Taking the plunge

“Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.”  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And so say all of us!  The work that’s going on around us – with neighbours prettifying their properties or building extensions – has now reached fever pitch.  After what seems like years of non-activity, people are taking the plunge and going for it.  Heavily laden lorries are delivering huge amounts of stuff, tradesmen are arriving early and knocking off at 10.30 for breakfast and 2.30 for lunch, maybe returning later in the afternoon.

Neighbour pool 20 Jun 15 (1)Neighbour pool 20 Jun 15 (2)As one neighbour remarked sniffily, “well, the town hall is not giving out any permits, so your guess is as good as mine.”  It seems the Spanish are more likely to get away with ‘illegal’ constructions of any type than we incomers.  The newly-built (this year) house across the valley (one of three Spanish-owned properties that have popped up recently) is now in the process of being adorned with a swimming pool.

Plunge pool 130 11 Jun 15Compared to all of this, our own project was rather more modest and I would imagine a lot less costly.  I can’t see many having the vision to create something of natural beauty from virtually nothing like Joe has managed to do in his inimitable way; grovelling around in the basura; collecting sand, aggregate and cement from the local stores in a dodgy trailer to save the delivery charge and then eschewing mechanical help to power his way through 1.5m of rock.

I’m talking about what we grandly call our plunge pool, which I mentioned in passing a few posts ago. The idea germinated while Zoe and Jamie were here as we rather got the taste for splashing around in water via the plastic pool.  Hey presto!  Our cracked and unused 3,000 litre depósito had suddenly found a new use!

The ideas came thick and fast and organically grew, rather like the pool itself.  Why not continue the sexy curve of the stone wall completed a few months earlier, and put a wall around the pool?  How about having a small waterfall using the plastic pool’s little pump – would it be powerful enough?  Shall we use up the concrete blocks, terracotta tiles etc that we have lying around?

Plunge pool 019 digging JB 28 May 15The hole was lined with a layer of sand and we then had to avoid knocking scalpings into the yawning chasm as anything sharp would have torn a hole in the base of the depósito.  The thought of it leaking and the subsequent difficulty in repairing it was not something worth contemplating.

Plunge pool 021 deposito fit JB 28 May 15Plunge pool 042 plastic empty  30 May 15Amid lots of checking and double-checking of measurements, the brute was laid on its side like a beached whale and slid into place over an old sheet draped decorously around the hole. It was fun deflating the plastic pool with its 5,700 litres of water, about half of which was siphoned off to the depósito, the remainder being gratefully received by the plants in the garden.  

Plunge pool 030 pipework JB 28 May 15Plunge pool 058 wall 1 Jun 15It took some time to get the complex of hoses into place and connected up – vital to check they functioned correctly with no leaks before hiding it all behind a low wall.

Plunge pool 032 JB 29 May 15Joe had already done some preparatory work inside the depósito to re-site the inlet and outlet holes for the pump, but it did unfortunately necessitate a quick dive to check all was ok.  It was at this point that a humble depósito was upgraded to the official title of ‘pool’.

Plunge pool 051 wall 31 May 15Car park end wall 19 Jun 15 (1)The pool wall was constructed of double thickness blocks infilled with cement and the plan was to continue the curve and join up seamlessly with the existing stone wall, to mirror what we’d done the other side of the house.

Plunge pool 069 pipework 3 Jun 15Plunge pool 092 4 Jun 15As it would all be covered by a thick coat of capa fina, what looked like an almighty botch-up using odds and sods of bricks, blocks and tiles soon took on smooth, curvy proportions.

Plunge pool 077 pipework 3 Jun 15Plunge pool 135 11 Jun 15We bought a few things; traditional clay roof tiles – amazing how cheap they were – and also the floor tiles put on top of the finished pool wall. The pump was hidden within the wall behind a home-made pine door and it was a tense moment to see if it would be man enough to cope with the height needed for a nice little waterfall.

Plunge pool 133 11 Jun 15Plunge pool 095 4 Jun 15A few coats of our signature brown paint and some Moorish designs around the side later, and it’s almost ready for use. As I’m not quite as athletic as Joe, there is only one thing left to do and that is to fit a ladder so I can get in and out.

Plunge pool 142 ladder 13 Jun 15We commandeered the Mitsubishi’s stainless steel one (why would anybody want to get on the roof of a 4×4 anyway?) but it’s not fitted yet.  There’s no great pressing need at the moment as, although the air temperature is warming up nicely, the water temperature is hovering around 22 deg, so maybe it’s not quite warm enough for me.

Plunge pool 128 11 Jun 15We’re very pleased with how it’s all gone, and how it looks.  It’s tucked away behind a lovely stone wall and a semicircle of Arizonica trees, through which you can glimpse the stunning backdrop of the Sierras.  I can’t wait to take the plunge!




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Nissun dried tomatoes

Tomatoes drying Nissan 29 May 15 (2)Tomatoes Nissun dried 20 Jun 15With temperatures now hovering around 26 deg C, and our cars getting hotter and hotter, it’s time to convert the cheap but tasteless tomatoes into something that you would actually want to eat.  It’s just a matter of slicing them quite thickly, shoving them on a baking tray and sprinkling liberally with Mediterranean herbs, black pepper and coarse sea salt.  Then into the Nissan they go, ready to be metamorphosed within a few days into extremely tasty treats.

