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.


Thursday, 11 November 2010


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.