Living in Spain, warts and all

Under the Macroscope

So life lurches on as always.

There is inevitably an ongoing list of things that need attention here, which always includes at least one item thrown at us by the Powers That Be, and that always come to the attention fairly close to a strict deadline for its completion imposed by those same Powers.

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This is, of course, in direct contrast to the catatonic approach adopted by said Powers in the event that we should be bold enough to require some action on their part.

Following my long break in the UK, and then when I emerged from my recent  brief incarceration in that place that will henceforth remain nameless, I discovered that an onus had fallen upon us all to complete a form for the bank. We have been informed that it has to be completed and returned to the bank before 30 April this year, or accounts would be frozen.

The form is entitled  formulario personas físicas. This translates as “form for physical people” … so, as I’m a self-confessed slob, does that mean that I’m exempt?

Apparently not.

I have tried to discover the purpose of the thing, without much success.  Rumour had it that the banks all needed a digital signature on file for each customer, but I’m not buying that – I’ve had the same account for twelve years and they’ve always had a copy of my signature in their system.

The questions? Standard stuff that always bemuses me. Like, “Dear Mrs Fletcher, at (full address given), please enter your full name and address on this form. Also your identification number, nationality and telephone number, which we’ve known and used throughout our relationship with you”.

But then it becomes slightly more intrusive. What monetary activity do you carry out? If the funds in your account aren’t yours, please tell us to whom they belong. Are you politically active? Is anyone related to you or associated with you politically active? If so, give names. What’s your annual income? Have you benefitted from an inheritance or donation? Do you have property to rent? Tell us about any other income you have.

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Now, call me suspicious. In fact, call me downright sceptical, if you like. Do these questions really sound like they are designed to elicit information required by a bank, or do they smack more of a lazy tax office sweep to you?

Big Brother is alive and thriving. Just a hint, though, guys. If I was involved in money-laundering or other nefarious activity, do you really think I’d be a good little sheep and write it all down for you on your stupid little form?

sheep

Torn

I’m a little late, but not entirely missing!

I didn’t manage to write last weekend because I was busy trying to sneak in as many cuddles as possible with Oliver before flying back to Spain Sunday evening.

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So shoot me.

I was, if I’m honest, a touch ambivalent about returning to this peninsula. Not only because I was leaving behind my new grandson, but also for the reason that various sun worshippers here in Spain had been sending me boastful messages of temperatures in excess of 30ºC, which didn’t strike me as being conducive to a gentle return to normality after my month-long sojourn.

I had actually been enjoying the soft thrum of rainfall on the roof of my UK abode, in the same way that I was appreciating the easy greenery that it nurtures. Much as I love our river valley spot here in Spain, it is true to say that it is much of the year scorching and dry. The maintenance of any sort of garden becomes a daily chore of watering the delicate plants that are welcome, and the endless war against the hard-as-nails native triffids that can grow vigorously on a dry stone throughout a five-month drought. More than anything, I found I missed grass. While Ben and numerous other UK folk bemoan the need to mow the stuff weekly, it is a great source of disappointment to me that it is almost impossible to grow a lush emerald lawn here.

My place of residence in damp old England is a large static caravan. Cyclic, my life, much? This spacious and downright luxurious two-bed unit is, however, to the Sardine Tin (in which you may remember I spent some eighteen months of my life whilst building the house in Spain) as a prince is to a toad. It is far more civilised, and entirely without pain! It is situated in east Cheshire, alongside the Macclesfield canal that sees the regular passage of colourful narrowboats, walkers, dogs and ducks, and I have loved being there.

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So the thought of melting anew upon homecoming was almost enough to make me tear up my flight tickets and dig in as a permanent satellite of planet Oliver.

The only thing that tipped the balance and persuaded me to drag myself to the airport was my useless upper left appendage, which was continuing to reject the implanted metal bits to the point where it was beginning to resemble a stocking full of marbles.

Back I came obediently, then, as planned, to find that a) the weather in Spain is now every bit as cool and damp as was the UK, and b) I was anyway listed for the second operation on my arm on Wednesday.

I am going to speak now of the arm and its treatment for the very last time ever, and will henceforth summarily excommunicate anyone who mentions it to me again.

The operation on Wednesday morning was in the end far more difficult and traumatic than the original, since it’s obviously easier to insert than to remove. I was conscious throughout the four hour process, having been subjected first to the unconscionable torture inflicted upon me by the anaesthetist as he attempted to numb four major nerves by direct injection into various points on my shoulder and neck. Suffice it to say that success in this matter did not come easily, but when it did, his prize was convulsive, violent and fearsome movement of my arm. Unfortunately, said limb was not in such a position to allow me the satisfaction of accidentally punching him in the nuts, which action may have allowed him suitably painful empathy.

As far as my theatre experience is concerned, I will only say this: the drilling and slurping sounds to which I was subjected first time round paled into insignificance in comparison with the hammering and sawing that I suffered this time…

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I then spent two nights in hospital under observation because my elbow continued to bleed. As therefore did my ears. Rest and recuperation are definitely not a given luxury in a Spanish hospital.

My room-mate, Puri(ficación), was bed-bound following hip replacement surgery, so at least one member of her family stood guard to jump to her every need at all times. This is the norm – everyone, including nurses, looked aghast when John left my side to attend to the kennels, eat (see note below) or sleep. Puri’s night guard slept in a chair in the room, snored like a warthog, loved to watch TV for a solid seventeen hours a day, and objected to open windows. During the day, there were a minimum of six ever-changing visitors around Puri’s bed (and by necessity of space, also around mine), talking at elevated noise levels to combat the sound of the TV which was then turned up by the night guard to exceed the noise of the conversation, which was then raised to drown the TV (and so on and so on).  These visitors also managed between them to maintain full occupation of the loo to the extent that I could barely slip in myself…

My final word on this subject. Spanish hospitals are brilliant – they are spotlessly clean, efficient and well-staffed. There is no hesitation in carrying out necessary tests. Nurses on night duty respond quickly to a summons (I know this because Puri’s carer tested them to destruction). I couldn’t fault the treatment I received.

