The Airline We Love To HATE

‘I would NEVER fly Ryanair, they’re just horrible!’ declares my friend from London, decisively.
But every morning she gets up and takes the same Network Rail train from Croydon into London, I am not sure what the rail company is called. Does she know, or care? Does she happen to feel warmly affectionate towards their brand or their attitude towards their customers? Somehow I doubt it, as I remember how I used to be jammed liked cattle, face to armpit, 40 minutes a day every day for years (thank god, a long time ago…) She simply regards it as a way to get from A to B in an affordable, efficient and pretty much inevitable way. I can’t imagine her or any of the fellow travellers she is forced into intimate contact saying ‘I HATE Southern Railways, I am going to walk/get cabs in future!’, because that’s not how it works.
So get this, when I have to travel to meet clients and editors in London, I don’t book Ryanair because I embrace their marketing message, love their friendly staff, or have deep personal affection for that cute and cheeky Mr O’Leary. Nor because I enjoy playing ‘one bag roulette’, trying to keep up with necessary debit card requirements for cheap booking, or have a fondness for crap food and staggering up and down metal steps. I actually do it because its the cheapest and most effective way to get from A to B.

I book early when there are sales on, and am usually flexible about dates – I once got one of the almost-legendary 99c fares (MANY years back), but even though they are now a fond memory, over the past 3 years I have definitely found enough loss-leader flights that it must have cost them more in tax to fly me than I paid. So how can I complain? They’ve just made it even harder to evade booking fees, but I never pay them a cent more after booking is completed – weigh bags carefully, take my own food, and I don’t do scratchcards, Spainbitch only bets on a sure thing.
Everyone says they hate them, and their PR dept seems to go out of their way to come up with yet more controversial and bonkers releases about proposed cost and service cutting  – like it will ever be deemed safe to have ‘standing only’ flights, when aviation regs insist even crew strap down for take off and landing!  However I cannot actually recall a delayed flight this year or last with them, whereas EVERY so-called ‘Easy’ journey has been off schedule – and yes, I do know thats just because LyingFare like to pretend it takes 2 hours 50 minutes to get from Malaga to Gatwick just so they can play that sodding trumpet every time. I am flying on a plane 10 years younger than a typical BA wagon – sometimes for less than €20 – and even though I am a Bitch by nature and profession it’s often hard to find anything to actually moan about.  I have more legroom than I ever did on Southern Railways, and am quite capable of immersing myself in my book and shutting out all distractions from the hard sell of lousy gifts to the inevitable stag or hen party that they seem unable to take off without (and always seat right behind me…)  So get over it folks, save your energy to hate someone who gives a damn, Ryanair don’t that’s for sure – but they’ll still get my fare whenever they come out cheapest.

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The Bitch will soon be BACK

Thanks for the recent messages of support, sometimes life gets in the way of the things I want to do, even fun things like bitch-blogging…

I promise you there will be more Spainbitching very soon, and hope everyone’s enjoyed the summer and is now glad to get their roads and shops and beaches back

hasta luego!

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La Gente Rosa

Something weird happens on the costa over Easter. Every year it seems to take me by surprise, even as the memories return – and this year, with the double bank holiday weekend in the UK, it was more of a phenomenon than ever.

Of course Spain needs tourism god knows, with the economy in its current shape then every visitor is welcome. In the summer of course we expect – and depend upon – the place being heaving… but in the summer the build up is gradual, through June and on in to the potential hellhole that is August (and a great time to take a holiday of our own, I find).

Easter though is weird because they just materialize overnight. UK schools out and bang – the place is full of them! Sunburned and scantily clad, a little Spanish girl from our village was open mouthed at the appearance of a rather well endowed British woman of a certain age wearing only a bikini top… at the supermarket checkout! Bear in mind that we are in a village 10 km inland too. ‘But where did the pink people come from?’ she wanted to know. Of course this chica is about 7 years old and her grasp of macroeconomics is a bit shaky, so she doesnt understand why we need the pink people. She just wonders why all these little rental hatchbacks are driving through her village gawping like it’s a safari park and wondering if they can squeeze down Calle Major (built for donkeys), because their dumb GPS’ dont know about the bypass yet.

Posted in Expat Integration, Tourists in Spain | Tagged , | 4 Comments

And tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

Welcome to our new gameshow, reinvent yourself on the Costa, or ‘Skills in their Minds’!

Are you fed up with your life and career in broken Britain? Always fancied yourself in some other role, for example the kind of skilled trade that takes years of experience and training to develop? Simply relocate to Spain, and get some cheap business cards printed and an illegal van sign-written – it’s so easy!

Call yourself a plumber – you’ve got a toolbag after all, and if you can’t fix it or you make it worse, you can simply blame the original Spanish plumbing that was there in the first place. Same if you always fancied yourself as a builder or electrician, after all you’ve always been handy around your own place, and just think of all those lonely expat wives who need a bit of maintenance. Living the dream mate, innit?

Or you could plunge your lifesavings into some kind of business or shop that you’ve always been curious about but have no experience of whatsoever, set up a garage or an IT support and components shop perhaps… It’s not as if your fellow expats will see through you immediately when you cannot fix their laptop/fanbelt, provided you can bullshit through it convincingly (‘Damn Spanish internet / road surfaces, we’re seeing a lot of this kind of problem… what can you do?’)

Of course if it’s a ‘softer’ skill you’ve always seen within yourself despite the faintest shred of evidence, you can set yourself up as a tutor, or a graphic designer, or a network consultant… all you need is some sucker to take you on, and good luck to you, because you’re slightly less likely to kill someone than the idiots who decide to announce they can actually fix stuff when they haven’t got a clue. And after all, if your clients take you on just because you’re British, instead of asking for references or receipts, then they’ve only themself to blame when their roof falls in/pc blows up/brakes fail…

For myself I’ll continue dealing transparently with reliable Spanish contractors who have actually been trained and apprenticed in their chosen trade, who have a business presence with a track record and a reputation to maintain. Call me old fashioned I guess.

Posted in Expat Integration, living in Spain, New Expat, Work in Spain | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

You ain’t seen me, right…

I am off to the UK tomorrow, but shh… don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret.

It’s a secret because I am going for a 3 day mainly-business trip, I have two clients to see, and then I want to see my sister and her boys… and I don’t have time to see ANY friends at all.

But, if I mention on facebook or somewhere that I am blighty-bound, so many people get into a steaming huff that I don’t ‘make time’ for them any more now we live in Spain. It’s so difficult – when I am away for work and not with the family I keep things as brief as possible, and that means I can only catch up with a few of the many people I’d love to spend time with. I’d rather have a long chatty evening with 1 or two good friends than try to schedule lunch then, tea here, drinks there, gotta dash blah blah superficiality with bigger numbers… But this means swearing said friends to secrecy about the whole visit, and hoping that despite the brilliant evening we had, they’ll understand why we don’t get to do it again for like a year or something.

I really try to prioritize family when I’m in the UK, and because I miss vast chunks of their growing up I love to just hang out and do nothing special with my young nephews – just be part of their day for a bit, having tea in the kitchen and hearing their reading homework and stuff. Of course they visit us, but flights are expensive during the school holidays, and kids change so fast… Friends without kids though, it’s so easy, why don’t you hop a Lyingair and come and see us instead? We can go to the beach and out for a boogie and you can get a bit of vitamin D. Honestly, it’s way more fun than me dropping by for one drink in London, and we can talk properly over a weekend.

Especially the friend who is still in a huff because I didn’t drive an hour to spend an hour at your 40th last time I was in the UK for 3 days… how much would we really have spoken and shared if I had sorted it all out and made the trip, to hang out with all your friends I don’t know instead of visiting my sister? Surely you’d rather cash in the gift voucher I made you instead, for a weekend in the Andalucian sunshine, complete with girly spa visit? But silence is the only reply…

Some distant rellies of ours who live in Australia have the right idea (I don’t mean about moving to the other side of the world, though I do point out to the whiners occasionally that we could have done this and gone much much further away than we did). They went back to the UK for a month last summer, and rented a big holiday cottage roughly in the middle of the country with plenty of spare rooms. Then they stayed put, and invited everyone who fancied it to fix a time to drop by and spend time with them. They got to see everyone they cared about for proper long visits, and didn’t spend any of their precious holiday time sat in contraflows on motorways. When I think of the mileage on the hire car we checked back in last summer, after dutifully ticking off the full itinerary of deprived friends and relations, I really think they had a good idea there.

