I’d had a fairly successful day. Been for a haircut, did some editing of my latest book, managed a modicum of success with revamping one of the sketches for said book. I even cooked us (Ziggy, Leon and myself) a lovely super – my version of southern fried chicken with special coleslaw and a few chips.
Nearing the end of my day I did a final check of my emails
before deciding on an early night – that means before 01:00. All that remained was for to put the dogs out
and lock up before retiring to my bedroom.
Cava, our ‘new’ dog hasn’t yet latched onto all the bad
habits of the other two, and was already outside alternating between her
cushioned bed and barking by the front gate at imaginary interlopers. The other two dogs had spent the last few
hours in the dining room, where I set up my inside
office. JD the Lab was sleeping on
the sofa and Marti was lying on the floor beside it, with her head under a
“Come on girls, outside.
Time for bed” I called as I opened the front door to allow their exit.
JD grunted and slowly climbed off the sofa, making her way
outside. Marti did not move.
This is not unusual, as she likes to stay inside at night. I do give into this sometimes, especially in the winter, or if there is likely to be a thunder storm. She hates storms. Even a hefty wind will have her scurrying inside when any loose parts of our property start rattling or the pine trees on the edge of our yard send cones crashing down onto our stoep roof.
But tonight I decided she must go outside. Knowing I might have trouble persuading her I
noisily dragged the chair from over her head, resulting in a hasty scrabble to
her feet. Then she leapt into
action. Or tried to.
I could see what she was thinking, and as she rushed to
climb onto the sofa I leapt over her and landed on top of her when she’d only
managed to get her front feet and half her body onto the cushions. We both waited there, to see who was going to
give in first. I knew that if she once
got onto that sofa I would have a helluva job getting her off.
In case you don’t know, Marti is a Mastin. That’s a Spanish Mastiff, weighing in at close on seventy kilos. To drag her full size off the sofa, or lift her off the floor, is quite a struggle, and not an exercise I was keen to perform. But if I played my cards right here, I could get hold of her collar to pull her along as soon as I’d got her front feet back on the floor. Trouble was, I wasn’t in the best position to do this.
Her rear end was still on the floor, right up against the sofa. I was straddled over the dog with my left leg stuck between her and the chair, which was only a few inches from the sofa. To get hold of her collar the right way, I had to ease my body off her shoulders then get to the other side of the chair, at the same time trying to stop her from getting up onto the sofa.
As I am sure you can imagine, she is a strong dog. Peering at her up-side-down over her ears I looked her in the eyes, she looked back at me, we were both determined to win.
Gripping her collar, I scrambled onto the sofa, over her
head to the other side then down to stand on the floor, now on the other side
of the dining chair. Turning quickly to face her I heaved with all my might and
hauled her torso off the sofa. She
almost beat me as she tried to lay down but I clung tightly to the collar,
pulling upwards with every ounce of strength I could muster, shouting, “No
Marti, No. You’re going OUTSIDE to bed.”
This was another one of the many times I has happy that we
had typical Spanish tiled flooring, because as I tried to pull her towards the
door she splayed her feet for a ‘dig in’ but instead slid slowly along the tiles. After a couple of metres she gave up the
struggle, stood up and reluctantly walked beside me, casting malevolent looks
up at me. Even with this state of
co-operation I knew better than to let my hand, or my guard, down, as she has
been known to scuttle off round the table back to the sofa at the first
But outside she went, casting a final, disgusted look in my
direction before wandering off to the water bowl to revive herself.
I don’t know about her, but I could have done with a stiff drink after all that. Pity I gave
booze up over eight years ago.
Instead I locked the door, turned off the light, and took
myself off to my own bed for a well-earned rest.
As for the dog, I’m sure she resumed her favourite position outside.
I was recently reminded by a friend, of an email I sent out some years ago, which I re-read (yes, I’m an email-hoarder – thank goodness!) and have decided to now share with you. My generosity, you see, knows no bounds.
18 August 2013
I’m having a bit of a problem with some visitors at the moment. It was OK when it was just Richard, he kept himself to himself most of the time. Then he brought a friend along to stay, and I wasn’t too happy about the antics they were getting up to at night. I decided it was time to drop some subtle hints, so I started laying traps. Literally. Because Richard is a rat. Only a tree rat (I think) but a rat none the less.
He lives high up in one of our pine trees in the yard. As twilight falls he comes down the tree and scurries across our new patio roof, over the Casita roof then disappears to goodness knows where. At first I only heard him. He made so much noise you would have thought he was the size of a cat. It was only when next door’s cat tried to catch him one night that I realised a cat on the roof sounded like a herd of buffalo. Of course, no amount of careful stalking by the cat could ever result in a catch; once it sprinted into action for ‘the kill’ the sounding of charging buffalo had the rat long gone with a clear lead of at least six metres before disappearing into the bushes of our back garden.
I got to meet him personally one night.
I was going to fetch something from my car and there he was, sitting on
the roof of a little bird house which is fastened to one of the pine
trees. He just sat there, bold as brass,
for what seemed like ages (though was probably only about ten seconds) before
running up the tree into the cover of the branches.
for any reason I park my car in the open yard instead of under the carport, I
now take care to close the windows just in case he should fall out of his tree
and tumble into the confines of my car. It is not nice to have a rat run across
your feet when you’re driving; I know, it happened to me once in Zambia. (See INTO AFRICA with 3 kids, 12 crates and a
he sits in his hi-rise apratment and dismantles pine
cones. I’m not sure which part he eats,
but the bits he doesn’t want are tossed away, landing on the opaque plastic
roof like intermittent hailstones at the onset of a storm.
from when the neighbour’s cat is in pursuit, our dogs tend to ignore him. I think they have learned from their abortive
attempts to catch birds, that anything above their nose level is a waste of
solo lifestyle must have lasted for at least three weeks. Then he got a mate. I assume it is a female because it is smaller
than him, although it could be a wee gay rat friend. Anyway, we all know what happens when a rat
gets a lady mate. In no time at all
little ratlets start appearing and we don’t want that, do we? Well I don’t.
was time for action.
dug out the old rat trap from behind a mountain of plant pots only to find that
it was in a slight state of disrepair.
It only has three moving parts and one of those had dropped off. Being unsure of how to effect a repair it was
easier to buy another. I bought
two. The owner of the Ferret Shop (our
name for a ferreteria [Spanish hardware store]) tried to sell me a multiple one
which consists of one piece of wood with two or three traps positioned side by
side. I couldn’t quite see that myself.
what were the chances of two or three rats actually nibbling on the baits at
exactly the same time, setting the traps off simultaneously? Or,
Picture Daddy Rat strolling along and spotting a chunk of greasy pork, temptingly positioned on a nice clean piece of wood. He walks up to it, sniffs it “Ooo, yummy” , starts to nibble and WHAM, he’s smacked on the back of the neck with 500lbs pressure of coiled galvanised wire. Then his missus, Ruby Rat, comes along and sees Richard lying there, obviously grabbing forty winks after a tasty meal, so she goes up to the second place-setting to partake of her own delicious delicacy when WHAM she’s out for the count before she even had her second mouthful. Not to be outdone Uncle Ernest Rat arrives and sees his two relatives lying there. “Miserable buggers, starting the party without me” he mutters, and starts tucking into a crunchy bit of pork crackling but WHAM down comes the third tightly sprung wire causing instant decapitation. A likely scenario? I don’t think so. Especially if there were a few hot Spanish hours between demises. Rotting rat would be detected five hundred metres away.
arrived home with my two new, solo killing devices which I handed to Ziggy,
asking him to do the dastardly deed. He put a piece of cheese on one and placed
it on an eye-level shelf beside the braai which was near the area traversed by
the rats and unlikely to be frequented by birds, cats or dogs.
that evening there was an almighty crash which had the dogs fleeing indoors out
of fright – and it gave me a bit of a start – so I went to investigate the cause.
The trap took some tracking down to where it had been catapulted by the power
of the spring. Of the rat there was no
sign at all. I suggested to Ziggy that
it might be a good idea to fasten the trap onto the shelf, at which point he
lost interest in the project.
next night I went rummaging through my fridge is search of some appropriate
comestibles. It shames me to admit that
there is generally something in there of dubious quality and it didn’t take me
long to find a suitable tidbit.
secured a crusty piece of pork belly to the dual spikes of the trap then prized
the sprung U-bar back and very, very carefully
secured it with the long holding pin.
Five minutes later I had it safely fixed to the shelf with a
G-clamp. Let the party start!
it did – and went on for several nights.
A strip of rancid bacon, two
Cumberland pork sausages and eight ounces of pork belly later I have two very
fat and happy rats, who are clearly not of the Jewish persuasion. To confirm the mechanics, I poked a stick
into the (empty) trap to make sure that it actually worked, the spring sprung
back so ferociously that it dislodged the holding pin completely, never to be
seen again. A change in strategy was
returned to the Ferret Shop complaining to the Spanish owner that he had sold
me duff traps. He said Spanish rats were
very clever and that maybe I should try poison instead. I had already figured
that out for myself.
to Plan ‘B’.
presented Ziggy with the box which contained a couple of dozen parcels which
resembled solidified used teabags in a pretty shade of pink. He took two and placed one either side of the
dusk turned to dark we heard much scurrying of feet and after half an hour
checked out the shelf. Both packets were
gone, so he put out two more. They were
gone within ten minutes. We were now
supplying our rats with takeaways!
woke at some point in the early hours of the morning and could hear strange
squeaking sounds coming from beyond the bedroom window. I convinced myself that it was the tortured
cries of a rat dying a slow and painful death.
I tossed and turned for the rest of the night, wracked with guilt.
following day the dogs spent a lot of time racing back and forth into the
garden, obviously looking for something.
A couple of times I heard what could only be the plaintiff squeak of my
dying rat but, like the dogs, could not actually find it.
the afternoon came to a close I went about my watering chores. The Spanish summer heat was playing havoc
with my garden. As I came to the last
batch of pot plants I was absolutely dismayed to find that one of my three baby
and two of my three juvenile pot plants
had each had one of the lower leaves gnawed off.
overweight rats hadn’t been in their death throes at all. They had been high on my bloody marijuana
was war. More pink teabags were put out.
I even fastened one in a trap. I nearly pulled the plan off with that
was sitting outside on the stoep, as is my wont on a balmy Spanish evening,
tapping away at my laptop when the almighty snap of the trap resonated off the
tin roof and echoed around the valley.
I raced to the killing zone only to find a sorry sight. The rat sat on the shelf staring at the
quivering teabag in a state of shock. It
appeared the teabag had been so big there wasn’t room for it and the rat under
the sprung wire. I glanced around for
something to capture the rat in its stunned state. As I grabbed at an empty
plant pot the creature came to its senses and in a flash high-tailed it off the
shelf into the darkness.
it. I had been within a whisker of catching
it. I went back to my laptop to scour
the websites for Plan ‘C’.
‘C’ leapt out at me from several websites.
A simple design. Bucket; water;
pole; empty drinks can; bait.
a large bucket to one third with water, get a cane stick or something similar
to lie across the bucket. Make a hole in the bottom of the drinks can then
thread the stick through it and out the top pouring hole, ensuring that the can
turns easily and lies lopsided on the stick.
Attach some bait to the can and hey presto, one rat trap.
idea is that the rat climbs onto the edge of the bucket, which you have
positioned at a convenient level, then it walks along the stick, climbs onto
the can to get the bait, the can swivels on the stick and the rat falls in the
bucket of water. One drowned rat. Or if
you want to be humane about it put an upturned plant pot over the floundering
rat, trapping it in the bucket as you empty out the water, then take the rat,
preferably at least a mile away, and release it into a hedge or someone else’s
had a builders’ mixing bucket lying around (12”high x 14”dia) which I figured
would be about right for the job. I found an old cane which I had used for
propping up last year’s weed crop and Ziggy helped by emptying a can of San
Miguel. The bait was my
masterpiece. A small piece of dried up
ham stuck onto the can with some of my home-made plum glue. It was supposed to be plum jam but it didn’t
quite work out right (every time I tried to spread it the knife got glued to
placed the bucket close to the shelf where the other rat-catching
feeding devices had been laid, switched off the overhead light and went back to
my computer to await the action. It
wasn’t long before I heard the scraping of tiny feet on metal. This is it, I thought. I went to take a look but everything was
still there, excluding any sign of a rat.
This happened a couple of times, then I heard some splashing.
raced to the scene of the crime and turned on the light. Nothing.
But I could still hear splashing.
I turned around. Behind me was
our mastiff slurping water out of the swimming pool.
minutes later I again heard can and water noises and went to check. I looked down at the still rocking can to see
that not only had the ham gone, but the plum glue had been licked off the can
on the light I saw Richard sitting a couple of yards away beside his escape
route just beneath the roof. After
eating his fill he must have taken a refreshing swim and then jumped out of the
bucket back to safety. He sat there shaking his head, as if to get the water
out of his ears, grinning!
glowered back at Fat Richard.
little bastard!” I said, at which he winked at me and sauntered off.
is nothing wrong with rats. I don’t know
what all the fuss is about.
am beginning to quite like rats actually.
They are happy, friendly, furry little things. I don’t have a problem
sharing my stoep with a rat or two.
After all haven’t I been living with one for almost 40 years?
25 August 2013
Richard the Rat – Epitaph
It is with a sad and heavy heart that I have to advise of the recent demise of Richard. This morning, somewhere around half past ten, Richard passed away. Expired, departed this life, croaked (or was that the toad?), kicked the bucket, or simply died and went to meet his maker (who I hope likes rats). Yes, Richard is no more; dead though not buried.
After my previous report Richard and his friends had continued to frolic around the laundry and in the bushes with gay abandon, hurtling from branch to branch like trapeze artists in a circus. I had given up on the traps, and the bucket remained unbaited, though I did put out the odd pink teabag now and again.
few days ago I found two of Richard’s little friends. The first one
appeared to be still alive, but the movement turned out to be the ripple of
ants crawling all over it. The second one lay several feet away and
looked like it had enjoyed a swim in the trap-bucket before somehow escaping
but then succumbing to the lethal effects of the pink teabags. It too was
the subject of some considerable ant interest. I fetched the shovel and
despatched the little beasties high and westward over the garden
one was discovered by one of the dogs (identity unknown) the following day and
was generously delivered to the yard where it was left proudly on display for
all and sundry to enjoy. Whilst I am no expert in the study of rat
remains I would hazard a guess that this one croaked at about the same time as
the other two as it now only consisted of skin, a little fur and a head and
tail, and was somewhat akin to the mummified cat recently shown on BBC World
News, but smaller and more rat-shaped. I dismissed an initial impulse to
contact the BBC, and with the help of my trusty shovel propelled this one in a
southerly direction into a neighbouring, abandoned orchard.
my post dusk relaxations were only minimally peppered with sounds of a very
lethargic Richard and my neighbour’s disappointed cat.
day I went about my business of watering the potplants; Saturday was the
day for fertiliser application. I tended the three large plants, then the
two smaller ones which had been re-potted more recently. I turned to the
third, pathetic little stripling which was still on a workbench as it wasn’t
yet worthy of re-potting when I myself was rooted to the spot by the sight
before me. There, all curled up as if in a made-to-measure bed lay
Richard, in the pot-plant-pot.
I slowly moved closer to his chosen place of repose when I noticed that his little eyes were open and he was still breathing. I raced off to fetch Ziggy – and my camera.
still there when we returned although Ziggy wouldn’t believe me when I said he
was still breathing (he needs more than reading glasses methinks), but offered
to splatter him with a spade. I declined his kind offer and he went back
to his tv program whilst I went off to my computer. As I sat there I
began to feel terrible about poor Richard, leaving him there to die in the
baking sun. I went back to Ziggy and asked him if he would just come and
tip Richard out of the pot down the slope of our land where he could at least
wander off under a bush and die to his heart’s content.
went back to the potting area but instead of lifting up the pot, Ziggy simply
grasped Richard by the tail and lifted him out of the pot. Within seconds
Richard was wriggling about on the end of his very long tail. I was
amazed – and quite impressed – that Ziggy didn’t instantly drop him when this
happened. If it had happened to me I’d
have crapped myself. Not that there’d
ever be a chance of that happening (picking up a rat by the tail, not crapping
think I’d never mentioned the ‘live’ aspect to him, because he said, “Hey the
little bugger’s still alive”
then stood in the middle of the back garden to get good clearance of the 2metre
high fence and said “Say ‘goodbye’ to Rowland” – he never could get the name
tear in my eye I called “Goodbye Richard” as Ziggy executed a perfect overarm
lob and with a flick of his wrist swung Richard by the end of his tail in a
perfect arc, sending him flying off in the direction of our veggie plot.
I swear on my life – which I value greatly – the article which is the subject of this story was genuinely in our local press a while back. I simply could not pass up a chance like this.
I almost fell off my chair when I read a headline in the Lifestyle section of the English-language edition of our local Spanish newspaper –
“The Malaga English cemetery is making friends and entertaining people.”
This was a ‘must read’ if ever I saw one.
“The foundation which took over the running of the cemetery two years ago reported that the burial ground was enjoying a surge of popularity.”
What??? To quote my dear, appropriately departed, Dad, “the mind boggles.”
I can just picture it. A horde of little old ladies and gentlemen, on hearing that the cemetery was “the place to be” go dashing through the wrought-iron gates, anticipating an exciting game of bingo or sing-along, and instead they trip over the cunningly positioned ‘Welcome to the Cemetery’ sign and WHAM. Before you know it, there’s a whole heap of people just dying to get in.
But these people are deadly serious. You can’t make this sort of stuff up.
The article advises there are “almost 2300 ‘friends’ of this cemetery – and the number is growing daily.”
No shit! Is someone scattering organic fertiliser over the graves? It certainly sounds like a load of manure to me.
Apparently, members of this Association are entitled to discounts at concerts and other functions held at the cemetery. Does every body get 10% off? Would you get a double discount for a family crypt?
Can you imagine the music they’d play at these concerts?
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
Live or Let Die
Don’t Fear the Reaper
Bat out of Hell
Three Steps to Heaven
Spirit in the Sky
I Ain’t Got No Body
Sympathy for the Devil
And what about all the poor souls who want to get in there for legitimate reasons – like, those who got dead somewhere else first? Is there enough space for them? Do they have to wait in a different queue like at the airport? If they were stuck in the queue for a long time (like at Passport Control!) they’d start to smell pretty rank in no time at all, especially in the heat of a Spanish summer I can tell you.
