Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A white Christmas at last

No dreaming needed here, everything was white 

Mini Mama's incredibly delicious gingerbread cookies

Sigh.  Back to work although I had a marvellous Christmas in the UK.  My first white Christmas since I was about six years old although I didn’t have as much fun in the snow this time.  Back then I was an energetic little madame and revelled in the stuff.  Now I’m post hysterectomy, of a ripe age and worried about ripping my stitches, so no snowman building, snowball fights or treks through the countryside, but plenty of laughs inside the house instead.  
We almost didn't make the trip what with Heathrow being snowed in, but after much nail-biting, and angst-ridden moments the Hockey Star and I flew into LHR just as the snow passenger back log cleared. 
Literally the first day the airport was just about back to normal.
Before we started our journey I had the uncomfortable feeling we were ‘flying into the storm’, especially after our flight the day before was cancelled.  But we got away with just a three-hour delay. The HS carried cases, hand luggage, coats, the lot – he trundled along endless kilometres of airport passages laden down like a Tibetan sherpa’s donkey while I, Lady Muck, swanned along behind him.  I could get used to this "I've just had an operation" lark.  Still he carried out his task in good humour. 
Even so I was surprised just how tiring I found the trip.  
Waiting for us at the other end were Mini Mama, Grammy and Grampa, The Beast, Auntie and The Boys (three of my nephews). 
Roads were icy and fields covered in snow so it was batten down the hatches and enjoy the company.  Mini Mama had baked her heart out and Grammy had a fine menu prepared.  Christmas trees sparkled in every room; games were on the table; presents were stacked high; CD choirs were harking the heralds and the fire was lit, though not perhaps roaring, and we truly had a memorable time.
But before we knew it, the Hockey Star and I had been hurtled back across the sky courtesy of BA and Iberia, who were good enough to bring our cases along.  And here we are – back in our daily bubble – having said a sad farewell to the family, especially to Mini Mama.
The Artist, who knows what a good appetite I have, was waiting to meet us off the plane, armed with homemade soup, crusty bread and a large leg of Serrano ham which sent the Hockey Star into a frenzy. 
Alas, today I have returned to the office in the midst of a deadline and wheeled myself back behind my desk hoping no one would notice I was back. 
The day has gone well, although I haven’t resolved the problem yet of how to wish readers a Happy New Year when the splash is about a massive 10% electricity price hike that comes into force on January 1.  Plus a gas price hike too. 
After all you can't write "Happy New Year"and right underneath have Price Hike Start to 2011. Sounds sort of sarky or contradictory. Will try to resolve tomorrow - my brain cell is about as nimble as a farmer whose welly has got stuck in the mud.  I’m sure it’s been knocked for six by the anaesthetic. I’m just hoping it’ll get back to normal some time soon because this floundering feeling is very disconcerting.

Weather today: Grey, grey, grey  – but hey, a lot warmer than the UK where we spent Christmas. High 17ºC/63ºF. Low 9ºC/48ºF.   Wind, easterly 14kms/h.  Pressure 1016 mb and dropping. Relative humidity 67%. UV Index 2.  15% chance of rain. Snow above – They’re not saying.  Perhaps because they don’t expect any. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A milestone day

A short walk and I was exhausted

YES, today has been a bit of a milestone day in my hysterectomy recovery. Given that the sun finally came out and looked like it was staying out for a while I decided to put into action my plan to get some exercise to help me get stronger.
Doctor said I should walk, on the flat.  Trouble is I have to go uphill to get to the flat.  Hmm, what to do?  Drive or walk to flat bit?  I decided my midriff is too sore still to wear a seatbelt and I needed to move the old skeleton so I took to the road to walk up to the flat bit.  At my usual slow pace this takes 5 minutes.  But at my convalescent snail speed it took me 15 minutes.  When I got to the flat bit, I was exhausted.  
Dizzy, shaky and exhausted.  
Luckily the office is right there so I was able to sit down for a while and catch up with The American and Miss Moneypenny before The American kindly drove me home.  
The results of this outing threw me because I had been wondering whether I was fit to go back to work this week.  And it seems that I might not be.
Of course if I am lying around like Lady Muck, or sitting on my bottom in a comfy chair then I'm keen but anything more energetic than a bit of lounging  and I'm wiped out. Am now in a dither as to what to do but will see what the doctor says tomorrow.
Second grand event was this evening.  The Hockey Star has left to visit The Girlfriend in Holland, but without throwing the rubbish out first.  Given that the whiff was maturing rapidly in intensity (I don't want to discuss how long it had been waiting to be thrown out)  I took the bit between the teeth and drove the car up the hill, sans seatbelt, to throw it away.  Found getting in and out of the car quite tough.
But hey, I did both so although less well than I would have liked, I got there. And I now have a plan.  To drive to flat bit, then do some walking.  I know I will get very tired, but if I do a little each day it should help me get stronger.  It's strange feeling like a wimp.
Oh, and PS - Morning TV was all about feet today - and yes, it was interesting and yes, this is definitely an age thing.  I couldn't imagine any health programmes would have been of interest to me at 20.  
Weather today: Overcast and heavy showers first thing but the sky cleared around 11am and stayed that way for the rest of the day.  We even had some sunshine! High 15ºC/59ºF. Low 9ºC/48ºF.   Here there is some debate Aemet internet site says southerly 40kms/h, other sources say westerly 29 km/h and the RTVE gizmo here at the left of the this blog says NW 12kms/h.  Based on my sucked-finger-in-the-air report I’d go with the wind dying out over the course of the day.  Pressure 982 mb and stable. Relative humidity 67%. UV Index 2. Snow above 1,200 m.  

