Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Our final destination this trip. Competa. Maroma, the Bald One, looming up behind the town.

Marigold Says...

This will be my last one before leaving Spain. I was asked recently what I thought were the positives of lockdown. Easy peasy I thought.

No wondering what to wear. Not as much housework as no one is coming. No making small talk with postman or dustmen. Hair can be left mad. Having a list of engaging and intelligent making hobbies.

I had a long list planned and have done none of them. The only one I completed was number 1 entitled “make a list”.

Grow vegetables, why? I haven’t even got a veg garden. I could dig up the lawn and plant potatoes I suppose, but who wants to sit out in a potato patch? Make bread. I bought the flour, and have now binned the flour, after one attempt at sourdough, more like sore mouth. We tried it toasted and covered in olive oil. I can con G into eating anything, he’s very unfussy, a bit like a Labrador. His comment was “my gnashers won’t stand up to this. “ Yuk.

Learn an interesting fact everyday. Tried to learn quite a few, but have forgotten them already. Same with jokes.

We have decided to scarper from Spain as Macron has closed the border coming into France and we are getting nervous as new decisions are being announced on a daily basis.

First thing we needed was a nose and throat test thingy. Easy, we have to go to chemist for 9.00am. Got there early and already people were queuing. Booked ourselves in. The set up was outside with a plastic table and a screen which you can see through. Thankfully we don’t need to take our clothes off.

The chemist is late and apparently he is round the back sipping coffee and having a fag. It is hot but he arrives with a huge jumper on and proceeds to try and get his white jacket on. I don’t think it was his own jacket as it was three sizes too small. G said he was sure he had seen him serving petrol at the garage yesterday.

Our turn, I go first. He did tonsils first 20 twirls each side, same for nose. G went in and said he thought he felt he was poking his eyeball out. Anyway, finally got paperwork. Negative. You never quite know, so felt relieved.

Got back to hotel, packed up quickly and off we go. I feel the need to report on our accommodation on the way back. It was very varied some great, some appalling. First one, chosen and booked by me and as I always say to G I make bad decisions, but this looked like a good one.

The biggest consideration is always safe parking and a lounge so we can have a more normal evening and not be sitting on the bed with neck ache and dozing off at 6 o clock. The B and B I picked looked very smart and had everything.

First problem the car sat nav couldn’t find it. We went all round the Wrekin and eventually ended up on a hill top looking over the town. We asked a bloke with an Alsatian who pointed, vaguely, and walked off.

Eventually found it. There were metal gates and an intercom. The man who answered was German and sounded very officious.

‘What do you want?’

I told him our name and said we had a reservation.

‘No, you do not.’

I looked at G in alarm. I knew I had booked it, what was the problem?

‘You have reserved a room for tomorrow night, not tonight,’ the intercom man said, sternly. Oops!

He said “wait there and I will open the gates”. We drove through the big gates and he led us through into an underground garage acting like a parky. I bet his name was Herman. He said changing the booking to tonight would be okay and told us to go up in the lift to reception and “there must be no more than two in the lift as it will break”. We were terrified of the lift.

He booked us in, showed us to our room and said breakfast is 8.30 sharp. G said let’s go at 8.35 to wind him up. I hope he was joking. Herman would be very cross.

Breakfast was weird. It was a big room and only us in it. A plate was bought to us with 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of cheese and two slices of salami. Also 2 slices of toast. G is not used to a full slice of toast as I usually have a bite of his when serving it up. He was quite excited.

It was all very quiet and his wife who was serving kept staring at us. It was very sinister. As we were leaving the room she gave us both a boiled sweet and said, ‘for later. Enjoy.’ We promised we would enjoy this extra treat. G insisted his sweet had been pre sucked as the wrapper was crinkled. It didn’t put him off.

We left with our host leading the way through the garage and shouting after us as we drove off, “you are going the wrong way”.

G said “how does he know, we didn’t tell him where we are going” and carried on. The road ended just after we turned the corner. We had to turn round and, of course, when we got back to the hotel Herman was still there.

G said, “don’t wave,” but I did. I am sure he clicked his heels when he walked off. Got through Spain into French border with nobody needing the dozen pages of paperwork we had got ready to show anyone who looked as if they were interested. Then we found out rules are changed again and we needed yet another test in France 12 hours before leaving the country. Travelled miles off our route asking at different chemists, and eventually find one inside a supermarket.

They sent us to a side room with boxes of crisps in. Crisps, in a chemists? Woman just stuck her wand up one nostril of each of us and said that’s it. We checked and she said that’s all we do in France. Waited twenty minutes. Negative again. So the bloke in Spain was just a nostril poking pervert.

Had to change endless paperwork again. Luckily G is patient. Eventually we reached tunnel, got through security, Frenchman said our paperwork was perfect and felt very, very relieved. We celebrated while waiting with a squashed banana sandwich, grapes and a packet of ginger biscuits. How wonderful, the train is moving, we are off to England.

G Says...

“I hold a beast, an angel, and a madman in me, and my enquiry is as to their working, and my problem is their subjugation and victory, down throw and upheaval, and my effort is their self-expression.”
Dylan Thomas.

No reason whatsoever for including that Dylan Thomas quote other than having remembered every word of it over many, many years and seeing as part of a wallpaper design in a café recently.

We’ve decided to head back to England as crossing borders is becoming a bit too problematic. A shame, but we will be back on our travels again once the effects of this present variant has run its course. We’re triple jabbed crowd avoiders so keeping fingers crossed.

Having made the decision, it seemed illogical to make a detour southward of another hundred and fifty miles, but we haven’t paid much attention to logic and common sense for many years.

We have talked about going back to Competa throughout this trip and that’s where we’re off to. We only lived in the actual village for a year while we looked for a renovation project in ‘the campo,’ the Spanish term meaning the countryside.

A Spanish mountain village can be a bit of a culture shock. The first thing we noticed was the noise. Andalusians don’t hold back. Any conversation involving more than two people is a recipe for recreating Bedlam and the noise level in densely packed and intertwined housing doesn’t abate much, if at all, until way after midnight.

Our house, bought purely as a stop gap while we looked for a renovation project in the campo, was in the ‘barrio,’ which actually means a specific section or area within a town but in this case the area had a distinctly pejorative aspect. The houses were densely packed with narrow alleyways between blocks, barely wide enough for a couple to walk side by side. Inside the house was like entering a world inspired by Saladore Dali. The stairs up from the alley were so narrow my shoulders brushed against both walls and all items larger than a small bag of food shopping had to be hauled up by rope through the first floor window.

On the first floor was a tiny kitchen, the word minuscule would not do it justice, with a windowless room off it. The black pit was its designated name and in over a year we never found a satisfactory use for it. The sitting area to the left was dominated by a vast wood burning stove. The estate agent who showed us round told us the Danish former owner had arranged for the installation of this beast while he was still in Denmark and without actually viewing the property. Getting it from lorry to sitting room, through the window, required eight men and I presume a great deal of swearing. There was just about room for our two armchairs and the stove but absolutely nothing else.

Off the sitting room and up three steps was our bedroom. It wasn’t quite as dark as the black pit and there was a small curtained off window on the far wall. We were somewhat disconcerted on opening the curtains to find not a view of the exterior but a bedroom of the house next door, complete with the man of the house removing his trousers.

This illogical intersection of houses was the same throughout the block, a fact that became even more evident on the roof terrace. Our only access to sunlight was up another uneven flight of stairs leading to the roof. ‘Our’ section of the flat roof consisted of a small square about three paces wide and two other areas which we could only access by crossing the sections belonging to our neighbours. The people next door were very loud, very aggressive and distinctly unfriendly. They also spent most of the day and in hot weather all of the night on the roof terrace. Privacy was not going to be a factor up there.

Ah well, we reasoned, it’s only temporary, we will find an old finca soon enough and move out. It took a year and by then we didn’t even notice the noise or the proximity of our neighbours. Living in a busy village was exciting, never a dull moment, and we even became quite fond of our quirky little house.

The 300 year old finca that we eventually found was at the end of a very rough road, virtually a goat track. It had a metal door, one metal window and an attached mule house with a collapsed roof. The agent who took us to view it apologised for the absence of a key to the door – none had ever been provided – but thought we would be able to ‘get a feel of the place.’

We stood on an uneven terrace in front of the house, which appeared to have only ever been a refuge from the heat or a storm rather than an actual dwelling and looked down at the Mediterranean sparkling far below. The finca was on a ridge pitched 700 metres above sea level with the Med at the front aspect and the looming peaks of the Sierra Nevada National Park to the rear. Marigold and I looked at each other, nodded, and said ‘we want it’ to the agent.

There was no electricity supply, a well with no water in it and no key to the door. Mere details, we decided, this place is perfect. It took lots of money, a ridiculous amount of effort, but that humble finca became our home for the next seven years.

This return trip to Competa wasn’t taken lightly. We put a lot of trust in the motto ‘never go back’ so returning to Competa after so many years was always going to be a leap into the unknown. As for ‘our’ finca, that was a massive shock.

The entrance road is now accessible by car without worrying about damaging the springs or ripping a big hole in the sump. An actual level surface. Oh, it was still only just wider than our car with a sheer drop on one side, but we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way and didn’t even have to manoeuvre around a herd of goats. The finca had been renovated, improved, transformed, there aren’t really any words to describe the difference, by its newest owners.

‘It’s a bit posh,’ said Marigold. Indeed it was. We were secretly rather relieved it was all locked up as seeing yet more improvements and additions may have proved unsettling. We remember it as we left it, but now it’s not the same. Ah well, never go back.

We walked into Competa, described in tourist brochures the pearl of the Axarquía, and almost immediately saw two different people we knew. One of them used to work at an estate agency, but at the time we lived here so did half the town! There aren’t quite so many of them nowadays. We remember him being rather the worse for wear during the annual festival of Noche del Vino, but again that could apply to half the population.

The Night of the Wine involves a fair bit of old style grape treading, music, flamenco and copious amounts of wine. It goes on all night, in mid August, and our recollections of that particular festival are somewhat hazy, even now.

We climbed up to the Plaza Almijara, dominated by the splendid 16th century church. It’s a brute of a climb. Not very far, but quite enough to exhaust those visitors who haven’t been here for a while. When we first lived in the village Marigold invariably stopped at the half way point to study the weekly special offers in the window of a small supermarket. Interestingly, on this latest occasion, we both found the window display worth a lengthy perusal. It’s partly the altitude effect, partly a lack of fitness being brutally exposed, but we were both on our knees when we reached the top.

Lurking behind the town of Competa is Maroma, the Bald One, a substantial lump of granite well worthy of the term ‘mountain’ with its upper slopes lacking any form of vegetation. Hence the name, bald one. On the far side is another mountain village Canillas de Aceituno where we also owned a property at one time. The daily trek between the two during a lengthy and frustrating house renovation period was always interesting and occasionally hazardous. Heavy rain caused frequent land slips and blocked roads. We often set out uncertain as to whether we would arrive at our destination.

Maroma is the highest peak in Malaga province at 2,066m (6,778ft). For comparison Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, is only 1,344m (or 4,409ft) high and Scafell Pike in the Lake District, the highest in England, is 978m (3,290ft). You will be astonished to learn I have not scaled any of these peaks. I suspect this state of affairs will continue.

When we first arrived in Competa, 23 years ago, the roads up from the coast were precarious in the extreme. The road surface resembled an unmade track in places and as there was a precipitous drop on one side of the very narrow road meeting a lorry, a bus, in fact anything larger than a bicycle on any of the dozens of blind bends was enough to cause heart palpitations. As for venturing off the road into the campo, that was riddled with uncertainty, akin to venturing onto the dark side of the moon.

Our friends Jim and Linda live down a track we’d always noted for its steepness and uncertain surfacing. Not ideal for a new car which Marigold views as a precious jewel. Things have changed since our last visit. The track is now much improved over at least half its length. Just enough to lure the unwary traveller into a misguided sense of confidence. We could see our destination at several points on the descent. The possibility of having to take an unplanned short cut down an actual hillside only occurred on three occasions.

We got there at last and were greeted by our hosts whose twenty odd years in Spain have yet to mark them as anything other than 100% English. These are two of the best people who ever walked the Earth in my view. We used to eat, drink and be merry together over many years. Within two minutes the years had slipped away and we were back in the company of folk who regard laughter as an essential part of life. People just like us. I won’t say anymore about our visit. We want to keep this pair all to ourselves.

A brilliant day. Going up the hill again should have been easier. It wasn’t. I was reminded once again that Marigold isn’t a fan of skidding, sliding or any unplanned swerving while in a motor vehicle. ‘Nearly there now,’ I said, reassuringly. Ooh, spoke too soon, the goat man and his ladies turned up at the steepest point, on a hairpin bend. Restarting after they had passed we turned the corner only to find an oil tanker coming the other way.

That’s a lorry, not a ship, in case you were getting confused.

Rolling back down, around the bends to the nearest passing point, where the goats were, was such fun! After that, though, the road back to the coast was like the M25.

read on, there's more to come after a few photos.

