Memories we cannot erase

By MARGARET BROWN [email protected]

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

With leaves hanging limp on the trees and open country crackling like cornflakes under foot, it could only be a matter of time before a wildfire was started.

Whether by concentration of sunlight through a discarded bottle, a cigarette end thrown from the window of a passing car or match applied with malicious intent, the result is the same.

Fingers of smoke appeared in the river valley between us and the Via de Infante, blossomed and spread to the foot of a wooded hill below an affluent housing estate and a small line of old cottages – flames climbed through the bush. In quick time, several fire engines and two water carrying helicopters were fighting to contain the blaze.

By dark no flames were visible, but four or five sets of flashing blue lights marked the hazardous passage of vehicles up and down the scrubby, boulder strewn hillside.

Later that night, our friend Maria, who lives in the valley, said another small outbreak had occurred in the same area.

During summertime, the blat of helicopter blades overhead calls for a 360º check of the skyline without delay, just in case we may need to decamp with essential documents as well as other basic necessities including the dog and her supply of food.

Once was enough for us but the memory does not fade.

Damage to wildlife and the ecosystem takes years to repair after a bush fire, the legacy from that of 2003 still evident in the hills behind our house.

The food chain from insects upward was wiped out, predatory birds have not returned and there is little evidence of mammalian life.

While perhaps not related, after an absence of several years and coincidental with felling a stand of timber of which the stumps are now rotten, the largest member of the wasp species has revisited our plot and we hope it may become a resident.

Known as the mammoth wasp (Megascolia maculata flavifrons), the female is about two inches long, the male slightly smaller and the presence of rhinoceros beetles is essential to their reproduction.

The wasp first paralyses one of the beetle’s larva then lays an egg inside it. On hatching, the wasp grub eats most of its host before making a cocoon next to the remains.

There it overwinters, hatching out once the temperature is suitable. The other day, two of these mammoths landed on a basket of newly laundered clothes just as we began to peg them on the line, and they tunneled inside a pair of nylon pants.

They were most reluctant to move on, reminding me of the time when an ordinary wasp (Vespa Vulgaris) set up home in a pair of underpants.

Unaware of its presence, I put the newly washed garment away and not until the Boss was about to step in with his first leg was it revealed, alive and angry – the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

Meanwhile, our household has been plagued by computer problems, sufficient to turn me into an angry old woman ready to subject my monitor to a dose of grievous bodily harm.

Half way through booking flights from Faro to the UK, in the middle of making payment by credit card, the internet connection failed.

It happened again the next day, following which Outlook Express went dead for almost a week.

Realisation that I had become a slave to instant communication did not help at all. Thereafter No.2 daughter made the necessary bookings to and from England.

First to attend the wedding of our only granddaughter at the end of August, and two weeks later flying over for 18 days to visit family members scattered across the country.

Making arrangements for Millie the bitch’s care has been the least of our worries. As for travel arrangements, I wish we could cross The Pond by ferry or as Captain Kirk supposedly said, “Beam me up, Scotty” and be there instantaneously.

I gather that scientists in quantum physics are looking into the possibility of teleporting matter from one place to another and although this may be possible one day, according to their present limited knowledge, it would result in the destruction of living cells. It seems that both H.G.Wells, and Russell.T.Davies the originator of Dr Who, together with other science fiction writers, may be visionaries of a distant future one day to become fact.

While organic matter continues to remain safe from scientists hungry for such dangerous knowledge, in the natural world changes happen all the time.

Lizards, turtles and tortoises shed their skins piecemeal but for most snakes this takes several days, during which their eyes turn milky and bodies appear dull. Hidden away somewhere damp to aid the process, eventually the pristine animal emerges bright of eye and with shining body, leaving behind a transparent facsimile of its alter ego together with any mites and parasites.

Delicate and intricately patterned sheaths from the old epidermis, with eye shields intact, may be found where they were sloughed off.

Anywhere that provides gentle friction allows the animal to exit forward, sometimes rolling back the skin like an inverted sock.

While humans shed 1.5lbs (680 grams) of skin each year in the form of flakes, there appears to be no instant improvement in appearance, something that would be of great benefit to senior citizens of a certain vintage whose skins have outgrown the underlying flesh.