A Big Red Addition to the Family

I don’t know whether statistics exist that inform on the average number of cars that someone owns within their lives. I suspect that if they do, there is a chance that I’m slightly above average with twenty-five vehicles in twenty-seven years of driving.

I’ve been fairly brand loyal with half of those being BMW’s. But the adventurous side in me has led to some experimentation with two each of SAAB, Mercedes, Ford and Mazda and a solitary Renault, Fiat, and Morris. Lastly, who can forget my trusty Land Rover which accompanied me on my Galician adventures in 2011…certainly not the locals who still talk fondly of the blue goddess and her breakdown exploits, whenever I visit.

Tomorrow heralds the arrival of a new chariot, and he’s already got a name, I’ve decided to call him Hercules.

When I was a young teenager there were three vehicles that I always wanted. While I’m sure that normal teenagers had posters of Ferrari, Porsche or the hottest of hatchbacks on their bedroom walls, you’ve probably already guessed from four years of blogging, I’m not particularly normal.

My teenage dreams were of climbing behind the wheel either a BMW or two totally utilitarian vehicles; a Land Rover, and a Ford Transit. Peer through my executive saloon facade and you’ll soon find that a frustrated hippy is lurking inside, just waiting to get out.

Previous blogs have detailed my, not entirely successful, Land Rover escapades, but my van itch was still to be scratched…until now.

HerculesAfter investigating a multitude of options for getting our chattels and treasures to northern Spain I came to the conclusion that the most practical and exciting was to buy a van. I’d then make a couple of road-trips through France and northern Spain before finally bringing the vehicle back to the UK to re-sell it later in the year.

The advantages, in my mind at least, were many; we get to leisurely transfer our stuff to Spain; clear the house in the UK of junk so that I can decorate it before we put it on the market; have the use of a van for the first couple of months in Galicia; and above all…to have a couple of brilliant adventures. As I’ve said since the start of the Galician project, it is ‘all about the journey, not the destination’.

Extensive internet research convinced me that I was going to have to sacrifice my Ford Transit dreams and seek out a Mercedes Sprinter with a diesel engine and a long wheel base. With some excitement, tomorrow I collect a 2004, deep red, LWB Sprinter from a dealer in Bury with just two weeks to spare before the first planned excursion.

He, for a van must surely be masculine, has been given the name Hercules due to being 3.5 tonnes with a load capacity of around 1,200 kg. I’m now trying to work out how much we can get on the first trip without being over laden when we inevitably get pulled over by the police, gendarmerie, or guardia civil (or possibly all three).

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Equine Assistance

After being away from the property for a few months, there is a well practiced order in which I look at the house and land when arriving along the road from Pontenova.

First priority; has the roof collapsed on the big house?

Secondly; does the barn look okay, windows intact, no sign of any damage?

And finally; what state is the land in, and are we on the verge of a ‘denuncia‘ for being overgrown and a fire-hazard?

On first approach in early June I’d mentally ticked off the first two before casting my eyes over the finca and blurting out, ‘bloody hell, where’s Enrique‘. What had greeted us was an overgrown jungle of grass and weeds at between waist and chest height without natures lawn mowers anywhere in sight.

Over the last four years, it really is four years since we took ownership of our corner of paradise, Carlos has become our self-appointed caretaker. He lives a two minute walk away, parks his car and motorbike in our garage, harvests all our fruit at the end of the summer (and keeps), and provides the livestock who keep our rampant vegetation in check.

So far this year he’d obviously let us down.

strimmingHe has always had a sixth sense about our arrival. Sure enough, within twenty minutes of unloading the car he was there, loitering with intent, bursting to tell us something, ask another favour, or state the obvious. Before I had chance to ask after his donkey he was straight in with his question.

‘Can I put my horses on your land’.

We didn’t have to think too long before we answered, almost in unison, our decision reinforced with vigorous nodding heads. That’s the Galician equivalent of someone offering to mow your lawn every week for the next three months.

He was back within a couple of hours wearing full safety gear and equipped with a heavy duty strimmer and set about clearing a corridor in which to erect his electric fence.

equine_mowersAfter an hour of mechanical grass control he disappeared, to we know not where, and returned with three horses (although worryingly there were four last year, perhaps it was a hard Winter), our new equine lawn mowers.

Our fears of neighbourly complaints slowly melted away from our consciousness as the grey and two chestnuts went about their business, turning our grassland into fertiliser.

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House Clearance, Liñeiras Style

It’s just a week since we returned from a week-long working visit to the house, and already it seems like an age ago. We switched to Spanish time, where one normal hour passes in around twenty minutes, as soon as we landed which meant that the drive to Liñeiras was pretty fast.

The downside was that the rest of the week just flew by with one day merging into the next as we ticked off the pre-planned tasks on a long mental list.

One of the jobs was a perfect ‘killing two birds with one stone’ opportunity, although no birds were actually harmed during its undertaking.

Several of the ruined houses on our rambling estate ware looking a bit worse for wear due to the large amount of undergrowth and trees which have made them their home. I was conscious that we needed to start taking them down before their roots undermine the foundation-less walls and their trunks start their inevitable quest to push the walls over.

ruinbeforechopping

While we have no immediate plans to renovate these particular buildings, as custodians it would be remiss to allow them to fall further into disrepair and beyond the rehabilitation skills of even the most dedicated restorer.

The ‘second bird’ benefit was that the trees would yield plenty of logs which would go towards bolstering next winters stocks sat in the wood store.

So one sunny afternoon we dusted off the pruners, sharpened the axe and fired up the chainsaw. Three hours later and we had cleared the forty square metres of floorspace of everything but the most stubborn trunks and three hours after that the soon-to-be burnable wood was in manageable logs which had been split and safely stored under-cover.

ruinafterchopping

It was tiring but rewarding, and although the timber is of fairly poor quality it should provide a few nights warmth in the depths of the next Galician winter. In case you are concerned, that is me with the axe taking a breather in the background, not a ‘Here’s Johnny’ moment!

Now…where can I get a cheap stump grinder?

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Live and Let Live (Die)

One of the big perks of life in rural Galicia is the totally justifiable necessity to own and use a comprehensive range of ‘big boys toys’, not required in suburban Huddersfield. While we are still currently long-distance Gallegos this hasn’t stopped me taking the first plunge into macho world of ‘power tools which can kill you in the blink of an eye’.

chainsawLast year, after extensive research, I bought myself a Husqvarna 236 (it was the cheapest decent quality model on offer) and while it is in the ‘kindergarten’ of the chainsaw world, there is none of your ‘electric’ nonsense on show. This ‘bad-boy’ runs on two-stroke and requires biceps of steel to start, which is a bit of an issue when you have just been diagnosed as suffering from a frozen left shoulder.

I’d toyed with thoughts of; Kevlar trousers, a full face visor, steel shin-guards and chain-mail gloves but after asking my friend Neil for a lesson, and seeing an experts ‘blasé’ attitude to safety, I opted to just go with the steel toe-capped boots and keep my spectacles on to stop the plumes of sawdust from going directly into my eyes.

Almost every household in Galicia owns a chainsaw and most days you can hear one humming away in the distance as the never ending quest for firewood occupies the minds of whole population. In Galicia your mind-set changes from one of, ‘oh dear, the wind brought down that beautiful old tree’, to, ‘I wonder how easily can I cut that up and get it home, it would look great chopped up in my leñera’ (wood store).

The sight of someone walking down a country road carrying a chainsaw is one that you soon get used to. Indeed, you could easily interchange the chainsaw for; a strimmer, an axe, or a rifle, and still no-one would bat an eyelid. Contrast this to the UK where a similar sight would be descended on by a police rapid response unit and you’d find yourself convulsing on the floor with Taser probes attached to your chest…or worse…before you could explain that you are just hunting firewood, or a wild boar.

The reason for the difference?

Spain treats its citizens as grown-ups, the UK nannies its’ citizens like immature children. It has nothing to do with bureaucracy. Paperwork, rules and regulations in Spain are a whole magnitude worse than they are in the UK, hence most people ignoring them, but they revolve around collecting taxes and generating work for bureaucrats rather than telling the Spanish how to live their lives inside a health and safety bubble.

This anarchic approach to personal safety means that our neighbour Miro (in his late seventies) can happily drive his 1950’s tractor the two kilometres to his friend’s house with his wife Elena (in her late sixties) sat on the bonnet in her obligatory gingham pinafore (Galician rural uniform) with her legs hanging down over the front grill. It does look comical, and not a little shocking when you first see it, but has been their way since they got married forty years ago without any mishap, but something which would likely result in a criminal conviction if they were to try it in the UK.

I’m sure that there are probably rules about these things (although the Spanish tend to ignore any European legislation that they don’t like), but the chances of the local law being enforced, or of your neighbours dobbing you in to the authorities, is highly unlikely.

Live and let live….or die, as the case may be.

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A morning wasted on the bookshelves of giants

I’d booked a bigger car than normal.

The main reason was to aid visiting Mothers vehicular ingress and egress, which despite her protestations that she isn’t yet ready for ‘a new knee’, seem to be getting increasingly difficult.

The larger vehicle also gave me the opportunity to collect the pair of bookshelves that I’d had our carpenters in La Roda (about a 45 minute drive from the house) construct from some rudimentary technical drawings sent out a couple of months ago….or so I thought.

march14carI’d earmarked Saturday morning for the solo trip, and after a leisurely breakfast I travelled the fifty-five kilometres over the border to Asturias to find a closed and shuttered workshop. Fortunately there were several cars parked outside the proprietor’s house.

Three rings of the doorbell and Mari Luz appeared, bleary eyed at 11am, at one of the upstairs windows. After a few seconds squinting she recognised me and simply said ‘los estanterias’ (the bookcases) and disappeared, to emerge at the front door a few minutes later.

‘Have you got a van?’ she asked. I was a little concerned.

‘No, a car’ I responded.

‘A large car?’ she quizzed.

I’d taken the measurements from my technical drawings the evening before, and calculated that although it would be a tight squeeze, I should be able to get both bookshelves in the car with the back seats down. After our opening verbal exchanges I was now imagining constructions of titanic performances and hoping that I’d not put the dimensions in centimetres when I meant millimetres. I had visions of constructions as large as the barn, book cases for giants.

I followed Mari Luz into the workshop and she went for the big theatrical unveil, removing the dust sheet draped over the units with a well practiced flick of her wrist.

They did look big. Starting to panic I got out my tape measure, an essential piece of permanent Galician pocket kit along with a Taramundi knife and a pair of PU coated black nylon working gloves, and checked against the memorised dimensions. Everything seemed to be in order and I made all of the right ‘thank you, they’re great’ noises and I reached into my wallet to conclude our transaction.

As I handed over the cash, Mari Luz took seventy euros from the pile and gave it back, telling me that construction had not been as time consuming as they had quoted and so the cost was less.

I was flabbergasted, money back was another Spanish first!

bookcasesWe carried the smaller of the bookcases through the front door of the factory to my waiting car and as soon as she saw it I could tell that Mari Luz was losing confidence. After opening the boot we manoeuvred the bookcase into the most likely position for it to fit, but there was no way it would go through the opening. I quickly worked out that there were another seven permutations as to how the shelving may go in, but I was less than hopeful that any would be successful. Mari Luz insisted that we try all seven before admitting defeat and manhandling the bookcase back into the shop.

Having already got seventy euros back I was further taken aback by Mari Luz’s next offer, ‘Would you like to borrow our van? You can bring it back on Monday!’

Now, there is customer service, and seemingly there is Carpintero Mendez service. I was so surprised by the offer I immediately did the English thing and said ‘No’ without thinking it through. ‘I have a friend with a bigger car, I will come back later’, hoping that Neil would be answering his phone; willing to lend me his 4×4; and that the 4×4 was actually roadworthy.

I arranged to return after three, thanked her again, and set off back to the barn after a fruitless trip. Fortunately the long suffering Neil was at home, his truck was running, and nursing an elbow ligament injury he was willing to have an afternoon run out to La Roda to once again be my saviour.

I’d forgotten that Neil’s truck did a maximum of 55 km/h so the round trip took just over two and a half hours. The shelving did go in the 4×4, but was a tight squeeze, but was well worth the effort once we got them back to the barn as they look terrific.

I’m now relieved that our ‘deathtrap’ lounge is now safe again and I can no longer accidentally fall down the stairs from the kitchen. These are the last structural additions and all that the barn now needs to be complete is a few pictures and homely keepsakes.

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