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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Around 5pm on Sunday afternoon I decided to break free from the keyboard, take advantage of the warm sunshine and head out from home for a walk.

My circuit took me through the banana plantations, along the headland, across a ravine and back along a quiet, palm tree lined road until I reached the junction with the main road. Reluctant to end my idyllic rural walk with a hundred metres of busy tarmac, I opted instead to divert through the tiny hamlet of Los Rechazos which lies hidden behind the main road.

Presumably before they built the ‘new’ road, this would have been the main thoroughfare. Barely wide enough for a single vehicle to drive down, tiny cottages with Hobbit-height front doors donate most of what little pavement lies outside to window boxes and planters filled with tumbling geranuims.

Rounding a bend in the lane, I spotted a gathering ahead. Four small, dilapidated tables teetered single file on the pavement with a chair either end, on which eight elderly people were sitting, marking off numbers on bingo cards. Some were using paper cut-outs to cover the numbers, others were using assorted old buttons, and the ‘cards’ were dirty old paper ones which looked as if they’d been handmade many years ago. On the other side of the street, about two yards away, two women were sitting. One held a cloth bag which she shook continuously while the other reached in, pulled out what looked like a child’s building brick, and shouted the number across the street.

I walked quietly past the intently concentrating faces and smiled to myself. So this is what passes for nightlife in Los Rechazos? Street bingo – I can see it catching on.

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Sometimes, the depth of my own stupidity confounds and amazes me and it’s little compensation that on this occasion, Jack is equally guilty of being thick … or is it just astoundingly naïve?

Those who know me will be aware that I have long yearned for the pruning of the thirty foot avocado tree that dominates our garden shedding seeds that reach ankle depth every spring and creating a state of perpetual autumn and shade.

At the end of November 2010, a storm brought down a branch onto the roof of the house. The damage was negligible, just some broken roof tiles, but the warning was enough to convince me that it was time to take the threat of the tree seriously. So when, just before Christmas, a couple of guys who were cutting back trees on the golf course asked us if we would like them to tackle the avocado tree, we naturally jumped at the chance. I explained that we have a hungry wood burning stove and a rapidly diminishing wood supply and the guys said they would cut the wood into logs for me as part of the job.

From this....

Fast forward to two weeks ago when the presupuesto (estimate) for doing the job finally arrived. We felt it was a very fair price for the work involved and agreed that work could begin last Monday morning. Jack and I cleared all the breakables from the garden on Sunday, set the alarm clock for pre-light and waited for our team of arboriculturalists to arrive. Monday was a no-show, as was Tuesday and we feared that the endemic Tenerife work ethic of ‘I can’t be arsed’ had reared it’s ugly head to scupper us.

But on Wednesday, at the crack of 9am, our two valiant wood cutters arrived, armed to the teeth with ladders and chainsaws and began to peruse the job in hand. By 1.30pm, not a single branch had been cut and two more workers had arrived to join the discussions. By the time the chainsaw gang clocked off at around 6pm, we could already discern sunlight where there had been none before and a small pile of cuttings had begun to appear at the bottom of the garden where we’d cleared space for them.

The next morning the gang of what was now five workers arrived bright and early and the chainsaws began in earnest. Jack and I fought back the urge to stand and gawp as branches began to rain down just feet from the house. Instead we got on with our work. We were due to go south that afternoon to stay the night at the Hotel Jardín Tropical and complete a review for Tenerife Magazine.  At the point we left, a good fifty percent of the tree had been cut, the garden was completely buried in cut branches and there were two piles of logs on the go, one at the back of the garden and another at the side.

We returned the following afternoon to find that the tree had been cut to the agreed height. Sunlight flooded the garden and the branches and debris had largely been removed leaving a whole mess of sawdust and leaves across the garden. Now returned to our original workforce of two, they laughed and chatted about the fact that we could now put a swimming pool on the lawn and a barbecue on the raised patio and that the house would now be considerably warmer in winter.

On the lawn – and this is the part where our inexplicable stupidity comes to the fore – were the same two piles of logs that had been there when we left.

The drastically pruned tree

 

We were tired and had just a two hour turnaround in which to catch up with some work before we were due to go back out to meet friends in Puerto. We could hear the clean up operation in full swing and stayed out of the way, until I noticed wheelbarrows full of logs being pushed down the garden path. On enquiring where they were going we got a long and desperate explanation about the job being bigger and more dangerous than at first anticipated and that extra workers had had to be drafted in, with promises of payment in wood being made.

We could see what an amazing job they’d done and that they had in fact used five people to do it so we agreed that they could take the pile of logs at the side as long as they gave us some more of them first. Amidst much huffing and puffing, they agreed and reluctantly sent some logs flying onto our pile at the back of the garden. Finally, the job was done and we were due to leave so we paid them in cash, along with a little bonus and a dozen bottles of beer for a job well done.

