Going back to the UK

Not for good, I hasten to add!

I was last over in the UK in tragic circumstances last October – the trip was to say goodbye to my terminally ill sister, although I never got to see her before she died. Tracy was taken into hospital just a few days before I arrived there, and because of the virus, I wasn’t allowed to go into the hospital to see her.

The pandemic has meant that I was unable to support mum and dad through the toughest time, and I missed Tracy’s memorial service, and could only watch online. But we’re getting through it, and flights started again from Almeria to London a couple of weeks ago – the first in months and months. So, I decided it was time to get over to see Mum and Dad and booked my flights for 12th August. We think this will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to travel, as the experts seem to be warning us already that the winter will be tough again, possibly with restrictions being brought back in. If I don’t go now, I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be.

The requirements at the time of booking were to self isolate on arrival, with PCR tests on day 2 and 8, and the optional test to release on day 5, despite having both Pfizer jabs. I booked the day 5 test as I wanted to be able to visit the grandchildren whilst in the UK, who I haven’t seen now since November 2019. Just four days later the rules changed so that fully vaccinated EU citizens did not have to quarantine – hurrah, I thought. I arranged a refund for the the day 5 and 8 tests, which I will say are still stupidly expensive at £200 for the 3 test package. I will still have to have an antigen test here in Spain within 72 hours of travelling to the UK, which is another €40.

Add on to that the fact that Easyjet have changed their baggage policy, so I’ve had to book hold luggage. What used to cost €60 return is now up to €450 with all the tests – are we starting to see a return to the 70’s when only rich people travelled?

When we moved here we were careful to pick somewhere reasonably close to an airport (40 minutes), and that had flights all year round to both London for me and Birmingham for Roger. Some of the trips we had in the past from Peterborough down to London in the car have actually taken longer than going door to door Almeria to London! We promised family we would be back twice a year to visit.

Then came the ‘will they won’t they put Spain on an amber watchlist’ – which would mean going back to self isolating for ten days, plus tests on day 2, 5 and 8 again. Today we saw some news and it looks like that isn’t going to happen – not this week anyway!

There are currently 1 million Brits on holiday in Spain alone – if Spain went onto the UK’s red list, where would they put everyone when they arrived back in the UK? I can’t see there being 1 million spaces in Government hotels!

Getting back into Spain will be much easier – as I have had both jabs, I just need my proof of that and nothing else – no further tests, no self isolating. Even though there’s no requirement, both of us have always self isolated on return though – we live in a village with an elderly population and so it seemed the right thing to do.

To be honest, neither of us would’ve travelled during the pandemic ‘just for a holiday’ – our trips back have been for terminally ill family and funerals only, and I wouldn’t be traveling now if I thought mum and dad were coping well with losing my sister.

This virus isn’t going away, and I think there has to come a point where we start to learn to live with it. All the way though this we’ve done exactly what we’ve been told and we’ve had the jabs – all on the promise that this is the way to get back to normal.

We used to enjoy traveling – I love airports and find people watching in them absolutely fascinating. Sadly now, it has become an angst ridden experience, and an expensive one at that.

I’m sure though, that being able to hug Mum and Dad, and give those grandchildren the biggest cuddles ever, will make it all worthwhile.

Meditation

I started meditating a few years ago now, and at first I found it excruciating! I just couldn’t get my mind to stop thinking about things – stupid, random stuff. It left me feeling a bit of a failure and very frustrated. How hard could it be to just sit still and think of nothing for a while?

Prior to that, many years ago now, I did do past life regression – not via hypnotherapy, which is the norm, but via a guided meditation. Someone sat with me in the room and guided me via simple instructions and it worked really well. I had an amazing experience, but that’s another blog fir the future!

So this got me thinking that maybe a good way to start would be via guided meditations. There are hundreds, if not thousands, on YouTube. There are so many apps on the App Store and Google play too. So how do you choose which ones to start with, and do guided meditations actually help you to achieve the ultimate goal of this:

It’s harder than it looks to sit still and think of nothing at all, but if you can master it the health and wellbeing benefits are massive.

I think it’s a very personal choice, and a good way to start is to try a couple of different ones. Don’t be tempted to pay, most of them have free versions so you can try them out. The really irritating ones for me are the ones that get you all relaxed and ‘in the zone’ and then make you jump when out of nowhere the voice says ‘don’t worry if you’re still thinking thoughts’ or similar! Well, thanks mate, I was doing really well until you made me jump out of my skin! There are also ones that just play nature sounds or tinkly music – I find these quite good because you can focus your attention on the sounds, which helps to stop your ego from running wild thoughts through your head. And that’s the ultimate aim, to hush the ego that constantly tries to steer you away from living in the present and just being by making you think about the past or the future.

Headspace, Oak and Calm are three of the apps I have used in the past, and found them to work well. It’s useful to have one where you can set a timer otherwise you end up thinking well is that my 10 minutes nearly up yet – how long have I been here???

If you don’t fancy trying a guided meditation, you could try this: sit comfortably in a quiet place and breathe just slightly more deeply and slowly than normal, and be aware of your breath. If your mind wanders, just return your concentration back to your breath again. On every out breath think ‘1’ – you’re not counting upwards, just use the number 1 – this does help to stop your mind wandering.

As well as counting the number 1, you can also recite mantras, silently in your head. Sat nam is one that I use. Sat Nam is a seed mantra, which awakens the chakras. It means ‘I am truth’. As you breathe in, think Sat, and as you breath out think Nam.

Once you get to grips with this you’re ready to move on to the next stage … just concentrate on your breath but don’t think of ‘1’ on each out breath. It’s also good to focus on your third eye – the space between your eyebrows, as this is the area we want to open up and bring alive – if you can, whilst your eyes are closed, turn them upwards to look at your third eye – this might feel a bit odd and uncomfortable at first, but give it a go as it does help to focus the attention.

After that, you’re working towards the breathing happening without being conscious of it, and without thinking about work, family, what you need on the shopping etc! When you get to this stage, this is where the magic happens. Often you will experience images – for me it’s flying through the universe, passing stars, planets and galaxies. This too is where you may start to get messages – for me it was all about living the life that would make me happy. It was a very visual experience, and the hard bit is to just accept these images and messages, but don’t think about them while you’re still meditating – just accept them into your being.

My favourite destination when meditating!

Rog took to meditating like a duck to water, and he too saw that our life could change totally, and that it would be a good move for us. It was almost irritating though how easy he found it!

Having a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed is important – and as long as you’re comfortable, you don’t need any special equipment. You don’t have to contort yourself into the lotus position – you can sit cross legged on the floor, using a cushion if that’s more comfortable, or you could just sit on a chair. Aim to start for five minutes initially and build from there.

The om symbol is recognizable worldwide, although there are variations. Om will help to connect us to the universe, and has a calming effect on the body. It’s a great way to start your meditation.

Chanting OM has both physical and mental effects on us as it calms our mind and calms our nervous system. OM is chanted three times because it symbolises the three worlds of the Soul: the past, the present and the future.

Mudras are hand positions that you can use whilst meditating to enhance your experience. There are so many mudras, so here I will just tell you about some of the most common ones to help you to meditate. Mudras can also bring many health benefits, and there are lots of books available and a ton of information on the internet.

Apana mudra helps to remove toxins that make meditating uncomfortable
Shuni mudra helps with concentration and
Ganesha mudra – hands are interlocked in front of the heart. This brings new opportunities and removes obstacles
A common hand gesture of Buddha, Karana mudra expels negativity from the heart and brings inner peace

There are so many more mudras that you could use, but these are well known and I think they are good for starting out with – shuni will give you the patience to keep trying to meditate and not get frustrated, and we could all do with some inner peace these days!

The techniques that you learn as you start to meditate don’t need to be confined to a particular time each day and nowhere else. If you’re at work and having a difficult day, just closing your eyes for a moment, breathing deeply with your hand in a mudra will really help – escape to the loo if necessary!!

Meditation is a massive subject, and this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If, like me, it becomes life changing, you’ll want to read more, learn more, and master the art (which I am still far from doing!). Most of all, enjoy it – it’s your time to look after yourself, and the better you are, the more you will have a positive effect on those around you too – it could just spread like the best pandemic ever!

Buying into the model

When we’re young and at school, we’re taught different subjects based on ‘the model’ – the accepted right answers. When we look at a subject, such as history, it’s often influenced by personal opinions and we all know that different countries report on history differently! We have to agree to learn these influenced facts, or fail our exams!

