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In the land of the blind…

In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Welcome to Spain, a land where a failure to enforce regulation encourages any cowboy to step forward as an expert.

I moved into my current house here in Alzira last summer. Just on the edge of the town and in a pleasant urbanisation, many aspects of being here are fantastic. With a south facing aspect and sun on the terrace all winter there’s plenty for which we can be grateful. Today however has uncovered once again the scourge of Spanish society – the cowboy workman. With seemingly nobody enforcing regulations, pretty much any tradesman, despite the sign writing on his van, could well be a complete and utter cowboy.

My first experience of this was soon after arriving here in Spain. The gas boiler I had at the time wasn’t working, so without hot water or heating, I called the landlord. José, my genial landlord turned up about a week later to take a look. He spent twenty minutes running water from each of the taps in the house and checking the pilot light before declaring that it was clearly not working and he would need to call an expert. Now, I imagined a boiler suit wearing official with a badge to denote his professional affiliations, so was a little taken aback when a gentleman in his mid seventies turned up with a black tar cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. After establishing the fact that this chap with his thickset, yellow, nicotine stained beard was in fact the expert, I led him through to the boiler and watched him perform his magic. In this case, with the lit cigarette still burning from the corner of his mouth, he lifted the front of the boiler and gave the gaze of what he clearly considered to be an expert analysis. With the cigarette waving dangerously from the corner of his mouth he tapped on any exposed pipes. With nothing happening he turned to me and asked if I had a spanner. When I was unable to oblige he changed his request to a screwdriver. Having provided him with the tools of his trade he then proceeded to bang ferociously on any pipe using the aforementioned tool. When the boiler still failed to light he shrugged and announced, with the pride normally associated with a job well done, that I would need an expert.

Which brings me to today’s events. Today’s clowning around started at around 9am when two guys turned up to install a new immersion heater. I had suggested to the landlady that a gas boiler may be a more sensible option when I complained that the 40 litre immersion was insufficient to service a family home. Today saw the installation of a new 70 litre immersion. The two tradesmen turned up at 9am and after a little poking around at the old system decided they needed ‘materials’. Now, to anybody living in Spain, a workman short of materials in the morning is an accepted code for “we’re going to a bar for breakfast and may be back before lunch”. The nearest DIY store is about two minutes away. Clearly these were large materials as they both left and took the van. Two hours later they returned looking well breakfasted and carrying the two bolts that had been missing at 9am.

The ensuing drilling, draining and general procrastination took until 3pm. Two men worked for six hours a piece, on paper at least, in order to install one immersion heater. (Let’s not discount the breakfast time as I’m sure they won’t when they submit their bill!)

There’s a lot to love about small town Spain but the lack of regulated and professional tradesmen is not on the list. At some point I imagine the regulations will come and customer expectation may even be the driving force for change. Until then, we will have to continue to enjoy the theatre of ‘have a go’ workmen trying in vain to fix the nation’s electrical and gas appliances.

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king!

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