Guests, Spanish citizenship for the car, and bottles of wine #livinginSpain

It’s been a hectic August so far, more guests than I expected, they’ve been such fun – even the Spanish couple who gave me only 3 stars, partly on location. Well, location is one thing I can’t change, eh? And hardly my fault they were in the south of Spain to visit her father, who lives on the far side of Malaga, 80 km each way.  Tchah. She spoke no English but did say at least in her review ‘the owner speaks little Spanish, but one can understand’.

She took away with her my Spanish ‘notes for guests’ and the printer decided to have a strop so I couldn’t print more, but fortunately the next guests were, although from the north of Spain, fully bilingual. In fact he’s Irish – they met in Ireland, then moved back to her beloved country some 15 years ago.

Both are teachers, and he gave me a priceless list of 1000 questions guaranteed to spark students of English into comment for those awful moments in class when one has run out of topic but there is still 10 or 15 minutes to be endured. I’m still very new to tutoring, barely a year’s experience, and although I teach online through an agency, which supplies the topic and material, sometimes the pupil is more advanced than expected, the supplied material is covered in half the time, and the tutor has to get creative . . . so I was exceedingly grateful for that.

Irish J also went to the policia local with me as I am still renting out rooms on my temporary licence and haven’t heard anything from the tourist board. I know they’re snowed under with applications, but I also think I should be keeping records of guests, and advising the authorities, but, er, how? The policia local didn’t know either, but told us to go back in an hour. We did, and the next person we spoke to said to come back Thursday afternoon when there might be someone who spoke a little English who could possibly help me. It didn’t seem to be, put it this way, something that worried them very much, so I am not worrying as much as I did. At this point all my bookings are still through the websites Airbnb and HomeAway, so they are easy to track.   If all the guests who have promised to return do return, they’ve all said they will book direct, and my record-keeping will be sorted by then, right? Right.

Spanish-Irish P and J left, and were replaced by another Spanish couple, R and J, very young, with barely a word of English between them. They carried in (for a week’s stay) very nearly as much luggage as I had carted in the camper, including a portable air-conditioner, now that’s organized!

In the meantime Danish P in the front room finally left to return to Copenhagen, with hugs and promises to return often, and was replaced by a remarkably beautiful young Vietnamese lass and her devoted Czech partner, H and K.  He’d been before, she hadn’t, but fell completely in love with Spain, which she said is very like Vietnam. They diligently updated the visitor book with recommendations for other visitors – best local breakfast churros (photo below), a nearby source for paella, the closest nudist beach.  She did catch the sun quite badly on the nudist beach, and pulled down her sundress to show me her sunburn.  I asked if I could take a photo for the blog, which I think you would have appreciated very much, but she giggled and pulled the dress up again. Note to self – restock the first aid kit with more sunburn stuff.

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They spoke less Spanish than I do (yes, I didn’t know that was possible either) and had me translating for them with the daily bread van as they tried nearly all his wares. The best, they decided, was a crisp sugared bread biscuit six inches across.  I have no idea what it is called. When they left, they gave me a thank-you bottle of wine, and so did the young Spanish couple in the back room when they left yesterday. Very handy, since the lovely mecanico who has been helping me with the car matriculation refused to take payment and said I could bring him a bottle of wine instead. Sorted.

I only have one guest at the moment, with a Polish name but a flawless London accent, mainly because that’s where he lives, and he’s visiting his parents, who have retired to Velez. The occasion was a family gathering and he opted to rent a room from me rather than share one with his 6-year-old nephew. Theoretically, a wise decision. In the event, he might have slept later yesterday, as some very noisy work started without warning on a house across the street. A generator chugging, an earthmover (small but noisy) moving piles of debris and Spanish workmen chatting at the tops of their voices at 6.30 in the morning is no way to wake up on holiday. Luckily the Spanish weekend is sacred so not a sound this morning, he slept until 10, and leaves tomorrow.

work across the road digger

Even more luckily, I had already closed bookings on both rooms for the rest of the month. Just as well, if there is going to be a morning racket! More to the point, it is a year since I started this Odyssey, it has been an incredibly hectic year, and I need the break. I knew August would be hot, but nobody expected the savage humidity, which is not at all typical for Spain and has topped 80% on a few hideous days. Preparing rooms single-handed again and again to paying-guest standard in 80% humidity is not a bundle of fun.

I’m taking a teaching holiday, too – it may only be 3 hours a day, 6 days a week, but my predominantly Chinese students are also in a very hot summer and are tired, scratchy and listless by their evening which – the time difference – is when classes start. Being bouncy, upbeat, energetic and encouraging for 3 hours is exhausting.

The last book in my series – 19 20 My Plate Is Empty – has been stop-starting throughout this erratic  year and I’m still not happy with it, much of the break will be spent on that. I’ve loved the series, which has made some good friends along the way, and there’s no way I will finish with a potboiler. Already Scotland seems so distant that when I re-read some bits I’m taken aback and abruptly reminded of life there, so it has to be finished soon.

There’s one other good reason for the break, too – matriculating my car, which has been delayed so often I am now frighteningly illegal, as the MOT runs out.  With no classes and no guests I can focus completely on that (and have time to travel around on the coach system until it is sorted). The process started with Antonio the mecanico, but he’s having to close his garage and move as the city wants to widen the road. He called in the tecnico Manolo, who said all the car lights would have to be changed, but Sanchez the electrico just laughed at me for wanting to do such a thing in August. It is fiesta!  Come back on the 22nd, I will see then when I can do it.

Er, no can’t wait. The lights were sourced, ordered, and fitted by the priceless and irreplaceable Nick and I’ve spoken to Chris who will handle the re-registration (it’s what he does, deal with Spanish bureaucracy, and he is English, so there is no need for my pitiful Spanglish+mime skills, phew) and scanned to him all my documentation – passport, NIE, padron, and of course the car’s V5 logbook. He will set up the ITV appointment, arrange with Manolo to meet me there to issue the tecnico clearance, and then I can put the car in for its roadworthy test. It had its last annual MOT in August when I left the UK so – tick tock. Eek. There’ll be a blog on the matriculation, since that’s a whole story in itself, once I have the final facts, figures, and my new registration plates. What a mission!

Today’s temperature is a rather fab 28 degrees, slight breeze, will reach 31 Celsius by late afternoon, and the humidity a not so fab but bearable 63%. We do seem to be escaping the rather terrifying storms and flash-floods up Benidorm way, my barometer is holding serenely steady.

And – breathe.

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Excentrico guests – Anglo-Saffer J et al #livinginSpain

I’ve got a current couple in Cameron who could be rated perfect  – she doesn’t speak any English, he has just enough to get us by, they’re up at 10 and out for the day, return around midnight, we smile a great deal and say a little in Spanglish, and so long as they’re smiling, I’m happy!

The previous guest in Cameron was my Anglo-Saffer buddy, come to see what the Elefante Blanco has turned into, and that was huge fun.  She’s a runner with a club we can call Narnia, and likes to run early in the morning. I’m not an early bird in any way (or a runner, perish the thought) but armed her with the necessary pidgin Spanish to ask her way back to somewhere familiar if she got lost (effectively, dónde Iglesia, where church?)

As it turned out she slept later than her usual 4 am (probably due to much tinto de verano (summer wine) and blethering the night before, she also credits the bed, ta very much) and only donned her running clobber, emblazoned with the club’s name, around 7.30. The streets were already coming to life and she was greeted with friendly interest by those she passed, and the old men sitting under the pergolas. From the second morning there were calls of ‘Hola, Narnia!’ as she sped by, waving, and by the end of her week she probably knows more people in town than I do. She loves Spain and Spain, or certainly Velez, loves her.

When under linguistic pressure she switched to Afrikaans and said it was miraculous, the person who could only talk Spanish a minute earlier suddenly managed to disinter some English from the recesses of their memories. Of course as an Anglo-saffer she’d have had problems if they’d been fluent in Afrikaans as she isn’t exactly vlot herself. But ‘twas enough, it sufficed.

We ventured through to Granada for a day, and found it experiencing bone-melting temperatures but thanks be, there is a hop-on hop-off bus-tram. We fell onto that with glowing relief and were rattled briskly around all the scenic bits of fabulously scenic Granada. There are over a dozen places to hop off, very few of which tempted any of the steaming passengers, and the route includes the perimeter  / outer gardens of the Alhambra Palace.

