In the grip of la grippe

A year ago I was in Scotland gloomily gearing myself up to move to England. It was the obvious, sensible, practical move. The company I worked for was closing its Scottish office and moving operations to their English office and was prepared to relocate me, their offices were within 30 miles of where my daughter lived, and moving would take me back with the general bosom of my extended family.  There was even a certain tidiness to the process since it was my previous employers who had relocated me to Scotland 15 years earlier.

So I am moodily drinking coffee and typing this at 5 in the morning in a large and rambling Spanish townhouse in a small Costa Tropical town and thinking why the hell am I here?

Oh, I know what happened. I chose challenge, I chose a new life and a massive project rather than the meek defeat of growing up and accepting growing old.

Numpty.

Right now I am flatter than a flat thing and that’s partly la bloody grippe. The driving energy which has carried me this far has foundered in the evil tentacles of this awful flu epidemic, but after a 20 hour sleep I am slowly reconnecting to reality after days of wittering and panicking and being completely irrational. Now I can take stock and look at the slow-motion train crash which has been happening for the last month and how FFS do I get back on track?

It was all going so well. My new neighbour has been friendly from our first meeting back in February and said she had a wonderful local builder she could recommend. Good, because although a lot of the work was just making good, there was some plumbing and rewiring that would need professional input. One of the major factors in me even taking on the challenge was having a ex-pat friend here who is a retired builder and would do the rest at mate’s rates, with as much inexpert assistance as I could contribute.

All started promisingly . Her wonderful builder speaks not a word of English but with her translating we agreed on the building work I wanted done (turn the horrible existing kitchen into a bathroom, create a kitchenette in the living room, and add a shower room upstairs) fairly straightforward stuff.  He quoted a price for labour, said he would apply for the certificate to do the work through the council and open an account for me at the builders merchants. The job would take a week, two weeks at most, and he would start at the end of November.  This was early October, and seemed ideal, it would give Nick and me time to get most of the lighter renovating sorted.

Okay, he only actually arrived 19th December, eek. When he did, he announced he and his assistant would be on a daily rate of 180 euros, double eek. He later brought in an electrician, who charged separately, and a plumber, who charged separately, and the first thing they did was say my existing drains couldn’t handle another three loos so up came the old waste pipe. He was shocked at my intention of tiling over the existing kitchen tiles, and instead stripped the old kitchen back to bare walls, replastered and tiled. The upstairs bedrooms would now be two shower rooms, not one shared Jack and Jill one, so I did know my original quote needed doubling. I mentally tripled it to allow for contingencies.

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Ha. Their work rate slowed, and slowed – they wasted two days tenderly laying temporary tiles very slowly one at a time in the atrium, despite my shrilly insisting it wasn’t necessary since the entire atrium would be retiled. (Geez, Spanish men are chauvenists. Just saying.) Then the real silly buggers stuff started. They drilled a hole through the ceiling for the first of the upstairs loos in the wrong place, but stubbornly refused to patch and drill again in the right place, instead opening a huge hole and channel for extra piping in my living room ceiling.  NOOOOOOOO.

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Finally they drilled in the right place – leaving me with the huge hole. Then they demolished an alcove in a room we’d completed instead of putting in a four inch hole for a waste pipe.

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I dissolved into shocked tears (tranquilizarse, tranqulizarse) and hysterically phoned my friend in Tenerife, who speaks fluent Spanish, and they had a shouted argument on the phone. The builder insisted the damage was misunderstandings because of the language barrier, and not his fault. The “one week, maybe two” was now four weeks and no end in sight and costs were through the roof. Talking of roof, that needed fixing too. With winter rains starting, I insisted via the friend the roof was now the priority and then that was it, they must go.

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Even while fixing the rotting beam in the roof he ‘accidentally’ damaged the next section but I didn’t care, they had to go before they created any more work for themselves at my expense. The relief when they finally packed up and left was overwhelming. The bill had quadrupled, the job wasn’t close to finished, but the biggest bits had been done and we could finish the rest.

And then Nick got the flu, the full-on raging version. I was over at his on Thursday, to take him groceries and pet food and he’s as weak as a kitten, I doubt right now he could lift a single brick. It could be weeks before he can get back. Maybe never. This is one mean flu.

