Bastard Owls

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My neighbour Fernando and his cousin Antonio have been helping me build walls (landscaping rather than fortifying). Tonight we were talking about foxes and although I’ve held onto the faint hope that my dear Bob cat who disappeared in March is suffering from amnesia and enjoying roast pork twice a day, I let slip that sometimes, occasionally, it crosses my mind that it’s not impossible a fox had taken him. There’s a massive silver grey fox that hangs around this hamlet; I often see him on the track in the beam of the headlights if I’m driving late at night.
‘Oh no!’ they said in unison. ‘You’d have found bits of him scattered around.’
‘No, for sure it was a búho real, an eagle owl,’ said Fernando.
My heart sank. There are eagle owls left and right of the house, hooting on and on, night after night, and I’d let Bob out around 4am on a full moon night.
‘They are completely silent, swoop down and pick up big stuff,’ said Antonio. He mimed an owl picking up something like a small cat. ‘No, it’s sure it was an owl.’
I had to turn away because my eyes were full of tears. I still have the psycho cat Joan, but I just loved that Bob from the moment he arrived. He chose to go with me and stay with me wherever I was, (obviously except that last time). So while I understand nature is all about predators and prey, and the owl is a beautiful thing, I don’t want to hear it hooting and hunting for quite some time.

The Artichoke with Tender Heart

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‘The artichoke, With a tender heart, Dressed up like a warrior, Standing at attention . . .’
The wondrous Ode to the Artichoke (Oda a la Alcachofa) by Pablo Neruda follows in full below. Obviously I’m an old fool, but I have to confess it always brings a tear to my eye, and I can’t see my own artichokes, heads poking up above the vines for a view of the fields, without thinking of it. They are extraordinarily fine-looking things and I find it painfully difficult to cut them down. As I like the look of them, much more than the taste, I’m going to let the majority stand. I’ll never make a market gardener.

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales,
It remained
Unshakeable . . . ,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Their tendrils and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red moustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Like a proud
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Of vinegar
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
Pablo Neruda.


A Green and Pleasant Land

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I haven’t ranked green and pleasant lands, but I’m with Blake in thinking the description rather suits much of England. Green and pleasant is the payoff for rain, the dubious compensation for damp clothes, cold knees, and waylaid picnic and camping plans. Green and pleasant smells like wild garlic. And wild garlic is rural England schooldays.

That said, there are other green and pleasant lands like Uganda (smells like hot wet earth) and Costa Rica (ylang ylang) and summer time Siberia, and New Zealand, and this area here in the northwest corner of Cadiz, where the Atlantic winds run smack into the peaks of the sierras, make clouds, rain, and consequently, greenery. 

Some years, once all the litres per square metre reports have been totted up, the Sierra de Grazalema area wins the title of Spain’s rainiest place, beating the Spanish places I think of as perennially damp, on the flanks of the Pyrenees, the milk farms of Asturias, and throughout drizzly Galicia. And for around 340 days of the year this ‘fact’ seems extremely questionable. But the thing about this area is that all the rain comes at once, and it has to be a lot, because even now, after just one deluge in many dry months, somehow, everything is still green. No longer quite lush, but bearing up under the onslaught of 30 something degrees days.

Not for long, though. The fields have been ploughed, putting the wildflowers one foot under before they steal what remains of the damp in the soil from this year’s olives, or crisp up and spontaneously combust, and one day soon when I get to the crest of the hill on the way to the Our Lady of Rosario Cooperativa to buy a hose extension, I shall find myself staring into the faces of one million sunflowers – something I find most unsettling.



How to Build a Garage. Sort of.

Fernando, Antonio and I design a freestanding garage. Turns out that calculating how much iron to order is a fairly complicated business.


All The Fun of the Fair

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Horse fair that is. Jerez. Big day out for us country folk.


Floral Charts

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I’m trying to catalogue the wildflowers on the farm. I don’t know more than a few of the names – poppies, daisies, and vetch, (amapolas, margaritas, and arveja) so there’s a fundamental flaw in the plan. There’s always the internet, but the weather is good and sitting at a desk doing the ID is boring, so that can wait until winter. So for now I’ll just continue wandering through the fields in the evenings, gawping, and photographing. These, which arrived in mid-April, are starting to fade out, but a new batch of May flowers is taking over.
Antonio’s sheep were doing a good job of eating through them, an advancing front of teeth and bells, but Fernando’s dog barked in the next field, and the wind make him sound nearer than he was, and the sheep, all 120 of them, got spooked and ran hell for leather back down the hill followed by Antonio. I don’t know if they’re coming back. Hope so. I liked the sound of them.
I enjoy my flawed project, it’s pretty blissful, although I am supposed to be bashing the weeds down around the olives, and digging the rest up with a tractor.


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