The beauty of chickens and writing letters.jpg

The beauty of chickens and writing letters

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Wednesday July 11

Martyn’s entire family detests travelling. As a consequence, the most minor travel arrangements invariably end in disaster with road, rail and air companies conspiring to cause the maximum inconvenience.

His mother’s recent holiday to Bulgaria got off to a trying start when 20 minutes into the air the passenger in front of her had a heart attack, keeled over and died. As if this were not distressing enough, the plane turned around and headed back to Bristol, where due to landing slot issues it circled for 45 minutes waiting to land. A very unpleasant experience for the corpse and the living, who then had to endure a further eight hours in departures hoping for a new flight.

Martyn, who only travels when valiumed-up to the hilt, seems to have hit some new lows recently. He left his friend’s house on a hot humid day in south London, taking the tube to Victoria to catch a coach to south Wales. The tube overshot the station at Victoria, preventing the doors from being opened. Safety regulations prevented the train from reversing five metres, so it had to go on to the next station. On arrival at Pimlico, he had just missed a train going the other way and had to endure 20 frustrating minutes before he arrived back at Victoria. In this short time, the sunny weather had given way to hammering rain, which he waded valiantly through wearing only a light t-shirt and shorts!

He just made it to the coach station in time to catch the bus, which subsequently got stuck in traffic on a bridge in Wales, a mere half-minute walk from his destination. The coach driver refused to allow passengers off due to, you’ve guessed it, health and safety regulations. Ninety minutes later they were allowed off – my guess is the driver is in intensive care.

His return to Portugal recently was no better when his early enthusiasm was quashed by a non-appearing train at 5.30am, in a station where no one saw fit to mention the cancellation.

After a bit of gung-ho spirit and a pop at someone in uniform, he arrived at Gatwick, with the rest of the afflicted, where he was struck by a blackout of monitors and no way of knowing which gate his flight was to depart from – in seven minutes! Luckily, Thomson holidays did everything in their power to get him on board. He made the flight with three minutes to spare and walked straight into one of the TV monitors above his seat, thereby cheering up the passengers who had sat watching their take-off time slowly disappear.

Tuesday July 17

Unseasonably cool weather has allowed me to work hard on the farm clearing the spring weeds and brambles ready to provide fresh land for the poultry and the pigs. The beauty of chickens (a strange and worrying phrase) is that not only do they provide eggs, meat and entertainment, they also make terrific weeders. Four years ago, we planted a terrace of fruit trees (peach, apple, pear etc) and each spring the weed growth is phenomenal. My plan is to home some chickens and geese on the terrace, thereby weeding and fertilising around the trees for me.

While I have been embroiled in hard physical labour (the weeds are four feet high and tangled up with brambles), Martyn has spent his time composing letters of complaint to various travel companies and the like. The act of writing the letters appears to be therapeutic enough to negate the need to ever post them, which although convenient financially, renders the whole process a little irrational. His desire, unlike that of most UK citizens, is for justice, the affirmation of the ‘wrongness’ of the situation as opposed to compensation of any monetary kind.

He, like most people I speak to, believe that the growth of a compensation culture is now completely out of hand. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks the ‘nanny state’ is a good thing, so it does make me wonder who and where are all the people who get these ludicrous payouts that bring about warnings of ‘hot’ coffee and nuts that ‘may contain traces of nuts’.

One heart-warming ‘anti-compo culture’ story I heard recently was from Martyn’s mother. For about 140 pounds sterling, she travelled by coach from Wales to the Costa Brava and was put up for 10 days in a three-star hotel with a Mediterranean view. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but still exceedingly good value for money. The owner of the travel company Mr Davis, a self-made entrepreneurial type not known for his sophisticated ways, was at the hotel while they were there.

The first morning, over breakfast, a young couple approached Mr Davis with a string of complaints about the hotel, the location, their room and demanded compensation. After a couple of minutes of this, Mr Davis asked them how much they had paid for their holiday and what they expected for that money. He then took out his wallet, gave them a full refund and told them there was a seat available on a bus back to south Wales that very afternoon.

The couple stood speechless for a few seconds and then began trying to backtrack. Mr Davis, however, was having none of it. He told them he expected them and their cases on the bus at 3pm and the room vacant. It certainly made everyone else’s holiday much more enjoyable.

Monday July 30

The summer heat has finally arrived and everything here should be slowing down to a snail’s pace. Why then, I ask myself, was I up at 6am slaughtering a pig and spending the rest of the morning butchering it? The outside temperature at 7am was 29°C, which had crept up another 10 degrees by 10am. By midday, the whole 50kg of pork was cut, sliced and in the freezer. The only thing to escape the freezer was the squeak – we are becoming very efficient at this lark.

One more piglet to go and Eggs will be offspring free. She seems very unconcerned by her disappearing young, just seems to accept it as a fact of life. I now intend to take myself upstairs for a well-earned siesta, to energise myself for this evening’s round of watering.