Costa Tropical in winter – guests from barely-20 to 70-something #CasaExcentrico

I haven’t done a blog about guests for a while since all was quiet from mid-November to January. Well, not quiet.  Some fairly hectic winter-proofing in the guest rooms was required. Thing was, when I first listed the rooms on Airbnb and HomeAway in May last year my first (and for a while only) response was from a Belgian couple who wanted the front room for 3 months starting February. That was, frankly, terrifying. The guest rooms, like most older Spanish houses, had shuttered windows, but no sissy namby-pamby modernities like glass,  what for you need glass,  is a bedroom, you only need shutters? The newly created guest living room boasted a kettle and open toaster and not a lot else.

My wanting-to-self-cater Belgians lit a bit of a rocket: having not thought about winter bookings at all, I had to refocus towards the can’t-afford-to-turn-down 3 month booking. Turned out, purest luck. Radiators were snapped up all summer whenever I saw a bargain, a sink was plumbed into the living room during a gap between bookings, a two-plate electric hob, pots and pans, were added to the tiny guest oven in the pantry cupboard. My local wand-waving DIY friend Nick, who performs miracles as standard, worked out a way of adding glass to the original shutters in the front room just in time for me to accept a January booking from a young American lass on her way to a 5 month teaching post on the coast. She chose to stay here for a week while looking for an apartment near the school because I spoke English, and she could therefore ask endless questions, some of which I could answer, and vent hilariously about the frustrations of Spain vs America. Like the day she was to report at her new school – she caught the Velez coach into Motril, then hopped on the coast bus to her destination. The driver either forgot, or hadn’t understood, where she wanted to get off. She was swept past and to the next stop, 8 km further. He shrugged, and told her to catch the next bus back. There aren’t many buses on the coastal road . . . the next was due in an hour and a half. The taxi company she phoned refused to travel so far. Almost in tears she tried to flag down drivers heading that way but (oh how times have changed) has never hitched in her life, so instead of sticking out her thumb she waved. Drivers waved back, and kept going.

She also had expected Spain to be hot hot hot all the time so her only warm piece of clothing was her jacket and the radiators and heaters I’d bought were pressed into urgent service. It is sunny nearly all the time but temperatures drop sharply overnight in mid-winter and can hover just above zero.  However her general attitude was incredibly positive, she was a fun guest to have, and we bundled up well and traipsed off to the tiny local evening parade of the Kings on January 6th. (The third king was caught up in a photoshoot off to the side in this snap)

Sara and 2 of 3 kings

There was enough of a gap after her stay to get the back room’s windows glazed, in time for my first actual English guest (I’ve had guests who live in England, but they were Polish) who was scoping out the Granada area for his 50th birthday celebrations next year. He and his friends are into golf and ski-ing so he was out and about every day testing golf-courses in one direction or shooting up into the Sierra Nevada in the other so I only ever saw him as a fleeting shadow past the study window on his way out or back upstairs to recover from the day’s exertions.

The day after he left it was, finally, time for my game-changing Belgians to arrive. Over the months since their original booking the 3 months had changed to 6 weeks, then shrunk finally down to 10 days, and I had begun to wonder if the booking would ever happen at all. They turned out to be lovely but, wait for this, I don’t think they ever cooked a single meal at home, they too were out and about every day!

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They’ve bought off plan along the coast and will, they said, be back so they can monitor progress on their apartment. Hope so, because they’re super guests, scrupulously not only replacing everything they used of the supplies provided but even upgrading the quality. He came down the first night to ask how much I charged for anything they took from the fridge or pantry (no no, on the house) and then a little later to say the lights had blown, he had now unplugged two of the heaters and could I show him the fusebox? I refused to feel guilty, he was wearing only a t-shirt (in February) so it obviously wasn’t that cold up there.

Georges et Colette 2 March 2019

Some guests want to chat, some are completely self-sufficient. The original plan was to attract writers but apart from my first guest, working on his thesis, the majority have been, oddly enough, teachers (including the Belgians) and all have been out and about most of the time, none more so than the Dublin cyclist who appeared next. He was extraordinary, not only cycling merrily up to villages like Trevélez (1476m above sea-level up a road so steep I had been hyperventilating in a car) but bringing back fistfuls of beach-stones for the atrium when he did coastal rides. He’d also bring one of the local wines down to the atrium of an evening to chat about the day. In a week he learned way more about every village, vineyard and smokery in a 40 kilometre radius than I have learned in 15 months, which is a little embarrassing.

