Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Thursday 20 April 2017

Happy Birthday Mum!

On 1st April, it was my mum's 80th birthday! Although I couldn't get to celebrate with her on the day, we had previously arranged to have a little party at my sister's house the following week, so on the Friday afternoon, I jumped into my little blue car and drove down to Malaga to catch a plane to the UK.

After an uneventful and relatively peaceful flight, I arrived in Manchester where my sister was waiting for me.  We spent Saturday shopping and cooking and generally chatting away as usual and the sun shone down. It was lovely and everything went to plan.

The party was relatively small but consisted of family and close friends. It was a shame that all my family couldn't come with me but it was logistically and financially impossible to travel en masse so close to Easter. However, one of my gifts to my mum was a large framed photo of my three - Mum's request - and she was very happy with it.

I also did a painting for her. One of my Zentangles which carries a 'hidden' message....look carefully and you might just see that the design is based on the number '80 80 80'.

I had the picture framed with a nice dark passepartout and a mid-oak frame which looks perfect in Mum's room
It was very good to see old friends - many of whom are now genuinely old....but who look great. I also think my mum looks pretty good for 80!! Here are a few photos from the day...I should really have taken more, especially as my sister's garden was looking so very beautiful but I completely forgot!

A view of the delightful garden - perfect place for a party

Setting out the tables and chairs...

Tuck in... plenty of delicious food for all tastes.

And an Easter themed birthday cake...the chicken is co-incidental! It was a gift from a friend to my sister but to put it on the top was irresistible. We decided against risk!

Well done Mum - a brilliant 80!!
Here's to continuing health and happiness. Axxx

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Four years

Four years have passed since we moved into our house here in Villalobos. In some ways - as we all say - it seems to be only yesterday when we packed up our things yet again and drove out in the drizzle to the countryside. It was such an exciting day...

The lovely table didn't collapsed sometime last year.

The garden in its original wild state

Romy happy in the silly little reformed to full height!
Four years on and there has been a lot of work. It's involved digging up existing parts, adding new bits, rather a lot of concrete and huge amounts of toil, mainly by FR but with help from the boys on the more back-breaking things!

There has been a lot of planting, building of walls and the placing of strategic electrical points in preparation for summer living....
Lots of trees....walnut, almond, cherry, nectarine, plum, pear,,,,
There's still a lot to do but FR's vision is taking place. I keep putting bulbs every year - slowly but surely our garden is starting to bloom.

I don't have a lot of time for gardening 'proper' but Mateo is a good helper and a brilliant weeder...I'm looking forward to getting the front of the house's still the original ugly concrete that was here when we moved in. In time, it will be a beautiful terrace and additional living space, with furniture and plants and nice things. In time. 

And today, I have just taken a walk down memory lane as I dropped Romy off at her friend's house, which is the house we lived in before we moved here! It's such a beautiful day that I decided to do my old, favourite walk (though sadly without my favourite little white ball of fur that was Darwin....) up through the pine trees to La Mota, glad that there was no one around to hear my panting and puffing as I plodded up the steep hill. About halfway up, I heard a band playing. Practising for Semana Santa. It was lovely to listen and as I got to the top, I could see that they were rehearsing carrying the platforms that in a couple of weeks will be topped with figures of Christ, the (various) Virgins, plus donkeys, flowers, other figures - making them very heavy indeed. Today though, from an onlooker's point of view, it looked like a large table with about 20 people underneath it, who from time to time, lifted it up onto their shoulders and 'processed' a distance to the music, then stopping for a break. 

The glorious view from the top towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the distance. The playground is new. 
As is this 'recontstructed', in a wonderfully minimal sense, church at the foot of La Mota. 

It really was a gloriously bright and sunny day on Sunday.

My photo is embarrassingly bad - I didn't manage to capture the 'table' or really even the people underneath - and you can't see the band that was just around the corner...I felt a little rude taking photos of a rehearsal. Perhaps I shouldn't have bothered at all!
Anyway - it was a slightly comical sight but will be impressive in a week or so from now once the processions start.

Four years ago, blogging was an integral part of my life. I could hardly carry out any activity without thinking how my blog post would accompany its description. Nowadays, I rarely write and rarely read blogs....and with a few notable exceptions, I think many of my blogging friends must feel a bit the same. It's too easy now to upload a photo to Facebook or Instagram and be done with it. I also have less free time than I had for writing. My free time is usually spent drawing my Zentangles. I am more addicted to this than ever! Partly, this is because every Friday evening, since last October, I have been sharing my passion with a class of, mainly, women in the Women's Association that I am a member of. It started out as the usual sharing of different skills, but very quickly after I did some Zentangle drawing for them, there is now huge enthusiasm and more than a little talent amongst this group and I'm going to show a little of our work here. 'Being Here', for me, is about being part of the town I live in and apart from my children, Zentangle is a thing that has brought me more into the community than almost anything else. It's important to say that I am NOT a certified Zentangle teacher ....yet! I am so determined that one day I will be so for now, we say we enjoy tangling. In Spanish, all those consonants together means that Zentangle is a very difficult word to say!

Our classes are informal and just for fun and we practice different patterns.
Outside the class, people also tangle - and bring in their various artistic endeavours each week. And each week, they are more impressive.

Note, for example, the beautifully decorated box on the right - absolutely stunning work by Aurora. You can see some of her 'practice' work, albeit a bit blurred, in the notebook she's working in.
She's really very good.

This is a final set of tiles, done in the last half an hour of the class. There is a peace and tranquillity that descends at this time that is incredible. A room full of women - Spanish women for the main - and silence. Beautiful, eloquent silence as we slip into a Zen state of concentration and creativity.

And this is in my English teaching classroom - sometimes the drawing creeps into an English lesson. I have one group of young teenage girls and it's a special treat for us all when we have a lesson devoted to the language of Zentangle!

And whilst I started off this post by saying that it seems like only yesterday that we moved house, looking back now, and seeing how life has changed and developed in these four seems like we have done a lot and moved on even more, not forgetting those we have lost.

Life has changed in many ways for us all. What were you doing four years ago?


Saturday 4 March 2017

Al azar.....

Since the summer last year, at the invitation of a great women's association here in Alcala, I've been giving Zentangle classes on a Friday evening. I think we have around 25 people, mainly women, who come regularly, either to the beginners or the advanced classes, I often leave the house feeling quite tired after a long week, but invariably, I am rejuvenated when I arrive home a few hours later.

Al azar is a 'Spanish' phrase which I recently discovered and which has made my Friday evening's teaching SO much easier all of a sudden. 'Azar' is not originally a Spanish word, as you may imagine. It seems to originate in Persia, is found in Arabic (which is probably how it entered Spanish) and is quite common in Hebrew too. It can mean chance, fate, bad luck, 'Al azar', however, means randomly, frivolously or by chance. This is the meaning I need in my classes.

The point being that I became ridiculously excited when I discovered this phrase, because my alternative was a very long word that I could never remember...aleatoriamente ....but which I need to use very often during the classes to explain - 'make random dots on the paper'. Random is one of my favourite words - and indeed, concepts. Doing or thinking things 'at random' sparks my imagination and can set me on a wonderful path of discovery - finding something by chance is so exciting. It's one of the things I love in teaching and in my drawing. You never know where you'll end up or what you'll end up with.

It's how writing my blogposts go. I sit down with an intention in mind but many of my posts take a direction of their own at the production of a random word that triggers a set of thoughts.
I'm labouring the point. I'll stop.

I was on my way home today from taking Romy to a friend's birthday celebration. It has been raining quite a lot in the past couple of days so I was quite surprised to see a neighbour out and walking up the hill, still at some distance from her house. I stopped and asked if she wanted me to take her home, but she grinned and said no, she liked walking in the rain. She was wearing her dressing gown. Couldn't see her feet. But she did look very happy! Just thought I'd share.

A couple of weeks ago now, the wife of Edward Bond died. Edward is FR's guide, mentor and friend and he knew Elisabeth personally. At random, he opened a book of Bond's poetry a few days later, only to find the poem, 'She died'. FR was genuinely moved by this chance occurrence.

Strange random things sometimes encourage us to look for patterns in life. I'm not saying we always find them but there is a sense of reassurance for me that today - 4th March - is the birthdate of my great grandmother and FR's father. And that both our sets of parents got married on the 10th June - which is also the birthday of my oldest and closest friend. They make little links in our lives. Randomly, of course.

This is the pattern that sparked my need for the word 'random' in Spanish. It starts off with a set of random dots on the page which are then joined together with five lines. So simple and so effective - I use it sometimes with my English students if I ever get on to the subject of chance, of course!

Random questions make great conversation topics in my English classes. It's incredible how an unexpected question or statement can spark several memories or thoughts in people's heads. No need to worry about a language barrier if people really want to speak. Recently one of the best random questions was 'How would the world be different if animals could speak?....It really got my 13 year old students talking and made many of them think deeply about eating meat, visiting zoos and protecting the environment.

Quite out of the blue, I got a message last night from my nephew, Will. Several years ago, I bought him a wooden box for his birthday. It had a dragon on it and it caught my attention for him as he often uses the name 'Wishdragon' when online - a lovely name in itself - so the box seemed perfect. Being Will, I suspect he was a tad bemused at receiving an empty box but it made him think how he could put it to use. I am so delighted with what he came up with...a musical box, complete with the roll and beautiful tune he composed himself. Hope you enjoy this.

I will randomly end at this point, stopping only to say - do share any random thoughts or ideas you might have at this moment!

Thank you!

Saturday 14 January 2017

Starting 2017

It seems so long since I posted that this really does feel like starting over! I have been working many more hours a week since the summer and now, a few months on, I am getting into it and coping better. It has taken a while with some of the classes in the Academy but I am much more relaxed now about teaching in my own style and enjoying the interaction with the students there. And the people at the company continue to be engaged, fun and a pleasure to teach. So as far as the teaching and the working goes, life is really good.

It felt as though we all had to work right up to Christmas. School and academies didn't finish officially until 23 December and many students had exams in the final week. I missed the celebratory Christmas lunches that I used to have with colleagues and friends when I lived in the UK - more so this year, I think, because I was working more - but in our town, Christmas is still pretty low-key as it is one of the more intensive periods of work. It's olive picking season. The hills and countryside ring with machinery and tractors and the roads are positively busy with landrovers full of workers ready to gather the fruit. They've been lucky with the weather this year - it's been clear blue skies (and very cold nights) since mid-December. It's hard not to get caught up in the hype of buying and spending at this time of year but easier when it's not being pushed at you from all sides. We were aware that Christmas was coming - the lights and trees in the town blazed from 6th December - but it has been comparatively subdued. I'm sure I've commented on this before and I'm glad we haven't had the Christmas 'musak' in the shops, the constant bombardment with advertising, the pressure the buy, buy, buy ....but I still miss Christmas carols and pre-Christmas parties...

My boys have reached an age where, when asked what they would like for Christmas, they say just one thing and don't have long expensive lists (phew!) ...Romy hasn't quite got there yet (but she will!) As a result, we had a quiet Christmas at home with a few presents round the tree on Christmas morning, a delicious lunch and then our usual routine of Christmas games and fun that are particularly English. I enjoyed it very much. I think we all did.

Back in August, I rashly booked a trip to England for Ruy, Romy and myself in late December until 6th January. I say 'rashly' because I didn't check with anyone before I booked, including Ruy and Romy! The prices were good and I had this sudden thought that they would like to visit London - for the first time - and Christmas was always especially exciting, with the lights and the special events. I planned for us to go to Manchester and visit family first, then head to Huddersfield to catch up with old friends before a couple of days in the capital. When I told them, they were less than enthusiastic...or at least not as enthusiastic as I'd hoped they would be. Fortunately as, time went on, they warmed to the idea. I seriously failed to take into account that my sister always goes skiing at this time of year and we had nowhere to stay. And in the intervening months. my father has been so ill that we began to fear we might have an unplanned visit before Christmas but I am glad to say that he has had a good recovery and was looking quite well when we saw him at New Year. He really is incredible!!
However, our backup plan to stay with my parents - a bit of a squash but manageable - caused my mum some stress as dad is often awake during the night and she was worried that as well as keeping her awake, he would keep us awake. So we booked into a hotel near Knutsford for that part of our visit - and which Mum generously paid for.
In addition, I began to have serious qualms about the potential for bad weather. It would not be unusual to find freezing fog, rain, driving wind and even snow between Knutsford and Huddersfield during the winter month, now would it! I'd booked a car for the northern part of our trip and did spent a lot of time checking the weather forecasts as our journey approached - all looked like it might be OK but I know how changeable it can be.

In the end, the weather, travel and fun gods smiled down on us and we had a wonderful time. It was 18 months since the children saw their grandparents and we were lucky that dad was well enough for us to all go out for lunch one day and to have an afternoon playing dominoes together - Romy was the winner.

Our time in Huddersfield was spent at my friend Marion's house, who was the absolutely perfect host and where we felt utterly at home. We also had a delightful afternoon with Karen and Philip, friends of mine since we were at University, where my children were introduced to dumplings and frog-flipping.

Then Ruy spent a day with old school friends, which he enjoyed, whilst Romy and I went shopping and where I discovered that at almost 13, Romy is a professional at selecting which clothes are 'her' and which are not.

The weather was more than lovely, it was spectacular and I so enjoyed a long walk with Marion one afternoon, taking in green fields, damp verges, crisp blue skies and woolly white sheep in the fields. Super bracing and definitely appetite-building. And we did eat a lot! It was so tempting to eat everything that was 'not Spanish' for a change. We had curry, home-made pizzas, moussaka, Greggs pasties (!), mince pies, apple pie, thick fresh cream, filo pastries, meat and potato pie, turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwiches, cappuccino coffee and gingerbread biscuits.....oh, I could go on ... but I won't! Marion had a party whilst we were there, where there was more game playing and lots of eating and catching up with old friends.
And then it was time to leave.

After taking the car back to the rental village at Manchester airport, I think the children were almost ready to go home. We felt to have been away quite a long time but we still had London to do! We caught the train and arrived just before it got dark. Our hotel was outside London, near Wandsworth (long story why) so we took the upstairs seats of a double decker and took the scenic route via Trafalgar Square, past Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey...over the Thames and with views of the London Eye - all lit up and beautiful by 4.30! Having lived in London in my early twenties, I love seeing how much I remember and how much has changed. It did look particularly lovely when we arrived and we saw some ice-skating rinks which we decided would be a good thing to try out the next day.

And the next day, after a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off the the Natural History and Science Museums - where there just happened to be one of the above-mentioned ice-rinks. We bought tickets for an afternoon twirl.

And then we went to explore the museums. I adore these buildings so much and the weather was again unbelievably beautiful and showing London off at its best. We spent the morning in the Science Museum, then went round to the Natural History Museum, where we met my cousin from Australia, Dee-Anne. She mentioned on Facebook that she would be visiting London at the same time as we were there so what a great opportunity to catch up?

Which we did over lunch ...and whilst Ruy and Romy were trying out their skating legs. (You didn't think I went skating as well, did you?) We held the coats and shouted encouragement, whilst carrying on our own conversation and soaking up the beautiful surroundings. Sneakily, I would have loved to have skated but was really worried that I might fall and break something important which would create serious knock-on problems for our return home....

And try as I might, I couldn't persuade the children to leave the museums so when they closed, they were happy to make the journey back to the hotel, stopping to buy some sandwiches to eat in the room. I intended that we went out again later but they were exhausted - we'd walked a lot and skating is quite tiring - so after laughing a lot at Romy, we eventually fell asleep quite early. And the next day we had to make our way to the airport at Gatwick. We had time to go to Buckingham Palace and ALMOST see the changing of the guard. My goodness, what a lot of people there were - probably the sunshine that brought everyone out on the streets.

(There were so many people that it crossed my mind that the Queen's cold had got the better of her, but apparently not and the crowds were quite normal.)

And then, we were on the train to Gatwick and home! I'd had another slight panic back in October when it sounded as though Monach Airlines were about to collapse....they were, of course, the airline we would travel back with. But again, we were spared any problems and I would like to congratulate our pilot on the smoothest landing I have ever experienced - like a feather brushing the earth, it was.

FR and Mateo were just arriving as we emerged from the airport - they'd been on the beach at Malaga when I called to say we'd landed (15 minutes early) and they had to scrabble into the car and make the 10 minute journey to find us, so our joint timing was perfect for a quick pick-up. It was lovely to see them again after what felt like a very long time. It was nice too to feel energised by the trip because, contrary to my many fears (foul weather, my dad's health, staying in so many different places) and worries (responsibility for passports, tickets and belongings always weighs heavily on me when I'm with the children), the holiday had exceeded my expectations; we'd had wonderful weather, done everything we'd wanted, negotiated roads, rail and air travel and returned safely without a single problem*, a great deal of good temper and a sense of achievement. I really feel as though my 2017 had got off to a very good start indeed. I won't start on the state of the world at this point, but having such a good personal beginning is giving me the strength to face what might be to come....

*There was just one hiccup to all my plans. I lost tally of the days and dates and as a result, failed to meet up with Kath and Jenny as I had planned. I would also have LOVED to have seen Janice but I didn't make plans to do this, focusing this time on doing what the children wanted to do and knowing that she and Mark have had a busy and exciting time with family themselves.

And, if you've stayed with me to this point - thank you. If I saw you in England, it was a pleasure - it's always lovely to bump into people in the street that I know. It often gives them a bit of a surprise but the years roll away immediately - at least they do for me.

Here are a few more photos - all from our trip.
Happy New Year to everyone and I sincerely hope we can pull together to make it a good one, somewhere and somehow.

Romy looking very proficient

And Ruy too!
Possibly my favourite photo...

Waiting for a turn in the 360degree flying pod at the Science Museum

Outside the Natural History Museum
With Dee-Anne ...still at the Museums!

Palm trees, blue Wandsworth! (HONEST)

Monday 7 November 2016


As I was saying..Smart phones have a lot to answer for!

For example, I was leaving work the other evening and as I walked down to my car, I had the most sensational view of the castle, here in Alcala la Real. And so I took out my phone and took a photo of it. And it was up on Facebook before I got home. Pretty impressive, really.

(Here it is, if you missed it on Facebook!) Isn't that inky sky just glorious?

And having almost a week's holiday in the UK with my sister and my parents was made to feel less of a distance from my own family when my daughter sent me this (completely unrecognisable) photo of herself, out on Halloween.

I guess it must be her,,, there aren't too many Romys around.

It was also good to be able to ask her which jumper she liked best by sending her an immediate Whatsapp message to avoid making a dreadful fashion mistake...

This one...
or this one...

(She answered but I bought both anyway and she was happy.)

I had a lovely time in the UK but before I get on to that, which I probably will, let me just share a little lesser known corner of Spain that Mateo and I discovered recently.

Ruy had an Archery competition near La Carolina, which is about an hour and a half's drive north of here, heading to the mountains that delineate the beginning or the end of Andalucia (depending on which way you're travelling.) These mountains, or rather one of the main passes that takes you through the Sierra Morena, is called DespeƱaperros - translated quite literally as 'dogs tumble or fall from a high cliff' or (as I rather cynically think as it's not a reflexive verb, ie. the dogs don't do it to themselves)... 'dogs are tumbled or made to fall'. It is a spectacular place with national park status, incredible flora and fauna and an impressive number of soaring vultures usually on display. We almost always stop there on our journeys to the north of Spain. But is it awful of me to think that a place with a this great gorge and such a name might well have earned that name at some point in the past?  Was it not the place people threw away their dogs? I wish them all well, the dogs,whenever we go and we never, ever let ours out at this point unless he's safely on a lead!

Anyway...(I had a feeling this would be a rambly one right from the start!)..after a very early start, Ruy, Mateo and I had a lovely drive up to La Carolina in my smart and sassy little new car. Having reached the town without incident, we then had a rather traumatic 3kms to the archery site where I was convinced I had scraped something vital off the bottom of the car as we navigated, at a snail's pace, the rough and potholed track to the hosting finca. I was almost in tears but we did manage to keep going and nothing seemed to be leaking out or falling off, so after seeing the archers off on their first round, Mateo and I headed off for our own little adventure deep in the mountains of the Sierra Morena.

It took us an hour or so to go the next 30kms - which is slow going, believe me - but we firstly turned off the motorway at DespeƱaperros and turned right, instead of the usual left, heading for the strangely named village of Aldeaquemada - Burnt Village. It was 'only' 23 kms....of hairpin bends going up, up, up and ever upwards. Obviously, we eventually started the same process only this time going down. Before we left, I had seen that there were some waterfalls near the village that were supposedly worth a turn of the head and I thought Mateo would like to visit them with me - and I was suitably impressed that he agreed, even though it meant getting out of bed before midday on a Sunday...7 hours before midday. He did say, 'where are you taking me?' at one point but I had lost the plot myself and was just wildly changing gear between 1st and 2nd and hoping that we would arrive somewhere...anywhere..soon! Which of course, we eventually did...Aldeaquemada. It didn't look burnt but heaven knows how the population survived there. I half suspected that there was a backway from another town that probably only took 8 minutes and where you would be able to find shops and bars and possibly even a petrol station....However, it's not. I took the following from its website (translated with the help of Google as I couldn't really believe what I was reading!) and it doesn't do much to encourage a visit..

  • Its climate is humid, prone to inertia, quartan fever, dropsy and soreness of the ribs. The prevailing winds are from the west and north and the population has 60 houses of common construction, 6 short streets leading to a square; a granary, a church, a cemetery, served by a priest; a primary school, equipped by parents of students, and an insignificant amount of 'their own; (Google couldn't help me with this but it made me shudder a little); a town hall, a jail, a butchers, an abattoir and an inn at the entrance of the village, built by the government. 
  • There are 357 inhabitants... which by my reckoning means almost 6 people per house! 
Anyway, after our first wrong turn as we entered the village, we saw the lot and before we were spotted by any locals and encouraged to stay and experience any dropsy and quantan fever-filled hospitality, we sped off down an unmade track, grinding my poor new car's bottom along as we went, towards my intended destination.

The waterfalls of Cimbarra. 

We had mentally prepared ourselves for slight disappointment as we were coming to the end of a long, very hot and very dry summer. We knew that cascades of water were not just unlikely but out of the question. But we were blown away by the place, even without a dribble.

It was silent. It was vast. It was just mindblowingly beautiful. I posted these on Facebook, but I share them again here on the basis that you just can't get too much of a good thing!

Look at the amazing rock formations in the distance!

And close up!

We couldn't be sure but it looked as though at one time, there had been some sort of mill here. 

Which would explain the millstones...but we were miles from anywhere....most strange.

Fascinating rock strata

And then, the pool of unfathomable depth where, in spring, the waterfall splashes down.

You can see where the water will travel and that we very nearly had a trickle as it had rained earlier in the week.

There is a little water in those top hollows...

A zoom in to the cave behind where the water falls
 And a clip that I filmed as we first arrived and enjoyed the silence and the landscape.

Anyway...we eventually tore ourselves away, hairpinned our way back to civilisation for a leisurely sandwich and coffee - not in Aldeaquemada, I hasten to add - before heading back in good time to wait for Ruy. As always, I hoped he might beat his rival, national champion, Alberto just this once...but as we arrived, I got a phone call from Ruy asking me to come and get him as soon as possible as he'd sliced his finger open with a broken arrow and couldn't continue. So I did...but I didn't drive the last 300m in my poor battered old car. This was on the basis that if I needed to get him to hospital, then I needed the car in one piece. As it happened, the wound was clean, if deep, and not bleeding too much and we decided that a mad dash to A&E wasn't necessary. And it's now healed completely.

And whilst I was in the UK, as well as new pens for tanglin, I picked up a most horrendous cold which only really emerged when I got home. I ended up in bed the last three days and even now, the desk is littered with snotty tissues. Aren't colds just the pits!

When my sister picked me up from the airport, she whisked me immediately off to see a chiropractor that she has started to visit. He specialises in neurology and brain function and has done amazing things to help my sister's foot problems. I don't have time here to explain it all but I am going to do a post on my experience with Anthony soon. I need to keep practising my exercises first though. It's all very unusual!

Just before we went in to see Anthony, my sister warned me that my dad had had a very nasty fit two days earlier and she had thought he wouldn't survive. But he has and I found him remarkably well under the circumstances. I am not entirely sure he is ever absolutely sure that it's me that's visiting. I arrived about 10 minutes before my mum's friend usually comes to play dominoes and he assumed I was her. The idea of dominoes was obviously rather more exciting than my presence because he sounded a bit disappointed....but unfortunately, that is how his life is now. My mother is quite incredible and manages as much as she can with sometimes wicked good humour and acceptance as long as my dad is also good humoured and easy-going. But when he occasionally has bouts of anger or depression, I know she finds it all very difficult. Not being nearer, it is too simple for me to forget how complex it is for my sister....

Anyway, whilst I was in the UK, I met up with Janice! Yes, she was in the UK at the same time - which is very nearly a first for about four years when I saw her in Huddersfield after her treatment and we had a really special hug that I will never forget. We met for lunch in a cool new dining place in Knutsford, where we indulged in sausage and mash but never took a single photo. Not of ourselves, each other, the place, our food...not on our erratic drive back to my sister's, not when we were there, not in the rain or the sun...Janice! We didn't take a photo!! But it was so good to have a few hours to chat and enjoy your company. And you were, as always, looking super chic! I did love that jacket!

I went out again that evening and ate really well in a very lovely pub in the unlikely-named village of Grappenhall. I say unlikely-named but I have checked it out and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is also the birthplace of Tim Curry and is where pianist Stephen Hough grew up.  The carving in the church there is said to be the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat... all of which is slightly more interesting than Aldeaquemada had to say for itself. (I still don't know why it's called that either!)

Anyway, I have rabbited on far too long and far too much and avoided doing any housework this morning. I will be out teaching all afternoon and need to go and prepare for this. I will leave you with the threat that there may be more to follow. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed just blathering on! I never even mentioned the Anderton Boat Lift, musical fireworks, Scrabble, Chester, sculpture, what got packed and what was left behind what was taken away, vis....there's lots more!
(Proofreading....sorry, no time!)

Saturday 10 September 2016

Driving over olives....and almonds...and things.

Too long, yes, I know. Too long and this post will also be too long. And I think I know why I haven't been blogging. I can almost name the day when I lost that interest, that bloggers way of looking at things and situation, mentally outlining a blogpost as I looked.
It was the day I got a smartphone.

On that day, I could receive my emails, I could log onto Facebook, I could search the internet for information, I could even play endless games of Scrabble with my mother! I could take all my information around with me in my handbag. Oh, and make phone calls too, if necessary. I admit to being utterly smitten with my smartphone. And possibly still am.

But writing blogposts? No way - impossible. And even reading other people's is quite difficult really. And if I ever tried to leave a comment from my phone, it would almost always show up in duplicate. As if I didn't really know what I was doing. I don't know why it happened - perhaps I don't know what I'm doing....

And over the months, my boys became used to playing games on the computer - games of civilisation building and destroying, hunting out and attacking unknown enemies with friends from hundreds of miles away, aircraft flying and mine crafting...and so on. And I stopped making them come off when I wanted a write a blog post or check my emails or play Spider Solitaire (my other time-wasting passion). And when I did approach, they'd complain that they couldn't stop JUST NOW as they'd die, or lose the game or let their teammates down or something. So I'd go away and forget why I needed the computer when I could do most things on my phone.

We've just come back from a few days in Valladolid with family. All is not well and my poor mother-in-law has had a horrible year. It's not for me to say anything about what has been happening but a part of her family has fallen apart just when she needed it most. These things do happen and it's never easy but the timing has left a lot to be desired. As always, our visit was too short and as always, we left leaving her feeling bereft - although we did leave her Mateo for a few days. Might help a bit.

For me, our six days away seemed much longer because we packed an awful lot in. Our journey up began on Friday afternoon and as usual, we had to take Misha and Pippin with us, the one protesting loudly for most of the way and the other drugged up to the eyeballs to prevent doggy travel sickness. We headed first for Aranjuez, which is just south of Madrid. There, Ruy and I disembarked outside a very normal apartment block in a residential street - in temperatures of over 30 degrees, even though it was 9pm. We waved the rest of the family off and prepared for our stay with Pedro - our Airbnb host for the night. Next morning, it was the national junior archery competition  and Ruy was taking part - this year as a Cadet. But back to our lodgings. It was quite comical. Not only were all the hotels nearby very expensive, they were also almost completely booked up and not just because of the archery competition, but because it was the weekend of the town's annual fair. Pedro was a charming host and his apartment was clean and simple, although it was unchanged since it was built, with garish 60s tiles in the bathroom and kitchen - but no creature comforts to speak of. But oh so unbelievably cheap!! 25 euros for both of us for one night with open access to anything in the fridge that we wanted. I was so relieved as I had been a tad worried about taking such a risk but it was worth it. Ruy and I wandered around Aranjuez and got something to eat before going early to bed, just as all the fireworks, live music and fairground noises began. Fortunately, we were just far enough away from the centre to have only a muffled version and in the end, we didn't have a bad night's rest. Under the circumstances.

Aranjuez is rather lovely.

And breakfast was good

With Alberto

The competition was held just outside the town and we got there in good time, indulging in a taxi for convenience. At 8.30am, it didn't feel too, too bad, but the forecast was for a very hot day indeed.

Ruy met his old friend and competitor, Alberto, the current champion and also from Andalucia - they were the only two from this area although there were a couple more from nearby Murcia.

 Many of the competitors were local to the Madrid area or had come down from Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria - and they, without doubt, suffered most from the high temperatures. I spent the day pootling about between the town and the venue and must have walked about 10 kilometres in total. In sweltering heat...a different sort of sweltering heat to here in our village. Here, the heat is so dry that I always suspect that when I hang out my washing, the chances of me spontaneously combusting are actually higher than me sweating. Not so in Aranjuez. It was heavy and humid and most unpleasant. I sat in the shade and tangled my Zentangles - helps to pass the time. Ruy finished the first round in 4th place, just outside the medals. And then after a couple of big barbecued chorizo sandwiches, they all set off to do the second round. Really, they should have finished by 2pm, but the first round had been slow. It was almost 4pm before they began to return - poor kids - so hot, so sweaty, utterly exhausted but most of them showing incredible resilience. Ruy had done a good second round and managed to get third place and a spot on the platform with a medal. We were delighted!

Afterwards, we took a bus into Madrid then another one up to Valladolid, with everything going to plan and one more thing ticked off the 'to do' list. Phew!

The whole of Spain has been suffering this week in tremendous heat and it leaves everyone feeling wrung out. However, I was on holiday. I've spent all summer working - something I don't usually do - but I had a plan. I've taken on some extra hours as from the start of the new term and I'm using my extra income to fund a new car for myself. We've done very well so far in managing with just the one car, but with me out of the house for more hours, I'm not happy leaving FR and the children without transport. On Tuesday, I will collect my first completely new car for quite some years. In fact, the last one was a little Peugeot 106 which I bought in 1995 and which I loved utterly and completely. I hope I feel the same about my new Toyota Yaris, which is almost the same colour - important factor in cars - a very blue metallic colour. I have to wait a bit longer though...then she'll get a post to herself. But air conditioning is a must!

SO! Back to my holiday! I booked a night in a hotel for FR and me. Special treat. It was in the amazing medieval walled city of Avila, just a little north west of Madrid. We set off before lunch on Tuesday and our hotel was inside the city walls - which were just incredible - and right in the very heart of all the jaw-dropping architecture. I took almost 100 photos - too many to post, but believe me, every time I turned my head, there was another wonderful stone building - a palace, a church, a museum, a's just a small selection.

They don't do it justice but I couldn't possibly post all that I took. And the food! Avila is famous for its beef - Chuleton - a big steak on the bone. FR and I ate at an excellent restaurant, recommended to us by a taxi driver. And it was really very good indeed. Afterwards, we visited the local museum, had coffee and little sweet things called 'Yemas', made from egg yolks and sugar, went into several churches, listened to the band practicing and basically walked all around the city, wondering why it was so very quiet - no children, hardly anyone around - until we escaped the walls and discovered that there was a lot more to Avila than we thought! Most of the main city is outside the walls and to the south of the old part. I suspect that FR would have stood a better chance in eating a good pizza outside the walls. What they brought him at an 'Italian' restaurant in the evening of our stay was a long way from being authentic. It wasn't eaten. Our only regret - we should have returned to the first restaurant for our evening meal.

The next morning, after breakfast, we sought out a butchers to bring home a few chuletons to eat with the family. And by the time we came back to Valladolid, we felt to have had a proper, indulgent holiday on our own. And felt much the better for it. Must do it again before too much longer.

Why driving over olives, etc? Well, while we were staying in Valladolid, FR began reading a book that I'd left there several years ago - 'Driving over Lemons' by Chris Stewart. I'd read it before we actually moved to Spain or thought of living in Andalucia but I had it in my head when we were looking for a place to live in the south. I was actually very envious of him and his success in writing about local life. I wasn't envious of his lifestyle which is too remote, too self-sufficient for my taste but I admire his integration into local life, his unending optimism and his ability to deal with apparent good humour, all the idiosyncrasies of the people around him - who have never travelled, or read, or studied much but who always know best. Those who live knowing that most of the people around them are family, not incomers. Until very recently, I have found my adoptive town unfailingly welcoming but a recent occurrence has brought it home to me that our family is not 'from here' and despite our best attempts, when things go a bit awry, then it may be one of us that is scapegoated as a result. It's nothing serious, it's nothing irreparable, but I have learned a lesson. Chris Stewart writes that he swerved his car to avoid squashing a lemon and was told in no uncertain terms that he should drive over them. Lemons squash pretty easily. Here, there's a bit of hard centre to both olives and almonds. Driving over them isn't too bad, but I don't recommend it in bare feet. Just saying.

However, it's because of Chris Stewart that I'm writing again. I don't feel I have the mojo back just yet - and there are far too many words here but maybe, just maybe, it's time to sit back and reflect a little. For me, it's a good way to see things in perspective. We've travelled a long way in the past six years, sometimes at breakneck speed and sometimes at the pace dictated by others.
From Tuesday, I will have my own little car and can metaphorically go my own way.