Jungle drums, drooping trees and dinghies- By Margaret Brown

AFTER ALL that fuss and bother about licensing our cars as the cut off date came and went, as soon as the time was extended to the end of July, there were no more queues outside Lagos Finanças. Arriving there at 11am, I joined a short line of people waiting for their details to be entered into the new system. Straightforward it was not.

A quaint arrangement where Livrete and Cartão de Contribuinte were handed over at one desk for scrutiny and a printed sheet of paper received, to be given to a lady further into the room. The queue was growing longer by the minute as she wilted in the heat and struggled to deal with a lack of loose change. What had started with such optimism failed to fulfil its promise.

While waiting, a man started to talk to me and we had a mutually dysfunctional conversation, until he produced a well-worn business card from his wallet – Restaurant Frascatti of Chobham in Surrey. It was also his home and certainly his grasp of English was better than my plodding Portuguese. After 20 years, the verbs still elude me and the local dialect is a language all on its own; some words truncated both fore and aft and fired with the speed of a Kalashnikov.

While the heat of summer drains moisture from the hills and indigenous trees droop silent and dusty in the still air, nothing moves to my untutored eye. Fred, black and sticky with gruda from a night in the cistus bushes, trots in front, sizing up the landscape. He makes a sudden handbrake turn, streaks up the hill at full throttle and kills a young rabbit. All over in 15 seconds – just a squeal and the coup de grâce mercifully quick – the bunny is still twitching as it is brought for my inspection.

Shadows fall over my early morning prayer walk, but the hunt has made Fred’s day and, tail erect, he precedes me along the valley, not sure what to do with his trophy. Being well-fed, though very skinny, he decides to hide it for future reference. Without a backward glance, we walk on, but the stray bitch, who delivered her puppies in our piggery two months ago, has seen it all. As I watch, she also watches, waiting until Fred is out of sight before settling down to an unexpected breakfast.

The animal kingdom depends upon the natural order of the food chain. Plants being the primary producers are eaten by herbivores, upon which carnivores feed, while some creatures that are omnivores depend upon both sources. Predators devour one another. Almost all only slay what they need and the fox, which appears to be a wanton killer once inside a chicken house, is thought to lay about in panic because the birds run wild. Mink are an exception and the dread of all poultry farmers, their livelihood ruined in a night.

The higher up the food chain, the larger the animal, and the human race is not only agile and dexterous, but has a well developed brain and sophisticated reasoning powers. Homo Sapiens have honed the skills of Homo Erectus through millennia, developing and refining more effective and wholesale killing tools until, at the beginning of the present century, one man standing at a console can destroy a city several thousand miles away. Not for food but for oil, increased world power and to have the first strike. I am sure it was not meant to be like this because, even now, with all our knowledge and resources, the hungry are still at the bottom of the pecking order.

All is not doom and gloom, the Boss having come home after playing with the big boys for a couple of hours. Dinghy racing at Lagos Sailing Club has all but died out over the last few years, except for a rare national or international meeting, and training alone can be a dull affair. Some Cruisers were out chasing round the cans in an area covering Ponta da Piedade, Alvor and the harbour mouth, so he joined them, while making sure to keep out of their way.

In the early afternoon, the wind became light and variable, before it settled in from the north. Picking up a black squall, the Boss fizzed away in a cloud of spray to make several passes along the beach at Meia Praia, riding the strengthening breeze on a bow wave level with his head. The Boss may seem indestructible, but not his sail, which lay in a salty heap on the dining room carpet with a tear in it; another job for the local sail maker.

While he was frolicking out to sea, a set of handball matches was being thrashed out on the beach by the Fortaleza. These were accompanied by music, heavily underscored with jungle drums at maximum volume, the sort favoured by boy racers beating up the EN125 – hopefully into one of the police road blocks that are becoming a common sight round here.

However, there are few sounds more chilling than the howl of sirens in wartime. A short silence, the noise of enemy planes, the crumps and tremors of giant footsteps when sticks of bombs are dropped or missiles fired into a residential area. With the US supporting Israel and Hezbollah backed by the Arab states, neither of which wants peace. I’ll settle for the music.