Category Archives: Life

Departure

It’s a ferry which feels like a cruise ship. A DJ plays loud Latino music; a troupe of dancers twirl, swirl and wave at passengers from their stage, a swimming pool barely bigger than the average bath tub. People stock up on plastic cups of amber lager. Beyond the stern, Tenerife’s hooded Auditorium recedes into the distance under typically blue skies.

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Departure.

It feels surreal. The party atmosphere makes it feel like a celebration of our time, more than a decade, on the island.

The cabin we’ve booked for the next 36 hours is cosy enough, the sea is calm and the sunset spectacular. All feels good with the world. Tomorrow a new and exciting day dawns.

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Dinner on the Naviera Armas ferry pops the party balloon. The buffet meal is cheap and the selection is… is what exactly? Not depressing at best. But it’s not even lukewarm. It’s cold.

Tellingly there is a microwave in the dining room. It’s a classy ship where you have to heat up your own food. A rough looking extended Spanish family are wise to the ferry’s culinary flaws, they’ve brought their own food stash and hog the microwave. We muscle our way in and one of them, illustrating how we shouldn’t make judgements based on appearances, helpfully shows us how to use it (we’re microwave virgins). It makes the food edible… just.

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Overnight we sail into rough seas and it sounds as though Poseidon himself is tearing at the hull with a can opener. The metal screams in pain. It’s unnerving. Our cabin is near the prow, right at the highest point of the arc where the ship pauses briefly after rising into the air before crashing back into the sea.

It’s not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever enjoyed.

The stormy weather doesn’t let up the next day. Getting from our cabin to the less violent rear of the ship involves a bruise-inducing journey of silly walks.

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There are far fewer voyagers in the lounge than the previous day. Many passengers are ill and stay in their cabins. Maybe many passengers are ill because they stay in their cabins.

It’s a long day. Only the ever-enthusiastic entertainment team provide relief from the irritated sea and limited selection of mediocre food. Still we will be on terra firma later, with food in proper restaurants to fuel deflated spirits.

However, an hour from docking and there’s no land at all in sight. There have been no announcements about any delays, but something clearly isn’t right. We should be halfway along an estuary by my reckoning.

I stagger to the information desk.

“Rough weather has delayed us four hours,” I’m told when I ask why there’s no dry land outside the portholes.

I’m not sure when they planned on sharing this quite important piece of information.

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I’m gutted. The sea has calmed but the delay means instead of dining in a restaurant in Huelva we have another meal on board to not look forward to.

We agree the food was so poor we can’t go through another dinner. Instead, I head outside to the the pool bar, the domain of serious drinkers and heavy smokers, to check what snacks they might have.

They have more than snacks, they have burgers and pizza. They have food which looks far, far, far more appetising than the tired offerings in the main dining room. The person in front of me is served with a generous sized, good looking beefy burger. If only I’d ventured outside before we may have ate if not like kings at least not like paupers. I order two burgers and try to avoid drooling.

“Sorry, that was the last one,” the barman informs me.

My misery is complete.

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A Fable for a Generation

“Did you see that? We just passed a topless woman!”

After A picked her jaw from the floor she confirmed she had indeed seen a rather well-endowed topless woman standing at the side of the road holding the boot of her car open.

“Did you see that L?”

Twenty-seven year old L was in the back of the car, head down concentrating.

“What? What did you say?” L replied, distractedly, before adding happily. “I’ve just caught a squirtle.”

The Polluters

“It’s fackin’ Saint George’s day, innit”

My heart drops. There are four lads at the end of the bar, all pissed and loud. After 5 days of walking in the wilderness meeting only smiley, gentle country folk, encountering the four drunken Brits is like walking into a wall – it’s a harsh, hard reality check.

Our football-watching bar isn’t usually like this. It’s a bar aimed at Brits, but normally ones who know how to behave when in another country. We don’t get pissed up Brit lads, it’s a traditional town; there’s nothing for them here… except big measures at low prices.

We grab a couple of stools at the bar, leaving one space between us and the closest inebriate.

I’d been looking forward to the FA cup semi-final. It’s the end of the northern European season and there are usually only a handful of people in the bar. Something is different this year.

There are two skinny lads in their early 20s, both suffering from sunburn; an older chubby bloke who laughs uproariously at everything he says, even though none of it is remotely funny; and closest to me is a sly-eyed, stocky man in his mid 30s, swaying unsteadily every time he stands up.

