Three months

Time to assess progress so far

Casa del Sol has been something of a building site since early September. While some of the work could have been done before we got here, had we been more strategic in our planning, only after living in a place longer than three weeks does finding solutions to problems start to become really urgent. So when the daytime temperatures dipped to below 30-ish, the work got going.

The cortijo was renovated in the mid-‘90s and the many people who have lived here since appear to have put up with some uncomfortable issues that we never could. When we bought el Sol in the summer of 2012 we noted the number of sink plungers distributed around bathrooms and kitchens. Our predecessors had relied on them to get the grey water out, and the method worked well enough for a fair while. But the place was well used by friends and relatives in the weeks up to our arrival in August and the plungers were no longer up to the job. Regular “rodding” of the pipe that lay beneath the garden, allegedly taking grey water to a soak-away somewhere south of the swimming pool would get things moving again, but my increasing anxiety at not having a dishwasher (I’m a Londoner: I can cope with a lot of what living in Órgiva deprives me of, but not washing up) meant a long-term solution had to be found.

Our knight in armour (nothing really shines here, except the sun and the snow on the top of the high sierra) has been an accomplished digger-man. A worthy steed, the compact machine might become a must-have gadget in due course. Skilfully operated, it sliced through the soil, following the line of the pipe (our hero initially had nothing better to go on than this drawing done, it seems, by a small child – note the swing from the olive tree, wishful thinking perhaps).

map of el sol drains

Water doesn’t run uphill

The excited cry from one observer to the operation (it’s been a bit Piccadilly Circus-like here) that “it goes uphill there” sums up what our rudimentary drainage system has been up against. A narrow pipe, laid in far too shallow a ditch and, indeed, on an upward incline in places. James Dyson may have been able to make water flow uphill, but there was something lacking in the science in our backyard.

A deeper trench, a proper soakaway hole in the ground (the original was found to be nothing but a perforated pipe “designed” to discharge water into the acequia channel or thereabouts – not that water is likely to have reached that far) and an appropriately-wider pipe now provide us with sinks and showers that do what they are intended to: drain. A minor kitchen re-design is the next step to achieving that longed-for dishwasher.

Restoring the garden to its former glory may take a little longer.

There’s something in the library

It was never really a shed. The building by our gate once provided access to a friend of a previous owner of el Sol to her land and nave (an agricultural building), which is down a track behind our real shed. But after a falling out between the two, and then a court battle between the unfortunate still-owner of the now inaccessible land and the immediate previous owners of our home, what was a walkthrough wood store was blocked up and given a makeshift roof.

Which gave me an idea. Where to put the books? Time to realise that childhood dream of having a library. So the walls were raised, concrete roof erected, render applied. Shelving arrived from the UK via Aberdeen (simple shelving systems are hard to come by in España). And now at least some of our boxes are unpacked.

No, we’re not entirely sure that our library/office is legal, but it’s there. And that’s half the battle won in this part of Spain. And, importantly, it’s still a wood store. Much like swimming pools here are albercas (water storage tanks).

Centrally heated knickers

Well, not knickers (most of which have been pulled off the washing line and shredded by the dog). I was just inspired by unpacking Michael Rosen books. But what we are doing is something seemingly innovative for rural Spain – installing wood-burning central heating. Common in off-grid areas of the UK, radiators heated by a stove with a back-burner are rare here. Our builder friend, who has helped to provide the inspiration and practical solution for this, has been greeted by some incredulity when he’s tried to explain it locally.

Shipping the estufa (stove) from Italy turned out to be substantially cheaper than a UK-manufactured Hunter, as much as we’d have liked one. Inevitably, given its provenance, it’s stylish, though its charms are still hidden in its box as we await the delivery of a final, crucial, element of the network of pipes that have been appearing in and around the house.

And when it’s still keeping us toasty warm in the morning, in the way that our old wood-burner does in the evening, we might launch one of those Open House architectural days that have become so popular in London. After all, we all like a glimpse of how other people live. Just as this blog tries to paint a picture of how we live.