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Mysterious cloud of smoke over Sabadell

So I finally get to enjoy the terrace and this is the first thing I see. Accusations that I’ll use any excuse to get back to my Mac will not be entertained.

It looks like it’s coming from the direction of the airport.

UPDATE: It’s a plastics factory in Polinyà (miles away) and it has hit the evening news. You saw it here first.

Incidentally, I tried sending my superior image of the column of smoke to the 3-24 (Catalan news) website, using their ‘send us your images’ interface. It failed several times, possibly due to the paucity of my Catalan? Racists.

Don’t take photos of police cars

This morning, I took a turn around Cerdanyola with the idea of photographing some of the graffiti and posters I often see around the town. I got some half-decent shots around ‘el Barrio’ which is the part of the town made up of tower-blocks and little more. It’s an area which has been improved recently but it’s still clearly a poverty-stricken area.

Well, after getting a few decent shots in el Barrio, I moved on and spotted a decent shot of some police cars parked by the Policia Local station. I’d just taken my first shot (which was pretty crappy) when I looked up to see a policeman approaching with an angry/police look on his silly face. Now, I grew up living on and visiting various military installations and one thing I was always taught was: call the police ‘Officer’ because they like that. I used to be able to show my little ID card to Royal Marines guards and that was that. Let me tell you that being 27 in Cerdanyola del Vallès is not the same as being 12 in Dartmouth.

My shit photo of some police cars

So this police officer decided that I should accompany him back to the police station because I was taking photos of the police cars outside it. He asked me what was my motive for photographing the squad cars and all I could say was “Nada… interes… arte?”. They obviously thought I was some kind of potential Etarra (as if they wouldn’t drive past photographing the police station if they really wanted to do a recce). I showed him the photo I’d taken (which was, incidentally, rubbish: I’d only had time for one shot) and he said “What exactly were you trying to photograph here?”. I felt like saying, “Look, I know it’s a shit photo… let’s just leave it at that”… instead I muttered something about the lights on their cars. I probably looked like the worst kind of antisistema/ultraizquierda/ETA suspect they’d ever seen.

Anyway, I had to present my ID card which the desk sergeant was asked to check. And I didn’t show up on the computer, something which obviously made them more suspicious of me. I explained to the desk sergeant (the ‘good cop’) that there are often problems with my name, because in Catalonia they never understand foreign naming conventions. My name is technically Thomas R—— C—— Clarke and I’ve been identified with various combinations of the four names over the last five and a half years. This causes constant hassle with local authorities but La Caixa have always dealt with it very well.

Eventually, they found me on the computer (I told them to check my address) and they didn’t seem very happy as they just handed me my Targeta de Residència and turned away. I said sorry again and went on my way. Later, I saw a Mossos car and I was so conscious of being questioned that I actually turned by camera off and turned away. All because I took a shit photo of some policia local cars.

King for a day (or two)

Today was Kings’ day (Epiphany) and according to Catalan (and Spanish?) tradition, we ate some Tortell de Reis (Kings’ Cake). This cake is magical because it contains two secret ingredients, a bean and a king. They are packaged carefully and hidden in the cake. The person who finds the bean in their slice of cake is supposed to pay for the cake, while the person who finds the king is deemed to be king for a day. This was the second year running that I’ve been lucky recipient of the piece containing the king.

As a staunch republican, you might expect me to reject the king status and propose, say, a people’s committee to oversee activities for the next 24 hours. And I did think of that. But in truth, I feel that the best way to spread ill feeling about the monarchy is by acting badly while holding the title ‘king’. So I intend to act as despot for the next 24 hours, as a warning to those who would accept a king as their master. And if the message doesn’t get through, I might have to extend my rule by a day or two. For their own good, you understand.

Modbury, rain and seeds and stems

We’ve got yet another low-pressure system overhead now, so after a week or so of good weather, it’s back do murky drizzle. By accident of birth, this weather isn’t too depressing for me. Having grown up in south Devon (in England), drizzle and overcast skies act as a fond reminder of my halcyon days (which were mainly spent strolling through woods and fields, smoking cheap hashish and listening to John Peel’s radio show, taped from last week). My town, by good fortune, was featured in an article in yesterday’s Guardian. It’s to become the first plastic bag-free town in Europe! Go Modbury!

