historias y humor: A Ray of Hope

En el fondo de un cajón, he encontrado esta historia mía inédita, que escribí en los años ’90, inspirada por la crisis del ’93. He hecho unos cuantos retoques y, ¡oh sorpresa!, he visto que encaja más o menos con la crisis que actualmente padecemos:

The telephone was the first to go. No sooner had the new year begun than the Telephone Co. announced that as from January 1st the phone bill would go up 15%. He immediately realized that he could not afford to have a phone any longer, so he decided to have it disconnected. But he was not really distressed. Most of his friends didn´t have a landline anyway, and he seldom got any important calls these days. Besides, he knew from experience that in 99% of the cases when you had an “important” phone call, it was important only for the caller. It hadn´t been a very good beginning anyhow, but he still hoped that things would go better than last year, when in spite of the government’s efforts to keep inflation down, it had increased more than foreseen, and workers and civil servants had lost yet two more points buying power. And, of course, by the end of the month the good news was in all the media: Salaries would not be cut down again this year and pensions would go up 1%, only two points below the estimated 3% inflation for the period. That had certainly been a wise decision on the part of the Government, and one that would surely get them many votes in the next elections, he thought, as he watched his wife add another patch to his already well worn trousers.
            In February, he had to sell his car. He had been finding it increasingly difficult to pay the monthly instalments, so that when the insurance companies announced that policies would go up an average 22% plus VAT to accommodate their prices to European tariffs, he knew at once that the car would have to go, too. He was a good payer, and with the money he´d get for the car he’d be able to finish paying back to the bank the loan he’d asked for to buy it. Well, never mind, he wouldn´t have to worry any more about the price of petrol, which had reached four peaks from the beginning of the year, though according to TV petrol in Spain was still one of the cheapest in Europe: only in 16 other European countries was it cheaper than here. Things were not as black as knockers claimed them to be, and he still had his daily packet of cigarettes and his occasional glass of wine, he reckoned, as he sipped with relish his cup of good home-made coffee.
            But alas! Things did begin to get worse in March when the Tobacco Monopoly informed that from the 15th on black tobacco would cost smokers 32% more, to make Spanish prices level with the rest of E.C. countries. TVE hastened to add that it would still be 6% cheaper than in Germany or Britain where, as far as he knew, no black tobacco was sold anyway, and that only in Portugal and Greece did they pay less for a packet of cigarettes. Well, be it as it may, it was evident that he could no longer afford to go on smoking, but what the heck! It was about time he gave up the stupid vice. After all, he’d read somewhere that it had been proved beyond a doubt that tobacco can be harmful to your health, and in supercivilized America smoking was banned from practically all public places. All in all, this was a blessing for him for, if the latest statistics were anything to go by, his life expectancy would go up 1% at least.
             But it was a bitter blow for him when in April the Sevillana Co. declared that, due to technical adjustments, they were forced to increase the electricity bills an average 17%. Now to give up tobacco and to go without a telephone or a car was one thing, but to be deprived of electricity for good was quite another. Heavens, no! That would mean he would be left without TV, and he just drew the line at that. He simply had to keep well informed, and how could one know what happened in Spain and in the world if you could not turn on the TV set? So, in order to be able to pay the increased electricity bill, he took on another couple of private lessons, and got some comfort from the thought that democracy was now firmly established in the country. What mattered if teachers like him had to tighten their belts a bit more? It was a small price to pay for the liberty you enjoyed in a democracy, and he valued very highly indeed the freedom he had now to say what he pleased; not like in the old regime days when you ran the risk of going to prison if you criticized the government in public. Now it was quite safe to speak about corrupted politicians who laundered their black money stashing it away in Swiss banks; top officials who stuffed themselves with shrimps and prawns in Paris, of all places, the minister who used an Army plane to return from a private holiday, or the former minister who had had a house built with 16 bathrooms! (Admittedly, that had puzzled him a bit, why 16? No matter how many visits a day the chap and his family had to pay to the blooming place, he was sure that they could very well make do with just four or five. Maybe he got the tiles free). But enough of these easy jokes, he told himself soberly, as he pulled the chain in his own modest lavatory.
            There were two more shocks in store for him in May. The first when, owing to the previous year´s bad crop, the price of wine went up an alarming 25%. Small comfort if in Sweden a bottle of brandy was still 14% more expensive, or that in England they paid twice as much as in Spain for a glass of sherry. The fact remained that from now on he could not afford to drink a glass of red wine with his meals any longer, except perhaps on Sundays, when he would allow himself a glass or two to wash down the traditional added “palomino”. The second, when he laboriously finished filling in his tax returns, and was astonished to find that, thanks to last year’s increased tax pressure, he had an extra 10% to pay to the Treasury. He was rather upset, but not everything was bad. “Did you know that the number of unemployed has gone down 0.08% for the second month in a row for the first time in seven years?”, he commented to his wife at lunchtime, as he helped himself to another glass of Casera.
            The summer months were no better. As usual, the massive invasion of tourists brought about a spectacular rise in the price of food: milk and its by-products (13%), oil and sugar (16%), fish (18%), fruit (12%), and meat, with the exception of chicken, (20%), to name but a few. Now this was really a problem, and he began to realize how serious it could get when his wife told him one day that she couldn’t make ends meet any longer. “Mother of the Holiest Rosary!”, he couldn’t help exclaiming; what was he going to do now? The situation seemed critical enough. But then a bright idea occurred to him. True that the price of some foods had gone up tremendously, but others, such as radishes, onions and cabbage remained practically unaltered, and others still, such as acorns, garlic and carobs were down an average 0.05%. They would live on them. It was a question of changing one’s eating habits, adapting them to the new times. How clever I am, he proudly thought, as he cheerfully nibbled at his lettuce.
            Autumn brought nothing new, apart from the rise in clothes (19%), school fees (16%), public transport (15%), and hotels (20%). The latter did not trouble him much, as he had long given up travelling. Besides, with so many accidents on the roads, you were better off at home, he reflected contentedly, as he settled back in his armchair for yet another magnificent four-hour TV sports programme.
            And then December came, and with it, inevitably, a rise in the price of the traditional Christmas shopping: salmon, turkey, lamb, etc. which, added to the loss of the extra Christmas pay, decreed two months before, meant that they would have to go without the traditional ‘turrones’ this year. Well, you had to look on the bright side of things: eating less this Christmas would prevent him and his wife from getting those annoying extra kilogrammes that were so difficult to get rid of in the following months. Apart from that, before the year was over, the Minister of Finances had formally declared that, all things considered, he had good reasons to expect that inflation would not grow much further than the predicted three per cent. How on earth would this be achieved after all the drastic rises they had suffered throughout the year, was quite beyond him, but then he’d never been very good at maths, so why worry? Moreover, there were also reasons locally to be optimistic: 2020 was not so far away, and in 2020, if nothing unexpected occurred,  the ‘metro’ was due to finally reach downtown.. Whether it would run under the ground or on the surface, like the trams in the good old days, had not yet been decided but, no matter, it was more than likely that the time of the trip to the school in Teatinos where he taught would be shortened by at least one minute and, hopefully, about twelve or fifteen years later, the ‘metro’ would presumably get to la Malagueta, so that he would only have to walk some three kms from his home near El Palo to catch it. It was therefore with a light heart, full of confidence in the future and no clothes on that he ran out of his home to meet the New Year.

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