Saturday April 8
GOING AWAY for a while certainly awakens a new awareness within one. I have never agreed with the expression that familiarity breeds contempt, I do, however, feel familiarity blinkers you to the reality of a situation – if you live with a wobbly door knob, you soon learn to ignore its wobbliness. I arrived back in Portugal for Easter and was led out to our car, a Renault 5. I looked in horror at the rusty, dusty, ramshackle heap that tottered before us, wondering how it would ever make the journey to Monchique. Once I’d wrenched open the door, I inhaled the faint but familiar fragrance of pig dung, mingling sweetly with the aroma of damp chicken feed, unwashed tennis clothes and pungent trainers. I tentatively placed my case among some decomposing vegetable matter and looked uneasily at Martyn. He leapt in, oblivious to my disquiet, picked up a half eaten cheese sandwich from the dashboard, shoved her into gear and roared off across the car park. I tried to close my window, it was stuck fast, and I looked at Martyn again, now chewing away contentedly; I said nothing.
A few months ago, this situation – the state of the car that is, not the chewing, would have gone unnoticed by me, but my time in Britain has made me a little more sensitive to such things.
Upon arrival at the house, I noticed a jungle of weeds sprouting up through my gravel driveway, untrimmed, out of control climbers obscuring windows, and a veranda that could easily be mistaken for a cross between a builders’ yard and a pig trough, with feed buckets strewn in all directions. Martyn assured me that the rain had been so heavy and persistent that outside work had been completely impossible – I said nothing.
Upon entering the house, I noticed the kitchen floor was still rough concrete, splattered with the remnants of old tiles, that had been lifted in January 2005. I gently mused around the notion that, if it were raining outside, perhaps it would have been a good time to finish this job. I received a look that labelled me an imbecile and was told that there was no way tile cement would set in such humid conditions. I thought of all the builders and tilers working away diligently for 12 months of the year; I said nothing.
As I sat down and looked around me, the dogs manically charging back and forth, the cats assiduously ignoring me, and Martyn, being Martyn, I felt a warm glowing feeling inside, realising I was home.
Monday April 10
The weed growth that has occurred over a few weeks(!) is beyond description. Thistles a metre high, compete with dandelions, poppies and clover, all seeking sunlight while my gentle curving stone path has been completely swamped by a matted tangle of greenery and wild flowers. The whole day has been spent weeding, which was a little like restoring an old house – each layer we removed revealed something else that had grown a few weeks earlier. Eventually we reached the bottom layer and I was astounded to discover the rose bushes, cape daisies and succulents, flourishing underneath it all. While working outside, the weather remained temperate and a gentle breeze washed the sweet scent of orange blossom through the air.
Thursday April 20
A nymphomaniac pig is a rarity, but quite useful, according to the pig keeping textbooks, particularly to those who keep their swine on open ground. They mount any sow in season, mimicking the sexual act, thereby indicating to the pig man, any sow ready to be served by the boar. Given the status of a nymphomaniac sow, it is a little bewildering that, of the four mature sows we have kept, two have displayed nymphomaniac tendencies. Our first nymphomaniac sow was slaughtered a couple of years ago, so we assumed we had put all that nonsense behind us. Not so. The arrival of Eggs’ season this week, was heralded by her daughter (un-named) leaping into action, performing an obscene act on our middle terrace, grinning lewdly for all to see. This bawdy, incestuous, lesbian act, repeated hourly, is accompanied by excessive groaning and grunting to ensure anyone who does not notice at first, will do so eventually. I mentioned to Martyn that I had witnessed these goings-on, to which he simply muttered, I thought you knew; I said nothing.
Friday April 21
The rain that suspends all human activity on our farm is back again, just in time for the yearly pig insemination. Now old hands at this palaver, we had organised chilled wine, red roses and incense sticks, as well as the insemination kit from our vet. The lucky man this year was Martyn, who, after having fought off a little competition from the nymphomaniac lesbian, appeared to be doing quite well. His technique, however, was quickly revealed as somewhat lacking, causing Eggs to walk off bored, halfway through the act itself, leaving him alone in the middle of a field with his insemination implement. I was summoned to assist and, in no time at all, the young lady was standing squarely on all four feet, dewy eyed, dribbling contentedly. Two minutes later and a couple of slaps on the rump, it was all over. If all goes well, we should be with piglets by mid August.
Saturday April 22
As usual, my time in Portugal has flown by, and is already over. When I left in January the weather was cold, Bermuda buttercups carpeted the hills, and the days were short. Already by April, the days are longer and warmer, and the old men of Monchique are clearing their land, unaware of the beauty they are creating, sculpting the soil. Before I have even left I am longing to return.
Sunday April 23
Martyn drove me to the airport, where easyJet did their utmost to ruin my return to the UK, losing my luggage and not returning it until 30 hours later. In two weeks time I shall be back in Portugal for good and intend to appreciate every last moment of it. On the journey to the airport, I didn’t even notice the state of the car – it doesn’t take one long to adapt.
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By Paul Mckay