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A Street Market in Spain – Viva Los Llanos!


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I’ve always liked Los Llanos. It’s a Saturday street market just outside the town of Albox in Almeria, Spain. In the top section you can find fruit, veg, bed linen, second-hand clothes, old furniture, silver jewellery, plants, homemade jam and rescue puppies. Down the steps, there’s a sizeable rastro (flea market) with old tools, antiques, musical instruments and a Moroccan shop with a cornucopia of goods. In my early days living in Spain, I’d sometimes come with 20€ and mostly leave with a good, if unexpected haul – I once got a top-quality djembe drum for 5€.

One of the best things about the market is the diversity of the stallholders – a mixture of Spanish, Moroccan, Romanian, Ecuadorian, African, English, Gitano and moreSuch variety is rare in this part of Spain, and it almost feels like my native southeast London. There’s even a bookstall playing loud roots reggae. I love reggae, but you hardly ever hear it in this area.

So when I found out that Lynda, an English woman from my village, had a bric a brac stall at Los Llanos, I decided to ask if I could share it with her for a few weeks in the run-up to Christmas. I wanted to shift some old clothes and other things that were cluttering up my house. I was delighted when she agreed.

I started on Saturday 4 December. Ahead of a move back to the UK, Lynda was selling her stuff for just 1 or 2 euros, so I did the same. On my first day I sold an electric brasero* for 3€ and a lamp for 2€. It didn’t seem much, but I decided to spend my takings. They went a long way – I got pair of crystal earrings, a vintage shift dress and a pansy for the garden. I was chuffed. It felt like an alternative reality where 5€ is a decent sum of money.

The second week I did better. Electrical goods seemed popular so I took some mini speakers, as well as the remains of a job lot of linen cushion covers a friend had given me. Both were snapped up immediately, swiftly followed by a vintage juicer and some clothes. I took 25€ and found a much-needed pair of tongs for my wood burning stove (1.50€) and a useful credit card holder (€2). I needed a second-hand axe and the Moroccan shop said they had one at home (unfortunately they never found it).

Often, when you’re shopping for something, you just can’t find it. But Los Llanos was proving this theory wrong because it kept offering up exactly what was needed. In Week 2, this was demonstrated in an extraordinary way.

A woman picked up one of Lynda’s craft books. She wandered off with it. When she came back to pay, she said she’d been looking for the book for years after giving it away in the 80s. She’d searched everywhere, even contacting the publisher, but it had gone out of print. Her husband turned the front cover. ‘Look,’ he exclaimed, ‘she wrote her name inside. It’s actually hers!’ It was the woman’s own copy – last seen somewhere in the north of England and surfacing some 40 years later in an Andalusian street market.

Weirdly, she didn’t seem too surprised. She paid up and wandered off, leaving us nonplussed. ‘Do you think she says that every time she buys something, in the hope she’ll get it for free?’ Lynda asked.

Rhythms of the market

Being there every week, I noticed how the stallholders changed. There were regulars like Lynda, and there were others who came and went. The stall next to ours had different people all the time. One week there was a Spanish lady selling exquisite handmade children’s clothes, the next week a young African man with a job lot of small leather jackets for 5€ each. My favourite temporary stall was in the rastro section: a selection of beautiful old instruments: violins, trumpets, cellos and flutes. I wondered what stories lay behind them.

Lynda

After a few weeks on the market, Lynda and I were getting to know each other better. Although I knew she did markets, I hadn’t realised how serious she was about her stall, for which she made an interesting collection of dolls, cushions and other crafts, and sourced an eclectic selection of clothes, craft books, antiques and jewellery. She treated it like a job, tapping into what people want with skill and generosity. I found out how practical she is, too. Not only is she a keen crafter and a skilled cook, she’d singlehandedly re-roofed a portion of her Spanish house with a friend’s unwanted tiles. ‘I just looked at how the others were laid in an interlocking pattern and copied it,’ she said. It took four days and 148 tiles and the roof never leaked again.

It was only when I knew her better that I noticed how she quietly sipped tea at lunchtimes, not wine like the other retired expats. She was returning to the UK to find more mental stimulation – something I crave, too. People always said there were bound to be people like me in the area, but I’d never expected them to be hiding in plain sight right under my nose!

