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.
It is exactly two years since I retired from full time teaching in Scotland, two years since Walt and I sold our home and packed our belongings in to boxes for their journey to Murcia. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed or how every new season feels different from those first few months living here full time. Walt and Ben had been the trail blazers from February until the end of June, walking ,studying Spanish and cooking! Our first autumn and winter together in Calle Jacaranda saw us turning our little holiday home in to a proper home! We took out the wonky breakfast bar, built a new dresser to house my well traveled china, installed a pellet burner for chilly winter evenings and cycled a good chunk of the pilgrim way to Caravaca de la Cruz. ( we have still to complete it.) We enjoyed the gentle autumn and winter, cold at night but sunny days , warm temperatures and longer days. It is light until 6pm even mid winter.
Our first house guests were my oldest daughter, her husband and the three wee ones.(the Watsons) It was only a month since our departure from Edinburgh but I knew that one of the harder parts of moving so far away would be missing the children and grandchildren so it was fabulous to see them again so soon. They arrived on the 31st October, in time for a Halloween treasure hunt with our neighbours and their children and making a pumpkin lantern for our garden wall. We had a lovely week , swimming in the sea, wandering around the city and generally chilling out. It was wonderful being able to share our home and happiness with them.
We were aware from conversations with other migrants to sunnier climes, that we would never be short of guests. Some said that the first year would be the busiest then the novelty would wear off and the numbers would dwindle. It’s safe to say that this has not happened! However , this is not a complaint, we love sharing our home, the chilled out life we have here in the very varied and beautiful region of Murcia.
In January 2018, my dear friend Audrey came back with me from Scotland and spent four days with us and ten days in a hotel in the city! She loves her independence and being able to watch the world go by with her morning coffee in a plaza cafe. She is more of a town mouse than I ! However Murcia is a beautiful little city and we had discovered a great cycle track along the river from a nearby town, Alcantarilla, all the way in to the city centre. I cycled in to meet Audrey and together we discovered more about the history and culture of Murcia. This is one of the big pluses gained by sharing our lives here… we tend to fall into a routine when left alone, walking , cycling, pottering well worn paths. With friends and family who come to visit, we explore more and find all sort of places and stories that we would other wise not discover. Audrey and I went on the city bus tour, it didn’t take long as Murcia is a small city , but I did learn more about its history . We also took her to Cartagena and the Roman theatre that has been so brilliantly excavated and preserved. History geeks day out!!
Several weeks later, Sue, a great friend from North Berwick and Ross High came to stay for a week. Sue like me is a country mouse and so we walked and cycled , chilled at the shore and ate tapas huddled in side our favourite beach cafe ‘Oasis’ as March winds whipped up a dip in temperatures. Spring seemed to be the least predictable season. Cycling the nature reserve at San Pedro del Pinatar was wonderful although we didn’t see many flamingos !
Liz and Leah came just after Easter and for a ten year old, the sight of a swimming pool glittering in the spring sunshine was just too much… I had to go in with her.. it was baltic! As were our picnics at Lo Pagan and Oasis once again! We had just furnished our roof terrace after 8 years of wonky deck chairs and did manage a couple of dinners out side . For the most part it was rather chilly, although Murcia looked beautiful decked in lemons and flowers for the spring festival. It was fabulous seeing our old friends and returning their hospitality which we had enjoyed on our journey south in the Autumn. They live in the gorgeous village of St Abbs, Berwickshire, it is a magical little place. The weather can’t have put them off, they returned this July for the 30 degree plus heat and like so many of our visitors, opened up new experiences for us. The Roman Spa at Archena had been on my ‘to visit ‘ list for a while but Walt is not a spa kind of guy. Liz, Leah and I had a girly day there, taking the waters and having a fabulous chill out. Thank you ladies! We also lathered ourselves in the healing mud at San Pedro, another first, and saw the flamingos!
I travelled in April, twice to Scotland for Dougie’s birthday and my daughter Hannah’s hen do and then I fell over! My brother, wife Laura and their wee boy Harry were due to stay with us at the beginning of May but as I had just been let out of hospital , they stayed in a nearby hotel. I felt dreadful but they insisted and we still had some lovely times together. It did rain quite a lot though! There’s a pattern emerging!
In June, my friend Gail came to baby sit me and allow Walt some time away on the motorbike. It’s safe to say that my dramatic escapade in April had scared him more than me! The sun had finally settled by then and we enjoyed a very chilled out weekend , swimming, watching soppy movies and building my confidence back a little. I normally bounce back from periods of not being so well, I have been very lucky with my health , so the time taken to regain confidence has surprised me. I think I am more or less back to normal now but have developed an annoying fear of going on the motor bike. This makes little sense as the bump had nothing to do with the bike!
In August as temperatures climbed to the mid 30s,the Watsons came back for a fortnight, our very kind neighbours gave us their little holiday home for the overspill! Walt and I were supposed to retire there at night for a peaceful sleep. However as we had a new puppy and my son in law is allergic to dogs, he and Rachel had the quiet house. We had three under fives a puppy and a geriatric labrador! It was a crazy couple of weeks, lots of pool time, water park and the zoo. I miss the wee ones like mad and it was brilliant having them here . They coped incredibly well with the heat and I was the only one to get a little tetchy mid visit!
After two weeks travelling to Italy for Hannah’s wedding, it’s fair to say that the following few weeks of quiet times were welcomed. I started teaching more and joined a dance class.
In October, an old High school friend, Patricia and her husband Greg stayed for a few days. They live in the Yukon and had been travelling for several months so their time here was very chilled. We ate well and swam in the sea. I think they enjoyed being at home and eating in after months of hotels.
We didn’t do as much cycling as the previous autumn, Rocky needed lots of walks and attention. Leaving him in the garden usually meant lots of plants dug out of pots and if we left him in his crate for any length of time, he would destroy all his bedding. He is much calmer now and a fabulous dog, I think he keeps us all , including Ben , young!
Hannah and her husband came out at Easter this year and needed to borrow sweaters! We had some wonderful walks and lots of laughs with them despite the chill, meanwhile Scotland was having a mini heat wave over the Easter weekend! While the ‘over three hundred days of sunshine’ promised in programmes such as a ‘ Place in the Sun’ is not an empty one , it does rain here! Many of our visitors have experienced it.
This year, my youngest son and his girl friend have been out to stay twice and enjoyed June and August sunshine. I think they have hit it luckiest with settled but not too hot weather! Our new ‘experience ‘ this visit was a night in Benidorm! Walt knew it from his youth and had painted a fairly wild picture. Benidorm has a beautiful blue flag beach and maybe because it wasn’t the weekend, we did not encounter one hen or stag do. It was remarkably civilised with lots of Spanish families enjoying the last of the summer holidays.
Most recently the weather was so extreme that it made the news in the UK and beyond. The ‘Gota Fria’ is not an unknown weather phenomenon in Southern Europe . As the summer heat wafts up wards and merges with the colder air, autumn thunder storms and torrential rain are expected. It can happen any time between September and December, very Spanish, no specific time! Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. This year it happened in September and broke all records. Like the ever hotter summers, the Gota Fria two weeks ago was the worst storm experienced in the Murcia region for over 50 years. Its effect was devastating. There can be no doubt that our climate and planet are teetering on the edge. Sadly several people died, caught in their cars as the flood water rose. Towns on the coast and flat agricultural land have been flooded and property destroyed. Animal sanctuaries and farms washed away. We escaped with a sleepless night as the storm raged and a slightly scary diversion off the motorway, as my brother in law had just landed in Alicante airport. It was his first visit to our Spanish home, he won’t forget his first day in a hurry! We watched the TVE news with mounting dismay at how dreadful and sad the storm’s affect had been on many and with concern about driving to the airport to pick Drew up. His flight had left Newcastle and no delays were reported, Alicante airport was open therefore we reckoned that the A7 motorway must have been passable as well. What could we do? Ask him to get a hotel in Alicante which by all accounts was struggling with the effects of the storm as well? No, we would have to go and get him. This was a humbling lesson in not being smug. There was flooding and there were queues on the motorway as the Guardia Civil let cars through slowly, we were amazed that the camino rurals ( old roads that still run along side the motorway) were now rivers, we couldn’t believe how the mountains had been converted in to Scottish ones with burns running off them but over all the road was functioning and we arrived at the airport early enough to have a coffee and a snack. What was all the fuss about? We’re Scots, used to a little bit of rain. Smug or what? Drew’s flight landed bang on time and we set off back to Murcia but of course by that time , any rios or ramblas that had been struggling before hand had now burst their banks. The motorway was closed and we were diverted off on to muddy, flooded country roads with no idea of how to get back home. Eventually we circled a very muddy industrial estate several times , every road the sat nav told us to take was closed off, one had even collapsed and found ourselves back at the slip road that we had been diverted off. The police had reopened it and very slowly we were allowed to get back home. We were regretting our earlier smugness and feeling dreadful for those whose homes and businesses were in the paths of those burst banks.
Drew had come from Scotland expecting some autumn sun! It took another two days for that to reappear but when it did , all was forgiven! We went in to the city the next day where things were getting back to normal and the height of the river was the big attraction with crowds just standing looking at it. The cycle path that I mentioned earlier was now part of the river and most of the bridges were still closed for safety. It didn’t stop Murcianos enjoying their paseos, dressed to the nines and demonstrating brilliantly how life goes on.
I am back to work this week! Teaching business English and my conversation classes again . A quiet few weeks ahead with no visitors planned until November! Having house guests is a feature of living far from home I imagine. When we lived in Scotland, we rarely had visitors for more than an afternoon lunch or evening dinner. I love it when we have our friends and family to stay and can share our happiness here, they bring so much and help us appreciate how lucky we are to live on our hill!
‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’
William Henry Davies
I don’t find it easy to do nothing. However, I can stand and stare , I can drink in beautiful scenery or close my eyes and listen to waves crashing on the shore. I love seeing, hearing,smelling and breathing in the sights and sounds of our amazing world. I am very grateful that I have the senses that allow me to do this. It is perhaps natural to assume from the lines of this poem are that one has something beautiful or uplifting to contemplate not simply the ceiling fan in a darkened bedroom! Add this lack of view or interesting places to go because it is so hot to the fact that I don’t find it easy to do nothing when I am at home, and you will understand why the months of July and August have become something of a challenge. Walt and I are very alike, if we have a project or an adventure in sight, we seem to forget how hot it is! If there is no journey on the horizon then projects around the house, garden,writing, learning Spanish, motorbike or car maintenance keep us busy but in July and August, these have all to be done before 2pm after that it’s blinds down, fan on time! Enforced doing nothing, except perhaps for reading a book that requires very little thinking or is too heavy! ( physically heavy, hard back or more than 1000 pages).
Now, in my role as Granny and Mum, I am very excited to be going to Edinburgh this week ( cooler weather as well , bliss!) to spend time with the children and grand children, I have to remind myself that every second is precious and to simply enjoy being with the wee ones, I don’t need to do the laundry, tidy the house, make the dinner ( sorry Rachel) , I can play all day with the gang. I was not very good at doing that when my children were little, and the time went by so quickly . The tidy house and home cooked dinners have all gone, the memories of times spent ignoring the chores are there for ever! I loved the summer holidays when we didn’t have to get up at a set time, go to clubs, do homework , prepare lessons! Being a teacher has huge advantages when you are a parent. I did get antsy now and then however, what’s for tea? did I remember to hang out that washing? I wish now that I had just ignored those niggles and focused on having even more fun.
I am also looking forward to four days of cool weather! This is summer number two as permanent residents here in the baking hot south of Spain. What we didn’t realise when we were simply here on holiday is that daily life with two dogs, part time working and a house to run is very different from pitching up for a fortnight with nothing to do other than going to the beach or lying by the pool . Our home was much more minimalist, no dogs, clutter, gardening paraphernalia, books, computers, sewing and knitting boxes and bags dotted around. It was a holiday home, we arrived, filled the fridge, chilled out and didn’t clean it until the last day before going back to Scotland and work!
As we got to know our Spanish neighbours, we couldn’t understand why they moaned so much about the heat in July and August. We loved it! We were coming from long, wet summers and even longer, wetter winters! Two weeks of uninterrupted blue skies and sun shine was bliss, locking the door and heading back to Alicante airport was always ‘sare to bare’! Now when we join our neighbours in a moan about it being too hot, we feel a little guilty. This is what we signed up for, it was our choice to move here. Stop moaning and get on with it! However, it is the enforced doing nothing that is the hardest part of coping with the heat here. Going to the beach everyday is not an option, leaving Ben and Rocky to cope with boredom and 35C for five or six hours is just not fair. We tend to head down to our favourite beach around 5pm on a Friday with a picnic supper . The sun has done its worst, there is a breeze here for the muts and a beautiful sunset for us to watch! Swimming in the sea as the sun goes down is incredible. That leaves six days!
When afternoon temperatures reach 35C and more , the recent ‘ola de calor’ that has affected much of Europe has seen the thermometer hit 40C, there is absolutely nothing you can do except retreat to a darkened room with a fan. We try to limit our use of air con but have had to put it on when those 40C days bore down on us. Today is cloudy with a fresh breeze and a pleasant 27C, bliss! It will not last but I am enjoying sitting outside writing this and Walt is cycling ! Simple pleasures, that we take for granted nine months of the year. We are looking forward to September, but that in itself is a contradiction of my earlier statement in which I said that I really need to enjoy the moment more and not wish time away. And so I will focus on the wonderful aspects of life in the heat… the cooler mornings, getting stuff done, the evenings going for a swim or the beach , a cold drink on our roof terrace as the sun goes down, taking Benny to the huerto as it gets cooler for him to play with his friend Lucky, the wonderful light especially as the sun softens in the evening and the sharp edges go, leaving everything looking beautiful again. Really ? I hear you say , She needs a good hard slap! Be grateful ,you really are so fortunate and the autumn will be here soon!