Best laid plans of men and mice gang aft agley. What the hell do I do now?

Rant over, for now. And interestingly, I realize I’d still rather be challenged and baffled and frightened here, than sedately settled in pre-retirement countdown in England.

So that’s something. But I’m not enjoying 2018 very much so far.

 

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Feliz Navidad! and listen, dip the wafer.

There are other Christmas greetings here but that’s the only one I can reliably remember how to pronounce, even though I have to sing that slightly annoying song in my head first and it leaves me with the earworm for about an hour afterwards.

The Costa Tropical has its own English news magazine, the Sentinella, and I recently waited at the dentist long enough to read it all the way to the smalls at the end – including church services. There are two Anglican churches on the Costa Tropical.  Well, I say churches – there are two Anglican services every Sunday in Catholic churches borrowed for the occasion. So, since I am a lifelong if not fervent Anglican, I felt a bit obliged to check at least one of them out. First Christmas in Spain, and all that – plus I like Anglicans. They don’t nag, they don’t fuss, and if you avoid the ones who are too quick and too loud with the responses, and a little too intense (I imagine that’s true in every church) they’re nice people. And, by definition, speak English …

The first decision was which service. Almuñécar is closer, but the service is at 9.30. Nerja has a very civilized noon service – but Almuñécar’s church is virtually on the beach, and the town has an enormous Sunday street market. I set the alarm for 8.

My Satnav had never heard of the Fisherman’s Chapel, even under its sonorous Spanish name (Capilla de Nuestra Senora del Carmen (Los Marinos)), but the Sentinella had helpfully added that tea was served afterwards in the Chinasol Hotel. The Satnav agreed to take me to the Chinasol Hotel.

I’m posting photos of the outside of the chapel in the hope that others can find it before the service and not 10 minutes after the service starts.

Oh, and one other thing you should know. I have been to churches where you open your mouth for the wafer and it is laid delicately on your tongue. Munch, swallow, wait for wine. I have been to churches where you cup your hands and the wafer is placed in them. Lift, munch, swallow, wait for wine.  In Spain – well, in the Fishermans Chapel – you dip your wafer in the wine.

Sign the book on your way out. I won’t be burning up the 22 kilometres often but it’s obscurely comforting to know it is there, and the same service I attended as a restless 6 year old and as a rebellious teenager, and intermittently throughout my adult life, endures. I’ve been an Anglican in South Africa, in England, in Scotland and now in Spain.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

(That’s apparently “Cuantas más cosas cambian, más es lo mismo” but I’ve learned not to automatically trust online translations … ) 

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Ja – no. Aye – no. Si!

Ja Aye Si

I’ve just noticed my Twitter account describes me as a Saffer who has been in Scotland so long I say aye instead of ja . . .  oh dear. Now I’m having to say si. I’d only just reached the point where I could follow an entire conversation between two Scots.

On the bright side, I did learn to follow an entire conversation between animated, even arguing, Scots, even when they were talking politics or football, and it took a mere fifteen years. Spanish has to be a doddle after that, right?

The Spanish do talk ever so fast. I had a wonderful plumber come in to quote some of the necessary work on my house, and he scorned the simple tried-and-true English method ‘speak slower and louder’. He fixed me with a gimlet eye and waved his hands a lot and talked around 180 words a minute and willed me to understand.  My lovely Dutch neighbour, who recommends him unreservedly, does speak Spanish and she came along too and did a running translation. It all got quite hectic, they were both completely thrown off their stride if I interrupted. I didn’t interrupt often, mainly when he decided to move a door, and I squawked in protest.  I don’t know what he has against doors. If I have one in the middle of a wall, he wants it nearer the corner, and vice versa.  No, no, no, entiendo? I wave my hands around with the best of them, it is surprisingly effective.  I say entiendo a lot (well, usually no entiendo) and no hablo Español, I say that a lot too. The village has taken my education in hand, when I point hopefully at something in a shop they carefully say the name, then wait expectantly for me to repeat it.  Talk about every day a school day.

