The Rain in Spain: David and Dan in Tarragona

* Cats everywhere… No cats in Barcelona. Conspiracy theories? *

Well that is certainly an interesting way to start to an account of my exploration of Cataluña. The above comment is a note I left myself some time ago – when I originally intended to write an entry on my visit to Tarragona – to ensure that I did not forget to mention the cats. The all-important cats, of all things! Take into account my previous tale of a mischievous dog and the mention of a cat absentee conspiracy, and this all starts to point toward one seriously misplaced set of priorities on my part. I do wish to make some assurances; I am not obsessed with cats. Promise. Why did I not just delete the original comment and save myself this protracted explanation? Well, I say, the people need to know the truth. They both want it and – I believe – can handle it. The very simple fact of the matter is that there were a lot of cats around in Tarragona on this particular occasion. Right, is that understood? I do hope so.

OK then, that is the cat situation covered. Consider yourselves updated. On to the real subject of today’s entry, then: my expedition to Tarragona. Prior to this trip, I had had ample opportunity to get to know the Autonomous Region of Cataluña a bit better and yet, up until that weekend with my Spanish compadre, David, I had just about fully neglected that option. However, that’s not to say that I hadn’t been enjoying myself here. I developed a fascination with kettles when I first arrived, lest we forget. So then, there we were late one Saturday afternoon, the intrepid adventurers, described as such regardless of David’s mum hailing herself from Tarragona and him having spent much time there for that very reason. Quite frankly, for David, this trip was about as much of a novelty as it would be for me if I were to pop over to Essex to visit my family in Southend. Nonetheless, he seemed excited and hopped on a train that ran along the seafront – a pleasant route – although not before I took my chance to mess something up. In a moment of pure absentmindedness and outright foolishness, I managed to first turn up at the wrong station, waiting there, shifting about anxiously as David somehow failed to appear before me outside, as we had agreed. Predictably, he had gone to the correct station and was, therefore, the one waiting for me. He can be so irresponsible like that sometimes…

With David reprimanded for his failure to remind me to go to the correct train station and then having the cheek to not even turn up at the wrong place, we were on our way to Tarragona. We sat and chatted, as friends tend to do, catching up and discussing David’s careless antics until I was served up with my first real sighting of one of Spain’s many wonders; the Spanish answer to the UK’s beloved ‘chav’: the cani. Canis, my dear friends, are quite simply incredible. Prior to my first experience of them sat on a train in Cataluña, David had on numerous occasions told me tales of their legend, showing me YouTube videos such as this:

The cani really is a sight to behold, and a social phenomenon that really lives up to the stereotype. During our journey and after pulling up at a station about halfway to our destination, our attention was quickly caught by a group of youths stepping onto the train, who – and I never normally use this expression – stank to high heaven of certain memorabilia. The carriage was instantaneously filled with thick fumes of a herbal variety and soon I could see the eyes of fellow passengers beginning to glaze over. Elderly onlookers were not best pleased, mind, visibly huffing and puffing at this outrage, crossing their chests in the fashion of a crucifix, evidently looking to have a word with the Lord Almighty to both pardon and prevent the misbehaviours of these rapscallions. As for myself, I sat in my seat in amazement as these kids of surely no more than 15, in some cases, periodically began to fulfil each and every one of the ‘Cani Criteria©’.

It was amazing. Firstly, each of them, without fail, was dressed in the appropriate attire, the sportswear so characteristic of the canis (please consult above video documentary). All of them spoke in a near incomprehensible, slang-ridden manner that had me struggling to understand a single word and had even my Spanish companion straining rather more than usual to grasp the meaning of the animated chatter. Yet another stereotype dedicatedly adhered to: their choice of listening material, projected from mobile phone speakers for added quality and enjoyment. The ‘music’ they played can quite accurately be described as some of the worst known to man. It was brilliantly awful, delightfully terrible. ‘ElectroPop EuroGarage’, you might call it, but you’d most likely be wrong. You simply had to sit back and smile at the thought of their musical taste. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they were all clearly high as kites!

