Tribute to a Man who Loved Mallorca

My Uncle Ray couldn’t have been more appropriately named: he loved the sunshine and I’m sure he was never deficient in Vitamin D. It was a terrible shock, a couple of weeks ago, to learn that a heart attack had taken him from the many who loved him. My cousin Karen referred to our uncle as a ‘gentle giant’: he was a tall, well-built man, who stood ramrod-straight, took great care of his appearance, and was affectionate with his loved ones.

Ray was my dad’s younger brother (by two years) and, when I was growing up, our families lived a long way apart: his in Devon and ours in Cambridge. I didn’t really start to get to know him well until 2010, when he accompanied my dad on holiday for the first time, staying with us in rural Mallorca. It was the first of their thirteen holidays together at our place over the next few years. Sadly, his deteriorating eyesight put an end to Ray’s visits; his last was in September 2017.

His first visit to us in 2010 was the motivation for clearing our annex guest suite, which had been a neglected storage space ever since we moved here in 2004. With its own independent entrance and en suite shower room, it suited Ray perfectly. As an early riser (he couldn’t wait to feel that sunshine), he was able to open his annex door and be out on the terrace enjoying the freshness of the early-morning air. He repeatedly told us during his stays that he loved Mallorca and his room; he particularly enjoyed the cup of tea and biscuit I delivered to him each morning, in exchange for a ‘Ray hug’.

Rooms need a name so you can identify them in conversation. I’m writing this in what we grandly call ‘the library’; it contains a lot of books, but wouldn’t win any interior-design prizes for ‘best home library’. Our annex suite has been known as Ray’s Room ever since he first stayed and I think we’ll always refer to it thus. He has slept in that room more times than any other visitor, so it seems only appropriate.

Happy Holidays

Whenever we collected Dad and Ray from the airport, Ray would arrive looking more tanned than most of the departing holidaymakers and, over the course of a week’s holiday, he’d keep an eye on the progress of his tan.

He loved going out on our excursions, but was just as happy sunning himself on the terrace at home, lounging alongside his elder brother and sharing stories of their childhood and youth. He also enjoyed our outings for meals and drinks; his favourite tipple under the hot Mallorcan sun was a large beer, but he didn’t say no to a glass of wine or one of The Boss’s legendary G&Ts.

The brothers’ holidays in 2011 were particularly memorable: Jetta—the feral cat we’d been feeding for a few months—produced two litters of kittens. Her timing couldn’t have been better, as the kittens’ first adventures away from the area where they were born coincided with both of Dad and Ray’s holidays that year. The kittens kept us all entertained and charmed with their crazy antics.

I last saw Uncle Ray in March, just a week before the lockdown began in Spain. I’d flown back to the UK for the funeral of my Auntie Joan (Dad and Ray’s elder sister), never imagining then that I wouldn’t see him again. He would have been 90 next May and there would have been a family party (Covid-19 permitting).

Saying Goodbye … via an iPad

Today was Ray’s funeral in Devon, but we were unable to attend because of the UK’s quarantine requirement. Technology came to the rescue: my cousins had made it possible for us to watch the ceremony online, courtesy of a business called Obitus. The ceremony was due to start at 4pm but, when I logged on to the site a quarter of an hour in advance to check the connection, the link didn’t work. Our WiFi signal wasn’t strong enough.

At this stage, I had a wobble, fearing that we would miss the ceremony. I bashed out a Messenger request to our lovely Swiss neighbours, whose WiFi is more reliable than ours. For some minutes there was no reply and I realized they were probably having a siesta, entertaining friends, or enjoying their pool. Time was ticking by, so I tried the link on my iPad instead and re-positioned the router to see if it made a difference. At last, we were able to see inside the crematorium, where a photo of Uncle Ray beamed from a monitor on the wall.

Our Swiss neighbours replied then, having just seen my message. They offered the use of their internet and a quiet place to be on our own. I thanked them, explaining that we’d finally been able to connect at home, and I’ll always be grateful for their kind offer.

I never imagined that I would one day watch a family funeral online, at home, but it’s only one of many things that none of us could have imagined happening in 2020. It was painful to see the slumped shoulders and bowed heads of grieving mask-clad family members and not be able to exchange comforting words or consoling hugs (although the latter are forbidden anyway now). But what tore at my heart was seeing my dad saying goodbye to his last sibling and not being able to give him a hug or hold his hand during the ceremony, as I did at his elder sister’s funeral in March.

Wakes don’t happen online, of course, but I imagine that those who were able to attend Ray’s wake in person will have shared many memories of a dad, grandad, (very proud) great-grandad, brother, uncle, and friend.

And, when I’ve finished writing this post, we’ll open a bottle of Mallorcan rosado (from Mesquida Mora) and raise a glass (or two) to Uncle Ray – a man who loved his holidays with us in Mallorca.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Ray. We hope the sun is shining up there.

Jan Edwards ©2020

Lockdown Log in Mallorca – Day 64

Here in rural Mallorca, we’ve been discovering the lanes of our valley again, now that we are permitted to walk beyond the boundaries of our finca. Each morning, we head off for a walk of about half an hour. It’s been a real tonic and a habit I hope we’ll continue.

After almost two months walking only around our own property, it’s been such a joy to be out in the open countryside, seeing what nature’s been up to in our absence – and encountering a few neighbours we haven’t seen for a long while.

One of this week’s memorable events was spotting a mare and her frisky foal in one of the fields bordering the lane down into the valley. The field belongs to a farmer called José. Because we know several people with this name, we’ve given each one a nickname – which is a common practice anyway in Mallorca.

A Handy Farmer

We refer to this farmer as ‘Hairy-Handed José’ – although not to his face, of course. He no longer lives in the house on his farm, but comes every day to tend his animals and whatever else Mallorcan farmers do to fill their days (and avoid helping their wives with the housework back at home in town).

The nickname came about because (a) this man’s remarkably hirsute – even the backs of his fingers are forested, and (b) his hands are huge, so it’s hard to miss them, given that Mallorcans (and most Latin-types) tend to wave them about as a side order to the spoken word.

A Horse with no Name

The foal’s mother. The foal was too far away to photograph on this occasion

A couple of days after spotting the foal – who gave a spirited little performance for my phone camera – we saw ‘Hairy-Handed José’ for the first time for more than the couple of months we’ve all been confined to home. He looked older and a bit thinner, but his hands were pleasingly as hairy as ever.

He stopped his car in the lane for a socially distanced chat. I was about to ask him what the foal was called when I remembered our first encounter, in our early months here. At the time, he had a huge black dog chained up just inside the gates of his farm. Every time we walked past it, the dog went mental, snarling and straining at its chain. I figured that if we knew its name, we could call it out when we passed, to let him know that we were friends not foes and there was no need for all the barky behaviour.

‘What’s your dog’s name?’ we had asked ‘Hairy Handed’ (our abbreviated version of his nickname) when we saw him out and about one day.

Translated, his reply was this: ‘Name? Name? He’s just a dog!’ Supposing that the foal in the field was ‘just a foal’, we didn’t bother to ask this time. We’ll choose our own name for it soon…

Jan Edwards ©2020

How I Became a Speedy Swimmer

One of the many benefits of living in rural Mallorca – rather than on the coast – is the reduced chance of being stung by jellyfish.

The beautiful Mediterranean…

I’m sure that, if we were within walking distance of a beach, The Boss and I would be taking a regular dip in the Mediterranean. I would probably have been stung by jellyfish several times before now, but I made it to living here fifteen years before I was zapped for the first time in my life. Ooh, the pain.

We are sailing

My Dutch friend Sandra recently had her birthday and invited a few gal pals to spend that day on the charter yacht she owns with her husband. Four of us – including Sandra – enjoyed a lazy day of sailing,  sharing good conversation, Mallorcan wine, and the dishes that we’d each contributed towards our lunch that day.

We dropped anchor in an attractive bay, where Sandra’s husband – Captain Adriaan – showed us a nifty little app called ‘Grumering’. It was created by three Mallorcan friends to show information about the presence or absence of jellyfish – known in Spanish as medusas.

Jellyfish app

Using the app, anyone can add a notification to help other beach or boat users to avoid areas with jellyfish, or highlight areas that seem to be clear of the pesky little blighters.

The app suggested no reported sightings of jellyfish in the bay where we’d anchored. We’d have a swim here before lunch.

The Med was a little choppy that day, which made it harder to see what was in the water. Nevertheless, off I went, happier that the jellyfish app suggested the area was clear. I’d barely swum a few strokes when a horrible pain lashed my stomach, then my left thigh and calf and one of my fingers.

I’d never been stung by jellyfish before, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me what had happened. Even Michael Phelps would have been impressed by the speed at which I swam back to the yacht ‘Simmertime’ and hauled myself, shaking, out of the water.

Sandra quickly took on the role of efficient nautical nurse and did the necessary to remove the stingers and reduce the pain. Half an hour later, we were all sipping delicious Mallorcan white wine and enjoying lunch – which helped to take my mind off a deeply unpleasant experience.

Jelly stings – the gift that keeps on giving

Nine days later, the burning and itching of the stings suddenly flared up again and we sought advice. Our friendly local pharmacist said we should go to the hospital for treatment in the Urgencias department.

The doctor on duty looked at my wounds and prescribed a course of two different tablets and an ointment to apply twice a day. But that wasn’t all. He’d made a brief internal phone call and moments later a nurse arrived in the treatment room wielding a large hypodermic syringe. Having that jabbed into my backside soon made me forget the jellyfish stings…

 

 

For more about Sandra and Adriaan’s Mallorca sailing excursions on ‘Simmertime’, see here.

 

Jan Edwards ©2019

Feeling the Heat in Mallorca

The Boss and I have taken to living like vampires. The doors and shutters (persianas) of our finca in rural Mallorca are closed most of the day and windows are firmly shut against the searing summer heat. We stay out of the bright sunlight and keep cool with our air conditioning. We’re so pleased we have a solar-powered electricity system: we don’t have alarming summer electricity bills to pay so can be liberal with air conditioning – until the sun disappears from the solar panels.

Mallorca – like other parts of northern Europe – had a heatwave in June. To be honest, I haven’t noticed that it’s ended yet. We have regularly registered temperatures in the upper 30s, in the shade on our terrace, and last night’s low, for instance, was 24 degrees Celsius.

On Monday morning I had to go to Palma and emerged from the railway station to feel fat drops of rain plopping onto my head. Sadly, this was not the start of a good refreshing shower, but what’s called cuatro gotas – four drops – which afforded little relief from the clammy heat.

But that night rain did fall. In the form of mud. This was our black car the next morning…

Looks like snow, but it’s mud.

Specific outings aside (and they’re usually in the evenings at this time of year), we have only daytime dashes outside to feed the cats (morning and early evening), take out the washing (which dries to a crisp in, oh, about ten minutes), or put the rubbish in the dustbin.

We save our time outdoors for the early mornings and the evenings (when, ironically, the heat of the sun may be replaced by the heat of The Boss’s Weber BBQ). These are the times when we are likely to see our cats, who hide away during the daytime. They each have their own way of keeping cool and two, in particular, amuse us. Nibbles likes to cool his nether regions by draping himself over the balustrade. Shorty – our gorgeous ginger – favours a cooling tummy dip in one of our several birdbaths (which also serve as drinking stations for our feline family).

Whatever it takes, find your own way to stay cool this summer. Early-morning swim at Portocristo? Don’t mind if we do…

FOOTNOTE: I wrote this post on July 13th and I’m pleased to say the humidity has eased off and temperatures are a little more comfortable.

Jan Edwards ©2019

Merry Christmas from Our Casa to Yours

 

Wherever you are, however you celebrate (or not) this time of year, The Boss and I hope that this festive period for you will be blessed with the company of loved ones, delicious food and drink, happiness, and peace. And, in case you’re wondering, Mallorca does not have any snow at the moment…

Merry Christmas!

Jan Edwards ©2018

Devastating Floods in Mallorca

Post updated Thursday, October 11th

Our beloved adopted island of Mallorca is in mourning. Twelve people are now known to have died as a result of flooding in the east and northeast area of Mallorca, known as the Llevant. A five-year-old boy (whose mother died) is still missing. Amongst those who lost their lives – in what must have been terrifying circumstances – were two British tourists, who died in a taxi. Today they were named as Delia and Anthony Green, aged in their 70s, who were on their way to their hotel in Cala Bona.

October usually brings a few storms – often heavy – but Tuesday’s was something else. We had torrential rain, thunder, and scary sheet-and-fork lightning for several hours. Remembering a previous storm that disabled our solar electricity system inverter at great expense, The Boss switched off all related equipment and we sat by candlelight for a while, reading from our Kindles, and listening to the rain – thankful to be indoors.

A disaster in the making

At about six o’clock on Tuesday, October 9th, the banks of the Ses Planes torrente in the nearby town of Sant Llorenç (population just over 8,000) burst under the weight of water: 257 litres of rain per square metre fell on the town. Water and mud surged through Sant Llorenç, inundating some properties to the depth of an average adult’s shoulder height and sweeping away vehicles in the streets as though they were bath toys. The town also lost electricity and phone connections during the storm.

We didn’t realise what was going on outside our valley until we switched our power back on and were able to access the Internet again. The photos and video footage we saw from Sant Llorenç were shocking and, frankly, unbelievable. The storm has been described in the local and international media as ‘biblical’ – such is the devastation.

Many people sought shelter on the rooftops of their homes or in trees; once rescued, they were taken to shelter in the Miguel Angel Nadal sports centre in Manacor. Tennis star Rafa Nadal also provided accommodation at his famous Tennis Academy. It will be some time before many of the locals can return to their homes.

Other Mallorcan towns also affected

Sant Llorenç was by far the worst-affected part of the region, but Artà, Son Carrió, and the east-coast resort of S’Illot also suffered flooding and three of the deaths were in Artà and S’Illot. Cars were swept into the sea in Colonia de Sant Pere (one of our favourite coastal places in Mallorca).

Today, several major roads remain closed. Just outside Artà – on the highway towards Ca’n Picafort – part of the road has been washed away, leaving an enormous hole that makes the route impassable. The scale of this disaster is hard to take in; it’s the worst in Mallorca for 29 years and the third major flood in the Llevant area in the past 100 years.

The town and its environs are littered with wrecked cars and other debris – piled up in places. Although the floodwater has receded, it has left behind a thick layer of mud.

On Wednesday morning, 80 officers and seven vehicles from Spain’s Military Emergencies Unit (UME, Unidad Militar de Emergencias) arrived on the island to join local emergency services and the Civil Protection Unit to help search for missing people and collaborate with what will be a massive and complicated clear-up operation.

By yesterday lunchtime the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, had flown to Mallorca and was in Sant Llorenç to see the devastation for himself.

A British crew from ITV arrived yesterday to film in Sant Llorenç, so UK readers of this blog may see the latest horrendous footage for themselves. Because Mallorca is a popular holiday destination with Brits, this story has been well covered in the UK media and we had calls, messages, and emails throughout the day from friends and family in the UK checking that we are OK. I have also done UK radio phone interviews about the flooding on LBC, BBC WM, and BBC Berkshire, and one on a Tenerife radio station.

Tomorrow, Friday – the start of the holiday known as Puente de Pilar – King Felipe VI and Doña Letizia are visiting the town of Sant Llorenç to meet those affected.

If you believe in God, please say a prayer for all those whose lives have been affected by this terrible flooding. Mallorca is in mourning – and will never forget October 9th, 2018.

ENDS

©JanEdwards 2018

Mallorca Takes an Autumn Battering

It’s been very windy here in the northeast of Mallorca for a couple of days and, being a north wind, it’s felt pretty cold too. Our finca is particularly exposed, being at one end of a valley, and we brace ourselves for the inevitable arrival of these gusty autumn days as best we can. Most of our outdoor furniture is now put away in our annexe guest room (which becomes a storage space in winter, when anyone sleeping in there would surely expire from hypothermia).

Broken terracotta pot

New pot required

When we ventured outside yesterday morning to feed the cats (who become super-skittish when it’s windy), evidence of the gusty night was all around. (Have you noticed that the wind always blows hard the day after you’ve swept the terraces?). One of the casualties this time was a fairly large shrub I planted during the summer – in a decent-sized pot (weighted down with heavy stones under the soil).  The pot is no more.

