The great lantana massacre.jpg

The great lantana massacre

By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]

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.

Sunday February 1

I awoke this morning to the annual flood. An advantage of living in Monchique with its’ hills and valleys is that the occasional inundation of water does not hang around for very long. It finds a slope then roars off towards the nearest river. Our annual flood is greeted stoically with mop and bucket, no histrionics here. We have learned to accept that the waters just ooze up through the floor tiles and slowly flow towards the front door and out.

The annual flood has not always been with us. About 18 years ago, when attempting to install a bathroom (into a room which has since become a bedroom then a kitchen – I am nothing if not consistently fickle), Martyn inadvertently ripped a membrane. This membrane was no more than a bit of plastic laid under the floor tiles and the accident was forgotten almost as soon as it occurred. Despite its’ insignificance at the time, this bit of plastic has turned out to be quite crucial, its’ wound heralding the start of the annual flood.

Monday February 2

In work today someone asked me if we had been flooded over the weekend? Suspecting supernatural powers, I asked how they knew. It soon emerged that everyone present had been flooded. These are normal people that live in normal houses, not desolate farm houses with ripped membranes built into the side of a mountain. I can’t quite explain why, but hearing that even coastal dwellers suffer the ravages of nature along with us was quite comforting.

Thursday February 5

I set off with the dogs this evening for a quick walk around the mountain across the bridge to the other side of the river from us. I was thwarted early on by the lack of the bridge – a further casualty of the heavy rain. I looked up and down the river, no sign of it. The dogs, equally perplexed ran manically in and out of the surrounding forest, sniffing excitedly. No doubt someone on the lower slopes awoke last weekend to find a bridge outside his front door. Now we really must get around to building the new bridge we began planning 15 years ago.

Friday February 20

I spent an exhilarating morning walking around Lagos dressed as a tree. Who, other than a primary school teacher at carnival, could say that? On a similar theme, only in a primary school would someone come running up to you and say “I’m a packed lunch.”

Monday February 23

There is an exhilarating thrill to wanton destruction and devastation shared by all humans. We might not be proud of it, we might try to fight it, but it is there nonetheless. Who can honestly say they don’t enjoy watching those controlled explosions as tall buildings are demolished – reduced to a pile of dust? Is there anybody who does not feel the tingle of excitement as the huge ball dangling from a crane swings about perilously knocking down everything in its’ path?

I began the day peacefully enough with some gentle pruning at the side of the house. Half an hour later, sweating profusely and wielding a chainsaw, I was stampeding around the farm like a madman, gripped by the need to destroy!  Anything vaguely resembling a plant only had to sway in the breeze and its’ death certificate was signed.

Lantana, the multi-coloured flowering shrub that surrounds our house, was the greatest victim of this onslaught. When we first arrived in the Algarve, I was so taken with lantana that as well as planting it liberally, we actually named our house after it. We purchased those little blue tiles and carefully stuck Casa da Lantana onto the side of the house. As I learned to propagate, more was put in and then I discovered the delight of white, purple and yellow varieties too.    

A few years down the line and this delightful little plant has become an uncontrollable weed. Despite forest fires, floods and incompetent gardening techniques, this invasive storm trooper has flourished, long since blanketing the name plaque that sneers beneath. Today I have massacred a forest of the stuff, cut it right down to the ground. At the same time, seized by the afore-mentioned lust for destruction, I cut down numerous other offenders. The little garden at the side of my house has now been restored to the controlled space it was 20 years ago.

Tuesday February 24

As penance for Tuesday’s destruction, today has been spent planting vegetables. As well as lettuces, onions, cabbages, carrots and broad beans, we have now planted some beetroot, more cabbages and, somewhat optimistically, Martyn has planted tomatoes.

Thursday February 26

Eggs’ babies have turned against her. She gave birth to 11 piglets just over a year ago and all but two have made their way to that great spit roast in the sky. Today, these two, instead of remaining loyal loving daughters, turned on their own mother and began attacking her. They were chasing her up and down hills, biting her quite deeply. Eggs’ shrill cries echoed through the valley and our attempts at separation only lasted until we walked off again. The only solution seemed to be the inevitable, so now we have two dead pigs waiting to be butchered. That’s the strange thing about farming – as soon as you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens just to let you know how much of an amateur you really are.