Blazing Loos, Gilded Fossils and When Did You Last See Your Trousers?


Which is to say that I have been, indeed, still am, on holiday and will be so for another week to come. The last of the visitors have departed in a deluge of rain which has prevented me from washing the bedding and we are on our own, eating the leftovers and chewing over the lessons learned from giving the house a trial run under real life conditions.

We swapped our house in France for this one and although I spent some time here last year, it was not long enough – nor extensive enough – to see how the house would stand up to visitors, so the descent of the tribes was designed not only to have the pleasure of seeing friends and family again but also to see how the systems coped with seemingly non stop use of swimming pool, showers, baths, washing machines and loos and the effects of same on the electricity bill.

Our journey had not been uneventful.
Leo had booked a seat in the exit aisle of the ‘plane and was informed by a stewardess that he was in charge of the door. In the event of the pilot calling ‘evacuate’ three times he was to seize the handle and pull it sharply upwards, at which point, she said, the door would fly off entirely.
He spent the flight wondering why suicide bombers bother to carry bombs in their underpants if all you have to do is book a seat in the exit aisle and pull the handle to have the entire contents of the ‘plane sucked into oblivion.
And if that is all it takes, in the interests of security might it not be better for airline staff to keep such knowledge to themselves?
All through the flight he kept eyeing that door….

Still, we arrived unharmed in Barcelona and took the shuttle train to the Sants station to book our ticket.
The clerk fancied himself as a comedian when dealing with foreigners and managed, first, to bugger up electronic payment, then to issue only one ticket and finally, as I discovered when queueing to go down the escalators to the platform in the overheated bowels of the station, when finally issuing two tickets had given us seats in different carriages.
Leo had been tiring….it had been a long flight…thanks to the clerk we had only ten minutes to catch the last feasible train….but the discovery was like lighting the blue touch paper.
With a terse, explicit and unflattering description of the clerk he was off like a harrier to the ticket office, the queue parting like the Red Sea, to obtain redress.
The lady clerk – perhaps used to her colleague’s little ways – made no demur and issued new seats immediately so we caught the train for the two hour journey south.

As the gentleman who looks after the house told us on arrival, there had been a violent thunderstorm and the electricity was down in the village and surrounding areas….but as we drove through the pass, lights suddenly came on in the dark countryside below….all was well.
We made a cup of tea and went to bed.

Pottering the next day, there was another violent thunderstorm which drove us indoors and when it cleared we heard a helicopter overhead…backwards and forwards between the village and the pine clad hillside above our house. There had been a lightning strike, a blaze, and the fire brigade were into action immediately, scooping water from the communal swimming pool and dumping it on the fire….
Might be an idea to get insurance…..

The day after that the first visitors arrived….and the water gave out. A bucket chain was set up between house and pool to get water to flush loos, and the men went into conclave. Pipes were traced, blue plastic reservoirs were found, fuses were flicked on and off – and water reappeared.
Only to give out again.
The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted.
The next visitors to arrive were warned to bring wipes.
A plumber could not be found until after the weekend.
The gentleman who looks after the house gave it more thought and remembered that the water board had been at work recently alongside the property.
He hunted around and found that not only had the water board changed the position of the water meter but that they had also turned it off.
They had, it seemed, thought it best as the house was empty.
He had saved us a fortune in plumbers.

Water restored, we relaxed again, apart from rescuing visitors who had become lost in the maze of rooms, stairs and corridors.
One wandering soul found wailing in the third kitchen was given the watchword ‘turn right at the dresser’ to find the stairs to her room and could be heard in the evening repeating it to herself as she turned the corner that cut her off from the rest of the house.
Tables and chairs were set out on the terrace, in the courtyard and by the pool. Mussels were consumed in quantity. Wine descended gullets. More mussels were consumed.
We went to bed at peace with the world.

I was woken by a cry of horror. I ran to the loo where Leo was standing, his hand on the cistern.

‘It’s hot!’

I put my hand on the cistern. It was indeed hot. Very hot, and filling with more hot water from the immersion heater.
Scots blood turned to ice. Flemish blood was not far behind it.
Not only metered water, but heated metered water had been flushed down the loo.

‘Quickly! We have to try them all before anyone flushes anything!’

Visitors could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a police raid as their doors were flung open, the lights went on and Leo galloped to inspect the cisterns. Those with hot water were turned off at the tap and, inspection over, we all foregathered in the kitchen in various states of night attire to drink tea and discuss the problem.
Tea drunk, biscuits eaten, someone remembered that there was some ham in the fridge to make sandwiches and the committee decided that the best thing would be to switch off the electricity to the immersion heaters which seemed to be supplying the loos and drew up a rota for morning showers so as not to waste the water already heated.

The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted the next day…and reluctantly said that we would have to have a plumber…and possibly an electrician….
Good job he saved us all that money when the water gave out!

Disasters apart, life went on.
The fossil expert discovered fossils of coral on the steps to the courtyard and, rooting in a cupboard, came up with something like a giant snail, painted gold.
It was a fossil, a large fossil, and is gradually being scrubbed free of paint to take its place under the almond tree in the entrance.

We went to the local mushroom fair where we bought shoes, honey and a truffle…

We went to the seaside…..

We went to see our lawyer……

We visited small villages, roamed on roads made from crushed limestone covered rapidly with an asphalt carpet which led up into forbidding mountains, bumped on rocky tracks to visit remote chapels…

We had a great time, exploring…

Visitors came and left, with shifts in the shopping…red wine took over from white, pork from mussels…and then it was time for me to go to visit my mother in Southampton.

She had a list of things which needed attention, so it was an intensive shopping session – thank the Almighty for John Lewis and the helpful staff – and we sat up talking into the evening, with a consequent late start to the morning.

Up before mother I had been making tea and offered to bring her a cup. She was sitting by the window in her dressing gown, the curtains drawn across.
I made to draw them back but she stopped me.

‘No! Leave them alone!

‘But it’s dark like this…’

‘Doesn’t matter! I’m in my dressing gown and you can see this window from the vicarage!’

Given that there is a belt of trees between the two and that only by hanging out of mother’s window at risk of your life could you see the vicarage back door I felt that mother was exaggerating, but she was adamant.

‘But the vicar has other things to do than to lurk at his back door to see you in your dressing gown!’

‘That’s as may be, but leave those curtains alone!
I’ve never taken to him…he doesn’t visit like the last vicar…
And he’s into vestments…I suppose he’d be happier in Rome but with all those children he’s had to stick to the C of E….’

Remembering the previous incumbent whom I had always considered to be the C of E’s version of Ian Paisley, while being a loving, caring man, assiduous in visiting his parishioners, I began to wonder what social revolution had taken place in the parish.

Mother had the answer.
‘Of course, we old people are dying off and you’ve got the new types…found religion to get their children into church schools and they want value for money….plenty of show and no substance!’

Clothes bought, a new television ordered, I leave at 1.00 a.m. for the coach to Gatwick….and return to the house to find that I can find nothing: neither in the kitchen nor in the rest of the house.
Desperate for a shower and some lighter clothes I look in vain for my old pair of corsair pants which I had left in the machine for the next routine wash….

Nowhere to be seen.

Enquiries are promulgated…one person remembers hanging them out…another remembers seeing them in the laundry pile…no one knows where they are now….

I shall have to rename them my Scarlet Pimpernel pants:
They seek them here, they seek them there….

And until they are found I can’t get up to weed the terraces…


48 thoughts on “Blazing Loos, Gilded Fossils and When Did You Last See Your Trousers?”

  1. I quite like your mother, as I also enjoy being old and opinionated. I think, weeds aside, you are rather enjoying the adventures of your house trade.

  2. The mind boggles. How is it even possible to have hot water piped to the cisterns? I am glad to hear the wine was in good supply and, apparently, so was your sense of humor. And now I know it is true that the rain is Spain, etc.

    1. Some of the things I have found in this house demonstrate the eternal optimism of the person installing them…..
      You can’t but be good humoured with the bunch who visited…they all muck in, they all like to talk…and the blazing loos is another story to be added to the collective memory.

  3. I’ve missed you! This vacation seems to be going on for an eternity….selfish of me, I know….and I notice a disturbing trend in your life, Helen. Water in one form or another and in one country or another is a constant source of trouble. My mother, by the way, would behave exactly the same in regards to the vicar. Small comfort.

  4. The patio gate, bench, and tile are really nice. I love that look. Next to the door on the plane with the “evacuate” reminder, nothing to set the pace for stress reduction while on vacation. And then nothing like the loo pooping out, pardon the pun. Good thing the vino was flowing. A fun post, Helen.

  5. Why was Leo under the impression he would be asked to open the emergency exit whilst the plane was in flight? The flight crew are obliged to check that people understand the deal if they want to sit in the exit row. Simon is tall — we sit in the exit row as often as possible so I’ve had the blurb.

    Adapting to the new house sounds fun though. No matter how well prepared you are new houses always have surprises. I take it the gilded fossil is a magnificent ammonite now being carefully restored?

    1. He wasn’t. It just occurred to him that it was one way to destroy a plane.

      I’m not sure what the fossil is…it stands some six inches high, and is coiled in a snail shape…the paint is slowly coming off though.
      The house is fun to explore it is true…a maze of stairs, rooms and unexpected niches…and more loos than i was happy to count at that hour of the morning.

    1. The house itself is great fun being two houses on differing levels…..the professionalism of the installations leaves much to be desired, so enter stage left electricians and plumbers….

      The area is fascinating….occupied by Berbers, then part of the area conquered by El Cid, retaken by the Moors and then under the jurisdiction of the Spanish military orders (similar to Templars)…a Carlist stronghold in the nineteenth century, fought over in the Civil War…and I wonder if my father passed by here after the battle at Teruel…

      Small villages with magnificent churches, medieval walls and castles, isolated pilgrimage chapels…..and the sea less than an hour away in a different world.

    1. I’m missing the animals…Danilo gives regular updates, but it’s not the same thing. This year we had a lot to do in terms of seeing lawyers as well as testing out the house, but it has been too long to be away and next year we will just come for a couple of weeks.
      I’ve been busy – it seems – from morning to night, so it’s nice to relax a bit when there are just the two of us in the place and all we have to worry about is eating our way through the supplies left in the fridge.

  6. You’re obviously having a marvellous, if somewhat surreal, holiday in a wonderful place, Helen. 🙂 Where did you find the gentleman who looks after your house? He sounds a real treasure.

    PS This is my fourth attempt to comment on this post (last night and today) The others have simply vanished into the ether, so I’m trying this time using my WP account. Let’s see if this works…

    1. I too am having trouble…but put it down to the local internet service…though for 3 euros a month I should not be grumbling!

      It has been lovely to meet up with family and friends….and super that they all get on with each other, though at one moment I thought I should regret not having brought hammocks to sling such was the crush.
      Still, all systems have been tested to destruction, it is clear what is needed by way of utensils and i have a shopping list as long as my arm.

      The gentleman who looks after the house is not only efficient, but kind and thoughtful….after the goon who supposedly looked after the house in France I cannot believe my luck!

      The local village has all the shops necessary for daily life; the area is fascinating,..and yes, despite the loos, I have been having a very good time indeed.

  7. Why can I never have adventures like yours? A fiasco every step of the way. Hordes of people to see to, husband developing terrorist tendencies, not to mention mother having perfected same during a long life.

    Now if those cisterns had been connected to the wine lake . . . . .

    1. I think we all have fiascos…but I report mine!
      A cousin did suggest using wine, given the price….and a French friend tells me that rather than creating wine lakes the EU is now paying vignerons to turn their wine into vinegar….I know a few who’ve been doing that for years!

  8. I always love reading your posts, Helen! Oh my, your mother and mine would be great friends if ever they had a chance to meet. Mine is here with me at our cottage right now, and there have been several rather interesting moments. I’m trying to figure out how hot water could possibly get into a toilet. The plumbing and water heating system must be very different in Spain than it is in Canada. Good luck locating your trousers!

    1. I can just imagine the meeting of the mothers! A good place to be tiptoeing away from….

      The author of the plumbing was not – as far as I know – Spanish, but a Spanish plumber will be coming to sort it out!

      I found the trousers today, neatly folded in with the towels…..

  9. Welcome back! Always a good story, Helen. But then whatever would you have to write about if all these things didn’t happen? Yes, I’m sure you will have missed all the animals as they will have surely missed you. All the best to you all!

    1. I shall be very glad to be back with the animals…we won’t come away for so long in future.
      I have to admit that hot water in the loos was a possibility that had never occurred to me…..

  10. marvelous, marvelous, marvelous… have been missing your entries and this one more than makes up for the waiting… welcome back and you’ll notice I didn’t say ‘home’ as it would seem you have several. Glad you are here.

  11. I would have been so disappointed if your European stay had been boring. It sounds like a wonderful crazy time was had by all. I trust you are now enjoying the peace and quiet of a mellow Spanish autumn before heading home.
    Don’t forget….next year, bloggers must congregate close to a spot a couple of hours south of Barcelona.
    We’re plotting our Homeward journey now…just 3 weeks more to go in France, but in that time we are managing a quick couple of Spanish nights in Girona. Safe travels Helen. x

    1. Boredom banished when with the Belgians! We are enjoying winding down, though, walking through the tracks among the olives in the mornings and – whisper it not in Gath – lighting the wood stove in the evenings! I don’t think it is really chilly…but we are now so used to Costa Rican temperatures…

      By some coincidence, this house is some three hours’ south of Barcelona….two by train and forty minutes from the station…..all depends, for me, on how Leo is, though as he’s survived the chock of the loos he must be better than he was!

      Safe trip to you too….

  12. You mentioned not being able to comment on blogs. I also have the same problem…it comes and goes. Also some blogs, including yours, are no appearing in my newsfeed so I have to search for them.

    Having found this, your latest post, and having read it, I’m feeling quite exhausted. Where do you get your energy? Send some for me please! The house in Spain sounds just perfect, in spite of the problems, which I’m sure will be ironed out in time. xxx

    1. And I always think it is me….then come to my senses and realise it is yet another glitch….I am sure the technicians think they are earning their corn by making changes, but each one seems to be worse.

      I haven’t been able to access Blogger direct since leaving home…Google thinks I’ve stolen my own laptop…..

      The problems with the house will be sorted in a couple of months – there are a lot of safety elements – lighting on staircases and smoke alarms, grabrails and railings – that need attention too; moving the boiler….and a list as long as my arm of ‘making good’ jobs. A pity Mr. A isn’t available!

      Energy? The travelling is beginning to crease me! The trip to Southampton was exhausting in terms of getting to and from airports and the unearthly hours involved….and next week we leave for Costa Rica….

  13. Goodness, that sounds like quite an obstacle race, dealing with the mad ticket clerk, dealing with your guests, plus contending with cut-off water, heated toilet cisterns and blazing pines. Glad you and your guests managed to stagger through it all and still enjoy themselves!

    Funny how paranoid some people are about their supposedly prying neighbours. As you say, it sounds unlikely that the vicar paid the slightest attention to your mother’s window….

    1. The visitors are a great bunch…impossible not to enjoy yourself when they are around.
      I did find the trip to England tiring, though…unsociable hours not helping.

      As for mother I’d hesitate to peer into her windows myself!

  14. How I’ve missed you!
    I rarely watch TV but when this umpteen part TV series ‘The Venomous Bead at Home’ comes on the screen I will be watching!

    1. I am shocked! I never imagined that you would watch X rated material!

      I have not been able to access Blogger at all since leaving home as Google thinks I have stolen my own laptop…so I’m looking forward to catching up with your non complaining blog as soon as I get back.

      Still grumpy about the referendum result…

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