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Arguing about all sorts: the third year of our Spanish adventure

This account of our life in Spain is loosely based on true events although names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories and from my diaries of the time. I may have also changed identifying characteristics and details of individuals such as appearance, nationality or occupations and characters are often an amalgam of different people that I met.

Concluding the third year of our Spanish adventure.
Sunday, September 7, 2014

As usual then it was a mad race to get all our affairs in Spain organised before beginning the long road journey back to Wales. We had to arrive by the 30th of June as this was when we had loads of appointments and issues to resolve when students moved out of our rental houses and new ones moved in on the 1st of July. And because the children played up so much in the car when we drove long distance, we always broke up the journey a lot and made a holiday of it. 
We would drive to somewhere near Madrid or Valencia and stay in a hostel. Then it would be up to the border of Spain and France and another overnight stay. After the third day of driving we would stop for a few days in France on a camp site and have a mini-holiday. Then it was another day up through France and another two or three night stay and finally the home trek via the ferry from Caen or St Malo. 
We were of course worried that the casa wouldn't be finished in time for the tourists, just as we'd been worried two years earlier that the cortijo summer rentals would go awry. We'd soon find out when we started getting the first bit of feedback. 
There always seemed to be something to worry about. I found life such a struggle. Maybe my feelings were justified. I'd moved country with two small children and I'd experienced a series of disappointments in my new setting - including dealing with liars, cheats, thieves and flakes.
It did at least seem now, though, at the end of my third year, as though things were looking up. The house was nearly finished and was let out for the summer, so there would now be money coming into the bank account for a change and I'd no longer have to devote my days to liaising with builders and buying materials. My father had died only six months earlier as well and I'd handled it pretty well - no nervous breakdown. As for the children; they had friends in their new village school and they were both top of their classes. The business in the UK was ticking over - thriving even with property prices forever on the increase (although we often faced a lot of stress with tenants from hell). Surely we were over the worst and could now relax?

You may now have to wait some time until I prepare the next episode of our Spanish 'adventure' for my adoring public. Frankly, I've got to be in the mood to revisit some of this crap. It's even more tricky now that I'm facing another crisis (which I won't be telling you about; it's bloody astonishing sometimes what life can throw at you).
I'm also trying to think positively - which dwelling on a difficult past isn't that conducive to. Who knows? I may abandon this story altogether. I've often questioned the point in writing and publishing books. Sometimes hardly anyone reads them  and even if millions read them, who cares? Those millions of people don't matter to me. Only a few people really matter to me. What is all this searching for public recognition and validation? We writers are as desperate as celebrities to be popular, have people praise us etc. To care so much what strangers think... 
And what is their praise? A puff of smoke. Gone in a flash. What's the point of anything in fact? 
I shall end with some of my favourite lines from Shakespeare for you to savour on this September afternoon on which as you can see I'm feeling thoroughly depressed:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28


To see our current properties for rent take a look at the following. There is plenty of availability from September onwards at DISCOUNTED rates:

And also another of our completed projects:


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Ways we could have come a cropper.
Sunday, September 7, 2014

A while after the casa was finished, I was reading in the newspaper about an empresario who was imprisoned for a year because a Romanian man working for him had fallen two metres from scaffolding.  The case took six years to get to court.  Apparently, the Spaniard bribed the Romanian to say that he had not been working for him and he paid his hospital bill of 3,000 euros (the man had to have five operations on his foot).  The socalled entrepreneur received a year in prison and a fine of 3,600 euros for crimes against the rights of workers, ‘lesiones imprudentes’ (injuries as a result of negligence) and bribery.  
A similar fate could have befallen thousands of people all over Spain who had work done on their houses; it could have happened just if a person had an accident when replacing a missing roof tile, for instance.  I used to watch Benji and the others up on the roof, not taking any safety precautions.
'Benjamin! Shouldn't you be wearing a harness?' I'd call.
'No! No es necesario!' he'd call back.
As it turned out, had any of them had had an accident, we could have ended up in jail. Thankfully, I was blissfully unaware of this (and of course we would have been more than happy to pay for harnesses).  
Benji was also completely set up as a builder with all the equipment, cement mixers, scaffolding, tools and so on, so I thought: how come he'd get off scot-free like we were exploiting him and we'd have to pay him a stack of compensation and land in jail? We were just employing a builder to build our house.  
One good thing about reading all of these stories in the local paper, Ideal, was that we were often so relieved that we hadn’t ended up in the same position as some unfortunates (and I count the empresario among these).  

To see our current properties for rent take a look at the following. There is plenty of availability from September onwards at DISCOUNTED rates:

And also another of our completed projects:


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The importance of getting a holiday home up and running fast.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When we first bought the casa, I had all kinds of plans regarding how I wanted it to look. Every month I'd buy the magazine ‘Casa y Campo,’ and I dreamt of rustic furniture, putting in false beams, painting everything cobalt and terracotta, with flowers everywhere, vegetables growing at the back and a shaded ping-pong area at the back (to appeal to holiday-makers). Over the years, the house could certainly have featured in the magazine - some French holiday makers said it had a lot of soul, and everyone who went there thought it was beautiful. However that first year we couldn't afford to be perfectionists. We had the walls painted white; that would do - it was what the Spaniards did anyway. We would have to wait until the next year to bring the alegria of beautiful blues, yellows and reds and to trawl rastros to find old wooden tables and chairs, throws  and paintings which made it a really special home.
Luckily for us, I was good at time management and 100% determined to get the house up and running to let that summer. There was no way I was going to forego a summer's worth of bookings through the lack of a swimming pool, which was the final job that needed to be done. So as soon as the inside of the casa was finished and they builders had rendered the exterior, I managed to persuade Benji not to desert us – he was talking about another job he had to go to and suggesting they install the pool in the autumn. Adrian didn't care, but I did.
'No. We would lose a lot of money that way, Benjamin,' I pleaded. 'Por favor, do us this favour. You know you don't want to leave us yet,' etc. etc. 'Please stay on and do the pool straight away.'
My charm offensive worked and he agreed to stay for the month of June, excavate and build a swimming pool, set up the pump and finish the patio around it. The only annoying thing was that we’d ordered some posh border tiles, to give the pool the wow factor and paid a 50 euros deposit, only to be told that they would now take six weeks to be ready – too late, as we had to get on with finishing the pool. When we asked for the deposit back, they simply refused. It didn't matter that they'd told us it would take two weeks and then added a delay of six weeks. There was nothing for it. We had to forget about the 50 euros and settle for a contrasting tile we could get hold of to act as a border. In business you can't always be a perfectionist.
We also had to trust Benjamin to do the finishing touches after we left for the UK around the 20th of June, as by then we had taken bookings from mid-July. Simon and Charlotte would check it was all done and that it was clean and tidy before the first tourists arrived. We'd also instructed a local woman to do the cleaning and handovers and got a young neighbour to maintain the pool.
By accomplishing this, we were able to rent the house for the peak months that year, bringing in more or less what it had cost to install the pool. 

To see our current properties for rent take a look at the following. There is plenty of availability from September onwards at discounted rates:

And also another of our completed projects:


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No gratitude.
Sunday, August 3, 2014

