Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

Did I ever tell you about the time, many years ago, when we went with a lot of the villagers to the television studios in Malaga for a sort of ‘Down your Way’ programme?  The mayor asked Carmen and I if we would like to go along to represent tourism in the valley and we of course agreed.  Other villagers were with us to expound on the virtues of living in ‘The Valley of Happiness.’

We boarded a coach in the village and off we went to Malaga, a veritable charabanc trip, the like of which I’ve not been on for since I was a lad.  We were shown into the studio and briefed on what was to happen.  It was a two-hour daily programme about all things Andalucian.  First there would be a general spiel about what was going on in the Malaga area, then we would be asked to talk about Saleres, then the resident doctor would answer telephone calls from people with various ailments and then the wind down and finish.

All went well, then it came to our spot.  The mayor got up and spoke most eloquently about our valley and what a delight it was to live in a paradise full of orange and lemon trees, how the Moors of Granada had used the valley as a market garden and also to escape from the August sun in Granada to the valley’s mellow microclimate and about how the valley had thereby adopted the name of the Valley of Happiness.  He stopped just short of saying that all the villagers spent their days dancing and singing in the streets and throwing nosegays at visitors.

Carmen did her bit for tourism, again saying what a wonderfully relaxing place the valley was and how you could come on holiday there and be rejuvenated with the happiness vibes that emanated from every nook and cranny of the village and the surrounding orange groves.  Then, having done our utmost to sell the valley as a veritable Paradise of laughter and joy, which it is, of course, we all sat down and waited for the doctor to do his thing.  But the doctor did the unforgiveable, went off-script and turned to us Salereños and asked,

‘Does anyone from Saleres have anything they would like to ask me?’

We all did the usual shuffling in our seats and looking down at our laps and then one of the wives said,

‘Yes.  I have lived in Saleres all my life and suffer terribly from depression.’

A stunned silence from the doctor and the mayor turned all the colours of the rainbow.  The doctor swiftly signalled for the producer to patch through a call from outside and the show proceeded.

No-one knew exactly what to do when the show finished but the mayor had arranged lunch for us in one of Malaga’s institutions, a seafood restaurant on the beach called El Tintero, so we piled off the bus there and had a few wines and thought about damage limitation.  Being Spanish, interest was soon lost in this pointless exercise and we enjoyed a lovely seafood lunch.  El Tintorero doesn’t have a menu, the waiters walk at great speed around the restaurant holding plates of different fishes high in the air and shouting what is on their particular plate.  when you hear the name of a fish dish you like you just stop one of them and he gives you a plate of whatever he is carrying.  A great atmosphere with waiters shouting their wares and punters shouting to attract the waiter’s attention.  Good noisy Spanish fun.  When you are finished the waiter comes to your table, counts the number of plates on the table and charges you accordingly.  We ate outside as the weather was very clement, and the mayor told me that in the past this part of the restaurant had been on the beach but they had had to concrete it over  as the punters were eating their fill and burying most of their plates in the sand before the waiter came around and did his tally.  Good jape.  I wondered what other tricks people got up to to avoid paying.  Putting the dishes in your wife’s handbag?  Masking tape them to the underside of the table? Stick them up your jumper?  In our case this wasn’t necessary as the mayor was paying, so we just tucked in enjoyed ourselves.

A typical day out in Andalucia, the best laid plans of mice and men……?  Never mind, it gives me something to write about.

What attracts rock band drummers to this corner of Andalucia? Is it the same fatal attraction as the Yangtze River had on British goalkeepers?
First we had Chris Stewart from Genesis and then Alan White from Oasis. was it the noise of rock concerts that left them yearning for peace and quiet?
In the case of Chris Stewart it may have been his predilection with getting up close and personal with sheep. As he himself once said to a reporter, “The sheep love electric shears. The beauty of clean white wool purling off pink skin and revealing this naked creature beneath – it’s highly erotic.” Thankfully he lives on the wild side of the tracks in the Alpujarra so we don’t have to corral our sheep of an evening. Each to his own.
On this side of the Granada – Motril motorway things are a lot more civilised and that is where we have our business.
Alan White, after leaving Oasis in ‘somewhat unclear circumstances,’ lived in one of the villages in the valley, before moving on for reasons best known to himself.
There are quite a few musicians and writers either living here in the valley or with houses here. So if you are seeking inspiration for that all-elusive book or have a song buzzing around in your head that you want to get written down……..

Well, we did go to Asturias the weekend before last, and all Carmen’s tests were negative so we are happy for another six months.  Lots of food and drink with Carmen’s parents and friends and I put on the obligatory half stone in five days.  Now I’m back in Madrid and on a prison diet.

We went to Saleres last weekend, Thursday to Sunday, and it rained the whole while.  In fact it rained throughout Spain and a lot of the Med coast suffered flood damage.  But not Saleres, we had a gentle rain for the duration, because as Antonio Two reminds us,

‘Saleres es el pueblo mas bonito del mundo.’

No weekend would be complete for Carmen without a trip to the nursery, so off she went while I got busy assembling a prefabricated table that her father had made me.  He works in a steel factory and the table weighed about three hundred pounds, but is a great addition to my workshop.  Carmen arrived home with another two huge urns. I bit my tongue and experienced phantom back pains at the thought of moving them endlessly around the garden this weekend until she finds the right position, normally the one she started at.  Later the nurseryman and his assistant arrived, who by now are part of the family.  They brought even more pots and plants and stood in the rain discussing the garden with Carmen.

Saturday was a quiet day.

Until Carmen told me that Antonio One had asked her if I could help him later with his burra, the female donkey.  The poor thing’s rear leg had swollen quite dramatically and Antonio suspected ormigitas.  This translates in my Spanish to small ants, and I wondered if they had climbed her leg and bitten her whilst she was in the campo.  But it transpires that they are small insects that bore into the hoof, lay eggs and infect the blood.  They are not ants at all, and I was told that the farrier, not the vet, was coming to take care of the problem.  Antonio wanted me to hold her leg firm whilst he held her head and the farrier did his stuff.  I looked at her leg and sympathised with Antonio and the donkey and asked,

‘What’s she called?’

‘Called?’ he said.  ‘What do you mean?’

‘What’s her name?’

‘Name?’ he said.  ‘It’s a donkey.’

‘No,’ I say, ‘It must have a proper name.’

‘Oh,’ says Antonio.  ‘Lolita.’

No comment.

