Thursday, 30 December 2010

Feliz Navidad

On Christmas Eve I left my rural retreat for the less rarefied air of the outskirts of Fuengirola for Christmas with friends and god-daughter. The plans for mass preparation of the Christmas feast the night before dissolved in vodka and tonic. Unfortunately, my resolve not to partake in Karaoke also went the same way and resulted in a midnight rendition of 'Fairy Tale of New York' with me in the role of the toothless Shane MacGowan of The Pogues. It was a rousing number, people were singing and dancing, despite mine and Jan's singing efforts!

Christmas Day arrived with only the slightest of headaches that several gallons of tea and Nurofen soon saw off. Presents were opened with the usual oh-s, ah-s, thank you-s and lovely-s, until Jan opened her presents from Ed. It would seem that 3 boxes of Maltesers, a plastic knife sharpener and a printer cartridge were nothing to make a song and dance about. To give Ed his dues, the new mobile had not yet arrived and there was a 50euro note with one of the packets of Maltesers. Not that I am one for moralising but there is definitely a message here: Don't leave things to the last minute, thereby avoiding wrath of partner on Christmas Day.

We need not have feared that lack of preparation would affect the meal. The goose was stuffed and roasted, the potatoes and parsnips cooked nicely in the goose fat and the remaining veg arrived at the same time in the fashion expected. The wine flowed, the food was eaten and dominoes were played until the early hours. A pleasing and enjoyable day that saw me retire to bed with a hangover already starting!

My journey home was uneventful, though I did get stuck behind a silver Berlingo van part way up the mountain. It seems that the shepherds on the lower slopes are less inclined to walk their livestock - the back of the van was filled with three woolly sheep who seemed quite content with their mode of transport.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

While Shepherds Watched

Thursday, 23rd December 2010
My trip to Sedella on the eve of Christmas Eve for the village party became a lesson in power management, or the lack thereof in these parts. The party turned out to be the school’s nativity play at which I was somewhat conspicuous having neither children nor relatives at the school. Still, this is Spain and the focus was on the children. Each child had a line to say and they sang La Marimorena and Feliz Navidad with much gusto and stamping of feet. A couple of those girls are definitely budding Flamenco dancers so sure were their stamps. The unfortunate part was the continual loss and recovery of power. As the very little ones particularly had need of a microphone to be heard, it meant that some of their pearls of wisdom were lost on the crowd. After half an hour, with the hall lit only by the emergency exit lights, I slipped out and made my way to the postal rendezvous point. Thankfully, the rain had stopped, but without raincloud cover the temperature plummeted.  As I passed Frasco’s Bar I glanced in to see Papa Noel propping up the bar, cerveza in hand. His nerves must have been getting the better of him due as he was to make an appearance at the school do. Next I was faced by what appears to be Sedella’s very own branch of a major Spanish bank! I said modernisation was underway and here was evidence; a very smart looking branch of Cajamar.
I remarked upon the appearance of the Cajamar branch to other campo dwellers as we gathered around the post-mistress’s car which was positively bulging with post and parcels. It seems there has always been a bank of some form or another in the village, it was just not advertised and only opens for a few hours per week. Legend has it a room in Pepe Sanchez’s house used to be the bank for two hours on a Wednesday night, way back when. But modernisation is not stopping with the bank and forthcoming post-collection boxes; we have a new pharmacy as well. The green cross can be seen suspended above on a doorway, on a side street I had paid no attention to before. The existing pharmacy was doing a roaring trade next to the old wash-rooms so one can assume that it has not moved lock and stock as yet.
The advent of the postmistress put paid to further discussion as we fell upon the boxes of letters and parcels in a frenzy akin to sharks when chum is thrown into the sea. Fingers thrashed through the letters churning the multi-coloured envelopes as they sought ones with a familiar name or address. Those that found their long-awaited post clutched it to their breasts, knuckles whitening with the pressure. My much anticipated box had arrived from England and with that and two cards I sought sanctuary from the dropping temperature in Rafa’s Bar. Alas, Rafa’s Bar like the remainder of the village was without power and so a coffee was no longer a possibility. I returned to the car and drove along my disintegrating track (the rain has done little for the condition of it save erode it) to the house. The car’s temperature gauge assured me it was 5 degrees as the wind started to pick up.

I am most fortunate to witness the passing and grazing of sheep and goats on an almost daily basis. They trot along the road and graze on the now verdant hillside as they make their way along the valley and back. As the house hoved into view I could see the shepherd was stood leaning not on his stick as usual, but on the white painted concrete box which houses my electricity connection and meter. The sheep were dotted on the hillside as the shepherd watched and waited patiently, an air of imperturbability about him. I pulled up to my gate and as Charlie went into apoplexy in the rear of the car at the sight of the sheep I descended to open the gates. The wind was bitter as I struggled to tether the gates sufficiently to allow me to drive through without damage. ‘Es frigo no?’ emanated from the shepherd. ‘Sí, sí’, I managed through chattering teeth as I clambered in and threw the car through the gates just before the wind wrenched them free from their tethers. Now if a shepherd who has spent all his working life in the elements thinks it’s cold, then it’s cold. I hurried inside where the temperature was a degree or two above the ambient temperature. As I walked in the door the power came on and with gladness I made a cup of tea in my new Christmas mug with the teabags, all courtesy of my box. Don’t lose touch with your friends in England, they provide essentials such as PG Tips! My box also provided, amongst lots of lovely goodies, a Christmas hat with bells on. Hat donned, tea in hand, the power went off.
Three jumpers, two pairs of socks and hat still firmly upon head the power had yet to return at ten to three. So far I had only had power for about 1 of my waking hours. Frigo was one thing, bloody frozen is another – that was me. The wind was howling round the house and I had discovered that that front door produced quite an impressive draught. A little like the Venturi effect, the wind forced its way through a narrow aperture, gaining speed, and spat itself into the room. I decided a trip to warm up was required and loaded the dogs in the car. To say the wind was strong before squeezing itself through the door-frame would be an understatement.  As a fearsome gust pinioned me to the gates, I had no alternative but to rest my cheek on the cold iron and wait. I was unable to move the gates in the desired direction let alone tether them; all I wanted was to be warm. A few minutes later, the wind dropped to a mere 10-15 mph and I released myself from the bars and in a flurry of activity tethered the gates, started the car and drove at speed up the drive onto the track. Miraculously the gates had stayed as desired; then the wind roared down the mountain and the feeble ties gave up their captives and the iron rushed towards me.  Footwork which would have had Wayne Sleep in raptures saw me avoiding injury and minutes later heading to the warmth of the shopping mall in Torre del Mar.
It takes on average two hours for my round trip to Torre, today was no exception.  As I bumped along the track back to the house, red wine and logs (a sure fire way to stay warm) stashed in the back, I waved to the shepherd as he sent the last of his sheep into their night compound and shelter. Power had been restored and I filled the hot water bottle and a mug with hot water so at least one mug of tea and a warmish bed were assured. During the evening as power came and went I gazed out of the kitchen window, flickering fire- and candle-light, my sole source of heat, dancing across the walls and ceiling behind me, at the bright lights of the villages on the mountains beyond.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

¿Dónde está mi correos?

I think the postman is already in receipt of his Christmas bonus. He has failed to turn up for two days in a row now; not good. Not only is he failing to stand by his car and allow those of us who live in the wilds to collect our post, he hasn’t even bothered to deliver to the villagers. This is a sad state of affairs, particularly at Christmas when I am expecting a parcel with tea-bags in it! It is not as if he has to drive along the campo roads.


This was just a trickle last week

It has been raining for some 3 days now and heavily. There have been daily thunder storms with sheet lightning and rain drops so big I was convinced it was hail. This has had a rather detrimental effect on the campo roads. My drive in to the village was somewhat more sedate than normal and good job too; a slice of road has vanished down the hillside. The road is still passable though, but I am more than a little happy I invested in a 4x4.
Regarding the post, Sedella is going to be ‘upgraded’. A new post box has been installed in the village and boxes will be available for those of us who dwell in the campo.  I am definitely going to have to discover the whys and wherefores of this arrangement pronto or my mail could be lost in the Spanish ether. I am perfectly convinced I shall have to pay for the box, but we shall see. I hope that the ‘open all hours’ shop starts to sell stamps otherwise the post-box is going to be somewhat under-utilised!
After half an hour standing idly in the rain chatting with other campo dwellers, I gave up and resorted to café con leche in Rafa’s bar. The TV was showing the draw for El Gordo (the fat one), Spain’s enormous annual lottery draw. This is a long drawn out affair with children singing the numbers and interviews with the president and the like. I hope someone in the village wins, there’d be a BIG party!
Speaking of parties there is a bit of a do tomorrow in the village. The school children will be performing and there will be food and drink. I shall make my way in and enjoy the festivities. You never know the postman might just show his face for free food!

Bamboo in the rain

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas Countdown

 Christmas is coming; the Goose is getting fat…

Well it had better be as that is what we are having for Christmas dinner. I want him to be fat as that makes for excellent roast potatoes not only for Christmas Day but sometime hence. Granted I shall have to share the goose fat with my fellow Christmassers but hey, goose fat roast potatoes – yum!
This Christmas is going to be a change from the last 3 years. Not only will I be in Spain but I will have company. Hopefully I will remember how to socialize, having become a modern-day hermit in my castle in the sky! I have bought presents but as always they never seem enough. Sadly, due to my self-imposed stringent finances, the only reason I can stay here without full-time work, the presents will have to suffice, especially as I have to pay for 1/3 of the goose!

I am renowned for opening my presents some considerable time prior to the day itself. I HATE surprises. As a child I would open one end of the present and peek in. I argued that this was so I could practice my “Oh! It’s lovely!” face when the present was in fact far removed from what I wanted or liked. But this year, so far so good. The delivery of presents by my father has seen only one present opened – the camera. I had asked for this and as I will need it to capture in glorious Technicolor the festive events I think I am excused for this action.
My Spanish teacher informed me that there is a party in the village on Thursday morning. The children will be performing, I know not what, and there will be food and drink. I’m going to be there, with my new camera; let’s hope it presents some good photo opportunities.
Above the cloud.
I think I need phtography lessons - the hills look greener than this
The weather has warmed up and the rain is falling. The mountainsides are becoming more verdant by the day. I don’t mind the odd drop of rain; Spain needs it and the greenness around me explains why the area is known as Los Valverdes (as well as el Duende). The white horse opposite thinks that the grass is definitely greener on the other side; she has escaped from her not inconsiderable area twice this week. She is imperturbable. I have had Charlie on the lead once I’ve spotted her and she does not flinch as he strains at the lead and barks at her. Jake trotted up and went nose to nose with her. She lifted her head from the grass, sniffed him and returned to her feeding – good old girl!
I had a wonderful time with my father who was playing Father Christmas. We lunched by the sea twice, bathed in sunshine in mid-December. Bliss. I also introduced him to my favourite eatery in the village – Restaurante Lorena. It took two attempts to get there – the first night the fog was so thick about 1 km from my house that we had to turn back. These are not roads on which you can feel your way; one twitch of the wheel in the wrong direction and it is Goodnight Vienna. The drops can be up to 200 metres. As it was I managed to turn the car on the narrowest stretch of track and get us home safely. I was not aware it was the narrowest part as I could not see a thing and had no idea where I was in relation to the house. Judgement was primarily to be thanked but a little luck was thrown into the mix. When we did reach the village the following day I had my favourite meal – kid cutlets. The meat is so sweet, absolutely delicious. Father tried one and gave it the seal of approval. I munched my way through a pile of cutlets whilst father battled with what has to be the most well-endowed chicken ever to strut the earth. Chicken breast fillets, so much food he had to leave some. The restaurant owner and cook has come to realize I am ‘local’ and we embarked on a semi-conversation. Every time I have guests we are in there; she must be praying I have a long Christmas card list!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

One is never enough

I am going to get a second blog - how greedy!
This one will be on the AngloInfo website - a site for expats all over the world. I decided to have a second blog rather than link this blog as the other will be used as more of a marketing tool. I have also advertised my copywriting services with AngloInfo, so fingers crossed on that front.
What that means blog-wise is that you lucky readers of 'blog one' will get the raw truth (I know, I spoil you), whilst those who read the other will have an interesting but milder read. Of course, you are more than welcome to cross my literary equivalent of the Rubicon. There should be little chance of cities falling as a result though! As soon as 'blog two' is up and running I shall give you the opportunity via a link.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Bridges

Monday 6th November, 2012
Today is Día de la Constitución Española, a national holiday. As a result everything is shut. All and sundry will be shut on Wednesday as well as that is Inmaculada Concepción day which commemorates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Being Spain they have a good way to make these two holidays one – a Puente (bridge). That means that 2 one-day holidays become one 3 day holiday and as it is attached to a weekend many Spanish have gone away for a break. Two or three Spanish families have taken up residence at a house a bit further down the track from me. Ordinarily I walk the dogs past the house once a day but after yesterday I think not. The troupe, there were about 12 in total, were walking past my house as I returned from a walk with the dogs. My two are very friendly, but a little excitable so I put the worst offender, Charlie, on the lead I carry for such emergencies. All was well and good. Jake did as he was told and stayed close, until he could resist no longer that is. Up he ran, tongue lolling to say hello to the stragglers, a man and his three daughters. He did not jump, bark, snarl or do anything to provoke the screaming and running around that ensued. Thankfully the father had the sense to tell them not to run, by which time I had grabbed Jake. I did not apologise, just told a still screaming girl that Jake was a friend. She did not seem convinced. This is one of my pet hates. You do not have to like dogs but for the love of all things holy, when one runs up to you do not start screaming and don’t run.  Why don’t parents teach their children these things from the year dot? My dogs are not vicious, but they are boisterous and while ‘playing a game’ they could have knocked one of the children over; but that would have been it. Different dogs on a different day may have a rather sorrier ending. For their children’s safety parents should teach their kids the basics of dog safety. Safely behind our gates, Charlie took on territorial mode and barked at them until they were out of sight. I think any bridges with those neighbours may have been burned.
Día de la Constitución Española marks the day of the national referendum in 1978 to approve the Spanish constitution. After nearly 40 years of dictatorship under Generalissimo Franco, and 3 years after his death, the Spanish set up the constitution for the way they live today. I have been reading about the Spanish Civil War and some of the atrocities carried out in this region (Andalucía) were appalling. Villages were literally wiped off the map. Mass graves are still being found across Spain from those dark days. Thousands of refugees from Málaga and the province fled to Barcelona and Madrid ahead of Franco’s army. Being a very rural community they were seen as “wild, half-Moors” by the ‘sophisticates’ of the cities. I need to read further to understand why Franco was so harsh on the people of this region when one of the ideas behind the coup was to stop the erosion of tradition. You couldn’t get more traditional in the rural landscape of southern Spain, so why the murders? As I say, I need to read more to understand. It is important to know the history of a place in which you live in order to understand the culture and attitudes within it. That is what is wrong with immigrants in so many places – don’t try and change the culture in which you find yourself, you don’t have to like it (though I would suggest not moving there if you do not like the culture) but understanding it makes it a lot easier to get on. Understanding is a bridge across the chasm of ignorance.
One thing I cannot ignore is the dogs’ insistence on an early morning walk. It is not good enough that I take them out at 11; 10 at the absolute latest, thank you! My walk on Friday saw me wander into previously uncharted territory. As a result I once again found myself up a hillside staring back at where I wanted to be. The dogs loved it; my knees hurt. Still it is good for the soul, taking circuitous routes home. Hopefully I will not encounter the Spanish families again; but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Can't draw, would love to draw

My website is in serious need of a ‘tart-up’. I have all these wonderful ideas in my head, but just like drawing, I cannot get the visual bit looking anything other than as if composed by a 5 year-old.
Hopefully my other attempt at advertising will reap rewards. When creating a calendar for family Christmas presents I took advantage of the printer’s deals and have got, for free, 250 business cards, a magnetised advert for the car door and a pen, all inscribed with my details.
With any luck I will get a little bit of work out of it.
Of course, the design on the car magnet, pen and cards is different to the website so I shall change the site accordingly. Hopefully, http://www.dccopywriting.com/ will look a little snazzier later today (if I can get the website host to play ball that is!).

