Archive for December, 2008

The first fire of the year

The first fire of the year

As is so often the case, it’s been a mixed week in terms of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. Our new book, Going Native in Tenerife just came out in print, so clearly that’s a big ‘up’, the depressing weather, or as Julie from Tenerife Tattle put it, the dreich and dreary weather changed on Wednesday and the blue skies and warm weather returned (to the north of the island anyway), although having acclimatised over the last five years, we’re still wearing our jumpers when we go out.

We managed to get our Christmas decorations up relatively early for us, without too much pain and stress as I balance acrobatically at the end of a ladder trying to create Andy’s vision of a ‘simple, rustic theme’. I have to hand it to her, I’m always a bit sceptical at the start, but am a complete convert when I see the completed ‘creation’. Another up.

With the weather being a bit on the cool side at night, we lit the fire for the first time this year and cracked a bottle of cava to celebrate the publication of the book. That was lovely and cosy and with the decorations in pace, the house felt very Christmassy.

A minimalist and rustic approach to Xmas deccies in our house

A minimalist and rustic approach to Xmas deccies in our house

Then Thursday dawned and we sat down to crack on with work – no internet signal. The electricity flow had clearly decided to take an early Christmas break, leaving a version of a skeleton signal in its place. Strong enough for lights, TV etc, but not strong enough for the router. For the rest of the day the signal was on and off like a tart’s drawers. Cue a rant about the how backward Tenerife can be when in the 21st century you can’t be guaranteed a constant flow of electricity.

But this being Tenerife, we decided to do nothing and hope that it was back to normal the next day. It wasn’t.

I phoned the electricity company and told them that the electricity was ‘bajo tension’. They didn’t seem at all surprised and said that they would send round a technician. Ninety minutes later I met the technician (a little man with a white van and one of those machines for testing electricity current) in the car park an we trudged up to the contador (leccie meter) which is on the road about a hundred metres away from the house.

Despite the problems with the electricity and being unable to work properly, I felt in pretty good spirits. The sun was shining and I was having a good Spanish day. I’d understood everything the girl had told me on the telephone and she had understood me and it was the same with the technician (normally I’m a seventy percenter – I understand about 70% of what people are saying to me).

“You’ve not got any electricity?”
he asked.
“No, that’s not the problem,” I explained. “The current seems to be too low to get an internet signal.”
“Ah, the computer,” he nodded. “It’s always the computer.”
I didn’t quite understand that, so I ignored it.

He opened the contador and checked the current.
“It’s normal,” he announced. “You don’t have a problem.”
He showed me the reading; it was 210.
“Shouldn’t that be 220?”
“Sometimes it’s 230, sometimes it’s 210, or lower,” he shrugged his shoulders and smiled. ”There’s a lot of usage at the moment, so it’s down, but it’s within normal limits.”

And that was that. Nothing I could do about it and no point in getting annoyed – this is Tenerife (TIT). The amount of work I can get done is determined by the fickle nature of what is quite obviously an electricity system on Tenerife which mirrors the ‘mas o menos’ culture. Sometimes it’s up and sometimes it’s down.

I know exactly how it feels.

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Who says the north of Tenerife is rainy and cloudy?

Who says the north of Tenerife is rainy and cloudy?

I should be knee deep in Dalmatians and Persian Blues by now, seeing as how it’s rained cats and dogs all day. It’s been what our friend Jo calls a ‘rum and movie day’. A day when the sky stays moody grey, except for the times when it turns black, the clouds explode and monsoon like rains saturate everywhere. Jo’s response to this sort of weather is to crack open the rum, light the fire and settle down on the sofa to watch her favourite movies.

Nice idea, but with Christmas bearing down on us like a runaway locomotive and no presents posted to blighty as yet, we had designated this morning as the day for the voyage into a nightmarish hell, or less dramatically, the trip to the Correos to post Christmas presents to the family.

We’d spent yesterday shopping for the last of the presents. I don’t mind Xmas shopping; in fact I positively enjoy it when it’s for people who have lots of hobbies and interests. There are loads of great things to buy here. Unfortunately, some of our family members don’t have any interests or hobbies and that’s when it can become a real chore. Luckily there was an Extreme Race taking place beside the harbour in Puerto de la Cruz, so we took time out from the increasingly stressful shopping trip to watch ‘loco’ men and women negotiate various obstacles. The final obstacle in the race was a container of foamy water which meant that the contestants finished the race looking like exhausted mutant

Snowmen - and women- invade Puerto de la Cruz

Snowmen - and women- invade Puerto de la Cruz

snowmen/snow-women.

