Stuff for the memory store

By JENNY GRAINER [email protected]

Jenny Grainer arrived in the Algarve to live, work and raise a family in 1968. She is a freelance writer and her book ‘Portugal and the Algarve Now and Then’ has sold more than 2,000 copies

New year’s eve seems a long time ago and Christmas a distant memory but my daughter and son-in-law are unlikely to forget December 2009, both for the excitement of moving into their first own home and for choosing to do so just as Britain started to have its worst snowfall in 30 years.

My children were born and raised in Portugal so snow was something only ever seen in pictures. Until that Christmas week, my daughter had seen a few flurries that barely settled and thought it was all a fun novelty; I don’t think she feels that way anymore.

On the day of the move from their rented flat in Brighton, a city that usually enjoys very mild weather, the van slithered its short way to their new house and stopped at the bottom of a hill it couldn’t climb.

Everything had to be carried up many long metres to the new home, which still had no central heating, carpets or curtains, by ‘a stretched to the limits’ young couple. Fortunately her brother, my youngest son, also lives in Brighton and gave a willing hand, so they were not alone.

The furniture only consisted of a bed, a sofa and a small table for the computer, but the computer, the television and music centre plus armfuls of clothes, boxes of books and CDs etc, all had to be carried up and left on the floor until they could get out to the shops, or order by telephone, the shelves and cupboards in which to put them.

For weeks they were snowed in and struggled just to buy food with no buses running and unable to take delivery of anything they managed to order by phone. At least they had a phone. Were they unhappy? What do you think? The joy of having their own place, time to strip off ancient wallpaper and slap on some paint is the stuff that youthful memories are made from.

Oh to be young, in love, sitting on boxes and in your first home at Christmas even if you’re freezing . . .

Meanwhile, no snow here but, after weeks and weeks of rain, the sun has finally made a welcome return to the Algarve (at least it has as I’m writing this), for which I know that I am not the only one to be grateful.

Compared to the UK, we have had little to complain about – no schools closed or roads made impassable, but we aren’t used to such prolonged bouts of rain and it seems that everybody has been made thoroughly miserable by it all.

I’m sure it has had its silver lining with dams so full, we are unlikely to have any water shortages for a long time to come and many plants and trees exalting in such abundant watering, but there are some downsides too.

Sadly, I have looked upon some of the older properties made of adobe collapsing with the constant downpours and watched people on television heart broken in many parts of the country who have lost crops, homes and possessions to the incessant rain. Gypsies in particular have suffered in their nomadic existence with monthly markets and annual fairs washed away in mud.

Many house walls and ceilings are starting to blacken with fungus caused by water filtration finding any hairline crack. Even aluminium or PVC have black spores sprouting in the wet damp atmosphere and washing draped indoors by desperate householders unable to dry clothes outdoors has only worsened the condensation problem.

Wooden doors and windows have also swollen making them difficult to open or close, roads are potholed from the constant floods of water trying to find their way and repairmen unable to do much about them.

Suddenly, there are smiles upon people’s faces as pale winter complexions try to catch up on all the things they haven’t been able to do for so long.

It’s wonderful to see people out with their dogs again enjoying walks, at least on city streets if not the still waterlogged countryside and even Charlie, our 15-year old cat, has found the energy to step outside for a lazy stretch and a sunny snooze.

Sunshine does wonders for the spirit and also for ageing bones and, with just of few hours of it, the almond blossom is already scattering the Algarve’s version of snow all over.

I can’t say it will be like this for long but I have already seen the odd tourist with a tan, so it looks promising – I’d better go out and enjoy it while it lasts.