It’s been a strange kind of time. Joe had to rush back to the UK as his mother had contracted pneumonia and the prognosis wasn’t good. Having taken the next available flight the next morning, there was precious little time for him to remind me how to deal with the idiosyncracies of our ‘alternative’ way of life.
I have to admit that I’ve taken more of a back seat than perhaps I should have done. Not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve been lazy and haven’t concerned myself with all the things he’s been doing around me, and for me, so effortlessly – I designated them to the ‘men’s work’ pile. I’ve consoled myself with the fact that, despite his many war wounds (scrapes, burns, cuts, bruises, sprains etc), he just loves doing physical things.
However, it’s made me dizzy to see him flash by the window with various tools in his hand. I’ve been gratified to hear the recalcitrant generator being coaxed into life. I’ve wondered how the wind-bent trees have become suddenly tied straight. I’ve cheered when the internet has been miraculously sorted, or when the weeds up the drive disappear, or when huge chunks of new walling have appeared practically overnight!
I returned home from the airport, a bit jaded from the early morning start and I immediately hit my first hurdle, locking the main gates. The precise technique escaped me, so I just slung the chain lock around and turned the key.
C’mon, girl, stop beating yourself up! Just tackle one thing at a time. Most of our neighbours were away but the last thing I would want to do during this, my practical exam, would be to solicit the help of anyone else. Anyway, I probably knew more about the workings of our house than anyone else except Joe, but that wasn’t a lot. My meagre knowledge would surely be tested in the days and weeks to come. I tried not to dwell on just how long he might be away; how long’s a piece of string?
When he left, neither of us were sure how much water was stored in our three 3,000 litre dépositos and the big 40,000 one under our parking area. When the top ones get low, more water will need to be pumped up from the big one using the electric pump. But how will I know when they get low? By prising off the lid of one of them, can’t remember which one, and having a look. The pump won’t work if there’s not enough sun (electricity) – in which case the generator will have to be on to pump it up. Then I will have to remember to turn the right water tap on, and flick a switch in the inverter house.
If Joe’s away longer, then we are getting further into the drier season and I would have to start doing some watering in earnest. This would obviously drain our stocks much quicker and – horror of horrors – if I don’t want to appear a complete and utter pratt, then I will have to try and remember how to work the system to pump water up from the 150m deep well to the big déposito.
There wasn’t much sun around for the first couple of days, and the solar panels just about managed to keep up with my modest electrical demands so I didn’t need the generator on. The internet and my laptop behaved themselves. I patted myself on the back that I’d managed thus far but as the laundry basket was overflowing I felt emboldened enough to start up the gennie to do a wash. We’d only just come back from two weeks away administering to Joe’s ma in the UK, and with special visitors expected at the end of the week I had gird up my loins and tackle the washing pile.
I went down to the almacen, pulled out the power cable from the old Robin and put it into the new, but woefully-underpowered new shiny red one. I fiddled with the two buttons facing me and yanked the chord to start it.
After quite a few pulls it was beginning to hurt my shoulder so once I’d checked that there was enough petrol in, I finally surrendered and called Joe. He pointed out the obvious, that the button was around to the right (marked ‘on’ and ‘off’), and I’d been playing fast and loose with the choke and another lever. It started first pull.
My triumph was short-lived, however, as although the washing machine lit up, it only ran for one minute and stopped full of water. The little gennie does that sometimes – this was obviously an off day for it, one of the days when it just doesn’t have enough ooomph to run the washer. I turned it off; no point in wasting petrol. All I could think of was turning the machine off and on again, crossing my fingers that there was enough solar power to run 42 minutes of wash time. Yes! It did, but as I heaved out the sheets and towels they were sodden and dripped all over my feet. The sun made more of an appearance in the following days so, again, without the help of the gennie, the next few washes were more of a success.
I saved up my dishes for a few days and did them in a frenzy of lather and hot water. That’s because the gas hot water heater doesn’t heat the water in the kitchen tap because the flow isn’t enough to ignite the flame. So, two choices. One – to turn on the bathroom tap and the kitchen tap which seems quite a waste of water (sometimes I rush in to the bathroom and fill up a few saucepans with the steaming hot water), or solution two – turn on a switch which turns on an electric pump under the house, which increases the flow rate and the temperature of the water dramatically. But, if there’s not enough sun, or the gennie is not on, it’s best not to use it.
When dusk came, I closed the venetian blinds in each room downstairs, went out the front door and locked it, and entered the house via the back door in the downstairs bedroom, locking it behind me. That’s because the front door has become unlockable from the inside and Joe’s been too busy with other stuff that it hasn’t got fixed yet.
And anyhow, we never usually lock the door at night. But, it’s something I felt that I wanted to do – in a curious way I wasn’t scared of being burgled, I just felt more comfortable with the door locked! However, I did take a walking stick upstairs and put it beside the bed. The noises that one hears at night in the middle of the campo can be quite extraordinary and seemingly inexplicable.
By Wednesday, I felt a bit more in control, helped by having regular chats with Joe on Skype. We’d been kept on tenterhooks regarding the status of his mother’s health, so still had no idea when he would be returning. He had left here on the Sunday morning, and my family were due to be flying in on Friday evening (Good Friday) for a five day stay. Would Joe be back in time to see them, we wondered?
A friend needed me to look over some documentation, and when he told me that the shops would also be closed tomorrow (Thursday), I decided to go straight over to see him and also hit the supermarkets. Our Nissan 4×4 had been lying dormant since Joe last used it when it developed an excruciating noise from the brakes. It was to have been the next task on his list.
I found myself worrying that I would soon need to get more drinking water from the mountain spring and didn’t particularly want to subject our delicate little English car to the ruts, boulders and dust of the mountain track. I would mention that, in addition to several layers of dust, both cars had developed a bad case of yellow measles from being dive-bombed by our resident bees (see earlier posts).
Carrier bags packed, ice blocks in the cool bag, shopping list written, I was finally on my way to the coast. Hang on, was it my imagination, or did the front offside tyre look a bit flat on the little blue Merc? I drove gingerly, it was a hot day and I had to resort to the aircon for the first time this year. Bit smelly; perhaps it’s the car in front?
I spent a good couple of hours with Chris helping to sort out his legal documents and although I didn’t want to do it, I nevertheless found myself asking him if he’d help me work out how to use the air pressure thing. I think I’d gained just enough Brownie points so he didn’t look at me as though I was completely bonkers. I rarely checked things like air pressure and water etc in England, and had certainly never worked the Spanish machines! He was quite the gentleman and guided me through the (very easy) process. Shopping done, drive home uneventful except that it was hotter so I turned up the aircon and found it quite a coincidence that I was driving behind a few more smelly cars.
As I was unloading the car, I couldn’t help but notice how loud the bees were getting. Of course, with so many flowers bursting into life, they were industriously buzzing all around the cabin and the hinterland. I thought no more of it until I got inside and felt the familiar crunching underfoot. They were everywhere, buzzing desperately in various stages of dying, and twitching noiselessly. I knew it would only be a matter of time before those inside all died, but I still reached for the fly spray to try and give them a quicker time of it. Panic, not much left in the tin and the shops would now be closing, they would be closed tomorrow and Good Friday.
Fighting the temptation to bury my head in the sand, I forced myself to go outside and check the eaves, but knowing in my heart of hearts that they had again made us their home. Hundreds of them outside, milling around; their first priority the precious queen. Poor little loves. They bore no ill-will towards us, they just wanted to get on with their allotted tasks and it wasn’t their fault that they had made such a poor choice for their next home.
By 7.30 the next morning, Thursday, I was under siege both inside and outside the cabin. I turned the hose on to try and dissuade them from staying around the eaves area; hoping against hope that they would bugger off again like they did last week. No such luck. I couldn’t get any peace in my head and found myself shaking. Given all the limited options, what on earth could I now do now?
Even if the bees continued to pose no threat, John and Zoë would never have been able to sit outside. The noise was simply too great. I did email our nearest neighbour in the vain attempt that I could borrow his ladders and, if I could go out on Saturday to the ironmonger, perhaps I could buy some magic wasp powder and do a little sprinkling… He didn’t reply; I guess he was still away. Lucky, really, because I could never have climbed up it.
Trawling the internet, I found an English speaking company near Marbella and I was immediately soothed by a calm voice telling me not to worry. And so it was that, on this day of despair, a kind Englishman said he would come out to “deal with it” tomorrow morning, Good Friday. Good on him! I busied myself with more washing and a little bit of watering (running the gauntlet of the gathering swarm), brushing up dead bees and other mundane tasks in readiness for my visitors.
The next morning, I drove to meet the pest team as they would never find their way here. With my newly-found knowledge, I was able to put more air into the sad-looking tyre and hoped it would stay inflated until at least I’d got to the airport and back. Graham and Alex did the business but couldn’t save the bees, queen or hive as it was lodged between the outer and the inner skins of the cabin. Graham keeps bees himself and both of us regretted such carnage, but it was either them or me. He also sprayed some stuff which is supposed to protect that area from further infestation for a couple of years. After a few hours, it got ominously quiet and I knew this was the sound of death.
House clean, chicken curry cooked, tyre a little less hard, I was on my way to the airport and it all went without a hitch. All except daughter Zoë feeling a little queazy with the smell of petrol. So much so that, despite the evening’s warmth, I turned off the aircon as that seemed to make it worse. And it was curious this time as we weren’t travelling behind anybody. It was then I realised that the smell had to be us. First problems with the Nissan and now the little whizzer, oh dear!
The next day, we went out for a most of the day and had to keep the car windows open while driving along. We got back and about 30 bees were swarming again, with the same amount in the house. But my new mate Graham did explain that some foraging bees would return the next day and find everything gone and disappear themselves. That’s what happened.
The Nissan problem evaporated as quickly as it had come, perhaps a stone had been caught up somewhere? The petrol smell from the little Merc turned out to be a missing oil filler cap that had somehow worked loose and dropped into the road. Thanks to Ebay and a small outlay of £15, it has a new cover and it’s safe to drive again.
Have I learned anything from my few days alone? It was certainly a testing time and I can gain a modicum of comfort that I got through it. However, had Joe been away for longer, then I would have been forced further out of my comfort zone by having to perform some more taxing tasks. I certainly don’t want to be in the position again when that feeling of impotence descends on me like a cloud and I’m ashamed to reveal my lack of knowledge – and my fear of the unknown.
Since he’s been back Joe’s not been idle. Doing things that I could never do, want to do, or physically wouldn’t be able to do.
But at least I can go some way to fulfilling my side of the bargain by starting to become less of a wimp, taking the odd photo and writing about our life here in paradise.