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

Cats, crochet and the Ermita de Jesús in Posadas (Cordova, Spain)

“In a cat’s eye, all things belong to cats.” Unknown

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

It became a little cooler last week, so after working hard all day, what with giving my online English conversation classes and working on my next art & craft project, I thought I’d take an evening break and indulge in another one of my favourite pastimes. Crochet!!

Just as well I only thought about it, because as you can see from the following photos, my progress was soon hindered…

Little Grey jumps onto the swinging chair and manoeuvres herself into a comfortable position next to me and my crochet pattern
Then she gradually sidles her way closer until she is right on top of the instructions and looks up at me seeking my approval — or rather, disapproval!
Then she makes a bold move, taking advantage of me having put down my bit of crocheted sleeve when I reach for my mug of Tetley’s (the tea, not the beer variety)…
…and tries her hand (or paw!) at crochet. Is that a guilty look in her innocent-looking eyes I spy? And did I get far with my crochet that evening?

Well, that’s how my crocheting usually goes. I wonder if I’ll ever finish my cardi on time for this winter, especially since I’ve had to do one of the sleeves twice — the first time it looked more like a mutton leg!

Anyway, while on the subject of crochet, I just couldn’t resist showing you the following photos of a little bit of the work that the local crochet group do, here in my neighbouring village of Posadas (Cordova). (I will be posting much more of their work as Christmas approaches, as they do up the whole village in crochet, from Christmas trees with baubles and buntings, to the Nativity Scene, the Holy family and baby Jesus, a village scene of Jerusalem etc., etc., etc. But that’s all to come later.)

The ladies have crocheted a big ‘banner’ that has been hung on the façade of the chapel ‘La Ermita de Jesús’ which lies at the end of the ‘Paseo de Pedro Vargas’ walkway and gardens. (Read on for the history and legends of this little church)
And further down the gardens they have covered the base of the trunks of tall palm trees with their colourful work.
Here’s another, this time on the trunk of a Melia (Pride of Persia tree)…
…and yet another on a similar tree. You can tell we’re in autumn! (In the background you can see a palm tree which is so typical of Andalusia)

But coming back to the 18th century Ermita de Jesús — the little church in the first photo: I would just like to give it a mention as it has an interesting background:

Firstly, the belfry is not the original, but substitutes an earlier one which was situated adjacently, on the former Camino Real (The Royal Road). This route linked Cordova with Seville, and during the Moorish occupation of al-Andalus it formed part of the extensive Ruta Califal. Subsequently, after the reconquest of Spain, this was the route used by catholic monarchy, such as King Alfonso X ‘El Sabio(‘The Wise’) in 1262, or more recently by King Alfonso XIII (who reigned from 1902 till 1931). King Alfonso X was not the only monarch to travel along this Royal Road and lodge in Posadas del Rey: it is recorded that in 1438 Queen Juana stayed there prior to her marriage with Henry IV. Hence the name for the village, Posadas del Rey, which literally means Posadas of the King.

Below the chapel’s floor there are remains of Roman thermal springs, brick canals and cisterns with brick vaults, roofs and walls of mortar. The medicinal water from these springs was exploited at a later date. There were also remains of the walls of a pottery workshop that were constructed from rows of stone, brick, and finished with mortar edges.

It is thought that the Ermita de Jesús dates back to the 15th or 16th century, when it was probably called San Sebastian. During the early 17th century it fell into ruin, but was reopened soon after. However, in 1755, the great Lisbon earthquake seriously destroyed the belfry and roof, and so in 1786 (during the baroque period) the chapel was totally rebuilt. This was not the only damage the chapel suffered: during the Civil War, various religious icons and works of art were destroyed; however, these have since been replaced by new replicas.

The Ermita de Jesús is not without its legends. There is the story that recounts that in 1658, a donkey carrying the statue of La Virgen (The Virgin Mother) was led from Granada towards a certain destination. However, on crossing Posadas the donkey suddenly fell ill and died. The locals (Malenos) interpreted this as a sign from the Virgen Mary that the donkey and the icon of Our Blessed Virgin should stay in the village, and as a consequence they were placed in the chapel. At that time, the population of Posadas was in serious decline because of an outbreak of the plague, but after the arrival of the donkey and the statue of Our Lady, there was widespread recovery and so they named the statue, La Virgen de la Salud (where ‘salud’ means health). From then on, La Virgen de la Salud became the patron saint of Posadas.

