A day off . . . for some

Where do we begin . . .?It’s very quiet here today at our rural finca in Mallorca. Not a builder in sight, although the re-roofing project is not yet completed. Juan – second-in-command at the local construction company doing the job – arrived yesterday afternoon to inform us that the builders, who are Moroccan, wouldn’t be working today.

Es la Fiesta del Cordero,” he explained. I remembered having seen today marked in my diary as Eid-al-Adha – an important Islamic religious holiday; the Spanish name for it translates as the Feast of the Lamb (cordero), and it’s also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice.

The clean sweep begins

Observing this holiday was due to start at sunset last evening and, judging by the even greater than usual volume of animated conversation among the men yesterday, they were clearly looking forward to it. And so was I. Today The Boss and I have begun the massive clean-up outside. It’s only the first stage, as there’s still more work to be done at the back of the house, but at least we’ve made a start. Sweeping, hosing down and removing debris outside in the mild fresh air beats the mole-like existence indoors we’ve had for the past few weeks!

Foreign Encounters

When we moved to rural Mallorca, I was itching to start the novel I’d always wanted to write, but there were a few small challenges. Firstly, the finca we’d bought needed quite a bit of work to turn it into a comfortable permanent home, rather than the rustic holiday home it had been for many years. Our days were filled with DIY, painting, varnishing, cleaning up the inevitable mess that results from home improvements, and undertaking shopping expeditions for various items of furniture and other necessities. My spare moments were spent recovering from all this, rather than writing.

There was also the small matter of electricity – which we didn’t have for the first eight months we lived here. No electricity meant no computer, so any writing would have had to be by hand, using a pen or pencil and paper. And for me, for some reason, the words just don’t flow unless there’s a keyboard and screen to accept them. How I envy those writers who can sit with a notepad and pen, committing their mots justes to paper. It just doesn’t work for me.

Once we had electricity, I began to make up for lost time, and I’ve now had several hundred articles published in Mallorca-based magazines and a few publications in the UK. But I’ve made little progress with writing fiction. Several short stories sent to women’s magazines in the UK have been rejected, and the novel has stalled at 20,000 words. One day . . .

However, I’m thrilled skinny (oh, I wish) to have had some success with a short story (only my second to be published), entitled Embracing the New, which appears in the third anthology, Foreign Encounters, published by Writers Abroad http://www.writersabroad.com/ today (October 24th); the stories, articles, and poems included have all been written by expat writers living around the globe.

Author Julia Gregson, a former expat whose bestselling novel East of the Sun won the Prince Maurice Prize for romantic fiction, has written the foreword.

All proceeds from the sale of Foreign Encounters will go to Books Abroad, a charity which co-ordinates the donation of books to schools throughout the world. The charity celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and has supplied more than 1,600 schools with books.

Foreign Encounters is available from Lulu, price €9.99 (approximately £8.00), from today, Wednesday 24th October: http://www.lulu.com/shop/writers-abroad/foreign-encounters/paperback/product-20450826.html. Well, Christmas is coming and this would make a good stocking-filler . . .

A celebration of Mallorca’s food and wines . . . in London

Since moving to rural Mallorca, I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. I put it down to the ready availability of locally grown fresh produce, terrific storecupboard ingredients (luscious local olive oils, artisan salts, etc) and, of course, some excellent award-winning wines produced on this island. Oh, and the lack of a handy Marks & Spencer food hall . . .

If you’re in London this week, you could experience for yourself some of Mallorca’s cuisine (though, sadly, not its weather): London Mallorca Week (October 22nd-28th) is a celebration of some of this beautiful Mediterranean island’s food and wines – offering the chance to dine out on some traditional Mallorcan dishes, discover a few of the island’s excellent wines, and stock up on some ingredients for your kitchen.

On the menu

Throughout this week some of the capital’s top Spanish restaurants – including Barcelona Tapas, Barrafina, Cambio de Tercio, Fino, Iberica London, and Pizarro – are offering Mallorcan specialities and wines (by the glass or bottle) produced on the island.

Callet – one of Mallorca’s varieties of grapes used in wine-making.

On Friday 26th (18:00-22:00hrs) and Saturday 27th (09:00-15:30hrs) a group of Mallorcan food producers – Oli Novembre, Ametlla+, Raixa Mallorca, and winemakers Can Majoral, Vins Toni Gelabert, and Es Verger – will be selling their goods at foodie hang-out Maltby Street market. It’s a chance to buy some of the products that have become essential to our lives in rural Mallorca.

Tumbet by TwitterYou don’t have to be in London to get involved in this event: tonight at 19:00hrs (UK time), Catalan food specialist Rachel McCormack offers a Twitter cook-along – a lesson in making Mallorca’s answer to ratatouille, known as tumbet. This delicious vegetable dish is one of The Boss’s favourites and is a great way to boost your intake of veggies.

If you fancy following Rachel’s tweeted instructions (@R_McCormack/#LondonMallorcawk), be in the kitchen with Twitter access and these ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil

2 potatoes

1 aubergine (eggplant)

1 courgette (zucchini)

2 green peppers

1 red peppper

3 tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic

salt

pepper

Bon profit!

Mallorca Food Week is a self-funded promotional initiative by the featured Mallorcan food producers, in partnership with Rachel McCormack, who teaches Catalan cookery in London. For more details about Mallorca Food Week, check out Rachel’s website www.catalancooking.co.uk/mallorca-week./

Winging it

A view to fly for

It seems an age since light has flooded into our little house in rural Mallorca. Only the front door is open while we have the builders working on the roof; all the other external shutters are firmly closed to protect the windows and other glazed doors from debris – and the occasional dropped tile – falling from above (usually followed by loud shouting in Arabic). Having been going on for just over two weeks, our mole-like existence is set to continue for a few more days yet . . .

From flying tiles . . .

I’m not complaining, because the workers seem to be doing a brilliant job, working like the artisans that they clearly are, but I miss being able to see the country views through the windows. Although the weather has been lovely, we feel pretty much confined indoors because the area around the house has become a rather hazardous zone; we have a pretty impressive hat collection, but they’re mostly of the straw variety and unlikely to deflect the pain from a flying terracotta tile.

. . . to flying predators

So, to remind myself of what I’m missing, I’ve found a photo (taken with a zoom lens) I took from the sitting room one day, of a kestrel checking out the Mediterranean cypress tree just outside the house. Given the current level of noise around here, I doubt there are any kestrels to be seen at the moment . . . but they’ll be back. Impressive, eh?

A burning issue

October 16th has been ringed on our calendar for some months, and The Boss was longing for the date. It’s not a birthday, anniversary or another of those occasions that requires a frantic search in local shops for something resembling a decent greetings card. This was the first date on which we country dwellers in Mallorca could legally have a bonfire – the risk of wildfires deemed to have passed once an autumn storm or two have dampened things down.

Smokin’

The last time we were able to have a bit of a blaze was in spring, so the pile of garden waste had grown into a mini-mountain. The Boss had covered it with a tarpaulin at the first sign of rain, to keep it as dry as possible for The Big Burn.

He wasn’t the only one itching to set a match to a summer’s worth of rubbish. As I was driving to Palma for an appointment yesterday, the countryside en route looked like the venue for a smoke signalling convention, and the air was heavy with the autumnal aroma of burning.

Man with the match

It’s a man-thing

I’m not being sexist when I say that I think that this desire to light a bonfire – and keep it under control, of course – is probably a bit of a man-thing. For The Boss, it clearly beats more mundane tasks like checking the bank statement or topping up the solar power batteries with distilled water. There’s nothing like the risk of singeing the hairs on your arms or accidentally setting fire to your jeans (without realising) to add a spark of adventure to your day. As The Boss can confirm.

The rain in Spain could be less of a pain

Testing, testing  . . . yep, the roof appears to be watertight. We’ve had enough rain over the weekend on Mallorca to put the repairs to the test, and the various buckets that usually come into play during stormy weather haven’t been necessary. The timing of the repair project couldn’t have been better: the builders finished applying the concrete over the roof surface on Thursday evening . . . and the rain started on Friday.

