Archive for lavapies (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


Safe as houses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 12, 2011 by cockroach1

‘The Sociedad Publica? You’re renting your flat out with the Sociedad Publica?’ said Jose the barman, shaking his head.

‘Yes… I was thinking of doing that, I just signed the nota de encargo today.’

Jose shook his head again, and spread his hands wide. One of them had a greasy glass in it, the other a greying dishcloth.

‘Listen, I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I rented a flat out through them, only just got it back off them, a little short of the five years they ask for, and by Christ did it cost me to get it back.’

‘I just thought it might be a good way to do it, seeing as I won’t be in the country, they offer to sort everything out for you….’

‘Did you hear that?’ he grinned at his wife, who was carrying a plate of unidentifiable fried things from the kitchen hatch, and who turned to listen to him on the way out to the street terrace tables.

‘She says the Sociedad Publica promises to sort everything out for you-‘

‘Si, claro.’ His wife raised her eyebrows and huffed.

‘Look, like I said, I’m not trying to tell you what to do, they’re probably the least terrible of a bad bunch, (those were his exact words, the ‘least terrible’) but don’t believe any of that stuff they say on their website, it’s just to hook you in as an owner, get your flat on their books. They didn’t guarantee our rent when the flat was empty, they say it’s for every month it’s empty and it isn’t, it’s up to two months, at least that’s what they gave us. They never pick up the phone or get back to you when there’s a problem. And they don’t take the stress out of all of it, I can tell you that for nothing. They gave us a shitload of stress. I’m glad we got the flat back off them and we can do it ourselves now.’

‘Really? I thought they were supposed to be pretty organized. Though they’ve been a bit flaky so far…’

‘Flaky? Bunch of crooks, more like! They’ve been on telly and everything. Been massive complaints about them. Just saying, it’s entirely up to you.’

It was entirely up to me, wasn’t it? This conversation haunted me all the way back to the UK, along with the memory of the very Uncivil Servant telling me my flat would get its head kicked in and squatters crawling all over it, that they had ‘much better flats than mine’ on their books, that Lavapies was a ‘very dangerous area.’ And after all this they’d be taking the first month’s rent as advertising and management costs, then 18% every month after that. I’d barely be breaking even – a concept that was bearable if all the stress of being an absent landlady was removed from the equation, and they did their job efficiently and professionally. It’s just that… it wasn’t looking as though they were going to do that. A shitload of stress? I could source that for myself independently, thank you.

After a few days I decided that if it was entirely up to me, I’d rather have my flat back and take my chances in the private rental market. But that might not be so easy- I had signed it over to them for ‘comercializacion’ and viewings. They had my keys. I had signed papers, in an office, overlooked by a rude ‘nota de encargo’ officer and a drooping pot plant. It felt like a pact with the Devil himself. What if they told me it was too late now, I owed them money for advertising the property, for wasting their time, for employing an agent to carry out viewings, for being foreign, for not knowing my mysterious and often-trampled rights? I had heart palpitations and slept badly for two days. Then I decided to proceed in a Spanish fashion. That is, to apply a liberal dose of bullshit, shake it up, and sprinkle it with a little cunning:

‘Dear Sr. Fulanito,’ I emailed guiltily,

‘I would like to thank you for all the hard work you have put so far into preparing my flat for rental. However, I regret to inform you that I have just been offered a job in Madrid, and must return to take up residence in the premises. I will, therefore, be unable to keep it on your books as a rental property. I would appreciate it if you could inform me of the method by which I should retrieve my keys? And if you could inform me if I need to send you any further paperwork? Once again thank you for all your work, and if the situation changes I will, of course, be back in contact with you.’

Lies, lies, damned lies. Now I just had to wait and see if my calculated plan would work…..

Lavapies is a very dangerous place....

A very Uncivil Servant

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2011 by cockroach1

one kick to that re-inforced steel door....

