Monthly Archive: September 2016

Red-rumped Swallows

One of our swallows on the wire

One of our swallows on the wire, looking at me

Another view

Turning away

And flying off

Its companion flying off

Every sunset, four young swallows return to their nest on our veranda. They arrive one by one, not always in close succession. Each swoops under the veranda roof, executes a 180-degree turn in the tight space between front door and tunnel opening, tucks back its wings and delivers itself into the nest. There will be some twittering between the first and second, and by the time the third and fourth arrive there will be a full radio-tuning session, no doubt as they negotiate turning around and aligning themselves in the tight space inside.

If we get close enough to watch them, they show some hesitancy, pull off a few dummy runs, then pour themselves into the nest all the same. They don’t dive for our noses any more; they must have chilled.

The next day, some five to ten minutes before sunrise, they leave, one by one. If it has rained or is cloudy – which has happened a couple of times – they are later getting up and we have a better chance of catching sight, or at least sound, of them. We are as sure as we can be that these four are the offspring, and that the adults spend their nights elsewhere. During the day we have seen all six together in the valley, feeding and flying.

One day soon they will be gone. We’ll miss them, and be keen for their return next year.

Father Christmas has gone, finally. A big and still ongoing tidy-up at Flaviano’s means that Father Christmas, the life-size, Coca-cola Santa with an American accent (yes, it sings), has finally been stashed away in a side room and no longer greets the grocery-shoppers and beer-drinkers. The round lady has been busy with orange paint on the cupboards beneath the counters; I think she is the force behind these improvements. She might also be the force behind the new pet: a tiny, bug-eyed, wobbly legged dog called Lassie. Lassie licked my fingers furiously, spindly legs going every which way, when I bent down to greet her on her blanket. Then I stroked her ribcage and she seemed to hover with delight, all mad shaking suddenly stilled.

Our bread sales go up all the time. The protest T-shirts are selling well too – all proceeds to the cause, of course. Oh, but these are not happy days. Every step forward gets rolled back. Among the latest is that the contracts assigning drilling and fracking rights across some 40 per cent of the Algarve’s land area to Sousa Cintra’s Portfuel have mysteriously been declared legal by the attorney general, even though they did not meet the legal requirements for such contracts. That seemed one of the easiest cases to win, so how come it lost?

And we attended a summer university session in Olhão, as part of a ‘citizens’ legislative initiative’ (funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – oil money, don’tcha know), about amending the decree law of 1994 which lays Portugal open for oil business. Husband, speaking good Portuguese, stood up to say that seeking to amend this law for the benefit of the environment was like trying to turn the Manual for the Inquisition into a Human Rights Charter. He got a round of applause, but it’s all to no avail. We’re trying to mop up a titanic oil spill with cottonbuds. The law needs to be scrapped, is all.

PS The spectacular bruising on my leg has abated, and the calf muscle is nearly fully repaired. Thanks for asking. How amazing the human body can be at fixing itself.

I know nothing of reptile reproduction, but it seems to be hatching time. First we found a tiny gecko running around the kitchen floor, its head out of all proportion to its body, its tail damp and curled as though it had just come out of the shell. Then Husband rescued this baby lizard from a precarious position by the pool, and released it into the wild garden behind

I know nothing of reptile reproductive cycles, but it seems to be hatching time. First we found a minuscule gecko running around the kitchen floor, its head out of all proportion to its body, its tail damp and curled as though it had just come out of the shell. Then Husband rescued this baby lizard from a precarious position by the pool and released it into the wild garden behind. I believe it’s a male Large Psammodromus; I failed to capture the full length of its tail in the photograph


Ten days ago I was helping carry a wooden sunbed up some steps. I was facing forward, holding my end of the bed at my back, thinking this would be a better way to mount the steps. It turns out it wasn’t. I stumbled and dropped the bed on my own calf. It didn’t hurt that much, but since then the flesh of one leg has gradually bruised, like slow-moving oil on water, and has made me uncomfortable, tired and annoyed. All of which meant that at the latest meeting of the anti-oil-and-gas group, at a certain point and rather to my own surprise, and having up to that moment (about two hours in) said nothing, I exclaimed,

‘I just can’t stand all this talking!’

And soon after that I left, safely removed by Husband.

It also means that at the latest demo on the beach, this coming Sunday, I shall not be Sister Anna with the Banner. But I am continuing the good work with T-shirts. A Secret Weapon in LA has designed some great logos for us: the design for the back can be seen below. We’ve had an early batch printed up and they will be worn on the beach on Sunday by the banner-carriers, as well as being on sale in a couple of outlets in Tavira. (All proceeds to the cause, of course.)

And my work can be, and currently is, restorative. I often think what a lucky move it was to have found a means of earning a living that can be achieved in solitude and silence. No blog next week because we will be busy bidding goodbye to guests. And a poor effort this week. No energy to update you on the swallows, who were late out of the nest this morning, perhaps because we’ve just had the first rain since May, or to describe the smudge of brown cloud five days ago, blown over from forest fires in the west – now thankfully out. It’s a time of low ebb.


Secret compartment

Three years since my father’s death. Being with him when he died, having that close experience of a parent’s death, started a tremor that continues to pulse through my life. The reverberations are positive. He was not sentimental about death; he’d embraced the idea of it early on.

He liked to fish, and he liked to work with wood; he self-deprecatingly called himself more ‘wood butcher’ than carpenter. He made his children and grandchildren wooden chests, many of which had secret compartments. He showed me how to access the secret compartment in mine: via a peg in the floor, hidden beneath a velvet lining, which when lifted out released the drawer in the plinth. One of the first and largest boxes he made was to house certain family treasures such as his family bible – a huge volume with a leather spine but missing front and back covers, allegedly destroyed in a bomb blast during the second world war. This chest was rumoured to have a secret compartment, but one for which access had not been detailed, and none of us knew if it really existed.

As short-notice plans for a lunch to mark the third anniversary grew, I decided to find a last-minute flight to England and join in.

It was a great gathering, almost complete in close family members, and we decided once and for all to investigate the bible chest. Two keys fixed to the base behind the decorative plinth looked intriguing but were decoys, sawn off at the ends. The decoys – a very Dad thing to do – raised our expectations. We knew then we were on to something. A suggestion of space between the interior and exterior of the box’s base was promising. We fetched screwdrivers and tackled the interior compartments, unscrewing and gradually freeing them until we could pull them out. There it was: in the shallow base of the box lay newspapers, special issue stamps, packets of seeds, a John Donne poem, a self-penned poem and an envelope – ‘This letter will have some interest if left sealed before the year 2000’. Since we were sixteen years beyond that date, we opened it.

The letter, dated 22nd Aug 1985, began: ‘Welcome to the past. I hope a considerable period of time has elapsed since I closed this compartment . . .’

It went on: ‘I offer you seeds in the hope that they may germinate. A living piece of my present, to your present . . .’

I brought these seeds home to Portugal to plant in our garden: pennyroyal (poejo), oregano (oregão), dill (aneto), caraway (alcaravia). Wish me luck because I’m not the best plant nurturer. One can only learn.

It ended: ‘I wish you good health and the wealth to enjoy it, and bid you a distant farewell.’


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