Hair clippers and atom bombs.jpg

Hair clippers and atom bombs

By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]

Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Saturday March 7

Well the weeks fly past, seasons come and go and it is already time for the annual pipe piercing ceremony. This is the time of year when I pick up the scythe, begin clearing weeds and severing camouflaged irrigation pipes left, right and centre. In the apple orchard behind the house (total harvest three apples in five years) I managed to spear two pipes in as many minutes before turning my attention to the new garden at the side of the house. This time, outclassing all previous efforts, I managed to slice straight through a clearly visible pipe with a chainsaw setting off a geyser, achieving some 20 feet. It took three of us 45 minutes to repair this gusher, after which I was banned from handling any motorised tools.

Sunday March 8

I spent a chilly afternoon in one of our local cafés today where the topic of conversation veered frenziedly from the EU to the economic crisis and the crime wave sweeping Portugal. It is interesting how some people have a view on everything while others sit quietly contemplating, very rarely sharing their opinion. One lively discussion involved one neighbour attempting to explain to another the difference between an atom bomb and a neutron bomb. With the aid of a cigarette lighter, a packet of cigarettes and a beer bottle, José explained how if an atom bomb were to target him, João, his house and his wheelbarrow would all be destroyed, leaving our table prop free. He then replaced his neighbour’s world onto our table and demonstrated that in the event of a neutron bomb landing on his farm, the wheelbarrow and the house would remain intact, only the beer bottle, João, as it were, would disappear. A rather troubled looking João ordered another medronho.

Monday March 9

Spring has most definitely arrived. I went jogging this afternoon high up to Foia, and realised just how much weight I have accumulated over the winter. As I jogged down, the dappled sunlight warmed my skin and the brooks, springs and streams gurgled all around me. The green this time of year is so intense and the perfume of orange blossom smells so sweet. I forced myself to revisit my jogging in London this time last year. The sun rarely shone, it was dark before six and the closest I got to any wildlife was dodging the dog turds. As I struggled on the homeward stretch I reflected upon how wonderful an Algarve spring is and how lucky I am to live among it.

Martyn informs me there has been a further development in the neutron bomb discussion. João, in a highly distressed state, entered the café this afternoon to tell José there was another type of bomb that he had failed to mention. His wheelbarrow had disappeared overnight.

Saturday March 14

I had a rather panic-stricken half-an-hour today as the new hair clippers I had purchased whirred ineffectively across my head, leaving me looking like a poorly clipped hedge. There has been a plethora of cheap shops opening in Portugal in the last three years, whole town centres seem to be full of them. What they all seem to have in common is that the products they sell fall apart or self destruct the second the packaging is removed. Batteries last 10 seconds, torches flicker out, buttons and dials fall off and seams split. There seems to be a lot of truth in the old saying ’if it looks too good to be true – it probably is’.

As for my hair, the clippers were returned (I wore a hat), exchanged, and the new ones were equally ineffective. Fortunately, the box also contained scissors, included, no doubt because the machines never work.

Sunday March 15

We now have broadband. After three years of empty promises and racketeer style selling, it has arrived and PT didn’t bother to tell us; we only found out via a chance conversation with a neighbour. Anyhow, fighting the inbuilt urge to behave like a griping expat, we spent 90 minutes in the PT office, signed about 600 sheets of paper, provided 900 old bills and handed over our yellow fever certificates. Finally, after a week waiting, the text message giving us the go ahead has arrived, we are now online.

Martyn is a little skyped out. Skype, for the uninitiated, enables you to phone abroad cheaply, but first you have to set the system up to avoid echoes and delays. Martyn saw to this task with the help of his mum, his stepdad and countless friends and mobile phones. I sat watching the Coronation Street omnibus while he yelled increasingly loudly and increasingly Welshly, telling his mother not to speak. At the other end, she kept up a continual banter.

“Hello…hello…hello…I don’t know if he’s there or not..hello, hello…”      .    

“Don’t speak just…”


“Wait ten sec…”

“Hello…I can‘t hear anyth…oooh hello…”

And on it went.

Saturday March 21

Today I heard an account of the misfortunes of a friend of mine, currently working in London. While queuing in a café he uses most days, he was annoyed to hear the woman in front of him being rude and abusive to the mild mannered café owner. He politely told the woman what he thought of her behaviour. All seemed to settle down, she left and he sat down to eat his lunch. Ten minutes later, a man arrived at the café, walked straight up to my friend, punched him in the face, fracturing his cheek bone in three places and then left. A customer who had witnessed the whole incident left before the police arrived. Two weeks on, my friend has had surgery, the police have footage of the attacker on CCTV but are not pursuing the incident as he is not a known criminal! All anyone seems to say to him is you were lucky he wasn‘t carrying a knife. One wonders if such depths of complacency can ever be reversed.

Sunday March 22

I have just skyped with my mother. She informs me that she is coming to Portugal on May 13, but as the flight is a late one that means it is really the next day, so she should be okay to go to the theatre that night, did I agree? I said yes – it’s simpler that way.