Not a boarding house #livinginSpain finding a synonym – oh, and more guests

I don’t like the term boarding house, it somehow carries an indelible image (for me) of being genteelly shabby and smelling of boiled cabbage and I have no idea why, since I have never, to the best of my knowledge, stayed in a boarding house that fitted such a description.

The hunt was therefore on for synonyms, with a bewildering array of options from the handy website powerthesaurus.org – inn, rooming house, pension, hostel, hotel, lodging house, hospice, guesthouse, ordinary, tavern, fleabag, hostelry, doss house, flophouse and oh so many others – I liked caravansary but reluctantly gave it up when I realized I had to be able to put up 50 camels to really justify the name. It would be too crowded, and the dog would hate them.  The neighbours might get upset, too.

I looked up several, and guesthouse is definitely the answer. Inexpensive lodgings, tick – I’d rather have guests delighted with what they are getting, than finding fault. In a house over a century old, at least in parts, there is fault to find and always will be.  Private home with conversion exclusively for guest accommodation, tick.  So the Casa Excéntrico, with the entire upstairs exclusively for guests, is now officially a guesthouse.  By the way, that’s not a piercingly green carpet in the pic, it is fake grass. One day there will be new tiles but right now, fake grass is adding a suitably eccentric touch and coping nicely with the current, soon-to-be-sorted, occasional alarming mini-floods which burp up out of the overloaded storm drain. Spain doesn’t rain often, doesn’t rain for long, but it does rain hard.

Atrium to hall

After the crazy hubbub of August, where I was stripping rooms in the morning and making them up for the afternoon, one anxious eye on the clock so I didn’t forget  to go teach between 1 and 4, things went abruptly quiet. No more ironing sheets in the laundry, leaning back so the sweat from my nose didn’t drip onto the pristine sheets.  No more steaming the floors with the big fans on full blast so I didn’t pass out from the combination of 40 degree temperatures and the floor-steamer. No more thanking my guardian angel for making me decide on a 3 day minimum, I honestly don’t know how hosts can do this every day.  Utter silence. The French guest who had booked for two weeks backed out two days beforehand saying eh, ‘allo, I ‘ave no memory of booking zees, and that was it until the Estonian lasses arrived.

Just as quickly it has gone back to hectic, it is an absolute mystery. October should be quiet, but I have both rooms booked at the moment, and a week’s break, and then both rooms booked again – I’m not complaining, just puzzled. I scrupulously refresh my calendars on both Airbnb and HomeAway regularly, they are the first options that come up for anyone looking on price, and now the market is booming again. Well, long may it last, although I’m rather hoping to use the week’s break to get the house ready for the anticipated winter guests from November onwards. Radiators have to be carried upstairs, a permanent cover built for the gas geyser (which currently has to be switched off and covered when it rains), and a tumbledrier not only sourced but housed.  320 days of sunshine a year is all well and good but the other 45 days are scattered between September and March, I’m a little behind. Until my builder-buddy Nick can get his car (and heavier tools) to the front door again, it’s all on hold. Grrr!

There’s an American guy in the front room who had originally booked for a weekend and keeps extending his stay – he’s house-hunting in the Lecrin Valley but becoming increasingly charmed by Velez itself  and could even end up changing all his plans and becoming a sort of part-time neighbour. I can remember all too well being utterly bewildered by the variety of the places for sale between here and Granada!  Originally he had short-listed two. One is a tiny (one bedroom) perfect villa just above the Alhambra, with a roof terrace with views of the Palace and Granada itself. The other is at the top of the mountain behind Niguelas, a solid cabin squarely in the national park with fruit and olive trees and  views, on a clear day, to Africa, but it is 45 minutes up a winding unsurfaced track. He’s thinking he will probably buy both. I said he needs to look around more. He has the option of renting the Granada one first so will be off as soon as that lease is signed.

The couple in the back room are absolutely lovely, but he’s French with a little English and a little Spanish, and she’s Spanish with no English and no French. We have the occasional glass of wine together and chatter away in three different languages. Builder-buddy Nick says I should stop being so chatty but I honestly don’t start the conversations. I’ll admit I do enjoy them and don’t run away and hide. And when we had a mini-flood yesterday (I really can’t WAIT for the roadworks to be finished and my non-return valve fitted) my lovely guest insisted on helping brush a substantial pool of water from the hallway back up the slight slope towards the atrium drain. They go today and will be missed.

My birthday falls around Halloween and I always take the day off – this year I have booked off teaching but will have the house full, so it won’t be completely relaxing. Just as well, perhaps. Wouldn’t do to be getting lazy.

grin

Advertisements

How NOT to matriculate your car – Rule 1, don’t leave it until August #livinginSpain

 

Just so we’re clear, this is not a blog about escaping the need to matriculate your car. If you move to Spain, and bring your own car, it has to be registered in Spain and the process is called matriculación. It takes, usually, a couple of weeks from the first technical report to bolting on your new number-plates. Allow for a month, to be on the safe side.  I’ll outline what you should do and then, for anyone who likes to point and laugh, I’ve added what not to do. Part one.

sigh

Part two will follow when and if I ever finish the process with my car, which is looking like a 6 to 8 week mission, and is exactly why you DON’T LEAVE IT UNTIL AUGUST.

There are many agents who will handle the process, because every car coming to live in Spain, whether from an EU or LHD country or not, has to be matriculated. Agent prices range from expensive to exorbitant. Most of the prices are fixed, and outlined below – it is the agent’s service fee which fluctuates. The English are known to be rich and delightfully gullible and it is essential you go to someone recommended.

Options –

  • You can hand the car over and wait a couple of weeks for its return, but have your chequebook ready, that kind of service really costs.
  • If you source the parts (i.e. the headlamps and rear lights), get them fitted, and take it to the ITV station yourself, you should reduce the service fee, and have the use of the car most of the time.
  • If you speak excellent Spanish, plus have lots of bureaucratic experience, time, and patience, you don’t need an agent.

This blog assumes the middle path, i.e. you will do a lot of the running around yourself.

  1. Find your agent, and get your quote. My new agent’s quote is 185 euros. Talk to other Brits about who they used, and bear in mind few will know, or perhaps admit, they’ve been conned – the important thing is to know roughly how much you should be paying, so that you know whether the quote is realistic or inflated. My car is small, 9 years old, and I’d been told fairly consistently by other Brits to expect to pay between 700 and 1000 euros for the whole registration – agent fees, import duty, road tax, etc. (That doesn’t include the costs of getting the car itself suitable for life in a LHD country, or any costs involved in the car actually passing its roadworthy test. I do add a note at the end as to why, knowing all that, I brought my car anyway)
  2. The agent will arrange for a technical inspection, to advise what has to be sorted before even attempting an ITV test. For a right-hand-drive car, this will almost inevitably mean lights being adjusted or replaced. Modern headlamps are usually adjustable, but the fog and reversing lights on the backs of most modern cars are on one side only – the wrong side. The técnico will also want paperwork, so you need to have your passport, NIE, padron and the vehicle’s logbook (the DVLA’s V5) ready when you meet him. The técnico fee totals 90 euros, and will be settled by the agent.
  3. Source your parts – unless a local dealership has the parts in stock, it is probably quicker and cheaper to source the parts online and get them delivered by courier. Because I was trying to do my car in August, it would have taken a week for the dealership to get them in stock and the price quoted was eye-watering. I found my lights new on eBay and they arrived in 3 days.
  4. Once the técnico is satisfied your car now meets technical regulations he will put his report into the closest ITV station and they will make an appointment for your ITV inspection.
  5. If your Spanish is weak, and your agent can’t meet you there, take a buddy who knows the ropes or pay for someone to take the car through the test for you. The testing process is similar to the MOT, but extra time and care will be taken for this first time and the price will be a one-off 150 euros. (With this and every ITV, if the car doesn’t pass you will have up to a month to make changes and present yourself again. You can drive in the meantime, unless the fail is catastrophic enough that the car must be collected by a tow-truck for delivery to a garage.)
  6. The ITV certificate and copies of all your documents will be forwarded to the nearest authorised Roads department for the matriculation. Alarmingly, my new agent said certified copies, but no-one else seems to be requiring that, so long as you have the originals with you for copies to be taken. I will confirm in part two, but I think the quote for this was 98 euros. Going to a notary will bump this part up if certified copies are required.
  7. You will have to pay the import duty. This is based on car value, for cars up to 20 years old, and engine size, i.e. emissions. The price can therefore vary wildly. A huge engine in a high value new car could be nudging the 2000 euro mark, and I’ve been told my 9 year old with its tiny green engine will be zero. Really? I await part two with bated breath. Thumbsuck figure to allow for in an older car with a moderate size engine is 400 euros.
  8. You will need to pay the balance of the road tax for the year – road tax for everyone falls due on the 31st of December, this late in the year I will probably be paying around 20 euros
  9. The new papers and your new registration number will be sent to you. You will need to source number-plates – 30 euros – and get them fitted.
  10. Notify DVLA and re-sort your insurance for your new details.

So a very, very approximate quote for the whole business at this point in the year is 880 euros – 

Agent                    185.00

Técnico                90.00 (paragraph 2)

ITV                         150.00  (paragraph 5)

Trafico                  98.00 (paragraph 6)

Import duty        400.00 (paragraph 7)

Road tax              20.00 (paragraph 8)

New plates         30.00 (paragraph 9)

Plus of course whatever the mechanics cost on top.

 

That had been factored into my decision to bring it.

  • I love the car, have owned it most of its life, I know its mechanical and service history.
  • I couldn’t have sold it privately, considering its age and that I was a private seller, for more than about 1000 quid at best thanks to a paint problem Toyota had in 2009. They admitted the problem, but stopped making good once the cars turned 7. Mine lost its first (so far only) palm-sized flake of paint at the age of 8. Thanks for that, Toyota.
  • I couldn’t buy the equivalent make and model in Spain for less than 4000 euros, and then I wouldn’t have known anything about its reliability or history
  • Cars in Spain don’t rust, and they have double the lifespan and resale value of UK cars. I couldn’t expect to buy anything guaranteed reliable for under at least 3500 euros.

A year ago, therefore, I had known I would have to pay around 1000 euros for the luxury of bringing my own much-loved reliable little car to Spain. No problemo.

This is the bit about mistakes made. Experience may be cheap at any price but you don’t have to learn by your own mistakes if you can learn from the mistakes of others . . .

Don’t leave it to the last minute – although it is supposed to be within 6 months, you are, at least in theory, covered by your MOT until that expires, especially if you are travelling in and out of the country in the car. However, if you had a bang-up-to-date MOT and keep forgetting the necessity to matriculate until a few weeks before the MOT expires, you are taking ludicrously stupid chances. Don’t. Sod’s Law is waiting.

scold

Don’t try to do it in August. Spain kicks back into holiday mode in August. The ITV stations only open until siesta, they don’t re-open for the late afternoon / early evening as they do the rest of the year. Half the people you will need are on holiday. A process that normally takes a week or two will drag on for weeks and oops, there you are, illegal.

scold

Don’t start the process with someone who is closing their business down. Oh, I know that sounds too stupid to need saying, but Antonio was highly recommended, spoke good Spanglish, and was an agent with a garage – could do the paperwork AND any repairs. Sure his garage was being knocked down for the road to be widened but not for about 4 weeks and the whole matriculation only takes a couple of weeks, right? No problemo.

As per the last blog, lights were eventually fitted and the técnico put his report into Motril ITV station and applied for an inspection date for my full in-depth roadworthy test.

Problemo.  We’d run out of time for Antonio to complete the process.  I had been fed into the system and could continue, but I’d be dealing with agents who only spoke Spanish, paying for who knows what, unable to understand what I should be doing and worst of all, no-one had yet given me a quote.  Insanity to launch into something like this without a written quote, and when I said I had to have one, there were shrugs and no entiendo. WHOA. Don’t get into the bigger money without a quote.  It is not, trust me, a good idea switching horses midstream, as you’ll see.

scold

The agent I switched to is the guy I probably should have gone with all along and life would have been far simpler. However, he doesn’t like working through Motril. The técnico had to withdraw his documents and resubmit them to Orgiva. He took a week to do that and I got the distinct impression there is a history between him and my new agent, who said I would have paid a fee running to several hundred euros. Orgiva, being smaller, would, my new agent said, be able to give me an appointment within days.

Well, not so much, the appointment is 11th September, so I am definitely feeling like a pawn in the games people play, but hey.  In the meantime the MOT has run out and I am learning all about buses and taxi services and how to kick myself for leaving the whole thing to the last minute.

Ever researching on your behalf and hoping oh so much to be wrapping up part two very soon

grin

Elegsabiff

 

Excentrico guests – Anglo-Saffer J et al #livinginSpain

I’ve got a current couple in Cameron who could be rated perfect  – she doesn’t speak any English, he has just enough to get us by, they’re up at 10 and out for the day, return around midnight, we smile a great deal and say a little in Spanglish, and so long as they’re smiling, I’m happy!

The previous guest in Cameron was my Anglo-Saffer buddy, come to see what the Elefante Blanco has turned into, and that was huge fun.  She’s a runner with a club we can call Narnia, and likes to run early in the morning. I’m not an early bird in any way (or a runner, perish the thought) but armed her with the necessary pidgin Spanish to ask her way back to somewhere familiar if she got lost (effectively, dónde Iglesia, where church?)

