Lost in Translation

Online blog of life in Barcelona for a English guy making a life for himself out here and trying desperately to have a good time, become fluent in Spanish, and most of all - not be constantly mistaken for a tourist!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sore bums and tax returns

Por el amor de Dios, has it been over a YEAR since I last posted on my blog?? Sadly, I do believe it has. Having this blog sat whimpering in the corner like an abandoned pet isn´t good for my catholic guilt (I´m not catholic, but I tend to feel guilty about everything in my life so I may as well get myself some Rosary beads and take up the Habit) so, like a weekend dad on a court supervised access visit, I´m here to show a bit of interest in my digital offspring. I don´t know what I´ll do… probably take it to the zoo or something. Buy it an ice cream and an X-Box perhaps. Maybe even promise to go to MacDonalds on the way home if it behaves itself. Nah, the cheeky little nipper probably won´t appreciate any of that, so I guess I´ll just write a bit about whatever crosses my mind in the next 30 minutes or so and see where I end up. As usual, it could be good or on the other hand it could be a pile of crap. I make no apologies if we go down the latter route, but I will promise to feel guilty about it! :-) Deal?

OK, the first thing that I want to talk about is my arse. (Now there´s a talking point worthy of internet space!) Basically, magnificent though it may be, it bloody hurts! Now, before the marketing whizzes down at Preparation H reach for their phones with lucrative offers of anal sponsorship and product placement opportunities, I should clarify that to my immense relief, the cause isn´t actually a sad decline into a hemorrhoid troubled mid-30´s, but rather the result of my recent seemingly harmless decision to buy myself a bike. Well I saw David Cameron going the wrong way down a one-way street and jumping red lights willy-nilly, and figured it looked like fun. Unfortunately for me, it would appear that the manufacturer of my particular bike has scrimped on the luxuries slightly by fitting what I can only describe as a “splintered chair leg” where the seat should be to cushion my bony bottom from the occasionally uneven tarmac of Barcelona´s streets. On my first venture out, I found that I managed to get more or less to my destination without incident, but was in total agony on the way home again. Presumably the manufacturers know that their cheap seats seem fine when you sit on them for a moment or two in the shop, but once you´ve ridden over a few potholes and attempted to drop down a curb at any speed greater than “stationary” and suffered the inevitable consequences, you´ll hobble back into the shop flapping an open wallet and demanding the softest, smoothest, most expensive replacement seat available. Nothing that hasn´t been invented as a direct result of the NASA space program will do. So I´m now the proud owner of a distinctly mediocre bicycle oddly fitted with a space age, gel padded, sweat proof, go-faster seat cushion. If my bum could talk (and why shouldn´t it?), it would smile broadly and say “thank you”. There you go then… problem rectified (no pun intended!)

My main reason for buying a bike is that last year, I would often go to the beach on hot days, and while it isn´t ridiculously far to walk, it can be time consuming especially if you´re just going for the final couple of hours of warm sunshine after work in the evening. Therefore I would have to go on the Metro, and being pressed up against someone´s sweaty armpit in the middle of summer is not on my list of pleasant pastimes (even though the Metro is air-con´d in the summer), so I figured it would be a more pleasant experience, and just as quick, to make my way there under my own steam. People are generally getting worse on the Metro, and body odor is high on the list of offences (everyone sweats, but there´s no excuse for a terminal case of BO) closely followed of course by those strange people who play tinny, unidentifiable music out loud through their mobiles. Why do they do that? No one can tell what it is, it sounds bloody awful, and it automatically puts the offender in the category of “pillock” without any need for debate. Mind you, as it´s usually someone with a mullet haircut, I suppose it´s pointless trying to find sense in their actions. Anyway, armed with my new two-wheeled friend, I´m now able to avoid all this, save myself a euro or two each time, and even get a bit fitter too. Bargain! I´ve been out loads lately and love to plonk myself on the sand, read my book, or have a kip in the sun. Luckily, Barcelona is fairly flat city for the most part so the gears on my bike, of which I appear to have about 863 judging by the various combinations available, are barely troubled. The city is blessed with wide streets in most areas that have plenty of room for cyclists, and the network of dedicated cycle lanes is pretty extensive and well connected (unlike the UK where a cycle lane will often unexpectedly end in the middle of a busy roundabout). Finally, to put the icing on the cake, I read last week that the City Council is going to remove a traffic lane from Calle Urgell right outside my flat in order to put in a cycle lane the full length on the street from Francesc Maciá all the way down to Parallel. Excellent news, and if it cuts the traffic noise, even better!

In other news recently, we had the San Juan (Sant Joan in Catalunya) holiday just yesterday, and the fact that it fell on a Tuesday meant that it was a lovely 4 day weekend for me and many others. The long weekend also coincided with a sudden heatwave so it made for the perfect opportunity to spend some time flaked-out on the beach. San Juan is celebrated in a kind of Bonfire Night style, with fires on the beach or in street junctions, and the constant sound of bangers all around the clock for days. I went for drinks in the evening with some friends followed by the beach party at about 1am where we found the entire length of the beach absolutely crammed full (and I believe there about 4-5kms of city beaches so that´s a LOT of people). There wasn´t space to swing a cat where we were, and although it was fun, the crowds made it tiresome after a while. The idea is that you dance until dawn and then bathe in the sea in order to bring you good luck, but we bailed out and headed home shortly before the sun came up, so I don´t know how many did this (I presume quite a lot).. The army of cleaners were out in force the next day to clear up the mountains of cans, bottles, broken glass and general rubbish that covered the sand. They do an amazing job, and the beach is soon looking tip-top again ready for the sunbathers to arrive.

It was back to earth with a bump again today though with the midweek return to work. Can´t complain too much though, as a 3 day week is not to be sniffed at. There´s a surefire headache coming on Friday though, as I have my second session with the sadists down at the tax office. I went last week to do my yearly tax declaration (my first in Spain) and was left battered and bruised by the torrent of confusion and general misinformation that the staff seem happy to dole out. It appears that they can´t draw a clean line between my UK tax situation and my Spanish one, so I´ve been told to go away and convert all my 2007 UK income and deductions into Euro´s using the exchange rate at the date of payment, and then come back and the will enter all this into their computer along with the Spanish income they already know about. Then presumably they´ll be some smoke and mirrors, and I´ll be presented with a summary of what I owe or not. I´m hoping for an easier ride this Friday though. If I get the Andalucian girl with the impenetrable accent again, I may as well just give up now and hand her all of my money and call it quits. I pride myself on being more or less able to follow mind-boggling instructions delivered in high-speed Spanish when I´m in work, but throw in a strong accent, along with the commotion from the screams of about 300 other Spanish taxpayers having the thumb-screws applied at the other desks, and it doesn´t exactly make for a clear exercise in comprehension. I´ll be lighting a candle and saying my prayers tonight in hope of an easier time. Now, where did I put that Rosary? I´ve got sins to confess…! :-)