Back tickling and pole dancing in the hills

news: Back tickling and pole dancing in the hills

• Sun-drying tomatoes in the drying machine
• Sun-drying tomatoes in the drying machine

Thursday 7th July

This afternoon, while Martyn was taking one of our cars for its MOT re-test (it passed), I decided to water our orange trees on the geese and pig terrace. This is normally a very relaxing affair, simply sitting, reading a book under the shade of the trees as the water is pumped from the well to fill a trench dug around each tree.

Unfortunately, due to animal misconduct, this morning was far from relaxing, beginning with the geese who were behaving extremely oddly. As each trench filled up, they took their usual paddle, but then, unexpectedly, began to chase each other feverishly around in circles, honking furiously. I purposely ignored this attention seeking behaviour until, in the middle of one of these sprinting sessions, the smallest one became entangled in a net fence and fell to the terrace below. Serenely, I put down my self-help book, made my way down to the bottom terrace, caught him and fetched him back where the whole manic business began again.

Unruffled and controlling my breathing, I made my way to the relative tranquillity of the pig terrace where HRH Princess Eggs (she now insists on her full title) was contentedly snoozing in a mud bath. My arrival or, more accurately, the arrival of the hose signalled the end of siesta and the start of playtime. Each time I positioned the hose in a tree and sat down to work on my karma, she would charge over to the hose and alter the course of water, resulting in hazardous spraying and bone dry trees.

As I went to rectify the situation, dodging the spray, she would grunt and oink excitedly until I sprayed her with the hose and tickled her back. This sparring for control continued the whole morning until I reached the final tree where, ingeniously, I positioned the hose through a branch to satisfy her showering needs and attempted to read peacefully in a rather rickety patio chair.

Hosing alone was not enough for her, however, and she sidled up to me for a tickle, leaning her soaked, muddy, expansive flank against me. I tried pushing her away, but she simply leaned harder. I tried getting up, but she had me pinned to the chair. I tried one last shove, she pushed back, the chair creaked, I held my breath, the plastic legs snapped and I dropped straight into a puddle where she snuggled up alongside me to resume snoozing time together. My self-help book is now drying out on the patio.

Monday 11th July

One of the great challenges of ‘growing your own’ is knowing how to preserve the vegetables you have grown and avoid wastage. Freezing, at first glance, seems like a good option, but we soon discovered that, with a few exceptions, anything frozen tastes disgusting compared to the real thing.

Two years ago, somewhat thoughtlessly, we froze about 50 kilos of beans and as many tomatoes. After forcing guests to sit through sloppy green slime for a few months, we ended up emptying the freezer into pig buckets. This year I have tried salting French beans and we have been sun-drying tomatoes.

We have a little wooden and netting construction, known to us as ‘the drying machine’, in which we put sliced tomatoes with a little salt. Two or three days in the sun and the tomatoes are dried and beautifully tangy. We then put them into a jar of olive oil where, hopefully, they will store until next summer.

Our other wonderful discovery is to make gallons of various vegetable soups, pour it into old water bottles and freeze it, ready for cool winter evenings. Soup freezes well, whereas vegetables can be extremely disappointing.

Sunday 24th July

HRH Princess Eggs is now severely huge and eating for 20. We have improved her house by strengthening the walls and providing two bales of straw, which she has arranged to provide a comfy bed and a sleepeazy pillow. Awaking her in the morning is now a bit of an ordeal; she takes a good five minutes to stretch and finally make a move.

Before breakfast she has a leisurely shower (honest to God), during which time a little back tickling is greatly appreciated. This is followed by diving into the bucket for food, a laid back mud wallow and then back to bed until her grounds are shaded by the mountain behind. She is due to give birth around August 20 and intends to make the most of her confinement.

Tuesday 26th July

Yesterday afternoon I filled up the drying machine with tomatoes and positioned it in the middle of the patio. I then collected my friend Lorraine from the airport, ready for a week of sun, sea and stringy beans. Today, I awoke to torrential rain, an upturned drying machine, a collapsed bean wigwam and a cold shivering friend. As we did the rain tour of packed cafés and overfull shopping centres, everyone we met enthused jubilantly about the glorious rain – one even told us she had been involved in a rain dance with Buddhist monks the day before. We returned home for Lorraine to unpack her factor 15 and bikini.

Sunday 31st July

Never let it be said that there is nothing to do on a Saturday night in Monchique. We nipped out to our local café at 10 O’ clock last night and had a tremendous time drinking sangria with 30 or so others singing karaoke in a room of some 12sqm. As well as some moving Fado and squeeze-box jollies, there was pole dancing on the bar and the occasional polka down the central aisle. Lorraine (a seasoned Londoner) danced with a man three times her age and put an offer on a house the next day. Another world weary Englander discovers the delights of country living.