Cantabria Tales

Yes, I know, we’re about 8 hours drive away from Cantabria on the northern Spanish coast but I simply couldn’t let that sort of pun pass me by. At least we’re in Spain.


When we leapt into this little Spanish venture, we’d heard reasonable reports about the local Spanish workmen. Thus, we came over looking forward to supporting the locals rather than using expat British labour. I must say that you seem to be able to get the Spanish folks around to do things quite swiftly, typically within a week, which is usually far from the case with British workmen back in the UK where you’re lucky to get them inside of three weeks. Here’s a few brushes with the locals.

The Electrician’s Tale

Our new house came with a bunch of wires sticking out of the walls and ceilings at various strategic positions where lights and heating controllers were supposed to go. Not wishing to mess with foreign electrics, the one of the first tradesman we needed was an electrician. Our friendly local estate agent [no, still don’t get it] knew one – coincidentally the same one that lived opposite our dog-owning friends and who was known to them. We were happy to go with him. He first provided a quote to supply and fit a few LED lights, plus fit all our remaining purchases once we’d found ones that we liked.

He came to fit our initial purchases which included two kitchen ceiling lights and three hall lights. All were recessed units. The hall lights went swimmingly as he bored neat recess holes in the plasterboard ceiling and ran the cables. The kitchen was another story. Unknown to our electrician, the kitchen ceiling was solid, not a plasterboard job. His neat hole boring drill attachment effectively  bounced off the ceiling [a few muttered Spanish curses, and he began drilling several holes with a regular drill bit to make one large hole. Various bits of ceiling fell away that would have ben better staying in place. Eventually we had lights recessed into two rather messy holes. He said he’d fill them when he returned.

A few days ago, he did return and began fitting our new purchases: three outside lights, three more ceiling lights (not recessed!), two ceiling fans with lights, two mirrors, two lights designed to sit atop the mirrors, two bathroom shelves to go under said mirrors.

Did Señor Electrician put any dustsheets or other protective coverings down? No. He did unpack stuff on our newly oiled oak dining table,though, which now has a couple of minor scratches on its surface. He did move furniture beneath lighting fitments to the side but still did not use any dust sheets, so drill dust tends to get on bedding etc.

My biggest surprise came when he finally got to the mirrors and mirror lights. The clip on jobs seem quite popular here at the moment but he didn’t realize that these light units were to sit atop the mirrors. I clued him in and left him to do the mirror and light together, which he was keen to do and which is why I had driven about buying them that very day. Now, faced with a mirror that was to go on the wall over a hand basin, most people, I would have thought, would have tried their level best to centre the mirror over the basin. Nor Sñr. Electrician; our downstairs bathroom mirror is about 3cms too far right – still over the basin but not centred. Mercifully, perhaps more by fortune than design, our upstairs mirror did end up centred over its basin.

Part way through the work, lunch cropped up and they popped off for a break, during which time Francine and I checked out the existing completed lights. The lounge/dining room ceiling units failed to come on, as did the upper balcony light, probably on the same circuit being just outside the lounge/dining area. After lunch, once everything was fitted, Sñr. Electrician was about to wander off when we told him three lights didn’t work. He hadn’t tested anything – just assumed they’d work. Much head scratching, removing of junction box covers and wire testing. Eventually, the problem was discovered and fixed but wouldn’t you think they’d test what they’d done?

Oh, and having scattered brick dust about with drills, is there any attempt to clean up afterwards? No.

The Plumber’s Tale

We had begun our visit with hot water and shower fitments over both the bath (upstairs) and shower tray (downstairs) but no shower screens on either. We’d been using our shower room as a wet room and simply mopping up afterwards as water spattered everywhere. Great fun! Sñr. Plumber had been retained to supply and fit shower screens and we were looking forward to the luxury of a shower without the need to mop the floor afterwards.

The downstairs shower tray is in the corner and a screen with two sliding doors and a corner opening was being fitted. I left the professional to his work and soon heard the comforting sound of drilling. He eventually moved upstairs and put a hinged shower screen over the side of the bath.

Shower screenAt this point words fail me; verbal description of what had resulted with the corner screens in the downstairs shower room would be difficult and, when I saw what had been done, my jaw fell open but no words were emitted – there were none that were adequate. I’ll just let a hopefully clear, albeit mobile phone photograph featuring my own hand speak for me. See what’s going on? Is the aluminium screen seated on the left shower tray edge and sealed with silicone, as it should be? Oh no, it is suspended in mid air, about a centimetre inboard of the left edge, across the gap between the back and front shower tray edges. Stunning!

Now, unsurprisingly I got the Sñr. Plumber back. is explanation is that the screen and tray are standard sizes but that our tray was not sitting tight up against the right edge wall but was a few centimetres further left, thus the standard shower screen was not quite wide enough. There was, indeed, a marble filler strip spacing the right edge between shower tray and wall. OK, fine, but, having noticed that the screen wasn’t going to fit, why proceed to fit the darn thing in the wrong goddam place? Why not just bloody stop until you’ve got the correct spacer?

It actually gets worse. I popped in to our managing friendly estate agent [no, still wrong] and drew a diagram of what had happened. His eyebrows went up. He called the so-called plumber and said he’d be round tomorrow between 10:00 and 11:00 AM. He wasn’t. I called the estate agent who said a part had been ordered adn they’d let me know when it turned up. “He hasn’t been round”, I said, “how did he know”. He turn up later and it was obvious that they’d known all along and, once I’d raised the issue, had reacted. My suspicion is that they wondered if the Englishman would notice the cock-up. Cock-up? They did this wittingly.

What’s going to happen now is that the required aluminium spacer will (hopefully) turn up and the screen will me moved to where it should have been in the first place. This will leave behind a set of holes through tiles that were drilled where they should never have been drilled in the first place and which will, at the very least, need filling. What a complete f*****g tosser!

And this is a supposedly professional plumber?

Oh, and no, they didn’t put any dust sheets down and they didn’t vacuum up after themselves. Compared to the previous Spanish joke, however, that pales into insignificance.

The saving grace is that I haven’t yet paid any money for this so-called workmanship.


So, given the above, I can only assume that my standards are a lot different form those of some of my contacts. My reaction to Spanish workmanship varies from disappointed to downright disgusted and maddened. Common denominators so far seem to be that these bozos do not cover anything up to begin with and do not clean up afterwards. If my father, who was in the building trade, had not cleaned up after himself he’d have been shot.

In contrast with the Spanish, the expat British Mr Telitec with the well developed upper torso, when he came to fit our Wi-Fi connection, was fastidious about accuracy – spirit levels on the cabling – and paid attention to detail – he used only slow drilling through the wall so as not to blow out the exterior surface of the wall when boring a hole for the cabling. The Spanish bunch appear to be slapdash and careless, maybe even deceitful, with no eye for detail or accuracy.

I have re-evaluated my approach to Spanish workmen. Indeed, I have re-evaluated my approach to DIY. I was always a relatively keen DIY enthusiast, given training from my father, but I had become lazy, preferring to pay “a professional”. Now I have returned to the opinion that:

if you want a job done right, do it yourself.

How very sad!

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Posted in Spanish Venture Part 2

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