But first, the dreaded frontier queue. For some reason we’d set off later that morning. I’d decided to attempt the stairs by foot rather than the favoured and much easier backside bumpety bump.
With Partner in front to steady me in case I started to lose my balance – or alternatively, both tumble down together like Jack and Jill – I started the long descent. All of twenty steps. And to our mutual surprise, I made it in one piece.
As I negotiated the steps at the block entrance, a loud cheer and applause came from my neighbour over the road who was leaning out of his window watching.
Hobbling down the street, which is downhill, so tricky, Partner put his hand on my arm. ‘Wait, our neighbour’s coming out to speak to us.’
‘I don’t want to interfere,’ said our neighbour (which always means someone is going to do just that), ‘but I noticed you putting your bad leg first. My wife was told to put her good leg first.
‘The good go to heaven,’ he added. And then realised his mistake. Not literally about whether the good go to heaven or not, but rather, that he was confusing walking on the level with going up and down steps.
When I attended my last physio appointment I was informed I would be doing stairs and it was quite easy. I’m sure it is when you are in your late 30s and fit as a lop. But Mr Velvet Glove Steel Fist physio seems to have abandoned the velvet glove so there was no getting out of it. Sadly I have to report it was relatively easy in the gym up and down three steps, so he was right.
And he churned out their little mantra that they obviously say to all patients:
The good go to heaven, and the bad go to hell.
This is for the purpose of helping you to remember to lead with the good leg going upstairs and the bad one going down.
‘I’ll probably get it wrong, and think the good go to hell,’ I said to Mr Steel Fist. Gib is 80% Catholic so it will no doubt work for most of their patients. And in fact, back at the finca, I ended up going in and out of our front doorstep with the bad leg first both up and down, thereby proving the bad go to heaven too.
But back to the delay in the street outside our block. I could see us being stuck there for quite some time with Friendly Neighbour while all we wanted was to Get Off and avoid getting stuck in the frontier queue. After he’d recited the mantra, apologised for his error, chatted away some more, we were eventually allowed to slowly make our way to the Land Rover.
Those nice little ridgey ramps in the kerb for wheelchairs may be great for tyres but I didn’t fancy my chances with crutches. So I stepped down off the pavement and decided to walk in the road to avoid any more pesky steps. I’d had more than enough of them by now.
Partner was trying to lure me back onto the pavement. I glared at him. Then the penny dropped for him. The passenger side was on the road side, so I was going for the quickest shortest route. Hopefully not getting mown down in the process. After all, it was Sunday morning.
What should normally take five minutes, had taken nearer to twenty. But still, it was progress of sorts. And off we went. The good news was, no queue. The Guardia Civil stopped the two cars in front. We slowed down, and Partner put his hands out. He got a dismissive wave through. Maybe they are getting bored with opening the back and finding nothing but Pippa and Snowy.
Around the halfway point, at Marbella, I glanced at the frontier queue on Halphone. In less than an hour and a half it had suddenly gone from nothing to become a six-lane queue by midday.
Leaving the autovía, about fifteen minutes from our pueblo, we were confronted by heaving beaches full of Spaniards enjoying the scorching sun and cooling off in the cold sea. The roads were lined with cars parked bumper to bumper. Why people enjoy that is quite beyond me, but each to their own.
We arrived in the tranquility of our pueblo, to the usual friendly welcome from our neighbours. I was going to attempt the front steps by foot. I sat down instead and bumped my way up. A woman can have too many steps in one day.
Later that day, we received a welcome goody bag from next doors. The next day, a plate of figs. The following day, a plate of chumbos. Sadly, the gifts dried up by Wednesday.
As we unpacked, or as I sat on the terrace admiring the lettuces that José had bought, sown, and watered for me and Partner unpacked, he asked José for a hand getting the bike down off the roof rack. He’s not using it in Gib and the panniers are bigger so he can get more beers in them.
Because there is something of a money shortage, he didn’t fancy leaving it on the roof overnight here in Spain. It was padlocked and cable-tied on, but still…
Except, where was the padlock? Partner had tied it and secured it on the previous night thinking it would be safe in Gib. Maybe not. Maybe someone had seen it, checked it out, come back prepared and either someone had disturbed them (had to be them, too difficult to lift down for one), or they didn’t realise it was cable-tied on. Or maybe the padlock had undone itself, and fallen off en route.
