By: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
ALTHOUGH THE hills and valleys behind our house have a veneer of peaceful dereliction, the stacks of eucalyptus felled four years ago with their highly inflammable leaf trimmings left among the stumps continue to be a fire hazard.
An attitude of laissez faire during the hot months might be excused if it were not for the risk to the countryside, but why cut down a large number of trees worth good money and leave them to rot? The chainsaw gang cut down our stand of timber at the same time and the logs are still with us, piled higgledy-piggledy behind my office like a giant game of Pickasticks and home to an assortment of insects and
Wood Boring Longhorn Beetles that entered the wood when it was still green moved on and others took their place, as they did in our present house. The builder failed to have the timbers treated and the day before we moved in there were long lines of sawdust beneath each roof support and the faint sound of eating. Later, oval shaped exit holes were made by the adult insects. As compensation we were assured that once the edible heart wood had been devoured our unsolicited guests would leave and this has proved correct.
Meanwhile the guerilla war waged on several fronts continues to enliven our early morning walks which, of necessity, are finished before the heat cuts in. The biters and stingers keep a low profile during the cool of dawn and from time to time we have a glimpse of creatures of the night. Passing our neighbour’s lake we can watch the large fish rising to feed and terrapin circling beneath a spiral of dancing midges.
Such peace – soon to be shattered by some sort of fight among the bushes at the foot of the dam. Millie and Gringo, the greyhound from next door, were twanging like violin strings as they peered over the top. Suddenly a grey Egyptian mongoose shot up the bank with Brownie close behind. The other two followed but they had a lucky escape because members of that branch of Herpestidae are big and endowed with long claws designed to tear.
Years ago when Fly was 18 months old he grabbed one from behind, did not know what to do with it and let it go. Another lucky escape.
Back in the hills we are beginning to wilt by the end of the day, the bare volcanic rocks duplicating as night store heaters and the house temperature rarely dropping below 29º centigrade until the small hours. Millie was suffering as well so we telephoned the canine beautician. He arrived next morning to give her a short back and sides, leaving her eyebrows long to act as a sunshade. Later that day she went outside and returned with a Robbie Williams’ hairstyle after rolling in some black and sticky fox droppings, eager to share her pungency with everything but the kitchen stove.
It must be purgatory for those who dislike dogs because any time of day or night there is barking somewhere, earplugs being no defence and only time brings a selective deafness. Looking east, our nearest neighbour has a few hunting dogs kennelled and several house pets running loose.
Every other day Millie, whether on or off the lead, is set upon aggressively and with much noise when we walk past their smallholding. The track has been a public right of way for many years as part of a network across the hills, used when we first came to live here by mule carts and cattle drovers. The friendly Portuguese owners of this mongrel pack of hounds are well aware of what is happening but do not call them off and now I carry a pocketful of stones to throw as a deterrent. It helps and although my aim is usually wide off the mark, an occasional bullseye ensures respect and a safe passage.
I suppose most animals have a streak of aggression in their makeup, of use when defending home, family or the latest kill. Being blessed with what is claimed to be a higher intelligence than the remainder of the vertebrates, perhaps the human race has channelled some of its adrenaline inspired urges in other directions. Evident in sport, within the business world, between street gangs and on overcrowded roads, it seems that the written and unwritten guides to peaceful co-existence have been replaced by an ‘anything goes’ attitude in the rush to have what one wants when one wants it.
Being a fan of both Formula 1 and dinghy racing, having spent years on the water hating whatever boat was challenging ours and indulging in highly competitive motoring when the roads were more fun, it tickled my fancy to see the contretemps off Cowes at the start of the Round the Island Race last week.
Made piquant by the presence of Ben Ainslie (Olympic Gold in sailing) and Lewis Hamilton (F 1’s wonder boy) on board Hugo Boss helmed by Alex Thomson of Round the World fame, most cameras were pointing in the direction of their 60 ft boat as they collided with a Farr 45 before the start. With a fleet of 1,750 boats jockeying to be first over the start line the most aggressive will do best, unfortunately in this case at the expense of a collision that dis-masted the smaller yacht and disqualified Hugo Boss.