Don’t know where, don’t know when – theoretically Spain –

Limbo … my office closed at the end of April, making us all redundant, and I have a tiny financial cushion while I look for another job – but what kind of job? Temporary, short-term, massive pay, would probably be best because my house is on the market.

If it doesn’t sell, I have to find something permanent (massive pay would continue to be a bonsella) or sell a lot more books to keep the bulldog in the extremely expensive food she has to have because of her pink skin problems.

It may not sell.  My small town on the Firth of Forth is lovely, but short on public transport and therefore not in brisk demand. Scotland generally is unsettled, due to La Sturgeon’s ongoing determination to cut us adrift.  Investors are leaving, not buying, and my erstwhile employers are far from the only national company quietly moving operations down south. These are not ideal selling conditions.

If it does sell, though – hmmm. Spain? There’s an enormous townhouse there, in a lovely little town perfectly positioned for quiet tourists, which would convert into four holiday apartments plus a flatlet for me (I did say enormous!)  Right now, it’s a white elephant of note. Weeds are waist high in the terrace, two of the ceilings are sagging in the most alarming manner, and plaster doesn’t so much flake off the walls as fall off in sizeable chunks. That does mean it is affordable, and it has location location location in Velez: Costa Tropical beaches fifteen minutes away in one direction, spectacular Granada half an hour away in the other, and the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada beyond that.  I’m about to list some of alarming photos and videos on the house’s Facebook page.  I took my daughter to see it last weekend. She thinks I’m demented. You’ll doubtless agree.

Fair enough. If I achieve everything I want to achieve with it, I’ll look back on the photos and videos I’ve taken and will be pretty astonished myself that I bought it, but that’s in limbo too. Demented I may be, but not to the point of buying it without a structural survey. I saw the house on Valentine Eve, fell in love with its shabby charm and potential, and requested said survey. We are now, hmm, 10th day of May. In theory the survey, promised almost on a weekly basis, is booked at last, for the 19th. Then, and only then, can I make an offer and of course in the meantime anyone could buy it from under my nose.  That would be fun, especially if my house sold at the same time.  Oops. Nowhere to live, and nowhere to go.

The thing is, if this house doesn’t sell, I have fourteen years of mortgage still to clear. Fourteen years! That takes me past retirement age no matter how often our caring government moves the goalposts. I’m not even sure I have fourteen years of life left, and I know for an absolute fact I don’t have fourteen years of Indian summer, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want to spend those years working to pay a mortgage. The elefante blanco would be bought cash, and although it would never provide enough income to live on, it could reasonably be expected to cover its own upkeep and maintenance. That’s incredibly tempting, a self-sustaining home, erratic flow of visitors, a better lifestyle generally that even costs less. I adore Scotland, but the winds do seem to be blowing.

I’ve let chance and circumstance run my life for nearly twenty years now, and no regrets, not one. Being a straw in the wind brought me to the UK, then to Scotland, into this house, and into writing those books you see in the margin. (Are you up to date on the books? There’s a new one out, and one coming up and about to go on pre-order, make a note in your diary.)

grin

I blew off to Europe increasingly often to meet eclectic members of the singles website I joined to research some of the books. One resulting friend lives near Velez – straws that blew me to the door of #21 Calle de Martires. It feels right. It feels terrifying, at the same time. A stray breeze blew an email from a TEFL college into my mailbox, so I signed up to do a TEFL course – teach English as a foreign language – towards the future, and am enjoying bending my brain. Learning Spanish I’ll leave until when (if) I get there – courses are regularly offered for free either in Velez or a nearby town, and I’d get to meet other newcomers learning Spanish, win win.

Right now, the straws are hanging motionless, and I’m waiting for the wind to pick up again.

There’s a house viewing booked for tomorrow, only the third since I listed the house.  A brief breeze, which will drop again, or the start of a strong driving wind – who knows? Not a clue.

