Tamarite VI

The Spanish are no strangers to a party, or ‘fiesta’ rather. They do things very differently to us in the UK, where people either go to Revs on a saturday night, spend £40 on alcohol and ironically dance to Flo Rida, or the ‘cool cats’ who go to some sort of rave and dance until the early hours on a bag of cheap class As. In Spain, fiestas are part of the fabric of society, a way of life that everybody subscribes to. I’ll take you to one and show you what they’re all about..

It’s Saturday and this week the fiesta is in a place called Azanuay, which sounds very Welsh when pronounced, like it’s the kind of village Daffyd Thomas would live in. You find a bus that goes to the fiesta, whack your plastic bag full of booze in a plastic crate in the bottom compartment of the coach, then join the kids on board. You wanna leave this relatively late, about one o’clock would be ideal. In Spain, it starts late and ends late. We’re talking about 8-10 o’clock AM late. Because what kind of crazy party ends at a perfectly reasonable four, say o’clock?

From about midnight onwards, the streets will be adorned with gangs of teenagers sitting on the pavements, drinking a concoction of alcohol and pop from a giant plastic bottle they prepared earlier. They’re all wearing silly bright T-Shirts with skyscrapers on them and American City names in massive letters. They’re either very skinny or very fat. Many of them park up their cars, pop the boot open and play some of the most repulsive music you could possibly imagine, slowly bopping and laughing hysterically at something. Go a bit further through the winding streets, towards louder music, and you will find a stage where the real entertainment is. A band will play all of the Spanish school disco classics, which nobody seems to be getting tired of. If they don’t actually play Cotton Eyed Joe, they’ll play some Spanish equivalent to get the crowd moving. You don’t need to pay to go in, there’s no gate, no staff. You will, however need to buy some bingo tickets, and grab hold of the nearest translator you can find.

Now any accomplished Dionysian like you and I will understand that the essentials of proper party- alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bingo. The lead singer of the band, a quirky young girl in a cowboy hat and vest, calls the numbers while the crowd are silent.

Unlucky. Someone gets a line almost immediately, and the house takes a while longer, too long. It’s like when the rickety old rope bridge you needed to get across the chasm and escape the monster is about to break, the rope fibres are slowly snapping. You have two numbers left to go. It’s only a matter of time before some crazed yob at the front makes the call and subsequently gets lifted up by his friends like a manager whose team have just won the Champions league. It finally happens, you sigh with disappointment, dream of what could have been. Then it’s back to business as usual.

At about two o’clock, the fourteen year olds’ mums turn up to pick up their disgraced little kids, who are still absolutely bingo’d off their faces. So what remains are a bunch of hardened party goers, the regs. The ‘DJs’ turn up, the family band goes home, and the music transitions into something a bit more adult. Near the stage area, there is a ring reserved for young bulls. There is seating all round, and professionals wind up the bulls, provoking them into a charge, then backing away at the last minute. The crowd is well into this of course, and occasionally pissed up people go into the ring and play around with the young toros themselves. The real mavericks get the baby bulls pissed first, pouring beer into their mouths. I heard from a lady that there has been a person who has ended up in a wheelchair from this in every town. This kind of stuff could only be normalised at a party in Spain. Have a go if you want, Jose says it’s definitely a good idea.

So the next few hours, until about five o’clock involve more drinking, and are therefore difficult to recall. For us it will involve asking a lot of people if they speak English, and being asked a lot about Brexit if they do, agreeing to go separate ways, receiving a grimace if they don’t. The music never really changes, it’s all just cheap Spanish crap like that Pitbull freak. One of the only songs I remember was that ‘Gasolina’ song. I remember listening to that on Now 62, when I was eleven years old along side ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Westlife, and thinking it was okay, in a jokey way. It’s not like they’re playing it at these fiestas as a one off either, I’d bet my left arse that it gets played every single week. Besides from being bad taste, to play the same old track week in, week out is nothing less than a sign of insanity.

When the sun starts to come out above the dancefloor, you begin to notice what you’re walking on, which resembles the garbage shoot in A New Hope. You are treading on all manner of rubbish and filth. Everyone is smoking, you, The DJs, your parents, your kids, the bulls. The personal space, which has slowly atrophied throughout the night, becomes almost non-existent. The environment is a bit like a rave, only the people there are one big family, there’s no drugs, and there was no DJ available so they went ahead and booked DJ Spanner, the forty year old with the baseball cap from down the pub, who ‘does the odd party’ when he’s not doing his normal job, which is plastering.

Before you know it it’s eight o’clock in the morning and you’re getting bored of it all. Everyone’s done with the bars now, and it’s onto the hot dog counters. They don’t have brown sauce in Spain, so you have to settle for loads of Mustard, or worse- ketchup. The bread is stale. There are some dodgy looking people around. You want to avoid Bethan as well. The night is over- it’s time to wait for that ten o’clock bus to take you home, get to bed, and then wake up at three o’clock on the day of rest, ready to eat paella, snails and rabbit.

So overall they’ve got the idea right with these fiestas. If I went when I was 16 I would have considered it to be paradise. It was what I was desperately looking for for most of my teenage years but rarely captured, a solid form of community with other kids. The kind that you achieve in holiday resorts, playing on the pool tables with new friends, drinking by the swimming pool together at night. The fiestas provided that. But you realise as you grow up, there are very few communities that one can truly belong to at all.

**

In Spain breakfast isn’t the norm. You might have a little something, like a peach or a coffee, but that’s it for the morning. What you’re waiting for is three o’clock, when it’s lunch time. Now I’ve stated before, it’s all about the meat with these guys. If it’s got flesh, eat it. They’d eat the stray cats off the streets if they had any meat on them.

As you might guess, rabbit tastes exactly like chicken, and is therefore nothing to write home about. Snails on the other hand, are the most pointless food on the planet. They come sizzling on a tray, and look exactly like the snails you’d find in your garden, not the giant ones from foreign lands. You get one, and find that it’s body has shrank almost entirely into its shell, then with your cocktail stick you are faced with a further challenge. That of scooping out the correct part of the snail, ignoring it’s digestive organs, which take up about fifty per cent of the pathetic little lump of mollusc flesh that remains. It’s then completely necessary to smother this all over in aleoli to mask the taste of it (which you should probably avoid at all costs) then shove it in your mouth and eat it, for some apparent reason. I had one and soon ruled out the possibility of tackling another.

The best thing about Spanish food is the watermelon, or ‘sandía’ en espanol. The family I lived with were provided with fresh sandías every week, the massive ones, with dark green skin, and perfect vermilion insides. You eat sandía for breakfast, after breakfast, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, for dinner, after dinner, before bedtime. It’s so hydrating it’s crazy, and as someone who immediately after eating a meal– in spite of how full I am– has an insuperable craving for a dessert, it provided a very reliable, healthy, and delicious alternative to whatever shit I’d normally eat. I’ve taken my love for this fruit back home with me, and now try and ensure that my fridge is always stocked up with a nice big juicy sandía. It’s made my life all the better for it.

Why did I come to Tamarite? Something to do, mostly. But there are other underlying motives. I want to go to the quiet places, I want to go to my own places. A couple of years ago I went to Rome for a day. I walked on the streets that Julius Caesar once walked upon. I looked at the mighty Colosseum, and felt absolutely nothing.

Armies of tourists have murdered these cities, they are everywhere, inescapable, unavoidable, stealing it all for themselves and their camera phones. I’d sooner go to somewhere else nobody else is interested in, and see that culture, naked, free to be whatever it is natural for it to be, and blend in or stand out as much as I choose. Then the experience is my own, and what’s more I am not a mere cog in the tourist machine, but for a short while, a part of the system itself. Tamarite wasn’t Barcelona, or Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Rome, but you can’t say it wasn’t completely unique. For better or worse.

Tamarite V

I came to Spain thinking I wouldn’t mind learning a bit of the second most spoken language on the planet. In theory the combination of three weeks exposure to a Spanish population that speaks next to no English and an open mind, would be enough for me to happily pick up at least a conversational level of Español.

This theory did not translate well into practice. I will offer my reservations as best I can.

First of all, there are far, far too many syllables. What I love about English is that so much of it consists of short, sharp one syllable words that bite, punch or kiss. Words like run, jump, punch, live, die, hot, cold, sky, fire, ice, fly, eat, drink, love, hate, boy, girl, day, night, cat, dog. The list of words like this in our language is practically never ending. In Spanish, none of these words have one syllable. I’ve only encountered two actual words which do have one syllable, these are sol meaning sun and sal meaning salt. I have found that the increased amount of syllables needed naturally causes speakers to rush their sentences, sliding all of their words into one dragged blur of a sentence, like one of Picasso’s brush strokes, very fast and very incomprehensible.

Too many vowels as well. Almost every word in Spanish ends in a vowel which must be pronounced. Spanish is a language that is completely dominated by vowels, mostly a, e or o which are their personal favourites. To put so many vowels in a word willy-nilly constitutes word-abuse in my opinion, because there is so little diversity, many words almost identical, like ano and año, which mean very, very different things.

Words rarely end in consonants, and most consonants in words are merely there just to gloss over. There are no hard consonants like the k at the end of quack, or the t at the end of cut. In very simple terms, it seems like we use the vowels to get us to the consonants, and they use the consonants to get to their oh so precious vowels (if you like vowels so much, why don’t you have sex with them?). It’s a shame really, because it’s a very restrictive way to use language. There are twenty one consonants in the alphabet, and only five vowels. English exploits this difference, Spanish seems to ignore it.

Almost every word will end in a vowel, most likely a as in Luna, or o as in Bastardo. So why the need for the extra syllable, you ask? Oh, because the entire language is enslaved by a masculine and feminine word rule, of course. Almost every noun has a gender, which determines not only how the word is spelt, but which word (of which there are a plethora of gender dependent variants) will precede it.

I can not learn to respect, or begin to understand this. Where does it come from? Why does every object, from a solid object like a table, to an abstract noun like anger have to be treated as if it has genitals? It sounds like a joke, to give a table a gender. It’s preposterous. It sounds like the people who developed the language were doing it as a prank on their own people, some kind of hoax. Or that they had a deeply strong desire to deter people from other languages bothering to learn it.

The combination of more syllables, more vowels and therefore less consonants, and arbitrary masculine and feminine words, was enough to put me off learning this language. If one was omniscient and one was to create a language from fresh, the ultimate language, one would create nothing that resembles this nonsense. Spanish, you might be the best of a bad bunch, but I’m sorry, you are quite frankly, naff (which is obviously a word you could never have in your language).

Tamarite IV

Tamarite IV marks the penultimate episode of the Tamarite saga, and similarly to the second it and the final one it will consist of a series of notes about random events and thoughts.

*

After three weeks I knew almost all of the children of Tamarite. I was effectively a celebrity. I was watching How Not To Live Your Life as an activity with one of the kids, and the mantra ‘always think with your balls’ seems to have rubbed off on him. He has told his friends about the phrase and they all seem to say it now. I’m happy I taught him something of value.

The older kids are at that age where they haven’t smoked weed yet, aren’t entirely sure what it is and are therefore absolutely obsessed by the idea of it. Presumably they think ‘getting high’ is among one of the coolest things one can do. When I walked through Tamarite the kids would surround me and demand that I say ‘Smoke Weed Every Day’ in the voice of Dr Dre, which I did reasonably well once and they found absolutely hilarious. Most of the time I would decline to do it, and they would follow me round, saying ‘oh please Jim, say smoke weed every day, please!’ I would perform for them the odd time, of course just to make the happy. Which reminds me…

**

One of the highlights of my time in Tamarite was when I was invited to a meal with the other Au Pairs at a farm in the neighbouring town of Esplus. It was a pittoresque farm, surrounded with apple orchards in which white horses were grazing and rooster gangs roamed free. There were telephone masts in each corner of the property, each one with a nest on top, and a stalk stood completely still on one leg, watching over, feathery sentinels.

In the early evening we bathed, and then played badminton in the swimming pool before it was time for dinner. We opened a bottle of Rioja, and made a real mess out of the cork, half of it crumbled its way into the wine itself. There were flies everywhere, in your hair, on your lip, on your plate. One of them landed right in my glass of red and entered a pitiful cycle of treading water/drowning among the powdery islands of cork. It took me several attempts to fish it out with my finger, and I ended up having to press its wet, filthy body up against the side of the glass. If it survived the drowning, and the crushing against the glass, it had surely drank itself to death, not a bad way to go. I drank the wine anyway so as not to be discourteous.

The food was all right. Now if there’s two things the Spanish love other than fags and beer, it’s bread and flesh. The meal consisted of Sausage, Salami, and Serrano Ham. The bulk of it however, was tortilla -known as Spanish Omlette in the UK. With a load of salt on them these things are bang on the money. After a bit more wine, the party began to take a change of direction. We were told we could put our own music on, so I stuck on that Sing It Back remix and we all sat at the table with the rest of the corky wine. A girl says to me, ‘I didn’t think you’d like this music?’

‘Oh yeah, what music did you think I would like.’

‘I don’t know, rock music?’

All of a sudden, the host- Suzy comes out of the house holding a tray full of paraphernalia, and asks ‘would anyone like to roll a joint?’ She then takes the tray closer and reveals that it’s got a box on it full of all the necessary utensils, and piles of tobacco and dried cannabis sitting there, harvested and waiting to be turned into a spliff.  Suzy tells us it’s homegrown, none of this super genetically modified, will make your kids grow two heads, skunk stuff that they smoke in the UK. The weed was really smooth – the way God intended, and needless to say it complimented the music wonderfully. We had arranged a lift back pretty early, and it soon came. We all went our separate ways, wishing the evening could last longer, but delighted with the time we had spent. Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg would have been proud.

***

I soon grew to appreciate the Spanish custom of going to the swimming pool every day. I grew to love a glass of lemon iced tea in a plastic cup with ice in it. By the pool you can lie on your towel, read, sleep, reflect, listen to music, drink, play cards- which are five of the best. I would even jump in the pool occasionally, and try my arm at swimming.

I really don’t much care for swimming. I struggle to think of an activity quite so tedious and boring. Now I don’t like jogging either, but at least it offers a wide variety of scenery to look at. Swimming is just intelligent splashing, up and down and up and down the swimming pool. The only thing it’s got going for it is the whole wetness thing, which admittedly does make a change from our mostly dry lifestyles. I now completely understand why as a species we have no fins, -our primate ancestors clearly wishing to avoid the activity of swimming wherever possible, not through fear of being eaten by a crocodile, but through fear of being bored to death.

I can’t swim very well at all, which I accept might constitute part of the reason for my antipathy. I do quite a lot of flapping around, but don’t seem to go anywhere, my body threatening to sink at any moment. It’s very frustrating to thrash around like a shark and get no rewards for it. I usually jump in the swimming pool intent on swimming lengths, swim halfway across the pool to where it is shallow enough to stand, then get bored, forget what I’m doing and stand there daydreaming until I feel like getting out again.

I do mildly enjoy diving in though. It’s not often you get to leap off something face first. It’s not like in England where diving is presumably seen as offensive and not ‘politically correct’, in Spain you can dive to your heart’s content. After a dive you can swim underwater for a bit, and see how far you can travel before having to surface for oxygen in order to avoid death. I was doing a variation of this once, very slowly and casually, swimming towards an empty space by the side of the slow lane. Almost as soon as I got under the surface I hit something. I turned out to be a very bald, very serious man in goggles and weird swimming flippers on his hands. He looked like an overgrown, dilapidated seal with legs. The collision set him off and he proceeded to launch a tirade at me in Spanish. I nodded along occasionally, saying ‘si’ occasionally, despite having no idea what he was saying. I remember thinking after five minutes had passed, what on earth is he finding to talk about for this long? I’m dreadfully sorry- can we please just get on with our lives now?

 

****

 

You  will have noticed that the featured image is of a mountain. We walked for eight kilometres through the Pyrenees mountains, mostly on the sides, among the pine trees that cling to the mountain side like a dark green rug. I saw some very beautiful things there. We followed the path of a stream. It travelled down giant stone steps that look as if they were created for a community of giants, by giants. The water would collect at the bottom of each step, and would take a mesmerising azure colour, and rest momentarily in a miniature lagoon before trickling down through towards the sea. Some people would bathe in these pools, but I forgot my swimming trunks, which was a tragedy.

Once you’ve walked most of the way, you reach a mountain valley, which is all but obscured by the preponderance of green leaves, their colours gilded green-gold as they bask in the showers of sunlight that pour down into the valley from above. In arbitrary places, many all-but-dead trees would poke out of the vegetation, standing there like silver skeletons. Relics of the all-but-dead past, contrasting the impregnable, vibrant life of the present.

