Having a ball

Happy New Year – honestly, it really does seem like only yesterday that I wrote these exact words on this very page. Is it an age thing? The memory grows shorter – and more often than not fonder -, hangovers longer and each Bloody Mary less potent.

I like to drink milk out of a heavy-based whiskey tumbler – is that strange? I drank a lot of milk when I was younger – not out of whiskey tumblers -, about two pints of ‘Red Top’ a day, fresh from the farm stretching along the Thames towards Petersham at the bottom of Richmond Hill. The milk doesn’t taste as good in Portugal but the ‘Super Bock’ does – and you can get it in heavy glass tankards as well.

I was having my weekly shave just now, its infrequency a winter fringe benefit and an activity marginally less painful than ironing but equally loathsome, and it made me wonder if the foam is toxic. But I am not the kind of person to grab the can and check. I am sure I will find out one way or another – anyway, the writing on the spray can is too small these days.

We are told that most things are bad for us in the 21st century – too much or too little of anything – so weakening eyesight isn’t necessarily a negative, but the thought made me draw up a list of things that are good for us, like the childhood memory of milk, which do not require the use of a magnifying glass regardless of weight and thickness or huge amounts of disposable income.

‘Giving’ is such a simple act which has nothing to do with the once pagan festival just passed and then hi-jacked by Christianity until ultimately turned into a profanity of commercialism.

Being there for someone, just listening, helping or running an errand are all immensely rewarding to both the giver and receiver, and involve no greater investment than patience and time. Even carefully choosing an actual physical gift for a particular loved one, at any random time of the year not necessarily connected to Christmas or a birthday, and hopefully watching the pleasure it generates, can be the source of genuine happiness.

Next up, the joy derived from a kiss and a cuddle is often underestimated – ask any lonely single, I have been there! If, like me, you are lucky enough to have someone right now in your life to share those ‘everyday’ intimacies with, don’t let the mundane grind of our necessary routine existences allow you to forget and pass by those ‘free’ opportunities of pleasure right by your side.

Make time for those moments to reaffirm your togetherness, the sharing and caring – two hearts beat much stronger in harmony as one. Neither do the ‘feel good’ benefits of sharing necessarily have to involve physical intimacy. Hearing from an old friend, spending an evening together in good company, sharing a joke and a laugh can also go a long way towards creating a lasting upbeat state of mind.

While in no way equal to a partner of the same species, real comfort and joy can also be derived from the company of a pet. I am not so sure about those of us who share our close living space with snakes, scorpions or other less conventional creatures, but cats and dogs can go a long way towards providing constant amusement, mutual affection and a shared sense of belonging and purpose. In fact, some people prefer to share their lives with felines or canines rather than other humans; after all there are no major arguments, fights or prolonged periods of sulking, memories are short, forgiveness comes easy and a delicious bowl of food usually solves any problem.

Away from living things while remaining true to the topic of ‘all the best things in life are free’, there are numerous other stimulants which trigger and activate our happiness hormones. The aroma of coffee in the morning, the distant smell of a log fire during the winter months, wafts of freshly-baked bread or cut grass all provoke a sense of wellbeing. Add in the sight of gently swaying palm trees while walking barefoot on the beach, crickets providing the musical backdrop on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and life really doesn’t get much better.

I must confess that it is not only the recent renewal of festive ‘cheer’, the pre-Yule Tide crush at the tills, relentless over-indulgence or the ridiculous post-Boxing Day queues in the shops mostly made up of people returning their Xmas gifts for hard cash which have prompted my present train of thought.

I am in the process of reflecting upon the last 20 years of my working life here in the Algarve while coming to terms with the changes of the immediate future. ‘Déjà vu’ or ‘back to the future’, it is never easy to take two steps backwards in order to make a laboured forward movement. I am sure my situation is not unique; many people will have gone through a similar process in their professional lives, the most important aspect being the ability to draw the positives from any change, good or bad.

In short, the two decades spent indirectly or directly building up what has become my own business these past seven years have come to an end. Re-orientation in the holiday market by the bigger operators due to geo-political problems elsewhere has resulted in this little fish being swallowed up and I will go back to what I started doing when I first arrived here, albeit at the same place of work, but for someone else again.

In consequence I will have less responsibility, spend fewer hours away from home and ‘enjoy’ a very much reduced income – but a lot more time to appreciate the things in life money can’t buy as outlined above. I’m going to have a ball!

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools”

– from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”

By Skip Bandele
|| [email protected]

Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 20 years ago and has been with the Algarve Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.