Lockdown Log in Mallorca – Day 45

No people are walking the lanes during lockdown

It’s hard to believe that we have lived here in rural Mallorca for 16 years. This milestone was clocked up on Sunday, April 26th. Sixteen years during which a lot has happened; although not so much in the last 45 days, whilst we’ve been on lockdown in Spain.

When we first moved here, one solar panel mounted on the roof provided us with electricity. This wasn’t enough to power sockets but, assuming the sun had shone during the day, gave us approximately two hours’ lighting (from dim 12-volt bulbs) in the evening.

We had no TV, radio, or Internet. My computer remained packed away until such time as there was something to power it. We had no house telephone – only our (non-smart) mobiles. But, frustratingly, there’s barely any mobile coverage in our valley. If, however, we stood in precisely the right spot on one of our walls outside, it was sometimes possible to rustle up a signal. That’s if we’d remembered to charge the battery on our phones (by plugging into the cigarette lighter in the car during trips out).

Power to These People

It would be eight months before we had ‘proper’ electricity (powered by 16 new solar panels in the field), and several months more before we had a house phone. Each development brought a wave of joy and appreciation for what we finally had.

Accessing the Internet from home took a lot longer. Several providers came out to our valley, looked around, shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders, and said ‘Nunca‘ (meaning ‘never’) or ‘Imposible‘ (no translation required). Our valley may be beautiful, but it had One Huge Disadvantage.

Pork Bellies Anyone?

I worked in BBC local radio before we moved here. The computer on my desk in the newsroom – or in the studio, when I was on air – gave me access to any information I could possibly need, in the course of my job as mid-morning-show presenter. At any time, for instance, I could have told you the current price of pork bellies. (Wouldn’t that have made for riveting radio?).

Living in rural Mallorca, the closest I got to pork bellies was on a walk past the pig farm further down the valley. To say I felt distanced from the world as I’d known it, would be an understatement.

A few years later (yes, it took quite some time), a small company called WiFi Balears (now renamed Fibwi) was able to connect us to the Internet – thus changing our lives.

Life’s Online….or Not

Since the lockdown began, the whole of Mallorca has been living online. Whether it’s socialising, learning, entertainment, exercising, shopping or whatever, it’s all being done through the Internet in this time of physical distancing. By everybody.

I had promised myself that, during this lockdown, I’d take advantage of the opportunities to visit museums and galleries around the world, watch West End musicals, learn new skills, attend concerts, and more – all from home and online. And I would if our wifi signal were up to it.

When yet another attempt to do something new and interesting online fails for want of a decent signal, I try to adopt an attitude of gratitude: we’re a lot less incommunicado than we were back in 2004.

Jan Edwards ©2020

 

Plumbing Problems Strike Again

That’s not very pretty

Apart from Storm Gloria in January, this winter in Mallorca has probably been the mildest and sunniest since we moved here in 2004. Although we’ve had one or two air frosts, more than a few foggy mornings and, after dark, it’s often been quite chilly, most days have delivered blue skies, sunshine and warmth. Oh, we do love that warmth. Of course, it’s not normal for this time of year – and is probably the result of climate change – but I’m not hearing many complaints about this February’s weather in Mallorca.

All this spring-like weather has been making us think about the visitors we may have this year. Once we’ve sorted out the small matter of lack of a bath or shower in the bathroom of our main guest room.

Late last year, we noticed that one wall of our double-guest bathroom was showing signs of damp. Dampness is a common problem in Mallorcan properties, but this patch of damp wasn’t in one of the usual areas in our house affected during the winter months.

The Boss did his magic with a sponge and a bottle of organic apple cider vinegar, but a few days later the damp started showing through again. It was a mystery, until The Boss spotted the merest drizzle of water running down the tiles above the bath from the wall-mounted taps. In our experience, water is one of the most troublesome things in a Mallorcan property.

It was time for a(nother) visit from Sito, our friendly local plumber. One sledgehammer and a pile of broken wall tiles later, he discovered the source of the leak: a hairline crack in one of the pipes to the taps, buried into a rather thick wall. It appeared that water had been seeping into the walls for quite some time. Sito removed the tap-and-shower-head unit and did whatever plumbers do to fix this type of problem.

We had to leave the hole open to allow the sodden wall to dry out. Our dehumidifier (seriously, you need one of these if you live in Mallorca) has been working overtime and we’re now about ready to get our guest bathroom fully operational again.

