Por el Veranillo de San Miguel

As I cycle slowly back into our home village of Alange I pass, as I would in many an Extremeñan pueblo, a row of elderly men sitting on a shady bench. Same men, same seats, every day that the weather permits. Due to the order-arms drill of their walking sticks and the judgemental gaze with which they greet every passing vehicle, Sue and I have come to refer to them as the Firing Squad. I wouldn’t call them that in public. Some of these old boys have already seen enough of such things.

Clouds have built steadily through this September afternoon, but the pavements and buildings radiate the heat they’ve been collecting all through the day. It’s still unmistakably summer weather, though the equinox has come and gone. My few companions on the road have been ancient, asthmatic tractors moving barely faster than I do, their battered trailers packed with melons or the last of the grapes. I decide to stop for a moment and take an unrewarding slurp from the water bottle, the contents now warm as bathwater. A nod is offered to the assembled company with a self-evident “hace calor, no? ... read more

All Greek to Me

Many people we know can’t imagine why we chose to come and live the life that we do here in Extremadura. I tend to waffle, offering some trite homily about seeking a simpler life, or una vida mas tranquila if it happens to be a Spaniard who’s asking. They look unconvinced, and probably wonder from whom or what we ran away.

The real reason behind my boiler-plate baloney is that I don’t have a cogent answer. Maybe it’s time I tried to work it out. I’ll start with what our presence here is not about. ... read more

Boundaries

My morning cafe con leche arrives as I sit, as I do most mornings, on the terrace of my local cafe bar.

“Thank you.”

A slight sigh prefixes the “Thank you, caballero”.

“Oh. Yes …. sorry.”

Even after seven years, I can’t lose the ever-so-British habit of constantly giving thanks or apologies. The local camareros don’t really understand why we do it – especially when we’re the customer, for goodness’ sake, why are we thanking them? But they are used to me by now, and ignore it as just one more guiri eccentricity. I still can’t bring myself to summon their attention as their countrymen would, though, with an abrupt “oiga!”, even though I know it will cause no offence whatsoever. Somehow it’s just not cricket. ... read more

Baggage Allowance

My old Mum, may she rest in peace, loved history. Not dinosaurs, Piltdown Man or the tombs of the Pharaohs, but the sort of costume history that the BBC does so well. Always with her nose in a Jean Plaidy or Georgette Heyer novel, she could recite England’s royal lineage, including the date of every birth, marriage and death, right back to Eldrich the Flatulent (or somebody; OK, so I wasn’t a great student). She desperately wished that she lived in Bronte’s world, not Whicker’s.

When I felt strong enough, I used to point out that life back then wasn’t like it appears on TV. It was hard, cruel and usually short. Even if she could travel back in time, she wouldn’t be able to take with her any home comforts like Tetley Tea, Swiss Roll or Breakfast With Wogan. ... read more

In The Kingdom of Far Far Away

It’s summer 2005, and our first visit to Extremadura. Traversing Cáceres province in our trusty hired Kia Picanto, we stop for a coffee with acquaintances of ours, a young Dutch couple who have recently bought a small hotel. They intend to let modest rooms to hikers on the Via de la Plata.

The business isn’t open to the public yet, and family have arrived from Holland to help with the necessary work. Dad is up a ladder fitting kitchen lights, while dogs run around playing in the empty bar area. Some hikers turn up out of the blue, seeking a meal; none can be offered, but it strikes us all as a good sign for the future of the enterprise. We celebrate with instant coffee and digestives. ... read more

Bad Language

“Pass me the, er, wotsit?”

“The what?”

“Thing-with-buttons-make-telly-work. You know, mando a distancia.”

“The remote.”

Gracias.”

Before we ever left the UK, it was clear that language would be a key factor in the success, or otherwise, of our expat adventure. We were, after all, intending to move to a rural region of Spain where the locals’ experience of foreign languages, customs and culture was little or none. We’d just have to immerse ourselves and get on with it. No excuses. ... read more