No tea or coffee for Mallorcan tradesmen

You’d have to be very handy at DIY never to need a tradesman of some sort on Mallorca. Although The Boss has surprised me many times by his ability to turn his former-office-worker’s hands to a variety of tasks around our country finca, we’ve had our share of visits from plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and various ‘técnicos’ coming to install or fix things. And, in case you’re thinking I’m being sexist here, not one of these workers has ever been a woman.

We’ve noticed one major difference between workmen on Mallorca here and those in the UK: the locals don’t seem to need to be fuelled by hot drinks to get going.

I’d opt for the coffee if I were you

When I lived in the UK, I always offered any visiting tradesman a tea or coffee. Nobody ever refused, although those spending any length of time in the property rarely wanted a second mug of my tea; someone once told me I was the only person they knew who was capable of making grey tea. And it wasn’t Earl Grey!

My first memory of a hot-drink-fuelled tradesman was Bob, who – on several occasions – laid carpet or flooring in my home. The first time I opened the door to him, he said good morning and, before he’d even stepped over the threshold, asked: “What comes from Brazil?” Slightly taken aback by this strange question, I mulled for a moment: “Coffee?” “Thanks,” said Bob. “Milk and three sugars please.”  Our Bob turned out to be a constant joker, as well as an excellent carpet fitter.

A painter and decorator called Alan used to do a few jobs for me. He was a salt-of-the-earth character, good at his job (he loved decorating), and was super-trustworthy. Hearing his three-wheeled Reliant Robin roaring up the lane was my cue to switch on the kettle. Although I don’t drink tea (see above for the reason), I always had a large box of tea bags in the cupboard when Alan was due to start a decorating project. I’d make him the first one of the day and (for the aforementioned reason) he was happy to put the kettle on and make any subsequent cuppas he wanted. In volume terms he probably shifted more tea than emulsion.

Beware the Brits and their brews

It’s different here on Mallorca: we always ask tradesmen if they’d like a tea or coffee during their visit. And, without fail over the years, every single one has declined our offer. Could it be because they fear that Brits are going to serve revoltingly weak instant coffee, instead of the gutsy brew they’re more accustomed to in Spain?  Or perhaps my reputation for making barely drinkable tea has spread…

©Jan Edwards 2017

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.

 

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 . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life behind bars in Mallorca!

No, The Boss and I are not currently residing at His Majesty’s pleasure in what some people dub ‘the Palma Hilton’. (That nickname for the island’s prison must really annoy Mallorca’s real Hilton hotel, Sa Torre Hilton near Llucmajor). Neither am I pouring foaming pints of beer for British holidaymakers in a lively Magaluf bar. I’m referring to the iron window bars, known in Spanish as rejas.

They’re a common sight at the windows of houses in Spain and something that made an impression on me when I  saw them, quite a long time ago, during my first visit to the country that is now my home. At the time I thought it would be horrible to live with bars at the windows, but I’ve now become so used to these things that I now couldn’t imagine not having them. Presumably many others feel the same as these traditional features are still incorporated into many new properties.

Keeping some out . . . others in

They are first and foremost a security feature, enabling windows to be left open for fresh air, with a degree of protection from anyone who may wish to enter the house without an invitation. They also help prevent unsupervised young children from falling out of a window (or teenagers from doing an unauthorised late-night exit through their bedroom window to meet friends!).

At one time, of course, many houses wouldn’t have had windows fitted with glass (which is still quite expensive on the island), so bars in the window space would have been essential as a security measure. We saw an example of this once when we stayed for a night in a townhouse in Pollensa: our bedroom window in this charming old property had shutters, but no glass! Thankfully it was a warm(ish) night . . .

Another maintenance job for the property owner

The downside of these things is that they do need to be painted from time to time to keep them looking good. And it’s a very fiddly job (and one that’s often bumped down the ‘to do’ list in our house as a result).  The upside – apart from the security benefits – is that property insurance companies may give a discount on premiums if bars are fitted.

For our cats too, there seems to be a feeling of safety sleeping behind the bars. Pip certainly seems to take advantage of a ‘protected’ place to snooze away the daylight hours. Her favourite window – the smallest in the house – is in our small guest suite. She’s actually the only one of our cats that can fit into it. No need for a ‘do not disturb’ sign here . . . unless I’m around with my Nikon.These bars are very good for resting one's feet on . . .

These bars are very good for resting one’s feet on . . .

Solar panels get their summer spruce-up

We’re great fans of our solar-powered electricity system. We can run our air conditioning all day without worrying about the next GESA electricity bill – although, of course, such a system does require a fairly hefty investment up-front, so it’s not (as some people suggest) really free power.

During the summer the system trundles along without too much input from us – correction, The Boss. Sure, he still disappears down to the dependencia (the building where batteries, invertor, and back-up generator are stored) every Monday, just to make sure there are no red warning lights flashing anywhere.

Hose at the ready

But during a long hot, extremely dry, and dusty summer, the solar panels do appreciate a little bit of TLC. Which is where The Boss, a ladder, a mop and bucket, and a hose come into play. This morning – just after 7am – he was up a ladder cleaning several months’ of dust and dirt off the panels, first mopping them with soapy water, then hosing off the suds. They’re gleaming clean now and probably soaking up lots more rays as a result.

If anything’s going to bring on the long-overdue and much-needed rain, this morning’s clean-up  should do it. Umbrellas at the ready, Mallorca?

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip - always ready to assist.

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip – always ready to assist.


 

 

 

 

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 . . .

We choose the rural life . . . for as long as possible

Fountain in Plaza de la Reina, in Palma de Mallorca

Plaza de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca

Last weekend British broadsheet newspaper ‘The Sunday Times’ named Palma de Mallorca as the world’s best city to live in – an accolade that has since been doing the rounds of social media among those of us who know and love the city.

Although we are very happy country dwellers, on a finca in rural Mallorca, we enjoy visiting the island’s capital on a fairly regular basis. Palma is a city with a lot to offer: a rich history, wonderful architecture, museums and art galleries, theatres, excellent independent restaurants, bars, cafes, beaches, and a year-round programme of cultural and traditional events.

Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca

Casal Solleric in Palma de Mallorca – one of the city’s many cultural centres

“Like being in a village”

The previous owners of our finca – who have become dear friends – sold this place when its maintenance became too much for them, and now own a charming palacio apartment in the heart of Palma. They describe living there (which they do for various periods of time during the year) as “like being in a village”, because people in the local shops and other businesses always greet them like neighbours – and everything our friends need is within a short walk of their home. Their apartment is easy maintenance and they don’t need to own a car – hiring one when necessary.

Gran Hotel, Palma de Mallorca

The former Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca . . . another cultural centre.

These friends are older than us, and we can imagine that, in years to come, we too may wish to lighten our labour load by moving somewhere that’s easier to look after. It’s not a conversation we’ve really had in earnest yet, hoping that we have a good few years before it becomes necessary. But where would we move to?

This is certainly an issue worth bearing in mind if you’re contemplating the purchase of a finca later in life. What would you do if you could no longer physically maintain it (or afford to have someone else do it)?

Selling a rural property to move back to your home country can be an expensive business – and we have known people who have returned to the UK and regretted the move. Reinvesting in another main residence in Spain leads to some relief on the capital gains tax resulting from the original property sale – in itself a good reason to stay in Spain.

Looking ahead

Financial matters aside, we love living on Mallorca and hope that – if and when the time comes – we shall find another home somewhere on the island where we will be as happy as we are here. It could be in Palma de Mallorca – the world’s best city in which to live – but something tells me that property prices in the heart of the capital could be set to soar.

Until then, we’re happy to live in rural Mallorca and visit Palma when we choose to. As much as we love the island’s vibrant and sophisticated capital, we always say that it’s easier to find some buzz and bustle when you live in the country than it is to find some peace and space living in a city . . .

Cat napping in the sun

A nap in perfect peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patience is a necessity when living on Mallorca

I’m not the world’s most patient person but, since we moved to Mallorca, we’ve realized that some things just don’t happen quickly here. We waited eight months to have an electricity supply; 18 months for planning permission for an outhouse in which to store our generator, invertor, and solar batteries, and seven months for permission to re-roof our ‘casita’ to stop the leaks every time it rained. It’s a good thing that I’ve never been one to chew my fingernails . . . I’d have been down to my knuckles by now.

This summer we decided to replace our old south-facing wooden front doors. They’d always been painted dark brown and it didn’t take long for the sun to do its work: fading the colour and burning off the sheen from the gloss paint. We decided to invest in new wooden doors that wouldn’t have to be painted, and would be stronger and more secure than the originals. We also considered replacing the inner front doors – also the worse for wear as a result of the sun’s fierce rays.

We found a company that seemed to offer just what we were looking for and a man came out to look at the job, discuss our requirements, and measure up. This was in July. In due course we received the quotation and, after a sharp intake of breath, decided to replace only the external doors. There was a visit to the factory to view and choose door furniture (handles etc, to you and me), and a 50 per cent deposit was paid.

“Gone to the beach”

But August got in the way. Not a lot happens on Mallorca in August that doesn’t involve beaches, swimming pools, and holidays. The factory closed for the month and we were told that our new doors would be delivered in September. In about the middle of September the man came back to the house to ‘check his measurements’. Our hearts sank.

