Royal Navy warship docks in Palma

Sometimes The Boss and I do things that seem a world away from our peaceful daily life in rural Mallorca. In recent weeks we’ve been to see singer George Benson in an outdoor concert in the superyacht marina Port Adriano; I didn’t expect to be doing that when we moved to the island.

Last Saturday we attended a gala dinner and concert at the beautiful 5-star Castell Son Claret hotel near the small village of Es Capdellà. Six young singers from the Salzburg Festival performed on the hotel’s huge terrace to an appreciative international audience; that’s something else we never expected to be able to do here.

Castell Son Claret

Huw Montague Rendall and Anita Rosati of the Young Singers of the Salzburg Festival on stage.

Drinks on a NATO warship

But last night’s experience was as remote from rural living as any I’ve had since we moved to Mallorca in 2004: I was a guest at a reception on the British warship HMS Duncan, which docked in Palma on a stopover on Monday. The ship had just led a NATO task force through one of the largest naval exercises staged in the Black Sea. HMS Duncan is the flagship for Standing Maritime Group 2 – one of two task forces for larger warships operated by NATO.

Ship's bell on HMS Duncan

Was tempted to give this one a little ring…

I must confess I hadn’t heard of HMS Duncan – not being very well informed when it comes to matters military. A few minutes’ research later and I discovered that this was in fact the seventh Royal Navy ship to be named after Adam Duncan, the 18th-century Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, who defeated the Dutch fleet in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

This latest incarnation of HMS Duncan is a Type 45 Destroyer, although it looked quite benign under the early evening sunshine in Palma’s port, docked opposite a cruise ship. It has a crew of around 200, led by Commander Eleanor Stack (quite a few of the ship’s senior officers are women). We guests (sadly, The Boss wasn’t on the invitation list) were able to chat and mingle with officers and crew, as well as each other. Oh and there were drinks (although I didn’t spot a drop of rum) and canapés.

Surprises all around

I had no idea what to expect of this evening, never before having been on an active Royal Navy vessel. Dress code for guests was ‘smart’. I avoided anything navy blue or white and opted for a long summer dress – perfect for the warm night. Luckily common sense prevailed in the shoe department and I shunned the strappy high-heeled numbers for something flatter: ever tried walking up a naval ship’s metal gangway? It’s slippery…

Fears that I might accidentally knock a button or switch and launch something of an anti-missile nature were allayed shortly after wandering around the deck. It seemed surprisingly devoid of controls and equipment – apart from a rather impressive helicopter. But there was information in spades, as the hospitable members of the crew readily answered questions fired in their direction.

Helicopter on HMS Duncan

HMS Duncan’s impressive helicopter.

Helicopter pilot and his machine

Trying to persuade the pilot to let me inside his helicopter. Note his special pilot’s cummerbund.

Of course, security was tight – we had to provide ID papers – and a few heavily armed guards patrolled the area around the entrance to the ship. Assuming that photography wouldn’t be allowed, I’d left my faithful Nikon at home, so was surprised to see other guests avidly snapping away in all directions. I checked with a crew member that it was OK to use my phone camera and he laughed, pointing out the flags lining the hangar area: “Look, we decorated the place especially!”

HMS Duncan

Decorated for the visitors.

Duncan tartan

Not my hand on this sailor’s Duncan-tartan cummerbund!

Royal Navy

No idea what these mean, but they look impressive.

HMS Duncan

On the canvas-covered deck of HMS Duncan.

Guests at reception on HMS Duncan

Long-distance swimmer Anna Wardley (centre) was among the guests.

RN sunset ceremony

Time to lower the flag. The cruise ship passengers probably enjoyed this too.

Towards the end of the reception we watched the ship’s traditional sunset ceremony, as the flag was lowered for the night. It was almost time for some of the sailors to prepare for a fun night out in Magaluf.

