Local Eccentricities

You may have thought that two forty-somethings giving up well paid careers, selling a perfectly nice house, trading in our fast cars for a battered twelve year old estate car, and decamping to a Galician backwater, would make us the local eccentrics. But far from it, we’re the paragon of normality in a sea of oddballs.

Why do I specifically mention this today...I’ll come onto that later.

We’ve known for a while that we have a number of neighbours, mostly male, who would struggle to spell Mensa, let alone register an Intelligence Quotient adequate to become members. I have a strong suspicion that the disproportionate surfeit of these characters is down to an historical reticence to dip even the littlest of toes into the gene pool, and where what was considered as a marriage of diversity was be getting wed to someone who hadn't been brought up under the same roof.

There is the local neighbour who is under the care of social services and who is brought two hot meals a day and a daily stipend of eight euros. He waits patiently for his money to arrive and then makes the five kilometre walk into town to spend it on beer and cigarettes before making the return trip (contents unopened) and spend the rest of the day smoking and drinking. He recognises our cars, and if he sees I’m driving he leaps into the road and after forcing me to stop he gets into the passenger seat. We’ve never exchanged a word, but we have an unspoken agreement. I pick him up, and he rocks backwards and forwards in the passenger seat mumbling under his breath and getting increasingly agitated the closer that we get to his house. When he wants me to stop he grunts, then gets out of the vehicle and slams the door shut. It’s a bit of a one way relationship.

Then there is a guy in the adjacent village with the thickest Galician accents which makes him totally unintelligible, even apparently to Gallego speakers.  He brings us eggs (but only if you’ve an empty box to give him), shouts at us in Gallego and then chuckles to himself as he gets back in his car and drives off. When we were having the roof replaced he took it upon himself, as a seventy-five year old of considerable upper body bulk, to climb the scaffolding to talk to the builders. No health and safety here.

But today’s missive comes as a result of the exploits of a nearby neighbour who is currently the talk of the town due to his antics earlier in the week.

He was walking past the house yesterday while I was sitting out on the patio enjoying a post-work cup of tea, and he looked a little disheveled. I wished him the traditional ‘good day’ expecting a similar retort, but no, he wanted to chat. I use ‘chat’ in the loosest sense of the word as he then proceeded to remove his coat and talk at me for five minutes at machine-gun speed, in Gallego. The bits of his soliloquy that I thought I grasped were about ; his father being stung by wasps, his car having broken down, him needing to go to the hospital, and him hurting his leg (which he rolled up his trousers to show me).

It was clear that I’d made a terrible decision, he was happily walking past with his eyes down to the road and was oblivious of my existence until my polite greeting.

I nodded, and occasionally said ‘Yes’, hoping that he wasn’t asking me a question that I’d regret answering in the affirmative to. I could hear Amanda sniggering to herself in the house as she left me to flounder before showing some mercy and shouting me in.

It turns out that a month or so ago his car caught fire in Ribadeo and made the local news. I’d seen him in a courtesy car for a couple of weeks but hadn’t put two and two together. After it was written off he bought another one, probably for a few hundred Euros and on Monday that broke down and was taken away to a local garage to be repaired.

grasscutter2Now this neighbour likes to go the seven kilometres into A Pontenova for a mid-morning coffee and a chat to his mates and being without a car wasn’t going to stop him. So he fired up his unregistered, untaxed, untested and frankly dangerous three wheeler grass cutter, donned a florescent jacket, and headed off into town.

On entering town he drew the interest of a number of motorists, and their mobile phones, and soon the Guardia Civil were notified. He was apprehended in a local coffee shop, his location given away by his grass cutter being parked in the street outside.  His vehicle was confiscated, he was arrested, and after lengthy questioning he was released to walk home.

And that is where my badly mistimed pleasantry came in, and why I got blasted with both barrels. It was probably nothing to wasps, hospitals and broken down cars but a full explanation of the circumstances leading to his arrest and seemingly the police brutality which left him with a bandage around his leg.

He’s made the regional papers and apparently the national news (Telecinco) and has done his little bit to make Amanda and I feel all the more normal.

The bizarre thing is, I’ve since learnt that his name translates to ‘Perfect’.

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Liñeiras Amanda – Super Sub

Our house is part of a small hamlet of eight disparate houses, in a small village of twenty-two properties, in a small town of eleven parishes, and with a constantly diminishing population of just 2,330 people (down from 4,841 in 1970). One of the main reasons for our decision to move here was to be surrounded by mountains and forest and be remote from the everyday bustle of town life, but also to be part of a small friendly community, and close enough to a town for shops and services.

People choose to move to foreign climes for many reasons; the weather, the cost of living, the pace of life, and wanting to experience and enjoy a different culture and way of life. For us it was an element of all of these, but predominantly for a different and slower pace of life so that after nearly thirty years of twelve hour working days we could take a step back from the vicious and destructive circle of work, eat, sleep, repeat.

We both believe that it is important to become active members of the local community and I have to admit that Amanda has been much better at assimilating than I have.

This is probably more thanks to her brilliant command of the Spanish language and her ability to make friends. Since moving here in 2014 she has; worked in two schools, a local language academy, and for an adult education enterprise; taken a job in a local cake shop; attended courses and events; and, undertaken a few ad-hoc translation works.

But her latest ‘community integration’ initiative is the one which makes me the most proud.

She is now a fully-fledged amateur footballer, with more than half a dozen games under her belt, for Ribadeo FC/Sporting Pontenova FC combined Feminino Club de Futbol, playing in the Segunda Grupo 1 of the Liga Gallega.

Mandy Football Side

It was all thanks to a chance conversation eighteen months ago when one of the ‘Friday night ladies’ (a group of Mums who met for a cheeky glass of wine on a Friday night while watching their kids play in the local park) said she wouldn’t be coming next week as she was going football training. After a brief chat, her interest was pricked and she agreed to join the lady, and twenty other local girls and women, who were trying to establish a new football club, the first women’s eleven a side team in Lugo.

A year of training turned into five-a-side friendly game which they lost 25-1, and which eventually saw a merger with a group from nearby Ribadeo (30km away) for depth of squad and to form a side to seek entry into the lowest level of the Galician ladies league. Two heavy defeats in pre-season friendlies heralded the start of the season, with understandably low expectation from coaches, players and nearest and dearest, and on the 1st October 2017 a narrow 2-1 defeat away in A Coruna against SCD Pastoriza was their first ever competitive match.

Since then the team has come on in leaps and bounds. They train twice a week (in all weathers), have two coaches (the head coach who swears like a trooper, and his milder mannered assistant) and have remained unbeaten in the subsequent fourteen rounds.

Mandy FootballerAfter sitting out the first eight rounds, while confirmation was sought from the UK that she was not contracted to any club over there, Amanda has become the super-sub making second half appearances on seven occasions ranging from playing the full half to the last ten minutes.

Last Sunday her side overcame some atrocious conditions including; vicious hailstorms, gale force winds, and ankle deep mud, to beat their opponents by 11-1. They currently sit fourth in the division as they hit half-way point in the season, and the hard work in training and dedication to the cause has paid dividends.

As they are the only side in Lugo, all away games have to be played in A Coruna which is a ninety minute drive away. You have to admire their determination and can only be in awe of the way that a group of women, many of whom had never played competitive football before, have gelled into a very good football team who are a joy to watch and are currently in with a reasonable chance of promotion to the top flight of Galician ladies football in just their first year in existence.

To say I’m proud is an understatement.

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Additions to the Family

We have known Dolores since before we bought the house in 2010. Our estate agent introduced us to her as an ex-high flying executive from Madrid who had packed it all in for a quiet life in a Galician backwater. She’d bought her house believing it was in Asturias, only to discover to her distress that it was the very last house in Galicia, her two near neighbours being Asturian.

Every year Dolores has a problem.

In late Spring a heavily pregnant cat appears and takes up residency in her wood shed. Within days she gives birth and Dolores helps the mother to nurse the two, three, four or five kittens until they are weaned, at which point she tries to find them all new homes, from an ever decreasing pool of locals. If the mother arrives early enough in the year then she could easily fall pregnant again, and deliver a second litter in July or August.

I’m a sucker for kittens, and so is Dolores, who now has four cats of which two are the left-over, un-homed, products of her stray.

Once the mother has completed her motherly duties, in the safe knowledge that Dolores will be an always-willing assistant, she disappears again until the following spring. That’s one cat that knows when she’s onto a good thing.

Since we moved out here in 2014 every litter that has arrived has been trumpeted to us, usually with cute and adorable photographs, in the hope that we may become a home to one or more of her annual menagerie. We’ve always resisted.

Initially we had our own elderly cat (Bonita) from England and just three weeks after she died a stray appeared on our doorstep and adopted us, the outdoor (and occasionally indoor) Kit the Cat.