Black is black

The house currently looks like a total reformation project. The Boss has swathed all of the window shutters in black plastic to protect them from concrete splatters – and the plastic will remain until the tiles are back on the roof and the workmen have headed for projects new. Now I know what it feels like to be a mole . . .

At 7.50am this morning, the gang reported for duty. There was even a modest amount of stomping about on the roof – which must have been slippery after all the rain. But by 8.30am, they were sitting in their minibus, eating their second breakfast, and peering out through the misted-up windows. And that was the last we saw of them for today. Rain stopped work – and rightly so; we don’t want any builders sliding off the roof, thank you!

An unexpected visit

We’ve probably all heard negative stories about Spanish builders, so here’s a positive one:  On Friday – a public holiday here – Juan, the senior foreman, drove out to our house during a heavy shower, to check that we didn’t have any leaks inside the house. Now that’s what I call service.

Who lives in a house like this? Er, we do.

Up on the roof

An early start to the working day. Photo by The Boss.

Builders in Spain often get a bad press but, so far, we’re really pleased with the progress on re-roofing our finca in Mallorca. Juan, Junior, Mustafa, Emilio and the rest of the gang – the make-up of which changes by the day – seem to be doing a great job.

On Wednesday mornings, I present a 10-minute ‘What’s on in Mallorca’ slot on Talk Radio Europe, which is based in Marbella but also broadcasts to the island on 103.9 FM (and online at www.talkradioeurope.com). Usually this is done on the phone from home, which would have been almost impossible this week because of the noise of the work, but fortunately the station was doing an outside broadcast from Palma de Mallorca, so I had another excuse to leave the dirt and din behind for a few hours to head for a clean, sound-insulated studio. Far less painful than having a molar extracted, the previous day . . .

Men on a mission

Storms and heavy rain are forecast for the next few days, and there’s an air of urgency to the work today. The men arrived before 8am, on a mission to cover the roof with a layer of cement, to make it fully watertight, before they leave (tomorrow is a public holiday in Spain). It’s the noisiest day of the project so far, with the constant churning of a cement mixer and the throaty rumbling of the large lorry which arrived during my absence yesterday. The latter is an impressive man-toy, with a massive extendable hydraulic arm, activated by a remote control unit. I can tell that The Boss is itching to have a go at the controls, but he has to be content with watching the huge red arm hoist the containers of cement from the ground up to the rooftop, where Emilio and Mustafa are spreading it out smoothly like chocolate on a Sachertorte.

Such is the urgency, the men didn’t have their usual siesta after eating their packed lunches down by the fig tree. And such is the mechanical noise, the usual day-long conversation has been drowned out.

Tomorrow, peace and quiet will reign again in our valley. Until the sound of the forecast thunder . . .

Pussycat Palio

After a weekend without builders, the men are back at our finca in Mallorca. And they’ve increased in number. The foreman told us this morning that rain is forecast for later this week and they’re keen to ensure that we have at least the new lining on the whole roof, so that we don’t have any serious leaks indoors. So an extra pair of hands has been drafted in to speed up the process. And the decibel level of the conversation level has ratcheted up too. They’re speaking Arabic, so I’ve no idea what they’re talking about, but it sounds jolly lively.

A pillow of stones

As I write, the men have just finished their lunchtime siesta; after they’ve eaten their packed lunches, they stretch out on the ground and have a snooze. It really can’t be comfortable, with so many stones in our field, but they return to the job – and their ongoing conversation – with renewed vigour.

During their break, while things are quiet again, we catch up on any phone calls and snatch a bite of lunch outside, on the one part of the terraces that hasn’t been taken over by stacks of roof tiles. For a change, we’re eating alone: our family of outdoor cats heads for the hills as soon as the builders arrive. None of them is keen on strangers. We’ll not see them now until this evening, when all is quiet again.

In fine race form and waiting for nightfall.

And they’re off!

But we’re certainly hearing them. In the middle of the night. One or two of our outdoor cats have previously ventured up onto the roof, but now that the tiles are off and there’s a smooth flat surface up there, it’s become the venue for what sounds to us (beneath it) like the feline equivalent of the Palio di Siena horse race.

The cats are clearly having fun, even if I’m not really enjoying the disruption, dirt and the din. Still, I have tomorrow to look forward to: I’ll be out for a couple of hours, as I have a dental appointment. I never thought there’d come a day when I’d rather have a back tooth extracted than stay at home . . .

What lies beneath

Our roof tiles, on the terrace

As I write this, half of our house in rural Mallorca is without its roof tiles. Such is the construction of these typical old fincas that, as I stand inside and look up at the terracotta tiles that form our ceiling, I can see the sky through the thin gaps between some of the tiles. Fortunately, it’s blue sky and not ominous rain clouds . . .

Busy between breakfasts

The builders arrived yesterday morning, promptly at 8am, to begin the job of repairing our old roof. Fortunately, they’re working on one side of the roof ridge at a time, so the showers of dust that fall periodically through the gappy ceiling tiles aren’t landing on my computer; I’m in the roofed half of the house.

Who needs scaffolding?

It’s a big job. The three builders – Moroccans working for a local Mallorcan firm – began by carefully removing the traditional curved roof tiles. All done, I might add, without the aid of scaffolding; our outdoor wood-fired stone oven adjoins the house and they’re climbing onto that to get onto the roof. The tiles that have survived intact are currently stacked on the terrace, to be replaced in due course.

An hour after the workers had arrived, they were sitting on rocks in our back field, eating what the locals call ‘second breakfast’. (If that sounds a bit greedy, they probably had only a glass of milk and a biscuit for the first one – fairly typical). Then, they swung back into action, removing cement and some strange yellowish lumps that The Boss identified as foam he had once injected into some of the gaps between the roof tiles, to stop rats from using our roof space as a penthouse pad.

It was the noisiest day we’d ever experienced here in the valley. Somehow, amid the banging and crashing that was going on, the three builders managed to maintain a lively and ongoing conversation. Which was more than we could do indoors.

Scantily clad 

At 5pm, peace was restored. The workers had left for the day, leaving us to inspect the first day’s progress. There was a mini-mountain of rubble on the drive – looking like something Tracey Emin might have created. And our roof had been stripped back to what appeared to be a thin layer of tarred felt – the only thing that had been between the ceiling and the roof tiles.

It was obvious why we’ve had rain coming into the house: a couple of decades of fierce summer heat and ravenous rats had turned our roof’s undergarment into something resembling black lace. Hopefully, the new stuff will be more like Damart . . .

Rip ’em off guys!

Now that’s what I call a leaky roof – thankfully, not ours

At the end of March this year we made an application to the local council to have our roof repaired. This might seem an odd thing to have to do, but we live in an area that’s been designated of special environmental interest, and can barely sneeze here without someone official’s say-so.   We’re merely having the leaks fixed – I hope! – and adding some insulation (of which there is absolutely zippo at the moment). The old tiles will be ripped off (fairly gently, we hope) and put back on after the repairs, and it’s unlikely that the roof will look much different from the outside. But still we need permission . . .

Raindrops keep falling on my head . . .

We’d been looking forward to a cooler summer as a result of the insulation, but summer came and went without us being able to have the work done. We’ve now had the first of the autumn storms and discovered that there are even more leaks than before. Ever sat on a loo with rain dripping on your head through the ceiling? Surreal . . .

Most disappointingly, I had to suggest that my dad and uncle forgo their usual week’s holiday here in September, because we had no idea what state the roof – and house – might be in. As it happened, they could have come for their usual week after all, as we’d still not received the permit. Sorry guys.

Men at work . . . tomorrow

My heart sank at the weekend, when a friend told me about someone who’d had to wait two years for permission to do some work to their property. I became convinced that our roof repair wouldn’t be done this side of Christmas; then, yesterday, out of the blue, we had the good news that the work had been approved!

We’re told that the builders will arrive to start the job tomorrow morning at 8am. It’ll be dusty, noisy and disruptive and, for those reasons, I’m dreading it. But if it means we’ll stay warm and dry this winter . . . bring it on, hombres!