Y Muera Espana?

Due to my time spent living in Spain I still retain an interest in what goes on there; however I have no claim whatever to be an expert on Spanish politics nowadays.  In the Madrid of the 1990’s, the country seemed like a place just waking up to democracy.  They’d had barely fifteen years of being able to speak their minds; the long sleep of fascism was over and the citizens emerging into the daylight rubbing their eyes.  They were testing the limits; marching on demos with the glee of children being allowed to stay up late, not quite believing that they wouldn’t be arrested for publishing newspapers.  Habits of democracy take time to form, as we know only too well – and as we also know, they can be easily erased.  True, ours wasn’t much at the outset, just a few nobles wresting power from a king; but it was a start.  We didn’t have full democracy until 1928 when all adults could vote on an equal basis: but, imperfect as our system may be, it is part of our DNA.  Not so in Spain.

Like many places – like the former Yugoslavia, like the Soviet Union; like the UK itself – Spain is not one country but many.  Ask a person from the Basque country if they are Spanish and see what reaction you get: it’s like asking a Scot if they are English.  Regions such as Catalonia are analogous to Scotland: the area has its own language and culture; it has a history of self-government.  To complicate matters, Catalunya (to spell it correctly) extends into France, and many activists want the whole area separate and unified.  That flag won’t fly; but it is possible that, as in Scotland, there is an increasing appetite for independence from Madrid: and the sensible thing to do would be to open negotiations.

Now, I have blogged before about the UK government’s unedifying and shabby response to Indyref 1:


but the Madrid administration makes Cameron’s response look positively statesmanlike.  From sending in troops to beat up demonstrators, to declaring the referendum an act of rebellion (can you hear the word ‘traicion’ in the air?) they have basically acted like latterday Francos and have justly earned opprobrium around the world.

OK, it’s a problem.  I get that.  Clearly there is an appetite for independence in Catalunya; if it came to pass this would probably open a greater can of worms than Scotland leaving the UK.  It is understandable that the government might feel panicky, but clamping down is not the way to go.  Denying that violence took place when people have seen the videos; refusing to say what might happen if Catalunya declares independence: these are unwise and overly authoritarian reactions which have escalated a crisis into a near-disaster.  They need to negotiate, not escalate; these actions can only incite more unrest and a greater desire for independence.   What’s next – sending in tanks?   Spain is not the Soviet Union.  This is not the 1950’s.  Grow up, guys.  Start talking – because hablar es mejor que la guerra.*

Kirk out

*(a rough translation of ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’)





That She Might Her Quietus Make…

Aaaand! we’re back to a previous theme.  Some people had problems with the other one, and I couldn’t find where to log in, so we’re back to the books.

I woke up this morning wondering whatever happened to 7/11.  It was today’s date that triggered the thought – and then I realised that in recalling the prevalence of 7/11 shops I was mostly thinking about Spain.  (In Madrid there were lots of 7/11 stores – which were known generally as ‘Sevain-eelevain’ and not ‘siete-once’ as I tried to call them.)

Back in Britain, I slept much better thanks to some ear-plugs I managed finally to purchase.  It wasn’t easy: the chemist across the road concluded after a long search that they’d sold out, so I went down to Patel’s.  They had a hunt for me but said they didn’t have any wax ones, only foam (I don’t like the foam ones).  So I was about to go home empty-handed when I saw a box of silicone ones.  They were called ‘Quies’ and in spite of that reminding me disturbingly of ‘quietus’, I took them up to the counter where in a separate interaction a woman with a badge and clipboard was interviewing a member of staff.  Was the chemist’s being Ofsteded or something?  Anyway, I got out my wallet and they scanned the bar-code with the scanner and… nothing.

‘I’m terribly sorry, Madam,’ the woman said.

Madam?  No-one in Patel’s has ever called me Madam.  She went off in search of a price list and found it, but that yielded nothing.

‘I’m terribly sorry, Madam,’ she said again.

I said not to mention it.

She disappeared again and returned looking very worried.

‘I’m terribly sorry Madam,’ she said for a third time, ‘but I can’t find the price.’

In the end, and with several more ‘I’m terribly sorry Madam’s, she gave me the box for £1, which was probably about 1/3 of the retail price.  Was the chemist really being Ofsteded after all?

And so to bed, where (I kid you not) as soon as my head hit the pillow the thump, thump, thump of the neighbour’s stereo started up.  it was as if I’d hit the switch with my head when I lay down… so out came the ear-plugs and soon I was pushing out the zzz’s.

Just like I used to in Spain…

Hasta luego


Think and Pinggk!

First things first: happy Mayday to all.  Today is a good day to be Pink: a good day to think about the Left and especially to find out more about Left Unity.  If you are at all dissatisfied with the status quo; if you feel Labour is no longer an opposition but more like an echo: if you think we really need new responses to the problem of social and economic inequality, then this group is for you.  Check it out:


You can sign up or register your interest on Facebook with no obligation.  Wait, that sounds like some kind of double-glazing sales brochure.  But you know what I mean.  Our first national meeting will be on May 11th and so far I have been very encouraged by the ideas that are coming from interested people.

Another kind of Pinggkness – the kind with a pair of ‘g’s – was out in force last night*: there was a record attendance at a packed Duffy’s bar and a night of hugely varied performances.  This is what I love about Pinggk – that everyone is given space and time to express themselves, whereas other groups have very limited time and only a certain number of slots.  One of the high points was by a woman with Parkinson’s who donned leotard and ballet shoes to do a dance routine with video backing.  Inspiring!  The theme for the evening was ‘in translation’, something I ignored completely and did instead some poems about ageing while wearing my daughter’s age-inappropriate Goth hoodie.  Good stuff and I was only sorry I couldn’t stay till the end but my fatigue had reached such proportions that a Good Night’s Sleep was becoming almost the only imperative in my life.  I’d be terrible under torture – just deprive me of sleep for a couple of nights and I’d say anything they wanted.  When I lived in Madrid I was better at staying out late, but then I didn’t have to get up early, and nowadays Mark wakes me up with tea at seven whether I want it or not.

I used to have a teasmade: now I just have Mark.

Oh, well…

Kirk out

* g-force, LOL

My Mushroom Valentine Part 5: Honeymoon

Well, the best that can be said of our honeymoon was that it was good in parts.  It might have been sensible to save some of the India money for it, but I didn’t; so we set off for our holiday with barely a shoestring to sustain us.  In retrospect it seems like a mad decision to hitch-hike to Madrid and then come back again with all the stuff I’d left behind over there – but at the time it seemed like a good idea to kill those particular birds with one stone (if we’d only known that the two birds most likely to be killed were us!)  I’ve always been insanely optimistic at moments like these; so we set out from London and did pretty well at first, getting down to Folkestone for the ferry in a few hours.  We met some interesting people in France; lorry-drivers and insane guys with smart limos who blazed down the autoroute at 100 miles an hour.  I had to do most of the talking as Mark’s French is rudimentary, and it’s not polite to be silent when someone’s giving you a lift – but it did get tiring after a few hours.  We got to Paris and slept in a cheap hotel, making it to Madrid in four days.

Everyone in Madrid was surprised to find that in the short time I’d been away I had not only travelled round India but also got married!  We slept in a cheap hostal for a few nights and then camped in the yoga centre where I’d been living before I left.  Our few days in Madrid were good; we went to museums and art galleries and I showed Mark the sights – but our money was starting to run out and soon it was time to head back.  And that’s when things started to go really wrong.

Hitch-hiking with a rucksack each is one thing: trying to get a lift with several bags of clothes, a suitcase and a guitar, is quite another.  I’d shipped everything I could afford to send back, but we had to carry the rest.  Nobody stopped for us: we looked as if we were holding a jumble-sale by the side of the road, and after a few hours we were dispirited and exhausted.  The lowest point was in a place called Burgos, somewhere in the desert North of Madrid, where we were stuck on a junction for 9 hours!  We have a photo of me there looking thoroughly pissed off.

Eventually, after living on coffee and sugar sachets for a couple of days, we made it to Boulogne with just enough money for the ferry.  I went up to the counter and asked for two tickets to Folkestone.  ‘That’ll be ___ ‘ said the woman.

‘No, that can’t be right!’ I said, in a panic.  I’d worked out the price exactly according to the exchange rate.

‘It is correct,’ she said.

‘Has it gone up?’ I asked, aghast.


‘Then how can it be more than when we came?’

She shrugged in the way that only the French can.  Then at my insistence she made some enquiries.  ‘It is more to go across than to come here,’ she said in the end.

Reader, by the rivers of Boulogne I sat down and wept.  What were we going to do?  Neither of us had any money in the bank, nor any means of getting hold of any.  If I’d only known, there was an organisation in Madrid which would have helped us, as my friend David told me when we returned years later.  But as things stood, we were stuck.  (That’s the second time in my life I’ve been stuck in France, by the way.  I should probably stop going there.)  We were so desperate we even thought of selling Mark’s wedding ring (which I’d bought him from India) – and then he started to cry.  And now comes the real low point of the trip – the thing that hurt worse than anything: worse than being ignored in Burgos or sleeping on floors or living off coffee and sugar sachets or making exhausted conversation with insane drivers.  The worst thing was that we stood holding each other and weeping in the middle of the ferry terminal, and not one person – neither passenger nor crew nor office staff, not even a cleaner – nobody stopped to help us or even to ask what was wrong.  That hurt more than anything we had experienced up to that point.  Truly Dumbledore has said that indifference and neglect do more harm than outright dislike.

In the end we dried our tears and went back to the counter to see if they could help us.  They said there was a cheaper ferry which left early next morning.  So that’s what we did: we slept at the terminal and got the ferry the next morning, arriving back at Mark’s parents’ place in Kent in time for lunch.

‘Well,’ said a friend of ours when we got home, ‘if you can survive all that and still be together, your marriage will probably stay the course.’  I guess she was right.  We should probably give it a few years…

The next day I discovered I was pregnant.

Kirk out

My Mushroom Valentine Part 2: A Weird Proposal

After our first meeting, Mark and I met from time to time in the company of our respective partners.  Then in the autumn of that year I went to live in Spain.  I didn’t think about Mark much; I was too excited about living and working in Madrid, but I did correspond with my German friend.  At some point she told me she and Mark had split up, though amicably: then that summer when I came home she’d gone to Germany, so in her absence Mark and I met for a drink.  We got on well and from then on met every time I came back.  We were becoming friends, though I didn’t think about it much; I was too focussed on life in Spain.  Above all I didn’t consider him as a Prospect as he wasn’t at all the usual kind of guy I went out with.  I normally went for more extravert, more dynamic blokes, and Mark was shyer then than he is now.And then a lot of things happened at once: my granddad died and left me enough money to travel round India; my work in Madrid dried up, my work permit expired; and all of a sudden I was on the crux of a different life.  I was thirty-five but had no desire to get married or have children, and I could see a future where I just kept on travelling; maybe stopping from time to time to teach English somewhere and make enough money to keep on travelling.  I honestly thought that was what I wanted.

But sometimes things conspire against you.  I was in London that New Year getting my visa for India: Mark was in London on a demo.  What could be more natural than to meet up?  I found him at the tail-end of a small and rather obscure demo and dragged him off to the Tate where according to his diary I impressed him with my knowledge of art.  Blimey!  Then it was lunch-time: we went to a pub nearby and settled down with a beer and a sandwich.  And that’s when it happened: all of a sudden it came upon me that what I wanted was not to travel forever but to marry Mark and have his babies.  And without a moment’s pause I blurted this out right then and there, causing not only Mark but the people at the next table to jump several feet in the air.  There was a horrid pause.  Oh God, what have I said? I thought.  Mark considered the proposal (such as it was).

‘I don’t know what I think about marriage,’ he said.

My heart sank. Oh, **** I’ve blown it now, I thought.

‘But I do know I want to be with you forever,’ he said.

I sank back in my seat in relief.  Thank god for that! I thought.

And, reader, I kissed him.