Spanish Dreams? Reality Bites

“Are you mad?  Ah – go for it – lucky ba$tar*s.  Can we have your furniture?”

I admit most of our friends took the realistic approach when we shared the fact we were decamping from our very normal life to a leaking shack/money pit 1115 metres up a Spanish mountain.


But, wait, stay right there.  This is not a “Hey look at us, didn’t we do well” lifestyle post.

It’s been, well, great – and almost 10 years on we are happy enough with our lot – although it has not always been easy.

Especially the cold and hard winters we have endured since we arrived with boxes of linen and cotton clothes, and a selection of flip-flops – our woolies and 15 tog quilts gaily abandoned in a Newport skip.


©Carol Byrne


But –  this is the middle of summer.  Spanish summer.  The sun has got his sombrero on. Woop – right?

The expectation

Calls from home – wet and windy Ireland calling…

“You must have a great colour”

“How blue is the sky?” (This last one usually asked through gritted teeth, as in Ireland we wear the sky as a grey bobble hat)

“You’re off for dinner? Oh imagine, sitting OUT”

“Saw your area on A Place In The Sun – it looked FABULOUS.”   Er, no, you didn’t.  Just Christopher Columbus and us made it this far up a blasted mountain.  Maybe Mallory if he was lost.

Image of a glossy highway sign on blue sky

The reality

Actually no.  I’m a faded brown, sort of sludge colour.

Why? Well, since our day (note the singular) on the beach this year, when we overdid the idea of a day off and turned deep Gamba pink, we haven’t sunbathed.

I did buy a relaxer-lounger garden chair, but haven’t managed to sink my bum in it once.


Wiki commons

Wiki commons



It’s too bloody hot.

So, envy-filled friends and family, imagine a different picture.

Closed shutters, drawn curtains.

The fan whirring and pushing hot air around.  Re-runs of A Place In The Sun on TV.

Flies.  Big flies.  Flies that might normally be indicative of a dead body in close proximity.

Little flies.  No-Sees.  They salsa through the mozzie nets, laughing at us, and with needle precision torment us all night.

We eat out – sure we do.  At 11 or 12 in the darkness when it’s cool enough, the mosquitoes have us for postre as we sit there sweating and heavy breathing.

Entertainment is mostly checking the dogs for ticks.  And then checking us for ticks. *Shudder*

So, dear friends and family, look fondly at that ‘soft weather’ – and be bloody grateful.


9 signs you’ve settled in

Moving to Spain means a transition in mindset and lifestyle as well as geographical relocation.  You might be immediately comfortable, or wonder if you’ll ever settle in.

But watch out.  There are signs that will show if you do – so here are 9 to look out for:   🙂

1. Flat feet. Wide feet.  Feet 2 whole sizes larger than the ones that first excitedly entered Spain.  Your flip-flops are your best friend.  No longer do you breathlessly lust over Blahniks – your high arches and post-party foot aches are a thing of the distant past.


2. It becomes perfectly normal – indeed absolutely necessary –  to shout loudly “Who was last?” as you walk through the door of anywhere with a queue.  The medico, the bank, anywhere.


3. Although there are 20 impatient people huffing behind you, the bank counter seems like the ideal spot to discuss  your impending operation in full detail, with gusto.


4. Slippers are as important in winter as flip-flops in summer.  The perfect footwear to go shopping in.  Team them with that furry housecoat and you will set off your outfit perfectly. Go for the full village experience and buy them from the travelling van with the megaphone.


5. Market clothes start to look like an attractive possibility. Elastic is a definite possibility.  Big knickers a complete necessity.

2011-01-02 05.42.26 - Copy

6. The neighbours have started to actually eat the food you bring to gatherings.  Of course they do, you’re using their recipes.  You have banished all manner of spice and stopped hankering for a Jalfrezi. The only Naan in your life is the one that sends you a birthday card.


7. You fully accept that inviting the neighbours round for a dinner party results in their bringing the entire clan.  Granny in the corner sucking on a bit of Jamón, 20 kids eating something lurid and staining, whilst jumping all over your white Bauhaus sofa.  Get over it.

kids calm

8. Brandy or Anis and coffee sounds perfectly reasonable at 8am.


9. You have developed an interest in the Spanish TV soaps, but only at full volume. and the quiz shows, the word games.  But just to improve your vocabulary, right?  And wearing that slipper and housecoat ensemble.


Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  As soon as these signs appear, it’s too late – you’re already done for.

24 things about love and marriage… …no horse, no carriage


On Food

He dislikes celery, tarragon, mustard and yoghurt.  I like everything except innards.  But I do like Callos, which is essentially a bowlful of pig’s innards.

We love Middle Eastern flavours – no meal is ever complete without the magic of spice.

We both love to cook and hate to be criticized on our efforts.


On heated discussions

I shout.  He sulks.

I throw.  He ducks.

I have a smart mouth – he has a patient(ish) nature and knows when to shut up.


On the arts

We love art – our first date was Warhol at the South Bank.  It was shite so we went for a pint. That was better.

We once went to Paris on the proceeds of something very dodgy and spent all our money on cheap Left Bank food and a very expensive book on Dali – there was an exhibition on in a fancy hotel where all the guests smelled of money.

We love music.  All music.  The Kindle might actually be fused to his left hand.

On family

Our kids have (perhaps unfortunately for them) a mixture of our looks and personalities – but are like chalk and cheese.

The best noise in the world is a houseful of our kids and their mates having a great time.  No matter how many or how loud.  Spanish kids are LOUD.

Both of us are hopelessly disorganised – it’s lovely.  Our kids at all ages and past times jump out from the most unexpected places – pictures in drawers and boxes. We’ve never had a photo album except our wedding album.  And I’m not actually sure I know where that is.

On growing up

Still not managed it.  Despite the bigger numbers – it doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

We love a party, and always will.

We drive everyone mad because we speak at the same time.  Wear earplugs to our house.

On work

These days?  A little role-reversal.  Work to live – never live to work.

He’s my cha-cha.  We have all realised I was always rubbish at housework.

But I can spell. He can’t do that – uh-uh.

On Social Media

He doesn’t even know his own telephone number.  Nope.  Not happening.

I, well…you know that already.

On Spain

We have a mutual dislike of bingo playing, fish and chip eating, and chavvy twat expats.  But we enjoy finding the other kind and spending time with them.

We love it here – after 9+ years we’re still discovering something new in every day.


The one thing we do miss about England…is Sunday morning and the papers in bed.  And gigs.  Live music.

Strange but true

I once walked him to Peckham station in the early hours and went home to bed. An hour or so later, I  got up, showered, breakfasted, caught a number 63 bus, then a train and went down to Victoria to catch a tube one more stop to work at Sloane Sq.  As the doors opened he was sitting there.  He had fallen asleep and, well…ever seen that movie Sliding Doors?

The difference between Spanish and Expat parents

kids calm

Well, can you spot the differences?  An example.

Idling around a quiet hotel pool recently, the only sound to break the idyll was a gentle murmuring from other guests, and just the scrape of a sun-bed being positioned, or the ppffft aerosol of more SPF applied and of course the laughter of happy kids in the water.


The low wail that led to a screech like a fire engine, sudden and LOUD, made us all sit up and focus towards one end of the pool, as the lifeguard jumped in with a panicked splash and emerged with a girl of about 7, hands to her face and blood gushing forth.

Her parents were next to us, Padre slowly levered himself up putting down his book and Madre walked with no particular hurry to the shower area where the lifeguard was sluicing the kid down.

She had smashed her front tooth – and was inconsolable.  Wails of “I want to go home” and “I miss my friends”, “I’m ugly now” mingled with snot, sobs, tears and big shuddering intakes of breath.  Madre placated, cuddled and crooned, and after 5 minutes pushed her off and told her to shut the F**k up. Padre went back to his book.


Which is about typical.  I had to giggle – she was pushing for the underage Oscars.  Everyone nodded, smiled and went back to sunbed arranging and SPF application  The kid shut up.  She forgot about her tooth and went back in the pool.

I turned over to face the sun and spied an expat couple who sat at the side of the kids pool (about 1 foot deep) whilst their kids played. Constant cries with loudly projected voices of “Play nicely Thomas”  “Be careful Jake” “No splashing your brother” accompanied them.  When they left, flustered, anything but relaxed, with their equipment and kitchen sink, kids in all-in-one suits and Tintin-type swim hats – it was only about 22 degrees –  Mum and Dad fussed and held their hands and instructed not to walk too close to the pool. They were just short of a lead.


What if they had fallen in?  Well, I guess someone might have fished them out.

Have we become fussier?  What happened to risks and tough love? When I fell over as a kid  – most days – I got a splash of iodine, a sugar sandwich, and was sent back out to play, the blood hastily wiped as it ran and congealed into my once-white sock. A lovely big knee scab afterwards that would itch and beg to be picked along the edges as it healed.  Like a big fruit pastille.  I still have the lumps and marks today. My mother was right about the picking.

So, can you spot the difference?

Hooray – It’s Spay Day!

Yes, I did type that correctly.  Funny, the dogs have all disappeared….

Seriously, we love our 4 legged friends, and since moving to Spain have, like many expats, opened our front door and our sofa to several vagabonds, ragamuffins, in Barney’s case, downright vagrant.  He’s the only dog who can look like he’s been through a bush backwards half an hour after his bath.

Love and money

But apart from food, flea collars and firewood to keep them warm there’s another real expense with stray dogs and that’s the delicate topic of spaying, neutering, ball chopping – whatever you want to call it.  But, there is a solution, and that’s where Spay and Neuter Assistance comes in and saves the day – if not poor Fido’s manhood. Contact them via that link – it goes to their Facebook page – and they’ll fit you in on one of their Spay days and give you a quote.  Their work is brilliant, they also pick up unwanted and abandoned animals and spay them.  They have several spay dates a month, at a fraction of the normal cost, and will fit you in.

How big is the problem?

Guys, it’s epidemic. If a picture paints a thousand words, then look at this:


Not convinced yet?  Okay, you do the math…


Radley has had his date, just 3 more to go…and Jimi the street cat – ssshhh he’ll hear!

Jimi Car

So I’ll say it again – Contact Spay/Neuter assistance today. Please share this post. x

How big is the problem?

Tonight, Matthew, I’ll be… Bridget Jones

Knickers. You guessed….red knickers for luck of course, de riguer and a la mode for NYE in Spain, doncha know? Yes, it’s that night again, they roll around with such speed these days, anyone would think we were growing older.


Tempus might Fugit but we’ll be doing the same old thing here, freezing our asses off in the village Plaza, tradition dictates we have a grape for each chime of the midnight bells and a gulp of cheap Cava to wash them down. By the time the last bell tolls we’ll be doing Brando/Corleone impressions and laughing our heads off, whilst simultaneously kissing and wishing everyone a Feliz Ano Nuevo – (actually that translates as a happy new arse and not a year as I don’t have the requisite accent on this silly UK keyboard.)

I will indeed wish for a new arse, slightly less padded and much more svelte as I roll out the same old resolutions, as 5:2 begins again in earnest – only to be a forgotten friend – or fiend – by February. Sure we have our health – what more do we really need?

The more padded version of this derrière will be snugly – slightly too snugly – encased in red knickers for good luck tonight. Although we all know luck is something that’s made and worked on. And I’ll wish tonight for all of you the same – so have a great one, whether it’s cosy by the fire with Jules and his piano, or freezing in your own home town square/pub:

Athbhliain faoi shéan agus faoi
¡Feliz año nuevo!
or Happy New Year!


Rest In Peace

A quick trip home to Dirty Dublin last weekend, in fact shiny and groomed it is, at least my picturesque village of old, a river runs through it, quaint thatched pubs and pretty coffee shops abound. There’s even a tapas bar. But even chocolate box scenes can be sinister.

A reason to go

A purposeful visit to see my mother, getting on in years now and recently an almost-victim when she experienced a couple of unwelcome wannabe visitors. Big cities equal crime, the capital is just a short ride in a getaway car and lonely widows make quick cashpoints.

So, a short holiday/visit for me and The Girl, who drew gasps and too many admiring glances for my liking, her lofty height and Dad’s DNA bringing attention. (Think Biro refill with hips) She enjoyed the family, the shopping, the festive fever and the overdose of One Direction memorabilia available. I managed a taste or twenty of the Black Stuff right here….


Back in the real world

Meanwhile Stan and The Boy stayed home, they did the unthinkable and ventured to Iceland after Málaga airport, as in the land of processed shite, not the one of hot springs and geysers.

They also took in the Almería – Real Madrid match. I think the Scotch Eggs and Sausage Rolls brought more satisfaction!

A call to arms

Stan was summoned, another day, around to the Bodega, which is also the Carpintería, at least formerly. The current owners father was the village carpenter in days past.The neighbour wanted a hand hauling something and had rounded up a few locals. Work done, he showed them an old fireplace he had uncovered.

– I’ll make a few shelves for that, put some antiques up, what do you think?

The general consensus is that wood these days is expensive. Much sucking in of missing teeth and mumbling.

– No problem, says he, I have loads of wood.

– Where?…..

A final resting place

…..He waves his hand over to the corner. Eyes swivelled to where half a dozen coffins, circa civil war – were laid to rest. Well, a carpenter only had so much work in those days….

You can’t use those, exclaimed Stan! Laughing, he suggested that our friend might as well make a bed or two while he was at it…

– No, no …that would be disrespectful. Shelves it is.

Stuff the Lettuce

Living in Spain…you’ll oft hear of expats waxing lyrical about the good life: Sunshine and siestas, the tapas and the relaxed temperament, the generosity of neighbours – all good and true, naturally. We love it here, on our Andalucian mountain, even the hard times are good times, a life filled with a lack of serious cash borne bravely, compensated by the good things, which have turned out to be much better for us than the finer things…

Winter is here, it arrived unexpectedly a little while ago, suddenly my flip-flops looked silly, the wood burner more attractive, and the fly screens redundant.Image

The sky is still a deep blue – and HIGH – but there’s a nip in that mountain air that would send a chill through even this hardy Irish Rubia.

As the dogs edged closer to the fire this week we thought to order in some almond to feed it with, that or start regarding the furniture with a beady eye, it’s quite big and pretty hungry, so we ordered a trailer full which was more than reasonable, working out at 11 cents per kilo (although who is going to weigh it I have no idea). Well, it’s all stacked neatly thanks to the friendly delivery chicos and Josh, and it’s partnering the other item down in the stable that’s going to help keep us all warm. 

A mule? A stack of blankets?.Image

Our generous vecinos – who keep our Summers padded out with bags of beans and lettuce – have pumped in 500 L of the finest Red – a soft and naturally sweet, organic Tempranillo/Cabernet mix…

Suddenly Winter nights look a tad cosier…