Friday, March 30, 2012

General strike

Yesterday was a day of  general strike here in Spain. Although we did not see demonstrations in Blanca and most things seemed to be functioning as normal the Post office was closed. We respect any workers right to withdraw there labour although it is always sad when demonstrations become violent. This did happen in some cities  and has lead to arrests. In Barcelona 74 people where arrested and tear gas was used for the first time in 16 years.
I think it is worth noting that 4 of those arrested were below 18 and another 8 where non Spanish. We spoke to our local post master today about the strike and what he said was interesting. Although he upheld the strike all the other staff, the postpersons, went into work. He is a quite unassuming man who felt it was necessary to make a statement about the plight of the workers. He did not appear to hold any resentment towards his staff but found it ironic that as the "boss" he was the striker.As he said the postal workers are in a worse position than him as they are lower paid. Trouble times all over Europe, I wonder how many people feel as I do that they would like to take part in a peaceful demonstration but fear that violence might break out. Whilst I cannot see the workers of the Ricote taking to the streets any time soon I feel sure we have not seen the last of these displays of dissatisfaction with the economic situation and Government policies.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Spanish ITV

Last week it was time for the Spanish equivalent of the MOT for the car, Known as the ITV the test is carried out at centres throughout Spain. Our nearest test centre is at Molina Del Segura, and though an appointment is recommended I had been assured that there was no need for one so hedging my bets I decided to arrive at just before opening time at 08.00 so as not to end up in a queue. When I arrived at 7.50 the gates were open so in I went and was at the front of the line. When the attendant arrived at the check in office she checked my Certificate of Matriculation and registration documents, charged me 49.80 euros, the set rate for a diesel car, and asked me to drive round to Lane 1 where a technician was waiting, you assist by turning on, lights, indicators,wipers etc, driving onto the brake test rollers and over the pit, where the joints and exhaust are inspected. after only 10 minutes all the tests were completed,  and i went to the office and collected my sticker for another years fitness for the car.
What a difference to having a MOT test in the UK!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Cuckoo arrives

Last week  the first day of spring greeted us with snowy hill tops. At the beginning of this week we truly heard that spring was indeed here as the sound of the cuckoo echoed around the valley. Big excitement in our family as we stood in the garden listening. By the sound of it the bird that was calling was not far away. As we could not see the bird we assume it was a Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) (formerly European Cuckoo) which will have arrived here from Africa for the breeding season, I thought I spotted one when we where on our way back from the coast last week but had not heard one till Sunday. In flight, the Cuckoo can be easily mistaken for a Kestrel or Sparrowhawk because it has swept-back wings and long tail. However, Sparrowhawks do not have pointed wings like the Cuckoo, and the Kestrel is streaked and not barred on the underparts.I have seen cuckoos at close quarters  in UK so I am pretty sure it was one. Its well know that these birds are brood parasites, laying there eggs in other birds nest, and this gives them a rather bad reputation. The common cuckoo starts to breed at 2 years. When it is ready to lay the hen cuckoo flies down to the host's nest, pushes one egg out, lays an egg and flies off. The whole process takes about 10 seconds. A female may visit up to 50 nests during a breeding season.  The expression "a cuckoo in the nest" is used to denote a thing or person who is out of place, unwanted.

The evocotive sound of the cuckoo in spring however is very welcome as it heralds a new season, it is the male who has the familar cuckoo cuckoo call.
An old British saying goes:

In April I open my bill
In May I sing night and day
In June I change my tune
In July far far I fly
In August away I must

It seems here in Spain for April we should read March.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Amigos and chips

We had our first trip back down to Costa Blanca for quite some time last week. We treated ourselves and stayed at the Guardamar Hotel, it backs on to Calle Argentina where we lived for a time. The hotel is very pleasant, very clean , rooms not luxury but well maintained and some recent up-dating has taken place. Continental breakfast was included, lots of choice and the dinning room is light and airy. It was great to catch up with friends, we went out for fish and chips with our mate Lil and Mary and Bill. Its a treat to have traditional fried fish and chips with mushy peas of course and in such good company it was even more enjoyable. Also managed to fit in a Chinese meal at our favorite restaurant in Guardamar. It was especially nice to catch up on what's been happening in the lives of the very friendly staff there. Same goes for the Hoops bar which was really buzzing as it was a "match" night.
All in all we enjoyed our visit but oh my it felt like we were in another country in contrast to where we live now. We are so glad we live in the Ricote area now. The Costa Blanca really is little Britain and despite our  wonderful friends there its not a place we want to live now. having gone to all the upheaval of moving to a new country we at least want to feel we are actually in Spain. Viva Blanca!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Snow in the Ricote Mountains

When the cloud lifted from 12 hours of almost continual rain, we were surprised to see a cover of snow on the mountain tops, but then the temperature was 23 degrees yesterday and here today it is 12 degrees with a chilly breeze blowing off the mountains.

Let the Lion roar

This is wrong, very wrong indeed. As reported in a posting a few days ago the pool is ready, Johns reputation as the best pool keeper in Blanca is unchallenged its looking great. So whats the problem? quite simply its cloudy weather for a third day and we have rain forecast. We had just about given up on getting any rain at all this winter having nearly got through February and  March without any much to write home about. Not that we do not want rain, indeed we are pretty desperate for a good downpour. Looking over the campo we can see many citrus trees that are suffering from lack of water. We are guessing that growers are hanging out for at least some free water. The price of lemons is through the floor, with Turkish imports killing the local market. Incidentally its not only the growers who are suffering because of this. Packers work on an as and when basis and there has very little call to work for the ones at the local warehouses this winter.
Water costs money and although it may seem cheap if you only want to water a few terraces like us if you have to work it into the cost of growing commercially it looks like many are just not able to afford the price. We are hoping the rain does come in reality, our leisure  activities can hold fire, It is so much more important that the local market gardeners get that free water before the summer. They may not sell the lemons this year but the trees need to be taken care of for the coming ones. So fingers crossed for a bit of drip drip drop little April showers and maybe the reverse of the old saying, March having come in like a lamb will go out like a lion.

Photo taken from Villa Alba yesterday.
I wrote this post last night - then it started raining and its not stopped since!

Monday, March 19, 2012

That Mad Cat

Suzi by name and crazy by nature. We got Suzi when she was already a  grown cat and often wonder where she picked up some  of her stranger habits. For example she will sit and suck her front leg, you can hear the noise of her sucking across the room. Sometimes cats do this  when they have been removed from there mother too early but of course we do not know if this happened to Suzi. Another favourite past time is sleeping in our bed, she likes to get under the bedspread and settled down for a siesta. I get a surprise the other night as she had slept longer than usual and was still nicely tucked up when I went to get in bed myself.
Suzy seems to save her most outrageous behaviour for John. She will "box" with anyone who wants to give it a try but, mostly,  keeps her claws in while she takes swipes at you. Oh and don't get in her way if shes annoyed, usually at seeing another cat in HER garden. I made that mistake the other day walking past her to shoo away the offending moggy. Well the whack she gave my foot had me calling her Mohammed Ali for the rest of the day. But as I was saying John comes in for the hardcore cat attacks. If Suzi has spent the night in her favourite spot, pushing John and I to the edges of our bed, she wakes bright and early. What she does then if walk over to John and tap his face until he wakes up. Suzy wants her breakfast and she is not waiting. This morning she excelled her self. Maybe she thought John was sleeping the deep sleep of the just and a tap on the face would not suffice. Whatever the reason John was give a surprise wake up call indeed when Suzi bit his nose! I mean what gets into that crazy cat.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Making the garden grow

                                THE COMPOST BINS
Another tub of compost was added to the garden today. Its taken a liitle longer to process during the colder months but still light years ahead of the time it took to get compost from waste in Scotland. We are adding quite a lot of lemon skins now, our soil is very alkaline so we are trying to even things out. If you pop some soil in a jar with vinegar you just about get an explosion as the alkali material reacts with the acid of the vinegar. Our flower bed in the back garden is really starting to look good. Much of this thanks to Johns hardwork, I am more of an "artistic director"  dont you know. Hey they also serve who only stand and wait!

Our next door neighbour was fascinated by our compost making system, sounds posh, in fact its two black dustbins that have holes drilled in them. Serefino was throwing vegetable waste on his garden one day so John showed him what we do. Its really necessary to try to improve our soil as it is poor and does not hold moisture well. Its also means we recycle all the kitchen waste, less for land fill too. We had also been putting some of the wood ash from the stove on but now know this is not advisable with our soil as it can raise the PH and prevent the plants from taking in any nutrients that are available. The other great thing about making your own compost is that it comes free and is not damaging the natural landscape elsewhere.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What lies beneath

The Big reveal today. What with the weather warming up nicely we thought it was time to take the winter cover off the swimming pool. If you live in Spain you have no doubt seen some grim looking pools by the end of the winter. public pools in particular tend to be left with water but no cover, can understand that really it would be quite an expense to have a cover that worked on a really big pool. We picked our winter cover up second hand at a bargain price and its been a good investment. John had kept an eye on the water that lay beneath the cover but we were really pleased when we did the reveal. The water was really very clean. John did a sterling job and within a couple of hours the pool looked almost inviting, give or take a few degrees more warmth in the water! Suzy the cat was a little confused to start with. During the winter she has made it her business to walk on water, well on pool cover. That cat is quite crazy you know. For some reason she just loves to drink pool water, no amount of bowls of fresh clean aqua prevents her from have a little tipple from the pool. So she can no longer "walk" on the pool, she can now be seen dipping a paw then licking off the water at the edge. What a strange moggy eh?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Science and Scenery

We have a delightful view across from the house at the moment, a small area of huerta with Almonds trees in full bloom. Like a pink mist they are  a sight to behold and if you have ever smelt almond blossom you will appreciate what a joy they are. Undoubtedly its because of  all  the hills and dales here because the trees on our side of the little valley were in flower weeks ago and are now covered in spring fresh green leaves.

The almonds are in the group of trees that flower before getting their leaves. This process means the flowers are not only able to access maximum sunlight but they also get first dips on the trees store of carbohydrates. Flowering early also helps the trees avoid the attentions of so many insects as the life cycle of insects is such that they are around in fewer numbers in the first flush of spring. We seem to have  lots of little micro climates around the area. A Micro-climate is a local atmospheric zone where there are differences in climate from the surrounding area. It can be an  area as small as a few square metres (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square kilometres. Micro-climates exist, for example, near bodies of water which may cool the local atmosphere, or in heavily urban areas where brick, concrete, and asphalt absorb the sun's energy, heat up, and re-radiate that heat to the ambient air. We used to see the effect of a large body of water creating such an effect when we lived near Loch Ness. Another contributing factor to micro-climates is the slope  or direction in which an area faces.. Here South-facing slopes  are exposed to more direct sunlight than opposite slopes and are therefore warmer for longer.
We have an example of such areas consisting of just a few square metres on our Los Tollos plot with some trees being in full leave and some still in full blossom
Well thats the technical bit the result is a sight for sore eyes from the front of the house.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Truth to tell its not really a host or a crowd nor did I wonder lonely as a cloud in true Wordworthian style but i could not have been more delighted. We have daffodils, only two at present but  there are more in bud waiting to bloom though. I have always loved the spring and daffodils are so cheerful, dont you think. We planted these in the late autumn with fingers crossed, pleased to say despite  the lack of winter rain they seem ok.  We are not really gardeners who go to endless trouble and through agonies to get plants to grow in what is clearly the wrong place, we are more the "put em in and wish em luck" type. Well didn't they do well. When we lived in Cornwall the hedgerows in spring would be full of daffs blooming there little heads off. Though there were wild daffodils in Cornwall recorded in the 1600s Dutch varieties were also imported from around that time. During WW2 they were removed  compulsorily  from the commercial fields to increase food production.
Growers were so reluctant to throw away their bulbs they  threw them, with some soil, into the surrounding hedges.
This is why you see so many in hedgerows during the spring down in Cornwall.
We planted many many bulbs when we lived in Scotland and I like to believe they are still welcoming the spring there.
Meanwhile back to Blanca, its a small start but we hope rather like little acorns and mighty oaks we will end up with a mighty host of these delightful flowers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Break

