Home sweet home....jpg

Home sweet home…

By: PAUL McKAY

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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. He is currently back in London for a few months to teach maths and english to 11-year-olds.

Sunday March 2

A COUPLE of weeks ago I entered my first real race. By real, I mean proper race – half marathon. By proper I mean it had electronic chips, race marshals, runners, water stations, a few ‘characters’ in costumes, etc. The race took place in Brentwood, Essex on the Sunday of the hurricane. The hurricane did not arrive until evening but the weather was a little blustery nonetheless. I travelled by train and bike to the event, spent 30 minutes queuing to leave my clothes somewhere safe then milled around stretching and trying to look sporty as the start was delayed by 30 minutes. Being used to Portuguese events, I was quite relaxed about this and somewhat surprised at the terse reaction of my fellow runners making references to urination and breweries for some odd reason. Talking of which, a little bit of Portugal did arrive in Essex for a few brief minutes just before the starting pistol fired, where it seemed to suddenly become acceptable to run behind any stationary vehicle and relieve oneself in a public place – must be PRT (pre-race nerves).

The race itself was not particularly gruelling and I finished in just under two hours. The momentum of other runners, the roar (ok – occasional cheer) of the crowd helped sustain me, along with the mile markers which helped maintain a steady pace. I was surprised by the various shapes and sizes of the competitors, many of them quite removed from stereotypical runner shapes. Some very burly gentlemen managed to run very fast and finish in a good time. I quickly learnt to identify someone who ran at about my pace and keep them just ahead of me – trailing superman for a good nine miles. At the end I wasn’t exhausted, dehydrated or any of those things. The serious runners wrapped in foil with iso-something drinks at the end appeared to me to be nothing short of attention seeking.

Sunday March 9

I have been working in London for almost three months now and am longing to return to Portugal. Somehow, one adapts to one’s environment and very quickly accepts things as they are. The stabbings continue on a weekly basis here and it appears that unless it is fatal, knife attacks do not make the news anymore. The 19-year-old nephew of a colleague of mine was attacked with a brick six weeks ago, apparently for venturing into the wrong postal district. He died four weeks later from head injuries. The attack only made the newspapers once he had died.

Supermarket shopping is a novel experience in East London, where trolley rage is quite common. The aisles are often overcrowded resulting in blockages. Most people deal with this in a very British way; a lot of huffing, puffing, raised eyebrows and heavy sighing. Sometimes someone shouts “Excuse me!!!” into the air but occasionally trolley barging and basket whipping take place instead. Checkout rage is another regular phenomenon, as people try to weave their way around the snaking queues. Staff members exacerbate the issue by offering to pack the bags.

If you refuse (as they tend to crush the grapes with the tins of beans), they respond by scanning the items at lightning speed resulting in a mountain of shopping piled up waiting to be bagged. This then irritates the people behind in the queue, creating potential for another flare up! I survive it all by going into anthropologist mode, an invisible observer of a society that is losing its way.

Sunday March 16

Back in the Algarve, it appears Martyn has spent the past two months busily considering painting the house. Every few days he tells me how he is about to start and how he now has all the paint he needs. A few days later he then tells me that he has all the equipment and is about to begin. Then I tend to hear about a morning of tennis or how it was such a lovely day he went to the beach. Then, after a few more days he tells me he is about to start painting the house, as if this is all new information. Occasionally I hear about how he wasn’t able to begin decorating after all as he had strained his arm or pulled a muscle (at tennis I presume).

On the farm most of the piglets have been killed and are safely tucked up in the freezer. Earlier this week Martyn saved a neighbour’s guests from having a holiday from hell experience. As he made his way to the pig terrace to ‘finish off’ one of the piglets, he became aware of a presence on the terrace above him. He looked up to see a beaming Dutch woman shouting “Oh you have piglets…how sweet…let me get my camera”

Within minutes she and her husband were fussing around, tickling the porkers behind the ears and making baby noises. Surreptitiously, Martyn concealed the killing apparatus under a grain sack, and offered to show them the baby chicks too. Thirty seconds earlier and the unfortunate couple would have stumbled upon a scene of carnage with a bloodied Martyn stringing up a twitching carcass from the nearest tree. Instead of a heart warming morning among Mother Nature, the day would forever have been remembered as the Monchique massacre.

Tuesday March 25

I know it is usual for the English to complain about bank holiday weather – but honestly! Snow, sleet and hail was interspersed with torrential rain and biting winds. Back at work today and it appears that summer has arrived – glorious blue sky crowned by golden sun offering nothing but goodwill – unbelievable.

Sunday March 30

All packed for my return to Portugal next week. The case is full of essentials like quilt covers, garden ornaments, bulgur wheat and low calorie chocolate drinks. The in-laws are visiting too, in order to give us a chance for a few days away. Impossible for me to speak to Martyn as his mother has a hotline confirming we do not live in outer space.

“Yes we do have coffee…yes you can get corn flakes…yes Kellogs…no you don’t need factor 200 in April! Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

It would appear he has not told Mummy Dearest some of the downsides of farm life at present. The house desperately needs decorating… but he has the paint. The car occasionally dies without warning. Without my steadying influence, the chicken breeding programme appears to have gone into overdrive; we now have hundreds of the little cluckers living in trees and laying eggs wherever they fancy. The geese are laying too, so are in attack mode. To complete the scene, Bruno has learned to run along on his chain, dragging his kennel with him. Home sweet home.