Sunday, June 30, 2013

On holiday - for real.

One thousand, five hundred pages of printed text, divided over three paperbacks, some newsprint, some newspapers online and various random items of information – that is what I have read in the last four days
I have sat in the sun and seen a most beautiful garden, ignored the few weeds.

I have lived in an apartment and subconsciously noticed 'things that should be done' and dismissed them from my mind.

I have done a little food shopping but have not cooked.

I have sat and admired a pool and not checked the filters or the temperature. I might even have swum had I the foresight to bring a costume.

I have had enjoyable conversations over glasses of wine and fine food (too much, too often) with solicitous hosts and interesting people I had not (consciously) met before.

I have seen Montgo, the last spur of the Cordillera Prebética range in Alicante province before it descends into the sea. All of 753 metres high, there is an alarming hole with horizontal fault line near the top.

I have slept as I have never slept before. I am on holiday. A strange and wonderful sensation that I wish for all visitors to La Chaise, always.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

St John and the sea-gulls

Guiltily I confess: we have run away from La Chaise. But, she added hastily, only for a few days, only because of the rain, because actually we were useless, probably even de trop. The tiler's tiles and manitou were making manoeuvring in the front garden difficult. The roof covered in patches of yellow plastic, occasional areas of new tile and still large expanses of old tile looking shabbier than ever, all served to depress us. Arnold, Alexandre, Audrey and (H)aska can do without us. So off we set Spainwards, just a few hours and kilometres ahead of the rain.

Arriving at Sant Feliu we found the fine weather we expected, the town looking neat, clean and prosperous – which is unusual given Spain's dire economic situation. The beach was newly sanded, a new café called grandly 'The Beach Club' has opened, there are new children's games along the sea-front. New shops have opened to replace those that closed.

The only sign of the economic downturn – apart from the inevitable EN VENDA
notices and home help offered notices with telephone number – is the creeping expansion of heavily fortified shops, signed 'comprar oro' (which will even buy tooth fillings...) When we first came to St Feliu, probably some five years ago, I do not remember seeing one of these. Now I know of two and think I have seen a third – they are coming out of the back streets onto the main ramblas.

A striking contrast with La Chaise is that there is no dawn chorus as such. At La Chaise it was just coming into full strength. Here at Sant Feliu we have sea-gulls – a mixed blessing – and the festival of St John's Eve, June 23rd. The latter, hopefully one night only, is being celebrated with fireworks and bonfires and noise generally. St John, like St George, has been adopted by the Catalans as their own.

The sea-gulls have graceful flight and a wide repetoire of semi-conversational sounds – one cannot call it 'song' – most of them unpleasant. Two birds have taken up residence just outside the flat. One comes to roost on the street lamp which is getting covered in bird-shit and the other perches on top of the sisal plant. They are relatively quiet during the day, just call to each other. But during the night they have the most appalling squabbles, worse than my memories of the geese. I have been brooding on ways of discouraging them but if fireworks, drums and hooting cars will not do it, what can I do? One is not allowed to shoot seagulls.

It was after today's Sunday lunch that a reason for their persistence in living in front this block of flats was made clear. The neighbour has three cats which she feeds generously. Various visiting cats join in. There is much cater-wauling. There are times when one cannot tell whether it is a cat or a gull making the noise. The sea-gulls are, perhaps, pretending to be cats, and are definitely stalking, cat-like, cat-food left overs.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trials, travels, tribulations

Had an absolutely horrendous time last Wednesday, trying to get back to La Chaise from London as French air traffic control was on strike. Mind you, it had not been on strike for years, so one was due. Great struggle on the EasyJet web site to find out whether my specific flight had been cancelled. I gave up waiting and prudently went to buy a Eurostar+SNCF ticket. It seemed my ticket was practically the last one, cattle class. But the staff were nice, even if French.

Certainly my train from Montparnasse to Angouleme was the penultimate one before the beginning of the 48 hour SNCF strike. I had an hour to get from the Gare du Nord to Montparnasse to catch it, normally not a problem but there was a demonstration on in the centre of Paris, in favour of people without papers. My taxi driver was young enough to belief he was immortal,so we flew through the dense traffic in many illegal ways. Gratefully I gave him 50€ for I was on time, though slightly more grey-haired. Gratefully, I sank into my window seat (once I had found it) between a fat person on my left and a fatter person in front of me. As I closed my eyes, I overheard two other passengers talking, both represantants du personnel, both seemingly plotting counter measures to proposed staff redeployment, staff reduction. I did not catch the name of their industry.

It was over 30 degrees C when I arrived at Angouleme after 7 p.m. to find the entire French based family had come to meet me. The plan was to eat the evening meal in the Terminus restaurant which we duly did and very splendid it was too. Shame so few trains that link to the Eurostar coincide with French eating times.....

At La Chaise, two wonderful surprises – the first is that the billy goat orchid is just beginning to flower. It is hugely tall but seems strong enough to withstand at least a little wind. Billy goat orchids have grown in that spot for years ago. No-one is allow to mow that verge once its first leaves show.
The billy goat orchid by the front gate

The second surprise was the wonderful show the roses made around the re-lined swimming pool for the gites. I had barely been away a week and the few days of hot weather had encouraged everything to flourish.
newly lined pool with rose petals and robot

The moral – or morals – of this story: one should not leave home unless you are able to get back under your own steam, or you should not purchase secondary homes in places where you are dependent on public 'services' to get to them. OK for people who live within the Schengen land area but tough on people who live on islands.

Monday, June 10, 2013

microscopic territorial terror

It has been wonderful to recover, for human and ovine use, the three horse fields.
Apparently sheep and horses cannot share the same pasture – or at least the same water – because the liver fluke that sheep harbour are even more disastrous for horses. On this basis we have been circulating the sheep, with some difficulty, on the five other fields, plus the two woodland pastures.

The sheep, too, seem to be delighted to recover grasslands that a only a few of the great grandmother sheep remember – at least that is how it seems for persuading them to enter the fields is not yet easy. Once in they are perfectly happy.

I, too, have been exploring these fields to see how the sowing, done so many years ago, has stood up to the aggressive pasturing of the horses, not to mention the weight on their hooves. Some 600kg stomping around on four iron clad feet tends to discourage plants. But so far, so good. There is still a lot of clover valiantly showing ragged heads, also vetches have survived. And there are buttercups (sheep don't eat those) and, of course dandelions, known in Dutch as 'horse flowers' which seems more accurate than 'lion's teeth' which is their French (and English) name. Neither horses , nor sheep, eat those – but some humans will take their leaves for salad. Here and there are savage clumps of high thistles but not as many as I feared.
'Horseflowers' put a sheen of yellow on the field, 'Greece' rises behind.

Not  least, some grass has survived and we shall see at the end of the summer whether it has prospered or whether we need to re-sow by 'scratching' the fields rather than plowing, then spreading seed. These are poor fields with shallow soil, best at growing stones, so ploughing is to be avoided.

The most interesting is no: 3 Horsefield, the one in the valley, at the foot of the pine plantation and running alongside the rising slope of scrubland that we have christened 'Greece'. This is very good terrain for wild orchids, wild fruit trees and wild pigs. In wet times a stream runs through it.

But, somewhere in this field, lives a highly aggressive, microscopic acarien with paranoid territorial tendencies. If I knew exactly where it lived, I would politely avoid its domain. But I do not. So once again, dear Reader, as some six years ago, Before Horse, it bit me. And I duly suffered. Two anti-histamine tablets, a long bath and a larger glass of wine partly defeated its evil purpose. But, you could say, it has won. Because there is no way I am going to walk in that field again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

An affair gone sour

My wild, passionate, dirty winter love affair has gone sour. We are
getting tired of each other, of ourselves, wishing we each would go away. But still we drag grimly on and blame the unusually prolonged tail end of winter weather for the situation in which we find ourselves. Normally the affair starts gradually in the course of October, builds up to a blazing need over the three main winter months, November, December, January, and then gradually becomes a gentle, warm habit through February, March and April. In May comes the little death as we take grateful and gracious leave of each other.

But here we are, in the first week of June and the affair is still blazing, literally as well as figuratively. My winter love is, of course, the wood fired range that cooks so splendidly and keeps the house so warm, especially the kitchen. But it is a demanding lover and cook. And it makes everything, but everything dirty. I hardly ever dare look at the collection of blue porcelain over the mantel.

My Winter Love

For us, the Rayburn is now practically a sentient being. Even my beloved husband is tolerant of its whims.'Will you put the stove to bed whilst I go and have a bath?' is a common winter request from one of us to the other. Also, before we go out 'have you fed the stove? ' or 'shall I feed the stove?' are pretty important questions. It is all too easy to go out to lunch quite forgetting that the Rayburn needs fuel a.k.a 'food' whilst we are away. And the first one up in the morning 'wakes up' the stove.

This is a more skilful job than cooks used to merely turning knobs would realise. First, the assessment of how hot the stove is, whether there are sufficient embers for it to light straight away with small logs or whether it needs gentle treatment with some dried fir-cones. 'Did you have to use matches' - is an inter-spousal early morning query. The one who did not gets most brownie points, especially if that one was the same person who put the stove 'to bed' the night before. Having to use newspaper, firelighters, matches and kindling is a definite sign of incompetent range management.

The stove's flue is professionally cleaned every year before first use, then again after Christmas and before it retires for the summer. But it still has to be cleaned periodically during the winter season. We have now got the intermediate cleaning down to a fine art. It has to be done whilst the stove and its flue are still fairly cool, so – first person up loses. The fridge next to the flue pipe is moved away, then the cap is taken off the bottom of the flue so that any accumulated soot in the 'T' junction drops into the bucket below. Sometimes, if the vacuum cleaner is pretty full and the flue pretty cool, I take off the draught control panel and vacuum out the soot, also from under the hot-plate. Oh, and one must not forget to clean the hot water alveoles....

Then, oh joy, one assembles the various length of sweeper sticks, adds the appropriate brush and pushes it up the flue, with a prayer. All this in night clothing and dressing gown. Down comes the soot. Vacuum everything in sight and replace everything. Wash kitchen floor, wash work surfaces. The final step is a facial scrub, a deep bath and double shampoo. Breakfast is made by the person not cleaning the stove.

As a final irony, the top of the market, top technology electric combined microwave, grill, oven, that is my summer cooking assistant (note coolness in word) has suddenly gone on strike. Flatly refuses to work. Am waiting for Bosch Central to come back with a diagnosis.