In Hot Water? Not at our Mallorcan Finca

The English idiom ‘to be in hot water’ currently applies to several people in trouble for their actions. Think UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Duke of York, and tennis player Novak Djokovic.

I wish we were in hot water – but in a different way. You see, we’ve had no hot water in the kitchen or guest bathroom for a while. Before your nostrils wrinkle and you take one step back, I should add that our shower room has a separate water heater. Personal ablutions have continued in comfort.

The Sunday before Christmas, we had a Big Problem. Water was gushing out of the butane-powered water heater at one end of the house. After a couple of minutes of frozen panic, we switched off the mains water supply and eventually the gush became a dribble, and then drips.

Call the Plumber

Water-related incidents have not been uncommon at our finca. We found a brilliant plumber almost immediately we moved here. He’d been our ‘man who can’ ever since. Until he recently retired. It was unthinkable that friendly Sito wouldn’t be arriving with his bag of plumbing tricks to solve the water-pump problem we had in October. He did, however, suggest another plumber – who did a good job.

As the household’s only user of WhatsApp, it fell to me to contact Señor Fontanero about this latest plumbing nightmare. I tapped out a short message to him, apologising for disturbing him on a Sunday and giving a brief explanation of the problem. My hope was that he’d turn up on Monday morning. Even Tuesday. I didn’t expect him to reply to my message on a Sunday – and he didn’t. But he did turn up at the house within the hour. How impressive was that? What he did enabled us to have cold water at least.

Eating Out is the New Washing Up

We are still, however, waiting for him to supply and install a replacement water-heater. Which means we have had only cold water in the kitchen and guest bathroom for almost a month. Our plans to invite a friend to stay over for a night or two are on hold: he may be Dutch but he’s not Wim Hof!

It’s fortunate we have a dishwasher – albeit a small, counter-top model. But we still had to wash big pots and pans by hand, which meant boiling the kettle to fill the washing-up bowl. I must say The Boss has been remarkably tolerant about fulfilling his washing-up duties without the aid of piping-hot water from the tap. Although, come to think of it, he has suggested eating out more frequently than usual.

It seems that all plumbers are extremely busy and have more work than they can shake a pipe wrench at. If you’re ever thinking about a career change, becoming a plumber could be a lucrative choice.

Anyone have a spare copy of Plumbing for Dummies?

©Jan Edwards 2021

This December in Mallorca: Colder than Usual

Is it me – or has this month flown by? It’s been a colder than usual December here in Mallorca, after a very wet November.

December has certainly been a challenging month. We were unable to use our Jotul log burner for about five increasingly cold days, because of a problem with the insulation at the top of the stovepipe, where it goes into the wall. Our plan was to get some techie wizard in from the store where we bought the stove back in the day.

Sadly (for us), the store is so busy installing new stoves (I told you it was cold this December), they couldn’t send anyone out to us for five weeks. Five weeks! So we bought some insulation material, and The Boss brought the ladder into the house to do the job himself. He managed to sort out the problem before coming back down the ladder like Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins – but without the dodgy Cockney accent. Result.

The Builders are in …

‘Builders? Just before Christmas?’ I can almost hear someone saying that to us. Yes, we do have builders in. Although when I say in, I don’t mean working inside the house. That would be crazy so close to Christmas.

Builders working on beams
Beam ’em up!

In fact the two outside jobs concerned have been on the cards for many months but, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, had to be put on hold.

The covered terrace outside our annexe guest suite has beams holding up the roof. And two of the beams were rotten. Replacing them without having the whole roof collapse was clearly a job for professionals. Otherwise, it had the potential of being like a horizontal version of Jenga.

Our builders, Handy Hands*, removed the rotten beams (and thoughtfully cut them up so we could use them as firewood), replaced them with new beams, and sanded and treated all the others. A job well done.

Step This Way

Access to the lid of our water tank – cisterna – has been by ladder ever since we bought the finca. The Boss takes a stepladder to climb up to the tank each week to measure the remaining amount of water. The ladder is far from steady, standing on the uneven ground next to the tank. When Jaume delivers our water supply by tanker, we leave him the ladder so he can also climb up, dragging his giant hose with him.

As none of us is getting any fitter, there had to be a safer way. It’s in the form of a small flight of steps (and handrail) adjoining the tank. Handy Hands finished this important addition to our finca this afternoon. What a fantastic job.

