Category Archives: Humour
If you are reading this expecting to find useful advice regarding driving in Spain or anywhere else for that matter then I am afraid you will be disappointed. To follow any suggestions contained in this piece would be extremely foolish, dangerous and probably illegal. It is a constant wonder to myself how I was ever granted a driving license in the first place. I admit I am not a good driver but I do have the ability to get a light motor-vehicle from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in relative safety on most occasions. Would-be passengers only travel with me out of pure necessity, none do it for recreation, I have known some to take a bus or hike across country in the foulest of weathers rather than occupy the front passenger seat with me at the wheel. So bearing this in mind I will continue.
Driving in Spain is as diverse as the country itself with the north approaching the UK driving standard. I say approaching as the inherent anarchy within the Spanish character will show through regardless of geography. Nor is the standard of driving or the attitude towards it linear from north to south, it is random with numerous pockets of lunacy. Pockets of lunacy such as Madrid, which, to my mind is the very pinnacle of lunacy. But more of Madrid later.
The same rules of the road apply throughout the seventeen autonomous communities of Spain but each of the seventeen autonomous communities choose which rules to adhere to and which to ignore, this of course depends on idiosyncrasies of the region. In Madrid however it appears they ignore all of the rules of the road. The set of laws which govern parking are universally ignored, but ignored for different reasons, again regional idiosyncrasies come into play here. Even those whose job it is to uphold parking regulations ignore them, I am not sure if this make their job easier or simply complicates things. I will give an example for the purposes of clarification.
While driving through Madrid, well my partner was driving, she was born and bred in the city so I thought I would let her drive, that’s how I saw things. She saw them differently and said it was down to cowardice on my part and used a few choice Spanish expressions to reinforce her argument. But back to the plot. She needed to stop at her hairdresser in the Calle Rios Rosas, a busy five lane street. She simply parked outside the required establishment blocking one lane. This obviously wasn’t particularly popular with other road users and they let us know in no uncertain terms. A traffic warden, a female traffic warden, that is important to remember, headed for the car joyfully reaching for book of blank tickets. “You can’t park here” she informed us. Now we may be parking illegally but we aren’t stupid, well my partner isn’t, so the warden was simply stating the obvious. María, my partner replied in a voice full of feminine desperation, that is was her hair and she didn’t have any shampoo. Remember about the traffic warden being female? She was horrified at María’s plight and treated it as an emergency allowing us to stay where we were while the shampoo was purchased and for María to engage in a lengthy discussion into technical hair related matters. Another victory for Affiliated Women’s Trade Union, Hair and Make-up division.
In the Province of Almería there seems to be an unwritten law, well I believe it to be unwritten that says one may stop where every one wants irrespective of whether they bring entire city centres to a standstill or not. This can be done for any reason. Say you want your children to disembark and enter a nearby sweet shop so they can inspect the delicacies on offer, you simply stop outside the shop. The drivers of the vehicles forced to stop behind the car of the children with the potentially sweet teeth do so in a quiet and good natured way. They do not lean on their horns or shout obscenities. They are in Almería, it is sunny, they have had tapas, wine and a good siesta. They are in good spirits and strike up conversations with anybody who happens to enter within audio range. By this time the children are happily munching on there sugared treats and re-embark, the car pulls away. But the car behind remains stationary as the conversation has become interesting and the driver or erstwhile driver has an important point to get across. It is probably prudent at this point to seek an alternative route if you want to reach your destination before your next birthday. This of course wouldn’t be tolerated in Madrid. If you delay for more a millisecond after lights turn green, the taxi which is inevitably behind you lays on his horn and shouts abuse making you think you have just ploughed into a crocodile of novice nuns at the very least.
