Rolie gave up on me this week. I was in the petrol station in our local village and had just added 10 euros’ worth of top-grade fuel to his tank when he decided not to start up again. Not a hint. Barely a click. I pushed him to the side of the forecourt with the help of the pump lady. I phoned Costa but no luck: the answering message said the number was no longer in use. I walked to the workshop in the Cooperativa at the other end of the village where he has been rebuilding an old Mini and asked his portly friend if Costa was there. No, he wasn’t, and the friend wasn’t sure when he’d be there again, maybe the next day or the day after, maybe not.
Oh well. Time for a coffee and cake, and to check some Portuguese vocabulary using the mobile phone. The walk home from the village is only forty-five minutes, and it’s beautiful. I had done it the day before, both ways. Nightingales sang along the route, and an unidentified plant was expelling its seeds with a tiny hush followed by a tak as the empty, dry seedpod hit the ground. I had been offered a boleia (lift) on the way out but turned it down, explaining I liked to walk. I didn’t mind the prospect of the walk again, except that today I wasn’t properly clad. I was too hot in my jeans, and my new yellow shoes would take a battering in the dust. I had no towel to dry my feet with after going through the river.
In the café an English-speaker with an American accent and a laptop was on Skype to his partner, a woman with an English accent. It was impossible not to overhear so I listened in. It was a discussion about the advantages of living here, with the man trying to persuade the woman. As I got up to go I passed the Skyping man and I figured he wouldn’t mind an interruption. I caught his eye and told him they should definitely move here. He smiled and returned to his conversation: ‘Did you hear that?’
In my head I had practised the Portuguese for ‘Is it OK if I leave the car here? I’ll be back when I can.’ I didn’t know when that would be since I couldn’t get hold of Costa and Husband was away in Germany for a week. I was going to be house-bound at the end of the world, unable to go anywhere unless on foot. I’d miss a few appointments.
I reached the garage again.
‘Is it OK if I leave the car here?’
‘—’ I didn’t get any more words out because I heard my own name being called from the other side of the forecourt. I looked across.
It was Costa.
‘Hello, how are you? I saw the Renault. Have you tried to call me? The old number does not work. I have a new one. I give it to you. I’ve been in France. I saw your ’usband the other day. We passed each other on the road. What’s this sticker? [It was my Nem um Furo anti-oil protest sticker.] How is the car? Is there a problem?’
It seems that Costa, in addition to offering the best after-sales service on the planet, can now be reached by thought-wave alone. He talked me through how to restart the car when both car and weather are too hot. He coaxed Rolie back to life, attended to a few things under the bonnet, made sure he started a second time, then a third, and handed the keys back to me.
As I was driving away, I waved to Costa, who looked very pleased. Not half so pleased as I was!
What’s the future for Rolie? It might be possible to convert him to an electric car, though my hopes are not high. So one day he’ll go for scrap or become a curiosity. I’d like to think the whole of the oil industry was heading the same way and at the same speed, though I fear Rolie will be out the door first.
It sometimes feels as if the oilmen have our warming planet in a stranglehold grip. The only thing to do is to try to prise off each finger one by one. If you get one finger to let go, another tightens, so you just have to keep trying. The grip might be rigor mortis, but it is all the tighter for that.
So far Portugal has been fairly free of the deathly grip, but not for much longer. The Algarve, a place drenched in the free and exploitable – and clean and renewable – energy of the sun, to name but one alternative source, has been handed over to the oil companies to drill and frack. They took us for mugs, but the protests have been loud and strong, and the oilmen have got rattled. One industry response has been for those who hold the concessions off the west coast of the Algarve, Galp/ENI, to keep quiet about drill dates until the last possible minute, reducing the time for consultation and dissent. So it’s been only for a matter of days now that people have known they plan to start offshore drilling as early as 1 July 2016. If 4000 people sign this petition before midnight on 21 June, then the matter will be raised for discussion at the Assembleia de República. (You need a Portuguese fiscal number or a European passport ID number to sign.) Off the southern Algarve coast, the concession holders Repsol-Partex have brought their drill dates forward from October to September. They also requested authorisation to use Loulé municipal helipad as base for their drilling ship’s medevac helicopter. The town mayor, who like the other Algarve mayors has expressed his commitment to stopping the oilmen, showed what he’s made of. He said no.