Nothing in Excess

                   
Along with ‘know yourself’, ‘nothing in excess’ was inscribed at Delphi (not the cinema, the ancient Greek place with the Oracle; not the oracle shopping centre or t.v. text service, the soothsayer); this is obviously an adage I live by! Except last night, OK and a few hundred other times as well, when I partook of a little too much Rosé and danced myself into a frenzy. Brilliant night! Luckily no deadlines today to meet today. The freelance work I am undertaking would appear to be run by people who consider this adage when deciding how much they should pay me. I have been paid between $1 for a 300-word article up to the dizzy heights of $1 per hundred words. I am not going to be making my fortune this way. The way I do hope to earn a decent living is through my books. Progress there is steady but slow – I need to give myself a good talking to and get on with it. So you see I do follow the ‘nothing in excess’ line of thought when it comes to work…
Where has my mountain gone?
The weather has turned here in Spain; it is definitely winter. The wind and rain are frequent visitors. As a result of the inclement weather the track to my house has started to deteriorate and the once empty channels labelled arroyo and rio are now full of surging water. Apart from the twice daily dog walks and the odd party, I have kept myself pretty much to myself in my country dwelling. Spanish houses are designed with the heat in mind and with the advent of temperatures falling into single figures at night the log burner has been called into daily action. My landlord was kind enough to supply me with some logs but the stock is now seriously depleted. All over the campo smoke can be seen curling from the chimneys of those of us mad enough to live in the wilds. If they are burning wood at the same rate as me then the Spanish olive groves must be decimated by now. To keep warm the fire needs to be going for at least 12 hours a day – that’s a lot of wood. Maybe my wood consumption is close to being classed as excessive, but surely necessity negates excess?
Another necessity to a decent life in Spain is the ability to speak the language. As my hermit lifestyle provides little opportunity to mix and practise my Spanish I have started having lessons. My first lesson was on Friday. My God, I have an appalling memory! I also seem to have selective deafness – I read the lines, I say the lines, but when my teacher starts a conversation based on what I have just learned I sit there staring blankly at her. I think I’d be OK if nobody spoke to me, if they just wrote letters or held up printed cards.
I need to design and print some cards and flyers to put in the local school advertising extra English tuition. I took my TEFL course for just this reason – time to put it into practice. I can do this legally as well – I have the number which officially identifies me as a foreigner in Spain. I can do a whole host of things now – buy a car or a house, get a job, pay taxes…
Getting the number (NIE) was a saga in itself and what really galls is the unprepossessing, old Englishman who was the guardian of the whole process. He really is an annoying little jobsworth. It is small wonder that someone hasn’t smacked him; I think it is only a question of time. I managed to circumnavigate him on the Wednesday and obtained a number to join the queue. With documentation in hand a bank was sought to pay the 16 required to process. This has increased from 9.80 in the summer when the annoying little man was either enjoying a Spanish fiesta or away from his desk and so I was unable to complete at the cheaper rate.  At any rate, I paid the money in the bank to a rather handsome young man and then reluctantly left him to return to the waiting room. Jan told me to forget my number and just jump the queue and at the first opportunity we slid into the seats opposite a Spanish policeman. He asked to see my ticket, which I held out with my thumb over the number. Little did I realise was that there was an appointment slot indicated between 12 and 1. The policeman pointed this out. It was 11.20. We just looked at him, said ‘Oh’, and I had the good grace to blush as I gently pushed my papers across the desk to him. He looked at them slowly. Then he asked for a copy of the form. I didn’t actually have a photocopy, just another version I had filled in whilst waiting. It was quite evident this was the case. Still, he accepted it, which makes me wonder why they bother with all this bureaucracy when they do not really care.  Anyway the forms were stamped and the book filled in – if they used computers it would really help – and I was told to return on the Friday to collect my number.
Two days later I returned to be greeted by the English gatekeeper. Greeted really is too strong a word. He has taken lessons from the Spanish in rudeness and didn’t lift his head as he addressed me, just held out his hand for the form. Ignorant man. Then he wanted my passport. Having retrieved my paperwork he told me I had put my second surname in the wrong box. Really? The box labelled second surname? “Well, the man who checked it was happy”, I responded. “What man”, he asked. “The official”, I almost spat back. At that he handed me my paperwork, passport and I left the building officially recognised as an extranjero. The Spanish do lots of things to excess and bureaucracy is definitely one of them.
As I write I am surrounded by slumbering dogs. A nice walk in the rain, a rub-down, and then a snooze in front of the fire; it’s a dog’s life! Mind you, I had the same experience, except for the rub-down – you can have too much of a good thing. Nothing in Excess.

Delphi

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Remembrance

Thursday 11th November, 2010

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Binyon, L.

For the last three days the weather has been grey, overcast, windy and for Andalucian Spain a tad on the chilly side. I have had logs burning in the grate. My mood and behaviour have also been far from sunny – listless, moody and not at all inclined to put pen to paper. Today (sun, blue sky, still air and warmth) I have been transformed into a literary…um, something. Pen has been applied to paper very rigorously whilst sat on the verandah enjoying the clement weather. Another chapter of my book, this blog and quite a few freelance project applications have been rattled off. And it’s not as if I haven’t done anything else – house swept, laundry laundered plus a 2 hour round trip into town. Not bad considering the only thing I had planned for today was to get my butt to Fuengirola police station for 8.30am; that I did not manage as I overslept.

The crux of the matter is that the weather obviously plays a big part in my mood. I’m a summer baby – I like blue skies, warm air and the sun (though as a red-head I like the sun from beneath a wide-brimmed hat) – and if I don’t get them I am unproductive and miserable. It is little wonder that in the winter months in the UK I hovered around the depressed reading on my mood-o-meter. It was always the winter months when I joined dating websites and lurched from one dating disaster to another. I feel vindicated, therefore, that to enable the writing of my book I upped sticks and made my home in southern Spain. So I may have the odd day or three when the weather is less than desirable and my mood matches it, but that has got to be better than 5 months of misery!

My trips into town, or reality, are accompanied by a local Spanish radio station. I have it on in the hope that some of the language will sink into my sub-conscious and have a positive effect on my speaking/comprehension skills. I think it is working in some small way. I do not understand 90% of what is being said but I can discern words as opposed to just noise. “Blah blah blah blah five blah blah but today I have blah blah blah” is an improvement on “anyanayanayanayanayanayanayanay”. There are also a few words/phrases which I automatically say in Spanish in my head rather than in English and then translate into Spanish…caldo (stock), no sé (I don’t know) and just about all the contents of the fridge – and that is NOT just vino!! The learning of food stuffs has been aided by writing the shopping lists in Spanish, of that there is little doubt. So, I think I shall apply the same method to the rest of the language (excitement! I actually thought idioma rather than language there!!! Oh yes!) and give myself a list of verbs to write out every day.

Learning should be quite simple once the method of teaching effectively for that individual has been identified – fingers crossed I’ve found it.