Things have moved swiftly since my last blog. The pets and I left Scotland on the 27th of August, rolled out of the Chunnel on 2nd September,  drove erratically down France (getting lost quite often) and then Spain, where it should have been easy – if the sun is on your windscreen, I was told patiently, you are going in the right direction. If not, turn around until it is.  Stop when you reach the coast. Simple.

By the time we did zigzag our way to the coast, we were all – the dog, the cat, me – seasoned travellers. We booked into a campsite in the coastal town of Almunecar, on the Costa Tropical, base camp for a few weeks while the campervan surged out daily on sorties between the coast and Granada looking for a house in either the Lecrin valley or Las Alpujarras.  Then fortune smiled – the elefante blanco, the townhouse in Velez de Benaudalla for which I had sold up and turned my life around, had after all dropped its price back into my price range, was I still interested?

Yes!

Less than two weeks later, we were all crammed into the notary office in Padul – me, my attorney, my translator, the vendors and their attorney – to sign 140 square metres of Spain into my hands. 90 square metres of house, 50 square metres of terrace. I’d already moved in – although I enjoyed living in the camper far more than I expected, there was and is a ton of work to be getting on with, lolling about on a campsite with nothing to do wasn’t an option.

I’m doing more physical labour than ever in my life, with chipped and broken fingernails, paint-freckles, and hair so stiff with plasterdust it looks like a loo brush, but I think I’m happy.  I’ll know for sure when I have time to sit down and think about it without promptly falling asleep. Room by room has been sorted downstairs so I am now in a self-contained apartment of three inter-leading rooms (two of them lead only into the third, it’s a traditional Spanish build) and five in all are in usable mode, now we can start on the rest of the house, the last seven rooms. It’s a big place, neglected and a bit dilapidated after a few years of tenants and a couple of years standing empty, and the ceilings all high, Spanish style, to keep the house cool … there’s a lot to do.

The dog is definitely happy. She was reunited with her proper bed when the furniture caught up, and nearly burst into tears. Her travel bed is now on a covered bit of the terrace, and the toys from her toys box are spreading round the house. I put twenty square metres of fake grass on the terrace, to her delight, and said she could consider it an emergency bathroom facility. She wouldn’t dream of fouling it, and daintily relieves herself on the top patio if there’s too long a break between walks around the town.  Tiles are so easy to clean it hardly matters. After eight weeks of being off-duty she seems pleased to have a doorbell to react to, an area to patrol (albeit twice the size of the workload she had in Scotland) and clear responsibilities once again. I knew she was fully settled when she tried to bite the nice man coming to connect us to the internet.

The cat is happy. The atrium, although largely under ceilings of some kind, has a section left open to the sky and for years while the house stood empty birds have been popping in and making themselves at home. He has a full-time job running them off the premises and takes it very seriously. He spent two nights out exploring the surroundings but hasn’t shown any desire to go out since. He’s colonised the entire upstairs for himself, so will not be quite so happy when me and my builder buddy and the voluble plumber, plus others, start heading that way next week – finishing some time in January, at a guess.

So much for blogging about life on the road. As often as not the campsites only had ‘wiffy’ in the bars, or an intermittent signal at best, and we spent four weeks in one campsite, which doesn’t really count.  It was great, but is already fading so quickly in my memory I’m jotting down notes as I remember bits, I’ll pull them into some kind of book soon, even if only for my own reference.

Now I face having to sell the camper, since every spare cent has to go into the bottomless pit of the house restoration.  Not immediately, since it is invaluable for collecting bulky building stuff, but soon.  It needs a good home, and someone who will enjoy it to the full, because it was absolutely great.  My own car may be less than half the size, fantastically easy to park and practically free to run by contrast, but sailing along the open road, lord of all I surveyed from my high perch, and a new world unfolding in front of us with every mile – Kodak moments linking together into weeks.  Incredible.

three weeks a vagrant

A vagrant – defined as one without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging.

Okay I’m not a beggar. In theory I have quite a lot of money in the bank, if the solicitors would stop arsing around and pay in the money from the sale of my house. But that’s a rant for another blog.

