The Finale

This is it, the final blog from our Spanish trip. It is over, the travelogue ends here (until December with the Lanzarote trip and Christmas when we come back to Spain, then again in the Spring, all being well.)

This morning we went to the bank to conclude the business of opening bank accounts. Luis, the bank worker who has helped us throughout, was delightful. He has already transferred one of the direct debits and will complete the rest ASAP, which, since this is Spain, could be months away. No matter, the Kutxta Bank is small and friendly unlike Sabadell which we are leaving without conscience.
After the banking business we went to our favourite Spanish bar in Calpe town for tea and water and tapas and to bid a fond farewell to Candido, the guy who serves there and with whom we have developed a very affable relationship over the years that we have been restoring the house.

Back home and back to the depressing business of packing, tidying up the house, the last chutney deliveries, packing the car in preparation for departure. We had a scratch lunch with what was left in the fridge, and excesses were put in a carrier bag for Audrey. We hate waste so we have a caring, sharing relationship with Audrey to make sure that there isn’t any. Between her and the compost pit, most stuff is covered. I know that Keith will thoroughly enjoy my Honeyons (onions in vinegar and honey) and pickled chillies because his tastes are very similar to mine. He once had the cheek to complain that one year’s Mermelada Volcanica (chilli jam) wasn’t as hot as the previous year’s batch. That’s my boy Keith!

We left for the airport at 16.30 and had a great drive that ended at 17.35, a journey that we always estimate will take 1.5 hours. Hmmm, that self depressing accelerator pedal on the Peugot 308 was responsible, I’m convinced of it. When I commented to Garrath,

“Gosh that didn’t take long,” he replied drily, ” I’m not surprised, you were doing 140 k.p.h!” It was that pedal Garrath, not me! Fortunately the pedal doesn’t do automatic depression in radar controlled zones, a very smart design feature by Peugot.

Needless to say we reached the airport early and because of that we there was no queue at the check in desk. Bags through we were free to meander through the various checks on the way to the departure lounge. Cleverly they always make you walk through the airport shop first and there I purchased a perfume that I can only get at airports or on planes.

I resisted the urge to go into El Corte Inglés zapateria (shoe shop) first because there was no room in my hand luggage for shoes and second because I have filled my shoe buying quota for this holiday. I even had to leave a new pair behind, a delightfully frivolous pair in glitter and patent leather. They will do nicely for the Christmas trip.

What I failed to resist was the leather shop where I purchased a new wallet. I had determined that I would buy one on this trip but since we hadn’t been to any markets or done any shopping other than food shopping I had failed in that mission. No matter, I am now the proud possessor of a very flash, designer job that fulfils all my requirements.

We found a seat in a Tapas bar, got drinks, I rearranged my hand luggage to include the perfume, transferred all my vital cash and cards to the new wallet and then we waited for the gate to be called. Garrath is always anxious on travel days – he would have us at the airport the day before if I let him – so he took on the responsibility for jumping up and down every fifteen minutes to see if the gate had been called. Eventually it was so we proceeded there to find that a queue had formed even though the gate hadn’t opened. I fail to understand why people do this? The plane can’t leave until the last person is on board so why queue? Is it the Sheep tendency in people or is it a peculiar British addiction to queueing? I just don’t get it at all.

We sat and waited until boarding had commenced and got on the bus that was to take us to the plane. Because we hadn’t rushed to be the first in the queue we were among the last on the bus so very near the door and therefore early on to the plane while those who had rushed to be at the front of the queue were among the last. Makes sense doesn’t it?

The usual routines were followed, packing the bags in the overhead lockers, turning off electrical equipment (always traumatic for cyber junkies like Garrath and I) the safety check, taxiing to the runway, take off etc etc. Now it is time to settle into the flight, accept the fact that the holiday is over and for me to reconcile myself to returning to the wrong side of the Channel. No driving at the other end so a few G & T’s will ease the pain a little, but only a little.

Such is life!

Being Busy, Oily & Sweaty, Seaside Lunch, More Business.

I was up earlier than Garrath as usual (06.50) so I set upon a new preserving adventure, making Moroccan style preserved lemons and limes. It is simple enough. All you have to do is stuff the fruit with salt (posh, coarse sea salt) then stuff them hard (the more squashed in the better) into jars and topping the jar up with lemon/lime juice. You are supposed to turn the jars once a week but we can’t because we won’t be here, but we shall see. It it works it is the perfect, saleable comestible for the excess of lemons and limes that the trees are producing. Apparently you can preserve Kumquats in the same way which might be tempting but since Kumquat chutney is THE most delicious chutney ever, I doubt if I will do that.

Today was designated the clearing up and preparing to close the house day plus the changing of bank accounts day. The first job was to oil all the oak furniture, a tedious, oily, but very necessary task. We have learned from past experience that it is futile to bathe and get dressed before doing this because it is an intense, messy, sweat inducing-job so you have to bathe again after doing it. So the task was done whilst still wearing jim-jams (PJ’s to my American friends.) We have got it down to a fine art now so it only took one and a half hours, but we were knackered with aching backs afterwards so a hotter, longer bath than usual was called for. Consequently that is exactly what we had.

A few chores later – replacing table covers, seat cushions, books, ornaments; sorting out chutneys and jams to give away; printing out paperwork for the bank and the like – and we were ready to go to lunch. Thinking that this would be our last lunch in Calpe this trip we decided to eat at a restaurant on the Partida La Fossa so that we could enjoy views and sounds of the sea while eating.

Lunch was at La Terraza and it was delightful. I had anchovies with garlic to start while Garrath had a prawn omelette. For the main course I chose Lomo A La Plancha Con Huevo – pork loin with egg – and Garrath chose Albondigas Casera – meat balls house style – and we had a mixed salad to share. We even got a dessert, a chocolate layered ice cream though mine didn’t have the artistically squirted, caramel flavoured goo that Garrath’s had. Why can’t they make gluten free caramel flavoured goo I wonder?

After lunch we meandered along the prom, back to the car then back home to collect a gas bottle that we needed to swap for a full one at the local Ferreteria (hardware shop.) Garrath insisted on taking an alternate route c/o the satnav which involved twists and turns along single track roads with high walls. “It is much shorter,” he assured me but it took twice as long so I have flatly refused to use the stupid route ever again. The ‘discussion’ about it (Garrath always describes his argumentative nature as ‘discussion’ or ‘conversation’) with me bad grumpily declaring,

“Well I’m doing the f*cking driving so I’ll decide what f*cking route we take!” That was well below the belt because Garrath had had his license suspended because of the brain tumours, but sometimes one has to use below the belt tactics to end an argument.

Gas acquired we started distributing some of the chutneys, one lot to the French guys out back from whom we got an invitation to dinner next May, more to Julian and his family, also out back, then to Ula and Jurgen. Tomorrow we have to gift some more to Robert & Marijke and to Keith & Audrey. It is a tradition now. I make jams and chutneys from the garden produce and I give them to neighbours and friends.

The start of the tradition is interesting enough to note here. When first I took on responsibility for the falling down wreck that my mother had abandoned, there was considerable hostility from the neighbours. I was her daughter after all and she had upset most of them, not least by allowing the property to become the neighbourhood eyesore. I knew that I would have an uphill struggle trying to overcome their hostility so I made jam, lots of jam, from the garden produce. I labelled it carefully with the name of the property and at the end of the stay sent Garrath off to give jars to all the neighbours. He was bewildered but I told him to trust me and he did as I had asked. The very next stay the formerly hostile neighbours all came to thank me for the jam – a fine conversation opener – and thus the hostility was dispelled and a tradition established.

Making jams and chutneys is a bit of a bind during a break but sooooooooo worth it when the reception to that simple gesture is friendship, kindness and social interaction.

We had hoped to get into Alicante tomorrow but when we got to the bank we found that it was a typically Spanish long-winded, convoluted process that demands lots and lots of paperwork, some of which we had not predicted would be needed so we have to go in again tomorrow to complete the process. No wonder Luis is jealous of the UK process (see yesterday’s blog.) After one and a half hours we are only half way through opening the bank accounts and it will take three months to transfer the business from our current bank. Hmmmmm, this is Spain after all!

Post bank we had to walk back to the car through an unfamiliar area where the shops were now open and enticingly illuminated. They included a perfume shop. Let me explain. I am now relaxed enough to be able to have days where I don’t wear any make up. We call them NMU (no make up) days. But I describe myself without wearing perfume as being stark naked. I have a whole cupboard full of perfume and I need an equivalent here so it was my moral duty to go in and start the process, which indeed I did.

Bliss, they had all the best designer names and what is more THEY WERE DISCOUNTED! I walked out with two old standards (modern ones are too pink and sugary for my tastes) having enjoyed a significant saving. I’ll be the sweetest smelling old bat in Calpe. I even got freebies, a bit demoralising because it was anti wrinkle stuff but at least I made the saleslady laugh and think a little by saying that I had earned my wrinkles and wear them with pride.

After the drive home and putting goodies away guess what? We trundled down to the local watering hole for our final dose of Spanish anaesthesia.

Life is good!

Lousy night, Laundry Collection, Utility Shopping, and Lunch With Friends 14.10, 2015

Absolutely lousy night first of nightmares (temperature probably) then of non sleep, first waking at 12.50 then repeatedly trying to sleep, getting up, trying sleep again getting up again, etc etc – boooooooooooooring! I hate nights like that but whinging about it serves no useful purpose so I shall move on.

When I did finally give up on the idea of sleep and get up. Hoo-bloody-ray, the rain has stopped. Granted the skies were murky, the weather looked unpromising, BUT THERE WAS NO RAIN!

We got ready pretty sharpish and headed off to collect the laundry that we could not collect yesterday because of Las Lluvias (Spanish for a deluge) then did some basic, getting ready to go shopping, – dehumidifiers, oil for the oak furniture etc. This time we were able to call at the local watering hole for tea and water before heading back to meet up with Keith and Audrey to go out for lunch.

Bless Keith, on the three occasions that we have gone out to lunch together he has driven to give me a break from driving, a much appreciated, kind gesture. Speaking of driving, just as I have become accustomed to driving the Peugot 308 we are approaching the time when I have to hand it back. Still, I have that one last motorway ride to come – wheeeeeeee!

We went once more to the Cooperativa Agricoles de Progreso in Parcent and the meal was delightful. After being provided with gluten free toast with which to enjoy the pungent alioli (love it) I took the waitresses recommendation and had the soup as a starter as did Keith. Audrey and Garrath had their own selection and delicious as it looked, I fear that they missed out, big time. The soup consisted of whole lentils (the green kind, similar to Puy lentils) sausages, chorizo, potatoes and the most delicious stock ever. I can honestly say that it was the best soup I have ever had, ever, anywhere, and I have dined in Michelin starred restaurants.

After that I had the local sausages. Sausages? How dull you might say. Well let me remind you that English sausages are stuffed with ingredients that actually poison me, so getting sausages that don’t poison me is a real treat. What is more, most English sausages are dull, blandly, flavourlessly, dull and this is certainly not true of Spanish sausages. I had three, one a slice of black pudding style, spicy and well seasoned, another a conventional pork one but again well seasoned, moist and spicy, the last one a fresh Chorizo and all three were beautifully cooked and accompanied with contamination-free chips. Deep joy!

When it came to dessert I had only one choice – flan (caramel custard) but at least it was one choice more that I usually get. I was so preoccupied with the delicious comestibles that I had that I hardly noticed what the others had. Frankly I don’t care. They always have a vast array of choices, I don’t and I was thoroughly enjoying mine.

After lunch we repaired to Keith and Audrey’s house for tea and chat, always easy with them in spite of, or maybe because of out political differences, Garrath did his Dr Megabyte trick with Keith’s smartphone, and then we said fond farewells and we got back home to do dreary stuff like put away Lavaderia Ana’s sterling efforts.

