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Annual battles with bureaucracy

By MARGARET BROWN [email protected]

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

All the signs were there that, at last, winter was in retreat and, with a hint of spring in the air, it was time to ‘cast a clout’.

Relieved of the extra weight of sweater, hat, gloves and Wellington boots, the hills felt less steep and we covered more ground during our early morning walks. Even the dogs responded to a change in temperature and took to ranging further afield spurred on by fresh scents, the noxious miasma of dog fox hanging like mist over the valley.

Sunbathing after lunch only lasted a couple of days and then the clouds returned and the warmth disappeared. February resumed its’ normal chill immediately following Carnival, which for once was blessed by blue skies rather than blue flesh and goose pimples.

The other morning we surprised two Mallards swimming in a neighbour’s pond apparently checking out the big stand of bulrushes in which to make a nest. Having been disturbed they took off into the rising sun and headed for the Barragem de Bravura and its’ many secret places. Theirs is an annual visit and perhaps one day they will stay to raise a family, although once the duck has laid her eggs, the drake deserts her for pastures new and she is left alone to bring up her young. The breeding life of this ubiquitous duck is polygamous and it is not uncommon for a couple of drakes to pair off in a ‘loving’ relationship, their general behaviour running along the similar lines to those of western society today.

Closer to home there has been an eruption of earthy heaps on our plot, many of which have neat mole-sized holes in the middle. Maybe these furry troglodytes emerge after dark or their burrows are invaded by predators. Certainly from the first year we bought the farm and tried to grow our own vegetables, they and their relatives, the Mole Rats, have been real pests. Healthy cabbages, beans and melons died overnight, their leaves wilted and roots eaten just below the surface and after two seasons of total failure I am off gardening for good.

Now, hill paths that a few weeks ago were waterlogged have set like concrete and have some species of earth dwelling insect throwing up small piles of fine soil with pin sized holes in the centre. Just as intriguing is the appearance of paired tunnels in the paddock that look like the business end of a double barrelled shotgun and about the same size. The lengthening of daylight hours and sudden warmth may have triggered the urge to spring clean a little early, something I have learned to ignore over the years. Maria, our excellent cleaning lady, achieves in four hours that which would take me a week or more to do, and then I could not achieve the same results.

Paperwork paradise

However, this is the time of year when residents in Portugal begin an annual battle with bureaucracy, the system of rules and regulations as confusing to aliens as it must also be for immigrants to Britain. Because the Boss and I are taking a couple of weeks off at the end of April we have been trying to bring various documents up to date. Residências are due to be renewed in May while we are out of the country and because of this we went to the spacious new offices of the Servicos de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras ( S.E.F.) not far from the Bombeiros in Portimão. Very different from the misery of the old headquarters where the only seating was a long flight of marble steps.

Now there are plenty of chairs, a system of tickets that ensures no queue jumping and we were seen within ten minutes. Handing over medical certificates, passports, three photographs each and the expiring permits we were told not to apply for renewal until 15 days before our birthdays, which is when we will be in the UK. Adding to the paper chase, the Boss’s driving licence is also due to expire while we are in England, and having applied at the end of January through the local Driving School to avoid any delay, the news that a British resident has waited 12 months for her new permit is not encouraging. In order to hire a car, a proper driving licence is necessary. A temporary piece of paper provided by the Direcção Geral de Viação (DGV Faro) instead of a plastic card with photograph may not be accepted by rental agents. Because of this, the Boss may apply for an International licence through the Automóvel Clube de Portugal (A.C.P) at considerable extra expense, although with a bit of luck this may not take so long.

At least Millie the shag pile bitch will be happy in our absence, her previous owners arriving to house sit on the day we fly out which leaves a lot to chance bearing in mind the regular delays so common to short haul flights. Rather than hope for the best (and expect the worst) we shall arrange for Maria of the magic polishing cloths to come to the house and give the dog a run. Sometimes it seems just too much effort to go away on holiday. Once in the air all worries fall away but first we must book our seats over the Internet, find cheap flights and then look at the bottom line. There to find that with luggage charges, the cost of using a bank card, fuel tax and boarding charges there is no such thing as a cheap flight.