By: PAUL McKAY
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.
Sunday May 18
MY TIME in London has finally come to an end. There are people that move away from the city and claim to despise city life and all that it entails. They move to sunnier climates, friendlier places and dismiss everything they had before, claiming to have finally discovered Utopia.
For me, to unilaterally dismiss the place where I spent so much of my life seems absurd. If London is so awful or life in Britain so intolerable, why didn’t I leave earlier? London is, and has been, an important part of my life and although I prefer Portugal, I think splitting my life between both helps me to appreciate what the other has to offer. When I leave London I feel a little sad, but it’s difficult to say what that sadness is for.
In the UK I often speak with people who profess to admire my choice to move to the Algarve, saying they wished they could do something similar. People talk about money and being trapped, having no alternative. For me, these arguments don’t hold. In Portugal I have met many people who upped and left their birth countries and travelled the world doing odd jobs here and there. The hippies from the sixties and seventies travelled to many Mediterranean countries with nothing, eked out an existence and are living lives to their own sets of principles quite happily.
Britain and Portugal are full of eastern Europeans who left with nothing and are making a new life for themselves. The truth of the matter, I believe, is that as we get older we become frightened to take risks. We tend to hold onto what we have for fear of leaving it behind, only to discover it was better than what we move onto. This fear becomes stifling and people end up living a life governed by fear. The result of allowing fear to dictate our lives can only be that we end up old, regretting the choices we made and resenting the life we have had. Nothing is sadder than listening to somebody talk about their life in the past tense, wishing they had made different decisions.
Monday May 19
Back in the Algarve. The spring flowers are still blooming, torrential downpours and sunny interludes seem to be the order of the day and the Monchique countryside looks green and inviting. Low mists still cling to the upper slopes of the mountain, the rivers and brooks are dancing to the brim with sparkling water, its babbling song filling the valleys with the fresh coolness and the song of spring. The nights are still chilly and we are yet to hear the evensong of crickets proclaiming the start of summer.
Thursday May 22
Today we went into Monchique to pay the land tax. Inexplicably, Martyn picked up a friend’s land tax bill last month, took it to the Câmara, queued for half an hour and paid theirs, despite it having already been paid by bank transfer. The error only came to light when he asked me to file away the paid bills. As I filed them away I said nothing, preferring to store the error away as ammunition for future incompetence discussions.
Talking of incompetence, I had a strange discussion with a family member yesterday, who was telling me about the sad deterioration of Auntie Grace, now in her nineties. Apparently she is declining rapidly and has to have home nursing care as she has become incompetent.
Sunday May 25
I have been back in Portugal for a week now and it feels like I have never been away. Within two days I was struck by a raging toothache. I have had to endure a pig killing session, have experienced torrential rain, fork lightning, had my dog diagnosed as diabetic and suffered the indignity of an unprovoked attack by an unidentified insect that saw fit to crawl up my trouser leg and attach itself to my scrotum.
Today, as a means of unwinding from the aforementioned events, we took a stroll up the hills behind our house. Martyn seldom comes on walks with me, although he professes to enjoy them, there always seems to be a pressing reason for him not to come. We had a leisurely breakfast and set off at around midday, leaving the dogs behind (one too ill, the other too elderly). Five minutes up the track behind our house we found a rubber bung that had fallen off our car months earlier. We placed it strategically on a fallen log and continued our stroll.
After thirty minutes or so, it became clear that the weather was determined to thwart the day. Blazing hot sunny spells alternated with icy cold winds, meaning one was forever switching clothes around and whipping sun glasses on and off. An hour into the walk and it was obvious Martyn had had enough. Constant referrals to humidity gradually gave way to noisy breathing and asthma references, which, within time subtly became pleurisy. Although we took regular rest breaks on strategically placed rocks and marvelled at the views, it was obviously not going swimmingly.
I noticed the tetchiness increase a notch as the hills grew steeper and then the confrontations over which route began. The fact that we were not actually headed anywhere in particular somewhat negated his argument about the most direct route. Pointing this out ended all harmonious chit chat for an hour or so and the Ventalin inhaler made its first appearance.
Finally, three hours into the walk, after passing many hectares of pine forest, obliterating all hope of a view, we arrived at a known landmark on the Monchique-Fóia road. It was then that my toothache re-emerged, striking like a hot knife, slicing through my jaw. The pain was indescribable, both dull and jarring at the same time. Every footstep seemed to thrust the knife a little deeper. Despite my contorted face, pained expression and audible sharp ‘look at me’ intakes of breath, no sympathy was forthcoming from my fellow walker. We finally arrived at a café where Martyn purchased some icy cold water and the toughest bifana ever served up as food.
Another hour and a few painkillers later we arrived home relaxed, rejuvenated and reunited in a way that only good exercise and country air can achieve.
Friday May 30
The last week has disappeared in a haze of antibiotics, painkillers and tooth related sufferings. Martyn, meanwhile, suffering from exercise induced asthma, is semi-crippled on account of being forced to walk up a mountain wearing ill fitting shoes.
Hopefully June will bring more joy.