On Tuesday the boiler in our flat was finally repaired. We now have hot water once more without having to clamber on a chair and reach behind the fridge to switch the mechanism on and off. The wonders of modern living!
After I had talked to the plumber for some time about boilers and followed his instructions to switch taps on her and there or to please let him have a drink of water and so on (each time being told, "Muchas gracias. Muy amable.") he eventually twigged that I was not Spanish. Or at least, not Galician. "¿No eres de aquí?" he asked and I confessed my Englishness.
And the next question was ... ¿De Londres? That often happens. Someone discovers you are English and assumes that you are from London. Now, me, I ask Spaniards where they are from. Rarely do I assume that they come from Madrid. Or that French people come from Paris. Spaniards almost always ask if I come from London. Curious! Maybe London is the only place they know of in the UK. Although, having said that, conversation revealed that my plumber was reasonably well acquainted with the geography of the UK.
The next assumption that I hear a lot, as well as the old chestnut about our drinking tea at four o' clock, is that England, and especially London is foggy. This is a common misapprehension, despite the fogs of my childhood having long since largely disappeared. And it's not just the Spanish who do it. I read the other day that Tom Cruise included this comment in the production notes to the new Mission: Impossible movie, talking about a chase through a misty bit of London, "It’s a city that I love and we get to create a bit of a love letter to London in this chase: you get the cobblestone
streets, the fog, the Tower of London.”
My plumber did not fall into that trap. Oh, no! Instead we had a long discussion about Europe, the EU, the state of Greece, unemployment in Spain, government by the
wealthy for the wealthy and much, much more. Apart from his insistence that Turkey has been a member of the EU since 2005 (?!?), he seemed very well informed and certainly opinionated.
After the plumber had left, I walked out to meet Phil at the chess club and we called in at the Midcentury cafe for a beer. There we witnessed a little bit of drama. A group of people sat a table near ours, a group of thirty-somethings with the small child of two of them. This child seemed to be being brought up bilingual; her mother spoke to her in both English and Spanish and the child responded accordingly each time. I wasn't sure if the child's aunt was English. She certainly looked English but also spoke very good Spanish. (I really should stop eavesdropping on other people's chat!) Amazingly, this child was frequently reminded not to shout and was not allowed to interrupt the adults' conversation. That, however, was not the drama I was talking
Suddenly one of the men in the group spoke quietly but firmly to a woman sitting on the table directly behind theirs and demanded that she hand over a purse that was in the top of her bag of shopping. From what I could gather (there's that eavesdropping again) she had calmly dipped her hand into the bag of the English-looking aunt and lifted the purse out. She then took a look inside and slipped it into her own shopping bag. After which she quietly got on with her beer, as if nothing had happened. Admonished by the young man from the group, she simple ignored him and carried on drinking her beer, not responding to anything he or María, the cafe owner, said to her. Only after she had finished her beer did she pick up her shopping bag and walk out, still without a word to anyone and without looking anyone in the eye.
Now, this woman did not look like a drug addict or a beggar or a vagrant but I overheard María say something about her having a pill on the table next to her beer. So perhaps she was on medication for something. That could explain her behaviour and her oddly detached attitude. Certainly the group around the table recognised something unusual about her. They admonished as if she were a naughty child who
did not quite understand what she was doing. Having established that the contents of the purse were all there, nobody suggested calling the police. But the young man who had told her off to begin with warned her that he would be looking out for her on the street from now on.
Care in the community?