 

cof

As we walked the valley dug deeper into the ground, until two rocky mountain walls were towering on either side. I had never seen something so enormous. To be among nature so incomprehensible. To be in the middle of a natural phenomenon of mountainous proportions, something that took millions and millions of years of wind and water and erosion to form, to see the crumbling old patterns of the rocks half way up the mountain was get a glimpse of the truly ancient Earth and it’s lifelong flesh, to see nature’s tyranny upon all matter, to view nature’s perpetual work of art. To walk in the valley was nothing less than to taste a morsel of eternity. To walk in the valley was to come face to face with what will murder us and recast our bodies into new life. To come face to face with the valley that swallows all life and spits it out into trees, water and earth. To walk here was to walk in the valley of all life and all death.

 

cof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamarite III

Last Friday I got a call just as I was getting out of the shower. I picked up and heard a depressing voice asking me if I wanted to go to a ‘party’, I asked “who’s this?” and then when I got the answer I hung up at the first opportunity. The next day I went to the beach with my family in Tarragona and at about eight o’clock I checked my phone and found I had received seven missed calls from a blacklisted number. But being unsatisfied with the seven failed attempts to make a connection, the caller came up with a master plan. They decided to withhold their number and proceeded to phone me another ten times, ending with a Whatsapp video call, thrown in there just for luck. It just shows you have to be careful with these things. You never know what might be lurking behind the other mobile phone.

A few days later something new came up on my UAV scanner. My madre has got the number of an English girl called Emily for me, also an Au Pair in Tamarite. Again I had no idea what she was going to be like, but I thought it was unlikely from the way she spoke that she wanted to capture me, lock me in her bedroom, tie me to the bed and when I try to escape- stick a large piece of wood between my feet and break off each foot one by one with a giant metal hammer so I have to stay there for the rest of my life as her property.

I met up with her in a lovely little bar in Tamarite next to the road. Now Emily was very attractive and quite normal. Always smiling. Small, but perfectly proportioned, with smooth auburn hair like in the old L’Oreal adverts, always clad in swanky, confident garms, decorated in flowers and revealing plenty but not too much. She was from Derbyshire so she had one of those unaccountably northern accents.

One of the first things I asked her was if she went out at university and she says Oh my God yeah I love going out! Eyes alight, like it was her thing. I asked where she went, dreaming that she might say Stealth or the Brickworks or somewhere. She said she went to a place called Cheesy Joe’s every week and it was her favourite place to go, ever. She then said “when it comes to music I like everything really.” I’ve come to realise that in life hundreds will say something like this to you. But what you should interpret from it every time is that they don’t like any music at all.

She was talking about this Cheesy Joe’s rave again now- ‘The music is really cheesy, but I don’t care about the music when I go out.’ Now if I’d have had any sense I’d have shot her there and then.

But nowadays a voice tells me to have a bit more empathy for other people. Don’t return to your eighteen year old self again, ready to launch nuclear warfare on people who listen to Kanye West and explode at the thought of reality T.V. You have to play these hands though, it’s in the genes to. I mean, the situation was bad but it wasn’t quite 7/2 off. I thought, maybe I’ll shark a two pair on the river.

At some point she asks me if I’m watching Love Island. I say no, I’m not. A revolutionary thought dawns upon me- why can’t I just pretend to be a different person? Everybody’s doing it. Surely the Casanovas of the world, the ladies men, the Byrons, the Ben Frylls are all simply masters of shape-shifting. To become truly popular in this way is to sacrifice one’s true personality. It is to be a specialist in obscuring it, moulding it and expressing it in only the right and suitable ways. I mean the only other alternative is that they’re as soulless and unspectacular as the people they’re seducing, which isn’t the case. They’re all very handsome men, which surely helps, I think looks are somehow directly connected to personality. Over the years one heavily influences the other until there is some kind of sexy/ugly equilibrium going on. When talking about Socrates, Nietzsche said in Twilight Of the Idols, ‘Monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo,’ meaning – monster in face, monster in soul. The inverse is quite possibly true also, but It’s a very complicated idea and it doesn’t really stand up to rigid scrutiny. There a lot of good looking morons around. I was speaking to one now.

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with the kid yesterday, walking through a beautiful little town in the Pyrenees. I said, “I hate it when I see beautiful women.”

“Why?”
“Because I know I’ll never speak to (or was it have sex with?) them.”

“Oh Jim, do not worry. You will speak to them, one day. You have to be confident. You need to be strong, handsome, intelligent, funny,” then he paused, and turned at me, crossing his hands over, “you have none of these things but it is OK! Because you can be confident. All you need is confidence and you will get the woman.”

Back to the hot date- ‘But I did used to watch Geordie Shore and think it was really good.’

‘Oh really? I never watched that,’ damn.

After taking a life time to choose what to eat– being so captivated by one another– we eventually order a pizza each. The lady brings it in no time. As soon as the Pizza is in front of her the phone comes straight out and that Pizza is on Instagram. This is a modern phenomena that I couldn’t disagree with more. What even is that? Hey, look at what I’ve got, look at my life, look at the average quality pizza I’ve spent a small amount of money on.

Who looks at that photo online and thinks, ‘oh that pizza looks good, I’m glad I saw that’? I mean, why does it merit broadcasting it, you didn’t even make it yourself. If you were to make something truly interesting, colourful and creative, like a piece of brown toast with hummus, beetroot, black eyed beans, spring onions and tomatoes, dusted in black pepper, I might be impressed. But nobody cares about your stupid fucking pizza. Probably not even you, either. There couldn’t be a more obvious display of how the internet and technology is completely stopping people from thinking for themselves and how simple people can get sucked in to completely meaningless, dehumanising trends.

Emily says to the waitress before she can wheel back off into the bar ‘puedo tomar un poco de salsa de tomate por favor.’ She speaks pretty good Spanish, It’s obviously a turn on. Probably not as much as French, but still. Regarding my thoughts on the Spanish language, I will have a lot to say about that in another blog, probably Tamarite DCXXXVI. Keep your eyes peeled.

We’ve soon had those pizzas and we’re onto some super strong Fanta and vodkas. In Spain they serve it in a really wide, tall glass. They chuck in a few massive rocks then fill it up to about halfway full of the desired spirit, filling the rest with the mixer, but not Lemonade because they don’t sell that so if you ever feel like a nice refreshing glass of vodka lemonade or a shandy when you’re in Spain you’re fucked.

Emily says she fancies some sweets after the meal so we pay the cuenta then we go off to the candy shop. We pick up a massive bag of all the right sweets, she got loads of weird shit, I just got all the red liquorice I could find. Her family are drinking in a nearby bar, she asks me if I want to join, maybe just to avoid being rude. I say yes anyway- the genes at it again.

She tells me how to offer the hijos some sweets in Spanish and says she’ll be really impressed if I can offer them to them, and the hijos even more so. We turn up and they’re a really loud, chirpy Spanish family on the bevs. I introduce myself and sit next to Emily and the kids. I’ve already forgotten how to offer the sweets.

The family are all tremendously warm and welcoming, or at least I think they are. The trouble is, they don’t speak a word of the Queen’s. Emily does a bit of translating, but not very well. The conversation is at Ent speed. I go over to the other side of the table to chat to the others, see if I can get anything interesting out of them. I soon discovered that they too speak next to no English and we’ve got absolutely nothing to talk about.

The father, Qique was his name, is offering me a taste of all kinds of drinks. Red wine, some kind of coffee liqueur. It’s all nice. I feel like a cigarette so I get out my gear, a couple of the men of the family pass it around and look at it in disgust, before lighting up their straights. Qique from across the other side of the table says something I can only guess is, you don’t wanna smoke that, then pulls me out a cigar and says ‘Puros para hombres!’ He seems very passionate so I accept one wholeheartedly. It doesn’t taste great but it’s probably all right for a cigar.

A deck of cards is on the table. It’s like a normal deck with four suits only the numbers go up to twelve or something ridiculous, no royals or aces. Oh yeah and also the suits are absolutely farcical, one is a fancy jar with red and blue stripes, one is a yellow star, one is swords/daggers, and another appears to be some kind of vegetable. Who ever came up with these was clearly on some serious micrograms. I look at a card in my hand, and it’s a number ten with a picture of a squire in a bright blue courtier’s outfit complete with red tights and a silly green and red hat. In his right hand he is casually gripping a hideous green vegetable the length of his entire upper body.

Emily reveals that Qique is half-Catalan so I ask her to ask him what he thinks about the forthcoming independence referendum. It fascinates me that the regions in Spain are so divisive, some of them with enough hubris to desire to sever themselves entirely from the Spanish state and presumably conquer Europe singlehandedly. The Catalans speak their own language and presumably would rather drown in a vat of Estrella or allow their cities to sink into the Mediterranean than call them Spanish. Anyway, it turns out he isn’t really Catalan, he is from Aragon, which is where Tamarite is and he doesn’t much care for the idea of independence. He gets onto Brexit and he starts talking quite passionately about something. The translator is struggling to keep up with it all, and then all of a sudden I feel a swift palm to the side of my face. Then she says to Qique ‘you asked me to hit him right?’ It turns out he didn’t ask her to do that at all. She apologised.

Without any sincerity whatsoever, every now and then she blurts out ‘you’re so funny’. She says it when I’m not being funny as well, which is of course only on very rare occasions. Two mojitos appear on the table and Emily picks the mint leaves out of hers using straws as chop sticks, and puts them into mine. The phone soon comes out again and before I know it I can see myself on her phone screen with a pair of dog ears and I’m listening to my voice in chipmunk-mode. Of course she finds this hilarious and sends it to all of her friends. I take a glance at her Snapchat news feed and recoil in terror. There must have been about one hundred stories on there, all of them appearing to depict the same insufferably dull moments of the same insufferably dull night out. What’s worse is, she clicks through them all without even bothering to watch beyond a second of each. As LordoftheSnapchat this disgusts me, as a platform that has so much creative potential is being so blatantly misused and indeed abused.

Anyway the night had to draw to a close at some point. I’d behaved remarkably well throughout, so I was quite satisfied. Feeling tolerant like a new age Christ, all tolerant, all loving, all understanding, I walked Emily to her apartment and I left her with a hug and a nice pair of kisses, one on each of her cheeks.

When I got home I noticed streams of blood pouring from two gaping holes in each wrist. I had sacrificed myself for the greater good of humanity. I went back to my tomb, to be resurrected the following day and be loved and remembered by all of humanity for all of time.

Tamarite II

Things are very different here. The kids are not the same. For example, they aren’t at each other’s throats all the time. I asked one from my family yesterday if he disliked any of the other kids from Tamarite and he responded with ‘no’. When I was a kid, everyone hated each other. Everyone was falling out all the time. Who slagged who off on MSN? Bullying left right and centre. He’s shit at football, she’s fat, he’s gay. I spent a lot of energy on hating other kids, and many spent a lot of energy hating me. Hatred of the completely irrational, childish sort. Everyone in Tamarite seems to get on perfectly well.

