Friday, 20 November 2015

A Walk in the Afternoon

It's Five-day. Five-day is special. I take both of my pets out on Five-day. I used to take them to the other place. There was CHICKEN. Try as I might I can't get my pets to go the Chicken Place. They pull and pull until I give up and we go the way they want to go. In some ways it's better for me. The walk is longer and my two pets are getting a little more exercise and so am I. Sometimes they pull a bit when I'm sniffing a tree and maybe laying down a marker to let other owners know I've stopped by.
They do make a fuss when we cross the road. They wait and wait for no reason that I can think of, but if I try to make them hurry up... Well, more fuss and bother.

After we've crossed the road we go into a place that smells a bit like the Chicken Place. You've guessed it though, there's NO chicken. My two pets eventually settle down and fidget until they get their drink. After that they're no trouble. Sometimes other pets arrive and sit with my pets. They don't seem to have owners, though. I have a drink myself, one of the pets gets my bowl filled straight away. They know what's good for them really. They're always quite well behaved at the No-Chicken Place. They get quite a few drinks. I make mine last, but they're only pets.

Anyway, when I've had enough I let them know. The best way is to spill what's left in my bowl. Then I walk them back, they don't pull so much. I wish we still went to the place with the chicken.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Einstein Throws Snake Eyes

Translated from Jesus Hidalgo Bravo's article on the Órbita Laika blog


 Image


Quantum Mechanics are very, very odd. Everything around us behaves in a strange way at a sub-atomic level. Two far-distant objects can communicate with each other instantaneously, in an effect which Einstein named “Spooky Action”. The German physicist gave it this name because he didn't believe that this theoretical effect was possible, since there is nothing in the universe which can travel faster than light. But now some scientists have been trying  to prove the genius wrong. And they have succeeded.

Einstein had no time for Quantum Theory, which has finally been shown to be a pillar of modern physics. He thought that a theory in which uncertainty reigned, where the only way of predicting an outcome was to predict all of the total possibilities which might result from a particular premise, made no sense  at all. In short, he did not accept a universe where cats could be both alive and dead at one and the same time. For him, the cosmos should be ruled by orderly and predictable laws. There was no place for chance. The famous phrase “God doesn't play dice” arose out of this.

But convoluted quantum theory predicts that the observation of an object can affect another at any given moment, even if it is at the other end of the universe, without having anything at all to connect the one with the other. This strange effect is called Quantum “Entangling”. We have known about this for a long time on a theoretical level, but some scientists, with a great deal of patience, have transferred it from paper to the laboratory.

The team comprises researchers at the University of Delft, together with the ICREA Group based at the Catalan Institute of Photonic Sciences and has managed, no less, to show that Einstein was wrong by showing that 2 electrons separated by a distance of more than a kilometre not to say to a distance of infinity and beyond) can maintain an invisible and instantaneous connection, just as the Sinc Agency explains.

How have they done it? Simplifying dramatically, the scientists “entangled” 2 electrons trapped inside 2 diamonds, which were in laboratories at a distance of 1.280 km from each other after measuring the orientation of their spin (or rotation). It turns out that an electron, just like a coin when we toss it in the air, can rotate in two directions (up and down). Quantum “Entangling” posits that the measurement of one electron's rotation will define the spin of the either, even if they are hugely distant from one another. In order to carry out the experiment they equipped themselves with a pair of “Quantum Dice”, designed by ICREA, which produced an extremely pure random bit for every measurement taken during the experiment. It's explained here, in Laika's Orbit style, with drawings.

To sum up, the scientists proved that the rotation of the electrons was the same and that modifying it for one, modified it for the other automatically. That is to say, these two particles had communicated in some way, and they had done it at faster than the speed of light. The measurements were made so rapidly that there was no time for the particles to transmit the information to each other, not even with a signal at travelling at a such a speed. Our universe is such a terrifying and strange place.

But “entanglement” is not the only bizarre thing in the Quantum world. Another effect - known as superposition – comes to complicate sub-atomic reality a little more. It involves a phenomenon which allows a physical system, say, an atom or a photon, to exist in two or more quantum states until they form in combination yet another valid state.

However, these effects or not observable in the real world. A lost sock cannot be in two places at once (if we discount the quantum properties of the humble washing-machine). So, what is the scale at which these strange events begin to occur? If we design an experiment under ideal conditions, will we be able to observe these effects with larger objects? A cat, for example?

Yes, yet again the conversation turns to Schrodinger's famed Cat. His celebrated paradox invites us to imagine a cat in a box (so far, so normal) to which is added (here comes the strange bit) a radioactive material which has a 50% chance of leaking and killing the cat. The idea is, unless we open the box and look at the cat, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time. The state of the cat has “superposed” on that of the radioactive material.

In recent years, physicists have created “superposed” states using inanimate objects of ever increasing size, from electrons to photons to atoms, molecules and even minute mechanical systems. Now their ambition is another leap forward and to attempt this with a biological system. Much as scientists love cats, they have replaced them with a bacterium.

The idea – which comes from researchers at Purdue University in Indiana and Tshingua in Beijing – is to place the microbe in two places at once. Sound like magic to you? For sure, but it will be a simple conjurer's trick compared to what quantum mechanics will bring in the future.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Avenida de Derechos Humanos






In our town this street heads down from one of the half-dozen primary schools to the roundabout, on the other side of which lies the Recinto Ferial, where the town lets its hair down at the annual fair. Off this street are the local police station and the social services office. Not even the town council is bold enough to have these entities actually on a street called “Human Rights Avenue”.

Our town is in the Guadalhorce valley, like this valley the town's name reflects its moorish ancestry. Alhaurin – the Garden of Allah. I wonder if the Moroccans in the town give a rueful smile when they discover this. So far, we haven't seen many immigrants: perhaps the town is too far from the coast. Two or three years ago the local press was full of stories concerning the pateros and their human cargo landing on Almerian beaches. These stories have disappeared, maybe the immigrants too. Whisper it quietly; perhaps the dire state of Spain's economy and the corruption of its political elite discourage refugees from heading here. No, it's Germany where the streets are paved with gold.

So, I ask myself, is no-one coming? Or is it something more sinister? I don't know. It's a long trek from Roquetas to reach even France, but it's also a long way to reach Dusseldorf if you start from Lesbos, in the Greek islands. The footage on Spanish TV is all from Lesbos, Macedonia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. So it does appear that no-one is knocking at our door. Unless… A moratorium? Some unspoken and complicit censorship? I like to think not. We'll see one day, maybe.

Anyway, if some unfamiliar faces appear in our little town, I hope they take a walk along the Avenida de los Derechos Humanos, for if they do, I won't feel so cynical about the name of the street.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Bear Man


It's quiet in La Higuera. It means The Fig Tree. Maybe you know it, a family run bar and restaurant on a corner site, one hundred yards down the hill from one of the town's High Schools. Tuesdays and Thursdays I find half-an-hour in my busy schedule to blow the change in my pocket on a small beer and a tapa.

The girl...When did women become girls? I know she must be in her twenties. Oh yeah, they didn't become girls, I just got old. Well, Ana, I think it is, on this particular Thursday, puts un tubo and some boquerones on the bar in front of me. I get a smile, but then I'm the old Guiri, who always tips. What use is all that change in my pocket, after all?

I'm just savouring the sweet-vinegared taste of the tiny fish when the shouting starts. A huge bear of a man is wearing bermuda shorts and a stained T-shirt. He looms over Javi, the – what? Manager I suppose. Bear Man is chest-poking as well as shouting. I make the same assumption as you are making now, but no, he isn't English. He is Alhaurino, Alhaurino Cateto. That is, he is from the town, a real town yokel. He's shouting Spanish, but not as we know it. I can see the spittle raining onto Javi's clean white shirt. There's only a sip gone from my beer. What other customers there were inside have melted away. The old men are still at their table on the terrace outside. For all I know they never move from their seats, except today they are craning their necks to look through the window at the show.

Javi's back is against the bar and he decides it's time to finish the dosey-do by pushing and shoving the Bear Man out of the main entrance. The old guys at the table outside have their noses pressed to the window. It's hard to see the front of the restaurant from the terrace at the side. The cook, Javi's mum, probably, shouts at Ana. She wants to know why she hasn't called the police. Ana looks out the window. Bear Man is giving Javi a few slaps. She gets her mobile out. She probably doesn't have the Policia Local on speed dial. I think Javi is handling the situation well, avoiding the blows and attempting to calm the man down. Bear Man doesn't think so much of this. By now all the neighbours are standing on the pavement or on the balcony of their apartments. Javi is being chased up the street.

I've still got half of my beer left. The fish are gone though, I can't remember finishing them. I ask Ana what it's all about. “Esta loco” - he's mad, she says. “Enfadado?” - angry? I say, although I know they are not the same thing in Spanish. Ana shakes her head and makes the universal sign for loony with her finger to her temple. Andalucia is not the most politically correct of regions.

Bear Man has chased Javi back down the street. He must be fit. The local police arrive. Bear Man quietens down and is taken away. My glass is empty, I nod at Ana and leave by the side entrance. The balconies are empty too. The old men have straightened their hats and signalled for another coffee.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Happy Thing

One of the things I'm most pleased about in my fifty-something years on the planet is my CD buying frenzy that lasted twenty years from 1984 to 2004. This more or less coincides with my 23 years in the Air Force. So, yes, it was because I was well paid and could afford it. When I moved to Spain I sold around 400 vinyl discs mostly in a Garage sale (well, my wife did. We never did spend much time together whilst we served in HM's forces). I did take around 100 records to a record dealer who bought about half of them individually then gave me 50 pence per unit for the rest. It was a painful experience. However, every single CD came with me.

I play CDs in the car, mostly, nowadays. MP3 is convenient, so is streaming, so I just don't play CDs in the house as often as I used to. However, if you go for the former, you can only buy what they sell (come on, Vinegar Joe? In your dreams on ITunes!) and if you prefer the latter, it's pretty much the same. Anyway, today I put a CD on that I haven't played in a couple of years. In 1989, a band called Del Amitri, who I was sure were going to be the biggest thing ever, released an album - their second, as it happens - called "Waking Hours".

I got the goosebumps all the way to the other side of town, and I drove round the block once when I got there to listen to "just one more track". So what happened? A good looking group, tight harmonies, good songs. Was it line-up changes. 'E's, rave, Madchester? I don't know.

Still it was so great to listen to Move Away, Jimmy Blue.
Great tune, great lyrics

Yeah, you're right, I went round the block to listen to it again...

And wipe the tears away.

Monday, 7 September 2015

A Sad Thing

No, not the handsome fellow in the picture: although he is connected to the sad thing, it's not his fault. It's mine. Yesterday, my wife and I were sauntering down the slight incline towards the local venta. At the crossroads of my 'street' and the track which is known locally as 'The Old Camino to Coin', a man was leading his donkey. As you can see, the donkey was well turned out. Better than I was, to tell the truth. The man had a long beard with the curly hair reaching the collar favoured by the Gitanos. He was dressed in a white collarless shirt, with faded trousers above the ankle, and sandals. The shirt was very clean and Persil-white.

My wife had her mobile out and was walking faster to catch them up. 'Perdon! ¿Puedo tomar foto?'

This is the sad thing: I was sure the man would prove to be a pick-pocket Or that he would demand a ridiculous fee for allowing us to photograph his lovely animal.

But he didn't. He explained he was trying to get his burro accustomed to traffic. He was just a man schooling his donkey...

And I was a bitter, cynical old fool.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Oasis Song Title

I went to buy the papers this morning. Usually my wife picks up two English broadsheets on a Saturday and I do the same on a Sunday. She had things to do, so I went to Coin and did some shopping in Lidl, doubling avian mortality with one stone.

Naturally, it was the one Saturday in months that the plane from Madrid to Malaga arrived late. That is, if that's how they arrive at the wholesaler's from the printer's in the capital. Maybe they let the train take the strain, who knows? I do know that a white van delivers papers to filling stations, estancos and other sundry places all along the Guadalhorce.

Anyhow, it meant a coffee in a cafe and sitting and waiting and watching the world go by. I could have sat in Hermanos Maza right across from the filling station and kept an eye out for the delivery van. However, I saw that the old buffer who had asked for the Daily Mail was heading there. So I opted for a seat on Chani's terrace where I could see the delivery van's approach and also the Buffer's fruitless trips back and forth to the filling station. He made four.

Regarding newspapers, most places you can buy them will stock one Times, a couple of Telegraphs and ten Daily Mails. The rest of the English newspaper bundles will be made up with the Express and the red-tops. There are no Guardians. This probably tells you something that you intuitively know already.

On Chani's Terrace I had a coffee and read the local Spanish newspaper. Chani brought me my milky drink and tried to remember who I was. I'm not too sure he did, although I was quite a regular customer once upon a time. (If anyone under 30 is reading this, that quaint phrase means "back in the day", which we used to pronounce "back in my day", to save people asking which particular day we meant).

As you can see from the photo, Chani's coffee comes with a sachet of sugar with a philosophical quotation gratis. The words of wisdom in the photo read (more or less)

"Don't look back in anger, or forward in fear. Look around you and pay attention."

The newspaper delivery van never did turn up.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

The Wanderer Returns

Home now. Back since Saturday. However, unlike previous years the weather seems late to turn. Usually the mercury has begun to fall by the time Malaga Feria is over and September has arrived. That is not the case this year. It remains hot, humid and windy by turns. We had a brief downpour although what fell was more mud than cool, limpid rain.

Still, I'm looking forward to keeping my TEFL hand in by teaching a couple of students from the surrounding area. In contrast to previous years, I do intend to have more time on my hands for writing.

The image is an ancient lithograph, I'd love to know exactly where the view was supposed to be from; for sure Alhaurin El Grande looks somewhat different now. It looks like an illustration from an old edition of Cervantes' masterpiece, although the Ingenious Don didn't travel much through these parts, as I remember. 

No news on the novel front. No news is good news, they say, I hope that's true. The next step should/could/might be proofs, but who knows? Patience, I say to myself, but I don't listen.

Well, until next time. Lang may yer lum reek!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Between The Showers

The Bell Batterer's Belfry
Between showers yesterday, the dog and I went out. He and I both need the exercise. The sun shone bright between downpours. The smell after the rain here in the Sierra de la Francia is different to how it is in Andalucia. Maybe it's all the trees. There are Chestnuts – thousands of Chestnuts, Oaks, Pyrenean Oaks, Portuguese Oaks, Holly Oaks (no, not that kind), Eucalyptus, and Ash – no ash dieback here. I haven't seen one pine, although there were two large pine cones on the track yesterday. And of course, strangest of all for this fish out of Andalucian water, there are no palms.

Alongside the track, there are brambles. About half the fruit is ripe, but there's still enough to make blackberry pie for the world, or at least the local town, tourists and all. I picked a few to eat along the way. The berries were so juicy there was no hiding the evidence on our return.

Later, in the evening we went out into the lush greenery again. Looking down the slope to where the church nestles by the river, I could see someone in the bell tower. The bell began to toll, I asked not, of course. It began as though someone was pulling the rope to strike the hour, only it was half past six. On the strike of 10, I saw the tiny figure in the belfry move. The resulting noise seemed like he'd decided to hammer a second bell with avant-garde jazz syncopation. It went on for several minutes. The next thing I heard was some kind of Public Address announcement. It was too far away to discern a single word, and the echoing valley made sure the language could have been sanskrit. Then the bells began again.

Two Old Dogs, No New Tricks
The old dog is not keen on loud noises, sonic booms, aircraft engine runs, slamming doors - anything that might sound like thunder to a dog that hates storms. So the Bells of Hell going anything but ting-a-ling-a-ling didn't bother him... but they did bother me. I wanted to know what all the noise was about. Perhaps I'll ask someone today.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Art for Art's Sake II

The sculptures I mentioned in the last post appear to have been procreating. As you can see there are now three. I'm still not quite sure how they've been done. But the latest one, nearest the railing, is sacking, probably over a frame (if that's the word) of rocks, most likely granite, given that it's in plentiful supply here.

Speaking of art. I'm in two minds about Banksy's latest stunt in Weston-Super-Mare. As always, he's come up with an original and skewed concept. However, I can't help feeling it's a jaundiced and cynical view. Yes, it's clever, but does it say anything new about the Dismal-land Theme Park that Britain has become?

So hats off, again, Banksy, for being original and provocative, but a thumbs down for giving us the same old world view.

Of course, well done too, for giving Weston-Super-Mare a real shot in the arm. I know it could do with it. I just wish you hadn't done it by mocking everything it stands for - the working class at play.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Art for Art's Sake

On one of the walking routes near the tiny pueblo where I'm staying, someone had put this art installation at the side of the track, right at the very beginning. It's part of a general initiative here in the Sierra de la Francia: Arte en la Naturaleza. Now, you may think that this is hippy-dippy, smell the flowers, new-age nonsense, but I like the idea. I took the photo about 5 days ago. 2 days ago the installation had gone, as ephemeral as the blossom on a fruit tree. There are other works dotted around the senderos all over the National Park.

In the front yard of a house near the place I'm staying there's a sculpture of two figures, a man and a woman. I don't know what the medium is, plaster, clay – it's probably not plastic, not here – but here's the thing. They look like they're made out of paper bags, the kind you still get your fruit and veg in at a farmers' market, if you're lucky.

It's a strangely magical place. Where I'm staying, the owners leave local produce in the lobby, so the guests in the two flats in the building can help themselves. And yet. Here I am with my laptop open using the village 4G network and the wifi to write this. Are we the last lucky people? Will I look back on this time at the age of 80 (if I'm lucky) and think about the time when fuel was available and I could travel 300 miles in a matter of hours to somewhere as different from the Costa del Sol as the Earth is from the Moon? I hope not. In the meantime, I'm glad to be alive and kicking now, in the best of times.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Talking on Corners



Stand in a narrow street with a dog and someone will stop to talk. At least here in this tiny town perched on the up-slope of a deep valley, where everyone has a few vines growing among the fruit, peppers and root vegetables of their market gardens. This morning an old lady stopped and asked what kind of dog it was. I told her he was a long-haired galgo, or at least most of him was. She laughed. I think the old woman must have been about seventy or so, eyes still alert and missing the look of fear and confusion you see in the elderly, especially if the amyloids have begun their work of dissolving the personality from the inside out.

The corner I was standing on gave a good view through a squarish window about the size of an 18th century landscape, if the museum hasn't wasted its money. It was the view into the local 'super'market. The range of products is extensive, but not available every day. The window is directly behind the counter. A man in a white coat served the customers, all ladies well past retirement age. Perhaps pensions had been paid into bank accounts this morning? There is a Banco Popular with an atm near the Town Square. I looked up the street on whose corner I was standing. More an alley, almost a snicket if that means anything to anyone reading this. The cars parked around the town's narrow streets looked out of place. Too new and shiny, probably belonging to tourists like me. Most local vehicles are vans or drag a trailer behind them down to the huertas.

The grapes go to the Bodega Cooperativa on the outskirts of town. The lagares, vats hewn out of granite in the sides of the hills are tourist attractions on the hiking routes all over the valley. Locals tell me that only forty years ago the grapes were tramped in these by their parents or grandparents.
I think I'll have a glass of the local vino before we leave this place.

The old lady wished me a good morning on her return from the shop. Her two plastic bags looked heavy, but I think she was insulted by the offer of help – and I was pleased that she was too proud to accept it.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

No Hats en el Pueblo


Well, except for two groups. Tourists, of course – and old Campesinos on their visit to town to drink a coffee, maybe call in at the bank or chat to great nieces and nephews parked on the zebra crossing, while traffic backs up and every horn toot creates some avant-garde orchestral piece. These old men congregate on street corners too, eyes as slitted as those of Clint Eastwood under the brim of their hats, a roll up cigarette in the corner of their mouths. Their half-mast trousers flap on their Queen Anne-legs and the suit-jackets may match for colour but not for size.

And yes, the tourists do wear hats; fake panamas with Feria de Moderación 2012 on a synthetic hat-band, baseball caps – peaks forward or back depending on how cool the logo might be on the front and – occasionally – something that looks like it should have corks dangling from the edge.

Locals call foreigners Guiris. It means someone who comes from somewhere else. Under Franco they used to use it to refer to the Guardia Civil. Now it means foreigners who live in Spain. That tells us something, I suppose. We Guiris, you might imagine, don't generally wear hats. We should, we know: the spectre of skin cancer looms over all white boys in the sun. In fact, if you do see an Expat in a hat, they've probably already had a brush with the Big C.

I like hats. I like the films they used to wear hats in. A policeman or a gangster in a hat used to be someone to take seriously. Imagine if you saw someone in the street wearing a trilby, a homburg or a bowler hat today! You'd think they were making a film.

So I say a metaphorical 'hats off' to the bold campesinos, for they can return the favour with no artifice, using the real thing. Only, well, these bold men in their titfers are also old men, so pretty soon it will be “no hats en el pueblo”.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A Beer with the Owner






The horror, the horror. Editorial staff on the Daily Mail seem intent on persuading everyone that the new Black Death is coming at us pell-mell out of the heart of darkness. I'd like to know what the Ebola river looks like. Is it a raging torrent through a dark and foetid tropical forest? Is it a tinkling mountain rill? If I were the river I'd be annoyed that my name had been appropriated for a bat-borne  morrhagic disease. I'd be a raging rill. 

The owner gives me a look as I toss the newspaper on the table next to the empty glasses. Fortunately, it lands sports page up. Mine host doesn't understand sport, although he has given me his opinions on why it doesn't matter often enough. Still, God alone knows what kind of harangue he'd give me if he saw the lead story on the front page. That's not really true: I almost know what he's going to say before he does. Ebola? Invented by the CIA in a secret laboratory and injected into monkeys' brains in The Democratic Republic of Congo. This shows a grasp of Geography somewhat better than the one he has on reality.

Still, it's just me on the Venta terrace. The rain has swept through, laying the dust until the sun evaporates the puddles. If the sun stays out, people might turn up for a late lunch. The British Legion were due today for their monthly 'meeting': rain stopped play. Very British that. There being no alternative, the owner sits down next to me, checking his e-mails and talking but not listening to the answer as he does so. I wait. It would be easy to say something flippant, now. There's no challenge in that. I prefer to get the knife in when he's off on a rant. He does notice this though, nowadays. You could defend my behaviour by saying that I'm trying to teach him to listen, that conversation is a dialogue. It's not true though, I do it to wind him up, nothing more.

He's a rich guy, dresses very well, if a little showily. The kind of man who still has a handkerchief and a lacy one at that. He tells me he has 13 cars, I've seen two of them, but they are the kind of vehicle a man who owns 13 would have. Eventually he puts his (I-)phone on the table. About 3 inches from his right hand. He clicks his fingers several times. Severiano comes out with a smile plastered on his face and clenched fists. His Beneficence orders a coffee. I predict this will be too hot or too cold. The man has the most severe case of Goldilocks Syndrome I've ever seen. Seve comes back with the coffee, today it's too hot. Seve turns away from the table to get inside, away from this man. He gets called back,

'Empties!'

Most of the time the staff do clear away the empties, their boss just makes them nervous I think.

I look at him, a handsome, well-preserved man, a year or so younger than I am. Even so I wouldn't trade looks with him for a second. He has a bitter look about him, a smile costs him more than he has in his bank accounts. Andrès, the last owner but one, smiled from morning to night. The archetypal jolly fat man. The service was a joke, and I believed the Venta to be a biological hazard at the time, though it never stopped me going. But it was a happier place. Andrès gave up the bar and died 6 months later. Makes you think, that.

A rant starts: 'Sometimes they clear the empties, sometimes they don't. Why can't they be consistent? It's really too bad, I simply cannot abide inconsistency!'

'Neither can I... sometimes,' I say.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Wild Flowers


Easter has come and gone. Early for the first time in a few years, it mostly avoided the rain that usually falls on the processions carrying plaster Virgins through villages, towns and cities during Semana Santa. But we have had our share of rain, this year. In between showers, the town-council has been resurfacing roads all through our little town, except in the streets where they won't vote for the incumbents. So the town centre is a patchwork of pristine black-top and pothole-pocked fairground ride surfaces.

On the drive into town you can see the result of this year's rainfall; more wild flowers than anyone could name, two kinds of thistle, carpets of poppies – as impressive in their way as the installation last year in London, Guisantes de Olor – the Spanish Sweet Pea - and even the Barbary Figs have flowered. It would take hours to list the colours. Along the side of every track the Spiny Broom's blossoms show a yellow as bright as the Andalucian sun amongst the prickly lignite of its sprigs and twigs. Sea Lavender encroaches on to the tyre-moulded mud of the same tracks and tiny purple flowers survive until the next rickety van jounces over the ruts.

Even in the town, in the cracks between the walls and pavements, Crowned Daisies and other less-identifiable flowers bloom. Perhaps the looming elections have also cleared most of the paper rubbish from the streets and nature's colours are taking advantage of its absence to splash their own tints in the Calles named after flowers or hope and illusion.

We are lucky. If we look down, to the side, behind, in front, or upward to the hills and mountains, still green and so much more alive than the desert brown hills of Almeria, we will see that the land is alive, vibrant with hope and rebirth. We are lucky, we too are alive.