You can bet on it

The lights do look pretty darn pretty and, what's more, the big switch-on ushers in many other wonderful Spanish Christmas custom

Peter Edgerton
PETER EDGERTON

The Christmas lights have been switched on in Malaga city centre which, on the one hand, means we are to be treated to a stunning display of sparkling colour each and every day from now until early January. On the other hand, it brings with it a daily musical diet of George Michael, Mariah Carey and José Feliciano on a never-ending loop designed to break even the hardiest of spirits. I've often wondered if they use the same playlist to extract information from criminals.

"Come on, Frank, just tell us - who's the big cheese?"

"No comment."

"All I want for Christmas is youooooo.."

"Alright! Alright! It's Six Fingers McGinty. Just turn it off! Turn it off!"

Still the lights do look pretty darn pretty and, what's more, the big switch-on ushers in many other wonderful Spanish Christmas customs such as El Gordo, the national lottery, which is drawn on 22 December, although the tickets are available for many weeks before.

Here's the thing though - in spite of asking many Spanish friends down the years how it all works, I still haven't the faintest clue about what goes on exactly. Every December, I buy a ticket and then make the mistake of trying to elicit a lucid explanation from some unsuspecting soul.

"Right, so I've got this number on this ticket and if it's drawn I win a gazillion euros, don't I?"

"No. That's just the ticket number. There's a series number as well, and it also depends how many tickets you purchased and whether the moon was in Aries and if you bought it with your left or right hand from a bloke with a glass eye and a ferret."

The whole thing is so complex that I think they'd just be better off sharing the prize money between the four people who actually understand the rules. No, in fact, that's not fair. All Spanish people seem to comprehend how it works from the age of about eighteen months - it's in their blood.

According to Wikipedia - that's never a good opening line, is it? - the odds of winning El Gordo are about 100,000 to one, which doesn't actually sound that hopeless until you imagine being in Barcelona's football stadium, the Camp Nou, when it's full to capacity and realising it would be like hoping that the announcer read your ticket stub number over the tannoy rather than that of anybody else in there.

Not to worry, though, hope springs eternal - wasn't the moon in Aries last Monday?