Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What the council giveth, the council taketh away

The postie came today. She hollered Partner's name. We have a perfectly good postbox that cost a ridiculous amount of euros (50 or something) but they like to give it you personally.

Actually she had to give this to Partner personally. It was from the provincial tax office. It turned out it was notification that the local property tax had increased so the Hacienda has to formally make sure you have received this, ie registered mail.

The postie was panicking. She had already told us that the tax had increased, and so far on her round she was getting a lot of grief. Is the postie responsible for a property tax increase?

Then she panicked because she had to get some form of ID from us to go on the certificate. This all took at least ten minutes standing at the gate and running in and out for passports and bits of ID.

To British readers - the property tax is the equivalent of rates, or council tax.

It is low here. But it has increased a whopping 35%. Or to put it a different way, it has gone up by 50€ or so. I told you it wasn't much.

We used to have to pay a separate tax for rubbish collection. The local green party/left wing alliance - Izquierda Unida - challenged this tax, and the council has had to withdraw it. So the council is lacking a certain amount of income.

Now, here is an easy one. About how much do you think the rubbish tax was? Not hard was it. Around 50€.

We're all waiting for the day when they pay us back for the illegal rubbish taxes that we have already paid. But naturally before the council can do that, they need to get more money in first.

Well, that's our take on it anyway.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Going shopping

If anyone hasn't worked this out yet, I do not like going to the supermarket.

So the other day we had one of those conversations where we argued discussed who had gone last, and therefore whose turn it was to go now.

Naturally I pulled the winning card out. I can't possibly carry 2 x 2 litre bottles of a water, a six pack of sparkling mineral water (in glass bottles), a six pack of tonic water....And I added helpfully, "You don't like the bread from the village shop."

So off he went. Up the track, across the river, and off to the boring old hypermarket.

Fortunately it was relatively empty. They have some new tills now. The sort where they can serve two people at once. Having dealt with Reluctant Shopping Partner, the cashier then went onto the next customer.

"Pasa por aquí," she said. "Tiene Travel?"

The short dumpy Spanish woman with dark dyed hair looked at her bemused. (Partner and the cashier both knew she was Spanish because she looked exactly like all the women in our village, who have all been cloned).

Partner twigged. "She wants to serve you. Move up to the till. And do you have the supermarket loyalty card?"

"Oh, thanks," said the short dumpy non-Spaniard with dark dyed hair. "I hadn't a clue what she was saying."

"They normally speak English," she added.

"No, they don't," argued Partner. "Emma speaks English, and a few of the others can say numbers and please and thank you."

"Well, it's so difficult. Why don't they all speak English?"

Aaaaaaaagh. No wonder people get racked off with the British. Two weeks holiday on the Costa del Sol, you shouldn't need perfect Spanish. But this woman has been here the same number of years as us, more or less.

"Would you expect someone in a shop in the UK to speak fluent French, German, Polish, or Rumanian?" said Partner, warming to his theme. "Why don't you speak Spanish?"

"I have no interest in speaking Spanish," she declared loftily. "I live here because of the sun."

People like that really piss me off. How rude.

She was obviously a BWM (Brit with money). Her trolley was heaving with spirits and wine, expensive food, frozen food. Nothing else. It cost her well over 100€. In comparison Partner spent around 40€ of which 20€ was for a 5 litre bottle of extra virgin olive oil. The rest of it was staples, bread, pasta, rice (OK that was organic and he bought two), a couple of six packs of beer and a bottle of wine.

I condescended to go out to the veg man in the afternoon when he turned up. Now this is my style of shopping. Man comes to door and I wander out to peruse goods. Said goods are cheap and fresh.

Actually Partner was sitting on the terrace. The veg man drew up and sounded his horn. "GO BOY GO," I shouted, thinking about the dog rather than Partner. He ran out so he could be first in the queue. I followed a few minutes later. It was one of the rare occasions we had beaten next-doors. This meant we had first pick at everything (we fight over the fresh peas).

So for 15€ I bought 2½ kilos of peas, a kilo of broad beans, 2 or 3 kgs of potatoes, some carrots, some white turnips, celery, cucumbers, artichokes, green peppers, and radishes. I got a huge bunch of parsley too, but that's free anyway. The veg man doesn't speak English, but I think it's worth learning a little Spanish to get all that for 15€.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lemons - and gardening

José has got bored with giving us half a dozen huge lemons at once.

The other morning Partner walked out and found a bag on the terrace. There must have been 20 lemons in there.

We have had this problem before. Instead of giving us a steady trickle of lemons, it's all or nothing. Am I being critical about free lemons? No, obviously not.

But giving me a load all of a sudden that I can't possibly use in a six months of Sundays is not clever.

We have had plastic crates piled high with lemons, and they go off before I can use them.

Sometimes José decides to pick a load off the tree all at once. And I mean A LOAD. Like why not pick half a dozen at once? Consistently.

Other times he decides to wait for them to fall on the floor. And picks them up. So they are bruised, and start to go mouldy and make the others mouldy too.

I can't really talk as my lemon tree is having a bad year so I am grateful for any lemons.

Apparently his family don't want the lemons. That, IMHO, is because they are far too busy eating nasty sweeties and burgers, and sugared yoghurt and other absolute garbage. Each to their own, though. But Partner did say, "Nada más limones ahora. Luego sí."

José is obviously going good at the moment. I asked him about planting chillies a few days ago and he said "Now, now." Actually, he said "Ya, ya."

But did I get round to doing it? Of course not, too busy doing nothing.

Today he collared me. Not about chillies though. He hasn't lived next-door to me to know that unless he appears with plants I am highly unlikely to do anything.

So he produced the coleus plantlets. Pointed out which plant pot I should use, how much compost to put in the pot, wasn't sure about the dubious provenance of my very chic British stuff, and gave me some of his. After the coleus it was onto the basil (albahaca).

Nice tidy plants in their new pots in the shade

This is not large-leaved Italian stuff to stick on your mozzarella and tomato salad. No, this is tiny leaved fragrant basil grown purely for scent. Apart from in my house where it does get used for cooking. There were clearly no chillli plantlets coming from José so I chucked a few seeds in a pot from a dried chilli hanging up and we will see what happens. A good morning. I like to play in the garden.

Last year's gloriously out of control basil plant -
But those flowers will make great seeds

And José so likes to tell me what to do. Although he is always secretly disappointed that he has to deal with me. He can't understand why Partner doesn't do the growing stuff. Here in Spain, women do the cleaning and the dross jobs. Men do the clever creative things. Dream on José but thanks for the plants and the lemons, as ever.

And just to finish. I did an alcachofa (artichoke) recipe a while back and thought I should have posted a piccy of the choke inside, and then the choke taken out. You can leave them in when the artichokes are young and there is hardly any choke, but when they are older you will end up with a mouthful of disgusting fur. At your peril.

Furry stuff to cut out on the left, and de-furred on the right
Maybe I should take this again in better light

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Metamorphosis of a blog

I started this blog less than a year ago.

As the title suggests - or at least is meant to suggest - it is about me deciding to do something different with my life when I got to 40.

About some of my adventures travelling, my trip on the way down here from the UK, our adventures renting a horrible villa, trying to buy a property in Spain, camping out in a finca with no running water (hence no toilet or bathroom at all), travelling round Spain and Portugal and camping in winter, and the sort of things that start to happen to you at 40. Like your parents dying, deciding what sort of life you want to lead - and knowing there is no going back, well maybe there is but I don't think there is for me. Setting different goals rather than rushing into the office, clambering up the ladder for as high a position as possible and the nice salary and the horrific stress that goes with it.

So far, the only serious posts I have written have been:

Agua de Valencia - about my 40th birthday

The villa from hell about the aforementioned horrible, truly truly stressful - and life-threatening villa

and more recently

My father about the last time I saw my father.

Three serious posts out of 115. The naughty blog has insidiously taken over.

I have ended up writing about my life here in Spain - and since we bought a flat in Gib, life in Gib too. The antics of my neighbours, and some of our off-the-wall conversations here in Spain. Our exciting and resourceful life rescuing bikes out of skips and repairing them.

I have even written about cooking. Is that adventurous? No.

But, I can just about handle writing this sort of stuff, because at least it all gives a relatively honest picture of this Englishwoman living abroad.

I wrote about the Land Rover and swore I would never start a separate Landy blog, after all I was already writing the dog's blog for him. The Land Rovers won, and they too have their own blog or they would have started to dominate this one.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was My 100. I have written 100 things about me. How egotistical is that? It is not British to write 100 things about oneself. Especially on a blog that is not about what I think or feel or did before the age of 40. I am mortified and embarrassed. This blog has a very clear brief, or at least it has in my head, and it is not sticking to it.

So I now have a secret blog. No clicky linky thingies on the sidebar. Even Partner has said he doesn't want the url.

What I think, what I did when I was younger, drivelly stuff like my wedding in Sydney, university, career, friends, family, obnoxious work mates - all the usual sort of stuff - that will be on there. Not here. By which I mean if I feel like writing it up at all I will put it on my secret blog.

There probably won't be much about politics as I find politics too irritating to even consider discussing rationally, and there is highly unlikely to be much about religion. There will be something about my interests. And there will also be some swearing. Not a lot but sometimes I think it is appropriate.

I don't want to offend anyone who visits here - so if you think you want to read any of this stuff, have another read of My 100 and decide if you really want to read the life and opinions of a 40-something non-smoking, vegetarian, left-wing, environmentalist, agnostic, self-opinionated feminist who writes far too many blogs. If so, let me know. I might send you the url.

Oh, and I'm going to take the 100 things down after a few days. It's already on the other blog - where it belongs.

ETA: The 100 has now gone - if you haven't read it you were too slow

Friday, January 18, 2008

Enjoying ill-health - Spanish style

"Catalina, Catalina!" called José today.

Partner went out on the assumption that he is a man and therefore José was calling for him although his name sounds nothing like Catalina.

I went out too, and José gave me some more huge fresh lemons. We obviously haven't outstayed our welcome yet.

Anyway, I digress. The other day, Partner had cycled into town, José had gone for his paseo (walk) with his mates, so there was just me and Pippa and Adelina and Lassie (if a Spanish dog has a name, it is invariably an English one).

