Thursday, 31 January 2008

Episode 8 - The Sandy Cove

What a way to spend a Saturday morning, sitting at the kitchen table with only Michael for company. We’ve been drawing up a list of all the food that we’ll need to buy for the summer fete, hardly the most exciting way to start the day. That must sound really mean, especially as the poor soul has been on his own this week, Sonny is in Barcelona visiting some friends and I think I’m the only person Michael’s seen since Thursday.

‘Didn’t you fancy a trip to the city’ I ask him as we clear away the paperwork.

‘No, no too hot and noisy for me’ Michael says rather primly as he fastens the straps around his shoulder bag. ‘And besides which we are far too busy organising the fete to have the time to go gallivanting around’

It might be because he is the older but I have always thought of Michael as stronger than Sonny, but seeing him standing here in my kitchen, I feel sorry for him. He looks, I don’t know, vulnerable somehow.

‘Would you like to stay for lunch’ I ask, ‘it’s only something light, but you are more than welcome’

‘No, no must get going’ said Michael as he makes his way into the hall. ‘I promised Malcolm that I would report back to him after our meeting, but thank you all the same’

Watching him walk down the hill towards Los Vista I am secretly relieved that he turned down the offer. Martin and I need to clear the air. He was fast asleep when I finally went to bed last night. Lying beside him I felt so guilty about getting upset about supper but even guiltier for thinking of Paolo.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Martin has had a hard week and is tired, so why do I have to be such a bitch and feel sorry for myself?

As I walk into the study Martin is still sitting at the computer. He hasn’t moved from his desk all morning.

‘Are you ready for lunch darling?’ I ask standing behind his chair and putting my arms around his shoulders.

Martin hurriedly closed down the screen he is working on ‘Bring it in here will you, I am expecting a fax from Clifford that I’ll need to deal with as soon as it arrives’

Gently I swivel his chair around so that he is looking at me ‘You need a break, can’t we have lunch together?’

‘What part of ‘I’m busy’ don’t you understand’ he snaps as he turns back to the blank screen

I don’t want to cry again and fighting back the tears, I walk slowly out of the study and across into the kitchen. Getting the olives and cheese from the fridge I set the tray with Martin’s lunch and carry it back to his desk. I can feel my face flushed with anger as I slowly move some papers aside and put the tray down in front of him. Walking out of his study, I turn around at the door and call back with a fury that has been building since I met him at the airport last night

‘I hope it chokes you’

The car keys are lying on the hall table and before I know it I have taken the car out of the garage and I’m driving down the valley towards the coast.

At this time of the year the main beaches are packed with holiday makers but crowds are the last thing I want right now. I drive further along the coast to the little bays where only the locals venture. My favourite has a small cantina set at the far end of the sandy beach.

When we first moved over to Spain Martin and I used to spend most weekends exploring the coast down towards Gandia. In those days he had time for me, time for us.

There is only one other car as I pull into the car park by the beach and as I get out of the car I take off my shoes to walk barefoot along the golden sand.

Strolling along the waters edge I can’t believe how angry I still am with Martin. Angry with him for making me feel so sad, angry with him for making me feel so useless. All I wanted was to spend some time with him and all he has done since coming home is avoid me. Are things really so bad between us that he can’t bear to be in the same room as me?

At the cantina there is a table with two chairs set under a parasol. I buy myself a beer and sit watching a mother playing with her children further down the beach.

Looking at the family reminds me of when our girls were little. Every year, we would rent a cottage by the sea in Cornwall for the summer. Martin was working in London during the week and the girls and I would collect him from the Paddington train on a Friday night. They were so exited to see him and would chatter away in the car, telling him of all our adventures that week.

If the weather was fine we would spend the weekend, sailing, or letting the girls’ fish for crabs from the harbour wall. On rainy days we would drive up to Truro and take them to the cinema. Most Saturday evenings were spent in a little country pub having supper and planning our next weekend with Daddy.

So when did everything change, was it when the girl’s grew up? No, we were still happy, Martin and I, making plans for this big move. Setting up a new home together, looking forward to the girls visiting us and bring the grandchildren out for holidays in the sun.

When was it that then that our lives became so serious and Martin’s work became more important to him than spending time with me?

‘It is a good day to look at the sea’

I jump as I turn around to see Paolo standing at the back of the cantina

‘Paolo, what the hell are you doing here?’

Paolo just smiles and sits down next to me.

‘I am delivering salad to the cook’

My heart is racing as I stammer ‘I’m sorry I shouted but I didn’t see you there. I thought that I was alone’

‘Do you want to be alone?’ He asks looking puzzled.

‘No, I suppose not really, I just needed some space’

‘Space?’ questions Paolo sitting down in the shade beside me ‘space for what’

‘Oh it’s nothing, ignore me, I’m just feeling sorry for myself.’

Paolo sits forward and reaches across the table to touch my hand. ‘Poor Fliss, you look so lonely. I am going fishing soon, would you like to come with me?’

I feel his finger entwined with mine ‘where do you go fishing?’ I ask him feeling breathless as my heart pounds in my chest.

‘My brother has lent me his boat for the afternoon, it is there’ he says pointing to a small fishing boat tied to the wooden jetty at the end of the beach

As I look into his eyes I remember the star filled sky last night.

‘Thank you’ I say, looking at his hand still gently holding onto mine.

‘That would be lovely’

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Episode 7 - A Nice Welcome Home

I don’t know what’s the matter with me, when I close my eyes at night , all I can see is Paolo working in the fields all hot and sweaty, his muscles rippling as he swings his scythe through the long grass.

And in that special time, just before dawn, when the air is still and dreams are not far away, I remember the feel of his lips brushing against my cheek and his hand gently holding my arm.

I have got to pull myself together, there is Martin working himself into the ground so that we can live in this wonderful place and how do I repay him? By acting like a silly school girl with a massive crush on the first boy who shows her any interest.

How can I be so stupid? It was just a drink with a friend, nothing more. It isn’t as if he led me on. Paolo was the perfect gentleman. This has only been a daydream, a longing for something that couldn’t possibly happen. Why would anyone want me for heavens sake, I’m a grandmother!

I have decided to pull myself together and appreciate all that I have, not waste time dreaming about a man who would probably laugh if he knew how I was feeling about him.

The last thing I want is for Martin to feel that I don’t appreciate him. That’s why I have a made a special effort for tonight. The table is laid for supper. I have had my hair restyled and fixed my makeup. Dear god I have even bought a new dress and for the first time in a very long time I’ve driven out to the airport to meet him getting off the plane.

He is just coming out of Customs as I arrive:

‘What are you doing here, is there a problem at the villa?’

‘No darling, I just thought it would be a nice surprise for you’

‘Well it’s certainly a surprise’ Martin mumbled as we made our way out to the car. ‘I won’t be able to drive you know, I’ve had a drink on the plane’

‘Martin, I’m not asking you to drive, I just thought that you might like a lift for a change rather than having to wait in line for a taxi’ I’m really trying not to sound exasperated, I realise Martin must be tired but why can’t he at least pretend to be glad to see me.

‘I’ve had a busy week’ he snapped ‘and all I want now is to get home, have a shower and pour myself a large scotch.

‘I don’t know what I have done wrong. I just thought that you would like a lift’

‘Fliss I’m not in the mood for your nagging. I’ve been up since 6o’clock this morning, been in meetings all day and to round it off I have just been on the flight from hell.’

With that he settled into the passenger seat, folded his arms across his chest and closed his eyes. For the rest of the journey Martin is quiet, I suppose I could fool myself and into thinking that he is asleep. That would be far less painful than admitting that he hadn’t noticed how I looked and cared even less about how I felt.

After putting the car away in the garage, I follow Martin into the hall as he plonks his case down. Without looking back he walks straight to the study to collect his post and pour himself the longed for glass of whisky. ‘Don’t bother with supper for me, I had a sandwich on the plane’ he calls over his shoulder as he walks upstairs, ‘after my shower I think I’ll turn in, it’s been a long day’

I walk into the kitchen and switch off the oven. I’d spent hours preparing our supper, buying fresh ripe tomatoes from the market and collecting the rosemary from the hillside to slow bake with the lamb. I wanted to make him the beautiful meal that I had at Maria’s.

It was a meal to share with the man I had married all those years ago, to say I’ve been a fool this week but I’m over it now and I am glad that you are home, but the moment is lost now. Looking at the candles unlit on the supper table I feel so angry with him. Didn’t he miss me at all?

Standing alone in the kitchen surrounded by all the things that were supposed to make this evening special I suddenly feel that our love, once so sure and strong is shrivelling before my eyes. I feel sadder and lonelier than I did when he was away. At least then I could pretend that he wanted me.

I grab a tissue and wipe away the tears of frustration that are threatening to ruin what’s left of my mascara before pouring myself a large glass of wine and walking out onto the terrace.

The night air is still warm and the ink black sky is sparkling with a thousand stars. As I gaze up at them all I can think of is the last time I saw Paolo. His deep dark eyes were sparkling like the night sky as he held my hand to help me up from the table.

Standing alone on the terrace I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to feel his breath on my neck and his hands cupping my cheeks as he lifts my face to wipe away my tears. And then he would kiss me with a passion and longing that would make me cry again.

Opening my eyes I look down the valley and can see the lights of the village twinkling in the moonlight. The square will be filling up now with families and the bars and restaurants busy with the sounds of people looking forward to the weekend.

So why am I standing here all alone, silently weeping to the stars.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Chapter 6 - It was only a drink

I must have been miles away. I hadn’t seen Paolo crossing the square to the restaurant. I wonder how long he had been standing there looking at me staring into space.

'Can I join you Flees?'

‘Paolo, this is a surprise, I’ve finished eating but you can join me for coffee if you like?’

‘Would you like me at ask Maria to bring us some fine Spanish brandy to accompany our coffee?’

‘Oh thank you that would be lovely’

I glanced at Paolo as he walks back into the restaurant to speak to Maria. He looks so handsome, dressed for the evening in tight blue jeans and a fresh white shirt. The hours he spends out of doors have tanned his skin a dark chestnut colour and his jet black hair shines in the candlelight.

‘You must be exhausted with all that digging this afternoon’ I say as he sits down at the table

‘Oh not at all, there is always such lovely sights to see when you are standing in the fields’ his smile lights up his face ‘that the work doesn’t seem too hard’

Is he flirting with me? I can feel his eyes staring into mine while all the time that quirky little smile never leaves his mouth.

I don’t believe it. It’s happening again, I can feel myself blushing. Why does this man have this effect on me? Please God don’t let me jabber at him the way I did this afternoon. Let me be that cool sophisticated woman who should be living in our villa. The trouble is I’m out of the habit of having a drink with a good looking man.

I haven’t always been this way. Before I had the girls, I used to work for a publishing house and would often go out drinking with the guys from work. We all thought it was a great way to unwind after a particularly stressful day and if I’m being honest, I enjoyed the attention, being the only girl in an office with five men.

Not that I wanted to make Martin jealous, he thought that it was sweet that they treated me as one of the boys. It was nice to spend an evening with people who didn’t expect anything of me. They just liked me for who I was.

But those days are long gone and the only time I go drinking now is with Martin in the clubhouse after golf, if I’m lucky.

It’s not the same as this, sitting in a restaurant with a handsome, unattached man, not the same at all, but the brandy on top of the wine I had with supper is helping to relax me and I’m beginning to feel quite mellow. It helps as well that Paolo is so easy to talk to and even seems interested in what I’ve got to say.

The restaurant is filing up around us and I realise with a start that we have been sitting and chatting for nearly an hour. If I stay here much longer people might start talking!

‘You must get very lonely all week on your own’ says Paolo

‘Oh not at all’ I lie ‘Martin phones me every night when he is away. In fact I must get back, he usually calls about 10 o’clock’

I’m not sure why I didn’t want him to know the truth that Martin and I can go days without talking. I suppose that it’s because it makes me look pathetic to say, yes I am lonely. My husband is away and I don’t hear from him for days on end unless he wants me to phone his accountant or arrange his business meetings for him.

This isn’t what I signed up to when we talked about moving Spain. I thought that we were coming here to spend more time together. I never imagined that I would be turning into his part time, long distance, secretary.

‘Martin is a very luck man to have such a beautiful wife’

I glance across the candle and smile quietly to myself. It’s been a long time since Martin thought of me as beautiful. To look beautiful you have to believe it yourself and I’m not sure do.

As I get up from the table I stumble against the chair and Paolo reaches over to catch my arm. Walking out of the restaurant he is still holding on to me as we say good night. As I look into his face I am sure that I can see more than just a smile behind his big brown eyes.

‘Would you like me to walk you home?’ offers Paolo as he releases his grip on my arm.

Right at this moment I would like nothing better I think ruefully, but say instead, ‘Oh there’s no need for you to do that, it won’t take me long to walk back. Thank you for the brandy and the company. I’ll see again soon I hope’

‘I’m sure you will Fless, Goodnight.’

I feel that everybody is looking at me as I walk across the square. Can they see how close I was to kissing him?

For the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel like somebody’s wife or even secretary, I feel beautiful, special ……….and wanted.

Am I imagining it or does he really want more than just conversation? My heart is pounding in my chest as I turn away. If I look back now would he still be there? Quickly glancing over my shoulder I can see him leaning against a tree outside the restaurant, still watching me, still smiling.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Episode 5 - Supper in the village

I love this little restaurant in the village. It’s not surprising that it’s very popular with all the locals, beautiful food, and friendly staff and with its view of the fountain in the square it’s perfect for people watching. Maria and Carlos have managed to create a lovely atmosphere where I don’t feel at all self-conscious eating alone. Not that I make a habit of it you understand, but occasionally, when Martin is away, I will make the effort to come down to the village for supper rather than sit on my own with only Astra 2 on the television for company.

I spotted Mrs Hale as I walked in, sitting at her usual table indoors. Gloria Westbury told me that Mrs Hale eats here every night. I can’t say that I blame her. I don’t know how she manages living on her own in the village. I’ve always thought that she would maybe happier living in Los Vista. At least there she would be with other expats and have the golf club to go to of an evening.

Oh well I suppose she doesn’t have far to walk home from Maria’s. Her townhouse is only about a five minute stroll from the square in one of the side roads that run up to the church at the top of the hill. It’s strange but I don’t know of anyone who has ever been inside her house, she isn’t the kind of woman who passes out invites for afternoon tea. In fact apart from the odd committee meeting the only time I ever see her about the village is on market day when you can often see her marching back home with her groceries.

It might seem unsociable of me but the evening is so warm and I am still feeling stressed after talking to the girls that I’d rather sit at a table outdoors by myself and admire the sunset. I really don’t feel like making small talk with a woman who probably wouldn’t want my company anyway.

‘Carlos has prepared some beautiful lamb this evening, he has baked it for a long time with garlic and tomatoes, can I tempt you Signora?’ Maria asked as she appears to lay a fresh cloth on my table.

‘Oh that sounds lovely and can I have a small carafe of house wine as well please’

I am feeling hungry now with all the fabulous smells wafting out from the kitchen and as I watch the world go by from my vantage point at the corner of the square, I can slowly feel the stresses of the day slip away.

The square is starting to fill now with families having their promenade. The warm evening air has brought the old ladies of the village out to sit on their favourite benches gossiping with their friends and the old men to play boules under the trees that line the square.

When it arrives, the food doesn’t disappoint and tastes as delicious as it smells. Carlos really does have a magic way with lamb

I think that I might suggest to Martin that we could come here for supper on Saturday night, or, even better, maybe I could ask Carlos for his recipe. Then I could cook the lamb on Friday and surprise Martin with a special supper. Perfect, it has been ages since I’ve made a fuss of him when he gets home for the weekend. A candle lit supper, plenty of wine and soft romantic music might be just the way to get the weekend off to a good start especially if I collect him from the airport. He really won’t be expecting to see me. I won’t tell him what I am planning so he will get a nice surprise when he realises that he doesn’t have to start queuing for a taxi.

I can’t believe how lucky I have been to keep this party a secret from Martin. He knows that the girls are coming over for his birthday but he thinks that we will just be having a family dinner at the golf club. I do hope that he will be pleased when we turn up there and he finds all our friends and neighbours waiting for him. Though as the day of the party gets closer I am getting less sure that he will be quite as thrilled as I thought that he would be when the girls and I first started organising it.

I’m not sure why, but our social life seems to have all but dried up over the past couple of months.Martin says that he has to be sociable and chatty when he is working in London and that he just wants a quiet life when he is back in Spain. Well that fine for him but I miss our dinners out and god help me but even the evenings we used to spend at the golf club don’t seem too bad, especially when they are the only time that I get to dress up these days.

I am hoping that it’s just a phase he’s going through. I hate to think that this is all I have to look forward to. Evenings spent on my own when he is away and weekends alone cooking in the kitchen waiting for him to come home from the golf club.

Bugger it, I’ve decided, enough is enough, this is the weekend when it all changes, from now on we are going to be a proper couple again. Poor old Martin, he isn’t going to know what’s hit him.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Episode 4 - All of a flutter

I love this time of day, the intense heat has gone from the sun and the rosemary bushes that line the roadside are pumping out their wonderful heady aroma into the warm air. Walking back up the hill from the committee meeting I have to admit that I am secretly hoping that I might see Paolo working in his fields.

Just the thought of seeing all that bare flesh as he digs the earth is enough to make me break out in a sweat. He is so handsome, in a rugged, unshaven kind of way. Admittedly he’s past the first flush of youth, but then again I’m no spring chicken.

‘Buenos sierra Signora’

Where the hell was he hiding? - ‘Hi Paolo, how are you today’

‘I’m well Signora but you are looking very thoughtful, are you sad?’

No, no not at all, I’ve just been to a meeting about the summer fete for the donkey sanctuary and have volunteered to do the catering’ - why am I telling him all this? - ‘and I was just thinking about menus’, - shut up woman, you are rabbiting.

Oh my, he looks so handsome standing there in his ragged jeans and bare chested with just a little kerchief around his neck. Concentrate you fool, he’s talking to you.- ‘I’m sorry, I’m just a little preoccupied and please Paolo will you call me Fliss, Signora makes me feel so old’

‘Oh Flees’ he laughed ‘nobody could ever think that you were old’

If I don’t stop grinning and blushing he is going to think that I’m simple. This is ridiculous. I haven’t felt this giggly since I was a school girl. Think of something intelligent to say to him – foolish woman!

‘What are you planting? – is that really the best I can do?

‘Potatoes and onions, I will give you some when they have grown if you like’

‘Oh yes please that would be lovely’ I answer distractedly as I stare at the smudge of dirt on his cheek, how wonderful would it be to reach over and gently wipe it away….Pull yourself together woman! ‘I’m sorry I must get going’ I stammer. ‘I have arranged to phone my daughters tonight and they will be wondering where I am’- ‘where I am’, oh good god woman now you really do sound a fool.

Paolo looked straight into my eyes as if he could read my mind and smiling said ‘Goodbye Flees, I hope to see you again soon’

As I start to walk away I glance over my shoulder, he is still standing there leaning on his hoe and smiling at me. I smile back and wave, just a little wave, before hurrying away. Why is it that he can make me feel so, I don’t know, tingly, when all he is offering is vegetables, get a grip woman!


‘But Mum I have explained all this to you, our flight is due in at 5pm and I will get a taxi from the airport. Please don’t drive out to meet us, your car just isn’t big enough for us all plus luggage. I did tell you at the time that an estate car would have been far more practical out in Spain

Why did every conversation with Sophie make me feel like a silly schoolgirl?

‘The girls will probably be tired after the journey so a light supper and early to bed would be best’

‘Sophie darling surely they will be far too excited for that. I was hoping for a BBQ around the pool, I don’t get much chance to use the BBQ with Dad being away during the week’

‘The last thing I need is two overtired children under my feet all evening. No Mum I think that an early night would be best, so if I could leave it with you to arrange the supper please. Oh and before I forget, have you told Ella about the present yet?’

‘No Sophie’ I sighed ‘I did think that you would be arranging your Father’s present between you’

‘You know what a scatter brain Ella is Mum, and I just don’t have the time to run around after her. So if you could phone her please and say that I will send her a cheque for my half of the present but she will have to arrange to collect it’

Sophie thinks that Martin would like to have flying lessons when he is in the UK, but she wants Ella to arrange them.

‘Sophie darling you know that Ella is really busy at work at the moment, I’m not sure that she will have time to get down to the flying school’

‘And I do?’ she shrieked ‘do you realise what it is like having a career and children? For heavens sake Ella only has herself to look after and she doesn’t seem to do that very well!’

I just don’t have the energy to argue with Sophie tonight, so I agree to speak to Ella for her, just as she knew I would.


‘So, Sophie has got you to do her dirty work yet again has she Mum?’ sighed Ella ‘When will you learn to say no to her?’

‘Ella, please no more arguments, if you want, I will arrange the lessons and ask them to just bill you’

‘Oh no Mum I won’t have it said that I don’t have the time for my Father. I will just have to make the time this weekend and hope that my car will manage the round trip down to Kent

As usual I feel emotionally rung out after talking to the girls.

Well that’s it; I’m not going to sit here on my own brooding about them all evening. Bugger the diet, I deserve a little treat, supper in the village at Maria’s sounds just right. Let’s face it I can always power walk back up the hill to burn off the calories. (Well maybe not in these shoes!)

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Episode 3 - The Committee

A ten minute stroll down the hill towards the village takes you to the compound. Of course it’s not really a compound, that’s just what Martin rather scathingly calls it. It’s far grander name is Los Vista, and it’s a collection of fine villas set around a communal pool area, with an eighteen hole golf course and club house on site.

The villas are lovely and the communal areas are really well kept. I like their lush green lawns and the gardeners are always working on the beautiful flower beds. It’s all really nice, just not very Spanish. In fact I am sure that half the residents, especially those who spend the morning on the golf course, only ever venture outside the gates to go shopping. There isn’t any need for them to go out otherwise. Everything is laid on for them.

Malcolm and Gloria Westbury are the pillars of the expat community there. Malcolm is the chairman of the residents committee for Los Vista and Gloria spends a lot of her time raising funds for the local donkey sanctuary.

They are good people; boring, dull even, but basically good. Martin detests them of course. They are just the kind of people that he will cross the road to avoid and this fund raising meeting is his idea of hell. Why waste an afternoon with the old buggers when you could be on the golf course he would have moaned.

Malcolm and Gloria have a pretty three bedroomed villa overlooking the golf course. Their d├ęcor is more Home Counties than Mediterranean but they have made it very homely.

I’m late, as usual, and the rest of the committee have already gathered in the lounge;

Sitting very primly on the kitchen chair is Mrs Hale. Nobody knows her first name and even if they had they would be too frightened to use it. She is a scary looking woman who doesn’t seem to mix very well with other people. Apart from these meetings, the only time I ever see her about is when she is striding around the village barking orders to the local shopkeepers. I’m not sure if she’s deaf or just thinks that everyone else is.

Over on the sofa are Ken and Lizzie Jessop. They spend most days sitting around the pool drinking exotic looking cocktails and telling anyone who is mad enough to listen, how much money they made when they sold their house in Essex.

Near the patio doors, perched awkwardly on the plastic garden chairs are Sonny and his partner Michael who live in the next valley. They have walked the two kilometres over to the Westbury’s and now look rather hot and bothered. At the last meeting Sonny fell into the trap of asking Malcolm about his vegetable patch, never a sensible move. Malcolm can waffle on for hours about the problems of growing root vegetable this far south and poor Michael looked mortified when Sonny fell asleep mid lecture.

And finally, squashed over in the corner are Liam and Cassy Stratton with their beautiful baby daughter Abby. The Stratton’s have only just joined the committee. They bought the old hillside finca from the Mullers about six months ago. I’m intrigued to know how they are going to afford all the renovations needed to make the farmhouse even barely habitable. The spiraling costs of renovating the old place had near bankrupted the Mullers, who eventually cut their losses and moved to a small new apartment down on the coast.

Poor Malcolm is trying his best to get volunteers for the Annual Summer Fete. It’s the biggest fund raising event of the year for the donkey sanctuary. Every year is the same, the committee is great for coming up with the ideas but short on volunteers to carry them out. The committee as usual will be running the stalls with the old hands volunteering for the cushy jobs leaving the dreaded white elephant stall to Liam and Cassy. The poor things won’t know what’s hit them; there is nothing more frightening than two expats fighting over the same second hand lamp shade!

Finally Malcolm looks up from his clip board,

‘And the last item on the agenda, catering. Fliss dear would you possibly be able to help with this, you did so well last year, everybody was very impressed with your cream teas’ he smiled sweetly to general murmurings around the room of ‘oh yes, absolutely delicious’.

So no pressure then, and before I know it I have volunteered, yet again, as everyone knew I would.

‘We could help if you like’ volunteers Sonny, ‘more hands and all that’

Oh heck, I can just imagine the chaos that Sonny and Michael will bring to the proceedings. It’ll be much quicker if I do it on my own, but Sonny is so enthusiastic, so smiling, I just say ‘wonderful thank you that would be lovely’.

With all the jobs allocated thank goodness we can all escape into the fresh air. It never ceases to amaze me how some expats live out here. Take Malcolm and Gloria for example. Why would they think that we should have to sit indoors all afternoon when they have a beautiful shady patio that would have been perfect for our meeting? It’s so stuffy in their lounge with all those people in there, its no wonder that baby Abby slept all afternoon, much longer in there and I would have dozed off myself.

I always think that the beauty of living this far south is the weather and I for one love to make the most of it, especially at this time of day. With most of the heat gone from the sun, late afternoon is a lovely time for a stroll home and if I’m really lucky I might even see our rather handsome neighbour Paolo working in his fields. Now that’s a sight to gladden any poor woman’s heart!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Episode 2 - All in the Planning

Can I let you into a little secret? I’m embarrassed to even admit this, but the truth is I’m nervous about Sophie and Ella seeing each other again. They always seem to end up arguing about something, put them together in a room for 5 minutes and they will be at each others throats. I know that this time they will only be together for a long weekend and their Father’s birthday to boot but in the past couple of years they have managed to stagger their visits out here to Spain, in fact the last time we were all together as a family was for Christmas three years ago.

Don’t get me wrong I know that the girls love each other. I’m just not sure that they always like each other. The problem is Sophie. She can be cruel at times and is so dismissive of Ella’s job as a Social Worker. Ella loves her job, probably too much at times. The poor girl never seems to have the time or energy for a social life and has resigned herself to the fact that she might have to wait years to get any kind of promotion at work. Sophie on the other hand is very ambitious and can’t understand anyone who isn’t looking for the next step up the corporate ladder, especially if it means a bigger bonus at the end of the year.

Admittedly Sophie has a live-in Nanny, but even so I don’t know how she manages to work those long hours in the City while at the same time being the perfect Wife and Mother. She even gets to visit the gym twice a week before work by getting up at five o’clock in the morning. She is the original superwoman and I’m sure that she thinks that the rest of us just don’t try hard enough, especially her sister.

Please God let them be on their best behaviour for the party. I swear I’ll scream if they start squabbling as soon as they get together.

At least they are travelling out here to Spain separately. Sophie and the children are due to arrive on the Monday but Ella will not be able to fly out until the night before the party on the Saturday.

It’s a shame that Sophie’s husband Alistair will be away on business and won’t be able to make the party. I’ve always liked Alistair. He’s a quiet chap but he’s a good husband and an excellent Dad to Olivia and Grace.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to seeing my little granddaughters again. I miss them so much. When we were living in London I was always making excuses to see them, they are such beautiful little poppets. Olivia is the oldest, she is five now and loves being the big sister to little three year old Grace. I’ve lots of treats planned for them while they are here and I can’t wait to spoil them.

It seemed a good idea at the time, a surprise party. Martin used to enjoy a good party, especially if he was the guest of honour but as it get’s closer I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He used to love being surrounded by his family and friends but over the past couple of months he seems to have turned into the original grumpy old man. Nothing is right. The travelling backwards and forwards to the UK gets him down, the weather’s too wet in London and too hot out here, and the only thing he doesn’t moan about is his golf!

I read the other day that men in their fifties can suffer from the male menopause, so maybe it’s his hormones.

Seriously though, he hasn’t always been like this. When the girls were little I would look forward to him coming home. He would sweep into the kitchen and give me a huge hug. Ok, it was usually when I was either preparing the supper or changing a nappy, but it was lovely to feel his strong arms around me. No matter how tired he was, or how busy he had been all day, he always had time for the girls and they loved it when he got home in time to read their bedtime stories.

And when the girls were safely tucked up in bed it was our time. Martin would pour us both a glass of wine and we would snuggle up in front of the fire daydreaming about all the things that we would do together when it was just the two of us again. How we would travel first class to all the places that we had been backpacking to when we were at University, beachside villas in Thailand, five star hotels in India, the world was our oyster.

I don’t know when the dreaming stopped. When was it that we became so sensible, so predictable? Now Martin is more likely to arrive home from the airport, pay the taxi, drop his case in the hallway, look through his post on the hall table and then walk past me straight upstairs to get changed, before even saying hello.

I’m sure he still cares, but I think after all these years together we’ve got into a rut and he just expects me to be here waiting for him; after all, where else would I be.

Just once I would love it if he could burst through the door on a Friday night, drop his case, throw his arms around me and look at me the way he used to all those years ago. I want to be swept off my feet. I want to be kissed until I am breathless and told that I am still beautiful. I suppose I just need to know that he wants me as much as I want him.

All I really want is for this weekend to be different but maybe we both need to make more of an effort.

After all nobody said being married was easy.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Episode 1 - Fliss’ Story

It was an effort to get out of bed this morning but lying in wasn’t an option. If I want to get fit and lose some weight I have to get up early. This far south it’s far too hot to do anything as strenuous as running after about 10 o’clock in the morning.

I love the countryside in this part of Spain with its miles of rolling hills and meadows of wild herbs. The early morning air is filled with the herby smells that remind me of foccacia bread still warm from the oven. I feel at peace with the world. Pounding the country lanes with only the buzzards circling the hill tops for company, I don’t have a care in the world.

But if I’m to be honest with you, and if I am going to tell you my story I know that I must be completely honest, the best sight of all is when I am running back down the hill and can see our villa, because that means the end is in sight and I can get some flipping breakfast.

We couldn’t believe it when the Estate Agent brought us out to see the villa. It looked so impressive sitting on the side of the hill overlooking the valley. There is no way that we could have afforded anything so grand in London. It has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a pool, Jacuzzi and a kitchen big enough to cater for a small army.

Of course it’s far too big for just the two of us. Isn’t it funny how things turn out? Here we are with all the space we ever dreamt of and now there’s only the two of us to fill it. When our daughters were still at home our house in London always seemed to be bursting at the seams. Sophie and Ella were always having friends over to stay and Martin thought nothing of inviting clients for dinner at the drop off a hat. In those days I would have been grateful for a bigger kitchen never mind a poolside changing room!

As much as I love the villa sometimes, especially after my morning run, I can’t help feeling a little intimidated by it. Martin thinks I’m mad. Nothing ever seems to faze him. He always looks relaxed wherever he is but at times like this, when I am standing sweating all over the Italian marble tiles in the hallway, I feel more like a scruffy tramp rather than the lady of the house.

This hall is meant for beautiful young women in elegant evening dresses, not a slightly overweight, sweaty, middle aged woman in baggy shorts. But let’s face it I’m here on my own so there’s nobody to see me looking a mess. Martin is back in London and I have the house to myself for the rest of the week.

When we moved out to Spain the girls and I thought that he was going to retire and sell his business interests in the UK. But Martin wasn’t ready to retire. He said that he enjoyed his job too much to give it all up and told us that being self employed meant that, providing he has a decent Broadband connection, he could do most of his work via email from Spain.

I’m sure that he meant it at the time but over the last couple of years he has realised that he needs to be where the work is and that isn’t our little village in Southern Spain. London is where the majority of his clients are, so that’s where he has to be during the week.

Not that staying on his own during the week in London is cramping his style. The last time I was over there visiting the girls I’ll admit that I was amazed to see how he had made our little flat in Southwark into a very comfortable bachelor pad. Flat screen TV, state of the art hifi and a very respectable wine collection. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge him a nice place. It’s just that I hadn’t realised that he had made it quite so cosy without me even knowing.

I’m not grumbling though. I’ve a very full life here in Spain, with or without Martin, and as usual, my whole day is planned out. I do like to have a plan.

Take today for example, start the day with an early morning run, swim 20 lengths of pool, have a light lunch, make the effort to go to the resident’s committee meeting at the Westbury’s and then phone the girls to finalise the arrangements for Martin’s surprise birthday party next month.

The running and swimming are all part of my new healthy lifestyle. The only problem with living in the sun is that it is far too easy to start putting on weight. When we first settled here the most strenuous thing I did apart from the odd round of golf was to stroll down to the market in the village twice a week. With nothing to rush around for it’s amazing how the weight can creep on. One day you look in the mirror and think My God when did that happen, I used to be a size 12 and look at me now. I can’t even wear a bikini without blocking out the sun.

The last thing I need before Martin’s party is for Sophie to have another excuse to give me the ‘Mother is letting herself go’ lecture. So I’m determined to tone up, lose half a stone and look a million dollars in my beautiful red silk Marc Jacobs dress. It’s not new you understand, in fact it’s been hanging in the wardrobe for two years, a mad impulse buy in the January Sales. I have been saving it for the right occasion and what could be better than Martin’s party when for the first time in ages the whole family will be together again.