Archive for October, 2007

The ghosts loved to boast while the witch liked to bitch.
And grumbling in the kitchen was a bad-tempered
Simply because he’d been chosen
To be the party’s cook.

On a skeletal plate bound for Frankenstein,
Some cockroach nibbles and a glass of blood wine.
Followed by a recently removed, freshly roasted spleen
All of which turned the ogre a peculiar shade of green.

This went unnoticed by the wise old wizard,
Munching with relish on a marinated gizzard.
A dish which didn’t appeal to the mummy,
Who dashed for the bathroom holding his tummy.

In the games room there was trouble with the troll,
Who stubbornly refused to bowl.
He wanted the soul sacked as games umpire,
To be replaced with the bloodsucking vampire.

Around the punch-ed bowl in the darkened saloon,
Three sirens made eyes at the creature from the Black Lagoon.
The creature was unaware that he had another fan,
Watching him from his closet was the bogeyman.

Only one monster remained completely aloof,
The wolfman sat alone, howling on the roof.
As midnight struck, Satan took centre stage,
It has to be said he looked good for his age.

“Gather one and all, pop the champagne cork,”
Join claws, hooves and talons…it’s time for ‘New York, New York’”.
But he was rudely ignored by that rumbustious ape Kong,
Who was too busy flashing his enormous…

Well, you know how he gets at parties!

 A Carnaval creature of the night

Happy Halloween

Last weekend we visited our friend Jo who lives on the neighbouring island of La Gomera. Jo’s house lies 1000 metres up a mountain in the remote rural valley of Los Aceviños, inside the Garajonay National Park.

Los Aceviños from Jo's terrace

Nights there tend to involve a lot of shooting the breeze, playing seriously competitive games of scrabble and much quaffing of beer, wine and a rum shot or two before hitting the sack.
The downing of copious amounts of alcohol isn’t simply signs of alcohol abuse, in the past it’s been necessary to blank out what lives amongst the rafters in Jo’s guest bedroom, and every other room for that matter. Huge, tarantula sized spiders stare down at you from the wooden beams. They don’t bother Jo; she’s even given them names-Big Harry, Harry’s wife, and Harry’s family, which in sociological terms is clearly extended. Recently the introduction of a mosquito net helped, but they still had a visible presence.

This visit Jo had completely redecorated her guest bedroom and told us Harry and his tribe had been evicted. On Saturday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on a dressing gown that Jo had left for guest usage and headed to the kitchen where Andy and Jo were making a pot of life saving coffee. I’d barely lumbered through the door when Andy screamed, “SPIDER!” and pointed to a monster arachnid clinging to the dressing gown just above my left buttock.
“GET IT OUT!” Andy shouted and pushed me back out of the front door to fend the beast off by myself.

In a complete panic I shook the hem of the dressing gown to try to dislodge it, but that only seemed to wake it up and it started scuttling towards the flap in the dressing gown that was the only barrier between the spider and my skin. There was only one thing for it; I whipped off the dressing gown and raced up and down the terrace, shaking it (the dressing gown) over the barranco until the mutant spider relinquished its grasp.
It was only then that the fact that I was jumping up and down, naked, on a spot that was clearly visible across the whole valley, registered. I quickly wrapped the gown round me and retreated back inside where Andy and Jo, who had been no help whatsoever, were shrieking like banshees.

Take my advice; if you ever happen to find yourself staying in a remote valley in Los Aceviños make sure you wear pyjamas in bed unless you want to end up performing the little known island tradition of ‘the naked spider dance of La Gomera’.

It was a chunk of feta that made me realise that sometimes we can be a bit hard on the British.
I’m lucky that I can get feta in my local supermarket, especially as it’s exactly the same brand that’s on sale in Greece. That was until recently. It looks as though the real feta has been replaced by two pale imitations; one Danish, one German. This provoked a diatribe about why on earth I’d want to eat German, or Danish feta; feta is Greek, simple as that; its flavours come from herds of goats wandering through olive and lemon groves munching on rosemary, thyme and oregano and, as far as I’m aware, neither Germany nor Denmark are renowned for their olive groves ergo their so-called feta tastes nothing like feta.
So why am I subjected to inferior feta? I can only reach one conclusion, that some German and/or Danish residents in the area have requested brands that they’re familiar with (of course I could be way off base here).

The British are always accused of being conservative in their culinary tastes and I’ve been as guilty as everyone else of bemoaning the fact that when some Brits go abroad, they still expect to eat British food. I’ve always assumed this is a trait that we Brits alone are guilty of, but I’ve realised recently that it’s simply not true. German bars are full of Germans; Scandinavian bars are full of Scandinavians.

