Week 38: Switchcraft
Things have been going our way for a long time now. That couldn’t go on for ever. And this was the week when stuff started going wrong. First of all, my beautiful Rolie, the Renault 4.
The car died. I’d only had it for a week. The horn worked, although feebly, so it wasn’t the battery. The man I’d bought it from had been insistent that I keep his number and call him if I had any problems, so I did. He was busy and couldn’t come immediately, but the next day he was here. Husband met him at the top of the road to guide him down the dirt track to our place.
‘It’s the battery,’ Costa said. It was. The horn had stopped working by now too.
We rolled Rolie out and pushed him up and down the track outside the house and in a short while he stuttered back into life; we ran him for a bit to charge him. Costa found the culprit. A lamp in the boot had been left on. In the bright sunlight I never even saw that it was alight. It clearly happened when I’d loaded the car with recycling: cardboard boxes, and possibly an empty wine bottle or two.
‘I meant to warn you about that light,’ Costa said. ‘Sorry about that. It’s quite easy to knock the switch by mistake.’
As he stepped on to the millstone at the front of the house and held his mobile phone aloft to try to get a connection, he spotted the river. ‘Wonderful,’ he said. ‘Fantastic. This place is like something from a film.’
Not the first time a second-hand-car salesman has visited this place and been beguiled. (See Week 31.) And not the first time Rolie will let me down, either, I know. This is what owning an old car is like. Must add car mechanics to list of things to get better at.
In the garage, by the door where in all reasonableness the light switch be, is a large black switch. Hidden behind it, and slightly out of reach, is a small white switch: this operates the light. The other day, I closed the garage door and found myself in sudden, pitch blackness. I felt around for the switch and pressed it. No light came on. I tried a couple more times. My eyes adjusted sufficiently to find the correct switch and I realised I’d been pushing the big one by mistake. What did that thing operate? I couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t see anything going on or off. And was it on now, or not? Oh, what the hell.
It was several days later that Eleuterio appeared at the house. He was talking about the bomba (pump) and saying he needed the keys to the garage. Once inside, he switched the switch off and sighed. What I had done was leave on the pump that brings the water up from his well to our garden cisterna, water he allows to us have out of sheer goodwill. The water hadn’t run – it must need a valve or some such to be open – but the pump had operated uselessly for several days. He is a kind man and he didn’t look angry. More puzzled. Just how stupid can estrangeiros be? Later that same day I noticed he spent two hours by the pump at the well, doing what exactly I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that it was my fault and that he could have used his time better than that.
We were getting ready for family guests: my mother, sister and brother-in-law. This was a much anticipated visit, and we wanted everything to be right. More carpentry and painting had been done; best of all, the new bathroom was complete. All we needed was the heating engineer to make his promised return visit and get the system fired up. We’ve got used to having no heating and only lukewarm water – when you live at the end of the world you decide you don’t need a shower every day anyway – but didn’t want to impose the same on our guests. The engineer didn’t answer our calls, didn’t respond to messages. This was the first time we felt let down.
Family arrived. They loved the place at once. No further explanation as to why we moved here required. And even better, Brother-in-law turned out to be a secret heating nerd. He went round tweaking the heating works – we have a solar-operated system and a gas boiler for back-up – and one by one coaxed the radiators into life, with one recalcitrant exception. The taps finally gave forth real hot water. It was fantastic. The only thing is that the gas boiler has no thermostat or timer. We cannot control when the heating comes on or goes off; it does its own, unpredictable thing. The boiler was made by the hand of man, but it seems to have gone feral. It answers to another call. What it is, we don’t know.