According to the report, Friends of the Cemetery also do “Lantern lit nocturnal tours of the cemetery, to coincide with a full moon”. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear they have Count Dracula and Frankenstein as guest speakers on a good night. Given the potential for werewolves, these tours must be a howling success.
I told a friend about it and asked if he knew where the cemetery was. He said,
“Yeah, it’s in the dead centre of town. They reckon it’s a pretty cool place to be. But apparently the functions at the crematorium are even better. I’ve heard the chicks are dead hot there. I think I’ll instigate a Friends of the Crematorium? A hot idea like that would certainly deter grave robbers.”
I warned him this was no joke, and could soon find him digging his own grave if someone ‘on the other side’ heard him making such flippant remarks.
Then, of course, there are the “Interesting Talks”. The subject matter must be riveting.
“Everyman’s Guide to Embalming”
“Do-It-Yourself Casket Making”
“Grave Digging Workout Routines”
“Headstone Engraving Made Easy”
I mean, what else could they possibly talk about sitting around in the middle of a cemetery?
And do they hold Séances?
“Is there anyone out there called John? If so please knock three times on the ceiling.”
It must be like a bloody earthquake when all those Englishmen start rapping on their coffin lids.
No thank you very much. A glass of vino in front of the telly is more my style. You won’t catch me joining ‘Friends of the English Cemetery’.
“Not over my dead body, you won’t”, as a true Burtonian would say.
Innovative suggestions for the enhancement of my report will be read with interest. And all reviews/comments will be gratefully received. AP
Without going into a lot of background, Brad needed to go to a hospital in Benalmadena for a check-up on the surgery he’d had on his left knee. I was pretty familiar with the route to that place, having had my taxi services called upon on several occasions. One of the things I knew was that there is often up to a kilometre of stop-start traffic on the hard shoulder leading to the off-ramp we needed to take from the motorway.
So out of curiosity I’d checked out an alternative route on google maps to come in from the opposite direction, with hopefully less traffic. But I found that this route ideally meant me taking a mountain road from our town to the said motorway. Having travelled it several times I don’t particularly like that road as it’s full of bends with very few overtaking spots if you got stuck behind something slow, like a horse and trap, or a couple of bloody cyclists.
We stuck to our original route and as we drove the normal roads leading to the Xanet hospital noticed a few banners along one section of road, but thought nothing of it.
Brad’s appointment with his surgeon went extremely well. She was delighted with his progress and on seeing how well his leg was doing, even suggested that he could start putting weight on it two weeks sooner than would normally be allowed, accompanied by appropriate physiotherapy. But she went a bit too far for me when she said that she was happy to take this unusual step because Brad was clearly a very responsible person.
How I kept quiet I do not know. I bit down on my tongue and tightly sealed my lips to stop myself from making any comment which might dispel her trust in her patient. How I stopped myself from bursting out laughing I do not know. Thank goodness my almost exploding face was hidden from her view by her computer screen, which she’d turned to one side when she showed Brad a video of the surgery on his knee. (Can’t wait to watch that! She gave him a dvd of it!!).
If I’d have told her all the things Brad was ‘responsible’ for she might have changed her mind about his proposed progress, which would then likely result in extra taxi services being required, so I kept ‘mum’.
We left the hospital in good spirits and headed for the car. With air con on and refreshments suitably distributed we drove away from the parking area to the roundabout which led onto the road heading back towards the motorway. Except some idiot had strung a shitload of tape across it. “Road Closed”
“Just follow that car going straight.” Was Brad’s advice. The bloke in front looked like he knew where he was going, so I did.
Brad soon managed to google a map and told me which way to go to head from then onwards. It was pretty much part of the route that I had looked at, but coming from the opposite direction.
We drove through a villagey type suburb which was well festooned with colourful bunting and streamers and as we drove on to a more formal bit of road found barriers and taped areas, and progressively more people, in particular, police type people. It was only then that Brad said,
“Oh, it must be for the Vuelta España.”
“Wonderful. What the hell is that?”
“It’s a cycle race. A biggy! I’d forgotten it was today. It must be coming along this route.”
As we drove along there were loads of barriers and police cars, police motor bikes, and police men. I made a point of not looking at them in case they tried to direct me off down any other strange roads. I was so busy trying to appear like I was determined in my route that I completely missed the turn which would have taken us up onto the motorway heading back the way we’d come. Still that was now quite a long route from this point, so I wasn’t bothered.
Driving under the motorway we reached the spot we’d have come in at if I’d taken the way I’d Googled earlier. So off we drove up ‘the pretty way’ to Mijas pueblo. It looked like it was going to be a long drive as the mountain, which Mijas sat on the other side of, looked ages away.
As we drove along this unfamiliar mountain road I asked Brad if he’d noticed how there seemed to be quite a few people ‘just standing around’ outside buildings for no apparent reason. There weren’t many settlements along the way, but what there were had bodies outside. (Not dead bodies, you understand!)
As we rounded one bend we came across a crowd of people standing on a wide verge which sat beside a sharp bend that traversed a gully. I was about 20 metres away from reaching and taking this bend when all of a sudden a cavalcade of vehicles rounded a bend coming from the other side and they would reach the gully section before me. It would have been too tight a squeeze for us to pass so I quickly pulled over to let them through.
There were loads of them and they were clearly all involved with the cycle race. There were cars and vans with people packed in ‘em or on ‘em, shouting and waving at the crowd, who reciprocated similarly as they got bombarded with leaflets and flags and dog-knows-what other promotional material.
So we waited. And waited. It was only when an ambulance and a police car had gone past that we figured that was the end of ‘em and continued with our journey.
A few kilometres further on, as we rounded another bend, I could see the junction which entered Mijas pueblo (a beautiful touristy town) and it was seething with police and race vehicles and personnel.
But at least I was now in familiar territory
Another issue I have not mentioned thus far is that at the beginning of our excursion Brad had queried a condition with my vehicle, a Renault Kangoo. Our conversation concluded with the realisation that the clutch on the vehicle was reaching the end of its lifespan. As the journey progressed I could feel that I was becoming dangerously close to being clutchless.
As we reached the Mijas roundabout I hung a right to take the road back home where we were immediately faced with climbing a rather steep slope. I drove up the initial section in second gear and only when the gradient decreased a little was I able to risk changing into third gear and eventually fourth. This stretch of inclination running along the side of the mountain lasted for over a kilometre and wherever feasible was lined along the none-rock-face side with yet more people.
One thing which had long become apparent was that the route we were taking was remarkably free from other traffic. After passing Mijas we didn’t come across anything in front (which was hardly surprising, given our speed) but similarly neither were we creating a build-up of traffic behind us. In fact not one vehicle came up behind us. And we had only encountered four vehicles coming from the opposite direction, which included the Alhaurin to Fuengirola bus which almost took me out on a shallow bend. Thank goodness I was on the mountain side of the road!
I was actually a little concerned that when we’d met the cavalcade of promotional vehicles earlier, one of their banners had plastered itself to the front grid of the Kangoo, and the officials and police we had encountered since had thought we were part of the ‘crew’.
There were long stretches where there were no spectators, which wasn’t surprising since the road was lined by the rock face of the mountain on our right side and a steep drop to hell and beyond to our left. But it seemed that the organisers didn’t want the cyclists to be despondent from lack of support, so had colourful banners lining the road instead.
As the road snaked its way along the side of the Sierra de Mijas it consisted of many sharp, blind bends between the banners. Brad and I became increasingly concerned that on one of them we would suddenly come face to face with out-rider motorbikes carrying backward and forward facing cameramen, followed very closely by over two hundred speeding cyclists, who would be none too happy about our presence.
We both breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached the main pivotal “BP roundabout” on the outskirts of our home town of Alhaurin el Grande, where the Vuelta España paraphernalia turned onto the A-7053 heading towards Mijas Costa, which we later discovered was the starting point of the race.
We did a very quick shop before I dropped Brad off at his home which is only ten minutes’ drive from mine and by the time I had reached my wi-fi he had already sent me snap shots taken from his television, where he was watching the Vuelta España cyclists already hurtling halfway along the exact same mountain road we had oh so very recently vacated.
If I ever tell you that I’m going to go to the cinema, please ask me if I have sufficiently researched the film I’m going to see. And if I say “Oh, yes, it’s won lots of Oscars”, just ask me “what is the shape of water?”. That’ll bring me back down to earth and ensure I don’t make the same bloody mistake again.
What a load of CRAP.
The storyline has a mute falling in love with a sea-god and which, had I done any research at all, would have warned me off right from the very start. As it turned out the movie covered just about every PC issue known to the Law Society, the Commission for Human Rights and the RSPCA put together. And there were more holes in the storyline than my best colander and had more corn than Kelloggs!
To give you a clue:
The leading lady was unattractive
She was a mute
and her best friend at work was black and
They worked as cleaners, who were implied as unimportant workers
at a government establishment which carried out top secret work
yet they had unsupervised access to a highly sensitive area.
I haven’t decided who qualified as the lead actor as there were three vying for that position –
Leading Male 1 was a Merman (male mermaid) (good guy).
Leading Male 2 was a male chauvinist pig (bad guy).
Leading Male 3 was a balding, unemployed homosexual artist (wow a 4-in-1!) and was another good guy. He was also the l-lady’s other best friend and neighbour.
Supporting Actor was a Russian agent (very topical at the time of going to press).
The black cleaner and LM3 both had an excellent understanding of sign language.
LM2 could be done for animal cruelty at the drop of a hat as he chained up LM1 in a pool and poked him with a taser rod, though he was able to reach over the open sided edge of this watery prison, which seemed a bit at odds with security.
LM2 was also partial to a bit of sexual harassment at work and at home
We didn’t have to wait long for the leading lady to indulge in nudity
and LM2’s gratuitous sexual intercourse with his wife was quite athletic.
Then the owner of a café showed serious racial discrimination by refusing to serve a random black couple who happened to walk into his empty bar
before he was sort of propositioned by LM3 which didn’t go down too well.
Then the Russian agent, who was actually quite a good guy offered to help the leading lady to set free the very scaly hunk, LM1
who it transpired had the most amazing healing hands (albeit big and scaly).
Unfortunately, he also had a penchant for eating cat, which LM3 was amazingly tolerant of, given it was his cat!
Everything had been going well with a dollop of bestiality for good measure between the leading lady and LM1 before his release into the wild
when we witnessed a spot of torture inflicted on the nice Russian by LM2 (he really is a nasty oke).
Then the chauvinistic, skiving husband of the black cleaner grassed on the leading lady to LM2
He, of course, tracked down the unlikely lovers just as they were saying gesticulating their tearful goodbyes and shot the pair of ‘em. But of course, Mr Hunky Healing Hands brought himself back to life and wiped out the bad guy
before jumping with his leading lady into his watery world where it appeared she also came back to life, and transformed into a watery wench, before fading into the credits.
So there you have it. No need to cough up £15+ for a cinema ticket in the UK now, though we were lucky as our cinema only charged €5.50 each for the privilege of having our intelligence insulted.
Now if Mel Brooks had directed the film, it would have been a whole different kettle of fish!
I’m sure most people reading this have experienced one of those days when things just don’t go right. Well it galls me to admit this, but I had an entire Christmas like that.
It started off fairly innocuously with my first faux pas (Number One) when I realised a few days before Christmas that I hadn’t actually bought any presents for one of my ‘kids’. I had sent out an email to all relevant parties in good time before Christmas recommending that in view of the (sad) financial status of the majority of players, the purchase of presents this year should be kept to an absolute minimum. However that did not mean that one person should not get anything at all from his mother.
We have always been keen on getting surprises, but I figured no-presents wasn’t the sort of surprise Leon would be too happy about, so I hastened to purchase something.
I had organised a gammon and a big chicken for Christmas day. We don’t do turkey as apart from the fact that we don’t much care for the darker meat, we’d probably find ourselves eating it for a fortnight afterwards. I finished off my main grocery shop on the Friday in order to avoid the last minute rush of Saturday.
On Christmas eve afternoon the second omission reared its ugly head. As everyone knows, it is essential to have Brussels sprouts as part of the Christmas feast. And before you jump to conclusions, No, I hadn’t forgotten to buy them. We do know that lots of people do not like Brussels sprouts, but I had a nice recipe which made them more interesting for the less enthusiastic sprout eater. They would be par-boiled then baked with fresh cream, blue cheese and walnuts. Number Two. I had forgotten to buy the blue cheese.
There being no Christmas eve shopping here in Spain on the Sunday, I was contemplating leaving out a slab of cheddar overnight in the hopes that it might go mouldy when Ziggy, in a rare fit of brilliance, said “Why don’t you try the BP Service Station shop, they sell all sorts of random things?”.
So when Leon tootled off in my Kangoo to collect Brad, Donė and Choco the dog who live ten minutes away, he called at the BP shop. And sure as cheese is blue, this saved the day.
They had been invited to join us for some langoustines which Ziggy was cooking up. Well not the dog. I mean he was invited, but not to eat langoustines; that would be ridiculous.
As Ziggy was about to cook them someone asked what I was serving with them. What? Number Three! It had never occurred to me that they needed something “with them”. My thought (I won’t say plan, because that is not a word I am very familiar with) was that we would just place this huge platter of enormous prawns in the centre of the table and “tuck in”.
When I’d told my guests that we were having these on Christmas eve it never occurred to me that they would think this was a full on meal. I didn’t even have the makings of a bloody salad (apart from a head of lettuce and small avocado pear I planned to use with a starter on Christmas day).
The best I could do was to throw two small half-baked French bread sticks in the oven and slice them up. This was adequate and the langoustines were delicious.
Christmas day arrived and I’m delighted to report that this year I had remembered to bake the traditional shortbread the previous week and that it was actually my best batch ever. So we spent a leisurely couple of hours eating shortbread and unwrapping presents. What happened to the “minimum presents” I had stipulated?
Just a few presents
I had suggested that we might have our ‘Christmas dinner’ at about 7pm but given that I only put the bird in the oven at about five o’clock that clearly wasn’t going to happen, perhaps nearer to eight. When the chicken was ready it had to sit down and rest for half an hour on Brad’s instructions (he’d been watching Jamie Oliver on tv) so I only put the potatoes in to roast when that came out. The plan intention had been to have a prawn cocktail starter but as time drew close I figured that by the time we’d eaten that and ‘let it go down’ the bloody chicken would be stone cold, so suggested that we perhaps have it as a later instead of a starter.
This was agreed upon wholeheartedly and after much farting around with sliced green beans, broccoli and the infamous brussels sprouts in blue cheese sauce and Brad had made the gravy, we eventually sat down to our main Christmas repast at nine o’clock! The good news is that the chicken was NOT cold and everyone enjoyed their meal. The bad news Number Four is that I had forgotten to buy Christmas Crackers so there were no flying keyrings /thimbles/puzzles, no wearing of silly hats nor reading pathetic cracker jokes.
We waited for another hour or so before having dessert which, rather than Christmas pudding which not everyone enjoys, consisted of homemade baklava. I figured this was quite fitting as it is a Greek pastry and our surname is Greek (even though we’re not!).
During the course of the day we’d played assorted board games of varying levels of interest which, to my horror, included Monopoly which Vicki had brought with her. We played until all the properties had been purchased then tallied up our gains before the game became tedious. My favourite Christmas only game has to be the new one I found last year, Pass the Parcel with a difference. It is played with pears pairs. A pair of dice and a pair of oven gloves.
In case you’ve not yet come across this you really must try it, it’s hilarious. A multi-wrapped gift of your choice is to be opened wearing oven gloves. But instead of unwrapping when music stops, as in the kiddies’ game, a pair of dice is thrown and when a double shows up the unwrapper must stop IMMEDIATELY and pass the oven gloves to the next in line. In the meantime the pair of dice is being passed around the table and tossed by each other player in turn until a double is thrown again and the unwrapper changes. Sometimes you barely have time to get the gloves on before someone chucks a double and you have to pass them on to the next player. I think Leon had four abortive turns before he even got to touch the parcel, never mind remove a layer of paper.
By the end of all this frivolity no-one was up for the prawn cocktail so we decided to all get together again on Boxing Day and have it for lunch. Well that was the plan but courtesy Vicki we got stuck into baked camembert and pickles first so it got delayed until dinner time.
I had already thawed out one pack of peeled prawns but realising that it would be a bit meagre for a complete lunch I had nipped into town to Mercadona (our main supermarket) and bought another pack. Yes, they were open on Boxing Day, which the Spanish don’t recognise as a holiday. Suitably thawed I threw them all into a bowl and smothered them with some special mayonnaise I’d made before sharing them out evenly over shredded lettuce and suitable accoutrements.
Brad was the first to take a bite.
“Mother, did you cook these?” he politely asked.
Number Five. “Er, no. I assumed they were already cooked,” I replied.
“Well they’re not. And while I enjoy sushi as much as the next man, I’d rather not eat raw prawn salad. But for ****s sake, mother, they don’t even look cooked!”
He was right of course.
I couldn’t believe I’d done that, I really couldn’t. What a bloody dope!
Well that’s one way to get your name in the headlines “Author kills entire family by feeding them uncooked prawns at Christmas”.
Anyway someone said “Don’t worry, it can be salvaged, just take the prawns off the lettuce, rinse them under the tap then cook ‘em.”
I’d used up about all the lettuce the first time so didn’t have much choice in the matter. I carefully scooped the prawns off and into a colander and tossed them thoroughly under the cold water tap. Once completely drained I was able to cook them quickly in some butter. Of course I then had to wait a while for them to cool down before piling them back onto the lettuce. There’s nothing worse than warm lettuce. (Well there probably is but let’s not get pedantic.)
I returned all the plates to my patiently waiting diners and as they were passed around the table was asked,
“Did you use up all the mayo on the first batch as well then?”
No I hadn’t. Number Six. I had simply forgotten to put it on.
So the plates all got returned again to the kitchen where I tried to toss the prawns in the evenly distributed remaining half-jar of my delicious homemade mayonnaise without disturbing the lettuce. It wasn’t easy.
At last we were able to eat. It’s a pity we didn’t have more crusty bread to accompany them but much of it had been consumed with the cheese earlier. Number Seven?
Fortunately everyone eventually really enjoyed their meal and the evening advanced to another session of fun and games, though thankfully not Monopoly this time.
Before going to bed I actually remembered to load and switch on the dishwasher. When Ziggy got up in the morning he started to unload it. He hadn’t got far when I walked into the kitchen.
“I found this in the bottom shelf when I opened up,” he said, handing me a virgin dishwasher tablet. WTF? I know that when the machine has finished washing is flips open the tablet container. I inspected the item curiously then lifted the boxful of them out of the cupboard. Inside were loads more tablets just like it, all wrapped in cellophane. Double WTF. All dishwasher tablets I had bought previously came wrapped in plastic, which should be left on as it melted away when being used. Number Eight. It would seem not to be the case with this brand.
“I thought it hadn’t done a very good job of washing the plates,” Ziggy said as he began returning the dishes to the machine. The white, blue and red tablet was reinserted in its receptacle in the door, sans cellophane!
So that was our Christmas. Let us just say that it was not the most successful I have ever conducted unless you allow the amount of laughter it generated to override the stuff-ups.
Ziggy, Brad, Done, Leon, Vicki and yours truly.
What? What about the bamboo poles and lollypop sticks? Oh yes, I forgot about those.
After Christmas I was returning home after a stock-up session at Mercadona and noticed to my disgust that a recent batch of extremely strong winds had managed to dislodge the shade-cloth fastened to the wire fence bordering our garden.
Flapping in the wind
Something a little sturdier than twists of wire was obviously needed to prevent this from happening again. Ziggy found some mangy bamboo poles on our plot (of land which contains our fruit trees and Ziggy’s attempts at cabbages and potatoes) so Leon and I set about a repair. There weren’t enough bamboo canes so we used them in what we considered to be the most effective way and for the rest – well wire twists were reinforced with lollypop sticks. Simple as a pimple.
One fixed fence
Bamboo pole and lollypop sticks!
And, No, I didn’t eat all the lollypops, Ziggy did! (I prefer my ice-cream in a bowl.)
And that pretty much rounded off 2017. It was not too bad a year, all things considered.
So yesterday wasn’t a regular Black Friday for me, it was more of a Frenetic Phone-call Friday. I received more calls that morning than I normally get in a week!
It started at 08:25 when Brad phoned me, though I suppose I’d better give you a bit of background first.
Our septic tank needed emptying. Now I bet that encourages you to read on, eh? Just bear with me, it’s not as grim as it sounds, but listen carefully because I’ll be asking questions later.
A friend of ours, Rod, who is a supposed-to-be-retired builder is good for repairs and solving property related problems. I’d asked him to check out an unpleasant smell which intermittently invades our casita (guest annex). He arrived on Monday. His investigations established nothing of great significance but he needed to check ‘from the other end’ if anything (roots or suchlike) was blocking the pipes exporting waste from the casita bathroom into the septic tank. In order to do this he needed to feed his aquatic telescope through the septic tank but it was pretty full and his telescopic eye could not see its way through all the crap (if you’ll pardon the rather graphic pun) to find where the pipe from the casita emerged. The crux of it is that we needed to have the tank emptied so that he could complete his quest.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find the invoice from the last time we’d had the tank emptied. Now there’s a story in its own right. Let me tell you about it.
The guest toilet in our house, which is the one we use most, wasn’t flushing as well as it should. Despite gallons of bleach and drain cleaner being poured down its throat any clearance was short-lived. So I phoned a friend. Not the same one as the one who was helping me now, I hasten to add, but another one who had done some building work for us.
My friend, who for the sake of anonymity we shall call Albert, came along and established that he first needed to find the arqueta. Okay, okay. It’s Spanish.
Now don’t quote me on this ‘cos I’m no expert, but my understanding is that an arqueta is like a junction box in plumbing, into which the waste from the bath, shower, basin and toilet all feeds before exiting via a single sewage pipe into a septic tank, or wherever.
After much investigation and gnashing of teeth Albert eventually established that the arqueta was under our shower. So he dug up the mosaic floor tiles until he’d exposed enough of a gap to make a hole in the floor and lo and behold, there was the arqueta. But then he needed to find out where all the waste went from there. Using his trusty tape measure he worked out where a pipe should appear on the outside of the house.
There he took up more floor tiles and started to dig a hole. Once the hole was three feet square and almost as deep he concluded that perhaps the pipe did not in fact lead this way. However he did find the location of a water pipe leading into the house, with his pick, so we then had to call out the plumber to repair that.
When I look back on this little episode I cannot figure out what he was trying to achieve by digging that hole. It rather reminds me of a song, Hole in the Ground by Bernard Cribbins.
Perhaps he was trying to find the septic tank. Not having found it he filled in the hole and I went off in search of tiles that now had to be replaced. Have you ever tried matching 10 year old tiles?
I had already been in touch with the previous owner, who’d had the property for nine years, and asked him if he could tell us where exactly the septic tank was. He said he didn’t have a clue as he’d never had it emptied!
We eventually had to call in a drain expert who unblocked the pipe which was at the seat of the trouble and also found the septic tank within minutes of shoving his camera round the bends. The tank lay under the tiled area between the house and the casita. He even pinpointed the exact spot where the access point was – hidden under a single tile. He kindly replaced the tile with a lid which would allow easy access to the tank in future.
Sewage tanker people were contacted and they duly came along and emptied the tank. All that was two years ago.
So now (we’re back to the original story – this reminds me of Ronnie Corbett relating his tales from his armchair!) I was looking for their invoice to give them a call. Naturally it was nowhere to be found. Dear husband said he’d seen a company we had passed many times which did septic tank emptying and described their location. I zapped off in my Renault Kangoo, duly found the place and spoke to a lovely lady who in turn phoned her boss to ask when he could do it. He was working on a job out of town and promised to come around to our place before noon on Wednesday to check out our layout and give me a price, with a view to carrying out the job later that day or the next. I also asked the receptionist roughly how much I might expect it to cost. She said +/- €200. I went home and related this to Ziggy,
“Bloody hell, that’s a bit steep,” he said, “the last time it only cost us €130!
In the event the bossman didn’t pitch, so Ziggy said,
“Why don’t you call the drain expert and ask him the name of the company he put us onto last time?”
I wasn’t hopeful. I had tried to phone this guy before I’d called Rod in but there was no answer from any of his numbers. I figured he’d closed shop. But I said I’d give it a try and this time was answered after two rings! I duly got the phone number.
Now I should mention that this ‘expert’ on his last visit (about the problem we are having now) had told us he didn’t believe the waste from the casita was going into the same septic tank as the house, and that to establish where it did go would need the casita shower digging up. (Not another one! I thought.) Even he said it would be cheaper for us to get a builder in to do this. Instead he simply applied some evilly strong chemicals (licence required) to the drains and hoped that did the trick. Clearly it did not, well not long term anyway.
Fortunately before ripping the shower to bits builder Rod had the insight to apply a high pressure hose down the casita toilet while his assistant, with the aid of a torch, watched for any movement in the contents of the septic tank. Movement there was so it did, in fact, drain into there.
Where was I?
Oh yes, so having got this original septic tank emptier’s phone number I called them. This is where my lack of Spanish reared its ugly head. The guy who answered the phone spoke no English. I did manage to explain that I would get my son to call him.
So I phoned Brad whose is able to converse in Spanish up to a point and asked him to call them to see if they could empty our tank again for the same price as before. Apparently the bloke he spoke to said something about a vacation and gave him another number and said something about mañana. Brad wasn’t sure if he was supposed to call the guy today to have the work done the next day (mañana) or to only phone the next day. We left it.
On Thursday I went back to the offices I’d visited on Monday (like an idiot I hadn’t taken their phone number) to find out when, or if, the boss was planning to grace us with his presence. Another phone call by the receptionist established he would be at our house between 10 and 14:00 on Friday. I also established that he expected his price to be €175. I agreed to await his arrival but this time I picked up one of their business cards bearing a phone number.
Discussing this back home we still weren’t happy about the price, so Ziggy said he’d take the dogs for a work early that day so that he could go to our local town hall (before they closed at 14:00 for the day) to see if they provided a septic tank emptying service. (He lives in a dream-world sometimes!)
They didn’t. But they did give him the name of a man who did. The man had the same surname as the company I had been visiting but Ziggy said that on giving him the number the girl at the town hall had mentioned a company name that sounded familiar, possibly the one who’d emptied our tank before. I conceded that the Spanish are very frugal in their variation of names, be it first or last names, so it was quite possible there was more than one Septic Tank Cleaner-outer with the same name.
[I wonder if there’s a special name for a person or company which empties septic tanks? I can think of one myself but wouldn’t write it down in here!]
Once siesta time was over (14:00 – 17:00, come rain or shine, summer or winter) I phoned Brad again and asked him to call the number Ziggy had obtained. Ten minutes later Brad happily reported that a sewage tanker would be at our property between 10 and 14:00 the next day (Friday) and that the cost would be €130!
I duly phoned the first company and cancelled their appointment, citing the cheaper price elsewhere.
If you’re on the ball you will realise that this has now brought us up to Frenetic Phoning Friday. You remember, I mentioned it about 30 pages back…
Brad called me at 08:25. I’ll be honest with you now, I was still in bed, sipping my mug of tea which Ziggy brings me religiously each morning. He (Brad not Ziggy) had received a call asking for confirmation of our address, but wasn’t sure it was from the people he phoned first or second, and didn’t want two tanks pulling up at our gates. We chatted about it for a while but it got us nowhere.
Half an hour later he called me again saying the bloke in his tanker was querying the address (the name of our lane is not recognised by Google Maps). He said it might be a good idea if I drove up the lane to meet him nearer the main road. No sooner had I finished this conversation and was climbing into my car than my phone rang again.
This time it was a friend (who I’d not met before – don’t ask) confirming our meeting for that lunchtime. Just then the house phone rang. As I tried to cut my friend’s call short Ziggy amazingly went and answered the other one and walking out with that phone and as I was reversing out (if I could get off the phone to drive) I could hear him trying to direct someone to our lane. As he was chatting away he looked up the lane and saw the man he was talking to was about ten metres away walking towards him.
Turned out he was the man with the tanker, except without the tanker. He’d left it at the top of the lane as he wasn’t sure how good the access was. (Bloody hell we’d had removals vans, pneumatic trucks delivering one-ton sacks of wood and cement wagons down this lane, so it could easily handle a piddly-arsed little tanker!)
So I abandoned my car, still trying to finish the call, so that I could go and move some of our outside furniture to give access to a large suction pipe.
Seconds after finishing that chat I got another call, this time from a friend who was supposed to be joining me and my new friend, then the truck arrived…
Peace reigned, though not much quiet, for a while as the man who does shoved his pipe into our septic tank and slurped all the shit emptied it. Once he’d finished, stashed his hose and put the lid back on our tank he produced two invoiced books and asked me whether or not I wanted to pay tax. Ah now, that’s a tough one, let me think…
So I received a plain receipt for the sum of €135 (I wasn’t going to argue over the fiver) and we both ended up happier for the experience.
Less than half an hour later I got a phone call from a man about our septic tank. We had a strange conversation because his English was on a par with my Spanish.
He seemed to be asking me how long the guy had taken to do the job. I told him “hora medio” which in my Spanish meant ‘about half an hour’ but which I just checked and found means ‘average hour’. Seems I should have written “medio hora”. No wonder he’d been a tad confused by my answer.
He tried to confirm our address, which wasn’t easy, but I did the best I could.
Then he asked, “was ours the house with the two dogs?” I told him it was. Being the ferocious guard dogs they are, they had totally ignored the man and his big pipe who had just left, but he had clearly seen our two dogs.
Now you must understand that up until this point I thought he was checking up on the guy who’d done the job. Then he went on to say “tres perros” which I do know means three dogs. It dawned on me when he’d talked about two dogs earlier, what he had actually been saying was “tu perros” which means ‘your dogs’. So where is he now getting three dogs from?
As our convoluted conversation continued I began to realise that he was actually nothing to do with the guy who’d been, he was a guy who was coming. So who the hell was he???
Now I had to try and stop him from pitching up with his tanker.
“No, el septico tank es empty (I didn’t know the Spanish word for empty). Es terminado.”
He was battling to understand me. (Can’t imagine why!)
“Es complete, no necesito para tu.” ‘It’s all done, I don’t need you’ is what I thought I was saying.
He said something else which sounded like he understood I no longer required his services.
“Si, gracias, adios.” I said, and prayed to dog that he comprende’d.
Then I wondered if in fact this had been the bloke who’d quoted the €130, and if so, who the hell had I just paid €135 to for emptying our tank?
I have yet to phone Rod to tell him the septic tank it now ready for his inspection. I’ve had rather enough of the subject to be honest.
But might I suggest, if you should ever be tempted to move to Spain based on the wondrous stories you’ve heard from me, that when you buy a house make sure it is on the mains sewage route.