Category Archives: Life

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).



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.


Dog Theft

Recapping here, but it’s my current obsession (along with the misery and humiliation of cold call pitching). Here’s where we’re up to – as far as I know – with the stuff that’s been dragged out of the house by the dog and so far found around the farm. Apparently it’s ‘puppy behaviour’ exacerbated by the fact this 6-month-old mastin is the size of an ox. I’ve been asking people about pet insurance but they think I want to insure the dog, rather than the stuff it takes.

TV remote: recovered . . . eventually
2 bras, Calvin Klein: both destroyed, one in front of the builders.
3 white towels: 2 shredded, one recovered
4 cotton shirts: 1 recovered
1 work skirt: chewed
1 cloth bound NY Times Guide to US: partially eaten
1 cryptic crossword puzzle book: obliterated
A Stranger’s Child (the book): recovered intact
1 pr Missoni glasses: crunched, chewed, wearable
1 glass jar with paintbrushes in solvent: recovered . . . eventually
1 apple Mac charger cable: chewed
1 large carpet underlay: chewed
1 thick wool blanket: destroyed
1 tow rope: destroyed
2 70s settee leatherette seats: destroyed
1 red cushion – 33 times: recovered
1 Gap sweatshirt: chewed, especially the zip
3 hats: chewed
1 pr Muji slippers: semi-wearable
1 pr Fly London suede sandals: destroyed
1 pr leather boots: recovered. UPDATE: destroyed.
1 pr rubber boots: recovered
1 rubber boot: eaten
I pr Camper leather shoes: partially eaten
1 pr Converse: partially eaten
1 pr espadrilles: one partially recovered
1 pr flip flops: eaten. UPDATE: 2 pairs.
1 pr Birkenstocks: chewed, recovered
1 pr ballet pumps: recovered
1 strainer: chewed
Kitchen utensils, various: unusable
Seeds – onion. lettuce, salvia, morning glory: consumed
Cat’s basket: recovered
Cat’s toy mouse x 3: destroyed
Cat’s blanket: partially recovered
Cat’s springy thing on wooden base: consumed
1 pr hideous white shoes (Dave’s): destroyed (good)
1 pool skimmer: usable. UPDATE: netting consumed.
1 log basket: chewed
2 plastic fruit crates: recovered
1 trowel: partially consumed, usable
6 pr heavy duty gardening gloves: 4 gloves recovered, chewed
3 potted plants: 1 recovered
20 pots: chewed
1 can mosquito repellent: recovered, rusted
6 paintbrushes: 1 recovered, usable, chewed.



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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.




Too Darn Hot


Everyone is saying this is the hottest summer in fifty years. Since May the temperatures have consistently been in the high 30s, and as often as not way over 40. That’s degrees centigrade. And it’s pretty much all anyone’s talking about now, because we’ve all had our brains fried. Seville has the infamy of being chalked up as Spain’s Hottest Place Twice, reaching 51 degrees in 1876 and 1881. A lot of people said that was down to crap thermometers and doubted this was possible – well, they’re not doubting it now.
Ordering a small lorryload of gravel and six bags of concrete at Lobato’s earlier today I noticed Marisol had given up chainsmoking and was just doing the ordinary smoking, and that the bucket on the pavement outside to catch the condensation from the air-conditioning was overflowing and it was only 10 o’clock. She said it would be alright if after three or four impossible days there were a couple of cool ones, but there never are. This is full-on marathon hot. In every doorway in Algodonales there’s a person fanning themselves and mumbling dios mio and ay calor and so on, and wiping sweat from their brows like they’re extras in a stage production. You can see old women sitting inside dark rooms with their knees apart and their skirts hoisted up. No one can be bothered to swim in the lake.
Anyway, it was pretty cool in Lobato’s so I hung around looking at floor tile cleaning fluids for a while, and then drove home the long way round with the aircon whacked down to 14 as slowly as I could. I remember looking across to this farm at the beginning of May and thinking how green it all looked. Today, the third month it’s been over 30, and the third consecutive day that’s been that winning combination of suffocatingly hot and ominously overcast, the ground is straw and the sky, a kind of lavender. The property belongs to my neighbour, and her father is just about the father (or grandfather, great grandfather) of every living soul in the somewheresville hamlet (bar myself, obviously, as far as I know). I live in the house that she was born in when there was no electricity, running water, or roads. Sonia, her daughter, sings Led Zep covers in a rock band but does make extremely good goats’ cheese.

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Restoring a Farm: The Befores

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We moved in a year ago. There have been times since when I have wondered what exactly I was doing, whether electing to buy a barely accessible semi-ruined farmhouse in the middle of a country I didn’t know, was a mistake. The idea had been to find something cheap – and that didn’t happen, and to knock it into shape fast while carrying on with the day job – and that didn’t happen either. I completely overlooked the ‘farm’ element, even though the clue was there in ‘farmhouse’, and the fact that farms need farmers. And on a more superficial level I didn’t realise I’d get calloused hands, resigned to handling dead rodents and live snakes and barely wear anything decent again. I’m debating whether to post After pictures because we’re not at After. However, sometimes now I can look around a room without reaching for the To Do list, and just admire the light moving on thick plastered walls.
Just the basic cleaning took two of us a month (maybe two months); hosing, disinfecting and clearing the floors of rubble with a shovel, wearing rubber boots, rubber gloves and face masks. For a month more the bathroom, fashioned from a partridge shed, had no doors or windows or bath or shower. We still have no kitchen, or no modern kitchen with oven or hob; I thought it would be interesting to learn to cook in traditional Andalus style i.e. on iron tripods or esteves over wood in a hearth and then couldn’t be bothered with the whole effort of renovation and so cook over wood is what we do. Or eat salads.  With hindsight etc.
Anyway over the course of the months, things emerged – the kitchen’s flagstone floors, the old wood of the double doors, and a slew of interesting problems – pipes which led somewhere, pipes that led nowhere, nesting swallows, nesting sparrows, leaky flues. I learnt many useful things: the standard height of doors, shower heads, shower taps, the standard height of sinks, standard width of irrigation pipes, how to mix concrete, the various merits of decalcification units, the power output of well pumps, the sand to concrete ratio of grout, the standard dimensions of roof timbers, the relative merits of aluminium and iron, the three stages of plastering, how to lay traditional tiles, brick-laying, standard glass thickness, the fact that replacing glass panes is not my thing, and the Spanish vocabulary for all the tools and hardware associated with the above.

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