Journal 3. FUERTEVENTURA – Demeter and Persephone Don’t Go Greek


Demeter and Persephone Don’t Go Greek*

mum and babe top 10
Beth and Danny on the dunes

Part One – Cornwall

Our holiday began inauspiciously with a journey on Cross-country trains. ‘Cross’ clearly for 2 reasons:

1.They literally go a-‘cross’ the country, zig-zagging all over the place and calling at every bus stop from Penzance to Glasgow (including the dreaded St Erth – a community, according to Beth, that is so inbred the inhabitants have 6 fingers and 6 toes)

2.They make you very ‘cross’ indeed.

Unable to reserve a seat (how is this even possible?), we were forced to stand for most of the journey from Penzance to Bristol, passing Danny (then aged 2) between us, since at every single stop more and more people got on, even though every seat was taken. Whilst Beth used her best ‘Yes Matron’ voice to organise the carriage and re-locate people stuck in the aisles (imagine a Rubik’s cube) close proximity to so many sweaty, heaving bodies at least enabled me to get the name and number of a very nice builder who offered to solve all my restoration problems. I’ll let you know when the ground work’s been done……

Part Two – El Cotillo

All things improving, a good flight from Bristol took us to Fuerteventura, the Canary Island 80km from the Sahara and with sun, heat and sand to prove it. More importantly, it is home to my oldest friend Rosa, Beth’s Godmother, about to meet Danny for the first time.

Rosa and I grew up at a time when you bought vinyl 45s and LPs as your music source. Then you went round to your mate’s house and listened to it together. Then you would sing it together, over and over

2 old girls
With my dear friend Rosa – we go back a long way

and learn every single lyric from every single song. Even the crap songs. Ours is the oldest and strongest of friendships. I visited her on my own in February and had quite a different trip. But this trip was all about having a good time with Beth and Danny and my dear Rosa, in typically generous fashion, had gone out of her way to enable this to happen.

We had a lovely apartment less than 50m from the beach. And what a beach! At low tide, golden sand stretches as far as you can see, then shallow, warm water surrounded by some kind of reef .

This acts as a barrier to form a blue lagoon, perfect for little toddlers who don’t want to get smashed by waves. Rock pools with loads of fish and volcanic rock with tiny black crabs scuttling in and out of the holes kept us occupied for hours. At high tide there were not many people about and for me, getting up early and going for a swim before breakfast was one of the highlights of the week. (I am coming to love precious time on my own.)

The village where we stayed, El Cotillo, is relatively un-touristy unlike other parts of the island. The well established German tourist trade operates mostly to the SE of the island but recent attempts at catering for the UK market have been hit by the recession. This is very sad to see. Half built apartment blocks and villas have been abandoned, incomplete as developers ran out of money. Many of these were out of town

breeze blocks top 10
Recession hit parts of the island

‘all inclusive’ complexes that would never have done much to contribute to the local economy in any event. What a waste. Massive breeze blocks, jagged wires sticking out at all angles, sand covered craters……. a scarred landscape. A Star Wars set design version of an abandoned village. In this sense, parts of the island reminded me of the Lizard and other areas of rural Cornwall during the 1990s when we first used to travel down there with the kids. In those days, following the 1980s recession it was not uncommon to see similar projects begun hastily in the 1980s but abandoned when the money ran out in the ‘first’ recession. Now, there’s another recession which, despite massive funding from the EU (e.g. Objective One and Convergence funding) for projects like the Universities, Eden Project, the roads etc etc is also having an impact on Cornwall…….

But I digress……….

Our village was lovely with everything we could wish for. We ate every kind of fish cooked in just about every way – fried, poached, steamed, barbecued……

actual ham
Some Iberian ham just jumped onto the table in front of us….

We found the best kind of bar – you know the one? small, un-pretentious, sun soaked in the afternoon, off the beaten track and where you can get a beer for 1.50 euros. A bowl of olives was plopped on the table totally free and, whilst we were minding our own business, a plate of Iberian ham just jumped onto the table in front of us. There were 3 different kinds: sausage, salami and the wafer thin kind. We accidentally ate it. To add to the cornucopia of sensory experiences, Roxy Music flowed across the air waves, swiftly followed by OMD and The Pet Shop Boys. Beth felt obliged to point out that,

a slice of Iberian ham top 10
The best type of holiday afternoon – soaking up the rays with a beer and your best girl

“Actually Mum, the 80s were shite and Thatcher has a lot to answer for”,

but we carried on with the ham and olives nevertheless.

To our amusement, at this bar, we happened upon a free publication, ‘The Spirit of Fuerteventura’, essentially a tourist guide. But in between adverts for ‘Nail-u-care’ and organized tours of the goat’s cheese factory, there was a whole section on ‘The Dynamics of Modern Relationships’ written by a German Doctor. Oh how we did laugh. Amongst other gems we read, “One can learn to love more or to love more openly, but the absolute condition, however, is the willingness to abandon prejudice, fears and emotional scars”. Wish I’d read that 5 years ago! Also,

Another gorgeous one of R and D
Mother and son

“The ability to love starts and grows with the health of the own mind and the openness of the soul” So now we know! if you’ve been navel gazing for the past several years, wondering where you have been going wrong in the relationship department, STOP RIGHT NOW. Save yourself the hassle of self-reflection, the cost of analysis, and the pain of self doubt. Get yourself to a great little bar in Fuerteventura with a cheap beer and a bowl of olives and all the relationship advice you could possibly need, gratis…..!