Will March 8 2019

This area is big with cyclists, one is forever dodging them on the hills or having heart attacks rounding sharp bends to find groups of them taking up most of the road. My next booking, after the refurbishment break, is a couple of German cyclists, at this rate I may need to plan in a neat cycle rack for the hallway.

I booked myself off teaching for 2 days, planning a lazy weekend which turned instead into a rush for a last minute booking from a Madrid couple for the weekend, but they aren’t exactly intrusive – up at 11 am and off to explore Velez, and I know they plan to explore the Lecrin valley and Alpujarras while they’re here. He speaks about as much English as I do Spanish, she has no English at all, so we limp along in bilingual confusion – they did appal me en route by asking via whatsapp, in Spanish, for directions, Google Translate don’t let me down now! My spellcheck was a curse, trying firmly to change every word as I hastily typed but they made it and sent a polite whatsapp from outside  – “estamos en la puerta”, we are at the door. The  equivalent of chapping at a door in Spain is usually to lean on the doorbell while simultaneously hammering on the door itself so I’m guessing they didn’t want to rouse the house so late at night in case it was the wrong place. Note to self – get a sign for the front door.

It’s been a lively start to the year already with spring on its way, I’ve shed the fleece for dog-walking already and will shortly be packing away the radiators and hauling out the standing fans instead … two years ago I had just seen the house for the first time and was in a wistful wouldn’t-it-be-nice-don’t-be-silly reverie. Life stores up some very odd surprises.

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Officially amazing, haha – and legal #livinginSpain

I was thrilled to be featured in January as an Amazing Over Fifty on the LovingTheFiftySomething website – all too often when I’ve idly searched online for ‘over fifty‘ the links that come up show groups of impressively-preserved people demurely sipping tea and talking about how nice it is to be in the still waters following the white-water rapids of life. The women have abundant silvery hair in perfect chignons and the men are smiling to show their remarkable teeth and you’d be proud, honestly, to have them as grandparents but they didn’t seem people who would like or welcome scatty disorganized erratic types like me.  LovingTheFiftySomething features – well, not necessarily erratic types! – but those still riding the rapids and refusing to be relegated to the sidelines. YES.

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Anyway, in my scatty disorganized erratic way I’ve been taking lots and lots of advice on this whole living-in-Spain thing. It really doesn’t help that the 3 professionals I’ve spoken to had strong opinions on my only sensible route, but were touting 3 separate routes. Chris, who had sorted the car out, said firmly my best option was to become autonoma – self employed.  I would file an annual tax return, I would go instantly onto the Social so be covered by the Health service, and residency would be guaranteed trouble-free, and rubber-stamped by the local policia without a murmur.  However, he was away when it came time to do my end-of-year tax payment as a home-owner, and sent me to Ana, in a town about 40 miles away, who specializes in all things tax and legal generally. Ana was absolutely wonderful, drew up my tax document promptly and patiently answered lots of questions, but she felt autonoma was an expensive option for me. The problem was that I would have to pay all my taxes in Spain, on my international income, and while in the UK tax only applies after the first 12K, or thereabouts, in Spain the tax-free window is not only 6K, but once you cross that, you pay tax on the entire amount. Plus the Social, although for new registrations is only 50 euros a month, goes up steadily over 2 years until you are paying the whole 275 euros a month, and that’s a lot of money for someone like me who will never reap the long-term benefits of a Spanish pension –  you have to have been paying in for 15 years. Better, she said, to go for Residency. I would need to prove a stable monthly income sufficient to support me, and take out a comprehensive medical aid, and then – Bob’s your uncle.

Comprehensive medical aids are surprisingly expensive once you are no longer in the first flush of youth. At a party I asked some friends what they did, and who they used, and they recommended Nina, right here in Motril. Since I knew I had to pay tax on my rental income from the house by the end of January, I went to Nina instead of trekking the 40 miles back to Ana.  She said firmly that until we know exactly what is happening with Brexit (anyone else sick of that word?) I should remain a non-resident home-owner, pay my taxes (19%) on my rental income 4 times a year, and if Brexit brings in visa requirements which mean I have to leave the country 2 or 4 times a year, well, then we look at other options.  So I have paid my taxes and have bought a little time to think through my options.

