As the day approached for me to fly back to the UK, I was keeping a close eye on the weather at home. The 'Big Freeze' was on. The whole of the country appeared to be smothered in thick snow and had ground to a halt as salt was impossible to find even to sprinkle on chips. A few days before heading out Alex called to say there had been a burst pipe in the utility room. This had meant he had coped with temperatures well below zero, with no heating or hot water, until a plumber could be found. This he did with a competence that left me bowled over with pride.
The snow was receding when I finally flew out to Liverpool airport and tentatively set out for North Wales in the dark in an unfamiliar hire car. In fact I didn't see snow until turning off the A55 but followed Alex's advice not to attempt to go down the hill to the house. Excellent advice it was, too, as the road was a sheet of thick ice. But a thaw had set in, the heating was now back on and it was good to be home - even if I did need to go to bed in granny nightie, dressing gown, socks and two quilts before I felt warm enough to sleep!
The washer had sprung a leak as well during the freezing conditions so I felt it was time to tackle the utility room and asked a builder to have a look at what was needed to stop the room succumbing every winter - more expense.
It was so good to see family and friends again and I confess to a bout of homesickness around Christmas. Apologies to everyone I didn't get to see, though, as time was short and mostly filled with medical appointments and sorting out paperwork. Back in Javea, the sun was shining and Neil was doing the long walks he had promised himself whilst I was away. I wouldn't have liked them, apparently.
I also confess to mixed feelings as my time at home was coming to an end. Alex and Amy had obviously got their lives sorted and friends and family all had their own concerns. The news from work (great to see you again, Sandra) while making me miss all the people, left me with a sense of distance and not really belonging anymore. The first tentative buds were appearing in the garden after the ice had melted. I have always taken great pleasure in watching the garden come to life and was acutely aware that I would miss it this year.
But I was missing Neil more. As the rooftops of Alicante became visible I was overjoyed to be back. On the ground I could see him waving as he waited for me to collect my bag. Home is where the heart is, even if it is raining!
Today is Twelfth Night, the last day of Christmas. For the local Spanish Children this is much bigger than Christmas Day itself. They do have 'Papa Noel' but the real event is the arrival of the Magi. It is to the kings, one white, one red and one black (or to an individual favourite) that they write their letters, explaining how good they've been all year and it is the kings that bring their presents. Or, every child's dread, a piece of black cinder toffee, representing coal, if they've been naughty. In Javea the kings arrive the evening before by boat. I must admit I had expected this to be a bit more .....well, spectacular.
We'd followed the crowds to the fishing port and took up our position on the quay overlooking the red carpet laid down among the nets. When the three entourages arrived it looked really exciting. The sumptuously dressed teenagers, a third with blacked up faces, lined up expectantly in front of keyed up children while the press took photographs. Then a cry went up from the end of the quay as the kings' boat was spotted.
We craned our necks, forgetting the smell of fish and dog mess at our feet, as excited as any of the four year olds. Ok, so they hadn't really gone to town decorating the catamaran - well not at all actually - but 'The Kings' were here!! Fireworks exploded on the beach behind us. The surge of press photographers (well, 3 actually but they moved around a lot) meant we couldn't get a very good view of them so we hot-footed it to the streets of the port area on the route of the impending parade.
A polystyrene star adorned with balloons led the way, followed by a float containing the stable scene. Then along came the teenagers, throwing sweets and chocolate coins to the crowds, followed by knights on horseback. The odour of fish was replaced by the perfume of incense. A cow and a donkey were led along by a couple of self-conscious lads, one refusing to take his baseball cap off, not really getting into the spirit of the enterprise. I guess they would have preferred to be knights.
It was the kings themselves that were, perhaps, just a bit disappointing. They were lavishly dressed with their plush cloaks trailing over the rump of their horses. But the disproportionate frizz of nylon hair and beard was so excessive it overwhelmed everything else, including their faces. Less would have definitely been more. On the other hand, this could have been deliberate. It really wouldn't have done if the youngsters had recognised "Uncle Pepe"!
Leaving Javea early the day after the storm we had not appreciated the devastation that had been left in its wake. It was only when chatting to friends on our return that we learnt about the huge boulders hurled up onto the seafront, trees uprooted, walls washed away and bar terraces destroyed.
The boats had suffered too. One had been cast onto the beach whilst others in the canal had either been held under the waterline by their mooring ropes as the level surged or had been completely sunk. Others, breaking free from their moorings, caused damage to neighbouring boats. Our friends described boats being lifted out by cranes, the water running from the interior.
The Port area seemed to have fared better to the best of our knowledge with no obvious damage to boats in the marina. All the same, we couldn't help but fear for Seren Mor, abandoned on the Bay of Biscay, and had to keep reassuring ourselves that it was a very sheltered marina. All appeared to have, mostly, been put to rights by the time we returned, the only evidence being the occasional bar still closed and the difficulty parking where the beach was still strewn with the boulders.
The weather continued grey, chilly and damp and it seemed that autumn had arrived on the Costa Blanca. But with amazing timing, as we opened the blinds on Christmas morning, the sky had turned a perfect blue and the sun was piercing our somewhat hungover eyes. Having flung open the balcony doors we had an overwhelming desire to be outside, in the breeze, on a cliff overlooking the sea. Cap Prim overlooking the tiny island of Portitxol in fact, a ten minute drive from Javea. This is an area we've become particularly fond of, a peninsular with two beautiful bays where we dream of anchoring Seren Mor.
It didn't disappoint. In fact it was evident that after the recent rain the "second spring" had started, a phenomenon we'd heard of from residents that starts when the ground gets its first soaking after the drought of summer. The sun was warm and the breeze bracing, filled with the perfume of the pine trees, the sea and wild spring flowers.
Afterwards, we felt we'd earned our Bucks Fizz sitting on the balcony as we called our families back in the UK. It felt very strange talking to them of the ice and snow as they prepared for Christmas lunch and I must confess to pangs of homesickness. I think if I could have just transported everyone over here it would have been perfect.
This is where the eating began. Midday nibbles with the Bucks Fizz followed by drinks and more nibbles on the seafront before heading for Mr BE's for lunch. Starting with Cava and canapés the food just kept on coming, all home-made and accompanied by every possible trimming. At the end, I picked at the amazing selection on the cheese board while Neil nibbled grapes and walnuts. The mince pies completely defeated us though. We just couldn't go there (I did force down a mint chocolate). One of the other diners was a very talented local singer who gave us "a turn" over coffee. While she was singing ballads we were content to sit there, happily singing along, but when the tables were pushed back for dancing we admitted defeat. We needed a lie down!
18/12/2009, Port La Foret
During a bitterly cold night we were surprisingly warm and comfortable. Mind you, I was taking no chances - you'd think I was Scott of the Antarctic the number of layers of clothes (including thermal longjohns) I went to bed in! Neil wore his socks. But the Eberspacher heating is effective, if a bit smelly. The wine helped too, I'm sure.
As I cautiously made my way along the icy pontoon when it finally got light, it started to snow. But miraculously the snow disappeared, the sky turned blue and the sun poured into the cabin cheering us both up. Neil had made a list of jobs that had to be done and as he crossed them off this lifted his spirits too. I worked my way around the lockers and storage areas trying to sort out what went where and taking stock of what was on board. My lists consisted of what we'd got and what we needed. There's still plenty to do, but most of it can wait now until we come back in the spring.
As for the teething problems - the insurance company want the Southampton engineers to put it right. They wanted Neil to put it right. He managed to sort out the wrongly wired lights but wasn't going to attempt the bimini frame which had been put up back to front or the missing supports for the gantry. So it's back to PLF marine to see if they can sort it out. It remains to be seen who will pay for it.
17/12/2009, Port La Foret
Yes after five months Seren Mor is back and she's our home again for the next couple of days. She arrived in the torrential rain but after an uneventful passage. There are a few minor problems with the wiring to the navigation lights and the gantry has a bracket missing.
Inside, although initially she looked spick and span, all our property had been stored to enable transportation and access during repairs. All the lockers are just packed as tight as possible to stop anything moving about while the fore cabin is piled up with "stuff" including the dinghy and bimini which hasn't been put back up. It's strange but as I try to sort things out everything is heartbreakingly familiar yet just not right. To be honest, it feels like we will never get her back to how we had things before the accident.
However, the heating is on and she feels snug. The guys who delivered her had stocked her with fresh food and enough plates and glasses survived the impact. Perhaps I'm just tired and everything will feel better in the morning.
It had rained all day Sunday and all day Monday. I mean it had really rained. The roads had turned into rivers and the previously dry river beds themselves were now flowing fast into the sea. But when we left Javea on Tuesday morning it had miraculously brightened up again and we were heading North to see Seren Mor.
As we left town we realised it hadn't been raining on the surrounding mountains but snowing. This is where our planned route to France took us. At 8am in Javea it was 10 degrees. By 10am we were driving above the snow line and it was minus 7. Amazing, glorious scenery and clear roads - it seems like it's only Britain that grinds to a halt when it snows. By midday we were over the mountains and the temperature had soared to ... minus 2! Yes, we were definitely heading north.
An overnight stop in a motel in Biarritz and we were on our way again. It's amazing, we hardly saw any road works or speed cameras in Spain but France is much more Anglicised than I'm sure they would like to admit. But after two days travel we had covered about 950 miles and are now in another, shall I say 'less salubrious' motel in Quimper, the closest we could get to Port La Foret where Seren Mor is being delivered to. Neil's had a text - her ETA is midday.