If you’re planning to have a home in rural Mallorca, you’d better like the sound of dogs barking. It’s apparent that many country dwellers on this Spanish island have at least one dog. When one starts barking, it sets off a chain reaction, resulting in a canine chorus. After some months of this, it’s possible to recognise each doggy ‘voice’.
In our valley, we are probably the only permanent residents who don’t have a pooch for a pet – even though we both love dogs. But we’ve had some interesting canine encounters since we moved here.
The Fierce Dog
In our early years, a farmer we dubbed ‘Hairy-handed’ José (to distinguish him from another José in the valley) had an enormous black dog chained up just inside the gate of his property. The dog was the Mallorcan working breed known as a ca de bestiar … think not-so-cuddly Labrador on steroids. This shepherd dog barked, bared his teeth, and snarled at us every time we passed by, pulling at his chain as he lunged towards the gate.
I had a theory that if we could greet this four-legged boy by name as we walked by, he wouldn’t be so aggressive. So, one day when ‘Hairy-handed’ was in the farmyard, we asked him in castellano what the dog’s name was.
His reply, translated, came with a puzzled expression on his face. ‘Name? He’s a dog, why would he have a name?’. And that was quite telling in terms of the attitude of some locals towards dogs.
The Friendly Dog
Another dog – a shaggy German Shepherd-cross named Dom – used to stand at his property’s fence whenever we walked past. If Dom was supposed to be a guard dog for his Mallorcan owner, he wasn’t doing a great job.
Whenever Dom saw us, he’d jump up at the wire-netting fence and demand a huge fuss. He couldn’t contain his excitement at receiving affection and, after a few minutes of enthusiastic tail wagging, would cock his leg and have a wee through the netting. We soon learnt to jump out of the way as soon as he lifted a back leg.
Both Dom and the Dog-with-no-Name have long crossed the Rainbow Bridge … but we’ve had other canine encounters, as you can read here.
Two of our glaring of cats (now only four) celebrated their birthday yesterday. When I say celebrated, these felines knew nothing about becoming eleven years old. But such anniversaries are always a time for reflecting on the Mallorcan cats that have been a part of our lives here.
Nibbles and Sweetie are the last two remaining cats from Jetta’s second litter of five kittens, born in July 2011. Although probably not a year old at the time, feral Jetta had already had four kittens in March the same year. This little, black beauty was popular with the local ‘boys’; getting her spayed – after some effort to catch her – ensured her petite body didn’t endure another pregnancy.
Jetta stayed with us until the little ones became too demanding ; one day, she didn’t come back at mealtime. We couldn’t find her and concluded she’d just had enough of being mama to a bunch of boisterous kittens. These little mites became our responsibility.
Jetta’s legacy was nine assorted kittens – all adorable. One little one lost her life tragically when she jumped out of a tree straight into the path of a neighbour’s car. Brownie is buried at the end of our field, just yards from where she was born. Some of the kittens stayed with us for several years and for a long time we had five of the siblings living on our finca, having meals twice a day and any necessary visits to our vet in Manacor. We had them all neutered, of course.
Goodbye to Two
It was heartbreaking when Beamer and Chico – on separate occasions – went off and didn’t return. Beamer, in particular, had suffered a horrible experience a few years before and had since spent most of his time around our finca. The Boss and I searched for these two cats but never saw either of them again.
Sweetie – the tortoiseshell runt of the second litter – had always been skittish and unapproachable. The only female, her territory was on the neighbouring finca. However, she returned to us for meals, access to water, and some bonding time with her brothers Beamer and Dusty.
After Chico left, Sweetie changed. She became friendlier, happy to be stroked, and will occasionally allow me to pick her up for a brief cuddle. Chico had also been shy with us but if a strange cat came onto the finca, he was the first to see it off. We realised he’d probably bullied Sweetie, because her change in nature coincided with his departure. These days, this dainty little puss is more relaxed and spends a lot of time on our finca. She’s even learnt to tolerate Shorty and Pip – who are not siblings – and over whom she has the benefit of seniority.
It’s taken me a long time to be able to write about the loss of our beloved, blue-eyed Dusty in May this year. He’d had a skin cancer on his nose, which was treated with electro-chemotherapy at a specialist clinic in Palma in January 2021.
When it was obvious that the cancer had returned this spring and was eating into his nose, we hoped further treatment would be possible. I’d already obtained the syringe of sedative we’d need to get him into the cat carrier and car (which he hated) to go to the vet’s, but couldn’t get near him to administer the injection.
Then, one Sunday when The Boss and I were eating lunch at the table down in our field, Dusty appeared and started rubbing his cheek against my leg. He hadn’t done this for some time and had stopped exchanging nose-rub greetings with his siblings. I bent down to stroke him, then picked him up. He didn’t struggle at all. It was as though he were telling me he was ready for his final trip.
I took him into the house while The Boss fetched the cat carrier and prepared for us to leave for the vet’s. Dusty reclined on the library floor, as we stroked him and told him all the things that pet owners do at such a poignant moment. After I’d injected the sedative, we continued to stroke him until he was asleep and we could get him into the cat carrier. Sadly, further treatment wasn’t possible. We stayed with him at the vet’s until the last beat of his heart, then brought him home.
Dusty had a favourite shady spot at the end of our field, under an overhanging shrub. That same spot – very close to where he was born in March 2011 – is now his final resting place. RIP Dusty.
The Boss has a new summer project: restoring an old bench. It’s not the first time he’s applied surgery to this particular piece of outdoor furniture.
Yes, we could have disposed of this falling-apart bench long ago and bought a replacement. But there are reasons why we haven’t.
The Boss and I found this item during a weekend in the Lake District, early in our relationship. We stopped to browse at Cumbrian Rustic* studio in Coniston, where we saw this outdoor seat. It would complement my cottage’s courtyard, we decided.
Could we buy it and transport it home in The Boss’s company car? No, we couldn’t; the bench was already sold and awaiting delivery. Apart from that minor detail, it wouldn’t have fitted in The Boss’s car.
‘I could make you one just like it,’ the artisan said, when we expressed our disappointment. ‘And arrange delivery.’ Ah, yes, but would he deliver all the way to Oxfordshire from the Lake District – a drive of more than 200 miles?
To our surprise, he said that was no problem. We gave him the money and left, wondering if we’d been a little rash in just handing the cash over to someone we didn’t know. We needn’t have worried: the gorgeous, rustic bench arrived by courier, as promised. That was more than 20 years ago, so it has sentimental value.
From Oxfordshire to Rural Mallorca
In all those years, we’ve moved the bench from Oxfordshire to our garden in rural Mallorca. From the cold, damp weather in the UK to the searing, Mediterranean summer sunshine, drenching autumn downpours and even a rare snowfall or two, the seat has experienced it all.
Time and the elements have taken their toll. Over the years, The Boss has performed surgery on the bench a few times, replacing both arms and all the seat slats. Now, the bar across the top of the back is disintegrating, and one leg is rotting. It’s no longer safe for humans to sit on.
Was this old bench worth more work? We considered putting it under the tree just for decorative purposes; the cats would probably sit on it, we mused. Could we find another bench that would be fit for purpose (accommodating our bottoms) and still rustic?
New or Renovation?
Here’s what we discovered: rustic in Mallorca means expensive. Foreign owners of fincas yearn for artisan-made rustic-style gates and furniture to adorn their properties; demand has driven up the prices. Paying more for a two-seater outdoor bench than we had for our oak dining-room table wasn’t going to happen. It’s admirable to support local artisans … if it’s within one’s budget.
So we visited a woodyard in Manacor, bought an untreated wooden post for around 20€, and The Boss has once again begun the slow process of restoring our original bench to functionality and some of its former glory. The heat has stopped all work for now, so he’s sitting on this project (but not the bench) for the time being.
Wherever you are, stay safe and keep cool in this scorching summer.
* We hope the Cumbrian rustic’s back problems will soon be resolved.
Early-morning gardening will be a memory of this spring and summer in Mallorca. To be honest, it hasn’t entirely been a matter of choice to be working in the garden before we can see the sun over the valley ridge.
In previous years we’ve done little to the garden once the hot weather starts – apart from sporadic watering. But we’ve had to take action after the demise of several substantial agave plants, courtesy of the snout-nose weevil. That something so small can cause such destruction still astounds me.
Our early-morning gardening has seen us clear the dead plants one by one, leaving large, empty spaces. We had to find replacement plants that weren’t spiky, to make future gardening less painful. We also wanted more colour and flowers. Because we already have some pink oleanders that have grown well with little attention from us, we decided to buy some in red and white.
Gabriel the Garden Guru
We went to Viveros Hermanos Llabres (established 1940), after seeing it recommended on the Mallorca Gardeners Facebook group. Why had we never been before? We’ve now made three visits and each has been an informative experience, with pleasing purchases.
