By PAUL MCKAY [email protected]
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.
Monday 1st February
It is proving to be an unforgettable winter. As I walk around the farm, it is clear that nature is not following its usual course.
The onions and beetroot planted a few weeks ago seem to just sit in the soil and do nothing. The broad beans, which were sown in November, have grown and flowered in the normal way, but that’s all – no beans.
The cool, wet conditions have proved too inhospitable to the army of insects that are usually busy pollinating in the February sunshine. Unforgettable, also, because of the torrential rain that seems never-ending.
The river at the bottom of our land is the fullest I have ever seen it, many shrubs and small trees have been washed away in its swell. My makeshift bridge has proved as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane, having spent the last two months under water.
Saturday 6th February
Today we visited a local picnic spot, where sturdy granite tables sit in the shade of ancient cork and eucalyptus trees. Rivers, swollen as never before, gush past, cleaning moss of rocks and spraying the area around. Further downstream, nestling in a hollow, is an old house with its own waterwheel, restored some years ago by Monchique Câmara.
One of the charms of living in the rural Algarve is the possibility for complete seclusion, even in picnic areas and beauty spots, designed to cater for hordes. I sat alone for a few minutes in front of this stone house and thought about the lives it must have witnessed over the years.
The warmth of the stones, scent of the trees, the spray from the river and the roar of the water were invigorating, sufficient to re-energise and lift the spirits of the most weary of travellers. Quite inspirational too.
The garden around the house has lots of granite and only a minimum of planting, simple plants with dramatic foliage and little in the way of flowers – cool, refreshing and uplifting.
Friday 12th February
The obsession with signs at Gatwick airport is now verging on a compulsive disorder, worse than Vilamoura. One has to read the equivalent of War and Peace to ascertain that car rentals is in a completely different terminal. After trekking for an eternity on escalators (‘do not take suitcases or heavy items onto this escalator’) and moving metal floors (‘travelator ending, step off at end’), I had to catch a bus (‘Remain seated whilst bus is moving, secure luggage in racks provided’).
After two more travelators, both with the ‘step off’ warning, written and oral, I arrived at ‘car rentals’. A grimmer, sadder, more depressing welcome would be hard to create if one wanted to. Fluorescent lights, stained pea-green furniture, sticky, static carpet and stale, flatulent air.
The unsmiling bureaucrat at the computer informed the man in front of me that there was no record of his booking. I was warned of the nightmares of being under-insured and the risk of excess charges should someone damage my car. Welcome to Britain.
Saturday 13th February
Visited an Essex carvery pub with my parents and remembered how easy it is to overeat in the UK. A jolly card with a bright red heart was positioned on each table, advising the frugal that two Valentine meals could be purchased for the price of one if you ate on Saturday 13th instead of Sunday 14th. Not a good idea methinks.
Monday 15th February
‘Take care slippery floor’ bellowed the tannoy as I walked beneath the sign reading ‘Floors can be slippery in wet weather – take care’. As the train approached, I stood behind the yellow line as warned, then boarded the 10.30 from Leigh-on-sea. The train was choca with middle class parents intent on bettering their offspring in the museums of central London.
The family on the seat alongside me had chomped their way through three rounds of sandwiches each before I’d had time to read the emergency exit procedure.
Eavesdropping unashamedly I ascertained that they were on their way to the Imperial War Museum and at one o’clock would be meeting Tarragon’s family for lunch at Pizza Express. Before this, however, they were to have coffee and a snack in the museum café.
Tuesday 16th February
How do people wear these ‘drop down’ jeans, the ones that are designed to show off your expensive underwear? Whilst on Stratford Station, I had a mishap with a cup of (‘take care, product may be hot’) coffee and saturated my one pair of trousers.
Looking like an incontinent itinerant with a urinary infection, I waddled through Stratford shopping city (more slippery floor warnings), dashed into a clothes shop and purchased the first pair of trousers I spotted.
After cleaning up in a public loo (‘warning pickpockets operate in this area!’), I put them on and have not been the same since. If pulled up high, they are decidedly uncomfortable, making normal walking quite difficult. If allowed to slip down everything becomes a little chilly and has more than a hint of mutton as lamb.
Wednesday 17th February
Visit over – car returned. Charged 35 GBP for a microscopic scratch to the spoiler of the left wheel. A scratch, incidentally, which would have been invisible when I collected the car at around midnight.
Sarcastically, I asked about superficial damage to tyres and was told that the tyres had been checked and were fine. Knowing my trousers would not afford me the dignified exit I required, I decided to avoid a scene. Paid the excess and intend to claim on the insurance I had been terrified into purchasing a few days ago.
Saturday 27th February
Back in the land of perpetual sunshine, we went shopping this morning at Portimão market, hoping to get home before the predicted tornado.
It is the first time I have visited the market since the refit and I was very impressed. The range of fish and vegetables is as good as ever, but it is much better organised with an underground car park and shopping baskets and trolleys available.
While walking the dogs between downpours this afternoon, I noticed nature beginning to stir. The lengthening days have encouraged the cape daisies out and the fig trees are beginning to awake.
A quick detour to the vegetable patch revealed no movement on the onion, beetroot and broad bean front. For a complete month, they have remained static.
A manufacturer’s oversight there – ‘Warning – this product may not grow’.