Since then we’ve taken Dolores’s phone calls and; ‘not liked the colour’, ‘we only want a black one’, or ‘we’ll only take a tom cat’ (after the trauma of neutering Kit) and while we’ve visited her house and made all the right ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ noises we have managed to resist taking on any more strays.

Then in September we took a phone call from cat-woman Dolores. ‘My stray has had a second litter.....and one of them is black......and I think it’s a Tom cat’ she said. There was a discernible ‘I’ve got you this time’ air of satisfaction in her voice. She’d managed to manufacture our ideal, all black, tom. We had no option but to visit.

We both instantly fell in love, with both the black one and his mackerel coloured brother, and we agreed to take them once they had been weaned from their mother, and after we’d completed our Camino De Santiago.

3C4CDE2A-68BD-4285-8AB7-F498DFD697F3On the 14th October we made the short trip to one of Galicia’s last outposts and came home with a cat basket containing Lemmy (the black one) and Hendrix (the mackerel).

They will, of course, be outdoor cats. They are here to assist Kit in keeping check on the perennial rat and mouse problem that blights all rural areas. They now spend their nights in the bread oven house but have the run of the finca from dawn to dusk.

They are slowly growing up from the bundles of fur that arrived a month ago and are developing their own individual characteristics.

565F0ABF-836A-4CB8-A56B-119816F24FEAHendrix would be a brilliant competitor in any ‘kitten food eating competition’ as his prime Lidl pate is gone almost before it hits the bottom of the bowl, Lemmy is more of a grazer which means that either Amanda or myself have to stand guard and stop Hendrix polishing off his food too.

Hendrix runs into situations like a bull in the proverbial china shop, while Lemmy is much more cautious and if his early efforts in vermin control continue then he’s likely to be a top-notch mouser.

They are both very chatty and like to announce an impending ‘toilet visit’ as well as calling to one another if either drifts out of sight.

Gradually over the last month Kit has come to accept their presence and can even bring herself to play with them on occasions (although perhaps a little too roughly), before getting bored and going off to sleep in one of her many ‘safe spots’ around the property.

They are massive bundles of fun, love a human cuddle, play fight with one another, and then curl up together to sleep.

But that’s where we draw the line, there will be no more, three is our limit. We already spend more on cat food than we do on the human stuff, let’s hope that they soon start feeding themselves.

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Chronic Water Shortage

I’ve mentioned our water problems before. For a first world country we have our fair share of third world problems, and a summer lack of water is one of them. Despite us living in the wettest part of Spain, with on average more precipitation in a year than Manchester, the local village water supply has a habit of running low, or even totally dry during late summer.

The first year that this happened our neighbour Carlos was more than happy to hand me the keys to the deposit, a symbolic gesture as the door hasn’t locked for years, and give me the responsibility for strimming it’s immediate surrounds, and also keeping an eye on the springs about five kilometres away in the mountains.

I’ve been doing my duty and monitoring the levels since early summer and was surprised at how well our village has done. Our local, 50,000 litre, deposit was full throughout September and early October and it was only on the last few days of the month that the level started to drop a little.

2ADF9192-B30E-47C7-A937-41D9ED4FDD65It’s been a very dry summer, which made our decent water situation even more surprising. When we walked the Camino at the end of September it was startling to see the level of the river as we approached Portomarin. As you can see in the photograph the river is usually at the level indicated by the change of colour on the modern day bridge pillars but after the summer we’ve had you could even see the old medieval bridge on the river bed.

We’ve essentially had six months with only a smattering of rain, people haven’t been able to water their allotments or wash their cars, and now we are paying the price.

At the start of November the level in our deposit started to drop, at an alarming rate. Over the space of seven days it went from 80% full to 80% empty, we had a problem and it needed investigation and action.

In autumn, winter and spring this local water store usually receives around 750 litres per hour from the springs but on taking a measurement (involving blocking the outflow, sticking a bucket under the overflow, and measuring with a stopwatch) we measured the flow at just 200 litres per hour.

One of the three springs had dried completely and the other two were running vastly under normal flow. There were also some minor leaks with water escaping, and we needed every drop that we could get. I scoured the internet for solutions to plug a leak in a concrete tank without turning off the essential supply. I looked as expanding foam, silicon, and putty but none of them fitted the bill or gave me any confidence of a permanent solution.

Then I had a moment of enlightenment, hydraulic cement. A local supplier had a bag, and opened on a bank holiday to sell me it, and it’s miraculous. You mix it in small quantities, and have to use it as soon as it is mixed. Once in place it ‘goes off’ in three minutes, or under water in five...chisel hard. So with the help of a neighbour I made the repairs and everything that could be done to safeguard the supply had been done.

Phase two of the operation then had to kick in.

Amanda produced a leaflet explaining the situation and asking the neighbours to be careful with their use of our precious resource. As most are Gallego speaking, octogenarians they do have some problems understanding as you can tell by the way their lips move when they try to read. So in hand-delivering our ‘Public Information’ bulletins we had to explain the situation verbally.

It didn’t work.

Consumption continued unabated and over the next few days and the flow from springs fell even further, down to 150 litres per hour. So then I flexed my English muscles and cut everyone off.

If I’ve got the keys, and I do the housekeeping and repairs, then I think I’ve the right to operate the big supply taps! We started with a water curfew between 9pm and 9am and we are now down to a 4pm to 10am prohibition. In just six hours a day we are using all of the water which comes in during the eighteen hours of closure. We are holding at 20% full but with no rain on the long range forecast I am afraid that a gradual reduction on hours is on the cards as I try to avoid a total water wipeout.

We’re not alone. Across Spain the reservoirs are at 30% and falling. Some local villages have been without water since mid-summer and one local town now has a nighttime cut to supplies, seven days a week.

If anyone knows a good rain dance, or can rent us a cloud-busting machine, then give me a shout. We are getting desperate.

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Our Fantastic Camino Experience

It was with some trepidation that we accepted the kind offer of a lift to Sarria from our friends Danny and Carol. Not because the last time we’d been in Danny’s Transit we came within inches of a head on collision with a Council truck, but because we’d got a mammoth 115km walk ahead of us.

Backpacks had been packed, weighed, thinned, weighed, thinned again and finally zipped up. Boots had been ‘worn in’, likely blister spots covered in tape, and special socks purchased.

E5ECC820-745A-4957-9441-ADC7AA3A82CEThere was no turning back, a quick coffee with our kind chauffeurs, and we hit the road to the first of our nights pre-booked accommodation in Portomarín. The first day was 22.2km on a mixture of forest paths, country roads and for the final kilometre pavement. We had a ten minute spell of light drizzle but after a couple of beers and a nice pizza we thanked our lucky stars that the promised blisters hadn’t made an appearance and we retired to an early bed.

Body clocks ‘all to pot’ we were awake and on the Camino just before dawn on day two for the 23.5 km jaunt to Palas de Rey. Fog followed darkness which then turned into sunshine as we reached our goal. Amanda had developed an ankle problem, and the blisters which we’d avoided on day one had made an unwelcome appearance. We found a ‘Menu del Dia’, drank beer and slept, knowing that tomorrow’s stage, the feared ‘legbreaker’, would make or break us.

B4CACF01-9144-4FE7-AD8F-4280412360D8Another pre-dawn start saw us literally bump into an American couple with whom we shared torches for a few kilometres. It turned out that they too would celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on the 3rd October, the same as Amanda and myself, a Camino coincidence. We passed through Melide, which at sixteen kilometres would have been a sensible place to spend the night, but we pushed on to Arzua where the beer tasted sweeter and the food finer after 28.4km of walking.

We were now just forty kilometres from Santiago, two days walking.

The fourth day saw us reach O Pedrouzo after 19.3km, and after several routes had joined together, the way was becoming increasingly crowded. We called at the chemist for something to help with a shooting pain down my right shin, and hit the bars for some alcoholic anaesthetic. Our goal now seemed to be within touching distance.

0A629DA8-C982-4687-A73E-E8E0DB79D410The push into Santiago de Compostela was the hardest of the five days. The majority of the 20.8km route was on pavement or rough stony tracks which took a toll on our blistered feet and painful knees and a two kilometres diversion on the edge of the city lowered spirits even further. The Cathedral was a sight for sore eyes and at just after one thirty we arrived in the square with all of the other pilgrims who had made the journey from a myriad of routes, from a range of distances, and with very different hopes and expectations.

The day we arrived we joined over a thousand other pilgrims in the queue for our Compostela (certificate), before we met with friends Jim and Madelaine for a great night out on the town and retiring to our luxury room in the Parador for a good nights sleep.

We met and chatted with people from; Spain, Italy, USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and Brazil. They were all ages and all had their own stories and reasons for walking the Camino.

We made it, and while we felt a a great sense of achievement, we also had a massive admiration for those who had completed the full Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port in France. We also both felt a little deflated that our Camino was over and we were returning back to our normal life. Despite suffering some pain and discomfort, neither of us suggested taking a bus or a taxi, and looking back we both thought that it was a fantastic experience, and one which we are willing to repeat.

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