Saturday, February 11
9am: Okay, everything is sorted – passport and tickets are in my trouser pockets, the mobile phone is turned off, euros in one pocket, pounds in the other, coach ticket easily accessible. Only four hours to kill before I need to leave for the airport.
9.55am: Can’t face another cup of tea. Absurd stories on Home Truths begin to jar the nerves – switch off the radio. Scenarios of crashing coaches, traffic gridlock and freak weather conditions jangle about competitively in my befuddled head – should have had more than four hours kip, didn’t want to oversleep. I’m normally so calm about travel, serenely gliding into the airport in the nick of time without a care in the world. Maybe this is the start of old age – mindless worrying about non-existent problems combined with excessive earliness. Arrive at Stansted – three hours til check-in, five til take-off – heh ho!
12pm: Just polished off burger and chips. Already irrationally irritated by children, pensioners and anything in between.
1pm: How can the Saturday edition of The Times be so huge and contain so little stimuli?
2pm: Checked-in. Suitcase containing four rose bushes, three raspberry bushes, a rose arch and a collapsible greenhouse sail purposefully out of sight, as I hurry on to be frisked and scanned.
6pm: Flight delayed until seven! I am so glad I arrived in plenty of time. Experiment with a range of coffees far greater than I knew existed and almost finish my book – Watching the English by Kate Fox (highly recommended). Kate Fox could do far worse than conduct her next study in an airport. The endless stream of people, all of whom undergo a bizarre personality change on crossing the terminal threshold, could keep any anthropologist content for years.
One universal affliction upon arrival seems to be a sudden desire to dash about frenziedly looking at screens and yelling out numbers. Upon spotting their flight number, they are then struck with immediate amnesia and need to fumble through every pocket, bag, purse, wallet and zipped orifice to ascertain that this was indeed the flight number they had looked at 10 seconds earlier. It has to be said that men are greater sufferers than women – often needing to dash (with trolley and family in tow) between various monitors, just to look at the same information again. During this sprint, many are completely unaware of the trail of tickets and travel paraphernalia being scattered in their wake – they fly about, pockets gaping, as their offspring dutifully pick up the pieces, as yet, unaware of appropriate airport behaviour.
Once at the departure gate, half the passengers suddenly feel compelled to joke in excessive deafening tones about aeroplane disasters and the like, causing the other half to knock back dangerous narcotic cocktails and slugs of duty free gin. Impeccably behaved children are screeched at for wandering a metre from their parent’s side, while colossal bags of hand luggage are ceaselessly trawled and sifted to ensure that all the necessary provisions for a three-hour flight have not evaporated.
6.30pm: Discover a disposable razor head in my inside jacket pocket and feel gripped by terrorism fear. God knows how it got there – could end up in Guantanamo Bay for this! Surreptitiously drop it into a coffee shop bin while maintaining 360-degree vigilance.
7pm: Calmly read my book and people watch during the boarding gate debacle, as the whirling mass of ‘queasyjetters’ jostle and shove, convinced that everyone else is a queue jumper, hell bent on having extra time to open and close their overhead lockers. Finally, me and a tall, wobbly, blonde Eastern European male with a Tintin haircut stand up. As soon as I clock him, I know he’s going to be trouble. As we hand in our boarding cards to the tired orange blob, he follows me down the stairs and starts talking Russian. I am immediately overcome with Englishness, apologise for not understanding and just catch the bouquet of alcohol before I hurry on down more stairs, across the tarmac and onto the plane, swiftly scanning for a solitary seat.
Tintin sits behind me muttering away, the captain welcomes us. All looks to be going well when, suddenly, the orange blobs become unexpectedly animated, doing numerous headcounts. The mob begin to get restless when finally a Mr Ziebelitz (name changed to protect anonymity) is called for, to no response. I could have identified him for them at this point, but, still gripped by Englishness, remain silent, faking excessive interest in the air safety card. Ten minutes later, Tintin reveals himself and is escorted off to find the Edinburgh plane, his intended destination. A further 20 minutes upheaval while we lift up all the seats to find the bomb he’d planted – fortuitously he seems to have taken it with him.
10.30pm: Arrival. The breeze is warm, the air is sweet, everything feels perfect. Home for a week.
Sunday, February 19
Where did the week go? I erected the greenhouse, planted my shrubs, visited my favourite places and it was time to go back. The farm has been hit by a series of mongoose attacks that have polished off over half our poultry. Martyn, under the guidance of some aged café dwellers, has spent most of the week rigging up a series of lethal looking snares, aimed at ensuring any trespassing mongoose suffers a memorable and unpleasant exit from this world.
My time away and my short return have served to remind me of how much I love the life we have for ourselves here. Walking the dogs along the tracks, climbing the mountain opposite us, chatting with neighbours, the ever present calmness of the Algarvean countryside (mongooses notwithstanding) may not sound much, but they are worth more than any words could express. Back here in the cold, gloomy, work-haunted nothingness of London, I miss Portugal and Martyn so much.
Sunday, February 26
Back a week and already counting the days until Easter. Half of Monchique have lost their potato crops and favas, which enables Martyn to congratulate himself on his tardiness at getting anything sown. A freak hailstorm deposited 10cm of ice across the hills, which remained frozen long enough to kill off anything slightly susceptible. Over here, I have had my mobile phone stolen by a child in my class and the school I teach in has begun to crumble – two ceilings have fallen down in the last fortnight. It would, of course, be utterly unprofessional to hope the next avalanche crushes the little thief who took my phone. Here’s hoping.