Irregular Black Friday (or How to Empty a Septic Tank)

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.

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Sausage Rolls and Scourers

I have no explanation why I am still using our outside table to write on my laptop other than I am really trying to put off the realisation that winter is now creeping into Spain.  But as I sat shivering in my cotton top and cardigan I decided to heat up a sausage roll or two for a light lunch.

So I headed to the kitchen and placed them in a warm oven.

I guess I was just subconsciously looking for a reason not to go straight back outside when it occurred to me there was a little job I could complete in our bathroom while I waited for my fodder.  The shower tap had become a bit discoloured so I thought I would take advantage of a few loose minutes, as one does, and armed with my bottle of de-calcifier and a mild scourer I headed off towards the bathroom.

Standing inside the shower cubicle I scrubbed and sprayed and sprayed and scrubbed with my scourer and, to be honest, really didn’t think I was achieving very much.  At that point I must have become a bit over zealous because as I gripped the tap to get better oomph into my efforts my hand slipped off and in trying to grab it back I unfortunately pulled it towards me.

Yeah, you’ve guessed it.  I was suddenly blasted with a jet of cold water which drenched my hair, my cardigan and my top.

Oh, I turned it off immediately, but not before I’d got pretty damn wet.

I squelched out of the bathroom into my boudoir and rummaged through my wardrobe for suitably warm replacement clothes.  Of course most of my attire still consisted of summer-wear so I ended up donning one of hubby’s more enclosed t-shirts and a dry cardigan.  I’m guessing it’s now time to stash my summer gear away and get my jeans and jumpers out of storage.

As for the sausage rolls.  Well, they weren’t too burnt.

Well-done ssausage rolls

Unexpected Visitors

A couple of days ago I was kicked out of my slumbers at 05:45 by dogs barking. Constantly.  I could hear them going crazy at a distance (obviously the front gate) then after a gap (while they raced down the garden path) closer-by at the rear/side fence.  Clearly something or someone was on the prowl.

Whatever it is will soon go past I told myself, and turned over to resume my sleep. And turned, and turned, but the racket continued.  I am not the sort of person who can pull a pillow over my head to block out the sound – I’d suffocate – which is rather extreme.

One dog in particular was giving it great ferver, I thought that sounded like Marti, our mastin (Spanish mastiff).  Of course next door’s dog was joining in.  Thankfully the five yappy dogs which used to live across the lane from us had, with their owner, recently moved out, otherwise the entire neighbour-hood would have been awake by now.  It was no good, I could see I would have to get out of bed and give my two a bollocking to shut them up.

I threw on the nearest t-shirt (it is still quite warm at nights and I hadn’t yet fished out my sleepware from my winter wardrobe) and slid into my slippers then quietly slipped out of the bedroom.  This might seem like a contradiction given the cacophony going on outside, but Ziggy was still sleeping.  Having said that, he can sleep through anything.

It was still dark so I groped my way past the dining chairs, through the kitchen and into the lounge, where I could look through the window facing the front gate.

The answer to this disturbance stood right before me, in the form of a dark brown donkey which had its nose poked up against the bars of the gate.  I wondered if she was expecting to be let in.  She was clearly a bold donkey as she seemed totally unperturbed by the dogs.  And I was surprised to see that it was JD, our small black Labrador, who was making all the noise, not Marti.  As I watched, a grey horse appeared behind the donkey.  Actually it was a white horse (no I don’t mean a bottle of scotch!) but you should never call a white horse white, you know.  I decided this needed more thorough investigation and headed back to the bedroom to don shorts and sandals.

By the time I returned to the lounge both animals had wandered a little further up the lane.  As I let myself outside through the patio door the dogs greeted me with approval before disappearing back up the garden path, presumably to try and see the animals through the fence.

As I walked up to the gate I could see the equine pair several metres away.  At my appearance the grey took fright and trotted past me, back down the lane.  The donkey decided to come up to the gate and say hello.  As she neared I slowly put my arm through the gate and tentatively extended my fist for her to smell.  (I wasn’t going to risk my fingers in case she was a biter) but she was very good and as I moved my hand up her head she accepted a stroke between her ears.  By this time the grey had walked back into view and was now watching the proceedings.

The dogs reappeared, JD giving a bark to let me know she was there, while Marti just stood quietly.  I must have stood there in the quiet pre-dawn for a good fifteen minutes, with the donkey siding up to the gate where I was able to stroke her back.  She looked to me like she was pregnant.  From where it was I couldn’t make out whether the grey was a mare or a gelding but it stood quietly, turning every now and then to grab a wisp of grass from the verge.

I was wondering if I should put my dogs in the house and let these two into my yard rather than risk them wandering up the lane and onto the road.  (Our lane was a ‘dead end’, servicing only 12 properties.)  Someone would come looking for them during the morning I was sure.

It was then that I heard footsteps.  Whoever it was, they were walking very strangely, I thought.  Then I heard thunkle, thunkle thunkle.  Like, not the tinkle of a bell, but the thunkle of a cow-bell, or a goat-bell.  As a little face appeared followed by a thick body, it transpired it must be a sheep-bell.  Along with the donkey and the horse came sixteen sheep.  I wasn’t going to bring that lot into my yard!

The dogs had become completely still by now, obviously realising that I was happy with the situation.  And the presence of the sheep could explain why Marti hadn’t barked, but when Marti saw the sheep her interest was definitely piqued.  The sole purpose of her breed is for livestock protection (from wolves) but to the best of my knowledge this was the first time she had actually seen sheep.

Oh this reminds me of an incident I simply must tell you about.

One warm spring night a couple of years ago I was sitting at my outside table checking my emails.  A friend had sent me a link to a video about the return of wolves to the Yellowstone National Park.  At the time JD was lying in her bed outside and Marti was snoozing on the floor in the dining room, the door of which opens onto the area where I was.

I clicked on the link to the video which instantly started with howling wolves.  In a flash Marti came flying outside, hackles raised all down her back, and after glancing at me raced to the front gate. Even on the move her whole shape was that of a dog (or even lion) waiting to pounce, but she didn’t stay still for a second.  Seeing nothing at the gate she tore back and forth along the length of the hedge at the front of our yard.  Finding that clear of wolves she turned and raced back in my direction, careened past the table and headed off down the garden path.  Even forty metres away, with a wall and plant-life between us I could hear her threatening growls as she scoured the fence/hedge looking for wolves.  After a couple more sallies back and forth she eventually lowered her hackles and returned to sit at my side, but was clearly quite distressed by this affair.

As soon as she had reacted to the wolf howls I had turned off the video and sat, open-mouthed in awe at nature’s amazing display of inbred reaction.  Having got her as a six-week old rescue dog I knew that she had never come across a wolf in her life before, but she knew exactly what it was and what to do.  I continued watching this amazing video, but used headphones so as not to distress Marti any further.

I still get goosebumps just recalling it, but it does explain why there are no wolves around here! J

Here’s the link to the video if you’d like to watch it (highly recommended!).

www.youtube.com/embed/ysa5OBhXz-Q?feature=player_embedded

Anyway, where was I.  Went off at a bit of a tangent there…

Oh yes, the arrival of the sheep.

I stayed at the gate, motionless, for ages just watching the animals.  The grey strolled a few metres up the lane and was slowly followed by the sheep.  I have seen loads of sheep-dogs in my life, but a sheep-horse???

The head honcho sheep, the one wearing the bell who had, up until now, remained in the centre of the flock, appeared to be intrigued by the donkey standing so close to the gate and also came closer.  I must have moved a fraction because the sheep lifted its head and, seeing me, instantly spun around (I didn’t think I looked that scarey!).  At this the flock moved as one in copying their leader and shot off down the lane, its greyness (the horse) joining in the stampede.

Donkey had just stayed where she was.  Then after looking up at me she slowly ambled off down the lane after her buddies.  I trust they all found their way home safely.

I know I found my way safely back to bed to try and catch a few zzzzz before it was time to be woken for a cup of tea in bed, which is brought to me daily by slumbernut, who at this point was still gently snoring on his side of the bed.

I dozed off while wondering what the rest of the day would bring.

Alas, nothing compared to the start of the day.

2 Vicious gate guarders

Marti and JD ‘on guard’ at the front gate. This was taken in 2013, before Marti ‘filled out’.

My Annual Pilgrimage

So April is ITV time.  No I’m not talking about the British television stations, I’m talking vehicles.  Specifically my vehicle, which was due for its annual roadworthy test, which in Spain is called an ITV or Inspección Técnica de Vehículos if you really want to know. So begins the annual pilgrimage.

The procedure is that first you go online (or telephone if your Spanish is good enough, which mine isn’t) and obtain a cita, that’s an appointment.  Then you take your vehicle along to their test station at the appropriate time where it undergoes the rigors of inspection of all the important components like brakes, lights, steering, tyres, wipers and the general condition of said vehicle.  Inside the seatbelts are checked to make sure they all function, together with door handles and windows. Easy peasy!

Anyway as the third month of the year marched on (pun intended) I realised that I had better get my arse into gear, never mind my car, and organise a pre-ITV service of my Renault Kangoo with my very accommodating do-it-at-your-home mechanic, Dave.  Alas, Dave had become quite involved with motor bike repairs within his business and was extremely busy.  It was the end of the month before he could get to me.

A new ITV station had recently opened up in Fuengirola, our nearest coastal town, and I knew exactly where it was, which was closer than the ones I’d been to in the past at San Pedro and last year in Malaga.  So I had waited to ask Dave how ‘accommodating’ he’d found the new place.  Having established they were OK I set-to booking a cita there on the internet before my current ITV expired.  Oh dear.

Searching through my car papers I found it was due by the 8th April and we were already at the 2nd.

