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


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.