Bath time with Colin and Justin.jpg

Bath time with Colin and Justin

Saturday, June 10

Martyn and I had a productive day shopping today, returning to the farm laden with a polar white ceramic bath, matching bidet and toilet cistern – so much more ‘classy’ than the plastic one that has unfailingly performed for the past 15 years or so. All items were hefted into the back of the truck with ease and delivered to our door within the hour. Shopping from rubbish bins is so much more efficient than buying in shops.

While out ‘on the road’, we stopped at one of those strange cafés on the edge of a village somewhere in the hills, the type of café that exists only in the Algarve, and surreal films. From outside, it looked far from appealing and inside even less so – dark, dingy, swarming with flies and adorned with soft porn calendars advertising pig food – you know the type of place I mean.

The balding patron greeted us, by flying out from the back through the faded plastic flyscreen, with a look of abject terror on his face, which was replaced five minutes later by a stout lady, mid-forties, carrying a cleaver and wearing a blood stained floral housecoat. The raised head, without eye contact, served as a combined greeting and a request for our order, which I delivered in word perfect Portuguese, even showing off with a little Monchique ‘nasaling’ for effect.

As is usual in such establishments, by speaking Portuguese, it marked the end of ‘showtime’. The two other customers, male with a combined age of 190, realising no fun was to be had here, returned to their medronhos and personal contemplations. Our maitre d’ then proudly informed me that there was no milk – people here don’t drink milk. I toyed with the idea of enquiring about a Frappuchino or an iced Pimms, but eventually plumped for a bica.

The café was situated on the brow of a hill, with panoramic views in all directions, which were absolutely breathtaking. Outside, a couple of 1950s chairs were provided – the sort with Formica backs and metal legs, designed to cripple anyone who sits in them for more than 10 minutes. From here, you could hear the churning water blending melodically with the call of frogs in the river below, and the gentle aqua breeze of the wind through the bamboo. This was only possible to hear during the rare interludes in the guttural coughing and phlegm disposal of our fellow diners. Rural Algarve – don’t you love it!  

Sunday, June 11

The new bath is now installed, a fresh oasis gurgling temptingly in the midst of our duck and turkey terrazzo. Colin and Justin (our two gay ducks), always ready to embrace kitch additions to their chic residence, were the first to take the plunge, only letting the side down at the last minute, with an impromptu lovemaking session in full view of passers by.

As they waddled off into the seclusion of the bushes, the younger ducklings (one of whom is still traumatised by Colin and Justin’s fostering attempts) dived in. With bath time on the duck terrace now such a great success, I am hoping Martyn is feeling in the mood to install our new toilet cistern and bidet in the house.

Saturday, June 17

I have been back in Portugal about a month now, and am just descending from the ‘high’ that return gives you. I have reached unprecedented levels of activity, having built a stone bench, a stone table and done a fair bit of cladding brickwork with stones too. As if this wasn’t enough, I have also re-terraced a piece of land at the side of our house, decorated it with rocks, tree bark and gravel, and planted it up with something pretty.

This year, I intend to focus my energies on surrounding our house with a garden that is pretty, manageable, weed-free, and not too water dependent. The plants that require more water are all close to the house and, as I get further away, I intend to use lots of harder surfaces (paving/gravel/rocks) and plants that can survive with minimal water, such as oleanders, agaves, succulents, pampas grasses and cacti.

I am gradually covering greater stretches of land with tela (weed suppressing cloth), which works excellently, particularly if buried under gravel or tree bark. I intend to cover the land surrounding the rear of the house with gravel, so that if a forest fire ever comes our way again, there are no dying weeds or brambles to ignite and bring the fire to the house.

The problem, at the moment, is hornets. Almost every time I attempt to clear some dead brambles or grasses, I enrage a nest of hornets, which then pursue me with gusto. One very uncomfortable solution is to dress for winter, with hat and gloves, but otherwise I have to take my chances. To make matters worse, I have now begun having allergic reactions to the stings, having to run off screaming at the sight of them.

Martyn has taken on full responsibility for vegetable production this year and is quite enjoying it. Never one to make hard work for himself, he has utilised tela to its full effect. After a late start, we are now harvesting courgettes, cucumbers and cress. The tomatoes are close to being ready and there are melons, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, aubergines and peppers on the way.

Tuesday, June 27

Eighteen months ago, Martyn raised the tiles in our kitchen, ready to replace them with terracotta ones. Today, after a year-and-a-half of hobbling about on bits of concrete, he has finally begun laying the new floor – hallelujah! However, the house looks like a bigger than usual bomb has hit it. There are containers of cement and piles of tiles everywhere, but hey, it’s getting done! Martyn, who has a little saying for everything, says you can’t make an omelette without cracking an egg. I resist the temptation to abuse the analogy by discussing the merits of using an 18-month-old egg in an omelette, and look on in wonder as the terracotta tide slowly creeps over the sands of our kitchen floor.

Thursday, June 29

Is this a record? In three minutes, using nothing but charm and a kitchen sieve, I caught five baby goldfish from our pond to hand over to my neighbours, who are converting an unused septic tank into a pond of their own – it’s a long story, don‘t ask!

Controversy on the duck terrace this morning, as Colin was seen pleasuring himself with one of the speckled female ducks. Justin was not happy, strutting around like a mallard scorned – there will be fireworks by bath time.    

Friday, June 30

The tiling is not finished (of course), but the joy of walking to the fridge (an hourly event in this house) in bare feet defies description. The monastic tradition of self-denial does wonders for one’s ability to appreciate the simpler things in life.

• Paul McKay can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]