The ITV website is quite jacked up.  It simply asks for your vehicle registration number, and for further validation, the date it was first registered, then knows everything about you, right down to your shoe size.  It could clearly see that I needed to be given the first available appointment – which was on Friday 28th April.  OUCH!

I printed off the cita slip and put it in the car with its other papers in the hope that should I get stopped by the police, I could avoid a hefty fine by showing them I was actually getting it done, if a little late.

At least it would give me time to organise the fitment of new seals on my cv joints, which Dave advised me were needed but which he didn’t have time to do himself due to his overload of bike repairs.  He recommended a friend who’s garage just happened to be three doors away from the little bar which we go to when walking the dogs.  The garage owner’s name is Cristobal”, Dave told me.

A lady mechanic? I thought. Novel.

Of course Cristobal turned out to be a very nice Spanish gentleman who even spoke pretty good English and we got on great, especially when I opened the back door of my car and our dogs JD and Marti jumped out (they were to keep me company on the walk home), as Cristobal turned out to be a big a dog lover.

When I had first spoken to him I had asked him where he would recommend me to go to for new tyres and he replied that he could sort that for me too if I told him what I wanted.  I described the amount and type of driving I did on average and said I’d go on his recommendation so long as they weren’t re-treads.  He was quite appalled by that notion so I felt safe in leaving it up to him.  He gave me a rough idea of prices, together with a quote for the CV seals, and the car was all sorted three days later.

But let’s get back to the ITV appointment.   That got worse.  This cita was in Malaga, a place where I always get lost.  When I’d made the appointment I could not find anywhere on their website the option of going to the new place in Fuengirola.

Actually the previous year when I went to this Malaga ITV station for the first time I  found it relatively easily, within a 25 minute drive.  Unfortunately I got hopelessly lost when I came out of the place and it took me almost an hour to get home!

So I made sure I printed off maps from Google to get me there, and bring me back.

And before you ask the obvious, NO, I don’t have satnav.  Whenever I’ve used it on my own I’ve always taken a wrong turn and finished up in someone’s driveway. Anyway that was out of the question now as my (not so smart) phone was out of action after it went for a dip in the swimming pool the day before.  But that’s another story.

Anyway if the Malaga location wasn’t bad enough, what really made it such a shit appointment was that it was for 06:50, in the morning!  What the …? It would mean leaving home at 06:00 to allow time for getting lost. I’d have to get up almost before I’d gone to bed the night before!  (I stay up late.)

We had been having some lovely sunny weather in our area for the past few weeks, but were promised rain for three days, starting on Thursday.  In the event it stayed beautiful on Thursday, until twilight when the dark clouds started rolling in.  Within hours the rain was hurtling down.

I don’t think it stopped all night (what was left of mine) and when my alarm jolted me out of my slumbers it was lashing down outside.

To get off to a good start, I enjoyed my early morning tea out of my “Queen of  ******* Everything” mug my daughter bought for me.  Then I gathered up my paperwork, iPad and my laptop (I figured I would be so early getting to the ITV station I might have time to write a chapter or two of my next book while sitting in the car waiting for them to open) before heading out.  Ziggy kindly handed me our large umbrella and small coolbox containing a couple of beers (0.00% alcohol) and opened the gates for me as I reversed out into the dark and murky morning.

It was 06:05 when I set off up our lane.  I can’t say that I was surprised at the lack of traffic in Alhaurin at that time of day, but I was surprised at how bloody dark it was.  I’d not been up and about so early since the clocks went forward so had been expecting to see a semblance of dawn when I drove off.  Nothing!  Nothing but darkness and a few street lights.  It was only as I was about to filter onto the fast road to Malaga that I decided I should first double check my map for the exit I needed to take off.

Exit 63.  No problem, I could picture it from my last visit.  The only difference was that my last visit had been in broad daylight.  Now I could barely see further than 10 meters in front of my car because of darkness, rain and mist thrown up by other traffic, which by now was slightly more in evidence.

I soon found that trying to overtake slower moving traffic wasn’t such a good idea because of all the spray.  Also, the rain was obscuring the faded white lines on the centre and side of the road so I figured I’d rather stick behind something whose lights I could follow.  I eventually settled myself several car lengths behind a cement truck (didn’t want any cement hurtling out onto my bonnet).

But not only was this bloody weather obscuring white lines, it also had quite an impact on the visibility of road signs.  When I eventually took an exit which I thought must surely be mine, I was horrified to find that it was the one after the one I should have taken.  I had no bloody idea where I was now.

At the earliest opportunity I pulled over to study the map.  Joke.  Even with interior lights and my reading glasses on I couldn’t make out an alternative route in the feint printout.   As I began to create a build-up of traffic behind me I moved off in the general direction I thought I should be in until I could stop at a safer spot.

That didn’t make much difference.  I followed some easy-to-see road signs for a parque industrial (industrial park – see Spanish is easy) because I knew the ITV centre was on one.  Alas there is more than one parque industrial this side of Malaga.  After a couple of dead ends I spotted an illuminated guardhouse of a large establishment and decided to try for help there.

Parking up outside the gate I ran through the deluge to the door of the guardhouse which was thankfully opened for me by a very confused looking, uniformed Spanish gentleman.

“Hola Senor, ayuda por favour!”  which was my best Spanish for “Help, please!”, as I thrust my map in his direction, pointing to the location of the ITV place.

He muttered, ‘Mama mia’ and other words to that effect, which didn’t bode well.

Then after standing with one of those puzzled looks on his face like you see in cartoons (with a ? over the head)  he found a scrap of paper and started to draw a map.  When he’d done he indicated through the guardhouse window which road represented the starting point on his map then gave verbal directions as he guided me through his squiggles.  I thought I understood.

I bade him many graciases and left him to deal with a truck which was waiting patiently to enter his yard.  Then I set off,  hopefully on my final leg.

Well, the this leg also took a few donkey detours until I finished up back at the guardhouse, where I started again from scratch, this time avoiding the wrong turns I’d taken the before.  Eventually I found myself in familiar territory.  Then I spotted the street on which I knew the ITV to be and only took two more wrong turns before I conquered the one-way system which led to it.

YES!  I was here!  And only about 20 minutes late.

I was quite surprised by the car park.  It was packed.  For goodness sakes, it wasn’t yet half past seven in the morning.  I figured most of the cars must belong to employees.

I gathered all my necessary papers, including the road maps with which I hoped to explain to the ITV people that I’d got lost, then grabbed the umbrella.  It’s a big one.  So I opened the door and poked  my brolly in the air before pressing the button to spring it open. Vwoof.  Then I looked down to step out of the car, where there seemed to be rather a lot of water.  Testing it with the toe of my shoe, it must have been over an inch deep and I was only wearing a pair of trainers/takkies/sneakers or whatever you like to call them, with fabric uppers.  I closed the umbrella and brought it dripping across me to the passenger side.  I’d noticed the guy in the car next to me was leaving and thought maybe the puddle might not be so deep on his side.  I moved the Kangoo.

Repeat the performance, umbrella re-opened I swung my legs out and stepped down – into water which went clear over my shoes!  Fan-bloody-tastic!  I quickly locked the car and hopped & skipped forward to try and get out of the water before it penetrated.  Yeah, right!  As I dashed between three rows of cars I soon found that the ‘puddle’ was spread over half the car park.

I lowered my umbrella as I sloshed in through the automatic doorway and walked up to the cita registration machine.  I looked at the registration numbers displayed on this pedestal for mine but it was devoid of anything familiar.  I scrolled forward, nothing.  I tried to scroll backwards to see how far back I’d been listed but it wouldn’t let me.

Then I squelched the length of the waiting room to the counter at the front, occupied by a woman and a man.  I asked the Senora if she spoke English.

“No”.  (No is the same in Spanish you know, but sounds slightly different.)

So I once more tested my linguistic skills by explaining that I had a cita for 6:50 and then waved a finger over my map indicating that I’d got lost.  As her blank face gave off an air of disinterest the Senor to her left said,

“Ann Patras?”

“Yes,” I chirped, giving him my best smile.  He intimated that I should hand him my papers which he looked at, kept two and said I should take a seat and wait.  I asked him how long.  I might as well have asked “how long’s a piece of string?” because he shrugged and said “one minute, five minutes, twenty minutes?” (who knows).

“Would it be better if I went home and made another cita online?” I asked.

“No, just wait there,” he said, indicating a nearby plastic chair.

As I turned to the chair only then did I take in the hoards already seated, waiting.  There must have been over thirty people.  I had been told by Dave that if I wanted to try and get the ITV earlier than the date I’d been given I could take a chance and just pitch up at the centre in Fuengirola, and hope to fit in on a cancellation.

“First thing in the morning, or at lunch time is good,” he said.

I figured this rent-a-crowd must have been a bunch of early morning chancers and hoped I wasn’t going to have to wait behind that lot!  I was just lamenting the fact that I’d stupidly left my iPad the car so didn’t have any comforting distractions when the Senor called my name again.

At the counter he passed back my vehicle registration paper, asked me for €47.36c then handed me more papers and told me to go and wait in my car and watch for my number being displayed on the big exterior screen.

YES!  I was IN!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  What a nice man.  I wanted to kiss him, but thought better of it (anyway he wasn’t that good looking!).

Back outside I cheerfully splashed my way through the ankle-high water before climbing into my car and turning on the windscreen demister and my wipers so I could see the illuminated display on the ITV building’s wall more easily.  I prepared for a wait.

I’d hardly had chance to put a new disc into the cd player when my registration was flashing red before my eyes.  I made my way to Lane 6 in the huge warehouse before they had time to change their minds.

