By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]
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.
Wednesday July 8, 2009.
The heat of summer is beginning to kick in at last. Here in Monchique the grass has finally begun to turn to straw, the mud has become dust and lunch time is marked by a noticeable lack of activity in the serra as everything grinds to a halt. The relentless task of weeding has now given way to brush cutting and the daily grind of irrigation. Early morning is marked by a frenzy of activity as river water is diverted to orange trees, springs and tanks are emptied onto vegetable plots and all and sundry run around dragging hose pipes back and forth along their flower gardens.
Our old metal barbecue, the type that people take camping, has finally been put out to retirement. Many patchwork repairs over the past few years have seen it deteriorate from a gleaming red and black grilling machine to a pathetic shadow of its former self. The wheels snapped off a few years ago and last year two of the legs started to buckle in on themselves. By April of this year, it was down to just the round bit where the coals go, which was balanced on a pile of bricks. It had become so fragile that mini-explosions have become common and, in the past year, it has not been unusual to discover a splinter of rusty metal wedged inside a piece of grilled chicken.
Today we ordered a brand new state of the art barbecue from one of the major supermarkets on the coast and wait with barely concealed excitement for its delivery. It’s one of the big concrete jobs with various levels to grill on and a chimney. The plan is to build an outside cooking area with the barbecue, a gas hob, a sink and a work surface. I hope to be able to build this mostly out of stone so that it blends in and appears as natural as possible.
Monday July 12
It never fails to amaze me, the ease with which delivery crews in Portugal find our house. Our house is a couple of kilometres from the nearest village, down a kilometre of dirt tracks with a complicated route crossing rivers and turning at dead cork trees etc. Somehow, with the barest of details, delivery trucks honk their horns metres from our house after getting directions from anyone they happened to pass en route. This is how the barbecue arrived and unbeknown to the delivery crew, this was to be the most straightforward part of their journey.
At about lunch time, a lorry was heard wheel-spinning in the dustbowl at the side of the house. Upon investigation, we discovered the supermarket transit van had found our house and was in the middle of a complicated turning manoeuvre. As we helped, informing them of the only possible way to turn in this tight spot, they then had the misfortune to drive over a piece of wood with a nail sticking out of it – the pop, followed by a hiss told its own story. The nonplussed crew, disembarked and turned out to be two women, one of whom I had previously encountered at fruit n veg.
Neither could move the barbecue on account of its weight, so we unloaded it and wheeled it to its place. Neither knew where the spare wheel was housed, where the jack was or how to change a wheel. I am particularly inept at the aforementioned tasks too, so fortunately Martyn and a couple of friends were able to help. After an hour or so of camaraderie, the wheel was changed and the vehicle was back on the road again. We were in possession of the new barbecue.
Friday July 16
Martyn had some sad news today. A close relative has died in an accident. Martyn has returned to Wales in order to help arrange the funeral.
Tuesday July 20
It is strange how plans seem to go out of the window with such ease. This summer I had planned to eat healthily, exercise regularly and generally get myself sorted out physically. Here we are halfway through July and I am eating like a pregnant sow, ignoring the salad to eat the chips and managing to get to the swimming pool twice a week at the most. I have also discovered that I adore Soleros (the new blackberry smoothie flavour is divine) and have developed a renewed interest in Sangria.
The vegetables are looking great this year – at last. We have had a steady supply of tomatoes and courgettes (no glut) and are beginning to get some very good aubergines. The garden
itself is somewhat improved too, on account of a new home-made irrigation system. Just a normal black tube affair with limited sprinklers, but it is making all the difference. The extra water also means we still have oranges at this time of the year, which are refreshing, either eaten fresh or squeezed as juice.
Sunday August 2
Martyn has returned from the UK, the airport run was not without incident. Our car has developed an oil leak, necessitating very regular top ups. Before heading off to the airport, I followed all instructions – verified the oil level, topped up to the correct mark, did the same with the water and set off, feeling very mechanical. I left in plenty of time and decided to use the EN125, rather than the motorway, stopping off for a few groceries on the way.
On the approach to Albufeira, I became vaguely aware of a sweet sugary, burning, oil type smell – a little like candyfloss. Noticing the smell seemed to be travelling with me and the absence of any fair grounds, I parked up in a garden centre to investigate the matter. Upon inspection I found the engine coated in a fine black layer of oil. I was just about to check the oil level again when I noticed a big black hole where the oil cap should have been. Mmmm, not so mechanical after all.
The leisurely airport run then stepped up a gear as permission was sought to leave the car overnight and neighbours roped in to help. The whole situation was made worse by the knowledge that it was all due to my incompetence.
Back home now and drowning my sorrows in half a ton of Thornton’s toffee, a Toblerone bar and a Walnut Whip. Might have some fresh fruit later – in my Sangria.
Paul has recently published his first book entitled “A Year in Monchique” which can be purchased online through our website by clicking on the link to the right of this page. Paul John McKay can be contacted by emailing [email protected]