I may have mentioned that we live in an area classified as semi desert. The lack of rainfall here is so extreme that many of our trees were close to death when we moved in. The situation has improved a little with the irrigation we have managed this year, but sadly, about a dozen have had to join the big woodpile in the sky. (Actually, the woodpile is at the side of the house, but you know what I mean.)
Very shortly after we last irrigated, at the beginning of December, we had a downpour. It was lovely to see the landscape becoming greener as the dust was washed off the trees. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent we had a leak where the old flat roof joins the main part of the house. The top of the sunshine yellow wall around the window turned a delicate shade of mould and the paint began to bubble ominously.
When we were having all the work done last year, the builders ran a hose on the flat roof and checked carefully for any signs of water coming through. All appeared to be fine. Sadly, a hosepipe for half an hour in summer was not sufficient to show up what would happen with a good winter downpour.
We also found a tiny drip in the bathroom ceiling upstairs, which conveniently dripped into the bath. This was hardly surprising, as we had listened all summer to the local ostrich population clog dancing on the roof. They were bound to have dislodged a tile or two. We made a note to email Jose Manuel and ask him to schedule in repairs, come the spring.
The sun came out again, we continued on our merry way, looking forward to the imminent arrival of Matthew, who comes to spend Christmas with us each year.
The day he arrived, it rained. This was not the hearty downpour of the beginning of the month: this was a deluge of epic proportions, worthy of the whole Charlton Heston, Cecil B DeMille treatment. We lit the fire with difficulty as the wood was wet and hunkered down for the evening. The drumming of the rain on the roof and the ground outside was a loud reminder of what was going on out there.
It was not long before I went to make a cup of tea and noticed that there was a steady trickle of water running down the yellow kitchen wall. More ominously, there were small puddles of water on the table in a line that followed the join of the roof to the building. I arranged a few pots and pans on the table and stood the mop where the trickle from the wall met the floor.
‘Ho hum,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is not good.’
Before long, the extent of how not good things were became apparent. A stream of water started pouring down the back wall of the fireplace and making its way across the sitting room floor. The seal around the flue leaked a steady flow onto the top of the log burner, from whence the water splashed and sizzled its way onto the floor.
We left Matthew on mop wielding duties and went to check upstairs. The leak over the bath was a steady drizzle. We congratulated ourselves on just how jammy we were to have a leak in that exact spot.
Matthew’s bathroom also had a small leak, but that was easy to catch with an old towel spread on the floor. His bedroom had an even smaller leak, easily caught by another towel.
At some point, we discovered that water was flowing across the floor of the box room. This was worrying, as there are numerous banana boxes of treasure in there, waiting for the day when we sort through the old school books and certificates, diaries, correspondence and so forth.
Remember how I mentioned the curious egg receives the vagaries of life as from a benevolent hand? By some miracle, the water was leaking through the roof in the corner, inches away from one pile of boxes, making its way under the raised bed without making any of the bedding wet and dripping onto the floor in a corner where nothing was stored. We put a plastic crate in this corner, happy that periodic emptying would be more than sufficient.
All this water must have affected my subconscious. I went into the downstairs bathroom to do as my poor bladder suggested. There was a wet sheen on the floor of the guest bedroom, or The Barn, as it is more properly known, on account of its previous function. I assumed this was water coming in under the threshold of the outside door, but on closer inspection, it seemed to be coming from the other end of the room. Specifically, it seemed to be coming through the wall. As I walked over to look, what was a damp sheen rapidly deepened, and I was soon standing in half an inch of water.
Fortunately, the boxes of Christmas decorations were no longer under the bed. (The water that did come under the threshold earlier in the month had ruined their bottoms, so we just decorated a bit early and threw the soggy cardboard away. Ill winds, silver linings and all that good stuff!)
We were running out of mops. Matthew and I fashioned a rather glorious spout from kitchen foil and diverted the water from the top of the log burner into a large bucket. This was filling at an alarming rate, but with mops stuffed either side of the fire it was a good temporary fix. I reflected yet again on how glad I was we had tiled floors, rather than carpet!
Geoff called next door, to ask if they had buckets and mops we could borrow. Lesley and Dave arrived with armfuls of mops and a few buckets. The cavalry had arrived.
It soon became clear that even with four people mopping non-stop, we could not keep up with the water that was literally pouring in through the wall. By the time we had taken the few steps to empty the mop bucket down the toilet, the floor was filling up again. Being built on a hillside, the wall of the barn is underground to about shoulder height. Either the water was soaking down from the surface, or it was running along the bedrock, which is at floor level. Or both.
We debated trying to divert the water out of the door, but the threshold is an inch or so higher than the room, so that was not feasible. The rain was not letting up at all, so we discussed the possibility of doing shifts mopping up throughout the night. One thing was certain: if we did not manage the water pouring in somehow, it would soon flood into the kitchen and the rest of the ground floor.
We discussed chiseling out a tile and hoping the water would soak away. It was unlikely to work and we hated the idea of ruining the floor. Meanwhile, the sitting room continued to need mopping, the dogs wondered what on earth was going on, the rain continued to pound down all around and we were becoming very tired. I tiptoed between the drips in the kitchen and made us all a cuppa. We were in full-on blitz mode.
‘What if we drilled a hole through the wall into the courtyard? There’s a drain there that would take the water out to the acequia at the back.’
It seemed a bit drastic, and on any other wall it would have been a major undertaking to get through the two foot thick stone. Fortunately, we knew the wall to the courtyard was only one brick thick. Before the renovations, you could see daylight through it in places and there were a few bricks completely missing.
The men folk set to moving the bed and locating the lowest spot in the floor. I took the opportunity to finish my cup of tea and reassure the canines that the world only looked as if it had gone mad.
‘Come and see!’ Geoff was bobbing about in a thrilled and excited fashion, so I followed him out to the kitchen door. A few inches up the wall of the courtyard we had a brand new water feature. It was far easier to see just how quickly the water was leaking into the barn. It really looked as if someone had left a tap on. Fortunately, the drain was functioning perfectly, so we could finally relax.
We thanked Dave and Lesley for their fabulous efforts and cheerful encouragement and waved them off back to their warm and waterproof house next door.
Poor Matthew had been up very early and traveling for much of the day before this had all started, but he was philosophical about it.
‘At least I was here to help,’ he said, ‘and it’s better than being bored.”
The fire was still hissing and sizzling and the fireplace wall was still running with water, but we decided to empty the bucket, wring out the mops and set things up to look after themselves for the night.
As we climbed into bed we agreed how fortunate we were that none of the leaks were over the beds and how grateful the trees would be for a good watering. It would be interesting to see how the river at the bottom of the land looked in the morning.