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The edge of paranoia

By MARGARET BROWN [email protected]

Margaret Brown is one of the Algarve Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years.

Having complained this year that June was a month better forgotten, it seems that August was about to do its worst despite the happy prospect of both daughters coming to stay. While No.1 daughter enjoyed a relatively peaceful holiday, No.2 breezed in a week later rejoicing at the prospect of twelve days away from work.

Being tied to computer or car from Monday to Friday and often on Saturdays, the hot, dry and aromatic air of countryside Algarve went straight to the heart of the matter. Notwithstanding dusk until dawn barking, howling and singing of neighbourhood dogs, she slept well and stress gave way to relaxation.

High temperatures precluded long drives by car but a variety of local watering holes allowed us to loll about and do nothing together. Our visitor would set out ahead of us and either walk or cycle part of the way, to be picked up after several miles hot, sweaty and rejoicing.

Afternoons were for dozing or whatever the mood dictated but like addicts unable to resist a fix, both daughters spent the siesta hours working on computer. Both a curse and a boon, one thing is certain –that if these electronic machines either fail or are summarily removed it really throws a spanner in the works.

News that some passing thug had broken a window of our daughter’s house came as a shock. Immediately, she arranged that all confidential folders be deleted, back-up discs removed and her motorbike and pedal cycle taken to a safe place. The police were informed. Two nights later, the thieves returned and cleared out everything of monetary, and some things of sentimental, value including all electronic equipment as well as tools for her art and engraving work. The C.I.D (Criminal Investigation Department) is on the job but with little hope of a result in the absence of fingerprints, the felons being well practiced professionals. Similar crime happens all the time both in Portugal and the United Kingdom but reimbursement by Insurance Company can neither restore peace nor a sense of security which are the essence of one’s home.

Finally, having reduced the daily trek of ants to a trickle in kitchen and bathrooms, within a few days we were plagued by a mass eruption of tiny moths. Any cupboard opened in the large well fitted kitchen released a cloud of these elusive little horrors which catch in one’s hair, drop into whatever was cooking on the stove or disappear into the rest of the house.

Identified as the Indian Meal Moth, I was assured, much to my relief, that their presence was not the result of slovenly housekeeping but because of their catholic taste in food. Appearing to reproduce with great speed, where one died several more took its place. The tiny larvae chewed their way into sealed containers of grain, dried fruit, flour, chocolate and many other foods. There they pupated, hatched and the breeding cycle started all over again.

With No.2 daughter’s help, we threw away 90 per cent of all stores and cleaned out every nook and cranny, removing long threads of silk with which the maggots had secured themselves while they pupated.

Clothes they do not eat but their presence in bedroom and living room, the soft brush of small wings across the face after dark, brings one to the edge of paranoia. With a life cycle as short as 30 days in a warm climate, we are due for another outbreak any day now.

Man against insect is no contest, the departure of a family member is always sad and a change of scenery being excellent therapy. Lately, the Boss and I have been going for an evening swim. Visitors seem to prefer Meia Praia but because I am afraid of breaking waves and the presence of Weaver Fish, we go to Lagos town beach. There, when the wind is from north or northwest, the sea is calm, its gentle swell enhanced from time to time by the wash of a passing trawler or speeding Gin Palace. Although by now the water is turning chilly, its pale green clarity is a delight.

Holidaymakers have gone elsewhere by the second week in September and the sand is now clean apart from seaweed and long lines of tiny shells. We searched among the layered frills of pink, yellow and diverse shades of white for cowries.

Prized by Ancient Egyptians as currency and for the practice of necromancy, archaeologists excavated many millions from the tombs of the Pharaohs. Their value as money had spread across much of Africa by the 13th Century in preference to gold coin, also becoming an essential ingredient of native magic and mystic rites. Found among Paleolithic wall paintings, cowries were used in Nigeria as late as 1942 having re-emerged as currency during the world recession in the 1930s.

This humble sea snail is now an endangered species in parts of the African continent, their contemporary use being for personal adornment, in necklaces, clothing decoration and incorporated into modern artwork. We found several, none more than 4mm in length, their shades varying from translucent white through pale rose to a delicate brown. These mysterious jewels of the ocean shallows lay a clutch of fertilized eggs then cover it with their muscular foot until hatched. When ready, the larvae join drifts of Plankton, eventually settling on the sea bed to grow their own shells of pearl.