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 . . .
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
A very solid BBQ
A water feature combining polished and unpolished stone
At about this time every year we start the process of getting the terraces of our rural Mallorca finca ready for the warmer months, and our usual alfresco lifestyle. We have three terracotta-tiled terrace areas and, before the outdoor furniture is brought out from its winter storage in our annexe bedroom, these areas have to be cleaned of the muck that accumulates over the winter.
It’s The Boss’s job. He’s the one with a pair of wellies. He’s always tackled this task with vigour, using a large scrubbing brush and hose. I think he’s motivated by the prospect of long balmy evenings on the terrace with a bottle of good Mallorcan red (there are many of them – both wines and long balmy evenings) and something sizzling on the BBQ.
Another ‘boy’s toy’ for the collection
In previous years there have been murmurings about hiring a pressure washer for the job, but it’s never happened. This year he’ll be using one: The Boss is now the owner of a new ‘boy’s toy’ (although as he has pointed out to me, this is not a toy, but a serious tool).
While musing over the possibility of bringing some motorized muscle to this annual spring chore, we found a bargain on promotion at the Hiper DIY store in Manacor: last year’s model with all the spec tech of this year’s – for 150 euros less than the latest model. Who cares if it’s not the latest design? Ker-ching! Sold to The Boss.
Soon the sound of our pressure washer will echo around the valley. Let’s hope it doesn’t frighten the sheep . . .
The weather hasn’t been too cold so far on Mallorca this winter, although February is looming on the horizon and it’s the month that can bring snow and very chilly conditions. Even though the mercury hasn’t plunged too far down yet, we’ve kept our Jotul wood-burning stove going 24/7 since some time in November. The Boss likes to “keep the walls warm”. We’ve been quite warm too (and there were winters here when I thought I’d never say that).
In previous winters we’ve had to perform the routine task of cleaning out the stove pipe about once a month. It’s a tedious task – and a very messy one. We have to let the fire go out, then remove the metal pipe connecting the stove with the chimney entry point, and then clean out all the black gunk that’s accumulated inside, before putting the whole thing back together.
Making a Pass or Two
Did I say ‘we’? Tut, tut. It’s actually The Boss who does the lion’s share of this cleaning job. He’s the one up the ladder cleaning the chimney access and taking the pipe outside to clean it out. I just stand at the foot of the ladder passing him the necessary implements, like a surgeon’s assistant: “bucket”, “large metal pokey thing” (I’ve no idea what it used to be), “small metal pokey thing” (ditto), and “mirror” (so he can see up into the chimney). The whole job takes about an hour – time we could certainly use more enjoyably.
This winter The Boss gave the stove pipe and chimney a very thorough clean before lighting it for the first time. And, unlike previous years, we haven’t had to clean it again until today. The stove has a way of letting us know when it’s necessary – and it usually involves stinky smoke filling the room. It was today. Job now done.
We can only conclude that we’ve been buying cleaner-burning wood since we changed our supplier to one in Porreres. We also get more for our money there. And that’s always a burning issue.
We currently have two poorly pusscats: Sweetie and her big brother Beamer (who only recently had the ordeal of being tied up somewhere by someone, until he escaped – twine still tightly around his neck – and came home). They’ve picked up a virus which has left them with a nasty case of the trots. They’re temporarily indoor cats – about which they’re not too thrilled – in quarantine in our annexe, in separate cages. Still, they’re happier there than during the car journeys to the vet’s in recent days . . .
For the time being, we’re having to medicate them twice daily, give them a special diet (and lots of extra TLC), and clean out their cages several times a day. Thank heavens for disposable gloves and antibacterial spray. And Betadine, for all the scratches we’ve sustained to exposed bodily parts during attempts to pop pills and administer their liquid medicine. The latter smells of oranges and lemons (not favourites on the feline menu) and obviously tastes vile, as it makes the cats foam at the mouth.
A Home for Hens?
With our sick cat care duties currently consuming a surprising amount of our time, it doesn’t seem appropriate to broach the subject of keeping more animals. Since we moved to rural Mallorca nearly ten years ago, I’ve had a hankering for hens. We have plenty of land where we could let them run free, and I’m sure The Boss could knock up a suitable hen house in a spare few hours; for an ex-banker he can turn his hand to a very impressive variety of DIY tasks.
But as much as I’d love to be able to collect fresh eggs from our own free-ranging chickens, I think we’re probably stretched to our animal-keeping limit – certainly when it comes to veterinary expenses. Besides, with seven feline adoptees stalking about the place, our finca in Mallorca could be a dangerous place for a feathered flock. I recently learnt that one of the collective nouns for cats is a glaring – and I can just imagine that’s what seven pairs of eyes would be doing if we had chickens strutting around the field!
So, I’ve no need to learn the art of chicken-keeping. I’ll just stick to chickens as art – the only hens likely to call our finca home.