Sunday, 7 November 2010

Leaps and Bounds

Sunday 7th November, 2010
Oh yes! I had my first semi-conversation today, all on my own! And I don’t mean I talked to myself, I’ve always done that no news there; I mean I managed to communicate effectively to my landlord when he came to collect the rent. As I returned from my morning dog walk he (Emilio) was to be found banging at the door. He had apparently been in Málaga for the week, hence only collecting the rent today. He presented me with a bag of avocados and kaki fruit. Not yet ripe, I need to ripen them before I eat them he told me. I understood that too! Then, and this is the marvellous bit, we had a whole conversation about where I go shopping and do I go for meals in the village! I had already told him I really like avocados and are the kaki fruit pomegranates (didn’t have my glasses on). Emilio understood me, and I him. This is a BIG step. No friend to turn to when not sure what was said, I did it all by myself. The evenings spent reading Spanish study books and holding imaginary conversations in my head were not all in vain! Confidence has returned and I may, just may, have a ‘real’ conversation with someone in the village this week. J


My peak. And before you say it is on the same level
I have to walk down before I go up it!
There has been a lot of shooting reverberating around the mountainside and I cannot work out from whence it comes. The walk with the dogs was therefore a little intrepid; one wasn’t sure whether if rounding a bend or appearing above a mound one was going to be in the line of fire. As it was the walk was uneventful, though pleasant as I made my Sunday ascent to the top of the nearest high bit, or ‘my peak’ as I like to call it. The lungs still protest a little but not nearly as much as they did the first week I climbed it. Either I’m getting fitter (despite knee problems) or the wind has blown a chunk off the top of it.






Said wind was again building into a substantial puff and by 1 o’clock the front door was shut and by 1.30 a fire was burning. There is something primeval-ly satisfying about the creation of fire. Forget the extension of teenage years in humans for the development of brain power, the usefulness of opposable thumbs or any other evolutionary theory; the day Prometheus descended from the heavens and gave man the secret of fire, that is when Homo Sapiens arose and took over.
From fire comes life. Nature knows that. So whilst fire may destroy, it also allows rebirth. Acres and acres of mountain forests, scrub and shrub are burnt to ash each year, but slowly from the dark, desecrated earth new shoots push their way through and so begins the next chapter.  Some seeds require the fire to stimulate their growth; and so it was for man. Fire allowed food to be cooked, warmth to be generated and danger to be thwarted. There would have been no Iron or Bronze Ages without the ability to smelt.  There would have been no Roman villas with internal heating systems, no industrial revolution, so Steam Age.  In short, without the gift of fire I would not now be communicating as I do, watching the flames lick around the slowly disintegrating logs.
The yellow flames dance around the logs of olive wood whilst hot orange embers fall into the grey dust like amber jewels. The pop and crackle as the air expands under the bark sends tiny golden sparks heavenwards or to tap against the glass pane of the burner.  Fire may have been a gift from the gods but devils dance within the flames. They leap and swirl around the wood, some horned, some grinning, with eyes of dark smoke.  You can’t help but be drawn to them.
P.S. I would have researched the seeds that need fire to germinate and how different processes requiring fire have improved man’s lifestyle, but as you know I write everything longhand first and I couldn’t drag myself away from the fireside.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It's all Greek to me

Wednesday 3rd November, 2010
The writing side, creative side I suppose I should say, has a blockage. Not a blockage in the sense that nothing comes forth, but more of a one-way-flow problem. The only way words flow from brain to screen is via a pen in my hand. Anything of import is first committed to paper then transcribed onto screen. As is this blog; as, I am finding, is my major work-in-progress. Sat in front of the PC, with travel journal to hand, my writing is stilted and it takes hours to transform the tired, often drunken, scribblings of yester-year into something worthy of reading today. However, replace PC with pen and paper and the fluidity returns. Why? What is it in my psyche that does not allow creativity to flow when typing? It is a waste of time (though time is in abundance) to effectively write it twice. Or is it? When physically writing today’s chapter I have edited my journal into more readable prose. When I type it up I will make further tweaks to grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc. So really I am editing as I go. Hopefully this means fewer rewrites once the first full manuscript is produced. I do hope so!

the offending joint!

Relaxed though I am the old body is complaining – loudly at the moment – at the need to walk up and down hillsides rather than stride across level ground. Repeated hyper-extension of the right knee, (my father always said I reminded him of the Greek bloke, dodgyknees*) now produces sharp pain at annoyingly regular intervals. I have subsequently tweaked a muscle in my back and my hip is aching. I’m only 40 for god’s sake! What’s going on? On the plus side my thighs are a smidge less wobbly and my buttocks feel tauter. There is unfortunately no real physical evidence of the benefits at the moment.  I do not expect people who haven’t seen me in a while to exclaim, ‘What a pert arse!’ So one can but hope that eventually it will all even out and the correct muscles will become longer or shorter as required and I will become fully functional in the walking sense.
As for fully functional mentally, I refer you to the opening paragraph…
Chin, chin!
* Diogenes

Knock on Wood

Saturday 30th October, 2010
The heartbeat of the late afternoon is the rhythmic sound of stick on wood as the almond harvest continues apace. A good thwack on a branch and the almonds ripe for harvest fall to the sheet below. Dotted around the hillside, in the shade of the trees or by the side of the track, are white bags of almonds ready for collection. The modern farmer collected the bags in his 4x4 and disappears down the track in a trail of dust. The more traditional farmer can be heard gee-ing his mule up the steep hillside, white bags strapped across its back. Either way it is a non-intrusive form of farming.  No heavy machinery disturbing the tranquillity of the early evening, just a gentle reminder that there are other people on the mountain.
The olive harvest is imminent. The lush little fruits have turned a dark shade of purple and the ground beneath the trees is littered with early fallers. I anticipate a similar method of harvesting, possibly with a spread net to prevent the tender fruits from damage. Time will tell.
I watched with some slight annoyance the goatherd make his way up and down the hillside which had caused me so much grief, with what can only be described as ease! I need to learn his skills as soon as possible or my walks will be limited to the tracks; and I’m not a girl who likes to be constrained by tracks…or convention for that matter.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Sunshine mountain…where the four winds blow

Sunday 24th October, 2010
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? (Kahlil Gibran)
A gloriously sunny day had dawned on my mountain. I would have loved to sit in the sun and dry my hair au naturel whilst contemplating the next phase in my writing journey. But alas no. No hot water. I had run out of gas and whilst showering in cold water would most likely give my hair a healthy shine it is not something I relish. A basin of hot water from the kettle sufficed as the dogs and I headed down the mountain in search of Repsol man. At the appropriate destination I unloaded my empty canister and awaited the man. He duly sauntered over. Charlie barked. Repsol man beat a hasty retreat. I assured him that Charlie is not vicious. He started to put the new canister in the car but as Charlie barked again he literally ran off leaving the canister precariously balanced. I have been reliably informed that the Spanish are not enamoured with dogs, particularly those that bark. That would account for the number of passive pooches to be found littering the winding streets of Sedella.
Come early evening and I am pestered for a walk and so set out taking care to avoid the horses that had not long passed and which Charlie hates with a passion. I decide that the brook which runs through the narrow valley below my house is the place to go. It is only the final 100 metres that are hard to navigate and I slide, slip and lurch down to the water’s edge. The dogs meanwhile have hurtled headlong and can be heard splashing up and down the brook’s course.  I had envisaged walking the banks of the brook to the track I know is some 600 metres or so further along. Once again this day I was thwarted in my original intent. The banks are precipitous and over-grown, and the water too deep to wade through. I find myself on the far side of the brook, some 50 metres on with nowhere to go but back from whence I came or up. I chose up. Up a very steep hillside whose earth is loose and the only tracks are those made by goats. Up to the wrong side of the valley. Up, whilst the dogs send loose rocks clattering down towards me as they bound effortlessly onwards.

slightly to the left is where I surfaced!

As I paused to regain my breath, clinging to a prickly shrub as my feet sought purchase, I mulled over the sheer stupidity of my actions. No phone in my pocket should I slip, the possibility of non-avoidance of dog-propelled rocks and no idea how to get back when I get to the top – what had I been thinking? Resolution – get home in one piece and not be so idiotic in future.  Some 90 minutes after leaving the house I found myself staring back at it from the opposite hill. ‘Now to get back there, before the sun sets’. Towards the lake will not work, so I headed in the general direction of Sedella. It crossed my mind that somewhere I would have to breach the brook again.  Cross that bridge, should there be one, when I find it. Fortuitously I discovered a track that brought me to the brook at a narrow clear crossing with the track continuing on the other side. Marching on we headed up the slope on the correct side of the valley. Doubt did kick in towards the top as I looked at the track on which my house sits; on a different rise to the one I was on. Had I sold myself a pig in the poke? The sun was sinking and I did not relish the prospect of walking the hills in the dark.
Momentarily I was distracted from my woes by the sight of a somewhat deceased goat. The skin had been nearly completely pulled back from its skull but the collar was still round its neck. Its hide lay flat. Thankfully Charlie decided not to roll in the dead creature (an unfortunate habit he has when happening upon erstwhile animals).
Relief was imminent as I surmounted the rise, saw the ruined house - which still housed some creature, but I did not stop to look – and regained my familiar track. As we rounded a bend we came across the horses that I had sought to avoid. Fate has an odd sense of humour.
The relief of a hot shower was multiplied by the knowledge that I had been sensible enough not to put off ‘til tomorrow what could be done today! I watched the sun finally slip below the horizon as I sipped on a cold can of beer and tucked into a healthy salad. Funny how experiences that could so easily go wrong make you feel so alive. At about 10pm, as I sat researching some paid(!) work, the clatter of my garden furniture disappearing from the veranda sent me outside.  The wind, which had been absent all day, blew forcefully around the house. I retrieved the garden furniture and placed them in the dining room.
As I lay in bed, the wind continued to gain strength. The shutters rattled, the curtains billowed and I lay there thinking about the goat’s carcass. Possibly the reason Charlie had not rolled in it is that the only remains were the hide, skull and collar. The skeleton was gone. There were no putrefying innards to attract the Labrador nose. I would have thought vultures would have taken the hide as well, maybe not.  Vultures led me to think of the most wondrous sight I had seen on my return from the gas run. 40 or so eagles had been circling the mountain by the turning onto my track. Gently wheeling as they rode the thermals they were magnificent to see. Stopped by the side of the road watching the awesome creatures I had cursed my lack of binoculars and camera.
Sleep was not forthcoming. From the kitchen window I looked onto the garden bathed in a brilliant white light. The giant moon spilled its beams across the white washed walls and white gravel. It was bright enough to read by. The wind, far from abating, was growing ever stronger as I ambled back to bed with a mug of hot chocolate. It was as if the wind would pick up the house and transport it far, far away. I felt like Dorothy in Kansas. Eventually I closed the window to muffle the deafening roar of the wind. ‘The only problem is’, I thought as sleep finally covered me, ‘I haven’t got any red shoes to get me back home’.



Saturday, 23 October 2010

Post Haste!

Wednesday 20th October, 2010
The postal system has been explained to me by a neighbour. I should not expect delivery to the door (I gathered that by the lack of letters), instead I should meet Maria Jesus between 11.30 and 12 Mon-Fri at the entrance to the village. Maria is the post lady and she will be pleased to see me as she holds a considerable amount of my post in the back of her blue Citroen.
Thursday 21st October, 2010
Maria was pleased to see me! A few muttered words from me about ‘I didn’t know’ etc .etc .were well-received. She explained the process. A lovely lady; very friendly and happy to help.
A picture is forming of how village life is maintained up here. As I mooched to the local shop for Fanta and bread supplies I noted the presence of a butcher’s van. It would be hard not to spot as the man was mobbed by the ladies of the village.
Daily – post lady and local shop for fresh bread
Mondays – market for naff clothes and far more importantly fruit and veg
Thursdays – butcher in his van

I just need to know when the winery makes its rounds and I’m pretty much sorted!

In an emergency, a ‘quick’ trip halfway down the mountain to the next village, Canillas de Aceituno, will see me, even on a Sunday, able to visit butchers, bakeries and other shops. It also has the benefit of an ATM for moment of poor cash-flow management.

I think I may find it very hard to leave.

Where the butcher and local shop can be found


‘The Disappointment of Ed’ or ‘Birds’

Saturday 16th October, 2010
After a week of selling myself as a freelance writer for little more than a litre of milk a day, and considerably less than an escort earns in a night on the coast, the weekend was going to be restful. And a little alcoholic.
The arrival of the drinking dream team (Jan & Ed) on Saturday evening saw me rested with The Day of the Triffids finished and half-way through Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The sort of weekend one relishes after a hard slog at the desktop. The sun had shone brilliantly all day and with its setting the night came alive. Sedella though, seems in a semi-somnambulant state whatever the time of day. Several libations sunk at the first watering-hole, we piled into the restaurant next door to sample Axarquian specialities. (Axarquia being the region of Andalucía in which Sedella sits). Chivo, or kid, is probably the more localised speciality. I went for the cutlets whilst Ed tried it in almond and garlic sauce.  Jan meanwhile, selected suckling pig in sauce. My cutlets, small as they were, were sweet and tender, I would definitely recommend them. Ed’s kid was seemingly the liver, kidney and rump. Whilst the sauce was neither particularly almond-y or garlicky, the meat was tender and tasty. Jan’s suckling pig did not come out as we expected in its entirety but rather cooked in a pot with ‘pig sauce’. Though disappointed with its appearance, the meat was, yes!, tender and tasty! Having perused the menu in more detail, we may opt for the price per kg, suckling pig which requires ordering 24 hours in advance.  That should see the little porker laid out for us to enjoy.
Drinks were imbibed, pool was played and the Real Madrid game was in evidence in each of the bars. Upon the stroke of drunkenness, we meandered home.
Before departing for the village a rather sorrowful pigeon had descended into the garden; rather brave with 4 interested dogs in attendance. It hopped from car to car and closer inspection revealed damage to its back. However we tried to dissuade it from staying, the pigeon persisted in landing on the ground. This was until such time as his tail feathers came within millimetres of Squiff’s mouth. We were reluctant to leave the ailing aviator but its retreat to the roof gave us hope that it would escape a grisly death. Upon return we were glad to note the lack of bird feathers and entrails decorating the outdoor space.
As the night progresses and the level of Pacheran in the bottle receded, the pigeon made its return. As Ed and I clung to the 3 dogs that were chomping at the bit to get to the bird, (Jake having retired to the sofa), said creature calmly strolled along the ground towards us. Back and forth, back and forth, this bird had no intention of dying peacefully elsewhere. At times its head drooped and it looked for all the world as if its demise was imminent. I put the dustpan at the ready to fling its unfortunate carcass into the campo. But it persevered. Eventually, as the Pacheran level dropped dangerously low, I had had enough. The bird was obviously not long for this world so I decided to hasten its departure and released Squiff from my grasp. With a concerted effort the pigeon rose just above Squiff’s nose successfully scaled the perimeter fence and disappeared into the darkness of the Axarquian night.

Looking glam(!), still full of Pacheran
 The dawn, or mid-morn sun to be more precise, saw no sign of the bird and one can only assume it met its end beyond my empire. We set off, still fuelled by the previous night’s accomplishments, and scaled the nearby peak and cast our eyes over a different vista of the Sierra Tajeda. The greater mission still lay ahead – to find the Liverpool match live. We had been assured that the match was to be live at Rafa’s bar – but it was not to be. A rather despondent Ed was informed that they didn’t have Sky and nor did anywhere else in the village. We tried the next village without success. During a restorative cerveza I comforted Ed with the thought that he really did not want to witness another Liverpudlian debacle and they were probably losing. Jan meanwhile continued to harangue him over his choice of playing a game on his phone to holding a conversation with her pre-breakfast. Return to the house confirmed my prediction. Ed’s departure was in the knowledge that his team languished in the relegation zone and that with Jan as his driver he was not free from derisory comments for some time. I waved them off…smiling!
Monday 18th October, 2010
Monday brought further bird trouble. Having returned from a fruitful search for UK/Euro plug adaptors I left the car window open. A later trip to the car found a bird in some distress caught behind the sun-screens in the back of the car (installed for dog comfort). As I opened the back door and two dogs leaped in, the bird extricated itself and flew out of the window. Only a certain amount of droppings to clear up!
This year has been rather bird-oriented with two instances when holed up in Botolph Claydon, of birds flying into my sitting room, watching me and then flying out.  I was convinced this was a bad omen until a little research indicated it meant a change of fortune, good fortune. It proved to be the case with my arrival here. And so it would seem here. I now have to paid offers of writing work – paltry amounts of money they may be compared to previous wage packets – but I’m winning bids and that can only be good news.
Here’s to a bountiful season!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Bulls to you.

Friday 15th October, 2010
In a bid to improve my Spanish and stave off boredom when my eyesight failed for reading purposes, I turned on Andalucía TV. There were a number of info-ads informing me how to stay healthy by eating lots of fruit and veg and walking. Duly noted. Then an advert of another kind…shot of matador, his tight sequinned trousers and bolero jacket glinting in the sun, the bull twisting and turning as it fights a losing battle…shot of bulls walking through the mud with a close-up of their hooves…shot of rancheros rounding the bulls up in the campo…shot of the large bull silhouette that adorns many a hill-side. Then a manly voice, with passion, announcing that this is Toros para Todos. Hooked; unfortunately I was laughing so much that I missed when it is aired, Toros para Todos, ‘Bulls for All’ – what more could you want from TV?
Well, quite possibly El Poder de la Talisman (The Power of the Talisman). This is so bad that the actors and scriptwriters of El Dorado would have won a Grammy or BAFTA.  I have a feeling that my Spanish is going to come on leaps and bounds with such viewing material as this. It is simple, so the language is simple. Fantastic!
Poder a los toros!!
(Power to the Bulls!!)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Hair of the Dog

If only the title referred to the need for a drink to deal with the ill-effects of a hangover. I should be so lucky. Instead it refers to the seemingly incessant task of sweeping pale dog hairs from the casa's floors. I need me a hoover!!

That is not to say that I have not been indulging in the odd glass of vino. The discovery of a quaffable bottle of white for a mere 95 cents from Mercadona ensures that, even when I'm down to the wire, I will be able to partake of a little light refreshment. I can hear murmurings of disquiet at the quality of such wine. Granted, it is not Chablis, but it is definitely an improvement on some of the filth I have been served (warm) in English pubs. And not a hint of anti-freeze either!

My concerted effort at bidding on freelance work may be about to bear fruit. I don't want to tempt fate but I have a test assignment on Nice to complete by noon Friday which, if it passes muster, could see me with about 200 euros of paid work. To this end I have been frantically trying to get my printer connected to my laptop. But to no avail; 2 hours of fruitless installing, uninstalling, downloading, installing...ad nauseum resulted in no further progress than when I started. This means no lying in bed with sheafs of paper, a highlighter and a glass of wine (my preferred method of research) in order to give myself a headstart tomorrow. Instead I have redoubled my efforts with the book and duly multiplied by 2 the number of words I promised to write each day. But by God it was hard! Re-reading the stoned exploits of Sara and myself as we wreaked our own kind of havoc on the sensibilities of the good people of Amsterdam, has left my eyes red-rimmed and my sides aching.

Here's to tomorrow and Nice. Cheers!

Doggy Dos

Should news reach ears of a weakening of the ozone layer around southern Spain, particularly a mountain by the name La Maroma, then we need look no further than Jake. His penchant for drinking the water out of the trough earmarked for sheep and horses has had unpleasant side-effects. I wish I had more to report on his activities but that I'm afraid is it. One adorable but pongy pooch.












P.S.
I raised my head from writing and there, framed in the window, were two hawks/kestrels. Hovering on the thermals they studied the ground intently then, arching their backs slightly, they lifted their heads turned as one, and drifted off across the valley. Beautiful! The dappled colouring of their feathers, the sharp hooked beak and talons ready for ripping flesh - an awesome sight. Nature is glorious.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Preface Perfect?

I've written the Preface, which as a friend kindly pointed out is one step up from the bit on the back! I have also outlined the book and written the contents page. Granted, not many words there, but you need to get the structure right or you'll have a jumble of words and nowhere to create suspense, a desire to read on. Let's hope I've managed it.

To bring the inspiration quota up to the desired level, I toddled out to the drive with a cup of tea. It would be impossible to tire of that view. Each day brings a different outlook. The sunlight refracting and reflecting through and on the clouds pushes areas into the the shadows and brings others into sharp relief; it changes by the hour. Where distant ridges had previously been silhouetted against the sky now the nuances of their cracks and crevices are in evidence. It is divine.

So, whilst the poetic is driving my fingers I must advance with the book.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Still no NIE - balls!

Friday 8th October, 2010
I bottled it. My first crisis of confidence. I did not have the nerve to attend the police station to apply for my NIE, not on my own. Panic set in – they won’t speak English, their Spanish will to be too quick for me to understand, I’ll look an absolute fool. Can’t do it!
So I didn’t. I have arranged for Jan to accompany me next week. I know this all sounds rather pathetic but inside this body there is still an insecure little girl who sometimes cannot bring herself to do things where she may just fail. And talking to strangers…only in the last 5 years have I managed to screw up the necessary bravado to phone people I don’t know without prevaricating. I always put it off until the last minute, always. Still, friends are here to help and help Jan will. Good girl!
The day has not been a complete waste of time. I meandered around the village which is in the process of having most of its roads/lanes dug up and resurfaced. It is very quaint, a typical pueblo blanco with white washed houses lining the narrow streets whilst a riot of flowers erupt from window-boxes. One of the publicity photos for Sedella shows a man walking the streets with a laden mule. This is no myth. I have seen the man on 3 separate occasions, once with the mule laden with kindling and he riding on its back; another with the mule walking up the hill as he hung on to its tail, and today as he brought the mule into the village followed by a young horse. Old Spain is alive and kicking in these hills. I wonder if he could source me a burro to take me home after a night on the vino?
I found the town hall (ayuntamiento) which is where I shall have to pay my car tax, car tax is locally fixed in Spain; more inner demons to battle. To deal with this silly situation I studied Spanish for 2 hours today and can now master sentences such as:
                It is possible, but not probable, that I will need to buy a house if it is not very expensive.
and
                What do you think of the political situation in Spain and Mexico at the moment?
Whilst the first sentence is highly unlikely to be uttered by me or anyone else for that matter, I dread the resultant answer to the question should I ever pose it. I might just save the question for when I am able to comprehend the answer.
I have also spent a goodly time planning the chapters of my book. I feel it safe to say that NIE or no NIE my day has not been wasted.
Charlie Update
A new game for Charlie, yes the inventive pooch is at it again.
Rules:
When Mummy is lying on the steep part of the drive catching some rays whilst planning her literary masterpiece, lie quietly above her at the gate.
Have to paw a ball.
When the mood takes, drop the ball so it runs into her face.
Look apologetic, reclaim the ball and take up original position.
REPEAT.
(Until such time as Mummy loses the plot, in all senses, and hurls the ball to the bottom of the garden).