Infectious laughter IS the best medicine

Yesterday afternoon we went shopping as we have guests arriving. Guess what – the automated banking system went down THROUGHOUT THE TOWN, so nobody could make any purchase anywhere by bank card, nor withdraw cash from any machine. Which, when you have a heaped trolley of shopping and no cash or chequebook with you is rather inconvenient at the supermarket checkout.

Being a handbag-hater I had not taken mine with me, which meant that after driving around fruitlessly for half-an-hour trying to extract cash from machines around the town, TOH finally had to drive all the way home – about 8 miles – to find my handbag which contained the chequebook, while I stood beside the check-out for over an hour, watching more and more customers frustrated and thwarted by the failure of the system. The poor cashier became increasingly frazzled at having to explain to customers that they’d have to find an alternative method of payment. Although she asked the somewhat apathetic manager to either put up a notice or make an announcement so that customers were forewarned, he declined to do so.

So what should have been a 40-minute trip to town turned out to be over two hours.

When we arrived home I emptied the washing machine of the white wash I had put on earlier, only to find that somebody who uses a fine-tip ball  pen (i.e. not me) had thoughtfully left it in a pocket, creating a hideous black-grey tie-dye effect on my best sheets and towels which I don’t think is going to come out. Grrrrrrr.

Then I went to take down the coloured wash from the line, and stood in fresh wet dog poo. Could things get any worse?

In fact, no, because when I checked  my email there was one from the talented and very lovely Anne Day-Jones who has so beautifully narrated the audio version of Best Foot Forward, now available from Audible.


Anne Day-Jones

During the time we have been working on the recording, Anne has complained that she sometimes laughed so much it took her an unreasonably long time to record some passages. Her email attached an audio file of one of those occasions. It gives meaning to “laugh and the whole world laughs with you,” because listening to this instantly erased all the irritations and exasperations of the afternoon. Thanks, Anne! :D

Anne Day-Jones loses the plot 


My ten favourite books, and a few more

Stephanie at Blackbird Books has nominated me to name my all-time ten favourite books. Nothing too difficult there, Stephanie, just a matter of searching my mental database and picking out the best from a library of, I estimate, at least 6,000 books based on reading two a week every year since I was seven, and there have been periods where I have read at least a book a day.

Ten years ago, my choices would be different. In ten years time, they’ll more than likely be different again. But the following titles are those which come instantly to mind, all of them having been read in the last few years and having made a lasting impression, and all of them that I will definitely read again.  From my selection, you may notice that I don’t read “fluffy” books. I generally prefer a good, hard toffee to chew on, rather than a soft marshmallow that melts away too quickly. :D

The Impressionist, by Hari Kunzru. An enthralling tale of a pampered child who becomes an outcast and climbs his way back to the peak of respectability, using his chameleon-like personality to blend into the different cultures he moves in. The ending is an absolute knock-out.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. I fell in love with Dr Jones, world authority on the life cycle of the caddis fly, charged with the preposterous task of finding a way to introduce salmon fishing into the arid Yemen in order to foster relations between the British Government and a wealthy sheikh. I laughed until I wept. Not only hilarious, but biting satirical. Thank goodness I read the book before watching the film, which I thought was one of the worst adaptations ever and a travesty. And by the way, here is a review by somebody who seems somewhat confused:  “I FOUND it UTTERLY nonsensical and total rubbish though I Will admit a lot of its ideas did make sense.” Um? :)

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This is a tale of tragedy and terrible hardship. It’s harrowing. The treatment of the characters made my blood boil with the injustice and cruelty. But what I found so wonderful is the way that no matter what, the victims never lose their sense of humour and their loyalty to each other, and their spirits remain uncrushed. It’s not for people who want a “happy ever after” ending. But if you’re looking for an extraordinary tale, beautifully written, you won’t be disappointed.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve enjoyed all his books, of which this is my favourite. Set in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, it’s a sickening tale of the abuse of women, and it’s also story of love and self-sacrifice. Hosseini knows how to tell a gripping story.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Both funny and sad, I read this at one sitting, as Harold’s trip to the nearest letterbox becomes a pilgrimage from Devon to northern England to visit a dying friend. Ill-equipped, unsuitably dressed, Harold trudges doggedly onwards, reflecting on his unsatisfactory home life with his shrewish wife, hoping to meet his elusive son, and trying to shake off followers as his pilgrimage attracts media attention and he becomes a cult figure. I could really identify with his sore feet!

