Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 31

A snake in the leaves

Something isn't working! 

As I started to think about the threads I will weave into this week's blog and I began to jot down some framework notes, a movement caught my eye and I saw a the black tell-tale form of a Tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, move from my finger knuckle to my wrist.

I keep an electrocutor, one of those fiendishly clever battery operated tennis racquet like devices handy, but my immediate reaction was to try and slap the little beast with my other hand. 

I missed, but I did see where it went to. As it lifted after resting briefly on a tin - one of the many pieces of clutter I have on my temporary desk, I brought the electrocutor into life and with a small blue flash and a satisfying "zap", the miscreant was vaporised. 

I then applied some Anthisan bite and sting cream, to the two itching white lumps where it had bitten me in its quest for blood, one of several tubes I keep around my home. 

The Asian Tiger Mosquitoes seem attracted to finger joints, and ankles even though the science says that they are attracted by carbon dioxide and human perspiration molecules. Maybe my joints are excreting CO²? 

Although I have made fine mesh screens for all the opening doors and windows, these aggressive alien species still manage to find their way inside. Earlier in the week, I found one which No.1 cat Risha, had brought in, as he came inside for food. They attack all mammals equally. 

The Tiger mosquito is an alien species, which arrived in Europe, through Italy in the early 2000's in a boat load of bananas. They have since spread, expanding their range every year. The European Centre for Disease Control has a map on it's website dedicated to tracking the spread of this pest.

They bite day and night, they often bite multiple times in the same general area causing painful, white swellings, they bite through clothing and can be identified by their black bodies with prominent white stripes on their legs and abdomen. 

Although tropical, they have adapted and even the intense cold spell we had at the start of the year has failed to curb their numbers this summer by any noticeable margin. 

Mosquitoes are vectors for a number of nasty viruses, malaria is one which is well known, but also Zeka, West Nile Virus and in France and Italy the Chikungunya fever

When you actually see one of these insects feeding off a cat and then immediately transferring its attentions to a human, you realise how great the potential for zoonotic disease transmission is.

A number of companies are developing methods of catching and/or controlling mosquitoes. A company called Thermacell has a patent for a domestic table top device called a Radius, whilst in the USA micro lasers capable of detecting, identifying the species and "shooting down" the dangerous varieties have been talked about for a number of years. 

Meanwhile a number of UK newspapers are reporting that with climate change it is only a matter of time before the Tiger Mosquito becomes established across the UK. Unlike the endemic mosquitoes, the female Tiger Mosquito bites at all times of the day and will bite through quite thick clothing. 

In a little while I need to go and irrigate the orchard trees. 

Time to apply the Dipterol to all exposed skin I think......

At long last I think I have solved the problem of my lifting wallpaper edges. 

The first step in any problem solving exercise is to identify the real problem. I know that there is some kind of chemical reaction taking place between oxygen at the vertical joints of lengths of the lining paper and the layers of old paint on the walls. 

Where I have sealed the walls then after some drying time, applied the wallpaper paste and paper, there is no problem. Everything has stuck and there has been no lifting. So that tells me what to do in the future, but my recent quest has been how do I stick down the joints between the 14 lengths of paper I had already hung and this has taken time and some experimentation. 

I had wondered about taking all the lengths off the wall, sealing the wall and then rehanging them, but the centres of the lengths are well attached, it is only the edges where air can get in that there is a problem. 

So no sense in wasting a lot of paper. I ordered a couple of rolls of Blue Dolphin painters tape from the UK, and then like all trial and error processes did some experimentation. Following the instruction on the Solvite wallpaper repair adhesive, I wet the back of the paper where it had lifted, applied glue to the wall, then used the painters tape to hold the lifted joints together. 

In one place I used a long wooden lat wedged in place by equally long lengths of supporting wood to keep uniform pressure on the tape, on a second length, I just used the tape, with no pressure and on a third length, I just used the Solvite adhesive.

After leaving the tapes in place for 48 hours, when I came to inspect the joints, the one without any tape had lifted again, the joint next to it, which had been taped but had not had pressure, lifted as soon as I peeled the decorators tape away. 

The length where I had applied pressure had stuck. But then the next day, that joint had also lifted in places, so it was back to the drawing board. 

Decorators tapes tend to be coloured blue (why I am not sure) and are classed as "low impact adhesive", meaning they stick, but are easy to peel off. 

They are used to get very neat straight edges where paints join and can be peeled away, without lifting the paint underneath. But what I did notice was that the Dolphin tapes are extremely fine, measuring just a few microns thick, and they were sticking extremely well to the lining paper. 

So my last experiment has been to stick the blue tape to the lining paper from floor to ceiling, apply pressure with a wooden lat, but then leave the tape in place, because once the walls are painted, the tape and the joints will be invisible. I am pleased to report that this method has resulted in no more lifting edges. Success!

And no, it is not an optical illusion, the walls really are completely concave! ​ 

With a lot of joints to stick, and leaving the wood in place for 48 hours, just to make sure, means it is taking time to stick all the joints down, but once stuck, they are staying stuck. 

