Solitary confinement #livinginSpain

I’m about to go out, so I have spent 20 minutes dressing and putting on (eye) makeup (masks are a great timesaver) and doing my hair, humming under my breath.  There’s a full bag of rubbish waiting by the front door, I’m planning to take that up to the town’s central bins. I’ve always liked the Spanish system of big central bins emptied daily anyway, and now it’s a double boon.  You poor buggers who have your bins on your own properties!

quarantine mask

Was a time I’d have struggled up there laden under the bag and the recycling bags to save extra trips, oho, none of that now, play my cards right there’s three good outings in that lot. Life is change.

There was, until Tuesday past, dog walking – quarantine law allows for a dog to be taken up to 100 metres from the house. There’s less clarity on whether owners must then turn back or can traipse back and forth until nature takes its course. The cantankerous old trout who inspired the dog Maggie as far back as Three Four Knock On My Door in 2013 has mellowed and faded a great deal over the years and on Tuesday her story had to end. In the weeks of quarantine it has been I wistful for walks and she who groaned reluctantly and humoured me. This pic was taken back in Scotland. RIP old girl. You are missed.

15 OCt 002

I’m used to friends popping by, work intermittently being done on the house, Spanish classes and trying out my abominable Spanish on the patient. Since May 2018 the house has also had a steady trickle of guests. Being alone was sometimes a luxury. I won’t deny that a month into enforced solitary I’ve not felt the strain sometimes. Lurked at the window to watch for people walking by, that sort of thing. Red letter day when someone goes by without a mask and I can feast my eyes on actual features. Ooh!  A nose! A mouth!

I did get one unexpected social outing one day  – my battery-powered thermometer became, I think, unreliable (25 degrees is quite low – but on the bright side, no fever) so I decided to walk to the local farmacia for another. Wow, unplanned treat!  Five of us were at one point queued in the street, 2 metres apart, all masked and gloved, and as all the gloves were all different colours there was a definite air of fiesta. Everyone talked at once, the colourful hands flew, I was dizzied by the sociability of it all. Sold out of thermometers, though.

I did see a bloke from my  Spanish class the other day and we stood on opposite sides of the street catching up on quick news. He and his wife had bought a house just before we went into lockdown a month ago. He said they’re living in it now. Well – camping in it now. The furniture couldn’t get through in time.  They seem to be coping okay. He was on his own but then under Spanish quarantine only one member of each household can leave home without specific, written, dispensation. They mean it, too. Fines are becoming epic, thousands issued, doubling and tripling (or serving a future jail sentence) for repeat offenders. This couple always came across as companionable and affectionate  but he was still probably pleased to have a break, I’ve seen jokes about couples stuck in quarantine together, you know, begging each other not to blink so loudly.

This is a big (10 roomed) house, would it have been fun with someone else sharing the space or would we be planning murders by now? I’ll never know. It’s quiet.

Very very quiet.

Oops, that’s it, siesta over, I can sally out with my rubbish bag and maybe there will be glimpses of other people taking theirs. This is so EXCITING!

The Dance Defence #LivingInSpain #quarantine

It seems to me that this wretched virus seems to bounce fairly lightly off the young and/or active and home in on the sedentary and if that’s true, lockdown is more than just the opportunity to write uninterrupted but presents some unusual challenges.

typing

We’re in full lockdown in Spain and my elderly dog, who entirely approves of brief constitutional outings, is slightly indignant at being hauled out several times a day instead of the usual morning and evening. I do also have the whole house to paint, alone, since my usual support and helper is similarly locked down, but it isn’t enough to keep me as active as I suspect I need to be.

uh oh
 

So that’s it, back to my Zumba DVD 20 minute workout three times a week. It turns out all the work of running and maintaining a guesthouse, plus the dog-walking, didn’t keep me as fit as I had thought (puff puff). I’m planning now also to download some of the more hectic songs from my teens and create a playlist to dance away the virus on non-zumba days. Who’s with me?

head banger ”

 

 

What’s in a name? #LivingInSpain

I carry a concertina file with every single piece of paper I may need to prove my identity and / or address every time I go near the authorities.

