Have you seen my badger book?

Been killing my brain this week about setting up a new blog, but I just can’t face it. Having such a great week with my kids gave me loads of ideas to write about them and start a Daddy blog. I was going to call it Daddypapa.com, but in the end have decided to keep focused on my dream of becoming a novelist, so that was just a waste of brain power.

After reading this post on Writers Write I’ve decided to take their advice and just go with the flow and keep an author diary. I do actually love writing in diary form; I have ever since I was a kid.

I kept one at Uni and each time I went away on a lad’s holiday I also wrote down funny anecdotes, including catch phrases that we invented. It was so much fun. I’ll have to dig them out one day write up a couple.

Badger book
That is one scary badger. Maybe it ate my book. Photo by janetmck

The first one was called The Badger Book, which was a book with a badger on it. I wrote it with a mate of mine, Tony, who won a trip to Denmark on a booze cruise. We got absolutely wasted for 3 days and kept a diary. It probably just had a load of silly comments, most illegible as we were rather hammered, but I bloody lost it, and we were gutted. If you’ve found it, then let me know and I’ll send you my address.

Not as gutted as we were about the weather though. The last 48 hours of the trip was horrific. We were actually delayed arriving back to England thanks to stormy seas. It was so rocky at one point I was holding on to the bed and retching on the floor. We spent two days puking our guts up in a cabin. When we finally got on dry land it still felt as though we were rocking about; seasickness is an awful feeling. I remember distinctly not being able to taste coke for about a week afterwards because my insides had taken such a battering.

Anyway, so I plan to write this diary when I can or if anything interesting happens to me or not; normally not, but I’ll try and have a bash at making it entertaining or funny somehow.

I managed to get out of cleaning the patio outside today (there you go, now that’s exciting). It’s about 35 degrees here in Seville and thanks to a crazy week watching processions and carrying my two kids about I’ve pulled my lower back, which is a pain, literally, but it does mean I don’t have to clean the patio, one of my pet hate jobs.

One shouldn’t have to clean an outdoor patio darling, well, I’m afraid you do. To be fair, this time it’s exceptionally dirty. A group of birds decided to use our favourite plant/bush as a dumping ground and sprayed it a nice shade of white and brown. This also attracted the bloody ants, which come out every year at this time. So the other afternoon, while the kids were asleep, I got on my hands and knees and cleaned the ants nest festering underneath. I also sprayed some new ants spray (we’ve tried 3 different ones) and the concoction with last years powder has had a positive effect and got rid of the ants. Trouble is the brown and white graffiti is still on the floor, so my poor wife is cleaning it up (sorry Darling, trying to keep this diary as honest as possible). I’ll do the next one.

What is your pet hate around the house?

That’s all for the first diary entry, hope I haven’t scared you off too much.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, but where’s Santa?

Semana Santa, that mental festival where everyone dresses up in funny cloaks and pointy hats and scares all the non-religious people out of the city, has come round again.

Cristo de Burgos
El Cristo de Burgos leaving the church in San Pedro. I’m in this procession, but not this year! Photo by ErKillo

I’ve got mixed feelings about it this year. I was all up for doing my procession, or penitence, but things haven’t worked out. I’ve participated in the Cristo de Burgos for the last 6 years (yes, I wear a cloak and a funny pointy hat) apart from one year when I flew back to Blighty just after my son was born. So, unfortunately, because I’m quite proud of wearing my cloak and pointy hat, I won’t be participating. My suegro (father-in-law) has had a bad leg for a while and my cuñao (brother-in-law) is working in Malaga and can’t get the time off.

If I had more balls, then I’d do it on my own. For at least 6 hours of it I am, technically, alone, apart from the 500 or so other Nazarenos. But going to the church alone, being inside alone, and leaning against the pillars when we return to the church in San Pedro to relieve the severe back pain on my own, just seems too much.

Being part of a 3 century year old procession is an honour too. I don’t know of any other guiris actually in one, so if you are then get in touch. Most expats and teachers I know are not all that up for it and most try to get away for the week and escape the scariness.

If I wasn’t living out in the sticks I’d probably just do it. But it’s the whole journey of going from here (Mairena, about 10km away) on the metro with all my gear (I carry the cloak and pointy hat, even though I thought I was going to wear it last year, until I realised no other Nazareno was dressed up on the metro). Plus I have to get a cab home after too, so I won’t arrive until about 3am. And knowing that my son has a habit of running in with whatever his latest favourite toy is and smashing me on the conker with it, has swayed my decision to give it a miss this year.

Deep down I’m pretty gutted, but I can still enjoy the festival. I love Semana Santa though: the atmosphere, the music, the jamón, beers, smell of incense, bumping into my students and feeling popular, the goosebumps, and the special memories I have.

While watching processions I spend most of my time reminiscing. I think back to when I first got to know my wife properly during my first Holy Week, and starting to know her family too. Also one year my Dad was over for it, and another year my mum too when my daughter was born, so each procession that I’ve seen always holds special memories.

At least I’ll be in form for the Madrugada though. I’m often knackered after doing the procession on the Wednesday, but this year I’ve been given permission to go and watch the most spectacular part on Thursday night through to Friday morning. Once the kids are wrapped up in bed I’ll be out and about, probably to see El Silencio, El Gran Poder, and if I can Los Gitanos, which are my 3 favourites. My plan is to come home, have a kip, and then go back again; this time with my wife and kids, to catch one or two in the morning, but as most things in life now, it’s not as easy with kids.

Take yesterday for example. Domingo Ramos. Every year that we lived in the centre, it was a doddle. We met up with family for lunch, then went out and saw a few processions, but now it’s a whole different ball game. Firstly it took us 2 hours to get ready. Then we had to get the metro in, with our packed lunches, bags, and the pram. On the metro we had to fold up the pram to make room for the thousand other prams (when I was kid free I always used to curse the people with prams, but now I totally get it; you try carrying a 18kg son about all day).

It was actually less busy than I thought it would be. I was expecting to get mobbed, squashed into the corner with my kids screaming, but we had a seat and getting off wasn’t too bad, just a minute extra in the queue at the other side.

Seeing the processions for the first real time with my son was special. It was tricky to explain the concept of Semana Santa to him though. There’s no way a 3 year old would understand the concept of a weekly procession to remember what Jesus did. In fact, when I first watched processions on the tele, he came up with a tricky question.

“This is Semana Santa,” I said as a Virgen came out the church hiding behind some candles.
“Papi,” he said (a name which I hate him calling me).
“Daddy, yeah?”
“But where’s Santa?”
He stumped me. It was a great question and one that had never even crossed my mind before. All I could come up with was.
“He’s sleeping.”
“Because that night in Christmas took it right out of him, so he’s still tired.”

Photo by glezserna

Pure innocence. He was fascinated by the drums though, and spent the next 2 days asking when we were going to see the drums.

When we finally turned up to watch La Paz, round by the Parque Maria Luisa, he was blown away by the bands. The look on his face of pure joy as the drums went passed did clog up my throat a little. In my first Semana Santa the music had moved me rather than the actual pasos. Seeing his little face lit up was a dream.

That was at about 2pm, and it was heating up, so after a break back at the in-laws gaff, we set off again to see La Estrella.

Stupidly we picked one of the longest processions of the day, and arrived just as the Cruz de Guia (the first main cross) got over the bridge. So we had to watch the whole thing. Well, we didn’t have to, but my son was then all set on getting as many sweets as possible from the Nazarenos, and my daughter was hell bent on organising them in her own special way in the pram. So we stayed, on the bridge, hot, sweaty, tired, for about an hour.

It was worth the wait though. Just as the Christ got to the end of the bridge it stopped, then the band played some lovely music as it continued down towards the city. I must have had about 5 or 6 sets of goosebumps as it went along, mainly because I was there now with my son on my shoulders and my wife holding our daughter. It was a lovely moment, and one that I knew we wouldn’t beat today, which is why we didn’t bother to go into the centre and just chilled at home and went to the park up the road (a massive bonus of living out of the centre during Semana Santa; you can chose when you see it, not the other way round).

The worst part of the day was getting back. Walking from el Puente de Triana and up to Plaza Cuba carrying my daughter in the 30 degree was a penitence in itself, the only consolation was that she did give me several kisses- without me asking. For the trip home on the metro my son began to question about Semana Santa though.

“Daddy, yeah?”
“Where was Santa?”
“He was tired mate.”
“Because he probably spent the afternoon watching pasos, and that just wears you out.”
“Okay. Can we see the drums again tomorrow?”

“If you’re a good boy.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”


Culture Shock

Helping out the street sellers in Spain!

I’m guessing people have been selling stuff on the streets in Spain ever since they invented the peseta. I’m not a massive fan of actually buying stuff from street sellers in Sevilla because necklaces, handbags, and scarves just ain’t my thing.

street seller in spain
Paco Vender, the first street seller in Spain. Photo by dreabjb

Saying that, I was impressed when I read this article on El Pais in English about how Barcelona street vendours are living less in fear from the police. It states that in Barcelona the City Hall seem to be helping the street sellers to gain work visas, give them training, and provide them with grants.

I think it’s great that people in charge in Barcelona are slightly more open-minded than ones down in the South of Spain. It’s good to see the government helping immigrants to make some hard earned cash while they provide a service for the public. I can never imagine that happening down in Andalucía.

I find it quite entertaining to watch the street sellers in action in Seville, especially down the Avenida Constitucíon, Sierpes or around Nervion Plaza. They often set up their products for sale over blankets on the floor, so they can snap them up and leg it when the police are close. They signal to each other by whistling, then wrap up their stock and scarper up the road; normally hiding in shop doorways or round the back-streets.

It might seem sad, but most of the time they are laughing as they play hide and seek. I guess they see it as a type of game, albeit a dangerous one. On a few occasions I’ve actually warned them that the cops are close to help them out. I’ve never seen the sellers get caught though. The police must know they are there, but are probably too lazy to do anything about it, can’t be bothered with all the paperwork involved, or fancy getting a new handbag.

You can also catch some guys selling packets of Kleenex at the traffic lights. It always baffles me how they make any money and how they survive, but I guess they earn more than they do in their own country.

The most famous street seller in Seville has to be Howard Jackson, the guy who sells packets of Kleenex by the traffic lights in front of Plaza de Armas. I used to live by that area and everyday I’d see him in a different outfit, normally of the female type, strutting his stuff, joking about and selling tissues.

A couple of times I also saw him pissed out of his head; dancing about to music and having a laugh. Good on him. The guy has had it hard, after losing his family in a war in Liberia, he battled hard to get to Spain and is now studying law.

I wonder just how many of the street sellers in Spain have a similar story.

What do you think of the street sellers where you live in Spain? Are they more integrated or constantly being hunted by the police? What do you think can be done about it?

Annoying things in Spain

The Week from Hell!

It all started on Monday morning when I nearly had a punch up with a posh banking women on the metro. Okay, it was partly my fault for penning all the commuters into a tiny space with my wife’s enormously long bike, but mine was being repaired. I’d acted like an professional sheepdog, mounting a blue push bike and barking at everyone to get back. To be fair, there was a tiny gap for people to pass by and gain access to a huge open area, but they’d somehow gathered like frightened sheep, no doubt hungover on a Monday morning.

Let's get those bikers
Let’s get those bikers!

The metro stopped at my penultimate stop, and loads of people got on.
“Can’t you move your bike?” asked a blond banker, wearing her shades with pride.
“Do I look like I can move my bike?” I said, turning round to highlight just how much space I didn’t have. My smarmy answer caused a stir.
“But no one can pass.”
“There’s plenty of room there,” I said, looking back, but as I did the driver pulled away and a different woman almost fell over my bike. The banker woman squeezed past and continued to have a go.
“I have a bike like that, and I wouldn’t dream of bringing it on the metro.”
“I don’t normally,” I said, in a softer, more apologetic tone, looking for some sympathy. “It’s just mine is broke and I have to take this one.”
“You should be more thoughtful of other people.”
“Sure, sure, just like you, you mean?” I looked ahead as my blood started to boil. Who did she think she was? What right did she have to assume I wasn’t thoughtful of others? I’d spent the whole night worrying how I’d affect the sheep on the train and had attempted to find the least offensive place, but it turned out to be the worst one.

Recently I’ve begun to hate going on the metro in the morning with my bike; tolerance levels are zero, especially from stuck up bankers. She really pissed me off. And I blame her for kicking off my worst week in a long time.

I rushed home after class, still annoyed from the woman, and barged through the door.
“Is he coming?” I said to my wife.
“He hasn’t called,” she said.
“Typical.” I said, referring to this guy we know, Mani Manitas; the local handy man who comes round and does all the stupid jobs that I can’t do, or am too scared to do. He’s fixed our oven, light switches, changed locks, and our latest project is to fix a dodgy antenna, which has been swaying back and forth this winter like a pole vaulting champion’s floppy stick.

I wasn’t surprised he hadn’t called, because he’s about as reliable as a Spanish politician, but it was probably just as well as the rain had started to pour, and the bad luck omen I had hanging over my shoulders would surely have caused a catastrophe.

Then came Tuesday, and until about 10.30pm, I was doing fine. I’d got through the day at work without too many aggravating moments and enjoyed a couple of classes, but suddenly I felt cold, strangely cold, and began to shiver on the way home. When I turned up, I was physically shivering. Luckily my wife had done some thoughtful soup, and within 30 minutes I was shivering in bed.

Wednesday morning I considered calling in sick. I’d slept terribly, had been shivering, felt dizzy, and my back was hurting. But I forced myself up so I could take my kids to school, took a mix of paracetamol and ibuprofen, and managed to edit some of my novel for a couple of hours. By then I wasn’t too bad, and managed to get through the day at work, even if the last 30 minutes were quite painful. That night I sweat it all out again by shivering and wet the bed- with sweat.

Thursday morning came and I still felt weird, but I battled on. After we dropped the kids in, we went for a coffee and waited for the local bike shop to open so I could pick up my own bike, and avoid any unwanted penning in of innocent commuters on the metro the next morning. I almost got into a ruck with the woman in the shop though.

Just to fill you in with a bit of a flashback; I met this woman before when she tried to overcharge me for a previous bike repair, only by 3 euros, but still, it was the way she looked down on me because my Spanish wasn’t perfect. Sound familiar?

So we turned up and I asked about my bike. This is how the conversation went, all in Spanish.

“Hi, I left a bike here the other day.”
“Oh yeah, it’s not ready yet; we are waiting for a few pieces.”
“Oh right, it’s just I need it for tomorrow.”
“Right, well, it probably won’t be ready. You see, a guy came the other day and brought the wrong wheel.”
“I see.”
“Yeah, and it was missing some parts, the, actually, why bother telling you the bits as you won’t understand me.”

I frowned in annoyance and was about to blurt out something when my wife stepped in.
“Sorry, but my husband has lived here for 12 years. He understands you perfectly.”
“Oh, you’re Spanish,” she said, blanking me now. “Oh, well in that case I’ll tell you.”
“But he understands you,” she said.

At this point I would have normally gone in with some harsh words, but I just didn’t have it in me. We arranged to come back on Friday at some point.

I left fuming. Why had she just completely blanked me once she knew my wife was Spanish? It was such a typical response from people here in the town. The rest of the day wasn’t too bad, but that woman’s disapproving look lingered in my thoughts.

Friday morning I was back on my wife’s bike, and had to get out a stop before my usual one as the carriage was filling up and I didn’t want to run into any moany bankers. I was still feeling weak too, and my throat was also beginning to hurt.

When I got back home and picked up my daughter, they informed me there was a virus going round (surprise, surprise) and our daughter had the squits.

The week just wasn’t getting any easier.

I shot off for a quick class, then when I came back, I stupidly left my daughter in her pram on a step outside our front door. As I was cleaning some pee pee off the floor from my son, I heard a crash, followed by a scream. I ran outside and my daughter was lying on the floor with the pram on her, with her face all cut up. My son did look guilty, but he was also smirking a little. I had to have a go, but felt bad afterwards. It was my fault for leaving it there after all.

On Saturday I woke up with a clenched throat, dreading going to 4 hours of oral examining. Luckily we had some antibiotics left over, which worked a treat and I got through the afternoon stress free.

So that just left Sunday; Father’s Day. I was allowed a lie in till 9am, to chill out after an exhausting week. I woke up in a decent mood, rested, and my throat was okay.

We were chatting in the kitchen, when the dog started to lick the floor. At first I thought she’d been sick, but then realised the dishwasher was leaking. A perfect extra job for Daddy to do on his ‘day off.’

We managed to sort out the mess, and did have a reasonable Sunday, largely helped by half a bottle of my favourite red wine, Beronia, and a victory by Spurs.

What a week though!

Culture Shock

El enchufe in Spain, is it wrong?

Enchufe in Spain…it’s who you know…Photo by Daquella Manera

If you’re not familiar with the term, enchufe, then here’s a definition: the influence or recommendation of someone to get a job, or similar benefit, without the qualifications or merit. It other words, getting work or something of use because of who you know, not what you’ve done.

I’ll give you an example. Imagine the Head of a school has 14 brothers and sisters. Now imagine that all of those brothers and sisters were teachers, and just by chance, they all happened to work for same Head because they got them the job, well, that would be a massive enchufe.

After reading an article this week on El Pais English, titled The Dirty Business of nepotism at Seville University, I wasn’t shocked. After checking what nepotism meant in the dictionary (favouritism to family), I read that Maria Luisa Diaz, a cleaning supervisor, gave 22 cleaning jobs to family and friends. This includes close family, in-laws, neighbours, and it’s even been reported that she gets her dog to run errands for her around the premises.

Does it really matter if the boss of a cleaning company has helped out her relatives? I guess not. What’s wrong in helping people you know? After all, she must have trusted them, and what’s more important than trust in the workplace?

The whole enchufe business is ripe in Seville, and I think Andalucía, but I can’t honestly comment about the rest of Spain (maybe you could below). It’s a phrase I learnt early on. I remember a comment from a student in a business class as we were talking about work ethics. Three of the employees were cousins, and their uncle was the boss.

‘I had to work my balls off to get this job. I had to do oposiciones, which took nearly 3 years of study, but these guys got in by a big fat enchufe.” I had to laugh as the cousins shrugged.

I guess really it comes down to who you know, not what you know, but isn’t that the same in any industry around the world? If you get on with people, then they’ll be more likely help you out.

I think the main issue is that there are loads of enchufes in politics, but there’s no surprise there.

If I could get my nephew a job in the future in the school where I work then I would. If I have some writing contacts in the publishing industry and my daughter decides to become a writer, then I’ll help her out, why wouldn’t I?

The problems come into play when other people miss out. Going back to schools. The system to become a primary and secondary school is extremely complicated. Basically you have to get a degree in teaching, then pass exams and fall in the top 10% before you are given a slight chance of a job, and even then it might not be in the same city, or even region. So, if a director of a school sorted out their relatives a job, but they hadn’t done the necessary exams, then I guess that is unfair as they have done over the ‘system.’

Personally, I’ve only ever benefitted from an enchufe once, and it wasn’t related to work. A student’s father is a lawyer, and helped me with some major issues when buying my property. If he hadn’t been around when we were closing the deal, then we could have lost a lot of money. I offered to pay him, but he wouldn’t accept, so I bought him a lovely bottle of red instead. Can that be considered as an enchufe too? If so, then what’s the problem? People help each other, you look after your own, and so I don’t see the problem.

My wife, however, did get a massive enchufe when she got a job working for Iberia. There were loads of brothers and sisters and cousins working there, but we didn’t complain.

Maybe you know of more incidents of the enchufe? Have you suffered because of it? Leave a comment below.

Expat Issues, Great things about Spain, Humour

How life changes when you’re an Expat Dad

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was terrified about becoming a Dad. First it was the famous ‘sleepless nights’ syndrome. Like most blokes I get grumpy if I don’t have my beauty sleep. I used to have visions of waking up on the last line of the metro with a lovely dribble stain on my jacket, or even dozing off in class to allow my students to cover my face in red board marker.

Boy or girl
How can you buy clothes for someone you have never seen?

Having the responsibility of looking after a baby boy who can only communicate through crying was a definite worry too. My biggest concern questions were: how are you supposed to bath a slippery baby? What about getting it dressed? And how do you change a nappy without getting splashed with wee and poop?

After nearly five months of being a Dad I have to say that all those worries seem like a distant memory. Sure, the first two weeks were mental. Neither of us slept much, but the responsibility of looking after our son gave us extra energy. I soon got the hang of bathing and getting my son dressed and, as of yet, no poop has met my clothing, wee has, several times, but no poop. Continue reading “How life changes when you’re an Expat Dad”