Sunday, May 23, 2010

Health and safety - Spanish style or a law suit just waiting to happen

Adios mulberry trees

Our urban obstacle course
For a long time I've known it's safe to assume that because Spain hasn't yet been hit by the American craze of suing over everything and anything, authorities here are rather more relaxed over health and safety issues than in other countries. Take the little urban obstacle course that has materialised outside our office for example.

Until recently, our street was a pretty tree-lined affair. Leafy and shady in the hot summer months, clear and light in the winter. Regularly spaced street lamps lit it at night, rubbish bins hugged each corner and all was well until ... the town hall ripped up the mulberry trees. Local residents had complained that each year the berries created such a juicy, sticky, mess that they wanted the trees removed. With local elections just around the corner - next year - the mayor was happy to oblige. The offending mulberry trees were uprooted and were, we were told, transplanted to another corner of the municipality where they could drop berries to their hearts' content.

We heard that other 'cleaner' trees, probably oranges, were going to replace them. But the weeks have rolled by and the only thing that has materialised is a series of holes in the pavement covered up by cones (at best), big wooden pallets or loose paving stones (at worst) which blend in with the pavement and disguise the danger.

To add to this, on Friday, council maintenance staff started removing the street lights, saying they were broken - which was strange as they worked just fine. In their place, they left holes surrounded by large, protruding nuts and bolts sticking out of the pavement - and as a warning - a yellow plastic bag stuffed in the hole.

Since then we've not got much work done as we sit, biting our nails, enthralled with the suspense of watching passers-by - gossiping mothers, small running children, doddery old men, spaced-out teenagers and intent businessmen - walk unknowingly into our urban minefield. Will they, won't they....

So, because the town hall coffers are empty and the mayor isn't a bad chap (for a politician that is) and I needed to get back to work, I sent an email to a friend at his office on Friday - saying I am tempted to accidentally trip over one of the obstacles that the council has so readily provided me with and sue the town hall for a substantial amount or wait, camera ready, to get a photo and front page exclusive for the local papers when some poor soul has an unexpected head-on encounter with the ground and rearranges their nose.

The reply came back - He was very fond of me and couldn't bear to think of me hurting myself - so the better option was to wait for the world exclusive....PS - They'll address the problem on Monday.

Here's hoping nothing happens over the weekend because I'll miss my scoop.

Weather today: It's very early and hazy but the forecast promises another beautiful crystal-clear spring day. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, cooler in the shade. High 26ºC/79ºF, low 14ºC/57ºF. Easterly breeze 13 km/h. Pressure 1015mb and stable. Relative humidity 63%. UV Index 9.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Discovering Tenthredo scrophulariae … and other fun activities

Is it a bird? Is it a frog? No, it's a Tenthredo scrophulariae (name just rolls off the tongue, right?)

Rain stops play

EEKS, Day Eight already and I don’t seem to have crossed off much on my To-Do-List. Or maybe I’ve done more than I think. I’ve finished reading a book, done my tax declaration, painted the inside of the garage, lots of gardening when rain hasn’t stopped play, gossiped in the village, had a siesta after lunch a couple of afternoons and cooked (willingly) something tasty every mealtime. Trouble is my list was impossibly long to start with. Still, I’ve a few more days to go before it’s back to the grindstone.

Interestingly, it has taken until today to start to truly unwind and enjoy myself. Enjoy a slower pace, one that gives me time to appreciate everything so much more. It’s a good feeling and I’m wondering how I can slow my usual hamster-wheeling lifestyle once I’m back at work. I shall work on that.

In the meantime I’ve been having fun in the garden. I came across some rather fancy caterpillars during a weeding session the other day, so of course I took a photo to add to my collection of bugs I’ve met in the great outdoors. I spared them and their habitat, romantically imagining the three of them turning into beautiful butterflies. However, research on the internet told me they are Tenthredo scrophulariae, or meat-eating wasp-like insects. Blurgh. No doubt they’re important in nature’s chain but it sure shattered my illusions. Still, if I come across them again I shall let them be (I’m already in deep karma trouble for having squished a legion of snails this week without meaning to and a baby preying mantis, completely intentionally - didn't want to meet up again when it was an adult).

Weather has been strange for this part of the world over the last few days. So changeable. Much more like English weather – showers one minute, sun the next, overcast, then another shower. I like it, although it has made my gardening efforts more sporadic than I had hoped for. Still, things are coming along but I can’t see me starting on painting the garden walls, wrought iron or even the house, any time soon.