This is in part sensible practice, because you often have no idea what may be required (I list some of them below) and it saves an awful lot of running back and forth and standing in the same queues more than once. It is also in part because my parents generously gave me four names at birth, none of which are remotely Spanish, and the Spanish authorities must have, so far, at least seven variations on record.

My favourite variation came from Movistar, the telephone service, which has my middle names, Joanna Lamprey, as Yoanha Lanprey. My car is registered to Elizabeth Jonanna Lamprey (i.e. my actual surname doesn’t appear at all) and my new driving licence has, I think perhaps fortunately, been issued in the same name.

The main problem is that in Spain most people have at least four names including two surnames, their mother’s and their father’s.  The mother’s surname customarily comes last. Most choose to use father’s surname as main surname but you do have the choice, every Spanish form you will ever fill in asks for 1st apilledo, and most have a separate spot for 2nd apilledo.

So along comes Elegsabiff with four names and quite often the authority I am dealing with decides I am too ignorant to know that my 1st apilledo is the third name, so they correct my mistake for me. Quite often said authority is in Madrid, or Granada, or Jaen, so I’m not there at the time to correct it back.

Even the ones that get it right struggle with the spelling – hence  Elisabeth, Yoanha, Joann, Jonanna, Lanprey, etc.  Those who do add in my actual surname invariably do spell it right. Nobody can pronounce it, though, so I always have to spell it out. It includes a Y.

Y is pronounced i griega. No, no reason, just thought you’d want to know.

So, flipping through my concertina file, I have

  1. My NIE – número de identidad de extanjero – has my name perfectly, in full, but shows me as being born in Durban, United Kingdom. Oh well, we in Natal always did call ourselves the last outpost of the British Empire. You’re asked for your NIE all the time. Learn the number by heart.
  2. My Padron – Joanna was skipped as being unnecessary / too difficult to spell / not needed on voyage.
  3. My official bank certificate, for bank details – Lamprey was skipped as being confusing.
  4. My permission to run a guest house from the Turismo y Deporte – Joanna not included
  5. My registration as self-employed (autonomo/a) and a tax payer is perfect – now – but originally had me as Elisabeth Joann etc
  6. The Fremap one reversed 1st apilledo and 2nd apilledo.
  7. My escritura (deeds for my house) are, phew, perfect. That’ll make the will much easier, so long as the name is right on the will.
  8. My medical card is almost right – who needs the final A in Joann?
  9. My residency card is perfect, but took three tries and the translator I luckily took with me getting really, really emphatic.
  10. My name on the tax register had two errors and eventually I had to get an accountant to correct it.
  11. Six photocopies of my passport – which I carry on me at all times.
sigh

In every single case I had to provide either my passport or a notarized copy at the time. I really hope there won’t be tears before bedtime with all these variations, not one of which was me being ditzy.  If I lose this concertina file I suspect I will cease to exist.

I do rather wish my parents had liked the name Maria, and hadn’t bothered with the others, useful as they have proved as pen names.

moping

 

Driving licence, tick #LivingInSpain (permiso de conducción)

If you are living and driving in Spain, no matter which country you come from, you get six months grace before you have to go to the DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico for a Spanish licence – the permiso de conducción. 

Getting the replacement driving licence is something the authorities have not been too rigorous about up to now. They want you to, they encourage you to, you are supposed to, and there are threats of fines if you don’t, but they haven’t been nasty about it before.

Oh, hello Brexit.

Don’t be using your UK licence, when living in Spain, after the UK leaves the EU, or you will have to retake your test.  In Spanish.

scold

Well if you’re going to be like that about it  …

I used, and recommend, DrivingLicences.es – you register with them, load all your documentation (I’ll go through that in a minute) and pay them a fee which works out around 40€. They check everything is in order, tell you step by step what you have to do, make the appointment for you at the local DGT,  (mine was Granada) and give you a letter in Spanish to give to your burócrata which explains you don’t speak good Spanish and provides the answers to the commonest questions they may have.

So what you need is:

  1. Residency certificate or card and at least one copy (if card, front and back)
  2. Valid passport from whichever country issued your current driving licence, and at least one copy
  3. Medical certificate
  4. Two suitable photographs
  5. Your original driving licence
  6. If your address does not match your residency certificate, you’ll need a current original padron and at least one copy. I took one anyway. Just in case.

You could probably do the whole thing yourself but I found paying the DrivingLicence.es fee worth every cent for peace of mind.

The photos cost 5€ to be done by a local photographer but a photo booth would have been fine.

The only tricky thing about the medical certificate is that it has to be current so I waited to know my appointment date at the DGT (because of Brexit, the delay in certain areas can be months, but mine was three weeks, ideal).  It was then a case of finding the nearest place which was authorised to do the medical test – look online. Rather than try to book an appointment (cita previa) over the phone I pitched up in person to make the appointment in my limping Spanish and they very nicely tested me there and then.

You need to take your residency card or certificate, and your original driving licence. They’ll fill in the form (do check that they entered everything that is on your current licence, or it will only be filled in for driving a car) and do two separate examinations in two separate rooms. The first is eyesight and hearing tests, blood pressure, height and weight.  The second is a reactions test, and fun – you get a fifteen second trial run at keeping on two sets of tracks which twist and turn (and occasionally go in two different directions, exactly the way the wheels on a car don’t) without being beeped at too often, then do it for real. Your photograph is taken and your certificate, with photo, printed out. The cost was 45€.

The DGT appointment was made with a reference number so when you get there, find a terminal in the main hall to punch the number in, and it will tell you which floor to go to and which desk you will be seen at. You then sit and wait for your number to come up, which mine did bang on time.  I had a very nice burocráta  who spoke not a word of English but briskly processed everything, took away my UK licence and gave me a form confirming I had applied and paid (24.10€) to present to any enquiring policia before my temporary licence arrived, which it did within the week.

The card licence arrived today – in the name Elizabeth Jonanna Lamprey. Oh well. Matches the car.

 

 

Medical card, tick. #LivingInSpain (Tarjeta Sanitaria)

I don’t suppose Spanish bureaucracy is any trickier than French (which is infamous) or English (which is tortuous) but it’s all in Spanish and my command of this lovely language is still strictly limited. Don’t shout at me – 90% of my guests speak English as their second language if not their first and I teach English every day.  Even my Spanish guests wince so much at my slow careful pronunciation they suggest I let them practice their English instead.

However, matters bureaucratic must be conducted in Spanish. Getting my Tarjeta Sanitaria (health or medical card) was actually pretty easy. I went to my local medical centre for a form to complete, then returned that with my passport and a copy of same,  a current padron* and copy of same, and a letter downloaded by my accountant off the tax website confirming  I am registered as autonoma and paying my Social. The receptionist checked it, said Madrid would be in touch if there was a problem, and sent it off a few weeks ago – card received today, and now I am covered completely for any illness, issues, or coronavirus symptoms I care to develop. At the same time I got a letter inviting to get my innards checked as I’m over fifty, very efficient, AND my name is 100% correct, which is more efficient than very nearly every other authority I’m registered with in Spain.**

*The Padrón Municipal de Habitantes was on another blog, but in brief your local town council, or ayuntamiento, needs to keep track of how many people are in the town to do accurate forecasts for town necessities. Anyone living more than 6 months of the year in the town should therefore go to the ayuntamiento, complete the form, and present it with proof of address ( your escritura (deeds to your house) or your rental agreement) plus your passport. The form is issued promptly and efficiently and has an effective shelf-life of several months, although few are sticklers about that.  Getting a replacement, at least at my friendly ayuntamiento,  is just a question of handing in the first** and saying your address hasn’t changed, Bob’s your uncle (which is not Bob es tu tio, I haven’t yet learned the equivalent colloquialism because my Spanish, as mentioned earlier, is still decidedly basic despite free local lessons twice a week and listening to the excellent Michel Thomas CDs whenever I’m in the car).

**I always have my concertina file containing every piece of paper ever issued to me when I go near the authorities, just in case. It saves a lot of running back and forth and if I lose it I might as well jump off a cliff as I will have ceased to exist. There’s going to be a blog about that too.

 

 

 

Writers block … #iamwriting

As a general rule I think writers block isn’t a bad thing. It does dam up a steady trickle of tripe and when the tripe is from others, well, hallelujah, there’s absolutely no downside.  When I’m the one blocked, the world isn’t missing much. Those readers chewing their nails for the next EJ Lamprey, well, my last two novels sold a bit but enthusiasm was unexpressed. I’m as grateful because reviews would have been, at the least, puzzled.

(I wrapped up the ten book Lawns series at long and complicated length in 19 20, and Do-Over . . . well, Do-Over was written in one spectacular joyous evening when the dam, for once, broke. It then took TEN MONTHS to tease into a book and sank like a stone on publication which is a shame because it hung on to that lunatic rollercoaster feeling and I like it very much)

Do-Over was the exception that proved the rule in a long block and I do blame my new life. Three years ago on a week’s holiday in Spain, practically to the day, (tomorrow is the day) I saw this uniquely odd house. BAM.  It had stood empty for a couple of years, was so run down  the few viewers before me had stopped dead in the doorway – the sort of house agents start with, you know the pitch, the next one is a little above your budget but remember you do get what you pay for. 

Not me. I saw four more houses but beetled back to see this one again, walking around dazed with delight. I patched plaster-crumbling walls without even seeing them, completely overlooked sagging ceilings, furnished one particular room with my desk and bookshelves (a STUDY of my OWN for the first time EVER) and peopled it with ink-stained scribbling guests having a wonderful time. I flew back to Scotland still dazed and thanking Providence that I had just been made redundant and was free to sell up and dash out to start this new and dazzling life in my new and wonderful guesthouse.

Six months later I’d given up:  nothing had gone smoothly, my house simply wouldn’t sell, I was living on capital when every penny of it would have been needed in Spain, the dream wasn’t going to happen. Time to give up, take my house in Scotland off the market, look for another job where I was, behave like a normal not-far-off-retirement rational human being.

As a sign of acceptance, a last nod to the dream and what might have been, I wrote a story about what I was calling the Elefante Blanco, a book for children with a 9 year old protagonist.  I knew my fading memories of the house weren’t entirely accurate, so I wrote it as it should be. Why not? I’d never live there. I peopled it with the writer guests I wanted, and gave it an owner who could have lived such a life since it wouldn’t, sniff, be me. There were a few all-nationalities neighbours and very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle because I knew very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle. The Kidnap Caper got as far as a few beta readers  (finding 9 year old readers isn’t as easy as you’d think, by the way) and then suddenly everything started happening and my house was sold and it was all go go GO and the Elefante Blanco story belonged to an alternative world.

It was to be the last story in a long long time to flow effortlessly. For years writing had come as naturally as breathing, something that fizzed and jiggled and bubbled endlessly, and I told myself it was because the refurbishment was so very much bigger than anticipated (it always is) and my new teaching job was draining my creativity and I was soaking up impressions and life was so very different.

I’m one of those writers who has to write, if not from life, from the life I know, and I knew very little. Not that I ever knew everything, all those whodunits, I’ve never really seen a murdered body, certainly never tripped over a fresh one. I’d more than once phoned Police Scotland direct on some procedural stuff and they’d been endlessly patient and helpful.  My Spanish was and is exceedingly pidgin. Phoning any branch of the policia here was never going to be an option. Writers block may be a boon to the writing world generally but it is a personal anguish, a mental constipation which becomes very painful. A year ticked by, and another, and 2020 dawned and I’d started and discarded at least nine book ideas, every one of them stilted and laboured and going nowhere.

When a story did finally start scrabbling for a foothold it was an Elefante Blanco one, picking up all the adult characters from the Kidnap Caper. Harriet Gant, who owns and runs the Elefante Blanco, which is not quite this house, has a life which is not my life, friends who do not exist in real life but are taken from life, and a murder or two to solve  in a country where she is still finding her feet.  Total fiction drawing on actual fact, familiar stuff, and writing is once again and at last, FUN. Whoop whoop!

Brace yourself, dear reader, because if this one gets past beta readers it may eventually be published, but right now I’m happy for me and oh wow it feels GREAT to have that dratted block gone.

