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Life is not always rosy

Well, it’s been a strange old weekend, and although our life here often looks extremely rosy, life does go on and sometimes it’s not always plain sailing.

Despite our house-build now being officially ‘over’, we are having ongoing problems with our builder. A combination of factors over the last two months of the build has resulted in his turning rather nasty. He and the architects fell out, and no longer speak to each other. It also appears that he was rapidly running out of money and sub-contractors were reportedly going to the architects to say they had not been paid. As a result of all this, the builder seemed to think that he could try to sneak in a final invoice with an unexpected sum added to the bottom line.

At the end of the build, despite the work actually not being 100% finished, he requested a meeting with Andrew and I but without the architects (as he no longer speaks to them). We thought he might be doing a bi of a PR exercise, to apologise for the 6 week overrun on the project and the fact that some of the snagging had not yet been completed. But no; he and his partner came armed with a sheet of A4, rubber-stamped and signed by them, brazenly suggesting that we pay them this additional sum for ‘extras’. Either they thought we were naive, or they thought their charm might win the day, but we honestly think they believed we would just arrange a swift bank transfer. Needless to say, we immediately demanded a breakdown of these so-called ‘extras’ which took the best part of a week to arrive. Make of that what you will; surely he should have had those figures to hand in order to arrive at the additional sum in the first place.

The architects, our project managers, do not agree with these extra figures so we have reached a slight impasse and the builder has now decided to threaten us with legal action if we do not stump up this unwarranted and unjustified additional money. He is not prepared to discuss these figures as this would involve a meeting with the architects, and he no longer speaks to them. We await the next step with interest. Suffice to say, we have already taken legal advice. More on that once it has all been sorted by the lawyers.

The threatening emails from the builder arrived on the day we set off for a few days on the coast. A break by the sea was intended to provide a spot of relaxation after the building work, but it began with a great deal of stress. We both hate this type of unnecessary conflict, particularly as we seem to have found ourselves caught in the cross-fire of a bitter feud between architect and builder, when we have done nothing to warrant such a nasty backlash from a builder who has not, latterly, covered himself in glory.

As it happened, after 24 hours, we managed to put to the back of our minds the thought of pending legal action. We rallied on the beach near our favourite little harbour, Marina del Este, a little corner of the Costa Tropical that never seems to change. It has all the charm that I remember from my first visit over 20 years ago. Even at the end of July, the place is not overrun with visitors, and the sea was a clean and fresh relief from the heat of the day. We felt very far removed from our new home in Moclín and, for a few days, we were very much on holiday.

Marina Del Este, Costa Tropical.

Marina Del Este, Costa Tropical.

We returned to another threatening email from our builder which our lawyers advised us to ignore. It’s relaxing to know that we have to sit tight to wait for some legal missive before we get the opportunity to defend our position with the help of the architects and the contract. We do feel aggrieved that this has arisen as a result of a disagreement between other parties. But we are the clients with ‘the money’ so a target for a builder who is obviously keen to claw in some cash from somewhere. This is not a new situation for this builder, we now understand.

Those little piles of sawdust…not good.

Anyway, the seaside break was lovely. The sawdust generated by the woodworm in the beams that the builder had assured us had been treated is less lovely.

Whether we had post-holiday blues or not, it is hard to say, but Andrew and I have both been feeling decidedly ‘meh’ this weekend, and can’t quite put our fingers on why.

Today, August 4th, is my Mum’s birthday and my Mum is always on my mind. She is 91 and I wasn’t with her to celebrate. That said, Mum has vascular dementia and is in a home in Hertfordshire. Recently, Andrew’s Cousin, Caroline, with whom we had many a jolly, champagne-fuelled lunch in Clapham, has been diagnosed with vascular dementia, and I am reliving all the stages that my poor mother has gone through.

Dementia is a heartless and insidious disease. During the early part of her 80th decade, Mum was my father’s primary carer, and this kept her going, physically and mentally. The moment my father died, my mother deteriorated very quickly, as if the whole reason she was still alive and mentally agile had disappeared.

The Christmas after we arrived in Spain, my mother had a bad fall; not the first, but by far the worst. She had care during the day in her own home, but she fell at night and remained on the floor until she was found the next morning, in a bad state. We, the family, had no option but to place her in a residential home with facilities for dementia sufferers.

I remember returning to the UK in the January after that Christmas fall, and my daughter Lucie and I went to visit Mum in a step-up facility - a sort of convalescence home provided by the NHS while we found a place for her in a private care home. I walked into the residents sitting room and saw this shadow of a woman, slumped in a chair and didn’t recognise this person at all, so walked out. It was when we asked a member of staff the whereabouts of Erica Rutter that we were shown back into the sitting room, and the small, shadow of a woman. For Lucie and I this was heartbreaking. No longer to recognise your own parent is an horrific moment, and dementia increasingly strips the sufferer bare of recognisable character and soul leaving behind something of an empty shell.

Mum is very well cared for in a home that specialises in such care. I live with the guilt of not being there for the parent who was so entirely central to my upbringing, and so utterly loved. But what would I do if I were there? My Mum, my vital, bubbly and lovely mum is no longer there, except in body - a frail, empty shell of a body from where my Mum has disappeared. She no longer knows who we are, although will occasionally refer to one of us as her husband or her father, but never who we actually are. My children, the grandchildren who grew up close to her and my father in Kent, could be anyone, although every now and again we cling to some sign that she met yet recognise something when we visit.

Dementia is a long drawn out grieving process. Every time we visit we feel that we may be saying goodbye for the last time. We have no real concept of the world that my Mum now inhabits; whether she is happy or has any idea of what happiness is, locked away in this almost-empty gallery of faded snapshots that give fleeting glimpses of a past life. It is unbearably painful.

This evening, we received an email regarding the deterioration in Andrew’s cousin, Caroline, and this dreadful drama is playing itself out all over again. The escalating memory lapses, leaving doors unlocked, forgetting to eat, a catalogue of individually innocuous events that cumulatively build into a cloud of loss. Caroline is, and always has been, a force - a dynamic, sometimes stentorian woman who worked for many years in the Foreign Office. She is also generous and warm-hearted and very fond of a glass of bubbly with lunch. On our last visit, that spirit was starting to release itself from her body.

Andrew and Caroline

Andrew and Caroline

My Mum is 91 today, but she wouldn’t know. A phone call confuses her, and a card would have no significance. In a week or two we shall be back in the UK and I will go and see her. However, it is never my Mum I see. My Mum, the Mum I loved unconditionally, is not really there.

This is not intended to be a maudlin post, written on a Sunday evening after a strange old weekend. It serves to show that life does continue around us, wherever we are, and however glorious our lives might appear to the outside world. Life constantly throws challenges and we have to do our best to deal with them. I burnt the dinner this evening, which didn’t help the over-riding mood. However, eating our slightly charred pigs’ cheeks and our darker than golden gratin dauphinois, we both looked at the view, and the sliver of a new moon, and remembered that we are still extraordinarily fortunate to be living where we are.

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Bocadillos on the Beach

Bocadillos on the Beach

For the Head and the Heart.

For the Head and the Heart.