Friday, 24 December 2010

Gifts from the Heart

I always felt that it was important for our children to understand the meaning of giving and putting something of them into what they gave; also we didn’t have much money in the beginning: but even when we did, I continued the tradition of home-making all our gifts. They mean so much more than just going out to the store and buying something just because it is the done thing. We would start a few weeks before Christmas and usually a few of the children’s friends would spend a few weeks with us working on their presents. A lot of parents forget how important it is to children to have a gift for the grown-ups, and since the parents are usually the ones buying them they don’t buy a gift for the children to give back to them. We would bake and make cookies that they painted or make cheese balls with a pack if crackers or decoupage pictures on wooden napkin holders to be used as letter holders on the desk. Every year we would do a few favourites and a few new things like sand-candles or pillows. They would make their own wrapping paper with potato-prints or ironed leaves. The kids always got up to their elbows mixing something while learning about measuring and math and how to taste things and add ingredients that suited their fancy. A great learning experience and some very funny conversations took place, as usual when you get a group of children together. We had lots of fun making all of the things and most of them were treasured by the grandparents or eaten as the case may be. Sure it made a big mess but we would listen to music and the kids were great at helping to clean up. The gifts all looked beautiful and the children had such a sense of accomplishment and pride in what they had made. It made them understand the meaning of Christmas, or at least what it meant to me, which was to give something of yourself to someone you love. I know it takes a lot of time and patience but if you have it, it is well worth the time. I hope my children follow the tradition because not only was it fun and a learning experience but they got the true feeling of giving.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Turkey: When Thanksgiving Came to Mojácar

I have always felt that it was important for children to know where their food comes from but I had never intended that their first experience to be so graphic. When we first moved here, we didn’t have all of the goodies that we have now. Most people didn’t even have a refrigerator, so food was what you brought in from the garden or had stored on a shelf. My friend Jane decided that we should celebrate thanksgiving, so we started to look around for where we could get a turkey. After weeks of searching, Chencho from the bar told us about a farmer nearby who had turkeys and that he would sell us one. We went along to put in our order. It turned out he had one old laying turkey but we said we would take it and be back the following day for it. The following day Jane, a farmer’s daughter from England, and Jessica, Amber and I all arrived in Papa’s old Seat 127, only to find that the turkey was far from cleaned and plucked. As a matter of fact it was in the middle of a tug of war between the farmer and his wife. It seemed that she didn’t want to sell the turkey because she was a good egg layer. The farmer sent her crying into the house and handed us the turkey. I was horrified. Jane calmly explained that he would have to kill it first as it was dangerous to drive with such a large bird in the car. He agreed with her logic and the horror began, right in front of my two innocent girls aged three and six. He tried to wring its neck with no luck then he stood on it but the bird kept going, all the while the girls and I were in the car, not believing what we were seeing, as Jane yelled advice to him in English. Finally Jane had had enough and picked up a rake and put the birds head on the floor and stood on the rake and with one pull the deed was done. She threw it in the back of the car and told the girls to get back there with her as they had to start while it was still warm. Soon the girls were happily plucking feathers and throwing them out the window. As you can imagine, no children’s seats were available or required back then. I was in a state of shock and horror as I drove back to the house. Once at home, Jane very professionally cleaned, gutted and dressed the turkey. The next stumbling point was the oven. Most cooking was done outside on wood stoves or in big clay bread ovens and there was no way this bird would even get through the door of our little oven. Not a problem for Jane, she took it outside and with a hammer broke its back and cut it into four, thereby fitting it in. We ended up with a great Thanksgiving, shared by many grateful friends. That is when I decided from then on I would raise my own turkeys, just as I had bought a cow because there was no fresh milk. Being a vegetarian I found the whole thing rather distasteful, and knew why I had become a vegetarian at such an early age. After having lived on farms my whole life and hand-raising or bottle-feeding most of the animals, the idea of eating them was too much for me. At the same time, all of our children have participated in the matanzas of the pig and other festivals here and felt perfectly happy eating the meat. They are all still meat eaters even though their daily diet at home was mostly vegetarian in those early days as they got meat elsewhere.
I raised six turkeys the next year in with my chickens and promised not to name them or get attached to them. I knew they were for eating. Now my problem was how. I heard about a very famous turkey farmer from England that had just moved out here so I set about finding him. Once I did, the deal was made. He would come and take care of three turkeys, leaving them oven-ready, one for him, one for us and one as a gift. The other three turkeys got to live until Christmas. The day he arrived, Baltazar the plumber was at our house vaguely fixing something when a huge Roles Royce pull into the driveway and out stepped the butcher and his in-laws. The women were dressed in fur coats and had all sorts of diamonds dripping from them and high-healed tennis shoes. That was the first time I had seen high-heeled sneakers. Baltazar was duly impressed at my butcher because he only had a Renault 4. My regal visitors didn’t look like they were a group on their way to slaughter three turkeys. I was wrong. Off came the furs and the whole family disappeared into the chicken coop. A few minutes later, without a sound from inside, they appeared carrying three clean birds. The turkey farmer told me they were some of the finest turkeys he had seen. In England he raised hundreds of thousands of them a year, but he said they were very hard to raise in England and that maybe I would like to go into business with him and turn my farm into a turkey ranch. He told us that up to about five hundred birds he could kill them one a second then he started to slow down, and the girls were equally fast at plucking while his son did the cleaning. I declined with thanks.
I still had the problem with the oven though. That is how thanksgiving came to Mojácar. The following year I had redesigned my kitchen around a huge French stainless steel double oven with eight burners. Even though there were only a few Americans living in Mojácar, we always had the house full of children, so the whole village enjoyed the new feast, up until then the only turkey anyone had ever seen came from the US Military base. Now turkeys are easy to come by, all clean and oven-ready but until just a few years ago I always raised my own, because a turkey to one of the locals meant four or five kilos and to us it meant fifteen to twenty kilos, plus I knew what my turkeys had been eating. I think it is a healthy outlook for children to understand the food chain and to realize that what they see in the supermarket, it is not what it appears, in a plastic wrap with a pop up American flag when it is cooked. That way they can make up their own minds how they feel about eating meat.

Stomp Stuffing

For a twenty lbs turkey, more or less

Three children
Three bags of dried toast
1 lg box margarine
3 onions
Celery
1 grated apple optional
2 pkgs onion soup
Basil, sage, salt and pepper to taste
Stock but not from the giblets since that is just yucky

Get three kids to stomp on bags of dried toast until they are crumbs.
Melt margarine in large wok.
Add onions, celery and seasoning until onions are clear.
Stir in bread crumbs and add liquid until moist.

Stuff bird, both cavities.
Cover turkey with butter and make a tent over it in tin foil.
Cook until legs move easily.
Remove foil and let brown.
There will be plenty of stuffing left over for a casserole and for the kids to eat like popcorn.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Two Pictures

Here are two pictures that I just found that illustrate some of the stories written below. One is of mi cortijo and Lenox with all his wives and children, together with a black dog and Tony Hawker standing in the door. The other is of the trampoline that followed me around the world and ended up here. As you can see, there were always a lot of children in our home.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Looking at the River

This one is about Spain in the early 80’s and our three children, Jessica, Amber and Daniel. We live in what was once one of the most beautiful places on earth, Mojácar. It is a Moorish village set on a mountain overlooking the sea with a river-bed running alongside and down the valley from other beautiful little villages that are scattered about in the mountains. An archeological and historical treasure-mine. Our house sits between the river and the village, on top of faint remains of an old Phoenician city. At the back of the house we have Old Mojácar, a tall, flat-topped mountain where they say Mojácar used to be thousands of years back and, on its lower slopes, there is also the site of a Roman cemetery. Roman pottery and Moorish coins and turquoise we easily found everywhere, even our wild-boar, Theodore, used to encounter pieces when rooting through the dirt and put them in his bath for us. A walk down the river or along the beach after a storm and you could come away with a jar full of turquoise.
Many of the villagers from these mountain villages had never actually been to the beach or set their big toe into the sea. It was enough for them to just see it from afar and wonder. They were all working people that lived off the land and there is no vacation from animals and crops. Even though the main mode of transport was the donkey and the trip by donkey only took a few hours - I made it many times myself - most of them never showed enough curiosity to make the effort.
One day, while on a trip to Granada which is the big city nearby, we passed many rivers until we came to one that threw the children into a frenzy of excitement. This river had water in it. You may not find that so wonderful but for our children it was the first time they had seen water in a river. Up until then, they knew that a river was for galloping your horse full speed for miles or learning to drive in Papa’s old Lada, for sheep and goats to graze or even for filling with escombro, rubble. The very idea that water came from the mountains in the river and went to the sea was unfathomable. The river wasn’t the only surprise for the day: in the city of Granada they saw for the first time stoplights, and rode up and down escalators and elevators in huge shops full of all their dreams. They were so excited about the escalator that it never even occurred to them that you could actually buy some of these wonderful items. We left without having to spend anything. About ten years later Mojácar put a stoplight on the beach: it was never turned on and it wasn’t at an intersection but the school children would take a field trip down to look at it each year. After that Granada trip, we started taking the children on more excursions and exposing them to the real world. We still worried about Jessica when she later went to America because of things like walking on sidewalks, unheard of in Spain, or stopping at crosswalks again something never done in Spain, or talking to strangers, which is a must in Spain. She managed to handle all of these obstacles with ease so I guess the trips paid off in the end.
Once Spain gets a handle on some new thing they go crazy. First it was safety railings on the freeway with reflectors – we reckoned that the Governor’s brother had the company that made them - then came the roundabouts, which here include ‘through lanes’, abrupt turns, various signs hidden by bushes and pedestrian routes (inevitably ignored by the local transients) which are splashed through the whole ensemble. Lenox and I wanted to do a coffee-table book of Spanish roundabouts. The best one we saw – in Guadix – had seventeen ways around and through it but Mojácar is now proud to have some of the most unusual and useless roundabouts and traffic feeds imaginable. Then the road-designers introduced the sleeping policemen or speed bumps; after a trip to town you need new shocks on your car to deal with the stress of all the bumps. It is all in the learning process and in the interest in modernization and the search for tourist dollars.

Africa Fun Car Rally

Every summer loads of Moroccans come from every part of Europe to return home to Africa. So many that we even have free-way signs in Arabic. They always travel with a blue tarp on top of the car covering bicycles and other treasures that they are taking home to their families. The cars are so loaded with children and gifts that there is no suspension left.
One year Mojácar had a point-to-point fun car rally. Everyone was to dress up as something and their cars as well. The object was to stop in every bar along the way, have a drink and get a clue to the next destination. It was a lot of fun and many people turned out in costume to participate. We thought we would go as Moroccans. I had an old Renault truck. So we all dressed in kaftans, fezzes and djellaba. We overflowed the car with children and even Negrita the sheep to make it look authentic. A friend of ours who joined our party had thoughtfully remembered to sample some of Morocco’s best-loved herbal export, to get in the spirit of the event. Negrita came into each bar with us on our route and was treated to potato chips and peanuts. She was the first sheep to ever make an appearance in any of these establishments and was treated like a princess. She loved the trip as did we all. The only problem was that we were stopped by the police at every turn and our friend kept getting out and trying to unsuccessfully explain to the police the reason for the authentic Moroccan aroma, until Lenox eventually pulled him back into the car, got out and took off his hat and said “it’s me, Napier”. The police all laughed and said we looked very authentic. We still got stopped by police, unaware of this fun car rally, a couple of more times. We were even told that it was against the law to carry a live sheep in the car. We agreed killing her wouldn’t solve our problem so they let us go. We didn’t win the rally, but I think we had the most fun.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Jeannie in the bottle: Jeannie Juice

She started in a small apartment on the beach and hung out at all of the beach bars; but she wanted to live on the fashionable street just on the outside of town. Most of the houses on the street were large mansions with beautiful big gardens. That is what she wanted, to belong to this high society group. It was the address that was the important thing for her. Having been born and raised by an alcoholic mother in the poorest part of a small mining town in north Wales, she wanted to be someone important. She had to bring up her three younger sisters because besides the alcohol, her mother was going slowly insane and the father had abandoned the family long ago. She left home at the earliest possible moment leaving her sisters to raise themselves and care for the mother. She never looked back or wanted to go back. It was as if they were not her family. She had invented a family of her own, who were of the highest class and pretended to be part of high society. She eventually really preceded her name with Lady………………
She married in Germany and lived there for a few years and learned to speak the language very well. After her marriage in Germany failed she moved to a small town in southern Spain. She was very attractive and intelligent but took to drinking and soon became the person that was passed around like a beggar’s hat, trying to find that man that could give her the money and prestige she so longed for and felt she had been born to. She had very thin hair and bad eyes and nostrils that you could see up, full of nicotine stained hair, so she always wore some sort of garish hat, covered in fake diamonds or other trinkets, and huge, bottle-bottom dark glasses with rhinestones. It was her look. I guess she wasn’t so pretty after-all. But in her modelling photographs she was. They can do a lot with an air brush.
After her marriage in Germany, where she had become both a model and a fashion photographer, she made out quite well financially in both her work and divorce. She was able to live the high life, in that little town in Spain, without having to work which suited the life she had invented for herself. The only thing was that the well would dry up soon and she would have to go back to a life of poverty if she didn’t find someone soon.
She found and started dating one of the most popular men in town, he had bright red hair and freckles and a sense of humor that kept the whole village laughing for days. It wasn’t just the jokes or funny remarks it was in everything he did. He was kind to everyone and people loved him. His name was Bill. He had a wife at home, Heather, who was very ill and not able to go out anymore so he was on his own a lot, this made him easy prey for the vulture. He and his wife were best of friends even though they had an open relationship, it was mutual and they lived separate lives but shared a common bond and great admiration for each other. As with most upper class English families a child was a necessity not a desire and it should be a boy, a girl was no use. They needed just one to carry on the family name and heritage. After three miscarriages Heather finally had a son, later to become my husband. Lenox had nannies and maids and people to care for him but there wasn’t much in the way of affection. He was sent away to school at the age of five, only to return home on the few English holidays. In England, most of Heather and Bill’s days were spent at the local pub but there was one side for the upper class and one side for the working class. They didn’t like this system and wanted to be able to associate with whomever they wanted. They found the working class to be a lot more fun. When Lenox was a young boy his parents grew tired of the life of the gentry and moved to the middle of nowhere in southern Spain: Mojácar. That is where they built their home and made a garden out of the desert. They had a wonderful life here until Heather got ill. Lenox was the youngest person he knew by fifteen years, so didn’t have much company but he had always escaped into the fantasy and adventure of books. He loved it here in Spain and hated going back to school. There were no rules here.

Jeannie was her name and she was quite a bit younger than Bill and she knew that his wife was at home ill. THAT WASN’T ENOUGH FOR THAT VULTURE TO KEEP HER GRIPS OFF WHAT SHE WANTED, she had found the one person that could give her the title and money that she knew she deserved. Jeannie also craved the respect of nobility. The day after Heather died, Jeannie moved in and soon married Bill. Jeannie was slowly killing Bill with her lifestyle, sometimes she would just disappear for two or three days, Bill never seemed to miss her much though. It was probably a relief to have her out of his hair once in a while. Traveling anywhere with her became so embarrassing as she ordered people about and would say things like don’t you know who I am, that Lenox quickly stopped accompanying them.

Her second marriage, to Bill, was actually to someone with blue blood, my father-in-law and even though he had a son, she took everything that had been in the family for centuries and showed them about everywhere she could. She threw a pool-party every Sunday and invited the cream of society and a few of her drunk, druggie friends. Bill was loved by everyone and had one of the greatest senses of humor. He kept every party going with his tall tales. No one could understand why he married her. Keep her as a mistress, maybe, but to marry her was hard for people to understand especially his son. She was always telling Bill that she knew the things belonged to Lenox but she would just use them for special occasions. There was a lot of family jewelery that she loved to flaunt about so everyone could see how wealthy she was and what lineage she had come from. She even did a documentary on Japanese TV about wealthy women in Spain. She proudly displayed all the family jewels and art that some how disappeared just before Bill died. Even though we have a copy of it on tape she said it had all been stolen. I think if it had been stolen she would have put up a big fuss and claimed on insurance, none of which she did.
They were both very heavy drinkers and partiers. Lenox moved out soon after his mother died because Jeannie had already moved in and taken over. She and his father were drunk from ten in the morning until night so it was impossible to have any kind of relationship with them. She was also very jealous of Lenox because she wanted to be the sole heir to the throne so to speak and didn’t like the competition. When she married Bill, she got to move into one of the big estates, on the little street just outside of town. Bill bought her a smaller house next door that was used as a guest house and would be kept for her should something ever happen to Bill, because in reality the big house belonged to Lenox. So did all of the contents. Lenox was in his early twenties at this time and spent his time travelling the world only coming home to visit from time to time because he found his step-mother to be unbearable. She was a very vicious woman carrying a large grudge against the world. She was jealous to the point of rage and deliberately hurt people that tried to come too close. She was jealous of all of Lenox’s girlfriends, because they were younger and prettier and may stand to hold the family fortune, that she now considered hers, so she did her very best to sabotage them. She never seemed to mind me too much because she didn’t see me as a threat. I was a country girl.

Lenox and I had been friends for quite a while and after we started going out we lived at my house, married and had three children much to Jeannie’s horror; more heirs.

