Saturday December 4
For us, December has begun with a run of bad luck caused, we believe, by the gift of a ‘lucky elephant’. The moment the elephant was handed over, catastrophe and disaster plagued our lives. I left the lights on in our pick-up, which resulted in a flat battery discovered 10 minutes before I was due to meet Martyn at the station. Martyn replaced the battery incorrectly and blew up a CD player he had bought and installed two days earlier. I decided to clean under the microwave and moved it – big mistake. It has now stopped working. The same evening, while loading up the fire, a huge log toppled forward and smashed the glass door resulting in a smoky but cold evening. Two cups, one glass, a casserole dish and a plate have all been dropped and broken since this lucky charm entered our lives. We are now unsure as to what to do. Keeping it may simply maintain the status quo until we have no home left. Throwing it away may enrage it further resulting in more misfortune. We are toying with the idea of consulting Doctor Bamboo.
I have just completed a vitalising walk from Monchique to Fóia and then back to our house. This was about nine miles, including an ascent of 500m and a descent of about 700m. At the summit, the north side of the mountain was freezing cold with icy winds, invigoratingly unpleasant. We had a coffee in the café at the peak and my accomplice, Teresa, remarked on its similarity to a café she knows in Whitby. The souvenir shop had more in common with Blackpool, however, specialising in teapots and jugs with phallic shaped spouts. The jet-black pubic hairs, ‘tastefully’ painted around the base, were a particularly artistic touch – how we laughed!
Sunday December 19
Six shopping days away from the big day and I am about to embark on a Christmas shopping extravaganza to Lisbon. Two weeks ago, Martyn spent a weekend in the capital and returned (with the aforementioned elephant) refreshed and invigorated. He was impressed with the improvement to the capital’s transport infrastructure and the arrival of large swanky shopping centres.
One depressing development Martyn could not escape was the proliferation of beggars that has accompanied Lisbon’s growth. Dealing with beggars has never been an easy task for me. Ideally, if I could afford to, I would like to give money to people who are desperate enough to need to ask for it. In the last 10 years, though, the emergence of ‘professional begging’ puts one in the invidious position of having to decide who are the deserving poor. The sight of desperate looking mothers ending a day’s begging by climbing into a glamorous Mercedes is not uncommon in East London, neither are the stories of beggars controlled by criminal gangs. Along with this are the news reports of illegal immigrants actually dying of starvation in Portugal. Perhaps, the best solution is to give to no one on the street and make a donation to an official homeless charity.
Monday December 20
Mum, Dad and me are now finally in Lisbon, residing in a comfortable little hotel just off the Avenida da Liberdade. The senior folk had been briefed on how to behave in the big city – keep with me at all times, don’t talk to strangers, don’t stare or point at people and keep money safely out of reach of pick-pockets at all times. Within seconds of disembarking at Lisbon Entrecampos, they started playing up – faffing about through their luggage for the camera to take a photo of a busker. Next came a second search for the purse for a donation to the busker, immediately followed by an unnecessary kerfuffle at the ticket machine.
A scene at the ticket barrier quickly surpassed this spectacle, where the task of putting a ticket into a slot took on the magnitude of a Mensa test. I was halfway down the steps before I looked around to see a throng of tired commuters jostling angrily behind the English couple having a whale of time pushing tickets into every available crevice. There was a fair bit of inappropriate behaviour on the metro, but I managed to control the worst of it, with threatening looks, until we finally hobbled into our hotel. I must remember to nip down to reception later to warn room service to expect a run on tea bags.
Tuesday December 21
While strolling along the fashionable Chiado shopping area this morning, the peace was broken by a lot of shouting, as a 20-year-old, fair-haired boy sprinted athletically passed us. In pursuit, like hounds after a fox, thundered two waiters dressed in black suits with white aprons flailing behind them. Their prey was quickly cornered and crumpled to the ground, as they pinned him against a wall. The adrenaline of the chase had fuelled the waiters’ anger – their eyes exuded violence. A crowd of Lisboetas quickly gathered around the scene. From within the mass, two policemen emerged and listened calmly as the two waiters spat out their story. The young man had sat down in their restaurant, eaten breakfast, drank coffee and left without paying his bill. When they called him back, he had taken to his heels and fled. The policemen then turned to the boy to hear his version. The boy, now lacking the confidence of youth, stood in the middle of the crowd shaking nervously. Crying unashamedly, the tears streamed from his eyes, like those of an eight-year-old, his face was red and swollen. Through his tears, he explained with pure simplicity that he was hungry and he needed to eat. He was led to the police car as the waiters shoved through the crowd to return to work. Like everyone else, I then carried on with my shopping.
The power of the elephant appears to be subsiding and Christmas dinner was fantastic. The turkey was delicious – succulent, tasty and excellently cooked. December has been a quiet month agriculturally and I am now looking forward to getting back in the vegetable garden next month to plant potatoes and peas. We have started saving up our spare hen’s eggs for the incubator and hope to have our first clutch hatched out before the end of January. When the turkeys begin laying, a dozen or so of their eggs will go the same way. The pigs, however, do not have such a promising prospect ahead. Their hams are filling out nicely and we are beginning to make space in the freezer – such is life.
Happy New Year!