Living in Spain, warts and all

Posts tagged ‘building’

The Bitch is Back

Forenote: I did actually write this four days ago. I posted it to my WordPress account (which has mutated somewhat since I last used it), lulled into a false sense of security by the invitation on the front page to make a new post. I typed it, edited it, tweaked and polished it, added a diagram, hit ‘publish now’ and was met with an error message and the complete deletion of all my work.
So I have sulked until now. Sorry.


My excuses for my lamentable lack of productivity of the verbose kind in the last six or so months  are manifold. I shall, for anyone interested, regale you with them now.

1) I have a rather incapacitating herniated L5-S1 disc (lower back) that precludes me sitting in one position for too long;

2) Point (1) has resulted in a plethora of medical appointments and the incalculable amount of time involved in actually trying to procure these appointments.

3) The luxury boarding kennels esPerro, which opened after years of battling with building materials (hence the back) and bureaucracy (hence the attitude), are now fully up and running. This summer I have, therefore, undergone a time-consuming baptism by fire – not only due to the sustained and unnecessarily high temperatures endured in Spain this year, but also as a result of the clamber up the steep learning curve of dog boarding that has resulted in the need for many tweaks in design and the concurrent invention of new swearwords;

4) We have had no rain here for several decades (please note: this changed dramatically on Friday, following my penmanship on Thursday!!) and so I have been obliged to coax and wheedle and point a hose at our garden and crops for inordinate amounts of time that could more profitably be spent elsewhere;

5) Ryanair’s spat(s) with the Spanish aviation authority, together with the usual school holiday price mugging and exacerbated by the UK’s hosting of the Olympics, have conspired to render air fares at such dizzy heights that one is required to sell one’s first-born to afford them. The upshot of which is that John has been here in Spain to assist me practically never.

6) It’s entirely possible that I am a lazy bugger.

All in all, I find myself constantly juggling – my physical bits (to carry out the simplest of tasks, like drive, walk, bend to place dog food at one end of a dog and collect the output at the other, etc) without sending hot daggers of pain shooting through my back and various attached parts, and my time (to take account of feeding and cleaning schedules and medical appointments in far-flung places, all within the framework of the usual crap with which we are all beset). Oh, and the construction of two new websites, the groundwork of a new business initiative, the ongoing beading classes, the promotion of the new edition of Bitten by Spain (the book) plus a new anthology called Forced to Fly 2 (due out in October), of which I am a contributor (the rest of it is very good, though!), the redecoration of much of the house following the earthquake last year and so on and so on….


So writing has been relegated to the bottom of a rather large pile. That’s not to say that I don’t continue to write stuff in my head, as it occurs – that has continued apace. But it hasn’t got any further than that for some considerable time. And, on reflection, it’s probably as well, since a Venn diagram of my mind recently would probably look something like this:

Probably best not released


But as I was lying on the magnetic resonance bed in the Hospital de la Real Piedad in Cehegín at  09:00h this morning (as I have done for the last five days and have yet to do for the next nine) for my rehab (-ilitación – but telling people that I’m in rehab gives me a small amount of twisted  satisfaction), it occurred to me thus:

In common with the other walking wounded in this place, I am a captive audience. I am staring vacantly around at the cool and reassuring duck-egg blue walls, washed by the aseptic glare of harsh white lights which glint off various instruments of torture physiotherapy. I am listening to mind-numbingly tedious radio emanating from a tinny silver globe, punctuated by the occasional squeak from the equipment interspersed with the odd involuntary fart (which hurts my back terribly, in that I am prone and inactive and the fart is not mine, and for some reason other people’s farts are hilarious and I am therefore heavily suppressing the mirth that desperately wants to burst forth at each apologetic little ‘blaaaat’).

Apart from that, I am terminally bored.

But then I realised that I have a notebook and pen in my bag.

Time to write. Tough luck, guys!


Thinking of renovating or building in the campo?

I wrote piece this a few years back – long before the other issue of “Thinking of opening a compliant business in Spain?” reared its ugly head …

I thought it was time to resurrect it!

