Fred is proving to be a bit of a loose cannon – just as he recovers his health and just as we relax after one destructive assault, he fires another broadside. Rescued two months ago, wounded, starving and dehydrated, he is now – two operations later – more demanding than a toddler and quicker on his feet than a greyhound. Or so it seems as he tows me over hill and dale. With foolish optimism, we cannot wait until his plastic ‘lampshade’ comes off for a second time and he runs free. After he joined the family he enjoyed one week of liberty between visits to the vet and ran loose if we were at home. During that time, he demolished curtains and a fly screen, and plastered the front patio with damp earth. Living in an unfenced property with free access to miles of endless country, we are permanently on ‘dog watch’ and everyone in the valley knows when Fred has disappeared. As he is only one year old his homing instincts are not fully developed and if he picks up a good scent he is away, to be seen five minutes later running along the skyline three hills distant. It is an anxious time for which I feel too old and somewhat lacking in stamina.
Nevertheless, there is a whiff of hope in the air – after a light shower this morning, the Monchique foothills became an archipelago, swimming in the first mists of autumn. Cistus and wild thyme, lavender and eucalyptus, along with many other herbs, combined to fill the damp air with the unique aroma of the Algarve. The perfume seduced me 19 years ago like an elixir of life, suggesting unlimited horizons and will continue to, until the day I die. Even now there are great stretches of unspoiled hills in Portugal and some farming practices followed during the biblical era, continue to be used in these remote areas. The same wonderful smell must have pervaded every aspect of ancient and itinerant family life across southern Iberia. Such a sense of continuity will be destroyed, unless today’s arsonists realise the evil that they do and begin to change their ways. Like mindless children setting fire, they are destroying their own heritage and thumbing their noses at an authority that appears unable, or unwilling, to catch and punish the perpetrators.
While I wilt and drip perspiration all over my computer keyboard and complain about the great heat, the Boss takes it all in his stride. This may be because as a young naval rating during WW2 when his ship was in Aden, he fell asleep under the mid-day sun and became acclimatised: but it was a toss up which was the more painful – the sunburn or the punishment for this chargeable offence. It was very hot when an endurance race lasting three hours was held in Lagos bay two weeks ago. It was open to all classes of small craft and the first over the finishing line was the winner – the absence of handicapping favoured faster boats if the winds were strong, but gave smaller dinghies a clear advantage in light airs. The Boss sailed his Laser into fourth place out of a mixed fleet of 22 competitors, who during the course of three hours, experienced everything from force four to flat calm. Although a Dart Catamaran came in first, each helmsman was presented with a certificate to mark his or her participation. To have endured such heat and sun, by turn barbecued and drenched, while staring up at dazzling white sails for three hours, sounds like a preview of purgatory to an old sea dog.
And now, after a period of relative peace the guns are out again. A bleary looking sun was just climbing above the horizon when a series of shots destroyed the early morning peace. With the hills bald and brown there are no rabbits or other mammals, and in the absence of their accustomed food neither foxes nor wild boar. Occasionally a flock of small birds passes through and may provide hunters with a diversion, but the fusillade I heard sounded more like the Iraq football team greeting their victory over the Australians in Athens this week.
Which brings me to a touchy matter in our house – too much televised sport becomes tedious over a period of days, just as it did during the European football matches earlier this year. Sweating, muscle-bound Olympic athletes are quite attractive in small doses. However, as they ran round the stadium in Athens hour after hour they reminded me of hamsters on a wheel going nowhere. Sailing and equestrian disciplines are beautiful in small doses, but only because they were a big part of my life until I became too long in the tooth, which goes to show how self-centred one can become over the years. By the time this is in print, it will all be over. Beijing is the next venue, so it is back to the treadmill after a short rest, for those who have sponsors to finance them and the stamina to try again. For gold medallists there is the weight of trying to repeat their achievement while lesser competitors still have everything to aim for. One can only look on in awe as Paula Radcliffe goes home to consider her future and no doubt tries again for Marathon gold, four years from now.