I try not to think about it, but when I do, I still shiver.
We rented our first - and only - villa in Spain unseen.
When I say unseen I mean we rented it from the UK having seen a mediocre pic and received a cursory description.
A bit like you do when you rent a villa for one, or two, or maybe even three weeks holiday.
So we paid our money up front, ie the first month's rent, and the same again as deposit.
The villa was not cheap, even though it was winter. But, it had three bedrooms, was detached, and had a pool, so seemed ok. We could take our dogs (not inside), and we could even put our furniture in their large garage while we found somewhere to buy.
And although the idea of a pool was nice on those warm sunny days in winter, to be honest where we were, there were few of those. When they did happen it wasn't warm enough to swim in the pool anyway.
In fact, the weather was mostly wet. Sometimes cold. Or both. At one point it rained incessantly for two weeks.
First my partner got sick. Then one of my dogs got sick so I put my foot down and brought both dogs inside and lit a fire (the wood cost extra, obviously).
The hot water was rubbish. It was tepid. When we first arrived after travelling through France and Spain, I ran a bath with such anticipation. What a let-down.
It didn't get any better either. He couldn't get a decent shave from the not-even-warm water. We couldn't get the grease off the dishes when we washed up. We ended up having to boil the kettle for hot water.
The not-so-hot water was gas-fired - using bottled gas. We were going through one in less than two weeks and getting water that wasn't even anywhere near warm. We complained. We spent a month complaining to the rental agent but got nowhere.
One day her husband strangely suggested we might get better results if we told the landlord we wouldn't pay anything more until it was sorted. The plumber came out. It was obviously his fiddle job as he came out about half past nine at night. He tweaked the gas heater and cleared off. The water was still tepid.
So we complained again. More than a month of lukewarm water in the middle of winter in a damp, cold house wasn't funny. The plumber came again late at night. The landlord had finally bitten the bullet and it was new heater time. They cost peanuts, we had spent more on gas. And I guess the plumber was tired again. He tested for any leaks with his cigarette lighter and left the mess for us to clean up.
The landlord came a couple of days later to finish some joinery work on the cupboard as the new heater didn't fit properly. He left a load of mess for us to clean up too.
We didn't care about the cupboard. My partner was not happy with either of the heaters, and said they shouldn't have been installed in a cupboard, so we always left the door open anyway, and didn't leave the pilot light on.
In the end we got sick of it all. The water was better to be fair. In fact the shower was so hot that it burnt, and you couldn't control it precisely enough to get the temperature just right, so it was back to the bath.
But there was no privacy. If the landlord wasn't up every day collecting eggs from his chickens or fiddling with his swimming pool, the rental agent was up trying to sell us a house.
I should probably have called this - beware the unseen agent. She had seemed perfectly legitimate - when I was in the UK. Once in Spain she really didn't want to get involved in sorting any of the problems, preferring to leave us to deal directly with the landlord.
The garage leaked and our furniture was getting wet. One of the three bedrooms was locked so we could hardly have friends or family to stay because there wasn't enough room.
So after two months we walked. It was meant to be our chill-out for the winter months on the Mediterranean before we decided what to do with the rest of our lives. It turned out to be an indescribable nightmare. It was one of those things in life that for us, wasn't meant to be.
Like everything time gets it out of your system. One day I was idly flicking through a Spanish paper on the pretext of learning Spanish. I think I had bought it because they were offering a pair of earrings for 50 cents or buy a paper from Monday to Thursday and on Friday you get a free pashmina.
And there was a story about a couple of British people found dead in that same town where we rented the villa. We didn't know many people there but I read the story anyway. They had died in the area where we had lived.
It seemed the family of these two people had been unable to contact their relatives, so had rung the British Consulate in Málaga, who in turn had called out the police. The police turned up to find the lights on in the house and the two bodies inside.
The next day (it was obviously tokens for the pashmina), I looked through the paper again, and there was a photo of the house. I knew it well. Too well. I had even washed down the main steps that were in the photo.
The second story gave a few more details. The two British men and three of their six dogs had died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty water heater.
Sources for the details of the deaths: Málaga Hoy, SUR in English.
The rest of the story is mine. The two guys didn't get to tell their story.
Edited to add: I occasionally re-read this story, because I still can't really believe it, and I have again today - 27 Dec 2007. But never without a shiver going down my spine.
And - a couple of specific links for those of you who read Spanish, or even who don't as it's easy enough.
This first one looks at the deaths and considered they could have been suspicious.
This one identifies the faulty gas heater as the cause of death. Or perhaps I mean the faulty landlord?
against all odds
1 week ago