We handed the chocolates over the wall. Ferrero Rocher. Sixteen of them immaculately wrapped in gold foil and in a rather useful hard plastic casing. Suitable for vegetarians too.
I claimed they were given to me some time after The Ankle, he claimed they were given to him for doing a neighbour a favour. Either way, we decided they’d be more appreciated by our Spanish neighbour so I’d finally remembered to retrieve them from the depths of the cupboard.
She was delighted and beamed her thanks as she took her dogs out for a walk. We saw her again a couple of hours later. ‘Roughseas,’ she called. Actually she called to Partner but he was chatting at the gate to José. I managed to struggle out of the chair where I was
enjoying the sun working, and hobbled to the wall to be greeted with:
Two cabbages, a bulb of fennel and some acelga. (Chard? Spinach beet? whatever it’s called in English anyway). ‘Freshly picked this morning,’ she said. Oh no. They’d gone out in the car soon after we’d given them the chocs. Surely they hadn’t driven out to pick some veg for us from a relative’s plot just to be able to give us something back? Either way, a bunch of fresh veg was a fine reward for chocs in our view.
The following morning our generous neighbours had been the victims of theft. Seven plant pots, complete with flowers, had been taken from the railings on their terrace. Later that week, they told us that the thieves had also helped themselves to the washing hanging out there too. They made light of it, and joked with us that our house looked too poor so clearly hadn’t attracted attention. Theirs has been extensively extended whereas ours is still the same simple basic original house. And, I don’t have flowers in plantpots that can be seen or reached from the street. Only a couple of rather evil spiky cacti.
Many years ago, we went down the town one Sunday morning leaving our front gate unlocked. I’ve no idea why we didn’t lock it. Laziness I guess. ‘It’s ok,’ said Partner, ‘who’s going to steal a couple of dog leads?’ Somebody. That’s who. Because when we got back, the leads we’d left on a chair were gone.
Similarly, who would steal seven plantpots and some washing? Someone who’s desperate. A sign of the times. When Partner was chatting to our neighbours later during a dog-walking encounter, the husband (aged around 52/3) was expressing his sadness at not being able to find work. Since the construction firm where he was an associate partner dissolved more than ten years ago, he’s had a couple of three-month temporary jobs with the council. The way things are in Spain, he faces the rest of his life without work, while his wife gets a little cleaning money, and their older son gets occasional chef jobs and work at the stables in season.
One lunchtime, a plate of food appeared. I’d got our food ready, but we’d not eaten and we were sitting outside in the sun as usual before we went in to eat. ‘It’s garbanzos and vegetables,’ she said. ‘No meat or anything,’ she added quickly, knowing the cranky foreigners’ dietary preferences. ‘It’s filled us all up, and this is what’s left.’ She said it sadly, clearly wishing they could afford fillet steak instead of having to eat basic peasant food to keep going. A day or so later, a bag of broad beans appeared. This is a family with no full-time work, and yet, they still share what they have with us, and never accept anything from us without giving back.
The same week, I received an email from someone I’d never met. It came via a third party from the administrator of the site where I review books. Just to explain, it’s not a did-I-or-didn’t-I-like-this-book, retell the story, sort of review site, but one where we have to objectively say whether or not the book has been well-written and if so why (or why not). I’d said a particular book was okay, but could be better, and gave it three stars. I’d also pulled together the usual set of notes (four pages) for the author explaining why it could be better, giving examples of spelling and grammatical errors, and re-writing a couple of paragraphs to show how the writing style could be improved.
Our reviews are anonymous and we don’t deal directly with the authors, so they have no idea which annoying pernickety reviewer pulled their book to pieces, and I’m sure many of them hate my nit-picking and not remotely generous assessments.
Anyway, this person thanked me for my detailed review and analysis saying that the two (two!) editors used on the book didn’t provide nearly as much to think about as my feedback had done. The author went on to say that s/he kept going back to my notes to help with their writing/thoughts.
You can tell this person is American; I’d gone ‘above and beyond’, ‘ your insights are exceptional’ and finally, the ‘honor of your highly constructive criticism’. How embarrassing. We don’t say things like that in Britain, more like, ‘thank you for your notes, I found them helpful’. In fact, if they had been British, I’d have suspected a piss-take. Seriously though, I was impressed that instead of being defensive, someone had actually taken my report to heart (cut 5,000 words out of said book using my comments) and made the effort to write a thoughtful thank you letter. It reminded me of sitting down after Christmas, writing thank you letters for all the unwanted boxes of hankies received from great-aunts.
In a week when someone stooped low enough to steal plantpots and washing from a family that is struggling anyway, it was so nice to get an out-of-the-blue email like that. Not everyone out there is bad, luckily. I sent a reply via our third party, thanking her very much for her kind reply. I wonder if I’ll get another mail thanking me for my reply to her reply …
On thank yous, Christina George, who wrote The Publicist series about the irritating woman who couldn’t make up her mind between two men, sent a thank you email to everyone who had participated in her book tour. Nice touch. She also said she’d tried to comment on every reviewer’s blog. What impressed me about Ms George was that she didn’t do the bland ‘thank you for your review’ that a couple of others have done. She actually made a comment pertinent to the blog post, and like the author above, she accepted any criticism.
And, a freebie
Still on books, back when I wrote about Claudia Must Die, some readers expressed interest in it. So if you didn’t download it back then, hurry up now because it’s free this weekend. The promotion ends tomorrow. If you subscribe to readcheaply and enews reader today it’s on there, otherwise:
It’s categorised as mystery/thriller but I’d add humour/satire to that too. Worth the read.
And, what does one do with two cabbages? Why, pickle the red one of course. One person’s chocolate is another person’s pickle. The thought of pickled red cabbage had us both salivating. No caterpillars were harmed in the making of pickled cabbage. I threw him/her over the wall. Onto the street. Not onto next door’s terrace.