Preparing for hibernation

news: Preparing for hibernation

HAVING said goodbye to the last of our visitors for the time being, we drove home in pleasant silence. Family members have come and gone since the beginning of September and the Boss’s old car could make the Faro trip on it’s own given half a chance. The weather did us proud and we were gently levered from our habitual rut, overjoyed to see everybody, but looking forward to some time to ourselves.

The Boss’s two sisters left us yesterday, one having arrived minus luggage – itwas stolen while travelling by train from Tenby to Bristol on their way to the airport and contained vital medication and a record of their travel insurance. This was recounted with remarkable sang froid considering her only clothes were those she was wearing. Differing in height and shape from my sister-in-law I had little to offer, but somehow we kitted her out with essentials before a quick visit to the NANDI charity shop in Lagos.

These two, small, white-haired ladies rifled through everything and came up, like miners panning for gold, with a couple of nuggets each. A customer there on several occasions, I have never left empty-handed. This time I spotted an excellent round extending table in natural wood with four good chairs. The price was sensible and we all came away very happy with our loot – borne home on the roof of the car, all four of us were needed to help unload, and once set up, the table proved a perfect match with the kitchen cupboards.

Before we sink into winter hibernation there is much to be done and first on the list is Fred’s kennel, which has been more or less on ‘hold’ since the beginning of last month and still needs a roof – not a moment too soon now that the night temperature is dropping and barometric pressure falling.

With the sun moving further south, our early walks begin in the grey light of dawn and there has been a finger-nipping chill in the air. If the fine days continue, the local barragems, stocked with fish, will be at a critical low, so the sooner the weather breaks the better. However, the Barragem da Bravura remains high, despite a warning that water resources in the Algarve are at an all time low.

Meanwhile the wood burner needs a facelift and we must locate a set of sweep’s brushes to clean the chimney before lighting up. One year, a family of sparrows found it’s way through the wire wrapping at the top, blocking the pipe completely with their untidy nests, and speed is essential before the house becomes damp and chilly. Other jobs have accumulated during the spate of visitors and the whole plot is looking unkempt, aggravated by the long drought.

Lack of moisture below ground has caused cork oak and eucalyptus to die back, leaving a deep carpet of discarded bark and dead leaves. It is obvious from the blanket of wood smoke in the valley that this is not our problem alone, but I wonder how many have applied for a licence. Until a couple of years ago it was permitted to have a burn up from October 1 until early spring but, since the terrible forest fires, permission must be obtained and the police notified beforehand.

Small animals will have started to seek somewhere to hibernate as well and nothing fits the bill as well as a nicely matured heap of rotting organic matter. Hedgehogs, toads, snakes and dormice make a beeline for such places and every autumn some are roasted alive. Careful forking through each pile may spare them from a horrid death, and when they emerge next year, the considerate gardener will be rewarded as they feed on slugs, snails and other juicy morsels.

The clocks go back at the end of this month and for some people that means another hour in bed, unless they have animals in their care. Being old and wise Bess will accept the change. Not so young Fred, who is an anarchist at heart, and like many juveniles, expects instant service and will give us no peace until his needs are satisfied.

Even as I write the weather has turned foul. This morning the rising sun drew a double rainbow across the western hills and it has not stopped raining since first light. My mistake was to wash the kitchen floor as it has been rather neglected during the last of the good weather – like cleaning the car, this more or less guaranteed rain. Within a couple of hours the pale grey tiles were covered with muddy paw marks and, as night follows day, the lights went out. There were several power cuts. We had no water anywhere, the fridges and freezer started to defrost and lavatory cisterns were soon empty. This happens every time we have a shower of rain after a dry spell and it plays havoc with computers.

While Portugal has advanced in so many ways, the electrical system remains chaotic and this is an ongoing mystery in a country aspiring to first world status. A good supply of candles will be needed as winter sets in and perhaps a Primus stove for those who cook by electricity.