Week 3

I rocked up late after a disturbed night and knew I wouldn’t sell anything. I decided to gather information instead. The first stop was Dean the bookseller, who I’d been plucking up the courage to approach. I bought a couple of books to smooth the way and said: ‘I like your music.’ He looked indifferent, but I persisted. ‘Do you know any local venues that play reggae?’ He still wasn’t forthcoming. It was only when I said I’d done some DJ-ing in London that his ears pricked up and he remembered that he and his partner had visited a new reggae café by the coast the previous weekend. A new reggae café by the coast?! The market had given me what I wanted again! We chatted a bit more and he started playing one of my YouTube roots reggae playlists*. As I walked away I wondered if the Lubrin Dub Club would become my legacy at the Los Llanos market.

After Christmas

Lynda’s return to the UK was delayed, so after Christmas she was back at Los Llanos again. It poured with rain the first weekend, so she didn’t go, but the market had become a habit for me and I went anyway. The place was half empty and the woman behind our favourite veg stall had time to chat. She told me that all her products were organic, grown on her farm. I bought a big bunch of spinach, eight oranges, two kilos of carrots, some bananas, two onions, three peppers, a garlic and four tomatoes for just 7.80€ and was surprised by an unusual desire to cook. Then I had a quick look round before leaving and there, in the middle of a stall of second-hand tools, sat the full-size axe I’d been seeking since Week 1. It was priced at 18€, but the stallholder said I could have it for 14€ – which was lucky as all I had left was 15€ in small change.

As for Lynda, she did one more market. I went along to see her and she gave me the last in a long line of freebies – a handmade elephant cushion to remember her by. I got her something, too, a pair of silver earrings from the jewellery stall. I presented them to her over lunch the next week. She was thrilled – and promptly reciprocated with offers of her butane gas heater, a shopping trolley and a pressure cooker! I had to smile. Los Llanos – the market that gives you everything you want, and a few things you didn’t know you wanted, too!

* Electric version of the large metal tray of burning coals traditionally placed under Spanish tables covered with a long tablecloth, to warm up the people sitting round the table.

* The Lubrin Dub Club is a series of World Reggae playlists that I’ve compiled on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzfw2_S2TRll28rWuEhvoH8tZpBCh_XPR

Photo of Mercadillo Rastillo Internacional Los Llanos de Arboleas c/o Facebook.

How I Found my House in the Magical Spanish Mountains


1 Minute Read

I started my Spanish adventure in 1997, just as Tony Blair ended 18 years of Conservative rule with the slogan ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. I was one of a number of young BBC journalists helping with the count on Election Night, but soon after fled the BBC on a trip to Mojácar in Spain, on the pretext of finding a cheap house to buy. I didn’t seriously think I would get one.

Accompanying me was my old friend Mark P, who had ridden to Mojácar on his motorbike a decade before. My friend Lucy’s house was empty, so we stayed there. We had instructions to call Jacqueline, the French postwoman for the mountain villages, who put the word out for villagers with houses to sell.

It was a beautiful early-summer day and the road to the mountains twisted and turned up through arid countryside, almond trees and old ruins until arriving in the pretty whitewashed village of Bédar, with a long view back down to the sea.

Jacqueline was waiting in one of a pair of bars facing each other on the road in. Tall and thin with a mahogany tan, long black hair framing strong, handsome features, and wearing lots of silver jewellery – she was unmissable.

Jacqueline drove us down a narrow unpaved road running under the looming peaks. We undulated through tiny settlements and over a rambla [dry riverbed] before accelerating up a perilously steep bank on the other side, to end up at a collection of three or four houses strung out along the top. We bumped down a track to one, a wide, two-story house set in an overgrown garden with several olive trees.

I don’t remember much about the house, apart from that the kitchen was outside, and the water supply was rationed from the nearby balsa [water store] where you took your turn on a rota with the neighbours. There was a ramshackle outhouse, and I remember standing near it while Jacqueline and a neighbour discussed which of the stones on the ground marked the house’s boundary. The discussion went round and round, much like the roads that had brought us there. Then, none the wiser, we all piled back into the car for the drive back to Bédar where Jacqueline dropped us at the bar and drove off.

