Living in Spain, warts and all

Posts tagged ‘visitors’

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.

Foreign Bodies

Forgive my extended silence in this hallowed hall of drivel. My excuses are as follow: week one, I had visitors; week two, I visited; week three, I laid me down to die, or so it felt.

Firstly, Ben and his lovely girlfriend Rachel came to stay for their annual pilgrimage to keep Mother happy.

And the Mother thing, I might just point out, is a constant bone of contention with me. When Ben was small, I encouraged him to call me Debbie, which he did quite happily until he started school, at which point I became Mummy. I have fought this tooth and claw throughout, but it has been a lost battle all along.

I have a name, and I do not want to be addressed by my relationship to the addressor. If John were to call me Wife, or (worse still) Wifey, he would probably find himself needing dentures. And I certainly have never addressed Ben as ‘Son’, or Sue as ‘Sister’. My own mother is, of course, a different matter, and she would probably have a complete hissy fit if I called her Jean, but that’s entirely her choice.

Ben has, with age, found it increasingly amusing to labour the Mum thing with me, and so these days I receive birthday cards with as many ‘My Mummy’ references as possible – usually with little Bunnies and Birdies and Teddies and Woof-Woofs thrown in for good measure. Contrary little sod.

However, that aside, I am always delighted to share a little dedicated time with the two of them. There was, on this occasion, a secret to keep, too. Ben had confided that he was about to propose to Rach – they have been together since school days, and he planned to make his grand gesture on their ninth anniversary, on October first. He further planned an evening get-together at their favourite Italian restaurant with close family and friends that same evening.

So I grovelled to our friends Trevor and Linda here in Spain, who are always good enough to step into the breach should I need to disappear, and to carry out in my stead all the duties that usually fall to me with regard to feeding, cleaning and pampering the motley array of furry and feathered parasites that cling tenaciously within my boundaries and insist vociferously on their rights as squatters.

Rachel must have been somewhat surprised, when I dumped them at the airport at the end of their stay, that I did not become a little tearful in my usual manner. Not as surprised, however, as when she walked into the restaurant on the Saturday night, sporting a beautiful new engagement ring and expecting a romantic meal for two, to find fifteen of us already seated and looking at her expectantly.

Ben had, apparently, taken her for a picnic in the park earlier, to pop the question. All extremely romantic – a trait that he clearly did not inherit from his dad – and perhaps a little self-assured, given that he had already arranged the evening celebrations. I did venture to ask what his back-up plans were had she turned him down, and he confessed that her first response had been, “Can I get back to you on that?” (way to go, Rach!) But she followed swiftly with, “Of course I will!”, so all was well in the end, and his face was saved.

I spent just two nights in the UK – the second being the engagement party. The first, having landed mid-afternoon and then caught a bus to the fire station, since John was on day duty, can only be described with a little background first regarding a rather strange mind-set of John’s.

Throughout our entire time together, we have, in common with most people, borrowed money in order to move house, carry out home improvements and so on. I wonder, though, just how many other people at such junctures feel as John always does that an increased burden of debt automatically equals time to buy a different car? It happens every single time – so much so that I only have to hear the golden words “I’ve been thinking….” when juxtapositioned with a large spend event to know that we are about to arm-wrestle again over his wheels.

And so when I bowled into the fire station, dishevelled from travelling, hungry and thirsty and desperate for a shower, I should not have been in the least surprised (given that we are currently haemorrhaging money into the barn-to-kennels project) to be met with a heartfelt plea for a change of vehicle. The current mode of transport, John announced, needed a new clutch and a number of other bits of work to get through the up-coming MOT test, and it wasn’t, he averred, worth the money it would require.

Therefore he had been looking at replacing it and so would I mind very much if we went straight out to look at one he had lined up? Fabulous. My flying visit had, in my mind, involved a gentle and relaxed evening dining out, the two of us, at one of the restaurants I do miss as a Spanish resident. I had not envisaged sitting in his clapped out old rust bucket (with faulty clutch) for an hour driving to see a potential replacement, and then standing about in a draughty garage for another hour while he climbed in and out and under it, caressed and admired it, took it for a run and then haggled over it. Oh, and then bought it.

By the time we reached my restaurant of choice (albeit that we got there in a much smoother ride), it was stupid o’clock and I was feeling grimy and very out of sorts. His only saving grace was that the food was worth the wait and I still had the engagement party to come. And I had to laugh with him in the end, because he spent the whole time thereafter grinning like a kid at Christmas.

Flying back to Spain was horrible. I am about to go out on a limb here and probably set myself up for a heap of abuse, but I feel the need to say this. I was obliged to fly from Spain to the UK with Ryanair – the bucket airline that everybody uses but that everybody abuses – loudly. In their defence, I say this – the flight was on time. The plane was clean and the seats, while not capacious, were roomy enough that my knees were not pressed against the seat in front. The staff were friendly and helpful. I have no issues whatsoever with Michael O’Leary for the money I paid.

I flew back with Monarch, whom I have always held in higher esteem than the true bucket airlines. They were late. Boarding was a shambles. The upholstery was definitely looking tired. And the seats were so close together that I couldn’t even push my extremely modest hand luggage down between them to stash it under the seat in front of me, as is my wont. My knees suffered imprints of the magazine rack in front. The staff had just boarded fresh from a lemon-sucking contest. I was not impressed.

Furthermore, the plane was full and too hot. I, who take for granted the fresh mountain air in which I live, felt as though the air being drawn into my respiratory system was sluggish, viscous and crawling with unpleasant organisms just waiting to take a bite of my tender tissues.

And that’s exactly what happened, as always when I venture forth from my oasis. So my weekend away led to a week of weakness.

Well, those are my excuses, and I’m sticking to them!

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