Andalucia Steve the dream

Andalucia and Murcia compared.

My experience having lived in both parts of Spain


Now let me say right off the bat that I'm not going to compare the whole of Andalusia with the whole of Murcia. They're big places which one could spend a lifetime getting to know completely. I'll be mainly focusing on the towns I've lived in and I am familiar with in each respective autonomous community.

I lived for seven years in Cehegin, Murcia which is inland, and about an hour and a half away from the coast by car. I've lived for nearly ten years in Olvera, Cadiz which is also inland and about an hour and a half away from the coast by car. Olvera has a population of just over 8000 and Cehegin has a population of 15,000. Both grew up around a hilltop and have an old town above and a newer part of town below. Both have a 'via verde' built on a disused railway track. Given these apparent similarities one would think that my experience of living in each one would be much the same. My job here today will be to assure you that is not the case.

It's worth mentioning for starters that we foreigners looking at Spain from a bit of a distance, perceive the country to be one homogeneous block painted with a yellow and red striped flag. As you delve into it though, this is anything but the case. Spain has been described as a plurinational state, i.e. one which is comprised of several nations combined into one. As Wikipedia puts it, "The identity of Spain rather accrues of an overlap of different territorial and ethnolinguistic identities than of a sole Spanish identity." I was quite surprised when I arrived in Alicante, to learn that the local language was Valenciano rather than Castilian Spanish, and that Valenciano is spoken in some parts of Murcia. I was even more surprised when I moved to Cadiz province to hear words that were completely alien to me as what forms part of a local dialect called Andaluz. The language in Spain is never easy! Both towns in which I've lived largely use Castilian Spanish, albeit spoken with somewhat different accents.

The most notable visual difference between the two towns is that Olvera is painted white by decree of the town hall. This makes an enormous difference, especially in the old towns. The occasional lick of paint maintains the charm and appearance of the old town in Olvera whereas much of the old town in Cehegin looks quite shabby, though this isn't necessarily reflected in the prices of houses. Perhaps the 'run down' look makes buyers think they're getting something more antique and authentic. Whatever it is, the property in the old town in Cehegin seems slightly better at holding its value.

One thing I found more ingrained in the culture of the North West of Murcia is bullfighting. Cehegin has a permanent bullring as do many of the towns in the area, and those that don't will all have temporary bullrings setup for feria.  Most also have bull-runs through the streets. It is much more common to walk into a bar in Murcia and see bullfighting on the TV - I've never seen that in Olvera. Also, several bars had bullfighting memorabilia on display, one with the heads of famous bulls in plaques on the wall! From what I've seen in Andalusia, bullfighting is seen as more a throwback to a bygone age. It didn't exist in Olvera when I first came to live in the town, but then a few years ago a new mayor resurrected it and so the past couple of ferias have had a temporary bullring much to the anger of animal lovers, of whom there are many. In attitude then, bullfighting in Murcia seemed part of the way of life, where as in Olvera it feels alien and unwanted.

Shortage of water and irrigation is a big difference between the two areas. As in the UK, wet weather comes in from Atlantic systems, hitting Wales and the West of the country first, then depleting as it moves East, so that parts of Essex and Suffolk are often quite dry. It is much the same in the Iberian peninsula. Cities like Sevilla, Malaga and Jerez get over 500mm of rainfall each year, where as Murcia gets around 300. Shortages of water are therefore more common in Murcia, and a campaign 'Agua para todos' was raging when I lived there, with the goal of increasing the community's water supply. This has been a political football for decades with the PP having a plan to divert water from the Ebro that the PSOE cancelled, preferring instead to build desalination plants. As fast as they could be constructed though, the more golf courses were built to siphon off the water being created. The campaign flags no longer fly, and although the development of golf resorts pretty much came to a halt after the 2008 crash, the political wrangling still has not produced a satisfactory solution to the area's water shortage.

Anyway, the relative scarcity of water has been different for centuries and some of the ingenious solutions I saw implemented in Murcia I have not seen here in Andalusia. They may well exist in other areas but not where I am. Murcia has a large network of Acequias, irrigation channels which are overseen by a local office who determine who has water rights and assign days and times when the irrigation water can be accessed. The irrigation channels are in turn connected to many reservoirs and water is pumped around a circuit. It's much cheaper than tap water as it is completely undrinkable, though I've known people fill their pools with it and shock treat it with chlorine.

If you have any hope of growing anything in the arid climate in Murcia you need acequia rights in your property's escritura. Depending on where you are and what time of year it is, the acequia may be full of water all day, or it may only come on for an hour on say, Tuesday evening at 10pm, in which case you'll have to make sure to be out there opening the sluice-gates at just the right time to take advantage of your allocation. Another common practice I don't see so much in Andalucia is that of digging wells around trees to capture the irrigation water. There is a bit of an art to this. One will often see a farmer has dug a series of channels and wells from his sluice-gate in such away as to allow the water into wells around each tree, leaving much of the rest of the land dry. When the gate is opened and the water flows in it is mesmerising to watch the water slosh along its assigned track, like watching a big domino toppling event!

Turning to food, I'm surprised seafood isn't such a big thing in my part of Andalucia. Nearly every bar in Cehegin of a Saturday or Sunday lunch time would reek of prawns, sepia, octopus and many other fruits of the sea. Don't get me wrong, we get all these in Olvera too, but kind of part of a balanced diet. In Murcia it seemed much more of a ritual that folk would spend an hour in the bar for their seafood hit before heading on home for comida! I've long wondered if perhaps this was Mediterranean thing, that the people of Olvera see themselves as Atlantic people, but that argument falls flat on its face when one experiences that wonderful seafood served on the coast in places like Malaga!

Finally let me address the nature of the people in both places I've lived. Neither have been much impressed by my efforts to tempt them with either English or Asian food. They are very happy with themselves in their own respective cultures. Those cultures are slightly different in ethnic roots. Far less moorish influence is apparent in Murcia. Perhaps because the moors were chased out of Murcia much earlier, there is less evidence in terms of place names, food and architecture. In Andalusia one is more likely to stumble across Visigothic arches, or dishes with spices like cumin which are non-existent in Murcia. Also the influence of the Gitano people is in evidence in all the towns I've visited in Seville, Cadiz and Malaga. I didn't realise until researching this article that the Gitano only arrived in the 16th but there influence in Andalusia is great and manifests itself through the music, dance and clothing of flamenco.

I recall during the Cehegin feria, one night is always themed as Seville night where folk would dress up in flamenco outfits and dance to Sevillana music, a sort of watered down flamenco. The flamenco outfits were generally off-the-peg, elasticated to fit a range of sizes. It wasn't until I went to a feria in Olvera that I realised how different it was to see a fitted flamenco dress worn by a girl whose mother had probably spent six months making it, dancing to real flamenco music. The traditional folk music, dancing and folk dress in Murcia is very different indeed, more like something from Eastern Europe. Without wishing to diminish it's value, I got the impression the people of Murcia, although proud of their own folk roots, are rather envious of flamenco culture and see it as we foreigners do, as the real Spain!

A brief sketch of my dad

A tribute to my late father on his birthday


My late father would have been celebrating his 112 birthday today were he alive, which is a good excuse for me to relate a few stories about him.
When I was a youngster there were no end of people who would take me aside and tell me what a good man my father was. His work colleagues, neighbours, seemingly anyone who knew him, deemed it necessary to point out to me I had a good dad. We moved house when he retired and within months our new neighbours were taking me aside telling me what a good chap he was. I must say I took it for granted. I thought every kid's father must have a similar fan-club! 
Then, when I was 17 he died suddenly. It fell to me to sort out his affairs as mother, lovely though she was, could hardly write a cheque. As I went though his papers I came across a big wodge of letters going back thirty years or so. Each was a 'thank you' letter. Most started 'Dear brother Gould, thank you for help with xxx'. It turned out he had been the 'shop steward' for his trade union. Dad was a school caretaker and looked after the interests not only for the people working in his school but many all over the Kingston area. Only then did it dawn on me why so many folk had been keen to point out why father was such a good fellow. He'd spent all his working life defending the interests of common people. I didn't even know. He never talked about it. He was a working class hero, and as John Lennon aptly said, that was something to be.
Dad came from inauspicious beginnings. Born one of eight siblings in 1908, his father, who was an itinerant agricultural labour, failed to return one winter. His mother supported the family by taking in washing, but the strain became too great, so dad and his little brother George were sent away to the Farm School in Bisley, a charitable institution run on military lines. Father learned lots of interesting skills there, including, shooting, bee-keeping, cobbling, the rudiments of music and, in the absence of much food other than gruel, the ability to forage in the country. He told me pigeons, rabbits and hedgehogs were common treats that he and his friends would kill and eat after school.
He did well in his exams and returned to Surbiton, where after a few casual jobs including a stint as a telegram delivery boy, he secured a job with the Water Board in Kingston. As part of his apprenticeship he had to attend college in north London, a journey he did everyday by bicycle, which would have been a 25 mile round -trip - not bad for the boneshakers of the day. The timeline becomes a little foggy at this point but somewhere along the line in the 1920's to 1930's he became an assistant to a plumber, travelling the country installing coal-fire central heating systems, which were cutting edge at the time, so most of the installations were in grand mansion houses and castles. Clients included George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Brake company and Lord Nuffield, he of the Morris Motor company. Dad said Nuffield was an insomniac whose mind was always racing far too much for sleep. His fascination for engineering was such that Nuffield spent much time with them, wishing to learn everything possible about the boilers, pipes and radiators they were installing. 
I believe dad went independent as a plumber and had his own business in the mid to late 1930s as I used to have business cards and brochures with his name on. I wish I still had them as the Art-Deco influenced artwork of the bathroom suites were a sight to behold. I think the war put an end to that as he enlisted into the Royal Air Force in 1939 and trained as an engineer, spending much time patching up warplanes returning from combat. He was invalided out in 1942 and joined the Home Guard, where ironically he patrolled the water-board in Kingston with a pick-axe handle, the place where he had started his career in engineering. Incidentally, he wasn't a fan of TV or fiction but he loved the show Dad's Army as it mirrored his own time defending London against the invading Hun.
After the war, prompted by his first wife, he took a job as a caretaker of Hollyfield School. His wife was lured by the cottage adjacent to the school, though sadly she died not long after they moved in. A decade later he married my mother and remained in the janitorial position until his retirement in 1973.
So many things come to mind when I think of my father. His capacity to learn things amazed me. He could communicate in sign language. Most people only learn this to communicate with an afflicted relative. Dad learned it while recuperating in hospital during the war. The matrons were very strict about noise on the ward, so he and a fellow patient taught themselves to sign each other so as to communicate silently. He learned music at school but only clarinet and cornet. Yet he could also play piano quite well. I don't know how he learned this, as he never owned a piano. He just seemed to 'pick it up' whenever he had access to one. I'd also seen him play other instruments like the mouth-organ and the accordion. He was one of those people who seemed to be able to coax a tune out of any instrument he picked up.
On one occasion he found a large wasp nest, the size of a cello in one of the school's outbuildings. It was full of wasps and hummed in a scary manner as though the whole thing was alive. Instead of calling in pest controllers, and without much in the way of protective equipment he removed it himself by, as I recall, making a smoke gun from an old paint can and some oily rags. He repaired watches for a hobby. He was always learning new things and instilled in me the idea of being a life-long learner, long before the phrase became commonplace. 
He taught me so many crazy but practical things, like to store paint cans upside down once opened so as any skin forms on the bottom. When climbing a ladder the rungs are strongest at the edges, so avoid treading in the middle of the rungs as that's where they're most likely to snap. He taught me to read before I went to school and as a toddler, bounced me on his knee while reciting chemical formulae. He taught me how to avoid 'catch-pennies' and never to trust politicians. He showed me how to change a tap washer without turning off the mains water. He showed me an exciting way to check for leaks with a cigarette lighter when installing a gas fire. He was old skool! He rode a Harley Davidson before it was cool. I once saw him use divining rods to locate a blockage in a drain. To me, everything about him was remarkable and I was convinced my dad had super-powers. I loved him dearly then as I do now. Happy birthday dad!
Dad and me cerca 1966

Spain's problem with rural depopulation

Solutions for small towns with an exodus of people


I mentioned in a previous blog post (the Gargoyle Folk), that I'd been lucky enough to cadge a ride with a local vet into the wild mountains of Albacete while he visited remote farms to inspect their goat herds. One of the eye-opening revelations of this visit was that one of the farmers offered me a house for 8000 euros. It was a big house and not in a bad state of repair! The problem is that it was so remote it would have been difficult to live there. How folk survived there in the old days before cars is quite a mystery to me. This smallholding was about an hour's drive from the nearest petrol station or anything resembling a shop!
Another town I visited near Hellin was in obvious decline. There were signs that it had once been a bustling place, with a town square, fountains, and some quite impressive public buildings that were now abandoned. There was a general store come grocers but that was about it. My guide explained to me that everything the townspeople need now is brought in on wheels, gas bottles, bread, green-grocers, even a mobile pharmacy visits the town on certain days. All of the public services once enjoyed by the town had gone and the town hall had closed. Even the school had closed since there were no longer any children. Most of the few residents remaining in residence were pensioners. The town was a victim of a phenomenon known as rural depopulation.
This comes about for a number of reasons. Clearly in the past, Spain had a labour-intensive, agrarian economy. With the advent of machinery and modern intensive farming techniques, the demand for labour reduces, so technological unemployment is a factor. Young people are more avaricious than in the past, lured by film and TV their horizons are widened beyond the humble life of agriculture and farming. They are drawn to life in the city with better wages and prospects.  Gradually the population ages, the town hall's ability to raise revenue decreases, and the value of property and land depreciate. There comes a point when the town ceases to function economically. It simply dies. 
While this is not a phenomenon unique to Spain, (parallels can be seen across all of Europe, even the UK), there is something particularly eerie about dead Spanish towns which may be to do with the hot dry weather. As you may have seen with old Spanish farmhouses decaying at the roadside, there is an epic quality to the crumbling ruins which in other countries might be camouflaged into the landscape in a covering of moss and plant growth. Not so here. Ruins tend to stick out like markers in time, poignantly reminding observers of a once-great past. There is a phrase used here to describe such places: La España vaciada – “the hollowed-out Spain”
An article in an online newspaper caught my eye in 2017 which claimed four out of ten villages in Malaga province had experienced such a decline in population over the last decade. Some of these are towns I know. The article doesn't offer any solutions though it does highlight some of the contributing factors as poor communications and inadequate utilities such as electricity supply and water treatment plants that are lacking in towns with small populations. 
Solutions are being investigated at regional and national levels. Spain recently created a new ministry to address the problem which is a growing issue in all parts of the country.  Also, the Guardian recently related a story about an NGO, the Towns with a Future Association, which is working to match depopulated areas with migrants in search of a new life in rural Castilla-La Mancha, citing the arrival of families arriving in the region to escape poverty in Valenzuela.
My feeling is the problem won't be fixed without incentives. As I mentioned in a Facebook post in 2017, if it was up to me I'd give the villages free fibreoptic internet and incentives in the forms of tax relief and grants for local people to create global-reaching cottage industries. The opportunities to sell locally based products of everything from espidrils, leather sandals, wicker baskets and those cute flamenco chairs to sought-after agricultural and religious artefacts remain largely under-exploited in a place and time where such manufacturing skills are dying out through lack of local demand. As someone commented, this should be done 'without  burdening them with a 270 euro 'autonomo' bill before they even pick up a handful of clay or a bodkin'.
Tourism also plays an important role. In the North of England, York is a vibrant, thriving town, in part because it is a popular tourist location. Ten minutes drive down the road there are umpteen towns in decline because they lack the very popularity with tourists that York enjoys. One of the reasons I feel 'safe' living in Olvera is that our 12th century castle and massive 18th century church will always draw tourists. Every village here has in my view, an important duty to make the most of its tourist identity. There are things of interest in every town I've visited in Spain, though sometimes one has to dig deep to reveal their stories. Towns should be shouting these from the roof-tops.
One final thought. Olvera and any other town seeking to attract passing tourists should be doing everything in their power to attract and incentivize the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles. The last time I looked, these are mainly clustered in big cities like Madrid or in coastal towns. There are hardly any in rural locations between say, Madrid and Malaga. If I was a German holiday-maker planning to drive down from Berlin in my Tesla, I wouldn't want to have to drive down through Barcelona and around the Mediterranean coast because my GPS software planned the route according to where the EV charge stations are, I'd want to drive down direct through Madrid to Malaga via the shortest route. However this is barely possible at the moment. If Olvera had a charge-point, the growing number of tourists driving electric cars would be able to choose to make a required stop in our lovely town. 
This sort of thing is not without historical precedent. I was born and bred in a town in the South of London called Surbiton, part of the borough of Kingston Upon Thames. Kingston was a grand old town mentioned in the doomsday book, and it grew as an important stopping point for travelers from London to the naval port of Portsmouth. From the 15th century onward, Kingston built a significant coaching-house industry. During this time Surbiton was little more than a hamlet surrounded by fields. In the early 19th century, a new Railway, the London and Southampton line was proposed to run through Kingston, however, the plan was rejected by Kingston Council, who feared that it would be detrimental to the coaching trade. They really shot themselves in the foot! The line was re-routed to go via Surbiton, where a new station opened in 1838. As a result, Surbiton profited and became one of the first towns in London's commuter belt. Kingston attracted a branch line in 1869 which is all it has to this day whereas Surbiton is a now major mainline station connecting London to the South Coast. This example serves to illustrate why transport infrastructure is crucial to a settlement's growth and why the placement of charging stations for electric vehicles could be a key driver in reviving the fortunes of rural populations in inland Spain.

