We arrived in Galicia on the evening of the 20th June, cutting it fine as it was one day before we could lose our 10% deposit. But with the completion scheduled to happen on the 21st, the longest day, and with our feet on Galician soil we were confident.
There had been tremendous rains in the preceeding week, and after finding a large part of the main road from the airport to Ribadeo washed away and replaced by a mud track (down which everything including HGVs were travelling), we decided to call on the house and make sure that we weren’t now buying a pile of rubble.
As we parked up we caught our first glimpse of Carlos, the brother of the vendor, who had happily been growing potatoes and vegetables on the land for the last twenty plus years. He was outside the barn with his aged and moth eaten donkey harnessed to a cart which was laden high with straw, boxes and a bedstead. Amanda went to talk to him and he took off his bandana to mop his brow and make himself presentable.
It emerged that his sister had told him that the house would be sold tomorrow and that he had to remove all of his ‘stuff’, a task which he appeared to have left until the very last minute. He asked Amanda about whether he need to dig out his already sprouting potato crop. ‘No, that’s okay, leave them and harvest them when they are ready, we don’t intend to do anything with the land until later in the year.’ There was a tear starting to form in the corner of his eye, it looked like one sentence had lifted a massive weight from his shoulders. He wouldn’t starve this winter.
‘And what about my car, can I leave it in your garage?’, ‘Yes’ replied Amanda. Feeling more confident he went for the third favour, ‘What about my donkey, can I leave him on your land?’. ‘Sure..’, said Amanda, ‘..until later in the year when we start work’. Then the last question, the one that he was obviously really nervous about asking but was the most important to him. ‘At the end of the summer can I cut your grass and take it as hay?’. Result for us! ‘Yes’ said Amanda, trying to hide her delight. For allowing a few small favours we were going to get the land tidied free of charge at the end of the summer.
Then our first neighbourly visitors arrived, and tried speaking to me to which I awkwardly responded using my very rudimentary Spanish and shouted to Amanda rescuing her from her conversation with Carlos.
‘Are you buying this house, we understand you are opening up an old peoples home?’. The Galician chinese whispers had been working overtime. ‘Yes and No’ said Amanda, ‘We buy the house tomorrow, and then we are going to develop it into a rural hotel’. This met with smiles, I am not sure whether they were happy at the prospect of a small hotel in their village or just laughing at us. ‘Very good, that will be perfect’. And then, in this most Catholic of countries, the typical Spanish second (although usually the first) question ‘And do you have children?’.
When we responded in the negative there was a look of pity on their faces, I felt myself being looked up and down as potentially ‘inadequate’, and then Amanda was stared at with pity (at having an inadequate husband). ‘Ah, that’s a shame!’ they said as a couple.
As they pulled away in their old Mercedes with sun dulled red paint neighbour number two approached the property from the other direction, this time with two children in tow. ‘Are you the new owner?’, she asked me (so I was told later by Amanda). My good wife rescued me for the third time in ten minutes. ‘Yes, yes we are’.
‘And do you have children?’ said the woman, ‘No’, Amanda responded. It was a conversation killer and it was at this point that I became concerned that she’d offer us one of hers, or at least organise a village collection to get us one. Childless, I felt almost guilty as she shuffled off two grandchildren in tow, one picking his nose and the other banging two stones together with no particular rhythm.
With this local fascination with children, perhaps we should be converting the house into an orphanage?