Saturday, July 23, 2011

Phew! It aint half hot mum!

I hadn't realised until I came to do this post, that it is almost two weeks since my last entry. We have survived another fiesta, and all evidence of it has disappeared from the plazza. I am only including a couple of photos of the event, because, Spanish traditions being as they are, any pictures I take would be the same as those I took last year, and the year before etc. But we did go over and join in with the fun each day. I love all the music, decorations and happy chatter. These are the lights that they string from a central pole to all the edges of the plazza. I took this one at dusk and I think they look better then rather than late at night. On Friday evening I sat and watched all the children from the local dance school doing their flamenco dancing. The smallest tot was only about four or five, but they go right up to the upper teenagers. It is nice to see that so many of them still want to learn the traditional styles as well as the modern disco dancing. My friend's grand-daughter was dancing so I promised to be there to watch. We also went over on Saturday evening to watch the special open-air mass for the Virgen de la Carmen. It begins with a procession and the arrival of the statue of the virgen at the plazza. The village choir accompany the mass and they sing so well. Then all the villagers who want to, bring bunches of flowers that are piled onto a trestle next to the statue. After the mass they collect them again, and process up to the church where they leave them. It is an occasion for all the lasses to dress up in traditional wear. They look so pretty, but those dresses can't be all that easy to move around in.

The fiesta music was again very loud. It was an extra disco that they were building at the back of our house. It started around 9.00 in the evening and went on until the next morning. In fact it was still playing when we got up around 8.30 on Sunday morning. I wish I had the energy to walk round there and see if anyone really stays there all night. Sometimes it sounded as though it was competing with the other disco just around the corner, to see who could make the most noise, and between them was a huge bumper car stand that sounded a siren everytime a session was over, so we didn't get much peace for a few days. But at night we just shut all the doors and windows and put the air con on, and we managed to sleep reasonably well.

The worst thing about all the fiestas is the rockets. Throughout the four days they continuously let off rockets. They don't seem to be signals that something is about to start or finish, they are just completely random. They let off anything from three to ten in quick succession. There is nothing pretty about them; just a puff of smoke and a very loud bang. In my room, which faces over the back, I can hear the whoosh as they go up, so I am ready for the bang, but it can give you quite a start if you are not expecting it. The dogs are terrified of them, and every time they hear the whoosh, they are climbing the walls and doors trying to get inside. By the time we have let them in, the bangs are all over for another hour or two! They even broke down the fence while we were out and we found all three of them cowering in the front porch when we got home. But if we bring them in all day in anticipation of the bangs, they get restless because they are not used to being confined. Some of our friends even put their dogs in kennels for fiesta week, but I think that is a bit extreme. We just try to be at home with them for most of the time, and maybe in the end they will get used to them.

We didn't go over to the plazza quite so often this year because it is so hot. The temperature in the shade is averaging in the mid thirties this month but it must be well into the forties out in the afternoon sun. It is too hot to walk around in, or to sit out in unless you are somewhere very shady and there is a breeze. I am told that we are on red alert which is a reminder to take sensible precautions against dehydration and sun stroke. So we are drinking lots and lots of water, and no 'mad dogs and English men' here - we stay indoors for the siesta time with the fans or air con on, and just rest. The dogs sometimes come in for a cooler rest with us, but usually they just flake out in a patch of shade all day. We feed them much later because they don't want to eat while it is hot, and then they have a run around in the evening. Even Arwen abandonned me in my craft room for the hottest days and set up home in our bathroom. This never gets direct sun so it is probably the coolest room. But it is a bit un-nerving to pop to the toilet and find a ball of white fluff with two big eyes staring at you as much as to say, 'what are you doing invading my teritory'!

To the left, at the back of our house, there is a half-built house. I think perhaps it is a family project that they do a bit of whenever they have the time or money. Every now and again we see a few men working on it, and then nothing for months, so progress is slow. It is going to be a beautiful house when it is finished though. This week they have been working on the roof of a small central tower, and I have been really worried about them. Four men have been up there in the full sun from 7.30 in the morning until 7.30 at night. They didn't stop for siesta. They were all in long sleeves and trousers and a sombrero for protection, but it must have been so hot. They were walking round on the sloping tiles with no ropes or nets. One poor man was laboriously carting buckets of concrete up a ladder and returning with an empty one for the next load, while the other three were working with the tiles. But they got it done, and apparently without accident. Now they have gone, so I don't know when the next bit will be done.

Surprisingly, today dawned quite overcast and several degrees cooler. It is strange to see 29º on the thermometer and be thinking, 'Oh it's quite pleasant out today'! Anyway I took the opportunity to do a little bit of work in the garden. Our window boxes that had looked so lovely back in the spring, had gone over and were very sad. So I popped down to the garden centre and bought a few flowers, and replanted them. So now we have pretty petunias in the two front boxes, with a couple of other bits at the ends, and the one on the spare bedroom sill at the back has some trailing verbena and a taller plant that I don't recognise. They all look very nice again. I watered them in and left them on the front wall to settle, then after lunch, Chris put them all back in place, and hosed away all the mess I had made in the yard! I'm not a tidy gardener.

While I was in the garden a van drove passed, then stopped and an old man got out and walked towards me. He was going to leave again when he heard I was English but I encouraged him to try and talk with me and it turned out he was selling tomatoes and peppers. So I said I would have two kilos of tomatoes and one of peppers, which he weighed out on a rickety scale balanced on top of his veggies, so I have no idea whether it was accurate, but he gave me very generous measures anyway. It cost me three euros. He tipped the peppers into a bag I had fetched from the house but he wouldn't do it with the tomatoes. He insisted on carrying them in for me and reverently laid them in a single layer on my kitchen table. He had a point as they easily bruise, but they had been all piled up in a crate in the back of his van! They smell gorgeous, just like the ones I used to pick from my greenhouse In UK, but then, he had probably just picked them too. They are fairly firm but ripe so won't keep for long, but I am hoping to make some more of my chilli and ginger jam in the next couple of days, and despite it's name, the main ingredient is tomatoes. As I was busy in the garden I left them on the table and when I returned to get our lunch, I found they had been attacked by my fruit eating cat, Baggins. He was a picture of innocence curled up in a chair, but he left the evidence behind! Nedless to say, the rest were quickly deposited in the fridge until I am ready to use them, though we did have one each with our lunch and they were lovely and sweet and juicy, so I don't really blame Baggins. It is just such a strange thing for a cat to like!

Before I leave you I must just mention Ben's music again. He has been busy training for his new role as train conductor. He had three months training which finishes this week, and he has passed his exams with flying colours, so very soon he will be on his own train, somewhere near Birmingham, because he is based at New Street Station. Anyway, he has still found time to write some more music. You may remember that last year Tommy Franzen (So you think you can dance finalist last year) used Ben's music for his showreel. Well he asked him for some more this year and they have worked together on a piece which Tommy dances to, and demonstates his choreography skills to. It is not my style of music. I like it when Ben write more folksy songs and sings them, but it sounds good, and fits Tommy's moves perfectly which is what it is all about. You can see the showreel, with Ben's byline at the end, but clicking here.

Well done to anyone who has managed to read all the way through my ramblings. I won't leave it so long next time and then I can keep my posts shorter again!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some beauty, a blessing, a cautionary tale, and other ramblings!

Well here I am again. The village is bustling with preparations for the big fiesta later this week. The lights are up, the fairground has arrived, the stage is in the process of being built on the plaza, and there is a buzz of excitement everywhere. Our village patron saint is Virgen de la Carmen, so her fiesta is very important, and there will be processions, food, music, more food and more music with dancing, for 24 hours a day, from Thursday though 'til the early hours of next Monday. We love to go out and mingle. The atmosphere is great, so happy and friendly, and when we have had enough, we go home, close all the windows and shutters, put the air con on, and sleep through the rest of it, hopefully!! The picture on the left shows the view out of my craft-room window across the green zone this week. There is a roller coaster to the right, behind the big lorry, and to the left of the bumper cars they were busy building something all afternoon. It looks like an open arena with a stage so I have a horrible feeling it is an extra disco which will play music at top volume all night, whether anyone is there or not! The right hand picture shows the view as it now, after dark. The lit area is the bumper cars which is very bright and colourful, but I can't begin to describe the noise! They have been open every night since last Thursday, but at least until the official fiesta begins this Thursday, they do close down around midnight.

I don't know whether it was connected or not, but on Saturday afternoon there was a 'run' around the village. We became aware of it when a guadia car drove passed our house, lights and sirens blazing, clearing the road. It was followed by around forty runners, mainly men, but there were a few women too, some in groups and others on their own, all jogging up through the village. After a while we recognised some of them from before and we realised that they were running in circuits. They actually came round at least a dozen times, with a couple of police cars in between to look out for anyone in trouble I presume. I really admired them. The temperature was in the thirties, and some of them were struggling towards the end, though others looked really fit even on the last lap, but they all kept going, including one much older man who walked the last couple of laps.

I noticed my yellow hibiscus was looking particularly colourful the other day, and when I went over I found it had half a dozen huge flowers all blooming at the same time, as well as lots of buds. I just had to share such beauty with you all. Isn't it gorgeous!

As most of you know, while the bitter oranges are around in January, I make lots of marmalade and sell most of it for charity. A man from our church lost his father very recently at the age of ninety, and after the funeral he brought his mother back to stay with him for a while. At church I was introduced to her as 'the lady who makes the marmalade'. She held on to my hand and in a tearful voice said "My husband loved your marmalade so much and he just managed to eek out the last bit to the very end". She now has my very last jar which in a way is providing her with a link to her husband while she adjusts to life without him, and I thought how unexpected that something as mundane as a simple jar of marmalade can be a real blessing in a time of need. It makes the hours I spent making it, time very well spent.

As most of my followers on this blog are family you will be very familiar with this photo of the Gregory grandparents, so I thought you might like to pay a visit to my 'other' blog, to see how I have used it to create some Artist Trading Cards for a swap. You can see it by clicking HERE.

And now for a cautionary tale: Chris is in the throws of repairing a leak in our outside shower, (another item on my 'To do in 2011' list!). He needed a small amount of sand and cement for mortar, and being unsure of my Spanish vocabulary in a rather specialist field, we opted to go to a big building supplies place near Vera that we have found quite helpful on a previous visit, and we knew one of their staff speaks English. We soon found what we needed without asking but when we went to pay, the Spanish assistant banged away on his calculator and showed us a total of 44€. We laughed and said 'No' thinking he was joking, but he just smiled and said 'Yes' so we left empty handed. This afternoon we went to a small builders yard on the edge of our village. In my stumbling Spanish I explained what we wanted and what it was for, and amazingly she understood me! In minutes a bag was in the back of the car, and the cost 4€ ! Guess where we'll be going next time we want building materials. That's life in Spain for you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All plummed out!

Yes I do mean 'plummed' not 'plumbed'! Chris' sister Mary and her husband Bill came to visit us for the day on Saturday and they live a good bit higher up a mountain than us, where they have a finca with a lot of land that has many variety of fruit trees growing on it. That morning they stripped their plum tree and brought us a big basket of dark red plums. They were very ripe and delicious to eat, but out of defference to our digestive systems I knew I needed to do something else with most of them. Jam was the obvious course of action. I was busy yesterday so this morning I sorted the fruit out. As you can see from the photo, after just two days, some had already started to turn. But I sorted out four kilos of good fruit. I was using a recipe where you peel and chop the fruit so I did that first (Hence I now have very brown hands!). It took a while and we ate quite a few along the way, so I added some more to keep the weight up. Before long the pan was bubbling away and by early afternoon I was ready for a bottling session. Here are some of the finished product. It looks as though it is clear with all the fruit at the top, but it isn't really. It is just the way the sunlight has crept round to the back window and is reflecting off the jars and I thought it looked such a lovely colour. I like these dumpy shaped jars. A local supermarket sells marmalade in them and a friend has been saving them up for me.

While the fruit was simmering for the jam I could see the rest of the plums were deteriorating before my eyes, so I peeled and halved the rest of them and gently stewed them, so as soon as they are cold enough, I will make a crumble with some of them and pack the rest away in boxes in the freezer, ready for another day.

Just before I started on the plums, Chris announced he was going down to Mojacar, and always ready for a trip out, I went with him. We were going to the ferreteria, or hardware shop, to look for some fly deterrents. Flies are, unfortunately, a part of our life out here, but this year they do seem to be particularly numerous. They can really spoil an afternoon sitting outside. Chris is pretty nifty with a fly swat and ends up with a circle of dead bodies around him, but I miss more than I hit. I think it partly depends on the strength and direction of the wind, how many there are, but on a bad day they can get very tiresome. So we now have a new, more powerful lamp/zapper like you see in a butcher's shop, which we will hang on the porch when we are sitting there. They are not a complete solution but they do help, and our old one hasn't worked for quite a while. We also get a few flies indoors, mainly because the cats have discovered how to move aside the corners of the mosquito nets to get out. They have a way in and out, in the back door so they don't need to do this, and it is very annoying. But during these very hot months (it is above 30º every day, and the thermometer down at the beach was showing 32º at 9.30 this morning!) we like to have as many doors and windows open as we can to encourage a breeze through the house. So today we bought a fly screen to go across the front door. This is made up of a light-weight metal link chain, and although it looks quite open, flies don't come through it. A friend of mine has them at all her doors and windows without mosquito screens and she swears by them. They are bought as a metal strip with holes punched along one side to go at the top, and big bag of chain, and you have to assemble it yourself. So once the jam was bottled, Chris stood on a stool hooking the chain into the top strip (I don't reach up very well) and I sat at the bottom with a pair of pliers breaking the chain at the right length each time. Would you believe there are seventy lengths of chain in a standard door width screen. But it looks nice now it s done. So now we can have the front door open. It is right next to Chris' office door so no-one can get in without us knowing. We can see what is going on outside and it lets quite a lot of light in, but, unless someone stands just inside it posing (!), the people outside can't really see into the house.

Last night I put a load of washing in the machine so I could hang it out when I got up, and first thing I stripped the bed and put the linen in the machine. When I got back from Mojacar, the first load was dry so I brought that in and hung the sheets out. So my last task for today was to get the sheets in off the line and make the bed up again. Mum must be turning in her grave to see me take sheets off the line and put them straight on to the bed, but after an afternoon in our sun, they certainly don't need to go in the airing cupboard, (if I had one), and in this weather they don't get ironed either! So that's three good jobs done in one day; a record for the summer! I usually only manage one thing a day July -September so I've done really well. I think I've earned a dip in the pool but I'm not sure I've got enough energy left for it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A busy day, a special gift and some welcome visitors

Chris and I have had a very busy day today. We finally tackled one of the main tasks on my 'Things to do in 2011' list, which was to completely sort out the garage. Most houses have a 'glory hole' where they throw everything that doesn't belong anywhere else, and for us this is the garage. We are so fortunate in that the previous residents constructed a floor to ceiling cupboard across the whole width of the garage. Spanish houses are not known for their provision of storage space, so this is a real bonus. It is of course, full to bursting and until now one set of doors have been covered with old boxes, huge containers of animal food etc, making the contents somewhat inaccessible. The garage is also the obvious place to store tools, rolled up carpets that only come out for a couple of months in the winter, the hoover, the iron and ironing board, stepladders, bikes and so on, not to mention five crates of Christmas decorations, so you get the picture? It started off very organised and tidy, but after two years it had become a total mess. However, the garage is also the home of two tall cupboards, resembling wardrobes which are actually two full size, fold-away, single beds, and this is where extra visitors sleep! As 'The Perry tribe' aka Jim, Jo and the children are coming for a ten day stay in August, we knew it was time to deal with the chaos.

I have a bit of Dad in me in that I am a hoarder. I loved his shed ceiling that was covered with screwed on jam-jar lids each holding a jar of sorted nails, screws, washers, watch parts, and anything else that he thought might come in useful one day. I have something similar. Whereas Chris would buy a new packet of screws when he needs some, I hoard up every lose one I find, and when we were getting ready to move I sorted them all into sizes and types, and I even bought a set of racks to hang on the wall to carry them, and one to hold the main tools. Needless to say these have never been used. The four (yes four!) tool boxes that I carefully cleaned and filled with tools were virtually empty, so I started today by touring all the rooms and garden collecting any I saw. Not having the same attitude as me, Chris finds it hard to understand how difficult it is for me to part with anything, but he did persuade me to bid farewell to a few items today, the hardest being the big trunk that Mum and Dad bought for me when I went away to college - forty plus years ago. It has been a clothes chest, a toy box, a place for garden equipment and to come here it was a container for all the awkward shaped items that didn't fit into a normal packing case. But for two years it has stood empty, it's clasp was broken and I couldn't really justify the space it was taking up. That out of the way, we rearranged some other bits and pieces and made a big enough area of clear wall to fix my hanging racks to. I re-sorted their contents, hung most of the useful tools on their rack, condensed the few larger ones into one tool box, and threw the rest away. With the lovely tiled floor cleaned, the carpet hoovered (that one tends to stay down all year) and all the clutter removed, it is once again a nice little bedroom for the grandchildren. There are two good windows in there, complete with flower boxes outside, and a floor-standing fan, and we have thought about converting it into a proper room, but really, we would still need somewhere to store all the utility items so it is best left as it is.

And as for the few things that we felt were surplus to requirements, well, they have a wonderful system here - leave it out, and someone will take it. No running off to the tip here, and filling the land-fill sites with perfectly usueable items. We actually didn't even bother to put ours out by the bin. We left them near our gate, and within an hour a Spanish lady came to the door and asked if she could take them. We were delighted and Chris even helped her to carry them up the road.

Now to my 'special gift'. I no longer go to my Spanish lessons. Paco had taught us all the grammar that we need to know, but he was not good at leading us on to being a conversation group, and that is really what we all need now; lots and lots of practice at speaking and listening. Personally I find that I know how to say most things that I want to, but I don't have anything like enough vocabulary and I still struggle to understand when they speak to me. So to give me a little extra help, Chris has bought me a bilingual Bible. I saw one being used and told him about it, and he found one on Amazon and sent for it for me. Isn't that nice of him! I liked the idea of it because it is a 'parallel' book with the verses in Spanish and English alligned on each page so you can follow in either language and compare the two. (Chris says it is like a Roman missal so that's why he liked it). It is also a modern translation which is what I need as it is modern Spanish that I want to learn more of. For this photo I chose the lovely words from John 3.v.16. Because in effect it is two books in one, the pages are very thin, but it is all bound in red leather, edged in gold, and has thumb references, so it is a beautiful book. Fortunately I don't need prompts to find my way around the Bible; I say fortunately because the booknames are often quite different in Spanish so I wouldn't recognise their shortened form on the thumbs.

And finally for my welcome visitors. Well so far, all I have to show you is these two dragonflies who came to visit us on Sunday. It was a beautiful sunny day, and they just sat on the stone surround of our pool for ages. They stayed, one on each side of the pool, so I don't think they were interested in each other, and of course, the water has too much chlorine in it for them to be interested in that. But they flew around and then came back and basked in the sun again, and they stayed around all afternoon. I thought they were so pretty. But actually tomorrow we have some proper visitors. Chris' sister Mary and her husband Bill are coming to see us. They only live about an hour and a half away, up in Velez Blanco, but this is the first time they have been to our house, so we are looking forward to welcoming them here.