The Barefoot Brusher

Good news. Our leaky cisterna has been fixed and we now have water again. It’s not the first time we’ve had to live for a period of time without water on tap, and it may not be the last. But I’m not one to worry too much about what might happen in the future (The Boss does enough for both of us).

Before our builder could assess the exact nature of the problem, the level of the water in the concrete storage tank needed to be substantially reduced, so we were playing a waiting game. As the level went down, the pressure reduced, which meant that the flow of the leak began to slow. We wanted to be sure that we could get through the long Easter holiday before we ran out of water, so we became remarkably stingy with the stuff.

When the builder came to do a thorough inspection of the plastic lining of the tank, he discovered two small tears in the food-grade material. Thankfully, the situation could be sorted with a couple of repairs, rather than a whole new lining.

Wet socks and kidney stones

First, The Boss decided to give the inside – of what’s effectively a large concrete box – a good clean, after disconnecting the pump.  He invested the princely sum of a couple of euros on a soft-bristled broom (so as not to cause further damage to the lining) and, having climbed up a ladder to the top of the cisterna, dropped down into the murky depths – clad in a shirt, summer shorts, and some thick socks. (The latter were ostensibly to keep his feet warm while he bailed out the last few inches of water. Nice theory). Anyway, three days later, I went to see how he was getting on. Only joking, of course, although The Boss did say he felt as though he’d been in there for days.

Mallorca’s water is very hard, and limescale – or cal – is the cause of problems ranging from crusty kettles to kidney stones. The Boss managed to accumulate and remove quite a mound of the stuff, hopefully reducing the potential for any such problems at our finca.

It takes two

The actual repair was unbelievably quick, when two men came to do it the next day: the one who’d drawn the short straw was inside the claustrophobic tank, doing the repair; the other, seemingly, was to keep The Boss engaged in idle conversation. Job done.

Mallorca is a small island. By coincidence, our builder’s brother is the man who owns the water delivery business we use. Not that it did us any good as far as getting a next-day-delivery was concerned. Jaume was fully booked with deliveries. We went to buy some more 8 litre containers of water from the supermarket . . .

STOP PRESS: In the spring issue of Living Spain magazine – now out – you can read my article about our finca life, on the ‘Last Word’ page.

 

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Spring has sprung . . . and so has a leak

A warm welcome to the spring

A warm welcome to the spring

Spring is finally here on Mallorca: today as we look up from our finca on this beautiful Mediterranean island we’re looking at a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. It’s my favourite season – a time of optimism, rebirth, and hope. Already there are a few poppy flowers dotted around our land, and soon the verges at the side of the lane down to our valley will be a mass of wild flowers. And, for gourmets, there’s the added treat of finding wild asparagus. People drive out from Manacor to hunt for the elusive slender stems in the verges and fields. Of course, those of us who live here in the valley have first pickings . . .

Pass the mallet

But amid all this positive stuff, we made an unpleasant discovery yesterday – a day after our latest delivery of 12,000 litres of water. Spring isn’t the only thing that’s sprung . . . we now have a rather serious leak in our water storage tank, or cisterna.  The lining we had installed in 2007 to repair a previous leak seems to have developed its own leaks.  Having discovered the problem, The Boss headed off to do some emergency repairs with a large mallet and a handful of wine bottle corks; I didn’t dare ask . . .  Whatever he did has stemmed the flow a little, but clearly something a little less Heath Robinson is needed for a permanent solution.

Fortunately we have a terrific builder – whose company balance sheet was given a favourable boost last autumn with the work done on our roof – and he came out to examine the cisterna within a couple of hours of our phone call. There’s too much water in the tank to assess the situation accurately, or make a repair, so we must wait until the water level has gone down considerably before he can do that.

Making a splash

Once the water has been used – or has leaked away (which it’s doing steadily) – we’ll be reliving the experience we had when the previous repair was done. It’ll mean one or two days without water, and we’ll be filling the bath and various buckets, so we can flush the loo and heat some up for dishwashing etc.  And for our own ablutions, we’ll be renewing our acquaintance with the public swimming baths in town – where we can have the luxury of a shower both before and after a few lengths of the pool. As it’s spring, let’s be optimistic: the exercise will do us good . . .

A cautionary watery tale – part one

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, we have no mains water or functioning well at our finca in Mallorca. When we want more water, we phone our supplier, who delivers a tanker-load into our cisterna or depósito – a storage tank – located on our land a few metres up the hill from our little house. Gravity-fed, the flow of water used to be painfully slow: it took five minutes just to fill the washing-up bowl in the kitchen. When we had visitors to stay, we had to work out a rota for using the shower, flushing the loo, and general tap usage, otherwise the flow would reduce to a mere trickle.

After some time – and once we had electricity – we decided we had to find a solution, and called on the services of the plumbing company in Manacor that we’d used for some other jobs. In fact, we’ve now used this business so many times – usually for plumbing emergencies – that we have a great relationship with the owner, Cito. Whenever he sees us in town on Saturday mornings, he comes over to greet us with hugs and kisses and to show off his much-loved granddaughter, who is usually with him and his wife.

A gravity matter

I’ve digressed slightly. Cito sent his man Pep to look at our problem. He shrugged his shoulders a few times, stroked his chin in contemplation, and suggested that the best solution would be an electric water pump, to replace the gravity-fed system – which might have worked better if we were living on a steeper hill. He rang his boss for a quote, which we reluctantly accepted as an essential expenditure. After a quick trip back to the depot for the necessary parts, Pep was soon back and at work.

It wasn’t long before he was able to demonstrate our new supercharged water flow. As he turned on the outdoor tap, an explosion of cal – the limescale that blights water here – shot out ahead of the gushing water. Apparently our pipes had been well and truly clogged-up (a common problem on this island, where kidneys and water-dependent appliances also suffer the effects of the cal-laden water).

Dig that

Satisfied that our water flow could now blast the barnacles off a Sunseeker’s bottom, Pep packed his tools into his van, then came to shake hands and say adios before leaving.

“Er, what about that electric cable lying across the drive?” asked The Boss, in his best Spanish. The cable had been fed through the shrubs from the new pump adjoining the depósito and across the drive, to the house. When would Pep be back to bury the cable?

“¡Hombre!” the plumber declared, shaking his head. He wouldn’t be. Digging the four-metre trench was a job for The Boss, but – Pep helpfully pointed out – it wouldn’t need to be any deeper than 10cm.  “Until you’ve done it though, don’t drive over that cable!” His words were left hanging in the air as we wondered how we’d get our car out of the drive until the trench could be dug.

And worse was to come . . .

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats - photo taken October 2011.

Much more interesting to look at than a water storage tank! Part of our adopted family of cats – photo taken October 2011.

Tanks a lot

There are times living here in rural Mallorca that I am reminded of an ’80s comedy movie called ‘The Money Pit’, starring a youthful-looking Tom Hanks and Shelley Long (best known as cocktail waitress Diane in the TV comedy ‘Cheers’) as a couple who, for various reasons, end up buying an old house in need of renovation. Only the work is never finished, as the place gradually falls apart around them.

Now, I wouldn’t want you to think that our finca is like that, but there have been a number of times when it has seemed that as one job finishes, another presents itself.

The turn of the cisterna

We’ve recently re-roofed the place; replaced the kitchen sink tap (for the second time), and done some necessary work on the gates to our drive. Are we due a little break from repairs and expenditure? No. Now, it seems, our cisterna (water storage tank) needs a little attention. One of what The Boss calls his ‘Monday checks’ is to monitor the level of water in the cisterna (so that we know when to order a delivery from Jaume, the water man). And he discovered that the metal lid – now very old and slowly degrading – had fallen into the water inside, leaving our supply open to the elements. Any passing pigeon or seagull, with a sense of devilment – and, it must be said, quite a good aim – could have pooped into our water supply.

Despite the fact that the water would be very cold, The Boss had to do a little angling to retrieve the lid, which will soon have to be replaced with a new one. But a routine inspection of the tank also revealed a small leak – probably caused by the metal lid spiking the membrane that lines the old concrete cisterna; the membrane that we had installed just a few years ago, after the ageing concrete tank developed a nasty leak.

Feeling drained

Back then, we had called in the builders, who gave us a couple of options: have a new cisterna built (expensive), or have a lining put in (not so expensive). We opted for the latter and arranged the date for the work to be done, hoping that we’d worked out accurately when the water supply would be almost exhausted.

The day before the builders were due, we were alarmed to find that we still had quite a lot of water left. Because we would be unable to use the cisterna for 24 hours after the lining was put in, we’d filled the bath and various receptacles in the house with water, for loo flushing and general use. We then set about giving our garden the best watering of its life, until all that was left was a small puddle in the bottom of the cisterna. Just as we’d finished, we received a phone call from the builders. They were very sorry, but they were unable to come out to do the work the next day . . .

Footnote:

Thank you to Anders, from Sweden, who recently added a useful comment on my earlier posting about water cisternas, which you can read here: https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/08/13/5-things-to-know-when-buying-a-rural-property-in-mallorca-part-1/

Into each life a little decadence should fall . . .

The Boss and I have changed a lot since we moved to live in rural Mallorca. I hope for the better . . .

For a start, living in such beautiful surroundings has made us more environmentally aware. Some of this is due to the practicalities of our ‘off the grid’ life. For example, if we’re careless in our use of electricity, the chances are that our solar system will do the equivalent of screaming “Woah! I need a little generator support here!” And diesel, apart from being rather unfriendly in environmental terms, is also quite expensive.

So, we think carefully about usage, and would never dream of running the dishwasher, the washing machine and the iron all at the same time. And I try to do jobs that require a good slug of electricity on days when our 16 solar panels are basking in sunshine. If we’re lucky with the weather, we don’t have to rely on the generator to keep us in clean ironed clothes.

We’re similarly careful with water usage: we have to be, as it’s delivered by tanker to our cisterna, 12,000 litres at a time.

I must confess that I probably wasn’t so careful about these things when I lived in the UK, even though we had quarterly bills to pay for such services. The bathroom  tap would run while I was cleaning my teeth (now a ‘sin’ in our household), and lights would be on in unused rooms, just for decorative effect. Everything was ‘on tap’ and available – even if it meant bigger bills for less careful use.

A zest for cooking . . . and gourmet goodies 

Happily, my writing keeps me fairly busy, but I do like to find time to do things such as making  bread, biscuits, and preserves. In the early days of living here, I’d have been slightly overwhelmed by a generous gift of lemons – wondering how many G&Ts we’d have to drink to use them all up! Now, I head for the kitchen (where, it must be said, I am quite a messy but reasonably successful cook) and turn these gifts into preserves.

Friends who came for lunch last Thursday brought us a large basket of organic lemons and grapefruit; this summer, we’ll be spreading the resulting marmalade on our morning toast, thinking of our friends in their home in New York, and remembering a sunny January day when I spent most of one joyful morning shredding the peel from a small mountain of citrus fruit.

But within this changed girl remains a part-time hedonist: when the opportunity is there, I love dining out on fine food and wine, and I get little-girl-excited when I discover previously untried gourmet foods and ingredients.

So, when we opened a parcel yesterday – a generous gift from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina in Oxford, who have visited us annually since we moved here, and probably love the finca as much as we do – we were thrilled to find some delicious Fortnum & Mason gourmet goodies within. And among the wrappings was a jar of F&M Majestic Marmalade. And, I kid you not, it’s flecked with gold leaf: it lives up to its name, looking like something a princess – or her servant – would spread on her morning toast (crusts removed, no doubt).

Our breakfast toast may be rustic in style – crusts intact, and with the bottom of the loaf slightly burnt, due to our thermostatically-challenged oven – but, when it comes to the marmalade that will be gracing it for the next week or so, all that glitters is definitely gold . . .

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside