Success and suspicion .jpg

Success and suspicion


BIG BROTHER is watching you! The book by George Orwell entitled 1984 came out in 1949 and, at the time, the very idea of “thought police” monitoring our every movement and communication was too far out to be taken seriously.

Now there is wire tapping, blanket monitoring of internet exchanges and CCTV cameras which, using infra-red rays, can see in the dark and operate without being wired to the mains. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

This was brought home to me last week when I had reason to e-mail a short write up that included a reference to Islam and its attraction for disenfranchised young people. I clicked on the send button: immediately a loud siren sounded and a window came up. In the window was a yellow and black logo indicating nuclear radiation: a voice said “Caution … possible infection detected”. Written details were given of sender and recipient, together with a headline “Suspicious whitespace message”.

Privacy seems to be a thing of the past, democracy trampled upon in the rush to flush out terrorists who may be succeeding in their aims of destabilisation, without the help of suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, my computer continues to crash several times a day, despite the attentions of a really wired up whiz kid. Although this was happening before I fell foul of the electronic snoopers, I fear that once having invaded my silicone chips, like children at McDonalds, they have an insatiable appetite for more: or perhaps it is just the heat.

As a result of unrelenting high temperatures, from time to time patience is in short supply and tempers are a little frayed among the population. It is most noticeable on the high road, where overheating of the brain overrides the usual caution of drivers, but also among the neighbourhood dogs, which are noted for their amiable behaviour and lack of aggression. Unless they have tasted blood, there seems to be a state of live and let live among the local canine population.

Unfortunately, a small tribe of mongrels was blooded a few years ago and, once in a while, as a gang, they kill again. This has caused much distress among pet owners in our valley.

Dogs will be dogs and, despite their long association with humans, they still have the latent instinct of their forbears – the wolves. It is up to us to do our best to discipline and control them, rather than to expect them to remember into which century they have been born.

With the ongoing drought, there has been a tendency to scan the horizons more often than normal, and the unmistakeable beat of helicopter rotors has my short hairs standing to attention. There are regular fire patrols by helicopter, but, the other evening, one came low enough to shake the windows as it took a sweep along the village. I shot outside to see clouds of black smoke rising from down the road and the sound of sirens.

In no time, flames were shooting up to 50 feet high and the helicopter was disgorging a posse of bombeiros. Shortly after this, two fire engines and a water tanker arrived with more men, and they set to work beating at the rapidly spreading conflagration. The flyers had disappeared, but within minutes, they were back with a great bag of water slung beneath the aircraft’s belly. Navigating through the thick black curtain with great accuracy, they delivered a fan of water where it was most needed, along a line of advancing flames.

The GNR were there controlling the usual spectators that seem to spring from nowhere when there is trouble afoot, and also directing traffic back from whence it  came.

The whole operation was an example of how a fire, if caught in time, may be controlled and systematically extinguished.

At one stage, the helicopter landed within 10 feet of the blaze and blew it back on itself, using the wind generated by the rotors, effectively snuffing it out along that front. By bedtime, all was quiet, and the British householder, whose property was only protected from the conflagration by a very high wall, could retire within his stockade. Just beyond his boundaries a thick, tall and very dry stand of bamboo had mostly been burned to a crisp, along with some oak trees and a hedge of Oleanders. Having just completed the sale of his house, it must have been a great relief as the last curl of smoke disappeared.

When the fire started, we thought someone had set light to an enormous pile of rubbish that, over several weeks, had been accumulating beside our country lane. White domestic equipment, planks of substandard wood ripped from a house in the process of renovation and binned kitchen waste, all highly inflammable and ripe for torching, was encroaching on the carriageway.

The fire may have motivated our local câmara to remove the unsightly heap, because within three days, it had vanished. A similar affront to the countryside on the outskirts of Odiaxere, well ripened by time, also poses a threat. Sited at a small cross roads with the accompanying green bin, plus double mattress and other cast-offs, one exit is blind until a driver pokes his vehicle in the path of traffic leaving the village. After an August lay-off, which appears to paralyse half the working population in the Algarve, we look forward to their revitalised presence and the return of essential services.