Me and that old, clapped-out, pre-war Land Rover of mine (aargh!) A short story from Posadas, Cordova — Part 2

Hi folks — I hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.

Well, as you might remember from my penultimate blog (if you read it) I was relating the story about the first car I was bought (note the passive tense, meaning that I didn’t buy it, but it was bought for me!). To recap, it was a really old battered Land Rover, void of all mods and cons, impossible for me to drive and just looking at it and contemplating how on earth I would manage to drive it from my country abode to our neighbouring village of Posadas, brought me out in a nervous sweat! Call me chicken if you like, but I don’t care!

My all-purpose machine

Anyway, not being able to put it off any longer, the day finally dawned when I felt a little bit ready (or rather I fooled myself in to feeling ready) to take on Posadas with my new old Land Rover: I had to take the kids to the nursery otherwise I probably would have stayed a recluse in my country abode for a little while longer. Also, I needed to get back to painting furniture, ceramics and glassware in the workshop that we had set up in the village.

So here’s what happened:

The Sierra Nevada in the background (the Alhambra Palace in the foreround)

I loaded the kids in the back seats and then carefully fastened their seat belts. I hoisted myself on the ripped driver’s seat (on which I had placed a small jaraparug that I had previously bought on one of our trips to the Alpujarras in the Sierra Nevada near Granada, along with quite a lot of the young, local costawine – the one that should be drunk fresh and preferably at high, local altitudes).

I turned the key to the first point in the ignition, waited for the red light to go out, pushed the black rubber button to prime the engine and then turned the key fully. The engine coughed into life, then settled down to a noisy ticking rhythm that sounded similar to a loud, unoiled sewing machine; this was accompanied by a juddering and jolting that kept time with the ticking and which was, I soon discovered, an innate characteristic of the car. The three of us on the inside also swayed and rocked with the rhythm, which had the effect of lulling the kids to sleep — (better for them, I thought!).

When I felt that the engine had warmed up sufficiently, I made the sign of the cross over my forehead, breast and shoulders, then manoeuvred the lever into first gear. It was stiff and made a protesting sound, so I released and pressed the muddy clutch again and pushed the gear-lever harder into first position: this definitely provoked a grating, throaty protestation from the engine. However, as I steadily let the clutch out (which was heavy), the car responded and leapt forward. I continued squeezing the accelerator, let the clutch out fully and hey presto! we were off, with the car jumping and jolting forward in an awkward, irregular manner. No problem though – at least the first stage of the operation had been achieved!

No — this isn’t really me, but that first day was similar, especially as it had rained loads!

I drove off slowly, dodging the potholes and rattling and swaying over the ruts. I reached the junction with the A-431 Córdoba-Palma del Río road, which wasn’t too much of a test because I didn’t bother stopping and just stuck to first gear, applying and reducing the pressure on the accelerator, but making sure that the slowing wouldn’t be so slow as to need a left-foot response on the unyielding clutch. Luckily there were no other cars that I had to give way to, so I successfully joined the main road, where I stayed slow for the remaining three miles to the village.

My country track on a good day — there’s a steep gradient down to the house

(I didn’t have much option but to go slow, because as this was my first trip I only dared move up to second gear, despite the protesting whine from the engine. Needless to say, by now there was a whole queue of cars trailing behind me which I pretended not to notice, and which in fact were difficult to notice given the minuscule, scratched rear window and equally miniscule wing mirrors that had rusted with time into the wrong position, so that instead on focusing on the cars behind, they reflected the rather delightful image of the passing scenery that lay at a quarter to three.)

However, when I did eventually reach Posadas, I entered it by way of the roundabout that lies near the olive oil factory Covidesa Virgen de la Salud – (Our Lady of Health). The Arabic name for Posadas, Al-Fanadiq, is on the roundabout and clearly bears testament to Posadas’ Al-Andalus past, as does the Roman name for the village, Detumo.

The roundabout entering into Posadas — you can just spy the olive oil factory to the left in the background and the roof of the sports centre to the right

I then made sure just to stick to the straight (and then non-trafficked) road of Avenida Soldevilla Vazquez. There I dropped off my daughter (who I had to wake up) and placed her in the caring arms of Rosario and Maria Angeles in the nursery (leaving a trail of muddy footprints from my boots after me). So far so good.

Street map of Posadas which has a population of approx. 7,400. As you can see, there are quite a lot of churches and chapels in this historic village

I had left my car running so I could easily start off again, then made a left turn which took me across Calle Gaitan road, up past the friendly chemist, to a T-junction, which I nervously stuttered around, keeping my hand on the hand brake as it was up a slight incline, and watching carefully the narrowing sides of the street I was entering. Luckily there were no cars coming, and it was one-way only, so I let out a sigh and coaxed the car into turning a left at El Casino bar, turning on to Calle Fernandez de Santiago street (which is close to the town hall — and decorated with a large stork’s nest on the bell tower!).

The town hall — or ‘ayuntamiento’ in Spanish is situated in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, which at one time was a hive of activity, especially during the times of the Civil War when people gathered there during the fiestas of the patron saint, Nuestra Señora de la Salud, and delighted in watching the bulls come running down Blas Infante Street, during the encierro, before being enclosed in the bullpen which was located in the Ayuntamiento square.

The Town Hall with stork’s nest on the turret!

Anyway, I slowly drove past the Manuel Rumí Cortés theatre — (slowly, because this is quite a narrow street, especially if it is double-parked) — and on past Urbasa supermarket and café Soler. At this point, I slowed down even more because the street continued to narrow.

The local theatre holds lots of events. Posadas is a bustling village

However, I was making good progress so on I drove, even though the street continued to taper, and now there were cars parked on either side. I just managed to squeeze through the constricted gap, but then I came to the point, just approaching the photographer Domingo’s shop, where the canopy was pulled out low and where the cars were definitely double-parked. By this time I was gaining confidence with my first gear and clever manoeuvring, because generally, my judgement of distances and widths has always been quite good.

Due to the double-parked car just opposite, I was forced to climb the pavement on Domingo’s side and had to move within just a few inches of his cheerful-yellow, diamond-patterned canopy. I carefully calculated how close I could actually get to this problematic feature. So, with a certain amount of self-belief (which is really quite atypical of me when all said and done), I slowly drove straight ahead, parallel with Domingo’s façade. I took the conscientious precaution of flicking the hazard warning switch to warn all and sundry of my slow progress (including those buzzing mopeds that had their silencers removed, in case any were about to snarl past me on the other side).

However, despite my thorough calculations, I had forgotten about the four (or was it eight?) little hooks that protruded out from the open-ribbed, rusted roof rack. Two on the right side, two on the left (and goodness knows what they were for anyway!).

I cautiously inched forward, keeping well within my calculations of the width between Domingo’s canopy and the car that was double-parked opposite Evaristo ironmonger’s.

Soon, to my surprise, I heard the rather unnerving sound of creaking, squeaking and groaning – the sort of sound that one usually associates with metal failure. I gaped about me in bewildered innocence, but as I didn’t notice anything unusual I just kept on gently squeezing the accelerator with my right foot to continue moving on — slowly of course!

The sound of metal failure continued, increasing in intensity, reaching a higher, more screechy pitch – rather like the amplified sound of scraping your fingers down a blackboard. But I wasn’t to be deterred: I just presumed it was the workmen on the nearby building site using their metal grinders to cut steel — (there were a lot of building projects going on here in Spain at that time, when José María Aznar of the Popular Party was the president of Spain, and when the country’s economy was booming rather than crashing).

So on I continued, bit by bit and always careful not to come into close contact with the double-parked car on the other side, even though the accelerator offered some resistance: I just put that down to the fact that I was climbing the kerb.

It was only then that I spotted through the miniscule rear window, Domingo standing outside his shop window amid the wreckage and debris of the highly distorted aluminium frame with a ripped and torn, sunshine-yellow canopy. His face was flushed, his arms stretched above his head, flapping about agitatedly, and he was moving from one leg to another, which, in direct contrast to the gravity of the situation, immediately reminded me of Rumpelstiltskin. His face was aglow, his eyes reduced by anger to the size of two small, dark dots (this time reminding me of a boar’s), and now he was shaking a clenched fist in my direction.

Realisation dawned on me. It was I who had caused such destruction — the almost total annihilation of his sunshine-yellow awning. I panicked, my heart knocking against my rib cage, magnifying in my ears. I hesitated a minute, rapidly weighing up the pros and cons of making a run for it, or whether I should stay and pay the full consequences. I realised it would be useless to scarper, since a) I was wedged in by the car that was double parked, and b) there was only one Land Rover in the village like mine.

So, fearing the worse, I came to an abrupt, juddering halt a few inches ahead, as my foot let out the clutch too sharply. I opened my tinny door, levered myself down onto the pavement with the help of the ceiling handle, went to the back passenger door where I then gathered my son into my arms. I took a deep breath and walked towards Domingo with a mix of bewilderment and fright registered on my face and the odd tear or two.

Now I don’t know whether it was either one of the above three, or the maternal stance of babe-in-arms (Spaniards are generally speaking, very children-oriented, especially in the villages) that sparked the following reaction from Domingo.

As I hesitatingly approached him, he slowly relaxed his raised arms as he lowered them to his side; the tinto-colour in his cheeks faded to rosé and the pitch in his voice recovered its usual bass tonality. The angry grimace gradually transformed itself to one more forgiving and understanding — almost of pity. After all, he must have had some relatives and friends who were female, and therefore he was well rehearsed.

¡Lo siento mucho! ¡Lo siento mucho, de verdad! ¡Cúanto lo siento!’ (‘I’m sorry! I’m truly sorry! Oh, how sorry I am!’)

It worked! His earlier Rumpelstiltskin attitude now became tamer, and his eyes returned to their larger origins, melting into a dark ‘café solo’. Even the waxed extremes of his 70’s handlebar moustache seemed to unfurl slightly. This positive change was confirmed by reassuring tones as he uttered:

‘¡No pasa nada! ¡Tranquila — no pasa nada, mujer! Todo tiene arreglo…’  (‘It’s okay — don’t worry — it doesn’t matter, woman! It can all be fixed…’)

(Where, once again – ‘woman’ was being used in the most respectful of terms.)

So luckily for me it turned out that he was a genuinely nice man — he was also a good friend of Álvaro, our insurance broker, who is the village’s funeral director too — (as well as being an accomplished pianist and having honed his skills in the music conservatory, Conservatorio de Música Rafael Orozco, in Cordova – named so in honour of Rafael Orozco, a skilled pianist, born in 1946 but died in 1996 from AIDS). Anyway, Domingo’s shop was insured with Álvaro.

So after checking that my culpable, war-worthy Land Rover was safely parked (it hadn’t, needless to say, suffered any consequences from this little incident), we both proceeded to Alvaro’s office — (me still with babe in arms). But now, being close to eleven o’clock, Álvaro was of course absent. In other words, gone for his second breakfast, as is the tradition here in Andalusia. However, it wasn’t long before we managed to root him out of the nearby upmarket café, Soler (known for their home-made, delicious cakes and pastries).

After exchanging the usual Spanish kisses which were accompanied by the all-purpose expression ‘¡Hombre!’ (‘Man!’) — followed by enquiring after each other’s families and what each member was up to now, and ‘What about the neighbours?’ etc., we completed all the necessary insurance protocols over ‘cafe con leche y tostada con aceite, ajo, tomate, jamon, zurrapa, manteca colora’, pate, churros etc., etc., etc.’ — (coffee with milk, and toast with olive oil, garlic, tomato, Serrano ham, rustic pork pâté in dripping, orange-coloured lard containing bits of pork and flavoured with paprika, fried dough rounds etc., etc., etc.). The true Andalusian way of doing business!

Once these all-important breakfast negotiations were finalised, we got up, and before leaving, Domingo and I exchanged the heartiest of handshakes, a kiss on the cheek and a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He even invited me to drop in and visit himself and his family next time I was doing the rounds.

I then returned relieved, though still a bit shaky, to my infamous war machine. I fumbled for the key, turned it, and the car started without any problems, once again juddering and shuddering into life. I then headed off to Andalusia Primary School (in Calle Andalusia road) where I accompanied my son to his nursery classroom, apologising for his lateness to Sonsoles, his gentle, affable teacher.

The morning turned out well, I got back safe and sound even if a little shaken, but there were no other incidences on that day. I say that, because on other days, there were. Plenty!

The view from the plain outside my house

Well, that’s it for now — but if you like what you’ve read and would like to know more, you can always check out my humorous, illustrated book, An English Lady in Cordova — the Alternative Guide.

Thank you for bearing with me — and as usual, comments and questions always welcome!

Take care! xxx

Me and my pre-war Land Rover (yikes!) A short story from Posadas, Cordova (Part 1)

When we first came to live in the countryside of Posadas, I needed a car. I never drove in Cordova, though I did help drive down to Andalusia from London in an open-top Alfa Romeo Spider, which was very classic, very old, very draughty and rather unreliable. It was also automatic, crunching back and forward into gears. It was the one I passed my driving test in even though the tax disc was way out of date and the open top roof was flung all the way back. How I drove in it to Spain I don’t know (though I was young and brave all those many years ago!).

Here’s an old, faded photo of the Spider I drove down part of the way to Andalusia 30 years ago. I can’t think for the life of me though what it was doing here in front of olive trees and on top of a load of freshly-picked olives…

However, due to Cordova being a small-sized provincial town and therefore easy to negotiate on foot, we soon sold the English reg. car to some expats who were living on the Malaga coast (and who as yet didn’t realise the complications and costs of legally importing a car, which, needless to say, involved a lot in order to deal with all the bureaucratic red tape and greasing of palms—a process helped by the presenting of gifts such as a wheel of queso curado cheese, a leg of jamón, litres of the best-quality aceite oil etc., etc., etc.). In those days it was much simpler and cheaper to do things illegally (and still is in certain cases, such as declaring, or rather not declaring yourself as a self-employed entity etc.).

Once we moved to the country though, we did need a car—not a delicate Italian vehicle, but one that was solid and sturdy and able to sustain the effects caused by a country track full of grooves and potholes. This track was also flanked by a river-filled gorge on one side and a steep cliff rising on the other, and so in times of rain turned into a perilous, muddy rink due to the set of streams, rivulets and rivers that formed on the surface. This was definitely a track which only hunting aficionados and other incensed country enthusiasts would use in time of hunting! In other words, one that was totally unsuitable for the Alfa Romeo!

No, this isn’t actually me and my Land Rover, though the track was very similar on rainy days the car’s much better than mine — as you are about to see…

So it wasn’t long before we sold it.

As a replacement, I was ‘presented with’ a khaki-coloured, clapped-out, pre-war Land Rover that jittered and shook like a jitterbug. It was also void of modern luxuries, such as power steering, heating, air conditioning, good visibility etc., and although it hadn’t done too many miles, the ones that it had done were certainly off-road, over very rough terrain—something that had definitely taken its toll of the suspension. It also boasted an open-ribbed, rusted-steel roof rack as its crowning glory. After all, it was only the family’s second car, just for me and therefore didn’t need to be so good…(Poor overworked, underrated, full-time, round-the-clock, stay-at-home mothers! I’d be a millionaire by now if I had charged for services rendered!)

Well, the seats were ripped and there were still knots of wool from the sheep that had previously been transported in the car. We had bought it in Castro del Río (another town famous for olives, in the province of Cordova) and considering the way that it jittered and shook, and the amount of play in the almost unresponsive steering wheel and brake pedal, I had been too frightened to test drive it. Also, noticing the dubious looks directed at me from the two pre-Civil War brothers who were selling it not only didn’t help, but were positively unnerving, and so I made the initial mistake of relying on my husband (an enthusiast of off-roading!) to test drive it.

As you can see, it was also useful for hauling things about (when the solid roof was taken off)
The roof of the Land Rover lying listlessly in the shade of an olive tree — but at least my ten cats use it for their shelter!

That was definitely an error, because after doing a couple of rounds in their stony field, during which he had to dodge the sheep (and where the driver’s seat lurched backwards every time the brakes were applied), he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. So when he got out of the car, the sentence was delivered, deeming this relic very suitable for me:

‘Just needs a little getting used to, that’s all!’

Famous last words!

By the way, Castro del Río, where we did eventually buy the jeep, does have some interesting history attached to it, as do most of the towns and villages that lie within the province of Cordova. This village forms part of the ‘ruta califal’Caliphal Route—which traces the history of Islam in Spain and links Cordova with Granada. It also dates back to the Metal Ages, encompassing the Neolithic, Iberian, Greek, Roman, Visigoth to the more recent Napoleonic French invasion (War of Independence, 1808) etc. It has one of the oldest and current cockfighting pits in Spain—the excuse that pardons the cockfighting is that this ‘sport’ is beneficial for the breed, while improving the stock!—and the previous ground-floor prison in the town hall was a temporary home for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616), the famous novelist, playwright and soldier. It is claimed by the locals that it was here that he started writing his famous Don Quixote.

The town is also linked to former president John F. Kennedy. It was from this very town (well-known for its furniture made from olive wood) that the he ordered two wooden rocking chairs to be shipped home to him. (This added to his collection of rockers that he regularly used in order to alleviate his back problems.)

Anyway, getting back to my Land Rover… So we were on the verge of accepting or rejecting the deal, (I secretly wished for the latter), and all my hopes were dashed when I heard my ‘better-knowing’ husband pronounce the words:

‘¡Vale! ¡Trato hecho! Lo cogeremos por 400.000 pelas, nada más, nada menos.’ (‘Great! We’ll buy it for 400,000 pesetas, nothing more, nothing less!) — roughly equivalent to £2,140.

(‘What a waste for that clapped-out, old piece of junk’, I thought to myself!)

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the deal was signed and sealed and paid for in those very pesetas (though from the look of the car, it should have been paid in reales or maravadises). The aged brothers drove and delivered it to our country abode (only because they were going to look at some sheep that Mateo was selling in one of the fincas just off the Cañada Real Soriana).

I dutifully dedicated the next few weeks to driving round and round the only flat plain that there is outside our house, and getting used to gear-crunching, unresponsive steering and the lurching seat.

However, the day finally dawned when I felt ready (or rather I fooled myself in to feeling ready) to take on Posadas with my new old Land Rover: I had to take the kids to the nursery otherwise I probably would have stayed a recluse in my country abode for a little while longer. Also, I needed to get back to painting furniture, ceramics and glassware in the workshop that we had set up in the village.

So how did it go? Well, in order not to make this blog too long, I will continue with the following part in my next post…

(I am not purposefully making this a teaser, I just know that time is precious to all of us and I do not want to ask too much of your time…)

So next time I will describe with all the embarrassing details of how I got down to Posadas and what fate waited for me once there!

One of the roundabouts leading into Posadas — you can just make out the lettering, ‘al Fanadiq’ in white, which was the Arabic name for Posadas, during the time of the moorish occupation of al-Andalus

Thank you for reading — comments and questions always welcome.

Hope you are well — take care! xxx