IT SEEMS that half of the Algarve has gone down with, or is recovering from, a nasty virus. A ‘flu vaccination given in good time covers only a few types of this infection and certainly provides a false sense of security.
The tendency to feel invincible and slightly cocky while others dropped like flies brought its own punishment. My number came up 10 days ago, bringing with it the usual misery and bad temper. It does not help that ‘flu viruses can change their identity, making it necessary to provide new vaccines each year according to the various strains at large. As usual, most things have an upside and I now find alcohol and food distasteful, something likely to trim a few pounds from a thickening waistline and ease the load when climbing steep hills.
As a rebellious child at boarding school, I enjoyed the ‘flu epidemics that hit from time to time because of the disruption involved. Matron would go into a tailspin. The sick were isolated in one of the larger dormitories, the healthy occupants of which had to be squeezed in elsewhere, and then the fun began.
Every morning after breakfast, each child had their temperature checked and lozenges were handed round with the idea that this might prevent infection. Heavily medicated, peppery and with a generous covering of sugar, they were much valued as bargaining objects between friends. Anyone who registered a degree over 98.4 fahrenheit was bundled into bed in the improvised sick bay and were certain to become ill if they had not already succumbed.
Those of us who felt we might benefit from a little tender loving care used to slip out while the thermometer was coming round, fill our mouths with hot water and swallow it just before opening up to receive the cold shaft of glass under our tongues. Despite this, my temperature stayed obstinately normal until two weeks before the end of the autumn term. Finally, the subterfuge worked and I was sent to join my mates who were now recovering, only to catch the bug and quickly became delirious and very unwell. While everyone else went home, I was left to sweat it out alone, which ruined Christmas and taught me never again to seek sympathy without good cause.
This is one of the things I find endearing about animals. In times of injury or when they are poorly, they soldier on with stoicism and patient acceptance and never sue for sympathy. It used to be much the same with people rooted in the countryside who, for generations, had to work the land ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’ until they died – like any good marriage, which is how a working farmer related to his farm.
A prime example of this has to be a mongrel who is now attached to the Computer Centre on the road to Portimão. A victim of either a road accident or an attack by other dogs, six months ago his body was a mass of lacerations and wounds from head to tail. One canine tooth protruded outside the bottom jaw alongside his nose and he was cowed and undernourished. There was a gypsy camp close by from which he may have escaped. Today, after visits to the vet and several months of TLC, he has regained his joie de vivre thanks to the kindness of all who work at his adoptive home. Fed daily and with a full bowl of water to hand, he has been given a proper kennel, warm bedding and a new lease of life. In return, he guards his patch and subjects visitors, especially Portuguese men, to a gentle telling off unless he has met them before. His name is “Scrap” and any suitable items of food would help to defray the cost of his keep. On the other hand, can anyone with a fenced garden and a warm heart give him a quiet, stable home?
Meanwhile, spring arrived on March 21 hidden behind a blanket of low cloud and scotch mist – warm enough to produce an explosion of small male ticks. A few mosquitoes have found their way through our netted windows, the female of which is ready for her fill of blood as she becomes fertile. While the male dines off nectar and water, she will stick her proboscis into the nearest warm-blooded animal and take a long drink. The itching season is here for dog and man and, while there are products for sale to deter ticks, I have yet to find a reliable protection against biting insects. Frogs, who have come out of their winter sleep, have an insatiable appetite for wrigglers and this goes some way to controlling mosquito larvae in ponds and streams, but not far enough.
While the ongoing drought is fast becoming a potential disaster, on the bright side, our large area of grass, that was once two paddocks, has not required mowing all winter. Last week, the first cut since autumn had the Boss in a muck sweat as he gave the plot a short back and sides. When dusk fell, one of our visiting friends remarked how it reminded her of the English countryside at hay harvest and we breathed deeply of crushed grass and orange blossom on the moist night air, savouring memories conjured and offering up thanks for such a moment.