Zzzz. I slowly discover that my dream has once again taken me to a strange bathroom. I wake up with the pressure on my bladder and stumble slowly and carefully – there’s a large dog asleep on the floor somewhere – to our en-suite to siphon the python. My wife wakes up as I fall over Ginger on the way back and switches on the light.
‘What time is it?’ She asks.
I have a rule. If it’s four o’clock I try and get back to sleep. If it’s six, I’ll get up and make a coffee. I used to have a very good internal clock which could tell me the time to the minute, which is why I’ve never had to wear a watch. These days, it just clanks gently on the hour somewhere in my brain like an old but well-wound railway clock.
Unfortunately, it’s five.
Since it will be six long before it’ll be four again, I decide to make an early start to the day. Coffee, a slice of toast and some orange juice squeezed from the in-law’s fruit.
Well, at least we have water this morning. The other day, fresh – or not so fresh, come to think of it – from our drive home from the Madrid airport, we found that the water had been cut. So, the following morning I drove down to the water company’s headquarters in Vera – across a track and following a road-works gang, and in to sort the thing out.
My first remark, there was an audience of Spaniards waiting their turn behind me, went down well. ‘Lady’, I said, ‘I’ve come to take a shower. Where do I change?’
The water had been cut, it turned out, because they had found an old bill from 2004 and (apparently anxious to cash it before the statute of limitations ran out) had gone to my bank only to discover that I had failed to budget for this eventuality and, despite being a regular customer who wasn’t particularly going anywhere – apart from a well-earned holiday after the Great Fire of Mojácar last summer – decided to cut the precious life-giving fluid to my finca. The result – whatever hadn’t died in the farm the first time round was shriveled up and dry by the time I was sat in the water company’s office coughing up not just the 230 odd euros they wanted, but another fifty reconnection charge.
Bastards! I got my own back though. I think my audience were appreciative as I noisily filled out my first ever ‘complaining sheet’.
But today, no water problem, no bucket by the loo. All friends again. Instead, a quick and violent shower, followed by me mopping the floor where I’d made a poorly judged squirt.
I went to the shop this morning to get in some food and drinks. The choice was between my usual supermarket, which, since December 1st, has taken to playing a grotesque collection of muzak Christmas songs and ‘villancicos’ (high-pitched whiney children’s songs for Navidad and, don’t forget, the Three Kings) and the other, larger one where the shop assistants interrupt one’s shopping experience by periodically bellowing instructions over the in-house tannoy system like something out of a Butlins holiday-camp. Normally, I’ll shop with an iPod stuffed into each ear.
I had made my way to the queue at the front (I’m in the bellowing shop-girls supermarket) and was waved past this fellow. ‘You go ahead’, he said in Spanish. ‘Why, thank you’, I answered politely. ‘I’ve just been having a drink with Jacky Mankewitz’, I added, under the impression that I knew this fellow, who looked faintly like the Postman, ‘and, do you know, at his age, he’s still playing tennis’, I finished.
No, on closer inspection, definitely not the Postman.
Now I have to queue for another five minutes as the lady in front of me pays for her trolley in patiently counted out pennies, all the while aware that the Spanish bloke behind me is convinced that I’m barking mad. I’m not really; it’s just that, in a tourist town, everyone starts to look alike.
I drive home with my shopping, including a rather suspicious English fish pie which I am already regretting having purchased. Some chap in Pieland has spent millions making this thing, doing the packaging, the design, the flakes of – one hopes – fish wrapped in monosodium glutamate and so on and, lo! There’s a box of it in a supermarket in Spain. The picture looks like Captain Nemo wrestling with a deep-Atlantic squid. I nuked it in the microwave and it was, indeed, horrible. Again I remind myself to eat Spanish stuff in Spain.
Thanks in part to our water-company-induced drought that followed the summer conflagration, we have lots of firewood. Blackened, sooty and dead. It just needs scooping up, cutting, breaking or uprooting and the chimney is stuffed to bursting for the evening. Our house is a country-house, nice in the summer, cold and drafty in the winter. A good fire in the bedroom to keep everything toasty.
So I get down and dirty with a saw. There’s a lot of work to do. Some of the trees are beyond me: I’ll have to get the neighbour and his chain-saw over. Perhaps I could invite him to some spare fish-pie. There, a wheelbarrow load should do it. I down tools and head for the house; my hands black with soot, my shoes full of ash.
Sometimes, it’s like living in one’s own junior plague. Heaven forbid that I ever see a proper one.
Inside, there’s a message on the phone. Our phone number is, unfortunately, very similar to a popular local restaurant. I discover that I’m having a party of six at 8.30.
The fire warms us as it slowly gets late, and the book falls to the floor. We lie in bed; a stray hair from the cat tickles my nose. The dog growls at some dream-figure and a gecko stirs and stretches quietly behind a painting.