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Chestnuts and Salamanders records the lives of a British couple as they set off to start a new life in the north west of Spain. Charting their progress from searching for a suitable home through the first fifteen months of living in rural Spain, until their first child is born. Follow their efforts as they attempt to renovate a traditional stone farm house, join the local football team, thwart the potato ravishing wild boar and have their first child. All watched over by their ever patient neighbours, who offer their kindness and advice with unstinting generosity. Essential reading for anyone who has dreamed of starting a new life and wants to know what the real Spain is like away from the costas. Prologue It had been a calm crossing and a good road journey. The old VW van overheated up some of the longer climbs and had to be rested to cool down, but nothing unexpected. We had arrived in good shape considering how over-loaded we were, all our possessions stuffed in the van, on top of the van and in the trailer. A tricky squeeze through the collapsing, rotten gates had us parked up in the overgrown courtyard. We had to prepare for basic living in a traditional Galician farm house in the north west of Spain with no water, electricity, toilet or heating. It came with a leaky roof, rotten flooring and various rodents, who had not seen it occupied for twenty five years. The house is situated in the countryside in a hamlet of four or five houses (bits of the hamlet are steadily falling down so it is hard to be precise), with one other house permanently occupied. We had met our neighbours briefly when we bought the house, an elderly couple living with the husband's brother. It was the brother who first found us as we unpacked; he marched happily into the courtyard and settled himself down to view the show. At the time we spoke very little Spanish and were only vaguely aware that the local language, Gallego, existed. Attempts at communication were made, resulting in much well-intentioned gesticulation (at least it was from us). We later discovered that Manuel was in his mid nineties, had survived fighting through the civil war, had been a local stone mason and not someone to be trifled with. However, at the time of our arrival he had sat himself down and showed no sign of leaving. We were clearly more entertaining than television and now, having watched what Spanish television has to offer, I can confirm that this was absolutely true. I am not somebody who generally suffers from self doubt, but it was at this point that I started to question what we had done. I had no building experience, failed terribly with foreign languages at school and my profession as a research metallurgist was not going to get me very far in rural Spain. Furthermore, I had to tread carefully around the gaping hole and rotten timbers of our balcony to get into our house and I had an elderly man enthusiastically waving his stick around pointing at my possessions whilst giving me a knowing smile, one which I found difficult to interpret. Luckily, I was relatively young and less concerned than I might otherwise be with what will happen in the future. A year spent living and working deep out in the bush in Nigeria had prepared me for basic living and over there I had become quite used to having an audience monitor my every move. More importantly it was April, the sun was shining and I had enough savings in the bank to see me through the first year, or so I thought. Eventually Manuel wandered off with a wave of his stick, we threw a mattress on the floor and set up our camp stove, lit some candles and settled down to our first night in our new house.
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Stephen Trail was born and bred in Dorset, England. He went off to Birmingham University where he played a lot of football and ended up with a doctorate in metallurgy. He started out sensibly with a job at British Steel in Rotherham before backpacking around the world. A year spent living in New Zealand working with people who had suffered head injuries was followed by more travelling and further work stints at Birmingham University and Cosworth racing. A year volunteering in a rural hospital in Nigeria followed. He has spent the last twelve years living in the interior of Galicia with his wife and two children. Chestnuts and Salamanders is his first book.
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