The little house that Amanda and Paul built

As we unloaded box after box from Hercules it became ever more apparent that in moving from an English three-bedroomed semi-detached, to a one-bedroomed, mostly open-plan, barn conversion, we’d simply got far too much stuff.

We no longer had a loft or a garage in which to dump the boxes of precious things that, despite not needing for the last sixteen years, we may need again at some point in the future. We have got loads of roofed space in the big house, but unfortunately that roof leaks into every room and the floors are the nocturnal play areas for mice, rats and goodness knows what other cardboard eating pests.

After hours of sorting, putting away and re-boxing we were still left with an unusable back-door, a porch stacked ceiling high, and possessions spilling close to the bottom of the stairs making ingress and egress to the ground floor a little tricky. It was an unsustainable situation and we knew it would probably be at least a year until we’d somewhere dry and relatively rodent free into which we could expand.

We plumped for the traditional English solution and we bought a shed.

After careful measurement and calculation we searched online and found a great little company in Almeria and purchased a ‘Riveton’ for three hunderd euros, delivered and sat back awaiting its arrival.

When I helped the delivery man lift it from his truck I was wondering where the rest of it was as a 150cm x 100cm x 25cm box surely couldn’t contain a whole shed. Eager to get cracking I opened the box to be confronted by hundreds of pieces, a giant Meccano set, and sadly, as a child I’d only ever had Lego.

This time I did a very un-English thing and opened the instructions.

The opening page suggested that it would take two people just two and a half hours to build the shed, but I was pretty sure that Amanda and I weren’t the two people of this fictional calculation. The person doing the calculation had not seen Amanda and I work together, and they probably assumed that I’d spent my youth engrossed in complex Meccano projects.

I decided that we’d need at least eight hours of daylight and so delayed starting until the next day.

Never has the building of a shed attracted such an audience. On one Sunday afternoon in early November, we’d become the only village spectator sport.

Carlos was fascinated, but I could tell that he was bemused as to why we wouldn’t just do what he’d have done, and knock up a shed from timber off-cuts and a bag of six-inch nails. He spent hours stood in the doorway to the garage, watching our every move with an ‘I wouldn’t do it like that’ look on his face. As it took shape he christened it the ‘little house’, and asked if we’d be spending the summer in it.

shedElena thought it was ‘pretty’, in its resplendent green, but was totally confused as to its future use, or why we were building a shed inside our existing ramshackle garage. Neighbour Nati simply thought we were mad and offered us space in her garage to store any boxes that were surplus to current requirements, but did warn us that it wasn’t heated…as if she thought our shed would be!

Through many neighbourly interuptions, explanations, temper tantrums from both Amanda and I, and the aversion of a potential disaster (parts fitted the wrong way around early in the build, solved by brute force and a mallet rather than the removal of the entire roof structure), after six long hours we slid the awkwardly sliding doors closed and called it a night.

Teamwork had eventually triumphed.

The shed is now full to the gunnels of all the boxes that used to live in the loft and the garage in Huddersfield, which we’ll probably never need, and which will stay in our new shed for the next sixteen years.

Posted in Background, Local Life | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thirty-six hours of Hell

Anyone that knows Amanda and I will know that our life revolves around our aged black petite moggie, Bonita, to give her Sunday name. She went missing for a very long three days earlier this year only to turn up sleeping quietly in a neighbours vintage sports car. Neither of us could sleep, eat, or concentrate on work for the entire time that she was missing.

Our biggest concern since deciding on the move to Galicia was how we would get our Boni over the sea to our new home.

It was never going to be a nice trip, our final return to Spain with our precious feline cargo, but the week leading up to our departure last Friday meant that it was with our hearts in our mouths that we set off for Portsmouth at 10:30am.

We’d initially toyed with the idea of flying, but that would have meant a high cost flight from somewhere in London to Madrid and a long journey north.  Horror stories on the internet of uncaring baggage handlers, and frequent pet deaths in cargo holds, meant that the consideration was short-lived.

We’d thought about driving all the way through France via Dover-Calais. Boni’s previous longest journey had been a short five miles to the vets (which usually included at least one toilet accident) and the thought of 800 miles filled us both of us with dread. We also suspected that the stress of such a long journey may have been too much and we’d arrive with an inanimate bundle of fur in the pet carrier.

Finally we opted for the Portsmouth to Santander Brittany Ferries sailing with a ‘pet cabin’, which would mean that she was with us for the entire voyage. Happy we’d made the right decision we left her at Mums’ house as a temporary lodger while we transferred the rest of our possessions to the barn, and bought a left hand drive car for the pet transit.

Then the nightmare began. When we got back home Mum told us that Boni had had a ‘funny turn’ where she collapsed for a couple of minutes but then regained her feet and acted as though there was nothing wrong. We thought nothing of it, perhaps a bit of arthritis or a trapped nerve, until we witnessed the same on the Friday, exactly a week before we were due to travel.

Three vets visits and two more ‘episodes’ later and she was on three different medicines to try and manage a newly diagnosed congenital heart problem. One widens her blood vessels, one slows her heart-rate, and one thins her blood to try and avert the formation of any more of the clots which caused her TIA’s and led to the ‘episodes’.

Now we were really in a quandry. Should we cancel plans and move back to our Huddersfield home to reduce her stress? Should we leave her at Mum’s and save her the stress of a long journey? Should we stay with her at Mums and let her see out her days with all of us around her? Should we do what some, now ‘ex-friends’ suggested, and have her euthanased?

We agonised for days and decided that the only real option was to chance the journey with the philosopy that if she died in transit then she’d be with the two people who cared most about her in the World.

So, you can imagine the stress of the thirty-six hours from leaving Mum’s at 10:30am on Friday to arriving at the barn at 21:30 on Saturday night, with us both wondering whether her every breath might be her last.

bboatsmallBut I am pleased to report that she did brilliantly. She hated the car journeys but seemed relatively comfortable on the boat, so fascinated by the sea that I suspect she was a ships cat in a previous existence.

Now settled in the barn she loves her new home, and after a few hours exploring she slept for almost twenty-four hours to recover from the journey.

Our old cat is back, and touch wood she has had no more ‘episodes’, so the medication must be working.

We are under no illusion about the precariousness of her life expectancy and we will be getting her in to see a local vet later in the week to get some blood tests and check on the medication dosages. But every day that she has here she is sharing our dream, and she seems to be enjoying the good life.

Posted in Background, The House in Liñeiras | 2 Comments

Hercules the non-turbo Diesel

Monday started well.

Amanda’s parents, Sue and a somewhat dizzy Brian (suffering from some form of then undiagnosed vertigo), had answered the call for van loading assistance and fortunately brought along their friends Garry and Lynn. Despite getting lost on the way, a normal occurrence with Brian at the wheel even when he doesn’t have vertigo, they were with us by just after ten and helped us get all of the heavy items into Hercules.

Two cups of tea and the remnants of our biscuit barrel later and we were waving them off ahead of a nice leisurely lunch and packing the remaining few boxes. Full to the brim, literally, we headed for the weigh-bridge in Honley and that is where the proverbial wheels started to come off.

vanfullWe were 270 kg overweight, and that with only a half a tank of fuel on-board. Panicking, we skulked home to try and get legal again, jettisoning things we thought that we could live without. Amanda volunteered my golf clubs and trolley, which were put back in the garage, and I managed to identify a suitcase of her ‘summer clothes’ which got the same treatment. It was like a big game of Jenga in the back of the van with each of us nominating one of the others beloved items in turn.

In the end we shed 150 kg, checked the Internet to find that under 5% over was ‘just a fine’ and decided to risk it. Now time was running out to get to Dover for our pre-booked, un-changeable, reservation. Mercifully, despite endless miles of roadworks, or should that be road-not-works, we made it to the port and checked in, only slightly worried by the ‘wheezing’ coming from under the bonnet.

The ferry left early, and arrived earlier, and seemed to be a service run almost exclusively for Eastern Europeans who, despite what Mr Farage would have you think, seemed to be leaving rather than arriving.

We made good time on the first 100km of the journey, albeit with a strong cross wind trying to blow us into the outside lane. Climbing up a hill, in the pitch dark, we lost power. Hercules the turbo diesel was now just Hercules the diesel, we’d no drive. A call to International Rescue and an aborted trip to Spain were already on the cards, and we’d not even paid our first toll.

We pulled off into a, by now unmanned and deserted, service area and I went for the typical amateur mechanics first remedy. Switch off the ignition and re-start it. It worked a treat and we were back underway. Several hours passed before it went again, ‘limp home mode’ enabled meant that hills were almost impossible to climb with an overweight van. The off/on remedy did the trick again.

This continued intermittently for the next fourteen hours, sometimes the reset lasted for hours, sometimes as little as five minutes, and then we hit the Spanish border at Irun.

Just five hours from the barn, I thought I’d cracked it. A few more resets and we’d be home free, but then it gave up the ghost totally. Resets lasted until the next time I started to put the engine under any strain and it was getting impossible to drive. Long, and high, hills lay ahead through Bilbao and Santander and into the Picos and all I had to play with was 3,000 RPM and a very heavy van with no turbo.

What followed was the longest seven and a half hours of my life as we crawled up hills at 30 mph, being overtaken by wagons, themselves with their hazards flashing to warn that they were slow vehicles, and then getting up to 80mph on the down hill sections yelling at slower cars in front to get a move on so that we could make the most of our momentum.

A five hour journey took fifty percent longer than it should have but just before 1am we made it up the hill to the barn and sanctuary. We were both exhausted but ever so slightly euphoric at having rescued what could have been a real disaster (being recovered with all our possessions back to Huddersfield).

And how much of the driving did Amanda do….you’ll have to ask her that.

Posted in Background | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Curious Case of Madonna’s New Clothes

I lived out in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E) on and off for three years back in the early nineties while providing endless IT training courses for the Town Planning Department. Life back then in the Emirates was at a very slow pace (a little different to now) and once you got used to the stifling heat it was a very pleasant and chilled place to spend your time.

One thing that I loved to do was to get my daily copy of the English language ‘Gulf News’ and chuckle to myself at the mundane stories which made the front page in a place where crime was almost zero. Memorable headline stories included; a single vehicle road traffic accident in which no-one was even mildly injured; a man who accidently left a shop without paying for a packet of cigarettes; and, a lady who’d lost her purse only to return to her supermarket and find it on the fresh fruit counter, where she’d accidentally left it a week earlier.

You knew you were in the safest of safe places with no need to fear for your personal or possessions safety.

Now I’m not claiming that Galicia is crime free, and with the economic ‘crisis’ there has been an increase in burglary and theft, but is is far lower than the Spanish or European averages. I have been pleased to note, however, that the local newspapers (including regional) have been filled with ‘Gulf News’ like controversy over the weekend with a story which wouldn’t merit a single column centimetre in the Huddersfield Examiner.

The full facts have yet to be established but it appears that the tiny ‘Madonna’ from the church in Conforto (on the road from A Pontenova to Taramundi) has been subject to some shenanigans.

The congregation arrived at the church recently to find that the Madonna had gone missing, only for her to re-appear a couple of weeks later wearing a new gown, new crown and without some of her original jewels.

The community was in uproar and questions were asked at the highest level.

It appears what had happened was that, with the best of intentions, the priest had taken the Madonna away for a refurbishment without the permission of the local parishoners who were all distressed and her disappearance and at what was returned in their Madonnas place.

Rather than resolve the issue with the priest the police were called and allegations of theft were made against the clergy. There has been uproar and the whole of the local community has become involved.

The priest has now made a full apology through local media suggesting that he thought the local congregation would be pleased with the ‘upgrade’, but it doesn’t look like the controversy will by dying down anytime soon.

beforeandaftermadonna

You have to chuckle at the triviality of it, but in these current times I think it is indicative of the tranquility of the area that this is the focus of local attention. Personally I think that the Madonnas make-over is an improvement (judge for yourself from the picture above) and looks far more regal in her new garb.

If the whole thing is a publicity stunt to get more people to visit the church in Conforto then it has worked, as I’ll definitely be popping in for a look on our next visit.

Posted in Local Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

France, on the Way to Spain

As an Hispanophile I have recently considered France as a ‘necessary evil’ between England and Spain, should one be forced to use the roads rather than the sea or air. I have been there on multiple holidays, including one where Amanda and I used the motorways to drive down to Perpignan, but it never really appealed over Spain. But twenty hours of sitting high up behind the wheel of Hercules, avoiding the tolls, and with no-ones company but my own, has somewhat changed my opinion.

I had decided that for the solo journey home I would avoid as many toll roads as I could, so I was condemned to lots of single carriageway roads with the occasional roundabout. The main menace were the hundreds of speed cameras which seemed to be located in even more stupid places than they are in England, and the resulting build-up in traffic, as I tried to avoid getting points to my name in yet another European country.

One of Amanda’s friends, the lovely Jenny and long-suffering husband Tony had agreed to put me up for the night in Clergoux (in the central massif) and had promised me a good meal, a glass of wine (or three), and a comfy bed.

After discovering that it is only possible to buy ‘Cheese & Ham’ sandwiches from French service stations, which isn’t great for a vegetarian,  the thought of a hot meal, and some decent conversation, was well worth the 175km (1 ½ hour) detour. After getting lost just once under my own steam, I followed Tony’s instructions to the letter, and thirteen hours after leaving the barn I was stood in Jenny’s kitchen, clutching a nice cup of tea and comparing French/Spanish diesel prices.

Revitalised after a great nights sleep, I set off around nine-thirty leaving my benevolent hosts to their day, and set the satnav to avoid all toll roads (quickly forgetting that Tony had told me that I must take a short seventy cent toll across to the A20).

The satnav obeyed without question and within ten minutes it exposed the folly of my plan.

I always ridicule the many tales of people who follow their satnav systems onto railway lines or into canals, but now I found myself at the entrance to a small hump-backed stone bridge wondering whether Hercules would fit, or worse, whether he’d become beached on the summit. After a minutes consideration I decided to persevere, as navigating the last three kilometres in reverse seemed like the greater of the two evils.

After negotiating the bridge the ‘trial by small spaces’ wasn’t over.

I was then in the smallest of villages (Gimel-les-Cascades), in the largest of vehicles, with a very tight left turn to make between two houses. I accelerated gently and waited for the crunch which would signify that a nice eighteenth century French cottage was gaining twenty-first century red stripe. But mercifully it never came.

The first chance I got I stopped and re-programmed the navigation.

The rest of the journey was without incident. Downtown Orleans was downtrodden and a bit grim with boarded up businesses and empty office blocks, but apart from that the French countryside was delightful. Small, beautiful, well-kept villages. Small, pretty, towns to by-pass, and mile after mile after mile of rolling fields and tree lined avenues.

franceMuch of Northern France had been driven in the dark on our trip out to Spain but I saw it in its full glory on the way home and there was much to like. The good, or possibly bad, news was that the awful rotten cabbage stench which had plagued us for the first four hours on our outward trip was nowhere to be smelled. This inclines me to believe it might have had more to do with my co-pilot than he was letting on.

Posted in Background | Tagged , | Leave a comment