The Boss is beaming

The sun is out for the first time in more than a week in our part of Mallorca – a very good reason to smile but, in fact, The Boss isn’t grinning from ear to ear, but up a ladder and painting beams. Now that’s what I call beaming.

After our finca was re-roofed last October we decided to start the long-term project of filling in the gaps between the terracotta tiles that make up our ceilings. So far, the kitchen and dining room have been completed. But, having done this, it was necessary to paint over the filler. Unfortunately, the paint we’d used originally was a slightly different shade to the new paint we bought to complete the job (due to a computer problem with the paint-mixing machine in our local decorating shop) so the whole ceiling has had to be done again.

Stepping up to the job

The weather’s been so bad for the past week that outside jobs have been impossible. On Sunday, we decided to tackle the ceiling job, which also included painting the beams. We had lovely wooden beams in our old cottage in Oxfordshire, but the ones here are cast concrete – not in the same league looks-wise, but they do keep the ceiling and roof above our heads! Wooden ones are more authentic, of course, but are at risk from woodworm and the dreaded formiga blanca – the white ant which, if it finds its way in, will eat away at wooden beams from the inside out.

When we moved here we didn’t like the appearance of the concrete beams, so we painted them brown. At a quick glance – or after a few of The Boss’s renowned G&Ts – any visitors who didn’t know otherwise, might just think they were made from wood. But rainwater and mould-cleaning products – as a result of the former leaky roof – had taken their toll on the paintwork.

Taking a break from the ladder . . .

Taking a break from the ladder . . .

Decorating is a team job in this house. Usually I paint the walls and The Boss paints the bits I can’t reach from our wobbly ladder – and that includes most of the sloping ceilings and beams. So, while I’m writing this, and working on some articles for the next issue of the magazine for which I write, The Boss is reaching new heights . . . and beaming.

 

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Nine years of living in rural Mallorca . . .

I’ve just realized that today is the ninth anniversary of our move to live in rural Mallorca. In some respects I can hardly believe it’s that long; in others, I feel we’ve surely had more than nine years’ worth of ‘interesting’ experiences.

Smokey, our Maine Coon, enjoying a snooze shortly after we arrived in Mallorca.

Smokey, our Maine Coon, enjoying a snooze shortly after we arrived in Mallorca.

I still remember that first day on Mallorca very well. We’d booked to fly over on the same plane as our two cats, Minstral and Smokey (our beloved Maine Coon, who sadly died as a result of lymphoma a few years ago). Just days before we were due to fly out, Smokey developed a strange cough, as though he were trying to dislodge something in his throat. We’d been decorating our cottage, so it occurred to us that the paint fumes might have irritated him, but took him immediately to our vet’s to be checked over.

Stress? You bet!

Long story short – we had several dashes to the vet’s over the next few days – it turned out that Smokey had a tumour in his throat. Our vet carried out a difficult operation, which we were warned might not work. The stress levels were stratospheric.

Fortunately, the operation was a success, and the tumour turned out to be benign. But there was no way that Smokey could fly; he needed to convalesce in the veterinary hospital. We decided it would be less stressful for Smokey if he had his pal Minstral with him, during the convalescence and the eventual flight to Mallorca.

So the pair of them stayed behind in the UK, while we reluctantly flew to Mallorca, to meet the delivery of our furniture – which had already left the UK. I flew back to the UK a few days later to collect the cats and take them to Gatwick, and we all flew back on the same plane.

A rude awakening

As it happened, it was probably as well that we were alone in our new home for that first night. We fell into bed, exhausted, with hopes of a 12-hour sleep, to help counteract all the stress we’d had. No chance. In the middle of the night, I awoke to hear someone – luckily, The Boss – working a trouser zip.

“What are you doing?” I hissed into the blackness (we’d never slept anywhere quite so dark, having had a street lamp right outside the cottage back in the UK).

“Can’t you smell it?” asked The Boss. “That horrible smell?”

I sat up and took a deep sniff, noting that there was a rather unusual aroma in the air. It had a whiff of something chemical about it. Moments later we were both up, moving from empty room to empty room, sniffing like bloodhounds. We sourced the strong pong to the kitchen, where we’d earlier used a gas stove-top kettle to make a bedtime drink. During that process, the kettle’s handle seemed to have been burnt and had slowly been giving off chemical fumes. We opened windows and doors, put the kettle outside for the night, and stood out on the terrace to gulp in the cool fume-free air.

Magic moments

And then we saw it for the first time. The inky black sky – no light pollution nearby – was strewn with millions of vividly twinkling stars. Even on the coldest and clearest of winter nights in the UK, I’d never seen as many stars. It was simply magical. The stress of the move, and that first weird happening in our new home, was forgotten as we took in the extraordinary night sky above us.

