Static attack (and I don't mean the cat)

By Martin Kirby

There has been something in the winter air at Mother’s Garden, and it hurts. Strangely, as the clear night temperatures in the Catalan mountains slid to minus 10 after a mild January, the ache of brittle cold was not adorned with jewels of frost. Instead the startling absence of humidity caused sparks to fly. The static here has been alarming as well as painful and has added to the disconcerting realities of no rain and economic squall. Opening or closing a car door was accompanied by a blue flash and curses. Taking off a jumper was enough to illuminate a dark room; kisses came at too high a price. There has been talk of extra-terrestrial activity or nuclear meltdown, but it has been, hopefully, just a particularly barren spell of hydrogen-bonding, the likes of which we have never experienced before. You know - not enough water molecules to reduce the air’s resistance, so static charge builds up on objects and people. (No, I’m not entirely sure what I mean either, but there are clever trousers among you who do). The dry Sere wind from the west, the dominant force most mornings, has refused to yield to more humid afternoon wind from the seaward east, and there by lies the disharmony. The harnessing of wind power is the bold focus in this corner of Spain, with hundreds of turbines within a 30-mile radius of us, and I want to tell you about that another day. Perhaps, though, we should all look again at Nikola Tesla’s ingenious theories of a century ago regarding the capture of electricity straight from the atmosphere. In 1910 he designed a system to harness the power of lightning, that dramatic discharge of static electricity which is an alarming, unifying fact of life for we Earthlings. I’m reliably informed that the average lightning bolt contains a billion volts at 3,000 amps, or 3 billion kilowatts of power, enough energy to run a major city for months. As I am sure I have relayed before, we have far more “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” moments here than in the UK, and there are 16million lightning storms worldwide a year. I really don’t like them but would be happy to hear one if it heralded rain. May this parched winter have been broken by storm by the time you are reading this, and the thirst quenched. The earth is desperate. Extreme times indeed, with a deathly dryness to reflect the social climate as the pepper wind of economic recession begins to find cracks in that powerful, rural Latin resilience. The pervading chill of unemployment among the young – running at a numbing 47 per cent – is, along with sickening health and education cuts, carving a canyon between the vulnerable and the insulated. The safety net is the seam of simplicity that still runs through village society, where stoicism is personified by the oldest generation who remember far worse than this and who, vitally, remain at the heart of many families. Their gardens, like the families, grow and nourish because they are close by and they are able to tend them. Encapsulating the weight of everything, the timeless Fonda hostel and restaurant in town has finally closed. The door has been boarded up and the flaking shutters have been pulled closed, sagging like the wings of a dead bird. It was a place from a fast fading past, glorious in its ungarnished contrast to the present, with, glaringly, no future. Its closure was inevitable but still a shock. Perhaps in more positive times someone will step into the void left by the elderly proprietors, rekindle that charm and preserve the key, simple essence of it, once a world living far beyond its means navigates a path through the debris of shocking excess. Perhaps an attitude founded on the Latin family and community-orientated resilience will prevail, that we will all find a way to recalibrate what is important, and that the air will cease to be charged with injustices. The questions come thick and fast from the homeland about how hard it must be to live here right now, given what a financial muddle Spain is in, and I am loathe to answer; because the societies are different and, subsequently, so are attitudes, even if there is a collective continent-wide nausea at being misled. Forgive me, though, but it seems some people’s fuses are considerably shorter in England. I was going to tell you of a grim altercation at Luton Airport, but I think I have said enough. We struggle to stay afloat and grow weary as each day fades, but this life remains so full of opportunities and rewards, and we are healthy, ever hopeful and grateful. All I know is that around the corner there are always more bridges and all we can do is cross them when we get there. Just to the front of the farmhouse, but not so close to home, Tilly and Ted’s terrier world has undergone a significant reformation. Their run was diseased with dog-size escape holes in the inadequate chicken wire, all plugged by me with anything that came to hand, from clumsy weaves of waste wire, to old window shutters from the tip. It was a disgrace. So visiting nephew Yan has rebuilt it, incorporating chain-link fencing to defeat the canine Houdinis. And while he was at it he lopped off the fat, dead fig limb above their lodging, revealing what we already feared – that the old tree had all but been eaten alive by the termites. They had flowed along vast arteries to the heart of the tree, and we have known for some time that rats, long evicted, have gnawed a chasm among the roots. The sadness is that the long branch that has now gone once supported the children’s swing during our first years here, but while the vast girth of the old trunk decays another young tree grows right beside it, bark beside bark, large enough already to give the shade the dogs need in summer. Tilly and Ted are farm dogs and reside in their shack each night after exhausting excursions when they tear about chasing fancies. They are our dark-hours early warning radar, but too finely tuned it turns out to afford us many nights of uninterrupted sleep. We figured there were two reasons for this beyond youthful exuberance. We will never be able to stop the wild boar snorting and giving off distinct aromas, but perhaps we could do something to make the mad mutt’s sleep lest fitful. The penetrating cold, despite their deep bedding of straw and blankets, was a factor, no doubt about it, so it was time for some pyjamas. Actually, Ted’s looks more like a Nordic ski jumper, which he considers particularly fetching, but Tilly is living proof that dogs can be embarrassed. We don’t see why – the pattern on her jimjams has a certain heraldic quality, with matching red sleeves and neck. Either way, the incidence of midnight madness has diminished considerably, and all we can hear now is their great aunt Biba snoring on her armchair in the office. As always, we send happy thoughts and best wishes from the Garden. I will write again soon.


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