"¿Come estas?" I asked, thinking it was time I improved my Spanish which has deteriorated a bit while we have been in Gib, even though I try to keep up to it in the street, shops and bus. Naturally asking how someone is here guarantees a loooooong conversation, or at least a long monologue. All I have to say is "Ahh," and "Si," accompanied with a long, sad, and sympathetic face. I knew I would be in for the duration though.

Adelina's first response was "Me duele todo/mucho el cuerpo." That's what she invariably says. I suppose it literally translates to my whole body hurts so much. I would probably say, I'm in agony. It's usually her back. Sometimes it's her chest. Occasionally her legs. Or she just feels flojo (weak and feeble).

She'd been to the hospital. She'd had radiography before we came back so she had been for the results. They were recommending an operation for a 78-year-old woman with osteoporosis, and a problem at the base of her spine.

Sensibly (in my opinion) she had declined. "Me da miedo," she added. (Translates as "I'm frightened" - quite right too sweetheart, I'm not 78 and I wouldn't fancy that sort of stuff either.) So they gave her some tablets. Vitamin D and calcium.

She reckons it's because when she was young she was mal-nourished. Who knows? She worked in the fields as a very young girl, can't read and write (except her name), and often the family just cooked what they grew. She said for ages she lived on the beans they grew because they couldn't afford to buy anything.

Maybe she has bought into the mega milk and cheese advertising that now goes on here, and thinks she was deprived of it. It's ironic when in the UK, the so-called Mediterranean diet is touted as being so healthy (ie little meat and dairy produce, more fish, loads of fresh vegetables and salad).

Advertising and media have a lot to answer for. Edited to add: Big business has a lot to answer for. Not that it ever will.

She also had to go down to the water tap, and carry heavy containers of water back to the house. It seems to me that she had a lot of physical work to do at a young age, and maybe did or didn't get enough food. Can't say.

Sometimes she is mareada (dizzy). A lot of Spaniards suffer this when the wind comes from the wrong direction. It sounds like something out of Mary Poppins but I joke not.

Then she told me about her grandson who had been admitted urgently with appendicitis - so much of the family had been meeting up at the hospital. The grandson had been discharged so he was ok. I proudly showed her my scar, and talked about my gangrene. I can't usually add much to these conversations so this was a big moment for me. She acknowledged my scar graciously. We returned to other mundane health issues.

In winter everyone goes shooting off down to the medico (doctor), to get their 'flu jab, and then later when they still get 'flu anyway, they go for tablets.

We saw another neighbour - José Antonio - the day before yesterday. He was off to the the medico to collect medicines for his parents.

It's obviously quite a social event down at the medico's, although not something in which we participate. I think the older Spanish spent so long without an NHS under Franco that they still love the novelty value of being able to wander down, and get seen, and get treated for free.

Anyway Adelina is a great creaking gate, and I am fond of her. She has a wicked sense of humour in spite of all her ailments.

Oh, and the pictures? Just that we had peas yesterday, lots of them. Yummy. With fresh onions, carrots, parsley, lettuce, garlic, olive oil and a drop of (bottled) water.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Artichoke salad

When we're in Spain we tend to eat Spanish style, ie late lunch at 2-4pm which is our main meal of the day, and a light supper at 8-9pm.

The evening meal is normally a salad, even in winter. The odd exception is a clear soup. Of which more later - in another post.

Alcachofas, artichokes, artichauts, carciofi

Onto the salads. In La Axarquía, where we live, fresh artichokes are available almost all year round. They are a bit of a pain towards the end of the season, because the chokes are too furry, but normally they are great.

A few years ago, one of our neighbours - not an immediate neighbour but one who considers us a neighbour because we live in the old part of the village, or maybe because he has got used to us, anyway, whatever - Pepe walked up to us one day after he had been harvesting artichokes. And gave us nine. What the hell do you do with nine fresh artichokes?

So I promptly looked up some recipes in one of my old books. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child, is one of my very favourite cook books. No glossy pictures to pay for, but great diagrams, and great explanations.

Under the vegetable section, there are appropriate sauces listed for each veg. And for cold artichokes, among others, it recommends Sauce Moutarde.

So, here is the sauce directly out of the book.

2tbl prepared French mustard - for me there is only one. Grey Poupon.
3tbl boiling water

Rinse a small mixing bowl in hot water. Add the mustard and beat with a wire whisk, adding the water by drops.

⅛ to ¼ pt olive oil or salad oil

Again, drop by drop, beat in the olive oil to make a thick, creamy sauce.

Salt and pepper
Lemon juice
1 to 2 tbl parsley or chopped fresh green herbs

Beat in salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Then beat in the herbs.

These days I don't make the sauce quite like that. Mainly because when I don't have the book in front of me, I forget about the boiling water - BUT - it does give a good consistency.

