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Thrown in at the deep end

By: PAUL McKAY

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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.

Friday December 14

November ended with the birth of 11 piglets. At the time, I thought Eggs had given birth to 12 but subsequent recounts seem to suggest human error as opposed to fatalities or losses.

Here we are two weeks later and Eggs still has 11 piglets, even the runts seem to be thriving. Within a few days they were venturing out of the house, tentatively exploring the new exciting world.

Within a week, they had begun playing with one another, chasing each other up and down hills and play-fighting. Now, at the ripe old age of 14 days the piglets are knocking over water bowls, terrorising chickens and running around the terraces like a herd of miniature wildebeest.

Eggs is patient, caring and as proficient as ever, tending to their every need and preventing the geese from daring to venture anywhere near them.

Having always been somewhat lackadaisical in the housewifery department, she has turned over a new leaf and is constantly re-arranging the hay inside her new home, adding the odd branch or bit of plastic that takes her fancy.

Most days involve destroying an olive tree or two in order to add a new decorative feature to some forgotten corner. The piglets, like all over-indulged offspring, take this all for granted and show not an ounce of gratitude.

Thursday December 20

My brother has spent the last couple of days visiting us here for the first time in about 20 years.

The Algarve skies did their usual trick of ending a month of glorious sunshine with torrential rain, howling winds and bitter cold temperatures.

In readiness for his arrival, we put up the old Christmas tree and decked the veranda with fairy lights. On Tuesday evening, the house looked as Christmassy as a Swiss mountain village with white lights twinkling a winter’s welcome.

Two hours later, the first set of lights blew up. Within a day the hills were littered with baubles and tinsel, the cheerless debris of the festive season.

Every set of fairy lights has now packed up and the ones that shone blue during the power surge have smashed to smithereens. My brother returned to the airport looking forward to the safety of a UK winter – another satisfied guest.

Saturday December 22

This year, for the first time in more than a decade, we are spending Christmas away from the farm.

Two friends, Doug and Sean, have invited us to their villa for Christmas lunch. Sean, who usually does the cooking, recently fell 12 feet from a step ladder and fractured his arm in five places, making activities like whipping up a firm batter quite problematic.

The idea is that he and Martyn will share the cooking, each taking responsibility for various areas of expertise.

My intention is to distance myself a far as possible from the kitchen – as usual. Due to his incapacitation, Sean’s cooking will be done remotely via oral instructions to Doug.

For some perplexing reason my sleep has been disturbed for the last few nights by harrowing nightmares involving tense debates about basting times and bitch fights over pans of Brussels.

I tend to wake up in a cold sweat and the pungent aroma of sprouts lingers to well past mid-morning.

Christmas Day

Two days ago while returning from an enjoyable pre-Christmas drinks do, Martyn was savagely attacked by a climbing rose which made an unprovoked lunge at his right eye.

As Martyn recoiled from the assault of the rose, he was immediately set upon by an opportunistic hosepipe that had been laying in wait for four years. This seemingly inoffensive gardening aid leapt up in the manner of a venomous snake, twisted itself around his left leg and dragged him to the floor.

A less composed partner, after such an attack, would have hit out at those closest to him, and blamed everyone and anyone but himself.

Not Martyn, he simply pointed out that I was supposed to have pruned the rosebush a month ago and should be more careful as to where I leave the hosepipe. This issue was debated into the early hours.

Since this event Martyn’s knee has swollen up to the size of a young piglet and he can barely get about with the aid of a walking stick. So, both cooks are now out of action.

So here we are on Christmas day. As for being as far from the kitchen as possible, I now find myself bang smack in the middle of it with Doug who has taken on the appearance of a startled hare.

My initial confidence is slowly ebbing as I look around at the assortment of weird and wonderful appliances, bubbling, hissing and spitting fat in all directions.

Sean is positioned on the kitchen table with his injured arm pointing up to the stars next to Martyn, who has his leg up on a chair and is hissing and spitting as noisily as any Norfolk ready basted.

Instructions are being barked at me like machine gun fire – baste that – take the potatoes out – stuff it – where’s the cheesecake – who put the sprouts on – why have you taken the potatoes out – etc, etc.

Sean’s instructions to Doug, I can’t help noticing, are delivered in a more measured, composed manner. “Perhaps you could….” Or, “it would be a good idea to…” etc.

I push all ideas of a Christmas day mutiny to the back of my mind and follow instructions blindly.

It is gradually becoming apparent that in the increasingly unlikely event of a successful outcome, those giving the orders intend to take full credit. It is equally clear where the blame will be levied for a soggy sprout or a limp leek.

Well, the meal is now over, the drink drunk, the pink cheesecake (wrong gelatine apparently) eaten and the After Eights devoured.

All in all a very successful outcome for which in true management style, full credit was taken, as predicted.

Happy New Year!