Hi-diddle-dee-dee, a writer’s life for me

When we moved from the UK to live in rural Mallorca, my intention was to become a freelance writer, working from home. Our finca seemed like the perfect environment for inspiration, creativity, and other writerly stuff.

What’s now our third bedroom (and winter storage area for garden furniture), in an annexe adjoning the main house, was originally destined to be The Writing Space. It offered lots of benefits, with its own shower room and loo, door opening onto a small covered terrace, and lovely views of the far side of our valley.

Our old pine desk was moved into the room immediately – along with everything else that didn’t seem to have a place in our home at the time. We’d already had plenty of electrical plug sockets installed, awaiting that day when electricity was connected, and we’d be able to plug in computer, printer, scanner, etc.

But it soon became clear that this was not a room in which to spend much time in the winter: mould began to grow on the legs of the desk and we realised that the dampness of this small unheated, uninsulated room would be equally as bad for a computer and other sensitive stuff, such as electrical goods . . . and me!

Not driven to distraction

The small room at the centre of the house – grandly dubbed ‘the library’ – became my writing space. With five sets of doors leading off this room, the wall space for furniture is limited and, by necessity, the desk (no longer sporting its fetching furry green coating), was positioned facing a wall. It’s probably just as well: the combination of lovely views, cats doing amusing things, and the birdlife in our garden, would surely be a distraction. . . .

With my focus firmly on the computer, I’ve written countless articles and reviews that have been published in magazines, newspapers, and on websites. But my fiction-writing success has so far been restricted to just two short stories I wrote under the name of Janice Dunn. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to have these accepted for anthologies published by Writers Abroad – more than making up for the rejection slips from the declining women’s magazine short story market . . .

Download your copy Foreign Encounters book cover

The latest of these anthologies – Foreign Encounters – was originally available in conventional book form but is now also available for download.

And here’s part of the opening of my story ‘Embracing the New’ – which is entirely fictional:

‘I had more than enough sand in my private parts yesterday, thank you. But don’t let me stop you going.’

‘Mum!’ I put down my mug of coffee and reached across the terrace table to place my hand gently on her sunburnt arm. ‘I thought you’d enjoyed yourself.’

My widowed mum had come for a three-week stay with us on the Spanish island of Mallorca – which had been our home for just two weeks, and was still new and strange to us. We were expats due to a change of employment, rather than pure choice.  

Until we could find ourselves a new home, we were renting a beautiful villa in the north of the island. Casa Rosa’s owners were friends of Martin’s new boss and had been looking for someone to house-sit during the two months they were visiting family in New Zealand. We were thrilled to move in and find ourselves living in unexpected luxury, with a few weeks to enjoy before Martin started work. So we invited Mum over for a family holiday. She’d never been abroad before but we were sure that a few weeks here with us, away from the cool damp British summer, would do her good. Four days into her visit, I was beginning to wonder . . .

If you want to know what happened next – or read a host of stories, articles, and poems written by expat writers with far more talent than I have – you can download your copy of Foreign Encounters from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BD2C21E

If you’re in another country, simply substitute the appropriate letters for that country for the co.uk, but include the reference at the end, which takes you straight to the relevant page. The price has been set in each country based on the list price of $2.99.

Happy reading!

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A cautionary watery tale – part two

When I look back at the various problems – OK, let’s call them challenges – that we’ve had living in our finca in rural Mallorca, most of them have been water-related. And several of them have arisen as a result of a job that we did in the belief we were making an improvement.

The installation of an electric water pump, to speed up the flow of water in the house, is a prime example: after having the pump fitted, The Boss was left with the task of digging a trench across the drive, in which to bury the electricity cable.  But when all was dug and buried, that wasn’t the end of it  . . .

Pump up the volume

With the new pump working, we knew we’d use more water and electricity, but were alarmed to discover how much more. Our water consumption had more than doubled and we’d been using enough electricity to power a small pueblo. It looked as though we’d have to avoid turning the taps on fully . . . which would rather defeat the object of having the pump.

