Archive for immigration (Part 3) I’ll be a policewoman come what may

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

More from the police forum in the thread about incidents in Lavapies and anti-police attitudes in general:

I suppose you already know all about it…. They did it again in Lavapies, they slagged off colleagues again. This time it was over the arrest of a moroccan with a criminal record. … 00127.html

I was about to post this story when I saw someone else already had.

Here it is:

Four officers hurt in Lavapiés

The residents of Lavapiés continue trying to set up anarchy in the neighbourhood. On Wednesday night they caused yet another altercation with the Police, when dozens of people tried to hold up the arrest of a citizen.

According to police sources consulted by LA RAZÓN, a moroccan youth called 091, asking for officers to turn up at Lavapies square, because another guy had beaten him up. When the Police arrived on the scene, the kid showed them the report he’d filed against this aggresor at Arganzuela station some days before, although he’d only just been able to identify him, as he’d just seen him in the street, and this is why he’d called the police.

Once he found himself surrounded by 6 officers, the accused, Abdou F, 26 years old and from Senegal, started to spit at them and insult them, calling them ‘racists’ and ‘murederers’. When they heard the shouting, locals started coming out onto the street and they started jeering the police, who had to call 10 more patrol cars out as back up. Meanwhile, the supposed aggressor did all in his power to resist being placed in one of the cars, until he hit his own head. After a 20 minute struggle, the officers managed to get him in one of the vehicles and one of the officers sat next to him in order to prevent him injuring himself further.

Four policemen ended up with minor injuries after this altercation and the wing mirror and the windscreens of two patrol cars broken. The suspect – with 38 prevous criminal counts for assaults on authority- has his hearing today.


Insults and attacks with bottles

Shortly after the police arriving on Plaza Lavapies to arrest a supposed aggresor, residents went on the warpath to try and stop them. In a matter of seconds, officers were surrounded by a cordon of people who hurled insults and threw glass bottles, causing injuries to four policemen. It was so chaotic that ten more patrol cars were called up to the Madrid neighbourhood to defend their colleagues, who once again found themselves rounded up and harrangued for trying to keep order on the streets.

Source: … n-lavapies


And where were the Moroccan’s countrymen to stick up for their friend and defend the police who were trying to arrest his attacker?

I just don’t get it, I am PISSED OFF

That neighbourhood needs one hell of a clean up….


Good God, this gets out of hand sometimes


And here I am having to put up with my folks, trying to make me feel bad for wanting to be a policewoman… seeing this type of bollocks makes my blood boil, the world’s gone mad


With respect I reckon your parents haven’t got a sodding clue what it means to be a policeman. To be the first to look after a woman who’s the victim of domestic abuse, to see the look of gratitude and sense of security in her eyes, to help a child who’s lost and upset, and who comes running to you because it trusts you as if you were its own father, to arrive just in time to save someone from getting beaten up and arrest their attackers, to be the shoulder to cry on when a family member has died, or just helping an old lady cross the road, or helping her up if she’s fallen. There are thousands of other cases. But that’s what it means to be a policeman: in no other job can you help other people as much.

And the 15M lot can just get fucked. I was with them at the start but bit by bit they’ve lost all credibility they had.

By the way, yesterday we had to stop them breaking into our building. Among other compliments they were shouting ‘bourgeouisie’. Yeah, there’s no-one as hard-working as us lot!


It looks like the media are finally getting wind of what’s happening to us, something’s better than nothing. I’ve just seen on today’s Antenna 3 news, I’ll post it here for you as well … 0217.html#

 And another video: … 00104.html


You’re right, they haven’t got a fucking clue, I’m on my own here, but I don’t give a shit, it’s what I do and that’s the end of it, you have no idea what it’s like every sodding day, putting up with the constant psychological battering from my mum and dad, my grandparents, my brother, today I’ve had to deal with my gran telling me ‘when they ask you what you do, don’t tell them what you really do… and I said to her, so what am I supposed to say, then? That I’m a check out girl or I’m on a five year degree course, it really winds me up. I’ll be a policewoman come what may, and when something comes over me (hee hee) no-one can stop me, and up till now whatever I’ve achieved it’s been with blood, sweat and tears but I’ve got it in the end. And when someone asks me what I do now? I tell them I’m studying to be in the National Police, and I get a real buzz out of saying what I do, it makes me really proud.

Anyway, going back to what we were talking about, it’s a damn shame when you have to see these banners saying the police are terrorists etc etc, I don’t know what these people think they’re trying to do, I’d like to get my hands on one of them one of these days, one of these who have so much to say for themselves, it would be good to get one of them face to face, see what they do then.

Advertisements (Part 1)

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

controlled area for your use and enjoyment

Ever wondered what the bobby on the beat really thinks about his or her job, the 15M protest movement, immigration into Spain,  and the residents of Lavapies, to name a few controversial topics? Or thought how interesting it might be hear their side of the story? I have, and then I came across this, on a police forum called ‘’. This is the first part of a very long thread entitled:

‘Insults against the police in Lavapies’

about an incident earlier this Summer, in the middle of the 15M protest, when Lavapies residents ‘chased’ the police out of the neighbourhood and stopped them arresting an immigrant. If you want to see the full conversation (in Spanish, I’ll be posting it here in English), follow this link:

or Google: Lavapies. It’s interesting reading…..


I’m getting really pissed off with the media, twisting things, putting their own spin on stories, never mind the truth. Take the latest incident in Lavapies: when the police were in the middle of a raid on illegals, trying to arrest an immigrant, and locals chased them out.

What really happened: a black man tried to jump the metro entrance and some security guards grabbed him. They asked him for his ID so they could book him, but he refused. Then the security guards called the Police. When the officers arrived, they asked him again for his ID, he refused again, and this is when the police officers proceeded to escort him to the station to identify him.

At this point the residents of the neighbourhood started slagging off the police, insulting them, threatening them, pushing them etc. They called for back up, and within quarter of an hour the UIP had arrived, but the crowd had become very aggressive by this point, and the decision was taken to retreat in order to avoid a worse situation.

We have to put up with this kind of crap every day and nobody sticks up for us, not even our unions. This is what we get for doing our job.

There were no plans to arrest the immigrant, as the media is claiming, he was only going to be ID-ed. And anyway, this individual was here legally in Spain, and if he had been illegal, they wouldn’t even have arrested him, only started proceedings against him. And anyway, even if we had been there demanding ID, we’re just doing our jobs!

How about this – why don’t we all stop paying to use the metro, and while we’re at it let’s stop paying taxes as well. Let’s all take over abandoned buildings and exercise our right to squat, and how about we just let all the immigrants in the world in, tell you what, let’s just scrap all laws…



I couldn’t believe it either when I saw that on the telly.

One day…


And me, I really don’t know what’s going on


No way!! Like one of my colleagues said ‘we’re like medicine aren’t we, nobody wants us until they need us.’ Spain is different!’

Never surrender, never back down!!!!!

Have a look at this, this will give you an idea, here’s the video I saw on the news yesterday:


What’s that van at 3 mins 55?


I’d say it’s the  mounted police transport


WHAT A NIGHTMARE! What ignorant people, they can’t even work out what’s law and what’s repression. These dickheads had better not come down the station when they’ve need our help. These things really piss me off.


Yes, it’s the mounted police van, correct me if I’m wrong but I think they park up in the next parallel street.


You said it, mate, what ignorant twats. And the day they need us they’d be the first to dial 091. Ignorant, lying gits. Haven’t you seen in the last few seconds of the video, there’s a black man who says ‘they nabbed a Senegalese guy on the metro and they were mistreating him.’ Where did they get this gem? Have a look at ’20 mins’ today’s edition, there’s an interview with Ablaye Seck, the guy this is all about, who says, among other things, ‘the police treated me well’ and ‘it’s true they nicked me on the metro. That was my mistake. I didn’t have a ticket, I jumped the barrier and they got me.’ This person was treated impeccably throughout the entire proceedings and of course, never once stepping outside the parameters of the law.


What a nightmare, yeah, these people who hurl insults around and shout stuff like ‘murderer’, they’re just morons. It’s a shame the Government doesn’t release a statement sticking up for the police, guardia civil and the military, it’s a bloody shame, because we’re always made out to be the bad guys, and the rest of them are always in the right, because of course, they have more rights than the security forces, and it doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

But I do think the media has a lot to do with peoples’ impressions of the police and the guardia civil, I’d like to see some news about how the police risk their lives, not just pictures portraying us as the bad guys all the time.


 I had a similar experience a while ago, when a load of these ‘indignados’ came round near the barracks and were trying to gain entry so they could hang a banner saying you don’t need the army and that kind of stuff. They were insulting us as well, and the rest. At the end of the day these people are not ‘indignant’ they’re just morons if you ask me, the indignant ones are us police and security forces, every day.


 This country is full of dickheads, jumping on the bandwaggon and they don’t even know what they’re fighting for. If the same thing happened to a Spaniard and he has to go the station to be i.d’ed there’d be no problem.

All full of themselves, then they want police presence in the streets so they’re safe.

The same thing yesterday, this time Local Police Officers who were humiliated, (insulted, shoved, spat at…) while they were trying to detain a drug dealer with a warrant out for his arrest for dealing to minors. See the whole news story here: … es/policia


And while I’m at it, have a look at this article in ABC with an interview with the security guards from the metro who called the National Police, and who were very surprised and offended by the reaction of the local Lavapies residents, which made them give statements like ‘it looks like we can’t even do our jobs now, if it’s anything to do with Rubalcaba’s little friends, looks like we all have to go along with every demand of 15M now…’ … 71114.html

and it ‘aint going to change, because now they know we can’t touch them, and they’re taking the piss out of the police, we should come down on them like a ton of bricks next time, see if that stops them playing up

spot the difference - area controlled by CCTV cameras

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.

Don’t drink. Think.

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


In most developed countries the general complaint is that ‘no-one has any respect for the old.’ However, one of my expat friends, after the umpteenth drubbing from a sharp-elbowed and knife–tongued old lady in the supermarket queue once remarked to me, ‘the trouble with Spain is that old people don’t have any respect for anyone else’, turning this neatly on its head. Today, after a landslide victory for the PP in the local elections, and the ‘Indignados’ in Puerta del Sol voting to stay on for another week, I have seen what looks like a symptom of this disregard for others from those advancing in years.

There is some debate here, over your morning coffee, mid-afternoon beer, evening copa, or the equivalent of the garden fence, about the Sol demonstrations, and whether they are legitimate political protest, or merely the excuse for one big ‘botellon’ (street party). To me, this attitude diminishes what the people there are trying to say, even if their message isn’t exactly clear, and it is an easy accusation rolled out any time you wish to discredit any crowd of young people.

‘Yeah, I’m sure it was quiet today,’ remarked my neighbour when we crossed paths yesterday in the doorway, I mentioned I had been up to Sol to take a look, and remarked how peaceful the demo seemed. ‘They’ve all got hangovers, haven’t they? I can’t take this lot seriously, they don’t even seem to know what they’re up in arms about. I’ve lived through real political protest, not this half-arsed communal piss-up. I’ve been watching it live on the internet and all they’re doing is getting off their heads. Spanish Spring, my arse.’

This wasn’t the impression I got when I visited. In fact, the first thing to strike me was a huge banner strung across one end of the plaza proclaiming ‘Esto NO es un botellon’ (This is NOT a street party). There were polite signs asking protesters not to drink and to take the campaign seriously, I read ‘No Beba, Piensa.’ (Don’t drink. Think.’, exhortations like ‘Lee mas’ (Read more) and even ‘Refuse alcohol, it just makes you a puppet of the system’. There were young men bashing pieces of corrugated iron together to make shelters or to cordon off ‘debate spaces’, there were sealed-off public toilets with apologetic notices not to use them ‘for the good of everyone…’, beds under tents with hand-written signs offering Reiki, and the occasional body laid out on them, receiving a massage. There was a banner hanging vertically from a building opposite, behind the ‘oso y madrono’ stating simply ‘Feminismo’. There was someone on a microphone and distant cheering, boys bearing brooms tidying up the litter, people from their teens up to their seventies mingling and exchanging ideas, and families strolling with push-chairs, taking a look. What I didn’t see were drunk people or anyone obviously off their head. Sure, there were the ubiquitous chinese hawkers flogging cans of beer and soft drinks, but certainly no botellon.

The lady who runs the cafeteria at one of our centres, and is a fellow Lavapies resident also remarked sourly, when I asked her what she thought about the protests:

‘Well, the only people there are layabouts who haven’t got a job to go to. They wouldn’t be able to camp out there all week if they had jobs to go to.’

