Coming of Age – Day 11

Woke up in a hot, stale, lather, but knew I should feel better once I moved. So I opened all the doors and windows and put on all the fans to pull some fresh air through the house, although it is already bright and warm at 7.a.m. I shall close up again around 10 a.m and leave the fans on all day. I do not like air conditioning as the humidity makes me very uncomfortable. I would rather sweat and dry off, cooling myself the natural way.

I did my Qi Gong on the roof, then watered the garden where there are cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons, sweet melons, beetroot, and radishes ready to pick. I thought my zucchinis had succumbed, but there is one plant in a pot of carnations that has seeded itself, and is about to flower. I felt much better for the effort, but dripping wet. I had a carrot, lemon, and apple juice earlier, so think I can safely treat myself to Spain`s nearest thing to a Cumberland sausage for lunch. It is rather salty, but in this heat, that is not a bad thing. The blood pressure is maintaining a reasonably respectable 160 over 80.

I had planned a day at the finca, but the forecast is for shade temperatures over 40C.,100F., with 44C.+, 112F during the week. So, while my eyes are dry and sore, I shall stay indoors at the town house, and get on with the writing. I have run a Jaccuzzi of cold water to sit and dunk my feet if I get too hot. I could swim in the cisterna when I am at the finca, but not while my eyes are touchy. The water from the river is far from clean, and I share it with crayfish, goldfish, and several species of dragonflies and water beetles.

Tomorrow, I must go down to check on the cats, water the newly planted Bramley apple tree, and pick peaches, figs, and plums, before the sun gets up. Then I shall see how well I can keep cool down there. There are fans and a fridge, and I shall take a cool box full of frozen fresh-pressed orange and apple juice, some salad from the roof, and home-made lemon yoghourt. I have a good stock of Vichy water on hand, fizzy, healthy, and refreshing. I drink several bottles of the stuff every day.

I must also take the research for articles on Africa, as I am behind hand with them due to having been off line during the changeover, which seems to have left me with a dreadfully slow connection, although they promised me an upgrade from 3 to 8 gigabytes. At present my downloads are a snail´s pace 12 kilobytes per second. My new pc is also a mightmare, a Spanish keyboard that keeps trying to convert itself to a UK one because Windows 8 detects I am typing in English, and programs that keep switching and opening themselves for no apparent reason. Yesterday, Google Chrome, which I never use, suddenly decided to play me a talking book I have never heard of. That chewed up a good portion of my download capacity before I discovered what and where it was, and managed to get rid of it. I am becoming very frustrated with the too clever designers who are cluttering up my memory and my time with rubbish I don´t want. I can entertain myself very well without your interference, thank you. I need my computer to WORK! For ME!

My friend tells me several million furious Windows 8 clients have been offered free upgrades to Windows 10. I must see if I can get one.

An unexpected surprise. I have a lovely neighbour who says she is in her 80s but looks a decade younger than myself. She loves figs. At present, I have four varieties on the finca, and I have brought her the plump first fruits of each, brown, green, purple, and amber. The best is the Jaffa sized amber fig, soft and luscious, that I raised from a cutting I begged from Queen Victoria´s conservatory at Osborne House. June 24 was Saint John the Baptist Day, a local holiday in Catalonia, celebrated with a special sweet glazed bread with cherries, pine-nuts, and angelica. My wonderful neighbour has brought me a huge slice, enough to share with a friend and her children.

Dare I allow myself a cup of coffee with a spoonful of honey? Yes. Of course I dare. It smells wonderful. Today is turning into another very good day.

FREEDOM! This is the name of the game.This is one of the joys of the coming of age. I do as I please, when I please. I sleep when I want, work when I want, dress as I please, eat what and when I please. Yes, it is sometimes lonely, and it would be nice to have a special playmate, to share the occasional fun of a barbecue or a boat trip, to have a cuddle, and a giggle, at siesta time. But I have some younger friends with whom I regularly share time and adventures. I am very lucky. And, as one of my feminist friends remarked, on past showing, I have proved that I need a man as much as a fish needs a bicycle!

But there is change in the air. I am moved to clear the decks, to give away stuff that has served its purpose and can now give pleasure to someone else. There are empty places among my dust collectors, and things I had kept for years in case family or friends came to stay are being jettisoned in favour of greater personal comfort and convenience. My one-room stone bothy on the finca has 2 beds and space for little else. I could rent it out to fishermen, perhaps. But do I really want the hassle? I could make it into a perfect tiny home for one, replacing the second bed with a desk and a chest of drawers, with more room for a table and a couple of chairs, room for books, files, clothes. I have too much stuff in the bigger fown house. My brain can no longer accommodate it all. I don´t need it.

In the same spirit, I am writing this for you. There is too much information in my personal memory banks. I can upload it for wider access, for family, and for past and future friends, then concentrate on new experiences and new directions. There is so much more to learn and to do. Move over, the stagnant, archived self…

Super Gran is on her way!

New horizons

I have just taken on a volunteer position with the UN to mentor a worker to redesign a project website which aims to integrate various educational, economic and cultural programmes in tandem with a number of national and international NGOs as well as local government in Tanzania.


The project appears to be impossibly ambitious, embracing cultural and economic change, gender issues, health, and agriculture. But everything has to start somewhere and a lot of work has already been done on the website – -built by another volunteer, which could be rescued if I could only access it.

The worker assigned to me, whom I believe to be a young Tanzanian man, but have not yet confirmed this, is a social worker cum engineering technician with no website experience, but he is positive he can do this given a template and some advice.

So I have another huge learning curve ahead. Not merely more up-to-date site building (I threw away all my HTML and Java files thinking I should never need them again), but getting to grips with problems of climate change, wildlife conservation, water supply, HIV and STDs, poverty, cultural conflicts such as the reassignment of a widow to her brother-in-law, male and female genital mutilation, economic development conflicts such as agriculture, human settlement, small industry, eco-tourism, big game hunting, power generation, and saline extraction, as well as cross-district conflicts and political conflict with neighbouring countries.technik

Well, I wanted to do something useful and get my teeth into another adventure. I even had visions of uprooting myself again for my last few years in order to work on the ground, but I am only too aware of my own health and finance issues and the antagonism my presence could provoke. There is also the slight problem of 17 different tribal groups and languages, apart from Kiswahili and English.

So I have decided to work sideways through the other organisations linked in various ways and set up a newsletter in the first instance to document what is needed and what is being done.

In the meantime, my designated colleague, Chacha, is trying to track down access codes and host contracts as well as the original designer, and examining his own objectives and priorities so that we can identify a practical starting point.

As I have said many times, “Life is never dull.”


Mean while, back at the farm, a little rain has changed the finca to a workable milieu. There is lots of stuff to harvest and process, and a capable problem solver is working on my irrigation system, having extended his remit to include river water direct to my little Wendy house for loo-flushing, shower, laundry and sink.

I shall still have to bring fresh drinking water in bottles from a village faucet for food preparation, dish-washing etc.

On the financial front, I now have a steady copy-writing assignment on African wildlife conservation and tourism, but am gutted by a stupid mistake that cost me a day’s work, necessitating repeated research and a total rewrite of a 2,000 word article I was very pleased with until it was corrupted when my phone line was interrupted as I was uploading. I had not saved a second copy. Well, I have learned something new and now need to revamp my Sunday off, cancel a picnic and get my head down for another 6 -12 hours of hard graft, depending on my mind-set and level of concentration, as well as lack of interruption.

A word of prayer and a session of relaxation and focusing seems called for…

The key to the future may lie in the past.

It is autumn, October 1st 2013. There has been no rain for several months and temperatures are still high 80s in the shade. There has been a lot to learn in the garden. ImageFor example, English asters have thrived in semi-desert conditions whilst high Andes Amaranthus failed on campus, but took over a small raised bed kept well-watered.
ImageA nursery corner on my roof terrace contains succulent cuttings and lettuce seedlings. The first lot of lettuce simply dried up in the heat, but later batches are benefiting from cooler evenings and lots of water. I have rigged up a hose to the roof and led it under the base of my rooftop naya, a netted, fly-proof, outdoor area where I can sleep in summer and protect my cuttings and citrus plants in winter. It is also the only place where cucumbers survived this year. On my finca, tomatoes and peppers were picked ready dried, although, surprisingly, celery, parsley, and leeks are thriving in a dense cover of weeds.ImageIrrigation is a major problem which I am currently tackling in holistic fashion with a combination of shaped channels, gravity feed, inundation, and drip. Hopefully I shall be able to plant winter crops before too long, chicory, radish, pack choi, land cress, and Chinese leaves which will get enough moisture from morning dews off the river as temperatures fall, even if the long threatened rain never arrives.

Every week we are promised rainstorms next week. One day the forecast is for continuous showers and storms. A day later, wall to wall sunshine is predicted for the next month. Whatever the prognosis, the weather circles our little river meander and swings around the outside of the circle of hills that protects us. We have had lowering black clouds, ominous rumbles of thunder, a single flash of lightening, and then the lot evaporates and the sun reappears in a clear, azure sky. Apparently there has been torrential rain all around, but not a drop for my poor plants to drink. ImageI have been learning about food preservation, campo style. With roasting temperatures and riverside humidity, nothing keeps more than a few hours without refrigeration. Although I bring ice in a cold box every day to preserve the day’s fresh food, without a reliable, cheap source of electricity, it is necessary to manage long-term storage in a more primitive manner. Solar and wind electricity complement each other, but are weather dependent and only to be used sparingly for light and low voltage applications. Gas fridges are expensive options and petrol or diesel generators are for pumping water and emergency use only.

Most fruit and many vegetables can be sun dried. I have successfully done this with figs, plums, tomatoes, peppers and olives. A lot can be preserved in alcohol, such as peaches, cherries, and apricots. More can be bottled in their own juice, like grapes and tomatoes, and many more used to make wines and vinegars, such as grapes and pomegranates.

Of course, salt and sugar and even wood-ash lye can also be used, with or without vinegar, for jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and chutneys, but there are dietary consequences to too much salt, potash or sugar, just as there are to storing meat in oil or fat as our ancestors did.

Storing tomatoes, thick skinned, slow ripening varieties used to spread on bread with salt and olive oil, need little water until they actually wilt. Cut when beginning to turn from green to gold, the fruit will keep a year or more, becoming deep orange and soft: a tasty puree in a bag.

Fruit vinegars are the healthy, refreshing cordials of our great-grandmothers. Fruits, steeped with sugar and wine, or juices with added yeast and bacteria, ferment for only a few days to make tart, richly coloured liquids that can be watered down to drink.

Similar cultures of kefir grains, yoghourts, and wild yeasts can be kept as everlasting starters, used for probiotic fruit or milk-based drinks as well as sourdough breads and cakes. Every few days, most of the batch is used for drinking or baking, keeping back a little to add to more liquid or flour base where it continues to grow until next time.

The surprising thing is the realisation that all these “germs”, yeasts and bacteria are actually far better for us than the sterilised, pasteurised, disinfected and irradiated produce that looks so pretty in the supermarket. They have not “gone off”. They supply us with micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They stimulate our immune systems as well as helping to combat disease by keeping our internal flora and fauna strong and healthy.

Perhaps our future survival as a race really does depend on going back to the sustainable practices of the past.

My store cupboard no longer contains packs of freeze-dried, chemically preserved, powdered, tinned, or sterilised commercial products. When I open my cupboard doors these days I am faced with home-made salsas, sauces, purees, relishes, chutneys, pickles, and fruit leathers. Bottles of dried figs, apricots, plums, mushrooms, and apples are good just as they are or cooked. There are all kinds of tasty sweets and savouries, bottled, dried, and made into jams, jellies, marmalades, conserves, and preserves.

It is as time-consuming as most other aspects of self-sufficiency. But it is infinitely satisfying, piquant, and individual. No-one else in the whole world is likely to be sitting down this evening to mixed salad with fresh cheese curds and pomegranate rubies, lamb with home-made mint and apple jelly, roast squash with caramelised tomato ketchup, home-made strawberry and yoghourt icecream, fermented milk drinks and home-made wine, white peaches preserved in vermouth and olive leaf tea, all processed within minutes of gathering.

No, I am neither losing nor gaining weight, nor am I dancing till dawn, but as a gentle drift into second childhood, I can recommend the good life, Spanish peasant style.

It Has Been Raining.

It has been raining for days. Two weeks ago, with temperatures in the 80s, I could not weed the vegetable beds because the ground was like concrete.  Now it is so wet that if I try to stand on it, I sink in over the tops of my boots. Temperatures have dropped to the 40s and weeds are now over a foot high.  But the roses are beautiful,  and daisies of all kinds thrive here,  as do irises and ranunculus.


The rain has flooded the river which is running faster and higher than I have ever seen it.  It is washing away all the clogged weed and dead vegetation and has started to erode the river bank.  But it has saved me a lot of work and petrol as I do not have to pump water and irrigate.

Today, I picked a basket of fresh strawberries which I served with hot custard as something of a novelty, because of the weather.  Several apple trees have set fruit, but my treasured Bramley is late flowering.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that two of the others will keep blossoming long enough to pollinate it as it needs a number of mates to be sure of producing fruit, since it has double the normal number of chromosomes.

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It looks as if it has been snowing, with white “snowflakes” swirling through the air, blanketting the lawns, settling in the trees and flower beds.  But they are only the seed parachutes of cotton willows on the river bank.


I also tried breeding carp, but they have turned out such a varied and beautiful collection that I have not the heart to eat them.  So I feed them instead and get a great deal of pleasure from them too.


Because I could not work on the finca, I have planted a lot of early vegetables in my new raised flower beds at the bungalow.  My neighbours are vastly amused at the lovely crop of radishes, parsley, land-cress,lettuces and beetroot which are sharing my front terrace with flowering tobacco, marigolds, exotic african veldt flowers, leptospermum, lilies, and lantana.

Up on the roof terrace, orange blossom scents the air, cacti and succulents are flowering bravely, and tiny cucumbers are appearing in the axils of seedlings only a few weeks old.  More trays and pots of seeds have yet to show signs of life.  When they do, they will be planted on the finca in experimental, traditional American Indian fashion, the “Three Sisters” beans, corn, and squash together, three seeds in one hole.  The maize supports the climbing beans. The beans fix nitrogen to feed them all, and the squash shade the ground and retain moisture. As a decorative feature I am also trying colourful amaranthus and quinoa for leaf and grain as well as flax, fenugreek and coriander for seed.

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The weird weather has upset the local wildlife.  Badgers are leaving their lower river-terrace sets.  Birds and bats are getting water-logged and moles and snakes are above ground enough to fall victim to my cats who have killed 3 snakes, several birds and voles and were playing with a baby bat which I rescued and fed on a sweet clementine in my work shed until it was fit to leave.

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Apart from weeding and digging the last terrace, the garden is up to date and promises to yield some very interesting crops.  In particular, it looks as if I will have my first cherries and persimmons later in the year.  I can hardly wait!




My New Bathroom.

This green living is a time-consuming hobby.  Every day I spend several hours on the tasks that have not been done by civilised housewives for a couple of generations.

After the ritual of preparing myself to face the world, (now a delight with my sparkling clean, warm and luxurious new bathroom) I spent a couple of hours battling the dust left by the builders, with the cheerful help of the lovely Romanian mum from next door.  She is helping me to re-organise the chaos in return for a surplus washing machine which I found amongst mountains of junk in the utility room and restored to working order.  If I had known it was there, I should not have bought a new one, as there seems to be very little difference between them.  Still, too late now, I do not need two and hers was leaking badly, which is no fun when you live with a builder husband and father-in-law and have two tiny children.

Alone in the re-organised kitchen, first I made a stack of wholemeal pancakes to use as wraps with salad and home-made liver paté.  Then I cooked some Thai style fish cakes with parsley, mashed potatoes, peas and (home-made again) hot, sweet green pepper sauce.  Then a tortilla of eggs and wholemeal flour topped with a thick layer of grated cheese took care of left-overs from the fridge.

Next, I strained, blended and bottled drinks and smoothies of water kefir, kombucha tea and yoghourt, refreshed the cultures and set them to work again.

The next job was sorting stored fruit and vegetables to use up anything that will not keep.  So, a pan of onion soup, a jug of orange juice, baked wedges of squash and white cabbage hearts, a tomatone (storing tomato) salsa and a chicory salad.

Lunched off a bit of everything, before putting it away for use during the week.  Also treated myself to a glass of homemade wine. Image

Morning on the Finca.

Then I set off to the finca to collect more vegetables. There are brocolli spears, endives, leeks, calçots, chard and radishes as well as standing potatoes, cabbage, chicory, carrots, garlic, fennel and jerusalem artichokes, all waiting to be harvested, cleaned, cooked, pickled, bottled or eaten in any other way that takes my fancy.  I also need to collect a bag of greens for my neighbour’s grandson’s rabbits.

The first 4 days of 2013

The first days of the New Year have been a wonderful illustration of the range of skills needed to survive here.
Before Ray left for England in his camper van he helped me to dismantle and clean the pot-bellied stove with its long, tar-filled metal chimney pipes. That is a job that needs doing at least twice a year, depending on the wood one burns. Then I had to clean the mess we had made in the bothy.
I cooked three haggis from the livers and lights of two suckling pigs killed by the brother-in-law of one of the pupils with whom I conduct free English conversation classes – a quid pro quo gift.
I also mixed two baked orange and almond cheese cakes from excess Kefir yogurt which I make for myself, as well as Kombuchu tea, all very healthy alternatives to expensive, probiotics and soda drinks. The surplus was exchanged with friends for home-made sausage, black pudding and date and walnut cake, brocolli and winter squash.
Next day the warden from the local nature reserve came to investigate our otters. Then I translated a Catalan document from the Town Hall about barriers to the emancipation of Spanish women. After that I did the washing.
Yesterday my loo cistern plunger broke and I balanced at the top of a stepladder with a mirror and a piece of rusty wire to effect repairs to the old chain-pull tank.
In the evening a more modern challenge was offered by Trojan viruses in my computer necessitating a safe-mode trouble-shooting session and a system restore, before I could put in my two hours’ copy-writing on the topics of “Optimizing Storage Space” and a “Space Museum in U.S.” Then my printer decided it had no ink in spite of a set of new cartridges. I haven’t solved that yet so I had to move some research on herbal remedies for Polycystic Ovaries to a memory stick, find a way to open another corrupt program and transfer the info to another friend’s computer so she could send it to a sufferer in U.K. She rewarded me with a Tupperware container of Chinese egg Fou Yong.
At 10 a.m. today, her husband presented himself complete with chain-saw to cut some wood on my finca, half for them and half for me. I used a smaller chain-saw (which he calls my “nail file”) and a small sledge hammer to break up the thinner branches for kindling.
On returning I was able to catch up with the lorry with Propane and Butane bottles to exchange the empty from the finca which was in my car boot. That saved me a trip to Flix.
It is still only midday on January 4th. and I am supposed to be an invalide and retired. But it certainly beats an old folks’ waiting room for death in Blighty.

The Golden Hour

Every evening, just before sunset, the light changes and the hills turn to gold. It is so breath-takingly beautiful, that I sit quietly to watch for those few magic moments until the light fades.

The cormorants come home to roost in the silver-leaved aspens on the island in the centre of the river, where they chunner like roosting chickens, cackling in crescendo to greet each new arrival and then subsiding into a muted mutter of contentment. As a child I stayed with my grandparents, where I used to love going into the chicken pen at twilight, when the birds were entranced with sleep and one could pick them up and cuddle them with impunity. They clucked and squawked gently in a way that soothed me beyond measure. The cormorants have the same effect. I love them and I worry every autumn when they do not arrive to take up their winter quarters opposite my finca. But every year, at the end of October, when the rest of the islands are occupied and skeins of birds fly across like fighter squadrons in their hundreds, necks stretched and legs trailing behind, I fear they will not return to where I can enjoy their restful evening chorus. And every year, in the first week of November, they begin to settle where I can watch them, and the world feels in balance again.

This is the time when I retire early to my little Wendy house on the finca, with a good store of firewood and kindling and a stock of candles to supplement the inadequate solar power on days when cloud has limited its charge. I light the stove, take off the lid to fry a quick pan of eggs or fish, put on a cauldron of water to heat, or leave a soup or stew to cook slowly overnight. Once the fire has settled to a steady burn, I put on one large, dry log, close it all down for the night and put some stones on top to heat up to warm my bed. These I wrap in old socks to prevent them burning me or scorching my bedding.

A simple meal of bread and cheese

A simple meal of bread and cheese becomes luxury with scented blossom, Japanese tea lights and my new gas lamp

These pictures were taken in very inadequate light, but give you the flavour of my play house with its wood-burning stove, stacked logs and kindling, candle holder, camping cooker, solar power inverter, water tank and my latest new mod con – a gas lamp to enable me to see to do my mending or read even if it has been overcast most of the day.

As I have often said, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” and I am thoroughly enjoying my second chance.