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

To add to our woes, the water heater supplying our shower room had developed an insatiable appetite for butano.  Fearing a gas leak, we called back Pep the plumber, who quickly applied his analytical brain to the problem. Within minutes he’d dismissed our leak theory and suspected something far more serious. Muttering in mallorquin, he went out to his van – returning with a pickaxe.

Swing that thing

The bad news, Pep explained, was that our hot water pipe was probably leaking, which would cause the water heater to use more gas. The even worse news was that the leaking pipe was likely to be under the floor tiles in our shower room – hence the pickaxe.

We couldn’t bear to watch Pep smash up our terracotta floor, so retreated – only to rush back at what sounded like a very loud mallorquin expletive. Kneeling amid shards of terracotta and an indoor fountain we hadn’t had before, was a very wet Pep. Swinging his pickaxe, he’d accidentally punctured the cold water pipe.

But he’d also found the hot water pipe, which was seriously leaking – explaining the increase in our water and power consumption. It seemed that the increased water pressure had ruptured a weak joint in the old pipe. Pep set to and eventually fixed both pipes.

Of course, there was still that large hole in the floor. And, as we had feared when we saw it, repairing that was another ‘consequence job’ for us.

 

 

A cautionary watery tale – part one

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, we have no mains water or functioning well at our finca in Mallorca. When we want more water, we phone our supplier, who delivers a tanker-load into our cisterna or depósito – a storage tank – located on our land a few metres up the hill from our little house. Gravity-fed, the flow of water used to be painfully slow: it took five minutes just to fill the washing-up bowl in the kitchen. When we had visitors to stay, we had to work out a rota for using the shower, flushing the loo, and general tap usage, otherwise the flow would reduce to a mere trickle.

After some time – and once we had electricity – we decided we had to find a solution, and called on the services of the plumbing company in Manacor that we’d used for some other jobs. In fact, we’ve now used this business so many times – usually for plumbing emergencies – that we have a great relationship with the owner, Cito. Whenever he sees us in town on Saturday mornings, he comes over to greet us with hugs and kisses and to show off his much-loved granddaughter, who is usually with him and his wife.

A gravity matter

I’ve digressed slightly. Cito sent his man Pep to look at our problem. He shrugged his shoulders a few times, stroked his chin in contemplation, and suggested that the best solution would be an electric water pump, to replace the gravity-fed system – which might have worked better if we were living on a steeper hill. He rang his boss for a quote, which we reluctantly accepted as an essential expenditure. After a quick trip back to the depot for the necessary parts, Pep was soon back and at work.

It wasn’t long before he was able to demonstrate our new supercharged water flow. As he turned on the outdoor tap, an explosion of cal – the limescale that blights water here – shot out ahead of the gushing water. Apparently our pipes had been well and truly clogged-up (a common problem on this island, where kidneys and water-dependent appliances also suffer the effects of the cal-laden water).

Dig that

Satisfied that our water flow could now blast the barnacles off a Sunseeker’s bottom, Pep packed his tools into his van, then came to shake hands and say adios before leaving.

“Er, what about that electric cable lying across the drive?” asked The Boss, in his best Spanish. The cable had been fed through the shrubs from the new pump adjoining the depósito and across the drive, to the house. When would Pep be back to bury the cable?

“¡Hombre!” the plumber declared, shaking his head. He wouldn’t be. Digging the four-metre trench was a job for The Boss, but – Pep helpfully pointed out – it wouldn’t need to be any deeper than 10cm.  “Until you’ve done it though, don’t drive over that cable!” His words were left hanging in the air as we wondered how we’d get our car out of the drive until the trench could be dug.

And worse was to come . . .

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats - photo taken October 2011.

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats – photo taken October 2011.

Sloe road to Mallorca

What are you least likely to pack in your carry-on bag when flying to Mallorca for a short break with friends? How about baby blackthorn bushes? Twenty of ’em!

Our friends Duncan and Kristina came over to Mallorca last weekend to remind themselves what sunshine looks like (well, they live in the UK and it’s been a bit thin in the sky of late).  When we picked them up at the airport, they were keen to point out that one of their carry-on bags needed to be transported carefully.  We thought nothing of it until we came home and said bag was opened . . . to reveal what looked like a bunch of twigs in some soil.

Our future source of sloes

Our future source of sloes

Sloe-growing

On closer inspection they still looked like a bunch of twigs in some soil (miraculously the soil hadn’t parted company from the twigs – some of which were sprouting a bit of greenery). We were none the wiser until our friends explained that these were cell-grown blackthorn bushes that would grow into a hedge, and bear sloes.

The Boss had made some sloe gin about a decade ago, when we lived in the UK, and the last of it was shared with these friends during their previous visit. At the time, he’d mentioned that he’d like to make more, but sloes were almost impossible to find here.

On the case . . . and in the case

Our friends set about finding a solution. They went to Buckingham Nurseries and Garden Centre (www.hedging.co.uk) where they explained that the plants were destined to be planted in Mallorca. The helpful member of staff provided plenty of advice and information (in the form of various leaflets that were delivered with the plants), and sold them the 20 baby blackthorn bushes that are currently residing in a bucket of water outside, ready for planting in our field over the weekend.

Our friends were slightly nervous about flying to Mallorca with the plants, but the nurseryman said it wouldn’t be a problem and offered to speak to airport staff on the phone if any problem did arise. As it happens, the case carrying the fledgling hedge passed through the airport X-ray machine without question. Maybe baby bushes aren’t such an unusual item to pack in a carry-on bag on a flight to Mallorca?

Dressed to impress

Blossom on one of our almond trees

Blossom on one of our almond trees

We don’t make a habit of having people to stay at our finca in rural Mallorca during the winter months, because the weather can be a little unpredictable. But with the new roof having made a big difference to the comfort levels indoors, we were happy to accommodate our best friends from Oxford when they asked if they could come over for a long weekend. At least we knew they wouldn’t have water dripping through the ceiling in their room if it rained . . .

All dressed up and somewhere to go

They chose a good time to come, because it was carnival this weekend and, in Manacor, this is an event well-supported by the local population. It seems as though most of the locals take to the streets in fancy dress, to parade and party to live bands and wandering percussion groups playing batucada. Undeterred by the bitterly cold wind, we donned our own costumes (dressing as Brits going out for a winter walk) and pitched in with the party people. I just love the creativity behind some of the amazing costumes and make-up that we see every year at this event, and worn by everyone from a baby in a pushchair to a sprightly octagenarian.

Mallorca’s ‘snowflakes’

But it’s not just the people who were dressed up over the weekend. Mallorca’s almond trees are currently at their height of loveliness, swathed in the beautiful blossom which attracts visitors to the island at this time of the year. When a gust of wind blows, petals flutter like snow to the ground. And sometimes, there’s even a little real snow . . .

If, like our friends Duncan and Kristina, you’re not too worried about what the weather might do, these winter months can be a very special time to visit Mallorca.

Animal hospital again . . .

Beamer, Bear, and Dusty dine at the finca.

Beamer, Bear, and Dusty dine at the finca.

Our feral cat sterilization fund took a hit today, and here at our finca in Mallorca, we are back in animal hospital mode. After months of trying to arrange for Nibbles – one of our family of adopted feral cats – to be neutered, we finally succeeded. The patient – like his mother and siblings before him – is comfortable and enjoying a peaceful rare night indoors, recuperating in our annexe third bedroom.

All the stars were in alignment: we had no other commitments for the day, our veterinary practice was able to undertake the operation at short notice, and – most importantly – Nibbles deigned to arrive at a time that fitted within the practice surgery hours.

Littering the finca

Our adopted feral cat family (did we adopt them, or did they adopt us?) began with a dainty little black kitten we named Jetta. Shortly after becoming a regular visit to our finca (twice a day for food), I noticed that she was putting on weight. It wasn’t long before we realised that, at only around seven months old, poor little Jetta was pregnant. In March 2011, she had a litter of four kittens; three – we named them Beamer, Dusty, and Bear – are still with us, and all are now much larger than their mum.

We decided that, once Jetta had recovered from her pregnancy and had reached a stage when she was no longer nursing the kittens, we would have her sterilized. But we couldn’t act fast enough: she quickly became pregnant again and at the end of July 2011, she produced another five kittens.

Just three of the second litter remain: Nibbles, Chico, and, the only female, Sweetie. She and Chico are twice-a-day visitors, but Nibbles is what our Mallorcan neighbours call a “va y viene” cat – he goes, and then he comes back again. Recently, he’s been showing signs of testosterone overload: getting antsy with his siblings, fighting, and mistaking poor little Shorty – the little ginger kitten that has ingratiated himself into this feline family – for a willing female. I think you get my drift  . . .

Snip, snip

Someone once gave me an alarming statistic relating to the number of cats that an unneutered female can produce in her lifetime. I can’t remember the figure, but I do remember being horrified.

As much as I love cats, there are already too many ferals around – and their lives can be precarious in the countryside. They’re at risk from hunters, traffic, being poisoned,starvation (but not at our house) and being injured in encounters with other animals over territorial rights. So we took the decision to neuter those feral cats that drift into our lives. Today, it was Nibbles’ turn. Shorty will be relieved . . . until it’s his turn to go under the knife.

 

Shorty takes an awayday

In the early hours of Monday I was woken by the sound of fierce winds whipping around our finca; I could hear the metal chairs rocking on the slightly uneven tiled terrace outside. My first thoughts were for the eight outdoor cats that have adopted us, hoping that they were sheltering somewhere safe and unruffled by the howling winds. Last winter The Boss built them somewhere to shelter – grandly christened by us as The Apartments – but who knows what feral cats get up to during the night?

A few hours later, the wind had eased off and the sun was shining – the start of a week of very good weather for Mallorca in January. Yesterday, the mercury even nudged the 20 degrees Celsius mark. Today, it’s the start of February, which can be the chilliest month here. The first day of the month was pleasantly warm and sunny, but the forecast is for “plunging temperatures” over the next few days.

I digress. I was relieved on Monday morning to see most of the cats waiting outside the front door, as usual, for their breakfast.  Jetta, the mother of six of the others, was nowhere to be seen – which isn’t unusual for her. Neither was Shorty, the ginger kitten who came into our lives in August when he took a couple of bites out of The Boss’s finger. This feisty little feline has become a much-loved young cat, game for a cuddle if there’s one going – and always hungry. Since he decided this was to be his home – and the rest of the cats were to be his surrogate family – he’s never missed a meal and calls the loudest of all of the cats for his bowl of food. But on Monday morning, there was no sign of him. The Boss discreetly looked in the lane that passes our finca – two kittens have previously fallen prey to passing traffic – but reported no sighting.

Going, going, soon be gone.

Going, going, soon be gone.

It was only when I saw the old ruin at the end of the field that my heart sank. Having lost the roof a few weeks ago (https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2013/01/12/things-that-go-bump-in-the-night/), the old casita was now minus most of its back wall and part of the side wall – presumably blown down in the early morning winds. My fear was that Shorty might have taken shelter in the old building and been trapped by falling rubble. The property is now too dangerous to consider going inside, but we stood outside and called Shorty’s name to reassure ourselves that he wasn’t still in there alive but trapped.

Monday was a worrying day and I found it hard to concentrate on writing an article with a looming deadline. I went outside frequently, hoping to see that little bundle of ginger naughtiness waiting for something to eat, but no. He didn’t appear for dinner either. I went to bed feeling sad, and a little annoyed with myself for becoming so attached – yet again – to another feral cat.

On Tuesday morning, all was right again with my world. First thing, Shorty was at the front door, miaowing louder than ever for his breakfast. I’d love to know where he was all day Monday . . .