A Hot June in Mallorca

  • 37C max 23C min Wednesday
  • 37C max 23C min Thursday
  • 40C max 24C min Friday

Today, Saturday, it’s been up to 40 degrees Celsius again in our part of rural Mallorca. When you live in this kind of climate, you have to learn to deal with it as best you can. The Spanish siesta is one way of addressing the lethargy that strikes when the mercury soars, although I rarely indulge because there’s usually too much else to do. But today, I stretched out on the sofa, put up my feet, closed my eyes and drifted off . . . bliss.

Tap turns on the water

I’d have loved a cool shower after my siesta, but I’ll have to be satisfied with a hot one. We have no mains water here, so water is delivered by tanker every six weeks or so, into our cisterna (a large storage tank) and then pumped to the house through large black pipes. In the summer, nature heats up the water in the tank and the pipes and delivers it hot – to both hot and cold taps! It means we can switch off the gas water heaters and save money on butano, but there’s not a drop of cool or cold water to be had . . . always a challenge when it comes to washing the salad vegetables!

Cooler weather is forecast for tomorrow…and I’m sure we won’t be the only ones breathing a sigh of relief.

Jan Edwards©2012

Dealing with Donkeys

Pedestrian Petra

First-time visitors to our finca usually gaze out over the surrounding countryside with wonder in their eyes.  And it’s not always because we live in a naturally beautiful valley. Or that, often, the only sounds piercing the silence are birdsong, buzzing cicadas and dongling sheep bells.No, it’s more a case of “I wonder what they do for excitement around here?”

Believe me, we have our moments. Life here rarely sparks an adrenalin rush, but pulse rates have been known to quicken.

New Neighbours?

Take the day when we noticed that two donkeys were grazing in the field across the lane from us.  Now I’m really fond of these gentle creatures and was stupidly thrilled to have them as neighbours. We’d often seen sheep there, but never donkeys. We hadn’t even known that the farmer – who works in the valley but lives in Manacor – owned donkeys.

“You won’t be so happy if they start braying at 3 o’clock in the morning,” warned The Boss.

Several times that afternoon, I went out to gaze at Don Camilo and Petra (yes, I’d already named them) as they stood in the shade of an almond tree, nibbling contentedly at the scrubby undergrowth.  So how, later that day, did DC and Petra come to be ambling along in the lane, like a couple of elderly women searching for snails after rain?

When The Boss and I walked down to the field entrance, it was obvious.  The typical ‘gate’ used around here – a bundle of dead branches stuffed into the opening in an old dry stone wall – had hardly been enough to contain two newborn lambs, let alone a pair of determined donkeys.

The Boss was actually a little smug about the farmer’s apparent error. Probably because this particular farmer – a charming man, by the way – had recently criticised the way our almond trees had been pruned.

Our lane doesn’t see much traffic but donkeys wandering at will are a definite hazard, so – as good country citizens – we set about rounding up the renegades and returning them to the field.

No easy feat, and one that certainly quickened all parties’ pulses.

A Job Well Done

Once they were back in, we took on the task of building an impenetrable barrier, using a larger quantity of branches and sticks. Satisfied that we’d done a decent job, we left the pair to appreciate their own side of the fence and went in search of a well-earned G&T.

The following day, we found out that the donkeys weren’t owned by the farmer whose field it was. It was only when the real owner came in search of them that we discovered they’d escaped from a field in the lower, neighbouring valley and, having walked all the way up the hill, had seized the opportunity to enter a poorly gated field for a quick snack. Where they ended up staying until the next morning . . .

Jan Edwards ©2012

Home-Grown Lemon in Your G&T?

My new favourite gin . . . made in Mallorca!

Even before we’d bought our finca on Mallorca, I’d pictured myself strolling out into the garden and plucking a fat organic lemon from our own tree, to grace the occasional gin and tonic we enjoy on the terrace. By the time we’d bought the place and begun to plan The Big Move, my imagination had turned that lemon tree into a small citrus grove.

We bought a pile of books about Mediterranean gardening, and The Boss – a bit of a whizz with a spreadsheet – created a multi-page document detailing what would be suitable to grow in the mallorquin climate, mindful of the need to be frugal with water.

Our land is quite a reasonable size and comprises a rectangular field, a small rock and succulents garden (created by Marie and John, the previous owners), and a steep valley completely overgrown with wild olive and typical Mediterranean shrubs. Almost ten years after buying the place, I still have not ‘walked’ our entire land, not being deft enough with a machete to hack my way through the jungle. One day.

But one thing has finally been achieved. This spring, we planted our lemon tree. Admittedly, it’s perhaps not where we would have wanted it:  After a considerable amount of effort with a pickaxe and spade, The Boss declared that there was only one spot where the soil was sufficiently deep to plant a tree. So our own citrus grove is certainly never going to happen.

The young tree has produced some sweet-scented flowers, and baby’s-fingernail-sized lemons have followed in their wake. With any luck later this year we’ll be slicing one into a glass of the delicious ONZE gin, produced by the Pollensa winery Ca’n Vidalet, and the only gin actually made in Mallorca. We discovered this new limited edition gin (ours is bottle number 536 of 1,500) at the 2012 Pollensa Wine Fair (Fira del Vi) and its blend of 11 Mediterranean botanicals – including rosemary and lavender – gives it a distinctive and delicious flavour. Everyone who has a G&T at our place loves it; we can’t wait to taste one with the addition of a slice of home-grown lemon . . .

Jan Edwards © 2012

Dirty Den Had it Coming . . .

I’ve just cleaned the loo in our third bedroom – for the first time in the seven years we’ve owned the finca. Now before you recoil in horror, I should explain: our third bedroom has only ever been used as a store room since we moved here in 2004. And that dear little ensuite room that houses loo, basin and shower, has been stuffed full of detritus from day one. It wasn’t even possible to see the porcelain, let alone give it a regular going over with a cloth and a few squirts of Ecover.

Time to clean

But this summer, I’m determined that this useful annexe bedroom – adjoining the house but with its own separate entrance – will become usable. After all, when we set out to find our home in the sun, three bedrooms had been a must. The Original Plan was to turn this room into a third bedroom/office, containing my desk, computer and all the tomes on a shelf that a writer needs handy. I pictured myself here writing my novel, pausing occasionally to drink in the inspiring view of the valley (or take a quick siesta on the single bed). We even hired an electrician to install a bank of four sockets for all the necessary plugs – for when we eventually had electricity. We could have saved ourselves the money: desk and all necessary kit are still in the house.

When our possessions arrived from the UK – where they’d been housed in a tiny cottage – they were packed in 220 cartons.  220! Admittedly, some of them contained only a few items but, even so, it was clear that we had Far Too Much Stuff. Moral of the story: Have a good sort out before you move abroad.

Many of those possessions haven’t seen daylight since we dumped them into the annexe – renamed The Den – for want of a garage, shed or other useful storage space.  From time to time, I’ve made a half-hearted effort to reduce the amount of stuff, but it’s hard when there’s no room to move and you never know what might run across your foot (it has to be the perfect hidey hole for a small furry creature).

However, with my new resolve to commission this bedroom, I hacked my way through to the shower room – discovering on the way that its door has a nasty case of woodworm – and began the process of sorting and moving things out of the way. And when I finally reached the porcelain fittings, I realised that I’d need industrial-strength cleaning products and a Biohazard protective suit. Sadly, yellow Marigolds would have to do.

The Den today, now renamed Ray’s room – after my uncle, who has visited twice a year on holiday since the room was finally ready in 2009.

Jan Edwards 2009 ©

Ticks . . . and The Gritty

Just passing through . . . slowly

It didn’t take too long for us to realise that our initial dreams of growing citrus fruit trees and vegetables were not going to materialise.

Having dealt with the back field full of asphodels, using The Boss’s new “toy” – a brushcutter – we had to face the stark truth. Our soil was not only gritty and of very poor quality, there wasn’t much of it. Having barely breached the earth’s surface with a garden fork, we hit rock. At that point, we decided to abandon the field for the time being and concentrate on another, smaller part of our land, where the soil is all of an inch or two deeper, with the aim of doing some serious weeding and planting a couple of agaves we’d been given by a neighbour.

The majority of our land is pretty much useless for cultivation purposes; what was once a valley with a decent number of fruit trees had been left untended for so long that nature had reclaimed it, suffocating the fruit trees with wild olives, wild broom and . . . well, plain old weeds.

It might not be much good as a garden, but it’s a fantastic haven for wildlife. Every day birds of prey give us a flying demonstration, as they scour the “jungle” for its resident population of rabbits and other small rodents. And we’re often lucky enough to see wild Mediterranean tortoises going – slowly – about their business.

But less than welcome are the ticks – of which there are many, as the countryside around us is largely given over to sheep farming. Ticks are rather fond of sheep, but they’re also quite partial to a bit of human blood. In the UK I happily used to give my blood – for the benefit of other humans – but ticks are something else . . . ready to lay their eggs under your skin if unchecked. Gross.

Some people have a cuppa, a G&T or San Miguel at the end of a hard session’s gardening. We have a rather different après gardening routine, which involves stripping off all our clothes, shaking them out wildly, then inspecting each other minutely for the presence of those dreaded little black beasties – before they can sink themselves into our flesh.  You’ve seen chimps in the zoo?

I bet Monty Don doesn’t do the same . . .

Jan Edwards©2012

Wildlife Encounters in Mallorca

A warm welcome . . . unless you’re a rat

The first few nights in our old finca were not exactly restful. Unaccustomed to the silence of the countryside and darkness of the bedroom, I wasn’t sleeping as soundly as usual. So, when the sound of frantic scratching broke into my dream, I shot out of bed, switched on the light and began to scour the room for the source of the noise.  It appeared to be coming from within the thick old stone walls.

When you buy an old finca to do up, it’s not unusual to find that you’ve acquired a few little extras with the property: old abandoned agricultural implements, sticks of furniture that the previous owners left behind – and the odd rodent.

Yes, I knew that a rat was unlikely to burst through the wall in a cloud of plaster dust and flaking paint, to launch itself at my throat, but who thinks rationally in the middle of the night?

Rats Not Welcome

The priority jobs list was duly rearranged and all the small holes outside in the old stone walls were filled, to make sure the house was totally rodent-proof.  Before long, the nocturnal scratchings had ceased and tranquility returned.

But deprived of a warm, dark place to call home, our rats found alternative – and much cosier – accommodation, in the two small adjoining outbuildings housing our gas-powered water heaters. Because these structures have to be well-ventilated, the critters’ access can’t be blocked.

Rats take refuge in the strangest of places. One day, The Boss decided to open up the old parasol that had been left standing out on the terrace over winter. As he did so, a large furry object jumped out from within . . . using his shoulder as a launchpad to freedom.

Apparently, when the movie Ratatouille was released there was a rush to buy rats at UK pet shops at the time.  Anyone still interested? Nice fat brown one . . . going cheap?


Jan Edwards 2008 ©

DIY Can Be Dangerous . . . and Messy

When a listener to my old BBC radio programme sent me a ‘Bob the Builder’ doll as a farewell gift, I realised I might have inadvertently given the impression that I’d personally be restoring an old finca, stone-by-stone, when we moved to Mallorca.  In fact, all we planned to do was convert what had been someone’s quaintly-appointed holiday property into a comfortable permanent home.  Hardly a major project – or so we thought.

Lesson number one in doing up an old house on Mallorca is that the work never actually ends . . . and number two is that it will always cost you more than you budgeted for.

I’m a creative, rather than practical, type.  This is a girl who – when hanging a picture –  always used the heel of her shoe to bang in the nail, so realistically, I wasn’t going to be plumbing in a new kitchen or assembling the odd door frame.

Wielding a paintbrush though is something I’ll modestly admit to doing quite well. I also find it relaxing, so The Boss was more than happy for me to tackle the varnishing job on the new wooden bedroom door that we – or more accurately, a carpenter – had installed.

Perched on a stepladder, brush and pot of varnish in hand, I was beginning to feel I was finally earning that ‘Bob the Builder’ doll.  Until the moment I discovered that flip-flops weren’t really appropriate footwear for the job.  Climbing down the ladder, a flip – or was it a flop? – caught on the edge of a step, and I crashed backwards onto the floor, splattering streaks of Honeyed Pine all around the room and over me.

Undeterred, I did eventually finish the job.  Some day soon, I’ll get out the Brillo and tackle those varnish stains on the floor tiles . . .