Travel: Traffic jams, double-decker buses, fast food and Guinness - why London is just heavenly for the Spanish
Sunday 05 September 1999
Never mind covered markets in Madrid or Barcelona selling giant figs by the bucketload and piles of fresh squid and clams and lobsters and peaches the size of melons. What they like is cut-price electronic goods, second-hand furniture shops, dodgy internet cafes and fast- food joints. Throw in a few red double-decker buses and black London cabs and it's a man-made heaven.
Odd? I think so, too. That's my Spanish friends for you. They say that if you're in London with dyed hair and clip-on earrings, then nothing else in life matters. I keep pointing out that our local high street is chock-a-block with traffic at all times of the day and night: "Listen to me, you dunderheads," I'll say to them. "The point of getting into a car is to travel large distances at high speed. Not to sit in traffic all day. Get it?"
But my Spanish friends don't give a pound of cheese for arguments like these. The insanity of it! As long as you're upstairs on a London double- decker bus admiring the view, they reply, then it doesn't matter if you're stuck in traffic. What view, I ask? Oh, the chimney pots, the red bricks, the terraces, the people. And the cars, I grumble. But what's the point. My Spanish friends in the meantime will have got their noses buried in a copy of Hello! magazine. They are interested in British celebrities, you see.
Otherwise, they'll be swilling from large plastic bottles of scrumpy and smacking their lips and sighing loudly. "The cider never tastes this good in Madrid," they'll say, lying back and listening with tears in their eyes to their favourite CD compilation of musical tributes to Princess Diana.
It's the cider that makes my Spanish friends maudlin. And the Guinness, which they love so much they get sick on it. They're always taking me down to our local high street to visit olde English pubs with neon-lit signs in funky joined-up writing above the door. "But I don't think I really fit in here," I'm saying, trying to walk out backwards. "I prefer strong small drinks. You know, that stuff you can always pick up in empty railway station bars on hot afternoons in Andalusia..."
Pile of shite, say my Spanish friends. By now we'll be sitting at a table with a young man with wet hair called Steve, who obviously won't much care for my Spanish friends because they'll be speaking English in such a funny accent. Except that, behold, Steve's accent will be even funnier. And everybody will have a great time bonding, except me, because I'll be the only one still complaining about how annoying it is that you can't order coffee or potato omelettes or little plates of octopus salad in pubs in my local high street.
"Just shut up and drink your Guinness," my Spanish friends will say. Oh, all right, I will then.
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