I use a pestle and mortar to make the dressing because I can start by crushing rock salt and peppercorns, and if I want, I can also add garlic at the initial stage too, (say one clove) to turn it into a paste. Then add the mustard, and more or less follow the recipe. Adding the hot water just gives a different consistency. Instead, or as well as lemon juice, you can also add wine vinegar, or a more flavoured and stronger vinegar such as Vinagre de Jerez or balsamic vinegar (too sweet for our taste - but if you like it, fine). But not much as you will be putting some onto the cooked artichokes later. As for oil, I use a local extra virgin olive oil from Periana. I wouldn't use anything else, but if you like a milder taste, you might want to use sunflower oil.

There are some fancy ways to prepare artichokes but basically unless you have bought VERY FRESH artichokes they are all a waste of time. They need to smell oily, even when you pick them up. They need to look fresh and not remotely tired. They are great if they have that super purple tinge.

To prepare them, the essence is speed, so then they don't discolour. Chop off the stalk, leaving a small amount (it is quite tasty), and then take off the outer leaves quickly with a sharp knife. Just go round the vegetable almost like a spiral staircase.

When you have got rid of the tough ones, you are ready. Sometimes I think I take off more than I need to, but it saves getting chewy leaves later on. Then chop off the top third or so. If they are large, chop them in half. And - if the chokes are large and furry, take them out. If there is hardly any choke, it's not worth the effort. I have tried putting lemon juice or vinegar on the exposed edges of the raw veg but I don't think it makes any difference. But do not leave them sitting around.

Put them immediately in boiling (or nearly boiling if you aren't that organised) water with a load of vinegar or lemon juice. If you have chopped them in half, putting them face down saves them going black/grey.

They are ready when a knife goes through them, without them falling apart.

Take them out, say with a draining spoon and put them in a bowl to cool. Add more vinegar to preserve the colour. I forgot to say, you need to like vinegar (and mustard) for this recipe.

When they have cooled slice them thinly so they are easy to eat. Put them in a presentation dish, and add the Sauce Moutarde, mixing well in, but leaving some herbs on top for presentation.

No, this is not the presentation dish, because it was for us....

It has taken longer to write this than it does to make the salad. They keep in the fridge and can be added to casseroles or paella or whatever. As a salad it is just as good the next day.

We tend to eat it with a mixed green salad, tomato, cucumber, olives, fresh onions, and parsley from the garden. Sometimes fresh broad beans go well, and tonight I am adding some blanched cauliflower.

Ironically, although they are grown round here, we have never seen fresh ones on the menu at restaurants, you only ever get tinned artichokes in a salad or on a pizza. Similarly my neighbour also uses tinned ones in salad, and when she buys fresh ones (rarely) they end up in a bean casserole.

They are incredibly good for you. They contain minerals, especially phosphorus, potassium and iron. They are also great for fibre, citric and malic acid, and enzymes which help to break down protein. They are also, apparently good for your liver and gall bladder.

I forgot to mention what to drink with them. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" says that 'most wine authorities agree that water should be served with them rather than wine, for wine changes its character when drunk with this vegetable. But, if you insist, serve a strong, dry, chilled white wine such as a Mâcon, or a chilled and characterful rosé such as a Tavel.'

My Spanish recipe book says - to cut the translation short - that artichokes make white wine taste bad. Instead you should serve cava with them. I tend to follow this recommendation.

Here endeth the lesson on alcachofas. An acquired taste, but worth the effort.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The extranjero returns - absence makes the heart grow fonder

Well, the three of us have finally arrived back at the finca.

Since Partner decided to get himself A Job, he and the dog have not been out of Gib.

Anyone who reads this blog from time to time will know that I, on the other hand, have been leading an adventurous life on buses between La Linea and Málaga, on my regular trips to check the finca, feed the chickens, water the garden and collect the post. Oh, and I got to sleep in a proper bed which is more than we have in Gib.

On the first day back, Partner took some teabags from Gib round to some English friends. He managed to avoid anyone Spanish.

The next day was unbelievable. José next door hollered for Partner. Beaming all over his face he proudly handed over half a dozen huge lemons and clasped Partner as though he was his long-lost son. (Actually he doesn't see his son very often, not only does he not live in the same street, he doesn't even live in the same village). I thought it was so sweet that he felt he had to give Partner a present because he hadn't seen him for so long.

"Me alegro. Cuanto tiempo," said José, still shaking Partner's hand vigorously. Much Feliz Año Nuevos were then exchanged, followed by "How skinny you are with all that work."

A bit later Adelina came out. The same procedure, except she got kisses, and the same conversation. Nobody told me I was skinny, probably because I have put on weight over the last few months.

We started to fiddle about with the Land Rover in the street. The neighbour two houses up (José and Adelina's son-in-law) waved and tooted. Half the time they pretend we don't exist.

The bread delivery man drove up. We used to get bread from Manolo when we first arrived, but then I started to make my own so we haven't bought from him since. But he never fails to wave and smile, and he is a nice guy. So he slowed right down, and his arm was out of the window to shake hands and have a chat.

Juan the Gitano, the one who gave us the cockerel back in April drove past on his quad. And stopped. More "Me alegro de verte. Where have you been? I've missed you. But if you need money you need to work where you can. Hasta luego."

Tia Negra walked past. When we first arrived she had black hair and she is the auntie of one of the neighbours, hence the name we gave her. Auntie Black Hair. She stuck her hand out too. "Como estas? Me alegro. Feliz Año Nuevo."

Today he cycled into town. He went to the veg shop. The owner put her hand out straightaway. "Hijo, te echado de menos. Donde estabas?" "Well, I've been working in Gib," he answered. The (Spanish) guy behind nearly fell on the floor. "Well, where is he from?" he asked the shop owner.

"He lives in my pueblo," she said proudly. "He is a buen constructor, pintor, mecanico, he is a very good worker."

He bought some beautiful peas, artichokes, pimientos, tomatoes, green onions, and a couple of cucumbers. Almost all of the stuff is grown locally. It's interesting to compare the difference with the veg I buy in Gib. I think it is much fresher here.

The old guy in the bike shop repeated the whole scenario. Handshake, Happy New Year, and I've missed you.

Then he went to a bar. Joachim naturally shook hands and asked where on earth Partner had been. He speaks good English, and French, but given that we live in Spain we always speak to him in Spanish. He goes by the name of Jack to most people, so one day we asked him what his real name was, and he always looks so pleased that we call him Joachim, and speak in Spanish. There was a Spaniard in the bar, he's about 80 odd and has an andador - a walking frame. His eyesight is going, but he obviously remembered Partner's rubbish accent. More hand-shaking and Feliz Año Nuevo with Antonio.

The English owner had been worried. She had rung us on our Spanish number a few times to find out if we were ok. "I've missed you," she said, exactly like all the Spaniards.

And, on his return home from town, he has seen both of next-doors' daughters. More kisses, hand-shakes, and chat.

Now I can understand people with a business missing the trade (having had a business ourselves), but all these people in the village being so pleased to see him? We haven't even met the dog-biscuit man and his sons, or José Antonio who works in the fields and lives up the back. If we went back to the city in the UK where we lived for ten years, we wouldn't get any of this. Spain. We like it. So does the dog.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lavadora problems

Ahhhh washing machines. When we bought our first house, of all the white goods I wanted, the first was a washing machine. I decided it was the most essential of all. We had a camping stove and as it was only April, a fridge wasn't essential.

I have never, but never, been any good at hand-washing. A friend of mine at university used to wash large bath towels BY HAND! Can you imagine washing a huge bath towel in a small sink in your bedroom in university hall of residence?

No. Well, I can't. Still don't know how she managed it. So for me, a washing machine has always been a priority.

When we bought the Gibflat it was full of the previous owner's rubbish. Tat furniture and crappy white goods. Why move them out when they are past it and you can leave them behind for someone else to suffer or shift?

So we advertised the two beds and sofa as free to collect. And to the guy who collected them, we sold him the microwave at £10. OK it was pretty cheap but at least we didn't have to shift a large sofa, a double bed and a single bed.

Another guy came for the washing machine that we sold for £15. It worked but it was pretty grotty, and I had one in storage with all the rest of the stuff from my mum's house.

The door on my mum's washing machine had been a bit iffy, but eventually it just refused to open. The last time involved taking off the top and fiddling around to try and open the door from the inside. I didn't feel like Partner electrocuting himself because I was too mean to buy a new washing machine. And it wasn't washing stuff properly either.

So it was time for a new one. I toyed between the cheaper Zanussi and the dearer AEG. Most of our appliances recently have been AEG. But I didn't like the look of this one. It had some naff silver grey bling stuff and I knew it would offend me so I went for the Zanussi. I've learned from much experience to buy as simple as possible. Avoid electronics at all costs.

It worked a treat. I bought it at the end of September and it packed up at the beginning of December. Gloom.

Tried it again on the Wednesday just to make sure. No, not having a bar of it. Went to the shop on Thursday. The repair man wasn't in and he was booked up for Friday. He didn't work Saturdays. He might ring me Monday. He didn't. Apparently he forgot. Lo and behold he rang saying he would turn up on Tuesday lunchtime. He did.

Once he'd diagnosed the problem he told Supervising Partner that he wouldn't be able to get the bit until the day after.

"Non, non, non, non, non," said Assertive Partner in Spanish, because the repair man comes from La Linea.

"Yo quiero hoy," he added.

So the guy agreed to come back in the afternoon with the bit. Which he did good as gold and it worked again.

Three weeks later it packed up again. More gloom. Especially when we had a load of dirty washing piled up.

Plumbing Partner changed the pipework in case it was a problem with the waste. It wasn't. He figured it was the same problem as before, and that the electrical connections underneath had come loose.

Not much point doing it yourself when it is under guarantee, much as we really needed to wash some clothes. If we need to complain about the machine being unfit for purpose, or whatever the phrase is, then best to have every fault registered.

So on Saturday, I wandered down to the shop again. Eventually. And of course, they had shut at lunchtime and by the time I got down there it was too late. The veg shop had shut too. I waited for the onslaught when I got in, but Partner just laughed.

I decided to walk down today when I went to the veg shop. Partner rolled his eyes and suggested I ring. I decided he was right. It would be well late before I walked down Main Street so I rang.

Not long after my call, Pepe rang. He was on his way. And in half an hour he had sorted it. We are all happy again. All the dirty clothes are being washed on a nice hot 60 degree wash. (All the ones that were damp because I tried to wash them two days ago and they were starting to smell horrid).

