With the timetables glitches resolved and settling into routine, the school gave us time off to start what was to become the first of very, very many paper trails: another Spanish Life Art form. You have to go in person, with officially accredited documentation proclaiming your identity, usually have to wait in a queue, observe more than one frayed temper, and I was one of them on more than one occasion, then make the request or fill in the form.
I can still recall with little effort acquiring my first medical certificate, which is not surprising; it had taken us three hours to find the building. It was a beautiful balmy day that Scotland would give its eyeteeth for to have in the summer; it was mid October. Leaving at ten o’clock, we took the metro and got off only a couple of stations down the line. The first mistake, of course, was to have followed Ricardo’s instructions. We stopped, we asked, they pointed, we took the wrong turning, looked at our map from every angle possible and walked round in several circles. At one o’clock, we crossed the threshold of a large imposing building. I tried out my fledgling Spanish,
‘¿Certificado medico aquí?’
‘No, no, no,’ replied the porter, pointing to his watch. ‘Cerrado.’
I felt deflated, it was just one of those days.
‘¿Mañana?’ I asked.
‘No no, no. Esta tarde.’
I felt power surge back into me I had good news.
‘¿A –que – hora -abre?’
He pointed to a poster on the wall.
‘Gracias. Come on Roslyn.’
‘Well what did he say? Are they closing?’
‘Yes but only for lunch’
‘Oh, that’s okay, we won’t have to wait long.’
‘You’re kidding, they open again at four o’clock.’
‘Four o’clock, that’s in three hours. We can’t go back, we’ll never be able to find it again we have to stay nearby.’
‘Well I suppose when in Madrid we do as the Madrilènes do and go to lunch.’
‘That won’t last three hours.’
‘Don’t count on it.’
We were in the area of the Atocha train station, now much more up market and starting point of the high speed AVE and sadly location of one on the most horrific terrorist bomb attacks in recent memory.
We went into a restaurant we had become familiar with, having already passed it several times that morning and we were on the point of savouring a wonderful discovery, their Paella. Ushered to a table, where the waiter declared,
‘Here paella good, no- fast food – paella – no – till -2 o’clock.’
I could not have cared less, grateful to be off my feet and a place to kill the time. Though as every moment passed it was clear that Roslyn was finding adapting difficult, the situation wasn’t easy but I was learning to my cost that both boss and work colleague were high maintenance. I was always at the end of her questioning, she was whining on now; how many pieces of paper, one morning wasted on a piece of paper, what about medical cover. I was hungry; looking forward to my lunch and was glad when I saw the waiter emerge from the kitchen carrying an enormous round dish, a typical paella dish with low sides and a large flat base.
Our waiter presented us the dish, placing his masterpiece ceremoniously on the table. The aroma was wetting my appetite and hoped this would end the whinging.
‘It looks fantastic, look at that shellfish.’
‘Do they not peel the prawns? The mussels are still in their shells.’
‘Well they couldn’t present it like that, if everything was peeled.’
The shellfish and peppers were laid out like a sunburst on a background of delicate saffron rice.
‘I admit it does look and smell good. It’s nothing like the paella I had in Benidorm. I thought it was a dish they made to use up the leftovers.’
‘For god’s sake don’t tell anybody that you’ll get lynched. They’re obsessed with food in Spain. And I mean obsessed.’
The meal was the therapy we both needed; it was the first time we had eaten out together since her arrival. Two hours hour later, relaxed fed and rested we went for coffee choosing the café next door to the building it had taken us the morning to find. It was clear that were both worrying about the same thing, what was the examination going to be like and what would they find, would we be deemed fit to stay.
At four o clock, we crossed the threshold and arrived in a stark waiting room. We were summoned into the clinic; it was spotless, tiled from top to toe in functional white tiles. Roslyn commenting the smell reminded her of visiting the school dentist. It was necessary to pay up first and our receipt had to be handed over to the doctor.
Five minutes later we were both in the street, grinning from ear to ear holding a yellow medical certificate, which had cost us 1500 pts, proclaiming us fit and healthy and free of any undesirable diseases. We weren’t examined a quick fiddle with the stethoscope and a look at our passports
‘Inglesas no hay tuberculosis en inglaterra,’ said teh doctor, and the yellow certificates were duly stamped.
We opted for another coffee to sit down and examine our trophies. Our scrutiny showed we did not need much Spanish to understand what the doctor had written; most of the space was filled up with our full name, date, and place of birth and passport number and place of issue. However, we had piece of paper number one and it had only taken a day.
However, it was to be another two and a half years; several yellow state medical certificates, various green no criminal record certificates; white town hall certificates stating I lived where I said I did. Along with endless passport mug shots, triplicate photocopies of every piece of paper and finally going it alone as a self employed teacher that also required a tax licence and a self employed social security certificate that I finally obtained my first residence permit. Since Maastricht things have improved, I only needed the photos, the photocopies of the passport, the out of date residence permit and the town hall certificate, which is now issued on request, printed once your details were located in the data base. The trails were getting shorter and much easier.
It has been to my dismay, and at times frustration, on return home to permanent residence in Scotland that things have got worse here. Spain seems to have integrated information technology effectively in its bureaucracy. I was horrified when I had to produce my passport and a copy of my bank statement to get a public library ticket. Bureaucracy in Britain appears to have gone backwards as if we have lost trust. The Spanish carry national ID and so this is produced when required. Here people resist on the grounds of civil liberties, personally I would rather show the person in the library my ID card, do they need to know who I bank with, what my council tax band is or who my utility providers are?