Three weeks today since I moved most of my possessions into storage, crammed the remainder into my converted panel van, and hit the road.  To paraphrase Marvin the paranoid android, the first couple of days were the worst. And the next few days, they were the worst too. The second week I didn’t enjoy much. After that, I went into a bit of a decline …

Well, I’m not Marvin. The first couple of days, though, there was so much in the van I had to step outside to take a deep breath, but I off-loaded a lot at my daughter’s on my way through England on the way to Europe. That meant I could repack the double passenger seat with the stuff I would only need when I arrived, and when I did get to the Costa Tropical I off-loaded that to a long-suffering buddy already resident, and suddenly there was tons of room. Okay, I have to make the bed before I can make coffee in the morning, since there is stuff stored on the grill which has to be moved to the bed, but that’s good discipline anyway. The morning routine is now habit – campsite loos, then pick up after the dog who also seizes the chance to make her morning ablutions, make the bed, clear the grill, light the gas to start the kettle, clean the birdcrap off the windscreen, sweep out the autumn leaves and make the coffee. Then back to the loos to shower and dress and – well, you get the routine. Today I’m stopping to blog. I’ve been doing updates on FB, and am recording the search for a less cramped place to live on the page for Spain https://www.facebook.com/VelezCasaDePalabras/# but this is a catch-up generally.

It’s all about trade-offs, living in a van. Space, obviously. I store my necessaire (which is huge, because it contains everything I might need and might forget to take, including spare towel and hairdryer) on the portapotty, so before I can use that in the middle of the night I have to find a place to put the necessaire. There’s a light in the en-suite, naturally, but it isn’t blinding and I’ve tripped over the necessaire while sleepily looking for it to put it back. I drink less water before bedtime now, and have completely stopped drinking coffee at night. I go to bed as early as midnight, sleep like the dead, wake with the dawn.

Another trade-off, here on the Costa Tropical, is shade – I picked the shadiest spot I could find on the campsite, and that’s excellent for a recent Scot trying to adjust to all this hot sunshine, but it does mean that seedpods fall on the roof at night and birds crap on the windscreen all day. The seedpods, at 3 in the morning, sound like North Korea spotted my position.

The dog’s bedroom overnight is where my desk needs to be during the day. As a vagrant I’m not actually working yet but with my neighbours being French on one side, Spanish on the other, my entire social life when home is emails, FB, Twitter, social media generally, and that’s a lot easier on the pc than on the smartphone.

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I do have to start working, but as I teach English as a second language online, and need a stable Ethernet connection, I can’t do it on a campsite WiFi signal. So the hunt is on for a house, I’d rather buy than rent, but the learning curve on that is steep. ‘Cosy‘ means I couldn’t swing the cat in any of the rooms. ‘Would benefit from refurb’ means the wiring needs redoing and chunks of plaster missing on the walls. ‘Needs work‘ – take your hardhat. One house I wouldn’t even go upstairs, although the owner ran up and down the stairs several times to show me how safe it was. Aye, that’ll be right. Pass. ‘Wonderful views’ means a drive off the motorway of up to 30 kilometres into the spectacular Spanish countryside, on tiny roads that turn back on themselves with such violence that no matter how carefully I pack the van, and strap stuff down, there is crashing from the rear. ‘Parking round the corner’ in a Spanish village means a walk of up to 30 minutes through tiny winding streets, I can just see my movers’ faces when the furniture is finally sent for. So right now my sole trickle of income is from my books, please pick one from the margin and buy it. You could even buy more than one. Ta.

So what’s it like, living in a van on a campsite in Almuñécar?  Could be a LOT worse. The sun is yawning and drifting into a pale clear sky when I wake up.  The dog is beaming from her bed, next to mine, and the cat wants in from his night on the tiles. There are hot showers, clean loos and washing machines near by, and I even have a plumbed-in double sink and washing line at the back of my particular shady site.  I’m paying, obviously, but not through the nose. There’s a self-service bar here – get an icy Coke out the giant fridge, and put a euro into the till.  That’s worth every penny, since my camper fridge is tiny and packed with water, milk, cheese and butter, there’s no room for frivolous drinks.

