Decorating, bad backs and cuckoos

Spring has most definitely sprung. In our valley, Joe and I can see and hear the frantic activity all around us. The birds are at their noisiest and busiest, building nests, finding mates and packing as much as they can into each day. Sparrows, bee-eaters, a pair of kestrels, swallows, cuckoos, owls, all in our valley, all in over-drive.


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This month, Joe and I, too, decided that our house needed freshening up. When we lived in England, I spent hours agonising over paint colour-samples, trying to pick exactly the right shade or hue. Here in Spain, it’s much simpler. White paint is all we need. Gallons and gallons of it. So we bought the paint and concentrated on the scaffolding. Our house isn’t high but it’s built on the slope of a mountain and scaffolding is essential. The usual conversation took place.

“Joe, shouldn’t we just check the instructions to make sure we’ve put it up right?”

“Nah. It’s obvious where all the pieces go. Hold this, it’s the last strut.”

“Then why are there three bits left over?”

“Oh…” Joe scratches his nethers in thought.

“And why does it wobble? It doesn’t look very safe…”

So we take the wretched thing to pieces again, and re-assemble it according to the instructions. By that time it’s too dark to start painting and we abandon it and go indoors. Which is when disaster strikes… Joe lifts a saucepan of water, and a yell rents the air.

“*&#@*! Owww!”

“What’s the matter?”

“My back! I’ve done something to my back!”

My heart sinks. It’s happened before and we know from bitter experience that there is no cure, just rest. I’m not a good nurse, but Joe is a worse patient. He moans, groans and winces with every breath, and I am expected to wait on him, anticipating his every need. In addition I’m forced to carry on painting, alone, plus finish my third book, along with the usual household chores.

I can’t even find sanctuary up the scaffolding. As soon as I get it into position, paint and brushes at the ready, a voice floats out from inside with a multitude of demands.

“Vicky? Vicky! Are you making coffee?” or “Vicky? I can’t bend down and tie my shoe-laces.” or “Vicky! I can’t reach the TV remote!”

“I’m up the scaffolding, painting,” I remind him, but to no avail. The whine from inside simply becomes more insistent.

A week has gone by and Joe’s back is now, thankfully, much better. The painting is coming along nicely and the house is beginning to look fresh and clean. After a day of slapping on industrial quantities of white paint we reward ourselves, in the garden, with a glass or two of Paco’s wine, as dusk descends. We like to watch the birds roost and the sun go down behind the mountains, tinting the sky with random splashes of pink and purple. The bats arrive, flitting crazily around the street-lights, filling their little stomachs with moths and midges.

If I ever return in another life, I think I’d like to be a cuckoo. They must have the easiest life in the animal kingdom. No nest to build or maintain, no children to raise, nothing to do but please themselves, and us, with their wonderful call. And I’ve never heard of a cuckoo with a bad back, either.