out there: Spring is in the air

Official figures indicate that people have started taking heroin on Sunday lunchtimes instead of eating beef. Quite right, too. At least you know what you're getting with good old horse
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The Independent Culture
So there's this Lottery winner, a Brummie lad called Bob, on a month's holiday in the Caribbean, right? So says the man in the grey double-breasted suit, sitting a few seats up the carriage. I'm putting my bag up on the luggage rack. He's not talking to me.

Anyway, he's walking along the beach one morning when he sees his best friend Gerry coming towards him. The Gatwick Express pulls out of Victoria station. In a few hours, acts of God and international terrorism permitting, I'll be in Madrid.

So Bob says, "Hey, Gerry, what the hell are you doing here? It's spring in Madrid and the girls will be wearing short skirts and big clumpy boots. They're a bit hortera, those Madrid girls. Not like Zoe, I say to myself, and suddenly I'm trying to imagine her dumping her boyfriend, but I can't, so I fantasise about him dying - painlessly - in a car crash. I go to the funeral, to console her. This is my big chance. Then her father arrives. They argue. Her mother begs her to come home, to fill the void in her own life. Eventually I announce my intentions. She says I'm just like the others: I want to own her, too.

Raindrops zigzag across the windows as we cut through the Surrey countryside. Even my fantasies turn against me these days.

Gerry says, "Well, Bob, I had to fly out and tell you: I've got some good news and some bad news." Bob says, "Shit. Better tell me the bad news, then." Gerry says, "Well, your dog's dead." As we arrive at Gatwick, I'm wondering when the Trainspotting hype will finally fizzle out. For the past month, I've had calls from radio, TV, newspapers and magazines asking whether I thought Trainspotting was glamourising heroin. Quite the reverse, I told them. Heroin is already glamorous because it's illegal: Trainspotting merely cashes in on smack's allure. I was accused of being facetious. Yesterday, The Independent reported that heroin seizures were up 80 per cent for 1994-95. The trend had started long before anyone had even heard of Trainspotting.

Bob says, "Oh, no, that's terrible. I loved my dog. Tell me, what happened?" Gerry says, "Your horse panicked and kicked it." So Bob says, "What frightened the horse?" Gerry says, "Well, the stables caught fire." Girls with short skirts and clunky shoes hobble across the Gran Via. They look you right in the eye. I'm here to write about Madrid nightlife for an American magazine. I may be finished with nightclubs, but they certainly haven't finished with me.

"The stables caught fire? Well, how did that happen?" asks Bob. "Well," says Gerry, "when your house burned down, the sparks were carried on the wind..." Atletico Madrid, perennial "almost" team of Spanish football, are eight points clear of Barcelona with eight games left. Harvey, an English fan for 13 years, gets tickets for the match with Real Zaragoza. Though both tactically and technically superior, Atletico lack passion - a commodity usually found in abundance in Madrid, apparently the noisiest city in western Europe. The game ends 1-1. Elsewhere, Barcelona have won 3-1. The gap is now six points.

"Me house burned down?" shouts Bob. "But how...?" "Well," says Gerry, "a candle fell off your Dad's coffin..." Bob screams, "What!? You mean me Dad's dead? When did that happen?" The Cafe Commercial has marble floors and huge windows, heavy wooden chairs and tables. It's like a library with drinks and conversation, full of earnest talk about politics and economics, and men with moustaches and button-down shirts, their breast pockets sagging with expensive ballpoints. In a corner by a window sits a wrinkled woman with high cheek bones and a lilac-rinsed perm, chain- smoking Marlboro Lights. Her tiny hands are exquisitely tapered, like origami claws. She must be 70 at least. She is beautiful and noble. I want to befriend her, but an icy glare leaves the smile frozen on my face.

"Actually, it was just a couple of weeks after your Mum died," says Gerry. Both Sky News and CNN are running hourly reports on the BSE crisis. Britain seems paralysed with fear. Taxi drivers quiz me: "Is the beef in Britain really that bad?" I tell them official figures indicate that people have started taking heroin on Sunday lunchtimes instead. Quite right, too. At least you know what you're getting with good old horse. When they protest, I produce the same copy of The Independent, and point to an article entitled "Britain Outvoted on Beef Drug Ban". The day before the BSE scare erupted, Tony Baldry, agriculture minister, was rebuffed by the EU in his attempts to lift the Europe-wide ban on growth hormones in cattle feed. "English meat is filthy," I hiss. "I've been a vegetarian for more than ten years. Keep the change." Just doing my bit for European integration, you understand.

By now, Bob is weeping uncontrollably. "Me Mum, me poor old Mum," he cries. Then he looks up at Gerry and says, "So what's the good news?" And Gerry smiles, "Well, Bob, the heat from the house brought your daffs up early!"