Another rejection last week and a stunned silence from the eight remaining agents. Perhaps they’re really giving my magnum opus some serious considered thought. On the other hand, it’s probably in the slushpile under a heap of three hundred others while they push the autobiography of some tart with big tits or a talentless nobody who’s famous for being famous. I am seriously considering the ebook route now, having more-or-less given up on the traditional Dickensian route. I’m in Lisbon at the moment and will be spending a lot of time in the new apartment, initially furnishing it, then following the ebook route. I’m told it’s easy to publish but the time-consuming hard work is in the marketing but that’s OK because time is something I have plenty of. However, first comes my descent into IKEA hell and getting electricity, gas and water.
Lisbon, like most big cities in Portugal, has a Loja da Cidadão, literally a ‘citizen’s shop’. All utilities are under one roof, including Finanças, vehicle licensing, cable TV, internet…the list goes on. You take a ticket and wait your turn. The first thing I should say is that most people here do not speak English. Even young people who have had English as a mandatory subject cannot string more than a few words together, or maybe they’re just shy. I don’t mean that in an arrogant or derogatory sense; I’m in their country and I know I have to speak their language. Why should I expect them to speak mine? (Answer: because it’s become the world language). OK, my Portuguese is coming on quite well and I organised everything in my mix of Portuguese and Spanish which I call Portugañol. When I can’t think of the Portuguese word I use the Spanish one. If I can’t remember that one, I speak German. That confuses them, but I can’t stop these words coming out of my mouth.
At both electricidade and gáz, I sat and presented my passport and notarised contract of purchase (the deeds). The smart young man on the other side of the desk consulted his computer, hit a few buttons, frowned and said, “Não existe, senhor.” “Was?” I spouted, lapsing into German. “O seu endereço não existe.” My address does not exist. I suggested that it effing well does because’d parted with a lot of money and slept there last night. On the floor. I added that I’d had to shower in cold water but at least I had water because the builder had rigged up a bypass to fool them all. I invited them to come over to see that it is not a figment of my fevered imagination. They could come and install the meters, I said. They came, they saw, they looked at the empty meter cupboards, frowned at the pirated water supply, gazed at the ceiling for the flat that exists in their records and saw only blue sky because I am on the top floor. Much shaking of heads. There is, according to their computers, a lower mezzanine level, flats 1, 2 and 4. Mine, Number 3, does not exist. Ok, by this time, I had exhaused my limited range of Portuguese expletives and German ones aren’t really very effective. Computer says no. It’s a funny old world where people do not believe a notarised contract or the evidence of their own eyes if the computer tells them otherwise. There’s a story there somewhere but I think ‘Little Britain’ got there first. Long story short. Their records refer to the building that was there originally; no one had told them it had been knocked down and rebuilt. A sad little aside is that, apparently, there was orinally a No. 3 but it had no services. Here’s how it works: you see people sitting outside their front doors because the houses are dark and it saves on electricty. Wood provides heat in the winter and you can always get bottled water to wash in. Portugal is a poor country and a lot of people have to still live like that. Really.
The services should finally all be connected today. In the meantime, I have made extensive forays into that little bit of Sweden that we all know and hate so much. OK, they gave us Abba as well but does it really have to be so bloody complicated? You cruise around the glossy showroom, scribbling down little numbers and unponouncable names, then descend past pictures depicting Mediterranean scenes to the rotating knives. The mangled flesh slurps down….oh, wrong building….you go down to the warehouse, lightly pick up your own 50kg boxes (a good job I did weight training) put them onto flatbed trolleys, then try to steer the laden leviathan to the checkout. Of course, it doesn’t fit and you have to unload it all so they can scan everything. Now I ‘m 3,000€ poorer and am faced with piling seventeen boxes weighting several tons into my little MX5. I’ve always been surprised how much you can get into my little sports car, but it took one look at them, rolled over and died. Nils desperandum. IKEA have a transport service. Smiles, more money and more paperwork. Then it vanishes and you wonder whether you’ll ever see it again. They’ve got my money and now they’ve all got all my stuff as well. It’s clearly a good business to be in.
Anyway, next day it all arrived at my non-existent address and, with my screwdriver in hand, I managed to get it all together. And, do you know, there was not one bolt or screw left over. Well, I am an engineer. I finally had a bed to sleep on and chairs to sit on, a coffee table to put my mug on and all that good stuff. Shame it was dark so I couldn’t see anything. Had a cold shower and went to bed.
In the morning, I was met by a pile of empty cardboard boxes that looked like a community bonfire for Guy Fawkes night. It almost reached the ceiling. Now, what do you do in a small apartment on the third floor when you don’t even have a dustbin? I can’t leave it out on the street to get washed away by the rain because it’s June and probably won’t rain again until November. I can’t burn it without firebombing the city. In the end, I found an ecopoint which had a vessel big enough but I still had to drag those boxes up the Himalayan hills to get to it. No funicular railway. I think it’s better than weight training and it’s good for the diet because, when I’m working, I forget to eat.
Now, it’s done. I can sit and survey my new pied à terre with satisfaction. Lisbon hustles past in the street below but it’s quite quiet here; just the hum of a city at work. The occasional ambulance, a motorbike putt-putting away. And it was all done with a screwdriver. I asked my computer if it could help.
It said no.