Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Monday, 28 March 2011

Happy 80th Dad!

A lovely birthday meal - with my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, niece Emily, nephews, Will and Luke and their girlfriends, Roseanne and Alex, my dad's cousins, Enid and David their respective spouses, George and Ruth.

Dad, looking good and perky here!

Dad, Enid, David, Ruth - Mum on the right here

Roseanne, Will, me, Mum, Emily - George on the left

Roseanne, Will, me and Mum

Luke and Alex
Rob's super clever camera - black and white AND colour!

Judy lighting a representative number of candles...

Big breath....

We had to open the window to get rid of all the smoke!

All agreed we had had an excellent afternoon, with some very good food, great company and happy to spend some time together as a family.
Wished the rest of mine could have been there too - I sincerely hope we'll have the opportunity to celebrate another birthday all together before too long.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

It makes you think...FAST

This weekend, I'm taking a quick flight back to the UK. I'm going to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. Just a small gathering, nothing big, but too important for me to miss. It would be lovely if the whole family could come too but sadly, it's not possible.

I'm not very close to my father - we have very different views and opinions on things, life, politics and the like - but we've had a couple of significant events in our lives that go to show that blood ties are always strong. He's my dad and I'm his eldest daughter and whether we speak much or not, we are important to each other and know it.

About twenty years ago - perhaps when our relationship was not at its best (nor its worst!) - whilst on holiday in southern Italy, my dad had a massive heart attack. My sister was with my parents, thank goodness, and her outstanding good sense and medical knowledge saved his life without doubt. For a never-ending two weeks, he was kept in hospital in Italy. My mother did her best to play down the seriousness of the situation but I was in contact with the insurance company that were sorting out a return to the UK of the car and caravan. They did not spare any details of how serious things were. I was on the verge of flying out to see him whilst I still could. However, he's made of steely stuff and rallied enough to be flown back with medical attendance. He was initially brought home and I was there to meet the ambulance. That single, endless moment when we were able to hug again still brings tears to my eyes as we unspokenly forgave each other our differences and silently said how much we cared for and loved each other despite those differences.

He went on to recover well from quadruple by-pass surgery and for about fifteen years, he and my mum carried on relatively busy lives and enjoyed holidays abroad every year. And then one year, they were in Madeira and he suffered a stroke. I believe the hospital in Madeira 'under-reacted' to how serious the stroke was. He spent about five days with minimal intervention - no rehabilitation, no prompt engagement to work on affected areas - all of which I think resulted in a worse outcome than might have been otherwise. He was flown back to England again and spent many months in hospital, where it was clear that he would never be the same again.

It's six years on now and he's had a lot of ill health; the slightest infection or virus can knock back any slight improvement in his mobility and reduce him to total dependency on my mother. She has worked hard with him and they do as much as possible to keep busy, go out, maintain their independence but it's sometimes difficult for them both. I worry that the strain and stress of manhandling my father and having always to make sure he is safe and comfortable will, in the end, be too much for my mother and she will lose her health as well. It's actually hard to see one's parents age. And I worry then because my own parents were young when they had their family. I am as old now as my grandmother was when I was Romy's age! I don't feel it and I probably don't look it (in a good light, anyway..) but I am over 50. My dad was just 56 when he had his heart attack. I am so glad I will be able to give him a big hug on his 80th birthday.

Age and health. They make you think!

And so you know - you can recognise a stroke using the FAST test.

FACIAL weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms?
SPEECH problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
TIME to call an ambulance.

If a person fails any one of these tests, get help immediately.

A speedy response can help reduce the damage to a person’s brain and improve their chances of a full recovery. A delay in getting help can result in death or long-term disabilities.

The Stroke Association - more information.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Exploring La Mota

No, not praying - all will be explained below.
 It is another beautiful sunny day and we had promised ourselves that the next sunny Sunday would be when we made the vertical trek to explore La Mota - the impressive fortress that is symbolic of Alcalá la Real.

This is one of the main entrances to La Mota.
It is called 'La Puerta de los Poetas' or the Poet's Door.

It's difficult to say how much of the original fortress remains. A lot of restoration work has been undertaken in the past 40 years or so and whilst as much as possible has been preserved, it's clear there has been quite a lot of rebuilding too.
Signs of civilisation in the area dating back to three centuries B.C. have been found.
The Romans were here after that, before La Mota became a Muslim stronghold.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Moors and the Christians battled over this strategically placed castle and it exchanged hands many times. It finally ended up in the hands of King Alfonso Xl - and there are many streets and one of the schools here named after him.