16.45 and they’re all as drunk as skunks. Initially I tell myself not to be judgemental, they’re on their holidays and just letting loose.

But there’s an unpleasantness in the air, it’s coming from the nearest Brit.

I soon pick up that the chubby bloke is from Stoke, the two matchstick lads are Irish and the fourth is from Fulham, or ‘fackin Fulham’ as he’s unable to go more than three words without throwing in a ‘fackin’.

Southerners are shite at swearing. Whereas the Scots, Irish and northern English can make swearing funny and even descriptively poetic, it grates when some Londoners swear, the words breaking up their sentences rather than enhancing them. Can’t think of anything to say? Just throw in a ‘fackin’. To me it just sounds whiny and angry.

It’s quite evident the drunken Londoner is the potential problem.

When he staggers outside for a cigarettes, the other lads quieten down. They’re drunk but they’re okay with it. The Irish lads are typically funny. The Stokey seems alright, just a bit of a div who thinks making loud noises is amusing. When he can’t think of anything to say he starts singing football chants about some footballer I’ve never heard of, probably from Stoke.

The atmosphere feels lighter whenever the Londoner pops out for a fag. When he returns it changes again as he insists everybody has another drink. He’s not with the other three, he’s an interloper and although they laugh at his unfunny jokes, I sense they’re uneasy with him.

The Londoner is on G&Ts with not a lot of emphasis on the Ts even though the measures are ridiculously generous.

Concentrating on the football, I still pick up snippets of conversation. It’s their first day, they’re staying all inclusive and there are 240 steps to their hotel. Another patron staying at the same hotel tells them this, adding he walks down to the centre of town but catches a taxi back up to the hotel as there’s no way he’d make it. He must be in his early 40s. When did Brits become so lazy and unfit? He also tells the Stoke lad his mate has got back to his hotel okay, information courtesy of a text from his wife. Apparently there was another, even more sloshed, Brit who’d fallen at the first hurdle.

The Londoner orders another round which includes some odd concoction for one of the Irish lads. The bill comes to €14. I don’t think it’s much for what is basically a triple gin, a couple of pints and the strange concoction. The Londoner, on the other hand, does.

The Londoner tells J, the barman, he’ll give him €10. He’s trying to barter for his drinks, what a prick. Where does he think he is, a street market in Mumbai?
J stands firm. The Londoner gets a bit leery and, thinking he’s being smart, asks for a receipt in shitty, pigeon Spanish. J happens to be Portuguese.

J and the other barmen are as honest as they come. The Londoner is being a complete twat.

He winks and whispers something to his new friends about not trusting the Spanish and knowing how to deal with them. They try to tell him J is sound. They look awkward. He knows better.

He thinks he is being a savvy traveller who knows how to deal with Johnny Foreigner, everyone else knows he’s being an embarrassment.

J happily prints of a receipt for €14. Through his gin-soaked mist the Londoner realises he’s made an arse of himself.

“We amigos, si?” he slurs to J. “Have a drink, come on have a drink.”

“No thanks mate,” J smiles, but not with his eyes, showing his English is on a far higher level than the Londoner’s Spanish… maybe even his English as well.

He treated J like he was a stereotype. The irony being the Londoner himself is the biggest stereotype in the bar.

The leery Londoner skulks outside leaving us alone to enjoy the end of the match.

Man Utd score in injury time. It’s a relief. Both in that we don’t want extra time and the lottery of penalties, and that we can escape the drunken Brits.

As we drive home we’re overtaken by a police car with blue lights on full flashing mode. It screeches onto the pavement just ahead and two officers jump out with batons drawn. They approach a bald man and shout instructions in Spanish at him. He looks confused. He stands and sways unsteadily.

I know exactly who he is.

We just don’t get people like this in the north of the island… not usually. They corrupt the atmosphere, their behaviour is at the other end of the spectrum from that of the local population.

I feel ashamed to be connected by nationality.

At this moment it seems a pity the dragon didn’t incinerate George.

Not White Enough to be Scottish

“Whit dae ye mean am no white enough tae be Scottish?”

“Yer no white enough to play a Scottish freedom fighter, simple as.”

“But ah am Scottish, ah’ve been Scottish since ah wis born.”

“Well, yer no peelie-wally enough. That’s aw there is tae it.”

“It’s probably the tan, ah’ve just had a fortnight in Lanzarote. Ah’ll be white as a bottle of milk again before ye know it.”

