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.

 

 

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

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 . . .

5 things to know when buying a rural property in Mallorca (Part 1)

If you want to buy – or even rent – a rural property in Mallorca, there are plenty of things you’ll want to find out about before you commit yourself to a decision. And over the course of this week’s three posts, I’ll write about what I consider to be the five must-know things to keep front of mind, while you’re being enchanted by the beauty of the scenery, birdsong and rural charm.  Today’s two things are water-related. In the UK, we took it for granted that water came out of the tap when we turned it on, and we gave little thought to what happened when we flushed the loo or ran the washing machine. Living in the Mallorcan countryside is different.

  • Supply of water

A rural property won’t be connected to a mains supply, so find out where the water comes from. Some properties have their own well, but you’ll need to know that it’s in a good state and where it is. Does it have an electric pump and, if so, how old is it? Having the water tested is recommended if you’re planning to use it in the house, rather than just using it to keep your garden plants perky.

Our well has been out of action for at least a couple of decades and needs more than a good poke about with a long stick to put it back in service. It’s on the list of ‘things to do when all the more important things have been done’ . . .

Water being delivered into our cisterna

If, as with our property, water has to be delivered, you’ll need a cisterna or storage tank, with pipe connections to the house.  If the property you’re viewing has a cisterna, have a look at it and see whether it shows any signs of leakage.  Repairing a leaky cisterna is inconvenient and can be expensive. You’ll need to find out if there’s a way to gauge fairly accurately how much water is in stock, so you know when to order more.

You’ll also want to check out the cost of water delivery by a local service. Ours comes in a tanker that delivers 12,000 litres at a time.

  • Waste water ‘n’ all that

What goes in, must come out . . . somewhere. In a rural property, waste water doesn’t go into a main sewer but into what’s known as a pozo negro (meaning, literally, black well), or septic tank. Find out how old it is, its exact location, and when it was last emptied. Don’t worry, there are companies that offer this as a service. They come along with a tanker and lots of pipes and suck out what’s left after the bacteria within have done their stuff. How often the pozo negro needs emptying depends on several factors, including – obviously – the number of people using loos, baths and showers. Ours is emptied every 18 months or so. And, amazingly, you won’t need a peg for your nose while it’s being done . . .

On Wednesday, I’ll continue the theme of five essential things you need to know when looking to buy or rent a rural property in Mallorca.