German manuals and massive mudbaths
Lots of rain brings a challenging new set of problems
My German language skills are limited to two really bad jokes, and when the difference between being warm and being cold is a pile of boiler instruction manuals written in German, I guess the third joke is on me.
This week’s despatch is brought to you courtesy of the Schäfer and Viessmann families – neither of whom will be getting a Christmas card from us.
Living off the grid comfortably depends on the sun shining…which it often does here in Portugal…but which it hasn’t for the past three weeks.
In fact, it’s rained so much we’ve had new rivers finding their way to our front door, spent a Saturday up to our necks in wet clay and had to be creative just to get out of Vale das Estrelas to go to the shops…and to buy some tyres with proper tread.
I was taught both the German jokes in a Dublin youth hostel many years ago – around the time I was learning the Jungle Book soundtrack…my mind was a sponge.
I wrote them down and learned them phonetically, and I’m pleased to say the clean one has passed the test of pronunciation time.
Customer: Ober Ober, da ist eine Fliege im meiner Suppe!!
Waiter: Schhhhhhhh...sonst wollen die anderen auch eine.
It’s a good job dad jokes are back in fashion. (Waiter, waiter, there’s a fly in my soup. Shh, or everyone will want one).
I’ll get on to the other joke later.
But before I continue, a point of order.
My wife Ana is worried that my ‘tell it how it is’ blog posts might be a bit of a downer for Christmas and could put everyone off ever coming to visit.
I worry more that you might feel compelled to bombard us with care packages, only for the delivery van to never actually reach the house.
But please rest assured we have plenty of wine, a seemingly endless supply of excellent mushrooms growing nearby…and let’s face it, we’re not on lockdown and have been really lucky with the low level of COVID in this part of the world.
What I’m saying is, feel free to laugh at our expense: the romantic idea of giving it all up and moving to beautiful, rural Portugal isn’t always as idyllic as it sounds, but we’re confident these are teething troubles, albeit expensive ones, and we will be all set by the Spring!
The sun shines a lot here, but we’re not daft – and neither were the German couple who built our house and the guesthouse: there’s a gas-bottle and boiler back up for both.
So, when we go through an unusually chilly and wet patch like now (fantastic news for the land and the irrigation dam after years of drought) on pops the boiler, up comes the radiator heat and wow…feel that lovely, soothing hot water.
But when the backup breaks down (in both houses at around about the same time) none of that happens, and you can’t just call Portuguese Gas.
We have a German plumber who was introduced to us by Radi (our German hippy friend who lives over the hill), but Lars is always very busy and difficult to pin down for fiddly little jobs like ours…and on this one he couldn’t help.
We don’t have a Yellow Pages directory, so depend on recommendations…and when the faulty items are German vorsprung durch Technik, finding an expert – let alone a replacement part – is like looking for a wild boar (wild boar) on hunting Tuesday.
Herrs Schäfer and Viessmann were perhaps the best boiler manufacturers 20 years ago (anyone?), but today you need a computer science degree – in German – to understand their error messages.
The green, orange and red lights of my old solar battery nemesis were nothing compared to the flashing 2.02 code, or the 4.05…which is my current bone of contention.
And, of course, the downloadable instruction manuals are only available in German.
Contacting companies takes weeks – even when you have a WhatsApp number for the person whom you think is going to be your saviour.
My journalistic persistence is either helping us get things done as fast as humanly possible, or it’s pissing off a load of people and making everything take twice as long.
There are so many Germans living in this area that I sometimes wonder whether I should have learned German during my year at Stanford, rather than going to Brazilian Portuguese class every morning.
Especially when the cost is cold showers.
(I don’t really, the Portuguese has been soooo useful…if only I could be more confident using it).
Enter Richard Schlingensiepen: a man who knows his Verbrennungsluftgebläse from his Rückschlagklappe and can spot a Gaszuleitung from 30 paces.
We met Richard and his wife Pauline in Thailand more than ten years ago and it’s been amazing to be back in touch with them.
Richard is the guy who can work out that a flashing 4.05 is an Interner Fehler im Brennersteuermodul – and take it from me, you don’t want one of those.
He’s also the guy who knows a guy…who gave us a good price for some proper tyres.
Our pink-eyelashed, 20 year old Land Rover Freelander Millicent has never really had good tyres since we bought her from a bloke in a supermarket car park with only 320,000km on the clock in August.
I knew the tyres were bad when she was sliding around, battling to get up a cobbled street in Lisbon last week…but it got serious when we only just made it out of our valley through the mud.
We had multiple attempts on many cross-country routes to get from our place to the main road – it’s only a few kilometres, but in thick mud it becomes a very long way.
Each time we only just got out, and the last journey on bald tyres was through a farmer’s field…and that was a close call.
But now - thanks to Richard - Millicent is flashing her eyelashes with the confidence of newly found grip, and we can leave the house.
More about Richard and Pauline (and how brilliantly welcoming they’ve been to us) soon, but for now all you need to know is they drove up from the Algarve to try and help us fix the boiler.
As a kid I used to take my Grandmother’s clocks apart and then put them back together again and present them back to her saying “look, I’ve repaired them and I’ve saved all these pieces” – they obviously no longer worked – it’s not a great track record.
Following the German instructions Richard and I took the boiler apart and put it back together again (saving no pieces). It was a hopeful time.
But two hours later there it was again: 4.05, Interner Fehler im Brennersteuermodul. At least we know it’s a big problem!
What a great time of year to start a conversation with the nice people at Schäfer about a repair…when we find out where they live.
And then there’s Viessmann. We started talking to them in November when the guesthouse boiler broke…and poor George and Anna-Marie have been without hot water since then…apart from the sparingly few sunny days which heat up the water on the panels on the roof.
Their current estimate is €800 and no idea when they can install. I hope they drive a 4x4.
The weather forecast is better, but a cold Christmas is rapidly approaching and the only thing heating up is my frustration.
Please don’t send care packages – the delivery guy won’t reach us.
And as a special treat for reading all this way…here’s the second German joke.
I told it to a couple of overgrown German boy scouts (in their 20s, woggles and all), and their response with a straight face was “this is not a nice joke.”
Two prostitutes are chatting in a German city and one says to the other.
Prostitute 1: Mainz ist ein Drecks loch!
Prostitute 2: Meins auch
(PS. Forget Google Translate…ask a German friend and see what they say!)