The casting director wavered.

“Show us yer arse.”

“Whit?”

“Did ye sunbathe in the scud?”

“Naw.”

“Then show us yer arse.”

Ah, I could see where he was going. I flashed a chunk of cheek.

“Naw, yer still no white enough, there’s a touch of olive tone there. Wis yer maw Italian?”

“Naw, but ma granpa wis fae Sicily; came over as a POW during the war.”

“Well, whitever the reason, yer no white enough to be in this movie, ye’ll stand oot like a sore thumb.”

“This isnae fair. It’s awright for Idris Elba tae be James Bond but ah cannae play a Scot in ‘Freedom – the Willie Wallace Story’ when ah am one.”

“James Bond is fictional, it disnae matter who plays him.”

“Yer wrong there, he might be fictional, but he’s got a back story. His da wis Scottish and his maw wis fae Switzerland.”

“So?”

“They’re no exactly known for their thriving black populations. The chances of a wee Idris popping oot isnae very likely. If ye ignore the back story, yer no showing any respect for the source material. It’s just no right if yer a lover of literature. What’s more, if there are any missions in Eastern Europe they cannea really send Idris undercover can they? He wudna get very far before he wis spotted.”

“Ye never know, they made Sean Connery Japanese in You Only Live Twice. Trying tae pass Idris off as a Russian isnae any different.”

“Aye, good point… but he couldnae go on a mission tae America.”

“And why’s that?”

“He’d never make it oot of JFK before the American polis gunned him doon.”

“Right, ah’ve had enough of yer nonsense. Get oot,” the casting director pointed towards the door.

There was nothing more tae be said.

Now I know how that Zoe Saldana feels.

The Awkward Moment

“Why?”

The conversation came to a complete halt.

Our friend stared at us, waiting for an answer.

Why don’t fussy eaters know they’re fussy eaters? How can that fact escape them?

There’s a very simple test to check whether you’re a fussy eater or not. When you pick up a menu do you peruse its contents considering everything on it because you’ll eat absolutely anything? Or do you skip lots of menu items, seeking out the handful of dishes that are the only things you’ll consider eating?

If it’s the latter, then you’re a fussy eater. It’s simple.

But not one of our friends who are fussy eaters recognise it.

When we are trying to decide where to eat they all say the same thing every time: “You choose, we’re easy, we’ll eat anything.”

Easy? Really?

Mature friend A will eat anything as long as it’s scampi, tuna steak (we introduced them to that one) or chicken in mushroom sauce. That’s it, that’s the lot.

Friend B will eat anything as long as it’s steak, or beef of some sort at a push. Friend B sometimes brings their own mustard when they go out to eat.

Friend C will eat anything as long as it’s a particular type of fish cooked and served a specific way.

We were with friend C who had asked us what we thought about a restaurant known for its creative cuisine. He was looking for new places to try after being disappointed by a place he’d dined at earlier in the week.

It was a restaurant we’ve always viewed as a bit stuffy and old fashioned so we’ve never been tempted through its doors. Our friend had asked for the same thing he asks for just about every time we’ve dined out with him. The restaurant didn’t have the dish he wanted done the way he likes it, ergo it wasn’t a good restaurant.

Seconds prior to telling us this friend C had interrogated the waitress about the dishes on the menu of the restaurant we were dining in – how they were cooked, what the ingredients were etc. complicating what should have been a simple process i.e. choosing something from a menu which was full of delicious sounding goodies.

Friend C is under the impression chefs should prepare what he wants to his specifications rather than something that is actually on the menu which is why when he asked about the restaurant with its avant-garde cuisine both of us blurted out at the same time.

“You wouldn’t like it.”

“Why?”

The question came again, this time accompanied by eyes that had visibly narrowed slightly.

The obvious and honest answer was ‘because you’re a fussy eater and there’s no way on this earth you’ll like the adventurous food they serve.’

The answer we actually gave was a mumbled mess of an explanation about how chefs in restaurants like that tend to prefer to present customers with their signature dishes without any input from the actual diner.

“But they must have a menu?”

It was getting awkward. We were being herded against the wall where the only exit was a neon signposted screaming ‘BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO FUSSY’.

We were saved by the waitress who appeared at our table to check if we were ready to order, distracting our friend from his line of enquiry. He turned his attention to the waitress, having discarded everything on the menu.

“Do you have bream cut open like a butterfly which is then grilled and served with a white wine, parsley and lemon sauce?”

Did I mention we were in a vegetarian restaurant?

The Doctor’s Waiting Room

It’s a nightmare.

I don’t need a pair of specially designed glasses to see the air is full of victim-seeking microbes courtesy of the man who blasted them out of his nostrils.

Did the germ ridden creature really not have enough warning that a sneeze was imminent to even get his hands close to covering his face?

I push back in my chair trying to put as much room as possible between me and the invisible cloud seeking to do me harm.

From somewhere behind me I can hear a woman wheezing and coughing as if on the brink of pegging out. I don’t turn around to see if she’s covering her mouth in case there’s another germ cloud heading my way from that direction.

The place is a minefield full of diseases. All around are the walking wounded – coughing, spluttering, sneezing… spraying infection everywhere.

Contagion. I’m in a horror scenario.

At some point I’m going to have to leave my relatively safe position – I’ve picked a spot where there is nobody sitting immediately to either side, in front or behind. It might be a futile attempt to protect myself against airborne attackers but you’ve got to try, right?

I recognise a sniffy man I’d seen in the gents earlier. He seems intent on touching everything he passes. It makes me feel a bit queasy. He hadn’t washed his hands after completing his business in the toilet cubicle. What is it about old Brit guys that they have an aversion to personal hygiene?

A friend and myself once observed a stream of blokes using a toilet in a bar. That sounds a bit dodgy, but we were actually watching a football match on TV and the entrance to the toilet was in our direct line of vision… as was the sink outside the toilet door. Only one in 10 (we counted 20 in all) washed their hands. The two who did were aged somewhere between 30 and 40. The rest looked in their 70s. The conclusion of our survey was the older a man, the less he was concerned with personal hygiene.

They are disease-spreading machines to be avoided.

My stomach rumbles loudly reminding of the reason why I’m there. It is time to make my move, to enter the heart of the germ infected arena.

I’m ravenously hungry. It is  time to eat and the spread of food laid out on the long tables is in danger of being removed whilst I dither.

Buffets in holiday resort hotel dining rooms. Don’t you just hate them in peak flu season?

When People Cross the Line

I’m not one of those people who closes all the doors on anyone who holds different views from me. I like people who have opposing views… when they’re intelligently thought out and backed by facts not sensationalist, destructive tabloid headlines. I learn a lot from people who think differently.

People who throw easily destroyed tabloid fiction at me might lose all credibility as soon as soon as they open their mouths, but even then I don’t automatically hit the unfriend button, either in real life or on some social media platform.

But there are some circumstances when lines are crossed.

Friend one lived on the same island as us. She paid no taxes but was happy to use the country’s health service on a number of occasions, even complaining when doctors and nurses couldn’t speak her language.
Despite her being the guest in another country, they were the ones who were in the wrong for not being able to communicate fluently in English.

That was enough to have us raising eyebrows but the crunch came when she moved back to Britain and proceeded to complain about foreigners – meaning people who weren’t the same colour as she was – taking up space in doctors’ waiting rooms.

Racist and hypocritical.

That was enough for us.

The upcoming referendum in June about whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU is bringing similar sorts of people out of the woodwork in their dense droves. It’s frightening. The depths of their stupidity is scary.

One casual friend shared a post on facebook about how the NHS should be for the British alone. This friend lives on a Spanish island. Not only that, he has been receiving quite specialist treatment from the Spanish health service for years. He’s a pensioner, so not actually contributing to the Spanish system, at least not in the same way as many Europeans who move to the UK to work are contributing to Britain’s economy.

And yet this man, who has benefited from another country’s health service feels strongly the NHS in Britain shouldn’t treat foreigners in the same way.  His post quite clearly states ‘The NHS is for British’.

That means people who aren’t British but are working and paying taxes in the UK shouldn’t be able to use the NHS in his book.

The Spanish health authorities here pay for transport from other islands, living expenses and even accommodation if required. It’s a generous system and I have British friends who have had their lives saved thanks to it.

I cringe when I think locals might see how this man, and others like him, would like to see them treated (or not treated in this case) if they visited Britain and needed medical help. I’m not sure that has even crossed his mind. Like far too many expats he just doesn’t view himself the same as ‘Johnny Foreigner’ even when he’s the foreigner.

It is another example of extreme hypocrisy.

These are not the sort of people in whose company I’d wish to spend a second more of my time.