Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Monday, 17 September 2012

WHAT I LEARNT THIS SUMMER (1)

So, let me tell you about my house. It’s in a small village in the hills 100 km from Seville, which is where I work.


My ex-wife and I bought it over 20 years ago. It was a hovel. It had a dirt floor, one window, one plug, one (cold water) tap and a toilet next to the front door. The greatest amenity it had was a thick, rusty, 6-inch spike in the wall next to the toilet to hang the toilet roll on. What else it had was potential. From day one, the house was more than just a piece of property, it was a project, a hobby – a tabula rasa upon which to impress our own values, emotions and ambitions. The house is in the first street of the village, so it backs onto a hill, of which I have a very modest portion, shared with various tribes of cats and planted with a few olive trees, a couple of almond trees and a lot of weeds.


Almond blossom time.

This is no “Driving over Lemons” romantic drivel. First my father-in-law and I spent about 7 years’ worth of weekends just to get the house barely habitable. As we did it all ourselves, there isn’t a straight line anywhere to be seen in what is now the living room but each square foot of wall has a story to tell. I suppose that you could say that between us, we designed the house. It is unique. One example of how we grew the house is that of one of the walls in the living room. Originally it undulated like a wave, with a difference of almost two feet between its crest and its trough. Our solution was to build a wall in front.


A warts-and-all view from where I write, looking towards the  famous wall.


This resulted in a recessed display cabinet and a space large enough between the old and the new walls for us to drop bikes, bedsteads, beer bottles with messages in them, etc. inside before finishing the job.

Later we added an upstairs to make quite a spacious house.
Dusk: the view from my bedroom


 The contractor used the left-over materials to build a small patio. This is a great place to be in mornings and evenings for breakfast or dinner.  This summer my children and I have dined out there quite a lot. Yes, I know this does sound romantic and a bit upper-middle-class, but please remember that the house is fruit of 20 years’ hard work and it still is hard work. Neither am I particularly well-off. Moreover, I promise that no red wine was drunk to accompany delicious local cheeses brought to us by Diego the local Communist goatherd or some other such colourful local character of the sort that seem to abound in ex-pat-Brit-in-deepest-rural-Spain books. Nor did we sample olives and capers with frosted glasses of Tío Pepe before the main course.

Eating out on the patio is just par for the course here, not the preserve of the rich. I live and work here. I’m not on holiday. But… would I swap this seemingly idyllic Mediterranean lifestyle for a house and a similar job in England? If it weren’t for my children, you wouldn’t have to make the offer twice. I’d be back to GB like a shot.

What is a real privilege, wherever you are, is the ability to spend quality time with your family. If possible, you should work on a common project whose different stages can be satisfactorily, but not too easily, finished over a couple of days. With luck such a project will never really be finished in its entirety, so everyone can continue to contribute. No contribution to the project is too small to be insignificant. All contributions have value – even rusty old bikes lurking Poe-like behind walls, mouldering quietly as they recall happier days and, perhaps, young ladies’ bottoms.

That is what and why my house is.   

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