Up in the Galician hills it rains quite a lot, especially in winter. Umbrellas are a necessity and have to be taken to work. Farmers who need both hands free deal with this challenge by hooking their umbrellas into their shirt or coat collar and letting them dangle down their backs. Down in snobby Pontevedra, no one would be seen dead doing this. So I get a few strange looks when I adopt this eminently sensible practice. I mention this as a prelude to a quintessentially British tale. . . Needing both hands to complete the newspaper crossword as I walked yesterday along the seafront, I duly thrust my brolly behind my back and set off for my brisk walk. I became aware a car had crossed the road and drawn up just behind me. As I turned round, the lady driver smiled and I feared yet another request for directions, the bane of my life in Pontevedra. Rolling down the window, she said “I know you're going to think this is a silly question but do you know you’ve got an umbrella hanging down your back?”. Laughing, I said I did and explained it was to allow me to do the crossword as I walked. Noticing she was a nurse and knowing there were several retirement communities nearby, I asked her whether she’d concluded I was an Alzheimer’s patient out for a stroll. “Oh, no” she replied. “I just thought someone might be playing a practical joke on you.”
Earlier this year, the mobile phone companies in Spain were instructed to stop overcharging customers by billing by the minute instead of the second. The consequence was that ‘set up’ charges immediately soared and all my [short] calls immediately became far more expensive. So I was both unsurprised and pleased to read yesterday that the Office for the Defence of Competition has decided to take action against the companies for illegal price fixing. But I don’t suppose I’ll ever see the cost of my calls reduce.
Talking of prices . . . Here in the UK, I’m constantly surprised at how expensive certain things are, even after taking into account salary differentials between Britain and Spain. So I wasn’t too astonished to read yesterday the average pub lunch is now 20 quid [28 euros] a head. That gastronomic delight, the steak and kidney pie, averages 10.50 [15 euros] across the country, which compares with a mere 6.50 [10 euros] for a fine full meal in Brittany. Is there some justification for this or is it merely profiteering based on the low standards of Brits who’ve only recently become a nation which eats out quite a lot?
The mayors of all of Galicia’s seven cities are meeting to set up a ‘united front’ against binge drinking in the street on Friday and Saturday nights [el botellón] and to decide on a common policy. One wonders why they can’t act alone against this modern nuisance. One of the options is to copy other cities in Spain and establish a dedicated location for the kids. This goes by the wonderful name of un botellódromo.
Talking of joint action . . . Up in the hills behind Pontevedra, ten neighbours are clubbing together to buy a 250,000 euro house to prevent it getting into the hands of a gypsy family which currently lives on the permanent encampment not far from my house. The fear is it will be a Trojan horse for a new settlement. I was reminded of Xoan-Carlos’s comment to my blog of yesterday that “Most Spanish people think they're racially tolerant simply because they listen to gypsy/Mexican music but would have a stroke if one of their children married a "moro", despite the massive contribution of Arabic culture to that of Spain.”
Any reader interested in Galician Celticness, will find the comment from reader Luis to this blog stimulating. To fury in some cases, I expect.
Finally, a real cultural difference between Britain and Spain. As in other Continental countries, fresh milk is hard to get in Spain, where it’s drunk by only 4% of the population. In the UK, it’s 92%. Must be the weather.