Watch out – there’s a thief about

NOT ONLY isthe area in which we live sprouting mobile homes and looking more like Goonhilly Down every week, there is now the unrelated threat of being robbed. Friends were targeted by some well-organised robbers last month and lost the contents of their garden shed. A neighbour, whose cottage overlooks the crime scene, noticed an old banger nipping smartly down the victims’ long drive toward their house. A short while later the car left again, going like the clappers and disappeared. The property was unoccupied for a short time only, which suggests there were lookouts keeping watch. The presence of several dogs on the premises proved to be no deterrent, which is rather unsettling.

At the best of times, dogs can be a mixed blessing and, like children, bring joy and trouble in full measure. Over the years we have offered sanctuary to an assortment of abandoned mongrels, sparing neither love nor money to give them happy lives and to turn them into decent members of society. When Fly strayed on to someone else’s land six months ago, he was torn apart by the resident pack there were no recriminations because he was trespassing. That just left Bess and now we have Fred, who is about one year old, and was injured and starving when I picked him up off the road four months ago.

After several visits to the vet and lots of TLC he has become a lively, fast growing puppy, intelligent and quick to learn. We keep him chained at night and free during most of the day, but the size and nature of our land makes it impossible to ring fence. Recently, I had a chance encounter with one of our neighbours in Lagos, who said that Fred had killed three of her ducks over a period of days and he was within a whisker of being shot had she not prevented this. After offering sincere apologies, I paid over the value of the birds. Without doubt, my dog had been up to mischief, but his thick coat has never shown traces of blood and I saw neither feathers nor carcass. This cloud over our corner of paradise has no silver lining and, guilty or innocent, Fred is now a marked man.

Nevertheless, living in the agricultural belt has many compensations and the rhythm of the seasons brings a reassuring stability to life when trouble comes knocking at the door.

Following a short period of rain last month, ploughmen all over the valley are turning the untidy aftermath of summer into long, glistening furrows of rich soil. Our nearest working farmer was breaking up a few acres of top grass the other day, closely followed by a flock of cattle egrets. Many were somnolent with a surfeit of grubs, their heads sunk into the soft white feathers of their bulging breasts, clumsily hopping sideways when the noisy machine went by before dozing off again.

Just 15 years ago, the farmer used a mule or two oxen to pull his plough, now he rides a tractor; but the nature of the job means that speed is not of the essence a steady pace being essential in order to bury the old residues properly. To avoid bringing loose rocks to the surface the sparsely earthed hill slopes are opened up by disc harrows, and even now seed and fertiliser may be scattered by hand on this unproductive terrain.

Unless we have rain very shortly afterwards, that which is sown will not be there to germinate, having been carried off by ants or eaten by wild pigeons or other birds from nearby lofts. Meanwhile, our corner of Portugal is in a state of suspended animation and, as the sun continues to shine on this patchwork of green and brown, the farmer can only live in hope until harvest.

As I write we are halfway through Advent, having celebrated the promised arrival of Christ in Churches all over the world on Sunday, November 28. More than 2,000 years ago and still a young virgin, Mary had received a surprising visit from the Angel Gabriel who told her she was to bear the Son of God and call him Jesus. Today, four weeks before December 25, on Advent Sunday, one of four candles is lit to anticipate the coming of His light into a dark world. By Christmas Day, all will be burning to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. For hundreds of years, the weeks between St. Andrew’s Day and December 25 were kept as strictly as Lent and were a time to review one’s life and resolve to turn over a new leaf.

Two global and dozens of civil and international wars later, it seems to be a time of materialism and whistling in the dark, much as Nero played his fiddle as Rome burned. However, St.Vincent’s in the Algarve has a calendar of worship in each of the three Churches, published weekly in The Resident. In Barlavento, the Carol Service is at Santa Maria Catholic Church, Lagos, on December 15 at 7pm, and on Christmas Day we shall be celebrating the arrival of Jesus in the Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz in Luz town, at 11am. Both these services are always crowded, so come early. We hope to see you there!