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

The Infection


Sue has some new students arriving today for a session of English speaking practice, so I’ve done the enlightened, supportive, modern-man thing and buggered off in case I’m given a job. That’s why I find myself in my usual cafetería but at the wrong time of day; instead of half-asleep workmen exchanging their grunts and nods over breakfast, this time those around me are the younger, noisier, late-lunch clientèle, each with one eye on his or her conversation partner, and the other on the incoming SMS or email messages on their now indispensible “es-mart-fonn”. ... 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

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

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

La Cosecha


It’s olive harvesting season.

Including the bucketful I’ve just collected from our single olive tree, which Sue is currently preparing for its journey through soaking and pickling in brine, we’ve picked perhaps three quarters of our modest annual harvest; the fifteen or so kilos will be plenty for our own consumption and for small gifts for friends and family. We’re lucky to be enjoying some sunny winter days, so her work is being carried out on the terrace, in sunglasses and shirtsleeves, while I inspect the myriad of tiny scrapes and scratches my hands and arms have collected while working in the tree. No major damage. Nothing that one or two of Sue’s beers won’t fix, anyway. Come sundown the temperature will drop like a stone and we’ll be scurrying indoors to install ourselves around the wood stove and sample a couple of bottles. ... 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

El Taller Mecánico


Even with directions, the mechanic’s workshop proves tricky to find. After the sports hall take a left, go down the cobbled slope, turn right at the salón de fiestas, along the street, and it’s down there somewhere on your left.

The premises, when I finally track them down, hide behind two adjacent garage doors in an old residential terrace of unremarkable, white-rendered buildings. The doors are open, a radio is playing fuzzily, and a couple of vehicles stick their rumps out on to the poorly-surfaced street. ... read more

About Time?

The time of day in Spain has always seemed to me a little anachronistic. All of the surrounding countries, such as Portugal, UK and Morocco, are on Western European time (UTC), as geography dictates; they are all situated around, or slightly to the west of the Greenwich Meridian.

Spain, on the other hand, adheres to Central European time (UTC+01:00) as do France, Italy and Germany, despite the fact that Spain lies, for the most part, west of Greenwich.

Current Economy Minister Luis de Guindos wants that changed, and has issued a recommendation (PDF) that the Spanish government consider switching to the more appropriate zone. ... read more

El Zahorí


Behind our house the land rises quickly into the Sierra de Peñas Blancas, an east-to-west ridge of exposed rocky outcrops. Clambering up there during the height of summer would be, at best, uncomfortable – there’s no shade at all – but with the onset of more autumnal weather I decide to take a short hike up the stony track that winds through the gorse and scrub to reacquaint myself with the rugged landscape up there.

It’s hard to imagine how anybody could make any use of this wilderness, but some hardy souls eke out a living of sorts, grazing sheep or goats. The occasional square sign denoting a particular tract as coto deportivo de caza (hunting land) serves to remind me that anybody else I run into up here may well be armed. I congratulate myself on having worn a bright colour. ... read more