Another miracle that has been passed down the generations is that which occurred in 1755, again the result of the Lisbon earthquake. The story goes that when the ground shook violently, the belfry was torn apart and fell heavily onto the adjacent kitchen of the church custodian’s house. His daughter was playing with an acorn in the kitchen at the time, but miraculously, she escaped unharmed, as he pulled her by the hand to safety.

But more about my local village of Posadas, its history, culture, legends, sights to see — and crochet! — in future blogs…

If you’d like to see and read more about this village, then you can have a look at the council’s webpage which also has an English translation.

And if you’d like to read more about my life here in this neck of the woods, then why not take a look at my humorous, illustrated book ‘An English Lady in Cordova — the Alternative Guide.

Thank you for visiting me — take good care of yourselves! x

More of my neighbours (here in the countryside of Posadas, Cordova)

Hello friends! This is just a quick, short post as I couldn’t resist sharing with you a few photos of my neighbour that visited me yesterday evening.

And here’s the little fella…

 The praying mantis. Their triangular heads with bulging eyes are supported on flexible necks
Not one of my favourite neighbours — they give me the heebie-jeebies…
… even though they were considered by ancient civilizations to have supernatural powers
Their forelegs are greatly enlarged and adapted for catching and gripping prey

Meanwhile, there was some interest from my felines, Little Grey and Handbag, who spied him from near and afar. (‘Din-dins?’ they wondered)…

‘I can see you, but you can’t see me! Mmmmm — yummy!’
‘Is it din-dins already?’

…but then there was Ginger who just couldn’t give a monkey’s…

Well, that’s all for now. As usual, I always welcome any comments or questions.

Hope this finds you in good health and spirits — bye for now! x

PS. If you’d like to read more of my stories, then you could check out my books: An English Lady in Cordova — the ‘Alternative’ Guide, or if you like juvenile fantasy/fiction, then Edward’s Secret and the Enchanted Throne might be just the ticket for you… (Both available together with my art work on my Etsy online shop: https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect — the hand-decorated bottles are my friend’s work.)

More of my early day teaching cockups within the Cordovan classroom (part 2)

Wish I could’ve been as cool and composed as this Canva teacher!

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

If you happened to peruse my last blog, you might remember that I was relating some of the embarrassing and awkward moments experienced when teaching in my first years of living as an immigrant in Cordova (well, actually these moments weren’t just related to teaching, but very many other moments of my everyday life — it was a very difficult teething process really!).

The town where it all took place — Cordova. This is the Great Mosque / cathedral situated in the heart of the Juderia (Old Jewish Quarters) — there is also a synagogue close by. (Photo, courtesy of Canva, of course!)

But anyway, as I mentioned last time, I would continue this chapter today. So here goes:—

(Note: as before, this is quite a long blog, so be warned!)

I mentioned that I had difficult controlling some of the students, and some of them would constantly fool around, laugh and talk both under and over my voice and would eternally horseplay around, disturbing the rest of the class.

Although all this happened quite a few years back, it was unfortunately not far back enough for a teacher to be able to take the horse whip to their backsides!

So instead, I went complaining and crying (literally) to Thomas the Boss, who said that he would come in the following day and show me how it should be done.

And that’s just what he did.

He was explaining the work to the students, group by group, but then came the turn of the Terrible Trio, who, doubtless to say, were in full swing of their buffoonery.

There’s nothing like an attentive, respectful student!
Maybe innocent-looking, but NOT so!

Thomas warned me (sotto voce) that we wouldn’t be able to whack them, and that he would use alternative, but very subtle correction techniques.

I watched on enthralled as he placed himself very close to the ringleader, Santiago—so close in fact, that he was actually standing on the boy’s toes; and there he remained, applying a steady but increasing pressure.

(I noticed that as the pressure was gradually increased, the colour from Santiago’s spirited countenance soon started to fade.) The initial smirk on Santi’s face soon changed to uncomfortable surprise, followed by dumbfounded bewilderment, and then eventually a painful grimace with eyes watering. And as Santiago quietened down (illustrating just how well he had learnt his lesson), Thomas gradually released the phalangeal pressure.

However, all this had gone unnoticed by his accomplice Diego, who was still twittering and giggling and playing the right idiot behind Thomas’s back. So without any warning, Thomas turned around, gave him a glowering look and then suddenly picked up his pencil case and flung it across the room. It flew the whole length of the class before smashing against the blackboard where it crashed loudly upon the ground. The whole class was stupefied. The look of horror on Diego’s face seemed to express that it was he and not his pencil case that had suffered such cruel injury.

So from that day, the Trio Ring was disbanded and I never had any more problems with the students—no rude twittering from the back of the class nor any further degradation.

And as for the third accomplice, Mateo, well, there was not much needed there, because after having witnessed the fate of his accomplices he just cowered in the corner.

But it’s not just the rude sniggers, giggles and twitters, nor simply the general demolition of the teacher’s ego that takes place within those four imprisoning walls of the classroom. Accidents will happen too! Well, you know how kids, when bored or restless either raise their hands to ask to go to the toilet, or to drink water from the fountain in the patio. Also, it is not uncommon that they ask permission to leave their desks to come to the front of the class to sharpen their pencils over the bin that lies just to one side of the blackboard. All of these tactics were regular occurrences with my class, and when one left to go to the toilet or drink water, they all soon followed suit, dribbling steadily out of the classroom door. (I, to be honest, was thankful for the momentary respite!)

‘¡Por favour, seño! ¿Puedo ir a beber agua?’ (‘Please teacher… Can I go and drink water?’)

Or ‘¡Porfa señorita! ¡Tengo que ir al servicio! ¡No puedo aguantarme más! ¡Me meo…!’ (‘Please Miss. I’ve got to go to the toilet. I can’t wait… I’m peeing in my pants!’)

On one such occasion, Pablo, the darkest-haired and naughtiest of the naughty nine-year olds, not having been the centre of attention for at least five minutes, informed me that he couldn’t copy any of my Lowry matchstick men with their spidery, uphill annotations because his pencil had gone blunt (that is, after he had tried to unscrew all the screws of his desk with it). I acquiesced (not yet having mastered how to say in technical Spanish­: ‘That’s because you have been trying to unscrew all the screws of your desk with it!’).

So Pablo raised himself out of his chair, pushing it harshly backwards so it made a loud, grating noise and came smashing against the desk behind; then feeling satisfied with his great achievement and grinning moronically all around, seeking approval from his peers, he cockily strode out to the front of the classroom. Unfortunately he didn’t notice (since he had his head turned backwards, playing jester to the class) that the front section nearest the blackboard was slightly raised; the toe of his shoe stubbed the step with force and he fell crashing forward, heavily.

Unluckily for him he fell straight on top of the square plastic bin. He fell with such force (he was a rotund lad), that his head broke the corner of the bin, and the next minute there was blood gushing down his face and filling his eyes. I gasped out loudly, crying ‘¡Oh Pablooooo!’ which was followed by more concerned ‘¡Pablo! ¡Pablooooos!’ from the class—but we fell into a real state of shock and disarray when he lifted his blood-drenched head. So bloody was it that I couldn’t even make out whether it was his eye or the brow that was gashed open. Fortunately one of the more intelligent girls, Lucía, was quick to react (while I just stood transfixed to the spot) and she immediately volunteered to inform the caretaker so that he should call for an ambulance. I numbly nodded my head and agreed with a ‘¡Buena idea, Lucía! ¡Rapido!’.

The ambulance arrived soon after, and the two white medics and stretcher-bearer had to push their way through the teachers who had formed a circle around us: they were shaking their heads at me and clicking their tongues while shooting me steely, reprimanding looks. The paramedics lifted the howling Pablo onto the stretcher, jostled him down the corridor then raised him into the screaming ambulance.

Meanwhile, the teachers left the scene of crime and went back to attend to their disciplined broods, during which time my class had completely fallen apart. With ten minutes still for the bell to ring, there was complete pandemonium: the unhinged terrors were rushing about everywhere, tearing up and down the corridors, acting as harbingers of exaggeratedly bad news, some thrusting their heads and shoulders out of the third floor windows to the horror of the on-looking parents who were devotedly waiting in the playground to collect their offspring.

I couldn’t cope with the bedlam any longer—my nerves were sorely frayed and although there was still a good ten minutes to go, I acted rashly: in the interests of my own immediate sanity I made the reckless decision of setting them free early.

However, possessed with a fleeting moment of bravado I put my plan into action and by some compassionate gift bestowed upon me from the Divine, I managed to summon order and get the brats’ attention. I also had to let rip the peppery Spanish swear words which I had so dutifully rehearsed with Josefa, my exchange pal, and which had the immediate result of stunning them into obedience. (Why hadn’t I tried that technique before, I asked myself.)

And so I filed the kids out of the door, then valiantly marched them down the stairs (despite my knocking knees). I led them to the main entrance hall with my head held high and lower jaw slightly clenched in the pretence that my conduct had been unimpeachable.

A crowd of over-anxious mothers and staunch grandparents (raised in the times of Generalissimo Franco) were there to meet me and I could tell from the accusing look in their eyes that they would not be easily appeased. I was immediately met with their incriminating reproaches and wagging fingers, and unfortunately my ‘Andaluz’ dialect was sufficiently advanced as to understand their complaints about me releasing the children far too early; they were also stressing the nearness and danger of the adjacent dual-carriageway. (At that point I hoped that once again a crack in the floor would open up and devour me.)

I was well and truly cornered by the sea of impassable patriarchs and matriarchs, not to mention the teachers behind me and the unruly mob spilling over to my sides. I took a deep breath before then gabbling out with an exaggerated English accent some pathetic explanations and apologies; then I broke my way through the parental wall and went running over to the howling ambulance. Before I reached the unnerving vehicle the sirens had been silenced and I looked on as the paramedics were attending to the wicked imp, Pablo.

It didn’t take long to realise that he had been dramatising his semi-conscious state which, as the doctor informed me, had been only a light giddiness caused by the sight of his own blood. I saw too that the supposed gash that had caused the abundant blood flow was in fact a fine but rough nick which, because of its position directly on top of the superciliary arch, had caused the steady rivulet of blood. It had since been cleaned and staunched and made neat by a silver-coated bandage. No stitches were needed!

One of the doctors then turned their attention to me, and noting my heightened state of anxiety realised that I must be the ‘profesora inglesa’. He gave me a pitying look as he took my blood pressure (which measured 200/98 instead of my usual 120/60) and so ordered me to sit down.

He then reassured me that Pablo was perfectly alright and that his father (that giant of a man who was steadily approaching me) would be coming along to fetch him.

I faltered as I got up to meet Pablo’s father, and was surprised that instead of being angry, he stretched out his huge, open hand to shake mine and introduced himself as ‘el padre de Pablo’ (in an almost apologetic tone and with a look of resignation on his face). It seemed to denote that his son’s behaviour was the usual attitude. I told him that it was I who was very sorry for what had happened, ‘¡Oh lo siento!….’.

I also seized the opportunity to complain that I was having great difficulty with the boy. ‘¡Es que estoy teniendo muchas dificultadades con su hijo!’ — little Pablo was always fooling around and disturbing the rest of the class, or he would run tirelessly up and down the rows of desks sweeping all their contents onto the floor…

The father listened quietly and then bowed his giant body down a little to my level and said (with tears glistening in his eyes) that he was very sorry for his son’s behaviour, and that he too had had great difficulty handling him since the mother had recently passed away: she had died of cancer just a month ago.

I felt shell-shocked. I was so sad and sorry that I just managed to mutter the words:

‘¡Lo siento de verdad! ¡Cúanto lo siento!…’. (‘I’m sorry! I‘m really truly sorry!’)

I thought to myself: ‘Don’t judge others until you really know the truth…’

When Pablo did return to my class the following Wednesday (with the bandage on his eyebrow), I made sure not to give him any chance of misbehaving: I kept him close to me by the side of my desk and kept him more than busy with helping rub out the blackboard or draw the matchstick men for me (which turned out much better versions than my own). He also handed out papers and collected the flash cards and other such teaching paraphernalia. He progressed well with this new position of responsibility and looked forward to these classes where he was now respected. The other students were not jealous nor felt any favouritism, and being Spanish, were wholly compassionate towards him.

So all ended up well in the end!

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my early teaching exploits!

Thank you for visiting — stay well x

My early day teaching cock-ups within the Cordovan classroom (part 1)

My early (and memorable!) days of teaching in Cordovan schools (On the RHS, a stork, common feature here; below, a typical Andalusian courtyard; and at the bottom, the richly gilded mihrab of the Great Mosque / cathedral)

Hi folks! I’m back again, but this time with something a little different (and longer, be warned!).

I was lying in bed last night, and as the hands of the clock reached three a.m. I was still struggling with sleep. Thoughts and ideas were whizzing about my brain — designs for my next painting projects, creative ideas, poems I was going to write, books I was going to publish, murals I would paint, online shops I would set up, antiques I would buy, vintage I would sell, furniture I would upcycle etc., etc., etc. So this morning, after my near-sleepless night and with a large mug of Tetley’s in hand (the tea, not the beer) I decided that first, I would like to share with you some of my early embarrassing experiences that I suffered when I first moved out here to Cordova.

(As you might already know, I was born in London then moved over to this part of Andalusia some thirty years ago. It was extremely difficult for me for quite a long time! A lot of my experiences are recounted in my illustrated book An English Lady in Cordova — the ‘Alternative’ Guide’.)

The Great Mosque / Cathedral of Cordova

I used to work as a geologist but once I came over here, had to retrain as an English teacher. I was employed by an academy and generally I had a trying time, not even having mastered the Spanish language as yet. I now teach privately as well as work as a translator and artisan. So if you’d like to share some of my embarrassing experiences, then please read on!

Blunders within a classroom in the Judería (Jewish Quarters) of Cordova — Part 1

Speaking Spanish and Andalus correctly took its time. During that time there were huge bungle-ups that lead to misinterpretations which were commonly taken as suggestive innuendos. This was often the case when giving private classes from home. But these verbal shortcomings were not only confined to my sitting room in the rickety old house in the Jewish Quarters, nor to the shops, bars, exchange students or the professional adults who perched uncomfortably on nursery chairs, but also extended to and positively flourished within the classrooms of primary and secondary schools. My experiences as a comprehensive school teacher (a profession definitely not destined for me!) were, to say the least—harrowing!

My teaching work in these unforgiving learning centres was arranged by Thomas, a youngish English teacher who had come over to Cordova, fallen in love with an attractive, charming Cordovan lass, married her and then stayed. They took up residence in his mother-in-law’s flat, and she in turn looked after the newly-weds and then later, the two children they had. Thomas was very dedicated to his profession, and by hiring on native English speakers (through advertising in reputable papers like The Times and The Guardian), set up his own team of teachers who he would train before then dispatching them off to various learning centres in Cordova. And I formed part of such a team.

We were a motley lot really, a pleasant enough bunch—an interesting array of innocents who ranged from me (a former geologist with previous work experience with a petroleum company) to a very posh, graphic art graduate with a pronounced lisp. Needless to say, she was assigned all the arty tasks, which when transferred to the classroom blackboard had all the children enraptured, eating out of her hand, and therefore learning quickly even though they pronounced the English words in lisping Andalus.

There was also an Australian lad who was fresh over from that far-away isle and who had come to Andalusia with the purpose of furthering his expertise in the Flamenco guitar. Like most artists he was very short of funds, and being unable to afford to pay for any lodgings, set up his home in one of the disused and dilapidated Moorish watermills that peppers the banks of the Guadalquivir. (I think it was the Albolafia Watermill—the one which The Catholic Queen Isabella in the 16th century ordered to be partially dismantled because the sound of its turning disturbed her sleep.) There Georgie would doze, upon tufts of dried weeds and clumps of hay, rubbing shoulders with water rats, lizards, snakes and pigeons that cooed from rickety, wooden rafters.

