My only real concern before we moved to Spain was whether I’d get bitten to death.
Cass’s blog, written in October 2014, with Jonathan’s comments in manly blue, and Cass’s rebuttals in lady-like pink.
I am fatally attractive to mosquitoes and other biting beasties, and come up in huge bumps and welts, and I wasn’t looking forward to being in that state permanently. So at first I sprayed great fogs of repellent all over the place (probably made us all infertile Ah well!) and waited nervously. But no… day after day dawned fair, with no red, itching, misery-inducing lumps. Result! Of course, with the major benefit of “biting bug attractor” no longer part of Cass’s usefulness, I did have to rethink the point of her. Always lovely to know.
However, there were other creatures and hazards waiting to be discovered (not including the sofa – see Blog 1 – ‘Spain, Baby!’). Early in our first summer, we discovered a giant (I’m not joking) toad lurking round the garden after dark. It didn’t come near us, but we looked it up on the ever-helpful interweb and learned that the Natterjack toad secretes something very poisonous on its skin that would kill a curious dog and – note for the idly curious – in the right doses is hallucinogenic for humans (hippies), so we had to keep chasing it away. Try chasing a toad.
Actually there were many of them – one night I picked one up in a bucket and tipped it over the fence, and when it landed it made an UNGH! Sound, like a body blow from a heavyweight boxer. Then there was the scorpion on the path, and the tarantula on the wall, and the preying mantis hiding in the washing.
And, more recently, the hideousness that was following the dogs round the garden in the dark, to make sure they weren’t eating anything inappropriate, and walking into the stickiest, most coarse and muscular spider’s web ever. With a giant spider in it, naturally, which must have, at some point, been ON ME while I squealed and frantically flapped around my face and shoulders.
Jonathan has impressive general knowledge about wild things, having taken an interest from an early age. I was never one of those kids who set themselves projects and wanted to learn everything they could about a subject – and, to be honest, I didn’t trust or understand the ones who did we’re FASCINATING!. But stick me in front of University Challenge now, and we know who’s having the last, smarty-pants laugh. *droops head* *looks smug* *smacks*
Anyway, if we pass a snake on the road, Jonathan wants to stop the car and get out to see what sort it is. Baffling to me. Even he was a bit startled though, when watering the tomatoes, to see a large snake’s head pop up out of a hole in the wall right by his head, and then pop back down again without identifying itself. When I’m walking the goat track to my friend/trainer’s house in the next village, I’m always on high alert for snakes (I wouldn’t know a harmless one from a vicious killer, so I think it’s best) – I’m in lycra and a sparkly baseball cap, listening to my iPod (and singing out loud; the goats don’t seem to mind) but also scanning the ground left and right with laser-like intensity. I look like such a local.
The beasts that scare me the most are the most unlikely-sounding ones. Processional caterpillars. I had never heard of them before, but moths of some sort make nests in pine trees (by which we are surrounded), then once the caterpillars have, erm, hatched (?) Oh God!, they form very neat rows – sometimes metres long – and march off to some unknown destination. In fact they can be twenty metres long! I’m fascinated mostly by the one at the front – I mean, how do you get THAT job?! “Come on, follow me, I know exactly where we’re going.” HOW? They live one season! However, by a quirk of nature, they are protected by extremely toxic hairs that, if touched – by, say, a dog, cat or child too young to be warned – can kill. Horrible, but true (RIP Flip Flop, my friend’s adorable but fatally curious kitten) Probably no consolation at all to have died fulfilling the old adage. I wouldn’t have thought so, no. The caterpillars come to life around February, and are a hazard for four to six alarming weeks. In case it’s not clear: I hate them. I was told recently that you can’t even burn them (not that that was ever a plan, actually) because the fumes are strong enough to poison you. Yikes, Scooby!
All summer long, when the doors and windows are permanently open, we get huge, fat-bodied, lazy moths flying in. Big deal, you might say, but they are preposterously large, sound like motorbikes, and like to fly right by your head. I am pretty used to them now and they don’t do any harm (apart from being annoyingly stupid because they can’t find their way outside again, so you quite often find them buzzing gormlessly inside cupboards or stuck in air vents) but some guests find them shriek-makingly (you know who you are Tom Hall and Hannah Saxon!) disturbing. Uh-oh, here comes the ‘science’ bit: these are in fact hawkmoths (probably because they hunt and kill hawks).
And this is the hawkmoth caterpillar, which are very beautiful and kinda gross at the same time.
Now, you might think there are no possible downsides to the bliss that is orange blossom season. Oh my, driving down the mountain through the orange groves is an almost inexpressibly beautiful experience. HOWEVER… Orange blossom attracts a type of fly that is so persistent and indestructible that I can be reduced – almost – to tears. For one thing, they torment the dogs and for another, they torment me. They like nothing more than landing on your head, which, for some reason, I find disgusting, or endlessly on your feet and ankles and they’re so small and quick, you can’t catch ‘em. During these seasons, I become Swat Woman: crazed, wild-eyed and fearsome and hilariously flail-y. NOT hilarious at all – I fear I have no sense of humour about them. Sorry. Aw-kward!
Finally (though this is far from an exhaustive list): ticks! Yuck! The first Spring, we didn’t know we had to put tick collars on the dogs, and it was revolting. They didn’t come to any harm (the dogs, that is), but tick removal with my fingernails is right up there on my list of Things I Never Want To Do Again. But she’s so good at it (and my fingers are so thick, and my nails are so short. Plus it’s so bleugh!) Ah, Things I Never Want To Do Again, it’s gotta be a blog. Watch this space!