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I almost gave up on this because it started so s-l-o-w-l-y and I began to lose patience and think that nothing was ever going to happen. And then, suddenly, bang – I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. Shriver brings the characters to life – the cunning, psychotic son, the despairing mother, the doting, delusional father blind to his son’s faults, as the story builds to its frightful climax. A real page-turner.

Paris – the Novel by Edward Rutherfurd. A BIG book. A gripping saga of four French families from differing social classes, set in the City of Light. Drama, intrigue, and loads of history of the great city spanning several centuries from the Middle Ages to WWII.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Written for young adults, I know many ‘older’ adults like myself who simply love this trilogy. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian world, where the elite class live a life of pampered luxury and hedonism whilst the rest struggle to survive in brutal, impoverished conditions. (Ring any bells?) To punish these ‘lower classes’ for a mutiny many years previously, and entertain the elite, once a year 2 children from each of 12 ‘districts’ are selected to fight to the death in a virtual public arena. The last one standing brings glory and bounty to their district. That’s enough – read the books for yourself if you haven’t already!

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Set in Nigeria during the Biafran war, the fortunes and misfortunes of twin sisters, their friends and families. Brings home the horror of war in general, and civil war in particular. Totally gripping and beautifully written.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Bolsover. I read this with a touch of schadenfreude. I don’t really know why, but I couldn’t help enjoying the miseries and discomforts foisted on the unfortunate wife and children of the fire and brimstone bible-thumping missionary who dragged them all into the Congo, where not only is the land hostile, but so are the natives as they fight for Independence from Belgium. It made me laugh, although I don’t think that was the author’s intention. :) There’s also a deeper thread regarding the evils of colonialism and political upheaval and the chasm between Western and African culture.

Finally, this one made me laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Those people who gave it bad reviews must, I think, have entirely missed the point. It’s a true story of somebody who could be described as a sociopath, who decides to open a delicatessen without any experience and in the wrong place. Following is the review I wrote on Amazon after reading it for the first time. The second time I found it just as funny.

I’d Sooner Starve by Mark Sinclair

“This book is about a council employee who decides he’d rather be a delicatessen/restaurant owner, his sole qualification being his ability to make a quiche without a recipe. Opening during the winter and serving only cold meals showed a certain misunderstanding of his market, and the student two-ring oven wasn’t really adequate for the shift to hot meals. The author readily accepts that many of his problems were of his own making, and I had a strong feeling that he was far from being a “people” person. He hated his customers. Not only did they force him into entirely changing his ideas of the type of food he wished to serve, they complained, blagged, carped and criticised endlessly. I hated them too.

I found his vitriolic rages hysterically funny, couldn’t put this book down and had tears streaming down my face. Whether all the stories are true, I can’t say, but fact very often is stranger than fiction, so it’s quite possible that the customer who preferred her cheese warmed really did stick it up her skirt. The book is full of similar anecdotes about the idiosyncratic behaviour of Mr and Mrs Middle England. It is only at the very end that Sinclair adopts a serious note, comparing the waste of food in the developed world with the terrible poverty in which too many people still live. I’ll definitely read this one again – but not in a public place. It’s just too funny.”

Oops, that makes eleven! I’ve overshot. Bad me.

And then there’s Suite Française,  The Taliban Cricket Club, BirdsongI am Pilgrim, all of Gerald Seymour’s books, Cloud of Sparrows,  and I’ve barely started ……………..

Oh Stephanie, what have you done?

Whither we go, chaos follows

After several years of following The Fly in the Web’s brilliant blogs about real life in France, and now Costa Rica, TOH, the dogs and I had the supreme pleasure of meeting her and her husband ‘in the flesh’ yesterday.

Now you are wondering what we were doing in Costa Rica, I expect. But we were not there, nor at home in France, but holidaying on the Orange Blossom Coast in Spain.

Now you are wondering how we came to meet somebody who once lived in France, but now lives in Costa Rica, while we are in Spain. Has the heat (even in early October it’s still jolly hot here) addled the remnants of my brain?

But no! By an almost surreal coincidence, it happens that The Fly and her husband are also holidaying in Spain, within a 45 minute drive from where we are staying.

That’s 45 minutes if you rely on a good old-fashioned, low-tech paper map. If, on the other hand you prefer to rely on modern, hi-tech satnav, then it’s anybody’s guess how long the journey could take, as the woman who lives in it seems to think that winding up endless hairpin bends over 1000 metre summits is both the fastest and shortest route to somewhere from anywhere else, and we have consigned her to the black hole of the car’s glove pocket in disgrace.

