Wednesday September 1
I had a fleeting visit to the UK, last weekend, to attend a birthday bash for my stepfather who was 80 on Monday. I was pleased to see that the British bankholiday tradition of torrential downpours, interspersed with the occasional glimmer of sun, is still the norm. We spent all of Monday flying in and out of computer shops, Argos, B&Q and numerous other retail outlets offering shelter and the bank holiday shopping fix. I bought myself a new laptop, a patio light and a water filter – such hedonism! Mother accompanied me to PC World and, on impulse, bought herself a new PC and spent the rest of the day justifying it.
The birthday bash took place on Saturday at my brother’s home. Numerous relatives and friends were in attendance, many of whom we hadn’t seen for years. Aunties hugged and kissed, uncles gave firm and heartfelt handshakes and, together, they lavishly complimented my brother Patrick and his wife Louise on their two adorable children, their beautiful home and well-kept garden. Gradually, the discussion moved on to me and what I am now doing with my life.
One has to have a particular mindset to appreciate the wonder of living up a burnt out mountain and growing your own vegetables, surrounded by manic goats and chickens. I have that mindset but lack the egocentricity to assume everyone else does. As I prattled on about hatching eggs, swilling out and dung heaps, I did notice a few glazed expressions and some barely concealed pitying glances. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable, rain-free day and great to catch up with people who we have somehow lost regular contact with.
Saturday September 4
We now have two dogs. Freddie arrived at our friends’ bus (they live in a bus – honest) and settled in, sleeping underneath it. They aren’t able to look after him due to other commitments, so we have offered him a home. Rather worryingly, we got back from shopping today to discover a dead hen at the front door, with Bruno merrily plucking away. On subsequent excursions to the chickens and geese, Freddie seems completely disinterested, so we can only assume the death coinciding with his arrival is mere coincidence, nothing more. Bruno, on the other hand, who has a long history of chicken murder, probably thought he could bump off this one and let Freddie carry the can.
Monday September 6
Freddie has been seen chasing chickens! When accompanied by us, he acts completely disinterested; when he believes he is not being observed, he has a roaring time terrorising them! He does stop when we shout his name, and comes back. The upshot of this is that, when we go out, he has to be chained. We hope to enclose all the animals in good fencing soon, so the dog/chicken thing will not be such an issue.
Friday September 10
We are currently revamping the veg patch, ready to transplant our cabbages, caulies, etc, to sustain us over winter. We have a huge pile of goat poo to spread around and are hoping for some good results. After the fire, much of the land was burnt to the ground, with no vegetation left at all. It is amazing to see how many plants manage to survive beneath ground and, despite only a minimal amount of rain, begin to grow vigorously. Blackberry shoots are now approaching a foot in length and are accompanied by huge green ferns.
The most amazing survivor, though, is the bamboo. Only six weeks ago, it had been burnt without a trace, now huge clumps have re-grown, reaching over a metre in height. This weekend, we intend to cut down a lot of damaged trees, to give us wood for the winter, and to go around with a chemical fertiliser and spray the newly-emerging blackberry shoots. Apparently, three applications when the plants are young should be enough to kill it off completely. A little chemical warfare can be justified if it prevents a forest fire raging through your land.
Thursday September 16
Freddie now seems hell bent on destroying any quality of life we or the cats have. His chicken chasing escapades mean he has to be chained at night, which would be fine if this did not result in bedlam the following morning. He has yet to work out that, if he walks one way with a chain, he needs to retrace his steps, rather than twist himself around chairs, plants, tables etc. A good outcome is mournful cries to be released at seven in the morning. A poor outcome is two or three agaves scattered across the patio and some upturned tables and broken crockery. He has also developed a healthy appetite for shoes, socks and anything that contains our scent in fact.
Monday September 20
It began on Saturday afternoon, the first twinges of a toothache. The pain gradually increased in severity, so that, by Sunday, sleep was only possible with a dangerous concoction of multi-coloured painkillers and a couple of valium. Living with a serial prescription pusher does have its advantages. By this morning, I was in absolute agony, hardly able to move because of the jarring pain.
I tentatively tottered downstairs to the site of broken plates, a carpet of dried flowers and an uprooted cheese plant, all part of the joy of a young dog and a kitten who enjoy playing together. The cats had re-entered the house during the night via an open window, but were unable to get out again, so what do they do? Raid the bin for chicken bones and poo in the shower, of course.
I booked an emergency dentist appointment for midday, then showered (carefully), shaved and brushed (extremely carefully). The pain was now excruciating. As we made our way to the car, we discovered the remnants of a chewed up remote control and Freddie in the midst of a shower of feathers, tucking into a freshly killed chicken. I made a mental note to beat the dog mercilessly with a car aerial when feeling better and clambered into the car.
I then had my abscess infected tooth juddered into a progression of agonising, burning spasms as our Renault 4 relayed every minor bump in the road from Monchique to Lagoa. The dentist began work, but was unable to continue because of the amount of infection – instead I am to take antibiotics and painkillers for a week. Did I mention that it is my birthday today? One that will not be forgotten quickly. I might treat myself to some low fat yoghurt this evening, plus an extra valium.
Friday September 24
The chainsaw has begun behaving itself at last, so we have finally made a start on cutting down trees for the winter woodpile. There is something quite comforting about seeing the pile of dried wood slowly growing, one almost longs for some cold nights. As everyone knows, beginning one job inevitably leads to another, then another, then another…. Cutting down the wood has brought to our attention the fact that we have nowhere dry enough to store it. To put this right, we have purchased some roofing material to put on top of the old brick pig house, which will now become a woodshed. Getting to the new woodshed involves climbing a muddy hill, so we will now need to sort that out. On and on it goes…