Dodging the showers

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”  John Ruskin

Clouds & mist 20 Mar 15 (2)

Mist  Solar panels 20 Mar 15We’ve had our head in the clouds for the last ten days.  By this, I mean that it’s rained a lot without the normal interlude of sunshine or wind to dry up the surface of our drives.  The solar panels continue to perform well, even in these conditions.

Rain umbrella JB 20 Mar 15

Bridge bump 13 Feb 15Joe’s been out with spade and shovel and cleared lots of silt away from the rain water channels and it’s very satisfying to watch it cascade down the hill and under the little stone bridge (pictured here in drier conditions).

Nissan muddy wheel 18 Mar 15 (2)Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (3)On a test run a few days ago, even in 4wd the Nissan began to drift a bit as Joe set off downhill.  Once he reached the flat area halfway down, he turned it around but not before its tyres got well and truly coated with about 2″ of mud slurry.

Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (5)Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (4)Grip lost, the Nissan started to drift sideways quite alarmingly as Joe attempted to steer it up the front drive, and with a sheer drop on the left hand side, he felt it prudent to withdraw.

After a bit of a struggle he eventually got the Nissan up the less precarious back drive where it stayed for a few more days until the cupboard was bare.  The rain hadn’t abated and we simply had to get out to get some shopping.  It was a relief when we got down to the front gate, even more so a few hours later when the Nissan bore us safely back laden with lots of exciting food shopping, plus pickaxe handle, brown paint and 8 bags of capa fina.  The journey to the coast had been slower than usual because the Nissan was prone to the odd slide or two on the wet roads.

Panic room wall LAF 9 Mar 15In between cats-and-dogs type showers Joe was able to finish what we now call the curly-wurly seat that effectively used up his stockpile of larger odd-shaped stones.  The capa fina, as usual, went on like a dream and sculpted into a rather voluptuous shape and quickly covered with marrón oscuro, our trademark brown paint.  At some stage, I think I will add a Moorish type design.

Curvy bench 26 Mar 15 (5)Curvy bench done 27 Mar 15 (4)The seat contrasts nicely with the backdrop of the stone wall that Joe quickly ‘threw together’ a few weeks back, and sitting there provides shelter from the prevailing wind and gives us uninterrupted views of the road and valley.

P1050288We immediately christened the curly-wurly with a refreshing pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, our Wedgwood china cups balancing well on the flat areas each side that Joe thoughtfully had provided for this very purpose.

We sell tea in Starbucks, but I think the experience is very different.  I think coffee is something that is quick – it’s transactional.  I think tea is more Zen-like.  It requires a different environment.”  Howard Schultz (Chairman/CEO of Starbucks)




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Bisphenol A – no thanks!

It’s rare to go out anywhere these days without seeing people clutching their latest must-have accessory, their own personal bottle of water.  This innocuous little item seems to have become part of a daily habit, something that we can’t possibly leave home without.  I heard this phenomenon rather graphically described recently as a substitute for a mother’s nipple!

Ever since the 1970s we’ve been told that bottled water is the healthier option, much safer and more pure than tap water.  The documentary film ‘Tapped’ exposes the global bottled water industry as one of the biggest health cons of our time. Aside from the fact that we are all paying good money for something that is free (!), it describes how we are also damaging our health and contributing to the demise of the environment in the process!

Not that we’ve got much of a choice here in sunny Spain.  Unless you live in a major city, you can’t rely on mains tap water for drinking, so a staple for most people here is a goodly supply of 5L containers of agua potable (drinking water).  So, even though you can’t drink it, mains water is available to all households around here and, rather like the UK, it is used liberally for everything including washing of self and clothes, watering, cooking etc.

?????????????? Photo 12 The side shippon

This is not the first time we’ve had to get used to living without the luxury of both mains water and electricity.  Yes folks, we’ve been here before!


??????????????We spent three years in the wilds of Devon, on a mission to save this historic, centuries-old cob and thatch house from total dereliction, digging our heels in when the planners said “no”.

Our living conditions were more primitive there as we made our home in an old, battered caravan without the benefit of mains anything, no solar panels or well, reliant on a generator, water butts, river water and an old Rayburn.

Water was to become a revered and very precious commodity for us during our special time there.  Here are a few extracts from the book I wrote about our experience (“Shoestring Warrior, Lynda Franklin, Wunjo Press, 2005):

The sparkling nearby stream gave us an abundant supply of running water, but water was too heavy for me to lug around even using light plastic containers and I often wondered how on earth our ancestors managed with wooden buckets.  So, for convenience we used a network of plastic water butts to catch every last drop of rain from the caravan (and later, the barn) roof, and I would dip a bucket into it. More often than not the water had a smoky tang due to soot deposits from the Rayburn chimney. The butts were nearly always full. Wet Devon or what!

I must admit I was developing the unenviable trait of becoming a bit holier than thou, especially regarding wastage:

There was a sort of purity about processing our own rubbish and we certainly had to become very sparing with water when it had to be carted around and manhandled on the top of the Rayburn. Joe emptied our portaloo every six days and we had a large bucket into which the cold water from the sink drained. We did manage to keep relatively clean via the cracked, plastic kitchen sink, although we didn’t wash as regularly as we used to. Unless you’ve lived the way we did, or are a hardened camper, I guess there wouldn’t be a need to question consumption of natural resources, ‘oh, I’ve left a bit of loo paper floating in the pan, I’d better flush it a few more times’.”

“We are increasingly conditioned to be aware of how we look, keeping sparkly clean and having our hair shine-shake-shine. Are we really so manipulated that most of this has become subliminal now? There are wipes and disin­fectants to remove every trace of every germ known to man. I’m sure most of us have felt sick when brought face to face with investigative films showing the state of kitchens, say, at the local Balti or burger bar. Yet it’s still compara­tively rare to get food-poisoning.  We’re quite a hardy breed really.” 

I digress.  Back to the bottled water.  You probably remember the scare a few years back that a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic water containers (ie Bisphenol A or BPA) is highly toxic and can potentially migrate into the contents of the bottle.  Back then, it was estimated that more than 2.2 million tons were made each year.

Getting water 20 Oct 13 (6)Since we totally rely on our own water supply and spring water gathered from the mountains – little point in going to the supermarket when you can get it for free  – we’d got into the habit of using the same old 5L bottles time and time again.  We were shamed into replacing all our old bottles, but I must admit we’ve still been potentially harming ourselves by storing water longish term in these bottles, and often in high temperatures.

Water containers 20 Mar 15So, having just watched ‘Tapped’, we were filled with a new resolve.  All our plastic containers have been declared redundant and dangerous.  We’re eagerly awaiting delivery of a 25L stainless steel urn and if we do use the odd 5L container, it will only be to transport water from our own well, or from the spring to home.  At the moment, we are using glass jars and a large saucepan to store the water.

I believe there has been some changes made in other countries to the laws regarding the use of such chemicals for food/drink containers, but I was surprised to read that in January this year the European Food Safety Authority stands firm against the scare-mongers.  In publishing its latest re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity it concluded that it poses “no health risk to consumers of any age group“.

It went on to say that “uncertainties surrounding potential health effects of BPA on the mammary gland, reproductive, metabolic, neuro-behavioural and immune systems have been quantified and factored in to the calculation of the Tolerated Daily Intake“.  However, they have a get-out clause that this evaluation is regarded as “temporary” pending the outcome of a “long-term study in rats“.

Better safe than sorry!

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Dicho y hecho

We had been thinking about the idea of building a ‘panic room’ at the gable end of the cabin facing the prevailing wind.  Even though the room would nestle under the verandah and therefore within the footprint of the house itself, we still needed to screen it off from where it could potentially be glimpsed from the road.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo

Panic room 1“What we need is a nice stone wall just here”, he said.  ‘What a wonderful idea!’ I said.  The local tip was still managing to yield both hardcore and rounded river stones, and – if you dug around enough – some very nice building stone.  If there was a shortfall, he felt sure he could make it up from stones around our land.

Panic room 2 (3)

Panic room 2We decided that a curved wall would be rather fun, and also make the whole structure stronger.  Dicho y hecho, no sooner said than done! Joe’s button had been pressed and he swung into action.

Panic room 2 (2)

Panic room 4Because of its 2.5m height, some mortar was needed for extra strength. Apart from diesel for the Nissan, a few bags of cement was the only other thing we had to buy; even the sand came from the tip!

Panic room 3Panic room 7The little feature alcove was my idea as Joe had come across a number of brick-sized pieces of granite and we had wondered how to show them off.  He even managed to find an almost triangular piece of stone with a hole in it which he built in to the other side of the alcove.  When the sun shines first thing in the morning, the alcove is lit up by a shaft of sunlight.  Brilliant!

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent Van Gogh

Panic room 6Panic room 5The wall started on 18th February and by 4th March a mere two weeks later, there it stood, proud and very solid.  It’s not quite finished yet as Joe’s crafted a seat out of largely unusable awkward shape stones.  It’s been rendered but is now awaiting a coat of capa fina (Spanish exterior plaster) and a liberal wash with our trademark brown paint.

Panic room wall 4 Mar 15 (14)Panic room wall 4 Mar 15 (12)For the moment we’ve moved away from the idea of building a panic room, but all this effort wasn’t all in vain. Far from it! Not only do we gaze out on a beautiful piece of art drawn from a vibrant palette of stones but also, as we are people who value our privacy, we are secure in the knowledge that nobody can see us as we move around that side of the house.

“But, when the work was finished, the Craftsman kept wishing that there was someone to ponder the plan of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness.” Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94)

JB communing below bump 17 Mar 15 (2)Yesterday as I was wandering around with my camera, excited at finding the first pink butterfly orchid of the year, I caught sight of Joe sitting on one of his benches he had made around the land. He didn’t hear me approach and no word passed between us as I stood behind him.  I would imagine that he, like me, was lost in wonderment at the majesty of nature that unfolded before us.

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Damage limitation luck

As Spring gradually starts to emerge from her grey cocoon, there are a few updates to give you as we continue our existence in this beautiful but challenging environment.

Nissan track repair 29 Apr 14Firstly, the Nissan passed its ITV without so much as ‘an advisory’, which surprised our mechanic Honest John because both sets of back lights are cracked – the worst affected being the reversing light but as it is meant to be clear anyway, it was deemed ok!  So, for the not insignificant sum of 160 euro we have yet another year of motoring.  Oh, and he had to put a new number plate on.  However, there remains a problem with the tracking – it pulls rather markedly to the right – Honest John believes it was caused by contact with a hard object, like a kerb but neither Joe nor I remember doing this.  I guess we will need to get it sorted some time.

Road collapsing 24 Jan 15You will probably remember me waffling on about the new road below us that was finally finished mid July last year.  We had expressed concerns about the rather half-baked job the men had done, and shortly afterwards I posted some photos of some nice big cracks on the surface.  Of more concern were the dramatic earth slips appearing after the first rains which, over time, we reckoned, were bound to result in some undermining of the foundations. Here’s a photo taken last week after 7 months of rainy winter weather, with the eroded soil falling away exposing the water pipes; I hate people like me that say, “I told you so”!

Return to Foggie 16 Jan 15 (13)All this aside, and apart from the inconvenience and land grabbing during the works last year, I still can’t thank them enough for converting our previously precarious access into something that should last for longer than we will.  However, this will surely have disappointed our goat herder friend who, I am sure, was biding his time waiting for our drive to become impassable so we would finally have to beg him to sell us the ‘ransom strip’ of his adjoining land (about 1/3 acre).  It was around 2008 when we first approached him about buying, but his price was a non-negotiable 75,000 euro!  And by the time of our last conversation in 2010 he’d dug his heels in and said it wasn’t for sale.

The second piece of good news, or in my parlance, damage limitation luck, is the following:

An amendment to Spain’s penal code has just been passed by the ruling Mariano Rajoy-led government that dictates judges must ensure that property owners who purchased an illegally built house in good faith are compensated before any demolition order is passed. This long overdue legal change could positively impact thousands of home-owners –which includes many Brits – who had previously faced the prospect of losing their home and their investment under the old law.  

The Spanish Senate, it seems has finally seen sense in the face of sustained pressure from the opposition Socialist party and AUAN, who have been tireless in campaigning on behalf of the estimated 300,000 home-owners whose properties are at risk.  This amendment, according to AUAN’s lawyer, “protects the good faith of buyers, but doesn’t go as far as we would have wished”.  AUAN says it will keep on campaigning until all properties currently deemed illegal are finally recognised by the law and provided with proper water and electricity connections; something that has often been denied home-owners like us who bought such properties!

Almonds back of hill 22 Feb 15As I’ve written before, I’ve been confused by the reluctance of anyone, anywhere to give us any clarification, except to seemingly block our every move to be allowed the luxury of water and electricity.  Strange really as all over the place are fincas (patches of land with or without a building) with mains water, and there is even a fenced off plot next to our nearest neighbour, quite bereft of any building that has had an electricity meter on the gatepost for a number of years.

Not sure where that leaves us, as we certainly purchased our property in good faith back in April 2006. We bought a plot of some 40,000 sq m or so, with full planning permission (and plans) for a rather splendid house, plus an already existing log cabin on the site, with all the legal paperwork.  It came as a shock when about 2/3 of our land was taken by the Junta and called Parque Natural, but we still had no idea that our very existence here would be under threat.

Fig terrace Maroma 13 Mar 15I mentioned earlier what I call ‘damage limitation luck’.  This new road, however poorly constructed it might turn out to be along certain stretches, must surely have added some value to our property, whatever its status may be.  I’ve read that a list is being drawn up by the mayors which is divided into three categories: ‘legal’, ‘illegal’, and ‘demolition’.  Certainly at this stage we are not wishing to rock the boat and demand answers.

Top gate 14 Feb 15Will it be demolished or won’t it is obviously the most pressing question but I think the fact that the house has now been standing for all these years goes in its favour.  However, its proximity to the Parque is a minus – although all the houses along our ridge are within a stone’s throw of the damned Parque.   And we’ve been told they are all illegal until ratified.

In such a climate of uncertainty, for our home to be earmarked for demolition is obviously something that potentially could happen and your guess is as good as ours.  But since we’ve managed without anyone else’s electricity and water for so long, it makes sense that it would be the lesser of two evils for our home to be deemed ‘illegal’ ie, allowed to exist but having ‘paperless’ status – forever destined to be in a sort of no-man’s land without any entitlement to mains services (not that this would bother us!).

So, to recap, one piece of damage limitation luck is that we now have a good access but it was at some cost to us.  The second is that with this new legislation, the powers that be may find it much easier to leave us alone rather than going to the expense of a legal fight and potential compensation.

Sunset euphorbias 8 Mar 15This whole Foggiebabe blog continues to be a painful but inestimable privilege to write.   Should it ever come to it, I will relish broadcasting to a wider world our humble story of love, compassion and living in harmony and peace with nature; a David and Goliath fight against double dealing, obfuscation and deception.

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Storm in a teacup

Night drive to los Arcos 27 Feb 15Whether one can blame the winds we’ve recently experienced on climate change, I can’t really say, but I hope that the last three or four weeks of blustery winds are now firmly behind us. Following yet another night of sleep deprivation, during what felt like the ‘worst ever’ gusts, we hatched an action plan. So, when it all started up again the next night, we were ready for it – we simply clambered into the Nissan and took ourselves off to sleep at our friend Horst’s finca just half a mile away.

Although we could still hear the wind, we slept peaceably.  Next morning we discovered that a chunky bough had sheared off his prize eucalyptus, narrowly avoiding the Nissan’s windscreen. So, at dusk for the next two nights, we decamped there. Thanks Horstie.

Almacen space under JB 24 Feb 15 (1)Caravan wall 23 Oct 13Sleep is such a precious commodity that we’ve started giving some thought to building some sort of ‘panic room’, either adjoining the cabin, a new room within the curtilage of the almacén, or building up the walls around the caravan to protect it more.  The latter two options would be fiddly and probably more costly than building a new structure .

Sunset clouds  cabin 25 Feb 15 (3)Clouds amazing dawn 26 Feb 15Since that windy episode we’ve had a continuous period of sunshine, apart from one day of welcome low cloud (fog) and spits of rain.  I say welcome because it meant that Joe could – undetected from the spy in the mountains monster – make inroads into setting fire to the huge pile of strimmings he’d cut down last winter.  I just couldn’t face queuing up at the town hall in the hope of getting a licence to burn, having to give specific date and time of the proposed momentous event.

Junta strimmers 26 Apr 13 (3)

Junta strimmers 25 Apr 13 (2)Last November, because of our vulnerability to fire, Joe decided to pop over the fence and strim the area adjoining and parallel with our plastic water pipes. Back in April 2013 the Junta team had cut down that very same area and all around our hill during their rotational tidy-up; unquestionably Parque land.  However, this was to result in more than just a pile of weedy cuttings.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”  Aristotle

Nissan collecting water 21 Feb 15 (1)We’d popped to the mountain spring to fill up our drinking water containers and our friendly neighbourhood goat herder screeched to a halt beside us.  He angrily demanded whether Joe had cut down the aforementioned area or whether the Junta had done it. It was me, said Joe, and then all hell broke loose as Ricardo went into some sort of apoplectic fit.  It was his land, and he was going to denounce Joe to the dreaded Guardia.  No further dialogue was possible as he ran to his jeep and disappeared in a cloud of dust and derring-do, dog propped up in the back seat.

Faintly amused, we awaited the arrival of the Guardia men in black who are duty bound to investigate any complaint by a member of the public, however trivial; I think Ricardo is well known to them.  Sure enough, they turned up a few days later and drove past the patch in question, now greening up nicely.  I would imagine that they then went to the town hall to consult the local plan.  Anyhow, that appears to be the end of this particular storm in a teacup, but antagonising someone so volatile is not something we would deliberately set out to do or even wish to do.

Speedwell 1 Mar 15

Rape flower 1 Mar 15Vetch & quartz 1 May 14Now Joe is doing more strimming as the paths and steps are over-run with tiny little yellow flowers, rape and thistles interspersed with these gorgeous little speedwells.  The common vetch flowers are also growing like the weeds they are, but one can’t help but be uplifted by their nodding pink and purple flowers and delicate but strangulating foliage.

Lemon crop 1 Mar 153 euros avocados oranges 23 Feb 15 - CopyIt was with no small delight that I skipped down to one of the lower terraces and picked off a lemon from our most prolific tree, leaving 7 to enjoy at some later date. All the more enjoyable since it’s taken 5 years to get such an ‘abundant’ crop!  After months of avoiding them in the shops because of their exorbitant cost, it was very rewarding to buy a load of these locally grown oranges and ready to eat avocados in the local second hand shop – all for the princely sum of 3 euro.

“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fuckin’ heroic.”  George Carlin

Avocado self seed frost 13 Feb 15Buddha wasp nests 13 Feb 15We have 3 avocado plants that have sprung up from the compost heap; a bit worse for wear from the biting winds, but still managing to cling to life.  Also, thanks to rooting hormone, three oleander cuttings have survived, so I will be planting those out shortly. But at 850m above sea level, it’s certainly a question of survival of the fittest, and I guess that’s what makes it feel so much of a triumph to see the emergence of tender shoots, like the first of the vine leaves that sprang into life today.  Even the Buddha has been enabling new wasp life over the few years that he’s been sitting peacefully in the oak grove!












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Steve the spider and other friends

P1040768At this time of year, the light and airy bedroom facing the Med (rather unfairly referred to as the laundry room) can be a lovely cosy place to go and sit, even meditate, as it is either warmed by the woodburner chimney, or by the sunlight streaming in through the large windows, or both on cold days.

Washing line snow Maroma 6 Feb 15

P1070098There is still a fair amount of humidity around, so hanging clothes outside on the line is now possible in the sunshine, even though there is still snow up on the high ground.

The washing is then hung up in the laundry room, but the combination of heat and dampish cloths can sometimes resemble a sauna!  I’ve noticed gecko droppings (thin, hard, black with a white pointed end) in this room so it must be heaven for them and also ideal conditions for my new friend, a teensy weensie jumping spider who I’ve been noticing for a number of weeks now.

P1040761He or she (I called him Steve) was always wandering around the middle left window. Intrigued, I got out the magnifying glass and could see his black furry fangs move left and right as though he was checking out the area, looking for food perhaps? This put me in mind of how Navy minesweepers patrol the waters in a grid formation, up and down. What could he find to eat, being as he doesn’t seem to stray beyond that one piece of glass? There are no insects around, and he hasn’t woven any sort of cobweb, poor little chap.

I have to admit to a bit of a problem with spiders that started when I was about 9 or 10 and watching a really scary film on television; it might have even been Quatermass.  It was night-time and I crept out to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Big mistake – I didn’t put on either the light or any shoes; I was barefoot.  There was a crunch, I put on the light and there was something very black, very big and very squashed stuck to my left foot which my poor arachnophobic mother had to scrape off with a knife and deal with because I was ridiculously hysterical.

I’ve heard that people can get nasty bites from these little jumping spiders, but surely not this little chap who seemed quite innocuous.  There are apparently something like 400 types of jumping spider in the world, and Spain has about 75 different species, so even with a reasonably close-up lens I would find it difficult to identify whether or not he was a ‘biter’. You have to admit, he’s rather sweet and I even felt some tenderness as I sat there ‘communing’ with him!

Anyhow, I have to laugh because since I took some macro photos of him yesterday, he’s now vanished into thin air.  Happy hunting and thanks Steve Spider, I think you may have helped me make some inroads into conquering the spider demon.


???????????????Living here these past years has certainly helped me with other creepie-crawlies like locusts and green crickets (which are both huge), scorpions, centipedes and even snakes.

No, snakes are no problem.  I’d go to any country, anywhere, any snakes, not a problem.”  Steve Irwin

Ladders snake 2 Feb 15 (2)I’ve never been that bothered about snakes either since my nephew Beau had a pet corn snake.  We came across a ladder snake yesterday sunning himself on the new road and Joe took this picture with his mobile phone as the snake got himself ready to strike.  We left him alone after that and he slithered off up the bank.  It was the first time I’ve ever heard a snake hissing.


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Poste haste

correos-logotip-horitzontalI think I’ve written before about the curious nature of the Spanish postal system.  The British concept of tailored post codes for small, specific areas doesn’t apply here.  Instead, the main towns have just one post code each.  Our province of Malaga is divided into 72 postal areas and Alfarnate, say, is 29194.   If you live within the curtilage of a town or village it’s likely you could get your mail delivered from a real live postman.  But for those of us that only have a house name but no number or street name then the mail is routed to the relevant post office.

Trip Acebuchal 26 Apr 13 (2)However, as you can see, with this set-up it would be far too complicated for the rural outlying areas to get a door to door postal delivery.  If they did, properties like ours in the sticks would need to quote either the GPS coordinates or full directions like: “third turning left after the last right hand bend out of the village.  Up the zig-zag hill, left fork, sharp right after Casa Mirabela, left after the next 2 fincas, left at the algarrobo trees, past the rubbish bins, down the hill, turn right at T junction where concrete road ends…”, etc. You get the picture.

My ‘official’ address tied me in to using the post office of our nearest village, the address that would always be used by the powers-that-be.  I once had a Junta (government) letter (about nothing in particular) sellotaped to the front gate by some well-meaning soul. Someone told me that if an Important Communication is sent but not collected then it’s sent back to the relevant Junta department who then make sure the recipient is notified by other means.  The town hall have always had my phone and email address so I’m pretty sure that nothing Important came my way.  I didn’t even have a courtesy letter after ‘they’ unilaterally took ownership of about two-thirds of our land back in 2008.

The post office occupied a small room adjoining the mayoral/town hall offices. The whole ‘going to collect the mail visitor experience’ proved too much of a pain for me because there appeared to be something like a two hour window when the post person was likely to appear, if at all.  There was nowhere to wait/sit outside.

?????????????????????????People would drift in and out on important town hall affairs, with no apparent queue system, and I would lurk outside trying not to look as though I was eavesdropping but as the Spanish typically converse in shrill, loud voices and the door was usually left open, I moved as far away from the door as possible.  For a period of time, the road was being dug up for ‘major improvements’ and I became more and more disillusioned with the dust, noise and inconvenience of it all.  There had to be a better solution, I told myself.

JDF Canillas 11 May 13 (2)

In 2009 I defected to the next-nearest village and began to quote its post code. But things weren’t a lot different there either, except that I was usually in the company of one or two Brits, as confused as me as to how such a haphazard service could exist in a modern, progressive country. None of us really knew when the shadowy post person would turn up but if you were expecting something from the UK, for instance, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid about returning the package to sender if you weren’t actually in attendance on the day it arrived!  I did try to rent one of their post boxes, but I was told they had none to spare.

Competa JDF 8 May 13 (5)Hallelulah!  Things have been much easier since we found out about and started using a post box system operated by an English couple in our nearest big town.  They, for a modest annual fee, take in letters and parcels, even signing for them on your behalf. Emboldened by such professionalism, I decided to change the Nissan car tax details to the new address.

I decided to ask the Asesoria (company who handle legal paperwork) who dealt with the purchase of the Nissan to handle this reasonably simple task for me.  She emailed back to say she would need my driving licence, passport, my NIE number and registration, a copy of the car’s latest ITV (MoT), plus 21 euro – a small price to pay considering.

Bureaucracies are inherently antidemocratic. Bureaucrats derive their power from their position in the structure, not from their relations with the people they are supposed to serve. The people are not masters of the bureaucracy, but its clients.”  Alan Keyes

Buying a car in Spain – or doing anything involving bureaucracy in Spain – is not for the faint-hearted, the impatient, or those who optimistically think they can communicate efficiently and get a satisfactory outcome. The cover-all nature of the form she attached gave me the shudders and I thought, if I fill it in fully, then they will know a heck of a lot more about me than I would wish to tell them.

27 May 13Anyhow, I fished out the ITV and found that it ran out in two days’ time. The Nissan shouldn’t now officially be on the road until 2nd March when we sneak it across to Honest John at his auto centre, some 20km away.  Fingers crossed for an optimistic outcome – we’ve only been back in Spain for a month and already shelled out 950 euro on repairs!  But I suppose Mr Nissan does have a hard life.

People to whom nothing has ever happened cannot understand the unimportance of events.” T S Eliot

Hopefully after 2nd March I can finally start the ball rolling for the momentous address change event!  As you can probably gather, we have as little exposure to the authorities as possible.

Yellow flower Oxalis Bermuda 13 Feb 15 (1)Copies for blog (1)I actually found it difficult to write this post, but bureaucracy is all part of life here.  As we go into our 9th year, I’m much happier observing and recording nature’s wonder as spring once again breathes life into the trees and bushes and we begin to see the emergence of buds, shoots and the early yellow plants that are so characteristic of this time of year.

P1140015Euphorbia dew 13 Feb 15Flowers like the Oxalis Bermuda Buttercup that grows like a weed in Andalucia, the Hawkweed, the Spanish Gorse and the Euphorbia all herald the beginning of the warmer weather. Which is, after all, one of the major reasons that we Brits come in droves to holiday or settle here.

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Nodding acquaintances

“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbours’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbours but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.” Wendell Berry

Cabin from bump Sep 13 (3)Despite living here with hardly any full-time near neighbours and with burglaries apparently on the increase, somehow or other we don’t feel that we are at particularly high-risk. What we have in our favour, I guess, is that our little home is exactly what it is and what you can glimpse through the trees – a wooden shack.  To the practised thief there would seem to be far richer pickings elsewhere.  You know, all those nice whitewashed houses with roomy extensions, lots of concrete archways, columns, portico infrastructures and the ubiquitous pools.

Deepani rose 5 Oct 11 (2)And what a disappointment it would probably be for anyone hoping to find anything of value to nick and flog! Over the years, and forever alert to the fact that a forest fire could wipe out our homeInterior cabin 24 Jun 14 (4), we’ve deliberately kept its contents low value but of high colour and personal interest.  Of course, things like books, kitchenware and linen would be a nuisance to replace, but unlikely to be stolen.  Our i-pads always travel with us.

Copies for blog (9)Gates 29 Sep 13The front gates are always secured, with a four digit combination lock, and usually a heavy chain and serious padlock, too. Just below that we always keep the goat gate locked with another combination lock. Neither of which would deter the dedicated burglar but would certainly dissuade any casual callers – and the dreaded goats.

Hang gliders 16 Oct 13 (1)????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????During the day we will always be at the mercy of trespass by the odd bird- watcher, back-packer or hang glider pilot and , of course, hunters and goat-herders who may wrongly think they have a right to cross our land for some reason. However, most of these men of nature have usually got enough on their plate scouring the hinterland for their goats or for hidden jabali (wild boar).

When I was here on my own I do admit to sleeping with a rusty, blunt antique sword by the bed, an air rifle nearby – without pellets; still not sure where they are!  We bought a Spanish made gas pistol but it never properly worked and I’ve actually forgotten how to put the gas cartridge in and load the damn thing with pellets.

A wholesome oblivion of one’s neighbours is the beginning of wisdom.”  Richard Le Gallienne.

P1030113Our ‘community’ comprises an assortment of nationalities, some here full-time, some part-time and some hardly ever. We have 4 lots of Germans, two lots of Brits, three lots of Belgians, one unknown, 2 lots of Spanish, and one Scandinavian household. Their houses are scattered around the hillside, most with fine views of the Mediterranean.

An astonishing five properties have changed hands reasonably recently, and I’m not quite sure how the conveyancing went through as we were told by the Alcalde (mayor) himself that all the houses, except for those within the strict curtilage of the village, are illegal. That means they have been built on rural land and at some stage someone has to make a decision as to which houses will be granted permission, which will never be declared legal, and those which will be designated for demolition.

It seems that, at the moment, there is a building frenzy around us; maybe home-owners want to increase the size of their houses before ‘the man’ comes round with his clipboard and rubber stamps their legality.  Last year, a German family who come here occasionally added a swimming pool, sauna and a huge solar complex at the back of their already capacious dwelling.  A few doors down, some new people have earned my total respect for of converting what was an empty space beside their house into a fully tiled garage – in just one day.  The plastering took a further day.

Our object should be peace within, and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial friendly relations with our immediate neighbours and with the world at large.” Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Well, living peacefully is definitely the aim, but it’s quite difficult to strike up a dialogue with a series of ghosts.  We are on nodding acquaintance with only 3 lots of neighbours and have the odd conversation with two further lots, but that suits us fine.  We’re not the types to impose ourselves on others and I would imagine that we would only find out what the ‘ghosts’ look like and how friendly they are if we were suddenly to come across them one day on the narrow track.

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” George Washington

Almacen wall 28 Jul 14 (18)Cortijo Paco 21 Jul 2012 disrespect (24)However, having a special friend in Horst more than makes up for any lack of social contact with anyone else on our hill!  Horst is from Germany and he, along with his Sri Lankan wife Deepani, spend half the year here and the other half at their tea plantation in Sri Lanka.  How lucky we are to have them both in our life.



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Winds of change

13 Feb 14 (3)I have seen many storms in my life.  Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.” Paulo Coelho

Apologies for bringing up the ‘W’ word again, but we’ve just experienced the worst winds here that we’ve ever known – how often have I written that?!  This time, it wasn’t the ‘normal’ katabatic wind blowing straight down the mountain, but from a different angle and was like being in some alternative reality where you can’t actually believe that something so powerful could exist. I’ve written about the strong winds here on many occasions, but this one was in a league of its own.  The magnitude and fury of it all took us both by surprise; we who are so used to raw nature here at 850m altitude.

Boarded bedroom 25 Jan 15Earlier in the afternoon as the storm got into its stride, it felt as though I took my life in my hands just by venturing upstairs to clear the main bedroom of any potential flotsam and jetsam, grabbing anything of vague import to take to the comparative safety of downstairs.  It was fortuitous that Joe had, some weeks back, had the foresight to temporarily board up the larger bedroom window with an old door.

I could feel the icy fingers of complete panic start to constrict around my heart, I felt very sick and the hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I had to take control of myself, because there was nowhere to run to, nothing that we could do.  As the afternoon and evening progressed without respite, sleep was obviously out of the question.  And it was bloody cold; something like -6 deg c including wind chill.

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh

As I lay on the swaying sofabed downstairs with house vibrating and shuddering, I started to put into practice what I’d so far learned about mindfulness.  I did my best to concentrate on breathing and not project about what the myriad of ‘what if’s’.  I began counting my breaths in blocks of 10’s and continued this for hour upon hour. Somehow I managed to find a place of relative calm and there I stayed.  I think that Joe must have been doing likewise. He said later that he pushed his earplugs in so far that they hurt his ears, but they did little to muffle the sound.

It was strangely reassuring to see the light of day.  New noises and sensations had come into play due to the severity of the wind; so far nothing had come crashing about our ears. But the wind hadn’t finished with us yet.  Horizontal debris – twigs, earth, stones, leaves flew past at an alarming rate, shot blasting the cars.  It was like hitting a patch of turbulence in an aeroplane; things fell off shelves and cups of coffee wobbled uncertainly. Even with the sun streaming through the windows the thermometer barely made 40 deg f inside the house.  It was pointless lighting the wood burner as the wind would have knocked out the flames.  So we concentrated on drinking coffee, eating and watching something absorbing on Netflix.

Still the storm raged on.  The toilet wouldn’t flush; had the pipe from the depositos to the house burst?  It was too dangerous for Joe to go up there and investigate, but as it transpired later, it was due to the water in the pipe freezing solid.  He did venture out at some stage to just check around the house, and came back incredulous that our little wooden home was still standing and still had all its tiles on the roof.  While he was outside, hanging on for dear life, he watched a whole row of tiles lift up simultaneously like a wave and then crash down again, something that we’d got used to hearing happen from the inside since the storm began.

Log burner 6 Feb 15We eventually lit the wood burner which looked cheerful and kept the kettle warm but until the wind subsided a bit more it had little impact on heating the room.  I did my best to find an accurate weather forecast but couldn’t make any sense of any of them. They all said sunny, with wind strength between 8 km/h to 16 km/h – giving the impression that this was a typical calm, Mediterranean day.  Only one forecast hinted that there was anything amiss – gusts of 54 km/h were mentioned but no amber alerts. When we had the last gales around Christmas 2013 the gusts were recorded at 123km/h (76 mph), but this surely had to be stronger.

Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (3)Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (5)Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (4)It was mid afternoon before the wind died down, and it took a further few hours to stop completely.  A quick check outside revealed that our upstairs verandah rail had been ripped off; a heavy iron cover had blown off the water filter box and landed near the house; the 6ft tall yucca had split in half and there was one very distressed looking agave! There were the usual casualties of snapped wooden stakes holding up the cypresses but, apart from those things, nothing out of place.  In the aftermath, everywhere looked a bit shell-shocked, the trees bent over and stripped of much of their winter foliage.

Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (7)Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (6)Aftermath storm 6 Feb 15 (8)No real loss anywhere, but we also gained something, c/o a sturdy oak tree which lost an 8ft limb – soon carved up by Joe and chainsaw and laid aside to season for firewood next year.

Foggie rainbow 5 Apr 13 (4)Mindfulness helps us freeze the frame so that we can become aware of our sensations and experiences as they are, without the distorting colouration of socially-conditioned responses or habitual reactions.” Henepola Gunaratana

COPY 6 Oct 11I felt rather pleased with myself that I’d won a little victory over my usual default mode of panic as I’m basically a wimp at heart. Although I’m only in the early stages of mindfulness practice, in my desperation I had clung to what little I’d learned.  I emerged from the experience with a stronger awareness of how the mind thinks it’s being helpful by presenting you with a list of wild imaginings about what could happen, stressing you unnecessarily.

But none of those things did happen, and I’m sure had any of them transpired, I think I might now have the tools to deal with it in a much calmer and clearer way.  Winds of change indeed.

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The mackerel Mediterranean

P1040671The Mediterranean has the colour of mackerel, changeable I mean.  You don’t always know whether it is green or violet, you can’t even say it’s blue, because the next moment the changing reflection has taken on a tint of rose or grey.”  Vincent Van Gogh

I know what he means about the changing hues of the Med, but for me it seems to change in size too.  Some days it’s a thin blue ribbon, other days it’s covered in a luxurious duvet of sea fog, but on days like today it looks just plain huge, and so near you feel you can almost touch it. At night it’s fascinating to watch the shipping, especially the massive ocean liners with their aggregated blob of orange lights.

There is no sign yet that the golden eagles are back.   Apparently in this country, illegal shooting and poisoning remain one of the most serious threats to golden eagles. In Castilla y León, about 2% of the Golden Eagle population is killed through shooting and about 3% of the nests are either robbed or destroyed. Because golden eagles often feed on carrion (especially the young and during the winter) they are easy targets for illegal poisoning, which is on the increase in Spain.

Golden eagle 19 Aug 13 (1)Every year they patrol around us, mewing as they go, and the crag at the end of our hill is the usual lookout station for them.  Like swans, they tend to be monogamous and their territory stretches over a wide area of 20-200 sq km! Amazingly they can live for 38 years in the wild, and about 57 years in captivity!  Fingers crossed their so-far no show is not down to nefarious activities of our friendly Spanish hunters.

Copies for blog (5)Foggiehenge & steps25 Jan 15 - CopyNew steps by Foggiehenge 2 Aug 14Joe has laid more stone steps around our land including a small flight around Foggiehenge. I can now walk from OJ (Ode to Joy, the ‘artwork’ made from pine logs) down towards the front entrance – totally inaccessible to me before as, even two years on from my hip replacement, I’m like a great girl’s blouse on rough and hilly terrain.

The past is a stepping stone, not a millstone.”  Robert Plant

Agave clearing fire risk 22 Jul 14 (1)New path oleanders 6 Sep 14 (2)Agave planting to deposito 30 Jul 14Towards the end of last year, Joe did battle with the spiky agaves which had grown to massive proportions.  They needed pruning drastically and one or two of the biggies had to be removed via Nissan and rope.  All the uprooted baby plants have been planted elsewhere.  In fact, almost all of our land now has the benefit of row upon row of spiky sentinels; it’s nice to think they’re protecting us from fire and trespass.

Agave pulling out 2 Aug 14 (2)Planting pittas by gate Oct 13 (5)Agaves are vigorous and hardy and constantly throw out tubers with long white succulent stems (a bit like asparagus), culminating in green, sharp leaves.  Before long, I think we might run out of places to replant them.

The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.” Bertrand Russell

Wall car park 2 Feb 15 (2)P1040674 - CopyWall car park 2 Feb 15 (1)I took a few photos yesterday in the bright sunlight of the first terrace above what I grandly call ‘the car park’ – you may remember the gigantic 40,000 litre water deposit lurks beneath it – looking up towards our hill.  The agaves have really flourished here, and the bare trees you see along the terrace are mulberries and figs.

Sierra walk CJM us 9 Sep 14 (2)A peaceful life is what we have in abundance here, and if we allow anything to ruffle our calm waters, we only have ourselves to blame for allowing it to enter without first challenging it with those immortal words, “friend or foe?”.










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