Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The mysteries of Galician plumbing

As luck would have it, we had booked a week's holiday to go and visit As Petas before our house in the UK sold. This turned out to be very useful, not least because it gave us a chance to discover the truth about our water supply.
We always knew that the water supply to our house was a little eccentric. The water comes in through pipes that are partially embedded in the wall outside the kitchen, and there are two structures nearby that we knew had something to do with it all: a small square breezeblock unit in the orchard and a concrete tower about 15 feet tall next to the horreo. We had seen our neighbours fiddling with the square thing and knew it contained a pump of some sort but were less sure as to its exact function. As to the tower, there was blue plastic piping leading up to the top and a tap on the side which seemed to be the master control of the whole system. Several other taps were to be found on the pipework on the side of the house which seemed to control which parts of the house got water.

Luckily for us, there is a connection of our neighbours by the name of Joaquín who seems to understand the system and was willing to step in when the blue plastic pipe came unstuck, which it did fairly regularly and with spectacular results.

We arrived at As Petas in the early stages of a major storm to discover that we had no running water. Also, the magician Joaquín was not available. Panic!

It's at times like these that you discover who your friends are. There is a small expatriate community around Friol centred on John and Sieni, the Dutch couple through whom we bought our house. John was able to put us in touch with a marvellous man called Ron who numbers plumbing amongst his many talents. Ron came to our rescue.

The big question was: how did it all work? This turned out to be a somewhat involved problem, and at times it felt more like an archaeological dig than anything else. Ron consulted the neighbours, but their grasp of it was only partial. They did however provide the first important clue: we had two sources of water, not one. Further up the hill is a prado (spring) shared by both houses. Water from this comes down the lane and there is a stopcock beside our barn which can be used to turn off the supply - that part we knew, as Joaquín had pointed out its location; what he neglected to mention was it was buried about a foot deep, so we had to excavate that first.

The other source of water is a pozo (well) which is entirely ours. The pump for this is in the mysterious square structure in the orchard.

So how did all this connect up? And what was the function of the mysterious concrete tower?

It would be pleasant to be able to give a complete account of all this, à la Hercule Poirot, with all the loose ends neatly tied up. Alas, in the end, after much digging and head-scratching, Ron cut the Gordian knot by laying a new pipe from the pozo to our house and replacing the dodgy old pipework. Now we have one source of water and one tap to turn it all on or off, and the concrete tower now serves only as a handy perch for our local robin to assert his proprietorship.

He seems happy with that state of affairs, and so are we.