But the food? Ye gods. Light, easily digestible and healthy are all descriptives to avoid when it comes to hospital food in Spain. My last lunch, which is a pretty good example of the stuff presented generally, involved a plate piled with a random mixture of chick peas, chorizo, rabbit and lumps of luminous yellow potato, heavily laced with garlic. While this works well as a tapas dish in a restaurant, its post-operative effect on me was nothing short of vomit-inducing.

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John ate well in hospital, anyway.

The Return of the Klutz

And a cheery hello again!

You can close your mouth now. I did promise, and it’s only week two.

This week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to clarify that which, as mentioned briefly last week, befell me most recently in my long line of mishaps.

For those of you unfamiliar with my modus operandi, I generally end up in hospital and in plaster due to a combination of features, almost always involving heights and at least one animal (husband included).

I remained true to type on this occasion.

A little back story first. Before Christmas, a small rogue dog managed to get into Chikkinopolis and scare the holy crêpe out of our flock of chickens. Most of them managed to fly up into an almond tree and escape his worst attentions, but one lame-brain (Harriet, the “Deb” of the chicken world) thought it would be a good idea to wedge herself into a hole in the wall.

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Thus having presented her plump rear end to the afore-mentioned trouble-making canine, she ended up pretty well chewed in the area of said rear end before I could respond to all the fuss and feathers and effect a rescue.

I truly believed she would give up the ghost overnight, since birds in general are very prone to shock and she was quite damaged. But I placed her in a cat carrier in the warm kitchen, washed and patched her to the best of my ability, and hand-fed her with baby parrot food. She survived, against all odds, although she was lame on one leg.

Early January, the weather was clement, so I decided to take her outside to our covered fly-free zone on the front terrace to scratch around and exercise her weak leg. With her clasped in my arms, I tried to pass through the French doors with her, unaccompanied by dogs, so that she could enjoy a little freedom unmolested. Regrettably, I failed. A small dog managed to slip through under my feet, and then a large dog grasped the opportunity thus presented to barge me from behind, so that I hit the top step (of the three descending to the terrace) in a perfect position to trip over the small dog, landing at the bottom of the steps without having touched the two steps in between.

And I landed on my elbow, in such a way that both forearm bones broke and displaced, a ligament snapped and the nerve was crushed. A slight mess, then.

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I have been asked why I didn’t just chuck the chicken and fall on my hands. People, please! It happened in a split second! Had I been blessed with a decent pause for thought before making contact with the concrete, clearly I would have face-planted so that at the very least I could have benefitted from plastic surgery!

Instead, as it turned out, I had to spend the best part of a week in hospital having plates, screws and other inserts placed inside my arm to allow it to repair. So-called friends, including my husband, took delight in labelling me the bionic woman, in the mistaken belief that this is in some way humerous (pun intended). However, it transpires that my body is now rejecting all the foreign stuff and I will need to go back into hospital soon to have it all removed.

More “Scrapheap Challenge”, then, I’m thinking.

Deborah Who?

Almost like Doctor Who but much less famous and far more dangerous! And, regrettably, incapable of time travel, or I really wouldn’t be sporting these wrinkles…

Fourth Doctor and the TARDIS by LinusL

Sooo – a big HELLO to any of my previous readers who haven’t yet shuffled off this mortal coil

I, in a moment of celebratory fervour, made a New Year’s resolution to renew my acquaintance with the keyboard. OK, I will hold up my hands and confess that I’ve left it a while to action this lofty declaration. Especially since I made it in 2013.

But apparently people occasionally still read “Bitten by Spain”, the book. Who knew? Some even buy it, although this latter group is but a very tiny subset of the first.
So perhaps it can be inferred that maybe people still enjoy sitting in their fave book corner, reading about my various struggles and calamities and thanking their own personal Divine Being that they’re not me!

To that end, I have made a firm promise to my current literary line manager, the inimitable Jack Scott of the fabulous “Perking the Pansies” (book and blog) fame. I promised that I will once again resume the weekly blogging. I have resolved to keep that promise, and have further resolved to hold fast to that resolve. As far as circumstances allow, that is…

First, I guess I owe some sort of explanation for my prolonged lassitude, and so I’ll try to present a brief resumé of some of the larger of my pathetic excuses for having vacated these hallowed halls for in excess of two years, as follows:

1) John finally resigned from the Fire Brigade in December 2012 to join me full-time in Spain in running the kennels business (esPerro Residencia Canina de Lujo)

Given the normal strains of colliding periodically whilst living two fairly separate and very different lives (see The Part-Time Wife….), the 24/7 exposure has left us arm-wrestling ever since:

2) We lost three members of our canine family in uncomfortably rapid succession – first, the gentle and elderly Lady Jade, followed by my partner in crime and fall guy, the giant Marcos, and finally the slightly mad and always hungry Qivi. Each and every one of them tore my heart to shreds, but Marcos – aaahh, Marcos – I still haven’t quite got over losing him, and I’m not sure I ever truly will. I wrote about him almost constantly, and was lost without him…;

 

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3) Of course, a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and so I am still prone to farcical accidents. There have been a few in the last couple of years, including a car crash which was really, really, really not my fault in that I was T-boned on my road by a guy ignoring a clear give way sign. I also managed to break my wrist when I fell from a small step-ladder whilst reaching too far (which was entirely my fault). But I topped all mishaps thus far (ever in my life, that is) with the latest, which I will report to you in a more leisurely fashion at a later date. Suffice it to say that I currently have full use of one arm only, which makes typing a slightly more tedious and error-prone exercise;

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4) The kennels business turned out to be a high-performance beast – it roars like a lion and did nought to sixty in two seconds. A business with no let-up, I ran it pretty much single-handed for the first year, leaving me scarcely time to draw breath until John arrived.

At which point we (The Management) found that we had very different views about marketing, pricing and various other aspects of the thing. So we called a management and strategy meeting (a.k.a. the afore-mentioned arm wrestling contest) and I was subsequently voted off the board. So John now runs the business (and is, indeed, making a fine and splendid job of it) while I fill a back-up role in the accounts and information technology departments, which leaves me a lot more free time and therefore little excuse;

and finally,

5) My outstanding son and his utterly wonderful wife became pregnant last June, and so I have been travelling much more.

I am currently, therefore, writing this from the UK, as my first grandson Oliver was born last Thursday. Of course, it wasn’t without its hitches – Rache has married into my family, after all – and he was in fact delivered by emergency Caesarian with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and had to be resuscitated. They are all fine now, though Rache will need a few weeks yet to be considered fully recovered, and the family unit has already meshed nicely. I am more than blessed to be here with them and able to share so much of it.

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I only hope devoutly that I’m not a bad influence, and that Ollie doesn’t mean to go on as he started…

When when is whenever

I have a need to talk today about the flirtatious but casual relationship that the Spanish conduct with the clock.

Coming from a culture as I do of strict time slots, an unhealthy obsession with timeliness and an intimate acquaintance with deadlines, I still, nine years on, struggle with the laissez-faire (¿dejad pasar in Spanish, perhaps?) attitude to all things remotely associated with time-keeping.

Oh, appointments may be made – I have been presented with enough of them recently to last me a life-time, thanks very much. But whether they actually mean anything much is a hugely questionable matter.

I have never – that’s never – managed to see anyone here at a designated time. And this holds across all manner of appointments, whether it involves me sitting in my car waiting for the appearance of a passenger, waiting in a bar for a friend to take coffee, waiting in a medical establishment for a precise appointment (lunes el 01 octubre a 08:47 – what’s that about?), waiting to see an official of el iltmo. Ayuntamiento, or my asesor, or a dog-owner.

The latter has exceeded all records to date for belatedness.

If I’ve been informed on booking-in that a dog will be collected on departure day in the morning, you can bet your life I won’t see a soul until 7pm. I have even waited until 8pm for an owner to appear for a mid-day pick-up , finally to concede defeat and call him, only to establish that he had been delayed and would be there the following morning.  And then still have had to ‘phone him the next afternoon after his non-appearance. The approach to punctuality is so laid-back as to be horizontal.

I have also experienced a different aspect of this temporal disregard several times to date.

I have fed and watered the guests at the kennels with their evening repast. I have cleaned up after them, sung to them and tucked them up for the night. I have closed their garden doors, so that I comply with the curfews regarding noise imposed upon me in my licence. Then I have returned to the house, to tackle the matter of my sustenance in all this and to pursue that most of elusive of all grails, an evening of relaxation.

Only to be rudely interrupted by the orchestral background of a car engine playing on the camino above the house accompanied by a strong solo on the horn.

This is, without fail, the music of an extended Spanish family who have decided to take a drive out into the campo to demand, unannounced, an inspection tour of the new kennels.

So I am obliged to drag myself back up the hill, to unlock all that I have only just locked, disturbing the recently-settled hounds who subsequently decide that, since I’ve mentioned it, it is high time for choir practice.

I then have to walk the crowd of sightseers around, pointing out in raised tones all the (multitudinous) luxury features of the accommodation while concurrently being deafened, and then hang around discussing the wondrous characters of their own pooches, before compiling a precise quote for a potential, provisional and unspecified stay for Lula or Macu or Nemo or Niko or Nuca.

Now I am at this point compelled to mention the guy who turned up last night in exactly this fashion, except that he had managed to deter the wife and kids and mother-in-law and next-door neighbour from coming along for the ride and was therefore solo apart from his dog.

“How much would it cost me to leave Rocky here for a week?” I was asked. Medium-sized dog rate, less discount for a stay of seven days or more – I calculated quickly and gave him his answer.

At which he promptly handed me the lead, with Rocky attached.

“See you next Friday, then”

Okayyyy. Don’t mind me, I live and breathe my work.

Dogs, on the other paw completely, are obsessive sticklers for time. They know exactly to the nanosecond when it is time for breakfast or supper, and will shout out to remind me of the fact with pinpoint accuracy.

I am convinced that all these smart-arsed animal behaviour experts and veterinarians who think that they know all there is to know about the dog have missed a fundamental evolutionary development in the species. Every dog, I have come to realise, is born with a miniature atomic pocket time-piece cunningly concealed about his anatomy – and he’s not afraid to use it.

The Bitch is Back

Forenote: I did actually write this four days ago. I posted it to my WordPress account (which has mutated somewhat since I last used it), lulled into a false sense of security by the invitation on the front page to make a new post. I typed it, edited it, tweaked and polished it, added a diagram, hit ‘publish now’ and was met with an error message and the complete deletion of all my work.
So I have sulked until now. Sorry.

 

My excuses for my lamentable lack of productivity of the verbose kind in the last six or so months  are manifold. I shall, for anyone interested, regale you with them now.

1) I have a rather incapacitating herniated L5-S1 disc (lower back) that precludes me sitting in one position for too long;

2) Point (1) has resulted in a plethora of medical appointments and the incalculable amount of time involved in actually trying to procure these appointments.

3) The luxury boarding kennels esPerro, which opened after years of battling with building materials (hence the back) and bureaucracy (hence the attitude), are now fully up and running. This summer I have, therefore, undergone a time-consuming baptism by fire – not only due to the sustained and unnecessarily high temperatures endured in Spain this year, but also as a result of the clamber up the steep learning curve of dog boarding that has resulted in the need for many tweaks in design and the concurrent invention of new swearwords;

4) We have had no rain here for several decades (please note: this changed dramatically on Friday, following my penmanship on Thursday!!) and so I have been obliged to coax and wheedle and point a hose at our garden and crops for inordinate amounts of time that could more profitably be spent elsewhere;

5) Ryanair’s spat(s) with the Spanish aviation authority, together with the usual school holiday price mugging and exacerbated by the UK’s hosting of the Olympics, have conspired to render air fares at such dizzy heights that one is required to sell one’s first-born to afford them. The upshot of which is that John has been here in Spain to assist me practically never.

6) It’s entirely possible that I am a lazy bugger.

All in all, I find myself constantly juggling – my physical bits (to carry out the simplest of tasks, like drive, walk, bend to place dog food at one end of a dog and collect the output at the other, etc) without sending hot daggers of pain shooting through my back and various attached parts, and my time (to take account of feeding and cleaning schedules and medical appointments in far-flung places, all within the framework of the usual crap with which we are all beset). Oh, and the construction of two new websites, the groundwork of a new business initiative, the ongoing beading classes, the promotion of the new edition of Bitten by Spain (the book) plus a new anthology called Forced to Fly 2 (due out in October), of which I am a contributor (the rest of it is very good, though!), the redecoration of much of the house following the earthquake last year and so on and so on….

 

So writing has been relegated to the bottom of a rather large pile. That’s not to say that I don’t continue to write stuff in my head, as it occurs – that has continued apace. But it hasn’t got any further than that for some considerable time. And, on reflection, it’s probably as well, since a Venn diagram of my mind recently would probably look something like this:

Probably best not released

 

But as I was lying on the magnetic resonance bed in the Hospital de la Real Piedad in Cehegín at  09:00h this morning (as I have done for the last five days and have yet to do for the next nine) for my rehab (-ilitación – but telling people that I’m in rehab gives me a small amount of twisted  satisfaction), it occurred to me thus:

In common with the other walking wounded in this place, I am a captive audience. I am staring vacantly around at the cool and reassuring duck-egg blue walls, washed by the aseptic glare of harsh white lights which glint off various instruments of torture physiotherapy. I am listening to mind-numbingly tedious radio emanating from a tinny silver globe, punctuated by the occasional squeak from the equipment interspersed with the odd involuntary fart (which hurts my back terribly, in that I am prone and inactive and the fart is not mine, and for some reason other people’s farts are hilarious and I am therefore heavily suppressing the mirth that desperately wants to burst forth at each apologetic little ‘blaaaat’).

Apart from that, I am terminally bored.

But then I realised that I have a notebook and pen in my bag.

Time to write. Tough luck, guys!

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I recently made my way home from the airport during a late October evening into an absolutely vivid and glorious late autumn dusk. To the west, marching along a classic Mediterranean skyline, were the black silhouettes of tall palm trees reaching exactly as they should into a pink and orange firmament framed by deep turquoise darkening to indigo. Completing the picture, as is only right and proper, were the myriad dark specks of birds streaming southwards before the cold winter weather envelops this land in earnest.

There was, however, a jarring note in this idyllic scene. While the colourful skies were behaving themselves perfectly, with all the hues merging beautifully in all the right places, and the black palms were waving obligingly and elegantly in perfect time, driven by the fresh breeze, I was dismayed to note that the flocks of migrating birds were flying in V-shaped formations as sharp and as clean as warm blancmanges. Never before have I witnessed such a straggly, unkempt and frankly disgraceful display. I can only imagine that, charged with the mission of fetching along the Christmas duty-free to their southern relatives, these aviators, to a bird, had sampled one too many in the Spanish bodegas.

I have just had reason to spend a substantial amount of time watching birds flying overhead in the area local to the caravan, too. A loud and unexpected firework, let off early one morning for no apparent reason whatsoever, put the fear of God into the parrots and caused Jack, the African grey, and a recently-added little cockatiel Joey, to take flight through the open barn door. Both were clipped, and neither were in good flying form since they never really had the opportunity to practise, but the strong thermals in the valley were obviously enough to give them lift and we watched horrified as both soared up and disappeared from view.

The area here is densely covered with tall pine trees, and the terrain is mountainous, folded, and ideal for two birds to lose themselves thoroughly. It was therefore with a heavy heart and next-to-no hope of recovery that I turned out to hunt for them.
We had a rough idea of their outward-bound direction, and I know that domestic parrots will usually stay within a mile radius of home for at least a week, but still the task seemed more daunting than the proverbial needle in a whole county full of haystacks.
John was obliged to fly back to the UK that same day, so when I turned out the following morning I was accompanied by Lisa and Donna, who, troopers that they are, arrived early on my doorstep and spent all morning trudging round the near neighbourhood letting the bemused farmers know of my losses, and handing out phone numbers on the off-chance that any one of them should spot either of the birds. To no avail, of course.

