Under attack, country style

news: Under attack, country style

I HAD a chilling sense of déjà vu when watching Sky News on Thursday July 21. Two weeks since the bombings in London, and once again public transport was under attack from terrorists.

What comes around goes around. I was a frightened child again, hanging on to my mother’s hand as we walked in a Birmingham suburb during the 1930s. Every letterbox was a potential bomb target for the IRA and my local streets were no longer safe. To Irish Republicans it was a just war against Britain. In 2005, it is religious fanatics driven by a hatred of all westerners and the desire for world domination.

During World War II, enemy and occupied territories were infiltrated by the ‘Dirty Tricks’ brigade from the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who were masters of the art of killing, sometimes of civilians who were in the wrong place at the right time. Now there is a holy war waged by radical Muslims against the rest of the human race – all those who do not follow Islam – and recognise no other faith but theirs. And so it continues.

Sunni insurgents in Iraq turn on their peers in an internecine war that has no end, and innocent people are cut down in Egypt.It makes me wonder how, if Man evolved from the same original gene pool as animals, we acquired the need to kill for an ideology? Perhaps it is part of the same package that comes with higher intelligence and free will, without resort to moral law and reason.

Safely entrenched in this peaceful country, known for its even handed attitude to protagonists during wartime, and this is a war – the itch to do something better than sit on my hands is just as strong as it was in 1939. Then I was young and had much to offer, but now, as an octogenarian, all I can do is to pray with like-minded people that the causes of this uprising are dealt with and the mullahs restrained.

Meanwhile, life in the country is under attack in other ways. The insect population has been keeping a low profile during the drought, maybe because birds and small mammals have been eating them in greater numbers. Wasps are the exception. Every shutter on the house has been colonised by small and determined members of this family, of which there are 25,000 different species.

In addition, Paper Wasps, noted for their mushroom shaped comb built on a short spindly leg, are everywhere. The drought is causing them to seek water and, despite drinking bowls placed outside for the dogs, in which they drown on a regular basis, they are coming into the house even though the windows are netted. Lavatory basins are of special attraction. They are a real hazard to one’s person, along with mosquitoes.

On the bright side, we have been free of ants. When they arrive, it is as a disciplined army, marching in tight formation – a black ribbon of clones coming in through a pinhole in the fly screen or down from the roof. Drawn like iron filings to a magnet into the honey jar or a packet of cereals and, when challenged, running up the nearest hand and arm. The prospect of dealing with them first thing in the morning destroys any enjoyment of my early cup of tea, but as they have been around for 60 million years, they could well see us out.

In Lagos, the trickle of holidaymakers has become a flood, much to the relief of the tourist industry and, at a quick glance, the majority are Portuguese. Perhaps, the danger of travelling to countries under threat from violence has highlighted the beauty on their own doorstep.

As we snacked on ‘tostas mistas’ in a bar overlooking the bay, the only language spoken was that of this country, in hot competition with loud popular music. Handball had stopped for lunch and the pitches were occupied by families. Despite a Câmara notice that forbids swimming from that particular beach because of pollution, no one took any notice and small boys bombed into the scummy water from the mole.

As I write, a full gale is tearing twigs from the eucalyptus trees outside my window and dark clouds slide down the west coast. Driven by a north westerly and without any promise of rain, yesterday the same wind carried smoke from fires consuming central Portugal – emphasising how we are puny in the face of any natural disaster.

That evening, having something to celebrate, we went to a restaurant out in the sticks, not visited for many years. It had gone upmarket and we pushed the boat out. Not being the driver, I rounded off the meal with a glass of ‘medronho’ straight from a Monchique still. It travelled like the fingers of an estuary at low tide into every nook and cranny, and the night took on a sunset glow.

Motoring home along a crooked country lane, our headlights picked out a small dog. It nipped smartly across, bowed down by the weight of a very large white hen clamped between its teeth. In my euphoric state, my sympathies were with the predator and not the victim, having just enjoyed a splendid meal myself.