It didn’t take long for us to determine that a visit to the local watering hole was long overdue (missed last night due to the ****ing rain) and here we are again.

While we were here Garrath was reading The Independent on line and delighting in Jeremy Corbyn’s exchange at Prime Minster’s Question Time today when he put down David Cameron . We delighted in this and celebrated Corbyn’s honesty and common decency as compared to Cameron’s thinly disguised, Thatcherist, support for the exploitative and self serving.

The male partner of an English couple who were sitting at the table next to us was earwigging and became stony faced, particularly when Garrath commented that Cameron’s ‘Starter Homes’ initiative would be beyond the range of him, even at his inflated salary. Ill disguised anger suffused his (Tory) face and he called for the bill.

When there was a problem with the ticket machine and the lady serving tried to explain what was wrong, Garrath tried to help, but incandescent Tory ignored Garrath with a fury that was palpable. It seemed to us the fact that Garrath obviously earns a salary that is way in excess of his and is still a Socialist was something that he was not, on his self appointed high horse, prepared to countenance.

After they had left Garrath asked,

“Did I upset them?’ And when I responded with, “Yes, seriously,” he responded with “Yay, Success!” It is great fun winding up the self-appointed Bourgeoisie.

I received a brilliant offer on a suite of software that expires before we get home so while we are here on free WIFI we decided that I should buy it and download it tonight. Sadly the download speed is nightmarishly slow so we are still waiting, and waiting, and waiting! It seems that I am going to have to sit here and drink wine until the long winded process is over.

Jeez, the sacrifices I have to make to be a cyber junkie, hic!!!

Back Off Thor!!! 13.10.2015

Today was designated a business day the first task being to go down to the bank to withdraw enough money to pay the gardener for the next half year’s maintenance and for all the ‘little extras’ that add up to a huge amount. It looked like a good day for a business day, dismal and cloudy with rain forecast, so after a much more rapid start that usual we went down into Calpe town.

It seemed that after the four day Fiestas with shops all closed, the world and her husband had headed into town to do catch up shopping so parking was an issue. Garrath needed some glue to fix the new lampshade that broke while he was putting it on the lamp so we went to Brico Aitana (the hardware part of the store where we have a discount card) and used their car park. Even there we were lucky to get a space.

Glue purchased plus three very cute mini capacos (builders buckets) for snacks we went to the bank. We used to love that bank when it was CAM (Caja Ahorra Mediterráneo) but CAM has since been gobbled up by Sabadell and we hate it now. CAM used to have a delightful Dutch lady, Cristina, who was incredibly helpful and fluent in many languages. As soon Sabadell gobbled up CAM she and all the other CAM staff disappeared, presumably hoofed unceremoniously, and were replaced by fewer, less helpful and less linguistically accomplished staff.

On a previous trip we had to wait two and a half hours just to pick up a bank card. When we finally got to speak to a staff member and said that the wait was unreasonable she urged us to complain to head office and say they were understaffed because she herself was paid from 08.00 to 14.00 but was expected to work until 18.00. So not only does their service stink, they bully and exploit their staff too.

Anyway, we went into the bank, took a queue ticket and waited – and waited – and waited! When we got to the desk the guy was pleasant enough and we got the cash OK, but I had already determined that we need to move all our business to another bank. The wait is bad enough but I refuse to support any company that exploits its staff so from there we went to the small, very friendly little bank where Garrath has his Spanish account and enquired about transferring accounts.

The lovely guy in there who speaks wonderful English explained that we have to open accounts, provide passport, NIE numbers (National Identification Numbers) utility bill details etc. then leave it to him to negotiate with Sabadell over a period of several weeks until the transfer is completed. I expressed disappointment that it is such a complex process and he said that he knew that in the UK it is a very simple process, a matter of pressing a few buttons and that he is very jealous! So yet another business day needed. Ugh!

While we were walking back to the car it started raining, not terribly heavily at first, but enough to need an umbrella and start to creat large puddles on the badly drained roads. We realised that it would be impossible to drive anywhere for lunch so we called in at Mercadona (the GF aware supermarket) to get some stuff for a light lunch in the hope that the weather would let up enough for us to go out to dinner.

Fat chance! When we got out of Mercadona the deluge was so dramatic that the roads were seriously flooded and I was very lucky to get the car through the deep water and home. Garrath had intended us to stop at the local watering hole for tea and free WIFI but I said, “F*ck that for a game of soldiers, I’m getting us straight home through this river if I can,” and that is exactly what I did, in spite of protests from the car with four danger warnings one of which ‘Take the car to the garage immediately!’ I only hope that it dries out by tomorrow, but looking at the weather it is another case of Fat Chance!

The rain abated a little during the afternoon giving false hope that we might be able to get out for a meal. Fat Chance again. The gardener, Perran, came to collect his cash at a time when the rain had actually stopped. Deep joy and yet more false hope. He too had ploughed through knee high puddles and actually had to go to the garage to get his car fixed.

Needless to say, once Perran left the bloody heavens opened and it hasn’t stopped since, We have thunder, we have lightning and we have rain, rain and more bloody rain, roof thumping, street bouncing, flood creating, going out preventing RAIN and if it carries on like this it will be sleep preventing, sitting inside a drum RAIN!!!

Back off Thor! I am thoroughly pissed off with your antics. You have robbed me of a day’s holiday and it is not the first one. You have scared me witless by making me drive through a river to get home. I am grumpy, hungry and thoroughly hacked off. You have robbed me of lunch, dinner and a day’s recreation. Enough is enough!

Recovering From Poorlies, Quiet Start, New Places, Old Friends

No blog yesterday because I was poorly, taken all strange, dizzy, nauseous and feverish so I had to come home and put myself to bed. Yuk, just what you don’t need on hollybags and just what you don’t need to read about so I shall pass swiftly on.

This morning we had a slow, steady start because I still felt grotty, but eventually I thought that I might survive so we set off on a jaunt on the understanding that if I started to feel dire again I would turn around and come back. This is one of the many down sides to being the only driver.

For some unfathomable reason I decided to drive to a town that we had seen the signposts for but never visited, Pedreguer. Garrath chose the route there and it was a visual delight, lovely winding roads through spectacular mountains, picturesque and interesting to drive, it took us through lovely villages but was always wide enough to drive comfortably.

A short circular detour enabled me to take pictures of a wonderful ruin that I have passed before but never stopped to photograph – another one off my ‘Must Capture’ list, and then we were off again.

When we got to Pedreguer we found a parking space easily then walked into the town centre where we found the remnants of some kind of celebratory parade (today is a National Fiesta.) Everybody was dressed up to the nines and to my delight The Guardia Civil were in dress uniform and that included those gorgeous, distinctive, patent leather hats with a folded up kepi at the back. Needless to say they were the focus of my photographic attention.

We had a cuppa and water at Centro La Musical, a lovely very Spanish cafe that boasts lots of photos of their bands from donkeys years back to the present day. The clientele were affable and noisy and the staff had a delightful manner that English serving staff would do well to emulate.

After that we moved to a restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor only to find that every table was reserved, not surprising because the food being served looked magical. Thwarted in our epicurean ambitions we went back to the car and drove to La Brisa in Teulada where we were welcomed and recognised, so much so that they brought me toasted gluten free bread to enjoy with the appetisers. Lunch was excellent and after it I felt a lot better.

Back to Calpe via a new-to me road, also bendy but wide enough to enjoy. I am now familiar enough with the car to fling it around bends, Spanish style, though not at the breakneck speed that they do it.

We called at the supermarket that only closes on Christmas day then called at the local watering hole for – well water actually. Whatever bug has got me requires me to rehydrate furiously, probably because I am pumping it out of my pores at a rate of knots. That done we headed home to prepare for the guests that we were expecting for the evening.

I have a very long history with Ula and Jurgen, our guests for the evening. When my parents moved here in 1973 they befriended Ula’s father, Karl Hoffstadt, who was their next door neighbour. Later I befriended Ula’s brother Hans and his wife Elvira. Ula has since inherited Karl’s house and we have befriended her and her husband Jurgen, a delightful, gentle man, a former university teacher whose skills are still so valued that he continues to be a guest lecturer all over the place.

We had a lovely evening of easy conversation that affirmed the bonds that already existed, bonds made even firmer by the fact that Jurgen is also a cancer survivor. It seems that there are lots of Swords of Damocles that people live under. We learned that they too have the ‘No Pockets In Shrouds’ philosophy firmly embedded in their lifestyle policy.

All in all a lovely day in spite of the fact that this blasted bug is still bugging me, though not so alarmingly as it was yesterday.

C’est la Guerre!

Phone Calls, Changed Plans, Glittery Things And Christmas 10.10.2015

The day started with the usual routine of getting ready and while I was in the bathroom I said to Garrath,

“I think we should come here for Christmas.” No response but he was obviously thinking about it. Having given it serious thought and after a brief discussion the statement was made,

“Why the hell not?”

Plans for the day were made, first some routine phone calls, two to change the lunch arrangements for tomorrow (our friends’ dog is poorly and they don’t want to travel far) and one to book lunch at El Riu on the way to Guadalest. The lunch arrangements were changed successfully but there was no response from El Riu (fiestas) so we decided to go to El Refugio in Moraira instead and booked that.

First some shopping for essentials then a call into the local watering hole to get some bank transfers done with their free wifi and an internet search to see if a Christmas trip was viable. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, by doing the bank transfer bit, I learned that I had a silly amount of money in my current account. Mmmmmmm, itchy fingers on the debit card!!!

The internet search about the Christmas trip confirmed its viability and Garrath went on to book and pay for the flights expensive at that time of year but what the hell, here it comes again, THERE ARE NO POCKETS IN SHROUDS!

I phoned later and booked the dogs into kennels – job almost done. All we have to do now is book a hire car. Whoopeee! As one who normally hates Christmas with a passion, I am really looking forward to this one. We are bringing hand luggage only and any warm clothes we need for here will be purchased when we arrive.

After unloading the shopping we made our way to Moraira along the winding coast road. I am getting used to both the road and the car so Garrath only complained once – a record for him. When we got to Moraira we walked towards the restaurant in a leisurely fashion and when we came to my favourite art jewellery shop I had ten full minutes before they closed. In like a shot, I found their Ambar (Amber) and with a full three minutes to spare I had managed to buy a gorgeous shell carved pendant inset with a pearl, the chain that it was displayed with, a stunning, huge, uniquely designed ring in the same coloured Ambar and a pair of perfectly colour matched drop earrings with two huge chunks of Ambar hanging on exactly the same kind of chain that the pendant is on. Pockets, shrouds, banks – sod it, I will be the glitziest corpse in the grave .

We arrived at El Refugio three minutes late, early by Spanish standards, and went on to have a fabulous lunch. I ate so much beautifully cooked fish that I should have a brain the size of a planet tomorrow! El Refugio is undoubtedly the best restaurant we have ever come across when it comes to catering for me. Why? The boss’s daughter is coeliac. Best of all the food is to die for.

After lunch (during which I had taken off my jewellery and put on the new stuff) we went for a leisurely meander through the marina and the town, stopping for a cuppa on the way. The fish in the marina entertained as usual, still convinced that all humans at the marina side are bread providers, even though the regulations have changed and you are no longer allowed to feed the fish (such a shame.)

Then the drive back on the winding road, a brief stop at the Chinese sells everything cheap store (well it would be rude to drive past) then home just in time to put the camera away and repair to the local watering hole on foot, which is where we are now.

All in all a truly delightful day, not only for its contents but for the prospects for Christmas that it achieved.

