SINGLE SPIES.

A change in the weather has many associated effects here in Andalucia. October usually brings the first rain since May and after the about 3 days of communal relief, fervent measurement of how many litres have fallen (each visitor to the bar has a slightly different number) and laughing at the foreigners who complain about the rain, there is the obligatory round of colds and flu. This is looked upon as an inevitable consequence of autumn. Everyone complains about how bad they feel, the waiting room in Victorino’s consultorio is jammed every morning, in the tiny farmacia Ana is run off her feet. Partly because every transaction seems to involve taking the prescription, separating the copy, scanning the barcode, finding the appropriate pill/ointment, finding the little nail scissors and snipping out the barcode from the box, finding the Sellotape and sticking the cut out piece onto the scrip and putting it on a pile of similar items. And then, of course, there is the chat which everyone joins in. This is a queue that you can only laugh with. And here are other rules about what you can and can’t drink outside of summer. In the bar there is a chilled water dispenser and if you ask for a glass of water, with your coffee for example, then you are considered insane if you ask for the cold water rather than the room temperature version from the sink tap. If you go as far as asking for a glass for your three year old daughter you can see Concha just about restraining herself from calling social services.


Of course the chestnuts have to be gathered and the associated fiesta has to be held on the first weekend in November. We say “fiesta” and technically it really is. But, you know, the word “fiesta” implies music, sun, dancing, wine, laughter and relaxation. This annual event where we swaddle ourselves in as many layers as we can find and then stand outside the block built village warehouse where the milking equipment and the village dumper are kept is about as far from “fiesta” as can be. Now, it’s too easy to poke fun. After all this is another of the many community events that keeps the community strong. But the place manages to exhale cold. And if it is cold enough outside then a barbecue (sometimes two) is built INSIDE where it is no warmer but is now significantly smokier. I usually bring down a few litres of last years wine and there is always beer available. Standing around for half an hour seems to fulfil neighbourly obligations and then I can duck into the bar and get some tapas.

Of course there are maintenance. issues to take care of. Like everything else that is vaguely practical I learnt the hard way that the shade area by the side of the house needs to have the canvas that is fastened to the home-made wire frame we rigged up dismantled before the high winds come. The learning process was messy and involved ripped canvas and, because the fastening was so well executed (thanks for the appreciation) the wind filled what were now Americas Cup size sails and ripped out the poles they were attached to. The poles in turn were attractively sited in big old olive oil clay pots which were destroyed as the poles gave up the struggle. It was a patio slaughter. Getting the canvas cut to size was such a major task that I didn’t even bother to order new ones, I just used the square “shade sails” that we had bought from Ikea for the top terrace. They didn’t really fit but they did the job for the end of the summer. Of course I could have done with two more but a visit to Ikea yielded the “out of stock” info and the assurance that there would be more in February. Brilliant.

The upstairs rooms, which we use for guests, have been very hot this past summer. They always are in late July through early August and each year I mean to do something about getting some shade for them. We tried planting vines with the intention of getting them to grow over the top, like lots of people in the village do for their roof terraces. but I cut the wrong size shoots and, compounding my elementary error and, much to the eyebrow raising opprobrium of Alfonso, I cut and planted the shoots when the moon was on the wane. Alfonso manages to stop short of actually calling me a moron to my face, although the eyebrow thing, the shoulders and the incredulous looks speak with far greater volume. They have a much more punishing effect on my ego as well because I am certain that these examples of my non-Spanishness as well as my city upbringing must be the centre point of bar hilarity. I don’t think these condemnations are malicious in any way, simply they are genuinely disbelieving that someone could be so ignorant. By the way, in case you don’t know, it is obvious stupidity not to plant when the moon is rising. I know, I know, there is almost always something to these country tales but Alfonso won’t even go to the barber when the moon is waning because he’s convinced his hair won’t grow back.

I was saying. The guest rooms are hot and the plan to install natural shade using vines was a failure that went way beyond abject. I bought some “shade sails” to cover the front of the rooms and provide some shade on the terrace outside the rooms. They arrived in the first week of September, just as the intense heat had left the days. Never mind. I installed them and they look cool, definitely provide some shade and are pretty easy to mantle and dismantle. But the cherry on the cake is that. I found a stand-alone bio cool fan thingy. I got one to try out and set up a controlled experiment. Try to stay awake. I chose two rooms and measured the inside temperature in each. Both were 26 C, which isn’t the hottest they’ve been. At least they were the same. I put this new machine in one room. It’s a low consumption (of electricity) which is good because we are reliant on a combination of solar panels, batteries and generator. Filled the thing with water and turned it on. Two hours later and the temperature in the “control room” was down to 25 and in the room with the machine was 21. Hooray. Result. So I ordered three more. Incidentally by now it’s October so any cooling system is really redundant but at least we are set for next year.

From excess heat issues back to the cold. Round here, if you look at the sky each day – which you can because there is a lot of it, you can almost see the battle between sunny, sunny days and lowering, threatening clouds. As the year wears on the dark forces seem to win more of the skirmishes but it doesn’t really worry us because the forces of good will prevail next Spring. The sky is high and blue, the air is clear and in the mornings and at dusk you can see the cruise and container ships on the Med and beyond them the clear jagged outline of the Atlas mountains in North Africa. However, with the cold comes the need for heating. We have a diesel powered boiler and we know that the dark forces are really flexing their muscles when we really have to put the heating on. Of course it’s not that simple. Inanimate objects tend not to have a life of their own, unless they are parts of crucial systems. And that includes heating and water. The heating system has three pumps and lord knows how many valves that, of course, wither and die when they don’t do anything all summer. As soon as you start the systems something happens. Or, rather, it doesn’t and you need an emergency call to the plumber. Of course there is also the airlock and leaking radiator set of issues to take care of but these are expected. Why they are expected I don’t know – it seems counter-intuitive that radiators and central heating pipes should spring leaks whilst they are not being used, but leak they do. But throughout all of these niggles there is there is the comfort that I have a trailer full of wood outside, as well as a pile of old vines that are ready to build a warm cheery fire in our huge fireplace. And then it rained. Claudius was spot on; When troubles come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.