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.
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!
It’s back to school season here in Spain after a long summer break. Supermarkets and stores are promoting their wares just like those in the UK. It’s also back to school season here at learnenglishyourway.online. If you need or want to improve or learn English but live too far away from a learning centre or can not commit to a class at the same time every week, why not get in touch with us? We can help you fit learning English in at times that suit you and with out you even having to leave home!
Welcome to http://www.learnenglishyourway.online . With the help of a fantastic former pupil, we have created a web site to allow people to learn or improve their English with my help. For me , language is all about communicating whether speaking , listening, reading or writing. My favourite parts of this are the reading and speaking elements … no surprise if you already know me. I am also very aware that every one learns differently therefore my on line classroom will not be set out rigidly, it will be structured to suit the individual students. This allows lessons to focus on what ever students feel they need most, this might be an hour of conversation , we might use videos and visual media to listen to a variety of spoken English or have traditional grammar sessions.
The web site is easy to navigate and will gradually also have a blog and additional hints and help sites for English learners. It’s main aim is to reach out to learners who are serious about improving and learning English. Please have a look at my site and get in touch if you have any questions or need help with any aspect of your language journey. I can’t wait to meet you!
Finally , a huge thank you to Jamie at Jambour Digital. He has been so patient with me and has worked his socks off! Proud teacher moment…. as well as having his own web design business with his brother Michael, he is now a fully qualified computing teacher and is embarking on his NQT year in August. His calm and steady approach to building the web site, with me firing hundreds of questions at him , makes me know that he will be a fabulous teacher. Very proud of you Jamie!
‘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!
( As cheesy titles go, this one takes the biscuit. )
Peonies are one of my favourite flowers. Sadly it is too hot here for them and our garden is too small but I love them none the less. Perhaps their peripatetic tendencies mirror my own, my roots are stretched and have often been popped in a wheelbarrow, ship, removal van, plane, train or bus and birled around a fair bit. ( to birl is a Scottish verb for either spinning someone or something around , think of a Scottish reel , or taking them or it for a spin usually in some type of wheeled vehicle). As to whether I flower more often, well that is probably for friends and family to answer!
Peonies sprung to mind when I was chatting to an old school friend , via facebook, who has lived in Holland for many years. We were talking about roots and becoming local in a new home, whether a few miles or another country away. This wise lady commented that to move abroad probably means never being local again, at home or abroad and that by choosing to be one of the millions of Scots abroad we can have the best of both worlds providing we don’t expect to be instantly accepted in either. In our new homes we can make friends and neighbours by joining clubs, working, volunteering, learning their language and being open to finding out about the culture of our new abode. While visiting family in the old country, we can relax a little but never deride theirs or imply that our new life is better only that it is different and exciting. We peonies are unusual sorts and many good people are more than happy to stay close the their place of original planting. This doesn’t make them any the less beautiful. It doesn’t make their roots any weaker but for that matter, I don’t think it has made my roots any less strong either. My roots may be stretched but they go down deep!
When you move to a new country or even a new town, you can’t help wonder about the alternative, staying put , being part of the community you grew up in or chose to settle in as an adult. I have moved around a lot almost in complete contrast to my lovely, late Dad. He was uprooted by WW2 and as an evacuee from the east end of London found himself and his big sister, on a farm in Devon having to look after the geese! Not easy for a city boy! His Mum, a widow , moved to Scotland with the company she worked for as they had begun to make munitions and were looking for somewhere to manufacture away from the Blitz. They chose Clydebank! Which was then blitzed and again moved , this time to the country side and a little town called Menstrie, nestled under the Ochil Hills. My Grandma sent for her children when she realised how safe this beautiful part of Scotland was. My Dad and his sister arrived in Scotland in the early 1940s, not sure exactly when, and although they travelled a lot for holidays and business, neither of them ever left the area again! I think their early experience as evacuees probably contributed to this.
Alternatively, my beautiful Mum , while well travelled, lived and died no further than four miles from her birth place, she was born in a one bedroom flat ,home for her folks and two siblings, in the centre of Stirling ,yet I know for a fact that she would have loved to have been popped in that wheelbarrow and tried out some new beds to grow in. One of our favourite family quotes from Mum was while on holiday in Germany and visiting Cologne. The famous cathedral is very close to the railway station and as my Dad loved trains, we all trooped in to the station to have a look. Double decker trains were arriving and leaving for destinations all over Germany and Europe. ” Doesn’t it just make you feel like going somewhere?” asked Mum in all seriousness , she looked very surprised as we all began to fall about laughing. Possibly my itchy feet were inherited from Mum!
With every move, I have asked myself the question, will I and should I actively make an effort to become part of the community and with every move I have. In doing this I have made so many wonderful friends who have remained friends even after I move on again!
Just a couple of months before we moved to Spain in 2017, I bumped in to an old friend from High School. We had been living just a few miles from each other for years, but work and family meant that time had come between us. It was so lovely catching up over a few glasses of wine, and I started to feel quite guilty that after reconnecting, I was going to put over a thousand miles between us ! Margaret, if you are reading this, once your busy year is over and enjoyed and I am back in Scotland, we will meet up again. I promise! Thank you to all my family and friends who not only stay in touch but have supported Walt and I on our crazy adventures. I will make that effort where ever I am to be part of the community,but Cathleen, I agree with you that I will never be local simply a friendly, ex pat! My roots are all of you friends and family, my beautiful country of birth and here in our Spanish home.
This is a picture story to remind myself that nature is incredible. It’s also a thank you to the universe or what ever energy is out there that allowed me to regain my health and confidence after last year’s bump! I’m just back from northern Spain and a couple of days with old friends who had walked 500kms along the Camino de Santiago. It was fabulous and inspiring as our little 60 something group was by no means the oldest and the atmosphere in Santiago was happy and positive. Prior to me sharing the celebrations in Santiago, we had had a wonderful week with our youngest and his girlfriend . It meant that as the girls finished their trek I couldn’t walk with them but I will be back to join the pilgrims! ( Walt too!)! Returning to our southern climate I was amazed once more by the diversity in this incredible country. Rain and 19C in Santiago and A Corruña ( worth a further explore) , 30C here and no rain on the horizon . Despite this and with little help from our riego , the huerto thrives. With no watering system, our forest remains green and the wild flowers attract lots of buzzy bees. Nature is indeed wonderful.
One of the well worn phrases bandied about in education today is ‘ life long learning’. Governments play lip service to it, academics laud it as true education, ordinary teachers have been trying to persuade their students of its value for ever! (just don’t tell the clever people in research who think they have a new and ‘exciting ‘ concept to ‘roll out’ to the humble classroom practitioner). Ok , so a hint of scepticism here, but I do believe that every day is a learning day, and boy has our adventure demonstrated that.
Some of the lessons have been pretty big and necessary for living well in our new country, many have been small and delightful and often surprising. The obvious ones include learning about Spanish bureaucracy and how to gain things like residency, driving licences and ITVs ( MOTs not a TV station). All of these bar the driving licences, done by ourselves and in Spanish.
Probably the biggest learning curve is the language itself and at the moment I feel as if I have hit a wall. I started learning Spanish 10 years a go at night classes in Scotland. I still have good friends, made in those classes and the classes themselves were great fun. I remember gaining confidence and feeling as if my Spanish was beyond beginner, possibly even intermediate. I now read books, watch Spanish TV and films, I can communicate with my dentist, doctor and have two hours to chat when my lovely hairdresser is ‘doing my colour’! Technically it sounds as if I am learning and improving, so why then am like a rabbit in the headlights when a check out assistant asks me a different question from the usual ‘ quieres una bolsa?’ It was an on line raffle ticket the other day and how to enter the draw… I pieced the jist of the conversation together as I walked away with my trolley. Even more frustrating it my inability to converse off the cuff , about topics that crop up but are slightly different from the well worn, ‘ I live in, I come from, I moved here because, I have four grown up kids etc’. Our huerto management has a lovely gardener and his partner, working with us on Saturday mornings. Manuel’s partner is literally about to have a baby – any day. She is large and getting to that ,’ please let this baby out soon ‘ phase. In an effort to make things start, she worked hard, pushing the wheel barrow back and forward the length of the allotments, weeding and picking up after Manuel! All in 24 degrees C. I wanted to comment on this, sharing my own attempts to speed things up by running up and down four flights of stairs in a Glasgow tenement! I wanted to share the common gripes of not being able to sleep, back ache, heartburn etc. Instead I muttered something about it not being long now . ‘ No falta mucho. Ojala.’ When she replied with a great long sentence about this , I just smiled inanely and like the waiter in Fawlty Towers threw in the odd ‘si’ or ‘que?’ I feel like my brain has an information overload that has now robbed me of my confidence to construct simple sentences. I won’t give up however. This learning journey is going to be a long one!
The huerto itself is a learning experience, this time last year I was close to giving up. The different growing seasons, heat when working in it and the death of precious plants all made me wonder if it was worth the effort. A year later and I have learned what and when grows well and well, what not to even try and what we will actually eat! I have learned about controlling plagues, organically, it has increased my vocabulary and I have made friends! My glut of pera tomatoes last year spurred me on to learning about gazpacho and the different approaches to it in different regions. I think I make a pretty decent one myself now! As well as what I grow myself, our area has many ‘ freebies’ on offer as well. I never buy lemons, marmalade oranges, figs, mint, wild fennel , sage or rosemary. All grow in abundance and amazingly, wild and with little water. Our urbanisation, like many in Spain is built on old agricultural land. The intensive farming on the coast began in the 80s and is now the sea of plastic , visible along the coast of Almeria. I find this very sad, despite the fact that we are living on this land and perhaps this seesms a little hypocritical or over romantic? Our walks in what is now a regional park take us past ruined farm houses and abandoned olive, orange, lemon, fig and almond terraces. It is on these terraces that sturdy old fruit trees still give me lovely free fruit. Orange trees need feeding however to nurture table fruit, but the tart wild ones make an amazing marmalade! I imagine what it would have been like in the past and have learned a little more about that different life from our local history group.
The history group was another learning experience. Our local government or Ayuntamiento has a cultural programme all across the region. This is classes in everything from ceramics and pottery, dance, emotional intelligence to the local history of the town or village that you live in . They are held in schools and community centres and are free. My Russian friend Margaryta told me about them and I signed up for the ‘Danzas del Mundo’ , mentioned in a previous blog and the local history class for Sangonera La Verde. What I didn’t realise until the sessions started was that this is not so much a class but a sharing of memories and stories from the people of the pueblo. They are lovely, friendly people and made me very welcome however I had nothing to bring and so after a couple of meetings , some lovely coffee and cake and a link to their web page , I bowed out. I did learn a little about Sangonera however and in particular about the lives of the agricultural workers who lived and worked this land before the 1980s. Some lived in the village but there are caves on the edge of near by hills, painted white inside, with shelves and remnants of household goods because these caves were the homes of some of the workers! One of the group remembers her granny living there. Murcia is a region of fruit and vegetable production, not traditionally one of the wealthiest regions of Spain but this lady remembers there always being good food, music and chat outside the caves and after work . I went back to the group’s christmas concert and was once again welcomed warmly.. lessons learned as well as the obvious , just how friendly the people of our little town are!
A recent road trip to Portugal reminded once again that journeys are a great learning experience. This was a bus , train and plane trip, taking in Granada, Jerez de la Frontera, Alubufeira on the Algarve and Lisbon. Each place had something magical about it and something to learn. The experience of navigating my way across Iberia, learning a few words of Portuguese and finding Walt at each stop was a confidence builder too!
UK readers will have probably all voted in the recent EU elections, we vote on Sunday. As residents we also have a vote in our local government elections. Oh boy, this is a learning curve. I have been using it as a conversation topic with one of my English students in an attempt to learn a little about the politics here and how to physically place my vote! The literature that lands in our letter box is actually called election propaganda ! Very honest. In Scotland this usually all ends up in the recycling box. What is strange here however is that the parties actually put voting papers and envelopes in with the propaganda which you can simply take along on the day and pop in the box!
The reason I started thinking about all these daily learning gems was the most recent and ongoing project that is pushing me in to learning all about web site building, domain names and other techy stuff that I probably swore I had no need of when being asked to introduce them to my classroom in my previous life. I have been teaching English to a few pupils locally but it is very hit or miss. If I want to go to Scotland to see my family, if I am on an adventure or if they have school or family commitments, the classes are postponed. If I prepare a lesson and then it is cancelled, I have worked for nothing. I am very fond of my pupils and unless they want rid of me, I have no intention of stopping working with them! However, I recently came across a tutorial by an English teacher who has built his business on line. ( the British Council Teaching English site is incredible for ideas, tutorials, resources). He lives in the USA and there is not a big demand in his town for one to one, real English teachers! I had already thought of this as a way of finding new learners and his tutorial was excellent. On line, I can teach where ever I am and not have to cancel classes, I can manage the hours and decide when I want to teach. Notes taken… next steps? A few weeks down the line and I have been taught by a former pupil who has his own web design business, the basics of setting up a web site. Jamie and his brother at Jambour Digital Ltd are doing this for me. Exciting! It literally is a work in progress and I am hugely grateful to Jamie for his help and patience.
The learning continues every day … it’s exciting and I can’t wait for the next lesson! Watch this space.
I returned from a very soggy Scotland just over a week ago with the rather grim predictions of my environmental consultant son in law ringing in my ears. Richie reiterated the findings of scientists world wide and in particular the problems regarding water that already affect our part of Spain, spreading to northern Spain before the end of the century or sooner. It’s a contentious issue at the best of times here in Spain as much of our water is piped from the north ( google Trasvase Tajo – Seguro). This incredible feat of civil engineering was started in 1969. Thinking about the spaghetti westerns of the 1970s, shot in neighbouring Almeria for its desert like appearance and that the Trasvase was initiated around this time, it is fair to say that water, or the lack of it, has been a problem here for a very long time. That it is going to get much worse and that we may not be able to count on water from the north either is worrying to say the very least, not so much for us oldies but for future generations. Scary stuff.
With all of this whirling about in my brain, I came home to a message from my huerto buddy about a new line of riego that we had put down.. it was leaking and we had received a metaphorical slap on the hand from our administrator for allowing this to happen! Anne has sorted it now and guess what? It is raining and is forecast to do so over the whole Easter weekend! The rest of Europe, including Scotland is enjoying a sunny spring break, while the warmest, driest part of Spain is swathed in clouds, mist and torrential rain. Even the dry ramblas are running like the burns of my native tierra! Despite having two very bored and slightly wet smelling dogs , this is great. I know it won’t solve the problems facing our planet in the long term but I can’t wait to get back up to the huerto to see the effect on my spring planting. Stop press! I have two baby artichokes… despite my doubts as expressed in my previous blog. The two plants that I rather callously dug up and transplanted now have little fruits. This week , before the rain, I was also able to pick the first of the new salad leaves for a tasty supper. My tomato plants are flowering already and I have more to put in once the rain stops. The onions, peppers, aubergine, courgette, cucumbers and celery have all taken and are coming along nicely and I have dotted herbs, garlic and marigolds around everything to try and deter pests. Slugs and snails are not usually a problem but I suspect after this weekend, my lettuce might be in danger. Fingers crossed as well that everything has not been washed away! All going well and when the sun comes out again I think I can say that I am slowly learning what does and does not work. What is worth growing and what we will eat!
Feliz Pascua… Happy Easter…. Have a lovely sunny weekend!
I am just about to head off up to my allotment with a tub of leek seedlings, compost , Ben and my fingers crossed . This little bit of Spanish land that I try to cultivate has been yet another learning experience in my adventure in a foreign land! Those readers who worked with me at Ross High might remember my crazy garden project in much neglected quad surrounded by classrooms and seagulls’ nests? Despite the kamikaze seagulls, the project worked and not only got pupils off their phones and in to the fresh air,it also produced some wonderful potatoes (tatties) which we sold in the staff room to buy more seeds. I think the project continues although unlike here, it will only now be warming up enough to begin this year’s planting. Here there are two growing seasons which means year round gardening ! No winter break! Lesson number one ! Just look at the fruit laden lemon trees …..they are also in blossom ! It’s crazy!
I love gardening and gardens but have always been a bit hectic in my approach to them and have never managed to maintain the manicured variety…more a slightly wild (natural?) space. I am a complete amateur and while I have read up on ‘how to ‘ and watched gardening programmes, most of my learning has been achieved through trial, error ,success and disaster.
Gardens mean different things to different people and like life choices , every one is entitled to take their own approach to their garden . It might be easy maintenance, slabs , chips and grass and a spot to sit and enjoy a glass of something ( too boring and tidy for me) , expensively landscaped and maintained by a professional ( still too boring!) , or a perfect mix of trim borders, manicured lawns and Mr McGregor’s vegetable plot ( jealousy creeping in here). The only gardens that I don’t understand are the ‘why not just have a flat ,your garden is totally neglected ? variety. I can be a little judgemental here! For me, a garden is essential. I am happiest outside . Always have been. It’s my excuse for not being able to play the piano and my very mediocre academic achievements. While there was light in the sky and pals in the street, practising my scales or learning the periodic table did not have a chance!
Therefore it was not very long before our tiny garden in Calle Jacaranda , while perfect for that aperitif and eating al fresco, was not quite enough of a challenge. In the early months of our new life, we cycled along the Rio Segura cycle path in to the city and I was fascinated by the huertos or allotments. Most, much bigger than an average Scottish allotment and mainly cultivating oranges and lemons. Many also have little shacks and patio areas for weekend barbecues and one or two have chickens ! It looked like a warm, sunny version of ‘The Good Life’. I did a bit of on line research but for the most part, these parcels of land seemed to run in families. There are the odd ‘ for sale’ signs but all I was looking for was a small plot to rent, not half an acre to buy!
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR ! …… It is amazing how things suddenly come about when you want them badly enough. Just before our first christmas here, a poster went up at the security box and entry to our urbanisation. Marta the administrator for the urbanisation , was organising a meeting to discuss the possibility of starting huertos on a large , empty piece of land bang smack in the middle of the houses! An organic land scaping company would prepare the plots, organise the watering systems, look after the land around each plot and hold workshops in organic vegetable gardening. I went along to the meeting and while I struggled to understand much of it, I got the gist , signed up, made a new English friend and began my huerto journey in February last year. We pay the landscape company a monthly fee and are free then to garden , enjoy the picnic areas and meet our neighbours. As Benny gets older and finds the energy of our crazy pup too much, I take him up to the huerto and he loves to wander round, eat herbs and lie in the sun while I work. Benny knows, like St Thomas Aquinas, that your are never nearer to God than in a garden. I am not religious in the conventional sense but a couple of hours in the evening as the sun goes down, pottering in my little plot is calming and magical.
There have been many lessons learned on this particular project and some moments of serious doubt, is this too much like hard work? Will I have to garden in the dark in August when temperatures never go below 29 degrees C even in the middle of the night? Is it worth it when I can buy the same vegetables in the market for a few cents? The lessons learned are not all botanical, meeting Spanish neighbours has meant that a morning at the huerto can also become a language lesson. For example, in Scotland I called my school project ‘gardening’. In Spain ‘ to garden’ means growing flowers and lawns not vegetables. We are cultivating not gardening! Two completely different verbs. It is why most ‘garden centres’ that you find on the costas only sell decorative gardening plants , although most will have fruit and olive trees. You have to find a specialist centres that sell seeds and seedlings. There are exceptions but our nearest that sold both was 40 minutes away until my friend Anne and recently found a shed like shop at the side of a main road in a nearby town with lovely seedlings – six onions sets, two aubergine seedlings, four chard plants – one euro! I’ll be back! Other lessons learned have mainly been about what grows well in our hot, dry climate and what does not. So far I have had a glut of tomatoes, which lasted in the freezer over winter and made great gazpacho, tomato soups and sauces. Lettuce grows all year round and I already have some lovely little oak leaves coming along nicely. Habas or broad beans do very well, and most of the year round, I have red and green chillies in the freezer and new seeds in trays for this years’ plants. Swiss chard is hard to kill and also lasted all over the winter. Some less successful attempts were my own fault, lack of research and pig headedness. My artichokes pictured above were an early lesson in curbing impatience. Root vegetables , carrots, potatoes etc, only grow here in winter and even then it’s a challenge as the climate is so dry. Likewise peas, which I planted in April last year, the results were tasty but short lived and probably less than half a kilo of peas! the plants were killed off as temperatures climbed into the 20s. I foolishly put carrot seeds in, hundreds of fluffy green seedings soon appeared after April showers and May sunshine. They needed painstaking thinning out and then did little or nothing over the next few dry months. Again less than half a kilo! Not worth the effort! My tallest disaster has to have been my sweetcorn, which grew from seed and produced lovely tall plants and about five cobs that were so tough, they were really only for animal feed! The other big lesson was not to be greedy. Stop growing in autumn and turn the whole plot over then feed. I bashed on planting winter brassicas but between knackered soil and very cold nights , I only harvested two tennis ball sized cauliflowers and four heads of tasty but tiny broccoli! Lesson learned, I was lucky to have Rafa, the professional who helps us with the space , he tractored the whole allotment. Lots of new compost and feed in the soil and we are ready to go again! Watch this space.