Onlookers sat back, passively inhaling the haze, looking disgruntled and yet, somehow coming eventually to feel decidedly more comfortable in the company of their younger peers. The heavily observed group of youngers was not aware of its majesty, of course, but these guys and girls were proving to not only provide me with my first experience of their legendary urban myth of a kind, but also an education. They were fascinating to observe. David Attenborough, as I have it according to my most reliable of sources, has recently spent considerable time in Spain pursuing footage for a new BBC documentary based unquestionably on the cani. They deserved all the screen time available to mankind ever. I really can’t recommend highly enough taking some time out in your busy lives to travel to Spain with the specific task in mind of observing this mysterious bunch. It is quite the experience.

Most disappointingly and altogether too quickly, our time with the canis did eventually draw to a close, with both David and I utterly enchanted. He seemed to have enjoyed the encounter nearly as much as I did. Not quite, though. Mere moments after bidding farewell to our social unicorns, with the both of us still reeling with delight at our recent sighting, we were in Tarragona. There, we were met by some blustery winds and the mission of finding our hostel for the evening. Leaving the station in our wake, we strolled off into the night. Now, I must highlight at this point that I regard myself as something of a rookie when it comes to staying in hostels. I have yet to dabble in a touch of inter-railing or something equally cool and so my experience with hostel stays is limited, at best. Thus, as David and I stood at a turning that led down a dark and narrow alley, along which he insisted our room for the night was to be found, I was sceptical and wary. The scene was quite frankly sinister. There was great potential for us, along this alleyway, to be assaulted, molested, robbed or killed, and probably even all of the above. We decided to tread with caution.

Now, I invite you to consider that I have watched and enjoyed many of the films of the Wrong Turn franchise. Typically in these ridiculously written ‘slasher’ films, the cast ensemble consists of a group of less than 10 and, by and large, there is only one lone survivor who remains at the end. The critical juncture in the case of each and every Wrong Turn film is, predictably, a crossroads or a fork in the road, one route leading to the guarantee of safety, and the other, to inbred cannibalistic hillbillies with a thirst for 20-something-year-old blood. Guess which route is always picked. So, with our party consisting of two on this dark and windy night in Tarragona, I ranked both David’s survival chances and mine as unfavourable, based on my viewings of Wrong Turns 1-5. Yet, as the naïve cast members always do, we ventured down this poorly lit path full of bad omens and suspense. The mood was not improved much as we reached what appeared to be an abandoned reception at the end of the alley. We opened the door and rang the bell. No response. We rang again. Nothing. I knew then that the time had come for my untimely demise via some poorly executed hacking of an axe from a bloodthirsty lunatic. I stepped outside to see if anyone was around – a rookie error by all accounts in such horror flicks. We had split up. As I waited in the courtyard, my eye was caught by what turned out to be a group of black kittens, the four of them huddled around something that seemed tasty as they all crouched together, gnawing away at an unknown object. It was probably David’s little finger by now, given that we had been apart for all of a minute and, if I was still alive, then surely the same could not be said of him at that point. Unnerved by the tiny felines, I stepped back inside.

Our prospects for the evening

Our prospects for the evening

As it turns out, we were not to be cast members of a gritty horror that night, as we did indeed survive without so much as an ordeal. David was alive and unharmed and a normal-looking man soon came and greeted us at the reception desk, handing us our room key and wishing us a pleasant stay. I did for a moment though, I must admit, make eye contact with the man in question to check for signs of depravity or murderous tendencies. Thankfully, there were none. Nothing doing. So with that, we dropped off our stuff and headed out for an evening of heavy drinking at, among others, a bar furnished inexplicably with furniture on the ceiling; a dinner of pinchos; and the company of a gay, naturalised Spanish Ukrainian man, his Argentine-Italian boyfriend and girlfriends of theirs who looked impossibly old in spite of their ages of 18 and 15(!) respectively. It was a fun night, indeed. We returned to the hostel, caring decidedly less about the sinister feel to the place, and agreed to set up with the sightseeing in the morning.

Early afternoon came. With our eyes bleary and heads aching somewhat, we stepped out into the light of day and slight drizzle of rain, found ourselves a restaurant and proceeded to enjoy a [candle-lit (lacking in candles, I just wanted to emphasise the ‘bromance’)] three-course lunch. I say enjoy, when really I mean endure. The fallen soldiers were suffering slightly from the night before. But that did not dampen our spirits. We were determined to the see the sights of Tarragona and nothing would stop us in our quest to do so. Nothing, that is, apart from the weather, which had taken something of a turn for the worst. It was bucketing it down with rain. Yet, dear readers, did this prompt us to call it a day before it had even begun? Did I lead us to thoughts of ‘oh well’ or ‘better luck next time’? No it did not. Bravely, we stepped out in to the falling water – the most dangerous of substances – and began our day of damp sightseeing.