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During the week we’d be on our way by now,  off to collect long-suffering local buddy who is a retired building engineer and the bane of the house-owners and agents, as he spots all the little weak spots they hope I’d never see.  In my price range, I know work will be needed, but he can judge exactly how much and give me a rough idea on price – often eye-watering. In return for this invaluable service, and indeed for being my guide to the more remote villages (who needs signposting from the motorway, eh? everyone who matters knows where the place is) we stop frequently for copious quantities of coffee and, as the day wears on, shandy and then beer, which is served with free tapas and sorts meals out nicely. Yesterday, one example – a beer, a shandy, two wraps and crisps, was 3 euros, water for the dog was free and we sat in a pavement café in the shade idly talking over the day’s crop of houses.

Three weeks. The first week in the UK, the second travelling erratically through France and then Spain, the third here adjusting to a life I couldn’t have begun to imagine.  Although I’m still out and about during the week, and racking up at least 100 kms a day in the search, it’s nothing like that daily 300 – 400 kms on new roads, hoping the camper in front knew a good campsite and I could follow it there … that bull on the skyline, you see a fair number of them. In La Mancha country, there was also Don Quixote and co, I rather liked that, even though I was horribly lost at the time and on a long lonely road I had, unnervingly, all to myself. I spent a lot of time being lost. It’s one way to explore.

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And now, as it is the weekend and no houses to see, I shall have a leisurely shower, do a load of laundry, and then, hmm – take the dog to the beach? Go shopping at Mercadona? Read? With no distractions and a lot of time on my hands, I’ve been able to rediscover the sheer pleasure of reading  – no copy-editing, no critiquing, just books I packed for the road because I loved them long ago and know they are worth the re-read.  It’s a tough life, this vagrant thing. I can’t let it go on too long, but I am getting a bit addicted to it.

I just wish I could start writing again, but I accept that right now, I’m loading data. The writing will come back – when I can close a door, not have to keep one eye on the dog in case war breaks out with another campsite pet, and making coffee is once again flicking a button. I do miss that. Not much else.

 

 

Sleeping in the van – first night

Oh, dinnae fash you won’t get a daily log but this was the first real test – the animals chose to stay in the emptied house as they still had their beds, good, I could fumble around without tripping over them.

Making the bed was ridiculously challenging but my handmade blackout curtains came up trumps – not things of beauty, but definitely a joy forever, complete blackout when I switched off, yay!  Of course the more my eyes adjusted the more light there was creeping past the curtain edges – even the door had a rim of light – but after packing until 4 in the morning to be ready for the movers nothing was going to keep me awake for long.

I woke at 1, went back to sleep, woke at 3.30 and thought oh crap I’ll never get back to sle…zzzzzzzzz and then at 6.30 needing the loo urgently so I’ve bolted back indoors because using the camper’s portapotty is awful. You have to sidle in sideways, go on tiptoe to perch, and I am going to have to work on some kind of sturdy box (which will of course be another storage spot, so not a Bad Thing) for the long term because peeing almost straight-legged feels extremely odd.

So, learnings, find the knack of making the bed easily because a double bed enclosed on 3 sides is a bit of a bugger. Find a step for the loo. And although I had calculated the big steps would wedge in the gap at the side door, between the foot of the bed and the shelves, Muggins here then mounted the fire extinguisher there so they don’t.

giant double step

I bought the stairs for the dog – getting in and out of the van when you are an ageing and portly bulldog is challenging – but they haven’t really worked out. I thought they’d be brilliant and while we were on the road I could put her bed at the foot of mine so she could nip up onto the bed to sleep, down for her water or to use the patch of fake grass (on rubber matting) just inside the back door if in dire need. Not so much – not only because they won’t fit until I move the fire extinguisher, but because she’s convinced there are trolls lurking under them and hates them.

So that was the first night. I did think at 3.30 am that it was awful and I hated it and we’d never cope for any period of time but I’m slightly more cheerful this morning, apart from trying to make that dratted bed.

Of course re-reading this I’m thinking the obvious thing to do, and what the original guy probably had, is a single sturdy step to get in, which he would otherwise have kept in the loo to boost the user up to normal height for the throne. Or, being a bloke, just stood anyway, the male sex is definitely better designed for camping.