Monoliths on prow 29 Apr 15 (1)prow (2)Bucket planted & painted 6 May 15As we drive around, it’s amazing what we come across on the side of the road, or thrown away by unappreciative hands.  I’ve done my best to prolong the life of this rusty, holey bucket into a (admittedly, rather inexpertly painted) receptacle for geraniums and sedums to brighten up a rare dark corner.

Prow3 stone sculpture prow 11 Apr 14Mostly these quirky treasures find a home dotted around strategic places along our many walks. but the area we call the prow seems to have become a bit of a showcase for more than its fair share of oddments.

Signpost finis 14 Jun 15Wood antlers prow 29 Apr 15Things like this ancient piece of gate looking as though it has weathered many centuries of storms that has now become a signpost pointing to ‘the end’.  A twisted vine branch in a glorious honey colour resembling a pair of antlers was immediately fixed to a wooden base and ‘planted’.

Monolith wooden 28 Mar 15Monolith view thru 30 Apr 15Monolith wooden view thru 2 Jun 15A lucky find was this 6ft shard of weathered wood with a perfectly round hole in the top. Squinting through it you can see the ruined farmhouse nestling in the valley opposite, or facing the other way, you can glimpse part of the prow and the cypress hedge beyond.

Almacen pergola 12 May 15 (3)The vines have grown exponentially this year; we’ve got two each side of the house and one growing against the almacén wall – the sweetest tasting grape of them all.  This year it crawled, triffid-like, all over the brown-painted flat roof that gets untenably hot. The solution came in the form of a pergola Joe constructed from leftover wood and the vine has obligingly wrapped itself around its new home and away from danger.  In fact, it’s grown another couple of feet since I took this picture!

Car park wall lights 12 May 15Steps to deposito 30 May 15Walking towards the big wall and turning right just before the steps, you will come to the entrance to the oak grove.  A misnomer really as it should probably be called a forest, being, as it is, crammed full of holly oaks (encinas) – far too numerous for us to ever count.

Stone semicircle oak grove (1280x960 30 May 15Oak grove 17 Mar 15And as you walk down the sloping path you will come across yet another ‘art installation’ made from more of our treasured finds.  A semi-circle of beautiful brown stones standing to attention as if to guard the entrance to the shady forest.

Curly wurly yellow daisies 2 May 15Curly wurly & liquid amber 3 Jun 15There are many places all through the forest where you can sit awhile to take in the magnificent panorama of the mountain range Sierras Tejeda y Almijara. Made mostly of wood, they will need to be replaced over time as they’re a prime target for all manner of wood boring insects.  However, the curly-wurly seat (and all the other wonderful installations – stone seats, benches, bridges, walls, and monoliths) will remain on this land for a very long time to bear testament to what Joe and I have tried to achieve in this special place.

Our land is more valuable than your money.  It will last forever.  It will not even perish by the flames of fire.  As long as the sun shines and the waters flow, this land will be here to give life to men and animals.”  Chief Crowfoot, Siksika (c.1825-1890)

BTW, the plunge pool with enclosing wall is nearing completion so I would imagine that will be a suitable subject for my next post.  It was quite gratifying to find a use for the old, cracked depósito, one which could well make our time here even more enjoyable.  It has been filled for over a week now and has shown no sign so far of any leak, probably thanks in no small way to Joe’s belt and braces construction ethos.

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Caterpillars, capras and cannibals

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…”  A Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

Caterpillar swallowtail 22 May 15 (1)Caterpillar spotted 1 Jun 15 (1)After their family-feeding frenzy last week, I’m glad the blue tits left us with at least a few caterpillars on the land, and both these ones appear quite plump from gorging on the obviously still plentiful supply of their own particular brand of goodie!  I believe the striped job will be a dark swallowtail butterfly, but I haven’t been able to find out what the pretty spotted caterpillar with pouting red lips is.

Ibex 9 Nov 10 (2)I was delighted to see an ibex meander up to our fence, so close that I could make out most of her discernible features! We’ve seen groups of them in their normal habitat on the top of la Maroma, but it is rare to see them further down.  Unfortunately my camera wasn’t at the ready so I’ve rather cunningly used a photo from an earlier sighting around the corner from us a few years ago .

The Spanish wild goat (Capra pyrenaica) is one of two remaining sub species of ibex; the Portuguese and the Pyrenian sub-species having both died out.  Threats to the ibex include over-population, competition with domestic livestock and other grazers, also human disturbance from tourism/hunting and, of course, disease – being, as they are, prone to nasty ailments like sarcoptic mange and scabies.

Gecko on stone 3 May 15We have all sorts of geckos and lizards around us that seem to be happy to wander without our movements sending them scurrying away.  They even come up quite near where we sit and sun themselves for extended periods.  I’ve seen gecko droppings in the bedroom before now, but was surprised to see one emerge from a tiny gap in the wall, amid lots of scratching, and then casually walk up the metal chimney flue.  I think it lives between the inner and outer cabin wall.

Lizard new steps bump 11 May 15Lizard new steps bump 12 May 15 (2)On our new walk around the bottom of the land, we came across this big beast. He was well over a foot long, handsome and in no hurry to rush away, so we were able to get up close and personal to take this photo.

Locust 22 May 15 (1)Lizard green wall Apr 15I identified him later as an eyed lizard – they can be as long as 28″!  Their diet consists mainly of locusts and crickets, of which we have rather a lot! We also found this slightly smaller eyed lizard peering out at us from a drainage tunnel.