Anyway, back to my suitcase packing, and please don’t let on if you see me at the airport…

Posted in Kids and family, living in Spain, Travel in Spain | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

LyingFare and SleazyBet

I saw this ad, for a travelling coat with something like 36 pockets in it – concealed all over the place – and some are huge, designed for books, drinks and even an iPad.

It wasn’t the most stylish abrigo I ever saw, especially imagining it fully loaded, as it were- but it occurred to me that it would be the most fantastic gear for maximising stuff you can take on low cost flights.  Instead of simply attempting to wear all the clothes you are taking, as I currently do (good strategy for winter trips to the UK in any case), you put your clothes in your carry-on, and everything else pretty much fits inside this coat instead.  Just pop it in a tray at security, and in a locker once you board.  Simple enough.

I did worry a bit though that the cheap flights providers are going to clock on to this sooner or later and clamp down.  Last time we flew as a family they had a big set of scales at the gate, and my eldest thought they were for weighing passengers!  Of course, that’s probably the logical next step, and may already be the subject of a forthcoming O’Leary press release.  Or perhaps they’ll rely on just trying to squeeze ‘passengers of size’ into a some kind of cage-like arrangement prior to boarding, just to prove they can fit in one of their minuscule seats?

Either way, you are going to be sweating in your multi-pocket supercoat.Sweating is not good at airports, you already go through security looking nervous enough when you’re flying low cost, wondering if all the rushed turnarounds and scrimped fuel margins are finally going to combine disastrously.  And then I saw a photo of an x-ray of this coat, designed to show all the clever pockets, and concealed wiring channels for headphones etc.. and I am sorry but all I could think was ‘SUICIDE BOMBER!!’  I am sorry, but you tell me what you think

“But I am just trying to comply with the advertised ‘one bag policy!”‘ you plead desperately, with an anti-terrorist squad boot on the side of your head.  “All I wanted was something to read on the plane, so I didn’t have to listen to all the crap about lottery tickets and duty free… agghhhrr!”

Posted in Travel in Spain | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Wet Wet Wet

Having been here for some time now, I was reminded in conversation with a recent arrival, of one of the most unpleasant surprises I found about living in Spain.

Houses here are built to keep as cool as possible in the hot summer months.  They are also often built cheaply and insubstantially, and building standard items we take for granted in the chillier north are rare luxuries – such as damp proof coursing or central heating.  This can mean that during the brief but intense winter months, your typical Spanish villa can be a bloody miserable place to live.

Of course central heating is an option, but it costs the earth to install and to run, and we managed without it for our first 2 winters in Spain.  This meant that rather than heating the house, we placed the emphasis on trying to heat the immediate environment – either one room at a time, or even more locally as in hot water bottles and slankets.  It also means that a roaring wood fire now holds little romanticism for us, when it’s not so much a beautiful comforting luxury as an absolute necessity – also involving hunting and gathering kindling (‘come on kids, I’ve got a great idea for a walk!’ ‘not AGAIN mum..!’), remembering to bring in wood to get dry, and cleaning out the damn grate after.  Following a particularly dodgy period of storms, I feel similarly unromantic about candelight – 36 hours without electricity cured me of that forever.

The worst thing about cold Spanish houses heated by occasional woodfires and freestanding gas heaters though, is the DAMP.  Somehow these villas seem to suck in moisture and hold it in the brickwork, so it runs down the walls and grows black mould everywhere… eurgh.  I moan about the air-drying effects of central heating sometimes but this is one aspect has been the deal-clincher for me, no more black mould on the walls!

It wasn’t just the walls either.  The impossibility of getting towels and laundry truly dry and not smelling damp, the shoes with the dissolving soles, the leather jacket that came out of the back of the cupboard no longer black but a mushroomy grey…  We had friends who left their place empty for 2 weeks (in the SUMMER) and had to ditch most of their paperbacks on their return, as they had mutated into a hideous fungus factory!

I now love and worship my super-expensive radiators, and will never take them for granted!

PS for things that can take sponging and dabbing, like jackets and shoes (unfortunately NOT books), a triple strength solution of baby steriliser tabs gets the mould off.  Then you just have to get whatever it is properly dry again somehow, before you put it away again…  Thank goodness this week the sun is shining again.

Posted in living in Spain, New Expat, Spain vs UK | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments