After a quiet Christmas in our new home 2021 has begun with a daily swim in the new pool as my New Year’s resolution. December and January were difficult in terms of weather as we struggled to keep warm in what is, essentially, a ‘summer house’, but suddenly the temperatures have begun to rise and it seems that winter is behind us and the daily dip is now quite pleasurable. It was certainly a real struggle during the icy periods but the water is now up to 11 degrees Celsius and my body and mind are better prepared each time I head to the pool.
Inevitably, with the onset of an early spring, thoughts have turned towards the garden so we have started the process of preparing the beds and early sowing. We sacrificed a lot of produce last year as we had to vacate the house for renovation works during the summer but I’m hopeful that this year will be even more productive. There’s such a long season of good weather so I’ll be interested to see how well we can manage the planting and harvesting. The good news is that the chickens have started laying regularly so we have a healthy supply of eggs each day. Lizzy has become a chicken whisperer and spends a lot of time with them and loves to collect the eggs. Even the two cats are fascinated by them and it’s a common sight to see them all together in the garden. The chickens have been allowed to free range throughout the garden and they have done a great job of keeping down the weeds and preparing the soil with their scratching and feeding. However, now that sowing has begun I cannot allow them to roam freely. They have ample space in their enclosure but I have also made them a mobile ‘chicken tractor’ into which they can go each day to continue the weed and soil work in whichever area requires it.
Just in case you might think that we have finally reached a period of harmonious living, with nothing to worry about but seeds and chickens, I can assure you that daily challenges continue to interrupt our tranquil lifestyle. You may remember the ongoing, and expensive, problems last year with the troublesome Fiat Doblo. Well sure enough, after daily trips along the bumpy roads that lead to our house, more strange noises could be heard from the front of the car. As it always seems to be the case these noises were intermittent, but certainly warranted attention, so I took it to a local garage (a different one to the one that caused me so much stress last year). The helpful garage owner climbed into the driver’s seat and we took the car around the block with the noise barely audible on this occasion. He also raised it on the ramp and had a look underneath, and could see the newly replaced parts, with nothing to cause concern on first inspection. He asked me to bring it back the following day so that he could have a better look but on the way home I managed to hit a pothole in the road and the noise immediately disappeared! Naively I presumed that whatever had been causing the noise had been freed by the impact and we carried on using the car as normal, although I did go back to the garage on the next day to let him know out of courtesy.
Several weeks later it was time for the annual ITV (MOT equivalent) so I decided it would be sensible to ask the garage to conduct a pre ITV check beforehand. After an hour or so the garage phoned me and asked me to call in. The owner obviously couldn’t remember me from the previous visit as he asked me “haven’t you heard noises from the front of the car?” I tried to explain what had happened before but I’m not convinced he understood or remembered. He took me to the front nearside of the car and showed me something clearly broken under the wheel arch and it appears that the impact of hitting the pothole had broken a shock absorber in half! So the noises would have been the sounds of it straining prior to completely coming apart. Another hefty bill ensued, with two new shock absorbers and four new tyres required.
The next step was to take the car for the ITV test. I know that this process sends shudders down the spine of many non Spanish residents and last year I paid for the garage to take the car on my behalf as I couldn’t face doing it myself. This year it was time for me to ‘man up’ and get the job done, safe in the knowledge that the pre ITV checks had been completed. The process here is completely different to that of the U.K. In Spain you can’t take the car to your local or favoured garage that is authorised to carry out these tests, it has to be a centralised testing centre that everybody uses. I have driven past our nearest one and seen row upon row of cars and lorries queuing to get in and take their turn. The process is that you drive into your allocated bay and remain in the car while the tester barks orders at you from in front, behind or below.
I booked and paid for a test online and committed myself to the experience. Thankfully, when I arrived at 8.45 am it was fairly quiet, unlike the previous occasions I had driven past, and after handing over the relevant paperwork I was directed towards a bay. I introduced myself to the young man who was going to carry out the test and thankfully he seemed in good spirits and agreed to speak slowly (which of course he didn’t!). Everything went fairly well with the only nervous moment being while he was in the inspection pit beneath the car. He called out some indecipherable words but I understood ‘adelante’ in amongst them, which I understood to mean ‘forwards’. I hesitated. Part of me was doubting myself and I started thinking maybe it means ‘backwards’. No, that’s ‘detras’ so I was convincing myself that I had heard correctly, but I still didn’t feel comfortable driving the car forwards while he was beneath it. What if he said ‘don’t drive forwards’, or what if I move as he’s climbing out of the pit, or run over his hand? After he had repeated the same thing three times I edged slowly forwards and was hugely relieved when I didn’t hear any shouts or screams! The good news is that the car passed the test so we can now hope for a year of trouble free motoring.
Alas the same cannot be said for the motorbike! This has been stored at the house of some very kind Spanish friends who live nearby while the house and pool work was being done. Unfortunately when I went to collect it there was a problem and it began spilling fuel from a rubber hose every time I tried to start it. Neither my friend, in the yard of whom the bike was being stored, or I, had enough mechanical knowledge to get the bike running, so it was up to me to try and find a solution. What had been proposed as a favour for a few weeks had already turned into a few months, given the protracted renovation works at our house, so I was acutely aware of the bike overstaying its welcome. I have another neighbour with a motorbike so I asked him if he had a mechanic that he could recommend and he suggested a friend of his, who, after some careful persuasion, agreed to come and take a look at my bike. The three of us spent an afternoon in my friend’s yard trying to get the bike going, with the mechanic removing the fuel tank and stripping down parts of the carburettors, but after a few hours we were unsuccessful. Obviously I had several concerns. Firstly, the bike was going to have to stay even longer at my friend’s house. Secondly, I needed to recompense my neighbour and the mechanic for their time and effort. Thirdly, how was this ever going to get resolved. The mechanic (who spoke perfect English) refused any offer of beer or money, which I find incredible as I’ve never met the man before, and he lives half an hour away – but he will be rewarded when my bike is on the road again. My neighbour, who introduced the mechanic, was rewarded in beer, and he kindly made a call to the local Yamaha garage explaining the situation to them. He told me that they have a van and could come and take the bike to their garage. All of this was taking place over Christmas and New Year so time was being lost because of the holidays, and I was becoming frustrated by the Yamaha garage making excuses and promising next week, next week, without ever agreeing a date. Eventually, however, I took a call and the Yamaha man said he would meet me at my friend’s house that day. With great excitement and some trepidation I met Alberto outside and observed his van. The yard is on quite a slope, so I was slightly nervous about manhandling the substantial weight of my motorbike into the back of a van, and I wasn’t convinced that the two of us would manage it. I needn’t have worried. My friends were at work so I had been given instructions to open the front door to the house to retrieve the remote control unit which would open the main gates allowing the recovery van to enter from the road, but when I tried the key in the front door it didn’t fit. My heart sank like a stone. I had been given the keys months ago, to allow access to their yard and look after their chickens while they were away, but had never had cause to enter the house. It was now suddenly apparent that the main gates could not be opened. There was no other way to open the gates or retrieve the remote control. After a brief and awkward period of scratching heads and embarrassed looks Alberto the Yamaha man took himself off again and disappeared back to the city, probably vowing never to deal with this English fool again.
Two days later I received a voicemail from him telling me that he had been involved in an accident on his own motorbike, and that his leg was in plaster, so he would be unable to help me for some time. You couldn’t make it up. Meanwhile, the bike remains at my friend’s house, overstaying its welcome, while I’m quietly relieved that I don’t have two hefty garage bills to pay at the same time.
Whilst the Fiat and motorbike were both off the road I decided to hire a car from Valencia airport. I knew it would only be for a few days so I investigated the prices as the school run would still need to be done whilst our car was at the garage. The quote for four days was less than €3……! It’s true, and although I thought it must have been a mistake, it was correct. At those prices I researched prices for a longer period and settled for a two week hire for €12! Even though there were hidden charges the total cost was less than €35 so that made things a little easier for us.
I guess those prices are a direct result of the Covid travel restrictions, so that was one small blessing during these strange times. Here’s hoping that everybody is staying safe and sane at home, wherever that may be.