The idea of the Xmas trip to the Correos weighs heavily. You know that you might as well write off the day and that any semblance of a good mood is going to be left in shreds by the time you emerge. The persistent rain just added to the feeling of gloom. (However I have to say at this point that even though today’s a gloomy, rainy day, the temperature is still around the 18-20 mark, so it feels more like an average UK summer’s day).

Walking through the Correos’ front door confirmed the worst; it was packed out. We took our ticket – 324 and looked at the electronic display. It was at number 266. There were nearly sixty people in front of us – Goodbye Monday. But lo and behold, someone somewhere was smiling on us because the assistants whizzed through the queue. There were no dodderers; there were no people with van loads of parcels and the counter assistants were actually behaving as though they knew what they were doing. A mere fifty minutes later it was our turn and three minutes after that we were walking out of the front door with the worst Christmas task completed…FREEDOM.

Now we can sit back and enjoy Christmas…well once we put up the decorations.

Christmas shopping - just grin and bear it

Christmas shopping - just grin and 'bear' it

The finca around us is pretty much a little bit of paradise for animals; a place where cats and dogs live in harmony together…most of the time. There are clearly times when instinct causes a dog cat chase situation, but these are quite rare and usually only happens when a stray cat wanders into the area.

There is one exception to the canine/feline peace treaty – Whiskas.

He is persona non – gato amongst the Disney Gang. Knowing Whiskas he is undoubtedly the master of his ‘unwanted criminal – chase on sight’ status. His very appearance causes mayhem, usually resulting in an Indiana Jones like chase with Whiskas sprinting for sanctuary (i.e. our house) pursued by the motliest (I know that’s not a word, but it should be) crew of dogs you have ever seen.

This is the Disney Gang

Blackie
Detests Whiskas with a vengeance; spends most of his time snoozing in the shade of a palm tree…unless he spots his nemesis from the opposite end of the colour spectrum in which case we’re into a Beano type dog and cat chase.

Blackie in his favourite spot

Blackie in his favourite spot

Poppy
‘The Sheriff’; known to us until recently as ‘blindy’ because he’s…well blind. If there are any altercations between cats and cats, dogs and cats, dogs and dogs, Poppy’s first on the scene to try to sort it out.

Poppy on parade

Poppy on parade

Mismo (pronounced meeeemo, usually preceded by an ahhhhh)
Possibly quite the cutest dog in the universe; more knitted toy than dog; the ‘I just have to pick you up and hug you’ appeal of Mismo is ruined by a foul breath which smells of rotted fish and an aversion to personal hygiene which has earned him the nickname of sucio (dirty). The ‘Pig Pen’ of the dog world. (note: impossible to photograph on his own as when you kneel down to take the shot, he trots over and sticks his face in the camera lense; hense the need for Jesús lend assistance)

Mismo, Jesus and Smokey Joe - figure out which is which

Mismo, Jesus and Smokey Joe - figure out which is which

Tessie
Called three legs by us, for obvious reasons; this dog just breaks you heart. Originally bred for hunting, she spends her days running about on her three limbs as happy as Larry, snuffling in the undergrowth for lizards.

Tessie snuffling for lizards

Tessie 'snuffling' for lizards

Nana
Another lizard hunter and Tessie partner in searching for reptiles to chase; Nana will dig a hole to Australia in pursuit of a lizard. Like a lot of little dogs, bit of a narky bugger.

Nani - half fox, half dog

Nani - half fox, half dog

Timba
Newcomer and young upstart; will eat anything and hang the consequences – spiky bougainvillea, chillies and even electricity cables. Gets bored easy so is always looking for mischief.

Timbas most oft used expression - looking guilty

Timba's most oft used expression - looking guilty

The reality is Whiskas could probably take any of them on a one to one basis.

Monday the 8th December was a public holiday in Tenerife. Unlike the UK during a bank holiday Monday, the roads here were remarkably quiet. There were a number of things we had been planning to do and some of them were due to finish, so like last minute Charlies, we headed up to the lovely little town of Los Silos in Isla Baja to catch the final day of their storytelling festival.

Cool town, cool people, cool plaza

Cool town, cool people, cool plaza

The sun was shining when we arrived, so the town’s fairy tale church was looking its best. Los Silos is quite a bohemian little town and the plaza, where most of the tale-telling takes place, was filled with a mixture of trendy young residents and story tellers, performers and stallholders who wouldn’t have looked out of place at a hippy market in Goa.

It’s a lovely little intimate festival, where nothing particularly fancy, or spectacular takes place, but it exudes an engaging atmosphere and watching the kid’s face light up as a Jay Kay from Jamiroquai look-alike juggled and gurned is a reminder that people here (of all ages) still get pleasure from simple little things.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo

In the late afternoon we drove back to Puerto de la Cruz, arriving just as the funfair was starting to get busy, but we weren’t looking to have some fun at the fair; we were seeking a more tranquil experience. The Santo Domingo convent behind the town hall has been closed since we arrived in Puerto, but it’s recently opened its doors as an exhibition centre and Monday was the last day of a Bonsai exhibition. The convent with its pale cream walls was the perfect setting for the little trees and the combination of the beautifully balanced bonsais, soft Japanese background music and tranquil open courtyard was almost enough to make me get into the lotus position and engage in a bit of meditation. Unfortunately I don’t exactly know what the lotus position looks like so I had to settle for just looking at the exhibits.

After that it was a visit to the lovely old building of Casa Ventoso and the

Casa Ventoso

Casa Ventoso

search for the obligatory coprophiliac amongst the collection of belénes which were on display (okay, I know it’s childish, but it makes me smile – I admit to being guilty of having that British curse of enjoying ‘toilet humour’). The life size display in the courtyard was a bit amateur night (and slightly creepy), but the model villages in the adjoining rooms were excellent, with lighting and sound effects; blood red sunsets turned to starlit nights whilst oxen threshed wheat, men treaded grapes and my favourite figure was destined to stay, squatting in his outside loo (where the lockless door periodically swung open) until the 6th January. I love it.

I know it wouldn’t be everybody’s idea of what to do on a bank holiday, but we love the sheer diversity of the things that are constantly going on in Tenerife and the bonus ball? Unlike the men in the belénes, we didn’t need to spend a penny.

I though I’d be scared the first time I saw you
Your name conjured images of a creature to be feared
Slithering along on too many legs for my liking
Each one threatening a poisonous touch
A thought I couldn’t erase from my head
That an encounter with you and I could end up dead.

A bloated bladder forced me awake in the wee small hours
And I saw you, with your silky coat and feathery legs
You glided across my bathroom floor, not a creepy crawly at all
An elegant insect instead, almost pretty I felt
The internet says that you’re shy; a creature of the night
The worst damage you can do is deliver a painful bite.

From that point it seemed kind of nice
To be sharing a house with something exotic
But you clearly didn’t feel the same and went to ground
Retreating to dark corners, way out of sight
Have you gone forever? It would be nice to know?
For then I could stop worrying about being bitten on the toe.

The whole eating inside situation created a few issues. Until his bowl was moved into the kitchen, Whiskas was banned from being allowed into the kitchen on the basis that he is completely untrustworthy.

He was allowed to sit on the top step and watch proceedings, but that was it except for when it was his feeding time. Then he was allowed to watch, and comment, on how much was being put in his bowl. God bless the cat, but he seemed to grasp the ‘rules’ relating to when he could and when he couldn’t enter the kitchen and stuck to them.

The eating inside situation has complicated matters and our subsequent amendments to these ‘rules’ must have made them quite complex for an animal with a small brain:

These are the amendments he’s been verbally issued with.

No unaccompanied entry is allowed into the kitchen…except:

  1. At feeding time when you can remain unsupervised until such time that you have finished stuffing your face. At which point you must leave the kitchen area immediately.
  2. If there’s any food left in your bowl, you can re-enter the kitchen at any time until it’s all gone (then see A above).
  3. When you’ve been out of the house for any length of time, on return you’re allowed one check of your bowl to see if you’ve left any food in it from the previous feeding time, or to see if it’s miraculously been refilled (he added that one).

At all other times, access is denied beyond the top step.

And here’s the freaky thing; in the space of a week or so, Whiskas grasped these rules and, generally speaking, has abided by them ever since.

He is one frighteningly smart cat.

Last Saturday it was chestnuts, wine and kamikaze youths on wooden trays, this Saturday it was giant Ferris wheels, bucking broncos, a grumpy Sunderland fan and contemplating nature and the universe in a darkened room.

