If we were going to live in Spain we decided we wanted a substantial residence, rather than a holiday home. This purchase was quite different. The vendor was a guy who had made money with caravan parks in Suffolk, he had settled his whole family in Javea, his daughter for example ran an estate agency in the town (a JaveaGuide advertiser).
We got the full story in instalments. He had heart problems and had gone to Thailand to recuperate. He arrived back, but with a local girl in tow. He gave his wife of thirty years an ultimatum, that she accepted his new relationship and they lived, all three of them together, or it was her that had to move out. She agreed to the arrangement and the whole family were moving off to Thailand.
We had looked at the house and liked it and I phoned the vendor to say we’d like to meet up. He said that he had just seen us walk past him sat in a bar on the Arenal beach, so we met up promptly. He played the game that he wanted me to write out how the deal might work
– I’ve always been a believer that he who prepares the minutes of a meeting, is king!
I said OK let’s put the Euro:£ conversion rate up in the top right hand corner and wrote £1 = 1.42 euros and he agreed this. Then I went through the various matters showing the arithmetic and got his agreement, we both signed off on the sheet.
We shook hands and as we both used the same local fiscal advisor things could move speedily. I saw Reme, the fiscal, and passed her the sheet for photocopying. I pointed to the conversion rate in the top right-hand corner, stressing its importance. The deal went through its processes and they flew off to their new life. A month later he phoned me from Thailand and said with heavy irony ‘You must have been very happy with the deal, given that conversion rate?’, which by now had slumped to 1.17euros:£. I replied ‘Well I always like to think a good deal is appreciated on both sides’. He rang off quite quickly thereafter. It had been a saving of almost six figures in euros – but then he had asked me to be the scribe!
He left the villa, in the lea of Montgo, full of his stuff, there was even an incorrectly SORNed English-reg Mercedes C-Class saloon in the garage. I spent the best part of a week wheel-barrowing much of his stuff (150 metres away) to the basura (rubbish skips). His wheelbarrow’s wheel was punctured so it was hard work in the sun. I ended up with quite a fan club, each time I arrived at the bins there was a crowd of locals who would take most of it for themselves, muttering that I was loco or demente under their breath.
In extremis I used the Merc for an airport run but it had this disturbing habit of showing the petrol gauge dropping like a stone to empty. Stop the engine and start-up again and it assumed a more accurate position. It was not properly SORNed, had no tax and no MoT. There were guys in Spain who advertised that thy would meet you in a lay-by and supply an English MoT for a cash payment, car unseen.
But I decided against keeping it and discussed with my son what we might do. He established that if we insured it, then provided we booked an MoT back in the UK, we could argue that it was on its way to the MoT Centre – sufficient in law. I gave him the car and documents and he drove it to the UK. He MoT-ed and taxed it and sold it on. My son is very laid back but even he must have felt some tension driving it back during the week when the French petrol delivery drivers were on strike and many stations were out of fuel, particularly with that unreliable petrol gauge – he would never admit to it though!
One last find in the house, that I thought might just have value, was a half-crate of red wine which had obviously been laid down for a while. I carefully examined one of the six bottles to find it was an old claret that was numbered. I took a photo and when I got back to the UK sent it to Sotheby’s asking for their valuation.
My fiscal had connected me with two local ladies who she said would do a good cleaning job. I had cleared the villa and I wanted it cleaned before Jane arrived. Unbeknownst to me, they had seen these dusty bottles and took each out to thoroughly clean them, evidently shaking up the contents in the process. Fortunately, Sotheby’s came back to say they had no particular value.
We bought this villa as much because it had a stand-alone apartment with its own facilities and entrance so that Jane’s Mum could come to stay with friends, something she had begun to do in our previous villa. The day we completed on its purchase we learned that Vi, who had been active and independent and had a stroke in the street. She would be ill in hospital for a month or so. It became clear that she was unable to walk or move her right arm, unable to speak and doubly incontinent, we arrange to move her into a nursing home.
The picture shows two proud palm trees that dominated our garden and pool area. What it doesn’t show is how hard and expensively, we fought to keep them – different problems to have!
While we lived there a red palm weevil arrived from north Africa and set about destroying Javea’s palms. Adult weevils could fly several kilometres and enter the top of the palm to lay their larvae, two hundred at a time. The larva hatch and eat their way through the heart of the trunk of the palm. Put your ear to the trunk and you can hear them munching. Fronds begin to fall off and left untreated the whole palm is quickly lost.
Specialist treatment firms popped up, mostly gardeners seeing a new revenue stream. They poured chemicals into the heart of the palm, they drilled holes to be more direct in their application. But they needed to do this every month at least. The problem was that while you might be treating your palms, an absentee neighbour, or perhaps a property gently decaying whilst Napoleonic inheritance laws delayed any sale, might not be quite as diligent and so your trees would get re-infected from their garden.
We had those two prize palms, three more that were of some size and another six or seven that were smaller – though later some of the latter proved not to be of the variety the weevils liked – but these summed to a monthly charge of 150 euros. It felt as if you were renting your palms from the contractor.
Sadly the palm on the right of the picture above was lost, after our period of stewardship – the new owners replaced it with a hot tub!