Friday, 28 December 2012


The A-Z of Cats
Pedigrees of the World - The Persian

If you choose a Persian cat, they are a beautiful breed but with its thick undercoat,  they need to be brushed everyday as it can matt very quickly.  Sometimes they are purchased without realizing the amount of time required for grooming.  When the kitten grows up and the newness wears off, there is a matted unhappy cat with a very frustrated owner.  However, this hasn’t affected their popularity. Persians also need frequent baths so it is wise to establish the routine of the bath when they are young.  The Persian is not a low-maintenance breed! Also Persian’s eyes need to be checked, because they may have difficulty keeping them clean.  Although their long hair makes them look massive, Persians are medium-sized cats. Their bodies are round and stocky, and they have large paws and small ears. Your Persian should really be an indoor pet. As they generally have a relaxed temperament, they make a good choice for families with children.  Persian cats often have a calming influence on other members of the household.

With a reputation for being a couch potato, the Persian tends to be docile and gentle, though there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Most Persians would rather sit around with their owners than tear around the house. While they like to play from time to time, they are not usually climbers or jumpers.  Persians are not inclined to be very talkative, and when they do speak, most have relatively quiet voices.  Persians tend to be cuddly cats, but not particularly demanding. Creatures of habit, most are very predictable in their behaviour.

As the dusty desert caravans wound their way westward from Iran (Persia), it is supposed that secreted among the rare jewels and spices on the basket-laden camels was an even more precious cargo, an occasional longhaired cat. They were called Persian because of their "country of origin," but hieroglyphic references as early as 1684 B.C. shroud forever their exact beginnings.  Persians are believed to have originated from central Asia, probably Iran. Longhaired cats were brought to Europe from that region during the seventeenth century.  The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time.  From France they soon reached Britain.

A growing concern among cat owners in general, and Persians in particular is PKD, which stands for polycystic kidney disease, a genetic kidney disease that appears to be more common among Persians than other cats. In some tests, it was found that nearly 40% of Persian cats were carrying this disease.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Do you know what to do with it?

My significant other was working for some VIPs last week and when they left their hotel suite, they gave him two bags of tropical fruit.  Not being very keen on fruit in general, except for citrus fruit, it seems a shame to waste it all.

The problem is what to do with it.  I googled various fruits to see if the pips were edible and got busy with a sharp knife, making a fruit salad.  The star fruit were a little complicated to peel (no idea if they should be peeled) and after taking out the pips, I sliced them into, guess what, star shapes.  It took over an hour to peel and chop a large bowl of fruit, but I am sure the vitamin content will be well worth it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Havana Brown Cat Article

Pedigree Cats - Havana (Brown)

The Havana Brown noted for its warm, chocolate brown colour originated in Great Britain.  Brown cats have been known for centuries.  Their origins were probably from South East Asia as a branch of the Royal Cats of Siam.  They first arrived in Britain in the 19th century along with the importation of the Siamese.  The Havana is loving, lively and an extremely clever cat.  The original name for the Havana is Chestnut Brown Foreign Hair, which also describes the colour of its fur.  They are very sleek cats with coats as smooth as glass (requiring minimum grooming), long-legged and swift. Their eyes are bright green or possibly chartreuse, oval shaped and close to their noses and their large ears appear to be transparent.  With eyes that twinkle with curiosity, glow with mischief or narrow to pure contentment, they can captivate you with their permeating, discerning gaze. Havana kittens sometimes have white hairs mixed into their brown coats which disappear as the kittens mature.

The Havana Brown not only has a unique appearance, but also a truly unique personality.  They are gentle and affectionate, people-oriented, soft voiced cats and are very loyal and loving toward people. They remain playful, even when adult cats and are very active and energetic.  Sometimes they have the unusual habit of using their sense of touch to investigate strange objects, instead of relying on their sense of smell.  One of their endearing qualities is their typical greeting of stretching out one paw to touch their owner.  They are perfect for people who want an affectionate and intelligent feline friend.  This breed is known to take well to a harness and lead.  They are very playful, stealing pencils, pens, jewellery or whatever they can get into their mouths, much to the amusement and frustration of their owners.  Most love to play with wads of paper and some have learned to retrieve.   Havanas seem to be natural shoulder sitters; fortunately, claws are rarely used.

The Havana Brown cat was developed in the 1950s by crossing a British Seal Point Siamese with another black shorthaired cat of Siamese descent.  An accidental breeding between a black shorthair and a seal point Siamese produced a self-chocolate male kitten named Elmtower Bronze Idol, the first Havana Brown to be registered in England and the forerunner of the present day breed.   In the mid-1950s in the USA, Mrs. Elsie Quinn of Quinn Cattery, imported the very first Havana Brown from England, a female named Roofspringer Mahogany Quinn, bred by Baroness von Ullman in London. She was bred to Laurentide Brown Pilgrim of Norwood, also an import, and produced the very first Havana Brown (Quinn's Brown Satin of Sidlo) to achieve grand champion status in CFA.  All Havana Browns in North America today can trace their heritage to this cat.

Once American breeders started developing and raising these cats, the British and United States varieties began to take on different characteristics.  In England, the Havana has followed the Siamese type by breeding back to the Siamese and the word "brown" has been dropped from the breed name. In North America, the breed is medium-sized and muscular and has retained the original look of the early imports.

There is recorded history of solid brown cats in "The Cat Book Poems" dating back to between 1300 and 1767 from early Siam (now Thailand). These ancient manuscripts were written in the city of Ayudhya, between the time the city was founded and before the city was burned by invaders.  Ayudhya was Siam's capital for 417 years (three dynasties and 33 kings) and was finally a glorious, opulent city of more than a million people. This rich centre of palaces, temples, and libraries was razed to the ground by the Burmese on April 7, 1767. Nearly all books and records were burned. However, a few treasures were taken to safety, among them books about cats, dogs and birds, and, although the identity of the artists who created these books will never be known, their work remains to give us knowledge and the joy of their observations.  Seventeen "good luck" cats are described including solid brown cats, which the Thai's considered very beautiful and had the ability to protect them from evil.

Several theories exist as to how the breed got its name.  Some historians insist it was named after the rabbit of the same colour; however, most Havana fans choose to believe that the breed name refers to the colour of a fine Havana cigar.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Pedigree Cats - Devon Rex

If you are unsure which breed of cat to buy and take care of, I have written the A-Z of breeds.  Below is the unusual Devon Rex




In 1950, a curly coated kitten was born as one of a normal litter to a normal-coated female cat in a farmhouse in Cornwall.  At first the owner, Mrs. Ennismore, thought that the waviness of the coat was due to birth fluids, but when it dried out the kitten’s curls remained.  Her veterinary surgeon suggested contacting some leading geneticists.  Hair samples were examined microscopically and found to be similar to those of the Rex rabbit, and so it was suggested that the cat be described as Rex.  When he grew up, the Cream male, christened Kallibunker was allowed to mate with his mother, and this union resulted in a litter of three kittens, two of which were curly coated.  The mating was repeated and more Rex kittens were born but sadly Kallibunker died at a young age.  He left his son Poldhu to carry on the line.  Poldhu sired a superb female called Lamorna Cove, who was exported to the U.S.A. to found the breed on the other side of the Atlantic.

Ten years after the discovery of Kallibunker the Cornish Rex was well established and received a lot of publicity.  The Devon Rex originated in Devon, and is distinct from the Cornish Rex, though the coat mutation appears similar.  Beryl Cox spotted a curly coated tomcat living in an abandoned tin mine in Devon. Miss Cox also happened to take in at this time a tortie and white pregnant stray who gave birth to a litter of kittens. In the litter was a curly-coated male kitten which she kept as a pet and named Kirlee.  At puberty, Kirlee was mated with some Cornish Rex queens and the resulting kittens, to everyone’s surprise were flat-coated, not curly and it was concluded that Kirlee’s curls were due to a different gene.  The gene for Cornish was labelled Rex gene (i) and the gene for producing the Devon Rex gene (ii).  The two Rex breeds were developed along separate lines.

Devon Rexes are strange-looking little cats, adorable in a homely sort of way. They have high protruding cheekbones unusual heads and extraordinarily large ears. Their huge eyes are set wide apart, whilst their bodies are slim and elegant. Their chests are so broad that their front legs looked bowed. Like Cornish Rexes, Devons have curly or rippling hair. However, the Devon's coat is softer and more velvet-like than the Cornish Rex's. Hair is usually sparse on the Devon's ears and forehead. Sometimes, these cats have little hair on their chests, necks, and stomachs. Their whiskers are short and brittle and break easily. Bald spots are common.   All Devons today should be able to trace their ancestry back to Kirlee, the first Devon Rex.

The Devon Rex is alert and active, and shows a lively interest in its surroundings. They love to be with their humans and enjoy playing fetch or other games. They are also extremely agile cats with an inquisitive nature and will explore every corner of their homes. Devons, like dogs, follow their humans from room to room.  Even though their body temperature is the same as other cats, many Devons are surprisingly warm to the touch due to a lighter, less insulating coat. Not surprisingly, Devons tend to be "heat seekers," and are often found lounging on televisions, computer monitors (not so easy with flat screens!) and heater vents. On chilly nights, Devons make superb bed warmers, often sneaking under the covers to stay warm and share body heat with their favourite people.

The Devon Rex is also a good potential choice for people who are allergic to cats. While no cat can be truly hypoallergenic, many people with allergies to cats discover they can live comfortably with a Devon Rex but anyone with allergy issues should arrange to handle a Devon before considering acquiring one.

Mediterranean Style Recipes

Recipes enjoyed in Spain

Having spent three weeks in Benahavis, a village full of gourmet restaurants just North of Marbella, I got to thinking about the food I used to cook in Spain, taking full advantage of the fresh produce available.

One of the favourites was the North African dish Ajja which can be adjusted according to what is available in the store cupboard. It was a favourite of the workmen who spent many long hours laying tiles around the garden.  They started at 8 a.m. and stopped for a packed lunch of chorizo, cheese and tomato in a large baguette at 10.30 a.m. on the dot.  This "snack" would be accompanied by a glass of red wine or a bottle of strong lager.  Then they would work through until 2 p.m.  Sometimes, I would make Ajja and give them a plate to enjoy with more wine on a table under the massive rubber tree, providing shade from the midday sun.

Recipe for Ajja


4 coloured peppers (green and yellow perhaps, but any ones will do) sliced
half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
salt and pepper to your taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
2/3 crushed garlic cloves
2 chopped tomatoes (with skin removed if you can bother)
some cold water
6 beaten eggs
chopped onions (optional)

Pour the olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and add the chorizo sausage.  Stir with a wooden spoon occasionally and when the red coloured oil comes out of the sausage, it is time to add the cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper, garlic and fry for two minutes. Add the tomatoes, a dash of water, followed by the beaten eggs. 

Now is the time to add the sliced peppers if you want them not overcooked.  However if you prefer them a bit mushy, you could add them right at the beginning with some chopped onions.

Stir the eggs and mess it is more scrambled than omelette.

You can vary this according to taste.....swap the chorizo for minced meat, change the cayenne pepper for harissa paste (just a touch) or tabasco sauce, or if you like HOT food, use all three!

Recipe for ENSALADILLA RUSA (Russian salad, spanish tapa style)

The name for potato salad in Spain is ensaladilla rusa, or Russian Salad. Why? It is said that a Russian invented the salad.  We don’t know what the original Russian salad was like, but the Spanish have made their own version and eat it as a tapa or a side dish.

Ingredients:  for approximately 6 servings

  • 6 potatoes
  • 2 roasted red peppers (bottled is fine)
  • 1 x 16 oz can of peas and carrots, drained
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 x 6 oz can tuna, drained
  • mayonnaise
  • 4-5 spears white asparagus for garnish


Scrub the potatoes to clean off any loose dirt.  Pour water into a large pot, cover and bring to a boil on high heat. Place potatoes in the pot and boil them with skins on until they are cooked, but not too soft. Test the potatoes by pricking with a fork to make sure they are cooked, but still firm. Don’t overcook the potatoes or when mixing the salad, you’ll end up with mashed potatoes!
Drain the water from the potatoes and add cold water, covering the potatoes. Change every few minutes until the potatoes are cool enough to handle with your bare hands.  Refrigerate for a few minutes to cool further. Remove from refrigerator and peel potatoes. Cut into small (approximately 1/2") cubes. Return to refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients.
Boil the eggs until hard then leave them to cool.
Put approximately 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise into a bowl. Slice one of the roasted peppers into chunks  and add to bowl.  
Drain tuna thoroughly, then crumble with a fork and add to bowl.  
Drain carrots and peas and add to bowl.
Peel an egg, chop and add to bowl. Mix all ingredients together.
Add the mayonnaise mixture to the potatoes and mix thoroughly. If necessary, add more mayonnaise. Place the mixture onto a pretty plate.  Smooth the top of the potato salad, preparing for decoration.
Slice remaining red pepper into thin strips and arrange on top of salad. Drain the white asparagus and slice hard-boiled eggs carefully. Use both to decorate the salad.

Recipe for King Prawns in a Wok

Extra large uncooked king prawns with shell on
Potatoes, peeled and cubed
Spring onions (chopped)
Garlic (crushed)
Piri piri….dried chillies
Lemon juice
Soy sauce
Chopped parsley
Yellow pepper (sliced in chunks)
Olive oil to fry or sesame
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry potatoes in olive oil in wok.  Add spring onions and garlic, chopped parsley, piri piri, salt, pepper, soy sauce and chopped peppers.  Cook for about 8 minutes, then add the prawns and lemon juice for about 2-3 minutes.  Sprinkle more parsley on top.

To be served with fluffy white rice and lemon finger bowls on the side.....get stuck in.

If serving to children, it might be better to take the shells off, before cooking the prawns.

28th January, 2013

This is an adaptation of a Claudia Roden sofrito.  I call it

Lamb in Yellow Sauce


Splash of vegetable oil to fry
Large leg of lamb
2 large tablespoons of turmeric
Juice of 2 or 3 lemons
Salt and pepper
A cup of water, depending on the size of the cooking tray....just enough to let the lamb steam, not stew
Large size potatoes sliced into rings

Seal the lamb in oil, just to stop the blood escaping from the joint.  (Use a flat tray which is suitable to use on the top of the hob and in the oven).

Then add the turmeric, salt and pepper, lemon juice and a little water just to cover the bottom of the tray, so the meat cooks in steam rather than stews in water.  Cover with tin foil to allow the lamb to cook inside with steam, very slowly for at least two hours, but preferably three hours.  Open the tin foil and if the lamb is falling off the bone, add the potatoes to the juice, reseal with foil and simmer for a further 20 minutes to half an hour until the potatoes are tender.  The meat should be falling off the bone.

Serve with rice and a chopped salad, (tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce).

21st September, 2012

This one isn't strictly Mediterranean:  It is from Ecuador.

Ecuadorian Lamb Stew
3 fl.oz. Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
14oz tin tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
Half tsp hot chilli powder or harissa
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
2lbs leg of lamb, cubed
8fl. oz dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

Seal the lamb in a frying pan with a little olive oil.  Take the lamb out to rest on a plate and then add the onion and garlic together with more olive oil to the pan.  Fry for 6-8 minutes.  Place the meat back in the pan with the onion and garlic.  Then add tomatoes, chilli, coriander seeds, wine, salt and stir.  Simmer 30 mins at least.  Add peppers last of all and cook a further 20 minutes.  Decorate with the coriander leaves and serve with pure white Basmati rice.

Cubed lamb, either fillet neck, or a whole leg deboned
Tbsp paprika
2 medium sized onions chopped
2 tbsp flour
6fl oz white wine
10fl oz veal or chicken stock
Bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay leaf)
Tomato puree
8oz mushrooms
10fl oz double cream
Chopped fresh parsley for decoration

Brown lamb in butter; add onions, salt, paprika.  Sprinkle with flour.  Pour on white wine and boil for 5 minutes.  Add stock, tomato puree, bouquet garni and simmer for 30 minutes.  Fry mushrooms in butter.  Remove lamb with slotted spoon and pour in cream and cook till sauce reduced.  Return lamb and mushrooms and simmer for a further 20 minutes.  Serve with chopped parsley and buttered noodles or other pasta.  Also goes well with white rice and a mixed chopped salad.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Introduction and sample chapter of book "A Cattery in Spain"


(Sun, sand, sea?  Not a lot of that!)


When we first retired in Spain, we never imagined being short of money or working seven days a week.  Running a cattery, in any country, brings great rewards, but is very hard work.  There is never a day off and especially not Christmas Day, the busiest time of the year.  If you want to start a cattery, don't be daunted.  It isn't that difficult and our story might inspire you.  Unfortunately, we had to close down due to pressure from our bankers during the recession in Spain.
In this book, I will tell you how we built a cattery from scratch and all about the wonderful cats we had the pleasure to look after for five years.  At the back of the book you will find the A to Z of cat breeds around the world, a useful read if you are toying with the idea of owning an unusual breed.

First, though, I will take you back to the time when we first fell in love with the magic of Spain and how we decided to spend more time on the Costa Blanca, eventually moving there permanently (or so we thought!)
The busiest times in any boarding cattery calendar are the times when everyone else is off on holiday!  School holidays and Christmas are the peak periods and as a reputation is established, quiet times become increasingly scarce.  The nicest part about cats staying over Christmas is when the owners collect them, relieved to find them safe and sound and, hopefully not too overweight, from too much Christmas fare!  Although we were tempted, we didn’t vary their diet on Christmas Day, as we didn’t want them to get upset stomachs.  Although, if any newcomers were pining for their owners, a little ham or cooked chicken offered by hand, helped the shyest cats to come out of their hiding place to eat.
            A most enjoyable part of running a cattery is hearing the owners’ tales upon their return from far flung places.  Many went to visit family in the UK, The Netherlands, Florida, Australia, India, Norway etc.  Others went on cruises in Egypt, the Caribbean, returning tanned, relaxed and full of interesting stories to relate.  Many travelled the autopista to spend a weekend in Marbella or Andalucia to visit the Moorish Palace.  Another popular destination was Gibraltar for expats to stock up on all things British.  Occasionally a group of friends would go to Portugal to play golf, or to France on a yacht, meaning all of them would bring their cats for a stay with us.  They would regale us with stories of disastrous weather, recommended hotels, delayed flights etc., but without exception, they all said how much they longed to see their kitties.