As it turned out she slept later than her usual 4 am (probably due to much tinto de verano (summer wine) and blethering the night before, she also credits the bed, ta very much) and only donned her running clobber, emblazoned with the club’s name, around 7.30. The streets were already coming to life and she was greeted with friendly interest by those she passed, and the old men sitting under the pergolas. From the second morning there were calls of ‘Hola, Narnia!’ as she sped by, waving, and by the end of her week she probably knows more people in town than I do. She loves Spain and Spain, or certainly Velez, loves her.

When under linguistic pressure she switched to Afrikaans and said it was miraculous, the person who could only talk Spanish a minute earlier suddenly managed to disinter some English from the recesses of their memories. Of course as an Anglo-saffer she’d have had problems if they’d been fluent in Afrikaans as she isn’t exactly vlot herself. But ‘twas enough, it sufficed.

We ventured through to Granada for a day, and found it experiencing bone-melting temperatures but thanks be, there is a hop-on hop-off bus-tram. We fell onto that with glowing relief and were rattled briskly around all the scenic bits of fabulously scenic Granada. There are over a dozen places to hop off, very few of which tempted any of the steaming passengers, and the route includes the perimeter  / outer gardens of the Alhambra Palace.

DSC_0920

We did get off to check out the cathedral and square,

DSC_0938

DSC_0936and again for lunch in a beckoning plaza, where huge umbrellas over the tables puffed out misty spray at regular intervals. We sipped lazily at iced summer wine and enviously watched a dog plunge into the fountain and swim around until he felt braced enough to get out.

DSC_0924

The return to Velez felt positively cool, but even here it was 34 degrees. Wow.  Not even August yet . . .  Danish J is still in Oliver, the front room, and has extended his stay another two weeks, and I’m considering blocking off the rest of August on both rooms and taking the month off. It will be my first August, and I have no idea what to expect, but as I don’t have air-conditioning, I’m really not sure the big fans in the rooms will be enough.  I know what last September was like – I will have been here a year, then.  That’s flown!

 

The Firma Digital (electronic signature) #livinginSpain #FirmasForDummies

These procedures seem to change minute to minute but I have added a Citizens Advice Spain link at the end which I found useful, and my grateful thanks to them. The process had already changed slightly but not so much that it was impossible to follow.

Why, you may ask, a digital signature at all? I’d never heard of such a beast before I came here, but perhaps they are spreading everywhere. Certainly Spain has a lot of bureaucracy, and a great many forms to complete, and luckily many of these forms can be completed online rather than trekking through blazing sunshine to queue in a hot building for a chance to practice your Spanish (or lack thereof) with burócrata.  However, such forms have to be signed – hence the firma digital. It is a certified form which downloads to your computer and can be attached to official applications as it proves that you are who you say you are. It’s a bit of a fiddle to get but saves endless amounts of time (and queuing to apply for things) once you have it.

In effect you apply via, say, CERES. If you follow the instructions properly (see the CAB Spain link at the end of this blog), you will be given a reference number.

You then find the closest official representative and present yourself with suitable proofs of identity. The official representative verifies you are who you say you are, confirms to the website that reference 8283838etc is indeed human and in existence,  the website emails you a certificado which will download deep into the bowels of your computer, and Bob’s your uncle.

Dead easy, right?

Right.

Okay, my additional pointers to the CAB link are firstly you can’t apply via Google Chrome. It comes up as an unsafe site, every time. The choices are Internet Explorer (which doesn’t like me, and it is mutual) or Firefox, and after some fruitless faffing around on IE I downloaded Firefox and zoomed through the application.

(I like Firefox but it isn’t very good at translating and while it obligingly said WELCOME and my headings were in English, the text stayed stubbornly in Spanish so there was much hopping to the tab with the Spanish-to-English translator. Anyway.)

Done, and I had my reference number.

Now to be verified by an official – The closest official firma digital representative was, yay, the local council office, the ayuntamiento.  Except that it wasn’t, anymore (this is oddly Spanish, information can be quite profoundly out of date, why bother to change the website?) The kind senora behind the desk explained it had now been farmed out to the local Casa de la Cultura.  I rather wish it hadn’t, to be honest, since the official who handles it there works two evenings, and one morning, a week, and isn’t always there.

Still, on my third attempt I struck paydirt, presented my padron (see my previous blog), my NIE, my deeds and my passport (rule of thumb – take every piece of paper you own, you never know what you will be asked for) and by the time I walked home the email was already in my mailbox to download my certificado direct onto my computer.  One two three done, your certificate is downloaded.

Um – where?

And this is where the other useful piece of advice comes in. If you, like me, used Firefox, click on the Firefox menu, top right hand corner. Click on Options. Search for certificates and when presented with a bewilderingly long list, select the ‘your certificates’ tab. It will be there. If not, download again.

I have also, under Options, switched Firefox to asking me where to file downloads but I’m not sure this would have helped  – the firma hides out of sight and talks only to appropriately authorised websites. Human beings aren’t really welcomed into the equation at all.  Our role is to haul documents around in street temperatures topping 30 degrees C until our task is complete and we can drop exhausted by the wayside.

Here’s that helpful link –

https://www.citizensadvice.org.es/wp-content/uploads/HOW-TO-OBTAIN-A-DIGITAL-CERTIFICATE-FOR-YOUR-COMPUTER.pdf?18f76b

And of course now that I have my firma digital I can complete my application to offer accommodation, since I am already accepting bookings on my temporary licence. Another blog looms. Thanks for bearing with me here, guys. I need all the moral support I can get.

 

Got my #padron, waiting for the policia to call – #livingInSpain

Sooner or later you have to tell the Spanish authorities that you have moved in, and the NIE*, although fairly vital to everyday life, doesn’t cut it.  You have around six months grace – time enough to know whether you will be sticking around or not – but after that it’s not only polite to register, it is required.  It is free, and adds you to the population of the town or city where you spend the most time.  I have the stamped copy on my desk, and at some point the policia will knock on the door and ask to see my passport or NIE to confirm I am me. Sorted.

The Padron – short for empadronamiento – if you live more than 180 days a year in Spain, you are legally required to register on the Padrón Municipal de Habitantes. It’s not unlike getting yourself on the electoral roll in the UK, but has more benefits and is a vital step towards eventually applying for permanent residency.

So – this is how you get it. Well, how I got it. Call in at the local town office, which rejoices in the name of Ayumtamiento (saying ayoomta me ento will get you pointed in the right direction) and ask for the form. (Necessito padron, if you speak pidgin Spanish as I do, I still sound like a 2 year old). Requirements can change, apparently, but they asked me to complete the form and bring it back with a copy of my NIE and my escritura (deeds) or lease.

Tiny problem there as I don’t have my deeds yet – this is an old house, and the seller’s grandfather’s death certificate was destroyed during WW2 and that’s delaying things, but presenting the first page of the formal document I signed in front of the notary when I bought the house was acceptable.

Completing the form was, even with the aid of my online translator, a bit tricky, and I finally hauled in a Spanish teacher I’ve met socially and paid for a couple of hours of her time (there were other forms we tackled as well). For example, I use two surnames, unhyphenated, as a matter of course, and the form asks for 1st Apellido and 2nd Apellido. I was advised, though, to put Elizabeth Lamprey as my nombre, and my surname as 1st Apellido, as this is the way my name appears on my passport.

(In Spain it is common to include the surnames of both parents in a name, the 1st being mother’s maiden name and the 2nd being father’s, and you more or less have the choice of which to use as your own surname, but should stick thereafter with the one you chose.  Hence 1st and 2nd apellido. Confused yet? I did borrow this ambiguity for my book The Money Honey and have no idea how it doesn’t cause more confusion, but everyone seems to understand it without any problems)

Back to the form – I had to then enter my most recent previous residence (Edimburgo, Reino Unido) and my date and place of birth (which, according to my NIE, is Durban, Natal, Reino Unido, there you go, Natal always did say it was the last outpost of the British Empire), my NIE and that was pretty much Bob’s your uncle.

The only other pause for thought was my estudios terminados – level, you could say, of education – and on the advice of my helper I chose 43 from the list on the back of the form – i.e. some studies after completing school, or the equivalent of a BA.

Presented, accepted, stamped, copy issued, and waiting only for the knock on the door.

yay

*The NIE,  more than the UK NI, is part tax certificate,  part ID number, essential to prove existence, and comes as pretty much part of the deal when you buy property anyway.  NIE stands for Número de identidad de extranjero and you will be asked for your number constantly, even when accepting a delivery at your door. Passport number is accepted if you are an obvious outsider, but the NIE is preferred.  I know it takes a while to obtain – up to a month – but as mine was sorted by my Spanish lawyer while I was still in the UK I can’t report on the process.

I mentioned we were tackling other forms – the digital signature, which is proving a bit of a mission, and my licence to offer rooms to let as a rural property owner, watch out for future exciting blogs.  So far I have a reference number for my digital signature but must present myself at a suitably authorised authority for verification (closest may be  Motril but may be Granada) after which I will get my confirmed virtual document on their website which I can download and send with every online application for anything.

I also have my temporary CTC reference to advertise my rooms to let, but need to confirm that in full within the month, more bureaucracy, oh joy. I am joyful that as I live in a town of under 20K residents I am considered a rural location and didn’t need to jump through the draconian requirements of letting rooms in a big city, where you have to offer full hotel standard with all the health and safety requirements of same. Yikes!

 

Six months in Spain, and counting

I am not yet fluent in Spanish, in fact haven’t yet started formal lessons. I speak a sort of pidgin Spanish, and sound like a toddler, relying heavily on nouns and the medium of dance. Me want (insert noun here) (eg necesita pintura blanco, I go through gallons of pintura blanco) or pointing at things for sale and asking brightly ‘much?’  (Cuánto?)  I had cards printed with name, address, telephone numbers, that helped, if I want something delivered I ask ¿transportas? then hand over the card and my NIE number. Everything  is driven by the NIE number. It’s the same as the NI number in the UK, but here it proves you exist, while standing right in front of someone doesn’t.

Saying ‘no hablo Espanol’ gets a shrug, saying ‘poco Espanol’ gets sympathetic attention, especially if I then stumble through the phrase I have carefully memorised off Google.  The Spanish are very nice to idiots, especially idiots who are trying. I am very trying.

Small town life has lovely advantages – all the shopkeepers are dedicated to teaching me Spanish, and make me repeat the correct name for something at least 3 times before they hand it over. They all chatter away cheerfully for at least 5 minutes during each purchase, and anyone who enters the shop is included in the conversation. Everyone in town – small children through to the oldest residents – greets each other (and me) in passing, without fail. Hola, or buenos dias, or just a barked ‘dia!’ Some of the children show off to each other by greeting me in English. Most people are a little nervous of my portly Frenchie-bulldog cross, and freeze if she looks their way, but a few greet her, then beam at me if she glances at them. Her manners are disgraceful, she rarely greets anyone.

The bread van comes by every morning bar Sundays at around 10.30, and he will wait a few minutes for me if I don’t come hurrying straight out (my order never changes, two plump bread sticks, 90c, muy bien, gracias.) We sometimes discuss the weather if it has dropped below 18 degrees C (frio! Si!)  My English-and-Spanish-speaking Dutch neighbour has introduced me to a few of my neighbours, and one of them insists on us kissing (mwah, mwah) in delighted greeting every time we see each other, then she chats in Spanish for a few minutes, pats me forgivingly on the cheek for not being able to contribute anything but comments on the weather, (honestly, how British am I?) and bustles on her way.

There are reasons I haven’t started my lessons, I’m still – yes, six months down the line – trying to sort out this enormous rambling shambolic house. I no longer call it the elefante blanco – the more it shares its eccentricities, the more it became obvious that it is the casa excéntrico. The renovations are not quite single-handed, although I have sworn never to have a Spanish-only builder here again: instead the Herculean task is being accomplished painfully slowly with the help of a semi-retired English builder who arrives every day around 11.00, drinks copious quantities of tea and coffee and cola cao (hot chocolate) and finishes around 6.30.  I say with his help – it is of course the other way round, there is an occasional bellow of ‘Biff!’ and I drop what I’m doing (painting walls doors and shutters, or trying to get generations of paint and plaster off floors and skirting boards, usually) and dash off to hold ladders, help carry bulky objects, go to the builders yard to collect stuff, or make what he calls ‘executive decisions’ on matters which have popped up unexpectedly. Things do pop up quite often when one is working on an old house which has had some very odd builders (and inept handymen doing patches) over the decades. He was a friend before the project started and who knows, the friendship may even survive this mammoth task – we do spend a lot of time spluttering with laughter. We also spend a lot of time bickering. It’s companionable.

Another reason I haven’t started studying is that I’m teaching English for several hours a day – I sit at my desk, headphones clamped to my head, and enter a virtual schoolroom somewhere in China, for two or three sessions a day. I’d do more but the 7 hour time difference makes that an impossibility.  It does slow down work on the house since Nick can’t drill, or use the disc cutter on tiles or bricks, or hammer at things, while I’m tutoring, and has to turn instead to plastering and quieter pursuits. There’s luckily no shortage of walls needing plastering.

Squeezing a Spanish lesson into the evenings would be do-able and the Casa Cultura is in easy walking distance, but I’m also trying to finish the last book in the Lawns series before I can no longer remember what daily life was like in Scotland – fifteen years, and yet already it seems a distant dream. I suspect I’m also struggling because it is the last book, and I shall miss them so much.

My social life, thanks to Nick introducing me to his lovely local friends, is probably busier than it was in Scotland. I don’t go out alone locally, as I’m so tired by evening, and usually splattered with paint into the bargain but soon after I moved in last October there was a night filled with regularly-spaced gunshots and distant brass band. The local Saint was out and about, and the gunshots were to alert the town. Oh help, I thought, as my dog tried to burrow through my lap to safety, this is going to be fun if it happens on a regular basis.

In fact not yet repeated. The plaster saint in the enormous church does emerge occasionally and proceed around the town, carried on the shoulders of townspeople swaying in eerie unison, but the guns have stayed quiet.  I caught up with an outing for Easter (Semana Santa) and made a very inept video of proceedings on Good Friday, link at the end of this blog. It was an unexpectedly moving event – this is not for tourists, it is for the town, and has been rooted in tradition for hundreds of years, a combination of mourning and gratitude for dying for our sins.  Easter is very different here – not a hot cross bun in sight, and a small display of chocolate eggs arrived diffidently on the supermarket shelves about a week before Easter.

There are traditional Easter foods, but you are expected to cook them at home.  One of them is torrijas, bread soaked in egg and milk, then fried, which I would have sworn was French toast. I must be mistaken, all Spanish food is unique, and by the way they invented pizza. They say so, and they’d know, after all.  Their pizza dough is sweeter, and less crispy.

Actually, everything is slightly sweeter. A lot of the baking is based on choux pastry (well, whatever it is called here, where it was doubtless invented) and cream. The Christmas cakes are a million miles from heavy dark fruitcake – roscón de reyes, (a crown shape for kings), choux pastry rings filled liberally with cream and (optional) tiny ceramic figures and garnished with candied fruit. Yummy!  Christmas lights in the streets tend to snowy mountains and stars, standing decorations are Nativity scenes, and Santa Claus is conspicuous by his absence – until you look up from street level. For some reason, my neighbours in Velez adore the dangling Santa, clinging for his life to balcony rails. There were 3 in my street alone.  Otherwise, apart from the occasional festive wreath on a door, very low-key – Christmas generally is a family day. The main difference I noticed in the beautifully decorated shops was the peaceful lack of Christmas carols – just the usual music, played at usual decibels. I actually rather liked that. Back in the UK by Christmas Eve even Slade gave me an instant headache.  There are parties and general gift-giving, but they are reserved for the Day of the Kings, the 6th of January, when the Wise Men arrived with the first gifts and the roscon de reyes is brought out for visitors.

Roscon de reyes choux pastry and cream and little ceramic figures

Before then was of course NYE, and I was braced for loud parties, more gunshots, and revelry in the streets – nope. I’d been told to eat a grape for every chime of midnight but there weren’t even local chimes. A few decorous fireworks started a minute or two after midnight, and were over in 15 minutes. Okay, this is a small town, I have no idea what happens elsewhere, but the animals loved it, Hogmanay had always unsettled them.

Moving to Spain in the teeth of Brexit does make the future uncertain, with rumours and counter-rumours flying. There’s a Citizens Advice Bureau for ex-pats on Facebook, and I froze with horror just a few days ago at a warning post about twelve agreed directives coming into effect on Brexit day in March 2019. The CAB said in the preamble that they believed several were discriminatory and they would support anyone who needed help when they fell foul of the rulings. One directive said non-Spanish speakers would have to take an official translator to all official appointments including hospital visits. Another: anyone who hadn’t switched their UK driving licence to a Spanish one by March would have to take a Spanish test. The list was draconian. The 11th said the wearing of swimwear anywhere but on the beach would be punished by law. The 12th said anyone showing signs of sunburn when leaving the beach would be fined . . .  now hang on just one cotton-picking minute.

Only then did I realize the date. April Fool . . . ha bloody ha. Nearly gave me a heart attack!

Regrets? None. Last year when I had my house in Scotland on the market I was close to giving up and thinking I would never sell, and getting tiny odd frissons of panic – I have to be out of Scotland by winter. I couldn’t understand it, but of course now I know why – what a winter I missed.  Ironically, I was probably colder indoors here than I would have been there (unless the central heating had packed up) because the Casa Excéntrico was designed for hot weather, not cold. It isn’t a sunny house. I suspect, as a redhead, I’ll be deeply grateful for that come full summer, when street temperatures will be making me wilt and I’ll be doing my grocery shopping in the cool of the evening at 9 pm, but its dim and shadowy coolness, plus the fact it has been a building site all winter, made it crypt-cold. When I first moved in I designated the room off my study as a storeroom and bought industrial shelving to put my cases and boxes there until the renovations were over. (I will be offering suitcase etc storage to holiday home owners, so it was an investment in future income.)