The other week a Finnish friend was complaining that most of the Scandinavians who came into the bar where she worked were only interested in eating gravadlax and rollmop herring;
“They’re in another country, for God sake,” she exclaimed. “Why don’t they try some local food?”
Sound familiar?

When I was learning Spanish at the Cervantes Institute in Manchester, the Spanish tutors would take us to an atmospheric little Spanish restaurant, El Rincón. Guess what nationality most of the patrons were – Spanish. Not once did we look down our noses at them and make comments about the Spanish only wanting to eat the same food as they did in their own country, quite the opposite, we thought they were exotic and cool.

Poco Loco, you'd have to be 'a bit mad' not to eat thereRecently I was in Poco Loco, a great Mexican restaurant, and was amazed to hear a Spanish couple ask the waiter what chili con carne was; chili – a meal that has been a staple British pub meal for decades.

Here, on Tenerife, every village has two or three restaurants, but outside of the main towns, nearly every one of these serves traditional Canarian food. Great when you’re on holiday and want to try another culture’s cuisine, but think of it this way. What if every town in Britain only had restaurants serving British food? It hardly demonstrates an adventurous culinary nature does it? And that’s the point; the British aren’t that different from everyone else; every nationality has its share of people who only want to eat the food that they’re familiar with. In the end we are, after all, the same animal.

We’ve lived on Tenerife for four years and despite having walked all over the island, we’d never explored the dramatically monickered ‘Barranco del Infierno’ (Hell’s Ravine). As we’re currently writing features about the best places for hiking on Tenerife, it seemed an opportune time to discover whether the ‘Barranco del Infierno’ deserved its status as one of Tenerife’s most popular walking trails.

The mistake we made when Andy phoned to make a reservation (they only allow 200 hundred people a day) she told them that we were planning to write a feature about it.
The man on the phone’s attitude immediately changed and suddenly he started behaving as though he was in danger of catching leprosy from us.

Voice on phone: (Hesitation) Err, you can’t, it’s not possible.
Andy: Why?
Voice: You need permission.
Andy: To walk in the country and take some photographs?
Voice: Exactly, this is a conservation area and we have to be careful.
Andy: But isn’t the countryside open to everyone?
Voice: I’m sorry, but you need permission.
Andy: From whom?
Voice: The medio ambiente office.
He read out the number.
Andy: Okay I’ll do that, but can I make an appointment with you now.
Voice. There’s no point until you have permission.
Andy (exasperated): Didn’t you used to work for NCP car parks in Stockport.

Andy duly phoned the medio ambiente office (the environmental department) and a similar conversation took place with a girl who was very pleasant about it, but confirmed that we needed to send a fax for them to be able to grant permission. Apparently an email was no good; permission had to be given on paper (considering this was the environmental dept you might have thought they’d be keen to reduce the use of paper). The problem was that she didn’t have the authority to give permission; that was town hall’s responsibility. She gave us a name and another number to call.

Call number three. Of course, the person we needed to speak to had left for the day. The girl on the other end of the phone took our details and told us someone would phone back, but it would probably take a couple of days for permission to be granted. 

What had started out as what we thought was a simple task had taken us half the morning and we hadn’t progressed one iota. Because of deadlines, we were committed to travelling to the south of the island the following day, which left us with two options:

  1. Forget about the ‘Barranco del Infierno’ for now and write about the neighbouring municipality instead.
  2. Turn up at the Barranco and, if it wasn’t fully booked, pay our money like everybody else.

Sometimes common sense has to triumph over officialdom.

We’re still waiting for the call back.

A university student in India half-jokingly once told me, “The British might have introduced bureaucracy to India, but we perfected it.”
I know of a couple of Spanish town councils who could challenge that claim.

Who says Tevez and Rooney can’t play together? Down a goal after eleven minutes and was I worried? Not a jot. It was an enjoyable opening quarter and a joy to see open attacking football from two teams who wanted to win; it was no surprise when they scored first. A couple of lethal crosses should have had the alarm bells ringing, but the smooth slick, confident way we were playing had me convinced that there was no way that this game was going to end without us scoring. Although the manner in which the first goal came surprised me as much as apparently it did the Villa defence.

The speed of Nani’s pass across the goalmouth caught Villa unawares, presumably because of its pedestrian pace. As the defenders switched into ‘bullet mode’, NEO Rooney simply nipped in and side-footed the ball into the net. After that it was a master class in finishing off a team in shock. Tenacious dribbling and a scintillating pass from the ever industrious Tevez opened up the defence, allowing Rooney to score a delicious second. Then headless chicken defending let would-be forward Ferdinand add a third.

By half time the game was won and Villa’s nightmare was about to take a turn for the worse. Despite Martin O’Neill’s touchline aerobics, referee Rob Styles didn’t really have much of a choice about showing Reo-Coker and then Carson red. A Scottish Villa fan, actually more of a Martin O’Neill fan, sitting across from me in the bar, launched into a spiel that lasted until the final whistle about Rob Styles’ ability to make correct decisions, punctuating every second word with colourful, Celtic adjectives.
I know I’m biased, but I tried to see his point about Reo-Coker (Only an idiot would argue Carson’s case). If Paul Scholes had been Reo-Coker, when that second challenge came in I would’ve known immediately that he was walking and my reaction, as it has been on more than one occasion with Scholes, would have been, ‘that was bloody stupid,’ which is exactly what it was.
Sending off Carson, probably did Villa a favour, despite Giggsy’s double deflected fourth, reserve goalkeeper, Stuart Taylor saved the penalty and made at least two other point blank saves which would have pushed the score higher.

If Martin O’Neill thinks that Villa lost the game because of refereeing decisions, he shouldn’t be questioning the referee’s eyesight; he should be making an appointment with the optician come Monday. A team on sizzling form and a Mavis Riley defence were the real culprits; Villa had been well and truly beaten long before the sending offs.

The Mouse in the Woodpile

Posted: October 16, 2007 in animals, Poetry, Shocking Poetry, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

China Blues

 “Why exactly are you here? What is your raison d’être?”
His unflinching china blues held mine.
“All you do is eat and sleep, do you think this is simply a hotel?
What do I get from this relationship?”

Cool as ice, no emotion, no response.
“You never do a paw’s turn, you’re the original fat cat.”
His eyes never left mine, but maybe…
Just maybe, there was a slight narrowing of the pupils.
A feline philosopher, pondering his purpose perhaps,
Or perhaps just the windows into a blank mind.

Behind me the mouse rustled and scuttled and squeaked
In the woodpile.
“This is your one and only task,” I shouted.
Rustle, scuttle and squeak.
“So get off that fluffy backside and get that mouse.”
Rustle, scuttle and squeak.

His iceberg eyes flicked behind me and back again,
Then he yawned, scratched his ear and,
With a sneer, finally replied.
“That isn’t a mouse; it’s clearly a rat,
And what’s more, it’s as big as a cat.
So there ain’t no way that I’m fighting that…
…That’s dogs’ work.”

I stared at the ‘mouse’ scuttling in the wood,
And had to admit that, although a lazy, fat cat,
He could at least tell the difference,
Between a mouse and a rat.
Damn cats, think they’re so smart.

Thank god for DVDs. They mean I can actually enjoy movies in their original language, a reprieve from having to watch movies dubbed into Spanish on terrestrial TV. The Spanish do dubbing appallingly. When I watch a foreign language film, I watch it in its original language with subtitles. I want to hear the actors’ voices and appreciate the nuances of their performances, but I do appreciate that as the majority of movies are filmed in English, it’s unreasonable to expect people in non-English speaking countries to sit down to a diet of subtitled ‘foreign language’ films. Could you imagine the outrage there’d be in Britain if the main TV channels aired subtitled movies during primetime?
So, I suppose the Spanish have no choice but to dub movies, but they could at least make a decent attempt at it instead of using the same couple, a fat bloke and his wife from Burgos, to provide the voices for every movie and every character in it.

The result is that Dakota Fanning sounds as though she’s a sixty year old midget with a forty a day habit and Will Smith sounds as though he’s a Mexican bandit holding up a stage coach. In fact every female sounds the same, as does every male. Irrespective of age, sex, nationality, ethnic background, the voices are always the same.
It raises the question, how on earth do the Spanish (I say Spanish, cos I’ve seen dubbed German films and they seem to use actors who actually sound a bit like the person they’re dubbing) know who’s a good actor and who isn’t? What’s an award winning performance and what’s a bag of shite? Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Gérard Depardieu– all sound exactly the same, Mexican bandits the lot. Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Keira Knightley likewise; all washed up hookers who’ve been on the booze and ciggies for far too long. It’s enough to drive you to hold up the Wells Fargo coach. Actually, I’m being unfair, there is one exception to the rule; good old Sean Connery. They can do him pretty well, but then can’t everyone?