The directions for our visit yesterday were clear right to the doorstep. 40 minutes had us within 5 minutes of arrival. We’d found all the right roads, sighted the white blob on the hill which was a navigational aid, crossed the three bridges, taken the turning to the right, followed the road to the piggery where we were to take the left immediately afterwards.

Here things began to fall apart, as there was a very large school bus parked right across the entrance to the road. There was no driver to be seen or heard, and no way past. We drove on until we came upon the next turning left, followed a disintegrating track for several kilometers until we found signs of life – Spanish life. A smiling man and his young daughter listened politely as we tried to make ourselves understood, and we reciprocated. All we did learn was that we were at the end of the road, there was no way forward. So we reversed and made our way down the track, back to see if the bus had moved. It hadn’t. Next to the path was a house guarded by about 600 Chihuahuas who yipped and yapped madly as we knocked on a door in the hope of finding somebody who could direct us. There was nobody there.

We drove around for an hour trying to find an alternative route, up perilous tracks leading to nowhere, trying to communicate with Spanish people who had no English while we had no Spanish, to no avail. Desperation began to set in.

Then, driving along the main road, I saw the house in the distance, recognising it from a photo I’d seen earlier. The only means of access we could find was an crude agricultural track running through an almond plantation.

“Let’s go for it,” said TOH, raising the car’s suspension and grinding over the track. We had arrived!

The Fly was so exactly as I had imagined her from her blog, and her husband – gosh, what a gem. I’ve never seen such clear, large brown eyes, nor such a splendid mane of steel-grey hair.

After a couple of glasses of liqueur that had me confusing my words and getting people’s names wrong, we had a tour of their astonishing house, with more twists and turns and rooms than I could count, a gorgeous swimming pool and stunning views across the plains to the mountains beyond.

The dogs instantly made themselves at home and were welcomed with hugs and compliments. Tommy put all his devilish charms to work and looked set to be off to Costa Rica if we didn’t keep a firm hold on him.

We had come for a cup of tea and a chat, but found ourselves invited to stay for supper. A quick trip to the nearest town was called for, and off we went with Fly to do her shopping, which included several bottles of her husband’s favourite wine.

Back at the house, TOH carried the box of bottles into the house, tripped up a step, went flying, breaking one of the bottles and covering the floor with broken glass and spilled wine.

No sooner was that mopped up, than Fly’s husband gave a cry of mock horror (I’m fairly sure it was mock), discovering that one of the dogs (it would be Tally, he’s getting old, he drinks a lot and he can’t always hold on for long) had peed all over the living room floor and firewood.

Despite the swathe of catastrophes we were cutting in their house, we were overwhelmed with hospitality and a superb fish soup, cooked by Fly but overseen by her husband to make sure she had added the correct herbs in the correct quantities. We women need to be kept up to the mark.

Our host and hostess are both great raconteurs, and kept us open-mouthed and laughing with tales of their earlier life in France – gypsies and riot police – and their current life in Costa Rica – murder in Chinatown. Sometimes I think our life is a bit peculiar, but next to them it seems remarkably ordinary. :D I was also pleased to know that they both shared my views on the literary efforts of Ernest Hemingway.

I frequently curse the Internet and the way we have come to rely on it, and spend so much time on it, but without it there is almost no likelihood that we would have ever heard of the Fly, her husband and their extraordinary life, let alone had the privilege of spending several hours with them.






The first week

This campsite is beautiful. Beautifully maintained, beautifully situated, with the mountains behind and the Balearic sea beyond. Many of the people here are regulars who return every year, and many of them stay for several months at a time. It’s in the Sierra del Irta natural park which has a vast range of rare and unusual plants; you can follow the paths beside the sea for miles and miles. The dogs love it.

The campsite is dog-friendly, and about 50% of the people staying here have dogs with them. Go through a gate at the rear of the site, and you’re directly in the park, and 100 metres ahead is the sea. There are many small rocky coves, and one fairly level tiny beach where Tally likes to paddle, and Tommy has overcome his initial astonishment at the sight of the sea and is beginning to enjoy getting his feet wet.

So far this has been a steep learning curve for Tommy. He is now immensely fit and powerful, with a broad chest and muscly haunches that propel him forward like a tank. While Tally can safely be left to wander off the lead, we don’t take any chances of Tommy getting into a fight or vanishing into the wilds, so he stays on his harness.

We’ve temporarily given up taking them in to restaurants. So we have our mid-day meal at the campsite, and go into town after dark, when it’s cooler and they can safely be left in the car where they are relaxed and comfortable.

We tried a couple of times taking them with us while we ate, but although Tally lies quietly Tommy lurches at everybody who moves, dragging tables and chairs with him. The final straw came a couple of days ago. His antics were bad enough, but it was Tally who totally disgraced himself. We had lunched at one of our regular restaurants, owned and run by a man of extraordinary energy, who runs from table to table, talking in a variety of languages, always cheerful, and serving excellent food at modest prices.

After struggling through a meal outside on the patio while clinging on to Tommy, TOH went into the bar to pay the bill. I followed with Tally, who without warning urinated copiously all over the marble floor, turning it into a skating rink. Apologising to the lady behind the bar who ran for a bucket and mop, assuring us it was no problem, we also barricaded the exit from the dining room to prevent diners from sliding into the lake while it was being drained.

But we had not considered that the owner would come running in his normal hasty way, full tray of used crockery and glasses held aloft. He jumped down the two stairs straight onto the wet floor and hurtled across the skating rink, only saving himself and the tray by grabbing hold of me.

With our tails tucked firmly between our legs, and fulsome apologies, we beat a retreat, and decided to take the dogs down to the beach. We kept them on their leads to ensure they wouldn’t bother anybody, and walked at the edge of the surf. I noticed we were attracting hostile stares from people as we passed, and were taken back when an elderly Spanish couple walked past and the man let out a tirade of anger, almost spitting in our faces and ending up with a furious “Muchas gracias.”

We had no idea what we were doing to cause such a furore, until a very pleasant woman came up and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Please, lady, go quickly! Dogs are not allowed on the beach. If the Guardia Civil come, you will have to pay a lot of money, really a lot. They are lovely dogs, I love them, but I am afraid for you if you are caught.”

For the second time in 10 minutes, we beat a retreat and came back to walk through the park and cool down.

Since then we’ve only gone into town in the early evening to avoid any further problems. After our meal we take the dogs to walk on the beautifully paved promenade, where people stroll in the night air, and Tally snuffles to see if anybody has dropped a crumb and Tommy struts along proudly.

The weather has been on and off, we’ve had some rain, not unwelcome because it cools us down, and plenty of sun too.

Yesterday afternoon we had a drama. Tally is the most gentle, placid dog you could find, but for some reason yesterday he snapped at Tommy. Luckily for Tommy he missed. That was due to TOH having his hand between them. So TOH took the brunt of Tally’s teeth, leaving him with several nasty wounds on his right hand, deep teeth marks that gaped open rather horribly.

He wouldn’t go to a doctor, so I cleaned them as best I could with Betadine. One of the wounds kept opening up if he bent his finger, so he wanted it strapped to a ball-pen with tape in a primitive splint. That seems to be doing the trick so far, and the other wounds have dried up without any sign of infection.

Holidaying with Tommy isn’t easy, but he’s loving it, and we are loving seeing how he is enjoying himself.

The best laid plans ……

which ours seldom are.

(By the way, due to the difficulties with Internet and the horrible cost of using it for just half an hour, this post is unedited, just whizzed up before I’m cut off. So it probably reads like a jumbled mess, which will be entirely appropriate.)

We would leave on Saturday. But we did not because (a) the connection between the car and the caravan’s indicators failed, for some reason unknown, and despite many helpful suggestions, culminating in a suggestion that we needed a new part. The car had already needed four new tyres, now it needed a horribly expensive component. Happily the supplier had none in stock, so it was time for Mr Fixit-it-somehow to spring into action and work out away round the problem.

The second reason we did not leave on Saturday was because of a last minute arrangement from friends we hadn’t seen for far too long, to come to us for coffee in the morning.

By mid-afternoon one indicator was rigged up by means of a long cable, some insulating tape and various connections snaking through the caravan. But it was too late to fix the other indicator, so we would make an early start on Sunday, leaving as soon as the indicator was working.

But again it didn’t work out like that. I didn’t seem to be able to organise myself, and wandered around vaguely scratching my head, picking things up and putting them down again, and by the time we had all systems go, it was late afternoon by the time we had located the parrot to our kind neighbour, loaded the dogs and their paraphernalia, and set off for the 500 mile drive to our destination on Spain’s Orange Blossom Coast, where we were heading for a highly recommended campsite.

Our logical route should have been from our home in south-west France down to the south-east corner, over the border there into Spain, and down the coast. However, three days earlier the region had been affected by floods that left five people dead, and general devastation, so we decided it would make sense to avoid that route, and head instead due south to San Sebastian, and from there diagonally to our destination.

I am not going to even try to explain why we had three different GPS systems plus a tablet, but I’ll just say that between the four of them we seemed to be going in ever-diminishing circles in sync with the ever-diminishing daylight.

Darkness fell, and we were trundling around in the Landes. We’d been travelling for five hours and failed to find a single campsite, when at last we noticed a sign to a site 15 kilometres off route. So we headed there, and were met by a delightfully friendly and accommodating gentleman who invited us to just put ourselves anywhere we were comfortable, and we’d sort out the formalities in the morning.

We were at last able to let the dogs out, and walk and feed them, after which they were happy to climb back into the car and sleep.

Meantime we were trying to find a way to get comfortable in the caravan with the huge awning bag in the way, plus a large white garden table, numerous plastic bags of food and equipment I’d flung in haphazardly, and TOH’s bicycle which he insisted on bringing with him.

I can’t remember what, if anything, we ate, but we scrambled over the heaps of stuff and grabbed the duvet and pillows and were gone.

By daylight, we saw that the campsite was carpeted in heather and pine needles, quite beautiful. The facilities were a little primitive, but there was a good swimming pool and it was a very pleasant location, Lugos, about 30 kilometres from Biscarosse and Arcachon.

Once we’d fed and walked the dogs and they’d hopped back into the car, we hitched up and set off in good spirits. I imagined we’d be installed in comfort on the Orange Blossom Coast by late afternoon.

Then the car began to play up. We were on a motorway on a very slight incline – the Landes are about as flat a landscape as you could imagine, but the car went slower and slower, we were down to 30 mph, and now instead of the comfort of the Orange Blossom Coast I could visualise breakdown vehicles, horrible expense and no holiday. On we chugged in tense silence, until we came to Dax where I bought a heap of fruit, a box of turron, a large cheese loaf and two cups of steaming coffee. We sat in a car park munching and sipping for a while, and discussing the route. Each of the GPS devices was giving different itineraries, which was hardly surprising as they were variously set for shortest, fastest, most economical and non-toll routes. Naturally, it was somewhat confusing, but refusing to be confused, TOH took first the fastest, changed to the shortest, and then to the easiest route – always avoiding tolls.

Thus we began an enchanting tour of the Pyrenees, which as you may know are one of my favourite regions of France. The landscape is just glorious, gentle mountains, gushing springs, tropical vegetation, mists snagging the mountain tops, lush, green, rich, majestic. I haven’t worked out in kilometres just how much of the Pyrenees we covered, but it was a lot, and lasted for several hours. Miraculously the car was now working well, towing the caravan effortlessly up hill, round narrow bends, and through little stony paths that grew smaller and stonier the further we went, following the GPS “easy route” that we had decided to stick with.

Then we came to a tunnel, which as you may also know is something I loathe, but to give it credit it was well-lit and as far as I could see very well built, and though we were in it for several minutes I didn’t feel the usual panic.

We emerged into Spain. In our planning, one thing we had not planned for was carrying a Spanish map. With four different GPS systems, it seemed somewhat unnecessary. One of the GPS systems kept losing the signal. The other couldn’t find the roads we were on – I think its maps must be out of date. The third one had a rather abrupt tone which we didn’t much care for, and none of them could show a map of Spain larger than 3” x 2”, thus we had no idea where we were going. I had a vague recollection from a previous trip that we should go to Pamplona and from there to Zaragoza, to Barcelona and onto our destination.

So we headed towards Pamplona, and then we headed to Zaragoza, and the hours went past and it seemed we were forever driving through bleak and barren mountains, and each time I checked the distance left it was over 300 miles and 8 hours. We kept seeing the same signs pointing to places we had already driven through. Once again we were in mountains. Didn’t they have any plains in Spain?

We’d been driving since 9.30, it was now almost 5 pm and the distance finally began to shorten, and our time of arrival was estimated at 9.32. With 200 kilometres left to run, the system calculated it would take nearly five hours. We laughed – 5 hours to drive 160 miles! At the rate we were going, we’d make it in 3, easily.

Then we hit the next mountain range. I crushed a small spark of anger and frustration as the road wound up and up and back on itself, and up and up some more.

“What altitude are we?” enquired TOH.

“820 metres,” I replied, thinking angrily that if we’d come by the original route not only would we have been at sea level the whole way, but we’d have arrived and had a leisurely meal by now, instead of climbing these awful roads. Night began to fall. We climbed ever higher. Surely there must be an end to mountains; they couldn’t just keep on going for ever. But they seemed to. As soon as we crested one, another one popped up ahead. We reached 1200 metres before the final descent, and we were now only 90 kilometres from our destination. We’d be there well before 9.30.

Then GPS-man told us to turn left, which we did, and astonishingly, we were in mountains AGAIN! I was so angry inside that I began thinking of painful ways to kill whoever programmed the “easy” route into the GPS.

By 10.15 pm we had reached the town, with only 3 kilometres left to the campsite. We followed the signs round the outskirts of town and onto a rough road. Which deteriorated into a rocky pathway strewn with boulders and holes and gulches formed by storms. If I hadn’t read a warning in the guide before we left, I wouldn’t have believed this track was navigable. On and on it went, every metre causing the suspension to groan and the crockery and cutlery in the caravan to shake and rattle. Something fell out of a cupboard and landed with a crash.

Just when I was about to burst into tears, we saw the entrance to the campsite, and gave a triumphant little laugh. We’d finally made it!

The campsite was locked by a sturdy wrought iron gate two metres high. There was nobody to be seen. But I found a bell which I rang, and a man appeared on the balcony above us. One minute, he said.

Down he came, and although we had plainly got him out of bed, because he was wearing pyjamas, he was as civil and helpful as one could expect under the circumstances. He guided us to a pitch, and said we could sort out the formalities in the morning. Off he went, back to bed.

It took a long time to reverse the caravan onto the pitch, in the dark, and tempers were short and language impolite, but eventually it was parked, the dogs were attended to, and once they were settled, we decided to go for a calming walk beneath the stars.

We walked around the back of the campsite, which is set in a natural park, about 50 metres from the Mediterranean, but the path was uneven and we had no torch, so after listening to the sea for a few minutes, we went back to the caravan.

Except the gate was locked again and we were on the wrong side of it.

Once again I rang the bell, once again the pyjamaed man came down and let us in, giving us a targeta – a card that operated the gate and asking, with a touch of sarcasm, whether we would be needing anything again tonight.

We assured him that he’d not hear a squeak from us ever again, and tiptoed back to the caravan, falling asleep instantly.

Next morning – Tuesday – started very, very hot and sunny. We walked the dogs down to the sea. On the way through the campsite an indignant English voice shouted: “Excuse me – your dog has defecated on our pitch.” Sure enough he was right. Tommy, in his hurry to go for a walk, had not stopped but gone on the run, so to speak, leaving a trail behind him. TOH cleaned it up in the plastic bags carried for the purpose, and we had a wonderful walk through the pine forest down to the shingle beach, where we met some friendly Swiss people with their two Leonbergers.

Now it was time to set up the awning. It was incredibly hot, the dogs were panting, I was dripping, and the skies over the mountains behind us were darkening from blue to grey to purple and black. I could hear distant cracks of thunder.

“We need to get the awning up quickly” I said, “before the rain comes.”

We tried. We really, really tried, but nothing seemed to fit where it should, the poles kept collapsing, bits went missing, and the storm broke.

The rain hammered down, lightning lit up the hills and the thunder cracked. Tally went into panic mode, rushing into the caravan and trying to dig his way into my handbag, panting and gasping. As the poles fell down the for sixth time, I was fully occupied with trying to calm Tally, leaving TOH to assemble the framework and fit the awning over it. When he’d almost finished, I tried zipping in one of the side panels, stood back triumphantly and then saw it was a front piece, not a side piece and had to come off. The zip stuck.

We were drenched by the time the thing was finally up, and Tally was a quivering, shaking, trembling, panting wreck. So was I. We went to the office to complete the formalities. The computer was down. The Internet was down. The girl laughed and asked if we were enjoying the Spanish weather.

Do you often have such huge storms, I asked?

Not like this, she said. Not for a very long time had they seen such a ferocious storm. It was very rare. Sometimes there was a lot of wind, but this storm was very unusual. It had also managed to knock out the electronic gate, too.