I’ve never written much about Modbury because I’ve not lived there in a long time. Gemma and I try to have every other Christmas out there and we’re going over for a friend’s wedding in July. Modbury’s a lovely place: built around two steep streets and a handful of pubs and farms, it’s an up-market holiday spot for media types and city traders. The countryside around it (particularly the private Flete estate) is sublime and at times, Modbury feels like it might be the best place in the world. When you’re fifteen, however, it can be a bit boring.

Idle hands do the Devil’s work. Perhaps all fifteen year-olds are permanently bored or listening to rock music? Just like most teenagers, we invested quite a lot of time and effort into getting stoned. Unlike today’s lucky youths who are generally able to lay their hands on hydroponically-farmed, acutely psychoactive sticky bud, in Modbury we seemed to be mostly confined to ‘soap bar’, the crappiest, least pure hash produced anywhere in the world. In many ways, it’s remarkable that we stuck at it. Sometimes, we walked for miles to buy a ‘teenth’ (1/16 of an ounce) – but then we had nothing better to do, so probably we would have been walking around aimlessly anyhow. Still, I guess that even though we didn’t realise it at the time, we were extremely lucky with where we grew up.

I am also very lucky to be living here in the suburbs of Barcelona. We’re very close to the Collserola park (a protected, forested bit of rocky parkland behind Barcelona), have a lovely terrace with plenty of afternoon sun, and Cerdanyola seems to be on the up and up at the moment. If you’re looking for a flat in Spain, make sure it’s got a terrace. This multi-functional extra wing of the house acts as a scullery, garden, dining room, sun deck and marijuana production facility (among many other things). There are few better things to do in April than spend a weekend in Amsterdam, fly back with some 100% feminised ‘White Rhino’ and ‘Great White Shark’ seeds and plant them. We have high hopes for this year’s crop (mainly because of the price of the seeds).

There is, however, one major problem with growing weed on your terrace (and I’m not talking about the… slightly shady legality of the enterprise). The biggest issue we’ve encountered so far (and it has become worse every year) is caterpillar infestation. This little bichos seem to love prime buds more than anything else in life. A brisk shake of the plant will get most of them off but it can also damage the plant’s stems and reduce the number of precious crystals on your crop. Insecticides should never be used on your weed, and particularly not during the flowering and fruiting stage. So this year, I’m going to employ biological weapons. It’s possible to by ladybirds and other voracious predators via mail order. I haven’t tried it before and I’m a little worried about my ladybirds flying away, just like my parrot did. But it’s worth a try. If you’ve got any other anti-caterpillar advice, I’m all ears.

Wine, wine, wine

I’ve just discovered that Spain is the world’s third largest producer of wine. Behind France and Italy (I must admit that I can’t remember the time I last tried a glass of Italian), Spain produced nearly four million tonnes of wine in 2005. I suppose that it makes sense: from the ubiquitous Rioja, through Cava to the Valencian fare sold for four pounds a bottle in England, almost every region in Spain produces its own variety of God’s greatest gift. Personally, I’m a great fan of Priorat. The Catalan county which gives Priorat its name has a minuscule population of fewer than 10,000. And yet it manages to produce a wine whose quality and richness is even now being ‘discovered’ by the bodegas of New York City and London. Read more about Spanish and Portuguese wine at Catavino.

Speaking of wine, Gemma and I watched the film ‘Factotum’ tonight. An adaptation of one of Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novels, it tracks the jobs, drinks and women of Henry Chinaski who weaves his way between work and bed and racetrack in the form of Matt Dillon. I hadn’t read Factotum before. I loved Post Office and Ham On Rye and so knew – more or less – what to expect. I wasn’t disappointed. The direction and acting in the film were smart and well adapted to the subject material. I laughed my head off at parts. And it stars Marisa Tomei… always a good sign, right Costanza?

Graeme at South of Watford drew my attention to the mad ravings of a Libertad Digital blogger today. Pio Moa (or Pio Mio, as I call him) wrote a piece yesterday which basically argued for the use of violence to wrest power from the democratically elected socialist government. The justification he offers for starting a new civil war is that the socialists conspired to bring about the Madrid bombings two years ago in order to steal the election which followed days later. Naturally, this theory is totally lacking in evidence but then most crazy conspiracy theories are. It would be easy for me to say that this guy needs to drink either more wine or less wine, depending on his current wine consumption.

Pio, I’d be more worried about the crack if I were you.