I work from home. Home’s a great place to work, you can stumble out of your bed and work in pyjamas if you want to, you can stop for a sandwich whenever you feel like it, and if you start falling asleep over the keyboard, you can always go and lie down for twenty minutes. The only downside is that you sometimes have to drop everything to deal with minor interruptions, in my case usually a call from the restaurant: ‘Did you remember to order the meat?’ ‘Have you got any spare carrots over there?’ ‘Everyone’s come in at once. Any chance you can come and help?’ That may have a question mark, but it’s not a question.
But apart from that, I’ve no complaints. The village is quiet, there’s no traffic to speak of, the birds are singing. I like sitting down at the computer knowing I’ve got work to do, it makes me feel secure, especially now, when ‘crisis’ must be the most over-used word in the Spanish language. If I have a couple of days with nothing to do I feel as if I’m staring into the abyss. Just give me a deadline and I’m as happy as Larry, slavering to meet it like a Pavlov dog.
Now and again the idyll is interrupted. Maybe the next-door neighbours will decide to remodel their kitchen. You can always tell when some such project is in the air because the builders dump a pile of sand in some strategically annoying place when you’re out. You come home to find you can’t park your car and they’re nowhere to be seen. In fact, the pile of sand is usually abandoned without explanation for several weeks. My theory is that it serves the same purpose as a dog peeing to mark out its territory. My patch, mate.
The neighbour on the other side doesn’t live here all the time, but takes up residence when it’s time to get in the olives or attend to his almond trees. His arrival is usually an ominous sign, as he’s a hyperactive 70-year-old who takes his tractor out at the crack of dawn and has a very noisy machine for removing almond husks that sounds as if it’s breaking rocks.
This is when I decide it’s a good time to go away for a few days. After all, I do need a dose of city life occasionally. So I pack my laptop and go visiting. Last time it was back to Madrid to catch up with ex-members of the Friday night brigade. We used to meet on Friday nights to drink wine while our kids created havoc in whoever’s house we happened to be in. Now they’re all at university, abroad or looking for work. One’s actually got a job.
I set up my laptop on someone else’s desk or table and translate while my friends are at work. It’s a different kind of peaceful. Madrid is a noisy city, but somehow it doesn’t impinge, there are fewer distractions. It’s all someone else’s noise, and if Dave runs out of carrots he’ll just have to find some himself. And I have to get on with my work so I’ve got time for everything else: going out for tapas with my friends, wandering around the barrio where I used to live to see how it’s changed, or buying a new pair of jeans. It’s a great antidote to the peace and quiet of village life; after a few days I’m totally talked-out and know that when I get back to the village I’ll be glad to be home.
Or maybe not. That time I got a call from Dave the day before I left, just as I was trying to squeeze into some jeans in a Zara cubicle. We’d run out of Visa rolls, he said, and they’d spelt the name of the restaurant wrong on the new signs and the sink at home was blocked. When I got home I was greeted by “Come and look at your blocked sink!” I pointed out that it wasn’t my sink, and I hadn’t even been in the house when it got blocked, but that didn’t go down very well (rather like the water in the sink).
So I did what I usually do in a situation like that: I announced “Some of us have got work to do!”, retired to my office and shut the door.