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An Old Fool in Spain

Day to day ramblings of an old fool living in a tiny mountain village in Andalucia.

Two Old Fools and Dogs
13 July 2014

You’d think a tiny Spanish mountain village would be the perfect writers’ retreat. Hmm… Not so. Why do the Spanish allow their dogs to bark nonstop?

I love dogs, honestly. But I was trying to write the last chapter of Two Old Fools in Spain Again, and finding it hard to concentrate.

LJ the rescue puppy and Indy

LJ the rescue puppy, and Indy

There are plenty of dogs in our village, all shapes and sizes. There’s a Jack Russell that never stops yapping, a German Shepherd that guards one of the big houses and looks as though he’d enjoy tearing an intruder apart, plus numerous friendly mongrels that roam the streets freely.

The Spanish seem to have a different attitude towards dogs than we have. Instead of taking them for walks, they allow the animals to wander unsupervised about our narrow streets. Constant barking is accepted and dog poop deposits ignored. Dogs are rarely neutered, and unwanted litters of puppies abound.

I’ve never owned a dog, but I’d love to have one some day. Apart from the companionship, I think it would do us good. Joe and I spend so much time huddled over our computers, and having a dog would force us to go for beneficial walks and get us out of the house more. But it wouldn’t be sensible at the moment. We travel too much, particularly now that we have a granddaughter in Australia.

When my daughter told me they were thinking of getting a miniature pig as a pet, I was a little surprised.

“No,” she said, “it’s not a late April Fool joke, we really would like a pig. They are very intelligent, you can train them just like a dog, and they can be house-trained.”

“Have you got space in your garden?”

“Oh yes, loads. We contacted the farmer and we’ve chosen a little black one. We’re going to call him Hamlet.”

About a week later, we chatted again.

“We’re not getting a pig after all. We went to visit the litter and met the piggy parents. They’re HUGE. So we’ve decided to get a puppy instead.”

“What sort?”

“Don’t know. We’re not quite ready yet, but we’ll visit the Dog Rescue just to see what’s available.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s a pity you aren’t here in Spain. Everywhere you look there are puppies looking for homes.”

Ready or not, they fell in love with one particular puppy at the Rescue Centre. It was bigger than they’d planned, part husky and part Staffie, but they couldn’t resist.

Of course I was worried, as little Indy is just a toddler.

“Don’t worry,” said my daughter. “The Rescue Centre has checked him out thoroughly. He’s gentle, fantastic with kids and other dogs, intelligent and although he’s only 10 weeks old he’s already obedient. We’ll have him on two weeks’ trial, and I’ll be taking him to puppy classes.”

I don’t believe puppy classes exist here in Spain, not in our part of the world, anyway. None of the village dogs obey any commands.

The puppy, LJ, named after the initials of the hotel where my daughter met her husband-to-be, arrived and settled in very quickly.

They soon discovered that puppies are hard work, like newborn babies, but LJ was clearly there to stay. My daughter took him to puppy class where he performed beautifully. He already understood ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Leave’ and ‘Go to bed’.

“He was the best behaved dog there, Mum,” she said proudly. “Model student. It was just a pity that he peed on the rug as soon as we got home.”

So lucky LJ has a lovely new home and will hopefully grow up to be the perfect pet. We’ll meet him next winter when we visit Australia.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll just continue to put up with the barking in our village and dodging the piles of doggy poop dotting the streets. It’s a small price to pay for living in paradise.



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Two Old Fools and the Gas Scam
15 May 2014

Spring has arrived here in Spain. The birds are frantically nest-building, bright green leaves are unfurling and the sky is clear and blue.
Unfortunately, just one dark cloud hovered above us this month. I'll tell the story here in the hopes that fellow expats avoid being caught in the same way.

It began with a polite knock on the door. Joe answered it and found two smiling men in uniform waiting on the doorstep.

"Good morning," said the one with the clipboard, "we are sorry for disturbing you, we've come to check your gas fittings."

"Really? I don't think we've ever had them checked before," said Joe, suspicious.

"It's just routine. Please check our IDs."

Joe checked them and took note of their company. Everything seemed in order so he let them in.

We only use gas for the hob in the kitchen and the men peered into the cupboard housing the gas bottle.

"Your tube and fittings need replacing," said one. "It won't take long."

They spread out their tools and set to work. The date on our tube was stamped 2009 and they replaced that and the fitting with new ones. Then they tightened the clips attaching the tube to the cooker.

The gas men were a pleasant, friendly pair. One sat on the floor doing the manual stuff, while the other filled in all the relevant forms at our kitchen table. There was a great deal of paperwork. An hour later the job was done.

"Finished," said the worker. "I've checked that it's all safe. That'll be good for five years now."

"If you would sign here, please," said the other man, "and here, and here."

"Everything seems to be in triplicate," said Joe, scribbling his signature over and over again.

"Yes," agreed the gas man, taking a calculator out of his briefcase and tapping away. "A lot of paperwork. The final bill is..."

Joe and I exchanged glances.

"It comes to 350 euros," he said.

Joe and I stared at him.

"What?" said Joe, mouth hanging open.

"We don't have that sort of money in the house," I said.

The man looked apologetic. "Don't worry, we have a card reader with us." He produced one from his bag.

Reluctantly, we paid, received our receipts plus a cardboard folder of tips about bottled gas maintenance, then saw the men to the door.

"I think we've just been mugged," I said. "I'm going to check all this paperwork on the Internet.

The company turned out to be perfectly legal, as was the service they provided. Apparently, they were just one of a host of companies who will knock on doors to check your gas. For a price.

Expat forums are full of advice on the subject, warning that these unsolicited companies will charge a fortune and may replace stuff that probably doesn't need replacing.

Too late. We silly old fools had fallen for it and our bank balance was relieved of 350 euros.

Be warned, don't let it happen to you.



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Two Old Fools and Telefonica
10 June 2010

Joe and I stared at the computer screen in disbelief. They’d done it again! Telefonica had seen fit to help themselves to the funds in our bank account for the THIRD time.

It first happened last year, in August, I think. I was routinely checking the balance in our account and couldn’t believe that our telephone bill had leaped from the usual 90 euros to 880 euros. So we dialled Telefonica, asked for the English speaking Helpdesk and lodged our complaint.

“There’s obviously been a mistake,” said Joe.

“No mistake,” said Telefonica. “You changed your Plan. You used to have the 24/7  Internet Plan, and you changed it. Now you are being charged by the minute every time you go online.” 

“But we haven’t changed anything! We didn’t change our Plan!”

Twenty minutes later, Joe and Telefonica were still arguing, and Joe was getting nowhere. 

“As an act of goodwill, I will refund you 100 euros,” said Telefonica magnanimously.

Joe gave up but I was furious. Seething, I phoned the Helpdesk again. I was livid, and Telefonica got both barrels. There was a long, long pause, and finally they agreed. We had been charged far too much. It was a mistake and we were refunded. 

Satisfied, we forgot all about it until December when yet again we stared at our bank balance in horror and disbelief. This time Telefonica had charged us a whopping 1,011 euros!

Joe, after calming down, dialed the Helpdesk.

“You’ve made another mistake,” he said.

“No mistake,” said Telefonica. “I can see from the computer what has happened. You changed your Plan. You used to have the 24/7  Internet Plan, and you changed it. Now you are being charged by the minute every time you go online.” 

“BUT WE HAVEN’T CHANGED ANYTHING! WE DIDN’T CHANGE OUR PLAN!”

It was déjà vu, but eventually we got it sorted. Telefonica refunded our money and issued the normal 90 euro bill. But now we watched our bank balance like neurotic hawks.

It was the third time that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In February, Telefonica took 530 euros out of our account. 

“But Mr Joe, nothing in this life is free,” said Telefonica. “You changed your Internet Plan.”

Joe turned purple and the vein in his forehead throbbed. 

We phoned our bank and got the direct debit stopped. We researched online and found another company, an alternative to Telefonica. (Amazingly, it was BT.) Many phonecalls later, Telefonica reluctantly agreed we’d been overcharged, refunded our money and issued the normal 90 euro bill. 

Long ago, we’d accepted that living up a remote Spanish mountain meant that broadband was an avenue of pleasure denied to us. But, hurrah! BT were offering us unlimited broadband, a free router and 400 minutes calling time to anywhere in Europe for LESS than Telefonica was charging us for dial-up before.

The changeover was painless and transformed Joe and me into happy bunnies. Happy that we finally had broadband, and happy that we’d successfully severed all links with Telefonica.  

Result!

 

PS I've just discovered that BT and Telefonica are the same company! So it seems we haven't exactly 'severed all links' after all... 

 

 

 
    
 


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Cowboys in the Desert
15 May 2010

 

Cowboys in the Desert

 

Because of the rain, the village has been even quieter than usual, so it was lovely to have some old friends to come and stay for a few days. When they arrived, they looked a little shell-shocked. They’d read ‘Chickens’ but I don’t think they’d grasped quite how small, isolated and purely Spanish our village is. 

“No shops?” asked Anna. “And what happens if you need to see a doctor?”

We explained that delivery vans come daily with bread, fish and local produce, and that the doctor comes once a week and holds a surgery in one of the villager’s living rooms. She looked dubious.

Andy and Anna were keen to see the local sights.

“We’ll take you to see Europe’s only desert,” said Joe.

“You see how lush and green it is here?” I asked. “Well, you’ll be amazed at the desert - it’s utterly dry and barren.”

So off we went to Fort Bravo, near the town of Tabernas. Fort Bravo is a movie set where dozens of spaghetti westerns like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ were filmed. The terrain is similar to the Colorado desert with rocky outcrops and prickly pear cacti. A complete Wild West town has been recreated there, where you can wander round, enjoy a drink in the saloon, watch filming and generally imagine you are in a cowboy town.

 

 

Fort Ravo 

 

“I thought you said it was a desert?” said Andy, waving his arms round to take in the verdant scenery. To our surprise, the rain had ensured that instead of the usual dry, dusty crags, the whole area was green and dotted with wild flowers. Joe and I shrugged, and we went in. 

The place was empty. No filming was taking place, the town seemed deserted.

“We’re going to have a nice quiet time,” said Joe. “We’ve got the place to ourselves.” 

Wrong...

The staff at Fort Bravo always dress in authentic costumes, and on that day, were clearly bored. Obviously our little party was a welcome diversion, but poor Anna suffered the most. Two cowboys in particular amused themselves by frightening the living daylights out of her. As we strolled round, they repeatedly jumped on her from behind buildings and furniture, pistols drawn. At one point Anna was put in jail and we finished the visit with a couple of tours of the town riding in a mule cart rattling along at breakneck speed.

Anna in jail

 

We had a good day, but with gunshots still ringing in our ears, it was nice to return to the quiet of our village...

 

 

 

 

 

Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools

Old Fool's Blog

Win a copy of 'Chickens'

Book Trailer (YouTube)

 



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The Rain in Spain
08 April 2010

 Forgive me for talking about the weather, but I’m British so should be excused. 

 

A few days before Christmas - it started. Rain. Not just rain, but torrents, bucketing out of the sky, hour after hour, day after day. For ten solid weeks it poured. More rain fell in two months than Andalucia normally sees in four whole years.

Now, I know that the UK has really suffered this winter from heavy snow, but that's no consolation for the Spanish skies opening and pouring on us for such a long time. Spanish TV showed the floods that took lives, ruined people’s homes, the impassible roads, the mudslides.

 

Around our village, waterfalls that had never existed before began to spurt enthusiastically out of the mountains.  Our poor chickens waded around in thick mud, and I was seriously considering making chicken wellies. The sky turned black, the sun trying hard to penetrate but not succeeding. 

 

Water coursed down the roads and dry stream beds became lively rivers. A brand new river coursed through the village where there's only ever been a dry gully before. I took this photo standing on the little bridge leading into the village. Notice the trees midstream. 

 

Brand new river

 

Then we made an important discovery. Our roof leaks. Water ran down our dining room wall. Joe and I rescued the bookcase then rushed around collecting buckets, pots and pans to catch the water. This continued for days. 

 

When Paco, our next door neighbour came up for the weekend, we showed him. Paco shrugged. “All Spanish roofs leak,” he said, as though that was common knowledge. Do they? We didn’t know that. 

 

So we carried on mopping and emptying our saucepans. It’s strange how you become accustomed to things; after a few days, the ‘drip...drip’ became just a background sound. In fact the drips were often quite musical... 

 

Catching dripsCatching dripsCatching dripsWhen we finally emerged from our house to go shopping, we very nearly didn’t make it. The only road into the village has never been good, but the constant rain had ensured that it became much worse. Massive boulders had broken away from the rock face and rolled down, blocking the road.

 

Fortunately, someone had pushed them aside into a pile (perhaps Geronimo with Uncle Felix and his mule?) leaving just enough room for a car to pass. A little nerve-racking as there’s a sheer drop on the other side... But we made it safely down the mountain to the shops to get our groceries.

 

Rocks in the road

 

While we were out, a house in our street lost the fight against the deluge, and collapsed. Luckily it was derelict, but it served as a reminder of the power of the elements, and stopped us moaning about our leaky roof.

 

Collapsed house

 

Victoria 



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Nag, nag, nag to get what you want...
12 March 2010

Why move to Spain? Why live in a tiny mountain village, with only six permanent residents, no shop and half an hour away from the nearest big town?

For my first blog post for EOS, I thought I'd shoot back in time, and explain how Joe and I ended up leaving England for the village of El Hoyo, tucked away in the Alpujarra mountains.

It was my fault, of course. Joe was about to retire and already dreaming of a tension-free life, lounging in his dressing-gown all day, writing his masterpiece and perhaps diverting himself with the odd mathematical problem.

But, no, I had other ideas. I had plenty of reasons, some vague, some more solid.

So one particularly cold, wet Bank Holiday, I broached the subject. I gabbled on about the weather, the cost of living being cheaper in Spain, the pace of life slower, etc, etc.

 “Why don’t you write one of your famous lists?” Joe suggested, only half joking.

 I'm well known for my lists and records, I can’t help myself. I make a note of the weather every day, the temperature, the first snowdrop, the day the ants fly, the exchange rate of the euro, everything. I make shopping lists, separate ones for each shop. I make To Do lists and ‘Joe, will you please’ lists. I even make lists of lists. My nickname at work used to be Schindler.


So I set to work and composed what I considered to be a killer pitch.

 

 

Sunny weather

Cheap houses

Live in the country

Miniscule council tax

Friendly people

Less crime

No heating bills

Cheap petrol

Wonderful Spanish food

Cheap wine and beer

Could get satellite TV so you won’t miss English football

Much more laid-back life style 

Could afford house big enough for family and visitors to stay

No TV licence

Only short flight to UK

Might live longer because Mediterranean diet is healthiest in the world

 

When I ran dry, I handed the list to Joe. He glanced at it and snorted.

“I’m going to make a coffee,” he said, but he took my list with him. He was in the kitchen a long time.

 

When he came out, I looked up at him expectantly. He ignored me, snatched a pen and scribbled on the bottom of the list. Satisfied, he threw it on the table and left the room. I grabbed it and read his additions. He’d pressed so hard with the pen that he’d nearly gone through the paper. 


Joe had written:-

CAN’T SPEAK SPANISH!

TOO MANY FLIES!

MOVING HOUSE IS THE PITS!


Well, to cut a long story short, after weeks of nagging and grinding him down, Joe finally came up with a compromise. We'd move to Spain, but as a Five Year Plan. We wouldn't sell our English house, and we'd live in Spain and decide whether we'd make it permanent at the end of five years.


But it was Joe's fault we ended up in El Hoyo. We both wanted to live inland where the property was cheaper, but it was Joe who fell in love with our crumbling ruin of a house. And I'm very glad he did.

 

 Overgrown garden  Our overgrown garden                  Mud walls   The house walls - made of mud and stones


The house had no kitchen, no usable bathroom. The walls were a metre thick and disintegrating. Electric cables sprouted out of walls, unprotected and lethal. But Joe saw the potential, and I warmed to the idea.

 

No, we didn't have a proper shop in the village, but we could buy fresh produce, fish and bread from the vans that delivered daily. Yes, we had to learn Spanish very quickly. And the villagers welcomed us with open arms.

 

Of course, we didn't know then how hard it would all be. We didn't know about the snow in winter, or just how hot and fly-infested it would get in summer. We didn't know we'd become reluctant chicken farmers or get rescued by a mule. But that's all another story.

 

What we did know immediately, however, was that we'd made the right decision.




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