In Practice on December 4, 2012 at 9:47 am


The first sip.

O’Hara’s Red Ale is an expensive treat here in Spain but then it was never that cheap in Ireland. Not easy to find in either country but today I’m in my favourite Seville cervecería, in the Arenal neighbourhood that curves around the bullring, and it’s third time lucky; on my last couple of visits they had run out. I was beginning to think the entry on their beer list was a bare-faced lie.

I deserve this.

I may never have deserved a sip of beer the way I deserve this sip of beer. We had to cancel a previously planned visit to the city due to a bout of flu, so we’ve been looking forward to this occasion with particular enthusiasm and a degree of impatience.

Last night, while I popped out to the shop, K turned the oven on and the house blacked out. You turn your back for five minutes. She naturally concluded that the two events were connected but when I returned, opening the front door to find her lighting candles with her miner-style LED headband (bought for camping purposes)on, I checked the breakers inside the front door and everything looked tickety-boo.

Power cut. Not a rare occurrence in Tarifa. No panic – they’re usually brief. We went ahead with dinner, cooked by gas and candle-lit. If anything it added a bit of romance as our eagerly anticipated weekend away began.

Once we’d eaten I excused myself – I wanted to take a quick walk and check out the extent of the outage. Usually, the more widespread, the briefer. If it’s just our street, they sometimes take their time sorting it out. When I got back I had some interesting news – there was no sign of a power cut anywhere. The house next door was blazing with light and life.

When a house blacks out and it isn’t a power cut, and it isn’t the fuses either, there is a problem. I looked at K on the sofa and she directed the strong beam of light from her headband at me, hands on hips by the front door – it slowly dawned on us that this might actually be something we had to do something about.

She looked stressed already, sensing a threat to the overnight in Seville she had been crawling towards. I’d run out of credit, so we retrieved the landlord’s phone number from my email and called him from K’s phone. No answer. So we called the property agent (give me strength) who had another number for his wife and we called that. No answer. We concluded that we needed to call the electricity company to report this but we didn’t have their number and there isn’t a phone book in the house and no internet because the router was obviously down so we knocked next door, but she didn’t have it, so she told us to go across to the metal workshop and ask the guys there but K was too shy so I went and they had a number and we called it. No answer.

Time to get out of the house and get us some wifi. I grabbed my laptop and we went. K was genuinely upset now, in tears. She had the face of a distraught four year old and was making strange noises.

“This isn’t fair,” she repeated between sobs. I should probably have had my arms around her but I was afraid if I touched her she’d fall to pieces completely, so I kept my distance and told her to shush instead. I wasn’t in great shape myself. It was cold. I know of four places in town with wifi. They were all closed. We found a hotel with it in the end and cranked up the laptop to look at our bills for an emergency number, and got one. K dialled it.

“There’s no signal in here.”

There was no signal. She stepped into the cold street to make the call while I waited inside drinking a sherry too quickly and listening to the whine of high blood pressure in my ears. Encouragingly, she popped her head around the door and gestured that she had someone helpful on the line, then went back out. Then came back in, phone in hand.


“So, I got cut off. Out of credit.”

We searched our pockets for coins. I left K there and found a payphone. It took five attempts and three euros to get through. Then, despite the fact that I was using the same number K had, they gave me another number. I called that. It took three attempts and three euros to get through. There was an enfuriating echo on the line. They took the details I yelled at them, kept me on hold for four euros, and confirmed that it was not their problem. With all the self-control I could muster, I managed not to be that guy, bashing the receiver against the booth, and went back to K.

“We need an electrician.”

I googled emergency electricians in Tarifa. Nothing. Opened up the Paginas Amarillas. Couple of results, but I didn’t have time to look at them. Black screen. No battery. The bartender was surfing the net behind the bar. I went over.

“Can you help us? My laptop has died and I need the yellow pages urgently.”

K had come up behind me. She leant forward, over the glass countertop, underneath which was a lit display of high-end jewellery. Hand crafted locally and costing a fortune, an array of ceramic pendants, ambers and stones.

“We’re out of electricity in our house, you see,” she beamed at the adolescent, “It’s completely gone.”

At this stage her makeup had run down her face and she was smiling at him through a network of black streaks. He’d have taken a step backwards, I’m sure, if he hadn’t been perched on a stool. Armed with three numbers, we returned to the phone box. First number, no answer. Second number, no answer. Third number, answer. A nice lady said of course they could help us and asked for a second to look at her computer. Sounded like a professional outfit. We wondered how much this was going to cost us but the hell with it, we were getting help. The lady came back on the line. Apparently, computer had said no. Nobody in the area. Sorry. Bye.

“Let’s just go home.”

“Wait! Maybe J knows someone!”

J is the landlord of our local. It was just around the corner, so we went by. Closed.

“Wait! Maybe S knows someone!”

S is a friend and our Spanish teacher. I had her number in my phone so I fished it out of my pocket to get it. Phone had died. K didn’t have the number.

“Wait! I probably have a text from her somewhere.”

She did. We went to another payphone. Of course, there was no answer.

Back at home we crawled through the darkness and into bed, miserable and wondering whether we’d get to Seville, whether it would be irresponsible to go now that there might be a loose connection fizzling away somewhere. Sleep was impossible – a broken lump of tearful girlfriend beside me and a stream of half-waking, feverish dreams into which I sank, hanging on to K’s hand, then losing it and her and watching her fall from me, calling my name, alotofwind, alotofwind, alotofwind…then – light.


I opened my eyes, momentarily blinded. K was standing by the light switch. It was 2am and the power was back. I laughed for somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes. Not the nice kind of laughter – the hysterical kind you can’t stop and that hurts. In the morning we got on the bus to Seville as planned.

I finish my beer and put the glass down. The lesson? If I hadn’t gone for that bloody walk after dinner we’d have just gone to bed, assuming it had been a power cut, and woken up to power the next morning. Not a worry in the world. Oblivious. It had all been for nothing. All that grief and rage – for nothing. Of course we’ll have to get someone to check it out but I couldn’t care less about that just now. K has gone off for a couple of hours of retail therapy and I’m getting some of my own.

Right, time for an Anchor Steam beer….

  1. So typical and so irksome! I’ll join you for your next red ale, and buy you your second!

  2. Sip, Robin? You deserved a sup, at the very least.

  3. Mmmmm – nothing like a red Irish ale to wash the cares away

  4. You should’ve had several and been completely smacked. Bottoms up.

  5. Totally empathise, this gripped me to the end. But ‘All that grief and rage for nothing’ – how many times have I gone through the same thing and never learned to take the ‘no pasa nada’ attitude of the Spanish and trust to fate. Quite often, it works!

  6. Again, a lovely story from you.

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