It was a doddle.  The ‘man who does’ was happy to speak his not-so-bad English and we easily went through all the procedures necessary for him to test my systems.  (!!! I’m still talking car here!)    At the end of all the little tests he handed me my up-to-date car sticker which should keep me out of trouble for the next 12 months, pointing out that I needed to replace one of the light bulbs over the rear number plate. I thanked him for his help and off I went.

I only took two, easily rectifiable, wrong turns on the way back to the motorway and was home safe and sound, if still very wet, by 8:35, my pilgrimage complete.

As I recounted my experience to Ziggy he looked very sceptical when I told him how much water I’d sloshed through and how sopping wet my feet were – until I took my socks off and squoze out the equivalent of half a tumbler of water from each one.

He should know better by now than to question me!  Am I not the Queen of  ******* Everything”?

 

ADDENDUM

Over a year has passed since that event so when I went to renew my ITV this year I took no chances.  I got my son to assist me in getting directions to the place using Google Maps satnav on my phone.

I allowed plenty of time and arrived at the ITV Test Station with twenty minutes to spare, the only trouble was it was a different test station.  Still in Malaga it was the ‘old’ station not the ‘new’ one.  The kind man at the desk there gave me instructions on how to get to the other one.  “Turn left here,” he said, pointing to the window.

‘Here’ clearly wasn’t where I started from (after I’d gone round several corners after exiting the station at the rear), so surprise! surprise! I got lost.

Being a Saturday morning there weren’t many places open on the industrial estate to whom I could go to for help.

“Ah” I hear you say “why didn’t you tell your phone to take you to the ‘new’ one?”   I did and it told me it couldn’t find the place either.  See, it’s not just me!

After obtaining the assistance of a man on a bike walking (riding?) a dog,  gave me directions to the new place (in Spanish) which, as I drove around in circles, I clearly hadn’t adequately understood.  Finding myself close to the airport  I then sought help from a taxi driver who was a little more intelligible.

I eventually found it.

By which time it was closed!

eBS Ann Patras interview

Hi there, my Friends,

Guess what? I was just interviewed by a fabulous fellow by the name of Graham Higson, who is putting together a bunch of interviews of Kindle authors on YouTube called eBookShowtime.

So if you want to see me making an absolute idiot of myself, click “Play” in the video below!

Anyone for Twins?

Talking of the twins…

We were?

Yes.    We being the royal we, as in ‘im indoors’ and me.  I asked him to fetch me a drink of my (non-alcoholic) wine from the fridge as he ‘owed me one’ for the day.

“Oh yeah?” he says.

“Yeah,” I replied, “for not being there when they were born.”

They – Victoria and Leon James – were the subject of our conversation because it was their BIRTHDAY when we were having our little chat.

I am not going to tell you that they turned 39 yesterday because that would be quite rude of me, but on the other hand it will save you the trouble of trying to recall what year it was when they had their 3rd birthday party in Zambia.  It would after all be quite a schlep for you to have to go trolling through Into Africa with 3 kids, 13 crates and a husband to find out.

I’m sure I mentioned in said book that when they arrived they came as a bit of a surprise.  But I didn’t tell you about the palaver that went on in order for them to arrive actually in the hospital.  So if you have five minutes to spare (or ten, depending on how fast you read) and fancy being bored with enlightened on the issue – I promise, no gory details – then read on.

Back in the ‘70s Wednesday was my mum and dad’s night off from their pub.  Occasionally, when Ziggy was working away from home, I would go out with them to one or few of the other local hostelries which they enjoyed.  On this particular evening, the 22nd March 1978, we went to a pub called The Waterloo not far from where I lived.

As we sat chatting in the bar, mostly about what 17-month-old Brad had been misbehaving at that day, I made an observation.

“You know Brad was five weeks early, hey?” I asked.

They nodded.

“Well tomorrow it will be exactly five weeks until I am due to give birth to this baby.” I stated.

“Oh!”  “Is it really?”

“It occurred to me,” I went on, “that with Ziggy working all week in Southend which is several hours drive away, if anything like that should happen this time around, I might need some help getting to the hospital.  Perhaps we should, you know, make a plan.”

“Hmm, yes” said Nancy, my mother.

In the event that this one fights its way out as quickly as Brad did (16 hours start to finish, including the doctor in charge trying to stop him coming*) then we couldn’t hang around waiting for Ziggy to take me to the hospital.  *NO, he didn’t try to push him back inside!  He tried to stop his emergence with drugs – which clearly didn’t work.

A discussion duly took place between Nancy, Mev (my dad) and myself with ‘the plan’ being made.

We enjoyed the rest of our evening and I was duly dropped off at home.  Relieving the babysitter – our next door neighbour – I briefly explained our plan to her, as she would likely have to be party to the exercise.  She agreed to help whenever needed.

Fortunately Brad was not an early riser but the next morning I was awoken suddenly at 7 o’clock, with a very familiar damp feeling under my backside. Yep, my waters had broken.