Dead great tit 14 Apr 15 (960x1280)There’s a huge amount of avian activity around us at the moment; probably the numbers have increased because of all the young ones. Of course, we have the omnipresent blue tits and great tits (although this one wasn’t very good at navigation and flew into the window, breaking its neck).  The eagles are around us most days, circling in the thermals and occasionally diving down to make a kill.  I’m sure I’ve said before that we’re always alerted to them being around by their pitiful mewing!

Goldfinch 29 May 15There is a resident family or two of blackbirds here; their song always remind me of ‘home’, ie England. With the onset of summer we are once again privileged to hear the beautiful songs of both the thekla larks and goldfinches as they take up their positions on the tops of the cypress hedges towards the end of the day.  Darting around us are the swifts and swallows that swarm around in late afternoon, swirling and diving at breathtaking speeds.

Dragonfly 26 May 15

Dragonfly 8 Jul 11 (3)Talking of which, I mustn’t forget our summer influx of damsel and dragonflies.  We’ve got  lots of titanium blue emperor dragonflies that are particularly spectacular. These amazing libelullas can, rather unbelievably, manage to catch and eat their own weight of insects in about 30 minutes. That includes other dragonflies!

Grasses 28 Apr 15 Grasses 2 May 15 Grasses & wildflower meadow 28 Apr 15 (4)

With careful management, our land has become a wildflower and grassland meadow, with new species emerging each year, slowly replacing the scrubland.

Grasses 30 May 15Grasses 28 Apr 15 (3)Grass unknown 7 May 15Food is plentiful here; some birds come for the seeds, some feed off the insects that come for the pollen.  It’s certainly a wonderful time of the year.

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Up, up and away

Contrails holiday time 29 Apr 15The human bird shall take his first flight, filling the world with amazement, all writings with his fame, and bringing eternal glory to the nest whence he sprang.”  Leonardo da Vinci

It’s holiday time again, and the skies are full of people going to and from Málaga airport.

Talking of flying, this very morning, I was privileged to witness the baby blue tits fly their nest. They had, once again, made a home in the space just below the gable and from my bed I’d been watching the male bring sustenance for his mate.  Once the chicks hatched, both parents came and went, slowly at first, then with increased rapidity as the babies grew more demanding.  As soon as it was dark they all settled down for the night, just a few feet away from me, divided by a partition of wood.  I felt very close to them.

Blue tit am of fledge 27 May 15In the last week there was a lot of wing flapping and chirping and I wondered just how long the parents could go on with their endless regime of feeding which goes to show that our land must be teeming with creepy crawlies! It never ceased to amaze me how – in around two minutes – they would come back in rotation with a caterpillar or other tasty morsel (photo is of one of the last food runs).  Then they were gone.

ZEF GJF 19 May 15 (7)Sierra walk GJF LAF 23 May 15 (3)The skies brought my darling daughter and her partner here last week.  Zoë and Jamie went back a few days ago, during which time we did very little except relax, eat, walk and generally enjoy the peace of this place.  That is, all except Joe.

Swimming pool preparation JB 13 May 15Poolside GJF JB 19 May 15There were some very hot days, and luckily Joe had the foresight to drag the plastic pool out of retirement (we hadn’t used it since 2011).  Filling it took 6,700 litres of water and we needed two trailer loads of sand for the base. Surprisingly, there were no leaks and after a day or so the water temperature got up to a respectable 29 deg C!  We splashed out (!) and bought a heavy-based parasol and some recliners – to make the ‘poolside experience’ more enjoyable for us all!!

ZEF & GJF 26 May 15 (3)ZEF GJF 19 May 15 (4)On one of our walks around the land Jamie suggested a nice place for a seat. Dicho y hecho, the Nissan was filled with some suitable stones during a trip around the nearby sierras.  

Stone bench ZEF & GJF 26 May 15 (3)Within a few hours the seat was finished, topped by two hefty upward curving stones and secured with mortar.  Zoë finished it off with her red ampersand motif and we added our own. It’s a great place to watch the spectacular orangey-red sunsets that illuminate the white village of Sedella and the mountains beyond.

New steps around bump 12 May 15 (5)New steps around bump 12 May 15 (4)New steps around bump 12 May 15 (15)Joe was almost at the end of finishing his goal of creating a path all around the perimeter of our land which he’d been doing in stages over the years.  As our land is on the side of a hill, steps were needed almost everywhere, made of either stone or wood reinforced with metal rods. It’s back-breaking and labour intensive work but he did want the remaining section finished before our visitors came.

New steps around bump 9 May 15 (2)New steps around bump 12 May 15 (11)This meant strimming the area first, then carving out the path from the dense mata, and cutting out a quantity of steps. The path is undulating, steep and quite perilous in the places where it skirts our drive with a sheer drop.

Veg terrace before 12 Apr 15Also just completed before Zoë and Jamie’s visit was the vegetable garden on a terrace that Joe had just dug out which is sheltered from the wind and overlooking the Med.  We wanted a raised bed and also needed to shore up the terrace with a rough stone wall – this meant collecting more stone from our usual source.

Veg terrace 8 May 15 (3)Veg terrace JB 8 May 15 (4)Veg terrace 9 May 15We sieved all the dug out soil, spreading the fine soil on the raised bed and lining the path with the remaining stones.  It looked great, and at the moment, it just contains some leeks, although we have planted a quantity of tomatoes, peppers and basil next to the house. Come the autumn, we will fill it with root vegetables and onions.

Plunge pool digging 22 May 15 (2) (960x1280)Plunge pool digging 21 May 15 (2) (960x1280)You think that, having done all of this, Joe would relax for a while.  But no, having re-acquainted ourselves with the refreshing nature of the plastic pool, we sort of got the idea that it would be nice to utilise the damaged 3,000 litre depósito that had been standing around idle.  It would make a great plunge pool, we thought.

P1060291P1060292Of all the things that would have made Joe happy was the gift he got from Zoë and Jamie in the form of a glass fibre repair kit and a shiny new pickaxe. With the former he repaired the depósito that had developed a leak and the latter became a blur as Joe began to slowly disappear into the depósito-sized hole, cutting his way through the rock that our house stands upon.

P1060295As I write, he has just this minute finished the excavations – a hole measuring 1.2m deep and 1.6m wide.  The spoils were wheel-barrowed down the hill to repair the partly washed away drives.

Watch this space!







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Sumer is icumen in

Wildflowers 2 May 15 (2)“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.” Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea

This is part of our wildflower meadow; can you believe such beauty exists?!  I’ve taken hundreds of photos of flowers and grasses this year, but I’m still a long way off identifying even a quarter of them.  And now because the temperature has been in the high 80’s for over a week now, with no prospect of it abating, the land is beginning to turn sepia. Luckily all the photos are safely filed away so I can study them at my leisure.

Bee proofing eaves 17 Mar 15 (3)J up ladder Apr 15 (960x1280)I’m so glad that Joe was able to do the balls-breaking job (with a blunt saw) of carefully cutting and laying fillets of wood just below the eaves on each side of the cabin, and then sealing them with expensive tubes of flexible goo.  The reason?  To put a stop to the scout bees once more identifying our des res as a suitable new home for their queen.  It’s done the trick (so far).

Bees love wood, especially with cracks and holes – and we certainly still have some those – but much less now!  When the nice pest control people came out last year to deal with my ‘little problem’ (a small matter of thousands of bees), they also sprayed some sort of deterrent around the eaves area that would last three years.  But we couldn’t leave it to chance.

Little earth mound 24 Apr 15Little earth mound 24 Apr 15 (2)Joe found a rash of these curious structures concentrated along the edge of one of our paths. Moulded out of earth, they’re all pretty much a standard size – about 1″ high, and look like miniature chimneys.  Obviously lovingly hand-crafted by a little creature, but what and for what purpose?  We keep trying to catch it/them in the act, but no joy so far.

Lizard green wall Apr 15Butterfly sierras 28 Apr 15I spied this handsome chap lurking in our drainage pipe.  He was bright green, a male sand lizard perhaps, and all of a foot long.  I was pleasantly surprised to get him on film as he was like greased lightning when I ventured closer. I’m not having much luck with snapping butterflies either; I’ve managed this one so far this year.

Man & mulas 28 Mar 15 (2)I watched a chap toil away all day on the ridge opposite – well, until 2.30pm when everything stops for the Spanish lunch-break. With a ‘high-ho Silver’, he jumped on his gallant steed for the long, precipitous trek back to our neighbouring village, past the corner of our land, with pack mula (mule) in tow.

G&R Salares 07 (4)

Salares architect Oct 07 (35)When I tell anyone that we live north of the Costa del Sol, I’m acutely aware it could conjure up images of cranes, concrete, empty flats, traffic and hordes of people. Because of this I often foolishly find myself compelled to say something like, “where we live is so rural that they still go to work on a donkey”.  But sadly all the modernisation (‘re-forming’, they euphemistically call it) that is going on elsewhere is now beginning to reach the traditional Moorish whitewashed mountain aldeas (villages) around us.  At the moment, however, there are still these houses to be found containing a stable at ground floor level and that is presumably where these beasts were headed for.

El Jefe planting 26 Apr 10 (5) El Jefe sunset 2 May 15El Jefe, our ancient olive tree, seems to have adorned itself with thousands of yellowy white, rather insignificant flowers this year. He was procured for us in 2010, and had to go through the indignity of a very long journey on the back of a lorry and rather unceremoniously being winched into place, so maybe he’s been sulking?  Last year there were a few flowers but not one olive, so we’ve got our fingers crossed that, having made us wait for five years, we will finally be rewarded with some fruit.  And if we do, we’ll have to rename him with the female version of ‘The Boss’, whatever that is.







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Bloody goats

Bath canal 15-21 Apr 15 (23)My bank informed me that I’d won either £100k, £1k or £100 in their monthly prize draw; would I present myself at my local branch with my ID and then I’d be given the good news?  I got a cheap(ish) flight which the lowest prize would nearly cover, reasoning this was a good excuse to pop back for a few days and see my loved ones.  I’m glad I’d set my sights low by not even considering a major win (I’m never usually lucky!) and emerged from the bank, delighted with my £100.  The only other thing I’ve ever won is a £25 premium bond.

P1140468The goats continue to apport over to our side of the fence.  First there were one or two, then three or four, and on the last occasion we had seven of the blighters.  This took on a bit of a sinister turn as Ricardo inexplicably drove off, something he never usually does, leaving the goats to wander alone. Alerted by the cacophony of bells, we saw the seven intruders.  Going out to shoo them away from our plants and flowers we were stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of three huge dogs that began barking menacingly at us. I’d seen one of them before, the big shaggy one who sometimes plods along with the goats, but instead of Ricardo’s two dopey Andaluz sheepdogs, he had put two huge mastiff type animals in charge of the herd.  We retreated indoors.

Wildflower meadlow 10 Apr 15 (5)P1050771The dogs hung around trying to find a way to get at the Wayward Seven, which we found unsettling, so we waited until the goats and dogs had finally disappeared down the valley before venturing out again.  In what was becoming a familiar routine, we steered the trespassers around the perimeter of our land, down the hill to our front entrance where we could just see them landing on the road below.  Or so we thought, but next afternoon we saw these footprints and discovered four had decided the grass was greener.

