Birthdays are an annual reminder of one’s own mortality and, after a certain age, enjoyed as much in the avoidance as in the celebration. Despite which, the Boss’s birthday was one of great happiness bringing our nearest and dearest over for a flying visit and an avalanche of cards and gifts.
2005 is a year of milestones in the family, with 80th, 50th and 21st anniversaries each opening up a new era for those concerned. For our beautiful granddaughter, with the world at her feet, I see a future of opportunity and hope.
Then I recall my 21st birthday, clothed in air force blue, “somewhere in England” – forbidden to communicate with the outside world, working all hours preparing for a major operation on the mainland of Europe – and realise that nothing is certain in life. Allowed no mail in or out, it was like living on an island far from home, cut off from family, friends, and wondering if anyone remembered my existence. Those were not ‘the good old days’ and, even with Tony Blair back in the saddle, this rising generation has so much going for it, especially those with the courage to step outside their comfort zone.
We took over our local Portuguese restaurant for a supper party on the night, with the place closed to passing customers. Owned and run by a middle-aged couple plus one casual helper, they gave us a wonderful evening. The food was plentiful and beautifully cooked, plates were really hot, which is unusual in the Algarve, and the modest price per head included a steady flow of wine, water and soft drinks throughout the meal.
Back then, every country hamlet had one of these watering holes at which post was picked up, interesting gossip exchanged and all necessary tools and animal foodstuffs sold. In common with most other such centres, there were more flies than customers, but the natives were friendly. One man seemed to be a permanent fixture in the corner of the bar and was a little too friendly, so I left mail collection to the Boss. Phone calls could be made from there, but I think Madame Vendor fixed an inflated tariff for estrangeiros, no doubt to pay for her time and frustration when dealing with people who knew no Portuguese.
Now, after submitting a petition signed by British residents in our valley, we hope to have access to broadband within a couple of weeks, despite having been told this could not be done. Last year, the local butcher built a house among our scattered community and was immediately given the facility, and it is thanks to an enterprising English computer buff that we hope to follow suit. Having listened to No.2 daughter’s tale of woe about the chaos made by British Telecom when connecting her to broadband, we will watch this end with some trepidation. She was offline and without a ‘phone for more than three weeks as they fiddled about.
While our system is switched back from digital to analogue, with a little luck, the Boss will be away sailing for a few days, and probably taking an unscheduled swim as well, if the wind blows as it did last Sunday off Tavira. After some inactivity, the Algarve clubs have organised a programme of competitive Dinghy racing and, for those who care to travel, there are several prestigious events coming up for Lasers as far north as Porto.
Among his many birthday gifts, the Boss was given a toy to sail in his bath for when the weather is too rough for the real thing. Crafted with great imagination by an old Salt and carrying the number and sunburst of its class on the sail, it should provide endless fun at bedtime as well as a little light refreshment.
On to more serious matters and a warning to all motorists: there has been a great increase in the number of trânsito police staking out black spots on the roads in the Barlavento area, particularly at roundabouts and traffic lights. Last Sunday, I was waiting to turn left to Luz at Quatro Estradas. A fast driver from Lagos, going towards Sagres on the EN125, was about to jump the yellow warning light, spotted a posse of coppers, half hidden under a tall hedge, and stopped in a haze of burning rubber. The previous Sunday, we had watched three cars cross through on the red, nose to tail, at the same death trap.
With the new Highway Code now being enforced with great vigour and there being a promise of heavier penalties including time in prison, maybe driving will become less of a lottery sometime in the future. So far, little has changed judging by the skid marks and broken glass, visible along the Via do Infante motorway last Saturday, when I took our visitors to Faro. A common sight, but it is a mystery how the concrete wall between opposing carriageways comes to be etched with tyre treads in a wide variety of sizes – some of which must have travelled over the top and down the other side!
By MARGARET BROWN