Were it not for the rain, it would have been an excellent day. As it was, it was an amusingly different one. The streets emptied as the rain continued to pour, leaving David and I the town to ourselves. Onwards we walked, refusing to admit defeat at the hands of some precipitation. As it just so happens, Tarragona is a really nice little town; very picturesque and very Roman. David, being the well-read individual that he is, proved an excellent tour guide as we passed Tarragona’s port – which, according to David, often has moored one of the many yachts in the fleet of one Roman Abramovich – the amphitheatre and the cathedral basilica, all of which were simply charming. After all of this, we were absolutely soaked through. Dryness soon became a distant and abstract concept, illustrated as follows:

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Indeed, there would have been glasses of water dryer than us on this rainy Sunday afternoon! Yet, on we went, still refusing to give in to the conditions until finally, David asked me if I wanted to get a churro, to which I replied that I most certainly did. Sat dripping in a café, and by that I mean dripping, as small puddles formed around the arms of our coats, we ended up ordering chocolate waffles and generally loving life for being out of the rain. Thankfully, as we made our way back to the train station, it subsided slightly and we were able to begin the drying-off process that would prove to take some days to be completed. The funny thing is that I’m not even exaggerating slightly when I say that. Nevertheless, as we sat speeding towards Barcelona, cold, tired and oh so very wet, we sat and laughed at what had been a great trip in Cataluña. So now we know, readers, the rain in Spain does not fall mainly on the plane. Rather, it falls mainly in a small Catalan town named Tarragona.

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Castelles – a statue of Catalan tradition

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Freight ships sailing out from the Tarragona port. Still no sight of Abramovich – updates to come.

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The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler Pt. II

So then, where were we?

The Fish Smuggler

    The Fish Smuggler

I believe I had just successfully achieved my task of chopping up large volumes of tuna and managed to get all of it to fit into one Tupperware container, which would prove to be most convenient for shipping it over to Switzerland. I know, I know… My life can get pretty wild at times. The things I get up to. I just take each day as it comes, you know? Accept the lifestyle on the edge, accept the danger. How else would I ever cope? Anyway, back to the matter at hand: following on from my operation with the fish, I had considered the possibility of running into trouble in either Barcelona or Basel airports’ customs – or both – given that I was attempting to ferry fresh produce across international borders. Yet, I had it on good authority (again, read as: my dad) that I would run into no such problems and that there was nothing to worry about in that respect. I trust my dad but I wasn’t sure of what to make of everything he was telling me, whether he was reassuring me in order to ensure that I remained a cool customer going through security checks, or simply, as he’d said, that there really would not be any trouble with me packing fresh fish in my bag and smuggling it into Basel.

Either way, on the Friday that I was due to fly, I grabbed my bag laden with the potentially illicit tuna and rushed off to the airport. I hopped on a train, sat back and relaxed. Drawing ever nearer to my destination, I honestly hadn’t thought too much of my contraband in tow. After all, I figured, even in the absolute worst case scenario, what were airport staff likely to do; cuff me, inform me that I was ‘nicked’ and then march me off to a Spanish or Swiss prison (or both… somehow) after discovering my banned cargo? No, they would most likely give me a slap on the wrist, if even that, confiscate my contraband and send me on my way to Basel minus one Tupperware container’s worth of Barcelona’s finest tuna. That, I thought to myself, was an outcome I could live with. So, yes, in a way, I was relaxed about pursuing my new career as a smuggler. Nothing to it. Any drug lords, leaders of rings or cartels, or even small-time dealers who happen to be reading this blog and are currently looking into the recruitment of a mule: sign me up! I’ve got this smuggling business all figured out. Send me over to Colombia, Thailand (etc.) or wherever you want and I will get the package to your business associates. I’m that much of a pro these days… What’s that? You want to see some of my qualifications? Well, I’ll have you know that I smuggled some fish from Barcelona to Basel once and no one even asked me about the contents of my [hand] luggage! I’m not quite sure how I’ve suddenly started applying for more smuggling jobs from the leaders of the criminal underworld, but hey: C’est la vie, or es la vida, should I say.

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the recently arrested Mexican drug lord, or me after a few years in the smuggling game?

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the recently arrested Mexican drug lord, or me after a few years in the smuggling game?

Moving on, I did indeed manage to fulfil my smuggling duties without even so much as a hiccup. Granted, I had a moment of brief nervousness as I set down my belongings, bag included, at the El Prat airport security check and saw them all disappear behind the rubber curtains of the X-ray machine. Trying my best to appear calm and collected, I am almost certain to have failed as I could feel myself acting in a shifty manner, eager to collect my bag full of the contraband. The alarm went off as I stepped through the detectors myself and I was searched. Standard procedure, of course,  but I suspected that my card had been marked. It hadn’t. After a few nervous laughs as I attempted to exchange a casual joke with the staff member responsible for frisking me, I had made it through security. I had made it through with my tuna! Like I said, nothing to this smuggling game. The only problem which I would now have to confront was more of psychological one as, lest we forget, I am still afraid of flying.

Don’t ask me why but on this particular evening, I was nervous. That doesn’t quite do it justice, I was really nervous. Really, really nervous. Perhaps with all the excitement from the smuggling gig I was undertaking, I had let my imagination run too far ahead of me, always a dangerous idea for me prior to a flight. As usual, I had entertained thoughts of catastrophe, doom and all the others which I tend to associate with flying. Only on that day, these thoughts would simply not cease and desist, they were all that was on my mind. As I boarded the plane I began to feel deeply unhappy, as I typically would, but normally I would expect this to subside after a while. Certainly before take-off, only for me then to begin a new process of freaking out. But on this Friday night, it did not and was only confounded further by waiting a good half an hour on the tarmac in anticipation of take-off. I literally died. *Note to self: develop further understanding of the term ‘literally’*. Waiting around watching other planes take off from the very same runway which my own flying vessel would soon be using to lift off the ground is my personal hell. You may think of the Catholic depiction of Hell, with demons poking out sinners’ eyes with fiery pitchforks, but if that’s where I end up when the time comes, I know exactly what I’ll be doing. The fear I experience in the aforementioned scenario is like no other I’ve experienced. I do not like it.

Anyway, there I am on the plane, fearful for my life as ever as we finally take off, at which point – and I have no shame in admitting it – I buckle under the pressure of it all. I leaned over to my fellow passengers sat beside me, and asked them that, kindly, they take a moment to talk to me, so that I do not have a full-on meltdown. They turned out to be a very likeable Catalan couple who made it their mission to ensure that I was OK, which I appreciated very much at the time, as you might imagine. Soon, I was calm for having spoken to some rational folk who obviously knew that we were going to be fine. I thanked them for their time, slumped back in my seat and remained diligently nervous and alert, of course, to ensure that the engines didn’t fail. This is my rationale, question it at your peril. As you may have ascertained by now, flying brings out a deeply troubled, and frankly, disturbing side of me and I am not proud of that. I really must remind myself to fly less. Either that, or simply, to man the f*** up!

Cruising at 38,000ft, I was more comfortable than I had been prior to or during take-off. Still getting over how on edge I had been previously, but settling down at least. That is, until I heard the pilot’s voice come on over the tannoy, at which point, as always, I removed my headphones from my ears, leaving my music to play without an audience in order for me to devote my full attention to this most important of professionals. A note to this man and to pilots in general, for that matter, in the interest of passenger wellbeing: please, for the love of all that is holy, do not under any circumstances begin your opening sentence of your announcement with the following:

Ladies and gentleman, we are struggling…”

That was it. I knew it, I was finally on that flight! My worst nightmares had now become a reality.

“…to serve you your requested drinks and snacks as the cabin crew is running low on loose change[!!!!!!!!!!!]”.

I was most vexed by proceedings. If ever I were to seek reassurance from someone during a flight, my first option would obviously be the pilot, and for this individual to start his sentence so carelessly as he did… Well, needless to say, I died again. Literally. However, sure enough, despite my conviction that we were doomed, we proceeded safely, only for the flight attendants to be donated the change they needed from the passengers and for the next incident to illustrate to me that, surely, I had actually lost the plot; that my nerves were shot and my fear had caused me to become delusional. A brief 30 minutes before landing, the tannoy sounded again, only this time for the voice of a member of the cabin crew to be projected:

Ladies and gentlemen, with 30 minutes remaining of this flight the crew will shortly be passing through the cabin, offering you the chance to buy boutique items”, exclusive this, top-of-the-line that, the usual, blah blah blah… “Cigarettes, fragrances and CHICKEN FILLETS…” Pardon me. Come again? What had I just heard? I’ve been partial to the odd piece of poultry from time to time, but offered some on a plane??? Don’t think so. Equally, I quite enjoy the effects of the silicone breast-enhancing tools oft used by women these days but surely, there’s a time and a place! Of course, I’m sure I completely misheard but this led me to wonder what had actually been said in the first place. I was honestly ready to be cuffed by men in white coats and driven off to the nearest Swiss institute upon landing. After all of this, mercifully, the flight came to an end and I decided that, in hindsight, I thought myself quite silly for being so scared, as I always do.

Notwithstanding, waiting at a Basel bus stop to be taken into the city centre, I was sincerely shaken, relieved and, above all, confused after all that had occurred during the flight. As I stood there slowly recovering my status from ‘nervous wreck’ to ‘gratefully content’, a duo in uniform awaiting the same bus as me, I assumed, caught my eye. It soon occurred to me that these two must have been the pilot and co-pilot of the plane that I had myself just been on moments beforehand. Using my considerable powers of observation, I deduced from each of the pair’s blazers that the man stood directly to my right was the pilot, based entirely on the greater number of accolades decorating his arms. What I noticed next shocked me to the core. Bear in mind that I view the professions of pilots and flight attendants as those that, of all vocations in the world, tempt fate most. Don’t these people doing these jobs realise that they are putting their lives at risk each and every flight? I mean, I’m aware that the popular daredevil, Evil Knievel, was prone to a fair amount of danger in his life but, really, he had nothing on the brave (crazy) men and women who make a living from being on a plane all day, every day.

Onto the shocking sight, then: the pilot, the man who so daringly carries out his work, was stood casually at the bus stop with his colleague looking generally at ease – chatting, smiling and… smoking! There he was, equipped with a lit cigarette, dragging away and apparently thinking nothing of it. Well, I thought, this man clearly did not value his life as I do, as many other non-smoking, non-pilots do. What a truly audacious individual. In the initial moment that I noticed the cigarette between his fingers, I could feel myself screaming (internally) at him, “What?!” What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you think you’ve got enough on your plate as it is?” I was unsure of whether to condemn or applaud this man’s life choices. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, he must have been one crazy character, what with all these perils that he would inevitably confront on a daily basis. That was about it for me after all of the evening’s events. I officially gave up. I stepped on to the bus and proceeded to have a great, danger-free weekend with Dad and Emm.

Based on all that went on cruising through international airspace and, subsequently, at a Swiss bus stop, I consider it safe to say at this point that, perhaps, contraband smuggling may not be the career for me. Whether that contraband might be tuna and/or cocaine or heroin. What a promising career prospect that now lies in tatters. Oh well, I’m sure something will come along eventually. Maybe I’ll look into training as a pilot…

EPILOGUE

Just so you readers know, I sat writing the final sequences of the second instalment of The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler (Watson, 2014) aboard a flight to London, where I am currently to be found for a few short days. A flight that, might I add, I seemed to actively enjoy! What is it with me? I have concluded that I quite simply must be a strange person. I imagine that many of those reading this who happen to know me arrived at that same conclusion long, long ago, but at least now I can finally acknowledge it myself. I really have no idea why, on one flight I can fully lose my cool and, with that, evidently my sanity and on another I can grit my teeth and bear it (or even enjoy it). I guess that’s just the way I is.

Well friends, thank you for accompanying me on my emotional roller-coaster that was travelling from Spain to Switzerland with a few lumps of tuna in my bag. It’s been a blast. Until next time… Hasta la próxima.

The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler Pt. I

Dearest friends, I have a tale to tell. A tale relating to my stay in Switzerland this weekend gone. A tale of crime; a tale of intrigue; a tale… of seafood.

Allow me, if you will, to set the scene: Switzerland is a country with which I have become increasingly familiar over the past few months given that Basel is the city – a Swiss city, at that – in which my father resides and a place which I have visited various times for that reason. That, and I do quite like it there, just as I predicted I might prior to my first trip. The Swiss, as a people, seem to trundle along quite nicely in their lives, without even so much as a sniff of political scandal, for example, or a national crisis thrown in for good measure. MPs making trivial expenses claims at the cost of the honest tax-payers? Government officials accused of scandalous behaviours or corruption? The banking sector plunging the nation into dire economic straits? No, none of that, thank you. I mean, come on, this is Switzerland after all. They just all seem to be OK and they’re OK with that (obviously). But – as in all places, there is a ‘but’ – one shortcoming which my dear, old Dad has been quick to pick up on with regard to his new home is a distinct lack of supply in a particularly important area. You readers may, as well-read and learned individuals, have the thought occur to you upon reading this that, perhaps, Switzerland lacks oil reserves. Perhaps gas might be the issue, since, as we all know, these are the fuels which make the world go round. These, and of course, smiles… But no bother. The Swiss are quite fortcoming with their supply of the latter and the fuels are imported without too much trouble. So, what then, might be the commodity which they are lacking so badly? Well, as the title suggests, as does the fact that Switzerland is a landlocked country, it just so happens to be fish.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that one can purchase a fish in Switzerland. I actually have it on good authority (read as: my dad) that it can be done. In fact, coming to think of it, I have even seen somebody with my own eyes do it in a supermarket (a sight to behold if there ever was one). However, the problem for fans of fish such as my dad is that it is most difficult to get your hands on a nice, fresh bit of fishy produce. Most unfortunately, fresh fish is just not readily available in Swiss lands. I have said the word ‘fish’ quite a bit in this paragraph. Anyway, with his beloved and only son residing in Barcelona, as I do for the time being, Dad requested that I bring him some fresh bluefin tuna over from La Boquería. Importantly, he reminded me, I would need to ask for said tuna to be vacuum-packed so as not to ruin the rest of my luggage with the tuna-ish(??) odours. If anything, the vacuum-packing of the tuna was almost a more vital aspect of the transaction than the tuna itself. With that in mind, what happened when it came down to me standing across a counter in Barcelona’s most famous of markets, pointing at the tuna steaks which I so desired, can hardly come as a surprise.

That’s right, I failed. I bought my tuna steaks – all 2 kilograms of them, served to me in 2 slabs – only to ask after the euros had exchanged hands that they vacuum pack my produce for me. Some would say a rookie error, others, desperately unlucky. I count myself as a member of the school of the latter; it just so happened that, of all the fish stalls in La Boquería – of which there are many – the one from which I bought the tuna was one of an overwhelming minority which was unequipped with the appropriate machine to be able to carry out the vacuum-packing… My heart sank. Well, maybe not to Titanic levels of sinking but, using the sinking boat analogy, it would definitely have resembled a small dinghy which had taken on a fair bit of water. So, there I was, stood in the depths of the famous Barcelona market with a green plastic bag in hand, filled to the brim with two hefty fillets of tuna, hatching my next plan of action. I wondered around numerous stalls like a lost schoolboy looking for his mummy, with blind hope in my eyes. Hope that someone, somewhere might find it out of the kindness of their heart to vacuum-pack my fish. Off I went to start my strange conversations with the various vendors behind the counters of their stalls, which, by and large, went a little something like this:

Vacuum-pack my fish?” “No.”

This was a brief and blunt dialogue which took place all too often for my liking and soon prompted me to call it a night. I was on my own. I, the fish monger with a grand total of zero fish-mongering experience, would have to devise a way for the chunky slabs of tuna to be packed and shipped over to Switzerland in an appropriate fashion. This, I knew, would be no easy task. Imagine the loss at which I found myself as I walked along La Rambla, wondering what on earth I was going to do with my non-vacuum-packed fish.

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this

Imagine two of these bad boys, each bigger than this, sat on my kitchen table, presenting me problems

Fumbling with my keys as I stood at my front door, I knew that I would have to find a knife in the flat, sharp enough to slice up these sturdy steaks. I was, at that point, not optimistic. But, my heart – the same heart that had sunk moderately at the fish stall in La Boquería – leapt for joy as I found a triumphant looking utensil which, until this very moment, I had never before seen in my kitchen which would be perfect for the job. With the tuna steaks sprawled across the kitchen table, juices messing up the place and smells permeating the entire flat, my career as a fish monger began in earnest. I got to the chopping and practically doused the surfaces of the kitchen, as well as my body, with tuna juice. At first, I must admit, it was a struggle. I was out of my depth but, as time passed and I honed my skills, the process became increasingly simple and remained consistently fishy throughout. An interesting experience, indeed. My evening was spent entirely by chopping up tuna and employing copious volumes of cling film but, finally, I had amended my earlier failures and had now become an amateur/semi-professional fish monger. Now all I had to do was get my newly wrapped tuna to Switzerland…

A Broken Promise: Dan Returns to Switzerland

Yes, good readers, I am making my grand return to the least aligned of all places in the known world, and indeed, human history. Switzerland shall be welcoming me once again with open arms tomorrow evening. Herein lies my broken promise: a matter of a few short weeks ago, I was experiencing Basel, the tranquil Swiss city in which my padre resides, for the first time. During my stay, I drank beers aplenty with him and my boy, Phil, who had flown over from London. Phillis, the name by which many know him, including myself, took quite nicely to Switzerland, as I felt I did too. On a side note, he is fully aware that ‘Phyllis’ is, in fact, the correct spelling of his chosen name technically, but equally feels the need to distance himself from association with the stereotypical old lady who goes by the same moniker, sat at home in a poorly upholstered armchair, sipping her Earl Grey tea from a china mug, surrounded by her 28 cats who provide her with her sole company. By the end of our trip to Basel, Phillis (spelt with an ‘i’) and I made the promise to each other to never again return to the nation of Switzerland, for reasons that shall soon be made known to you. Phil, all I can say is that I’m deeply sorry for what I am about to do: I am about to break that promise. I am about to go back to Switzerland…

My friend, who is not and never will be a cat lady (he hopes), and I, as a duo shared the purpose of the trip to Swiss lands; to venture to Sankt Jakob-Park, the home ground of FC Basel to watch the home side take on the mighty Chelsea, that team in blue which remains forever closest to our hearts, in the Champions League. Of course, my primary goal in Switzerland as a lone traveller and son, was to visit my daddy-kins. A goal which I accomplished with aplomb, might I add. Funnily enough, the language employed between myself and my taxi driver upon my arrival in Basel airport was Spanish given that my knowledge of the German language stands at the impressive total of ‘fuck all’! Thankfully, this helpful fellow, hailing originally from Algeria, boasted a passable level of Spanish in his arsenal, occasionally confused with Italian, which I ever so generously overlooked as I was truly glad of his ability to determine my destination in this unknown city. Of course, I would have simply pointed to a written address on a smartphone screen if I had simply had said address documented somewhere that day, which, as you have probably ascertained by now, I did not. Technology, namely texting services, failed me on this cold evening. I digress… I shall, however, be mentioning the cold again shortly.

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The time spent with mein vater (check that out, I wrote something in German!) was short and sweet, for he had to jet off to Nottingham for work a few days after my arrival in Basel. We shared glasses of port and juice (on separate occasions), the latter of course blended by our fair hands, he showed me his technologically kitted-up flat, around the city, what to do, what to see, and by the time Phil was due to arrive, I felt that my dad’s Basel orientation class had served me well. At the city train station I picked up my trusty companion who had inexplicably decided against travelling to Switzerland without a coat (a truly foolish decision). After a dinner of pints of lager and pretzels and a night of spooning Phil on a sofa bed in my dad’s living room, not out of choice I hasten to add, he and I were left to our own devices in Basel. We scarcely ventured outside, due to the subzero temperatures on offer in the great outdoors, other than to frequent local bars and, on one snowy evening, for Phil to happen upon a water fountain into which he wisely opted to dunk his face and, moments later, a nipple (don’t ask). Strolling tipsy through the quiet streets of Basel proved quite enjoyable, as it is an attractive place to visit, despite the bitter cold which plagues the city at this time of year. For example, views of the Rhine are rather nice at night:

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A word on this cold: it is really is freezing. Literally. Below freezing, in fact. And without any of the sweet nectar we commonly know as lip balm at hand during my stay, my face did suffer severely. With temperatures reaching lows of -4ºC on the night of this European football match, I cannot remember a time when I have been colder, other than perhaps atop an almost 20,000ft mountain in Africa – that was just obscenely frosty – but at least then I had the appropriate attire to combat such conditions. I hold it on good authority, too, that these kind of winter temperatures are typically considered as mild. MILD! Winter has apparently yet to truly arrive… Interesting, to say the least. Sat freezing my nuts off, so to speak, I would have surely perished had I spent much longer in FC Basel’s stadium, which to the befuddlement of myself and my friend seemed to be a shopping center that, perhaps by chance, happened to contain a football pitch within. Exaggerating, I am not. Pop in for a bit of Christmas shopping in this neighbourhood of Basel, buy yourself a nice wooly scarf and ‘Hey, while you’re at it, why not come and watch this match, happening right here, right now?!’ It’s quite fun, really. That is, apart from this spiteful cold which did seem to actively want to damage me so.

By this point of my thrilling tale of Basel, you must be wondering why Phil and I would decide to make the extreme commitment to never return to Switzerland. Before you begin to frantically ponder what atrocities we could have been subjected to that would provoke this reaction, let me assure you that this was a decision made purely for footballing reasons. For indeed, Chelsea lost. The loss we can reluctantly accept through gritted teeth, but it is the manner in which Chelsea lost which troubled us. On this bitterly cold evening (I think I have conveyed that it was cold, right?), Chelsea could not muster a single chance on goal. They did not shoot once! For much of the game, Chelsea played on the back foot, with Basel enjoying a home advantage boosted by admittedly excellent home support; these people do like their time over there.

In what turned out to be a fairly uneventful game, we had a fantastic view of the pitch sat practically next to the pitch, opposite the centre circle, thanks to the ample generosity of my dear father (Danke schön, vater – look, I’m at it again!). Bravely, we sat amongst the passionate and vocal Basel fans, and to our utter delight, Chelsea posed absolutely no threat to the Basel defence! Oh well, at least we had the consolation of seeing Chelsea qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament and, far more importantly, making our first TV appearance on Sky Sports (woop!), according to friends sat watching the game at home, looking cold and most likely disgruntled due to the evening’s proceedings. As minutes of play passed, Phil and I began to notice that not only did Chelsea look unlikely to score on this particular occasion, but they looked unlikely even to create chances. Not just chances, at that. Chances to shoot. And so comes half-time. No shots registered. No worries, we’ll surely step up the tempo in the second half. The game proceeds. Said stepping up of said tempo does not materialise. 75 minutes pass of minimal attacking threat from the boys in blue and it quickly dawns on the two of us that Chelsea are simply not destined to score tonight. We begin to hope for a shot on goal. Just a shot, one teency shot, anything on target. Sod it! Off target will do. Just something. Please. Clearly, this was too much to ask as Chelsea responded to our wishes for an attack on goal by conceding one of their own, clocked at the 87th minute, which was successfully converted by Basel’s Egyptian winger, Mohamed Salah (a very good player), as he dinked the ball over the Chelsea keepr, Petr Cech. Good! They lost the game and with that, so too did Phil and I lose the opportunity to see a Chelsea player kick the ball on target, between the posts of the Basel goal. 

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Another brave Chelsea comrade sat in front

 

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Great home support

Strolling home in the freezing cold (I’m sure I must have mentioned that it was cold at some point!), we began to theorise that maybe the reason for Chelsea’s failure to shoot was that the manager, Mourinho, had actually instructed his players not to, as shots on target could result in goals, and goals could result in wins. And Chelsea would not want that. Either that or it was simply someone’s fault. We needed a scapegoat. Naturally, we soon landed on Switzerland. Of course! It was all Switzerland’s fault. Thus, we completely rationally and fairly agreed that if Chelsea had lost because of Switzerland, as clearly they had, then we simply had to boycott this country forever… On my part, this boycott has lasted all of a few weeks (sorry, Phil) as I recently booked another flight to visit my dad again this weekend, to be accompanied by my sister and for the three of us to celebrate Christmas together early. Phil’s efforts against the most neutral of nations remain successful. It goes without saying that for me to return to Basel, this once again means flying, which I am slowing coming to accept is quite a safe way to get around. Quite safe. I am yet to be fully convinced. My good friend, irrationality, reminds me that I am probably still doomed. Thanks buddy!

So, with my betrayal of Phil executed and my promise to him lying in tatters, onwards I march to Christmas in Basel.