It might have been a free bike – the panniers weren’t, we’d bought those – but it’s a good one and we wouldn’t want it nicked. You can never have too many bikes. ‘Are you going to set up a bike garage?’ asked Adelina drily when she saw the arrival of yet another one to join the fleet of four.
Partner decided to give José something for helping with the bike. Well, it was a good excuse to give something back, so he dived into his extensive tool repository and found some new drill bits. Always best to give something useful in my pueblo. To save embarrassment, Partner explained he had a friend who had given him lots of new bits, so it wasn’t as though it was an expensive gift. Pitching gifts right is quite difficult. Sometimes it’s time and/or labour to give a hand.
But whatever you do, in a village like mine, especially where I live in the midst of Spaniards in the original settlement, you look out for your neighbours.
Not long after we arrived here, Partner was talking to a Spanish woman (who has fluent English) and she was saying sadly, that she couldn’t use her chimney. Her neighbour had built some fancy porch extension and bashed it into the side of her chimney. ‘Report him!’ said Partner Britishly. ‘No,’ she said. ‘That’s not how it works around here.’
The Franco years have left their legacy. Back then, annoying your neighbours, or reporting them would invite retaliation. One quick word in the right ear, and a knock on the door – if they even bothered to knock – and a whole family could be wiped out.
Both my neighbours felt the Civil War. Her father was arrested and taken to prison in Northern Spain. She never saw him again. José’s younger brother was killed in a Civil War-related local shooting. Opposing sides, and bang! he was gone.
A few streets away, we have some English neighbours. Or perhaps I should say had because they are clearly no longer there. The house is abandoned, their car has gone. There is no sign or trace of them. It’s like they were never there. They were in their late seventies and arrived in our pueblo shortly after us. Before that they had run a bed and breakfast further up the coast. B and B were brother and sister. She’d been widowed young, and he was divorced. Apparently not good at keeping it in his pocket. So they came here together.
With old age comes ill health, so when she went into hospital, Partner took him to see his sister as B didn’t drive. He became frail too. He even gave up smoking. A lot of the time he said he didn’t like Spain, he wanted to go back to the UK. The house was on the market. She wanted to stay. He went back a couple of years ago for some family thing, wedding or christening or whatever.
‘Horrible place,’ he said on his return to Spain. ‘Filthy, dirty streets. Not like here.’
Our streets are swept six days a week. The communal rubbish bins are emptied every night – apart from when there is a strike of course, which sensibly (from the workers’ perspective) always happens in summer.
We would usually see B and B when they drove down our street, and they would slow down and, if we were on our terrace, we would have a quick chat over the wall and a catch up.
But now B and B have vanished into thin air. We haven’t asked anyone and it ain’t going to be good news.
It’s a fallacy to think all ex-pats live in each others’ pockets. Sure, we’d been round for a chat a couple of times and Partner had moved heavy things for them a few times, but that was it. We have more in common with our Spanish neighbours. It’s next doors who invite us in to watch the World Cup, next doors who shower us with free food, next doors who let me use their internet and telephone to contact Partner when I locked myself out of my mobile.
One of our other Spanish neighbours grows veg. If we walk past his plots, and he is cutting cabbages we invariably end up carrying three home with us.
Walking little Snowy, Partner met Cabbage Neighbour talking to Paco the Van Man, shooting the breeze together in the pueblo. He said ‘Hola’ to both of them. Paco looked surprised. ‘How do you know him?’ he said accusingly. ‘He’s been my neighbour for years,’ smirked CN. 1-0 to him.
An evening or so later, the same duo was there again. ‘Where’s your woman? I’ve not seen her,’ asked Paco. (Paco was the one who asked me to drinks at the beach bar, and at his little plot when I was staying here on my own waiting for Snowy’s vaccinations to be complete).
‘She’s broken her leg. All her neighbours know that.’ Ouch! 2-0 to Cabbage Neighbour.
