Category Archives: Life

THE BIRDS

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After some years as finca sin nombre, farm with no name, on an unmarked track off an unmarked road, the farm now has a name: finquita los pajaros. Or finca los pajaritos. As the farm is small, and so are the majority of the birds, I don’t mind which one it ends up being. I use both in conversation and on official forms so the whole thinking and naming business has merely reduced the confusion not quashed it.

In English it sounds twee – little bird farm, conjuring up an image of the kind of place where there might be bird feeders and someone weeding with a fork and trowel, but no-one here speaks English and my neighbours approve. The three closest to me are naturalists, founts of all knowledge though not all of it correct. Although another family nearby still traps and eats songbirds.

Maybe that’s why so many hang out here. I actually had Hitchcock’s The Birds in mind. Swallows, house martins and sparrows had the run of the house for some decades before I pushed open the door wearing hazard gear and carrying a mop, and during the first spring and summer, birds persisted in nesting in the long room. I’d wake up to swallows like spy drones outside the window, and large numbers of fledglings fell down the chimneys and were taken off by the cat, or fluttered off and hid in shoes or drawers. Now sparrows nest under the roof tiles making noises like fingernails down chalkboards, but spend the days – in their hundreds – in the fruit trees beside the house, tetchy, hopping mad, giving the evil eye, waiting for the chance to peck holes in the apricots.

All doors and windows are open, and will be til October, and so the swallows swoop low over my head as I work. Yesterday a jilguero flew in and hit a wall, but was okay. And at night, especially when the moon is bright, the air is loud with the mewing of little owls, and the low whoops of the eagle owls, out there killing stuff.

So those were the birds I had in mind. Proprietorial birds that tolerate my presence with bad grace. I’ve left great swathes of the farm wild for them, and never use pesticides, and in return they live here and sing, but I know they want the house back.

 

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WHAT A BOAR

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It’s all farms around here: farms that incorporate forests and gorges, and, once inside the natural park proper, the Sierra de Grazalema, a series of rocky mountain peaks. So the jabali, the wild boar, can go pretty much where they want. For some reason they want to come here. Fences are a rarity, but because my neighbour has donkeys and I have a vineyard, this farm has one, and this means that in order to come in and dig, or pass through and dig somewhere else, the boars must first chew through the wire fencing. Every night since the beginning of December there has been a Mexican wave of dog howling and fence chewing as the boar families lumber their way west to east and back again.

Liberated from their lives of pampered luxury, the donkeys have been able to break out of their field and gallop through the moonlight in wild-eyed panic; my dog has disappeared for hours and come back stinking of shit, guilt and satisfaction writ large on its face. And instead of the coffee and croissant of my dreams, my days have started with dragging sheets of fencing across fields, along with coils of wire and bolt cutters, and mending various stretches of the perimeter.

I’m hoping that the wandering season ends soon. I’ve read that wolf urine is the best deterrent. It’s used with regularity in the Basque Country to keep wild boar away from country roads and reduce the number of wildlife-car collisions.

I’ve thought about it, but it doesn’t grab me as being the easiest solution.

 

I’m attempting to post a photo every day this year @somewheresville365 on instagram. Picture credit: estudiantes.info (mine arrive after dark)

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THE WHITE STUFF

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Well. Whadya know. Snow. For the first time in fifty years or something. Two days ago, if you wore a lot of fleeces and stood out of the wind, it was quite warm. Yesterday we had The Snow and schools closed across the land. Today two men have made it out of Ronda to come here and fix something and they are full of stories about road closures, snow on balconies, snow on the bull statue, snow in the bullring (which admittedly must have been peculiar and spectacular), snow on cacti, snow on prickly pears and snow on palm trees, snow on donkeys. In fact they show me all the pictures, as well as videos they’ve been sent from friends in Malaga and Almeria and Jaén, of snow, some of which I really liked, including one showing a man with a stiff brush tied to the front of his bike clearing a path, set to crap music. And there’s another one that’s a compilation of slithering cars, also set to crap music and entitled jajaja, or as we like to say hahaha.

Well, safe driving going home I say. They look worried. It’s a big event though, this snow fall, irregular and portentious. Bring on spring.

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A Right Thrashing

olives5Picking olives gives you a lot of time to think. It also gives you a backlog of life to get on with afterwards hence a late post, but I’m still pondering so thought I’d get olives done with before harvest time comes round again.

If you haven’t picked olives, it involves spreading large nets under a tree, and knocking the fruit down with a stick. At the point where you can not go on, you must get the olives (now marbles with a life of their own) out of the net into a sack. After doing that – in my case – just six times, for reasons to do with a broken truck and the limited capacity in the Peugeot GTI, (‘ESTE NO ES UN COCHE DEL CAMPO’ the mechanic correctly tells me every month when I turn up in the recovery truck driver’s cab, the Peugeot on the back like a carnival queen, but I don’t have the €6500 for the Landrover he’s found as an alternative) . . . so, after filling six sacks and dragging them, now each one weighing 35kg, across a large, uneven field, they are loaded into the boot. Obviously with a Peugeot with broken suspension, the boot is pretty much on the ground after the first sack so that makes it easier. After a 10km drive up and down mountains, you reverse onto a grill between the lorries and vans at Nuestra Señora del Rosario Cooperativa, and, under the approving eye of Paco the conveyor belt operator, drag each sack out and empty the load. You collect a piece of paper to say well done, you’ve earned a euro, and you drive home and start again until you have accrued 1937kgs of olives and decide to give it a rest.

