Some weeks are more eventful than others, even when you have left the rat race and are living a peaceful life in rural Andalucia.
This week has been quite a blur. We have seen the departure of Rosemary, the arrival of guests, multiple break-outs from Camp Chicken, soaring temperatures, Poppy and Minnow’s first trip to the new house, and our first chicken dunking, among other things.
Teddy has outgrown Minnow and learned to shake hands. He has also started sleeping in his huge new crate, and hesitantly half-creeping, half-falling down stairs.
The veg patch has undergone a transformation. The house has been partially re-rendered and the ironing pile has asked for a referendum on the subject of independence.
We have received an offer on our lovely townhouse in Canillas, after nearly four years on the market, and heard that we finally have a tenant for the flat in the UK.
With all this going on, it has been easy to lose track of what is happening with the new house. Having completed the purchase at the end of March, we were becoming a little concerned that time was slipping by, and we still did not have the go ahead for any of the building work.
It is a complex process. Because there has been so much illegal building in the area, it is crucial to make sure that any property you fancy buying has all the right paperwork. Fortunately, our house is known to predate all the new planning legislation. This means nobody is going to insist on demolishing it, but there are still legal and bureaucratic hurdles to negotiate.
We listened in amazement as the various steps were conveyed to us by the dynamic Ramon, via our lovely interpreter.
We must not under any circumstances do any work on the building without the proper permission. Fines and imprisonment for transgressing are not out of the question.
In order to get permission, we need to have a modern Fosa Septica, or septic tank installed.
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the immediate problem. But this is Spain. Chicken and egg dilemmas are commonplace, and circular arguments seem to be a favourite bureaucratic pastime.
Ramon said he was going to bring a technical architect along to inspect the property. He arrived with a very attractive young lady in sprayed on jeans and immaculate make-up. She measured and drew and took photographs of everything, and flirted cheerfully with Ramon as they held opposite ends of her tape measure and chatted between themselves in rapid, and I suspected deliberately unintelligible, Spanish.
Apparently, the way to get around the problem we had is to have a certificate of antiquity drawn up. The plan was that the architect would draw up detailed plans of the house, which would then be useful for updating and registering the title deeds, and somehow in the process, the Ayuntamiento would issue some paperwork, which would demand that we have a septic tank installed within a month. Armed with this paperwork, we could proceed with the installation, and once it was completed, the architect would add some sort of codicil to her paperwork, that would then become the lynchpin for our building permission application. Simple, eh?
Meanwhile, the water company came to inspect the water meter, to see whether they would transfer the water account into our name. Ramon announced that the cover for the meter had to be changed, or they would not allow us the transfer. It was a fairly simple matter to go to the ferreteria and buy a cover that was up to the current requirement, but we were baffled as to what was wrong with the existing cover.
After a hiatus of a couple of weeks, everything fell into place for a trip to the house yesterday. We bundled the three dogs into the car, drove the fifty kilometres and offloaded them all into the barn.
A quick trip to the town hall later, we had a wodge of papers to wave at anyone who demands to know what we are doing installing a septic tank. We also had instructions from Ramon that the new meter cover must be fitted pronto, or the water company would cut the water off, and we might have trouble getting them to reconnect it.
We returned to the house and released the dogs, who had clearly thought we had abandoned them for ever. They leaped about deliriously sniffing and woofing at all the new sights and smells. Teddy managed to fall into one of the asequias – irrigation water channels – and was unable to climb out again. Fortunately, there was no water in it. The land has become very overgrown with tall grass and wild flowers that have dried out, leaving spikey, stingey, barbed skeletons. Poppy and Minnow were happy to charge about exploring, but poor Teddy was overwhelmed by the jungle and the burrs that stuck all over his thick fluffy coat.
The meter cover was set in the wall of the barn. It looked exactly the same as the one on our town house, and perfectly functional. The new one was slightly larger, but the casing around the meter was a fixed size, so it really did seem a very odd requirement.
The wall of the barn is a jumble of bits of stone, mud, and fragments of brick, held together by fresh air and inertia. At some point, somebody has added a concrete door frame, and concreted a small section at the bottom corner of the meter cover. This concrete was clearly left over from the construction of a nuclear bunker, and chiselling into it proved almost impossible.
The temperature was well up in the thirties, as Geoff struggled to enlarge the hole enough for the new cover, but not enough to have the whole barn collapse. During the process, it became apparent that one of the pipes adjoining the meter is so rusty that it will probably fall apart very soon, but it seems the water company are not worried about that at all. We decided not to worry about it either. Once the new door was cajoled and cemented into place, we sent a message to Ramon that the work had been done. We can deal with the burst pipe when it happens!
The builder arrived, and announced that the Fosa Septica cannot go where we had planned. Apparently the ground there is solid rock, and it would be far too close to the house. It will have to go where I was going to create my lovely ornamental kitchen garden. I was gutted. Not only will it be there, but it has to be concreted in, so we cannot grow anything over the top of it.
“Weren’t you saying that you wouldn’t be allowed to make a concrete base for your new hen house?” asked Lesley, our next-door neighbour. I could have kissed her. In one question, she had turned a disappointment into a glorious opportunity.
Mental images of a magnificent Loire Valley Chateau chicken palace folly danced through my mind. Gracefully shuttered windows allowing easy access to nest boxes, turrets with roosting perches, gilt framed portraits of historic chickens on the walls, a formal knot garden of herbs and vegetables with fountains and chicken statues … I could see it all.
Having agreed the new plan for the Fosa Septica and done a few other bits and bobs around the place, we set off home in time to put the chickens to bed. We fed the dogs and ourselves, I spent a happy hour or two removing burrs and snags from Teddy’s coat, and then we all turned in for the night.
I was going to elaborate upon the chicken dunking, especially as I have been out chicken dunking by torchlight tonight, but that will have to wait for another time.