How to Make a Small Fortune in 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.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

Things That Go Bump in the Night

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We’ve become quite good at detective work since moving to the Mallorcan countryside; you have to be when you live in an old finca like ours. Strange things happen from time to time and, if we didn’t work out the reason for them, we’d probably go mad. And there is always an explanation eventually.

All manner of things have piqued our curiosity. One of the earliest mysteries was the occasional pile of empty almond shells found around the terraces and garden. Who was eating our almonds and shedding shells in neat little heaps around the place? A Mallorcan neighbour gave us the answer: it was what’s known here as (wait for it) . . .  an almond-eater. These cute-looking little rodents – with facial markings that make them look as though they are wearing bandit masks, and a tail topped with something like a pom-pom – certainly live up to their name. They’re incredibly shy and we seldom see them . . . just evidence of their presence.

Then we had the incident with the vanishing *butano. In the course of a week, The Boss had to replace the butane bottle that powers our shower room water heater three times. No, we hadn’t suddenly become super-obsessive about showering every hour. It took some considerable thought, mess, and money, to sort that little mystery out. I’ll tell you about it in a future episode on this blog.

The latest in many strange occurrences happened just this last Thursday evening. I was working at the computer, and The Boss was watching TV when, suddenly, we heard the strangest rumbling noise from outside. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before – and most evenings in winter there’s nothing much to hear except a generator somewhere.

My immediate fear was that someone driving down the lane had swerved to avoid one of the cats that have adopted us, and driven into one of the old dry stone walls. It might have explained the noise. But, as The Boss pointed out, we hadn’t actually heard a car (few pass this way in the winter once darkness has fallen). Nevertheless, we rushed outside, armed with a torch probably powerful enough to confusing incoming aeroplane pilots, to scan the lane. Nada. Satisfied that neither human or feline had been injured, I returned to the warmth of the house, while The Boss scoured the terraces around the house, finding nothing out of order.

It was only this afternoon, having been out all day yesterday and this morning, that we worked out what had made the mysterious noise we’d heard. At the bottom of our field is an old abandoned finca, which was where one of our Mallorcan neighbours had been born. It’s been empty for years and, over the past year in particular, the roof had become rather dilapidated. See https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/10/03/ripping-off-the-roof-at-last/ for an image of what it used to look like. Every time the wind was strong or we had heavy rain, a tile or two would fall to the ground.

Now, there is no roof at all. The entire thing has collapsed into the upper floor of the old house, and only the four walls remain standing. The strange rumbling noise we’d heard suddenly made sense: it had been the sound of roof tiles and old beams crashing down.

I’m just hoping that the next strange noise we hear isn’t the rest of the place finally falling to the ground.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2013

What Lies Beneath

Our roof tiles, on the terrace

As I write this, half of our house in rural Mallorca is without its roof tiles. Such is the construction of these typical old fincas that, as I stand inside and look up at the terracotta tiles that form our ceiling, I can see the sky through the thin gaps between some of the tiles. Fortunately, it’s blue sky and not ominous rain clouds . . .

Busy Between Breakfasts

The builders arrived yesterday morning, promptly at 8am, to begin the job of repairing our old roof. Fortunately, they’re working on one side of the roof ridge at a time, so the showers of dust that fall periodically through the gappy ceiling tiles aren’t landing on my computer; I’m in the roofed half of the house.

Who Needs Scaffolding?

It’s a big job. The three builders – Moroccans working for a local Mallorcan firm – began by carefully removing the traditional curved roof tiles. All done, I might add, without the aid of scaffolding; our outdoor wood-fired stone oven adjoins the house and they’re climbing onto that to get onto the roof. The tiles that have survived intact are currently stacked on the terrace, to be replaced in due course.

An hour after the workers had arrived, they were sitting on rocks in our back field, eating what the locals call ‘second breakfast’. (If that sounds a bit greedy, they probably had only a glass of milk and a biscuit for the first one – fairly typical). Then, they swung back into action, removing cement and some strange yellowish lumps that The Boss identified as foam he had once injected into some of the gaps between the roof tiles, to stop rats from using our roof space as a penthouse pad.

It was the noisiest day we’d ever experienced here in the valley. Somehow, amid the banging and crashing that was going on, the three builders managed to maintain a lively and ongoing conversation. Which was more than we could do indoors.

Scantily Clad 

At 5pm, peace was restored. The workers had left for the day, leaving us to inspect the first day’s progress. There was a mini-mountain of rubble on the drive – looking like something Tracey Emin might have created. And our roof had been stripped back to what appeared to be a thin layer of tarred felt – the only thing that had been between the ceiling and the roof tiles.

It was obvious why we’ve had rain coming into the house: a couple of decades of fierce summer heat and ravenous rats had turned our roof’s undergarment into something resembling black lace. Hopefully, the new stuff will be more like Damart . . .

Jan Edwards Copyright 2012