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

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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.

 

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 . . .

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.

Knowing that some of you are quite knowledgeable about matters horticultural, I’m posting a picture of this full-size tree, with its unusual blooms.

Any idea what it is please?

Can anyone identify this tree?

Can anyone identify this tree?

 

 

 

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 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!