Although running a boarding cattery is all about caring for cats, a great deal of time is spent reassuring owners and maintaining a high quality business image.  No formal qualifications are needed to run a cattery at the present time, although it is a great advantage for any cattery proprietor to have training in cattery management and business administration.  It is certainly necessary to be fit and active to run a cattery as daily tasks include cleaning of every occupied unit, preparation and delivery of at least two meals, administration of any medicines, grooming, scrubbing and disinfection of units between boarders, updating of daily records and business paperwork such as bookings and invoices, dealing with arrivals and departures, as well as cattery inspections to put future customers’ minds at rest, and general cattery cleaning such as removing hairs from the bedding before washing them, as well as washing and disinfecting the litter trays.
It is mainly an outdoor lifestyle, sometimes in bad weather conditions, even in Spain, although the cats were protected from the elements in their little houses.  On one occasion, during an extremely heavy downpour, the drainage system couldn’t cope and we were thigh high in water.  Whilst trying to decide whether to evacuate the house and cattery, several clients came knocking on the door with cats in baskets, telling us their homes were inhabitable due to the floods.
We made a swift decision to take in the cats, based solely on the fact that our villa was on higher ground than theirs.  Luckily there was a gully at the end of the garden capable of diverting the bulk of the floods from the higher end of the garden out into the street, missing the cattery completely.
One client’s apartment took two days to dry out and as well as their own cat, they brought another cat from their friend’s villa, which was nearly washed away totally.  Luckily we had room to accommodate both.

Chapter One

The Beginning
Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a move can be?  In the mid-eighties, close friends Juan and Jenny, bade goodbye to England and went to live in the village of Albir on the Costa Blanca in Spain.  We kept in touch with letters, videos and telephone calls (pre world wide web).  Eventually, they moved to the USA when Juan, a shoe designer, was offered a job he couldn’t refuse.  They left their house in Albir unoccupied, having decided renting out could be too problematical.  However, they had little objection to friends or relatives giving the house an airing, so one August in the mid 1980s we arrived at Alicante airport clutching a bunch of keys and directions.  It was my husband Louie’s first visit to Spain and he fell in love with it instantly. 
We collected a hire car from the airport and set off along the coastal road, taking in the fresh sea air by Alicante port, admiring the tall palm trees growing in beds amongst the marble promenades.  We soon got in the holiday mood, smiling at other motorists as cars overtook us (we were in no hurry), loaded down with luggage on their roof racks.  We passed the town of San Juan and the village of Villajoyosa (meaning jewelled town), a typical Spanish village, with a sandy beach and fishing port.  Villajoyosa celebrates the "Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos" from the 24th to the 31st of July every year and the central act is orientated around the Moros unship.   The town is famous for its colourful rows of houses facing the sea painted in brilliant colours of yellow ochre, indigo blue and red.  It is thought they were painted in such gaudy colours to enable the fisherman to see clearly their way home while out at sea.  There is a fish market in the harbour, supplying fresh fish to the local people and restaurants.  
 Villajoyosa is also known as the chocolate town because of its production of turron, (a nougat dessert), as well as chocolate at the Valor chocolate factory.  The museum housed in the village tells the story of Don Valeriano Lopez Lloret, a Master Chocolatier in 1881 who began a career in chocolate making, setting off a chain of activity leading to the present day factory.
A few kilometres further north, we were impressed by the skyscrapers of bustling Benidorm.  After a few wrong turns, we found ourselves at our destination, the small village of Albir, 5 kilometres north of Benidorm.  We marvelled at the whiteness of the villas covered with purple and pink bougainvillea, the sea glinting in the distance and the warmth of the Mediterranean sun making the car quite stifling.
Mid afternoon found us climbing “The Hill” as it is known locally in Albir.  We followed Juan’s directions, passing landmarks like the Ventorillo II restaurant on the way.  We couldn’t wait to join the people sitting outside enjoying a late lunch, surrounded by cats and kittens looking for a morsel or two. 
Soon we parked in the driveway of the house in a no-through road.  Their townhouse (called bungalows in Spain) was in a block of 10 climbing progressively up the hill. 
The property was on three floors, a garage and bedroom on the ground floor, kitchen and lounge on the first floor and two bedrooms on the top floor.  The kitchen was at the front with a large terrace overlooking the Puig Campana mountain.  This proved a favourite place to have a vodka and orange, watching the sun set behind the mountain, until the mountain appeared to be black.  Off the main bedroom we were delighted to find a small balcony overlooking the communal pool, a field of pine trees and beyond them, the spectacular bay of Albir.  In the distance we could easily see the Penon de Ifach, a massive rock, jutting out from the coastline in Calpe.
Tired from the journey, we unpacked and wandered down to the tiny supermarket in the village to stock up on the usual essentials.  Trolleys were nowhere to be seen and passing another customer with the shopping basket was a tight fit.  As well as all the basic foods, it doubled up as a souvenir shop and sold the usual brown ceramic bowls used to serve gambas al ajillo, patatas bravas and other such delights.
            Opposite the supermarket we were tempted by the smells coming from the place selling rotisserie chickens and decided to buy one to take “home”.  It was run by a wife and husband.  Normally one says husband and wife, but in this marriage, the woman definitely seemed to take the lead, doing all the cooking, chatting and ordering about anyone who would listen.  I asked her if they did any other food and her husband said he could rustle up a Spanish omelette, which he promptly did, amidst much muttering from his lady wife.  A portion of ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad) was quickly found as a nice side dish.  Needless to say, we became regular customers for around twenty years.
            Next morning after a coffee on the back terrace overlooking the pool, we drove down to the village main street and decided to try the Bar Restaurante Miramar next to the supermarket, for another coffee.  This soon became our favourite “regular,” due to the charm and friendliness of the owner Domingo and his superb waiter Pepe.  They became friends within a short time.  In the evenings they would play tricks on the customers, such as squirting them with tomato ketchup, using a plastic ketchup bottle which was empty except for a red piece of rope.  The food was standard tourist stuff with photos on the wall and a “Menu del Dia” which is a set meal, usually of 3 courses and including wine, bread and alioli (the delicious garlic mayonnaise the Spanish are so fond of).
            At fiesta time, we used to book a table almost in the road, and stayed all evening until throwing out time, watching the local people mingling with the tourists promenading.  Almost in the middle of the road a band played on a makeshift stage and people danced along the street.  At midnight, most people would amble down to the beach to watch the organised fireworks display.
            Many of our holiday nights were spent in Benidorm as it was only 10 minutes drive away.  We soon got into a routine of having cocktails in a bar opposite the beach followed by a meal in the countless restaurants.  On our last evening, we didn’t want to leave and decided to return the following year.
            In 1989 I gave birth to our son Leo and didn’t make it back to Spain that year.  However, in 1990 we returned to our friend’s townhouse for a stay with our young son and a nanny, Siobhan.  Sixteen year old Siobhan came to us after a series of au pairs.  The first was a Spanish Goth who came to help me at the end of my pregnancy as I was running a dating agency from home.
            One night we were awoken by sounds of her choking.  She had embarked on a midnight raid of the biscuit tin.  A sharp slap on the back from Louie soon put an end to what could have been a dramatic 999 call.
            The next au pair was Fiorella from Italy.  She was more interested in going out than babysitting.  Once I made spaghetti bolognese and she was so overcome with delight, she moved me out of the way and took over the cooking of the spaghetti.  Another time, my husband looked for an Arabic dinner I’d cooked specially for him, only to find Fiorella got there first.  Being an au pair must be the job to work up an appetite!!
            So along came Siobhan who seemed so young, but we were impressed by her dedication to studying childcare and, most of all, by the way she gently amused Leo for hours on end.  He became so fond of her, calling her “Von” that we decided to take her with us on holiday to Spain.
 At the end of the holiday, we found ourselves dreading returning home to the grey skies of England and started to consider making Spain our home.
After spending several relaxing holidays at our friends’ townhouse, we found ourselves falling in love with the village of Albir which is only 47 kilometres from Alicante airport, or 127 kilometres from Valencia airport. It has been popular as a holiday destination with the Spanish, Norwegians, Dutch and English for more than 40 years.  The promenade in Albir is called Paseo de las Estrellas (Promenade of the Stars) due to the film festival held each year. On the south side of Albir is a headland from where the beach starts and extends to Altea, changing from sand to small pebbles the nearer you get to Altea, some five minutes away by car. The old town of Altea, a typical Spanish pueblo popular with artists and musicians, sits on top of a hill whose highest altitude is dominated by the blue domed church of Virgin del Consuelo. From here there are numerous cobbled streets, an old town square with several arty boutiques, craft workshops, selling unusual jewellery, restaurants, bars, and buzzing nightlife.  The view of the bay stretching from Albir to Calpe can be enjoyed from the top of the village and is magnificent.  The church can be reached by car but as parking space is limited, many like to walk up the cobbled steps.

Two of the most famous fiestas held in Altea are the festivities of Moors and Christians and the fireworks of Castell de Lolla.
            The following year saw us take our car on the ferry from Plymouth to Santander for another stay in Juan and Jenny’s house.  A neighbour told us about a Spanish lady, Concha, running a nursery a few yards further up the road.  We went to see her and she looked after Leo whilst we did some serious househunting.  We became firm friends with Concha and are still friends today.  She closed down the nursery and worked as a radio DJ for a while. She is now a prolific artist having shown her work at many exhibitions.
            Back to the househunting....we fell seriously in love with a villa built on 5,000 square metres, backing on to the Sierra Helada quite dramatically, in that the swimming pool was built directly next to the craggy wall of the mountain, offering complete privacy, but when we had the property surveyed, there were no guarantees the mountain wouldn’t slide into the pool after a severe storm.  The bedrooms were on the top floor, facing the pool.  From the bedrooms there was a Hollywood style stair case with a chaise longue half way down each side.  The lounge was spectacular with a feature fireplace taking up the whole of a wall and a bar with built in fridge along another wall.  The kitchen was enormous but needed modernising.  All in all, it would have been a struggle to make the asking price, so we backed out as it could have been a high maintenance property especially as there were two further bedrooms on the ground floor suffering from dampness. The potential for renting them out separately was excellent but they would need renovating first.
            We set our sights lower and the next door neighbours introduced us to a lady selling her villa in Alfaz del Pi.  This was a little further off the beaten track, reached down a winding unmade road.  The property consisted of two floors, with an office on the top floor.  The swimming pool, unusually, was in the front garden, somewhat overlooked, but the owners promised to leave everything as it stood, the furniture, garden chairs and tables, crockery etc.  However, yet again our finances were just short of the asking price.  It would have meant selling our car to buy it.
            An estate agent, Jacinto, took us to see several villas, none of which set our hearts on fire.  We were about to give up when he promised to show us the cheapest villa in Albir, so what happened next?
The owners were in their late seventies and found the 1,000m2 garden too much to cope with. There were colourful trees and plants, not least of which was the beautiful blue Wisteria tree.  Upon entering the property your eyes were drawn to the magnificent old palm tree providing shade over the red hibiscus to the left, closely followed by the pink bougainvillea clinging to the security bars of a window.  Opposite was an array of margarita, its white and yellow flowers turned towards the sun.  Directly outside the lounge was a very tall pine tree.  Looking up to the top reminded me of trying to see the top of a skyscraper in Boston, USA.  A few yards away a monkey tree stretched tall and slim towards the sky, full of cones and in between the two trees was an aviary filled with tweeting birds of all colours.  In front of the monkey tree was the largest rubber tree I have ever seen.  It would later result in my breaking my ankle but that is another story.  Along the side facing the cul-de-sac pink and white oleander bushes had been grown to form a hedge.  The garden was large, but tidy.  At the bottom of the garden it was impossible to walk very far as it was covered with green and yellow striped giant cacti, yucca trees and oversized banana plants.
 Having found an apartment in another village called Finestrat, the owners were eager to sell quickly. 

If you wish to read Chapter Two, please let me know.