IT happens every evening, weekend and even on public holidays too.
Clang! A football crashes against our metal garage door and sails over the patio wall. Thwack! It lands on our prize bird of paradise plant, decapitating another bloom, and – screech! yowl! – sends the cats into orbit.
Silence. Then little Spanish voices: “Daveed – can we have our ball back?”
“What do you say?”, I ask when I fetch the ball. “Gracias senora,” they chorus. And when Dave fetches the ball: “Gracias Daveed.” They like him better.
There are six or seven little boys in the gang. Each have a ball – which keeps us busy, the cats petrified and the bird of paradise de-flowered – and assorted parents we’ve never officially met. But every time Dave sees them out and about as a family, their kids rush up to him yelling, “Hola Daveed!” The parents smile … seeing nothing sinister in their offspring being on first-name terms with a strange middle-aged guiri ….
It’s part of the disarming charm of Los Barrios, a cash-poor village that would be asset-rich if only kids contributed to the GDP.
No wonder the next-door sweet shop (or, rather, the garage that doubles as a sweetshop) does a roaring trade. You can also buy a freshly-baked barra for 50 cents. We’ve been given no logical explanation for why the sign outside the door says: “Oferta! 2 barras €1”…
Every other shop in the village sells baby clothes (all those kids…) and every other business is a dentists (all those sweets…).
Our dentist occupies a branch of Unicaja, which went bust (and was another dentists before ours, which also went bust), which tells a story in itself.
Where cash boxes were once filled and loans taken out, teeth are now filled and taken out. The dentist works in the old cashier’s office – a glass box you can see through on three sides, so we can no longer yell and carry-on during a tooth extraction. The women wear trousers when prone in the dentist’s chair, or people would see up their skirts.
We’re still only on ‘buenas’-ing terms with the locals. As a travel writer specialising in the Campo de Gibraltar, I ought to know my local Mayor by now and I could kick myself that I don’t, though I have ‘liked’ his Facebook page.
I might have been included in the exhibition dedicated to the Foreigners of the Campo de Gibraltar that opened in the old granary at the end of our street. There are tributes to writers and photographers and workers of every trade and ethnicity, but we Brits are dismissed with a token photograph of our ‘favourite’ products – Heinz Tomato Ketchup and HP Sauce – which I suppose they think sums us up.
Then a few days ago, out of the blue, I got an email saying I’d qualified for a small government subsidy! My gestoria explained why. It’s not for writing about the Campo de Gibraltar, or even for being a foreigner. It’s for being a self-employed female of 55+ starting a business in an economically-depressed area and they think I need help (or my head examining).
I’m not complaining. It’s pennies from heaven. It’s still raining footballs too, but no problema – we can afford a new bird of paradise plant now!