Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday 29 April 2012

Rights or Wrongs?

For someone whose main occupation these days is scouring the properties pages of the internet, you may wonder why I am not posting anything about what we have been looking at recently.

Well the truth is that we have seen nothing since Christmas worth writing about. Worse than that, we've seen one or two that have been so awful that I have almost (not quite) reached the opinion that there is no house here in the vicinity that will do for us. I vowed I wouldn't write about the possibility of us leaving Alcala on my blog because it feels disloyal to a town that has welcomed us with open arms and which has provided us with more than a year's wonderful life in southern Spain. However, I need to raise the possibility, both in my own mind and those who know us, that there is one big drawback about the place. The houses here are not up to standard. The houses we can afford, that is. Granted, if money were no object, then there are plenty of big, rather grandiose properties to the back of the children's school that are out of this world. Not to my taste though, so I don't lose much sleep about not being able to afford one.

The historic centre of Alcalá la Real has offered one or two rather nice possibilities but always leaving us having to make too big a compromise on our requirements to make the commitment to buying. One, on the Calle Real, was lovely but teeny weeny and the cost of putting an extra floor on put it out of our price range. Even the garage was too small - our Volvo wouldn't fit! Otherwise, it was perfect....

Then we saw a huge place, right in the centre, with a big garage. If the owner had accepted a reasonable offer, we could have taken it on and reformed the property, which was laid out as two independent apartments on top of the garage and storage areas downstairs, and ended up with a very spacious family home. However, the 'patio' was a handkerchief square with high walls all around it and I doubt we could have all gone out onto it at the same time. We discussed, for a little while, the possibility of opening up part of the top floor and having a terrace up there, but in the end, we accepted that we really wanted a little more outside space than we'd ever have if we opted for this one.

We've seen others but it's not even worth describing them, so wrong they have been.

I am registered with several websites that bombard me daily about wonderful new properties that have dropped their prices so much that I need to act quickly or loose out on the sale of the century. Mostly I have a quick look only to be disappointed, but one caught my attention the other day. It was a property I'd liked the look of over 12 months ago in the north of Jaen - readvertised after quite a long break and at less money. It touched all the right chords again, despite the attachment I'd since developed for Alcalá. We decided we should go and look at it.

So we set off directly after dropping the children from school on Thursday morning to meet the owner in Andujar, about an hour and a half's drive away.

A nice, solid looking house - unpretentious; friendly.
We arrived in good time and phoned to say we'd arrived at the meeting point - FR's face dropped as he listened to the other side of the conversation then turned to me to say that the owner didn't have the keys and we might not be able to get in.

Turns out that the house is currently being rented out to an English family and has been for the past 12 months as they have been trying to raise a mortgage to buy the place - but can't.

The owner said they'd told him this morning that they would not be at home as a family member in Alicante was ill and they had to go there to see them. My first reaction was to say, let's go straight back home - forget it - but FR said we should go and look at the outside at least, having come all this way, so when the owner arrived we followed him to the property to look around.

The house was less than five minutes drive from the town centre in a small but pleasant hamlet with school buses, a shop, a tennis court and a little square. And as we pulled up outside, it looked very much as the pictures show it - a nice sized, square, sensible house with a similar property next door.
As we pulled up, five ragged dogs came barking to greet us, clearly all noise and not threatening but running quite wild and loose. We walked onto the patio and were met with a lot of mess, including that of the dogs! The owner looked around in dismay and muttered something about being glad his wife couldn't see it. He was an elderly man and after he'd tried knocking on the door, he began to explain the situation with his tenants. He had given them a year to try and raise the mortgage but when it was clear that they couldn't, he told them he would need to put the property back on the market. We could hear more dogs barking inside the house and from the state of everywhere, I began to feel a bit concerned - bad vibes were pouring out from the windows.

The neighbour came out - a sweet lady called Maria - pleased to see the owner again and hesitant to discuss her English neighbours but equally not keen on praising them. Ignoring the mess on the patio, we could see that the house was lovely and it was surrounded by a quarter of an acre of land/garden - sadly, left without water or care for the past year - where the owner told us he had kept roses as well as olives, figs and cherry trees - he was visibly upset at the state of the place.

Suddenly, the door flew open and a woman, brandishing a sweeping brush and aiming it at several of the dogs, appeared. The owner explained we'd come to see the house and could we come in. Most reluctantly she agreed and with some trepidation, I followed FR and the owner into the house. The woman, obviously English did not speak or look at us and was clearly very cross so I didn't attempt conversation. Then her phone rang and I heard her saying, " 'e's 'ere an' e's go' a load o' folk wi' 'im an' they're lookin' all over t' 'ouse" - the strong northern accent sounding so familiar that it had to have been close to my home town of Bradford - had to be! But so rough, unpleasant and harsh and spoken with such anxiety that my knees started to shake and all I wanted to do was to get out! Which I did, followed closely by FR and the owner.

The owner still wanted to show us the garden, so we walked around the perimetre, where I asked him if he had problems with the family before - he said no, not until recently. They'd always kept themselves to themselves but always paid. They had two sons and he always spoke to the younger one, who translated for his parents. As we looked at the dried up roses, a car whizzed round the corner and an angry Englishman jumped out, shouting 'No es bueno' - and meaning, 'this is not good.'  Either miscommunication or mistranslation or worse - but clearly the family were not in Alicante - equally clearly, they had not expected or wanted the owner to show anyone the property.

Ooh, er, it was 'orrible!! I'm a big softie at heart and felt for both sides, and whilst I was repelled by the attitude and behaviour of the English family, clearly they had terrible problems - as we left, we could hear them shouting at each other - and who knows what plans for their future. The owner was such a sweetie and obviously didn't want trouble. He really wanted them to leave if they weren't going to buy - but he hadn't made a formal contract with them. A very awkward situation as, like in many countries, the rights of renters are powerful and this family, after twelve months will certainly have rights as tenants...they could be there for a while longer. Maybe even as long as they want.

I do know that if we'd been to see the house when I'd first seen it, I am sure we'd have been living there now. It is what we have been looking for - a large, practical house with a patio, some land and within very easy reach of schools for the children and the town for our own convenience. We have told the owner that we will have another look when the current occupiers have left.

I'm not holding my breath. But having seen at least one house that we do like, my faith has been restored in the hope that there is something out there for us - I just hope there is more than just the one!

Monday 23 April 2012

A most unusual orchestra

Grand old man: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) conducts the Halle Orchestra in rehearsal in 1956.

From a very early age, I loved classical music - orchestral music, chamber music, (proper music) - and my weekends were spent rehearsing with two different orchestras that I had joined when I was 13. One was the Bradford Symphony Orchestra, rehearsing on a Saturday morning with a mixture of young and older musicians.
It was with some of them that I went to the Subscription Concerts, performed by the Halle Orchestra at St. George's Hall in Bradford, shown here in it's Victorian glory.

We heard some truly wonderful music played at these concerts and I have kept all my programmes - over a three year period - in an old-fashioned scrapbook, which is currently in a barn in Leon. The concerts were usually on either a Friday or a Saturday evening - sometimes, oh joy, on both! Usually, I went with my friends, Anne and Elaine, and we sat up high in the 'gods' and waved at friends below us, opposite us and to the side of us - no one was higher though!

The Halle isn't the unusual orchestra of my title though.

This is the second orchestra I rehearsed with between the age of 13 and 18. It really was the most unusual group of musicians who rehearsed at the unlikely - but oh-so-appropriately named - Oddfellow's Hall in Cleckheaton. (I tried to find a reference to this on Google, but so far haven't managed to - probably no longer exists.)

I was first taken by my then clarinet teacher, Jack Whitaker, who was probably about 70 when I first met him and the most bandy-legged person I had ever seen - but he could really play the clarinet. He and a group of older men (and I mean, older than him!) met every Sunday morning to play through music together. There were never more than 12 or 13 of us in total and the numbers dwindled as time went by. The Hall had the most amazing and wide library of orchestral music and each week, the two excellent violinists, Alfred and David, took turns to chose and then conduct a selection of different pieces whilst the other played. Alfred had a wonderful, generous tone when he played and he conducted with elegance, whereas David was less sophisticated and probably less technically brilliant but his phrasing and control won me over immediately. He was a more demanding conductor too!

Stanley played a very reliable 2nd Violin and to be fair, Stanley was probably no more than 40 years old at the time - though his wide handlebar moustache, swept-back sandy hair, and chest-high trousers gave him  the air of a WWII pilot - he seemed incredibly old-fashioned to me. Occasionally we were joined by a cellist - an excellent player - whose name I don't remember but whose face I can still see in my mind's eye. He wasn't a well man and I suspect he died within the first year of my going to rehearsals, though no one specifically told me and I was too shy to ask. When he didn't come, George filled in. George filled in a lot - more of which later.

Getting to rehearsals required an early start and a lift from one of my parents to a meeting point in Queensbury. From there, I travelled with Mr Whitaker to the outskirts of Cleckheaton where we would stop and collect Herbert the Bass. I then had to sit in the back of the car with a double bass across me - the end of which poked out of the window by a foot or more. Mr. Whitaker wasn't the best of drivers - bless him, he was getting on a bit - and the first time he hit another car with the end that stuck out, it almost broke my  jaw. In time, I learned to keep a very vigilant eye open and sit at a safer angle behind the neck of the instrument.

The rehearsal room was up a flight of steps and I always followed Mr Whitaker and Herbert and the bass up these steps with some apprehension as there was much wheezing and several halts for breath. Then we'd enter the room to see who was still alive from the week previous. Despite being only 13, I was aware of the incredible energy these strange old men gave out - many must have been in the First World War, almost all in the Second, had lived most of their lives already, yet were still full of life; laughing and joking in the broadest of Yorkshire dialects which I often did not understand.

Herbert the Bass positioned himself on the piano - he didn't have a stool, so he perched on the closed keyboard - to play. George the Trombone was one of my favourites and he'd almost always request that we played 'T Derx Pidgins Sweet' - almost never granted until one day, the music was brought out and I discovered that this piece of ballet music was actually called 'Les Deux Pigeons' by Messanger. George always had three music stands in front of him, playing the trombone, 'cello and any other bass part that was required in our small ensemble.

We were blessed with two trumpeters - Herbert the Trumpet, a cheeky octogenarian, who liked to amuse me by tap dancing on the old wooden floors. Then, next to him was the rather bad-tempered Ted, an excellent trumpeter who I much later learned was riddled with cancer. He smoked all the time - as did George and David. Herbert the Trumpet had a pipe.

We sat next to the trumpets, Mr Whitaker playing first and me second clarinet. I played very quietly, especially if we had to transpose - sometimes from Bflat to A and sometimes into C - which required us to play different notes to the ones that were written - or fill in the flute part. Absolutely fantastic training for a young musician. I don't think it mattered that I couldn't be heard too much - it was the exposure to so much varied music that was such a good experience for me.

I sat next to Eric the Oboe - a man with such a dreadful stammer that I dreaded having to converse with him at first - though as time went on, I remember us chatting quite normally as both of us found a way round expressing our thoughts and ideas. He smoked too. The air was thick with smoke.

We would almost always start with an Overture - be it Beethoven, Weber, Rossini, Mozart or even Tchaikovsky - and then do at least one symphony in the 'first' half. Then, changing conductors, we'd sometimes do another symphony or a tone poem or a selection from a ballet or opera - in particular, I loved Bizet's 'Carmen Suite' and Ralph Vaughan William's 'The Wasps'. I think my favourite of all was Mozart's Symphony No. 39 as the clarinets have so many wonderful little passages to play - often in thirds - and in my lessons, Mr Whitaker and I would practice these, so on Sunday mornings, I could play out with confidence. I used to be able to sing the whole of the symphony from beginning to end, just the second clarinet part!

Here is the third movement - listen out for the clarinets in the trio - I used to love playing the supporting, lower-registered arpeggios, but in later years, particularly if David was conducting, he would play the whole of the third movement again and make me play the solo.

Occasionally, very occasionally, Alfred's daughter would come to play flute with us. She was older than my mum but I was always rather resentful of her presence. Being painfully shy at the time, in my early teens, I loved my old men with a passion but couldn't express myself very well to them, very often doing little more than blushing and smiling at their jokes and banter, but Alfred's daughter came and made them laugh. I preferred it when she didn't come.

I must have truly loved going. I rarely missed a week in five years despite having to get up early on a Sunday to go and travelling with the increasingly scary driving of Mr Whitaker and I have never been an early riser. These were special musicians and I learned over the years that many of them had in fact been in service together; David and Alfred had played in a British Army orchestra and Alfred, later played professionally. David had, in fact been a wire-drawer - a skilled job but not one that would normally be conducive to violin playing, I suspect.

If we'd lived then in the world of technology as we do now, I would have been able to record some of our Sunday morning rehearsals for posterity. As it is, I suspect even young Stanley is long gone and Alfred's daughter too, so I am the only vessel left who witnessed and took part in those hours and hours of wonderful music making.

I can hear it now as clearly as ever.


A few weeks ago, we had special visitors.

The first was my sister and her husband who had come to spend a couple of days in Granada - stopping off overnight with us - as part of my sister's birthday celebration this year.

Although we had a very short time all together, we packed plenty of walking, talking and eating in. I was so happy to be with her that I completely forgot to take photographs and last night, she sent me the photos my brother-in-law had taken. It was lovely to get them and relive a little of our time together.

It struck me as most interesting that Rob had chosen to photograph very different aspects of Alcala la Real to the ones I have taken and so I thought I would share those here.

Walking from our house - La Mota and its archeological dig on the right

On the steps leading up to La Mota

The entrance to La Mota - we'd just walked up a very steep hill - but there's still another to climb!

A little memorial near the houses at La Mota

The same, only with some local kids

This is the first time I'd stopped to look at this gate - it's rather lovely
though we were not sure what was on the other side - maybe an old convent?

He NEVER poses like this for me!

Rob was captivated by this hideous bouncy castle - he couldn't image why it didn't scare kids away!
(Not a Spongebob fan?)

We are clearly very bad at posing for photographs all of us together.
I shall make sure I remedy that in the future.

We are also not very good at capturing food - we like to get stuck in far too quickly! On the Sunday, FR cooked the ribs he had prepared a couple of days before. He went to the old house nearby and used the fireplace to light a fire and cook the ribs most professionally over the glowing embers of olive wood. Then he transported them back - giving us a call to say EET (Estimated Eating Time) would be five minutes - just long enough for us to get the other food out of the oven and onto the table. There was such a hush round the table as we tucked in that after a few seconds, eyes met across ribs in surprise and we all started laughing.
Sharing - can't beat it!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Family troubles

We all have them at times, don't we? Some families are really good at hiding problems; at covering up the cracks; at putting on a glossy veneer. Some families work really hard at sorting out their problems; addressing the issues; making things better; learning from mistakes.

Aren't you glad you're not part of a famous, infamous or Royal family - anywhere?

The British Royal Family have certainly had their troubles and many of these have been played out in the public arena with lots of media coverage - sometimes sought, sometimes under pursuit. And not just in recent years. History holds countless examples of naughty, mean and downright bad behaviour from those who should perhaps know better. And we really don't know the half.

And now the spotlight is on the Spanish Royal Family. They've had a very clean image for quite some time but suddenly, the dirt has started showing through. 

The King's son-in-law is currently being prosecuted after allegations of fraud. A former Olympic medallist in the rather esoteric sport of handball, Iñaki Urdangarin married the King's daughter, Princess Cristina and was given a prestige job managing a promotional contract and lots of money to support events in the Balearic Islands and Valencia. Big questions about where all the money went are now being asked. 

And this week, the King himself fractured his hip - an event which might normally arouse some sympathy if it were not that he had the accident whilst in Botswana, shooting elephants. He is, after all, only the honorary President of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain. (His grandson, a 13-year-old, is also still in hospital after shooting himself in the foot with a gun he was not licensed to use - practising for elephants, no doubt.) 
And whilst it was obviously intended to make everything better, the King's apology to the Spanish people as he left hospital was, quite frankly, pathetic. 'I'm sorry. I made a mistake. It won't happen again'.  I wonder what his mistake was - shooting elephants, falling and damaging his hip or thinking he could do just as he wanted and get away with it? 

There's more dirt, of the smutty sort, emerging - claiming the King is a serial womaniser. Allegedly, he and his wife, Queen Sofia (who, by the way, hates hunting and was in Greece celebrating the Greek Orthordox Church Easter at the time of the accident) have not shared a bed for more than 30 years. I suppose that makes things OK for her then. 

Is it all a matter of perspective? I think not.

Sunday 15 April 2012

When it rains....

Make cookies!

And if you find, most annoyingly, that you have no butter and no brown sugar - improvise with sunflower oil and a little black treacle.

And your cookies will be delicious.

I promise.

White day..?

We can't complain about the weather.

But we can be a little surprised now and then.

My children are throwing snowballs at each other as I write.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Saturday 14 April 2012

Grey day...

Today is not sunny.

Today is very wet.

Today I have a bad cold.

I feel like the weather today.

I hope it will be better tomorrow.
Everywhere you go, always take the weather with you....cue song.

Monday 9 April 2012

Blue Day

Ever seen sky so blue?

Ever seen a dog more happy?

 Ever seen a more perfect olive tree?

Ever seen a more perfect backdrop to a walk?

Beautiful day.

Friday 6 April 2012

A Good Friday Gathering

We took our visitors back to Malaga airport yesterday. We've all had a lovely week together and I shall post about what we did another time.

Not being used to driving much since we arrived at Alcala la Real - I just love being able to walk everywhere here - I was quite tired by the time we returned from our 300+km journey and promised myself a lie in this morning, my lovely eldest son agreeing to get up and take Darwin out. I had 10am in mind as a good compromise between indulgence and laziness.

However, the best laid plans of mice, men and me often go awry and I had forgotten about the saint next door. I should have twigged last night when, at midnight, I heard a band playing close by. On investigation, I could see a whole band inside the house next door, serenading the saint on the eve of Good Friday. They played (the same tune) for about half an hour - or at least until I fell asleep. And I fell asleep with a certain smugness about my planned sleep-in. So I was not well  pleased to hear the band again - warming up and tootling around - at just before 8am. Outside my window.

This being Good Friday, the saint was due for an airing around the town. 

Last year, I remember an early procession trooping past the apartment where we were living at the time. 

Today, I saw them preparing and setting off. 

A small crowd had gathered outside our house to watch the proceedings, but this procession was not really for the public - it seemed more private to the group of people involved. 

After a bit of tweaking of hats, twirling of the saint (to the national anthem) and adjusting of thorn crowns, the penitants shouldered their crosses, the drums began drumming and off they set.

I was sorry our visitors missed the spectacle as it was both interesting and rather unusual for non-local eyes.

A very penitant penitant bringing up the rear and running down the hill - she arrived late!

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Our rainbow toes

For Annie.
60 painted toes. With our love.

These are the toes of my two sons, my daughter, my friend, her son and me. Sadly, you can't see the hairiness of my eldest son's legs - would have been a nice contrast!

Here's wishing you well, Annie.

Sunday 1 April 2012

A rainbow for Annie

There is a lovely blogger called Annie, who I have followed for some time but have missed her recent posts as I've been so busy.  She has recently found out that she has breast cancer and is currently in hospital.  Her bloggy friends have all painted their toes in rainbow colours for her.  Some of them are here:

Annie at Knitsofacto
Anna at Shiny Happy Art
Carmel at Make Mine Mid-century, and another very funny one.
Justine at I found you just in time
Rachel at Happy Panda
Mel at Coal Valley View
Marjan at Cow Road
Sonia at Raine and Sage
Fiona at Cattle, Kids and Chaos
Emma at Frog, Goose & Bear
Jo at Daiseylea
A Farmer's Wife at Life in the Country

As I only read about this just now and don't have any nail polish in the house, I didn't want to lose any time in sending her my positive thoughts. I will be out to buy nail polish tomorrow and will paint my toes and Romy's - and the boys' too if they'll let me - to show whatever support I can to this very special person.  
By word of blog and colour of toe, let's send her lots of love.