Morning TV

PISTOL start this morning for The Artist, so while he rushed around getting ready to leave for the big city I made coffee and toast for breakfast.  The Hockey Star was long gone when we got up, catching the seven o'clock bus to the university.  It was stilllll raining so I spent another day holed up at home (video of Saturday's deluge included today).  At one point I thought of foolishly going for my muscle-stretching short walk but decided it wasn't worth the risk of coming down with some lurgy. 
Especially after I discovered that I'd had almost 45% of my salary discounted for being on sick leave.  
Now I feel very sick.  
During my convalescence, especially while in the vegetative stage, I discovered morning TV and also, rather depressingly, that every morning the new health topic was of interest.  One morning it was arthritis (who luckily I've not had the acquaintance but The Artist has), then high blood pressure, menopause, then pelvic floor muscles.  Need I go on?  
This obsession with health is very senior-citizenish and must stop.  I must try and will myself into a younger frame of mind if a younger body isn't possible.

Weather today: Overcast and rain most of the day, clearing during the evening but everything is so soggy outside. High 13ºC/55ºF. Low 10ºC/50ºF.   WNW breeze 9 km/h. Pressure 982 mb and stable. Relative humidity 87%. UV Index 2. Snow above 1,200 m.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

It never rains, it pours

A LOT of water has gone under the bridge since I last wrote.  Most of it on Saturday and today. The first rain since the summer and it's tipping it down out there.  It's a great afternoon to be home, warm and cosy, and not have to venture out, but yesterday, after a very soggy Saturday, The Artist and I went for a short and slow walk around the village.  
It was one of those sparkly, crystal clear, bright autumn days - chilly in the shade but bliss in the sunshine.  
My first leisurely outing since my hysterectomy op three weeks ago.  
The Artist succumbed to a Spanish breakfast of churros (fried dough strips) while I munched a pitufo catalana (small bread roll with grated tomato, olive oil and serrano ham), the sun warming my back while we read the Sunday papers and sipped hot, black coffees.  Eventually, as the tapas and lunch crowd started arriving, we hobbled off around the village.  I made it to the church and back although we stopped a couple of times to rest on nearby benches, watching the world go by for a few minutes.  It was a glimpse of old age, if we're lucky enough to get there. 

Making the most of what the day offers!
Up by the church we leaned over the railings (wrapped up in jumpers and scarves) to admire the view down to the sea and found a woman making the most of the sunshine, stripped down to her bikini, in a quiet, sheltered (but overlooked) spot by a stream running through the gardens immediately below our vantage point.  I don't think she's there today.
It felt good to be back in the world and although I was tired after our outing, I felt a lot better for it.  
We knocked back a small beer on another sun-soaked bar terrace before making our way back to the car and home.  I'm definitely beginning to feel better.

Weather today: Local orange alert for heavy rain fall until 6pm. This means we’re expecting approx. 3 cms rain in any given hour and around 8 cms of rain over 12 hours. High 13ºC/55ºF. Low 9ºC/48ºF.  Easterly wind 19-36 km/h. Pressure 982 mb and descending. Relative humidity 94% and 85% chance of rain (Err, it’s been raining all day so I think they stopped short on that one). UV Index 2. Snow above 1,600 m.  
I've added the weather link to my blog today although it's sadly lacking in information and won't always say the same as my note here, which is a compilation of data from several reliable sites including the Aemet one.  

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Another cricket story

The expat walker recognised my face

THIS happened this morning.  Honest. 

First day back in the office after a trip to Blighty for a family reunion.  It was lovely to catch up with nephews, nieces, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' kids and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.  My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary - Congratulations folks, I think that deserves a medal.

Anyway, I arrived at the office to find a little cricket sitting on a computer keyboard.  Worried that he'd starve to death in our cement and bricks environment I carefully scooped him up with a glass and magazine and took him outside.  I bent from the waist (yes, I know it's not the way to do it) and as I am bending over from the waist, an expat Brit who is but a nodding acquaintance, walks towards me from behind  and says....

"Now there's a face I recognise!"

And walks on.  I straightened up, was so surprised that I was speechless, and rushed back into the office where I told my work pal O before we collapsed,  howling with laughter.  Now how's that for a welcome back!  I should have told him not to be so cheeky!

PS - Re. previous entry.  Despite two days on yellow alert - it never rained.  What a swizz.

Weather today: Not a cloud in the sky.  High 29ºC/84ºF. Low 20ºC/70ºF. Light easterly breeze 18 km/h. Pressure 1019 mb and descending. Relative humidity 44%. No chance of rain. UV Index 8. Snow above 3,900 m. Information source: AEMET.

Monday, August 16, 2010

No exaggeration

Jiminy Cricket sheltering from rain underneath a leaf - Actually this was just a practice drill the other day when I watered the garden.  He was a great poser and sat very still so I could get my snapshot. Click on the photo to enlarge it and look at the water 'bubbles' on his body and legs.

IN CASE you thought I was exaggerating about the Terral - turns out it was the hottest night in the last 68 years which is the time they've been keeping proper weather records here (I learn something new every day).  Since then temperature has dropped slowly and tonight is blissful.  A cool breeze bringing in the rain.
We're on a yellow Meteo Alert for heavy showers and a good ol' summer storm as of midnight tonight.  I love thunderstorms just so long as I'm safely inside and not sheltering under a solitary tree on the hillside.
Electricity always goes out when we have a storm. It's mathematical.

Weather today: Overcast with some sunny spells. Felt a lot cooler, especially this afternoon. High 29ºC/84ºF. Low 21ºC/70ºF (what a difference).  Light westerly breeze 18 km/h. Pressure 1020 mb and descending. Relative humidity 87%. 25% chance of rain. UV Index 9. Snow above 3,700 m – and yes, there is still snow on the Sierra Nevada. Information source: AEMET. Silly comments: Yours truly.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The terrible Terral

A helicopter douses flames just behind the village.  The pilots do a remarkable job flying with all that water and the drag it creates on the aircraft. 

IT INVARIABLY strikes us foreigners as strange, when on a very, very hot day, the Spanish will shut all their windows and doors. Just the opposite of what you’d expect. Leaving everything opens means a welcome breeze can flow through your house. Except when the terral starts. Then it is no breeze, it is a blast of blistering hot, dry air. “Terral” whispers one neighbour to another. “Viene terral” (terral is coming), shouts the next to another as they all scuttle inside to shut up the houses, lower the blinds and stay off the streets.

There are several kinds of terral but the one that is loathed here, on the southern coast of Spain is that which comes in from the west, over Portugal then turns sharp right and comes bearing down on us from the north, across the scorched land of the Iberian peninsula, bringing with it extremely hot, dry temperatures.

If you have never experienced terral – a near enough comparison is to heat up your oven and then when it reaches top temperature open the door. That blast of scorching hot, dry air is what you feel when you step outside the aircon here on a terral day.

So there we were last night, The Hockey Star and I happily settled in our comfortably cool aircon watching The Tudors (boy, are we’re hooked on this series at the moment) when – blaff – out goes the electricity.

The fact that last night was the first official feria evening when the mayor proudly hits the switch to light up our fairground with thousands of non energy-saving light bulbs meant that we were almost expecting a power cut. But as time dragged on and I lit my ready supply of candles, (nowhere in western Europe are there power cuts as frequently as in our village) we realised that we were in for the long haul and that it wasn’t the fair but the fact that it was the hottest night this year and everyone was using aircon or fans. Or had been. Sleepless, restless, sweaty, uncomfortable, gasping night. The electricity came back at 6am and the temperature outside was already 32ºC/90ºF.

Terral is ideal fire weather and no sooner said than done. Thick, white smoke and flames could be seen from the office mid morning as the mountainside above the motorway caught fire. Odds on it was a cigarette butt flung from some caring citizen’s car window. Fires by the motorway invariably are.

In the meantime, fingers crossed for tonight . let's hope the local power grid is up to the challenge - think I might try and get some sleep while we have aircon. Just in case.

Weather today: Ghastly. So hot and dry that I can feel the hairs in my nostrils crisping up. Severe weather warning: Yellow alert for heatwave (Yesterday was orange alert and highs of 42ºC/108ºF – Bluurgh). High 38ºC/100ºF. Low 25ºC/77ºF (Met Office erring on the side of caution). Northeasterly breeze 18 km/h this morning after last night’s gales. Changing to southerly 22km/h this afternoon which will hopefully bring lower temperatures. Pressure 1012 mb and stable. Relative humidity 33%. Officially zilch chance of rain. UV Index 9. Snow above 3,700 m – and yes, there is still snow on the Sierra Nevada. Information source: AEMET. Silly comments: Yours truly.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ayyyy, feria time is here

Estrella Morente (in the cream dress) doing her stuff - Look her up on YouTube if you want to know more...

MID August is feria time in our village. Any hope of a normal routine is useless. Anyone who is someone, and let's face it we'd all like to think we are, will be out until the wee hours dancing flamenco, downing fino sherry, paying small fortunes to let the kids ride on bumper cars and generally behaving as if the end of the world will arrive tomorrow, which it will - for those who've overindulged - the next morning, but that's another story.

You might detect a note of envy - regarding the all night partying - and you'd be right. Some of us have to stay on the straight and narrow and go to work.

But last night being Saturday we did manage to get to the village flamenco festival - the start of our annual festivities.

Flamenco has a bit of a reputation for going on into the night. And this it did - until just gone 2am.
I'd faded a while before (well we were out the night before too - as in Rome etc) and was having serious trouble trying not to fall asleep while sitting on the cement seating of our local bullring. Ayyyy,y ayyyyy, ayyyyy, something unintelligible, ayyyy, sang Estrella Morente, who is actually quite good but by the time she got on stage it was past my bedtime. Still it was good to go out and there was something rather special about sitting under the stars in a bullring high above the Mediterranean, the sea below glittering and the gypsies guitar chords drifting off into the darkness while Estrella ayed and ayed a bit more. I must go out more often....


Weather today: Strange sort of day. Quite overcast and heavy. Felt cooler although temperatures were similar to the rest of the week. High 30ºC/86ºF. Low 24ºC/75ºF. Southerly not-even-breeze, more like a whisper. Zilch to 7 km/h. Pressure 1015 mb and stable. Relative humidity 68%. Possibility of rain 5% (as if...) UV Index 10 - sizzling skin time. Information source: AEMET. Silly comments: Yours truly.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Be warned, new driver on the roads

A great moment indeed
THE Hockey Star has passed his driving test. Congratulations My Boy. First time too. Much clucking and chest puffing from mother hen. Of course.

Actually he passed it 12 days ago but it has taken that long for his provisional driving licence to come through. The definitive official driving licence could take (shrug of shoulders here from driving school receptionist, and pause while she thinks of a reasonable lie so that I don't get cross, "Perhaps two months. But of course with August in between it could be longer. As you know it's Trafico not us "... blah, blah, blah).

Still he can now drive my car, if he can still remember what to do.

All that is left is for us to hand over an almighty large amount of dosh to the insurance company this afternoon and spit-and-stick the L plate to the back window (where of course it will interfere with his rear-view vision but hey, what are side mirrors for?)

Ah yes, L plate?

Driving school receptionist "Ah well, we haven't received those yet but I'll let you know as soon as we do."

Luckily I still have MiniMama's L-plate, so we'll use that.

Be warned, there is a new driver on the road. I hope my nerves are up to it...

Weather today: Hot and sweaty. High 33ºC/91ºF. Low 22ºC/72ºF. Slight Easterly breeze 11 km/h. Pressure 1008 mb and rising. Relative humidity 68%. Possibility of rain 5% (as if...) UV Index 9 - equivalent of being roasted over an open fire. Information source: AEMET. Silly comments: Yours truly.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cars, the dreaded ITV and pit fear

The gaping ITV pits that you have to drive over - yes, I know the car can't fall in there but it's nerve-wracking all the same

ITV time (Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehiculos), or MOT for non-Spanish speakers, comes to all good cars at some point. It’s a time consuming but necessary part of owning a vehicle that’s over five years old. For worry-guts like me it’s a test of nerves. For others in a worse mental state, it’s time to sell the car and buy a brand new one again.

When I owned Beryl, my bright yellow, trusty and ugly Renault 4, who was already 18 when I bought her, I’d worry each year but only slightly whether she’d pass or not. But because Renault 4s were pure mechanics, no electronics, just metal and cables, not much would go wrong and if it did it was dead easy and dirt cheap to fix.

