Monthly Archive: November 2014

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 25: ‘We live here’

 

Tavira’s beautiful ‘Roman’ bridge, a rebuilt medieval, possibly Moorish structure

Tavira’s beautiful ‘Roman’ bridge, in fact a rebuilt medieval, possibly Moorish structure

My sole photograph in Tavira food market

My sole photograph in Tavira food market

I work with a number of authors repeatedly. We get used to one another, I suppose. The latest offering from one such regular, something of a television celebrity, is about to reach me. The first book of his I worked on, many years ago now, was the accompaniment to a TV series about France. The thing I remember most about that – it struck me at the time and I’ve never forgotten it – was the annoyance the crew expressed about the British ex-pats in France. The ‘we live heres’ they came to refer to them, disparagingly. Their constant assertion of their status was felt to be arrogant, I think. Certainly not good telly.

Now I’m one of them and I can see things differently. The assertion of ‘we live here’ comes more from a position of disbelief, shock almost, than arrogance. It is enormously different to live elsewhere, as opposed to having a holiday home or visiting a place. It is worth asserting. If only to remind yourself.

For this reason I stopped short at one photograph of the food market in Tavira. I saw the looks on the nearby stallholders’ faces and I realised that you cannot be a ‘we live here’ and take photographs while shopping. A very friendly Angolan woman whose small restaurant we like has offered to take us round the market and introduce us to people there. This would be wonderful, if it happens. She recognised our need to be accepted as ‘we live heres’ when we asked her where she got her avocados from; they’re the best.

Dry riverbed

Dry riverbed

Waiting for the river

The sun is still warm but the nights are cold and the daytime air can be chilly. A few storms recently brought a lot of rain, which means the river could be back soon. Apparently it starts as a drizzle of brown sludge, then turns into a crystal clear flow. The people who live near the river – including us, soon – celebrate its return. You need to be alert if you want to catch the point of its arrival.

Along the riverbed, which I’ve been exploring, are a number of basins that still hold a little water, somewhat green and soupy. When the river is full these become swimming holes. We have two dipping spots not far from our house that look perfect for next spring.

One day after this post goes out is our escritura ceremony, when we – at last – become the legal owners of the house.

Week 24: Fresher air

Perfected rye sourdough by Husband, under the expert tuition of Andrew Whitley

Perfected rye sourdough by Husband, under the expert tuition of Andrew Whitley

Early morning view from the Chalet

Early morning view from the Chalet

Santa Luzia, where we have a favourite fish restaurant. You can see from this picture that autumn has arrived

Santa Luzia, where we have a favourite fish restaurant. You can see from this picture that autumn has arrived

This blog started, twenty-three weeks ago, with the words ‘I craved fresher air . . .’. They appear below my portrait, as painted by my niece, Lucy Gordon. She insists it wasn’t a portrait of me at all, just one of the many animal characters she creates in between looking after three small children and working for the NHS. I took an instant, unwittingly solipsistic liking to it, and soon after was informed by everyone who saw it that it was, basically, me. According to how this displays on your device, you may or may not see Edith: she’s either on the right, or hidden way below at the bottom of the string of posts.

Anyway, the craving for fresher air than London could ever offer was one of the many impetuses for our move. So the irony of having caught bronchitis on arrival is not lost on me.

It came on the back of what seemed such an insignificant cold. I let the cough linger for a week. Husband returned from his baking course in Scotland, more enthusiastic and optimistic than ever, if that were possible, and my condition concerned him.

I followed up on the estate agent’s suggested clinic and got an appointment on the day of asking, at a cost of 55 euros. The doctor was pleasant, precise in his diagnosis and reassuring. The pharmacist was very quick with the prescription, and very nice. I am to see the doctor again in ten days’ time; he would like to ensure the lung infection is gone. ‘We don’t want it to develop into pneumonia,’ he said. Heavens, no, we don’t.

My next doctor’s appointment is therefore on the thirteenth of November, in Tavira, which, by coincidence, is also the day – and place – of final signatures for the purchase of our home. We will meet the Sensibles, the agent, our respective lawyers and a notary to complete the transfer of ownership. After that, the Sensibles will stay on for a couple of days before departing on the Saturday to drive north; in a sense, they’ll be our house guests. A somewhat unconventional arrangement.

Scents

We have spent time with the Sensibles at the house and I am pleased to report that we are all back on terms of perfect mutual understanding and, I dare say, affection. When I’m at the house, I feel a tumble of joy, disbelief and apprehension. The apprehension not least because there is an awful lot of land, both garden and scrub, and I have hitherto barely kept a house plant alive. We were there today, and I breathed in wild herbs pressed underfoot as we walked up the hill behind. (I’m glad of the antibiotics, which have restored ease of breathing and my sense of smell.) I picked a stalk of dry lavender and crushed it to release an unexpectedly rich scent. Bay in the garden had an intensity of fragrance I have never experienced before. Freshly picked lemons were heady. It sometimes feels overwhelming.

The house

The house

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