Mind your language

Very occasionally, I'll find myself bathing in a warm glow of smug, self-satisfaction. Sometimes it's because I've managed to get round to cleaning the bathroom; other times it's as a result of having convinced myself that I'll get round to cleaning the bathroom one day soon. Once on a blue moon, this over zealous surge in self-confidence will happen when I'm watching the news on television and it suddenly dawns on me that the bulletin is in Spanish and it has been no effort at all to understand absolutely everything that's being said. That's when, I begin to preen myself proudly to within an inch of my own life.

On one such occasion a few weeks back, I changed channels just after the news, still bursting with pride and feeling very much like the cat's whiskers. Unfortunately, I was just in time to catch the start of the quiz programme El Cazador, which is the Spanish version of what's known as The Chase in the UK.

The first part of the programme consists of the presenter reading out as many questions as possible in one minute to maximise the contestant's chance of accumulating a massive cash pot to take into the next round. The problem is, he was speaking so fast, I couldn't understand a single word he was saying - he simply sounded like a bloke hammering the roof of his mouth with his tongue with the speed and power of a pneumatic drill, occasionally sprinkling the incessant 'rrrr' sound with a few random consonants. Meanwhile the contestant interrupted occasionally with what appeared to be some equally random words until the sixty seconds was over and he'd got 8,000 euros. It went a bit like this:

"Your time starts... now! RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrSTVQrrrrrrrrrrrPRSSSSrrrrrrrrMNMNJKrrrrrr."

"Tom Hanks!"

"Correct. RrrrrrrrrrHGJDS HrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrKXFSTrrrrrrrr."

"A daffodil!"

"Correct. RrrrrrrrBKL MNrrrrrrrrrrDFWBTrrrrr."

"Cheese and tomato!'"

"Incorrect, sorry. It's a three-pronged pitch fork.. rrrrrrr LMATSZXC rrrrrrrr..'

By this time my eyeballs were swivelling uncontrollably in their sockets and my self-esteem was at an all time low - my Spanish, far from being a source of pride was clearly nothing short of lamentable. The next night I watched again in the hope that it had been mere blip in my incessant march towards bilingual mastery. It hadn't. If anything my comprehension was even worse than the previous evening. Now I watch the programme whenever I get the chance and dance a little jig of delight if I get the gist of a single question. The night before last, I understood two whole questions and my joy was unbounded.

Actually, the programme's just about to start, so I'll bid you a fond farewell until next week or, as they say in Spanish, "rrrrrrrrrTYGFTZrrrrrrr".