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

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Turns out, my recent ex was born for just one reason  – who knew?

I just finished re-reading the entire Belgariad, having taken one of the ten books as part of my camper library. David Eddings says almost in passing of a couple of minor characters that they were born because they were needed to be in the right place at the right time to perform a simple task.   Well, we’ve all created characters like that, at the time I nodded respectfully at the way he explained them into the story and carried on reading.

In the complicated tangle of my own life story, I had a long-distance relationship – gee, couple of years ago now, doesn’t time fly? And he lived in a permanently-hot part of Spain and was coming to Scotland for two weeks in December and I thought oh help this poor guy will freeze and I bought a fluffy-lined soft thick jersey with a fluffy-lined hood. Much appreciated and it kept him toasty and he left it in Scotland for his next winter trip. I borrowed it a couple of times myself when I had to walk the dog on particularly cold days in Scotland, and when I packed for my own move to Spain this year I shrugged and threw it in.  You never knew, I might be whizzing up the nearby Sierra Nevada to admire the snow and then it could be very handy.

So glad I did, the weather here in Velez de Benaudalla has thrown in an unexpected, uncharacteristic cold snap, and I have lived in it for the last three days. So it seems that entire relationship – his entire reason for being born – was to provide me with the kind of jersey I would never have bought for myself.

Okay he was probably also indirectly responsible for me being here at all, because without the trips to Spain to be with him I’d never have thought of moving here myself, so really his life wasn’t wasted at all. I shall have to let him know, everyone likes to know they had an important reason for being born.

grin

 

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.

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.

Totally loca

I spotted P, almost inevitably, on line – I mean you know me, cruising the websites, self-proclaimed champion of the autumn rose, the mature single woman –

Well, I don’t mind saying I did a double-take. Wow.  I laughed out loud. I looked again. I read the provided description greedily. I sent the link to my buddy in Spain, mourning the lack of photographs, there were only four. Lovely buddy in Spain promptly found P on another website and sent back 20 photos.

Oh

My

Word

P is gorgeous. Older than I’d normally have gone for, must be said, and absolutely crying out for some TLC, but “wow” factor second to none.

I sent a message email immediately and a hectic exchange of emails followed and, since I was about to visit lovely buddy in Spain, a meet was set up. I could hardly wait – and it was as good as I had hoped, better.  This was love across a, well, must be said, totally empty atrium, but at first sight.

Hard to know what P makes of it all, of course, since P is a large 200-hundred-year-old traditional Spanish townhouse, standing forlornly empty in a narrow re-paved street in the heart of a town stretching back to Moorish influence , between and opposite very beautifully refurbished houses. The P is short for Palabras – Casa de Palabras, House Of Words – because as I wandered starry-eyed through room after room (many of them leading only into each other) (Spanish houses mix up the generations and who needs privacy when you share with family?) the peeling flaking plaster faded away, the spacious empty rooms furnished themselves and P turned into a creative retreat for writers, artists, kindred souls. The faded tiles bloomed again and the hand-painted vivid green ones became more of a feature, less of an eye-sore. The weeds pushing through the cracks in the terrace modestly vanished.

Out of the twelve existing rooms (one a smokehouse for Spanish hams because, you know, every house needs one) my private quarters appeared, and four guest-house suites built themselves in my mind’s eye. Lovely buddy was a building contractor before taking early retirement in Spain and cautiously poked, prodded, frowned, shrugged, and said the house would outlast me and yes, my plans would work. So what if six of the rooms lead only into each other? Two would convert easily into bathrooms behind dividing walls creating short passage-ways. The only rotting roof timber wasn’t a support beam, so it was easily replaced. The dream could be . . .

Before I took my leave, that first time, my legs a little shaky with shock, I had nearly exploded my camera’s memory with hundreds of photographs.

I’ve fallen in love a couple of times over the years but nothing like this. Wow.

I’ll tag these blogs ‘Palabras’ so they can be followed, or avoided, but – could it be forever? Have I the energy, the sheer passion, to follow through? Hell yes. Structural surveys are happening. Currency brokers have been appointed. Future plans for earning a living (I’ll be happy if the guest-house suites support Palabras itself, anything extra would be a cherry on top) are fizzing. Baby steps are being taken when I want giant strides, but inch by inch life with P moves a little nearer.

Yeah, having read this far you probably want a photograph. Thing is, I saw with the eyes of love and fervent imagination. Believe me, I’m already taking some flak. You should just hear my very sensible daughter on the subject.  You’ll see faded and forlorn and what-on-earth-house has windows into its own atrium? But I did set up a Facebook page and I am likely to be a bit of a bore over the next few months.

Oh, and I need to sell my house in Scotland. Now. You want a compact two bedroomed townhouse with small west-facing courtyard, about as unlike Palabras as can be imagined? Call me.