Corgis, choirs and politics .jpg

Corgis, choirs and politics

IT HAS been a memorable Easter week from Palm Sunday through Easter Day and, to judge by the size of its congregations, the Barlavento branch of St. Vincents Anglican Church in the Algarve is growing and thriving. The leadership of Canon John Davis, backed by an enthusiastic and hardworking local committee, plus the good work carried out by other Locums during the last 12 months, have revitalised our worship. The body of the Church, being human, has its ups and downs, but the heart is strong and the spirit unquenched. Both choir and organist are an intrinsic part of the whole, and give an added depth and height to the routine of Sunday, and other special days of worship.

When I was a small child, Easter ran a poor second to Christmas because, more often than not, the anticipated chocolate egg and sugar mouse were withheld, as a punishment for assorted misdemeanours. Today, when chocolate Father Christmases disappear from the supermarket shelves, Easter Bunnies take their place. As long as they are on offer, one or the other can be found, partially devoured, in our fridge. Initial guilty twinges when hammering the silver covered animal soon disappear with that first sumptuous mouthful:  an ear, then all the way down to its tail, in a matter of days.

Apart from frequent trips to Luz, the hours have been occupied worrying about a stray bitch that has whelped in our ancient pig house. The primitive stone building is overgrown by a large prickly pear plant, making access a painful business. With reluctance, we have watched her ribs expand, her back sink, and the dairy department develop a double line of purple milk dispensers.

After three days absence, she reappeared looking half the dog she had been, apart from eight well-used teats. The down side of this wonderful process of regeneration, is that there are too many hungry strays in the Algarve, and everything possible needs to be done to avoid adding to their number. To which end we called in the help of Michelle, a compassionate and overworked volunteer who deals with such things. From a litter of nine puppies, one was already dead and seven have been put to sleep, leaving the anxious mother with one strapping male to rear. Having all that milk at his disposal he should be well grown by weaning time, and there is a home waiting for him. As for the bitch, she is to be spayed, and every effort made to place her when the time is right. It would save much distress if more owners had their pet dogs neutered.

Watching Queen Elizabeth on television during the 80th birthday celebrations, it was a treat to see HRH at Windsor with her Corgis and Dorgis (DachsundxCorgi), most of which appeared a little overweight. As a so-called nation of dog lovers, even the most ardent anti-monarchist might have felt drawn toward the elderly lady in sensible shoes and winter coat walking her pets. What a stoic she has been through 53 years faultless service, rarely away from the public eye since her toddler years, and still carrying out a punishing round of duties. A travelling asset unequalled in any other country, and a powerful tourist attraction providing money for the national coffers, the Queen is also a bulwark against aspiring republicans. Already Tony Blair’s presidential style has nibbled away at democratic government in Great Britain: having surrounded himself with a small coterie of movers and shakers in the lower House and, like a cuckoo in the nest, he aims to lay a clutch of Socialist eggs in the upper House, and evict those with no political axe to grind. Small wonder so few people exercise their right to vote when politicians hide behind a television screen, rather than argue their case face to face. Canvassing, heckling a wannabe MP during pre-election hustings or questioning an aspiring parliamentarian ‘in the flesh’, allowed ordinary voters to feel part of the democratic process. There was passion and interest and, come Election Day, at least we thought our vote mattered.

With Estrangeiros resident in Portugal having the right to vote in council elections, a real effort is needed to understand what is on offer. Local papers, Portuguese television and roadside hoardings have plenty to say when voting day approaches, but unless people know what is on offer how can they make proper use of their franchise? The wider the gap becomes between a population and its ruling body, the greater the alienation. As soon as a state of ‘Them and Us’ exists it encourages law breaking and widespread vandalism, especially in deprived areas.

The graffiti that has appeared recently, in one country district, cannot be described as art work: scrappy and sometimes obscene, it does nothing to improve the ugly tunnel giving access to a beautiful valley in western Algarve. Parked close by is a car, which last Saturday evening looked to be in excellent condition. By Sunday morning, every window had been broken and the bodywork damaged. A rock and a chunk of concrete lay close by. A party of workmen had been there two days before, repairing cracks in the walls that carried the new motorway, the bridge having started to break up soon after it was completed.