Water Cheats

In his ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, Coleridge wrote ‘Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink’. Living in Liñeiras this couplet has become one staple of our autumnal household conversation as the torrent of the winter, spring and early summer gives way to the gentle drip which renders us without nature’s elixir of life from mid-September until the rains return in November.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, the whole village shares a single water deposit, a nearby five by five by two concrete cube which holds 50,000 litres and is spring fed from five kilometres away up in the pristine hills. For much of the year this runs fine, the deposit remains full, excess water constantly running out of the small overflow, and down the hillside. 

Pure Clear Spring in the Hills

But as the water table drops, the springs start to dry up, and eventually the deposit starts to empty with a net deficit between supply and usage. This is exacerbated by our neighbours determined inability and willingness to alter their consumption habits and continuing to fill water troughs for livestock and generously irrigate their precious potato crops. As we are one of the highest properties on the network, and the designated water monitors, we get the earliest alarm that there is a problem. This is usually heralded by a ‘failure to flush’, or that soul-destroying drip from the tap when you go to fill the kettle for a brew. That triggers a machete wielding trip to the deposit to battle our way through the undergrowth and confirm our worst fears.

The obligatory circuit of the neighbours follows as we inform them of the shortage, they know what’s coming as we only really see them on their home turf when there is a water problem. They shrug their shoulders, resigned to losing their weekly bath for a few weeks, or tell us that ‘it’s okay as they never use it anyway’, relying on their own private supply – which they then hurriedly go and switch to.

For the last few of years the situation has been dire, forcing us to ration the supply and only allow the pipes to the village to be open for two or three hours per day. As a village we tend to use a whole day of accumulation in just a couple of hours, despite requests to be frugal, so to ensure we get at least those few hours a day for everyone we have to be cruel to be kind.

Our neighbours know it irked us, and while they didn’t make any moves to moderate their usage, they did seem to sympathise.

We finally decided that enough was enough and secretly, under the cover of a foggy November early morning we installed a 4,000 litre local deposit in one of our ruined buildings, enough to supply ourselves for twenty days of drought, or our apartments and ourselves for at least a good week. We felt very guilty doing it, the deposit is hidden behind a locked door and out of sight of our neighbours, but we had no option for peace of mind.

Our own 4,000 litres

It took a week’s preparation to lay the reinforced concrete plinth and plumb in the necessary pipework, and electrics for the pressure pump to ensure that we had a working system. But once it was up and running, and full to the brim, we were mightily relieved and knew that we’d made a wise investment.

The system now operates in such a way that when we limit the village to their two hours of water a day, those two hours will replenish our tank, so we always have a full tank unless the village is totally without water for an extended period. We still manage the supply for the village, and outwardly sympathise with our villagers, but sneakily we have no worries or breaks in our own supply.  

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We’ve Got Cows

If there is one undeniable, relentless, certainty about Galician life, it is that the grass will never stop growing. Sure, it slows down a little in the heat of the summer, and the occasional cold snap in the winter may curtail the daily millimetres of growth, but as sure as day turns into night the Galician meadow is a relentless thing.

When you peruse potential properties on the various estate agents’ sites, the appeal of thousands of square metres of land is way too much temptation for someone born and brought up in towns. This is especially the case for those of us whose first house had no garden, whose second was a strip of metre wide concrete between the house and the road, and whose third was a couple of postage stamp sized sod-covered clay-soiled areas where your low-price lawn mower required the turning circle of a London taxi.

We therefore gave little thought to the 7,000m2 of finca that was attached to our buildings, except ‘great’. We never thought about the effort it keeping the grass mown, the potential fire risk when it dried to a tinderbox in the summer, or the potential for ‘denuncias’ and associated fines from the local authority for being negligent in the land’s maintenance.

Between buying the house and moving to Galicia it wasn’t too bad. We weren’t living here to see the unrelenting advance, we usually visited in the summer when there was a slight abatement as the sun and heat took its toll, and we were fortunate to have Carlos’s donkey as ‘muncher in chief’ turning the good grass into manure.

It was only when we renovated the barn, and asked Carlos to vacate his donkey from the premises, that the problem became abundantly noticeable.

We’ve since tried horses and donkeys and for a couple of years we had a neighbour from the next village who came along twice a year and cut the grass for winter hay for his cattle. But for the last couple of years we’ve not been able to entice any livestock grass-cutters, and the pasture has grown out control much to our embarrassment and our neighbours disgust.

While I could strim the areas immediately around the house and under the fruit trees, this would take five or six hours of blood, sweat and tears and it was like painting the proverbial fourth bridge. The problem was the open pasture and we had to resort to a twice-yearly phone call to a local farmer who would bring his ‘Heath Robinson’ industrial strimmer, four massive heavy-gauge chain flails attached to a rapidly rotating wheel under a wooden bed on wheels, which he towed backwards and forwards across the land, obliterating everything in its path and throwing the occasional large stone metres into the air. Depending on his mood, and I think the temperature, we were charged anything between €60 and €100 for the pleasure of his noisy, and somewhat perilous, company for a couple of hours.