Arriving for the first time, we couldn’t see anyone around – until an ancient Mobylette pootled into view from around the back of the building. This was our first meeting with the nursery’s Gabriel, who told us his beloved (and rusty) 70-year-old Mobylette had belonged to his grandfather.
Gabriel’s an affable chap with a good sense of humour and excellent knowledge of plants. Tell him whereabouts you live in Mallorca and he’ll know the plants to suit its micro-climate and type of terrain. He’s a straight talker too and will put you right if you’re thinking of planting something that’s not going to work here. Thank goodness I didn’t mention my yearning for a magnolia.
Spring 2022 in Mallorca has been a bit different from the usual. It began unseasonably cool and grey. The Boss was reluctant to stop using the wood-burning stove and the electric blanket to counter the chilly evenings indoors. Both were in regular use until later in the spring than usual. Climate change? Or were we turning into wimps?
Then … BOOM! Someone flicked a switch. May heated up. And kept on heating up. AEMET – the Spanish met office – reported that the average temperature for May 2022 was three degrees above normal … and it was the warmest May of this century. It was also the second driest May since records began, which wasn’t great news for local farmers and keen gardeners. Oh, and we’ve had a lot of Sahara dust over the island too. Ask any swimming-pool owner how annoying that is! (Makes us grateful not to have one).
As I write in almost mid-June, we are teetering into the first heatwave of the year, fuelled by an anticyclone bringing hot air up from Africa. AEMET has said the summer of 2022 in Mallorca could be the hottest summer since records began. Even the UK is expecting higher-than-usual temperatures.
A Spring 2022 Return to Mallorca
My dad came for a holiday in May for the first time since September 2019. Since we’ve lived here, he’d flown over from the UK every year for spring and autumn holidays … until the pandemic. This year he was determined to come and celebrate his birthday again here with us in Mallorca.
Many of us have been unable to be with family or friends for a long time. FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype have enabled us to see them but there’s nothing like hugging a loved one after a long time apart, is there? It was so good to have him here and be able to spoil him during his stay.
We record the temperatures daily at our finca, using a thermometer that’s in the shade all day. There was no day during Dad’s holiday when the maximum temperature fell below 30 degrees Celsius. It was his hottest holiday with us by far, but he never complained about the heat. He was with us in spring 2022 in Mallorca, on holiday once again.
A Useful Service for those with Poor Mobility
My dad is now 93 – an impressive milestone celebrated over an excellent lunch at Ponderosa Beach in Playa de Muro. Many of our friends are in awe of him travelling alone at his age (as indeed am I). But he has slowed down since we last saw him and suffers leg pains when walking more than fairly short distances.
With queues at airports due to staff shortages and Brexit-related changes, I wanted him to get through Palma’s Son Sant Joan airport as easily as possible and without the long walk to baggage reclaim. I booked the airport’s PRM (Person with Reduced Mobility) service through the airport’s website for his inbound and outbound flights. It’s a useful service to book for anyone with mobility issues.
I am 15,000 words into the first draft of my next novel, the sequel to Daughter of Deià. Motivated by my Dr of Accountability – to whom I am emailing my daily word count – I am writing (almost) every day.
On the subject of books, I’ve recently had two real-life stories included in a new anthology entitled Our Stories– compiled by our dear friend James B Rieley. Although the stories aren’t individually accredited, you’ll find mine as ‘A Close Encounter with a Cliff’ and ‘Being “That” Girl’. The 262-page book is available from Amazon.
Last time I wrote, I hinted at an even messier clean-up than that which would follow Storm Celia’s generous Saharan dust deliveries. We were facing another challenge in Mallorca. The Boss had discovered a Big Problem in our dependencia – the outbuilding housing our solar batteries, inverter, and diesel generator.
The once-white wall behind the generator was now black. The exhaust pipe had become detached from something (the manifold, I believe). Instead of the noxious fumes being expelled through the exit pipe in the wall, they were staying inside and blackening the wall.
The company that services our generator and solar-electricity system sent their technician Alfonso to deal with the problem. And, wouldn’t you know it? He found another: an oil leak. He fixed the exhaust problem and said he’d return in a few days with the spare part needed to deal with the leak. Little did he realise he’d be back the next day.
And then there was no light
When we awoke the next morning we had no electricity – yet another challenge in Mallorca. The Boss and I did some head scratching (our own, not each other’s), after checking the fusebox in the house. Then, inverter manual in hand, we went to see what was amiss in the ‘workings’. After unsuccessfully trying the suggested troubleshooting methods, we gave up and phoned our service company. This involved driving almost to Manacor to get a decent mobile phone signal, as our home phone doesn’t work without electricity.
