Evoking the past ....   By Margaret Brown.jpg

Evoking the past ….   By Margaret Brown

SOMETIMES IT is a disadvantage to have an acute sense of smell, especially during a season of high temperatures such as we have had this summer. A drive through the back lanes and hidden villages of the Algarve, usually fragrant with eucalyptus and gum Cistus is, for the time being, redolent of cesspits and animal houses reeking with ammonia.

Both good rural smells that recall holidays spent in Devonshire when I was very young. In those days, we were never far from animals or a small holding, to which I would escape whenever possible. Up to my elbows in sheep or being coached in the gentle art of milking cows, the busy farm workers must have found me an irritation. Like the clouds of biting flies swarming everywhere, I was tolerated, and maybe swatted from time to time if I was in their way.

Aunts and grandparents were less tolerant of my wanderings. Into their fragrant and well upholstered homes I brought the rank odours of low life agriculture, reeking like a midden (the name for a manure heap, contemporary with those times) and greasy from feeding the sheep.

Having been packed off to boarding school when I was six-years-old, I was delighted that work on the home farm was woven into our curriculum. Wellington boots and a corduroy rig-out were part of the required uniform, and soon all my favourite smells infused these outdoor clothes. Matron and the laundry maids must have had strong stomachs, as most of our garments were washed only once a week.

Nowadays, I understand better how my relatives felt … when Fred comes home after a night out in the hills, having chatted up a neighbour’s Billy goat or rolled in something nasty, he is banished from the house. With a choice of sheltered places in which to sleep off his excesses, or stretch out in the sun back to back with his best friend, the surrounding miasma guarantees him a wide cordon sanitaire.

As August continues under a brazen sky, it is hard to believe that the scorched mountains and foothills where we live will ever again be green. Somewhere under the carpet of dead plants and fallen leaves lie sleeping roots and seeds. Once the weather changes and rain quenches the earth, maybe the annual miracle of nature will follow.

There has not been a thistle or a blade of grass among the gum drenched Cistus, then one early morning this week I caught the scent of flowers. A bush, dressed in sharp spines and a froth of white blossom, was spreading its perfume far and wide. I do not know the name, but later on, there will be needle-like leaves among the prickles.

Looking back to the weeks before the ceasefire in southern Lebanon, the step-by-step destruction of town and country, the indiscriminate killing of civilians and precise targeting of roads, bridges and the main airfield continued with, what seemed at the time, no end. Very little aid could reach the thousands of refugees. Is there a smell of sulphur about the place as the Red Horseman rides by?

Hezbollah responded with random showers of missiles on Haifa and other northern Jewish towns, causing minimal loss of life. The obscenity of Israel’s response is uniting Arab countries in the Middle East against the Jewish nation.

Films of carnage and destruction on televised news only served to underline the impotence of ordinary folk to defend their families or escape north to safety. The short footage of a donkey picking its way across the rubble of a deserted town centre said it all. No water to slake its thirst, nothing remotely edible to satisfy its hunger, no shade to escape the heat of the day and certainly no Messiah, humble and riding on a donkey, on his way to Jerusalem.

Life is not all doom and gloom. As drops of sweat plop from my nose and rivulets take a wandering path from head to lower regions, I am rejoicing in the knowledge that the Boss now has a titanium knee joint lined with polythene. A miracle of invention that replaces worn parts and, hopefully, will last the course, to be followed after a decent interval by a similar prosthesis to relieve pain in his other leg.

This new bionic man has much in common with jet engines, missiles and space capsules, all of which incorporate titanium in one form or another and, being an inert metal, will neither corrode nor react with alcohol. Good news all round and within a year, perhaps, back to a little quiet dinghy sailing. The Negro spiritual “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones” was in the back of my mind during the Boss’s operation … “the leg bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the thigh bone”, finishing with “Now hear the word of the Lord”. He truly moves in a mysterious way and certainly keeps up with the times.

One day, perhaps, the medical profession will discover an anaesthetic that works like a dream, leaves no unpleasant side effects and does not linger in the body for a couple of months. Nearly every cloud has a silver lining. As a way of shedding excess weight it has no equal.