Driving in country areas is however relatively stress free and leisurely if one forgets about navigation. In Spain, if a road becomes overcrowded they build another parallel but some distance away from the original. This can, and has been done several times, to my knowledge there are four N340s. They all have the same destination and source but all pass through different towns en route. So someone telling you to take the N340 doesn’t help matters much. All one can do is drive up one and down another until you arrive at where you want to arrive at. I remember one roundabout, it was somewhere near San Pedro on the western edge of the Costa del Sol, where one exit had been closed and the road dug up leaving a rutted dirt track. The authorities had, however left the sign indication the exit in place. They obviously thought this was good sport as vehicle after vehicle shot up the dirt track damaging suspensions and tempers.
There are a group of roads which are quite remarkable. All in good repair and little in the way of traffic to impede one’s progress. These are the toll roads, bankruptcy has brought many into state ownership. It is well worth driving one of these routes simply for the experience alone and certainly worth the ten Euros or so just to bear witness to these ‘White Elephants’. The ‘120’ speed signs are only there for decoration and job creation as cars whistle pass you like rockets soaring skyward on November the fifth. The drivers either know speed cameras are not operating or they are related to Spanish politicians. You get the feeling after a while that you are the only one on the road and judging by the accumulation of toll charges also the only one who is paying for their maintenance. The service areas present a mournful sight, devoid of activity, the petrol slowly evaporating in the pumps. As one speeds past one gets the impression of hopeful faces pressed against deserted restaurant windows. One restaurant hasn’t had a customer since 1975, his tables are still set for ‘The Return to Democracy’ dinner. The unfortunate owner walks the deserted halls of his service centre, talking to imaginary customers and sweeping untrodden floors. He is of course quite mad by now and believes himself to be the reincarnation of ‘El Cid’.
Driving on Spain’s none toll motorways is easy and, if one avoids the start and end of holiday periods, they are not overcrowded. This however applies in dry weather conditions which is the norm for the country. As all northern European drivers know, driving in snow, rain, wind or on ice requires particular care and each its own technique. In Spain however only one technique is employed. As luck would have it, it is an easy technique to master. One simply closes one’s eyes and slams one’s foot hard down on the accelerator. If, while driving on a quite untroubled motorway one decides to have a sleep, answer the phone or partake of a refreshing gin and tonic, while you ladies may decide to paint your eyes or engage in a spot of hair restructuring, be warned, Spanish cities have little in the way of suburbs. On can find oneself going from the tranquillity of the motorway to the badly organised chaos of city driving before one can safely place you gin and tonic back in that handy holder that pops out about the ventilating grill.
Motorways that lead to Madrid are special, very, very, special. The desperation one feels as one nears Madrid is inversely proportional to the distance from the city. Some malevolence on the part of the motorway prevents car indicators from working, at least this is the explanation which seems most likely. I can’t believe it is the drivers themselves that stop using them, that could never be the case. As one approaches Madrid, say twenty kilometres from the ‘0km’ marker in the Puerta del Sol cars begin drifting across the motorway, just why they wander across the lanes is a mystery, presumably it is because they can, so they do. With no indicators in operation it is difficult to predict when to take evasive action. So great diligence is required. If one leaves a gap between yourself and the car in front it will be filled, irrespective of whether or not the filling vehicle will fit into the available space. Similarly if a vehicle wants to occupy the space that you and your vehicle are occupying, it will have a good try seemingly oblivious to your presence. The question is this. Should one concentrate, maintain lane discipline and drive like a responsible member of the driving fraternity or should one clutch the wheel tight, stare straight ahead, pay no heed to other road users and charge towards one’s destination scattering all before. The latter option is the preferred one and one that I now adopt. I does appear to work, which is why of course every other Madrid road user uses it.
To add to the fun the authorities have used the humble traffic light in the most creative way. While heading out of Madrid one will probably want to use the Paseo de Castellana. A junction on this road before the Rios Rosas turn off sees two roads joining in a sort of ‘Y’. There are traffic lights on these joining roads. In London, Paris or Berlin the light would turn green on road ‘A’ allowing the traffic to enter, then in turn, green on road ‘B’, simple. Not here, both lights turn green simultaneously allowing two roads to join one. The chaos is total. Nerves are frayed while waiting for the lights to change. Drivers in Madrid are manic at the best of time but while waiting for these lights they become twitching, dribbling lunatics of the first degree. I am sure those watching the traffic control cameras take bets as to the level of the ensuing melee and wait for the ‘rush hour’ with high glee.
As I have said, the above is not designed as a public service but my last piece of advice can and should be followed. Regarding driving in Madrid DON’T, take a bus or use the Metro.
This is the story of two very different girls, well ladies to be accurate. One is a laid-back work-shy, let-the-world-go-by sort of the person and the other, a real ‘go getter’ with three jobs and looking for more. One lives in Madrid province and is part Spanish and part, to avoid identification we will say from a country whose work ethic is very strong, oh and by tradition they chew a lot of ‘gum’. The other is from Andalucía, Almería in particular. I’ll leave it to your powers of deduction to work out which is which.
For the sake of identification we will call the lady from Almería ‘A’ and our Madrid girl ‘M’. I’m not at all convinced by stereotypes but in this case they hold true. Our Almería girl is indeed the work-shy individual, I use the word individual in its fullest context. Both of these ladies are good friends of my partner and myself and wonderful people.
We will discuss ‘A’ first. She had a business once, the fact that it was ill suited to its location is neither here nor there, it may even have been an unconscious decision, who knows? My partner and I used to visit her at her place of ‘work’ but more often than not the place was deserted, its doors securely bolted. We did eventually track her down, strangely enough it was in a bar, we asked about the locked doors and her absence. “Oh”, she said “If I’m open I get customers”. We suggested that this may be beneficial when running a business, but she only partially agreed. “Yes, I want customers, but only when I want them, I don´t want them wandering in just when they feel like it” she added. We asked her to elaborate. Firstly, she likes to sleep late, so the mornings were out. Then she likes a glass of wine and a tapa or two. With her digestive system thus awakened she naturally follows this with a full three course lunch. As is the tradition of Almería a lengthy ‘sobre mesa’ follows and this in turn by a siesta. This brings us to six in the afternoon giving her potential customers until nine to avail themselves of her services. So total hours worked are four days (she likes to finish early on a Friday so didn’t bother opening at all) by three hours, a total of twelve hours a week. This working week was however academic as she started selling her fixtures and fittings to fund her morning activities. In the end she sold her premises. ‘A’ was in high glee for a few months until the money ran out. She now spends her time sending her CV for jobs she isn’t qualified for because she didn’t want the job in the first place.
Girl ‘M’ lives in the Madrid Mountains, in a very small village, meaning everyone knows of her. The people of the Village don’t mind in the slightest that she finds work for herself it is her perverse belief that others want to work and her labours in finding others employment that is objectionable. She does this quite cheerfully and actually believes she is being public spirited. I have seen her walk into a bar and clear it within five minutes. Armed with her ‘filofax’ she can reduce the strongest to quivering, sobbing wrecks.
I believe it was the second time I met her, I mistakenly said I was considering working again. Why I said this I’m not certain, I wasn’t drunk, as least I don’t think I was, no I wasn’t I can’t remember apologising to anyone. I can only assume I had contracted some virus or other which had elevated my body temperature thus clouding my judgement. The reason why I said this is not important, it was the speed of her response which was horrifying. A few phone calls and I was a potential employee teaching English over the phone. It took some fancy manoeuvring involving not wanting to work antisocial hours and pretending to have paralysis of the vocal chords to get myself off the hook. I still wake up sweating at the narrowness of my escape.
While these stories seem humorous I must point out that I in no way condone this sort of behaviour. To my mind girl ‘M’ is highly irresponsible being the cause of several citizens packing their bags and taking up residence in remote caves high in the sierra. Of girl ‘A’ I have a deep understanding and acknowledge the diligence with which she has arranged her affairs.