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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Amanda’s Birthday Lunch

Today was Amanda’s birthday. I’m not going to disclose how many years she’s now got on the clock, primarily because it would be rude, but also because she’s always six months behind the same anniversary of my birth.

When we’ve been back in England, and I’ve enquired as to what she’d like to do for her birthday, she has almost always said ‘go to the coast’ and this year was no exception.

This year, however, we’re a forty minute drive from the sensational Galician coastline with its secluded coves, golden untouched sands, and a whole host of brilliant little restaurants which at least equal the experience of Fish & Chips while being attacked by seagulls on Whitby Harbour.

It was warm enough, but the sunshine hadn’t quite made it through the clouds for our walk on the beach, which preceded a lunch at a little bar/restaurant/hotel five minutes down the coast from the now famous As Catedras beach (due to popularity soon to be restricted to ticket only access in the summer months).

After deciding that the tide was coming, and not wishing to spend the afternoon trapped waist deep in a rocky cave,  in we retreated to La Yenka, a place we’d visited a few times and been amazed at the never ending procession of free, and top class, tapas that accompanied a coffee or a glass of coke.

yenkacloseview

The set menu was just €12.50 each for three courses, bread, coffee and a drink of your choice. It turned out to be stunning value.

My beer was big enough to last the meal, and Amanda got an empty glass and a bottle of wine from which she could take as much or little as she liked, it ended up being two glass fulls for the birthday girl.

From a choice of six starters and six mains Amanda selected Cod Potage and Lamb, and I plumped for Seafood Soup and the Dorada, a fish I’ve often seen on fish counters but never tried.

We were each served a tureen of our chosen starter with a ladle and a bowl and could simply eat our fill, an alien concept for a British restaurant but common practice in Galicia.

yenkastarter

The mains were equally generous, and we both finished with  the TripAdvisor patron recommended Cheese Cake, which while plain was delicious..

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We sat by the window and watched the waves roll in, and the sunshine try its best to peak out from behind the clouds, to give Amanda the dream birthday lunch, perhaps with the exception of the company!

In my defence I had enquired as to whether Enrique Iglesias would like to join us, but sadly he had a prior engagement!

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A Mountain of Eggs

Last weekend saw great excitement. Well…at least what passes for great excitement in Galicia.

On Friday we became ‘piggy in the middle’ between two local neighbours as they vie to get us to heed their horticultural advice. As an Englishman’s home is his castle, a Galician’s garden is his ‘huerta‘. There is a local guy with a tractor who, for a paltry €15, will drive onto your land and deep plough you and area ready for planting your potatoes and other staple Galician crops. He saves hours of digging or rotivating.

We’ve had a small patch turned over, roughly two hundred square metres, about ten times the size of our old garden in the UK and about twice the size of the average UK allotment. Already Amanda is getting cold feet about the work involved in keeping it weeded, watered and fertilised.

huerta

The ploughing passed without controversy, but now we have two neighbours giving us contradictory advice on what to plant, how to plant it, and when we should plant it. The only thing that they agree on is ‘potatoes, but not yet’. I’ve a feeling that we aren’t going to satisfy both parties, so now we have the tough decision of who will be the least offended by us ignoring their oracle.

On Saturday we crammed two events into one night, and spend Sunday and Monday recovering.

EggsFirst up Rosa and Neil invited us to attend the ‘eggs’ festival at the community centre just outside Pontenova on the Vegadeo road. I’ve been there before, to celebrate the humble chestnut, but this was Amanda’s first time. The building is a bit of a TARDIS, small on the outside but massive inside, although not really needed on this occasion as there were only twenty or so of us.

I’m not sure why the theme was eggs but there does seem to be a lot of them about. We’ve currently got thirty in the fridge as people are giving them to us faster than we can eat them, and it is just rude to refuse, because you can guarantee that when we do want some, there won’t be any on offer.

We didn’t really know what to expect and we were happy for a simple meal of fried potatoes and vegetables, slightly more solid than ‘bubble and squeak’, chorizo (for the non-vegetarians) and mountains of fried eggs. The table was full of bottles of booze to which you help yourself. Hunks of cheese and knives followed the fry-up, and then some fresh fruit in a thin yoghurt. Finally, out came the chupitos, half a dozen bottles of different licors, mostly decanted into Cadhu bottles. Once again it was help-yourself, and by midnight Neil and I were both already a bit worse for wear.

The highlight of the night was to be the big music fiesta in Taramundi where the live acts were scheduled to start at 11:30. When we got there at 12:30 the disco was in full swing. The only way to access the marquee was to duck underneath the stage, the trailer section of an articulated lorry, no Health and Safety with their hazard tape and hi-viz jackets here. Between dreadful formulaic Euro-Pop tracks there was an announcement that the first live band were running 90 minutes late. I’m not sure how the first band can be 90 minutes late, especially as they are from a village no more than 5km away, I guess it is a Spanish thing.

When they eventually took to the stage it was dreadful formulaic Euro-Pop, but we, and about 2,000 others at this free festival were drinking our beer and waiting for the main act ‘Paris de Noia’ who are booked for every weekend for the next two years. With a forward order book they had to be pretty good.

The support act obviously liked playing to a big crowd and there was no shifting them as they banged out just over two hours of very similar sounding ‘music’ lapped up by the local Spanish, many of them sat around carrier bags of their own alcohol (some next to the official bars) getting slowly plastered through their own ‘botellon’. Then at 3am the curtains lifted on the second stage and Paris de Noia sprung into action, initially by slaughtering The Undertones, Teenage Kicks.

parisdenoia

They then reverted to type with track after track of dreadful formulaic, if slightly more professional, Euro-Pop. The audience, perhaps with the exception of Amanda, Neil and myself, lapped it up. Old and young, drunk and sober, Galician and Asturian, they all loved it. There was no trouble, not a policeman in sight, and just after three-thirty we’d decided that we were too cold, and old, and as every track sounded like the last, we called it a night and left the party in full swing.

It is a twenty minute drive home from Taramundi and as we got out of the car you could still just hear the music coming down the Turia valley, creeping past A Pontenova, and up towards us up the Eo valley.

Thank goodness that once in the house the double glazing kept the dreadful formulaic Euro-pop out of our ears, and so we could start to sleep off the nights excesses.

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The Safest Car In The World

Should you choose to embrace ‘challenge’ in your life there are many opportunities to push yourself up to, and sometimes beyond, your limits. Climbing Mount Everest, walking the length of the Amazon, swimming the English Channel, or using your nose to push a marble from Lands End to John O’Groats, are all great example of how mankind seeks to conquer adversity.

I believe that we may have found another, previously undocumented life challenge, that must rank amongst these other great feats.

I’m willing to try anything once… except Morris Dancing and watching ‘Big Brother’, but permanently importing a car into Spain is not something that I’d recommend, in fact I’d go as far as to actively discourage it.

After returning the big red van to the UK, it having served its’ purpose admirably (excusing the blown intercooler hose), we needed a car to bring ourselves, our remaining possessions, and Bonita back to Spain. You may remember that we purchased the left hand drive Xena the Zafira with the intention of re-registering her, and keeping her for a couple of years before upgrading to a 4×4.

I’m sure that it doesn’t really need to be this difficult.

We knew we’d have to use a solicitor, we knew that there would be taxes to pay (so much for free movement of people and goods within the European Union), and we knew that it would take a while. But we’d not been prepared for over two months of aggravation.

What it has meant is that we must have the safest car in the World. Xena is now the proud holder of a valid Portuguese safety certificate (obtained by the previous owner), a UK MoT until May ’15 and now a Spanish ITV Test until May ’16. Safe in three countries, it’s a good job that it can’t fail a test due to the horrendous, head-ache inducing, road noise from a couple of low-profile tyres criminally fitted to the rear axle by the previous owner.

In the first week of January, we innocently sat in front of our solicitor. After handing over all the necessary paperwork and I asked, ‘how long is this likely to take?’. Our legal expert assured me that she’d done this before, and it normally takes ten days from her submitting the paperwork. I was quite impressed, but also it appears with 20:20 hindsight, quite naive.

There were several hoops to jump through. First we paid our taxes, based on one percent of some ridiculously inflated book value of Xena, then we paid an engineer to certify that the car is a standard European model, and attended a thorough ITV test which included taking umpteen measurements of the car to make sure that it matched the technical specification and hadn’t grown or shrunk in the ten years since it rolled off the production line.

The ITV required two trips to Foz the location of our closest test centre (a 100km round trip up the coast), one for the test and the second a few days later to pick up the paperwork, which for some reason they cannot post. We were already racking up quite a bill.

And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

A call from the solicitor brought bad and surprising news. Apparently our application had been rejected. Not because there was a problem with the car, not because we’d not paid all our taxes, and not because of any issues with the test. The problem was that my Spanish identity number (NIE) certificate was ‘too old’. The odd thing is, there is no end date on an NIE certificate, they don’t expire!To move us from the impasse we had to drive to the police station in Lugo and complete

the paperwork requesting a certificate to say that I had a valid NIE certificate. Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it?

The best of it is that we had to pay (7 euros) and it would take three days to process it and issue the paperwork. Three days later we drove the 100km round trip to Lugo, for the second time in a week, to collect a bill, to take to a bank, to get a receipt, to take back to the police, to collect the document. All that we had to do now was get an electronic copy to our solicitor to forward to the Director of Trafico, who would issue us the number plate the following morning.

And then we waited…and waited…and waited.

It turned out that the Director of Trafico wasn’t in the mood to play ball!

Two days after we should have had the number plate we contacted the solicitor. We’d been rejected again, this time because we’d not submitted the original NIE document. We’d sent a colour copy, but they claimed they needed the original. Our solicitor had then successfully argued that this was nonsense and had resubmitted guaranteeing us that we’d get it the following working day.

We waited…and waited.

In the afternoon of the following working day we called. Rejected again. This time because the electronic application had been submitted with ‘large family car’ box ticked rather than ‘small family car’. We had to wait another twenty-four hours before it could be resubmitted. Another day passed and we were rejected again, on another technicality, which now even the solicitor couldn’t explain.

All credit to our by now embattled and embarrassed solicitor. She offered to lend us her personal car as she was concerned that we were driving without insurance (over 90 days after we left the UK), or alternatively she volunteered to pay for our car hire.

Finally, over two months after being told it would take ten days, we got our Spanish number plates and permanently exported Xena to Spain.

It had cost us; 750€ in taxes, a €200 engineers report, a 90€ ITV, 200€ in solicitors fees, a 60€ tank of diesel for two trips to Foz and two trips to Lugo, and five wasted half days on a Galician paper chase.

Insuring an imported car was simpler, and cheaper, than I’d suspected and thanks the very persistent Fernando to Linea Directa, who must have spent our premium in phone calls chasing our business and now we’re now fully covered.

numberplate

Now twelve hundred euros lighter in the pocket we have the new plates and most of the paperwork. Sadly the new registration contains a ‘Z’ making the car resemble an IRA getaway car (for those of you who know about UK car registrations), but beggars can’t be choosers.

Xena is now officially a Spanish citizen, which is more than can be said for Amanda and I, but that is a story for another day. I have a feeling that both Morris dancing and ‘Big Brother’ may be more pleasurable than the bureaucracy involved in getting our residency papers.

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