Week 51: Penultimate
The sparrows continue to feed their offspring almost non-stop. The sounds coming from the mud nest are more sonorous, more mature, but no less demanding – if anything, more so. The open beaks appear right at the mouth of the tunnel; the parent birds no longer need to enter the nest as they deposit clusters of wings and legs into the gaping maws of their offspring as frequently and as fast as they can. How the soon-to-be fledglings can reach so high up from within their enclosure I don’t know. Three possibilities occur to me: 1) the bottom of the nest was largely filled in by all the finery the sparrows imported into it; 2) the babies are now strong enough to climb up the interior walls; 3) the birds are huge. Number 3 surely cannot be true. All the same, I imagine the birds now as gangly teenagers. Any day and they will emerge awkwardly and shrug, bored already, then fly off.
The red-rumped swallows have not abandoned us completely, but they are building a new nest elsewhere. I watched one collecting dust in its beak from outside our front terrace. It looked so formal standing on the ground, its shiny cloak draped over its square little shoulders, the matching cap perched so smartly on top of its head.
The Algarve is my home, this house here at the end of the world, but ‘home’ in a wider sense also means the United Kingdom; I realised that this week. I voted in the UK general election, having applied for a postal vote in London’s Tower Hamlets – the last place I was on the electoral register is where my vote counts – which arrived with its own pre-paid envelope for return. I don’t believe I can vote in a general election here. Also, I earn my income in the UK, and pay taxes on it in the UK. I now have an additional tax liability in Portugal, but it should be small. One day I hope to have a state pension from the UK. What happens in the UK matters to me in practical as well as emotional ways.
And therefore if, now that a referendum on EU membership is to go ahead, the country votes ‘out’, I shall be thoroughly fed up (but also glad in that event to be a resident outside of the UK). Then there is the matter of the Human Rights Act. I have carried this slip of paper around with me for a quarter of a century:
It’s a sort of talisman. A reason to believe in the human race. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 by the UN; it was then given a specific European context in 1950 in the form of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK was among the Convention’s founders and, in 1951, one of its first ratifiers. Later, the Human Rights Act of 1998 gave the European Convention effect in British law (and meant you didn’t have to go to Strasbourg for a human-rights case). The new government say they want to abolish the HRA and replace it with a bill of rights with ‘a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged’ (words from their own strategy paper, entitled, apparently without irony, ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK’). And if the Council of Europe doesn’t like it, ‘the UK would be left with no alternative but to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights’ (same source). All of this is confusing and troubling. But perhaps that strategy paper is already in the bin for the rubbish it palpably is, its author Grayling now replaced by Gove. Perhaps it all looks worse from afar. Perhaps it looks worse from a country where dictatorship – and lack of human rights – is well within living memory.
Next week, whether it be the last of this blog or no – and I really do need to decide about that – I promise to go back to writing about the natural beauty of this part of the world, and how I love it and am sustained by it. And also my pratfalls in Portuguese, such as asking the vegetable seller in the market for half a kilo of chickens while pointing at the strawberries. I was searching for the word morangos (strawberries) when I got mental interference from French (fraises) and came out with frangos (chickens). It happens. She laughed.