I could guess at the reasons for this. Tamarite is a small town,nestled between two rocky hills, isolated from nearby civilisation. It is by no means tiny, I would say it was about the size of my own village, Barrow Upon Soar. Tamarite has a population of about four thousand, Barrow nearly six. I got here on the Monday, met quite a few kids on the second day playing racket sports, Uno, swimming, Pokemon hunting etc. And I found that even the next day I was bumping into the same kids, sometimes twice. Everybody knows everybody. With the frequency of seeing each other so high, people become like some kind of extended family- naturally it makes sense to have amicable relationships with your next door neighbours.

But also, I think the kids are just brought up with decent values.

The sun helps. In Tamarite there is a swimming pool, right next to the football stadium. When it gets to twelve o’clock, you flip on your slip slops, jump on your obscure brand Spanish mountain bike, you’re out of the door and the world is yours.

When you walk in there is a bar, the tables have the word San Miguel strewn across them in that classy green and red font that exudes class. Then you go through an arch made of hedge onto the lawn, and you are by the swimming pools. Take your towel to your preferred patch, lay it down next to your cerveza, and you are free to bask to your heart’s content. In the evening, the pool is surrounded by families who perpetually seem like this experience is novel to them, spellbound in summer mirth. It really is quite idyllic. People passing slices of watermelon around, reading books in the shade of the trees, playing racket sports, men, women and children alike sliding in and out of the water like otters. If Bethan happens to be by the side of the pool you can just swim underwater for that part it’s fine. What’s not to be happy about?

Back to the kids. I used to find kids really annoying, I used to question parents for their obsession with them, their dependence on having them. But I think it was the parents whom I rejected. I rejected the deluded, middle class English parent, infinitely proud of their child– their child over all others– places astronomical expectations upon them only for them to inevitably achieve nothing but a life of mediocrity and banality, a paltry echo of their parents dull lives. Here the kids are all really quite cute, happy creatures. Like Kangaroos their mothers carry these miniature versions of themselves smiling in their front pouches everywhere they go.

Considering that they speak a different language, one might expect all manner of verbal abuse to be going on in my presence. Now I can’t say I have any idea what they’re talking about when I’m there, I know they ridicule me because I wear sports socks. But that’s nothing. It’s certainly not ‘oi fuck off clean shirt’. What I love about the kids as well, is the can-do attitude. None of this ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’ve not got any money’, ‘what if a rock falls on my head?’ bollocks. The attitude is, let’s find something to do and do it.

There’s a rock in Tamarite, it looks like it’s been placed on top of a much larger rock, and sits on top of it like a hat. A steep granite lump which if you climbed, you could see everything. You could look down upon God’s creation in its entirety and smile. I was there the other day and I weighed it up and thought, I can’t climb that. I wouldn’t be able to get down. It’s too steep. My legs are too big. I’m too clumsy. I’d end up being that English bloke taking up one paragraph on the right hand side of the Metro. I asked my fourteen year old kid if people had climbed it, and he said, yes, as a matter of fact, he had climbed it once.

“One day I was there with a friend, and I say shall we climb this? And he say no we can’t climb this. I say why can’t we climb this? And then we climbed this.”

I love stories like that.

He also told me about how the other day he was at his friend’s house, who has a swimming pool full of stagnant, muddy water, which had accommodated a plethora of frogs and snakes. He was saying they were all swimming in it. I asked him why? He said ‘because it was funny’.

Tamarite I

I told my Madre that I was going to meet a girl in the town centre. She asked, ‘oh how do you know girl?’ I said Tinder, ‘What is Tinder? Is it like Facebook?’

‘Yes it’s like Facebook.’

I didn’t look too much into the girl. She was British, which is why I wanted to meet her, hoping for a nice fluent conversation (none of the Spanish chicks around would match with me). I would equally have met up with a British lad if there was one around, possibly with far greater enthusiasm. She was eighteen, which is five years my junior, an age disparity which I am oftentimes prone to forgetting. She was not the finest looking, but appeared like she made an effort with the feminine things like makeup and hair etc. From her pictures she looked very pleasant, happy, full of life. Almost every message she sent she used the 😀 face, so I assumed even if she was lacking in the brains department at least she would be entertaining. This certainly wasn’t a date, however. More a casual surveillance of what’s on the radar.

I was walking down past the rocky roads and the Favela like buildings towards the chick. The streets were punctuated by groups of old ladies on deckchairs, sat together on the pavements. I had only seen elderly women sit like this in Requiem For A Dream. They always seem in fine spirits. I say Hola! When I walk past which never fails to make them giggle.

I walked past a chick on the other side of the road who was quite beautiful, she was also using her phone so I was confident it was her, and I intermittently looked over at her until she had gone past so as to indicate it was me. It wasn’t her.

I wished it was.

So the chick calls. Bethan is her name. She asks me where I am and I say I don’t really know, but I will know soon as I’m near the centre, which was where we planned to meet. Then she starts getting a bit stressed, ‘Oh so I’ve been going in the wrong direction this whole time, HAVE I?’.

I say ‘don’t get stressed, everything is going to be okay.’ She’s a bit northern. I explain in very simple terms that I know where I’m going, I just haven’t got there yet, but she insists on staying on the phone to talk through it all. I hear sighs through the phone. I tell her I’m near the tower. She says, what tower? The massive one in the middle, that comes up when you search Tamarite on Google Images. She says, oh my God I don’t know any tower and I imagine a :/ face.

You’ve been here for two months already girl get a fucking grip.

She mentions walking past some Jesus statue, and I make a couple of jokes about how I love Jesus and Jesus loves us too. There’s a bit of silence on the line, and she says, ‘are you a Christian or something?’.

‘No Bethan, no I’m not.’ What kind of idiot calls their kid Bethan?

I’m in the centre of Tamarite in no time, where the shops and bars are immaculately split up by two parallel lines of trees. There are kids around of all ages, jumping around and playing. My own kids go out at ten every night, and come back at twelve. This is seen as normal, as the little town is a proud community and safe place, radiating with joy.