When I pointed out that this was the point, wasn’t it, that young people didn’t have jobs, and this is one reason they were campaigning, she launched into the argument that,

“No, they haven’t got work, because Spain’s had such an influx of immigrants there aren’t any jobs left,’ missing the glaringly obvious point that she was saying this to an immigrant. I tentatively asked,

‘So… er, do you think young Spanish people would do the sort of jobs immigrants have come over here to do?’

‘Oh no, they’re a lazy bunch, the youth of today, they just want to sit about on their arses. None of them wants to do an honest day’s work.’ Then she asked me if it was fair that if someone had worked hard all their life, and happened to have an empty apartment, it was their choice to keep it locked and empty, wasn’t it? It wasn’t fair that these dread-locked hippies could come and smash the door down and squat in that apartment just because they had nowhere to live. She then finished her remarks with the rhetorical question,

‘But then, what do I know? I could be wrong, Soy del campo y soy paleta.’ (I’m just a hick from the countryside).

So it seems no-one is quite clear what the young people on ‘Plaza Solucion’ are trying to say. Still, I think it’s unfair to dismiss them all as pissheads and layabouts. Every big demo attracts its fair share of miscreants, hedonists and trouble-makers, and t’s unlikely that you can avoid a massive piss-up when there are 30,000 people on Sol on a Saturday night. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s encouraging that young people are finally making their voice heard- after all, they have as much right to an opinion as the rest of us. The important thing is, they have an opinion. I choose to see it as evidence that Generacion ‘Ni-Ni (Neither/Nor Generation – those who neither work nor study) are finally getting off their backsides, out of Mummy and Daddy’s house, and mobilising on the streets. And not just to get hammered.

Here is the news

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2010 by cockroach1

This morning on the way to work as I was coming out of the metro exit I was handed a copy of ADN, the free metro newspaper, by the handsome young man who distributes them outside El Pozo station. Given its limitations I rather like ADN: for a free transport rag it’s really not all that bad. I particularly like the cartoonist Ernesto Rodera’s satirical ‘La Viñeta’. He has a wonderfully sardonic vision. There was a cartoon before Christmas of two company directors discussing Christmas bonuses (of course, in the context of pay cuts and obscene handouts during the crisis) and expressing amazement that the workforce didn’t seem to think themselves lucky that, this year at least, the company had decided not to require the slaughtering of their fist born in addition to cancelling all bonuses. Another classic which I snipped out and kept was of a thick-set, brutish middle-aged man with his head in his hands bemoaning the equality laws for women with the cry of dismay ‘Jesus, I don’t believe it- now I’ve even got to respect the ugly cows! His comment on bullfighting was a bull brought to its knees, banderillas (barbed harpoons) sticking out of its neck, blood streaming from its mouth, with the torero in his suit of lights poised to finish the beast off. The torero’s speech bubble? ‘Come on, why the long face? You’re bringing everybody down; this is supposed to be a fiesta.’ However, my absolute favourite was a week or so after the hysteria and exhuberance of Euro Gay Pride here a few years ago. A young man and woman sit side by side on a sofa watching tv and reading the newspaper, ignoring each other, with the caption,

‘And here we can see a couple celebrating the wildly popular Day of Heterosexual Indifference.’

Today’s cartoon depicted two soldiers walking in a featureless wasteland, having the following conversation:

‘Are we heading for Democracy?’

‘All the while.’

‘And haven’t we gone past it?’

For me he seems to hit just the right note every time.

The actual news, on the other hand, made me rather wish I hadn’t opened the paper at all. After class I perched at the bar with my morning coffee and surveyed the main story on the inside cover: A twenty-four year old Ecuadorian girl, the latest victime of domestic violence in a ‘black’ April that has notched up seven bodies, bringing the year’s total to 20 already. That’s 20 women who have been dispatched by their partners or ex partners in just three and a half months. This poor girl, about to return to Ecuador, had been stabbed in the neck by her partner the day she finished the relationship, and had lain dead in their room for 20 hours in a ‘banana boat’ immigrant flat (piso patera) where the murder was not discovered due to the constant comings and goings of the multiple tennants. On discovery her 36 year old murderer ran into the kitchen and stabbed himself in the stomach, but was revived by emergency medical services.

A little further on, on the same page, there were the following stories:

  1. The coverage of the latest horrific earthquake in China, with accompanying photo of a victim being pulled from the wreckage by rescue services.
  2. The latest adamant declaration by some Vatican stuffed cassock that paedophilia is intrinsically linked to homosexuality, while having no direct link to celibacy. A cheap and ignorant commentary worthy of the pages of the Daily Mail (or ‘The Daily Hate’ as a friend of mine calls it). Mind you, this coming from an authority that declared that condom use spreads AIDS rather than contains it. It seems to me that paedophilia is more intimately linked to being a Catholic priest than a Friend of Dorothy. I hoped that the hissing sound of my blood coming to the boil wasn’t disturbing the other café customers. But then I came to this:
  3. In the Uk Primark has been forced after public pressure to withdraw its range of bikinis for seven year olds which feature PADDED TOPS. Yup. Padded bras for seven year olds. The short article went on to explain that Primark had apologised for the blunder and had committed itself to donating the proceeds from any sales up til now of the offending, discontinued garment, to charity. Correct me if I’m wrong, but apart from the despicable fact that some no-brainer designer actually sat down and came up with the concept, then designed it, then it was approved, went into production and finally made it onto the shelves, and in all that time not one person thought to say ‘Whoah, hold on a sec….’ but this also means that people brought this item of clothing for their daughters. And enough people for there to be a significant amount of profit to be donated to a charity. So far for those lucky pre-pubescent girls, we’ve had thongs, pole dancing classes and now padded bikinis. Yeah, great, what next, then? Nipple tassles for five year olds? Trainer stillettoes with stabilisers? In vitrio liposuction for foetuses? Does anyone have any rope handy? Electrical cable- anything… yeah, that’ll do. Excuse me, just off to hang myself.

Scary monsters

Posted in Urban Jungle- Flora and Fauna with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2010 by cockroach1

It is quite unusual for me to be rendered speechless especially in a professional context, but recently I was lost for words in a group class at the Very Big Bank. It was a low level group, and we were running a quiz in two teams. They had played the text book quiz, guessing the answers from clues like ‘American black and white comic actor, initials CC, Actress who defeats the Alien in the original Ridley Scott film, initials SW, Famous female nurse and health care reformer who started her career during the Crimean war, initials FN, and so on. Now the two teams were writing their own questions to challenge each other. As I circulated, helping with grammar and checking the questions over students’ shoulders, I came to Miguel. My heart sank as I read over his shoulder ‘Best political leader Spain has ever had, from the last century, FF.’ Oh Christ, surely not….. Miguel had been known to make some fairly outrageous remarks in class, for example, when the present King was mentioned once, he launched into an excited rant about how how King Juan Carlos is a traitor and should be dragged through Traitor’s Gate (at least he checked for the correct vocabulary). Zapatero’s name could not be mentioned in class without Miguel leaping to defame his character as ‘that socialist weasel’ whose name he could not even bring himself to pronounce, calling him only ZP. He also claimed once that it was a jolly sensible idea to screen immigrants to Spain by deciding approximately how many English teachers are needed and only letting that many in, and any other nationalities surplus to requirements should be turned back at the borders. You get my drift. I make him sound like a monster; there’s the dichotomy you see, he is in fact a kind, sweet-natured, fussily polite old man who dotes on his daughter and was very happy to give me a proud tour of his office just after I first started teaching him, fondly talking me through his family photographs and the history of the bank building.

So it was with a heavy heart I turned a little later to Miguel for his next question to challenge the other team in the quiz. They got the answer right, of course, most of them looking a little sheepish, and Miguel exclaimed triumphantly ‘Yesssss!’ Teacher replied quietly but firmly, ‘Well, that is a matter of opinion, Miguel, it’s not entirely impartial as a question, is it-‘ but he wasn’t listening and instead leapt out of his seat to give a hearty fascist salute and declare ‘Franco, Franco, Franco!’ while hopping gleefully from one foot to the other like a manic Rumpelstiltskin. It was at this point I lost the power of speech for perhaps two or three seconds. It’s not the fact that people still hold these views that surprises me, least of all in the Very Big Bank, which is a creaking old State Institution as conservative as they come. It’s the sight of someone performing the straight-armed salute at me without any shame, and in an English class that shocked me. To me it’s a filthy and abhorrent gesture, like the swastika it has become visual pollution, something to shudder at and shy away from. But what came next prolonged the lack of speech by several seconds more.

‘Ah yes, Generalisimo Franco Franco, the greatest political leader of the last century!’ he declared happily. ‘In fact, one of the best political leaders in Europe- him and Winston Churchill: without argument the two greatest men of the 20th Century.’

I must have turned a little pale, as his colleagues then started exclaiming ‘Give it a rest, Miguel, sit down-‘ ‘Come on, man, not this again-‘. Yes, of course, Franco and Churchill, like two peas in a pod. Except I don’t remember Churchill massacring all the poets, homosexuals, Leftists, gypsies, artists, bohemians, and activists….. or overthrowing a democratically-elected government…. I’m perfectly prepared to accept that the Spanish teach in schools that Sir Francis Drake was a British pirate while we laud him as a national hero. That makes sense to me in some kind of way, history can be subjective, but Franco and Church….. no……

Franco-adoration takes me back to the heady 80s- after all I arrived in Madrid and lived here for the first time a mere decade after his death. There was a day (the anniversary of Franco’s death, or his birthday, I never remember: an excuse for all his fans to crawl out of the woodwork anyway, when I emerged from Sol metro station into the middle of a Francoist demonstration, to find myself surrounded by fur-coated, hard-faced matrons, stern-backed upper middle classes and Dock Martin’ed skinheads marching, marching, marching relentlessly across the plaza and performing the dreaded salute en masse. I turned on my heel and scuttled back into the metro, the only thing missing the whites of my eyes and a flashing white bobtail. I felt sick; I was shocked. But it turns out there are (or hopefully there were, I prefer the past tense here) plenty of people who would like to have Franco back, given half the chance.

One of these was my old landlady Dolores. I rented a room from her for approximately two months while I was a student back in ’88 or ’89. I don’t remember the circumstances but I do remember I needed a room, and fast, so when I found this one – rented from a little old lady, I took it like a shot, choosing to ignore the crucifix nailed above my narrow monastic bed, the fact that my new landlady told me all about how she’d got rid of the last girl for being a ‘slut’, and even more worrying, the sheer volume of Poperabilia dotted around the house. There were Pope plates on the walls, Pope placemats (in the drawer), Pope thimbles, spoons, mugs, candles…. it was creepy but at the same time delightfully kitsch. Pure Almodovar. But the Pope had competition. Dolores had two men in her life. The other one was Franco.

She was a sweet old duck, always decked out in her wine red housecoat, her gnarled arthritic hands working away in front of her as she knitted, cooked, cleaned, reminding me of a wizened squirrel. She showed me how to make paella once, an experience that traumatised me (a pseudo-vegetarian) so badly that I have never since made it. In went the prawns, in went the chicken, in went the rabbit- the entire carcass slapped onto the chopping board, it’s jelly-ish eyes staring up at me, startled, its skinned, shiny red head a reproach, then thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! She chopped it into six or seven pieces and the dismembered body parts were tipped into the paella. Along with the head. I obsessed about that head the entire time it took for the paella to cook, right up until dinner time that night when I knew in my heart of hearts it would end up on my plate. Which of course, it did.

My time staying with Dolores was a short and quite frankly bizarre period of my life. A sublime example of how dangerous it is to tell lies, because, as the Italian saying goes, lies have legs. And they nearly trotted back to haunt me, although the option of telling the truth didn’t look so appealing either. Let me explain. Dolores, as I said, had thrown the last lodger out for being a ‘slut’. She confided in me how this girl had brought boys back to the flat, she’d seen them kissing goodbye at the door! She hadn’t even brought them inside. It seems so long ago and so unlikely, but at that time it was perfectly normal for no men to be allowed even over the threshold in all all-girl flat. Even a group of girls renting a flat was pretty unthinkable- young women, living alone? Not married or living with parents? Outrageous! So it became harder and harder to explain to my landlady why an older man was calling me constantly from the Uk. How did she know this? Mind your own business, you might think. But Dolores had the precious house phone locked in her bedroom, all calls were screened by her, then permission granted to take the call in her room.  Once, taking a call, I sat in the edge of the unmade bed and discovered to my horror that there was a large crucifix tangled in the bedsheets, meaning only one thing- that she actually slept with it. When I say large I don’t mean full-size, she didn’t exactly strap herself onto it after lights out, but it was at least the length of my arm. I had a much older boyfriend at the time who’d stayed in the Uk, and after the first couple of times he’d called, Dolores had come through to the living room one evening to tell me there was another call for me from ‘that man’, her mouth sharpening and disappearing like a knife turned sideways, and I don’t know what came over me, but I said ingenuously, ‘Oh yes, that’ll be Dad.’

After that, receiving calls was certainly not a problem. I explained how my parents were divorced, (a truth) and that my father called me two or three times a week (an absolute lie, we were currently virtually estranged). On the odd occasion my mother called she got a frostier reception than my ‘father’ from Dolores. ‘Terrible,’ she’d tutt and shake her head when I came off the phone. ‘Your father calls you every few days and you speak for such a long time. Your mother? When does she bother to call? Once a week? Poor girl…. I can see what happened in that divorce….’

As if this wasn’t enough deception, the soup of lies thickened and bubbled with the announcement of an upcoming visit from ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’. My mother and my partner were friends, and had decided to come and visit me together. Oh joy! How the effing hell was I supposed to explain that to my landlady? With another fat whopping lie, of course. Mummy and Daddy may have divorced but it was pretty amicable, and for my sake they sometimes still came on holiday together, and that’s what they were doing. Dolores insisted they came for tea. There was no way out of it. I won’t go into details, but there was a farcical tea party with my mother. Lover and I almost wetting ourselves laughing, while Dolores very sweetly brought out cakes and coffees, lavishing attention on my wonderful father and almost but not quite blanking my mother. The rest of the stay was spent creeping guiltily out of the neighbourhood to the safety of his city centre hostal, slapping his hand away if he tried to hold mine in the vicinity of the flat, and cowering in terror if he tried to kiss me anywhere there was even a remote possibility that Dolores, or one of her spies, would see me. The thought of that happening was a total passion killer, it didn’t bear thinking about.

I got away with it though; Dolores never found out that I was a slut, and probably a worse one than the girl before. We left on good terms- As I said, she was a sweet old lady in many respects, kind and good-natured. Before I left and found less restrictive living arrangements, I remember vividly a conversation we had a propos of nothing one day. Like sweet, kind, fussily polite Miguel, she was the proud owner of some pretty scary opinions.

‘Franco….’ she told me wistfully ‘in Franco’s time Madrid was a safe place to live. There wasn’t any crime, delinquency, there were no drugs, there wasn’t any AIDS, there was no prostitution, no immigration, no unemplyment. Spain was a safe country. Not any more. Look at all these problems the Socialists have brought with them! We never had them before, not in Franco’s time. Spain would be much better off if Franco was still alive.’ I was only just older than twenty, yet even I could have told her these are not problems the Socialists have brought with them, they are inherent problems of modern living. Welcome to the 20th Century. And even then I understood somehow the nostalgia that must inevitably come with the passing of a paternal dictator and the ushering in of a strange, dangerous new era. Dolores never exactly jumped out of her seat to perform the fascist salute, but she was behind him all the way, that much was clear. Dolores and Miguel, separated by twenty years but not by political beliefs. I expected it back then, behind net curtains, just ten years after his death, but today? Halfway through our English class? That I wasn’t expecting.

United colours of Lavapies

Posted in Cockroach people of Lavapies with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by cockroach1

It is a common quirk that we humans don’t register something unless it is different from the norm. If there is a strong smell in the room you notice at first but you soon become accustomed to it and forget it’s even there. You only become aware of it again when you leave the room and come back in. When I was a child we lived near a railway station, and the sound of the trains and the freight carriages shunting in and out was a disturbance in the early days, though it soon became an inaudible hum that only other people noticed. For us it was normal. Eccentricity, difference, we forget to notice these things when they become our daily reality. So sometimes I seem to have forgotten that I live in the hottest part of a melting pot, and that every day I am bubbling down further in this stew of cultures and nationalities, each of us losing a little something of our own flavour but adding spice and depth to each other as the ingredients melt and merge. I have read that there are 86 different nationaliites living in Lavapies, or that there are 90, and there are approximately 90 streets, so one for each street, or that there are around 100 nationalities. Either way, that’s a hell of a lot of eccentricity and difference. To some people this could be their worst nightmare. To me it’s a glorious, irresistible, stinky stew and occasionally I need reminding to dip my finger in and taste it again.

The subject came up in conversation last night while I was having a quiet drink with The Incredible Ponce and some other friends, and I decided to open my eyes and ears again, to pay attention once more. We started out as one Brit (me) and four Italians – from the Rome and the South. We had a quick drink at the Taverna la Mina, served as always by our avuncular gnome of a waiter. Only this week the terrazas have been laid out in full force, the metal chairs and tables blooming here and there along the streets like Spring blossom. The Gnome was cheerful, as most waiters are when the season is gearing up and work is knocking at their door again (though unlike other elderly waiters I’ve never seen him looking grumpy). The Ponce confided in me that he thinks the Gnome is a cocainomono (cokehead) which surprises me given his advancing years, but would explain the quick, bird-like movements and the physical appearance- like a half-boiled chicken carcass. Anyway, this is Lavapies, so who knows? And more importantly, who cares? He looks after us when we go to his bar and greets us when we pass in the street like old friends, and what endears him to me the most is the easy way he has with the Ponce. As we were paying the bill the Gnome joked that he was looking very serene and calm this evening (the implication being that usually by this time of night he’s off his tits). It was an unlikely snapshot, but then in this neighbourhood most of them are- the elderly emaciated waiter joshing with the pierced and tattooed Mohican at least half his age.

From La Mina we walked down to the square, passing the Kurdish kebab shop, the Lebanese restaurant and the arabic tea shop, also run by Lebanese, but staffed by a combination of arab brothers- Jordanian and Egyptian to name a couple. Then we crossed the plaza, passing small groups of Africans in galabeyas who were sitting around on the benches chatting, formless muslim women in tent-like garments carrying shopping, and indian women in saris out dragging small children behind them. As we turned the corner we were criss-crossed by swift , trotting Moroccan boys in trainers and hooded tops, teenagers and young men whose heads permanently swivel like nodding dogs, checking out the horizon, the corners, the ends of the roads for signs of the police.

There was an unsuccessful attempt to have dinner at a Senegalese restaurant we had heard about, though it was late and they had been so busy they had run out of everything except chicken dishes. The waiter was friendly and apologetic and even offered to give us a couple of complimentary dishes but we left with promises to come back another time. As we walked to the door a dreadlocked African eating at the next table raised a hand and wished us ‘hasta luego.’

We took up residence at an outside table on Calle Lavapies, one of the most interesting streets to sit and people watch. Whereas Calle Argumosa is more gentle and cosmopolitan and has an almost Parisian feel to it, the cafes on Calle Lavapies give a more diverse and shifty view of the neighbourhood, and it is always somehow faster-paced. People amble along Argumosa. On Lavapies they hurtle past. While we sat and ate our tapas I watched a group of drunken doll-like American girls who were hanging around near our table in the street for a while, clutching cans of beer and bottles of wine and champagne. One of them had long, bright yellow Barbie hair, probably to make up for the fact that she was heavier than the others. They were indiscriminately pretty and indisrcriminately drunk, which made me worry for them, then I realised how old I am getting, and how not so many years ago that was me, only with less perfect teeth and hair. A straight-backed German couple walked by, her hair short and fashionable, his glasses expensive Boho chic. A small group of Spanish boys passed us, one of them on crutches, limping and turning to his friends and laughing ‘well, great bunch of mates you lot are!’ I overheard French, Italian, Arabic, Hindi and English being spoken in the foreground while in the background you could see the arab boys hustling and selling hash, darting past up and down the street, signalling to each other with a series pf whistles and cat-calls, Africans of all shapes and sizes shuffling up the hill in their leather sandals with soles as thick and spongy as slabs of meat, and Spanish ‘alternative’ types walking in safe groups and pairs, a cheap indian bazaar of tie-dye fabrics, silver jewellery, henna tattooes, stripey hippy-trousers and many-tiered cotton skirts like brightly-coloured, flowing cakes.

At one point The Ponce broke off conversation and turned to me, noting my relative silence, and asked ‘Are you ok? Are you bored?’

Bored? How could you ever be bored in Lavapies?

‘I’m fine Darling, just people-watching, don’t mind me, I’m in my own little world.’

Just tasting the stew. Just savouring the flavours, sometimes a little too rich and overpowering, but mostly delicious and like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. All I needed was a little reminder. I needed to step out of the kitchen for a second and then step back in. Wow, that smells good. Really good.