We have been allowed back in the huerto. Along with an hour’s exercise and children being allowed out with parents for a walk or play in open spaces, getting back to the garden has been a gift.
I have to admit to having been a bit grumpy when the huerto was closed. I was not alone in thinking that with common sense and care , we could have maintained it and still not endangered any one . However the rules applied to every one who is part of a small neighbourhood project like ours. If you have a larger plot or orchard , you were permitted to tend to your produce. Our garden is surrounded by houses and we could , on reflection , see how our pottering in the garden when no one else was allowed out of their homes could be demoralising and not helpful in keeping the ‘stay at home’ message universal. Eight weeks later, a certificate to prove we have permission to be there, a timetable of when we will be there and a padlock to keep every one except huertanos out and we’re back in business.
A very wet April and hot sunny start to May meant that nature has taken back what is rightfully hers. The weeds and wild flowers are head high, the birds and rabbits loving the peace and quiet. While we have cleared and replanted our plot, the common areas are still wonderfully wild. It won’t last, the crazy summer heat will mean the birds and bunnies heading for shade and snoozing most of the day and the wild flowers dying back until the autumn rains but at 8.30 this morning it was beautiful. We have tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onions, herbs and salad all bedded back in but I have kept some of my make shift planting at home as well. Stepping out the front door and being able to add to dinner, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, mint , salad leaves and….. a small but very tasty first harvest of potatoes is a brilliant feeling.
Our quarantine is still in place, the relaxations are being phased but with a careful eye on how case numbers of the virus respond to the humans having more freedom. I for one am in no hurry to embrace ‘ going back to normal’. The dangers of complacency seem to far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of mixing with the masses again! I am not a crowd person normally , I do miss family and friends and the ability to plan ahead, however it is a great lesson in taking each day as it comes and in being grateful for the little things. Getting to the garden, dirty knees and mud under my finger nails ( I can’t keep gloves on ) , dropping Walt off at the top of the hill for his first proper run in two months and now a glass of chilled rioja blanco… simples! Have a wonderful weekend.
Chatting ( on line of course) to friends and family over the last two months has been fascinating. Two months? Nearly ten weeks here come next Friday. Fascinating because of how everyone has passed their time ‘en casa’. The shortage of all but the most basic ‘harina de trigo ‘ (plain flour) is a big hint as to what many families are doing! Throw in the measuring of ingredients, timing the end product in the oven and mindfulness or patience needed for whole process and you can add home schooling to the list of things folk are doing while in quarantine.
There is of course a big difference between the parents juggling working from home and keeping the children entertained ( learning?) Or in the case of essential workers , having to tag team shifts to make sure someone is at home for the children. ( hubs in the UK have stayed open but there are not many – any?- here in Spain.) As restrictions are relaxed but schools are not reopening until September many parents are now very worried about how they will cope. Using abuelos is still a bit risky! These families are not finding it hard to fill the time… they are probably working harder than ever and close to exhaustion.
For us oldies however, we have had a lot of time to spare and I have wondered once or twice why I haven’t written that book yet or perfected my Spanish! How many of you have mentally beaten yourself up about similar? Even the photo albums that have been on my ‘to do’ list since 2003 have only reached 2007!
I have been addicted to reading since my Dad gave me ‘Five on a Treasure Island ‘ when I was seven. I can’t go to sleep at night without reading and I am very unsettled if I don’t have a good book on the go. Even the worthy tombs, novels in Spanish or Perfecting Spanish Pronouns will do! It seems reasonable therefore to think that I must have a book in me… well maybe not. I love writing my blog, long letters to friends, family history for the kids, an odd poem here and there and eulogies! I kid you not…it was after writing my Dad’s that I began to write the family history. Bottom line, I think I am lazy and hugely lacking in imagination. On the other hand, while writers will tell you that their craft is hard , hard work and dedication there is still necessary that spark of inspiration that is kindled in to life with the slog. Perhaps then I genuinely don’t have that spark or tiny flame and instead of beating myself up about it and decrying myself as lazy, I should simply continue to enjoy reading and doing the things that bring me joy. Best book read during quarantine? Inland by Tea Obreht. Fantastic. The kind of book that makes me wish I had that spark and enthusiasm for research. There was a mountain of amazing and true background to this story of the American west in the late 1900s.