Being a bit of a romantic with a soft spot for nostalgia, I could have been tempted to mark our ninth anniversary with a spot of stargazing tonight. Alas, Mallorca’s covered in a duvet of thick dark grey clouds that aren’t due to leave us for a few days . .

A bug’s life

One we've not seen before!

One we’ve not seen before!

If you live in rural Mallorca, as we do, you can’t afford be too squeamish about insects, because there are plenty of them to share our lives. We’ve seen some interesting specimens over the years, including an amazing moth that was the size of a small bird. We had friends round for supper on the terrace that night and the timing of this moth’s fluttering around the outside light was perfect – as though we’d organised its visit for their amusement. 

Ant-ics

The most common insect visitors inside our house are ants – and this is the time of year when they start to become a nuisance, carrying off cat biscuit crumbs that our Birman cat Minstral’s dropped on the floor around his dish, and looking for anything minute and food-like they can find. You can’t fault the work ethic of ants though; shame they can’t paint ceilings . . .

Today, The Boss spotted something rather unusual on the wall by our front terrace. We have no idea what it is, but I grabbed the camera all the same.

Does anyone know what it is?

Answers on a virtual postcard please!

 

Goodbye Jetta

This is the post I didn’t want to write, but it’s now been more than a week since we last saw Jetta – the little black cat who gave birth to two litters of kittens – most of whom have adopted us and our finca as their home.

In autumn 2010 we saw Jetta for the first time, when we arrived home to see a tiny black kitten on our large terrace. It scuttled away into the shrubs and we didn’t see it again for some time. But it wasn’t long before the little black cat was a regular visitor; it spent much of its time at the holiday home finca of some vegetarian friends from Yorkshire. They would treat it to a bowl of leftover vegetarian casserole from time to time – which she evidently demolished happily.

Sometimes the little black cat – we named her Jetta (she was jet black) – came to our finca, where we fed her cat biscuits and made sure there was water available for her. When our friends returned to the UK in February 2011 after their winter break, Jetta realized that her future source of food – other than anything she could catch – would be us.

Eating for a clan

Jetta became a regular visitor, with a voracious appetite. It wasn’t long before we decided we were feeding her too much, because she was becoming rather portly around the middle. It wasn’t long afterwards that we realized that she was pregnant. We’ll never forget March 31st of that year, when this small bewildered cat gave birth. She’d been spending a lot of time in the adjoining abandoned finca and we assumed it was where she’d decided to have her litter.

Pregnant for the first time

Pregnant for the first time

On what turned out to be The Big Day, Jetta was very restless, crying pitifully, and lumbering around the terraces. She seemed to want us to be with her, so we watched, waited, and tried to comfort her. It wasn’t long before she waddled slowly down the field to the next-door finca, stopping every few yards to check that we were with her. As she reached the stone wall, she turned to look at us, as if to say she’d be OK now. She scrambled up over the wall and disappeared to do her duty.

She gave birth to four kittens, although we didn’t see them for a few weeks. One was sadly hit by a car in the lane while still quite young, but Beamer, Dusty, and Bear are all still with us. And – now two years old – have grown to be much larger than their mum.

And again . . .

Jetta – obviously rather liberal with her favours – had her second litter almost indecently soon afterwards: this time there were five kittens – three of which (Chico, Sweetie, and Nibbles) are still regular visitors for food. Once she’d recovered from this pregnancy and had finished feeding her kittens, we took her to be speyed. When we went to collect her after the operation, the vet told us she had been in the early stages of yet another pregnancy. What a hard life for such a young cat.

Enough already!

Despite her young age, Jetta was an excellent mum, and wouldn’t stand any nonsense from her large brood. For a while, she wanted to put some distance between herself and the kittens, choosing to wait for her food at the back door, while the hungry little mouths mewed insistently outside the front door. She’d hiss at them if they tried to approach her, and sometimes give them a little swipe with her paw if they tried to sneak a crafty suckle.

In recent months she’d become more accepting of her family and been a regular visitor, coming twice most days for her food, which she now ate in the company of her family – and the little interloper Shorty, whom she eventually tolerated. Occasionally we’d see her giving one of her brood – all of them larger than her – a quick wash around the ears, or some other area she felt they’d been neglecting.

Happy memories 

Jetta was a good mum, and gave us a lot of pleasure. She’d come to us if we called her and, if she was at the bottom of the field, she’d lope up towards the house, then brush against our legs. She’d have made a lovely domestic pet – although Minstral, our Birman, would have had other ideas!

She’d been such a regular visitor recently – and content to be among her family – that we can only assume that her absence for more than a week is not good news. We’ve seen no sign of her in the lanes, but much of the terrain around here is not accessible as far as mounting a search goes.

We’ll probably never know what has happened to Jetta, but we do know that she had a lot of love in her short life – and has left a legacy of adorable cats who will always remind us of her.

Thank you, Jetta. God bless.

Operation Shorty

No longer like a toy that's lost its stuffing

No longer like a toy that’s lost its stuffing

If you’re a regular reader of Living in Rural Mallorca, you’ll know that we have quite a clan of cats who consider our finca to be their territory – and local restaurant. The latest addition to our cat family joined us in August 2012, making his first mark on our lives by biting The Boss (who subsequently required a hospital visit and a tetanus jab).  Little Shorty was ginger, only a few weeks old, dragging an injured back leg around with him, and so thin that he looked like a soft toy that had lost its stuffing. We had tried to catch the little thing to take it to the vet’s for treatment, but hadn’t expected him to be quite so feisty.

Long story short, Shorty is now a firm fixture in our feline family. He’s wormed his way into the affections (and food bowls) of the other cats – who are all from the same mother. He’s the one who sits closest to the front door when it’s feeding time, and is the last to ‘leave the table’, having cleaned all of the bowls of any crumbs. He is, as the Spanish say about something so cute, a bomboncito.

But Shorty has recently been exhibiting signs of impending manhood: spray-marking, getting a bit aggressive with some of his adopted ‘family’, and yowling for a bit of female action. This week, we decided it was time for him to be neutered. Catching him was easy: Shorty loves a little cuddle in the mornings, so afterwards we scooped him into the travelling cage and took him to our local vet’s.

It’s a snip

He’s the seventh feral cat we’ve had neutered, so we’re rather well known there. It’s a pity they don’t have a loyalty scheme, really. We have huge respect for the whole team there, and everything they’ve done for our adopted and our own cats.  When we moved to Mallorca, bringing our rescue Maine Coon and Birman cats with us, I was concerned that we wouldn’t find the level of expertise and care that we’d experienced at our local practice in the UK. I needn’t have worried: I doubt we’d find better veterinary – or pet owner – treatment anywhere. (When our Maine Coon was diagnosed with lymphoma and had his first session of chemotherapy, the veterinary nurse brought us coffees and a couple of chocolates to sustain us as we sat with him.)

After his post-op recuperation in our annexe bedroom, Shorty is now back to his normal cheeky little ginger self. We have no idea where he came from, but wherever he goes in the future (as much as we’d love him to stay, he’ll probably make his own way in the world one day), he should be safer now that’s he neutered.

Only Chico is left to have his ‘little op’ now. And the most nervous member of our little cat family will certainly be a challenge to catch; pass the falconer’s gauntlets please . . .

The Barefoot Brusher

Good news. Our leaky cisterna has been fixed and we now have water again. It’s not the first time we’ve had to live for a period of time without water on tap, and it may not be the last. But I’m not one to worry too much about what might happen in the future (The Boss does enough for both of us).

Before our builder could assess the exact nature of the problem, the level of the water in the concrete storage tank needed to be substantially reduced, so we were playing a waiting game. As the level went down, the pressure reduced, which meant that the flow of the leak began to slow. We wanted to be sure that we could get through the long Easter holiday before we ran out of water, so we became remarkably stingy with the stuff.

When the builder came to do a thorough inspection of the plastic lining of the tank, he discovered two small tears in the food-grade material. Thankfully, the situation could be sorted with a couple of repairs, rather than a whole new lining.

Wet socks and kidney stones

First, The Boss decided to give the inside – of what’s effectively a large concrete box – a good clean, after disconnecting the pump.  He invested the princely sum of a couple of euros on a soft-bristled broom (so as not to cause further damage to the lining) and, having climbed up a ladder to the top of the cisterna, dropped down into the murky depths – clad in a shirt, summer shorts, and some thick socks. (The latter were ostensibly to keep his feet warm while he bailed out the last few inches of water. Nice theory). Anyway, three days later, I went to see how he was getting on. Only joking, of course, although The Boss did say he felt as though he’d been in there for days.

Mallorca’s water is very hard, and limescale – or cal – is the cause of problems ranging from crusty kettles to kidney stones. The Boss managed to accumulate and remove quite a mound of the stuff, hopefully reducing the potential for any such problems at our finca.

It takes two

The actual repair was unbelievably quick, when two men came to do it the next day: the one who’d drawn the short straw was inside the claustrophobic tank, doing the repair; the other, seemingly, was to keep The Boss engaged in idle conversation. Job done.

Mallorca is a small island. By coincidence, our builder’s brother is the man who owns the water delivery business we use. Not that it did us any good as far as getting a next-day-delivery was concerned. Jaume was fully booked with deliveries. We went to buy some more 8 litre containers of water from the supermarket . . .

STOP PRESS: In the spring issue of Living Spain magazine – now out – you can read my article about our finca life, on the ‘Last Word’ page.