I need a windsock.

Passport whinges – part two. No wonder Brexit. The passport office HATES travel.

Dear Mr Johnson

A few weeks ago my passport was stolen in Germany and I thought the difficulties I had getting home were bad enough.  Turns out it isn’t just the Foreign Office which is dedicated to making life’s little travel document issues close to unbearable. (Have you removed that chilly passive-aggressive utterly unhelpful piece of human snot from Dusseldorf yet? He really isn’t suited to life in the Diplomatic Corps. If his attitude towards British citizens is anything to go by he really should not be dealing with people from any other country.)

That’s by the by. If you aren’t the right person for this query perhaps you would be kind enough to forward this message to the correct office.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn I could apply on line for my passport, because we all know Big Brother is watching everything we do and every detail of our lives is available on request to those in power who feel they need to know.  All those census forms, driving licence details, every remotely official document I’ve ever had to fill in, job applications for anything remotely government related, and, of course, every passport I’ve ever had.

Any chance this wealth of information be shared with the Passport Office?

Perhaps I was being tested. Sure, I know my father’s name although these days that may not be an easy question for some and should probably be removed from the form so as not to offend. His place of birth – hmm, that was 103 years ago, but I think I got that right. Fairly sure of my mother’s, too.

No, I don’t know his passport number. I think it has expired, to be honest, he’s been dead well over ten years and wasn’t doing a lot of travelling towards the end.

If either parent was alive I would ask, with tears of frustration in my eyes, why they chose to be living in another country at the time of my birth. I’m sure they didn’t intend to cause me lifelong problems with bureaucracy. They did their best, to be fair. Registered my birth at Somerset House, and put me on my mother’s British passport before my eyes had even opened. In fact I’ve had a British passport ever since.  That’s been quite a few over the decades. Big Brother presumably knows that, but the Passport Office doesn’t store any details.

Anyway, I filled in the application, paid on line and received an email attachment for the counter-signatory information. Eight pages, each helpfully marked 1 of 8, 2 of 8, all the way to 8 of 8. Careful instructions to the counter-signatory as to what to do and how to complete the counter-signatory form but – no counter-signatory form.

So I rang. Now I am not one to complain about the rising tide of immigrants, because let’s face it, to purists I am one myself. However I think it might, just a suggestion, be nice to employ actual English-born,  English-speaking, staff on the phones?  Just saying.  As it happened the various immigrants I spoke to (I had to call a couple of times) did try to be helpful, which is more than could be said for the actual English-born, English-speaking person I finally reached, who might be related to the non-diplomat in Dusseldorf, and certainly went to the same charm school.  I was told there’s a queue. Of course there is. This is Britain. There’s always a queue. They couldn’t possibly email me the corrected form (even though it was an online application and they had emailed me the incorrect one) but within 72 hours they would post it to me.

That caused another problem, because you don’t accept the word of just anyone on photograph likeness, do you? Doctors aren’t acceptable unless they are personal friends as well. I was a little depressed to realize how few professional people I had known for two years that I was still in contact with. They’ve retired and as often as not taken their retirement pounds abroad to friendlier climates and cheaper lifestyles. Still, my dentist had agreed to do the honours, which was very good of her since I’m not allowed to show her handiwork in the photo, but was off on holiday within the 72 hours.  I know you say not to book a holiday until you have a passport but mine was stolen and I had already booked a holiday before it was stolen. I really didn’t want to wait until she got back, because tick tock, time is fleeting.

Well, I could go on, and on, and on, but as I still don’t have my passport I will keep the rest of the saga to part three. I suspect it will be even longer than part two, and more indignant.

No wonder Brexit. It is quite obvious, Mr Johnson, that your department disapproves completely of travel and want to make it as difficult as possible.

Boris, a word please, from stranded travellers? #passportstolen and what to do

This is, in fairness, what you would call a fairly focused blog, because my research (quite involuntary, for once) was on losing a passport in Bremen, Germany.

In passing I’d like to say that if you have to lose a passport anywhere, Bremen is possibly the best place as they have the nicest police ever.  Plus flights there are surprisingly cheap, and it is LOVELY.

If you are not a UK citizen, you’re in luck. The airport police can issue you an emergency travel document – go first to the police station closest to where you lost the passport, and report it there, just because if it turns up the chances are it will be handed in there.  The police will give you a letter confirming you have reported the loss. You will then need two passport photographs, and you take those and the letter to the airport police and fill in quite a lot of forms and Bob’s your uncle.

Unfortunately the UK wants no truck with that sort of convenience. You need to go to the closest consulate (and good planning if you are holidaying in Berlin, Munich or Dusseldorf, whoops if you aren’t) and they will issue the emergency document. When and if they feel like it. If you lost it on a Friday afternoon, wow, bad luck because they won’t feel like it until Monday.  Of all the people I dealt with during the whole fairly stressful event, the UK consul staff in Dusseldorf were the only ones who were completely and utterly unhelpful, in fact the absolute and complete pits, and I would like a word with Boris Johnson about them. Just saying.

However I learned a great deal during the crisis and that’s the point of this blog. Some things to put in place for your next trip:

  1. Carry 3 certified copies of your passport on holiday, and keep them in different places. They won’t replace the passport, but they will make proving your identity oh so much easier.
  2. One thing I always do for visiting South Africa, and may in fact do as well as the above from now on, is to get an international driving licence from the AA. Whether you are planning to drive on holiday or not, the international driving licence is acceptable identification for any situation because it states your citizenship (which, by the way, your normal driving licence doesn’t). South Africa is not the only country that can demand identification, then take your passport and not give it back. Hand over the international AA identification instead!  It’s not expensive, it doesn’t take too much time to organize, and you probably won’t need it. You will thank me with tears of gratitude if you do.
  3. Keep copies of your insurance details with each of the above. I buy travel insurance annually, not per trip, because I travel a fair amount and I get far better cover for a better price, but I had become casual about keeping the details to hand. Never again.  However, just so you know, most travel insurance should cover around £250 of your costs for emergency travel documents. If you are a UK citizen, have to spend an unexpected weekend waiting for the consulate to find time to fit your emergency into their busy schedule, and have to travel to another town to reach the consulate, not to mention booking a short-notice flight back, that isn’t as much as it sounds. Don’t assume you are fully covered for all expenses, is what I’m saying.

Things I didn’t get to try, but was told about:

I don’t know how true this is because I only found out afterwards, but it seems those indifferent sods at the Consulate could have faxed or emailed through the emergency documentation. I didn’t know to ask, and they didn’t offer because this was after all 4.30 on Friday afternoon and their minds were on more important things.  However, it does seem logical that if you can send a certified copy of your passport to them from the airport police computers, they should – surely? – be able to send that PDF back?  Too logical?

If all else fails and you really are stuck for a couple of days, there is a wonderful piece of local law in Germany if any of your belongings are stolen from your hotel. It would be lovely to think every country has some equivalent but no-one rushes to mention it. In Germany it has the jawbreaking name of  Strenge Haftung des Beherbergungswirtes  – the hotelier is liable for up to 100 times the room rate (without breakfast) for any losses suffered by the guest. In theory, therefore, you could return to the hotel and expect them to put you up for free at the very least, maybe pay your train fare to the nearest consulate, while you wait for your lazy and grossly indifferent  public servant* to help you.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

 

*yup, still seething.