I remember feeling out of my depth, and telling Mark that what I’d really like would be something less remote, perhaps a little house on the edge of a village. We decided to have a quick drink before driving back – and then I realised that the key to our hire car was no longer in my possession. I tried to call Jacqueline but got no reply. There were no buses. We were stranded.

What happened next was, as they say, fate.

A young blonde dressed in black leather came through the door and strode up to the bar. After exchanging a few words with the bartender, she came over and asked where we needed to go. When we said ‘Mojácar’, she offered to drive us. As we weren’t in a position to refuse, we accepted.

Nadja was Swiss, and although quite fluent in English, all her sentences came out back to front. When I told her that we’d been looking at houses, she said that she had one to sell, “with mains water, electricity, a telephone socket and seven terraces.” It sounded very grand so, to rule it out more than anything, I asked how much. “Four million pesetas,” she replied (approx. £16,000). It was the same price as the house we’d just looked at.

What’s more, Nadja’s house was on the edge of a small village – just as I’d wished for.

When we reached the main road, our saviour pulled into a garage and bought three cans of lager from a vending machine in the forecourt. We drove the rest of the way to Mojácar swigging beer and listening to her peculiar jumbled steam-of-consciousness conversation. I concluded she was very sweet but most likely mad.

I didn’t think I’d call about the house, but a few days later curiosity got the better of me and we made a date to visit.

To get to Lubrín we had to return to Bédar and carry straight on, up a narrow white asphalt road that twisted its way through a magical landscape of hills studded with olive trees, yellow broom and thyme. At the top we passed the village of El Campico before descending to El Marchal where the road broadened out and continued another 5km to Lubrín.

The strange thing was how at home I felt. While the views were far-reaching and magnificent the road itself felt cocooned and cosy. We didn’t meet another vehicle that day and in the years to come, I rarely did. If it did happen, I often knew the driver, and we’d stop to chat.

Nadja and her English boyfriend Steve were expecting us. Margaritas tumbled over their garden wall, and on the left of the house were the seven terraces Nadja had referred to, planted with almond trees and flowers.

By the end of the week, we’d agreed on a price and employed a gestor to manage the sale. We sealed the deal over a breakfast of beer and tapas in Mojácar.

Back then, Lubrín was my freedom. The village seemed not to have changed since the Fifties. Set in a valley, whitewashed houses were built up the side of a hill, around an enormous red brick church in the middle.

My house, later christened Casa Becca by a guest, was set off to the right, built into the side of  ‘El Castillo’. Many Spanish towns have a ‘castillo’ hill, on top of which the original Moorish watchtower would have stood.

All the roof beams were tree trunks, gnarled and twisted, interspersed with traditional caña – cane. Stone stairs led up to a low-ceilinged dining room leading to a big kitchen with an enormous fireplace at the end. There was a windowless ‘cave room’ with a huge rock from the mountainside protruding within. More rooms led around to a third bedroom opening onto the front of the house at the other end. The bathroom, down by the main front door, was a very basic affair with an old toilet and a plastic shower over a dug-out portion of the stone floor. In its 200 years, the house had barely changed.

Although there was a phone socket, there was no phone line and, back in 1997, no Internet. Apart from the 6am bus to Almeria City, there was no public transport, either. Compounded by the feeling that I’d stepped back in time, Lubrín felt properly remote. Nobody would ever find me. I’d been unhappy at the BBC so it was a huge relief to find myself there, completely cut off from social pressures.

I turned into another person when I was in Lubrín. Scruffy, dusty, carefree. I wore flowery shift dresses and tatty shorts. The only other foreigner in the town was a Dutch guy who I never met. My friends were old men who regaled me with tales about the village and my house’s past. I found out that Casa B had been the home of the village transportista who took goods and passengers to the coast in his donkey and cart, and that a man had been shot outside during the Civil War.

My main friend was Paco, a portly fellow of about 60. He had small, dainty feet and spoke in a soft, high voice, often reciting poetry or playing with words. Like many men from the village, he’d emigrated during Franco’s rule. He’d worked in Switzerland as a carpenter – he said he’d made furniture for David Bowie.

Another frequent visitor was Christobal, a wizened, Steptoe-like man who would exhort, ‘Mujer, mujer!’ [Woman, woman] in the style of a whiny flamenco singer at the start of every sentence, while encouraging me to buy his house or be his wife.

Paco and I became good friends. Even though he didn’t speak any English and I not much Spanish, he was an excellent communicator and we understood each other surprisingly well.

Soon after I bought my house, Paco took me to his land in La Alcarria, a beautiful valley on the other side of the main road. On the land was an old trunk which he ceremoniously opened to take out two fold-up chairs – one for me, one for my friend. He set them out and we sat down – looking north over an infinity of hazy mountain ranges – the ones in the foreground like rows of reclining elephant backs. Paco loved his land and was planning to build a house on it.

When I think of the early days I remember warm friendships and laughter. Paco would accompany my friends and I on excursions in the car, or come round for raucous suppers on the patio, or we’d have mad nights out in what I christened the ‘Young Mans’ Bar’ next to the post office, where the clientele would chorus ‘Paco Toro!’ when he arrived with two young women on his arm. When I was the only foreigner in town it really was fun.

Slowly but surely, Lubrín caught up with the rest of the world.

A few settlers from England arrived every year. There was Ponytail John, who built his own house out in the campo, and Dave Beach, a lugubrious hippie with great taste in music. There was Sally and Ann, possibly the village’s first ‘out’ lesbian couple, and their neighbour Bill, a gay accountant. There was Mandolin John, always with a beautiful girlfriend. Tourists rarely found their way to the village, but when they did it felt bizarre. To me, they looked big and out of place. Sitting outside the Plaza Bar, they were like giants on a small stage.

Around 2003 the dear little road from Bédar to El Marchal was widened and tarmacked, and with that more and more foreign settlers came. The tipping point for me was when a young suburban couple arrived. Until then, the foreign residents had had something alternative about them, a touch of the pioneer. But these people had none of that. And with that, it was as if my secret hideaway had been busted and my freedom was gone.

Solo Visits

I started coming to Lubrín on my own around 2002. At first, I was nervous. I’d fly in from Gatwick, drive back in my hire car, make the bed and smoke the emergency cigarette I left on the dining room desk. Then I’d go out for provisions from Antonio and Fina’s late-night shop – and see who was around. One time I didn’t get home till midnight after being waylaid by Mandolin John and a friend of his. Another time, I woke up at 4 am in a panic. It was pitch dark and I had the sensation I was entombed within an endless Spanish mountain range – there were no buildings after mine. In my 40s I would often wake up in the night. For a while, an insomniac bird nesting in the roof would be up around the same time, moving about. I found it comforting.

Paco and I grew apart. Lubrín had won the massive El Niño lottery in January 1998 with a prize of 1400m pesetas (about 8.5m euros). Paco was one of the winners. He didn’t spend the money at first, but a few years later he bought a radio-controlled airplane and a souped-up black sports car with red flames blazing on the sides. Where once he had been patient and good-humoured, he became impatient and his gentle high-pitched voice became gruff. He’d tear off to holiday towns like Aguadulce in the sports car and return with torrid tales of his exploits.

They wouldn’t let him build a house in La Alcarria (the plot was just 1m too narrow). Bitter, and obstinate to the last, he built a swimming pool instead and put a squalid kitchen and bathroom underneath. He surrounded the pool with weird totems like plastic fans and dolls’ heads on sticks.

There was a succession of dogs he didn’t know how to look after and on occasion he’d chase English settlers in his car. The gentle, communicative Paco I knew and loved had vanished, and when I asked people how he was, they just shook their heads and said, ‘perdido’ – lost. He died in 2010.

Middle Years

So far, I’d only visited Lubrín for short holiday breaks but when I started my Spanish rug and tile business it became the base for buying and sourcing expeditions. From 2006 onwards, I’d embark on huge solo road trips around Andalusia several times a year. I visited Valencia, too, to go to the Cevisama tile fair, once driving 400km cross-country from there to Cordoba to visit our main supplier. I visited Granada and embarked on crazy missions to find new suppliers in a series of remote locations. I particularly loved going to Priego de Cordoba, a baroque gem perched atop a cliff in the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park. I’d stay at Hostal Rafi where the bar was like a Spanish version of the US series Cheers. Rafi was even playing Bruce Springstein the first time I went. My second visit coincided with a noisy religious procession, the virgin being borne through the streets, children dressed up for their communion and a major football match blaring out from TVs. Hostal Rafi was in the middle of it all – the centre of the world!

Priego was four hours from Lubrín. Driving there in the autumn you’d see bonfires blazing high on the horizon. There were deserted mountain passes where you could go for hours without meeting a soul. At these times, I’d marvel at how, sometimes just the day before, I’d been caged like a bird in my London shop watching traffic thunder by, and now was soaring free in the mountain air, maybe 100 miles away from anyone else.

Occasionally I ended up in dangerous situations like the time I took the wrong route to the pretty village of Castril, 890m above sea level on the edge of the Cazorla National Park. As the track got narrower and narrower, I found myself with no choice but to accelerate up the precipitous bends with an overweight load of wholesale ceramics in the back. Dusk was falling and I remember thinking, ‘no-one knows where I am and I might die,’ followed by a half-crazed relief when I reached the top to witness a herd of goats galloping home in a cloud of dust. It was a quintessential Spanish moment.

Now…

In 2016, Lubrín became my freedom for the third time. Disgusted by the Brexit vote in March 2016, my first thought was to leave the UK. On the basis of having a Spanish house, I applied for Spanish residency. To my surprise, the application was successful and I moved out here in 2018.

Today, Lubrín is firmly rooted in the 21st Century. There are street lamps along the road in, and a small industrial estate just north of my house. There’s a world-class olive oil press, a honey factory and modern milking sheds for the goats. The once-silent hills are full of light and noise. There’s a small housing estate opposite me, too, mainly occupied by British families who now make up a sizeable proportion of the population.

Stubbornly ‘unreformed’ for years, Casa B has been updated to make her long-term habitable. The tree trunk roof beams have gone, as has the insomniac bird. The cave room has a window. The dining room and kitchen have been knocked together and the ceilings raised. A proper bathroom has been added.

I study Spanish, teach English and Creative Writing, blog, write and walk the hills. Everyday life is time-consuming – I collect my water from the mountain spring at El Campico and drag it up to my house in a trolley. In the winter I must bring in wood, make fires and clean the stoves. More satisfying, this year I picked my olives for the first time and took them to the press in exchange for some superb Lubrín olive oil.

It’s been a little tough, establishing a life here on my own. It can be awkward negotiating social groups as an older single woman. It’s taken time to find work, or friends on my wavelength, but I keep on. Perhaps the fourth freedom will come when I really don’t care what other people think.

In the absence of family, Casa B has been my continuity. Last March, returning from winter respite on the coast, it was surprisingly nice to be back. Even though I had to hoover the flaky paint off the walls and clean surfaces thick with muddy dust, it was just lovely to hear the birds again, and the goat bells, and the church ringing every quarter-hour. Enduring country sounds. The sounds of home.

Postscript

In June 2021, I went to a dance performance at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London. ‘Dance Me To Death’ was a project started by AofA’s Rose Rouse, with all the dancers in their 60s or older. At the after-party, I was on a table with a couple from Clapham. When I asked if they knew the province of Almeria, the woman gave a little start. She said that she’d visited a place called Bédar one Christmas in the Seventies. Back then, black-clad village ladies washed their clothes at the communal fountain and collected water in huge water jugs on their heads. Donkeys were the main means of transport, roads were few, and Fi and her boyfriend had walked four miles up to the village from the bus stop. On Christmas Eve, the village ladies taught her to dance Flamenco – she pulled her body up straight to demonstrate. She looked happy as the memories resurfaced, and I thought how great it was that we should meet by chance almost 50 years later, two strangers transcending time and space to share our experiences of a tiny, faraway place that has meant so much to us both.

Perhaps the magic lives on, after all.

Becca is running a trio of online Creative Writing courses. Each runs for six weeks and a number of themes are covered, including Fantasy & Transformation, Imagery, Characterisation, Dialogue, ‘Fragmented Writing’, Theme, Plotting and more.

Classes contain excerpts from a range of relevant authors and a 25-minute writing exercise based on the theme of the week. There’s time for students to read their work and discuss, and homework is given.

Featured authors include Kei Miller, Tim Winton, Margaret Atwood, Rose Tremain, Carys Davis, Jo Shapcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien, Andrea Levy, Helen MacDonald, Jeanette Winterson, Tricky, Tracey Emin and Melissa Harrison. 

The Creative Writing courses will run from mid-September, along with the journalistic ‘Write an Article in a Week’, which runs over two weekends. The price for each course is £125, with a 10% reduction if you book up for two or more. Becca is currently developing a new course on Memoir Writing.

For more info please visit https://beccaleathlean.wordpress.com or email lubrinbecca@gmail.com

How to Live a Rich Life Alone


8 Minute Read

I’ve been pondering this question lately, prompted by a number of posts about single life on the Advantages of Age group.

I was particularly struck by the post on Bella DePaulo’s book, Singled Out – How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatised and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. Also, the topic was already on my mind because last year I started writing a memoir. It’s about a life lived alone, almost entirely without a family or a partner.

Growing up, my father lived on the other side of the world and my lovely mother (5ft-nothing, bright and resourceful) was often absent, by virtue of being severely mentally ill. Running wild at 10 years old, I was sent to boarding school. When I was 15, my mother began an unprecedented 22 years in care. But that’s another story.

At boarding school, friends’ parents generously invited me to spend the school holidays with them. When I left school after my ‘A’ Levels, I spent the summer living with my gang in a Ladbroke Grove squat, then took myself off to a new life at Goldsmiths’ College on the 36 bus.

I did manage a couple of relationships at university – weirdly opting for guys who turned out to have mental health problems. I had a number of short relationships throughout my 20s and early 30s. I had my heart broken twice (usual pattern was to fall head over heels for someone who didn’t feel the same way about me and grieve over the break-up for years after). Then, apart from what a friend memorably called my long term ‘non-relationship’, I just called it a day.

My father died when I was 24, my mum when I was 37. I don’t have any siblings. I don’t have children of my own, and I’ve never lived with a partner. I’m rarely in touch with my cousins. I guess in family terms, I’m about as alone as they come.

One good consequence of going to boarding school is that I made a handful of friends for life. I’ve known my best friend since I was 12 – and I’m fortunate to have other close friends (from that era and later) who feel like family.

I’ve never really missed having a family of my own, but I’ve always felt the need to connect. I started out as a journalist – I loved interviewing people and telling their stories. I moved into documentary film-making – always focusing on those who are usually ignored. In 2000, at the age of 38, I toured the Southern States of America with an advance to write a book about the death penalty. At 39, I did an MSc in Criminology & Criminal Justice at Oxford University. I stayed in Oxford and worked in Restorative Justice until 2005. Then, after failing to get work when I returned to London, I opened a shop selling Spanish arts, crafts and eventually tiles, which I distributed worldwide. In 2018, I closed the business, rented out my house and came to live in Spain, where I’ve owned an old ‘cortijo’ (cottage) since 1997.

Where others have had structure, I guess I’ve had freedom.

I did feel lonely while I was running the business. Working alone and living alone was a double-whammy, especially with the pressures of the company. I made friends through it but was often too tired to socialise.

Life as an older single woman in rural Spain can be a bit challenging too. The majority of English-speakers are retired couples – ‘Barbara and Brian’, ‘Martin and Jane’, ‘Judith and Bob’. You rarely hear a woman’s name spoken on its own. If you do, she’ll be a divorcee or a widow – I don’t know any older woman here without children and grandchildren. Spanish society is even more family-focused. And to the Moroccans, you are not even a woman unless you’re a mother!

I’ve never felt overt prejudice, indeed I have friends and acquaintances in each of these groups – I just get left out of things. With some honourable exceptions, it does seem that couples socialise exclusively with other couples, plus the occasional single man or woman who was married once.

You could get very lonely – and I certainly hated the feeling of being left out, to the extent of being relieved when the first lockdown started, so I couldn’t be. But I’ve never felt that not having a family (or job) means I have less value as a human being. And, as single people form a surprisingly large proportion of most Western societies, it’s surely time for us to be taken seriously, and for the discrimination to stop!

So, in the absence of a family, what does give my life meaning?

Firstly, connecting with diverse groups. I’ve always made friends with all sorts of people. I’ve travelled on my own since I was in my 30s and I cherish the connections I’ve been able to make with people all over the world. It works on a small scale, too. Recently, my day was completely rescued when I managed a friendly chat in Spanish with the local chemist followed by another with my Moroccan neighbours on the way home. Recently, in the absence of workmates, I’ve been connecting online. I take part in online ‘Cave Days’ – joining other freelancers (mostly in the USA) to work together on Zoom. And luckily, I do have some good friends locally – mainly older single guys, younger single women (English, German and Spanish) and the abovementioned honourable couples with whom I share mutual interests. Phew!

Secondly, music. I’ve always been passionate about roots reggae. During the first lockdown I made a Spotify reggae compilation for my UK friends. It went down well, so I developed it into an on-going series of youtube ‘world reggae’ compilations – the Lubrin Dub Club. I love researching new music to put on the playlists, and dream of finding a way to take this further.

Thirdly, nature. I go on fantastic walks, often by myself. A few weeks ago, I noticed a little path behind the mountain spring where I get my water and decided to follow it. It led to two beautiful fields with almond and olive trees, behind which were more fields and mountains. I made my way up through the fields, to see if there was another path into the mountains. After wading through the last field of freshly ploughed earth, I was rewarded with a tiny track leading up between two hills. I followed it until it was nothing more than the suggestion of itself, before it picked up again, leading down to the main track and a fantastic view of the sea. I have to admit I’ve rarely felt happier; in the warm February sun, miles from anywhere with just a few little wheatears flying around, wondering who the last person to walk there had been, lost in my thoughts. It was the best meditation.

These three things make my heart sing. But also important are the projects:

Writing

I’ve just finished developing and teaching an online Creative Writing course which was a success. It’s morphed into a fabulous little writers’ group, and now I’m back to my own writing – a blog, a memoir and shorter pieces – stories, and essays like this one. Memoir-writing has had unforeseen results: I’ve reconnected with old friends, one of whom introduced me to the Advantages of Age Group! Ironically, I’ve also found a Chinese ‘step’ family in the UK. My father’s life-partner was Chinese and writing about them has led me to her nieces and nephews who I knew as a child. It’s been exciting!

Learning Spanish

Using NotesinSpanish.com and language ‘intercambios’ with Spanish friends, I’m hoping to reach a level where I can interact more meaningfully with the Spanish population.

House & Garden Projects

I aim at a job a day. I like the way that small actions can lead to big results.

Volunteering and Helping Others

Before lockdown, I was teaching basic Spanish to Moroccan women in the village. I may be befriending an asylum seeker in London for a daily phone chat soon, and perhaps volunteering in Spain again when my Spanish is good enough.

Last but not least, there are always surprises to look forward to.

Reconnecting with my Chinese ‘step’ family was one surprise. Here are two more:

In 2016, I won a holiday to Jamaica!

And in 2019, a guy came to stay as a Workaway volunteer. After an uncertain start, we got on really well and it was lovely to have someone to bring in the wood, set the fire, get on with the DIY and share the food I made in return. I enjoyed the company, and missed him when he had to go. I don’t think we would have made a successful couple, but never say never!

A friend recently introduced me to a new concept, the ‘Security of Insecurity’. She said you can never relax when things are ‘perfect’ because you can be sure they won’t stay that way. When your life is more fluid, you know that anything can happen. Perhaps you’re more prepared for change. Surprises (and they do seem more plentiful of late) can be great, and they certainly keep me interested in life.

REQUEST FOR INTERVIEWEES: My memoir explores not just my own life, but those of other ‘family light’ women. I want to see whether there are common themes, and look into the future – what are our options for retirement/old age? I’m interested in co-communities (intentional communities) – my personal quest could be to find one outside London, in a diverse community with a good reggae dub club on the doorstep! Please message me if you’re willing to be interviewed, or have other information to offer. Thank you!

Surprise Me

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