Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

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.

Saturday 6 August 2016

What a week!

The summer holidays are usually slow, lazy and very hot, although this year, I am working, so they haven't been as lazy as last year.

We had Etnosur during July, where we partied in the streets and the boys stayed out all night. That was fun. We've had blissful impromptu afternoons and late evenings on the beach.

And this week, we seem to have never stopped.

Glorious setting
After another glorious afternoon on the beach to see the sunset and skim stones on the sea, we finished the weekend with a concert in Consolacion, the main church of Alcala la Real - a performance of Mozart's Requiem in homage to the town's choirmaster who died earlier this year. And what a beautiful performance it was too. There were two choirs - one from Alcala and a supporting choir from Jaen, plus a small but excellent orchestra. They made a stunning sound and the soloists were also very good. I had been bowled over by the performance of my mother's choir in March and hadn't expected anything quite so good....but I think it came extremely close.

I commented on Facebook that the only problem was the noisy audience. At the time, I was quite scandalised by the 'zzzzippp...zzzzzzzipppp' as the women who - in a perfectly justifiable attempt to keep cool - loudly flicked open their fans, wafted wildly for a few seconds and then snapped them shut again. And again, and again. I think there were three rows immediately behind and in front of us, each with six women and their fans....I could hardly hear a thing at times. Also, some people didn't feel the slightest obligation to remain in their seats during the performance and wandered around, taking photos or maybe just stretching their legs. And rather too many mobile phones rang for it to be quite clear that Mozart was not held in quite the same esteem by others as he is by me....

However, a long and interesting discussion with one of my students left me in no doubt that much of this behaviour is 'cultural'. Firstly, the performance was in church, not in the theatre. And on a Sunday evening. There was a preponderance of late middle-aged and elderly women present in the audience, who, I was informed, attend anything that happens in the church and expect to behave as they always behave in church. That includes having conversations with neighbours and friends and, of course, using their fans to keep cool in the extreme heat of the summer. The performance was secondary and their knowledge of audience behaviour not required because they were not paying to see it. I did rethink my reaction as a result of the conversation but it may take me a bit longer to completely forget the sound of those fans....

And this week has been unforgettable. We'd planned to spend the afternoon with Sam and family at the nearby 'lake' or pantano. This is a reservoir which we've visited a couple of times since we've lived here - the first with Darwin when we went on a lovely long walk and the second (can't find the post) when we went to eat at the bar that is at one end. Both times, I got some beautiful photos and blogged about the experience.

It's been a very hot few weeks and so we decided to go out around 6pm when it was still hot but past the peak temperature. Probably around 33 hot enough! When we arrived, we were initially disappointed to discover that the Centre that manages the boats, pedalos and sailing equipment looked to be not only closed but really quite abandoned, but undeterred, we crossed the chain and headed down to the lake. Prepare for some stunning shots, taken without any idea of what I was taking as the sun was so bright, I couldn't see my photo screen. However, I luckily managed to capture some of the colours and vibrancy of the scenery.

Looking out across the reservoir.

After a little while, a young man came and let us take pedalos out. 

This is quite the life.

Shades of sunny Swallows and Amazons...

And David caught a carp - he let it go again.
And as we dried off in the sunset, we thought a beer at the bar might be a good idea...
A very lovely day with good friends.
And that's not all!

Last night, it was la Noche en Blanca, which means 'sleepless night' (and in this heat, there have been a few of those) in Alcala la Real. A night of music, late-opening shops, concerts and free museum entries.

This is the view from just below La Mota of some ongoing work to create a new exhibition centre, concert hall, gardens and eventually, a restaurant, on the ruins of an old convent. They've made a great job of it. The gardens were full of vibrant geraniums in all colours but it had got a bit too dark by the time we arrived to capture them.

This is inside the also newly-refurbished Amphibian Rescue centre that we used to visit quite often when we lived in the calle Bolivia - in fact, Jaws, Mateo's pet turtle went to live there when he grew too big for his tank. We hoped he might recognise us and come up to the window so we could say hello to him...but he didn't. We were never quite sure whether he was a he or a she. I had wanted to paint his toenails red so that we could say hello when we visited but Mateo wouldn't let me. He wasn't in the same tank as the python, by the way! All the turtles were in a bigger pond - and they weren't at all photogenic.

Finally, after some tapas in a bar, we made our way up to the little park above Sam and David's house where there was some flamenco singing. It wasn't brilliant as it happens but watching the little children from the 'gitano' families, many of whom live in this area, was fascinating. Even the tiniest ones can clap in the difficult flamenco rhythm and obviously feel the music in their blood. And even when flamenco isn't at its best, there is something so incredibly different about it - it has a raw quality that is both complex and simple. Definitely make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

And then we sat on Sam and David's beautiful terrace overlooking La Mota, until 4am - with all our children together somewhere in the dark and warm night, talking and laughing and generally feeling extremely relaxed.

During the August fiestas in Alcala, a very special night of Flamenco had been proposed and FR must have been one of the first to buy tickets to listen to one of the most admired singers of the age - Jose Menese. The tickets are on our fridge door waiting for next Saturday's concert up at La Mota - very special...and then the unthinkable happened. Last Friday, poor Jose died. I have no idea what will happen for the concert but I will let you know.

Flamenco is an acquired taste and although I found it difficult to start with, I am now's a little taster if you're feeling brave!

It has been a week of wonderful moments, when we've made many memories and spent precious time together. I really am very grateful for weeks - with friends and family - like these!

Monday 25 July 2016

There's a saying...

'A picture says a 1000 words'. I really have lost the blogging plot in the last year or so, haven't I? But for posterity and to share, I am posting here a few photos of important moments in the last few months.

Caught doodling on the tablecloth at our village fiesta in May..

Maybe I wasn't setting the best example....

Signs that garden improvements are happening.

First cherries from our own trees...

Mateo's graduation ceremony - from a distance and as the evening darkened...being a Villa means being at the end!!
Romy giving the class speech at the end of her time at Primary school.

A few days with a special visitor who just happened to love tangling.

And a gorgeous afternoon with Romy, Sam, her daughters and friends Rachel and Kirsten.

Super cool on a hot summer day

The naciemiento del rio San Juan - the rise of the river, San Juan, near Castillo de Locubin

In Manchester with my sister and her husband, on our way to a gig at the Albert Hall - Band of Horses. Possibly not my first choice of musical entertainment but a great evening and a spectacular venue!

Gorgeous green view of my sister's land, chickens and outbuildings. 

Reunited after almost 40 years.....

Graham and me on a wall...not recent!
Back home and Etnosur weekend. Alcala la Real opens its streets to a big, free music festival, this year is the 20th Anniversary!
This street spectacular is the Fura dels Baus

I turned and managed to capture this striking photo of the three men in my life.

Whilst Romy was in the firing line of powder bombs!

And yesterday, on the beach....

Skimming stones... the evening sun

Eating ham and tzaziki sandwiches, no less....

Painting stones...

,..and just chillin'
In addition, it was an important year for Mateo. He passed his Bachillerato and university entrance exams (hurray!!) and reached the age of 18. What a year; what a few years. So now, he's taking a sabbatical before hopefully going to Granada to study Anthropology next year. And Ruy continues well with his archery, this year finishing third in the league of Andalucia. Third because he didn't finish one competition, due to shoulder pain (not so good) and also because he did one competition less than the boy who came second....He will be doing the national competition as well at the beginning of September. 
And Romy starts secondary school in September too...where does the time go? 

Happy Summer everyone. Hope your's is good.