Getting Back In The Saddle

I've sat down to write a new blog entry on many occasions since my homeland voted to leave the European Union.

Sometimes I've managed a few paragraphs, other times just a few words, and it has always inevitably led me to a rant at the patent absurdity of my countrymen voting to reduce their personal rights, willingly crash the economy, and isolate themselves from our continental neighbours.

But last nights events in the United States of America have just gone to show that the whole World has lost its marbles, not just the United Kingdom. How a majority of people of a supposedly civilised country can cast their ballot in such a way as to knowingly elect a misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted, racist to the lofty position of the leader of the free world simply takes away my breath.

After agonising and worrying about our future since the momentous decision on the 23rd June, I have now come to the conclusion that we should keep quiet, keep our heads down, get on with our lives, and be prepared to fight with every ounce of our strength should someone want to take away what we've earned. I am quietly confident that, whatever xenophobic actions the UK decides to take against European citizens, Spain won't reciprocate and force our repatriation.

Spaniards that have been willing to discuss our predicament all assure us that we'll be okay because 'Spain is a more enlightened, tolerant, liberal, and forward thinking country.' While I would have argued for the UK in all of these categories in the past, I now find myself conceding on all points, and hoping that they are right.

So...we are going to get on with it. We will plough what is left of our life savings into our property and business, and we will trust that the Spanish government will treat us like human beings rather than the shameful 'bargaining chips' approach that the UK government has decided to take to EU nationals.

The last time that I prepared a dispatch the roof was under construction on the big house. After ten weeks of hard labour of a team of four, with me watching on and supplying beer and water, it was finally completed in the middle of July. It looks superb, no longer the hobbit house with a natural shower or two in each room. It is dry for the first time, possibly ever, and from the outside it looks fantastic.


We've done a few jobs since then, which I will bring to you in blogs over the coming days and weeks, but I've been hampered by injury. I'd been suffering with a freezing right shoulder since just after Christmas, but a couple of months ago it took a turn for the worse with very limited mobility and a constant aching pain. After a month of sleepless nights I acquiesced and agreed to go and see a physiotherapist.

Vanessa is the daughter of one of the local village matriarchs (a lovely lady who organises regular dinners at a local community hall). We've bumped into Vanessa several times in the past and since Amanda found out that she was a physiotherapist she went out of her way to spend a few minutes at each fiesta complaining about my posture and general malaise.

We arranged an appointment at her practice in Vegadeo (a twenty minute drive away) and Amanda tagged along to translate. An initial consultation was followed by the attachment of some pressure pads around my shoulder and twenty minutes of relaxing electronic massage (it feels a bit like ants running over your skin) to loosen the muscles around my shoulder. With the machine switched off I thought I was finished for the session, but Vanessa had not even started.

How such a petite lady can inflict so much pain on an ageing and overweight ex-rugby player is beyond reason. She stretched and cajoled, kneeded and prodded, squeezed and twisted, bringing me to tears on one occasion, and prompting me to cry 'Please Stop Vanessa' twice. She then prescribed me; deep heat gel, magnesium and turmeric tablets (the latter of which costs €45 for a fortnights supply) all to aid in my recovery.

Four sessions, and a great deal of pain, later and I'm starting to notice some improvement in shoulder mobility. The downside/upside is that I was banned from any labouring for the first three weeks, and am only now re-assuming light duties.

So very little has been achieved in the last month as I have worn a groove in the arms of my favourite chair and tried to write this blog on several occasions.

After a break of six months I will try and report more frequently...promise...while keeping my head down and not watching the news for fear of another global disaster.

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Fools Gold

Since the day we first bought the house we've been told, nay assured, that it contained a small fortune in buried treasure.

The onset of the recent works means that the local gossip has reached fever pitch with neighbours we've not seen for months making a special 'casual' walk past the property, take us to one side, and remind us that we need to be on the lookout for the hidden wealth of gold within the big house walls.

We've been advised to watch the builders every move, as if they were to find anything of value it would be spirited away, and the next we'd see of it was when one of the workers turned up in a brand new Rolls Royce.

Local folklore would have us believe that the original owner and builder of the house was one of the richest men in the area. During one of the many phases of building that we've uncovered during the renovation, he apparently hid a fortune in gold, and then forgot where he'd put it. It remained hidden until his death over two hundred years ago, and has done ever since. It's a story that all the neighbours know, and one which they are happy to whisper to us, out of the earshot of the builders (who are nothing short of pirates!).

Amanda and I just smile and nod. We know that for the thirty years before we bought it, our house was in the guardianship of Carlos (the owner's brother) who used it as a pen to fatten his pig and keep his chickens, a barn for his donkey, and a store for his potatoes. We know, that he knows, the rumours and if there was anything of value to be found, we're damn certain that he'd have found it at some point in the last three decades.

There are local stories of treasures being found in old properties, and more commonly hand guns wrapped in oil cloths, which were secreted during the civil war. So on the first day that the builders arrived I joked with them about gold and guns.

Frequent shouts of 'oro' (gold) have been heard to ring out around site, followed by laughter, but never a reveal of the shiny stuff.

