The Medium is the Massage
31 January 2017 | or Pygmalion revisited
You can tell a lot about a place from the local media. Not so much in what they report; which, given the near universality of human nature, is much of a muchness. The truth lies hidden in plain sight in the sub-text - in how news is reported and especially in the advertising that surrounds and contextualises what little editorial content is left, after the whole thing has been knocked out on a shoestring budget by two geriatrics and a spotty YTS trainee in a broom cupboard equipped with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and a daisy wheel printer.
Take our current location, Javea on the Costa Blanca. The first thing one notices is the plethora of foreign-language media: freesheets, newspapers, magazines and radio stations. These are in a range of languages, but mainly English. From this, one could be forgiven for surmising that there is probably a large foreign-born component in the local population and that the majority of these would be British.
One would surmise correctly.
Thirty eight percent of the population of Javea is British-born and another 12 percent are of other non-Spanish nationalities, mostly Dutch and German with a smattering of French and a light sprinkling of assorted Scandinavians.
This is not surprising given the climate of Javea, especially in comparison to the purgatory that has to be endured in Northern Europe. Why do you think we're here? One winter in Amsterdam was enough, thankyou very much. Apparently, the WHO has recognised Javea as having one of the best and healthiest climates on the planet.
Well, it did have until we arrived, since when it has suffered its worst winter since 1983, with two extended heavy storms causing flooding, serious wind damage and huge onshore seas that destroyed great sections of the promenade along with chunks of several restaurants sited on it. The place even had snow for God's sake.
However, the Newburys' meteorological Jonah-effect notwithstanding, expatriates flock here in their thousands, so much so that the proportion of native-born residents is poised to be overtaken by the influx of Brits. This is far greater than anywhere in the U.K. The overall proportion of non British-born in the U.K. is 13%. Leicester is the British city with the greatest proportion of foreign born residents and that stands at 33%. In Javea it's a 50 - 50 split. I could easily go off on one with this information but, in the interests of harmony and keeping visitor numbers up, I shall leave things just implied so that we can each allow our own prejudices to colour our interpretation of the data.
So, moving swiftly on, what do the local English-language media tell us about Javea?
Well, for a start, our ex-pats are not a representative sample drawn equally from all areas of the UK. Judging by the ads on local radio, the majority hail from East London, north of the river, or from the areas of Essex into which many of the former East Londoners have moved. Listening to local radio gives the unsettling impression of having inadvertently wandered into Albert Square. The accents are all Cockney or Mockney and the ads all sound as if they are being delivered by the runners-up in a Ray Winstone sound-alike competition. The musical backings and links seem to have been nicked from a Chas & Dave retrospective compilation album.
Completely unconnected to the above, but nevertheless seriously irritating, is the amateurish nature of the operation. Links and ads are frequently fumbled or overspoken and technical qualities are erratic at best. The presenters bug the Hell out of me with their forced, rambling, supposedly 'zany' bonhomie as exemplified by Smashy & Nicey and their mannered ... speech patterns where they stress ... words and insert pauses in apparently random ... places in the sentence.
The printed media are, if such be possible, even more amateurish. Their grammar, syntax and formatting are so lamentable that they are rendered virtually unreadable. Formatting and layout seem to have been determined by a random number generator. A story will start on page two, suddenly stop mid sentence and then continue on page six for a couple of column inches before coming to what passes as a conclusion on page four. As for what laughably poses as 'content', this appears to have originally been composed in Sanskrit before being translated into English via Aramaic and proto Indo-European.
The worst offender is the paid for newspaper produced by the local evangelical movement. Their hearts may well be in the right place, but Heaven alone knows where they've misplaced the area of the brain that deals with grammar, vocabulary and syntax* - somewhere between their arse and their elbow, judging by their literary efforts.
The real mother lode, though, is struck when you mine the adverts. These lay the local psyche bare in all its existentialist glory. The prime products advertised (in descending order of airtime or column inches) are funeral plans, alcohol in all its forms, marital breakdown lawyers, legal advice in English and introduction agencies for those of mature years. It appears from the local advertising industry that the ex-pat existence revolves around death, drink, divorce, disputation and dating in one's dotage.
'So,' I hear you all cry to us, 'What are a couple of refined cosmopolitan, middle class, middle income, middle brow snobby gits such as you two doing in such a downmarket bucket and spade resort?' There are two parts to the answer.
The first is that I grew up white working class in a stereotypical bucket & spade seaside town and so feel right at home wallowing in a pool of steamy nostalgia. The second answer lies in the intrinsic human tendency of ghettofication. (This is sort of the opposite of 'gentrification' and is based on the natural human tendency for like to seek out like. I had to make the word up - there doesn't appear to be one that quite does the job in English).
We are not far here from the Balearics. Those of you who bought the book will remember that I said in it that the Balearics have become somewhat typecast in the popular imagination; Ibiza being all clubs, drugs and shagging and Mallorca all Sangria, fish & chips and shagging. Menorca, meanwhile, is all culture, middle class refinement and shagging, only there it's known as tantric lovemaking and is not carried out quite so frequently in public.**
Like the Balearics, Javea also divides into three areas: The Arenal, The Old Town and The Port Area. The Arenal takes most of the Phil Mitchell sound-alike's and is the liveliest, most down-to-earth and most populated of the ex-pat communities. The Old Town is the oldest settlement and retains the quintessentially Spanish character. The Old Town is the Menorca to The Arenal's Majorca. A few ex-pats live here and these tend to be the die-hard refined, fluent Spanish speaking assimilators. We are in The Port Area. This can't decide where or which it is and so is perfect for indecisive wishy-washy liberals such as us. We're the doubt-ridden Ronnie Barkers to The Old Town's self-confident John Cleeses and The Arenal's unpretentious Ronnie Corbetts.
We must like it. We're coming back next winter.
*The inferior frontal gyrus, since you ask. Broca's area to be precise.
** Many writers are accused of cannibalising their blogs or articles and cynically recycling them into books. Here I buck the trend and do things the other way round.
p.s. Note added photo gallery of local Spanish festival of The Three Kings. Click on 'Gallery', top left.
p.p.s. Many thanks to all those who bought the book and even more grovelling thanks to the six of you that posted five star reviews on Amazon. They are greatly appreciated. If anyone else feels able to post a review I'm more than willing to abase myself humiliatingly. If anyone's still thinking of buying a copy the price is going up soon so that I can drop it back down in a promotion. It's a dark art, Kindle marketing.