Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

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Give praise! The Malted Milk Crisis is over thanks to Algarve Iceland and our plans can continue, but they are €1, not the 23p that they cost in Aldi. Sacrifices will have to be made. Other ‘delicacies’ from home are available in Algarve Iceland to the expat or in-flexible holidaymaker: ‘I don’t care if we’re on holiday, Edna, I cannot go a whole week without a dumpling’.

On the subject of inflexible people; a miracle has occurred. Keith, it turns out is not only an eco-warrior of the first degree, he’s also a very flexible person. Now, I’m as surprised about both of this as the next bod, but thus is transpires. We went to see our new house (heart, heart, love, swoon) and meet the owner in order to bombard him with questions about the location of boreholes (free water), fruit trees (free food) and cesspits (free poo). This is our garden. Still superstitious about showing the house, but a view of the garden is OK. Our poo will emerge somewhere near the bottom of this photograph, which may explain the intense greenery. It doesn’t really emerge; it’s in a tank, only the filtered water does. It’s a tried and tested rural system.

Our grey water – the non-poo, shower/washing machine effluent – runs out into the garden. This is pretty standard in rural French/Spanish/Portuguese/etc. houses and is no surprise. In order to make sure that no nasty chemical shite pollutes our fruit-bearing garden (please may I show off our existing (and to be added to) fruit tree cornucopia? Thank you. Oranges, pomegranates, lemons, olives, almonds, nespera (loquats – plum/apple type thing) and… wait for it… grapefruits. When the seller said there was a grapefruit tree my little head did a quick data swipe and quickly considered whether grapefruits actually grew on trees, on the ground or underground. Stupid. We want to only use ecologicallly harmless cleaning and washing products – you know where this is going – Goodbye, Bold Crystal Lily thing washing powder (see post previous to this one: Algarve Malted Milk Crisis for context). As we drove away from the place and were discussing what products might be suitable, I tentatively suggested that the Bold would have to go. You know what he said: ‘Fine’. Just like that. No flapping, stamping his toe on the floor repeatedly, no grunting; nothing. As I said, my darling is a flexible eco-warrior. Who knew.

We’re staying at AH Villas (which stands for Algarve Holidays, I discover, not the sound you make when you wake up there in January, look out of the window and realise it’s sunny) outside Olhao, which is a fabulous town on the coast – more on Olhao in a later post. He’s a right chatterbox, the owner and a bit of a hoverer. It’s costing us £15 a night for a double room and massive carbohydrate filled breakfast – just don’t go near the orange ‘juice’ if you don’t want to glow in the dark. He does lunches and dinners for €4 and usually has something decent and fresh on offer. The other morning he asked if we’d like tuna steak for dinner that evening. Keith doesn’t do fish beyond a cod and chips, but in the spirit of his new adventurous self said he would give it a go (#proud). Evening came and fella invited him into the kitchen to see the fish (massive, plate size steaks), Keith came out, said he had smelled it and would be having chicken nuggets for dinner.

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Keith also provided a full 5 day’s worth of entertainment for our host when he was offered a glass of medronho, a lethal, firewater of a drink, produced from the arbutus or strawberry tree only in one region of the Algarve where they grow wild. There are tourist versions of medrohno largely made from cheaper spirit and flavoured, as the real stuff is made in farmhouse stills and costs €25 a bottle. I’ve tried it before so said No, ta. Keith, you must remember is a puritanical thing with a little temple of a body, which has never smoked, taken an illicit substance and rarely drinks, falling asleep and uttering ‘Ooh, the room’s gone all spinny’ after one bottle of Crabbies Ginger Beer. He took a swig of this stuff, choked, spluttered went red in the face and by implication declared himself ‘not a man’ to all of Portugal. The Swedish woman on the next table happily sipped away, indicating her strong enjoyment of this paint stripper, but then she has probably been drinking vodka since she was a baby. Now, every morning at breakfast we can look forward to Keith being offered a tot of medronho in his coffee and being reminded that ‘the lady drank it’ whilst our host dries the tears of laughter from his eyes. To be fair, Keith does struggle to grow a moustache.

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We’re a bit bemused that we seem to attract people who chatter incessantly, like really non-stop. Our Portuguese lawyer is one of those. We sat in his office for and hour and a half the other day whilst he told us his philosophy of life (children should have Mothers: see Ronaldo), if you have a child you live on forever (it felt like forever in that office and a long an convoluted story about his wife and how she got stuck in the middle of the Atlantic for 9 years. We were both sitting thinking that something had got lost in translation and conferred after the event, but nope, we both heard the same thing. After an hour and a half of doing no admin whatsoever, he said, right, that’s it, I’ll see you tomorrow. After careful observation, I’ve realised that the chattering is all Keith’s fault. He says that in order not to appear rude, and because he is unable to do normal conversation, he asks lots of questions, thereby giving the impression of a deep and genuine interest in the location of lawyer’s lost wives (he was on the phone to her about picking up the kids, so we assume she’s back and fine now), which encourages them to spout forth at length. I just sit silently, rudely, getting twitchy, kicking Keith’s foot and muttering ‘Get us out of here’ out of the side of my mouth.

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Portuguese is known to be a tricky language to learn. There are some squiggles and some unusual pronunciations. The word ‘puxe’, pronounced ‘push’, actually means ‘pull’. If you ever see a Portuguese shop door and managed not to look a twat, you can thank me then. Keith is not a linguistic; English is a struggle for him (failed English O Level 5 times, never passed). I am a words person, I spoke full sentences by the age of 9 months according to my Mum and some would say I haven’t stopped since. Despite this, I have no skill, commitment or patience for grammar – I just want to communicate. We listened to a Portuguese language CD on the plane over and one hearing that not only is ‘a’ or ‘one’ gendered (as in many languages), but ‘two’ is as well. What? Not ‘three’ or beyond, just one or two, and of course this means knowing the gender of the word following. A thought passed unannounced through my head: ‘I just won’t bother with that bit’, which is hardly a good attitude to learning a language. I also read Ben and Louise Taylor’s book and accompanying blog, Moving To Portugal, which explains something that I have been doing for many years; they call it ‘The Fight’. This is where you begin an interaction with a foreign person in their language and they (realising that you are no native) reply in your language. The goal of the fight is to plough on in their language until one of you gives up and reverts to your own tongue. Given that the Algarve is full of foreigners and that Portuguese is difficult (I’m giving the lazy, disrespectful bastards some credit here), hardly anyone bothers to learn it. I have had two ‘fight’ experiences this trip. The first was in a coffee shop where I expertly ordered two coffees and two Pastel de Nata (custard tarts to you), the server said: ‘Do you speak English?’ and I said ‘Yes, but I’m trying to learn Portuguese (in English). He actually put his hand over his face in something probably like despair and continued in Portuguese at which point I had to say ‘Eh?’ because two coffees and two Natas is the full extent of my Portuguese vocabulary. His irritation may explain why he put them in the microwave and turned them into molten lava which blistered the top of our mouths. Note to self: must learn Portuguese for bastard.

We’re very much liking Portugal. Everyone seems pretty laid-back and friendly and very small. I’m not sure if this constitutes racial stereotyping but certainly appears to be on the whole a factual statement. I feel huge here, towering above people. This is also demonstrated in the low height of the doorways of our new house and others we viewed, which is an old traditional cottage and also in the size of my new favourite vehicle, the Piaggio Ape 50. It is based on a scooter and has handlebars rather than a steering wheel. It is not uncommon to see two Portuguese adults putting around in these. I’d really like one, but I’m not sure where I’d put my legs. Or Keith. I’d look like Enzo in The Big Blue emerging from his Fiat 500. Perhaps that’s the sacrifice for the over-priced Malted Milks: Keith has to run alongside. As it only has a 50cc engine, this is entirely plausible.

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BTW Those lemons at the top of the page: they’re ours. I harvested (stole?) them from the not-quite-ours-yet lemon tree in our garden. They are probably the best lemons in the world. Or we are.

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