I’m shocked and appalled at the state of the house.
The One has been sending me pictures of the various goings on at home and I’m seeing the building with fresh eyes. I must have been focussing on the interior of the house before, because the exterior sure looks like hell.
The mass of things still to come with the building project messes with my head while I descend through a purple vacuum before falling asleep at night. There’s just so much more to do, and making some order of it puts me into a coma.
On The One’s while-I’m-away-to-do-list is to get cracking with the rés do chão. On the ground floor there are two rooms, one of which will be a bedroom and the other will transmogrify between wood storage, tool temple and japanese tranquility contemplation space.
Have I ever mentioned that The One, although pretending otherwise, hates renovating? He wants to get stuff done, sharing my motivation not to live in a garbage dump forever, but the man gets no joy from getting sweaty nor irradiating his consciousness with the drone of power tools. He does like playing with his man-friends though, and what better reason to call them up than ‘the wife wants me to fix up a bedroom’? I look upon his housework to-do list less as torture and more like an excuse to crack a coldie with his mates.
Anyway, master builder Ian says the bedroom will take a day to do, darling. How many times in the last 5 years have I wished my mate Ian was just down the road in Portugal, rather than in Sydney. At a barbie on Sunday a bunch of us were calculating how long we’d known each other and doesn’t the sound of 26 years make you feel old? I blame Ian for making me want to build things.
So, after the bedroom we’ve got more to do on the living room, including a new kitchen. Tragically I want to redo the walls and the floor, because the finishes on both aren’t working. The walls are too rough and the floor is too filthy. It’ll only take a day, darling.
Then, at last it will be time to don the safety boots again and launch some scaffolding because I’ll be stripping off the ancient render on the front of the house. It’s a job I’ve wanted to do since before I bought the place. De-rendering will lead to re-pointing, which is an epic job as the house has something like 300m2 of exterior wall. But I love pointing. Didn’t buy a stone house for nothing.
Somewhere before finishing the pointing the ruin’s walls need to be grown to make them level with the main house (the house is originally two house built together, one we call the main house and the other is called the ruin). I’m also really looking forward to this bit, because not only is it about building in stone, but doing it 4 metres off the ground. The Ancient Egyptians made this stuff look easy… we’re going to need some proper engineering and safety plans. Just like a real job. Be like making movies again. I should get a few grips over to help. Yay. I’m looking forward to the great arms it will give me.
Then I’ll get out of the way for a bit and let Penfold put on a new roof on the ruin. That will of course be a serious advancement especially as I’ll get an instant 50m2 dry toolshed out of it. The new roof could lead onto a new floor (although yes it would be cool to do it the other way around) but by now we are talking about winning lotto to pay for it.
But if you could just indulge my construction fantasy a little longer… the new floor gets connected with the floor we are now living on, via a doorway from one house to the other, through our living room wall. And then we’d have a big master bedroom and the room downstairs becomes an office. Then there’s the annexe, which needs a new roof, a tiny bathroom and some lime on the interior walls and that becomes a guest room. And by then, Portugal will be well into its renaissance, with an robust economy built on the back of renewable energy and an organic, free range, agricultural boom. A woman prime minister of the newly formed Green and Independent coalition will be a leader in the New Way of democratic, participatory economics, in which governments have practically extinguished defense spending in favour of improving health services and education. Power and wealth is diverted from the few into the hands of many via a radical restructure of corporations where the work of all collaborators is valued equally, filtering through society as a dilution of hierarchy and an extraordinary development in personal independence, individualism and creativity. Huge advances in science comes of this, with the eradication of many diseases and solutions for well being and happiness. Crime is therefore reduced, and freed from fear and poverty, the people become altruistic, both community conscious and world aware. And we all keep chickens.
Since I’ve just spent 6 months holed up in a four-square-metre passage, I think you all owe me 6 minutes to read all about it in its painstaking detail.
Oh yes this blog has arrived at help-me-pick-my-tiles and let-me-talk-you-through-the-completely-boring-minutiae-of-my-DIY-renovation-fix-up-dream-home wank.
Excellent! Let’s go!
First, I’ll disappoint the reader by saying it’s actually not finished yet. That’s right, because DIY Dream Home House Project Fantasies never are. I was saving a bit of the budget for a big fat shiny new digital TV, me being news deprived for four years now, but dang world events! the hallway comes first! Useful ikea cupboard instead. Haven’t bought it yet so here’s some dodgy photoshop work. Time to phone in with your votes!
The Floor. Fabulous darlings isn’t it? This floor was first laid by our dear woofers, with flagstones found under the cement floor in a lean-to which houses the stone oven. But then we ripped it up again because the grading wasn’t right and laid it anew and in doing so stuffed up the entrance to the bathroom, and now The One can’t fit through the door without using his hands and knees. Yay.
Just so you know everything, beneath the floor is some hideous blue board and a chunky layer of limecrete with maltesers. Oh and probably a damp proof course. It was so long ago I can’t remember. Anyway, after being laid the floor subsequently endured splashes of cement render, lime render, limewash, plaster, paint, cat vomit, a smashed jar of pesto and a whole lot of dirty doggy footprints. So last week I spent three days and two bottles of ácido muriático (which doesn’t sound nearly as bad as hydrochloric acid) scrubbing it all off.
Also during those wire brush days I cleaned up this nice bit above the door which got roughed up when Penfold replaced the roof, last year sometime. So it’s been re-pointed in lime and the stone faces revealed using the Michelle Obama / Linda Hamilton arm workout video. While high on hydro gases I cleaned the timber with acid too and made the new pointing all dirty. The One didn’t know this was actually a mistake, and he complimented this accidental aging patina effect. And he’s right, it’s bloody lovely.
The Walls. I quite realise that six months seems a rather long time to spend on 4m2 (extrapolated this means the house will take another 5 years to finish) but there were these problems with the walls not being straight. This wall on the right is a brick wall I built myself, leaving me mystified why one face can be perfectly flush and the other not. Some time in the early months of year were dedicated to cement rendering both sides, the top bit being a bit fiddly as it been broken down and re-mortared a few times in the pursuit of electricity. I love rendering almost as much as plastering, although it does something weird to your brain. So fixated you become on smoothness that even one tiny rumple possesses me to do another coat. It’s not a job that manic perfectionists should be doing. It’s a bit like crack. Almost as soon as you’ve downed your tools you get the urge for more.
The entranceway needed radical rendering. It’s the doorway to the oldest part of the house, built in rough stone, a bit settled and as wavy as praia das rocas. It wasn’t working well for my obsessive compulsive need for straight lines and geometry. But after four weeks and 17 coats of lime render she’s lovely. Not sharp, but vertical and with all the nougat-ness that lime brings. Limewash over lime render looks dense and soft. I love it.
The entrance also needed a step so I knocked that up with leftover floorboards. Something went wrong with our new floor. We decided on oiling it with linseed but it never sealed properly and now we have a very dirty floor, which going by the 4:6 formula it will take three weeks to clean. So we’ve decided to stain and varnish it. Controversial, certainly, but one dog two cats building site practical. And this is the colour. No, there’s nothing to vote on here. Don’t phone in. It’s done.
The other wall wasn’t a big deal. So in between blogging, feeding the people, putting out the washing and taking pictures of cake I put up a timber frame, insulation and plasterboard and then plastered my way to bliss.
Picked up a dandy shoe cupboard from the Swedes and knocked that up in world record time, another thing I totally love. These days budget ikea may be as disposable as ever but the middle class stuff is superb. It fits, it works and in outback Portugal no one has seen it before.
The ceiling had been put up last year but still needed several weeks of plastering sanding painting filling sanding and painting. Bloody ceilings, we should just dispense with them altogether. Only where would the possums live, possums?
Bathroom door. The magnificent bathroom door has been covered in earlier publications but I still had to frame it up and hang the bitch. Never have I had so much agony as I have hanging every door and window in this house. It’s primarily the fault of the age of the doors and not being perfectly straight but I swear there is something wrong with the hinges I’m buying. Finally, after umpteen minor adjustments she swings and shuts. Mao just can’t get enough of it. He cries to be let in and then cries to be let out. I think he thinks there’s a very handsome burmese on the other side.
And finally, the front door. This was the original internal door from the hall to the living area. Fortunately protected from the elements and the neighbour’s pissing dog, it’s heavy and straight and not too eaten by woodworm. While sanding through layers of paint, including an insane turquoise, I found something written on the door in pencil. The words were illegible but the markings were obviously that of child’s height.
Old houses are so like people, don’t you think? So full of surprises.
I’ve just come from another baffling and futile conversation with an insurance broker who is apparently unable to cover my house and its latest improvements. Okay, small difficulty in valuating the property, given its initial age and its work in progressness. But so what? Where I come from insurers will jump at practically anything and leave it to the claims dept to refuse you if, and big if, the time comes. Instead of just dumbing it down to a fundamental cultural difference, I must know why my place isn’t interesting enough for local insurers to cover. On the Caixa website form, for example, things abruptly terminate when I enter the age of the house. Yes it’s an old house. So, we live in a forest. And I know we are in zone that’s considered by at least by Portugal Telecom to be a high default risk, I.E. it’s kinda poor. But none of these things should, logically should, stand between me and home insurance. I discuss it with the neighbours and I can divine nothing – I take this to mean no one is insured. Which is why they have a dog tied up outside? Is dog a fire-fighter? Am I confused?
Please, dear reader, if you can shed any light on this Portuguese insurance malarky, please don’t restrain yourself. I am, once again, off to hunt down satisfaction from somewhere .co.uk, where they understand this Anglo Saxon peculiarity to be prepared.
In one last post about the house building, until “phase one” is ready for photography and housewarming, let’s take a look at the good and the bad decisions made so far.
This is not an invitation for any lurking troll to lay shit on me – as does happen once in a while and always by another amateur with barely formed half ideas supposed on unfinished photos and the scraps of information divulged here on these pages. You see ladies, anyone with a dick is an expert builder, and a erstwhile blondish chick is the most easy post for the least competent of these to cock a leg. Here’s some advice for you, little boys, in return for all the “careful that wall doesn’t fall on you” type comments I’ve endured: Expert builders do not give out unsolicited advice. They do not condescend. They work with you, not against. Real builders, just like real men, have balls, and they do not need to piss on women to prove it. They don’t need to prove anything.
As if the condition of my self esteem isn’t already quite plain, I see no shame in sharing with you where I think I wasted money or time or made things way much harder than they needed to be. I know what I am: I am a perfectionist, and I take on very ambitious projects. Arguably too big for someone who might be more comfortable with a drama-less life. I am a paradox just like any decent human being.
Let’s start with booby number one: the windows. For those who don’t recall, I bought for a bargain, a few thousand old timber windows and doors that were ripped out of Versailles or somewhere. We discussed the best way to restore them and then the financial crisis came and they shelved, quite literally, for two years which did nothing to improve their deteriorated condition. Now, for “phase one” of the renovation we only needed four windows and three doors. And just this small number drove us all crazy with the amount of work they needed and the tediousness and discomfort of the work required. And I’m sorry to say, the results aren’t impressive. Sure, they are kinda cute, but they are also warped, uneven and don’t fit into frames that were straight and built around them. They have been a total pain in the arse from start to finish. And they are still not finished.
I don’t have a solution here, because as The One said, he too would have bought the windows at the price I was offered. New windows, double glazed, are at least €350 each, so you can very easily dispense with a few thousand bucks. I can’t recommend saving money by installing them yourself either, unless you’ve had a lifetime of practice. It’s a fiddly, skill-requiring task. And I’ll stand up and say this level of carpentry is out of my league.
Scheduling. Don’t bother. Waste of time. Building is, surprising to me, an organic beast. And you are in Portugal on Portuguese time. Your timber will not be ready when you want it. You will not be able to get products you want that day from the local shop. Delay, delay and more delay. Don’t set a deadline. Just let it happen. Even when your builder is on a contract with a penalty if they run late, they will still run late.
The mess. Somehow you’ve got to get everyone who works on the site to clean up after themselves. Obviously, this is anathema to tradespeople – even the gentlemanly PT guys leave crap everywhere. If I did not have to ferret about with a plastic bag collecting flotsam almost constantly I could’ve got a lot more done – and there is always more on my job list than anyone else’s. Make it part of the work, in that half hour before downing tools there is a cleanup session. And the tools! How much gets destroyed & money wasted by inadequately cleaned tools and equipment. I neglected checking on the cement mixer for a while and now it’s irreparable. And no matter how much I laid down the law, or the ashtrays, I could still spend an entire day now picking up cigarette butts. Why am I still cleaning mortar off floors, roof tiles, window sills, when one sweep of a sponge at the end of the day would have spared me these hours?! Grrrrrr!
Let’s change the subject lest the poor reader loses the will to live. Let’s instead talk about the glory of the wood burner. I checked out makes and models and prices for a few years before this day, and so I had a fair idea of what I needed. I needed to spend more than I wanted to, that was clear, but when choosing a wood burner you can exchange kilowatts for quality. I went for a Portuguese made brand called Solzaima, which smacked of quality – it’s easy to spot: environmentally mindful, good supply of information about the product, trained sales staff. I thought I’d spend €500, I spent €800. And then I handed it over to penfold the builder who has installed his own and for others and knew exactly what I had to achieve: central heating.
