Any more tea, Ern?

Since my post about our worries relating to the toxicity of plastic water bottles and deciding to ditch same, we have now taken delivery of a 25L stainless steel urn.  We struggled to find one without its cable and plug, but seems like we’re sorted if we get a sudden influx of walkers around us, and we feel inclined to start up a temporary tearoom.

??????????????????????Tea and cakes, mmm! I love baking and have always fancied myself as the doyenne of an olde worlde tea shoppe. Spending all day at the Rayburn, creating basic delights such as my peppery cheddar scones, fluffy Victoria sponges, moist Bakewell tarts, sticky old-fashioned gingerbread and buttery flapjacks!

Water urn 31 Mar 15

I digress. Here’s a photo of our splendid new addition.  Because we don’t have drinking water on tap, and now that we don’t store our agua potable in the 30 or so plastic bottles, it’s a great solution. Before our solar system was updated last year, I admit it was a bit of a palaver as we had to start up the increasingly reluctant Robin generator (the newer one has died). It was often easier and cheaper to gather water from the mountain spring, a pleasurable experience so long as we didn’t run into Ricardo too often.

30 May 10 (43)The operation is now very simple and quick by flicking a switch in the inverter house. This fires up the pozo (well) pump and hey presto, using solar power alone, fresh water rises up 150m and magically appears in a tap by the stone seat. From there it can either be diverted to the three depósitos above, or to the big underground depósito nearby, or syphoned off for drinking. Here’s a photo of the seat and tap (to the left) a week ago.

Water filter box & table 31 Mar 15 (5)Water filter box Moorish paint 3 Apr 15Joe then decided to add a battery of three filters for our drinking water that he encased in a brick box to protect them from UV light.  Such a joy to use!  He didn’t stop at that as, wouldn’t it be nice to use some of the spare wood stored (rather unwisely) underneath the cabin to make a table?

Water filter box table cups 2 Apr 15Within a couple of days, we not only had filtered water, but also a sturdy table sunk deep into concrete footings.  It’s a great place to gaze across at the Med and take tea.  The seat and tap are adjacent to the metal fence that separates our land with the Parque.  A good vantage point the other day to watch the goats as they made their weary way up the hill with Ricardo standing at the bottom waving his arms, firing his catapult and generally shouting encouragement.

We were interested to see just where they were getting through what we thought was an impenetrable fence.  Over the last few weeks, we’d had a spate of ‘break-ins’ and had to resort to herding goats off our land, their mouths crammed full of our tender, succulent new buds, shoots and leaves.  All a bit mystifying as there didn’t seem to be any weak points and Houdini like, one minute one side of the fence, the next they’d popped up on our side!

Ricardo goats by fence 1 Feb 15 (3)As we sat there sipping our tea, it soon became apparent exactly where they were getting in.  The vibrating fence and swaying bushes gave the game away. A few persistent girls had discovered a hardly discernible gap in one square of fencing and managed to squeeze themselves and their inflated udders through it. And I always thought that goats weren’t the brightest animals on the planet – they remembered exactly where to get through to reach the riches beyond and were beginning to share this secret with more of their friends!

Curious to see whether I was right, I did a quick Google and sure enough, the first item on the page related how clever goats really are, according to research recently carried out by scientists at Queen Mary, University of London:

Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments, say researchers. The goats’ ability to remember the task was tested after one month and again at 10 months. They learned the task within 12 trials and took less than two minutes to remember the challenge“.  Article in “Frontiers in Zoology” reported in “Science Daily“, 26 March 2014).  Well, there we go!

Cat prints water box table (2)Joe had put a coat of dark preserving varnish on our new table, and the next morning I was surprised and delighted to see these delicate little paw prints. Most likely a cat, but I haven’t seen one around here for years, and these prints were really quite small. My fanciful imagination went into overdrive and I decided they were obviously from a genet.

Small-Spotted-GenetThese cat-like mammals look adorable and are about the size of a large ferret with a pointed nose and big ears.  Two other facts supported my rather thin theory.  Firstly, genets are not uncommon around here apparently and favour forest areas, making use of their very long tails to swing around in trees. Secondly, they mark their territory with small dark poos on elevated objects – just like the one on the fly agaric I noted in the previous post.  BTW, I can’t take the credit for this lovely picture!

Curly wurl Moorish paint 3 Apr 15 (2)Maybe you noticed that the water filter box had been decorated with what I hope vaguely resembles a Moorish design – the same one that I have used on a few other rendered walls around the place.  Our ubiquitous matt brown paint can look a little flat and this gives a bit of a lift.  Emboldened by the results, I decided to give the curly-wurly seat the same treatment.

 

 

 

 

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Call Me Pepe

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag (1581 – 1661)

Oak grove 3 Apr 15 (2)It was my birthday and we were just setting off for a walk around our encina (oak) forest, chatting animatedly about something or other.  Enter stocky, weasel-faced man wearing Parque Guard jacket, on our side of the fence, walking determinedly down the hill towards us. I’d seen him many times before, patrolling the huge Parque area in his cream Land-Rover with green Junta logo.

?????????????????????????I first saw him back in late 2007 when he was part of a contingent of worthies including a Junta solicitor who told us they wanted to define our boundaries.  The memorable day they dropped the bombshell that, no, we didn’t own half the hill despite what our title deeds said, plus the not inconsiderable fact that we were paying rates on the whole 42,500 sq m of land.  The lady solicitor stated that unless we could prove that the Parque part of our land had been in private ownership for the last 30 years, they would assume title.  We were sure that it would be a formality to prove our case and retain ownership.

None of any of the foregoing added up, but we were pretty sure that the proceedings had relayed back to us verbatim as our interpreter was a quasi-friend and properly bilingual. However, he was reluctant to come all the way over from west of Málaga.  As he had always professed to love Foggie, he was persuaded by an overnight stay and 500 euro cash for half a day’s translating.

Goat silhouette 4 Mar 15Our land had always been ring-fenced, separating our ‘private’ land from that designated Parque Natural.  Thus we had known that our half of the hill was Parque, and in fact felt very privileged to be living in such a special conservation area.  It is not unusual for Parque land to be in private ownership as is often the case when a dwelling is adjacent to a Parque. We were one of those cases, or so we thought.

From the town hall we were able to lay our hands on documentary evidence to confirm that the hill had in fact been in private possession since 1947 and we submitted this to our Spanish solicitor (who we later found out was also a Junta advisor) – but this was swept aside as if immaterial.  It felt as though we were in an alternative reality and that the odds had been stacked against us from the start.  

We’d paid him upfront for the benefit of his advice and intervention on this matter and also the one previously regarding the cabin’s legality (the first of our massive shocks).  The last visit to him culminated in that all-too-familiar shrug of the shoulders as he charmingly professed he could do nothing.

Dusk around land 31 Mar 15 (1)In 2008 during the trip home from that last visit to his palatial office in Málaga I must admit that I felt dejected and outraged but Joe put it all in wonderful perspective for me. He said, “Lyn, if you were suddenly told you had only 6 months to live, where would you like to be?”  Quick as a flash, I answered, ‘at Foggie’. We then vowed to live each day as if it was our last and with such a mindset we were able to come to terms with it quite quickly. After all, nothing had really changed and we still have access to the land through our little green gate but minus the upkeep!

We continue to make each day special, but what I still struggle with is the fact that there was never any further communication from either the Junta or our solicitor. It would surely have been a matter of common courtesy or even a legal right to send a basic letter outlining the new boundaries coupled with an explanation as to why they’d ignored the comprehensive evidence put forward to the solicitor.

I am tired of talk that comes to nothing.  It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.  It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce (1840-1904)

In total, they took about 3/4 of our land for which I, as la dueña (the owner), continued to pay rates until it was finally removed from my escritura (title deed).  But the tax was increased not decreased.  Having compulsorily ‘purchased’ our land without actually paying out any consideration or compensation, they had presumably got what they wanted.

Since that time, over seven years now, we’ve been very content not to have been bothered by anybody from the Parque (apart from the teams of Junta men who appeared every couple of years to tidy up the land as part of Parque fire control). That is, until the surprise appearance of Call Me Pepe.  As soon as I saw him I knew it was something to do with our goat herder Ricardo denouncing us for strimming the patch of land he claimed was his. Other than seeing the Guardia men in black drive by a few weeks back, we had thought no more about it.

I think what affected me most about his visit most was not the content of our dialogue, but the intrusion into our private space.  I  surprised myself by remaining calm and controlled throughout, drawing heavily on what I’d learned from my so-far mindfulness training. I reminded myself that Call Me Pepe was just doing his job, having probably been called out by the men in black in response to Ricardo’s ridiculous posturing.

As the conversation became more farcical, it was actually difficult not to stifle a laugh.  In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “when you got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose..”. He told us:

1. He was going to denounce us for daring to strim the patch of land over the fence (that Ricardo claimed was his). 2. He was going to denounce us for strimming and clearing out in between the encinas on our own land, our oak forest.  3. Our oak forest is protected forestal land and should we wish to touch it at all we would need a licence from the Junta in Malaga to be renewed each year. 4.  The fence on the forestal side is in the wrong place and needs to be moved. 5. Ricardo is an idiot who knows nothing.  6. The Junta team rotate their strimming/clearing here much less than before, every 3 or 4 years, because of budget cuts.  7. What we are doing is exactly right; better to cut down even more oaks than we have done already to allow the undergrowth to get light. 8. He is going to return with a plano (boundary map) and tie something around a particular oak tree to show where the fence should be moved to.

Joe got frustrated part of the way through and made for the house.  I don’t blame him as, despite so many hardships and setbacks here, he has carved out a most idyllic haven for us out of literally nothing.  It has been a labour of love.  Anyway, the house is in my name and Call Me Pepe thus addressed most of his outpourings to me.  As he spoke entirely in Spanish with not a word of English this became a bit of a challenge!  I told him that I am very angry that I’ve never heard from anyone about the land grab, no letter, no plano, no nothing.  But, he said, they told me you had no papers..

After Junta strimmers 24 Apr 13 (14)As I said, it was hard not to laugh, because as I was seemingly so polite and compliant, I think the threatened denuncias may well come to nought.  And why take issue with the boundary fence now when nobody mentioned that it was in the wrong place all those years back?  Re-siting it would rob us of yet more land – about half an acre – and I told him that I was not doing it and wasn’t going to pay to have it done. I think he’s done his tick box duty by telling me about it and marking the boundary oak with a bit of string.

It goes without saying that the Junta want to avoid a forest fire at all costs.  However, the most curious thing of all is that Call Me Pepe told me that we’re doing everything right – not just minimising the fire risk but promoting the health of the land and the protected-status encinas.

But because of budget cuts they’ll be coming less often, which presumably means the risk of fire will be increased.  But it seems we must go out of our way to get a licence so we can do their work for them. To be denounced for strimming exactly where the team last did it on 27th April 2013 is laughable, isn’t it?

 

 

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A scurry of clouds

Strimmed fruit trees 27 Mar 15 (1280x960)Strimmed lower terrace 12 Mar 15For the last month or so, an ongoing task for Joe has been to strim the terraces on the Mediterranean side that contains our citrus, fruit and nut trees, plus all the other areas of our land not covered by the encina (oak) forest.

Strimming JB 18 Mar 15 (1280x960)It’s done now, but it was very demanding work, made tougher by the extremes of weather during that time. Wearing a helmet, goggles and gloves is all very well, but can be a bit of a handicap when you’re being pelted by driving rain, bombed by hail, nearly blown over by violent gusts and overcome by the hot sun, sweating profusely as one does in plastic jacket and leggings.

Clouds & mist 20 Mar 15 (3) (1280x960)Fiery sky am 16 Feb 15Here are a selection of photos taken of the assortment of weather conditions that we’ve had recently.  In my last post I wrote about the clouds and rain, then we had just greyness, no sun.

Amazing clouds 27 Mar 15 (1) - Copy Amazing cloud 26 Mar 15 copyThen it was sharp and bright, but the sting in the tail was the killer winds! We had to, once again, decamp to Horst’s sanctuary down the road.  The wind had reached that manic stage where, had we remained in our screaming, bucking bronco of a house, it would have been untenable – and we all need our beauty sleep, don’t we?!

??????????????????????Stormy chimney 26 Mar 15That night it got down to minus figures and I’m glad I remembered my friend the hot water bottle.  The relative peace inside Horst’s well-built farmhouse was certainly a contrast to ours and I would guess had he been with us that night he would have considered the wind “very strong”.  We had a good night’s sleep, but his house is definitely colder than ours.

Fruit trees windburn 26 Mar 15 (1280x960)We’d just bought some fruit trees the previous day including two mandarins, a plum and a grapefruit and mistakenly left them on the verandah as we went off to Horst’s.  On our return we found them suffering from wind burn and, lesson learned, we now bring them in every night.  Although still in their ugly plastic pots they’ve rewarded us with the most sensual smell from their abundant little white flowers.