The rain in Spain falls mainly well you know where. And there’s a local book if you’re planning a visit …

Recently I left misty Scotland for a week in sunny (and, it turned out, unusually humid) Spain. Bold blue skies, looming mountains, olives in profusion and splashes of colour everywhere, wow.  I was visiting a sister who lives there half the year and reluctantly returns to beautiful Hampshire for the rest of the time, and her villa is halfway up a mountain in an utterly beautiful town with a nice mix of Spanish and ex-pats who have embraced the lifestyle and struggle manfully with the language and are integrating pretty successfully.

contrasts

A surprising number of those I met are in my favourite Indian Summer age and have thrown over the conventional ‘wind-down towards retirement’ to follow a dream. I met two lively interesting women around my age who moved there for (or with) a fella and stayed when the wheels fell off because they had fallen in love with the country, hats off to them because I didn’t have the courage but boy, are they enjoying their lives.  I met writers and painters and actors (there is a thriving theatre group, currently in rehearsals for a Federico Lorca play) and a fair number who were semi-retired or retired but following dreams and hobbies and activities of their own with vigour and enthusiasm.

Being a fish out of water does appeal most to eccentrics, and those I met were lively, deeply tanned, and interested in a far wider range of things than they would have been at home. I was delighted to be greeted in a soft Glaswegian voice by one man I had particularly wanted to meet because I swotted up for the trip by reading his book: Jim Mackie moved to that part of the world with his wife and the declared intent of saying yes to anything (however bizarre) that let him follow his love of music. His book, if you are a music lover (especially boogie) is a treat, just skip the bits on Bedar, Almeria, and the surrounding Andalusia. If, on the other hand, you are only fascinated by interesting Brits abroad who have found lovely places to live, skip the music. The book is selling fairly briskly so there must be those who like both but hey, look for yourself:  Boogie Man book  or, to give it its full title, Boogie Man (And His Cat) In Andalusia.

There are things about Spain that I loved – walking up to the fuenta to get pure fresh water (there are fountains in every town, no matter how remote, and residents will argue fiercely over the merits of driving the extra few miles to nearby Serena because their fuenta was better than the local one) and that deeply blue sky and the friendliness of everyone I met. Hola!  Sitting sipping wine with my feet in a swimming pool (only my feet. The locals decreed it was too cold to swim in water that was a mere 24 degrees  and I was for sure not going to cavort like a slightly portly dolphin on my own).  Entertaining is cheap, with very drinkable plonk at around a euro a bottle, and paella for dinner can stretch to cover a surprising number of guests. Tapas is around a euro a shot so you can try several different ones, enjoy wine with your choice, and still waddle away with change from a fiver. We partied every single day for a week. I need a holiday to recover from my holiday.

There were things I found daunting: it is a seriously big country, and I speak as someone who hails originally from Africa. In Africa, when something is an hour’s  drive away, you shrug and change your mind about going. In Scotland, you can pretty much cross the country in the kind of time that Spanish residents think is an acceptable drive to a good restaurant.  I last experienced that kind of relaxed thinking in Florida but one important difference is that roads in Florida don’t wind round mountains, and I wasn’t being driven there by a sister who defaults, as often as not, to driving in the middle of the road rather than trouble her head about remembering whether she should be on the left or the right side. I am apparently the worst backseat driver ever but I wasn’t the only one to come away with new grey hairs, we met a few drivers around blind corners who are probably still palpitating.

And it was HOT. Even in October. Sleeping fitfully through the sound of a creaking fan, the windows thrown open to attract any flicker of a breeze and therefore a nightlong deafening chorus of cicadas, not to mention the unbearable weight of the sheet, was challenging. Forever sweating up a slope, or scuttling awkwardly down, is always going to make walking a problem when you are living halfway up a mountain.

When I landed back at Edinburgh it was 12 degrees, with a fine misty rain. NICE.

 

Going bananas

The die is cast, and Thirteen Fourteen Maids A-Courting has been loaded on Amazon, officially publishing on May 1st, unofficially available a few days before that, at the pre-release price which is a touch under what you would donate at the office for the birthday of someone you barely know.  Here’s a thought. Buy them my book instead?

You can pre-order by clicking on this cover pic on most Amazon sites, then you won’t miss the intro price. The cover was created by Lacey O’Connor from a photo I took of Los Gigantes, a fairly typical Tenerife picture.

thirteen fourteen kindle

However, this isn’t the blog where I nestle on your lap and try to slip my hand in your pocket. That follows in a couple of days and shouldn’t be missed. This is a blog for those who haven’t been to Tenerife and might be intrigued enough by my descriptions of the banana plantations to want to look up a few photos.

Tenerife Easter 2015 119

You won’t find many. For some inexplicable reason the plantations, which are everywhere and spectacular, are not on websites. Since they fascinated me, and play a distinct role in the book, there was nothing for it but to produce a banana plantation blog, even though I am a poor photographer with a cheap camera and an unrivalled genius for capturing unwanted poles, overhead wires and bits of cars.

Tenerife is a volcanic island, and there are very few places where you aren’t on a slope. As bananas are conservative, and like life on the level, the plantations have to be built up to keep them as flat as a billiard table. The retaining walls are often built of volcanic rock, and the effect is extraordinary. Once you are out of the tourist centres, they are everywhere, even cheek by jowl with built-up (non-tourist) areas.

Some plantations are neatly terraced. Some are neglected. Some balance on the edge of ravines (it is a challenging landscape, once away from the beaches) and others line the highway. They’re quite something.

Introducing the banana plantations of Tenerife.

Tenerife Easter 2015 140Tenerife Easter 2015 076Tenerife Easter 2015 070Tenerife Easter 2015 037Tenerife Easter 2015 053
Oh, why not. A mountain and ravine as well. In for a penny, in for a pound. It isn’t a pretty place. More – gobsmacking.

Tenerife Easter 2015 065Tenerife Easter 2015 038


Getting in early. Happy Valentine Day …

I had really hoped to be doing a St Valentine’s Day book launch, the next book is Thirteen Fourteen Maids A Courting, and what possible better publication date could there be than February 14 for a title like that?

13 14 hearts

The main maid courting in this one is Kirsty, Edge’s lovely young niece, who is taking a brief holiday break from her job with Police Scotland to be wooed in the romantic surroundings of Tenerife.  Unluckily for Kirsty my books are whodunits, not love stories, so it will be no surprise to any regular reader that Drew vanishes, leaving her alone in the Canaries, unable to speak a word of Spanish and finding surprisingly little professional cooperation being offered by the multiple policing services on the island.

Edge, Donald, Vivian and William fly to the rescue (by private jet – all part of the story) and things, unsurprisingly, get complicated. In fact so complicated that there is no chance I’ll make this excellently appropriate deadline, the draft isn’t even at beta reader stage yet.  It was almost impossible making Eleven Twelve’s Halloween deadline, but it seems I never will learn to plan ahead properly.

Oh well, maybe next February! I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Thirteen Fourteen but have learned a short sharp lesson about writing books set in another country: I have now been to Tenerife three times and the phone lines hum between visits with difficult questions. How many morgues in Adeje? How many hospitals? Why would the Guardia Civil not call in the Policia Nationale instantly if there’s a possible kidnapping? How do you start a Segway? Why is the area where bananas are cultivated called a plantation, if the estate owning multiple plantations is also a plantation? Is the whole estate a finca, or just the villa? All the time humbly aware that there will be at least one crashing error which will make canny readers roll their eyes and say for goodness sake, did she do no research at all?

13 14 segway

When I do visit it is an effort to remember that sipping the addictive Café Canario (espresso coffee layered with condensed milk and topped with cream) while tourist-watching on the beautiful beaches and boulevards doesn’t butter those research parsnips.

13 14 cafe-canario-mmmmm

I just hope the book does well enough to justify at least one of the trips as business expenses, I’d hate to make HMRC officials rupture themselves laughing at the very thought. Be nice to someone special on Saturday, and have a great day.

13 14 hearts