Smokin’!

Driving down the lane from a trip to town yesterday, The Boss spotted an unfamiliar elderly lady walking with the aid of sticks, who paused near our old holm oak tree. Sadly we’ve experienced an elderly person – suffering dementia and wandering vaguely – before, so The Boss stopped the car and wound down the window to greet her and check that she was OK.

It transpired that the lady was visiting a neighbouring finca, where a younger woman was busy attending to a bonfire in the field. At the sound of conversation, this fire guardian came out into the lane and joined in the chat. Spotting that the woman’s hat was smouldering on top of her head, The Boss immediately alerted her to the fact. She threw the offending hat to the ground, stamped on it and proceeded to pat the top of her head urgently to extinguish any possible flames.  (All was well up there, in case you’re concerned).

This little incident was over in a matter of minutes and certainly wasn’t captured on camera. It’s a lesson to anyone though that bonfires can be dangerous things. Indeed, The Boss once set light to his own trousers without noticing, until things got a little warm down there. I didn’t get a photo of that either … but here’s a shot of our own finca’s now more-cautious fire-starter in action.

Bonfire

Smokin’ but no flames yet

 

 

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 . . .

Wildfire – the most feared hazard of rural life

Living in rural Mallorca is wonderful, but country life has its hazards. And the most terrifying of these is wildfire. During the island’s long hot summers these fires occur far more often than they should, causing serious environmental damage and endangering the lives of firefighters as well as the people, animals, and property in their path. Last year there were more than 80 such fires on Mallorca – some started deliberately.

Airborne aid

A few years ago we had first-hand experience of the frightening unpredictability of fire, when a blaze ripped through our valley. A neighbour (a local, who must have known about the illegality of bonfires in the summer) had been burning some garden rubbish, and believed the fire was extinguished when he left it. However, the fire had travelled through the roots of wild olive and re-ignited, spreading quickly onto our land.

It was a very dramatic day, with a helicopter scooping up water from neighbouring swimming pools and water tanks to dowse the erratic flames (fortunately not too close to the house). We were extremely grateful – and in awe of – the airborne and ground firefighters who extinguished the blaze.

But the fire in our valley was but a spark compared to the one that’s devastated almost 2,000 hectares of forested mountain terrain on Mallorca – the worst wildfire here for some two decades. The fire broke out last Friday at around lunchtime (the result of human carelessness) and, only today, has it been reported as being finally under control.

Help from the mainland

It affected three municipalities in the southwest of the island – Andratx, Estellencs, and Calvia – and more than 700 people had to evacuate their homes because they were at risk. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from the Spanish mainland to assist the teams here, along with members of the military emergency unit, UME. Seaside holidaymakers – not in any danger from the blaze – watched in amazement from beaches in some of the southwest resorts, as firefighting planes and helicopters scooped water from the Mediterranean in front of them.

Thousands of amateur photos must have been captured and emailed by holidaymakers, but here’s one of a number taken over the past few days by Warwick Upton, a respected professional photographer on Mallorca.  www.warwickupton-photography.co.uk

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

And for a chilling account of how it feels to be so close to a raging wildfire, here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend and fellow blogger/journalist Vicki McLeod.

http://familymattersmallorca.com/2013/07/29/our-nit-de-foc/

Bee aware

Since we came to live in rural Mallorca, we’ve always been careful to ensure that there’s water available on our land for any passing thirsty wildlife. It’s particularly important during the summer months when we often have no rain at all for many weeks, and the temperatures are consistently high.

We brought four birdbaths with us from the UK, which are dotted around our property – and it’s simply a matter of making sure they’re all cleaned and topped up regularly with water. Our feathered friends are certainly grateful, calling regularly year-round for drinks and a spot of exuberant bathing (after which a water top-up is usually required). On one occasion we saw a family of partridge – six birds in total – all perched around the edge of the birdbath closest to the house. It would have made a great photo, but as I grabbed my Nikon from a shelf and removed the lens cap, they took off – as one – with a clattering of wings.

Dusty's turn at the watering hole

Dusty’s turn at the watering hole

The cats, the birds . .  and the bees

Ironically – birds and cats being natural enemies – the feline family that has adopted us, also use the birdbaths for drinking. Thankfully, never together.

Bees ready to hit the water

Bees ready to hit the water

But there’s new competition at the bar: for the past few days we’ve had numerous bees coming to drink from the largest birdbath, at the front of the house. We’ve always had plenty of bees around the place, as two farmers further down the valley keep hives – and we deliberately made our garden bee-friendly, with plenty of tempting lavender and rosemary bushes. I love the buzz of a few bees around the place – makes me think of summer – but The Boss thinks that the huge number of bees around might just be from a swarm that’s settled somewhere on our land.

Just in case, I’ve just checked out beekeeping gear on the Internet, and found a natty white bee suit – looks like a onesie with attitude – that might look good on The Boss. Or we could just call on the expertise of our beekeeping Mallorcan neighbours . . .