Gert and Daisy  

By JUNE LOVER [email protected]

After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006.  Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil.

About two years ago, I had this great idea that I would learn to speak Portuguese. About two years ago, I lived in cloud-cuckoo-land!

What on earth made me think I could do it? A recipe of determination and stupidity I suppose, coupled with a carefully planned and deliberately thought-out move from a five-star holiday luxury-resort-by-the-sea to life north of the railway track in the depths of ‘real’ Portugal.

There were many hurdles to overcome in this life-changing step, but never for one moment did I think the language would be the most difficult.

My new home and my new location are absolutely perfect. I couldn’t ask for more. But clearly I need to have a better knowledge and understanding of the language if I’m to enjoy my new life to the full.

Especially if I want to communicate with the neighbours, all but one of whom are Portuguese. 

Gert and Daisy are two of my neighbours – as minhas vizinhas. These charming ladies-of-a-certain-age live less than a stone’s throw from my house and our paths cross most days as we go about our daily chores.

My inability to falar português with any degree of proficiency deprives me of the opportunity to get to know them better, and it’s to my eternal shame that after all this time I don’t even know their names. We christened them Gert and Daisy in week one. They’ve been Gert and Daisy ever since.

Daisy is taciturn to say the least, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard her speak. Maybe she’s shy, or maybe she just has a healthy mistrust of estrangeiras like me who invade her patch and try to integrate.

At 4’10” she is a miniature china doll with a head of silver curly hair that most women her age would spend a weekly fortune at the cabeleireira to achieve. There’s no doubt that in her youth she was one of the bonniest girls in the area. She’s a beautiful lady, and her wrinkled face tells a thousand stories. If only I could find out what they are.

In winter, she wears a sensible warm black coat which, owing to her size, reaches down to her ankles. This is topped by an equally sensible warm black hat and her whole appearance is that of a professional mourner.

In summer, her preference is a blue floral-print wraparound ‘pinnie’, also ankle-length, topped with a somewhat incongruous hand-crocheted blue pork-pie hat, and she can often be seen trudging down the lane with the hugest bale of freshly cut grass and straw, at least twice the size of herself, balanced precariously on her head. I wonder why?

Gert is Daisy’s neighbour, and, I suspect, her best friend. Gert is no beauty, but what she lacks in looks is made up for by her sunny nature. Gert talks until the cows come home. I’ve no idea what she says, although it’s usually weather-related I think.

Gert has a gorgeous dog. We christened it Scruffy in our first months here. I’ve no idea what it’s really called. After a few weeks, Scruffy had a puppy whom we christened Scruffinho (little Scruffy), and we had a lot of fun playing through the railings with this little pup, much to Gert’s amusement.

Gert suffers from poor eyesight. She wears spectacles that can only be described as ‘milk-bottle-bottoms’. We need to be at arm’s length before we are recognised, but then she chatters nineteen to the dozen. She also has a dental problem, and like her friend Daisy, a broad smile reveals huge gaps in her teeth. How do they eat? 

Never for one moment have we regretted moving north of the linha de comboio and into Portuguese-land. Maybe it was an odd thing to do following 10 years in never-never land, where English was the predominant language and the living was easy, but the challenge was too good to resist, and here we are, living among the locals and struggling with the language.

On Sundays, Daisy can be seen stepping out with a tall handsome gentleman with long white hair and a long white beard. She always walks two paces behind him. Who is this man?

Her husband, brother, son? I really don’t know. But Daisy’s demeanour on Sundays is always that of immense pride, and for one day in the week she has a smile on her face that lights up the other six days. It’s magic.

And then there’s the Colonel. He doesn’t look a bit like a Colonel, but he’s clearly the leader of the pack and protects his harem with great care and attention.

Once again, I have no idea of his name, so to us he’s the Colonel. Brief conversations indicate that he has spent a good deal of his life in France.

“Parlez-vous Français?” he asks. Fortunately my husband can ‘parlay’ a bit of French, but not me. Languages, as you know, are not my forte. 

Come hail, rain, or shine, these three lovely people gather together on a daily basis to watch the world go by. It may be under a tree, or in the shade of a nearby building.

They know our every movement; when we go out and when we return. This goes for everyone in the neighbourhood.

If we have visitors, there’s a mild curiosity, but they don’t interfere. They’ll find out soon enough who the visitors were. Is this nosiness? Not a bit of it.

This is their ‘patch’ and I suspect they’ve lived here all their lives. They need to know what’s going on. Strangely enough it’s very comforting. Our very own neighbourhood watch.

I’ve moved house many times in England, and each move presented a new challenge, particularly where the neighbours were concerned.

Our decision to move from the safety and comfort of our holiday home here in the Algarve was not taken lightly. But I had no idea that our chosen location would offer such diversity.

To live among the locals is a privilege and their wariness is totally understandable. Slowly but surely we gain their confidence.

We’re not here to exploit them. We’re not here to turn their environment into a holiday destination. We’re here to enjoy a rural life, with peace and tranquillity our foremost intention. 

I was watering the garden one day last summer and felt a pair of eyes boring into the back of my head. I looked round and there was Daisy watching me as she rested in the shade against a dry stone wall at the end of my lane.

She gave me the cheeriest wave, and her beaming smile spoke volumes. Bem vindo! it said. Thank you, Daisy. You’ve no idea what that means to me.

Gert and Daisy are wonderful ladies. The salt of the earth. I owe it to them to learn their language. And learn it I will – if it’s the last thing I do. Feliz Natal!