Metamorphosis: Annus Horribilis to Annus Mirabilis – Part I

Metamorphosis: Annus Horribilis to Annus Mirabilis – Part I

In a speech to the nation in 1992 to mark her 40th anniversary on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II described that year as her annus horribilis. After all, three royal marriages had collapsed, namely those of Charles and Diana; Anne and Captain Mark Phillips; and Andrew and “Fergie”. The Royal Family was riding low in the opinion polls over their tax-free status. And, to cap it all, the fire at Windsor Castle, the favourite of her many homes, had destroyed 100 rooms.

Clearly a tough year! However, our contributor Paul Whitelock thinks he and his wife Rita had their own annus horribilis in the 12 months just ending, 2021.

The year began as a nightmare for the couple and for the next five months things could not have been worse. But from May onwards the year got better and better and, despite everything, metamorphosed into one of the best yet, their annus mirabilis.

In what will be his last post to Secret Serranía for the time being, Paul recalls his diary of the year 2021.

Part I – Annus Horribilis

We had returned from a great three-day end-of-year break in Cádiz and had just seen in the New Year enjoying a raclette with friends, when we both went down with the bicho, the dreaded Covid-19 virus. Thanks, Cádiz!

Sunday 3 January – Rita begins to show symptoms of Coronavirus

Monday 4 January – I follow suit, although mine seem milder.

I spend the whole week on the telephone to the medical services trying to organise tests. There seems to be no urgency on their part.

Saturday 9 January – Rita deteriorates over the next few days and I finally get her a test, but not for me; I am not sufficiently ill, they say! Rita is, of course, positive. I am told to take her to the hospital on Sunday.

Sunday 10 January – Rita is admitted to hospital. I get tested too. Positive. It seems to be organised chaos at the Covid-19 reception area and we sit around for hours. By the time they agree to let me go home to pack a case for Rita, the toque de queda (curfew) has started. They give me a chit to show to the police should I get stopped. It has been snowing for a few hours and the roads are pretty treacherous. Nevertheless, I make it home, pack an overnight bag with nighties, toiletries, etc, and make my way back to the hospital to hand it over. (Technically this is all out of order since I have tested positive and should be in quarantine, not driving around the streets of Ronda during curfew!)


For the next 10 days Rita goes through hell. She can’t remember everything that happens to her in hospital, as they have put her on tranquilisers, which play merry hell with her psyche and her memory. Lowlights include being found collapsed on the floor in her room on two occasions lying in her own poo. There was also a period of several days when she goes incommunicado because she doesn’t have the energy nor the will to speak to anybody, neither me, nor her family in Germany. The hospital staff keep me totally in the dark. Because of data protection rules they aren’t allowed to tell me, her next of kin, anything! On one occasion I plead with the nurse on the telephone just to confirm whether Rita is alive or dead. She does so, bless her. Rita is still alive!

Wednesday 20 January – As a result of the lack of adequate treatment and care, after 10 days in hospital I ask for Rita to be discharged and sent home. She arrives mid-afternoon in a sorry state and after a spell on the sofa she goes to bed, where she remains more or less for the next two weeks, not eating, not drinking and not sleeping. And hallucinating. She is a shrivelled and frail version of her former self having lost 10 kilos in 10 days in the hospital.

Friday 5 February –  As a result of much concern amongst Rita’s extended family in Germany, two “guardian angels” in the form of her son Jojo and niece Dana arrive on this day. Dana is a physiotherapist by trade and she has taken 10 days unpaid leave to come and treat her aunt. Jojo has come to see his mum, of course, and to take some of the pressure off me, as sole carer and also as someone still suffering from Covid-19.

Convalescing with a gentle stroll in the country. L to R Rita, Dana and Jojo

This couldn’t have turned out better. Dana works on Rita’s physical condition with exercises, massages and walks in the neighbourhood. The improvement is notable. Rita gets up and gets dressed every day, and starts to eat again, sitting at the table with us.

Monday 15 February – Rita flies to Germany with Dana and Jojo. The family has decided Rita will probably get better aftercare in the German healthcare system than here in Spain.  I agree.

The only dissenter is Rita, but she is firmly told by her son to be quiet and do as she’s told!

Wednesday 17 February – Rita is admitted to hospital in Ludwigsburg, Germany for tests.

Thursday 18 February – Doctors spot a 9 cm tumour on Rita’s ovaries. They schedule an urgent operation to remove it. In the meantime Rita is allowed out of hospital until the day before the operation which is to be on Monday 8 March.

Friday 19 February – In Spain lockdown ends and non-essential shops and hostelería re-open.

Monday 8 March – Rita has an operation to remove the tumour. Thank God it turns out to be benign!

Is this a sign? That better times are ahead?


Wednesday 10 March – I set off to Frigiliana with Berti my dog for a well-earned break. This pueblo blanco near Nerja in the east of Málaga province is a dream come true. It is simply stunning. My rental house, a former ice-cream parlour on Calle Real, is fantastic.

Calle Real, Frigiliana

Back home, work continues on Casa Real, my house in Montejaque. I take responsibility for gutting and retiling the downstairs bathroom in shades of black, grey and white.

Wednesday 24 March – On the suggestion of a friend I put our main home on the rental market for July and August. The publicity goes live on several websites today. We are soon fully booked for those two peak months.


It is now April and Rita continues to convalesce with family in Germany. She visits her niece Dana for a further 10 days of physiotherapy treatment. This goes so well, yet again, that she decides to fly home to Spain. She has been away for two and a half months!


Editor’s note:

Look out for Part II – Annus Mirabilis, scheduled for publication on on 1 January 2022.

Also of interest:

Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.