Monday, January 26, 2009

Things that go bump in the night!

'Going bump' is being nice about it! It has been wild and windy with a vengence these passed couple of days. Usually it calms down around tea-time, but last night it just got stronger. We could hear shutters banging, rubbish blowing around, and all sorts of other noises. Then early this morning we heard an almighty crash followed by what sounded like breaking glass. We leapt out of bed and hung out the window to see what was going on and there was our patio table in pieces on the ground. The wind had blown it off the roof terrace! Fortunately there was no-one around down below or it could have been nasty. I couldn't believe how many pieces it had shattered into. I suppose the constant exposure to the sun makes the plastic brittle. Pieces of it were scattered on all three verandahs of the flats downstairs, and there were even a couple of bits in the pool. Anyway, we cleared it all up and let the flat owners know. The chairs are all folded away tonight, just in case it happens again.
I made the most of the slightly more gentle wind today, to get the beds stripped and the linen washed. I had to put about ten pegs on each sheet but they were soon dry. Mum must be turning in her grave to see me strip the beds, wash the sheets and put them back on the bed, all in one day, but I don't have much spares here, so that's the way it has to be.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Spain?

One of the reasons we have chosen to make our home is Spain is the way it continues to surprise us. Here we are in the middle of January, when even here it is expected to be a bit chilly, wet or windy. Today there was no sun when I opened the shutters this morning, but as I stepped out on to the verandah, the air wrapped itself around me like a soft, warm blanket. I have never felt anything quite like it in England. There was a light breeze but it had no chill in it today. Our thermometer registered 24º for most of the day, but although it brightened up, it never became a truly sunny day such as we have had a few of in the last week. It was definitely warmer outside than in the flat, so as usual, I spent the afternoon up on the roof terrace. But first I decided to take a stroll around the bay. The wind was getting stronger but I was soon too warm for my cardigan. It was lovely to see all the colourful flowers, both in the gardens I passed, as well as growing wild on the rocks and gravel of the beach. I was even tempted to paddle, so with my trousers rolled up to my knees, I stood in the sea with little waves lapping over my toes. Yes it was cold, but not bone-achingly cold, and I stayed there for quite a while.
This afternoon I did some sewing up on the roof, but the wind got stronger until I struggled to hold my work, and in the end I gave up and got stuck into a book that I am really enjoying. By 5 o'clock I was forced inside when I felt that my chair was being shaken and I thought I might be blown away, chair, book and all! Now we are inside with the shutters closed and the curtains drawn, but outside, the air is still warm, and the wind is so violent that we feel it could do some serious damage tonight. And the noise is something else altogether. I wonder what tomorrow has in store for us. That's Spain; another surprise every day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wired for sound

Wired for sound - Cliff Richard! Well in this picture we are both wired for sound. As our taste in music does not always travel along the same lines, Chris and I often choose to each listen to our own. Here Chris is attached to his computer via headphones, and I am listening to my mp3 player. My earphones only have a short wire so I tuck my player into my shoulder strap, and wear the earphones with their wires around the back of my neck so they don't get in the way of my sewing.
It is a week since I wrote in this blog, mainly because we have not been doing much just lately, apart from relaxing. As you can see, the weather has taken a turn for the better so we have been soaking up the sun on the roof terrace. Our thermometer on the verandah, in the shade, showed 14º, but it was 26º in the sun! I have found another piece of sewing to keep me busy, because I am no good at sitting doing nothing, and although I like to read, I try to ration my reading time each day, as I do not have a huge supply of English books. We sat out until half past four, but then a wind blew up and it got much chillier, but we'd managed a good few hours of fresh air by then.
The owner of the house we are buying is back out here on 30th January so we hope to complete the purchase by the second week in February. After that we will be very busy until we return to England to sort our belongings. We have hired a removal company to collect it all and deliver it here in March, so we will need to be home a little earlier than planned. But that's fine. We just want to get in there now and start arranging our own things, so it feels like home.
We have two lots of visitors to look forward to before then, My sister Jean and her husband Ron are here from Wednesday of next week, and Tom and Jessie come on 8th February. I am really looking forward to seeing them all. I just hope the nice weather continues for them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Have a stir ... Make a wish ...

Well, I said I would tell you about the marmalade, so here goes. The first thing I needed to do was go looking for some storage jars. I have only emptied a few here and last week I took them all to the recycling bin! In one supermarket I managed to track down some rather nice 'kilner-style' jars. They were a bit big for marmalade and fairly expensive, but they can be reused so I didn't mind buying them. I also met a lady from my church in town who said she could bring me a few jam jars on Sunday because she collects them and makes jam for church sales, so maybe next week I will make another lot of marmalade and give her some for her next sale. I don't have my recipe book here but fortunately I found a recipe on the internet that sounded much like mine, so I knew I had the proportions right. I normally cook the skins in the pressure cooker in about twenty minutes, but mine is in storage, so this time I did them on the highest setting on my slow cooker for a couple of hours. I had to do them in two lots, but that was the biggest container I could find. I then combined both lots of liquid and the sugar in the remoska pan (I couldn't cook in there but it was O.K. for storage), while I cut up the peel. It was getting late by then so I let it stand over night, and this morning I divided it into three pans; the largest and middle sized ones of my new heavy based pans, and a horrible red enamel one that came with the flat. I decided to go mad and boil all three at the same time, so I had to stand over them and keep stirring, in case they started to burn on the bottom. Fortunately it set really well after about thirty minutes of boiling, and I now have a lovely row of pots of gorgeous tangy marmalade. It's a good thing the oranges are ripe in the winter. I can't imagine doing all that at the height of a Spanish summer.
Jo, I am sure you are reading this, so I wonder if it has stirred any memories? For those who don't know what I am referring to, shortly after Jim and Jo started dating we asked them to babysit for us, and it happened to be on a day when I was doing my annual marmalade make. I had timed it badly so the marmalade wasn't set when we had to go out, and I left them in charge of it, with strict instructions to test it for setting and remove it off the heat. Well, we returned to find something that resembled dark orange toffee! But I forgave them and it didn't go to waste. Over the next couple of years I used it in my Irish fruit loaf and marmalade gingerbread, two of our favourite bakes that often made the boys the envy of their friends when they turned up in their lunch boxes. (They probably bartered it for chocolate bars, but fortunately they didn't tell me about it if they did!). I didn't let Jo forget in a hurry, but since then she has been a great fan of my marmalade which she likes to eat with cheese! It's a long way to come for a jar this year Jo. Maybe I'll manage to smuggle one home for you to make up for 'spilling the beans' on here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Orange juice anyone?

As I said yesterday, this morning we were off to Almeria to apply for our NIE, so we had to get up rather earlier than usual. This provided the bonus of seeing a very colourful and beautiful sunrise. We reached our solicitor's office in Mojacar for 9.15 as arranged, and after signing some forms we were introduced to a Spanish couple who, we were told, would take us to the Officina de Extranjeros (Office of Foreigners) in Almeria. They insisted Chris travel in the front of their car with the señor who was the driver, and I sat in the back with his wife. (The car was a mercedes and it gave us a very comfortable ride!). After a hesitant start, the lady and I started talking to each other. She said she understood some Enlish but spoke very little, and I said I spoke some Spanish but understood very little, but between us we managed very well and actually held a conversation in Spanish for the whole journey! We covered such diverse subjects as family, houses, relative costs of living in our respective countries, and even what recipe I use to make marmalade from bitter oranges! I explained that I hoped to need to use more Spanish when we live in the village, but it is difficult when so many people speak good English, so we used Spanish all the time unless we got really stuck, and even hand signs didn't help, and then she tried the odd word of English. I was really pleased with myself, and she said in three months I could be speaking really well, so maybe all those evenings at college were worth it. Even Chris was impressed and he doesn't give compliments too freely. It is the first opportunity I have had to talk to someone apart from asking for things in the shops etc.
The actual application for our identity numbers was very easy and quickly done, so on the way home we stopped at a market and bought incredibly cheap tomatoes and garlic. It was while we were there, looking at all the citrus fruit on sale, that I asked whether it was possible to buy bitter oranges. The lady (I didn't manage to get her name) was delighted to learn that I make marmalade and told me she has a tree of bitter oranges in her garden. The next thing we knew, we were driving through the gates of a beautiful cortijo, her house, where we were given a guided tour of some lovely rooms with very traditional furnishings. The 'garden' turned out to be over an acre of vegetables and fruit trees. She gave me a carrier bag and told me to pick some lemons. She kept urging me to pick more, and then she filled it with sweet oranges as well. Telling me to pick more lemons, she disappeared to the next field and came back with a bag full of bitter oranges. By this time I had learned that the couple are the parents of Angela, our solicitor. They took us back to her office where our car was and we drove home, stopping on the way to buy several bags of sugar! So guess what I am doing tomorrow. Making marmalade here will be a challenge as I have neither my pressure cooker nor my preserving pan here at the minute, nor even anything to accurately measure water in. But I do have plenty of time, so I will give it my best shot, though there is no way I can use all the oranges. She gave me enough to to supply marmalade to the entire hamlet of El Calón! I am happy to have the lemons as I use them in all sorts of things, and the sweet oranges are delicious.
Bouyed up with my new confidence in using the Spanish language, I dug out a bag of flour bought when we first arrived and once again read the information on the side. It was flour 'specially prepared for bizcocho' which is a plain cake, sold in all the supermarkets. I followed the recipe on the packet which contained such gems as 'add a vaso of extra virgin olive oil'. A vaso is a glass but as I have about six different shapes and sizes of glasses, it's not a helpful measurement to give, and non of my cookery books or the internet could tell me what capacity it should be. I plumped for the middle sized one and hoped for the best. It then said 'introduce the mixture to the oven'. That was a puzzle, not the least because I don't have an oven, but if I did I could imagine opening it's door and saying 'Hello. Allow me to introduce this bizcocho'!! Fortunately my remoska was behaving and it actually made a quite decent cake, so another success story. I'll let you know later this week if the marmalade is an equally happy experience.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our feathered friends again

With no other real news to write about, I thought I'd upload another couple of pictures of our faithful friend. Out here, the only bacon we can get is streaky and it still has rind on, like it used to long ago at home. (It's very nice too). So each day I cut the rind off one rasher and snip it into tiny pieces to put out with our lunch time crumbs for our feathered friends. They are getting wise to this banquet and now turn up from early morning right through til night fall, or until the food is all gone! They squabble over who gets it, but I think they all end up with a share. This little wagtail is lovely. He has an alert and beady eye, and he sits in the ledge between the window and shutters, and cocks his little head on one side, as if to say 'Please, can I have some more?'. I'll have to call him Oliver. The downside to this is that every day I have to scrub the verandah table and floor. For such tiny little creatures, they don't half make a mess! But it's worth it to enjoy their company each day.
Now we are off to bed. We have to be up early tomorrow to get to our solicitor's office in Mojacar. She is taking us to Almeria city to get our NIE number. This is a kind of identity number that we have to have to buy anything major like a house or car. It will bring us another step closer to our new life.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Today was very grey and overcast and I didn't fancy sitting around in the flat all day so I suggested we visit somewhere we haven't been to before. About 20 kilometers east of here there is quite a large town called Aguilas. We've been passed it several times but never actually turned in to it, so that's where we went today. And we were pleasantly surprised. We had expected a busy city atmosphere, with maybe a port of some sort, but what we found was a good selection of shops, I think you could find most things there if you tried, and a very pleasant beach. The sand was dotted with carefully tended palm trees offering shade on a hot day, and there were wide pavements tiled in a variety of colours, fountains, covered walkways, and lots of places to sit and enjoy them. There was a fair amount of nice green grass and flower beds planted with brilliant poinsettias to add colour, and lots of pavement cafés. I expect it is heaving with people in the summer, but even today there were a few folk sitting there having their lunch. We popped into a supermarket to buy a lovely warm stick of bread for our lunch, and we also bought a big net of mandarins for just over a euro. When we got home I found there were thirty-two fruit in it, so that's our vitamin C sorted out for this week! We both eat two or three every day, but I think they are seasonal so we won't always be able to get them. See my gallery for more photos.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bird on a wire

'My feathered friends' would probably be a better title but I couldn't resist getting in another song title, Leonard Cohen this time. There are lots of birds around now its cooler. I read somewhere that they don't sing when it's too hot! This little fellow has taken to visiting us each day. He comes around 4.00 and stays for over an hour, so we have started shaking our lunch-time crumbs out on the verandah for him. Today he went away and came back with three sparrows in tow. It was almost as though he had gone to invite them to supper! I thought he was a pied wagtail. He walks with the same bouncy gait and bobs his tail up and down. But they have a much blacker back. From what I can find on the internet I have decided he is probably a white wagtail though his back is pale brown. I love the way he is not exactly tame, but not frightened of us either. Today I took this picture through the patio window. I was right there with the camera up against the glass and he came up to the shutter right beside me and ate the crumbs we'd left for him. He's naturally an insect eater so perhaps we should put meat out for him next time. The sparrows were more cautious and flew away each time I tried to get close to them, but they didn't go far and made sure they got their share of the food. Anyway I think they are all so cute. They've been to see us everyday this week so I hope they keep coming.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The celebrations continue

Yesterday I told you about the arrival of the Three Kings, and in many places that is the end of the public celebrations, with today (a Bank Holiday) being spent as a family occasion. But we had been told that it is a village fiesta day in Los Gallardos, the village where our new house is, so we decided to pay a visit and join in the fun. When we arrived, mid morning, we found the village square was set up as the palace of King Herod, and all around it there were stalls selling toys, novelties, jewellry and food, similar to those at the beach front fair last night. We were wandering around these when there was a deal of excitment and the Three Kings came up the street riding on camels (real ones this time).The story of their visit to King Herod was enacted by people from the village in lovely colourful costumes. Of course, we couldn't understand most of the speeches but as we knew the story, we could follow it well enough. At the end lots of local children processed out from the square distributing more sweets to the crowd. The sun was really warm as we stood watching the play, and there was a lovely carnival atmosphere. When it ended we had big plates of roast piglet and 'patats fritas', which was very nice, and we continued to browse the stalls and soak up the sun.
Another attraction was a big brown bear who was there with his keeper. He played a trumpet and did hula-hoop, and then parents paid for their children to be photographed with him. I don't like to see such a lovely wild animal performing tricks, but I have to say he was in excellent condition and was obviously well-loved, and he did not appear to be unhappy about his situation. In fact he seemed to enjoy the attention and played up to his audience.
Around one corner we were greeted by a large 'Simpsons' inflatable which seemed out of place in such a traditional celebrations, but the children were enjoying themselves on it. Next to that there was a huge paella pan over a charcoal fire. The first time we saw it, it was just full of rice and two men were raking it continually as it cooked. Later whole cloves of garlic and spicy sausages were added. Much later it was dished up (free of charge!) to anyone who wanted some. We were already well-stuffed, and were heading for home as dark clouds were gathering, so we didn't queue for our portion. There's always next year!!
Once again I will post more photos on my gallery.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fiesta de los Reyes Magos

Today is the start of the major Christmas celebration in Spain - Epiphany. Tonight the children hang their stockings up to receive gifts, not from Santa, but from the three kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The celebration starts with the arrival of the kings on the evening of 5th January. Yesterday was dull and cloudy and ended with torrential rain from tea-time until we went to bed, so everyone was concerned for the parades today. But we needn't have worried. This morning dawned bright and sunny, and it stayed that way all day. We decided that as we will be in our own village for their parade next year, this year we would try somewhere else, so we went to Garrucha. Being a fishing village, it was reasonable for the kings to arrive on a fishing boat! When it arrived at the harbour, the kings were transferred onto three elaborate floats, designed to look like a horse-drawn sleigh, one pulled by an elephant, and the one carrying a very dark-skinned king was drawn by camels. As they processed slowly along the main street they tossed copious sweets with gay abandon into the crowd. Each king had several large sacks of sweets and the children had carrier bags to collect them in. By the end of the parade we saw children who had at least a couple of kilos of sweets in their bags. The Spanish are obviously not as concerned as us about the their children's weight or their teeth! (I read on the internet that, at the larger parade in Madrid, 7000 kilos of sweets are distributed). At the end of the parade the kings go to the town hall where they distribute gifts to the children (previously supplied by their parents).
While we were waiting for the parade to start, we walked around a small 'artisanal' fair along the sea front. There were stalls selling hand-made candles, jewellry, toys, hats and other novelties, and food stalls with a range of cakes, bread, herbs, teas and coffees. We bought half of a huge loaf which will last us for a week, as well as a big wedge of fruit bread. Then I chose some interesting drinks - tea with chocolate and rosehip, and white mint tea, and Chris bought five litres of local wine for €6. That should keep him quiet for a while. We had lovely kebabs for our supper and then followed the parade and watched a short firework display before heading for home.
For more photos, see my gallery on

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hooray - Christmas mail !!

I know it's January, but yes, today we got the rest of our Christmas post. Mike got some down to Brighton for Jonathan to bring over, but we continued to check the post office box every couple of days. We thought we'd do one last run on Christmas Eve, so on 23rd, as we were taking Jonathan up to Sierra Nevada, we gave Cuevas a miss. However, when we got there on the morning of 24th, we found the post office all locked up. There was a notice on the inner door which I couldn't read, so Jonathan suggested taking a photo of it, and when I got it home and blew it up on the computer, this is what I found. Basically it says that the post office is closed from 24th December until 31st. We now know that this is usual for all post offices in Spain except for the main ones in the largest cities. They forgot to add that it is also closed on 1st January, but I guess we should have just assumed that New Year's Day is a public holiday in most places, so after another fruitless trip yesterday. we went again today, and Bingo ..... lots of lovely Christmas cards. They are now hung up in the flat. My decorations always stay up until twelfth night any way, and they deserve to have their showing along with the rest. So thank you to everyone who sent to us. I am sure all your cards and messages did reach us in the end, and it meant a lot to us to receive them. It will be better next year when we have a proper address, and our own little mail box on the house.
I apologise if anyone has tried to contact us in the past few days. Unfortunately we have lost our 3G connection for the internet and although we can still use it, it is very slow, and it is not possible to use Skype. But we can still e-mail, so we haven't lost contact altogether, and when I am in a patient mood, I will log into facebook as well. We are not sure what the problem is, but Chris is trying to get it sorted out.
We are in rather a state of limbo at the minute, until we can proceed further with the house, so I do not have much to blog about, but I shall continue to update you once a week at least, so keep checking, and I'll keep chatting!