Family

Snow in the Algarve

Carpenter bee in the bougainvillea

The snow of the Algarve: the almond trees are in blossom

 

While our swallows are far away in West Africa, the sparrows have tried again to take over the nest. The same old story. So we nailed two corks together, side by side, using heavy U-shaped pins, and slotted them into the entrance to the mud house. We went away for a couple of nights and came back to find the corks had done the job: the sparrows hadn’t been able to remove them. What they had done instead, however, was to start to peck away at the mud gobbets placed by our indefatigable swallows in order to get in behind the obstruction. They hadn’t removed enough to gain access so we pushed the corks further in to block them. The only sure-fire way to protect the nest is to hang around on the front veranda for ever. The sparrows don’t like us near. The feeling is mutual.

Our permaculture journey is about to begin. Behind the house, the neglected hillside is to be ‘engineered’ into water-retaining swales and terraces and planted with a variety of young trees. We will slowly sow seeds and plants between the trees, as well as allowing pioneer seeds to take root for themselves. From here, the biotope will do its own thing. The health of the soil will gradually be enhanced and it will increasingly sequester carbon and hold water. In the few weeks since our eyes were opened to this possibility, I have tried to teach myself about permaculture and developing a food forest. Some of the things I have learned:

  1. Diversity is key.
  2. The soil is queen.
  3. Mulch is king. All kinds of things, not just plant material, can be mulch: old clothes and cardboard, for example.
  4. No such thing as garden ‘rubbish’. It’s all useful biomass.
  5. The biotope is a natural, self-sufficient energy system. Nothing in, nothing out – except for food produce.
  6. Weeds are good, not least for soil cover.
  7. Don’t be purist. What works, works.
  8. It isn’t always pretty in the short term. In the long term, it will be beautiful.
  9. It is an agricultural system for humans (and animals) to live in.
  10. Small-scale farmers feed the majority of the world – some say 80 per cent – while having access to less than a quarter of all farmland.

Another journey, begun long ago, has reached a new destination. When my grandparents ran away from County Offaly in Ireland to Liverpool to get married – in the face of parental disapproval – they didn’t know they were extending a lifeline to a future granddaughter that would allow her to keep her treasured European citizenship. I applied to register at the Irish embassy in Lisbon as an Irish citizen of ‘foreign birth’, then, once that had been confirmed with a certificate, I applied for a passport, which a few weeks later arrived from Dublin, via Lisbon. It was straightforward and I dealt with nice human beings all along the way. Across the pages of my new passport run lilting lines of prose, among which are: ‘The Irish nation treasures its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’

Lordy visiting us

Lordy with his breakfast bread

Bony fig tree, soon to come into leaf

Bread: two spelt and seven alfarroba loaves. The alfarroba (carob in English, Johannisbrot in German) was a successful experiment. Almost half the bread’s flour comes from the alfarroba, the rest is rye, spelt and wheat; the crumb is firm and dark and mildly sweet, the crust has a hint of caramelisation. It slices well and keeps well. Not for nothing does the German name of the tree and its fruit translate into English as St John’s bread

Natal

Santa Luzia on Christmas Eve, where we went to eat fish for lunch

Santa Luzia on Christmas Eve, where we went to eat fish for lunch

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Last year I didn't know what this was. It's oxalis, or Bermuda buttercup, a invasive plant but a beautiful one too, which furls its yellow flowers at night and opens them to the sun in the morning; seen on the Christmas Day walk

Last year I didn’t know what this was. It’s oxalis, or Bermuda buttercup, an invasive plant but an attractive one, which furls its yellow flowers at night and opens them to the sun in the morning; photographed on our Christmas Day walk

The rising sun after a night of heavy rain caused steam to rise from this cork tree

Cork tree steaming in the rising sun after a recent night of heavy rain

 

Christmas Day was winter-sunny and bright. Spotless starlings gathered on the telegraph wire in front of the house to whistle their high, ascending calls, like in-drawn breaths. The seasonal light favoured the azure-winged magpies in the valley, lowlighting their air-force-blue feathers to great advantage. We walked eastwards into the neighbouring valley, deeply cut with a tiny stream that feeds desultorily into our river. Within twenty minutes we had left all civilisation behind: not a single person to be seen, nor a house, though a few ruins and one well, deep with water. Several black, skeletal trees told the story of fire, no doubt the terrible one of 2012. How close it had come.

