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Turn and face the strange

David Bowie

My week long “digital detox” from Facebook and Twitter ended on Monday, just in time for me to read of the news of the death of one of my heroes, David Bowie. David Bowie wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly influenced my youth, my taste in music and my view of originality. He showed me that it was fine to stand out, to be different, to say challenging things, and because the way that he delivered ideas was always in a non threatening way, he managed to get his point across in a way that seemed to really work. David Bowie didn’t make angry music, instead he wrote thoughtful songs about emotions and life situations. These past two days, because of my return to Facebook and its never ending feed of information and posts,  I’ve been on a long, and occasionally tearful, jog down memory lane back to my childhood when Ashes to Ashes and Let’s Dance were hits. I was too young to enjoy the Aladdin Sane and Thin White Duke eras first time around, but I lapped up the albums as my interest in Bowie grew. I liked his style and I liked his groove. I respected him as an poet, a style icon and a performer: even when he did that awful song “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger he got away with it.

As the world started to react to the news of David Bowie’s passing so it also listened closely to the lyrics of this songs: the most recent single, Lazarus, released only last week on his 69th birthday opens with the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Even in his death David Bowie was expressing himself as elegantly and originally as he had done in his lifetime. He seems to have faced and considered his own demise with clarity and thoughtfulness, measuring out exactly what he wanted to say about it, delivering it perfectly.

But now he’s gone, who do we have breaking the mould, standing up and being themselves, not being afraid to express themselves profoundly? We must take inspiration from this amazing man’s life and be proud of our individuality and of our thoughts, there is nothing wrong with being well educated, of reading, of having deep and intense conversations. Having spent a week away from social media I’ve realised that recently I’ve been too busy trying to collect information and not busy enough trying to understand it. That should be our mission for now, to try to absorb and understand more, to reflect out, to be more Bowie, and less X Factor.

RIP David Bowie. 1947 – 2016

Our Nit de Foc

s’Arracó, forest fire, Mallorca, Oliver Neilson

The view from our office window
Photo by Oliver Neilson

Friday 26th July 2013

4.30pm I’m in Palma with my daughter when I hear about the fire. It’s burning vigorously in Sa Coma which is a few miles away from s’Arracó where we live. Every hour or so I call my husband, who is at home working, and then I start to see my neighbours posting photos on Facebook and Twitter of big, big bellowing clouds of smoke. A quiet anxiety begins to niggle away at me and I ask my husband to get our cats inside, and put them in a room where he can quickly put them in a travel box if need be. The hours go by. The fire moves closer to our house and our village which only the day before had been the stage for a brilliant Night of Art attended by thousands of people.

7.30pm My husband calls, he has to go out to see a client, so he releases the cats and leaves for Bunyola in the middle of the island.

9.30pm My seven year old daughter and I head for home. In Palma the sky is already dark. I know that the fire fighters in the helicopters can’t fly at night as it is too dangerous, so the fires will continue to burn unchecked. But I don’t truly appreciate what this is going to mean.

As we journey home we talk about the fire. I don’t want to frighten my little girl but I also don’t know what to expect. I ask her what three things she would want to take from the house if we had to leave quickly. She says “The three things I would take are Mummy, Daddy and Toffee” (her favourite toy). I explain that she was already on my list. We reach the crest of the hill: the town of Andratx is laid out before us. The sky is on fire. We both gasp.

I start gabbling, over and over, “oh my god, oh my god”. I drive slower than I usually would  through Andratx towards our village as I am not looking at the road; I am looking at the fire. The hills are glowing red, it is as if there is molten lava running down them and I can see flames. We are in a 4D volcano disaster movie. It’s incredible to look at, is it really okay to even be this close to the fire?

We drive from Andratx towards s’Arracó. The sky darkens and I start to think that our village has got away with it. Up, up on the winding country road to the top of the valley bowl, but as I turn the car into s’Arracó I have to slow down to a crawl. The landscape to the right of the village is alight.

When we get to our house which is on the main road of the village I am not surprised to see that all of my neighbours out. It’s a sharp contrast to the 24 hours before when we were all out celebrating the Night of Art and having a wonderful time at our home grown cultural fiesta. Tonight should have been a night to rest after our big party; we were all feeling a bit bleary already.

My opposite neighbours, Carlos and his family, are all on his first floor balcony window gazing at the flames. He is shirtless and wearing only his underpants: the air temperature is still tropical even though it is now 10.30pm. I hear him talking about his land, which is what he is looking at, it is on fire. He keeps animals up there and he hasn’t been allowed by the police to go up to release them.

As soon as we go into our house the cats appear. I decide not to feed them as I want them to stay close in case we need to evacuate. They lie on the cool tiles in the kitchen, chilling their bellies.

My daughter and I pack her things: a change of clothes, toothbrush, Toffee, and two more things special to her. We put them all in her pink suitcase and leave it by the door. Then she watches some TV and ignores the fire. I don’t. I can’t. Every time I look out of my home office window the flames are getting closer to us and filling the view. It’s compelling.

My friends and neighbours in the village keep in touch with each other through Facebook. We are taking photos and updating each other. The roads behind our village which travel off into the hills towards St Elm are closed and the properties there are evacuated by the Guardia. I hear of one family who are told to get out of their house and not expect it to be there in the morning. I don’t feel fear or panic, I feel numb. I can’t comprehend it.

I pack more things. What would we take if we had to evacuate? Passports, papers, work things, computers, cameras, clean pants, cats. Where would we go? We get offers from a lot of friends; we know we will be okay for somewhere to stay. I look at the contents of my house. We have a piano. What if it was burnt? Would the keys be left behind like the instrument’s teeth?

I speak to my father who lives in the Sa Coma valley and has decided to stay in his house with his wife. He thinks the wind has changed and they aren’t in any danger. I decide to believe him as he understands a lot more about wind directions than I do, given that he is a sailor .

11.30pm. The wind is picking up. I stand in our back garden and watch the hills glowing red with patches of embers. It’s beautiful to look at, but deadly to be in. I wonder about the animals that are in harm’s way. The wind is blowing from behind the fire directly towards our house and the rest of the village. The possibility that we will have to evacuate seems very real.

We watch and we decide that if we can see flames on the hills closest to us we will go.  One of my friends on Facebook tells me that if the smoke stings our eyes that it is time to hit the road. Our community vigil begins.

The flames creep over the hills and continue to travel towards St Elm. My friend who lives there reports that Sa Trapa is on fire as well. She is watching and waiting for her time to move as well.

We are in limbo. It’s as if we are all expecting a birth. We are waiting for nature to take its course. I keep busy and tidy the house; I put out the rubbish to be collected, which seems ironic as who knows what is going to happen? Perhaps by the morning there won’t be a house. I pack and prepare as if we are going on a holiday. It feels the same: putting plants in the bath, and doing a load of washing.

12.30pm We sit, we wait, we drink tea. There are a lot of people on the streets, a lot of cars moving around and doors being slammed. Our neighbours are loading their cars as well. Another of our neighbour’s sons is trying to find a safe place to park their car, it’s a classic Mini Moke and he is under strict instructions to get it away.

1.30am Water trucks drive down our street, one after another after another. The hydraulic brakes all hissing at the same point on the curve of the road.  Standing in our garden I can see the tongues of flames licking the palm trees in the distance.

2.30am I lose count of the number of water trucks, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty trips? The police are on the street again. It is the height of summer but the smoky air in s’Arracó makes it smell like winter and Christmas. The hours pass and the flames rage.

4.30am The wind calms and the fire begins to redirect itself.

5.30am The bin men pass by and I smile to myself as they stop to collect our trash. Hope prevails.

6.30am Daylight comes and with it the wind begins again. We can’t see the extent of the damage to our beautiful valley as everything is wrapped in a thick veil of smoke, but I can still see flames. The helicopters start to fly again.  I hear that our friends’ evacuated houses are okay, and it’s then that the tears come.

7.30am The suitcases are still by the door, but we decide to feed the cats. We pray for the wind to be still. The local cockerels start to crow.

First published on Sunday July 28th in the Majorca Daily Bulletin

Sick notes

We have been besieged again with illness. But this time it’s not just us. Evil flu and cold bugs have been spreading around the island. Amazingly, only the women in our house have been affected. La Gidg and I were struck on Saturday afternoon. I think I prematurely sent her back to school on Tuesday as when I picked her up from school she still looked game, but no, within three minutes she was conked out on the back seat. Bad mummy.

It’s pretty normal isn’t it to have to work through illness, especially if you work online, or make yourself available to people to contact you online. Many of my messages in the past three days have read ‘Hi Vicki, sorry that you aren’t very well, could you just do this thing for me….’.  It’s only the click of a mouse after all, right? So I guess I only have myself to blame.  So instead of getting annoyed with myself for not taking some time off to get better faster I asked my Facebook friends for their cures for the common cold. Some of them are pretty sensible, some of them sound pretty unpleasant, but each of them apparently works…. it’s up to you if you try them!

There were plenty of votes for whisky, honey and lemon. Victoria Davis said ‘it won’t cure you but you’ll sleep!’ Natalie Jackson’s dad always went for alcohol and vitamin C although she goes for the more sensible Lemsip.

Quite a few went for garlic.  Belinda Shaw’s granddad used to put cloves of garlic into a bottle of whisky. Garlic, which contains a ­chemical called allicin, can zap the cold viruses that lead to infection.

There were also a lot of votes for cayenne pepper and other spices. Lord Martyn Rose chomps on hot chilli peppers and gets himself around a good curry, he swears by them. Another friend, Alison Garbutt, stands by honey with ground cinnamon. She said she’s been using it every day for over a year and hasn’t had any colds or flu. Certain spices have been found to be beneficial bug fighters, including cayenne pepper, which contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that beats congestion by thinning the mucus in your nasal passages so you can breathe more easily.

Lisa Bonner came up with an unusual one, which I think is a variation on the German ‘wear wet socks’ idea for coughs. She told me to put Vick’s Vapour Rub on my feet and put socks on as it stopped coughs immediately!

You might also want to get stuck into some chicken soup which Selena Garfield said was ‘like Jewish penicillin’.

My more sensible friend, and the only one actually qualified to comment as she is a nurse, Sally Luxmore, said ‘night and day nurse! The old saying is treat a cold and it will last two weeks, let it run its course and it will take a fortnight’. Sage advice there, basically she’s saying there’s nothing you can do. Just drink lots of fluids, get indoors, keep warm, and find someone to supply you with plenty of cups of tea.

If you’re up to it now might be a good time to go and check on any neighbours you have that are elderly, just pop in and say hello. If they’re feeling under the weather they might need a bit of support, so don’t forget to do your good deed!

 

By Vicki McLeod

Published in the Euro Weekly News 23rd Feb 2012

www.familymattersmallorca.com

The day it snowed

Please see below for a gallery of photos of a snowy Mallorca courtesy of some of my Facebook friends. 

It’s Saturday morning, it’s not a school day, so it’s not the alarm that wakes us up. There’s a weird feeling in our house, as if it is being cuddled. We pad around the house sleepily, rubbing our eyes and wondering about making a cup of tea or getting a glass of juice. It’s nice, this no-rush early morning, it might turn into a good day.  It feels like a firework has exploded in the living room when La Gidg opens a shutter, gazes out of the window and shrieks ‘IT’S SNOWING!’

Our neighbour, Carlos, is on the street, smoking a roll up because he doesn’t smoke in the house anymore since the baby came. He says that his wife’s mother says there hasn’t been snow like this since 1956. The snow is falling steadily from a dark sky. It’s fascinating to watch it appear in the beam of a street light as if it has come from nowhere. Magic. The snow is about 20 centimetres deep. I want to hug it. Carlos says the Spanish television says it is going to snow all day. How can Mallorca possibly be prepared for this sort of thing? Does the council even own a gritter or a snow plough? Why would they need one? The snow is so deep that it looks like we aren’t going anywhere today anyway, unless it’s by foot or by sledge. The snow has made everything feel so peaceful and cosy, it’s like being wrapped in a muffler. We’ve got a lot to do today, and none of it is going to happen. How liberating to say ‘we can’t come today, we have to reschedule’. And how easy.

La Gidg has never seen snow like this before, she’s six, she’s lived in Mallorca all of her short life. She is glittering with joy. What a treat for all of us. We pull on wellington boots and put coats on over our pyjamas and walk down the hill to our local cafe. There is a particular sound that snow makes when you walk on it; it’s a combination of a crunch and a squeak. A creak? A squnch? Other people are on the street too, they are smiling and saying hello to us. Everyone seems to be smiling, normally reticent and shy Mallorcans are actually saying hello to us without being prompted. Gidg is confused by snowflakes, ‘I thought they were like little stars’.

The snow has given our village a makeover. Even the street signs and power cables look graceful with their new icing sugar overcoats. There are more people stood outside of the cafe, they are all facing the road staring at the snowflakes falling as if they are watching a parade, some of them are trying to look nonchalant but you can tell they are all just as excited as Gidg. I see flashes of cheeky anticipatory grins from the man who runs the garage, and another one who is the local vet. Snowballs are soon flying from one side of the road to the other.

Gidg wants to eat the snow, we tell her to watch out for the yellow variety.  We fling snowballs at the trees to make the snow fall down in clumps. She makes a snowman and snow angels. It’s the perfect snow day, although it’s only really going to be a few hours. But she’s going to remember the day it snowed forever. When I was about her age I remember being inspired to draw a picture of my family home with snow on the roof and on the trees. I put the picture beside my bed and went to sleep. Overnight snow wrapped itself around our garden and our house, and when I woke I thought I had conjured up this miraculous weather with my drawing. For one amazing day I believed I had magical powers. My brothers and I played all day in the snow. That night I drew another picture to bring more snow. But by the morning, it had started to thaw. My career as a child sorceress was disappointingly short lived.

Inside the cafe there is water on the floor from snowy boots; every table is busy, even this early on a Saturday morning. We are here in time for the freshly baked croissants which are still crisply warm and buttery. Gidg has hot chocolate, we have strong and bitter coffee with warm milk.More people come in behind us, one man is carrying a little dog in his arms it’s a dachshund: it needs a carry today.

On the way back up the hill to our house, the snow is already turning from crispy white to slushy grey. Not everyone has boots on: one lady navigates her way across the road in a pair of fluffy mules. She doesn’t seem to mind her feet getting wet.

When we get back home Gidg puts her last snowball in the freezer to save it. The big melt has already started, there is water running down the hill where a few hours before there had been squnch. At the end of the day, after she’s gone to bed, snuggled down under two duvets and wearing extra socks, I make Gluwein and gaze out of the living room window, hoping for more snow, and wonder about drawing a picture.

©Vicki McLeod 2012

It snowed today at sea level in Mallorca… for the first time in over fifty years…. we all got a bit excited… thank you to my Facebook friends for sending me their photos! You can hook up with me here www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod