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Anything but straightforward

By: Margaret Brown

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Apart from tarumatic happenings in and around Praia da Luz during the month of May, things have been anything but straightforward in the Brown household.

Years of sporting endeavour, extended beyond the capabilities of one’s musculature at our time of life, have resulted in some minor problems and unwanted expense. Still feeling no more than middle-aged in spirit one fails to give bones and joints the respect that they have earned. As a result the Boss and I have become examples of what not to do.


Heading in the direction of the setting Sun, just a little bent and with our lumbar spines artificially supported when the going gets tough, we lean together – a couple of old trees with loosened roots. For the first time in 20 years we have had to employ a gardener to keep the Bush at bay. Brambles and deep rooted perennial weeds, like Birnam Wood marching on Dunsinane, were threatening to overwhelm our plot if not controlled.

With the help of a kind friend, we now have the services of not one but two men, who come once a week to strim and mow, slash and uproot, pushing back the enemy with the utmost thoroughness. The plot looks bigger every time they leave but despite a spell of dry weather, that which has been cleared already has a dusting of wild flowers following in its wake. A game of Grandmother’s Footsteps and, after next winter’s rain, without a doubt the invasion will start again and more work will be needed, just like an agricultural version of painting the Forth Bridge.


With less than a week to go before flying to Wales for a house exchange arranged with friends in Pembrokeshire, our bungalow is a picture of neglect. The strong winds from the northwest quarter collect grit and dust and creep under doors and through windows, meaning that even a daily dusting is not worth the trouble. However, nothing hides serial neglect: while I don’t discourage spiders from lodging in hidden corners, like paying guests they encroach beyond their own quarters and go as far as swinging from the ceiling beams.

They have their use as flycatchers but Gekkos, once the house had lost its new smell, set up home and are doing well. Now there is one to every room and we live happily together: a few babies have met a dusty end in the vacuum cleaner and any adult lurking on a door jamb runs the risk of being flattened. The many reptiles that we bought along with a semi-ruined farm, in 1986, slowly disappeared as time passed, but this year several varieties have been seen about the place. With higher temperatures and warmer winters we can expect more of the same. However, when we lived on the edge of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, we were never short of a few Adders.

The smallholding which we bought there was in a similar condition to the one over here before the cowboy gang of Portuguese builders helped us to restore it to its former glory. As we cleared the Somerset property of brambles, ragwort and assorted bushes, from time to time we disturbed one of these poisonous vipers curled in concentric rings and bright eyed head marked with a ‘V’. After eyeing each other up for a moment, I backed away, hissed into submission by an angry native with forked and flicking tongue.

Close encounter

Two years after that, by which time the horses had produced a fragrant pile of manure with a core temperature suitable for winter hibernation, a female adder dug her way in to incubate her young following an October mating. Our Border Collie visited the muck heap frequently and we thought she had a rat staked out. Then one day she pottered into the kitchen in some distress, her head the size and shape of a rugby ball and swelling as we watched.

We took her to the retired vet down the road at record speed and found him slightly in his cups. Looking at the bitch he said “Hmm …she may get over it on her own, but I’ll give her some antibiotics.” Dribbling and frothing at the mouth, poor Meg suffered for a few days but recovered completely.

During this time I had a Section D Welsh Cob with a natural dislike of snakes: if we met one when riding in the local forest either she would refuse to walk forward or, if surprised, would hammer at it with her front feet. One day when I was visiting the small branch of Barclays Bank in the village of Winscombe, where the Boss was manager, a passing bus company employee dropped a ticket roll in front of the Cob. Rearing up like an old fashioned war horse and having similar rounded proportions, the elderly mare killed that snake of paper into pulp. Expressing her opinion of litter louts the only way she knew, she left her deposit on the bank forecourt, turned round and left for home at a fast trot.