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We did get off to check out the cathedral and square,

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DSC_0936and again for lunch in a beckoning plaza, where huge umbrellas over the tables puffed out misty spray at regular intervals. We sipped lazily at iced summer wine and enviously watched a dog plunge into the fountain and swim around until he felt braced enough to get out.

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The return to Velez felt positively cool, but even here it was 34 degrees. Wow.  Not even August yet . . .  Danish J is still in Oliver, the front room, and has extended his stay another two weeks, and I’m considering blocking off the rest of August on both rooms and taking the month off. It will be my first August, and I have no idea what to expect, but as I don’t have air-conditioning, I’m really not sure the big fans in the rooms will be enough.  I know what last September was like – I will have been here a year, then.  That’s flown!

 

Excentrico guests – Dutch P – #livinginSpain

Dutch P couldn’t really be more unlike Danish J. Wiry, quick-moving, mid-fifties and fit as a butcher’s dog, he drove here from The Hague with one overnight stop in Bordeaux (2200 km), stacked all his wind-surfing kit in the hall (that’s a lot of kit, by the way) and we had a midnight beer on the terrace while he brought me up to speed.

His wife, although not Spanish, is from a Spanish-speaking country and has been pining for some of the sun Spanish-speaking countries have in such generous quantities. She has a sister in Motril – and a job, an ideal job, came up in Malaga. Only problem – could he start Monday? Of course he could. He’s obviously a very can-do sort of man. It was the work of a moment for him to book in the Cameron for 4 days, drive a couple of thousand kilometres, and start apartment-hunting.

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He was on the terrace with coffee and his first cigar of the day at 7.30 on Thursday morning and gone by 9, to return at midnight for another beer and update on the terrace. Success! Sister-in-law had set up 4 places to view, he’d signed the lease on the 3rd, been given the keys, and could now relax and have a holiday.

Friday morning found him in shorts on the terrace after a long lie-in (8.30) and then he was gone again, back to Motril. The new place has a pool in the apartment block and temperatures here now are over 30 degrees, so on Saturday, a day early, he repacked the car, hugged me goodbye like an old friend, and was gone.

I don’t know how much of his early departure was to do with the pool and wanting to get settled in the furnished apartment, or with the fact there was briefly no hot water on Saturday morning – eep.

I was, oh so luckily, up earlier than usual, and when I tried to shower there was no fwoop from the gas cylinder outside. CRAP. I have several gas cylinders and it was the work of but a moment to switch cylinders – even as the cap clicked into place, water started through the anti-scale filter and the heater said fwoop. Fortuitous timing, or had P been trying for a while? When I asked over coffee later, he insisted there had been no problem.

The replacement cylinder was from my winter heater and I had no idea how much gas it still had, so there  was a hasty dash down the road to the garage to get a full one.

By the way, and I mention this only in passing, the new guy at the garage looks like Jeff Goldblum.  I mean exactly like Jeff Goldblum, around his Jurassic Park period. Doesn’t speak a word of English. I really must start those Spanish lessons.

Back home, heaved the new cylinder out of the car and inside the front door, then drove off to find parking – when I returned, two minutes later, the cylinder was gone. P had spotted it, carried it through and then helpfully switched the cylinders for me, you have to admit that’s a handy guest to have! He was even dressed to match the house, in vivid green, and laughingly posed for a photograph before we packed the windsurfing kit into his Alfa-Romeo and he shot on his way.

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The neighbours are definitely intrigued by the variety of men through my door. My next guest is not only a woman but an old friend and entirely in keeping with the casa’s ambience, so the penny should drop soon but I’m enjoying my shady reputation while I can.

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Excentrico guests  – Danish J – #livinginSpain

1st of July and although at one stage it looked like we’d never get here, the Casa Excentrico is in business, the G suite is up and running, and there be guests!

Oliver, the front room overlooking the street, has J, a Danish writer / translator, who has been in for a week and is booked for four. We occasionally put the world to rights over summer wine (tinto de verano) on the terrace, since between us we cover most demographics (he’s male, mid-thirties, and being Danish, EEA rather than EU).  Now to get the governments of the world to listen to our brilliant solutions, eh?

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He’s keen on politics, but his passion is football, and the World Cup is on at the moment. He has become the house’s roving reporter, advising which pavement cafes have TV and, importantly, their allegiances (Barcelona or Real Madrid), as that affects which international game they will be showing.  Of course every Spanish game is shown at them all, and then the place to be is the Futball Café.

As it happened I was there with local friends W and E on the night of the kick-off between Spain and Portugal. We’d gone because TripAdvisor gives the place great reviews for its tapas and its fish dishes, just the 3 of us as our mutual friend Nick doesn’t care for fish and doesn’t live in Velez anyway. As they aren’t footie types either, we were a little puzzled when TV screens started appearing on the plaza next to the café, and stacks of chairs were carried out, followed by scores of tables. The gathering buzz, as the extra tables were briskly set up, and equally briskly claimed, was palpable. We ordered a third round of drinks, received a third included-in-the-price plate of tapas (the first had been mushrooms in a delectable dressing, the other two fish-based) and can report that the quality, despite the excitement, held up nicely. It’s sunny on the plaza until about 9 p.m., it was a good game, and the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant.

Back to guest #1, J, he’s definitely one of the most laidback guests any host could ever want. He doesn’t mind being woken by the dawn chorus as every bird choir in Spain gathers outside the window to sing the sun into the sky:  he goes straight back to sleep and doesn’t even hear the bread van when it stops at the door and hoots around ten a.m.  He’s usually first spotted around noon, coffee in hand, as he heads up to the sun patio. If he hadn’t seen me the evening before to give me the football results, he will stick his head in the study window to update me gravely on the state of play. The guest living-room fridge is crammed with interesting food-stuffs and summer wine and he says he’s loving the place, and finding it beautifully cool after Granada, where he was staying before.

Note to self – avoid Granada for the summer, since the temps here are nudging 32 degrees most days. ‘Beautifully cool’ is the very last description I would have used.

Cameron, the room overlooking the atrium, has had its first guest too, and is gearing up for the next on Wednesday. I’m not sure I’d be doing blogs for every guest, just the more excentrico ones, but P does qualify and his blog follows shortly.

Got my #padron, waiting for the policia to call – #livingInSpain

Sooner or later you have to tell the Spanish authorities that you have moved in, and the NIE*, although fairly vital to everyday life, doesn’t cut it.  You have around six months grace – time enough to know whether you will be sticking around or not – but after that it’s not only polite to register, it is required.  It is free, and adds you to the population of the town or city where you spend the most time.  I have the stamped copy on my desk, and at some point the policia will knock on the door and ask to see my passport or NIE to confirm I am me. Sorted.

The Padron – short for empadronamiento – if you live more than 180 days a year in Spain, you are legally required to register on the Padrón Municipal de Habitantes. It’s not unlike getting yourself on the electoral roll in the UK, but has more benefits and is a vital step towards eventually applying for permanent residency.

So – this is how you get it. Well, how I got it. Call in at the local town office, which rejoices in the name of Ayumtamiento (saying ayoomta me ento will get you pointed in the right direction) and ask for the form. (Necessito padron, if you speak pidgin Spanish as I do, I still sound like a 2 year old). Requirements can change, apparently, but they asked me to complete the form and bring it back with a copy of my NIE and my escritura (deeds) or lease.

Tiny problem there as I don’t have my deeds yet – this is an old house, and the seller’s grandfather’s death certificate was destroyed during WW2 and that’s delaying things, but presenting the first page of the formal document I signed in front of the notary when I bought the house was acceptable.

Completing the form was, even with the aid of my online translator, a bit tricky, and I finally hauled in a Spanish teacher I’ve met socially and paid for a couple of hours of her time (there were other forms we tackled as well). For example, I use two surnames, unhyphenated, as a matter of course, and the form asks for 1st Apellido and 2nd Apellido. I was advised, though, to put Elizabeth Lamprey as my nombre, and my surname as 1st Apellido, as this is the way my name appears on my passport.

(In Spain it is common to include the surnames of both parents in a name, the 1st being mother’s maiden name and the 2nd being father’s, and you more or less have the choice of which to use as your own surname, but should stick thereafter with the one you chose.  Hence 1st and 2nd apellido. Confused yet? I did borrow this ambiguity for my book The Money Honey and have no idea how it doesn’t cause more confusion, but everyone seems to understand it without any problems)

Back to the form – I had to then enter my most recent previous residence (Edimburgo, Reino Unido) and my date and place of birth (which, according to my NIE, is Durban, Natal, Reino Unido, there you go, Natal always did say it was the last outpost of the British Empire), my NIE and that was pretty much Bob’s your uncle.

The only other pause for thought was my estudios terminados – level, you could say, of education – and on the advice of my helper I chose 43 from the list on the back of the form – i.e. some studies after completing school, or the equivalent of a BA.

Presented, accepted, stamped, copy issued, and waiting only for the knock on the door.

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*The NIE,  more than the UK NI, is part tax certificate,  part ID number, essential to prove existence, and comes as pretty much part of the deal when you buy property anyway.  NIE stands for Número de identidad de extranjero and you will be asked for your number constantly, even when accepting a delivery at your door. Passport number is accepted if you are an obvious outsider, but the NIE is preferred.  I know it takes a while to obtain – up to a month – but as mine was sorted by my Spanish lawyer while I was still in the UK I can’t report on the process.

I mentioned we were tackling other forms – the digital signature, which is proving a bit of a mission, and my licence to offer rooms to let as a rural property owner, watch out for future exciting blogs.  So far I have a reference number for my digital signature but must present myself at a suitably authorised authority for verification (closest may be  Motril but may be Granada) after which I will get my confirmed virtual document on their website which I can download and send with every online application for anything.

I also have my temporary CTC reference to advertise my rooms to let, but need to confirm that in full within the month, more bureaucracy, oh joy. I am joyful that as I live in a town of under 20K residents I am considered a rural location and didn’t need to jump through the draconian requirements of letting rooms in a big city, where you have to offer full hotel standard with all the health and safety requirements of same. Yikes!

 

The end of the beginning – aka, el final del principio

Last Saturday, 5/5,  I had a small party – I’ve been invited to several since I got here, so it was a chance to return hospitality, but more importantly it marked the end of the beginning, a target date to have things ready, all the rubble cleared. I moved in on 3rd October and I was carrying the last bags of debris to the town bins at 2 in the morning six months later.  It was a long slog!

I’m no cook, and my renovations have provided a kitchen smaller than either my home office or my bathroom. The catering was the simplest – a picnic  theme, an assortment of help-yourself fillings and a range of fresh breads from the bread van. I pre-warned him on Friday in my best Spanish – every day I buy two 8 inch rolls (at 90c for both,  the easiest and cheapest way to do lunches for myself and buddy / builder Nick) and on Friday I said fluently “mañana cinco y rosca y baguette” (tomorrow five, and 8 inch bagels, and everyone knows baguette, right?)

I didn’t add ‘por favor’ because I have a complex about that, we Brits are known as por favors because we say it too often, the Spanish find it hilarious.  My Spanish is still terrible, in part because the local dialect cuts the ends off words so learning ‘proper’  Spanish  doesn’t help much. Even something as simple as buenos dias, here, is pronounced ‘born-dia’

So that was the base catering, the dozen guests brought tapas-type items and quiche and dips, and in the end it was quite a spread, and a lot of fun.  The grass matting was still being laid until 9 pm the night before, and I was still frantically tidying the last bits when they arrived promptly at 2, help, they live here and they don’t keep Spanish time??

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It was only when they left that I could, for the first time in six months, savour the sheer pleasure of looking at the atrium. It’s a long narrow house with a long narrow atrium / terrace and when that’s empty, it catches the heart and the imagination – well, it caught mine.  On the 3rd of October I unpacked the camper van into it and around a week later my furniture and boxes arrived and near-filled it and ever since it has been the heart of the building operations and has looked absolutely horrible for six months.  Some day (phase three) it will be tiled properly again but in the meantime I’m loving the grass!

terry pic atrium

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In a way the terrace photos below illustrate the six months best, but perhaps that’s only because it was the last job finished. The terrace was a series of long shallow steps (the first photo is at their worst, from the top looking down). Now there is a levelled section big enough to hold a table and chairs for sundowners, with the ‘welcoming arms’ curved retaining wall a nostalgic flashback to my childhood.  The plumbing to the laundry is well old so we carefully built in new piping so that if or when the original pipes spring a leak, connecting a new supply won’t mean digging the whole thing up again.

So now I’m basically ready for guests. The trick is sourcing the writers, walkers, cyclists, hikers, poke-around-exploring travellers who want accommodation in a typical Spanish town near the beaches of the Costa Tropical and Granada and the Sierra Nevada in a slightly quirky house. No problem, eh?

Velez without powerlines

Six months in Spain, and counting

I am not yet fluent in Spanish, in fact haven’t yet started formal lessons. I speak a sort of pidgin Spanish, and sound like a toddler, relying heavily on nouns and the medium of dance. Me want (insert noun here) (eg necesita pintura blanco, I go through gallons of pintura blanco) or pointing at things for sale and asking brightly ‘much?’  (Cuánto?)  I had cards printed with name, address, telephone numbers, that helped, if I want something delivered I ask ¿transportas? then hand over the card and my NIE number. Everything  is driven by the NIE number. It’s the same as the NI number in the UK, but here it proves you exist, while standing right in front of someone doesn’t.

Saying ‘no hablo Espanol’ gets a shrug, saying ‘poco Espanol’ gets sympathetic attention, especially if I then stumble through the phrase I have carefully memorised off Google.  The Spanish are very nice to idiots, especially idiots who are trying. I am very trying.

Small town life has lovely advantages – all the shopkeepers are dedicated to teaching me Spanish, and make me repeat the correct name for something at least 3 times before they hand it over. They all chatter away cheerfully for at least 5 minutes during each purchase, and anyone who enters the shop is included in the conversation. Everyone in town – small children through to the oldest residents – greets each other (and me) in passing, without fail. Hola, or buenos dias, or just a barked ‘dia!’ Some of the children show off to each other by greeting me in English. Most people are a little nervous of my portly Frenchie-bulldog cross, and freeze if she looks their way, but a few greet her, then beam at me if she glances at them. Her manners are disgraceful, she rarely greets anyone.

The bread van comes by every morning bar Sundays at around 10.30, and he will wait a few minutes for me if I don’t come hurrying straight out (my order never changes, two plump bread sticks, 90c, muy bien, gracias.) We sometimes discuss the weather if it has dropped below 18 degrees C (frio! Si!)  My English-and-Spanish-speaking Dutch neighbour has introduced me to a few of my neighbours, and one of them insists on us kissing (mwah, mwah) in delighted greeting every time we see each other, then she chats in Spanish for a few minutes, pats me forgivingly on the cheek for not being able to contribute anything but comments on the weather, (honestly, how British am I?) and bustles on her way.

There are reasons I haven’t started my lessons, I’m still – yes, six months down the line – trying to sort out this enormous rambling shambolic house. I no longer call it the elefante blanco – the more it shares its eccentricities, the more it became obvious that it is the casa excéntrico. The renovations are not quite single-handed, although I have sworn never to have a Spanish-only builder here again: instead the Herculean task is being accomplished painfully slowly with the help of a semi-retired English builder who arrives every day around 11.00, drinks copious quantities of tea and coffee and cola cao (hot chocolate) and finishes around 6.30.  I say with his help – it is of course the other way round, there is an occasional bellow of ‘Biff!’ and I drop what I’m doing (painting walls doors and shutters, or trying to get generations of paint and plaster off floors and skirting boards, usually) and dash off to hold ladders, help carry bulky objects, go to the builders yard to collect stuff, or make what he calls ‘executive decisions’ on matters which have popped up unexpectedly. Things do pop up quite often when one is working on an old house which has had some very odd builders (and inept handymen doing patches) over the decades. He was a friend before the project started and who knows, the friendship may even survive this mammoth task – we do spend a lot of time spluttering with laughter. We also spend a lot of time bickering. It’s companionable.

Another reason I haven’t started studying is that I’m teaching English for several hours a day – I sit at my desk, headphones clamped to my head, and enter a virtual schoolroom somewhere in China, for two or three sessions a day. I’d do more but the 7 hour time difference makes that an impossibility.  It does slow down work on the house since Nick can’t drill, or use the disc cutter on tiles or bricks, or hammer at things, while I’m tutoring, and has to turn instead to plastering and quieter pursuits. There’s luckily no shortage of walls needing plastering.

