The Language Of Loaf


I’m not sitting here doing absolutely nothing, even if that’s how it looks. I’m drinking coffee, listening to the mimosa trees buzz with bees, and watching the ants.

Our garden seems to be home to millions of them every year. Most people count them as a pest – as I’m sure they are – but they make fascinating viewing. A two-lane ant highway is currently marching resolutely across the back terrace, the outbound ones empty, those returning each carrying a seed, a husk, or a piece of twig. I’m sure none of them know why they’re doing it, but they do it just the same. I love work – as the saying goes – I could watch it all day. ... read more

Lots Of Things Not To Do


The road to hell may indeed be paved with good intentions, but at least it got paved, so I reckon it’s about time my own ‘good intentions’ were placed into some sort of order. That’s why today finds me wandering around the property with a ballpoint and a notepad, diligently documenting what the locals would call desperfecciones. (The rural Spanish are not as easily intimidated as I am. A collapsed roof, a stone wall reduced to rubble, or a half-acre field flooded by a blocked culvert will be casually dismissed by them as a desperfección). ... read more

Las Lluvias


I try to lower my wide-brimmed hat and pull up my coat collar even further, but I know I’m wasting my time. Not only is the rain now persistent enough to find a way through any undone fastener or poorly-waxed seam, but I’m already sufficiently wet through for it not to really matter.

Wet winter days can be tough here in the Spanish campo. Back in the UK, cold, wet weather was pretty much expected from around September to April (though as this replaced the slightly less cold, wet weather of May to August, the exact moment of switch-over could be hard to spot). Here, in contrast, the climate has geared our life much more toward outdoors, and these days of dismal deluge that seem to appear from nowhere often leave me, as has happened today, pacing bored around the finca, finally deciding – or being told by Sue, somewhere around my twentieth lap – to go out for a walk. Or, in fact, anywhere. ... read more

Terms Of Surrender


I want to make it clear that this is not, in any way, a defeat.

It’s simply a tactical withdrawal, after which we’ll regroup and return stronger, better prepared, and with a winning strategy. Sometimes you have to arrive at a negotiation; lose a little to gain a little more. Now the charts and diagrams have all been pored over, strengths and weaknesses assessed, what-if scenarios played out in grim detail. Now it’s time for feet on the ground. So with boots on, radio activated and earphones in, the moment has come to enter the arena. ... read more

Sticking To The Program


It’s quite a while since I last came to Villafranca De Los Barros, even though the little town is quite close by. But here I am today, sitting on a bench in one of the many plazas, trying to read the instructions on the packaging of a newly-bought gadget while vaguely distracted by the conversation of two women next to me about their plans for the upcoming Las Candelas celebrations. Although it’s pleasant enough here in the sunshine the winter wind is sharp, so the late-morning shoppers and early-finishing workers are scurrying by on their daily schedules wrapped up in scarves and gloves. ... read more

Having It All


“So how are things in sunny Spain? You don’t want to be back here in the UK, it’s miserable” my old colleague observes, his on-screen lips not quite moving in sync with the words.

I tend to agree with him, though probably not in the way that he means. A few minutes ago I had to turn off the UK news – not for the first time recently – because it was just too disappointing. Not the news itself, though that was grim enough. What really brought me down was the way attitudes seem to have changed, from talk of aspirations and ambitions to an incessant clamour about rights and demands, all fuelled by hysterical media channels whipping up irrational outrage and perceived entitlement. ... read more

The Charge of the Lite Brigade


In addition to stuffing the hire car’s glove box with paper maps, this time we’ve brought on our house-hunting mission a laptop PC and newfangled (for this time in 2006) route finding software. It’s the Lite version, given away free with some magazine or other, so on launching the program it’s always keen to remind me that some features may therefore be ‘missing, or limited in performance’. Maybe that’s why it drew a blank at breakfast time when we asked it the way to a small village called La Puebla de Sancho Perez, where we have a room reserved for tonight. The low-tech paper equivalent gets us there without incident, however. ... read more

The Guiri In The Red Suit

I’ve never been one for religions, myself.  Being too skeptical to have faith in anything (I’m not even completely convinced about the existence of Richard Dawkins), I’ve always held belief to be something that other people do, and that’s fine so long as they let me get out of the way first.  But even a card-carrying heathen like me has to be quietly impressed at some of the achievements; organised religions have built some cracking buildings, for example, and there’s nobody can hold a candle to them (ahem) for ceremony and ritual, whether you believe the rhetoric or consider it a work of fable. ... read more


“Maybe we should buy a mule.”

We have this conversation every time the car has to be inspected, repaired, insured or (in the most extreme and unthinkable of circumstances) cleaned. After all, we have the space, the garden could use the manure, and we live an easily clip-cloppable distance from the village. It all makes so much sense. A mule would be appropriate.

We fantasise light-heartedly about building her a corral beyond the chicken coup, grazing her up the mountainside, maybe getting hold of a cart or a two-wheeled gig. ... read more

Under Instruction

I didn’t quite make it to the cafetería before the incoming squall hit the village. Not only am I now uncomfortably damp around the edges, but I’ve been relegated to the only available seat; next to the table where a small girl is treating her parents – and the rest of us – to a squealing, foot-stamping tantrum. I might just launch into one of my own in a minute.

To take my mind off the commotion I’m staring distractedly at the colour-printed A3 flyer that’s fallen out of the daily paper. One of the offers has attracted my attention; a sleek, silver-grey monolith that boasts (it says here) WiFi connectivity, USB 3.0, 200 mega-wossnames of data transfer, plus a whole host of acronyms announcing its many other talents. I want to buy one, I really do. If only they’d tell me what the darned thing is. Hard drive? Router? Sandwich toaster? I have no idea. The vendors have a catchphrase about not being tonto, but clearly I am; and I’m supposed to be tech-savvy. ... read more