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The Costa spending your winter in Spain

Many of my neighbours have gone to Spain and who can blame them?

It’s cheaper to rent a Spanish flat than to heat a French house, not to mention warm seas, lots of sun, Spanish tapas and coming home stocked up with cheap Spanish groceries for the summer.

I get where they’re coming from – or at least where they’re going...

Meanwhile, I have the keys to half a dozen houses, watering plants, checking on post boxes, electrics and burglar alarms, chickens, cats and even a pair of baleful sheep.

My car is covered in mud. I suspect that the roof is leaking. I have a cold… and my cat has unhouse-trained himself because he can’t face the fog.

But do I want to go to Spain for the winter months? Absolutely not!

If the truth be told, far from envying my absentee neighbours, I’m secretly revelling in their absence.

I can park anywhere, I can get appointments (dentist, beautician, doctor) easily, and I am not bothered by neighbours playing loud music, burning brushwood, letting their dogs pee on my doorstep, or sitting in windows observing my movements.

No one knows or cares how long I spend gossiping with the postman. Freedom! Liberty! Peace!

There’s a delicious sense that those of us who are here all year are the real residents.

If you were here when the new fountain backed up and made an ice rink across the road, if you were here when the Christmas tree blew down and had to be wired to the one-way sign, if you were here when the new bin system came into force… then you’re really part of the village.

The rest? The postman’s jokes about them are too scurrilous to print!

In summer, there’s never any time to chat because everyone has holiday visitors, and there’s an endless round of fêtes and foires, soirées and apéros.

But in the winter, people have more time and I’m enjoying new friendships with my French neighbours.

At midnight mass, I got asked to join a choir, someone told me about a new German class, and I’ve been introducing people to hot cross buns (I need to practise.)

As the days start to lengthen, spring arrives and I love watching the countryside come back to life.

Absentees don’t see the snowdrops, don’t see the daffodils, the first buds on the trees, the first lambs in the pasture, or the strange St Valentine’s cakes in the boulangerie.

They miss the supermarket promos that mark the seasons as reliably as any Spanish calendar: the new pillows, the sauerkraut, and the spring rolls for Chinese New Year.

No, my neighbours miss all that, poor things, only getting back in time for the Easter bunnies wrapped in gold foil.

By which time the subtle, secret pleasures of winter in a French village will be giving way to the more obvious charms of spring and summer – and my lips will be closed.

I certainly won’t be telling them what they missed.

I might even be encouraging them to spend more time in Spain next year!

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