Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter is back, time for the yearly blog.

Not sure why. I am an infrequent blogger, but looking back over previous posts, I always feel the need to put pen to paper, or at least fingers on keyboard at this time of year. Perhaps because life slows a little and while the to do list still seems to have plenty of to dos to be done, they all seem a little less urgent than during the hectic summer. Perhaps it's just a good time to pause for reflection while changing gear for the colder months.

We took delivery of a consignment of winter fuel the other week. It feels comforting to live in a place where the change of season requires a little planning. For most it just requires nudging the central heating dial up a notch or two. Live in a house with no carpets or central heating, with gaps under the door that admit draughts you could sail a boat with. Couple that with the rapid contrast between sweltering September, temperate October, and positively frigid November (on a bad day). The change of the weather is such a rapid transformation between extremes that 'Winterising' your lifestyle takes on the urgency of a submarine at battlestations.

Our village becomes alive with autumn bonfires disposing of the summer overgrowth in fires prohibited by law, and common sense in the arid summer, the buzz of chainsaws fills the air as peole stockpile winter fuel. Those like me who don't have the time, or cohones to go raiding the woods for windfalls, shop around. Conversations at the bar turn to the relative merits of almond versus pine, olive versus oak. Deals are cut with local wood merchnts. Our own particular choice was part common sense, part romanticism. The clatter of horse shoes against tarmmac distracts me from my work at the office in our home, our promised wood delivery, arranged three weeks previously has arrived, bang on time. Not bad for Spain, not bad for Andratx, and very comendable for a man without a watch driving a cart pulled by a mule. Pep, a swarthy, but friendly guy, unmistakeably ethnically Mallorquin, held out the halter from the horses bridle, wordlessly enquiring where he might hitch up. We have two upturned hooks eithr side of the front door of our hundredish year old village house. I have always wondered what they were for, and it became obvuious in an instant. I can't explain why, but it pleased me immensly to hitch up a horse to the hook for the first time in god knows how long. We will see him a few times before spring I have no doubt.

Cut to the quick. Pungent almond logs crackling on the fire, oxtail stewing gloopily on the stove, iced rosado substituted for spicy tinto, and vague plans to buy jumper 2010, last winter's model saw a little to much action to make it through another.

The decision to relocate to Mallorca is sweetened by the thought of endless summer days and twenty four hour warmth, but the longer you stay here the more you learn that the winter really takes some beating. I wouldn't be averse to a little underfloor heating though.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Green grass, brown grass.

Man alive it's getting tough here on the Island.

Compadres are dropping like flies, the credit crunch is sweeping through the expats like wild firefire feeding on the tinder dry fuel of an ecomony starved of the lifeblood of the luxury Euro. Property prices are in freefall, the summer tourist season, a vital adrenalin shot in the arm of the expat economy, is about to start, soon, tomorrow, next month, sometime, anytime?.

There many here who's existence is inextricably linked to the Sterling price of a Euro, move a bip or two and life is grand, a bip or two the other way and it's all over. These are long odds on which to wager a life, but that's just the way it is for many.

An old adage has it that the people who made the money from the gold rush were the smart guys who sold the shovels. Right here the briskest business is that being plied by the removal firms bubble wrapping the Mediterranean dream and driving it back to Nottingham or Manchester, Mansfield or Basildon, minus a pound or two at best.

To continue for a moment with the tired cliches, the grass is always greener. Jack it in here, jump on the next EasyJet and get a job back in the UK..easy, right.


They have a recession there too remember.

In their place are countless numbers seeking an equally misguided refuge in a move in the opposite direction.

Wherever you are...

..hunker down, duck the rent man, eat lentils. At least the sun is shining....which will turn the grass brown.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The green green grass of home.

It is, of course, tempting when one has taken the plunge and moved to The Island, to sporadically refer back to the old country. How would I be doing if I hadn't abandoned ship?, What would I be doing?, would I be better off?.

Life asks you these questions day after day, wherever you are, but radical changes like migration ask them more directly and more frequently. The contrasts between todays reality and yesterdays memory are more pronounced than many must confront. These questions, however real and tempting they are to hazard a guess at answering, are of course pure folly.

I used to work for the big guys in the city. I wasn't a cocaine snorting, Ferarri buying pin stripe boy, but I was on the ladder and doing nicely thank you for asking. Marked out as a guy to watch, a star of the future. This status, and the delicious jump from grace as I stuck it to the man and announced my intention to 'downsize', fed my adrenaline fuelled leap into the reckless. City boy to Mallorcan chef. 'You must be mad, you´d give up all this?', 'I may possibly be, and you can shove it', was my innner response. My outer pollitical response was measured, the product of a life lived on egg shells that I was glad I would soon be free to stomp all over.

I didn't really know what I was in for. That was the point. The staid life, and securty was exactly what I craved to be liberated from, despite an angel the size of Mike Tyson on my shoulder telling me I was a fool. 'Exactly Mike, that's the whole bloody point'. 'I want to be a fool. I wan't those around me to be envious of my devil-may-care attitude'.


What have I done?

Have I really cocked up this time?


Look forward, not back.

Life on The Island is full of people like me. Some left because they had no choice, but most jumped for the hell of doing it.

It's good here, a great place to raise your kids, the countryside, the mountains, the temperate sea never more than a few minutes from your door, and the sunsets. The sunsets. If you ever lament the Christmas bonus forgone, a salmon pink sky as the late summer sun hits the Mediterranean horizon with a blazing finale to another glorious day doesn't light your candle, or illuminate your soul, you are clearly in the wrong place. Money/Mallorca, Mallorca/money, if have to ask the question then head for Stansted and the 0745 to London Bridge.

As for me?, you are welcome to it.

Poor, but happy amongst kindered spirits.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

At what point did it become acceptable for men and boys to enter a womens clothes shop?.

I'm 37 and a half and as far as I can remember in Britain in the 1970's it was pretty much verboten for any male over the age of, say eight or so to enter Dorothy Perkins or Top Shop. Small gaggles (or whatever the collective noun should be) of dads and lads, reduced to the role of sherpas huddled in the doorways against the best of the British winter. Knowing nods would be exchanged between the group, feet were shuffled and occasional utterances to the effect of 'are you finished yet' would be forced from the corner of mouths into the den of the vixen. If you were lucky Dad had made a pre emptive stop at the local bakery for a meat and potato pie to fend off the cold for a while.

There were two points in the Saturday retail hell where the Dads and Lads, weighed heavy with bags would pull rank. 15.45 and 16.45. At these given signals the oppressed males would be summoned, like Batman after the signal went up, to the windows of Radio Rentals and Rumbellows and the like to watch, through rain spattered glass, a mute Dickie Davies or Frank Bough beat out the jungle telegraph of the vidiprinter. The transfixed audience would hang on every thud of the famous daisy wheel printer as it hammered out the news from football grounds around the nation. The jealously was always palpable. The beasts of burden, weighed down with treasures gleaned from M&S, Stead and Simpson and British homestores were transported, just for a moment to the terraces of Goodison Park, Elland Road and Old Trafford. Pies and programmes, swearing and a post match pint of mild in the local. Not today, not this life, not any more. For just for a few moments the hell would subside, knowledgeable glances would be exchanged as scores were revealed, before reality returned to burst the bubble. "C'mon son, lets go and find you mother, we can make it back for final score".

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's Sunday afternoon here on the Island, but wierdly the calendar tells me it is Tuesday evening. It's been Sunday afternoon for at least a week and a half now. In the height of the frenetic summer everything comes at you fast and hard. Parry, volley or fire it back as fast as you can. When the summer ends here its as though your opponent has called in sick. Great!, for a while it is easy to bask in the quiet. The email flow slows to a trickle, and the perpetually demanding mobile phone stares back at you. You stare back at it, daring it to ring, but it declines. The respite is wonderful, for a week or two, until the realistation that these two brutal task masters pay the mortgage, fill the pantry and provide wood for the hearth. You, the hunter gatherer have to be a little more creative in these times. It is no longer suifficient to stoop and collect what lays at your feet. This season, this year more than ever you have to don the metaphoric deer stalker and go hunting for the buck.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rain, rain stay a while.