Thus I spent another €1400 on installation, including a secondary fan to boost the traffic of hot air to other rooms, (in addition to the recuperador’s own fan which generally serves as radiant heat) a chimney, a major amount of floor support and a whole lot of unseen tubing.
It is worth every cent. It is as warm as socks in here, even with single glazing and drafts blowing in through every unfinished door and window. It is efficient and low maintenance and it looks sensational. It unmistakably adds value to the house. We love it.
In the same vein – the double insulation, with all the pain it took, has paid off. I already knew it would when in mid-August the outside workers were dying, we, rendering inside, were singing along to the radio. Our morning inside temperature (no fire) will be above 15º when outside is under 7º. And we haven’t even insulated downstairs yet and anyone with a rés do chão knows how cold it is down there…
Ilhamdulillah, the bath. It’s big, it’s lovely. I have no regrets on the money spent on the bathroom. Everything is big – the sink, the taps – but it works in the space. I love the floor tiles (expensive) and the wall tiles (cheap). I love the insulated water pipes (my insistence) and the strong water pressure (pure luck). And I’ll love it even more when it’s finished – door, tiling, heated towel rail, cupboard, and a damn inspection hatch door to stop the cats playing chasings under the bath…
Nothing destroys the memory of a holiday better than filthy labouring with a monstrous deadline looming and the money running out. Stress, it’s called. Mega stress.
But so it was, these last few weeks. I gathered up all the stray workers I could find and set about making the place slightly more hospitable than just a shed with a million dollar fireplace. We were moving in before Christmas and no santa could stop us.
While the most obvious thing was getting the doors and windows hung, the scene was a train crash of competing priorities. Putting a finish on the new floor and oh god what colour, keeping mud out of the house and off that newly sealed floor (forget the dark stain I had in mind all along and go for linseed oil, no worries thanks tango). Finishing the never finished ceiling, because, like, when would I next have the chance to erect scaffolding in the living room. The hallway had to be dug up and redone because it ended up being lower than the outside, and that stuffed up the doorway height to the bathroom which I had tried to make tall-husband accessible. Two old leaks had continued to flourish despite the new roof, so we had to seal up and re-render a section of the outside, replace some roof tiles, and add a new strip of tiles to properly drain away the offending water trap. And so on. And on. And on.
So many absurd distractions! Our old furniture wouldn’t fit, but there’s no money left for everything new. Where would we sleep? Living room or office? The stairs, the hatch-door, he says no, I say yes. Skirting boards on curved walls? How will I cook? Instead of getting a good night’s sleep I’m up redesigning the kitchen or looking at oak furniture by the furniture market and fantasising about the perfect solution and not the fast one. Again I find myself chanting: Get it Done. Don’t Make it Perfect, Just Get it Done.
Och aye, there’s the plumbers. Three weeks before going to Australia I hired these two clowns calling themselves plumbers and gave them the benefit of the doubt for their first few appearances. No, they did not want to do the plumbing as previsioned by the builder, no they would not be insulating the pipes as I asked but yes they would be giving me a tap there and a mess there and fiddling about with the electricians work exactly as I had not requested. I should have fired them then but who else was there? In Act Two, with the director off sunning herself down under, instructions with colour diagrams in two languages were left with amply capable and qualified male friend with translating woofer. The bath had to be installed so. Não. This is what the client wants and this is what we do. Não. Não and não. So the bath is not level, the bath is not insulated and the bath has no inspection hatch. And the work is not finished. And still not finished two weeks later, which adds up to 12 days of work on a bathroom of 10m2. Clearly they are pulling my leg, and even more sharply when they try going back on our already extortionist €15/hr agreement by asking for €120 per day, each, same for the guy who did nothing and same for the kid. And that’s being paid for the one-and-three-quarters lunch breaks. And the travel. Ha ha.
Well yes, silly me: one for not wising up on day one, two for paying them way over the going rate, three for letting it go on so long, four for letting them touch someone else’s work (“I’m an electrician too”, they said). Anyway, I’m pretty sure Laurel and Hardy weren’t prepped for negotiating with an ex-producer with a ledger alleging every minute they had spent smoking fags and drinking coffee. Nor a list, long, of complaints about work badly done, not done or done at the expense of other’s people’s work. And how about the taps not being centred at the end of the bath? A mockery!
I love arguing in Portuguese. It’s too easy to ignore everything the other party says and unprovoked, return to the bottom line of the argument: The work was not done as I had instructed. If it had been, I’d be happy and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Pure and simple. Not negotiable.
So they were paid what I had agreed to, with a solatium (word of the day on Thesaurus.com). But the inconvenience didn’t stop with their departure. The toilet leaked. The sink leaked. The drains blocked up. The electrics were so badly mangled that the electrician wasted a day just figuring out what was going on. Much griping between the workers about a lack of respect, lying, cheating non-professionals who brag about beating their wives on site! I wish I’d been there to hear that one, and he would’ve been beaten off site, smartly.
So, people, plumbers from Vilarinho? Run. Away. Run. Far. Away.
After the others had mostly recovered from the plumbing trauma, it was time for me to really lose the plot. I shouted, screamed, cried and abused everyone who came near me. The One copped it the worst. I was horrible. Stress gets me in the guts, and the guts got me good. I made myself very ill indeed. They say that renovating is stressful, y’know. They say it’s hard on marriages, y’know. I recall a dear friend whose husband was building their house right under them. She was fed up with the dust, the dirt, her mate being exhausted, being shut out and left with the kids. How ungrateful, I thought, he’s building you a damn house! But now I know, and she has my sympathy. I am fed up with dust, I am fed up with dirty, sore hands, of the bruises and cuts. I am totally fed up with renovating. I cannot see people’s help for what it is, and I can no longer think straight. It is time to stop.
The windows and doors went in, the switches turned lights on and the preposterously luxurious woodburner got it’s fans going. The place was habitable, and come Christmas Eve, we set about moving in.
I am walking the path of many idealistic owner-builders. You want to use environmentally kind products, you do not want to create waste, you do not want to destroy the landscape and in the end you want to build a healthy, sustainable, carbon neutral home that either creates its own energy or uses very little.
It’s not only about the Earth, as low impact living has an enormous economic advantage. You spend less (or even nothing) on electricity, gas & water; your heating requirements are greatly reduced and your organically grown vegetables are free & healthier. That’s all great, except when it comes to paying the initial outlay. My green dreams began to fade once the global financial crisis had eaten my self invested personal pension. Suddenly solar power, central heating, double glazing and superinsulation are luxuries I can no longer fit into the budget. But why should it be so?
WHY IS SOLAR HOT WATER SO EXPENSIVE IN THIS COUNTRY? Why the hell is solar, and photovoltaic systems in particular, in any country, priced to prohibit them being a standard installation? We have the technology, it’s just that the government does not want to give it to us. Looking at solar in Portugal for a moment: the most prominant products are the same ugly things Australians were putting on their rooves 40 years ago, and yet Germany, that partner in the European Union, has state of the art systems and the highest implementation of them in Europe (or is that the world, I can’t remember). AND IT’S NOT EVEN VERY SUNNY THERE.
And Portugal’s attempt at a grant scheme for solar hot water installation was so flawed, supplying only particular products through selected suppliers and running the rebates through the banks – what a comedy of corruption, and what an abysmal failure.
SO I ASK – WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD? Isn’t it about time governments realised that it is good business to be green? That there is an enormous demand for the science community to improve the technology for a demanding marketplace and a dying planet? Why not think a little Chinese for a second and work out how many millions are to be made by the manufacturer and distributor of the cheapest domestic sustainable energy supplier, say something under $1000 with a lifetime warranty?
Where is the regulation of distributors? The products themselves do not, as is widely believed, cost a lot to manufacture. It’s the distributors who are responsible firstly for the inadequate supply of quality products and the ramping of prices. Again, slack governments failing to prioritise an area of industry: a lack of ethics on part of government and of the distributors themselves. Haven’t we seen this all before with the pharmaceutical industry?
Everyone says “it’s because governments make so much money from fuel taxes” or “it’s because the oil companies are the most powerful beings in the universe”. Bullshit. Oil is an endangered species. Coal is an endangered species. Finding solutions for alternative energy is the most pressing problem facing all governments – unless of course they are so weak that their only focus is the next election.
WELL WE CAN SEE FARTHER THAN THAT. And most of us reading this live in democracies. I say OUT with any government who does not have strong environmental policies that cast into the future, fund scientific development, engage manufacturers and distributors and deliver real incentives, as in govt or tax rebates, to convert the masses to alternative energy. In return we will consume less, save more, live longer, healthier and more productive lives and not send same government running to the IMF for handouts.
Be cynical as you may, but I still believe in personal responsibility, in human rights, in the fundamental knowledge we all possess of what is just, for all of us and for the Earth we live on. I believe in people having ethical integrity whose wealth and power can rise above the rationalisation of economy, of political process, and of personal greed. A worldwide movement exists which is propelled not by consumption but by sustainability. It is not just about pollution and carbon emissions and beaching whales. It is about the burgeoning realisation that capitalism is a failure, that democracy needs a kick up the arse, and the only way forward economically for the world is to halt consumption, build community and for each person to live self sufficiently, collaboratively and ultimately, peacefully.
I have not given up on my pursuit of green. I’ve used lime instead of cement wherever its engineeringly viable. I’ve recycled clay, stone and timber, I have double insulated the house. I’ve put in a grey water system which diverts everything except toilet and bidet deep into the lawn and I’ve got a sensationally massive 1000L rainwater tank for the horta. The house has passive solar conditions, is cross ventilated, and I’ll have one woodburner and A+ only appliances eventually. Two shopping bags of waste a day are sent to the bin (chiefly full of jaffa cake biscuit wrappings, the site’s favourite) but other than that no construction waste has left my place for landfill. I’m quite proud of that bit.
But to the future. I am steadfast on minimising electric and gas and yet there’s no way I’ve got the money for a solar-plus-recuperador-de-calor set up. The solar part is so tragic, that despite being “sunny Portugal” you cannot rely on it all year round – six months perhaps, because the cheaper systems available here are reliant on sunshine and not light.
Hence, my solution has been brought to me by the excellent people of Raiz Verde, one of the very few alternative energy companies in Portugal with a palpable level of integrity, and not one of those who want to sell you overpriced obsolete technology and a whole lot of bullshit. I remember a funny conversation with a guy in such an alternative energy shop who had no faith in reflective foil insulation because “the light can’t get into the air space between the bricks”… if you can’t differentiate between light and heat then perhaps you’re in the wrong business?
Anyway Raiz Verde has offered me the Sunpack heat exchanger system at a drastically generously reduced price and it would be criminal of me not to go for it. It is such a sexy system, so simple, and slightly beyond my comprehension. This is what it’s all about (straight from their website I confess):
A simple principle and an efficient way of using energy from the sun, the wind and the rain. The SunPack Heat Pump works on a thermodynamic principle and is based on the use of an evaporator panel. This panel captures the free energy which exists in direct and diffuse solar radiation, the rain and the wind. The energy is then transferred to a heat exchanger in the storage tank, heating the water inside at a cost approximately a fifth that of conventional systems.
The evaporator panel is fixed on the outside, capturing energy in the form of direct solar and / or diffuse solar, wind, rain and air. The panel extracts the available energy in the environment, the refrigerant in the panel boils and returns to the compressor as gas, where the heat is extracted and passed to the body of stored water via a high efficiency heat exchanger. Once the heat from the gas has been extracted, the gas returns to its liquid form as it cools and the process repeats, bringing the body of stored water to the desired temperature. With a power consumption of only 390W, the system can provide water at between 55ºC and 60ºC all year round, 24 hours per day, even on rainy days in the winter. Given that most of the energy is harnessed from nature, up to 80% of all the hot water obtained is free, which will significantly reduce your energy bill.
From me all it requires is the space for the cylinder, as in a new small enclosure attached to an existing shed and a space above the vines for the panel. It’s a beautiful thing. But even at the wonderful price of $1750 plus tax and transport and stuff, it is still outside my budget. So I’m appealing to you all who visit emmashouseinportugal.com, who’ve enjoyed the story and the journey, to make a little donation, and to do what is good and what is right, and to help me to fulfill my promises.
There’s a supportbutton to the right and below.
With huge thanks to Simon Sharp for his expertise and input.
There is so much talk on the net about French drains that I felt I simply had to have some at my place. And I’ve gone a little French drain mad. There’s been scoffing and rolling of eyes amongst the workers vis-à-vis my penchant for washing rubble-gravel… but you know how the French are; a drain should have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi cleanliness. What’s the bloody point in digging the trench and filling it back up again with dirt???
So rest assured, dear readers, my French drains are clean. Which leads me to builder talk. There’s been a recent ban on rough talk on the site, with the exception of the standard newbie question, “Danny or Kylie?”…;) In the absence of blatant filth quite professional conversions about tight gullys, gentle inclinations and flexible tubing have us apologising for fear of giving offence where none was intended. And then try explaining why we are laughing in Portuguese…
I know my husband is quietly congratulating himself on having married a woman who can build a solid septic tank. He thought he was just marrying me for my looks, my wit and my baking abilities – but no, there’s more. Quite frankly I’m so happy with the fosse that I almost sent the photos to my mother. I know what you’re thinking: it looks small, but in fact we precisely followed the project specifications and it didn’t allow for the rather crafty although labor intensive grey water system (also council approved) I’ve built as well. So the “shit pit” is exactly and only that. Before I leave this paragraph I’ll also give credit to woofer flo for the hole, penfold for the base, eric for the first course and coaching, to woofer sam for always saying “it’s looking really good”, woofer mo for carting sand, to The One for the tea, to my parents for having me and to little baby jesus for his love, even though he doesn’t know me very well.
Wonderfully we are rendering. I love it to death. Finally my lime needs are being met and sticking to the walls in big globs just the way they should. It’s a little bit sad as a stone lover, having stripped off the old render to be covering up the stone again. Some bits were very pretty, but there’s plenty more on the outside. Adding to the long list of things The One and I agree on, we’ll have a clean interior with none of that cartoon stoneness that other people do. (Oh except for the doorway which I’m not telling him about )
Mate, rendering is so much fun – mud pies for grown ups – and it’s good to be having fun. The last few weeks have been downright stressful and there has been very little work to enjoy. The filth, the dust, the wet hands, the scratches and bruises and cement up the nose – and the relentless bleeding… of money, that is.
But I should be enjoying this right? It’s what I came for? I remind myself this every day – but there are a few factors that have poopered the party. Firstly working under a deadline was never what I had planned. So if you’re going a do-it-yourself – don’t set a schedule, just go with the flow. On the other hand we have done lot in 3 months and I have lost 4 kilos. Ilhamdulillah.
Secondly having to watch every last cent is, if you excuse the mixed metaphor, taxing. Barely a day passes when I don’t mourn the loss of 30 very grand grand in the great global financial fucking crisis catastrophe. Bit strange missing something you never actually loved when you had it, but a bit more money to throw at the problem would have been nice.
Anyway, cracking progress is satisfying and I am mightily looking forward to living on the other side of the mountain again. And not having to drive over it twice a day. The only problem now is August. Of course I know that everything stops in August, but now it has stopped on me, sending whole timber yards to the Algarve and plumbers to the Açores. So we’re going to take a holiday next week too – just to go to the local beaches and enjoy some VIP visitor’s company.
Building delay it will be, and now that it’s out of my hands I feel more relaxed. Which is kind of like what living in Portugal does to you. You are forced to go slower, at the pace of the don’t-give-a-shit-about-doing-business-today Portuguese, and you can either accept that or die fighting it. The bottom line with changing countries is not about geography – it’s about changing yourself.
Houses built: 0.20
Injuries: Alteration to my DNA. Any child of mine would come out looking all prickly now. Some profound emotional scarring. Possible PTSD.
Alcohol consumed: Now let me see. Already a couple of bags of bottles have gone to the recyclers, but I can still see two bottles of Blackhead, one vinho verde and one big superbock. Nothing really, considering. No accounting for the diazepam though. :/
The CIA should give up on waterboarding and sleep deprivation and just submit the bad guys/mistaken-identity-innocent-citizen to a day of installing rockwool.
Pardon me while my pure idealistic environmental consciousness passes in the wind. (Mmm smells like a good compost).
OK the story starts like this. I have been researching TO DEATH the best, kindest and cheapest insulating solution since the dawn of this terrible House In Portugal idea. ROCK WOOL was the answer, and lots of it too. It insulates, it’s cheap, it’s made from recycled stuff. That’s all still true. What they don’t tell you is that rock wool and humans should not mix. Oh yeah apparently there’s no harm in breathing this stuff in… oh so how come when it gets in your eyes you feel like giving up all your friends and family to the Gestapo?
Not just the eyes – it gets in everywhere. And no we weren’t installing the stuff in the nude – we were wearing, like, deep sea diving suits circa 1910. Nonetheless, rock wool will infiltrate your shirt, goggles, mask, trousers and underpants, and it’s excruciatingly uncomfortable. Try washing your face. I voluntarily succumb to a rather harsh facial exfoliant BUT GETTING ROCK WOOL OFF YOUR FACE MAKES MICRODERMABRASION FEEL LIKE A SMOOCHING A CASHMERE BUNNY.
If you still can’t imagine it then go smash a wine glass on the kitchen floor and then get the rolling pin and ground it up some some and then get a big handful and rub it all over – in your eyes, ears, forearms especially, and then swallow some. That’s approximately what it feels like.
Furthermore the product itself was rubbish. Thermo-something was the brand and as we tried to handle it delicately it simply fell to pieces in our hands. It actually fell off the ceiling even after being tied in – oh and this was the paper backed “quality”. Are you getting the impression I bought the wrong stuff? Yeah me too. These rolls of thermoblahblah might, at a scratch, be suitable for laying on a flat ceiling or loft floor or for advanced torture techniques but it is obviously not appropriate for erecting under a cathedral ceiling. We got there in the end, with 2 fat layers of 6cm gumf (and 3 in some places) but I implore you not to try to do the same. If you really want rockwool pay the extra and buy the batts. Going by their solid appearance they are probably a better insulator too.
Nor do I suggest to do what I did next. I sold my soul to the devil and bought Dow wallmate. YES, I AM A HYPOCRITE. I have been harping on about this, in my opinion, EVIL company and its products to anyone who will listen (and others who will not) for the last 4 years. I dunno about Dow’s presence elsewhere in the construction world but they seem to be the first stop for every builder in Portugal. I was horrified when I first saw their branding everywhere and I am still sickened by it.
My Reasons Not To Use Dow.
1. In 2001 Dow purchased the Union Carbide Company who were responsible for the 1984 Bhopal Disaster, at the time the world’s worst industrial accident ever. You can read all the horrific details here on wikipedia. Dow’s denial of responsibility, delay in settlement and inadequacy of compensation leads to my conclusion that this is a corporation that does not care about human lives.
The only light moment in this very disturbing story was when The Yes Men got on the BBC and demonstrated to Dow what ethics are.
2. In 1989 all European countries signed the Montreal Protocol which banned the use of CFCs which, since the 1970′s, were known to be causing the depletion of the ozone layer and exposing certain countries, like Australia, to extremely harmful levels of UV radiation. So we all got cancer, and I am the only member of my family not to have had large chunks of my skin cut out or burnt off. Inevitably I will. Dow contined to use CFCs in their Portuguese market products until 2010, using a loophole that permitted DEVELOPING NATIONS a delay in the implementation of the ban. Dow considers Portugal to be a developing nation. Feeling insulted? And what has Dow substituted as a blowing agent in their blue boards? CO2. Yes, that’s the carbon dioxide that makes the news every day because it is responsible for climate change. Dow is a company that does not care about the planet, about Portugal or about you.
So, back to me being a hypocrite. There is an alternative product, does the same thing as the blue boards and is called Iberfibran. It is more expensive and less easily available in remote areas. Please use it if you can. If you can’t, then at least be comforted that any insulation will reduce your heating requirements, thus less electricity used, less transport to bring your gas, pellets or wood, and less trees to be cut down.
Thank you to Simon Sharp for saying the above to me.
Thank you to The One for doing the work and putting up with me on one of the Top 10 Worst Days Ever. And then laughing afterwards. You are tough.
I’m sure most of you have forgotten by now that this is a blog about building a house. I myself have wanted to forget that this is a blog about building a house. But this has all changed this week. I’m back on the case.
The story so far in brief:
Way back in 2007 I saw this house and wanted to be sure my plans for it would be accepted by council before I bought it. So I hooked up with a builder (we shall call him Fatface) and an architect (let’s call him Moron) and they together, via reams of bullshit, took 9 months to put a projecto de architectura together. Meanwhile I learnt Portuguese and subsequently discovered that the delay was due to Fatface telling Moron that I wasn’t going to pay. So I got on a plane the next day with the cash and knocked on the architect’s door. The project was finished that afternoon.
The council approved the project and I bought the house. I found a new architect and a new engineer for the projecto de especialidades. The engineer said the project would take two weeks and I said pigs might fly. In two weeks we submitted the project and in about four months it was approved.
Meanwhile I had been cleaning up, digging holes, removing an oven in preparation for the build. I auditioned 8 builders for the job. Only one had any idea of the house I wanted to build, as I had picked them off a site in an aldeia do xisto in the Serra da Lousã and that’s exactly the style of my place. But they would have travel time of at least an hour each way, and for this wanted to charge a premium. Fair enough. I waited, I researched, I shopped around some more.
Some of the builders really made me laugh. When I explained I wanted to use meia- canudos for the roof, one showed me a straight 100 yr old tiles-on-battens example as in a shed. Believe me, I know the Portuguese for rockwool, ceiling, water barrier and even pumpkin: but maybe he didn’t. I’d take a look at jobs they’d done in stone and shout quel horreur! Awful cement mortar/ mismatched stone and styles/ uninsulated/ simply hideous things I saw. Clearly I’m not in the right area for decent builders. I will admit though, I did scoff when someone told me the project was too hard, too complicated for these guys. Mmm.
Then came in the great big ugly global financial crisis and stole half my money. The project was off, or delayed, at least until I knew what would happen next. I started the blog, hoping it might pay some living expenses. It didn’t. A year went by and I applied for a one year extension on the building licence. Still no sign of any money growing on the trees. I waited, procrastinated. I had the money to start the project but not to finish it. Even if I could finish the house there would be no one to buy it because the housing market was a dying duck.
I then applied for another 6 months on the building licence and in December 2010, this expired. This is what I had been dreading. Project death. It had cost in the end about €1500 including flights and hire cars and whatnot. But mostly it cost me in time and energy and heartache.
But when the council decided not to give me another extension (even the last six months was outside the legislation) the camara’s architect and I talked about a renovation. The basic rule of a renovation is that nothing of the outside is altered. The house cannot be enlarged, you can’t change the height, you can’t use any cement structures, you can’t make new openings for windows or doors.
And frankly what a relief. I had been clinging onto the project for dear life, but its weight was pulling me under. Once or twice people had suggested I simplify the design, but I couldn’t see how. The project had to be ripped from my womb first. Now I had to redesign, and it could only get simpler, cheaper, and more fundamental.
Along came Penfold, the surfer, writer, illustrator, philosopher, carpenter, renovator, restorer builder. And sort of a neighbour. As we took the tour through my house of horrors his face showed the same distress of the others who had gone before. Other builders usually mumbled and agreed to send me a quote or something, and some amateur builders criticised this or that, (because criticism makes you smarter, you know). One “builder” mistook a french drain for bathroom plumbing and another, practically in tears, told me the project was too big, because I was so very small.
But at last I was talking to someone who wasn’t overwhelmed by a need to condescend, but instead by the need to construct! Finally someone who could see what I had been trying to do but who could simplify it, under the terms of a renovation, and especially in terms of getting the project finished. He added instead of subtracted.
Brothers and sisters I have seen the light! Like all good ideas, the solution is so obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. This should and could have been a renovation all along. The new plan means that I get to do more of the work myself (good) than would be possible in a building-project. It’s more likely it’ll be just me most of the time, plus a labourer for assistant jobs. And a licenced builder consulting.
Let’s look at the plans:
It’s massively simpler than before. All existing stone walls remain. The floors and the roof stay. No more new windows and door openings. So, anyone want to buy 68 windows and doors ripped from a french chateaux?
It’s not the house I dreamt of anymore. I’ve lost a 45m2 living room and a bedroom. It’s no way as luxurious a floor plan as I had – and it will not fetch the same sale price. It probably won’t satisfy its financial reason-to-be. But it’s do-able, and in these tough times, I’m happy just to be motivated again.
An architecture project involves only the physical appearance of the house, as the name suggests. The specialised project covers the plans for water and sanitation, gas, electricity, the structure, roof, thermal & acoustics plus any additional things like solar, universal access, grey water systems, sprinkler systems, universal access etc.
Real estate is a bitch. Earlier this year I thought it might be good to have a swing at this business and make my hobby of house-perving into a money earner. House perving is an art. I have a friend who has drawn up architectural plans and with full landscaping designs based on what he would do if his random-house-favourite in Bondi happened to fall into his hands one day. No doubt the neighbours think he´s been sizing up the place for a robbery, for the last four years, or perhaps they have concluded, correctly, that he is simply a house pervert.
Anyway, back when I was looking for a house in 2007 I would meet lots of other people looking for a house … in cafés, at the markets, at the pousada juventude in Lousã… Central Portugal was teeming with foreigners on holiday-house-perves. Now I meet none. This is not the only reason my brief foray into real estate has not been a success. Firstly, I broke the golden rule of being a pseudo estate agent: I became emotionally involved with the clients. They became my friends. I liked their houses, I liked their dogs, I liked them. And we all know that a normal real estate person doesn´t do any gratuitous caring because in order to actually sell houses one must devote 110% of one´s soul to selling.
So back to being a fully-committed-builder-blogger it is for me…
But if you happen to thinking of following me in this crazy pastry-filled lazy life, and buying a house in Portugal, then I would like to share with you these three little house-gems I found. Three different ideas, three different concelhos, three different prices but with one thing in common. Three very nice honest owners who just want to move on.
Let´s start with this little beauty in Mosteiro, Pedrogão Grande. I discovered the cutsey little village of Mosteiro when I first moved here during my rampant Sunday drives. It´s tucked away in the middle of a quiet little forest, a short detour from the best bread kept secret of Vila Facaia. It´s a picturesque medium sized village with two cafés and and rather decent restaurant located at a flat grassed river beach with a charming bridge and plenty of shade. This village even has a bandstand (my dad just loved bandstands), and I strongly suspect it has recycling bins (which, believe-you-me is a clear sign of civilisation. I envy people who live in villages with recycling bins).
The house is for sale for €43k. For this price I can´t quite work out how Sergio is making any money out of it because it is a recently renovated stone cottage. OK maybe he inherited it and spent €39,000 doing it up. But let´s not look a gift horse in the mouth.´Tis indeed a charm-packed little two storey one bedder, with renovated bathroom and kitchen, heating in the ground floor kitchen, small walled patio for the barbie, pushbike, plants and winter woodpile. In other words, a low maintenance, with all the facilities, nothing more to spend, weekender and summer holiday house… about two minutes walk from the river pool with café, icecream and rather tempting looking restaurant.
The owner, Sergio, is a local schoolteacher and antiques collector. We met at the Figueiró Vinhos Velharias fair. So the house is filled with really nice furniture and interesting bits. This makes the place even more special, because it´s unusual for Portuguese who most often like their things new and shiny. The antiques work so nicely with the stone interior… well if it were me I´d be negotiating a price with contents included. Too easy.
The next one is the paradise I really wanted when I was looking but didn´t have the money for. It´s €55k, a 120m2 ruin on one hectare (10,000 m2 or almost 2 and a half acres, thank you sophie ), and if you can´t imagine that, well it´s about a 20 minute walk around the circumference and pretty much what you see in the pic above minus the background mountains). It´s located in a gobsmackingly beautiful valley about 5 minutes outside of Figueiró Dos Vinhos. Your nearest neighbours, about 1km away, would be the rather groovy dutch couple who run Quinta da Fonte, a nice eco-holiday type arrangement, which might give you some ideas about what to do with your place. One hectare of land has potential. You could plant more olives (there are already about 50), more fruit, or plants trees for timber. You could have sheep, horses (although the terrain is quite steep in places) or 5000 chickens. With no neighbours, you could do what you liked. The ruin itself begs for a spacious, passive solar, low impact, simple stone design. The water supply is ridiculously good, with a small river running through the property, two wells and about another 4 tanks. The last time I visited, Figueiró council were running “company” water along the road anyway. The electricity is about a 25m connection.
So peaceful, so beautiful… I think it´s a very precious little spot. You´d want to have at least another €70k to get the house done … but after that, it would be Gins and Tonic on the balcony overlooking the garden in perfect serenity for ever.
Option number three is actually three and four because there are two of them. They´re in Castaneira de Pêra, which is a little disneyland town created by the Mayor of Big Things. Castaneira is home to a Big Fake Grass Rat, Four Big Ugly Things on Roundabouts (on the bright side there are several Nice Big Old Mansions one Megalith Pink Magnolia) and one Very Big Pool. My very cool niece, when visiting, named the pool succintly: ”Mega Pool”.
Mega Pool, aka Praia das Rocas attracts hordes of sweaty punters from all about who are perfectly happy to queue for an hour before opening time in order to secure their resort style deckchair and table by the “beach” for the day. By “beach” I mean graduated sandy-coloured painted concrete and a wave machine – ´the biggest waves inland of the sea´, would you believe? The thousands come prepared with buckets & spades, lilos, eskies, hats & blow up crocodiles and they make a day of it. Actually they make a whole summer of it, as Castaneira´s cafés heave with the aprés-pool crowd.
But where the hell do they all stay? There are some tiny cabanas at the pool, so that sorts out about 16 people, there is one nice old house which sleeps about 10, two small but nice hotels and a medium sized camping ground. The masses I speak of come literally in their thousands… and here´s where Joe´s houses come into the picture.
A few years ago Joe, a civil engineer, built these two houses with his family´s future in mind. With one son a chef and Joe and his wife Mariza heading towards early retirement, he had the idea that at least someone in the family would fancy having a B&B, and Joe having seen the development of Castaneira since Praia das Rocas, saw the potential in it. He built two houses, both with two attic bedrooms with ensuite plus three more middle-floor bedrooms plus a ground floor apartment. The lounge, kitchen, dining and garages are all big and they have massive backyards with room for a pool. Both houses have been ducted for central heating, the living rooms already have closed fireplaces and the kitchens have chimneys. Natural light pours into the houses from all sides, there is double glazing and security shutters. The front door has a intercom system accessible on each level of the house. The houses are fully wired for all manner of telecoms, there is an outdoor dining area off the kitchen, plus the ground level barbecue area, smashing town views from most rooms, at least one bathroom on each level, landscaped gardens and, and, and… Gee it looks like the only thing Joe didn´t think of when building these places was to make them wheelchair accessible because as soon as they were 95% complete some jerk crashed his car into Joe´s and landed Joe in a wheelchair. Permanently. Paraplegic-Like. So now he can´t even get through the front door of his own houses, much less down the stairs. Shit and a half, I say to that.
Então, slight change of plans for the Ramos family then.
The 95% finished bit is a good thing. It´s just the interiors that are unfinished. There are no kitchens (plumbing of course is there, but you´d choose the look and arrangement) Ditto for the attic en-suites – plumbing, no fixtures. One house has floating timber floors and the other has unfinished concrete. The final final job will be yours. The ground floor apartment space in not enclosed. All the wiring and plumbing, and a bathroom, is in, but right now they look like outdoor entertainment/basement spaces. So hence, these are new-builds that leave room for your taste, and I like that. New places are all very convenient and clean but I inevitably want to rip out their ugly pine kitchens and start again. Just thanks that Joe has taste in bathroom appliances, because those I rather like: a bit luxy but not pretentious.
So let´s talk business here. One house is €175k and the other is €210k. Say you spend another €5k making them ready for business. During the summer you could have at least a monthly income of €1200 (based on a modest guess of 5 nights out of 7 of the two attic rooms @ €30ea /night). OK so the summer is only 2 months – but then there´s the apartment downstairs which can be rented out full time or you live in the apartment and rent out the 5 bedroom house upstairs. What I´m talking about is the potential of immediate income. I haven´t done all the research but what I see are full cafés and thousands of people and not thousands of places to stay. I would also say again loud and clear that you should not attempt doing business in Portugal without speaking the language. Your main clientele will still be Portuguese, not English-speaking foreigners. My gut tells me this is a goer, and let me tell you Mr Joe is no idiot either.
Fontainha and Mosteiro are listed with Chavetejo Imobiliaria LDA who are based in Tomar. The office number is + 351 249 32 77 00 but you know, every time I call it I get the answering machine and that really pisses me off. So what I suggest is that you call the mobiles of Derek +351 918 479 978 or Nicky +351 918 484 547. The best time to catch them is at 7:30am, after their two hour yoga session and just before 8am mass in Tomar.
Dear Sir/ Madam
We would like to explain Emma’s protracted absence this month, and hope for your understanding on this matter.
To start with, Emma had a cold. We cannot provide a doctor’s certificate but as we are recovering from the worst winter on record I’m sure you appreciate that a few sick days are to be expected.
We believe the cold was brought on by stress, first initiated when Emma’s old but faithful ibook refused to start up. Thus began a search for the nearest apple repairer which led to the fateful trip to Coimbra.
On the way home was when the accident occurred. In a setting of rain, congested traffic and roadworks, the driver in front braked suddenly and in reacting, Emma’s vehicle slid into oncoming traffic and collided with the another vehicle. Yes, yes, all her fault, technically. Fortunately, no excess of speed was involved, and Wookie simply slipped from the passenger’s seat onto the floor.
In service of expediency, Emma admitted fault and she and the other driver got all amicable together. It was then that Emma had the dumb idea of calling the cops. In the meantime, Emma was experiencing shock and some confusion regarding the circumstances of the accident. She stood staring at the large amount of debris on the road, particularly at a broken number plate that did not belong either to her vehicle nor to the other driver. The quantity of broken plastic and glass was most bewildering, especially the Fiat badge on a busted front grill and a discarded bumper bar. A road worker approached Emma and taking her by the shoulders, guided her back off the road. “This is the seventh accident here today. They only just finished sweeping the road after the last one,” he said.
Then Emma realized how the accident had happened. The road was as slippery as an ex-prime minister at a tribunal hearing, covered in a fine and compromising layer of dirt and oiliness. She had unwittingly ventured into an accident black spot. Bummer.
The coppers arrived. They didn´t help. They were mean, in a bad mood, and I´ve met some surly pigs in my life. Egyptian police for example; you have to carry cigarettes for them to calm them down. I encountered Turkish police after being sprung kissing in a public place, and even though I had apparently broken the law and they took us down to the station, there were quite ok, possibly a bit embarrassed as I kept asking them what they were doing at a remote lookout at midnight… was there a murderer?
But here goes the porty policia; after I so rudely interrupted their card game or something… They asked me to explain the circumstances, then banana 1 walked away, just as I started to speak. Banana 2 was not interested in looking at the scale of the debris left by other vehicles or speaking to the roadworkers on the scene. They wouldn’t even look me in the eye. B2 shouted. I replied, I´m foreign, not deaf. They made derisive remarks like “we. don’t. speak. engrish”. They accused me of excessive speed (based on what?). If they were so keen to do their job, the opportunity was there eating a doggie chew on my front seat – Wookie should have been in a box. But I surmise that these gents were as adequate at policing as they were at being decent.
But it´s just bad police PR: this behaviour I think is so very unportuguese. The other driver was embarrassed for them and within a few minutes of the police’s arrival apologised to me on their behalf. After several attempts, and despite me not holding the right bit of insurance paper, the other driver convinced me not to involve them.
Driving past the location a week later, the traffic was diverted and the same stretch of road is closed, like it was all some b-grade conspiracy movie about an hysterical blonde journalist.
Now car-less and computer-less I decide the time is right to chop off the dog’s nuts. Wookie becomes tomato-less. On a previous visit home (during houseminding) I met another 6 or 7 little wookie-poodles who may, any day, be abruptly given a new home in the wild. There are other male dogs in the village to father future furry tragedies, but at least I and mine will not be a part of it. So then, a couple of days leave-of-absence were spent passing the bag of frozen peas to the dog. I am secretly hoping that the desire to chase sheep and chickens was sexual, and has also therefore been neutered.
Speaking of home, houseminding bliss in the Ribatejo came to an end and I had to move back to the village. Nastiness awaited; my entire house went mouldy while I was away. The walls had mould, the toaster had mould, the picture frames had mould. Not just a few days were spent cleaning, scrubbing, washing, drying, painting and moving stuff in and out.
And just when I almost had the house habitable again, a film crew wanted to move me out again! They came to shoot an episode of House Hunters International, a cable show about foreigners and real estate. Naturally, with drama/disaster in my aura I took the whole filming thing like a visit from demons-past. Not only that they wanted me to re-live the whole house buying catastrophe but the ghost takes the form of the film industry and this time I am to be the instrument and not the musician, or even the composer. Warm props. Actors. Talent. Yuck.
Of course it wasn’t so bad. In fact, the crew were so adorable (hi to chris, davide & jeff, we are still missing you) that it made me want to be back in the business. They reminded me of some of the great people I worked with, and particularly of the world-wise, liberal, sharp and simpatico men the film industry has in its employ. As for the action, Mao stole the show by hiding in the stone oven just as I was trying to act out ´getting a feel for living here´ and poked him with a bread paddle. He flew out, towards camera, quite literally like a bat out of hell. Soory for the heart attack davide, but god I hope you got the shot.
Meanwhile the car is fixed and my 4 week shitfight to get a new mac is finally over (just cut to the chase and buy it from fnac, portuguese mac-people, and don’t be seduced by the price of the mac mini, as it’s a hassle and a half. The piece work then becomes cable wrangling and more whatnot. And how much is this non-mac keyboard shitting me? Just buy the macbook next time. Just buy the macbook. Just… Grr) Another few days spent unpacking boxes and searching for items lost (if filming is tolerable then try moving house and filming on the same day). But now there’s the internet connection problem. Apparently the phone line also went mouldy and PT hasn’t fixed it yet and nor do they seem interested in doing so. Usual game. It’s been said before, but when it comes to modern life, Portugal is a pain in the arse. They have the technology, they just don’t know how to work it.
Now if all that isn’t enough of an excuse, I also slipped off to Stockholm for the easter weekend to do another day’s shoot (again, super nice crew, Izzy Paul and Ray), and to hang out with some sorely missed Swedish friends. If I really could relive the house purchase, I would take a tin shed there rather than a stone chateau here anyday. Sorry tugas, but Sweden is truly utopian.
The only bad thing about going away is what I come back to. Not only did Mao abscond for 4 days of the 5, he also to broke a toe. But Wookie and I are back on track after a few months where there was no love left to lose. There’s a whole lotta brown furry love going on at my place.
So while I am not exactly online, I am at least trying to be. Standby for more, if you please.