Road tension and hot air balloons

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.

Having returned to our dry and dusty plot in the Algarve after a three-week break, I had the usual moment of longing for the English countryside, but a rapturous welcome from Millie the shag pile bitch and a cup of tea quickly put me to rights.

Once more adjusted to the Portuguese way of life, it seems that our journeying round Britain might never have happened and was just a happy dream.

Following an itinerary that took us to Lancashire for a couple of days before flying down to Southampton, and from thence by ferry to Cowes for a spell, in those few days we had explored some of the northern county and ninety percent of the Isle of Wight.

While both daughters have very old vehicles, their driving styles are poles apart. One is a closet rally driver and sitting in the back of her car demanded much of body, mind and spirit as she tested its suspension to breaking point.

Later we rented a Renault Modus from an agent in Southampton which had only 400 miles on the clock. Being the first clients to hire it, we were very conscious of the unblemished condition and determined to take it back unmarked.

The Boss had not driven on the left for over a year, and in a strange car on an unfamiliar route the first few miles were a little tense. We soon settled down and by the time we found Sand Bay near Weston-super-Mare, apart from a fraught ten minutes when we were swept along in the manic rush hour traffic, all was relatively smooth.

Joining No.2 daughter at a pre-war hotel by the sea, we signed in and were shown a pleasant room overlooking flat roofs and distant hill. Opening the window for a lungful of ozone, all we heard was a roar reminiscent of a Boeing 737 on take-off accompanied by the whiff of stale cooking fat and roast meat.

From 7am until 9.30pm an extractor fan the size of a large jet engine was clearing out foul smells from the kitchen below, while polluting what should have been fresh sea air above.

On asking the manager for another room, our choice was limited to the Bridal Suite or a cottage in the grounds (more money, more hassle), so we remained where we were and put it down to experience.

During our stay, the three of us visited several friends from our years in Somerset and explored a vastly different Weston from the one we left. Riding on a smaller version of The London Eye we looked down upon many areas of construction work across town, the nearly completed pier built in place of that which had burned down and acres of mud.

Further away, the islands of Flatholm and Steepholm appeared to be floating in a strip of sunlit water just above its calm surface. Away from our humdrum life in Portugal, the Boss’s latent juvenile streak emerged as he attempted to rock the small cabin in which we were confined.

Already slightly queasy from a gentle side to side swing as the wheel rotated, I drew his attention to a notice forbidding such behaviour and he stopped.

Later in the week, we headed for West Wales, to a nice apartment the furnishings of which were well above average for a letting property, but no washing machine. I gave up hand washing clothes with my first twin-tub so we left a load at the launderette a few miles up the road.

No.1 daughter, the closet rally driver, joined us for a few days and took her turn as passenger in the Renault, but drove her own car to family gatherings at a popular pub. It was a nerve-racking return trip after dark through several miles of narrow, twisting country lanes.

Thirsty patrons desperate for a pint of real ale, like kids let out of school, hammered along between the high hedges with headlights blazing and few safe places to pass another vehicle.

On two Sundays we went to the nearby Church of St Issells, built about 1862 when the industry there was mainly coal mining. Now surrounded by trees and discreet caravan sites, it welcomes a large congregation of both locals and holidaymakers with equal warmth.  After Sunday Service we adjourned to the school hall for nibbles and wine, a weekly affair during which we discovered that the parish Priest had been a frequent visitor to the Algarve.

No longer young, he had a slight mishap that day while consecrating the Host prior to giving the out the sacrament of Holy Communion.

While being assisted by a Lay Reader, somehow the wafers became scattered beneath the altar. Quickly gathered up and returned to their proper chalice, almost without a hitch the ritual continued accompanied by an audible of exhalation from the pews.

Meanwhile, back home today we were watching a multicoloured hot air balloon suspended above the valley opposite our house. Sinking rather than climbing and struggling to gain height, the pilot fired the gas burner every few minutes but to no avail.

Then it dropped, drifted westward a few yards trailing the whicker Gondola before touching down beside a country lane. By the time we arrived the passengers were safely on land, the huge nylon envelope was on its side and the woman pilot still seated at the controls.

In a field nearby a herd of cows was huffing and puffing at the strange creature which lay there gently oscillating in front of them.