Swimming Pools and Prickly Pears

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.

          Prickly Little Critters

“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.

How to Build an Infinity Pool

I soon settled into my new, relaxed, Spanish lifestyle.  This typically involved lazy days, with lots of sunbathing, splashing around in the pool and plenty of good food and wine.  My landlords came and went randomly, and various tractor driving locals passed by my gate at different times of the day.  I would wander through Paco’s allotment and pick vegetables for my salads, lemons for my drinks and peaches for my pud. I would feed the dogs and cats and, when feeling particularly energetic, I would strike up halting conversations with the bread man.

Although the days were laid back and stress free, life at Dolores’ Cortijo was never dull, let me tell you. As well as looking after the various animals, watering vegetables and waving to tractor drivers, I was a woman in charge of a swimming pool. 

Actually, during my first few weeks I was never actually expected to clean it which was a relief as it’s pretty hard work cleaning a pool.  I was allowed to dip a little plastic bottle in the deep end to collect water and when I got really good at this I was also allowed to add the chemicals to the “specimen pot” to test the chlorine levels.  By the end of my stay I moved on to taking huge tablets of chlorine out of a tub and adding them to the floating chlorine tablet holder and skimming dead flies off the top of the pool with a fishing net.  Responsible stuff.

As you can imagine, I was pretty popular with my pals back in England, and soon lots of visitors were queuing up to come out to stay with me.  Ria, she of best friend fame, was soon on a plane to check out the tractor driving farmers and swiftly signed herself up to join the future frequent visitors club.  Best friends are always good company as you never run out of things to say to each other, but you also don’t feel the need to fill the silences.  They get you through the bad times and share the good ones.  They tell you honestly what your new trousers look like and bring you painkillers after a big night out.  On extended Spanish holidays they help out around the house when they come to stay.  This is particularly good when they are damn fine cooks. And they are always up for a game of cards or a walk round the local lanes and tracks with the adopted dogs.  As Best Friends go, Ria is a star performer and will soon be getting a gold carriage clock in compensation for her long and dedicated service to the job.

Ria likes to sit in the sun like me, and although not quite such a water baby (ok, I really am more of a whale than a dolphin – but we can all dream), she soon got involved in pool maintenance.  A typical late afternoon would involve a couple of hours of advanced-level sunbathing – I do find that after many years if practice, I am now a particular expert at this –  followed by a five minute fly skimming session and 30 minutes of the Lilo Olympics before happy hour. 

The Lilo Olympics, for anyone not yet in the know, involves two, or more, adults straddling cheap inflatable mattresses and racing up and down a small pool while trying to knock the other person off their own lilo.  This is repeated until exhaustion, bought on by excessive laughing, forces you to stop and have a large glass of wine.  Sometimes the Olympics come to an early end due to the cheapo lilo deflating – mainly because of a puncture or an overly large adult sitting on something designed to take the weight of a seven year old child. 

Honestly, you’d think a 2 Euro mattress would last longer than half an hour.  Shoddy plastic aside, I really do think a session of Lilo Olympics should be prescribed by all doctors to patients suffering with depression.  I challenge anyone to not laugh while trying to get on (and stay on) a Lilo.

Paco and Dolores quite often drove up from Malaga and stayed in their Cortijo for the weekend.  They had arrived for a day or two and decided to give the pool a bit of a clean. After hovering, skimming and topping up the chlorine, Paco felt that the water level was a bit low.  Undoubtedly this was the result of an earlier extended session of the Lilo Olympics.  He decided to top it up before heading back to the bright lights of Malaga.

Ria and I arrived back from a shopping jaunt looking forward to a refreshing dip in the pool.  When we had peeled off our hot, sweaty clothes and slithered (Ria) and squeezed (me) into our cozzies, we headed over to the pool.  When we got there, the pool was overflowing, water was flooding through the ceiling of the pump house and the olive trees had been watered by a pool-full of chlorine….Paco had left the hose from the well running and in the pool. 

Yikes! Ria yanked the hose out of the pool and I scampered off into the wilderness of the various orange, lemon and olive trees to try to find the well the hose was attached to and switch the water off.  Alas it was all plumbed in properly, for a change, and connected to an electric motor, and I couldn’t work out how to stop it.  Despite feeling quite pleased that we now had an infinity pool, drastic measures were called for so I ran (ok, I walked – I most definitely don’t do running) to get my dictionary and mobile phone, babbling on to Ria about what a good opportunity it would be for me to practice some new Spanish words. 

After a quick practice of “when we got back from our shopping trip the hose pipe was running and in the pool” I rang Dolores.  I thought I did pretty well given the circumstances and my lack of experience with this particularly specialist vocabulary, but Ria seemed to think that I had somewhat over-dramatised the situation making it sound like the nearby lake had overflowed and flooded the valley to biblical proportions, and that the house was about to be swept away by a tsunami of chlorine scented water.

Anyway, Dolores said – at least, this is what I understood that she had said – that they would come back to sort it out.  For an hour or so, I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure if they were really coming back as the word for “to come back”, volver, sounds remarkably like the word for scrambled eggs, revueltos, and I was a bit concerned that there was a Spanish equivalent of “don’t worry about it, let’s have a nice cup of tea” which equated to “don’t worry about it, sit down and have yourself a nice plate of scrambled eggs”.   

Fortunately a couple of hours later they turned up (we could hear Dolores screeching at Paco from about a kilometre way) and not a single scrambled egg was consumed in the process.

Paco rummaged around in the pump house and switched the water off via a mission impossible style control panel and I watched and learned.  The pool started to drain and we all sat down to celebrate the aversion of a major crisis by having a few drinks. A couple of hours and several drinks later I asked Paco if he thought maybe he should check on the pool. Off he trotted with his straw hat on his head, for added Spanish country man style, to check things out.  A few minutes later he stumbled back a little shame faced. 

“So, was it all ok?” Dolores asked. 

“Fine, fine” lied Paco. 

As they pulled out of the house in the car shortly afterwards, Paco whispered to me to turn the hose off again in a few hours as he had found a paddling pool full of water and had turned the water back on as the pool needed to be topped up again to reach a swimmable level.  Oh dear, a pool girl’s job is never done.