I suspect that many of you don’t know, and my horsey sister Elaine will be hurt when I say this, but I don’t like horses and that covers mules and donkeys too.  In fact I don’t just dislike them, I am scared of them, and I’m not scared of much.  This fear is not without foundation, as the things bite me whenever they see me, and always in the same spot.  They put their teeth either side of the muscle on my right shoulder, and bite into the joint.  The pain is undescribable, and it has happened at least a half-dozen times.  I can be in a crowd of a hundred people, but if a horse is nearby it will unerringly find it’s way to my shoulder, clamp it’s teeth firmly on the muscle and shake me ‘til I scream.

A little example.  The Saddle Club in Cyprus, having just watched my daughters taking part in a gymkhana.  I am walking past a stable door when a horse, waiting in ambush, sticks it’s head out and grabs my shoulder.  I yell in pain and everyone turns from the gymkhana to see what is happening.  I am in my best uniform, being Duty Sergeant that day, and look ridiculous hopping about with a horse attached to my shoulder.  It hurts so much that I retaliate by letting loose a round-house swing which catches the horse just beneath it’s eye.  It is so shocked that it lets go and jumps back into it’s stall, where it loses it’s footing, slips over onto it’s side and can’t get up again.  All the men are awed that I have apparently laid out a horse with a left hook, and the wives and children are outraged at my cruelty.  I can’t care less and am trying frantically to wipe the tears of pain from my eyes before anyone sees them.  My daughters are so ashamed of me that they start looking for foster parents and my ex-wife disowns me, again.  The event passed into regimental history and did my image no harm, but I received scowls from the wives and kids for the rest of my time in Cyprus.

Back to the plot.  Antonio says he will call me when he needs me and I go back to working on my lathe in the workshop.  Pablo calls me at six and I go to the stable to find Antonio and Lolita gone.  Pablo and I rush all around the village and we eventually find him waiting by the fountain at the entrance to the lower square.  I am in such a rush that I am still wearing my bright orange overalls, which puts Lolita on edge and had the four old men who sit permanently on a wall to the side of the square talking about a guiri butano, or bottled gas delivery man.  Antonio is looking pensive, grasping a bottle of white spirit in his left hand and the rope for Lolita’s halter in the right.  Pablo and I sit down next to him and wait, and I wonder whether to ask for a slug of the white spirit as a bit of Dutch courage.

Lolita is a thoroughbred donkey, with the mark of the Cross of Christ on her shoulders, given as a mark of honour for services rendered to Mary.  She stands about chest-high to me and weighs about three hundredweight.  Normally docile, now she senses that something is afoot, (literally in her case,) and stands nervously stamping alternate back legs.  I suspect she is warming up in preparation to kick me.  The four old men on the wall opposite shout across to Antonio, asking who I am.  They often do this; talk about me as if I don’t exist and can’t speak Spanish.  One of them, drunk as a skunk, wanders across to inspect me and the donkey.

‘Does he speak Spanish?’ he asks Antonio nodding his head in my direction.

‘Yes,’ I interrupt.   ‘I am the bastard son of Antonio that he sired while he was working in Germany.’

Antonio says nothing.

The man nods knowingly and asks me where I live.  He has a pair of false teeth which don’t fit and which jump about in his mouth completely out of synch with his lips, clacking like punctuation marks during every utterance.  I can’t understand a word, but it doesn’t matter as he doesn’t know what he is saying either.  Antonio keeps dumb and leaves me to it.  He’s worried about Lolita.

Eventually the farrier’s Land Rover arrives and he jumps out and walks across to the old men to have a chat, ignoring us completely.  When he is finished he strolls back to us and looks at Lolita, shaking his head sagely.

‘Ormigitas!’ he says, looking at the painfully swollen leg and goes for his tools.

‘Who is going to hold her?’ he asks on his return.

‘He is,’ says Antonio, pointing at me.

‘Come on then,’ the farrier says and I know that my moment of truth has come.

We start with the good leg.  I lift it as I’ve seen John Wayne do it in the films, and lock it tight under my arm and against my leg.  Lolita is docile and the farrier, using a ferocious pair of pincers, clips about half an inch off the unshod hoof.  So far so good.

‘Look,’ he says proudly, pointing to a discoloured portion of the newly exposed hoof.  ‘Ormigatas!!  Like I said.’

Then  he gets a knife from his pocket and begins to dig them out.  Lolita is not happy about this and struggles to escape.  But I have my life at stake here and she can’t move too much.  When he is finished gouging a hole in the hoof he asks Antonio for the white spirit and pours it into the hole.  Lolita objects violently and tries to kick the farrier who skips away and tells me to put the leg down.

Now it is time for the other leg.  This is the swollen one and looks painful.  When I go to pick it up Lolita scurries away.  The farrier and Antonio bring her back into position and hold her still, looking at me expectantly.  They obviously assume that every Englishman is a gentleman with a string of horses and that this is an everyday occurrence for me.  I take a deep breath, realise that England’s honour is at stake, grab the infected leg, bend and lock it firmly against my body and leg and hold my breath.  Lolita is snorting like mad, and the farrier is starting to sweat.

‘Hold her tight,’ he says and begins his clipping.

She tries to hop away on her other leg, but can’t.  The hoof cut, the farrier again produces his knife and begins to dig out the ormigitas in this hoof.  This infected wound is obviously painful and Lolita gets ever more skittish.  The farrier works frantically to finish, and having done so, reaches for the white spirit.

The rest is a blur.  The white spirit went into the open, infected wound.  Lolita lost it big time and tried to kick the farrier with the leg I was holding.  I felt it coming and locked my body rigid, with the result that the rear leg, instead of shooting out backwards, straightened and lifted Lolita’s aft end about a foot off the ground.  The farrier was off on his toes, Antonio suddenly found himself holding the halter of a donkey doing a handstand, and I had the whole three hundredweight of enraged Lolita resting on my knee.  The old men all gasped in amazement and wonder at this apparent circus trick performed by the guiri and the donkey and the drunk’s false teeth clacked applause. Poor Lolita, realising that something was amiss, tried to cross-kick me with the unfettered leg, failed miserably and came down with one leg on the pavement, two in the road and one held by an orange demon.  She wobbled there, completely off-balance, as confused as the rest of us and turned to look at me with vengeance in her eye.

Well, this orange demon knows when to run away and fight another day, and he did so, with as much aplomb as he could muster.  Antonio was bewildered by it all, the old men appreciative.  The farrier looked at me uncertainly, unsure whether to offer me a job or not.

And Pablo looked at me with awe and said,

‘Wow!!!!’

I took the leading rein from Antonio and walked Lolita around in a circle while he paid the farrier.  When he had finished I told him I had to be off as there was something I had to do.  And there was.  I went back to the house, had a long, cold beer, sat on the step, wondered what I would be asked to do next week, and would my retirement always be like this?  If the word gets round the village, and it will, will I be called on to hold all the mules for the farrier?

I say again,

I hate mules, donkeys and horses.

Ron

P.S.  Carmen has just read this and told me that I’m deaf and the donkey is not called Lolita, but Mulita which means Little Female Mule.  I thought Antonio was getting a bit soft, giving one of his animals a name, when his cats are called Gata and his dog is called La Perra.  But I shall call her Lolita from now on, which will give Antonio something to tell the rest of the village about.

 

We got into the house at four o’clock on Saturday morning as Carmen had had to visit a member of her company who works in Granada.  We went to her friend’s house and met her husband, who everybody said is a couple of sarnies short of a picnic, but with whom I got on very well.  Birds of a feather?  At eight fifteen we were woken by Lolita braying at the top of her voice, Antonio’s dog Canela howling in a sympathetic alto, and Antonio cooing to the pair of them.  Our alarm clock in Saleres.

 We got up at about ten and opened the door to the garden, ready to receive visitors.  Antonio was first and told us that he was going to sell Lolita as he was too old to give her sufficient exercise.  He had phoned a horse trader in Motril who was coming to collect her the following day.  He didn’t know what would become of her, whether she would be giving donkey rides on the beach, be sold to another farmer, or be sent to the knacker’s yard.  He was obviously upset and he left for his stable, so as to spend as much time as he could with his beloved friend before he lost her. 

Chon was not at home as she had been seconded by the town council to work in the local Orange Festival, so we decided to go there for lunch.  We took Antonio along with us in the car and he was re-united there with all his family.  On the journey he told us that if he didn’t have ties in Saleres he would sell up and go back to Germany, so upset was he at having to let Lolita go.  I think it’s the tablets he is taking for his heart condition.

 The orange festival is to celebrate the orange harvest and there was free beer and cheap food to be had.  The food was a local dish, remojon and migas.  Remojon is orange, onion, olives and salt-cod and has a surprising pleasant taste.  Migas are fried breadcrumbs, and don’t.

 Shortly after arriving we saw Antonio’s family gathered around him in a corner of the fairground.  He was sobbing his heart out and the tears were coursing down his face at the prospect of losing Lolita and we all told him not to sell her if she meant that much to him.  He agreed to this an immediately started to smile and laugh, so Lolita has a reprieve and has been getting star treatment all week; fresh grass and  lots of grooming.  I’m sure that Antonio thinks that she knew what he had planned and he is trying to get back into her good books.  Her leg and hoof are now healed, but she still gives me the evil eye whenever I go into the stable.  For my part I take great care not to get into any position where she can bite, kick, trample or spit at me.

 In fact the stable is now a dangerous place to be.  Two of Chon’s cats had kittens about two weeks ago.  Antonio got rid of all but one of them, but the two mothers have both decided that the remaining kitten is theirs.  The three of them have taken up residence in one of Lolita’s old saddlebags near the window and heaven help anyone who comes near them.  Bearing in mind that these cats are semi-feral and answer to no-one, and that one is a psychotic Siamese to boot, going into their territory is a hazardous pastime.  Fur rises and hissing and spitting begins, as one or the other of the mothers springs to the top of the saddlebag ready to claw any approaching offender’s eyes out. The kitten is Siamese and pretty as a picture, and as it has two mothers spoiling it, it does nothing but eat and sleep.  How I envy it.

It rained very hard last week and the pool filled up with water from the cloister roof, so another job I have to do is to fit sixty feet of guttering.  Paco came one evening with Trini and his youngest son, and they stayed until late, talking and laughing.  When it was time to leave, their son came running back into the house to tell us that there was a dog in the swimming pool, and sure enough, there was a large black dog, clinging desperately to the side of the pool and whimpering pitifully.  I pulled it out, just in time to save it from drowning, and it staggered off, cold and wet.  Goodness knows whose it was or how it fell into the swimming pool, or why it didn’t try to get out by way of the steps in the shallow end.  I suspect it was Miguel’s, as his dog is almost blind and about the same size and colour as the offender.  The next day I had to check the pool for offensive objects, of which thankfully there were none, and then I had to give it a good dose of chlorine to make sure.  

Believe it or not, Carmen bought more urns this week and I had the task of finding earth enough to fill them. So now the terraces at the back of the house are wider and deeper and my phantom back pain of the week before has become a reality.  Fifty-odd buckets had to be carted from the terraces to the garden, although in all honesty, Carmen did also help, and got Chon and Pablo to help too.  Carmen also appeared one day with a semi-mature, twelve foot high wisteria, which she somehow got into the car, but which was almost impossible to remove.  It is now planted to the side of the house and we hope that next year we will have lots of wall-cover and flowers on that side of the house. 

Carmen was a bit concerned that the urns were too new-looking, so she asked the nurseryman how to age them.  He said that if you paint them with yoghurt the bacteria reacts with the terracotta to make them look older.  So she bought eight pots of yoghurt and set Pablo to work painting all the urns.  The little lad worked like a Trojan and finished them all just as it was getting dark, then came into the kitchen to get his reward of chocolate from the fridge.  He went back into the garden to eat it and we heard howls of laughter.  We rushed out to find all the feral cats in the neighbourhood busily licking the yoghurt from the sides of the pots and nothing we did would persuade them to stop.  Carmen was incensed and to avoid a night of catfights she got out the garden hose and washed all Pablo’s hard work away and gave him another slab of chocolate in recompense.

 She has also decided that we should live outside for the summer, which is why Paco visited us.  He has received orders to construct a summer kitchen under the cloister next to the barbecue.  Actually Paco will just build a couple of work surfaces, and I have to fit the gas cooker, the fridge,(we now have five), the shelves and anything else  that comes into her mind.

 As it got nearer to Easter, we were brought more into the local customs, notably the culinary ones.  Chon showed us how to make roscas, a sort of doughnut, and then gave us about twenty of them.  Luckily we have a friend who is a roscaholic and we off-loaded some onto her.  On Thursday lunchtime, Ascension Two brought us a dish of salt-cod, breadcrumbs and egg, made into a kind of meatball.  (or more accurately, a fishball.)  Chon also cooked us some of these, so we had to eat both potfuls under their watchful eyes and with careful impartiality.  Our bloatedness after this seriously curtailed our afternoon workrate. 

 This then posed another dilemma.  How well should I clean the pots?  If I cleaned them too well, military fashion, would they think that I was criticising their kitchen hygeine?  If I cleaned them too little would they think I don’t run a clean kitchen?  It may sound trivial, but this was a real problem at the time and could have affected my status in the village.  I decided to play it crafty, so I cooked some marmalade and gave them a saucepan full each, neatly sidestepping the problem.  Would you believe that they had never had marmalade before?  The valley exports two thousand tons of oranges annually and they never use it for marmalade. 