But this year is different. This year we’ve got cows. We’d noticed the same five bovines moving around the village from pasture to pasture and made enquiries. The owner lives a few kilometres away and was happy to add our finca into his rotation. He erected an electric fence and a couple of weeks ago they arrived, much to the chagrin of Kit the Kat who hates any other animals on the land except of course the birds, mice, rats, moles and lizards which entertain her for a while before turning into a quick, between meals, snack.

Bovine lawn mowers under leaden Galician skies

I never realised how quickly five cows can munch their way through 7,000m2 of thigh high grass, or how much devastation they can do to the now heavily pockmarked meadow. They’ve moved on now, there was nothing left for them to eat, but they will be back once nature has taken its course and the now heavily fertilised grass has grown back to eating height.

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136 Square Metres of Chestnut

Have you ever wondered, as I once did, what one hundred and thirty-six square metres of tongue and groove chestnut looks like?

Well, wonder no longer.

136 square metres of pristine chestnut

After extensive research we identified a commercial wood yard in Ribadeo which could provide us with luxurious 150mm wide aged chestnut tongue and groove, both sides planed smooth within an inch of their lives, and in almost flawless planks of up to two and a half metres. A vast sum of money moved between our bank and theirs, and after a wait of about a fortnight a wagon wound its way to us from the coast with our new upstairs flooring.

Half a dozen planks were sealed together with strapping and after we manhandled them off the wagon onto pallets by the roadside, the next two hours were spent carrying them into the house and up into the only bedroom with a concrete floor over the top of duck boards precariously placed across the top of the ancient beams which were to form the flooring of a future corridor. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining, it would have been a disaster. As it was the wood now needed to acclimatise to the house for six weeks to minimise any future movement.

Once the ‘quarantine’ was over the next month was spent flat out working with a friend, and coincidentally a master shipwright, to fit together a massive double skinned and insulated upstairs floor in the two large rooms which would later be subdivided using 120 plasterboard sheets (but that’s another story).

It was a massive undertaking which used over 24 tubes of Sika, four hundred 40mm screws, 68m2 of heat and sound insulation, and eventually four large tins of hard-wearing polyurethane floor varnish. There was a short interlude between the skins to allow the plumbers and electricians to do their stuff and fit all of the services out of sight.

The fitted floor was then treated for woodworm, lightly stained using a natural product derived from the walnut tree (called nogalina which sounds more like you should spread it on your toast), and varnished four times (the first being a 50:50 mix with thinners, and the final one coming after a fine sanding and washdown).

Delighted with the finish

I’ve lost count of the man hours which went into it, but it was worth all the effort and I’m delighted with the results although we didn’t escape without injury. There were several splinters, sore knees and plenty of hands from which the sticky black Sika, which gets everywhere, had to be chemically cleaned. The air was often blue, but in the end it was all worth it.

All we’ve got to do now is keep it clean and polished until the arrival of our first guests.

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Back After a Three Year Absence

It’s getting on for three years since I last put anything on these pages, an awful record, and something of which I am deeply ashamed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d done nothing in the past three years but on the contrary we’ve been very busy, and that is partly the reason why I’ve not blogged.

The other reasons are wide and varied.

I’ve been constantly frustrated with the Brexit disaster unfolding in my home country and disgusted at the rise of nationalism that has gone hand in glove with it. It makes me shudder the way that you hear of foreign nationals being treated by some of my fellow countrymen and politicians, especially when the people of Galicia and Spain have been so welcoming to us in the six and a half years since we moved here. It’s ‘done and dusted’ now, the UK will have to make the best of it, while we will stop ordering items from home due to the prohibitive taxes and fees, and consider applying for Spanish citizenship once we are allowed to in five years’ time.

Over the last year coronavirus has ravaged the globe and while we’ve been on the periphery of everything in our rural idyll, I understand that my posting photos and stories of live as usual may have not been what many wanted to see. We have had virus cases in our small village, and we have been incredibly careful with who we meet and what we do, but I know we’ve got off very lightly.

As the building works intensified, I had an increasing desire to keep things to myself until the ‘big reveal’. It has not been all plain sailing, coronavirus, the cost of materials, the availability of tradesmen and an increasing need to do a lot of the work myself has meant that progress has been slow.

Where are we now?

We have two ‘finished’ apartments. The heating system needs to be installed and some of the taps and drains need connecting up, but apart from that it is simply a matter of furnishing the downstairs (upstairs is totally finished), installing a few lights, and giving the whole place a good clean. We need to apply for the relevant tourist licenses, tidy up the outside suitable for a soft launch, and get ready to open and receive our first guests.


So why am I blogging again now?

I’ve a couple of ulterior motives which I must confess to.

We have launched our apartments website, very much in it’s rudimentary form, and you can find it at www.casalineiras.es. As time moves on we will add photos to tempt you, and details on availability and we look forward to seeing you once the worldwide coronavirus situation improves and international travel is back on the agenda.

I’ve also had another little business idea to make use of some of the skills and knowledge which I have picked up along the way. I am offering my services, on an hourly basis, to look after your property in Galicia. This could be grounds maintenance, regular checks for problems and resolving them, overseeing renovations works, helping you to source and commission such works, or if you are new to the area, helping you to shortlist and select a property from an independent viewpoint. You can find more information at www.ourmaningalicia.com and I’d be happy to discuss how I can help you.

I will endeavour to start writing more frequent blogs to tell you a little of what I’ve been up to in recent months and share some photos and experiences.

Thanks for your patience, hope to see you very soon.

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Local Eccentricities

You may have thought that two forty-somethings giving up well paid careers, selling a perfectly nice house, trading in our fast cars for a battered twelve year old estate car, and decamping to a Galician backwater, would make us the local eccentrics. But far from it, we’re the paragon of normality in a sea of oddballs.

Why do I specifically mention this today…I’ll come onto that later.

We’ve known for a while that we have a number of neighbours, mostly male, who would struggle to spell Mensa, let alone register an Intelligence Quotient adequate to become members. I have a strong suspicion that the disproportionate surfeit of these characters is down to an historical reticence to dip even the littlest of toes into the gene pool, and where what was considered as a marriage of diversity was be getting wed to someone who hadn’t been brought up under the same roof.

There is the local neighbour who is under the care of social services and who is brought two hot meals a day and a daily stipend of eight euros. He waits patiently for his money to arrive and then makes the five kilometre walk into town to spend it on beer and cigarettes before making the return trip (contents unopened) and spend the rest of the day smoking and drinking. He recognises our cars, and if he sees I’m driving he leaps into the road and after forcing me to stop he gets into the passenger seat. We’ve never exchanged a word, but we have an unspoken agreement. I pick him up, and he rocks backwards and forwards in the passenger seat mumbling under his breath and getting increasingly agitated the closer that we get to his house. When he wants me to stop he grunts, then gets out of the vehicle and slams the door shut. It’s a bit of a one way relationship.

Then there is a guy in the adjacent village with the thickest Galician accents which makes him totally unintelligible, even apparently to Gallego speakers.  He brings us eggs (but only if you’ve an empty box to give him), shouts at us in Gallego and then chuckles to himself as he gets back in his car and drives off. When we were having the roof replaced he took it upon himself, as a seventy-five year old of considerable upper body bulk, to climb the scaffolding to talk to the builders. No health and safety here.

But today’s missive comes as a result of the exploits of a nearby neighbour who is currently the talk of the town due to his antics earlier in the week.

He was walking past the house yesterday while I was sitting out on the patio enjoying a post-work cup of tea, and he looked a little disheveled. I wished him the traditional ‘good day’ expecting a similar retort, but no, he wanted to chat. I use ‘chat’ in the loosest sense of the word as he then proceeded to remove his coat and talk at me for five minutes at machine-gun speed, in Gallego. The bits of his soliloquy that I thought I grasped were about ; his father being stung by wasps, his car having broken down, him needing to go to the hospital, and him hurting his leg (which he rolled up his trousers to show me).

It was clear that I’d made a terrible decision, he was happily walking past with his eyes down to the road and was oblivious of my existence until my polite greeting.

I nodded, and occasionally said ‘Yes’, hoping that he wasn’t asking me a question that I’d regret answering in the affirmative to. I could hear Amanda sniggering to herself in the house as she left me to flounder before showing some mercy and shouting me in.

It turns out that a month or so ago his car caught fire in Ribadeo and made the local news. I’d seen him in a courtesy car for a couple of weeks but hadn’t put two and two together. After it was written off he bought another one, probably for a few hundred Euros and on Monday that broke down and was taken away to a local garage to be repaired.

grasscutter2Now this neighbour likes to go the seven kilometres into A Pontenova for a mid-morning coffee and a chat to his mates and being without a car wasn’t going to stop him. So he fired up his unregistered, untaxed, untested and frankly dangerous three wheeler grass cutter, donned a florescent jacket, and headed off into town.

On entering town he drew the interest of a number of motorists, and their mobile phones, and soon the Guardia Civil were notified. He was apprehended in a local coffee shop, his location given away by his grass cutter being parked in the street outside.  His vehicle was confiscated, he was arrested, and after lengthy questioning he was released to walk home.

And that is where my badly mistimed pleasantry came in, and why I got blasted with both barrels. It was probably nothing to wasps, hospitals and broken down cars but a full explanation of the circumstances leading to his arrest and seemingly the police brutality which left him with a bandage around his leg.

He’s made the regional papers and apparently the national news (Telecinco) and has done his little bit to make Amanda and I feel all the more normal.

The bizarre thing is, I’ve since learnt that his name translates to ‘Perfect’.

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