The next job will be to paint the walls. With 54² meters of wall and ceiling to paint, I am going to use my air compressor and spray gun to paint everything. I am not confident or competent with a paint roller and don't want to brush everything by hand, so this week I have been servicing my electric air compressor and the spray gun.

I haven't used either since I was painting the dining room in August 2015, so they needed a bit of attention, coupled with the fact that I have new air lines and fittings. 

The air compressor came with me from Spain and has various fittings, the use of which I am unsure. This is some kind of a pressure regulator or pressure limiting device, but modern compressors don't have them.

After cleaning up the pressure gauge and the various ports, I suspect it is some kind of a water trap as well, judging by the limescale deposits at the threaded base joint. 

When you compress air, any moisture content in the atmosphere condenses out and there are a number of drain cocks dotted around the machine to remove the water. 

The instructions (in Spanish only) are of little help, so it is just a question of remove everything that can be removed, clean everything and then reassemble. 

In the thirty odd years since this machine was built, air compressors have become smaller, more efficient and less complicated, but mine still works....

I was summoned to my gate by my neighbour ringing the old farm bell above the entrance on Thursday tea-time. 

I was greeted with, "You'd better come and look at this"

This was the sight I had, looking east as I reached the narrow road which passes my home.

My neighbour told me that the forest fire had been burning for about 30 minutes and was in the next village, Vrbanj, and up towards Svirće and the road to the tunnel at Pitve, which is the only access to the south of the island. 

The wind was blowing away from Dol but as we watched the smoke was getting visibly thicker and darker. 

I had been doing a little writing and had heard some emergency vehicle sirens, an uncommon sound on the island. But I thought they were probably police or ambulances because the summer is when we have road crashes, and the Vatrogasci use German made fire appliances, which have the European two tone or hi/lo Bosch electric horns. Noisy, effective and quite distinctive, so I had not taken much notice.

We drove the short distance along the old road to the edge of Vrbanj.

As we rounded the corner at the western edge of the village, we gasped.

The fire was not between Vrbanj and Svirće, but was on the hillside above the old track between Dol and Vrbanj and was at the very edge of the village, the point where forest and houses merge, known technically as the WUI - the wildland-urban interface.

Pine trees were exploding with tongues of orange flame arching up into the blue sky.

Within minutes the throaty roar of a twin engined Canadair CL-415 could be heard, and as the water bomber approached, the engine sound changed as the wing flaps were lowered.

It pivoted overhead, then the nose dropped as it made the first run, dumping six tonnes of sea water onto the seat of the fire.

Quickly a second Canadair joined in, followed by a third aircraft. The aircraft disappeared into the smoke before reappearing some seconds later in the clear air to the north east.

After each run along the fire line, the aircraft banked hard left and nosed down towards Jelsa and the Brać channel, where the water tanks were re-filled with sea water.

 This is a panoramic photograph of the village, created from 5 separate images. 

In a coordinated aerial ballet, the three aircraft made more than 20 passes each before we left.
After each run, there was a few minutes lull while the water bombers re-filled

By which time, the smoke had turned from black to white as the fire was gradually quenched.

On the ground, more fire fighters were arriving together with water tankers, to fight the fire on foot.

But in this area there are few roads, fewer paths and extinguishing fires on the ground is hot, difficult, exhausting work.

By nightfall the fire was out, having burned an area of 50,000 square meters.

When compared to the fires on the mainland last week, this was a small incident, but It does illustrate how quickly a fire spreads.

The village telegraph is suggesting that the fire was caused deliberately....

In addition to the large vehicles and the immediate and effective response by the Croatian Air Force 885th fire fighting squadron, the media in Croatia are highlighting the parlous state of many of the the rural volunteer Vatrogasci - under funded, under resourced, with some old equipment and vehicles.

Fortunately, my local Vatrogasci seem better equipped than some, although they have a 1983 TAM 75 T5 on the run and an even older 1981 FAP 1616. But it is not quite like the 40 year old Zastava 750 - a Fiat 500 built under licence in Yugoslavia - known as a Fićo, used for personnel transport.

They were used extensively by the Yugoslav police as well.
My youngest cat, Callie, came in quite agitated this week. 

When I didn't immediately respond by following her, claws were extended and latched into my shoe, which was then tugged in the direction of the door. 

I got the message that there was something outside that she wanted to show me, and it was urgent.

I followed her into the citrus orchard, where she lay down close to the Mandarin tree. In front of her was a snake, dead and almost completely skeletonised, but still a snake.

After rewarding her, I recovered the skeleton. 

There was just enough skin left to identify it as a Montpelier snake, Malpolon monspessulanus, a species with rearward facing venom fangs inside the mouth, so it is not a threat to humans or large mammals.

I don't know how long it had laid under the tree, but due to the skeletonisation, it had been there some time. 

I never cease to be amazed by the obvious intelligence, understanding and ability to communicate, displayed by my feline companions.