Category Archives: Mallorca

a ñ o b a l e a r

[ 22:55 Friday 1 July 2022 – Los Escullos, Andalucia ]

One year ago today, Alejandro and I tumbled out of the airport in Palma with an avalanche of suitcases, bicycles and dreams. A couple of days ago we stood and watched Palma recede from the stern of a ship, with our belongings squashed into a Citröen van several decks below.

Adios, Palma!

The ferry took us two hundred and fifty kilometres to Denia, on the coast of Valencia. From there we drove another three hundred and seventy kilometres to Los Escullos in the Cabo de Gata national park, in Andalucia. This is an astonishing landscape, a cluster of dead volcanoes eroded over millions of years into gentle undulating hills. It’s the most arid place in Europe, with just twenty centimetres of rainfall a year; the only piece of the continent to classify as “hot desert”.

The land is far from lifeless though. The hillsides are speckled with dwarf fan palms, pink snapdragon and cactuses, able to suck meagre moisture from the air. Jujube trees or “red dates” dot the coastal areas. Some valleys are filled with surreal forests of agave, comprising thousands of spindly flowering spikes swaying several metres in the air.

The coast consists of jagged cliffs punctuated with sandy beaches, each one a different hue; white, grey, black, even brick red. In 1987 the Spanish government designated the area as a Parque Natural, then ten years later it became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Consequently it has escaped the intensive tourist development which blights much of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Even now in July the area is astonishingly empty.

Los Escullos in the Cabo de Gata Biosphere Reserve, Andalucia

I’m sitting now with my laptop on the terrace of our house in Los Escullos, surrounded by chirping crickets with the stars twinkling through the fronds of a palm tree. Next week we’ll make a final stop with Alejandro’s family, an hour away in Olula del Rio. After that it’ll be time to leave Spain to spend a couple of months in London, Cornwall, Turkey and Georgia.

In total we’ve lived in six houses over the past year. For the first three months we had a beautiful house in the tiny village of Port des Canonge, on the mountainous north coast of Mallorca. That was followed by two weeks in a flat in Esporles, the closest village inland. For the winter we spent six months in a large draughty villa on the fertile plain between Pollença and the sea, at the northern tip of the Mallorca. In May we loaded everything onto the ferry and crossed to Menorca, where we spent a month in a bungalow by the sea in Binisafua. In June we returned to Mallorca for a month in a flat overlooking the harbour of Portopetro, on the east coast. Now here we are in a cabin near Los Escullos on the Andalucian coast.

Out of the six places we’ve lived, our base in Menorca was was probably my favourite. The house itself was nothing special but it was directly adjacent to a tiny, exquisite, V-shaped cala, with a patch of white sand opening to an expanse of turquoise water. Between video calls and emails I was able to nip over several times a day, and lose myself in the blue light.

A moody day in the cala below our house, Menorca

Professionally, the year has been highly productive. I arrived in Palma with an idea for a new kind of live/work campus for nomadic workers and team retreats, mixing housing, workspace, training an a cafe/bar. One year on, I’m in the process of establishing a sister company to The Trampery to take the idea forward. Through complete serendipity I met someone in Pollença who was working on a similar idea, and we’ve ended up joining forces.

After visiting dozens of potential sites in Mallorca and Menorca, together with multiple rounds of financial modelling, the original concept has evolved, splitting into distinct formats for town and country. We’re evaluating a site in the mediaeval heart of Palma, with the hope it might become our first location. In parallel we’re also starting to look at sites on the mainland, in Andalucia and Catalonia.

Alongside the new venture, the experiment of running The Trampery remotely from Spain has been a success. A combination of Slack and Zoom keep me close to the team every day, whilst email carries most of the discussion with clients, partners, architects and other collaborators. An important element of my role is leading development of new workspace projects, so it’s encouraging to discover I’m able to do this remotely as well.

The van, crammed with our chattels

Throughout the year I’ve maintained a rhythm of two weeks in London every two months. These periods are dedicated to site visits for potential new projects, spending time with the team and meeting clients face to face. Every visit I go out to dinner with The Trampery’s management team, which has become one of my favourite rituals. However I still haven’t worked out the right formula for these periods in London. Each visit so far I’ve ended up trying to squeeze two months of meetings into two weeks, and ended up feeling completely exhausted.

At a personal level the year’s been equally rewarding. After eighteen years living in London, it was high time I threw myself into a new environment. Each successive location has presented a tabula rasa, with the process of exploration and discovery beginning afresh. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish, my first new language since learning Italian in 2001. Over the winter I also taught myself to play the bass clarinet, since I’m without a piano.

One of the greatest privileges has been the opportunity to spend much of my time in the open air, mostly in beautiful natural environments. At each house I’ve organised somewhere I can work outside. Initially I was shy about doing video calls al fresco, but gradually that’s become my default. I’ve also been able to establish a routine where I swim in the sea almost every day, which has wonderful benefits for my state of mind. I’ve probably swum about 80% of the days through spring, summer and autumn (along with a bracing swim on New Year’s Day).

Evening office.

At the centre of the year’s experience has been Alejandro, whom I’ve started calling Alex. Catapulting ourselves into this adventure, with its catalogue of joys and stresses, has deepened our relationship. We’ve learned to rely on each other, and we’ve also become more patient with each other.

Alongside our personal relationship, this is the first time we’ve worked together on a project. As a native Spanish-speaker, Alex led all the discussions with local government. It also fell to him to fight the ghastly battle with the Spanish bureaucracy to secure my “Visado de Emprendador” (Entrepreneur Visa), without which I couldn’t have stayed in Spain. More recently he’s been doing a lot of the background research for the evolving project. Initially we both felt some trepidation about working together, and we were careful to establish “spheres of influence” to avoid treading on each other’s toes, but it’s been a very rewarding experience and I hope we can carry on.

Until the middle of September our movements are more or less planned. From that point on it’s a blank slate. We’ll just have to see where the currents carry us.

: c :

i n v i e r n o

[ 11:21 Thursday 24 March – Villa Catalaneta, Pollença ]

As I sit here on the terrace bathed in birdsong, two thousand kilometres away Russian tanks are pounding Ukraine’s Black Sea ports into rubble. Life goes on but the shadow of war lurks always in the background. It is hard not to wonder what pandora’s box has been opened, and what will emerge from it in the months and years ahead.

Yesterday marked five years since Alejandro and I met, following a talk on fine-art curation in the digital sphere organised by Elaine. It still feels like yesterday that I spotted this handsome fellow grinning and gesticulating across the room. How can it be five years? The probability of meeting someone who shares my most obscure musical tastes, whose social values run close to mine and who enjoys so many of the same pursuits as me, must be infinitesimally small. How far we’ve come together in these years, how much richer my life is and how much I’ve learned from him.

Five years making trouble

This morning it rained. Now as the clouds lift, water drips from trees and bushes around the garden, creating an irregular counterpoint to the birds’ polyphony. Alejandro and I chose this house to spend six months over the winter. It’s located in the plain that spreads from the town of Pollença, in the foothills of the Tramuntana mountains, to the sheltered arc of the Bay of Pollença. It’s a spacious house with a big garden and a row of eleven tall palm trees, signalling its location across the landscape.

Our house for six months over the winter, Pollença

We arrived here at the start of November during a cataclysmic thunderstorm, which set the tone for our first two months here. A freakish chain of storm systems passed through the western Mediterranean, bringing two months of almost unbroken gales and torrential rain.

Fields and roads were flooded. Sporadic electricity outages became familiar occurrences. Gusts were recorded close by at 120 kilometres an hour. A yacht broke its mooring and washed up on the beach. I went to the coast in one of the strongest gales and the force of the wind was such that I could barely open my eyes.

A yacht broke its mooring in the storms & ran aground, Port de Pollença

Initially the dramatic weather was exciting, but as it continued week after week the experience became gruelling. With no central heating and poorly-fitted windows the house was dark, damp and cold. We had half a ton of holm oak and olive wood delivered, and became experts at managing the open fire in the sitting room. We also learned to fling open doors and windows whenever the rain stopped, to air the house and keep it dry.

When Christmas came we joined our respective families in Cornwall and Almeria. Returning to Mallorca on New Year’s Eve, it was as if we’d come back to a different place. The sun was shining, the sky was azure and the temperature was nudging 20 degrees. Elaine arrived from Los Angeles, Arthur arrived from Paris, we celebrated the last day of the year with Alejandro DJing on a tiny portable speaker.

At 4am on New Year’s Day we went out into the garden to discover a thick fog had settled over the plain, cloaking the landscape in swirling dampness. In the motionless air we could hear music from half a dozen other parties, spanning a range of several miles in each direction. The music was mingled with the sound of hundreds of cockerels crowing, near and far across the plain, as if adding their voices to the celebration. It was a magical way to begin the year.

January and February were sublime months. Day after day we awoke to clear skies, sunshine and birdsong. I spent the days working on a table in the garden, retreating inside only when the sun set behind Puig Maria and the temperature started to fall. A couple of times each week I took my laptop to a local beach, went for a swim in the chill, crystal-clear water, then sat on a rock in the sun and did my work.

The post-swim office

We’ve been getting a lot of exercise. We hike at the weekends, exploring remote places in the mountains and coast. At twilight when we finish work we often do a circuit to the sea and back on our bikes. We’ve started weekly tennis lessons, a sport that Alejandro already plays well but which is new to me. Finally, inspired by Alejandro’s example, I’ve started going to a couple of yoga classes each week.

Between 1995 and 2015 I studied yoga devotedly, starting with Alaric Newcombe at the Iyengar Centre in Maida Vale, then continuing with a series of wonderful teachers. Having suffered knee problems as a child, I grew up with a terribly hunched posture and little confidence in my physical ability. Alaric was a demanding teacher and at first I found the classes a struggle. But with perseverance, yoga restored my posture, changed how I breathe, and gave me a new sense of myself as a physical entity. After twenty years of devoted study, I gradually drifted into other activities and allowed it to lapse. Picking it up again now is like being reunited with an old friend, and I realise how large a gap it left in my life.

Our trusty wheels

The one sad note from these months is the death of Viola Nettle, my beloved piano teacher from Cornwall, aged 90. I studied with her from the age of 7 to 17. Along the way she became as much a friend as a teacher and we always remained close. Viola is the person who gave shape to my love of music, and instilled in me a curiosity for new sounds that will be with me all my life.

For the last decade, tragically, she suffered from alzheimer’s which progressively stripped away her memory and personality. The last time I saw her was February 2020 when I visited the care home where she was living. By this stage conversation was impossible, so I spent an hour playing the piano for her, including the whole of JS Bach’s Italian Variations, some Ravel I was working on, and a couple of pieces she’d taught me as a child. When the time came to say goodbye I kissed her on the cheek. She grinned and said “You naughty boy!”

: c :

v e i n t e a Ñ o s

[ 10:52 Friday 20 August 2021 – Esporles, Mallorca ]

Exactly twenty years ago today, I packed up my home in London and moved to the island of Stromboli. I planned on staying two months but ended up living there two years.

During that period on Stromboli I evolved the most productive working routine I’ve discovered to date. Each day comprised alternating periods of two-to-three hours’ intensive working, punctuated by half-hour periods swimming in the sea (in summer) or walking (in winter). I found that this rhythm enabled me to get a lot of work done, remaining consistently creative and without feeling tired at the end of the day. Coming back to London in 2003 I found it painful making the transition to working a regular eight-hour day in the office again.

A few days after arriving in Port D’Es Canonge last month, I realised that I’d automatically switched back into my Stromboli working pattern. The main difference now is that my routine includes several video calls a day, which didn’t exist in 2001. It took me a while to find a comfortable way to accommodate this new type of remote collaboration. My solution involves having a fixed point in the house where I do all video calls, and dressing slightly more smartly. I also found it best to avoid going directly from a swimming break into a video call, as the transition feels too abrupt. Another evolution from my 2001 working pattern is that I now keep my laptop on London time. Whenever I’m working, I shift myself psychologically into the London time zone. This avoids any sense of dislocation when I’m speaking with the team, and makes scheduling meetings easy. My phone, on the other hand, is set to local Spanish time.

