After three months of surreal and challenging isolation restrictions we have finally been rediscovering our liberty and the ‘new normality’ beckons. We have been able to socialise, the shops and bars are open, and even the beaches are beginning to welcome locals. For that I am grateful, but I still can’t shake off the feeling that the world is about to end or that I’m stuck in an apocalyptic dream when I see everybody wearing face masks as they go about their daily business. I’m sure that this pandemic and it’s socialogical side effects will take their toll on most people and it has certainly made me feel as if being at home is the most normal and safe place to be. Furthermore I’ve had no strong desires to venture into the city or use public transport during this period (admittedly I’m a country boy) so maybe many of us will become agoraphobes.
This period continues to be a strange anomaly for me. Pre Covid19 I had endless days, whilst Selena and Lizzy were busy schooling, for odd jobs around the house and garden and for exploring new places. Conversely now I have had minimal free time as we have all been cooped up together. Selena has been working from home each day and Lizzy home schooled so I have cut a frustrated figure trying to steal time for various jobs in the home and garden. Additionally we had reserved certain jobs on a list for visiting friends and family to help with, so with no visitors allowed we have had to try and tackle those on our own, although, with a never ending list any future guests can still work for their supper.
We fully expect (and welcome) an insurgence of visitors in due course, and the delay should be worthwhile, as we are due to undergo a significant renovation inside the house during the summer. All of the enquiries and quotes that I had been mustering before the lockdown have suddenly started to reappear, as if emerging from hibernation, so everything is gathering pace. The trees have been tidied, providing much more light from all angles, and the builders are due to move in next week to take care of the main living area. This means that, only six months after moving in, we are packing up and moving out again! Put simply our ‘caravan on a hill’ has to be emptied throughout, of all belongings and furniture, leaving only a shell. Therefore we have been packing and dismantling and trying to squeeze everything into the garage/underground storage over the past few weeks. We’re going to be homeless for most of the summer whilst the work is carried out so we have been busily researching accommodation options amidst varying predictions of the different phases of Spanish lockdown restrictions. Of course we can’t call on family to move in with them, as we can’t get to the UK, so we have been hastily considering every conceivable option as the deadline draws nearer. Thankfully (mercifully thankfully) we do have family that have managed to escape the UK to France so we will be overstaying our welcome with them if things go to plan and we can cross the border in two week’s time. In the interim we have had to rent somewhere locally so we will be transient and living out of suitcases for some time and praying that the work is completed on time. Much of Spain shuts down during August because of the heat and holidays are taken (builders included) so if we aren’t able to move back in to our house by then we really will be struggling. Furthermore, many people have told us that if a Spanish builder says the work will take six weeks it will generally take two or three times that long! We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for the duration and hope to return in August to a home without cables hanging from the ceiling and with a working oven, even though I have rather easily got used to our basic surroundings and barely notice these things anymore.
Indeed we have been living a simple life, not just because of the lockdown, but because our home here is very basic. What more does one need? We have savoured the outside space and the delights of nature on our doorstep. The tree surgeon that tidied our trees managed to fashion a rustic swing for Lizzy by fixing a rope high up in one of the pines and that is, without doubt, her favourite place to spend her time. I didn’t ask him to do it he just saw Lizzy each day and knew she’d enjoy it. He also delivered a trailer full of horse manure, free of charge, that he’d had to spend an hour collecting, after borrowing a trailer, because he’d seen that I was developing a vegetable plot.
When I say vegetable plot I mean a few areas of rocky clay soil. I’ve cleared two plots by hand and planted tomatoes, basil, carrots and pickle cucumbers and am in the process of creating a timer controlled drip irrigation system. We also have young fruit trees to think about so when I realised we were going to be absent for much of the summer it soon became blatantly obvious that nothing would survive without daily watering.
The highlight of the gardening journey, however, has to be the discovery of ‘hugelkultur’! Hugelkultur, when translated from German, reads ‘mound culture’ and has been practised for centuries across Europe as a raised bed technique, utilising decaying wood at its base. Picture the scene. On one side of the house Selena had spent days raking several years’ worth of pine tree debris into a huge mound and it seemed it was just another pile of rubbish for me to try and remove. On the other side of the house was a very basic, above ground, splash pool made of concrete which had fallen into a state of disrepair. I had been looking forward to grabbing a sledge hammer and removing this pool until I stumbled across the Hugelkultur technique! Two problems solved in one go! So that was that, wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load went into the splashpool, (along with some horse manure) and now we top it up with kitchen waste, and I’m hoping that next year we’ll be growing some bumper crops.
Who knows if it will work or not but it seems like a logical method of gardening. Sometimes it really does feel like we are living in a remote land reliant on old fashioned techniques and a more respectful relationship with nature. Aside from the procesiones and red squirrel we have had all sorts of weird and wonderful visitors. Hoopoe birds are seen daily, bats are thriving (we even had one flop on our terrace in the middle of the day), Egyptian locusts, a praying mantis, maybugs the size of golf balls, skinks (a strange snakelike reptile) the list goes on. We also had bees trying to nest in our chimney one day so Selena drew the short straw and had to climb the ladder onto the roof to temporarily cover the chimney area.
One of the more unwelcome visitors is the ubiquitous mosquito. Having suffered a torrid time with them in our previous home we were expecting a similar experience here. We’re in a National Park surrounded by trees but there is often a welcome breeze which I thinks help to keep their numbers down when compared to our enclosed rear yard in El Puig. They are still annoyingly present, however, so I have done a fair bit of research (again!) on effective repellents. One idea that struck a chord with me was a homemade basil based liquid. As we are growing more basil than we can eat it seemed the perfect solution to make good use of the excess whilst repelling the mozzies without chemicals. The first batch has been made, with plenty left over going into the freezer and, as a family, we have been trialling it regularly. It seems reasonably effective with one major downside……. It literally smells like body odour! Maybe that’s the perfect recipe for today– it keeps the mosquitoes away with the added benefit of helping to maintain a safe 2 metre distance between humans during social distancing requirements! Patent pending!
Thankfully it hasn’t prevented us from socialising altogether. We were fortunate to be invited next door for a superb Sunday lunch last weekend, featuring an incredible Valencian paella cooked over a wood fire, and some swimming in their gorgeous pool. Lizzy has made good friends with the little girl that stays there and I have had lots of help and advice regarding local life and gardening. In fact all of the locals / neighbours have been very friendly and supportive so we really feel as if we have landed on our feet here. The summer holidays are imminent and we have exciting times ahead with our travels and home improvements, with the added bonus of having a swimming pool installed in September! The diary will be open and hopefully we can soon begin to welcome an influx of visitors before too long.