Category Archives: Andalucia

ONE YEAR’S HARD LABOUR

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I meant to post ‘one year on’ pictures eight months ago, but didn’t.  It turns out it’s time-consuming, this farming, bricklaying, basic rural living stuff, especially when funded in part by time-consuming journalism, and you have a social life, and an alternating real deep need to sit around with a glass of wine and a book. So these – finally – are vintage shots of a very unfinished restoration job as it was in June 2015. Yes, relax friends: we do now have a toilet, and the black sackcloth spiderwebs are mostly down.
The other reason for putting it off is that I couldn’t find anything that conveyed the sweat, tears, hours, injury, blasphemy and sacks of cash shoved into the house hole. Nothing with a VOILA! Changing Rooms reveal.
Looking at the pictures – much like looking at the wall, or the ceiling, or the paving, or the drainpipe, or the garage which could be a bedroom, or the kitchen (medieval) and the actual farm in its entirety has me hyperventilating, and reaching simultaneously for a brown paper bag and the To Do ledger. I look at the bathroom, fashioned out of a derelict shed stuffed full of partridges, and all I think is that the shower glass needs cleaning (which of course it does).

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THE FUTURE IS OLIVE

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I’m now a signed up socio, along with around 700 other local farmers, of Nuestra Señora del Rosario cooperative olive mill. It’s a great Heath Robinson type affair, and since taking these pictures has once again become the bustling centre of all activity, lorries and vans getting all snarled up around the entrance gates, much back-slapping and high-fiving, and catching up. I’ve sent around 600kg of olives up the conveyor belt so far, but have around another 1400 kgs to pick. So I’d better get on.

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Pomegranate Porn

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I can’t tell you how much I love my pomegranates. Last year they split before they ripened, so this year I gave each tree plenty of water, day and night, from July onwards. It was extremely hard work which required me to lie in the dappled shade on a lounger, doing an occasional whip crack of the hose, directing it to a new trunk. I read several books.
Late August, the birds came, Hitchcock style. It’s clear now that they came from the adjacent vineyard, having depleted the stock of grapes. They got through almost every fruit on the far side of the furthest tree before I discovered the desecration. I agreed to let them have that one, and focused my efforts on the rest. I hung coat hangers with dangling CDs and tin foil from the branches, and when I wasn’t crouching underneath the trees ready to jump up and clap, kept a watchful eye over them from my desk, interrupting work and work calls to rush down the hill waving my arms.
Anyway, even taking into account the birds’ portion, the harvest has been big, wondrous, and exotic – they are Persian in origin, after all. The fruit is scarlet, inside and out, and huge. Bite in, and the juice pours out.
Every Saturday I flip out the seeds from a great pile of them, listening to the Rev Richard Cole on R4, and most mornings I eat a bowl of them (not the size of the one shown, I hasten to add) with Sonya’s goats’ milk mint yoghurt. There’s about 40kg in the freezer, and I’ve dropped off around 50kg at the local shop where they’ve sold well under a ‘granadas del pueblo‘ sign. Next I’m going to make sorbet.
They are ranked high among the wonder foods – currently – beating avocados, cranberries, blueberries, and spinach, and so forth, full of anti-oxidants, and a top tool in the battle against high cholesterol and heart disease.
There’s about another 60-70kgs left, dangling from the trees like hefty baubles. Thank you trees. More water for you next year (depending on what’s left in the well).

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WHINE

DSC05004Transpires the reason there were more, and fatter, birds around this year, is that they’d been gorging themselves in the vineyard. And once they’d tapped a hole into every grape, the wasps moved in. Maybe it’s the other way round, or they work in tandem. Anyway, beyond a few rows of photogenic grapes, there were five rows of dessicated raisins, sucked dry over a hot summer spent in virtual privacy. On the plus side there were less to pick.
I’d always associated grape-picking with romantic assignations. School friends would go grape-picking in France and come back dressed pretentiously, and get letters from French boys for one or two weeks which they’d read while smoking a Gauloise on the roof of the school building. I wasn’t sure what they did over there in the vineyards of Normandy, but it certainly wasn’t the crawling along dense tangled tunnels alone, covered in burrs, batting away buzzing things that I’ve been doing here. The fact I only had about six sackfuls at the end of it was fine by me.
I have no idea of the weight of six sacks other than heavy, my measure is man hours. It took me three man hours to pick the grapes, and a further four man hours to pick off the woody stems as we don’t have a machine to do it. I was helped at that point by two friends who really chose the wrong time to arrive. We used a wine press borrowed from Fernando – a barrel with a heavy plate you wind down (and down and down and down, and then up and up and up and up), and pressed the grapes three times. Last year we made around 85 litres – although some was lost during the famous Spill! of the filtration process, but this year I reckon we produced the grand total of around 20 litres, which equates to 3 litres per man hour. Artisan.
Ready-made local wine is available from down the track for about 85 centimos a litre. Still, I don’t want to leave the fruit withering on the vine and all that.

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Ma Belle-dog

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Fernando my neighbour, Fernando his cousin, and Antonio his cousin say that a house is not a home without chickens. But after five years of fantasising and one hour of arm-twisting and emotional blackmail at a dog refuge, I have a puppy instead. A Spanish mastin puppy now so big at 5 months I can barely lift it off the lounger or settee, or get it in my car, particularly as it – she – does not like the car, or anywhere that cars go. As she likes me, and I – occasionally – go in cars, she has arrived at a compromise which involves running behind it ignoring all expletives, something which adds a couple of hours to any journey time.

Her name is Bloody Dog. No, her name is Belle, although she doesn’t respond to it, and it doesn’t suit her. She’s more a big mucker of a dog, a sloppy mud-roller and fly-snapper, partial to digging holes with her shovel paws, high-speed lolloping rabbit-style, the licking and scratching of hindquarters, breaking into bins and dragging stuff out of the house. She is an Outside Dog. However as a refuge dog – found abandoned on a road with her tail hacked off – she has endearing foibles (she barked and bared her teeth at Dave for two weeks) and insecurities. If she were more introspective, manipulative, and if she could talk, she would ascribe the total destruction of the house to stuff she went through in her first 9 weeks, but actually the sight of her gentle sad face through the window on that first night as I sat inside eating sausages was sufficient for her to be promoted (perhaps unwisely) to Indoor Dog. She is always by my side, and sleeps, whether I like it or not, beside the bed,  furtively gnawing shoes and licking the cow skin rug.

The cat Joan who had been picky about her food and wallowing in inert self-pity following a hot summer, has been given a new raison d’etre: loathing. Regardless of what heinous things she’s been doing all night, she finds the energy to fall in behind me for the dawn fruit tree watering, effectively taking the dog role. When I walk Belle at night, she follows for miles mewling and acting pitiful. When the dog indulges in an unhinged, jubilant, pre-dinner bound around the yard (‘hunt the sausage’ is her favourite game, in which she sets off after Dave), Joan hops down softly from the freezer, comes outside and proceeds to stroll and stretch nonchalantly or roll provocatively in her path, doing whatever is necessary to provoke a chase which will end with the dog being told off.

Yet there’s a mutual fascination there. The cat watches Belle’s attempts to chase a ball with scathing interest, and trails her, spying from behind furniture. The dog is full of panting admiration for Joan’s ability to leap from branch to branch, get food on demand, sit on laps, catch mice. Sometimes she cautiously approaches, tail wagging, and attempts to lick her.  The cat will take just about so much before batting her a good swipe.

But I think everyone’s sort of getting along. I still might get chickens.

 

 

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GLORIOUS SEPTEMBER

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September in Cadiz is not autumnal, but it is not summery either. Not summery like the hairdryer hot, tarmac melting, heat hazy Andalucian summer that held steady right through July and August anyway. Everything changed on the very first day of the month – how’s it do that? So far in September there has been something chilling in the evening air, a delayed delivery of dawn, a right old soaking of dew, plus wind – albeit hot wind, scudding clouds – clouds! – and, two days ago RAIN. Rain: the first in six months, and it came with thunder. Storms caused chaos and flash floods and accidents further east and north, so I can’t congratulate myself too much on the efficacy of my rain dance, but here it watered the oranges, limp figs and pomegranates enough for me to have at least a couple of days that didn’t start with dragging hoses over rough ground.
The cat is no longer sleeping on an ice tray wrapped in a towel.
It turns out the dog isn’t lazy; it was just hot.
And the light is phenomenal. It’s like the sky has been dusted and polished, and the evenings are honey-coloured. For two whole months of summer it felt like nothing changed. Now it’s like time’s been kicked-started and the year’s moving on again.

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