The weather in March proved changeable. Tantalisingly warm and sunny days were followed by cold and windy ones and when we had to turn the heating back on and light the gas fire in the evening.
Our first set of guests, having bought their house in Spain in record time, left us in mid March having seen great progress outside and we had a two week gap before our next visitors, an ex colleague of Steve’s and her husband were due to arrive. As Stewart had to leave us to go to England, we were worried that without expert help we wouldn’t be able to progress further with paving around the pool, finishing the terrace walls and re-tiling the top of the pool. We also wanted to remove three tree stumps and the fields were in desperate need of a plough. A neighbour of ours who also has a lot of land had asked the person who ploughs their land to contact us, but we had heard nothing and as Charles was ill, we didn’t want to hassle so we contacted an English chap whose number we had been left by the previous owner of the house. Dennis came to see us, drank copious amounts of tea, ate several of my home-made biscuits and arranged to come with his plough the following week. We also discussed whether he could remove the tree stumps and he agreed to bring his mini digger and his friend Jim to get rid of them after he had done the ploughing.
Ploughing the fields improved their appearance significantly, the almond trees we had pruned had blossomed and were showing signs of lots of tiny nuts and the un-pruned trees seemed to be holding their own nut wise so Steve decided to turn to the olive grove in an attempt to improve our harvest next year. Well managed olive groves are a thing of beauty with trees shaped like goblets so that “a swallow can fly through the middle” as the saying goes. Pruning improves the fruiting capacity of the tree by encouraging new growth on which the flowers and subsequently the olives form and removes unnecessary foliage and branch-age which uses food and water that should nourish the olives, it also makes harvesting easier. Our olive grove looked like an unkempt shrubbery with suckers shooting off in all directions and barely enough room for a bee to get through the middle of the trees let alone a swallow.
With approximately seventy trees to prune before flowering time in April and numerous other equally pressing tasks, Steve pruned as often as he could and like a sculpture emerges from a rock an olive grove is emerging from the shrubbery.
Dennis and Jim, a Lancashire/Yorkshire comedy double act in addition to their stump removing skills, arrived with the mini digger and dug out a huge pine tree stump from the area in front of the terrace that we are planning to turn in to a gravel garden plus the yucca and nispero stumps of the view-hiding trees that Steve had cut down when we first arrived. Seeing the vast pile of rubble that that had accumulated at the back of the house as Steve had cleared marble from the drive, terraces and walls, Dennis offered to return with his dumper truck to fill a skip. Jim, clearly an experienced builder, was engaged to pave around the pool and finish off the work that needed doing.
Finding suitable paving slabs for the pool area was a harder task than we thought it would be. Thriftily, Steve had stacked the paving slabs he had removed from the terrace and we were planning to use them around the pool however, there were not sufficient for the entire area. We thought we could match them at one of the various builders’ merchants in the local area but it transpired that the exact style of slab was no longer made. We were very pleased to find an example of the slab in Sax but when I asked for forty square metres they only had six in stock. Hmmmm, what to do? Should we mix and match a similar slab, go for a contrasting pattern or start from scratch? For several days I drove from one builder’s merchant to the next bringing samples back to the house and returning them. Eventually, we decided to opt for a slab whose colour was described slightly worryingly as salmon; I would describe it as soft terracotta.
The next few days saw much activity: a contenador arrived for the escombra or rubble, the area surrounding the pool was prepared for the pavimientos and sacks of arenas and cemento were delivered.
I had an exciting visit to the quarry to choose the gravel for the gravel garden and it arrived in a second skip which we decided to keep as it was rapidly becoming apparent that one skip wouldn’t be enough for the several tons of rubble which Dennis and Jim were amazed to discover that Steve had brought to the back of the house himself, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. The second skip was positioned to the side of the house and was piled high with rubble. A third skip was ordered and the lorry arrived at about six one evening. The method for delivering and collecting skips in the same visit does not make sense to us. Firstly the full skip is loaded on top of the empty skip on the lorry, then both skips are lowered on to the ground and thirdly the full skip is reloaded onto the now empty lorry. Our Spanish is simply not up to the job of explaining that if you put the empty skip down beside the full one then load the full one the whole process would be a lot quicker and anyway, still smarting from the “olives in sacks” experience we didn’t want to risk being labelled abnormal again so kept quiet.
The lorry was backed into position and the chains attached to the escombra piled skip. The button was pressed to activate the hydraulics and the strain was taken up. One of the steadying hydraulic legs at the back of the lorry dug down into the earth making the lorry lean a bit and so the chico set the skip down and put a bit of wood under the leg. The strain was again taken up and the wood snapped in two. It was decided to reposition the lorry. The steadying leg again sunk into the earth, the lorry was repositioned for a second time. The skip rose about three feet into the air and then started to swing wildly as the steadying leg sank, slowly at first and then, scarily, more rapidly. The lorry tilted sharply and Steve and I jumped hastily out of the way leaving the chico, Arturo, as we later discovered, trying to push the lorry upright whilst operating the hydraulics to put the skip back on the ground. The Spanish for “get out of the way, you fool” isn’t in my vocabulary but alarmed noises seemed sufficient and Arturo managed to keep the lorry upright and lower the skip without killing himself or us. The chains from the skip were disconnected and the lorry moved forward. A large amount of earth had fallen into a cavernous hole under where the steadying leg had been. Ashen faced, Arturo looked down into the hole and then up at us, “potho negro” he said succinctly, “cess pit”.
We decided, collectively, that enough was enough for the evening and Arturo drove down the road looking rather relieved. He told us that someone else would come in the morning and try to drag the full skip away from the danger before trying to load it onto the lorry. Next morning, a different chico, arrived, moved the skip and loaded it successfully onto the lorry, set the new skip down in a different place and took the full one away. He looked into the hole as we told him in sign language and pidgin Spanish the tale, destined to go down in history of the escombra, contenador y potho negro.