Coming from Britain and moving to a tiny, crazy, Spanish mountain village was always going to be a bit of a culture shock for Joe and me. Despite this being our tenth year in El Hoyo, the shock has not entirely subsided. We still love our life here, have settled into the village, and adore all our neighbours. But some Spanish attitudes are still a struggle to come to terms with.
The problem is feral cats. Why don’t the Spanish neuter or spay cats as a matter of course? Cats aren’t popular pets in the village, but even those villagers who own cats don’t have them sterilised. When the kittens are born, they are either drowned or turned out. For the survivors it’s a hard life and only the fittest, healthiest, most cunning, survive. But even these don’t seem to live very long, disappearing without trace after a few years. In England our cats lived nearly 20 years, but village cats are lucky to reach their sixth birthday.Our village is home to dozens of cats, and at this time of year their numbers increase as they produce additional litters. Just how many cats live in the village is evident when the fish van parks in the square and toots its horn. Cats of all colours and sizes appear from nowhere, hungry for any scraps the fishmonger might care to toss their way.
Three years ago, a semi-wild cat gave birth to three kittens on our doorstep. We took the whole family in, fed them, paid for inoculation, worming, neutering and pet passports. Thanks to a local animal charity, Alstrays, we managed to have them re-homed in Germany. But we can’t keep doing that. We don’t have bottomless wallets.
This year, Joe and I heard a mewling coming from our logshed. Upon investigation, we discovered Felicity, a black and white village cat who has claimed our garden as her own, curled up in the log box. Normally she bolts whenever she sees us but this time she stayed put, her eyes huge and protective. One tiny, black kitten, looking like a fat little sausage, squirmed beside her. Thank goodness it was only one, but it’s yet another ownerless cat to add to the village population.
Felicity then decided that our log box was not a suitable nursery and moved her baby to the cupboard under our barbecue. The kitten has now opened its eyes and Felicity is a brilliant mother. When I peep into the cupboard, Felicity’s round green eyes stare back at me warily, while her baby sleeps, oblivious.
Perhaps we shouldn’t, but Joe and I do leave scraps for Felicity, and her brother Snitch, but we try not to feed them on a regular basis, fearing their dependence on us. We can’t support them permanently as we travel a lot and plan to spend a few months in Australia this winter, visiting family. The cats must learn to fend for themselves.
We’ve had a succession of cats living in our garden, all of whom we’ve enjoyed watching. Felicity’s great-grandmother stole the fish from our barbecue and her grandmother was born in our chicken coop. We’ve never seen a mouse or rat in the village, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to the little black kitten emerging from the cupboard and playing in the garden. I suspect, when it’s old enough, we’ll take it to the vet to be sterilised.
So I guess we should just accept that we share our lives with feral cats. This, after all, is Spain.
(Brochetas de Verduras)
Serves 4 to 6
It’s barbecue time! Use any combination of your favourite vegetables. Try aubergine, courgette (zucchini) and cherry tomatoes.
1 medium red pepper
1 medium green pepper
1 medium onion
8 to 10 mushrooms
Fresh or dried thyme
1) Wash and de-seed the peppers then cut into bite-size slices. Wash and trim the mushrooms and cut in half. Peel the onion and cut into large chunks.
2) Make up the kebabs, alternating the vegetables as you go.
3) In a large shallow dish, big enough for the kebabs to fit, pour in two cups of olive oil and add a generous amount of thyme.
4) Add the kebabs and allow to marinade in the oil for an hour or so, turning them occasionally.
5) Cook on the barbecue (or grill) for around 10 minutes, turning regularly until they are cooked through.
Victoria Twead is a New York Times bestselling author. In 2004 she nagged poor, long-suffering Joe into leaving Britain and relocating to a tiny, remote mountain village in Andalucía, where they became reluctant chicken farmers and owned the most dangerous cockerel in Spain. Village life inspired Victoria’s first book, Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools, and was quickly followed by two more in the Old Fools series, all of which fast became Amazon bestsellers.
Victoria and Joe continue to enjoy life keeping chickens, writing, sampling the local wine and living alongside their colourful neighbours.
The Telegraph– "a colourful glimpse of Andalucían life. And a psychopathic chicken or two…charming…funny"
Read Victoria's other Expat Focus articles here.