Category Archives: Property

ONE YEAR’S HARD LABOUR

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The ‘one year on’ post is eight months old.  It’s time-consuming, this farming, bricklaying, rural living stuff, especially when funded by a life of other work and my real deep need to sit around with a glass of wine and a book. These then are vintage pictures of a still nowhere near finished restoration job circa June 2015. Yes, friends, I do now have a toilet, and the black felt curtains of spiderwebs are mostly down, but there is much to do and much that could be done, just not by me.
The other reason for putting it off is that I failed to find anything that conveyed the sweat, tears, hours, injury, blasphemy, fear, doubt, self-satisfaction and poverty the work entailed.
Looking at these in the same way that I look at the wall or the ceiling or the wiring or the fencing or the garage which could be a bedroom or the ‘kitchen’ which could be a kitchen has me hyperventilating and scrawling illegible To Do lists on the back of bills and receipts. Sometimes I stand in the bathroom, fashioned out of a derelict shed stuffed full of partridges, and all I think is that the shower glass needs cleaning (which of course it does).

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Restoring a Farm: The Befores

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I moved into a semi-derelict farmhouse a year ago and there has seldom been a day since when I haven’t wondered why. I haven’t wondered why oh why; I just think about it. Years ago, one idea had risen above the others and this was to was to seek out a small home with land and live a healthier, less stressed, more balanced life. I have a home with land and a different kind of stress. It is a farm, but I had paid little if any attention to that during the acquiring it process; the words farmer and farming had not crossed my mind. So, imagine my surprise. On a more superficial level I hadn’t realised my hands would turn into broad calloused bats and that I would never be able to wear wedding and engagement rings again. Or that my life would shift shape to include dead rodents and birds and live snakes and dirt and thorns and hired labour bills to be paid in instalments.
House cleaning took two months – hosing, disinfecting and clearing the floors of rubble with a shovel while dressed in overalls, rubber boots, rubber gloves, cap and face mask. For a further two months the bathroom, fashioned from a partridge shed, had no doors or floor or windows or bath or shower. A year on, I still have no kitchen, at least I have a room I refer to as a kitchen but nothing to cook on inside it, other than a pile of wood on the floor of the hearth.
Over time, things have emerged out of the brown – the kitchen’s flagstone floors, the old mahogany wood of the double doors, foundations (not under the house but beside it) and problems, for example pipes which led somewhere, pipes that led nowhere, nesting swallows, nesting sparrows, leaky flues. I have learnt useful things: the standard height of doors, the standard height of shower heads, shower taps, sinks; the standard width of irrigation pipes, the standard dimensions of timber and the standard width of glass for different uses; that there are standards. I have learnt how to mix concrete for a variety of specific purposes; the various merits of decalcification units; the power output of well pumps; the sand to concrete ratio of grout; the comparative merits of aluminium and iron; the three basic stages of plastering; how to lay traditional tiles; brick-laying and the vocabulary in English and Spanish for all the tools and hardware associated with the above.

Restoration Period

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Now the builders Paco & Ivan the joker are helping on the house, things are moving at a cracking pace. Indeed, I have discovered it’s best not to say, ‘maybe we could have a window here . . . ‘, and then drive into the village to get supplies, although the floor to ceiling window on the second floor is dramatic. The pipes have been laid in the bathroom (I think) and I have found a bath, or rather a bath that isn’t being used as a trough in a field. Windows and doors can not be fitted  until I provide them and I can’t begin to get them until I know what size they need to be; Paco and Ivan, twirling their mallets, insist they can be any size. Any size that can fit in or on a Peugeot 206. I redouble my efforts to find a suitable them in the classified ads after seeing paw marks in the mud of the house, and a snake sunning itself beside the newly installed toilet. I opted for a chandelier for morale and have now put the first 8 coats of paint and plaster over some of the old walls. White obviously – the local hardware store sells crimson, sapphire, buttercup yellow and orange paint, sells every shade in between, but people only ever buy white.

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Housework

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The farm is one of five carved out for the sons of a local landowner a hundred or so years ago. No-one remembers what its name is, or when it was last lived in, although it has most recently been used for storing partridges, and as an easy-come, easy-go roost for swallows and house martins (and much more). The long barn with its elaborate tiled floor was used for hay; and the great fireplace played its bit in the annual matanza – or pig killing, the highlight of the farming year.
At least the walls and roof are sound, and it has plenty of water in its own well. There are many decaying Andalucian farmhouses and cortijos in the fields around here, and they’ll never be replaced. Growing olives and raising goats keeps things ticking over, but don’t cover the cost of major structural repairs. Some people stay put and let the place crumble around them; more – as happened here, many decades ago – retreat to the nearest village, get the benefit of heating and a social life, and use the old farmhouse for storing tractors, camping out in the summer, or cooking lunch (as demonstrated above by Fernando’s cousin, Fernando, who I found rustling up a revuelto of eggs and the wild thistle).
I don’t want to change its thick-walled central core as much as clean it, add a bathroom, turn the second floor grain store into a bedroom, rewire. The kitchen is basic. There are a lot of complicated decisions ahead, but right now the priority is mucking out so I can move in at the end of the month. So it is that my days are spent editing and evenings until the light fades, in a mask and rubber gloves removing dark webs as thick as tweed, carrying buckets of water from the outdoor tap, and scrubbing walls and floors with fizzing Salfumant agua fuerte. I find an old red tiled floor underneath the packed mud. Once it’s too dark to see the walls, I reward myself with a wash and glass of manzanilla at the bar. It’s a kind of living.

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Keys to the Farm

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I bought a farm in Cádiz, and celebrated at the local venta with €1 wines, beer, and a plate of jamón. We’re all exhausted; they’ve got farms to get back to, and I’m the lucky owner of a lot of olive trees, and a renovation project that should take 10 years to complete. I don’t know anything about renovation, but it can’t be that hard . . .

Tense Negotiations

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The farm was 40% over the absolute maximum budget pencilled in for a perfect property requiring zero work but, as Manolo said, what was the harm in meeting the owners again, so negotiations were scheduled. I told everyone I loved the place, thought the price was very reasonable, agreed there was a lot of land, commiserated with the three brothers for having to sell, took a picture of some yellow flowers, and then went off to look for the puppy.

More people were milling about than I’d imagined, most of them owners of a sort, and the animals were distracting. The darker donkey got my notes which I’d left on the car seat between its teeth. The sound of trailing exhaust pipes and chassis being dragged over rocks indicated more people were arriving to join in the discussion – or various discussions. Everyone brought dogs. As it got dark we moved inside and nine people talked at once over the barking, and birds (I think they were birds) crossed back and forth.

The conversation had finally shifted from asparagus to business. I felt at a disadvantage having a very small amount of money and no relatives on my team. Not wanting to lose, I felt certain I really wanted the farm. Yes . . . a ramshackle, ancient place with no kitchen, mains electricity or water . . . Oh I’d die without it. I shot my hand up. What about staggered payments spread over a year, a vastly reduced price but still higher than wise and a deal whereby the builder brothers of the selling team would repair the collapsing road bridge and turn a lean-to currently full of partridges into a bathroom straightaway? It was a yes. We agreed a moving in date (May 2nd), and all kissed each other as I wondered exactly what I’d done there.

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