I knew I was back in Madrid: it had been approximately thirty six hours, and already I had been for drinks in Chueca, smoked about two packets of cigarettes, accepted an illegal substance, smoked a joint at a party, I had a hangover, the beginnings of a migraine, I’d had drinks in Lavapies, a delicious and nutritious dinner consisting entirely of fried items and/or garlic: croquetas, calamares, patatas bravas and gambas al ajillo, I’d slept less than is humanly advisable, not eaten a single vegetable, been startled out of my wits by an unfeasibly large cockroach, been regaled with a horrible story about a robbery, and now I was being shouted at by a civil servant with serious mala leche.

‘Well, don’t bite my ears off because Jorge went and made a mistake! That’s not his job. He shouldn’t have told you that, Madam, that’s not how it works-‘

‘That may not be how it works,’ I replied ‘but that’s what I was told, and you can hardly call that my fault, I tried to organise this weeks ago, and that’s what he told me.’

‘Well, it’s not my fault. It should have been dealt with by a different department, that’s not how we do things round here.’ He stood up, looming over me in the small airless room with its smart formica table-top and its wilting pot plant. I wasn’t really interested in whose fault it was anyway, I didn’t want to play the Catholic blame game, I just wanted someone to sort it out.

‘Look, can we just try and sort this out?’ I asked him wearily, my migraine starting to throb like some alien life force taking up residence behind my left eyeball.

He agreed grudgingly to try and ‘do something’ and I went for coffee.

‘But,’ he reminded me as we walked down the corridoor toward the bright outside,

‘I can’t guarantee anything, and I don’t know how long it’ll take. If you come back in an hour I might be able to do something, but I can’t promise.’

What was my problem? Halfway through the process of renting my flat with the Sociedad Publica de Alquiler de Vivienda, a Government rental agency which manages flat rentals for absent landlords, we seemed to be sinking up to our necks in beurocratic nonsense and incompetency. Back in Madrid from a Tuesday to a Tuesday, I had pleaded for a pre-arranged appointment to sign hand-over paperwork. After chasing this up for several days I had been granted (very efficiently, I thought) an appointment on the Friday morning. Which I then found out was a national holiday. Three days of further phone calls and emails revealed that it was, in fact, in the system for the Thursday and this was a typo in my email. Lucky I had checked. Then on arrival at this meeting to sign the contract, on opening it and reading it, it appeared that there was a mistake with the proposed rental amount, which was at the original sum, when I had been told it had been raised after I had negotiated it with the agent. Mr Uncivil Servant was now going to re-negotiate my rental amount for me with the correct department.

He wasn’t ready after an hour, so I waited in the waiting room then I sat on the grass bank outside the office on the Castellana, baking in the high sunshine and watching people go in and out. Oddly, the waiting room by reception was the same for property owners and tenants, and I was treated to a cabaret of distressed ex tenants pleading for their deposits. One young woman sat defiantly in the waiting room with a large suitcase, stating,

‘I am not leaving here until I get my deposit back. I left that flat three months ago. That’s my money and I want it back, you’ve got no right-’

A young man wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Running sucks’ shouted,

‘You people! I’ve been calling twenty times a day every day for three weeks, the same number, nobody every picks up the damn phone, so I come down here, all the way across Madrid to speak to someone in person about this, and all you can tell me is they’re not picking up the phone and there’s nothing you can do for me? I want a complaint form.’ Another family sat, grim-faced and muttering darkly between themselves. They were all ‘served’ by a hard-faced receptionist with a straight line of lipstick for a mouth who raised the receiver to her ear and listened into it, shaking her head and refusing to make eye contact. Her replies were curt, defensive. Again I heard ‘…not my fault… nothing I can do about it…..Ya. what can I do about it?’ She probably dealt with this level of hassle every day, but these were clients. Distressed clients.

Was I doing the right thing renting my flat through these people? Mr Uncivil Servant called me back into the office finally, and informed me he’d been able to raise the rent by twenty euros a month. He informed me of this as if he expected the same level of gratitude for having raised it by three hundred a month.

‘You’ll never rent it at that price,’ he said, sliding the contract at me over the table.  ‘You may have an inflated idea of what your flat’s worth, but believe me, Madam, we have far better apartments than yours on our books, flats in Goya and Serrano with swimming pools, flats which are not ground floor, which have light, terraces, and are much bigger than yours.’

‘Well, you can take my lovely, cosy, little designer flat off your books and shove it up your arse, can’t you?’ I said. Actually, I didn’t, I opened the contract and next to the drooping pot plant I signed my name. I’d come too far now to back out. As we walked once more down the corridoor to the bright entrance-way, and he coldly shook my hand, he said,

‘Your flat won’t rent for ages, you know. I shouldn’t be surprised if it sits empty for a long time. And another thing- Lavapies is a dangerous barrio. A very dangerous barrio. It’s full of squatters. All it takes is one kick and they’re in, one kick to the door and they’re in and squatting, and then there’s nothing you can do, they’ll trash it and you’ll never be able to get them out. So I would ask an amiga to come in and air it and put lights on, because you don’t want them to think it’s empty, do you?’

‘Thank you so much for your help.’ I told him, tight-lipped.

If my flat looked like this:

'After 12 we don't want any noise, please call the mobile.' Wonder what they do in this squat, then?.....

I might have understood his cautionary words, but it doesn’t. And believe me, it takes more than one kick to knock down a puerta blindada (reinforced steel door). And they’d have to get past Carmen. So, thanks for the vote of confidence, mate. Just another case of Lavapies as Soddom and Gamorra from some uptight middle-class Madrid snob. And these were the people who were going to be marketing my flat to prospective tenants?

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.

Grace the Wonder Dog (part 3)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2010 by cockroach1

I adored Grace. I loved putting on her collar and stepping out with her into the neighbourhood. We walked a lot. I wanted to socialise her, minimalise her fear of cars and noise, people and other dogs. In the street, despite her skinny frame and nervous temperament, people stopped and turned back to get a better look. They would comment on what a beautiful dog she was. Children in particular stopped and tugged at her ears or threw their arms round her neck and hugged her tightly. I was delighted to see how good she was with kids: treating them as puppies- she was always tolerant, patient and affectionate with them, even the tiniest toddlers. I strode down the street with my gorgeous blond dog and pretended she was mine for ever, like girly best friends at school. The responsability and rhythmn of walking and feeding her became incorporated into my daily routine, and I felt that in a way it was a novelty and a revelation to care more for something else than for myself. The first thing I did when I walked through the door was hug her and immediately take her for a walk, whether I felt like it or not. Walking through my front door to a happy welcome every day became a pleasure. Grace was never a tail-wagger, never a sloppy, goofy dog who pleaded for your attention. She was aloof and self-contained, affectionate in a lazy, wolfish way. But she did whine in the back of her throat when I opened the door, and she would heave her wasted body off the sofa and limp, tail swaying a little, to greet me. For her this was expressive. It touched me. Also she brought to my home a peaceful aura that only a curled up dog who occasionally snores can bring to a home. Suddenly I had permanent company and a household rather than just a house. I had what people call a ‘home life’, something cosy and infused with love and dependence, rather than just me sitting in my pants eating pizza and watching NipTuck obsessively. I was loved. I lived with someone and that other being loved me with far more devotion and faithfulness than any partner had done up until now.

On the other hand I sometimes felt resentful and worn out. I was beginning to experience, for the first time in my life, what it is to be a woman and look after everyone else before yourself. Getting up at 6.45 to walk her before work was killing me. It was even worse when she started to develop agrophobia. I don’t know whether she disliked the traffic or the people, or the overload of smells and sights, or whether she was just genuinely exhausted and in recovery but she became utterly lethargic about going out to walk. She was more of a coach potato than me. Some days I slipped the collar round her neck and she just looked up at me. It was the same look I got when I dealt her the Dog Whisperer rolled-up newspaper trick, when in order to startle a dog out of bad behaviour and get its attention you smack a rolled up newspaper on the floor near it. The first time I did that she rolled her eyes up at me, bored and totally unimpressed as if to say ‘Yeah?….. And your point was…? I got this look early in the morning when she didn’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I had to physically lift her off the sofa and drag her across the floor by the neck. She played dead like a sack of potatoes. Luckily I have parquet rather than carpet and could slide her along, otherwise she would have worked out a way to just dig her claws in and cling like a threatened Koala.

On top of the lethargy she developed an irrational fear that was becoming embarassing – a fear of black men. This wasn’t going to go down very well in Lavapies, and to be honest, the last thing I wanted was a white supremacist pet. She was so unsubtle about it as well. I remember sitting on one of the benches with her one night, having a quick rest halfway through our walk. An African walked past and as he drew level with us she jumped like Scooby Doo almost into my arms and hid her face behind me to get away from him. She would do this sort of thing all the time. She also shied away from groups of arabs. It was very race specific. I would cringe with embarrassment, after all, where do children and animals learn these kinds of prejudices if not at home?…. I could only assume she’d been the victim of some abuse while on the Estate at the hands of Africans or arabs. In general she wasn’t great with men, though she could be a fag hag in this respect, building an instant rapport with gay men and women.

She was also becoming expensive. I had known some money was going to be spent, but vets fees began to mount up, money I didn’t have but could hardly refuse to spend on her. I wanted her vaccinated and healthy. She was becoming jealous and a little difficult when she was out and about with me. I was her wolf-mother now, and she guarded me viciously, baring her teeth at other dogs if I showed them any gestures of affection or attention. I imagine there was a deep-seated fear I was going to be taken away from her, I did understand it. It was not a pretty characteristic however and it got worse. I was in the park with her one day chatting to a very nice young man with the cutest puppy. In fact it was hard to decide who was cuter- him or his pet. The puppy bounded over to me to say hello after I had been chatting to its owner for a while, and Grace growled at it, and before I had the chance to stop her, she nearly bit its head off. I don’t think it was actually hurt but it pelted into its owners arms yelping more in fear than pain, and he moved away suspiciously, eyeing up my hound as if she were a dangerous beast. I was to see this look again shortly, the first time I tried to re-house her.

This was no easy task. Do not think for a moment Spain is anything like the UK with regard to animals. It has the highest percentage of abandoned and mistreated animals in Europe, one of its least attractive features. Greyhounds in particular are dumped in huge numbers just after hunting season, when they have served their purpose. It was just after hunting season. All the refuges were full. I wasn’t going to send her to the municipal dog pound as I knew how little time animals have before being put down. The thought was unbearable, after everything else she had been through, to drop her at a dog shelter and run, in the hope she would be adopted before being injected. No, I had rescued this dog, and I had a responsability to see this through. I rang round all the privately run refuges in Madrid and was told the same story everywhere – ‘sorry, we’d love to help but we’re totally full. If you hold onto her till we find an owner we can put her on our database for adoption. It can take some time, though. Months or sometimes even years in some cases….’

But, as luck would have it, apparently it wasn’t going to be too long before there was an offer to re-house her. Becoming increasingly dejected about the whole procedure, I started telling everyone I knew about her. Maybe someone would know someone who… and in fact, somebody did. I was put in touch with a friend of a friend who was looking for a rescue dog. Funny isn’t it, how things can look so good on paper, everyone says how compatible you are, how perfect you’re going to be for each other and how you’re just going to love each other and then the chemistry turns out to be so wrong? A bit like internet dating or a blind date set up by misguided friends. It was a nice idea. It’s the thought that counts.

On paper it looked good even to me. I had met the woman, been out to her house in the outskirts of Madrid almost in the Sierra. She was a New Age hippy type training to be a masseuse and holistic practitioner- I’d been out there for an indifferent and expensive Shiatsu massage, but her heart was in the right place. The home was an untidy medley of rickety homemade furniture, long grass, bare feet, childrens’ toys strewn about under Athena-Buddha posters, wind chimes on the porch and rainbow washing. The garden was enormous and rambling, in fact, I’d be tempted to call it ‘land’ rather than ‘garden’. She had a small, friendly baby with a ridiculous hippy name I can’t remember now, a name which in Mayan means God of peace or something, and a daughter of about ten called ‘Luna’ (Moon). You get the general idea. They’d had a dog before, always had dogs in fact, but it had recently run away and been run over. The husband worked in travel and was away a lot. They were looking for another family pet. It all sounded so perfect, really. Except it turned out Grace wasn’t particularly taken in by New Age bullshit either. I hadn’t counted on her being such an opinionated hound.

It started out well. I was due to go away with work for 5 days, to Barcelona for Expoquimia with Angel and Pili and she offered to take the dog and look after her while I was away, with the end result that if it worked out they could keep her and if they weren’t sure I could take her back on my return. It seemed a very sensible proposal, no strings attached, which would work out for everyone. We all met in the Retiro. That day Grace behaved like a lady. She was docile and obedient, happy to run on the lead with Luna and roll around in the grass with her and the baby. The baby liked her and soon she was trotting around after him on the lead and sniffing him gently. The mother eyed her approvingly, and said,

‘She seems very nice. A good dog. Er.. will she get any bigger?’

‘Oh no,’ I assured her confidently. ‘No chance of that. She’s at least 2, shouldn’t think she’ll be growing much more.’

‘It’s just that we were looking for a big dog. We’re used to big dogs.’


‘Luna seems to like her.’

It was decided that they would take her for now and with a heavy heart I walked back to the car with them.

‘Don’t worry,’ said the masseuse, ‘She’ll be fine, we’ll look after her.’

Grace jumped into the back seat with her new best friends and didn’t even look out of the window as the car drew away. She seemed to be part of the family already. I was aware that she was a pack animal and comfortable running with others. She needed her own pack. Two isn’t big enough. Still, I’d hoped for and expected at least a subdued glance as she left, possibly even some playing up. Dogs are such whores… I contemplated as I walked home along the terrace-lined Calle Argumosa, glad I was wearing sunglasses in the winter sunshine so you couldn’t see my eyes red and sore.

Near the end of the week I got a text message informing me that they wouldn’t, after all, be keeping Grace so could I collect her when I got back? When I got to the house it was dusk. Luna and I looked and called for Grace in the long grass outside. Eventually she came loping through the undergrowth like a big cat, eyeing me warily. She circled me a few times, slouching and trembling, as though I was there to punish her. When I crouched down to greet her all of a sudden she was all over me, snuffling and whining as her paws tangled in my hair and her tail wagged for the first time properly. Did Grace want to come home with me? I sensed that she did. Didn’t she like the new family, then? Apparently not. As soon as the father came home she refused to go inside the house, prowling round the garden instead and running for cover when he called. She didn’t much like the food they were giving her either, and started digging up bones in the garden. One day she had padded into the kitchen with her jaws clamped round and chomping happily on a skull. Not just any skull: the skull of her predecessor, the first dog who had run away and been run over. This was in front of the children. Repulsed, the mother had shooed her outside again and taken the dog’s head off her. To make her intentions even clearer, Grace had run away the night before, and had only just been found this morning by neighbours. They’d been worried sick all night.

‘Think you could just leave me here with these freaks, did you? Why do you think the other one ran away? You have got to be joking.’

The mother looked at the offending hound as I clipped on her collar and tugged her back dwon the steps to the car. She said,

‘She’s been a really good dog, though. She’s a lovely dog. Good luck’ Her eyes said ‘Get that devil vampire dog away from me and my babies. Don’t ever let it come near us again-‘

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.

Don’t look now

Posted in The Writing on the wall with tags , , , , , on February 17, 2010 by cockroach1

Calle Embajadores