The autumn at last #livinginSpain

November already … it’s been ever so hot and only in the last few days has the temperature shifted grudgingly to the point where my summer duvet was retrieved from the storeroom, cat hairs brushed off, and returned to the bed. It’s still kicked to the floor by morning.  Duvet. Not cat.

It’s also been nicely busy, including lovely guests from the Shetlands who sold their holiday house here last year and have been back to Spain at least five times since but usually stay with friends, I got lucky getting them in August and again in September as they speak fluent Spanish and know everyone. They were slightly disapproving that my Spanish was so utterly poco and found out where and when the next local course was starting.  Most towns offer free Spanish classes to new residents and I have looked for them since I arrived: turns out the notices (and notices in Spain are never snappy brief things in large print, they are lengthy chatty communications and there are many) advertising the lessons had all been put up in, um, Spanish.  Anyway thanks to them I could join the new class starting in September: while my Pidgin Spanish has been handy, many of the words I chose to stress as being the closest to English (i.e. easiest to remember) are not going down well with Felipe, our maestro. NOT  alfabeto, he says sternly. Yes, it is a known word, but abecedario is more correct.

And yes we are doing verbs (los verbos), on Tuesdays. Sigh. On Thursdays we read tracts and translate them ourselves with dictionaries or smartphones, then take turns reading aloud and mangling Spanish in ways which have to be heard to be believed.  Last Thursday we covered Halloween, which was excellent: some words have come direct from English, as it is new to Spain, so a zombie is a zombie is a zombie.  A werewolf is either a werewolf or a hombre lobo. I mentioned that to a bearded friend of mine who said hang on, that’s my name in the village here! Fairies (fairies?) are fairies but witches on broomsticks are brujas en escobas. We are a very mixed bunch, between 10 and 20 turning up depending on the day. Many are English or Irish, but we have also an Italian couple, a Norwegian gent with the wonderful name of Thor, a Polish woman who has been going for years and helps out with translations ,  a gent from Algeria and my preferred study partner when we have to split into pairs, a Moroccan housewife who arrived in Spain a few months ago. As she otherwise speaks only Arabic we have no choice but to communicate in Spanish.  She’s doing private lessons and apps as well and is leaping ahead, and calls herself a casa mama rather than ama de casa  so I am not the only one rewriting the language.

Lessons are not the only sociable outings, I went to the last fiesta of the summer which is held annually in Los Tablones, a small village in the mountains, usual population about 200, fiesta population about 2000. Most guests start arriving for the evening shindig in the village square around 10 pm and spend a couple of hours catching up with neighbours and friends while laying the necessary foundations of beer or wine and tapas to provide essential energy for the night ahead. Around midnight the first band starts up so explosively the entire village vibrates.  The music is a complete mix of pasa doble and current hits in both Spanish and English, and when that band starts to flag cakes and doughnuts are served at all tables (free of charge) while the next, louder, band takes up the fallen instruments. We left at 4 am and my  ears were still buzzing three days later –

Los Tablones fiesta 2019 off web

I’ve also been through to an English evening in Granada where a very cosmopolitan bunch gather on Tuesdays to practice English, mainly business types but a fair mix from students up to jubilados. There must have been a  hundred of us there, lots of Spanish but also Japanese, Czech, French, German, Canadian, quite a few English, even a South African. As the Czech guy had worked in South Africa for several years we three broke the English-speaking rule briefly to exchange what fractured Afrikaans we could remember – as one does on a rooftop terrace in the middle of beautiful Granada.

Granada at night off web

The South African invited me along to his writing group, also in Granada, which was fun, but Granada is over 50 kms away, I won’t be going as often as I’d otherwise like.  October is also my birthday month – I tried to get out of my new Spanish tradition (well, 2017 and 2018)   of going out to lunch and should have stuck to my guns, from now on I shall absolutely stonily ignore the horrible things and if necessary avoid all human contact. I only cheered up two days later when I met up with friends-of-friends travelling through Europe in a motorhome, the exact pick-me-up I needed. I did drool a bit over their motorhome – two years has been long enough for me to remember my weeks living in my converted camper as heaven and forget all the less ideal aspects, and what a beauty this one was by comparison!  Restless? Moi?

campervan Peter and Gill