THE END OF A LONG, HOT SUMMER
The swallows have departed and at dusk the bats fly at breakneck speed around the terrace, hungrily seeking food. What a pleasure to sit outside in the cool evening air enjoying a glass of Somantano or Rioja or a good Ribera del Duero, at peace with the world.
WOUNDED IN ACTION
H is notorious for injuring himself while performing, often, quite simple tasks. We have a lot of bamboo in the garden, which needs a lot of water, which means lots of weeds and H came up with this idea that cut up wine corks (of which there are usually a prolific number in our house) would keep these intrusive plants at bay. My Sabatier knife is perfect for this as it is also perfect for chopping meat – his finger being a good example. H has low blood pressure – he faints at the sight of blood. On the point of passing out he comes towards me dripping blood from the gory mess that constitutes his finger. I grab his arm and drag him into the bathroom, running his hand under the tap, hoping to get matters under control before he passes out. No such luck. With H in an arm lock I am pulled backwards and sideways as he finally loses consciousness. We are now wedged on the floor beside the bidet and the wall, where we stay until he regains sense. From past experience, I know it is pointless to remonstrate with him and have to satisfy myself with a cuff on the ear.
STUDENT CHRONICLES: Quote of the month
With a class of ten it’s always a good idea to have a discussion or debate for the last twenty minutes. Sometimes I introduce a topic and sometimes my students wish to have a rant. Following on from a newspaper article we debated the subject of ‘racism’. No-one, of course, ever admits to such disgusting principles, nevertheless, Joaquin was absolutely convinced that a major part of Valencia’s problems could be laid at the feet of ‘los imigrantes’. They did not contribute to society, did not pay their taxes, rarely bothered to learn Spanish and generally sponged off the already beleaguered populace. Bewildered by such vehemence I said mildly: Do you want me to go back to England, Joaquin?’ ‘Oh no, not you, Barbara, just the others’. So that’s all right, then.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
With the weather unseasonably warm, the garden is undergoing a Spring-like regeneration with plants blooming when they should be hibernating. With so much blossom on offer the bees are busier than ever. On Sunday, my customary gin and tonic to hand, I was distracted from my novel by a sudden cessation of noise in the geraniums. Obviously commanded to stop work by some higher authority, making me wonder if there is a bee world break for pre-lunch cocktails, the silence was overwhelming. On closer inspection I saw that several bees were lying on their backs among the geranium leaves basking in the sun. Only Spanish bees do this, I think …
If you take to the streets on most evenings you will find the restaurants and bars full. City life is thriving and as noisy and colourful as ever. Even as old, favourite bars are closing, new ones are opening, giving a clear message. Life goes on.
WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES..
Speaking of the economic crisis, some of H’s favourite shirts are looking distinctly frayed around the collar. Collar turning … I mean, how difficult can it be? If you have ever tried to unpick the stitches on an expensive shirt you will know that it is virtually impossible but I’m determined; there is no such word as ‘can’t’ and I have the correct implement for some reason now forgotten, a vicious little spike with a hook on the opposite side. I set to with, it has to be said, more enthusiasm than patience or expertise and, the task accomplished, one has to ask if the collar isn’t looking a little more frayed than when one started but if it came off it has to go on. Three collars are successfully turned and re-sewn and I feel ridiculously pleased with myself. Of course, H must not remove his sweater when wearing one of these ‘new’ shirts and must keep the top button tightly done up – a small price to pay for the pleasure of continuing to wear old favourites as I think he agreed...
AM I REALLY PART OF THE HUMAN RACE?
One of my students asked me what we call an arroba (@) in English. I said I didn’t know but I’d find out. Having exhausted all the usual sources I realize I must now enter the weird and terrible world of ‘The Forum’. First of all, why would you want to call yourself ‘The Penis’? (Really, look for yourself). His answer was ‘arpersat’ and one can only suppose he means ‘ampersand’. Who are these people and why do they never use their real names? What’s wrong with ‘Colin from Barnsley’? Are they from another planet? I think they are. I think they should be investigated and cleansed. Note: ‘@’ doesn’t actually have a name.
MADE FOR TV.
I sometimes wonder if my life is like one of those made for TV series. Take my experience with the Humana Bin, for example … I decided to give some of the clothes I no longer wear to charity, partly because there is simply no more room in my wardrobe. It was hard despite the fact that some of the items had not seen daylight for ten years or more AND some of them had mysteriously shrunk. With twelve neatly tied bags the Humana Bin in the village was my destination. I parked neatly next to the bin alongside a bench where sat four elderly men, idly chatting as old men do.
‘Buenas dias’, I say politely. ‘Bon dia’ they reply in unison, watching me carefully. The bin is big and blue and painted with fluffy white clouds and the donor has to climb up on a high step, open the 6’ x 2’ drawer and push in each separately bagged item of clothing. It began well. Open the drawer put in an item, close the drawer, open the drawer put in an item….. at bag number ten suddenly, through a small tear in the bag, I see that outrageously expensive orange silk shirt that I wore only once … clearly a mistake. Now I am plagued by doubt. Gripped by an icy dread I wonder what on earth I’d been thinking? There’s an economic crisis, should I really be giving away half my wardrobe? By now I am muttering to myself and attempting to retrieve my donations without looking suspicious. The bin, it turns out, has been specially designed for such emergencies. If you try to remove items the drum (not a drawer at all) it revolves the other way and traps errant wrists in an iron grip. Pinned by one wrist I lose my footing and am now suspended, legs paddling the air behind me. I recall the old men on the adjacent bench, no doubt keenly observing my antics, and consider yelling ‘Ayudamé!’. But the Spanish do fatalism to perfection. I am sure that if I actually fall into the bin they will go back to their conversation as if I never existed. No help there, then. Somehow I manage to extricate myself, dignity almost intact. I climb down from the step, readjusting my skirt back down to my knees. ‘Hasta luego’, I say somewhat breathlessly. They nod solemnly, another curious English person to discuss in the bar later.
On the way home I am cheered by the thought that it’ll soon be January and the sales will be on. Well, the gaps in my wardrobe must be filled.
ARE WE IN AN EPISODE OF THE WALTONS?
The holiday month is here and after July’s super rant I’m exhausted. With rising temperatures (and no teaching) we decide to let go a little. There is, of course, still work to be done, but to pick sun-warmed black figs straight from the tree and bite into their jam-like sweetness is sublime – until, of course you look down at the half still in your hand and see several squirming little white wriggly things or shiny, tiny beetles shouting ‘Bugger off, these are our figs!’ The oranges are still green but perfect, the mandarins likewise. We ate the cherries in February, in contest with the birds, and were delighted by their sweet juiciness. The apples are ripening but we didn’t spray them and now they are full of ‘bichos’. The white grapes that hang beneath festoons of pale green leaves are delectable and it’s good to share them with friends.
BUT, just as it’s time for supper, the tennis club switches on its sound system, the loudspeakers of which are angled straight at our house and at such high volume that you can hear the beard growing on the elderly announcer’s chin as he encourages everyone to rise for the pasa doble, the merengue, the bachata, followed by a quick salsa round the floor before a brief rest when a piercing squeak rents the air as the MC adjusts his microphone to proclaim a game of Bingo – it is now two o’clock and still 29º and the perspiration running from my hair into my ears has dislodged my ear plugs – ‘Guau! Que bien!’ (Wow, that’s great!) everyone yells and so we are further entertained by cries of ‘Uno, dos, diez, numero tres … and so on.
AND if it’s not the tennis club it’s the marching bands with their trumpets, drums, cymbals, songs, much laughter and jolly banter.
‘Are you all asleep?’ they cry at three in the morning as they stomp around the streets. ‘Well, we’re here to wake you up!’ Never mind that we’ve been working hard all day, who cares?
By now we have come to believe that we don’t actually own this house but only work here. By ten o’clock each evening we are so exhausted that we usually fall asleep before the end of a much-looked-forward-to movie.
G’niight John boy.
THIS AIN’T THE WAY LIFE’S MEANT TO BE …
I thought living in the country would be a good move. Wholesome food, fresh air, peaceful days spent quietly pottering in the garden, taking a cooling swim on those hot days, sweeping up a few leaves here and there … maybe a little light weeding, nothing too strenuous …
BUT what with the dogs, the chickens, the pigeons and the frogs, we now have feral cats and their kittens underfoot. And talking of chickens … I’m thinking of denouncing our neighbour for cruelty – mainly to us. His half-boiled feather-coated fowls can be heard feebly clucking, as they sweat in 35º, too heat-exhausted to budge off their perches and too dispirited to lay any eggs. The smell of overheated poultry is abysmal and so strong it permeates the washing on my adjacent line so that we are subjected to unkind remarks -‘What is that smell?’ whenever we venture out.
Trees have leaves and these leaves fall off and have to be swept up. Some trees also have fruit that has to be picked – or picked up as in the case of our enormous carob tree. This involves spending days suspended from various (unreliable) branches, bashing down the dark brown pods (which smell like poo) before they fall painfully, if not fatally, onto you or your guests’ heads. This is followed by hours picking them up again and taking them to the Ecoparc.
Pine trees have needles that get into everything but mostly the swimming pool where they have to be endlessly fished out with a net. These majestic trees are also host to the ubiquitous processionary caterpillar. Blind, they travel in long lines, nose to tail and should you be touched by one of their hairs (they are continually shedding them into the air and onto the ground) the resulting rash could send you into anaphylactic shock. Dogs can be blinded or killed outright. The council actually come round with flame throwers, particularly enterprising in the drought season, and the smell of roasted caterpillar doesn’t make you want to create a new recipe. Where the hell am I living? Then there’s the Nispero with its delicious fruit (remember the recipe for Bellinis from last year). This tree has leaves that defy belief. Huge, brown and crackly, they have been specially designed so that brooms cannot sweep them up.
Ants are interesting little creatures and very determined to get into the house by any underhand method they can devise. A stray crumb or two in the kitchen and two seconds later they are being carried at high speed across the counter to one of a thousand garden destinations.
Wasps build nests – anywhere. Whilst doing a little light pruning in the shrubbery I was stung no less than eight times on one hand six on the other. Jumping spiders are another joy and, if you look at them through a magnifying glass, you will see they have crab-like pincers that can give you a very nasty nip indeed
Then there is the constant sweeping, dusting, fanning oneself, jumping into the pool, picking the pine needles out of your cozzie, cooking lunch, eating it, trying for a siesta while one or other of the neighbours has yet another birthday party or an any excuse to shout and laugh like Mexican bandits.
Still, there’s the holiday month of August to look forward to … ay caramba!
If you are a regular reader of thisisvalencia.com you will probably look forward to reading Barbara O'Neill's excellent column about life as an ex-pat in (and out) of this fair city of ours. What you probably don't know, and I am about to tell you, is that Barbara has written a book, and jolly good it is too - it's called THE GIANT KILLERS and is currently on the Harper and Collins website Authonomy.com for all to read. The purpose of the site is to get your book read and voted on. The more votes, the higher the book is ranked and when it is ranked high enough it will be read by an Editor at Harper Collins with a view to publication.If, of course it is not snapped up by an eagle eyed agent or publisher in the meantime.
'When Elizabeth and Jack open the package they believe they are looking into a toy box. It is Jack who notices they are breathing.'
Barbara would love you to visit her page and have a read of this excellent novel, which she describes as a fantasy thriller. If you like it sign up to the site and put her book on your shelf and send her your comments....
To whet your appetite here are the cover notes:
It is the year 2150. Elizabeth Waldren, married to a man she has come to despise, is living in an old cottage on the isolated shores of Chichester harbour. Her husband, Stephen, is a geologist with a colonisation project on the planet GT4. Absent now for ten months, he has left her with his psychologically disturbed eight year-old son, Jack. On a routine survey Stephen risks entering the prohibited area and stumbles across an indigenous race, The Lhaitiri. Only twelve centimetres tall, he succeeds in capturing nine of them and, by a clever deception, transports them to Earth, keeping their existence from the project leader, Jonathan Tupperman. Angered when Elizabeth refuses to let him play with them, Jack resolves to punish her; but as he begins to understand the strength of her friendship with Ybron, their chief, he decides The Lhaitiri must die. As Elizabeth discovers that she is dealing with a life form far removed from that of Earth, she is determined to communicate. But when conversation is finally possible, so comes understanding and The Lhaitiri are faced with the true nature of the human race; with all its complexities and the society it has created for itself.
Go on go over to Authonomy.com by clicking the cover, above and read (VOTE TOO) Barbara Richmond O'Neill's THE GIANT KILLERS, I guaantee you'll be hooked from chapter one.