Thinking of renovating or building in the campo?

Then you may need to consider the following points – from one who has been there, done that, failed dismally…..

(1) The reality check

OK – so you have trawled extensively around various bits of Spain in the economy hire car to discover the mountainside or valley or olive grove that most closely resembles the picturesque setting for your dream home that has been plastered inside your eyelids for many a year. Having avoided untold pressure from various agents specialising in rural properties, you have finally found The One.

Is the situation of the property or land really tenable? Are you happy to replace your shock absorbers every year traversing the potholed and rock-covered camino that leads to it? If you intend to build, is it accessible for lorries to bring materials to it? Are you prepared to use a car each time you need bread and milk, and to pick up your post from an apartado de Correos, or to collect from a more civilised meeting point anyone who needs to get to you? Is it legally for sale?

You can ask to see the Catastro entry to establish who owns it. Not a bad idea to attempt to speak to the owner, too, if humanly possible – the estate agent will be adding a large amount to the sale price for himself, which may mean that you pay much more than the value that will eventually be entered on the escritura. Is the entire area fully represented on the escritura? Historically, much smaller areas than actually exist have been entered, to reduce contributions. If there is a property on the land, does it appear on the escritura (or even on the Catastro)?

If not, insist that it is entered before you consider buying (this one is a case of “do as I say, not as I did”, I regret to say). This process requires the measurement and certification of antiquity by an architect and a valuation by a tasador, plus a visit to the Notary, and does not come cheap If you intend to renovate or build, is it likely to be feasible? You need to know something about the local requirements and restrictions.

For example, in my area (Bullas, Murcia) you will need a parcela of at least 20,000m2 in order to even consider the building of one house. Is the parcela in an area set aside as National Park or otherwise protected? My (illegal) house is sited in an area considered to be non-urbanisable because it is in an area of natural beauty– something we didn’t know when we started it. It doesn’t matter that the parcela we bought, which occupies the south-facing slope of a river valley, was full of rusting car parts, dead dogs, old beer cans and a rubber plantation of condoms all lurking in shoulder-high overgrowth before we turned it into something much more beautiful. Be very careful, and …..

(2) Trust no-one

Except a very good and knowledgeable interpreter if you don’t speak the language, and possibly even if you do. Estate agents here have no obligation to be accurate, fair, or even truthful, let alone qualified or affiliated with a professional body. In my experience, truth is to many agentes inmobiliarios what a bicycle is to a fish. You are likely to be misled, misdirected, misinformed and be told downright lies – even the solicitors and the Notaries have been complicit in this, especially if they are local and (likely) related to the estate agent, builder, vendor…..

While I don’t usually subscribe to the notion that it is best to use English-speaking people to carry out all that is necessary to achieve your desired ends, I would highly recommend seeking out a firm of Solicitors from the UK but firmly based in and knowledgeable about Spain. As Brits, we suffer very much from the expectations that arise from having lived in a country where processes are prescribed, and we believe that in paying a professional here in Spain our interests will be guarded and all necessary procedures will be carried out on our behalf.

Certainly not so. Having sold our first house in Spain and bought our particular little piece of heaven here late 2005/early 2006, I am still struggling, in 2010, to remove my name from the Catastro for the first and get it onto same for the second because I only discovered mid 2007 that this was not done at either point of sale. I’m still not even clear who should have done it, in the time-honoured Spanish fashion of not being able to elicit a clear answer from anyone on the subject.

Ask your Solicitor to detail the processes for buying and for applying for permissions to renovate or build, and check that they are happening.

(3) Be prepared for a long wait

The “mañana, mañana” attitude holds never more true than in dealings with the Ayuntamiento. They are hopeless. Even after we were told by way of a denuncia, that our house-building was illegal (point 1) and that the paperwork our builder and architect alleged to have had in place to commence the work was, in fact non-existent, it took three years to obtain a resolution and the fine from the Ayuntamiento – and even then because I made such a fuss almost daily in the Oficina Técnica that they hurried it through just to get rid of this “crazy English woman who won’t be content until she has given us many thousands of euros to settle a fine”.

Our builder and his architect, by the way, had disappeared off the face of the earth at point of denuncia, leaving us to face the music.

(4) Sourcing the tradesmen

So you have your parcela and your planning permission. To source the tradesmen, insist on seeing their work and talking to their previous clients. Word of mouth is not enough. Be sure that they will be compliant with your requirements, including materials and methods. Anyone who has lived in Spain will know that their methods are a continent apart from the ones we have always known – and, while some are better, some are definitely sub-standard. You may find that some builders are not entirely up to speed with current regulations regarding, for example, sewage disposal treatment units rather than the old concrete soakaways, or solar tanks for hot water. Make sure that you do your homework so that you can keep a tight check on their compliance.

Know what you want in terms of insulation, windows, electrics, plumbing, waste – and demand that it is done to your satisfaction. Be actively involved in decision-making (they hate this, by the way, but it pays off). Do not pay before you are satisfied, or before the job is complete and functional. Above all, BE THERE.

(5) Befriend your Spanish neighbours

They are likely to be your biggest allies in times of trouble. If nothing else, it may at least minimise the encroachments on your land that could otherwise arise (“oh, actually, this particular field is mine … yes, I know it’s shown on your escritura to be yours, but it is an error, and everyone here knows that it is really mine…”).

Be aware that you may need to fork out extra to prove your entitlements. Are you sufficiently deterred? If you still believe, as I did, that you will only be happy once you have realised this particular dream, then go armed and prepared.

Above all, the very best of luck to you.

Believe me, it is worth it, if you have the stamina.

Mucky, Sticky and Loopy

I am totally exhausted. I am so tired that I can barely type, so please excuse me if I’m writing utter carp.

Our extra pair of hands, in the shape of Andreas, has turned out to be The Sadistic Slave Driver From Hell. When he was born, they must have broken the mould – he is the antipathy of all things Spanish. He arrives at eight o´clock in the morning and starts work in top gear. He moves like a Tasmanian devil until ten o’clock when comes the time for desayuno (breakfast). This comprises half a barra de pan (stick of bread), which he devours in fifteen minutes flat and then immediately resumes his work in top gear. He breaks for lunch at two o’clock, pootling off on his scooter to eat at home. He then returns at three o’clock sharp and recommences work immediately, moving up a gear. He finishes at eight in the evening.

During this entire schedule I am frantically trying to clear up all the rubble that he is busy renewing behind me. Meanwhile, poor John cannot get his teeth into anything because Andreas is delivering a constant string of instructions – ” JOHN!! Agua! (water) …  masa! (mortar)  …  ladrillos!  (bricks)  … luz!  (power)” and so on and so on.

Don’t get me wrong. The man is a diamond – he’s worth every centimo we’re paying him and the progress is phenomenal. But I am truly shattered, and even John, who is a veritable dynamo in his own right, is showing signs of strain.

Strangely enough, though, I cannot dedicate myself to this timetable with quite the same level of tunnel vision with which the pair of them are blessed. Contrary to the widely-held misconceptions of many men, the automatic washing machine has not quite yet reached the point of automation of loading and unloading itself, pegging out the clean washing and then ironing it (regrettably). The standard dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the bathroom and so on is not something the dogs accept as part of their job specification. I have neither a personal shopper nor a chef. I therefore have to apportion some of my time to address these mundane but entirely necessary requisites.

Of course, since I am not seen to be labouring intensively with them shoulder to shoulder every second of the day, I am clearly available to be sent out on all the extracurricular errands too.

So yesterday I heard John’s dulcet tones ringing out above the sound of Andreas on the road drill.

“You busy?”

“I’m just clearing all the debris from the floor so that you can move the scaffolding, and collecting together all the scattered tools so that you’ll be able to find them again … why?”

“We need more yeso moreno (instant-setting plaster) and some foam cartridges. Any chance?” he enquired, with absolutely no intention of hearing No! as an answer.

“OK”, I replied. “I need fuel first, though, and the car’s filthy. An hour be OK?”

Having ascertained that they didn’t actually need the stuff yesterday, I ran back to the house, gave myself a lightning cat-lick with a flannel to remove most of the smudges from my face, and dragged a brush through my hair to dislodge all the half-bricks. Then I abandoned my working shirt and shorts and dragged on a long cotton skirt (which hides a multitude of sins) and a vest.

I drove to the garage first as the car gasped its last on the few fumes in the tank. I filled up and paid, concurrently deciding to buy myself a rare treat of chocolate, since I was also running on empty. I then treated the car/mobile skip to a pressure wash.

The car wash bay, erected as it has been in line with the prevailing wind, manages to deliver as much water upon the bearer of the wand as it does on the vehicle itself, and so I ended up pretty soggy around the edges. Nonetheless, I jumped back into the car like the dedicated gopher I am, to drive from one side of town to the other to pick up the two items on my list.

I peeled open my bar of choccy as I drove. Breaking off a strip of three silky-smooth squares, I held them in my left hand on the steering wheel as I dropped the rest of the bar into my lap. The heat of the sun through the windscreen fell onto the strip, which melted almost instantly and drooped horribly, so before it could escape me entirely I shoved it into my mouth. Almost. About a quarter went into my mouth, a quarter smeared on my chin, and the other half liquified completely on my fingers.

So I’m busy steering with my right hand while trying to lick the fingers on my left hand to render them sufficiently clean to grasp the wheel again with them. At the same time, I’m trying to rescue the ghastly mess dribbling down my chin.

What else could go wrong? Well, let me tell you.

Some time ago, my dear fellow blogger Jack from Perking the Pansies wrote a post about Turkish traffic police and their campaign to clean up the appalling driving habits in Turkey – Clunk Click Every Trip. I commented at the time that we seem to be seeing a similar initiative here in Spain, although the ambivalence of attitude to various misdemeanours appears unbalanced, to say the least. I said, “We have an absurd situation here at the moment whereby the Spanish police are stopping to fine all extranjeros for driving (for example) in sandals without heel straps, or not having the dog belted into the back seat. During this operation a moped can be passing unsanctioned bearing two adults with a child sandwich between them, and a goat in the front basket. And none of them will be wearing helmets!!”

Back, then, to driving along one-handed while washing my face with chocolate. As I made my way past a road junction on the right, I noticed a police car drawing up, indicating left. As I passed the junction, I saw it change direction and pull out after me. Then, a quick flash of the lights and a short burst of the siren and they were pulling me over.

Fantastic. I look like the window-dressing scene from “Chocolat” juxtaposed onto Dick van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” after he’d spent some time moonlighting in “Carwash”, and I’m pulled over by the cops. Brilliant.

Two ‘cool dude’ policemen with designer sunshades sauntered up to my open window, but lost their aplomb somewhat upon setting eyes on the vision that was me. They both stepped back, obviously united in their opinion that a little distance from this soaked, dusty and confection-smeared creature wouldn’t go amiss, and asked me to leave the vehicle.

The more stoical of the two waved his hand at my rear windscreen wiper. “La limpiabrisa sobresale“, he remarked (the wiper is sticking out). Sure enough, I had forgotten to snap it back to the glass after my endeavours at the garage. Sheesh.

“While we’re here”, he added, “perhaps you’d let us see your footwear?”

Could it get any worse? I sheepishly drew up the hem of my long skirt to reveal my steel toecapped concrete-encrusted caterpillar boots which, they had to admit, did not fall into the category of the flip-flops they were hoping to discover.

I think they then made a mutual and tacit agreement to leave it there – I was clearly not reading from the same script as them – and they turned to leave, dismissing me with a final wave of the hand.

Just as I was stepping back into the car – that rather inelegant pose of having one arm and one leg in, one arm on the door and one leg on the floor – the less talkative of the two spoke to me again.

“Aren’t you the woman who was looking for a parrot at five o´clock in the morning a couple of years ago?” he asked.

“Errmm, no”, I averred. “That will have been my twin sister”.

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