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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Roundabouts, Girls and Prickly Cactus


Roundabouts are interesting phenomena in Spain and the Canary Islands. They are a relatively new idea for the country, and it takes time, patience and understanding for most expats to understand the local customs of how to deal with a roundabout. Most of the locals living near me approach a roundabout as fast as they possibly can, and if anything is likely to hit or obstruct them, they slam on their brakes as hard as possible. Great fun!

I approach a roundabout in the boring, studied way that I was taught, and according to the rules of the British Highway Code, i.e. slowing down, approaching the roundabout with caution etc. Needless to say, the result is that I am usually hooted at in a very aggressive way from the vehicle behind. Initially, I thought it was because they were admiring my driving skills, but sadly no. Why is it I that too have not learned that roundabouts in Spain are meant to be an exciting daredevil experience of who dares survives the experience?

Have I mentioned the Brits? Well, although some Spanish and Canary Islanders really do take some beating for shear foolhardiness when behind a wheel, British expat drivers really do win the gold medal. Firstly, they will not accept that it is not normal to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. By that I mean on the left hand side, when most of the world drives on the right. Despite living in Spain, it is amazing how many British drivers suddenly forget that they are living in Spain, and insist upon driving on the left hand side of the road. Needless to say, this does tend to cause a few problems for other drivers, and I have witnessed a number of occasions when a car approaches a roundabout at speed, and then proceeds to drive the wrong way around it. It can be a very troubling experience to witness.

When I lived in the Costa Blanca, we had roundabouts adorned with pretty, scantily dressed young women, usually of Eastern European origin, clearly looking for someone to take care of them, offer them warmth and shelter and a cup of soup (this is a family publication, after all!). After each mayoral election, the roundabout girls would disappear, only to reappear again a few weeks later. A new mayor always meant a temporary slowdown in business, and time for a much-needed break, that’s all.

By contrast, roundabouts in the Canary Islands are adorned with spectacular creative masterpieces, real works of art created by local artists and, in the poorer municipalities, many giant prickly, vicious looking cactus. Yes, you can easily judge the status and wealth of a municipality just by looking at the quality of its roundabouts. It has simply nothing to do with art, but the size of the balance sheet and the influence of the mayor.

A few years ago, our local roundabout was suddenly adorned with a huge and very attractive Christmas tree, appropriately decorated and lit for the Christmas season. It looked wonderful and, no doubt, added considerable festive pleasure for anyone approaching it. A few evenings before Christmas, a driver headed towards our roundabout and instead of driving around it, decided to head straight for the Christmas tree. I suspect that he was trying to take his place at the top of the tree. Needless to say, he didn't quite manage it, and the car, driver and Christmas tree were badly injured.

That was the end of Christmas for our roundabout and, since that time, no Christmas tree has appeared during the festive season. Mind you, we do have a wonderful display of prickly cactus, so any drivers considering driving over the roundabout to save time - just beware. Prickly cactus hurt!

From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney

Expat Survival : ISBN 978-0992767167

Click here to find out more

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