ANNUS HORRIBILIS 2020

our nice green lawn

Good riddance to this year, which has brought many people heart-break, anxiety, a feeling of doom and insecurity, of hopelessness and loneliness.

And here is hoping the coming year will have much to be joyful, hopeful and proud about.

For us, as for most of you, it has brought both, good and bad memories.

Obviously since the implementation of measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, we have missed out on our constant stream of guests, who always brought so much diversion, life stories and of course income to us.

In June my mother died, aged 96, in Berlin. No, not of Covid, just of old age.

As sad it is to lose your mother, the person who has brought you into this world and always loves you unconditionally, it turned out to be an experience I will always be grateful for.

I was so lucky to be there with her, as were my two children, her grandchildren. At this stage she was already quite immersed in her own world of dementia, but I still believe that she knew, or felt, that she was not alone, that we were there with her. And she died at home, as was her wish, cared for by a set of dedicated angels, the staff of the ‘Pflegedienst’, carers service. And they also took me into their very big hearts; to this day I receive messages asking how I am.

Back in Andalucia we could enjoy the fantastic beach over the summer, packed as usual, and some guests in July and August.

We made new friends and met not quite old ones, and worked on our finca and me tending to the vegetable and herb garden.

Our olive harvest was very good, considering the amount of time spent pruning and spraying for disease.

LAURIE THE LAMB

Three weeks ago, when we came back from a trip to the beach and El Rocio with our Irish friend Roisin, we came across this little lamb in a field all on its own.

He would probably not have survived the night, so it was either to die or come with us. We managed to get a feeding bottle, milk powder and fed him every four hours. He has now grown already quite a bit, our ram lamb.

He follows Nigel and the dogs out and skips and runs around with them, such a funny sight. He blends in well with his black and white woolly coat and he is the same size as Clyde. Some day he might be matching Sofie’s size.

In the garden, the frost has wrecked havoc with the voluntary beans, tomatoes and sunflowers and my experimental amaranth and courgettes, although I managed to harvest a fruit last week.

But on a more positive note, the about ten year old lemon tree is carrying fruit for the first time. And nice big lemons they are, too. We must be doing something right, because it received lots of organic and also chemical fertiliser, just to make sure, and it worked.

Some mornings the temperature in the house is down to nine degrees Celsius. Then the gas heater needs to keep me warm for breakfast and later the temperature outside will be higher in the sunshine.

ORANGE GLUT

Thanks to our neighbour Steffi, we received a big amount of oranges and I set about making cakes, desserts and our morning juice from them.

All food here has to be gluten~ and lactose free, so that I can enjoy some too. Sometimes it is tricky, to transfer recipes to suit my needs.

INTUITIVE TRADITIONAL ARCHERY

This year I have taken up my bow and arrows again. It has been seven years since I took part in traditional, instinctive archery, with wooden bows and arrows, in Ireland.

It was great fun to roam the woods in the west of Ireland, where rubber animal-shaped targets were set up. All day long we practiced our archery in small groups, wise-cracking and having a laugh, because the club I belonged to, the ‘Warriors of Queen Maeve’ were a motley group of guys, ladies and families with more interest in a pint after and a day out then achieving best results.

Anyway, I dusted down my two bows, got my arrows repaired and a practice target set up.

Archery gives me a sense of reconnecting to ancient ways of hunting, it concentrates the mind, exercises the muscles and is rewarding, when all goes well. I suppose, any golfer knows the satisfaction of a good shot or the dart player hones his/her skills to become the champion.

I am missing the support of the experienced archers that even go as far as making their own bows and arrows. What I am missing here is the comradeship, not so much the competition as you can always compete against yourself, improving your technique and aim.

the proper target

Bye-Bye 2020

The last night of 2020 was spent in the company of friends. We made up an international group of two Irish, two Moroccans and two Germans. We had live Irish folk songs thanks to Nigel picking up his guitar, some rock, pop and also Moroccan Desert blues. We indulged in delicious home-made treats until we could not move an inch away from the cosy fire. And to top it all, we celebrated a birthday right after midnight, in the very shiny New Year.

This was followed the next day by a walk on the beach in the sunshine and we even received our very first booking in 2021, a very promising start to this New Year.

Autumn in Andalucia

sandy path

Acantilado del Asperillo

      We are trying to discover all places of interest to tourists visiting the area. So one Sunday we set off to discover if there are any further points to access the beach.  We stopped at a place called Acantilado del Asperillo, meaning ‘bitter cliff’. I am not sure this is the actual translation as often words and expressions here are very much local and no translation can be found in dictionaries.  The area has a car park and is accessed through a gate. And then you can walk up and down on sandy paths through pines, scrubland (maquis) until you get to see the dunes and the coast. It is not an easy walk and some people come to mountain bike there as we could see by the tracks. There is no access to the beach, but a grand view over the coast when you scale the dunes.

Culinary Delights

We had a lovely young couple staying for two nights here. She was from India, he was from London but has Indian parents. He was engaged in the Brexit negotiations regarding agriculture as an assistant negotiator and she was starting a PhD in business. We had very interesting conversations at the dinner table. One evening Sughanda made us a nice authentic Indian dinner and the following night I cooked us a vegetarian three-course meal. It is nice to have strangers become friends and we learn so much about what goes on in the world without it being filtered through a news medium.

Almond-Pumpkin Cake

This is one of the loveliest cakes I have ever tasted, not because I baked it, but because I can actually enjoy it, as it is gluten free, lactose free and even fat free. Additionally it has my favourite cinnamon and spice flavour, is moist and easy to make. This is an adapted recipe, because what I found on the internet was either too complicated or had lard as an ingredient or no actual pumpkin. Ok, yes, you do have to make the pumpkin jam first. But I am working on a version where you could also use peach puree or other fruity ingredients.

Pumpkin Jam

 from :    https://www.bakedbyanintrovert.com/pumpkin-jam/

Prep Time 10 minutes     Cook Time 10 minutes    Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients  for 2 cups

  • 15-ounce can (425 g) pumpkin puree or 3 pound pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or fresh root
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (425 g) granulated sugar

(I also  like to add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.)

Instructions

  1. Combine pumpkin puree, orange juices, spices, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Continue to cook while stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to sterile glass jars, seal and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

The jam will keep for up to 3 months stored in the refrigerator.

If you don’t have canned pumpkin, you’ll need to cook and puree the fresh pumpkin first. Then measure out 15-ounces to be used in the jam. A 3-pound pumpkin should yield enough puree for the recipe.

Almond Pumpkin Cake

Ingredients (for 8 portions)

  • 150 grams brown sugar (or light brown)
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 200 grams ground almonds
  • 1/3 cup (4 tbsp.) pumpkin jam.
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Almond flakes to sprinkle on top.

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Beat eggs and sugar together until frothy.
  3. Add everything else and mix until creamy.
  4. Transfer to cake form (I love my silicon forms as nothing ever sticks to them),

Sprinkle almond flakes on top.

  • Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes.

Now that all, and this time I mean all, olives are finally taken down, we have time for other things; although Nigel of course is always busy pruning the trees and cut fire wood from that. In our climate zone this is now gardening season for leafy greens and root vegetables. So I am out to tend to the now exploding encroachment of weeds, which are lovely wild flowers when they are in the right place.

I even managed to sow courgettes, of which two are producing fruit! The peppers are also still continuing and I have peas, french beans and a huge amount of rocket, from my own seed, growing. There is also lettuce, onions, garlic and beetroot, kohlrabi, sweet potato, carrots and leeks coming on.

This year my olive pickling has gone upmarket a notch with a gadget that scores the olives so that the soaking period is greatly reduced, the bitterness also and the finished result should be a lot milder than last years product.

Criminal Activity

I won’t go into the (other)  C-Word, suffice to say that we are all confined to our communities, not allowed to travel without a good reason, like work or medical appointments, to other towns or provinces. We are however privileged in so far, as our community encompasses not only Almonte, but also El Rocio and Matalascañas. So we are allowed to walk the beach.

Out of reach is Lidl, which is in Bollullos, but I needed to stock up on our magnesium supplements and wanted to say goodbye to our Schwedish-German friends. Since Robert cycled over to return Nigel’s bike and I dropped him off half way I figured I might as well go the whole way and sneak into Bollullos the back way, using the agricultural caminos. All worked well, I had a coffee with Karin, his wife, and nearly got stuck in a huge puddle on the way back.

Out of reach of course is Sevilla and Huelva. Luckily I had my main clothes shopping done before the lock-down. But I had tickets purchased online way back in October for a nice intimate Candlelight concert ‘Bandas Sonoras’ at the Fundación Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo and after hearing our Italian guests and our neighbour travelling the country with no problems, no check-points, I was determined to see that concert. Yes, I am a non-believer or Querdenker, as they call people in Germany that do not believe this virus justifies such stringent restrictions of people’s life to the detriment of the economy, or more important, their livelihoods and generally being human to each other.

The other reason is that the concert operators were instructed by the government not to scrap the performance but merely change the time to afternoon rather than evening, all safety measures of course in place like mask wearing, 2 meter distance and temperature check.

Anyhow, Steffi and I set off on a Sunday and the roads were deserted. It was like after an apocalypse had taken place. The venue was at the outskirts our side, so we did not have to traverse the whole city. Opposite the lovely Arabian-style hall was a cafe, full of families enjoying a nice, sunny autumn afternoon, common sense was prevailing. As you can see from the photos it was a really nice, safe and wonderful experience, four musicians playing tunes from famous films transporting us away from the madness for a little while, soothing the soul. Condemn me if you will, but I have no regrets, (which would probably be different if we would have been stopped and fined), but I am happy to have been able to support those artists and they were delighted of the crowd of about fifty people to have turned up.

In December it is time here to pay the taxes for our vehicles and house and the land. For that we had to make an appointment in the local tax office and receive the dockets, this year to be paid in the bank. The banks seem to have a lot of extra responsibility other than taking your money, loaning you more and selling insurance. They are also involved in taking your tax payments. In our bank this is only possible up to 10.30 am. And at that time the queue is usually so long that it would take over two hours. I tried their banking machine outside, without success.  While walking up to the post office I spotted another banks laser light bar code reader (ours didn’t have that) and proceeded to get the business done.

Then we heard it – English spoken, with a Northern Irish accent, here in Almonte! You never hear much English here, the place is shared between the local Spanish, Romanians, Moroccans and Germans, never English.

We hung around until the lady had finished her mobile phone call and Nigel walked up to her, saying “What a nice Irish accent you have.”  “Yes, straight from Ballymena, County Antrim.”  What a surprise, the same town Nigel hails from. Well, he wasn’t going to let her get away and invited her for a chat and some tapas, which we had planned on having anyway.

Nigel even got to chat to her father on the phone then, running through names of the Ballymena football teams from over forty years ago. And since Roisin herself was happy to have found someone to talk to in her language amidst the Arabic, Spanish and Romanian we brought her to our finca for a nice cup of tea I was going to say, but in fact it was a Gin & Tonic on the terrace. She was delighted to have found someone to share her story and background with, and so is Nigel as she can reconnect him to the place he has left at nineteen years of age, over forty years ago.

Our finca in all its autumn glory.

Start of Olive Harvest 2020

Manzanilla Olives

We have moved up in the world of olive farming. In 2017 we started with a few donated bucket and crates, borrowed ladders and our trusty Toyota to convey our small harvest to the Co-Op in Almonte. We only managed to pick about 2-3 buckets a day, which is 40-60 kilograms, sometimes even less, because the olive trees were so bad; too high to reach, too overgrown to produce much fruit and too diseased, full of dead wood.

