As it happens no cracks showed. James returned to England, as I did for a while in order to sort our two boys out in further education. Then I returned to the finca at the end of September. The roof was on; the house though was a shell. As slow as molasses, work proceeded. It is always this way. At first everything goes fast and you are in a kind of euphoric bubble about it all. The builder is your God. The sun shines from his caterpillar boots (in this case his own company’s boots). Then, not so suddenly if we are being honest, he drifts off somewhere else, but keeps on coming back from time to time to keep you happy and collect his bills.
And I have to be honest. Carlos was very good at running after euros. Some of the work he did without quotes carried an enormous price tag. I would look at the figures on the paper and think, how on earth can this be right? 800 euros for a 600mm by 250mm shelf? Maybe it is? It is a solid 350mm height after all. But then, let’s be realistic; how much has he ripped me off by? Maybe it is only a little? And as I was contemplating this, the end of the month would arrive and I would get an urgent phone call from him, exclaiming” Stephanie!” – my name is always expressed as a stabbing exclamation in Spanish, probably because words that start with “st” are foreign to the Spanish so they have to make a real effort to pronounce them. So, “SSTTephanie! – when are you going to come to pay your bill? “
Now, if I was ever late in paying my debts, I could have understood, but I never was, and never have been, and this began to upset me enormously. But still, good little girl that I am, I would go to pay my bill, including all the extra bits that in some cases seemed to dwarf the original quote.
And so things continued, things did get done. For this I was grateful. And Carlos was still my God, even if a bit of a demi one now. I would ask, “in what order do we proceed next? Like, when do we put the windows and doors in? Before or after the plaster?” And so on.“What gets done when, I kept on asking?”
Carlos always had a speedy reassuring answer, reassuring in that his lack of hesitation made you feel that he must know exactly what he was talking about. A bit like when you go to a new hairdresser and he seizes your hair confidently, you feel you are in capable hands. So when Carlos insisted that the doors and windows should go in before the plastering and floors, I nodded respectfully. In acknowledgement of his expertise and experience I proceeded with his scheme of things, even though I paid through the nose for repairing damage caused by subsequent labours. For instance the wood – it was varnished and perfect, and yet with all that passed after I ended up having to pay a substantial additional sum to put the damage caused by the plasters, and floor layers right…“Perfection had to be continually touched up after the carelessness of others”
The other thing was that I also conceded to the outside contractors Carlos chose for me after seeking fruitlessly for prices of my own. Recession or no, the Spanish did not seem in any hurry to give me any quotes. The eventual bill for the carpentry was enormous. Gigantic. And in time I would learn about the commissions Carlos received from recommending certain companies. In fact any company he recommended (and with quite some force) gave him a more than generous kickback. Kickback should be the national motto of Spain.
And so November came, and December, and the house received doors and windows and plaster and even got painted. Then at the end of January all the visible damage of things I paid a king’ ransom for in the first place was reversed at an additional cost that I could just about bare. I have to say that that this story is not unique to Spain. Not from what I have read. Which is exactly the point. You would think that being triply fore-warned, I would have been able to steer this common scenario away. But I couldn’t which just goes to prove that history always repeats itself.“The rubble kept on building up the nearer to completion the job came”
This aside, while all this was happening I pottered around my casita, looking up from time to time at the handsome stone house at the top of my mountain. I was perplexed, for as amazing as this creation was in the middle of nowhere, I did not feel any longing to live there. It was still some impersonal thing I could not identify with. It had no electricity or water or heat of any kind and all in all it seemed a distant unfriendly place. Four walls with no soul, and new windows, no stove, bits a pieces unfinished, and a lot of cleaning to do – which was a bit of a sticking point.“It was done, at least from the outside, and was finally begin to blend in with the landscape”
In addition, these hardwood, double-glazed windows were so perfect and new that they did not move me. On contrast, down in my casita I was happy as a pig in shit, reveling in the old leaking windows and wood-burning fire and the old world charm of it all. Quite apt really to be as happy as a pig in shit as this may at one time been a pigsty, though more likely it was a donkey stable.