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Love thy neighbour

 Who’d live in a house? Or, more accurately, who’d live in a house made of stone? Or, more accurately still, a house made of stone – in Mallorca?

Well, the answer is a fool and as I happen to have answered in the affirmative to all of the above, you know what that makes me.

Given that most of us live in some sort of domicile and that that, in itself, isn’t unduly foolish, what is it about stone and Mallorca, I hear you ask, that so qualifies one as a cretin?

Answer: Expense.

Take this most recent example.  Alchemy, our modernist Mallorcian masterpiece/folly is now almost complete.  Riddled with unfinished staircases, half-built galleries and toilets that spontaneously flush without even the merest hint of bodily fluids, it is, to all intent and purposes complete nonetheless.


The modernist Mallorcian masterpiece/folly

Mateo, our constructor and tormentor in chief (the origin of the Papal inquisition obviously hailed from the Balearic islands and one of his relatives, rather than the Spanish mainland from which it takes its name) asked innocently “have you treated your stone yet?”

I resisted the urge to reply – “What, to dinner for two at the Savoy?” by asking somewhat more prosaically “What do you mean treat?” and the floodgates were open.

After approximately twenty minutes of continuous, non-pausing, Spanish, I had been subjected to a master class on the finer points of porosity of stone – as ever repeated three times for added emphasis.

Your typical Mallorcian, love/hate him/her – delete as appropriate, regularly repeat themselves – always twice and often thrice.

Is it because he assumes we interlopers are a bit slow? Possibly and not without cause, or is it just that they are the most lugubrious race on earth, I’m not sure.

Suffice to say that they can babble more than any Irish brook that’s flowed over the Blarney Stone.

The upshot of this latest bombshell, was that house owners stupid enough to want to build not inconsiderable structures, more or less completely out of mares (their local, very porous sandstone) should know that he would be happy to charge a mere 4500 Euros to spray it.

The answer? spray it yourself

Now, I grant you, I’ve spent 4500 Euros on stupid things in the past, but I’ve usually had something to show for it, not least a hangover and a nasty rash – but here I would be – in essence – paying for something entirely invisible.

The point being, however, fail to spray and the lovely mares would, by next spring, be  less than lovely and green with algae as apposed to envy.

I lamented my plight that evening to my Caractacus Potts like Dutch neighbour/inventor.

I expected him to say, something like, “There there have another white wine” but as ever, he surprised me with “No problem – do it yourself”.

“Do it myself?, do it myself?”, I thought, “Does this man know me at all.  I’ve spent a lifetime investing in an array of craftsmen, labourers and artisans, to do my manual bidding.  I’m not about to start spraying stone.”

And yet, as the wine flowed, his outrageous suggestion became more and more plausible.  So it was, that the following day he arrived with what I dubbed his “Heath Robinson machine”.

Hand built by himself and looking like a mini nuclear power station, the mobile compressed air spraying contraction was certainly intriguing.

He explained, in the perfect English that only the Dutch speak nowadays, that its operation was easy.  “You put the air from the compressor in here, the fluid in there, close one valve, open the other and – hey presto” (I told you about his English).

To say I was doubtful would be like my reaction of disbelief when told, aged 10, where babies come from.  I look at mulberry bushes in wonderment to this day.  Still, 4500 Euros is a lot of doubt so, with Del boys “He who dares…” ringing in my ears, I gave it a go.

And guess what – it was easy, it was quick and eventually even therapeutic.  I sprayed the patio, the kitchen and garage walls, the living room and half of bedrooms all in less than a day.  In under six hours I’d sprayed three quarters of the house and its surroundings.  All the time whilst spraying, however, I had begun to realise that the upper echelons of the house would be a different kettle of fish entirely – or as this was a largely Dutch operation, roll mops.

Dry as a bone and not a roll mop in sight

How to get above head height without scaffolding or going up and down ladders over a hundred times?

Hiring a cherry picker would be no good, because, what with the terraces and steps at the front of the house, it wouldn’t be able to get close enough.

Again, up popped the ever resourceful Hans, “Hire Pep’s new crane lift” he suggested.  Pep, it transpired, was the owner of the building supplies company in the village who had provided me with the stone treatment.

“You can hire it by the hour; it’s only about 50 Euro”.  So, arrangements duly made, the following day saw the arrival of said equipment.

The crane's incredibly thin telescopic arm

At first, the crane and its elevated cradle didn’t look too out of the ordinary, but as it began to set up in front of the house, twenty metres back from the building itself, it became apparent how unusual it was.  The cradle was elevated by an incredible, thin telescopic arm, which meant that I and the spraying machine could be swung, almost horizontally towards the front wall and then angled up the full 8 metres of its elevation.

The spraying was completed in no time – and then the fun really began.  This new lift was similar to those used for bungee jumping and, Hans explained, work done we could have some fun.  “Fancy a ride to the top?” he asked.  Walter, his twelve year old son, certainly did so before I could say no; we were both stood – without harness or any other safety gear – in a partially open gondola that was rapidly rocketing straight up to its maximum elevation of over 30 metres.

Walter, showing practically no fear at all.

Watching twelve year old Walter’s face, it must have mirrored my own, as his expression went from excitement to mild trepidation then quickly to abject fear.  Before we could say help, we were over 100 feet in the air, on a far from stable platform, that was tilted about 30 degrees.

I started taking pictures on the way up, of the house, the surroundings, the sea view and Walter but as we approached the summit all we could do was hold on.

I gripped one arm of the cradle and instructed Walter to do the same, as below his father, Korser and miscellaneous other bystanders watched in amused disbelief “I want to go down” moaned Walter – a sentiment I firmly echoed – but instead my gesticulations were interpreted as a desire to rotate and so, violent lurches of our little cradle began, as we were spun round 360 degrees.  The open hole that represented one side of our cage, showed the view straight down and as I attempted a stoic, stiff upper lip, the sweat was palpable.

Going up!

“English ex-pat kills twelve year old Dutch boy due to negligence”, seemed an inevitable headline in the next mornings Majorca Daily Bulletin and just when its outcome became almost inevitable, we finally started to descend.

With each meter of our descent the colour returned to our ashen faces, so much so that at about twenty metres we could have happily stayed there all day.

The accompanying pictures barely do the extent of the white knuckle ride justice – especially as I stopped clicking beyond half way.

Still, the house is now watertight even if I’m not.

With an English landscape gardener on one side and the ever inventive Hans and Simona on the other, I’m incredibly well served.

My neighbour on the other side is a German transvestite, but I’m sure I’ll find a use for him/her eventually.

Going down!

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