Additions to the Family

We have known Dolores since before we bought the house in 2010. Our estate agent introduced us to her as an ex-high flying executive from Madrid who had packed it all in for a quiet life in a Galician backwater. She’d bought her house believing it was in Asturias, only to discover to her distress that it was the very last house in Galicia, her two near neighbours being Asturian.

Every year Dolores has a problem.

In late Spring a heavily pregnant cat appears and takes up residency in her wood shed. Within days she gives birth and Dolores helps the mother to nurse the two, three, four or five kittens until they are weaned, at which point she tries to find them all new homes, from an ever decreasing pool of locals. If the mother arrives early enough in the year then she could easily fall pregnant again, and deliver a second litter in July or August.

I’m a sucker for kittens, and so is Dolores, who now has four cats of which two are the left-over, un-homed, products of her stray.

Once the mother has completed her motherly duties, in the safe knowledge that Dolores will be an always-willing assistant, she disappears again until the following spring. That’s one cat that knows when she’s onto a good thing.

Since we moved out here in 2014 every litter that has arrived has been trumpeted to us, usually with cute and adorable photographs, in the hope that we may become a home to one or more of her annual menagerie. We’ve always resisted.

Initially we had our own elderly cat (Bonita) from England and just three weeks after she died a stray appeared on our doorstep and adopted us, the outdoor (and occasionally indoor) Kit the Cat.

Since then we’ve taken Dolores’s phone calls and; ‘not liked the colour’, ‘we only want a black one’, or ‘we’ll only take a tom cat’ (after the trauma of neutering Kit) and while we’ve visited her house and made all the right ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ noises we have managed to resist taking on any more strays.

Then in September we took a phone call from cat-woman Dolores. ‘My stray has had a second litter.....and one of them is black......and I think it’s a Tom cat’ she said. There was a discernible ‘I’ve got you this time’ air of satisfaction in her voice. She’d managed to manufacture our ideal, all black, tom. We had no option but to visit.

We both instantly fell in love, with both the black one and his mackerel coloured brother, and we agreed to take them once they had been weaned from their mother, and after we’d completed our Camino De Santiago.

3C4CDE2A-68BD-4285-8AB7-F498DFD697F3On the 14th October we made the short trip to one of Galicia’s last outposts and came home with a cat basket containing Lemmy (the black one) and Hendrix (the mackerel).

They will, of course, be outdoor cats. They are here to assist Kit in keeping check on the perennial rat and mouse problem that blights all rural areas. They now spend their nights in the bread oven house but have the run of the finca from dawn to dusk.

They are slowly growing up from the bundles of fur that arrived a month ago and are developing their own individual characteristics.

565F0ABF-836A-4CB8-A56B-119816F24FEAHendrix would be a brilliant competitor in any ‘kitten food eating competition’ as his prime Lidl pate is gone almost before it hits the bottom of the bowl, Lemmy is more of a grazer which means that either Amanda or myself have to stand guard and stop Hendrix polishing off his food too.

Hendrix runs into situations like a bull in the proverbial china shop, while Lemmy is much more cautious and if his early efforts in vermin control continue then he’s likely to be a top-notch mouser.

They are both very chatty and like to announce an impending ‘toilet visit’ as well as calling to one another if either drifts out of sight.

Gradually over the last month Kit has come to accept their presence and can even bring herself to play with them on occasions (although perhaps a little too roughly), before getting bored and going off to sleep in one of her many ‘safe spots’ around the property.

They are massive bundles of fun, love a human cuddle, play fight with one another, and then curl up together to sleep.

But that’s where we draw the line, there will be no more, three is our limit. We already spend more on cat food than we do on the human stuff, let’s hope that they soon start feeding themselves.

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Chronic Water Shortage

I’ve mentioned our water problems before. For a first world country we have our fair share of third world problems, and a summer lack of water is one of them. Despite us living in the wettest part of Spain, with on average more precipitation in a year than Manchester, the local village water supply has a habit of running low, or even totally dry during late summer.

The first year that this happened our neighbour Carlos was more than happy to hand me the keys to the deposit, a symbolic gesture as the door hasn’t locked for years, and give me the responsibility for strimming it’s immediate surrounds, and also keeping an eye on the springs about five kilometres away in the mountains.

I’ve been doing my duty and monitoring the levels since early summer and was surprised at how well our village has done. Our local, 50,000 litre, deposit was full throughout September and early October and it was only on the last few days of the month that the level started to drop a little.

2ADF9192-B30E-47C7-A937-41D9ED4FDD65It’s been a very dry summer, which made our decent water situation even more surprising. When we walked the Camino at the end of September it was startling to see the level of the river as we approached Portomarin. As you can see in the photograph the river is usually at the level indicated by the change of colour on the modern day bridge pillars but after the summer we’ve had you could even see the old medieval bridge on the river bed.

We’ve essentially had six months with only a smattering of rain, people haven’t been able to water their allotments or wash their cars, and now we are paying the price.

At the start of November the level in our deposit started to drop, at an alarming rate. Over the space of seven days it went from 80% full to 80% empty, we had a problem and it needed investigation and action.

In autumn, winter and spring this local water store usually receives around 750 litres per hour from the springs but on taking a measurement (involving blocking the outflow, sticking a bucket under the overflow, and measuring with a stopwatch) we measured the flow at just 200 litres per hour.

One of the three springs had dried completely and the other two were running vastly under normal flow. There were also some minor leaks with water escaping, and we needed every drop that we could get. I scoured the internet for solutions to plug a leak in a concrete tank without turning off the essential supply. I looked as expanding foam, silicon, and putty but none of them fitted the bill or gave me any confidence of a permanent solution.

Then I had a moment of enlightenment, hydraulic cement. A local supplier had a bag, and opened on a bank holiday to sell me it, and it’s miraculous. You mix it in small quantities, and have to use it as soon as it is mixed. Once in place it ‘goes off’ in three minutes, or under water in five...chisel hard. So with the help of a neighbour I made the repairs and everything that could be done to safeguard the supply had been done.

Phase two of the operation then had to kick in.

Amanda produced a leaflet explaining the situation and asking the neighbours to be careful with their use of our precious resource. As most are Gallego speaking, octogenarians they do have some problems understanding as you can tell by the way their lips move when they try to read. So in hand-delivering our ‘Public Information’ bulletins we had to explain the situation verbally.

It didn’t work.

Consumption continued unabated and over the next few days and the flow from springs fell even further, down to 150 litres per hour. So then I flexed my English muscles and cut everyone off.

If I’ve got the keys, and I do the housekeeping and repairs, then I think I’ve the right to operate the big supply taps! We started with a water curfew between 9pm and 9am and we are now down to a 4pm to 10am prohibition. In just six hours a day we are using all of the water which comes in during the eighteen hours of closure. We are holding at 20% full but with no rain on the long range forecast I am afraid that a gradual reduction on hours is on the cards as I try to avoid a total water wipeout.

We’re not alone. Across Spain the reservoirs are at 30% and falling. Some local villages have been without water since mid-summer and one local town now has a nighttime cut to supplies, seven days a week.

If anyone knows a good rain dance, or can rent us a cloud-busting machine, then give me a shout. We are getting desperate.

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Our Fantastic Camino Experience

It was with some trepidation that we accepted the kind offer of a lift to Sarria from our friends Danny and Carol. Not because the last time we’d been in Danny’s Transit we came within inches of a head on collision with a Council truck, but because we’d got a mammoth 115km walk ahead of us.

Backpacks had been packed, weighed, thinned, weighed, thinned again and finally zipped up. Boots had been ‘worn in’, likely blister spots covered in tape, and special socks purchased.

E5ECC820-745A-4957-9441-ADC7AA3A82CEThere was no turning back, a quick coffee with our kind chauffeurs, and we hit the road to the first of our nights pre-booked accommodation in Portomarín. The first day was 22.2km on a mixture of forest paths, country roads and for the final kilometre pavement. We had a ten minute spell of light drizzle but after a couple of beers and a nice pizza we thanked our lucky stars that the promised blisters hadn’t made an appearance and we retired to an early bed.

Body clocks ‘all to pot’ we were awake and on the Camino just before dawn on day two for the 23.5 km jaunt to Palas de Rey. Fog followed darkness which then turned into sunshine as we reached our goal. Amanda had developed an ankle problem, and the blisters which we’d avoided on day one had made an unwelcome appearance. We found a ‘Menu del Dia’, drank beer and slept, knowing that tomorrow’s stage, the feared ‘legbreaker’, would make or break us.

B4CACF01-9144-4FE7-AD8F-4280412360D8Another pre-dawn start saw us literally bump into an American couple with whom we shared torches for a few kilometres. It turned out that they too would celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on the 3rd October, the same as Amanda and myself, a Camino coincidence. We passed through Melide, which at sixteen kilometres would have been a sensible place to spend the night, but we pushed on to Arzua where the beer tasted sweeter and the food finer after 28.4km of walking.

We were now just forty kilometres from Santiago, two days walking.

The fourth day saw us reach O Pedrouzo after 19.3km, and after several routes had joined together, the way was becoming increasingly crowded. We called at the chemist for something to help with a shooting pain down my right shin, and hit the bars for some alcoholic anaesthetic. Our goal now seemed to be within touching distance.

0A629DA8-C982-4687-A73E-E8E0DB79D410The push into Santiago de Compostela was the hardest of the five days. The majority of the 20.8km route was on pavement or rough stony tracks which took a toll on our blistered feet and painful knees and a two kilometres diversion on the edge of the city lowered spirits even further. The Cathedral was a sight for sore eyes and at just after one thirty we arrived in the square with all of the other pilgrims who had made the journey from a myriad of routes, from a range of distances, and with very different hopes and expectations.

The day we arrived we joined over a thousand other pilgrims in the queue for our Compostela (certificate), before we met with friends Jim and Madelaine for a great night out on the town and retiring to our luxury room in the Parador for a good nights sleep.

We met and chatted with people from; Spain, Italy, USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and Brazil. They were all ages and all had their own stories and reasons for walking the Camino.

We made it, and while we felt a a great sense of achievement, we also had a massive admiration for those who had completed the full Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port in France. We also both felt a little deflated that our Camino was over and we were returning back to our normal life. Despite suffering some pain and discomfort, neither of us suggested taking a bus or a taxi, and looking back we both thought that it was a fantastic experience, and one which we are willing to repeat.

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Bluff Called

Winter is coming and it's time for a general update after a mostly uneventful summer.

We've entered the season of cooler mornings and evenings rather than the wall to wall heat that we've experienced over the last four months. The allotment is looking fairly empty as we've just tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and parsnips on the go. With a potato ban in the A Marina area, under pain of a €4,000 fine, we planted produce in a smaller area than last year but we've still managed to harvest 200 decent sized onions, 5kg of peas and 1 kg of sweet corn as well as plenty of lettuce and carrots.

The best crop of the year was courgettes/marrows which went wild early in the growing season and saw us eating; ratatouille, stuffed courgettes, courgetti, courgette cake, courgette stir fry, courgette curry and courgette salad. We gave loads away and now ten or more large marrows are rotting away in the vegetable patch as we just can't bring ourselves to harvest and eat any more.

Next year I'll plant less courgettes... many less.

Chestnut for retrieval

Chestnut for retrieval

Little has happened with the big house as we wait for licenses and permissions from the local council and the Xunta de Galicia. We've built a few steps, put a slate floor in the bread oven, constructed some planters, excavated one of the rooms in the big house of waist deep detritus (which included taking six cubic metres of household waste to the local dump), and tidied up 300 m2 of ancient chestnut beams, planks and roof panels from where they were dumped in front of the big house by the builders last summer. They are now neatly stacked by the barn either for re-use or cutting down into burnable chunks.

Kit the Cat guarding retrieved chestnut

Kit the Cat guarding retrieved chestnut

So amongst all this mundanity I did something very stupid.

On the coming 3rd October Amanda and I will have been married for twenty-five years, which is a bit of a miracle as I was certain twenty-four years ago that she'd have killed me by now. For the last few months she's been talking about a couple of nights away in a nice hotel to celebrate, but some of the hotels mentioned had alarming price tags associated with them. One mentioned was the Parador in the main square in Santiago de Compostela, reputedly the oldest hotel in the world which has played host to royalty, dignitaries, politicians, sportsmen and pop stars. On checking the internet it was quoted well in excess of €200 a night!

Now for €200 I could buy a decent lithium batteried cordless drill, or a circular saw with a couple of blade options and a laser sight, or a nice wood router and loads of bits, or even pay a speeding fine (yes I've had another of those over the summer).

So I hatched a plan which I thought was foolproof. I suggested that we walked the Camino De Santiago for our anniversary, or at least the last 115km from Sarria to Santiago. I did some basic calculations that we'd need five days of walking, that we could stop in cheap hotels and that arriving on the 3rd of October Amanda could have her one night in the five star Parador before we came home.

My theory was that a five day endurance hike, even with the promise of a night in the Parador, would be enough for her to shelve her romantic plans and I could use the money on necessary power tools.

But she called my bluff. ‘What a great idea’ she said. ‘I'd love to do that’.

So now we've spent a small fortune on; rucksacks, walking poles, walking boots, trousers, solar phone battery charger, non-blister socks, blister plasters for when the non-blister socks let me down. Not only that but we’ve had to go into training and regularly walk a eight kilometre circular route from the barn up into the mountains and back again.

The lodgings, including the Parador, are all booked and arrangements have been made for cat-sitting and lifts. It would have been much less hassle, and probably cheaper, to have just booked two nights in the Parador in the first place!

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Amanda Saves The Day

I've always had terrible phobia of wasps and as with my only other weakness, ice cream, it is all the fault of my Mother.

Some of my earliest memories are of my Mum shrieking and flapping her arms about like a crazy woman because she'd spotted a wasp within a hundred yards of us. On one occasion she abandoned me in my perambulator in the middle of a dual carriageway to escape a solitary wasp and save her own skin. And I remember being severely reprimanded, it might well have involved smacked legs, for poking at a wasp with a stick on our driveway at home.

As a kid, whenever the word 'wasp' was uttered in our house I followed Mum out of the door flapping a squealing like a girl until Dad killed it, and declared that our home had once again returned to being a wasp free safe haven.

At school I told everyone that I got a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings to explain my hysteria, and on one occasion as a young teenager I jumped out of a moving car because one had entered through an open window.

I think that it is safe to say that I really don't like wasps.

It was therefore with great distress to myself, that Amanda disturbed a wasps nest while we were clearing ivy and brambles from a slope next to the newly renovated bread oven house.

I retreated a good distance towards the safety of the barn and yelled questions.

'How big is it? What do the wasps look like? How many are there? How do I get my blood pressure down?'

2017-04-29-PHOTO-00008212Amanda shouted back that it was about the size of a tennis ball (see the picture), quite small in the whole hierarchies of wasps nests. The 'wasps', it turns out through consultation with my 'Insects of the British Isles and Western Europe', were actually Asian Hornets, a particularly unpleasant multiple-stinging' one inch long, armour plated 'pain machine'. There were less than a dozen, but more than half a dozen. My blood pressure, it seemed, would remain high for the foreseeable future.

I phoned Neil, our oracle on almost everything.

'Kill them with fire!', he said, one of his stock answers to any question about problems with natures fauna. 'Alternatively, wait until late evening or a cold morning, pick the nest up with a plastic bag, and then smash the hell out of it with a big rock, perhaps then burning it for good measure'.

I had visions of us setting Galicia alight and the last thing I really wanted to do was let pyromaniac Amanda loose with a pint of unleaded and a box of matches.

We looked for a local Rentokil operative but the nearest office was three hours away in Vigo. As it was Friday afternoon the local council was now deserted for the weekend so we had no option other than to take matters into our own hands, or in reality, for Amanda to 'man-up' and deal with the problem.

So this morning, after I'd suffered a sleepless, worry and wasp filled night, and while I cowered in the house on the verge of tears, Amanda tucked her trousers in her socks, pulled on a hat and thick gloves, put a scarf around her mouth and nose, and did the deed.

I almost applauded from the other side of the window as she battered a double-carrier-bagged Asian Hornets nest with the back of a shovel until there was no more movement, and their superbly engineered nest was as flat as a wasp filled pancake.

Since 'the exterminator' did her stuff we've had a couple of them come by to visit the site of their old nest but we suspect that the size of it meant that they'd just started building, and that Amanda's swift actions will force them to find a new home, hopefully not on our finca.

Now, hopefully my blood pressure is now returning to normal.

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