Category Archives: Video

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.


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.



Last year when we moved into the farmhouse the only occupants of the grain loft were house martins and house sparrows. I waited and waited until all their eggs had hatched, and all the hatchlings had cleared off, and then quite a long time to be sure, before starting to reclaim the space and turn it into somewhere to sleep. Glass was put in the windows, and to prevent birds from flying into it, I strung a whole load of CDs together and dangled them from the frame. Twisting and turning in the bright light they were pretty discouraging, and disconcertingly hippyesque.
One year on I woke to find birds flying round the room. If it wasn’t for the cats – that is, cat, I might have been tempted to share the space, but I closed the window. And every morning for the last couple of weeks they have been doing irate fly-bys, shaking a metaphorical fist through the glass at the invader.

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Hee-Haw: Lawnmower Delivery

The house is barely visible now, except through the windows of a light aircraft. By July I’ll be dragging a hose over rock solid rubble trying to resurrect green things and hoping the well doesn’t dry up. These days, I go to sleep at night wondering whether the vegetation will have broken through the foundation by morning. The track is undetectable, the donkey house, the hen house, and I forget what else is out there, all submerged along with wheelbarrows, loungers, shoes, shears, umbrellas, football, rolls of wire fencing and other white trash detritus. The wild flowers have trunks, the poppies are over my head; large animals have made tunnels. Tough grass is hoovering up the water and nutrients meant for the olives and orange trees.

It doesn’t seem right to measure the farm in acres; most of the growth is vertical. Each acre is 43,560 square feet, and the stuff growing on it is, on average 4 foot high. That equates to 174240 cubed feet of problem per acre. I watched Arturo fix an ancient tractor he bought secondhand in Seville. He made it look easy which obviously it isn’t. We don’t have a tractor. We do have a strimmer which is a bit like going to war with a peashooter, but after half a day of getting it to start it lasted precisely 6 minutes before giving off smoke and its bits melting, and so it’s currently in the probably can not be fixed pile in the shed. And I have a kind of scythe which I like using but which is slow and dangerous.

The obvious solution is to fight nature with nature. Juan, a sprightly 81, and father of every farmer in a 20-mile radius bar Fernando and Fernando’s cousin Fernando (and who, incidentally, once owned this house and land and therefore keeps a critical eye over proceedings), has located a small herd of sheep for me. Unfortunately what with the paperwork and everything, they are not going to be ready to make the journey from distant Olvera, until July when all the grass has dried up and become an unappetising fire hazard.
However, as an interim solution, Fernando has lent me Canalita and Saltalinda, his bolshy and belligerent donkeys. They arrived with Fernando and Fernando’s cousin Fernando, full of attitude last week, having finished all the grass on Fernando’s side of the fence. The difference to our own fields is so far imperceptible, although I did notice they had eaten a Cuidado con el Perro sign, part of a cat litter tray I’d left out to deter mice from the car, and a glove, and that they are considerably fatter.


Semana Santa Processions 2

Wednesday’s Semana Santa procession clashed with Real Madrid v Barcelona. Half the village was drinking beer and shouting at the football on screens in and outside the bars; the rest getting antsy under the float bearing Jesus on the cross, or sitting by the church in serge suits polishing their trombones, or smoking and checking their mobiles dressed in klu klux klan outfits – actually, the long gowns and hoods representing someone’s idea of the garb of the Nazarenes, or people or Nazareth. In the end the grand and sombre procession set off on the dot of half time. It did a circuit of the village, this time adding in a long 1:4 hill, and the band played and marched for two hours. They are now no longer rusty after the winter hiatus.
There was a five-minute hold-up part-way through when Madrid scored, and the band and Nazarenes, and many of our neighbours behind, had to loiter around the corner until decorum was restored, and people had been pushed out – temporarily locked out – of Bar Nino to pay their respects to the passing procession. On the whole, the villagers juggled loyalty to the church and loyalty to football slickly and in well-practised fashion. Once Jesus was back in the church at around 12.30am, the men who’d been shuffling underneath him made it to the bar for some hours of refreshing drinks. I recognised their shoes.
The sight of dark hooded figures en masse is dramatic and chilling; and maybe weirder still when you come across two or three leaning against the wall of your house shooting the breeze. They also look odd when they’re texting.
We’re gearing up to the Good Friday procession and Easter Sunday now. The tables outside white tables and orange tables and Bar Gallo are full of revellers, a horse just galloped up the road, some kids are playing with a whistle that makes squawking duck noises, the Guardia Civil are moving the barricades around, and it’s 25 degrees.

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Semana Santa Processions

Semana Santa, and the village band has dusted off the drums for the first of the year’s many, many processions. Like most, Friday’s procession of the Virgen de los Dolores began in the plaza at 10pm, and involved a circuit up the street at the back, and down the street at the front. I think it’s fair to say the band is rusty.

The Virgen de los Dolores will have five more outings between now and Easter Sunday, born aloft among lilies and candles on her glittering silver float by costaleros who – given the steps and inclines – make regular pauses while the nun sings saetas through a megaphone. The shadow of the caped Virgin on the white walls can look quite menacing as she lurches past.

I’d gone home to fetch a jumper when I filmed this; the processions are the usual local mix of solemn and sociable, and sacred and funny – except the silent ones of course, and best followed on foot.  Semana Santa is huge across Spain, but particularly in Andalucia, and, specifically in Seville (where there are 60 or so processions) and Cádiz (where you should find a spot along the route from Plaza de Candelaria, Calle Montañés, Plaza del Palillero, Calle Novena and Calle Ancha and stay there until Easter Sunday. Moving, less overwhelming, and with easier parking, there are extraordinary processions taking place in local villages. Being biased, I would say processions through the white villages of the Sierra de Cadiz, are not to be missed.

Dates for your diary, Zahara de la Sierra

Miércoles Santo, 16 de Abril: 22:00 Estación de Penitencia de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey, y a su Templo.

Jueves Santo, 17 de Abril: 20:30 Procesión presidida por el Santísimo Cristo de la Vera Cruz. Itinerario: Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Nueva, C/Barrero, Avda. Andalucía, C/Manchega, Plaza del Rey, C/San Juan y Plaza San Juan.

Viernes Santo, 18 de Abril: 20:00 Estación de Penitencia del Santo Entierro de Cristo, San Juan Evangelista y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, Avda. Andalucía, Boquete San Juan, Plaza San Juan, C/Ronda, C/Alta, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia.

Domingo de Resurrección, 20 de Abril: 12:00 [mass followed by] procesión del Cristo de la Sagrada Resurrección y Nuestra Señora de los Dolores en sus Misterios Gloriosos. Itinerario: Plaza del Rey,C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/ Ronda, Plaza San Juan, C/San Juan, Plaza del Rey y Parroquia. O bien Plaza del Rey, C/Manchega, C/Barrero, C/Nueva, C/Alta, C/San Juan, Plaza San Juan y Ermita.


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