They took me a bit by surprise in their brightly coloured t-shirts, flocked round a monument of some sort. One who was perched on the steps said ‘Hello Jim.’In Spanish the Js are pronounced like Hys. So this would be pronounced ‘Hello Hyim!’. I took a long look to see if my kid was there, fortunately he was not. I then saw Bethan, standing on the other side of the road, on her mobile phone. It was unmistakably her. I wandered over and as I got closer I slowly began to make out what I was dealing with.

She was of course fat and stumpy, and on getting closer I was instantly reminded of a dumpling. I went in to hug her and found that her head was in line with my belly button. We went over to the nearest bar. I went inside to get a drink, and she stayed outside. I looked at her and made a drinking gesture through the window. And she eventually clambered in and said, ‘it’s Spain, they come to you you know.’ I stayed at the bar, getting myself a San Miguel and her a cloudy shandy. I’m not a fan of that pay monthly contract bollocks, pay as you go all the way.

‘You don’t mind smoking do you? It’s just I smoke, all the time.’ She got the fags straight out, and in a few moments, it was confirmed that she was a glumbucket, of the highest order. The way she talked about everything was like a moan.

I don’t get paid enough. My dad doesn’t speak to me anymore. He cheated on my mum. Not a single one of my friends wished me a happy birthday the other day. Nothing ever works out for me. Yeah, yeah get over it.

I knew this was nothing but a pointless exercise, not even a training exercise, more like being caught in a traffic jam on the M25. But still I had enough energy to rage against the dying of the light, having a glass of Estrella sitting in front of me. I found it hard to listen to what she was saying lest it depress me into a Toblerone binge to Scotland in my bare feet.

Her hair was dip dyed and slung back across the top of her head, above a red forehead which was faintly glistening with a border of sweat. The rest of her head blended into the neck, leaving no obvious distinction of which was which. She was wearing these awful glasses that were very large, with thick black frames. If they were practical glasses it would have been preposterous, if they were fashionable, it would have been even worse. I say this as a guy who’s conquered the whole geek-chic look, with the braces and everything. I don’t even pretend those things are practical.

Bethan smoked her third cigarette, and told me about some party she went to in a neighbouring city. ‘It was alright, not the best. I got my purse stolen, when I was really drunk and passed out. Which was really bad because I needed it and it had money in it. Just my luck.’

‘So tell me about this party then.’

‘It went on until eight in the morning.’

‘Were they all on drugs?’

‘I don’t think so I think some of them do weed, but I don’t mind them doing weed because it doesn’t do that much. It’s the other drugs that I mind. They put them in your drink you know.’

I bet they do. ‘What other drugs?’

‘I don’t know what they’re called, I don’t know drugs, I don’t like drugs. My friends don’t do them either. They get offered them but they just say no.’

‘Oh right.’

‘I haven’t been to many parties even in England because I’m only eighteen.’

‘Old enough to go bungee jumping.’

A slight creaking , the gentle escaping of air, the subtle flutter of light objects. Background noise. I didn’t make much of it. Her eyes kept disappearing behind me as I spoke, then returning momentarily, then disappearing again. With each change of focus I think, ‘ she’s not going to do it again surely.’ Then eventually I expect it to happen with a tiresome indifference. She really can’t help herself with this. What’s even going on behind me? She clearly wasn’t listening to a word I was saying. Perhaps something even more captivating than me was taking place behind there. Finally I gave in and turned round to see that the bar woman was was moving a number of cardboard boxes into the restaurant.

A couple of kids turn up, a lad and a girl. He’s broken his voice, and has a beard, which is more than I have, but he’s still a junior. The girl says ‘I think I know what this is going to be about!’ Before the kids even say anything, Bethan draws two fags out of the box, then holds them out behind her, facing the other way. The kid takes one of them, says in Spanish he doesn’t need the other one. She wields the remaining one like a magic wand. ‘Oh take it, I insist!’ he takes it, and hands it to his girlfriend. ‘It just saves him coming back to bother me later, you see.’

I ask her why she does that, and she just says they all get fags off her whenever they see her. She then says, if she doesn’t hand them over, they don’t go away. No, they don’t go away, because you hand them over, you absolute specimen, you despicable splodge, you unbalanced little flump, you base!

Oh no. I see a woman walking towards us down the road, and as she gets closer I realise it’s Madre, with one of the kids. Oh dear. She then introduces herself to Bethan, and they have a small dialogue in Spanish until Madre says something a bit more complex that Bethan inevitably doesn’t understand. The kid says ‘I want to go now’ and Madre whisks him away.  

She then talks more about the bad things that had happened at home, how much she doesn’t get on with her Dad and how he can’t keep off the bevs. I feel so violated, the 😀 faces were all a lure to reel me in. So too were the photos, which weren’t that good but at least she appeared happy and not abnormal. I’m not being shallow about it, I just don’t like being conned. It’s not morally okay to do that. Girls are so successful in the art of deception with things like this, they can make themselves appear skinny in photos, appear reasonably good looking in some even when in reality they are ugly. I on the other hand, struggle to put a profile together that makes me look as good as I feel I do look, it being hard to find a photo that doesn’t make me look like creepy goblin. Besides, it’s 2017, who even takes photos anymore?

This was dragging along now like a colossal trailer full of broken fridges, with four flat tyres, being towed by a 1960s Reliant Robin. I’d only been there thirty minutes. I had finished my cerveza and I wasn’t getting another one. I told her I had to go to the bathroom then I was going to go, as I had to get up at eight in the morning. I got back and another little kid– looked about fourteen years old– was stood by the table, talking to the glum-faced town fag-dispenser. He introduced himself to me as Pedro. He lingered around quite awkwardly, until he finally asked for a fag, got one, and then ran off back to his friends.

‘You do realise he’s about fourteen.’

‘Yeah I know. I don’t care.’

I give it to her straight- ‘It’s not acceptable to give cigarettes to children,’

‘Well I’m going home in 8 weeks anyway.’

?

Being the Jacob Rees-Mogg that I am, I waited for her to finish her cigarette, before darting off into the backstreets with my earphones in, hoping something like this would never happen again.

The Jack Walk

I find real catharsis in taking dogs on walks. This is because dogs effectively live to be walked. It’s all they ever want to do. From the moment you take a dog out of the house, it seems to explode with happiness, wagging its tongue, panting uncontrollably and immersing itself in every aspect of the journey.  For this reason the dog walker feels like she is doing a good deed, and can see the results plainly in front of her in the form of an utterly contented beast. It isn’t like walking a human, where you have to maintain some kind of conversation, in fact, you’re perfectly free to stick your music in and forget they’re even there if you would like. Furthermore it provides an excuse to switch off the television, put the laptop away, get out of that door, get in and amongst the fields and the trees and experience Barrow Upon Soar’s rich tapestry of nature.

I got an opportunity to take my mother’s friend’s Jack Russells out yesterday and it turned out to be anything but cathartic. They weren’t her Jacks, they were her friend’s, who was out gallivanting on holiday in some sultry corner of the globe, presumably indulging freely in a bacchanalia of drugs, alcohol and sex. There were two dogs, one of them vivacious and young, the other one slow and whacked out like a family teddy bear out of the attic. I grabbed my stylish digital-camo sunnies, stuck the dogs on the lead and took them over to Millennium Park- a very pleasant recreational area near where I live, complete with a giant sun-dial to make telling time that little bit more convenient.

The walk was going perfectly well and to my satisfaction there were no rival dog walkers around to cause me any trouble. I was told by the owner that I could take the leads off the slow and whacked out Jack if I so wished- there would be no hazards there. I flirted with the idea for a while, at first thinking it too outrageous to go through with, but the dogs were so timid and well behaved and the concept of a lead is so authoritarian to me that I soon succumbed, and released both dogs from their tyrannical leashes.

At first the younger Jack scouted ahead, just within my range of vision. The older creature hung way back, moving at a slow pace. All of a sudden I had to turn my attention towards multiple directions at once as the dogs scattered all over the place. I was doing okay however, I could call the dog at the front and it would turn back and slow up for a few moments. The back dog was of course, no threat whatsoever and would be more likely to collapse at any given moment than cause me any grief.

Or so I thought. In a few moments the elderly Jack overtook me and began to chase its younger more athletic companion. I took a moment to laugh at the way in which it moved, its back legs moving at once, in a hopping motion, its front legs pedalling like a Loony Tunes character fleeing from the baddie. As we–the unseemly and incompetent convoy–kept moving through the field, I noticed a bench to my left and thought, ‘all right, let’s take a breather, maybe the dogs will run about a bit and play. Get it out of their system- so to speak’. The kid Jack wasn’t having it however and was motivated only by distance. The geriatric was still slowly making ground in second place. With a sigh I rose from my seat and began my pursuit.

Then in the blink of an eye I saw something I could scarcely have imagined previously. The decrepit beast burst into a pace akin to light speed and in a flash was out in front. I thought ‘well that’s very impressive Old Jack, but you won’t last long at that rate. Schoolboy error.’ But there was no looking back. He was out of here. Showing no signs of deceleration. Into hyper space.

The bat shit crazy incontinent old fiend soon overtook the kid dog, whom it was also fair to say was well and truly going places himself and in a matter of seconds, they were out of Millennium Park gates. In one moment it hit me that the walk had taken on a wholly different dynamic whereby I was not the walker but the walked.

I felt like a bad supply teacher. Moreover, Old Jack had well and truly conned me, all the while dreaming of escape, lulling me into a false sense of security at the beginning of the walk, playing the codger, then jetting off at the opportune moment. Had it been waiting all of its life for this chance? Was this its best hope for true freedom?

They ran straight out into the right hand side of the road; the oncoming side. A Chelsea tractor was forced to come to an abrupt halt to avoid running over the things. The driver honked his horn and waited for the dog to go round him before again pelting off ahead (at the cost of the biosphere). Fortunately for me, Young Jack was never really taking any of this seriously. This was no life and death situation for him, it was all just a funny joke, he was now content to amble along in second. Following his friend but by no means gunning to fly head first into the jaws of death alongside him. Meanwhile at the back I was tagging along, occasionally switching from brisk walking to bursts of half-hearted jogging, shouting the dog’s name every few seconds. Though it had once listened, it was not listening now. To my left a gardener was pruning his hedge, and looked up to see what was happening. I half expected him to moan at me for having lost control of my pets but he took pity on me and smiled before returning to his secateurs. I paused to think about how I must have looked, jogging, distressed, carrying two dogless leads, my cheeks bulging like hamster cheeks following my recent jaw surgery, and wearing my suave digi-shades, and a T-Shirt that said X-tra large Condoms, great sex, great protection.

I could barely make out the dogs any more, all I could see were furry balls floating over the roundabout. One after the other with a ten second interval. After a few more car horns the balls got to the top of my estate. I took it upon myself to catch up this time and used my massive pistons to propel me like lightning. At this point I was half-expecting to find a writhing dog corpse at every roundabout.

As I ambled on no such corpses were found. To my delight, Young Jack was soon within my grasp. I lassoed the beast and gained control of it once again. Old Jack however was last seen cackling and smiling to himself as he sprinted towards the horizon to his lifelong awaited freedom.