By: Margaret Brown
THE TROUBLE with spring is that everything looks on the tatty side: clothes, house and kitchen cupboards, as well as what passes for a lawn (where our horses once grazed when we owned the farm next door). Having obtained the services of an excellent gardener during the time the Boss was hors de combat, an area within 200 feet of the house has had a thorough short back and sides.
Shaved within an inch of its life, the creeping grass that ran riot following several days of rain has been replaced by rosettes of Common Plantain and a low growing plant that produces burrs. These present a real problem for Millie, a long haired bitch who joined us a couple of months ago and who is already having trouble with those left over from last year. Sideburns, beard and woolly trousers are like a magnet to iron filings and patience on both sides is tested to the limit while we tease each prickly fruit from her thick coat.
On the rocky area of land behind our house that was cleared last autumn there is a fine crop of perennial weeds pushing up between a few struggling salad vegetables. Local dogs have trodden them down as they wander by under cover of darkness and so far we have harvested only two radishes.
Thunder rumbles ever closer as I write, with large drops of rain pattering like pigeons on the roof of my office. There has been a population explosion of these noisy birds and, with sunrise, all hope of sleep is banished: even the song of the cuckoo is overwhelmed and neighbourhood cats are failing in their duties. While Britain has been enjoying summer temperatures (24 degrees C in the London area recently), we continue to light the wood burning stove at night and wonder if global warming has passed us by.
Meanwhile, on the Isle of Wight, Number One daughter has been able to indulge her naturist leanings at least six weeks earlier than usual. Having gone to a private and rather stony beach with a friend, she took a dip in the altogether. However, finding the water on the chilly side, she came out and made a big bonfire using broken pallets from the container ship Napoli. Most of the lost property had come ashore at Lyme Bay some months before, but, for some reason, shoes of every size and style had ended up at high watermark where they were picnicking, and not a complete pair among them.
On the plus side, perhaps the very warm summer that has been forecast worldwide may be shorter than usual for the Barlavento region of the Algarve, having started so late. Not ‘Allgarve’, as the Tourist Board would have it, in a misguided effort to boost the numbers of bodies on beds, the region having been renamed by the Minister of Economy Manuel Pinho at the beginning of March. He dreamed up the idea to attract more visitors from around the world. In doing this, he is ignoring the rich history of the Province. The invasion of Iberia by the Moors in 711AD: the naming of the south western area Al-Garb, and eventually Algarve after the invaders left and the Portuguese finally secured their borders in the 13th century.
Men of the Algarve have left their mark down the centuries. The Voyages of Discovery in the 15th century opened up the trade routes of the world and, following the Napoleonic invasion of Iberia, the people of the Algarve were the first to reclaim their territory. They finally defeated the French with some help from a British contingent, led by William Beresford at the Battle of the Douro, in the early part of the 19th century.
Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel because there is already a registered website using the word ‘Allgarve’ which, unless the owner sells out, should stop Sr. Pinho from carrying out his dastardly plot. As with many strange ideas that have five minutes of notoriety, this one may fade into the background, but how long before it pops up again when no one is paying attention and finds its way onto the statute book?
Meanwhile, back in the hills and despite low temperatures during March and April, there has been a lot of activity among the trees and shrubs. Apart from sparrows building haystacks between the folding shutters and under the eaves of the house which we demolished daily, several blackbirds and a couple of hoopoes are busy feeding their first hatchlings and a golden oriole sings every morning behind the house. Woodpeckers, both green and spotted, hammer at intervals among the dead and dying cork oaks and drill holes in the last of the wooden telegraph poles. The oaks are infected with the Phytophthora pathogen that causes root canker and which seems to be spreading rapidly in this area.
April 1 saw the birth of a beautiful filly foal. Our neighbour’s grey mare waited until the moon was full and all was quiet in the valley before she delivered her baby. Somehow the newcomer got under the fence, down the hill and was standing quietly among the boulders of a dry river when dawn broke. No harm was done and, with a plentiful supply of milk, mare and foal seem to be very happy with their lot.
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