Spanish Weather is Amazing

Thoughts on the capricious nature of Spanish weather


It is purely a personal observation but I'm aware of no other nation who talk more than the British about the weather than the Spanish people do. 
Before I came to live here, I, like many folk unfamiliar with the climate, thought it was all going to be "Scorchio" (If you don't get the reference, Google ' Meteorologikos mit Poula!').  How wrong I was. During my first August in Spain, the stifling heat was punctuated by a summer storm, the like of which I'd not seen before or since. Huge globules of water the size of a fist exploded on the pavement in a bombardment that lasted about ten minutes. It was as if the children of the Gods were amusing themselves by throwing water-filled balloons at us rudely invasive holiday-makers. The street outside my hotel became a temporary river. Then suddenly it was over. Twenty minutes later the water was gone, the last traces having evaporated into the thick summer air. It was as though nothing had happened.
Such is the capricious nature of Spanish weather. On another occasion I was driving back from Murcia city on the autovia, heading for home in Cehegin, when I was caught in a shower. It had been a bright day, but a big rain cloud appeared out of nowhere and really started chucking it down. My windscreen wipers were soon unable to cope, so I and all the rest of the motorists on the road slowed to a crawl and finally a stop. The sound of the rain beating on the roof was becoming scary. This particular section of the motorway was in a steep-sided cutting, the sides of which were plain earth. The rain was so powerful it started to wash the earth away, and a wave of mud started to slide downhill towards us. For a few terrifying moments, my car and those around me started to move sideways. It was like a disaster movie. Again though, a few moments later the rain stopped and we were soon on our way.
One word I hear over and over again when people describe the storms in Spain is 'biblical', as often the torrential rain is accompanied by the sort of thunder and lightning Cecil B DeMille would have given his right arm for. During one particularly windy storm, my aluminium door blew open sending papers and other items airborne in my living room. It wasn't until I tried to close the door that I realised it had been locked - I had to unlock it to get it to close! On another occasion, the amount of water running down the main street was so great it flooded the drains to the extent that I saw rats crawling out of the gratings to avoid drowning. I don't wish to put anybody off coming to Spain by recounting these anecdotes. As I say, the weather soon springs back to normal. I wish merely to point out that we have seasons here with a much greater variety of weather than a non-resident might suppose.
Talking of storms, an early word I learned in Spain was 'rambla' which loosely means creek. The first time I heard the word was walking with a friend through a dried-out river bed. He explained to me that every now and again, the Iberian Peninsula experiences a weather system called the 'gota fria' during which a large volume of water gets dumped in a very short period of time. Though the 'rambla' we were walking through had walls reaching several metres above our heads, when the 'gota fria' hit, this would fill with water. Therefore they shouldn't be built on as they perform an essential if rare function as storm drains. Some years later the word appeared again in the context of construction. Some people I knew had purchased houses in a small cluster (I think there were three separate properties in all) that had been built illegally/in-advisedly, at the foot of a hill, which acted as a run-off when it rained. The owners didn't know there houses had been built on a rambla until one fateful stormy day. Two of the three houses were flooded, and one of these started to move, its foundations gradually sliding down the hill and ended up needed underpinning at great expense. Make sure you don't buy a house built on a rambla!
Over the years I've also been surprised how chilly it can get in the winter here, and how much snow I've seen. This is entirely dependent on where you live. I've always lived inland at an altitude greater than 500m, so have experienced much colder weather than one would expect on the Southern coast of Spain. In my second winter here I had a burst water pipe which caught me by surprise. The maximum/minimum thermometer advised me that it was caused by a temperature drop that went down to -9C, which was as cold as anything I remember from the UK. The same week it snowed leaving eight-inches on the ground.
Fortunately, the village I live in now is generally milder than that. I've only seen snow once in my ten years living in Olvera and the temperature rarely dips below zero in winter here. I've noticed that villages like mine with few frosts tend to have an abundance of citrus fruits growing in the streets and peoples gardens, whereas in towns that do get hit by frosts one rarely sees oranges and lemons, which is a tip prospective buyers would do well to be aware of. 

Ex-pat cravings

The crazy things I miss from blighty


For my first visit to Spain my wife and I were lucky enough to be invited over by a friend who had moved over to Alicante in the previous year. He kindly offered to shows us a few locations up and down the Costa Blanca. One thing stuck in my mind from that visit. One day we popped into an English grocers shop and my friend happened to spot a box of cornflakes. These weren't ordinary cornflakes but the fruity ones with added strawberries. What happened next left quite an impression. My friend retired to the car, opened the box of cornflakes and started cupping handfuls of the dry cereal into his mouth with tears of joy coming down his face. He explained these were his favourite brand and that he had not had them for a year or so since he was last in the UK!
Now that I'm a Spanish resident myself I completely understand how he felt. While I never get homesick for England, every now and again, a flavour or a smell can trigger an unusual response in the brain. Like Proust's Madeleines dipped in tea, they can open a neural pathway with surprising efficacy, transporting one back to a different place and time. Sometimes though it happens the other way. One imagines the place and the time which in turn reminds one of the taste or smell which stimulates the craving. I've lost count of the number of times this has happened to me. Typically I'll think of an event like a Christmas celebration, which will remind my of a beverage like ginger wine. Once the flavour and smell of the ginger wine gets in my head I'll be unable to shake it off. I'll trawl around the supermarkets here to see if there is anything similar. Then when inevitably I find that there isn't I'll go online to shop for some, only to be defeated by exorbitant delivery charges. Then I'll hit up YouTube and start typing "how to make ginger wine"...
The first big bump in the road after first moving to Spain was that I found myself living in a remote village that was far, far away from a decent curry house. Not only that but I was really surprised by the paucity of spices used in Spanish cuisine. They just don't do hot and spicy food over here. So a process began of teaching myself how to cook Indian food and sourcing ingredients. I'd brought some dried chillies and coriander seeds with me and surprised myself by successfully planting and growing these. I discovered cardamoms were available through a local health-food shop. Also, I came across a Moroccan bric-à-brac shop which had a small shelf of spices from which I was able to source a few things. Bit by bit I was able to get everything together, and using the invaluable book, 'The Curry Secret' by Kris Dhillon, I was able to recreate the good old-fashioned British Indian restaurant experience in my own home. I shed a tear myself when I cooked my first perfect Chicken Tikka Massala!
This was over fifteen years ago and things have moved on. My local supermarket carries fresh coriander and ginger these days. However there are still many items that obsess my senses from time to time. Fresh cream seems to be unknown here. They only do the UHT stuff or horrible squirty cream. Clotted cream is pure fantasy. I often dream of kippers, smoked mackerel fillets, custard powder, Colman's mustard, instant desserts like Angel Delight, pickled onions, Vesta Chow Mein with crispy noodles, the list is endless! Most of this is crap, processed food, but such is the way my brain is wired, these happen to be the ones that take me back to the past most effectively.
When I moved to Andalusia a decade ago I found the situation little different. There are places near the coast where British and Asian groceries can be sourced. As I don't have a car, and the bus ride would be a round trip of about 25 euros, I rarely bother to make the journey.
Fortunately online purchasing has gradually made the availability of many items possible, though some online retailers either won't ship to Spain or charge a lot for postage. Even Amazon didn't have an online store in Spain until as late as 2011 but now it is possible to order some items through them at a lower cost of delivery than getting them sent from the UK.
A better solution over the years has been to inconvenience friends of mine to bring stuff over when they come to stay. Fortunately I've known many folk with holiday homes here who have volunteered their services as my spice mules, squeezing all sorts of things from poppadoms to tamarind paste into their luggage. My most trusty trafficker, Lynda has brought hundreds of items over for me in the past, but alas she is retiring this year, having made the sensible decision to base herself over here permanently. Respect and many thanks for your years of loyal service!
Really she couldn't have picked a better time to hang up the shopping bag, since this year I've discovered a couple of online Asian grocers specialising in the Spanish market, carrying a much wider range of items than I've ever seen before, and with reasonable delivery charges. For the first time in almost two decades I can order everything from rasmalai to frozen samosas with more spices available than you could shake a cinnamon stick at!
In case these websites are of interest to my fellow ex-pat sensation-seekers, here are the addresses: