Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Lies and disrespect ...

Excuse me while the smoke fumes from my ears, but I almost cannot believe the telephone conversation I had this afternoon. Was talking to Jack on Sunday, who said their passports only took days to arrive, so I decided to check with my bank to see if the amount had been charged to my card. It had, on the 18th.

That being 10 days yesterday, I planned to phone the British Consulate in Madrid to chase it up, except they beat me to it and phoned me yesterday, when I was told that, "We've been trying to deliver it, but you weren't in."

Did I detect an undertone of accusation, like I was causing a problem by being away from home? I'm certain, but I chose to grit my teeth and believe I'd imagined it. Anyway, they'd obviously tried to deliver the passport on Friday, while I was out (this, I do believe was essential), catching 4 busses to buy a regulator. (Which, by the way, I was promised by the town hall that they would be fitting today too, but they didn't turn up either, but I digress ...)

Probably, if you don't actually tell people when you're coming, likely as not people won't be in. People who go out to work certainly won't be at home, will they? The consulate then said that the courier couldn't find me and they wanted "the rest of" the address. There isn't any more.

No, it doesn't have a number.

This is no surprise: nobody can find me, because I'm way out in the sticks, just past the end of the world and make a right (seriously, well almost.)

The only way anyone can find me and I've gone through this ritual with every delivery or workman, etc., for 9 years, is if they get fairly close, phone me and, then I give them instructions, ask them what kind of vehicle they are driving and tell them that I will go down to the main road to wait for them and that they should look out for a 50 year old mad woman flagging down passing cars!

They said they would try again today, Tuesday and, I've been here, all of it.

Something after 4 p.m. (when I'd virtually given up on them and had mentally noted to call the consulate to chase it up again tomorrow morning), I get a call from some youf who says, in a tone that was clearly bored and unconcerned, that they have this thing from the British Consulate to bring me. They weren't that eloquent and they were speaking Spanish, but in essence.

They say they are in Buenavista del Norte. I point out to them that the address is in El Palmar (a valley, with a village of the same name), which is about 3 km above Buenavista. They tell me to wait outside because they are on their way and, before I can give them any more instructions, they hang up on me.

There would be no point going outside without giving them further instructions, finding out what kind of vehicle I'm looking for, telling them what landmarks and person they should look for, etc. The house phone doesn't work outside, down at the main road, strangely. So, all I could do was wait indoors on the off chance that they would get up here, realize they need to know more and ring again. Actually, I didn't have to wait long. Less than a minute actually, when the phone rang again. They had not had time to get far and certainly NOT 3 km or more up a mountain road with successive hairpin bends from Buenavista to El Palmar. Of course, they couldn't find me, mostly because they were nowhere near here. I kept asking them where they were, what could they see around them, etc., and explained that I needed to know so I could tell them in which direction to go. They avoided answering those questions and made out puzzlement or indignation, like there was no logical reason for me to ask.

Obviously, because answering would mean admitting that they knew they weren't even trying. I couldn't hear an engine, or wind to suggest they were moving either. On the off chance that they were actually hurtling up the road by private jet, I had to go through the motions, tell them what landmarks to look for. As soon as I mentioned those landmarks, they immediately claimed, oh yes they passed them way back and could not find the house. Well they wouldn't, even if they'd been close, because the house is not near and is above the main road, which is why I have to go down to meet everyone ...

But it was absolutely impossible that they had been this far up, let alone further. Now they said they were on their way back down again. Giving up. No can deliver today. Not enough time / too difficult.

When I challenged them, saying that I knew (you know, I live here) they had not had time between the two phone calls to have travelled 3 km or got anywhere near this valley, let alone the right village, of course, they insisted they had. Just out and out barefaced lies.

In fact, the only thing this unprofessional courier seemed to be interested in was that, as they kept repeating, they had to be in Santa Cruz by 5 p.m. (To "clock off" presumably?)

Well, it would take an awful lot longer than the 40 minutes they had remaining at the end of this discussion to get back to the capital, so would another 10 minutes (or so) to do their job, really have hurt?

Oh no, they said they didn't have 10 minutes, they would try again tomorrow (how hard?) (good job I don't have to go to work!) and hung up on me.

Think of the wasted fuel, coming back across the island again tomorrow.

And I'm so afraid of the passport "going missing" the more it traipses back and forth across the island, especially in the hands of someone like this.

It makes you want to tear your hair out, doesn't it?

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Short lived results ...

Friday marked the three week "anniversary" of having the house flooded out as a result of a serious surge in water pressure that managed to break; the toilet in two places, the pipe bringing water to the bidet, the tap to the kitchen sink, the water heater and buggered up a nearly-new washing machine.

And, whilst I can't deny that we have had some progress, things are still far from liveable. I'm still waiting for the water heater to be fixed. If it can be.

Fortunately, or not, we're having a heatwave, so I was able to withstand a shower in the slightly sun-warmed "cold" water today. This facility is only available in the mid-afternoon and only on excessively hot days (which is not many up here) and, which may not always be when one needs it most!

The washing machine that was fixed yesterday, wouldn't work today.

And, we still have the outstanding matter of the pressure regulator.

After discovering another new leak on Tuesday, the council's plumbers - to give them their due - drove up here within minutes. Guilty conscience, maybe? :) They tightened up the nut that was causing that new small escape and restored the pressure again. It seems that the plumbers, who'd been to change the tap in the kitchen had turned this down. I think they must have thought that the regulating nut was the turning off nut and turned the wrong one.

Flanders and Swann had a song about events like this, didn't they?

The council water people still say all this is not their fault and that the water pressure does not go up and down like a whore's drawers, but I know what I heard and felt as well as what other experts have said.

Anyway ... I also asked the council plumbers again about the regulator that they tell me is supposed to be fitted to stop things being damaged by the ups and downs of pressure (that they say don't happen.)

And the upshot is that it's not a great amount of money, so I decided not to wait for the landlady to get round to it. All this might have been prevented for want of a less than 20 quid regulator? Oh the council will fit it free and it's obligatory that you have one, but you have to go out to the hardware shop to buy it yourself. Can anyone see the logic in this system?

Why can't the council order them? Surely, they would get bulk rates and be able to make a little for the municipal coffers? I will never understand.

Anyway, to be certain, I even got the plumbers to write me out a note with what I needed to buy written on it, a "regulador de pression de media pulgada" (a half inch pressure regulator). I gave that note to the woman in the hardware shop and what do I get? Some sort of valve that has nothing to do with it.

In fact, I made the bus journey down to Buenavista specially on Tuesday afternoon, after a wash in 2 inches of bearly luke warm water, which I certainly didn't appreciate. The plumbers came up straight away on Wednesday to fit it, after I rang the town hall to say I'd got it. At least I'd had the forethought to get that written down, so they know it wasn't my fault it was wrong. Then, surprise, surprise, after all this time, they show me the regulator that's installed - yes you heard that right. There is a regulator installed already, it's just that it's several years old and "probably doesn't work any more," they say! Right. Really?

Is there a test to prove / refute this claim, maybe? Does anyone tell you that regulators are obligatory, or that when you've got one, they need to be replaced on a regular basis (because of regular damage?) Nah, my guess is that councils deliberately leave you to guess about it, so that when they send you unregulated pressure that buggers everything in your house, they can say it's your fault: you hadn't installed / changed / got the right model of regulator / maintained your stuff / whatever else they dream up.

If you want a tip, it isn't going to be "install a regulator" or "change your regulator regularly", my advice is just know that whatever you do right, the council plumbers' jobsworth description manual already has an excuse to contradict you. Live with it. Their fuck ups will cost YOU money.

Tenants shouldn't have to do this: it is the landlords' responsibility. But we all know how responsible landlords are. Their obligations seem to end after holding their hands out, no matter what your contract / the law says. They truly do think that we are being unreasonable to expect the things that are listed in the contract and that we are paying for to actually work.

Meanwhile, I hadn't been able to get out to exchange this damn regulator, because I'd still been waiting for another plumber to give me a second opinion on the water heater and for a washing machine technician to call. Both of those turned up on Thursday. After the engineer promised by my household assistance insurance just failed to materialise and the store I bought the machine from only last October tried to wash their hands of any responsibility too, I decided to call an engineer I'd used some years ago for my old machine.

They appear not to be available any more, however, to cut yet another long story short, whomever answered that number gave me another number to call that turned out to be some sort of call center and a decidedly rare oasis of efficiency in Tenerife's desert of bunglers. The man on the phone made me get the make and model; no vagaries here. Normally, a "Well, it's a washing machine, init?" would suffice perfectly. In fact, usually, when you try to give people "essential information" they don't want it and brush it aside as irrelevant. Sometimes handy, generally infuriating. What it seems I got were the official technicians from Santa Cruz, from the manufacturers of the machine.

They bearly got in the door, turned the tap and clicked the button, when the guy asked, somewhat rhetorically, "There's been a lot of pressure through here, hasn't there?" Well, yes I happen to think so and so I recounted the story (as short as I could make it) of all the breakages, etc., and the town hall's insistence that the pressure doesn't go up and down. They laughed.

They also advise me that the town hall is supposed to be using an apparatus to measure the water pressure at around 4 to 4.5 kilos. Are you kidding? I haven't even seen those three stooges do anything as remotely technical as licking a finger and sticking it in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing!

You just wait until next time they come up and I ask them to measure me 4 to 4.5 kilos please. They'll think I mean "of spuds!"

Anyway, the washing machine technicians confirmed what I'd thought all along; that an airlock was what was causing the machine not to fill. They checked the filter, which I had put back in correctly, despite what the shop insisted was the problem. They asked me if I'd like them to change the valve just in case, as this may have been damaged by the high pressure. I said why not. And they still put the whole thing down as under guarantee (gratis).

As soon as they left, I did three wash loads that had been accumulating.

However, they did tell me to turn the water off to the machine, for the moment, until the regulator is fixed, when I'm not using it. Because it's on the same mains tap as the water heater, which is leaking, it has to be turned off anyway. But, every time the water is turned off to the washing machine, when the water is turned back on again, there's an airlock, the machine makes horrid noises and won't suck the water in. They showed me what to do to clear the problem, but it means pulling out the machine, disconnecting the pipe, letting out any air, reconnecting it. And I simply don't have the strength and can't manage it. So, once again, I have no washing machine.

I also asked the washing machine technicians about the crazy shit the town hall plumber was spouting about only ever feeding a washing machine from a tank on the roof and never from the water supply direct from the street and, as I knew they would, they also confirmed that this too was a whole load of bullshit.

Today, I also happened to talk to a man who lives in the village, further down the valley, and he was recounting his woes of the up and down water pressure. His daughter lives up here, close to where I do and he says she's having all the same problems as me: as soon as she fixes one thing, something else breaks. She's installing new regulators and meters almost monthly after the pressure surges (that the town hall deny exist) just screw them. He tells me they've done all sorts of fiddles to reduce the effects, but they can't get a water heater to work at all, because if they reduce the pressure enough to not break everything, the water heater won't light up. Exactly the same problem I have.

Nevertheless, Thursday, another plumber came to look at the water heater.

After the plumbers from the insurance company had said that the water heater can't be repaired and needs to be replaced (however pointless), I decided to ask the landlady to send her plumber up to look at it. For two reasons: one, he's a right Barry Bucknell bodger, so if anyone can find a way to bodge, I mean fix, it, it's probably him. Secondly, if anyone is going to tell the landlady that it can't be repaired and it's going to cost her 250 euros, let it be her own plumber.

Anyway, he has taken away the make and model number and is going to try to order a membrane to fit that he says is what has been damaged by high pressure (that same high pressure the council says is a figment of my imagination) and, if he can get it (we don't know what year), he'll fix it.

Oh, for the last three weeks, the water heater would work, not that well, once one went outside and turned the water on. Today, it simply does not work.

In the meantime, I wait, I wash in cold water or mostly not at all? Again.

And this plumber tells me now that he had told the (mean and nasty) landlady that the previous water heater that did not work at all and left me without hot water (mostly) for 4 years was not going to work at all up here. So she knew it would not work, still insisted it did, that I was just "making it up", just because she is too mean. Well, I knew that already, but he just proved it.

And her "faithful" plumber tells me that his "day job" is working for Los Silos council, so he says, he knows "all the excuses". Yes, I'll bet he does!

He also confirms he knows I'm right about the pressure and the cause too.

And now I know, categorically, that so does the landlady.

Finally, Friday was the first chance I could get away to go to the shop to change the wrong valve for the regulator that I'd asked for in the first place. Only you know it wasn't going to be THAT simple, don't you? Absolutely.

The hardware store in Buenavista just gave me my money back, because, it turns out, she doesn't carry what I need in stock. So, after a journey requiring no less than 4 busses, I had to go to Los Silos and back to get one. When I got back into Buenavista, I walked back into town again, went to the town hall, sought out the girl who does the water and showed her what I'd got. She got a colleague to confirm that it looks right and she rang the plumbers. They will be coming up again on Tuesday. And, by then we'll be well into the 4th week of this bloody fiasco and I still don't know when (or if) the water heater will be fixed and there's no point getting anyone back to look at the washing machine again until that is done ... I'm so far beyond the end of my tether, it's just not funny!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

May contain nuts ...


Más Sano (more healthy / healthier) proclaims the packet of sin sal (salt free) nuts with a pretty picture of a red heart on it. But, beware, there's still danger lurking therein to catch the unsuspecting consumer unawares.

For nestling amongst hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, walnuts - shelled and ready to eat - were a few pistachios with shells still on.

Exactly what kind of sadistic nut packs nuts in shells in amongst shelled nuts?

What the heart surgeon loses in revenue, the dentist will gain, me thinks!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Another leak ...

The company who sold me the washing machine don't want to help, which is what I expected. It should be under guarantee and, the cause isn't proven - don't forget the Town Hall say they aren't responsible and that the pressure did not go up and down - but they say they'll charge for a technician.

The bloke in the shop says I haven't put the filter back in properly.

Well, I've had it out and back several times and I can't see another way of doing it, besides, it had gone in OK previous times when I'd had it out for cleaning. Looks like I'll have to call a technician myself to check it over.

Am I surprised? Nope. Ah, but I can't call a technician until I have money to pay one. I can't get money unless I go down to Buenavista on the bus. I can't go to Buenavista on the bus until I can have a shower ...

Then, this morning I was just double-checking again that the meter is not counting any water (that I'm not using) and found that the pipe, this side of the meter, down in the barranco, is dripping. I'm trying to get hold of those horrible council people now and, obviously, I'll have to switch the water off again ...

That's it: I really can't cope any more.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Locked out ...

There's never anything bloody simple, is there? Updates on the domestic situation. In a nutshell:
  • The toilet is fixed, for now. I don't want to sound negative, but it's an old cistern that's had small repairs. They aren't going to last forever.
  • The water pressure is crap and insufficient for the water heater again.
  • Plumbers inspected the leaking water heater and say it cannot be repaired and will need to be replaced anyway (chance of landlord doing this, considerably lower than extracting milk from a bull), so once again, I am without hot water, cannot have a shower, cannot wash my hair ...
  • The tap in the kitchen had to be replaced, but as the old style sink is so old, small and, frankly like everything else here, crap, the best fitting tap they could get is in the wrong place for the sink and the right place to drench me in cold water. No this will NOT substitute for the shower!
  • And, I'm still without a washing machine. Since nobody has come (as was promised) to look at the machine itself, I'll have to try under the guarantee or get my own repairer (if it can be and because of the water heater problem, the water supply has to be turned off to it anyway.)

Yeah, if I weren't living this nightmare, I'd think it was a comedy sketch too!

There's a lot more to all this, of course and, over the weekend, I was going to write updates on various of the things that had happened during the week, however, I had to turn my attention to other matters instead ...

When Google first offered Gmail, I (foolishly) accepted the email address they suggested, a rather "obvious" one word prefix that every spammer and his dog sends spam to, because it was that easy to guess the alias would exist.

The price for being such an "early adopter": The email address may well have been almost as exclusive as having a personal registration plate, but it was on a par with a chocolate teapot in terms of being "water tight" to abuse!

In addition to that, there are at least two other people who appear to think that the email address is theirs, which has also meant a constant barrage of things they have signed up for, belong to, requests for access and passwords ...

Well, it's simply become unmanageable now. Even setting it so that all mail addressed to that particular address is deleted (that, incidentally, I have NEVER used myself - the only mail I get there that I want is being forwarded), except ONE source I wish to get through only, still leaves me with hundreds of emails in the spam box and a much larger number in the trash each day.

Consequently, finding the odd "false positive" or fishing something out of the trash that might have gone there accidentally, was no longer possible - unless one had all day to do this. In half an hour there'll be 40-50 more spams!

Then, yesterday, for the second time recently, I started getting a barrage of bounced emails, because someone is sending email using my address. That someone is obviously forging this (do I need to underline the fact that the IP address of the "offender" and the fact that the emails are NOT being sent via my actual account interface will prove this to Google, or anyone else), but obviously, as it is my email address being used, I'm getting the flack.

As I also need to separate some aspects of my online presence (related to some plans for the future that I wont go into now), I decided that the only way I was going to be able to cure all these problems would be to get a new Gmail account (there do not seem to be any "laws" against this and, indeed Google offer instructions for using multiple accounts), then close or abandon the old one. So I chose a longer and more obtuse prefix (again, is NOT going to be used or advertised outside), in the hope it will be less easy for the spam robots to guess and, therefore, attract less Directory Harvest Attack spam.

For a while, maybe.

As far as I could see, the only place where there could be a problem would be with Adsense, but I was not even thinking about attempting to sign up again (as that's forbidden), but intended that I would write to Google to see if it's possible to change the login / email address associated with my Adsense account.

A Yahoo account had the same trouble, getting bombarded with spam, only because I'd been deliberately using that publicly as the email address to sign up for stuff, for several years (specifically to protect the underlying addresses and that one lasted longer than I expected), so I chose to get a new one of those too while I was about it, to associate with Flickr accounts, etc.

Of course, if I say that I can switch in and out of Yahoo IDs without triggering some online terrorist filter, Google might say that Yahoo's security is lacking.

Google also makes me fill out not one, but two CAPTCHAS just to be able to search most weekends. This might mean that all Spanish spammers use my ISP on Saturdays and Sundays. Part-time spammers? Anything's possible - they're probably in school Mon-Fri. It might just be that there is more online traffic in Spain at the weekend and their filters are way too pedantic ...

Then I began the tedious process of swapping things over, setting up the new accounts, etc. Well, I get half way through the tasks and what happens?

With no warning or explanation, I found that I was locked out of BOTH Google accounts, BOTH Gmail accounts. Couldn't access Blogger accounts, nothing.

No error was served, the logins simply did not log in.

Try to reset it ... ... and I was told to follow the instructions in the email that had been forwarded to (one of the email accounts I couldn't access) or wait FIVE DAYS. Fortunately, I've managed to clear this problem once, but only by clearing out all logins, history, cookies, etc. And as far as I'm concerned, what I'm doing is valid and necessary, but Google has, no doubt, seen my efforts to solve this problem as being something excessive or suspicious account activity.

You never know when it's going to happen again or if the same fix will work and, I still have to transfer the old emails to the new account (following Google's instructions, but I've stopped expecting things to work as they should.)

In the meantime, until the switch is complete, if you were expecting an email or anything at all from me, you probably shouldn't bank on getting it! :)

Friday, 18 April 2008

Breakfast: What’s left to eat?

Baby Bear and His PorridgeContinuing the series, there's a dim hope in the back of my mind that, if you follow my rambling logic, perhaps it'll give you ideas, confirm ones you already had, or help you make healthy choices. If not, sit back and be entertained!

What choices have we got left for breakfast then? There's always the wholemeal bread, which could be spread with sugar free jam / marmalade (jelly for the US viewer), but without low fat spread (in place of margarine / butter) that's only allowed "Sometimes" it seems like a pretty uninspiring choice.

It could be bad enough to make Paddington Bear eat Marmite!

Fruit would be OK (with a fat free yoghurt maybe.) But I came to the same conclusion as Goldilocks and the Geezer, that cholesterol hoovering porridge would be the best bet. I'll bet it wouldn't suit a discerning bear, but I already make porridge with water only (two of sand water, one of cement oats, in the microwave). That is, it still tastes like "papier maché or wallpaper paste", but seems NO WORSE with water than with skimmed (of flavor) milk.

There's another righteous saving in fat, money and calories.

I'll replace the itty-bitty sprinkle of sugar that I add to take the edge off the nasty paste taste with a substitute, once this bag runs out.

What Kind of Breakfast Are You?

You Are Cereal: "Playful and lighthearted, breakfast is likely your favorite meal of the day. (In fact, you're probably the type who sneaks cereal as a midnight snack.) Your culinary skills are probably a bit lacking and you're a sucker for junk food. Some people accuse you of eating like a kid, but you prefer to think of yourself as low maintenance." What Kind of Breakfast Are You?

Best way to start the dayHere's what you can't have for breakfast; a nice gooey slice of Spanish tortilla, nor wonderful pastries favored by Danes, nor a greasy fried breakfast, nor eggs, nor any of those thousands of packaged cereal brands (except maybe some muesli.)

Well, you can't have anything nice, basically! Try this tour around the world of breakfast, starting in Belgium, or typical breakfasts by world regions for more ideas of what is and isn't a healthy way to start your day. Baby Bear and His Porridge

Passport to insanity

Amongst the various things that are driving me absolutely round the bend at the moment, I've also recently had to renew my passport. Well, the application should be in Madrid, though I'm still waiting, with breath baited and crossed everything, for it to arrive.

Geez, I know you can't go round giving British passports away to just anybody (though I would counter that those who want one for nefarious reasons will know their way around this ridiculous obstacle course that us honest folk have to negotiate), but the process is getting seriously stupid and it's becoming less about security and more about money extraction.

Now, first off there is the cost, an astonishing €185 (£148) (plus postage, which is extra to the Canaries, of course.) This, "... includes a special fee charged by consulates in case the holder becomes a distressed British subject."

Since you have to pay them back anyway if you ever need help, this effectively means they get paid twice and earn interest on the "advance fee scam."

Trying to renew a bloody passport creates distressed British subjects!

First, to take full advantage of the services I'm about to pay so dearly for (since I can't not have a passport, this money had already been put aside), I rang the British Consulate in Santa Cruz to ask them to tell me where to find a suitable or approved photographer in Tenerife, so that I could get a photo done to the new excessively pedantic standards (PDF) and, hopefully, not have mine refused and sent back (at even more additional cost) as happened to a friend recently. The consulate could only list two photographers on the entire island; one in Playa de Las Americas and the other in Tenerife's capital that they know are up to the task. I decided to visit the latter, Foto Yumar in the C/ La Rosa, 21, in Santa Cruz (near the old Corte Ingles store by the Plaza de Principe).

Other photographers, in other towns, advertising that they do passport photos are either telling porkies, referring to OLD British passport photo requirements, or to passports for countries that are less fussy than the UK (that's most of them.) The only other country in the world, this pedantic, is Canada, I was told. To give them their due, the consulate here is very helpful and the nice lady did also explain to me what bus number I need and where to get off (the bus).

The journey to Santa Cruz is a 2 1/2 - 3 hour bus ride, each way, with 3 bus changes, already. And it was raining when I got to Santa Cruz, so there was no alternative but to get a taxi for the last leg, or be drowned. The whole "day trip", with photo, taxi, food, etc., ended up costing me 35 euros, plus the cost of the buses that were covered by my Bono ticket, on top of the passport fees. Since this was not some casual drop in situation, I thought I'd give Foto Yumar a call (922 289 466) first to check and get their opening times.

These already have the details of how to do British Passport photos, according to the Consulate and I certainly hoped that was right. Hoped merely, because, after explaining that I wanted a photo for a British passport, my heart sank when the girl asked me to "take the sizes" of the photo I need.
So I took along a copy of the 3 page leaflet (it takes 3 pages of instructions for one photo!?) in Spanish (PDF).

Hopefully the resulting ugly mug shot will meet with their approval, even if it didn't meet with mine. Typical passport photo, but the bloody non-smiling thing they demand now made me look as old as the hills and as ugly as sin!

After that fiasco, one has to find someone, of the right standing, to countersign the back of one of the (pig ugly) photos and the passport application. And, the problem here is that, after 16 years in a foreign country and, having made a concerted effort to stay away from "certain elements" of the expat community here, one does not tend to know any British persons of the right "calibre". Whilst I could drum up the odd Spanish medic or member of clergy amongst my acquaintance, none speak English to understand what's needed (other than from what I could tell them, which is no use), read the form they're signing, etc.

So again, I asked the consulate for advice and they told me to go to my bank and get them to countersign it and plonk their official stamp on it. That, I'll bet works absolutely fine in the branches of banks on the south of the island, where they have a lot of English speaking customers and probably some English speaking staff. In the little branch in Buenavista del Norte, they give (usually) wonderful, friendly, old fashioned service ... but they know squat English.

Actually, it's possible that I might be their only English customer.

They certainly hadn't come across a British passport application ever before! And I got a new guy, who argued that the bank "never" does this and, not that he believed me, but I had to really insist that the consulate had told me that they certainly do. Then he said, basically, if it's a British passport, then the British consulate has to do this for me (no they don't).

And, isn't that who I just said sent me here?

If they did do this, don't you think ...

So I asked him to speak to the British consulate direct. I'd taken a printed compliment slip of theirs, with their number on, specifically to give to the bank clerk, so he could do so, but because the consulate is always engaged, he gave up after two tries. So then he phones his head office and since he couldn't properly understand the form (I think he could read some English) and, obviously didn't trust a word I was saying, he couldn't explain to them what it was he was being asked to do. Not surprisingly, therefore, the office said that he had to send the forms to them to get their approval for the branch to sign it.

Well, I couldn't wait for that, for one thing, I certainly didn't want the forms, photos, etc., going missing in the system and, I knew it was a "perfectly normal" thing, on the other. So, I decided I would have to get pushy.

It took a long time, because they are always engaged, but eventually, I got the consulate on my mobile phone, I told them the problem and asked them to speak to the man in the bank, then quickly handed him my phone before he could get the chance to get out of it. It was either that or no passport. What's a girl to do?

To cut an even longer saga a bit shorter, he did sign it in the end; still whining that it "didn't make sense", that the consulate should do this for me, that the bank's stamp is meaningless, the Spanish system is better, more logical ... I just smiled and agreed, but said that it didn't matter, as long as it was good enough for the silly British ... My head was absolutely done in by then!

Then I had to get it copied and send the whole kaboodle to Madrid, all of which had to be done on separate days, because of the waiting and timings of buses, etc. And never mind that my health makes even one trip painful and tiring.

Yeah, I know, whine, whine, whine ... but whatever you do here is the same. Your heart sinks when contemplating even the simplest tasks!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Everyone else's fault ...

Isn't everything? Well, things are going from bad to worse really. Tuesday and the (piddling) toilet is still turned off at the stopcock, the water is still turned off to the (trickling) water heater and the (gushing) washing machine (I didn't even try to use that today, because I couldn't face the thought of cleaning up another flood) and now I have a tap intermittently dripping in the kitchen.

The insurance company phoned me late yesterday and again this morning to ask if the water heater was still dripping, which I said it was (because it is).

They said they would send "repairers", but they didn't say what type or which year. Someone phoned me at almost 9 p.m. to ask what problem I have. I said many. They said, just give me one, so I said, I guess the toilet is most urgent.

They are supposedly coming round early in the morning.

We'll see what they're prepared to do, but the guys in the office won't confirm to me what's covered by the insurance - I've asked them twice - and it's looking increasingly like they merely wish to consider fixing the immediate emergency (irrespective of cause and notwithstanding that emergencies needing immediate action or remedy can't occur when it's up a mountain, after dark), but they seem to be ignoring any other damages resulting from the same event.

What I bought was household contents insurance to cover my things in the event of floods, fire, theft, etc., of which this emergency cover was just a part. That's why I expect the insurance to cover damages to my things (like the washing machine, at least), or other flood damaged belongings.

And the more I think about the questions I asked the rep when I took it out and the conversation we had, the more convinced I am that she said I was covered for those kinds of examples. They're long overdue, but I'll need to get new glasses before I can read through chapter and verse of the small print!

Meanwhile, it looks like I will have to find and pay; another plumber, to fix all the other leaks; whatever type of gas specialist to look at the water heater.

And then there's the washing machine that should still be under guarantee. That last word, mind you, seems to be generally meaningless in Spain.

The insurance company office did also give me the number of a free legal advice line that is apparently included in my cover, which should give me answers on my rights and who is responsible for what.

Unfortunately, I doubt they will be able to tell me anything that I have not already studied in some depth. The problem I've found is that knowing and claiming ones rights are two very different concepts here.

A landlord may well be responsible for all sorts of things, but expecting them to assume that responsibility is usually (in 100% of cases in my previous experience) met with a sudden end to the rental contract.

Landlords physically harassing tenants who are "difficult", i.e. want things to work, be provided as per the contract and the law, is so common here that the police just shrug it off and say they can't do a thing. Just move, they say.

Whether my experience indicates that people are more likely to harass single female tenants or not, I can't prove, but I do think so and, obviously, when one is alone and female, it is a far more intimidating and dangerous situation.

Then there are the water bills, currently running to over 200 euros. The absolute low spot of the day came around lunch time, when three "jobsworths" (what you'd expect) turned up from the council. They do the water.

About 2 1/2 to 3 years ago, they'd been working on the tanks in my lane (they now insist this had nothing to do with my water supply, something I would still dispute.) While they were working on that, I'd had to go down to them to tell them that there was a very loud noise of running water, day and night, alongside the house and that the water pressure in my house was really excessively high and that I was concerned it would break something.

Just doing my best to prevent a disaster. Not an unreasonable thing?

Of course they told me there was no problem.

Never is, til it happens to them.

What happened? The house was flooded out again, of course.

What REALLY pissed me off about it was that the bloke came up specifically to ask me if the pressure was OK. As I got up to check and answer him, was when I saw the "wall of water" coming through the house. He saw it too. He immediately claimed that the pressure had nothing to do with it and wasn't ever changed. Hello, you just knocked my door and asked me about water pressure.

Then, he turned and walked away, leaving me to deal with a house full of water on my own. Out here is so rural, he knows there is nobody in reach to help. It doesn't even matter who or what caused the flood, all I know is that I would be absolutely incapable of walking away and not helping someone in that situation. Anyone who can be that nasty, is many leagues lower than pond scum.

And he is one of today's gang of three. A good start, not!

So first he swears blind that the water pressure does not go up and down, ever, so, of course, it cannot have damaged anything. And our things are inside the house. Jobsworth says the council is only responsible for what's outside.

That means other people in the area, who have commented to me that the water pressure goes up and down and comes with airlocks in it (and that this situation has been increasing lately) are telling lies and imagining things too, are they? And the insurance company staff and the plumber they sent have both seemed to accept (they've not questioned nor refuted) my suggestion that a surge in pressure was a reasonable - possible - cause of such breakages / floods.

The landlady's brother-in-law is actually a sensible bloke and didn't seem to find it unreasonable or ridiculous of me to suggest it, when I said to him that I though that an increase in water pressure had been the cause of the problems.

Everyone I have spoken to so far, in fact, except the water man from the council, has heard of water pressure going up and down. Curious that, isn't it?

Even waterman 2 agreed with me that the pressure is higher at night. This is the pressure that does not go up and down, ever, by the way. I do hope you are following the logic here so far. (If you are, you're the only one.)

Now, after they finished the work 2 1/2 to 3 years ago, they left me with water pressure that was never the same as it was before. It was never good, but ... Then and on one subsequent occasion, I've had to talk to them to tell them that the pressure had dropped. They didn't disagree with me. On those occasions, I told them that there was no longer enough pressure for the gas water heater to start up, as an example of the problem.

Funnily, I based this statement on the fact that the water heater wouldn't start (but always had previously), after being able to note a difference in the amount of water that was coming out of any tap (incl. cold) and the amount of me it would get wet at one time. I've told them there's a problem and requested they fix it. As you do. Yes, of course, I think that increasing the pressure (putting it back to where it was), would be the solution. I don't know what they did.

And, you don't need me to explain that I did not ask them to do something that would be wrong. But no, our Jobsworth water man was today trying to twist this around to say that it's my fault if the pressure was too high and broke everything. (Pressure that does not change and could not break stuff, remember?)

So, I gave them the "wrong" instructions and they just followed like sheep?

Oh, please! Any fool knows that this is not what happened. I did not demand "the wrong thing" and they would not have done it, even if I did.

By that logic, if I told them to, they'd jump off a cliff, would they? Yeah, right!

The bloke was then demanding I tell him EXACTLY what pressure I wanted - in a snotty / snarky tone - totally unreasonable, because no consumer, Spanish, English or otherwise is going to know this. It's obvious that I can't tell them HOW to twiddle their knobs and, that I cannot be responsible for their actions.

All during the conversation, he would contradict everything I said. He would not listen to a word I said and would interrupt me to disagree, even when I was trying to answer a question he'd just asked me. Then he shouts down to his mates the virtual equivalent of "Give her the least pressure there is". The shoulder shrugging at the "unreasonable woman" was more than evident.

The height of ignorance: they tried to get in their van and drive away.

Meanwhile, since it was "our fault" (according to him) I'd asked him to explain to me EXACTLY what it was that he wanted us / the landlords to do and kept insisting on this. It took me several goes to make him explain to me. This is not a lack of Spanish. He was deliberately spouting a load of psuedo-technical mumbo-jumbo nonsense jibberish at me while walking away. Nobody can understand that. You can't deal with people this unreasonable.

Then he says that the problem is a lack of maintenance on the part of the landlords and that only the old and already breaking things break (as a result of the ups and downs of pressure that "don't" occur.) Lack of maintenance figures, greatly and, it does account for the toilet, or at least the fact that it was more vulnerable to the effects of the pressure surge. I still say that even old things would not be so summarily seen off, other than by some serious fault in the water supply, pressure ups and downs, airlocks ... I'm not making those up.

The theory breaks down because the water heater is not that old - not old enough. And the washing machine is mine and it's virtually new.

Usually, not everything; the water heater outside, the plumbing in the bathroom, the tap in the kitchen, the washing machine in the utility room, all breaks at the same time, coincidentally. Generally, that sort of thing only happens when it's caused by some unforeseen event. (Excess pressure, maybe?)

So then he says the landlords have to pay for a regulator to put between the water meter and the house to prevent damage from the ups and downs of pressure - those very same ups and downs of pressure that don't happen?

Next he comes out with a cracker. You must "never" use a washing machine plumbed direct from the mains water. They "have" to be fed by water from a tank on the roof. The landlords are, according to him, "obliged" to fit this.

The house was built in 1957 and it's never been "obliged" to have one before.

He also didn't say it when he was out in my utility room 3 years ago, standing in front of my washing machine, knowing full well where and how it was plumbed in. Then, he'd told me that you always have to turn the mains tap off and on to it every time. That too is ridiculous, as everybody with half a wit knows.

And everything you could say to him, he had an immediate excuse, scripted, I should think, to ensure that the council is not going to take responsibility.

There are millions of homes that do not have tanks on their roofs and who do have washing machines. My landlady's own house for one, so I think, in the end I got her to see that he was trying to hoodwink both of us with this nonsense.

She came up here making assumptions - couldn't have waited to hear what I had to say to see that I was actually on the same side as her - initially, defensive and ready to "put the blame on me" (i.e. wriggle, as they always do, out of any responsibility or cost) for not fixing the leak.

The valve wasn't leaking before, but I had told her, a couple of years ago that the cistern was on its last legs. Who's fault is it that wasn't fixed in the interim?

Then when I reminded her that she'd been here when the local shopkeeper had also commented on the ups and downs of the pressure, she couldn't argue.

The town hall also sent me up a print out today. This shows that the 63 euro bill - that my landlady has just received (in April) and presented to me, actually covers the period of November - December 2007. The bill for 70 euros is for January - February 2008 and, the one for March - April will be even higher.

They can't even send a bill for 4+ months? It doesn't help, does it?

While the landlords' lack of maintenance might not help, the council's siting of the water meter (virtually in a barranco, a long way from the house (50 feet ish), so I can't get to it to read it), the extreme delay in sending out accounts (which might help people to notice anomalies in time), plus their erratic water pressure (though they deny that happens), seem to me to be the main culprits.

The hissing noise on the toilet started at the same time I noticed stronger pressure from the water coming out of the taps, on Thursday, April 3rd. I turned off the stopcock and attempted to get the problems fixed on the following day.

There was no sight or sound of water from the mains leaking in this house before that. Obviously, I've thought over and over on this, but I'm satisfied with my conduct and that there is no way I could have known or acted earlier.

In fact, I still don't know where all that water has been going since November, because for all the excuse making they can do, the water people don't actually work or investigate anything. They have another stock answer. It went through the meter. Not our problem. For all I know, someone could have cut into the pipes along that 50 foot stretch and is irrigating their fields with it.

The mental energy I've wasted today, being forced to deal with these unreasonable people, has left me completely and utterly drained. To top it all, I'm actually writing this stuff up for a reason; to catalog the events, because I may need it all (translated) later. And this is the second time I've typed most of this today, because the computer decided to crash to the "blue screen of death", yet again, which is yet another problem, yet to be solved and paid for.

Well, unless I want to be homeless, I'll have to fix and pay for all of it.

Common sense has left the building ...

But, don't worry, I have every faith (if I did, it would be through sheer naivete, or some worse affliction) that we can carry on regardless, without it ...

Twas on a Wednesday morning (with another nod to the famous musical tale of woe and a succession of workmen, as told by Flanders and Swann), the plumber came to call and I need to get the day's events catalogued before I forget.

Yesterday, I had done some head scratching and testing of my own. With the toilet turned off at the stopcock, in order to use it, or at least to flush it after use, required turning the stopcock on again. With me so far? :)

This I would do, do what I needed, flush the toilet and then I waited for it to refill again ... the aim being to have it full, ready for the next visit.

Only, when I went back, for some strange reason, the cistern was empty.

No water on the floor. No visible leak. No sound of water escaping.

So, I tried it again. Same thing. Mysteriously disappearing water.

Third time lucky? An Aha! moment. This time, I waited and watched.

Have you ever stood, staring down a toilet pan before, sober? :)

It would seem that the water had been escaping from the bottom of the cistern, into the bowl at a bearly perceptible rate. Too slow to notice, because there was no sound and even standing there deliberately staring at it, all that was evident was that the surface of the water merely shimmered - it was hardly movement - which I can best describe as being something like that which might be caused by blowing very softly on the water surface, from some distance.

OK, I can accept a theory that, with such an imperceptibly slow outflow and, previously, no hiss on the inflow, until the night of Thursday, April 3rd, when (I still maintain) the pressure went up sufficiently to cause the noise and finish off the old thing, the leak had gone undetected. If it was leaking before.

Something was, clearly, because the water went somewhere.

We probably have to assume it was that, because it fits and it will be hard to prove either way. Anyway, I was able to explain the findings of my tests to the plumber and his mate, when they turned up this morning, first thing, as promised. They said they understood me perfectly and with a quick twiddle of the plastic thingy that fits into the bottom of the cistern, it was fixed.

They flushed the loo. We waited. We watched.

We all went down to the water meter to triple-check that it was not moving.

The stopcock is now in the on position and I keep going into the bathroom to check that I can hear no hiss. I've also stumbled down the barranco hourly to keep my eye on it. :) The plumbers too pointed out that it would help greatly to be able to detect and fix things like this, if the town hall had not delayed 4 months in sending out bills.

So, with luck that's 2 down (counting capping off the bidet as #1). Only:

3. The trickling water heater

4. The gushing washing machine

5. The dripping kitchen tap ... still to fix.

(And my sanity, but that will just have to wait.)

The plumber explained to me how the insurance company works. It's not a system that follows common sense as you and I know it. They fix things one by one. This, I can grasp, when each job requires a different specialization.

It stops making sense, however, when the same plumber that fixes the toilet on one journey, has to come all the way back again on a different day, different job ticket, to, say, fix the kitchen tap, but that seems to be the way it works.

On that issue, at this moment, mine is not to reason why. Just be grateful that things are moving along, if slowly and don't think about it.

Otherwise, it would do my friggin head in.

So, after the plumber left, I rang the insurance again to say "thank you for sending the plumber, who fixed the toilet and tells me that you'll fix these things one by one, is that right and what do I have covered?"

And now it's becoming clear: I do have the emergency assistance, as well as cover for damages (the bit that can be likened to contents insurance).

And they fix things one by one!

Well, they cover the call out and the first three hours of labour on each visit. Parts are down to me. Well, some might be the landlord, but try telling 'em!

Anyway, we have now synchronized lists and the girl says that I will be hearing from whomever is to come to look at items 3, 4 and 5, by phone first.

The bad news is that it "may not be" today.

No, really, I can live with that.

It's a bloody good job that I don't have to go out to work though, isn't it?

While explaining (once again) the sequence of events, I explained that it is my opinion that all of these breakages were provoked by one single cause on that specific date; the increase in water pressure. I also told her that the town hall refute that and recounted something of the argument we'd had yesterday.

