Death & Taxes

Week 51: Penultimate

My beautiful bountiful bougainvillaea

My beautiful, bountiful bougainvillaea

Alfarroba/carob, laden with beans

Alfarroba/carob, laden with green pods

Our little jacaranda tree about to burst into flower

Little jacaranda tree about to burst into flower

Prickly pear growing like there's no tomorrow

Prickly pear growing like there’s no tomorrow

Among our fruit trees: don't know yet what it is

Among our fruit trees: don’t know yet what it is

We have registered our land at the survey office (cadastro) and have bought our marker stones

We have registered our land at the survey office (cadastro) and bought our marker stones


The sparrows continue to feed their offspring almost non-stop. The sounds coming from the mud nest are more sonorous, more mature, but no less demanding – if anything, more so. The open beaks appear right at the mouth of the tunnel; the parent birds no longer need to enter the nest as they deposit clusters of wings and legs into the gaping maws of their offspring as frequently and as fast as they can. How the soon-to-be fledglings can reach so high up from within their enclosure I don’t know. Three possibilities occur to me: 1) the bottom of the nest was largely filled in by all the finery the sparrows imported into it; 2) the babies are now strong enough to climb up the interior walls; 3) the birds are huge. Number 3 surely cannot be true. All the same, I imagine the birds now as gangly teenagers. Any day and they will emerge awkwardly and shrug, bored already, then fly off.

The red-rumped swallows have not abandoned us completely, but they are building a new nest elsewhere. I watched one collecting dust in its beak from outside our front terrace. It looked so formal standing on the ground, its shiny cloak draped over its square little shoulders, the matching cap perched so smartly on top of its head.


The Algarve is my home, this house here at the end of the world, but ‘home’ in a wider sense also means the United Kingdom; I realised that this week. I voted in the UK general election, having applied for a postal vote in London’s Tower Hamlets – the last place I was on the electoral register is where my vote counts – which arrived with its own pre-paid envelope for return. I don’t believe I can vote in a general election here. Also, I earn my income in the UK, and pay taxes on it in the UK. I now have an additional tax liability in Portugal, but it should be small. One day I hope to have a state pension from the UK. What happens in the UK matters to me in practical as well as emotional ways.

And therefore if, now that a referendum on EU membership is to go ahead, the country votes ‘out’, I shall be thoroughly fed up (but also glad in that event to be a resident outside of the UK). Then there is the matter of the Human Rights Act. I have carried this slip of paper around with me for a quarter of a century:

Speaks for itself

The thirty articles of the UDHR

It’s a sort of talisman. A reason to believe in the human race. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 by the UN; it was then given a specific European context in 1950 in the form of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK was among the Convention’s founders and, in 1951, one of its first ratifiers. Later, the Human Rights Act of 1998 gave the European Convention effect in British law (and meant you didn’t have to go to Strasbourg for a human-rights case). The new government say they want to abolish the HRA and replace it with a bill of rights with ‘a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged’ (words from their own strategy paper, entitled, apparently without irony, ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK’). And if the Council of Europe doesn’t like it, ‘the UK would be left with no alternative but to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights’ (same source). All of this is confusing and troubling. But perhaps that strategy paper is already in the bin for the rubbish it palpably is, its author Grayling now replaced by Gove. Perhaps it all looks worse from afar. Perhaps it looks worse from a country where dictatorship – and lack of human rights – is well within living memory.

Next week, whether it be the last of this blog or no – and I really do need to decide about that – I promise to go back to writing about the natural beauty of this part of the world, and how I love it and am sustained by it. And also my pratfalls in Portuguese, such as asking the vegetable seller in the market for half a kilo of chickens while pointing at the strawberries. I was searching for the word morangos (strawberries) when I got mental interference from French (fraises) and came out with frangos (chickens). It happens. She laughed.

Week 6: The foundering of Nelson’s flagship

We have a number of things to do. We should probably draw up a list.

  • 1. Write a to-do list.

