Building


Exciting, anxious, stressful times?  If the adrenalin isn’t coursing through the veins every now and then something must be amiss.  It makes the senses more acute, awakening that primeval fight or flight condition.  An adrenalin rush isn’t exactly what I need at the moment, as having somewhat carelessly broken a bone in ‘me foot’ I’m now laid up in plaster for a month and with a move in the offing the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Hopping around the house I’ve managed to pack a few boxes, wrap up the odd item and make a prone nuisance of myself!  As a result I’m increasingly boxed in as we again pack up our things and prepare to move out of the house come warehouse of the last four years.  The last few days have been a mix of throwing out, sorting out, shredding, packing and stacking.

And yes up the road the place almost resembles Piccadilly Circus as carpenters, electricians and builders come and go.  From the outside the walls have taken on the appearance of a newly decorated Christmas cake whilst the inside is rapidly taking shape.  We are on schedule and with that we should be able to welcome you from the end of September.  A firm date still has to be set and when our website is up and running we’ll let you know when that is.

Thus we are beginning to make that transition from promoters/builders to guest house owners/operators and as a result this blog/diary will be up for change.  More ‘newsy’ stuff about La Rectoria and events past and present, recipes and life in and around La Garrotxa through the eyes of a scotsman.  Much of what has been said in the last 18 months or so might have been a little pedestrian, but I guess it will serve as a memory to us and those who have been involved with us.

It is over six years since we drove up to this area for the first time to look, think and dream about….what if we did leave Scotland and come here to start a guesthouse?  Now we are almost there.

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I guess you could include F****** A in the above but the F here alludes principally to the façade, floors and other fixtures and finishes. But firstly, the finishing and the closure of yet another chapter in my working life. The teaching year in Barcelona is beginning to wind down and I have started to say my goodbyes to ‘students’ some of whom I have known since I started teaching four years ago. Goodbyes uttered on a scale starting from the very poor English, to Spanglish and through to the very good. Along the way I have inadvertently picked up some good friends, got a good insight into Spanish and Catalan life and culture and would say that it has truly been one of the most enjoyable work experiences in my somewhat chequered career. The life of the peripatetic teacher is coming to a close. For my part, the teaching was largely learnt ‘on the hoof’ and one quickly learnt that students initially knew a sight more than the teacher about grammar and its associated terminology. Ultimately, the teaching was the easy part. It has been the 70km round trip to Barcelona on each working day and the getting about the city by metro, bus or tram between classes that proved tiring. Leaving the house just after seven in the morning and returning around nine at night, with the following day’s material to be pulled together after dinner. I’m not grumbling. It has been a bag load of fun and has provided me with a reasonable income in an alien country where I can still hardly string a sentence together in the local lingo, be it Catalan or Spanish. So to one and all thank you and “Fins aviat!!”.

Back at the site. Having seen numerous samples of differing renders applied to the outside walls, a recent trip to Girona and a visit to see a project Pere is working on sealed our decision. Thus that same texture and colour is now being applied with the customary aplomb of Vicents and the others that we are now almost taking for granted. The swirl and movement of their arms is almost discernable in the finish, key stones are left exposed and these contrast wonderfully with the mottled grey render finish.

On the basement floor intricate coils and lines of red plastic piping have been laid over sheets of expanded polystyrene which in turn look like giant pieces of white lego. Concrete is now being poured on top of this and when finished this will be our floorcovering – a continuous sheet of satin smooth concrete set against stone walls and white ceilings, cool in summer, touchy feely “calentet” in winter.

The tiles we purchased some weeks ago in Castelló are now in place in three of the bedrooms as bed heads, helping to underline the individuality of each room.  Elsewhere terracotta tiles – tova – are being laid. The dining room looks superb and we have all but chosen the tables and chairs. Easy one might think but trying to put the finishing touches to the rooms has been anything but.

My weekly visit to the site has been postponed until tomorrow.   Persistent heavy rain prevented any kind of activity today including a visit we had planned to Montmelo.  The motor circuit is just down the road from here in Cardedeu and home to the Catalunya Grand Prix.  The plan had been to get there early to join the ‘petrol heads’ watch the ultimate Formula 1 practice day prior to the start of the F1 season later this month.  Personally, I’m no great fan of what I grudgingly consider a sport and the thrill was planned more for our son and to experience first-hand the speed and certainly the noise that permeates across this part of Catalunya whenever a race is on.

