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The Gas Man Cometh

John Wright


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Well, here we are again. Thursday 3rd January. I get out from under the covers. I check the radiator, still warm! Good. I go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. The water runs cold, very cold. No sign of it getting hot.


Deep down realisation sinks in. I’m in Spain, in the farm, on my own, with no gas for heating or hot water and an intermittent supply of electricity that trips if I plug in the kettle. I had made the two 35kg gas bottles last a week. The Gas company, despite many calls had not delivered on the 27th. Never mind, today is Thursday, delivery day, they will deliver today, I thought.


May be I had better explain. For three years I have been doing up an old farmhouse in Catalonia. Its actually in Tarragona province, in the hills, 5 miles from the nearest village. For 2 years we had been handicapped by the lack of electricity supply, work was slow, but we had bottled gas, 10 big bottles and pumped water from the well and a sewage digester big enough for Ballabeg.


After 6 months with electricity on a temporary jury rig, all the work was done. Just finishing off. My partner and I had driven down in the motor home, arriving 20th December. The idea was to spend Christmas and New Year doing the final jobs, installing new lights, all the towel rails. Shelves, loo roll holders, mirrors etc and the cupboards in the new kitchen, plus do the same in the two apartments in Sitges where the builders had been beavering away for the last two months making reformas, installing new bathrooms x 4 and kitchens x 2.


First shock was that the builders, having promised that one was finished and the other nearly done were only ¾ through one and ½ way through the other. On 21 December the entire Spanish building industry shut down until after 6 January (3 Kings day when presents are traditionally given).


We knew at once on arrival that setting up the apartments for summer lets, checking the inventory and making up beds was a waste of time. My partner quick as a flash booked a week in Andorra, only 100 miles away from 28 December with sibling and siblings friend. I decided to stay at the farm, I hate winter sport with a vengeance, I always feel cold, miserable and wet and I cannot ski and have no wish to learn.


We had a good Christmas, found all the British Christmas things, turkey, chipolatas, force meat, sprouts. Not had a British Christmas lunch for several years. On arrival the gas went off after 24 hours. The Butano is in banks of 5 with a turnover switch, which is not automatic. I rang Madrid, the ordering is centralised on a free phone number and they have English speaking staff. I ordered 5, for delivery 27th. I switched over to the second bank of 5. All was well. With guests we put on the radiators full, we were testing the system, checking all worked and heating the farm after three years of standing empty. 27th morning the gas ran out, never mind, we had two spare full cylinders. I rang Madrid to increase the order to 10. Any way partner and other two were leaving for a week, on the following day. I could live in one bedroom and turn everything else off. I even managed to down load the English instructions for the Honeywell timer and thermostat. All I needed was a warm room in the evening and hot water. As we had two kitchens, one gas and one electric all would be well.


That of course ignored the electric problem. The supply is temporary. Effectively we have a three phase supply to the house, but it is switched off at the transformer station 50 feet outside the back door. Instead of that working we have a temporary meter and fuse board, trip switch consumer unit and then an extension cable into the house connected up on the consumer side of the meter.


The extension cable is too long and has a join. If it gets hot, or damp, it blows the trip switch. On a cold but dry and sunny day it allows us to run a washer, tumble dryer and the dishwasher plus lights, a kettle and the TV. Switch on a cooker ring or plug in the motor home and bang. On a wet day we get lights and TV and even plugging in the kettle switches off the power.


The building work is done, the electricity installation is checked and approved but we haven’t got a rateable value allocated so we cannot get a permanent supply. In theory we needed the número catastral for the phone, gas and water plus the rubbish collection, we managed to wangle those, but not Mr Electricity. I have gone to the office in Vals four times now. They are not interested. Only if I have the correct bit of paper with a number. I can have the temporary supply for ever, but I cannot upgrade.


I have applied to the provincial tax office for a number. Twice. They lost my first application! The last application was in August, still no progress. OK I don’t pay rates, but I’d like to, and I’d like a full electricity supply, please.


3rd comes and goes. No delivery arrives. I go out to buy bread, on way back pass the delivery lorry on the road. Get back, try the cylinders, all make that horrid clanging noise signifying empty. The “””””””” didn’t deliver!


My partner ‘phones. Arriving back that night. I warn about the heating and water situation. Still with the motor home back I can plug in and we can have hot showers and watch telly in the warm of an evening, powered by gas or electricity.


Still I had put up all the light fittings, 20 of them, three kitchen cabinets had been put together and wall mounted, in the main kitchen I had installed another 20 metres of stainless steel shelving and I had managed to put together and then affix to the wall in three bathrooms, all the cabinets, mirrors, shelves and loo roll holders and towel rails any one could want . I had bought an electric floor polisher and polished and coated all the tile floors, moved furniture and put down rugs.


I felt virtuous. I had even sorted out the problems with the Sky boxes and we had English TV in both living areas and all four bedrooms. I had fitted the rails and shower curtains and among the junk in the shed found and cleaned and restored and fitted the internal shutters for most of the downstairs windows.


Friday morning I shout at Madrid. They have no explanation. They say descuple por las molestias , forgive us for the inconvenience. And promise a delivery that teatime. It does not arrive.


Saturday the brother in law goes home with his ex army mate. They grumbled about the cold non stop.


Realising that there was no point waiting to try and do something in the apartments the following week we set off home early on Monday via the B and C roads of Spain and France, stopping in villages in the Pyrenees and Gascony for coffee, cakes, and menu du jour lunch and supper.


Back to Spain in March to sort out the apartments in time for Easter lets, Just have to miss the Carneval lets!


14th January I check the answer phone service for the farm. An angry madrilleno has complained that there was no one to sign when they delivered 5 butano bottles on the 9th and that there had better be someone there on the 16th when the next 5 get delivered!


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