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Electricity and eccentricity

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher Paul McKay left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Saturday September 20

My friends, Teresa and Nick are visiting this weekend, after having booked their flight back in April. As could have been reliably predicted back then, the heavens opened a few hours before their arrival, the first true rain in months. By the time they reached the house, the air was fresh and damp with that indescribable smell that comes with the first rain at the end of the summer – earth, eucalyptus and pine, mingled to create an intoxicating fragrance. Not quite as intoxicating as the gin they brought with them, which was most welcome. While we celebrated the first rains of autumn, they drowned their sorrows, as they settled in for another week of Yorkshire’s best.

Monday September 22

It is odd how one gets so used to the little idiosyncrasies of daily life, that it takes visitors, viewing the arrangements from afresh, to point out the peculiar nature of it all.

About eight years ago, part of the back of our house was altered and the only way we could accommodate our hot water tank was to site it outside. This had the unforeseen side effect of administering mild electric shocks when one touched the taps in the shower. Showers in wet weather were particularly hazardous. To overcome this mild irritation, we learned to efficiently turn taps on and off with a shampoo bottle. The arrival of fragile family visitors a number of years ago forced a rethink and a new earth rod was sunk. All was going well until last year when we received an electricity bill for over 1,000 euros. It appears that despite the hot water being on a timer system, somehow electricity has still been flowing when the switch is off, trickling along this earth rod into the ground. The nice man from the EDP was very sympathetic, but we still had to pay.

The current arrangement is to plug the hot water tank in half an hour before hot water is needed and remove the plug before taking a shower. This plug is in the spare bedroom so the whole arrangement becomes very complicated when guests arrive. Fear of being frazzled necessitates frequent enquiries as to the position of the plug. For us it is a normal part of daily life to ascertain whether the plug is in or out. Mornings with guests who go jogging and frequent shower taking sometimes mean that plug tittle-tattle dominates conversations somewhat.

It took a comment from Nick, one of our guests waiting for a shower, that the plug appears to be a hot topic of conversation, for me to appreciate how eccentric we have become.  

Tuesday September 23

Our guests have departed to spend a few days in the Alentejo before going onto Lisbon, where I intend to meet them next Saturday, ready for the Lisbon half-marathon on Sunday. Before leaving, Nick, who builds dry-stone walls in Yorkshire, made a start on some steps for me up a steep hill at the side of our house. I am aware that I seem to spend an excessive amount of time building steps. Living on the side of a mountain, this is essential if one wishes to get about.

I went for a short run this afternoon and had to stop due to severe stomach cramps – I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

Wednesday September 24

A villa-owning friend visited today and was a little perturbed by the perilous nature of our life. He noticed the outside tank within minutes and strongly advised me to get it sorted. He found the tour of the garden quite challenging, not least of all because of the number of spiky plants sited close to paths. His villa is let out during the summer so he has a keen eye for health and safety issues. On the descent, one of the new steps, yet to bed down, collapsed while he was on it, resulting in a frenzied struggle for survival, grabbing onto plants that thankfully contained no thorns.

While all this was going on, Martyn and another friend were visiting the chain saw shop on account of the machine not starting. Martyn, it transpired, had filled the tank with diesel rather than petrol, so the whole thing had to be taken apart and cleaned. Upon his return, we set off across the river to cut some fire wood. This was thwarted at tree number one, the chain saw refused to start again. Back to the chain saw shop, me this time, Martyn now too embarrassed to show his face in the place. After some raised eyebrows and a quick inspection, it appeared that he had flooded the contraption this time.

Thursday September25

Something is wrong with my bowels. I am entering a half-marathon on Sunday – 21 arduous kilometres. Today after running 500 metres, I had to return home to use the loo!

Friday September 26

It must be psychosomatic. Another aborted run due to galloping incontinence.

Saturday September 27

Martyn and a friend drove me to Portimão this morning through a tropical storm. The two minute walk from the car to the bus stop was enough to soak me to the skin. Three and a half hours later and two loo visits, I arrived in Lisbon, still wet. Haven’t eaten all day in case of you know what.

Sunday September 28

The run was great and without incident, if you get my meaning. We arrived at Estação do Oriente at 8.30am, where a bus took us to the start line in the middle of the Vasco da Gama bridge. The EDP, one of the sponsors of the race, was giving away thousands of free baseball hats, paid for by my leaking water tank. The last bus left the station at 9am, and according to a friend who didn’t run, most of this part of Lisbon was chocker-bloc with late arrivals running around like headless chickens trying to get to the start line. The part of the run on the bridge was very enjoyable, with fantastic views and a cool breeze. The rest seemed to be on trunk roads, slip roads and service roads, a little uninspiring. The last kilometre, for some unknown reason, was on a cobblestone road, not ideal for the feet. The atmosphere of the run was fantastic with plenty of drink stations, bands playing and free ice lollies at the end. My time was an appalling, two hours 10 minutes, but good enough for me.