Introductory post

And the point to this post? It's down there in the weeds. The point is not yet clear to me either. Took me ages to do. I've got all those there to do yet. There must be a knack...

Aahh… The simple life.  Downsizing.  Simplifying.  Nature.  Back to basics.  That was the idea.  Buy a house in the mountains in Portugal and live the simple life…

Well now.  There’s a misconception if ever I had one!  Firstly, building or rebuilding a house on very little money has turned out to be a seemingly infinite process.  It’s not a project, it’s a lifestyle.  As is managing the land with which it came. And making enough to live on is even more impossible.

I look back to my last years in England and remember the simplicity of it all.  Clocking off at five-thirty, that was simple.  Coming home to your rented house that’s sitting there as clean and tidy as you left it that morning, simple.  Opening a bottle of bought wine and just making up a salad or something to go with the ready-made quiche from the freezer.  Maybe stick some oven chips in too.  And then relaxing.  Aahh…

Now, it may not seem that way to those of us who have never attempted it, but relocating and simplifying is not that simple at all!

I have not had time to post my first entry on my new blog that a dear friend has generously assisted me in setting up.  I am seeing her once a week.  I’m supposed to go there this afternoon and I’ve got homework.  She’s a teacher in Coimbra and I’ll be in big trouble if I don’t produce.

But down on my piece of land in the valley the wild boar are destroying everything and there’s a drought already predicted for this summer and the well down there is the only one that never runs dry and so it needs to be used for the kidney bean crop so it needs fencing off so we’ve had to go and buy rolls of fence and with the help of our friendly neighbour get some of his woodland cleared.  Small trees needed to be felled, loaded on the tractor trailor and brought back here.  Then they all need the bark stripping off them.  Then cutting down to size and pointing…  I’m sure back in the UK if I’d ever needed a fence I would have gone out and bought a fence.  From B&Q or somewhere?  And the kidney beans?

Lesson 3; part 2: How to make a post such as one’s ‘Introductory Post’ always stay at the top of the page.

Me: “Do I want to?”

Julie: “It’s called making it ‘sticky'”.

Me: “Oh, go on then, I can’t resist!”

(I would like to own up at this opportunity that despite two entire days of considerable perspiration and blistered hands, I had failed to fashion anything like usable points to the aforementioned fence posts, causing my neighbour Antonio to have to re-do all two hundred of them as he went, on grape vine tying day.  He is usually a very good natured man.  He has taught me most of what I know in both local agriculture and village sayings.  The one he used on that day translated quite easily into something like ‘For the work you put into all of these you might as well have stayed in bed’.)

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Mushroom Festival

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Knowing that I am a big fan of fungus, I had been kindly invited to go along to the Alcaide Mushroom Festival        …with my good friends Mike and Julie.  I say ‘good friends’, as the journey there was long … Continue reading

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CBBH Photo Challenge – Windows

October’s CBBH Photo Challenge already long gone, I personally believe it’s better late than never!  This is one of my lounge windows out onto the street.

I think this photo speaks for itself.  (But only in Portuguese).

I once overheard from upstairs out in the street our little four-year-old neighbour whisper “Mummy, Mummy, the English’s new window looks just like the cash point!”

So I bought this sign for when the render had to be redone after it all cracked up in the heat.  It says: “Cash Point out of Order”

After it was repaired I thought it would be fun to make a cash point for the little girl so I made one out of cardboard covered in tin foil with monopoly money and old supermarket receipts.

I would dash out at some opportunity most days and top it up.  I delighted in her squeals of joy for the ensuing weeks when she would come past and find more money and a receipt in the relevant slots waiting for her.

Trouble is with children, it always gets out of hand, doesn’t it?

After a month or so I started to forget to fill it up and it would go for a week or more without my attention.  After a while I actually witnessed once or twice her mother having to drag a kicking, screaming four-year-old all the way down the street all because there was no money in the cash point!

Eventually father had evidently had to step in and she came to my house one day and produced for me an envelope full of all the monopoly money received to date and explained to me how it is when money is tight and times are hard work-wise and all about the benefits of saving to prepare for these times and requested that she might be able to make a deposit today into her account.

Obviously the reason the money hadn’t been appearing in the cash point of late was because I, as an adult, had already become bored to tears with the game, whereas she, the four-year-old, had not.

After a further couple of weeks of planting her some extremely healthy withdrawals I once again approached our little neighbour one day when their family tractor stopped to let her alight and attend to her now somewhat lucrative financial affairs at the cash point on their way home.

Once I was sure that all family members were content that a good lesson had been learnt and that her personal finances were in good order, I was happy to offer her as her reward the entire cash point and the whole box of money from out the back, to take home and keep.  She was overjoyed.

I was pleased to watch it go off to their house clutched lovingly to her chest as she stood in the link box and it rose up off the ground and the tractor and all the family joggled off down the cobbled street.

I was however a little concerned to watch, as they turned the corner, the tightness of her grasp and the slightly malevolent look in her eye as her big brother held on to her as she was point blank refusing to hold on for herself and risk letting go of her cash point and the money.

And my lesson?  Never underestimate a fierce four-year-old with money-sense.

(Watch and learn, grown-ups.  Watch and learn).

Posted in Building, house, Life, Portugal, Village, Windows | 2 Comments

Rainy Day

PLAAAAAY WITH ME?!                   …                …          …                       nope.

Posted in Animals, Cats, Dogs, Life | Leave a comment


During the distraction of the forest fire I had forgotten to remove those three big black-and-yellow-striped caterpillars with the red dots I’d seen on my parsley.  It was two days later that I plucked them off the bare stalks that were once a thriving bed of herb.

I’d brought them into the kitchen with the measly remainders of the parsley, for identification and to decide what habitat to release them into.

I identified them as the caterpillar of the Old World Swallowtail butterfly, surprisingly, as I’ve only ever seen one or two here.  That’s the classic Swallowtail to you and I, not the stripeyTiger Swallowtail which is a far more frequent visitor.

I got round to dealing with them the next day but to my dismay two of them had already turned into chrysalises overnight!  The third was struggling all day to shed its skin and ran out of energy in the end and shrivelled up and died.  Watching this brought a curious realisation of the intense effort involved in the process of pupation, one that evidently not all caterpillars succeed in.

The bucket once again got left in the kitchen awaiting a decision on where to now put two chrysalises so that they’d make it through the winter.

Just over a week later, to my dismay (utter dismay, I might add, this time!), I’d walked past the bucket and glanced a butterfly in there!  One beautiful, magical Swallowtail Butterfly. One of its wings was still crumpled.  I put the bucket outside so that it could leave when it was ready but it was still there the next day, still with one crumpled wing.

The second one hatched that day.  This one’s wings were straightened out to perfection before I’d even spotted him.  I learned from the internet that it should only take a very short time for fluid to fill the wings to their full extension after the butterfly emerges.

Two Swallowtails just Emerged from Chrysalis

It seemed the ‘rehydration’ process had been completed and that was that. I managed to unhitch it a little, bit by bit as the butterfly graced me with a display of fluttering and prancing up and down my arms, around my neck, over my head and basically appear to be playing with me!  I managed to effect a huge improvement to the wing in that time anyway and it was now able to fly, if only in short bursts and only round corners.

I am so totally blown away by the fact that a Swallowtail Butterfly is walking around all over me that I lose all integrity and go and take one of those awful holding-the-camera-at-yourself photos.  And actually it’s only just visible just behind my shoulder.  But you get the picture, yes?

Why these butterflies should be hatching in the middle of September as the summer’s ending, with bad weather on the way, I had no idea.

This one stayed around a lot longer than the other one, seemingly plucking up courage, but finally flew over the courtyard wall and away. I wonder if it survived.

Equally, having the pleasure of observing their efforts in their first flights was awesome.  It took three attempts for them to make it over the wall:  The first flight barely off the ground; the second flight a bit higher; and the third one right up and over the top and gone!

Posted in Butterflies, Caterpillars, Portugal, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

CBBH Photo Challenge – Repetition

I appear to have been challenged by my friend Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal (an excellent expat travel writer), to join the CBBH Photo Challenge.

September’s theme is (and very nearly ‘was’) REPETITION.

From an utter inability to think of material for a photograph representing ‘repetition’ to a culmination of overwhelming choice I am reeling in the eventual realisation that repetition is all around!

… the digging, the planting, the watering, the picking, the chopping, the cement mixing, the painting, the tiling, the grouting…  It’s all cycles.

Then it came to me in a flash one quite unmemorable morning, actually not unlike the morning before, that this was my photo.

Be it as it is, to me it is the epitome of repetition.

Every morning the same vegetables are watered in the same order, from the bottom of the garden up, so that one starts off with it all straightened out and does not have to keep sprinting to the rescue of an attention-seeking and willfully twisted hose pipe in full flow first thing in the morning as it invariably causes one to begin the day feeling distinctly aggravated.

Once this task has been completed the hose pipe needs to be wound up so as it is neither in direct sunlight nor blocking the entrance to the end barn.  It really is mind-blowing.

Here we have approximately 24 revolutions of the same cycle. Every morning. For six months of the year.
Or as my brother says, and I don’t know where he got this from but I like it:

Do you know, one of these days I’m going to do something really outlandish like wind it up anti-clockwise or something.  I will.

Posted in Gardening, Growing, Homegrown Produce, House Renovation, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

After The Fire

It’s over two weeks now since the fire.

It’s the first time I’ve ventured out to try to see the extent of the damage, having attempted it on day three and fled back home at the disturbing sights and smells of things still smouldering out there.

Just outside of the village, beyond the scorched grape vines, fences and olive trees, I enter into the forest and head gingerly for the sound of chain saws as a starting point.

Somebody begins their clean-up operation

I head for the top of the ridge to see if I can see over to the next village from there.  Once there I hear more voices.  The dog runs off to investigate.  It’s three members of the ‘Big Family’ in my village out to attempt to reestablish their boundaries.

All the woodland is owned by the village but in small parcels, marked by little piles of boulders, posts, coloured ties or a stick with a plastic drinks bottle on the top.  There’s not much evidence of any of these now.

They explain to me that at this time (and it happened in 1991 last) it’s important that you mark out your woodland again or you’ll find someone else has ‘accidentally’ made off with your trees for firewood.

The firewood and the land are now both unfit for sale, which was always the hope for many of the less well-off neighbours.  All that remains is the onerous task of clearing your unstable woodland and salvaging what filthy, charred firewood remains for use in the kitchen.

Encountering some of my neighbours up on the mountain.

They persuade me to walk with them over the mountain.  After some time I am totally lost as everything is unrecognisable and have to spend an entire three hours with them, clambering down mountain sides in densely planted blackened woodland, swinging round charred trees, wading through ashes and trying not to break either of my legs in the deep potholes where trunks have burnt out.  It’s all really eerie.

They explain to me that even though the pine trees are still standing, they will die.  But many of the eucalyptus will come back to life.  Even then, day 16, they were able to show me tiny green shoots here and there starting to show through on a couple of burnt stumps.

“No Touching!”

Some people have already been and done their markers, but not many.  It is the great sadness of Portuguese forest – it is largely abandoned.  Lands split and inherited by countless generations whom, by now, are abroad, deceased, living in the cities or maybe don’t even know they own it.
Abandoned land does not get cleared of its undergrowth – its broom, bracken, gorse and heather.  That, as I have witnessed, is the main fuel to the fire.

This one is probably Antonio’s

I walked for miles with them and didn’t get to see the edge of the fire on any side.  I got a good view from the main road that afternoon though on my way into town in the car and it was collosal.

The fires are still happening all around.  Some of them as big as this and bigger.  I am still unable to sit still without going to the window every twenty minutes, anticipating another sickening black plume of smoke on the horizon.  We just pray for rain and cooler weather.

They say they are all started on purpose and a certain number of arrests have been made.

There have been three massive fires on the edge of our local market town in the last week.  On Saturday a volunteer firefighter died when a fire engine became engulfed by the fire and their exit was blocked.  The four colleagues are in intensive care on ventilators with second and third degree burns from making it out of there on foot through burning undergrowth.  This firefighter however, a volunteer as they all are, burnt to death from the legs upwards.

I was so touched by this news the next day that I wrote a little song.  And even more touched to learn from the neighbours in the woods that it was a girl, 25 years old, and she was pregnant.

Posted in Emigrating, Forest, Forest fires, Life, Portugal, Village | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thumbs Up

The morning after the big forest fire here last week I phoned up a neighbouring expat in a hamlet over the other side of the valley, who had been on the receiving end of the northern extent of the fire.  They were all OK too.

He told me about the phenomenon of mutated vegetables and plants after a fire.  It’s apparently due to the large amount of ethylene released into the atmosphere.

A strange theory, but it seems the aubergines are already giving that one the thumbs-up!

Aubergines? Like.

Posted in Aubergines, Food, Forest fires, Gardening, Growing, Homegrown Produce, Portugal, Vegetables | Tagged , , | Leave a comment