It never fails to amaze me that the wind brings over large heavy pots, yet the lighter potted plants sitting along a small wall remain unaffected by the gusts. Ah, well, the mysteries of life in the Mallorcan countryside…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Snakes on a Plain

Snake encounters have been increasing on Mallorca – and not just on the plain (the flatter central area known in the local language as the pla). Local media reports have revealed that people in 14 municipalities on Mallorca had found unusually large snakes…mostly in urban areas.

One friend posted a picture on Facebook of a snake she’d found in her garden in an area of Santa Ponsa. To someone who doesn’t know much about snakes (that’ll be me, then), it looked like something that had escaped from a zoo or exotic pet shop – in other words, rather large and bearing distinctive markings. My friend didn’t seem too happy to be sharing her urban garden with this creature. She was lucky: other people have been startled by finding these snakes in their store rooms, garages, basements, and water tanks.

The Horseshoe Whip Snake

While at the vet’s yesterday buying more kidney-diet food for our cat Minstral, we were talking to one of the veterinary nurses about snakes and she told us that Horseshoe Whip Snakes (not native to the island) are increasingly being found on Mallorca – having come onto the island in trees imported from the peninsula.  They seem to be breeding very successfully.

Because of the very hot weather we’ve been having, these snakes have been seeking out cool places, such as garages, store rooms, cellars etc. Only last week, someone found a Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis) allegedly measuring two-and-a-half metres in length – although I’ve read that they usually grow to up to a maximum of 1.5 metres.

Coincidentally, it was in Capdepera, back in May, that we saw a few snakes amongst the attractions at the annual medieval market in the northeast Mallorca hilltop town. I’ve no idea what type of snakes were being wrapped around bystanders’ necks but, then, I didn’t get close enough to find out (thank goodness for long lenses).

Man with snake

It’s a wrap!

A little girl discovers that snakes don’t feel slimy.

Snakes at our finca

Our own encounters with snakes at the finca have been few. My first was while weeding in a damp and shady area of our finca that we call Marie’s Garden (after the former owner, who created it). As I moved close to one of the large rocks dotted around here, a snake suddenly darted out from its shelter and slithered away at great speed. It happened so quickly that I didn’t note too many details about its appearance, except that it wasn’t particularly large. It did make me jump though…

Not long afterwards, on another part of our land, I found part of a snake’s skin that had been shed; something I’d never seen before. Rural life has introduced me to many new experiences. Sadly, most of our snake sightings have been roadkill; not everyone is as careful as we are to avoid hitting wildlife that ventures onto the roads.

What to do if you find a Horseshoe Whip Snake

These snakes are not considered dangerous to people. The authorities recommend that you report any findings to COFIB by phoning 971 144 107 and presumably they’ll come and remove them.

©Jan Edwards 2017

So long, Sweetie…

When we took on the responsibility of caring for the feral cats that were born on our finca in rural Mallorca (in two litters to the same mum), we knew that some of them would one day no longer be with us – for whatever reason. We lost Brownie, as a very young kitten, when she jumped out of an old almond tree in the lane straight into the path of one of our neighbours as she drove home. Poor Maria – an animal lover herself – was unable to stop her car in time, despite driving relatively slowly. Brownie is buried at the bottom of our field, just a metre or two away from the very spot where she was born.

Quite some time later, Bear – a lovely black cat (born in the same litter as Beamer and Dusty, still with us, and poor little Brownie) – disappeared. Although we hadn’t been able to pick him up for a cuddle, he did enjoy a fuss and seemed perfectly happy around the finca but, one day, he didn’t come as usual for his breakfast or dinner. We never saw him again and were unable to find out what had happened to him. We like to think that he decided to strike out on his own and be independent, preferring this to the possible alternative fates.

Baby Bear and Right Patch were both from the second litter and they too disappeared while still quite young. We had expected some of the kittens to leave once they felt ready to be independent, as that would be natural cat behaviour, so we were pleasantly surprised that the rest stayed with us.

Searching in vain

One of the problems of losing a cat in the country is knowing where to look for it. In a village or town in the UK, we would have put a notice on lampposts or checked whether any neighbours had accidentally shut the missing feline in a garage or shed. But here, in our part of rural Mallorca, we’re surrounded by fields – many of which are overgrown, having been long abandoned.

For just over a week we haven’t seen Sweetie – one of the cats from the second litter. At the end of July she would have been six years old which, for a feral cat, is probably a good age – given the perils of rural life (hunters, poisoning, disease, etc). But Sweetie – like the other six cats that have adopted us and remain here – is no longer truly feral, as she has almost always come for her daily breakfast and dinner and to drink from the several water stations we maintain for our feline family.

Sweetie as a kitten

One for the ‘Lost’ poster…

Chilling out in our dining room window recess

Beamer’s bestie

The little spayed cat was always nervous around humans (including us) and would rarely allow us to stroke her (unless she had her head down in her food bowl). She had a very special bond with her older sibling Beamer though and they used to have regular mutual grooming sessions; at times, she would bury her head in Beamer’s tummy fur – as she and her other siblings of the same age had done for comfort, after their mother Jetta had abandoned her offspring.

Sadly, Sweetie wasn’t popular with Pip – the female kitten dumped here more than two years ago, changing the dynamic of the cat clan. Although we’d had both females spayed, Pip had recently started to hiss at Sweetie sometimes and even chased her away a time or two. Perhaps that happened once too often for Sweetie to tolerate?

She had long had her own territory on the finca of our neighbours and good friends Maureen and Peter, and came back to ours only for her food and water. Maybe she decided on a new life of self-sufficiency? We’ve called her and searched for her in as many places as feasible, but to no avail.

In the meantime, we miss seeing this shy little cat and watching those affectionate moments she regularly shared with Beamer. And we’re sure he’s missing her too.

Come home, Sweetie, if you can…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Mallorca 312 passes our rural finca

Earlier this week a placard was tied to a post near our home in rural Mallorca, warning us that the lane would be closed yesterday for about five hours from 14:00h because of a sporting event. The event in question was the Mallorca 312 – the most international of all cycling events held in Spain. Of the 6,500 cyclists taking part, 33 per cent were from the UK; presumably Mallorca had greater appeal to these Brits than Yorkshire, which had its own racing event (Tour of Yorkshire) happening yesterday.

Our lane hasn’t been closed since our first few years of living here, when the Manacor Rally used to come through the valley. We were forced to be either at home all afternoon or out somewhere for the duration. It was a noisy but entertaining spectacle and we could watch some of the action from our terrace, so we always stayed home. Souped-up rally cars and old stone walls occasionally had brief encounters and, after the local council had invested in building new walls for the community’s shared watercourse in the valley below us, the rally was moved to a new route.

Road closed!

Our lane closure yesterday wasn’t much of an inconvenience to us or our relatively few neighbours, but many people across Mallorca were cursing the event because main roads through the mountains and in the north and northeast of the island were closed to vehicles. Social media was buzzing with complaints and stories of delayed journeys, as well as triumphant messages from race finishers.

I certainly felt sorry for any holidaymakers who arrived on the island yesterday morning only to learn that the road to their destination was closed for several hours. Or those staying in places like Deià, forced to leave the village before 7am for an afternoon flight home, because the road was part of the race route and vehicular traffic was suspended for the morning.

Looking at Lycra

Meanwhile, The Boss and I walked up to the corner of our property during the afternoon for a prime view of cyclists coming up the hill. It’s a steep haul on foot and several of the cyclists evidently found it tough to negotiate.

One of our Mallorcan neighbours was already spectating with her son, seven-year-old grandson, and a couple of his friends and we joined them in clapping and encouraging the participants as they passed us. Also there were a female marshall (who must have been desperate for a pee by the end of the event) and an official photographer. We offered to make them tea or coffee, but they’d come prepared with their own food and drink.

I had my own camera with me and, having reviewed my numerous shots, I can tell you I won’t be changing careers anytime soon to become a sports photographer. Respect to those who manage to take sharp photos of sportspeople on the move…and look good in a hi-vis vest.

During our time as Mallorca 312 spectators we saw Lycra in every hue imaginable; it’s certainly a colourful sport. We heard quite a few English-speakers and, as we bystanders shouted out  ‘Ánimos‘  (which means encouragement), I did later wonder whether they might have thought we were calling them ‘animals’…

 

Text and photos Jan Edwards©2017