The Mosque / Cathedral in the background and the Guadalquivir River in the foreground, declared a Site of Community Interest and ecological niche

Not only did he arrive with insufficient funds, but also with just the clothes that he had on his back and the flip-flops that shod his feet. This look didn’t help him much in the classroom, compounded by the fact that he had longish, gypsy-style hair faithful to the Flamenco that he practised; and he was as skinny as a rake, with upper torso bent over like a reed blown by the sirocco wind. Neither was he very convincing in front of the Spanish teachers who particularly liked decking up to the nines (something that caused me enormous stress when I taught, as I also had a limited repertoire, and being a sporty, earthy Sagittarian, preferred the more casual look like my Top Shop navy blue plimsolls. But that said, the kids loved my less-rigid, non-creaky look).

However, Thomas our employer, having two young children of his own and being a good-natured soul supplied Georgie with a few of his own suits and some pairs of shoes, and invited him to join them for lunch every day (prepared by his over-maternal mother-in-law). He often came to eat with us too, but refused to stay in our hostel for free, preferring to shun charity, maintain his pride, and live freely in the watermill tower alongside the Guadalquivir fauna.

He continued teaching, which he found an increasingly uphill task as he never quite came to terms with the Spanish language, except for words such as ‘ritmo, son, compás, Bulerias, Solerias,’ and ‘¡Callaros! ¡Hijos de bastardos!’—the first five being musical terms, but the last expression translating as ‘Shut up you sons of bast***ds!’.

Needless to say, Georgie-boy didn’t last too long in this newly-adopted teaching profession. His mother soon came to visit, and when after giving him the once-over, whisked him back to Australia where she could shower upon him all the love and care that her over-sensitive son (now suffering from a fully-fledged bronchitis that was ripening into pneumonia) needed. When I had lunch with them I could see how attached to his mother he really was. She reassured him that she had already arranged private classes back at home with a true Andalusian flamenco teacher. It was sad to see him go—we had all grown fond and protective of him, despite his particular way of addressing his more bothersome students. He was allowed to take the suits back with him, but he refused the shoes as he had never quite got used to the rigid things, and when going to school to teach, instead of wearing those unorthodox flip-flops of his, he just went barefoot instead!

I must admit that teaching in schools was for me, quite a trying experience. I am, or rather was (at the tender age of twenty-six) a fairly shy and reserved creature, not at all the sort who relishes being in the limelight. Nor am I commanding or authoritative. Even when I sternly reprimand Solomon my mastiff, he just falls over onto his back, zigzags this way then that, forelegs pulled up to his triple chin, paws slanting forward, tongue lolling from the side of his gummy jaws and eyes swivelling in playful delight. So you can imagine what I am like with kids!

Solomon — our soppy mastiff

But returning to the classroom: my first encounter at the start of that inauspicious September was horrific! We were given one of the most important pieces of advice and teaching tools by Thomas which was: ‘Do not smile at the students before Christmas!’

So off we went, suitably armed with the indispensable tool that was supposed to ensure the safeguard of one’s self, one’s dignity and one’s pride, while also serving as a buffer against the humiliation, mortification and general abasement of the recently-imported, noviciate-teacher. Thus girded, I prepared myself for battle. Inhaling deeply I bravely entered the Year Eight Class of Espinar Primary Comprehensive School, down by the Corredera (which used to be the site of bullfights and executions!).

Now this area was at the time a marginal area, and accommodated the most ‘hardiest’ of children—those with strong and robust personalities (at least, stronger and more robust than mine!); and regular bullying had only intensified this ‘hardy’ nature of theirs, making some of the brutes even more brutish.

The minute I walked into that classroom and pronounced the words, ‘Good morning! I am your new English teacher!’ there was a nudging, tittering, giggling and sniggering all around. I tried to keep steady and not allow myself to break out into one of my nervously-English, wavering smiles. So I continued: ‘My name is Gillian!’

I announced this bravely, while over-exaggeratedly gesticulating towards myself in an attempt to clarify the meaning.

By this time some of the bolder lads had already started imitating me, producing a rapid succession of strange noises that sounded like ‘cha cha cha cha cha…’ (ad nauseam).

I cleared my throat awkwardly and just pretended that I hadn’t heard these obstreperous creatures. Some of the other more serious students were telling them to ‘¡Calláros de una puta vez!’ (meaning something like ‘Shut the f*** up!’). And so it was on these more serious and willing students that I focused.

After having gone round them one by one, getting them to tell me their names—some of which I made the mistake of translating into English, which proved to be another source of either ridicule or joy, depending on the name: for example, ‘Mary of the Sorrows’ or ‘Immaculate Conception’, or even ‘Hyacinth’ for one devilish-looking lad—we then set to, making name badges (for I was never very good at remembering foreign names and usually resorted to the true Spanish way of calling all females either María or ‘niña’ and all males, José or ‘niño’).

When it came to my turn to write my name, I was surprised that once again there was hearty sniggering and jeering all around as they pointed to my name badge. I didn’t appreciate at the time what was so funny, and it was only later when I had acquired a deeper understanding of Spanish phonetics that the reason came down on me like a clanger. It was the first few letters ‘Gilli…’ that had triggered the snorts and chortles, because in Spanish the soft ‘Gi’ doesn’t exist and is pronounced instead as ‘He’; and ‘ll’ as ‘ri’ so, that in all its entirety, ‘Gilli’ is pronounced ‘Hiri’—which in Spanish is short for ‘¡gillipollas!’, meaning ‘idiot!’. So for them, my name was ‘IDIOT’!

When I eventually came to understand this, I immediately changed my name from Gillian (which is generally unpronounceable for Spaniards), to the more or less Spanish equivalent, ‘Julia’ (pronounced ‘Hulia’).

So as you can see, I didn’t really get off on the right footing. However, I must have had some charisma because those that took to me, really did like me: they worked ever so hard, achieving good results, drawing me pictures and bringing me presents—an affectionate bunch as Spanish tend to be. But the rotten apples continued rotting on the back benches…

BUT to keep this long blog not so long, I will stop here for now and then continue relating my teaching experiences in a future blog.

Thank you for reading — I hope this finds you in good health and spirits.

(As usual, comments and questions are always welcome.)

My cat(s)! (The countryside of Posadas in the province of Cordova, Andalusia)

“Cats can work out mathematically the exact place to sit that will cause most inconvenience.” (Pam Brown – poet)

There’s nothing like having a helping hand and an audience when you’re painting!

Or rather, trying to paint…

Greetings from the back ‘D-garden’ of my home in the countryside of Posadas (approx. 40 km west of the culturally and historically-rich town of Cordova)!

PS. For a compact overview of Cordova (UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of the Roman philosopher Seneca, as well as the Averroes and Maimonides, the Muslim and Jewish Andalusí philosophers, scholars etc.), you can have a look at this link: https://www.britannica.com/place/Cordoba-Spain.

For a walk around the town, you can see this 6-minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXzgERkOZEI

Thank you for reading my blog! As usual, questions and comments are always welcome. Hope this finds you in good health and spirits!

My beautiful bougainvillea and jacaranda

Hi folks! I’m back again, but this time I’m going to be short and sweet (as my mother forewarned me! ‘Keep it short and simple!’ was her advice). Was that a sigh of relief I heard?…

So, I just wanted to share this beautiful combination of colours with you: the intermingling of the blue jacaranda flowers with the pinky-mauve of the climbing bougainvillea in my country garden, here in Posadas (Cordova, Spain).

I hope you enjoy it!

And this was the majestic sky over the jacaranda tree and bougainvillea, just before sunset…

Thank you for visiting — see you soon — stay happy and well.

(PS: Next time I vow to use my camera and not my Samsung Galaxy — that is, if I manage to get through the PhD booklet of fancy instructions!)