By: Paul McKay
Contact: [email protected]
Sunday April 8
I have just spent my first week back in Portugal Since working in the UK. Incredibly, I am colder here than back in Britain and have had to light the fire every night. The torrential rain that batters Monchique day and night is ensuring that the firewood is damper than ever, resulting in frustrating and chilly evenings. Once the fire gets going things are very snug, however, this is not the Easter break in the sun I was hoping for.
The rain has brought with it an army of snails, the like of which I have not seen before. Not only is every vegetable devoured before it has a chance to grow true leaves, whole trees are having their leaves eaten too, notably the Datura, the tree with the long beautifully perfumed trumpet flowers.
Until I return permanently, Martyn is in charge of horticulture. I was expecting to see little cups of beer dotted around the vegetable patch, along with uncomfortable gritty surfaces, all the usual eco-friendly paraphernalia designed to combat snails and slugs. There is none of it. Full scale chemical warfare is in action and insidious little blue pellets glow among tiny tomato plants and nervous looking cabbages. Each morning begins with a collection of snail corpses, littering the vegetable patch and the walls, roof and floor of the greenhouse. Over 100 a day is not uncommon and, as they are put to rest, a new army can be seen approaching steadily and determinedly up the mountain for the next assault.
In years gone by, rainy weather in Monchique meant one was at something of a loose end. The electricity became erratic, if it existed at all, and TV signals were intermittent at best. All hopes of satellite faded with the first downpour, so when one wasn’t manically digging ditches, redirecting water and avoiding flood situations, one was reduced to reading by what dim daylight existed.
Nowadays it’s a whole new ball game. The time is frittered away by driving from one soulless shopping centre to another, looking at sofas, bathrooms, conservatories and garden ornaments that one has no intention, let alone hope, of ever buying. When that is done there are the supermarkets. In the old days you couldn’t swing salami in a supermarket without hitting all four walls, whereas now you need to be a gold medal athlete with super-human endurance to have the stamina to get around all the aisles of some of them.
This week, as you may have already guessed, has been a marathon shopping extravaganza. Much has been looked at, a few things purchased, and rainy days escaped from.
Sunday April 15
Being back on the farm for a week, despite the weather, has been wonderful. A spell away working has given me the insight to appreciate how fortunate I am to live here and own this land. Mundane tasks such as feeding the animals and dog walking can actually be incredibly enjoyable – I can now really appreciate the calm, peacefulness of the Algarve countryside.
One heart-warming scene was the greeting I received upon arrival on the pig terrace. Eggs (family pig) with her litter of six were wonderful to see. Eggs guaranteed herself a long and fruitful life by bounding around excitedly when she saw me, not unlike a loyal dog. She is now definitely going to live out her full years without the fear of the gun. Her piglets will be less fortunate, however … last night’s pork determined that we’ll still kill her babies!
During one of last week’s shopping binges, I purchased one of those suspended sun chairs that has a canopy and allows you to rock back and forth gently in the Algarve sun. Ours is positioned in the dry under the storm porch and is a great hit with the cats, now they have overcome their initial fears of its unsteadiness.
Its fetching stripy seats have already had to be covered in an old throw to protect them from cat fur and it will undoubtedly follow the same path as all our outdoor furniture –best thing ever for the first month, a slow reluctance to admit it is a little uncomfortable will slowly emerge, followed by being slowly moved further away from the house until it arrives near the car when it has finally rusted away. It can then be quietly and conveniently heaved into the pick-up for the bin as if it never existed at all.
I will not bore you with the endless list of outdoor furniture we have disposed of, which initially appeared to solve all our problems, suffice it to say we have extremely adaptable cats. During the whole 18 years of this musical chairs game, my neighbour has sat quite comfortably on an old car seat, covered in plastic, that he renews every few years or so.
Sunday April 22
I’ve been back in London for a week now, on the final stint of teaching in London in order to make ends meet in Portugal. This first week back is always very difficult, I miss Martyn, the animals and my home dreadfully. I only have a few more weeks to go and then I will be back in Portugal for the rest of the year – I really can’t wait.
Sunday April 29
Spring has arrived back on the farm and Martyn is in full agricultural swing. Ten ducklings have hatched and are currently under an infra red lamp in the spare bedroom. The female goose has laid three eggs, considers that’s enough and has gone broody. The male goose ‘The Fuhrer’ is in full attack mode and has taken to creeping up behind Martyn and biting his legs. If he can get close enough Martyn intends to put a few duck eggs under the goose to make it worth her while.
Eggs, despite having her piglets around her, seems to be getting frisky so may be due for an insemination in the next month. To ensure she comes into season proper, she needs to be separated from her piglets as their suckling acts as a brake on her hormones. Separating them may be too big a task, so I think Martyn will have to think about killing them – a couple a week and she will be piglet free in three weeks.
The killing of them is all very sad, but it has to be done, we can’t have a farm and not kill the stock – that would be a little silly. By the time the pigs reach three-months-old, Eggs herself is a little fed up with them and seems quite pleased to see their numbers reduce.
On the vegetable front, things are going well, and it appears we are in for a bumper summer crop. Sporadic showers with warm sunny weather, means that Martyn has had to do no watering, yet everything is growing terrifically. I can’t wait to get back and start eating.
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.