Ex-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. Read his diary as he gets to grips with rural life.
Monday 4th April
Many of you will be aware of our somewhat chequered history with rabbits. Three died of myxomatosis, two died of heat exhaustion, one was infertile, one gave birth to dead babies and another stood by, nonchalantly chewing carrots, while hers died all around her. Not a particularly successful history, I grant you. Any sensible person (me) would say enough is enough. Martyn has made an appointment with the ‘rabbit lady’ in Monchique. I shall order in some wood for the coffins.
Tuesday 12th April
Inspired by my outpourings on Portugal‘s beautiful country walks, our friends Dean and Andrew arrived in Monchique this week armed with walking guides, water bottles, maps and seriously sturdy shoes. I made a mental note to acquire a pointy stick that converts into a seat before their next visit. They decided upon a walk just east of Silves, following a canal from the Barragem do Arade into Silves.
Dean and Andrew spent a number of years in Holland, where the word canal means a picturesque waterway, meandering through green fields, flanked by willows and elms, and inhabited by a vast array of waterfowl.
The Silves canal, perhaps because of the drought, is not quite so idyllic. It is in fact a four-foot V of concrete containing two centimetres of putrid slime at the bottom. We followed this stinking fetid ditch for three hours and, in that time, encountered 26 mad dogs, two tethered deranged horses and one un-tethered shepherd, and a very loose woman.
The two centimetres of slime had somehow claimed two dead goats, three dead hedgehogs (though one might have been a scrubbing brush) and numerous other unidentifiable, decomposing creatures. The propensity of the path to disappear into an irrigation drain with alarming regularity meant that any scenery that may have existed went unobserved for fear of becoming another of the canal’s innocent victims.
For what should have been a brief spell at the beginning of the route, the walk did not hug the canal and was almost pleasant. This early optimism was shattered, however, by an error in the guide, which had us charging up and down vertical hillsides, encountering ravines that could not be crossed without the aid of ropes and pulleys.
We had just about given up all hope of retracing our route, when a passing motorist (who had seen it all before) pointed us in the right direction, up another vertical track. The climb was steep, the sun was scorching and the road was dusty. Dean and I arrived at the top to turn around and see Andrew flailed out like a pregnant crab, unable to move in either direction – his childhood fear of heights had resurfaced halfway up a hill. With Dean counselling from above (Esther Rantzen voice), Andrew took up an all-fours position and slowly wriggled his way up the hill, grappling hold of loose stones and soil, belly close to the ground not unlike soldiers snaking across a battlefield. He kept muttering “I can’t”, “it’s not funny”, both of which turned out to be untrue.
He finally reached the top some 20 minutes later, just as our helpful motorist was returning from his expedition. Shocked, he screeched to a halt to ask if everything was okay. With a dust-covered Andrew behind us, shaking wildly and hyperventilating into a Lidl bag, Dean and I kept a stiff upper-lip and told our good Samaritan that all was well, thank you.
Thursday 14th April
Martyn has had a busy week, building three sturdy rabbit hutches, ready for our new arrivals. We visited the rabbit lady today and purchased one pregnant female, one young female and a huge male. The rabbit lady seemed to have a real affinity with the rabbits, who allowed her to carry them around without a struggle and even sat still as she put them in the scales to weigh them (they are sold by the kilo). After helping them encourage a pig into a lorry, we returned home and installed our new bunnies into their ’hutch with a view’.
Friday 15th April
The door fell off a rabbit hutch.
Friday 22nd April
I have just received a text message from Martyn, who is in Seville for a weekend break (leaving me in control of a pregnant rabbit in a hutch with a dodgy door): “Is the black one still on them? Any pipping? Don’t forget the sperm.”
To the uninitiated, this may all sound a little pervy. What it actually means is: “Is the black bantam hen still broody?”; “Have the eggs in the incubator begun to hatch yet?” and “Don’t forget to telephone the vet to arrange for the artificial insemination of our pig ‘Eggs’ for Monday.”
Sunday 24th April
‘Eggs’ is most definitely in season. She is grunting around her enclosure, rolling around in the mud, refusing to eat and seeing any form of human interaction as a ‘come on’. I am trying to keep feed-time as brief as possible, but she is pursuing me relentlessly, shoving me to one side, then standing firmly in front of me. I do what I can for her: a little tickling behind the ears, some back rubbing, but it is clear that I am no substitute for the real thing. The sperm has been arranged with the vet and Monday is AI day.
Wednesday 27th April
Monday passed by with no sign of the vet. She later told me that, despite every effort, the sperm had not come; I decided not to pursue the matter any further. On Tuesday, she arrived with the sperm and a variety of implements, many of them too pornographic to describe here. As you can imagine, ‘AI day’ did not pass without incident, the trauma of it still haunts me 24 hours later. In a few days time, the memory should be less raw, my twitching should have stoppedand I will be able to put pen to paper. Until next month, I shall just leave you with the mental image of me in a field, an amorous pig, a pornographic implement, a bottle of fluid and some confusion as to the whereabouts of a vagina.
• Paul McKay offers private home tuition for primary aged children in all National Curriculum subjects.You can contact Paul on 282 912 857 or by email on [email protected]