I can't believe how difficult life is without a washing machine.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

University friends - and their children

I have three university friends that I still see. Three is not accurate, I have four, two are married to each other. But I don't know that I would be in touch with him if I did not see her, ....more to follow on this couple.

With two of these friends, I did the same degree, and with two of them, I shared the same hall of residence for two years. They all live and work in the south-east of the UK now, ie London and the home counties. They are, to all intents and purposes, "comfortably-off, successful, happy families". We have all been married for a similar length of time, ie more than 20 years. They all have two children, one of each, naturally.

So Friend A, ie the married couple. When I had business trips to London, I would invariably stay with them. It was a great opportunity to catch up - it cost the firm less (no hotel fees), and I got a small allowance that I could use to buy them a present or put towards a meal out. Often we never went out, it would be a meal at their lovely home. Usually better when he cooked tbh.

Once, she was in hospital overnight at the time of one of my visits, and her husband and I sat up merrily drinking red wine, well into the second bottle. I don't even think my presentation the next day suffered. He is a great guy and I really like him, which is why I would be sorry if I lost touch with her. I am not sure he would keep in touch with me, even though we went to the same university, shared the same hall of residence, I was a bridesmaid at their wedding, we went to his very chic 40th birthday has always felt like the main contact has been her.

Anyway, in her 30s, Friend A finally had a son. A couple of years later the daughter followed. A cutie. I guess her mother must have been similar. We spent a New Year's Day at my friend's parents and I played with this tiny little girl who was crawling on the floor. I had a fun time.

A few years later, the toddler had grown up enough to want to climb up the Land Rover and onto the roof. "Help me," she said assertively. "No," we all said. "When you can get up there yourself, you will be much safer." Of course, the little monkey climbed right up. She took after her tough mother, although I didn't realise it at the time.

Suddenly this blond ringleted girl started growing up. On one of my last business trips to stay with them she had a hamster. Mum and Dad were out at squash or pilates or something and I was in the house with the two kids. We played with the hamster, she wanted to drag the cat from under the bed and play with that too, but s/he was pretty old and I drew the line at that. Let sleeping cats lie. We painted glitter polish on our nails. Hmmm, don't know how that went down at the meeting the following day. She was great company.

Friend B has children of a not dissimilar age. He got married when I was abroad so I didn't get to his wedding. I met his wife not long after we returned to the UK. We all went into journalism after university, so there was something in common immediately. I've always liked this guy, he has been a great friend and never failed to keep in touch. I've stayed with him at his parents' previous house, but never stayed with him and his wife in London.

Last time I went to the UK, I decided I really should make the effort. "Of course you can stay," he said, despite the fact I had not seen him for zillions of years. He met me at the tube station, and said "I recognised you straightaway." As I did him. He was always quite dark and good-looking, and to me, he really had not changed much.

We walked to his detached four-bed house, with large garden. Good one, bro. I am so pleased for you that you have got somewhere in a competitive and difficult industry. His wife was as charming as ever, and did all the cooking while we prattled on aimlessly. After dinner we - obviously - swapped stories about university friends, and looked at old photos, including their wedding ones which I had never seen.

Their daughter is in her late teens. It was the first time I had met her. Super, very confident, and a lovely face. The son had decided to clear off to do other things. But the daughter, like the one of Friend A, was great company. Older, but quite happy to spend Saturday evening chatting with one of dad's university friends. We talked a lot about what she wanted to do, and which university she was going to choose. Things that are mega-important at that age.

Friend C has younger children. I met up with him again on the same trip. I got the same response - "Of course you can stay" and when we missed each other at busy Euston on a Friday evening he rang me on his mobile. Whereupon he said promptly "I can see you. Stay right there." And like Friend B, he looked pretty much the same too, a few years older, but instantly recognisable, and also just as good-looking as when we were at university together.

We did the same degree together (with Friend A). On one of my London trips I stayed with him and his girlfriend. Some years later, Partner and I went to their huge wedding. We kept in touch but apart from a couple of brief meets at Friend A's home, we didn't see each other.

His wife met us at the railway station - it was pouring with rain - and off we went home. Funnily enough, they lived about 15 miles away from where we had our first house, north of London. They had a lovely dreamy Victorian house and a gorgeous garden with superb views of the rolling hills.

Their children were younger than those of my other friends, can't remember how old but nowhere near double figures. What I really remember was sharing a Saturday family breakfast with them - lots of pots of fresh coffee, fruit juice, fresh mango, croissants and pains chocolate, crumpets ....mmmm....... a weekend family treat.

I spent Friday night and most of Saturday with them, it wasn't planned, it just happened that way. I'd never really had chance to talk to Friend C's wife much before and, as we both come from Yorkshire, we swapped stories of our similar upbringings.

Walking by the Grand Union Canal on Saturday

All my friends appear to have these amazing children. Interesting, well-behaved, polite, friendly, articulate and intelligent. In every family, the children were treated as equals. Maybe things are different when I'm not visiting, but there was no feeling of "Go and be quiet in the corner" as Friend C's wife and I exchanged about our childhood.

