Category: The Weird Early Years


So there we were. A nice warm day, no clouds. What to do? So why not try that flat topped mountain that we can just see from our house that’s in an unknown and remote location? We’ve named it “Flat Top” just to be original! So I looked on the internet to find out information re approach, access etc. It turns out that a Spanish forum was the only site to mention the peak that is in fact called….
Yesterday went to the “Bar Flower” in Lanjarón. I had been rock climbing with 2 clients and had told them I’d take them to an really authentic Spanish working mens’ bar with flamenco/tapas etc. On approaching the bar’s entrance the drunken sounds of a man singing a strangely familar song split the air……………….. “We walked him to the station in the rain We kissed him as we put him on the train And we sang him a song of times long gone Though we knew that we’d be seeing him again (Far away) sad to say I must be on my way So buy me beer and whiskey ‘cause I’m going far away (far away) I’d like to think of me returning when I can To the greatest little boozer and to Sally MacLennane”
Just had some exciting news! I’ve had a meeting today with some producers of a travel programme who work for Sky TV. They want me to do a couple of days shooting with them. The star of the show, apart from me of course, is “ Curly Watts” (of Coronation Street fame). During the shoot I’ve got to teach him ice axe and crampon techniques then falling down an ice slope and hoping he brakes and doesn’t keep on going, abseiling off frozen waterfalls, snowshoeing, snow climbing and some rock climbing up a mountain summit to finish!
“Antonio the Muleman”, we call him. Why is it everybody round here is called Antonio? Anyway, this Antonio is in his late sixties I would guess. His prize possession is his mule, although I can’t tell you what he/she is called, I suspect its called “Burro”, the Spanish for “Donkey”. Antonio also (unbeknown to him) acts as a morning alarm call. At precisely 8.23am each morning the sounds of hoofbeats are heard from the bedroom, followed by the dogs barking, announcing the imminent arrival of Antonio the Muleman.
This summer seems to have lasted for ever. Lazy sunny days have become the norm and it’s been great to get up every day, slap on a T shirt and shorts and go out to see what the weather is doing ………… needless to say, its been hot and sunny! The grounds are looking very brown and bare and water is now required. Nights are getting much fresher however and the climate will soon change.
Life really changed for “Bernie” our imaginatively (not!) named St Bernard dog on the day we walked into the pet rescue centre in Granada. He had spent all of his year-long life tied up, and had obviously been a problem to his then owners, hence the rescue centre was called in. He was in need of much love and care as these big dogs will develop problems without it. He was a bit scary at first because of his size and ferocious sounding bark and growl.
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home” repeated Tracy, with eyes tightly shut, as she tapped her feet together three times “Why, oh why didn’t I listen to Richard more carefully” she thought. Let me explain………………………… I had a party of 7 clients camped high on the Cerro de Caballo (3,001 metres) last Tuesday night. We had walked up that afternoon. The plan was for Tracy (who came along helping to carry gear etc) to return to her car early Wednesday.
I gather the UK summer is not too good this year, so I thought I’d write and tell you about what it’s like out here now. Not to gloat, far from it. Actually to help you cope with it and to let you know that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Last year I was in Chamonix in July and August so did not experience the full summer here.
Well you could have written the script yourself. It’s happened before hasn’t it? Worst bit was scoring first. Why is it that millions around the world watching on TV know that the worst thing you can do is sit back and defend all the game whilst our football master tacticians don’t realise it? Just look what happened to the Spanish when they played Portugal? We made a good Portugese team look very good and when you give them so many opportunities to get crosses into your penalty area or shots on target then the probability is that one of them will end in a goal.
Emma’s out here now. Nice to see her, and I think she likes the laid back lifestyle here. Went to Granada on a big city shopping trip yesterday. She bought all sorts of gear usually load and unusual (what a surprise!) as it’s about half price than UK. We shopped in the morning, sat in some squares watching the tourists get fleeced, visited the Arab Quarter to drink tea in the tea shops and then went to some old tapas bars and got a bit tipsy.
One day Dennis and I decided to build a climbing wall on the new storehouse building. Armed with bolt on holds from the Granada climbing shop we set about the task. Problem came with top bolt/attachment point as we needed to get on the roof. Dennis held the ladder whilst I climbed the overhanging tiles onto the roof. Whilst I tried to assemble the bolts Dennis arrived behind me ….. like Heinrich Harrer (on the north face of the Eiger of the Hinterstoisser Traverse) he’d forgotten that from above you couldn’t see where the ladder down was and so effectively our retreat from the roof had been cut off.
I was having a mid morning coffee with my neighbour, Antonio, a few days ago. Trying hard to interpret what he was saying is very hard as he talks very quickly in a funny incoherrent language that’s supposed to be Spanish and I of course don’t talk much at all! No wonder understanding is difficult. Anyway I thought he asked me if I wanted to go fishing the following morning. He wanted me to get a large net to fish with.
Tragedy In The Sierra Nevada. A warning that these hills are not benign as it sometimes seems - especially in the Spring - came on 5th/6th May when there were 3 deaths, 1 comotase victim and 6 injured in varying states of hypothermia. All in one incident! The party were all from Holland and contained 10 women and 1 man, all led by a female Dutch guide. They had booked a trekking holiday with a Dutch company called “Intertrek”, who had run tours to the Sierras for a few years.
Now that the last of the winter clients has departed attention has turned back to the land. The age-old problem of keeping the weeds at bay has returned, and we have to somehow cope with thick undergrowth some 2ft high on some terraces. The two horses, Gimly and Jack, have helped, and we rotate them on different terraces each day. They are selective eaters however and although undoubtedly helping they miss the worst bits near the edges.
Not too much to report here. I think we’ve just had the last major precipitation this year. Next major rain should be in October! Spring really is upon us with all the flowers coming out and the air filled constantly with the scent of rosemary, lavender and thyme. I have just made some essential oil with wild rosemary, which legend has it keeps insects at bay. The cherry trees are blossoming and the figs have green buds appearing ……………… anyway enough of the David Bellamy’s …………… last Sunday went to bar called “El Oasis” and had a good old fashioned Sunday roast beef lunch with all the trimmings including Yorkshire pud, horseradish sauce, rich gravy and some pork crackling, wicked.
Sorry Ive not been in touch sooner but I’ve been very busy during this winter. Needless to say I’m quite fit but having had 40 out of the last 55 days up in the mountains I have developed a back problem. Suppose its something to do with carrying backpacks around the hills all day. At the moment, “Ginger” our latest Canadian “woofer” is massaging it back into shape. Don’t get any funny ideas because shes a very homely 55 year old.
NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rocky and his most favourite bits of his anatomy have finally parted company. The final straw came when he disappeared last week for 3 days. We looked all over for him and alerted most of the countryside above the villas to be on the lookout. The search was on for “El Perro Negro”. It was 3 days of worry, wondering if a wild boar had had him or if he had been short by an irate farmer for “worrying” goats (an expression used in this case by Rocky to mean “fornication”!
It’s a funny ole world isnt it? Stood in the middle of Lanjarón main street last Tuesday was certainly a somewhat surreal occasion. In one hand I had a ham sandwich as my other held a plastic bowl with blood covered scalpel. Cowboys rode past and loud Flamenco music blared out. Tourist cars passed by unaware of the unfolding drama! Let me elaborate……………. Kings Day is the 6th January. Its the day the Three Kings visited Bethlehem and gave presents.
Hope your Christmas and New Year was successful. Quiet here as usual, not a lot happening. They (the Spanish) seem to regard 5th January as more important for some strange esoteric reason. One nice tradition they have is that on the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve you have to eat a grape every second for 12 seconds. Now because in a former life I was an accountant, my quick and sharp brain calculated (within 10 minutes) that I needed to eat 12 grapes in total!
More blabberings from Andalucia…………… I’ve seen some wonderful sights over the years. Walking and climbing in the mountains has provided me with some dramatic and spectacular sights. Even so, last Friday, I was totally unprepared for the view I was to find. I had ridden the lifts upwards from the Sierra Nevada ski centre. The top chair to the summit was cold and exposed as a icy cold wind blew ferociously into my face.
_“Just had a great day out with my Dad. He took me in the car for a long ride but instead of him leaving me in the car while he went to the pub, he took me on a long road up a big hill. He kept saying how great everything looked but I just thought it was really boring. We parked up and then went for a walk. To my big surprise instead of green, the world was white, just like last year!
After a hard morning’s shopping, came back to a right mess! Big holes in the drive way. All the gravel had gone and the holes went right down to the soft soil below. Mud all over the place. Now……who could it be? Alfie…………….surely not, he’s not that energetic, Leo…………….looked all innocent which means it could be him, but I think he’d be proud of it if it was him Cassie………not interested, Who’s that in the corner, hiding away?
Had a visit from Dave and Aspen from up the mountain yesterday. They are “professionals” in self-sufficiency, energy and water management and trees. Aspen took one look at our beautifully manicured terraces and said “Isn’t it tidy?” She then proceded to tell us that by getting rid of all the weeds we had destabalised the terraces, that would get washed away when it rained. Also, the soil would deteriorate and nutrients would disappear.
After 4 dogs, 2 cats, countless insects and reptiles you’d have thought that was enough to keep at Lanjarón Zoo (i.e my house). However I now also have …………… 2 horses in residence! My friends Sarah and Paul who run the riding stables have split up, and Sarah has problems finding alternative land for her horses. Tracy has brought her black horse, “Jack” (named after Jack Daniels whisky, I might add), down to reside on one of the less planted terraces.
So, Lanjarón’s just a sleepy little backwater of the world eh? Don’t things change fast, just when you think it’s all going so slow? Just when I thought I’d be spending the next two months strimming, gardening, sweating and straining to keep the land going along comes some ……. WOOFERS! Evidently Woofers is a pet name for a WWOF i.e a “Willing Worker on Organic Farm”. These young persons are usually aged in their early twenties, want to travel and see the world, but also want to contribute to the environment.
Well, I’m back in sunny Spain where, funnily enough, for the first time since mid-May, it’s raining! Hence the time to spend catching up with emails. Got back from France last Sunday after mega 17 hour drive from Chamonix. Had a good season out there but Mont Blanc was too dangerous during August. The hot weather had destroyed the underlying permafrost and much rockfall was the result. Made the summit with a group late July but that was our only successful effort.
Ever wanted to parade up the high street in a £150,000 Ferrari? Fancied buying the smallest, best pixel, sexiest, digital camera on the market today? Wanted Armani suits to strut your stuff in? Ever imagined showing off your brand new Rolex watch? Well have I got news for you? I’ve got the ultimate, must-have item the world has ever known!. You can keep your bloody BMW’s, stuff your laptop computers, stick your luxury mansions where the “sun don’t shine”, cos I’ve got …………………… a hammock !
Just come in from the heat and watched Tim Henman losing at Wimbledon! He’ll never make it will he? Why do they all get so worked up? Seems really strange …….. I’m so far away yet can watch tennis, football, rugby etc. Just like I never left. Even Coronation Street if I want! We’ll, the summer’s in full swing here. We’ve had no rain since a 15 minute shower in the middle of May.
We’re well into our 6th week without rain, and temperatures are in the upper 30’s each day. I now understand siestas much better! Just been down to Orgiva with my friends from the riding stables. I don’t usually like Orgiva but on Thursdays it’s market day and Orgiva is a lively blend of colour, smells and sounds. Flamenco music blares out from all corners as hippies try to sell spices and all manner of weird articles.
Whilst on a horse trek in the hills the other day we came across a scrawny brown dog sitting on the path. Very emaciated and thin, the dog was obviously on its last legs. It followed the horses for about a mile then left. Sarah, the owner of the stables, said the dog was always there and always did the same thing. She thought the dog had been “dumped” by its owner.
After a lunchtime/afternoon JD (Jack Daniels for the uninitiated) session yesterday and just about to fall asleep in the hot late-afternoon sun, I heard my neighbour Antonio, strimming in his olive groves. Now we Yorkshire folk are a very friendly sort and my conscience wouldnt allow me not to go help him out. I got kitted out in strimming gear and went out to meet him …….. big mistake! He was so pleased to have some help that after we were finished he invited me to his house for, yes you’ve guessed it, more drinks!
Well, gone and done it now haven’t I? With temps well up into the 30’s I felt the time was right to become ………. the typical Brit abroard! Went down to Motril on the coast and had head shaved, bought 2 sun beds and retired to the poolside. Look a bit like Grant Mitchell in Eastenders (oh dear, what have I done?). There I sat for the rest of the day drinking beer or sitting in blow up armchair in the water.
Had a few interesting times these last few weeks. Firstly, I had some unusual clients, a couple of Hells Angels whose names were Sean and Clare. Both dressed in black and were covered in tattoos. Clare wished to be called and known as “Bear” (for some obscure reason). She was covered in tattoos of Bears. Everytime I pointed out some of the magnificent mountain scenery (over 3500 metres high!) they kept insisting it was very much like the Peak District, only not as interesting.
Didn’t realise how much I’d taken on until last week when Antonio (the original owner of the cortijo and my neighbour) indicated to me that the weeds and grasses were now over 2 ft high on my terraces. With disapproving Gaelic shrugs he walked off. Well, yesterday I decided to show him how committed to the land I was, so I went out and bought a motorised strimmer. After finally figuring out how to make the damn thing work, I set about avidly chopping down all in sight (except the trees of course!
This group are the ones that I took up Ben Nevis last November. There were 15 members of the party that day, mostly from Taiwan, Hong Kong and India. We summited very late in the day and I remember giving them a stern talking to before setting off down the mountain. I reminded them that the sun was setting and we needed to act with the utmost urgency as night was falling.
Buying a house in Spain has proved an enlightening experience. Briefly, on the day of purchase, both buyer and seller go down to the Notaria with all the documentation. Then you go through a routine whereby all parties and about 3 staff from the Notaria’s office babble all at once for about 3 hours. After the fuss dies down you sit in front of the Notaria (a very good looking Spanish Señorita) and she reads through the contract while your translator tells you what’s happening.
Got stopped by Guardia Civil Traffic cops yesterday. Didn’t have registration document for car with me so I got fined 60 euros ….bugger! Nightmare really. Leo wouldn’t stop barking at them and they were getting annoyed at the racket he was making.Then when they let me go they insisted Rocky and Leo were in the back of the truck. Thats all very well but Leo and Rocky don’t speak Spanish! Just as I began to set off they both jumped in the front again.
Oh dear, gone a bit “pearshaped” today. Took Emma, Claire and the boys for a walk on the beach. Lovely hot day. Sun shining brightly. All started well. The boys went in the water. Rocky loves fetching sticks out of the surf, you know. Then he got a bit giddy and went on one of his “mad minutes”! Completely out of control he dashed over to the nearest sunbathers. They happened to be a middle-aged Spanish couple.
It could only happen to me! The other night I picked my daughters up from the airport at Malaga. During the 2 hr drive back to Lanjarón I told them how wonderful the area was, how lovely the people were, how cheap it all was. What beautiful views you could see, if it wasn’t dark! I related tales of history ….. of battles between the Moors and Christians. Told them about El Cid.
Just had a fantastic day in the hills yesterday. Did a solo crossing of the Sierra Nevada range from the Ski Centre via Granada over the peaks and down to Capileira in the Alpujarras. First time ever I’ve had to use all my gear that I’ve spent a lifetime buying! Skis and skins for the ascent of Veleta (3398 m), Crampons and axes for the descent of Carihuela del Veleta, even snowshoes for the long walk down to Capileira (6000ft of descent.
Tracy, who always looked after Rocky when I went on my travels whilst in the UK, has been looking after my boys here. She is looking at investing in the property market here as well so we may team up and form a rental business. She has brought Rocky’s mate ……her dog called Alf. A big drooling loppy eared Italian Spinone! Whilst I was away up the hills she looked after the dogs.
After waiting for the last 3 weeks for a telephone line to be installed, the little man from the telephone company arrived. He duly had a good look round for 15 seconds, spent 10 minutes asking if he could mate Rocky with his black Labrador, then said : “The telephone. It’s not possible today. The house is too high up and we cannot run a branch line the 20 metres from the main line”.
Have started Spanish lessons. At my assessement with the teacher, Eduardo, last week I was quite pleased as he placed me in course 4 (out of 14). I’m now having 3 lessons of 1.5hrs each per week when I’m not in the hills working. Now, Eduardo is an Argentinian who has evidently been brought up on the Costa del Sol. Hence I’ve now learned to say “Dos grandes beers por favor?
Wow…I’ve just had the hottest day so far. The temps reached 42 degrees in the sun on the terrace this afternoon! This is only January….what’s it going to be like in June? Going skiing with Jack in the morning at the Sierra Nevada ski area. Really looking forward to it. Made a bit of a mistake this afternoon. Had to try on my ski boots and make sure they fit my skis.
Rocky and I had our first trip up the hills yesterday. Objective was to suss out the way off the western end of the Sierra Nevada ridge line. This entails dropping down from the last 3,000m peak (Cerro de Caballo) and landing hopefully at the villa in Lanjarón. As we would be above the snow line I took full winter gear. We started out early and made good progress, but the altitude and deep snow stopped up at about 2,300m.
Well, the wood has finally arrived! A little man in a big truck dropped it in the drive. Anybody know what 2 tonnes of wood looks like?…a bloody lot I can tell you. Spent the next 3 hrs moving it up to the top terrace behind the villa and then packing it neatly against the wall. Looks pretty good actually. Tonight I’m going to have the “mother of all fires”. Rocky and Leo helped.
Yesterday I became a proper Spaniard and bought ¼ of a pig (well a full leg anyway) that’s hung up from the kitchen ceiling. The meat is cured at a village called Trevelez high up in the hills. Its fantastic..melts in the mouth. Also hung up are rows of red peppers linked on string. Looks really rural my kitchen does now! Anyway, last night Leo started jumping around most excitedly. I saw he had something in his mouth.
I hear the weather isn’t too good there at the moment so I’d better not tell you about the weather here. Won’t mention the fact that there’s only been 1 day of rain in 3 weeks or that the temps were in the upper 20’s yesterday. I’m very lucky, you know. Out of a hole in the wall at the bottom of the garden flows the “Fuente Hoya del Grillo” (The Cricket Spring Hole).
Still nice weather here ………..20 deg in the shade most days (about 30 in the sun). The problem is that nights can get cold and these houses were designed to keep the heat out. I’d been staring at the fireplace for a week before my quick mind realised that if I built a fire then I’d be warmer! 1st attempts were awful due to smoke, until I realised that a lever needed pulling which opened up the chimney….
Accommodation update: Toilet - doesn’t flush so needs filling up before leaving it ‘cos not good news if the situation is desperate! Will be fixed “shortly” (Spanish for “whenever”). Bath - takes half hour to fill up bacause of trickle of warm water that exudes from tap. Soon to be resolved ….again “shortly”! Kitchen - not enough space to swing a cat, sorry… Terrace - the sun gets there at 1.
Greetings from Andalucia! Nice thing is that the email/internet connection between my laptop and my Spanish mobile works a dream (via infrared connection)! Movistar, the Spanish mobile network is light years ahead of BT. There I was expecting a load of hassle and I just turned the things on and …received all my mail. I now feel that I have connection with the outside world and the world Ive left behind in the UK.