Many of the immigrants which have come to Spain over the last few years – the ‘welcome’ ones – are English. Most of them have built up a good pension at home and decided to spend their twilight years in the south because they are thoroughly fed up with all aspects of the English climate.
So they come here, they buy a house near the coast, and they stick together in small expat communities, to prevent that their language and customs become contaminated by native Iberian culture.
This is the typical northern pensioner. In Madrid, I have also met the a-typical pensioner, like old Bertie.
Old Bertie is one of the familiar faces in Sol, he was there during the acampada, he was there in the days of Hotel Madrid, and he is still here. You can’t miss him. His swearing is audible from a mile’s distance. And he only speaks straight Liverpudlian.
I once asked him jokingly if he came from Manchester by any chance.
“Fock you, mate.”
I was lucky he left it at that. I risked big time. Old Bertie has beaten up people for far less.
But that’s all in the past. Today, on my last day in Madrid, after all the times we merely saluted each other (“Y’righ, mate?”), we sat down in the garden of the Tabacalera to have a drink and a chat. He told me his story. I don’t know if it’s true, but he tells it with such blunt, candid sincerity that I suspect it is. And besides, he has all the scars to vouch for it.
Back in Liverpool Bertie has spent his life on the dark side of the system ever since he can remember. It was all centred around drugs and violence.
To some, these things are simply an ‘error of the system’. But that’s not true. They are an inherent and intentional part of it.
Drugs and violence mean money, and money is what the system is all about. By outlawing drugs you create a black market on which drugs are sold at outrageous prices. Some people benefit from it, because in the end all money is money, be it black or white. But most people from the ‘scene’ itself don’t benefit from it. As citizens, the small time dealers and junks are simply sacrificed. They end up dead or in prison, and nobody really cares.
Judging from his resume, old Bertie is the worst of the worst. Various cases of armed robbery. Numerous cases of assault. Drug dealing. Attempted murder. Extorsion. Jaywalking. You name it. Back in England he would fuck you up for life, on demand. But not indiscriminately. He had his code of honour. He would never beat up a Scouse (Liverpudlian). “Mostly Manks and Birmies.”
He once stabbed a Liverpool policer officer, and now he speaks about it as if it were a guys’ night out in the pub. “I shouldn’t have done it.” He takes a sip from his beer, he looks me in the eyes. “Let me give you this one lesson in life, mate… Try to avoid it. Whatever you do, try to avoid stabbing a Liverpool police officer. It’ll haunt you for the rest of your life.”
Why did he do it? Well, he had 20.000 quid worth of cocaine in his pocket, and he just panicked.
He got caught, but before he could be judged he cut off part of his ear with a razor. When he was brought to the hospital he took a nurse hostage and managed to escape.
He got caught again, and the whole hospital episode definitely influenced his sentencing for the worse.
All in all old Bertie served fifteen years and six months in prison. He was granted parole twice, and both times it was revoked within a few weeks.
In a money-based society corruption is all around, so there was no shortage of drugs in prison either. Old Bertie was addicted. And he had a reputation of being the most violent of all. If someone on the outside wanted someone on the inside to suffer, they’d call on Bertie. He would tear open a guy’s face in exchange for a shot of heroine.
Now, the years have gone by, Bertie is free again, and he has come to Madrid. “Best focking thing I ever did. It’s so relaxed! Everything is ‘mañana, mañana’, here. I love it! And the girls, they’re great! Even if you’re not shagging them, you can still have a chat!”
Bertie found his peace. He left the hard stuff behind when he came to Sol. He can be mighty obnoxious, but he is a remarkable person. And what amazes me most is that a life spent on the dark side didn’t take the humanity out of him. Quite the contrary. He is completely straightforward. If you show him respect, you’re a mate, and he would kill for you if anyone would try to hurt you. And if you don’t show him respect, then “fock you!”
A message arrives on Bertie’s phone. “Christ! It’s me mistress.” He stands up. “Got to go, mate. Or she’ll be angry with me.”
And so there he goes, bad ass Bertie. I’m happy to see he has found someone who can handle him.