Despite me thinking I had 'cleared' the house in advance of the works, there have still been a few discoveries, but sadly all worthless.

These have included; four porcelain ornaments (two of which have subsequently mysteriously disappeared), a congealed bag of boiled sweets, a full bottle of white wine (subsequently smashed), two pairs of rusted pliers, a small child's prayer stool, a copper and brass manual crop sprayer, two pairs of football boots (size 43), a small black & white TV set, and the most macabre find being a hoof and ankle joint of an ancient ham (pictured).


Despite the odd break to examine and discuss these finds the work has been proceeding at a fair pace, mostly in the bright sunshine which prevails between the odd shower. The builders start at 8am, stop at 11 for a nice cold beer (from our fridge), break for a 75 minute lunch at 1pm, and then carry on through until 7pm. There is definitely no mañana attitude in Galicia, these guys work hard, usually while I stand and watch and give the occasional thumbs up.

Amanda and I have worked hard though. To save a bit of money we took just under five days to treat and colour 290 square metres of timber planks, and over sixty new joists, which are now being hauled and battered into place.

The result, even on a half finished building, is nothing short of superb. All of the original beams were in good condition once three hundred years of soot and woodworm had been cleared from the outside centimetre or two, with a sand-blaster and angle grinders/sanders. Now they've been cleaned down they look fantastic, and once the builder has finished his work we will be spending time finishing these, treating them, and making sure that they are a real architectural highlight of the house.



The roof is going on in two phases, the first is half complete but the second has not yet started. This means that there is still a part of the building which has not been stripped and the roof removed. Perhaps this is where our untold treasures will lie, and where our fortune will be found?

Rest assured, I'll be keeping a close eye on the builders.

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Ankle Deep in Sand

Tomorrow, the 17th May, is a local holiday, the Galician Day of Letters.

With a Tuesday being a day off, there is obviously no point in working on a Monday, so we got a text from the builder last night to say that we’d not see his crew until Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday they will be accompanied by 290 square metres of chestnut planking which Amanda and I have the unenviable task of sanding, treating with anti-woodworm solution and then staining ready for installation once the beams are in. I’m not sure how long it will take us, or how long we’ll have before they need it to install, but I’m not really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a gruelling few days.

We’ve used the few days downtime over the weekend and todays ‘puente’ to get the allotment (huerto) started. Following last week’s potatoes we now have onions, broad beans, peas, carrots, parsnips, lettuce and radish. Tomatoes, chillies and melons are all in seed trays, germinated, and ready to go.

The downtime which meant a cessation in the clank of heavy machinery and the shouting of Spanish workers has also meant that our ‘outdoor cat’ kit has felt brave enough to venture out. She played in the field while we were working in the huerto and in the space of a couple of hours she’d murdered; a mole, a rather large and fierce looking rat, and had managed to get herself a small bird from somewhere. All were strategically placed to ensure that we found them on the way back to the barn. It’s not as if we don’t feed her.

On the house the work is continuing at a rapid pace. It is difficult to comprehend what a team of four can do in six days.

After stripping the roof on Monday and Tuesday, the rest of the week was spent using an industrial sand-blaster to strip three hundred years of soot and grime off all of the internal walls which we are intending to leave as exposed stone.




As the machine was on site they also used for a first pass on the chestnut beams which they ended the week sanding with angle-grinders and sanding disks, and which I will finish to a smoother end result once the roof is on and I can get some quite time to potter at my own leisure. They’ve made a tremendous job but the down side is that the whole site is now covered in five centimetres of sand and crud from the four tonnes which they blasted over the course of three days. The heavy rain over the weekend has meant that the clean-up will be a nightmare.

The house looks magnificently different. It seems twice the size that it did with a roof on and Amanda and I are even more excited at the prospects for using its myriad or rooms, levels and nooks and crannies. Just a small lottery win and we’re laughing.

There has also been some very sad news since my last post. One of our neighbours, a lovely man and good friend, lost a long struggle with cancer and passed away at the age of 79. It was Amanda and my first experience of an open casket in a funeral home and, on Friday, of a Spanish Catholic funeral. I am hoping that neither are things that we have to attend with any frequency in the future.


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After 301 Years

After the terrible start to the Spring, with daily downpours, strong winds and un-Galician temperatures the day finally came for us to plant our potatoes. The lunar vegetable calendar, which is probably as accurate as the Daily Mail horoscopes, said it was a bad day for planting root vegetables but this was the only day that the barely decipherable 'Pepin' could attend with his ancient tractor and potato plough. It was a day of 'beggars can't be choosers'. 

It was the first time I'd met Pepin, and I don't know whether that should be Mr Pepin or whether Pepin is his first name. He's a man with the highest voice in Galicia, and hence the reason why he is impossible to understand. It's one vowel from ironic really, as Pepin drives an ancient 'Pascuali' tractor, a joke which I suspect would be lost on the Spanish. 

Just as I put in the last potato of our 25kg batch for this year, hopefully blight resistant so as not to repeat last years heartbreak, Facundo arrived in his lorry which was precariously stacked with scaffolding, wheel barrows, pallets of wood and shovels.  

Amanda stayed with Joe....sorry Pepin.... while I went to oversee the unloading. 

