Friday April 2
If you ever decide to kill a pig, get yourself fit first. We have spent a day and a half butchering and are both now completely exhausted. After a great deal of faffing around and avoidance strategies, the deed itself was done on Wednesday afternoon. Both girls were in a bit of a daze after drinking numerous bottles of beer followed by copious amounts of wine. They were swaying a little, having a whale of a time, searching the buckets for more beer. Once shot, they collapsed instantly and knew absolutely nothing about the whole affair. I would be lying if I said I felt nothing, because they were very friendly animals with lots of personality. I did feel guilty, but I have to weigh this up against my enjoyment of eating meat.
Once our two girls were dead, they had to be bled, then lifted onto a table for scraping and disembowelling – in our case this was done on a patio table. They were so heavy, we could only just manage this. A Polish builder, working nearby, came over to help. He turned out to be a professional, having regularly kept pigs himself in Poland. He skilfully showed us what to do with the first pig, staying until late in the evening, cutting it into joints. The following day, Martyn and I prepared the other pig and a half. We finally finished at seven at night, having frozen or salted over 160 kilos of pork. For dinner we enjoyed a couple of home made sausages (skinless – I couldn’t face that carry on) and a huge pork chop. The flavour and texture were decidedly impressive.
Sunday April 11
As we drove into the car park of Lidl in Silves this afternoon, we narrowly avoided crashing into a pinny-clad lady, 10-foot up in the air on a tractor, surrounded by shopping bags. Now that’s a sight you wouldn’t see in London. It competes quite well with whole family outings on mopeds and the once common sight of disgruntled housewives cooped up in the back of moto-burros, those little pop-pop things that travel at 20kms an hour.
The most amusing mode of transport we have ever been witnesses to, was a rather stout lady who travelled from Nave to Monchique in the shovel part of her husband’s mechanical digger. She was sat cross-legged in the rear digger, clutching onto her shopping for dear life. Unfortunately, we were stuck behind them for 10 minutes or so, face to face with the poor woman. In all that time she remained stony faced, looking straight through us, no flicker of a smile or acknowledgement of her situation — I pity her husband when she finally disembarked.
Wednesday April 21
April in Portugal is a very busy month for those inclined to grow vegetables. I have been dashing around frantically weeding for the past couple of weeks and getting all our seeds sown for summer vegetables. I have created a mini greenhouse using old window frames and have sown seeds for some rare types of tomatoes. The veg patch has provided broccoli and very little else for the past couple of months, mainly due to chicken and goat attacks at various times, dismembering young pea plants and cabbages. We now have a huge crop of broad beans. Interestingly, the UK varieties have been dramatically out performed by the much cheaper Portuguese varieties. We have also begun eating our first flush of sugar snap peas, and new potatoes.
Wednesday April 28
Our geese finally seemed to be breeding successfully, with her laying and sitting on a good clutch of eggs. Over the weekend the male goose was being supportive, chasing off anything that dared go near their nest. On Monday night his aggression reached new heights and he refused to return to their house with his mate, so eventually I had to leave the house unlocked. This morning we were greeted with the discovery of a pile of goose feathers on the lower terrace, a good dollop of blood and no male goose. The call of scalavars (mongooses) at night suggests they were the culprits. We are certain the terrace where the geese live is safe. It seems in his eagerness to defend her and the eggs, our goose must have passed through the electric fence and flown down to attack the mongoose, where he met his fate. She has continued to sit on her eggs, but looks pretty forlorn without her partner. We have placed some extra eggs that we acquired from a friend under her, so hopefully she will have a good brood of goslings.
Friday April 30
Cork oaks, like most oaks, are extremely slow growing. The cork is harvested from them every nine years, but this cannot begin until the tree is more than 40 years old. Monchique is covered in cork oaks, testament to the selflessness of previous farmers, who planted them for the benefit of generations to come.
The trees grow to be huge, living for up to 600 years (250 years if the cork is harvested) and are an important part of the Monchique eco-system. During forest fires, the cork bark acts as a sort of fire screen to the tree, slowly smouldering but preventing too much serious damage. Many of the trees from last year’s fires are already regenerating themselves, offering a sign of hope.
A 35-year-old man, who we met in a local café, offered another hopeful sign to us this week. He has a small piece of land higher up the mountain from us, and has just planted eight cork oaks. His motivation, he told me, was to leave something of value to his children and grandchildren and to do something positive for the future of the planet. Who says all mankind is selfish and short-sighted?