Monday, 16 March 2009

The last wood fire this year?

This could well be the last evening of the year for the wood fire as the weather now is warmer and brighter. Winter is a good excuse for a wood stove. The bright flames through the glass are a cheerful focal point in the room and the activity of getting up and down from the armchair to add wood keeps you from falling asleep. There are two main kinds of stove available locally. The 'cartridge' type, built-in to the wall, and the free-standing type as in the photo.

Firewood is easily available either delivered as a load for the season or collected in 'capazes' (plastic containers) from local suppliers in the boot of your car. We burn orange, olive, and almond which leave very little soot in the chimney. The wood is from prunings and old tree stock. And I suppose from orchards sold for land to build on. The aroma outside the house from the smoke in winter makes you want to linger in the cool air with this pleasing companion.

We are used to seeing bulls in Spain, the real ones at village fiestas and the huge black cutouts which used to carry the name of a Spanish brandy. They now look down at you as you pass their hoardings on the autopistas. The brand name is no longer allowed by European law, I believe, because it would distract motorists. The bull shape however was allowed to remain after protests supported by the King of Spain. But I was still surprised to see a bull materialise inside our stove the other night. With a fierce look in its eye. At first I thought I had had a brandy too many.

There are many other forms of heating available, in addition to the wood stove and brandy. Our house has central heating from a gas boiler which heats the water and supplies the radiators. Gas is delivered in large metal 'bottles' ordered with a phone call. They are stored in a 'casita' (little house) separate from the main house and fitted with conduit pipes leading to the boiler inside the main building. The cost of the delivered gas varies with the cost of delivery fuel as well as the cost of the gas itself. In winter with regular use of the central heating 4 large bottles will last about 4 weeks; for heating water only they last about a year.

Oil central heating is also available. You can usually see the 'capsule' container for the oil resting on a support in the grounds of a house. Electric under-floor heating is in common use as are portable electric heaters. Wall mounted air-conditioner/heaters are popular as well as the ubiquitous portable (or at least pushable) stoves with a gas bottle attached inside. They bring radiant heat next to your chair and at the same time by convection heat a medium-sized room. You can buy the gas 'bottles' from the suppliers' depots; Cepsa are a silver colour and lighter to lift than Repsol which are an orange colour and make you grunt when you lift. Conveniently, they are also available from petrol stations and some hardware stores.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Costa Blanca

Spain is a mountainous country and there is a relatively narrow coastal plain along much of the Mediterranean. Sometimes there is no plain at all when a mountainside drops down abruptly to the sea below. You can see houses built on slender concrete piles reaching upward for as high as three storeys on the steep slope. I imagine living there and being too scared to look down.

The houses on the mountainside in the photo are less than 10 minutes from our house. The route to my bank runs alongside a precipice. Banking is risky enough these days without this; although you never have to wait very long for service.