Banging Heads with Bureaucracy – Part I

We’ve been living in Galicia for just under a month and already we’ve been outed to our neighbours (in a country which lives to gossip) as ‘electricity thieves’, and it’s not our fault.

This is our first real ‘run  in’ with Spains’ legendary bureaucracy, and I fear that it won’t be our last, hence the title of this blog.

Let me try and explain.

When we had the barn watertight, we brought in a local electrician to do the installation, which included re-siting the meter by the road (a legal requirement), and we also asked him to change the name of the account to myself, and double our ‘potential’ (the amount of electricity in Kw that we can use concurrently). Everything seemed to go well, with the installation at least, however the bill remained in the previous owners name and the potential down at a lowly 2.2 Kw (just enough to run a washing machine without blowing the main fuse).

Within the first week of us being here we spotted an engineer at our meter and Amanda went to speak to him thinking he was taking a reading in readiness for a new bill, but she returned to the house in a blind panic as he told her that the meter had been disconnected, and that we were stealing electricity. He would now report it to his company and politely informed her that it was likely that they would cut us off.

Very alarmed, in a house where everything is electric, we called the electrician who came straight over. He was as confused as us. He’d installed a new meter two years ago which had now disappeared and a new meter was in place but not connected to the electricity supply. He called our supplier who confirmed that they were aware, and that there had been a problem with the meter which their engineers had disconnected it to test.

We all breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed we would be able to cook tea, have a warm shower, and preserve the food in the fridge and freezer. We waited, admittedly a little nervously, for an engineer to attend and reconnect our meter.

A fortnight passed before a most unexpected development.

The previous owner, who lives locally and whose name is still on the bill, and who speaks no Castellano (only speaking the local dialect, ‘Gallego’), sent her son with a report from an engineer who had been out the previous day. In our absence he made out a formal report about our ‘electricity theft’, giving it to the neighbour, whose name is still on the bill. He was far from happy saying we’d landed his elderly mother in legal trouble, and after I worked out what it was, so was I.

We called the electrician again and he just said it was sorted and not to worry about anything. But he wasn’t the one with a pink form from the engineer bearing accusations of ‘theft’ or the one facing the prospect of cold showers and sandwiches by candlelight!

Another week on and we still don’t have a resolution, despite a letter to the electricity company demanding that they call us immediately.

It looks like the second engineer has reconnected the faulty meter as it seems to be showing random readings about the level of our consumption and our constantly exceeding our potential.

Much as I’ve tried to be logical in investigating the readings I’ve seen messages suggesting that we are over-using from a high of 130% to a lowly 29% above our potential. Some of those readings were when we’d nothing whatsoever switched on in the barn.

It’s a relief every morning when the lights work and we can boil the kettle for a brew, but just in case we’ve stocked up on firewood and candles.

It could be a very romantic, rustic, Christmas! (But I’m not sure Amanda will think so).

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When is a pharmacy not a pharmacy?

After fifteen years of being cared for by the excellent Donaldsons in Thongsbridge, firstly under the care of Rhona and latterly tended to by Roberts’ healing hands, Bonita now has a new Spanish vet in the form of Maria Jose at Hospital Veterinario Tapia in Asturais.

And it seems that she couldn’t be happier.


Needing to get a stockpile of mediaction to try and manage her newly diagnosed heart problems, we searched the internet and asked neighbours for advice on veterinary services. All the local vets are, quite understandably, large animal vets and the two closest domestic vets were both a forty minute drive away.

Research into the nearest showed that the first service that they listed was ‘grooming’ and with the surgery looking more like a pet food shop in the photos, we decided to look a little further afield to Hospital Veterinario in Tapia. We’d passed this place several times on our drives to the airport and it looked clean and professional, with loads of vets and willing assistants.

So on Thursday we put Boni in the car (much to her disgust) and set off, credit card already trembling in my wallet, to get her registered and let the vets give her the once over.

We were quickly acquainted with Marie Jose who took over an hour (I could hear the meter running ever louder as the hour progressed) to give Boni a proper medical including two x-rays of the dodgy heart. She then went over her medicines to check dosage and prescribed the same for us to continue to ‘manage her condition as well as we already are’. We were told to schedule in another appointment in about a month for some blood tests and sent to pay, and we thought, collect her tablets.

They only had one of the prescribed items and wrote us note for the others to take to a pharmacy. We double checked…a pharmacy? Yes came the response.

Boni safely home, and sleeping off the excesses of three hours without a single catnap or toilet incident, we went to the local pharmacy still expecting to be laughed out of the place when we asked for cat pills. But it seems to be the norm here, just in the way that you can buy almost any human drug over the counter without a prescription, and rather than guffaw the pharmacist just enquired whether it was for a cat or a dog!

And what did it cost? An hours’ consultation and two x-rays was just sixty-six euros (£50) and the drug that they did have was £12, half the cost of the same pills in the UK. At the pharmacist we were asked whether we wanted a box of 30 or 60 tablets and after determining that they were both exactly the same price at £2, we opted for the 100% free option. These were 1/3 the UK price.

If only there was a pill to stop her waking us up at 5am to tell us that she’s successfully used the litter tray!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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