“If you annoy me in Ikea today,” says K – we are on Calle Luna, a long pedestrian shopping street in El Puerto de Santa Maria that begins near the water where the tapas bars cluster along Calle Misericordia and ends in the Plaza de Juan Gavala, a little square of flower sellers – “I swear, I will leave you.”
It is K’s contention that I make a poor companion when it comes to enjoying the many delights that Ikea has to offer; I don’t like admitting to my faults any more than the next person but in this case I would have to concede the point – in Ikea one actually ascends into hell and the second my foot leaves the top of the infernal escalator the crankiness kicks in like clockwork.
Where are the pencils? Where are the bloody pencils? What is this thing anyway? Is that the number for the red or the white? White brilliant or white matt? What are we doing in the kitchen section? We don’t need anything in the kitchen section…
I invariably find myself admonishing K to ‘focus’. Never mind that teams of psychologists and designers have been brought in to create an environment that would prevent anybody from focussing. Never mind that K simply doesn’t want to focus, that she has never shown the slightest interest in focussing. Never mind that I’m not her headmaster. No, I acknowledge none of it – I just hop around after her barking the word ‘focus’, like a broken monkey.
It isn’t easy, in fact, to persuade me to come, and today’s proposed visit has been preceded by a complex process of mind game and negotiation, culminating in a very particular payoff for myself, which is why we find ourselves on Calle Luna, and then passing the flower sellers and turning right onto Calle Zarza.
Obregón is heaving. They only serve food on Saturdays and they don’t need to advertise: every little corner of this old sherry bar – the two comedores at the back and all the little nooks in the barrel room out front – is full to bursting point. We find a narrow, crooked ledge that our plates will continually slide off and wait (and wait) for one of the family to notice us.
When one does we get a plate of berza, some patatas aliñadas and half an hour or so in one of Andalucia’s most enchanting spaces – floor to ceiling barrels, wall to wall bullfighting memorabilia and a Saturday crowd as old world as the place itself. The wines here are proprietary and when we leave we take a litre of the oloroso with us along with two bottles of what is undoubtedly (because I say so) the finest fino in the world.
We leave the elder Obregón doddering about and the two tall boys doing their best to keep up with orders. The flower stalls have gone for the day and the little square is empty as we pass through it and K points up and to the right at the Mayor Prioral church, a 15th century building with a roof of many half arches and architectural outcrops. It isn’t the church K is pointing at though, but the large stork that my eyes manage to catch before it alights on its huge nest, gliding in and pulling up mid-air before placing its feet delicately on the circular mess of twigs.
There is nothing strange about seeing a stork in the province of Cádiz; there must be more of them here than anywhere else in Europe. The church though, while grand in style, is low, so the bird and its nest seem closer than usual, as do the dozens of other birds, and other nests, that cover the building. It is some sight, this beautiful blend of gothic and baroque, topped with storks nests wherever they’ll fit, but it isn’t the sight that has my attention as I stand still in the street and crane my neck; it’s the sound.
I’ve never heard it before – perhaps because I’m used to seeing these birds in silent flight, high overhead, or on top of pylons from the sound-insulated isolation of the car – but it entrances me now. Anyone familiar with any Andalucian town at around four in the afternoon will know that it is deathly quiet and the silence provides the bird song with a velvety acoustic backdrop. An odd call, it reminds me of the swing of a hangman’s noose, yet somehow manages to evoke a sense of life. It’s a sound you might expect to hear in a zoo, or as you gaze upwards through the banana leaves of a botanical garden’s hothouse, the ock ock ock of the birds like tickless clocks tocking their tocks out irregularly, in falling cadence, like drops of water over rock.
The soporific effect of the storks and the amontillado prove sufficient to ease me back into the passenger seat, toward Jerez, into the big blue-and-yellow box and up the escalators to storage solution central in a comparatively good mood. It was never going to last, however, and by the time we have navigated the various zones and returned to the lower level warehouse I am, of course, livid.
“Oh for heaven’s sake! What a bloody mess! Does it have to be like this every time?”
K sidles up behind me and asks what the matter is in tones of alprazolam. I am seething.
“Look!” I bleat, indicating the numbers displayed on the shelving. “So we’re looking for 221-404-117, right? And the ticket says 221-404-117 can be found in Section 38 on Row 15, and here we are on Row 15, and correct me if I’m wrong but I’m looking right at Section 38. And guess what? No 221-404-117. It’s always the bloody same!”
She looks at the little slip of paper my clammy fist has crumpled to near pulp.
“But honey,” she croons. “This doesn’t say Row 15, Section 38 – it says Row 38, Section 15, you silly.”
And with that she’s off, pushing her trolly and, when she’s got a little momentum, lifting her feet and riding it like a child at the supermarket.
“My God,” I think to myself, scowling as she recedes down the warehouse aisle like some demented oompa loompa.
“You’re actually enjoying this…”