Thursday, 27 December 2018

Unusual Friends - #14 Teachers & Profs

Continuing the series about Unusual friends - #14 Teachers and Professors

My earliest recollection of a teacher is when I was in primary school. One day I had a test at school and the teacher asked me 'What colour is a dog?' (In Hindi of course) This question has affected my personality in no small way. It is right up there with the Koan 'Can a dog achieve Nirvana'.
I was puzzled by the question, and wanted to respond that dogs came in many different colours, but in my eagerness to respond I chose the wrong word. 
I responded 'Dogs are multi coloured'.
Now one would have got away with the mistake with perhaps a lower mark in the test, but in my case, when I got home the family (united for an evening tea) asked me how was the test and what did the teacher ask me.
I was eager to impress (not knowing that I had got it wrong), and when I came up with my question and answer, the whole family, even the kids, fell to the floor laughing! ROTF 
And to  my embarrassment, they still do when we remember this anecdote, which is far too often.

From that point onwards it was plain sailing in comparison, with many memories of wonderful teachers who taught me everything that good education demands. However there are some events which will always remain fresh as the day they happened.
One physics teacher in particular (when I was fifteen) was responsible for the following two gems. First 'Come here both of you three' and the second 'What kind of this exercise book is'. The latter particularly rattled me because at boarding school I never had the right books or writing materials, so my homework was always presented in (shall we say) creative ways. Perhaps my love of computers started with that, but I digress.
I later realised that the 'exercise book' statement was in fact a literal translation of the same statement in Hindi. But at the time this was a source of great hilarity among my classmates.
The University at Kumasi
Some years later in 1967 the professor of mathematics at university did me a favour for which I should forever be grateful. He correctly identified me as a student who would benefit from learning about computers. I had not heard the term before. Someone from IBM came to show a few of us how this big machine worked and showed us elements of Fortran. By the time Mr IBM left two weeks later I was the only one with any interest. I was entrusted with the key to the University Computer System.
Thus started a lifetime association with these amazing machines.
IBM 1400 similar to the one at University

Later in London I came across Prof Dowling, an Irishman who knew a thing or two about complex mathematical simulations and adopted me for one of his interests in research. He also initiated me into the complex world of Irish Jokes, but I won't go into that. (Just drink a pint of Guinness and Google 'Irish jokes')
I have to say that when I finished my studies I was down to Zero in my bank account, and I applied for a job in desperation. To my complete surprise when I revealed that Prof Dowling was my supervisor, the interviewer said 'when can you start'?

Monday, 24 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Artists

Unusual Friends #13 - Artists
Marisol and I know hundreds of artists and many of them are very unusual. I will try and pick out some examples but I can tell you that this post could really be a book in itself.
Trolley Tea Parties
To start with there is Trolley, who names himself after a tea trolley because one of his art works consists of having a tea ceremony where ever he is invited (and I think he has done this in all parts of the world). He brings along hundreds of ceramics teapots, cups, saucers and a large collection of rare teas and invites the public to take part.
Museum Man
Then there is Adam, and one of my favourite in his work is the Museum Man. MAN also happen to include his initials. The way I heard the story behind this museum is that he rented an apartment in Berlin where he discovered a big treasure trove of photos and objects that belonged to some previous resident. This gave him the idea to live in a museum, and he proceeded to collect a huge quantity of objects, have them displayed in his apartment, live in it and open it as a museum to the public. And I heard that it gave Adam some benefits when paying his Council Tax.
Trolley and Adam were members of the London Biennale, a group that was (and still is) initiated by our friend David (more on him later) and Adam (already mentioned above). Marisol and I were also part of this group in the early part of this century. This is a big group and without upsetting anyone I can pick out some very unusual people.
The Green Lady
There was a lady who liked to paint herself green and tell stories at group meetings.
Worn Paintings
There was one artist who liked to wear her paintings and walk around the exhibitions.
Cyril on a bed of (cough)
Cyril whose sensual art had people mesmerised.
Sumer setting fire to a cardboard oven
Sumer who always produced unusual performances.
Reynolds' Puki Procession
Our friend Reynolds from Brooklyn whose Puki Procession could bring traffic to a standstill by parading her paintings as flags on poles, with the help of other group members.
Marko on a bed of nails
Then there was Marko who liked to think big, and once created a fakir's bed on which he laid for 20 minutes during a performance at an exhibition. I tried it but lasted only a minute or two.
Katie's Longshore Drift at Brighton Beach
Katie, who liked to invite everyone to a beach for a day of total mayhem in terms of art and performance.
mmmmm Action Art
The action art couple known as the MMMMMs, whose performances were centrepieces of many an exhibition.
David - Impromptu Performance
Then there was David himself, the orchestrator of the group whose performances were legendary for their simplicity, participation and imagination.
Before I get into trouble, I think I will move on to another set of unusual artists who I have come across who have sketched portraits of me. There are many of these, but some of them are proper friends. The unusual ones are those who made quick sketches when I was not aware, and gave me the work as surprise gifts.

At Maraven in the eighties
The ones from my days at Maraven in the eighties are particularly interesting because they were made by colleagues who were not really artists.
The restaurant portrait
On another occasion someone who sat at another table near us at a restaurant, came up to me and gave me a sketch and introduced himself.
The accountant portrait
Then recently the business partner of one of my friends, saw me one day at their office and asked if he could make a portrait. He was an accountant.
The Botin sketch
Finally the other day I was showing some people around the Centro Botin in Santander and a young man handed me a sketch which he made as part of a project to get local artists to liven up the day for the visitors.
I am very flattered.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Unusual Friends - #12 - Thieves

Thieves come in various guises. The corrupt politician, the scheming banks and large companies all have the respectable face of thieving. Then ordinary citizens when given half a chance are likely to succumb to this temptation. In the seventies when I lived in London, we occasionally came across people who needed to do this to survive. But there were also those who may be classified as seasoned kleptomaniacs. There was one young lady who almost killed the budding friendship between me and Marisol. I had just met Marisol and a couple of months later I invited her to dinner at a restaurant that both of us knew.
I showed up all spruced up and waited for Marisol to arrive. An hour went by and Marisol was still a no-show. Well I had dinner alone and went home wondering why? There were no mobile phones and I knew that Marisol had no way to contact me. Later in the week I saw Marisol again at our regular bar where jazz played. She was most apologetic (thank god) and told me why she did not make it to our date.
Some girls (friends of friends) were visiting from Spain, and she had shown them around town. The evening of the dinner date, she received a call from the local police station, and the officer told Marisol that he had some ladies in detention who spoke little english, and that they had given them her name and address as a local reference. The girls had been picked up stealing at a local store, (Biba in Kensington if my memory serves me) and were going to be held until Marisol could go over and help them.

Marisol was very concerned and ignoring all else, made her way to the police station. Here she spent the next several hours being the interpreter and negotiator. The girls came from well to do backgrounds and need not have stolen at all. By the time the girls had handed over all their funds to the police and got their freedom back, it was two hours past our agreed time for the dinner. Needless to say all was forgiven, we pooled resources to get the girls back to Spain, and we made a new attempt to get together soon after, this time with some success.
I am sorry to have to say that people trying to steal your belongings is more noticeable in Spain then anywhere else that I have been (there are a few exceptions like Mexico and Nigeria). Many of our friends and family have lost wallets and iPads and coats etc when not being vigilant. I was once accosted in Barcelona in daylight when a well dressed man walked upto me, tugged at my bag, failed to get it off and then coolly walked off as if nothing had happened. I was with my mouth open, frozen to the spot yet relieved that I still had my bag.
In Venezuela and before that in Ghana too, you had to protect yourselves against violent crime as well as robbery. In Maracaibo it was popular to steal a car or to steal the wheels and leave the car on bricks. My boss had his driver's seat stolen once from a rare car (Barracuda I think it was called) and we were all ROTF laughing when he showed up the next day with a dining chair held up with ropes in which he sat while driving. 
The Plymouth Barracuda 
In Africa once a policeman showed up at my Dad's house, where we were selling some items in a garage sale before moving house. He liked a transistor radio, but had no money on him. My Dad told him how much it was worth making it clear that he was not going to get it for nothing. 'OK, just a minute' he said. We saw him go out to the street and stop two cars, both drivers were made to hand over some cash, and he returned and paid for the radio. 
When I was younger a story used to do the rounds in India about a rich man with an American car who had one of his shiny wheel hub caps stolen. Now these were not obtainable in India, and someone suggested he try the local Chor Bazaar (Thieves Market) where they could find you anything. You all probably know this story but sure enough someone at the bazaar agreed to find him the missing wheel hub cap if he could wait a few minutes. After a while the lad came back and surprise, surprise, he had the very item needed. A large sum of money changed hands, the cap put on, and the content car owner drove off. The next day he discovered that he was still missing one hub cap, this time from the other side of his car!

There were thieves at our offices in London too and I had my wallet stolen from my jacket from my office. I would like to believe that these were outsiders but still you can't but help thinking that one of your colleagues was the culprit. Expense account stories were popular among the frequent travellers, and this involved what was permitted (or not) in a travel expense account. One such tale had it that the boss informed one employee that he could not charge for buying an umbrella on his company expenses. Disgruntled, off he went and came back the next day with his 'new' claim, which was for the same amount as the previous day, but with a handwritten message 'Now try and find the umbrella'!
As I said, there are many different ways to steal.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Airline and Airport workers

Continued series about unusual friends #11 - Airline and Airport workers

Over the years I have flown a fair deal, and one could tell many stories over a long time, but a few relate to being treated well and smiling airline or airport workers. When we used to fly to Delhi in the eighties and the nineties, there was always special treatment because my Uncle had connections (He was the Engineering director for the new IG Airport). There would usually be someone waiting at the exit from the plane with our names and we would be ushered through VIP lanes. On departure too they would let us use the Airport Manager's spacious offices and other facilities.
In the sixties when we lived in Ghana, where again my Uncle was an authority at the airport, we could access the airport and flights without too much fuss. Once HM the Queen (of England, no less) arrived for a state visit (I think 1961). My Uncle put all of us in his car and drove us through tight security and a million people, almost to the foot of the stairs where HM alighted. I have a fantasy where in a Netflix movie the Queen arrives in Accra and at the top of the stairs asks the Duke, 'What are those Indians doing at the foot of the stairs? Are we in the right country?'
See that line of airport people in the back? I think we were there!

There was a time around 2008 when I had been going to visit my team in Pennsylvania so many times that Virgin Atlantic staff at the check in and their VIP lounge began to remember me. There were two or three of us from my office, that had many facilities to make the flights from London to Newark as painless as possible. The Virgin gold frequent traveller card allowed us to go through security in a private queue, straight through to their VIP lounge where restaurants, bars, entertainment, massage, and jacuzzis awaited. I would often go to the airport an hour or two early. Once my flight was delayed which brought a smile to my face. If it was an upper class flight, sometimes when I had to fly long haul, for example Shanghai, they even sent out a limousine to pick me up at home. It was a hard life!
Virgin at Heathrow - A second home
On many occasions when I sat in economy a hostess or steward would show up with a glass of champaign and 'Arvinder, compliments of the airline'. Fast exits through security at US immigration were a special treat. You walked through a machine which recognised your hand print and let you through, no queue or anything. Then you walked out to your rental car and drove off to your destination. 
There came a time that I had accumulated enough air miles to buy business class flights for my parents from Delhi to Newark via London. It took ages for my Dad to come around to accepting this gift, and then to arrange visas and to fix a date. We kept postponing the travel dates until about a year after initiating proceedings the trip happened. 
Now, I had read somewhere that there was a time limit to how long you had between the time of reservation and the date of travel if you paid with air miles, and it was pretty close to the limit when my parents started their trip. By the time of their return they were definitely past this limit, and I suspected that they might face some hassles on the return flights. So I decided to coincide one of my own trips to coincide with their return from Newark to London on their way to India. 
As a precaution I called the Virgin reservation and explained that my senior citizen parents were travelling and could they check out their reservations and if all was well for their return flight. As an extra precaution I asked the agent for her name (Sally, if my memory serves) and direct phone number in case we had any problems at check in at Newark.
We all met up at my sister's (who lives near the Newark airport) and got to the airport together. At the check in, sure enough, the Virgin check in system would not accept my parents' tickets. The agents took ages but could not tell what the problem was. I suspected I knew the problem but did not say, except that I had been assured that all was well. By the time the flight was almost on the point of departure and my parents resigned to having to dish out a large sum to replace their free tickets, when I asked the agent to call his colleague (Sally) in London.
From that moment it took five minutes and we were checked in. I asked what had happened, and they had been instructed to bypass the checkin and let us on the plane because our reservations had already been accepted by the London staff! 
They even upgraded me so that I could sit with my parents.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Unusual Friends - #10 Namesakes

Continuing the series of Unusual Friends - #10 Namesakes (People who have the same names as me)

As you know, my name is Arvinder Bawa, and over the years I have had a few encounters with people with the same name.
Some years ago, when we lived in Maracaibo, one day we were parking our car at a famous hotel for the afternoon at the swimming pool, essential in the 40C plus heat everyday. As we got our bags out and walked across the open air car park we spotted a couple of young men just getting into their car. They saw us and one of them, a very Indian looking man came over and greeted us in the Sikhs' greeting 'Sat sri akal'.
We got chatting and after a while he agreed to meet us later in the evening to talk more and have a drink. So I asked him to write his name and a contact number on a piece of paper. I looked over his shoulder and saw that he was writing out my name! Now I had just arrived from my office where we were used to wearing an ID badge. I thought perhaps he was reading my name from my badge so I said 'You don't need to write my name'. 
He looked at me strangely and said 'No, but this is my name'. Needless to say we had a lot to talk about.

Later when we came back to England, we moved into a house in Epsom and one day we found a card dropped through our mail flap which read 'We are the Bawas from 79 Pine Hill' and a phone number. Pine Hill was nearby and we just had to go around and meet them.

More recently we were having a morning stroll around the port in Laredo when a small group of people passed us and I heard someone say something (Sat sri akal) that made me turn around and see who it was. It was a young lady who had correctly identified me as Sikh and knew my language. She turned out to be a Sikh herself who had lived in nearby Bilbao for many years. In conversation it turned out that she and her family back in India knew some of mine. when I asked her name she said 'Most people call me Bawa'!

It turned out that it was her nickname, which many of us from India tend to have. I too have one, which many of you know. To tell you the truth Bawa was also the nickname of my father and he chose to change his surname legally. In my father's case Bawa referred to a small clay figure of a male. But according to the young lady hers was given to her to imitate the crying of a child!

I will end with a curious story about the men's room of a popular restaurant in London. Although in this case it is not a person, nevertheless the door to the men's had the label 'Bawa'. I think it referred to the male figure, the source of my own surname.
It is a funny feeling to find one's name on the door of a men's room.
The men's at Dishoom restaurant..the Hindi word is Bawa

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Number 9. TV crews and movie makers

Continuing the series about Unusual Friends - TV crews and Movie makers

Many of you will have seen the TV program that Spanish Television put out with the title Destino España, on which I was featured a few years ago. What is less well known is that there were two men behind the scenes who shot the footage and who became friends for a while. They were from a company that made these programs for Spanish Television, we shall call them Manu and Alberto. One of them was the camera expert and the other was the interviewer and the contents manager. It took quite a few weeks of organising the date of the recording and they spent a full day with me, with several hours of filming to make the 7 minute section in which Marisol and I appear.
One of the curiosities was that when we went to the beach to record the bit on Cart Sailing, there was some fog and no wind! Now without the wind it was impossible to go with the Cart, yet you see me moving in the video. It is just about audible when someone in the video says  'Today the wind is red'!
That was because one of them who was wearing a red jacket, would push me for a while and the other would try and record trying to keep the pusher out of the frame. 

At another moment in the recording we met a group of friends at a bar in Laredo. They had told me to invite some friends and that we would show up and say hello and have a little recording session. When they saw about 20 or more friends at the bar, they told me that they had intended for me to invite 2 or 3 friends. Of course believing that Spanish Television had immense resources my friends were consuming large quantities of drinks, however the poor TV crew were not willing to pay large sums. A suitable compromise was reached with the generosity of the Bar owner, who belongs in my post about the Bar staff.
I should add that for weeks we could not walk down the road without someone pointing us out, or coming up to us to congratulate us. Some weeks later when at the end of our Camino de Santiago walk we arrived at Santiago de Compostela, and queued up to have our 'pilgrim credential' stamped, the agent looked up from his desk and said 'Oh, I know you! You are from Cantabria, right? And you were on that TV program'.

Talking about the Camino, this year on another section of the walk, I was interviewed by a different TV crew. This time also there were the two people, but the difference was that the talker was a woman.

Some years before when we lived in England, a film maker who I think went by the name of Sushil, asked if he could make a film about a group of artists of which Marisol was a member. We (I say we because I was the IT advisor for all things electronic) had a few meetings with him to decide what locations he would use, and the group being about Spanish Artists in London, one of the locations we chose was  Westminster and the Parliament. We decided to make a section of the video across the river with the Houses of Parliament visible in the background.
We had only been working a few minutes when two police officers showed up and asked if we had permission to film in the area. Obviously not. We had to pack it in and to make it even more eventful they decided to do a 'Stop and Search' on my backpack and gave me my first (and last) Form 5090.
Fortunately it said 'Name check revealed no trace'.

Sushil never completed the project and we all had cold feet.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Unusual friends - Beggars

Continued.. Number 8 of Indefinite series.

