Friday, August 31, 2012

The end of another chapter

This is a brief post today to close a book with a sad ending. When I went to the vet yesterday morning it was clear that Baggins' condition had deteriorated over night. I talked to the vet for a while, but I knew it was time to say Goodbye, and the only kind thing to do was to let him go. I was very, very sad.
I have had so many cats over the years, and I didn't think any of them would replace my beautiful white Misty that I had for fifteen years in UK. But Baggins was something very special. 

When I took him on at the request of our vet, he was neglected, bug-ridden, underfed, his coat was awful, and he had 'haunted' eyes. But from the first time I met him he showed affection, and I knew I had to take him home.

With a lot of love and attention, plus guidance from Ellen, the vet, who also loved him, he turned into a beautiful cat. He was my shadow, and my constant companion.

I wish he could talk, then he might have told me what happened that night, two Saturdays ago. We will never know for sure, but it does seem most likely that he had a stroke, and fell from the table. The obvious injuries were to one eye, and a broken jaw, but there were other internal injuries that became apparent as the days went by. The vet was fantastic, and couldn't have done more for him. I took one last photo of him in his 'hospital bed' yesterday morning.

He will leave a huge hole in our family, and especially in my craft room where he spent so much time with me. I am so glad that I was able to give him two happy, comfortable years after his bad start in life. Rest in peace my beautiful boy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our beautiful countryside.

Yesterday I told you all about the fire up around Bédar, which thankfully is now extinguished. We are very grateful that, apart from a little ash in the yard, we were not touched by it. Two years ago I was showing an even bigger fire that roared up the Cabrera Mountains on the other side of our village. That left a big, black scar on the land, just as the events of this weekend have done, but now there is no sign left of it. The land is back to how it was, and hopefully most of the wild life has returned too. I said that we set out on Saturday for me to take some scenic photographs so I thought I'd just share a couple from those I took.

The first one is a bit of fun. I have travelled the 'back road' between us and Turre many, many times, but never before have I noticed that it is looked down on by Darth Vader. I guess the light was just right for me to see him and I thought he was quite sinister. But by the time I had taken a few photos I decided he was actually fairly benign, but I still don't think I would like him looking down on my back yard!

Next I stopped to look at the bridge that spans the rambla in the same area. It is a sharp bend with one-way traffic across it. I think it is a beautiful design. Presumably all the archways are to allow wind to pass through rather than cause damage, but the birds think they make a lovely perch or even a place to build a nest. I saw a beautiful blue European roller there a couple of years ago.

This shot shows the progress that has been made on the track for the proposed AVE (Alto Velocidad España, or High speed train). It has been interesting to watch how it was all dug out, and then filled in again, now with wide drainage gullies along each side, and a perfectly flat tarmac surface ready to take the track. There are loads of bridges across it to link the isolated farm houses to the main roads. This was taken from the bridge nearest to us, at the top of Huerta Nueva - the urbanisation across the road from Los Gallardos.

And this is my favourite one which I took with the panoramic setting on my camera. It was taken from the top of the hill at the front of our village, just before sundown. It shows the Cabrera mountains, (where the previous fire was), looking slightly pink as they reflect the setting sun behind me. Just to the left  of centre, you can (almost) see the tiny white village of Mojacar Pueblo, just before a huge bank of cloud rolled in from the sea and hid it completely. 

This is a close up of one section from the photo above, showing some of the cacti that grow everywhere here. There are three types of these which often get confused. They look a bit like aloe vera plants, but aloe vera actually have a pretty pink/orange bell flower. I have several from the aloe vera family in pots in my garden. These ones that grow freely all over the campo, are actually Agave (cactus) Americana, also know as Century plant, maybe because they are very slow growing and can live up to thirty years - not a century though!. The plant they are often confused with is the sisal plant, but the main difference between them is that the sisal plant does not carry 'teeth' or thorns, and the Americana does, all along the edges of its leaves. They take at least ten years to flower, and when they do, the centre stem which carries the flower grows almost while you watch it, until it is as tall as a small tree. The branches carry bright yellow flowers loved by bees, and then turn to seed which the birds flock to collect. Once it has flowered, the plant dies, but little 'pups' spring up all around it to make new plants. We have several of these, and some of the green and yellow striped variety, making a security fence along the back of our house. I hope I am still around when one flowers! The leaves of both the sisal and Americana cacti contain long fibres which are collected and dried, and woven to make rope and twine. The flower stem is sturdy enough to chop up to use as fire wood. I love the shape of them and think they make a distinctive silhouette in an evening photo. 

I published this and then decided that you can't really see the village, so here it is in close up! You can see the bank of cloud already in front of the first mountains. By the time I got home you couldn't see the hills from our gate at all. But an hour or so later, the clouds had gone again!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wild fire at Bédar

Yesterday morning Chris and I went for a short drive because I felt the urge to take some scenic photographs. I was saying only the other day, how very dry everything is, and how lucky we are not to have had more fires on the campo. As we drove towards home from the direction of Turre, I spotted a wisp of smoke on the horizon, and feared the worst.

Bédar is a little white villages on the hill behind Los Gallardos. We often take our visitors up there for a coffee, because, from the roof terrace of the bar, there is an amazing panoramic view over the hills and down to the sea. This is the story in pictures.

The first sighting of smoke from Turre, late Saturday morning.

The view from our garden at lunch time. We  followed the story on the web. The fire started near the road, between El Pinar and Bédar.

The view from the top of the village early afternoon. It was soon clear that the fire was spreading fast and getting close to the villages.

The police closed the road to Bédar, and only let the emergency vehicles through.

Water carrying helicopters and small planes were soon in action, and there was a constant scream of sirens as fire engines and ambulances raced up passed our village.

This is a press photo (courtesy of Fotogenia Estudio Garrucha) showing one of the water carrying planes refilling from the sea at Mojacar Playa, while bemused holdiday makers looked on.

This little surveillance plane was constantly circling round to spot and report any changes.

Late afternoon we walked up to the top of the village, and it was clear that the fire was still spreading. It was very close to Bédar village and the families there were evacuated to the new leisure centre at Los Gallardos. 

By sundown the fire had moved around Bédar and was raging up the hills behind it. You can see the flames as they crested then next hill.

This morning the fire appeared to have ended. There was just a faint hint of smoke in the distance. Local reports said it continued to burn in one small area but it was under control and was expected to burn itself out very soon.
However, at tea-time today there was a lot of air activity, and two helicopters were busy. This time I could see them coming down to a big agricultural reservoir just behind the leisure centre to collect water, and taking off to a location further away, but in the same area. 
It suggests that the fire has broken out again a bit further over, but there are no reports on the web yet. I hope they were able to stop it quickly. It is now too dark for the planes to operate.

We have heard that Bédar itself was saved, thanks mainly to 100 army engineers from Seville, who worked through the night building a fire break around the village. I am filled with admiration for the men who are trained to fight the wild fires. There were 2000 personnel involved in this operation, from many different locations, but they all co-ordinate the work, and put their own lives at risk, to save others. Reports say that several houses have been lost. These are the individual, isolated properties that are dotted all over the hills surrounding Bédar village. The houses themselves are usually stone, so they don't burn, but everything inside them does. Some of these were probably unoccupied, owned by British people who only come out occasionally. There have only been two casualties reported, both fire-fighters who were treated for smoke inhalation. We continue to melt here in the heat of the sun, so what it is like to work in such a furnace is unimaginable. And as I said, they do a wonderful job.

Remember you can click on any of these photos to see them better.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A little sadness but something to look forward to.

I'll tell you the sad bit first, and as most of those who read this know how 'soppy' I am about my cats, you will understand why I am sad. On Saturday evening, quite without warning, something happened to Baggins. We are not sure what it was, but the vet thinks probably he had a stroke while lying on the kitchen table, (a very bad habit I know, but it puts him just under the open window, and we all have to find some moving air where we can right now). This caused him to fall, banging his face on the wooden chair frame on the way down. I found him at bedtime, when I was trying to call him for his supper. He was on the bathroom floor and when I picked him up I could see he had had a nose bleed. I washed his face and then saw that he had 'unequal eyes', and later I saw that his jaw was misaligned. He was conscious but couldn't walk. 
I used a syringe to give him water, and made him a comfy bed on the floor next to my bed. On Sunday, I just tried to keep him cool and hydrated and on Monday I took him to the vet. My regular vet is on holiday until next Tuesday, but there was a very nice young Spanish man in her place and he has been very kind to Baggins (and me). I have been going each day for Baggins to have injections of antibiotics and anti-inflamatory drugs, and a drip of water and high vitamin supplement. I have a special convalescent food which is a powder rich in nutrients, and easily digested, that I mix with water and syringe down his throat. Amazingly we still seem to be friends! He is much better today, walking around and lapping a little water for himself. He has lost his sight in one eye, which has a big open pupil and no reaction to light, but the other one is fine, and  now the swelling has gone down it is obvious that his bottom jaw is broken in the centre and may need to be wired. I know Ellen will be reluctant to operate because of his naturally flat face which means he has small tubes for breathing so anesthetics are always  risky. Also he is too thin but that has always been his problem and we have been trying for almost a year now to get some weight on him. All the cats usually only eat dry biscuits, because it is easier to manage in the heat, but I have bought some tiny tins of meat 'mousse' which is very soft and smooth, and I spoon feed him with this, several times a day. I also mix in the high nutrient powder, and add a big squirt of special gel that is supposed to increase his appetite. In his present state, he has no choice but to eat it, whether he wants to or not, but he doesn't like being spoon fed and I feel mean making him. He is sleeping a lot but other than that he is almost his old self again, but he will have to be able to feed himself eventually if he is to survive. But he has done well so far, so I am hopeful. I have an appointment with Ellen when she returns on Tuesday, and I'll discuss the options with her then.

The 'something' we have to look forward to is an unexpected holiday. Apart from trips to UK for whirlwind visits around the family, we have not had a holiday since we came out here. You could say that every day is a holiday, but a change would do us both good, so we have decided to finally go to Ireland. I always refused to do this when the boys were small because I felt it was too dangerous. Then, when we could afford more elaborate holidays we always followed the sun to Spain, France or Greece. Now we no longer need to do this, Ireland seemed like a good idea. Chris went there every summer as a small boy with his mum and brothers and sisters, and he often talks about the long steam train ride and then the ferry boat. I am glad to say we are flying, to Dublin, where we will pick up a hire car. We are going to do a lot of travelling, with our first port of call being Cork where my dad was born. Then we will go a little further south to Clonakilty where Peggy, Chris' mum was born. After that we will follow around the coast through, Kilarney, Galway, Sligo and on to Donegal at the top where Sam, Chris' dad, was born. I love the sound of all those place names and they are very familiar from all the Irish folk music that we both enjoy listening to. At my request we are then going to cross into Northern Ireland to go to the Giant's Causeway. I have seen this on TV many times and have always wanted to see it 'for real'. Finally we will drive down through Belfast and back to Dublin. I have put a red line to mark our route on a map, but we are sure to deviate from it a bit. It looks a lot of driving but altogether (according to google maps) it is 1,291 Km, or 802 miles, which spread out over two weeks, isn't too bad. We are going for the first two weeks in October, a kind of early birthday treat for us both. Chris says it will be very wet but not too cold. We will see! I shall go prepared for all weathers. Tom is coming over to look after the animals for us, which gives us peace of mind, but he wasn't bargaining on a problem cat. But the vet will look after Baggins while we are away if necessary.

I am really looking forward to those 'forty shades of green' in Ireland. This has been the hottest, driest summer we have experienced out here, and the campo is very brown and barren. I was looking over the back fence at the green zone behind us today. Usually, even in the summer there is some vegetation down there, which makes a shady den for the youngsters to hide away in in the evenings. But now the ground is bare mud, with a fringe up by the fence of golden, dry grass. Even many of the trees look dead with bare branches and no fruit. There are no places to hide now. I can see right across it. It is months now since we had any rain. So a few soakings on holiday will not be too much of a trial!

This afternoon, we finally made our first visit this summer, up to the village public swimming pool. It is beautiful up there, and we should go more often,  but usually it is easier to just dip in and out of our own. But ours is too small to really swim in, and the village one is huge. 
It is spotlessly clean, with lovely warm water, and there is something very special about swimming in  the open air with a backdrop of mountains that look like folds of velvet, and a blue, blue sky above. It was so relaxing. The pool is only open for July and August, so we must make sure we get up there again next week before it closes.

I thought I'd close with a picture of something I made last week. It is only a bit of fun, and I have no idea what I will do with it now! I have a super machine which plugs into my computer and will cut out any shape that I program into it. I need to practice to find out what I can do with it, and how to alter the settings for different materials etc. So I downloaded this file from a forum and had a go. My choice of card was not always wise, as some was too thick to roll and fold easily. And some had a finish to it that didn't want to accept any glue! But having started it I was determined to see it through, though I have to admit is is not very well constructed. The whole thing is only about six inches tall so it was very fiddly to put together, but it is quite cute now it is done. I am always saying I am busy, but often that is the sort of thing I am busy with! How lucky am I?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

'No news is good news', but we have a little news anyway!

I have just realised that it is almost three weeks since my last post, so I thought I had better come and say 'Hello'. The main reason for my absence is that we have virtually 'No News'. August is the month when most of Spain just stands still, and this year we seem to have joined them. We have done very little except sleep and relax indoors. It has been a very hot summer. Folk who have been here for a lot longer than us, say it has been an exceptional summer weather-wise. There have been several occasions when we were well into the forties, though thankfully it is around 35º again now. We haven't had non-stop sunshine. There have been a few overcast days but then it is very humid and we are all longing for a good thunder storm to clear the air. We also had another Sirrocco wind which sweeps from the African dessert, laden with fine red dust that creates havoc in the house when you are trying to keep housework to a minimum. It also dries up your eyes, nose and everywhere else. One day the 'breeze' from our many fans was so hot, it was worse to have them on than off. For a couple of days we had to give in, shut all the windows and doors and have the aircon on. Even the dogs and cats were happy to come in and flop on the stone floor, and they were all too hot to bother with annoying one another, so it was quite peaceful.
Each night, about half an hour before bed time, we put the air con on in the bedroom, and while it is cooling down in there, we have a swim. One night I was lying on my back in the pool at 1.00 in the morning, trying to spot the meteor shower, but sadly we have too bright street lighting for this, and it stays on all night, so we didn't see any.

However I haven't been completely idle. One day I gave my larder yet another sort out and I changed the sticky cards that I keep attached to the underside of the shelves in my 'dry good' sections of the larder. They are specifically there to catch the little moths that like to lay their eggs in anything with a starchy content. As you can see, they are quite effective. You might be horrified but really this is just a hazard of living in a hot country. You can catch so many moths that you think you  must have solved the problem, but it is easy to import more eggs or larvae in packets of food from the supermarket, and with the best will in the world, you can never eradicate them completely. Here they are nothing like as troublesome as they were in Cyprus. I keep any opened products in plastic, air tight boxes, and clean the shelves regularly so I am not worried about our food being contaminated. I haven't killed anyone with it yet anyway!

One day this week, in a fit of madness, I decided to make a big batch of my hot chilli and ginger jam. This is hugely popular with my customers and I could sell much more if I made it. It is a fairly time consuming process and not the pleasantest as you have to process several batches of garlic, root ginger and chilies together and pour them in to a steaming pot of cooked tomatoes and the fumes are quite 'heady'. So I have to be in the mood to do it. The first task is to open several cans of tomatoes (for some reason the recipe works much better with tinned tomatoes rather than fresh ones), rinse them under running water to remove all the pips and chop them ready to cook. 
All the time my funny cat Baggins sat right by my feet begging for some. He can smell it as soon as I take any tomatoes from the fridge, or open a tin of them. It's an extraordinary thing but he really does love them. I gave in  and offered him a little bit, and he nearly had my fingers off in his eagerness to get it. He must have had best part of a whole tomato by the end of the morning, but it doesn't seem to have any ill effect on him. The other cats all gathered round because they thought there was some food on offer, but they walked away in disgust when they saw what he was getting!
As I was clearing away the great big tomato tins, I was amused to see that the labels clearly stated 'Product of Spain', and the small print said 'from Murcia', but all the writing on the labels was in English. I can only think that they are actually produced here for the British market, but the local supermarket (which is not part of a chain), imports them back here, or intercepts them before they leave of course. I would have thought that in general the Spanish folk are more likely to use these big tins, than retired English couples are. There can't be too many mad English women making tomato based jam in the middle of summer!

We have had two exciting developments in the charity projects I have become involved in. Last month I showed a picture of Donna and I packing 203 sets of our jumpers and beanie hats for the 'Fish and chip' babies of Africa. These were duly taken to UK for us  by a very kind local man who passed them to my son Ben in Birmingham. Ben then drove over to Chester and delivered them to Dawn, our contact there. They will be in the last shipment which goes to Africa in September. I then set about trying to find a new outlet for them as several folk are still knitting. I had an address to send them to in S.Africa, but the courier rates were so high, this was just not feasible. However, through a friend from my church in UK, I made contact with a man from Market Drayton who runs a charity called Greenfield Africa, and he has agreed to ship them for us. His courier can not get into S. Africa at the moment but he will send them to Uganda for distribution among communities there. He has asked for a contribution towards shipping cost but it is very reasonable - £10 for a banana box which he tells me will hold 60-65 sets. We can pay this via the donations page on his website, so there is no currency problems. He is happy to accept smaller parcels from individuals and small groups in UK as well, but again he would appreciate a small donation  for shipping. Otherwise he too could end up with more than he can handle or afford to ship. I will put a link to our website at the end of this letter. The new address and other information is not on there yet, but by the end of next week it will be. So do check back regularly if you are interested in knowing more. We have almost 100 more sets ready to be shipped now, so I will be doing a parcel up for him very soon.
God is good. When one door closes He opens another!
(The web is such a powerful tool for international communication. This week I had a letter from a Member of Parliament in Australia, saying his constituents had knitted a hundred or so sets and had asked him to help them find an outlet in Australia for them, and could I help him?!)

Another very positive thing that happened was yesterday when our friends Julie and Robin came over to have lunch with us. Julie runs our choir Cantante, and when we give a concert it was decided that we would not charge an entrance fee, but we would have a charity donations box at each event. So we had some money collected over the summer concert season and we decided to share it between the branch of Help the Aged that is run in Spain, mainly to help older members of the British ex-pat community, and ASADIS which is the charity run in our village for the disabled children from this area. It is run almost entirely by a lovely lady called Cati who herself has a Downe's Syndrome daughter. There is very little government support for 'special' children, and Cati works tirelessly to raise funds for anything they need. So yesterday I arranged for her and her family to come to El Naranjo where we went for lunch, and I introduced her to Julie, who fortunately speaks fairly fluent Spanish. Julie was able to give her a substantial donation from the choir, and to learn more about the work they do with these children. We have  also taken the first steps towards organising one of our Christmas concerts in the village which I am very excited about. Chris and I have to travel a good half hour each way to practice every week, and to most of the concert venues, so it will be nice if everyone travels to us for a change, and it will be good to forge stronger links between the families who benefit from Asadis, and the choir.

When I have just published this, I am going to bring my 365 photo project board up to date. It is quite a challenge to find a photo a day when you aren't really doing much, but no doubt I'll find something!

You can find out more about our Africa knitting project here.