The extraordinary peace of Christmas Day was exchanged for something more lively on Boxing Day as friends arrived from Germany. Our jeep journeys henceforth have included two pre-teens, who relish fording the river and skittering over the stones of the smaller dirt tracks, something the hire car cannot do. One such stone was our undoing: as easily as though it were an axe, it ripped a tyre right open. It seemed best to abandon the jeep for the time being – it was too dark to contemplate tyre changes – while we walked the rest of the way in the gathering gloom, hoping the two fathers in the hire car, now sure to reach home before us, would not be anxious. Lucky that Husband keeps a torch in the car.

That walk home in the near dark might well turn out to be the highlight of the holiday. The air was luxurious: soft, scented with Cistus ladanifer and lavender. One pre-teen managed to stop her foot landing on a moving beast just in time. We shone the torch beam on it: a lustrous black and yellow Fire Salamander, so magical to see. Its rubber-shiny black skin was reminiscent of a brand-new tyre, as though it came out to mock our man-made ills with its god-given gifts.

Presépio de Natal

The bombeiros (firefighters) of Tavira have created a spectacular nativity scene at their station. Occupying the space of two fire engines, it tells the story of the nativity within a colourful, global background. Anachronisms, geographical implausibilities and out-of-scale figures fill the holy scene with both wonder and humour, and in some places, I suspect, are evidence of indulgence towards children whose toys had been redeployed. My particular favourites were an Alpine village on the hill and a tiny robot turning a carcass-laden spit. Love, patience and attention to detail had been poured into this grand work. The day we saw it was Christmas Eve, so the crib in the manger was still empty; we need to go back and see the new-born in place.

The carpenter's

The carpenter’s

The manger on Christmas Eve

The manger on Christmas Eve

 

Horse

Christmas would not be complete without Horse. It was this time last year that the mystery horse turned up in our valley and stayed for the best part of two weeks, occupying pretty much my every waking thought as I puzzled over whose he might be, was he all right, had he been abandoned, did we have enough carrots in, and so on. Now I know his owners, know where he lives, occasionally pass by his place and have been known to take a few carefully chopped up carrots and apples his way. At the end of November, when we were in Germany, we heard from the owner that Horse had escaped again; had we seen him? He returned within a matter of hours. (I like to think Horse came to see if we were around and, finding us away, gave up and went home.) Since then, his opportunities for escape have been firmly cut off by extra-secure fencing. Not that he suffers; this horse lives the life of Riley, making people love him and refusing to do much in return apart from supplying large amounts of s**t. Dear Horse.

Horse

Took the pre-teens to see Horse. He says, ‘Bom ano novo.’

Weeks 72-3: Water

Solar panels in place; not yet fully connected up, however

Solar panels in place; not yet fully connected up, however

Autumn breakfast table

Autumn breakfast table

Early morning mist along the valley

Early morning mist along the valley

Sunrise

Sunrise

Midday cloud

Midday cloud

When I’m in England, I can hardly believe this place in the Algarve exists. And then I return, and here it is. I loved my week in England, but relished all the more the peace and silence of this place.

I came home a few days ago to be greeted by rain – such a blessing. Lots of it, too: the very fine and long-lasting kind that gives everything a gentle but thorough soaking. From a meteorological map it appeared to be the tail-end of a hurricane, Joaquin, that had caused my sister to hunker down on the coast in North Carolina, straight across the water from us. Joaquin just missed them, thankfully, then came spinning over to Portugal, losing its damaging power along the way, and eventually drenching the Algarve with long-awaited rain. The riverbed turned several shades darker, the hills became instantly greener, the air filled with the scents of spice and pine, and water rose up in our well. Today, for the first time in four months, we got the pump running and had our own, fresh, clear water gushing from the well into the cisterna under the front veranda: sometimes water seems like a miracle.