One of the decisions to be made is whether or not to become Portuguese residents, and we need to decide before we buy our house since it affects the purchase to a small degree. For Husband it’s quite straight forward: he will become a Portuguese resident. For me, it’s less so. I shall continue to earn my money in the UK. Where I am resident determines to whom I pay tax, and how much. This is a tight little bundle of ethical/economic/practical anxiety for me at the moment, something I need to unravel and straighten out. I find all matters related to tax a worry. I’ve been self-employed for decades and should be used to it by now, but the Inland Revenue has always cast a long shadow over my life. It’s not even the money; it’s the accounting for it. I do, of course, pay an accountant to do this for me. However, I have to supply him with all the information in the first place. Husband calls me an Angst-Hase, a worry rabbit, and this was indeed a large part of my problem with HMS Victory.

Our stay in Ravello

We have, as you know, just returned from holiday in Italy. We rented an apartment in Torello on the Amalfi Coast, 669 steps down from the beautiful town of Ravello. We were among lemon groves. One of the pleasures I most look forward to in the Algarve is having our own citrus trees.

Amalfi lemons

Amalfi lemons

The owners of the flat, who lived in the main part of the building, were very kind. They filled our kitchen with their own produce – lemons, olive oil, garlic – and the rest of the flat with flowers. The flowers were a piece of luck, their daughter’s wedding having taken place the day before. Another piece of luck was the trail of rice and sugared almonds that had been showered over the couple, which enabled us to find our way home through the maze of steep stepped paths linking houses, farms and town.

Our apartment’s balcony looked down over the lemon groves to the sea. Inside we had a small kitchen at one end of a good-sized hall; the kitchen had a sea view too (as did the loo – a loo with a view). At the other end of the hall was a large built-in wardrobe, and in between were a fireplace and two large wooden ships fixed to boards and bracketed to the walls. One was called the Bremen; the other, much larger, was HMS Victory.

When it came time to pack and leave, I decided to make use of this good space in the hallway. Husband was watching football in the bedroom anyway. I opened out my case and began to fill it. I rather like packing. First I managed to achieve a most satisfactory arrangement with a pair of shoes I had bought in Ravello. Their box fit precisely into the top left-hand side of the case, and a stack of freshly washed socks fit perfectly around the shoes within the box. It was most pleasing.

Shoes unpacked in London

Shoes unpacked in London

I straightened up to get the next items, when the pointy bit on the back of my skull came into unexpected contact with the base of Victory’s board. This gave me a small shock; it must have given Nelson a much greater one, for this impact was so ideally calibrated that it sprang the entire ship from its fixings and crashed it to the floor. There it lay, its masts broken, its rigging tangled. A lifeboat and various pieces of naval insignia were scattered across the tiles.

Husband appeared at the door to the bedroom. He came over and picked up the boat, cradling it in both hands. It was clearly not an easy fix. I decided to go at once to apologise to the owners. My Italian doesn’t stretch much further than saying sorry, so I invited the landlady into the flat to see for herself what I was sorry for. I hoped my face expressed what my tongue could not. At the same time I searched her face for signs of ‘that-old-thing-I’ve-wanted-to-get-rid-of-it-for-years’ but there were no such signs. She looked sad and shocked, like I felt. She said, ‘Pazienza, pazienza, pazienza.’ ‘It doesn’t matter.’ But it looked like it did. She took the ship away. She came back for the rest of the pieces, and left silently. I did not sleep much that night.

The following day was our departure and we went to pay the balance of our bill. The landlady, by this time, was much cheered up. Her husband would fix the boat, she said. It would take a while, but he would fix it. I was not to worry at all, and they certainly wouldn’t accept any money towards its repair.

Because I have a slightly superstitious frame of mind, I have chosen to see the Victory as a kind of lightning conductor, or rather a disaster conductor. Nelson took it on the chin, so that other disasters would not happen. The Angst-Hase is back on her feet.

Victory no more.

Victory no more

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