On Serendipity

Although my life has of late been blessed in some ways by a certain amount of serendipity, that has certainly not been the case in financial terms. You get paid less money for teaching English in Spain than the average monkey in a Chinese zoo, which is causing me to seriously reconsider my options ie. you might find me working in Starbucks in London before too long.

In fact it was the realisation that one of my best options for avoiding a life of monkey wages or the need to become a barista and learn how to bombard stoopid people with a seemingly endless succession of daft questions about loyalty cards and biscuits entailed taking an exam which I failed twice half a lifetime ago, and which there is no guarantee whatsoever of me passing this time (I still haven’t figured out what the numerical value of X is supposed to be. I mean, to me, it’s always been more of a letter than a number. I’m quite happy to admit that my mathematical genius is not of Noble Prize-winning standard, I mean I can count to twelve but it takes a fucking long time) that brought me to a level of deep deep despondency on the way back from my insufficiently-rewarded job on Friday afternoon, when I received a rare stroke of financial good fortune – I got a message from my mobile ‘service provider’ (am I the only person who finds that phrase sickening, and its ubiquity quite so depressing?) saying that, for no reason whatsoever, they were going to give me €65 of free credit.

Woo-hoo! You might say. I skipped into the Chinese shop, splashed out on some butter (not literally I should stress) and had a cheery conversation with the less reticent of the two weirdos who work there about different words for broccoli, and positively beamed my way up to the door to my building, where I.




Which started to beep wildly and say something about a ‘error de tarjeta’.

Now I am not in any way a god-fearing person, but I did for an instant get a clear image of a vindictive and scornful bearded face cackling at me from between the darkening clouds overhead. The bastard, or in all sobriety probably just the bastards, had given to me with one hand and then gleefully swept my fortune from me with the other, er, claw. I shook, rattled, swore beautifully at, and eventually fixed! my phone.

Which was a relief.

My confidence boosted, I decided to take my mobile ‘service provider’ (AAARRRRRGGGHHH!) up on one of the promotional offers they have been, despite my very best and at one point even temporarily successful attempts to get them to stop, deluging me with over my last two penurious months. One of those things where they let you phone five numbers for a slightly less outrageous price. This required, along with three spare euros of credit, huge reserves of patience and moral courage, given that to get through to actually speak to someone at Movistar is about as easy as finding your way out of a maze the size of the world, or passing a GCSE Maths exam, if you’re me, except that it takes a lot longer than the seventeen years it’s taken me so far.

I digress. Over 30 separate calls later, and after one mind-bendingly long wait, I got to actually speak to someone. After a brief contest about who could speak Spanish faster, in which after a few minutes I was forced to admit defeat, I asked to speak to someone in English.

When I’d waited quite a bit longer and explained to an extremely German-sounding person what I was after, she asked me to hold on while she got the details, and she seemed to be taking a fairly long time. And when she finally came back on the line she sounded a bit surprised, in that slighty shrill German way, and asked me when was the last time I’d put money on my phone.

I can’t quite describe the level of angst and regret that took hold of my entire head at hearing this question. Evidently by making this torturous phone call, which had by this point drained me of such reserves of time and energy that I would have been pathetically grateful just to be told that the promotion was no longer valid, or just have someone blow a whistle down the phone and hang up, I had drawn the attention of the empresa to the fact that they had inadvertently granted a misplaced windfall to one of their least lucrative clients, and they were about to take my now cherished sixty five euros of credit away from me. For the second time in a handful of hours I, rather than fate, had seemingly just, as they say, totally pissed on my own chips.

I mumbled something as unspecific and incoherent as possible, and she buggered off once again to ‘check out some details’, while I waited, feeling as distraught as someone lost and parched in the desert who has just absent-mindedly upended his water bottle in an misguided attempt to pass his Maths GCSE.

And so to the end of the story, which is … nothing. No more mention of the free credit; I gave her four phone numbers, because it turns out that I don’t know five people in Spain with Movistar phones, which is a bit dismal when you consider that it’s by far the biggest network, and that like in most European countries a population of forty million people somehow shares about 137 million mobile phones between them. And no less than two days later I now have, let’s see, €42 of credit left, because our perceived need to be in constant and immediate contact with other people, and to be seen to be so, blinds us to the fact that we are paying ferocious amounts of money that we simply don’t have for something that, at the level of landlines, is basically free, just like people who live in countries with clean drinking water who ‘only ever drink bottled water’, and whose boundless idiocy is a constant source of awe to me. But, you know, Richard, why don’t you tell us what you really think for a change.

Ho hum. The moral to the tale, then, is don’t look a €65 gift horse in the mouth, or don’t tempt fate when it comes in the form of an serendipitous SMS. And speaking of free gifts, if anyone out there has it within their power to gift me a Maths GCSE, I would be humbly and profoundly grateful. Now how do I set up one of those wishlist things that girls have…


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