Our pond, holding on

Our pond, holding on

The riverbed, moist enough for little mushrooms

The riverbed, moist enough for little mushrooms

Pondlife

Our pond has survived the drought. (I call it our pond but it is no more ours than the sky above it. But we get all the pleasure from it.) Its water is fresh enough that it must be being replenished by an underground source. Its frogs, turtles and fish are thriving, albeit in reduced quarters. Usually when I walk along the riverbed I head towards the sea, some inexplicable force pulling me the way the water goes, perhaps. Today I took a midday walk in the other direction. With autumn, walks in the middle of the day are possible again. The sun shone, breezes blew, and almost no water was to be seen along the course of the river until I rounded a bend and came across a deep pond rather like our own. On my clattering approach – impossible to walk silently over a rocky riverbed – about two dozen sunbathing turtles slid noiselessly into the water, like the habitués of an illegal drug den. As I waited by the water’s edge, peering into the depths, an occasional head would surface, check the scene, then disappear rapidly on discovering that I, the raider, was still there. It’s an even deeper pond than ours, clearly fed by its own underground source, and feeding someone else in turn: a pipe in the pond, and a pump on the hillside, meant it was somebody’s water supply. Satisfied that I’d found something new, that even a short distance from our house there is much to surprise, I turned round at Turtle Dive and went back.

Turtle Dive: habitués in hiding

Turtle Dive: habitués in hiding

Olives and figs

We will have no olives of our own this year. Our tree, acting according to its own nature, is taking this year off. It should bear fruit again next year. Only cultivated trees, pruned, fertilised and culled, produce fruit every year. Our long-expected second fig harvest never materialised either. The fruit reappeared (see Weeks 56-7), but gradually over the hot, dry summer it shrivelled and died, no more than a snack for a few hungry birds, if that. The same happened to other wild fig trees in the valley, I noticed: their leaves yellowed, their fruit was stunted. We had enough water to keep the tree going, but not enough to bring its fruit to maturity. Maybe next year will be different.

Week 63: Sea fishing

The beach (at Terra Estreita) in the morning

The beach (at Terra Estreita) in the morning

Another view of the beach in the morning

Another view of the beach in the morning

Plum tree ready to harvest; the hint of white in the top right-hand corner is the moon

Plum tree ready to harvest; the hint of white in the top right-hand corner is the moon

Plums that look like chocolate eggs (according to my great-niece)

The plums look like chocolate eggs (according to my great-niece)

The tourist season is at its shimmering, simmering height, but you’d never think so where we are. We still go out if ever we hear a car go by because it must be someone who’s come to visit us or got lost. The bee-eaters are the only hordes to descend on this valley. Their numbers seem to be increasing. Where we used to hear them only in the evenings, now we hear them at any time of day. Their calls sound like a toy musical instrument, their shape against the sky seems composed of the protractors and compass points of a geometry set and their colours are as bright as a box of crayons. They seem to be formed from the contents of a schoolchild’s satchel. We watched them from the back terrace this morning. We also saw, over the space of a few minutes, the red-rumped swallows, many house martins, two tumbling, twirling golden orioles, a languid hoopoe and a darting blue rock thrush. Good company to have at breakfast.

Snapped in Santa Luzia. This vessel's name, Atum (Tuna), suggest its occupation, but tuna-fishing is on a much reduced scale these days

Snapped in Santa Luzia. This vessel’s name, Atum (Tuna), suggests its occupation, but tuna-fishing is on a much reduced scale these days

Another fishing boat in Santa Luzia

Another fishing boat in Santa Luzia, taken on a rare overcast day this week

Wooden boats

Why would a wooden fishing boat be any better than a fibreglass one? I asked this question provocatively of an earnest photographer and environmentalist on Saturday, ignoring my own feelings on the subject: which are that my heart lifts at the sight of an old wooden fishing boat, and it does not do the same at the sight of a fibreglass one. Husband and I had found ourselves at a hotel on the outskirts of Tavira, an old tuna-fishing village converted into a holiday centre, attending the presentation of a new association aimed at protecting the marine environment in all its aspects. A series of chance contacts brought us here; we were interested to find out what the project was all about. The proposed association – they are still jumping through bureaucratic hoops to set it up – arose out of the voluntary work done by an archaeologist, a teacher, a photographer and a tourist guide to preserve and restore an old octopus fishing boat from Santa Luzia: Os Cavalinhos (The Little Horses). About 6 metres long and 1.3 metres at its widest, it was part of the traditional octopus fishing fleet and in its time the fastest rowing boat in Santa Luzia. At sixty years old, it had fallen into disrepair. The volunteers, two of them the daughters of Santa Luzia fishermen, attempted to raise the funds to restore the boat to take part once again in the annual fishermen’s race. They succeeded, though only just in time. The race is on Monday 10 August and we plan to go and see it.

Why all this interest in an old wooden boat? It seems the government is in the process of encouraging the fishermen to get rid of their old boats, burn them on the beach if necessary, and accept some money towards the purchase of a fibreglass replacement. I haven’t been able to find out what is the official thinking behind this policy, but, as you saw, I did get the chance to ask the volunteer at the association what he had against it. Obviously, heart-lift cannot be a factor on either side. So, is a wooden boat really any better than a fibreglass one? Well, yes, he said. First, it’s sturdier, and much safer in a heavy sea. Secondly, besides strength, it has give: wood will flex in response to the movement of the sea, which fibreglass cannot. And this means, in turn, that the fisherman is better off. In a fibreglass boat, he – or, rather, his spine – becomes the most giving point of contact, which soon leads to a ruined back. Thirdly, a fisherman has a long relationship with a wooden boat. With love and care it will last for decades and be like a second skin. Not so a fibreglass boat. I was glad I’d asked. We will be interested to see the association get up and running and to find out if there’s any way we can contribute.

My father in a wooden fishing boat in the Gulf of Aden half a century ago. He loved sea fishing in his spare time

My father in a wooden fishing boat in the Gulf of Aden half a century ago. He loved sea fishing in his spare time

Week 41: Coming home

Nice to see Artbot again

England. Good to see Artbot again

I craved fresher air, scents in spring time, especially that of orange and lemon blossom, a warmer-coloured daylight and a darker shade of night. My husband craved an old rural bread oven to restore to life and to bake in. This is a blog about deciding to leave one country and trying to settle in another; about leaving the big city behind. My promise: one entry per week on a Wednesday morning for a year. (Unless a fox takes me out.)

Edith the Editor: Lucy Gordon, who painted my portrait, has a new website

 

So I’ve been in England. I was supposed to see an author, but that fell through after I’d got here. No worries. I had plenty of work to do, and I stayed with my mum and we had a high old time in spite of mostly grey skies and a cutting, cold wind that could take your breath away. Our daily routine included delivering imprecations to a hard-working mole under my mother’s front lawn. As the mounds of soil continued to pile up, a neighbour suggested stuffing the holes with pee-soaked rag. Moles, apparently, hate human smells. Mum decided this was infra dignitatem, even though there was no suggestion that they be soaked in situ. Yesterday the mole stopped digging, so it looked like the imprecations worked.

Time came for the long coach trip to London and the train to Gatwick. The coach driver turned from a placid sort to an angry cursing one as he arrived in the city. He clearly loathed the place. At one point he stopped the bus to tell a tourist taking photos that she should round up her children, who were wandering into the road, before they got run over. It seemed a fair point. I conceded it to him when I got off. ‘I ’ate London,’ he said. ‘Nobody here’s got any compassion for anyone else.’ And if all you saw of London was its road traffic and its careless pedestrians, that is probably what you would think. The Gatwick express wasn’t running when I got there (‘someone hit by a train’ the announcement said, a tragedy that clearly moved no one, further proving the coach-driver’s point). But I had plenty of time to spare, so I went into town where I squeezed in a morselette of clothes shopping and some white wine in a favourite wine bar, and reminded myself that London had been my home for a long time and in many ways I was still partial to it.

But what I really want is to get home to where I now live, the place I love and missed so much while I was away. I can hardly wait to get there (photos by Husband).

A gift from First Friends in my absence: it's a wild gladiola called, I'm told, calças-de-cuco or cuckoo's trousers

A gift from First Friends in my absence: it’s a wild gladiola called, I’m told, calças-de-cuco or cuckoo’s trousers

I missed the din and the dust of the kitchen preparation

I escaped the din and the dust of the kitchen preparation

The last breads to come out of the old oven – I could find no bread in England to compare to Husband's

The last breads to come out of the old oven – I could find no bread in England to compare to Husband’s

Lordy importuning for breakfast; I missed him too

Lordy importuning for breakfast; I missed him too

Rolie on an outing without me

Rolie on an outing without me

Week 39: Flowers

Some of the 'weeds' I might have uprooted from our garden had I had time are now producing beautiful flowers: Fumaria agraria

Some of the ‘weeds’ I might have uprooted from our garden had I had time are now producing beautiful flowers: Fumaria agraria

Eruca sativa, or salad rocket - we can eat this

Eruca sativa, or salad rocket – we can eat this

Achillea?

Camomile?

Linum?

Yellow flax?

 

It’s Shrove Tuesday as I write, a bright and windy day. Some of our latest family guests left yesterday. They loved it here, and asked plenty of questions, especially about the seasons, many of which we couldn’t answer. We have only been through a quarter of a year so far. The full extent of the summer heat is unknown to us. Today our local town was deserted: it is a public holiday but we didn’t know that. This also explains why the gas man sounded bewildered when we asked him to deliver a new canister today. He’ll do it tomorrow instead.

The river is gleaming. Turtles clambered out from the emerald pools to sun themselves on the rocks. Being the same colour as the rocks, only the shininess of their wet shells gives them away. You have to creep up on them, too. Last time we went to see them we had Estrela for company and the turtles dived before we got there. Today we were quieter and saw four. I wonder if the pools will be deep and clear enough to swim in when it’s hot enough to do so – and whether the turtles will mind the company.

Kitchen

Husband’s friend Gero is building us a new kitchen at his workshop in Erfurt, Germany. For the doors he’s using a pear tree that has been seasoned for about a quarter of a century in his storehouse, and originally came from Freiburg, the town where the two men used to live.

Kitchen cupboard shell

Work on the new kitchen is under way: a cupboard case

The pear tree before being cut into sheets

The pear tree before it was cut into sheets

Week 38: Switchcraft

Beach: long coat required against a chilly breeze

Beach: long coat required against a chilly breeze

wet feet

Got my feet wet taking this one

 

Things have been going our way for a long time now. That couldn’t go on for ever. And this was the week when stuff started going wrong. First of all, my beautiful Rolie, the Renault 4.

Rolie

The car died. I’d only had it for a week. The horn worked, although feebly, so it wasn’t the battery. The man I’d bought it from had been insistent that I keep his number and call him if I had any problems, so I did. He was busy and couldn’t come immediately, but the next day he was here. Husband met him at the top of the road to guide him down the dirt track to our place.

‘It’s the battery,’ Costa said. It was. The horn had stopped working by now too.

We rolled Rolie out and pushed him up and down the track outside the house and in a short while he stuttered back into life; we ran him for a bit to charge him. Costa found the culprit. A lamp in the boot had been left on. In the bright sunlight I never even saw that it was alight. It clearly happened when I’d loaded the car with recycling: cardboard boxes, and possibly an empty wine bottle or two.

‘I meant to warn you about that light,’ Costa said. ‘Sorry about that. It’s quite easy to knock the switch by mistake.’

As he stepped on to the millstone at the front of the house and held his mobile phone aloft to try to get a connection, he spotted the river. ‘Wonderful,’ he said. ‘Fantastic. This place is like something from a film.’

Not the first time a second-hand-car salesman has visited this place and been beguiled. (See Week 31.) And not the first time Rolie will let me down, either, I know. This is what owning an old car is like. Must add car mechanics to list of things to get better at.

Bomba

In the garage, by the door where in all reasonableness the light switch be, is a large black switch. Hidden behind it, and slightly out of reach, is a small white switch: this operates the light. The other day, I closed the garage door and found myself in sudden, pitch blackness. I felt around for the switch and pressed it. No light came on. I tried a couple more times. My eyes adjusted sufficiently to find the correct switch and I realised I’d been pushing the big one by mistake. What did that thing operate? I couldn’t remember, and I couldn’t see anything going on or off. And was it on now, or not? Oh, what the hell.

It was several days later that Eleuterio appeared at the house. He was talking about the bomba (pump) and saying he needed the keys to the garage. Once inside, he switched the switch off and sighed. What I had done was leave on the pump that brings the water up from his well to our garden cisterna, water he allows to us have out of sheer goodwill. The water hadn’t run – it must need a valve or some such to be open – but the pump had operated uselessly for several days. He is a kind man and he didn’t look angry. More puzzled. Just how stupid can estrangeiros be? Later that same day I noticed he spent two hours by the pump at the well, doing what exactly I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that it was my fault and that he could have used his time better than that.

The wrong switch, now labelled

The wrong switch, now labelled

Light switch hidden behind

Light switch hidden behind

 

We were getting ready for family guests: my mother, sister and brother-in-law. This was a much anticipated visit, and we wanted everything to be right. More carpentry and painting had been done; best of all, the new bathroom was complete. All we needed was the heating engineer to make his promised return visit and get the system fired up. We’ve got used to having no heating and only lukewarm water – when you live at the end of the world you decide you don’t need a shower every day anyway – but didn’t want to impose the same on our guests. The engineer didn’t answer our calls, didn’t respond to messages. This was the first time we felt let down.

Blue guest room all ready

Blue guest room all ready

New guest bathroom (one hundred times better than the old one)

New guest bathroom (one hundred times better than the old one)

 

Family arrived. They loved the place at once. No further explanation as to why we moved here required. And even better, Brother-in-law turned out to be a secret heating nerd. He went round tweaking the heating works – we have a solar-operated system and a gas boiler for back-up – and one by one coaxed the radiators into life, with one recalcitrant exception. The taps finally gave forth real hot water. It was fantastic. The only thing is that the gas boiler has no thermostat or timer. We cannot control when the heating comes on or goes off; it does its own, unpredictable thing. The boiler was made by the hand of man, but it seems to have gone feral. It answers to another call. What it is, we don’t know.

Ameythst toadflax (thanks to Nick for the ID), greatly magnified

Ameythst toadflax in our garden (thanks to Nick L. for the ID), greatly magnified

Almond blossom still appearing all over

Almond blossom still appearing all over (thanks to Pauline L. for the photograph)

Weeks 17 to 19: Rural idyll

I have really missed writing this blog. And so, although Husband is not yet back on two legs and we are not yet off to the Algarve, here I am again, taking up the story so far.

Robot made by Dad, and re-found by us. I named him Artbot, after his maker.

Robot made by Dad, and re-found by us. I named him Artbot, after his maker

I have not managed to capture the Lancaster on film yet

I have not managed to capture the Lancaster fully on film yet. It does move fast . . .

On Friday, it will be six weeks since Husband had the operation on his knee and that will be the day when he can finally begin to put weight on the right leg again, which will make getting around a lot easier. He’s keen to get back to driving, which has been my domain since the accident. The fact that I have had to get behind the wheel has been a good thing, because I had developed demons about driving and now I seem to be defeating them.

My mum appears not to have minded our moving in and turning her house into part care home, part office. She generously said the grab bars fitted in the bathroom might even be useful to her one day. I’ve edited two – getting on for three – important books in my half of the dining room. (Important to me, that is, not necessarily to the world.) Husband has taken Dad’s spot in the living room: the armchair in the corner with the footstool. And we’ve been having a grand time together, the three of us, in high good humour.

I made one trip to London. I had a lot to do in a day and ended up with both a mild asthma attack and a nose bleed, and in spite of these I still felt a tiny amount of regret that we’ve given up our stake in this fantastic city. The train journey back involved two changes, finally winding up at a tiny station in Lincolnshire – two platforms and a level crossing. The young guard asked to check my ticket just before I arrived and I struggled to find it. I apologised; said it had been a long day. I finally located it and he saw that I’d travelled from London. He widened his eyes. ‘Ooh, I bet you’re glad to be back,’ he said. And, strangely, I was. It was evening, and my car was the only one in the car park. I drove back through dark, silent roads and felt very, very calm.

Fabulous bread continues to be made by the man on one leg

Fabulous bread continues to be made by the man on one leg

Wheelchair on loan from local Red Cross agency

Wheelchair on loan from local Red Cross agency

Week 16: Taking a break

Something of a detour: from East London to the Eastern Algarve via the East Midlands. The sale completed successfully last Wednesday. Rather than a cause of joy, it was simply the end of torment. I arrived at my mum’s in a fully laden car – everything we need for the next two to three months – with my niece at the wheel. I don’t like driving, so I was very grateful to her. The next day was the first anniversary of my father’s death. We drank the Krug we’d kept to toast him with, but we preferred the mead Dad had made from his own honey twenty-four years earlier.

When I started this blog, I expected to muse about the prospect of changing countries and trying out a different life; I expected many challenges, but for them to come from the Portuguese side. No doubt difficulties are yet to come, but so far buying a house in Portugal has been a story of pleasant cooperation and charming efficiency, while selling a flat in London has been a story of inexplicable legal inefficiency and pointless, long-drawn-out nervous tension. And then there was a motorcycle accident thrown into the mix.

Now we are spending a few weeks in rural England, with my mum. We are in an old-fashioned village beloved of 1940s re-enactors and commemorators of the second world war. The Dambusters Squadron operated from here in 1944 and 1945. Lancaster bombers occasionally fly overhead. We are near the RAF station where they are housed (one permanently, one is on a visit); they are apparently the only two airworthy Lancasters left. Their flight path is directly over my mother’s house and they come low enough to appear to skim the treetops. You can either hear them or see them. Hearing them is wonderful. Their beautiful sound enters and fills the house. Or you run out and watch them overhead, almost close enough to touch. My husband, who is German, observes the British obsession with the war with mild detachment.

My promise at the beginning of this blog was to write once a week, unless a fox takes me out. A fox has not taken me out, but has done severe damage to Husband’s knee. So I’m taking a few weeks out, while he recovers, and while I do too. We visited London on Monday for an appointment at the fracture clinic. It gave me a pang to be in London so briefly and as a non-resident. London still has a small hold over me. The news was positive: two weeks have been taken off the time in which he cannot put weight on his knee, reducing it from eight weeks to six. That means, from now, just three and a half weeks to go. He got to see, via x-ray, the extraordinarily clever scaffolding put in to hold the knee together. It was a good day.

Please see the subscription widget, which I have managed to reinstate, and do sign up for the next post (if you are not already signed up). I shall take up our story again in October when Husband is back on two legs and we are finally on our way to our house in the Algarve.

Our house in the Algarve: front terrace

Our house in the Algarve: front terrace

Our house in the Algarve: the garden

Our house in the Algarve: the garden

Week 12: Documentation part 2

We still have not exchanged contracts. I would be at the point of despair, except that the buyer turned up here on Sunday. He does exist, he’s perfectly nice, he wants the flat. We were able to discuss details face to face and so get round some of the elaborate incompetencies of solicitors. We all shook our heads in astonishment and looked at the floor in resignation at just how bad conveyancing can be.

lettersI had recently emerged from the attic and so was rather grubby. In there, I had found a box labelled ‘stuff to sort’. (I might mention here that the attic is my domain, not Husband’s. I’m in charge of what goes up there.) The battered box contained a rather precious collection of old photographs and letters. Letters are an increasingly rare form of communication and all the more precious because of that, but what amazed me about this little treasure trove was that I’d entirely forgotten I had it. It could have gone up in smoke and I’d never have missed it. Now that I’ve found it again, I couldn’t throw it away. It will come to Portugal in a new box – the old one was too dusty – and be put away and then I will meet it again in another ten or fifteen years with a similar sense of why-did-I-keep-this combined with I-cannot-throw-this-stuff-away.

Everything on the Portuguese side is looking good. Best of all, my London accountant and the Doutora of Taxes in Portugal have made one another’s acquaintance over the phone and sorted out everything between them. I don’t have to worry about another thing, apart from keeping records and paying up. The mysteries of taxation and double taxation and everything related to them are theirs to keep.

 Adjustments

Dad was the first-aider of the family

Dad was the first-aider of the family

At the start of this blog, I described the impulse for this move as ‘hardly felt’. None the less, I think I know when it was. The ‘slight inner adjustments’ (see Week 8: borrowing the words of Sebald) for me began in the final weeks of my father’s life. Like most fathers, mine liked to try to teach his children things. Like most children, at a certain age I stopped listening. In the last weeks of his life, I had my eyes and ears opened to some powerful lessons from my father: about bravery, about love, and about death. And when you feel love, and look very closely at death – a good death at the end of a long life – living is altered, even enhanced. You carry a small nugget of sadness and disbelief inside you, and a series of inner adjustments takes place. Possibilities begin to suggest themselves. The idea of change becomes appealing. Risks seem worth taking. Before long, you are making life-altering, life-enhancing decisions and hardly know how they occurred.

My father would be fully in support of this move. Or, from wherever he’s watching, is fully in support of this move. And the documenting of it in a blog: he’s somehow behind that too. Perhaps it is just a thin veil separating the living from the dead.

The view from the front terrace of our house-to-be

The view from the front terrace of our house-to-be

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