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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Frost on Weeds


Following my last post re bright sunny days interrupted by cold nights in which temperatures plunge to 5 degrees, it’s now properly wintry. Some days look nice through the window, but they are not. The wind, hurtling along the gorge and sending the TV aerial into a spin (the one channel is unreachable), has ice in it. Above us, the Sierra de Grazalema peaks are covered in snow, as are the mountains beyond Ronda.

Actually, that’s what I’ve been told. Aside from slinging some food out for the cats, I’m staying inside, thanks very much, working, within arm’s length of a fire, wearing so many layers I can barely bend my arms, and a blanket sarong which makes walking difficult. Not that I want to go anywhere. Can I type in gloves? Following a work trip to Siberia (hey, thanks guys!), I was able to put a lot of the kit to good use during winters on the North York Moors, none more so than the silk glove liners, in which, after persisting doggedly, I was eventually able to write features which were moª¶re orr ;lss feadab;e. That’s ‘more or less readable’ (I was trying again).

Night time temperatures are now well below freezing. Until about 11am, there’s ice in the wheelbarrow, a bit of ice on the inside of the windows, and a thick coating of frost on the olives and wild weeds. Most strange of all, for a couple of hours first thing, the world appears muted and misty. All in all not normal, although it’s a fact that wherever humans live, winter seems to take us by surprise.


Hot Beach, Cold Nights

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There are five clouds on the horizon – fact, not metaphor. Every other day this year the skies over Cadiz have been royal blue and vast. January was always such an easy month to work through in London; no inclination whatsoever to leave the desk, unless to meet someone in Soho for drinks at six, that is. But here it’s a little more tricky. Daytime temperatures have been in the low 20s, and hiking the muffled trails through pine forests at the top of the sierras has proved irresistible, as has lying with a book in the long, herby grass by the henhouse, even pruning the last olives. But then I haven’t got any interesting work on at the moment. A few days ago I pushed a kayak into the water and paddled slowly across the mirror flat lake, looking up at Zahara, everything steamy hot, and still and silent apart from goat bells up the mountain, a tractor, and choughs – one of the five kinds of non-tropical birds I can name.

And depending on the wind strength and direction, it’s hot two hours downhill, curled up in the dunes as well. Bolonia is never crowded, even in August, but in January people are so spread out along the long beach they look like dots. Further towards Tarifa the dots are swinging from pink and orange kites – kitesurfers skimming the surface of the sea. They don’t stop for winter either.

There are fewer people around, and some of the bars and restaurants are shut (many of the chiringuitos included, along with cheery Lola’s in Tarifa), or operating on a whimsical (annoying) ad hoc basis, but the coast is as lovely a place to be in winter as summer. It’s still got the sun, sea, sand.

Having said that, night and day in winter are as different as . . . well, night and day. The heating gets turned off in the province of Cadiz around 5.30pm, even before the sun goes down, and the temperature sinks to four or five degrees. I know that’s considered balmy in Philadelphia, Siberia, and Toronto but the daily rise and fall means I’m constantly surprised first by how hot, and then by how cold it actually is.

Dress code 10am-5pm: jeans and t-shirt. Dress code: 6pm ’til late: jeans and t-shirt, and two pairs of socks, two thermals, polo neck jumper, scarf, bobble hat, padded winter coat . . . and that’s just indoor wear.

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We Ate, We Lived

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My life does not revolve around cooking chicken, or cooking . . . or chickens, for that matter, but I left off at the point where I was about to treat the people I like best to a chicken cooked in ignorance in an – until that point – untested word burning oven while somewhat under the influence of white Rioja (it was more or less Christmas). I feel duty bound to report it was a success in the hope this might encourage anyone who cross-references recipes and frets over the right and wrong way of doing things to just get stuck in and have a go. Er, I should add the bottom line rule (particularly applicable to meat and bread): if it’s not cooked, don’t eat it.

I’m going to get myself some heatproof gauntlets and designate one day a week Oven Day. I can’t see it working, but it’s a good idea in theory because once you’ve spent the morning sawing wood and an hour and a half heating the hole in the wall it seems a shame to only cook a pizza which takes around two minutes. Although it does of course heat the house which, with its thick stone walls is doing a fantastic job of repelling the balmy heat of the garden around it.

Anyway, if you are going to research wood burning / pizza oven cooking, I’d recommend a visit to Traditional Oven ( for fantastic, no fuss advice on everything from building them to using them, plus traditional oven porn – a gallery of photos from around the world. ‘It’s easy’, they say, ‘don’t fret!’ And this is probably true.




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