After our embarrassing first visit to see Rayo Vallecano in action (we won 4-1, by the way, and so are now known as the Mighty Rayo - or at least in my household. Danny the Boogie Barman at La Terraza, an Atletico Madrid bar through and through, seems to dissolve into giggles whenever we mention their name), Ged and I decided we had to show our true alliance in future. And so, new scarf proudly keeping my neck warm, I headed off to the stadium to buy season tickets (yes, a bit late, but never mind).
Anything official sends shivers down my spine and it’s even worse in Spain. Here, they have red tape off to such a fine art that I end up so tangled up I need a lie down and a cup of tea. With a dash of whisky, preferably. But after three and a bit years, I have a rough idea of what’s needed and now go armed with so many forms, documents and photocopies that you’d think it was first day back at school. Yet there are still problems . . .
My first attempt to explain what I was after at the stadium was met with the uncomprehending “huh?” which I know so well. It’s the shorthand way of saying: “Sorry, I was so busy trying not to laugh at your accent and your attempt to roll your ‘r’ which sounded more like a combine harvester in pain than a recognisable word that I didn’t listen to what you said.” It’s a familiar pattern: I then repeat what I said; he then repeats what he thinks I said; I then say it again . . . Eventually, we get there, although at times it can be like a game of “Give Us a Clue”.
Next came the forms. Oh yes, nothing is official in Spain unless it’s signed, dated and stamped. In triplicate is even better. But as I said, I was armed with all the numbers and names I needed and went to it with an official air. Now in the early days, I always relied upon the fact that even if they couldn’t understand what I said, I could write it down and bingo, instant communication. Oh yeah? I’ve had to learn to add a stroke through my Zs and change my qs (no little flick at the bottom but a cross) to avoid bureaucrats thinking I’m illiterate and talking slowly to me (which takes us back to the first problem of accents).
So I was fairly confident when I handed over the forms for Ged - full name Gerrard Ellis - and myself - Elizabeth Ellis.
The man in the ticket office picked up the forms, looked at them, pulled them in for a closer look, then frowned. “Where is your second name?” Ha ha! That old chestnut. Think he was going to get me with that one? I grew wise to that after . . . oooh, at least two years of being asked. Nope, it’s not my “middle” name, it’s my second surname, my mother’s maiden name. I told him I only had one surname. “Aaaah, so you are buying tickets for you and your brother!” Hee hee - he couldn’t even get me with that. I know the answer by heart, now, having explained the “quaint” British habit of usually taking your husband’s surname when you marry so many times I’ve started to think about having it on my iPod to save my breath.
(A friend of mine who’s been here many years admitted to me that she still gets flustered by the explanation. A recent run-in with the local government saw her getting official documents addressed to Señora Johnson Notienes from where the official wrote “no tienes – she doesn’t have one” on the space for the second surname on the form.)
Then the man hit me with a new question: “Your husband’s name is…” Now Gerrard doesn’t usually thrown them. Ged, yes, and we come up with lots of goodies for how to pronounce or spell that one, but never his full name.
He mouthed the name to himself, first, then louder to me, with an inquisitive air: “Gerrar…” The rs were rolling as if they’d been plunged headfirst down a mountain.
“Gerrard,” I annunciated carefully, realising my Geordie accent made me sound like Elmer Fudd saying it. So I spelled it – in Spanish – and explained how it was of Irish descent. He nodded blankly. “Like Gerrardo, in Spanish,” I finished off.
Oh, well, that was okay then. Lots of smiles and laughter and repetition of “Gerrardo”.
Eventually – and without need of the two passport-sized photos I’d taken just in case – he handed over the season tickets. One for Elizabeth Ellis and the other for her husband . . . Gerraro. He’d read my D for an O.
I thought of taking the card back, but then realised it was easier just to change Ged’s name. After all, in the fight with bureaucracy, it was practically a win. Just like the Mighty Vallecano – I hope.