For the last three days while the UK is gripped by 72mph winds and icy temperatures, we are now experiencing a sort of mini heatwave here.  The temperature inside the cabin during the afternoons and early evenings is around 78 deg F.  Quite comfortable, I’d say. The wind makes a feeble attempt to keep us awake at night, but it embraces rather than bites us.  As a precaution, I take the cover (what’s left of it) off the little Mercedes each night.  Its ties have been yanked off, it can’t be secured around the car so even in these benign winds, given half a chance, the cover would disappear off down the hill never to be seen again.

P1050297The cover is then slid back on every morning because the 100 or so beehives on the track below send a daily tsunami of incredibly noisy bees that dive bomb us with their yellow blobs of poo. The poor Nissan doesn’t have a cover, so when next I feel sorry enough for him to give him a good wash, I know it will always take an inordinate amount of time as each poo has to be scraped off individually by fingernail.

Agaric & poo 28 Maar 15Talking of poo, I was fascinated to see that some little creature had managed to delicately place an offering on the top of a ceramic fly agaric toadstool I planted in the garden – sense of humour, artistic licence? Still on the same scatological subject, I have got used to seeing poos around the house, especially upstairs, the same shape as mouse poo, but almost as large as rat poo.  The puzzling part to me is that they are almost black, with one end always bright white and pointed.

Gekko under stone 6 Mar 14I was pretty certain they were gecko droppings, but what on earth was in their diet that always resulted in such a perfectly-formed white tip; how did they manage it?  I just couldn’t work it out until I had the bright idea of asking Google and in a few moments all was revealed.

Reptiles actually don’t have ‘urine’, instead they produce what is called a “urate” which is the white tip of their poo. A healthy gecko poo should therefore comprise a dark and a white portion and this goes for most reptiles.  Since they only have one waste line (yuck!) then everything comes out together as one clump.

The next poo I saw after that was on the roof of the inverter house and it was absolutely massive, twice or three times the ‘normal’ ones I was used to seeing. Unfortunately it coincided with one of the aforementioned periods of heavy rain and my prize exhibit began to disintegrate before I could get a reasonable photo.   Moorish geckos I’ve seen around here are quite big anyway but I’d hate to meet that particular chap on a dark night!

 

 

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Dodging the showers

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”  John Ruskin

Clouds & mist 20 Mar 15 (2)

Mist  Solar panels 20 Mar 15We’ve had our head in the clouds for the last ten days.  By this, I mean that it’s rained a lot without the normal interlude of sunshine or wind to dry up the surface of our drives.  The solar panels continue to perform well, even in these conditions.

Rain umbrella JB 20 Mar 15

Bridge bump 13 Feb 15Joe’s been out with spade and shovel and cleared lots of silt away from the rain water channels and it’s very satisfying to watch it cascade down the hill and under the little stone bridge (pictured here in drier conditions).

Nissan muddy wheel 18 Mar 15 (2)Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (3)On a test run a few days ago, even in 4wd the Nissan began to drift a bit as Joe set off downhill.  Once he reached the flat area halfway down, he turned it around but not before its tyres got well and truly coated with about 2″ of mud slurry.

Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (5)Rains muddy drives 18 Mar 15 (4)Grip lost, the Nissan started to drift sideways quite alarmingly as Joe attempted to steer it up the front drive, and with a sheer drop on the left hand side, he felt it prudent to withdraw.

After a bit of a struggle he eventually got the Nissan up the less precarious back drive where it stayed for a few more days until the cupboard was bare.  The rain hadn’t abated and we simply had to get out to get some shopping.  It was a relief when we got down to the front gate, even more so a few hours later when the Nissan bore us safely back laden with lots of exciting food shopping, plus pickaxe handle, brown paint and 8 bags of capa fina.  The journey to the coast had been slower than usual because the Nissan was prone to the odd slide or two on the wet roads.

Panic room wall LAF 9 Mar 15In between cats-and-dogs type showers Joe was able to finish what we now call the curly-wurly seat that effectively used up his stockpile of larger odd-shaped stones.  The capa fina, as usual, went on like a dream and sculpted into a rather voluptuous shape and quickly covered with marrón oscuro, our trademark brown paint.  At some stage, I think I will add a Moorish type design.

Curvy bench 26 Mar 15 (5)Curvy bench done 27 Mar 15 (4)The seat contrasts nicely with the backdrop of the stone wall that Joe quickly ‘threw together’ a few weeks back, and sitting there provides shelter from the prevailing wind and gives us uninterrupted views of the road and valley.

P1050288We immediately christened the curly-wurly with a refreshing pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, our Wedgwood china cups balancing well on the flat areas each side that Joe thoughtfully had provided for this very purpose.

We sell tea in Starbucks, but I think the experience is very different.  I think coffee is something that is quick – it’s transactional.  I think tea is more Zen-like.  It requires a different environment.”  Howard Schultz (Chairman/CEO of Starbucks)

 

 

 

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Bisphenol A – no thanks!

It’s rare to go out anywhere these days without seeing people clutching their latest must-have accessory, their own personal bottle of water.  This innocuous little item seems to have become part of a daily habit, something that we can’t possibly leave home without.  I heard this phenomenon rather graphically described recently as a substitute for a mother’s nipple!

Ever since the 1970s we’ve been told that bottled water is the healthier option, much safer and more pure than tap water.  The documentary film ‘Tapped’ exposes the global bottled water industry as one of the biggest health cons of our time. Aside from the fact that we are all paying good money for something that is free (!), it describes how we are also damaging our health and contributing to the demise of the environment in the process!

Not that we’ve got much of a choice here in sunny Spain.  Unless you live in a major city, you can’t rely on mains tap water for drinking, so a staple for most people here is a goodly supply of 5L containers of agua potable (drinking water).  So, even though you can’t drink it, mains water is available to all households around here and, rather like the UK, it is used liberally for everything including washing of self and clothes, watering, cooking etc.

?????????????? Photo 12 The side shippon

This is not the first time we’ve had to get used to living without the luxury of both mains water and electricity.  Yes folks, we’ve been here before!

??????????????

??????????????We spent three years in the wilds of Devon, on a mission to save this historic, centuries-old cob and thatch house from total dereliction, digging our heels in when the planners said “no”.

Our living conditions were more primitive there as we made our home in an old, battered caravan without the benefit of mains anything, no solar panels or well, reliant on a generator, water butts, river water and an old Rayburn.

Water was to become a revered and very precious commodity for us during our special time there.  Here are a few extracts from the book I wrote about our experience (“Shoestring Warrior, Lynda Franklin, Wunjo Press, 2005):

The sparkling nearby stream gave us an abundant supply of running water, but water was too heavy for me to lug around even using light plastic containers and I often wondered how on earth our ancestors managed with wooden buckets.  So, for convenience we used a network of plastic water butts to catch every last drop of rain from the caravan (and later, the barn) roof, and I would dip a bucket into it. More often than not the water had a smoky tang due to soot deposits from the Rayburn chimney. The butts were nearly always full. Wet Devon or what!

I must admit I was developing the unenviable trait of becoming a bit holier than thou, especially regarding wastage:

There was a sort of purity about processing our own rubbish and we certainly had to become very sparing with water when it had to be carted around and manhandled on the top of the Rayburn. Joe emptied our portaloo every six days and we had a large bucket into which the cold water from the sink drained. We did manage to keep relatively clean via the cracked, plastic kitchen sink, although we didn’t wash as regularly as we used to. Unless you’ve lived the way we did, or are a hardened camper, I guess there wouldn’t be a need to question consumption of natural resources, ‘oh, I’ve left a bit of loo paper floating in the pan, I’d better flush it a few more times’.”

“We are increasingly conditioned to be aware of how we look, keeping sparkly clean and having our hair shine-shake-shine. Are we really so manipulated that most of this has become subliminal now? There are wipes and disin­fectants to remove every trace of every germ known to man. I’m sure most of us have felt sick when brought face to face with investigative films showing the state of kitchens, say, at the local Balti or burger bar. Yet it’s still compara­tively rare to get food-poisoning.  We’re quite a hardy breed really.” 

I digress.  Back to the bottled water.  You probably remember the scare a few years back that a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic water containers (ie Bisphenol A or BPA) is highly toxic and can potentially migrate into the contents of the bottle.  Back then, it was estimated that more than 2.2 million tons were made each year.

Getting water 20 Oct 13 (6)Since we totally rely on our own water supply and spring water gathered from the mountains – little point in going to the supermarket when you can get it for free  – we’d got into the habit of using the same old 5L bottles time and time again.  We were shamed into replacing all our old bottles, but I must admit we’ve still been potentially harming ourselves by storing water longish term in these bottles, and often in high temperatures.

Water containers 20 Mar 15So, having just watched ‘Tapped’, we were filled with a new resolve.  All our plastic containers have been declared redundant and dangerous.  We’re eagerly awaiting delivery of a 25L stainless steel urn and if we do use the odd 5L container, it will only be to transport water from our own well, or from the spring to home.  At the moment, we are using glass jars and a large saucepan to store the water.

I believe there has been some changes made in other countries to the laws regarding the use of such chemicals for food/drink containers, but I was surprised to read that in January this year the European Food Safety Authority stands firm against the scare-mongers.  In publishing its latest re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity it concluded that it poses “no health risk to consumers of any age group“.

It went on to say that “uncertainties surrounding potential health effects of BPA on the mammary gland, reproductive, metabolic, neuro-behavioural and immune systems have been quantified and factored in to the calculation of the Tolerated Daily Intake“.  However, they have a get-out clause that this evaluation is regarded as “temporary” pending the outcome of a “long-term study in rats“.

Better safe than sorry!

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Dicho y hecho

We had been thinking about the idea of building a ‘panic room’ at the gable end of the cabin facing the prevailing wind.  Even though the room would nestle under the verandah and therefore within the footprint of the house itself, we still needed to screen it off from where it could potentially be glimpsed from the road.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Michelangelo

Panic room 1“What we need is a nice stone wall just here”, he said.  ‘What a wonderful idea!’ I said.  The local tip was still managing to yield both hardcore and rounded river stones, and – if you dug around enough – some very nice building stone.  If there was a shortfall, he felt sure he could make it up from stones around our land.

Panic room 2 (3)

Panic room 2We decided that a curved wall would be rather fun, and also make the whole structure stronger.  Dicho y hecho, no sooner said than done! Joe’s button had been pressed and he swung into action.

Panic room 2 (2)

Panic room 4Because of its 2.5m height, some mortar was needed for extra strength. Apart from diesel for the Nissan, a few bags of cement was the only other thing we had to buy; even the sand came from the tip!

Panic room 3Panic room 7The little feature alcove was my idea as Joe had come across a number of brick-sized pieces of granite and we had wondered how to show them off.  He even managed to find an almost triangular piece of stone with a hole in it which he built in to the other side of the alcove.  When the sun shines first thing in the morning, the alcove is lit up by a shaft of sunlight.  Brilliant!

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Vincent Van Gogh

Panic room 6Panic room 5The wall started on 18th February and by 4th March a mere two weeks later, there it stood, proud and very solid.  It’s not quite finished yet as Joe’s crafted a seat out of largely unusable awkward shape stones.  It’s been rendered but is now awaiting a coat of capa fina (Spanish exterior plaster) and a liberal wash with our trademark brown paint.

Panic room wall 4 Mar 15 (14)Panic room wall 4 Mar 15 (12)For the moment we’ve moved away from the idea of building a panic room, but all this effort wasn’t all in vain. Far from it! Not only do we gaze out on a beautiful piece of art drawn from a vibrant palette of stones but also, as we are people who value our privacy, we are secure in the knowledge that nobody can see us as we move around that side of the house.

“But, when the work was finished, the Craftsman kept wishing that there was someone to ponder the plan of so great a work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its vastness.” Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94)

JB communing below bump 17 Mar 15 (2)Yesterday as I was wandering around with my camera, excited at finding the first pink butterfly orchid of the year, I caught sight of Joe sitting on one of his benches he had made around the land. He didn’t hear me approach and no word passed between us as I stood behind him.  I would imagine that he, like me, was lost in wonderment at the majesty of nature that unfolded before us.

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Damage limitation luck

As Spring gradually starts to emerge from her grey cocoon, there are a few updates to give you as we continue our existence in this beautiful but challenging environment.

Nissan track repair 29 Apr 14Firstly, the Nissan passed its ITV without so much as ‘an advisory’, which surprised our mechanic Honest John because both sets of back lights are cracked – the worst affected being the reversing light but as it is meant to be clear anyway, it was deemed ok!  So, for the not insignificant sum of 160 euro we have yet another year of motoring.  Oh, and he had to put a new number plate on.  However, there remains a problem with the tracking – it pulls rather markedly to the right – Honest John believes it was caused by contact with a hard object, like a kerb but neither Joe nor I remember doing this.  I guess we will need to get it sorted some time.

Road collapsing 24 Jan 15You will probably remember me waffling on about the new road below us that was finally finished mid July last year.  We had expressed concerns about the rather half-baked job the men had done, and shortly afterwards I posted some photos of some nice big cracks on the surface.  Of more concern were the dramatic earth slips appearing after the first rains which, over time, we reckoned, were bound to result in some undermining of the foundations. Here’s a photo taken last week after 7 months of rainy winter weather, with the eroded soil falling away exposing the water pipes; I hate people like me that say, “I told you so”!

Return to Foggie 16 Jan 15 (13)All this aside, and apart from the inconvenience and land grabbing during the works last year, I still can’t thank them enough for converting our previously precarious access into something that should last for longer than we will.  However, this will surely have disappointed our goat herder friend who, I am sure, was biding his time waiting for our drive to become impassable so we would finally have to beg him to sell us the ‘ransom strip’ of his adjoining land (about 1/3 acre).  It was around 2008 when we first approached him about buying, but his price was a non-negotiable 75,000 euro!  And by the time of our last conversation in 2010 he’d dug his heels in and said it wasn’t for sale.

The second piece of good news, or in my parlance, damage limitation luck, is the following:

An amendment to Spain’s penal code has just been passed by the ruling Mariano Rajoy-led government that dictates judges must ensure that property owners who purchased an illegally built house in good faith are compensated before any demolition order is passed. This long overdue legal change could positively impact thousands of home-owners –which includes many Brits – who had previously faced the prospect of losing their home and their investment under the old law.  

The Spanish Senate, it seems has finally seen sense in the face of sustained pressure from the opposition Socialist party and AUAN, who have been tireless in campaigning on behalf of the estimated 300,000 home-owners whose properties are at risk.  This amendment, according to AUAN’s lawyer, “protects the good faith of buyers, but doesn’t go as far as we would have wished”.  AUAN says it will keep on campaigning until all properties currently deemed illegal are finally recognised by the law and provided with proper water and electricity connections; something that has often been denied home-owners like us who bought such properties!

Almonds back of hill 22 Feb 15As I’ve written before, I’ve been confused by the reluctance of anyone, anywhere to give us any clarification, except to seemingly block our every move to be allowed the luxury of water and electricity.  Strange really as all over the place are fincas (patches of land with or without a building) with mains water, and there is even a fenced off plot next to our nearest neighbour, quite bereft of any building that has had an electricity meter on the gatepost for a number of years.

Not sure where that leaves us, as we certainly purchased our property in good faith back in April 2006. We bought a plot of some 40,000 sq m or so, with full planning permission (and plans) for a rather splendid house, plus an already existing log cabin on the site, with all the legal paperwork.  It came as a shock when about 2/3 of our land was taken by the Junta and called Parque Natural, but we still had no idea that our very existence here would be under threat.

Fig terrace Maroma 13 Mar 15I mentioned earlier what I call ‘damage limitation luck’.  This new road, however poorly constructed it might turn out to be along certain stretches, must surely have added some value to our property, whatever its status may be.  I’ve read that a list is being drawn up by the mayors which is divided into three categories: ‘legal’, ‘illegal’, and ‘demolition’.  Certainly at this stage we are not wishing to rock the boat and demand answers.

Top gate 14 Feb 15Will it be demolished or won’t it is obviously the most pressing question but I think the fact that the house has now been standing for all these years goes in its favour.  However, its proximity to the Parque is a minus – although all the houses along our ridge are within a stone’s throw of the damned Parque.   And we’ve been told they are all illegal until ratified.

In such a climate of uncertainty, for our home to be earmarked for demolition is obviously something that potentially could happen and your guess is as good as ours.  But since we’ve managed without anyone else’s electricity and water for so long, it makes sense that it would be the lesser of two evils for our home to be deemed ‘illegal’ ie, allowed to exist but having ‘paperless’ status – forever destined to be in a sort of no-man’s land without any entitlement to mains services (not that this would bother us!).

So, to recap, one piece of damage limitation luck is that we now have a good access but it was at some cost to us.  The second is that with this new legislation, the powers that be may find it much easier to leave us alone rather than going to the expense of a legal fight and potential compensation.

Sunset euphorbias 8 Mar 15This whole Foggiebabe blog continues to be a painful but inestimable privilege to write.   Should it ever come to it, I will relish broadcasting to a wider world our humble story of love, compassion and living in harmony and peace with nature; a David and Goliath fight against double dealing, obfuscation and deception.

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