With the blistering hot weather here which has seen temperatures regularly climb into the low 40ºs my partner and I have been doing some repairs out on the terraces. Terraces sounds rather grand, as if I were living in the midst of a Malaysian rubber plantation. Rather, the lower and upper roofdecks of our townhouse. Given the temperature range here (Mediterranean mountain climate) houses expand and contract with the seasons, so Michaelmas is synonymous with a bucket, plaster and a trowel.
In years past I never had so much as a window-box, so it was to much surprise that I became a zealous container-gardener, humping bags of earth, manoeuvering pots and actually allowing wasps to interact with me without flying into a St Vitus dance. It started four years ago with a small, terracotta pot of geraniums and has now reached the stage where I am effectively banned from garden centres. "One more pot and that roof is going to collapse."
The Spanish hardly ever use their roof spaces - they avoid the sun at all costs, living in blind-shuttered rooms with the electric lights on. Thus, ours has become a little nature reserve for local wildlife: butterflies, carpenter bees, swallows, bats and a couple of local cats. Moving a container away from the back wall to re-plaster a crack, out crawled a spider which, given its size and girth, could almost be considered a member of the tarantula family. One's natural reaction is to run indoors and pour oneself a stiff drink while deciding what to do next. However, this being Spain, one must simply leave nature to take its course. So we went indoors, poured ourselves a stiff drink and talked about something else.
It reminded me of the time I was at a friend's party in West London. I was introduced to a Finnish couple. He was a Heavy Metal guitarist and film-maker who stood at about 6'5" - 196 if you're metric - and she was a costumier. Her name was Tanja. Born in the Karelia region near the Russian border, her appearance was quite striking - almost vampiric. Cheekbones like unscaleable bluffs, a powder-white face, crimson lips and long, Carnelian hair severely drawn-back into a ponytail. As we were talking I noticed what appeared to be a large British house spider crawling into view from the rear of her floor-length purple cape, and settling on the decorative detail of her shoulder-pad.
"By the way, I love the spider, that's a really nice touch."
She froze. "What spider?"
"Oh, it isn't your pet?"
*Finnish proverb: "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first."