Mechanical traumas and  an over-indulged pig

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.

Friday 1st January 2010

Well at least that’s all over for another year. Torrential rain, biting winds and a general feeling of dampness meant we saw the New Year in with as much eagerness as a turkey greets Christmas. Any turkey other than ours that is.

Our one surviving peru has successfully evaded the Christmas roasting tin by becoming a size zero fashion victim. We are in possession of the first anorexic turkey known to man, seven months old and as skinny as a rake.

Friday 8th January

Monchique is awash and has been for about a month. We are paddling in water in our kitchen and all the ditches and water channels have become babbling brooks. Dog walks have become an adventure as all the usual routes are blocked by fallen trees, landslides and impassable rivers.

Higher up in Fóia there are a number of stunning waterfalls crashing noisily down to earth and, on the lower slopes, dried up riverbeds have been shocked by the arrival of water for the first time in years. 

Saturday 9th January

The new car, the Seat Marbella, is proving to be quite reliable. It overheats a little and has erratic indicators, but what’s that in the grand scheme of things? Driving past golf courses, one can be mistaken for a golf buggy, but other than that it attracts little attention.

Our car history is particularly inglorious, involving a Mehari that was blown off a German motorway, a Volkswagen whose wheel rolled off on the M4, a Granada whose petrol tank imploded and culminating last year with the demise of our Volvo, which toppled down the side of a mountain.

My nervous disposition when motoring is hardly surprising and has its roots in a particularly nightmarish journey some 20 years ago…

Back in the late 1980s, we moved ourselves from London to Monchique in a white transit van. Martyn, with no mechanical know-how, had acquired our vehicle from an auction in Swansea for about the cost of a bag of fish ‘n chips. The idea was to drive to Plymouth, stay overnight, get the ferry to Santander and meander slowly through unspoiled countryside to our little house in the mountains.

Early visions of an idyllic journey quickly dissipated. Twenty minutes after setting off, the van, fully laden with what I now realise was unnecessary ‘crap’, began making clunking noises. These became louder and louder until it conked out. The RAC man spent 20 minutes under the engine and told us to drive slowly.

An hour or so later, another noise started which eventually grew to a crescendo sounding like a WW2 Spitfire. Another RAC man informed us a crucial bit had fallen off the van. We accompanied him back along the road we had driven and as if by magic, we discovered the missing bit, on the edge of the road.

This was re-attached and we were on our way again. We then got lost in a west country town and found ourselves going the wrong way up a one way street, face to face with a Constable. We were escorted out of this town by the very kind policeman who failed to check our tax disc and waved us on our way.

A few hours later, after another breakdown, we met our third RAC man who executed a temporary repair on a hole in the exhaust, using a coca cola tin. The five hour journey to Plymouth took 15 hours and we arrived just in time to board the ferry.

The crew of the ship all came out to watch in amazement as our van belched and spluttered into the bowels of the ship, roaring sadly like a dying dinosaur.

With the UK leg of our journey safely over, once back on dry land, the ‘girl’ was put into a garage, serviced and then back on the road, raring to go. She had another episode during a blizzard at the top of a mountain in the Picos da Europa.

Once again a mechanic came to the rescue, looked in wonder as we told him where we were headed, whacked a few bits of metal and taught us a trick with a little bit of loose wire. Before eventually reaching the Algarve, we had replaced fuses, renewed indicator bulbs, bought a new battery and changed all sorts of plugs and leads.

Martyn had developed some mechanical expertise and I had developed a nervous tick and a morbid fear of journeys.

Saturday 23rd January

To plagiarise Alan Bennett – I really must get out more, if only for the diary.

Sunday 24th January

The sun appeared today! I was beginning to forget what it looked like. We spent the afternoon planting out onions, beetroot, lettuces and garlic.

Eggs, the family pig, was out enjoying the sunshine, grunting noisily and generally attention seeking. Despite regular inseminations, she is refusing to ‘catch’ and we are now faced with the difficult choice we knew would come. Pot or pet? As I sat by the veg patch watching Martyn feeding her, the answer seemed a lot clearer than the mud she wallows in.

After a little tickling, he hand fed her a few tomatoes and apples, supposedly ‘on the turn’ and then introduced her to her ‘entrada’, left over vegetable soup. The main course of cracked corn was wolfed down noisily and a few raw potatoes were offered for desert.

This was accompanied by dinner conversation along the lines that one usually hears doting parents lavishing on an over-indulged toddler.

“Is that nice then…mmmm….she likes that…is she going to eat her carrots for daddy…”

I might as well clear out the spare bedroom ready.