Monthly Archives: October 2012

Toledo Tales: Teething Problems (Part III)

Monday 3 October 2011

Armed with the requisite papers, I’m off to my appointment to register as self-employed. I’m on foot, as it’s not far, but I struggle once again with locating my final destination (a government office called “Vivero de Empresas”, which translates, I think, as “Nursery of Companies” –  cute ;-)) Street signage can be described as sporadic at best in the historic part of town, where hoards of hapless tourists shuffle from cul-de-sac to dead end clutching their maps in sheer exasperation. But in the newer parts of Toledo, you might sooner spot a Morris dancer doing the splits on a milk float than a street sign.

I know I’m close, so I ask a passer-by, who points me in the right direction. The irony is that there’s an enormous plaque commemorating the street’s inauguration, but nothing to tell you its actual name.

The office is a swish, modern building made of fancy iron grating superimposed on vast glass walls. Inside, it’s spacious and seemingly deserted. Because of the economic crisis, I’m guessing, there aren’t too many people wanting to register their new businesses.

I’m ushered straight into a woman’s office and she starts to process me by taking basic personal details. Then she hands me over to a tall, bearded young guy in bright blue pants.

Within minutes, we happen upon a stumbling block. I will need to make a monthly €250 social security payment (which I was already aware of that, otherwise I might have toppled off my chair) by DIRECT DEBIT. I explain that I cannot open a bank account without first completing this self-employment registration, which is why I was here.

He scratches his head. He’s never been confronted with a problem quite as exotic as this one. Luckily, his colleague at the desk opposite has. I get passed on to him, a veritable veteran of the civil service establishment, and close to retirement age. Besides letting me bask in the comfort of his innumerable years of experience, he’s also in a splendid mood, which isn’t soured in the slightest, when he can’t find a suitable box on the system that describes my type of professional activity. Story of my life. We settle for something or other in the ‘creative’ field. Then he gives me a payment slip, so that I can make the first social security payment in cash. Success!

Tuesday 4 October 2011

The day has come. I walk into the Santander. I sit down opposite the first available Customer Service person. Her name is Maria. I tell her I want to open a bank account. (By now, I’ve had plenty of practice with that phrase and it comes out smoothly and confidently.) Maria peers at me cautiously.

With a glint of triumph in my eye, I shove a pile of papers her way. She shuffles through them. She smiles. Then she utters the magic words: “It seems to be all there.”

Twenty minutes later, with my right hand in a cramp after being made to sign a ream of documents that would stretch all the way to the outer rings of Saturn if laid out end-to-end, I finally have a bank account. I celebrate with coffee and Toledanian marzipan cake.

Monday 17 October 2011

By now, I have been paid (yes, right into my brand spanking new bank account), and so it’s time for the last essential step – getting online from home so that I can actually WORK from there. I’ve been lugging my laptop around cafes, libraries and acquaintance’s offices for an entire month. Which, curiously enough, has caused an inexplicable spike in my productivity…!?

So, it’s around noon this Monday when I trundle into the local high street branch of Spain’s biggest phone company. And there I’m told something really shocking: The engineer will be at my house the following morning at 9.30am. I feel compelled to repeat this information back to them three times, just to make sure I’ve heard right.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

It’s 9.34am. The Telefonica engineer arrives, and he plugs in the broadband. I can skype from home!

There will be more cake, but, as you’ll all be relieved to hear, no part IV. Phew! Thanks for suffering it out with me…

View from the citadel café, where I used to work from before I had internet at home

View from the citadel café, where I used to work from before I had internet at home

Toledo Tales: Teething Problems (Part II)

Friday 16 September 2011

I got my residency registration sorted out yesterday without a hitch. We went down to the Town Hall, Elena and I, she deposited me at someone’s desk, the guy took my passport and my rental contract, filled in a form and handed it to me with a smile. All done and dusted within ten minutes.

Buoyed by that heartening experience, I go down to the police station this morning to see about getting the N.I.E. (A social security number, which I need before I can register as self-employed.)

This police station, which deals with immigration, is rather tricky to find. It’s tucked away behind the local hospital in a side street, it’s entrance entirely unmarked. This is really helpful for people new to the town. Not to worry, my Teutonic programming has made me set off in good time. The office opens at 9am and I get there at 9.30, which, I’m thinking, is plenty early.

But not early enough, as it turns out. The waiting room an officer directs me to is already choc-a-bloc. Oh well. I take a number and sit down. Maybe the throng of people will move through the system quickly…

It strikes me that something isn’t quite right here. Nobody else in the room looks like me. Also, the queue is barely going down. There’s two doors that people disappear into when their numbers are called, and they spend eons in there. No way will my turn come before the office closes for lunch.

I should ask somebody. There’s police officer, a fat, contented-looking sort, with nothing else to do but walk about, making small-talk with the punters and petting their mewling whelps. There’s also a woman behind a desk, flailing between phone calls and paperwork.

I sit there for a good hour with my book, before I finally muster up the courage to approach her.

“I’m here to apply for my N.I.E.”
“Are you an EU citizen?”
“You shouldn’t be here.”


She hands me a strip of paper with a phone number, which I must call to make an appointment, she tells me, and then come back, but to a different office, right round the corner from this one.

I leave, feeling slightly silly for having wasted all this time by not asking a simple question first off, for fear of not understanding the answer, looking stupid and having people get impatient with me (none of which happened!).

Friday 23 September 2011

I have my N.I.E!

My N.I.E - I'm official now!

My N.I.E – I’m official now!

I went to my appointment at 11.30 am, there was a line in front of a hospital-green door, but it moved at lightning speed, and after a brief checking of ID and documents, it was entrusted to me: my N.I.E., on a handsome green certificate.

Awrgh, bugger!!! I discover on arrival at home that they got my DOB wrong… they made me THREE DAYS OLDER!

I can’t face trudging all the way back there. I just can’t. No doubt this will cause me a whole host of problems in the future, but I don’t give a rat’s arse about it right now. Where’s my cake?!

Toledo Tales: Teething Problems (Part III)

Toledo Tales: Teething Problems (Part I)

I’ve been living in this charming historic theme park for just over a year now. People have asked me what it was like when I first arrived. Harking back to a handful of harassed diary entries to jog my memory, I’ll do my best to illustrate…

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

[An event preceded by me purchasing a one-way plane ticket for the second time in my life.]

I’m exhausted. I’m exuberant. I’m all over the place. I’ve been up since 4am.

It is now 3pm. Sofia, my lovely landlady, meets me at my new sparkly clean flat, then rushes out to get some sheets for me, and toilet paper, milk, yoghurt (two plain, two strawberry), water and flaky pastries filled with chocolate. Great. Trip to the supermarket can wait till tomorrow.

I’ve got one suitcase with me. My 40 boxes full of clothes, books and household debris are due to arrive in a couple of weeks. Luckily, Sofia has left me plenty of cutlery, crockery, pots and pans in the kitchen, so I won’t need to eat off the floor.

4pm. Am pacing up and down the flat to get the feel of it. I’ve been here only once before, just over two months ago, for a very brief viewing.

I absolutely love the closet! Now that would give Carrie Bradshaw an instant orgasm. Ooooooh, the pull-out shelves, especially the ones with the little square compartments for keeping the smalls organised…! The bathroom mirrors are useless for picking zits.

Oh my. I’ve actually done it. I’ve moved country. Again. My Spanish is diabolical. I’m all alone. I can’t work the TV. Nor the oven. There’s mold growing in my washing machine and a waft of rancid cooking fat seeping through my open window. Feeling at a loose end. I have nothing to do, nothing to read, nobody to see, no internet. I want it to be 11pm, so I can rightfully go to bed. But it’s only 8.

Pretty pretty Toledo...

Pretty pretty Toledo…

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

My first morning of red tape frustration is over. There will be many more.

No joy opening a bank account. I don’t have the ‘right’ papers. In fact, I had to go to three banks to ascertain what the right papers are. As soon as they hear the word “freelance”, they start twitching. Nobody is interested in seven years’ worth of statements proving that I’ve got a steady income, and neither do my assurances, that I don’t want any credit cards, loans, nor launder money extracted from the rent boy racket I’m running in my spare time, appear to help my case in any way. All I want, I try to convey to the stern bank people in my best Tarzan-inspired Spanish, is an account for money to go into. But no. I might as well be badgering the Vatican to ordain as a priest.

So, at the end of all this, I gather that they *might* heed my pleas if I provide the following:

  • Residency Registration Certificate
  • N.I.E. (akin to a National Insurance number)
  • Self-Employment Registration Certificate
  • Endless Patience

How do I go about obtaining any of these things? Nobody knows. Am especially hung up on the last item.

But before I can even tackle more bureaucracy, I’ve bodily needs to attend to. Time for some food shopping in the local supermarket (the crapness of which warrants an entire blog entry to itself). I spend €60 on virtually nothing. The prices are crazy. I’m going to have to live on fruit, yoghurt, tinned fish and salad until I get paid, I decide. Paid, that is, into a bank account. Aaaaaaaahrgh.

Oh, and while gazing at shelves stacked with pickled octopus, I attract my first local admirer. A weedy, hairy, gerbil-like creature with a desperate stare. Just my type! There’s a brief conversation of sorts, then I manage to shake him off. He won’t be getting anywhere near my bodily needs, this much I know.

Next in line, thank God, is a relaxed social: coffee with my friends Maxi, Elena and her sister at their house. Just what I need, a round of smiley faces. (Elena and Maxi are the people I stayed with when I first started to investigate Toledo as a future relocation option.) They invite me for dinners at their place until I get myself sorted – how very sweet of them. And Elena offers to take me to the Town Hall tomorrow to get the residency registration done. That will be one problem down. What would I do without the kindness of barely-no-longer-strangers…!? Bang my head against the nearest two-millennia-old stone wall, that’s what.

Toledo Tales: Teething Problems (Part II)


Toledo Tales: The Cockroach Wars – Round I

If you’re planning to read this over breakfast, don’t.

So, one sunny morning in May, while getting dressed, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a dead beetle at the foot of the wardrobe. I went to my desk, got a piece of paper and scooped it up. I looked at it. I looked at it closely. It was quite big, almost two inches in length, with a pair of long, delicate feelers and tiny, vestigial wings. And then it dawned on me.

This was no beetle.

But at least it was dead.

A quick google confirmed my worst suspicions.

I’d never actually seen a cockroach before. In real life, I mean. Oh, what a sheltered life I’d once led in Europe’s sanitised northern parts. But this were its nether regions. This was Spain.

Maybe it was a lost lone ranger, blown by a gust of wind through the little bathroom window I kept open at all times for ventilation (a well-documented German compulsion), and it had then popped its clogs in the adjoining dressing room due to a lack of food. That was my theory. A.k.a. denial.

My bubble burst the very next morning, when, with my senses primed, I saw a live one flitting across the dressing room floor. We both stopped in our tracks, the beastly creature and I, we stared at each other for a few seconds, before it slid underneath the wardrobe in a huff.

We did have a problem. Dammit!

Cockroach Poison

I flew out the door like grease lightning to get bug killer in both spray and powder form, and I sprinkled the latter all along the skirting boards (they move like mice, you see).  Not a pretty sight. The flat looked like it had a bad case of dandruff, and I kept stepping in the damn stuff with my bare feet. I expect to come down with brain cancer any day now.

I read everything I could about cockroaches. It became a mini obsession. I learned all about the different kinds. Apparently, ‘mine’ were Blatta orientalis, or Oriental cockroaches, which, I learned to my great relief, were incapable of scaling up smooth surfaces. But then, I also read that they are regarded as the ‘dirtiest’ kind. Yeuch….

I interrogated my local friends about their roach slaying techniques. One of them, who has a bit of a phobia, told me she had found a dead one under her guest bed a couple of weeks ago. She sprayed her entire house in a frenzy, and ended up in casualty for the night with severe breathing difficulties.

Brimming with all this newfound expertise, I went on another mission to acquire traps laced with poison bait to add to my extermination arsenal. I was in luck: it was buy-four-get-two-free at my local supermarket. Clearly, ’tis was the season. I had calculated that I needed around ten to fifteen traps. I bought forty.