And that’s pretty much how we’re taught to live too – do well at school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, buy a bigger house, and so on. That’s what you do to be accepted by society.

People who don’t follow this accepted model are considered oddballs and crazies. Television programmes are even made about some of them! We used to love watching these for inspiration about how we were going to escape!

If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown, it’s that the accepted life model isn’t so great in a crisis! People losing their jobs, cooped up in their houses that they can no longer afford, feeling trapped with people (their families) that they only usually only spend a few hours a day with. Mental health issues through the roof, businesses closing left right and center, and a whole generation of children who will be told how they will be affected for life by this (which means of course that they will be – because they are growing up in the ‘model’ and most will blindly do or be what is expected of them!).

Maybe we should start trying to free our minds from ‘the model’ – create a life that YOU want to live. You may have to live with being ridiculed by those who still buy into the model, but hey, you get used to it!

When we started to meditate, strange things happened in our lives – marvellous and strange! If we’re just biological creatures, why do we have a consciousness? What would be the purpose of that? Yet the model for modern society makes no allowances for us being conscious beings! That’s not part of the plan!

If you could break free from your current life completely, would you? What’s stopping you? Maybe you don’t want to break free, but make some smaller changes. Why don’t you? Are you worried what people might think if you announce that you no longer buy into the model? Or maybe you feel like I did before I started meditating – you’re desperately unhappy but simply don’t know what to do about it?

My personal opinion is that we should be happy, and what determines happiness is different for everyone. So rather than buying into an accepted lifestyle that everyone thinks you should be happy with, go and carve that life for yourself. You won’t regret it.

My next blog will be about meditation (give me a week or so!) – as there are so many different methods, apps for phones, guided meditation, music etc etc so I’d like to give some hints and tips about getting started and finding a way that works for you – what struggles you might have, and what benefits it will bring.

As we say goodbye to 2020…

Now it would be terribly easy to say ‘thank goodness 2020 is over’ but I prefer to look for the good in everything, and think about what we have learned from this terribly challenging year …

Appreciate everyone and everything.

Accept that life constantly changes. Whatever is happening around us, make the best of it and find joy somewhere instead of dwelling on the gloom.

Realise that it’s not material possessions that make you happy – it’s people – friends and family.

Don’t take your freedom or your very existence for granted.

Be happy.

Stop thinking about the past or worrying about the future – learn to live in the present.We all know we’re not out of the woods yet with this pandemic – time to pull up our big girl pants and take each day as it comes.

For those people who have lost their jobs, homes or businesses during the year we send our heartfelt best wishes for a better year for you, and to those who have lost loved ones, we just send our hearts.

So as the clock counts down Roger and I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2021.

Feliz Navidad! Happy Christmas!

After a challenging and difficult year for pretty much the whole world, it’s time to put aside all the troubles, to be grateful for everything we have, and maybe eat a little more cake than we would normally eat!

From Luna, Atila the Hen, Balti, Stumpy, Daphne, Maureen the Great, and of course us, have a wonderful, peaceful and safe Christmas!

Being here alone …

Rog had a week away back in the UK in September of last year, and I was just a little nervous about being here on my own then. Well, I wasn’t nervous until everyone kept saying to me ‘will you be ok on your own there??’ and ‘what if you need help’ – after hearing these things from half a dozen people only then did I get spooked! But it was absolutely fine, of course!

He was due to visit the UK again in May this year, but obviously that trip got cancelled. I dropped Rog off at the coach station in Almeria yesterday morning so he could go back for his Mums funeral, and I’m here on my tod for just the second time.

It’s amazing the difference a year makes though – we’ve now got Luna and the chickens, so I really don’t feel alone at all. Although, Rog has only been gone two days and I’m already talking to the chickens probably more than is healthy!! We are having to play referee with the new hens vs the old hens as they’re still sorting out their pecking order, so there’s a bit of squabbling and feather pulling going on. But it’s quite comforting hearing Luna trot up and down the stairs outside the house, chasing everything in sight! She is missing Rog quite a bit – she even came and sat with me in the house for a couple of hours tonight! I’m certainly busier than when I was on my own last time! That’s the nice thing about here, there’s always something that needs doing – no chance of getting bored!

Rog and I are both the kind of people who don’t mind being on our own now and again – even when we’re here together we don’t mind companionable silences and rarely feel the need for inane chatter. Day to day we’re not in each other’s pockets all day – we’ll be off doing various jobs around the place, and we meet up in the kitchen for a cuppa during the day!

Each of us is capable of doing the day to day stuff here – sorting the composting loo, checking and changing water filters, looking after the animals – but there are definitely some things that I would avoid doing here on my own – no wood chipping, no using the chainsaw (well I don’t even do that when Rog is here – I’m terrified of the thing!), no rotavating etc – you know, the stuff where you can chop a limb off! Rog did cut me some firewood before he went, and if I need more while he’s gone I’ll just be using an ordinary hand saw!

When we’re both here I tend to do the cooking while Rog sorts out the heavier, more dirty jobs outside. When I’m away he cooks for himself every night, but when I’m here on my own I find it really hard to be bothered to cook just for me – I’ll warm some soup up or have some toast. I’m going to make a concerted effort this time to be bothered though!

I’ve also done a ‘to do’ list of jobs I want to get done – things like wash the curtains, clear out the cupboards, re-stock and sort our food in the bodega etc. And, of course, get ready for Xmas – which takes far less time now than ever before in my life! I now tend to shop online in the UK and have the pressies delivered directly to the family, either getting stuff gift wrapped by the store, or in the case of the grandkids, sending the pressies to Matt and Holly along with a supply of wrapping paper and they wrap them all up for me! The Christmas shopping was all completed weeks ago to make sure everything arrived in time!

Rog is due back on Wednesday 23rd – we’re a little nervous as he has to produce a negative PCR test to get back into Spain – he’ll be giving everyone a wide berth at the funeral, and the rest of the time he’ll just be in the hotel. If he can’t board that plane on the 23rd then the next flight home is the 27th – so there could be me, the six chickens and Luna sitting around the Christmas dinner table!

I think a little time on your own now and again is very healthy, and it really makes you appreciate each other when you are together again. I have to say though that after hearing Boris Johnson today I’m a bit more anxious about Rog getting home and have everything crossed that it all turns out ok. No point worrying about it though, that certainly wouldn’t change anything. I think the grand plan for when he gets back is to just hide ourselves away here for as long as possible! Sounds like a good plan to me!

Different ways to learn a new language

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges we faced moving here was learning Spanish. As you get older it does become more difficult to learn something totally new, but it’s slightly easier living here as it’s something we need to do rather than just want to do for fun. You can turn that bit of pressure into motivation!

We were those people who always tried to learn at least a few phrases for when we travelled – even when we went to Sweden! It might’ve only been hello and thank you, but it always goes a long way with the locals. I have to say, Swedish makes spanish look very easy! It annoys me intensely when you hear Brits who live here who don’t even try to learn Spanish.

We have been using a variety of methods for learning Spanish – apps on our phones, phrase books and text books, and just getting out there and speaking to people. And we’ve just added a new one by joining the local library.

I don’t think there’s any one single method that will teach you what you need to know – a multi pronged approach seems to work best.

We have tried various apps, and the best free one is definitely Duolingo in my opinion. I also used one called Drops – literally teaches you vocabulary, just single words, but very useful. Duolingo gets you speaking, writing in your chosen language, and translating written sentences back into English. I spend 15-30 minutes a day doing lessons on this – and it does say ‘15 minutes a day on Duolingo teaches you a new language – what does 15 minutes a day on social media teach you’ – a very good point!

The hardest thing to learn for me has been the verb tables – I’ve had to revisit English grammar again in order to understand what the book is trying to teach me! (And obviously this revision has also been necessary for teaching English to my Asian students!). Having left school 34 years ago, I had forgotten an awful lot of English grammar – a year ago I was like what the hell is a gerund??? (Verb form ending in -ing in case you were wondering!)

So, once you have the basics then it’s time to get out there and talk to people – Rog and I work pretty well together – he understands what people are saying better than I do, and I’m a bit more confident when it comes to talking (well no change there then!!). A combination of arm waving, funny noises, acting and speaking seems to work well for us – but just sometimes you find that you just can’t get what someone is saying – not a word. It’s very frustrating, but only motivates you to learn more as quickly as possible. There are still times, like if we have a doctors appointment, which are currently all done over the phone, that we do some homework beforehand to prepare – speaking in the phone is the single most difficult thing to do when you’re learning a language.

Our progress has slowed this year, mainly due to the pandemic – the visits to the cafe once or twice a week teach us so much and we do miss going there. Our cafe had to close again several weeks ago, and we’re currently back under orders to stay in our houses – we have been hit much harder by the virus the second time around.

Still, we’re not going anywhere, and I’m sure if we keep doing a little every day we will eventually be able to say with confidence that we’re fluent Spanish speakers!

You’re never too old to learn something new, so even if you just want to learn a little bit of a new language for going on holiday, I would say go for it! Its easier than ever to access courses, apps etc online, and it’s quite good fun!

A very untraditional Christmas

I think it’s fair to say that most people will have an unusual Christmas this year, with family bubbles, face masks and a lack of social events. I saw some advice that says you should sit Granny and Grandad at one end of the table near an open window – great, so they can die of hypothermia instead of covid!

In the past, we were definitely upholders of the spirit of Christmas. We never had much money, but Christmas was always a busy time, with lots of family, a huge tree and turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas Day.

Last Christmas was our first one on the finca, and it did feel very different – no family here, not a turkey to be seen anywhere (lamb is the traditional Christmas dinner here but we ended up with roast beef) and not enough room in the house for a tree. But we enjoyed it nonetheless – we didn’t feel particularly ‘christmassy’ despite playing all the old Christmas music – sitting on the roof terrace in a t-shirt in 24 degrees just somehow made it all feel a bit wrong!

We did go into the village for the unveiling of the belen (the nativity scene) and joined in with the locals having some rather strong bright green alcohol and some traditional Spanish sweets though. New Year was fun last year – it’s traditional to meet up outside the town hall and eat a grape on each bong at midnight!

This year will be different again – I doubt there will be any form of socialising in the village, no family will be here, and of course, now we don’t eat meat I’m looking at all sorts of vegan recipes to try and still do something a bit special (mushroom Wellington is top of the list at the moment!). We have bought a small tree this year – I think we have got used to the size of the house, we sort of fit into it a bit better now after 18 months!

Christmas, like life, is what you make it. Knowing that your family are safe and well, even if they’re not with you, would seem to be the most important thing to me. It will be an odd one, but let’s hope that Xmas 2021 will feel more normal, and maybe this year’s muted celebrations will make people feel even more thankful for a more traditional Christmas next year!

Make the most of every day …

If you have a dream, do it. Make it happen. Never regret things that have happened in the past – you can’t change the past, but you can change now. I’ve talked before about the importance of living in the present and living your dreams, but the events of this year have brought this home to me so clearly.

In March, I woke up one Saturday morning to an email from my sister, which read ‘now don’t panic, but I’m in hospital and I’ve got a brain tumour’. A week later, I arrived in the UK and sat waiting with my son and my parents while Tracy was at the hospital getting her full diagnosis. It was the worst possible news – the most aggressive tumour you can get, and there was no cure. The tumour had gone into her frontal lobe, so they wouldn’t be able to remove it all. They did operate two days later to remove what they could to give her some time – without that operation she would’ve had less than a month.

‘No shiny eyes’ is all she kept saying to us all.

Just days after her op, Spain went into lockdown and I had to fly back or be stuck in the UK – she told me to get home while I could. It has been difficult being in Spain while my family have been going through this back in the UK. I did what I could to help from here, and thanks to modern technology, was able to video call Tracy regularly. Covid has made the whole thing even harder for all the family.

She went through radiotherapy and round after round of chemo. I went back in October, knowing it would be the last time I would see her – she had decided not to have any more chemo at the end of September. Heartbreakingly, just 4 days before I arrived back she was taken very ill and went into hospital, and no visitors were allowed because of covid. From the hospital she was moved into a nursing home and was there for her final few weeks, and this week she passed away, aged just 55.

None of us know when it will be our time. Don’t end up lying on your deathbed thinking ‘I wish I’d …’ . This is the sort of thing that you don’t ever think will happen to you or your family – it’s something that tragically happens to other people – well, I know now that’s not true.

My beautiful sister

Don’t waste a single day …

Here we all go again …

Spain has done pretty well this year making the lockdown instructions clear and easy to follow. The lockdown here in the Spring was called draconian by many other European countries, but we all knew what you could and couldn’t do, and it seemed to be effective. Restrictions started to ease at the end of June, and it’s been pretty easy over the summer to move around and do what you need to do.

But now, like many other European countries, new restrictions have been imposed over the last month, and they are getting tighter and more strict by the week. A new state of alarm was announced a couple of weeks ago that will be in place until next May, which gives regions the power to close down borders around and within their regions. Where areas have been hit hard, such as Granada, Seville and Jaén in Andalucía, they are pretty much in total lockdown. This seems to be similar to the tiered system that was in place in the UK until last week, when the full lockdown was again announced.

From tomorrow we are going back into a new type of lockdown – we are restricted to our own towns and villages for the next three weeks. It’s better than having to stay in our homes like before, but obviously, living in a tiny village as we do, there aren’t many shops and services here – we can get the basics that we need though. People can still travel around for work or education purposes, but the hope is that by restricting unnecessary journeys it will slow the spread of the virus.

We’ve been under a nighttime curfew for the last few weeks, and this is being extended by several hours now each night, which doesn’t affect us at all. Bars can still open, but have to close at 6pm now. It’s hopefully a good compromise that will slow the virus whilst maintaining the economy to a degree – fingers crossed it works and we don’t end up back in a full ‘stay at home’ lockdown…. time will tell.

Ten Top Tips – save money, help the planet and help yourself!

With so many people losing their jobs, or having been furloughed on 80% of their normal pay, I thought it would be handy to share some tips and ideas that will not only save you money, but are also more environmentally friendly ….

1. Cleaning – use vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda – these three items will clean everything! When I mop the floor I use a couple of capfuls of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice (from a real lemon, not a plastic one!) and a few drops of essential oil – sparkling floors that smell delicious! For stubborn dirt in the kitchen or bathroom add a little bicarbonate to the worktop then use vinegar and / or lemon on top – let it bubble and fizz for a few minutes then wipe away! Just a word of caution – if you have plastic / resin sinks and baths don’t use the bicarbonate as it could leave scratches! Obviously don’t use on wood – there’s a quick easy recipe for furniture polish on my recipes tips and ideas page! Keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 vinegar water mix in the bathroom so you’re not mixing it up each time.

2. Moisturiser – forget £20+ bottles of stuff that promise everything! Buy an Aloe Vera plant (or two!) and you will have a lifetime supply of gel for moisturising, for cuts and stings and for sunburn! You can scrape the gel out from inside the leaf and add a vitamin e capsule, pop it in a jar and it will keep in the fridge.

3. Save on electricity and gas bills – we have become much more aware of the energy we use here – I’ve talked about this in other posts – a few simple things like turning off the WiFi when you’re not at home or in bed, not leaving stuff on standby, will all make a difference. Look after the pennies …

4. Food – have something to eat before you go shopping – it’s proven that we’ll buy more if we’re hungry when we go shopping. Stop buying branded goods – I used to be a terrible snob about supermarket brands – more fool me! Try to swap 5 items – if 4 are great but you hate the 5th, then buy that brand for that one item, you’ll still save money on the other 4! Then choose another 5 …

5. Vegetables – look for special offers and buy seasonal veg, which will be cheaper. If there’s a fantastic offer on green beans, for example – buy extra. Blanche and freeze what you don’t need now. We’ve all got to used to eating things like strawberries and tomatoes all year round – buy them when they’re cheap and preserve some for later in the year when they’re more expensive! Find a weekend market instead of buying from the supermarket, or better still, grow some veg in the garden!

6. Meat – a slight reduction in meat in your diet can save you £££’s! Up the veg and a little less meat – good for you and good for your wallet! Buy cheaper cuts of meat and add more seasoning / herbs / spices to turn a cheap cut into a fantastic meal!

7. Hair conditioner – use diluted apple cider vinegar a couple of times a week after washing instead of conditioner – works a treat and costs peanuts!

8. The garden – need compost? Stop buying it and make your own. Have a bin in the house where food scraps go, add them to your compost pile – you don’t need much space and there’s loads of different ways to manage a compost pile (see You Tube!). If you don’t want a compost pile you can bury the scraps straight into the ground!

9. Gifts for Xmas and birthdays – I think most people will be having a lean year this year, but why not use it as an opportunity to make gifts? A bit of knitting or crochet, make some chutney or fudge, whittle some wood 😂 – whatever you can do!

10. Ok, so this one is from Rog! ‘Don’t throw anything away, it might come in handy!’ For example, I had nowhere in the kitchen for my pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pan rack out of pallets and fencing that were just lying around. We’ve used old pipe and pallets to make raised beds, old ibc’s for the chicken coop … the list goes on! Rog loves a challenge so when I say we could do with something, he’s off, rummaging about that see what he can find!

And a bonus tip – if you have sky, virgin or similar for TV, look at what you actually watch! Do you need all those channels or do you end up watching BBC1, ITV etc but just through Sky? Could you swap to a different sort of subscription (or even just call them and haggle a better deal – be prepared to get to the point where you tell them to cancel your subscription!), change to something cheaper like Netflix- do you have Amazon prime but never make use of Prime TV? Better still, watch less TV and do something more useful instead!

I have been amazed at how wasteful we used to be and how easy it has been to spend less money, live a healthier life, and reduce our carbon footprint!

Something like ‘normal’ …

I’m not quite sure why, but I just can’t stand the phrase ‘the new normal’ – I think it’s because I really liked the ‘old normal’ and the thought of wearing these face masks every time we go out, and not being able to hug friends etc for the foreseeable future doesn’t bear thinking about for me.

But … our cafe in the village opened yesterday and so we lost a few hours there today catching up with friends! And it was lovely. The village market was back on today with stalls the length of the high street (well the only real street!) and there were people milling about, sitting on benches in the sunshine and chatting – it almost feels like Illar again! Driving through the village during lockdown was eerie – not a soul in sight and none of the old fellas sitting around chewing the fat – I couldn’t be happier that that is over with (for now at least).

I know, it’s not exactly a throng in the picture!

Easing of lockdown restrictions in Spain

Spain went into lockdown back in March just before the UK and I was lucky to get the last flight back into Almeria from the UK – if I hadn’t come back early I would still be in the UK now, over two months later!

The lockdown here was one of the most restrictive across Europe. Two thirds of Spaniards live in flats and spent that first 6 weeks unable to leave their flats unless they were shopping for essential items. Children weren’t allowed to go out at all (unless they had to go out with their parent where no one else could care for the child). No daily exercise was permitted and only one person could be in a car to go out for essential items. Pretty hardcore stuff. Those that thought we were mad for living out in the campo were suddenly a bit jealous as we still had our freedom out here, and daily life wasn’t too different for us.

A couple of weeks ago we transitioned into the start of an easing of these restrictions, and last Monday we went into the second phase.

Just to make things confusing, the first stage was phase 0 and the second stage is phase 1 😂. Some places, such as Madrid, didn’t meet the criteria to move to phase 1, so they’re in phase 0.5 😂 It’s nigh on impossible to know what you can and can’t do! Luckily, Almeria has been pretty good – not too many cases compared with elsewhere in Spain, so the move to the next phase was never going to be an issue here.

We still can’t leave the province (not that we need to!) and there are still no flights out of Almeria – really hoping I can get back to see my poorly sister soon, although with two weeks quarantine both ways it would hardly be worth it, as I wouldn’t be allowed to see the family in that time. With my sister being so ill, she can’t have any visitors in case she gets the virus – mum and dad go over and wave to her through the window – brain cancer at any time is devastating, but this pandemic has made it even harder for everyone in the family. It would be good to see her again though, and to support mum and dad.

But, last Wednesday did see us going food shopping together for the first time since March! It was quite an event!

Cafes are allowed to open again, but customers can only use the outdoor terrace and with a maximum capacity of 50%. There are stringent hygiene requirements too and twice daily disinfecting of the premises, which has meant that lots of cafes have chosen to stay closed, fearful of getting it wrong, including our one in the village. But we did stop at a different cafe whilst out shopping – there wasn’t a whole load of social distancing going on, but we didn’t mind – it was lovely to see people out laughing and kids running around again.

A few more shops were open so we were able to get some bits – only shops that are less than 400 sqm can open, and the number of people in there at any one time is limited, but it’s a step forward.

So fingers crossed we’re in the road back to a more sociable life with the freedom to travel again …