My phone-camera photos weren’t too good but they’re a reminder of a fascinating evening on a Royal Navy warship. Can we top that experience in Mallorca? Only time will tell…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Summer and holiday home rentals are sizzling

It’s sooooo hot. But, I hear you say (probably through gritted teeth, if you’re in the UK right now), isn’t Mallorca usually hot in July? The fact is that the island’s sizzling temperatures began much earlier than usual this year and have been consistently high – usually hitting the 30+ degrees Celsius before midday. This week it’s forecast that Mallorca will see the mercury creep into the low 40s.  We shall be doing our impression of bats…not emerging until twilight.

High Mallorcan temperatures

The temperature at our rural finca in Mallorca – in the shade.

Airbnb – not just in Palma

Mallorca has huge numbers of tourists this year, staying not just in hotels, villas, and self-catering apartments, but also privately owned properties rented through online platforms such as Airbnb. According to a young Mallorcan family that lives in our valley, this seasonal money-making opportunity has been seized with great enthusiasm by quite a few local people who own country properties (often second homes, used as weekend places). Our young neighbours are spending their summer elsewhere, whilst enjoying the rental income from holidaymakers seeking an authentic rural-living experience on the island.

For a real taste of living in the Mallorcan countryside, you can’t beat painting old wooden window shutters (persianas) with gloss that turns gloopy in the summer heat. Sadly, that’s not the type of authentic rural-living experience holidaymakers would ever pay for…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Snakes on a plain

Snake encounters have been increasing on Mallorca – and not just on the plain (the flatter central area known in the local language as the pla). Local media reports have revealed that people in 14 municipalities on Mallorca had found unusually large snakes…mostly in urban areas.

One friend posted a picture on Facebook of a snake she’d found in her garden in an area of Santa Ponsa. To someone who doesn’t know much about snakes (that’ll be me, then), it looked like something that had escaped from a zoo or exotic pet shop – in other words, rather large and bearing distinctive markings. My friend didn’t seem too happy to be sharing her urban garden with this creature. She was lucky: other people have been startled by finding these snakes in their store rooms, garages, basements, and water tanks.

The Horseshoe Whip Snake

While at the vet’s yesterday buying more kidney-diet food for our cat Minstral, we were talking to one of the veterinary nurses about snakes and she told us that Horseshoe Whip Snakes (not native to the island) are increasingly being found on Mallorca – having come onto the island in trees imported from the peninsula.  They seem to be breeding very successfully.

Because of the very hot weather we’ve been having, these snakes have been seeking out cool places, such as garages, store rooms, cellars etc. Only last week, someone found a Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) allegedly measuring two-and-a-half metres in length – although I’ve read that they usually grow to up to a maximum of 1.5 metres.

Coincidentally, it was in Capdepera, back in May, that we saw a few snakes amongst the attractions at the annual medieval market in the northeast Mallorca hilltop town. I’ve no idea what type of snakes were being wrapped around bystanders’ necks but, then, I didn’t get close enough to find out (thank goodness for long lenses).

Man with snake

It’s a wrap!

A little girl discovers that snakes don’t feel slimy.

Snakes at our finca

Our own encounters with snakes at the finca have been few. My first was while weeding in a damp and shady area of our finca that we call Marie’s Garden (after the former owner, who created it). As I moved close to one of the large rocks dotted around here, a snake suddenly darted out from its shelter and slithered away at great speed. It happened so quickly that I didn’t note too many details about its appearance, except that it wasn’t particularly large. It did make me jump though…

Not long afterwards, on another part of our land, I found part of a snake’s skin that had been shed; something I’d never seen before. Rural life has introduced me to many new experiences. Sadly, most of our snake sightings have been roadkill; not everyone is as careful as we are to avoid hitting wildlife that ventures onto the roads.

What to do if you find a Horseshoe Whip Snake

These snakes are not considered dangerous to people. The authorities recommend that you report any findings to COFIB by phoning 971 144 107 and presumably they’ll come and remove them.

©Jan Edwards 2017

Never a dull moment with Pip

Never usually one to miss a meal…

It’ll be three years in September since the kitten we named Pip arrived in our lives. She’s still very much like a kitten (albeit a rather plump one): playful, inquisitive, and ready to eat anything in sight. Every day she does things to make us laugh and remind us how fortunate we are that somehow she turned up at our finca. But yesterday we feared we had lost her…

Pip when she first arrived three years ago.

Cat-astrophe?

Pip seems to be a bit of a petrolhead: she loves to get into cars. One morning earlier this year she didn’t turn up for her breakfast; this was not usual Pip behaviour, as she always appears to be starving in the mornings, but we assumed she was sleeping off a busy night doing feline stuff. Some time later, The Boss called me and pointed out of the kitchen window at our car. Standing up on the driver’s seat inside, with her front paws on the side window, was Pip. The Boss had been cleaning the car out the previous evening and Pip had managed to hide herself away in it while all the doors and hatchback were open – and had spent the night trapped inside. As you may imagine, there was a little more cleaning to be done afterwards…

We’ve been super-careful ever since. If friends come to visit, or we have a delivery or tradesman calling, we’ve always made sure that Pip hasn’t somehow managed to get into their vehicle.

Chill-out furniture delivery; not-so-chilled cat mum!

Do not disturb.

Yesterday we had a delivery of some new chill-out furniture for the terrace. The two guys who brought the stuff left the large van’s back doors open while they were carrying the items from the drive to the back terrace. As well as our furniture, there were protective blankets and other stuff inside the van. It was another hot day so we assumed Pip would be asleep somewhere on our land.

It was only later, as we were having lunch outside, I remembered that we hadn’t asked the delivery men to check the back of the van for a feline squatter before they left. Had she jumped up through the open doors into the back of the van? Was she on her way to who-knows-where?  We abandoned lunch and repeatedly called out to Pip; usually she appears when she hears us (in the expectation of food). We even shook the large plastic box that contains the cats’ biscuits. Nada.

Stowaway alert

At this point I had a mini-meltdown, imagining her trapped in the van and what would happen when the doors were opened – either back at the store or on another delivery somewhere. The consequences didn’t bear thinking about but that didn’t stop me thinking about them! I phoned the store to alert them to the possibility of a stowaway in the van and the helpful woman there rang the drivers to warn them.

Needless to say, after an afternoon of anxiety, Pip turned up later in the day for her dinner. I went outside and there she was stretched out under our car. We’ve never been as pleased to see her as we were last evening.

“What was all the fuss about, hooman?”

Cats can be such a worry sometimes … or maybe it’s just that this cat-mum worries too much about them!

©Jan Edwards 2017

Mallorcan rural lifestyle suits Minstral the Birman

Regular readers of this blog about our life in rural Mallorca will know that we share the outdoor areas of our finca with seven cats that have adopted us.  But we share our indoor space – our home – with Minstral, our adorable Birman cat.

“I share my home with a couple of humans – one of whom is forever trying to take my photo.”

We adopted him when he was four years old and yesterday was a bit of a landmark in Minstral’s life: it was his 20th birthday. Our vet has told us this is a surprising age for a cat on Mallorca, let alone one that is a pedigree (his is rather impressive). He’s in pretty good shape for his age – Minstral, not the vet (although he’s probably not doing too badly either); however, like many older cats, his kidney function is not what it was.

We’d love to have given Minstral a special treat to eat for his birthday but he’s on a low-protein diet designed for cats with kidney problems, so it was breakfast/lunch/dinner as usual for our much-loved senior ‘catizen’.

An official birthday photograph was deemed “a good idea” but, as anyone who has tried to photograph cats will know, they’re not always very obliging models. Curiosity means they usually come straight towards the camera to check it out. And so it was for much of yesterday. Until this…

 

Cat

“Why are you pointing that thing at me?”

 

©Jan Edwards 2017

Good news at our finca in rural Mallorca

Animals can be perverse. You boast to a friend that your cat always does a certain thing: for example, you say its name and it flicks its tail; you say its name twice and it flicks its tail twice; that kind of thing. Of course, the fickle feline never obliges when you try to demonstrate this amazing feat to your friend.

So, perhaps you can guess what happened after I posted about our little cat Sweetie’s eight-day absence…. yes, she turned up last night.  Looking rather thin but otherwise apparently fine, she wriggled under our gates and came to greet her siblings, who sniffed around her as if trying to work out where she’d been (which was probably what they were doing…none of them told us). Beamer seemed particularly pleased to see her and immediately began to give her a jolly good wash.

And Sweetie was back, as she always had been before, for her breakfast this morning. She seems pleased to be back again and, thankfully, Pip has chosen to ignore her.

We’ll probably never know where she was, what she was up to, or why she didn’t come to our finca in Mallorca as usual. We’re all just pleased she’s back and unharmed.

The prodigal daughter gets a good clean-up from big brother Beamer

©Jan Edwards 2017

So long, Sweetie…

When we took on the responsibility of caring for the feral cats that were born on our finca in rural Mallorca (in two litters to the same mum), we knew that some of them would one day no longer be with us – for whatever reason. We lost Brownie, as a very young kitten, when she jumped out of an old almond tree in the lane straight into the path of one of our neighbours as she drove home. Poor Maria – an animal lover herself – was unable to stop her car in time, despite driving relatively slowly. Brownie is buried at the bottom of our field, just a metre or two away from the very spot where she was born.

Quite some time later, Bear – a lovely black cat (born in the same litter as Beamer and Dusty, still with us, and poor little Brownie) – disappeared. Although we hadn’t been able to pick him up for a cuddle, he did enjoy a fuss and seemed perfectly happy around the finca but, one day, he didn’t come as usual for his breakfast or dinner. We never saw him again and were unable to find out what had happened to him. We like to think that he decided to strike out on his own and be independent, preferring this to the possible alternative fates.

Baby Bear and Right Patch were both from the second litter and they too disappeared while still quite young. We had expected some of the kittens to leave once they felt ready to be independent, as that would be natural cat behaviour, so we were pleasantly surprised that the rest stayed with us.

Searching in vain

One of the problems of losing a cat in the country is knowing where to look for it. In a village or town in the UK, we would have put a notice on lampposts or checked whether any neighbours had accidentally shut the missing feline in a garage or shed. But here, in our part of rural Mallorca, we’re surrounded by fields – many of which are overgrown, having been long abandoned.

For just over a week we haven’t seen Sweetie – one of the cats from the second litter. At the end of July she would have been six years old which, for a feral cat, is probably a good age – given the perils of rural life (hunters, poisoning, disease, etc). But Sweetie – like the other six cats that have adopted us and remain here – is no longer truly feral, as she has almost always come for her daily breakfast and dinner and to drink from the several water stations we maintain for our feline family.

Sweetie as a kitten

One for the ‘Lost’ poster…

Chilling out in our dining room window recess

Beamer’s bestie

The little spayed cat was always nervous around humans (including us) and would rarely allow us to stroke her (unless she had her head down in her food bowl). She had a very special bond with her older sibling Beamer though and they used to have regular mutual grooming sessions; at times, she would bury her head in Beamer’s tummy fur – as she and her other siblings of the same age had done for comfort, after their mother Jetta had abandoned her offspring.

Sadly, Sweetie wasn’t popular with Pip – the female kitten dumped here more than two years ago, changing the dynamic of the cat clan. Although we’d had both females spayed, Pip had recently started to hiss at Sweetie sometimes and even chased her away a time or two. Perhaps that happened once too often for Sweetie to tolerate?

She had long had her own territory on the finca of our neighbours and good friends Maureen and Peter, and came back to ours only for her food and water. Maybe she decided on a new life of self-sufficiency? We’ve called her and searched for her in as many places as feasible, but to no avail.

In the meantime, we miss seeing this shy little cat and watching those affectionate moments she regularly shared with Beamer. And we’re sure he’s missing her too.

Come home, Sweetie, if you can…

©Jan Edwards 2017