Amanda Saves The Day

I've always had terrible phobia of wasps and as with my only other weakness, ice cream, it is all the fault of my Mother.

Some of my earliest memories are of my Mum shrieking and flapping her arms about like a crazy woman because she'd spotted a wasp within a hundred yards of us. On one occasion she abandoned me in my perambulator in the middle of a dual carriageway to escape a solitary wasp and save her own skin. And I remember being severely reprimanded, it might well have involved smacked legs, for poking at a wasp with a stick on our driveway at home.

As a kid, whenever the word 'wasp' was uttered in our house I followed Mum out of the door flapping a squealing like a girl until Dad killed it, and declared that our home had once again returned to being a wasp free safe haven.

At school I told everyone that I got a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings to explain my hysteria, and on one occasion as a young teenager I jumped out of a moving car because one had entered through an open window.

I think that it is safe to say that I really don't like wasps.

It was therefore with great distress to myself, that Amanda disturbed a wasps nest while we were clearing ivy and brambles from a slope next to the newly renovated bread oven house.

I retreated a good distance towards the safety of the barn and yelled questions.

'How big is it? What do the wasps look like? How many are there? How do I get my blood pressure down?'

2017-04-29-PHOTO-00008212Amanda shouted back that it was about the size of a tennis ball (see the picture), quite small in the whole hierarchies of wasps nests. The 'wasps', it turns out through consultation with my 'Insects of the British Isles and Western Europe', were actually Asian Hornets, a particularly unpleasant multiple-stinging' one inch long, armour plated 'pain machine'. There were less than a dozen, but more than half a dozen. My blood pressure, it seemed, would remain high for the foreseeable future.

I phoned Neil, our oracle on almost everything.

'Kill them with fire!', he said, one of his stock answers to any question about problems with natures fauna. 'Alternatively, wait until late evening or a cold morning, pick the nest up with a plastic bag, and then smash the hell out of it with a big rock, perhaps then burning it for good measure'.

I had visions of us setting Galicia alight and the last thing I really wanted to do was let pyromaniac Amanda loose with a pint of unleaded and a box of matches.

We looked for a local Rentokil operative but the nearest office was three hours away in Vigo. As it was Friday afternoon the local council was now deserted for the weekend so we had no option other than to take matters into our own hands, or in reality, for Amanda to 'man-up' and deal with the problem.

So this morning, after I'd suffered a sleepless, worry and wasp filled night, and while I cowered in the house on the verge of tears, Amanda tucked her trousers in her socks, pulled on a hat and thick gloves, put a scarf around her mouth and nose, and did the deed.

I almost applauded from the other side of the window as she battered a double-carrier-bagged Asian Hornets nest with the back of a shovel until there was no more movement, and their superbly engineered nest was as flat as a wasp filled pancake.

Since 'the exterminator' did her stuff we've had a couple of them come by to visit the site of their old nest but we suspect that the size of it meant that they'd just started building, and that Amanda's swift actions will force them to find a new home, hopefully not on our finca.

Now, hopefully my blood pressure is now returning to normal.

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A License to Park Wherever You Like

Galicia, we've had this little chat before and I'm sure that we'll have to have it again in the future.

Your parking is atrocious, dangerous, illegal, inconsiderate and sometimes plain daft. I suspect that the Spanish get their driving licences out of Christmas crackers, for the majority of them certainly have no idea how to conduct themselves on the nations by-ways or how to terminate their journey in a safe and satisfactory manner.

I'm particularly vexed on this subject for two reasons.

The first is that Amanda and I are now the proud holders of Spanish driving licenses which rather than falling from a festive celebratory explosive device, put us through the mill of bureaucracy and spat us out as two finely ground down individuals.

Amanda suggested that it would be a good idea to trade in our UK licences for their Spanish counterparts for a couple of reasons. The first is that it makes renting a car when we return to UK a far simpler exercise as we wouldn't have to print out one of the DVLA forms to show our points status, and we don't have to maintain a credit card to a UK address for the rental company to use as collateral. Secondly, and more importantly, anyone moving to Spain should theoretically change to a Spanish license within six months of making it their place of permanent residence, and we've been here for almost two and a half years.

What ensued was a military style operation to assemble all of the relevant documents, get our photos taken, undergo a medical, download and complete the correct form, pay online in advance of attending the police station in Lugo, and then make two 100km return journeys and spend hours waiting in lines.

We needed; our residence card, a colour copy of our passports, a colour copy of our UK license (both sides), our National Identity Number, our certificate of registration with the local council (issued within the last 90 days), a proof of payment for around €30 each, two special driving license photographs, and our medical certificate (including a coordination test which resembled playing 1980's computer tennis) which cost us another €40 each.

Mercifully there was no need for a driving test but the morning of our medical appointment (with the coordination test) followed a very heavy and late night of drinking which had seen a friend and myself demolish a bottle and a half of single malt. I'd asked Amanda to drive to Ribadeo for the test as I was convinced that I was over the limit, and as I sat in the chair to take the test I was more that a little concerned at my mental capacity to control both hands simultaneously. I was sufficiently uncoordinated for it to have been a challenge to tie my own shoelaces but after trying to control two dots travelling up a curved line and setting off the 'out of lane' buzzer with alarming regularity the doctor/tester told me I'd passed. This despite me already consoling myself to the fact that I'd have to come back when sober and sit the test again. I dread to think how badly someone must have to perform to fail.

In all it took six weeks from deciding to change our licenses to actually getting our new ones in hand but you factor in fuel and parking and photos and ink for the printer, there probably wasn't much change from €100 each.

Which brings me to the second reason for my annoyance.

IMG_1422I went to the fruit market in nearby Meira on Sunday morning and while looking for a parking space I witnessed the outrageous attempt at parking in the adjacent photograph. This comes out of the Galicians determination to park as close to where they want to go as is mechanically possible.

There were plenty of legal on-street, free parking spaces within fifty metres of where this numpty abandoned his battered old Volvo but where he chose to leave it blocked a pedestrian crossing AND a path around the edge of the local park.

Now we are used to vehicles being parked on verges, waste ground and double parked with their hazards on while someone goes for a coffee. We've even seen cars parked on central reservations and traffic roundabouts and been in a parked car when someone tried to park behind us but decided to use 'touch' as their guide rather than their eyes.

But this took the biscuit.

I was at the market for a good half hour and expected to return to find the car towed or at least ticketed but there was nothing.

But now I'm a Spanish licence holder I've decided that if it's good enough for the Spanish, that was the last time that I park considerately, especially if I am in the Santana.

Unless, of course, Amanda is with me...then I'll park legally! Not to do so would lead to too much earache.

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An Inconvenient Phone Call

Amanda and I returned to Spain on Sunday afternoon after a first joint trip to England in over two years. We'd been for a special meal, dinner suit and posh frock, held in honour of one of my old mates who had the privilege of captaining my old golf club this past season.

It was a fleeting visit, flying in on Friday morning and back on Sunday afternoon with just enough time to; do a bit of shopping for essentials (such as Paxo stuffing, PG Tips tea bags, and Bisto gravy granules), have a fleeting visit with family, and stuff our faces with a fried breakfast and marvellous fish and chips (not at the same sitting).

I'd developed the snuffles and a dry throat as we drove down to Stansted Airport, and by Tuesday morning it had developed into full 'Man Flu'. I know that many women believe that this chronic disease is a myth but I am reliably informed by a good friend (male) that the only female equivalent to this heinous illness is the pain and discomfort of childbirth.

So, by eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning I was wrapped up in a blanket, dosed up to the eyeballs with Ibuprofen, clutching a big cup of Max Strength Lemsip, and settled down for a day of TV, perhaps a feel good film or two and an early night. And then the phone rang.

It was Facundo our builder who explained that his team had the rest of the week free and that it would be the perfect time to undertake the works on our bread oven (Horno) which comprised; levelling the floor, pouring a concrete plinth, and re-lining the bread oven to allow us to start using it for its intended purpose. He'd quoted us months ago, and we'd accepted his price, but he chose this, of all days, to arrange to start the works.

My heart sank. The bread oven was full of machinery and materials amassed over the last two and a half years which needed to be moved to my new workshop, which was currently doorless and very insecure. Facundo explained that it was 'either tomorrow, or it could be a couple of months'.

I arose, like Lazarus, from my death bed, changed into my work clothes and went to fit the door and lock.

Five hours later, and with only half of the contents of the bread oven moved into my new workshop, I collapsed into bed, exhausted.

Facundo's boys arrived at 7:30am the following morning, helped me clear the rest of the horno, and set about their work. Four tonnes (60cm at its deepest) of rock were removed with a heavy duty jack hammer, drainage channels were dug into the floor to drain the four natural springs which emerge when the water table rises, gravel and membrane were laid down before a couple of cubic metres of concrete were poured. In the meantime the old floor from inside the bread oven itself was removed and a new set of earthstone tiles fitted by Facundo, who spend a couple of hours physically inside the oven, swearing under his breath as his head regularly came into contact with the low ceiling.

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There is still plenty of work to do with a stone floor to lay, electrics to install, a steel oven door to have fabricated, and a sink and running water to connect. But at least we now have a level floor and a functioning bread oven.

Time to get some lessons in making the local 'pan Gallego'.

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Falling In Love Again

Liñeiras has a new resident, and I'm desperately in love.

She's twenty-eight years old, of a chalky complexion, some might say she's a bit of a looker, will go anywhere and do anything, likes to get dirty, is a bit rough round the edges, and weighs in at just over two tonnes.

Ever since I was a young child I've had a love of Land Rover Defenders (and of course, Ford Transits). The ultimate utilitarian vehicle, driven by mechanics and monarchs, farmers and financiers, hunters and hooray Henries.

Five years ago I had a brief affair with a 1986 petrol Defender which I drove to Spain and used around the house for three months before bringing it back to the UK and sadly selling her. In Spain she spent a lot of time broken down, the never ending catalogue of mechanical disasters can be read in earlier blogs. It is not possible to re-register a right-hand drive agricultural vehicles in Spain so the only option was to let her go, and the last I heard of her she was being used to transport dogs for their daily walks to save the leather upholstery of her owner's brand new BMW.

After my long contract in Belfast last Winter I promised myself a 'runaround' for Casa Liñeiras and the only real option in my mind was a Land Rover. After all of the problems that I had last time with a British built, right hand drive petrol, I was determined to do it right and get a Santana assembled (under license) Land Rover, with a stock Diesel engine, and standard Spanish parts.

I've spent months scouring the small ads for one at the right price, decent condition, sensible miles, and in our part of the country. I'd been to see one previously but it had been to the moon and almost back and the chassis was in awful condition due to extensive farm use. In addition they wanted €2,000 and I could see it eating double that over the next year to keep it mobile.

Many hours searching equalled many hours of frustration.

img_1316Then, on Christmas Day, a miracle.  Someone just up the coast near Burela put up a new listing online with the site Milanuncios. The Santana on offer was a two door (just what I was looking for), a diesel (just what I was looking for), white (which was tolerable), totally original (just what I was looking for), and after a few SMS enquiries had a reasonable mileage and according to the vendor it had no faults. From the photos it looked pretty good, almost too good, and we arranged to go and see it on Wednesday morning.

It was love at first sight. It turns out that she'd had one owner from brand new, had spent her life on the roads of originally Madrid (not in the fields), latterly Leon (before the sad death of the aged owner), and had a fully stamped up service history to go with the original toolkit, manuals, keys, and working locks. It was like a time capsule, back to the days of Kylie and the Pet Shop Boys, Rainman and A Fish Called Wanda, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

I couldn't get my money out of Amanda's purse fast enough. I'd seen worse condition Santana's advertised with higher mileages for double the price. I must have been the first to see it over the sleepy Christmas period. We shook hands and agreed to return on Thursday to jointly visit a solicitors with the vendor and officially complete the transaction.

However, nothing is ever straightforward here.

When we met the actual vendor, the father of the guy who'd shown us the car, he wasn't sure whether he really wanted to sell and it appeared he'd been bullied into it by his sons. He'd forgotten his Identity Card (perhaps deliberately) and my paperwork, despite only being six months old, was deemed too old for the authorities necessitating a re-issue for me to email over after the A Pontenova bureaucrats had worked their snails-pace magic. After a tense hour, and both promising to chase up our absent paperwork, we managed to prise the keys from the vendor, hand over the dosh, and drive her the 65km home.

The neighbours love her, including Oscar who was keen for a test drive and managed to get her stuck in a ditch for five minutes. She's a car for life for me, and I already have a long list of wants and improvements, but she'll be handled in the same way as the house, 'poco a poco' (little by little).

The top speed is just under 100kmh (62mph), 0-60 acceleration is measured by a calendar, and she has plenty of idiosyncrasies. But I'm besotted, she's a belter.

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Self-appointed Water Monitor

For a short while I'd been milk monitor at school. I didn't like the school milk as it was healthier than chocolate, so cold in winter that it numbed your mouth and hurt your teeth, and so warm in the summer that it had almost turned to yoghurt before you had the teachers permission to consume the contents of the small foil topped glass bottle.

But the experience stood me in good stead, as I am now the self-appointed village 'water monitor' and I rule with an iron hand that Margaret Thatcher would have been proud of on the day that she stripped school kids of their daily free bottle of the white stuff.

One aspect of rural Galician life that two years has failed to normalise is the occasional total lack of water.

img_1305When we purchased the property back in 2010 we were told that it was supplied by town water, in addition to having its own spring. The town water turns out to be a large spring fed deposit of around 50,000 litres which we share with the rest of the village of twenty houses, and our own spring is a useless trickle of water which emerges next to the barn and does nothing more than flood the surrounding ground.

Since moving here in 2014 we've had two summer water shortages, which bizarrely happen late in the summer in September and October, a month or more after the usual long dry spells have ended. What appears to happen is that; as the summer goes on the water table drops drying out spring fed pasture, and as a result the local livestock owners open their cattle trough taps and leave them running around the clock.

With 750 litres an hour entering the deposit but at its worst over 1,500 an hour being used by some of our inconsiderate bovine, ovine and equestrian neighbours, it doesn't take too long for the deposit to be emptied. The outcome is that we've no water to flush the loo, wash clothes, or brush our teeth.

We'd had a shortage in early October but as a key holder, and self-appointed 'water monitor' to the deposit, I'd soon diagnosed the problem and started a regime of cutting off the supply to the village between the darkness hours of 9pm and 9am. With my diligent water management we managed to keep the village in water during the day throughout the month, finally able to cease the rationing after a few days of rain when our neighbours felt that they could safely close their 24 hour a day livestock watering.

But then in mid-November we awoke to a non-flushing toilet, the stuff of 21st century nightmares.

Having been informed of the crisis by Amanda I quickly dressed and made my way, torch in hand, up to the communal deposit half a kilometre up into the forest. As I peered over the top of the two metre wall I could see all the way to the bottom, we were totally empty. I was furious and a little scared at knowing how furious Amanda was going to be.

I closed off the taps that feed the village to see whether the deposit would start to refill and we immediately penned a memo for the rest of the village telling them if the situation, our temporary resolution, and that we would inform the local council (who whilst accepting no responsibility for the villages water mismanagement still did have some responsibility for ensuring that we had a supply of some description).

We let the water build until lunchtime at which point Amanda needed to shower before going to work. As I was in control that wasn't going to be a problem, I'd open the supply for just long enough and then close it off again. I took the phone and went to the deposit having made the arrangements that I'd text her when I reconnected the supply and she was to text me back when she'd showered so I could switch it off again.

Around 4,500 litres had accumulated in the six hours since I closed the supply pipes, so at least the deposit wasn't leaking, but in the three minutes that it took Amanda to shower and text me that she'd finished, all four and a half thousand litres disappeared down the pipe, gurgling and hissing to indicate an alarming rate of water egress. Now I realised that we'd got a catastrophic problem somewhere on the network, and it seemed that it was along our supply pipe.

Pepe, from the local council, visited over lunch and I explained the situation. We agreed that we would allow the deposit to refill overnight and he'd bring a team of people up the following morning so that we could reconnect the supply and use spotters to see if they could detect the source of the leak.

We survived the day, dirty plates stacking up on the worktop, and at first light the following morning I went up to the deposit to check that it had refilled sufficiently for our experiment. But to my anger and amazement it was empty again. Overnight someone, without the experience of a 'water monitor' like yours truly, had opened one of the supply pipes and the 'emergency evacuation' pipe which is used to drain the deposit should it need cleaning.

I closed both taps, tried to control my anger, called Pepe to cancel the team of spotters, and constructed another angry note for the rest of the villagers which Amanda translated and we took out to hand deliver.

Forty-eight hours after the start of the crisis the council finally arrived, mob handed. They determined that; we had a problem, which side of the network the problem was on, determined where the leak was (it was a fractured valve down near the old school house), and replaced the offending bit of iron. All in the space of about ninety minutes.

My faith in the council is restored and my reputation as 'water monitor' enhanced. We should now be alright until next summer, when I'll start the rationing all over again. In the meantime we need to find a local solution to be self sustained in water, either our own well or our own deposit. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, the joys of Spanish country life.

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