Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

So, how was your summer?

 

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, Sept. 2021.]

 


When people ask me this question I’ll be able to say it was unique. I had some novel experiences. 

 

Because the Spanish government doesn’t seem to have the ability to get its Social Security department to pay welfare benefits properly, I was one of the millions of unemployed who received nothing from them.


Like most private (or non-government) teachers in August I had no income.

 

This meant that the only state support for my household of three adults was a voucher for 100 Euros that I could spend in our little village’s only food shop. Still, I’m grateful for that. The town council helped.

Of course, it didn’t stop me worrying about the possibility of losing our house. That’s another new feature of 2021 but not confined to summertime.

 

What else? Well, we didn’t travel anywhere. We couldn’t afford it. Same as last year and the year before that. Instead, I spent hour after hour looking for the best place to sell some of my wife’s inherited jewellery. My mother in law’s gold bracelets paid for some of our mortgage.


I also put some time into a new hobby: persecuting myself and my wife and son to only use electrical appliances during the low-charge periods of the day, 2pm to 6pm. 

 

Of course, it didn’t work. Our electricity bill has gone up anyway. But we’ve almost stopped eating meat and drinking tea (the real, expensive stuff) so that might help even things out, do you think?

 

But surely I did something worthwhile? Yes. For my one glass of it a day, I found a bottle of wine I can actually drink that costs less than 1 euro. Also, I kept beavering away on my first novel. It’s getting close to finished. Nice. I watched my son with his girlfriend and I was proud of him. Also very nice. (She’s moved in so now there’s four of us.) 

 

As well,I walked here and there. It was free. Nice, again. It meant I discovered new patches of nature and parts of nearby towns that I hadn’t explored before: Pacs del Penedes and it’s Roman aqueduct in the medieval shade of a leafy forest, the thickest vines on the side of unfashionable Santa Margarita i Els Monjos and yet more wonderful Roman arches next to Sant Jaume dels Domenys.


All those in silence and with no one else around to distract me.  I went home and learned a lot reading Doris Lessing then dreamed about going to a restaurant again one day. It’s been more than 18 months since we did that.

 

On top of those fun and games, I enjoyed the heat of the sun. I always do. There was a part of me though that sometimes thought of that melancholy Bob Dylan line. “It’s not like the sun that used to be.”  

 

In short, while on a reluctant holiday, I tasted the stale, acrid taste of relative first-world poverty, or at least the sensation of sliding hundreds of metres towards it from what was once a comfortable middle-class existence. Surely, this is “The New Adventure” of the 21st century.