There nothing we like better than a bit of a road trip. We have done quite a few in Australia, France, UK and of course Spain. We still have a lot of Spain to see and whenever we do plan a trip we always look for hotels in Spain online. its such a great way to find what you want. its so easy to search via location, facilities and price. We have found that Hotels in Spain have been pretty bang to rights with online descriptions and if you google map the address and but the wee man on the map you can also see exactly what the local area is like. That can be very helpful when you are arriving too as you have a clear picture of what the place looks like from the outside. Whether we are looking for a simple hostel or a little bit of luxury we have always found it via an online search. We also look at places to eat near the hotel and places of interest in the town we are going to stay in. Often hotels will serve good food too and not to over the top on price either. So excuse me the sun is shining and I think I will just do a bit of surfing, the web that is.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How fires start?

We hold our winter pool cover down all round the edge with filled 8 litre water bottles, which has worked very efficiently but as I was tidying up around the pool yesterday, and I noticed some black holes and marks on the pool winter cover. Further investigation revealed it was burns, what has happened is the sun has been magnified through the bottles of water to cause intense heat spots and has nearly set the cover on fire, if someone had told me this was possible I would not have believed them, I now wonder if this is how some of the fires start in the campo.
The cover will be coming off in a couple of weeks for the solar cover to go on, but in the meantime have painted the bottles with white emulsion to stop the suns rays causing any further damage.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The F words

Well just getting over a bout of flu, second time this year I was blaming it on UK visitors but then recalled it started the day after I was in the local  Salud seeing the Dr. Those places are full of sick people with germs! Bit of a wimp when it comes to colds and Flu as I have fibromyalgia and viruses can hit particularly hard. Anyway worst over now and the multitude of lemons we have at present have been a great help, big mugs of hot drink with honey.

Quite a week for the F words, John and Jude were planning a fire up on our plot, there a good fire pit enclosed with corrugated sheets. You have to be careful though. Any fire in a dry country needs constant watching to keep it under control. Where we lived before here a guy burned his neighbours' house down when he had a garden bonfire, garage with cars and all. The other big risk factor, aside for the dry conditions, is the materials being burned. Olive and citrus trimming are very flammable, rather like eucalypts in Australia they have an high oil content and go up with a whoosh.

Well we were aware that care was needed but we did not realize you need a licence from the local counsel before you have a fire, judging by the number of fires we see here some one must have a full time job issuing the paperwork. By change on his way to the plot John had to call at the Real Homes office to collect paperwork and just as well he did as it turned out. Whilst he was there he heard another person asking about lighting a fire and it transpired that the afore mentioned licence was needed. This it not a case of rules and paperwork for there own sake it a safety thing. Because of the danger of fire the council like to know where a fire will be in case it does get out of control. this aids in sending out the Bombas (fire brigade) ensuring they go straight to the correct part of the campo. Oh yes and its free, jolly good.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bumping the car