I was ready for war. Over the next three weeks, my morning routine included traipsing around the flat in disgust-laden anticipation, scanning the floor for black bodies and clutching a can of insecticide like a Jedi Knight his lightsaber. (Darth Vader was inspired by a cockroach, of that I am convinced). Some of the ones I encountered, you see, weren’t quite dead yet but far too sick to run, and a blast would finish them off.

Next, I would send an email entitled ‘The Daily Body Count: [Insert Number]’ to my landlady, and also to a friend of mine for moral support.

A battle is not a proper battle unless somebody bears witness to your outstanding bravery, right?!

The Bugtoria Cross must still be in the post.

All the way through this, I was a nervous wreck. I compulsively checked every item of clothing before putting it on, as well as every inch of my bed before I dared to get in. I was even afraid to get up in the middle of the night for a wee, in case I stepped on one of these ghastly beasties in the dark.

Nothing could be left out in the kitchen, no unwashed plates, no rubbish in the bin, no crumbs anywhere. And yet, I knew that it was impossible to starve them out – roaches will eat soap or glue from book bindings if they have to. I had read that they could survive for an entire week after their heads had been chopped off! And then they die of thirst, apparently, not hunger.

After three long and fretful weeks, there were no more bodies. Also, I had figured out their point of entry: the bathtub plughole, which I’ve been keeping hermetically sealed ever since when not in use.

All that remains of this unappetising episode, fingers crossed(!), is a brand new paranoia and a bladder with the same holding capacity as a bloke’s. I’m also keeping the traps in place, just in case, and there are several cans of insecticide in strategic positions dotted around the flat.

Project Trilingual: The Intercambios

In pursuit of fulfilling my primary directive, which is to become trilingual, I engage in “intercambios”. These entail meeting up with local people who want to practice either English or German and who, in exchange, don’t flinch when I torture them with my abysmal Spanish.

Fuelled by the economic crisis, and the fact that foreign language teaching in Spanish secondary schools is just as crap as it is in the UK, demand is huge. The facts that Toledo is small and foreigners scarce on the ground are a total boon for me.

Predictably, most Spaniards want to learn English, but there is also quite a bit of interest in German, because Germany is where the jobs are right now. There’s a tidal wave young and eager jobseekers rolling northwards, aided, in some miniscule part, by me. Good luck to them, I say!

How do I go about ensnaring my victims? Well, the majority I bait with an internet ad, some are driven into my outstretched tentacles by a local language school, and the rest are referred on by my carefully brainwashed stock of active disciples.

The brief email exchange, which preludes every first meeting, routinely confuses people. This is because my written Spanish is apparently so perfect, that my prospective clientele is fooled into thinking that I’m the one wanting to learn English or German from them. As soon as we meet face-to-face, though, they realise that they were grossly mistaken. On email, I can waste hours brooding over every word, deliberating whether the dreaded subjunctive is required or not, and I dither for absolutely aeons before picking the appropriate verb tense – all of which would be too much to bear for a conversation partner with a pulse.

To avoid being inundated by applicants, I’m becoming ever more picky. In my three-liner advertisement, I specify that I’m looking for people who speak their target language to at least upper intermediate level. This is because I enjoy conversation, and I like to switch from one language to the other without throttling the flow or purposely having to change the topic. Going from a stimulating disparagement of faith healers to naming pieces of cutlery just doesn’t do it for me.

Apart from language level, another thing I’ve specified in my “wanted” ad is a minimum age of 25, but I’m finding now that this is still far too low. It turns out that it is commonplace for Spanish people to be living with their parents well into their thirties. Youth unemployment stands at a staggering 50%, making it impossible for youngsters to fly the nest. At times, though, I cannot help but wonder whether the reluctance to strive for independence is not a major contributing factor to this sad statistic, rather than the consequence.

Anyway, the upshot is this: I find start-up conversations featuring sentences like “how many bedrooms are there in your parents’ house” less than thrilling. I’m currently toying with the idea of revising the minimum age upwards to 30+, making it implicit that some life experience in the adult realm wouldn’t go amiss. I really don’t mind if people are screwed up and hopeless in all sorts of other ways. We’d have even more in common then!