Alfonso (with the spare part we’d needed for the generator) and a colleague arrived about an hour later. They soon established that the problem was not the inverter but, ominously, ‘somewhere in the house’. Would we have to dig into the walls to source some random rogue wiring? Thankfully not. The answer would be found in the fuse board.
After a series of domestic equipment tests – one of which involved removing our oven completely from its housing so he could check the wiring behind it – Alfonso identified a problem with our water pump. Long story (and morning) short, Alfonso and his colleague replaced the broken part on the water pump, fixed the leaky generator, then left with a generous tip from The Boss.
We’ve yet to attack the blackened wall with cleaning products and a fresh coat of white paint, but that can wait. More pressing jobs, in the garden, are calling.
Dare I say that normal service has been resumed at our finca in rural Mallorca? Yes … I think so. (I touched my wooden desk as I wrote that, even though I’m not superstitious).
How was your winter? On our island, January and February were pretty good months in terms of weather. But March has been a different story, as it brought Celia’s visit to Mallorca – a stern reminder that winter wasn’t quite over.
During the first two months of 2022, our solar-electricity system lapped up plenty of sunshine and, although we had more frosts and some colder-than-usual nights, the warmer daytime temperatures meant we had lunch on the terrace quite often.
The Balearic Islands also had the third-driest February since 1961, according to the Spanish meteorological office AEMET. We had 94% less rainfall than the average for the month – which is apparently 44.2 litres. Overall, this winter was the driest on record – and probably one of the most worrying for Mallorca’s farmers.
March Brings Change … and Celia
Friends who recently arrived at their holiday homes may be regretting not coming to Mallorca during January and February, because the sun hasn’t had its hat on much since March began. Instead, we’ve had some chilly, windy days and much-needed rain. Spring has begun, looking (and feeling) more like winter. Meanwhile, back in the UK, the sun is shining and temperatures are warmer than average for March.
We braced ourselves for Celia’s arrival. Although she sounded as though she could be a benign, elderly great aunt, she was just a name. The name Portuguese meteorologists had chosen for an imminent storm.
Storm Celia began her journey northward over the Iberian Peninsula early last week, turning the Sahara-dust-laden sky over southern Spain a murky orange and coating everything in its path – even the snow on the Sierra Nevada – a fetching shade of pale terracotta. The Boss threw another log on the fire, and we braced ourselves for the big clean-up operation that would follow what was reported to be ‘an exceptional’ Saharan dust cloud.
But the sandy residues weren’t the only concern at our finca. After his usual weekly check of our solar-electricity system components, The Boss came back to the house with bad news. And we’d be needing more than a broom, a mop, and a bucket of water to deal with this latest challenge. To be continued.
At last, we have hot water again in our kitchen and guest suite. For almost two months, we’ve been boiling water in the kettle to do the washing-up (the pots and pans that don’t fit in our counter-top dishwasher). But now the hot tap delivers as it should.
Different Types of Water Heater
Our new butane-powered water-heater is a calentador atmosférico. Our previous Saunier Duval heater was an acumulador. The latter heated and stored water to the set temperature, ready to supply hot water to the house within seconds. The new model heats water only at the turn of a hot tap. It takes a minute or two to get from ambient-temperature water (pretty cold in February) to hot.
The new Cronos Atmosférico Calentador a Gas (manufactured by Centro Confort) is smaller, neater, and easier to operate than our former water-heater. Maversa*, the Repsol agent we used in Manacor, chose it based on their representative’s visit to us and a discussion of our requirements.
No Go, No Flow
The técnicos did a neat job of the installation but, when it came to the crunch moment, they couldn’t make the thing work. Much head-scratching and instruction booklet-perusing ensued. We were on the cusp of having our problem solved … but not that day.
The two men were apologetic and suspected a manufacturing fault. They’d contact the company and let us know when there was a solution. As we watched them drive off, we wondered how long that would take.
So we were surprised to receive an early phone call the next morning. The técnicos were returning – somehow having solved the problem.
We’d have preferred an acumulador, but the price of a new one shocked us. Besides, when the warmer weather comes we won’t wait so long for hot water to flow from the taps. There comes a time each year – usually when I need to wash salad vegetables on a daily basis – when it’s impossible to get anything but hot water. Even from the cold taps.
Our two técnicos were very pleasant and, unlike any other workers who’ve come to our house in the past, they accepted my mid-morning offer of a coffee. One of them later asked if he could use the bathroom, because he needed hacer pis. He was, of course, welcome to use the loo … although I didn’t need to know why!
* Maversa‘s shop is on the Passeig Ferrocarril, in the vicinity of the Auditorium in Manacor (look for the Repsol name and branding). We found them helpful and tidy installers.
A few days after my last post on this blog, we took action. Enough was enough. We needed a new water heater and didn’t want to wait any longer for one. No, I didn’t rip out the knackered, old water heater and deftly install a new one while following a YouTube instructional video on a handy iPad. Neither did The Boss.
Is There Anybody There?
We’d been checking WhatsApp almost hourly for days, looking for a response from our new plumber to the various messages I’d sent. Nada. Was the job too small for him? Was he suffering from amnesia? Lost his phone? Or, more likely, isolating because of Covid? Any of those could have been possible. We’d ruled out abducted by aliens.
I tapped out a final message asking whether or not he could do the job. And, if he couldn’t, I asked him please to bill us for the emergency call he made here on the Sunday before Christmas. We were so grateful to him for that visit. Still nada.
Since the job would start with sourcing a new gas-powered water heater, we found a local company that sells them – thinking they might suggest someone who could install it. As it happened, this company has their own technicians. One of whom was standing in the shop, between jobs, when we visited.
‘Could our technician come now to see what needs doing?’ the shop assistant said. You bet. We drove home with the técnico following in his van. When he left us that Friday lunchtime, we envisaged The Boss’s days of boiling the kettle to do the washing-up soon coming to an end.
The following Monday we had a phone call from the company: someone else needed to look at the job, in order to prepare an estimate, or presupuesto. The man arrived – accompanied by the original technician and a second one. Much head-scratching, measuring, and note-taking ensued.
Tale of the Unexpected
Here’s the thing to bear in mind when buying an old finca: existing installations may not meet current regulations. Noah himself might have installed our old water heater.
The gas-appliance regulations are stricter now and we’d need more than just a new water heater to comply. New copper piping (the existing piping is buried within the wall and couldn’t be checked), a change to the piping through the wall into the kitchen, and a ventilation hole drilled in the space where the new heater would be installed, were all additional items on the estimate that arrived the next day.
Would you believe it? Having approved the presupuesto, the very next day our plumber sent a WhatsApp, asking if we still needed the job done. I think that’s what’s known as Sod’s law. If he’d been a better communicator, of course, he’d have had the job.
The English idiom ‘to be in hot water’ currently applies to several people in trouble for their actions. Think UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Duke of York, and tennis player Novak Djokovic.
I wish we were in hot water – but in a different way. You see, we’ve had no hot water in the kitchen or guest bathroom for a while. Before your nostrils wrinkle and you take one step back, I should add that our shower room has a separate water heater. Personal ablutions have continued in comfort.
The Sunday before Christmas, we had a Big Problem. Water was gushing out of the butane-powered water heater at one end of the house. After a couple of minutes of frozen panic, we switched off the mains water supply and eventually the gush became a dribble, and then drips.
Call the Plumber
Water-related incidents have not been uncommon at our finca. We found a brilliant plumber almost immediately we moved here. He’d been our ‘man who can’ ever since. Until he recently retired. It was unthinkable that friendly Sito wouldn’t be arriving with his bag of plumbing tricks to solve the water-pump problem we had in October. He did, however, suggest another plumber – who did a good job.
As the household’s only user of WhatsApp, it fell to me to contact Señor Fontanero about this latest plumbing nightmare. I tapped out a short message to him, apologising for disturbing him on a Sunday and giving a brief explanation of the problem. My hope was that he’d turn up on Monday morning. Even Tuesday. I didn’t expect him to reply to my message on a Sunday – and he didn’t. But he did turn up at the house within the hour. How impressive was that? What he did enabled us to have cold water at least.
Eating Out is the New Washing Up
We are still, however, waiting for him to supply and install a replacement water-heater. Which means we have had only cold water in the kitchen and guest bathroom for almost a month. Our plans to invite a friend to stay over for a night or two are on hold: he may be Dutch but he’s not Wim Hof!
It’s fortunate we have a dishwasher – albeit a small, counter-top model. But we still had to wash big pots and pans by hand, which meant boiling the kettle to fill the washing-up bowl. I must say The Boss has been remarkably tolerant about fulfilling his washing-up duties without the aid of piping-hot water from the tap. Although, come to think of it, he has suggested eating out more frequently than usual.
It seems that all plumbers are extremely busy and have more work than they can shake a pipe wrench at. If you’re ever thinking about a career change, becoming a plumber could be a lucrative choice.