A surprising number of ex-pats are still unregistered, some scrambling a bit nervously now to become official residents, others waiting to see what will happen.

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My Spanish vocabulario grows by the day – I am busy on a book with the working title Pidgin Spanish (based on a family called Pidgin who moved to Spain) which includes all the TEFL tricks of learning a second language, mini situational stories with handy dialogue, numbers for counting / telephones / the date / making appointments:  the Spanish alphabet for spelling out your name and address: the rudimentary basics for linguistically-challenged types (ie me) to get by.  I’m truly rubbish at languages – I spent 12 years in school in South Africa without ever mastering Afrikaans, which back then was the country’s second official language – but little by little the Spanish I need is being nailed into place. I can read documents, make myself understood with less wild mime, and every encounter navigated successfully is a joyful little oooh. It may never be published – how many others are there who simply can’t conjugate verbs efficiently, after all? – but it’s helping me no end.  Roll on 2019, I’m braced for impact.

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The Ambition Tradition

Maybe, just maybe, growing up is knowing when you’ve reached your comfort zone?  I come from a family of strivers, raised with the stern mantra that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. There are black sheep in every herd but generally it was try try try again, be the best you can be, put in the hours, burn the midnight oil, get out there and succeed!

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Oh well. Done my time in the business rat race – rush rush RUSH impossible deadlines which got met, crazy high targets which were somehow achieved and of course the prize for winning is tighter deadlines and higher targets – annnnnnnnnnnnd . . . dropped out

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Again. Deeeeeeeeeeeep breath. Nice, huh?

So – the modified ambition tradition. These promises I made to myself, and this promise to my restless ancestors – I will be the best I can be, at the various things I do, but I will not beat myself up because I’m not publicly winning at doing the various things I do.

I’ll stop every now and then, too, to smell the roses bougainvillea

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And tomorrow, after some unavoidable delays,  I start the fairly complicated road to formal residency.  Fingers crossed

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Don’t believe a WORD – not on the 28th of December #livingInSpain

I’ve kicked around the world a fair bit, one way and another, thought I knew what Christmas was about but it’s so different here in Spain. Take today – 28th – that’s the Day Of The Innocents, aka prank day. April Fool in December, if you like:  a few years ago one of the national newspapers set the bar high with a headline that the King of Spain had married Madonna . . . on the whole the foreigners are left in peace, since we can’t be expected to know, but generally take every unexpected or unlikely comment with a pinch of salt, eh?

The Spanish take Christmas at a steady pace and they need to – it lasts nearly a month. Cava flows like water throughout and it all kicks off with celebrating the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which is a feast day and when street lights and commercial decorations in shops generally switch on.  I must have picked up some kind of subconscious trigger because I never decorate before the 16th (that being a public holiday in the country where I grew up, very handy) but was hauling out the dusty box of decorations in good time and finding new places for old favourites – fun!

Street decorations can be oddly avante garde, and not traditionally Christmas at all. The town sees to the main streets – side streets can do their own.  This one was decorated by a local school, very effectively.

Nerja street

(BTW, No pooing man or poo stick traditions for Andalucia, that is Catalan.)

Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is a family dinner, taken very seriously, with much solid food and luxurious side dishes. The devout go on to midnight Mass, the sociable take to the bars to meet friends while they digest the enormous meal.

Sometime overnight there will be a silent visitor: not usually Santa Claus. Depending where you are in the country he is known as Papa Noel, or Olentzero, or Tió de Nadal. He’s not lavish – the main gifts come with the Kings in January, so it is usually one gift apiece. This does of course mean no Boxing Day sales! Festive shopping continues briskly up to the day of the Kings.

On the 28th, today, it is the prank-filled el Día de los Santos Inocentes and when I got a nice booking for January I did wonder if it was a tease but nope, it has been paid. Yay!

