Donkey sanity returns

The donkeys and I have had a very close shave this week: we nearly had our lives taken over in a most unwelcome manner. All is sorted out and our home is back to normal. What lesson can we draw from it? Rubí is reflecting on the matter and she will tell me.

Elca Seriu in the last light of the day

Elca Seriu in the last light of the day

It is a very sad fact of ex-pat life here in Spain that family and friends sometimes swoop down upon us, expected or unexpected, and seem to think it natural that we should hand over our lives and homes to them just because we happen to live in the sunshine. At work you sometimes hear a teacher in the staffroom saying, “My family are arriving next week,” and the sympathetic response is usually, “Oh no! How long for?” If they say three weeks, the tut tuts begin immediately. Rule of thumb is ten days probably the crunch point.

That is for regular family and friends, and then you get the occasional person – the person you don’t really even know that well but you met on the internet in some context – who is just doing the rounds with a sad story and needs “to get my life together”. Such was the case this week. I had an email last Monday from England from a person who had once stayed here for three days, between jet-setting around the world supposedly involved in off-shore financial stuff (which is a mystery for my poor rabit brain). Now he had fallen on hard times and was staying in England, sleeping on a mattress on someone’s floor.

“Would it be possible to park myself at yours for a fortnight?… I have to… work at an online TEFL course I have to do… I need a break… prior to starting a new life.”

My first instinct was to say no. I should have stuck to that, but the usual guilt feelings began to work on me. Poor guy, he seems to be in a terrible situation… down on his luck… horrible place he is staying in… needs a chance to get some peace to do his course. And I’m living a quiet life with donkeys and no troubles, apart from the troubles we all have (and I’m very concerned about a family member’s health just at present.) So I forgot my first instinct and said: “Yes, you can come.”

It is a quiet life with donkeys but every now and again somebody turns up to try and wreck it

It is a quiet life with donkeys but every now and again somebody turns up to try and wreck it

I had a reply immediately and a flight was booked for Friday, which gave me three days to get the room ready. It is a difficult time of year anyway: at work, getting exam classes properly ready for mock exams in January; at home, coping with the twice daily physical round of feeding, watering, grooming, cleaning, with the donkeys, and all in half-light and darkness as the days get shorter.

Suddenly we are all trapped by my bad decision

Suddenly we are all trapped by my bad decision

I had a bad feeling about this but there was no going back now. Too sudden! Too desperate! This guy had been running from one situation that was going wrong to another for the past four years since I had known him, and now he was going from big finance schemes to an online TEFL course and it would all be sorted out in a fortnight staying in my house. Didn’t make sense.

Still, I rationalised, it would do him good. He could spend some time looking after the donkeys when I was at work during the week. Get on with his course for a fortnight. What was the worry? It took me three evenings to sort out my house and make it suitable to receive a visitor: I live alone and I have not cleaned the house properly since the beginning of the summer! There was no guest room but a room full of junk and paintings and laundry. The poor donkeys did not know I was getting us all into this situation: I never discussed it with them.

Well: is it Tuesday?   I think we should at least be told.

Well: is it Tuesday? I think we should at least be told.

When he arrived here on Friday I collected him from the bus station in Benidorm and he talked about himself non-stop for two hours. I took him to a meal with friends in a restaurant in Finestrat and he carried on talking about himself for another hour, not noticing the stretched patience and then growing anger of my four friends. He drew out a twenty Euro note at the end of the meal to pay for his share and announced that was the last of his money but luckily his good friend (me) would see him all right for the next “few weeks”.

Oh no… I remembered what had been my first instinct when I first received that email. Too late now. After the meal and back home again, I asked him when was his return flight and he was very vague about it. I guessed there was no return flight. He asked me what I was doing for Christmas, at a totally random point in a conversation about the practical points in the bathroom shower arrangements. I quickly told him I was planning on going away (having guessed his long term plan was to stay as long as he could.)

“Would you like to see the donkeys now?” I asked.

“I don’t really like animals,” said my guest, and rolled another cigarette to add to the pile of ash now accumulated in the saucer of a precious Italian ceramic Desimone coffee cup and saucer set given to me as a birthday present by my daughter years ago, and just taken from my cupboard.

I will spare you the details of the awful night that then followed but it involved my “guest” slamming doors at three in the morning, leaving all the lights on, then when finally done on his night patrols – which involved filling the house with the stench of tobacco – then snoring all night with a monumental vibration that shook the house until nine o’clock in the morning.

I had no sleep, of course. At breakfast, I confronted him about his intentions and there was no return plan except to just live here. I reminded him of his email: a fortnight to work on his TEFL course. I made it quite clear to him I was not going to be taken for a ride.

I fed the donkeys and went up to Finestrat. After a long conversation with a really good, patient and kind friend, we came up with a solution. The guest could move into a flat that was temporarily empty and stay there until his return flight, free of charge. I went back to my house with the good news. He did not want that. He said if I was throwing him out he preferred I paid for a flight for him back to England. My house was full of tobacco smoke now and he had also set up his computer on my dining table, together with all his other office equipment, and was now clearly in control of my house. (Except of course for the washing up, which was my job.)

Puig Campana: a peaceful  background to a takeover of my house

Puig Campana: a peaceful background to a takeover of my house

At this point, I suddenly found inspiration in the long hard journey that brought me here. I shouted at him at full volume to get his life in order and not come here messing up mine. Astonishingly, he very quickly found some money and booked his own flight back to England. It turned out to be Iberia to Madrid, then British Airways to Heathrow, using the Air Miles card of another friend. Amazing how the other half live.

Is it feeding time yet?  Has your guest gone?  Can we just do normal things now?

Is it feeding time yet? Has your guest gone? Can we just do normal things now?

My first instinct is to never want to return to England. My second instinct is to not let England come here very much either.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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5 Responses to Donkey sanity returns

  1. Jim of Olym says:

    well, some bad things come to an end! Thank God they do. And live and learn, I guess.
    I hope you have some spare room for other donkey lovers, like me and my wife. And we won’t burden you with our care, just ask that you help us find us a nice room somewhere in the vicinity–that is, if we ever get to Spain. I’m sure the Lord rewards those who blindly trust. I’ve had a similar experience, even worse as the guy wouldn’t bathe or have his clothes washed. He was out in record time.

  2. Catherine Geldart says:

    Poor Rabit! And I’ll bet he didn’t even like donkeys!

  3. Frere Rabit says:

    Wonderful isn’t it? Don’t you just love the idea of flying in to stay for an unspecified time, with just twenty Euros cash, and trusting in the Lord that your host is a sucker? No Catherine, he didn’t even want to stroke the donkeys, let alone do any of the heavy daily burden of chores. Couldn’t even empty his own ash-tray…

    In fact the house smells of tobacco still, and I have just emptied a whole air-freshener spray around the place, as I prepare to go to school for another work day after my lovely relaxing weekend…

    Still, as Jim says, it’s over!

  4. GC says:

    Well,. what would Jesus have done, Rabit? There’s probably a spare room at the Casa Santa Marta for this chap at the peripheries.

  5. Frere Rabit says:

    Well, GC, that was a month ago and life moves on…

    To be honest, I’d be quite happy for some sensible guests to stay occasionally and lend a hand with the donkeys. This involves getting up early and some fairly physical work, so no takers so far (in four years) so I’ve now given up hope !

    Happily, my good friends Cait and Carl will look after the donkeys for five days during Christmas holiday, so I can at least have a few days off. I love my donks but I didn’t plan on having four, and since 2011 when the new foals arrived – now grown adult donkeys – it has been increasingly hard work. I am committed to them, while doing a full-time job. Non-paying guests who arrive and doss till ten o’clock then expect breakfast to be made for them can just get the first bus out. They won’t be invited again. I don’t need extra work, but just a willing hand to lighten the load.

    What indeed would Jesus do? Prolly at least his own washing up.

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