By: MARGARET BROWN
Margaret Brown is one of The Resident’s longest standing contributors and has lived in the Algarve for more than 20 years. As well as Country Matters, she also writes Point of View every week.
WHILE THE Tourist Office continues to speak of a bright future in the Algarve, it is hard to believe that we live in the same part of Portugal.
This being the main week for half-term in the UK, there is a noticeable absence of families in the Barlavento area. Lagos is very quiet and bars and restaurants short
of customers. Our favourite watering hole in the marina only had five customers and there were few passers-by to entertain the idle spectator.
Behind a forest of masts toward the Avenida, the skyline was a backdrop of crane jibs, ten at a quick count, some of which were working and others doing nothing. Storks, the nests of which having been moved from their original sites to scaffolding towers high above the chaos of construction, each has a quota of babies. Parent birds appear unfazed by the change, flying in regular supplies to their ravenous and fast growing young, whose heads look like newly sprouted mushrooms above the parapets of sticks.
Less fortunate were the small birds that chose the reredos of Luz Church behind which to nest and whose eggs had hatched out. Last Sunday all was silent, no anxious twittering to enliven the priest’s sermon nor busy coming and going of adult birds to keep us awake. Their eviction was sad but necessary in view of the unavoidable mess fledglings would make on the bright new gold leaf.
Humble or holy, birds are catholic in their search for somewhere away from predators at nesting time.
A small pair of hopefuls has chosen my office in which to prepare a nursery, unaware that access will be denied them unless I am working. They are certainly not Sparrows judging by the absence of dead herbage and trails of hay. The only solution will be to chock open the door during daylight to allow them free passage, and try to remember to lock up again at nightfall.
Reproduction among animals of the hills and valleys, including the Red Palm Weevil that is causing such destruction of Date Palms across Iberia and the Middle East, is now in full swing. Hidden from view while eating at the crown, devouring succulent tissue deep within the trunk and sometimes at the base of the tree, it is the large fat grubs of the weevil that do the damage.
Their whole life cycle from egg to adult takes about four months. Once signs of trouble are visible it is already too late. Affected palms should be felled, burned and the ground about their roots sterilised. Precautions such as injecting specific insecticides into the centre of the trunk, spraying the crown and setting bug traps using artificial pheromones early in the season may help protect one’s cherished palms, but at considerable expense. Once the eggs have hatched, it is possible to hear the grubs at work inside.
Use of sprays is a short term solution for agricultural problems, alright in safe hands and with proper precautions. Last week I watched a neighbouring vineyard being treated with either herbicide or pesticide. Tractor and driver were constantly enveloped in a wet mist, and unless he was wearing a mask the man will have inhaled a cocktail of chemicals known for their bad effect on human health. Like smoke the cloud drifted downwind to spread throughout a small valley and round a few houses. After three days the smell continues to linger and catch the back of one’s throat.
Meanwhile, twice a month our home is vacuumed, dusted, scrubbed and polished by a wonderful Portuguese lady who goes into all the corners and hidden places, from time to time arranging ornaments slightly differently and with a great sense of humour. We vacate the premises to give her a clear field in which to work and on our return, the odour of wax polish comes to meet us as we climb from the car. In the days when housework was up to me I used to leave a polishing duster lying about the place after buffing up the furniture. Like children pictured on a packet of Readybrek porridge mix whose bodies were glowing with warmth and comfort, my all-over halo came from this tacky piece of cloth as evidence of a morning well spent just in case the Boss failed to notice anything.
There is plenty of evidence that spring cleaning is not confined to humans. Having kept a low profile during the winter, ants are throwing out all kinds of vegetable matter from newly opened holes leading to their underground cities. Small stumps of fine soil, each with a pinhole air vent in the centre, have appeared on the hard surface of grit paths and our plot is covered with mole heaps that pop up almost underfoot. Millie the shag pile bitch piles in with both front feet, but however quickly she digs, the moles move faster and so the hunt continues. Having lived the life of a suburban pet in the past it has taken her over a year fully to appreciate the joys of the countryside, with every smell a challenge and no rustle in the undergrowth ignored. Morning walks need a dog to reveal the child deep inside nearly every owner, cares of the world having buried one’s sense of wonder and excitement with which a happy, healthy animal greets the day.