Anyway, among the thoughts:

The goddess Athena gave the Ancient Greeks their first olive tree. Fact. You’d think in the thousands of years since someone might have come up with a way of harvesting the fruit that was easier and calmer than hitting each olive with a long stick. But they haven’t.

The whole work and pay system is wrong. I believe I should be paid as much for picking olives as leading a Which Font Says Trust? strategy session because it’s harder. Obviously I’m not being paid at all. And regardless of what job of work I’m doing, the value of my free time is the same. I think I’m onto something and mention it to Dave who explains it’s already been done – Marxism.

Tortoise or Hare? Dave goes for tortoise; I go for hare . . . and I get a lot more done. People are always saying  ‘tortoise and hare’ knowingly. But who says Aesop’s right?  He just made it up.

The pleasures of working the land in time-honoured style. Apparently there are people in offices all over just dreaming of the day when they can dress up in something from a Toast catalogue and get down and dirty with a hoe or a stick or a chicken. It’s the new thing after Mindfulness. I say, come here. Also, that it’s great for the first ten minutes, and then it gets tedious.

I used to get mentally exhausted and think how nice it would be to be physically exhausted. I meant instead, rather than as well, so be careful what you wish for etc. Anyway, I have to say that physical exhaustion plays with your mind: joy, resentment, fury and Zen-like resignation . . . all at the same time. It’s like riding a bucking bronco; I understand there is a medical explanation.

Repeated actions inspire urgent, fleeting ideas. Among them move to a city, go back to films, open a cake shop, become a forensic linguist, sell cheese online, paint large paintings, revisit my inventions ledger (but abandon Jab and Go, in which you are anaethesised before flights, stacked in a container with your luggage, and delivered to your destination – something, friends remind me, is surprisingly close to what some governments already offer).

The olives were there to be harvested but would earn us very little, so was this effort rewarding or a waste of time? Turns out the years of doing non-productive things for quite a lot of money have given me a warped idea of success.

How far I’ve come from Bubbles Rothemere’s Christmas parties at Claridges. Is there any way back? Obviously, not all the way, but a little way back sometimes? Have I gone up in the world or down? Or just along? Will I ever run in heels again?

Olive-pickers’ elbow? Is that a thing? And if so, is it permanent?

 

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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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My Life with Colombian Drug Lords

This is the best title sequence ever (see it through) – Mexican-Colombian Emmy-winning novela meets Tarantino, the Coen brothers and a mariachi band – and it’s the theme tune to life in somewheresville, as El Señor de los Cielos is on every single night. (Unfortunately, since sitting on the remote, we can’t turn the subtitles off.)

To sum up the week so far: el Señor, Aurelio Casillas, is about to gun down doe-eyed, terrier-keen journalist Eugenia, off-on-off girlfriend of his nemesis Marco Mejia head of the anti-narcotics squad in Mexico City. Mejia’s only just heard about it because he was in bed with a troubled Colombian undercover cop, and now dammit he can’t get a signal on his phone. Aurelio’s brother is getting roughed up by a man called scissors, for the things he does with scissors, at a coke lab run by guerrillas deep in the Colombian jungle. Back at the ranch his saucy wife, Matilda, is looking high and low for her birth control pills having just had sex with Aurelio’s teenage son who, since assassinating his best friend, a celebrity singer and record producer who came to stay with a ditsy singer in tow who turned out to be the troubled undercover cop, is pushy, drunk and mean. In another wing, his mother, Aurelio’s wife is packing or unpacking her bags, pacing sadly. She reckons that for all his floppity hair, money and confidence, Aurelio is a bad egg and he might have something to do with the sudden death of her father, drug lord Don Cleto, yesterday (he did). She thinks she might be happier with her husband’s loyal (up to a point) right-hand man who really, really loves her but really mustn’t show it – not if he doesn’t want Scissors visiting him late at night. Back in Mexico City, Aurelio’s No.1 mistress, Monica, was thinking about stabbing him with a really big knife when he stayed over last night in revenge for the death of her entire family (the Villalobos cartel) but couldn’t quite. She has a man servant called Sad and a body in a freezer which is connected somehow with her aborted plan. And to make matters worse, a high-ranking police official suckered down and dirty into Aurelio’s murky cokey world is about to spill the beans. But someone keeps sticking notes in his prison dinners suggesting that unless he keeps his mouth shut, his wife, Doris, is for the chop, and he really loves Doris even though she is rather Lady Macbeth.

Series three of El Señor de los Cielos, an ordinary tale of gun-toting drug trafficking folk, has been on Spanish television (Nova) every single weekday night at 10pm since mid-September for 1.5hrs a night. Recently it has been shaved down to a mere 50 minutes, but the series still makes going out impossible.
The multi-award-winning series is brilliantly-acted gripping drama trash, and, although it would be nice to see friends over Christmas, I don’t want it to end. However it’s based on a true story, and as I worked off and on in Colombia during the 90s when the real events were playing out, I know how it pans out. Let’s just say, never trust plastic surgeons. The good news is that series 1 & 2 are available. Thanks Caracol, thanks Telemundo. Feliz Navidad.

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