And so.. back to our present situation and how to pass the time. It’s interesting talking to parents who are home schooling or trying to. Some children love it and happily follow a timetable, complete on line tasks sent by their ‘REAL’ teachers, take part enthusiastically in zoom classes and are a dab hand with Google classroom. Others point blank refuse to do any of this, preferring to play with their toys, build Lego towers, watch Netflix, draw , sing , dance when they want to or not. Don’t worry. This is a great time for learning more about ourselves and our individual learning and creative styles. We learn what we want to and what lights our fire. We cram and force the other stuff in to pass exams and get jobs. Little ones who are doing what they love at the moment will be bright enough to cram the other stuff in when school starts again. My light bulb moment pinged on only last Tuesday. Two months in and no book written! I have however knitted a shawl, cardigans and hats for our expected new grand baby, a tea cosy and half a rather odd looking sock! I have managed to keep my sourdough starter alive with harina de trigo and made bread every week. This week’s , a very tasty rosemary and olive oil version. I have baked like never before…but now it’s getting too warm during the day to have the oven on. What now? That darned book again?
No. I have ordered a new sewing machine on line. I left my old one in Scotland for the very talented girlfriend of my son to create on. I reasoned that there wasn’t room for it in our small home and have only missed it now and again. Then mummy- to -be daughter took down the curtains, I made several years ago, from her spare room as it became the nursery and she asked if I would make new ones. After quite a bit of deliberation, on line research and a lot of fun on a Spanish fabric and pattern sight, I was raring to go again. The machine I have bought is from a Spanish company , although outsourced and made in Thailand ! ( my faithful first Singer blew up aged 30 and was made in Clydebank). This little one gets good reviews and arrived in one day. The summer is going to be long and hot. I won’t be going far as travel will be restricted for a while. Working in the garden will be an early morning project , while still fairly cool. The afternoons I can pull down the blinds, sit under the fan and sew! My Grandma taught me to use her Singer when I was still in primary school. I made my first dress aged twelve . I’m so excited and realise that that it’s in doing things we love and want to do that we learn the most. Which is my excuse for not having written that book during quarantine. What have you not done and what have you done and loved instead?
This is a ramble but it comes with lots of love and best wishes from Murcia. Happy Easter.
One of the things that everyone will probably agree on is how all our lives now seem so very similar where ever we are in the world. We are all at home, relying on the wonders of wifi to keep in touch with the outside world. We are all worried about our family and friends and hoping that they are staying safe, especially the ones who are in essential industries and professions and who have to put themselves in daily danger by going to work. We are all trying to retain our sanity by keeping busy . And then we stop and realise that the tasks we set for today and didn’t get done will get done tomorrow or the day after or the day after that! Time is stretching out in a way very few of us will ever have experienced.
At the start of our quarantine I listened to a TED talk by an amazing women from Columbia who had been held captive in the rain forest of Columbia by rebels for six years . Her talk was specifically about fear and sanity. How to diminish fear and retain sanity. Six years! Six years in which she did not see her children. As a politician in Columbia life was always dangerous and she had sent her children to family in France shortly before being kidnapped. I am missing our planned Easter time with the grandchildren and very possibly will not meet my new granddaughter or son , due at the end of May until he or she is a few months old but it will not be six years. I was however,at the time of listening to the talk , consumed by fear. All the worst case scenarios of living through a plague or pandemic danced around my head for days, it felt especially isolating being in a foreign country and wondering, if Walt or I became unwell how would we cope with the medical jargon, who would we turn to , who would look after the dogs! The speaker described her strategies for dealing with fear and having hope. She is inspirational and helped me in those early days and hours enormously. I have included the link below. It is in Spanish but has English subtitles. I calmed down, neighbours and friends offered their phone numbers and help if we needed it. We are the oldies on the estate and perhaps this has been a factor in their kind offers. Practical kindness.. we have been given masks, spinach and seeds to keep the patio huerto going. We are not alone and we are well! The huerto has been closed down and we have shared all our new seedlings between our gardens . I was so sad when this happened but necessity is the mother of invention and I now have potatoes, onions, salad leaves, a pepper plant, tomatoes and more in tubs and even a cut down Mercadona bag! Here is the link to Ingrid’s wonderful talk.
