Scoundrel Time

Letter from Andalusia

The author’s neighbor left a head of lettuce for him on top of his mailbox.

I have been in lockdown, here in Spain, for two weeks now. Actually a bit longer—I didn’t go out much the week before, either.

This is our second home, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, in Andalusia. The village is remote, definitely not on the tourist map, and it’s around a three-hour drive to the airport. Lockdown means we are only allowed out to buy food, go to the bank or the pharmacy, and go to work (if our workplace is still open, which most aren’t).

Apart from a few minor inconveniences, life goes on much the same. The farmers in the village still go out to their fields, and my neighbours Ginés and Moni called round yesterday with a cabbage and some eggs from their chickens. They brought me a bottle of wine last week—Ginés owes me. Last year I went harvesting the grapes with him, and Sue (my wife) and Moni trod them for the wine. He also brought me a big chunk of cheese from his goats. In exchange, I bake them a sourdough loaf now and then: the village baker is famous for producing the worst bread in Andalusia, so I make my own. We stay two metres apart for these exchanges, tying the plastic bag to the door knocker or the wrought-iron gate. Lute still goes out on his motorbike to check on his animals, the fishmonger still comes up from the coast in his van every day, blowing his horn and shouting out what he has: “Mejillones! Pulpo! Rosada! Bacalao!” and people still buy the fish.

There is occasional comment, when we do talk to each other: the television brings the news from Madrid of the latest deaths, people have heard that the disease is now in Granada, sixty miles away. People take precautions; they don’t kiss or hug any more, they stand well back from each other, but mostly they just carry on with their daily lives. Coronavirus is just another problem to be lived with, like the weather or the price of olive oil. What British people call “the Blitz spirit,” that semi-mythical attitude Londoners had during the German bombings in the War.

Sue is back in Cardiff: she went home for a few days, caught the virus, and now can’t get back. There are no flights, no ferries. I had a booking for the 12th April, but it’s been cancelled by the ferry company, and to be honest I feel a lot safer here. We talk pretty much every day, she only has it very mildly, and like me she is relying on the kindness of neighbours. Like me, she is locked down.

Today I did my trip to the village store. It’s small, but it has most things, and if I can’t get my favourite brands that’s a small price to pay for being able to breathe a bit longer. I walked the 400 yards there, and waited outside for someone to come out—we’re only allowed to have four people in the store at any one time. I had a couple of words with an old guy who was also waiting to go in, just the usual chat about the weather and the Government. Someone came out, he went in, I waited another couple of minutes, then it was my turn.

The family who run the store were wearing masks and gloves, and so was I because they wouldn’t let me in otherwise. Normally, the store is a hotbed of village gossip—it’s the only place apart from the church that most of the village women go to, because the bars are male territory. Now they are closed, of course. But today it was pretty silent: it’s hard to have a good old natter when you’re six feet apart and wearing a face mask.

The store remains the same as always, there hasn’t been any panic buying. This is a small village, everybody knows each other and most are related to each other by blood or marriage, so no-one wants to be denounced for being selfish or greedy. I got what I needed, and broke the tension a bit by cracking a joke with the guy on the meat counter. I think he smiled. Hard to tell.

Keep the receipt! I nearly forgot. The police might ask to see it, to make sure you actually bought the stuff today and aren’t just pretending to go shopping so you can get out of the house. I wished the guy on the door a happy weekend, and he said “Igualmente!” before letting me out, and someone else in.

Four hundred yards back. I had a brief conversation with my neighbour Carmen, who was standing in her doorway getting some fresh air. Into the house, then take off the gloves, mask, coat, shoes and put the shopping away. Now clean the hands, twenty seconds at least with soap because soap kills the virus. And that’s it for another week.

Overall, it’s not bad. I have good WiFi (piggybacked off Ginés and Moni’s satellite connection) and Sue and I speak every day via FaceTime. I have stuff to get on with, writing and household tasks, and around a thousand hours of DVDs to watch. And it’s a lot better than catching COVID-19.

A hell of a lot better.



Jim Blythe is a retired Professor of Marketing. He is the author of 18 textbooks on various marketing topics, and since his retirement has become involved with theatre. He has written five plays which have been produced in his adopted home town of Cardiff. Jim regards himself as a European as well as an Englishman, and shares his time between France, Wales, and Spain, where he lives for around five moths of the year.



Image By: Jim Blythe