The great re-roofing day had finally arrived.  

I'd been responsible for postponing the work in October when I landed a three month job in Northern Ireland, and again in January when that same contract was extended for another three months. But almost six years after we bought our place in the sun, the big house was about to get re-roofed and begin its transformation. 

Just after we bought one of the neighbours told me that the main part of the big house was built in 1715, so one year after its three hundredth anniversary it was about to get a shiny new roof. Two days spent demolishing internal false ceilings and partitions and the erection of internal and external scaffolding set the scene.

We're so pleased that things are finally moving that Amanda even begrudgingly agreed to move her beloved little garden to make way for the crane, and we smiled our way through a few hours without water after one of the builders ruptured a pipe and had to turn it off at the mains while they went for lunch and called at the plumbers merchants.

It was not without some sadness that we watched the builders start work today removing tons and tons of old, crumbly, blackened with soot slate. Our once 'hobbit-like' house was being opened to the daylight for the first time in many generations as it started its' long journey from ruin into something habitable.

Now we've finally got activity I'll be blogging much more over the coming days and weeks on problems and progress on Phase I of 'fix the big house'.






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Almost Forced To Remarry For a Bit Of Green Tissue Paper

Apart from football, if there is anything at which the Spanish excel, then it is bureaucracy.

Finally, and after just fifteen months of living in Galicia, this morning we finally obtained our ‘green card’ of temporary residence (which is not allowed to be laminated despite it being printed on green tissue paper). This might sound very lax on our part, after all we’ve had almost five hundred days to sort it, but on the frustration metre this process has registered a reading close to the one for the trials and tribulations of re-registering a UK motor vehicle.

We’d made our first attempt back in December 2014 and have had two subsequent goes, the second of which ended in tears of frustration. This morning we were almost thwarted again…twice. But in the end, and after just over ninety minutes of negotiation and sweaty palms, the nice lady at the Police station in Lugo finally ran out of reasons not to grant us temporary residence.

Our initial attempts were thwarted by a lack of proof of medical insurance. This was sorted twice; by a form S1 to the UK to get my National Insurance contributions (which I still make in the UK) transferred to Spain; and also through Amanda getting a part-time job which is so above-board that her employer pays her social security contributions.

bureaucracySo we went again to Lugo this morning armed with a lever-arch file full of paperwork containing copies and originals (bureaucrats often like to see the original and would have gladly sent us back 50km home to collect it if we’d not had it). We’d each got; NIE certificate, Empadronada with the local council, passport, proof of medical cover, our social security registrations, property deeds, birth certificates, my certificate of incorporation for my UK company and shareholder listing, and Amanda’s printout from social services showing that she was registered and paying social security. This was everything that we’d been asked for on the third visit, and while not feeling totally confident we were cautiously optimistic.

For the first time ever there wasn’t a queue, and Amanda presented my paperwork first. It took seconds for the lady behind the desk to try and conceal her grin as a frown. ‘We need proof of your income as you don’t work here’, she said. Amanda and I sighed as one.

Perhaps it was a new rule, perhaps the nice lady last time had forgotten to tell us, so we sought clarification. ‘We need proof of an income of at least 600 euros per month’ she advised. Then I had a brainwave, Amanda’s paperwork included proof that she was working, and as her spouse I qualified as a dependant.

We pushed Amanda’s thick wad of paperwork across the desk. ‘I work’, Amanda said. The lady behind the desk now wore the look of a beaten bureaucrat, realising the implication for my application, and I was grinning inside. She scrutinised the paperwork and then asked for a marriage certificate to prove our union. We had it, the original; I was almost feeling excited, that the end was now surely in sight. She checked the date, slowly got to her feet, traversed the room, and retrieved a large dusty ring-binder from a high shelf.

After several minutes she shook her head. We’d got married too long ago (before 2012) and we needed a Notary to validate our licence. Now she was grinning, she’d landed a strong upper-cut and we were reeling on the ropes.

We huddled, and talked in hushed tones.

‘Let’s go to the bank and see if they can print us out a statement showing my regular transfers from the UK’, I suggested, still coming to terms with the idea that we might have to marry again!

Amanda explained our plan and we said we’d return soon. The bank were very accommodating and printed three statements, two of which we didn’t ask for or need, and we walked the half a kilometre back to the police station in the now driving rain.

Once again the ‘Office of the Foreigners’ was empty and we sat straight down handing over the previous paperwork and the new bank statements. She took out her calculator and added up the income, mercifully over the threshold. I felt we were really close this time.

The lady behind the desk was beaten, she raised the white flag and we’d no more hoops to jump through….well, just one. She completed another form and instructed us that we had to do another round trip to the bank to pay 10.60 euros each and bring the stamped ‘paid’ forms back to her.

Half an hour later and we were both shocked and surprised to be holding our tissue paper green cards, which she’d issued there and then, not relying in the usual ‘This will take ten days to process, come back then and see if they are ready’.

As EU citizens we now have temporary permission to reside in Spain, theoretically for the next five years, after which time we can then apply for the permanent residence which would give us residency protection under the ‘Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969’.

We’ve done all we can. For now.

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