Squeezing a Spanish lesson into the evenings would be do-able and the Casa Cultura is in easy walking distance, but I’m also trying to finish the last book in the Lawns series before I can no longer remember what daily life was like in Scotland – fifteen years, and yet already it seems a distant dream. I suspect I’m also struggling because it is the last book, and I shall miss them so much.

My social life, thanks to Nick introducing me to his lovely local friends, is probably busier than it was in Scotland. I don’t go out alone locally, as I’m so tired by evening, and usually splattered with paint into the bargain but soon after I moved in last October there was a night filled with regularly-spaced gunshots and distant brass band. The local Saint was out and about, and the gunshots were to alert the town. Oh help, I thought, as my dog tried to burrow through my lap to safety, this is going to be fun if it happens on a regular basis.

In fact not yet repeated. The plaster saint in the enormous church does emerge occasionally and proceed around the town, carried on the shoulders of townspeople swaying in eerie unison, but the guns have stayed quiet.  I caught up with an outing for Easter (Semana Santa) and made a very inept video of proceedings on Good Friday, link at the end of this blog. It was an unexpectedly moving event – this is not for tourists, it is for the town, and has been rooted in tradition for hundreds of years, a combination of mourning and gratitude for dying for our sins.  Easter is very different here – not a hot cross bun in sight, and a small display of chocolate eggs arrived diffidently on the supermarket shelves about a week before Easter.

There are traditional Easter foods, but you are expected to cook them at home.  One of them is torrijas, bread soaked in egg and milk, then fried, which I would have sworn was French toast. I must be mistaken, all Spanish food is unique, and by the way they invented pizza. They say so, and they’d know, after all.  Their pizza dough is sweeter, and less crispy.

Actually, everything is slightly sweeter. A lot of the baking is based on choux pastry (well, whatever it is called here, where it was doubtless invented) and cream. The Christmas cakes are a million miles from heavy dark fruitcake – roscón de reyes, (a crown shape for kings), choux pastry rings filled liberally with cream and (optional) tiny ceramic figures and garnished with candied fruit. Yummy!  Christmas lights in the streets tend to snowy mountains and stars, standing decorations are Nativity scenes, and Santa Claus is conspicuous by his absence – until you look up from street level. For some reason, my neighbours in Velez adore the dangling Santa, clinging for his life to balcony rails. There were 3 in my street alone.  Otherwise, apart from the occasional festive wreath on a door, very low-key – Christmas generally is a family day. The main difference I noticed in the beautifully decorated shops was the peaceful lack of Christmas carols – just the usual music, played at usual decibels. I actually rather liked that. Back in the UK by Christmas Eve even Slade gave me an instant headache.  There are parties and general gift-giving, but they are reserved for the Day of the Kings, the 6th of January, when the Wise Men arrived with the first gifts and the roscon de reyes is brought out for visitors.

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

Before then was of course NYE, and I was braced for loud parties, more gunshots, and revelry in the streets – nope. I’d been told to eat a grape for every chime of midnight but there weren’t even local chimes. A few decorous fireworks started a minute or two after midnight, and were over in 15 minutes. Okay, this is a small town, I have no idea what happens elsewhere, but the animals loved it, Hogmanay had always unsettled them.

Moving to Spain in the teeth of Brexit does make the future uncertain, with rumours and counter-rumours flying. There’s a Citizens Advice Bureau for ex-pats on Facebook, and I froze with horror just a few days ago at a warning post about twelve agreed directives coming into effect on Brexit day in March 2019. The CAB said in the preamble that they believed several were discriminatory and they would support anyone who needed help when they fell foul of the rulings. One directive said non-Spanish speakers would have to take an official translator to all official appointments including hospital visits. Another: anyone who hadn’t switched their UK driving licence to a Spanish one by March would have to take a Spanish test. The list was draconian. The 11th said the wearing of swimwear anywhere but on the beach would be punished by law. The 12th said anyone showing signs of sunburn when leaving the beach would be fined . . .  now hang on just one cotton-picking minute.

Only then did I realize the date. April Fool . . . ha bloody ha. Nearly gave me a heart attack!

Regrets? None. Last year when I had my house in Scotland on the market I was close to giving up and thinking I would never sell, and getting tiny odd frissons of panic – I have to be out of Scotland by winter. I couldn’t understand it, but of course now I know why – what a winter I missed.  Ironically, I was probably colder indoors here than I would have been there (unless the central heating had packed up) because the Casa Excéntrico was designed for hot weather, not cold. It isn’t a sunny house. I suspect, as a redhead, I’ll be deeply grateful for that come full summer, when street temperatures will be making me wilt and I’ll be doing my grocery shopping in the cool of the evening at 9 pm, but its dim and shadowy coolness, plus the fact it has been a building site all winter, made it crypt-cold. When I first moved in I designated the room off my study as a storeroom and bought industrial shelving to put my cases and boxes there until the renovations were over. (I will be offering suitcase etc storage to holiday home owners, so it was an investment in future income.)

As the overnight temperatures dropped to single figures (during the day it rarely dipped below a sunny wear-a-jersey 17 degrees) the storeroom abruptly became the designated winter bedroom, a bed wedged in between the shelves, to share heat with the study.  The walls of the house are at least a foot thick, and one radiator did keep both rooms at around 18 degrees. Neither the dog nor the cat could be coaxed out of the winter suite until the sun was on the upstairs patio, then they bolted up there to catch rays until the evening chill drove them back to the heater.

March was wet – the average winter rainfall is 15 inches, but we had 16 inches of rain in the first 3 weeks of March. Not much of it, phew, made it into the house, old as it is, although the hall flooded twice until I learned why my neighbours spread plastic ‘aprons’ across their doors – the step may be 6 inches above street level, but the churning rapids pouring down the street can occasionally exceed that. I learned to stack empty cement and plaster bags either side of the door, weighed down with bricks, when heavy rain was forecast, and kept my feet dry.

Not sure what mañana will bring but there will be tangles with bureaucracy, that’s a given. I came here by campervan and lost track of the months a bit, suddenly realizing its MOT was about to expire. Eek. Straight off to the ITV centre, theoretically to get an ITV voluntaire to sell the van but actually secretly hoping I could go ahead with Spanish registration. Nope. The van sailed through the challenges of the ITV but – shock horror – the logbook doesn’t show the weight. A DVLA clerical error which never stopped it passing over a dozen MOTs over the years, but stopped the matriculation process dead in its tracks. I sold it instead, and waved it sadly off back to the UK. It will be returning at least once a year, but not to this area – the buyer drove 5 hours from Valencia to see it and turned out – small world – to be another former South African.

But back to bureaucracy – I have my NIE to prove I exist but must soon arrange my Padron, registering as a townsperson. My little Toyota IQ will soon have to start the matriculation process, to become a Spanish car.  The best part is that it will get a numberplate showing it as a 2018 car – as the shape hasn’t changed since it was actually manufactured, it will be able to strut the streets looking like a new car. I was advised repeatedly to sell it in the UK and buy a left-hand drive here, but I love the car and didn’t.  Second-hand cars have no value in the UK – I would have been lucky to get a thousand quid for it. Cars don’t rust here, and hold their value for years longer. The same make and model, same age and low mileage, is at least 6000 euros, and I’d have no idea what its history was. Spending up to 1000 euros to matriculate mine seems a good deal to me.

And back again to bureaucracy. Buying the house was dizzyingly quick – from making my offer to sitting in the notary’s office and taking over the Casa Excéntrico took less than two weeks. Six months later, though, it still isn’t registered in my name. The death certificate of one of the seller’s grandparents was lost during the war, when that records office was bombed and burned out. A gentle wrangle has continued at stately pace since October. The seller is spreading her hands – nothing she can do, and the town council accepted that with the last house she sold. My lawyers are insistent – there must be, I think, a sworn affidavit? Whatever. Everyone is assuring me the house is mine in law, the money was handed over in front of the notary, this is purely a formality, and will soon be sorted. Luckily the registration was included in the fixed fee I paid the lawyer so the delay is costing nothing but frayed nerves. It doesn’t help that friends I have made here bought their house 18 years ago and it still hasn’t been registered in their name. Que sera, sera.

That link to the Semana Santa video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHV_VG6f2kU

Feliz dia!