Dead battery

"We're fucked," says the bloke. "We are so fucked." This is serious - I've only heard him say this on a handful of occasions - one being the time when we accidentally did an illegal u-turn in front of the police. Well, the u-turn itself wasn't an accident, but doing it in front of the policia certainly was.

Like adults who only swear once in a blue moon, he wheels out the phrase at the crucial moment - and I know things are not good.

He turns the key in the truck's ignition. It wheezes like an old man then dies away to nothing. Turns it again, now there's only a high pitched scream, then silence.

"We can forget about going fishing," says the bloke, glancing sadly at the pile of rods stacked up between us. Then even more forlornly at the lake, glittering invitingly through the back windows of the chevvy.

The battery is dead. We are stuck in reverse in the lane by the boathouse, meters from the shore. The afternoon turns in a matter of seconds.

All business now, the bloke whips out his phone and calls for help. But he's soon spitting curses again when it dies too – cutting him off mid sentence. "Great," he says, putting the useless phone to his forehead, as if he could bring it back to life with the power of his brain.

I pass my mobile and he begins to tap digits from memory, pure Rain Man style. That's something I've always been fascinated by. Despite problems with dyslexia as a child he has a photographic memory where numbers are concerned. He can recite the phone numbers of friends and family, without trying, even as far back as remembering his landline in London, seven years long gone.

As he talks to his brother I get out of the truck, and sit down on hot concrete to wait.

"Charlie's coming to help us," he says. "If we're lucky we can get it started, go home and swap it for the car then get back in time to still go fishing."

And then: "Will you go get me some cigs while we wait?"

It used to really annoy me, him asking me to buy him cigarettes, when he knows I hate him smoking. But he looks so stressed it doesn't even cross my mind to argue. So I grab the euro bill out of his hand and set off for "el Club"

There's maybe two hours of daylight left, but el pantano (the lake) is in fifth gear. In my head it's Madrid's beach - with a sandy shore, families lounging on towels, boats roaring up and down dragging wake-boarders behind them like children running with kites.

I can feel grains of sand already in my shoes as I go, even though I haven't been anywhere near the shore yet.

To the left there's a bare-chested man fixing the sail to the base of his windsurfing board, two little dark-haired, slack-jawed boys squatting down watching him intensely. Just behind them two tiny girls in bikinis chase each other round in circles cackling wildly.

I wonder at what their childhoods must be like, growing up with this as their playground. How wonderful to be dipped in delight on a daily basis, run barefoot through the surf before going home for tea. I can count the amount of times I went to the beach as a child on ten fingers, and though my memories are hazy, I remember wellies and raincoats to have played a starring role.

Before I can stop myself I'm playing my favourite game – the one that I stopped myself playing well before the operation, but have taken back up again now, now that i know that everything seems to be OK.

It's very simple - just looking at children and wondering if they could be ours - what would our kids look like? Would they be blonde, like the little girls tearing after each other, or dark, with deep brown eyes, like the boys, still sat watching their father with their hearts' proud eyes? Would they be shouting at each other in English, or Spanish? I can't wait to find out.

A car sweeps past and I have to look twice. It's a bright blue Mini Cooper with a Union Flag roof and wing mirrors. The guy driving it looks about as British as Antonio Banderas though. What on earth was he thinking? I'd like to drive a Spanish equivalent of the gaudy car around Durham and see what happens.

As the moving piece of Britain disappears from view my eye falls on a van emblazoned with 'DOGOKI' and 'CATOKI', which puts my mind in a spin. Is it like Karaoke for pets? But a backwards look reveals a slogan, todo que necesitas para tu mastcota (everything you need for your pet). It's nothing more than the van of a pet shop.

Up the concrete walkway, like a catwalk to pisshead-ville, is el Club, where the bloke and his brother finished up at silly 'o clock last night, playing 50 games of darts. It's straight out of the Seventies, a square mess of glass, metal and stone - decorated with ship's laterns, rope, and water skiis - with a terrace overlooking the lake. It could have been magnificent once, but now the white paint is creeping with black and green stains and the curtains are worn and patchy.

