Springus Interuptus. Everyone’s been doing rain dances and they appear to have been successful. This farm is close to Grazalema, famously the rainiest place in Andalucia. Everything currently looks lush – even the asparagus is up to my armpits, but there hasn’t been a drop of rain since Christmas and we need a lot of it to trickle down through the soil and counteract the long, dry, scorching summer. So bring it on . . . I suppose.


bob on track2

I’m stumbling over rock hard ploughed earth in the middle of the night banging a can of cat food. Worse than the middle of the night: pre-dawn. A crescent of a moon is sinking in the distance, the grass is stiff with frost, the cockerels are already at it. The air is not the usual woolly wafting stuff we get around here but clear and brittle so when I shout BOB! dogs bark in a 10 mile radius. But I don’t care. Actually I do care. I’m on someone else’s land, the smell of cat food (liver) is making me feel sick, I haven’t had a coffee, and I look ridiculous in my pyjamas, thermals, bobble hat and rubber boots. I don’t want dogs to bark, the lights to go on, and for farmers to step out onto their porches and shake their heads someone who’s stupid enough to try and own a cat.

When Ismael drove up to the farm in his old van and opened the door to reveal him in the seat well, I loved that kitten cat. It was lock-down. I thought, you are Bob and I’m going to look after you, don’t you worry. His sister, a hissing, biting, thin, sinewy, psychotic, twisting thing with eyes that glowed red in the dark from unreachable spaces behind fridges and bookcases, I didn’t like the look of (although to be fair she has since developed a more pleasant, trusting personality).

Bob understood he was my cat and enjoyed the tasks and privileges that were part and parcel of the position. He was a good companion, not weaving between my feet making needy noises,  but padding alongside, taking short detours as the fancy took him. He’d flop down when I stopped as if that were exactly what he had planned to do anyway. He was a bon vivant, a chatty cat, with various feline idiosyncrasies, like only drinking from an old tin or pint glass, hating tuna, an interest in flora. And he had a good look, being green-eyed, if boss-eyed, and possessing the bushy tail and black velvet stockings of a fox.

His day’s activities were rigidly fixed: a brief hunting excursion at 6am, food, going where I went until midday (leading on the downhill trek, sitting on my shoulder for trip back up). His afternoons were for sleeping – obviously – followed by grooming, although he always seemed unkempt, distracted. It was mutually understood that his dinner was provided at dusk, after which he disappeared into the undergrowth in search of dessert. (We never discussed the hunting, although sometimes I saw the results.) He tolerated being put on a lap, but preferred to lie at my feet, his head on my shoe, where he would stare at me until he fell asleep. So at regular points during the day I know where he should be and feel sad because he is not.

What made him special in my eyes was his ability to read minds. I’d think, ‘where’s . . .?’ and he’d appear. I’m not a cat person, or particularly sentimental, or prone to anthropomorphism, and I know the affection he felt for me was predicated on regular meals and a warm place to sleep, however I’ve convinced myself there was also something beyond that, a connection, a friendship if you like. We just seem to find each other reassuring in some way. Plus of course he was soft and furry.

So here I am again, out at pre-dawn. Just me and the cockerels and some far off dogs making calling into the empty dark, waiting for some kind of response. Come on Bob. Get yourself home for tea.



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The entire farm is overgrown but largely covered in beautiful meadow flowers, so that of course is why we haven’t yet got around to mowing, ploughing or strimming it yet. The daisies are over my head, the poppies that will soon carpet the fields are just starting, and there are a lot of as yet unidentified smaller plants stippling the grass. In front of my office window there is a spectacular apricot tree which this weekend is covered in white-pink blossom and a variety of small birds, fighting for a position on the top bough. I feel as if I’m being swept on to the next season before I’m ready. A good friend died recently and it really should be raining, or at least overcast for a while, but nature rules.


Cats Hinder Olive Clean-Up

springflowerjoanJob number 302, cleaning-up the olives, is definitely supposed to be finished in November. However, what with one thing and another – blisters, disinterest – three rows of trees got left. For a while they just looked shaggy, but after rain and heat, vertical sprouts shot up from the base of the trunks and from every branch and thickened, and they became what can only be called a bloody disgrace.
Now the temperatures are in the 20s I am more interested in being a farmer than a journalist, and so yesterday set off with trusty double-bladed saw and clippers through thick vegetation, trailed by fretful mewing cats.
Over the fence Fernando’s trees are giant bonsais: neat, clipped stuff making an emperor’s garland around bare boughs. Mine are like uncontrolled leylandii. But after, you know, around one whole day and a half of sawing and hacking (and apologising) and rubbing my saw hand raw, the trees look passably normal. It would have been quicker if the cats had not clung to every branch I attacked, but I appreciated the company.
Job number 387, ensuring vegetation doesn’t encroach on the olives and snaffle the available nutrients was definitely supposed to be finished in February. The grass is now waist-high. The strimmer I bought as a special Christmas present for Dave is out of its box but as yet unused. Fernando has suggested sheep, and that’s an idea I am very keen on. There are some on the distant hill I think we can borrow, but there is paperwork required, and that takes time.
In the interim it looks like the donkeys will be coming back for the spring / summer season. That means replacing the gate we have just removed so they don’t clatter past the house eating the bougainvillea and car windscreen wipers (again).


Spring is Springing


Several people have been kind enough to let me know that ‘frost on weeds’ the previous post but one was making them feel a little sad. It’s no longer representative, either. It was only representative of that particular morning. The skies over the Sierra de Cadiz throughout February have been predominantly royal blue, and when there have been clouds, as illustrated, they have been picturesque (especially when viewed through sunglasses with a yellow filter). So, while I don’t have time to write a more filling post right now (researching an article and plastering a chimney), I hope this view from the kitchen will make a more cheering note to pause on.

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Clap Your Hands if You’re Happy, Jerez


You can read a brief guide I wrote to nearby Jerez over at The Guardian. I highlighted some options for people visiting the city for the annual flamenco festival (which runs until March 7). It’s not always you have the biggest names in flamenco performing on stage in multiple venues and live music (and dance) in just about every bar and peña on every single night, but there is always flamenco – the good sort, the loose, earthy, in every fibre of the body sort, and I mention a couple of places you can be fairly confident of finding it, along with some ways to spend the days.
I absolutely love Jerez; it’s an eminently walkable city (until it hits 40 degrees). It’s historic heart with its churches, cobbles, and Moorish walls isn’t a preserved tourist attraction, but the place where a lot of energetic, enthusiastic people live and work. The fact that the streets are lined with tables and umbrellas, and that it’s home to some of the best wine in the world, doesn’t hurt either. During the first heavy duty stage of restoring this old farm building, most of my time in Jerez was spent in warehouses on trading estates looking at boilers and roof insulation, but happily, I’m now meeting people doing interesting things in arts, tourism, and the wine world. Good times.
By the way the article has now been shared lots of times so I hope it serves as a useful starter guide, and it no longer has 0 comments. The comments are always pretty interesting, but the one suggesting that the festival of Jerez is not something that people who actually live in Jerez can afford or enjoy is as another commentator says, ‘cobblers’. Like everything in Jerez, it’s an event put on by the people here for the people here; tourists aren’t essential, but they are welcome.

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