P1050836The oak copse was an excellent place for them to hide and they took some persuading to sod off, having gorged themselves on our luxuriant grasses and wildflowers.  So perplexing how they got in! We went through the same old procedure, up and down, checking the 4ft fence for gaps.  None.

P1050695P1050689Could they have jumped over? Our land is higher than the Parque land. I know goats are noted for their hurdling ability, but they would have to have had quite a run at the fence in order to clear it, but they just amble and browse feed. Joe put some dowelling where the fence slightly dips, and also some diagonal bits of wood at odd intervals.  Ever since then, we’ve been on high alert for the tell-tale bells so we can catch the little bastards red-handed.  No such luck yet.

All other fauna are very welcome here, even the rat that seems to do his shopping at our new compost bin.  We’ve found lots more little holes in the bank; I wonder what sort of animal makes those? Then there was the fat toad we found languishing by the front gate, who was very reluctant to move out of our way.  Soon he and his cronies will be starting up their mating rituals and we will be treated to the yearly chorus of ‘knee deeps’ from every corner of our land. Amazing really, since we are at 850m and far from a river bed.

Hawk overhead 18 Mar 15 (2)One afternoon we heard an unusual screeching noise and just over the fence right in front of us was this hawk.  Having excitedly announced it had located its prey, it flapped around for a while and pounced – which can’t have been a total surprise to the poor little rodent in view of the row the hawk had been making!

Praying mantid 28 Apr 15I don’t know how we avoided stepping on this praying mantis as we did our usual evening stroll through the wildflower meadow.  I just caught sight of it swaying around in Joe’s wake.  Being so well disguised, it proved hard to get a proper close-up and the nearer I got, the more aggressive it became with its front legs punching the air.  Can you make it out in this photo?

French lavender & bumble bee 17 Mar 15Carpenter bee on wildflowers 14 Apr 15 (1)We had an unpleasant episode with our honey bees a few weeks back.  We live harmoniously with all the bees here – from the honey bees, the huge carpenter bees to the bumble bees, and they are never remotely interested in us.

Bees on mandarin flower 4 Apr 15 (1)However, some very aggressive ones flew at both Joe and me in separate incidents.  Usually running away does the trick, but it didn’t work this time and they embedded themselves further in our hair. Shooing them away is not the thing to do, because that gets their ‘help’ pheromones going and others fly to their rescue.

Killer bee 18 Mar 08I escaped without being stung, but Joe got stung on the bum. This was followed by one on his face and a nasty one on his forearm. One of these times I was in the UK and he sent me a picture, wondering initially whether this was a different strain of bee than the usual.  But we don’t think that’s the case now, having read that overcast, humid weather can make bees irritable, also if there are problems with a queen. It is apparently advisable to wear light clothing and a hat as bees have a primitive dislike of dark, hairy shapes.  All is quiet now and they’ve gone back to their usual occupation of gathering honey and dive-bombing our cars with yellow poo.

Sunset Harry on prowl 8 Mar 15With all this scary wildlife around us, it’s lucky that we’ve got Harry the Horse to guard us. We see him every evening at sunset, patrolling his small patch of garden.  Luckily, his needs are few and he seems content to spend most of his days just standing there, watching the world go by.



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Wooden’t it be nice

Duvet sea mist 5 Apr 15We’d been beset by autumnal-like mists that made the ground nicely damp – time to start clearing the three terraces on the Mediterranean side.  This is a large area planted with nut, citrus and fruit trees that has never been fully cleared before. The chainsaw made short work of the dried up straggly shrubs and root stock, and the strimmer pulverised the thistles and other ‘nasties’ that were just beginning to show through.  The added benefit is the emergence of wildflowers that neither of us have come across before, but more of this later.

Brushcutting (2)P1050391 (1280x960)The resulting four trailer loads of debris was collected with the Nissan and trailer – a hazardous occupation which involved reversing along the larger (but still nevertheless narrow) terrace – and taken to the flat area we call the bump.

This coincided with an unbroken period of hot sunshine effectively marking the end of the misty conditions. Not good news for Joe who had been staring gloomily at the huge pile because good visibility meant I was uneasy about setting fire to it – so he was facing the prospect of at least four trips to the tip.  We were never ones to particularly conform, but since the debacle with Ricardo and Call Me Pepe I was more wary of having a fire in plain sight. It could potentially be noticed by someone, somewhere, for which we couldn’t produce a stamped piece of paper in quadruplicate signed by a dozen puffed-up worthies.

Hallelulah!  Out of the blue we inexplicably had one day of thick fog and, like a rat up a drainpipe Joe was out there, matches in hand.  But to make me feel better, he did keep the hosepipe nearby. It was all over in half an hour, but amazingly, the small mound of ashes on top of the blackened earth was still hot three days later.

Wood spare 2 Apr 15 (1)Compost bin painted 6 Apr 15We had recently cleared out all the left-over timber from underneath the cabin which had, rather unwisely, become our unofficial wood store.  He’d been worried for some time that it could prove an obvious temptation to a passing, would-be arsonist.  Before it was moved to a safer location, from some of the more unusable pieces, Joe whipped up a quick compost bin – not pretty, but it should last a few years.

Pine grove before pine grove clearingWe now have 13 self-seeded trees in our pine copse in the middle of the newly-cleared terraces. A great place for a seat, I suggested. Great idea, he said.  Dicho  y hecho (no sooner said than done).

cement for pine grove  (2)cement for pine grove  (1)Joe started on the task with gusto and in his usual belt and braces way, he levelled the area, dug two half metre holes, filled them with concrete, setting in it two sturdy uprights each side.

But I guess this rather makes light of just how he managed to do this over two extremely hot, fly-infested days in a rather inaccessible part of our land.  Digging was hard enough, but the palaver to mix the concrete must have taken him to the limits of his endurance. No water on tap so it had to be manhandled using a number of 25L containers. We had no sand, so he substituted sieved soil which had to be dug out.  The trailer became the mixing platform so the Nissan was once more reversed along the precipitous terrace.

If you have a beautiful view, you don’t need a good wine to feel dizzy.” Mehmet Murat Ildan

Seat pine grove 7 Apr 15 (2)

Making seat pine grove JB 4 Apr 15 (1)Next day, we staged an ‘opening’ ceremony – comprising a mug of tea each – for our rather beautiful 8ft long bench.  What a great spot, with panoramic views over our land, the Med and three pueblos blancos (white villages) nestling in between!

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Any more tea, Ern?

Since my post about our worries relating to the toxicity of plastic water bottles and deciding to ditch same, we have now taken delivery of a 25L stainless steel urn.  We struggled to find one without its cable and plug, but seems like we’re sorted if we get a sudden influx of walkers around us, and we feel inclined to start up a temporary tearoom.

??????????????????????Tea and cakes, mmm! I love baking and have always fancied myself as the doyenne of an olde worlde tea shoppe. Spending all day at the Rayburn, creating basic delights such as my peppery cheddar scones, fluffy Victoria sponges, moist Bakewell tarts, sticky old-fashioned gingerbread and buttery flapjacks!

Water urn 31 Mar 15

I digress. Here’s a photo of our splendid new addition.  Because we don’t have drinking water on tap, and now that we don’t store our agua potable in the 30 or so plastic bottles, it’s a great solution. Before our solar system was updated last year, I admit it was a bit of a palaver as we had to start up the increasingly reluctant Robin generator (the newer one has died). It was often easier and cheaper to gather water from the mountain spring, a pleasurable experience so long as we didn’t run into Ricardo too often.

30 May 10 (43)The operation is now very simple and quick by flicking a switch in the inverter house. This fires up the pozo (well) pump and hey presto, using solar power alone, fresh water rises up 150m and magically appears in a tap by the stone seat. From there it can either be diverted to the three depósitos above, or to the big underground depósito nearby, or syphoned off for drinking. Here’s a photo of the seat and tap (to the left) a week ago.

Water filter box & table 31 Mar 15 (5)Water filter box Moorish paint 3 Apr 15Joe then decided to add a battery of three filters for our drinking water that he encased in a brick box to protect them from UV light.  Such a joy to use!  He didn’t stop at that as, wouldn’t it be nice to use some of the spare wood stored (rather unwisely) underneath the cabin to make a table?

Water filter box table cups 2 Apr 15Within a couple of days, we not only had filtered water, but also a sturdy table sunk deep into concrete footings.  It’s a great place to gaze across at the Med and take tea.  The seat and tap are adjacent to the metal fence that separates our land with the Parque.  A good vantage point the other day to watch the goats as they made their weary way up the hill with Ricardo standing at the bottom waving his arms, firing his catapult and generally shouting encouragement.

We were interested to see just where they were getting through what we thought was an impenetrable fence.  Over the last few weeks, we’d had a spate of ‘break-ins’ and had to resort to herding goats off our land, their mouths crammed full of our tender, succulent new buds, shoots and leaves.  All a bit mystifying as there didn’t seem to be any weak points and Houdini like, one minute one side of the fence, the next they’d popped up on our side!

Ricardo goats by fence 1 Feb 15 (3)As we sat there sipping our tea, it soon became apparent exactly where they were getting in.  The vibrating fence and swaying bushes gave the game away. A few persistent girls had discovered a hardly discernible gap in one square of fencing and managed to squeeze themselves and their inflated udders through it. And I always thought that goats weren’t the brightest animals on the planet – they remembered exactly where to get through to reach the riches beyond and were beginning to share this secret with more of their friends!

Curious to see whether I was right, I did a quick Google and sure enough, the first item on the page related how clever goats really are, according to research recently carried out by scientists at Queen Mary, University of London:

Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments, say researchers. The goats’ ability to remember the task was tested after one month and again at 10 months. They learned the task within 12 trials and took less than two minutes to remember the challenge“.  Article in “Frontiers in Zoology” reported in “Science Daily“, 26 March 2014).  Well, there we go!

Cat prints water box table (2)Joe had put a coat of dark preserving varnish on our new table, and the next morning I was surprised and delighted to see these delicate little paw prints. Most likely a cat, but I haven’t seen one around here for years, and these prints were really quite small. My fanciful imagination went into overdrive and I decided they were obviously from a genet.

Small-Spotted-GenetThese cat-like mammals look adorable and are about the size of a large ferret with a pointed nose and big ears.  Two other facts supported my rather thin theory.  Firstly, genets are not uncommon around here apparently and favour forest areas, making use of their very long tails to swing around in trees. Secondly, they mark their territory with small dark poos on elevated objects – just like the one on the fly agaric I noted in the previous post.  BTW, I can’t take the credit for this lovely picture!

Curly wurl Moorish paint 3 Apr 15 (2)Maybe you noticed that the water filter box had been decorated with what I hope vaguely resembles a Moorish design – the same one that I have used on a few other rendered walls around the place.  Our ubiquitous matt brown paint can look a little flat and this gives a bit of a lift.  Emboldened by the results, I decided to give the curly-wurly seat the same treatment.





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Call Me Pepe

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag (1581 – 1661)

Oak grove 3 Apr 15 (2)It was my birthday and we were just setting off for a walk around our encina (oak) forest, chatting animatedly about something or other.  Enter stocky, weasel-faced man wearing Parque Guard jacket, on our side of the fence, walking determinedly down the hill towards us. I’d seen him many times before, patrolling the huge Parque area in his cream Land-Rover with green Junta logo.

?????????????????????????I first saw him back in late 2007 when he was part of a contingent of worthies including a Junta solicitor who told us they wanted to define our boundaries.  The memorable day they dropped the bombshell that, no, we didn’t own half the hill despite what our title deeds said, plus the not inconsiderable fact that we were paying rates on the whole 42,500 sq m of land.  The lady solicitor stated that unless we could prove that the Parque part of our land had been in private ownership for the last 30 years, they would assume title.  We were sure that it would be a formality to prove our case and retain ownership.

None of any of the foregoing added up, but we were pretty sure that the proceedings had relayed back to us verbatim as our interpreter was a quasi-friend and properly bilingual. However, he was reluctant to come all the way over from west of Málaga.  As he had always professed to love Foggie, he was persuaded by an overnight stay and 500 euro cash for half a day’s translating.

Goat silhouette 4 Mar 15Our land had always been ring-fenced, separating our ‘private’ land from that designated Parque Natural.  Thus we had known that our half of the hill was Parque, and in fact felt very privileged to be living in such a special conservation area.  It is not unusual for Parque land to be in private ownership as is often the case when a dwelling is adjacent to a Parque. We were one of those cases, or so we thought.

From the town hall we were able to lay our hands on documentary evidence to confirm that the hill had in fact been in private possession since 1947 and we submitted this to our Spanish solicitor (who we later found out was also a Junta advisor) – but this was swept aside as if immaterial.  It felt as though we were in an alternative reality and that the odds had been stacked against us from the start.  

We’d paid him upfront for the benefit of his advice and intervention on this matter and also the one previously regarding the cabin’s legality (the first of our massive shocks).  The last visit to him culminated in that all-too-familiar shrug of the shoulders as he charmingly professed he could do nothing.

Dusk around land 31 Mar 15 (1)In 2008 during the trip home from that last visit to his palatial office in Málaga I must admit that I felt dejected and outraged but Joe put it all in wonderful perspective for me. He said, “Lyn, if you were suddenly told you had only 6 months to live, where would you like to be?”  Quick as a flash, I answered, ‘at Foggie’. We then vowed to live each day as if it was our last and with such a mindset we were able to come to terms with it quite quickly. After all, nothing had really changed and we still have access to the land through our little green gate but minus the upkeep!

We continue to make each day special, but what I still struggle with is the fact that there was never any further communication from either the Junta or our solicitor. It would surely have been a matter of common courtesy or even a legal right to send a basic letter outlining the new boundaries coupled with an explanation as to why they’d ignored the comprehensive evidence put forward to the solicitor.

I am tired of talk that comes to nothing.  It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.  It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce (1840-1904)

In total, they took about 3/4 of our land for which I, as la dueña (the owner), continued to pay rates until it was finally removed from my escritura (title deed).  But the tax was increased not decreased.  Having compulsorily ‘purchased’ our land without actually paying out any consideration or compensation, they had presumably got what they wanted.

Since that time, over seven years now, we’ve been very content not to have been bothered by anybody from the Parque (apart from the teams of Junta men who appeared every couple of years to tidy up the land as part of Parque fire control). That is, until the surprise appearance of Call Me Pepe.  As soon as I saw him I knew it was something to do with our goat herder Ricardo denouncing us for strimming the patch of land he claimed was his. Other than seeing the Guardia men in black drive by a few weeks back, we had thought no more about it.

I think what affected me most about his visit most was not the content of our dialogue, but the intrusion into our private space.  I  surprised myself by remaining calm and controlled throughout, drawing heavily on what I’d learned from my so-far mindfulness training. I reminded myself that Call Me Pepe was just doing his job, having probably been called out by the men in black in response to Ricardo’s ridiculous posturing.

As the conversation became more farcical, it was actually difficult not to stifle a laugh.  In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “when you got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose..”. He told us:

1. He was going to denounce us for daring to strim the patch of land over the fence (that Ricardo claimed was his). 2. He was going to denounce us for strimming and clearing out in between the encinas on our own land, our oak forest.  3. Our oak forest is protected forestal land and should we wish to touch it at all we would need a licence from the Junta in Malaga to be renewed each year. 4.  The fence on the forestal side is in the wrong place and needs to be moved. 5. Ricardo is an idiot who knows nothing.  6. The Junta team rotate their strimming/clearing here much less than before, every 3 or 4 years, because of budget cuts.  7. What we are doing is exactly right; better to cut down even more oaks than we have done already to allow the undergrowth to get light. 8. He is going to return with a plano (boundary map) and tie something around a particular oak tree to show where the fence should be moved to.

Joe got frustrated part of the way through and made for the house.  I don’t blame him as, despite so many hardships and setbacks here, he has carved out a most idyllic haven for us out of literally nothing.  It has been a labour of love.  Anyway, the house is in my name and Call Me Pepe thus addressed most of his outpourings to me.  As he spoke entirely in Spanish with not a word of English this became a bit of a challenge!  I told him that I am very angry that I’ve never heard from anyone about the land grab, no letter, no plano, no nothing.  But, he said, they told me you had no papers..

After Junta strimmers 24 Apr 13 (14)As I said, it was hard not to laugh, because as I was seemingly so polite and compliant, I think the threatened denuncias may well come to nought.  And why take issue with the boundary fence now when nobody mentioned that it was in the wrong place all those years back?  Re-siting it would rob us of yet more land – about half an acre – and I told him that I was not doing it and wasn’t going to pay to have it done. I think he’s done his tick box duty by telling me about it and marking the boundary oak with a bit of string.

It goes without saying that the Junta want to avoid a forest fire at all costs.  However, the most curious thing of all is that Call Me Pepe told me that we’re doing everything right – not just minimising the fire risk but promoting the health of the land and the protected-status encinas.

But because of budget cuts they’ll be coming less often, which presumably means the risk of fire will be increased.  But it seems we must go out of our way to get a licence so we can do their work for them. To be denounced for strimming exactly where the team last did it on 27th April 2013 is laughable, isn’t it?



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A scurry of clouds

Strimmed fruit trees 27 Mar 15 (1280x960)Strimmed lower terrace 12 Mar 15For the last month or so, an ongoing task for Joe has been to strim the terraces on the Mediterranean side that contains our citrus, fruit and nut trees, plus all the other areas of our land not covered by the encina (oak) forest.

Strimming JB 18 Mar 15 (1280x960)It’s done now, but it was very demanding work, made tougher by the extremes of weather during that time. Wearing a helmet, goggles and gloves is all very well, but can be a bit of a handicap when you’re being pelted by driving rain, bombed by hail, nearly blown over by violent gusts and overcome by the hot sun, sweating profusely as one does in plastic jacket and leggings.

Clouds & mist 20 Mar 15 (3) (1280x960)Fiery sky am 16 Feb 15Here are a selection of photos taken of the assortment of weather conditions that we’ve had recently.  In my last post I wrote about the clouds and rain, then we had just greyness, no sun.

Amazing clouds 27 Mar 15 (1) - Copy Amazing cloud 26 Mar 15 copyThen it was sharp and bright, but the sting in the tail was the killer winds! We had to, once again, decamp to Horst’s sanctuary down the road.  The wind had reached that manic stage where, had we remained in our screaming, bucking bronco of a house, it would have been untenable – and we all need our beauty sleep, don’t we?!

??????????????????????Stormy chimney 26 Mar 15That night it got down to minus figures and I’m glad I remembered my friend the hot water bottle.  The relative peace inside Horst’s well-built farmhouse was certainly a contrast to ours and I would guess had he been with us that night he would have considered the wind “very strong”.  We had a good night’s sleep, but his house is definitely colder than ours.

Fruit trees windburn 26 Mar 15 (1280x960)We’d just bought some fruit trees the previous day including two mandarins, a plum and a grapefruit and mistakenly left them on the verandah as we went off to Horst’s.  On our return we found them suffering from wind burn and, lesson learned, we now bring them in every night.  Although still in their ugly plastic pots they’ve rewarded us with the most sensual smell from their abundant little white flowers.

For the last three days while the UK is gripped by 72mph winds and icy temperatures, we are now experiencing a sort of mini heatwave here.  The temperature inside the cabin during the afternoons and early evenings is around 78 deg F.  Quite comfortable, I’d say. The wind makes a feeble attempt to keep us awake at night, but it embraces rather than bites us.  As a precaution, I take the cover (what’s left of it) off the little Mercedes each night.  Its ties have been yanked off, it can’t be secured around the car so even in these benign winds, given half a chance, the cover would disappear off down the hill never to be seen again.

P1050297The cover is then slid back on every morning because the 100 or so beehives on the track below send a daily tsunami of incredibly noisy bees that dive bomb us with their yellow blobs of poo. The poor Nissan doesn’t have a cover, so when next I feel sorry enough for him to give him a good wash, I know it will always take an inordinate amount of time as each poo has to be scraped off individually by fingernail.

Agaric & poo 28 Maar 15Talking of poo, I was fascinated to see that some little creature had managed to delicately place an offering on the top of a ceramic fly agaric toadstool I planted in the garden – sense of humour, artistic licence? Still on the same scatological subject, I have got used to seeing poos around the house, especially upstairs, the same shape as mouse poo, but almost as large as rat poo.  The puzzling part to me is that they are almost black, with one end always bright white and pointed.

Gekko under stone 6 Mar 14I was pretty certain they were gecko droppings, but what on earth was in their diet that always resulted in such a perfectly-formed white tip; how did they manage it?  I just couldn’t work it out until I had the bright idea of asking Google and in a few moments all was revealed.

Reptiles actually don’t have ‘urine’, instead they produce what is called a “urate” which is the white tip of their poo. A healthy gecko poo should therefore comprise a dark and a white portion and this goes for most reptiles.  Since they only have one waste line (yuck!) then everything comes out together as one clump.

The next poo I saw after that was on the roof of the inverter house and it was absolutely massive, twice or three times the ‘normal’ ones I was used to seeing. Unfortunately it coincided with one of the aforementioned periods of heavy rain and my prize exhibit began to disintegrate before I could get a reasonable photo.   Moorish geckos I’ve seen around here are quite big anyway but I’d hate to meet that particular chap on a dark night!



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