It’ll be better for The Boss and for me (I do have a bad rep with ladders), but we’re happy for Jaume to think of that short flight of steps as his Christmas gift from us …

  • We are happy to recommend Handy Hands; contact them via their Facebook page.

Have a Merry One

Our tree December 2021

Covid is again impacting on Christmas in various ways (depending on where you are) but, in spite of the challenges we all face, The Boss and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a much improved New Year. Think positive and stay safe. As they say here, Feliz Navidad or Feliç Nadal.

©Jan Edwards 2021

How to Stop Painting Mallorcan Shutters

Persianas are the slatted shutters gracing the windows (and sometimes doors) of most traditional houses in Mallorca. They do an excellent job of shading the interior from the hot summer sun. If the windows are open (most open inwards here), the slats allow air into the house.

The old … minus a few slats

Visit any town or village in Mallorca and you could think many of the properties are uninhabited. People mostly leave their shutters closed on the street-facing side of their homes for privacy. Walk past though and you may smell drifting aromas of cooking and hear animated conversation or one of those melodramatic Spanish soaps blasting from the TV within.

On very wet days – believe me, we’ve had a lot of those this November – we leave our persianas closed. This protects our old doors and window frames from the worst of the rain. On these days, we feel like moles living without natural light. So it’s a relief after the rain to open the shutters and emerge blinking into the daylight.

Painting … with Treacle?

Persianas are usually made of painted or varnished wood; brown and green are probably the most popular paint colours in rural properties, blending with the natural environment. But the extremes of summer heat and winter damp (it’s not shorts and T’s year-round in Mallorca) take their toll. And that means periodic maintenance.

It didn’t take too much paintbrush-wielding for us to decide there had to be a better way. We painted ours in warm weather and the brown paint soon resembled treacle. More of it stayed on our brushes than was transferred to the prepared shutters. My clagged-up brush head was almost the size of my own head by the time I’d finished the shutter I was working on.

A Worthwhile Investment

Our alternative came in the form of aluminium shutters. The shutters at the front of our house are subject to the most sun damage. Some of the slats were loose or had already fallen out, so time was of the essence. We replaced those first, opting for brown, wood-effect aluminium shutters from Can Tovell in Manacor.

Replacing the rest of the old wooden shutters has been on a need-to-do-it-before-they-fall-apart basis. The price of aluminium has soared, which means the price of shutters has too. Sadly, not our income. Becoming a published author has not changed my life financially! Or any other way, except that there’s one more book to dust on the shelf.

We had two more sets of French window shutters replaced in the summer and any day now the last two wooden ones will be consigned to history. Shutter-painting is a thing of the past. Sadly painting ceilings isn’t …

©Jan Edwards 2021

Finding Supplies on Mallorca for DIY Projects

Who goes shopping for DIY or building materials at 7am? We certainly don’t but, at that early hour last Wednesday, Mallorca’s newest DIY superstore BricoMart opened its doors on a new polígono, or industrial estate, just outside Palma. Needless to say, we were not there, wearing our jim-jams, clamouring for a bargain bag of mortar or rawlplugs in rainbow colours.

The Rise of the Big Boys

IMG_4264[1]

For weeks now, BricoMart’s billboard advertising campaign around the island had been sounding what’s probably the death knell for a few more of Mallorca’s traditional ferreterías – the family-run hardware/ironmonger stores we frequently had to visit for materials during the early days of doing up our finca home. How can these small but useful shops compete with the big boys? In and around Palma, we now have BricoMart, Brico Depot, Bauhaus, and two branches of Leroy Merlin. We have concluded that Mallorca’s inhabitants have become DIY-dotty.

Ferreting in a Ferretería

When we moved here in 2004 there was no shortage of ferreterías in our nearest town, Manacor. Some were tidy, with everything clearly visible and displayed in a logical fashion. In others, we had to ask for what we wanted and the shop assistant would nod sagely, disappear somewhere to the rear of the premises to ferret around for a bit (which is not why these shops are called ferreterías), and reappear brandishing the requested item.  These were the places where you could tap into the shop assistant’s years of experience and, if the requested item was unavailable, he (it was invariably a male) would suggest a suitable alternative. If none of these useful shops could supply what we wanted, there was always the option of Palma’s two Leroy Merlin stores – the nearest equivalent to the UK’s Homebase stores.

Many of these small local shops have since closed – some undoubtedly because of the competition from larger stores. In Manacor, the first real competition was probably Hiper’s bricolaje. One place run by two brothers – a multi-floored emporium in the heart of town – closed down several years ago when the next generation of the family decided in favour of university and a more lucrative career than running a shop. Back in the days of shopping there, we would inevitably come home with a small gift, as well as the item we’d gone to buy. (This – like the bowl of free sweets on the counter for customers to dip into – was a common practice in local independent shops, but ended when the recession hit).

Service Wins

Locally we still favour a particular ferretería in Manacor. It’s been there for years and so, probably, has most of the stock. But this family-run place understands personal service and that sometimes a customer needs only half-a-dozen screws, rather than a jumbo pack of 200. We go here for the friendly service, a bit of a natter (the owner does enjoy putting the world to rights), and because if those long-cluttered dusty shelves at the back can’t yield what we want, they’ll order it for us. And because, at 7am, they – like us – are not yet ready to start the day’s business.

 

Jan Edwards Copyright 2016

Shady experiences in rural Mallorca – part 2

Parasol or gazebo? We needed some shade from the sun on our rural Mallorcan finca terraces, but the parasols we’d had in the past hadn’t proved man enough to withstand the odd tornado or unexpected strong gusts that occasionally rip through our valley.

Finca Son Jorbo

Pretty gazebo on the terrace of Finca Jorbo’s Rosa apartment.

Gazebo then. We saw quite a few variations on the gazebo theme. Some were very attractive – like this one at Finca Son Jorbo in Porreres, where we recently stayed for a night’s B&B (much-needed respite after visitors). But none looked as though they’d survive on any of our exposed terraces.

The sunshade solution for us

In 2011, we found just the thing in Palma’s Leroy Merlin, one of those large out-of-town stores that we’re not that keen on, but sometimes resort to when all else local fails. Although the store didn’t have anything sturdy on display or in stock, by chance we spotted just the thing in a Leroy Merlin catalogue that was on display. It was billed as a Pergola Tenerife and had to be bolted to the ground. Well, that had to be strong, didn’t it?

We ordered our first one (for our small back terrace, most battered by the wind) and waited for Leroy Merlin to order and deliver it. It arrived in two huge packages: one for the framework, the other containing the actual canopy part. Did I mention how heavy the frame was? Being early in the season (we were planning ahead for the summer), there were no strong part-time neighbours around in their holiday homes to lend The Boss a hand. I ate a huge plate of spinach for breakfast, flexed my biceps, and went to his aid.

Erecting the thing was an interesting experience. Once The Boss had bolted the two side columns onto the terrace tiles, the heavy top bar had to be hoisted up and fixed across the top of them. Ladders (wobbly, one at each end), language (fruity), and luck (we didn’t drop it) were all part of the process. It was hard work, but worth it. So much so, we bought another one for the front terrace the following year and put ourselves through the whole process again.

The winds won …

Although the metal frame has (so far) proved invincible, the fabric coverings themselves had become very tatty by the end of last year; yes, the strong winds again. This spring we found a local company to make some stronger (we hope) replacement toldos. It took weeks to get a quote for the work and several more for the new ones to be manufactured and installed, but they finally arrived … after our first two lots of visitors had been and gone home again.

Installing the new covers

Installing the new covers

It’s been 35 degrees in the shade today. Phew. Perhaps what we should have bought was one of those canopies (seen on a few cafe terraces) incorporating a system that regularly squirts a fine cool mist over those beneath it. Having spent a small fortune on two new toldos, we’ll have to be satisfied with a session with the garden hose …

Terrace pergola

Shade at last …

 

 

 

Things That Go Crash in the Night

Our home in rural Mallorca is peaceful. Very peaceful. A few cars and agricultural vehicles pass our place during the day. And the sheep in the field across the road can be very noisy – the old bells around their necks clunking as they bend their heads to rip up something vaguely edible from the ground.

By night though, there’s little to hear bar the occasional stone curlew flying over or the yowling of a minor cat spat (considering that eight of them live on our Mallorcan finca, this is surprisingly quite rare). Any loud noises come as quite a shock.

A Rude Awakening

This was the case last night. We’d not been in bed long, but The Boss was already asleep. I was still awake, thinking about my brother’s imminent visit, when it happened. A HUGE crash – right outside our bedroom window (our home is just one storey). Exceptionally heavy rain had been pounding on the roof earlier and I voiced my fear that a whole load of tiles had fallen off in the force of the water.

“It wasn’t that loud,” said The Boss, rudely awakened. But then, he had been asleep when it happened. I had experienced the full audio impact. Nothing would have surprised me after that. We peered out of the window with a torch: perhaps it was the old cart, covered in bougainvillea, finally collapsing from old age? No.

Curiosity got the better of us, so we went outside to investigate. The relatively new roof was still intact. But a big section of the old traditional terracotta guttering had fallen off the wall and shattered into numerous pieces. One of the gutter supports had given way – perhaps because of the volume of water or, simply, because it was very old. Anyway, we returned to bed – at least knowing the cause of the noise and that there was a mess to clean up this morning.

The extent of the damage.

The extent of the damage

Time to clear the mess . . .

Time to clear the mess . . .

Terracotta or Zinc?

This won’t be a repair job for The Boss’s list. We’ll be calling in Joan, owner of the construction company we’ve used numerous times (they should be giving us frequent-user discounts really).

What we do to remedy the situation will depend on the cost. Ideally – for aesthetic and traditional reasons – we’d replace the part with more terracotta guttering. But the rest of it is also old and the same thing could happen elsewhere along the front of the house. The alternative would be to replace the whole lot with terracotta, or with zinc. Either way is likely to be quite costly.

Sadly, aesthetics may have to lose out to economics . . .

Jan Edwards Copyright2015 

Another Job for our Mallorcan Plumber

If you’re going to live on Mallorca, it pays to have a good relationship with a plumber. Over the years we have been here we have spent a lot of money at our local plumbers. During our early time here it seemed that almost every problem we had with the house was water-related.

Cito and his team have come to our rescue many times. He’s had a few good plumbers (and electricians – as his company Ca’n Pedro does both) working for him over that time: Miquel Angel – who once found The Boss prone on the dining room floor with blood pouring from his head after his accident with the low lintel over the front door; Pep – who accidentally put a pickaxe through the cold-water pipe while trying to locate a burst hot-water pipe under our tiled shower room floor, and Rubens (also an electrician), who rescued us when a burst of my KitchenAid blender (I was making soup at the time) caused the whole electricity system to go phut.

Cito seems to be winding down his business a bit – perhaps with an eye to his future retirement – and today it’s Cito himself who’s working at the house, aided by his son-in-law. Yes, another water-related problem at the finca!

Who Needs Hot Water?

Our house has two gas-powered acumuladores (water heater/storage units): one serving our shower room and annexe guest room; the other for the kitchen and our main guest bathroom. Naturally, the latter gets the most use; we had to replace it with a new one quite a few years ago.

The other one has quietly done its job over the years but, a week or two ago, after The Boss had attached a new gas bottle, the thing wouldn’t re-light. As it happens, the lack of hot water isn’t a problem at this time of year. Our water supply comes to the house from our water storage tank in overground pipes and the cold water has been arriving hot in our taps for several weeks, as a result of the summer heat. What should have been hot water in the heater unit was cold. Problem temporarily solved: we’d use the cold tap for hot water, and the hot, for cold!

Gas water heater and storage unit

Our acumulador had lost its looks as well as its functionality!

Cito to the Rescue

Cito came out to inspect the water heater, and removed a sorry-looking part. He came back to us later with the news that a replacement part would cost a couple of hundred euros. As that water heater is at least 13 years old – we’ve never replaced it since we bought the place in 2002 – it made more economic sense to buy a new water heater.

Today it’s been fitted in the small cubby hole housing the water unit.  There was a slightly worrying moment when Cito announced that the door wasn’t wide enough to remove the old unit (The Boss had modified the entrance to the room and hand-built a new wooden door and frame a while ago).  For a horrible few minutes we imagined having to undo The Boss’s painstaking work, but Cito somehow found a non-destructive solution, and the job has just been completed.

Now we have hot water from the hot taps again. And, while the summer continues, also from the cold taps.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

An Unusual Tree on Mallorca?

The Boss and I went to visit a finca last week that some new English friends (made as a result of this blog) have bought for their future move to the Mallorcan countryside.

They have a lot of work to be done first: the property is a ‘doer-upper’ and as we walked through the house with them, they told us the plans for each room. It will be amazing when it’s finished. This couple has apparently done up several properties during their married life, and we could tell they really enjoy doing projects like this. Not everyone relishes such an undertaking – and you can probably put The Boss and me in that category.

No Hard-hat Home for Us

When we came out to look at properties on Mallorca – which we did in a 4-day breathless, whirlwind tour of the island with various estate agents – we were quite specific about our requirements. We didn’t want to live on a construction site, but were prepared to do some cosmetic stuff to our new home (although it turned out to be a bit more than that).

Despite having emphasised that we didn’t want to have to do a lot of renovation work, several estate agents took us to see quite a few properties that were in need of serious labour. One German real estate agent came accompanied by a builder and a finance-arranger (travelling in a separate beefy 4-wheel drive vehicle), just in case we suddenly succumbed to one of these long-neglected properties they were clearly having trouble selling. No chance – despite what turned out to be intimidation tactics.

Identi-tree?

I’ve digressed slightly. Our friends’ new home-to-be is blessed with a garden full of trees – one of which neither they nor we could identify.

 

Can anyone identify this tree?

Can anyone identify this tree?

 

Jan Edwards Copyright 2015

 

Solar-powered water features not on tap on Mallorca

When we moved to rural Mallorca a decade ago (was it really as long ago as that?), solar panels weren’t a very common sight. Now, there are solar ‘farms’ all over the island – huge banks of panels basking in the Mediterranean sunshine. Our nearest used to be a quarry. We’re much happier with the solar ‘farm’, as it means no more heavy lorries thundering along the main road.

Solar makes sense – we enjoy around 300 days of sunshine a year on Mallorca. But can we find a solar-powered water feature for the garden? No. We have a small corner of our dining terrace that would be the perfect home for something small and tasteful, that would enable us to enjoy the cooling sound of trickling water on a balmy evening.

It’s easy to find these things in the UK – even though our motherland doesn’t enjoy anything like the amount of sunshine we have here on the island. I’ve found websites galore, with water features to suit every taste (including lack of any) and budget. But none ships outside the UK. I’ve looked on Spanish websites too and have not yet found anything.

So far, our search of garden centres and DIY places on Mallorca has been fruitless. One friend suggested that perhaps we could buy a solar pump (easier to source) and design/make our own. I’m sure The Boss is more than capable of doing this, but he has enough to do around the place without another job for the list.

We’ll keep searching, but it looks as though this will be our only water feature this summer . . .

Not quite what I had in mind . . .

Not quite what I had in mind . . .

 

 

Things You Can Make from Mallorcan Stone

Our garden in rural Mallorca is filled with rocks and stones. If we wanted to build a wall or stone garden feature, the raw materials are there, just waiting to be plucked (although that does make the task sound easier than it is) and used in a creative way. We even know of someone who bought some land and built a whole house from the stones on the property!

Stone buildings and walls are found all over rural Mallorca and are evidence of the artisan skills of those who take this raw material and turn it into functional and beautiful things. But it’s not just buildings and walls that are created from the various types of stone that are found on the island: the town of Binissalem – at the heart of one of Mallorca’s two important DO wine production areas – is also an important centre for the craft of creating objects from stone.

A Show in Stone

We visited Binissalem yesterday for the first day of this weekend’s Fira de la Pedra y l’Artesania – where we saw numerous examples of what can be done with the island’s natural material, when you know what you’re doing with a chisel – and probably a few other tools. When we attend local artisan fairs we quite often buy something small to take home, as we like to support the local economy and particularly those people who are keeping traditional skills alive. Sadly even the smaller items here were a bit too heavy to carry back to the car (on the outskirts of the town), but we came away with lots of business cards … and some photos. To inspire The Boss.

Statue in front of the church in Binissalem.

Statue in front of the church in Binissalem

A very solid BBQ

A very solid BBQ

A water feature combining polished and unpolished stone.

A water feature combining polished and unpolished stone

 

Washbasins and a shower tray with style!

Washbasins and a shower tray with style!

 

Jan Edwards Copyright 2014