Almost a week after I arrived in Madrid, my roommate Jane (a friend and fellow Spanish student) finally pitched up and we moved into our freshly-scrubbed flat. After half an hour of unpacking and trying to find our bearings in the unfamiliar surroundings, one of the landlords turned up with Jane’s contract for her to sign. Now is probably a good time to try to explain our landlords. They are brothers who are renting out the flat on their parents’ behalf, as they both live close by, whereas their parents apparently live outside of Madrid. The younger brother, Daniel, is toned, almost uncomfortably friendly, and speaks very good English. The elder brother, Antonio, is less well proportioned, often confused, and speaks terrible English. Together, they are comedy gold. On the day when I signed my contract, they showed Elena and I over the flat together, pointing out the practical aspects, such as the location of the fuse box and how to work the thermostat. This took about 20 minutes longer than it should have done, because Daniel would demonstrate something to us, explaining his actions in fluent English, and Antonio – not understanding a word his brother was saying – would promptly attempt to demonstrate the exact same thing, often at the same time, usually in Spanish but occasionally throwing in a couple of random English words, beaming at me whilst he did so and looking extraordinarily impressed with himself for keeping me in the loop. When they tried to show us how to operate the gas stove, Antonio turned on the cylinder from a cupboard and then got increasingly confused and frustrated as he repeatedly tried and failed to light the hob. This went on for a good five minutes until they finally realised that Daniel – trying to be helpful and not realising that Antonio had got there first – had turned the gas off at the cylinder immediately after his brother had turned it on. However, despite the testosterone-driven sibling rivalry which emerged whenever we asked them a question, they turned into quaking children when forced to deal with anything that would involve contacting their father. When Elena demanded that they fixed the lock on the front door (the central lock was broken, leaving us with a bolt at the top of the door as the only means of locking it), they first tried desperately justify the bolt as an adequate lock, but once they realised that Elena wasn’t backing down, Antonio got out his phone, dialled his father’s number and thrust the phone into Elena’s hand, telling her to deal with him. They then sat meekly at the kitchen table and watched whilst she had a ten minute shouting match with the phone. By the following Tuesday, the locks had been changed. I suppose that they were reluctant to mess with anyone brave enough to take on their father and win.
Since the contract signing, we have had slightly more dealings with the landlords than we would have liked (many with Daniel – his English skills means he just takes the biscuit in the convenience stakes) due to a couple of embarrassing and confusing incidents. The one that sort of probably a little bit was our own fault was – eventually – simple to resolve. The problem arose from the eclectic choice and uneven distribution of furniture in the flat (it was pre-furnished); as I had arrived first, I had chosen the room with an extra wardrobe (the fact that I also have far more clothes than Jane made this logical). However, the room also happened to have a proper, rectangular desk, whereas Jane’s room only had a medium-sized round table. As Jane felt slightly short-changed, I suggested that we swap the tables, as I had no real preference for either. After some painful and long-winded manoeuvring, we eventually got the round table from Jane’s room into mine. This seemed like a great achievement for two girls with no spatial awareness, until we realised that there was no way that we could fit the large rectangular desk out of my door frame. We reluctantly decided to put the round table back, but when we got to Jane’s doorway it wouldn’t fit back into the room, no matter what angle we tried. I was now stuck with two tables and an extra wardrobe. Needless to say, Jane wasn’t happy. The situation persisted for two days, until we finally got hold of Daniel. When we showed him what we had done, he unashamedly laughed at us for a good couple of minutes before casually unscrewing the top of the rectangular desk and carrying the two parts easily through into Jane’s room. I’ve never felt more like a female stereotype.
The other major issue we encountered has still not been resolved, and was definitely not our fault. I was cooking chicken for dinner a couple of days after we had moved in, and there was a sudden power cut. Relieved that I remembered where the fuse box was, I flicked a switch and the lights came back on. Just as I was congratulating myself on my self-sufficiency, the power went again. I returned to the fuse box to find that the same switch was down, so I flicked it up again, and again, the power came back. This happened over and over again at 30 second to 1 ½ minute intervals, until, sick of running back and forth, we decided to take turns at standing sentry duty by the fuse box until the chicken was cooked. Once the oven was turned off, the lights remained on – it was easy to make the link. When we complained to Daniel, he was sympathetic, but suggested that next time we try only turning the dial on the oven in a clockwise direction, as it sometimes played up if you turned it backwards. Two days later, sceptical but willing to experiment, we tested the theory as we heated up some pizza; unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. Lights and technology flashed and beeped continually for the next 15 minutes. Needless to say, we’ve decided to stick to frying until the situation is rectified. Fingers crossed only one of them turns up to fix it.