Week 51: Penultimate

My beautiful bountiful bougainvillaea

My beautiful, bountiful bougainvillaea

Alfarroba/carob, laden with beans

Alfarroba/carob, laden with green pods

Our little jacaranda tree about to burst into flower

Little jacaranda tree about to burst into flower

Prickly pear growing like there's no tomorrow

Prickly pear growing like there’s no tomorrow

Among our fruit trees: don't know yet what it is

Among our fruit trees: don’t know yet what it is

We have registered our land at the survey office (cadastro) and have bought our marker stones

We have registered our land at the survey office (cadastro) and bought our marker stones


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:

Speaks for itself

The thirty articles of the UDHR

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.


  1. Pauline

    Please do not stop writing this blog!

  2. Husband

    Your careful observations and beautiful descriptions of our new life in the Algarve keep me going. Please don’t stop.

  3. JL

    Your blog is great. I have not missed reading a single week. It’s like going on holiday every wednesday…please keep writing, even if it’s monthly…

  4. hil sagar

    Coming out of the woodwork to say just how much I enjoy reading your descriptions of the changing seasons and stories of settling into a new home abroad. I came back to England after a long period abroad and wish now that I had written a record of my thoughts and feelings about my new life in London. Please continue writing!

  5. Hazel

    How on earth could I face Wednesday mornings without my weekly dose of the Algarve’s delights and wildlife? PLEASE don’t stop!!! It’s a minute of delicious escapism to pastures that, even from my contented standpoint, seem greener — and not just because of the verbally and pictorially described landscapes and sparrows! BTW, we’ve got more parakeets than sparrows, these days.xx

  6. Vic

    I’m deeply depressed that the Conservative government appears to think that their “majority” is a mandate to regress Britiain back into the cultural and social dark ages. Kept telling my American friends that the difference between right and left wasn’t as glaringly distinct in the UK, as it is between Democtats and Republicans. But it seems I was very, very wrong. Sigh.

    Keep writing please. I love waking up, in my new home in North Carolina, to words from big sis in Portugal. x

  7. Chris Bosworth

    Please please do not give up your blog. I love it so much, you have a wonderful way with words – your descriptions of the birds, the flowers the way of life and the mini disasters are so enjoyable. Maybe once a month??!! If not thanks for sharing your journey so far.

  8. Janet M

    I love the beautiful pictures and stories of your new home. Our blogs are also about whatever is going on in our lives, so, if you are feeling passionate about politics you should definitely write about it.

  9. Jenny

    Always look forward to Wednesday,s ! Hearing all your news, looks and sounds beautiful !
    Hope we keep hearing from you

  10. Sylvie Asimus

    Bonsoir Mari, Please keep the blog going. I love waking up with it on Wednesday mornings. Even more so after seeing Christian and yourself in your new home. Very special x

  11. fatma

    Great post this week, as you near your ultimate week. A flavour of your home in the Algarve: the wonderful little sparrows with parents working feverishly to feed their young, and a glance back to your former home: the UK, and the machinations of politics and taxes. Present past future; how nicely you bring all those different strands together in one, preparatory finale. (possibly)

  12. JerryG

    Keep going! I love the perspective.

    After 13 years in Australia I share your views from afar. It’s interesting how they gradually change over the years when viewed from outside. It’s also interesting how the priorities change when you cease to pay taxes there and totally embrace the new environment. Dare I say that the exterior perspective becomes more balanced and more valid?

    On a lighter note, I also share (in this environment where I still see things with fresh eyes) your fascination with the new flora and fauna. Just yesterday we saw one of ‘our’ young Wedgetail Eagles that we’d watched grow up in their gigantic nest on our bush property. It’s good to see and appreciate the cycle. Much healthier than Tower Hamlets.

    My birds are bigger than yours. He laughed.

  13. Phil Perry

    I think the fruit tree is a guava. We have had one planted recently looks justs like it. – Phil Friends of Mike & Kathy, from Alentejo


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