Bureaucracies

Wild flower meadows

A Red-legged Partridge in our back garden. Its 'chuck-chuck-chuckah-chuckaaah' woke us up. I just had time to grab the camera before it flew off

A Red-legged Partridge in our back garden. Its ‘chuck-chuck-chuckah-chuckaaah’ woke us up. I just had time to grab the camera before it flew off

I finally have a potted hibiscus on the veranda; this is its first flower (für meine Schwiegermutter: alles Gute zum Geburtstag!)

I finally have a potted hibiscus on the veranda; this is its first flower (für meine Schwiegermutter: Alles Gute zum Geburtstag)

Wild gladiolus

Wild gladiolus

I love the Gum Rock Rose: it's all over the hillsides where we live right now

I love the Gum Rock Rose: it’s all over the hillsides where we live right now

Every now and then a Gum Rock Rose with paler spots appears

Every now and then a Gum Rock Rose with paler spots appears

This has to be the Annual Rock Rose, though a tiny version of it (anyone know better?)

This has to be the Annual Rock Rose, though a tiny version of it (unless anyone knows better)

A house in the Algarve: but not ours. Meadow in front; last Sunday's black clouds behind

A house in the Algarve: but not ours. Meadow in front; the black clouds of last Sunday behind

 

Wild flower meadows are all around now. The eye focuses on the spots of colour: blues, reds and purples in particular, while the soothing green background is lulled out. To the camera, however, the flowers recede and the green dominates. The only way to appreciate a wild flower meadow is to be right in it, so I can’t share it with you easily. We went for a walk on Sunday with friends and picnicked amid wild gladiolus and lavender. The next day, in Tavira, we saw that the bridge and the churches had been strewn with lavender in lieu of palm. Even after a day of being rained on and trodden on, the sprigs were still fragrant.

Last Friday the biggest lorry I’ve ever seen in our valley arrived and wedged itself – remarkably, without any harm done to walls – between our house and the neighbours in front. A vast arm extended itself over the carob tree – again, without damage to a leaf – and the pouring of the concrete into the framework for the pool began. I was a little horrified. I’ve begun to feel slightly uncomfortable about the pool. It seems rather indulgent. And then all the noise and mess involved in building it. Well, I decided to cross the river and visit the two houses on the other side: to explain what was going on, and to apologise for the noise in case it was amplified over there. This is not the first time ‘sorry’ has been on my lips, but I chose to go for a new phrase I found on Google translate, just in case it was better/politer/nicer. However, on the way across the river two of the consonants switched themselves around in my head. The first conversation, with a Portuguese old lady in a hat, fit as fiddle by all appearances, went something like this.

‘I agolopise for the noise.’

‘Eh?’

‘I agolopise for the noise.’

‘I’ve got no idea what you’re on about. Do you live across the river?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are you English?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m the only Portuguese left here now. Everyone’s English. I’m only here to feed the cats.’ At this point she took a stick to an orange tree. ‘I get the oranges as my reward.’ She stooped to the floor and filled a bag with the fallen oranges, then left the house and went away up the path, reminding me – in a cheerful and only slightly disgruntled way – that she was the only Portuguese left.

The other house is indeed occupied by English, so communication was easier. The inhabitant of the first house, they told me, was very old and ill in hospital and unlikely ever to come home. The old lady I met, Silvina, looked after the house; she lived further up the lane. And along this particular lane, which goes from the right bank of the river down to the nearest village, Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo, the exit of the old Portuguese population does now seem to be entire, Silvina excepted. Thankfully it’s not so on our side of the river. Portuguese still outnumber foreigners in our little community, but rural evacuation is nothing new, and the Câmara (the town/county council) wants to do something about it. I know because I’ve been reading, slowly and painfully, their policy documents ahead of a public consultation. It seems to me they seem to fail in one of the most obvious things they could do: raise the status – and value – of local food. Make it easier for people to bring their produce to market by reducing the paperwork involved, so that oranges, pomegranates, quince, cactus fruit and so on have a value in the marketplace and don’t get to fall neglected to the ground here in the serra, while supermarkets sell imported fruit in sealed plastic (including, irony of ironies, imported cactus fruit, marketed as ‘exotic’, when in a matter of weeks we’ll be knee-deep in the prickly things right here). So I’ve got to find a way of saying that in Portuguese, in writing, as my contribution to the debate.

While I try to poke about in the Câmara’s business, they’ve been poking about in ours. No sooner had the building of our pool begun than a Battleaxe from the Câmara turned up unannounced. Unannounced apart from the phone call five minutes up the lane wanting to know where on earth we were exactly. The Battleaxe, and her more pleasant sidekick, got out their measuring tapes and stomped about the building site in a rather officious way. The thing is, the pool is totally legal. We have a building licence, the pool is being built according to plan, we’re even taking up the back terrace to reduce our built area, all exactly as we’re supposed to. It’s only a little pool, for Heaven’s sake. The Battleaxe couldn’t find anything wrong but she warned us she’d be keeping a close eye on the whole process and we’d better do it right or we’d be fined. Of course, if we were Portfuel, and wanted to lay waste to the entire serra with a hydraulic fracking operation, that, apparently, would be absolutely fine.

Now, I’m being slightly unfair here. The Câmara don’t want this any more than we do. It is the imposition of the previous national government, and the current one isn’t doing anything to stop the oil companies. Now the combined mayors of the Câmaras of the Algarve are looking into a legal route to try to stop the madness. I hope they succeed.

Rolie playing his part in the anti-oil protests (stickers from Asmaa)

Rolie playing his part in the anti-oil protests (stickers from Asmaa)

Week 62: Sunshine and water

The riverbed

The riverbed

The ever-reducing spot in the river where we have bathed, paddled and gone turtle- and frog-watching

The ever-reducing spot in the river where we have bathed, paddled and gone turtle- and frog-watching

You looking at me?

You looking at me?

 

First Friends’ neighbour keeps a temperature diary, and confirms that this July has been fully 10°C hotter than July 2014. Last July was unusually cool, we were told; this has been unusually hot, and dry. Eleuterio and Maria don’t like it, and no wonder. Their workload doesn’t let up. They are also running out of water, as are we. Our well, the one that serves the house, is running dry. The next time we fill the cistern under the front terrace will probably have to be by tanker.

We have the use of a second well, which fills the cistern in the garden, and which is purely for the benefit of the garden. This is the well on a patch of Eleuterio’s land by the riverbed, and it is still going strong. So although the river itself has disappeared but for a few vanishingly small pools, rich in frogs and tiny turtles, the underground water seems to be reasonably plentiful – so far.

I love the heat and the light, even though above about 36°C it can be debilitating. Not only do I love it, but now we are also about to make use of it: we are investing some money in having our own solar power. So far we have solar panels that heat the water for the house. (In the height of the winter, however, we had to use the back-up of a boiler running on bottled gas.) Now, we will use solar power to generate electricity. It won’t supply all our needs, but it will supply some and – perhaps more importantly – should the mains electricity ever give out for any reason then we will have our own source. We need electricity to pump water around the house, so being without electricity would also mean being without water – we’d have to haul it up out of the cistern using a bucket.

We can’t be fully self-sufficient because we are limited in the size of the batteries required to store the power. The limitations are mostly financial. Otherwise, it’s looking good. Second half of September is when this happens.

As for the pool, we currently have an engineer supplying a report to the council, after which we will get – i.e. pay for – a building licence. In addition to generating our own solar power, we are going to have a solar-run pump for the pool, and solar-powered heating so the pool is usable for more of the year.

Obrigada

Funny how things work out. Last week I described the calls of the bee-eater as like the plink-plonk of a toy piano, and then we went at the weekend to Sines on the Atlantic coast for a world music festival, where we fell in love with a Japanese band who played, among other instruments, a toy piano – and rubber ducks with bells on, and a fat man’s belly (he was one of the band), and other brilliantly bonkers stuff. They are called the Pascals (homage to Pascal Comelade, I believe), and here they are:

The Pascals: the leader of the orchestra

The Pascals: the leader of the orchestra

Toy piano visible behind the leader

Toy piano visible behind the leader

Here's the fat man, who played a tune on his belly

Here’s the fat man, who played a tune on his belly

The leader, who spent most of his time with his back to the audience, wore oversized culottes in a sprig pattern and home-knit socks. From time to time he turned to the audience to share a few words, and quite often they were words of thanks in Japanese and Portuguese: ‘Arigato! Obrigado!’ He was clearly getting fun out of the fact that the two words sound oddly alike. In fact, ‘arigato’ sounds exactly like ‘obrigado’ given a bit of Japanese treatment, which has given rise to the idea that the word was adopted from early Portuguese explorers (being possibly the first Europeans ever to reach Japan).

This idea struck me as both delightful, and plausible. For a culture with such elaborate, formal social rules, a one-size-fits-all* ‘thank you’ might have seemed rather useful, especially for dealing with this odd bunch of characters who’ve landed on your shores. And why not adopt it for home use, perhaps for situations outside the normal social structures?

But no. It seems the similarity is coincidence. Arigato has its own Japanese etymology, and existed in written records long before the time of the Portuguese arrivals. Oh well. A puzzle . . . but one I shall not give up on.

* Not strictly one-size-fits-all since ‘obrigado’ is a past particle (from ‘I am obliged to you’) and agrees with its subject, which is why women say obrigada, and men obrigado.

Week 53: We really live here

Jacaranda in Tavira

Jacaranda in Tavira

Oleander in Tavira

Oleander in Tavira

Back to the beach: we saw dolphins this time

Back to the beach: we saw dolphins this time

Close-up of a gecko: we love these creatures, and most of all when they come inside the house

Close-up of a Moorish gecko on the walls outside: we love these creatures, most of all when they come inside the house

Lizard by the garage:

Lizard by the garage: Large psammodromus (reptile photography by Husband)

A house in the agave (spider version)

A House in the Agave (spider version)

 

It transpires that Husband was not so enchanted with the miracle of sparrow reproduction as I was. In fact, it turns out he was irritated by the whole noisy, antsy, macho procedure. And it’s true that the cessation of that particular din allowed us to tune in for the first time to the lovely song of the goldfinch. We sought to discourage a second clutch. I took down the part of the washing line that was strung below the nest. ‘Good, you’ve got rid of his advertising platform,’ said Husband, of cock sparrow. ‘He’s been shagging every female in the neighbourhood with the promise of that gaff. It’s not even his.’ A few flowers appeared at the entrance to the nest: Husband’s gentle attempt to dissuade the sparrow. The flowers were soon removed by the bird. Next a twig appeared across the entrance: Husband’s second attempt at dissuasion. This proved a little harder for the sparrow to shift, though not impossible. Husband put it back again.

Then, joy of joys, a pair of red-rumped swallows swooped elegantly into the terrace area, just as I was sitting there. The twig sticking out of the nest served as a perch, the pair of them landing together on it with ineffable grace; the twig didn’t move a millimetre. They are unruffled in the presence of humans – unlike the nervy, what-you-looking-at sparrows – and yet they entirely lack the face to deal with the feathered rivals who have ousted them from their home. If only they weren’t so fey. The tension is rising on our terrace, let me tell you. I thought it was over when the sparrows won out the first time, but it seems that was only the start.

We didn’t replace the twig when the sparrow removed it for the second time. Let nature take its course, even if it’s not the course we want it to take.

Heat

The temperature is rising too. The wild flowers are almost completely faded away. In their place on the floral stage, the more showy offerings of jacaranda and oleander. Whereas in January the almonds announced themselves among the otherwise undifferentiated trees with their offerings of pale blossom, now a jacaranda with its fabulous purple ’do stands out among the green globes on a hillside like Molly Parkin suddenly appearing among the ordinary denizens of a small town.

Bakery

This is coming along, but progress has been hindered by the slowness of the electrical connections. That is to say, we trust the three-phase electricity will be fast once it is complete, but it isn’t there yet. The interior wall went up in a trice. Glass panes were made for the internal window above the door by Norwegian artist Taran Flaten. A visiting friend helped Husband get all the painting done (thanks again, Neil). But the electricity company have delayed throwing the all-important switch. The electrical work went through different stages, certificates were produced and shown, payments were instructed at the bank, and personal appeals – accompanied by passports for ID – were made at the office of the electrical company in town. It seems that the electrical company is in the process of privatising and has divested lots of its responsibilities while still holding overall control. This means that work is done piecemeal by private individuals/companies, then has to be certified by other individuals/companies, then has to pass muster by the original electrical company, and ideally not on a Friday afternoon when they never have a working computer system. But I’m happy to say that the electrical company have now given us the go-ahead. Next thing will be the buying of the oven, then Husband can make more than the half-dozen loaves he currently supplies to friends and for home consumption.

Harvest of the second apricot tree: to eat a warm apricot straight from the tree is a considerable pleasure

To eat a warm apricot straight from the tree is a pleasure

I made apricot tarte Tatin using a recipe from a new cookbook I have:

We had so many that I made apricot tarte Tatin using a recipe from a new cookbook we have: A Year’s Cooking in the Algarve by a ‘misplaced’ English chef, Joe Devine

Week 50: Dia do Trabalhador

Very loose translation of the label on the man's shirt: This jolly pair might resemble someone but it's just a bit of fun and not meant to offend.

Bonecos dos Maios. Loose translation of the label on the man’s shirt: This jolly pair might resemble real people but it’s just a bit of fun and not meant to offend

Zé and Maria are working on the land. Zé is here to fix the marker stones - according to the new legislation, usefully pinned to his shirt as well

Zé and Maria are working on the land. Zé is here to set the marker stones – as he must according to the new legislation, which is usefully pinned to his shirt as well

This fellow managed to lose sight of donkey when he went off for a pee and now he can't find him

This fellow managed to lose sight of his donkey when he went off for a pee and now can’t find him anywhere

Love this shady character

Close-up of the negligent fellow

Maria, the river washerwoman: a disappearing way of life

Maria, the river washerwoman: a disappearing way of life

Dancing at the festa

Dancing at the festa

 

Just as Maria said, on May Day our valley filled with people picnicking. Not too far away was an organised festa, with vans serving food and beer, and a singer on a small stage in front of a dance floor. The place was recommended to us for our first May first, so we went, and on the way we passed various bonecos dos Maios, lauding – and sometimes making fun of – the worker. During the dictatorship, festivities on Labour Day were suppressed; the revolution forty-one years ago saw a new flowering. My Portuguese teacher enjoyed seeing these pictures. She hadn’t seen bonecos for a while. She said you used to see more a few years ago, and sometimes they were a means of making a political protest. I believe these bonecos were made by the local freguesia (parish), which makes them quite tame, but I’m still charmed by them.

May Day has gone through a lot of rebranding over the centuries from its original pagan celebration of survival and renewal. Whatever the excuse, this May Day felt special. It was hot and bright; the air shimmered, seeming to feel its own weight. Intimations of real summer to come.

Rolie

I met Costa outside the local cooperativa agricola. We drove in through the gates until we got to the workshop of his mechanic friend, a stout, silent man. Inside, various tractors were being patched up and – heart-liftingly – a Renault 4 body was being resprayed, its chassis propped up against the wall behind. I left Rolie in his huge, capable hands.

I got a message a day later that the car was ready, so long as I didn’t want a complete respray of the back. If I did, I’d need to leave it longer. But Rolie was perfect. Nothing more was required. The chrome bumper was straightened out and refastened; the damage done to the bodywork patched up; the scratches spotted with matching paint. All for a few euros. I drove back home very happily.

Sparrows

We have hatchlings. We hear their tiny cheeps coming from the bottom of the mud enclosure. Their parents are busy feeding them. Each parent bird has a different modus operandi. The female arrives with her beakful of insect life, pauses on the mouth of the tunnel, casts a few glances around, then dives in. The cheeps rise in volume to greet her. The male arrives with his beakful of insect life, but he doesn’t dive into the nest. Oh no, far too dangerous. Instead, he lands unsteadily on the washing line below and wobbles. Then he flies off again, serpentines a bit, ducks and dives, checks all around, throws a few more diversionary moves in, and still doesn’t go in the nest. By this time the female has delivered several more beakloads. Eventually he deems the ground to be safe and goes in. The chicks get their feed, then he’s out like a shot to resume his commando role.

The swallows are leaving the sparrows alone. I wonder if they might retake the nest after the squatter fledglings have flown. I don’t know if that kind of thing happens.

Swimming pool

We put in an application for a swimming pool. Everybody we know – except our architect – advised against this. Nobody has a legal pool; the rules are vague anyway; they’ll only be on your back for ever. Go for a fibreglass pool, for which you don’t need permission. (Theoretically.) And then we went ahead anyway. We decided that if we were to have a pool at all, we’d like a proper, built one.

Our application has passed what is arguably the most difficult part of the process: approval from the Agricultural Department. Next it goes to the council. Our architect, who is managing the process, is another in the long line of pleasant, smart, intelligent Portuguese professionals we have dealt with. In her holidays, she goes to India to work on behalf of street children. What can I say? People here are nice.

Lesser spotted woodpecker taking a break from the telegraph poles and going for the dead flower 'stalk' of the century plant

Lesser spotted woodpecker taking a break from the telegraph poles and going for the dead ‘flower stalk’ of the century plant

woody2

Another view: such a tiny but loud bird

Harvest: oranges and nespera (loquat or Japanese medlar in English - though no one has ever heard of it)

Harvest: oranges and nespera (loquat or Japanese medlar in English – though no one has ever heard of it)

Week 37: Busy

Taxas e licenças

‘Taxas e licenças’

Staircase in Tavira town hall

Leaving the town hall

 

One morning this week we returned to the Taxas e licenças counter of the town hall in Tavira. It was one minute before nine. A minute later the civil servant arrived. We greeted him and gave him our atestados (parish certificates proving our address) and passports. He photocopied the passports and returned them to us. He didn’t ask for any other papers, just excused himself to go back to his desk.

After examining his computer for a while he began shaking his head. ‘No,’ he said. He stood up. ‘No, it’s not possible.’ He was speaking in English to us now, although we’d started off in Portuguese. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’ he said, walking towards us with a regretful expression.

Our hearts sank simultaneously.

He joined us at the counter. ‘The system is down. Can you come back later? Have a coffee or something?’

Our hearts rose again.

Twenty minutes later – after coffee and cake – we were back. The man looked happy and everything was fine. Perfect, in fact. We paid a small fee at an adjacent desk and returned to the counter where the helpful woman we’d talked to when we first came to the town hall smiled a huge congratulatory smile and proudly showed us our certificates, giving us the chance to check our names and address had been correctly rendered. They had. We returned several days later and picked up the embossed and signed certificates of our residency of the República Portuguesa.

House in Tavira; even the broom is blue

House in Tavira; even the broom is blue

Works

At home we’ve mostly been living with dust and noise as a new bathroom is built, electrics are repaired, cupboard space is created and a small interior wall is demolished. We’ve had builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers around. Almost every day new plans for the kitchen arrive by email from Germany; the new kitchen is to be installed early in March, after which the ‘spare’ kitchen in the other half of the house will be transformed into the Backstube, the bakery.

Small wall demolished; 'spare' kitchen behind

Small wall demolished; ‘spare’ kitchen behind

Tractor taking rubble away

Tractor taking rubble away

Half the workers in the house have been Portuguese, the others German or Swiss. I don’t know why so many German-speakers. We followed up recommendations from various sources and generally came back with Germans, Swiss or Portuguese. Nobody from the UK. Something cultural there to explore one day. Maybe an outcome of the greater extent of professional training in the trades that occurs in Germany and Switzerland, and perhaps that training is more exportable to other European countries than the UK equivalent. The British seem to come here later in life, to retire rather than to work. (Not in my case.) An exception is a young British woman, a film editor who also makes beautiful, bespoke terracotta tiles. She has made us some gorgeous tiles to fill the gap in the floor where the connecting wall between houses 1 and 2 was removed, and once I’ve grouted them in I shall post a picture.

Car

We have bought my dream car. Husband has the jeep, and I have Rolie, short for Roland (French pronunciation please), a Renault 4 GTL. Here he is. What a beauty.

Rolie at the front of the house

Rolie at the front of the house

All this and editing cookbooks too. A busy week.

Lordy, bless him

Lordy, bless him

Spot the almond tree (actually two of them)

Spot the almond trees

Week 36: Almond blossom

Almond tree (and plastic bags)

Almond tree (and plastic bags)

almond 3

Blossom

Blossom

The almond has blossomed. Here and there, dotted across the landscape, trees are announcing themselves as almond with fingertip offerings of pale pink flowers. The one I photographed is quite fully clad; it’s at a lovely local restaurant a few hundred metres higher up than us, which has views of the sea. I guess this almond is purely ornamental. We are in the serra, the mountain, and this isn’t proper almond territory. Our defining trees are the carob, the arbutus (whose fruit, the medronho, our car salesmen liked so much), and the holm and cork oaks. The farmed almonds, the trees with as yet fewer flowers than this, are found a couple of kilometres further south.

The restaurant owner told me that almond is known as Neve do Algarve, snow of the Algarve, which is a very pretty idea. An elaborate myth tells how the almond was planted here by a Moorish prince to give his homesick Nordic bride the impression of snow, and I don’t know if that’s a truly old story or a more recent spinning. It is certainly true that the almond is not native here, although it is naturalised. Its origins are in Western Asia, so it’s not native to Northern Africa either.

Tavira door

Tavira door

Registration

It was time we registered at Tavira town hall as residents. We collected as much paperwork as we thought might help the process: passports, deeds to the house, bank statements, utility bills, marriage certificate. Husband carried the document bag to the town hall and we climbed the stone stairs lined with blue tiles. We came to a large open office with a long wooden counter.

A woman jumped up from her desk and came to the counter to assist us. We told her our aim and she asked for the one document we didn’t have, and hadn’t heard of: the Atestado de Residência, the certificate of residence. (I had thought that was what we were here for. But no. To register as residents we have to first prove we are residents. Makes sense.) She gave us a form to fill in and we left.

To obtain the atestado we went to our nearest junta de freguesia, parish council. We handed over our passports, which were photocopied, and we were given more forms to fill in. Our forms had to be counter-signed by Portuguese residents of the same parish. We relied, as ever, upon Maria and Eleuterio. Maria rolled her eyes at the amount of detail they were asked to supply to the junta de freguesia. She also told us something we hadn’t suspected: only she is from the Algarve. Her husband comes from another part of Portugal, and when he came here he had to go through a similar registration process himself. I know she didn’t mind us asking for help with the forms, but I think the Portuguese are more irritated by bureaucracy than we are. For us, it has a novelty factor. And it’s part of living here, and living here is what we love.

A couple of days later Maria and Eleuterio, accompanied as usual by Lordy and Estrela, kindly delivered the filled-in forms to us. We took the forms to the parish council and the next day we collected our embossed and signed atestados, the fourteenth and fifteenth such documents issued this year. That’s interesting – a lot of new people for a small area. On Thursday we’ll go back to the town hall and find out what happens next. (The owls are noisy tonight. I look forward to the time when the nights are warm enough to sit out; the dark is so beautiful here.)

Estrela with dry bread in her mouth, which meant she couldn't steal shoes as she likes to do

Estrela with dry bread in her mouth, which meant she couldn’t steal shoes, as she likes to do

Estrela gives the bread to Lordy

Estrela gives the bread to Lordy

Lordy's private feast

Lordy’s private feast

Week 35: The river is back

River in spate

River in spate

Rain

Rain

 

The river is really back. Now I know that its reappearance some weeks ago was a taster for the real event. After a few days of rain the river came down in a brown torrent and filled the wide basin. The river in spate like this would not have suited Horse’s perambulations at all. I’m once again glad he went home. I am also even more convinced he knew exactly what he was doing. He could probably have told me when it would get cold, and then rain, had I been able to ask him. Clever, clever Horse.

I’m sure everyone is happy to see the rain; we certainly are. Constant blue skies all through December and into January were not right, people said. The almond trees haven’t come into blossom, as they should have by this time. Now our well should fill up and nature might right itself a little. We still have plenty of sunshine amid the rain.

Breakfast for three on a sunny morning

Breakfast for three on a sunny morning . . .

. . . with a visit from Lordy . . .

with a visit from Lordy . . .

and Estrela

and Estrela

 

We had a ‘working’ guest this week who, among other things, did this beautiful paintwork. (Thank you, Neil.) We are responsible for the colour scheme, however. The colours were much stronger than portrayed on the tub and the Ikea/Swedish flag effect was unforeseen. Once we’ve got our pictures up, we hope the unwitting (and wrongly placed) patriotism will be mitigated.

The Ikea-effect awaiting cover-up from our paintings

The Ikea-effect awaiting cover-up from our paintings

 

Guests are also great for ideas and discussion, and it was during this week that Husband decided against using our ‘spare house’ as his bakehouse.

A spare house? Yes, we have three properties here. Two terraced houses, which we’ve knocked together into one, with a single garage on the side. Then, on the other side, a third house, a separate, well-built construction with windows, about 49 metres square internally. It has a garage door rather than a house door, and is currently designated as being for industrial rather than residential usage.

Because our one house was once two, we have two kitchens. We were originally going to turn the second kitchen into a third guestroom but it gradually became clear that, at least in the short-term, it would make the perfect bakery. Plenty of space; water and three-phase electricity already in place. And two guestrooms should be enough.

An architect we’ve been talking to has just come back to us with her findings from the local town hall. We needed to know whether we lived on agricultural reserve (RAN) or ecological reserve (REN). This would determine the limit of the non-permeable land cover we are allowed. It’s more generous on RAN land than REN land, though it isn’t actually generous on either. The answer came back: RAN. This gives us a little bit of scope for change. And we have the pleasant conundrum of what to do with the spare house.

Inside the spare house

Inside the spare house

Levain, on Husband's great-grandmother Wilhelmine's home-woven cloth made from her own flax about a hundred years ago

Levain, on Husband’s great-grandmother Wilhelmine’s home-woven cloth made from her own flax about a century ago; also in use on the breakfast table, above and below

Lordy and Estrela

Lordy and Estrela

Week 27: Excess of joy . . . and other stuff

First bread baked in our house

First bread baked in our house

Our first citrus harvest: navel oranges and grapefruit

Our first citrus harvest: navel oranges and grapefruit

Husband set about painting three rooms of our new house while I stayed on at the Chalet to work until the time came to move out completely. We said sad goodbyes to First Friends, although we’re only just up the valley from them, and moved in properly to our house. We can hardly believe how much we love it here. Our own place. My lungs, now healthy again, fill up every day with soft, scented air. We listen to birdsong all day long. The views are soothing to the soul. But life is rarely, if ever, perfect.

When we started looking at houses, the top of our priority list was good internet access. I need it for my work. The estate agents we were initially in touch with said this should be the least of our concerns, but I guess that’s because they thought we’d buy a property on a development next to the coast or a golf course or something like that. Somewhere along the line, of course, we ended up falling for a house by the river in a remote valley.

We remained positive. The telecoms company in Tavira told us, ‘No problem.’ A satellite would give us television and internet access. We’re not interested in the television, we asserted. If it comes with the package, OK, but really what we want is the internet connection. No problem, she said, it does both. Husband was speaking in somewhat faltering Portuguese; I was speaking apologetically in English. Whichever the language: No problem.

Everyone we’ve spoken to here who’s been through the same process has been too kind to mock, ‘You didn’t believe that, did you?’

Two telecoms engineers appeared quite quickly. They were an uncle and nephew. The nephew, with his pony tail and his bright, shining brown eyes, had worked around Europe as a DJ and spoke very good English. He liked to talk, too. ‘We Portuguese are good communicators. We’re not good planners, but we’re good communicators.’ They were going to install the dish. ‘This gives you good TV. Do you want one cable or two? Two, and you can watch programmes and record at the same time.’

‘What we really want is internet access.’

‘This is just TV, not internet.’

Oh.

He went on to tell us that he was sick of capitalism, that he felt it had had its day. ‘When I meet someone, I don’t want to know what they have. I want to know who they are, what they can do. Not what they own. It’s time for a worldwide revolution. Governments don’t work in the people’s interests.’

Swept up in feel-good revolutionary fervour, we decided not to press the internet point. It was hardly their fault, after all.

The next day a new engineer came, this time to set up the landline. ‘Ah, there are gaps in the connection. You have missing telegraph poles. It’s the woodpeckers.’ He left, and no more has been heard.

At least all our stuff arrived. In the evening of the following day, Friday, two sturdy and cheerful East Anglians, both called Roger, showed up in the deep dark with a van. (Darkness is dark here.) I say ‘showed up’, but Husband had to meet them on the main road to help them find the way; it’s difficult enough in daylight, impossible at night. The deal with the delivery company had been that our belongings would be decanted from the pantechnicon into vans because of the inaccessibility of our setting. One pantechnicon = two vans, I’d have thought. Well, it did, but it was one van making two trips. After emptying the first van-load, the two indefatigable Rogers left, to return two hours later, unguided this time, with the second load. Just after midnight, they finished. They reassembled the bed and the wardrobe, waved an upbeat goodbye and vanished into the darkness.

Desk has arrived into my study! Legs are stowed away . . .

Desk has arrived into my study! Legs are stowed away . . .

. . . now returned to rightful position

. . . now returned to their rightful positions

Our possessions, relatively modest in the context of London, here feel like immodest wealth. Eleutherio, the neighbouring farmer, dropped by on Sunday to pick up two armchairs and some chests of drawers left by the Sensibles. Husband was midway through unpacking. Stuff was spilling out of boxes on to every surface inside our home. It was like we wanted to show off everything we owned. At least our pony-tailed revolutionary came round before the arrival of all our goods and saved us that embarrassment.

Eleutherio, I’m sure, doesn’t care. He’s a happy man. He has a big smile and shining brown eyes, but he’s probably too old for revolutionary zeal. He has a lovely wife, and two absurdly joyful dogs: Lordy and Estrela. He drove off in his loaded pickup, his two adoring dogs alongside him in the passenger seat.

We received a text message from the telecoms company telling us that the installation is now complete and we are customers on a 24-month contract. We have no landline, no internet access of any description and very patchy mobile reception. For now, needing wifi is a good excuse to visit First Friends or go out for coffee and cake. In the longer term, I think we need to recruit the help of our agent. If anyone can make the telecoms company keep their promises, she can.

Week 26: Bread and salt

Arrival at what is now really our house . . .

Arrival at what is now really our house . . .

. . . in the warm sunshine

. . . in the warm sunshine

On Thursday the escritura ceremony took place: the signing of the deeds. We gathered with the Sensibles and their lawyer, our lawyer and the agent at the offices of a notary, whose job it was to update the deeds via a computer linked to a large, wall-mounted screen for everyone to observe. Then the four of us – the Sensibles and we two – signed the printout. In the preceding days tears had been shed, mostly by Mrs Sensible, with whom I felt enough empathy to want to cry as well, but in the notary’s office we all behaved ourselves.

Our lawyer is wonderful: unassuming but well organised and guillotine-sharp. Everything went very smoothly. Almost everything. Among his tasks was to present the Sensibles and the agent with bankers’ drafts – we had lodged the necessary euros in his client account in advance, of course. A small flurry went through the room when it turned out that the agent’s draft was three euros short. In a good-natured way, our lawyer showed the email from the other lawyer with the amount specified, which revealed where the mistake had been made. He then took three euro coins out of his pocket and stacked them up on the agent’s draft, to everyone’s satisfaction.

Our agent is forceful and unconventional, as you will know from previous descriptions. It would be fair to say that she is cut from a different cloth to our lawyer, and I suspect they did not always see eye to eye in their dealings with one another, but each has served us very well. The agent took me to the electricity suppliers’ office once the signing was done. On the way she complained about someone she has to deal with who doesn’t submit to her ways. ‘Ach, donkeybrain,’ she said. ‘Making so much trouble.’ She helped me set up an account, calling up my bank to obtain a critical number that was somehow missing from my paperwork. (Actually, it was just two existing numbers put together.) While in the electricity office she got the man there to make a few photocopies of her own paperwork for her. Another triumphant smile flashed at me. Impossible not to admire her.

We met up again, the Sensibles and us and our characterful agent, at a roadside restaurant where we drank to the new state of affairs with a bottle of red wine, just within shelter of the suddenly torrential rain. Then the agent left, and eventually so did we – back to the reliable comforts of the Chalet, while the Sensibles returned to what was now our home for the next two days. An untypical arrangement, which worked for us.

Saxon welcome

Saxon welcome

We have already knocked through so that the two small houses become one

We have already knocked through so that the two small houses become one, with the help of Eleutherio, local farmer

It remained rainy until Saturday, when we drove up to our new house in beautiful sunshine. The Sensibles had gone, leaving us bread and salt – the traditional housewarming gift of the people of Saxony – and a lovely message in German and Portuguese: a warm German welcome into our new Portuguese home.

It is week 26 and therefore exactly halfway through my blog journey, and it feels like just the right time to have taken over our house in the Algarve.

Week 13: Daily bread

We still have not exchanged contracts. The buyer has a second solicitor, at the behest of his mortgage company, and the second solicitor is raising the same enquiries as the first solicitor, and in a similarly tardy fashion. Meanwhile, we have been pressured by our moving company to place a hefty deposit to secure our desired dates, the dates we – seller, buyer, agent – have in principle long agreed to, but which come ever closer with no guarantee they will be met.

At least I have conquered the attic, that long-term beneficiary of procrastination, indecision and amnesia. It is now empty.

Stuck in this tight spot, I should like to concentrate on bread. These are some of Husband’s recent loaves, which it has been my pleasure to eat and share. I am otherwise dumbfounded, hence this week’s brevity.

Our daily bread: the rye sourdough

Our daily bread: the rye sourdough

Rye sourdough released from its baking dome

Rye sourdough released from its baking dome – requires good gloves

The weekend treat: the levain

Weekend treat: the levain

Gluten-free bread with linseeds; probably the nicest gluten-free bread ever

Gluten-free bread with linseeds; probably the nicest gluten-free bread ever

 

Inside a cheese and olive bread; also black rye loaf and levain

Inside a cheese and olive bread; also black rye and levain

 

Bubbling sourdough starter: not doughy at all. Might not look appetising but it leads to wonderful bread

Bubbling sourdough starter: not doughy at all. Might not look appetising but it leads to wonderful bread

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