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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A License to Park Wherever You Like

Galicia, we've had this little chat before and I'm sure that we'll have to have it again in the future.

Your parking is atrocious, dangerous, illegal, inconsiderate and sometimes plain daft. I suspect that the Spanish get their driving licences out of Christmas crackers, for the majority of them certainly have no idea how to conduct themselves on the nations by-ways or how to terminate their journey in a safe and satisfactory manner.

I'm particularly vexed on this subject for two reasons.

The first is that Amanda and I are now the proud holders of Spanish driving licenses which rather than falling from a festive celebratory explosive device, put us through the mill of bureaucracy and spat us out as two finely ground down individuals.

Amanda suggested that it would be a good idea to trade in our UK licences for their Spanish counterparts for a couple of reasons. The first is that it makes renting a car when we return to UK a far simpler exercise as we wouldn't have to print out one of the DVLA forms to show our points status, and we don't have to maintain a credit card to a UK address for the rental company to use as collateral. Secondly, and more importantly, anyone moving to Spain should theoretically change to a Spanish license within six months of making it their place of permanent residence, and we've been here for almost two and a half years.

What ensued was a military style operation to assemble all of the relevant documents, get our photos taken, undergo a medical, download and complete the correct form, pay online in advance of attending the police station in Lugo, and then make two 100km return journeys and spend hours waiting in lines.

We needed; our residence card, a colour copy of our passports, a colour copy of our UK license (both sides), our National Identity Number, our certificate of registration with the local council (issued within the last 90 days), a proof of payment for around €30 each, two special driving license photographs, and our medical certificate (including a coordination test which resembled playing 1980's computer tennis) which cost us another €40 each.

Mercifully there was no need for a driving test but the morning of our medical appointment (with the coordination test) followed a very heavy and late night of drinking which had seen a friend and myself demolish a bottle and a half of single malt. I'd asked Amanda to drive to Ribadeo for the test as I was convinced that I was over the limit, and as I sat in the chair to take the test I was more that a little concerned at my mental capacity to control both hands simultaneously. I was sufficiently uncoordinated for it to have been a challenge to tie my own shoelaces but after trying to control two dots travelling up a curved line and setting off the 'out of lane' buzzer with alarming regularity the doctor/tester told me I'd passed. This despite me already consoling myself to the fact that I'd have to come back when sober and sit the test again. I dread to think how badly someone must have to perform to fail.

In all it took six weeks from deciding to change our licenses to actually getting our new ones in hand but you factor in fuel and parking and photos and ink for the printer, there probably wasn't much change from €100 each.

Which brings me to the second reason for my annoyance.

IMG_1422I went to the fruit market in nearby Meira on Sunday morning and while looking for a parking space I witnessed the outrageous attempt at parking in the adjacent photograph. This comes out of the Galicians determination to park as close to where they want to go as is mechanically possible.

There were plenty of legal on-street, free parking spaces within fifty metres of where this numpty abandoned his battered old Volvo but where he chose to leave it blocked a pedestrian crossing AND a path around the edge of the local park.

Now we are used to vehicles being parked on verges, waste ground and double parked with their hazards on while someone goes for a coffee. We've even seen cars parked on central reservations and traffic roundabouts and been in a parked car when someone tried to park behind us but decided to use 'touch' as their guide rather than their eyes.

But this took the biscuit.

I was at the market for a good half hour and expected to return to find the car towed or at least ticketed but there was nothing.

But now I'm a Spanish licence holder I've decided that if it's good enough for the Spanish, that was the last time that I park considerately, especially if I am in the Santana.

Unless, of course, Amanda is with me...then I'll park legally! Not to do so would lead to too much earache.

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An Inconvenient Phone Call

Amanda and I returned to Spain on Sunday afternoon after a first joint trip to England in over two years. We'd been for a special meal, dinner suit and posh frock, held in honour of one of my old mates who had the privilege of captaining my old golf club this past season.

It was a fleeting visit, flying in on Friday morning and back on Sunday afternoon with just enough time to; do a bit of shopping for essentials (such as Paxo stuffing, PG Tips tea bags, and Bisto gravy granules), have a fleeting visit with family, and stuff our faces with a fried breakfast and marvellous fish and chips (not at the same sitting).

I'd developed the snuffles and a dry throat as we drove down to Stansted Airport, and by Tuesday morning it had developed into full 'Man Flu'. I know that many women believe that this chronic disease is a myth but I am reliably informed by a good friend (male) that the only female equivalent to this heinous illness is the pain and discomfort of childbirth.

So, by eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning I was wrapped up in a blanket, dosed up to the eyeballs with Ibuprofen, clutching a big cup of Max Strength Lemsip, and settled down for a day of TV, perhaps a feel good film or two and an early night. And then the phone rang.

It was Facundo our builder who explained that his team had the rest of the week free and that it would be the perfect time to undertake the works on our bread oven (Horno) which comprised; levelling the floor, pouring a concrete plinth, and re-lining the bread oven to allow us to start using it for its intended purpose. He'd quoted us months ago, and we'd accepted his price, but he chose this, of all days, to arrange to start the works.

My heart sank. The bread oven was full of machinery and materials amassed over the last two and a half years which needed to be moved to my new workshop, which was currently doorless and very insecure. Facundo explained that it was 'either tomorrow, or it could be a couple of months'.

I arose, like Lazarus, from my death bed, changed into my work clothes and went to fit the door and lock.

Five hours later, and with only half of the contents of the bread oven moved into my new workshop, I collapsed into bed, exhausted.

Facundo's boys arrived at 7:30am the following morning, helped me clear the rest of the horno, and set about their work. Four tonnes (60cm at its deepest) of rock were removed with a heavy duty jack hammer, drainage channels were dug into the floor to drain the four natural springs which emerge when the water table rises, gravel and membrane were laid down before a couple of cubic metres of concrete were poured. In the meantime the old floor from inside the bread oven itself was removed and a new set of earthstone tiles fitted by Facundo, who spend a couple of hours physically inside the oven, swearing under his breath as his head regularly came into contact with the low ceiling.



There is still plenty of work to do with a stone floor to lay, electrics to install, a steel oven door to have fabricated, and a sink and running water to connect. But at least we now have a level floor and a functioning bread oven.

Time to get some lessons in making the local 'pan Gallego'.

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Falling In Love Again

Liñeiras has a new resident, and I'm desperately in love.

She's twenty-eight years old, of a chalky complexion, some might say she's a bit of a looker, will go anywhere and do anything, likes to get dirty, is a bit rough round the edges, and weighs in at just over two tonnes.

Ever since I was a young child I've had a love of Land Rover Defenders (and of course, Ford Transits). The ultimate utilitarian vehicle, driven by mechanics and monarchs, farmers and financiers, hunters and hooray Henries.

Five years ago I had a brief affair with a 1986 petrol Defender which I drove to Spain and used around the house for three months before bringing it back to the UK and sadly selling her. In Spain she spent a lot of time broken down, the never ending catalogue of mechanical disasters can be read in earlier blogs. It is not possible to re-register a right-hand drive agricultural vehicles in Spain so the only option was to let her go, and the last I heard of her she was being used to transport dogs for their daily walks to save the leather upholstery of her owner's brand new BMW.

After my long contract in Belfast last Winter I promised myself a 'runaround' for Casa Liñeiras and the only real option in my mind was a Land Rover. After all of the problems that I had last time with a British built, right hand drive petrol, I was determined to do it right and get a Santana assembled (under license) Land Rover, with a stock Diesel engine, and standard Spanish parts.

I've spent months scouring the small ads for one at the right price, decent condition, sensible miles, and in our part of the country. I'd been to see one previously but it had been to the moon and almost back and the chassis was in awful condition due to extensive farm use. In addition they wanted €2,000 and I could see it eating double that over the next year to keep it mobile.

Many hours searching equalled many hours of frustration.

img_1316Then, on Christmas Day, a miracle.  Someone just up the coast near Burela put up a new listing online with the site Milanuncios. The Santana on offer was a two door (just what I was looking for), a diesel (just what I was looking for), white (which was tolerable), totally original (just what I was looking for), and after a few SMS enquiries had a reasonable mileage and according to the vendor it had no faults. From the photos it looked pretty good, almost too good, and we arranged to go and see it on Wednesday morning.

It was love at first sight. It turns out that she'd had one owner from brand new, had spent her life on the roads of originally Madrid (not in the fields), latterly Leon (before the sad death of the aged owner), and had a fully stamped up service history to go with the original toolkit, manuals, keys, and working locks. It was like a time capsule, back to the days of Kylie and the Pet Shop Boys, Rainman and A Fish Called Wanda, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

I couldn't get my money out of Amanda's purse fast enough. I'd seen worse condition Santana's advertised with higher mileages for double the price. I must have been the first to see it over the sleepy Christmas period. We shook hands and agreed to return on Thursday to jointly visit a solicitors with the vendor and officially complete the transaction.

However, nothing is ever straightforward here.

When we met the actual vendor, the father of the guy who'd shown us the car, he wasn't sure whether he really wanted to sell and it appeared he'd been bullied into it by his sons. He'd forgotten his Identity Card (perhaps deliberately) and my paperwork, despite only being six months old, was deemed too old for the authorities necessitating a re-issue for me to email over after the A Pontenova bureaucrats had worked their snails-pace magic. After a tense hour, and both promising to chase up our absent paperwork, we managed to prise the keys from the vendor, hand over the dosh, and drive her the 65km home.

The neighbours love her, including Oscar who was keen for a test drive and managed to get her stuck in a ditch for five minutes. She's a car for life for me, and I already have a long list of wants and improvements, but she'll be handled in the same way as the house, 'poco a poco' (little by little).

The top speed is just under 100kmh (62mph), 0-60 acceleration is measured by a calendar, and she has plenty of idiosyncrasies. But I'm besotted, she's a belter.

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