Three years later we have four people engaged to help picking, we have a jeep and trailer and a proper crate to transport our bounty to the agent, who collects the olives for the factory in Sevilla.

Thanks to our contractor, Antonio Sanchez, who also acts unofficially as our agricultural advisor, our olive trees look much healthier, greener and fuller. The constant pruning that Nigel does all year round is essential to achieve a good balance between too many or too few branches. We still have a long way to go when it comes to shaping and selecting the right branches to keep. And of course it takes time to let fresh regrowth mature to carry fruit.

This year we started harvesting on Wednesday, 9th of September with 2 Spanish workers and Steffi, our all-round talented neighbour. The following Monday, 14th of September, another Spanish worker joined us and now we are 6 persons picking olives every day.

This is necessary, as the sooner the olives are picked the more money we get. The longer they stay on the tree, the lower is their value as they will mature and turn black and our return on them sinks to 20 cent per kilo as opposed to 75 cent per kilo when they are green.

We are lucky in so far that we have bought an olive farm and not a vineyard. Because of the impact of the virus measures being taken to protect the population through restricting gatherings of people and cancellation of festivals the wine consumption is down 40%.  Thus the price of grapes has nose-dived. In our region here grapes are being left on the vine, as it just does not pay to even harvest them.

Luckily, olives still seem to be a staple on every table and the price is good this year because the lack of rain, again, means less tonnage is being brought in.

On Friday, 18 September 2020 we had our first rain since the end of May with heavy downpours and stormy conditions. The day before I planted out my second batch of tomatoes this year, hoping to get some fruit, as the days are still hot well into October and November, we will see if it works. I also have four young courgette plants in the garden.

Hail the Archeress

armed and dangerous

After a hiatus of seven years I have finally dug out my flat bow and home-made arrows again. They are a sorry sight, maimed and broken most of them. But I have set up a target, a dart board, under an olive tree and surprisingly even manage to hit it, now and then. It’s a great, powerful feeling to release an arrow in absolute silence and see it fly, powered by simple force of resistance and leverage.  I always have enjoyed this ancient craft of instinctive, traditional archery as it requires concentration and skill. Not for me the various implements like cords and pulleys, bow sights, cams and cables on a compound bow that measure the distance and set the exact force to hit home the arrow. In Ireland I had joined a mad-hatters club of archers in County Longford, the Warriors of Queen Maeve, which were more about the roaming of woods and cracking jokes than the seriousness of notching up points to be the best archer of them all. The attraction was the constant changing of targets, rubber animal shapes in all sizes, from a rat to a standing bear set up in various distances from the shooting positions in the wood, which resulted in contortions, kneeling, crouching, and sideways bending to get a clear view of the target through the trees and undergrowth, sometimes even climbing up on a fallen tree trunk or a platform to shoot up or down hills and valleys. To hit your target was real luck, or skill, or mostly a combination of both, just great fun to challenge yourself not to lose or break the arrow in the process, hence my only four remaining arrows.

So I will have to repair, maybe make some more arrows and practice, practice, practice until I can move up to my stronger bow and execute some serious archery.

Compost Toilet

blue window

We are advertising our finca for campers on various sites like pitch-up and areasauto-caravanas.com for people that like a quiet, rural place far from crowds and noise. Occasionally we do get somebody. Since we are not a dedicated camping site and do this only on a trial basis we do not have any services as yet.

In August a huge campervan drove up with seven people, three generations. They were the rather tiny granny and her grandchildren of 18 months and six years; also her three children, two sons and a daughter with her husband. Did you count? They all shared happily this one space, only Spanish are so family-loving. They had all they needed in this campervan and we only supplied water and two hours of generator connection. We don’t really earn anything out of it, it’s the novelty and giving people a choice, when in the high season all camping sites are stuffed full of holiday makers.

Another day one Renault arrived with four French lads and their tents. These were three brothers and a friend, they were really nice and we prepared breakfast for them. They also needed a shower and toilet, which was fine, as we had no guests in the downstairs bedroom. With the Covid-19 drama ongoing we cannot have guests, strangers, sharing a bathroom.

When we had Dodi and his tent here for a week, he definitely needed access to a bathroom, which was not possible when we had guests in the house.

Therefore I set upon Nigel with much nagging to build a compost toilet. And so he did, within four days he had constructed a solid building which will withstand any storm. Then the olive harvest started and we (or rather Nigel) have not got around to adding a roof, a proper door and a nice tiled floor, but it will happen.

I am all in favour of a dry toilet, which is by no means a new and radical thing. Compost toilets have been around for donkey’s years but nobody seems to want to invite them into their homes. I have come across them first in the 1990s in the Health Food Store in Berlin I worked. They sold upmarket types for garden sheds and holiday homes. In Ireland I used one in a converted outbuilding on a farm. Also German friends of ours that bought a finca have built a simple one and use it every time they are in the country, until they have modernised the house. A perfect solution for water preservation, no fussy plumbing required, and it provides the garden with manure. There is no smell, as liquids are soaked up by a layer of sawdust. They resulting human manure has to be composted for at least a year to be used in the garden. If you don’t believe me please read for yourself ‘The Humanure Handbook’ from Joseph Jenkins, available from Amazon or separate chapters are free to download.

The Egg Trick

Hens are clever; they hide their eggs in plain sight. We recently found a clutch of 19 eggs, right beside the door to the hen house, under the rose bush. We should have known because previously they hid the eggs around the corner in the rose bush. So without a date on the eggs, how would we know how old they were and if they were still ok to eat? It’s easy. Just put the eggs into a bowl of water and the fresh ones will stay below, see the egg marked ‘new egg’ in the photo, the old ones will float as the gases inside the shell develop. With the floating eggs I made a nice ‘dogs dinner’ scrambled egg. They were all good bar one that smelled like rotten eggs smell. The dogs anyway were delighted about their nice dinner.

LOVE & HATE August 2020

6 Nations in one House

The world we live in is divided, and always will be, by nature.

Between the hunters and the hunted, the perpetrators and the victims, people that love Brussels sprouts (I do) and ones that hate them. Some people prefer dogs over cats, or vise versa.

The divisions exist mostly in our brains, through judgments.

We are at present divided by fear and confusion. Fear against a virus, that is part of the ‘flu and cold viruses, but behaves differently, seemingly unpredictable, because we haven’t had time and experience to suss it out yet.

We are unsure whether mask wearing is life saving or nonsense, at least I am, because different so-called experts give diametrically opposed answers.

Our collective governments chose to restrict the most basic of human needs, to socialise, meet our families, carry out our hobbies (singing, playing wind instruments, mens’sheds, dancing) that help our mental well-being, all in the name of trying to save us from a virus, that to date has officially killed just about 0.026 per cent of the world population.

Conspiracy theories don’t help with feeling calm, all of it adds up to feeling completely controlled, by the virus and the governmental restrictions, and at the same time not feeling in control of our life at all.

However, here we are receiving guests.

August has been a very busy months, thankfully, making up for the 4 months of solitude. We had even non-Spanish visitors, from France, Brasil, Holland, Ireland (although living in La Linea) and Portugal. One day we were six nations assembled: 

Irish, German, Colombian, Moroccan, Bulgarian, Spanish.

Of course, we both are already two and then four guests make up six.

Guests either love it here, and 90% do, or they hate it.

There is a kind of person that should not be here, should not book here; mainly city-dwellers that need to be right there where the action is and other people; where everything is in walking distance, bars, cafes, restaurants, parks, entertainment. Some people hate to drive over the dusty, bumpy road with their beloved car and yes, the Spanish like to keep their cars shiny and clean.

Most people like a bargain; I do, but read no further than the price and end up here, en el campo.

We had a run of the friendliest people that gave us 10 point reviews on Booking.com but also a few flops, people that were unhappy and gave us bad reviews.

One couple arrived in the afternoon, their faces already not as bright as could be, saw the room and ask if there is a terrace, which I showed them and also the other bedroom upstairs. They favoured it as opposed to the high-quality sofa bed downstairs. Unfortunately it was only available for two nights, not the three nights they had booked. They proceeded to lie down for a rest and after an hour went out, never to be seen again.

An hour later I received the cancellation on my handy. Right, well, I feel it was a bit childish to walk away like that instead of trying to sort something out. I could have given the other room for two nights and then returned the money for the third night. I now get to keep the payment for three days, but they gave us a bad review. It seems to be a recurring theme that the Spanish are too proud to admit they made a mistake and have to find reasons why our place is unacceptable to them.

Another time the guests arrived also in the afternoon, he got out of the car, was shown the room, changed his clothes and drove away. He returned some time later, had a shower and left, again, never to be seen again. His girlfriend didn’t even get out of the car. He also left a bad review, he didn’t even stay overnight. He was not treated any different and everything was the same as for any other guest.

You can’t please everyone, certainly not when the expectations are different from reality.

We go out of our way to please our guests, make up dinners or lunches at the drop of a hat, breakfasts at 7.00am, will accommodate early or late arrivals and Nigel provides most of the entertainment, coaxing Spanish to speak English and most oblige and even get to enjoy practising a long forgotten foreign language.

And then…. there came a knock on our front door on Sunday noon. We did not expect anybody; our last guests were just ready to leave. Upon opening the door I saw two casually dressed men, shorts, sunglasses, t-shirts and a Toyota car. And then they identified themselves as the local police and told me there was a ‘denuncia’, we have been reported. I think our guests were more in shock than we were, because I am duly licenced and have an accountant to show i am willing to pay tax, if I had enough income. So I proceeded to copy the requested documentation and they informed me I had to take details of every guests ID, passport or similar. I was actually waiting for somebody official to tell me what I needed to do. Obviously it is up to the entrepreneur to obtain this information for themselves.  That is what I fell down on and my excuse was that Booking.com keeps all that info. Anyway, they said they would email me a program, so I can easily input all the required information, and so I wait…  In the meantime I am of course complying, so they won’t pull me up a second time, as they promised to be back.

I first suspected a couple of guests that booked for three days, but disappeared after an hour’s rest without a word and subsequently cancelled the booking.  I got in touch with them and they swore it wasn’t them. So who objects to our little business we will probably never know.

Emil

And then there was Emil (not his real name) from Holland, that arrived here with his tent and not much more than stories to his name. With thirty-five years of age, his mother pulled the purse strings because he had lost his passport so many times, that the police thought he sold it off. There is a reason of course for his misfortunes. At fifteen he had a bad car accident which left him in a coma for a week and since then he has trouble focusing, remembering and concentrating. Anytime he needs some funds, he calls his mum to explain how much, what for and she would transfer some to his account.

He, or rather his mother, booked for one night and he stayed six.

We felt sorry for him and brought him along to the beach and to a night out in El Rocio, together with another guest. On her last night, we had a little sun-downer on the upper terrace, Gin&Tonics, music and some Aniseed liquor, Emil’s favourite. He fell for her hook, line and sinker, but she had to return to her friends and job in Malaga.

Guapa & Ingles

We have added to our menagerie of hens, cats and dogs and now have permanently also two horses on loan from Sandrine, the owner of Doñana Horse Adventure. Ingles came first, he is 24 years old and retired. When our neighbours horses were still around, he was happy having the odd chat with them. But they went home, having eaten everything available, and so he went in search of company, jumping the fence and breaking a few posts in the process. To alleviate his loneliness Sandrine brought along Guapo, a white temperamental seven-year old. Now they are happy together, although Guapo is a little bully, trying to get his fair share of oats and more.

Isla Cristina, Huelva FISHING PORT

The harbour on Isla Cristina, just after Huelva town, is one of the most important fishing ports in Spain, so a guest told us. So we went to visit some Saturday evening. It took us one hour to get there. Isla Cristina is also one of the summer hotspots for life on the beach with numerous holiday apartments, hotels and holiday homes.

Here we see the gritty, dirty side of the sea, although in the evening all is quiet, the fishermen still resting from the early morning return with their big catches, which are being sold in the market hall and now in the many restaurants scattered throughout the town.

We select a quiet restaurant, Bar Escobalin (you can download their menu) directly at the harbour which sits relatively forlorn on Calle Muelle Marina, where the working boats are anchored. At half past eight we are, as usual, too early and have to go for another little stroll to watch the crabs slowly walking sideways away from the incoming tide.

At nine o’clock the owner proceeds to take out more tables and chairs and the small restaurant grows into a rather large affair, it seems it is a well-known place to eat away from the restaurants opposite the Lonja de Isla Cristina, the seafood market, where you find later on the crowds eating the fish and seafood caught in the night.

In fact, this seafood market functions like an auction house, where all the fish is coming along a conveyor belt and is being sold off to the traders and restaurants. It opens at 3.30am and sells its wares until 8pm.

Here is a video clip from facebook, which makes dead fish seem sexy https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=925781284180693

Of course the Gamba Blanca de Huelva are famous all over Spain and command a price, depending on their size, from €25/kilo to up 125€/kg.

And ordering a small dish of Huelva gambas in garlic and olive oil in a restaurant will set you back around €14.00.

We ate well for €32.00 with two tapas as starters and two racíon medio and one plato, a good slice of pez espada, swordfish. Yes, we were hungry and enjoyed our night out, because with so many guests we seldom have time to go out in the evenings.

June, 2020, 4th months of Covid- Madness

He is handsome, strong and Italian. And I just love him. He is called Polti.

I love to handle him, plug him in and hear him roar.

Is it a sign of Corona-Madness or just a sign of over-domestication since the lock-up and lack of meeting people?

I have started talking to my new vacuum cleaner. I have heard myself introducing him to our downstairs bathroom and telling him to clean those corners well. And look, there is Imelda in the shower, the palm house plant. She needed a bit of de-dusting and some freshening up ….

I am reading a book called ‘The Shaman’ by Noah Gordon and its having me in its thrall, I think about the people and the storyline incessantly. I love historical fiction, as not only is it entertaining, I also learn a bit about how people lived in bygone eras. This one is about a Scottish doctor putting down his roots as one of the first settlers in Illinois. There are still the last remaining native Indians, which are moved by force and threat to the reservations and also still slaves. It is a very emotional story, with interesting medical and agricultural details thrown in. I was surprised to see that I am not even half way through and so much has happened already. It just shows, the more change and drama a story has, the more it keeps the reader engaged.

Maybe I should be a bit more inventive in my blog, and not keep strictly to reality and truth?

Early June, Phase Three of the Corona Opening

The beach season has finally returned and with it the siesta. We don’t usually go to the beach before 16.00 because it is just too hot. Swimming in the warm Atlantic and splashing with the waves is the ultimate stress buster. I just feel myself de-tense, and I get a whole body work-out too.

We did that from Monday till Wednesday, when we finally realised that the beach was actually not open, not at all. The red flag on the main beach in Matalascanas was still up and police was patrolling the promenade.

A man beside us on our normal spot at Heidi Bananas chiringito told us, to fold up our sun umbrella, as it would attract the police and they can fine us. What?  Really?

Well, we weren’t the only oblivious or ignorant people, for there were more umbrellas to be seen flouting the law. But we folded it up and pretended we weren’t sunbathing at all…

It was going to get worse…

They nearly got us, €600 euro each for breaching the order to stay in our province. On Sunday evening we took a drive to Villamanrique with our guest Andres. We decided to take a road we didn’t know yet to El Rocio through the National Park. Half way a police patrol with three cars and six officers stopped us.

Oh no, I left all the papers, passports and NIEs in the other bag, Nigel’s driving licence was in the jeep, how stupid. Now what?

So the officer asked us where do we live, where did we come from, where do we go to and how did we get here. Turns out, we left our province on the way and were in Sevilla province, by maybe six kilometers. There was no sign or indication that pointed this out to us. Our guest explained that that he was here to find a job, stayed with us and we wanted to show him around a bit.

I don’t know what did it in the end, but we got off, puuh! But next time we would be fined, up to €600 each. Maybe it was the car, steering wheel on the wrong side or the fact that we are extranjeros, not speaking much Spanish, or our obvious stupidity, going around without identification. At least the car had a valid NCT (ITV) and new tires, so that was in our favour.

And then there was BERLIN….

On the bus to Sevilla

Impressions of an unusual journey:

I ended up spending the rest of the months in Berlin, three weeks to be precise. On Sunday I got a phone call from the carers that look after my mother. She had just been out a week from one of her more frequently-getting hospital stays and they were getting concerned about her condition. So by Thursday I was en route via Sevilla – Madrid- Frankfurt. The train from Sevilla to Madrid was full and so were the flights, Corona or not. But the airports were eerily empty, devoid of food, drink, noise and bustle. What a very relaxing and strange experience.

My mother was 96 years old, born in 1924 and witnessed the second world war as a young woman. She had to become part of the war machinery by working wherever she was sent; farms, an ammunition factory, do secretarial work and never got to carry out her chosen profession, hat making. She nearly died of diphtheria, had typhus and chill blains.

After the war she got married and moved from her native Havelberg to Berlin. There the young couple shared the bombed out city by lodging in cramped conditions, several families to an apartment until my father took over the upholstery business of his father. My brother was born, then I, 11 ½ years later. The marriage was not a happy one, my brother left when I was five, my father died when I was nine. Then my mother started to blossom and enjoy life again. She needed to look after me and became a shop assistant with a family friend, who had three fashion shops to her name. The work was varied, brought my mother into different parts of Berlin and she enjoyed earning her own money. She was good at her job and was eventually taken on by the big fashion store ‘Kuehl’ who owned a store Am Ku’Damm and another in Steglitz. She worked there nearly up to 70 years of age.

Her twin brother had already died in 2002, she mourned him deeply for two years, even though they had little actual contact, his family living in West-Germany.

Any time in the last few years after I visited her, I thought that this could have been the last time I saw her alive. Her death did not come unexpected at her age and we had time to say Good-bye.

She was the lucky one in this crazy time of Covid-19. Would it have happened earlier, I would not have been able to be with her, or my children. We feel privileged to have had the chance to share these last days with her, even if her dementia meant there was very little real conversation.

She died on the 19th of June 2020 and we were so very lucky to be there with her, my two children, her grand-children, and I. I stayed with her in her apartment where she died, as was her wish. I can only express my deepest thanks to the dedicated carers, who looked after her with compassion and love and did not let me out of their thoughts, even when she was gone, sending messages on Whatsapp how I was keeping.

I had time to sift through all her paperwork; every postcard she ever got, all her bills, shopping lists, even my father’s documents from when he was released as a POW (prisoner of war) in France; all my letters to her she never threw away, which are my innermost thoughts and my life story, she was always a part of that.

For her funeral we were fifteen, as most of the surviving relatives were too old to make the journey and by then my brother was also out of hospital. She has found a resting place in a quiet, intimate graveyard with old trees and an old village church nearby, and this in the heart of Berlin, not far from where she lived for 70 years.

Considering it all, I have to say that this was a good experience. Everything came together wonderfully. And most important of all my mum did not have to suffer long. It was the second time I have accompanied a person in his/her last days, every time is different, every time is special and every time it is painful to let go.

Impressions of Berlin: