To the Guardian: A Political Manifesto for Nursing in unjust times

A Political Manifesto for Nursing in unjust times

 

Despite general satisfaction and support for nurses and the NHS by the public, there are continuing issues that threaten to undermine the trust given by the public, and to the health and wellbeing of the public. These issues include the health and social care needs of older people, care for people with mental health problems and inequalities in health as outlined in ‘The Spirit Level’. Junior Doctors are currently flexing their political muscles while public health professionals have been engaged in civic and political advocacy supported by such organisations as ‘The Equality Trust’.  The political ‘nursing voice’ has yet to be clearly heard.  To do this we propose an ‘Action Nursing’ which should:

 

  1. Equip all nurses with an understanding of the social, political and ecological determinants of health.
  2. Encourage and support nurses to confront vested interests through action at local, national and international level, by providing them with evidence, analysis, justification, critical concepts and theories and thus confidence to speak and to act.
  3. Create a network of clinical and academic nurses, and other co-opted health professionals, to argue and publicise the requirement to ‘speak truth to power’ and to engage in civic, academic and professional activity as part of a wider social movement from below.
  4. Seek and encourage research applications by nurses, alongside other academic colleagues, to continue to add to the body of scholarship on health inequalities and the politics of health care.
  5. To work with any of the Royal Colleges, and any interested parties, on political and civic action.

 

Acknowledging that many health professionals have been engaged in political action already, Action Nursing should encourage the wider body of nurses, and their health colleagues, into organised, confident civic and political action on their own working lives and the lives of the people they work with and for. Without this action, nursing and nurses may continue to be largely ignored, and thus relatively powerless, to change the experiences of vulnerable groups in society, i.e. most of us, the 99%, at some point in our lives.

Choose your parents

Alejandro Nieto.

Bernal Heights. San Francisco.

What has the death of a young man, shot by four police officers in a park in California got to do with with understanding health outcomes in the United Kingdom?

Mary Sue and Miriam. Two women born at similar times whose grandparents came from the same small town in the United States. One will be going to an Ivy League University while the other struggles with drugs and hopelessness writing on her Facebook page ‘Love hurts, Trust is dangerous’.

What links them is that Alejandro and Mary Sue ‘chose the wrong parents’, while Miriam chose wisely, a Harvard professor for a grandfather (Robert Putnam), and University educated parents.

Their cases illustrate that health and well being is ‘structured but not determined’, that to truly understand their life chances we have to consider the transformations in society that impact on the choices made and opportunities open to individuals and their families.

Alejandro was born to Mexican immigrants who came to San Francisco in the 1970’s. His mother worked all her life while his father took on most of the child care duties. San Francisco has a history of immigrants from other parts of the US as well as from elsewhere. Being Hispanic in California is ‘normal’ but not to the white, male, educated tech engineers from Silicon Valley who have moved to the area en mass ushering in gentrification and myopia. Alejandro was described to the Police as probably ‘foreign’ who had a gun, his red jacket marking him out as a gang member. All of this was supposition and assumption. Alejandro had lived in Bernal Heights all of his life, the gun was a taser, carried because he worked as a security guard. His red jacket was a sports jacket, the colour of the local sports team the 49’ers. Those doing the describing were white tech engineers making assumptions about behaviour. Indeed, Alejandro was holding a taser, but he had just been harassed by a dog barking and jumping up at him to get at his chips. The dog owner was 40 feet away, distracted by a ‘jogger’s butt’ and unable to keep his dog under control.

The police arrived, and shot him, one unloading over 20 bullets and had to reload.

Alejandro, Mary Sue and Miriam live at a time when the United States is experiencing growing inequalities in wealth, segregation in its communities, family instability and a collapse of both good working class jobs now being followed by a squeeze on middle class opportunities. While the wealth of the 1% has increased based on their increased share of wealth being created – they are getting an even bigger slice of the pie, working class incomes have stagnated. Mary Sue’s grandfather used to have a decent income from a solidly working class job, now gone leaving ‘flexible’, low paid insecure work.

As economies restructure, as cities adapt to new social conditions, people experience changing social structures that enhance or diminish their chances. The white Ivy League tech engineers are likely to know only other white Ivy Leaguers, to come from Ivy League parents, went to the same schools and know only their own kind in a networked bubble of privilege, social myopia and self satisfying smugness. They don’t know the ‘other’ and can thus label a sports fan as a gang member with in this case lethal consequences.

Perhaps representing their views:

“I know people are frustrated about gentrification happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.”

 

So ‘free market society’ justifies the breakdown of community, segregation, inequality, fear and mistrust. Wealth is ‘earned’ rather than a result of circumstances (right time, right family, right ethnicity, right gender, right neighbourhood, right education, right opportunities and often the inheritance of not only financial but social and cultural capital). Indeed, no one should have be be accosted, no one should see pain and struggle and despair, but don’t blame the victims of unjust social, political and economic systems. Don’t blame the dog for barking when someone’s kicked it.

Alejandro’s ‘personal trouble’ (being shot) is now a public issue. When only one young man is shot by police, we might consider the character of the man and look to him as an individual for reasons and solutions. When hundreds of young men are being shot by police this individual analysis is no longer useful, we must look to social structures, to link personal stories to this point in time in this particular society.

Miriam can look forward to a bright future, she experienced great parenting, great education backed up of course by well resourced material assets. Mary Sue, is a single parent with no education, self harm, a drug habit and abusive partners. Her child will very probably not go to Harvard. Alejandro made the mistake of being born Hispanic and thus a potential threat to the White denizens of a newly gentrified neighbourhood.

If you are struggling to apply this to the UK context, you don’t know the truth and you lack the ‘sociological imagination’.

Alejandro’s story is in Rebecca Solnit ‘Death by Gentrification’. Opinion. The Guardian. March 22nd 2016.
Mary Sue and Miriam’s story is in a talk by Robert Putnam to the RSA in London, March 2015, on ‘Inequality and the Opportunity Gap’. https://www.thersa.org/discover/videos/event-videos/2015/10/robert-putnam-on-inequality-and-opportunity/#

A posh train to paddington

I often work and live in a bubble. It’s a rather liberal lefty bubble in which the rich are lined up against the wall, sweating as they hear the click of breaches being loaded, the UK is a republic with Prince Philip working as a butler to the Chinese, and there are free drugs for all. I read the Guardian, scoff at conspiracy theories and consider shakra alignment to be something to do with a civil engineering project in Goa. I do eat lentils, but only infrequently, never wear socks with sandals, and beards are for men with masculinity issues or who have a very loose relationship to personal hygiene. I also think Trident is a useless piece of American controlled technology used mainly for macho posturing on the ‘world stage’ by those whose buttocks still smart from the spankings they received at Eton.

I do not read the Daily Mail.

Today my bubble is being pricked. I have an inside seat to the ‘real world’ for the next 5 hours on the 1030 to Paddington, courtesy of two ladies of a ‘certain but also strangely indeterminate age’ who have both commandeered the table at which I sit. As I write, the iPad is perched precariously on the edge of the table taking up about 4 inches. I have had to place my coat, bag and hat on the overhead rack a little distance from my seat because the two ladies have also deposited bags, and other equipment required for the colonisation of an exotic land, directly over my head. They have claimed the whole of the table through the judicious placement of coffee, handbags, one copy of the Mail (for wives of those who run the country) and one copy of the Express (for those who think they run the country). As I take my seat, there is not one flicker of acknowledgment that I might, just might, require a little space in which to breathe. I pluck up the courage and do something ‘Un-British’ by daring to ask that the Tesco carrier bag of assorted victuals, be shifted slightly to one side of the table. One wears a bright purple jumper, the other a turquoise, and both colours matching their lipstick and eye shadow. Their seats have no reserved tickets but I somehow sense they are going all the way to London. As I contemplate this, my heart sinks faster than an anvil on a tissue paper raft. Their talk volume is set to ‘High’, oblivious to everyone else and uncaring that we are involuntarily co-opted into their southern county shire musings. However, every utterance is a gem, exemplifying everything I would laugh at in a sitcom and, as such, would consider it satire. But no, this is for real.

They are a microcosm of the Tory Party conference; self congratulatory at their own success, overly confident of their knowledge and myopic in their outlook and understanding of ‘people not like us’. And yet after an hour they have not yet mentioned ‘migrants’.

I have heard opinions on the new chief executive appointment at the local health trust (“bring back matron”); Osborne’s budget (“come out of the EU and we will soon have a surplus”); fuel duty (‘it should come down”); Trump (‘he speaks as it is’) and the EU again, (“Obama should keep his nose out”). However, and perhaps to my surprise, they rail against useless bankers, footballers and lawyers on the basis that they earn a wheelbarrow of fivers per hour and yet produce nothing. They get back on track through suggesting that the ‘drunks and druggies’ should be charged £200 every time they use accident and emergency.

Notwithstanding the bureaucratic nightmare of administering and collecting that fee, decided on who the best person is to do that job and chasing up non payers, I can’t see many heroin users, paying for a £100 a day habit, whose veins resemble the London underground map consisting only of the colours of the Piccadilly line, putting away £200 in a personal ISA just in case they need resuscitation at short notice. Those engaged in a ketamine fuelled weekend of hedonism and psychedelia, dancing to the lobotomising influence of psytrance, are not apt to future planning or strict pecuniary control. The rational allocation of resources to maximise one’s utility is not something undertaken by those who give themselves up to the irrational misallocation of personal judgement via narcotic, and often sexual, means in comprehensive attempts at self and spiritual development (at best) or pure naked oblivion (even better).

Are we really asking that nice middle class junior doctor, whose only dodgy experience with drugs is half inching paracetamol from the ward drugs cabinet following a night of over exuberant use of sherry, to face a drunk docker decorated from head to toe with tattoos the size of Nigeria, the smell of a cesspit and the attitude of a startled wart hog with piles, for “£200 please, there’s a good chap”?

Are we really expecting that nice fresh faced young nurse, whose “mummy was a nurse”, who “I’ve ways wanted to be nurse because I want to help people”, when faced with a meth crazed sex addict, high on a pharmacy’s worth of ‘alternative’ medications whose only goal is to snort, swallow, inject or insert (any orifice will do) medications (herbal, natural, industrial) at great pace and with increasing regularity and in any location including the local accident and emergency department, to extract anything other than piss and self pity from the aforementioned?

Drunks already pay through National Insurance or tax on beer and spirits, while ‘junkies’ would pay if the commodity of intoxication of their choice was regulated, taxed and controlled in the same manner as alcohol. Drunks, in many cases are also not ‘other people’ they are us or our children, parents or friends. But I digress.

The two ladies are still talking, not drawing breath passing comment on solar panels, housing associations and the use of ‘tablets’ by a family at the next table. As we cross the Tamar (oh my god, that means another three hours) they have covered more topics than University Challenge and Mastermind combined, only with less veracity or insight. I wonder if they can see the blood oozing out my ears.

Just as we enter Devon, it’s Bingo!

“If they were a migrant they’d get…”

Hurrah. A home run at last.

Pullman.

I have just used a time machine. It was easy.

All one has to do is catch the 1000 Penzance to Paddington service, wait until Plymouth for an announcement for the opportunity to be transported.

At the front of the train are three coaches, two for first class and one for the Pullman dining car, also kitted out as first class.

So to be whisked back in time when the Cornish Riviera Express, steam hauled, rattled and rolled at speed to and from London, just get out of one’s seat in Standard and walk to coach K at the right time.

At about 1300 I fancied a coffee, my head being assaulted by the galubriuos incessant jabberings of the two ladies of a ‘certain but indeterminate age’. The announcement had been made that anyone wishing to dine should make their way forward and as I rise out my my seat this enchantment tempts me onwards. The train slips past Dawlish on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the red cliffs on my left and the sea to my right. I make my way through standard coaches thinking that the coffee in the buffet car will be a welcome break. Teignmouth and the waters of the exe estuary glisten in the sunshine.

Coffee?

I’ve not eaten since breakfast?

Perhaps it is the sunshine, perhaps it is the promise of past glories, perhaps it’s because I’m a soft touch when it comes to dining cars on trains. Perhaps it’s all of three and more reasons I’m not aware of.

Sod coffee. I’m going for lunch in the Pullman car.

And oh what a delight. Now this is travel, this is the way to get to London.

First Great Western have rebranded themselves as the GWR, the Great Western Railway. I can hear the sighing of railway buffs across the country, grown men become moist at the thought, another age beckons.

I’m greeted by a smartly attired waitress who shows me to my seat. Since the rebranding the coaches have been refitted with grey leather seats, backed with a green logo and in gold lettering GWR. The table is laid out for dinner, table cloth, wine glasses, proper metal cutlery and a wine list. A wine list! I have a picture window seat, adorned with green GWR curtains. The glory that is South Devon eases by as I peruse the menu. All is quiet, save for the tinkling of the staff preparing lunch. I’m forced to order a half bottle of the Cote du Rhone. Forced, mark you, and choose the lamb shoulder.

I’m sitting grinning like the Cheshire feline whose not only found the cream but realises that he’s been given the keys to a feline harem with an ‘all you can eat’ (if you get my drift) remit.

The waitress pops the cork, asks me to try the wine and leaves me to consider just how fortunate I am. It is not cheap, if you only count the cost of the actual food and wine. But if you count the experience, and the service, and the peacefulness, this is a bargain. The train leaves Exeter and races alongside the M5 through Tiverton and beyond. We must be doing over 100 mph. No one is crying, puking, shouting into their phones, making racist comments or being just plain stupid. Every one smiles in this coach. There are more staff in these three coaches than in the rest of the train. I count at least 5 of them. The wine eases a dry throat.

It’s all I can do to stop meself ordering another half bottle of ‘that which pleases’. I do have another dinner appointment tonight in Covent Garden with colleagues from Napier University, Scotland. So, perhaps I need to apply the brakes a little on my reveries and lugubriousness. I’ve got three quarters of the way down that half bottle and the lamb has yet to appear. Maybe I’m channelling my sister who is a known and keen ‘friend of the grape’.

Taunton comes and goes in a flash, but soon afterwards, the lamb arrives, accompanied by dauphinoise and leeks. Considering that this is all cooked on the train, it is remarkable that the quality is as high as it is. The food is excellent (notwithstanding the effects of vintnery on judgement) and would stand easily against any immobile kitchen. The romance of the rails just adds to the totality of gastronomic delight. The waitress even remarks on my attire (pink silk time red waistcoat) as she serves (she has been well trained to flatter).

Somerset gives way to Wiltshire which gives way to Berkshire. A white horse stands sentinel, carved in chalk into the hillside. It is not the one with the big willy, or is that the Cerne Abbas Giant? Reading will be the next stop but I’m staying put for a necessary coffee to see me through to Paddington. I only hope the two ladies are not going through my bags back in coach B. I guess they may well be discussing immigrants and their deleterious effects on British culture. One of the staff on this train delightfully serves coffee, ‘despite’ being from Eastern Europe.

I note that the crockery has the GWR and Pullman logo. The thought occurs that I could perhaps liberate it from the table, but that is only the wine.

The dream is nearly over, I must get back to my reading on ‘Foucaldian post structuralism on care as gift v care as vigil’ before my ruminations on the place of the social sciences in nursing for tomorrow’s round table discussion at King’s College. For such is the life of the modern academic. Cosseted, despite a pay cut lasting 8 years. God knows what I could have afforded if pay had remained in line with inflation.

A manifesto for Action Nursing

A manifesto for Action Nursing

(Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Graham Scambler for his work on action sociology which inspired this manifesto).

“NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that has been sent for publication in Social Theory and Health.  Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may be made to this work since it was submitted for publication.

 

This manifesto calls for a social movement for political activism by nurses and other health professionals, to address inequalities in health and the social inequalities that highly structure, but do not determine, health outcomes. This action can operate at individual, clinical, organisational, national and international level.

 

Our aim is to respond to threats to health and socialised health service delivery from corporate, financial and political interests.

 

Our vision is for decreasing social and health inequalities in which the social gradient is greatly diminished.

 

Our goal is to create a networked social movement involving political and civic activism to bring critical understanding and action into the public sphere.

 

As millions of people in the UK, and billions across the globe, experience a daily struggle to both give and receive care, nurses must ally themselves with the progressive forces which seek to redress the balance of power of the ‘Greedy Bastards’. To paraphrase Graham Scambler, it is the largely unintended consequences of the actions of the ‘Greedy Bastards’ which results in gross social inequalities and inequalities in health. Action Nursing, alongside an ‘Action Sociology’, wishes to remove the ‘flowers from the chains’ so that we more clearly see what holds us back from understanding care as vital, as central, to our ‘species being’ and is not mere adjunct, to be ignored within the private (female) domain.

As many governments embrace austerity policies within a neoliberal political economy, capital accumulation takes on various anti-democratic forms unaccountable to the people engaged in what Marcuse (1964) called ‘the pacification of the struggle for existence’.  The provision of nursing may be seen as a cost and not a benefit to those who decide where the investments should be made. Capital accumulation practices in health care delivery, especially in the care of older people and those with mental health issues, often results in absent or stretched services, or hiring under educated and poorly trained staff who too often lack supervision and development and who work in high patient to staff ratios. It also seeks private insurance based schemes and prefers services which can return profits. Care givers also work in the private domain, the informal sector, providing vital support to the wider business of capital accumulation but with very little or no recognition or return for such efforts. This ideology is maintained by appeals to the moral character of such work, often locating it firmly within kin networks as a ‘reciprocal gift’ that would be sullied by any suggestions of a cash nexus.

Nurse educators, clinicians and students do not work in a socio-political vacuum. However, one would think that they do if the content of curricula and the learning experiences planned are anything to go by. Indeed any discussion around political economy, patriarchy and capitalism is liable to be met with surprise, apathy, or disdain apart from those engaged in teaching the social sciences in nursing. Nursing cannot shy away from addressing these questions. Nurses as women, who experience the requirements to care in both their domestic and public lives, bear the brunt of the demands of a society which needs that care to be done but is unwilling to fully fund it. We need to argue for the social value of care and against privatised individualised provision which falls unfairly on the shoulders of those who often do not have the resources to provide it.

Intrinsic to the nursing project is a concern for the health of individuals, communities and populations but in any point in history nurses will find themselves confronting ideologies; these are erroneous worldviews or theories that justify, sanction or provide cover for financial, business or political interests. Nursing’s ethics of care should include opposing forces that suppress truths about the societies we inhabit.

Nursing care in an often uncaring society should necessarily be oriented to justice and solidarity. It should be active not passive and should exist as a form of intervention against ‘distorted communication’ that interpellates nursing and nurses into subservient subject positions.  This has never been developed fully in Nursing theory because the discipline has been focused on other laudable aims. The result is a large number of workers in health services have no analytical tools or critical thought in which to contextualise and critique their experiences with vulnerable people. Critical theoretical concepts, such as ‘governmentality’ or ‘praxis’ or ‘frontiers of control’ ‘or ‘critical reflexivity’, would be sadly be alien to most nurses.

Action Nursing therefore contests the (often biomedical) ‘taming’ of nursing especially in the post-1970s neo-liberal era, including the shying away from arguing about contentious or ‘risky’ issues. Witness the uncritical passivity with which nurses in the UK have accepted ‘values based recruitment’, the ‘6Cs’ and ‘revalidation’ as panaceas to the issues of the quality of care; witness as well the lack of action regarding the structural conditions of the NHS following the Health and Social Care Act.

 

An Action Nursing cannot stand on the sidelines as a passive recipient of the decisions made by other powerful actors. It has to dwell on exploitation and oppression that result in inequalities in health for the population and stress, burnout and compassion fatigue for nursing staff and other care givers in their homes. Action Nursing should engage in the Marcusian ‘Great Refusal; it stands against the actions of the wealthy and powerful and actions whose consequences include the social gradient seen in the mass of data on health inequalities and evidenced in people’s lives in such works as ‘The Life Project’ (Pearson 2016).

 

This manifesto also allies itself with the manifesto ‘from Public to Planetary Health’. This is the voice of health professionals who together with empowered communities could confront entrenched interests and forces that endanger our future. This could be a powerful ‘social movement from below’ based on collective action at all levels to create better health outcomes, protect our futures and support sustainable human development.

Marcuse H (1964) One Dimensional Man. Routledge. London.

Pearson H (2016) The Life Project. Penguin. Allen Lane. London.

The last post

Mijas is not Spain and Spain is not Mijas.

Our host is Dutch, his wife is Irish. The house opposite is owned by Brits. We have been served by Brits, and heard German, Japanese and drawled Andalusian Spanish in bars, cafes and on the street. We’ve discussed pasties with an Argentinian and haggled with a Moroccan selling leather. Americans have been loud and over here. An aged New Yorker, out in the street, discussed with a chap from euroland somewhere, her past living arrangement in Manhattan (she lived on the 6th floor- no lift) and the need to get used to stairs in her home now in Mijas. He was too well dressed to be English. The lady had the air of a retired novelist, or socialite and had presumably come to live the American Dream in Spain. Perhaps she had heard about Trump’s rising popularity and got out before the walls go up, misogyny shamelessly parades itself and US arrogance is matched in bombast only by its nuclear arsenal detonated on middle eastern soil.

I think I saw or heard a Russian lady, extremely well dressed from the spoils no doubt of the oligarchic takeover of State utilities, eyeball with well founded suspicion, one of the donkeys. It may have belched onion and garlic laced straw breath into her Dior and Versace created face. Don’t tell Putin or his ego may require the assassination of the bosses of mule and ass based economies around the globe in retaliation for this slight on the character and dress sense of Russian wives. Don’t laugh, this is not a joke. Just think, we are on the brink of a world in which we have Presidents Trump and Putin waving their dicks around in public, shouting across each other while nuclear warheads slink around the globe in phallic shaped submarines. The fact that these subs look like big willies is not perhaps accidental.

This bit of Spain is coping, seemingly on the surface anyway, with being both Spanish and cosmopolitan. Whereas squabbles about place, race and identity in the US and UK right now seem totally self obsessed and old fashioned. The Tory party is ripping the heart out of itself and a possible cosmopolitan Britain, blind to the divide that already exists between the British, an increasingly entrenched class divide delineated by the old North South Divide. Getting out of the EU will do nothing to address the blind arrogance of the privileged, mainly public school educated so called ‘elite’ and will prove to Europeans that as an Island race we have learned nothing from the history of either Empire or the two world wars and possibly cannot be trusted to engage with other countries unless it business based and willing to laugh at knob jokes. We built the nation’s wealth on accumulation by dispossession, enclosures of the commons, piracy, slavery, misplaced ideas of racial and religious superiority and inbred monarchy. Many of those themes underpin little England mentalities today. As a nation we are still caught between the devil of idealised patriotism and the deep blue sea of xenophobia. This does not apply in Kernow of course. There in God’s country we have pasties and a mining heritage to see us the through the ten cold months of winter. We have a flag and an anthem and Devonians to laugh at with their silly ideas about the order of jam and cream on a scone.

The English are also some of worse dressed tourists in the Western World.Ann and I play spot the nationality while we have coffee by the bullring. Try it yourself, and do so before you hear any language. Russians are blinged, Germans are somehow just ‘tidy’ and ‘neat’, the French sport old fashioned face hair waxed at the ends, their husbands are no better (boom boom). The English are just, on the whole, scruffy bastards. Why? I dunno.
Given our propensity to casual xenophobia, and a history of self imposed self importance we could have been a right old bunch of arseholes. Thankfully we also had the Scottish, Edinburgh based, enlightenment and produced radical thinkers such as Thomas Paine and William Wilberforce as correctives to our baser selves. Our abilities to enjoy and assimilate are also British qualities. We are deeply divided within and between ourselves and unless we can get beyond tired old thinking we will place ourselves on the fringes of not only Europe geographically but also philosophically. Alas we are not alone in this. All over the world democracies are falling foul to populist demagogues while the ravages of globalised ‘free trade’ overturn securities, employment and futures. Men increasingly turn to old patriarchal religions to try to hold on to a status denied them by modernity while women are dragged along three steps behind in masks. What has religion got against a decent cleavage I hear you ask?

Time for another penis reference: At the bottom of the stairs leading out to the garden of this apartment is a cactus. The kind of cactus which used to be photographed and that would be sent into Esther Rantzen’s programmes in the 70’s. Yes it is shaped like a ‘thingy’ and what’s more it is set at an angle that resembles an erect penis (if you can remember what one of those looks like). There are sadly no testicular like protuberances at its base, but do not let that little point detract from the vision in your mind of an erect prickly prick.

So what have the Spanish done for us? Well, we have taken over large swathes of coastal towns and cities and inflated the house prices in the better parts. The locals, as locals do in most places have both benefitted and cursed. There is an English breakfast bar in the square with a sign in English offering the ‘full English’. Try translating that into Spanish and you might get arrested for causing a public nuisance. We have free movement here, we can work here, we have access to their healthcare, we are free to learn their language and eat their food. We can even sleep with some of the prettier ones (women that is, not the donkeys…however if that is your predilection, try it). We can drink their very reasonably priced and decent quality wines. There is public health, aqueducts and vintnery. Their little experiment with Franco’s fascism is over, so we don’t have to do the same.

Oh, and sunshine. There is a lot of that here, and it’s free. You don’t have to queue for it or prove you have residency rights to enjoy it. Any Eastern Europeans that are here can also enjoy it without taking away any of your own enjoyment. It just tumbles down out of the sky every single day. I’m putting some in a box to take home, as I hear it’s brass monkeys in England.

More pasties in paradise

Our morning stroll takes us around the southern ‘ring road’ of Mijas. It’s a one way street, with just enough room for one car and a pavement. It begins at the eastern end of the town where the donkey taxis line up ready for their day of pulling fat Germans, badly dressed Brits and grinning Chinese. The donkeys are harnessed in colourful, er, ‘donkey stuff’, and stand, in the main, awaiting their fate with equanimity, patience and the odd fart. One of them attempts to bray but thinks better of it and flares its nostrils instead. Their thoughtful owners, in view of donkey effort required, have harnessed them to buggies just big enough for one and a half fat Germans, or a hen party from Birmingham or Shanghai. The sort of loads donkeys take in their strides. It beats carrying certain Jewish rabbis into Jerusalem, which although had started promisingly, ended up being a bit of a bother.

I catch the eye of one long suffering ‘burro’ and he looks at me as if to say “yes, mate I know, this is no life for an animal with the brain power of a Hawking, the stomach of a Pavarotti and a python sized penis”. I feel it’s pain, having to stoop so low as to have ferry around pork fed Bavarians with a BMI of a panzer tank. At least the donkey can satisfy itself that Spain can take some comfort in knowing that for half an hour at least, an equine arsehole is being shown to a German and the German is actually paying for the experience. Sometimes there is justice in the world. Sometimes.

Anyway. The road leaves this madness behind and in just a few short metres the hustle and bustle of tourists disappears. We have the road completely to ourselves. I guess a picturesque stroll, taking in huge vistas towards the sea, is not on the itineraries of the organised trip. This would require the expenditure of nothing but energy rather than euros. There are no market stalls, no bars and no seats on this road. Just a very calm walk right under the walls of the old fort as the rock rises up to the right and a vertiginous drop to the left. Just at the start however is a newish hotel/resort called ‘La Ermita’ run by MacDonalds hotels. Not the yellow arches MacDonalds but another UK based outfit. It is carved into the hillside and has of course breathtaking views out to the sea. We decide to have a nose and step into reception to ask for the tariff, a tour of a room and the facilities. A very nice lady obliges. Suffice to say, it is bloody marvellous. We end up down by the pool at the restaurant which is open to non residents and stop for a coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. And a bit of banter with the locals.

The very friendly Argentinian chef is only to happy to chat and asks where we are from. I thought it obvious from our clothes, accents and superior attitude towards all foreigners. When we proffer ‘UK’, he of course accepts this but to our surprise wanted to know where in the UK. Now, in the past I have mentioned ‘Cornwall’ to the enquiring, patient, but also politely disinterested, native and have been greeted with a look that says “I hear your words, but I’ve no idea what they mean”. This look of bafflement continues even when I offer ‘far south west of England’ and wave my hands about in the general direction of 7 o’clock (from my perspective) or 5 o’clock (from theirs) which, now I think about it, means ‘South East’ to them and thus just adds to the confusion. Their mental maps of the UK are obviously not like ours. I can see in my mind’s eye the outline of the UK which takes in Scotland, Wales and the detail of Torbay including Anstey’s cove. They however see ‘London’, the Queen and racism. Not a good start when trying get our minds to meet in the middle. Usually I don’t have a pen and paper, otherwise I would only be too happy to provide an impromptu geography lesson. To think we once had an empire where we taught all of the world, and their wives and ‘piccaninnies’, democracy, how to speak properly and the value of a good forward drive to the covers. A world in which geography lessons about the whereabouts of Truro would be superfluous to the crowds in a crowded bazaar in Benghazi who would know instantly the difference between Redruth, Redcar and Richmond (upon Thames, you peasants).

To my delight the chef, has not only heard of Cornwall but also of the humble ‘pasty’. He has seen it on the Discovery channel and informs me how the pasty has travelled the world (true), should not have boiled beef (true) and the best are now to be found in…wait for it….Canada.

Canada.

Famed for Moose, and…er.

Either he had been at the sangria while watching the telly or someone at the Discovery channel was taking the piss. The former I can envisage easily. Perhaps he heard someone say the best pasties are in ‘Camborne’ and mistakenly thought they said ‘Canada’ being unfamiliar with both the English language and the old Cornish mining town and its inhabitants, some of whom indeed may resemble a moose. Hang around in the Tyacks on a Saturday night and you may spot a few, grazing on jäger bombs and hope, lowing loudly into the night air in search of a booze fuelled coupling and a kebab. The chef was sure the best pasty in the world is now to be found somewhere between St Johns in Newfoundland and Vancouver, British Colombia. A jolly chap no doubt, but he probably still thinks the Falklands are the Malvinas. We do agree however that ’empanadas’ is the Spanish word for a similar (but not the same) foodstuff.

We continue our morning constitutional which takes us to “Plaza de la Constitucion”, Calle Malaga and “Plaza de Jesus de Nazarone” (Translation: ‘Christs’ Square’ – see, not so good in English is it?). Calle Malaga is undergoing what they call “Obras” here, but a “fuck up” in Essex and other counties. The Mijas council and others decided that gas, water, sewerage works needed doing and so the whole street is a ‘men at work’ zone complete with JCBs, dust and procrastination. You can’t move for yellow helmets and “mañana”. It seems that one day they poured concrete and then went home thinking that no one would walk across this freshly and lovingly poured concrete. To the workmen this was art that the local boy, Picasso, would has been proud of. They did not foretell that if the shortest distance between Manuel and his cerveza was fresh concrete, then rather than put an extra 5 minutes walking around the works, Manuel, Jose and Maria would rather wade through ankle deep in fresh concrete than waste precious fiesta time. We watched as they newly chastened workmen had to fill in the 6 inch deep footsteps immortalised in homage to Hollywood’s avenue of fame.

Lunch. Decision was easy. Buy a chicken.

There is a shop whose business model is selling spit roast (no sniggering at the back please) chicken. That’s it. Nothing else. Nada Mas. It is the best chicken you may ever taste. It is probably battery reared and dies to the sound of Nazi marching music (I’m guessing). Ethical considerations aside, and this is why we as a species are fucked, ethics takes a very poor second place to taste. The chap takes the whole roast chicken off the spit, makes various cuts into its flesh so that it then sits in a foil tub, pours gravy….gravy, oh dear…..on top, places the lid on it and off we trot. The spit roast chicken has been prepared with lemon, garlic, onion and rosemary in generous quantities. The gravy is a mix of chicken fat and the above and tickles your tongue like a sexed up night nurse (again I’m guessing). It is moist. Very, very moist (a bit like the night nurse). Falls off the bone like a Camborne maid falls off the kerb outside the Spoons, easily and without too much prompting.

So, a bottle of yer fizz later it is siesta time.

I really can see the point of siesta. We should do it more often in the UK. Seriously. If it is good enough for their Lordships in the upper house it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Our last night in town finds us watching a glorious red sunset before heading back. We stop at a bar for a glass of that which pleases. This leads to tapas of croquettes de jamon Serrano and ‘Sandra’s empanadas’. In English in the menu it says ‘Sandra’s special Cornish pasties’. We have a go, and three perfectly crimped little pasties turn up. They are filled with lamb and the the pastry has been deep fried, and served with what looks like soy sauce. Delicious, and I’m not going to argue the toss. Suitably fortified we have a nightcap: Desarrono for Ann and Drambuie for me. poured into small barrels that pass for glasses. We sing our way home trying not to fall into freshly poured concrete.

Thankfully, there is no donkey poo on the pavement.

Does it get any sweeter?

The sweet scent of Jasmine arrests as it gently carries itself on the breeze. Jacaranda and Bougainvillea are tempting in flower. Pine and woodsmoke rise from chimneys below the white terraces of the old pueblo. The odd dog barks, a cat plays with an old chicken bone on the cobbled street and goldfinches chirrup from their cages set there by the residents in the open windows of the old town. Overhead martins flit in competition with the evening bats for the the last of the flying insects before the sun finally sets. A peregrine patrols in case a pigeon gets complacent and flies too far to the sun. This would be the last error of judgment the hapless fat bird makes, for the falcon will spot it from afar and swoop to end its sorrows. Yellow swallowtail butterflies gather their life spirit from purple flowers. Trees are laden down with lemons and oranges, so plentiful that they are not harvested, left to fall where they will. Makes me think again of Gin.

This is March.

Lest we forget.

Looking out across the valley to Dragon mountain from the terrace, nothing seems to be happening. And that is just fine with me. The scene is still, the air faintly shimmering in the afternoon heat. The sea beyond glowing blue and gold. African mountains are topped with snow in the distant horizon, the whiteness betraying the harsh black and red of the earth below them. A few ships, just specks at this distance, carry their loads to Istanbul, Naples or Cairo.

Coaches leave the town, taking the gawping barbarian selfie hordes back down the road to the coast and to Hades. A million instagrams will be posted around the world to be seen once and then forgotten before the next trip is planned. All that sophisticated software, the gift from far too clever people in Silicon Valley, just to show a donkey’s arse or another lady grinning soul from Shanghai. I too am part of that transient babble come here to marvel, to leave only euros and a broken heart at the thought of such innocence betrayed under an Andalucian sun. For such is our contradiction as visitors, coming to see the authentic and in doing so our own inauthenticity is packaged and sold back to us. It is too late in this era of mass tourism to do but any other.

There is still evidence here of real people living real lives in the quieter back streets that the day trippers never find. The Bar Alencon or the Bar Cadron hide sun soaked sangria fueled treasures, but you’ll need time and a nose to find them. A good few years ago, after a flagon of the local good stuff, we danced back down through Calle Malaga in the hot evening air. No one was arrested, no donkeys were harmed and little children abed slept soundly safe in the knowledge that the moon would still rise. Sangria is a perchance a maligned drink unless you witnessed the real thing being constructed out of fresh oranges, strawberries, red wine and gin (enough to drown an elephant). You might want an ambulance.

Lunch: Tapas again today. Home made.

Clams (Ann says they are cockles) from yesterday, then followed by chorizos in red wine. Fair enough I hear you say. A pretty common dish.

Start with buying chorizo from an Andalusian market. Get your shallots and garlic from the same place. I had previously marinated tomatoes in virgin olive oil, balsamic de Modena and oregano, seasoned with salt and ground black pepper. The little red beauties had bathed in the marinade like olive skinned nubiles soaking up temptation in a hot tub and were now ready to explode on your tongue like an orgasm with the midday sun on your back. This was love on a plate.

Anyway.

Cut the chorizos into pound coin size pieces, put to one side while the shallots and garlic sizzle in butter. Then add the tomatoes and red wine, reducing the liquid before adding the chorizo. Cook until the chorizo oils run into the pan to mix with the marinade. Let sex commence. The pan will resemble the smell of a well perfumed Roman orgy, but without the sweat and halitosis. Add more wine, and if you don’t feel the slightest of long forgotten teenage urges, add some more. Reduce the liquid until the chorizo pieces are coated in heaven sent moistness. Serve with fresh bread, butter and more wine. On a separate plate serve Avocado slices. Don’t mess with the avocado. This helps to cut through the richness of the red wine sauce. Place all the dishes on a table on a sun terrace with an ambient temperature of about 22 degrees, make sure you have a view and time to think.

Eat.

As a post prandial sweetener, nibble on almonds boiled in honey and sugar by Señor in the market square. The almonds are left with a crispy coating of honey soaked sweetness, enough to send shivers down your spine.

You might want a siesta after that, or some other kind of lie down.

The sun will by now be over its zenith and be chasing its own path towards sunset. This will call forth Gin and Tonic time.

Which brings us back to the bats in the evening glow of another glorious sunset.

It’s a new dawn, Sophia Loren and Brigit Bardot

Nothing much happened today.

That, I think, is the point of a break, to let one’s mind wander around aimlessly achieving little. A bit like the Arsenal midfield right now who seem hell bent on sleepwalking into obscurity. For us, the day starts with dawn.

Most days do, but you have to be there when it happens or else it does not happen at all. Our bedroom has floor to ceiling patio doors which look straight out at Dragon mountain, due East, and to the rising sun. I’m usually awake an hour before sunrise, and can catch the rainbow colours behind the black silhouette of the Dragon. The sky at this time is a dark almost purple blue and then all the shades down to the green yellows and oranges of the awakening light over the horizon. The Dragon’s black nose dips into the sea affording a view of black mountain to the left and the deep blue sea to the right. Without a single cloud in the sky, the light becomes, and the colours glow. This is dawn happening, right before our eyes.

It does need a little help. For instance, being high up with an uninterrupted view to the East helps. As does the complete lack of cloud cover. High rise flats, power stations or brick walls are apt to detract from the experience and have been known to cancel sunrise. Dawn rarely occurs in certain countries I could name, due to the grey poly tunnel sky or the sheets of drizzle hanging in obscurantic obstinacy. When dawn does happen, it is well worth watching. The sun rises above the horizon behind Dragon’s nose, sending blue rays heavenward, but of course is obscured from sight until it reaches a certain height. Then like a diamond it sparkles just as it crests the mountain ridge until quite suddenly one is bathed in warmth and light as it invades the room chasing out the shadows of the night.

I lie in bed and think about the heavens and the myths and legends of old, of how Helios’ winged chariot chases across the sky, scattering the night gods before it while sister moon drifts below into the west of the fading night.

I might fart, or worse, if I don’t get up.

Enough reverie. I have an hour’s commute on a busy road/tube/train accompanied by the walking dead whose soulless eyes confirm that there is nothing on earth worth living for. All spirit has been drained, leaving dead carcasses adrift in a sea of melancholy and pointlessness. They aspire to ennui, anomie is their destination and alienation their carriage. They know not of colour, or joy, or spice. Just grey and the bitter, saline, drip, drip, drip of decay and desperation in the full knowledge that salvation is a lie, and heaven a myth.

Sorry. Apologies.

For a moment there I must have dreamt that I was on the A30 from Chiverton Cross to Treliske on a wet Monday morning. Must have nodded off and forgot I’m in Andalucia. The only commute here, is from bed to shower to fresh ground coffee and breakfast while overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean.

Phew.

The main task this morning is a stroll to the market in town to choose lunch. We choose the route that takes us around the rocky outcrop of old Mijas fort, the ‘Alcazaba’. The road winds around just below the old walls and has splendid views way down towards Malaga in the east, through to Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Porto Banus, and Marbella to the West. And there on the skyline across the sea, rise black mountains of Africa. My geography at this point is a bit loose, but I guess it may be Tunisia? There is clearly a sense that the land here is sweeping towards the tip of Spain at Algeciras and the Rock of Gibraltar but both are too far away to make out. I don’t know why but the sight of African mountains is thrilling, romantic even. Daft of course because we all know that North African countries are not to be romanticised as depicted in Boy’s Own fantasies. And yet the sight is magnificent.

We continue our mid morning constitutional and pass a large, battered and rusting, skip full of donkey poo. I know it to be donkey poo because I’ve seen the donkey that created it. Not that I watched the donkey actually lift its tail to make a deposit you understand. That would be weird and probably illegal. I get my kicks elsewhere nowadays. Mijas has lots of donkeys, and therefore has lots of poo, to transport coach loads of gawking (usually Asian) tourists around the town. I fool myself that I am above such nonsense. Donkey poo looks like straw. Don’t be fooled. If you should find yourself tempted to take a nap upon some warm straw, take a good look at it first. You might want to sniff it. That’s a dead give away. Don’t taste it. This stuff is as malodorously pungent and repellant as Donald Trump’s policies on Mexicans. Although I’d rather go face down into a skip of dung than face another of Trump’s speeches. Donkey poo is a metaphor for whatever you want it to be. It is partly digested crap, passing through arseholes, with no need to engage in thought. Just like current Tory party economic policy (boom boom). I thank you.

Prawns.

Fresh from the market. Big juicy and ready for the pan. Calamares, clams and white wine, cooked with shallots and garlic. Easy, quick and delicious with a fresh baguette. Serve with a Tomato salad and olive oil. Pan fry the prawns until they sizzle and pink, dip the Calamares in seasoned flour and add to the hot oil. Butter, garlic, shallots in a separate pan and then toss in the rinsed clams with a cup of white wine. Steam the little beauties and discard those that do not open. If you think it is necessary, pour a glass of wine for yourself as it all cooks. That’s lunch done.

Siesta time. Life is hard.

Henri (our host) has a car. A 1958 MGB, wire wheels and red upholstery. It has recently been resprayed and is now as cream as a tub of Rodda’s. It has a new chrome luggage rack on the boot. It sparkles and gleams in the sunlight. The roof is down. Sophia Loren is sitting in the passenger seat wearing Italian sunglasses and a headscarf. Her lips are painted as red as the car’s interior and her perfume is as heady as the smell of the engine is it starts up. Henri is only too willing to take me for a spin around the town. Sophia hands me her Martini as she makes to get out of the car, swinging her stocking clad legs out of the door. She waves as Henri and I zoom off, the tyres making little clouds of dust as the rubber sticks to the Tarmac.

I’m not dreaming this time. It is all true, except for the Martini.

We zip around town, dodging little parcels of donkey poo and trying not kill selfie taking tourists. The first we succeed in doing, whereas I did hear a whimper at one point, noting in the rear view mirror a selfie stick flying into the air in the dust, it’s owner nowhere to be seen although I suspect his Facebook post will be little more interesting tonight. Henri stops the car at a viewpoint high above the town to take a picture of the street. He tells of a film starring Brigit Bardot made in 1958, filmed in Mijas. His background in cinematography no doubt spurs his interest. The film is called ‘Les bijouteries de la Clare de Lune’. Probably some French art house movie where nothing happens, the dialogue is existential and the subplot is about someone who had sex once, who wants sex now and will think about sex tomorrow. Not with Donkeys though. I don’t think donkeys feature.

Well, tiz late. The Arsenal are probably making a fist of losing to Swansea and there is another glorious dawn happening, tomorrow morning I think it is. Look out for it.

A Pasty in Paradise

‘Driving over lemons’ is a great title for a book. It is also a very silly thing to do.

Lemons are not for driving over, even if one is in a rush to get to the supermercado before siesta time. Lemons are for Gin.

And a little tonic.

This I remember as I spot yet another tree bulging with the the little yellow parcels of delight. It is all I can do to stop myself reaching up and picking half a dozen which hang from the tree in the neighbour’s garden. Instead I do the tourist thing and take a picture, and then rush indoors, grab the nearest Bombay Sapphire, ice and some ‘shhh you know who’ to create. I remember then I have no lemons. Just a lime. Beggars can’t be sheep shaggers and so I ‘make do’. It’s a hard life in the Andalucian sun.

In February.

The sun this morning peeped over the shoulder of Dragon mountain instantly filling the room with warmth and light. This was following about an hour of dawn. No clouds, just blue sky with rainbow colours from the horizon upwards. We are cloaked in silence with just a hush of an occasional breeze. As it was too early for Gin, the sparkle of an ice cube is instead replaced by the sparkle of the Mediterranean Sea, diamonds are scattered across its surface as the wind and the sun work their magic. And men now abed in England will hold their manhood cheap, and curse the day they were not here. This Englishman, still in bed, can gaze in wonder under an Andalucian light and think of…breakfast.

And Dinner.

Preceded of course by lunch, a selection of ‘surtidos y quesos’, ensalada mixta (get yer own phrase book) and a glass of fizz.

Time was that ‘fizz’ was the preserve of Kings, their concubines and the landed Gentry. Thanks to a combination of rampant capitalism, and a pitchfork in the arse of the ruling classes, fizz has become far more accessible. Certainly in Spain it is. Franco may have won the Spanish civil war, but his fascist regime has proved powerless in stopping the great unwashed (i.e. me) from enjoying bubbles up my nose. Now, I’ve enjoyed all manner of things up my nose….the smell of roses, a pasty fresh from the oven and the Bonny Prince’s finest….and so I can tell you with confidence that not much is finer than the hint of champagne (or Cava) for eliciting ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’. Proust can send his Madeleines up his arse. No amount of cake can rival sparkle in a glass. I speak as a bloke. Women are free to demur at this judgement, fond as they seem to be of cake. The equivalent of your local spar sells fizz for about three euros. And a damn fine glass it is. I am willing to admit that sitting in a sun terrace overlooking Mijas, and the Mediterranean, in temperatures a Scotsman could only dream about – did I mention a cloudless blue sky – may temper my ability to judge the quality of fizz. All I can say to that is bollocks I don’t care, it tastes bloody good from where I’m sitting.

Dinner. Having had our fill earlier, we decided that just a plate of tapas would do. We had walked over 10 miles in total today and so ‘earned’ a glass of red. There is a restaurant called ‘The Secret Garden’, a phrase which I have always mistakenly took to meaning something a lesbian has access to in her ‘quiet moments’ of privacy enjoyed with a companion of similar tastes. Is that just me? Anyway, the place was a delight and even more so as we sat next to a Michael Fish lookalike. Momentarily excited, and the desire to ask about hurricanes suppressed, we sat down only to hear from “nothing to worry about” Fish, an American accent.

At the next table sat three companions also hailing from the ‘Land of Trump’. All in their late twenties. One a being a young man and his girlfriend, and her female ‘friend’ making up the third. Perhaps the two young ladies had enjoyed strolling in a ‘secret garden’ before coming out to dinner? Anyhoo…while we ate, the next table chatted. Fish and Fishwife (I assume) could not be heard because the two young ladies just went bang at it. Talking. Just talking. Just fucking talking. The bloke hardly said a word. He could not. There was no breath taken to leave a space for even an “er, perhaps….”. They discussed Trump’s success at the polls, the Catholic concept of enunciation and the ‘Hegelian dialectic and Marx’s revision in the Theses on Feuerbach’. The young man probably drifted into a private reverie of ‘remembrance of things past’ eating cake in a secret garden.

The menu held a surprise. Now, you may have heard of ’empanadas’, you may even have shoved one down your throat. Clue: pastry. There was ’empanadas’ on the menu but they called them ‘Cornish pasties’ Argentina style. I did not know whether to laugh, cry or soil myself. I settled for ordering Argentinian Cornish pasties, along with albondingas (meatballs), setas en aioli (mushrooms and garlic), and chorizos in red wine sauce. The ’empanadas’ were duly served. Denzil Penberthy would have wept in his Illogan grave (were he dead, and not a fictitious character) at the sight. For indeed they looked liked pasties. There were three of them, about the size of my mate Linus’s penis…which is to say small but somehow still curiously satisfying.

Such is life in Andalucia.