Hoping for England

Being a die-hard England fan is no walk in the park. The vastly underwhelming past decade or so of football has well and truly conditioned us to be deadly-efficient at sucking the tiny fragments and molecules of positivity from any situation, no matter how mortally depressing. We are in a sense much like the cacti in the desert that are able to somehow make a living in the most torrid of desert conditions. Sucking moisture from the dry sand.

Beneath the surface of habitual pessimism and the perennial ‘England are useless’ cliche, we have great hope that our national side might one day get its shit together.

A lot of this hope comes from the youth. There’s always some new kid on the block who bursts on the scene and sets the Premier League ablaze. Players like Sterling, Rashford, Ali, Stones, they seem to come around quite frequently.

Of course, we know that even if these players do develop into greats, it doesn’t mean they will do it for England. Look at Wayne Rooney, the bloke is the all time leading goalscorer, having scored more than Sir Bobby, but he’s done next to nothing in major tournaments, most of his goals coming from penalties against San Marino. He couldn’t hack it. But still, the arrival of the Messiah is always round the corner. A certain Harry Kane is stepping into those shoes nicely at the moment. He is proving to be unstoppable, and surely it won’t be long before he gets scooped up by the Galácticos and scales Alan Shearer-like heights.

But behind him and the new Tottenham wizz kids, we’ve got crop full of world beaters waiting to take their chance. Our under 17s just won the World Cup, and just about every other team below the 21s have excelled on the world stage this year. Let’s hope to God this Phil Foden lad and all of his mates get given the leg up they need. The potential is undeniably there. The signs are good. Let’s hope we don’t find a way fuck it up for them.

Every five years or so England managers are disgraced, and resign before being burned at the stake, and replaced with a whole new manager with a different ‘philosophy’ altogether. And with every new manager promises a complete squad overhaul and team revamp. This is of course a good thing.  It’s happened so many times now that one of these times the gamble has surely got to pay off. It has to happen eventually, that’s basic science. One day, the cogs will simple slide into place, and England will become a lethal footballing machine…

So we’ve been alternating between states of total, bone-crushing disenfranchisement, and latent bursts of flickering optimism. Now is certainly a period for the latter to dominate. Last night a diminished England team full of youngsters took on the world champions Germany and held them to a goalless draw at Wembley. We played pretty well in defence and attack and could easily have won the game, had we taken a few simple chances. The likes of Harry Maguire, Trippier, Abraham, Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek rose to the occasion ( Ruben Loftus-Cheek. What the hell kind of name is that? It’s probably the wackiest name I’ve ever heard in my life, no word of a lie). Eric Dier is looking like everything we need in midfield right now,  John Stones is soon to become the most solid centre half in the Premier League. Vardy is a menace. Pickford has the makings of an excellent keeper. Despite the fact all of these didn’t look out of place on the night, we can’t help but think if we had super Harry last night the net would have bulged.

Watching Lingard miss that half volley inside the six yard box in the 93rd minute was typically exasperating. You’re watching it while it happens in real time and you just know it’s not going to go in. So you go up to the bar, and order a nice big pint of ale that you can’t really afford and you’re back in the real world with the rest of the shitmunchers.

Things can only get better from here and sooner or later we’re going to smash a chance like that into the roof of the net. We have the coolest manager on the planet, the best young talent, and are home to the finest league in the world. We even created this stupid game in the first place. We can’t keep letting the Germans have all the fun. It’s time for them to fuck off. They’ll surely get bored of it all soon anyway, and then it will be England’s time to take over the world…

That’s right, we always say it my fellow cacti, but there are some serious positives to suck from this England team, so get behind the lads because the good times are coming, you’d better believe it.

Afterlife is the best party in the world

Last weekend I experienced almost 16 hours under the upside down man, and after you’ve been on that journey for so long, you struggle to truly come back to Earth afterwards. 5,000 people turned up to the airport that is Printworks on Saturday to see the likes of Vaal, Recondite, Patrice Baumel, Mano Le Tough, Woo York, Tale of Us, SHDW and Obscure Shape, and more. My highlights-

On arrival Vaal was setting the scene in the Press Halls. She was playing all manner of experimental, dark and bassy sounds, which is what we have come to expect from such an enigmatic young artist. These were alongside a few classics like Polarstern from Mind Against, which never fails to drive anybody listening batshit crazy. I took delight in the fact I would be seeing another mesmerising set from her again at Part II, in 12 hours time. Patrice Baumel followed, with a much more upbeat, and bouncy set reminiscent of his prolific Voyage mix, featuring his classy new track Engage.

Then there was Kiasmos, who need no introduction. It was a live set, so the audience got the whole package, Looped, Swept, Lit, Thrown- the lot. It is always wonderful to see how much enthusiasm these two put into their sets, for them it is very much a performance. If you get the privilege of seeing these two perform live, you can expect them to be jumping around at the front of the stage, Janus Rasmussen’s, hair flopping about all over the place, elbows here there and everywhere. Standing there bathing in the glow of white and blue lights I even saw a girl crying to herself at one stage. Even I felt a bit like bawling like a baby when Bent came on. It’s emotional stuff.

Room two, The Charge Bay, was a nasty, dark little sweat-box when we got there to see Woo York. They were blasting through their devastating recent productions, such as Alien Worlds, Uranium Echoes and Afterlife’s very own Hypernova, all with electrifying acidy new sounds thrown on top in order to achieve all manner of lethal effects. You cannot beat the gallop of a Woo York beat. It picks you up and casts you into dark, magical new landscapes. The Woo York experience is so outrageous and other-worldly you barely know what to do with it but charge around like a rhinoceros on speed. This dark techno bunker seemed like the perfect location for it.

Recondite soon came on the scene, and when he’s there you know about it. With his seemingly infinite library of his own music, you have absolutely no idea what the man is going to do, but you know that you are in the hands of one of electronic music’s most esoteric geniuses. A man who only listens to his own music. Who does he think he is? In this one he teased us with classics such as Buteo, and a load of completely recondite stuff presumably from his new up and coming album. He achieved a perfect harmony between melancholy sounds from tracks like Sol, and the harder hitting stuff. He dropped Phalanx in, with force. My friend turned to me and said ‘this is the greatest track of all time’. I agreed wholeheartedly.

I’ve seen Tale of Us five times this year and every set has been completely different. Most tracks have been unidentifiable, and you wonder where on Earth they come from. Were they created by humans, or designed by some kind of divine entity and just put there like the rocks and the trees? Highlights from their closing set were new stuff from the unstoppable Mind Against, and the scintillating Fideles (another Italian duo who have burst onto the scene with their new EP released on Afterlife) playing The Tensior, those deeply computerised sounds raining down upon the crowd. They ended the same as they did in Amsterdam, with Bodzin’s thumping, glittering Strand (Afterlife) and their soul stirring and innovative edit of Hans Zimmer’s Time, eight hours of music ending on one piano note. The gratitude that Tale show at the end of every event, staying behind to clap the crowd, thanking them with hand on heart, is a wonderful thing to see and shows that they are truly grateful, seemingly in awe of their fans who have supported them in creating this mesmerising other world for us all to live in.

After getting our coats we zipped across to Shoreditch High Street via the overground to the after party at Village Underground, a simple, no-bollocks venue with one stage- a classic warehouse a bit like a cave. This is a venue that Tale of Us have no doubt become very fond of after turning up last year to debut their new night in the UK playing for eight hours non-stop. They would have been absolutely over the moon no doubt to see how their night has snowballed insurmountably over the past year.

Vaal again plucked a plethora of gems out of her hat, starting off playing ambient tracks like Hunter/Game’s Distant Storms, then later stomping through the night with tracks like The Hangar, and Barnt’s take on Monument.

Then a nice touch from the curators; Tale of Us decided to hand over the keys to the decks to SHDW and Obscure Shape to close the night. Their own set was of course impossible to truly sum up with paltry words, and was one of the most varied sets you could ever hear. Fideles, Secret Garden was a beauty, then loads of dark unrecognisable stuff. Towards the end we went back about 5 years with Skream’s Let It Go and some Trentemoller. They even threw in Another Earth, which for five minutes transported everybody to exactly that.

Cue SHDW and Obscure Shape who then proceeded to attack us with obscene stomping beats and dark, haunting sounds for two hours. They played nothing but their own stuff, and the occasional remix, like the naughty Konstantin Sibold remix of Gesang Der Toten Dinge. Their finest track though is Aus Der Tiefe Der Zeit, which they played early on to dreaming ears.

It was fantastic to see so many live sets, so many artists who believe so much in their own work and their own sound. Afterlife was created this way, achieving the perfect balance between the best live creators and performers with the most visionary, knowledgeable and skilled DJs on the scene. All with a penchant for ethereal sounds that take listeners to a dazzling new sensory universe.

To go to Afterlife is to immerse oneself in dark lights, a euphony of sounds impossible to discover elsewhere, an elated crowd, and a constantly fluctuating atmosphere bordering on the extra-terrestrial at moments. With the quality of artists you see on the bill, and the lightning speed that melodic techno (?) is progressing and evolving, every Afterlife is guaranteed to be a unique experience that nobody will forget. Afterlife is certainly the best party in the world.

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.

A Poem for Fabio Thomas

A Poem for Fabio Thomas.

Fabio with your plucky little ribs like the strings of a guitar,

walks down the street like a guitar on wheels sliding down a hill.

Your hollow wooden body, that starts wide, then gets much narrower,

before it gets to your head at the top, which is like a headstock on a

guitar. Fabio, with his perfectly aligned pegs on the side of his face.

Constantly tuning himself in and out and off and on.

Fabio with your voice gentle and melodic, not quite as soft as

a violin, but similar, much like the gentle rhythms of a guitar, in fact.

Your skin always perfectly varnished, done by the guitar man

from the guitar shop, who you get on with really well

because you’re both interested in guitars.

You’re just Fabio- that guy we love, the guitar playing lumberjack

who smokes roll ups and likes american stuff. And Jimi Hendrix, who you

have a massive poster of in your room, because you say he was particularly

good at the guitar. Fabio whose favourite thing to do is have a massive spliff

and play the guitar with his friends who also love guitars.

Just Fabio, always with a plectrum behind your

ear at parties. Ready to get the guitar out and play jazz or whatever

music you listen to because you think the guitar in it is really good.

I remember when we first met in Arizona when you jumped out of that Jeep

and played a merry tune on your guitar and smiled,

then we drove off to live the American dream, and I didn’t like it

but you did because you love that shit and you’re always

happy when you’ve got a guitar, because that’s just you man.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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’.