I've never been interested in the idea of having children. Nine months of wandering round like a bloated water-melon followed by x hours of agony and years of responsibility just never did it for me. People would say to Partner that he would make a great dad, whereupon he nearly puked. Nobody ever told me I would make a great mum.

I never felt old enough or responsible enough to be a mother. A couple of work colleagues had children in their mid-late thirties, and I vaguely thought for about 30 seconds - Perhaps I could manage that now - and then gave it no more thought.

But I do admire my university friends. They all seem to have brought up nice children, they treat them as individuals, and with respect. The children are an integral part of the family and also happy to be polite to mummy/daddy's old friend.

Wow! I just could not, ever, in my life have done that.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Old year, new year

As it's still only a few days into 2008 I figure I can just about get away with a quick review of last year. A strange year - but increasingly they all seem to be strange as I get older.

At the beginning of the year we put in an offer on a flat in Gibraltar. It was a reasonable size, (2-beds) fairly tidy, and central. To me, apart from the fact that it was fairly tidy (I don't like to buy squeaky clean homes), the big disadvantage was the lack of natural light. Anyway, Decorating Partner was entranced with the idea of buying a flat where he did not immediately have to whip out the paintbrushes.

The offer was accepted and all went well. Actually nothing really happened at all. I double-checked we could take the dog, yes, so sat back and waited. And then, suddenly, one of the neighbours apparently decided to object to the dog. It fell through. Who knows what really happened? Anyway, we are obviously not destined to buy squeaky clean houses.

So then we put in an offer on a grotty place with disgusting coloured walls and it was accepted. For some strange reason it took until April to go through, but then we were in. February and March have faded into oblivion as a sort of limbo where we were just waiting for completion on the flat. Although I did start blogging in March.

In May Partner went down to get rid of the vile colours and transform it into a nice white flat. Small flats do not look good in yuk orange and bright blue. Some friends, who holiday in Spain every year, came out for their customary four or five weeks and came to see me while Partner was in Gib.

It was good to see them, but the dog was a bit out of sorts with the excitement and after they had gone he promptly vomited on the sofa. I changed the throws and put the dirty one to wash. He then did it AGAIN. Agh!

I took him out for a walk, by this time we were obviously both stressed. And the inevitable happened. He spotted a nice black cat sitting in the grass and decided to go for it. Without telling me. I ended up full length on the grass as he finally managed to yank the lead from round my wrist and arm. (Purposely wound round to stop him chasing after cats). I got up and brushed off my trousers. My arm felt like every tendon and joint from shoulder to fingertips had been pulled apart. Still, I couldn't see any bones sticking out. The dog walked back towards me and we went back home. I got in the bath and thought I would see how it went. It hurt. A lot.

It took me until about September before I really started to be able to carry any weight and get some flexibility back into my fingers. Oddly enough I can type pretty much as fast as before, but my writing is worse than ever. I never went to hospital (spent too long working for the health service) so I don't know what, if anything they would have done that I didn't do. It was a pain because I had to stop cycling - couldn't grip the handlebar - but I take a break in summer anyway because it is just too hot for me to cycle in July and August. But I have felt pretty unfit because of that.

We flitted between the new flat and the finca, but spent most of our time in Spain. We came down in August and Partner decided to stay a bit longer. I went back to feed the chickens, and he got himself a job. So then our pattern changed and we have been in Gib most of the time, with me going back regularly to the finca at weekends.

Partner has watched lots of the ceremonial parades in Gib - The Royal Gibraltar Regiment marching through the city, Trafalgar Day, Armistice Day/Remembrance Sunday, and we both enjoyed National Day.

National Day

I tried to go to a concert but it was cancelled so I lost enthusiasm for concerts after that. I do go to the art exhibitions held at the John Mackintosh Hall - after all, it is only across the road.

I've taken a tour of the Alameda Gardens (which I wrote about here), and one with the Heritage Society of which we are both members. Post to come later on that one, it was really interesting.

Since November, one or both of us has had one of those vile 'flu/chest infections, where you can't cough without feeling you are going to split your ribs or your stomach. Not a bad year for major health problems, but not a brill year.

As the end of the year drew nearer I got more and more edgy. Five years ago, my father died. The following year my mother died. The next year it was the turn of Paddy, my adorable 15-year-old cross-setter/lab, the only dog who has ever listened to me. Finally, Prince, our cranky and independent GSD died the year after.

Paddy on the left, Prince on the right

All our ties with the UK were cut. And there was only me, Partner, and the rescued cat-chasing Spanish streetdog left. Who was going to die in 2007? I seriously wondered if the three of us would make the year out. But we did, even if Partner is full of 'flu right now.

So, a year of new property investment, niggling health issues, a change in lifestyle - new city, new job, new friends. Could be much worse.

Plans for the new year? Some work, some travel, some time in Spain, and some time in Gib. Get back on the bike, go swimming, and keep up to the obnoxious paperwork. Do more writing, waste less time on internet sites that don't really suit me, and focus on the good ones. No resolutions. Only intentions and aspirations.

Oh, and learn how to manage the firework setting on the camera. I took better pix on National Day using the night time setting.

New Year's Eve fireworks

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Internet, vertigo, Christmas and New Year

We rejoined the Internet just over a year ago. I had fought against it for ages as it was no longer part of the way I wanted to live my life. When I returned to the UK and stayed with friends who had mega-fast broadband access, I was impressed. Information at the touch of a key.

So on my return to Spain I signed up with Telefonica. Dear service but efficient. And the first thing Partner promptly did was join every single Land Rover forum under the sun. But we only really post much on one. However on some of the others, people said they were coming to Spain and asked if we would meet up. We said yes, of course. And never heard any more. We didn't lose too much sleep and appreciate that people change their minds, and don't want to spend a day out of their precious holidays with someone they have never met before in their life.

The first forum we joined gets up my nose. People are sexist, racist, classist, bigoted, even more self-opinionated and arrogant than me (I think). But we have also had some great help on there, and in return have tried to help other people.

A couple of months ago, one of the members on the first forum said he was coming to Portugal and Spain and was interested in visiting Gibraltar and meeting up. As usual we said fine, and didn't hear any more. We thought it would be good to meet him and his partner but by the time they had left for Europe, we figured it wasn't going to happen. Also to be fair to them, visiting Gib was a serious detour on their route - and because the flat is so small and grotty we couldn't offer to put them up either.

So there we were on Christmas Eve, having a relaxing drink, and chilling out as you do. And the 'phone rang. "Hello, it's Marc, and we're in Gibraltar in Morrisons' car park." I passed the phone to partner. He agreed to go and meet them. It gave me time to put on the mascara and brush my hair, while I waited to be notified of the venue of choice.

The intercom rang. "Hello," said Cheerful Partner. "Here we are. Let us in."

"No. Go away. The flat is filthy dirty, I do not wish to be so embarrassed." And put the intercom 'phone down. Smartly. You have no keys, go find a pub. Triumphant. Then the door opened. Partner did have keys, just too idle to get them out earlier.

This was BIG TIME embarrassment. Small flat. Damp (it's humid here in winter). A week's worth of ironing piled up on the ironing board. The toilet doesn't work. We flush it with a bucket. There is no seat on it - it fell off a while ago. The flat is floating in dog's hairs, and naturally the sofa belongs to the dog. So that leaves two armchairs for four people. Oh well. At least I had time to put on the mascara.

But this is so just how you do not want to meet people for the first time. If we had really thought they would have turned up, I might have cleaned the flat. Maybe.

Anyway, they were adorable. Super company and lovely people. Easy-going and interesting. I still find it hard to get it into my head that you can meet people via an Internet forum and enjoy their company so much. The men went to get an Indian take-away (all the local decent restaurants were closed or we would have taken them out - given the effort they had made to come to Gib) so we stayed at home all night.

Marc and Brigid posing in our Santana

In the morning we planned to go up the Rock. Because they were on a fairly tight schedule they decided to drive round Gib and asked us if we wanted to go with them. First we went to Europa Point, the southernmost point of Gibraltar, with Africa a few miles away.

The lighthouse at Europa Point looking towards Morocco.
On the left is the wreck of the New Flame

Then we started to climb the Rock. I knew this was not a good idea. I get vertigo. I particularly get vertigo when I climb too quickly, ie in a car. I HAD to get out of the car, and stagger around with wobbly legs and a dizzy head. I should add - this was nothing to do with Marc's driving which was very good.

Meanwhile, when we all got out of the car, Brigid clambered around on the rocks taking photos of the SHEER DROP beneath her. "I don't think you should watch me," she said. I thought she was so right. The monkeys loved Brigid so much that they jumped on top of her. Marc suggested she was wearing Eau de Monkey (Odour monkey?). They left me alone. Wrong perfume.

Barbary Macaque - the only primates living wild in Europe

I like playing with car aerials - especially Marc's

Then we walked up to the top of the Rock, with me shading my eyes from the views either side, and then Partner and I started walking down. After I had stopped wobbling too much, and could handle the car again, we eventually all drove down again together, and then said our goodbyes.

I live with vertigo. By now we have worked out that it happens mainly when I climb too fast. I can describe it best in Spanish - it is so succinct: "No cabe en la cabeza" - it doesn't fit in the head. I just can't handle the rapid climb stuff.

Today I went for a walk. Both on Christmas Day and New Year's Day we like to go for a walk. But Partner was struggling with a 'flu/chest infection so I trotted out on my own. I decided to wander part way up the Rock.

The first time I did today's path (Library Steps, and up towards Devil's Gap) I felt quite dizzy. Today, I had no shaky legs and no dizziness. It was important to me to climb on my own and not get vertigo. And it was a beautiful walk in glorious sunshine. Vertigo is so in the head. But it ends up leaving you physically struggling. If you get vertigo, you will know what I mean. If you don't, please take time to help anyone who does have vertigo. It is not easy to overcome, and it takes a lot of concentration and fortitude to climb when you are struggling against fear.

View from the climb

But today was a good result for me. And we had a lovely and unexpected Christmas. Very many thanks to Marc and Brigid for making the effort to come and see us.

Best wishes to everyone on the Internet - because now I know that Internet people really do exist - for a happy, peaceful, and confident New Year.