Today I have to transport about twenty bags of debris to the recycling plant, then do the final pack into the van.  Learn how to disconnect the gas cylinder and replace it for a full one, hopefully slightly bigger. Clean the house, drop the keys off with the new owner, and head towards the sun …

Okay, via the Borders, where I’m stopping overnight at my niece’s, since my sister is over on holiday. Then via Berkshire because my daughter has a birthday to get through.  Then off towards the sun. With any luck at some point the dog will either accept there are no trolls under the giant steps, or I will be able to exchange them for a nice neat little step (with storage facility would be ACE), and harmony will reign.

 

 

The pets aren’t enthused about becoming travellers

I’ve watched any amount of youtube videos on taking animals on the road, and I know people who do it, or have done it, my animals adore me, how hard could it be? No problem, I thought, I’ll feed them every day in the camper for the next week, and encourage them to relax while I potter around finding places for stuff. By Saturday when we hit the road it will all be old hat.

Hmm.

The cat bolted the first time I tried, and now eyes me as if I’m Godzilla. When I finally did get him and his supper into the van he slunk around trying to find somewhere to get stuck, and refused to eat. That was about two hours after the dog had her stint. She ate, she always eats, but then she went into her play-bow for the next half hour. Only when it was time to leave did she rush to her blanket and sit down firmly. Oh, not because she was enjoying herself. She is terrified of the steps – the biggest I could buy, just for her. Twenty minutes I stood outside trying to coax her out,  speaking very nicely and waving a treat hopefully, while she shivered from head to foot. Finally I gave up, lifted the steps in, closed the side door and went round to the back doors. She’s old, and heavy, but she jumped down gratefully and bolted indoors without even waiting for the treat.

Fair to say they’re not terribly keen on the idea of hitting the road.  They’re not terribly keen on me packing, either. They’re not at all keen on the boxes. There is not a lot of harmony around the disintegrating family home. Looks like it will be worse next week.

Way to be supportive, guys.

Sigh.

 

 

I’m a squirrel on the rack here. #PackingToMove

Why why why is it so hard to throw out stuff?

I’ve just hauled one of my mother’s favourite antiques out to the car – it will go to the dump tomorrow. It’s Victorian, and an awkward shape, and when it was shipped to me after her death with a few other much-loved items it lost a leg in transit. The leg has been re-attached twice, but if so much as a feather lands on it the leg comes off again. Take it to Spain? No.  Oh, Mum, I’m so sorry.

She’d have kept it, because she was a squirrel, and because we all turn into our mothers eventually I am a squirrel too. A squirrel packing up after a dozen years in the same house, was there ever a more pathetic sight? I did the giant clear-out once before, 17 years ago almost to the week, and I was bad then, I am so much worse now.  Oh, I know why – the older we get, the more memories we’ve accumulated, and the more often we experience discarder’s regret. You know how that works – you throw out the bottom half of the Christmas tree because the top is nowhere to be found. A week later you find the top half under the spare bed.  (Yes, okay, if I was a more diligent housewife that couldn’t have happened. Bad example.)

Six months ago I put the house on the market and did a drastic clear out into the garage to make it look bigger. I should just be piling those boxes into the car and taking them straight to the dump because in six months I have never gone looking for anything.   I know I don’t need any of it. But no – I’m going through boxes to see what can go to the charity shops instead. Ask me how much I have put aside to take with me?

Don’t ask. It’s not a lot, but it shouldn’t be anything at all.

I’ve moved often in my life – in fact the dozen years in this house might be my longest stay anywhere, ever – and you’d think my belongings would be pretty streamlined. Nope. Auction junkie who can’t resist a bargain, with hoarder genes – disastrous combination.

The movers will be here next Saturday to move goods and boxes into storage and right now I’m having to hope they’re bringing a pantechnicon.  Not only that – there’s so much being put aside to go under the bed in the van that it will be teetering near the roof.  That’s if the van doesn’t just go spatchcock on me, because a lot of what I’m taking is small but too heavy to box.

I need an intervention.  moping