Now that it is high summer we live with the plangent sound of cicadas. The Golden Orioles add their whistle, and the Bee-eaters test their collection of recorders as they pass by overhead, like a junior school orchestra getting ready for a concert. Two Short-toed Eagles can be seen gliding silently along the valley. A female Blue Rock Thrush dips and bobs on the corner of the front veranda, within view of my desk. She says chuck-chuck, and looks like a miniature cormorant. I was missing the heartbreak jangle of the serin. I wondered what had happened to him. Then we spotted a nest in the smallest and thinnest of our cypresses, one that we pass within inches of several times a day. All his frantic singing paid off. Tiny grey beaks surrounded by feather-stalk antennae poke waveringly and unsteadily out, glimpsable only with patience and good binoculars.
Very close to home, right outside the front door, the Red-rumped Swallows are hard at work. I stand at the door and poke my long-lensed camera in their direction for two or three minutes a day. They put up with it. Besides, they know that in a few more days the upside-down dome will be complete and we will no longer be able to see them. As their nest grew, they had more to balance on, and less mud landed on the veranda floor. On the other side of the nest, not visible from inside the house, is what will be the tunnel entrance. Access will require them dipping through here and under the original hook, which they infilled with mud like a reinforced internal wall. It’s all well planned and highly skilled. Work only slowed down on Sunday. I imagine this was more because of the ricochet of hunters’ shots than the imposition from on high of a day of rest. We were happy to see them back on Monday.
Two weeks ago we were in Lisbon, part of a group to present the government and the DGRN (directorate for natural resources) with thick files of petitions and arguments against oil exploration in the Algarve. We were in the support section. Husband waved the box lid from a set of scales that has become his protest ID. If you look at it from the right angle, it says Rasga O Contrato (‘tear up the contract’). From any other angle, it is simply the box lid from a set of weighing scales. The mayor of Aljezur came up to say hello; he recognised Husband by the box lid. The Mad Hatter letters spelling Frack Off in my trilby, never that effective, came to a damp end on a café floor.
On Friday 1 July the topic came up in Parliament. The drilling off Aljezur had already been postponed from 1 July to 3 August. The session voted for the immediate suspension of the development of oil and gas exploration by means conventional and unconventional. (A suspension only, but still good.) Environmental Impact Assessments are now to be made obligatory from the exploration phases (required by an EU directive but hitherto ignored by the ENMC, the fuel entity). The likely impact of oil development on tourism is to undergo a proper socio-economic study. And the process of the original issuance of the contracts is to be searched for irregularities, which could allow the contracts to be declared null and void.
These achievements have been forced particularly by people on the ground in the Algarve, most but not all Portuguese. As for us two, we’re cheerleaders. We wear our silly hats and wave our box lids, and as such have been caught by press photographers rather more often than I would have thought likely.
I have turned my attention away from the farcical developments in the current madhouse that is my country of origin, where the people most shocked by the Brexit outcome seem to be those who instigated it, who have been passing on responsibility and resigning at shameful rates. At this point, I’d rather look at the birds.