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.
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.
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.
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.