Our concrete water storage tank – or depósito – has a new metal lid. The previous one was rather ancient and the metal around the edge was literally fraying. It had become so ill-fitting that it recently fell down into the water tank itself, and the sharp edges pierced the plastic lining. Yes, more expense, for a repair.
A new lid was required and we headed to a small metalworking firm we’ve used before in Manacor. It’s not exactly on the beaten track, this place, but it always seems to be busy – which, in our books, is a good sign. The company delivered our new galvanized steel lid and frame last month. It’s been so well made that it’s a shame that only The Boss, Jaume the water delivery man, and birds passing overhead will ever get to cast their eyes on its artisan workmanship.
A job with a view
The unusually wet November meant that The Boss wasn’t able to cement the new lid into place but, on Sunday, he set about the task with zeal. This was one job he was more than ready to cross off his ‘to do’ list; when the colder weather comes, standing on the top of our water tank – exposed to the north wind whipping up our valley – is not the place to while away any amount of time.
“It’s like being on the roof of the world up there,” he said, when he popped back to the house for our mid-morning caffeine fix. The view is pretty amazing, stretching right across the valley.
While he was working, The Boss had heard the sound of a vehicle slowing and stopping in the lane, by the holm oak tree at the corner of our land. It’s not a place you’d expect anyone to stop and, last time it had happened, we’d later found a tiny ginger kitten that had been dumped, so The Boss went to investigate. This vehicle was an elderly battered white furgoneta (van) with a Madrid registration, but there wasn’t a sign of the driver. A few minutes later, a short Moroccan man with a weathered face emerged like Indiana Jones from the dense forest of wild olive and mastic – to find The Boss waiting for an explanation as to why he was wandering around our land.
Man on a mission
The stranger said he was a qualified builder but couldn’t find a job, so had been reduced to driving around the countryside searching for scrap metal and other junk that he could sell. He told The Boss that an area of our land (almost inaccessible on foot to all but the determined, or desperate) had been a popular fly-tipping spot for years, although sadly – but only from his point of view – it seemed to have lost its appeal.
When we first moved here we realized that people had been stopping in the lane and hefting anything from old tyres to empty bottles into the undergrowth below. To this day, there are some old tyres in a particularly inaccessible location, in the deepest part of our small-valley-within-the-larger-valley. We even once saw something down there that resembled some unwanted sheep shearings in an old sack. Fortunately, since we’ve been in residence, fewer people are using our land as their dumping ground of choice, but fly-tipping in general is still a problem – and one that’s guaranteed to raise my hackles. There are plenty of places these days for the legitimate disposal of rubbish, so there’s really no excuse for littering the countryside of this beautiful island of Mallorca.
On that particular Sunday, pickings had been slim for the foraging Moroccan, but we had some rubbish of our own for disposal. The Boss suggested that it would be a good idea in future to ask permission before venturing forth onto other people’s property, then, indicating the old metal storage tank lid, asked him in Spanish “Is this any good to you?”
Despite the poor state of the redundant lid, the man’s leathery face pleated into a toothy grin. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure – although I doubt he’d have made enough money selling that old thing to cover the cost of the fuel used for his foray into the countryside.
The Boss is a list-maker. And The Big List is the one detailing all the jobs (large and small) that need to be done at our finca in rural Mallorca. I think he started it before we even moved to Mallorca, and it’s been ongoing ever since. While recovering from his recent surgery, he sat down to do a full review and update of the list, adding lots of new jobs. If I had a list of my own outstanding jobs I’d be completely overwhelmed, but The Boss seems to thrive on having this list to spur him on. Must be the Virgo in him.
Rain, rain, go away . . .
Since being ‘fit for purpose'(!) again, he’s worked very hard, striking through completed jobs on his handwritten list with pleasure and satisfaction. But progress has recently ground to a halt: unusually, it’s been raining almost solidly here on Mallorca for the past week and all the outdoor jobs on the list (some of which I was going to be helping with) have been out of the question. Our plans to paint the persianas (our wooden shutters) on the north-facing side of the house have been scuppered by the wet weather. It’ll probably be spring before they dry out enough to re-paint.
The weather’s been so bad that we have barely been outside and that’s sharply brought into focus what we love about living in rural Mallorca: being outdoors and surrounded by nature. And, although we could dress ourselves appropriately for the weather and go out, the indoor jobs are looking much more appealing. Currently, it’s an audit of the light bulbs in the house . . .
An operation stopped work. The Boss went into the Juaneda Clinic in Palma to have his innards re-arranged, after sustaining a hernia while doing a previous DIY job. Yes, DIY can be hazardous to one’s health.
The patient has made an excellent recovery, partly because he didn’t have to have a full anaesthetic. He was given an epidural, which I must confess I thought was something given only to women in labour. He still seems reluctant to talk about the experience of being aware of what was happening in the operating theatre. Which is fine by me; I’m not sure I want the gory details!
The Boss had made sufficient progress by this week to get ‘the itch’ to finish the path. Agreeing that he wouldn’t risk straining anything, we set about the task – with me once again wielding the shovel to lay the gravel. So many calories burned . . .
Another project finished. So what’s next?
The path is now finished and we’re very pleased with the new look. We’re not so pleased – nor surprised – to have already had to remove the odd weed popping up through the stones covering the weed-resistant membrane. Is this a battle that can’t be won?
Several years ago we decided that we would change the handles on some of the doors to our little house in rural Mallorca. The existing chrome-finished ones were showing signs of age and – the exterior ones – the impact from the climate. But after looking around all the ferreterías in Manacor, we concluded that this particular home improvement would be rather expensive. Idea abandoned.
A ferretería, I should explain, is a hardware or ironmonger’s store. We spent many hours in such shops during our early time on Mallorca when there were plenty of jobs to be done around the house. The Boss still enjoys a potter around such establishments just in case he sees something that may be useful in one of his frequent DIY jobs.
The arrival of large DIY stores on the island (mainly in Palma) has had an impact on the small local shops selling hardware; some of the ferreterías we used to visit have closed down, no longer able to compete with ‘the big boys’. But we still frequent these little treasure troves when we need something we think we’ll find locally.
Get a Handle on This
Earlier this year, one of the chrome door handles broke. It was on the inner door to the annexe guest room, which we don’t use very often; we used a spanner to manoeuvre the lock when we wanted to get into the room. A bit Heath Robinson, but it was OK for a while. But with my uncle due to come and stay in the room in May, we knew we’d have to start thinking about new door handles.
During a visit to Sa Pobla (an area known for the cultivation of potatoes and onions) we spotted some rather attractive door handles in a ferretería window. We went in to the tiny shop – crammed with everything from rubber gloves to power drills – to ask the price. The handles seemed to be good quality but were a fraction of the price of others we’d seen in Manacor. Sold: one set of door handles. The guest room door situation was finally resolved.
A Matter of Trust
We were so pleased with the handles that on our next visit to Sa Pobla we called in at the shop again. Yes, they had another five sets in stock. But the in-shop machine they use to cut the keyhole in the appropriate place was broken. It was agreed that they’d reserve the handles for us and phone us when the machine was fixed. We offered to pay a deposit, but this suggestion was dismissed with a wave of an arm.
A week later we had the call to say the machine was fixed and The Boss jumped into the car and headed off. He arrived at the shop to find that the keyholes had already been cut, even though we hadn’t paid for the handles in advance. No waiting around while the holes were cut; all he had to do was pay for them.
I can’t imagine that would have happened at one of the big DIY chains. And that’s why we think it’s important to support ‘the small guys’.
For two people who don’t have a bulging bank account, we’ve done rather well recently as far as eating Michelin-starred cuisine goes: The Boss and I were invited to the 3rd Safari Culinario at the St Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort.
The latter was foodie heaven: of the eight talented chefs (six of whom had flown in from Germany) who prepared the evening’s spectacular dishes, five are recognized for their Michelin-starred food. It was an amazing event that should be on the bucket list of any serious gourmet.
Eight chefs, one exceptional dinner, no power cut. L-R: Martin Fauster, Otto Koch, Christian Juergens, Thomas Kammeier, Thomas Kahl (Es Fum, Mallorca), Marc Fosh (Simply Fosh, Palma de Mallorca), Eckart Witzigmann, and Iker Gonzalez
But none of these culinary superstars offered what could have been the world’s most expensive soup. I’d already made that, back in the spring . . .
A Chilly May
Every May my father and his brother (my Uncle Ray) come to stay at our finca for the first of the two holidays a year that they have with us in rural Mallorca. But this year’s spring holiday was rather different to ones they’ve previously had: it was the coldest May here (and in other parts of Spain) since 1985.
Usually, they’d spend quite a bit of time relaxing in the steamer chairs on the terrace, soaking up some vitamin D (well they do live in England, where sunshine has become a bit of a rare commodity). Ray – who tans easily – would normally remove as many clothes as he could (within the bounds of decency) to build up that enviable just-back-from-holiday golden glow. But not this year. Over the eight days they were here, only one day was warm enough to relax outdoors. Sweaters and long trousers were pressed into service, and much time was spent indoors reading, listening to music, and chatting.
One day was particularly bad. A howling north wind, rain lashing down the windows and a top temperature of 13 degrees Celsius (we’ve had it warmer in January!) confined us to the house. When the ever-optimistic Ray (“It looks like the sun’s trying to get through”) gave up dreaming of a tan that holiday, I knew desperate measures were called for.
In the Soup
I would make carrot and cumin soup for lunch – soup being a wonderful comfort food. A delicious aroma was soon wafting through the house. At the appropriate moment, I poured the hot soup into our Kitchen Aid blender (recently back from Palma where it had been in for repair) and pressed the button to set the blitzing in motion. Or not. The instant I switched the thing on, the entire electricity system died.
Long story short, our dependable electrician came out on an emergency visit and returned later that afternoon when he’d been able to find the required new part for the fuse box. A rather complicated and expensive part that cost more than 300 euros.