Out With The Old, and In With The New (Old)

We must be paying our builder Facundo too much, either that or he’s won the lottery without telling us, or perhaps someone else is paying him too much (but I doubt it). I know this because after four years of driving around in a little silver Fiat van he’s gone and bought himself a big truck (grúa as they are known here) with a massive yellow crane.

He arrived in it on Friday, struggling to get up the hill to the barn, in a newly painted (blue and yellow) second hand truck laden down with a new (old) central beam, two new (old) perimeter beams, and about twenty new (really new this time) intermediate beams, all for the bread oven house. His new truck boasts a shiny six metre crane, it’s all about the length with these things, and as he only picked it up on the Thursday he was still far from an expert in deploying it, or come to it, driving it.

He used just a fraction of his available length to offload the beams, transferring some of the new truck paint onto our new (old) beam, giving me another job to sand it off prior to treating and staining.

Facundo is getting used to us and our weird British ways. He now knows that we like old and gnarled and irregular and shun the new and shiny and straight so beloved by Spanish renovators. He was very proud that he’d salvaged (which I hope isn’t a euphemism for stole) a marvellous beam from another old house which is being renovated, and which was surplus to requirements. It had been roughly sanded with an angle grinder and it looks fantastic and will form a great rustic centrepiece in the soon to be roofed bread oven house.

Up until a year after we’d bought the property we’d not been in the bread oven. It was dilapidated, overgrown, and the only way in was through a door which was wedged firmly shut by the roof collapse behind it.

About three years ago I broke in and spent several weeks digging out the waist deep detritus to expose a glorious and complete bread oven and decided to make it ‘my’ project to get it back working.

Since then the weeds had re-established themselves, there had been a big collapse of the wall and cliff that form the back wall, and one of the front walls collapsed on us not long after we moved out here. I’ve spend the last six months cleaning, re-enforcing the rear wall with two tonnes of structural steel and concrete, rebuilding the collapsed walls (front and back) and pointing the whole thing with sandy coloured mortar.

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We now need to get it finished so that we can store tools and equipment in it and empty the big house in readiness for its re-roofing in the Autumn so we asked our builder Facundo for a quote, and put in the correct license application. So on Friday the rotten old beam was removed and the new (old) one lifted in to place signalling the start of the works.

I’ll add some photos and updates over the coming days as it takes shape.

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Finding What Two Acres Of Grass Is Really Worth

The barter economy is alive and well and living in Galicia…and it is possible for you to get involved in it totally by accident.

After we’d bought the house we were initially exposed to this the oldest of trading types when we agreed to allow Carlos to keep his donkey on our land, grow potatoes, and for a few month each summer, keep his pig in our big house. Until of course it was time to cut its throat and turn it into sausages.

In exchange he used to strim the grass and weeds around the buildings and make of point of telling us that he had done so whenever we visited. Having used a corded Black & Decker twenty quid special back in our postage stamp garden in the UK, I was never terribly impressed at his claims and always thought he was looking for some kind of financial recompense, which he never got.

Now I’ve been forced into my own strimming, with four hours of sweaty face-guarded toil required to reach the lowest standard of ‘that’ll do, I need a beer’, I’ve come to realise that what he was doing was quite a service and perhaps is was a bit tight for me not to have shoved him the odd fifty euros as a little thank you.

And it was grass which unwittingly got us in to our current barter situation.

Earlier in the spring, just as our two acres were turning into a jungle and I was beginning to rue asking Carlos to remove his donkey, a neighbour from the next village stopped and asked whether I would be prepared to allow him to bring his machinery down and cut our grass and take it away for him to feed his animals.

My initial Yorkshiremans concern was that he was going to charge me, but after I got Amanda to clarify the situation with him, it turned out that it wouldn’t cost us a penny. What a result, we get our grass cut and taken away and I don’t have to lift a finger, or burn a litre of two-stroke in the process.

Alberto and his wife have now made about ten journeys with a ride-on mower, and an ancient tractor with trailer, and taken away heap after heap of freshly mown and dried grass and we couldn’t be happier as the land looks much tidier and is no longer a fire risk.

But then the ‘trade’ side kicked in, most unexpectedly, and most unnecessarily.

So far we’ve had two boxes of potatoes, a box of onions and three dozen eggs, all deposited on our doorstep as a thank you for our hay. Hay which we didn’t want anyway.

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Now I’ve lost track of UK prices for potatoes, onions and eggs, but I’m guessing that overall that would be a good twenty to thirty quids worth.

Now this is where I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but in the bartering scheme of things I think that potatoes, onions and eggs must be fairly low down as they are pretty ubiquitous. Today’s twelve eggs join the two dozen already in the fridge that we’ve been given by other various neighbours (and it would be very rude to refuse). The box of potatoes is now sat in an outhouse ready to be consumed as we wade though a daily diet of Spanish Omelette and egg  and chips, but also bear in mind we’ve got a field full of our own bloody potatoes and onions, all ready for harvest.

Why can’t barter involve a neighbours excess of diamonds….or gold?

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A Dozen Things That We Now Know, That We Didn’t Know Before

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been living in Spain for seven months.

Sometimes it feels like just yesterday that we were packing our worldly chattels into the big red van and making the exhausting 1,300 mile journey from Huddersfield to Liñeiras (twice in my case). And sometimes it feels like we’ve been here forever, settling into a relaxed lifestyle, integrating with the local community and being schooled in the ways of the country from a myriad of willing teachers.

In that seven months we’ve learnt lots of things, some the hard way, about Galician life and with building work stalled awaiting licenses it seems like a good time to share a dozen of them.

1. When driving it is mandatory (under punishment of punitive fines) to carry all sorts of things with you including; your driving license, proof that you have paid your car insurance, your vehicle registration, a pair of spare spectacles (if you wear glasses to drive), and a fluorescent yellow jacket for all occupants (inside the car and not in the boot).

2. In the spring you can literally watch the grass grow. It never really gets cold enough here for the grass to stop growing but with the warmer weather and regular rainfall of spring it just goes mental. Within the space of a fortnight our finca changed from ankle deep grass and weeds to chest deep meadow. As a result we had to invest 800€ on a ‘big boys toy’ petrol strimmer which should come with a health warning, shin pads and a cricket box.

strimming
3. The one rule of Galician driving is that if there is a line of any description painted on the road, it must be straddled. This results in cars approaching you around blind bends with at least two wheels and sometimes their entire car on your side of the road. It is up to you to take evasive action, and entirely pointless to honk your horn or make any gesture. The practice is not limited to cars, and indeed the bigger your vehicle, the more likely you are to drive on the wrong side of the road.

4. Spanish tea is undrinkable. During the ‘Liñeiras tea crisis of February 2015′ we tried several different brands, some of them with English names and English packaging, but they were all awful. Nothing can come within one hundred miles of a nice cup of PG Tips. It just goes to prove that you can take the Englishman out of England but you are never going to fully purge him of his Englishness.

5. Our neighbours eight year old son doesn’t do subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great kid and it’s nice that he feels that he can visit without invitation to practice his English, play games on our tablet computer, or simply come round for a game of football. With no other kids in the village for him to play with it seems that we are his surrogate chums, despite being forty years his senior. The issue is that despite us dropping subtle hints that it is time for him to go home; such as ‘what are you having for tea’, ‘where do your parents think you are’, ‘don’t you have homework to do’ and ‘I’m sorry, we’ve got work to do’, the only thing that seems to work is ‘Oscar, you need to go home now!’. At what age do kids get subtlety?

6. The Spanish are the largest community of self medicators in the world, a dangerous trait when they are also a nation of chronic hypercondriacs. What seems bizarre is that you can but almost anything you want over the counter at a chemist, including super strength painkillers, anti-biotics, and diabetes medication, but if you need a tablet for your cat you have to get a prescription from your vet (which is then filled at the chemists).

7. There is little to no point in having a TV aerial as there is nothing on Spanish Television that is worth watching. The Spanish are fed a diet of; news and weather with loud and often inappropriate music playing in the background; game shows which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1970’s sitting room while you consumed a fondue while seated on your velour sofa; and, chat shows where it seems that the only rule is that you shout louder than everyone else, usually while trying to drown out what they are shouting. The next time a lightening storm takes out our aerial I don’t think we will bother replacing it.

8. While Spain now has more draconian drink drive laws than the United Kingdom, the legal limit being under one pint, there are very few people who pay any attention to it due to the minute likelihood of getting caught. When you are socialising with the Spanish and you cite the argument that you are driving as the reason for not having ‘another’ beer/wine/chupito then you will become a laughing stock. I’ve seen people drink a full bottle of wine with lunch and drive back to work as a normal occurrence, but we do the ‘nominated driver’ thing and take it in turns, after all, you never know what will be hurtling towards you on your side of the road at the next blind bend.

9. The Spanish love a party. It doesn’t need to be a good party, or even a mediocre party, any party will do. From the middle of March you can find a fiesta somewhere within a 20km drive on any given weekend, sometimes several on the same weekend, and these can be themed on anything from; iron to cheese to tractors to trout to flowers. There is nearly always food and there is always at least one band, usually a rotund woman in a very short skirt and a guy in his forties with dyed hair on the keyboards. They churn out euro pop with every song sounding like the last and you can hear them wafting through the valleys from dusk until the early hours.

10. The simplest thing can throw a Galician neighbour off-guard, such as a radish. Our lovely neighbour Elena has helped us establish our allotment and is always at hand for advice and some manual labour, but when she saw the radishes that we’d planted she was flummoxed. We gave her a handful and explained that you should slice them thinly and use in salad. Her feedback was that they were very nice but she has declined our offers of more ever since. The radish was just a step too far. We don’t have the heart to tell her that we sometimes cook curry.

11. Galicia is not a renowned landing point for the English but it does seem that being English is a magnet for other English people. There have now been several occasions where we have been talking quite happily to one another in English and then been approached by fellow countrymen who we’ve never previously met but who are happy to have a natter and a coffee with someone of their mother tongue. It gives the impression that Galicia is wall-to-wall Brits, which it isn’t.

12. Flies serve no purpose to man or beast but to annoy….and the ones with white bums give a nasty nip!

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Amanda’s Antrocity

I’m not particularly proud of myself but sometimes ‘needs must’.

We, or should I more accurately say Amanda, has committed an antrocity. There is simply no other way of describing her actions and in supporting her, however passively, I feel complicit in her crime.

Almost since we arrived last November, we’ve been bothered, for it never went beyond bothered and certainly never as far as pestered, by ants. A local colony seems to have an ant superhighway which runs past our front door and every now and again one, or more frequently a group of them, decide to stop off at the ant service station that is our kitchen. They don’t seem to do any harm, they just mill around our muddy boots and sweeping brushes, but we’d rather that they didn’t make a habit of it.

After an Internet search we first tried a physical barrier in the way of a line of talcum powder across the threshold. It works a treat but does look like we’re involved in some strange ‘white powder on the doorstep’ cult, or at least that we are a little bit eccentric. When the winds get up it either blows away or blows under the door and ends up all over the kitchen. When it rains it turns into a white sludge which then gets trodden in by ourselves, and ends up all over the back-end of our doorstep loving cat, Bonita.

So, Plan B. Amanda bought some traps from Eroski (the local version of Tesco, but profitable), and we put one inside the door. I’ve spent time watching it and the way that it seems to work is that it attracts the ant which then gets stuck and doesn’t come out. I’ve seen several go in, but none emerge. I suspect that it is a piece of extra sticky fly paper with some irresistible ant bait, and imagine that the one strategically placed inside our door is now full of ants which are stuck to the spot and ruing their greed and stupidity.

But it doesn’t stop them coming in. So we’ve resorted to Plan C.

hormigol2If the Eroski trap was an ant catapult, Amanda has now gone for the full ant nuclear missile solution, a little green octagon called ‘Hormigol’. What this one does is it attracts the ant, the ant picks up a slow acting poison (not voluntarily) which it then carries back to the nest and infects the entire colony. Within three days the instructions say that the entire local population will be wiped out, and hopefully our superhighway will be returned back to a sleepy country road.

When she deployed her tactical nuclear warhead it was a hive of activity with a procession of ants to and from it, over the space of about six hours. There is something inside that little green octagon that ants love, and I’m very pleased that it was deployed outside and not inside. Twenty-four hours later the procession has stopped, we appear to be antless, Amanda has wrought death and destruction on an epic scale.

Our green sentinel is still on the doorstep but eerily quiet, an octagonal monument to Amanda’s antisocial antrocity.

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You Can Never Have Too Many Potatoes

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that it may be better for my health to buy vegetables in the supermarket.

Our ‘huerto’, miniscule by comparison to those of our neighbours, is beginning to turn into a real labour of love, and nothing has started growing yet!

We asked Miro and Elena for a lesson in potato planting and they suggested that we go down and ‘watch’ as they planted their 50kg worth. Amanda donned her expensive wellies (a leaving present from her work) and her floppy hat, and we walked down the hill in the blazing sunshine to join the aforementioned neighbours, Elena’s brother, her niece, and her grandniece. A sociable strong coffee later and we were carrying everything we needed down the field while Miro started up his spotless vintage tractor.

huerto_potato

Before joining in, we watched the ‘crack team’ of potato planters get to work, witnessing their decades of experience brought to bear on what later turned out to be around 800 seed potatoes each expertly cut into two or three pieces designed to get the best crop possible. With yield being approximately 25kg of potatoes to every 1kg of seed potatoes their harvest is likely to be over a tonne and a quarter, all for their own consumption. Now I like potatoes, but that seems a bit crazy.

It was a great learning experience, despite Elena constantly correcting our erroneous planting, each time contradicting her previous advice. Miro never left his tractor seat from driving it out of his barn to putting it back, that guy knows how to farm in luxury.

Doing is the best form of learning, so now we knew what to do, and despite not having a tractor I felt happy that we could plant our 12kg of seed potatoes (yield about a quarter of a tonne) in an afternoons back-breaking work with a garden fork and a few hands full of manure.

But while having a post-potato beer, Miro told us that he’d bring his tractor the following day and that as he ploughed Elena would help us plant our potatoes.

At 10:30 the following morning we took just under an hour to put in five, twenty-five metre long, rows and despite Elena thinking we may not have enough and offering to go and get us some more of hers, we felt that it was a job well done.

She’s since been back and shown us the ropes in terms of planning lettuce (just throw the seed onto some raked ground and rake over the top), leeks (just throw the seed onto some raked ground and rake over the top), broccoli (just throw the seed onto some raked ground and rake over the top), and green beans (just throw the seed onto some raked ground and rake over the top).

There is much more skill in planting the onions, cauliflower plants, lettuce plants, brussel sprout plants and pepper plants. After watching her two pronged hoe technique I had to go to the local ferretería and buy one for myself. We’ve since added radishes and carrots (two varieties) and are just waiting for the tomato and chilli plants to mature sufficiently for them to be planted out. Then all that needs to happen is for nature to take its course.

In the space of fifteen days we’ve gone from a meadow, to around 200 square metres of ‘huerto’ which I never thought we’d get anywhere near filling, to an almost industrial scale market garden.

But I still don’t know how we are going to eat 250kg of potatoes.

 

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