My first call was to Ziggy, or his digs to be precise as this was light years before cell phones existed.  He came to the phone, saying he was in the middle of eating a hearty breakfast.  I told him the good news.

“You’re kidding me.  It’s not due for weeks yet.”

“Neither was Brad.  And it is exactly five weeks early, to the day.  Just like Brad!”

“Oh Shit!”, which was the sort of response I had expected.

“Okay, so now what?” He asked.

“Don’t you worry about it.  We actually made a plan last night and everything is under control.  Nancy will take me to the hospital and you just get there as soon as you can.  It would be nice if you could be there for the birth this time.”

I had to have that one dig, as he’d missed being at Brad’s arrival because he had been in the hospital car park eating fish and chips whilst I was giving birth!

As this conversation was taking place only minutes after my damp discovery I told him to finish his breakfast first, which he did.  He then packed his bag, paid his accommodation bill then nipped along to the site he was working on to explain that he wouldn’t be working that day.  This was the Thursday before Easter so he was due to drive home that night anyway, for the long weekend.

Next I phoned my mum.  I got the same response, more or less.

“Are you being serious?” she asked, “not doing a dummy-run ‘just in case’?”

I assured her I was deadly serious but that she shouldn’t panic.

“I was in the middle of preparing the sandwiches for the pub, have I got time to finish them?  Have you actually gone into labour yet?”

“No, it’s okay, only a few twinges to let me know this is the real thing and that I didn’t just pee myself in the bed.” I assured her. “You have plenty of time to finish making your sandwiches.”

By this time Brad was awake and demanding my attention so we went down to the kitchen for breakfast.  Then I finished packing the small case I’d put aside for taking to the hospital.  I had made sure this was ready well in advance.

I didn’t want a repeat of the performance I’d had with Brad.  On that day, a Saturday, once we realised what was happening and that Brad was arriving much sooner than we’d expected, it dawned on me that I had nothing prepared.  I mean, I didn’t even own a night-dress.  So Ziggy dropped me at my folks’ pub while he went shopping in town to buy me a couple of nighties, as well as some other bits and pieces.  By the time he returned to the pub to take me through to the hospital, the customers were getting very nervous about my presence, as I was starting to get contractions.  But that’s another story.

Next I went to Betty next door and asked her if she could look after Brad for us while my mum drove me to the hospital.  No problem, just call me when you’re ready to leave, she’d said.   I made sure Brad was organised with toys to keep him occupied and I was folding the terry-towelling nappies which had just finished drying in the tumble dryer when my mum arrived.

“What on earth are you doing?  You shouldn’t be working now.”  She was such a fusspot.  “Are you getting any contractions yet?”

“Yes.”

“How often?”

“Oh about every twenty minutes or so,” I answered calmly.

“WHAT?  Let’s go!”

Brad was more than happy to stay with Betty, who had four kids of her own albeit older, and my mum promised to come back to look after Brad as soon as she’d seen me comfortably (??) settled at the hospital.

I think now is the time I should just explain a little about my home town.  Burton upon Trent sits, as you might imagine, on the River Trent.  The main body of the town lies on west side of the river and there are a couple of fairly substantial suburbs on the eastern side.  We lived in one of those.  My parents’ pub sat in Burton ‘proper’ on the other side of the river near the Town Hall and the railway station.   The hospital was also on the west side of the river, but further away from us than my folks’ pub.

So within fifteen minutes of her arrival, Nancy and I were on our way to the Andressey Hospital, as it was called then.  As she drove she mentioned that the traffic was ‘getting a bit hectic’ at the bridge when she came over it.

In 1978 there was only one bridge over the River Trent at Burton, so as you might imagine it could get quite busy.  This was especially so if travelling in a westerly direction, because there were four busy roads all converging onto this one bridge.  It was even more hectic on the days when the very popular outdoor market was held twice a week, which was on Saturdays and Thursdays.

Now if you remember, I mentioned earlier that this was the Thursday before Easter, so as well as the lure of the market, every man, woman and child, with their dog, was making their way into Burton as all the shops would be closed on Good Friday, and they had to stock up for the long weekend.

We drove down the steep Bearwood Hill Road, which filtered into Newton Road before reaching the traffic lights controlling this wonderful junction.

Alas we came to a standstill partway down the hill behind about eight cars which were interlaced with two double-decker buses.  That in itself was a bad sign as buses in and out of our suburb normally only came one at a time.  And all those vehicles in front of us had to fight with the traffic on Newton Road before they could even reach the traffic lights.

We slowly made progress with each change of the lights and had only three cars waiting in front of us when my mum asked me,

“Are you alright, our Ann?  You seem to be doing some huffing and puffing.  How often are you getting the contractions?”

“About every ten minutes,”  I grimaced.

I thought my mother was going to have a seizure herself.  She started ranting that she was going to call for a police escort, though quite how she would do this was beyond me.  Never a policeman in sight when you need one!

“Then I’m going to toot my hooter,”  she said.  I managed to stop her just in time.

“No-one will know why you’re doing that mum.  And if they did, they can hardly move out of the way, where would they move to, it’s choc-a-bloc on that bridge?”  She conceded my point.

But I had to stop talking to put a bit more effort into the breathing exercises I’d been taught in antenatal classes a couple of years ago.  It was supposed to relieve the pain.  Bullshit!

As I sat and breathed with varying degrees of severity my mum eventually got us across the Trent Bridge, then she let it rip.  It was as if she were daring a police car to pull her over for speeding so she could get an escort, a move I was now becoming in favour of.  But at the pace we were going, I was more concerned that we might finish up in A&E instead of the maternity unit!

She abandoned the car near the front of the Andressey building then walked with me until we met a nurse, to whom we explained that things were pretty imminent.  As she lead me through to the check-in desk Nancy went and put the car in the designated car park before it got towed away.  Nancy joined me as the woman behind the desk was finishing taking my details.  I had told her that I was five weeks early but she didn’t seem bothered about that and said,

“Right, if you’d just like to get your towel and toiletries and take a bath…”.

“Oh, there won’t be time for a bath!” Nancy and I piped up in unison.

Not unless I’m down for a water-birth, I muttered under my breath.

With a look which said she hadn’t believed a word of anything I’d said, the battle-axe handed me over to a nurse who had arrived nearby.

“Right, let’s find you a bed,” she said.

I knew the general procedure from my previous visit.  There was a long ward full of beds containing females in various stages of agony.  The rule of thumb was that the sooner you were likely to pop, the closer your bed was to the exit, which lead to the delivery rooms.  This staff nurse obviously had more sympathy for my plight than the dragon woman, as she put me in a bed second from the door.  My status was also supported by the fact that I was having my third contraction in the space of ten minutes.

Once attired in the stunning hospital gown and settled in the bed, I was having a really bad spasm when Nancy suddenly said,

“Oh, I’m so sorry Ann, but I just can’t stay here and watch you in such agony.  I’m going to have to go to Brad,” and with that she was gone.

The staff nurse conducted a physical examination and was surprised when I told her I was five weeks early.

“You can’t be,” she said, “you’re too big.”

I assured her I knew exactly when the baby was conceived and that I was five weeks early.

With eyes rather wide she continued, “Well if you are, you’re having a very big baby!”

Now, that I did NOT want to hear.  When Brad was born he weighed in at a miniscule 4lb 14oz (2.2Kg) so compared to most women, I’d had a relatively easy time of giving birth.  But it certainly hadn’t been without pain, so I dreaded to think what it would be like expelling a ‘very big baby’.

But I didn’t have much time to dwell on that because ten minutes later I went into second stage labour.  That surprised them a bit.

It surprised me too!  Despite having gone through it all before, I had forgotten exactly how strong the involuntary urge to ‘push’ the foreign body out became at this point.  And one must not do that, until told to so by the attending doctor, or in my case, midwife.  So they teach you (at antenatal classes) how to breath properly to contain that urge.

For those of you who haven’t done it – men mostly, I reckon – you might have noticed that there is more to this child-bearing business than meets the eye.

After some to-ings and fro-ings the staff nurse, aided by another nurse, eventually wheeled my bed out of the ward, down the corridor and into a delivery room.

As they got me where they wanted me and readied all their gear, I panted and groaned my way through another agonising contraction.  The next minute the midwife smiled at me and said,

“Okay Ann, you can push whenever you’re ready.”

Nothing happened.  I had no more urge to push a baby out from between my trembling legs than jump naked off a fifty storey building.  So we all just waited.

Then suddenly it came again.  Fed up with having to hold it back previously, I pushed with all my might.  I’m not sure how many pushes I made, I wasn’t too fussed about counting at the time, but eventually at 12:45pm out it came.

“Well, you’ve got a little girl… she counted all the fingers and toes … and she’s just fine,” said the staff nurse.

They wrapped Victoria in a foil blanket and after briefly showing her to me, put her straight into an incubator for premature babies.

“But we thought you’d have a bigger baby than this!” and promptly stuck her hand into the cavern very recently vacated by my new daughter and said, “Oh, there’s another one in there!!”

Well that threw the buggers into a bit of a tizz, I can tell you.  They’d only catered for one.

“Just wait while we go and get another incubator, Ann.”

“Don’t worry, I’m going nowhere!” I replied.

So they faffed around, sorting out all the extra bits and pieces they needed, while I gazed and whistled at the ceiling.  They really should put some nice pictures up there for people lying here, I thought.

Leon James was born exactly five minutes after Victoria.  One push and he was out.  He could have been born much sooner if they’d been properly prepared!

He too was immediately cocooned in tin foil and shown to me before being placed in his own box.

The twins then had to be rushed by Ambulance to the Special Care Baby Unit which was housed on the other side of town in Burton’s General Hospital.  As they were wheeled away the midwife looked at me.

“You don’t seem too surprised by finding you’ve had twins, Ann,” she said

“That’s because I’m not.  I told my doctor over a month ago that I thought I was having twins, because I could feel them moving in different places.  But he wouldn’t believe me!”

Way back then, unless there were signs of problems, the average mother-to-be only got to see the gynaecologist four weeks before she was due to give birth.  I hadn’t made it that far so hadn’t had a scan.

“I can’t wait to see the doc’s face when I tell him!” I said.

His wasn’t the only face I couldn’t wait to see.  Ziggy was going to be in for a bit of a surprise too.  Shit, everybody was!

Alas, still needing the recovery facilities afforded by the maternity unit, I had to remain at the Andressey.  I was neatly draped and sitting up in bed when Ziggy arrived just after one o’clock.  He stood by the bed.

“So how are you doing?  How long do they think it’ll be before you have it?”  [One does not deflate back to normal size immediately after childbirth.  I still looked very pregnant.]

“What do you mean, how long?  It’s already happened.  You missed it.  Again.”

“No!  I came as fast as I could.  Broke every speed limit on the way here.”

“Yes, I’m sure you did.  But it all happened pretty damn quick.”

“So what have we got?  TELL ME!”

“At 12:45 Victoria was born,” I told him with a big smile.

He was so happy, laughing and dancing about like a maniac beside my bed.

“And at 12:50 Leon James was born!” I continued.

“What?  What did you say?  Did you say we have a boy as well?  Twins?  TWINS????”

His face was an absolute picture.

After he got over the shock we sat and chatted about what had gone on.  Then he was anxious to leave.  He said he couldn’t wait to tell my mum.  Before he left he established that he would be able to see the twins in the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).

He planned to go home, give my mum the good news then follow her to the pub so that he could leave Brad with them there for half an hour while he went to the SCBU.  Of course he would come back and see me later.

As he left the ward his grin was so wide it almost reached into his ears.

What a day that was!  Thank you my babies. XX

Jeepers Creepers

SOUTH AFRICA, Sunday 14th Feb 2010

You’ve heard of something being as interesting as watching grass grow?

One Thursday evening Leon came round for supper.  While we were waiting for the roast, we decided to have a game of cards.

Waiting for him out on the patio, whilst he was buggering about with something inside, I was sitting looking at nothing in particular, when I thought I saw a slight movement – of a plant.

Now you might ask, “What’s so unusual in that?  They are not exactly solid as concrete or contained in a hermetically sealed, breeze-free tank, but grow wild and rampant in your garden.”

Ah, Yes.  BUT it was a totally windless evening.  Not the slightest hint of even a breath of wind was to be felt.

Then, you might remark “There must have been an insect or even a very small lizard crawling up it’s nether regions.”  But “No”, I would reply, “I checked all over and around it”.  There were no foreign bodies to be found lurking anywhere upon it.

It was moving entirely by itself.

SH!T, I thought, the Triffids have landed.

Actually it was the tendril of a Morning Glory plant which has chosen to infiltrate the bougainvillea bush just outside my patio.  This particular tendril had grown its way around the white, plastered pillar which supports my patio roof, so it was all on its little ownsome, and thus clearly definable.

About 30cm (or about a foot to the unmetricised) of tendril leant against the pillar.  Until it started to move – away from the pillar towards where I was seated on the patio.

I rubbed my eyes and looked again, but as I stared at it, sure as eggs is eggs and the Pope’s a Catholic, I could physically see it growing.

I thought “Sod me”, or words to that effect, and after checking it out for a few more minutes, called Leon to come and witness this amazing phenomenon, cos even surer than eggs is eggs and the Pope’s a German (at the time of the incident) Catholic, no-one would believe me if I told them about this, without having a witness.

I said to him,

“Leon, just stand perfectly still and watch that plant, and tell me if you can see anything unusual about it.”  After less than a minutes, he said “Bloody Hell, it’s MOVING”.

We continued to watch until after about seven or eight minutes the end of the tendril had moved a couple of inches away from the pillar.

I went and called Ziggy to see it too, but in his own particular idiom he told me to go away.

Leon and I were transfixed by this marvel and only when it was too dark, did we realise that we should have been videoing this close encounter with nature.  But I did manage to take a couple of photos showing its progress.

When I first saw it, the tendril was flat up against, and halfway across, the pillar, as in photo 1.  It then started to move towards me until it was eventually about six inches away from the wall (photos 2 & 3).

In the final picture it had turned and was making its way back to where it had originally come from.

creeper-1

Creeper 1

creeper-2

Creeper 2

creeper-3

Creeper 3

creeper-4

Creeper 4

By this time we had realised that it wasn’t so much ‘growing’ as moving round.  Spookyyyy.

But to watch it in action was like seeing one of those documentary programs where they speed up the film.   Albeit this was somewhat slower, but it was LIVE.

Watching grass grow definitely has nothing on watching a creeper creep!