Sadly, the bad weather made us think otherwise and consequently we spent part of the day doing some desk research thanks to the wonders of the internet.  Light fittings have been our principle target and we found a superb website, ambientedirect.com for yes, lights and more.  Meanwhile up at La Rectoria the week’s principle activity has involved feeding cabling to the basement, removing the old plaster from the facade, and the application of the concrete finish to the walls of the ‘Old Economic Kitchen’.  Arguably this room has the most character of any in the house – the old stone hearth which will provide guests with an open fire.  The old wood fired stove with places for four ‘ollas’ (pans).  The large stone sink and the wooden beams that adorn the ceiling.   Here we intend to offer guests possibly a wee dram prior to dinner or alternatively a post dinner digestive whilst they warm their toes by the fireside.

Tomorrow should make for something of a muddy visit but we need to cast a critical eye over the finishes that will soon be applied throughout and the furniture that will accompany them.  And time permitting we’ll be planting both a greengauge and an apple tree next to where we intend the ‘hort’ to be.  Let’s hope the skies clear!

Winter has but flirted with Catalunya this year.  Last Sunday we spent a sun splashed day in the garden continuing to cut back the neglected hazel trees which line the edge of the lawn.  In the bright, warm and intense ‘winter sunshine’ I had to strip down to my T-shirt as temperatures touched 20°C.  Not hot, but then again it is only the beginning of February.  And as I drove home from work on Friday afternoon spring spoke by way of pink and white blossoms burdening trees in the majestic splendor that says that a new year of growth and vitality is all but here.

Talk of Spring may well be premature but  our evident and continued impact on this fragile Earth was illustrated further this week by pollution laden (sm)fogs both here in Barcelona and in Madrid; exasperated by an anticyclone hanging over Iberia.  We await our flight to the hills of Catalunya!

La Rectoria is something of an old darling of a relic and we want to keep as a much of her idiosyncratic character as we can.  Stones, beams, wooden pegs, nooks and crannies are being left as far as possible to tell her story.   And so this week a seemingly small and insignificant window has been retained on the main stairwell, looking out on to the terrace between the house and church.    We surmise that in the past it enabled occupants of the house to scrutinize would be visitors prior to bidding them in, or not as the case may have been.  We want to keep this vista as one of a number of oddities which adorn the house.

In turn, with thanks to the design gene of our architects we are adding the occasional quirk of our own.  The latest of which can be seen in one of our bedrooms , where a series of random openings have been made in the bathroom wall.   The idea is not one of voyeuristic  opportunism, but is to enable natural light to enter the only bathroom that will not have a window.  The ‘windows’ will  be screened with adhesive slides that will depict varied scenes that may be seasonal or otherwise.  These will be changed at intervals depending on our whim.   Thus, while sitting on the ‘John’ you might be distracted by, photo’s of landscapes, people or places, poetry or whatever.   I remember BBC Radio 4 used to have an early morning slot ‘Pause for thought’.  We hope this might provide a similar distraction to future guests in bedroom 4.

It’s a cool Sunday morning, slightly overcast and damp.  We had a great british start to the day, light rain and drizzle but it was perfect for the run we’ve just completed.  The 26th Marxa de Blanc i Blava, organized by the Cardedeu penya (supporters club) of Espanyol, or Paraquitos as they are affectionately called.  Thus, I’m feeling a little sore and tired.

It was billed as a run, you had the choice of doing 8 or 16kms.  We opted for the former.  I had imagined a pleasant jaunt along country lanes and around Cardedeu.  The reality was more akin to one of those army cross country affairs you’ve probably seen on TV….along muddy woodland pathes and very nobbly  farm tracks, the main hazards being the occasional steep track or doddering participants completing the course on foot.  I guess in hind sight it was more akin to a ‘Dads Army’ training course.  About 1km from the end two chalked signals on the road indicated ‘llarg’ or ‘curt’, by that point the choice was obvious –short- and I was at the finish a few minutes later.  The tangible rewards were a very fine botifarra (sausage) baguette, water, soft drink or wine and Espanyol hand towel and assorted other goodies.  Very civilized. 

