Tradition meets technology in Menorca

We sit on the veranda to enjoy our first G&T. The thick green glass bottle with the loop at the neck and windmill on the label means we’re back in Menorca. We’ve chosen to rent the same simple apartment as last year, just a few meters away from the shore in the fishing village of Es Grau, and straight away begin to recognise the locals. The feeling seems to be mutual, as they can’t really miss us on the ground floor and at the far end of the small block as they emerge through the narrow lane, whether on foot or by car.

Indeed, coming or going by car they have to stop beside our little wall while they negotiate the gate that creates a barrier across half of the one-car-width road. Clearly designed to maintain a private parking area for the permanent residents, this is no ordinary gate, though. In construction, it’s the bent olivewood twin of those scattered throughout the island, their faded grey a frequent focal point on our hikes along the Camí de Cavalls. Out in the countryside, supported by stone pillars either side, these gates open with a chunky handle that fastens again into a slot with a satisfying thunk. Our neighbours in Es Grau, on the other hand, had gone for mechanisation. Their gate hangs on a metal post, which disappears into a metal cover, below which some magic enables the automatic opening of the barrier at the touch of a zapper from inside your vehicle. Then once through, legitimate users reverse the operation to bring the gate back into place against the inch-high metal stopper that sits in the middle of the road. In theory. Eventually.

They were already having trouble with it last year, so we’re not altogether surprised to find the gate out of use and leaning against our opposite neighbour’s whitewashed wall. From our goldfish-bowl perspective, we keep track as repairs progress. On day one, the chap who lives at the end, who is clearly an engineer in his hi-viz uniform and liveried van, removes the baseplate and all the gubbins from underneath. We don’t spend our entire holiday watching this unfold, you understand, so on return from exploring later in the day we can only assume he’s inserted a new receptacle of some sort as he’s finishing off smoothing new cement around it. He and his mate then lug a couple of large lumps of stone from the water’s edge to create a makeshift kerb around the gap and cover the drying repair with a handy pallet.

I’ve disappeared into the kitchen – perhaps it’s gin o’clock again? – when I hear a horrible crunching sound from the lane. It turns out when you’re sitting high up in a large car, a pallet sticking out at near-ground level isn’t terribly obvious. Luckily there doesn’t seem to be any damage to the vehicle, although the pallet is a bit the worse for wear, and the driver – ironically the engineer’s wife – appears unruffled. Within half an hour another similar collision has occurred, so you’d think they’d maybe search for a cone or three, just to make sure. Such attention to health and safety doesn’t seem to be on the radar.

My husband, who’s filled in many a risk assessment in his time, can’t let this rest. He seizes the bull by the horns, almost literally: from a hook in the kitchen he takes a bright red plastic apron which bears the legend ‘TORO CHEF’ around a cartoon bull, and ties it strategically to the gatepost like a makeshift flag. The locals find this amusing, as though it’s a bit over the top, but at least they don’t seem to take offence.

The next hazard to address is the little stopper in the middle of the road. In the dazzling sunlight, and being virtually the same colour as the ground, it lies in wait to trip many a pedestrian – and does. The best we can come up with, other than sitting there all day pointing and shouting our best Spanish version of ‘be careful!’, is to clip on a blue clothes peg, which is reasonably effective. When we get back from a swim, we find someone’s gone one better and balanced a child’s bright yellow inverted bucket on the peg. The next day, this whole contraption is in smithereens over the ground.

Thankfully the new parts appear and are installed soon enough without too much trial and error, and we get our pinny back. Everything hinges on the first successful passage, which can only be celebrated with another G&T.

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