The walk around the base of the fortress was beautiful, with wonderful views and sights at every turn. We thought it was as impressive as the Alhambra, though it somehow carried its history more lightly. 

And joy of joys, as we climbed up, we got a wonderful view of the Sierra Nevada - a sight that I have already said does my heart so much good.

It's a bit difficult to see here but the expanse of white in the distance is 'it' for sure.

Have a closer look for yourselves.

Isn't that just gorgeous?
This is Ruy pointing out our house to Romy.

I love the way he is holding her finger to point.

Walking around the walls at the top - inside the fortress itself.

Stunning views all round.

Evidence and remains of the town that used to exist within the castle walls. 

The excavation has been fairly recent work. Inside the museum, there was a photo taken in the 1940s where the outside of the church was all covered over with earth - no real signs of what laid beneath.

Ruy peering down one of the many 'pozos' or wells. There was almost as much to discover under the ground as above it - evidenced by many glass windows in the ground that allowed a glimpse into the various wells, tombs, staircases and other bits of buildings that are hidden below.  See Ruy and Romy on the first picture - they are peering down through the glass. They had to get close to avoid all the reflection.

Oh look! The Sierra Nevada again.

The church, built by Alfonso Xl (you have to say it in Spanish 'Alfonso Once' cos it sounds funny), is now mainly ruined inside having suffered at the hands of Napoleonic forces in the early 1800s and a major earthquake at the end of that century.

The water was wonderful - ice cold - but I have no idea where it was coming from!

Cesar in the tavern!
Or what was once the tavern...

It's a long time since I was in Greece but this picture makes me think of it.

(Except, of course, you can just see the Sierra Nevada in the background.)

.....can't you?

Here - that's better.

This enormous square is the place where the medieval festival is held each year during August.
I'm looking forward to visiting then, though the walk up the hill is going to be very hot!
Detail of church

The bodega, where wine was kept.

Nice and cool, I can confirm.

See, irresistible!

This is inside the church and way down, there was water - either from a well or a spring. 

The remains of a once impressive church

Islamic tombs under what would have been the floor of the church

I took this photo to prove to my in-laws that 'Ruy' is a good and proper name. They weren't convinced when we first told them the name of our second-born.

Whilst it is still popular in Brazil and Portugal - in the the form, Rui, - the third name down on this sign shows that in the fourteenth century, a Ruy Fernandez was the royal Chaplain.

So a good Christian name after all.

Just another glimpse of my gorgeous mountains, this time with me thrown in for good measure!

Though they need no additional adornment!

This is Romy and I sniggering. Romy had been looking out of the little window behind us and said that the rock on which the castle was built looked like an elephant's bottom. And it did. 

Up at the top of the tower of the Alcazar - the castle's stronghold where the troops were based.

It was a steep climb up!

Romy looking rather lovely inside the museum part. Actually, it was around here that she was ready to go home and started complaining her feet hurt - so it's a brave smile for the camera!

I love these miniature recreations of how places might have looked in their heyday.
During medieval times, most villagers would have lived within the castle walls but as time went on, they moved outside and down the hill to the north of the fortress, where they could grow more crops and farm the land.

This was a lovely, detailed model.

More investigations of the underground parts!

Did I mention the view?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

A new find.

Today - a gorgeous sunny day - I walked down to the English Centre, Conexiones, here in Alcala la Real to collect two 5 litre bottles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tony, from my Wednesday conversation class, and which we agreed would be payment for his next few lessons. Seems like a good deal to me.

Doesn't it look good, staged with a newly-rediscovered chair that came back from Valladolid with Cesar. (There's going to be a lot of things that will be newly-rediscovered and I know what I mean even if it doesn't make very good grammatical sense.)
Starring with the olive oil is my first new geranium purchased with my earnings. There will be more!

Every other Saturday, there is a craft market at Conexiones and this time there was a lovely stall I haven't seen before called 'La Mariposa Verde'.

I am fond of mariposas - butterflies - as they feature in the definition of an ENFP. The ENFP states that "Today, I'm really going to try and concentrate on one thing for more than .....oh, look, there's a butterfly".. and I do so identify with that. Usually, I find my way back to what I was talking about or going to talk about before I was distracted though sometimes I don't. Makes life interesting and that's important to me too.

I was going to tell you about my find. A couple who have lived around here for a quite long time and who used to have a shop in Alcala,  have now decided to try and use their time in a smarter way. They import UK High St. clothes, such as Per Una and other nice stuff and do pretty well selling it on the coast to tourists from across Europe. Every other week, they stay in Alcala, reduce their prices further to accommodate the local purses and set up stall in Conexiones. I am so glad! Today, they had some very lovely Nomad clothes at excellent prices. I will say no more. However, I did talk to them about blogging as they have set up their own site and are trying to find a way of reaching people through that. If you're in Spain, particularly in southern Spain, and fancy having a look, just follow this link to La Mariposa Verde. They are not yet selling directly on line but can arrange delivery if you want to buy something. (OK, yes, I did buy something - look out for a modelling one day when I feel able to face the camera).

10pm - band heads off to the park
Last night, at around 10.00, we heard the sound of drums. Looking down from the balcony, we saw a band marching past - a small band - on their own, without followers or onlookers. They came from one of the side streets, entered the main street under our window, marched relentlessly through the traffic, turned right up another side street and disappeared from view. And that was that. Or so we thought. At 11.45, we heard the whole band playing and looking out, saw that in the park just 100m or so from us, people were gathered. We could see a sort of shrine and candles and could hear the band playing. It was to chilly by this time to tempt us out and the younger two were already in bed. I just caught them in some very shaky pictures.

12.30 - band heads off somewhere else!
No mention of this was to be found on the internet, though we do know that the fiestas in the local villages are due to start today. It was and remains a mystery until I can ask the children I teach next Tuesday exactly what it was all about. At 12.30am, we heard the drumming start again and saw the band moving back down the street. We must learn to expect the unexpected!
Off they go!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Labels: retired, expat

The other day, I created a link to another website where I was asked to 'label' my blog. Amongst other things, I found I had put 'retired' and 'expat' and it made me think....

A day in the life of a retired expat.

7.45am - never an early riser, I get up after Cesar and Mateo to get the two younger ones up and ready for school
8.50am - kids washed dressed, fed, packed for school, kissed and waved off. Cesar does the morning school walk so I have half an hour to dress, have coffee and read my emails.
10.00am - leave home with a book Romy left on breakfast table. Off to my Spanish conversation class.
10.15am - deliver said book to classroom, trying not to disturb ongoing lesson...but am welcomed in and Romy called over to kiss me before I eventually extricate myself. On leaving the school grounds, hear my name called and see two of my language school pupils waving at me. Wave back and say 'hello' .. and 'hola'!
Listen out for snippets of conversation that I hear as I walk along. Pick up a few really good comments to share with my group.
10.35am - arrive at Conexiones to meet my Wednesday expat group for a Spanish conversation classes. I am the teacher!  Everyone has tried Spanish lessons but found they got bogged down in verbs and grammar, so I'm teaching them the sort of things that they hear on a daily basis, explaining how to listen for 'gist' and helping them to say things in a Spanish way, rather than just translating English words in an English way.
11.00pm - start class minus two members - one having a mammogram and one returned to England for a period - and go over the basics again. This helps to build up confidence and to improve pronunciation. Every week, I add words and phrases - this week concentrating on phrases that will allow continued conversation, rather than simple answers. They are pleased with their progress using this method and tell me of their little (and sometimes big) linguistic successes from the previous week. I am delighted.
12.10pm - class ends, having overrun a bit. Bump into a (Spanish) friend, (Toñi, from the estate agents, who is now definitely in 'friend' category) on way home and stop for a chat. Invite her and her son for supper next week. She says they'd love to come. Wonder what to feed them as I walk back home.
12.30pm - arrive home and help Cesar bring chest of drawers in from car, which he brought back from recent trip to parents' house. Move bedroom furniture around in children's bedroom then and start to put their clothes away.
1.15pm - Put leg of lamb in oven - gift from my in-laws - nice for lunch! Nip to the supermarket in our street to buy some potatoes and onions
1.45pm - walk to school to meet children. See more pupils from language school who almost fall over trying to get my attention. Romy very happy because tomorrow her class is going to the theatre to see 'Where the Wild Things Are'.  The sun is shining and La Mota looks wonderful today - we all comment on it.
2.15pm - return home and prepare lunch - lamb smells divine - we wait for Teo to arrive at 3.15 before we eat. The lamb is delicious. No time for siesta for me...
3.40pm - back to Conexiones  - an English conversation class with Spanish people this time. I get them to say difficult words like 'crisps', 'wasps' and 'unbelievable' - really funny! We visit the English food store in the centre and talk about the different foodstuffs there - like piccalilli, mincemeat and peanut butter. Elena buys peanut butter - she liked the sound of it. We also try some white stilton with mango and ginger - Rafael loved it and bought some; he's a chef and thinks most Spaniards don't have very cosmopolitan tastebuds...he has a point. The hour flies by with much laughter and exchanges of questions, information and knowledge - I really enjoy this class.
5.30pm - back home to take Ruy to his friend's house to do a homework project. Hear my name in the street and see more pupils from the language school waving at me. Later on, he learns a piece on the recorder and practices diligently - his first piece! Romy does her maths and is then really excited to discover Cesar has brought 'Winnie the Witch' back with him and reads it to us beautifully. Mateo studies for his music test tomorrow.
8.30pm - pasta supper for the children then start to get them ready for bed. Ruy seems glued to his recorder and is playing with a very nice tone. Mateo stays up to watch a documentary.
10.00pm - all children in bed, if not yet asleep. Cesar and I sit down to watch a film (in English)

Is this a typical day? Well, with young children in the family, many days disappear in a blur of getting out of bed, getting ready, preparing food and eating, washing (!) and washing up, doing homework and finding time to play, reading and going to bed again. Nothing to do with being retired or being an expat or living in a different country - but quite simply, a typical day in a family's life. I don't feel retired - not at all - and it was a premature sort of retirement - nor do I feel like an expat as I find speaking Spanish now comes very naturally and I'm not hankering for other Brits to talk to - though nothing will take away the pleasure of chatting in English. However, I have discovered a site that provides links to many expat blogs and find we are a very varied and interesting group on the whole. I've really enjoyed reading some of them and will continue to do so.

How my life has really changed is that everyday, I am meeting new people, pushing my language skills further - in both Spanish and English  - working on improving communication with others. I am finding this a very exciting challenge, much more so than I had imagined when we set off on this journey. Add to 'day in the life' the task of looking for (should that be finding) a new home, making where we are as home-like as possible, keeping in touch with friends and family, lots of walking up hills and you get a better picture of what it's like for this retired expat living here in Alcalá la Real.

Must find some new labels!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Ann(i)e Taylors - take a bow!

I was christened Anne Christine Taylor. Being an 'Anne' in the 60s meant there was always someone else nearby with the same name - the young British princess saw to that - but being an 'Anne Taylor' also led to same name syndrome. It was, shall we say, a popular combination. At my primary school, (a gorgeous little school on Tweedy Street in the village of Wilsden, ) there was girl called Anne Taylor who was - to my eyes - very grown up and in the top class. She must have been all of 11.

Wilsden Primary School
(Memories come flooding back now of the children I knew then - the Bennett twins, whose elder brother I worshipped - Steven Bennett.. he played the violin and I thought he was wonderful. Their mother ran the sweet shop at the end of the school street. Trevor Tipple, who was a naughty boy but whom I used to kiss under the desk - yes, it's true, I confess, despite my feelings for Steven...; Lois Geniver, my funny, skinny friend who had a mouse called 'Guzzylugs' because it had scratched off and eaten one of it's ears...gosh that sounds really horrible now, but it was funny then. And Raine Patrick, who arrived mid-term and who was very clever, very beautiful and who had such a lovely name. I only lived in Wilsden for two years, from the age of 6 to 8, but I have the most vivid of childhood memories from this period and I could go on, but I won't.)

By the time I reached secondary school, I was in a class where three of us girls were called Anne, though one of them was Ann - and Ann Taylor at that! She was very quiet and tended to get called by her full name to distinguish her from me - Ann P. Taylor - which over time became lengthened to 'Ann P. Taylor On Wheels' due to the gliding way she walked! The other Anne became my best friend and is still. As we moved on to college, we both became Annies.

Where is all this going?

Well, how many of you have googled your own name? I do hope I'm not the only one to have done this!

Annie and her barrel - and the cat that went first

My most famous namesake is a woman who was the first to go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. THE FIRST.. does this mean others tried afterwards, I ask myself? Probably.

Not only was she the first but she was 63 when she did it! Annie Edson Taylor was low on funds and saw her old age looming. Not everyone would think of pulling off such a stunt in order to provide a pension - though failure would remove the need for such a thing - but Annie went for it. She sent a cat over first, which apparently survived, before loading herself into the barrel and setting off over the Falls.

Queen of the Mist.

Another Annie Taylor is a wonderful landscape artist - British - based in Dorset. She illustrates books too and I do like her work very much. Her website is here and well worth a visit. I would love to buy one of her paintings (perfect on one of the walls of my modern house....) She also has a blog, which I only just found but which I will be following. The colours she uses and the sense of movement in her paintings are exciting and compulsive.
And just to think - if we didn't share the same name and the internet didn't exist, I would never have known about her. She's worth knowing about.

My less than scientific research indicates that apart from a women's clothes designer going under the name of Ann Taylor (has to be an alias) there are very few other famous Annie Taylors but I am absolutely sure that there many more of us - unsung heroines! Take a bow, wherever you are.

Who do you share your name with? Check it out - it could be interesting.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Old? Or New?

For the first time since we've been in Alcala, I feel a decision to buy a house is getting closer. This week we have seen not one but two houses that we've liked.

Neither of them exactly fits the image we had when we left England, just over eight months ago. Then, we thought we wanted an old place to renovate - somewhere with lots of land and space to keep animals - a place where we could put up yurts or gers, for friends and family to stay in a rural idyll.

My naturally optimistic frame of mind probably made me too idealistic but without this, a more realistic person might never have left British shores! We don't have the money to invest in a place that has everything we want. Land costs more than we'd expected and although the crisis has hit Spain, many people, who have land and old properties, are hanging onto them - probably in the hope that one day they will be worth more. Those who are having to sell as a result of the crisis are, on the whole, those who have taken out a mortgage to buy a nice, warm flat in the city! And we don't want one of those! So - those who are selling are not selling what we want. Those who have what we want, are not selling. Shucks!

We've looked in Galicia, Asturias, Leon, Palencia and now in Andalucia - both in Granada and Jaen. We've looked at many tens of properties. And it's taken us this long to identify our priorities - to sort out what is necessary to us and what we could live without. Top of the list is for our children to have access to their schools. Having attended three schools in the last twelve months, I don't want them to have to move again. This means staying in or around Alcala - which now suits me fine. We wanted land - as much as possible - but this would mean being isolated. We don't want the children to have to travel a long way everyday on the bus - or worse - to have to take them and fetch them everyday from school ourselves. Some of the properties I have seen would have meant a 5+ kilometre drive just to reach a bus stop. No. We know now that we don't want that.

So, what have we seen?

On Wednesday, we found 'it'.
It was a very old house in the historic centre of Alcala. I liked it very much as soon as we entered. It had lovely space, with typical Andalusian tiles on the walls and - hurray - wooden windows, rather than the awful aluminium ones that seem to be prevalent in many Spanish homes. A house that must be at least a hundred years old, with huge, thick stone walls, a cool cellar and an attic with wonderful old beams on view.


It had a patio at the back that was partly covered and partly open with space to grow my tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and potatoes. And apart from the bathroom location, (outside in the covered patio, not the best place, perhaps) it was somewhere we could live in immediately and it had an attic that could be converted to more bedrooms or to an open terrace area.

It didn't have any parking space and it is situated on a rather steep and narrow street - both of which are definitely negatives in Cesar's book - although I did suggest we looked for a garage to buy or rent, which would solve the problem in much the same way as other people in the town solve it.  I admit to working on him about the house over Wednesday evening and by the next morning, he had submitted agreed to us putting in a bid before the end of the week.

That was the plan until 10.30am on Thursday.

Cesar had arranged to go out with another agent in town to see a property that had been started but not finished. The owner had run into difficulties and wanted to sell the partly-completed project. I was unenthusiastic, as to choose something like that would leave us in rented accommodation for longer than I could bear to think about. Cesar had always wanted to build us a house but it seemed so impractical and scary to me - and this brought back all those fears. However, I decided to go along to see what it was like.

Oh dear!
We both loved the situation, the plot of land was quite big, with room for growing plants and even a few chickens! And our imaginations happily turned the concrete posts into a completed home. (We have good imaginations!)
Whether we'll be brave enough to take something like this on is another matter. Cesar is away in Valladolid just now, so we've both got time to think it through on our own before we decide what to do.
Will we be brave enough to take on a house that currently looks like this:

And will the locals in the village be happy to accept a house that will look like this?

 I don't even know if I could imagine us living there! Though I am working on it.....