August is the month when everything grinds to a halt here. We finally obtained our Permiso, which was somewhat unprepossessing, and contacted our lovely interpreter.
‘Jose Manuel is on holiday now, and will not be able to start work on the house until September,’ was not the response we were hoping for, but it was not entirely unexpected. At least we had the permission in the folder of house-related stuff, official and ready to go.
With several weeks to wait before anything major starts to happen, we decided that we would try to concentrate on a little planning and tidying up in the area around the house, obtaining quotes for help to get the orange and olive trees pruned and watered, and maybe sorting through the garage here at the rental property, so that we could dispose of, rather than transport anything we do not really want to take with us.
The first two have had a degree of success, the garage sorting, not noticeably so.
A couple of weeks ago, I stayed a few days with our neighbours, while Geoff went down to Málaga region for some work he had to do. The weather was sweltering and humid, making it obvious why the Spanish tend to take their holiday in August: no sane person wants to be working in that sort of conditions.
Undeterred, I spuddled about in the level that will become the garden, trying to unearth and disentangle the fallen railway sleepers that used to form a sort of pergola for some of the vines. They had been wired together with various grades of wire, from the spindly and pathetic to hardcore industrial grade, and were in a jumbled mess, half-submerged under many years’ worth of weed growth and half-dead, neglected vines.
Most of the fincas up and down the valley have these old railway sleepers used for various purposes. When Franco ordered the closure of the railway line down the Almanzora river, the locals set to work re-purposing the materials. In the intervening time, our sleepers have largely rotted, but there are still lengths that I plan to make use of, to honour the history of the place, as well as being a frugal use of resources.
Dave, who worked in the fencing industry for many years, proved to be very adept at cutting and bundling up the unruly, springy mess of wires, and kindly disposed of it before it could garotte or otherwise maim the dogs. They love being over there, and charge about at high speed, oblivious to the perils of low-level wire and half-buried chunks of wood, bristling with rusty nails.
Once the sleepers were disentangled and stacked, and the wire disposed of, I decided to have a go at clearing the acequia that runs just below the terrace, across the width of the two houses. Lesley had already made huge progress with the part that runs behind their house, but had been put off by the thick cable that was buried among the undergrowth as it came to the part behind ours. It was not clear whether these cables were an essential part of the support for our ramshackle vine pergola, so she had wisely decided upon a tactical withdrawal.
The acequia is a concrete-lined channel, through which irrigation water is directed along our part of the valley. There are thousands of these water channels throughout Andalucia, and they have remained virtually unchanged for many hundreds of years. Those with land along any of the networks of channels can pay to use the irrigation water, which is directed onto the fields by a system of sluices, operated by hand.
Our section of the acequia was virtually invisible under the growth of dense clumps of grass, several feet tall. It was not easy to see, even when quite close to it, and its state of repair would only be revealed by cutting back the grass and weeds that concealed it. We knew that water regularly flowed through it, on its way down to farms further down the valley, so at least it was not totally blocked. Any detail of its condition remained to be seen.
I donned my tatty trousers, tucked them into my fluffy socks, and laced up my closed-in shoes. Who knows what creepy crawlies might be down there? I certainly did not want to have some creature climbing up my trouser leg or taking a bite out of my bare toes. Long sleeves, gardening gloves and a huge brimmed hat completed my fetching ensemble. I gingerly lowered myself into the channel, secateurs in my heavily gloved hands.
Time becomes meaningless when I am working in the garden, so I have no real idea of how long it took me to clear the first section, but by the time the sun was beginning to sink, I was hot, sticky, covered in countless sharp little grass seeds, and my old ankle injury was throbbing.
I climbed out of the acequia, and went to find the camera.
The following day, Lesley came and shared the job with me. She eschewed the wimpery of protective clothing, and forged her way through the undergrowth like David Livingstone on speed. A rather pretty but partly collapsed dry stone wall was slowly revealed, and the acequia had a few patches of concrete that had crumbled and perished, but other than that, things were in a remarkably good state of repair.
We hacked and threw and swept and rebuilt bits of wall, chattering about everything and nothing, and becoming increasingly sweaty and dirty. We were covered in seeds, itching like crazy, and absolutely filthy, but it was worth it. We had achieved, and we surveyed the metre or so we had advanced beyond the terrace with weary satisfaction.
To finish the day, we tidied up a couple of the little flower beds on the terrace.
The vines were heavy with grapes, and the fig tree was covered in fruit, but they would have to wait for our attention. The light was going to fade soon, and as Dave declared, we were ‘absolutely hanging.’
It was not an expression I had heard before, but the meaning was clear. We called it a day, and headed for a much needed shower.