Growing old gracefully while waiting for rain

RETIREMENTfrom work brings an unexpected bonus as the years flash by. There is time to do nothing. Considered a sin from early childhood because one was assumed to be up to mischief unless gainfully occupied, idleness today brings a delicious sense of guilt and an absence of retribution.

The pleasure of occasional laziness helps to disguise a slowing down of physical and mental agility that might otherwise be a source of regret. Maybe it is Nature’s way of cushioning the blow and it works for animals as well. Ageing cats and dogs bear their disabilities with such patience and uncomplaining sweetness it is difficult to know if they are suffering unduly. That last visit to a veterinary surgeon is more distressing for the owner than the beloved pet. Human social and religious ethics bar the way to voluntary euthanasia in order to prevent the risk that wealthy and difficult relatives would be hurried on their way. There are no such strictures for animals and it is up to their owners to give them a dignified and merciful end at the right time. I have a friend who is facing this decision – torn between the needs of her dog and facing her own pain. When I have found myself in the same situation I first consulted my vet who would advise and then say; “But it is up to you”. And one soldiers on hoping for a miracle.

It must be the sudden change from bright sunshine to black clouds and heavy rain that prompts such morbid introspection. Commonly called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Britain and recognised as a medical condition from which both our daughters suffer, I used to think it was an excuse for being miserable and just another popular acronym. Understandable for anyone living on the Isle of Wight where it seems to be raining nearly all the time throughout the winter, but not here in the middle of an official drought. As a young boarder at Farm School in Buckinghamshire, way back in the dark ages, after a long dry period there was a downpour of monsoon proportions. Instead of going into a decline because the hay crop was ruined, several of the staff donned swimsuits and danced among the haycocks, after which it rained for a month. With severe drought across the whole of Portugal perhaps now is the time to cavort like nymphs and shepherds among the dusty hills while continuing to pray for more rain. The hiss of desiccated earth and rock quenched after so long, and the smell of vegetation having its first bath in weeks was balm to the soul. Not only for me but for every bird within earshot. Woodpeckers drummed, jays squawked, ring doves puffed out their chests and a melody of blackbirds sang quietly among the dripping trees. The hills are alive again. Even so, there is a long way to go before supplies are back within safe limits and mains water becomes drinkable from the tap. At the moment, so I was informed, grit is coming through the pipes which no doubt accounts for a run on bottled water. Today, trolleys stacked with five-litre containers were nose to tail in a LiDL supermarket as people stockpiled against a shortage thereby stripping the shelves and causing one. Perhaps now there should be a moratorium on new golf courses and construction work until barragens and aquifers have been restored. The future of tourism in the Algarve hangs on proper management of natural resources and with climatic changes, time is running out.

As I write, it is Carnival again, notorious in the past for bitter wind and rain. For once the sun shone upon a corporate expanse of warm flesh rather than a shiver of goose pimples as towns across the region had a last fling before Ash Wednesday. Originally, in Catholic countries, Mardi Gras was a time for finishing up all meats and other rich foods in the larder before a 40-day period of fasting during Lent. It was marked by eating, drinking and orgiastic revelry for which a person was duty bound to repent during the ensuing six weeks. Things have become a little blurred over the centuries and while many of us try to ‘give up’ something we enjoy, it hardly amounts to fasting and sad to say, the spirit may be willing but how weak the flesh.

Speaking of which, where does Dame Ellen MacArthur find the mental and physical strength to sail round the world and break Sir Robin Knox-Johnson’s record time by one day and 14 hours? Done with a minimum of sleep and maximum efficiency, extracting every last breath from the wind, shinning up the mast to make repairs, mending sails and caring for her own necessities in everything the weather cares to throw at her. To be alone for 70 days on an unforgiving sea where one mistake may result in one lost life. What boundaries can there be left to cross after this one and how long before the record is broken I wonder.