Jesús, our neighbour, had suggested we pop down to his house for a little ‘chill’ on Saturday night, but first there was the small matter of a trip to the Beehive Bar to watch Manchester Utd against Sunderland.

All the fun of the fair

All the fun of the fair

The 17.30 kick-off is a real pain in the rear; it really interferes with Saturday night and is neither here nor there, but what can you do? The first thing that struck us on arriving at the town car park was that there was a colossal green wheel dominating the skyline – a Puerto Eye of sorts.
It was a clear signal that we’re rushing headlong into the prime Xmas season as it was the new addition to the traditional funfair which sets up beside Puerto de la Cruz’ harbour for festive season.

Time was getting on so we decided to investigate after the game which was about as one-sided an affair as you’re likely to see. Sunderland parked their team in front of goal and hoped that the human barrier would hold for ninety minutes. And it nearly worked, but unfortunately for Sunderland, there were more than 90 minutes and seconds into injury time our big centre-half, Vidic latched onto a rebound off the post and won the game for us, silencing a Sunderland fan next to me who had been laughing at every one of our failed attempts to score. It’s nice to see people who are magnanimous in defeat, but this wasn’t the case on this occasion. As I went to the gents, he came across to Andy and grumbled in her face:
“You didn’t deserve that.”

Still, relieved and happy we headed to the harbour to check out the funfair. By this time, 19.45, it was already buzzing and in the darkness the neon lights, especially those of the jolly green giant looked magical and ignited nostalgic childhood memories.

The smell of hot dogs and onions, fried churros, hot waffles with cream, candy floss, popcorn et al added to the buzzing funfair atmosphere and the night sky was filled with those wonderful funfair sounds – klazons, cheesy music, screams mixed with laughter, hissing pneumatics and the crunch of dodgems colliding head on.

Fairground stall - Spanish style

Fairground stall - Spanish style

There were also the usual goldfish stalls, shooting and dart throwing stalls decorated with rows of human sized cuddly toys. At one stall a hairy leg appeared, then another as a life size cuddly ape seemed to bizarrely come to life and be making a bid for freedom. This being Spain, the funfair had a couple of odd additions such as the Jamon tombola; a stall brimming with shanks of Jamon Serrano. There was also a bucking bulls attraction which looked like great fun as these mock Spanish bulls got their own back by dumping their screaming riders, strangely wearing Dalmatian patterned Stetsons, onto the ground unceremoniously.
However, time was getting on and we’d promised Jesús that we’d spend some of Saturday night with him, so we left the fair and headed for home.

By the time we’d escaped the town car park, got home, showered, prepared the chilli and eaten it was after 22.00 and Jesús’ house was in darkness.
With most people you’d take that as a sign that they’d gone out, or gone to bed, but Jesús isn’t most people; we know he likes to sit in the dark and contemplate life, so we grabbed a bottle of wine, wandered the few metres down the path and loitered outside his window. There was no sign of life.
“Hey, Jesús,” I half whispered, half spoke. “Are you awake?”
There was a mumble from inside which we couldn’t make out.
“What?”
Another mumble which we couldn’t make out, then he appeared at his door, everything still in darkness.
“Sorry were you sleeping,” Andy whispered. “We’ll leave you alone, no problem.”
“No, No it’s fine,” Jesús laughed. “Come in…Andy you stay outside.”
Jesús pulled me inside and we looked out of the window to where Andy stood with her small torch giving off a soft blue light.
“Look, it’s amazing isn’t it? It’s like watching a movie.”
Jesús had a point. The moon was out and the silver glow from it combined with the blue light from the torch gave the outside scene a strange dreamlike quality. Once I acknowledged as much, a slightly bemused Andy was allowed to enter.

As it turned out he’d had a visit from his friend, Maria Juanita and visits from MJ always leaves Jesús in a contemplative mood and full of wonder for Mother Nature. So for a couple of hours on Saturday night, we sat in a darkened room contemplating nature. Well Jesús contemplated nature, being British we sat in the darkness feeling quite ridiculous until a decent amount of time passed and we felt it was okay to leave without appearing rude.

It’s typical of the contrasts you can experience here. One moment we’d been in the middle of the bright lights and frantic bustling of a lively funfair, the next we were sitting in a room lit by only the moonlight looking out at a silent landscape whilst our neighbour sought consciousness expansion.

Funny but after we got home I had an overwhelming urge to play some Alabama 3.