Taking Beryl to have her ITV was a pleasure. She’d be much admired by the ITV boys for the relic that she was and treated with awe and reverence. She was a star and given VIP treatment. But as she went from old to almost vintage Beryl became unstable (please, no comparisons with middle-aged women) and lost her brakes one time too often. I sold her and bought a safer, brand new Peugeot 106, all singing and dancing, it even had air-con and a radio although no character or quirky bits and I became just one more silver dash on the roads.

Loretta, as we called her on account of the foul smelling trail she left (possibly something to do with the combustion?), which rhymes with pedoretta – a made up family word for the foul smelling trail that some people leave behind them, especially after eating beans - behaved reasonably well and passed most ITVs. But she was just one of the crowd. No special treatment and each year I’d worry a bit more about passing. Not passing meant spending lots of dosh at the garage and returning for another test.

But ITVs evolved. On the bright side, you no longer had to sit for hours in a humungous queue but rang for an appointment, making it a faster event that no longer required taking a good book and a picnic. On the dark side, you had to drive your vehicle over an open pit with a man in it who would indecently poke and prod your car’s undercarriage while you accelerated and braked above him, trying to guess what he was looking for. A friend of mine compared it with a visit to the gynaecologist.

After 10 years Loretta died. While parked she was backed into by some kind driver who didn’t leave their details. The experience shifted her radiator and the repair was going to cost more than she was worth. She was towed away to the scrap yard. This time without the emotional wrench and tears we shed when Beryl left us.

Perhaps it mattered less because as tired and worn Loretta was towed off, Poppy sat gleaming and gloating, like a younger, more beautiful lover, outside our front gate. Her former owner had called her Poppy, on account of her bright red colour, so we kept the name.

Last week Poppy was called up for her first MOT. She’s a bit racy, a special edition Polo which I’d been lucky to pick up for a good price but I felt that her flashiness could weigh against me, and no extra consideration given by the MOT lads. This fact together with my nervousness about driving over THE PIT meant that this time I enrolled the reluctant moral support of Minimama and took her with me to hold my hand under the guise that she should see how this was done now that she is a driver.

She saw through me straight away. We arrived at lunchtime. We knew it was lunchtime because in 20 minutes they called out just two number plates. After 20 minutes it became like Bingo gone mad with numbers being garbled out at such speed that we were all dashing from the cool shade of the trees back into our sweaty vehicles to race from the car park to the line we’d been designated before we lost our slot.

The Number Seven line chap waved me into the hangar towards the dreaded pit. He looked relieved to find out I spoke Spanish (un point in my favour). We began the usual ritual – windscreen wipers, left indicator, right indicator (no Señora, left is the other one…) headlights, fog lights (err, que? Ah, those – nervous giggle – sorry, I’ve never used them before). I think he was beginning to see what he was up against. My daughter certainly was. She squirmed down a little more in the passenger seat hoping no one was going to see her. Then I confessed, much to my daughter’s disgust, my pit fear. Don’t worry, Señora, he said making me feel the twit I am, I will steer you in while you slowly accelerate. Minimama rolled her eyes. It sounded a bit too intimate but I was willing to do whatever to avoid having to drive over The Pit on my own. And so he did – steer the car through my open window while I, oh so gently, pressed the accelerator and Cookie on my right kept saying – oh come on Mum a bit faster than that.

With The Pit done we bounced, joggled, tossed and bumped through the rest of the test before moving aside to await the verdict. Would we, wouldn’t we? Oh joy, minutes later ‘my’ man was walking towards me with a red ITV sticker in his hand. We’d passed. I was so relieved that after having thanked him far too many times and almost kissing him on both cheeks, I drove out of the exit and turned the wrong way down the one-way street. No doubt, if he was watching, it would have confirmed what he’d been thinking. Nothing wrong with the car, it’s the owner who should be tested.

Weather today: A tad overcast with showers promised this afternoon. Not quite the usual weather for this time of year. High 24ºC/75ºF, low 16ºC/61ºF. West North West breeze 16 km/h. Pressure 982mb and stable. Relative humidity 66%. UV Index 7.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Health and safety - Spanish style or a law suit just waiting to happen

Adios mulberry trees

Our urban obstacle course
For a long time I've known it's safe to assume that because Spain hasn't yet been hit by the American craze of suing over everything and anything, authorities here are rather more relaxed over health and safety issues than in other countries. Take the little urban obstacle course that has materialised outside our office for example.

Until recently, our street was a pretty tree-lined affair. Leafy and shady in the hot summer months, clear and light in the winter. Regularly spaced street lamps lit it at night, rubbish bins hugged each corner and all was well until ... the town hall ripped up the mulberry trees. Local residents had complained that each year the berries created such a juicy, sticky, mess that they wanted the trees removed. With local elections just around the corner - next year - the mayor was happy to oblige. The offending mulberry trees were uprooted and were, we were told, transplanted to another corner of the municipality where they could drop berries to their hearts' content.

We heard that other 'cleaner' trees, probably oranges, were going to replace them. But the weeks have rolled by and the only thing that has materialised is a series of holes in the pavement covered up by cones (at best), big wooden pallets or loose paving stones (at worst) which blend in with the pavement and disguise the danger.

To add to this, on Friday, council maintenance staff started removing the street lights, saying they were broken - which was strange as they worked just fine. In their place, they left holes surrounded by large, protruding nuts and bolts sticking out of the pavement - and as a warning - a yellow plastic bag stuffed in the hole.

Since then we've not got much work done as we sit, biting our nails, enthralled with the suspense of watching passers-by - gossiping mothers, small running children, doddery old men, spaced-out teenagers and intent businessmen - walk unknowingly into our urban minefield. Will they, won't they....

So, because the town hall coffers are empty and the mayor isn't a bad chap (for a politician that is) and I needed to get back to work, I sent an email to a friend at his office on Friday - saying I am tempted to accidentally trip over one of the obstacles that the council has so readily provided me with and sue the town hall for a substantial amount or wait, camera ready, to get a photo and front page exclusive for the local papers when some poor soul has an unexpected head-on encounter with the ground and rearranges their nose.

The reply came back - He was very fond of me and couldn't bear to think of me hurting myself - so the better option was to wait for the world exclusive....PS - They'll address the problem on Monday.

Here's hoping nothing happens over the weekend because I'll miss my scoop.

Weather today: It's very early and hazy but the forecast promises another beautiful crystal-clear spring day. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, cooler in the shade. High 26ºC/79ºF, low 14ºC/57ºF. Easterly breeze 13 km/h. Pressure 1015mb and stable. Relative humidity 63%. UV Index 9.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Discovering Tenthredo scrophulariae … and other fun activities

Is it a bird? Is it a frog? No, it's a Tenthredo scrophulariae (name just rolls off the tongue, right?)

Rain stops play

EEKS, Day Eight already and I don’t seem to have crossed off much on my To-Do-List. Or maybe I’ve done more than I think. I’ve finished reading a book, done my tax declaration, painted the inside of the garage, lots of gardening when rain hasn’t stopped play, gossiped in the village, had a siesta after lunch a couple of afternoons and cooked (willingly) something tasty every mealtime. Trouble is my list was impossibly long to start with. Still, I’ve a few more days to go before it’s back to the grindstone.

Interestingly, it has taken until today to start to truly unwind and enjoy myself. Enjoy a slower pace, one that gives me time to appreciate everything so much more. It’s a good feeling and I’m wondering how I can slow my usual hamster-wheeling lifestyle once I’m back at work. I shall work on that.

In the meantime I’ve been having fun in the garden. I came across some rather fancy caterpillars during a weeding session the other day, so of course I took a photo to add to my collection of bugs I’ve met in the great outdoors. I spared them and their habitat, romantically imagining the three of them turning into beautiful butterflies. However, research on the internet told me they are Tenthredo scrophulariae, or meat-eating wasp-like insects. Blurgh. No doubt they’re important in nature’s chain but it sure shattered my illusions. Still, if I come across them again I shall let them be (I’m already in deep karma trouble for having squished a legion of snails this week without meaning to and a baby preying mantis, completely intentionally - didn't want to meet up again when it was an adult).

Weather has been strange for this part of the world over the last few days. So changeable. Much more like English weather – showers one minute, sun the next, overcast, then another shower. I like it, although it has made my gardening efforts more sporadic than I had hoped for. Still, things are coming along but I can’t see me starting on painting the garden walls, wrought iron or even the house, any time soon.

Busy weekend coming up, with the Hockey Star playing in several matches and the Artist participating in a macro cultural event which will take us into the early hours of Sunday. I’m thinking of going along to do a massage and yoga workshop tomorrow but it’s at a huge yoga convention and no doubt there will be people oh, so, naturally wrapping their ankles around their necks, and I can’t even sit cross-legged without a limb going into spasms…

Weather today: Cloudy with sunny intervals or was that sunny with cloudy intervals. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, chilly in the shade. High 19ºC/66ºF, low 11ºC/52ºF. Southeast breeze 12 km/h. Pressure 982 mb and stable. Relative humidity 45%. UV Index 7. Snow level: above 1,600 metres.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Holidays are progressing but progress is slowing

The señor who plastered my garage walls must have been a Christmas cake decorator

DAY TWO - Holidays are progressing but progress is slowing.

Friday or Day Two is spent resolving domestic problems such as microwave which also decides to take a holiday and dies while zapping my morning coffee. They’ll need 10 days to diagnose the problem. Ten days! It’s not heart surgery. No señora, the repairman says calmly but we have a lot of work on. Luckily Mini Mama comes with me to help lug microwave into the shop while I double park.

Mini Mama’s laptop charger breaks. Fifty euros lighter and an hour later we resolve this problem.

On to the highlight of the morning – a visit to Leroy Merlin, your friendly DIY superstore. I find the excitement overwhelming as I clutch my big plastic bag weighed down with the broken loo seat, strange light bulbs that need replacing, garden hose pipe connection thingamajig and a list of must-have hooks for my gleaming garage and hover at the store entrance. My excitement is topped by the alarm I set off as I walk in. The security lady and I dig out contents of handbag including tampax and other embarrassing items on show to the world. Also take out contents of plastic bag including rusty toilet seat. Ten minutes later and with nothing to hide I'm let loose. As I stride purposely, list in hand, into the nuts and bolts aisle I feel strangely masculine.

We have mixed luck (they’re out of loo seats ‘til next week) but manage to get the rest. I’m worn out after lunch. Must be a side effect from Day One. So much so I can’t face a strenuous afternoon up a ladder but at the same time can’t wait to hang something in the garage – anything – it doesn’t matter what. I need to feel I’m progressing. Want to hang the shovel hook so shovel’s not resting on the floor, but can’t find a flat piece of wall. Garage walls are like Mum’s 60s Christmas cakes when she used to whip up a snowy storm of icing so ferocious the peaks would reach the plastic Santa’s thighs. So move shovel hook down to small flat piece of wall. Mistake. Shovel still rests on floor but now won’t fall over. Give up for the rest of the day, and being Friday afternoon I take myself off to our weekly girls’ Cava Club before The Artist arrives for the weekend to find me alcoholically euphoric yet again.

Operation Garage

Tom oversees Operation Garage

AT LAST I’m taking a break from work. Two weeks without going to the office, just pottering around enjoying the house, the garden and the wonderful spring weather. Bliss. I’ve made a list so long - gardening, painting walls, reading, writing, cooking, swimming at the gym, watching telly, chatting to friends, catching up with village gossip in the local shops, tax declaration, err, renegotiating the mortgage – that I’ve become stressed just thinking about it. I think I’m trying to get a life’s retirement plan into two weeks.

Day One dawns in glorious sunshine – so garden wins and once I’ve donned my grubby gear (ancient sequined top - but then you just never know who might pop in) I go off in the direction of the garage to get my tools. Getting in through the garage door, past all the things that have been dumped there for the last six months, takes two hours. Well, ok, five minutes. But the scale of the problem is evident. So garden abandoned and garage becomes the day’s project. The freedom of being able to change my mind at a minute's notice from my given plan is not lost on me.

For 18 years I’ve been meaning to paint the garage interior. And so I do – more than anything because to achieve any other chores this week I need to get inside and by painting it I get to move the junk for free. Two jobs done for the price of one you might say.

I’m wary of entering into the depths of the leaking structure I grandly call garage (it started life as the builders’ shed when the house was built 30 years ago and I’m not even sure it has foundations) because it’s deepest, darkest bugsville.

But I’m lucky. No snakes, mice or preying mantis materialise. Just whole families of geckos and hundreds of snails leaving wobbly shiny trails over every surface. I’m sure if I stand still long enough they’ll cover me too. I rescue the ones I see, airlifting them to safety outside in the garden and apologise profusely to the ones I tread on with a sickening crunch.

I take an executive decision and decide that quality control is not coming to inspect the job so I paint around the piles of old tiles and bricks, saved forever for that one just-in-case day. No one will know except me.

By eight o’clock that night I can't move past my congratulatory beer. It takes all my will power to get into the shower I'm so stiff and sore. I weigh myself in anticipation of having lost at least three kilos in one day - but scales say I weigh just the same. Not calorie-burning stuff is DIY but definitely satisfying. Garage interior now gleaming white with strong chemical smell which I hope will keep bugs at bay. Tomorrow I must hit the DIY store for hooks, pegs and all manner of gizmos to hang things on wall.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to understand European when it is Spike

EUROPEAN isn’t a language yet, but I can’t help thinking that in our company, (Brits, Spaniards and Germans) and in many other businesses that employ workers of different nationalities, it can’t be too long before it becomes one.

There is one rule at work, one linguistic meeting point and that is we should communicate between us in one official language – and being in Spain, it was decided it should be Spanish. Good move. Nearly all of us are able to carry out some level of conversation in Spanish and although misunderstandings happen, no one has been fired because they got the wrong end of the stick. Almost, but not quite. Not yet.

Unofficially,(ie when the boss isn’t around) we lapse into the language which is most comfortable for us, depending on who we’re speaking to (or about) and the subject. So English to English-speakers, Spanish to Spanish speakers, Spanglish (a mixture of Spanish and English in each sentence) to bilingual colleagues, and Spanish or English to our German colleagues, after we’ve enquired which they prefer. German has a harder time crossing borders than English or Spanish so only they speak their fine language.

All this works well when we’re talking.

But when we get on the computer it becomes a little more challenging. Programmes are either in Spanish or English. You get used to it after a while and can forget the language you’re working in. There’s the odd blip - my Spanish Microsoft Office changes words for you without asking, like the Spike in the title (wrote spoke but there you are, it prefers Spike), but you learn to check your copy. And you get on with it.

Until that is, you crank up our German-built content management system. At some point it was translated into English by German IT chaps, who to be fair probably only speak IT, in any language.

You know you’re in trouble when the warning messages suddenly appear in German and the computer makes a loud clonk noise (it reminds me of the sub in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) to let you, and the rest of the office, know the disdain it feels at being used by such a plonker. None of us know why it goes into German, but perhaps it is so annoyed it reverts back to its mother-tongue.

Yesterday however, it went a step further, bypassing the German and spouting the message in the photo. Howls of laughter from us. We’ve stuck it on the pin board in the kitchen along with other gems such as the appetizingly-named Salmon in Swamp Sauce from a local restaurant’s menu. (It should be salmon in mushroom sauce).

So is your European up to scratch and what in heaven’s name does ‘Exception has been thrown by the target of an invocation’ mean? Send me a comment if you know…

Weather today: I'm not sure, it's very dark outside but I'll look again tomorrow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Speechless and very touched

THESE are tough times and sadly because our publication is tightening it's belt (yes, again. We are now sporting a corporate wasp waist) I have had to part company with one of our already sadly depleted staff. The deciding factor in this cost-cutting exercise wasn't based on performance but on who is cheaper to fire. And so I warned my loyal team member to expect the blow and today, sadly, he came in to sign his finiquito.
I've not heard of anyone being given a huge,beautiful bouquet of flowers for sacking someone. Not until today that is. Accompanying the flowers was a note. It said:

Thank you for the support and help that you have given to me during our working relationship. Your input, advice and expertise has always been a constant source of inspiration, and on the odd occasion a good old kick up the backside worked wonders too! It has been an absolute pleasure working with you and both D. and I firmly believe that the future holds great things for us all.
With very best wishes

Well J. My life is a richer one for knowing you. This is not adios but just hasta luego. You have rendered me speechless and that is quite a feat.
I'd best be off and find a different ass to kick ;)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rain, rain go away

Rock fall damage

Police keep an eye on a country road as rising water from a nearby river overflows its banks

A road subsides after rain washed away the earth below it

Here comes the next borrasca, that fluffy white bit just left of Spain. Taken by Aemet at 5pm yesterday. Storm came in last night.

HOW can it be that me being such a weather friki (Spanish street-speak for freak) I haven't managed to post a single entry about southern Spain's wettest winter since records began. Which, down here on the coast, wasn't actually that long ago, though I have failed to find a record of when they began. If you follow me. Around the mid 1900s I believe.
I haven't written a word - and there has been a huge amount to say - about the trenes de borrascas (low pressure 'trains') that have steamed across the Iberian peninsula from the Atlantic since before Christmas.
One storm after another, with barely a weak ray of sunshine in between, has made this winter a sodden and, for those who lost loved ones, a tragic one. In Andalucía an elderly Spanish lady died from a heart attack as her house filled with water in January and a British couple was crushed to death recently when the roof of their home fell in on them.
In a nutshell here are the other sadly eloquent figures:
150% up on the average rainfall.
205 million euros of damage to roads alone (no figures in for agriculture or homes yet)
Serious damage to 107 beaches, from Huelva to Málaga, that will not be repaired before the summer and which will mean loss of income for many already-financially stretched families, over the Easter holidays.
70 towns and villages flooded at different times.
700 homes have had to be evacuated - some have been flooded; others have been demolished by landslides or rock falls. And we're still counting...
2,000 people affected.
20% more animal deaths.
965 road cuts
Sun forecast this weekend. Let's hope it stays next week as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weather today

Weather today: Crystal clear, sunny day with small cumulus clouds scurrying across the sky. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, cold in the shade. High 13ºC/54ºF, low 6ºC/43ºF. North, northwest wind 25 km/h. Pressure 1017 mb. Relative humidity 55%. UV Index 2. Snow level : above 1,100 metres.