All change

Because we’re unlikely to find wall tiles that match the existing old ones, we’re taking the opportunity to make some substantial changes to the bathroom. We’d often talked about removing the bathtub (never used as a bath, only as something to stand in when using the overhead shower). This is mainly because I worry that my dad – when he’s staying for his two holidays each year – may slip and injure himself getting in or out of the bath to take a shower. It was a project on the back burner that moved to the front one because of this leak.

We’ve always tried to use local tradesmen (like Sito) but, this time, local builders weren’t even interested in coming to look at the job and give us a quote. They’d rather be renovating whole houses or even building them, than tackling what, for them, is a relatively small job.

Finally, we had some success: a builder from the other end of Mallorca came up to see what needs to be done. Assuming he wasn’t put off by the distance he had to travel – or by getting lost on the way to our hideaway finca – we’ll soon have a functioning guest bathroom again. If not, there’s always the stream at the bottom of the valley – still full of water after Storm Gloria. Only joking…

Jan Edwards ©2020

Keeping dry in rural Mallorca

Bathers in Med

Spotted at Cala Ratjada on November 15th 2015.

Mallorca is enjoying some exceptional autumn weather this year: daytime temperatures peaking in the low 20s; blue skies, and very warm sunshine. This is what the locals call the veranillo de San Martín or, as we’d call it, an Indian summer. It looks as though it’s set to continue for the rest of November at least, which means we may save some money on logs for the fire this year.

But despite the warmth and sunshine, we are still experiencing the early morning mists and fog that are typical at this time of year. Very often the sea mists are below our finca, moving through the valley and creating an ethereal beauty that begs to be captured on camera. Sometimes the mist moves around our house, the swirling droplets visible in the air and settling on the coats of the cats who have adopted the finca as their favourite restaurant and hotel.

Fighting the damp 

It all adds up to a damp environment, of course. In our first autumn here I had to throw away several pairs of shoes that had grown furry in the damp conditions. It really was uncomfortable before we had electricity – especially as the gas heaters we were using to warm the house were increasing the dampness in the atmosphere. Once we had an electricity supply, we purchased a portable dehumidifier – and still sing its praises every year throughout the ‘soggy season’.

Portable dehumidifier

Our essential finca friend.

The damp situation inside the house did improve dramatically once we’d had a new roof and a chunky layer of insulation added, but our living room still suffers until we start to have regular log fires. It gets no sunshine at this time of the year, and the north-facing wall at the end of the room is built from concrete blocks, rather than stone.

And recycle . . .

With ample sunshine recently we’ve been running the dehumidifier every morning for a couple of hours. It makes a real difference to the comfort level in the room. And because we have had very little rain for some time, the extracted water that accumulates in the dehumidifier’s tank is proving useful in the garden; we do love a bit of recycling . . .

 

Since I drafted this on Sunday (after enjoying a tapas lunch by the sea), the forecast is for the warm spell to end within a few days. This weekend, from Sunday, we shall see wind, rain, and daytime highs of around 13 degrees Celsius. It’ll be a shock to the system after such a warm and sunny two-thirds of the autumn . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mallorca contribution to new ‘Kaleidoscope’ anthology by Writers Abroad

When we came to live on Mallorca I had grand plans to write a novel . . . after I’d written about the experience of moving to a rural finca on the island and all the challenges that it entailed. We had the first eight months without electricity, which meant I couldn’t plug in a computer. And anyone who has seen my handwriting will know that using paper and pen would not have been a workable option. Not if anyone (or even I) intended to read it later.

I soon discovered that better and more experienced writers had already written about moving to Mallorca and living in a finca. Perhaps the novel? I’ve probably written a quarter of it, but that was some time ago now; I do intend to get back to it soon. And, yes, it’s set on Mallorca.

Most of my writing work is factual, rather than fiction, but I have had short stories chosen for inclusion in three anthologies published by a group called Writers Abroad (of which, incidentally, I’m not a member).

A hat trick on the story front

The latest of these anthologies, entitled ‘Kaleidoscope’ is published today, October 12th. Even though I’ve probably had a few hundred articles published now, I’ve had little success with short stories – so I’m pretty excited to have had my third one published. Especially as I spent quite some time trying to find inspiration for the ‘light-themed’ story – and almost gave up the idea of submitting anything.

They do say that you should write about what you know and, thus, the seed of a story idea sprouted. ‘Seeing the light’ (published under the name of Janice Dunn) is a complete work of fiction – but prompted by the occasion when lightning knocked out the invertor of our solar-powered electricity system.

News Release From Writers Abroad‏

 

 

An Anthology of Stories and Poetry from Expat Writers Around the World

‘Kaleidoscope’ Available for Purchase

All proceeds from sales will be donated to the charity Room to Read.

Online, ex-pat writing community Writers Abroad are proud to announce the publication today Monday 12th October of their fifth anthology, Kaleidoscope.

Kaleidoscope is a dazzling collection of flash fiction, short stories and poetry, written by expats (or former expats) around the world on the theme of light, as 2015 is the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.

The stories and poems selected for Kaleidoscope evoke many varied interpretations of light: from a force that dispels evil or illuminates to one that can be destructive, from sunlight to firelight, or from the glow of an Arctic summer night to the brilliance of a Mediterranean afternoon.

This anthology is dedicated to two writers and members of Writers Abroad, Mary Davies and Jäny Graf, who both died in June 2015 during the planning of Kaleidoscope. Two pieces written by them are published in the anthology.

Author and former Writers Abroad member Chris Allen, who lives in Germany, has written the foreword. His writing has appeared in a wide range of publications. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Chris Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

Kaleidoscope is available from Lulu and Amazon at a price of $8.50, £5.99 or €7.50.

Come and join us at our Facebook Launch today between 10am and 6pm and enter one of the free competitions. You could win an e-copy of a previous Writers Abroad Anthology.

 

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 . . .

Christmas in rural Mallorca

Our artificial Christmas tree - bought in Oxfordshire before we moved, but still going strong.

Our artificial Christmas tree – bought in Oxfordshire before we moved, but still going strong.

This is our 10th Christmas spent at our finca in rural Mallorca and, thankfully, it’s a very different Christmas to the first one we spent here. For a start, we’d only had electricity for a couple of weeks – and it still felt like something of a novelty. I still remember the joy of unpacking the electrical kitchen gadgets that hadn’t seen the light of day since we’d moved into the property at the end of April 2004. I also remember how cold and damp the house was: our traditional Mallorcan fireplace was our only source of heat, although it didn’t give off much of it, despite consuming logs at the rate of a child let loose in a sweet shop.

Cold turkey

On Christmas morning we prepared the turkey between us and stuffed it into the oven with a feeling of satisfaction. While the turkey was cooking we decided to phone family and friends back in the UK. We didn’t have a landline telephone back then – it took nearly three years for us to get a phone installed from Telefonica – so we had to use a mobile phone. Sadly there was no network coverage in the house (and there still isn’t), so we had to go outside and stand in the one spot in the garden where we manage to get reception. Unfortunately that spot requires us to stand on a low wall. Perhaps wobble would be a better verb than stand.

Despite the wobbling and the occasional loss of coverage (which required us to re-dial) we spent almost an hour outside catching up with our loved ones.  Returning indoors we expected to be greeted by the delicious aroma of roasting turkey, but nada. During our time outside, the butano in the gas bottle had run out and the oven was, by then, barely warm. Needless to say, Christmas lunch became Christmas dinner. And we’ve never since cooked a Christmas turkey without checking that there’s plenty of gas first. We live and learn . . .

However and wherever you spend this festive season, may it be a time of peace, relaxation and realization of what’s really important in life. Merry Christmas.

 

 

How to make a small fortune on Mallorca

Start with a large one and buy an old finca!

I know. It’s an old joke, but there’s some truth in it (assuming you had any kind of fortune to start with – and we certainly didn’t).

This time last year we had to have our roof renewed and buy new gates. We’d hoped that we wouldn’t be spending any more large amounts of money for a long while. But in recent weeks our solar-powered electricity system has been requiring an increasing amount of generator back-up. Every evening we were having to run the generator for an hour or so to prevent it kicking in on auto-start during the night, because of the power drain caused by the fridge/freezer.

Eventually The Boss decided to switch off the auto-start before we went to bed: we really didn’t want the generator bursting into life in the wee small hours and startling the local sheep (or, of course, our neighbours in the valley). Although running our solar power system is ecologically sound, generators aren’t: diesel is horrible stuff and it’s expensive.

Winter draws on

With winter ahead (and The Boss not keen on going out late at night to traipse down the field to the power house in bad weather), we knew it was time to replace our solar polar batteries. A few years ago we were told that we’d be lucky if they lasted five years; they managed nine. Once again we’ve had to shelve any dreams of a holiday, to spend the equivalent of several holidays on replacing our old batteries with a set that will hopefully last at least a decade.