I still have grumpy moments, trips to the supermarket are not good . We are trying to stretch these to once every nine or ten days but this is a big holiday weekend and the shops are shut today, tomorrow, Easter Sunday and Tuesday ( Murcia spring holiday!) I had to go yesterday. It felt like an army operation! Not fun at all.
There’s no one way to cope with being in quarantine. We are all finding ways to stay sane. Keeping busy, baking, knitting, meditating, praying, reading, keeping in touch with family and friends and teaching my classes on line. Emotions are on a roller coaster. Who knows how we will feel tomorrow. However it won’t last six years. Nature is loving the break this is giving her. Hopefully humanity can stop now and then from keeping busy and simply be. Let’s also hope than when we ‘are free’ again , we will have been still enough to understand what we need to do to make it a kinder, safer world for everyone and our planet.
I learned very quickly that while the internet is a wonderful link to the outside world it can be a double edged sword . I have had to limit its use. There is so much information and misinformation out there and not just on social media. The mainstream media can be equally as sensationalist and frightening. After Italy, Spain has had the highest number of cases of Covid 19 in Europe. The news from Madrid that first weekend had me in bits. It is still not great there and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones or who are fighting the illness at this time. The news also frightened friends and family in Scotland and our phones began to go in to melt down. At this point the figures in Murcia Region were relatively low and although they have increased, by comparison to Madrid and Barcelona they have remained low. This was when I realised that main stream media was not necessarily helpful. I now have a filter system (Walt) and am gradually feeling strong enough to listen to a little bit of new every few days. For the first two weeks after that dreadful weekend, I stopped listening and watching either Spanish or British news. I was not disrespecting all the people who have had or have the virus nor the amazing people who are looking after them and who are keeping the country running, I know enough. I did however need to protect my own crazy brain .
Keeping busy has been a good way to do this but as the weeks have gone on I have also discovered that I have the ability to be still as well. I can now put down my knitting, or reading or baking and just sit .
As I mentioned earlier the huerto was closed down very quickly. It was seen as recreational rather than food producing. We felt pretty gutted as our world got smaller and smaller. There’s no daily ‘exercise allowance ‘ here. However , necessity really is the mother of invention. Anne, my huerto buddy, dug up her front garden and I resorted to pots and an old mercadona bag! All our spring planting was dug up and transferred home. Walt is not too keen on it, it is a bit untidy but I have potatoes coming on brilliantly, peppers , one tomato plant, salad leaves, herbs and onions. Spinach seeds are now sprouting and I am using an on line organic vivero who will this week deliver more tomato seeds and chili seeds. It is amazing what you can do in a small space.
I am writing this last paragraph on Easter Sunday.. what a strange Easter this is. We will get through it and for now simply knowing that family and friends are safe and well is enough. My Gran sent my Dad and his sister off to the countryside in 1939, two East End children found themselves first of all in Canterbury and then Devon. Aged 8, Dad had to feed the geese! A wee city boy hundreds of miles away from his Mum. My Grandma worked for a packaging company which was turned over to munitions and shipped to Scotland. Several months after moving to the tiny village of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire with the business, she sent for my Dad and Auntie Joan. They were lucky, they only spent a few months apart, for many the evacuations meant children being away from family for the duration of the war. We are only being asked to spend a few months apart from our families and friends , the reason is clear beyond doubt and so I will continue to keep busy, stay still and be grateful for our comfy home, beautiful views and the crazy duo, Rocky and Benny who allow us out each day for a short walk. Be still.
Tomorrow morning the Spanish prime minister will declare a State of Emergency . Today feels very strange. Every thing has changed and will remain changed for quite some time to come. We are luckier than many. My classes are now all on line. Some of my students live , in apartments , in city centres. If they have children, they are all confined to barracks for at least two weeks. Here we have our little garden and roof terrace, we can still walk the dogs in people empty spaces and retain our humanity by waving or shouting ‘buenas dias ‘ to neighbours across the street, getting no closer than that! I can’t imagine being stuck inside , especially with children for such a length of time.
I have to admit to being worried. My brother in Scotland was quite surprised at the concern that I obviously displayed in a text conversation with him this morning. It is a situation never before experienced in my life time. My parents experienced it during WW2 but as a baby boomer, apart from personal sadness through loss of loved ones, the three day week when I was a teenager which was all a bit of a lark to a 14 year old, a fear of nuclear war during the 70s and 80s and mild concern over mad cow disease in the 90s, I have never really been seriously challenged. This feels like a challenge and my usual optimism is being stretched.
However, there are people out there whose challenge is much greater than mine. My students living in Madrid cooped up with kids , the people who are actually fighting the illness and those who have lost family already come to mind first. And then there are those people looking after us.
We took Rocky up in to the hills today for a long walk. We can do that and not meet a soul. We can sit on the edge of the hillside and listen to the birds singing with the sun on our shoulders. On our way home, I was able to pick lemons, onions and lettuce from the huerto. A favourite viewpoint looks down towards the city and it was here that I realised how amazing those who have to keep going, those who have to look after us are and how grateful I am for them. Not everyone can work from home, many people will have to keep going and face a greater risk from catching this virus than we do up here on the hill. All shops, bars, cafes and places of entertainment are being closed as of midnight tonight however supermarkets and pharmacies have to stay open, they have to handle money and cards, they have to stand just feet away from possible contagion. From our spot on the hill I could see the motorway in the distance, trucks still heading in all directions, getting the food and medicines to the supermarkets and pharmacies. Every delivery, every depot for a pick up , signing firms , handling boxes that many others have handled. In the factories and fields, people are still growing, picking, manufacturing and packaging these life saving necessities. In the hospitals, fire stations, health centres, police stations, TV and radio stations, people are caring, saving lives, keeping us safe and keeping us cheerful. ( listening to cheesy 80s and 90s tunes just now! Thank you Melodia FM) . I don’t fully understand how the internet and social media functions but I suspect that not everyone in these industries can work from home either . Thanks to them, as we become more physically isolated, we can still talk to family and friends. So crucial.
And so, for the first time in my lifetime I am living in a ‘ state of emergency’. No travel unless essential or local to said supermarket or pharmacy – police checks to ensure this. No fiestas, no sitting people watching in cafes, no runs to the beach but none the less still realising how much I have to be grateful for and how ever scary and difficult the next few months are going to be , they will not last the six years my parents had to endure from 39 to 45 ( and beyond). Walt, prepare for a major domino tornament… it will be more fun than watching Hearts , I promise. And thank you, thank you , thank you for everyone mentioned above and any I have missed.
Winter in Murcia literally is a thousand (plus) miles away from that of Northern Europe and real cold climes. It tends to only come and go, with warm sunny days in between. It was cooler when I started writing this ( on Thursday) and had rained the day before that but the previous week had made news headlines for record temperatures! Benny, Rocky and I went walking with friends on Tuesday afternoon, at 25C we were looking for shade as the dogs were finding it a wee bit too hot! Sunday saw us sitting in a beach side cafe with friends, pushing our chairs under the sun shades.
Inconsistent is the best way to describe our winter here as the week before that was one of grey skies and torrential rain. Once again our perch on the hill kept us safe while the coast has been battered for the third time this winter. It is so strange not to see the sun here, three days is the longest I remember. Seven days later normal service resumed , what ever normal service is !
I had assumed that my sleepy huerto would have dozed off completely with our week of no sun and cold rain so it was a great surprise to go up when the rain stopped and find it stirring awake. We have five heads of broccoli ready to pick with quite a few babies following on,fabulous cabbage or spring greens, kale and finally flowers on the habas. I came home to drain off our tiny patio garden and enjoyed the sun on my shoulders as I tidied up the herb tubs. A free gift included? I found coriander sprouting in my lemon tree tub, seeds must have blown in the wind. Amazing as it’s difficult to find fresh coriander in the supermarkets here.
Just over two weeks before the rain and storms Walt and I went high up in the Sierra Espuña on the motor bike. Twisty hairpin bends and stunning views. At one information board there was a guide to finding ice houses from fridge free days in the past. I commented on these to Walt, wondering if it ever got that cold now. Two weeks later the snow gates were closed and we could see the snow covered peaks from our house! I love the change in seasons, I would struggle living somewhere with out defined seasons and although there are some very odd changes to the climate , it is still amazing and reassuring to see snow on the Sierras.
Yesterday we walked four miles along the Rio Segura, a path we sometimes cycle in to the city on. Fourteen year old Ben still manages to keep up and of course Rocky covers about four times the distance that we do! It felt like a gentle spring day along the river, blackbirds singing, a heron contemplating life, almond trees beginning to blossom . Perfect walking weather . There are seasons and some crazy weather but overall we are just a little spoiled!
Meanwhile back at the huerto ! Seasonality is a buzz word at the moment with the movement to lower carbon emissions and eat more healthily. It’s difficult not to here, our local supermarkets only have a tiny corner of fruits and veg from far away and they are way out of this pensioner’s budget! No, it is orange season and of course lemons abound all year round. They are almost the symbol of Murcia and appear with practically every meal or plate produced. I am surprised they are not on the Region’s coat of arms ! Recently we have not even had to buy our oranges and lemons, we keep getting given them from friends or friends of friends with orchards. This has meant lots of marmalade making, lemon curd , orange cake and simply just eating the most amazing oranges. I am also excited because I was given a dozen seed potatoes today – a potato growing experiment is about to begin! I loved growing ‘tatties’ in our school garden but have never tried them here. I’m thinking tubs as the ground dries out so quickly. One huerto neighbour has had success this winter growing his in raised beds. Fingers crossed.
Winter is much kinder on older bones here, Benny loves lying in the sun and much as we miss many aspects of Scotland- family and friends especially- watching the driving wind and rain at Murrayfield on TV yesterday evening as we sat with the front door open makes us realise once again just how very fortunate we are.
Happy new year and decade! How did that happen? It seems like only five minutes ago that we were all busily preparing millennium parties and waiting for all the computer systems to crash at midnight! Yet another Christmas season has been and gone and after a few wonderful days in Scotland with the children, I took Benny up to the huerto as it must have been feeling rather neglected. I planned to do some weeding and to be cheered by the abundance of bean plants, peas, kale, cabbage and onions that had surely come on in my absence. The weather here is perfect for being out doors , blue skies and sunshine with a top temperature of around 17 C. Not dissimilar to a Scottish summer day! However it goes down to around 3 or 4 C at night . Higher up from us, there have been frosts reported! In my ignorance, I assumed that the autumn rain and day time sunshine would be enough to bring on our winter crops. You might also remember that my huerto buddy and I ignored the wisdom of native gardeners and kept our summer crops going right up until October. It seemed such a waste to pull them out and throw them on the compost heap .
Meanwhile, our Spanish neighbours had done just that , turned over their plots, fed them from the very successful compost bins and planted their winter crops in September! After the Autumn storms and torrential rain, the soil was wonderfully workable but also much cooler! The September planters got the remaining summer warmth plus the rain. By the time we winter planted,everything had slowed down! When I went up last Sunday, the garden was not asleep like my garden would have been in Scotland at this time of year but it is most definitely dozing! There is kale and some chard to pick, even a few peppers hanging on from the summer and plenty of lettuce… it seems to like the cold nights. However all our other winter planting is coming along very, very slowly. We have three tiny broccoli heads, tiny pea shoots and the habas ( beans) that usually take over are toddling along, not even flowering yet! I am sitting in the garden writing this with the sun shade up and still puzzling over how it can be so warm during the day and yet the growth is so slow. My plan to weed didn’t even happen, the weeds have fallen asleep as well!
I think that this is a humbling reminder of how I am not a native and how much I still have to learn about growing in this part of Spain. Many of you will have bought salad, tomatoes and peppers from supermarkets this winter, they very likely will have been grown here in Murcia but not out side. The eyesore poly tunnels that cover much of the coastline between us and Almeria are the reason for the availability of what is normally out of season produce. Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli all do grow well out side but only it would seem , if planted in September. Lesson learned. This year we will try to copy the locals even if our tomato plants are still fruiting. It will be hard but then we may be more successful in keeping produce going all winter.
Benny had a nice mosey around the huerto, the air was fresh and clear, the sky a perfect blue and of course the sun was shining. I will just have to be patient and hope the garden wakes up before it’s time to clear out the winter plants and start all over again with the summer ones!
My commute to school used to be a twenty five minute drive through the beautiful East Lothian country side , apart from the odd time when the weather was so bad that the journey became stressful, it was generally a great way to start the day. However the last stretch took me over the A1 via a fly over and I can remember many a Monday morning thinking how good it would be to take the slip road instead of the fly over and head north! My late parents lived in Stirling and as they grew older, I wanted to spend more time with them. A simple cup of tea and a chat often seemed more appealing than thirty lively teenagers for the following six hours! This feeling was often strongest as the new term sped from summer in to autumn, the changing colours and stunning countryside was so tempting. There were often more clear blue skies and sunny mornings on those Scottish autumn mornings than we had had all summer!
Last Monday morning I woke up in Salamanca. Two years of Monday mornings with no commute and I am still grateful but last Monday morning was extra special. We had driven up to Salamanca for our wedding anniversary and stayed in a lovely hotel right next to the Roman Bridge with views of this incredible city. It is a UN site of special interest , with breathtaking buildings and an otherworldly atmosphere. This was especially true on Monday morning as a mist surrounded the old city with only the Cathedral and towers of the taller buildings visible above it. It was as if the city was floating. Salamanca has the third oldest university in Europe and is famous for its teaching and learning. While we were there, the Plaza Mayor was filled with stalls and an exhibition of antique books as well as a good helping of modern literature and texts . While it is a huge tourist attraction, the city is not overwhelmed nor did it feel as if tourism was its only reason for being. It has not become simply a museum. On the Sunday morning as we walked up through the old town looking for breakfast, we had to squeeze ourselves single file against the ancient stone walled houses as an enormous sponsored walk, literally thousands of families from Grandparents to babies in buggies, snaked its way around the city, fund and awareness raising for cancer research. A city still very much alive and home to ordinary folk not simply tourists such as ourselves.
Salamanca is a six hour drive north for us therefore the climate is very different. For the first time in months , jeans, jumpers and my rain coat were retrieved from the back of the wardrobe…. and they were needed! After tidying ourselves up on the Saturday we arrived , we wandered the city getting our bearings and deciding what to go and see on the Sunday. By 5pm the rain was too heavy even for us Scots and we just happened to find a quirky little cocktail bar near the university. It was full of locals which is always a good sign, the staff were lovely, the music excellent and the people watching even better. I had crammed in six hours of tutoring and teaching the day before, in three different locations across Murcia which made the chilling out all the more delicious. We were sitting by the open door, watching the rain and people scuttle by the ancient buildings, bliss!
I love the contrasts in this amazing country. Several hours north and I was able to walk along the river in Salamanca enjoying the colours and smells of an autumn very different from that of Murcia. As we drove towards Salamanca there were even cows in the fields. Changing seasons make the year interesting for me and even in our sunny southern home there are subtle signs of Autumn but I really loved the smells and colours of a Salamanca autumn!
The rain stopped on Sunday and we spent the day being tourists, visiting the cathedral and climbing its tower for amazing views of the city and beyond. Not once did I experience that ‘ Sunday feeling’ and although it was only in my last couple of years teaching in Scotland that this feeling had really kicked in, I was still incredibly grateful not to have my drive to school the next day. It may not have been the A1 to Stirling but we had gone on a road trip. Spanish roads and motorways simply do not have the volume of traffic that the roads in Scotland or England do, apart from going through Madrid we had wide open roads, every changing scenery , no cones and no road works. Therefore after a picnic breakfast on Monday morning we decided to stop in Toledo. All those years of wanting just to keep going….. Yes! A road trip is made all the better if you allow for diversions. Driving through Madrid on Saturday had been a little too hectic so we decided to take a longer route home via Toledo. Once again Walt had done a reccy earlier in the year on the motor bike and loved it. Toledo is incredible especially for a history geek. I had recently read Giles Tremlett’s works on Isabella of Castile and her daughter, Henry the VIII’s wife, Catherine of Aragon. While a little busier and more touristy than Salamanca, Toledo was beautiful and very special. What a Monday!
As we drove home , much later than planned, the windmills both modern and ancient ( for tourists?) dotted the landscape . The motorway was deserted apart from the odd truck and the journey simple. How lucky , after all those Monday mornings to be able to enjoy just taking off the way I had imagined I would love to when crossing the A1 all those years ago.