Chutney, Burns And Visiting Friends 09.10.2015

A brief blog at the end of a very busy that was taken up mostly by chutney completion, a summary of which is here –

Turn hob on
Stir chutney regularly
Garrath up
Stir chutney regularly
Drink tea while stirring chutney regularly
Run bath
Stir chutney regularly
Garrath has bath and gets dressed while I stir
Garrath stirs while I have bath and get dressed
I take over chutney duty and stir chutney regularly
Get Garrath to take over stirring regularly
Put on make up
Take over chutney duty
Stir chutney (now volcanic) constantly
Turn off hob
Go to lunch
Stop at local watering hole for tea and coffee
Get back
Garrath goes to Rob & Marijke’s to play Dr Megabyte
Turn on hob
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Burn arm with splashed volcanic chutney
Turn down hob
Go out to garden to get an aloe vera leaf to put on burn
Apply Aloe Vera juice to burn
Improvise dressing with wet kitchen towel and cling film (one handed)
Turn up hob
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Test chutney for thickness
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Garrath returns
Get Garrath to go down to freezer for ice while I stir chutney constantly
Turn hob down
Crush ice for improvised ice pack using freezer bag & cling film
Turn hob up
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Get Garrath to stir volcanic chutney while I go to the loo
Don rubber glove to catch drips from improvised ice pack
Test chutney for thickness
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Keep tuning hob up and down to avoid volcanic splashes whilst stirring constantly
During down hob phase select jars and lids and wash them
Rinse jars
Test chutney for thickness & determine it is ready for bottling
Prepare all kit for bottling
Get Garrath to design and print chutney labels
Sterilise jars and lids
Bottle chutney
Converse with gardener who has brought over his invoices while bottling chutney
Complete bottling
Smugly count the 20 jars over and over
Remove improvised ice pack & rubber glove
Join Garrath and gardener in discussion about fixing the drive
Give gardener jars of last year’s chutney
Return upstairs and smugly count the 20 jars over and over
Lock house
Walk down to Rob & Marijke’s house and spend a pleasant social evening with them
Come back to the house and write this brief blog
Feel very smug about completed chutney production.

So there you have it in brief, a day in my life here in Spain. When we return here in Spring today’s chutney will be matured and perfect for eating. Success!

Rain, Rain, More Rain and Chutney 08.0.2015

Rain, Rain, More Rain And Chutney 08.10.2015

I woke at 04.50 after a restless night characterised by disturbing dreams, none of which I can remember now. No worries, maybe my subconscious needed to rattle them around my sleeping consciousness. Who knows? I’m damned if I’m paying a dream therapist to try to make sense of them. That’s just another kind of hocus pocus and I have no time for hocus pocus of any kind.

From around 06.00 it rained and with a few short breaks it rained all day. Some of it was soft rain, some of it head numbing, roof drumming, heavy as hell rain that made mushroom splashes on the ground and turned Avenguda Jaime 1 Conquerador (James the First Conqueror Avenue in Valenciano) into Riu Jaime 1 Conquerador (River James the First Conqueror in Valenciano.)

We didn’t mind. We are not made of sugar to use a well worn phrase coined by former Councillor colleague John Prestage’s mother. We have waterproof clothing and what is more, after lunch I bought myself a pair of ankle wellies – sorted. Besides, we knew that today and tomorrow were going to be rainy, we also knew that the painter was going to come to paint the new bathroom ceiling, so we had already designated today and tomorrow as chutney days.

I woke Garrath at 07.40 because I knew that we had to be finished with the bathroom early because of the painter. He was as he describes himself, “A bit flat” which is hardly surprising in view of my crack up last night. That was enough to flatten anybody’s batteries, including mine. Nevertheless we got on with things.

As it happened the painter arrived at 09.20 and had his work done in an hour, a superb job done by a really meticulous professional. It transpired that it was the very same painter who had painted the entire interior of the house some years ago, a job that he did so well that it is still immaculate, and considering what a peeling, damp damaged wreck it was with layer upon layer of peeling, water stained, cheap paint, he is a painter of near genius. He is also a lovely man with a very cheerful, positive attitude. I am beginning to believe that all Monasor’s employees have to pass a good looks test (he was pretty) and be advanced graduates from Charm School.

After ablutions and breakfast and receiving the painter, I started the chutney preparations. The tomatoes, chillies and Seville Oranges had been thawed out overnight, the spices were ready, the vinegar and sugar at hand. All I had to was steam the lemons until they were soft, peel the onions, de-pip the Seville Oranges and lemons (therein lies a story) and chop everything.

When I use Seville oranges straight from the trees they have to be boiled or steamed until they are very soft before they can be used in either marmalade or chutney (They are tough buggers.) It is the same with lemons and limes (equally tough buggers.) Kumquats are not so difficult, apart from making you want you cut your own throat with boredom when preparing them. We have a deal with the gardeners. They harvest all the fruit, after taking what they need, bung it in plastic bags and stick it in the freezer for me. I am delighted to report that freezing Seville oranges renders them soft enough to be used without prior cooking – what a relief. I shall claim that I knew that all along and had them frozen deliberately!

I had already topped all the chillies and tiny cherry tomatoes last night (a straight 8 on The Kumquat Scale) so all that was needed was to steam the lemons and de-pip them and the Sevilles. There were 3 kilos of Sevilles and about a kilo of lemons. I started with the Sevilles while the lemons were steaming. I cut them in half across their equators and used the handle of a teaspoon to remove the pips.

I had previously thought that Kumquats were the champions of the citrus world for the production of pips but oh no, I was wrong. Sevilles are winning by a mile and are absolute champions in deviously, deliberately hiding them. Each orange has around twelve segments and each segment can have up to six pips lurking in there. Some have none just to fool you. Some have just two, some more so you can’t make an educated guess. You just have to prod and poke until you prise the reluctant bastards out and no matter how meticulous you are some will manage to evade your explorations. They score 9.75 on The Kumquat Scale and are only saved from being a 10 by the fact that they are big enough to hold, unlike those piddling, fiddly Kumquats!

Sevilles duly, and I confess, rather grumpily prepared, I moved on the the now soft, steamed lemons. They too presented challenges. I think that Perran planted a so-called seedless variety. For seedless read ‘ fiddly little annoying seeds that are really hard to get out.’ At times like this Marike’s words,

“Why do you make so much work for yourself?” springs readily to mind, but so does “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

Sevilles and lemons de-pipped, it was time for the onions. Sadly Garrath didn’t respond to my comment,

“And now comes the job I hate most” by offering to peel the onions for me, so I plodded on while he recharged his batteries. Garrath recharges his batteries by relaxing and withdrawing into his own private world which is fine. Today my recharging has to be achieved in the way that I usually do it, like one of those bikes where you pedal like crazy to put more charge in, with lots of activity. T’was ever thus!

Onions peeled I then employed the new Food Processor. All electrical items have to have a name so that you can swear at them when they go wrong so we have decided to call the Food Processor Abdellah, because like Abdellah, it seems to be able to cope with just about anything without getting flustered. Anyway, Abdellah sliced the onions in a breath and then went on to chop the chillies, the Sevilles and the lemons.

I used the whizzy stick (stick blender) to whizz up the tomatoes then it was time for the easy bit, to chuck it all in the preserving pan along with the sugar, vinegar and spices gentle heat it all to boiling point, boil it for five minutes to ensure that everything was sterile then cover it so that we could go to lunch. Phew, what a breeze after the mental health threatening process of de-pipping!

It sounds tedious and laborious, which it is, but what we have to note here is the objective – the immense satisfaction I get from the production of delicious things that neightbours, friends, the gardeners and the builders this time, will get when I hand over truly delicious, home made, unique preserves that are given with genuine love and appreciation.

Lunch was had at the local cheapie and it was lovely, salad, a starter, a main course and a dessert along with a drink, and all for €9 each. Having navigated the torrent that was the road I remembered that it was at the shoe shop next door to the restaurant where I had seen the ankle wellies so I went in and bought them then had the pleasure of plodging through the puddles on the way back to the car. (Plodging, a peculiarly English entertainment borne out of having so much rainy weather, it consists of stamping heavily through puddles so that you cause maximum spray, noise and disruption. I love it!)

A brief call at the local GF aware supermarket later and we were back to both Garrath and I recharging our batteries in our own particular ways, him with whatever, me with the chutney boiling. He booked our restaurant for Sunday with Rob & Marijke and upon informing Rob of this became aware that he has to do his Dr Megabyte act with Rob tomorrow morning while I chutney boil again. (Deep joy, I have the unending joy of bottle and lid sterilising to do and then messy bottling with as little spillage and skin burning as possible.)

Come beer o’clock (I wish) we repaired to the local watering hole to imbibe the electrolytes that facilitate both our recharging systems, beer in Garath’s case, wine in mine.

Who said this was a holiday?

Fruit Gloop, Laundry, Lunch With Friends & The End Of A Dream 07.10.2015

The day started with one of my very few culinary duties this week, making the breakfast gloop. We have run out of strawberries so this time it was figs, lemons and limes from the garden. When zesting the lemons and limes I noted how much more oil I was getting out of them that I would with shop bought ones. Those expensive trees were worth the money, if only for that.

I haven’t a clue how I do this but again I got an exact amount, to the gramme, enough to fill two litre canisters and one half litre canister exactly. With luck that will be enough to see us right through this stay, if not I will have to make more, probably Nispero and lemon this time. Jeez, its a tough call!

It is laundry day two today, soooooo much work involved. Yesterday we delivered the bag of dirties to Lavanderia Ana, today we have to pick up the cleanies from there. Garrath loves laundry days in Spain because he doesn’t have to use the washing machine (I’m banned, the last time I touched it I broke it) hang out the laundry then take it down when dry and fold it. It is a real laundry holiday for him and if we won the lottery he would never touch a washing machine again.

We decided to go down to the local watering hole for half past elevenses then on to Lavanderia Ana to collect the cleanies. On the way down we were alerted to something being amiss by a commercial van driver. I pulled over and he told us what it was in Spanish delivered at a speed that would have done justice to machine gun fire. We were clueless of course, so by a series of gesticulations he showed us where the problem was. It turned out that one of the gardeners had left a pair of safety goggles on top of the car, I hadn’t noticed and had driven off with them still there. Well you don’t expect your hire car to be wearing safety goggles do you? Regardless of the language barrier it was a pleasant exchange accompanied by much laughter. It was very kind of him to alert us but unsurprising because the Spanish are, by nature, very kind people.

The extent of the gardeners’ work last night became fully apparent this morning. The pruning completed we now have a delightful weeping Olive tree. I had asked for it to be pruned into very popular pom pom topiary but in carrying out this very gradual process over the year that had seen the potential of a rather original weeping style tree. I was consulted of course and I agreed that it would be a lovely idea to follow that theme. Remaining vertical limbs lopped off and we now have a very stylish weeping Olive. I do believe that we might have started a trend!

All the weeds have been strimmed leaving a nice green carpet that could almost pass as a lawn if you squint. The gardeners used to rotivate the earth but that killed off my beloved wild flowers so now they wait until I have had time to photograph them all then strim them. Leaving the roots intact binds the soil together nicely and the strimmed weeds give us the faux lawn.

I do believe that we have extended the repertoire of our team of gardeners. They were accustomed to working for people who want easy maintenance, decorative gardens. I set the condition that is a plant doesn’t produce something edible, medicinal or for security protection it has no place in my garden. I think that they had to go back to the text books. Now we have a clearly defined herb garden, lots of healthy and productive fruit trees and chillies everywhere and I am now informed that we are developing a vegetable patch.

We keep finding plants that we don’t recognise beacause one of the gardeners, Willie (we call him Chilli Willie because of his success growing chillies) has taken on the edible plant mantle with enthusiasm. He keeps experimenting with new fruits to see if they will flourish. We currently have Physallis ripening and a very lush, as yet unidentified fruit ripening on a very healthy looking, very thorny bush with beautiful, eye-shaped, glossy leaves. That one is a rip roaring success Willie. Now can you tell us what it is please?

After collecting the laundry from Lavanderia Ana we made it home just in time to go down to Keith & Audrey’s house to get into Keith’s car and go to Parcent for lunch. We discovered the cafe restaurant at the Cooperativa Agrícola El Progreso several years ago when the restaurant we had intended to go to in Parcent was fully booked with a private party. I suppose the nearest English equivalent would be a working men’s club but with a restaurant, a lovely stage with a proscenium arch, beautifully, ornately tiled walls and a gorgeous wooden floor whose creaks remind everyone of long gone school days, church halls and youth clubs. When we discovered it its clientele was strictly Spanish and so the food was very typically Spanish, and very good value too.

Later we took Keith and Audrey there – big mistake. Keith is El Presidente of AFPO, the Association of Foreign Property Owners and since we took them there word has spread like wildfire among the expat communities and the place is always full of expats, especially English ones. So what was our safe retreat from expats is safe no longer! Next time we find an expat free retreat we are going to sneak off there in heavy disguise and keep our mouths firmly shut about it.

They have always been pretty good about dealing with my needs but this time they excelled themselves. I even got some gluten free bread to go with the aioli – wow – and they cooked my patatas fritas separately to avoid contamination. Whoopee, brilliant awareness and a portion of uncontaminated chips!

After lunch we went back to Keith & Audrey’s for tea and chat, always easy and enjoyable, an interlude that had to be curtailed because we had to go back to the house to wait for Peter and his fellow biker who were coming to take the Honda away.

When the time came Peter introduced us to Nigel, another bike fanatic, and what is even better, a mechanic. Peter admitted that when he came for the Kawasaki on Monday night he hadn’t checked out the Honda thoroughly and on seeing it tonight said that he had missed out on a great opportunity because it is “very tidy.” Nigel’s response was to say “Tough,” and express his delight at getting a very nice freebie. Both bikes will be treasured and even better, they will be ridden, something they haven’t been for several years.

I took parting photographs of course, for Garrath’s benefit I thought. I also thought that I would have to deal with his grief at having to part with the beloved Honda that he has owned since 1980, but guess who is the one who is grieving ? Me! Somehow seeing that bike go into the van and the van disappear out of the gate along with our dreams of moving to Spain and riding the fabulous biker roads out here opened the flood gates of grief and sadness that I have been suppressing since Garrath’s hospitalisation on January 3rd. I guess I’m just tired of having to be strong and always having to cope and see the positives. At some time the tears had to flow and tonight might as well be the night.

Pass the tissues guys. I need about six boxes, and then I’ll be back to the person of whom people say,

“Lynne is strong, she will cope, she doesn’t need any help.”

Gas, Gardeners and Hot Air. 06.10.2015

A day of mixed activities, some work, some leisure and pleasure, started with the usual routine getting ready stuff, then a trip to the local Ferreteria to get a new gas bottle. There is no mains gas or sewage here. Gas comes in bottles that have to be lugged from the Ferreteria, Sewage is dealt with by a septic tank – one that cost us €5,000.00 to replace just a few years ago, which considering that we don’t own the house was a bit of a squeeze. Still, gave up hoping that my mother (who does own the property) would take any responsibility for it long ago.

New gas bottle acquired we bumped down to the local supermarket for essential breakfast supplies then bumped back to the house again. I say bumped because the gas bottle rolls around rather alarmingly in the boot every time I take a roundabout or brake. Every time we come we say that we ought to get wedges to stop this and every time we forget!

Breakfast is the only meal where I have to do any food preparation and even that is minimal. It consists of me making breakfast gloop, a puree of fruit from the garden, to put on gluten free cereal along with yogurt. We lunch out every day, supper, if we have any, is just shop bought charcuterie, cheese and crisps. The deal is that I do the washing up, Garrath does the drying and putting away, but this is so minimal that it takes only minutes. Bliss!

After putting everything away, closing the shutters and the like, we made our way down to Partida La Fossa and gently perambulated to the restaurant of our choice, La Terraza, a Ristorante, Arrozeria y Marisceria. Roughly translated (and my translation is very rough) it means that they specialise in rice dishes and seafood. The staff were helpful and seemed to understand my issues well so I ordered a house salad for starters, Garrath ordered Croquettes for starters, and we ordered a sharing rice dish with rabbit and artichokes. When starters came Garrath had eight croquettes, and my salad was gargantuan. Hmmm, I’ll order that as a main course next time.

When the rice dish came we were surprised and delighted. Somewhere between a soup and a stew, the stock in which it was cooked was utterly delicious, there were lovely vegetables and the rabbit was divine. Unsurprisingly we couldn’t finish it all and didn’t have room for a pud, though there were plenty on offer for me. Next time ……

On the next table there were two Spanish couples with their small children. The twin boys who were immediately next to us started to get restless and wanted to engage with us. They were told gently not to disturb us while we were eating but they persisted. What followed was exemplary parenting on the part of both their parents. Distraction was tried, when that failed boundaries were were firmly set and when they failed to respect them they were placed in their buggy and moved away, effectively excluded from interaction. There was no violence, no harsh words, just firm boundary setting and enforcement. Why can’t more parents in the UK do that? I for one get sick and tired of being expected to tolerate the unruly, often seriously intrusive behaviour of out of control brats, brats who turn into monsters who think they are entitled to everything and responsible for nothing.

After that very pleasant repast we went for a meander to the end of Partida La Fossa with me taking photographs of Lifesnapper’s beach babes along the way and calling into a couple more cafes for tea, coffee and water. During one of those stops I saw the silliest of silly hats thus far. I managed to capture that in a sketch that will become a painting to illustrate my verse tomorrow.

We had some amusing times with our Apple watches. At several points while we were sitting at the same table mine had me in Teulada while Garrath’s had him where we were in Calpe, Garrath’s iPhone had a good signal with Orange and mine had a poor signal with YOIGO.

We had expected to have a visit from Peter’s mate who wants to take Garrath’s beloved Honda but when we got back there was a message to say that they couldn’t make it this evening but would come tomorrow, so guess what – down to the local watering hole. There we met our team of gardeners who were on their way to our place to Pom Pom the Olive tree, do some strimming and tidying up.

So here we are again, writing blogs, enjoying a wonderful evening temperature of 24C at my side of the table, 23C at Garrath’s side (Apple watches again) blissfully cool after the hot air of the day (29C) referred to in the title, being eaten alive by those miniature marauders, snickety, snackety horrible bitey things and indulging in whatever drink takes our fancy.

Life is tough!

A Sunless Scorcher, Denia and A Fond Farewell 05.10.2015

Today started cloudy and it stayed cloudy all day. When we are in the UK a cloudy day usually means a cooler day than a sunny one but here that certainly wasn’t the case. It was scorching, seriously hot and humid all day. Maybe the cloud trapped in the heat. Maybe the high humidity meant that we got none of the cooling benefits from sweating. Whatever, it was bloody hot, far to hot to do chutney as I had intended so we got into the air conditioned car and I drove us to Denia.

It is a few years since we have been to Denia. The last time we visited it was showing serious signs of decline as a result of the economic crash, known here as crisis econòmica. There were empty shops, closed restaurants and there was a general feeling of decline. It had a deeply sad, neglected feel about it which is why we haven’t been for so long. Well, we don’t know what the authorities in Denia have done to address this but whatever it was, it worked. The place was buzzing. Car parking was as easy to find as Rocking Horse droppings, the shops were vibrant and busy, the restaurants doing a roaring trade and the port had some seeeeeeeeeeeriously expensive, mega yachts in dock. It was lovely to see this transformation and we spent the day enjoying it.

We had checked out some of the restaurants’ offerings to see if they might be suitable for me and got them down to a shortlist of two. When we gave my explanatory card to a waiter at the first one he screwed his face up. That was enough, bad attitude – not going there. We have since memorised the Spanish for ‘I don’t like your attitude’ (no me gusta tu actitud) and we will use this next time we come across any establishment that sees me as the problem rather than someone who has a problem that needs to be catered for.

The second one was quite different, they laughed and said it was no problem and when we sat down the lady came across and explained what I could have on the cheapest menu del dia, suggesting adaptations that they could make. In the event we ordered from the a la carte menu – just Menu in Spanish – and we ordered a special salad each for a starter. She declared that it would be too much and suggested that we have one between us. I ordered grilled Sea Bass and she said that it came with salad and that would be too much salad, so when I suggested grilled vegetables instead she agreed and adapted the order accordingly. Garrath ordered Spaghetti Bolognese for his main course and all was well.

The food was delightful. The salad was indeed more than enough for two and that Sea Bass did not die in vain. It was perfectly cooked as were the grilled vegetables, and there was a lovely variety of vegetables too. Garrath polished off his spaghetti with gusto and they even managed to provide me with a gluten free dessert. Bliss!

I had already bought a pair of rather flash, patent leather boots and Garrath had spotted a pair of shoes in the same shop. The shop observes the Spanish working day and closes for lunch and a siesta between 14.00 and 17.30 so we had time to meander around the town and the port, stopping for teas and waters in cafes along the way. When we got to the port we saw some mega yachts harboured there – impressive machines but nobody should have so much conspicuous wealth when so many in the world live in poverty.

When the shoe shop opened again they didn’t have the shoes in his size. Deeply disappointing but it just means that we will have to go to the Pikolinos shop in Alicante.

Sadly, some time during the day Garrath lost the steel, titanium and diamond bracelet that I bought for him several years ago. He apologised profusely but there was no need. These things happen. At the end of the day it is only a bracelet. It can be replaced. It is a thing and ultimately things don’t matter. People matter, living things matter, inanimate things don’t. He is still around to lose a bracelet. That is much more important.

Immediately upon leaving the shoe shop he got a phone call from Peter, the guy who is taking the Kawasaki. He had managed to get a van to take the bike away and had been trying to get in contact via the land line all day. So we returned to the car park and I drove us back to the house in Calpe where we were joined by Peter, the van and his mate.

I did as my photographer friend Colleen suggested and took a lot of photos of the bike before it was taken away, then Garrath had to bid a sad but fond farewell to his big baby, the Kwakka. He will complete the paperwork when in the UK, but he retains visiting rights when in Spain!

Peter had already been in touch with another bike fanatic who might be interested in taking the old Honda. He is coming to the house tomorrow evening to have a look. I know that if he does hand over the Honda it will be an even bigger emotional wrench for him, so I have to be there with cuddles, tissues and a tough reality check if he wavers. I do understand but I do hope that he does take that big step. We shall see, but if it does go I will take lots of photographs.

Marijke came around with Tikkus to tell us that she had been to see another vet, that Tikkus has an enlarged heart and that she is on lots of medication to try to prolong her life. Tikkus still has a zest for life so it is worth a try, but we all know that it is only a matter of time before the hard decision has to be made. She is a lovely little dog and deserves every chance, but I think that this trip is the last time we will see her.

We are now in – yes, you’ve guessed it – the local watering hole that has free WIFI where I am reflecting on a busy, eventful and very hot day. It is 21:25 now and at Garrath’s side of the table it is 26C, on my side of the table a mere 25C. Such is life, such is technology. Time for another cooling drink methinks!

Bonding, Bikes, & Parting With Loved Ones

Today, for no apparent reason whatever, the MIFI widget started working again. Phew, what a relief, connectivity again, or so we thought. In fact it is functioning erratically, sometimes at a pace that makes a snail look like Formula One by comparison. Add to that the fact that our web site is behaving very erratically and I had a frustrating morning trying to post my blog and upload my latest verse. Whatever, it took most of the morning and involved a lot of swearing.

At 12.00 I had to give up and slap my face on because we were being taken out to lunch by our Dutch friends, Rob & Marijke. We got to choose the restaurant – El Riu on the road between Callosa d’en Sarria and Guadalest – and best of all, we were chauffeured.

El Riu is for those who appreciate truly Spanish restaurants and in the case of foreigners, those who accept the right of the Spanish to behave as they do in their own country. I have heard English people in there bitch and fratch because the place is noisy on Sunday. Their arrogance beggars belief. This is a Spanish restaurant populated mainly by Spanish people, and Spanish families get together for Sunday lunch to share food, affirm family bonds, catch up with each other’s gossip and they do it NOISILY. That is their way. It is their country and their way should be respected. The English people who bitch and fratch about it should either learn to shout or choose another country.

Most of the main courses are cooked over a wood fire on the huge, open barbecue outside. The cooking is simple and good, the ingredients excellent. For starters we both chose the special salad while Rob had Mountain Sausages and Marijke had grilled aubergines. Rob, Marijke and I chose Conecho Al Ajillo (Rabbit with garlic) while Garrath chose Secreto De Cerdo Iberico (a cut from the Pata Negra pig that is located between the bacon and pork shoulder in the inner region.) The Rabbit was delicious and I made a complete pig of myself by continuing to eat it long after I had satisfied my hunger, simply for pleasure. Judging by Garrath’s silent dedication to eating during the main course and the fact that there wasn’t a scrap left on his plate I’m guessing that his Secreto De Cerdo Iberico was delicious too. While the others had wicked looking cakes and cheesecakes for dessert, I had a simple Flan Con Almendros (caramel custard with almonds) but at least it was a proper dessert. Chat was as ever, easy and free flowing even though it had to be shouted, a lovely lunch time.

We returned straight home because their much loved dog, Tikkus, is not well. Later, while I was taking photographs in the garden, a very tearful Marijke told Garrath that she and Rob were in dispute about what to do. Tikkus is 13 and obviously sick but still has an enthusiasm for living so Rob wants her to have the expensive tests to see if there is a way of prolonging her life. Marijke who has, like we have done in the past, hung on way too long after her dog should have been given a dignified exit, wants to do that for Tikkus right now. It is the eternal dilemma when we hold the power of life and death over our much loved pets – when to let go. I can see both their points of view. They are equally valid. We will have to face the same choices with our two before long and it will be heartbreaking. All we can do with Rob & Marijke is support whatever decision they finally agree upon.

On to more partings, this time Garrath and his much loved motor bikes that have been sitting in the garage in Spain for the last few years. Now that he has lost his driving license and it is unlikely that he will get it back, they are just sitting there, reminders of what once was and now cannot be. Our gardener put us in touch with a bike enthusiast of his acquaintance and he has agreed to take the Kawasaki Z1000. Garrath will get on to the internet tomorrow to see if he can find a home for the Honda CB 500T. If not it will be consigned to the great scrap heap in the sky. That will be a huge emotional wrench for Garrath because he has had it since 1980, but it will be better than the constant reminder of the losses brought about by his brain tumour.

On to more cheerful things, we are now in the local watering hole, Garrath has bought me roses again, the wifi here is free and I will be able to upload my blog in good time to keep the readership happy so life isn’t all bad!

Chutney, Buggered MIFI & Entertaining 03.10.2015

The day started sloooooooooooowly because Garrath said those dangerous words,

“Shall we just have one more,” down at the local watering hole last night. I should have been sensible and said “No,” but after a couple of drinks when I start to say “No” it comes out of my mouth as “Why not?” What the hell, it was a great day followed by a very pleasant night.

That out of the way we found that the MIFI isn’t working – AAAAAAAAARGH! We admit it, we are techno junkies, addicts, saddos who can’t live without connectivity. It is seriously traumatic to be without it. We need therapy on occasions like this, but without wifi we couldn’t access an online therapy site.

Thwarted from doing my usual morning activity I needed a demanding distraction so after getting ablutions and hand washed laundry sorted I started on the chutney again. If I were to advise an aspiring jam or chutney maker my advice would be this –

*Buy every bit of preserving kit that Lakeland has in its catalogue. You will need it all.
*Never start on the boiling process without a reserve stirrer near at hand because the second you stop stirring is the second that the preserve will burn and be ruined.
*Never bother with the oven or boiling water methods for sterilising jars. Use the microwave. It will save you acres of time and effort, though you will have to use boiling water for the lids.
*WEAR AN APRON AND A LONG SLEEVED GARMENT. Trust me, I know and I have the burn scars to prove it.
*Buy pretty labels or print pretty, witty ones on your computer.
*Never give away your produce as gifts unless you are prepared to be accosted by people returning clean, empty jars and wearing expectant expressions.
*Always put extra labels on your produce with the exact ingredients. People have allergies and they need to know.

I have an uncanny knack for preparing things without measuring them then finding that they fit the containers I have prepared for them exactly, but this morning I excelled myself. After the chutney’s final boiling and reduction I had precisely the right amount to fill one five litre jar, three litre jars and one half litre jar. When I say precisely I mean exactly that, to the gramme and not a single gramme wasted. Let’s see if I can do the same with the next batch, cherry tomato, Seville orange and chilli methinks. Sounds weird? Well I’m willing to bet it will be deeeeeeeeeee-lish!

This afternoon, after a ‘just feed me’ lunch at the local cheapie. It is on a parade where we can watch the world go by. This along with Partida La Fossa provides me with much verse material, and this is the latest –

Silly hats In Calpe

I wonder what the age is
For wearing silly hats,
I see them all the time here
On preposterous old bats.

Bats of either gender,
And somewhere in between,
All wearing stupid headgear
In beige and pink and green.

Some like jockey’s helmets,
Have enormous peaks
Made of woven straw or plastic
They look like Mallard’s beaks.

Some caps once worn by Donovan
Are sported on the beach,
It seems good taste and discretion
Is way beyond their reach.

White flat caps are favoured
By ageing Belgian men
While Alpine caps on Germans say
Its World War 2 again.

I’ve worked out what the age is
For wearing silly hats,
It happens when you’re old enough
To become retired expats.

Lynne Joyce 03.10.2015

After lunch we had to do the shopping for an evening of entertaining out English and Dutch friends and neighbours. It is the easiest entertaining that we ever do. All we do is provide seating, drinks and nibbles and leave them to it. They obviously enjoy each others’ company immensely but never get together unless we invite them. We simply listen to the lively exchange of fascinating banter, refill glasses and plates and let them get on with it. Easy, peasy and very entertaining. We have given up trying to get a word in edgewise. Why bother? Our egos don’t need it and conversation is not a competition so we just sit back and enjoy.

All in all, a very satisfying day.

Hard Work Day (for Monasor) 02.10.2015

We slept very well ably assisted by our celebratory refreshments last night, then had to hurry up getting ready because the builders were coming. They arrived promptly at 09.00 and set about their task with vigour. Abdellah had decided that the poor light in the bathroom should be sorted by installing a new, lower ceiling below the level of the beam that obscured much of the existing light and setting four flush mounted spotlights into it. That was the first task. He said that he would try to get the electrician there in the afternoon to do the remaining jobs but couldn’t guarantee it.

The builders, two Moroccans by the sound of Abdellah’s conversation with them, worked solidly from 09.00 to 13.30 and installed the new ceiling with wiring set up for the spotlights. Where we had expected the standard, English style, suspended ceiling, what we got was a brand new, solid ceiling, immaculately plastered. I have been to Morocco and seen some of the amazing plasterwork over there so I can safely say that if you want brilliant plastering done, hire a Moroccan. The standard of their work is stunning and they cleaned up impeccably too.

I occupied my time while the builders were busy by boiling down the chutney stirring it constantly to prevent it burning. Since this is a task that reaches a dizzying 9.25 on The Kumquat Scale I occupied my mind by moving one of the computer chairs into the kitchen, setting up my iPad and typing the rest of yesterday’s blog with one hand. I did get caught out at one point because access to the toilet was blocked by the builders’ kit so I left Garrath on stirring duty while I hightailed it to Keith & Audrey’s house to use their loo!

When Abdellah arrived for the second time to pick up the builders he brought Candido with him. Candido is Andalusian, a delightful man, and the one who has the final say when it comes to building projects. An animated discussion followed but was curtailed because Candido was more interested in the chutney that I was making. We discussed what it was, the strength, the ingredients (I do very well with culinary Spanish) and he declared that it is good for making you strong, virile and manly. Hmmmm, the rest is fine but I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to growing that beard!

After they left we went for leisurely lunch at La Minarete. I had Salmon Carpaccio which was delicious and beautifully presented. Garrath had a goats cheese and caramelised onion salad. It looked delicious and he ate every scrap with relish. I had chosen Tuna a la Plancha so the lady came to ask me how I wanted it cooking. After a confusing exchange in my poor Spanglish

she cottoned on and gave a lovely demonstration that I will use from now on. She used the flat of her hand to represent the tuna steak, pressed it down and went ‘Psssssss’ flipped it over quickly and went ‘Pssssss’ again then lifted it up to indicate removal from the heat. Perfect, that’s just how I like my Tuna and that is just how it arrived, just seared on the outside, completely raw in the centre – deeeeeee-lish! It was beautifully presented and garnished with beautifully cooked grilled vegetables.

Garrath’s Merluza a la Romana was quite different to the Merluza a la Romana he has had elsewhere. It was in 4 cm chunks and in a saffron infused coating and cooked to perfection, again beautifully presented and garnished. Dessert was out of the question, we were so stuffed. Besides, Garrath didn’t want his hand stabbing again for eating a rich dessert when I could have none.

After lunch we decided to walk it off by perambulating to the end of Partida La Fossa and checking out possible restaurants on the way. I collected more photographs for my post that will be dedicated to Lifesnapper, the photographer who posts images of nubile young women. I am trying to persuade him to appreciate the beauty of older, rounder ladies and there are lots of them on Playa De La Fossa, so I am capturing them in the interests of his education and enlightenment.

The weather was gorgeous, 27C with bright sunshine and a cooling breeze so we enjoyed the seaside meander immensely. A La Coste backpack was waiting for me at a shop that sold high end designer gear (remember, there are no pockets in shrouds) but sadly they didn’t have the lovely matching La Coste shoes in my size. It will be a mission to find them elsewhere.

We found a cafe at the very end of Partida La Fossa with as lovely view and good, free wifi so rested ourselves there before the meander back to the car. While we were there a very flash motor yacht and a beautiful ketch moored nearby providing more photo opportunities for me – bliss. Eventually we wandered back taking note of restaurants on the way and got back to the car having had true, complete R & R.

When we got back to the house we were delighted to find that all the lighting had been completed. We now have a beautifully lit bathroom, kitchen and two bedrooms to add to the beautifully lit living room and dining room that they did before. The bathroom ceiling will be painted next week when the plaster has had chance to dry.

I never cease to be amazed at the quality of Monasor’s work or to be impressed at the skill of builders, plumbers, electricians, painters, plasterers and the like. I think that we in the UK have made a fundamental error in pushing kids to go through university, in many cases to get degrees that are of no use whatever in the world of employment. Bring back apprenticeships say I. When the toilet is broken the last thing I need is a PhD. I need a plumber and a good one at that. We don’t need more graduates. We need parity of esteem for all skilled work.

Strangely, almost spookily, when we got home it was pub o’clock so after a quick turnaround we wandered down to the local watering hole where I am writing this in a lovely evening temperature of 23C . Well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

Builders, Buggered Computers, Chutney and a Mega Sulk 01.10.2015

We had a visit from our builders front man, Abdellah, this morning in response to a message that Garrath had left on his ansafone. Abdellah is a charming Moroccan man who started with the firm, Monasor, at the lowest level, worked his way up and when he injured his back and could no longer do heavy work the firm valued him so much that they kept him on as their chief negotiator.

We have had lots and lots of work done by Monasor and found them to be 100% reliable with both the quality of their work and their timekeeping. When we had a huge project done (converting the balcony to a room and having supporting structures built) they said that it would be completed by the end of July and Lo and behold, we got the phone call the week before telling us to come out because it would be finished on July 31st, which indeed it was.

We learned long ago that you never tell Abdellah what to do. You tell him what the objective is and he tells you the best way to achieve it. The thing is that he is always right. When we have the balcony enclosed and made into a room we had said that he should fill a window space with shelves. He took an executive decision and walled it in so that we can get furniture on both sides and he was right, so right.

This time the objective is to improve the lighting in the two bedrooms, the bathroom and the kitchen. We told him the objective and he gave us the solutions so we spent much of the day searching for and buying the necessary lights for the bedrooms and the kitchen. The bathroom light Monasor will provide and they will be embedded into the false ceiling that they are to build tomorrow. See, we hadn’t thought of that but Abdellah, bless him, did!

Garrath had promised to go down to Keith’s house to sort out a computer problem. It happens everywhere we go. As soon as they find out what Garrath does for a living, out come the computer problems and off he goes into the inner sanctum wherein lives the computer, guardian of all precious info and gateway to all valued personae, to try to solve it.

Garrath doesn’t mind sorting Keith’s stuff one bit. They have been very good friends to us keeping an eye on the house while we are away, taking photos of building works and sending them, giving invaluable advice and being fine company when we are here.

After the visit from Abdellah and Garrath’s Doctor Megabyte act, we assembled the new Food processor and I got on with preparing the Chuck It In Chutney. Actually this batch is fig, lemon and chilli – lots and lots of chilli so I think I will label it Salsa Volcanica. My Mermelada Volcanica (hot chilli jam) proved very popular so we will see how well the hot fruit & chilli chutney goes.

The new food processor is pure magic, very efficient and brilliantly designed. It finely sliced five onions in a breath and chopped half a kilo of chillies in seconds. Yes, you read that right, half a kilo of red chillies in this chutney. I don’t do bland! It’s assistance made the chutney preparation the easiest it has ever been because I have always had to do all the chopping by hand before. OK, taking the green tops off 1/2 a kilo of chillies was no fun, about 8 on The Kumquat Scale, but what the heck?

I can sense you asking

“What on Earth is The Kumquat Scale?” Well, I have done lots of boring tasks in my time but far and away the most boooooooooooooring is the preparation of Kumquats for preserving. They are tiny, ovoid citrus fruits and each fruit can contain up to seven pips, so they have to be cut in half across their equator and each all the seeds carefully extracted. When you have to prepare five kilos of Kumquats thus (a kindly, rather contradictory donation by the neighbour who always asks why I make so much work for myself by making preserves) you truly understand what boredom is all about. So when it comes to measuring how boring a task is we use the Kumquat scale. 0 is neutral, 1 mildly dull right up to 10 which is mind numbingly, excruciatingly boring. It is a useful scale to have, especially when it comes to preparing ingredients for chutney and attending Valuation Tribunal training days. Topping those chillies was a mere eight, preparing Nisperos (Loquats) a dreadfully dreary and hand staining task, is a nine, the last Valuation Tribunal training day was nine point five. Maybe for the next training day I should take along a few kilos of Kumquats to prepare then the training sessions will be fascinating by comparison?

I have yet to devise a scale for measuring how interesting something is. I am inclined to call it The Professor Brian Cox scale With Prof Cox as a rivetingly, fascinating ten and the Valuation Tribunal trainers as a big, fat zero! That’s it, I have devised it so if you note me describing somebody as an eight on the Professor Brian Cox scale you will know that they are worth spending time with.

Back to chutney! We cooked the lemons in a pressure cooker until really soft then I carefully removed all the pips – seven point five on The Kumquat Scale – and pureed them using the whizzy stick (stick blender.) All fresh ingredients were added to the preserving pan, sugar and vinegar added and the whole lot brought to the boil – about ten litres in all. It was lunch time so we switched off the induction hob , covered the unfinished chutney and went to the local cheapie that understands my needs very well and had a very satisfactory lunch. Grilled vegetables for me instead of French fries of course, I am the unwilling consumer of a healthy alternative. I did get a dessert though, Arroz Con Leche con Canela (chilled rice puddling with cinnamon) and that covered my need for carbohydrates.

On the way back Garrath insisted on calling in at the local watering hole so that he could top up the mifi. I was cross about this as we had previously agreed to go straight home. He compounded my annoyance by having a beer when I, as the driver, was stuck with having water, so I did what any reasonable woman would do, I sulked. You know, the classic, no eye contact, answer only in monosyllables, tight lipped kind of sulk. When he asked what was wrong I gave the standard woman-in-a-sulk answer,

“Nothing” issued in tone that would have done justice to Hitler. I don’t apologise for my classic sulk. I reserve the right to have one whenever Garrath pisses me off right royally. He can sulk for Britain when I piss him off so fair’s fair.

When we got back Garrath suggested that we stay in so that I could complete the chutney boiling. Gee thanks Garrath. My reacion was to say,

“F*ck that for a game of soldiers, it is too late,” so I simply brought it up to the boil to sterilise it, covered it with cling film and insisted on walking back down to the local watering hole.

I started writing this blog while we were there and fully intended to finish and post it from before we left, but our gardener, Perran, lately the father of a very, very new baby boy Aron, arrived so we just had to help him celebrate didn’t we? And we did, very assiduously. That’s why the blog is so late!

Good Sleep, Drug Therapy and Old Friends.

Whoopee, with the able assistance of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen I managed to get almost eight hours, fever free sleep. Bliss, and I feel so much better for it. I am still suffering some post poisoning symptoms, they will take ages to clear, but with judicious drug dosages they should settle down in a week or so.

On the positive side it is a salutary reminder that the gluten intolerance is severe and not my imagination as some people imply and even tell me from their position of verbal diarrhoea, non expertise. It beats me a) why would I want to imagine such severe reactions and b) who gives these shits the right to make such a judgement? These are the same kind of people who tell me that I can always have a banana instead of a meal (do I look like a chimpanzee? No don’t answer that!) Or they tell me that a little bit won’t matter, that I can take a day off now and again, that I am being difficult, or worse still give me a lecture about what I should eat. If ever you read a newspaper report about me committing murder or a serious assault, you will understand why!

The new restaurant didn’t poison me so we know we have a safe haven there, though they could use the lesson in desserts that Annette suggested I give them. I might just push my luck and do so.

We have decided that next time we go we will walk there. It will take about half an hour, then I can have wine with the meal, then we can perambulate back, call in at a few bar restaurants on the way to check out eating possibilities there then totter home having made a day of it. That will be fun.

We spent a very pleasant evening with our Dutch friends and neighbours last night. It was the kind of evening where revelations about our four equally traumatic pasts were shared because we have learned to trust each other and have made the next move in bonding. Robert and Marijke are both very interesting and Rob is a good raconteur. He is 75, Marijke is 77, and she is a living testament to the fact that that old age does not preclude glamour.

Robert was born in Indonesia when it was still the Dutch East Indies and he spent most of his adult life working all over the world. In fact he has only spent eight years of his entire life in The Netherlands. Thus he has an endless supply of fascinating stories to tell. Especially fascinating are the stories of when he was stationed in Burma at a time when it was still a closed country, so the only way officials could ensure that he was accepted was to make him a commissioned officer in the Burmese Army.

Robert’s house testifies to his love of the Far East, for it is full of Far Eastern antiquities. Marijke’s apartment testifies to her love of Dutch antique furniture and ornaments, all these in spite of the fact that she hates The Netherlands. Both their accommodation and their experiences help to make them interesting to spend time with. Their gardens evidence their Dutch heritage. They are lush and beautifully tended. We had a lovely, bonding evening there, one that we will no doubt repeat before the end of our stay.

Today we had lunch with our English friends and neighbours, Keith and Audrey. They come from Keighley, the town in England that I used to represent as a District Councillor, so that is always a good conversation starter. Keith is President of AFPO, The Association Of Foreign Property Owners, and he and his AFPO colleagues do a sterling job representing their members. There are always a whole host of anecdotes that come out of that every time we meet.

Keith, bless him, offered to do the driving and I gratefully accepted. They took us to a restaurant in Teulada via a route that I will never be able to replicate and because we have only ever been to Teulada via a more conventional main road route, I have no idea where in Teulada it is located. Thank goodness Garrath got one of their cards so that we can use satnav to locate it.

The people at the restaurant had been checked out by Keith & Audrey before to see if they could cater for me. They were true to their word, fully understood my needs and catered very well indeed. Patatas Fritas (French Fries) are a no-no for me when they fry battered and other floury things in the same fryer so when other people has Patatas Fritas with their main course, I had grilled vegetables. Even though I would sell my soul for an uncontaminated plate of Patats Fritas, I was content with the healthy alternative – well, sort of! Joy of joys, I actually got a dessert for a change, and a very nice dessert it was too, a light and very flavourful, home made chocolate mousse. I consider that part of my five a day. After all, chocolate is made of beans.

After lunch we returned to Keith & Audrey’s house for coffee, tea and liqueurs, and to catch up on the gossip. Keith and Audrey are from the opposite side of the political spectrum to us so there is always a very lively political debate, invariable conducted on their terrace. Unfortunately their terrace is a much favoured location for every possible variety of snickety, snackety, horrible bitey thing in Spain so the lively debate was punctuated by frequent applications of Fenergan, the magic cream that subdues the ferocity of insect bites.

We terminated the visit at 19.45, made our way back to the house and settled in for a quiet evening of blog writing and planning for tomorrow. Garrath has promised to sort a computer problem for Keith, I have to negotiate with the builder’s front man, Abdellah, to get some lighting improvements done and I have chutney to prepare. Lunch will be at the local cheapie that caters for me very well, again with grilled vegetables instead of Patatas Fritas, then who knows? Well actually I do, a jaunt down to the local watering hole. After all we haven’t been there for two days. Their profits must be well down!

Broken Sleep, Weird Dreams, New Eateries, Old Friends, 29.09.2015

Unsurprisingly in view of yesterday’s poisoning I had a troubled night’s sleep. I shall spare you the most gruesome details. Suffice to say that along with them I had weird and troubling dreams and woke in a fever at 04.10. I’m guessing that was when last night’s doses of liquid anaesthesia and ibuprofen wore off. After an hour or so of drinking tea and distracting myself on the internet I went back to bed and got a few more hours of feverish, dream punctuated sleep.

I wish that the jokers who cause these episodes had to go through all the pain and distress that they cause me. Maybe that way they would take the matter more seriously. Whatever, what can’t be cured must be endured so on with the day, albeit slowly and cautiously with the first of the day’s stops being the Farmacia to buy some Paracetamol to calm down the fevers and ease the pain.

The weather is looking a bit iffy and there is a 40% chance of rain between 14.00 and 16.00 and up to 50% chance of rain between 19.00 and midnight. I just love the weather app on my Apple watch! During the first rain risk period we will try out the new place for a leisurely lunch. Fingers crossed a) that they feed me safely and b) that we don’t lose the bloody umbrella again! In addition to my other duties I have to act as the external memory module for he who has a hole in his head, and as one who loses her cup of tea several times a day, and forgets to pick up the shopping list, I’m not very good at it. Inadequate as I am in that role, I am his sole supporter so he will just have to make do.

Speaking of rain I was most amused when perambulating down Partida La Fossa in the rain yesterday. The traders in the open fronted shops had replaced the mannequins with bikinis on with ones wearing plastic macs, then when the Sun came out again, whipped them in and put the bikinied mannequins out again. That’s marketing for you.

We bought Paracetamol tablets at the Farmacia then walked on to the restaurant only to find that I couldn’t take the damned tablets because they contain starch. It is a good thing that I read the micro writing before taking any or I would have made the effects of yesterday’s poisoning a lot worse. I discovered the danger of medicines after having had abdominal surgery in The Yorkshire clinic. They gave me Tramadol tablets and in addition to all the pain of the surgery I got the bloating, cramps and other nasty stuff from the tablets. It was only Garrath’s extensive research on the internet that revealed what the problem was. While food manufacturers are compelled to display exact details of ingredients, drug manufacturers are not. Most tablets contain binding ingredients one of which is starch and this can be wheat starch and that contains gluten.

