OLIVE HARVEST, DAY 5: An epiphany at the mill. We’ve tipped our sacks of olives into a hopper, and the cumulative weight of Fiona’s, Bruce’s and my produce has topped at 727 kilograms. We’ve hung about for nearly five hours waiting our turn in the milling process. We’ve watched in stoic silence as tonnes of shiny black and green fruits have been mashed in the mashers and spun in the spinners, while our batch edges closer to its fate. Waiting their turn in front of us with about 1.5 tonnes of olives to crush is a large family consisting of the grandfather, six or seven middle-aged sons and daughters – or sons-in-law and daughters-in-law – and a couple of teenage grandchildren. As their golden oil begins to flow from a tap, the grandfather produces a fresh loaf of bread . . . 

The grandfather’s face is a picture of pride and contentment. He breaks the bread carefully, dips chunks under the tap, and hands them to his children and grandchildren. Much noise and exclamations of pleasure as the bread and oil is consumed. The family is united in appreciation of the fresh, fresh oil and overjoyed at the culmination of another year’s work. 

The grandfather isn’t finished. He breaks more bread and dips it under the tap. He hands pieces to everyone in the mill, his eyes glistening, weather-worn face broken by deep lines of delight. He says something to me as he hands me my bread and oil. All I hear is a guttural stream of Andalucian Spanish punctuated by gravelly laughter. I nod and say gracias, and he laughs again. 

Haven’t a clue what he said. “This is my body, which is given for you,” would have been appropriate. I have been struck by the imagery and warmed by the old man’s gesture. 

Two hours later, our olives have been milled and our oil decanted into 25-litre containers. We load them into my old campervan in the freezing darkness engulfing the mill. Snow gleams on the summits of the Sierra Nevada. Stars shine in a Christmas sky. The work is done. The old year is over in more ways than one.