At this point the property market in Spain was still riding high and many British settlers had plans to renovate houses and let them out to tourists. It was already becoming clear that the market was getting swamped and supply was outstripping demand. 
My friend Jenny's husband, David, mentioned that some friends of his were going to follow this blueprint and were in the process of selling their family home in Britain. The innovative plan was to buy two houses close together, live in one and rent the other one out to holiday-makers.
'Tell him not to do it!' I advised David.  I knew that the current holiday-home owners in Adreimal, where they intended to buy, were struggling to rent out their houses. The people whose houses didn't have a pool - and there were a few - couldn't get anyone at all to book. Even with a pool they would be lucky to get six or seven weeks of bookings in the summer and nothing the rest of the time.
I was persistent:
'Tell them they' ll never earn enough to live on. What they should do is use half of the proceeds of their house sale on deposits on houses in Wales.' (they came from a town I knew well)
For £90,000 they could put down six 15% deposits on houses costing £100,000 each (they’d also need a bit extra for legal fees, initial maintenance, furniture and so on). But I explained how they would then get a regular income from the difference between the mortgage and the rent. 
David promised to relay this message to his friends.
Sure enough, a year later they arrived in Adreimal and it turned out they'd followed our advice to the letter. 
'Ah yes, David mentioned you to us. He said you came from Wales too,' the man said the first time we met him in a cafe one morning. 
There was no word of acknowledgement or appreciation of our advice; advice which was to eventually make 100s of thousands of pounds and which prevented them from experiencing financial ruin and penury as they would have done had they stuck to their plan.
A bottle of wine wouldn’t have gone amiss. 
A few years later we met Jenny for coffee in Adreimal and they were there too. Adrian went to get the coffees.
'I'll get Jenny's' he whispered to me, 'but I'm not bloody getting theirs!'
I always found that situation really tricky - when you wanted to buy your friends' drinks but you didn't want to get them for the rest of the party. But it stuck in our craw that they had been so ungrateful. We didn't ask for much - a thank you and a bottle of wine or a cup of coffee...
'The rentals are going really well,' the man said at one point.  'We've done really well out of these interest rates. We've got ten houses now and that's bringing in thousands every month. And what with the capital appreciation, I've been pleased that our plans have worked out so well.'
Some people just can’t do it; maybe they like to always have the credit for their successes.
I’d noticed the same pattern in the past; I advised one friend to get rid of the second car in the family and I pointed out how she could share lifts with her husband some days and on others he could cycle to work to keep fit, because he was interested in that. She categorically refused and argued that the second car cost them peanuts to run. I pointed out that it cost a minimum of £400 per month, with the cost of depreciation, tax, insurance, MOTs, repairs and fuel, but she would not have it. When, a few months later I discovered that she had got rid of the second car, I said, ‘Oh, you took my advice then?’ to which she replied, ‘No, I was going to do it anyway.’

To see our current properties for rent take a look at. There is still one week available in the second property during the summer holidays (10th to 18th August) and plenty of availability from September onwards:

And also another of our completed projects:


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A man with ambition.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

La Gloria didn't have anything like the number of expats as Adreimal, but there were a few dotted around in nearby villages. One woman I liked was an Essex girl called Tracy. She had a perm, lots of make-up, a bubbly way about her and a working class way of speaking. This meant that some British looked down on her, as though they were superior beings (the Spaniards didn't; they had no idea she sounded 'common'). She was in her 30s and her husband Barry was at least 50, but he seemed to have a lot of energy.  
The first time we'd come across him, it was the usual scenario. Pepe and Barry were trying to have a conversation in the bar without a common language. Pepe waved for Adrian to come over. 
'Oye! Adrian! Can you help? This man doesn't speak Spanish.'
Adrian had to forego his peaceful morning coffee and translate for the two of them for half an hour. It turned out that Barry and Tracy had bought a house in a nearby village and now didn't have a clue how to get an electricity contract, where to get bombonas, how to sort out a telephone...
As soon as Adrian had finished translating for them, Pepe rushed off to his next appointment, leaving Adrian with Barry. The conversation went like this:
'I'm Barry, by the way.'
'And I'm Adrian.'
'Are you Welsh? 
'Oh. I've been to the north. It's absolutely beautiful there but the people are bastards.' 
'Oh. I'm from the south actually.'
'Aw, the people are lovely down there, but the place is a fucking shithole.'
So Adrian enquired: 'And where do you come from?'
'Well, I've been there and that is a fucking shithole.'
A few days later, it was the same scenario, with Adrian being called over again to translate. I wasn't there but Adrian reported back on the conversation later.
'I said: "Right. This is the last time I'll be helping you Barry. You'd better learn Spanish. I know you English are crap at learning languages, but you'd better get on with it. It's not my job to do it for you."
And Barry said: 'Oh yes I fully intend to learn it.' 
The third time Adrian saw Barry trying to speak to Pepe, Barry turned to summon Adrian's assistance. Adrian held his hand up, and said, 'Keep on learning the Spanish, Barry,' and kept on walking. 'Because I don't bloody like the bloke,' he said to me later.
A few months afterwards Barry seemed to have sorted out his house issues and was now launching himself onto the Spanish employment market.
'I'm going to change the face of this place,' he declared. 'I'm going to bring loads of work here. They've kept it like a little backwater, but I've got some big plans. They're not going to know what's hit them.'
It was interesting to see someone with ambition. And he certainly had more vision than we ever saw in the local mayors, although both were to be equally ineffectual. Before he and Tracy split up (he'd been hitting her about) and he did a runner, apparently being chased by someone (it was all shrouded in mystery) - his impact on the area was so significant that I have no recollection of one thing he accomplished.
And the best the mayors did in all the time we were there was plant a few flowers, build a wall and re-surface some streets. This was despite thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands pouring into the area at one point, when expats were buying and developing properties and having money extorted out of them by the town architect, through whom all plans had to be approved (2000, 3,000 euro fees were common; if you didn't pay, your plans wouldn't be put before the Committee). 
At the same time the mayor managed to build and furnish five houses out of his mayoral salary and job as a part-time plumber and a few of the councillors seemed to be stretching their small salaries in a similar way, with fancy houses and fincas being added to their property portfolios. No-one even raised an eyebrow. It was the way things worked in Spain.

To see our current properties for rent take a look at. There is still one week available in the second property during the summer holidays (10th to 18th August):

And also another of our completed projects:


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Getting plastered.
Saturday, July 26, 2014

Benjamín had recommended his cousin's son, Iván, for the plastering, saying that he was a brilliant plasterer and would do a really professional job. 
'Si, it's his normal job in the week, so he can do it for you un fin de semana.'
All rooms except for the kitchen and two bathrooms were to be plastered over the allotted weekend, and Iván would be helped by a few other men. So one Friday in April we vacated the house and went off to a lovely hotel called La Puerta de La Luna, in Baeza. It was in a beautiful medieval building, every bit as good as a parador, but we weren't bothering with paradores ever since they'd been so mean-spirited when my father died and didn't allow us to take our two nights we were owed over into January. We had a chat with the owner, a wealthy businessman from Madrid, and it felt nice to speak to that kind of Spaniard and have an intellectual discussion (he slagged off the andaluzes, which amused me: 'They think they're so abierta! Well, they're not. They're muy cerrada!'). It was lovely to sleep in a luxurious hotel, soak in the bath and just be away from our life on a building site. 
We returned to La Gloria around 8pm on the Sunday, feeling all refreshed.  But as we went in through the garden gate I could sense something was amiss. Adrian put the key in the lock in the darkness and then fumbled around for the light switch inside, only to find that the electric wasn't working, so we couldn’t see a thing. Also, the floor felt funny, very uneven, which was strange because we had all newly-laid terracotta tiles. Adrian managed to locate the electricity fuse box in the darkness and the lights came on. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The floors were completely covered in rubble. I started to question my sanity. Hadn't we had all the tiles laid here in the passage? And in the living room, which I was looking at as it was also covered in rubble?
We walked through the entire house, aghast to see that the tiles had completely disappeared under several inches of plastering rubble.
While we absorbed the awfulness of the situation, we decided to make a cup of tea, but we couldn't get any water out of the taps. It took a while to realise it had been switched off at the mains. Well, why should it have been? It didn't make any sense. And why couldn't the inconsiderate so-and-sos have switched it on again?
'I am absolutely furious,' Adrian was ranting. And I wanted to cry. We had to pick our way through the house and calm down enough to put the kids to bed and have a few glasses of wine to help us sleep.
The following morning, Iván came knocking on the door for payment.
'Do you like the walls?' he asked. 'They're very smooth, arent't they?
'Yes, but what about the floors?' I said.
'Que? What about the floors?
'They're ruined and they were new tiles.'
'Oh, that will take no time at all,' he reassured us, 'just a bit of quitacementos and they'll be muy bien.'
We didn’t want to fall out with them, as they were family of Benji, whom we considered (maybe stupidly) to be a friend as well as our builder; and we just didn't have the strength to put up a fight and tell them: 'Well, if it's easy to clean up the mess, you do it!' (I would have no problem saying that these days; but that was another time...)
We paid up and spent weeks trying to clear it up, firstly filling bags with all the loose rubble and then scrubbing as hard as we could and using a knife to get the worst bits off. Even then, we could not get all the stains off and paid one of the Romanian labourer's wives to do a few days scrubbing the cement off, but at 50 euros a day, we couldn't even see what she'd done by the end and instead spent time for years afterwards occasionally attacking some of the marks with quitacementos to finally clean up their damage.
Thinking about it some time later, I thought the only explanation must be that they’d thought our newly-laid terracotta tiles were old tiles that were going to be removed as the Spaniards never did their houses in the rustic style, using clinical marble and lino instead. It reminded me of a friend from my old street, when I showed her our new reclaimed wood kitchen in our Edwardian house (we’d all grown up in a street of council houses, where she still lived). 
‘Yes, it’s okay, but it’s a pity about the old sink,’ she said, referring to our newly-installed Belfast sink. The plasterers must have been stupid though to think they were old tiles, considering most of the house was a new-build, attached to a restored shed, that certainly had never had any tiled floors; just a load of dust. But then some people are thick.

To see our current properties for rent take a look at. There is still one week available in the second property during the summer holidays (10th to 18th August):

And also another of our completed projects:



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Being used by expats (or not).
Sunday, July 20, 2014

One day we were at the bar when Pepe López  came up to us and asked if we could help a British woman with un problema (neither could speak the other's language). Adrian went to where she was standing and it turned out we knew exactly who she was. She was a woman around 40 with a couple of young children in tow, whom we'd come across a few times. Both she and the children looked like they hadn’t washed in a million years. However, we'd heard she had a tidy sum of money and didn’t need to work. She owned a house in Adreimal and another in La Gloria. In fact, we'd bumped into her the previous month walking in the street in La Gloria.
'Hey. Can you tell me if the school in the village is any good?' she asked, without bothering with the social niceties. 'Because I'm thinking of moving down here, if it is.' 
Adrian said later: 'I hope to God she doesn't move here. I was hoping the Adreimal lot wouldn't get wind of this place.'
She was 'woman with white van.' This was a phenomenon in Adreimal – there were loads of them, women who could be seen riding high up on the leather seats, using all their might to tug and pull on the stiff steering wheels. They had scraggly looking kids and good-for-nothing men, who would lounge about in the crusties' bar. 
On another occasion when we bumped into her in La Gloria she was attempting to manoeuvre said van down a very narrow street. 
'Hey. Is  is possible to take the van as far as my house down the end of this road?' she asked Adrian. 'Because I've got a whole load of gear I want to unload.'
'No it definitely isn’t,' he replied. 'There's nowhere you can turn at the bottom. You'll have to park here and walk down or you could get into a right mess.'
The road tapered to a point and we'd seen a few people get into bother; if your car didn't have a lot of guts it was a hell of a job reversing back up the hill. 
She drove straight down it and got stuck. We watched as she then got some of the local men to help her get the van back up the hill. My question is: why bloody ask if you’re not going to listen? Anyway, that pissed us off and we decided there and then that she could just get on with it. We’d left Adreimal to escape drippy hippy types like her (who only spoke to you when they wanted something).
Anyway, back to the bar and Adrian being taken over to speak to her. 
‘I’m in a bit of a fix,’ she said, ‘my van has broken down and I need someone to give me a lift back to Adreimal’ (which was a one and a half hour round trip). 
‘I can't think of anyone here who could do that,’ Adrian said, although I could tell he was wavering. He can't resist a woman in distress. 
'You can't do it,' I warned him. 'You've been drinking. You can't drive up dark country roads for the likes of her or anyone else, when you're over the limit.' 
He told her he couldn't help.
'We're hungry,' she said then.
'Well, you've got time. If you're quick you can get stuff in the Coviran across the road. It shuts at 9.'
She ignored that.
‘I don’t know what to do,' she said.
Adrian explained what was going on to Pepe.
'Tell her to call her breakdown service,' he said. 'It comes automatically as part of your insurance policy.' 
So Adrian translated. 
‘No, I haven’t got any insurance’ she replied. (She could buy two houses but not car insurance) 
‘And the children are hungry,’ she added for effect. 
‘Well, if you don't want to go to the shop,’ Adrian said, 'they can easily do you some raciones here in the bar. They're still cooking.'
She didn't seem to hear.
‘But I’ve got to get back tonight,’ she continued,' and I’ve ‘phoned and asked everyone I know in Adreimal if they can come and give me a lift and none of them can.’ 
That didn’t surprise us; those people didn’t have friends just people who mutually tried to use each other. 
‘Well, if I were you,' Adrian suggested, sitting back down at our table, 'I’d sleep in your house here and then get a bus in the morning,’ and with that, he turned his chair back to face me. 
'I know what she was after,' he said to me. 'She knows I can't give her a lift so she wants us to offer her a meal and a bed for the night. Well, she's got money and she's got a house.' 
We'd had our fingers burned so many times in Adreimal that we just weren't having it. We'd allowed ourselves to be used so many times, that we'd lost count. 
The usual way had been the amount of meals we'd made for people who rarely or never reciprocated. We kept doing it, because we liked company and I was a 'feeder.'  But we started to get cute about it.
So one day, when Vicky and Harry had a friend and her son staying, Adrian and I took a liking to these Cymrophiles (people who like all things Welsh, including us, having lived in Cardiff - they even liked my accent, which was a first) and invited them all down, with Ingrid (Vicky's sister) and her son too, and Vicky and Harry's kids, making twelve of us in total. I set myself the challenge of making the cheapest meal with the cheapest ingredients that I possibly could, just because they so rarely had us back. So I made vegetarian spaghetti Bolognese with two jars of lentils, at 17 cents a jar! And I used the cheapest spaghetti I could find, at 30 cents a packet, times two, courtesy of Lidl. A couple of cartons of frito, onions, some peppers I had to use up, and lashings of our own olive oil. I reckon it didn't come to more than 10 cents a head.
I did splash out slightly on the dessert because of the visitors, buying sultanas for the Welsh cakes, which are quite expensive in Spain. But I used cheap flour, sugar, cinnamon and a bit of margarine (not butter). It might have come to 30 cents a head.

It was all washed down with cans of 25 cent beer and cheap lemonade (they hadn't brought a bottle), and some of the Costa which our Spanish friends always gave us (they made wine every year even though a lot of them were teetotal). They also ate piles of our delicious nisperas fresh from the trees and went home laden with bags of the loquat and avocados (Vicky and Harry always raided our trees). 

Thus they had the pleasure of a full stomach, lots of freebies and a lovely sunny day next to our cortijo pool (they lived in a house without a garden); not a bad afternoon from their perspective. But the main thing for me was that I tightly controlled the budget. It showed I was learning. And it amused me. It was a kind of damage limitation. 
Another time we did this was with Hannah and Bobby, some Brits who lived in a nearby village and whom we got chatting to now and then. I had a funny feeling that they too were unlikely to reciprocate. So this time I made a cheap vegetarian lasagne, with the cheapest lasagne sheets and 20 cent tins of red kidney beans and a fruit crumble for afters, using up left over fruit and cheap flour and margarine again (I should go into catering; I'd have fantastic profit margins). Over the course of the afternoon, next to our casa pool, we had to listen to Bobby regale us with various tales, including his greatest achievement; having £60,000 of mortgage debt written off by a bank during a previous financial crisis. He was as proud as punch about it.
It was to be six months later, just before Christmas, when we finally received our return invite, not for a meal but for 'a glass of wine and a mince pie.'  Since I'd just made a batch of 36 delicious mince pies (if I say so myself), and we had an invite to our friend Carmel’s for a slap-up meal on the same day, we declined their kind offer, later finding out from Simon and Charlotte who had also been invited that they cancelled at the last minute anyway – one of their children was ill. 
(NB. They had already told us the story of how they’d fallen out with English friends in their village who had had them around several times for dinner, but they'd never succeeded in reciprocating because they'd unfortunately had to cancel several dinner invitations at the last minute because their children were ill; of course you can't argue with that.)

To see our current properties for rent take a look at. There is still one week available in the second property during the summer holidays (10th to 18th August):

And also another of our completed projects:



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Village life
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An advantage of village life for the children, now that we were living in the casa was that they were free to go out and play, meet up with friends independently of us, and there were maybe not as much dangers compared to living in a town (or perhaps the dangers were just different). The main road running through the village was a worry, as some of the drivers were idiots and there were some terrible lethal drops down into various abysses, that didn't have so much as a fence bordering them. There was also stranger-danger (or acquaintance-danger) like everywhere else, but because everyone knew everyone else, there seemed to be a better chance that the locals would spot anyone new hanging around.
The village school was infinitely better than the one in Adreimal however, with excellent teachers – mostly women, young and very smartly dressed – they raised the tone in the village. But some of the parents didn’t appreciate how good these teachers were – and indeed the only older female teacher, who had been there for two decades and had taught some of the parents themselves – used to speak her mind at the parent-teacher meetings about the negative attitude some of the parents had about the teachers.  
'I know you say to the children: "You don’t have to listen to the teachers; they know nothing about life,"' she said during one meeting.
 And she was right. My friends said exactly that to their children. So I made a point of speaking out loudly and clearly in support of the teachers whenever I could.
‘Oh yes’, I‘d say, ‘I think that this equal opportunities policy you’re following is excelente’. 
They couldn’t believe their ears, and the parents looked at me, like I'd gone round the twist. 
The school even won a prestigious award for this policy that they were implementing as part of the Junta de Andalucia’s attempt to re-educate boys in particular, so that they would not become macho wife-abusers. Domestic violence was seen as a big problem in Spain. We were all invited to Granada to eat delicious canapes and dainty cakes and the teachers were on the evening news.
To make a contribution, I often made cakes for the various school events and these were always warmly received – ‘Que pinta tienen!’ the teachers would exclaim (‘how nice they look!’). And our children thrived in the school performing at the top of their (small) classes. We, too, were made to feel we were appreciated as a unique element in the school; the teachers felt that Avril in particular was a good influence and would place children by her whom they thought she would influence positively. We British are known for our manners. So unlike Adreimal there was no animosity towards foreign children at all. 
We were in fact held in such high regard that the deputy tried to persuade Adrian to run for mayor.
'We need a britanico,' he pleaded. 'Estoy harto, I'm fed up of the political corruption. A britanico like you could be trusted.' 
I didn't like everything about the school, however. I disapproved of the teaching of Catholicism, in particular. Back in the UK I had seen grown women cry when they talked about the nuns at their Catholic schools. But my Catholic friends in the village and the local form of Catholicism seemed quite different. 
For one thing, it was very easy to get an abortion or a divorce and I never heard anyone saying anything homophobic. After Franco, it seemed to be all ‘live and let live.’ But I wouldn’t allow the kids to go to the Religion classes in school; they still taught it the old way, with the focus primarily on Catholicism as the one and only true religion. 
I detest the Catholic religion (and possibly every other religion) and don’t trust priests; and I thought that the local priest taught the lessons (I was wrong). When I told a teacher my views, instead of being offended, he was nodding in agreement: ‘What a good idea to keep them away from those classes,’ he said, ‘they really screwed me up.’
The teachers did complain about one aspect of Avril's behaviour, however. Apparently, she would not do the kisses. The teachers would say:
‘Oh yes, her school work is great. She’s a lider. Know that word?’ 
'Uh, yes, it’s an English word actually' (that they’d just introduced and spelt phonetically). 
But this failure to do the kisses sounded good to me. It was very handy with people whom you couldn't stand but had to kiss because of etiquette. Avril would simply not comply and regularly offended adults because of this. There was no way I was going to force her.
In most ways she was a star pupil. She was placed next to a boy called Franci one year and the teachers and the boy's mother were very pleased because his marks improved. They assumed it was the influence of sitting next to Avril; she said it was rather because he copied her work. And a girl in Avril's class, Beatriz, was another copier. She was the only other girl the same age as Avril. She liked Avril, but Avril said she was a bit sly and didn't return the sentiments. 
Beatriz didn't come from what was seen as a 'good family.' Her mother was a sour woman who only ever spoke nicely to me once when she wanted me to buy a massive box of ‘polverones' for fifteen euros. I bought them to be polite, as I found these almond delicacies tasteless and indeed like 'powder.' During the previous three years of our acquaintance, she’d never said one word or so much as given me the La Gloria nod. 
And Beatriz's grandmother was another one. The story went that she'd married a man who'd won the lottery and spent all the money - presumably on her matching skirt suits, made out of material that I felt would be more suitable as carpets - with matching tottering high heels (how they carried her massive weight would made a good scientific study) and tons of lurid make-up. When the money was gone she dumped the poor guy. The only evidence of the win left was her substantial over-the-top wardrobe.

To see our current properties for rent take a look at:

And also another of our completed projects:


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Parking: a petty issue?
Sunday, July 13, 2014

Parking is of course a big issue for many people the world over - one of those so-called petty issues which cause millions to fantasise about slitting their neighbours' throats. We were no exception. Marino became the focus of our wild fantasies in this regard.
One day he dragged another large pile of his larger branches and put them right where we parked our car below the house (in our original parking area). He then parked his van on our new parking area. We'd only recently cleared this area near the pool, put down a membrane and covered it with tons of gravel. So, he now had his things on both of our parking spaces, leaving us in the ridiculous position of driving up to our cortijo and having nowhere to park.
'Move that van!' I called out to him, when I saw that I couldn't get onto our land.
He shouted something indecipherable, but clambered down from his terrace, got in the van and moved it onto a neighbour's land. 
'Bloody hell,' Adrian moaned. 'Now we'll have to pay for Patrick to come up and concrete in some posts and shove a chain and lock across it. Just to stop that bastard.' 
He was clearly afflicted with what Marita described as the local disease – envidia (envy), and envidia often led on to codicia (coveting). Because he coveted what we had, he decided he’d just use it, as though it were his. 
On our nearby olive terraces we had a similar problem with a man called Pepe from Barcelona, who despite having a vast area of his own on which to park, would stick his car on our very small parking area where only one car could fit, so that if we went there we had nowhere to put our car and we couldn't leave it in the middle of the track that was in constant use. It was just him trying to bully us really.
Yet another time we found that someone had parked a large digger on our olive terraces. We had no idea whom it belonged to and put a note on the seat weighed down with a rock, telling them that they were on private property and to please  move it. It was a damn cheek, but the owner of the digger also could quite easily have crushed our irrigation pipes and if we knew one thing about the Spanish it was that if they broke anything of yours then that was your own lookout; they wouldn't be paying to fix it. 

To see our current properties for rent take a look at:

And also another of our completed projects:



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The Spanish rural pastime: encroaching on other people's land.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A month later Marino had some Romanians working for him, clearing his avocado terraces. He'd already explained that although the local going-rate for labouring was fifty euros a day, you could get them to work for just thirty, because they were desperate.
'No thanks,' we'd said. 'We'll pay them fifty euros like we pay everyone else.'
He worked them hard, ordering them about and watching them like a hawk until his terraces were immaculate, free of all branches, old fruit, leaves etc. But for some reason, he decided to get them to dump a large pile of the branches and leaves and mess on one of our terraces, right next to the house. 
The next time I saw him I shouted up to his terrace.
'Hey Marino! The peones have put some of your rubbish on our land by accident. Mira.' 
'What am I supposed to do with it?' he called back.
'I don’t care. No es mi problema,' I shouted back. 'Make sure it's gone by next week as we've got tourists dentro de una semana. Make sure they're gone by then.' 
In fact, we had tourists due in a fortnight, not a week – I’d said that to rush him along. However, it was ten days later, while we were about to drive past on the main road below, that I spotted smoke coming from near our cortijo.  We went up to investigate what the smoke could be and were amazed to see the smouldering embers of a fire on our land. Marino was nowhere to be seen so I couldn't confront him.
The next day we drove up again to try and catch him.  Now, where the ugly pile of branches and mess had been there was a massive black pile of ashes and the earth was all stained black. That would be one of the first things the tourists saw upon arrival.
I heard a rustle from the land above, so I knew he was hiding there amongst the trees. I shouted up in Spanish: 
'Hey, you haven't got rid of your rubbish from our land and you've now made it look really feo. We didn't give you permission to light a fire on our land. Light it on your own land!'
'Que?' he replied.
'I don’t want your branches, your leaves or your ashes on my land,' I went on. 'Get rid of them.'
'No t’entiendo,' (‘I don’t understand you’) he shouted back.
'Si, m’entiendes,' (‘yes you do’) I shouted back. 'And make sure this lot is gone by this time tomorrow.'
On the Thursday (the tourists were due on the Saturday) he apparently tried to place the ashes on the track below. Simon spotted him and shouted at him that he had better not put them there as the wind would blow them all into Simon's pool below. 
We drove up once more on the Friday; we were worried about the awful impression the mess would create for the holiday-makers. Fortunately Marino had got rid of the ashes, but there was a horrible black stain left on the earth of our terrace. 
I just couldn't understand the mentality. There had been absolutely no need for it. He’d got the Romanians to clear and burn mountains of stuff on his land, and stains on his land didn’t matter as it is pure agricultural land with no house, no holiday let etc., so why did he have to encroach on our land?
As we continued to live in Spain though, we worked out that it was part of the Spanish mentality – amongst the little shitty Spaniards – “los malos” (‘the bad ones’) as one of our good Spanish friends called them – whereby even though they didn’t need to, they liked to shit on your territory, like an animal marking it. They liked to steal something, sometimes a chunk of your land, even; they liked to walk on your land, even though that might mean they were going the long way around, and so on.

To see the end result of all the work on our casa, take a look at the house now:

And also another of our completed projects:


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