The summer recess - By PAUL MCKAY.jpg

The summer recess – By PAUL MCKAY

Tuesday July 11

One of the joys of moving away from your home town, and even more so your home country, is that you are constantly discovering something new; new food, new people, new places and new lifestyles. I understand that this is not everybody‘s cup of tea. Some people like the comfort of knowing exactly what’s going to be served up on their plate and get a little edgy when moved out of their comfort zone. For them, the thought of not speaking the language fluently, discovering an unknown pathway, or the idea of unknown insects, is a living nightmare.

Today, I have found a previously undiscovered beach, in an area I thought had long been abandoned to the cement mixers. This beach is beautiful beyond belief: it is a calm, sandy cove, surrounded by high sandstone cliffs, beneath a shady pine forest. It really is travel brochure stuff, but without the burger bars behind the photographer. The cliffs enclose the beach in a semi-circle with grottoes and caves that can be crept through to get to even more beautiful beaches that have huge, almost menacing, rock formations and even more caves with giant blow holes reaching up 20 metres or so.

The beach never seems to get too busy, is popular with the no-clothes fraternity and is only accessible by a treacherous climb down some very slippery paths. We stayed at our new-found discovery for a couple of hours and returned home relaxed, refreshed and invigorated.

Thursday July 13

Martyn’s ‘animal accumulation’ disorder appears to be re-surfacing again (I must speak to his GP). He insisted on dragging me around Aljezur market to purchase six turkeys and six guinea fowl this morning. While wandering around trying to look agricultural, we were accosted by a German woman who wanted to sell us her homemade bread. I was a little dubious, as she didn’t have a stall, but the rye-bread looked quite good, so I made an impulse purchase. Now I wish I had asked for her phone number to order more; it was absolutely delicious!

Saturday July 15

We kept two guinea fowl once before, but never got to eat them due to the mongoose getting there first. Martyn told me they can be somewhat flighty (aren’t all birds?), which was proved correct this morning when he opened their cage and mass pandemonium broke out, resulting in six escapees. This was quickly capitalised on by the usually docile turkeys, who also took to the wing, so all 12 newcomers had to be painstakingly captured and re-caged.

I have since re-read our poultry manual (The Complete Book of Raising Livestock and Poultry by Katie Thear and Dr Alistair Fraser), which is far from reassuring. Katie and the doctor warn that guinea fowl are flighty to the extreme and may wander huge distances, fly into trees and over high fences. They are particularly nervous, apparently, and will stampede if panicked by something as trivial as opening the cage door! That’s not all – if they don’t fly off or trample each other to death in a panicky frenzy, the resourceful guinea fowl has yet one more trick up its sleeve. When agitated (by a passing butterfly or falling leaf maybe), the females will utter loud calls, which are extremely trying if you happen to dislike their grating, warbling shrieks. Well done Martyn – another triumph to send me running for the Valium.

Monday July 17

While Martyn played tennis in Portimão this morning, I spent some time on my new beach, arriving at 8.30am. Being on the beach at that time of day is a surreal experience – it’s sunny but still cool. Surprisingly, I was not alone. There was a man and a woman in one of the caves, who didn’t look to me as if they were there for the pot-holing. There was another man, furtively wandering in and out of vacant caves, looking over his shoulder expectantly. Walking purposefully back and forth along the shoreline was an elderly, balding, bespectacled man, completely naked apart from a surgical stocking.

Friday July 21

What did you do last night? Cinema? Out for a meal at Vale de Bolo, or whatever it’s called? Perhaps you ate sardines in Portimão and then had a stroll along the Arade River. Me, I killed and butchered a pig and finally got to bed at 4am. I occasionally have an out of body experience, looking down at some bizarre event and wonder what happened to my life; last night was one such time. Eggs (the pet pig who will never be killed) is due to give birth in a month, so her final surviving daughter had to be ‘finished’ last night. She is (was) 11 months old, has (had) developed a lovely trusting personality, so killing her was very unpleasant – it felt quite treacherous. It was all over with very quickly – it was the butchering and carrying up to the house that took the next six hours.

This morning, I struggled with a laden wheelbarrow up the hill from my house, past my Dutch neighbour’s place and towards the home of my other neighbour, Maria. “What do you have there?” he enquired, jovially. “A pig’s head and trotters for Maria to boil up,” I called back pleasantly. He slowly turned green.

Saturday July 29

The weather really is too hot to do any real work on the farm between noon and 6pm now, so we spent another afternoon relaxing on Praia do Surgical Stocking, where we are now regulars. Sr Surgical Stocking was on parade at the waterfront as usual, while a family, complete with pushchair, was occupying a shady cave at the back of the beach. We had a wonderfully lazy afternoon sunbathing, swimming, reading and generally lazing.

As we left the beach, we stood on the top of the cliffs, staring at the beautiful bay below. I tried to imagine how I would feel if this was the last day of my holiday and I had to travel home tomorrow, knowing that was it, for another year. A hollow sadness at this thought served to reveal the truth of how lucky we are to be living here.

• Paul McKay can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]