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The Monkey Speaks



(Two steps forward, One step back)

They take the old roof off,

They put a new roof on,

The new roof leaks,

So you know it’s been a con.

You do the Hokey-Cokey

And you spend more cash.

That’s what it’s all about.

Our first builder was a plausible Spanish crook. I’ll call him Diego. When we returned from the Far East I commented on the mountains of rubble dumped in the huerta right in front of the house. 


‘Diego, before I pay you, you’ll need to move that lot.’

‘I wouldn't advise it. The house is on a steep slope and all that material keeps it from sliding down into the arroyo.’

‘Don’t be silly, get it shifted.’

The rubble duly disappeared, but Diego didn’t haul it away. He dumped it in the storm drain behind the house, which is why we were met by a muddy flood when we opened the front door on our final return from India.


Diego had also saved himself a few pesetas by merely dabbing each of the tiles with cement rather than securing them properly, so they soon began to click like castanets. The new roof leaked too.


Then there was Nigel. From his deep, warm Lancashire tones, we knew instantly that here was a man we could trust with our very lives, so at the end of the Christmas vacation we left Nigel to install a new bathroom screen, for which I  foolishly paid him in advance. When we returned in the summer, Nigel had decamped back to God’s Own County and there was no sign of the new screen. I repeatedly emailed him demanding a refund but Nigel produced a series of increasingly inventive fictions, clearly intending to hang onto my cash until either I gave up hope or one of us died of old age.

Fortunately, Nigel was not only a crook but also a stupid crook. My teachers' union was represented by a formidable firm of litigators whom I’ll call Messrs Soo, Grabbitt and Runne. In sending my final demand to Nigel, I copied it to a fictitious Mr Hardman Grabbitt at the firm’s chambers in High Holborn. Nigel must have googled and discovered their fearsome reputation, for wonder of wonders, the money appeared in my bank account the following day. This triumph stands as a monument to the only time in my life I have ever got the better of a so-called builder.


Shaun came to us highly recommended, if only by himself. His first task was to install our new wood burning stove. This worked perfectly, until the soot built up and it dawned on us that Shaun had not included any means of cleaning the chimney. Shoving a brush up the stove was not an option because the flue runs at a sharp angle through a wall which is a yard thick. So, whenever it needed sweeping, I had to sit on the roof, dangling an eight pound grandfather clock weight on a clothes line to break up the debris in the chimney.


Javi assured us that he was the man to solve one of our chronic bugbears. Our staircase, the only means of access to the upper storey, descended right in the middle of the main living room, effectively cutting it in two.


‘It’s simple,’ said Javi, ‘we’ll install a caracol.’

The beautiful, and expensive, spiral staircase, hardwood and steel, arrive in kit form. Javi’s team erected it and it looked splendid.

The only problem was that nobody taller than a hunchbacked gnome could have walked up it without cracking his skull on the low beams.

‘No problem,’ said Javi, ‘we'll turn it into a straight staircase.’

That’s what we had in the first place.’

'We’ll shorten it by removing the upstairs landing.’

‘So, if I miss that narrow top step on my way to pee at three o’clock in the morning, I’ll sleepwalk into space. One small step for a man, two broken legs if he doesn’t land on his head.’

Finally, after more than ten years of Andaluz hokey-cokey I did what I ought to have done in the first place and went down the hill to speak with José el Vecino.


‘Talk to Mono,’ said José.




'He’s really Juan Antonio, but everybody round here has a nickname.’

'So this Juan Antonio looks like a monkey?'

'Only slightly, but he knows his job and he's not a vaquero.'

I telephoned Juan Antonio and sure enough a cheerful voice replied ‘Habla el Mono. The Monkey speaks’.

Following the plans drawn up by our architect, Mono built us a two-storey extension, housing a wide, elegant staircase, with floor-to-ceiling shelving on the landing to accommodate part of our library.

Unlike any of our previous so-called builders, Mono actually takes an imaginative interest in our quirky old cortijo. Rediscovering a ‘lost’ living room fireplace, he reopened it, and it now provides a glass-shelved space for my brass cannon, my 18th century Indian daggers and a host of other mementos from our wandering life on four continents.

Mono is a powerful individual with a barrel chest and arms like Popeye. The day before the new staircase was installed, I watched him grasp the edge of the floor above and nonchalantly swing himself from the lower level to the upper landing, using only the power of his mighty arms. ‘I begin to understand the nickname,’ I told him..

From Wigan Pier to Andalucia

Mono through my study window

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