First Fred, now Pingo.jpg

First Fred, now Pingo

WITH ITS paws clenched into fists, a small dog spun round and round on the eastbound carriageway of the EN125, having been hit by a car. A young woman dragged the body away from passing traffic to where a small crowd had gathered. While the Boss parked, I went to see what could be done. Someone said it should be finished off there and then, being a stray with no collar, but the dog was breathing so we carried it to the car and drove to our friend the vet.

After a thorough check-up, no broken bones were found, just extensive bruising and an area of skin torn away – a bang on the head had left it wobbly and confused. With no alternative but to nurse the victim back to health, we took it home. Having rescued several injured or abandoned dogs since coming to Portugal, we said definitely “no more” back in 2003. Then Fred came along, now this one, and we will try to find him a good home. As I did not want to become too close, we gave it no name, but, as the days passed, oil and mud were removed, his coat becoming white with pale brown spots, so we named him Pingo.

Two days after the dog was hurt, there was another accident within 50 metres, in which a car and freezer van appeared to have crashed into each other head-on. The road is straight and wide with a good surface, but the accident was serious, the driver having punched a hole in the windscreen with his head. Traffic police are conspicuous by their absence along this notorious stretch of highway, where examples of dangerous driving are the norm. The policy of Zero Tolerance is conspicuous by its absence.

The halcyon days of motoring when petrol was cheap, speed limits sensible and no cameras spied on the unwary in unexpected places have long gone. There were fewer cars able to do the ton, but driving had a sporting edge and cases of road rage were uncommon. I bought my first car in 1949. It was 11-years-old, had been left in a field throughout World War Two and came with a lodger. With nearly 250,000 miles on the clock, a musty smell was to be expected and the source only became evident a few months later.

After a couple of jars in our favourite pub, the Boss and I sometimes visited a nearby fish and chip shop. Enveloped in the mouth-watering aromas of hot newsprint and battered cod, we parked off the beaten track to eat our supper, leaving discarded wrappings in the back of the car overnight. Several months later, when replacing the moth-eaten roof lining, we found a ball of greasy shredded paper carefully made into a nest. In that unlikely environment, a mouse had reared her brood and moved on, leaving behind the evidence of her homely skills.

Having a non-existent suspension and powerful exhaust fumes, my small car was no place for a maternity ward. However, it kept out the rain and, during two years ownership, I covered 44,000 miles scouring the county of Wiltshire in the course of my work.

There were a couple of hard winters in that time and the condition of roads in post war Britain was similar to that in the Algarve 20 years ago. Sign posts, removed to confuse an invading army, had not been replaced and vehicle lights were inadequate at best, at worst a couple of glow-worms could have done the same job. Car heating was an unknown luxury and hypothermia a real danger, it being necessary in times of severe frost to open one’s opaque windscreen in order to see the way ahead.

Near Stonehenge, on one such occasion, I became comatose and skittered across black ice into a hedge before regaining my wits. By 6am, I had to find a particular Hosier milking bail among half a dozen others dotted across the Downs. Pitch dark, no moon, and I could hear the diesel beat of engines coming from all points of the compass. Hoping my luck was in, I pulled on rubber boots and, torch in hand, together with various other essentials, I made for the nearest glimmer of light, well aware that each dairy herd was squired by an aggressive Friesian bull. Having been chased by one on a previous occasion, it was literally a toss-up.

These visits were unpopular with dairy farmers. Their miserable working conditions made it difficult to maintain the standards of hygiene demanded by the Ministry of Agriculture. Appearing without warning to inspect their equipment, take swabs, and a small quantity of milk from the cooler, hardly a word was spoken before I vanished again in what I hoped was the direction of my car. Back at the laboratory by 9am, technicians took the samples for testing and, after two days incubation at blood heat, a variety of bacteria might be thriving in the savoury jelly substrate. On opening the incubator, if a farmer had been careless, we were left in no doubt by the overpowering fumes of faecal organisms thriving there – a smell reminiscent of the stink bombs made in the chemistry lab at school, when we should have been concentrating on higher things.