Thursday, September 24, 2009

So Natural

You may have missed the news, but something momentous occurred in Mallorca two days ago. No, it wasn't yet another letter about prices, nor was it a story about the litres per square metre of rain that have swamped the island. It was about some cubic metres - those of natural gas supply.

Work on a pipeline from Dènia on the mainland started at the end of 2008. The first gas is now flowing into Mallorca. Initially, it will serve Palma and the immediate area. One day, you never know, it might be available across the island. There are infrastructure issues to be factored in, not least those to do with domestic supply, but the resultant advantages are clear - lower bills, cleaner air and greater safety. It is a significant development, yet one wonders why news of the arrival of the gas was not given greater prominence.

Gas supply in Mallorca is largely confined to butane and propane. This is about to change. And not before time. Butane can be dangerous - explosions are not unheard of. There is a danger with any gas supply, but with butane the risks are greater. Poorly maintained connections and installations; out-of-date tubing and heaters; ill-fitting mountings. Moreover, the reliance on butane makes domestic life akin to living in a permanent camp-site. There are the bottles, and there is the constant likelihood of the gas giving out during the cooking of a roast chicken, followed - nearly always it seems - by the hunting of a torch to go and disconnect the empty container while someone holds an umbrella over you or the wind batters the gas house door shut. There is also the sheer effort involved. Butane bottles are heavy. Expect the incidence of hernia operations to decline as a result of natural gas. The chiropractors of Mallorca must be cursing its arrival. Pity the poor bastards who live on the fifth floor and don't have a lift. It's like camping, but it's also energy by Heath Robinson and from the manual of poor back health.

Butane is neither much cop when it comes to general health nor for the state of domestic walls. There is little less suited to Mallorca's winter climate of dampness and humidity than butane, given the watery vapours that appliances pump out. The use of natural gas to also generate electricity will see a lowering in demand for that electricity as the dehumidifiers can be turned down to their minimum settings.

The remoteness of Mallorca has been an issue, but the fact that it has taken until 2009 to get a pipeline functioning is a reminder of what, only relatively recently, was the inadequacy of infrastructure. Spain is still playing catch-up after the years of economic and civil engineering neglect. It is easy, though, to be critical of this johnny gas-come-lately. Britain has enjoyed natural gas for years. I can, however, still recall the strangely cosy, stale smell of my great aunt's house with its boiler, fired by Calor.

The arrival of the gas also signals what will eventually be the demise of the "butanero", the gas man. And signal the end of the truck clanging its load and hooting its horn to announce its weekly appearance. Mallorca still has its quaint deliveries and domestic services - the whistling tin dustbin on wheels of the bloke who sharpens knives and garden tools is one, the wine-dispensing vendors of towns like Sineu another. In Britain, there used to be the knife-sharpener with his stone, the Corona man, the fish man, the laundry man, the paraffin man. Maybe there was also a butane man. Not that I remember one. But they have all been consigned to a history dump caused by shopping centres and supermarkets, efficient domestic appliances and central heating. That's progress. And the butane man is likely to be looking for a new job.

Yesterday's title - Megadeth, Today's title - boy, was she good. Think Rochdale.


No comments: