On the other side of our valley in the Alpujarra mountains, there is a holiday house owned by a young British family. About two years ago they emigrated to Australia, leaving it to friends and relatives to enjoy. To the villagers it is known as ‘the English house’, and most of the time it stands locked and unused.
One day, recently, Geronimo and his mule passed our house and stopped to bang on our door.
“Somebody tried to break into the English house,” said Geronimo, thus passing the responsibility on to us.
We walked over to check it out for ourselves. The house is surrounded by Spanish oaks and summer-baked acorns crunched under our heels as we walked round the property.
The attempted break-in was obvious; the thieves had tried to dig out the locked burglar-bars that protected the front door. They’d failed, as the house walls are pretty solid.They tried to hammer out the locks, but failed there, too. So they moved their efforts to the living-room window alongside.
That, too, was protected by heavy burglar-bars, one corner of which they’d managed to pry loose. Sliding shutters were forced open (and damaged) and the glass in the window had been shattered. Despite the damage, we doubted anyone, unless he was a monkey or contortionist, had succeeded in getting in.
The interior was too dark to observe any details, so I stretched my arms though the broken window and snapped a few photos, relying on the flash to capture any evidence. The pictures looked fine to me. I could see an occasional table, a sideboard, and all looked tidy and undisturbed.
Back home, I emailed the bad news to the owners. I included pictures of the chiseled-out window-bars and interior, plus my doubts that anything had been stolen. However, I was wrong.
Back came the reply: “They DID get in! There was a flat-screen TV on that sideboard and a computer on the little table. Could you please report it to the police? And find some workmen to fix everything?”
So Joe and I drove down the mountain and went to the Guardia Civil offices, armed with the photos on our iPad and the owners’ details. They examined the pictures and consulted each other.
“I’m afraid we can’t do anything without a fax number,” they said. “We need to fax the documents to the owner.”
A fax number? Who has a fax machine nowadays? Why couldn’t they just scan and email? No, they insisted, they needed a fax number.
I emailed the owners and wasn’t surprised when they admitted to not owning a fax machine, but they rushed out and bought a ‘splitter’ or something.
Meanwhile, I contacted Julio, a workman who speaks very good English. He kindly came to look at the job although he was supposed to be on holiday, it being August. However, he couldn’t do anything, it being August. And no glazier was open, it being August.
I returned to the Guardia Civil offices and triumphantly produced the owners’ fax number.
“We don’t want that,” they said. “We can’t do anything without your passport.”
“Yes, your passport.”
It was at that point that I gave up. I was due to fly to Australia to meet my new granddaughter in a few days, and I was not willing to surrender my passport.
I passed Julio’s telephone number and email address to the home owners, and, far as I know, when September arrived, Julio returned and fixed everything. I imagine the Guardia Civil did nothing, but I may be doing them an injustice.
So if you see a monkey, or a contortionist, watching a flat-screen TV and using a computer, could you please report it to the police? Oh, and don’t forget to take a fax number and your passport.
~ 10 minutes preparation ~
~ 25 minutes cooking ~
Serves 4, or makes 6 tapas
Lamb Cochifrito comes from Navarra, in Northern Spain, and is full of flavour, yet surprisingly simple. You’ll see this dish as a main meal on many restaurant menus and it’s occasionally served up as hot tapas.
1kg (2.2lbs) lamb, boned
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
300ml (10 US fl.oz) water or lamb stock
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
1) Slice the lamb into thin strips.
2) Heat a little olive oil in a large terracotta cazuela (or frying pan) and add the lamb.
3) Cook until browned, add the onion, and fry for a further 2 minutes.
4) Add the garlic, green pepper, smoked paprika and lemon juice, reduce the heat, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
5) Season with salt and pepper garnish with roughly chopped parsley.
6) Serve with white rice or creamy mashed potato.
“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