of the patio into the tiny oblong of sky, the Four Horsedogs of the Apocalypse (now three) yapping and yipping as they are blown away, and Carmen the tattoed woman, glorious with her henna’ed hair streaming behind her, shouting into the wind? And at the eye of the hurricane a dust-storm that was Lavapies, a centrifugal whirl of indian restaurants, Bangladeshi grocers, chinese corner-shops, arab tea-houses, urban hippies, drug-addled, half-arsed punks, chicks with dicks, strolling elderly ladies linking arms, dog turds and nightclub posters, theatre-luvvies and buskers, ‘La Farola’ vendors, cigarette butts, hanging gardens on postage-stamp balconies, teenage hash-sellers, Egyptian bazaars, Lebanese sweets, kebabs and tapas, coffee cups and cockroaches, dreadlocked junkies, secret tokers, a thousand terrazas, stealthy police vans, bristling surveillance cameras, poster-blitzed banks, salsa-dancing alcoholics, late nights and love in dimly-lit doorways, scruffy trainers with ‘paz’ and ‘peace’ stamped on each sole, slung over telephone lines, and graffiti everywhere you look.

I shuffle downstairs and make a cup of tea. Out of the kitchen window I see the garden, trees, fields, and the gentle quack of ducks reminds me there is a lake beyond. As I sit and drink it I can hear a strange clucking noise from the lawn, and when I look out I realise it’s the semi-tame pheasant that comes for food, and shelter, when they are hunting on the estate. It’s calling for its breakfast. I take some birdseed out for it and it comes running up the lawn, its gait a comical mix between urban pigeon and road runner. A cabbage white butterly takes off from the step by the door, and a bee veers round my head. A lorry roars past on the main road and when I look up I see it’s stacked with hay bales.

That was it, that was the other phrase from the dream:

‘I will not die by throwing myself under the wheels of Madrid.’

I don’t know what it means either. Not yet.

Leavin’, on a jet plane….

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2011 by cockroach1

‘Goodbye flat. Well, ok…. hasta luego’. I will, after all, be back in a few weeks to sort out everything that I was unable to resolve in August. What was I thinking, trying to achieve anything this month, anyway? The agent from the Sociedad Publica de Alquiler (Govt rental agency)  mailed me to apologise for the latest lack of response/interest in my pleas for a signing date. ‘Sorry, you know, it’s August…. Holidays….’ I close the heavy green door behind me and triple lock it.

‘Goodbye plants, goodbye patio, good- oh for God’s sake, just get on with it.’

I decide against taking a taxi to Atocha, where I plan to catch the new super-dooper bus link to the airport. By the time we man-handle my cases into the boot, the driver faffs around in random backstreets, asks a barrage of personal questions and subjects me to a racist or possibly lewd conversation, I could have walked there, so I do. As I reach the Reina Sofia the sun is searing, slanting down in great chunks of heat, sweat begins to pool in the small of the back, and I mutter like a mantra ‘I won’t be missing this, I won’t be missing this…’ On the way to the airport the bus passes a shop named ‘Soluciones Constructivas’. Yep, leaving certainly is that – a constructive solution. We rattle through an abandoned Madrid, only tourists and pick-pockets herding across the great concrete plains.

Once checked in at Barajas, Terminal 3 (which I still prefer to the architecturally superior Terminal 4), I go in search of something to eat. The first ‘café’ offers either slimy, pre-packaged crab and tuna sandwiches, or baguettes as sterile and serrated as a bread knife, filled with the ubiquitous ham, cheese, or ham and cheese. Oooh, or I could have one filled with tortilla, though it looks like something you’d prop a door open with. So I end up in the gloriously named ‘ARS’ café, mostly for the name, but also because it occupies a corner position in the airport, and allows you to overlook the planes, white-hot sunshine glittering off their fuselage, tiny Tonka trucks circling in and out under their wheels and across the tarmac, which is cryptically marked with arrows and dotted lines in different colours, the mysterious tracks and rat-runs of an airport. Here, I pay 11 euros 50 for an indifferent salad, a shrink-wrapped bread roll and a can of Aquarius.

Then there are just over 2 hours of being harangued at 30,000 feet by excitable Ryanair staff while you sit, frozen half-silly, fingers almost blue with hypothermia, presumably so you don’t nod off and miss one of their exciting offers. The Spanish steward subjects us to a 7 and a half-minute speech about scratchcards, with a nauseatingly chummy pitch,

‘Fijate, tu puedes llegar a Londres, el flamante propietario de un coche, o empezar las vacaciones un milionario, imaginate… tuvimos esta semana cuatro personas, si, cuatro personas que han ganado a bordo, puedes imaginar la ilusion de encontrarte el ganador, por solo sacar 2 euritos del bolsillo, nada mas, 2 euritos, que no es nada…’ ‘Listen, you could arrive in London the proud owner of a car, or you could start your holidays a millionaire, imagine that… we had four people last week, that’s right, four winners on board, can you imagine how exciting that would be to find you’re the winner, and all because you found 2 little euros in the bottom of your pocket, just 2 euros, that’s nothing….’ He sold just one scratchard, and nobody leapt out of their seat a winner. Life’s a bitch. Then, on a balmy summer’s evening we are flying over dark green treetops into Gatwick, awakening a deep, genetic pastoral memory- green, that’s what I wanted, what I needed: green, green fields and trees. The England of my ancestors, born and bred in cowmuck and barley fields, woodland and hilltops, hedgerows and riverbanks, hamlets and haystacks.

My phone starts to buzz with concerned texts before I am even out of Arrivals,

‘Nice of you to come back just as we are descending into revolution…’ ‘Welcome back to riotous Ingerland….’ And from friends in Madrid ‘What the Hell is going on over there? Have you arrived all right?’ As I wheel my case past Customs and into the hall I pass a last-minute shopping opportunity, alcohol and perfumes piled beneath a sign claiming ‘You can beat the high street if you shop at Arrivals.’ Which seems a little ironic, given the looting. I square my shoulders and smile, with a mini-rush of euphoria as I step out into the Arrivals hall, ready to meet an old friend who is expecting me. Is it my old self or is it my own country that is waiting for me out there?

There must be 50 ways to leave Madrid

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2011 by cockroach1

It’s so hot outside, even though we are experiencing one of the ‘softest’ Summers in recent years. Today, having a coffee with the Incredible Ponce at a café on Calle de la Fe, an affable African in a trilby asks me if I’m ok.

‘I’m fine, I’m great, thanks.’

‘You look fine. La unica cosa que te falta es un sombrero.’ (The only thing you’re missing is a hat). And he grins and leans against me on the high bar stool.

‘I like your bracelet, nice. Is he Italian? Hey, are you Italian?’

‘Se nota, verdad?’ (You can tell, right?) The Ponce was asking the long-suffering Auntie behind the counter if his simple tostada had salt, oregano and oil on it, and if he could have all three, please.

Now I sit in my bajo interior flat with the door open onto the patio, in an attempt to stir the warm, stagnant air. Carmen’s bird is strangely silent since its companion canary escaped yesterday, Carmen wandering the patio tearful, looking for it, whistling and scanning the patch of sky above us.

‘It’ll come back, when it’s hungry. Anyway, a bird’s better off free, don’t you agree, not in a cage?’ The Ponce told her, in the tone of voice used by someone who is certain of many things.

‘That’s not the point, hijo, it’s a captive bird, it won’t survive out there. And a bird isn’t a dog, it can’t find its way back.’

Later he found it curled up dead by the doorstep just outside the main entrance, and carefully picked it up and disposed of it.

‘Don’t tell her,’ he said, ‘she doesn’t need to know that.’

The Four Horsedogs of the Apocalypse are also quiet today, since Simba was put down last week, after becoming almost completely blind, and his joints crumbling with arthritis. Now there are only three. I am surrounded by packed boxes, wrapped paintings, suitcases and the debris of a barely-functioning flat in the middle of a move. I reflect on the people who have gone before me:

The Huertas Pirate, skeletal and hollow-eyed after his last Summer, agreeing,

‘Yeah, it’s been great, but it’s time to go.’ Time to go back to the Pampas, where life is easier, agreeing to his family’s wishes for him to be involved in Daddy’s ranching business. After a brief stay in the flat while I was away he left me a tiny mirrored disco ball, on a silver string, that I have kept. ‘I’m happy.’ he confided sheepishly on the phone, last time we spoke. ‘My life’s pretty good here, I have my own flat, a car, I work a little, I see my family. Yeah, it’s good.’

Charo falling in love with the Argentinian and leaving in a whirl of packing cases, and glazed-eyed romance, only to tell me a few weeks ago via Skype, ‘I think that was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. You and I both have so much in common – both of us really struggled to get our own place, and our independence, and then once we got it, found it unbearable to work so hard and live alone. But I should have stayed. My family’s in ruins and now it’s so hard for me to come back. I miss my Madrid.’

Angel and Pili, in a casual phone catch-up after the Summer they made their escape,

‘Meet for lunch next week? Didn’t we tell you, we’ve left Madrid? That’s it, we did it! Country living for us from now on.’ Discarding the corporate suits and the factory overalls for wellies and soil under the fingernails.

TioPepe, Sol Embotellado de Andalucia, now studying a University access course from his garret flat in London. Left behind: one Panamanian hustler husband, and an unresolved labour tribunal against the company he worked for until he decided to take an eight month baja (sick note/time off sick) for depression (bottled sunshine from Andalucia, the least depressed person you could imagine). ‘London’s the place to be.’ he said. ‘I can see it now, there are opportunities here, I wasted so many of them last time I lived here. I’m totally broke, but you know, fewer choices, fewer chances to be dissatisfied. Now I have no choices I’m happier than I was with three grand in my pocket and the freedom to travel.’

Tito, sitting like a cave-dwelling creature in the semi-darkness of the apartment so many of us have passed through over the last few years, his eye flickering to the hissing laptop as he downloads films and series in bulk for the next couple of months in Seville, with no internet connection.

‘I hate this place.’ He said, not for the first time. ‘And I feel sad to be leaving after so many things have screwed up for me. I’d like to leave feeling a bit better about it all. Madrid’s brought me nothing but trouble. It’s been a disaster for me on so many levels.’

Boy Wonder, removed kindly but forcefully by his family after a spectacular meltdown, and taken back to the States. Forcibly prized from the vampiric jaws of his British girlfriend and removed from corrupt, filthy Old Europe. One day, the Ponce told me, he was at their flat with the girlfriend who was unemployed, and when Boy Wonder came home from work her first words to him were an enquiry about the location of the stash she had been unable to find,

‘Where’s the shit?’

Mysteriously, rent money had been disappearing on the way to the bank (‘Only 500? What do you mean? I gave the teller 600. He must have miscounted it.’)

‘Leaving doesn’t feel very real.’ he told me, ‘I don’t want to go, I can’t really believe it’s happening, it feels like I’m in a trance or something. But my family…. I’m not going to make them come over here and make me leave, you know what I mean? Some people go when it’s time to go, others go way before their time, and some people just stay on far too long, like the last to leave a bad party.’ Last email contact reveals he’s been to rehab and is clean, starting a new life.

Federico/Rapunzel in his high tower in Chueca overlooking the plaza. He was brusquely made redundant after 11 months’ hard work as an engineer, just a month short of enabling him to claim unemplyment benefit, informed over the phone on the Friday, ‘Notice? No, you don’t need to work notice, just don’t bother coming in again on Monday.’ Almost a year spent drifting around up there in the palace behind the floor-to-ceiling patio windows, sitting alone at his rustic wooden dining table for eight, smoking joints and sending out cv’s. Eventually,

‘Enough.  I love Spain and I’d stay if there were jobs. I’m going back to Rome.’

Manu the Andaluz, a recent migrant back to his village, with plans to set up his own hairdresser’s in Sevilla.

‘My village? Yeah, there’s just me and the donkey…. it’s quiet. Muy tranquilo. But it’s nice to see my folks, and take it easy. ‘

He’s only been gone a couple of months, and when he was last back we had an afternoon drink in Plaza de Chueca. He looked well, glowing and relaxed.

‘My God,’ he said, as he sank into his chair. ‘I’ve only been back two days and I’m worn out! I’d forgotten how tiring Madrid is, everyone’s always in such a rush. Look at me, I’m in a rush now. They stole my mobile, you know, about ten minutes after I arrived, I was taking my suitcase upstairs to Marta’s flat, and I left the car door open. For two minutes.’

Prodigal, not so long ago, lured to London by a transfer within his company.

‘You Brits.’ he said, after a couple of months there. ‘Warriors! Not just sitting on your arses moaning about the crisis, you lot get out there and make it happen. This place is shit, going to the dogs.  Full of stupid posh twats who walk into jobs at the top and nothing for the rest of us. I’m sick of it. Miss the sunshine, but it’s over-rated, darling.’

And Peter, more Madrileno than the rest of us in his own eccentric way, the master of street-stalking, salsa-dancing, late-night wanderings. After writing and making his own film on a shoestring- what looks to be a gritty, fresh, romantic comedy with Madrid as the backdrop.

‘I just feel my time here’s over.’ He told me pragmatically. ‘And anyway, wherever I lie down to sleep that’s kind of my home, so I’m enjoying a bit of England for now.  It makes sense while I edit the film. Let’s see what happens with Tea and Sangria.’

We had our last lunch in an ancient tavern on Meson de Paredes, tapas piled on the cool marble tabletop, inches of dust on the cornices, gas-lamp fittings and the old bottles lining the bar, watched over quizically by a stuffed bull’s head.

And now, finally, me. Will this be a good move for me? How do I feel about it? Relieved, sad, a little uncertain, but mostly tired. Very, very tired. And like a small animal running frantically from its forest home, as the fire blazes behind it. Heat at my back, panic, and impending danger. I hope my friends behind me either survive and prosper (the best option), escape in time, or are consumed quickly and painlessly, if that is their fate. If I run fast enough, if I just summon up enough puff to get out of here before I’m engulfed in flames, maybe I can get some rest, and work out what to do next.