BY: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
BACK AGAIN in Portugal and amazed by the heat as we stepped from the plane at 2pm, having left Cardiff Airport in torrential rain. After 16 happy days beside the Haven in Pembrokeshire, during which it rained every day but one, the shock of blue sky and bright light made me feel like a tourist.
Surrounded by pale holidaymakers chasing the sun, I felt a little homesick for soggy Wales with its gentle shades of grey and tall leafy trees weeping into their roots. We saw few animals in the puddled green fields, some of which were not yet harvested and others stacked with plastic covered rolls of silage – the main source of bulk for livestock after a hopeless summer and hay in short supply.
People were surprisingly cheerful despite an absence of sun in that area for weeks on end, their attitude reminiscent of the ‘backs to the wall’ friendliness so common during the last World War.
We crossed and recrossed Cleddau toll bridge many times during our visit, the man taking tickets offering a few words of encouragement as the rain poured down, the general gist being “Winter’s coming and it can only get better”. Sometimes I wonder at such optimism, especially in view of the elevated cost of living over there. Shopping in Tesco, it was easy to forget we were dealing in sterling, not euros, but reality hit home at the check out. On the other hand we bought an excellent mobile phone plus camera facility and 10 pounds worth of calls in the same hypermarket for 39 pounds, which seemed a real bargain. While the Boss was making his purchase on the second floor, I leant on the balcony, watching people in the food hall below. Suddenly a Jackdaw flashed past my nose, swooped down and landed among the shoppers, pottered about on the floor, unfazed by busy feet, then took off again and flew among a maze of metal struts supporting the vast roof. It was totally ignored by everyone and apparently a common sight. I was unable to find out whether nests were built and broods reared during the course of time and if so, what did these large black birds find to eat and drink and on what were their droppings deposited?
Caring for our hire car like parents with a new baby and fearful of damage to the exterior having signed for a 500 pounds liability clause, any time spent in car parks was an anxiety and we chose parking spots with care. Having returned the Punto Grande in pristine condition, all should be well, but being suspicious of giving credit card details to any business, we await the next bank statement with interest. Alamo, being an international renting agent, has a good name and as it has no age barriers, we are deeply grateful.
Meanwhile, staying right beside Neyland Sailing Club, there was plenty to watch. Not only regular club racing and training on several afternoons which happened whatever the weather, but an occasional cruiser race as well. Particularly impressive was the family enthusiasm of parents who turned up to help their children rig an assortment of dinghies and see them safely launched, then hang about perhaps over a pint until the fleet returned. Such a contrast to the club in Lagos which has no social life, rarely lays on dinghy events and appears deserted from week to week, whereas when we first joined in 1987, it was a hive of activity.
Despite a tendency to obesity in this outcrop of Wales (which made me feel quite at home) there was a common interest in sport. Our holiday coincided with The Pembrokeshire Challenge, a quadratholon drawing teams from all over the county and hotly contested through four gruelling disciplines. Starting at 9am on a damp grey morning, the water looked at its most uninviting for the first leg – an 800 metre swim.
After a perfunctory rub down under the interested gaze of spectators, before pulling on their lycra and crash helmets, the 60 cyclists set off at 20 second intervals to complete a circular and very hilly ride of 40 kilometres on public roads. No allowances were made that it was a race and the Highway Code should be observed. As they filtered back, looking quite tired, each team had 20 minutes to launch a Celtic Longboat. Powered by four oarsmen and a Cox, they rowed their long, elegant craft in the busy waters of the Haven – at all times they must give way to commercial traffic during a circular route of eight kilometres. By now some were falling by the wayside and numbers thinning out for the final test of endurance. This was a 10 kilometre run which ended where it began at the Neyland Sailing Club car park.
There were teams for men and women, veteran teams of both sexes, and some from private companies. It was a tremendous test of stamina, courage and dogged determination. The organisation was excellent. The police keeping watch to make sure we did not spill over onto the highway while St. John’s Ambulance attended to the exhausted heroes of the day. As for the tendency to obesity, when the credit crunch reduces the value of the pound in peoples’ pockets, it is natural to buy food where it is cheap – that means the local ‘chippy’. Enormous helpings of battered fish and greasy chips for a pittance is comfort food par excellence.