The following day, Donna and I went out even earlier, before dawn, with the idea that we would drive a little way into the suspect area and holler at the tops of our lungs as the sun came up, as recommended by internet sites on lost parrots . On our way, we spotted a patrolling Policía Local car, so I screeched to a halt in front of it, leapt from my car and waved them down. Poor guys; they blanched visibly at the vision of an ungroomed and clearly demented Englishwoman coming at them from the dark flailing like a windmill, but they gamely took details and said they’d pass them on to the forest rangers further up into the mountains. They also gave me permission to put up some “Lost” posters (which is handy, because I was going to do that anyway).

But it turned out to be another fruitless journey.

On the way home, disheartened and thirsty, we made our last port of call with the posters to a local dog kennels, probably less than three hundred metres downstream from me as the crow (or parrot) flies but much further by road. I knew that this was run by an English lady I had never previously met. Mavis, who has subsequently become a good friend, had her daughter Trina and four grandchildren Tom, Becky, Lewis and Chelsea staying with her, and all agreed to keep a keen eye out for my wayward birds.

That same day, Lisa and I had arranged to travel down to La Casa de Coko, a parrot sanctuary in Cartagena, about an hour away, to pick up a new bird I was adopting. This adoption had arisen following a prior visit to the sanctuary in which Lisa had conducted an interview for a magazine article she was writing for her North West Murcia Gazette, and I acted as her photographer. Noodle, a green Indian Ringneck parrot, provided one of the star photos. She is a disturbed little bird who has plucked herself right down to oven-ready chicken with a big green pom-pom head (which part she physically can’t reach to pluck, or she would) and I fell in love with her, even though she would surely take out my jugular if I was incautious with her.

So we drove down to pick her up, with me feeling immensely fraudulent to be taking a new feathered friend into my care when I was clearly an unfit mother hen.

Lisa stopped for a coffee when we arrived back at the caravan, and then disappeared with the promise of extra help the following day in the great hunt.

As her tail light disappeared around the bend of the camino, the phone rang. It was Mavis.
“I think we can see your African grey in a tree just across the river. He’s been whistling and calling, and the kids have been calling back to him to keep him interested”.
I got there within three minutes (the Policía Local were fortunately somewhere else) – and there, indeed, was Jack, perched at the very top of the highest pine I have ever seen.

Quivering with relief, I walked very slowly down towards the river until I was about ten metres away from the pine, looking up at Jack. I spoke to him, using the phrases and whistles we use to each other as “flock calls”; he looked down at me, with his head on one side, and whistled back. We kept up this interchange for about ten minutes, while I held aloft a peanut as an offering to tempt him down to me.
Then a car full of young Spaniards drove past at speed, with all the windows wide open, stereo blaring, making as much noise as only Spaniards can, and Jack took off.

I immediately took chase, along with Lewis and Chelsea, in the direction of his flight. This, for us, involved a frenzied scramble uphill from the river through all manner of undergrowth and brambles, insect nests and dog turds (I hope), in a vain attempt each to follow on two (clumsy) legs a creature soaring free on two wings. But we did manage to spot from afar his next landing place – a tree high up on the edge of a cliff at the bend in the river, beyond a fenced villa. Scrambling noisily across treacherous terrain towards the landward side of the villa, I saw a man with his back to me working in the gardens, and so I ran towards the fence to accost him and to ask him to watch the “gris con cola roja” (grey with red tail) in the tree on the other side of his place.

But as I hurtled towards him, and yelled, “¡Perdoneme, Señor!” (excuse me, Sir!) I fell into a ditch immediately before his fence and disappeared entirely from view. The poor man spun, startled, to see absolutely nothing at all. The only evidence that he had been so rudely interrupted was the sound of gentle moaning from a point just below ground level beyond the fence.
I hoisted myself from the cleverly-concealed man trap and arose, now clad in an assortment of grasses and copious amounts of dust, with ripped trousers and beset by a severe limp where I had also torn something vital in my knee during the descent. I made my request about vigilance with regard to the bird in the tree… that was no longer there. Bugger.

We limped back forlornly to Mavis, who announced that Jack had flown back full circle and was somewhere nearby. So we agreed that I would bring his cage to the kennels courtyard and leave it there with food and water in the hope that he was running short of both.

For four more days we continued our look-out. The kids were marvellous – they’d heard my whistles and the expressions I used with Jack, and they used them repeatedly to keep him focussed on the courtyard and his cage. Each morning, I would arrive just before dawn, with Cookie Cockatoo– who was not best pleased about the early mornings and was getting increasingly bad-tempered about the whole thing, but who would, therefore, let forth a tirade of abuse as we arrived which aroused Jack’s interest immensely. We would talk to Jack for up to an hour each day, before he took off into the wild blue yonder just to underline the point that he was free so to do.

On the morning of day five, Jack sat at the top of the Washingtonia palm tree in the courtyard and talked to us for ages before soaring off. And looking, I have to say, so beautiful and natural in flight that I felt (still feel) pangs at the thought of him caged.

But the day turned nasty, as low cloud came in and thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. That evening, the thunder and lightning were much closer, and the rain heavy, so that when I made my way to the kennels, there was no sign of him at all, and I returned to the caravan after a couple of hours’ vigil without any sightings and completely dispirited. I spoke to John that evening, and told him that I though we’d lost him for good, in that the weather had probably forced him to take cover in the denser forest higher up. I was also ever-fearful of the large birds of prey overhead.

I said that I would give it one more day.

The following morning, I got there early as usual; the kids were already all up and about in their pyjamas, and were telling me that they were returning to the UK that evening but that they really didn’t want to go until we got Jack back. I told them that I was in agreement and not to worry, because I would be keeping them hostage until his return, as they were doing such a fine job of communication with him.
Mavis made me a coffee, and I stood outside in the drizzle, while the kids hovered about under the porch, buzzing.

We spent about twenty minutes making all the usual noises and calls to Jack, with no response. I was now convinced that I had been correct the previous evening – he’d gone. I drank my coffee morosely, wandered over to his empty cage and took out a handful of sad-looking wet peanuts without enthusiasm.
“Jack wanna peanut?” I called out over the persistent patter of the rain, holding aloft a soggy and unappetising sample. “Wanna peanut?”

“Oh”, replied Jack, from a low palm branch about two metres up and some five metres away from me.
I froze. The kids froze. The rain continued.

“Hello, Jack. Love you.”

“Love you”, replied Jack.

“Wanna peanut?” I repeated, turning slowly and holding one out directly to him, as I started to inch carefully, cautiously closer, talking softly to him all the while. The kids, bless them, remained utterly still and as silent as church mice. After what felt like an eternity, I stood below him, almost near enough to touch him. He dipped his head and I gently reached the peanut up to him, just far enough away from his beak to make him strain down a little way for it, which, after only brief hesitation, he did.

And I grabbed him. He bit me, but not too hard, as if to say, “Okay, I’m ready to come home, get dry, eat and sleep in safety – but don’t take it for granted”.

The kids screamed loud and long, and danced around in their PJs in the rain like some demented heathen tribe giving thanks, with Trina watching aghast, knowing that she had to dry all their clothes before leaving. I, to my everlasting mortification, howled like a baby. It was a fantastic end to the kids’ holiday, and Trina took them home happy.

I never saw Joey again, though.

Battered and Fried

I was not put on this earth to be decorative.

As children, both my sister Sue and I were extreme tomboys, eschewing dolls and prams for footballs and model spaceships. And we were dangerous.

Such was our reputation that the headmaster of our primary school, at first assembly of each new term, would routinely ask, “Which of the Cassidy sisters is in plaster this time?”

So there you have it. My maiden name was Cassidy. In the summer of my eleventh year, just before I was due to move up to my first grammar school, I managed to break my leg on roller skates. I was, therefore, christened by some perceptive (if not a little out-dated) wag with the nickname ‘Hopalong’ – and so I remained throughout my school days.

For some reason, Fate feels duty-bound to type-cast me forever. I am widely-known as being accident-prone, although in my defence I have to protest that often my injuries are not my own fault – that I am more unlucky than clumsy (although I may be that, too).

I mean, a spider bite (Bitten by Spain) is hardly an act of ineptitude on my part, although drilling a hole in my own leg (Tractors and Drills ) does admittedly fall into that category. And I will confess that I do sometimes take risks, like groping my way along the top of a high wall in the dark, in the wet, in heels ( Falling Rain) and clambering across a steep roof to recover a pathetic cat (Rescue!).

However, it is also true that often I am at the mercy of events that are foist upon me, rather than attributable to me.

Last week, I almost managed to modify my nose for free. I was looking after Ollie, the blue and gold macaw that resided with me for a year or so before he was adopted by Linda and Trevor, who have worked wonders with him and have turned him into a real cuddly bird. The trouble is, he is now so very friendly that he wants to be in someone’s arms all the time – not a possibility when I am trying to clean his flight. So as he swung down from the roof to grab me, I feinted sideways … into the end of a metal perch, face-first, and almost sliced off the tip of my nose.

There was a fair bit of blood, and a resulting effect of having been slashed by a lion. It elicited some raised eyebrows when I ventured forth into public places, but it has settled down now to a mere couple of fine lines that can be covered with a small trowel of concealer.

Not good enough for Fate. I have another parrot boarding with me this week. Mr. Pedro, I have already had cause to mention (The Good, the Bad and the Snuggly ), hates me with a vengeance. Despite constant protestations from Chris, his owner, who assured me when she left him this time that he hardly ever bites now (!), this parrot would kill me if he could but find the opportunity.

This morning I went into the flights to change water and dole out breakfast to all the parrots. In Pedro’s flight, I keep my distance – I wouldn’t even consider an attempt at handling him, as I find two hands are generally not enough and I cannot sacrifice one of them. Further, I enter that particular space bent double, to keep my face firmly pointed down and out of reach of his perch, since he has been known to swing upside down in an attempt to take out my eyes. A face full of parrot does not appeal.

Generally, I find that this works, provided I am quick with the removal of the food bowls.

Today, he was having none of it. As soon as I was in and at his mercy, he actually flung himself bodily off his perch and landed on the back of my head. There, he dug all his claws into my scalp to make sure I couldn’t shake him off, and proceeded to bury the point of his upper beak under the skin, while grinding away with the flat edge of the bottom beak in an attempt to scalp me.

The scalp is a thin piece of skin stretched tautly across the skull. When it is split, it bleeds profusely. I could feel blood running through my hair, but I didn’t dare raise my hands to dislodge my stowaway, for fear of macerated fingers. So I had to grit my teeth and bend further so that he was actually hanging upside down from the top of my head. Then I was able to brush him against a lower perch until he disengaged from my tattered skull.

This occurred almost twelve hours ago. The wound is still weeping dismally, and I am feeling sorry for myself. All ‘ aaah’ and ‘poor you’ expressions of sympathy will be welcome.

This all happened at stupid o’clock this morning, a time at which I am routinely having to heave myself out of bed these days. The cool and changeable weather we were dealt in April has given way to meltdown this week, and I have to get out to water the baby vegetable plants in the huerta before the sun gets to them. I also have to feed and water the parrots and my own pack of hounds before ascending from the house to the kennels to see to residents at around 7am.

Who said I came to Spain for the relaxed lifestyle, the mañana mañana attitude? What went wrong?

Of dog kennels and goats

We had our fiesta de inauguración for the kennels on Sunday, following a week of frantic activity involving the procurement of vast quantities of food and drink, and the mobilisation of friends with fistfuls of paper to spread the word.

It was, general opinion has it, a great success. We had advertised that gates would be open from 12 noon to 8pm, so of course our first visitor arrived a quarter of an hour early and the last turned up at 8pm on the nose, by which time we were beyond tired and ready for a serious bout of doing absolutely nothing – but hey! In between, we had a good show of visitors, some with their dogs along to check out the accommodation, and we registered a cluster of clients and actually took some bookings on the day, too.

Checking out the kennels

My plans, which had run like clockwork through the preceding week, collapsed like a vampire exposed to sunlight into a pile of dust on the morning of the open day, and I have to thank our dear friends Avril and Iain for slaving in the kitchen getting all the food prepared and out to the tables as John and I fielded the early visitors. Likewise, I am indebted to Andreas, our intrepid builder, who put on his barman’s head and manned the beer pumps for a good part of the day.

Kitchen wallahs

Pedro, our obliging though noisy neighbour, kindly demonstrated the sleeping accommodation for us, after the umpteenth visitor had asked if we would take winter bookings for homo sapiens given that the heated beds and the wood-burning stove would surely render the kennels warmer than the normal unheated Spanish property.

Testing the beds ...

The weather was very kind to us, despite dire forecasts of a rainy day – we enjoyed blue skies with patchy clouds of teased cotton wool and the temperatures were probably ideal. A small problem arose mid-afternoon as the wind suddenly got up and whipped all the serviettes and half the sandwiches away to flap madly across the valley like white bats, but apart from that we were pretty blessed.

Some people covered a fair distance to support us during the day, including friends from our previous hunting ground some 80km away here in Spain. But we were most honoured to be joined by the unsurpassed blogger Mo of Spainstruck fame and her hubby Ramón and adorable daughter Sara. Mo has been an e-acquaintance (which is a bit like an imaginary friend – someone to whom you speak via the ethernet but never expect anyone else to see) for about a year now, and she shocked me rigid when I put up the general Facebook invite to the open day and she informed me that they planned to drive in excess of four hours to attend!

And attend they did. Now, Mo was one of the very first people to read the second edition of Bitten by Spain (the book) which was published recently by Summertime Publishing. Which means that she arrived knowing far too much about us and feeling as though she was already familiar with the motley crew of animals, el Cabrón, Pedro next door and all other characters that appear in the book. So I found myself in that strange state of anxiety whereby I was petrified of being a total let-down: of having talked us all up so much that the reality is a wash-out, an anti-climax, a nothing.

However, we fed her plenty of wine and a Thai banquet so I think we may have got away with it. In truth, it was an absolute delight to have met them in the flesh, rather than through Mo’s blog, and we hope very much to return the compliment and travel up to Alcalá de Henares some time soon.

Clara turned up on my doorstep on Monday. Still anxious to show us her appreciation of our efforts to apprehend her thieves (The Hills are Alive…), she wanted to give us a trailer-load of steaming goat excrement. Now this might strike you as odd – but last year, we had to buy the same from a local farmer and it cost us 100€, which surprised us considerably at the time but proved, upon investigation, to be the going rate, so her gift is in fact a generous one.

But it wasn’t enough for us to accept it with our profuse thanks – we were also summoned to the goat farm for a grand tour. I have previously put off this visit a number of times, for several reasons: 1) I don’t eat meat, apart from chicken and fish, and so I don’t find a livestock farm to be a particularly attractive venue; 2) Clara can talk the hind leg off a donkey and therefore a visit to her enclave as a captive audience would be likely to take a considerable chunk out of a day; and 3) it stinks. Nonetheless, on this occasion we were not given much choice, as Clara insisted with an emphatic “Venid! venid!”

They boast over 1000 goats and sheep on the farm. I have to confess that I can’t tell one from t’other – they all look like some kind of hybrid of the two to me. A goodly number of the goats were eating from huge trenches full of old oranges, lemons and red peppers, a process which appears to be a close approximation to perpetual motion to me – food goes in the top end, and farts come out of the bottom in a constant stream.

Other goats were inside a large holding shed waiting to be hooked up to the milking machines. Clara showed us the milk vats – 800 litres of milk are collected per day and are then sent off to become cheese, and she tells us the milking process takes about three hours each day.

The next shed was populated by some seventy-odd three/four-month old lambs, still young and clean enough to be considered cute and cuddly. “They’ll be off soon for meat,” she announced. Bugger – I really didn’t want to know that.

The last shed, when the door was opened, contained a smell that hit the sinuses like a huge bottle of smelling salts – the eyes watered profusely, the pain was akin to having red hot needles shoved up each nostril and into the frontal lobe, and the throat automatically closed off to prevent terminal damage to the lining of the lungs. This shed housed the tiny lambs and kids, just a week or so old, and was therefore kept warm – the effect was like putting a sodden nappy in the oven (definitely not to be tried at home). How those poor wee things were still standing – and breathing – beats me! They must have a far sturdier constitution than I.

We escaped two hours later, when Pedro, Clara’s husband, appeared with our gift loaded into the front bucket of his tractor (a proper grown-up tractor, not a wee distractor like ours). Clara clambered up onto the running strip and they took off for our vegetable patch looking for all the world like the Clampetts.

So we now have a rich and fertile (if a little dubious in the olfactory department) plot that John then prepared for the planting of all our vegetable plugs, which I fully expect to reach hitherto unheard-of size – which matters, despite all rumours to the contrary.

I wrote piece this a few years back – long before the other issue of “Thinking of opening a compliant business in Spain?” reared its ugly head …

I thought it was time to resurrect it!

Thinking of renovating or building in the campo?

Then you may need to consider the following points – from one who has been there, done that, failed dismally…..

(1) The reality check

OK – so you have trawled extensively around various bits of Spain in the economy hire car to discover the mountainside or valley or olive grove that most closely resembles the picturesque setting for your dream home that has been plastered inside your eyelids for many a year. Having avoided untold pressure from various agents specialising in rural properties, you have finally found The One.

Is the situation of the property or land really tenable? Are you happy to replace your shock absorbers every year traversing the potholed and rock-covered camino that leads to it? If you intend to build, is it accessible for lorries to bring materials to it? Are you prepared to use a car each time you need bread and milk, and to pick up your post from an apartado de Correos, or to collect from a more civilised meeting point anyone who needs to get to you? Is it legally for sale?

You can ask to see the Catastro entry to establish who owns it. Not a bad idea to attempt to speak to the owner, too, if humanly possible – the estate agent will be adding a large amount to the sale price for himself, which may mean that you pay much more than the value that will eventually be entered on the escritura. Is the entire area fully represented on the escritura? Historically, much smaller areas than actually exist have been entered, to reduce contributions. If there is a property on the land, does it appear on the escritura (or even on the Catastro)?

If not, insist that it is entered before you consider buying (this one is a case of “do as I say, not as I did”, I regret to say). This process requires the measurement and certification of antiquity by an architect and a valuation by a tasador, plus a visit to the Notary, and does not come cheap If you intend to renovate or build, is it likely to be feasible? You need to know something about the local requirements and restrictions.

For example, in my area (Bullas, Murcia) you will need a parcela of at least 20,000m2 in order to even consider the building of one house. Is the parcela in an area set aside as National Park or otherwise protected? My (illegal) house is sited in an area considered to be non-urbanisable because it is in an area of natural beauty– something we didn’t know when we started it. It doesn’t matter that the parcela we bought, which occupies the south-facing slope of a river valley, was full of rusting car parts, dead dogs, old beer cans and a rubber plantation of condoms all lurking in shoulder-high overgrowth before we turned it into something much more beautiful. Be very careful, and …..

(2) Trust no-one

Except a very good and knowledgeable interpreter if you don’t speak the language, and possibly even if you do. Estate agents here have no obligation to be accurate, fair, or even truthful, let alone qualified or affiliated with a professional body. In my experience, truth is to many agentes inmobiliarios what a bicycle is to a fish. You are likely to be misled, misdirected, misinformed and be told downright lies – even the solicitors and the Notaries have been complicit in this, especially if they are local and (likely) related to the estate agent, builder, vendor…..

While I don’t usually subscribe to the notion that it is best to use English-speaking people to carry out all that is necessary to achieve your desired ends, I would highly recommend seeking out a firm of Solicitors from the UK but firmly based in and knowledgeable about Spain. As Brits, we suffer very much from the expectations that arise from having lived in a country where processes are prescribed, and we believe that in paying a professional here in Spain our interests will be guarded and all necessary procedures will be carried out on our behalf.

Certainly not so. Having sold our first house in Spain and bought our particular little piece of heaven here late 2005/early 2006, I am still struggling, in 2010, to remove my name from the Catastro for the first and get it onto same for the second because I only discovered mid 2007 that this was not done at either point of sale. I’m still not even clear who should have done it, in the time-honoured Spanish fashion of not being able to elicit a clear answer from anyone on the subject.

Ask your Solicitor to detail the processes for buying and for applying for permissions to renovate or build, and check that they are happening.

(3) Be prepared for a long wait

The “mañana, mañana” attitude holds never more true than in dealings with the Ayuntamiento. They are hopeless. Even after we were told by way of a denuncia, that our house-building was illegal (point 1) and that the paperwork our builder and architect alleged to have had in place to commence the work was, in fact non-existent, it took three years to obtain a resolution and the fine from the Ayuntamiento – and even then because I made such a fuss almost daily in the Oficina Técnica that they hurried it through just to get rid of this “crazy English woman who won’t be content until she has given us many thousands of euros to settle a fine”.

Our builder and his architect, by the way, had disappeared off the face of the earth at point of denuncia, leaving us to face the music.

(4) Sourcing the tradesmen

So you have your parcela and your planning permission. To source the tradesmen, insist on seeing their work and talking to their previous clients. Word of mouth is not enough. Be sure that they will be compliant with your requirements, including materials and methods. Anyone who has lived in Spain will know that their methods are a continent apart from the ones we have always known – and, while some are better, some are definitely sub-standard. You may find that some builders are not entirely up to speed with current regulations regarding, for example, sewage disposal treatment units rather than the old concrete soakaways, or solar tanks for hot water. Make sure that you do your homework so that you can keep a tight check on their compliance.

Know what you want in terms of insulation, windows, electrics, plumbing, waste – and demand that it is done to your satisfaction. Be actively involved in decision-making (they hate this, by the way, but it pays off). Do not pay before you are satisfied, or before the job is complete and functional. Above all, BE THERE.

(5) Befriend your Spanish neighbours

They are likely to be your biggest allies in times of trouble. If nothing else, it may at least minimise the encroachments on your land that could otherwise arise (“oh, actually, this particular field is mine … yes, I know it’s shown on your escritura to be yours, but it is an error, and everyone here knows that it is really mine…”).

Be aware that you may need to fork out extra to prove your entitlements. Are you sufficiently deterred? If you still believe, as I did, that you will only be happy once you have realised this particular dream, then go armed and prepared.

Above all, the very best of luck to you.

Believe me, it is worth it, if you have the stamina.

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