Port D’Es Canonge, Mallorca

From our house in Port D’Es Canonge it is a five minute walk to the little semi-circular cove, with dinghies pulled up on one side and a row of boathouses lining the rear of the beach. From here the wild rocky beach of Platja de Son Bunyola is ten minutes walk to one side, with the even wilder beach of Es Berganti fifteen minutes’ walk the other way, at the foot of a spectacular cliff. Most evenings a fierce katabatic wind appears without warning and whips around the trees and houses for half an hour before disappearing as suddenly as it came. Other than this wind and the ever-present cigales, the most prominent sound in the evening is the laughter and cries of Mallorquin children playing in the street.

After a month in Port D’Es Canonge, at the start of August we moved eight kilometres inland to a terraced house in the village of Esporles, high in the Tramuntana mountains. We appreciated the luxury of having shops and restaurants within walking distance, and being excused the ordeal of Port D’Es Canonges’ four kilometres of single-track road carved into the mountainside, with its horrendous sequence of twenty-nine hairpin bends.

Our house in Esporles

However there is something magical about Port D’Es Canonge and despite its inconveniences we both miss it. Therefore on Monday we are packing our bags once again and moving back to Port D’Es Canonge, where we will remain until the end of September. After that the picture is hard to predict.

In 2001, as a citizen of the European Union, I was free to rent a house on Stromboli and stay for as long as I wanted. However in 2021 the situation is somewhat different. As a citizen of the United Kingdom, beyond the end of the Transition Period on 31st December 2020, I cannot remain in Spain more than three months without a visa.

Es Berganti, our favourite swimming spot,

When I researched the process last year it seemed straightforward so I gave it little thought. But when we arrived and I commenced the process to apply for an “Entrepreneur Visa”, the proverbial rabbit hole opened at my feet.

At this point I have had to obtain a document from the UK police stating I have no criminal record, get the document stamped with a “Hague Apostille”, get the stamped document translated into Spanish, get the translation stamped as well, request a certified copy of my degree certificate from Cambridge University, provide all my payslips for the past two years, get an official letter from The Trampery stating that I am an employee, provide a complete business plan for the project, provide a certificate proving I have purchased health insurance, submit photocopies of every page in my passport. As a passably intelligent English speaker there is no possibility I could have completed the process unaided. Alejandro has been heroic, but even for him as a native Spanish-speaker it has been an ordeal.

The greatest challenge was getting an appointment with the Spanish Consulate in London. By default every email to the contact address they provide is met with a lengthy and impenetrable automated message, explaining that the Consulate is not willing to reply to any question whose answer can potentially be found somewhere on the internet.

The harbour at Port D’Es Canonge

I would probably have given up after receiving this message three times, but fortunately Alejandro was cunning enough to apply for a different document, which elicited a human response, so he could then plead with them for an appointment, which has now been scheduled for 27th August.

If the Spanish Government doesn’t grant me an Entrepreneur Visa, we’ll come back to London at the end of September and work out a different route. The whole experience has been a bit disheartening, and drives home the appalling cost of the British population’s decision to leave the European Union. But despite the vicissitudes of the visa process, we feel privileged to be here and I haven’t regretted our decision for a micro-second.

: c :

t r a n s i t i o n

[ 17:11 Thursday 15 July 2021 – Port D’Es Canonge, Mallorca ]

On the first of July, Alejandro and I arrived on the island of Mallorca with ten suitcases and two bicycles. After eighteen years in London, it’s time for a new adventure. We plan to stay here a year, possibly longer.

I’m writing now from the terrace of a house in Port D’Es Canonge, a tiny and inaccessible village on the island’s rocky north coast, where the air is filled with birdsong and the afternoon sun hangs drowsy in the sky. We’ll spend our first month here, whilst we hunt for somewhere to rent for the rest of the year.

Our house for July in Port D’Es Canonge

Our arrival in Mallorca was the culmination of a six-month marathon, involving the reorganisation of almost every aspect of our lives. It started in December 2019 when we were given six months’ notice to leave Old Ford Lock, my home in London since 2013. It was a heavy blow, but it prompted us to think about what our next step could be.

For several years a plan had been gestating in The Trampery to establish a rural workspace somewhere in the Mediterranean. Faced with the loss of our London home, Alejandro and I decided to move away and try to realise the project. The experience of the corona lockdown demonstrated I can do most of what I need to do to run The Trampery remotely; via email, phone and video conference. However I still need to attend occasional site visits and meetings face-to-face, so a continuing base in London was vital.

After circling through various ideas, the option we settled on was to rent a house in the Mediterranean, and buy a boat as our London base. Meanwhile having assessed several Mediterranean destinations for The Trampery project, Mallorca emerged as the most promising location. The clock was ticking. We had six months to close up Old Ford Lock, put our belongings into storage, buy a boat and find somewhere to live in Mallorca.

Therefore in the second week of January we started going to visit boats that were up for sale. At first we focused on widebeam canal boats. Then we started looking at Dutch barge conversions. Finally (with a nudge from my father) we progressed to motor yachts, which seemed to be more spacious, lighter, less maintenance-hungry, and more fun on the water.

None of the boats we looked at in London were suitable, so we expanded the search and started visiting boats on the upper Thames; then the River Roach and the River Crouch. When we still didn’t find anything we liked, we broadened the search further to include the whole of Southern and Eastern England.

On 17th March I took the train to Brundall in Norfolk to look at two boats on the river Yare. The first had 2,000 hours on the engines and looked absolutely clapped out. However the second was exquisite, on a different level from anything I’d seen previously. The boat was a Fairline 41/43, built in 1991 in Oundle, powered by a pair of 375 horse-power Caterpillar diesels.

It had a spacious saloon with seating for seven, two comfortable cabins, a well-equipped galley, plus outdoor seating in the cockpit and flying bridge. It was evident that throughout the boat’s thirty-year life, each of its owners had lovingly maintained it, whilst investing in a string of upgrades. These included top-of-the-range navigation technology, a powerful heating system for the winter and an excellent sound system. The boat was beautifully built, with a light oak interior and lots of 90s design touches. Back in London that evening I went through the photos with Alejandro. He thought it was perfect. The next day we made an offer, and by the end of the day it had been accepted.

Orlando, our 1991 Fairline 41/43

Now began a hectic burst of activity. I sought recommendations for local boat surveyors; got quotes; engaged one; organised for the boat to be lifted out of the water; scheduled a trial run on the river. The surveyor’s report gave the boat a clean bill of health. On 15th April I transferred the remaining payment and the boat was ours.

This triggered a second burst of activity. I sought recommendations for an engineer to install a holding tank; got quotes; engaged one; organised for the boat to be lifted out of the water again, so the hull could be painted with anti-fouling; ordered a new anchor chain, after a byzantine process to establish what variety would fit the windlass. Meanwhile Alejandro and I assembled a list of 80 possible names before settling on “Orlando”.

Owning a boat wasn’t going to be much use unless we had somewhere to moor it. Alejandro and I systematically visited every dock, marina and pontoon within spitting distance of London. The one we picked was St Katharine Docks. Constructed by Thomas Telford in 1828, this was London’s most central commercial dock, until its closure in 1968. Then in the 1980s it was redeveloped as an urban marina, surrounded by restaurants, shops, offices and housing.

St Kats’ location next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, with the City’s towers looming above it, has an air of unreality. However bearing in mind its central location, the dock itself it is a haven of tranquility. Normally there’s a waiting list of years to get a berth, but because of the corona pandemic several people had shifted their boats away from London, and to our amazement a couple of slots were available. We grabbed one before the situation changed.

The next task was to bring Orlando down from Brundall to London. This would involve a first leg through the Norfolk Broads, a second leg down the North Sea then a third leg up the Thames Estuary. I bought the relevant charts and pilot books and started studying them. However it soon appeared this might all be in vain.

There are only two points where one can exit the Norfolk Broads and get out to sea: at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Each route involves opening a swing-bridge that carries the railway line, allowing boat traffic to pass. However when I called the Broads Authority to make the necessary arrangements, they informed me both railway bridges were currently out of commission for repairs, and it might be six months before they were operational again. They were very apologetic, but said the only way I could get Orlando to London would be transporting it by road!

Fortunately at this point I was introduced to someone who’d been boating in Lowestoft all their life. They asked me how high the boat was, pondered my answer a few seconds, then said we might be able to squeeze under the railway bridge without opening it, so long as we timed it exactly at low tide. There was no guarantee this would work, but it seemed like our best shot to get Orlando to London, so we decided to give it a try.

On 15th May I cast off the lines at Brundall and set off down the River Yare, accompanied by my friend Sara, an expert sailor. We had a few hairy moments, provoked by my total inexperience with twin-prop motor vessels, but thankfully we managed to avoid doing too much damage. At 3.30pm we reached Oulton Broad where we tied up and waited for the lock. At 4.30pm we passed the lock, our Lowestoft skipper came aboard, and we tied up again to wait for low tide.

At 6pm we judged the tide was as low as it was going to get, untied and started creeping towards the railway bridge as slowly as possible. Initially it wasn’t clear whether we’d make it, but as the radar mast came up to the bridge there was 20cm of clearance. Everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief as we passed under the railway lines and out the other side. We carried on through Lowestoft harbour, then moored at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Sailing Club overnight.

The next morning we pulled out of Lowestoft at 7am with a clear sky and a calm sea, dodging a flock of maintenance boats heading out to service the North Sea wind farms. It was my first chance to open up Orlando’s throttles. As we passed fifteen knots the hull lifted in the water and we began to plane across the waves. Twenty knots, twenty-five knots, twenty-eight knots. I set the autopilot and started checking that everything was working correctly.

Leaving Lowestoft harbour

The passage down the coast and up the Thames Estuary was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The boat performed magnificently. At 4pm, an hour ahead of schedule, we reached Tower Bridge and the lock gates opened to welcome us into St Katharine Docks. Half an hour later we were tied up on the berth. The first piece of the jigsaw was in place.

The next task was to make a dramatic reduction in my household belongings. Towards the end of May I started photographing bits of furniture and listing them on eBay. Over the following month I managed to sell a five-seater sofa, a three-seater sofabed, an enormous handmade Persian rug, a set of four Danish mid-century dining chairs, a set of six English mid-century dining chairs, a pair of oak carver chairs, a pair of oak wheel-back chairs, a pair of wicker armchairs, a teak extending dining table, a Victorian mahogany chest of drawers and an Edwardian inlaid chest of drawers. With a heavy heart, I also sold the Yamaha upright piano which had been my daily companion for thirteen years.

Alongside the eBay listings, Alejandro and I started giving away anything that wasn’t saleable for free in the Hackney Wick community, and throwing away sacks and sacks of stuff that nobody would want. I went through all my clothes and donated half of them to a charity shop.

As well as reducing our belongings, we also needed to organise somewhere to store what remained. Alejandro researched hundreds of storage units across London and South-East England, finally settling on a business in Romford. At the start of June we began packing everything that was left in the house into cardboard boxes, piling them up around the house like geological formations.

The first items arrive in our Romford storage unit

On 20th June two Brazilian movers took the largest items of furniture along with our books and pictures to the unit in Romford. Then on 27th June a team of three Pakistani movers took everything else, and to our immense relief managed to squeeze it all in. The second piece of the jigsaw was in place.

On 29th June we took a van with variety of clothes, kitchen equipment and books to Orlando in preparation for it to become our London home. On 30th June Alejandro and I handed over the keys to Old Ford Lock and closed the towpath gate for the final time, concluding this stage of our lives. I walked down the towpath without looking back.

We took a taxi to St Katharine Docks in silence, both lost in our thoughts. The rest of the afternoon was spent finding places to stow everything on the boat. That night we went to sleep on Orlando, for the first time as our London home.

At 4am on 1st July 2021 we woke up and set off with our cases for the airport. A new adventure was beginning.

: c :