It´s raining here on the Island, and I love it.

The transition from summer to the autumn storms comes quickly here, faster than you bargain for, however long you have lived here. Sodden washing remains on the line, furniture left on the terrace, and car windows left casualy open, secure in the knowledge that it won't rain, not yet.

But it does, it rains like rain was supposed to rain. Not the incessant drizzle for weeks on end that characterised my autunms in the old country, but short, sharp tempests that sweep in from leaden seas accompanied by all the cannon and mortar fire essential to stage a grandstand finale to the balmy bonus summer that always happens, and always delights.

Our house, like most of the older houses on the Island realises the value of the bounty falling from the sky, every drop that falls on our roof pauses briefly in our cisterna before being reanimated in the loo, shower or kettle. Ramon, the guy who delivers tankers of water to the village in drier times, dressed unfailingly in carpet slippers and shirt unbuttoned to the waist hibernates for the winter, his work for the year is done.

Rain on the Island is such a rarity that it always stops play, for a day or two at least. In the old country it holds no novelty value, so life must continue regargless. Turn your collar to the intruder and press on regardless. Not here, everything stops, as though an earthquake or tsunami. 'No pasa nada' in a day or so it will be dry again and normality can resume its laconic autumnal pace. Shut your shutters, throw another log on your fire, pour yourself a glass of hierbas and enjoy the show.

Whatever it is, it can wait until the rain stops.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Summer ends on the Island, perhaps not just for 2008.

It's early November here in Mallorca, the relentless summer has given way to autumn. The pungent smoke from almond wood fires curls into the still skies and residents reach into the back of their wardrobes for the socks and long trousers packed away nearly six months earlier. The last of the late season holidaymakers catch the dying rays of the Indian summer, and the Mediterranean, as blue as ever is too cold for all but toddlers and the more hardy of Northern European tourists.

All over the island businesses are closing for the winter, the bars and restaurants in the resorts are cleaning and packing, and poring over the summer takings. Make hay while the sun shines, squirrel away as much of the summer profits as possible, and spread them as thinly as you dare through the long winter months is the strategy, but for many doing the seasonal sums, the reality is dawning that they may not reopen again come next spring.

Meanwhile the real estate agents rearrange their paperclips in empty offices for the third time today, their cheery smiles soon drop as they realise you won´t be buying into the dreams that mock them from the gaudy window displays promising permanent blue skies and seas. The Porches and Mercedes parked out front are looking like expensive liabilities now, rather than the executive treats bought to celebrate another bumber year twelve months ago. 'The Germans are still buying', 'The top end of the market is fine, the rich will always have money', 'Mallorca is different'. The thin veneer of optemism vital in a market based on confidence is beginning to show the cracks. Catch them off guard and they'll tell you that the gravy train has left the station. Unfinished constructions of over priced apartments stand like monolith reminders that prices do not always go up. The banks have called in the loans, while the botomless pit of new buyers arriving by the plane load have all but gone, at least for this year. It will be a while before they arrive back with pockets as deep as they used to have.

It´s been a lean year here on the Island, no fat to trim, no winter stores to eek out until spring welcomes in the new harvest. We must all learn to forage wherever and whatever, to line the pantry shelves this winter, and hope for better next year.

There isn´t a corner of the world that the credit cruch hasn´t touched, but it´s bitten off a little more here than in many places. Life´s little treats, foreign holidays, meals out, second homes, boats or a round of golf are always going to be the first to go when pocket books and purses begin to lighten. What to do when your economy is based on those treats?, that, is the million, or maybe even billion Euro question to which Mallorca is desparately trying to find an answer.