It wasn’t until we spoke to our neighbour on our way out and she told us that a lorry stacked high with logs had left from our garden the night before, that we realised what had happened.
Arriving back after dark on Friday, we had to wait for daylight before we could examine the garden properly. When we did, we found that our pile consisted mainly of cuts of wood that would struggle to keep a barbecue alive over a summer, hidden beneath a few slightly bigger, kindling sized branch cuts, and the dozen or so decent sized logs that we had insisted they put back. The whole of the rest of the 100 year old, thirty foot avocado tree had vanished without trace leaving us with a garden full of sun, and no wood.

Our wood pile - less than 10% of the tree's yield

 

It’s hard to know which emotion takes centre stage – anger, resentment, stupidity, naivety or just plain astonishment that we could let someone steal a giant avocado tree from the garden and we gave them a bonus and beer as they’d made such a clean job of it.

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As a Canary Islands resident, using the local airline to island hop between Tenerife and its neighbours is an easy, convenient, time saving and economical way to travel.

With flights lasting 30 to 45 minutes, there’s barely time in between take off and landing for the flight attendants to make one swift traverse of the aisle, so by way of an in-flight service passengers are treated to a plastic cup of water and a Binter Canarias chocolate wafer biscuit. I don’t claim to be a biscuit aficionado, but these are something special.

A few weeks ago we had arranged a flying (literal and metaphorical) trip to La Palma with good friends Linda and Robert and we arrived at the Tenerife North Airport for the 6.30pm flight to be met with the knowledge that flights were being delayed and cancelled due to a storm which was in full flow across the Canary Islands.
The two flights before ours were cancelled but amazingly, we were called to gate, boarded and took off just a half hour behind schedule.

The airline operates with a fleet of ATR-72 airlines which can take off and land from short runways but which are not very good at smoothing out air pockets. That Wednesday night as we headed off over the Atlantic Ocean, the plane was buffeting and rocking us around like the crew of early Star Trek episodes on the bridge during a battle scene.
As the contents of my stomach began to feel as if they may make a break for freedom at any moment and the rain lashed the windows from the storm, an announcement came over the public address system that, due to turbulence, the in-flight service would not be available on our flight.

Twenty minutes later we could feel the aircraft descending and the buffeting increased significantly. I looked around at my fellow passengers. Some were chatting to their neighbours as if this was the most normal flight they had ever been on, others had their heads in their hands, and the lady directly across the aisle from me had her eyes closed, Rosary Beads threaded through her fingers and was silently mouthing a prayer.
I felt surprisingly calm and accepting of what was increasingly looking like my final few minutes of life and I smiled an apologetic smile at Linda for being inadvertently instrumental in her and Robert’s demise. No words passed between any of us.

Then we began to climb again and the pilot informed us that we were returning to Tenerife as conditions for landing on La Palma were too difficult.
It’s hard to say whether my disappointment was more for the fact that our planned break was being swallowed by the storm or that we now faced a further 30 minute flight back to Tenerife at the mercy of the gods.
And just to add insult to injury, I hadn’t even had my biscuit.

When the wheels finally touched down back at Tenerife we re-arranged our flight for the following morning in the hopes that the storm would have abated by then. It did not.
We started to board at 7.10 am the following morning while the rain bounced off the runway and when we finally took off, it was to a near repeat of the previous night’s flight. We rocked and buffeted our way across the Atlantic while the fasten seat belts sign remained resolutely illuminated and the Binter biscuit was nowhere to be seen.

Thirty minutes later we landed at La Palma airport where the rain had stopped and a clear sunrise was taxiing behind us on the runway. The relief at once more being on terra firma where the sun was shining was as palpable as a cream cake onto which the flight attendant placed a cherry, or should I say a chocolate biscuit, as we left the aircraft.
Fitting reward for still being alive I felt.

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Friday was our seventh anniversary of moving to Tenerife and it’s ironic that having spent so many years trying to make enough money just to continue living here, we didn’t have time to celebrate it until Saturday night because we’ve been so busy.

But celebrate it we did and several glasses after the cork left the cava, thoughts and conversation turned to reflecting on how the working environment here is so different from the one we knew in the UK.

Here, life has a way of simply getting under foot and you constantly have to try to find a way around it. Partly that’s due to the working from home factor; without a shiny, fully equipped office in which to sit, you’re vulnerable to all sorts of interruptions but also, it’s about rural living on a small island in the Atlantic.

Take Friday for example. Having been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the past three weeks to achieve a deadline, I was trying to upload the last couple of hours of work when a friend arrived with two dogs that we’ve agreed to look after for a mutual friend who’s currently recuperating from illness. We’re totally unprepared for dogs here at Casa Montgomery, but having a network of people on whom you can rely is an essential part of living in a rural community. So I abandoned the keyboard, popped the kettle on and greeted our canine house guests and their chauffeur.

 

The latest (temporary!) additions to the household

 

We sat on the tatty garden chairs around the old pine table on the terrace and as we chatted we watched the fat, shiny leaves of the banana plants on the next door plantation wafting in the gentle breeze as if operated by invisible punkah wallahs. Conversation ebbed and flowed between corruption in local politics and the likelihood of acquiring a 30 foot ladder on which to tackle the avocado tree in the garden which has grown to such proportions that it’s now a landmark feature on Google Earth.

Earlier in the day we’d had to visit the Correos (post office) to despatch the last of the week’s orders for Island Drives. We can’t just put a stamp on the guides and pop them into the post box because the Correos operate a weigh and frank system, and two of us have to go because road works have annihilated all the parking in the area and double or triple parking is the only option; so someone has to stay with the car to move it when necessary. On Friday there were 43 people ahead of Jack and a whole hour was donated to the Spanish postal system.

Sitting on the terrace and mentally fretting about my rapidly approaching deadline, I couldn’t help wondering if the folks who would read my Tenerife Expert and Tenerife Insider opinions would have any idea what life out here is really like. I guessed probably not.

 

The megalomaniacal avocado tree

 

It’s been an amazing seven years and a journey that has at times lifted us to new heights and at other times dropped us on our heads. Just 18 months ago we faced the harsh reality that we had just three solvent months left after which we’d have to put the house on the market and leave the island. Today we’re so busy with financially and creatively rewarding projects that we’re struggling to keep the plates spinning… and we’re loving every minute of it.
Last night we realised that it’s almost one year to the day since we sat on this terrace with our friends and colleagues on a red hot day and floated the idea of setting up an online lifestyle magazine. One year later Tenerife Magazine gets 11,500 visits a month, has almost 2,000 fans on Facebook and we’re making expansion plans.

Seven years on Tenerife and the only thing that has remained constant is the inconsistency of living here…and our love of its lifestyle.
We can never relax or become complacent and boredom is a foreign land for which we don’t own passports.
I wonder what the next 12 months hold.

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The largest British ex-pat population on Tenerife lives in and around the south of the island, predominantly around the Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Costa Adeje areas. So being involved in English language business, regular trips south are an occupational necessity.
Last Thursday was one of our ‘down south’ days when we leave our home in Puerto de la Cruz and spend the day in the south trying to fit all the things we have to do into one day.

Lunch consisted of a sandwich while sitting on a bench overlooking the beach in Los Cristianos in between getting photos of restaurants for a customer and a lengthy meeting of Tenerife Magazine in the afternoon.
Then it was more restaurant photos, a quickly bolted down pizza and up to El Faro Chill Art in Fañabe for a 7.30 pm launch of Tenerife’s new radio station, Pirate FM.

The stylish roof terrace of El Faro Chill Art

Climbing the stairs to the chic roof terrace of El Faro, complimentary champagne flute in hand, I looked around at the gathering. I had heard that the event was operating a black and white dress code to complement the pirate theme and so I had chosen to wear white pants and a black T shirt, but there any similarity to the way the assorted female guests looked ended.
Hair was perfectly in place, lips were painted, eyes were freshly and liberally made up, outfits were glamorous and heels were sexy and high.
I, on the other hand, had left home over 8 hours before, during which time my hair hadn’t seen a comb; any pretence of mascara had long since melted into submission; my T shirt had lost its freshly clinging appeal to be replaced by a sadly hanging one and I was wearing flip flops.

At one point Jack took a photo of me sandwiched on one side by the über-attractive Head of Sales and Marketing for Pirate FM – Clare Harper – and on the other by the freshly showered and changed, dapper-looking John Beckley. Even as the lens pointed towards us I could feel my body shrinking in anguish, a clear premonition of the contrast between Clare and I asserting itself firmly into my brain.

Spot the "Oh no! I'm not even wearing lipstick!" expression.

Sipping a first class red wine with Eric Clapton’s Some day After A While spilling its Blues magic over the stylish surroundings of the roof terrace, I gazed out over the lights of Puerto Colón and Fañabe and then back at the perfumed, glamorous gathering. I remembered vividly how I used to look when I attended similar functions in Britain. My job dictated that I regularly attended gala dinners and glamorous functions and I always looked fabulous; full make up, perfect hair, high heels and sexy clothes. I thought about what vast sums of money I would now be earning had I stayed in Britain and what beautiful outfit I’d be wearing and how I’d look, and for a little while, I wondered if I regretted giving all of that up.

But then I realised that it wasn’t really the lifestyle I missed, it was my youth, and no matter how much make-up I wore or if I traded my flip flops for some killer heels, my youth would still be behind me.
But how much better for it to have been lost in our house beside the banana plantation, in a culture where ageism doesn’t exist and an occupation where I’m judged not by my looks, but by my words.

On the other hand, I wish I’d put some lipstick on…

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There was clearly some sort of high security risk, low profile event going on at the Magma Congress Centre in Playa de Las Américas yesterday.
Jack and I were driving around Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Costa Adeje, visiting stockists and getting photographs for various projects we’re involved in and had noticed a pretty serious police presence around the place.
At one point, we could see on the other side of the road that a heavily armed police squad had set up a road block and were slowly threading vehicles through it. We made a mental note not to go that way.

The morning wore on into the afternoon and we had one more stop to make before heading off to Gran Sur to watch the English language movie.

We parked in a restricted zone outside the ferretería, next door to the Monte Christo restaurant and I stayed with the car; ready to move it at the first sign of a traffic cop, while Jack went into the restaurant to get some photos.
After 15 minutes or so, I saw a black police van stop at the pedestrian crossing right behind me to let some very attractive Lara Croft look-a-like cross the road. The police sat with grins on their faces as Lara’s tits and bum sashayed across the road and I thought no more of it.
Then the police van pulled level just ahead of me and stopped.

I froze for a moment until I saw the reverse lights go on; then I was out of the passenger door in a split second and heading towards the driver door to move the car. Just then, Jack emerged from the restaurant and I said “Err, just in time. I think we should move…like now!”

Jack got into the driver’s seat as three machine gun-armed officers stepped out of the back of the van and, muttering something about “el Punto” (which I naturally took to be Cindy – our Fiat Punto) surrounded the car. One positioned himself at the driver’s open window, one at my window and one behind us.
At this point, I was thinking how very differently the police in the south dealt with parking in no-parking zones. In Puerto they completely ignore you. Here, they appeared to be about to drag us out of the car and machine gun us in broad daylight.
Considering what was going through our minds, Jack and I remained remarkably calm as we put our seat belts on and Jack started the engine. Then the police van reversed very slowly to within a centimetre of our wing mirror and stopped, dead parallel.

With not a single word or a glance towards the police or each other, Jack inched the car forward until we were clear of the van, then he slowly pulled out and we drove away.
It was quite the coolest thing I’ve seen him do in a long time and very Jason Bourne.

Somewhat shaken by the whole incident, we drove to Gran Sur where, appropriately enough, we watched the Paul Greengrass directed, Matt Damon thriller; ‘The Green Zone’.

I have no idea what was going on down there yesterday and with the benefit of hindsight, we figured the police were going to use our car as part of their road block.
But I’ll tell you this…that’s the last time we’ll park in a restricted zone in Costa Adeje!

When you rent a car on Tenerife, you need to be aware of the dos and don’ts of parking.

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There’s a wonderful scene in Master and Commander where Captain Aubrey (Russell Crowe) asks Doctor Maturin (Paul Bettany) which of two biscuit weevils he would chose to survive were he to illustrate Darwin’s theory. After much deliberation, the Doctor chooses the weevil that looks slightly bigger and stronger than the other. Aubrey tells him that clearly his choice is incorrect as one is taught in Naval matters always to choose the lesser of two weevils (lesser of two evils – get it?).
Well Aubrey would do well on Tenerife where that’s precisely the criteria by which most decisions are made.

My life is a constant battle between two diametrically opposed forces. On the one hand I am forced to be as productive as is humanly possible in order to generate enough income to continue to live and work on Tenerife. The opposing force is my Internet signal. I have what is possibly the weakest router ever produced and if someone in Puerto switches a light on, my four green lights turn to red.

T S Eliot wrote: “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons”, well I have measured mine out in green lights.
I sit here for what must cumulatively be hours every day staring at the router and willing it to go from red, to one green light, then to two, then to three. Then an interminable wait while it decides, in between filing its nails and plucking its eyebrows, whether to bother getting to four or not. Sometimes it simply can’t be arsed and goes back to red where it plays traffic lights for a while; red, green, red, green, red.

When four green lights finally appear it’s frantic Googling and WordPress posting for as long as the window remains open. Efficient it is not; conducive to creativity it most certainly is not;  extremely frustrating is what it is.
This week has been worse than ever; I can count on one hand the number of hours of uninterrupted Internet access I’ve had so far and yet I’m paying for 24/7 broadband.

Well, enough is enough, it’s time to bite the bullet and move away from Europa Network. Their overseas phone call rates may be excellent but their router belongs in the toilet.

And with whom must I now contract? Telefonica.
The lesser of two weevils.

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