Life as an expat in Spain is not always what it's cracked up to be. But it could be worse. You could be Chris Stewart's dog...
Aah, the unconsidered pleasures of living in Mediterranean lands: moths in your wine, your dog poisoned and your parrots shot by hunters; crickets in the ivy keeping you awake through the long hot night – and if it’s not the crickets, it’s all the male dogs for miles around, who come to howl their homage to your bitch who happens to be on heat. And failing all this, you might find yourself with goat-piss in your teapot...
People are leaving Britain in droves, heading for a new life in the Mediterranean; I fear, though, that they don’t weigh up carefully enough all the pitfalls that such an existence entails. OK, the booze is cheap, the sun is reliable and the natives are relaxed and easy-going – but what your estate agent fails to tell you is that there is a whole heap of negative aspects too, and I’ve known plenty of folks who’ve found this stuff difficult to stomach and thrown in the towel.
The Spanish, for example, are not responsible dog owners in the way the English are. The deep and incorrigible vein of machismo that runs through this society discourages people from getting their dogs castrated.
Thus if you happen to have a bitch and she comes on heat, you are besieged by hosts of foul curs who home in on her smell from as far as the next valley. (The male hawkmoth can smell a bitch hawkmoth – if that is the term – on heat from up to seven kilometres.) Imagine then the dogs, hosts of them, making our nights hideous with their howlings, fouling up our home with their evil-smelling territorial sprayings, draped mournfully all over the porch, impervious even to the buckets of cold water I throw over them.
Bernardo, my neighbour, suffers similarly – though it beats me how any self-respecting dog would fancy his cur of a bitch. Things had reached a pretty pass over there, he said.
“Efry time you open de deur” – (he’s Dutch) – “dere’s a dozen dogs orl starin’ at you mournf’l. So wot we done is lock de bitch in de barfroom. But in de middle of de night dere’s a terrible noise an’ orl de dogs come crashin’ down through where dey dug a hole in de barfroom roof and dere dey orl are, fockin’ each other!”
“Dat’s not luv,” he spluttered, “Dat’s jus’ dogs fockin’!”
Now I write this with a certain amount of feeling, because today got off to a bad start – with a pot of goat-piss tea. Perhaps I should elucidate: José Aragón has a flock of goats on Carrasco, the hill opposite us. One day I met him at the river, surrounded by his flock.
“Hmm,” he said, “there’s a couple of goats missing.”
I looked over at his goats, milling around as far as the eye could see amongst goat-sized bushes.
“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.
“There’s only 298 here and there should be 300. When you spend as long as I do with the goats, you get to know how many there are – there’s not much else to do – and 298 goats looks quite different from 300 goats... when you’ve got the eye.”
However skilled he is at counting goats, he doesn’t seem able to stop them walking over the spring that feeds our water supply. We pipe the springwater 800m across the valley to our house, where it feeds straight into the kitchen tap, from which I fill the kettle. Now goat’s piss as a basis for tea is as foul as a thing can be – and worse at that time of day when the palate is at its most delicate...
It’s instructive, though – good mental gymnastics – to calculate the probability of getting a teapot full of goat-piss. Here are the figures: 800m of pipe – internal diameter, 20mm – flow at tap, ten litres a minute – number of goats, 298 – approximate capacity of goat-bladder, 0.5 litres (goats pee a lot). Thank heavens for the metric system.
Answers on a postcard to UncleEuclid@Wanderlust.
Clue: the probability is about the same as winning the lotto; I guess I was just lucky.