Month: December 2010

Baby Blues

In the words of Alanis Morrissette, isn’t it ironic? Here we are celebrating the birth of a child 2000 years ago who was born to a poor family, and the Spanish government are in the process of taking away the ‘baby cheque’ for new arrivals born into similarly poor families.

If you know of someone who is heavily pregnant and due any day now don’t be surprised to find them chugging down curry, riding up and down in cars with bad suspension on bumpy roads and clearing out the local Farmacia’s stocks of castor oil. If you can deliver your bundle of joy by December 31st then you will still receive a rather tasty handout from the government of 2’500€, but after that? Sorry, no dice. Apparently gynaecologists have been hearing many pleas for birth inducement and tales of hardship, and we can only speculate how many midwives will not be able to tell the time when it comes to births on New Year’s Eve. Imagine delivering your baby one minute past midnight and knowing you’d missed out on enough money to keep your family going for a couple of months. (To pile irony on top of irony, by the way, not only did Sir Elton and David became proud fathers, Alanis also became a mum on Christmas Day).

Then we also have the old-new problem of bills: energy charges are about to ramp up another 10%, it is cold in Mallorca right now and babies need to be kept  warm and cosy. I have a friend who works in a soup kitchen in Palma, she’s told me about more and more Spanish people queuing for food, whereas before it was more likely to be immigrants from South America or Africa who needed some help. It’s all looking a little bit bleak isn’t it? How can we turn this around and make 2011 a year to look forward to? I’m a great fan of resolutions, but I won’t bore you with my (very predictable) resolutions, although having just spent some time in the wilds of France I can tell you that the ban on smoking in bars will definately work much better in the North of Europe than in the South. It’s far too cold to pop outside for a grouty round here, so I predict lots of people will either a) give up smoking all together or b) go into business as patio heater sales people and make a fortune.

It’s a bit of a sad way to end the year I think, and it looks as if we will all have to find new ways to survive and keep going in the next one. Sticking together, being inventive, working hard and keeping a smile on your face sounds a bit ‘jolly hockeysticks’, but I honestly don’t know any other way of doing it. But, hey, if you are pregnant then congratulations, and let’s be honest, when you’ve just given birth to your brand new baby would it even pop into your mind that you’d missed out on a handout when you’d just won the lottery?


Christmas Spirit

It’s a bittersweet time of the year isn’t it? This past week has been full of tears. Frustration, tiredness, stress, joy, pride, you name it we’ve run the gamut in Casa Neilson McLeod. The festive season is a pressure cooker: you pour in expectations of the ‘best Christmas ever’ or the ‘best this’ or the ‘best that’ ever, and at some point those expectations are going to boil over. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why is so much put onto one day out of 365? In the words of Roy Wood, I wish it could be Christmas every day, mainly so the whole thing would become less important.

I don’t remember having the same problems with Christmas when I was single and childless, that’s for sure. It was something to be avoided, or worked through. But since our little blonde goddess has been around the dreaded ‘what are you doing at Christmas?’ question has come earlier and earlier each year. In fact, if you haven’t got yourself sorted out in July then there’s something wrong with you. Home for Christmas? Difficult if you have to fly, and thank goodness we aren’t. I couldn’t stand being stranded in an airport in a snowdrift. We have friends who may not make it home for Christmas, and it is so important to them. That one perfect day, is it achievable? I guess it depends on how you define perfect. For me it will be a day with no phones, no emails, no clocks, and I will try very hard not to eat two Christmas dinners (aren’t the leftovers somehow better than the meal the first time around?).

What is the true spirit of Christmas? Brandy, Baileys? Well, they are elements of course, but for me this year it’s been about making an effort. Making an effort to be generous, remembering people who are less fortunate than we are, and doing something for children. It actually started in November, just the words ‘Children in Need’ got me going, and when the Christmas songs started on the radio I had to have a hanky on standby. I couldn’t bear it. So, apart from harassing the British Embassy in Madrid to get La Gidg a new passport, booking a ferry to go to France to see my Mum, and all the normal work/life chaos, I spent all of last week trying to raise money for charity. With mixed success, the jury is still out. If you fancy helping then you can buy a raffle ticket from Mood Beach, the money’s going to Amiticia (which is a disabled children’s respite home) and the Allen Graham Charity for Kidz. We’ll keep it going until the end of the month.

In the end, the best gift you can give is your time, and to try to be with the important people in your life.  So I hope you get to spend your Christmas your way, we’re certainly going to try.

Happy Christmas, with love from V, O and La Gidg xxx


Lessons in life

My husband and I spent last Thursday night shouting at the television like the old fogeys we are becoming. There were plenty of ‘when I was young’ comments as we watched young people wrecking parts of London and swinging off the flag at The Cenotaph. It was hard to find much sympathy for the students and their misguided response to the government’s decision to allow Universities to increase their fees. We both had a bit of a blast from the past as we reminisced about being a student which meant (in our day) shopping at Oxfam for clothes, eating beans on toast, and putting on an extra jumper rather than sticking 50p in the meter and turning on the two bar heater. And we went on protests: the Poll Tax, Clause 28 and the Winchester bypass were all features of our young lives. Perhaps the thing which separates our generation of studenthood from this generation is the feeling that we were protesting against something for the community, rather than something which would necessarily directly affect us. And last Thursday evening we certainly felt that this generation of students were much better off than ours ever was, for one thing, they can get credit cards and seem to spend all of their time in Top Shop and out on the lash.  In short, capitalism hadn’t really taken a hold on the education system twenty years ago, but wow it has now, which may be a good thing. Let’s hope that with the increase in the fees from the supplier (the university) comes an increased expectation from the customer (the student) to get a decent education, and no more Mickey Mouse degrees.

Some things, however, seem to be going in a full circle. I am now considering a move back towards vegetarianism after the news today that the worldwide cost of grain is rising. This not only affects the cost of your daily bread, but also that of animal feed, so even a simple chicken is going to rise in price. When I was a teenager I was a passionate vegetarian, (I know, not a surprise really, what with the protesting and shopping at Oxfam), but as the years went past I found it very difficult to resist a bacon sandwich. And there was one Christmas when I was supposed to be a veggie (and even had a special meat free Christmas dinner made for me), but later, unable to resist the temptation, snuck into the kitchen and launched into the leftover turkey as if I hadn’t eaten in a week. My mother caught me, turkey leg in hand, but diplomatically decided not to say anything. I’m hoping to spend Christmas with my mum, if we can get ourselves together, if La Gidg’s passport arrives, and we can find some way of transporting the dogs to France with us. But given that she does a fancy ‘bird in a bird in a bird’ kind of dinner these days, being a veggie might have to wait for a couple more weeks. We’ll see.


Pay and go.

You hear it a lot, Mallorca reminds expats of the UK in the seventies. Our lifestyle here is definately not the same as Britain, particularly with consumerism. Some of that I long to change. I dream of spending a couple of hours in a big Tesco’s, filling up the trolley with all kinds of goodies at rock bottom prices. And I wish that the petrol stations were different too. I could buy a latte to go, pick up a sandwich and get some shopping in all at the same time as filling the tank of my car. Or at least I did wish petrol stations were different until this long weekend.

Mallorca petrol stations confuse me. It’s the etiquette of how you get your fuel you see. When you pull up a little man (normally) will scurry out and ask you if you’re a diesel or petrol type of car. Do you stay in your car and grandly hand him your keys, or do you get out and make a show of pumping your own gas (in a kind of, ‘we’re all in it together’ sort of way)? Do you pay them on the forecourt or do you go inside and pay there? Everywhere is different. If I’m in a hurry I don’t want to mess about, I want to pump, pay and push off.  This is all very well and good if you can do the middle bit, the paying that is. Not so for team Neilson McLeod this weekend, we were stymied by our new bank. We have a new account, with actual real money in it, but no way of accessing it because the magic new pieces of plastic refused to work. Oh yes, we could look at our money, but we couldn’t actually touch it. But I only found that out when I was running on fumes and needed some diesel to fill up the ole Kangoo. No dinero? No way.

So gawd bless the lovely boys down the road at the Andratx petrol station. Due to many years of looking confused and mumbling apologies when I wasn’t sure if I could or couldn’t put the nozzle into the tank of my car I have gained (I suppose) a reputation for being ‘that dizzy bird’, or whatever the Spanish alternative is.  So, pleading temporary poverty and much smiling and pointing later I was permitted to ‘borrow’ some diesel until I could extract my hard earned wonga from the bank. Somehow, I don’t think that would be allowed in the UK now, no matter how hard I batted my eyelashes.