Night life? Pretty tame although we did have one memorable night, staggering back from another fish supper (and what a useful support a push chair is when you’ve had one prawn too many). This involved Beth walking ahead of the push chair in the pitch dark (whilst a force 10 gale blew around us), yelling, rhythmically,

“Poo alert – to the right, to the right”

whenever I was about to steer the push chair into said excrement. Nearby, was a hideous night club blaring (inevitably), Gloria Gaynor and Chakka Khan. On hearing these crazy rhythms, Beth completely lost control and started dancing in the street. Later that night, as she lay guilt stricken and ashamed by her reckless actions, I had to reassure her that, when one first adopts the mantle of motherhood, dancing on the sidewalk to other people’s music, avoiding piles of poo in the wind is about as good as it gets! (I just realized I wrote ‘sidewalk’. I meant pavement. I’m clearly spending too much time with Americans…..)

We had some lovely times, as always with Rosa and her family whose hospitality

included welcoming us to her house when we stayed later in the week. When not on the beach, we spent time discovering the island and trying to find out more about this interesting part of the world. Beth had never been there before and, like me, she found much of the island stunning. A memorable drive through rugged and brutal mountains via Betancuria and Pájara took us to La Pared on the exposed West coast.

Here, some genius not only designed a restaurant with the most spectacular view over the ocean but had the foresight to build 2 swimming pools right next to it. Thus you can eat your amazing fish meal and have grown up time whilst entertaining the kids simultaneously!! In Danny’s case, this does not quite work, him being a small fry and all, but it did give certain members of the party an excuse for an inter-course dip.

Danny on rock in sea
Building water confidence

What else did we do? Read a lot and finally finished Jodi Picoult’s ‘My Sister’s Keeper’. Man, that was a heavy book. But good. Brilliantly structured and with enough contrast (just about) to stop me from completely losing the will to live. Not sure I’ll be reading another one of hers any time soon though. Tried to get my head round Spanish politics as we listened, on the radio, to the Spanish Prime minister having a bad day in Parliament but somehow I just couldn’t concentrate this week. I’ll leave tales of corruption and incompetency till next week………!

Slept. A lot. How good is it to sleep?

And I just played with my Grandson who has invented his own name for me now.

Star Wars
Star Wars!

‘Grandma’ has been replaced by ‘Maw-Maw’ (as in Paw Paw). No idea why but it’s staying for now. And I have watched my beautiful daughter, with so much pride, nurture her baby and nudge him towards being a little boy. With new words every day, including (rather hilariously) most animal noises, he has sat on his Mum’s lap, reading with her one minute then trying out the sounds on his own the next.

Playing with my Grandson. Life’s greatest pleasure

I have watched her encourage him to eat good food and play with him on the beach and in the water. His confidence in the water has grown so much – he can now stand up on his own up to his neck.

And as I watch her, my heart fills with so much love, sometimes I think it will burst. Feeling this warm, sensation enveloping me is just the best thing. It is a physical sensation. It washes over and over me from head to foot, tingling all over and it makes me so happy. I feel open and alive and vibrant and strong. I want to dance and laugh and sing.

me happy
Feeling alive

All the time! It wasn’t so long ago that I just wasn’t capable of feeling love like this. All emotion and feeling had been drained, leached out of me leaving an empty , stale and scarcely functioning human being in its place….. so far removed was she, from herself.

(and yes – that is deliberately written in the third person.)

I have been reminded of just how much hard work goes in to creating a little person, especially linguistic and communication skills – built block by block – like pieces of a jigsaw connecting. At work, I am surrounded by children who speak 2, 3 and sometimes 4 languages.

How any parent manages to raise children in this way amazes me. When not using words, Danny made declamatory speeches, ‘Henry V style’ to our Spanish neighbours. These of course are in gibberish – ‘baby speak’ (imagine Pingu or the Minions). But in Dan’s head, he has whole stories going on, complete with hand actions and facial expressions. It was such a joy to be part of this phase of his development, this Summer.

And now, like Demeter and Persephone, mother and daughter will part on this almost seasonal basis to return to their different worlds. This has been our last big holiday where we can spend a long time together while Beth is a student. Yes – she is bringing up a baby on her own in a different country from her Mother and studying for a nursing degree at the same time.

me and her top 10
With my girl xx

Next year, she will be a full grown professional with a proper grown up job and the limited time off that will inevitably follow (aren’t we teachers lucky?). As always, we have shared everything – she has made some major decisions about her life and I have started to make some about mine. Most importantly we’ve been able to relax and have fun together. At last!! Hurrah!! We both missed Henry who, in one of life’s little ironies, has been being incredibly important and

“Kind of a big deal Mum”

on an internship in Frankfurt (– never mind Henry: all that sand would have ruined your suit….xx)

Sarah Halliday July 2013

*The Tale of Demeter and Persephone

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