Busy weekend coming up, with the Hockey Star playing in several matches and the Artist participating in a macro cultural event which will take us into the early hours of Sunday. I’m thinking of going along to do a massage and yoga workshop tomorrow but it’s at a huge yoga convention and no doubt there will be people oh, so, naturally wrapping their ankles around their necks, and I can’t even sit cross-legged without a limb going into spasms…

Weather today: Cloudy with sunny intervals or was that sunny with cloudy intervals. Lovely and warm in the sunshine, chilly in the shade. High 19ºC/66ºF, low 11ºC/52ºF. Southeast breeze 12 km/h. Pressure 982 mb and stable. Relative humidity 45%. UV Index 7. Snow level: above 1,600 metres.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Holidays are progressing but progress is slowing

The señor who plastered my garage walls must have been a Christmas cake decorator

DAY TWO - Holidays are progressing but progress is slowing.

Friday or Day Two is spent resolving domestic problems such as microwave which also decides to take a holiday and dies while zapping my morning coffee. They’ll need 10 days to diagnose the problem. Ten days! It’s not heart surgery. No señora, the repairman says calmly but we have a lot of work on. Luckily Mini Mama comes with me to help lug microwave into the shop while I double park.

Mini Mama’s laptop charger breaks. Fifty euros lighter and an hour later we resolve this problem.

On to the highlight of the morning – a visit to Leroy Merlin, your friendly DIY superstore. I find the excitement overwhelming as I clutch my big plastic bag weighed down with the broken loo seat, strange light bulbs that need replacing, garden hose pipe connection thingamajig and a list of must-have hooks for my gleaming garage and hover at the store entrance. My excitement is topped by the alarm I set off as I walk in. The security lady and I dig out contents of handbag including tampax and other embarrassing items on show to the world. Also take out contents of plastic bag including rusty toilet seat. Ten minutes later and with nothing to hide I'm let loose. As I stride purposely, list in hand, into the nuts and bolts aisle I feel strangely masculine.

We have mixed luck (they’re out of loo seats ‘til next week) but manage to get the rest. I’m worn out after lunch. Must be a side effect from Day One. So much so I can’t face a strenuous afternoon up a ladder but at the same time can’t wait to hang something in the garage – anything – it doesn’t matter what. I need to feel I’m progressing. Want to hang the shovel hook so shovel’s not resting on the floor, but can’t find a flat piece of wall. Garage walls are like Mum’s 60s Christmas cakes when she used to whip up a snowy storm of icing so ferocious the peaks would reach the plastic Santa’s thighs. So move shovel hook down to small flat piece of wall. Mistake. Shovel still rests on floor but now won’t fall over. Give up for the rest of the day, and being Friday afternoon I take myself off to our weekly girls’ Cava Club before The Artist arrives for the weekend to find me alcoholically euphoric yet again.

Operation Garage

Tom oversees Operation Garage

AT LAST I’m taking a break from work. Two weeks without going to the office, just pottering around enjoying the house, the garden and the wonderful spring weather. Bliss. I’ve made a list so long - gardening, painting walls, reading, writing, cooking, swimming at the gym, watching telly, chatting to friends, catching up with village gossip in the local shops, tax declaration, err, renegotiating the mortgage – that I’ve become stressed just thinking about it. I think I’m trying to get a life’s retirement plan into two weeks.

Day One dawns in glorious sunshine – so garden wins and once I’ve donned my grubby gear (ancient sequined top - but then you just never know who might pop in) I go off in the direction of the garage to get my tools. Getting in through the garage door, past all the things that have been dumped there for the last six months, takes two hours. Well, ok, five minutes. But the scale of the problem is evident. So garden abandoned and garage becomes the day’s project. The freedom of being able to change my mind at a minute's notice from my given plan is not lost on me.

For 18 years I’ve been meaning to paint the garage interior. And so I do – more than anything because to achieve any other chores this week I need to get inside and by painting it I get to move the junk for free. Two jobs done for the price of one you might say.

I’m wary of entering into the depths of the leaking structure I grandly call garage (it started life as the builders’ shed when the house was built 30 years ago and I’m not even sure it has foundations) because it’s deepest, darkest bugsville.

But I’m lucky. No snakes, mice or preying mantis materialise. Just whole families of geckos and hundreds of snails leaving wobbly shiny trails over every surface. I’m sure if I stand still long enough they’ll cover me too. I rescue the ones I see, airlifting them to safety outside in the garden and apologise profusely to the ones I tread on with a sickening crunch.

I take an executive decision and decide that quality control is not coming to inspect the job so I paint around the piles of old tiles and bricks, saved forever for that one just-in-case day. No one will know except me.

By eight o’clock that night I can't move past my congratulatory beer. It takes all my will power to get into the shower I'm so stiff and sore. I weigh myself in anticipation of having lost at least three kilos in one day - but scales say I weigh just the same. Not calorie-burning stuff is DIY but definitely satisfying. Garage interior now gleaming white with strong chemical smell which I hope will keep bugs at bay. Tomorrow I must hit the DIY store for hooks, pegs and all manner of gizmos to hang things on wall.