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Spanish Secrets: Dull And Overcast - Brightening Later

…We climbed the moss-covered, granite steps to the first floor. Two narrow wooden doors guarded the side entrance. I stared at the small bunch of keys Don Antonio had given us earlier in the day. Right at this moment, a bundle of used bank notes exchanged for four rusty keys, didn’t seem like such a good deal…

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie finally take possession of a run-down farmhouse in rural Galicia.

With the morning’s property transaction complete, lunchtime beckoned. After a quick bite, we headed off to view our new acquisition. We weren’t excited as such. It was more a case of wanting to press on with things after a protracted wait.

Armed with several tape measures, a notepad and pen, we set out. The restoration project would begin with a detailed survey of the internal space.

It wasn’t long before we were exiting the main highway and driving cautiously through the narrow village lanes. Ambling towards us, as we rounded a bend, was the familiar figure of Pablo.

Although it was the middle of the afternoon, Pablo looked like he’d just got out of bed. He wore a pair of faded blue jeans, an old t-shirt with an angled rip across his chest and an oversized, green cardigan that was stretched and misshaped through years of wear. It was clearly a wardrobe favourite. He tugged at the open sides and wrapped them around him like a child’s blanket.

I stopped the car and lowered the window. After a rapid exchange of greetings he eagerly asked if we’d bought the house.

“This morning,” I replied, “we’re just going there to measure up.”

Keen to get involved he asked to join us. Slowly we crept around the corner and, with Pablo in hot pursuit, pulled into the narrow entrance. Thirteen meters from the lane and nine meters along an unmade track were the rusting gates marking our boundary. They were held together with a loop of twisted wire. By the time we’d reached them, Pablo had joined us.

“If you want to widen this entrance,” he paused, “I think,” he paused again, “I think the owner will let you move this wall.’’

Melanie and I were more interested in finding out what we’d just bought, rather than adding to it. I thanked Pablo for his observation but explained that our only task for today was to measure the house.

“Sure, of course. But if you want this land we can ask later.” He added.

The outside of the house was a familiar sight. There was no thrill of ownership, no excited entry and definitely no popping of Champagne corks in celebration. It was a dilapidated house which needed renovating and the first step was to find out exactly what we’d bought and what we intended to do to it.

We climbed the moss-covered, granite steps to the first floor. Two narrow wooden doors guarded the side entrance. I stared at the small bunch of keys Don Antonio had given us earlier in the day. Right at this moment, a bundle of used bank notes exchanged for four rusty keys, didn’t seem like such a good deal.

One-by-one I tried each key in the lock but none would open the door. The only one that actually fitted the lock, wouldn’t turn. With a little more force I rammed the key into the keyhole and wiggled it up and down until it was fully inserted. Clunk, clunk! The key had turned and the door was unlocked but it still wouldn’t open. I could sense that Melanie and Pablo were both becoming restless and impatient.

“Pull the cord”! Blurted Pablo.

A fraying piece of orange, nylon string dangled down the door through a carefully drilled holed. I pulled the cord, pressed my shoulder to the door, pushed. The ill-fitting panel scraped on the stone threshold as it wearily opened.

The interior space was fairly sparse. Off-cuts of carpets and thread-bare rugs partially covered the irregular planked floorboards. Added to these was a patchwork of lino scraps, strategically placed on the floor below holes in the roof where rainwater entered.

As we moved carefully through the house, we counted four double beds. Complementing these were various pieces of chipboard bedroom furniture. The ageing Formica veneer peeled along battered edges. At the far end of the house was the bathroom. It contained a four piece suite including; a white-enamelled, tin bath, pedestal wash-basin, toilet and bidet in matching white porcelain; quite an unusual feature for a house without running water or plumbing?

Adjacent to the bathroom and connected to it by a curious serving-hatch in the adjoining wall, was the kitchen. Large ceramic tiles covered the floor and although the tiles were whole, whoever had laid them had succeeded in achieving a crazy-paving style appearance. An assortment of recycled kitchen units covered two walls but the most striking feature was a small wood-burning stove in the centre of the room. The heat from the stove had clearly caused the wooden floor below the ceramic tiles to shrink; in turn this had caused the tiles to buckle upwards creating a pyramid like dome in the centre of the room.

We began our internal survey, measuring this distance then that; side-to-side and corner-to-corner. Every conceivable angle, width and length was taken into account. With our work completed we bid farewell to Pablo and returned home to begin the plans. By the end of the first day we’d taken detailed measurements, drawn up our plans and listed the working priorities.

The day began dull and overcast, a fair reflection of our emotional state. It had ended with a renewed sense of excitement and anticipation of the adventure to come.

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Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs

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