Two things I really enjoy in life are parks and technology. I have an iPhone, a Macbook, an iPod, an iPad - a bit too much iStuff really - a kindle and a camera. And I use them all fully. Nothing was bought flippantly or capriciously. I also really love getting out of my house and strolling and pacing through any greenery at hand. Madrid, despite being a geographically very dry place, is blessed with a selection of wonderful parks and boasts more trees and green surfaces per person than any other European city.
Two things I really can’t stand in life are vandals and Twitter. Now Twitter I have to have in order to help spread about the unfortunate brand of ‘me’; but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I see its merit in aspects of news or marketing, but no one wants to hear about the sandwich you just had on a great day out in London with your mother. I also truly despise vandals - from people who do tag-graffiti to those who drop litter or drunkenly smash town furniture.
Recently I got into an online fight combining all my loves and hates.
Madrid has many parks but its great ones can be counted on a few fingers. For fancy strolling and photo ops you have the luxurious Parque del Buen Retiro. If you prefer to get away from the crowds there is a personal favourite of mine: the 11 sq km ex-hunting grounds of Casa de Campo. Should you want a pocket-sized wonderland that evokes Germany fairytales you could travel out northeast to the Capricho Park or, staying central, there is the charming Madrid Rio river park that cradles our diminutive Manzanares for 6km. It is this last park that has suffered and become my focus.
On the 15th of December the gardeners involved with maintaining and updating the Madrid Rio park went on indefinite strike. But they had a surprise in store for the city just before they packed up and went home. Along the whole river rubbish bins had been emptied and sometimes torn from the posts. Little green bags of dog faeces had been thrown around too, sometimes splitting in the process and evacuating their contents onto the path. Graffiti had been sprayed almost everywhere and delicate irrigation systems had in some places been ripped out of the flowerbeds. It was carnage. I was angry and disappointed.
For the first time in my long and boring career with the app I took to Twitter to voice my fury. Whilst on a morning jog, avoiding coke cans and trying to look apologetically at the tourists on bikes with their appalled faces, I had found a sticker regarding the protest. It read "Madrid River on indefinite strike. Fighting from the 15th December. No to the ERE (a forced redundancy) for 127 families. Gardeners at War." Right, I promptly thought to myself, time to employ hashtags. I loathe hashtags. But hashtagged I did. I responded with this:
Translated as "The group of idiots who caused all the vandalism at Madrid Rio."
Now, at this time I had no idea about the ins and outs of the conflict but frankly I didn't care. It was and still is the same story all over Spain. We are in a pretty dire crisis still and so the government is taking necessary but often heavy handed and draconian steps to change the situation. This often means the little people lose out. In this case more than half of the gardeners working on the park were set to lose their jobs. I still didn't care. I was angry about the way they did it, by just ruining the place like drunken Vikings. I hashtagged #jardinerosenlucha, gardeners at war, in the off chance my point would be seen.
Within the hour I got a response from the Madrid Rio En Lucha organisation, the one running the whole strike. They weren't happy.
Translation: "Don't accuse without evidence and I hope that your child never goes without food to put in their mouth."
So, I had angered the dragon. I wasn't meaning to have a pop at the people themselves. It was really a spur of the moment tweet to show my annoyance for the state of the river. The drum banging propaganda slogans riled me though. They were missing my point. This is the problem with Twitter: everything, all the hate and pain and fact and fiction is fired out by squeezing it all into 140 characters. I responded.
Translation: "Your problem exists. That's not in doubt. But ruining a natural space for all the public is immature and troglodytic."
Right, I thought, that should do it. Clearly I wasn't rallying against their cause, which is just, though in a recession somebody has to lose their jobs, and clearly now I had made it clear that I was angry about what they did to the park itself. That's all.
Nope. They had more to say.
Translation: "Remember that last sentence when you go to vote on the 24th of May 2015. We're just working, it's the others who ruin."
The vote the organisation is referring to is the municipal vote on the 24th of May to decide who our next mayor will be. Madrid is currently run by a woman who is frankly as useful as a glow in the dark torch and as smart as a rock - though I'd rather hedge my bets with the rock. Ana Botella. Wife of Aznar - that slimy Spanish Prime Minister who was very much in bed with Blair and Bush - Botella is a member of the PP (said rather fittingly pee pee, though they'll say "no, it's peh peh"). Think the American Republican Party, but with less guns and more tapas. She's frankly embarrassing for the city and more than a little corrupt and bigoted. No one with half a brain likes her. Hopefully she'll be voted out. I am eligible for the vote so I may have a pop. However, MadridRioEnLucha's denial of the point I was trying to make irked me still so I responded.
Translation: "Remember that if you want to gain support it isn't intelligent to act like violent teenagers. Be clear, calm and erudite. Good luck."
They didn't respond. The truth is that they probably had better things to do. The hope is that they saw what I was saying and didn't continue to hound. The fantasy is that I beat them in an argument.
So that was it. From them at least. A day later somebody tagged me in a tweet and pointedly cited one part of my first message. A user from Navarra. Let's have a look then.
Translation: "By 'group of idiots that are doing the vandalism' you're referring to those who want to make 131 workers redundant? "
Now, this did annoy me. Firstly, I got the feeling that this person hadn't read my previous conversation where I plainly stated my thoughts. Secondly, I really hate drum banging sloganism. I responded:
Translation: "Evidently not. I'm referring to the people - regardless of the cause - who destroyed the park."
Simple and clear as I could make it. Really no hint of confusion could arise from that. Nothing inflammatory. Nothing contentious. Not for this lady.
Translation: "I thought you were referring to those who are going to destroy the lives of the workers and, as a result, the park."
Clever and emotive commentary. But fundamentally flawed, I thought to myself. Say what you want, be as poetic and profound as you care to be, but it really wasn't the politicians who ruined the park. There were two separate issues here. 1. Forced and arguably cruel redundancy and 2. a group of people who destroyed a park to make a point. I was going after number two.
Translation: "Always the same. It. Doesn't. Matter. The. Cause. It's not an excuse for acting like beasts. You have to be the mature ones in this."
Because the politicians won't be. I clicked on her Twitter profile. There was a link to her personal blog. Unsurprisingly it was post after post, page after page, of political stuff. Flags of the Republic adorned as decoration. Good points or not, these guys, fervent, are not the kind of people who are going to see calm reason, especially not from an Englishman. She returned fire:
Translation: "The workers with maturity have spent 4 weeks on strike. The immature ones are those supporting the redundancy. "
Again, I squeezed my forehead with a sigh. Missing my point. I imagine these people at their computers with flags surrounding them, poised at the attack or wandering around in a constant state of bitter hatred. Last hurrah I thought. I'll revert to some British sarcasm.
Translation: "Perfect. So, you're right. Let's go and destroy all the parks! Hurrah! Victory! They'll listen to us now!"
Dripping with sarcasm. The Twitter user was, I presumed, either stupid or perhaps didn't read into my sarcasm, and seemed to feel I had come round. She finished with this tweet that I couldn't be bothered to respond to.
Translation: "You can attend the MadridRioEnLucha workers' protests and support the workers and not the impresarios ;)"
I put my phone down and gave up. All these people's hearts are very much in the right place. But it seems so often the bile and vitriol gets in the way of reason and clear thinking. And, whatever they say, they did ruin the park. And it's still like that. That night, a Friday, I went out with some friends and drank an inordinate amount of cheap but good red wine. We decided that on the Sunday we would go down ourselves, a motley group of English and Scottish, and just start cleaning up. Something inbuilt within the genetics of being British. A park was a holy place.
We didn't go in the end for two reasons. One was our our health and safety. This was rubbish and bags of dog excrement and we didn't even have gloves. And the second was that the strike came to an end on the 9th of January. Good and bad news. The strike had ceased so perhaps the park would soon regain its previous form, but it seemed like a lot of people were still going to lose their jobs.
All that Twitter rage over nothing. The protest group is still fighting and I'm still with a park that looks like a football match has just happened.
I still don't like Twitter and I still love parks.