As the overnight temperatures dropped to single figures (during the day it rarely dipped below a sunny wear-a-jersey 17 degrees) the storeroom abruptly became the designated winter bedroom, a bed wedged in between the shelves, to share heat with the study.  The walls of the house are at least a foot thick, and one radiator did keep both rooms at around 18 degrees. Neither the dog nor the cat could be coaxed out of the winter suite until the sun was on the upstairs patio, then they bolted up there to catch rays until the evening chill drove them back to the heater.

March was wet – the average winter rainfall is 15 inches, but we had 16 inches of rain in the first 3 weeks of March. Not much of it, phew, made it into the house, old as it is, although the hall flooded twice until I learned why my neighbours spread plastic ‘aprons’ across their doors – the step may be 6 inches above street level, but the churning rapids pouring down the street can occasionally exceed that. I learned to stack empty cement and plaster bags either side of the door, weighed down with bricks, when heavy rain was forecast, and kept my feet dry.

Not sure what mañana will bring but there will be tangles with bureaucracy, that’s a given. I came here by campervan and lost track of the months a bit, suddenly realizing its MOT was about to expire. Eek. Straight off to the ITV centre, theoretically to get an ITV voluntaire to sell the van but actually secretly hoping I could go ahead with Spanish registration. Nope. The van sailed through the challenges of the ITV but – shock horror – the logbook doesn’t show the weight. A DVLA clerical error which never stopped it passing over a dozen MOTs over the years, but stopped the matriculation process dead in its tracks. I sold it instead, and waved it sadly off back to the UK. It will be returning at least once a year, but not to this area – the buyer drove 5 hours from Valencia to see it and turned out – small world – to be another former South African.

But back to bureaucracy – I have my NIE to prove I exist but must soon arrange my Padron, registering as a townsperson. My little Toyota IQ will soon have to start the matriculation process, to become a Spanish car.  The best part is that it will get a numberplate showing it as a 2018 car – as the shape hasn’t changed since it was actually manufactured, it will be able to strut the streets looking like a new car. I was advised repeatedly to sell it in the UK and buy a left-hand drive here, but I love the car and didn’t.  Second-hand cars have no value in the UK – I would have been lucky to get a thousand quid for it. Cars don’t rust here, and hold their value for years longer. The same make and model, same age and low mileage, is at least 6000 euros, and I’d have no idea what its history was. Spending up to 1000 euros to matriculate mine seems a good deal to me.

And back again to bureaucracy. Buying the house was dizzyingly quick – from making my offer to sitting in the notary’s office and taking over the Casa Excéntrico took less than two weeks. Six months later, though, it still isn’t registered in my name. The death certificate of one of the seller’s grandparents was lost during the war, when that records office was bombed and burned out. A gentle wrangle has continued at stately pace since October. The seller is spreading her hands – nothing she can do, and the town council accepted that with the last house she sold. My lawyers are insistent – there must be, I think, a sworn affidavit? Whatever. Everyone is assuring me the house is mine in law, the money was handed over in front of the notary, this is purely a formality, and will soon be sorted. Luckily the registration was included in the fixed fee I paid the lawyer so the delay is costing nothing but frayed nerves. It doesn’t help that friends I have made here bought their house 18 years ago and it still hasn’t been registered in their name. Que sera, sera.

That link to the Semana Santa video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHV_VG6f2kU

Feliz dia!

 

 

 

Losing the plot – “to cease to behave in a consistent or rational manner”

Okay sure that’s one meaning and covers a lot of behaviour. Irrational anger, yup, lost the plot. Dithered helplessly instead of following a clear course of action – also lost the plot.

There is the literal meaning. Your plot of land, your home. Losing that, losing everything.

There’s a third meaning for writers, a little more up close and personal, when the characters hang around listlessly and shrug at words thrown hopefully at them instead of charging off joyfully in new directions with the writer scrambling to keep up.

I gave up trying to direct my characters around book four and just followed their lead, admittedly sometimes with my eyes popping.  Now, poke or suggest or wheedle as I may, the final plot simply won’t string together. The quartet know they’re on their last book, about to be made redundant, and you could cut the atmosphere with a blunt axe. Damn it. The series has picked up a small but loyal following waiting with interest to see how the quartet disentangle themselves and work out who done it for the tenth and last time, me as much as anyone, and I’ve given them the plot and will they come to life and play with it? They will not. Not so much lost, in this particular case, as being stonily ignored. I’d give up and try to think up another but I like this one and I surely have some say?

I know, that was whiny.

Funny how one informal phrase can resonate on so many different levels. Well, funny isn’t the mot juste, really. Not laugh out loud funny. Not even funny peculiar. But now I’ve picked the phrase to pieces it no longer even makes sense. I’ve lost the plot.

sigh