Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 1.1.20

Firstly, Happy New Year to all. I hope 2020 brings you much of what you want it to.

Secondly . . . EARLY DAYS

I've mentioned that I'm toying with writing a book about my 19-20 years here. I've gone back to my early writings and found that, while I don't have all of them on disk, I do have typed-up copies of everything. So, I am re-typing documents where necessary . . . [Anyone know a copy typist?]

Here are my diary entries from my first few days in Spain, in 2000. I seem to have made 3 visits in September-October of that year and only stayed a couple of days after the 1st trip. This and the 2nd were by car and ferry but the 3rd must have been by plane.

I can't recall now whether or not I sent these to anyone, particularly members of my family back in the UK.

Read them at your leisure. Or not at all. I'll never know.

9 September, 2000
Well, Day One of New Life (D1NL) was late in arriving. Thanks to the breakdown of the ferry I should have got at 12 noon yesterday, I sat for 9 hours in the Brittany Ferry carpark in Plymouth and finally arrived at Santander at 9.15 last night. This meant a six or more hour drive through the night - and through a great deal of rain - to Pontevedra, where I finally arrived at 4 in the morning, rather tired. It's thought-provoking to know that I have to make the return journey the day after tomorrow. 

Opinion is currently divided here in Pontevedra as to whether the route I took to get here - as recommended by Javier - is the optimal one. I fear there will be more debate on this tomorrow. Javier has already implied that I deviated from his suggested route (getting in his defence first) but I suspect that he will be challenged hard by Carlos and Marta tomorrow on this. They say that the journey should not take more than 5 hours, even less in the middle of the night.

Unpacked most of the car and made up the bed with the new linen I bought on my last day here. Then more or less fell into bed at some time shortly after 5. Having set the alarm for 10.30, I was delighted to find myself fully awake at 9, after a meagre 4 hours of sleep. At least the sun was shining, though not for very long. They tell me there has been a draught here for the last 4 weeks, the inference being that I brought today's cloudburst with me. After the experience of my 2 week trip last May -14 days and nights of continuous torrential rain - I am not too surprised at this. And only too willing to plead guilty.

Finished unpacking the car and unwrapping the glassware. Thanks to immaculate packing by my niece, Rachel, (with some help from my sister, Terry), not a thing was broken, notwithstanding the rough handling everything got on the last frenetic - not say panic-stricken - last morning of my occupation of Foxbeare House. Positioned the various artefacts and rugs I'd brought with me around the house. Given that there are, as yet, no other available surfaces, 99% of these are on the floor - a rather bizarre arrangement, more in keeping with the tent of a nomadic tribal family than the townhouse of a post-modern man. But it's only a beginning. Also tackled, with apparent success, the thermostatic control to the central heating, using the instructions provided to me by Honeywell in the UK. These would be easier to get on top of if I had a degree in mechanical engineering. But at least they weren't in Japlish and I muddled through.

Made contact with Marta, who kindly invited me to lunch. Prior to this, I went into town to discuss one or two things at the bank and to research mobile phones. Things have certainly changed at the bank, presumably because of the funds flow necessitated by the house purchase. In contrast to earlier visits, when I virtually had to beg one of the junior staff to listen to me, I was approached by my friend Ramón, the manager, as soon as I set foot in the door. I'm not sure this endears me to the said junior staff (or even not-so-junior) but time will tell.

Met up with Javier and Ana for dinner and got various papers from Javier. He strongly recommended that I present myself at the offices of the electric and gas companies tomorrow, lest I be cut off very shortly. I will do this this but without great confidence that it will do the trick. They seem to be very quick on the draw here, contenting themselves with - at most - one warning about an unpaid bill. It used to be like this in the UK, though the difference here is that the new owner pays the price for default on the part of a predecessor. The evils of state monopolies!

Showed Javier and Ana and Cris the disposition of things in my house. Cris clearly thought I was mad but Javier and Ana were more diplomatic. Ana merely commented - for the 3rd or 4th time - that I had a great view.

Wrote this on my bed, occasionally feasting on the magnificent cityscape through my bedroom window and then retired at 11, in hope of achieving considerably more than my two-week average of 5 hours a night.


20 September, 2000
Further to initial attempts on my previous visit, I tried again to register with the utility companies today. Given that I am wanting to pay them money, it mystifies me why they make it such an obstacle course here. Perhaps it's because they operate on an assumption that everything is a ruse to allow the previous account holder to default and disappear. For the electric company, I have to present photocopies of several documents, including the deed of sale of the house. Only then am I allowed to pay them. The gas company adds a further obstacle - a certificate of operation of the gas system. I don't have this yet but it hardly matters since two visits to the Repsol office in Pontevedra were unproductive on completely different grounds. I now have to call a number in Vigo but, as yet, don't know how I am supposed to get the various documents to them in time to stop them cutting me off. I guess I'll have to make a personal visit when I am here next. When I was younger this sort of thing drove me mad but I am much more patient now, having much less to do with my time.

My visit to the electric company gave me a quick lesson in Spanish bureaucracy. When I arrived, 2 of the 3 desks has people at them and the 'functionary' at the 3rd desk had his head down. After 5 minutes, the queue had grown to 4 people and I was at the front. The woman at the back suggested - with a certain vigour - that I go to the unoccupied desk, where the clerk still had his head down. But he was wise to this sort of manoeuvre and, having given me a desultory nod of recognition, promptly got up and went to the back office. I then waited about 20 minutes while 3 people at one desk - 2 officials and a customer - had a simultaneous discussion. This is quite common in Spain and, to all intents and purposes, nobody is listening to anyone else. But they must be.

A second lesson in bureaucracy was more to my liking. I wanted to open a 2nd bank account and Marta took me to her bank, where she is well known as a woman of some means. (Her father is big in Santander - in shipping and car imports). The young clerk presented me with a demand that I get a certificate from some UK governmental body confirming that I had the right to open a non-resident bank account in Spain. This is some new EU regulation and I really didn't want to get into this process and its paperwork. Fortunately, Marta spoke to the Director of the bank and the requirement was summarily waived.

It seems that the first shots have already been exchanged - on the tennis court - in the war of Which Route to Take to and from Santander. Carlos and I have again been over his suggested route this afternoon and I expect it to be a topic of conversation tonight. Another of those simultaneous dialogues, I suspect. Everyone a winner.

I had my first visitor this morning - a lady who lives a few doors away and who said she wanted to talk to a previous tenant about a cleaning lady. At least, I think that's what she was on about. Moat Spaniards are totally incapable of slowing down for more than a sentence or two, no matter how often you ask them to decelerate. Maybe it was all genuine and she wasn't just being inquisitive about the new foreigner on the block but, after she'd gone, it struck me that she had somehow managed to elicit a great deal of information about me and my family in the space of 5 to 10 minutes, without much reciprocation. Not that I was awfully interested. Especially after she asked me if I was German.

21 September 2000
The War of the Routes was a short-lived affair at dinner last night. Javier and Carlos agreed that they'd misunderstood my comments about the way I'd come and then Javier cravenly conceded that he had used an out-of-date computer programme to send me via the coastal route. Quite disappointing really.

22 September 2000
Left Pontevedra shortly after 9 and drove through the day on tghe 'southern route' suggested by Carlos. This took me a good way south east for a while but it was all motorway and my average speed was high. Amazing contrasts in scenery - from the verdant mountains of Galicia to the sun-baked plains of Castilla and then back to the Swiss valleys of Cantabria. Spanish roads have 2 great advantages - they are almot empty and (by and large) straight. At times I was reminded of the more fertile part of Iran, complete with pigeon towers. Got to Santander at 3.30 and filled up with petrol that is 50% less expensive than it is in the UK. Postscript: In five and a half hours of driving (402 miles), I didn't have to stop once at a traffic light. In fact, I didn't come across any until just before the ferry port in Santander.

Driving onto the ferry, I had my photo taken as I started up the ramp. I thought this might be for security reasons but later noticed that they were selling photos on board of everyone's car approaching the ramp, as at the start of the water chute in Alton Towers. Even more astonishing than this practice was the fact that a number of people were actually buying them. Was it Mr Barnum who said that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public?