When Lenox’s father died she had already hidden the family jewels and any important documents pertaining to Lenox, including a letter his father had written to him just before the end. Jeannie said that she would move back into her house only if Lenox agreed to pay her a yearly sum, on top of everything else she had. Then she decided it would be like living in the servant’s quarters and that would never do for Lady Napier. We bought her house and kept it as our guest house then we put a deposit on a house on the beach for her but she changed her mind and we lost our money. Then she did one of the worst things of all. She moved in next door: a large house across the lane facing the family home. She would live there like a bad dream for sixteen years. Like I said it was the address she wanted. She had already inherited most of the father’s wealth. By this time Lenox was happily married to me, we lived in my old cortijo on top of the hill, with children of our own, and we had no real interest in moving back into the big house but she wanted the extra income so much that she made Lenox sign away most things during his time of grief after the death of his father. She agreed to move out in one year and leave the family heirlooms in the house. She didn’t want to lose her status as Lady Napier, so she took most everything of value. Lenox didn’t mind that much because he was happy with his life and material things were not very important to him. He knew he would get them back to pass on to his children when she died. Lenox didn’t approve of his parents’ lifestyle even though he adored them so he grew up into a totally different type of person. He turned out to be a great husband and wonderful father.

As she deteriorated rapidly her intention had been to marry her life-long friend Peter – who worked at the Imperial War Museum in London. Peter was decidedly eccentric*. Peter was known in London as having once driven a Centurion tank clean across the city, followed – at a sensible distance – by a lot of irate police. The first time I met him he was standing on his head under the dinner table with the table surrounded by guests. No one seemed to take the slightest notice. I later came into the kitchen to find him having a deep discussion with a tin of biscuits. He was explaining to them that even though he was taking them next door to Coleman’s for tea he would not let them be eaten and they could all come home with him.

Peter died abruptly and Jeannie took to travel. She crossed the Atlantic on the QEII, Asia on the Orient Express, trips to Delhi (she didn’t like it), Moscow, London (to check her stash at her safe in Harrods), Virginia and three trips to Tonga, where on the last visit, she sent some of the family ear-rings to Queen Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe. Which must have come as a shock.

Not only did Jeannie’s alcoholism get worse she also inherited the same insanity as her mother and later, some of the sisters. It became a living hell for us, because now she lived next door and expected everything to be done for her. She attempted suicide about once a month on a regular basis which meant a late night trip to the hospital to have her stomach pumped and she was back on the booze before she got out of the hospital. Some of them are funny to recount but they were a nightmare at the time.
I became so tired of her constant demands and bullying that I began to dread every day and I knew nights were worse because that is when she would call even if it was just to breathe into the telephone.
As time passed she needed more and more care. She would spend her time in bed – she was losing the power to walk – and watched an enormous television while smoking endless Ducados and drinking at least a bottle of brandy each day. We would attempt to feed and clean her. Finally we put her into a luxury rest home where she could get proper care and the family could get some peace from the entire trauma that she caused. By this time I was starting to have health problems mostly to do with the stress of dealing with Jeannie twenty-four hours a day. It didn’t last long. She wanted to come back home and a few ‘Christian’ ladies (who rove around the rest-homes in search of ‘prey’) said they would look after her for a large fee. They charged more than the price of the Home where she had full time medical care. They soon stopped coming because by now she was so insane and really nasty that no one could stand to be around her. She was always naked and spread eagled making it disgusting just to go in and feed her, it was impossible to keep her clothes on. She was put back in the Home and things seemed to be going alright. She said she had written a letter explaining where everything was and that Lenox was only to read it after her death. Soon after she was talked into buying and moving to an apartment by some more commission-seeking good-doers and she took all the heirlooms with her to put in her apartment. Lenox then lost her house that he bought her, because she sold it even though she had strict instructions not to, so did the realtors and the caretakers, and the money went to these do-gooders. We had to get her certified in order to get her out of Lloyds of London (the infamous insurance company) because she was losing money hand over fist and she only joined to go to the yearly tea party and so she could say she was a member of Lloyds. Again everyone quit and the family had to resume full time care of her. The Home refused to take her back and her state mentally and physically had deteriorated to the point of no return. By this time she was disgusting to look at or be around. She had started masturbating with appropriate fruits and vegetables and then would want you to eat them. She spat at everyone and seemed as though she was talking in tongues most of the time. She needed to be fed, bathed and watched because she was doing crazy things like leaving money outside the door, having gypsies come to have sex for money and was constantly drunk and chain smoking. She started giving very valuable family things to people she didn’t even know. Even though we were constantly removing her stashes she seemed to find a way of getting someone to go buy her things. The phone calls became endless and incomprehensible but usually the phone was off the hook or in a puddle of booze or some other liquid. Her reputation had spread and no one would come to help for any price, so it was down to the family again. This had been going on for fifteen years by this time. She never did learn Spanish in her whole time here. Jeannie was always covered in brandy and food that she had tried to eat. She ate everything with her hands and most of her food intake was in the form of alcohol, the only nutrients were in the beer and orange juice she would sometimes drink.

One day Lenox got a call saying there was a fire in her apartment. Even the firemen couldn’t get in. When it was finally extinguished there was nothing but a puddle where she had been lying and the suitcase with the letters and valuables was under the bed, gone without a trace. So Lenox never got the letters from his father or the information about where the family things were. The fire damage was so great that all the valuable fifteenth and sixteenth century paintings had melted. The only good thing was that she was finally gone. Not only had the Lenox lost all of his family things he was out the money for the apartment too that was burnt beyond repair without insurance for fire or life. It turned out that she had been paying the insurance on her old house. Then he had to pay off her Lloyds account. It seemed that she insured one of the planes that flew into the Twin Towers – even though she had left Lloyds – on Lenox’ advice, two years previously. She kept haunting us well after her death. Typical of Jeannie the only thing left unharmed in the apartment was a huge box of adult nappies that somehow seemed to survive. I could just hear her laughing at us. We didn’t want to even touch anything that she had left behind because it all carried evil spirits and Jeannie-juice. I felt no sadness on her passing. The funeral parlour gave us an urn full of ashes that her sisters threw off Old Mojácar, as was her wish, but I know there wasn’t anything left of her to put in the urn. When you went into her burnt-out room it looked like the Devil had come taken her himself and it was simultaneous combustion because only the spot that was burnt was where she lay and that just turned into a puddle the rest of the apartment was damaged by the intense heat.

A few suicide tales:
One night, late, we were called by Jeannie to gather my parents and the wealthy neighbors next door. It was very important she said. When we all had arrived she pulled out some paper with illegible scribble on it. It was her will, she wanted us all to sign it as witnesses. Knowing that it meant another suicide coming we took turns babysitting her. My mother got the first shift. We put her to bed and my mother just sat with her. We had gone through the house and found all her stash and threw it away for safe measure. She asked my mother to make her a cup of tea. When she brought the tea back they sat and talked until Jeannie fell asleep. About half an hour later people started to arrive in the droves and it was about 2:00am. My mother didn’t know what they were all doing there and they asked if Jeannie had been taken to the hospital yet. My mother still didn’t understand because she had been sitting right by Jeannie’s side watching her sleep. It turned out she had another stash, taken it and then called everyone she knew to tell them that she had just committed suicide and needed help. My mother was so mad; she could have just sat there all night and watched Jeannie die. Another trip to the hospital and her stomach pumped. The doctor said she really didn’t need to have her stomach pumped because she hadn’t taken a lethal dose but he felt it would be good for her because it is so unpleasant.
Jeannie always attempted suicide after midnight and always naked. When the phone would ring in the middle of the night Lenox and I would discuss whose turn it was before answering the phone. This time it was my turn. We got to the hospital and they didn’t think she looked that bad so we were put in a waiting pen then all of the sudden she started levitating, projectile vomiting and having convulsions. I was yelling as loud as I could. When the nurses saw what I was trying to hold down they changed her status to emergency and she was fortunately taken off my hands.
Usually she would stay the night after one of these attempts, in observation, but one morning at 5:00am we got a call from the hospital to come pick her up immediately. She was unbearable and they wouldn’t keep her a minute longer. It was Lenox’s turn so he said for them to take her to the bar and buy her a brandy and a pack of smokes and he would come as soon as he could and pay them back. They parked her in the bar but didn’t give her any of the things she wanted. She was in a rage after having to wait for Lenox without being able to have a drink or smoke. You think that would have taught her to at least carry a purse when she committed suicide. All she had on was knickers and a towel wrapped around her middle. On the way home she made Lenox stop at a fisherman’s bar to get a brandy and smokes. Lenox told her to wait in the car and he would be right back. Next thing he knew was that Jeannie had followed him in, after carefully wrapping the towel around her head so as not to show her thinning hair and sat down at a table, topless. I think even the fishermen thought he could have done better if he had paid a little more.
After one of these adventures she was admitted to the hospital because she was hallucinating and saw spiders and all sorts of things crawling on her. She was put in restraints but still managed to get the drips out of her arm so they took her to emergency to have a main vein shunt put in her neck. I just remember the sight of her coming out of emergency, sitting bolt upright, looking like Frankenstein and screaming and laughing. It is a memory I wish I could erase from my mind like so many other horrors she put us through. The stories of her suicides could fill a book but I think I have said enough.


*A London friend of Peter's writes to correct a few details about this remarkable and quite astonishing man. We (that's to say Lenox and François) have since written back and forth and with his permission, will add the following: 'Peter was definitely in love with her and heartbroken after she had left him. He was very intelligent and clever, with a PhD and had graduated from the prestigious Military School of Sandhurst. He was an imminent curator at the National Army Museum and very much revered in his field of work, liked and  loved by all his colleagues and friends. I can confirm that fact with testimonials from them if you wish. There was no ounce of madness in him. He was eccentric and anti-establishment, but certainly not insane. The episode of him driving the tank was not as Jeannie had told. He just drove the tank, which was an exhibit in the Museum forecourt at the time,  down the street in order to move it. The police was involved as a friendly escort. He was not a madman driving a tank across the city as stated in your article...'.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

True Love

When our daughter was about fifteen, I took her to an archaeological dig next to our house where they had found a Phoenician city. One of the archaeologists caught her eye and it was love at first sight. She visited the dig several time to chat up this cute boy. She decided then and there that she would become an archaeologist. She watched for him as he drove to and from work but soon the dig ended and she didn’t even know his name but she was still in love. About six months later she and her father went to a concert and there was a very handsome singer in the band. Again, heart throbs and loves at first sight, no more thoughts of the archaeologist. Now her true love was a singer, she didn’t know his name but had been able to talk to him a bit. That was all we heard in the house for months, was about her singer. A few months later she went with friends to a bar and behind the bar was the most handsome man she had ever seen, so no more thoughts of her singer. All her efforts went into finding out who this bartender was. One day while driving in the mountains, Daniel and I got lost and ended up in an old cortijo. There was a very helpful and handsome young man there that told us how to get where we were going. Daniel and I said at the same time that he was perfect for Ami and couldn’t wait to get home and tell her all about him, by this time the bartender was just a thought in the back of her mind. We told her all about this young man and that we should get lost again so she could get a glimpse of him but she was too embarrassed. While exercising a horse for ANIMO she was thrown and had a slight concussion. We kept her walking and talking and one of our young volunteers took her for a walk in the field behind the house. After about an hour she came to her senses and found herself in a field of wild flowers staring into the eyes of the most handsome man she had ever seen. They chatted for a long while and then started to date and eventually ended up living together. He was the true first love of her life. As they got to know each other it became clear that the archaeologist and the singer and the bartender and the boy in the mountains were all the same young man that cared for her after her fall. Their lives eventually went in different directions but the strong friendship and love is still there today some fifteen years later. They keep in contact even though they live in separate countries. She wasn’t just falling for one guy after the other, even though she didn’t know it, it was the same young man the whole time. A true love story I think.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Cooking From an Early Age

I always did a lot of cooking and baking with my children and the other children that seemed to spend most of their time at our house. When ever everything got to be too much, we would bake a batch of cookies or something. It used to drive my mother crazy because she was a very neat organized person and she would rather send us to the garden and clean up the mess. I always felt that if we had some fun first then the cleaning up wouldn’t be so bad and the children would be more likely to pitch in.
By the time Jessica was nine she was making and selling cakes to the bars in the village and they were very popular. Every spring, when my parent’s garden was at its best, they would have a cocktail party and invite everyone. It was their one party of the year. My mother didn’t cook so they rarely had people over for a set dinner unless my dad was making it. I catered the party every year with my little group of helpers. We would set up an assembly line and started turning out the best and most different tapas anyone had ever seen. We usually had between five and nine little girls at our house at one time. They loved making the hors d’oeuvres and listened to their favourite music and laughed the whole while they were assembling all this tasty food. During cooking we would talk about how to measure and what kind of food is good for you and what is not, where different foods came from and how to eat everything but not too much of anything. It was great fun and a learning experience as well as teaching them social skills. When the food was ready they all changed into Flamenco dresses and passed the food around and chatted up the guests. The party began to make a reputation for itself and Jessica started getting a few catering jobs. She even got the job of cooking and serving at the opening a large new law firm. She only charged the cost of the ingredients and gave the host the shopping receipt but it started taking up a lot of my time because I had to take her to the store, light the oven and deliver her and a few friends with all the food to some destination then pick them back up again so after a little while we stopped doing it. It was great fun and a treat experience for all the girls and a treat for the guests. Now Jessica is a fabulous baker. She makes special, to order, cakes ranging from sheep to princesses and wedding cakes; she also has a great line in cookies.
Most children love to eat sweet things and junk candy. If you start them out young enough you can convince them that raisins and dried fruit are candy and call corn ‘little packets of sunshine’. This system works until they are about in first grade and then they see what the other children have and they want it, but hopefully they will have had a good start to life and may even continue to prefer fruit and vegetables over sweets. My son Daniel is like that, he started out life only wanting fresh fruit and vegetables and never liked candy. He would take a bell pepper and some carrot sticks to school and this was his preference, he still to this day prefers healthy food over junk food and still doesn’t like candy.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Computers and Science

My dad was an engineer and scientist inventor plus several other occupations to difficult to spell or understand. He was a brilliant, warm person that every body loved. He always remembered the small details that make such a difference. He started working on designing bio-medical programs for computers, when a computer took up an entire room and you had to program punch cards for this monster to read. One of my father’s inventions was the intensive care monitoring unit which took the place of about ten nurses having to check in on open heart surgery patients. They could observe their patients twenty-four hours a day, and it was all recorded, from monitors around the hospital. Everything started in this huge room with a computer that filled it. To know exactly how his invention would work he had to participate in a lot of open heart surgeries and heart lung by-passes. I am sure that if there had just been an exam to become a heart surgeon my father would have passed with flying colors. He loved his job. He also invented things after noting those things that the nurses would complain about, that they didn’t have or didn’t work properly and dad would just come home to his little workshop and whip one up. They all ended up being successful and went on to be sold to companies like Johnson and Johnson, but because my father worked for IBM he never got any of the patents or the money because he, and what he did, belonged to the company, but he did it just to cheer up a nurse or make a big difference in how things worked in the hospital. Like I said, he loved his work. On my thirteenth birthday I took three friends to the hospital to show them a computer and to see what my dad did. Besides being impressed with the computer, he had made punch cards with all of our names on it so the computer could read it and then put it up on the monitor, and also a spread of pastries and a birthday cake. That is what I meant by little details. It was really quite exciting for the time. Next was a tour of the hospital where we were merrily greeted by everyone. I felt so proud to be his daughter. The first stop was to watch chest tubes being removed from a lady, not quite what a thirteen year old expects but it was fascinating. Every room we went into in the hospital, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BARBARA would pop up on the monitor. We were all so impressed. How did the computer know we were there? Who was pushing the buttons back in the big room with the computer in it? We had a wonderful and educational birthday followed by a trip to the old fun house in San Francisco. We were living there at that time. The only thing my father liked as much as work was a good fun park. He finally did invent the Intensive Care Monitoring Unit and it was installed in San Francisco and then New York, then on to Russia and finally to Spain which is how I ended up here. Madrid was building a state of the art new hospital called Ramon y Cajal and my father had to come to oversee the installation, but after five years here the hospital was still never completed, too many saints’ days I guess. The best part was that the invention was a huge success. In my parent’s spare time they started to tour Spain and fell in love with the country and knew they would one day retire here. Then they discovered Mojácar and my mother sent my father straight back to Madrid to pack up the house while she found something here. I think they probably found the best property and house in the area and we are still here except my father who sadly passed away about nine years ago. My father learned perfect Spanish but no one could understand him because his vocabulary was way beyond the local farmers and to make sure his grammar was correct he used to speak slowly to make sure he got it right, but they didn’t know the grammar either, as a matter of fact this is where they speak the worst Spanish in Spain. He found that a bit frustrating because in Madrid he did fairly well with all the doctors and IBMers. We were great friends and spent time together almost every day and I would help him with what he called the ooffy chores that my mother would set out for him for the day. He did all the shopping because he used to love to talk to all the people and stop and get an ice cream. They used to only sell ice cream from July to September but he finally talked one ice cream parlour into keeping it all year long. Now everyone has ice cream all year long. I miss my father very much; he had such a quick wit and fantastic sense of humor.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Unequal Struggle

We live in the smartest part of town and are surrounded by wealth, but can’t find a euro to take the bus to the shop because the car just broke down. We have already gone through the penny jar and things are looking pretty grim. We are not material people yet we are surrounded by antiques and even old things in the garden that are worth a lot of money. Yesterday my husband had to wait for the family chicken to lay her egg before he could even have breakfast. The neighbours don't help. It is a hard time for most people now and we are at least lucky we have things to sell to get by. Even though we are not getting a fraction of what the things are worth they need to go and we need the money. The bank and the phone company seem to think that if you don’t have money now you are sure to have twice as much tomorrow. I don’t know how they figure that because if I don’t have it today the chance of me having twice as much tomorrow is ridiculous. When you do get a bit of money to pay a bill the bank won’t pay it until you pay them what you owe them first. There are certain things that we could never sell because of the sentimental value but other than that we need it to fix up the house after the fire last summer and plant new trees. We lost over five hundred that are not coming back.
My husband is being sued by some monsters who ripped off his business some years back and are now seeking fresh mischief against him. Spain has an odd and erratic justice system (ask García Lorca, or Ruiz Mateos or Judge Garzón if you don't believe me) and most people caught up in it can expect years of worry and stress.
We have slowly gotten rid of all the animals because between vet bills and food they were a luxury we couldn’t afford. We found great, loving homes for them all. It is depressing but I really don’t mind because what counts is family and I have the best, so if we have to sell a few things to get by so be it. I feel much better today because we sold a painting yesterday that paid off all of our debts and left a little to spend. If we sell a few more paintings we will be well ahead. We have a vast collection of art because Lenox has supported almost every artist to pass through Mojácar and some of them gave us a painting in return for his support and generosity. We have had an offer from a Mojaquero to buy all the Fritz paintings for a fairly good price and it would see us through for a long time but he is a malicious, corrupt man and I don’t think Fritz would want him to have the paintings plus he just ripped us off on a land deal we sold for Lenox’s cousin. We took care of Fritz his whole life, and loved him like family, now he is taking care of us and I think he would want it that way but we have to draw a limit, we would not sell one of his paintings to someone he wouldn’t approve of. It has to be someone who will love it as much as we do and is not just in it for the buck.
We would like to start a new phase of our life and leave Mojácar hopefully to live a quite life near the grandchildren where we can write and work in the garden and I can ride. Riding has improved my health so much and I know I will get better if we can just get out of here, so we don’t need the hundreds of paintings we have. We want to start fresh and just take the special things with us to start our new life. So if all this stuff that has been being collected has to go, so we can go, I think it is a good idea. Each painting has a special history to it but the history and memories will stay with us. That is one of the reasons I have started writing besides it is good therapy for me. We are not materialistic people and most of this stuff either Lenox’ parents brought over from England or the wicked step-mother bought at some point. We will keep the things with good memories attached and sell the rest to make a new life, like the Randy Newman song says “You and Me Babe”.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Donkeys in the Old Days

In the old days donkeys and most other animals were beasts of burden, they all had a job and if they couldn’t do it they were discarded. Donkeys never were given names or brushed or given treats by hand. There was no reason because they were there to work and not for fun or pleasure. Most of the townspeople had land high in the mountains where they would grow food for themselves and the animals and get spring-water to bring home and to deliver to the other townsfolk. It is also where they took the sheep and goats in the summer to find grass and be a bit cooler. The donkey always wore hand-woven grass baskets, two on each side, and the man would ride on the back even if the donkey was loaded to the top, while the women would hold on to the tail and be dragged up the hill. If the donkey were to get sick, home remedies were used as they were on the people that were sick. When an animal got colic, soda water with bicarbonate of soda was poured down its throat, if they had foot problems nitric acid was poured on their feet and covered with rags and an old tin-can nailed to keep it covered or it was burned. If they had lung problems, Zotal or creosote was burned in a closed stable for the donkey or person for that matter to breathe to get better. It does turn your tongue black and make you feel rather ill, but it works and the effects go away with time. For the donkey that wouldn’t move or get up, that happened a lot, a fire was set under it and in short time the donkey was on its feet and ready to go. Because of the distance between towns and the shortage of people I am afraid to say that some of the animals were sexually abused on a regular basis, which is also why there was so much incest among the families. Due no doubt to the incest, many villages have a special disability or tick, or perhaps crossed eyes, or six fingers and toes (as one entire family clan does in our own village); mild deformities or a resemblance between parents, children and cousins, so you can’t tell them apart. Soon after strangers and foreigners started to arrive all of these things slowly stopped and the treatment of animals changed for the better although they still think it is funny to give a donkey a name or feed it a carrot from your hand.
Everyone lives in apartments now and shops in a supermarket so the donkey is slowly dying out. It’s just not much use any more, they shrug. All sorts of programs exist now to try and restore the Spanish donkey. They are wonderful easy-going animals and adorable as babies. With the changes in Spain, the foreigners bought the farmland high in the mountains to make their retirement homes and the locals have no desire to return to the days of hard labor. Everything was on steep hillsides so dry-rock walls were carefully built to make terraces for growing food and building houses. The houses were also built out of dry-rock wall and some of them are still standing while the new homes are falling to pieces due to poor construction and the use of sea-sand to make cement. The dry-rock style only used mud and century plant flower poles to hold the roof. The rocks fit together so well they look like they have been carved to fit but they put them together like a puzzle and collected rocks from all around with their donkeys. There was no wood in this area. My first house and the house where I now live were built of mud and rock and still stand, having had minor adjustments and a lick of paint. There were no roads to the hillside properties - only donkey paths, as were the other abandoned farms in those days, so every rock and window frame was carried on the back of a donkey to build the houses on the beautiful hillsides that the locals abandoned and the foreigners bought for the spectacular views and large pieces of terraced land, plus spring water. Now everything is paved and we have vets and doctors, the beach is full of tiny holiday apartments, bars and discos. The peaceful life has gone in exchange for tourism. In reality, the all-year residents bring in much more money to the community than do the tourists, and they create local jobs as opposed to the tourist who only buys a drink or two before returning to their cheap hotels.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Where Did They Come From?

While our girls were studying in the north of Spain and in France, our spare girls still lived with us most of the time. They were like five sisters and are still today. These three extra girls came from dysfunctional British families and we looked after them for several years. They started staying with us at very early ages and just stayed most of the time. They helped with all the chores and with the animals and really having six children (five girls and a boy) was as easy as having three. I still feel like they are still mine today. Sometimes I would take them on trips with me and we all had a great time. Because they all spoke a variety of languages they would mix them up and use the first word that came into their head and because they all understood all the languages it didn’t matter because it was like their own special language. One time I took one of the girls to France with me to get Jessica, who was at a riding-school, it was a no-break twelve months a year course so they could get in their studies and their riding: they had a month on and a month off studies. We took a train to the north of Spain and then rented a car to go to France. On the way back we picked up Amber at Izarra, the school she was at in the Basque country. By the time we were all together in our two cabins on the train in Vitoria for the ride back across Spain the girls had tons of things to catch up on so they jabbered all day. People kept coming out of their cabins to look and listen to the girls, wondering where they came from. Besides with the combination of languages there was the combination of accents. One girl was from Manchester, England and two from America but had all grown up in Mojácar. They all had the dreadful Spanish Mojácar accent but could also speak perfect Castellano if they wanted and our girls had also picked up a bit of a northern accent. Then there was French and a few songs in Euskera (the Basque language). I could hear the people in the other cabins discussing this strange phenomenon. It was certainly nothing they had ever heard before. It is very common here in Mojácar for the children to speak four or five languages by the age of six or seven and they mix them up when they are together but when they speak to someone from a certain country they speak that language perfectly. As I have stated before it is a shame that the school and town hall never took advantage of having such a cultural diversity at their finger tips. Anyway we loved having the extra girls, which we think of as our daughters, and still do.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Baby Takes Lessons

In our aviary we have Love Birds of every color and they have lots of babies all year long. They usually find a partner and stay with them for life sharing everything from building the nest to caring for the young. While the mother sits on the eggs the father brings her food and water, then, when the babies have pecked their way out of their eggs, the two parents share the feeding of the little ones. At this time, the babies are rather ugly, with bits of bristle and half-formed feathers on their tiny bodies. When the babies are ready to leave the nest, it is a lot of fun to watch them learn from their parents how to fly and eat and where to find water. They grow and learn very quickly and pretty soon they will find a partner of their own and start their own family. They are called Love Birds because once they find a mate it is for life and they like to do everything together. They are very affectionate and spend all day hugging and kissing and feeding each other. They are so close that if one dies usually within a week or so the other dies of sadness, they almost never find another mate. One day a snake got into a nest box with a mother and four babies. He ate the mother and smothered all but one baby. We had never seen anything like it because, out of character, all the birds in the aviary took turns taking care of the baby. They fed him and tried to coax him out of the nest but he did not want to leave. They started putting his food farther and farther from the entrance of the nest. When they finally got him out on to a branch they all stood in a line and tried to teach him how to use his wings. All synchronized they would stretch one wing and then the other while he watched on. He wanted to stay a baby. It looked like a Jane Fonda exercise class to watch. He would get very angry and stomp his feet and scream but the other birds were persistent. They kept moving closer and closer to the food and water trying to get him to care for himself but it was always another temper tantrum. It took him much longer to learn things than the babies with mothers even though all the birds were helping. He finally grew up and learned to do these things himself and then found a partner and started his own family. Besides being very funny to watch, I wanted to put on Jane Fonda Music for them, it is very unusual for this to happen. The father usually tries to take over both roles and is usually quiet successful, but if the baby hadn’t survived the father probably would have died of heart break. They are beautiful and wonderful birds and much more fun to watch the TV. When they are making their nests they take strips of palm branch and stick them in their wings until they can’t carry any more, they do not carry them in their beaks. They look like pretty colored porcupines. Our aviary runs the length of one side of the house so you can watch them while you clean the kitchen or from the bathroom, or of course, from the garden where you will be joined by some curious sparrows and other birds.

Dress for the Occasion

I wish the tourists could see themselves as we see them. It is bad enough to go into the bank and see oversized men in their Speedos and women in tiny summer dresses that look like they were made for their grandchildren, but when you go to have an ice cream or coffee and have to sit in front of a large dimply lady where you see right up her dress to her privates or another woman sat down with the back of her dress stuck on the back of the chair so during your whole coffee all you can see is her back side in a g-string, not a very pleasant sight. I know we all wear T-shirts and swim suits at this time of year but they should stay on the beach or people should take more care of how they sit. It is not just the women. When a big man sits at the table in his Speedo, he leaves little to the imagination but the worst are the men that wear surfer shorts with nothing underneath and then cross their legs while they sip a cool brew. You can see right up the loose leg of the shorts and well you can imagine what you see. I have nothing against the human body, but there is a time and place for everything. I don’t feel the bank or a restaurant is quite the place for this type of attire.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Daniel & Art


From the time Daniel was a very young child he had a great love for art and music. I am not talking about children’s songs and Dr Seuss. We owned an art museum and used to take him to all of the openings. From the time he could barely talk he found a way of telling you what he liked and how it made him feel. Once at the Madrid airport we were in a waiting room and he told me; that thing made him feel soft. I didn’t know what he was talking about so he showed me. Something I had barely noticed made a big impression on him. It was a large sculpture in the middle of the room, just white and round. You couldn’t tell what it was. As we walked around it you could see that it was two doves curled around each other and it did make you feel very warm and romantic. He noticed all of these things. On a trip to England the girls just wanted to get where we were going but Daniel had to stop and look at all of the manhole covers because they had dragons and horses and all sorts of things carved on them. He also didn’t miss the entrance to any building with a sculpture or carving. His taste in music from before he could talk was also unusual for his age; it ranged from Russian opera to Irish folk songs and a lot in between. He would go through phases where he had to listen to certain songs when he went to bed and he always had certain paintings he wanted in his room. He has maintained his appreciation of art and his taste in music has changed a bit more to fit his age and time period, but he still loves a large variety of music that most people his age have never even heard of.

Old Properties

Things to think about when buying a farm in Spain:
On any old farm the property was measured in ‘fanegas’ – a sort of rule-of-thumb measurement - and every village had a different size ‘fanega’ so the size of one ‘fanega’ in Mojácar was, likely as not, different from that in Turre. Now things are measured in hectares or square meters so it is standardized but the old properties aren’t. This makes it complicated when trying to read an old property deed. Another thing is your boundary. Years ago a farmer might have traded a donkey for an olive tree on their land, the donkey will have long passed on but the olive tree now – at least in theory - belongs to someone else. It depends, of course, on whether somebody wrote it down. We ourselves, for example, have a reasonably clear and evident spread of land, plus, according to an old neighbour, an extra five or ten square metres, not existing on any document, about half a kilometer away. One’s land usually stops at the top of a ‘barranco’, a level of once-arable land supported usually by stones (the dictionary isn’t very helpful) and not at the bottom. As I have mentioned before, if you have an ‘era’, that is, a round threshing place, you should find out if it is yours or communal. Or better still, if anyone thereabouts still owns a donkey. Rights of way and animal paths are another problem. For example, we have a piece of land behind ours that gives the owners the right to pass over our land to get to theirs so we cannot fence it. It is just for the land-owners in this case and not the public but it is evidently something of a nuisance. The water or electric company also may have a special right of way so if you fence the land you must put in a gate wide enough for a vehicle and give them a key. An animal path, called a ‘vía pecuaria’ (or, in Andalucía, ‘una vereda de carne’), is for public use and may go right through the middle of your garden. They may not be used much any more but you may not fence or build or barricade it in any way. No, not even the notary. It is not just open to shepherds or farmers with land on the other side but it is in fact a public footpath.
Get your property surveyed because the piece you were shown might not actually be the piece you are buying, you might be buying the side of a cliff. An old trick usually played on one foreigner by another was to get a ‘papel del Estado’ – a fancy-looking watermarked paper dripping with seals and everything on it from the ‘estanco’ – the government paper, stamp, seal and cigarette shop - for twenty-five pesetas and merrily write your contract on that. If you didn’t know any better it looks pretty damn official. I think now with the notary and lawyers that has pretty much gone out of fashion but a lot of people ended up paying a lot of money for a paper they could have gotten at the ‘estanco’ and then finding out they didn’t own a house. Check who has been paying the taxes for the last ten or so years because they might own the land now.
Most old farm-houses or ‘cortijos’ have been inherited by a number of family relatives sometime along the way, so you need written consent from ALL members of the family in order to buy. Lot of times, there’s someone in Argentina, another in Barcelona, another dead or in prison and there is always one ‘clever’ family member that holds out and winds up still owning a room in the house. It may not seem like a problem if it is an old ruin but once you have remodeled and are living in your new house they can put pigs in their room or try and sell it to you for a vast amount of money now that the property is worth something.
Does your farm come with ‘tandas’ or hours of irrigation water - from springs or the town fountain? If it does you need to know how many hours and what days your land has (it’s usually out of a cycle of ten days), then you go to the spring and change the water-ways to go to your farm and irrigate or fill a ‘deposito’ for use later. This can mean a very early start, depending on the timetable. Many farms have three or more springs that they are entitled to but it is a lot of work to walk down the water channels and move the gates so that the water reaches you. Another thing to find out is if your land is protected archeologically, meaning you can’t under normal circumstances build at all.

The land is registered with the ‘registro’ and also with the ‘catastro’. These two offices are mutually exclusive. The first is the Property Registry - think old bits of curling parchment and lilac ink – and the second is the Tax Register. Often, the property is different in one from the other: the vital one – often as we have seen rather lost in the old pine-tree and the large rock which boundaries with Paco el Loco’s land – is the true record of ownership. An ‘escritura’ or the rather shorter ‘nota simple’ are the receipts of the ownership: copying the salient points from the Register.

A ‘Fanega de tierra’ – after looking it up – has the following distinctions. ‘In Andalucía, equivalent to 6,440 square metres. In Castilla y León, it measures 2,000 square metres. In Madrid it goes up to 3,330m2 and in Albacete, it’s between 5,000 and 6,000m2 of cultivated land, depending'.


Thursday, 11 March 2010

La Vieja Remolona

Today is the day of La Vieja Remolona. It is actually a fiesta from Aragón but for some reason is celebrated here. Even though it is not an official holiday if you don’t go to school or work no one minds. The history of La Vieja goes back a long time to when the children needed a break from the rigours of Lent, getting a sort of day off. The whole family trudges up the mountain and has a picnic which includes special breads and cakes made for the occasion. They have twisted breads with hard boiled egg inside and chicherones (pork rind) I think that they are as bad as they sound but today they sell like hot cakes. The children in Mojácar make a paper doll on a cross and, after the picnic lunch in the campo is over, throw rocks at it. The head is full of candy resembling the Mexican piñata. A lot of young people started the fiesta last night and will carry it through to tomorrow. Any reason to have a fiesta. Like last Sunday was the day of Andalucía, it is an official holiday in Andalucía but because it fell on a Sunday which is already a holiday we had to celebrate it on Monday because it isn’t fair to have a holiday if you don’t get a day off. Don’t forget that after every holiday comes El Día de la Resaca (hang-over day), like La Vieja it is not an official holiday but you don’t get in trouble for not showing up for work or school. Originally the children would go door to door asking for food for the picnic and if they did not get any they would play a nasty trick on the home-owner.
Here’s a song the kids in Aragon sing, threatening those neighbours who won’t give them sweets with a stone through their window (the original ‘trick or treat’):

O viejo remolón
Que no quié comer pan,
Sólo chulleta y huevos
Y chocolate si le dan


The lazy old grand-dad won’t eat any bread; only meat and eggs, and chocolate if you give him any.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Burro Beisbol and Other Stories







Every year, for the Mojácar Fiestas, I would put on two events, a horse show and donkey baseball. Both of these were new ideas to the town hall. They were held on our land and completely organized by me and my family. The cost to the Town Hall was zero. We wanted the Spanish riders to be as enthusiastic as the English ones so we added a few western events like barrel-racing. There was a turn out class where the best horse and rider combination won depending on their costume and how the horse was turned out. They needed to make a matched pair. Then we had the show-off class where you could go into the ring, one rider at a time and strut your stuff. Show the village what your horse could do and what a good rider you were. Barrel-racing was a favourite as it had never been seen here and resembled in a small way “long pole” or "garrocha" and the stop on a dime and turn at great speed, all things needed in a rejoneador, which is bullfighting on horse-back. It was a timed event so speed and precision meant everything. Then there was a dressage class and it could be English or Spanish dressage. The turn-out was exceptional for this event both in competitors and in the audience. People love to watch horses even if they have never ridden. Mojácar was the only town around to put on an event of this type.

Donkey baseball has no real rules because the donkeys don’t tend to go where you want them to. A minimum of nine donkeys are needed but eleven are better. The rules are basically the same as baseball except after hitting the ball you have to jump on a donkey to run the bases. A ball may only be thrown by some one sitting on a donkey. If you have to get off to pick up the ball then you must remount before throwing the ball to your team-mate. Technically you should run the bases without help but we had to let someone lead the rider around as most of the donkeys wouldn’t budge or took off for home with the rider dragging behind. No one team ever really won - we usually said that the donkeys won and they would each go home with a medal around their necks much to the pride of their owners. Being the only place in Spain where this was played the news spread fast and soon TV crews were coming to film it. We also took time out to explain about the donkey and its impending extinction and the importance of trying to preserve the breed. With farmers turning to tractors there was less and less need for the donkey. Because baseball isn’t played in this country we didn’t have any of the necessary equipment to play the game so every year I would call the American Base at Rota and they would messenger up a bag with everything we needed and after I would messenger it back. It took my son and me from sunup until sundown to collect and return all of the donkeys because they all lived on farms that were spread out and donkeys don’t go very fast. It was always a wonderful day though, riding through the mountains with a train of donkeys. One year the Americans sent up a bus load of twenty-three service men and women to play against Mojácar. They brought plaques and prizes and we made T-shirts Mojácar vs USA and trophies for them to take back to the base. Yet another thing I not seen proudly displayed in our town hall. They all stayed at our house sleeping around the pool but because it was during fiesta no one slept much. We provided these two activities for the town hall for seven years and they grew in popularity every year. Soon it got so there were not enough donkeys in the Mojácar area to play. I had a petting zoo as part of ANIMO and plenty of space so the town hall could have easily sponsored twelve donkeys that could have been kept here and been a type of sanctuary for this disappearing breed with the sole cost to the town hall being the food. We already had five donkeys of our own and a large area to keep them. It could have been another attraction that drew tourist to the area. The good will factor would have paid for it with lots to spare and we could have continued being the only town in Spain that played donkey baseball. The town hall was just to short-sighted and let both activities drop and now there is almost nothing to watch at the fiestas and certainly nothing that would put us on the map while doing a good thing helping to save and inform people about the donkey.
Pictures include one of the proud donkey owners and several teams and players.




Birthday in the Hospital


I have spent several birthdays and Christmases in the hospital over the last few years but one was particularly memorable and one of the best birthdays I have ever had. I was sent by a specialist from Alabama to a rare diseases specialist, supposedly the best in Europe. The hospital was in Madrid and I was told by this doctor to just arrive and they would get me in, even though it was not in my area and it was social security. They were very interested in my condition and wanted to see me as soon as possible. When I got there the doctor’s nurse took me around filling out papers and lying just a bit to get me in. There were no beds available in any ward except one. It was the last ward of oncology. I’m glad I didn’t know what that meant but the floor was unlike any I had ever been on before. They had permanent visiting hours and no limit to the number of visitors you could have. I had a room to myself and every time they tried to put someone in with me the nurses would say that the bed was blocked. They had a huge kitchen down the hall and beds for family to stay. It is normal in Spanish hospitals to have a family member stay with you but just one, so they usually take turns. I have found in my experience that the family members are usually very nice to the roommate, like me, and help with whatever they can. I was one week on oncology and was then moved to internal medicine. The nurses were all so nice because I think I was the only person they had ever seen walk out of that floor. They also came and gave me gifts for my birthday and would check in on me from time to time. It turned out that the last floor of oncology is where you go to die so there are no rules, just keep you as comfortable as possible. That didn’t stop the screams and yells and tears coming from the family members. I was glad to be moved even though I had become very attached to the nurses on that floor. The work they do is amazing and you have to have a special type of strength to do their job. I have tremendous admiration for them.
In internal medicine my room-mate was an elderly woman called Olivia. She was so sweet and we spent a lot of time talking together. She was in considerable pain and needed quite a bit of assistance which I was able to give her. Her whole family were wonderful and would hold my hand when I needed injections and help in any way they could. The daughter-in-law was a singer and actress, full of life never giving you a chance to be bored. The whole family was like that and we soon became friends and they were glad that I could help out so they could get some rest. It was like being in the TV series House. The hospital ran me through every test possible for six weeks. My birthday and anniversary fell during that time. The daughter-in-law- made a special present for me and Lenox. One for my birthday, which was a song she wrote for me and the other was a play she wrote for our anniversary. We shut the door to the bedroom and she began her performance. She was spectacular, better than most shows I have seen in theatres. She sang beautifully and the words were very special to me and the play was very dramatic, a prose-poem about feelings as personalities, each one acted out with a bitter-sweet story. The whole thing was very romantic and probably the most unusual birthday I had ever had. Apparently Olivia had been quite a while in the hospital and her last few room-mates weren’t very nice so the family and Olivia were happy to have me there and I was happy to have them. Once while talking to Olivia she told me that if I left she was going to leave too because she didn’t want to be there without me. The morning after I left I got a call from her family that she had died quietly during her sleep.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Corner of Enchantment

Mojácar has always been known as the Corner of Enchantment. One, for the sheer beauty of the place and secondly for the strange events that have taken place here.
On the side of beauty, the beautiful white village on top of a hill overlooking the sea, mountains and desert. It was a village with small, narrow, winding, cobble-stone streets with white washed houses and flower pots, full of geraniums, hanging on all the walls. The original buildings were supposedly built on the back side of the hill so that when pirates went by at night they could not see the lights shining from the windows. It was a place to fall in love and a place to fall in love with. Mojácar has incredible geological and archaeological sites everywhere. It is built on top of Phoenician, Arabic and Roman ruins. The old fountain was so romantic and just walking the streets at night you felt as if you were in a magical land.

Strange things and mystical powers seemed to be commonplace here. This area falls on one of the ley lines used by the Templars, one of the seven places in the world where if you take the points of energy and join them together they make a star. The points are supposed to be special places where you should be when the world comes to an end.

This is a picture that really has nothing to do with the story but adds to it. I wasn’t sure about the Templar’s and their ley lines so I spelt it LAY lines. Lenox then explained to me that a lay line was where you went to get laid. We found an amusing government sign on the side of the road that you could only find here in Spain so Lenox had me take his picture next to it. I think you can get the double meaning and where I went wrong. Well, enchantment takes all sorts!

There was a hill where if you stopped your car and put it in neutral or put a ball in the road it would roll up backwards. We all used to stop there on our way to Almería. My father, being a physicist, knew there had to be a reasonable explanation, but even he spent many an hour watching a ball roll up the hill.

Witch-craft, both black and white, has been practiced here, and old remedies have been used for curing various diseases for centuries. There are a lot of different types of curanderos here, faith healers. Curanderos on the whole, being ‘white magicians’, can’t charge for their help or accept any payment in hand but some would leave a conspicuous table at the door, out of their sight, where you could leave a chicken or some money. Some curanderos used the hands-on approach and others could heal you without touching you. One famous Mojacar curandero was the Tío Frasquito Santo from Aguas Enmedio, a hamlet on the way to Sopalmo (Mojácar – Carboneras). You would never pay him, but perhaps some cigars, or some firewood…?

There were always the frauds who would charge a fortune but it was hard to believe in them. Palm reading was particularly popular in the bars and actually quite efficient. As a young teenager, I remember being in The Saloon, when Toni, the witch, came in and offered to read the palm of an Englishwoman on holiday here. The lady was sceptical but decided it might be fun. Without knowing anything about this woman, Toni was right on the mark all the way from her childhood to the recent death of her husband and an affair she had had. But, said Toni, I have to take a coin for my magic, since it comes from the ‘black’ side.

Old women would paint snakes and other monsters on your body to get rid of things like shingles and it worked. They had separate drawings and places on the body to paint even for things like ringworm. Before antibiotics were discovered they would burn Zotal (a creosote-based product) in the sick person’s room to kill any sort of bacteria or things like Scarlet Fever and Smallpox. One old lady in Mojácar, known as La Cachocha, was famous for her love philtres – known as ‘alambiques’.

Most of the older houses have some sort of ‘duende’ or ghost attached to it. Ours has two that have resided here since way before we moved in. Our old Moroccan maid used to put milk and bread out to keep them happy. The strangest thing that ever happened here and there have been many, was one rainy/misty night all the electricity in the town was out including our house. There is a lamp post at the beginning of our drive that has never worked, ever, but that night the only light on in town was that lamp. We even switched off our entire trip switches just in case. A few hours later when the electricity was restored the light went out never to be on again. There have been many stories here of sheets being ripped off the beds at night or footsteps upstairs but the light was the strangest one because no electricity goes to it. Lenox has named our duendes Itch, he lives in our bedroom, and Chomp, who lives in the kitchen. They have never bothered us much so we live in peace with them. One night I made a roast beef and put it on my cooker, which is huge and industrial. A few minutes later, after calling the family to dinner, the roast was gone. No footprints or grease on the cooker or floor so it wasn’t the dog. It weighed more than the cat and it would have still been eating it. It was a complete mystery, like something out of ‘The Gremlins’. It was then that Lenox said if the duendes had become carnivorous it was time to move to the Parador hotel.

Even in a sober state, here in Mojácar, most of us have seen UFOs. We used to think that it was just because of the large consumption of booze and drugs but later your average person started seeing them, much to their disbelief. I remember when a respectable English couple were in Garrucha having dinner when they spotted what look like a UFO, they were sure it wasn’t so they watched for a long time until they decided there was no other explanation. When they returned to Mojácar to tell everyone about the amazing experience, they had just had, no one seemed impressed and kept saying things like well did you see this one or that thing? Disillusioned the couple announced that Mojácar really did live in a different reality because if they had told anyone in England they would have been hauled off by the little men in white coats and here it was common place.

The light in Mojácar also has a special magic to it that brings artists from all over the world just to paint here. A friend has just made a half-hour film about one of our best-known artists, the American Fritz Mooney. Find it here.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Impact on the Locals

The impact the foreigners have had on Mojácar and Spain has been good as well as bad. One of the things on the good side is that animals are treated better. Before they were never given names or affection they were there to serve a purpose, which is really very natural and efficient, but not to our way of thinking. We have gone to the other extreme and put animals up there with children (in some places higher). At the two benefit dinners they had in Marbella on some occasion, one for the abandoned animals and the other for the children of Bosnia, the animals made several million pesetas while the children only received a few thousand. That is just one example of the British sense of fair play of which there are many. In the old days in Spain, if your animal did not serve a purpose then it was killed or eaten or thrown away depending on the type of animal it was. Soon the locals were getting animals for pets and walking dogs, buying horses for pleasure riding, for which there used to be plenty of space. Now there is practically none. ‘Mascotas’ – pets – are very popular now in Spain and pure-bred dogs top the list in the cities but still the number of pets bought and later abandoned is enormous. After the animal stops being so little and cute, and you have to take it out to walk several times a day and you can’t go on holiday without a babysitter and your slippers have been eaten they don’t seem so cute anymore so people just abandon them in the streets or in the country thinking they can survive, which is not often the case.
We, the foreigners, brought lots of money to Spain and bought property, which we repaired, spruced up and gardened to our own taste and satisfaction. We gave business to the local workman and bought from the local shops. In those days, the prices were low, the alcohol cheap, cigarettes even cheaper; the sun all year long and the locals friendly, and so we started to invade the place. A lot of people running from the law in their own country, people who couldn’t survive in their country, could here and some just sold everything to come and live a peaceful life in the sun and sea. The foreigners, later, started doing a lot of the work and taking away trade from the locals because they didn’t speak English. I understand how this could build resentment, even though the money eventually filters through into the Spanish system. Nowadays some of the Spanish do speak enough English and several other languages to get by but there is still a preference (shared as much by the Spanish as by the British) to hire your own countryman.
The culture here was very basic and down to earth on things like life and death or body parts and bodily functions but in all other ways very conservative so much so that the men used to come from nearby villages to the Mojácar fountain. It was the only fountain where you actually had to stand in the water to do your washing. That meant tying your skirt just above the knees, and that is what the men came to see. Not many years later there were people walking in the village with beach-wear, leaving nothing to the imagination, men going into the bank in their Speedo’s and sandals and women topless on the beach. This was a very quick change for the people here but they seemed to go with the flow. Girls came on holiday for two weeks to drink and find a Latin lover no matter whether he was married or not because they would disappear never to be seen again so their behavior went a bit on the wild side. This was a very hard adjustment for the men because it meant free women at their beck and call. It was a great temptation. The Spanish have never been shocked by a politician having a mistress or men going to a brothel it is quite commonplace, as long as they come home and take care of their families, but all these available foreign girls was rather a different story.
Now, there isn’t really a plan for architecture like there was when I first arrived. Houses couldn’t be more than 20% on the second floor and you needed 500sq meters lot minimum. Apartments were kept to a minimum. The front line was protected and the beach bars, for which Mojácar is famous, were the life and soul of the income to this province. Now they want them to be taken down and built to an ugly, all the same style building, taking away all the character that made them so popular. The town hall would have done much better if they only sold so many bar licenses so you would have to buy an available one, that way not flooding the place with bars that can never work, run by people who have never run a bar and don’t speak Spanish. Like the tobacco shops you can only have so many per area. What makes one bar popular and another not, I don’t know. The bartenders have to be friendly and fun, the food and drinks good and reasonably priced and the atmosphere enjoyable. Parking is one of the main complaints. There isn’t even enough for the people that run the businesses so where are the customers supposed to park? Well, as somebody once said, you can’t make money out of parking spaces.
Who can build where and what all depend on who is in power. That is where all this problem of illegal houses came from. No strict building code. In my opinion getting money so fast and the vast quantities of it made it so the long term good of the province was lost all for a quick buck. I think the town hall went for the package tourism because they came and went and didn’t try to get involved in the community. The locals having never had so much money and finding out that their was some nut that wanted to buy granny’s old farm for a fortune, changed their whole way of thinking and attitude towards the foreigners, and not for the better. Most of the locals have now learned enough English to get by but the majority of us haven’t learnt Spanish. One good thing is that the local children all have the opportunity go to university now and have a career. The only thing is, having seen what life is like elsewhere, none of them want to come back to run the family farm or business. The town hall should have stayed with the residential tourism, which in most cases only spend money here and don’t take away jobs, instead they chose the cheap package tourism where most of the money is paid in England anyway. Now due to this lack of planning the last virgin area of the Mediterranean and the beautiful countryside and beach front is covered in 40metre apartments that are empty most of the year. There doesn’t seem to be any clear rule as to what and where you can build. They have not left riding or walking paths, everything is paved and the only park areas we have are those children’s climbing areas along the beach, built, one suspects, more for the commission than the children. At least they have put in nice paved walkways to and from the beach with trees and flowers. But as far as the nature trails, they have disappeared. There is a wealth of beautiful nature to see here as well.
After forty years of trying to put in a youth club with skating rink or bowling and food without alcohol and game rooms, a place where the children could meet after school, have dances, learn a sport or anything, nothing came of it. All the mayors agreed it was a great idea and even when it was offered to be paid for and run by a private person it never happened. We still haven’t finished the football pitch or swimming pool, which are both useable.
Mojácar was a nice safe place for children to grow up and I feel very lucky my children had that chance but now the school is over 50% foreign and the countries tend to stick together making it hard for the children to learn Spanish. They say it used to take a child three months to learn Spanish but now it is about two years. The school never took advantage of having all those different cultures there at their disposal and never had anything for the children to do. There were bars and bars. If you wanted to meet your friends it was in a bar. One good thing is that bars were so available to the children, that there is not much of an alcohol problem here and it is perfectly acceptable to go to a bar and order a coke. In most other countries you go to a bar to drink booze.
One thing that didn’t exist much was help to charities. We are all very familiar with donating time and money because our families are so spread out. The Spanish took care of there own which in most cases meant the disabled went without any sort of school or therapy but were well cared for at home. The foreigners have helped a lot of charities and by trial and error found which ones were corrupt and which ones weren’t. Foreigners are still the main source of income for most charities but the idea is now starting to become popular with the Spanish.
The family unit was one of the best things in Spanish life. The whole family participated in everything, granny and two-year-olds dancing until five in the morning at the fiesta, that would never happen elsewhere, we were more separated by age. A British teenager wouldn’t be caught dead going to the cinema with their parents but here the whole family did everything together. Modernization may be taking over old traditions but we have not ruined the Spanish family unit. It is slowly going the way of the rest of the world on its own. Their values may have changed a bit but they haven’t done badly out of us. Most locals own a house on the beach and one in the village, a farm, several shops and restaurants. The whole family, including the kids, drive big fancy cars.
Even for those of us that were here when it was a simple life and wish it had stayed that way, we have to admit that it is still one of the most beautiful places on the coast. In the end I would have to say that in general our impact here has been negative - for us, that is.