Month: December 2013

Then 2007, now 2013.

Then

2007

2007

Now

December 30th 2013

December 30th 2013

Get me to the plastic surgeon! (Lighting isn’t quite as kind as it could have been, must have a word with the official family photographer). La Gidg still has her cheeky smile, and seems to have inherited some gobbiness from somewhere. . . Also, still haven’t done a damn thing with the house…..

Happy New Year everyone!

With lots of love from V, O and La G x x x

It’s been ‘The “J” word’.

Vicki McLeod, Gold medal award winning blogger!

Yes, people do employ this face.

When I was at school I didn’t consider myself to be one of the smart kids. Neither did my teachers.  I went to two different primary schools (was expelled from the first one for having the wrong dinner money, it’s a long story) and then went to the local single sex grammar school. I didn’t get in on the strength of my academic promise, or on any sort of recommendations from my teachers about the glittering future they could see for me. No, I got in because my mum wrote an essay in the application form which seemed to sway the admissions secretary. To this day I don’t know what it said.

I didn’t like school, and school didn’t like me either. I asked the wrong questions, or didn’t pay attention or didn’t show up. By the time I was fifteen my hormones had completely taken over and I was a typical teenage girl, all random hair and spots and lumps sprouting out of strange places. I left school with a good enough haul of O levels, but a very poor result in my A levels. By this time I already knew that what I wanted to do wouldn’t have anything at all to do with universities because: a) we couldn’t afford it and b) there wasn’t a cat`s chance in hell of getting in anywhere worth going. So I went into the world and started from the bottom. I worked my way up through a variety of theatre jobs until I hit the West End and international theatre tours as a Company Manager. Then I started again and did the same with disability and community work. Then I started again and did the same with holistic therapies and health. Then I moved to Mallorca, to add another dimension of difficulty, and did it all over again. I like change, and I like challenges.

Back at the beginning my best friend at school, Catherine, was destined to be a writer. From day one she was the clever one of our partnership, and I was the gobby one. Things came extraordinarily easily to Catherine, whilst I had to work for it. And in order to work for it I had to be convinced that it was going to be worth the effort. So often enough I didn’t bother. Becoming a writer didn’t look as if it would ever be within my reach, I decided that only the most intelligent people could possibly do that.

Throughout my various careers I had the opportunity to write reports for presentation and I began to realise that perhaps I might be able to string a sentence together. Other people would have trouble writing words down in an understandable reading order, whilst I found it simple. Perhaps, after all, school had done something somewhere along the way. But I also think that another thing that changed was my belief in myself. As I worked my way through jobs to more jobs, forever moving upwards, my confidence grew and with that my voice and my opinions strengthened. I took a night school course in Journalism at the London School of Economics and as I developed so did the opportunities, and the technology to get my ideas and thoughts out into the world, firstly via blogs. When I started blogging back in 2004 I didn’t really think that I would now write professionally, but I do. It is now the thing which I earn the majority of my living from: copywriting for businesses, doing their brochures, emails, websites, and teaching them how to express themselves in the written form in social media.

When I heard that I had won the Expat Blog Gold Award for my blog www.familymattersmallorca.com and for my article “The Mallorca Expat Commandments” I felt an incredible sense of achievement. It’s a wonderful end to a brilliant 2013 for me: it’s been a (the “J” word) journey…. in the best X Factor fashion.  My article, about the Dos and Don’ts for anyone moving to the island, was the most commented on article in the entire competition and beat the other 170 entries from around the world to the top spot. Thank you to everyone who supported me and commented on the article. And thanks to Mrs McClaire who was the careers advisor at school back in 1987: she told me not to bother trying to work in the theatre as I’d never do it. Well I did it and many more things as well. And that’s my New Year’s Resolution for 2014: Don’t let anyone ever tell you can’t.

The 12 Mallorca Expat Commandments, or “What to think about before making The Great Move”.

mallorca_cnt_24nov09_iStock_

1) Be sure.

You may have visited Mallorca on a family holiday or a weekend bender with your friends. You may have been in Magaluf or Pollensa when the sun was beating down on you and the sand on the beach was too hot to walk on with bare feet. You may have thought you had found paradise but you may not realise that you could be wrong: until you have experienced Mallorca in its dampest of days then you have no idea what you are getting yourself into.

The island of Mallorca is surrounded by water, indeed it is engulfed in water: this gives us overwhelming humidity in the summer and extreme dampness in the winter. However you will not be able to drink the tap water because it tastes like salty chlorine (it IS salty chlorine: recycled and treated seawater). You will feel wet and cold to your bones in the winter, but not the dry, cosy cold that you can bear because there is central heating and carpets when you get into your house. No, this is the damp, stone, draughty cold that only Mallorca can really make you appreciate. You will not believe it until you have lived in it so do a recce in the winter (I recommend January for full effect). You can’t understand this now, but the two most essential and loved items in your house will become your electric fan and your electric blanket. My daughter would not exist without my electric blanket because until my husband and I were given one for Christmas during our first winter in Mallorca neither of us had been warm enough to get into bed with less than three layers of clothing, socks, hats and gloves on.

On the upside the surprising weather conditions in Mallorca always give British expats something to talk about. The Mallorcans and the British share a love of commenting on the weather, so you will have an opening gambit for a conversation. Practise saying: “Qué Frío” or “Qué Calor” depending on the six months of the year that you are in.

2) Be prepared.

These days it is very easy to get to know other British people who are residents in Mallorca. A great proportion of them are on Facebook and it’s a key method of communication on the island. You can get to know a lot of people and find good information in preparation for “The Great Move”. If you are moving to a specific part of the island then seek out local advice and tips from the people already living there. Google, and Facebook, and these days even Twitter, are your friends. Ask for recommendations for “Gestors” (pronounced “hestors” for the Brits). Get yourself a good one; you will need one of these people to help you get your paperwork done which is a long winded and frustrating experience. Have very low expectations about how many pieces of paper you can accrue in one day, and don’t underestimate how many different bits you will eventually have). Ask about schools, local services, mobile phone companies, in fact whatever you want to know just ask. The good expat people of Mallorca: via blogs and social media, love to help. These people will become your life support system, you will rely on them for your business, your social life, your day to day survival and they will become your beautiful and complex extended family, and this takes me on neatly to 3).

3) Don’t be fooled.

Birds of a feather flock together. We all feel more comfortable with people that come from an area we are familiar with: we share common speech patterns, terminology, possibly even mannerisms and senses of humour. We’re one of a kind but that can make us vulnerable to unscrupulous people. As much as it is important to make new friends and develop a social circle make sure that you don’t buy into any Ponzi schemes/ give away your house/ sell your children/ enter a cult, just because you’ve met a conman who comes from the same area as you. Don’t laugh; it’s happened, several times. For example: there is currently a British man staying at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in the UK who stole millions of pounds from unwitting British pensioners and expats in Mallorca.

But you will make lifelong friends. Expats are cut from the same cloth. There is a touch of the pioneer in every one of us. Every person who has moved from one country to another has that shared experience: you just got free life membership.

4) Don’t fool yourself.

Mallorca is tiny. If you act like a prat, rip someone off, turn out to be unreliable or bad at your job then it won’t take long for the island telegraph to get beating. You arrive on the island with your reputation intact: your actions and how you present yourself will determine whether it remains that way. Behave nicely and with integrity at all times. It gets you a long way.

5) Step into the time machine.

Living in Mallorca is like living in Britain in the Seventies, without the flares (although give it time and fashions come round again apparently). You can still pay a deposit on drink bottles and get the money back when you return them; depending on where you live on the island you will receive your cooking gas in bottles which are delivered to your door, and shops even close for half days. Sundays are sacred and nothing happens on them except family and leisure activities, it’s fabulous. There’s also a brilliant community spirit, outdoor events and fiestas and the Mallorcan version of Morris Dancers which are “Dimonis” (locals dressed up as devils who play with fire and fireworks, the proverbial Health and Safety nightmare). You must commit yourself wholeheartedly to the new culture that you are moving into: get Spanish telly, listen to Spanish radio, read Spanish newspapers. Take every opportunity you can to integrate. Get over any shyness you may have about making mistakes with the language. Start talking as soon as possible, and don’t stop. Better still, fall in love with a local who speaks no English at all, pillow talk is the best teacher.

6) Forget who you used to be, no one else cares.

Whoever you were in the UK, you aren’t that person anymore. When you step off the boat you are starting from scratch. Whatever “Grande Queso” position or status you had in the old country means absolutely nada in Mallorca. So, best get over it: right NOW. In the same breath, don’t reimagine yourself as a plumber or a brain surgeon when you haven’t done the training. People will figure it out, see 4).

7) Don’t live in a property with more bedrooms than you need.

Unless you like being visited by people you barely know who fancy a free holiday. Just saying 🙂 Also: reverse cycle air conditioning is a con; it won’t heat up your cold house, see 1).

8) Work for yourself.

It’s a scary moment when you step off the contracted ledge of employment into the gaping chasm of self-employment, but working for yourself can mean you have work all year round. Try to get some skills under your belt before you make your move, and take advantage of any night school classes or cheap education in the UK. Mallorca is a seasonal island which depends on tourism for the majority of its income and employment. The tourists only tend to come from May to October, but unfortunately landlords like to have rent paid all year round, so you will have to figure out what you are going to do for money during the other six months of the year. You will work harder 52 weeks round for less money than you earned back from where you came from, but you will get to live in a place where everyone else saves their money for 50 weeks of the year in order to visit for a fortnight.

9) Learn one of the languages.

Yes. That’s in the plural. You need to get your head around Castellan Spanish or Catalan (if your kids go to state school then they will be taught in Catalan first and Castellan Spanish second, and then English third, but that’s a whole other blog post). In some areas of Mallorca it may be better to speak German and English for employment. If you are living in the middle you may even find yourself having to get your head around Mallorquin. Do your homework and work it out. See 2).

10) Don’t buy a bar.

Unless you want to become a penniless alcoholic. Ask yourself, why would someone be selling a business which was making a profit? Don’t buy a fantasy. Don’t assume you have the knowledge to run a bar on the island even if you were born in a pub back in the UK. You won’t get familiar locals coming in every night, the taxes are insane and the police are always looking to lay a fine on you. They say to make a small fortune in Mallorca you have to arrive with a large one.

Just don’t do it, and don’t make me say I told you so.

11) Don’t burn your bridges.

Always have an exit plan. Even if you don’t ever plan on using it.

12) Prepare to fall in love.

Mallorca is a bit like a hot Wales: same amount of sheep, lots of incredible mountains, and a passionate race of bilingual people. Even after living on the island for years you will still go “WOW” every time you see a sunset / beach / mountain / village view. You will enjoy telling visitors and newbies about your favourite bar/restaurant/walk/fiesta/shop. You will love writing a “Guide to Expats” blog post for a competition. You will wait for your plane at Gatwick and get to proudly correct a fellow traveller: no, you aren’t going on holiday, you’re going home.

This article was originally written for the Expat Blog competition and was posted here:http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/883/the-12-mallorca-expat-commandments

It was by far the most commented on and voted for entry in the competition, and that is a great source of pride for me, thank you to the amazing expat and online communities that I am privileged to be part of.

Family Matters lead Spain to win the Top Country Award and took home first place, the Gold Medal.

The Milk of Human Kindness

Handmade blankets

Handmade baby blankets destined for a Mediterranea humanitarian aid centre in Mallorca.

Take one small business owner and lifelong knitter, Kay, a bunch of children including Giselle and Sophia, and Cynthia, another lifelong knitter and what have you got?

A lot of hand knitted blankets, that’s what.

Ever since Kay Halley took over the Universal Bookshop in Portals Nous she has been transforming her little locale into a community centre where people don’t just come to buy books. “I’ve been teaching the children to sew, knit and crochet. Some of them have got quite enterprising and even sell the things they make to their school friends. I know that there are a lot of handmade phone covers out there!” Kay set out to teach the basic skills required making knitted squares and they have mounted up to make several very cosy and good looking blankets.

But what could be done with these blankets? It’s still tough to accept it but in Majorca there are many people facing crippling poverty and hunger, in fact a great deal of residents living on “paradise island” don’t have a clue that there is any such problem here. Well, there is. And the situation is continually developing.  Families cannot afford to feed their children properly. Something as simple as milk has become a luxury item for some in Majorca and so a large number of children are not getting the amount of milk recommended by the World Health Organisation, which is half a litre a day, 15 litres a month. And why is milk significant (especially when many of us, me included, are constantly worrying about low fat, low carb diets)? Because it is a perfect food for growing children: it is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamins, helping with the growth of body tissues, teeth and bones. Mediterranea is a voluntary, privately funded humanitarian aid organisation which Dr Michael Stoma and his wife Victoria founded back in 1999. It is well known for its work in Africa, and lesser known for its vital and day to day support of children who are living right now and right here in Majorca.

A stocked store cupboard, for now.

A stocked store cupboard, for now.

Back in 2009 Mediterranea realised that there was a developing economic problem on the island and so earlier this year they launched their “ESTO ES LA LECHE” project (it’s a Spanish term which translated means “It’s the bees’ knees”). Up to then they had distributed about 91,000 litres of milk to families with children. But recently the demand has rapidly increased: now Mediterranea is supplying milk to more than a thousand children who are in need across 19 municipalities in Majorca. Following WHO guidelines that would be 15,000 litres a month: that is a lot of milk. The commitment to supply milk is draining resources from other projects that Mediterranea supports. However, what is quite perfect about milk here in Majorca is that we buy it in cartons which don’t need chilling, or any special handling, and we (by that I mean you and I) can all buy extra cartons of milk and donate them easily. It is literally a few extra pennies per litre. Mediterranea now has its own drop off centre, called El Nucleo, which is just outside of Portals Nous, on the way to Bendinat. It is completely possible to drop off your milk donations any weekday. Dr Stoma and his volunteers would like us to all get into the habit of doing that. Of course if you live in another area of the island then you can  get in touch with Gwyneth, one of the volunteers at Mediterranea and she will  guide you on how to get the milk to those in need.

Gwyneth and Kay preparing to deliver!

Gwyneth and Kay preparing to deliver!

I learn all of this as Kay, Gwyneth and I are on the road to one of these municipalities to deliver the blankets. It strikes me that the solutions that both women are giving to what have become known as “Fourth World Problems” are simple and achievable. I am not loaded but I could buy an extra half a dozen cartons of milk every month and donate them. Or I could make a regular standing order to the organisation and let them get on with the shopping. Gwyneth tells me that there are about 400 members who donate monthly, but to make all of the projects secure Mediterranea really needs something like 5000 members. It’s only 20€ a month.

We arrive at the depot where we will deliver the blankets and take a look inside the food cupboard. It’s hard to fathom that milk, rice and lentils are the edge between not eating that day and having a full tummy; that some people in Majorca are so poor that they can’t afford to eat. We get to meet some of the families who receive aid from Mediterranea. I’m told that the people using the depot are mixture of cultures from all over the place: Africa, South America as well as Spain and Eastern Europe. A common thread that seems to run through them is that many worked in the building industry before it collapsed back in 2008. The depot is a humble, warm, friendly place, but I’m glad I don’t have to visit as a client.

On the journey home we were all in a reflective mood. What do you get personally from helping with a project like this? Gwyneth summed it up: “it’s the satisfaction that I am doing something small but significant to improve the life of someone who could behomeless, unemployed or just unlucky. Mediterranea helps to feed children and their families so that they don’t need to turn to crime or prostitution or eating from rubbish bins. I love to help, I’m only supposed to be doing this one morning a week but I think about it all the time, I’m passionate about it”.

And for Kay and her brood of knitters at the Universal Bookshop it’s the same, they are doing something small but perfectly formed which reverberates out and touches many more people. “I’m been imagining the children all wrapped up, cosy warm in their new blankets,” said Kay with a huge, happy smile on her face, “and the children who come into my bookshop are benefitting too. They need to be aware of children who aren’t as fortunate as themselves. We all have a responsibility to each other”.

You can find out more at http://mediterraneaong.com. To read more stories about people in Majorca visit www.mallorcastories.com

©Vicki McLeod 2013

Get into the Spirit of Christmas

Stuart Bray and Caron Stott

Stuart Bray & Caron Stott

I love Christmas on Mallorca, I think it’s fantastic. We have such a wonderful time celebrating, organising get togethers, Christmas Markets, carol concerts, parades and whatnot. And always we remember to include charities. I’m proud to be a part of that as well. Each and every year there are calls for help and fundraisers which lead up to the festivities. I think it is right to have a focus on this as this is what Christmas is all about, “Peace and Goodwill To All”. Better still, get your children involved and teach them about the spirit of Christmas rather than let them flick idly through the Argos catalogue or Amazon website, bookmarking things for Santa, at least that’s what I aim to do with La Gidg!

So, who do you fancy helping? There’s a big choice in Mallorca. Here’s just a few to get you going:

 

If you want to help out with Age Concern Mallorca then you could donate non-perishable food to their Christmas Hamper campaign. You can get in touch with Jackie and the gang by calling 971 231 520.

If you would prefer to help the youngsters that the Allen Graham Charity cares for then the team would be very happy to relieve you of a nice Christmas present suitable for either a boy or a girl. You can have a chat with Rosemary who is the President of the organisation on 610 662 086 and she can advise you of what you could donate.

You could offer to help the poor and underprivileged people who are living almost hidden lives right here on the island. Mediterranea. You can contact 971 677 762 and donate milk, rice, pulses and more. (Look out for another article about this in the not too distant future).

Or you can choose to do your own thing, like Stuart Bray from Bray Marine International did last week. “You know what Vicki”, Stuart said to me “I want to organise a Christmas party for charity. Do you think that would be okay? I’d like it to be something special where the girls get to dress up and the boys have to wear dinner suits”. How wonderful, some glitz and glamour always goes down well! The party, which he held at Mood Beach in Costa D’en Blanes was exactly as he described, glittery, glamorous and with plenty of money being raised to go to charity. In fact well over 2000€ has been donated to Cancer Research following his event last Saturday night, so well done to Stuart Bray and I look forward to the next one.

So, whatever cause moves you and inspires you to act, please don’t stand and watch, get involved, and be part of the solution.

Have a splendid Christmas, with love from Vicki, Ollie and La Gidg. 

Everyone’s a winner…. Voting time!

images (5)So there’s this World Blog competition that I´ve entered….. (she said, trying to sound all casual about it).

The brief was to write a list of things about your chosen country of residence. I’ve written what I think is a fairly accurate and honest list of “Commandments” for anyone thinking of moving to Mallorca. What do you think? Have a look here: http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/883/the-12-mallorca-expat-commandments

If you like the article then please leave a comment at the end of it on the Expat Blog website, the comments count as votes. Voting closes on Friday night so get busy if you want to support me!

To let or not to let?

download (1)It is one of our favourite pastimes: moaning about governments and people in power, sometimes with good reason.  And sometimes we’re complaining about something which we’ve actually completely misunderstood and that can make us look a tad silly. Depending on your point of view, the most recent EPORE meeting was a complete revelation or another reason to have a pop at the government: we were talking about the very confused subject of Holiday Rentals.  EPORE had gathered together a representative from the Ministry of Tourism, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, a journalist and a lawyer. I doubt that the lawyer, Javier Blas, is ever short of work as he completely blew me away with his clear explanation of the current laws (note the plural) and how they can be interpreted.

So, is it legal or not to rent out your apartment to a holiday maker? According to Sr. Blas from Illeslex Abogados, it can be legal, if you follow a few pointers. If you choose to use a Seasonal Rental contract you will see that all property owners have the right to rent out their properties doing so in full compliance of the law. You can rent for a short period: a week, or a longer period: a couple of months, or longer even than that. As the landlord you can advertise the property for rent through local estate agents or online through European intermediary websites such as Homelidays or Homeway, but you can’t market your property through tour operators offering touristic services. As the landlord you don’t have to have civil liability insurance if you rent with a Seasonal Rental Contract, and you should be declaring your rental income but you don’t have to charge or pay IVA on it.

But, and here’s the big “but”, you cannot offer any “services” and by that they mean, cleaning, reception, shopping etc: nothing, zip zero, nada.  And what do you do in this circumstance? You can leave a list of recommended cleaners etc. and let the tenant make their own mind up about it. Javier says that it in each case of a rental the landlord and the tenant must sign a Seasonal Rental Contract and that within that contract it is important to include a clause stating that no tourist services are provided. And this is how to protect yourself as a property owner, the legal presumption is that tourist rental exists when it cannot be proved that the contract has been made in accordance to the Law of Urban Rents. As soon as you step outside of these parameters you are into the territory of the hated and despised Tourist/Holiday Rental contract and that falls under the General Tourism Law, and you will need to comply with that law.

It’s much less of a grey issue when you hear Sr Blas speaking, (I have to admit to a bit of crush on him by the end of the evening). Well done to EPORE for yet another excellent event with very good information. They are the organisation to thank for the recent capitulation on the Foreign Residents’ card. If you haven’t already joined up then I would urge you to do it, pop over to http://epore.org and get in touch with them.

It takes a village

(L) Nick, Dr Stoma, Sebastian and Brad

(L) Nick, Dr Stoma, Sebastian and Brad

Remember the summer of 2013? It seems such a long time ago now doesn’t it? Remember those two crazy boys who sailed around the island in their little dinghy to raise money for Mediterranea and Associacion Ondine? Nick and Sebastian (only 15 and 16 years old) hopped into their sailing boat called Rocky and circumnavigated the island in eleven days. They will never forget the summer of 2013 as they raised awareness for the charities and went through a rite of passage themselves. They made their parents, families and friends very proud, and they enlisted the help of 563 people who sponsored them, supported them, and encouraged them.

What’s that saying about it taking a village to raise a child? It takes more than one person to teach a child the ways of the world. It’s the idea that this influence, the impact that individuals and groups outside of the family have on young people, for better or for worse, is a crucial part of growing up. Some people say that it only takes a family to raise a child, not a village. But there does come a point in your life when however much you love your family you need to learn from other people as well. This is one of the wonderful things about bringing a child up in Mallorca: the community around you as a parent, again for better and for worse (I can do without some people’s opinions, but then I guess they can probably do without mine, sometimes they spill out of me against my will)., is incredible.

This is one of the reasons that I find Sail Aid so moving. Two young men got in a dinghy and sailed around the island. They had to rely to some extent on their wits, and on their ability to meet (in their words) Very Nice People. Of course their families were there backing them up, driving to meet them at the end of the day to check they were okay, but there was a definite elasticizing of the apron strings as they sailed further away from their mums. However all the way on their journey they found people who wanted to help them, who wanted to give them a meal or a shower or help them with the boat, so the village, or in our case, the island was teaching them about some of the best parts of human nature.

I proudly count myself amongst the ranks of Very Nice People, as I helped them to set up their blog and Facebook page, and helped them to initially get in touch with the newspapers. And I am very happy to announce that on Thursday December 5th at 7pm the Sail Aid guys will give a talk to The Supper Club at Mood Beach. They will be selling the book that they have written about their amazing summer of 2013. Hope you can join me and them and encourage these two remarkable young people.

 

 

Click here for Sail Aid.

Click here for Mediterranea.

Click here for Ondine.