The 40% chance of rain forecast between 14.00 and 16.00 came to pass while we were in the new-to-us restaurant. We think that the Spanish word lluvia means rain. It doesn’t. It means torrential downpour. As with many coastal Spanish restaurants the main eating area is outside under a roll out roof and with fabric & acrylic walls that can be rolled down or up as appropriate. These are fine but when subjected to a heavy downpour like today it is like sitting inside a snare drum played by Ginger Baker on speed.

The restaurant El Minarete is frequented by well to do Spaniards as well as the visitors and expats who can afford their prices. The menu is extensive and expensive but well worth it. The only down side, no dessert for me. They did offer me fruit but I declined politely, mainly because I don’t know the Spanish for “That is an ingredient, not a dessert.” So I did my usual spectator at the feast trick as Garrath waded his way through a spectacular three chocolate tart with fruit, chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream.

We had parked the car quite a long walk away so walked along Partida La Fossa. Fortunately the Farmacia was still open so we were able to go in and explain the problem. The young pharmacist was very helpful, he researched until he found a brand of Paracetamol that contained maize starch and we bought that. Significantly the one that could poison me was €2.30 while the safe one was only 63 cents! See I’m cheap to keep – no expensive desserts and cheapie tablets.

After a brief sojourn to the supermarket for GF (gluten free) cornflakes, GF bread, Mediterranean yogurt and a GF dessert for me. Fortunately Mercadona (the supermarket chain) is the most GF aware retail venue that I have come across, ever, anywhere, so they cater for my needs very well, and it is just down the road from us.

Garrath declared that we were in need of post retail trauma therapy so I drove us to the local watering hole for tea, coffee and water. The stay was cut short when another bunch from Essex came it for a high volume, group squawk! Never was their a truer saying that this –

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Guess what this bunch were talking about – people, LOUDLY, and sex of course. The conversation, such as it was, was very loud and competitive with everyone squawking at once and nobody listening. I am firmly of the belief that there is a correlation between the volume at which people converse and their intelligence. The dumber they are, the louder they are. We were glad to get out of there with our eardrums intact.

Back home and we got a phone call from our Dutch friends and neighbours so now we are off for a pleasant evening of catch-up conversation. We will defy the saying by talking about ideas, events and people!

Thunderstorms, Food Processors and Being Poisoned.

The day started rather spectacularly with another thunderstorm so we stood in our jim-jams and watched the free fireworks show in an enormous, classic Anvil-shaped cloud. I managed to get shots of the cloud but I am clueless about how some people manage to get shots of lightning. I’m guessing that it involves tripods and long exposures and since I didn’t bring the tripod that would be problematic. Ah well, I’ll leave it to those who can and just watch the show.

It was a blood Moon last night but here it happened between 02.00 and 06.00 when we were safely tucked up in bed, I missed getting shots of that. There was also another factor involved here – I am useless at Moon shots! Again, best to leave it to those who can.

I did get a few rare-as-rocking-horse-pooh shots though. After a rather unsatisfactory lunch (more of that later) we took a stroll down the Partida La Fossa. It was raining so I got a shot of the completely empty beach! We have been coming here to restore my mother’s property twice a year since 2005 and I have visited many times before that. Amazingly this is the first time that I have seen the beach totally empty, even at night, hence my describing the shots as rare-as-rocking-horse-pooh. A few seconds after the rain stopped and the Sun came out the beach babes were back, essential beach kit in tow, striving for the best bits of sand.

Our first morning venture out was to the local watering hole so that Garrath could use their free WIFI to top up the data sim in the MIFI widget (technophobes skip this bit.) We took the umbrella of course, because it was still raining. Anyway, two cups of tea later the mission was accomplished and we moved on to the supermarket, minus the shopping list that we had left behind! It later became obvious that we had left something else behind – the umbrella! Garrath justified this with

“I’ve got a hole in my head,” but I have no such excuse for leaving the shopping list behind.

This poor weather week is when I will be making chutney and with the amount of fruit we have in the freezer That will involve the chopping of lots of onions, not a task to relished (yes that pun was deliberate!) Rather than do that by hand I decided that I need a food processor so we went into town to find one. For some weird and wonderful reason food processors are a rarity in Spain so it was quiet a traipse to find one. We did of course, and a really brilliant one too. It has the usual processor bowl, a blender goblet, a centrifugal juicer, a citrus juicer, metal and plastic blades, a cream whipper, slicing and grating blades of various sizes. It has to be the most all-singing, all dancing food processor that I have ever come across, so much so that I will replace my current one in the UK with an identical model when I get home.

After purchasing that we returned home to unload all the purchased goodies then back to the local watering hole to see if the umbrella was still there and, because Garrath fancied a pizza, to see if they could accommodate my needs. The umbrella was still there exactly where Garrath had left it but when we asked about the possibility of a gluten free meal for me there was an obvious lack of understanding which is always a bad sign. The waitress did offer to provide me with a meal of grilled fish or grilled chicken and lettuce. Unfortunately I don’t know the Spanish for “Jeez, have you any idea how many times I get offered that shit?” Her lack of understanding was such that it was obvious that nobody would think to clean the grill before cooking my food so we politely declined and left.

Why oh why do so many caterers offer me dry grilled chicken or fish with lettuce? I really cannot think of many things that are less appetising and there are no carbohydrates in there at all. I ****ing despair!

Garrath was still determined to have a pizza so we went to the beach front Italian place and went through the same bloody pantomime. I was assured that I would be safe with Carpaccio which is a raw beef dish so I chose that. It comprised of paper thin slices of raw beef, tiny sprinklings of Parmesan and finely chopped celery, four thin slices of raw mushroom and a glaze that I took to be balsamic vinegar. Hmmmmm, pleasant enough but not a lot there so I ordered a side of grilled vegetables. That comprised four thin slices of aubergine, one mushroom and half a tomato. It was less than satisfactory and stupidly expensive for what it was. Garrath got his pizza but that too was very disappointing. Not going there again.

We went for a wander down Partida La Fossa where I got the empty beach shots, and it gradually became obvious that the restaurant had managed to poison me. Either they hadn’t bothered to check the glaze and that contained modified starch or they has grilled the vegetables on a plancha that hadn’t been cleaned after bread or something floury had been grilled on it. There is even a possibility that the raw beef wasn’t simply sliced beef after all but some kind of composite glued together with modified starch. All the usual symptoms that identify gluten ingestion came and as usual steadily got worse, so that by 17.00 I was in serious distress. Deep joy, this will take aaaaaaaaages to clear.

One good thing did come out of the trip along Partida La Fossa though. Garrath said that we ought to look for other restaurants to eat at and not far from the one that poisoned me we came across one with an extensive and interesting menu. The patron asked if we needed a table and we explained that we had already eaten but were just checking the menu. There was something about his manner that inspired confidence so I showed him my explanatory card in Spanish and asked if they could accommodate my needs. His response was perfect. Roughly translated –

“Sure, no problem, we will make sure that your food is prepared in a different part of the kitchen.” That showed a level of awareness that we haven’t come across since we went to the AIC (Italian Coeliac Society) registered restaurant in Venice. We live in hope.

The thunder clouds have now gone, the sky is bright blue, the Sun is shining and I feel crap! Time to go to the local watering hole for liquid anaesthesia!

Dominoes, Paella and Thunderstorms.

Dominoes, Paella and Thunderstorms.

A lovely, lazy Sunday was planned because the weather forecast predicted rain, but for most of the day the Sun managed to beat the clouds into submission. We are getting bored with the pantomimic ‘You choose, you choose’ conversation so we quickly agreed to go to Las Barcas in Calpe Port, play dominoes (it is a ritual with us there) then have lunch there.

This time we decided not to confuse the staff with our Lancashire dominoes set (they go up to double nine) or the bewildering triangular dominoes. Instead we took the standard set. Several cups of tea, glasses of water and games of doms later we moved into the restaurant for lunch.

Las Barcas is a favourite venue for Paella and the quality of the Paella is evidenced by the number of Spanish families who go there to eat it. Sometimes you can’t hear yourself think for the sound of the Paella pans being scraped to get the best bits off the bottom. It is a perfectly acceptable Spanish pastime and after consuming a lovely, healthy Special Salad each, we cheerfully joined in this charming Spanish ritual.

There are so many rules surrounding Paella it is mind boggling. Bomba rice must be used. Nothing else will do. It should never, ever be stirred. The pan must only be shaken. That way the rice sticks to the bottom to create the umami crunch of the socarrat, the black crust that sticks to the bottom of the pan, ‘Valencian caviar’ as it is jokingly referred to. That is why the Paella is cooked and served in the paella pan.

Paella is traditionally a Valencian Sunday picnic dish cooked over a wood fire in the open, but nowadays Spanish people are busy so they prefer to go to as restaurant to eat it. It is never eaten in the evening and having consumed it many times for Sunday lunch we now fully understand why it is a lunch time dish. You definitely need a siesta after eating it!

Most paellas are the classic summer variety, containing rabbit, chicken, snails when they are in season, Valencian tomatoes, flat green ferradura beans and lima beans, but we had Paella Mixta that contained seafood as well. Don’t tell the rule makers or we will be drummed out of Communidad Valencia!

Suffice to say, the paella pan was scraped clean, every single grain of saffron infused rice was greedily scoffed, every item of seafood prised open and eaten and those rabbits and chickens did not die in vain. Deeeee-bloody-licious.

Amazingly we even managed a pudding (postre in Spanish.) For me that is a rare and very special experience. This wasn’t the usual raw fruit that I get offered. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, that’s an ingredient, not a pudding. No this was a proper pudding. Granted, my choice was very limited but the Arroz Con Leche (rice pudding) was lovely. I don’t like English rice pudding at all but the Spanish serve rice pudding chilled with cinnamon and it is lovely. All in all, this was a delightful repast, but maybe the ‘light’ in ‘delightful’ didn’t really apply.

We had a few more games of dominoes, more tea and coffee then the sky turned into a foreboding shade of navy blue so we paid up and left, just in time for me to realise that I didn’t know where the windscreen wiper controls were. Oops! Much fumbling and experimentation later I worked it out and got home with them on full pelt. It was a good thing that I had remembered to put the umbrella in the boot or poor Garrath would have been soaked to the skin opening the gate.

When we got inside we turned off all the electrical gadgetry (momentary withdrawal symptoms only assuaged by the knowledge that the storm could have burned them all out) then had the privilege of witnessing the most spectacular thunderstorm either of us have ever seen. It was stunning! The lightning was fabulous, the thunder deafening. The rain drummed on the roof like the best orchestral percussion section we have ever heard. Have you guessed by now that we both adore thunderstorms.

I have managed to get some terrific photographs of the water features that appeared in our garden. What once were steps became a waterfall. The patio became a pool. The drainage channel by the gate directed water to a stone that then became a fountain, both roads, front and back, became rivers. It was wonderful, joyful, natural and ooooooh sooooooo welcome. You could almost hear the trees sucking up the moisture in blissful gratitude, and the softer plants revelling in this much needed source of sustenance after a two year drought.

Somehow it always rains when we are here. See here –

We don’t mind. The ground needs it, the reservoirs need it and we are not made of sugar so we won’t dissolve! Whatever, it is predicted to be a rainy week so this is the week when I will do the preserving.

After the thunderstorm we both had the much needed, post Paella siesta, then guess what – off to the local watering hole.

Life is good!

Diversions & Distractions, Friday 25.09.2015

Diversions and Distractions, Friday 25.09.2015

The day started inauspiciously when we ran the bath and the water was muddy, obviously the result of the road works going on nearby to repair a water leak. It was supposed to be a hair washing day but I decided it would be best to pass on that, though Garrath did suggest that it might add some brown to my greying locks. No thanks Garrath, just accept me as I am!

We have read all the adverts for microdermabrasion treatments, therapeutic mud baths and the like so we had a bath anyway. The silt around here is iron rich and red so I like to think that we emerged from the bath looking a little more sun-kissed. Sadly the muddy water didn’t do much for my wrinkles and saggy bits so those adverts are definitely a con trick.

There is very little ripe fruit in the garden because the gardeners harvested it and put it into the freezer in preparation for our arrival so we went down to the freezer to explore breakfast possibilities. Harvested indeed, our freezer is a big one and it is full, very very full! There are Chillies, Strawberries, Pomegranates, Loquats, Figs, Seville Oranges, Lemons and Limes – lots and lots of Chillies, Strawberries, Pomegranates, Loquats, Figs, Seville Oranges, Lemons and Limes!

In the past I have spent days making jam, a rather laborious process. Chutney, on the other hand, is much easier and it keeps better so when the predicted rains come next week I shall be making copious quantities of ‘Chuck It In Chutney.’ The cheap Chinese shop sells large glass jars at a reasonable price so bottling will be easier than usual. I will, of course, have to supply all our neighbours as I always do, but I will think of a more appealing title for the preserve to put on their labels. Ideas for a more appealing title are welcome.

The weather forecast for next week is rain, rain, thunder, lightning, and yet more rain so photography jaunts are out of the question and beach shots are unlikely. So a week devoted to preserving nature and the gardeners’ bounty will be good use of time. There has been a two year drought around here so the rains will be most welcome. I like the Chinese saying, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.’ I’m just pleased that Garrath and I are still around to enjoy the rain, though a little concerned that we don’t have any wellies here. What is Spanish for Wellies and where can we buy some?

The first jaunt of the day was delayed because our exit road was closed by the guys who made our bath muddy. There followed the most convoluted alternative exit route done mainly by guess work, one that I forgot to repeat in reverse on the way back so yet another weird and wonderful alternate route had to be engaged in, via the supermarket. That water leak is really challenging my navigation and driving skills.

After the enforced diversion we got to the cheap Chinese shot to exchange a mistakenly purchased charger. That done we parked in Plaza Major, and got some tedious housekeeping tasks done. The mifi widget was topped up at Movistar so that we continue being in-touch techno junkies, Garrath went to his Spanish bank where the staff can give the world a lesson in helpfulness and charm, we went to the solicitors to arrange payment of the non resident taxes, I managed to pop into a shoe shop and buy some shoes, then to another shop to buy a matching handbag. We then had a cuppa at our favourite in-town where we discussed and decided on the big decision of the day – where to have lunch.

Garrath, working on the principle that there are no pockets in shrouds, has determined that no cooking will be done this trip (apart from me preserving a freezer full of fruit that is) and that we will lunch out every day. Mejias Tres was chosen and we got there just in time to beat the queues that characterise their lunch service. The food is simply cooked and good, the service quick and efficient, the price incredibly reasonable and they cater for me beautifully, bless them.

There used to be a common belief, usually among the sniffy English, that the Spanish are lazy. It is utter rubbish. I have never seen anyone work so hard, fast and efficiently as Angel, Eva, Danny and the new waitress whose name we do not yet know, and the work ethic generally here is very good. Our builders are exemplars of that. Every job they have done for us – and there have been some very, very big ones – has been done very well and exactly to the deadline they gave us. The Spanish can give the English a lesson in working hard.

After lunch we took a leisurely stroll in the bright sunshine down Playa De La Fossa again. This is where I started my photographic mission to take photographs that I will post and dedicate to Lifesnapper, a fellow photographer who posts images of scantily clad, pretty, slender young women all the time. I am constantly chiding him and suggesting that he should open his mind and learn to appreciate the charms of more mature and more rounded women, so my photographs are devoted giving him a lesson in this. It is fun to have a photographic mission and really focusses the mind.

Tea and sea at Spasso and photographing scantily clad, corpulent beach belles over, we meandered back home via the supermarket and yet another bewildering, convoluted alternate route only to find that they had opened the road again. AAAAARGH!

Then there was nothing for it but to repair to the local walk-to watering hole for liquid refreshment, sneaky candid photos via the iPad, sketching and people watching. There will be an illustrated verse to follow. Well refreshed we tottered home to a light supper and bed by 23.00.

Its a tough life out here!

Quiet Calpé Day

Today we decided that we would have a quiet Calpé day. We went into the Hiper Calp Chinese store and sorted out the bedside charger purchased yesterday that didn’t fit.

Then we went and parked in Plaza Mayor and used ‘shanks’s pony’ to get around the banks for cash and do some ‘messages’. These included calling into Linda Townsend’s and finding out what this year’s property tax is. Arranged to pay it via internet banking (and did while sitting in Spasso looking at a beautiful blue see). We then went to Blasco where Lynne bought some winter shoes for home before going into Cafe Dany’s for a cuppa and aceatunas. When we came ut of there we called into Galeria Aitana looking for a winter bag in blue for Lynne. I ended up buying two lovey leather bags. A larger US mail style one for home and a smaller ‘man bag’ style for here that will hold my iPad as well as wallets, etc.

We then headed to Mejias III for lunch, arriving around 13:45 and getting in just before the rush started. And it carried on till 3pm when we finally left. Digestion of lunch was aided by a stroll along the promenade to Spasso, where several cuppas were consumed. We love it, sitting looking at the sea and watching life walk by.

Laundry Day Spanish Style

Laundry Day Spanish Style

After a good, wine assisted sleep last night I got up at 06.00 knowing that we had a tough day ahead – laundry day. Ablutions, breakfast, bejewelling, perfuming and painting the face to make me recognisable completed, we were ready to face the daunting task. Its hard but it had to be done, principally because I had no clean, lightweight and light coloured LONG trousers to wear. Why long trousers you ask? Well the snickety snackety horrible bitey things

that are flourishing in the garden this year are doing so with me as the special item on their menu! Once again my legs are covered in bites and the Port wine stains that go with them and one ankle has a balloon like swelling. I love animals, I love all kinds of animals and birds, reptiles, insects I love them all, except for Cockroaches and these evil little bastards!

Back to the tedious task of laundry. We had collected it all, bagged it all, now it was time to face the evil deed. So I started – the car of course – drove down to Lavanderia Ana where Garrath handed it over, got the receipt slip and an instruction to collect it at 14.00. That part of the task over we repaired to the local bar to sip tea and coffee and take advantage of their free wifi. From there we went to our favourite supermarket for a few bits and bobs then to the Chinese shop for more essential gadgets for all our techno toys. From there I went to a Farmacia to buy – yes you’ve guessed – insect repellant! The Farmacia is very near to another favourite bar restaurant so we popped in there for tea & coffee and to wait until the 02.00 collection time at which point we collected the freshly laundered items from Lavanderia Ana.

Jeez, that was hard work and it is not over yet. We are now at the port where we had a splendid lunch at Las Barcas (house salad for us both then Swordfish with Salsa Verde for me, Hake Basque style for Garrath.) When we leave here we will have to go back to the house, run the gauntlet with those evil snickety snackety horrible bitey things to see if the repellant really works, then we have to unload the clean laundry and put it all away.

I have no doubt that we will need post laundry trauma therapy after that. They provide that service at the local bar at very reasonable hourly rates and they throw in wifi for free. All this and blistering sunshine to boot. How do we cope?

The Hire Car – ZZ Top

The Hire Car – ZZ Top.

Once we landed at Alicante we made our way to the coach pickup area and within a short time were picked up by Victoria rent A Car’s shuttle bus. Paperwork was sorted, payment made and one of their guys brought round the car we had hired – a Peugot 308 Diesel automatic. Garrath has had his driving license revoked so now for the first time in Spain all the driving is down to me. Last time we hired an Opel Corsa automatic that was so dreadful that I flatly refused to drive it. I called it the leapfrog machine because the gear changes were so clunky. So naturally I approached driving this unknown beast with some trepidation.

We can not have been more than a kilometre away from the hire centre when I said of the car,

“Garrath, I want one!” Honestly, it drives like a dream, especially on the motorway. Gear changes in the six speed gearbox are as smooth as silk, the gadgetry is easy and problem free, the aircon is fabulous, the seats are comfortable and the boot space more than adequate. It doesn’t quite have the capacity to be flung around tight corners at high speed like the Seat Ibiza Automatic that we have loved in the past (OK I admit it, it could so I did) but it is a wonderful ride.

There is only one problem with it and it is potentially a very serious one. Somehow, without you being aware of it, it manages to grab your accelerator foot and gently press it down so that before you know it you are doing 140 kph in a 120 kph limit. The sound insulation is so fabulous that you simply do not notice. Honest guv, it was the car, not me! This is why I have named it ZZ Top and anyone who has driven on a motorway whilst playing ZZ Top will understand why. I swear that Peugot must have employed the members of ZZ Top to help with the accelerator design and sound insulation.

I had thought that having to do all the driving would be a toil but I now know that it will be an absolute pleasure. Now all I have to do is get a guarantee from Garrath that because I am chauffeuring him, he will pay half of the speeding fines!

Spain Autumn Trip – day 1

Spain trip Autumn 2015 – Journal, day one.

After a very early night (20.30) I got up at 02.00 which is a pretty good sleep for me. It allowed me to post a series of 15 photos of stormy skies on ePHOTOzine, the kind I hope we will be leaving behind for three weeks and three days. What usually happens with the Autumn trip though is that the UK gets an Indian Summer while Calpé gets its first rains. Not that it matters much to us. After all, we are not beach types and it never rains in bars. It never rains in El Corte Ingles either!

Packing quintuple checked, house checked, paperwork checked, scrubbed clean, bejewelled and cosmetically enhanced, I left for the airport with Garrath at 05.15. The very pleasant AA cab driver punctuated the ride with just enough conversation to make it pleasant but not enough to be intrusive. I wonder how many racists ride in his cab, receive his excellent, polite service and still hang on to their ridiculous prejudices?

During the waiting time at the airport I finally managed to complete bizarrely complex the online banking registration process for my bank account. Once allowed into the hallowed grounds within their electric fence that surrounds my money, I found that the service I required wasn’t available there so I had to phone. I successfully overcame what seemed like a squillion automated voice obstacles and got through to a real person, a very charming Indian lady who informed me that my call was unnecessary as I no longer have to inform them when I go overseas. AAAAAAAAAAARGH! I hate banks!

The boring, boarding process proceeded unremarkably as did taxiing and take off. Typically, the weather was gorgeous! The airport and the plane provides masses of sketch book and acerbic verse material. The usual quota of garrulous airheads is scenting the cabin with the perfume of their freshly bleached hair, groups of ‘Us Lads’ are noisily anticipating a holiday of which they will remember very little, older women with cheap perms and badly fitting false teeth are trying to engage their disaffected husbands in facile small talk – same old same old.

Fortunately, this being Wednesday, there are none of the Stag and Hen parties that make Thursday and Friday flights miserable. Jet 2 have tightened their policies considerably thank goodness. They now have a police presence on the “troublesome flights” (air stewardess speak) and those flights are ‘dry’ – no alcohol served, so hopefully when we are forced by circumstance to take one of the “troublesome flights” it will be less obnoxious.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with men in tutus and wings carrying magic wands, men dressed as Nuns, or anyone sporting bizarre fancy dress. I wish all Jellys, Traceys and Kayleighs well with their forthcoming nuptials and if they want to dress up prior to the big event, good on them. To each their own say I. What I do have a problem with is drunken, airhead morons trying to involve me in their noisy idea of fun and completely denying me privacy and quiet during the flight. To my utter delight the complete absence of stag and hen dos has made the flight out bliss.

In one of our favourite beachside bars now, drinking tea and coffee I might add. We had lunch at Mejias Tres then instead of going shopping – it can wait – took a stroll down Playa De La Fossa. It is very warm and sunny but with a delightful off the sea breeze. Sunshine, green tea and sea, what more could I possibly want?

We will prise ourselves away from this idyllic setting eventually, do the necessary shopping, return to the house which is fresh smelling and leak proof, thankfully. Phew! Then after putting the shopping away we will, no doubt, meander down to the local neighbourhood bar to take in the atmosphere and the odd drop of alcoholic beverage. Its tough but somebody has to do it!