Cynic in Spain

Real Life on the Costa del Sol

Food for Free

For some time now a small mystery has been taxing my cognitive abilities, which is this;

How, when and where do a number of my acquaintances (who shall remain nameless, but they know who they are) eat when all they seem to spend money on is booze and dope?

Having been sufficiently perplexed by this apparently insolvable conundrum I decided to take action and one week donned my trilby and Philip Marlowe Macintosh to go undercover into this murky world.

This, of course, was my first mistake. I stuck out like a sore thumb, hat and raincoat may well be inconspicuous in the New York suburbs but in down town Fuengirola all they elicit are a lot of very funny looks and some not so funny comments. So back to the drawing board and a quick look into what the average successful freeloader is wearing.

Interestingly I was able to spot two well defined categories, the ‘almost nothing’s’ and the ‘everything they owns’. This, after a moment’s consideration, may actually be one and the same thing, just a difference of degree. I opted to join the ‘almost nothings’ as a badge of office for the rest seemed to include a variety of heavy overcoats and a small dog on a piece of string, neither of which I possessed. So wearing naught but shorts, flip-flops and an aging T-shirt I commenced my peregrinations.

And I do mean peregrinations, over the course of four days I accompanied my new found best friends the length and breath of our seven mile costal area from beach barbeque to back street bar and just about everything in between. What I discovered was a world of free food for those in the know.

To start there is the barbeque; let me tell you, there is always a barbeque somewhere, morning noon and night. Turn up clutching a towel and your six-pack of Lidl beer, get talking to one or two of the invited guests and before you know it burnt spare ribs, chicken wings and salad are yours for the taking. The ‘dog on a string’ guys do best here because, for some reason, everyone wants to feed the dog and nobody seems to mind when the owner slips a few choice morsels into his bag ‘for later’.

Then there are the ‘games’ nights. Many of the bars play host to darts and pool teams who wile away the winter hours competing against each other and, quite coincidently of course, filling a bar which would otherwise be as dead as the proverbial Dodo. Others hold quiz and bingo evenings for much the same reason. At least four nights a week, every week from September to May, in a bar near you there is such a night being held and guess what? During the traditional break in hostilities food is served, ostensibly for the players but, as they are usually over catered, there is always plenty left over for the spectators. The more discerning freeloader will even know beforehand what type of food will be served in each and every establishment, egg and tuna sandwiches in the Pig, chilli or stew in ‘Spoons, Monday only, complete buffet on Saturdays, chips and pizza down the port. So for the price of a pint and a few well chosen words of encouragement you can heap up a plate with what’s on offer and go back for seconds if you so desire.
Add to this the astounding variety of clubs and associations who hold their regular weekly meetings, with refreshments, at bars and restaurants up and down the coast and you have a guaranteed evening meal every day of the week. With a little planning and foresight you might even manage a balanced diet.

The best of all are the opening and/or closing parties (oft times, one and the same thing). In an area which contains 1500 watering holes one of them will be changing hands somewhere and, unless the owner is ‘doing a runner’, alas an all too frequent occurrence in these trying times, a free buffet will be laid on to either welcome prospective clients or to reward the loyal ones. Unfortunately the prospective clients will disappear once the food has gone, never to be seen again unless the bar in question gets a darts or pool team together and the loyal ones will move on to another bar before the departing proprietor has arrived at the airport to catch his plane home.

There are of course many ways to freeload off the tourists which come to visit our fair shores, whether it be family or friends over for a long weekend who will take you out to the fancy restaurants which you are asked to recommend every night of their stay or befriending complete strangers on the beach and then muscling in on their lunchtime picnic but the brashest method which was divulged to me, is the night time pickup. This consisted of hanging around one of the myriad late night bars or discos, getting yourself into conversation with an overweight female tourist and then letting her take you back to her place. The logic being, as it was explained to me, that she, being fat and probably lonely, is almost bound to have a stock of food at her hotel or apartment and will be only to happy to feed you whilst she feeds herself. The art, apparently, is in timing your escape by making sure that someone will phone you with an urgent problem to get you out of there before things go too far.

At the start of this piece I erroneously stated that these people spend all their hard earned money only on booze and dope. After four days of walking the streets with them, streets paved not with gold but with stale Bimbo bread and left over pizza my feet were a mess so one kind soul took pity on me and gave me directions to the one place where they do spend their pennies, a chiropodist. Now I know why they have nothing to spare for their daily bread, the bill with which I was presented would leave anyone a pauper and in serious need of something to take their minds of it.

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