I push through the glass doors to see the bar manager Vol Damm sitting watching TV. No customers, only dust particles glistening in lines where the last of the evening sun shines through in rays.

Vol Damm jumps up to get me some change for the machine. He's a curious creature – mean face that screams 'hard as nails', tattoos and gold Nike tick earrings. He's Romanian but speaks flawless Spanish, much better than mine.

I want to ask him if his name is in fact the same as the beer we have here or if everyone is pronouncing it wrong. I want to know how he came to be running a bar here, in a comunidad in Pelayos, in the middle of nowehere.

But instead I put my money in the cigarette machine and say: "They're not for me, you know. They're for your friend," mentioning the bloke's name. Vol Damm laughs, showing a few missing front teeth. I smile back, remembering that the bloke has a sore arm from arm wrestling Vol Damm last night in a moment of madness. I consider telling him about what's happened with the truck, but decide against it, in case he feels obliged to help.

Back at the truck a crowd has gathered, each person alternating between scratching their heads and giving advice about what could be wrong. Even the guy from the boat house, who was arguing with the bloke half an hour earlier, is trying to help. There's a huge buzz of excitement when the engine revs into life suddenly, followed by a round of curses when it dies away after Charlie has disconnected the jump leads.

I sit down again to wait. The sun is sinking lower in the sky. Mums are trying to talk and bribe their ninos round to the idea of home time.

There's a tickling in my shoe, and I take it off to reveal a giant ant, slightly crushed at the bottom. I tip it out and watch it struggle around in crooked lines, several of its legs bent and useless. My stomach sinks when I realise I'm going to have to kill it. Silly thing to get sad about, it's only an ant. I eat meat, I wear leather. What's the problem? But still, as I crush it under my shoe I feel guilty. It's not moving now. Where does it go, the life?

I've barely had time to think it, when another giant ant comes along, lifts the remains of the dead one above its head like a champion weightlifter, and scuttles off. Waste not want not. Wow.

With a lion roar, the engine starts up. This time it sounds like we might be going somewhere. "Get in quick!" shouts the bloke.

The ants are immediately forgotten as I spring up - using my index fingers and thumbs like a champion sprinter - and run towards the truck. I won't tell him about them, it would sound like a silly thing to say it out loud.

But I can't stop thinking about it later, when he does finally hook that first special fish that makes all the effort worth it.

Where does the life go when it's not there any more?


  1. What were you going to fish for?

    I think that supporting the team of the country that you live in is an excellent thing to do. It’s a shame that more non-English living and working in England don’t do the same thing.

  2. Fabulous post, I really enjoyed it and on this rare hot summer day I can almost imagine being there too, your words of description take me home :) I will always think of Spain as another home xx

  3. Thanks so much Wildernesschic. the funny thing is it's freezing in Madrid right now - you probably have better weather than us.

    Mr EW - we were fishing black bass - it's an art form! My dedication does not match the bloke's though - he gets up at 6am on a saturday morning to go. it's worth a post on its own really. x

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the clip from R&G. Given the tone of the post, I really thought you would connect with it. You'll enjoy the movie, I'm sure. I really like the play. Tom Stoppard is a genius. It's got a lot of different layers to it, especially with life, mortality, choices, destiny v free will. It's great, I'm so glad you watched it!

  5. Your blog is always such a fantastic read, I do hope you don't mind that I've tagged you in the meme I've just completed. No problem if you don't want to join in.

  6. Mr LS, thanks so much - it would be an honour. I've really enjoyed your meme posts - will get cracking on my own answers this week. x

  7. Fabulous post, loving reading them all! Vicky xx

  8. Really enjoyed that. Your last question - It don't go nowhere. But how odd does that always feel?