Someone else cruised up on a bike. He couldn’t work out why two locals were talking to someone who was quite obviously a guiri. (Spanish impolite term for foreigner – think ‘wog’).
‘I don’t know you,’ said the bike man. ‘Are you new?’
Cabbage Neighbour was laughing his chuddies off. ‘He’s been here years. What is it now, thirteen?’
Hmm, pretty spot on. 3-0 to CN.
Foreigners often say they want to ‘integrate’ and become part of the ‘real Spain’. Probably the easiest way to do that is to find a Spanish partner, or send your kids to the local (probably not very good) school.
But integration doesn’t mean being invited into everyone’s home or everyone’s party. Or treating everyone you meet like your long-lost friend. Or taking part in local festivals, suddenly supporting a local Spanish football team, or taking up going to church and joining in the local religious processions. And definitely not supporting bull-fighting.
When you live abroad, you also need to be true to yourself. You bring your values with you. You keep them. What worked before will work elsewhere. It may take time. It is not only courteous but sensible to learn the local language, but I’m the sort of person who learned some Greek before I went to Greece, Portuguese before I went to Portugal, although I didn’t manage Thai when I went to Thailand.
But if people want to spend their life in a British ghetto, speaking English, eating fish and chips and drinking English beer that’s their choice. There is no right or wrong way to live in a country where you aren’t a national.
Wandering along the track with Little One, some woman picked up a stone and before Partner could stop her, she threw it at him. Snowy ducked and chased after it, barking happily at the game. She picked up another.
‘STOP,’ shouted Partner. ‘Oh,’ she said sulkily,’I thought he was going to bite. I thought he was abandoned.’
With a shit-expensive emerald green harness and a rabies tag? And someone walking five yards behind him? He wouldn’t be off the lead if he was going to bite anyone.
They were guiris. They weren’t from round here. On holiday. Maybe they were more guiri than us, in our pueblo. Our neighbours dismiss anyone not from the pueblo as ‘extranjeros’ usually from ‘el norte’. Which is probably anywhere north of La Axarquía.
Partner met Cabbage Neighbour down the arroyo on an early morning dog walk. He’d had to chuck his crops, it wasn’t worth what the corrida (wholesale veg market) would pay for them. I don’t understand this. Given that he has paid to plant them and water them, and crops them himself, why is it not worth the harvest?
The neighbours are short of money. We listened to the daughter telling her father not to buy a kilo of fruit, only half a kilo. He no longer goes to the shops on Saturday, the daughter goes instead. They no longer get bread every day from the local vans. A while ago, we heard the bread man asking when they were going to pay what they owed.
Ajo blanco, despite their shortage of money, a glass of cold soup for me from our neighbours on our last evening. More here about ajo blanco, including ingredients.
On our last morning Partner bumped into an English woman in the supermarket. People were working for three euros an hour, she told him. She couldn’t get any work, no one would employ her because there were so many Spaniards out of work. I can understand that, because that’s the attitude in Gib too. Well, it’s supposed to be, until a Rumanian or a Portuguese will work for less. Amor doesn’t vincit omnia, dinero vincit omnia. English woman asked Partner about working in Gib, she’s in her fifties, and after a mere five years in Spain, she’s beginning to worry about running out of money, so wondered about the honeypot of gold in Gib. Partner pointed out that unless she shares a flat, all her wages from bar work would go on rental.
I’m sorry for people who worry about money. I do too. And if you think about living abroad without a guaranteed income, do your net present value (NPV) calculations at least 20 times, and then quadruple it, and you still will fall short of what your life will cost.
I’m even sorrier for Spaniards though, struggling to live on meagre incomes. When they can get work, which is invariably black anyway. My neighbours, all six of them, are basically living out of two old peoples’ pensions, plus two or three mornings a week cleaning money that the daughter earns. How on earth will they cope when the two oldies die, and that pension money disappears?
Revolting Europe posted an excellent article about how the greedy Spanish banks and Rajoy’s Partido Popular government are truly shafting the people of Spain. It’s well worth a read.
And, the sun shines on the righteous. Highs around early 30s, dropping to early 20s at night. The bad go to heaven. Or maybe they burn in Spain not hell. Or maybe they hide inside like I do.