As I plodded downstairs and put the kettle on for our early morning cuppa, I peered out of the kitchen window and there he was; Freddie fox in all his exquisite glory. He was on the olive terrace, just above the house and to my amazement there he remained. I called to Joe and we both gazed at him, while he stared down at us. His whole demeanour was one of curiosity and not one of panic and a compelling need to rush away.
Every day as I wander around the garden there is usually a fresh dropping laid in yet another strategic place and I was pretty sure that this was his marking-out-territory-poo. I’d realised that he considered this his home just as much as it was ours, and I was pretty happy with that. After all, we are only caretakers of this beautiful land. In fact, I’d flirted with the idea of leaving titbits around the place, but with being laid low by the virus thing, and the upheaval of the track works below us it hadn’t been a priority.
So, it made perfect sense that he was studying us in the way he did, and as our gazes met, I felt a strong empathy with him. Unlike the fox I saw some weeks back that wasn’t in the best condition, dull coat and very thin, our latest visitor looked in his prime. Freddie slowly sauntered away, pausing to sniff at various bushes as he climbed up and eventually out of sight towards our boundary with the Parque Natural.
The men arriving to start work on the track below us seemed to herald a new era in our precarious existence here. So much so, that I could almost believe in a god, or at the very least, the laws of karma! Being nice people, we did what we usually do and offered our drive as an area for them to park (almost impossible for them otherwise).
They seemed reasonably chatty, the digger driver and the other chap. They asked for water and expressed surprise that it wasn’t chilled. They were taken aback to hear that we had no mains electricity or water.
All was going well, particularly the bit when they started work. It was so predictable that we could have almost placed bets on it – Ricardo, with his advanced psychic abilities – was immediately alerted and set off at great speed from his goat hovel, leaving a plume of dust in his wake. How does he do it? There is no way he can see anything from where he is, some 3km around the side of the undulating valley. A bit like a spider lurking in the bowels of its nest, lunging forward in anticipation of a meal when something touches its web.
From our hilltop eyrie we watched with some glee as the digger carried on nonchalantly and Ricardo vented his considerable spleen at whoever would listen, directing a torrent of invective against his usual subjects: the Junta, the mayor, the crooks, his paperless ownership of the track. Next thing, he was shouting into his mobile. Yes, even goat herders have mobiles these days! Bet he’s phoning the Guardia Civil, we thought. His denuncia apparently registered, he drove away. Yes, I kid you not, within 15 minutes the familiar white and black vehicle came into sight and the sunglass-wearing officers got out of their car with practised casuality.
The digger continued droning away while an animated dialogue ensued, with lots of gesticulations and the vigorous prodding of an array of maps. The Guardia, apparently satisfied, left and parked some way up the road. Again, magically alerted, Ricardo set off and met with them under the shade of some oak trees. Later in the week Joe got waylaid by Ricardo and, during a particularly colourful rant, it was obvious that the only thing holding him back from ownership of the track was not having anything in writing to back up his claim.
It didn’t remain amusing for very long though. The man from the Junta, all fat stomach and big hat, was there when we next walked down. He puffed out his belly even more as he proudly proclaimed that he (and the Junta) was in charge of the works, not the town hall. It was all happening very quickly. Lorries were arriving thick and fast from the quarry at Periana, an hour’s drive away, laden with huge rocks.
We said, “but of course, you’re going to put some sort of retaining wall there, aren’t you?” He said that no, they wouldn’t be doing that. “You can do it yourselves if you wish”, he said, “but no need as it’s rock and very firm”. “No it isn’t” said Joe, “it’s friable earth and unsafe and it will start falling onto your new track and eventually we will lose our drive”. “Oh”, said Mr Junta, “then we would come along and scrape it off when necessary.” Despite our obvious disappointment, he was in an expansive mood and joked about Mr Goat Herder who thinks he owns the world. The Junta remain the ultimate force in this country.
So, let me get this right. They come along without any prior warning. They carve land off our boundary and render it unsafe from the point of view of our own access, they then offer to give us a quote to make it safe for which we will have to get town hall permission! The initial euphoria was replaced by that sinking feeling – here we go again. Why is it always such a struggle to exist here? Why can’t something go right?
Well, something may have gone right, not sure whether it has yet, but fingers crossed. I’ve written ad nauseum about the bees, and Mr Junta asked me whether we had a problem with them as the digger driver had been stung already. I told him we had millions around us and they were causing us some difficulties. I asked him whether the chap who owned the hives further along the track had a permiso for the beehives, but he shrugged. Perhaps damage limitation luck might come into play here and the omnipotent Mr Junta may check up on this before the men progress very much further along the track? I won’t hold my breath, but 70 odd hives sure contain a lot of angry bees…
Meanwhile, up at the ranch we were experiencing difficulties with the solar power supply. We’d got to the stage where the system was frustrating us by just falling short of the things it used to be able to do. Upon examining the inverter history it turned out that for at least the past 60 days we’ve been only taking in about half the power through the panels. Joe found a loose connection but it made no difference when he re-connected it. He nevertheless gave them a bit of a wash while he was up there.
So, have two of the four panels died, or could it be something simple? Time to call the R team (Roger and Robert). They always seem to like coming up here, and despite the beeps, rumblings and dust from the works below, they were here for quite a few hours. The problem (wires somewhere) was fixed and the bill presented was surprisingly modest. This may have something to do with the fact that Roger, a strapping lad, brought his superior strength to bear on trying to close the lid of the toilet. Obviously it snapped under the strain, and he later expressed the opinion that we should display a notice telling visitors that it is a self-closing toilet seat. We were grateful indeed that instead of broken solar panels, we only had a distressed toilet seat.
The dust was beginning to get to me; it had been a long couple of days. That afternoon Joe, ever mindful of others who were working very hard in very hot sun, took down our last two Coca Colas. Once again the men made pained expressions because the cans weren’t chilled to their liking. They tucked the digger behind our gates which we later locked when they had gone. Have we made a rod for our own backs?