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.

 

 

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.

No country home for tall men

While at the farewell lunch for Mallorca’s departing British Consul, Paul Abrey, at Mood Beach on Saturday, I fell into a conversation with another woman about how Mallorcans are much taller now than they were a couple of decades ago. I remembered, as a teenager, coming here on holiday, and feeling quite lofty; as someone who’s a fraction under 5’2” – one day I’ll work that out in metric – that’s not happened to me very often.

We weren’t too surprised then to find that the old finca we had bought had some perilously low doorways. And the first one we needed to address was the entrance to the kitchen. The low doorway wasn’t a problem for me, of course, but The Boss is taller and didn’t fancy cracking his skull every time he walked between the dining room and kitchen. With very little effort from us – and quite a lot of sledgehammer-swinging by a couple of Argentinians who worked for a local construction company – we became the proud owners of a high archway, ensuring that even our tallest visitors would remain concussion-free.

The point at which I wondered if an arch had really been a good idea . . .

The point at which I wondered if an arch had really been a good idea . . .

The keystone stops

But the low front door was a different matter, because right above it is the keystone – which couldn’t be moved. We’d just have to learn to duck . . . some of us more than others. And there’s nothing like experience to ram a lesson home.

At the time, the Spanish phone company Telefonica was denying our existence, so we relied on our mobile phones to communicate with the outside world. But there  was no signal in the house and only one spot outside where we could get service. Awaiting an important phone call to learn when our kitchen would be fitted, The Boss had left his phone perched on the garden wall, while he was in the kitchen discussing pipework possibilities with Miguel Angel, the plumber.

Who dunnit?

I was cleaning the bathroom when I heard a loud yell from the direction of the dining room. I ran through to find Miguel Angel – large wrench in hand – crouched over the prone, blood-spattered body of The Boss. It looked like a scene from a TV crime series, with the perpetrator standing over the body, weapon in hand – caught in the act.

But Miguel Angel was completely innocent of any violence. Like me, he’d heard the yell but reached the scene of the accident first. Hearing the mobile phone ring outside, The Boss had rushed out of the house to answer it, forgetting he wasn’t Tom Cruise and smacking his head on the lintel above the door. The gushing head wound and subsequent thumping headache proved to be a very salutary lesson.

For the record, Manacor hospital does a neat line in head staples . . .

Another tap bites the dust . . .

In all the recent excitement of having our rural finca in Mallorca re-roofed, we were tolerating – rather than tackling – a small domestic irritation. And, like many problems we’ve had since moving to the Mallorcan countryside, it was water-related.

Here be a dragon

When we first moved here, the kitchen was little more than a room containing an old stainless steel sink, a gas-powered fridge/freezer (don’t ever go there), some pine shelves and a small pine cupboard topped with a slab of marble. Oh, and of course there was the gas cooker, which – for reasons you can probably imagine – I christened ‘the dragon’. Who needs eyebrows anyway?

Within a few months we’d sourced ourselves a fitted kitchen, which transformed what would have been Delia Smith’s worst nightmare into something any of Mallorca’s five* Michelin-starred cuisine-producing chefs would be happy to do a turn in. (Oh, I wish!).

We chose a very stylish kitchen sink, with the appearance of stone, and a smart matching tap. Rather expensive but, we thought, you don’t replace such things every five minutes. However, the water in Mallorca is very hard and contains a lot of cal – or lime – and it’s a pesky nuisance when it comes to clogging up water-using appliances, including taps.

Cal claims another victim

In February 2011, the kitchen tap started spewing water everywhere like a fountain in a force 10 gale. We called Cito, owner of the local plumbing firm we’ve used since we bought the finca. We’re such regular customers that Cito treats us like best friends; if he sees us in town, there’s always a frenzy of kissing and hugging. So when Cito declared that our tap was beyond repair, we knew it wasn’t just a ruse to sell us a new one, rather than repair the existing one.

Plumber Miquel Angel knows our kitchen very well indeed

We took his recommendation and bought one that cost more than we really wanted to pay, but were assured that the manufacturer was a good one. The shiny chrome version (alas, the one that had matched the sink was no longer being manufactured) was duly installed.

Water, water, everywhere . . .

Some six or seven weeks ago, we returned home to find a large pool of water on the kitchen floor. We couldn’t blame Minstral, our Birman cat; he’s never yet been caught short on the way to his litter tray. It didn’t take long to realise that the water was leaking from a joint on the tap, running along the back of the worktop, under the dishwasher and then cascading onto the floor. Our very own indoor waterfall . . .

Not wanting any further disruption from workmen, we lived with this situation throughout the roofing job by wrapping a sponge around the base of the tap to soak up the leaking water. Not ideal. On Monday this week we finally called in Cito and, on Tuesday morning, Miquel Angel – one of his employees – came to sort out the problem. Once again, it seemed that the tap was unrepairable and a new one was fitted. The good news is that Cito believes the leaky tap probably had a manufacturing fault, so he’s returning it to the company for repair or replacement. Meanwhile, he’s only charging us for the labour. Now that’s what I call service . . .

FOOTNOTE

Michelin-starred cuisine at Es Fum restaurant in Costa d’en Blanes, Mallorca, prepared by chef Thomas Kahl . . . sadly not for my lunch today.

Yes, you did read correctly: Mallorca has five restaurants with Michelin-starred cuisine. The latest awards were made in the Michelin Guide Spain & Portugal 2013 last evening in Madrid.  And there are also three restaurants with the Bib Gourmand, offering “high quality, affordable cuisine.” The island also has around 60 wineries – a number of which produce stonking prize-winning wines – and a host of products loved by gourmets way beyond our shores. Mallorca is often negatively portrayed in the British tabloid press, but please believe that there’s more to this Spanish island than the resort of Magaluf and its well-publicised problems. The great gastronomy is just one of the many reasons to visit Mallorca.

Pass the ladder, it’s time to get off my high horse . . .