Peace, love, goodwill … and rain …  this Christmas.jpg

Peace, love, goodwill … and rain …  this Christmas

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.

The Cork Oak (Quercus Suber) behind our house was well into its second century before succumbing to the root fungus Phytophthoras Quercus and dying almost overnight.

Devoid of foliage, its rotten branches had offered safe nesting places for many small birds over the years, and there was a sculpted beauty to its ancient skeleton. A twisted arm plummeted to earth from time to time presenting real danger to Millie the shag pile bitch, for whom the land beneath was a favoured depository.

Being the left hand support for our clothesline, the other end of which was attached to a 12 metre eucalyptus tree, when the oak was cut down about two metres was left in place.

Last week, Maria our maid, her husband, his brother and son came to make logs of the wood. The 11 year old lad was driving the tractor, a rig comprising fore-end loader and log splitting machine attached at the back.

Their first job was to reduce the height of the eucalyptus by three metres to prevent it falling across the house in the event of another forest fire similar to that of 2003. Hidden by heavy foliage, one man shinned up the trunk like a monkey and hauled up his chainsaw on the end of a rope. Within a minute, the crown, which was covered in white blossom, came crashing down close to where we were standing carried by a gusting west wind.

Shades of Britain’s health and safety regulations could be heard ‘tut-tutting’ in the undergrowth. After two hours work, the gang had finished splitting the wood into manageable logs, stacked and sheeted them over on pallets ready for use next winter.

Another of the oaks has started to shed its leaves and there are sticky black streaks where sap is oozing between cracks in the bark, evidence of a fungal attack which is incurable and may infect other trees in the vicinity. The slow loss of oak forests across Iberia is forecast to be one of the causes of desertification in future years.

A 50 per cent reduction in rainfall this autumn has left local lake and pond levels low and herons have been stoking up for winter on the closely confined fish and other aquatic life. Prayers seemed to have been answered when there was one night of rain at the end of November and a prospect of more to come in a few days time. However, it will take more than that to slake the thirst of the Alentejo farmland and restore the livestock and crops reported to be dying from lack of water.

Cake stall at the Fayre.
Cake stall at the Fayre.

In view of such deprivation, to complain that the power supply in parts of Barlavento has not improved since we emigrated in 1986 may be a trifle nit-picking. With the first shower, lights were extinguished right across the area and the Via do Infante was plunged into darkness. For the rest of that evening, the electricity failed repeatedly until time for bed by candle light.

Millie had an emotional melt-down and lay shivering under our bed, the house silent without its usual hum of freezer motors. Woken in the early hours by telephones tweeting and everywhere a blaze of light, what return does the customer have from megabucks spent erecting ranks of wind turbines and pylons if the end product fizzles out when it reaches the consumer?

The annual winter fair arrived in Lagos a couple of weeks ago on a Friday. The long convoy of transporters and trucks rolled on to vacant land alongside the football stadium, laagered along the perimeter and unloaded all the usual stuff associated with a travelling funfair. That evening as their lights came on, the heavens opened, turning hard packed earth into mud and keeping customers away. By Sunday morning everything had been dismantled except a few stalls alongside the road, which packed up and joined the exodus shortly afterward.

Skies remained grey until just before St. Vincent’s Christmas Fayre on Saturday November 28, the hope of fine weather uppermost. As it was, we awoke to a cloudless morning with promise of sun to come. By kind permission from the governors of Barlavento English School, teams of volunteers from Luz Church had worked until late on Friday evening setting up stalls from which to sell homemade cakes and jams, books and refreshments as well as hot punch and mince pies, coffee and sandwiches. Tombola, raffles and games of chance were backed up by several commercial vendors selling high quality clothes, jewelry and Christmas cards. Business was good both under cover and outside in the warm sunshine, the aim being to bring in a tidy sum toward the cost of running the three Anglican Churches of St. Vincents.

Entirely self funded and having to pay an annual levy to the Diocese of Gibraltar, each euro from the Fayre will be put to good use. After the punters had gone, those same volunteers who prepared everything dismantled, tidied up and restored the school as they found it: apart from the gatepost knocked down by a vehicle yet to be identified.

Two christenings were celebrated in Luz on the following day, the Litany read and several hymns sung by youngsters from the school, accompanied by three guitars. Being the first day of Advent leading up to the birth of Christ the King, it seemed entirely appropriate for children to initiate the start of this six weeks’ journey to the Crib.