Out with the old and exhausted . . .

Out with the old and exhausted . . .

Thanks to our finca, we’ll never have a large or even a small fortune, but we do have the good fortune to have a reliable and consistent electricity supply now and a sturdy roof over our heads – and, having seen the TV coverage of the heartbreaking devastation in the Philippines, we’re counting our blessings, if not our banknotes.

The rain in Spain finally falls on our finca

No coffee outside for us today! Tiles have had a much-needed wash . . .

No coffee outside for us today! Tiles have had a much-needed wash . . .

Another crack of thunder booms across the valley, rattling every pane of glass in our finca in rural Mallorca. We’re in the grip of a much-needed summer storm that’s been rumbling on since early this morning. And, as a result, we’re without electricity. Whenever there’s a storm overhead, we switch off our solar power system – not wanting a repetition of the occasion when a serious storm blew out our invertor. The very same invertor we’d had installed just a few weeks before – we could have had an exotic holiday for what it cost. The original system invertor had been a rather Heath Robinson affair that had suddenly gone into spontaneous combustion mode.

Kitting up for a storm

Thankfully, our house insurance covered the replacement of the storm-struck invertor, but we wouldn’t want to risk having to file a second claim. Taking the advice of Toni, our man-with-the-toolbox, we switch off all the power when there’s a storm close by – even if it’s in the middle of the night. When storms are forecast, The Boss places his ‘storm kit’ – umbrella, coat, keys to the power house, and torch – by the back door, ready to leap out of bed at the first flash of lightning and head down the field to the power house.

Everything has been switched off since early this morning and it’s a bit like the way we lived here for eight months, before we had electricity. With the shutters closed against the rain, we feel like a couple of moles. Candles and camping lights come into play, but we’re once again temporarily without a phone or Internet connection, and I’m typing this onto a Word document, to transfer onto WordPress when normality is restored. It’s amazing how the limited battery life of a laptop can focus the mind . . .

Rain at last

There have already been a couple of storms in other parts of Mallorca this summer, but they’ve passed us by. Despite the inconvenience of having no electricity for the duration of this one, we’re grateful for the rain – having had no more than what the locals call cuatro gotas (literally, four drops) at a time since early June. The previously parched plants in the garden are already looking quite perky – unlike the battery level on this laptop. A good excuse to go boil up a saucepan of water on the gas stove and make some coffee . . .

A cautionary watery tale – part two

When I look back at the various problems – OK, let’s call them challenges – that we’ve had living in our finca in rural Mallorca, most of them have been water-related. And several of them have arisen as a result of a job that we did in the belief we were making an improvement.

The installation of an electric water pump, to speed up the flow of water in the house, is a prime example: after having the pump fitted, The Boss was left with the task of digging a trench across the drive, in which to bury the electricity cable.  But when all was dug and buried, that wasn’t the end of it  . . .

Pump up the volume

With the new pump working, we knew we’d use more water and electricity, but were alarmed to discover how much more. Our water consumption had more than doubled and we’d been using enough electricity to power a small pueblo. It looked as though we’d have to avoid turning the taps on fully . . . which would rather defeat the object of having the pump.

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

Getting through the butano at a rapid rate

To add to our woes, the water heater supplying our shower room had developed an insatiable appetite for butano.  Fearing a gas leak, we called back Pep the plumber, who quickly applied his analytical brain to the problem. Within minutes he’d dismissed our leak theory and suspected something far more serious. Muttering in mallorquin, he went out to his van – returning with a pickaxe.

Swing that thing

The bad news, Pep explained, was that our hot water pipe was probably leaking, which would cause the water heater to use more gas. The even worse news was that the leaking pipe was likely to be under the floor tiles in our shower room – hence the pickaxe.

We couldn’t bear to watch Pep smash up our terracotta floor, so retreated – only to rush back at what sounded like a very loud mallorquin expletive. Kneeling amid shards of terracotta and an indoor fountain we hadn’t had before, was a very wet Pep. Swinging his pickaxe, he’d accidentally punctured the cold water pipe.

But he’d also found the hot water pipe, which was seriously leaking – explaining the increase in our water and power consumption. It seemed that the increased water pressure had ruptured a weak joint in the old pipe. Pep set to and eventually fixed both pipes.

Of course, there was still that large hole in the floor. And, as we had feared when we saw it, repairing that was another ‘consequence job’ for us.