Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Flamboyance of Murcia

Following on from our previous post where we focused in on the letter "F";

Q. What do the words Flamboyant, Flamenco and Flamingo all have in common? 

A. Obviousy they all begin with the letter F (followed by l, a and m of course). They appear consecutively in the Collins Pocket English Dictionary (except for the fact that the word Flame separates Flamboyant and Flamenco but close enough). And talking of close, they can all be found within a few minutes walk from the El Real Thing front door in Murcia.

In the pre-apocalyptic days of 12 months ago when the word corona was associated with either that ring of light around the moon or sun, or cigars, or (if you're old enough) bottles of pop and certainly nothing at all to do with the Wu-Flu, Mrs C and I were contemplating a cheeky few days back in Spain. Escaping the cold and wet of East Lancashire in November for the Spring-like warmth of the Murcian sun should qualify as an accepted definition of the word "sensible". Okay, you're not going to be sat outside of an evening sipping on cocktails at this time of the year but during the day, with temperatures typically ranging between 18 and 22 degrees, the outdoor world is your lobster. And once the sun has set and the temperature starts to suggest long trousers and a jumper to be in order, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to tempt you away from a night in front of the TV should you be so inclined. And so it was, a few days later, that Mrs C and I treated ourselves to an evening of Flamenco at El Secreto Lounge in Mar de Cristal, just a ten minute stroll from our front door. Now, you've all heard of flamenco and will know it to be a flamboyant expression of Spanish-ness. You might not know that an evening of flamenco is intensely enjoyable, intensely atmospheric and intensely knackering. If you get the opportunity to experience flamenco first hand then you should absolutely do so but take at least two paracetamols before you leave the house and treat yourself to a lie-in the next morning.

Showing my ignorance now but I always previously associated flamingos with the TV programme Miami Vice and David Attenborough documentaries. Thirty years ago when I was working in Gibraltar, I couldn't quite get over the fact that I shared my locale with real live monkeys and it was a not dissimilar revelation when I first drove past a flock (or herd or pack?) of real live, pink flamingos at the salt flats - las salinas - Playa Honda just down the road from Mar de Cristal on the southern shores of the Mar Menor. To be fair the flamingos are better known for congregating in and around San Pedro del Pinatar on the northern shores but wherever on the Mar Menor shoreline they choose to practice their standing-on-one-leg routine, it still blows my mind a little bit that I have real live, pink flamingos as neighbours. Okay, they're not all pink because that demands a certain maturity and suitable diet but the nature reserve environment that fosters these lanky, unelegant but spectacular creatures gives them every chance of an eventual existence in the pink. And despite your misgivings, I do actually know the collective noun for a group of flamingos and it is, quite fittingly, a flamboyance. In fact, such a flamboyance of flamingos was witnessed by myself whilst playing* tennis in nearby Los Urrutias this last summer. "I say chaps, look at that flamboyance of flamingos on the beach" I shouted. Probably.

* The word "playing" is something of an overstatement in describing my involvement on the tennis court and should more accurately be described as "attending"

So then, who would have thought it possible to find three (almost) consecutive words in the dictionary and link them so seamlessly to Murcia? Not to be sneezed at eh? And just thank your lucky stars that I didn't get down the page as far as the word Flange. Trust me, having spent the last 15 years hiring out flange spreading and tightening tools it wouldn't have been beyond me.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Top Five Best Things About Lockdown In Spain

This may surprise a lot of you but when it comes to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, I am a bit of a lockdown sceptic. I know, I've kept it well hidden to date but there you go, I'm entitled to my views and, to quote Harry Enfield's Yorkshireman "I say what I like and I like what I bloody well say". In an Essex accent of course. But, lockdown can't have been all bad can it? Just to prove how open-minded we are here at El Real Thing, we've put together the top five best things about lockdown in Spain. And, if you (can be arsed to) make it through to the end of this blog, then we will scientifically test how open minded you actually are. Ha ha! You can only judge our open-mindedness once you have demonstrated your own open-mindedness. Cunning. Here we go then, in no particular order, the top five best things about lockdown in Spain were;


Mahou IPA. The girl done good!

Yes, shopping. Hard to believe eh? Shopping was materially enhanced by the initial lockdown because only one person was allowed to leave the house for essential reasons such as actually needing to feed yourself. Fortunately for El Real Thing Mrs C can drive so it was Mrs C that ventured to the supermarket for essentials of food and beer. Having only just, at that time, started out on the El Real Thing quest for #RealBeerInSpain Mrs C excelled herself in her beer purchases and as a resut of which cans of Mahou IPA first made their way into our Spanish kitchen. Good beer and no chance of my getting press-ganged into a supermarket visit. Result! But we were the lucky ones. With many ladies of a "certain age" in Spain being unable to drive, and only one member per household allowed to leave the house for shopping, reports filtered back of scores of bewildered looking men roaming the supermarket aisles, sometimes for days on end, in a dystopian existence where life and death might hinge on the fortuitous discovery of chicken stock cubes or the courage and linguistic capability to ask where one might find theTena Lady Maxi pads. 


In Spain, there is no fortnightly visit of the dustbinmen to one's abode to whisk away the detritus of everyday life. Instead, it gets whisked away pretty much every day but the price one has to pay for this vastly superior exercise in hygiene is that you have to take your own rubbish, typically on a daily basis, to the big wheely bins at the end of the street from where the whisking takes place. This would never catch on in the UK because we'd always get wet but of course this isn't an issue in Spain where it's always sunny. And because it's always sunny, the daily trip to the big wheely bins at the end of the street is usually a precursor to a nice stroll anyway. Lovely. But, as above, during Spanish lockdown you could only leave the house for essential purposes such as shopping and..........going to the bins! 

The problem was that only one of us could go. Mrs C was already having to undertake the onerous duty of essential shopping so it would have been inappropriate to deny her the legitimate licence of escape afforded by the daily rubbish run. However, adversity breeds innovation and I determined to fill a second daily bag full of (apparent) rubbish by consuming greater quantities of the Mahou IPA and NOT crushing the empty cans. Conscious of regular patrols being undertaken by the Guardia Civil to stop and fine people without legitimate and essential reason to be outside (carrying half-empty bags of rubbish?) I made up the remaining bin bag capacity with various bulky items from around the apartment. The Spanish rubbish collection arrangements helped keep me sane throughout lockdown although I do miss the coffee table and unfortunately the plants all died after I disposed of the watering can.    


Yes, it's another surprise inclusion with DIY being one of the top five best things about lockdown in Spain. On the evening of Friday 13th March (unlucky for some) having learnt of the impending lockdown in Spain due to commence the following day, Mrs C and I hot-footed it to Leroy Merlin's to purchase a great big tin of interior white emulsion and a variety of paint brushes. In the ensuing seven weeks, we painted the interior of the whole apartment, we painted the outside front wall (we already had that particular paint), we painted the rear patio wall, we repaired the sunken rear patio tiles, we varnished the decorative woodwork out front and back, we varnished the shutter doors, we painted this, we repaired that, we painted everything again, we produced a bit of exterior artwork out of old pallets spirited away from a nearby building site, we threw the exterior artwork away having determined it was better employed as an opportunity for a visit to the bins, and we cleaned and we painted and we .............................................well, bugger me it was sooooooooo boring. 

Friday 13th was unlucky not just for some but for bloody everyone in Spain. The day they announced they were taking our civil liberties away. Whoa, I'm beginning to feel my open-mindedness ever so slowly closing shut.


Deprived of all this because going for a stroll was not
considered an "essential reason" for leaving the house.
To be fair. Not much at all. Sitting out on the front balcony, in the sunshine, with a beer every afternoon was nice. As was going for a swim every day from mid-April onwards. And comparing notes, coffees and beers with immediate neighbours similarly confined to life under this new dictatorship government. But being consigned to effective house arrest, under threat of large fines for non-compliance just does not equate to anything that can be described as "best". So you can forget about a BEST THING No. 5 because there ain't one.  


There is no "F" in Lockdown but there is an "F" in Fear and the governments of Spain, the UK and beyond are guilty of having employed the fear factor in seeking to ensure a compliant population as they impose the type of restrictions on our freedoms and liberties that might make a dominatrix blush. And as for our open-mindedness here at El Real Thing - has this blog merely served to disprove our assertion above? Well, before you make your mind up on our open-mindedness, how about you test out your own. There may be no "F"'s in Lockdown but try reading the four lines of words below and count the total number of F's.





Be honest now. How many did you count? If you counted three (as most people do) then read again. The correct answer is six. In fact we're told that as many as 85% of people initially give the answer as three. So, did you count three or six? If you counted three then this bona fide scientific survey suggests that you're not as open-minded as you might care to think so you must buck your ideas up! If you counted six then you are indeed an open-minded individual and having read this blog you will be sufficiently open-minded to give us the benefit of the doubt irrespective of whether you're a lockdown sceptic or not. Let us know how you get on and we'll conduct an entirely scientific survey into the result. Probably.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Politicians - A Special Kind of Stupid?

This particular chiringuito unimpressed with the Covid-19 threat.

On 15 March 2020, a lockdown was imposed on El Real Thing (and lots of others to be fair) by the Spanish authorities and since then - 240 days and counting - we have existed in various stages of restricted liberty between Spain and the UK whilst politicians in both countries (and across the globe to be fair) bid to out-do each other in The "How-Much-Can-We-Get-Away-With-Restricting-Personal-Freedoms" Stakes. In Murcia, the Regional Government very recently determined that customers in bars and restaurants had to wear masks at all times, removing them only to take mouthfuls of food and/or sips of drinks and replacing the masks immediately after each mouthful/sip. I mean, you've got to be a special kind of stupid to think that is a sensible idea. Remember, it's all for your own good. Yeah, well the East German authorities said similar when they built the Berlin Wall didn't they. Needless to say, all bars and restaurants in Murcia closed 
few days later. 

It doesn't matter what your views may be on the potency or otherwise of this Covid-19 pandemic, the respective current lockdowns in Spain and the UK are undemocratic, imposed without proper debate and justified by fantasy interpretations and projections. Throughout the last 240 days the lockdown restrictions in Spain are generally recognised to have been far stricter and infinitely better adhered to than those in the UK - yet neither have worked. Whilst in Sweden they didn't lock down the people and trash the economy, instead they asked everyone to observe some common sense rules on cleanliness and distancing and ten months down the line they are certainly no worse off than Spain or the UK or indeed the rest of Europe. No one here is doubting the potential for severe consequence of anyone unlucky enough to go down with Covid-19, but we know enough about it now to know that it isn't going to wipe out the human race and it is, in fact, a new and unwelcome respiratory illness acting in the way that respiratory illnesses do in tending to unleash its greatest damage on the old and medically vulnerable, particularly during the winter season so congratulations to all politicians in suppressing the spread of the illness over the summer and into the winter.

So, if the restrictions aren't working, why the continued fixation with "locking down" (imprisoning?) the population? At the outset of all this, nobody really knew what we were up against (with the possible exception of the Chinese - Mind the Fridge Door and all that) so we accepted that extraordinary times demanded extraordinary measures. But now, nine months down the line and with nine months worth of data, we need the politicians to do what they are supposed to do and that is to make sensible decisions. "Follow the science" was fair enough when we only had the one set of scientists and their advice to rely on. But now, with nine months of data and plenty of other scientists saying different (see Great Barrington Declaration ) it is the politicians who need to make the judgment calls weighing up the risks presented by Covid-19 versus the risks and costs of the proposed "cure". That is why we elect politicians and not doctors in the first place. Ask the doctors how to reduce the numbers of road traffic accidents and they would probably recommend banning cars. 

Prediction: The politicians (certainly in the UK) know that they have got it wrong. As with all respiratory illnesses, Covid-19 will wreak more havoc in the winter months so we can expect numbers of cases and deaths to rise. The politicians will continue with the undemocratic imposition of restrictions into the Spring and then, with seasonality playing its part in reducing these numbers, they will announce the measures to have been a success, thus justifying all that has gone before. But; 

The more people begin to look at, study and assess the data now available the more they will realise that the politicians have not been honest with us. Civil liberties, the basic rights and freedoms granted to peoples fortunate enough to live in democracies have been trashed. Freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom from arbitary arrest, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religious worship. These rights and freedoms form the basis of a democratic society yet every single one of the freedoms listed have been denied us, to varying extents and at various stages, during the last 240 days. But what the hell has any of this to do with a blog ostensibly about enjoying life as an expat in Spain? Well, Mrs C and I are unanimous on this. If you are not prepared to stand up for and defend your basic rights and freedoms then don't be surprised when the "new normal" (we really hate that phrase) means that you can't simply set off to Spain (or anywhere else for that matter) without wearing a mask, without having taken a Covid test, without having downloaded the government's Covid App and without having a certificate of innoculation. Don't be surprised if you can't even afford to set off to Spain (or anywhere else) because your job/ business/ livelihood is lost amongst the myriad casualties of the Covid-inspired destruction of the economy. Don't be surprised if you can't book a flight, budget-price or otherwise, to Spain (or anywhere else) because the airlines have gone out of business. Don't be surprised that the "cure" turned out to be much more expensive, much more damaging and completely disproportionate to the problem.

Last week in the UK, 32 government backbench MP's voted against the lockdown and another 21 abstained. Even Theresa May (Mrs C has always quite liked her but she goes down in my book as the worst Prime Minister ever) accused Boris Johnson of choosing data to fit his Covid-19 policies when it should be the other way round. Boris has (perhaps unconsciously deliberately) backed himself into a 2nd December corner, this being the date that the current UK lockdown expires and when further restrictions will require more Parliamentary debate and division. Between now and then, increasing numbers of MP's are demanding greater rigour in the data, to include impact assessment and cost to the economy of further lockdown - and so should we. If we the people are expected, however temporarily, to waive our basic rights and freedoms then the very least we should expect is that we do so in the knowledge that government policy is based on robust data, reliable testing and proportionality. If we here at El Real Thing want to get back to enjoying Spain as before and travel bloggers around the world want to get back to travel blogging around the world as before, then standing meekly by whilst politicians do what they want without challenge is not an option. Wanderlust will become Wonderlust as in "I wonder what it was like before Covid". Long Haul will be the description for the time it takes to fill in all the paperwork required just to leave your front door and Half Board/ Full Board will become Half Bored/ Full Bored being likely descriptions of your state of mind whilst stuck at home when you might otherwise have been travelling. Okay, I may be prone to exaggeration but do not let yourself be kettled into a "new normal" if you were quite happy with the previous one. Our rights and freedoms are being stress tested courtesy of the trojan horse that is Covid-19, a respiratory illness which data shows has already passed from pandemic stage to endemic. We don't want to catch it, but we won't lock ourselves away from the world in an effort to avoid it. And we don't need or want politicians locking us away "for our own good", not without very good, properly argued reason and debate. 

Politicians are there to represent and serve the people, not the other way round. Demand something better than stupid.