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

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

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

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

Nerja street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

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

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

Splish-splash – oh, and 19 20 #livinginSpain

The rain in Spain falls mainly – so far as I can gather – at the top end of the town. It then roars down towards the older part of the town as a raging torrent, foams its way along the narrow streets and hits the t-junction at the bottom of my road at a speed of about sixty kilometres an hour. There’s some serious turmoil as many thousands of litres of water try to battle it out at the t-junction. Spanish plumbing, especially in very old bits of old towns, consists of grids in the street that scoop water into the storm drains. Most houses have patios and terraces open to the elements, and they have grids too, and underground drains which are linked directly to the stormwater drains.

The other day we had a heavy storm rumbling in from the east and a thunderstorm charging in from the west and they met pretty much overhead. It was bucketing down, soak-you-to-the-skin-in-seconds rain with crashing thunder and crackling lightning and I was really rather enjoying it when suddenly, and without  any warning, every drain in the house gurgled and erupted.

My downstairs bath and loo became brief fountains, the drains in the atrium and terrace burped up deliciously muddy storm water, and although I was lucky enough to have enough towels to jam into doorways to stop my downstairs apartment being flooded, other neighbours were complaining bitterly afterwards of being ankle-deep throughout their downstairs areas. I watched glumly from my towel barricade as my heavy-duty doormat floated sluggishly away and the smaller pot-plants in the atrium started shifting restlessly and still it rained. Poured.

Finally, after nearly two hours, the heavens closed again and the drains reversed themselves and started behaving normally, sucking away the flood from everywhere and leaving an attractive thin film of mud in its wake.

The Ayuntamiento (Council) had, so far as we could see, several options. Do nothing, and get lynched by several very angry householders. Put a big grid in the road at the intersection above us, and divert future floods along side streets where the water couldn’t pick up such speed. Fit every affected house with non-return valves. Or – their choice – dig up the entire road. No idea why, but it has been noisy.

By purest luck I didn’t have guests at the time  -although nearly every guest I’ve had so far has been absolutely fab, it would take a saint to take that in their stride.

I do have guests at the moment but they’ve been wonderful about the roadworks, which started on their third day.  They are a pair of Estonian blondes and the workmen stop work reverently the minute they step out of the house to go anywhere, and watch them wistfully out of sight.

Before them, and before the flood, I had an older Polish man and woman, friends who had taken the entire G suite, i.e. both bedrooms and the shared living room. The woman was very dramatic, and had a bracing personality. She said on her second day that the suite was lovely but I really shouldn’t advertise that it included a kitchen.

Um, I don’t. I’m in fact pretty clear on that.

She recovered quickly and said sternly ‘you don’t say it doesn’t have a kitchen.’  Guilty as charged but in my defence, there are over 30 photos on the listing, the ones of the living room do show quite clearly the fridge, kettle, table, no kitchen sink or oven  … anyway her main beef was the lack of a sink, and as I had a cancellation after them, and therefore an empty week, it now does have a sink.

What else – oh yes, Nineteen Twenty My Plate Is Empty is now up and running. Right now it is on a pre-publication price as it only officially hits your Kindle on October 6th. Click on the name here, or the pic in the sidebar and you shall be whisked to the Amazon nearest to you. I am not making much fuss about it today but will be issuing a flurry of tweets tomorrow because I am hoping to get a tiny surge of purchases around 6 pm GMT – well, we’ll see. It is, goes without saying, an absolutely brilliant book and fiendishly difficult to solve, even though I have checked and double-checked that every clue is in place and in plain sight.  It is also the last in this particular series and I shall miss my Lawns friends very much, I think.

So that, I think, is us up to date …

 

 

Payhip for dummies, writers and readers #iamwriting

Payhip for writers wanting to sell books is pretty simple.  I want to load my books on this website  (under the Shop tab) (haven’t done it yet, gies a break) so I could keep all that lovely filthy lucre to myself (apart from the chunk Paypal takes) but also to eventually have all sorts of other interesting options.

Payhip is linked to Paypal for sales of anything that can be downloaded. It records sales, keeps track of tax, and other useful things, and there are dozens of blogs and vlogs and experts out there to tell you in tortuous detail why you should use it and how to use it. The only thing you really need to remember is that your Paypal account shows your writing or publishing name, not your non-writer name. Link a business option to your existing account, if necessary, because you do want your writer name to show on the purchase.

That sorted, go into Payhip, and link your account to the writer version of your Paypal account. Follow screen directions. I have all my books in mobi format. Some enthusiasts are very thorough and load the books in mobi, epub, pdf, and who knows what all else. Many formats are accepted.

Load your first book and then you should probably buy it to check all is well. You’ll pay for it on your private Paypal, not the one you just linked to Payhip.

If all goes well, there will be a positive flurry of emails on your respectively linked email accounts congratulating you on both buying and selling a book. You can download the book from Payhip itself, or from the email confirming your purchase.

Payhip for readers who bought a book and want to read it on a Kindle. This is the entire reason for this blog, because I refuse to believe I am the only person left in the world who uses a desktop computer rather than a neat little device small enough to be tucked into an evening handbag. Unless you want to read on your computer, rather than tucked up comfortably somewhere in the best place to read a good book, you need to get it to your Kindle. Do you know your Kindle address? It is listed on the Kindle, under Settings, and will usually be your name @kindle.com.

Create a new email to send to your Kindle, go find your Payhip download (in Downloads) and attach it. Send. The book will download into your Kindle.

Promise.

 

 

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.

NEW 4

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.

DSC_0901[1]

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.

wink

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?

NEW 1

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.

Losing the plot – “to cease to behave in a consistent or rational manner”

Okay sure that’s one meaning and covers a lot of behaviour. Irrational anger, yup, lost the plot. Dithered helplessly instead of following a clear course of action – also lost the plot.

There is the literal meaning. Your plot of land, your home. Losing that, losing everything.

There’s a third meaning for writers, a little more up close and personal, when the characters hang around listlessly and shrug at words thrown hopefully at them instead of charging off joyfully in new directions with the writer scrambling to keep up.

I gave up trying to direct my characters around book four and just followed their lead, admittedly sometimes with my eyes popping.  Now, poke or suggest or wheedle as I may, the final plot simply won’t string together. The quartet know they’re on their last book, about to be made redundant, and you could cut the atmosphere with a blunt axe. Damn it. The series has picked up a small but loyal following waiting with interest to see how the quartet disentangle themselves and work out who done it for the tenth and last time, me as much as anyone, and I’ve given them the plot and will they come to life and play with it? They will not. Not so much lost, in this particular case, as being stonily ignored. I’d give up and try to think up another but I like this one and I surely have some say?

I know, that was whiny.

Funny how one informal phrase can resonate on so many different levels. Well, funny isn’t the mot juste, really. Not laugh out loud funny. Not even funny peculiar. But now I’ve picked the phrase to pieces it no longer even makes sense. I’ve lost the plot.

sigh

 

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.