Monthly Archive: October 2014

Week 23: First days

Leaving the ferry behind in Bilbao and driving off down south

Disembarking in Bilbao and driving off down south

The day’s crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao was unexpectedly enjoyable. Our deluxe cabin – yes, we pushed the boat out – had plenty of space and two forward-facing windows. We arrived in Bilbao on a beautiful morning, the sun scattering silver flakes over a glossy sea.

Segovia's famous aqueduct

Segovia’s famous aqueduct

We then travelled slowly through Spain, driving four to five hours a day, staying the first night in Segovia and the second night in Mérida. Spanish main roads are wide and largely empty and make for fuel-efficient driving, though an economy of fuel must be the only good economy these roads represent. We, at least, were grateful for them. The third day we drove through the Sierra Aracena, which was beautiful and lush, then crossed the bridge over the Rio Guadiana into Portugal – we were home.

About to arrive in Portugal. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Rio Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

About to arrive. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

I especially liked that we arrived in the Algarve on what would have been my father’s birthday. The only tiny blot on the landscape was a niggling small cold I had, just a few sniffles and a bit of fuzzy brain. I expected to throw it off immediately.

We’re hiring First Friends’ chalet for the next four weeks while we get ready to move into our new home. As we arrived, they helped us unpack. The contents of our small car filled every surface inside the chalet and the veranda outside as well. It looked like the exploded view for a puzzle you would never attempt to complete. But then we shouldn’t have to do it again. We’re not far from our new home now. After a lovely evening, we had an early night, then the problem with my lungs began. It seemed a monster had taken up residence in my chest. It came accompanied by a full pulmonary orchestra of rattles, wheezes, whistles and clangs. For the next 24 hours, it was as much as I could do to breathe. Neither of us slept. Husband went off on his own on Sunday to see the house and greet the Sensibles; a visit we had long ago scheduled in.

This became unexpected blot number 2. Husband returned downcast. The Sensibles wanted to know if they could postpone their leaving. The estate agent, they said, had given them to believe that this might be possible, by up to two weeks.

Oh no. No, no, no. We would have nowhere to stay by then, and a pantechnicon’s worth of possessions would arrive and have nowhere to go.

Monday 27 October

Twenty-four hours after the pulmonary orchestra started up, it left. Only a desultory flautist remained. A decent night’s sleep was possible despite the occasional mournful piping. By the following day, the flautist had left too. We had a 9.30 meeting with our estate agent. Words would have to be spoken.

We met over a bica at our regular café. (Yes, we have a regular café!) After greetings had been exchanged but before we’d raised our complaint, the estate agent’s phone rang. The conversation was long, heated and in Portuguese, but Husband understood it pretty well, and I got the gist. It was Mr Sensible who’d called, and the estate agent’s side of the conversation could be summed up like this: ‘Senhor, I do not know what planet you are on but nowhere here on Earth could you sell a house, take the money and then carry on living there. It simply doesn’t happen.’ It seemed effective, if somewhat harsh.

The estate agent then took us to Tavira to organise a whole bunch of important things. I should mention that although the pulmonary flautist had departed, he had left behind a small and rather upset dog. The dog mostly whined and growled, but occasionally had a fit of barking. This did not escape the agent’s notice, who added to the tour of Tavira a clinic where I could get help.

Our agent, we discovered, has a remarkable ability to do a lot in a small amount of time. She circumvented queues by catching someone’s eye, posing a quick question and getting either the answer she needed or an appointment later on at a fixed time. We discovered the best place to park, the photocopy shop, the telecoms company, the bank, the local lawyer, and more. She achieved quite a lot of this by talking everyone to death in whatever language was required. For us, this is an English she has streamlined by abandoning articles and prepositions, and for whose word order she has scant regard. Her finest moment came when she stopped and made a phone call in the street. A window on the first floor just above her head opened and an arm came out. I identified the arm as probably belonging to the lawyer I’d glimpsed earlier in the day. The agent reached up with a sheaf of newly photocopied papers, the hand took them and withdrew, and she flashed us a grin of pure satisfaction as we went on our way. How clever was that?

Also pretty clever was the appointment she set up with Mr Vinegar at the bank – quite literally his name; he wasn’t acidic at all. Instead he was another in our line-up of pleasant, efficient, charming Portuguese professionals. There must be some rotters out there; we just haven’t met them. It was a long meeting – by this time our agent had moved on – but at the end of two hours we had opened our bank account. We already had fiscal numbers (rather like NI numbers) from our lawyer, and with two forms of ID apiece the rest was relatively easy.

One of the charming things about Mr Vinegar is that he uses the word ‘imagine’ rather like we might use ‘if’. When I’ve learnt some Portuguese, I might discover this is a faux ami; or it might turn out to be a delightful quirk of his own. Every possibility was presented in this way. ‘Imagine you want a credit card as well as a debit card.’ ‘Imagine you want a savings account to earn interest.’ ‘Imagine you want to take out more than 200 euros in a single day.’ Yes, just imagine! Not only did we have a flesh-and-blood bank manager, whom we were invited to call with any query or request, but he made banking seem almost thrilling. Imagine!

I love it here.


PS As I was typing this blog entry, the Sensibles came to visit us at the chalet. Husband has gone off to see his baking guru in Scotland, Andrew Whitley, to take a course entitled Baking for a Living. So I heard, in German this time, their side of the story. They want nothing more than to hand over the house to us and leave on Saturday 15 November, driving home with a trailer and reaching Germany on the Sunday, when there are no lorries on the roads. The completion of a property transaction, however, has to be on a weekday. So could the completion be on the nearest possible weekday beforehand, and could they and their trailer-load remain at the house until the Saturday? The ‘two weeks’ idea came from a set of crossed wires, they explained, now straightened out. I checked with Husband, just landed in a cold and wet UK. This sounds all right to us.

Husband's first loaves made in the Algarve

Husband’s first loaves made in the Algarve

Week 22: Valediction

Precision packing by husband

Precision packing by Husband

We said goodbye to Lincolnshire. We didn’t have to say goodbye to Mum; we had already waved her off the day before on her own journey to North Carolina to see my youngest sister. Our small car – no roof rack, no trailer – took a lot of packing. In the same way that work expands to fill the time available to it, our possessions have expanded to fill the space available to them. This is a total of three months’ worth of no-fixed-abode living, with a portable office and a portable bakery among our requirements. The car reached ‘full’ as we got the last thing in.

Ah, not quite. We realised we hadn’t packed the crutches. They are awkward, unbending, uncompromising things. So we left them behind.

Then we had three wonderful days in London as the guests of friends. We squeezed a lot into a little time. A lot of imbibing and a great many goodbyes. Or perhaps I should say, ‘Até logo.’ (Entry-level Portuguese.)

The weather was unseasonably warm in London even to our last day. This morning I got on to the tube in late summer: mild air, pleasant sunshine. I got out of the tube in autumn: wet streets, grey skies, a chill in the air. It seemed a tiny, story-book storm had broken out over the city while I’d been underground and it had changed the season. It was the outer reaches of a hurricane, according to the meteorologists, and although a few flights and ferries across the UK have been cancelled, it doesn’t seem that we will be affected. But we will know for sure tomorrow when we arrive in Portsmouth, from our current stop-off with friends in West Sussex, to catch the ferry to northern Spain.

Change-of-address cards fresh from the printer

Change-of-address cards fresh from the printer

Week 21: Leg log

Hi, Artbot. I know how you feel. Been in need of a rest myself lately

Hi, Artbot. I know how you feel. Been in need of a rest myself lately

I admit to having been weary lately. The goal, that lovely house in the Algarve, has felt further away, not closer. Here there seems to be an endless list of things to do; none of them onerous, but all of them time-filling. The weather turned dreadful: low, white skies and constant precipitation from drizzle to hailstones like marbles. And there’s been the Leg. It sometimes feels like this has become a blog about a leg. (A bleg?) Needless to say, none of this has been easy for the owner of the Leg. While you are forced to go about on crutches, you lose the use of your hands. This means you have to rely on someone else to fetch and carry. This is no fun for the owner of the Leg, and it’s not much fun for the Fetcher and Carrier either.

On top of all this comes work. But I love my work, and the three authors I’ve been editing lately have all been, in their own vastly different ways, a delight. One of them I had a meeting with this week, but the other two I haven’t yet met, in spite of being on my seventh (?) book with one of them. That’s by way of reminding myself that being in the Algarve won’t make any difference to my work, not once I’ve got the internet connection established anyway.

Then came more good news about the Leg. It is still not yet eight weeks since the operation, which was initially the period during which Husband was not to use the Leg at all. There was a reprieve – only six weeks post-op he was told he could start putting weight gently on the toes. Now, another visit to the fracture clinic, and the all-clear. Back to normal leg work, as much as he feels capable of. It will take time to build the muscle back up, but there are no medical restrictions. The crutches can be used for confidence or in case of tiredness, but should otherwise be cast aside. It’s that speed-healing vegetarian diet, must be. Not to mention all the care and consideration from Wife and Mother-in-law . . .

Next, an email from First Friends, who had been on a walk to our house, and told us that the bougainvillea is blossoming again and the pomegranate tree has fruit. The air, after light rain, was fragrant of pine and eucalyptus.

Our spirits have lifted.

By the time of next week’s blog, we will be waiting to board the ferry to Bilbao.

Cannot leave off this week without some bread

Cannot leave off this week without some bread

Week 20: Barcelona break

A small holiday: to Barcelona, a city Husband has been to countless times but which I had never visited. We stayed with friends, who have had their own recent experience of incapacity – in their case involving a ladder and an ankle rather than a moped and a knee – and so were perfectly understanding of our mobility problems and gave practical and moral support. They borrowed a wheelchair for us for the length of our stay. We wouldn’t have been able to manage without it, for although the repaired knee is now being run in, it is far from being fully up to speed and we certainly didn’t want to risk knackering it all over again.

So many things to learn, and so few of them the things I thought I’d be learning at this stage. For example, I have so far had almost zero time to practise any Portuguese. On the other hand, I do now know how to handle a wheelchair on city streets. I learned that it’s better to approach uneven surfaces at a slight angle. If a ramp from pavement to street looks like it ends in a rut, then better go down it backwards. This I discovered after one heart-stopping moment when the front wheels caught in a small dip and Husband was about to be pitched forward face first in a way that would have been embarrassing for us both. Somehow balance was regained just in time.

I know the streets of Barcelona quite well now.

I had to adjust an expectation too. I thought that being anywhere on the Iberian peninsula would have echoes of our future life to it, but Barcelona couldn’t be further from the Algarve if it tried. It is a town that barely wants to acknowledge Spain; Portugal might as well be on the moon. I loved Barcelona, just not in the way I thought I would. But it’s a magical city I know I will want to visit again.


A Scottish inhabitant, or a Catalan demonstration of shared desires?

A Scottish inhabitant, or Catalan support of shared desires?

Miró; possible ancestor of Artbot.


Palau de la Música Catalana

Palau de la Música Catalana



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

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