Yesterday included yet another audience at a bathroom showroom.  Having pretty well tied down which loo seats we would like, our attention turned to bathroom sinks.  A relatively simple task one would think, after all what is the function of a sink –  to wash face and hands, clean teeth, shave.  A sink might have other uses when on holiday – to cool beers etc, wash smalls and other items of clothing.  Any other suggestions are most welcome.  Given we have seven guest bedrooms and public loo, plus the facilities in our quarters, that kind of ups the anti a little.  Only two of the bathrooms have exactly the same dimensions.  Some accompany rooms that we wish to make that little bit more special and a couple have the added complication that their shape makes the choice of finishes somewhat complicated.  Again we were pouring over catalogues, me following Catalan by gist etc.  Italian, Spanish, German and whatever makes they were.  Round, rectangular, deep, shallow, coloured or white.  Things that looked like they had come from the set of ‘Star Trek’ and other downright  way out architectural styles and creations.  After some angst we have come up with a short list of contenders, generally two choices for each room based on style and price to chew over and then that leaves the taps to select.  Showers, their doors and shower heads and the general finishes are the next wee hurdle but those are for another week.  One step at a time.

An hour or so later, arriving at La Rectoria we were met by a welcoming party of sorts, our neighbour, Jordi , Pere, Carme, Lluisa and her dog from down the road.  They constitute what I guess I can call the committee of the Aplec de Sant Miquel which is scheduled to take place next Sunday 3rd of October.  Two hundred neighbours and people from Sant Feliu de Pallerols will converge on La Rectoria for this annual gathering, blessing,  arros and dance to mark El Dia de Sant Miquel.  The committee’s concern was that wet weather would put paid to the outdoor celebrations.   Anyhow, I left them to gather the final picking of this year’s bramble harvest.  They fell off on touching and some were the size of grapes.

Inside the house continued good progress is being made with the roof.  The race is on to finish this part as soon as possible, making the house water tight prior to any substantial autumn rains.  Fifty per cent of the rajolas (internal tiles) have been fixed in place on the final section of the roof to be restored and I guess this will completed in the next week.   Meanwhile three of the iron frames that are to be fitted in each and every window have arrived.  Dark grey and imposing looking, oozing strength and rigidity these will give a bold finish to the windows of the house.  The one sitting proudly in the dining room looked more like some kind of sculpture.

Our visit finished with a hasty gathering of what has been a bountiful harvest of Quince from our two trees.  I would  guess about 10kg.  Too much solely for the obvious transformation to Quince Cheese (Codonyat), so other recipes will be uncovered in due course.

As I write this, yesterday’s haul of brambles has been turned into four jars of sticky sweet bramble jam.

700g brambles

700g warmed sugar

Juice of one lemon

Two tablespoons of water

Place the brambles, lemon juice and water in a pan and warm gently for about 10 minutes, shaking occasionally until the berries are soft.  Meanwhile, warm the sugar in the oven then add to the softened berries.  Continue to cook slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for about 8 minutes or until the temperature reaches 104°c .   Remove the pan from the heat and test for the ‘setting point’.  Place a spoonful of the jam on a chilled saucer and leave for a minute.  Then run a flattened finger through the jam; if the jam crinkles  and wrinkles and remains parted the setting point has been achieved.  If not put back on the heat for a further five minutes and then repeat the test again.  When ready pour carefully into warm sterilized jars, cover with waxed paper and seal the lids tightly.  Enjoy!

Thoughts on the house have taken something of a U Bend turn this week as our attention has moved to the bathrooms.  Which leads me neatly to writing a wee post script to last week’s piece.  A French motorway service station information board drew my attention to the fact that much of the route we had driven from the Côte d´Azur to the Spanish frontier and beyond followed the route of the Via Domitia, built in 118 B.C. by those organized Romans, linking Italy with Hispania.  However good the food, wine and weather in France, one basic necessity of a civilized society is a descent ‘Kazi’ or ‘John’, and given our straw poll of motorway service stations was evidently lacking……As a Glaswegian friend once informed me, ‘Glasgow will be great once it is finished’.  Likewise, France and it’s motorway loos.

Two years ago when we were preparing for the tendering process we got out our metaphorical spades and got down to work getting together some prices for this and that, including bathroom fittings.  In short we initially went for the ‘cottagey’ old look – wooden toilet seats and victoriana type fittings.  It was all very nice and suited the look of the old place.  It did the job; we got some prices and it gave us a yard stick to measure tenders against.  Recently, those brochures and prices have been unearthed and having awoken from something of a Laura Ashley twee-middle English kind of stupor we’ve come to our senses.

New brochures have been acquired as we have turned to satisfying you the customer.  Waking up in the morning from a good night’s rest we hope to make your short trip to and stay in the bathroom a pleasant if not comfortable one.  As the dividing walls have not yet been constructed, this week we took some chalk and a measure tape and marked out the dimensions of these sacred spaces on the concrete floor of La Rectoria. 

Architect and lifestyle magazines have been poured over and this culminated in a visit to our architects office in Girona this morning.  Over fine coffee and coca (a Catalan pastry) the design and layout of the bathrooms was largely finalized with we hope the odd element of care, comfort and curiosity built in.    Given that the average person will spend 576 days of their life in a bathroom, this period of voluntary incarceration should be quality time.

Moving on swiftly, a quick reckie from the house up the carri bici on Thursday revealed a plentiful abundance of mores  – brambles.  We Brit’s have even made a verb out of this fruit, ‘to bramble’ and thus in less than an hour of frantic ‘brambling’ we collected about 2.5kgs of juicy black berries which have been dually frozen.  Jam and jelly making might be in the offing.

So here we go again.  This isn’t a reference to the blog but to our second camping expedition to La Rectoria in the space of one month.   Camping doesn’t cause me any problems, relative peace and quiet, no TV, your day dictated by the number of daylight hours etc.  No, it’s trying to remember everything – clothes no problem; food for two days (with no fridge) O.K.; things to amuse kids – painting stuff, kids garden tools, football and more.  Garden tools and other ‘bits and bobs’….where does the list end?   Last time we did this I forgot the harness and visor for the stimmer with the result that I had to make an additional two hour, 150km trip to Cardedeu and  back.  It would be great to leave camping and gardening paraphernalia there but as yet there is nowhere to secure them.

Thus on Friday last we arrived with Silvestre’s youngest cousin to find Viçenc and Josep still on site…at 17.00.  I make this point as my recollection of Britain is building sites abandoned by 15.00 on Friday with all and sundry decamped to the pub.  With tent erected and makeshift kitchen and shower in place we set to getting ready for the job in hand for the next couple of days….’painting’ 500 terracotta ceiling tiles (rajoles) and tidying the garden a bit more.  Pere claimed one of his guys could perform the former task in about two hours.  More on that piece of hyperbole shortly.  We had taken our own homemade take-away with us for supper  – homemade pizza – and with that devoured we settled down for the night. 

Breakfast the next morning and the ‘best laid plans….’ – gadamit “no butter!”  So it was olive oil and marmalade on toast – kind of different.   Having moved approximately 200 tiles the previous evening to where they were to be painted, Goretti and I went to consider the job in hand.  Not so much painting as dipping.  Dipping rectangular ceiling tiles into a mix of chalk paste and water in such a way as to leave a terracotta diamond set against the white chalk background….each corner should be dipped for about 8 seconds…..giving 32 seconds plus time for cleaning the tile prior to dipping and then leaving them to dry.  Lucky to do one tile a minute.  500 in two hours….hats eaten and more!

I retreated to the garden to make slightly heavy weather of strimming the weeds in the main camp ground, but by lunchtime the weeds were felled, gathered up and piled to one side.  Meanwhile back at the tiles and four hours later 200 or so had been dipped and with some aplomb….The game strategy was hatched and after lunch a further 150 were dispatched, with me lending a hand and the two boys acting as labourers, collecting tiles for us to dip.  A Dickensian picture of a family at work. Tiring repetitive work, but highly satisfying, knowing that we were making a tangible contribution to a finish in the house, one that had been there prior to the restoration work.  Knackered we freshened up using the invaluable solar shower and sank to bed.

Too much coffee or perhaps it was the intermittent sound of gunfire (hunters pursuing porc senglar) but me and Goretti were wide awake at 02.00. Aching body, warm tent, coffee induced insomnia, sleep was not so sound or serene as the previous night.  Feeling closer to 60 than 50 I struggled upright on Sunday morning.  Sitting for breakfast I wondered if I would ever be able to leave the chair.  Returning to the previous days sweat saturated clothes I completed a further hour of garden action with the stimmer and finished by venting any spasms of pain or discomfort by felling bamboo plants tall and short. 

And so the final push with the tiles.  Running short of chalk paste we scrapped to 501 and then proceeded to do a ‘Sunset Boulevard’ thing dipping our hands in the paste and leaving our prints on a tile apiece.  Along with a few festive themed sponge painted ones we want these placed on the ceiling as our personal testament and commitment to this house which is increasingly becoming part of us and our family.

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