The morning dawned bright and sunny. Nothing new there then. Paco’s head popped up over the fence with a cheery Hola and a Buenos Dias to me. Dressed in his customary straw hat, adorned with the Festival of San Isidro ribbon he told me that he had been out since quite early that morning collecting things. However, he was a little concerned as I had been up very late last night but very quiet. Was everything all right? Yes, of course it was, I had just been watching a TV programme I had become addicted to. Oh, of course, he said, the Spanish dancing. Erm, no, it was an American series, which had been dubbed very badly into Spanish.
“But don’t worry,” I told him, it had been the final episode of the series the night before (although I was still none the wiser with regard to the plot) therefore I was unlikely to have any more late nights which did not involve me either being outside on my patio, and therefore where he could be sure I was alright, or out dancing at a Fiesta. Good, all ok then with regard to my health and well being.
“So, what have you been collecting then?”
The answer involved much gesticulating and waving of a long prodded instrument, rather like a pair of giant tweezers, and a sturdy pair of gloves.
“Churros,” I said “are you sure?”
“No, not churros, but chumbos.”
Please note the first is a deep fried doughnut, which does not grow in abundance around here on trees, the second is a prickly pear. Aha! I was enlightened. Now of course I had to go next door with a tub – not a plate or a bowl, but something sturdy please, made of plastic – for the peeling and collecting of the chumbos. I decided that a bikini and a sarong was probably not appropriate attire for the task and put some clothes on.
Two rickety chairs had been set out, to make the whole experience more comfortable I was told, and we sat under a fig tree. “Crikey, how long is this going to take?” I wondered as I looked into the giant chumbo bucket. There was a procedure to be followed, and no messing around as chumbos can be deadly things if anyone inexperienced tries to tackle them. They had apparently been picked very early that morning. Well, 7.30 which is very early around here. It would seem, I was soon told, that the spines which cover them are less “aggressive” at this time. This task can also, I was additionally informed, be carried out when the heat of the day has died down. I was on no account to attempt the dangerous picking of the chumbos on my own as no good would come to me. Ok, I had been warned.
Next, the tasting of the first chumbo, which was pronounced by Paco to be perfect and off we went. Paco was in charge of peeling and I was responsible for lifting them off the skin into the plastic tubs. Delicate, ladies work. In between we talked about country things like animals and crops. As you can imagine, I had little of interest to add to the conversation but Paco seemed most pleased with our chat. I learned that figs are called Brevas before the feast of San Juan (which is I think around 23rd June) and Higos after this date (didn’t I know anything?!). I was advised too that the pomegranates would be ripe after the feast of Santa Teresa (October some time?). Note to self, check my mother’s calendar of the Saints.
After this gentle activity Paco decided that it was time for pool cleaning. The word for clean here is Limpio, the verb is Limpiar. There is an awful lot of limpiar-ing going on generally much of the time. Mostly it involves waving a hose around and “refreshing” things such as the patio or your own feet. Anyway, pool limpiar-ing is a much more serious business so I decided to switch back to the bikini and sarong. Paco seemed to think this was a good idea too.
The first stage in the procedure is to scoop off any dead flies, wasps, olive leaves etc which have landed in the pool overnight. Easy. Paco got the big boy’s net and I got the little one which looked as though I was about to go winkling round Morecambe Bay.
Paco then got onto his stomach and started trapping the poor suckers who had succumbed to a watery end in the deep end of the pool. As my net had broken in half the week before – I pleaded Not Guilty – I could not even reach the bottom of the shallow end so jumped in and wandered around for 15 minutes or so fishing out spiders. I have to confess that I dragged this out for a bit as it was extremely hot and I was keeping cool.
Next came the fixing of the hose to the attachment, the letting in of air to the pipes and the starting of the motor. Easy, yes, seen this done before. No, there was to be no sitting around for me whilst Paco “hoovered” the pool. I was sent to collect the special plastic broom (don’t even ask) and as I was the only one out of the two of us who could swim, I was sent down to the deep end to sweep. Yes, you heard it right. The next half hour was spent with me trying not to fall out of my top – as you can imagine, the Lycra has to work pretty hard for its living – and stay at the bottom of the pool whilst manoeuvring a plastic broom. Being a particularly buoyant girl this was no easy task but Paco seemed to find it all very entertaining.
Finally, the pool cleaning session was over. Paco took to his sofa for the next five hours or so. I collapsed onto a sun lounger wondering if I could make a new career as a Cabana girl.