On October 24th two helpful young men arrived with the new doors. They weren’t finished – they still had to have the special protective treatment applied – but this visit was to check the fit. All seemed fine. Until we realized that the holes for the handle and lock were on the wrong door. Oh dear.

Desperately seeking a solution

We visited the company to discuss the problem. The man who’d been out to our property didn’t remember what had been agreed as he’d “been on a month’s holiday” since then! It seemed that all the clipboard notes he’d scribbled during his visit to us had also gone on holiday – and not returned. We left him contemplating a possible solution.

Finally our doors were delivered and fitted last week. They look great and we’re really pleased that the company found a way to resolve the problem, without The Boss having to puff out his chest and get stroppy in Spanish.

But the story isn’t over yet. The new doors have been fitted with a modern brushed chrome handle, rather than the rustic-style door handle and keyhole that the (same) man had suggested at the factory. The very same rustic door furniture that we’d asked him to fit to our new doors. At least the bolts look rustic.

Patience. I just can’t get a handle on it . . .

 

The inner face of one of our smart new front doors.

The inner face of one of our smart new front doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer turns to winter on Mallorca

It feels like ages since I wrote a post on this blog. In the meantime both the weather and clocks have changed – and I’ve added a year to my age.  I’ve been super-busy, and have just completed a major writing job that has seen me up at the crack of dawn at the laptop and sometimes working until bedtime. After filing the last piece of copy for the job, an hour ago, I ran out onto the terrace and shouted an ecstatic “Yippee!”. My apologies to any sheep I might have frightened . . .

 

"What the Dickens was that noise?"

“What the Dickens was that noise?”

Last Saturday was my birthday and the weather for the whole weekend was sunny and warm. On Monday, during a brief coffee break on the terrace, The Boss and I agreed it was almost warm enough to wear shorts. It’s been confirmed by the boffins in the Spanish Met Office that the average temperature in October was the warmest on record for that month. We even managed a swim in the sea, something we’ve not done in that month previously.

Winter comes a-knocking

How things changed on Tuesday this week, when a cold front sliced across Spain and the Balearics. We were lucky in our area and didn’t suffer the hailstorms, thunder, and lightning that affected other parts of the island. But we had heavy rain and it has turned colder. I’ve resorted to wearing a cardigan for the first time in months, and plan to spend the weekend retrieving my winter clothes from their summer storage and laundering them.

The Boss, meanwhile, has been doing that man-thing: preparing the log burner for the next drop in temperature. Cleaning the flue and the stove itself, and renewing the rope-like stuff that prevents the escape of smoke around the door and the junction of the stove and flue, has occupied a few hours of his time – and left him looking a bit sooty. I can tell he’s itching to get the thing blazing again. But I’ve just checked the weather forecast and it looks as though our high could be 21 degrees Celsius again tomorrow . . .

Next time I’ll give you an update on the progress of Pip, the latest kitten to join our feline family.

 

Why thunderstorms and solar power are not a good combination

Until this week, we were having a rather unsettled spell of weather on Mallorca, with some much-needed (unless you were holidaying here) rain and some thunderstorms. The Boss and I quite enjoy watching a dramatic storm – and we do get a few – but we are always  wary about the damage that an electrical storm can do to solar power equipment. We have bitter experience, having suffered an invertor failure a few years ago during a particularly bad storm. The invertor was only three weeks old – and had cost a huge amount of money – so we were relieved to learn that the (expensive) repair was covered by our household insurance. And that our solar power system engineer would lend us an invertor until the repair could be done.

When he came back with our fixed original invertor,  he recommended that we switch off all our system equipment during future storms. So we now keep a weather eye open (pardon the pun) for any thunderhead clouds on the horizon or distant rumbling, and switch everything off if the storm arrives.

A rude awakening

This is fine during the day but, at night, it means somebody (and it’s always The Boss, because he’s gentlemanly like that) has to get up, go outside and dash down the field to the dependencia, where all the equipment is housed, to switch everything off. So thunderclaps at night don’t only wake us up, they can get us up too.

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Four of our adoptees huddled in the window recess. Underneath three of them is little Peanut!

Hopefully last week’s overnight storm will be the last for a while. This week we’ve had temperatures in the low 30s (Celsius) and plenty of sunshine. Our cats disappear after breakfast to hide themselves from the heat – whereas, in stormy weather, they often like to gather together in the outside recess of our dining room window. As you can see, from a photo I took during last week’s bad weather, the pale ginger Peanut – the youngest of our adoptees – has been accepted by the rest of the family . . . even if it is only as a willing pillow!