The ferry left at 7.30 and I retired to my reclining seat at 11, having spent most of the previous period in acute observation of the bizarre mixture of Individuals on the boat. As my brother says, it's amazing what you see when you don't have your rifle with you. I can't do justice to the variety but one of the things that struck me was the current propensity of ageing English males to sport trousers (and jackets) replete with pockets, as if they were about to embark on a safari. I suspect the worst offenders are men who drive caravans and campers. Of the strange melange of people, 2 stand out: a woman of 50+ with a face with which you could cleave wood, a hairstyle out of a Bronte novel and an evening dress somewhat inappropriate for the setting. I suspect that she felt she was the height of elegance. And a short, portly gentleman of about 60 who passed me at least 5 times, dressed in garish green shorts and wearing a bum bag to which one hand was tenaciously clinging. He was clearly engaged in circumnavigating the boat a number of times but must have feared that he was doing so among the slums of Buenos Aires.

I went to sleep dwelling on the possibility that people might look at me the way I look at them. Chastening. 

23 September 2000
Another boring day on a ferry, though we arrived earlier than expected, at 5.15. Raining. Pulled over by the Customs and Excise - presumably because a single driver is more likely to be a drug runner - but was allowed to go after a few queries on why I'd been in Spain, who owned the car, and for how long. Immediately joined a traffic jam of vehicles trying to get out of Plymouth in the rush hour. Having achieved this, then joined a traffic jam on the A38 to Exeter. But this was just a taster for the hold-up of the evening, on the M5 just south of Birmingham. Three lanes funnelling down to just the hard shoulder. All the main lanes closed but nothing happening on them, of course. Welcome to driving in the UK. Got back to Wallasey at just after 10.30, scoffed a few salmon sandwiches and retired to a very welcome bed.


3 October 2000

Well, now I've been in Spain for 2 days - having arrived Sunday afternoon in Madrid and been driven to Pontevedra by Javier and Ana, who'd been shopping in the capital. Not making very rapid progress with my priority actions - mainly because Marta has been impossible to get hold of for 2 days - but I have managed to buy a lawnmower and an transformer for my radio. And I've ordered a bed for my sister, Barbara, who may be here next week. Whether it arrives depends - apparently - on the duration of a strike by truck drivers aimed at getting the taxes on fuel lowered.

So, am managing without a fridge, microwave, TV and washing machine - inter alia. Not that this is a very great hardship. The potentially big problem is the malfunctioning of the central heating system. Javier couldn't get it to fire up when we arrived on Sunday and he was going to call on engineer on Monday. However, I got it started on Monday morning and it worked OK yesterday. Today, however. it has suffered at the hands of a pilot light that is reluctant to stay lit. Fortunately, it was very warm today - though this didn't stop the locals donning both pullovers and jackets, I noticed.

The lawnmower came in pieces, with the sort of instructions and diagrams which demand better eyesight than an eagle's and the DIY skills of someone other than me. However, after a couple of hours, I had the assembly challenge cracked and the machine ready to go. Almost. All I need know is a screwdriver to tighten the screws and a cable to connect the mower to the electricity supply. Unbeknown to me, cables don't come with the machine in Spain. So it's back to the superstore tomorrow, complete with a cable specification that's at least 20 numbers long, with a couple of letters thrown in, to boot.

Today's local paper - The Voice of Pontevedra - reports an incident at the courthouse yesterday in which a 19 year old girl who had accused her father of sexual abuse had acid thrown on her just outside the courtroom - by her own mother. Presumably. the latter was a tad annoyed at her daughter bringing shame on the family by claiming it was an institution of some violence. Ironic of what? Can't remember when something like this last happened in Congleton.

Also bought a brush and pan today. Was going to await the arrival of my shipment and the wedding gifts of Ivan and Rosemary Smith - lime green, clear plastic, designer brush and pan - but decided that the tiles and parquet floor would be an inch deep in muck by the time they arrived, if I did that. the place looks a bit cleaner now but the sooner I get a cleaner the better. At least the cobwebs are now out of (most of) the corners. 

On one of my visits this year, I bought a corkscrew. I felt this was a symbolic early purchase. It was not expensive. Very cheap, in fact. And now I know why - it is completely useless. Happily, I appear to have brought from the UK an alternative corkscrew. Otherwise, I'd still be struggling to get the cork out of my first bottle of Albariño as a Spanish resident.

5 October 2000
Suddenly, I have a kitchen. More or less. After a shopping expedition with Marta yesterday, I took delivery of a washing machine, a fridge, a freezer, a microwave, a juicer and a vacuum cleaner. If only I'd thought of a chopping board and a sharp knife, it might have been easier to prepare and cook tonight's meal of chicken curry.

The guy came to look at the central heating boiler today - an unfortunate chap with dreadful psoriasis on his arms and hands. As if this weren't enough, he is also the possessor of possibly the world's most badly made artificial leg. It seems to be at a right angle to the rest of his body. Anyway, after 3 seconds and a quick knock with a spanner on the start-up/cut-out mechanism, he pronounced it OK. Javier and I then had a 15 minute discussion with him about the chances of the pilot light staying on. The outcome to this seemed to be an assertion - or a prayer - that it would, and a promise to find out if the company which manufactured the boiler is still in existence.

Tried to make contact with the Asociación de Habla Inglés - English Speaking Society - today but no one answered either the phone nor the doorbell. Asociación de Habla Nada, more accurately.

Javier came round to help me fix a blind which was locked in the down position. After half an hour, he pronounced himself foxed and left to play tennis. To my astonishment - and later Javier's - I managed to release the blind and wind it back onto the spool and it's now working well. Of course, the first time I wound it onto the spool, I did it the wrong way. But I didn't tell Javier this, as he clearly thought I was some sort of DIY genius. How come 50/50 things always go the wrong way. Is this a subset of Sod's Law?

6 October 2000
Well, I've managed to do quite a lot this week but the one thing I haven't got down to is writing my journal. Moving into an empty house is not quite as time-consuming as vacating a full one but it certainly eats up a lot of time that could be better spent. Actually, there's no comparison. Moving from Foxbeare House - unassisted and in a ludicrously brief time-frame - completely exhausted me, both mentally and physically. Moving in here has been a doddle by comparison. For one thing, there are few - if any - deadlines. Plus I have the feel-good factor of endless sun, which I am taking full advantage of, even if my neighbours do think this is virtually winter.

Not that everything has been perfect and today has been one of those days best put behind one. The central heating continues to malfunction; a glass jar that I put in the (new) microwave to dry exploded; a wine bottle leaked all over the (new) fridge; and my trip to the police station involved several dead-ends and culminated in the news that the place ha closed 4 hours before I finally got to it. Oh and I forgot . . . my 2 trips to the cyber café to send/receive emails left me wallowing in frustration as I could have delivered the messages quicker by hand than the system permitted today. As I write this, my CD player is going haywire . . . 

Actually - following on from yesterday's success with the blind - it's just possible that I have solved the problem with the central heating. One doesn't like to speak too soon, especially after the engineer was so confident after his visit yesterday afternoon. But I gave the cut-out switch serious attention this morning - without actually knowing what I was doing - and the system has stayed on all day. The real proof will be overnight. If it's still on tomorrow morning, then I will feel we have made progress.

My need to go to the police station was occasioned by the requirement that I have an NIE (Numero de Identificación Extranjero) in order to become the owner of a car. This is quite different from the NIF (Número de Identificación Fiscal), which I already have, and from my passport, which I'm asked for every time I use a credit or debit card. I don't know if it's different in other continental European countries but there's an obsession with numbers here which is rather alien to a Brit. Perhaps it's a relic from Franco's fascist period. Maybe it takes decades to dismantle the paraphernalia of a totalitarian state, e. g. the division of the police into 3 different types, one of them the equivalent (as was) of the Gestapo. Anyway, as with the time-wasting bureaucracy, it's something which my years in the Middle East and Far East have somewhat inured me to. Either that or old age. Or wisdom. Which is much the same. Or the simple fact that I have a lot more time on my hands. Talking of which . . . A phrase which I have begun familiar with in the last few years is 'structuring time'. This is counselling-speak for finding something to do that doesn't bore the backside off you. In a book on Spain that I'n currently re-reading, the author says that no one can 'melt time' like the Spanish. I like that. But it's important to note that they melt time by applying it to things that are important, not frittering it away. Mind you, they regard talking as of paramount importance and not every other people would. Perhaps this oral predilection accounts for the fact that phone booths are thick on the ground, whereas mail boxes are conspicuous by their absence. Needless to say, the invention of the mobile phone has been a godsend to the Spanish, and I guess I'm the only person above the age of 5 in Pontevedra not to be conspicuously sporting one. Or even to possess one.

There are a lot of guard dogs here, most of them German Shepherds. It forces one to ask why. These dog are locked in gardens and they bark vociferously when anyone gets near. I once read that the experience of such dogs teaches them that barking is immensely successful, in that everyone they bark at walks past or goes away.You and I know that they were going to do this anyway, but the dog doesn't. Though border collies might. In contrast to the guard dogs are the the dogs which lie in the middle of the road. These are always small and ugly. And the ones around here all seem to have only 3 legs. I'm wondering whether this is nature or nurture. Or the traffic.

7 October 2000
I seem to have inherited 3 cats - 2 without tails and 1 with. I suspect that they appear regularly in my garden because it's one of the few without a resident canine. With some cause, they are wary of me. They are not to know that my catapult is in my shipment, I hope. Rather incompatible with these felines is a robin which has appeared in the last 24 hours. It's not as rotund as its British cousin but welcome nonetheless. I have always like to have robins bobbin' around the house. Garden, more accurately.

Went today to the seafood festival in O Grove. I expected it to be heaving by the opening hour of 11am but this, of course, is early for Spaniards - certainly of a Saturday morning - and parking was unexpectedly easy. None of the events started on time but this appeared to worry absolutely no one. Spent several hours wandering around in the glorious sun, partaking of a beer and a seafood risotto (arroz de marisco gallego) before heading back towards Pontevedra. Stopped off at the spectacular La Lanzada beach in the hope of seeing Marga and Chico having their daily preprandial walk. Which I did. Chico has been laid low with a hernia for much of the summer and appears to have put on a little weight as a result. As ever, Chico's speed of verbal delivery made no concession to my early-stage Spanish. Marga, in contrast, spoke slowly and clearly. My impression is that women find this easier to do. But not much.

Returned to my local supermarket for further household items, including a mop and bucket. Plus a replacement sugar-shaker. I've decided not to dry this one in the microwave, even for a drastically reduced period. Also bought an umbrella since the long sunny period I've been blessed with since arrival surely can't continue.

Eschewing the risk of tempting fate, I can pronounce that the central heating boiler has now remained fixed for 2 days. This is very promising, especially as the nights are getting colder. That said, I read in today's Voz de Galicia that winter is 75 days away, as against 80 for the start of 2001. I guess they must mean the winter solstice of December 21. I'm counting on the winter being a lot shorter here than in the UK but it surely can't be that short.

What with the blind and the central heating, Javier will be convinced that I'm a man of some practical skill. I'm almost beginning to believe it myself. Perish the thought.

8 October 2000
Naturally, I spoke too soon about the central heating boiler.There was a great deal of cranking in the pipes as I lay in bed last night and the system was off when I came down this morning. I tried several strategies to rectify the malfunctioning pilot mechanism but nothing worked and I gave up. This afternoon I inserted some styrofoam in the switch mechanism (to keep it locked in place for the technical reader) and so far so good. But I've been here before and so am not very optimistic. The good news is that - via the web - I've confirmed that the manufacturers are still in business - in Belgium - and that they have an agent in La Coruña. Maybe I'll crack this problem before the nights get much colder.

Student-like, I've brought in all the cardboard boxes that came with the stuff I've bought and artfully covered them with spare bed-linen. These now serve as sideboards and a bedside table, so that at least some of my artefacts are now off the floor. Unstudent-like, I've mopped the said floor with my new mop and bucket. It's amazing how dirty a floor looks when you really examine it.

It's been another glorious day but the wind is getting up now and I wonder what this presages for tomorrow. Right now it's generating a large number of creaks, rattles and groans around the house. Which is a tad disconcerting.

I hosed down the path to the front door, and the ventilation vent on the outside wall for good measure. The result, of course, was a small lake in the kitchen. Good job I have a new mop and bucket. I was able to do the floor again.

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