No drought of paperwork

The stamp for my car is a drop in the ocean but, if everyone else paid their dues, surely something could be done to improve the general condition of the roads. Recently, the Boss damaged a wheel while taking avoiding action on a narrow lane near home. Tarmac had been laid over an old and unprepared surface, so that the edges fell away into a shallow ditch, leaving cutting edges four inches deep. With ballast lorries commuting regularly to a nearby Estaleiro, despite a weight limit that rules them out, it is a common occurrence to meet one on a blind bend, at speed, and filling all available space.

The Law requires those over 70 pass a medical examination and renew their driving licences every two years. While this is a wise precaution, the stress involved can reduce some to impotent fury. Having bought all the necessary forms at the local papelaria and filled them in, the next stage is to hot-foot it to the Centro de Saúde by 8.30am. Usually there has been a queue, but, after many years, the system had been changed, the place was empty and I was told to see my GP.

That afternoon, the surgery held a cross-section of villagers, steaming in the torrid heat, most of whom were knocking on a bit and used to waiting, then two old men started a heated argument, which helped to pass the time. Before they came to blows, I was summoned to the inner room where it was cool and quiet. “The system has changed and I have been told to come to you for my driving medical.” “Oh, really? I didn’t know that,” said the doctor, “No one tells us anything!”

After a brief check, the forms were signed and I was on the way home. How civilised compared with the old arrangement where a crowd of people battled to be first, the clerk was always late, and the doctor never arrived until part way through the morning. Now, with a clean bill of health, it remains either to go to the Direcção-Geral de Viacção (Portuguese DVLA) in Faro, or pay a local driving school to finish the paper work.

In Portugal, the licensing of dogs is compulsory, together with an annual vaccination against Rabies. First, come annual injections against Rabies either administered by one’s own vet, or the câmara vet, costing eight euros and 87 cents for two dogs, and done within a few minutes. The dogs’ passports are updated, relevant forms filled in and presented to the Junta de Freguesia, plus the owners’ identity and contribuinte cards. In about three days, the dogs will be legal for another 12 months.While some owners have their animals vaccinated and ignore the registration, others are left unprotected against the disease. Having been cast out for one reason or another, many dogs end up in the town kennels, to be put down in a week if not claimed.

Finally, each year the Boss must pass a medical before he can obtain a licence to sail his leisure dinghy, and this applies to all age groups across the country. What a bean feast for the bureaucrats, when added to a thousand and more other permits essential for the regulation of our lives.

Now that the drought has dried the countryside to a crisp, firemen everywhere are on red alert. Fires may start through carelessness, but many are the work of arsonists who go about their evil work with neither conscience, nor respect for human or animal life. Having lived through one that consumed the rolling hills behind our house before rounding on us, it is hard to forget the heat and deafening roar, smoke that emptied lungs of air, and the ensuing weeks spent coughing. The Bombeiros lay their lives on the line for us, suffering injury and sometimes death in the course of their duties. As a voluntary organisation they need all the financial help we can give.

Today, on a north wall at 4pm, the thermometer registered 35C, trees drooped in a hot breeze, and the two mongrels were spread out in front of a fan. Inside the house, candles melted in their holders looking, as I felt, wilted and spineless and praying for rain which never comes. Summer is only four weeks into what is becoming a fight for survival for livestock and wild creatures of the hills and desiccated valleys.

Due to our trees escaping the flames in 2002, we have a larger than normal variety and a number of birds nesting here, all struggling to rear their young. We can help the seed eaters, but because rats are abundant, it is not possible to provide suitable food for those that eat insects. All we can do is put out buckets of water and something in which the birds may bath, ensuring these are topped up regularly.

No longer irrigating our patch of garden means that very little is growing, but on the upside, neither are the weeds. However, we make an exception for one small bed under which Fly the dog lies buried. There, Gladioli grow in profusion, together with self set seedlings from an ornamental tree.