It had been a traumatic 48 hours, so we’d go into town and have a drink and meal at a restaurant we knew and liked. Tally settled immediately, he knew how to behave, but Tommy got over-excited and began knocking over chairs and tables, so back he went into the car, where he settled happily. He loves the car and jumps in at every opportunity.

Back in the restaurant, a woman came towards us and bent to stroke Tally. Then she asked if she could sit at our table. We thought she meant for a few minutes, and by the time we realised that she was digging in for the duration, it was too late to do anything about it.

She lived locally, she told us in her very fractured English, interspersed with her native German.

How did she like living here, we asked.

Well, she explained, not too much really.

First of all, everybody she knew had cancer, and the wife of one of them was also suffering from depression and kept correcting her English, which made her very angry, because it wasn’t how well you spoke a language, but how you communicated with people. As far as I could understand the depressed person was her best friend, but she didn’t like her. There was also a problem with her house, because it was on an estate that was independent of the Spanish government, but the residents had been very foolish and now it was part of Spain, and the electricity was very expensive and she had to collect her post from town, as it was no longer delivered to the house. And with all these people getting cancer, she worried her husband would be next. (He was away in Germany buying German sausages, she said.)

What about the weather. That was quite a storm today.

It was like that all the time, she said. Always storms.

We were getting a little hungry and tired of listening, but as she showed no signs of leaving and we wanted a drink, we offered her one too.

Then she started talking about food, and specifically meat. The kind of food Germans like, Sausages of all kinds. TOH said that we were vegetarian and didn’t eat meat, and she said that was OK, but she liked meat very much. We said that was OK, but could we talk about something else because we didn’t like talking about meat. But she did, she exclaimed, and began to describe the kind of meat she liked, mainly beef and chicken, definitely not pork.

TOH was now becoming visibly angry, and asked her if she could talk about something apart from food. But, she said, she liked talking about food.

TOH finally snapped.

“How do you feel about Hitler and the war?” he asked.

That brought her to a temporary halt, and she blinked. She wasn’t born until long after the war, she said, and German schools didn’t teach anything about it. What about her father, TOH pushed on remorselessly.

He was just a child, she said.

What about your grandfathers, asked her inquisitor.

She didn’t know what they did.

I had gone past exasperation at her intrusion and accepted she was going to stay put, so decided to get along with her, and we had an interesting conversation about war in general, bravery on both sides, mistakes made, regrets ………

By now we had ordered our meal, and thought that maybe she would take her leave, but no, she ordered for herself, and before long the topic had returned to food once again, specifically meat, and TOH’s jaw was getting set. I sensed that it was time to go. We ate quickly, then I pushed back my chair. We needed to leave, Tommy was in the car.

We said goodnight to her, and left her sitting with a bowl of mussels.

As we left, the restaurant owner came over to chat.

He mentioned the storm. In seventeen years, he said, he’d never seen anything like it. Lightning had hit the TV satellite three buildings down, and blown the dish across the street.

So these storms weren’t that common, then.

No, he answered. Very rare.

Perhaps if you’re lonely, you hate your best friend and everybody around you is dying of cancer, and you’re pining for the food of your homeland, it just seems as if the weather is always stormy.

The little twins perished

Sadly the two tiny seedlings from inside the lemon curled up and died when they saw the cruel world.

The singleton seems to be holding its own so far, but isn’t exactly flourishing like Jack’s bean stalk. I’d say it’s just hanging on. I’ve raised baby birds before, but never a baby lemon, so I’m a bit at a loss. It’s that small green blob just off-centre in the photo, in the garden in a pot beneath a hibiscus, so getting shade, warmth and being kept moist. I think the next few days will be critical. :)



My funny lemon

A couple of days ago I cut a lemon in half.

Perhaps you wonder why that should be newsworthy?

Well, take a look at these two photos (which unfortunately are not very clear, as I was terribly excited and afraid they’d vanish before I could capture them, but if you look hard you’ll see what I mean).


Do you see it/them? Two leaves growing from out of a seed deep within the lemon.

Now look at this:


Another leaf growing from a seed inside the other half of the same lemon. I nudged this seed out of its bed to get a better view.

It may not be uncommon for seeds to sprout within a fruit that had been kept in a fridge for a week, but it’s the first time I’ve come across it.

What did amaze me was that in cutting the lemon in half, I avoided damaging any of the seedlings.

I’ve planted both halves, intact, in pots of soil, to see what, if anything, happens.