Now beggars are a world apart. Anyone who finds oneself without resources and has to ask for assistance needs all the help they can get. I must admit that I don't have any friends in this group, but several people I know may have been close to this state in the past. And I do know some interesting stories about them.
One of my great grand fathers is known to have a belief that if a beggar was the first person you saw on waking up in the morning, then it was a positive sign for the rest of the day. So much so that he hired a beggar to come every day and stand at the top of his bed in the mornings for this to happen. I imagine he slept alone and out in the open.
When Marisol first went with me to India, she was not so keen on the begging, but once a boy appeared in a traffic jam, with a religious 'figure', asking for a donation to Shani Devta. It was a dirty little pot with some water in it, with a metal cutout of a small figure which presumably represented Shani. The story according to our taxi driver was that all those who looked Shani in the eye were supposed to have misfortune. So you had to look at a reflection of the figure in the water (hence the pot with the water). Of course, Marisol wanted to buy the whole religious arrangement, which the boy was reluctant to let go! It was his business, and without it he had nothing to obtain a donation. In the end enough money changed hands and we had this rusting cutout (without the bowl) hanging around our living room for a while. As to the bad luck we did not worry because the cutout did not really have any eyes.
The first time I went to Silicon Valley, California, to present some work at a conference, it was 1995, and USA was miles ahead of any other part of the world in Computer technologies, and I was very impressed to find that all adverts in US newspapers for employment came with a contact email instead of the customary address and telephone number in England. I was not really looking for jobs so much as comparing salaries and who was hiring, honest. So to get back to begging, imagine my surprise when I came across a man sitting on a side walk in San Jose, with a bowl and the customary cardboard with a message. I was shocked since this was the gold rush place, everyone working on computers and never heard of poverty. I got a little nearer and read the message and it said: 
'Help me out or give me a job, I can design you a computer.'
Another time again someone in my family told me that begging was big business and an organised occupation. A women who sat at the same place every day to beg in Connaught Place (now known as Rajiv Chowk in a fit of nationalist fervour for renaming old colonial places) in Delhi was known to arrive in a car every morning and the same car would pick her up at closing time.
I did not believe this for a minute until I read in the news about a beggar who appeared at the window of a car at a traffic light as usual in Delhi. When the lady driver said she had no cash, he pulled out one of those card charging portable terminals and said 'Its OK, you can pay by card.'
Here in Laredo also we have a couple of people who regularly occupy strategic places to seek help from people passing by. Recently I was parked by one of these places, and the man arrived, placed his equipment on the ground, took a chair from a nearby bar and began to set out his pitch. Then he pulled out his mobile phone made a call. Then to my surprise he pulled out his wallet and went to a nearby Cash Machine and got some money out of his bank account, before making himself comfortable on his chair.
Begging is not what it used to be..

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Company Presidents

Part 7 of an indefinite series about unusual friends - Company Presidents

Now this set of people are probably not to be associated with the 'marginalised' label, however they do represent unusual friends none the less, specially for me, as I do not happen to be a member of this group myself.

The first time I came across one of these, it was in my boss's office in Maracaibo (Venezuela) when they hired me (without an interview I might add). How I got there is another story to be found in my book (an undisguised plug for A Nameless Book). Our team was seated around the room waiting for the President, who was coming over to see his new investment, ME. The helicopter landed on the roof and we knew he was on his way. As he approached down a corridor, I could see the group from where I was sitting. At some point he looked down the corridor and he saw me and I witnessed an explosive reaction. 'Carajo, what have we got ourself this time' (or words to that effect). I pretended not to notice.
A few seconds later he walked into the office and shook hands with 'Arvinder, welcome to Maraven. We have high hopes of your work with the computer systems here at Maraven.'

The next time I met him was at an exhibition on Information Technologies held at the Corporate Head Offices of Maraven in Caracas. The year was 1985, and we were introducing some fairly sophisticated new technology for Computer Aided Design at Maraven. I was responsible for installation and customising of this equipment at the main production offices at Maracaibo, some 1000 miles to the west. Nonetheless they flew me over and installed me and my equipment at the exhibition.

I had brought over our latest sofware for topographic mapping and piping design (don't worry, I won't go into this for the time being) which was still in its infancy in the eighties. To liven things up a bit from the boredom of work related images and simultion results, I also took along some images of Fractals that I had begun to program into these graphics displaying computers and monitors.
No one wanted to know much about the CAD design and 3D simulations, but the Fractals were an instant hit. Everyone brought their kids and partners to look at these colourful images and queues formed at my display. Everyone wanted to know what this was all about.

The next day I went out and had about 500 cards printed with these images, and at my stand I started to give one to everyone who came.
At one point I noticed the President approach and I gave him my standard 'show', which finished with the Fractals. 'And what are these images useful for?' he said. 'Nothing', I had to admit, but they were being investigated in complex mechanics to see if they could help with exploration for oil.
I don't think he was impressed.
Many years later I was developing a very sought after intelligent algorithm for designing pipeline routes (OK, again not the most interesting of topics). The president of the company I worked for at this time, again showed up to see for himself why folks in the marketplace wanted to buy what I was developing. I kept going to conferences to talk about my work and word was getting around (plus my expense accounts).
So he came and had a look, and said 'Why can't you do this for all design process?'
It has to be said that what you can do for a niche problem does not always work for the overall picture.
But he was impressed and remembered me every time he saw me in the various offices where we happened to meet. 'What new things are you working on now?' he would often ask.
Nice reputation to have.. and I usually had an elevator speech up my sleeve.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Unusual Friends - Fast Food Joints

Continuing the Unusual Friends series with the stories of workers in fast food places.

Recently when I was passing through the old part of our town, a young man walking past me said 'Sat Sri Akal, Sardar Ji'. This is the Sikh's greeting as in Hello, and usually comes from a person who knows our culture quite well. First I returned the greeting and then stopped and inquired how it was that someone here in the north of Spain knew it. 
It turned out that the man was a worker from the only Kebab shop in Laredo. He originated from Pakistan, and as many of you will know, we (Sikhs and Muslims) shared that part of the world before it was divided in 1947. Even now people from that part of Pakistan will know the Sikhs' language known as Gurmukhi or Punjabi.
The man went on to invite me to some snacks or a Kabab at his establishment, an invitation that I have yet to accept. 
Another man who runs the popular Piculin in the Calle de Medio, which does a roaring trade with the young crowd specially late in the night, knows all of us because our boys (and now their boys) love the hot sandwiches that they dish out late into the night.
And from the Laredo establishments I would like to thank the owner of La Cabaña, who very generously sponsored one of my art works a few years ago when I happened to ask him on the off chance, and specially since he had no knowledge of the kind of art he was sponsoring, with its complex mathematics and Chaos theories.

Arvinder Bawa
50cms x 40cms
Imagen Digital sobre papel
Patrocinado por La Cabaña

It was a new concept for Laredo, and to my knowledge it has never been tried before or since. I was invited by the Ruas gallery to exhibit some of my Fractal images. Only trouble was that they were on my computer, and to exhibit I needed to invest a large sum of money to have them printed on good paper with fine inks.
So I hit upon a plan that each work would have a sponsor. They would give me enough money to print the work and in return I would give them acknowledgement in the label that went with each work. I would also give them a specially printed mini version of the work. Since this came as a shock to most people they agreed before they had had enough time to think. For me this was an excellent alternative and it involved the local population in the venture.
I must say that in all my previous incarnations, or places where I have lived, I have never had such popularity among this set of people, and I consider myself fortunate.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Unusual friends - Post woman and Courier delivery man

Unusual friends series number 5 - Continuing the series of stories with home delivery people. Post woman and Courier delivery man.

In the post Internet world the post office is not an often visited place. In England the post office used to provide many services such as providing forms for multitude of services such as applying for a driving license or a passport. They even had a shop where you could buy cards and envelopes and all kinds of paper goods. Here in Spain, Correos does provide some services butI find that I need to go into their offices less and less. 

However they do deliver post, even if it is only a few items and not very often. The lady who comes to deliver uses a motor bike of distinctive colour often parked on the road, with a big bag open to the public while she goes up and down the road to deliver. She always has pleasant greeting for everyone and to my knowledge no one has bothered to annoy her by meddling with her motor bike or the bag of post.

What does surprise me is that often mail which has very doubtful addresses gets delivered to the right mail box using any information that can be made out. I do remember often mail being delivered which is missing our building's number or our apartment number. So long it gets to the local post office with my name, I believe I will get it.

The courier services that deliver packages, and we do seem to get a lot of these, (specially the Amazon deliveries) also have their quirks. Very annoyingly they refuse to accurately inform you of their exact time of arrival, and in some cases we have had to call and find out where our package might be if we were not at home.
But there is one company, whose driver has been in their employ perhaps more than is normal, and this man has got to know us. He will often wave to us while driving by us in the street and I believe he might even know our names. At one stage we had our phone number on the delivery address, and he now calls Marisol's mobile phone when we are not at home. Often times we can get back to collect our package. But if we cannot, he will meet us anywhere in town and hand over the package. On one occasion he called and we said we were having lunch at a local restaurant. 'Which one?' he said and came by and delivered to our table!
Now that is a delivery service.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Unusual friends - Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers

Continueing the 'Unusual friends' series. Part 4 with a look at the Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers.

Now we have to tread carefully. Marisol is the President of the community in our building for the year 2019, so whatever I say will be under scrutiny. The set of people that fall into the Porters and Handymen category who I know, contain a variety of depths of friendship. In England and also in the US cities the porters were (perhaps still are) sign of a posh building and always to be respected, and when you saw that the apartment you would like to rent was in a building that had a porter, it generally meant that you could double your rental costs.
However in Spain until recently every building had a porter whose job came with an apartment included free of rent or cost and somehow the community charges were always very low. Perhaps they never got paid.
When I first came to visit my Father-in-law back in the seventies I came across this profession because his building had one of these, she was a very pleasant Cuban lady and lived with her family in the building. What she actually did apart from standing in the doorway from time to time I am not too sure.
More recently we came across a couple who are also in this profession and we meet them occasionally in a bar around the corner. However my favourite is a man who works at a building nearby who has become a good friend over the years. I did not know him much until about ten years ago, when he signed up to attending my birthday party in India. Since then I can no longer classify him as unusual and more recently he has been part of our Camino de Santiago group and we have shared a lot of experiences together.

Moving on to another unusual association we come to taxi drivers. Ever since I had this hair raising experience with a taxi in Maracaibo (in Venezuela) where we lived for a while many years ago, I have a lot of respect for the people who run these cars. What happened is that for some reason I happened to catch a cab in the centre of Maracaibo, and just as I opened my mouth, the driver said 'Mire señor, usted quiere ir a su casa o la oficina'?
That translates to 'Would you like to go home or to your office'?
I quickly changed what I was going to say to 'Do you know where I live'?
'I know all about you' he replied, or words to that effect.
Since Maracuchos were keen to pull out their guns at the least annoyance, I did not pursue that line of inquiry any further.
Anyway, here in Spain also I would think all the taxi drivers would know that much about me. One in particular has become a family 'friend' and we have used him whenever we have an occasion to use a taxi.
The other day I was ordering a drink in a nearby bar, something that one does often under the general activity of 'tomar algo' (I have friends who could be called Name Tomar Algo Surname, but I digress). Collecting my drink I was about turn around to join Marisol, when a man sitting nearby said to me 'Ah, you do not recognise me'. At this I looked at him more closely and sure enough it was our taxi 'friend'. 'Hombre, we have not seen you for a while', I said.
I then found out that he was retiring and that his son was now taking over his cab and his clients.
Being in the same boat, I wished him all the best and perhaps we will be seeing him more often, if you see what I mean, 'tomando algo'.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unusual friends - The waiters and barmen

Continuing with the third of as yet unlimited stories under the banner of 'Unusual friends'..

Now almost two years ago, we (that is us and a couple of friends) happened to be sitting in the terrace of a bar on a brilliant sunny and warm day sipping our drinks and munching calamares, (or rabas as they are known) the local delicacy. The waiter came by and brought us some tapas and I knew that he was Peruvian. The football world cup qualifying rounds were going on and I happened to know that Peru were struggling with a few matches to go. So I made a comment to the guy saying that Peru looked like going out, and he cheered up to know that someone was aware of Peru's progress (or lack of). With a grand gesture he announced that he would take a bet that Peru qualify. I accepted and we agreed to bet on the value of a round of drinks and rabas, about 15 Euros.
The bar in Laredo
My logic was that although I was neutral in what happened in the matches, it would give me and the waiter some common ground for interaction and having some fun. As many of you will know, Peru qualified by the skin of their teeth. We were both very happy that this happened and although I happened to be on travels when the result became known, and the waiter may have thought that I had fled without paying, but I happily paid up my dues when next in town.
A few months later the scene repeated itself and the same waiter offered to repeat the bet if Peru got to the second round. Again I accepted, and this time Peru failed dismally and I won my money back. Perhaps as an exercise in financial gain this was a minor flop, but in terms of making a longterm association I gained a lot. This man is always happy to see me, and even if we pass by without sitting in his terrace, he will still say hello and smile. Also if Peru lose an international game I give him a thumbs down and he shrugs, and if they win its a thumbs up and his face lights up.
There are other bars in Laredo where I find equally friendly faces. Most of them know a bit about me and will tell me that they saw me on the TV or that there was photo of me in the newspaper. This goes for the surrounding towns as well. I have been recognised in Santander and Bilbao bars for being from Laredo, and there is this restaurant in San Miguel where all the waiters and cooks come together and tell me, 'yep, we saw you again' or 'what happened, we have not seen you in the press for a while'.
On another occasion we were in a group driving around Cantabria enjoying a lovely day out, but got late in finding a restaurant to have lunch. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that there was a restaurant in the general area where we were, that I had visited a year or two before and that the people had treated us really well. It was almost 4pm and everyone agreed to give this a shot as a last resort.
So we showed up at the restaurant and as we entered they seemed to be clearing up and looking forward to calling it a day. We were looking for a table for ten, so I could see that it was going to be impossible. And I was right, they said that the kitchen was closing and that they could not accomodate us. I kind of remembered the guy who had hosted us in the past, so on a hunch I described the man to see if he was around. They said yes, he is upstairs and called out for him. This familiar face came down, looked at me and his face lit up. 'Hombre, ya era hora' (Man, about time we saw you around here again) he said and gave me a hug. To my friends he said 'You guys probably dont know how this guy can eat'.
Turned out he was the owner and once he realised what we wanted, he told us to wait five minutes and they set a table and we all enjoyed a late but delicious lunch.
Something similar to this happened to me New York once, where in a similar situation, Sunday, 3pm, a restaurant where we had no reservation and which had a queue outside, and again about eight of us including my sister and her family we decided to chance our luck and I went in and said to the person in charge of reservations and seating 'Hi, do you remember me'?
''Were you not here last week'?
'Yes, it was great and that is why I am back, but I need a table today too and don't have a reservation'.
She shrugged her shoulders and nodded over to the pile of people waiting.
'Please, I have about eight people outside and some children, its late and we are hungry. You have to help me'.
'Impossible', she said.
I hung around a few minutes and she saw me and came over and said 'give me fifteen minutes and I will put together a couple of tables and I will call you'.
I could have hugged her but refrained, but my face probably said how I felt. I came out and gave my folks the good news and we had the most amazing lunch at the Rosa Mexicano, on 58th with 1st Avenue. Those of you who have sampled my Guacamole should know that its based on a recipe from this restaurant.
Rosa Mexicano - 58th and 1st NY

There is something to be said for a long cool Margarita waiting at the bar of a hotel, where you arrived after a long flight from London and then a two hour drive down Interstate 78, something that I used to do on regular intervals when working for a company in Pennsylvania. The barman used to be given advanced notice of my arrival!
It pays to have some emotional intelligence and appreciate what people do (and show it) and you get more than you invest back as a reward.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Unusual Friends - The mentally challenged group

Continuing the stories relating to unusual friends, here is the next instalment about the mentally challenged group.

Now picture this. (I am sorry that I cannot provide a photo here)
A couple of men (possibly brothers) come walking down the road in my direction. They pass scores of people without a sound, but as soon as they spot me, they smile and greet me with a 'buenos dias' and a wave. I always wave back, smile and repeat the greeting. I know of these men and know that they are not all totally there (if you know what I mean). 
What is it that I have which the rest of the population does not?
Happens to me all the time. 
There was this one time at ARCO (The famous art fair) in Madrid and we were told by one of the gallery people that there was a cocktail that evening (by invitation only) and wondered if we were going. I had no knowledge of the event. 
Later when we were on our way out through the elaborate security systems at the exhibition centre, in a big throng of people because it was closing time and slowly making our way to the exit. There may have been a couple of hundred people.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man coming down some stairs and surveying the crowd, and upon seeing me, began to make his way towards me through the crowd. As he got nearer he waved to me to stop for him. When he got to me he handed me something and said 'We are having a cocktail event this evening, and here are couple of tickets. please join us.'
So, as I said, I do attract attention, but not as much as with the people who feel marginalised.
There is one such man in town, avoided by most people, who is aware that I am from India, so every time he sees me he might shout 'vamonos a Ganges, me cago en diez', which translates to 'lets all go to the Ganges, profanity'.  My reply to him is usually 'why not' and a smile.
Another set of young men (also brothers) are our neighbours and they have severe Autism and Tourette syndrome between them. 
The one with Tourette normally avoids contact but can be seen doing peculiar things as he walks, like avoiding certain areas, or counting steps forward and backwards, or touching every tree three times.
The one with the autism is to be found walking all over town and nearby towns at all hours of the day and night. He also gathers masses of information (from reading at the library I presume) and is likely to engage people in conversation with a dump of all he can think of.
With me he is usually more focussed and I get the 'India' related dump.  If I am with Marisol or friends, he will ignore them and talk only to me while walking alongside.
Something along the lines of 'Did you hear about the holy men gathering on the banks of Ganges, millions of them, 28 got trampled and another 418 are missing, and the city of Cochin has banned fishing with the nets, and the president is visiting the flooded areas of Assam. Did you know that pollution in Amritsar has delayed the trains and the farmers are staging a protest in Kanpur.'
This one way conversation can go on for ten or fifteen minutes, with me nodding or saying 'really?' and trying to find a way of politely ignoring him and get on with my own conversation with whoever I maybe with.
Finally he is likely to get the hint and might end with a 'OK, I will leave you now but can you spare me a Euro for a cup of coffee.' Poor chap.
I wish I could employ him to do some research for me occasionally. 
I can make up a list of topics that might just get him started in the right direction.