Right. Been a busy old week, being a social butterfly, what with my birthday and organising an enormous (20 people! Imagine!) party. And recovering. So I need to get back on with telling my story of the world’s most badly timed relocation, to Ruzafa in Valencia. So the day after I arrived, I decided it was time to get my life sorted. I had told clients and editors that this relocation would not affect my ability to deliver so first things first. I wanted wifi in my new pad. Everything else could wait. I contacted various companies that offer broadband. With each, it was the same answer. I needed a Spanish bank account and/or a Número de identidad de extranjero (Foreigners’ identity number, a tax identification number, a little like a National Insurance number but firmly enforced here), el NIE.
But to get an NIE is a nightmare. I spoke to Inma and Jorge at my lettings agency. A word about my lettings agency – they way things work here is that you pay them the equivalent of the first month’s rent for acting as broker. So, theoretically, they’d made their money out of me and had no further interest in helping me.
But these are not like the filthy sharks in London – posh scumbags in suits who are the the equivalent of the proboscis of a squid attaching themselves to the faces of those in need, but pretty thick, to boot – and have a sense of “duty of care” that we used to pay lip-service to in the UK. Until the entrenchment of the spiv economy came, and the clique of kleptocratic Brexiteers and a claque of their sycophantic cheerleaders started running the show.
But I digress. Yes, I do see that a theme is emerging. They told me I would need to make an appointment – una cita previa – to apply in person for my NIE. Unfortunately, the next available appointment was for the end of March, and I could not wait that long since I needed a bank account and wifi as a matter of urgency. It’s possible to be a freelance journalist from overseas – but internet is an entry-level requirement. Kafka. Fucks' sake. He had it easy...
I explained this so Inma put me in touch with a friend at a Spanish bank and made an appointment for me to go and see her the next day. I did so, but it seems that even there, the NIE was essential. They used to be able to open bank accounts with a passport only, she explained, but the regional government had become stricter and now insisted on the NIE. No problem, though, she said; I could go to my local police station in Ruzafa and ask to see someone. It was too late that day so I should go the following day.
And that is precisely what I did. At the police station on Carrer dels Sapadors (A Pedant Writes: Montolivet, not Ruzafa, about half a kilometre south, and a few hundred euros per month south in rent), concomitantly, a burly policeman told me brusquely that I had been given bad advice and that I needed to go to La Comisaria in Patraix.
Wearily, I returned home, ready to join the fray the next day. This frictionless transition was proving to have a little more friction than I had hoped for…
So the next day, I trotted up to the Metro at Plaza Espanya, and headed down. As a Londoner, I waved my mobile at the ticket barrier repeatedly but nothing happened. A ticket inspector came over and explained that contactless is not yet a feature of the Valencia Metro and I needed to buy a paper ticket from the machine. He helpfully told me how to get to Patraix and even walked me to the correct stairs. People are so kind, I thought to myself, for the umpteenth time…
Down on the platform, the indicator told me that the next train would arrive in 12 minutes. My inner Londoner seethed, and wanted to grab a worker and say in a tone of barely suppressed rage, “What the FUCK is the problem NOW?” Thankfully, once I realised that this was La Linea Verde and not the Victoria Line, a Zen-like state of serenity descended and I simply sat down like the sensible Spaniards to relish a few moments of peace out of the bustle of la vie quotidienne.
A few stops to Patraix and out I bobbed, climbing up to street level. I asked someone where the police station was, and they frowned, saying, “But there isn’t one round here.”
I said (I’ll translate), “There must be, it’s called the Commissary of Patraix.”
They frowned again, it’s like the Spanish equivalent of the Gallic shrug, and repeated that there isn’t, they should know, they were born and bred. A few moments more and they slapped their forehead and said, “Oh, you mean the Commissary of Patraix!”
Er. Yeah. What did you think I’d asked for, the hidden map to Xanadu?
They said, “Yeah, I know it. It’s not in Patraix.”
Fuck. Me. Dead. This mission to get a NIE was turning into the bastard child of The Crystal Maze and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was suspecting that when I finally got there, a huge boulder would start hurtling down the station corridor to obliterate me…
I went back downstairs and spoke to the ticket inspector in the booth. She said, “Oh, yeah, everyone does that. It’s not in Patraix.” No shit? But in an example of the theme on The Kindness of Strangers (©Blanche Dubois – Google it if you must) she came out of her booth, told me to get the next train one stop to San Isidre and let me through on my existing ticket. Would that happen for a tourist in London? I hope so, I really do.
San Isidre is, not to put to fine a point on it, a dump, with all due apologies to anyone obliged to live there. It’s basically Valencia’s Park Royal, but without all the charm that that comparison might imply. The “station” is really just a halt with concrete ramps. Once you exit, you pass through some dreary blocks of flats to the equivalent of the North Circular and have a 20-minute walk though an enormous industrial estate.
Finally, beyond the DIY hipermercados and breakdown yards, one reaches a dreary 1970s municipal block. There was a long queue of immigrants, mainly African and a few Asian, waiting to be admitted to this Parthenon of municipality. I channelled Emma Lazarus and silently said to myself, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” and joined the line.
Two hours later, I made it inside. A big, open-plan room with desks around the perimeter and lino on the floor. It didn’t have polystyrene cups everywhere or little tin-foil ashtrays overflowing with butts, nor a jug of stewed coffee to one side, but it should have done. It was four parts Kojak, one part Hill St Blues with a twist of Ealing Job Centre circa 1985. You get the vibe.
A weary-looking chap in a crumpled shirt and jacket motioned me over. I explained I was there for a NIE. He said – and I know you’re going to find this hard to believe – “You’ve been given the wrong information. This is for the Empadronamiento (a residency permit issued by El Ayuntamiento de Valencia, as opposed to the NIE, which is more like a tax card) and is for non-EU citizens, in any case.”
After I had stopped weeping and throwing myself dramatically on the floor, smashing my head on the lino, he said, “Look, come back in the morning, the queues build up in the afternoon and speak to my colleague in the opposite office, she will be able to help. And don’t queue, tell them you have an appointment.”
I left and, incredibly in this Godforsaken wasteland, saw a taxi outside. I asked the guy if he was free as I was spiritually sapped and could not face doing the same journey in reverse. He would be in five minutes when he had finished his bocadillo and cortado, basically, an espresso.
He finished and I jumped in. We got chatting. I asked him what the hell he was doing in the arse-end of nowhere (“Que estás haciendo en el medio de nada lugar?”) and he explained that the city centre is a nightmare for parking, all cycle lanes and fines a-plenty for anyone stopping, Valencia is a template for pedestrian-, scooter- and cycle-friendly planning. So he comes up to San Isidre for free parking and cheap food from various kiosks, cabanas, for workers. Soon back home in my beloved Ruzafa, once again drained.
Inma WhatsApped me to ask how it had gone so I told her. She said, “Right, this is getting ridiculous. Come by the office tomorrow and we’ll drive up together."
So that is what we did. We went straight to the front of the small queue and she yabbered at the copper in high-speed Spanish, then clattered across the lino in her high-heeled boots for a high-speed exchange with the lady in the adjacent office. Hurricane Inma had hit town. Batten down the hatches.
Long story short, Inma learnt that the best way to get a NIE – and let’s face it, my experience was beginning to show me that there are about 57 varieties of skinning a cat – was to go in person to the police station at Carrer de Bailen, alongside one of the bigger stations on the Metro in the city centre. We clattered back to her car and jumped in and sped off, like the fackin’ Sweeney on their way to get a gang of villains in a shed up at Heathrow, but when we arrive it’s closed for the weekend, Friday afternoon is an easy-going kind of vibe in this neck of the woods.
My decision was made. A little over a week of The Hunt For Red October, and I needed to surface to breathe in the cooling Baltic air. I would chuck money at the problem and get me un gestor, kind of like a fixer. I asked for recommendations in the Expats in Valencia Facebook group and a chap glamorously named Jean Pierre Juarez Toledo (whom I naturally and immediately renamed JP, it’s something I do) got in touch. He is a Peruvian with an American wife who speaks flawless Spanish (obv), English and French. He would keep time sheets and bill me €20 per hour. An absolute bargain for JP the Miracle Worker. (Yes, I am aware that that was JC, but it’s a riff on the theme. Indulge me. Again.)
We arranged to meet on Sunday afternoon outside the bullring, a fabulous neo-Gothic fantasy, and headed next door into La Estacion del Norte, a beautiful building not dissimilar to St Pancras or Marylebone. Over a coffee and a tuna roll, he took all my details, entered them into his MacBook and off he trotted.
Over the coming week he kept me regularly updated. He sourced the best health insurance for me, €35 per month with exemptions or €50 unlimited. What a bargain, and the Spanish health service is quite superb, as I would discover. He arranged an appointment for me at La Comisaria at Carrer de Bailen that would be for the latter half of March after I would return from a week in Anguilla, eastern Caribbean, on a press trip for Daily Mail. And he did my ironing. (OK, I lied about the ironing, though as you will learn I already had that base covered.)
I went off to London feeling reassured and looking forward to becoming legitimate in Valencia shortly after I would return.
The moral of this post? So take my strong advice – just remember to always think twice (do think twice, do think twice). I mean, save yourself a lot of grief and heartache when setting about exploring King Solomon’s Mines and get a guide. Or un gestor, as they like to call them round these parts…