Animal magic

When I first came to live in Málaga, shortly after the last dinosaur had bidden a fond farewell, my Spanish was, let's say, limited. I knew one complete phrase - '¿Dónde están mis calcetines?' ('Where are my socks?') - and a couple of random words.

A year later, I had mastered another five or six short sentences, not all of which involved socks, plus a small selection of new nouns like 'pen', 'dog', 'cheese', and 'party-pooper' (it's 'aguafiestas' which implies throwing a bucket of water on other people's enjoyment. Brilliant, eh?).

That was when I decided to embark on a three-month intensive language course which broke the back of the task in hand and the rest, as they say, is a mystery.

Anyway, it was the word 'dog' ('perro') which initially left me quite perplexed. I'd heard that Spain was a nation fairly ambivalent towards animals and so couldn't, for the life of me, work out why everybody was talking constantly about dogs.

There they all were, on the bus, in the supermarket or simply standing on street corners, yabbering away about pooches. Blimey, I thought, they're obsessed, maybe I should walk along the beach like those blokes who sell cold cans of coke, cunningly swapping the drinks for a load of Pedigree Chum. I'd be a millionaire within weeks.

Imagine the ensuing mirth, then, when I eventually asked a Spanish friend about all of this.

'Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!'

'What's so funny? You're the nation with the creepy dog obsession.'

'They're not saying 'perro' you daft 'apeth, they're saying 'pero' which means 'but'.

'Hahahaha! Haha!'

He may or may not have stopped laughing within the next forty-eight hours, it's hard to remember now.

I've been reminded of this amusing episode on more than one occasion recently as half the local population appears to be talking about cows ('vacas'). They're not, of course, it's simply an abbreviation of the word 'vacaciones' ('holidays') and, currently, we're witnessing the annual mayhem as people stampede to take weeks - or sometimes months - off work.

My advice would be to not try to do anything at all now until early September because, as far as I can tell, there's just one bloke doing every job in town while the rest of the population is lying on a beach somewhere, possibly talking about dogs.

Relax and go with the flow. It's got to be better than complaining until the cows come home.