Unexpected guests and underwater discoveries.jpg

Unexpected guests and underwater discoveries

SHEEP WORRYING is a capital offence in Britain and any dog proven guilty is either destroyed or, if it is reprieved, must be suitably restrained for the rest of its life.

Three ewes have been killed in our locality. Fred and a neighbour’s bitch, recently rescued and spayed, stand accused by the farmer, who quite rightly wants redress. The dogs cannot speak for themselves nor has there been any evidence of blood upon their coats, however, the shepherd is a good man and has no reason to lie.

As a character witness in Fred’s defence he has never shown aggression to farm animals: his predilection being for rodents, reptiles and any of the meatier insects. Having restored Fred to health from near death two years ago he fills a vital place in our lives: to keep him chained except for short outings and those on a leash is no life at all. Meanwhile, we wait for the farmer to present his account. While regretting deeply his loss and the suffering of his sheep, it is a difficult decision to sacrifice a dog’s life without proof of guilt.

The last few weeks have certainly shaken us from our comfortable rut. Number two daughter arrived from England virtually without warning, the house looking neglected and larder contents unsuited to a vegetarian with the capacity to tuck away large amounts of vegetation. In truth, it was wonderful and I wish number one sibling would do the same.

There was rain almost every day and her holiday ended with an elemental tour de force of storm and tempest, thunder and lightning that dislodged most of our shutters, several trees and washed some of the drive away. A multi-trunk, 60 foot tall eucalyptus next door missed the old farmhouse by a whisker as it crashed down on our neighbour’s patio, roots and all. The rain fell with such force that it left drowned insects and reptiles lying among the sticks and short grass of the hills.

According to one report in the regional press enough rain fell to keep the Algarve supplied with water until the year 2008. From the amount of top soil washed away and judging by the colour of the sea off Lagos, a high percentage ended there rather than in local lakes and aquifers.

With so much earth being deposited in the bay, the work of an exploration team hoping to search the area for ancient wrecks in the near future will be made that much more difficult. Between AD 1415 and AD 1519, Portuguese explorers, many of whom put out from Lagos, navigated the world’s oceans in Caravels, Naus and Galleons, these being the first sailing ships able to sail up wind. Some are believed to have foundered locally and Dr Tiago Fraga from Faro University, for his Master degree in Archaeology is seeking permission to carry out this work. If granted, Side Scan Sonar and divers will be used to inspect the sea bed for artefacts and sunken ships. A profusion of lost anchors and other things is expected to be revealed, including cannon, which were used to secure a vessel in the event of an anchor being lost overboard.

Life at sea in those days was bad. Scurvy carried off as many as two-thirds of a crew on long voyages, during which disease ran unchecked: water was severely rationed and allowed neither the washing of clothes nor proper personal hygiene. Conditions experienced by serving combat troops in places such as Afghanistan, Vietnam and during both World Wars, while of shorter duration must be equally demanding.

As we paid tribute to those who have died  in the service of their country on Remembrance Sunday, men and women were continuing to pay the price and endure unimaginable tests of courage and endurance. There are those who think such celebrations are out dated, that it is time to bury the past and move on, but for as long as there are wars, young people will be called upon to fight and give their lives for peace and freedom. They must be remembered because our freedoms have been bought with their blood.

And now, Christmas lies ahead and the weather has been unusually warm both in Britain and down south in Portugal. For the last couple of days there has been a nip in the early morning air and today it looked like a touch of frost on grass in a sheltered valley behind the house. Windows were misted up and the chimney of our wood burning stove should be swept before a fire is laid: no sparrows living under the patio roofs have nested there this year, being protected from a painful death by its corset of wire netting.

The pleasure of a real fire is offset by having to hump logs and the extra dust added to a thin layer already dulling the furniture. To open the wood pile covered with polythene sheeting offers a study in local fauna. Colonies of ants having moved in almost immediately begin to climb, their small feet not felt until half way to one’s armpits and by then it is too late. Shiny black beetles and hairy spiders disappear into dark cracks among the wood where lizards, preparing to hibernate, feast in comfort. Unlit bonfires attract all these as well as hedgehogs, field mice and toads: a careful forking through would save many lives.