On the 31st there’s another enormous traditional dinner (if life was fair, all Spanish would be waddling, food is taken very seriously here) and a handful of grapes for midnight – bring luck for the coming year by eating 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year, which is slightly harder than it sounds and requires some giggling gobbling. Some prefer a more sedate grape for every stroke of midnight.  It is considered lucky on this night to wear red underwear, so Papa Noel often brings that as a gift …

All this is merely the prelude, the build-up, for 12th night and the overnight arrival of the Tres Reyes Magos on what I always called Epiphany, the 6th of January. Ladders are propped against balconies and effigies of the kings are often added, scrambling up to deliver their gifts.

Every city and large town has a parade with at least one float on the 5th of January to welcome the Kings, who arrive by land, sea or air, throw sweets into the crowds, and are greeted with almost hysterical delight. I’ve linked in an internet pic from last year on my Facebook page –

Children have been writing to them explaining how very well behaved they have been all year, and what they would like as a reward. At bedtime, shoes are polished and set ready, one pair for everyone in the home so the Kings can see how many people there are needing gifts. On the 6th January, there’s an excited scramble to the shoes to check the booty – this is THE lavish gift day.

There is, almost inevitably, traditionally a last gigantic feast for lunch, followed by the roscon de la reyes,  and then the decorations come down and school starts the next day.

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

I’ll probably do a patch-on blog with pics of the parade, I didn’t even know about it last year and missed it completely, so I am as fidgety as a child for this one!

Ever researching on your behalf

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Deck the halls with boughs of holly #living in Spain

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The halls be decked, but it isn’t really beginning to feel like Christmas – too much sunshine around, although there obviously isn’t the heat in it that there was. The days are crisp, the nights crisper (into single figures, centigrade) but there is no denying it is extremely nice to walk the dog past the allotments at nearly 6 pm and take photographs of the late afternoon sunshine. Even nicer to remember that in Scotland it would have been dark for nearly 2 hours and the temperature would not have been 17 degrees C.

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The house is quiet, no guests at present, Goldilocks was the last and enjoyed herself, she said she’ll be back. Yay! Mr Goldilocks is a keen cyclist and as we drove about passing cyclists panting up mountains, or whizzing dizzily down the other side, she decided he would thoroughly enjoy a visit too. To each their own, but my next lot of guests in 2019 are, as it happens, cyclists from Germany. I asked if they needed the local hire place but no, they are bringing their own. Hikers are still hiking, too, this is definitely better weather for it than panting along in summer temperatures!

I’m seizing the quiet time between the tutoring to do some bits and bobs around the house, and also the next round of bureaucracy – I have to register for tax (ouch) and apply for residency and once I have the residency, for my Spanish driving licence.  So the plan is autónoma (self-employed) which carries with it a monthly payment of 80 euros to the authorities for the next two years, which will also automatically cover me for any medical issues. After two years it goes up sharply until I retire but I’ll worry about that in two years time.

I’m also busily writing simple stories in English, translating them into exceedingly simple Spanish, and in the process teaching myself enough Spanish so that fluent I will be if odd I sound.  The two big issues with the language are pronunciation, which I have basically cracked –  although nearly every letter in the 27 (yes, 27) letter alphabet is said differently, and combinations of letters have unfamiliar aspects,  the rules once learned are consistent. There are no nasty you / young / ouch pitfalls lying in wait, so I have reached the point where I can translate my question into Spanish and then sally forth confidently to ask it.  One of these days I’ll even understand the reply.

The other big issue is word order, sentences are unfamiliarly constructed, and clauses turn into actual words, some of which I love. “I go” is voy – “today” is hoy – “today I go” therefore makes me feel like a Snow White character, hoy voy, hoy  voy, it’s off to work voy . . .

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I may never master sentence construction but the Spanish are very patient  and so long as you are trying, they are friendly, helpful, and laugh with you, not at you.  Anyway, the point of the stories is that if you go for Spanish lessons the teachers almost inevitably launch into verb conjugations (because there are oh so many verbs and oh so many conjugations) and a great many students give up. Learning useful pidgin Spanish through stories is turning out to be really easy so there may be a market for my stories.  Keeps me occupied, anyway.

2018 has been quite a year. 2019 looms like an iceberg with Brexit a complete shambles. hole

Blessed be.

 

 

 

Goldilocks is on her way – #livinginSpain

Chaos at mi Casa once again as Goldilocks is on her way and I want to have three, yes three, rooms ready for her.  Papa Bear’s room is more normally referred to as the summer bedroom and is never  offered to paying guests as it is part of my apartment, and next to the only full bathroom in the house.  Other advantage – downstairs.

Mama Bear’s room is Oliver, the front bedroom onto the narrow street, the warmest room because sun streams through the windows nearly all day, it has the bigger shower room, but it is on the street.  It’s getting a second coat of paint in Goldilocks’ honour but Spanish street life can be noisy. Passing acquaintances have cheery running conversations up to 100 metres apart and quarrels can’t be guaranteed but can be operatic.

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So, just in case, Baby Bear’s room, overlooking the peaceful atrium, is also ready. Well, will be. The traditional shutters to the main window are taking on glass as we speak and YES in Spain traditional houses do not have glazed windows. As one who dislikes housework, I am almost sorry to see the tradition finally end, now every room but the tiny sunroom will have windows that need cleaning. It will certainly make the place warmer, along with the new radiators on standby in every room, and winter-proofing was always part of the plan, Goldilocks simply set the deadline.

Take yer pick, and oh if anyone is wondering who Goldilocks is and why she’s so important, she’s my sole offspring. The one who came to look at the house in April last year, months and months before I bought it, and said firmly,  ‘you’d be crazy to buy the house, you’ll never get it sorted.’ Never is a very long time but it’s true that unless I am blessed with extraordinary strength, health, wealth, and longevity, it won’t be finished-finished in my lifetime. Just finding a way of reaching the very beautiful solarium over Mama Bear’s room is a puzzle I may carry to my grave.

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She does have a point – this was, for example, the terrace when she saw it. (And a pic as it is now.)

 

Still – there’ve been 14 sets of guests so far, and a dozen enthusiastic reviews, with but one poor review, for location – the town, that particular guest felt,  was too far from Malaga (well . . .)  and it is beautifully cheap  and two guests have extended their stays while here so I’m not the only one in love with its oddities . . .

Actually I dodged a bullet re location with another potential guest, who luckily wrote asking if I was walking distance from the centre of Granada. I have no idea how good a walker she might be, but wrote back saying it was 55 kilometres. She cancelled her booking. Velez is in Granada province, that’s probably what caused the confusion, athough there are maps on the listing with both Airbnb and HomeAway! Still. Could have been awkward.

The most recent guests – English C from London, my first real English guest, rented a bike and took to the terrifying hills around Velez  and along the coast with enthusiasm. He obligingly wrote all the bike-rental details into my guest book but did add a note that it should probably be an option for experienced cyclists only.  He was organized enough to book in advance for the Alhambra Palace and came home from that outing (by car, not bike) bubbling with enthusiasm and wishing he could go back for another look. Even at this time of year, though, it is booked solid as only small groups are allowed in at a time and every slot is booked in advance.

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He had booked  a long weekend in Baby Bear’s room (Cameron) and overlapped with Swedish B in Oliver, a retired guy who is taking a gap year to decide whether he will spend his retirement here in Spain.  He’s been staying the length and breadth of it, armed with his cafetiere and what was originally 6 kgs of Swedish coffee, now worryingly down to half a kilo.  I supply coffee, both instant and filter, along with other basics, but it seems only Swedish will do.

He used the Casa Excentrico as his Lecrin valley / Granada / Costa Tropical base for two weeks and walked his ladyfriend on videophone all round the house so she could share and appreciate the eccentricities. She too speaks good English and we were introduced for a short chat via the wonders of Skype.  Nice guy, with an impressive waist-length ponytail – I did suggest he have a look at Orgiva, our neighbouring and very Bohemian town, which I thought would suit him to a T, but he has pretty much decided on Marbella, and found Velez a bit short on millionaire Eurotrash. What can I say, that to me is one of the perks.

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I’m keeping an anxious eye on the long-term forecast (currently sunny, around 20 degrees by day, holding steady, don’t let me down Spain) and oh-so-looking-forward to a long weekend holiday out and about with Goldilocks – keep fingers crossed, y’all.

 

Not a boarding house #livinginSpain finding a synonym – oh, and more guests

I don’t like the term boarding house, it somehow carries an indelible image (for me) of being genteelly shabby and smelling of boiled cabbage and I have no idea why, since I have never, to the best of my knowledge, stayed in a boarding house that fitted such a description.

The hunt was therefore on for synonyms, with a bewildering array of options from the handy website powerthesaurus.org – inn, rooming house, pension, hostel, hotel, lodging house, hospice, guesthouse, ordinary, tavern, fleabag, hostelry, doss house, flophouse and oh so many others – I liked caravansary but reluctantly gave it up when I realized I had to be able to put up 50 camels to really justify the name. It would be too crowded, and the dog would hate them.  The neighbours might get upset, too.

I looked up several, and guesthouse is definitely the answer. Inexpensive lodgings, tick – I’d rather have guests delighted with what they are getting, than finding fault. In a house over a century old, at least in parts, there is fault to find and always will be.  Private home with conversion exclusively for guest accommodation, tick.  So the Casa Excéntrico, with the entire upstairs exclusively for guests, is now officially a guesthouse.  By the way, that’s not a piercingly green carpet in the pic, it is fake grass. One day there will be new tiles but right now, fake grass is adding a suitably eccentric touch and coping nicely with the current, soon-to-be-sorted, occasional alarming mini-floods which burp up out of the overloaded storm drain. Spain doesn’t rain often, doesn’t rain for long, but it does rain hard.

Atrium to hall

After the crazy hubbub of August, where I was stripping rooms in the morning and making them up for the afternoon, one anxious eye on the clock so I didn’t forget  to go teach between 1 and 4, things went abruptly quiet. No more ironing sheets in the laundry, leaning back so the sweat from my nose didn’t drip onto the pristine sheets.  No more steaming the floors with the big fans on full blast so I didn’t pass out from the combination of 40 degree temperatures and the floor-steamer. No more thanking my guardian angel for making me decide on a 3 day minimum, I honestly don’t know how hosts can do this every day.  Utter silence. The French guest who had booked for two weeks backed out two days beforehand saying eh, ‘allo, I ‘ave no memory of booking zees, and that was it until the Estonian lasses arrived.

Just as quickly it has gone back to hectic, it is an absolute mystery. October should be quiet, but I have both rooms booked at the moment, and a week’s break, and then both rooms booked again – I’m not complaining, just puzzled. I scrupulously refresh my calendars on both Airbnb and HomeAway regularly, they are the first options that come up for anyone looking on price, and now the market is booming again. Well, long may it last, although I’m rather hoping to use the week’s break to get the house ready for the anticipated winter guests from November onwards. Radiators have to be carried upstairs, a permanent cover built for the gas geyser (which currently has to be switched off and covered when it rains), and a tumbledrier not only sourced but housed.  320 days of sunshine a year is all well and good but the other 45 days are scattered between September and March, I’m a little behind. Until my builder-buddy Nick can get his car (and heavier tools) to the front door again, it’s all on hold. Grrr!

There’s an American guy in the front room who had originally booked for a weekend and keeps extending his stay – he’s house-hunting in the Lecrin Valley but becoming increasingly charmed by Velez itself  and could even end up changing all his plans and becoming a sort of part-time neighbour. I can remember all too well being utterly bewildered by the variety of the places for sale between here and Granada!  Originally he had short-listed two. One is a tiny (one bedroom) perfect villa just above the Alhambra, with a roof terrace with views of the Palace and Granada itself. The other is at the top of the mountain behind Niguelas, a solid cabin squarely in the national park with fruit and olive trees and  views, on a clear day, to Africa, but it is 45 minutes up a winding unsurfaced track. He’s thinking he will probably buy both. I said he needs to look around more. He has the option of renting the Granada one first so will be off as soon as that lease is signed.

The couple in the back room are absolutely lovely, but he’s French with a little English and a little Spanish, and she’s Spanish with no English and no French. We have the occasional glass of wine together and chatter away in three different languages. Builder-buddy Nick says I should stop being so chatty but I honestly don’t start the conversations. I’ll admit I do enjoy them and don’t run away and hide. And when we had a mini-flood yesterday (I really can’t WAIT for the roadworks to be finished and my non-return valve fitted) my lovely guest insisted on helping brush a substantial pool of water from the hallway back up the slight slope towards the atrium drain. They go today and will be missed.

My birthday falls around Halloween and I always take the day off – this year I have booked off teaching but will have the house full, so it won’t be completely relaxing. Just as well, perhaps. Wouldn’t do to be getting lazy.

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