The church that dominates the main square

Marigold outsude our old finca. That high wall is a new addition. Well, new to us.

The only part that's unchanged. It's still fabulous though.

The early days. At this stage we still hadn't sorted out a key to the door. We had been inside, no need to break down the door or the only window as the roof had partially collapsed. A trivial detail

The raisin beds have gone, there's a garden there now

We trebled the size of the old ruin, added a pool and terrace. That's all still there

Adding an extra room, the early stages

My working clothes in 1999/2000. I only wear those shorts now when Marigold isn't around. She's convinced they've outlived their attractiveness.

Different day, different month actually. Same outfit

The goat man. He's a male model at weekends.

More. Yes, really!

Marigold had decided she would choose the first stopover hotel, ideally midway between Competa and the French border. After no more than an hour’s perusal of she announced she had found the perfect place.

‘Is it a hotel, a B and B, a campsite, a hostel?’ I asked, having long since learnt the folly of prejudging any of Marigold’s conclusions.

‘It’s a sort of hotel. I think. It’s got a nice feel to it.’ Ah, okay, that’s ‘sort of’ promising, I thought. Our presumptive accommodation turned out to be rather hard to find. Marigold insisted her directions were perfect, but that some of the roads were in the wrong place. We don’t stress over trivia such as blundering around an unfamiliar town as darkness falls. That would be foolish as we do it all the time.

A German man who owned the ‘sort of hotel’ insisted on speaking English to us. We were grateful as although he spoke excellent Spanish and far better French than me he said he was fluent in English. This proved to be somewhat inaccurate as he kept lapsing into his own language.

German nationals have a bewildering (to me) capacity to string together whole groups of ‘mini words’ to make up a convoluted ‘maxi word.’ These combination words are bad enough in speech, but seeing them written down can be daunting. My poor overstressed brain relishes brevity when it comes to foreign words.

I know that hausschuhe is the German word for sandals or flip-flops. A combination of ‘house’ and ‘shoe’ which has some degree of rational logic. I can even cope with wasserkocher, meaning electric kettle. A word combining ‘water’ and ‘cooker’ is an analogy I can relate to.

Things got more complicated when our host repeatedly used a word in reference to Covid – what else does anyone talk about these days? The word was, trust me this took some effort on my part, Kontaktverfolgung, a compound word derived from ‘kontakt’ and ‘verfolgung’ meaning ‘contact’ and ‘tracing’ respectively. Contact tracing is a widely used expression. Kontaktverfolgung, especially when spoken at normal speed is just too daunting.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is a real word - yes of course I double checked the spelling - meaning a fear of long words. Somewhat illogically in my view. I am a sufferer from this condition myself which may explain my complete inability to ‘learn’ the German language.

In 1984, the novel not the actual date, George Orwell expounded on the creation of a new language, ‘newspeak’ replacing ‘oldspeak,’ formerly known as ‘English.’ Language was to be compressed and simplified, thereby drastically reducing the number of words in existence and eventually eliminating the possibility of ‘thoughtcrime.’

Does the burgeoning concept of ‘wokeness,’ – if that word exists elsewhere, which it probably doesn’t – when applied to language mean Orwell’s prophetic reflections have finally arrived, 38 years later than promised?

One character, speaking to Winston Smith the dominant narrative figure, says, “Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?”

It’s a scary thought.

A happy band

Marigold and Linda. Superstars

This is Jim. A wise man. A legend.

I called Jim the Village Elder in the 'olden days' as he rarely used chairs when a tiled step was available.

This was our next house, on the other side of the mountain. A young lad asked why do you buy such crappy houses

This is one answer to that question, the entrance road. It's not exactly suburbia. That's Maroma in the background

The house was about to fall down the hillside when we bought it. That's a new terrace, holding it in place. We were so pleased to find Jim and Linda just at the point our aching bodies were about to collapse. Eight hands make light work

After work picnics were essential. That was 2003. Good grief!

Our site foreman. Without Rhett the work would have been twice as hard

Marigold, the shovel queen

I even got my 87 year old dad working on a brief visit to the dreaded 'abroad.' Never, ever took his jacket off even in 100 degree temperatures

You can't really tell that's a kitchen and bathroom yet

Getting there now

I had a bath in that every night before driving home. Al fresco bathing has much to commend. The absence of onlookers was a great help.

Almost complete at this point. Just a few trivial matters to sort out. An electricity supply being just one of them. A bureaucratic nightmare.