A couple of weeks ago I had my first prang while driving in the car in Spain, I was driving through Cieza and although the traffic lights were green in my favour a car shot in front of me and I hit it broadside on, no one was hurt luckily. There were no witnesses, they were too busy looking at the crash to see what colour the lights were for me, The policia local were there very shortly after the bump and took control, i did not even speak to the other driver, just gave all the documents, details and a statement to the policia, who then gave me the details of the other driver.
Anyway down to the efficiency of Linea Directa my insurance company the car is now fixed and as good as new, I had phoned Linea Directa as soon as I got home- the car was driveable- they told me to make an appointment for an assessor at a garage, which I did, the car stayed at the garage and the repair was finished 5 days later. In the meantime a courtesy car was provided payed for by the insurance. The insurance company emailed me every two days to let me know the progression of the claim, but unfortunately because I hit the other car and there were no witnesses I was declared at fault so I loose 10 percent off my no claims bonus on the next renewal. Driving here in Spain can be a hazardous business and I have been driving here for the last 6 years without a bump up to now, so I think actually I have been lucky.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Cypress tree surprise

Looking out of the window this morning, we saw what looked like smoke blowing around, our fire wasnt lit, and there was no smell of smoke, then we noticed when the wind was catching the Cypress tree the pollen blowing off it in thick clouds. the pollen on Cypress trees is not formed in flower heads but in little brown blobs on the end off each scale like leaf.  Its a good job I dont get bad hay fever now or I would really be suffering.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Summers coming

With spring well on its way and summer just round the corner, we have friends and relatives asking us to recommend a place to stay, somewhere different, somewhere quiet, somewhere out in the country, is often the request, the problem is that we very rarely stay in self catering cottages as our getaway break is our chance to be waited on hand and foot with our breakfast and an evening meal, so we can only recommend what we have been told by other people is good.
This may well change though as we have been looking at taking a trip Andalucia where there are some beautiful rural retreats that would be nice to try out, the town of Iznajar near Antequera particularly caught our eye where there are some nice casetas for rent. Staying in this area would give us the opportunity to explore some of Spain that is new to us.
When we lived in the United Kingdom, school holidays were a problem as we always found that they were our busiest time for our work, so we used to take our daughter out of school for an “educational” holiday which did not always go down well with the head teacher, I understand things are a lot more rigid now so families with children have to stick to the school holidays, so if you choose a time for a holiday that is outside school holidays you can find some real bargain rates not only for accommodation but for travel.

Traditional and modern

Monday really was a day for throwing open the windows and letting in the spring air. That same air is warm and there's a gentle perfume in the it that gives you a Spring rush, time to shake the rugs and wash the floors. Well we do that all the time actually, we would be knee deep in dust if we didn't.  I can fully understand why Spanish houses have tiles not carpets, not only cooler but so easy to keep clean. Quick sweep and then mop using one of the dozens  of floor cleaners available and well Manuel's your uncle so to speak. The type of tiles we have are more rustic, no elaborate designs but not the high gloss type used in new build properties so often in recent years. Those high gloss ones need a purpose made dry mopping to keep them looking good so quite glad we have the stone look rustic type, to our mind they are also more appropriate in a country house. We liked the modern ones in our apartment in Formentera because it was just that a modern apartment
When we were looking for our new home here in Murcia we did view a  variety of types of property both town and country. Many where very old and had wonderful floor tiles which sadly are often destined to be removed or covered, I suspect this place had a dirt floor till it was reformed a number of years ago. Thank goodness the then owners had the good taste not to use the shiny single coloured tiles so common theses days.
Spain had quite an influence on tiles through history and this was greatly effected by the dominance of the Arab culture which followed the invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century.
Following the Arabs invasion of  the Iberian Peninsula, (modern day Spain),  ceramic-making technology was available to artisans .This gave them different techniques to utilise importantly it was  this glaze that  also provided the basis for decoration and colouring of  tiles. The glaze used on top consisted of green lead and it was decorated on white with a transparent glaze along with highlights of metallic hues. It is amazing when you consider that the wonderful tiles we can still see today at places like the Alhambra in Granada were made so many centuries ago. Somehow I cannot see modern ones lasting so long!