 A couple of days were idyllic.  We sat in the garden by the pool one morning, taking our breakfast of fresh orange juice picked five minutes before from our trees, poached eggs taken from under Chon’s chickens five minutes before that, fresh bread delivered half an hour before that, and a naice cup of tea.  The sun was flexing it’s muscles for the day and there was not a cloud in the sky.  The swallows were swooping gracefully over the terrace and taking sips of water from the pool whilst on the wing, disturbing it’s stillness but creating ripples that reflected the sunlight onto the white walls of the cloister.  The air was filled with the smell of orange blossom and the humming of the bees feasting on it.  Chon’s daughter Charo brought us some honeycomb which she had collected  from one of her orange groves, and spread on toast it had the most incredible flavour of orange blossom. 

 And that is about it for this week.  As you see, food and animals form the backbone of our existence of life in the village. 

 And do I miss England?  Not a jot!!!

Last weekend was much as usual.   I had my tasks to do and they were to fit six shelves in the pantry and put a wire span between the kitchen wall and a pillar supporting the cloister to allow the climbing plants to make an archway separating the garden into two distinct areas.  

I had the wood for the shelves cut in Madrid to save work.  This was an experience in itself.  I had the measurements to hand and went to the department responsible for cutting wood in Leroy Merlin, Spain’s equivalent of B & Q.  I took one look at the lad behind the counter and knew that this wasn’t going to be an easy job.  He was cubic in shape, had a long pony-tail covered in wood-shavings and a bewildered look on his face.  I gave him my measurements, four shelves at 18cm x 39cm and two at 35cm x 35cm.  He looked at the measurements and he said that I would have lots of spare wood left after the cut.  I asked him why and he said that he had to cut the shelves from a master piece which measured 100cm x 120 cm and that that would not be very efficient.  He then went on to show me, by way of diagrams that I would have twice as much spare wood as I would have shelves.  I asked him why he didn’t use a smaller master to cut my shelves from and he said he didn’t know.  I pointed across the aisle to a pile of planks 200cm x 40cm, tailor-made for my shelves.  He then told me  that that wasn’t his wood, but that if I wanted to go and get plank and bring it over, he would cut it.  This cut the price of my order by sixty per cent and so I did. 

The trucks were worse than usual on the drive south and we went straight to Jose’s bar for a drink to recover, before turning in early. 

On Saturday I painted the shelves ready to fit them and got on with the wire bridge to support the plants.  The bougainvilleas had died in the week, as there had been very strong cold winds; and I should have recognised this as a portent of doom.  There was more snow on the mountains than I had ever seen before and the wind brought the temperature down to a miserable 3 degrees all day.  It cut through my overalls like a knife, causing me to wonder about the waxing moon and it’s promise of no more frosts . 

I started the span by drilling a hole in the concrete pillar and fitting a very strong expanding eye-bolt to take the strain of the nylon-coated stainless steel cable I had bought.  Then I did the same to the kitchen wall and connected the two with a cable to form the main span.  I put tensioners either side to take up the final strain when the whole was complete. The next part was time-consuming as I had to fit six other spans to form an arch, all attached to the main span and equidistant from each other.  It looked fantastic when it was fitted, Brunel would have been proud of me.  I gave the tensioners one last tweak to make it ship-shape and Bristol fashion, and a brick shot out of the kitchen wall, the eyebolt fixed dead-centre, dragging the whole caboodle to the ground.  I was not amused.  Not one little bit. 

I decided to drill another hole a little to the side of the gaping hole in the kitchen wall, and after three goes managed to drill one with sufficient holding power and started again.  Once finished it looked great again, I ignored the tensioners and attached the plants to the wire.  Then I filled the hole in the wall with white concrete and sat back to have a beer. 

It didn’t look right.  I thought so, Carmen thought so and Ascension One (hereafter called Chon) definitely didn’t like it.  It spoiled the effect that you get when you walk through the main door and see the views out across the valley.   So next weekend I will take it all down.  

The shelves went in on Sunday morning.  Or at least most of them went in.  One had to be left out, as the wall where it was supposed to go is so far out of true that there was no was of affixing it.  This is a result of asking Paco to build the house to look as if it had been there for centuries.  No straight walls, no perfect plastering, but built in the old style.   So it is and so the shelf don’t fit.  I will find some other place to fit the spare shelf. 

I also put some hooks in the pantry to hang the brooms and the ironing board, and little by little the house is taking shape.  The storage heaters were a Godsend over the weekend as it was very cold, but the television hasn’t been switched on since we bought it.  The vines are budding but the limonero is looking very sad after the wind gave it a battering.  Carmen had built a cactus garden on an old harrow we brought from Asturias, but the wind blew one of the esparto grass curtains across it on Sunday and decapitated half of the cacti.  Carmen was the height of fortitude and instantly dipped the severed pieces in rooting hormone and replanted them.  I hope they take.

 The span with the plants was taken down and thrown into a dark corner of my workshop.  Carmen decided that she wanted all the plants in the garden moving to different positions, which did my back no good as they all weigh a ton.  She then gave instructions that the cactus garden was to be removed and off she went shopping, leaving me to do so.  I removed the cactii drilled holes all over the house and garden to hang them in becoming positions.  Carmen came back from shopping with another car full of plants and I was told to move the cactii to other positions. 

Antonio One came a-knocking at my door at about twelve on Saturday with a handful of mint roots, and then he disappeared down to the terracing at the back of the house to plant a two-metre line of mint.  I am looking forward to this sprouting as I love real mint tea. 

 Which reminds me.  I was in Lavapies the other day, the so-called ethnic barrio of Madrid, stocking up on herbs, spices and Arab comestibles.  All I needed at the end of my shopping trip was mint, or hierba-buena as it is called in Spanish, to make some of the aforementioned tea.  Hierba-buena loosely translates in English as good grass, and grass has the same street meaning in Spain as it does in England.  So when I asked the lad in a small Moroccan supermarket if he had any good grass, he looked really hurt and said of course, all his grass was good and how many grammes did I want.   It’s been a long time since I had any ganga cake, and I won’t say that I wasn’t interested, but I resisted.  The memory of the aged aunt of a rebellious teenage girl in Southampton, found by the Police on the verge of the motorway trying to mow the grass with her teeth in the belief that she was a sheep after the niece had fed her a ganga omelette, is still fresh in my mind. 

I digress.  The neighbour below us is complaining that the water from our de-calcifier is flooding her kitchen.  The fact that her kitchen window-sill is an inch above the main drain for our corner of the village, and that that may be a contributory factor, has failed to register.  She says that it has never happened before and I point out that I had never cleaned my drain before and that now it is clean, rain water can follow it’s proper course to the drain outside her house, rather than pass through the walls of my house and make the winters damp and dank in my bottom bedroom.  This didn’t register either and in the end I told her that her strange window arrangements were not my problem, but that I was willing to brick up her kitchen window next weekend if it would help.  It would certainly help me, as I wouldn’t have to put up with her moaning.  This is a game played by the villagers, when Carmen is out of the house, aimed solely at getting the guiri to fund their house maintenance.  This is the third neighbour to try it on.  Another, living in a house two streets away, spent a whole morning showing me that his kitchen floor was flooding due to the rain from my roof coming up through his floor.  When I pointed out that the roof in question wasn’t mine, but a Scottish neighbour’s, he still thought I should pay for a new floor as the offending Scotsman wasn’t there to do so and that I was an accomplice by guiri association.  Even Antonio One tried it on during the building of the house.  It is a village pastime, to blame all ills on the latest incumbent to the village.  I hope we have some new guiris here soon.  My tenure as village idiot is in danger of being over-extended. 

All the while this was going on, Antonio was busy on the terrace between us trying to pretend he wasn’t there, as he no doubt remembered his vain attempt at extortion.  But it is quite light-hearted, and looked on as a game by all concerned.  And I will probably build a small retaining wall to stop the rain water splashing into her window, all in the name of good neighbourliness.  I am a little wary of building the wall for one reason and one reason only.  Her husband is a member of the Guardia Civil in Granada and brews the most lethal mosto of them all.  And if he feels he is beholden to me my health will undoubtedly suffer.

 A friend of mine from my Army days come to visit on Saturday, prior to a skiing holiday in the Sierra Nevada.  We duly got stuck into the beer and wine late in the afternoon, the war-stories started coming out, and Carmen arranged a slap-up meal for the evening in Jose’s.  But Carmen and I ate something that disagreed with us and I spent Saturday and Sunday shouting down the big white telephone.  Carmen felt rough too, but didn’t react as violently as me.  I lost two kilos, which shows that every cloud has a silver lining, but Sunday’s drive back to Madrid was very subdued.  I hope Antonio One, Chon and their family enjoyed the immense doggy-bag that we brought back from Jose’s on Saturday.  My friend is looking for an Internet Café in the ski station so that he can tell the world that he met up with me and that I was old and senile and unable drink more that a couple of pints of beer and a couple of glasses of wine. 

And that is it for this week.  We are off again tomorrow for a long weekend, hopefully of rest.  But there are a couple of lights that Carmen wants me to put up, one above the barbecue table and one in the  dining room.  And the pergola and the roof garden need building on the upstairs terraces…………

We are putting our garden in order.  This weekend I went to buy a lemon tree to plant in between the orange trees we already have, but I made the mistake of letting Carmen come along.  Now we have a herb garden, three jasmine bushes, a bay tree, and a rampant ivy thing, which we hope will climb all over the balcony and look suitably rustic, if it doesn’t pull the side of the house off.  We also have three climbing plants that I don’t know the name of, but which made the neighbours cross themselves when they saw them.  They say they have a smell like jasmine but so powerful that it gives healthy people a headache and those of a weak disposition the vapours.  Evidently, the smell is so obnoxious that sometimes people come in the dead of night and cut them down as it prevents them from sleeping.  Carmen wanted to send them back, but I’m going to plant them on top of the bluff at the bottom of the garden next to Antonio One’s chicken coop, the smell of which has the same effect on me. 

 And of course we bought a limonero, a lemon tree. 

 Antonio One has promised to plant us some vines to make a tunnel over our long, narrow terrace, but he can’t do it until, ‘The January moon has waned.’  The same with the pruning of my existing vine.  NOT until the January moon has waned. I don’t know if we have to dance naked in a circle while this is being done, but if that’s what he says, and he knows a thing or two about vines, then so be it.  My reputation in the village probably won’t be affected overmuch by such a mundane thing, as I’m English and expected to be a little bit eccentric.

Antonio One and Chon One with grandson Pablo and dog Canela

Antonio One and Chon One with grandson Pablo and dog Canela

 Well, ‘menguar – to wane’ is not a verb that I’d heard before so at first I didn’t know what he was talking about.  I pretended to understand all the subtle implications of his statement and wandered off to ponder this pearl of wisdom from my agriculturally savvy neighbour, and to consult the dictionary.  I wasn’t much the wiser.  Do I need some special invocation or do I need to get the cura in to bless the garden and the vine?  As usual I’m lost and ask Carmen if she knows the correct rituals for vine-planting, but she’s an Asturiana and knows only about apple trees.  She wonders where I get my pagan ideas from, dancing naked around vines indeed, and calls me an English barbarian.  I don’t mention wassailing.  I tell her it’s not my idea, but her Spanish neighbour’s, who is probably a Satanist.  So she asks Antonio and he explains about January’s waning moon and the answer is that after the January moon has waned there are no more frosts.  Allegedly.  

So this year when I’ve harvested my grapes, I will be making my own mosto and I can get my own back for all the hangovers I have had to suffer testing the neighbours’ brews.  It’s when I am asked to step in as an arbiter and decide who makes the best mosto in the village that my problems start.  My heart and liver drop when they bring out the 2 litre Coke bottles full to the brim with muddy liquid, with a look of reverence on their faces, and I know that they won’t let me leave until all the bottles are empty and I’ve judged whose is the best.  And the question is never resolved as in the morning no-one, least of all me, can remember the verdict.  So they say we’ll have to do it all again, but invite Pedro and Miguel this time as their mosto is very good, which adds another half-gallon of hooch to the kitty.  The truth is that is that there is no good mosto.  It should, and probably has been banned from commercial production.  Which is why all the men in the village brew their own particular moonshine and my brain cells are being killed off at an amazing rate.  Mind you, it would probably be good to put on chips with a bit of salt.

 The lemon tree got planted, with only four different theories of how to do it from two of our  neighbours and their wives, (both husbands called Antonio, both wives called Ascension, which adds to the confusion.)  I look suitably enlightened, stick my head in the hole I’d already prepared and do what they tell me.  After getting me to move it to all points of the compass, presumably as it has to be aligned with the waning moon, they arrive at a concensus and I am allowed to fill in the hole.  Then I have to empty it again as I have forgotten to put in the manure.  In fact I have no manure and have been told nothing about using manure.  I know about shooting into the branches of apple trees with 12-bores, or beating them with a cudgel while full to the gun’les with cider in order to increase the harvest,  but that doesn’t translate very well to limoneros, which are a little more sensitive than Granny Smiths. 

Luckily Antonio One has a donkey next door, so we all go to look at his midden, and discuss for another ten minutes which part best serves a lemon tree.  No decision forthcoming, I suggest we take a bit from the top, a bit from the middle and a bit from the bottom, then mix it all together, only to be met with cries of derision.  Another ten minutes and we decide that the best thing to do is to take a bit from the middle, then a bit from the top and then a bit from the bottom and mix that.  I felt so stupid for suggesting otherwise!  So I refill the hole, half earth and half donkey manure, part raw straw and part over-ripe mulch; wet, warm and sticky.  Then begins another argument, (or as Carmen calls it, and the Spanish dictionary defines it, a discusión) as to whether to bed it in with plenty of water or just a little.  Ten minutes and we agree that somewhere between a little and a lot is sufficient.  But I don’t know if that translates to two litres or twenty.  So I get a bucketful and give it to Antonio One and he says ‘No, let Antonio Two do it.’  But he declines too, as do their wives; and I get to thinking that they don’t know how much to put on it either.   So I take the bucket and resign myself to the castigations and sure enough, as I begin to pour, Antonio one shouts ‘Enough!’ and Antonio Two shouts ‘More!’ while Ascension One sucks in her breath sharply and Ascension Two shakes her head resignedly and says, ‘Ay-ay-ay.’  But at least I have a tree planted in the garden where previously there was a hole, so that’s a result.

Antonio Two and Chon Two ready for the campo

Antonio Two and Chon Two ready to advise the "guiri" about things agricultural

 Of course, after all that hard work, (giving advice is very hard work, much harder than digging a hole for a tree,) they decide it is time for a glass of wine and pats on the back for all except the poor Ingles, who once again has had to be taught the proper way to do things in Andalucia and, of course, has to supply the wine and the tapas!

  In the absence of a garden shed, I have converted a room in the basement into a workshop, complete with a lathe, chainsaw, tool-grinder, and all my other equipment gathered over the years.  I made the mistake of showing it off to the two Antonio’s and word has got around that I have a tool-grinder.  So now I have visitors at all hours of the day and night, ‘Just popping in for a chat on my way back from the campo,’ with hoes, axes, scythes, secateurs, saws and anything else they can think of.  The wives turn up with scissors and knives and I am beginning to feel like a tinker.  But I am trading this tinkering of mine for the use of various things of theirs.  I have my eye on Antonio One’s donkey for when it is time to harvest my oranges, and Antonio Two has a mechanical mule which will come in useful when we have to move furniture from the village square to our house, after we move there from Madrid.

 And there I’ll have to leave you, as I have to go and buy some secateurs, and prepare myself for next weekend’s lesson on pruning vines, if the moon has waned by then.  If not, I’ll have to do it at two in the morning, by torchlight with muffled secateurs.  I can’t see my boss in Madrid letting me off for a couple of days midweek,  ‘Because the moon has waned and the plants in my garden need me.’  The last thing I want is for him to get it into his head that I am a moon worshipper, or more likely, a lunatic.  That would make my job with the British Council less tenable than it already is.

 It’s mid-January, the almonds are now blossoming, giving credence to the Costa Blanca theory.  We are 35kms inland and 2000ft higher than the coast so are a little behind them.  There is 3m of powder snow on the Sierra Nevada.  The trees are full of oranges and lemons and all is well in Paradise.

Pepe’s Gone Plastic 

At dusk, when the birds have flocked to their family trees for the evening’s parochial meetings, shouted to each other the events of their day, discussed the prospects for the coming day, said their goodnights and left for their roosts; one or other of the farmers in the valley opens his sluice from the main  acequia and claims his ancient water rights.   Then in the half-light and quiet of the evening, the sound of water fills the valley, rushing along concrete channels, plunging over rocks and crags or gurgling along watercourses carved in solid rock to finally rest lapping gently on the flooded terraces.  The sound brings a peace to the valley, a continuity with the past, with the Moors, the Mozarabs, the Andaluces.   

But now the sound is becoming scarcer.  Some of the small terraced groves, bordered by small earthen dikes to allow them  to flood, now stand moss-grown, in places the dikes breached.  The acequias are silted up, or filled with weeds.  My favourite sound, from across the valley on Pepe’s land where the water fell one hundred feet over a cliff from the valley’s main acequia into a time-carved rock-pool on his terraces below, is no more. 

Pepe’s gone plastic. 

Medusa-like, thick black PVC piping snakes among the trees, across the groves, straddling terraces, keeping the sound of running water mute within it’s blackness.  Here and there tendrils of thinner piping branch off from the main torso and reach towards their allocated orange or olive tree, succouring and nourishing them in the oh-so-efficient way of progress.  But to service Medusa, here and there on the terraces are large, squat, ugly concrete cisterns, spoiling the once virgin vistas. And to me Medusa’s life-giving umbilicals appear menacing; serpents in the groves of paradise.

 I mention it to Antonio in passing one evening, guiltily as I feel that it is not my place to talk of trees and water rights.  He tells me that the trees now yield much more and are far healthier.  I tell him that that is good for him and good for the valley as it preserves precious water.  He agrees.  I go on to say that it is also so much easier for him not to have to clear the weeds from the acequias, level the terraces and maintain the small earthen water-retaining walls previously needed for flood-irrigation.  But he is wiser than me.  He agrees that this should be so and that that is what the progressives say to sell their piping and their cement cisterns.  But he tells me that if he stops this continuous, back-breaking maintenance, the flash floods of the winter, rolling down from the Sierra Nevada, will wash away the whole hillside.  So he continues as he has done all his life, and as has been done for centuries, to clear away the weeds from the channels, build his retaining walls to slow flood-water and keep erosion from washing his trees and terraces away.   

And when he has finished that, he has to find time to service Medusa.   

You can’t deny the farmers their advances.  The maintenance of acequias and the building of the small dikes is back-breaking work.  When finished the terraces look so much a part of nature, natural,  neat, precise, manicured.  But PVC is better.  None of the farmers are getting any younger and their sons and daughters don’t want to continue this back-breaking work, any more than their parents want them to have to.  I pray that the groves don’t die, or that macro-agriculture bulldozes  the tiny terraces into something terrible.

I suppose that as I am writing about the Valle de Lecrín I ought to describe it. It lies at the western tip of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia, Southern Spain. The Sierra Nevada are big mountains, going up to eleven and a half thousand feet, the tops covered in snow from November to May. I can see the snow from my study window and when the sun is shining on it, it’s breathtaking. They say that on a good day you can see Africa from the top of the highest peaks. If seeing Africa is a good day for you.  The valley is mid-way between the city of Granada and the Mediterranean. Our village, Saleres, is at the bottom of the valley, but nevertheless at a height of about two thousand feet. It has a marvellous micro-climate that normally allows the almond blossom in January to remain untouched by frosts. As long as the blossom comes out after the January moon has waned.

Entrance to Saleres

Entrance to Saleres

There is a river that runs through the village, called the Rio Santo. It’s only small but it runs year-round which is quite rare in the south of Spain. This keeps the valley irrigated and beautifully lush and green. None of the locals know it’s called the Rio Santo but name it after the next highest village in the valley, from whence it comes. This was quite confusing when I first arrived here and at first I thought there were three rivers. It starts in the hills above Albuñuelas, runs through the Albuñuelas gorge, down through Saleres and on to Restábal. From there it empties into the large and very deep Béznar reservoir at the bottom of the valley. The people who live in Albuñuelas call it ‘El Rio,’ the people living in Saleres call it ‘El Rio Albuñuelas,’ and the people in Restábal call it ‘El Rio Saleres.’ Nobody lives in the reservoir. There is a footpath that runs beside the river, which should be avoided after a night on the beer unless you are an inveterate traveller, as it goes east to Athens in one direction and west to Gibraltar and on into Africa in the other. There are few roads and the locals use mules to transport fruit from the groves to the village whence it is picked up by truck and taken to one of the various cooperatives.

The village of Saleres The village of Saleres in the heart of the Lecrin Valley

The valley is steeped in history and ruins. There is a Roman villa and baths, Moorish forts and lookout posts, and later Mozarab churches and houses. My old house is one of these, the deeds merely stating that the house is ‘more than a century old.’ The walls are a metre thick and made of mud. I didn’t know this until Paco the builder tried to put an adjoining door between my house and Carmen’s and had to call in a team of miners to finish the job. It’s cool in summer and warm in winter which is just why it was built like that.

The valley is very steep-sided so the Moors terraced the slopes to enable the planting of orange, lemon, almond and olive trees to supply the nearby city of Granada. The main acequias, or water channels, follow the high contours around the top of the valley and can be tapped into to flood-irrigate the terraces below. To do this, you level your terrace and build a foot-high retaining dike around it, then you dig an acequia from the main acequia to your piece of land. When the you are ready, you open your sluice, the water runs along your acequia and onto your terrace until it is flooded to the height of your retaining dike. Then the sluice is closed and the water gradually seeps into the soil. When the terraces are flooded at dusk, the orange-red reflections of the sunset in the still water is stunning. Like rice paddies with attitude.

The 16th century in Saleres

The 16th century church in Saleres

 

Carmen has inherited a piece of land in the most inhospitable part of the valley and I am dreading the time when she wants me to terrace and build an acequia down to it. I have only been there twice, and the second time I fell down an overgrown acequia and slid down to the terrace below, smashing my ear against a rock and damaging a couple of ribs. I returned to Madrid the following day with a blue-black ear and was incapable of lifting my arm to write on the blackboard without moaning pitifully, a source of great amusement to my students.

Saleres has about three hundred souls. There were more, but the earthquake of a hundred or so years ago sent half the village down the valley side and into the Rio Albuñueñas. The bottom of our garden is the fault-line which separates the half of the village which disappeared from the half which remained. Carmen’s sister is a Mining Engineer and she bought some topographical maps of the area to us last year when she came to stay. When she visits she sleeps with a crucifix clutched to her breast. I am currently devising a delicately balanced gadget which will fall with a great noise if anything untoward occurs. There are literally dozens of fault-lines running through the valley, but no-one in living memory admits to having so much as felt an earth tremor, although there was one last month. Just in case, Carmen’s house is built using new construction techniques, but in the old village style. The foundations are a half-metre of steel reinforced concrete, the basement is a bunker, and if there is another earthquake we will simply slide or roll down the valley side and come to rest in the Rio Albuñuelas, hopefully the right way up.

The people of Saleres are delightful in the main, polite, helpful and generous to a fault with their time and possessions. A pleasure to know. They are a little idiosyncratic, but then, who of us isn’t? Everybody is related, if not brother and sister, then at least a ‘primo,’ or cousin. Everyone knows everyone else, their business, their foibles and their strong points and this can be a great advantage to a foreigner. You only have to get on well with one person in the village and the rest are bound by family honour to be your friend too. Unless the friend you have has enemies. In this case you are honour-bound to take part in any blood-letting vendetta which may be on-going; or at least not to be too friendly with the enemy and his family if you see them. Most people have forgotten what started the vendettas in the first place, but it is normally a mule, a woman or water rights. I prefer to play the slightly idiotically grinning ‘guiri,’ or foreigner, and play hale-fellow-well-met to all and sundry, including dogs and cats. This always puts you in well with somebody. Saleres is full of characters, nearly all on the old side, as the youngsters have left to work in the cities of Granada or Barcelona.

Looking across Saleres to Restabal to Beznar Lake

Looking across Saleres to Restabal and Beznar Lake

If you ask the mothers of the ones who live in Barcelona what their children do for a living, they invariably reply ‘Business People,’ which means they are either taxi-drivers or entrepreneurs of one kind or another. These prodigals only come to the valley once a year, during the entire month of August, the only month when there is no work to be done in the campo, save perhaps the early harvesting of almonds. This means plenty of parties and is a good time to be in the valley, but a bad time to be waiting for a taxi in Barcelona. All the villagers from Barcelona drive BMW’s or Mercedes’, and the only way to tell the taxi-drivers from the entrepreneurs is by noting the colour of their limousines. The entrepreneurs vehicles aren’t painted a dull yellow and don’t have a sign on the roof saying ‘TAXI.’

The ones who now live in Granada are teachers, doctors or nurses, with a couple of agronomists and agricultural engineers thrown in. They drive sensible estate cars and come and stay at the parental home every weekend and work in the groves to help their parents, many of whom are well beyond retirement age. On Sunday evening they fill their cars to the brim with oranges and sell them in Granada’s shops for a bit of cash on the side. I often smile when every Friday evening one of the teachers from Granada arrives in his Renault Espace, dressed in a sober suit and looking suitably serious and teacher-like. He parks in the Church Square and walks smartly into his parents house. Half an hour later you see him smiling broadly, dressed in traditional village working clothes, riding his father’s mule up the track into the campo. I have taken some photos of him for his pupils and will blackmail him at some time in the future.

It is a bit of a paradox that the village school which gave a such good education to these young professionals is now closed as there are not enough children to justify it being there. It has now merged with the schools in Melegís and Restábal, the old school building currently being used as an adult education centre and a library. Many of the oldsters, having suffered from the neglect of Andalucia under Franco, are now going to evening classes to learn to read and write. There are also handicraft lessons, always over-subscribed by the older women. They have a natural ability to ‘make-and-mend,’ having lived that way for well over half a century, and some of the artefacts they produce would sell well in any handicraft fair. On a high point, some of the people from Barcelona and Granada are now restoring the family homes in the village with an eye to retirement away from the city, which bodes well for the village, and even better for Paco and Jose-Luis the builders.

There are no shops in Saleres. but there is a small market once a week in the bottom square in front of the olive mill. When it is not market day, the village is serviced by dozens of white-van-men who drive into the square at all hours, their horns screaming like banshees. The local women can distinguish one horn from another, but that skill has defeated me until now, as I’m deaf in one ear and have difficulty distinguishing where the sound is coming from, let alone who is making it. Anything we need, Ascension Two gets for us and we pay her later. There are three different bakers who each come three times a day; the egg-woman, the frozen-food man, the red-meat butcher man, the chicken-meat-man and just about anyone else who has ideas of selling anything. Last week there was a man selling sofas and chairs, with a deafening loudspeaker atop his Transit van proclaiming to all that their luck was in and that the Chair Man had arrived.

Until last year there used to be the open-backed rubbish-truck, which was a sight and smell to behold. It would arrive daily at six-thirty in the afternoon, the only vehicle with a timetable. The driver would jump out and run upwind to avoid the smell and the villagers would hold their noses and throw their rubbish over the sides and into the back of the truck. It was a good time to meet people, to find out how they were and what they were throwing away. Nowadays there are psychologists who go through peoples rubbish to find out what kind of personality they have, but this has been going on in Saleres for years. You have to remember to throw any really good rubbish away privately, or disguise it in a black plastic bag, or people will think you are getting above yourself. The truck has now been replaced by the council with large plastic rubbish containers and a modern truck comes and empties them. At least I suppose it does, as on reflection I can’t ever remember seeing it, but the containers are often empty so it must do. In the bottom square there are three pristine containers for glass, paper and old clothes. This is an attempt by the Council to ‘Go Green,’ but no-one in the villages throws anything valuable or re-usable away so they stand sadly neglected where they were originally positioned.

The villagers all grow their own vegetables in the campo, as the alluvial soil from the Sierra Nevada is capable of supporting anything. The wild asparagus that Antonio Two occasionally brings us, when mixed with scrambled eggs from Ascension One’s chickens, is a dish worthy of a king. I forgot to mention that many villagers have a room on the ground floor of their houses for breeding chickens, another for the mule and an extensive bodega for mosto-making and the like.

The village bar is in the main square, the door hidden behind an old striped curtain. Only men go in there and it intimidates even an ex-bar-room-brawler like me. It’s the most basic bar I’ve ever been in, a room with a waist-high wall running down the middle to separate the bartender from the customers. These customers are at least two hundred years old, always wear trousers, boots, shirt, pullover and jacket, no matter what the temperature outside; look as if they’ve never left the bar and speak an argot which I have given up trying to understand. I have never seen any of them in the village or in the campo, and am not sure who they are. Perhaps they’re the ghosts of drinkers past?

Due to an event of about five years ago I’m accepted there. When I say accepted, I mean that with the aid of sign language they serve me miniscule bottles of beer, and I’m hoping that in another few years they will talk to me and give me what I order and not what they decide I want. If the bar is shut and you need a drink you can always knock on the door of the barman’s wife and she will open up for you. She also has the keys to the church if you wish to visit that out of hours, so you can get a job lot, so to speak. A pragmatic approach by the cura, I think.

Their tapas are diabolical.

The event of five years ago. I was in Saleres for a fortnight in August, working on my house. It was wickedly hot at around 40 degrees and I had spent all day on the terrace in the sun, building a pergola. When I’d finished I went to the fridge for a well-earned beer or two and found that I’d earned them all already, so decided to go to the bar for my reward. My request for a cerveza was dutifully ignored, the barman and the customers looking at each other and shrugging shoulders at the sweaty red foreign intruder wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I pointed to a bottle of beer on the bar and the barman got me one out of the fridge. The bottle was only twenty-five centilitres, less than half a pint, and I’d been working for eight hours. I drank straight from the bottle and with the bottle still tilted to my mouth I pointed to the fridge for a second. The barman gave me another which went down in one, two beers in less than thirty seconds. Then I asked for another and had that in a glass, then one for the road and was out of the bar within three minutes. Not unusual in the Nags Head, but in the village the word spread like wildfire.
‘There’s an English borracho, a drunkard living in the village,’ I heard whispered around the streets for the next few days. So I went to Mass the following Sunday, clean shaven and with shirt and tie, and think I was forgiven, but I don’t go to the bar except in the direst emergencies or to frighten visiting friends. I prefer Jose’s bar in Restábal.

My immediate neighbour, Antonio One, worked as a guest-worker in a factory in Germany for most of his adult life, and now enjoys his retirement working in the campo. He is seventy-odd years old, about five feet high, weighs less than eight stone, is always working and laughing and has a grip like a vice. His wife Ascension looked after the land whilst he was away and between them they know everything there is to know about crops and plants. Antonio has problems understanding my Spanish, which is sort-of Castellano, and he only speaks Andaluce, and the Andaluce of the valley at that. When we suffer a communication problem he reverts to German, as he assumes that as I’m not Spanish I speak German. My German is known as soldaten-sprecht, or soldier-speak, which enables me to order up to five beers, to ask directions to the nearest fast-food outlet and to get a taxi back to the barracks, none of which is of much use in a farming valley in deep in southern Spain. But we get on fine, and once I even did what was expected of me.

But I am worried about his concept of time. Having waited three weeks to prune my vine, and having been told that I have to wait ‘until the January moon has waned,’ I’m afraid I doubted his word, checked my diary and found that the moon had waned on 15 January and it is now February. So this weekend when I arrived in Saleres, there was the moon defiantly waxing itself in full view of me and him, but still he adheres to his ruling. Either he is stark raving mad and I should get on with the pruning, or he doesn’t know what month it is and I should advise him in some way that January is past. The trouble is that nobody else in the village has pruned their vines either, and I’m beginning to wonder if they are on the same calendar as me. But paranoia is a wonderful thing, as they say. Or is Saleres the Spanish translation of Brigadoon and do I pass through some kind of a time-warp somewhere on my journey there?

It would explain those customers in the bar.

What follows are a series of stories about incidents that have happened in the valley and seemed worth reporting. None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent as there are no innocents!!!! All events reflect my understanding of said events and are (mostly) at first hand.