Friday, 10 April 2009

Spain - The start of the search (r)

If it’s the spring it's golf tour time so this year we decided to return for a second visit to Las Ramblas in Spain. We invited the boys along of course but they were unable to get the necessary girlfriend permissions to join us right from the start and it was only after some serious Henry Kissinger style negotiations that they finally got the necessary authorisations on their travel passes that allowed them to join us three days later. This gave us the opportunity in the first couple of days to get settled into the apartment and to reacquaint ourselves with Pete from next door, the vice chairman of the Resident’s Association.

We arrived late in the evening but on the next day we hadn’t been on the balcony very long when he spotted us straight away and came around to investigate, in his Captain Mainwaring sort of way, to establish our residency rights. He immediately recognised us from the year before and having satisfied himself that we were legitimate temporary residents he hung around to have a chat. And believe me Pete can chat! Like many people who spend endless months at a time in an apartment in Spain I suspect he gets a little bit bored so he looks forward to the opportunity to talk to new people. I’m not quite sure why he spends so much time in Spain at all because he explained to us that he doesn’t like beaches or sand, he doesn’t like the grass or the trees in the garden and he doesn’t like the swimming pool very much and all of these seem to me to seriously restrict leisure opportunities in Las Ramblas.

There are an enormous amount of Brits living in this part of Spain; in Torrevieja alone there are about twelve thousand and this accounts for about thirteen per cent of the entire population (the Spanish themselves are in the minority here at only forty-eight per cent). There are similar statistics in Benidorm and by 2010 it is estimated that there will be one million Brits living on the Costa Blanca. The sad thing of course is that they don’t want to seriously integrate and the place is awash with British pubs, British breakfasts and British newspapers and that really is a great shame. In more glorious times the British gave the world great architecture, magnificent civic buildings and culture and now all we have to give is Burger King, Chinese Restaurants of questionable quality, fish and chips and England football shirts.

Sadly conversation amongst overseas property owners is severely limited and there are only three main topics; the first is about property, how much they paid for their place and how much it is worth now, second how it was the best decision that they ever made in their lives and third how they would never ever go back because Britain is such a bad place to live because of the crime. EXCUSE ME! At least I don’t have to worry myself stupid about being burgled and live behind metal grills with more locks and keys than you’d find in a high security prison. They are so boring and they talk constantly about the value of their investment and get together to compare the size of their patios. Some of these people have lost all sense of reality and spend most of their time trying to convince themselves that they made the right decision when they sold up, left their heritage behind and relocated to the sun. Personally I am not convinced.

I mentioned here last year the hierarchy of Spanish property ownership; first of all there are the owners and they of course are top of the pile, and then below them are the guests, these are the people who are occupying the apartments as friends of the owners and this is where we fitted in, and right at the bottom (actually some way down at the bottom) are the renters, who are common people who can’t afford overseas property investments themselves and don’t have friends who can either.

There are also an awful lot of rules to property ownership and this week Richard set about breaking every single one of them. First of all you can’t take lilo beds in the pool and there seems to be no logical explanation for this because that is exactly what they are intended for. Second you can’t take beer around the pool and the residents prefer it that if you must that you go back to the apartment to drink on the balcony out of sight. Actually I can see some sense in not taking bottles to the poolside but we did it anyway. Thirdly, and I think I actually agree with this one, you can’t hang your washing out to dry in the garden or hang towels off of the balcony. This didn’t bother Richard and he did this as well. In addition to these picky poolside rules you are not allowed to jump or dive into the water and we took no notice of that either. Off site you are not allowed to walk around the golf course and we tried that one afternoon but were asked to leave by the marshal after an officious member saw us and reported us to the clubhouse.

Last year we were fortunate enough to witness the AGM of the Resident’s Association but this year we were unlucky and missed it by a few days. That was a shame but at least on one morning there was an impromptu meeting of the Chair and the Vice Chair and Thomas, the gardener. Apparently there was a problem with water leaking from the pool and they were looking for a solution. I couldn’t imagine that they could possibly have taken very long to sort out but the meeting went on for nearly an hour with a full inspection of the garden and lots of gesticulating and nodding of heads. The two men wandered around in their pompous way and Thomas followed behind and tried to pay attention and look interested although it was clear from his body language that he thought they were a pair of wankers who didn’t know what they were talking about.

Actually Pete the neighbour is an ok bloke with a good sense of humour and a sense of reality about Spanish property values who even turned a blind eye to Richard’s rule breaking and at one point invited him to join the committee when he offered a brilliant but blindingly simple solution to their little pool problem. The other Pete, the Chairman, on the other hand is a complete knob and an ignorant one at that who is so far up his own jacksie that he won’t even speak to a guest, even one who has been invited to join the committee. I don’t think he would even stop to wipe his feet on a renter.

Pete, the ok one, has a huge repertoire of fantasy stories and it’s worth recalling a couple of them here. First of all he told us about the wildlife in the area that included some incredulous tale about a three-foot rabbit! “It really took me by surprise he said” I don’t know about being surprised but it would certainly have scared the shit out of me! Next he explained that what made this place so desirable was that it was only a ten-minute walk to the beach. Now unless Pete had discovered time travel the only way that you were going to get to the beach from Las Ramblas in ten minutes is if you are an Olympic sprint champion and I think they might find it a bit of a challenge! And then he told us about his golfing abilities. He doesn’t like golf but apparently he once played an eighteen-hole pitch and putt course and went round in just twenty-six shots. The club pro was apparently so impressed by this achievement that he framed the scorecard and gave him a years complimentary membership. Frankly I think he should have called up Colin Montgomerie to get him a place on the European Ryder cup team. He told this tale with a completely straight face and topped it off by informing us that his wife Sue was even better than him.

This year the weather was a bit unsettled so one of the first jobs was to go to the Supermarket and stock up on alcohol in preparation for a lot of time sitting about on the balcony. The Mercadona provides another interesting ex-pat experience because although it is the largest supermarket chain in Spain this is not what I would call a typical Iberian shopping experience. It is a ubiquitous sort of supermarket that due to the number of people from Essex wandering around the aisles with their permatans and bling that you could quite easily mistake yourself for being in Billericay or Basildon. Generally they are looking for familiar British products and explaining to staff in their annoying accent that always adds a couple of unnecessary aa’s into a word to drag it out into a irritating whine how they want coffee gra-aa-nules.
During the week we spent a lot of time on the balcony drinking beer and passing the time away with interesting conversations about the meaning of life, which was the best Spanish beer, Mahou or San Miguel and the technical points of the of the international scale for the grading of farts. Every visit to the balcony or the pool involved a preposterous conversation with our affable neighbour and we began to look forward to our amusing chats. We did get to go out a bit as well and this included three good rounds of golf and an eye-opening visit to Benidorm.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

Hi Andrew,

My late mother lived the last 25 yrs of her life in Torrevieja and I thought the way the expats lived was very strange indeed. Very few of them spoke Spanish despite having lived there for many years and they only visited places frequented by other British residents. It seemed to me that they all missed England and I ended up wondering why they left in the first place. Happy Easter to you and your family.


Sandra x