Episode 48: Grantusthee Island

“I said to bring the folder didn’t I! But no, you know best, and now we’ve got to trail all the way home and stand in line again with half the cast of ‘Lost’. Do you know where Reuben’s birth certificate is? I hope reverend Elvis was kosher in Vegas or we’ll be buggered if that paper with your name change on isn’t legit!” Slamming the car door behind him, my eternally optimistic husband fires up the reluctant engine and off we roar back down the A7 to Fuengirola to collect the missing paperwork to hopefully complete our TIE application.
“Why didn’t you bring it then if you thought we needed it?” I mumble to the tense form grinding his teeth beside me but silence is his only reply so I stare out the window at the immobile cable cars above me swinging in the breeze.

A teenage voice from the rear drags me out of my reverie “We can still get breakfast right? I mean I don’t HAVE to go to school today. Dad…did you call the driving school about me taking my moped test when you take your bike one? I can do it this summer so I’m ready at 16 to get out on the road! I want gears though, not an old lady pizza moto like mums.

I shudder at the prospect of my teenage son being let loose on the roads in Spain. Visions of him manoeuvring through chaotic roundabouts alongside articulated lorries makes my heart lurch in fear for his split second decisions.

I close my eyes and try to blot out the visions that arrive uninvited into my overactive imagination. My own mother age 82 still reminds me to carry an inhaler in my handbag every time I leave my home, so I’m fully aware this fear for my own offsprings safety is mirrored across the globe when apron strings are finally severed.

Two hours later we are back at the police station clutching our added extras and trying to catch the eye of the young office worker who requested this small addition to our application.
“He’s there Marcus, behind the pot plant, wave at him,” I whisper pleadingly to my husband but he ignores my request and we end up standing in line behind the other immigrants and their assortment of life stories, and do what the Brits do best… queue.

Eventually it’s our turn, we hand over all the new paperwork and are called in one by one to place our fingers on a scanner and to recite our address to whoever resides behind the counter. Forms are stamped and photos verified. I’m handed a piece of paper and told to return in 45 days, and that’s it. All 3 of us are on the way to getting the ID card that will enable us to pass through passport control without being rugby tackled through duty free or having to carry our life stories in our hand luggage.

“Well that was easy!” Sighs my husband cheerily who, for some reason, always acts like he’s on MI5’s most wanted list whenever we approach a Spanish government building.
My son suddenly bellows unceremoniously into my ear “can we get some lunch now? I’m
starving! Also, can I have the day off school if I promise to do loads of revision when I get home?” I catch my husbands eye and nod my head. What the hell, life is for living and celebratory tapas are not to be rushed.

As we go to exit the station a very British voice can be overheard speaking in a ‘If I shout loudly and slowly enough in English, Johnny foreigner will understand me’ type of way and I crouch down to tie my shoelace so I can earwig the full conversation.
A pensioner has made the fatal mistake of asking the Spanish policeman on the door if he speaks English. The copper listens, nods, then smiles and calmly asks the silver haired chap how long he has lived in Andalucia
“20 years I’ve been here” proudly exclaims the elderly interloper. The officer stands back to let us pass and then in perfect English looks him directly in the eye and loudly states “then it’s about time you learnt the Spanish language isn’t it!”

Leaving the gawping crowd to eavesdrop the forthcoming lecture from the unimpressed officer we amble up the stone steps, happy in our pursuit of albondigas, chorizo and our new life in the sun.


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Episode 47: T.I.E. – Totally Inept Expats? Tourists In Exile? Todays Immigrant English?

I’m the first to admit when it comes down to learning any new language I’m incredibly thick. At school I worked my way quite steadily into the bottom set of French and spent most of my days gluing pictures of the Eiffel Tower into a text book with a well licked pritt-stick.
I can ramble on for hours to whoever will listen about an assortment of subjects in my native tongue but when it comes to absorbing Spanish I turn into a mute potato with hearing problems.

But now the time has finally come to accept our non E.U. status and exchange the small, green, dog eared Spanish residency card and replace it with a shiny all singing all dancing TIE. My heart starts to palpitate at the prospect. I hate dealing with this kind of stuff but needs must and the bullet will have to be bitten.
Several well informed friends have pointed me the direction of the online appointment site but as it’s all in Spanish I get as far as the ‘Brexit’ toolbar before a sudden and urgent desire comes across me to become Anthea Turner and scrub the grimy skirting boards until they gleam like Simon Cowells teeth.

“You’ve never cleaned those since we moved in!!” snorts my husband from the comfort of the second hand saggy sofa. I ignore his wisecrack and innocently nudge his beer can with my feather duster so the contents froth over his paint laden jeans. He looks at me and shakes his head, frothy or not, nothing comes between him and Jeremy Clarkson. The jeans will remain moist until the hour is up.

But in all honesty he’s right. I hate housework with every fibre of my ample being but as much as I detest Mr Sheen, I loathe dealing with Spanish bureaucracy even more.

24 hours later I am sitting with helmet in hand, loitering at my friends dining table staring blankly at her while she explains the steps I have to take to ensure I’m up to date with the government requirements to be able to exchange one card for another.

“Right Paula, are you listening?” I nod my head, dragging my eyes away from her assortment of expensive champagnes nestling on a freshly polished sideboard.
“I’ve been on the TIE website and have booked 3 appointments for you in Torremolinos for the day after tomorrow. There’s nothing coming up in the Fuengirola area so take your residency card, passport and empadron with you. Make copies, you’ll be refused without them.
I nod enthusiastically, child’s play so far. My mind wanders again… is 10am too early for fizz? My eyes stray back to the tantalising liquids within arms reach.

“You also have to get some small photos done and take these papers I’m holding to Sabadell bank to pay the admin fees. Don’t get them mixed up with these papers as they have your appointments on, oh and these papers here are to give to the police. Now off you pop, I’ve got a house to paint”

I grasp the several acres of rain forest to my chest and head back outside to climb onto my trusty moto. Which paperwork went where and to whom? What am I paying for? Something to do with the bank? Is it time for lunch yet? Ooh look at that pretty butterfly…

Shaking my head I drag myself back into reality and drive directly into Fuengirola town centre. Parking up outside the bank i join the external queue who are in various states of apathy loitering with resignation next to the recycling bins. I have over 30 pieces of paper gripped in my hand and I stand nervously behind the last man in the line up that appears to be talking animatedly to a can of Cruz Campo. We all shuffle forward as one customer is released from the financial compound. It’s like the worlds shittest game of ‘Mr Wolf’. Finally it’s my turn to enter and I step forward through the door to greet the teller, thrusting all my paperwork onto the counter whilst smiling inanely and yelling “TIE por Favor” just in case she was in any doubt of my intentions, or my fluency in her native tongue.

The process was, for once, amazingly simple.

€12 is deducted per person from our account and the papers stamped and one set handed back. I’m reversing out the door into the sunlight before I had chance to mutter ‘yo hablo solo un poco de espanol’ to anyone with almond eyes.
Relief floods through me and I head home. Buoyed by my financial bravery I pick up a celebratory pastry and Diet Coke and share them with Brian on the shaded balcony of our Spanish home (not the Coke obviously, he prefers Sprite).

48 hours later we are loitering outside the Torremolinos police station with every piece of paper we have ever owned. I can feel myself getting anxious, even though (in theory) i’m purely exchanging one card for another and not handing myself in for 3rd degree murder.

“I think it’s downstairs,” I whisper to my husband. “Why are you whispering?” He whispers back “why are you whispering as to why I’m whispering” I reply whisperingly.

“Will you two grow up and get in the queue, I’ve not had breakfast yet!!” Yells my ‘not able to whisper’ son.

So that’s what we do. We stand in line as the Brits love to do and wait until a stern faced policeman takes our paperwork, mutters something incomprehensible and waves us over to sit down on the outside seating area while he darts inside the office with our life story.

“Good job its not raining” I whisper to no one in particular as I place my buttocks on what looks like a used 747’s middle aisle.

10 minutes later a young man comes out of the office, shielding his eyes from the sun. He’s holding a stack of paperwork. The policeman looks at him, then at the contents of his hand and then points at us. The smartly attired worker strides over and we all sit completely still awaiting his verdict. With a frown on his face he hands us all our paperwork back including our passports and gently whispers “lo siento, no puedo completar esto”

To be continued


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Episode 46: Duty And The Feast


My husband opens one reluctant eye and glares at me over the crumpled duvet.

“Could you not have waited just 10 minutes more before dragging me out of oblivion? Kylie and Danni will not be happy that I’ve had to remove myself from the naked locomotion at such short notice. What time is it?

I look at the clock. It’s only 7.30am. The ‘surprise’ party doesn’t begin until noon but I need a few hours to remould my pillow face back into its pre-sleep position. By the time Piers Morgan has offended most of the British public and Lorraine takes over the helm the creases should have ironed themselves out (marginally) so I can be allowed out in public.

“I’ve got a surprise lined up to celebrate you still having your own teeth and hips dear husband. Granted it’s not Miami as previously planned, but hopefully it will be fun and will involve friends, food and alcohol. You need a shave and Brian needs to be walked”

The greying haired form opens his other eye and yawns. “So basically, it’s like any other normal weekend pre Covid but I’ll be officially inaugurated into the SAGA club along with all you other oldies”. He suddenly pauses mid sentence, reality dawning, “Ooh do you think they’ll bring me presents?”

I leave the man child to ponder the merits of Tonka toys and trifle and head to the bathroom to wash away my misgivings. Organising a birthday party in lockdown February hasn’t been the easiest of tasks. We are forbidden to leave Mijas so the only guests I can invite are from within this allotted area. Old friendships have been resurrected and spanx have been dragged out from the back of the dusty knicker draw. Luckily for us, a good friend has offered us the use of his wonderful restaurant in the hills ‘The Carob Bar’ and has decorated 5 socially distanced tables with balloons and frivolity. Party food and a compère will be provided alongside a cake baked by a willing accomplice.

Surprisingly, all 18 people accepted the invitation to celebrate this landmark birthday, no doubt relieved to be able to step out of the confines of their sunny prisons to pretend that covid hasn’t as yet destroyed their sanity or livelihoods and the past year had been nothing more than an MSG induced hideous dream.

I look at myself in the steamed up mirror. I guess it’s time to resurrect my party face with the help of Mr Rimmel and Mrs Revlon.

“Are you going to be long mum? I’ve got to clean my teeth for school!”, yells the 15 year old from the teenage pit.

Sighing, I place the trowel back on its stand. The facial grouting will just have to wait awhile.

A few hours and several layers later I’m adorned in my disco spangles and gripping my husbands hand for dear life. My trotters have been crammed into a pair of 4 inch heels that haven’t seen the light of day since Bros were in the charts. I feel like the worlds oldest drag artist as I step into the restaurant alongside the smartly attired birthday boy. Masked faces turn in unison and wave greetings of recognition, ageing elbows are banged together in the new socially accepted way and laughter embraces the room. My husbands face lights up like Blackpool illuminations on a November eve, and he grips my hand tight in a way I haven’t experienced since this whole pandemic began.

Friends I haven’t seen for almost a year smile with optimistic eyes as laughter is muffled behind an assortment of elasticated fabric. Everyone searches for their allocated tables and embrace the freedom that this special birthday allows.

The room is alight with animated chatter and glasses are raised in celebration. I internally breathe a sigh of relief and remove my mask to inhale the vodka that has been placed before me. A game of ‘Singo bingo’ suddenly erupts and all of us who remember life in the 1980’s are suddenly transported back to the days we were allowed to gyrate alongside hormonal strangers and kiss whoever appeared wiling after several Pernod and blacks during the 2am erection section of the local disco.

I turn to my husband. He’s having a whale of a time. Yelling the lyrics to a Bon Jovi tune and smiling at his friends scattered around the room. Another glass of jack Daniels is placed in front of him and he removes his mask to take a sip. I catch his eye and he mouths ‘thank you’ and nudges my knee with his.

I smile and congratulate myself that I took the chance to embrace this day, to look forward to the future we will all hopefully achieve and enjoy the remnants of the past we were privileged to live.

“Time to waft out the cake”, yells a voice from behind the bar and my husband rises and smooths down his shirt. No one is allowed to blow candles out anymore. That was the privilege of yesteryear. All eyes are on him, today is his day. Applause ripples around the room and I can feel the man who was reduced to a husk not so long ago, embrace his new found stature and march over to the sugar laden trophy.

“Go waft em cowboy”, I whisper to his retreating form and raise my glass to our future, whatever that may be and more-so, wherever it may be.


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Episode 45: The Hokey Jokey

“Marcus, theres a chap on TV who has five wives, five! They all have different skills and he chooses which one to visit at bedtime based on that! If you had the choice of five wives… when would you visit me??”

“When the other four were busy, Paula”

…and so 2021 begins. We have a little more freedom than the U.K. but not much sign of the vaccine. The new midnight is 6pm and most hangovers are achieved by the time Coronation Street begins. Bums are shoved off bar stools while the sun is still in the sky and we sit sombre back in our individual prisons, staring at the gogglebox wishing we could be ordering a kebab instead of watching overpaid northerners play themselves.

We’ve also moved apartment again. The latest one has just 2 bedrooms and we don’t have to sell a body part to pay the rent. Nobody can visit us here from the UK so there’s no point in paying extra for a spare room. The balcony is the size of a fridgefreezer but Brian still finds space to fling his ball around it and if we all sit close together at the table we can eat our evening meal in the last remaining sliver of sunlight as we watch it set over the Andalusian mountains.

We are managing to put food on the table when many families can’t and that is something to be grateful for in these trying times. Days of the week have no meaning apart from weekends when we treat ourselves to a Sunday roast at whatever establishment has managed to weather the storm and keep its shutters open to cater for the residents.

Facebook is now full of people clamouring to relocate to Spain, unaware that post Brexit the rules have changed and you need to be in possession of deceased relatives inheritance or a substantial hedge fund to even be able to request residency. Trevor and his wife plus 3 kids want to know if €10,000 is enough to step over the border for a new life in utopia meanwhile spanish home owners are stuck in the U.K. because they failed to apply for residency while here or left their little green card on top of the wardrobe nestling underneath a pair of redundant flip flops. Desperation fills the forums. No one asks what the weather’s like in February anymore.

Meanwhile British pensioners roam the empty aisles of Iceland, unrepentant in their choice to exit the E.U., seeking out the solitary tin of baked beans nesting in-between it’s Spanish interloper. Fully stocked trucks are taking weeks instead of days to arrive over the borders with the taste of home steadily rotting in its enclave. Here is where you’ll find me today in Mijas, standing at the till gripping a much coveted bottle of salad cream, biting back the bile as I listen to yet another deluded expat, indignant about the lack of crumpets in the empty freezer, spouting without irony that this isn’t what they voted for on the 2016 referendum.
I join in the conversation without invitation or forethought, “What did you vote for then, the resurrection of Winston Churchill or just the incarceration of your grandchildren?”
I slam my euros onto the counter and storm out. I’m furious with those that have disabled our offspring from experiencing freedom of movement and equally angry at those who were too apathetic to vote at all.

So here we are, in limbo once again. Exactly one year into Covid-19 and still no idea when we can drink overpriced vodka in row 17F.

“So what are we going to do for my 50th next week then, have you arranged anything? I bet the other 4 wives would have organised their husband something spectacular involving wrestling and jelly” a voice yells from the confines of the solitary bathroom.

I sigh and turn the volume down on the rantings of a surgically enhanced housewife with more money than style residing in Orange County.

“What would you like me to arrange darling? A socially distanced orgy? We can’t do anything, we’re not allowed to do anything. I’ll push the boat out and let you watch Game of Thrones again and throw together a meat feast pizza. I may even shave my legs to mark the occasion although it may look like a small Gorilla has been murdered in the bathtub”

Silence greets my reply and I can feel the petulance radiating through the stone walls.

I smile to myself and look down at my phone as yet another message flashes up on the private group chat, “we’d love to attend the surprise party, let me know where and when and we’ll be there! Is it tables of 4? Can we sit with Bob & Doris? I’ll make a cake!!”

Placing the phone on my lap I look at my chipped toenails and stained jogging bottoms. The face reflected in the TV screen isn’t the one I arrived here with. The past 3 years have definitely taken their toll.
I make a promise to myself, tomorrow I’ll get my Jane McDonald face on but today… today I’m comfortable in my Covid-couture, ensemble, enjoying the company of Kevin Webster and celebrating the fact that we are still alive.