Wednesday
Feb112009

Blog No. 9

Hello everybody I’m back from my holidays now and I’m sorry to leave you unblogged for so long.  I’ll write something more original in a day or too but for the moment, just to give you a flavour of what my holidays were like I’ll reprint an article I wrote for the Sunday Times and which was published a couple of weeks ago about owning a second home in Spain.

Just before I do that, I’m currently working on a memoir covering the time I spent in Liverpool up to the age of 18 and if anybody knew me or my parents during that time, it would be great if you could get in touch with me through the website or via my publishers Hodder by emailing henry.jeffreys@hodder.co.uk 

I own a house in a village in southern Spain, in a valley kept verdant by ancient aqueducts that draw ice-cold water down from the high sierras through olive groves planted a thousand years ago by the Moors in the long-ago paradise that was Al Andalus.  Yet because I have been working more or less full time in the UK this year and last I have not had much chance to enjoy it. So, in order that it  did not lie empty and unloved we rented our house to a couple we  knew for most of this June, July and August.  

Judging from reports that have slowly filtered back to me from the village,  this couple enjoyed a long lazy summer of poolside parties, candlelit dinners and Sunday afternoon barbecues overflowing with rich red wine. They made impromptu visits to the beach and had jolly lunch outings  to historic pueblos with friends who’d flown out for the weekend.

“Wow” I found myself thinking, “...I wish I had a house in Spain where I could do that sort of thing.”  Before I  remembered that I did: that all this revelry was happening in and around the house that I owned!   Still if I am honest I know I will never ever have what that couple had, because the carefree, laughing, lazy existence I’ve described, is the life, not of the house owner,  but of the house renter.  To my mind the closest, most truthful depiction of the life of the house owner in southern Spain is that experienced by Ray Winstone in the film “Sexy Beast”.   In a few turbulent days he is nearly killed by a giant boulder which makes a huge crater of  his swimming pool,  is haunted by visions of a giant, demonic rabbit-like creature and  then he’s forced to endure a terrifying visit from a  psychopathic killer played by Sir Ben Kingsley.  That’d be a quiet weekend for me in my village. 

I suppose I am exaggerating a little but I would still maintain that If you want a quiet, restful holiday once or twice a year then rent a villa, if you instead wish to live all or part of your life in a vivid, mad,  slightly frightening manner that heightens all your senses then I suggest you buy somewhere in the mountains of Andalusia.   Over ten years ago we rented a house from a friend who owned a place in what was to become our village and enjoyed it so much, even over a dank Christmas holiday which saw us shivering round the inadequate stove as the rain lashed the valley relentlessly,  that we began looking for  somewhere of our own.  We did not lack for people who were eager to help us.  This was long before the housing fever that  has destroyed the economies of both the UK and Spain in the last few months but even back then there were a number of British property developers who drove us around, got us drunk, bought us dinner and then almost as an afterthought showed us houses that might be for sale or plots of land that almost certainly had planning permission.  

In common with many people who buy a house somewhere they have holidayed, we left our brains at home for the duration but, given our utter naivety and stupidity throughout the process,  we were incredibly lucky to end up only a year and a half later with a beautiful spacious home that I am able to pretend I designed after one night presenting Biff our builder with a paper napkin on which I’d done  a sketch of a house  in crayons that looks like it was scribbled by a four-year old.  Our terracotta-tiled home has a swimming pool and twelve orange trees, cactus and bouganvillia run riot in the garden, there are stone benches and a shady cabana and it is still worth a lot more than we paid for it.  It doesn’t seem to be falling down and I’m pretty certain we would be able to prove we own it in the courts.  Mind  you having said that, we are involved in a property dispute with a (British) neighbour about a corner of our land and according to the documents held by the authorities our garden actually belongs to another (Spanish) neighbour above us while we are the proud owners of a large slice of  the main road that runs past our house to the next village.  Which I suppose means that at least I could set up my own turnpike if the writing  work dries up.

Over the last decade we have also been very lucky with natural  disasters which sweep through the valley from time to time.  There’s been one  torrential flood which entirely washed away a neighbour’s garden but we were fortunate to have some highly capable friends from the North of  England staying at the time who managed to keep the rainwater out by slaving continuously with brushes and buckets for four hours:   they were even planning to carry the fridge up to the bedrooms if things got much worse.   Others have not been so fortunate: opposite our house there is an orange grove that was bought by some Brits a few years ago, they planned to have a few tasteful houses dotted amongst the trees.  They reckoned without the local town hall.   Before they were allowed to begin construction the town hall insisted they use up a fair slice of their land building an L-shaped road that doesn’t go anywhere, complete with motorway grade tarmac, a cobbled pavement and antique style street lighting, all at the expense of the homeowners.  The Spanish builders then moved in.  Within minutes they had knocked down the street lighting with their lorries, torn up the tarmac and ground the cobbled pavement to dust under the tracks of their cranes.  The British are now faced with coughing up more money to rebuild the pavement, re-lay the tarmac and reinstall the antique style street lighting.   

So why be a homeowner?  There is the simple pleasure of being able to turn up at the airport clutching just your passport and front door keys, knowing your socks, knickers and anything else you might need are waiting for you in your Spanish house.  More profoundly,  if you don’t live there all the time or don’t own a place you haven’t invested in the community and you cannot expect to fully take part in the life of the village: there is a definite hierarchy and  if you visit and rent you count for little.  We once said to Biff, one of the original Brits in the valley who built our house and his partner Elaine who look after our house and of whom we are very fond, “If we didn’t own a house would you still be our friends?” “No,” they replied without having to think about it. 

On the coast many of British expats live in communities walled off by high fences and their own lack of understanding of the Spanish culture or language.  They shop in places with names such as “Spainsbury’s” that stock only British produce, they watch UK TV on satellite and read English language newspapers produced on the coast,  which always seem to have headlines about Irish gangsters gunned down outside fish restaurants.  Up in the mountains people are kinder and there is a genuine cultural exchange between the two communities.  I often think this was epitomised by the tale of “Rockin’” Ron.  Ron was a retired engineer and a bore of frightening dimensions ( he once spent an entire evening in the bar telling my wife about the different kinds of toast he’d eaten in his life) who had been robbed of his life savings by a conman on the coast.   He came to our village and rented a tiny flat with the last of his money and managed to find a place for himself there in a way I can’t imagine would have been possible either on the costa or back in England.  Until he died the British community  looked out for him in many ways, checked he had his medication, took him on outings to Granada and endured his various grilled bread-based anecdotes and whenever he returned from the local supermarket  Ron would find his pockets were full of  little sweets the Spanish had slipped into his jacket to try and cheer him up.

That is why you should buy a house in the mountains of Southern Spain ( I imagine there are plenty going cheap right now) these little communities of British are a fascinating social experiment.  Marooned in an alien culture, unrestrained by the British class structure and the British weather and forced to rely on those around them, these voluntary exiles can find themselves becoming either the best people or the worst people that they could be.  Either way it is an exciting  and vivid life.

Tuesday
Jan062009

Blog No. 8

Well that certainly got things going.  You don’t have time in a two minute TV or radio interview to give the entirety of your views so I’ll attempt to give a slightly longer explanation here of my feelings on Israel and the current incursion/massacre in Gaza.

Firstly I have no particular affection for Hamas, Hizbullah or the current leadership in Iran I am not even that keen on Fatah and have always felt that Arafat was a disgrace.  It is one of the many tragedies surrounding the ordinary Palestinian people that they have never had the leadership that their courage and fortitude deserves.  However sadly hundreds of years of colonialism followed by over forty years of occupation by a repressive military power, crushing poverty, broken promises and constant humiliation do not necessarily make you clear-sighted, tolerant or sensible twenty four hours a day.  It is a testament to those poor people that they have remained half-way sane despite all that they have suffered.  Remember ten years of a pacifist campaign during the first Intifada which cost them hundreds of lives, gained them nothing, due both to Israeli intransigence and the incompetence of their own leadership. If there had been a Palestinian Mandela would things have turned out differently?  I’m not sure they would, there has always been massive resistence in Israel to making any concessions whatsoever. 

Secondly if I mostly criticise Israel it is because Israel is clearly doing most of the killing (by a factor of well over 100 to 1 at the moment) and because Israel is an extension of the developed west, the society of which I am a part and over which I have a tiny bit of influence.

As an earlier resistance leader confronting a brutal military occupation of Palestine stated in Luke 6:27-31, the golden rule by which every person and every nation should abide “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Now any of you who want to continue this argument can sod off, there are better places to do it than here.

 

"Like I said before this is not the place to have a row so for the moment
I´m going to suspend the comments section.  Sorry to any genuine fans but
I guess this is what you get if you stick your head above the parapet on
the internet.  Thank you for those of you who sent messages of support.  I
will continue to try and bring a little peace and kindness to this
terrible situation and I hope you will too.
All the best Alexei."

(added Thursday PM)

Thursday
Jan012009

Blog No. 7

This year, 2009, marks my 30 year anniversary as a professional entertainer.  For three decades I have earned my living on the  stage of the original Comedy Store, on the TV, on the radio, in films and  for the last ten years  working mainly as a writer.  On the way up to Liverpool for the Christmas holidays thousands of tail-lights flashed red through my rain-smeared windscreen on the black M6 and I thought to myself “...almost half of the  people in those cars up ahead are vaguely aware of who I am.”

Once I got back to London the first thing I did was to cycle to the Israeli embassy to join the protest against the on-going massacre in Gaza.  On the way there I happened to pass the Chinese embassy and there was another demonstration going past that.  These protesters were from the Falun Gong movement which is savagely repressed in China.  Their demonstration was led by an amazing sight - a Falun Gong marching band!  There were about  thirty of them and they were dressed in the most extraordinary matching uniforms:  on their heads they wore a sort of Smurf-like hat and on their  bodies fantastic blue and white jerkins and trousers covered in Chinese characters.   I told my wife about them and she wants them to play at her birthday party but I don’t know if they do gigs or not.

At least, this time, the police let us stand outside the Israeli embassy itself. Years ago I used to take part in the monthly picket demanding the release of the Israeli nuclear whistle- blower Mordechai Vanunnu, but the police used to make us hold our protest down an alley about half a mile away from  the embassy so we were in fact picketing a pizza place whose staff were bewildered as to why a load of people were shouting at them once a month  to free a bloke they'd never heard of.

I’ve just confirmed that I’ll be speaking at the Stop The Massacre Rally on Saturday along with Annie Lennox among others.  I hope I’ll be some help but I suspect I often cause confusion at these things because I’m no good at just shouting slogans.  When I spoke at the protests in 2006 against the  Israeli bombing of Lebanon I said that while Israel enjoys all the benefits of a democratic state it behaves no better than a terrorist organisation.  I told  the thousands of people in Trafalgar Square that Israel even has an entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest though it's not actually in Europe and we’d truly know that Palestine was free when they had an entrant too, singing some song that went “binga bonga bing”.  That just perplexed everybody.  I  hope I make more sense on Saturday. (Assemble 12.30 at Embankment Station in London).

I have  noticed  that when I quickly scan the headlines I often find I’ve confused Gaza with Gazza  so I see “Gaza bombed for sixth day” and I don’t know whether it’s the tiny strip of land or the ex-footballer.  Probably best not to mention that on Saturday.

Friday
Dec192008

Blog No.6

If I’ve been a bit quiet it’s because last week I was in Liverpool.  While I was there I did a couple of events I forgot to mention I’d be doing.  One was at the Bluecoat Arts Centre on the 5th of December. I was there because I contributed a short story to an anthology called Reberth, this is part of a project entitled Cities on the Edge  which tries to link artists in cities that have a similar “outsider” feel to them.  Cities such as Gdansk, Marseilles, Naples and Liverpool.  There was a reading then a Q&A from three writers, one from Gdansk, a woman from Naples and me.  Typically for Liverpool there was a lot of shouting out from the audience, most of the shouters were people I had interviewed for my documentary though the woman from Naples was also heckled by the Italian Consul.   My story entitled “Bread Circuses and Replica Shirts” is one of those that is a real pleasure to read out aloud because, I think, it’s funny and  its got lots of different voices in it. On the 10th I also did a signing at the new Waterstones in the Liverpool One centre which went very well and there were mince pies and wine. That’s it for me now and appearances, I think my next appearance will be the Laugharn Festival in April, though I am doing a workshop for people who started writing in prison, for the Arvon Centre in March.   But if you wanted to come to that you’d have to commit a crime, go to prison, begin writing, come out and then get on the course, so its up to you really. There may be other appearances that come up and I will try to remember to put them in the appearances section of this website which is sort of the point really. Back in London I notice that my nearest off licence has started selling fruit and in fact off licences all over Camden seem to be doing the same thing.  Tony Blair was right after all, things can only get better.  Over the last few years I have noticed a couple of exciting innovations in the fruit retaling business, firstly there seem to be a lot more fruit stalls in Central London (is there a goverment grant available?) the second innovation is “The Scoop”.  I first noticed The Scoop in the late 90’s in Berwick Street Market in Soho - big bowls of slightly odd sized fruit sold for the single price of a pound.  Now the concept has spread to outside off licences which is a good thing.  I am very much in favour of The Scoop, sometimes you can get as many as 25 bananas for a pound.  Of course it can be a bit of a lottery, I did once buy a consignment of plums from a stall in Leather Lane market that tasted slightly of fish but those are the breaks, the fruit is still a lot cheaper than you’d buy in the supermarket and of course because it is being sold on market stalls or independent grog shops it all helps challenge the grip that the big supermarkets have on food retailing.   It’s a funny a thing that these days when you buy something from a sandwich bar or a fruit stall, the paper bag you get your purchases in always seems to have an advert for some dot. com company or website printed on it in cheap colours?  What’s going on here?  Is there some attempted ironic juxterposition between the determinedly low tech nature of a paper bag with slightly gone off tangerines in it and the futuristic complexities of the internet, or is advertising just dead cheap on the sides of paper bags?   Would I be better off writing my blog on the side of a paper bag? And while on the subject of sandwich bars it might be a good time to talk about my imaginary sandwich bar.  During the time when I have been writing columns in newspapers or magazines I would occasionally mention in passing, events that had happened in a sandwich bar that I owned.   These events were always fictitious, although I have met several people over the years who’ve told me they’ve been to my sandwich bar.   There’s a sequence which we didn’t use in the end in my documentary of me telling the Duke of Westminster in his one billion pound Liverpool One development that it would be an ideal place for my imaginary sandwich bar, he just acts confused.   Anyway I thought I might extend my non-existent business venture to the net, so that now I can announce I will be not taking orders for your Christmas party, I can not do selections of any size from ten people to a hundred including our famous Mexican Feast and our Taste of the Balkans platter.  Please not order now. Actually when you think about it  my imaginary sandwich bar is rather like the internet, you can’t make any money out of it and its not what it seems.   In fact this website is not what it seems, it’s not even written by Alexei Sayle, he contracts out the writing of his blog to a giant blog-writing centre in Chennai Southern India.  These words are written by me, my name is Anand and I have a degree in media studies from Calcutta University but I can still only get a job masquerading as a fat failure of a comedian who thinks he can write books for five dollars a day, and they treat us very badly here, they check up on us all the time and they....ow...ow...not the cattle prod...ow!

Monday
Dec082008

Blog No.5

Well I finally had a completely sold out bookreading in the studio theatre
at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm London.   As I walked up I saw that there
were ticket touts hanging around outside the venue.  “At last!”  I thought
to myself “...I’m back now baby! Tickets are so rare for my readings
they’re being sold on the black market.  Oh yes I’m popular again and all
of you who didn’t take me seriously over the last ten years are going to
pay!  Lorraine Kelly, Melvyn Bragg, Gary Linecker, there’s going to be a
reckoning!”
But then I realised that the touts were outside for The Kooks who were
appearing in the main hall so the reckoning is off...for now.

To answer a couple of your posts.  Jay, I have most of the suits in a
wardrobe but I’m now so fat they don’t fit at all, not even comically.  I
think my original stage suit is on display in a museum of clothing,
(possibly in Leicester I can’t remember).
I can’t recall why I wanted to be Mister Whitney Huston but I don’t want
to be anymore-she’s scary.

Rachel. Yes I’m a Helvetica fan myself and have recently returned to it
after a brief flirtation with Times New Roman-a pretentious fop of a
typeface.

Simon.  I realise rather depressingly that my entire recording career was
in the vinyl age so there is no CD of the Fish People but I thought I
might try and record it from the LP I have then offer it here as a free
download, so I’ll let you know if that’s possible.

Jasmine. Thank you for helping sort out that meta title thing.  I’m sure
you’re right and that was the only thing stopping me being number 1 on
google.

Now here’s a thing.  When you’re doing publicity for a book or whatever
you do lots of little interviews for newspapers, answer questionaires and
write little pieces for free.
But this time at least two of the features were permanently cancelled the
week before my piece was due to be printed.  There was a feature in the
Sunday Times called Best of Times, Worst of Times in which I gave a heart
rending interview all about my bad back and then there was a thing in the
Saturday Guardian called a Little Place I Know.  I had been longing to do
this for years constantly revising my list and taking bribes and free
meals from restaurant owners on the understanding that I’d be mentioning
them soon in the Guardian.  Finally the call came but then every week I’d
scan the magazine to see that my piece wasn’t there.  You’d think they
would have printed it since they had it hanging around but apparently that
isn’t the way it works.  No wonder they’re all going out of business.
Anyway I thought I’d reproduce it here.  It doesn’t have quite the same
force not being in a glossy consumerist magazine and probably won’t
protect me from the retribution of angry restaurant owners but there you
go.
Alexei Sayle.

A Little Place I Know.
Salaam Namaste. 68 Millman Street.  London WC1. UK.
Since this feature first appeared I have been waiting for the moment when
I would be asked to do it, constantly revising my choice of restaurants to
give the impression of myself as a well-travelled sophisticate.   However
now that the moment has come what seems to be most important to me in a
restaurant  is proximity to my house.  Salaam Namaste is literally the
nearest restaurant to my front door but luckily there is more to recomend
it than that.  In an unpretentious way it serves superb food from
different regions of the Indian sub-continent, such as Rajasthan, Goa,
Punjab, Kerala, Kashmir and Hyderabad.


Bar Noche Azul.  Calle de Cristobal Colon,  Talara,  Granada Province. Spain.
This is the nearest bar to my house in Spain; they give minimal tapas
except on Sundays when there is free roast pork from a special pork
roasting machine that the owner spends all week tending.  They also have a
sign outside which says “Roast Chicken to Take Awey.”  but in ten years I
have never seen them cook a chicken. It is funny though, to watch English
tourists trying to buy one and being met with blank incomprehension.


Sfizio.  35-37 Theobalds  Road. London  WC1 UK.
This bar/cafe down the road is run by two Venezuelan brothers and their
sister whose parents come from Sicily.   By day it is a patisserie with
gorgeous cakes and pizzas while at night it becomes a continental bar
largely populated by Italian City workers.   The owners are so welcoming
and kind that they cheerfully indulge me in my delusion that I can speak
Spanish.


Chelsea Arts Club.  Old Church Street.  London SW3.
I apologise for this disgraceful piece of ponsiness since to eat at the
arts club you either have to be a member or the guest of a member but it
is probably my favourite restaurant.  It serves terrific and ambitious
cooking in a candlelit  room lined with old paintings and old artists.


Steve’s.  Ashfield Road.  Aigburth Vale.  Liverpool L17.
This chip shop is the nearest to my mum’s house.  Over the years it  has
evolved into something much more.  I think the staff are Greek but you can
glimpse a little Chinese man slaving over a flaming wok in the kitchen
cooking the oriental dishes.  The menu ranges from  Afelia through sausage
dinners to chicken Satay and over the years the patrons have begun to mix
it all in a riotous melange. My favourite takeaway is steak pie and chips 
covered in curry sauce;  this meal  with its Lancashire Hollands' pie,
Liverpool chips and Chinese curry sauce is a finer example of
Pan-Asian/Euro fusion than you’d get at Nobu in Mayfair and a hundred
tiimes cheaper.


Meson La Despensa del Valle.  Restabal.  Valle de Lecrin.  Granada
Province. Spain.
The upstairs bar  does some of the best tapas in the valley while the
restaurant, with its all-woman brigade, serves excellent Andalucian
cuisine such as their wood oven roasted lamb.  Two years ago I got them to
cater the party I was told I had to throw for the workers who built my
house.  I spent so much on the party that the owner offered me a free meal
but I haven’t  been there to eat it yet and I fear the statute of
limitations may have expired.