Blowin’ in the wind

It’s started; I am officially turning into my parents. I am not sure which one I am going to end up as, but it would seem, with this current cold snap, it’s more likely I will be metamorphosing into my dad. When I was a kid he was the one patrolling the house, turning off the lights, closing windows and tutting if any heat or light was being squandered. These days it’s me: obsessing about keeping the shutters shut and getting stressed out about unnecessary expenditure.  If you don’t live in Mallorca you really can’t understand how unpleasantly clammy it gets in the winter. We have recently recreated my Dad’s take on Seventies’ double glazing and fixed thick plastic sheeting over doors and windows to prevent draughts. It feels as if we are preparing the family cave for the winter ahead.

Our ever increasing frugality has in part been prompted by the recent financial news from Ireland. I’ve been trying very hard, with the help of my clever husband, to understand what the hell has happened over there, in preparation for what might happen to Spain. My husband must have told me in five different ways, but I still don’t get it: how can a country go bankrupt just like that? What idiot gave Ireland a credit card without checking if it could make the repayments? Probably the same bank which gave me one when I was 19 (ahem).

One thing I think would boost our economy enormously would be to help the small business and self employed people on the island to have a better shot at making some money rather than grinding them down on taxes every three months. I met the President of the PP in the Baleares last week, and asked him if he thought it was unfair that we can’t claim for our daughter’s after school care as a business expense (she officially finishes at 2pm, so that makes a working day of 5 hours a day, realistically we should have the right to claim for help to care for her until the end of the afternoon, otherwise how can we both work?). We’re not on contracts, if we run out of work we can’t go cap in hand and get the paro, but we’re expected to pay a lot in taxes and social security. Bauza was sympathetic, but he’s not in a position to change anything, yet.

Meanwhile, until a tax miracle happens, the dogs are being fed cheaper food (but they will eat anything, they are scavengers, after all), we’re homing in on the ‘economy cheese’ and getting very keen on buying ‘twofors’ when we find them.  I don’t know if I am happy about replicating my parents’ budget behaviour from the seventies, but I certainly appreciate now why they always seemed to be in bad moods: constantly being in a state of ‘draught alert’ isn’t what I want to be doing in Mallorca.


Fair’s Fair

Everyone seems so tired at the moment, me included. It seems as if the island has been holding its breath, and has finally been allowed to breathe out, slacken its belt and prepare to hunker down for the winter.

Perhaps it’s because the seasons changed and now it’s wintertime in Mallorca. It kind of snuck up on us. One day we were hanging out on the terrace sipping wine watching the sun go down and then all of a sudden we’re digging out the socks and jumpers and wondering where the brandy is. In come the log deliveries (we’re very back to nature around here, ours is delivered by horse and cart), and out go the fans and icy drinks.

With the winter season comes the fairs, which I love. Every weekend there is a reason to journey to a far corner of the island to discover another speciality, and they are almost always food related. Perfect. We have the excuse to pack ourselves into the car and go on a family outing, or (if we are having a hibernation moment) we can choose to stay in cosy up with the log fire and a home cooked roast. Either way, Sundays have become sacred days to us. Which is one of the things I appreciate about the typical Mallorcan life, you really can’t do much on a Sunday; you have to spend it with yourself, with your family or with your friends. It’s up to you.

Or perhaps we are storing up some energy for the forthcoming Christmas party season, which will hit the island hard and fast come December.  I like to take little presents for the guests at house parties and BaleArt (which is going to be on the Borne in the middle of Palma this year) is the perfect place to buy those little gifts: a jar of artisan honey, a bar of handmade soap, a piece of carved olive tree: it’s all there and all available, and all typically Mallorcan.

The other not to be missed fairs are the ones organised by the expats, it’s a great opportunity to socialise and catch up with people who have been so busy throughout the summer they forgot their own names, let alone yours.  (I know, I look at people, recognise their faces but can’t for the life of me come out with a name). I’m looking forward to the Portals (Dec 5th), Santa Ponça (11th and 12th) and the Mood Beach fairs (18th) partly for the opportunity to scoff mince pies, surely they have no calories in them if you eat them whilst walking? But mainly for the chance to reconnect with people who have been working so hard this year just to survive.  Let’s try to make our winter season count: friends, family and gatherings.  Bring it on, we owe it to ourselves.