Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

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,


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.


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.