Finally, I felt like some of my sanity was being restored, because she agreed with me, that whatever the cause, all of these things do not break all at the same time, just by pure coincidence, or because they were old, or badly maintained. There had to have been some particular "event" or common cause.

She also mentioned the need for a regulator, saying that is supposed to be there to prevent these damages, from pressure changes, from happening. That is something, which everyone agrees, the landlord has to do.

But this girl also understood the irony and my frustration, when I explained that Jobsworth water man was telling me that the regulator needs to be installed to protect against ups and downs of pressure, in the next breath after he'd insisted that the water pressure never changes and doesn't have ups and downs.

She also said that the water bills simply ain't my problem: they're not in my name and therefore, the landlords can try to reclaim those from the council, or through their insurance, if they have any. In practice, if I don't pay them, there's no knowing what she might do, from evicting me, to threatening me.

Sheila (next door in La Palma) says that the Spanish have a very eloquent expression; "The house is falling on top of me" to describe the feeling of being horribly overloaded. When this much of the house is breaking all at once, not only is dealing with it horribly close to the metaphor, but there have been times in the last few weeks when I've also thought that this was literally true.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Shop till you drop: What’s left to eat?

This takes the biscuitDrop from the exasperation at not being able to find anything suitable to eat, most likely, which is a drastic change from the situation on these islands 15 years ago.

Back then, maybe the shops did look a bit barren, like Russian state supermarkets, but the mostly cheap, simple, local produce was probably among the healthiest and least contaminated in the world. It was something I appreciated greatly and, was one of the top reasons for living here.

Now apparently, 90% of the food consumed in the Canary Islands, is imported.

In the big supermarkets, you clearly see the selection of packaged foods; brands you'd know in the UK, Germany, France, the US, etc., grows constantly. As it does everywhere. Trouble is, when you're trying to eat healthily, you don't want packaged food, but there's a complete contrast with lack of variety in the stores closer to home. There's always service with a smile and, importantly for me, delivery, but there's not enough choice and quality in the local produce.

And, as I said yesterday, I'm attempting to follow the recommendations for allowed foodstuffs from Diamond Geezer's low cholesterol diet table.

These limitations combined make shopping a real challenge:

Meat: This month, I made the exception and bought some chicken breasts. That was the only thing from box one of his table that I can get and will eat.

I'm trying hard not to be a "fussy bugger" and refuse to eat too many things I'm allowed, but it really isn't that simple. You'll find turkey here, in the big supermarket (that's a 2 hour bus ride), but only at Christmas.

You'll find veal too, but at over 18 euros a kilo, I don't think we'll be having much of that! Rabbit is a local staple, but to get one in this area, you either have to mate them or go out and shoot them. You won't find them in local shops, like you do in the city market. And, besides, there I do draw the line, because I will not eat something that looks just like one of my cats, skinned!

Out here, you wont find "new fangled" products like quorn and tofu.

Fish: This is an island, surrounded by Atlantic Ocean, so surely we can do better from the fish box? And we can, just not up here where I live.

In the local shop, I could get only frozen slabs of hake and sardines, in tins, in escabeche.

To get a good selection of fresh fish, I need to take a trip further afield, but that's just not always possible.

Eggs & dairy: The idea of skimmed milk makes my stomach turn and I'm intolerant. Meanwhile, I bought some soya milk, but the cost is a bit rich for my regular budget. Cottage cheese, I'd eat, but you just cannot buy it in Tenerife. Anyone know of a secret supply?

Fruit & veg: Thank goodness jacket spuds are allowed! Everything else in this box is my regular diet, but even buying fruit and veg is not that easy in this area, because the selection is really limited. Whilst, I don't go out looking for perfect (and probably artificially so) produce, what we get up here, like old bendy carrots and ready-wilted lettuces, tend to look too sorry for themselves at times.

Anything out of the ordinary ... Don't make me laugh!

Once, I got all excited, because I was able to buy a packet of fresh button mushrooms. Yes, once in 9 years. Elsewhere has them all the time, I know.

There's the Farmer's Market on Sundays, but it's a long walk for nothing, if you get there and find that there are only three stalls and not a lot on 'em.

El PanCereals: Fresh, wholemeal bread is still delivered to my door every single morning, so that's OK. Again, I'd have to go off on an expedition (that would make the price prohibitive) to find something "exotic" like brown rice and pasta (and I'm not exactly in love with either, anyway), so that reduces my options in "fillers" a bit.

Oats, I can buy locally, sometimes. Neigh!

Rather than have "halfhearted" sweet things, I prefer to go without and there's just one sugar-free marmalade available here that I find bearable.

Sweeteners, I view as drugs (chemicals) and won't touch them.

And, I was already doing my best to drink more water and tea in place of coffee - but hell will freeze over before I give it up totally!

Fortunately, there really wasn't much in the avoid column that I ate, at least not regularly, apart from eggs and cheese, full fat milk, the odd yoghurt and an occasional (once or twice a year) fatty, spicy, delicious Spanish sausage.

And even though the world's best cake shop, El Aderno, is down in the town, I only pass it once a month when I go to the bank and, surprisingly, I don't go in every month. How's that for willpower? Can I have my medal now? :)

So, what did this leave me with?

The world's smallest ever variety of acceptable foods to eat, that's what!

If I were to use only local suppliers, I'd have ended up with; frozen chicken, frozen and tinned fish, potatoes, fruit and veg (as available). Wholemeal bread, delivered. Oats from a shop in the nearby town. Not much, is there?

Of course I could get a better selection in other areas of the island, but for one thing I couldn't afford the prices there. Not many places deliver and I do not have transport. Ignoring that I would not be able to carry them up the hill once I got off the bus anyway, the bus will not allow more than the amount of bags (1-2) you can get on your lap. The cost of doing that often enough adds up ... And trying to ring the changes and inject a bit of variety into meals, with such a limited selection, is going to be something of a challenge too, isn't it?

Monday, 14 April 2008

What happened to my rights?

Found it most interesting that in the EU, internet access is now considered a human right and I like the way Mashable have a tap filling a glass of water to illustrate the story, inferring (yes, we know it is) that water is a right too.

And this, which says: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 25, paragraph 1) determines that

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Truly, I have none of those things "adequately", some not at all.

Monday update on the water situation: Phoned the insurance and explained the chain of events leading up to the current situation. They need to talk to the assessor, the plumber, Uncle Tom Cobbley, God ... and phone me back.

Several hours have passed and I'm still waiting, despite underlining the fact that there is an element of urgency, as I have the water and toilet turned off.

Phoned the town hall, who say never mind the 63 euro bill, the next one that's going to come will be even higher, 70 odd (almost 80 euros). So I said, with all due respect, this is not water I have consumed, this is your fault for sending pressure that broke everything. She's sending the water man. Sometime.

(Does anyone know if there's a "gadget" that could be fixed between the street water supply and the house that could prevent pressure surge damage?)

Meanwhile, I still have the toilet stopcock, inconveniently, turned off.

Though I did turn the water (to the water heater / washing machine) on so I could attempt to use the latter again and, marvel of marvels, it worked.

But then it was sick all over the floor for me to mop up again. Twice again.

Then so was the dog, who has also had a bath while the water was on, as well as the fact that I had to do another lot of "deck swabbing" to clean that up.

The water is now turned off again to prevent leaks as I wait ...

To see if the insurance will cover anything.

If they don't, at the very least I shall have to find, await - and pay for - a plumber, a gas engineer for the water heater and a washing machine technician (or a new washing machine.) Not to mention the two water bills that I bet I end up paying (as an alternative to homelessness), though I believe the landlady should reclaim those from the council.

The plumbing and the water heater certainly are her responsibility, but if I wait, I might be waiting for years again.

The washing machine(s) should also be down to her too, because I rented the house, furnished, with a washing machine included in the inventory. Because I happened to have my own, she took hers away. (Notice that she never reduced the price after removing this and other items.)

Nevertheless, I replaced my own washing machine, last year, at my expense too, but I don't think I should have to replace the replacement.

Not that I have the money to pay for these things, but I will have to.

And, I could be sat around here for weeks waiting for the various "experts."

This is all quite apart from other losses, such as the time when the hall ceiling caved in, in a storm, after I'd been putting up with and constantly asking them to fix, leaks for 18 months. I've lost ALL my decent clothing (my business stuff from the UK, mounting to a value in the thousands of pounds) that came here on a hot, dry day from the south of the island, then promptly all went green in the wardrobe. Work I've lost because I was mopping up floods, or couldn't get to because I had no access to hot water to adequately present myself. And, rightly, many of you are going to be asking why I've stayed? Well, apart from not being able to afford anything else, in the 16 years I've lived here, these are the best landlords I've encountered. You wouldn't believe it if I told you some of the stories, but lets just put it this way, they all take the piss out of single women.

Taking me (financially) for a cunt is the least of it.

For Human Consumption?

The council put signs up after erecting the wire fence around the water tanks in our lane. The reason for the fence, I was told, was to prevent people deliberately contaminating the water and, it's a testament to the scared, sick world we live in that the authorities even imagine someone might do that.

But they think a flimsy wire fence would prevent it? I have my doubts.

And telling outsiders they're prohibited from entering is likely to be just as effective as telling a two year old not to do something, in my 'umble opinion.

Then, almost like dangling a carrot, they actually announce what's inside, saying "Storage of water for human consumption". Look, if they're really that worried about "water terrorists", surely, it would be better not to advertise?

Or, maybe wire the fence up to the pylon that towers above the tanks!

As for "for human consumption", well, yes, my question mark still remains, because this is the same water that has an excess of fluoride and, that we had been told not to drink (in 2006). And, nobody has told us we can drink it yet.

Even if they did formally declare our tap water fit to drink, I certainly wouldn't, because it often looks milky, smells like a swimming pool and tastes utterly revolting. Last time I tried to stomach it, in an effort to avoid the wastage, not to mention lugging, of bottled water, the taste made me want to vomit.

Collecting WaterIt may be that the tap water is officially and technically clean and fit, but apart from tasting dreadful and the frequent floods, this tap water causes me a skin rash on my arms, has all but destroyed my fine hair, turns potatoes black during cooking and, won't rise in a stovetop coffee pot.

Honestly, I thought I was dreaming about the last one, until I was talking to a local, collecting water from the dornajo (horse trough) in our lane and they said they found the same thing. This obviously explains why, in 2008, local people still drive from all around the valley to fill up bottles with this water that comes direct from the galleries, to use for watering crops especially, but also for use in cooking, for coffee, etc. That water feels and tastes fresh, at least.

It certainly doesn't have chemicals added to it, though I've no idea if it might be coming down old lead pipes, for instance.

The bottles I use to collect it (for the animals to drink) do turn green after a few uses, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if it has bugs in it and I still wouldn't drink it myself, unless it was filtered, boiled or something.

Access to "the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe" as well as "sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water" are considered human rights. Maybe walking to the horse trough to get free water or the store to buy bottled drinking water, counts as acceptable, physically accessible and affordable? I don't know. I'd expect better anywhere in Spain, even this rural end of this island, which is supposed to be part of the "first world" and especially in the 21st Century, wouldn't you?

Name that bug ...

Mystery bugs

While I won't expect anyone to admit to being old enough to remember the quiz show, Name that tune (UK version), I do seriously need help naming this nasty little critter ...

Hopefully in one!

More importantly, can anyone help me figure out how to eradicate a plague of them, preferably without killing either myself or my pets in the process? You can probably just make out that it's some sort of centipede or millipede (the latter, I think). They come in one color, like the Ford Model T, ias n black; they're about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long and they crawl about everywhere.

WARNING: Do not eat while reading. Prepare to be grossed out.

When I say that they are everywhere, I mean everywhere.

Outside, sometimes you can hardly see a bare bit of white wall that isn't covered with them. Indoors, you can sweep out a whole pile of them, then turn to see a bunch more crawling about the floor like they were "beamed" down by Scotty! They also climb walls, furniture, anything.

More grossly, I also find them on kitchen work surfaces, in the bathroom, drowned in the animals' water bowls and, the worst is when I sit at the computer, in the evenings especially, I'll suddenly feel something irritating me and find them crawling all over my feet.

You can't place anything on the floor here at all: furniture has to all be of the type that is off the floor on legs, you can't have any type of soft furnishings, like curtains or chair covers, bedcovers, etc., that drape, nor any form of rugs.

Wikipedia says of millipedes, that "they can also be a minor garden pest".

No, here they're a MAJOR indoor house nuisance that's becoming worse with every flood and resultant increase in dampness. Wikipedia also say that, "Many species also emit poisonous liquid secretions or hydrogen cyanide gas through microscopic pores ..." Whilst I am not about to get too paranoid about that (yet), it's interesting to note that these are the only bugs I've known both cats and dogs to avoid eating (which COULD indicate a good reasons not to); they do smell nasty and we do have a LOT of them. This article from the UK says:
"Millipedes, any of about 1000 species of cylindrical, many-legged arthropods. Millipedes have segmented bodies with two pairs of legs on each of the 9 to 100 or more abdominal segments, depending on the species, and one pair on three of the four thoracic segments. Because of their numerous legs the animal walks slowly with a wavelike motion of the legs down the body. In length they range from about 0.2cm to 23cm (about 0.1 to 9 inches). Millipedes have a hard protective layer of calcium-containing chitin (except in some small species), two simple eyes, one pair of mandibles, two short antennae, and (in most species) stink glands with secretions that repel or kill insect predators. Another protective strategy is to curl into a spiral or a ball when threatened. They live in dark, damp places and feed on decaying plant life, but they may damage seedlings. So as opposed to the centipede, these should be considered more of a pest and disposed of if seen."
Agreed, but how exactly does one dispose of sometimes hundreds a day?

Trying to sweep them out is a circular task like Forth Bridge painting! [1]

Now I can well believe that these nasty little buggers could be among the first animals to have colonized land millions of years ago, 'coz they've obviously had time to learn excellent survival tactics. Even if you spray those "guaranteed no bugs for a year" sprays at them, nothing happens. Well, they probably just grin and make a thousand little gestures with their multiple middle fingers. :)
It certainly doesn't kill them, nor deter more from coming in.

The powder insecticide (Cuchol) that is used on the vines against rot, used to be grey in colour and smelled like Fuller's Earth. In great enough quantity (all round inside the house, where it shouldn't have been!) it would cause these bugs to dry up and die. Then, in their infinite wisdom, the makers of this product decided to change the powder to blue, probably to some unnatural chemical. And it now has absolutely no effect at all on the millipedes, which are, of course, multiplying faster than our also omnipresent bunny rabbits.

I tried the old salt trick that works on slugs. Doesn't work on these.

I've asked someone from the Rural Park (run by the Cabildo, Island Council), who are the body responsible for the rules on insecticides (as well as campaigns for weed killing, rat poisoning, etc.), in this area and they hadn't got a clue!

A company in Australia seems to deal with repelling millipedes, but most of their suggestions would not be possible for me to implement, because I'm renting and I can't make any changes like digging holes, or fixing anything.

Yes, I'm at my wits end, but I probably won't try to shoot the millipedes:
New of the Weird tell us, "... a 20-year-old man was hospitalized in Guthrie, Okla., after encouraging his friend, Jason Heck, to kill a millipede with a .22-caliber rifle; after two ricochets, Heck's bullet hit the man just above his right eye, fracturing his skull."
Certainly, I can't afford to call an exterminator, not that I'd find one here (they appear to deal with hotels and cockroaches only), but I can't continue to live in these disgusting conditions. And, even if I could find an exterminator, as the house is set in a vineyard, I couldn't have chemicals sprayed that might conflict with that activity. But, on the off chance that someone, somewhere recognizes them and has successfully dealt with a plague of millipedes, or has any other suggestions, I'm throwing this call for help out to the internet at large.

[1] "Painting the Forth Bridge" is a colloquial term for a never-ending task (a modern rendering of the myth of Sisyphus), coined on the erroneous belief that, at one time in the history of the bridge, repainting was required and commenced immediately upon completion of the previous repaint.

A scholarly text, called "Dolichoiulus - a Mostly Macronesian Multitude of Millipedes" by Enghoff, H. (1992), with the description of a related new genus from Tenerife, Canary Islands (Diplopoda, Julida), could be describing these, but I haven't seen the document itself. For my reference: Desinfección, desinsectación y desratización en Tenerife.

Monday's Leftovers: What's left to eat?

741189_98450411 It's been a while since I was able to plan a menu, shop and write about food. Finding time to write has only been part of the problem: finding suitable things to eat and actually feeling like cooking has not happened that often recently and you wouldn't want the same list, repeated like Groundhog Day, but this month, I took a different approach so that's "news." Anyway, I promised something food-related and the reason is because, Diamond Geezer recently published his low cholesterol diet - a table of foodstuffs that someone with a "cholesterol high score" should and shouldn't be eating. Amongst a heap of other papers, I have two cholesterol readings here of mine and, having deciphered how these things seem to work (the scale is different in the UK than in Spain), I find that I had two rather high scores too. They didn't give me a diet sheet, mind you.

In fact, the doctors didn't seem to have been at all bovvered, because I don't recall being given any advice on it at all. Would they have done if I was Spanish, I wonder? Hummmm ...

Anyway, even ignoring that issue, it's already been found that Solo living 'doubles heart risk', because "Smoking, obesity and high cholesterol are all more common among those who live alone." Well, I've addressed the first, I am not anywhere near the second, but we can see where there's still room for improvement. Certainly, like many people, I thought I had a more or less healthy diet, being a mostly (occasionally lapsed) vegetarian.

But, if you look at the chart, the very things that I would shovel down with "careless abandon" in place of meat (eggs and cheese), it turns out, are things I should probably aim to avoid.

There very likely are other factors, but based on the "available evidence" and as I already feel like crap, a healthier diet has to be worth a try, hasn't it?

Spanish revueltos (luxury scrambled egg dishes) I'll miss most. Oh, alright and pancakes and French toast (eggy bread) and, well anything "nice" really! :)

Even seemingly innoxious rice and pasta - the white type, the only type I can buy locally - it seems, are not a good idea more than sometimes.

So my risotto with cheese (despite vegetables), might have been a health hazzard. Yes, I looked at the table and nearly cried, so I can see how someone who is not yet in pain will look at that and think, "No thanks, I'd rather die young than have such a boring life with such a restricted selection of foods."

Oh, I did too. Trouble is, I don't think it works that way. Once the rot sets in, you don't die, you just wish you were dead from the pain you are in and the things you cannot do. Then you will agree to any diet restrictions.

Then might be too late.

Thus, avoiding items in the "Avoid" column (for obvious reasons) and placing little emphasis on any in the "Sometimes" one (for similar motivations), this month, I've attempted to make the best of what's left in the "Often" column. And let me tell you, this has been no easy task, living where I do! Tomorrow, I'll tell you what (few) items I managed to get on a recent shopping trip.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Sunday Supplement ...

Well, the little "fur people" got me up for their breakfast at 8.30 (never could get them to understand the concept of Sunday lie-ins), but I felt utterly shattered, like I hadn't been to sleep (even though I slept all night) and just felt nauseous, achy, cold, sickly ... So I went back to bed again, naturally.

Actually, I put the kids TV programs on and intended to vegetate there watching for a bit, then get up, but I just could not keep awake.

Next thing I knew was the landlady's brother-in-law banging incessantly on the door at 11.30. The landlady had obviously sent him, obviously worried about her water bill. He wanted to know if I had water running, because he'd checked the meter and said it was "spinning round". Of course, I'd been asleep, so I wasn't using any water. There was a minor hiss from the loo cistern, but no visible evidence of water running or leaking. He reckons that the new valve isn't right either ... The upshot is I now have to turn the stopcock on and off to use the toilet. The stopcock outside is turned off to the dribbling water heater too. Washing machine now doesn't have a water supply either and still won't work. And I'm calling the insurance company again in the morning.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Friday Flooding ...

Is becoming a regular event and I just don't know where to turn.

On Friday, I had to have a shower to go out and though the water heater worked (that, in my opinion, was a miracle: stories like this: The bane of my existence, again about a water heater saga in rented property in Spain, are not unusual), anyway, it leaked again and carried on dribbling for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, I tried to use my washing machine again and, once again, it did not immediately fill, but made noises. Not to be beat, because I really had to use it, I turned the water off and on and, lo and behold, actually got it to work. Only so it then flooded the floor, again. TWICE.

Then the landlady comes round with a 63 euro bill for water. This can't yet include the cost of all of last week's flooding and I had to refuse to pay it unless they come up with a really good reason. Living alone, I could hardly use much water if I tried and for 9 years, the amount has been 12 or 13 euros every two months. This much of a difference simply has to be some sort of error.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Water torture ...

When an excess of rain falls on "plain" flat roofs here (badly made ones) though, I'll tell you what it does: It sits there and accumulates, until it can filter through to catch you unawares. It did it to me again after several days of heavy rains to give me a "free shower" with every visit to the bathroom: I sit on the "potty" to "mind my own business" and drip ... drip ... drip. Like the allegedly Chinese water torture.

Because of this, there are parts of the walls and ceilings in this house that are a horrid green / black moldy mess: other parts that are just darkened wet, exposed cement. The dehumidifier, carries on working a 168 hour week, on my dime. But, if that wasn't enough water torture for me, on Thursday night, the water pressure in the household supply suddenly and dramatically increased.

Now that's all very well, because a few months ago I'd had to have the council increase the pressure again, because it was so pathetically low that the water heater refused to start up, leaving me no means of getting a shower.

The loo cistern began to hiss constantly under the excess pressure and, I'd known for years that the valve was "dodgy" and would break eventually, which it did on Friday morning, causing the loo to continuously flush.

The local plumber couldn't even look until Monday, so I turned the stopcock off to the toilet. Then on Friday afternoon, while I'm miles away from the bathroom, I hear a noise as the pressured water decides it will find another "path of least resistance." It had taken the (rusted) pipe bringing water to the bidet, clean off the wall. Only that didn't have a stopcock to be able to turn it off, so this high pressured jet of water was just quickly filling the house, up past my ankles.

And I didn't have a clue where the main water tap was. And nor did the landlady, when I phoned her. And none of the neighbours were around. And nobody passes this place: hell, you'd have to be lost to find it!

So, I phoned my household insurers to request an emergency plumber.

Note that one definition of an emergency is "An unforeseen occurrence or combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action or remedy; pressing necessity; exigency." Personally, I think I had one of those. But the reaction from their plumber was a sharp intake of breath followed by "Oh, no, I'm not coming up into the mountains with it getting towards nighttime ..."

And, since you do need to be lost, or mad, to find this place, he had a point.

So, from mid-afternoon Friday, all I could do was bale water out of the house as fast as I could with a broom and, until the landlady did come up at around 8 p.m. and we eventually found the main water tap (in the undergrowth, halfway down a barranco), I envisaged that I would be doing that all night until help came.

While we were scrabbling to turn off the water, the man from the supermarket arrived to deliver my grocery order. He mentioned that the water pressure here keeps going up and down and, keeps having airlocks in it. At least the landlady can't say it's my fault, or that I'm just dreaming, which is the usual "trick."

The plumbers arrived Saturday morning. They replaced the valve in the toilet cistern and attempted to replace the pipe to the bidet, but that proved too old to repair and all they could do was to cap the pipe at the wall. It's frankly not that a great loss, but this will be yet another thing that is simply never fixed.

Then, when the water was turned back on, the water heater began dripping. It had never done before. The plumbers (and I) opine that the pressure surge has screwed it up well and proper. But their "solution"? Turn the water off to it when I'm not using it, particularly at night, when the pressure is at the highest.

That is, they expect me to GO OUTSIDE to turn the water on and off at a stopcock EVERY DAMN TIME I WANT HOT WATER. And I ask you, would they do that in their own house? We all know the friggin answer to that, don't we?

In fact, this plumber was professional; cleaned up after themselves, courteous, almost sane ... compared to the usual standard of tradesmen on this island, who contrive to send people round the bend (boy am I glad it's not just me). Anyway, that too will now be left until it breaks completely, leaving me without hot water once again. When the water heater wouldn't work once before, do you know how long I was without hot water?

You'll never guess. FOUR YEARS.

Then Monday, I went to use my nearly new washing machine and ... the water was turned on to it, but the machine didn't fill and just made horrible noises.

(The old one had been helped seen off by, guess what? Yes, a massive surge in pressure, caused when the council were screwing with the water supply!)

And on top of all that, that's another pair of shoes totally ruined, my back is "broken" from hours of sweeping and mopping (alone) to get the house as dry as possible; I ache everywhere, I'm knackered, the house is even more damp, the dehumidifier is working overtime (which is costing a heap in electricity), never mind what hundreds of gallons of wasted, metered, water is going to cost me.

That's FIVE floods I've suffered in this house, for one reason or another and I really wonder just how much more can I take. Not much, I don't think.


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