Spring has most definitely sprung. In our valley, Joe and I can see and hear the frantic activity all around us. The birds are at their noisiest and busiest, building nests, finding mates and packing as much as they can into each day. Sparrows, bee-eaters, a pair of kestrels, swallows, cuckoos, owls, all in our valley, all in over-drive.
This month, Joe and I, too, decided that our house needed freshening up. When we lived in England, I spent hours agonising over paint colour-samples, trying to pick exactly the right shade or hue. Here in Spain, it’s much simpler. White paint is all we need. Gallons and gallons of it. So we bought the paint and concentrated on the scaffolding. Our house isn’t high but it’s built on the slope of a mountain and scaffolding is essential. The usual conversation took place.“Joe, shouldn’t we just check the instructions to make sure we’ve put it up right?”
“Nah. It’s obvious where all the pieces go. Hold this, it’s the last strut.”
“Then why are there three bits left over?”
“Oh…” Joe scratches his nethers in thought.
“And why does it wobble? It doesn’t look very safe…”
So we take the wretched thing to pieces again, and re-assemble it according to the instructions. By that time it’s too dark to start painting and we abandon it and go indoors. Which is when disaster strikes… Joe lifts a saucepan of water, and a yell rents the air.
“What’s the matter?”
“My back! I’ve done something to my back!”
My heart sinks. It’s happened before and we know from bitter experience that there is no cure, just rest. I’m not a good nurse, but Joe is a worse patient. He moans, groans and winces with every breath, and I am expected to wait on him, anticipating his every need. In addition I’m forced to carry on painting, alone, plus finish my third book, along with the usual household chores.
I can’t even find sanctuary up the scaffolding. As soon as I get it into position, paint and brushes at the ready, a voice floats out from inside with a multitude of demands.
“Vicky? Vicky! Are you making coffee?” or “Vicky? I can’t bend down and tie my shoe-laces.” or “Vicky! I can’t reach the TV remote!”
“I’m up the scaffolding, painting,” I remind him, but to no avail. The whine from inside simply becomes more clamorous.
A week has gone by and Joe’s back is now, thankfully, much better. The painting is coming along nicely and the house is beginning to look fresh and clean. After a day of slapping on industrial quantities of white paint we reward ourselves, in the garden, with a glass or two of Paco’s wine, as dusk descends. We like to watch the birds roost and the sun go down behind the mountains, tinting the sky with crazy splashes of pink and purple. The bats arrive, flitting crazily around the street-lights, filling their little stomachs with moths and midges.
If I ever return in another life, I think I’d like to be a cuckoo. They must have the easiest life in the animal kingdom. No nest to build or maintain, no children to raise, nothing to do but please themselves, and us, with their wonderful call. And I’ve never heard of a cuckoo with a bad back, either.
Andalucian Chicken and Tomato Pot with Olives
(Pollo con tomates y aceitunas a la Andaluza)
From Mouth-Watering Spanish Recipes
Serves 4 to 6
~ 15 minutes preparation ~
~ 2hrs 20 minutes cooking ~
1 large whole chicken, separated into drummers, thighs, wings and breasts
1 large tin of whole plum tomatoes, about 480g (19.8 oz)
Tablespoon of thyme leaves
8 cloves of garlic
125g (4.4 oz) pitted green olives
125ml (41⁄4 US fl.oz) white wine
Teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7.
2. Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and place into a large terracotta cazuela (or casserole dish) so they are all in one layer. Season with salt.
3. Roughly chop the tomatoes and peel and slice the garlic.
4. Add the tomatoes, garlic, olives, thyme and wine to the chicken.
5) With your hands, mix all ingredients together so the chicken is well coated.
6. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
7. Lower the heat to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2. Cook for another 2 hours.
8. Serve with creamy mashed potato or rice, with seasonal vegetables.
“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle