English Country Dustbowl

English Country Dustbowl

As I may have mentioned before: it’s hot, but let that not hinder the Mad Dog and Englishman mentality and stop us from gardening. Nothing much is growing as I imagine all of the poor plants are gagging for breath and water in a climate which provides little of either. The sweat that literally drips from the end of our noses is probably the most nutrition they’ve had for weeks.

Our garden, you may recall, was a pile of rocks and earth with a few neglected but flourishing fruit trees and flowery bushes dotted about. It looked something like this when we arrived in March after a typically soggy Portuguese winter:

 

As the weather improved, the rain stopped and the strimmer did it’s stuff, slowly the garden has taken some kind of shape.

Then, the inevitable happenned in an environment as dry in the summer as this – it turned into a brown dustbowl. Most of the gardens that are owned by immigrants (that’s expats to you) are beautifully tended with large cacti with heavily mulched (bark) or bare ground in between. They are a battle with nature won by the obliteration of all natural growth. The only lawn is made of astroturf or quenched by more water than our borehole could pump. The local Portuguese garden is a more simple affair, sometimes with vegetable beds, mostly just with a few chairs in amongst the scrub. When telling our Portuguese teacher that we have been garden she said (we have a new teacher after sacking the old one for being impatient with Keith’s difficulty in speaking any language at all, including English), that ‘You English love gardening’. So, it seems we are known for it and one does hate not to live up to expectations.

The garden was upsetting me. it was big, bare and overwhelming. I’d started to outline some beds but the rest was just an unfathomable stretch of dirt. I know nothing about gardening, but I do know about order. And order was what it needed for me to be able to look at it with a sense of calm rather than a jittery feeling. So, after spending many days shifting rocks in order to create structure into our own patch and therefore be able to tackle each smaller section individually, I realised that we have turned our dusty patch into an English country garden with winding paths and strictly defined areas. Just need a gnome or two and a rosebush and the transformation will be complete – if you can see past the complete lack of greenery and Sweet Williams. I was a bit put out by this initially as I would prefer not to colonise our tiny corner of Europe with British values, but actually, sod it, this is what my eye requires and I now look out on it with peace and joy rather than stress and anxiety. It’s not much to look at I am aware, but what I see when I look out there is ‘hope’ and promise. I have plans, dreams and a vision within those neatly defined borders.

You may also recall that I had started mulching some beds for growing next year. In our 36+ degree gardening frenzy we also finished those which are now awaiting a layer of compost from our bin and a layer of manure from the stables down the road. They will get these in the autumn ready for a good soaking over the winter. This method is called Lasagna Gardening and basically means that we are creating new sub-soil rather than having to did into the rocks that dominate the ground below.

As a small experiment, I planted a load of seeds just to see if we could get anything to grow – its too late in the year to expect much to happen. So far, so good. We have a few courgettes and squashes and a row of sweetcorn on which the grasshopper in the top image has taken almost invisible residence – his camouflage only dashed by the bloody huge holes he has left in the leaves.

This gives me hope that we can get growing next year. The lack of frost here means that planting can begin in January or February. The pumpkin and sweetcorn crops in neighbouring fields are already harvested now in mid August so we could eating our own this time next year. Exciting.

For now, our landscaping work is done and we will just sit and wait to see if a courgette turns up before the winter comes, whilst resisting the temptation to erect a flag in the midst of our barren, but neat, wilderness to declare it under strict English control, just in case some far more relaxed, Portuguese grasshopper had some funny ideas about whose territory this is.

Sub-standard Brownies – Learning Acceptance through Carob

Sub-standard Brownies – Learning Acceptance through Carob

Here’s a question for you: If a food is free, organic and widely available, yet takes a considerable amount of time to ‘process’ and after having done so can only be used as an ingredient in things that you may not have otherwise made (therefore forcing the purchase of the other ingredients and making you eat more), doesn’t taste that great and can actually be bought from Amazon for £2.50 for 500g, would you bother? I’ll fill in some details for your contemplation.

We’re talking carob here.

Sub-standard Brownies - 01

Carob is a hardy old tree that grows without any assistance, decent soil or rain. It doesn’t produce any pods for the first 15 years or so of its existence, but when it does they come in abundance. Spain, Italy and Portugal are the top carob producing countries in the world. The harvesting of these giant pods involves the highly technical process of whacking the tree with a stick and making them fall to the ground. The word ‘carat’ as a measurement of the weight of gold comes from the world carob as the seeds were used a means of weighing. The tree produces these dark brown pods (which are more correctly called legumes) that are used commercially to make something called Locust Bean Gum which is used as a thickener in yogurts and the like. It is what desperate vegans and super healthy people salivate over as a replacement for chocolate convincing themselves that they DON’T MISS IT AT ALL. It tastes nothing like chocolate. It’s brown and can be made into a powder and cooked with, like chocolate, but so can gravy, so the phrase ‘clutching at straws’ springs to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love a vegan. In fact, I know I ought to be one again (I was one many moons ago), but I would rather not bother with something that replace it with an unsatisfying substitute. I do not eat carob as a substitute for anything (although added to hot milk it does a fine impression of wet concrete), only because its free.

So, we’re surrounded by many of these trees, some clearly owned and harvested, whilst many others are just ‘there’ and nobody bothers with them – until we came along. I cannot, I repeat, cannot turn down the potential of free food. Cannot. It is free. We can eat it. It will save us money. It is good for us. There is no logic that I can apply to my utterly natural and deeply rooted foraging self that can resist gathering free vittles. It is irrefutable. It is pure primal nature. I am not far from our hairy stooping ancestors it seems. Cannot.

This leaves me conflicted about the carob foraging due to the reasons mentioned in the question above. Carob fans, and there are many on the internet, will tell you that carob is better than chocolate and makes ‘the best brownie you have ever tasted in the world!!!’ and other such superlatives. Yeah, well, having eating the stuff (in my vegan days) commercially produced and now my own best efforts, sorry, it’s not. It’s interesting and you can chew on the pods raw like a Mediterranean cow-person with a very healthy tobacco alternative. It’s extremely sweet and has a caramel kick to it, but definitely not chocolate. And as I said above, in order to do anything with it, you have to buy all of these other ingredients and then eat all the bloody carob-based cakes that you have created. In all ways, probably best to just leave them on the tree, go for a bike ride and eat an apple with all that time you’ve saved dealing with the carobs.

So, here we are with a lot of carobs…

It was a no-brainer. My evolutionary soul overrides modern day practicalities and economics. I’ve picked as many as I can and every time we drive past a tree where they have all been left to fall on the ground, it hurts, I tell you. Hurts. But I leave them be because I have another massive sack of them in the garage waiting to be processed when we finally run out of all of the carobs which have made their way through the system and await to be turned into sub-standard brownies.

You have to soak them for a day or two in a paint stained wheelbarrow to make them pliable enough to split in half in order to get out all of the rock hard seeds.

You then lay them outside in the sun (oven will do) until they are rock hard. After which you chuck them in to a food processor or Nutribullet and they turn into powder which you could have bought from Amazon for a couple of quid. But with added food miles and carbon footprint, of course. Sanctimoniousness is a under-rated quality which tastes a lot better than carob.

Then, oh joy, you get to make a whole host of delicious treats in order to try and get rid of the stuff…

I present to you ‘The best’ Carob Brownies ‘in the world’ (genuine quote) ( not very brown) and some Oaty Chewy Bar things. After eating both of which we wondered, if one had simply not bothered with the carob, would they have suffered in any way?

Which is a depressing thought that most of us, perhaps, can identify with which takes us to a place that I’d rather not go. Until then, the sub-standard brownie will remain a part of this household, loved for what it is and nothing more, something which all of us dream of.

Cracking The Algarve Feira Circuit – Available for Bookings

Cracking The Algarve Feira Circuit – Available for Bookings

Hello, hello. It’s been ages, months in fact. Where have you been?

What’s my excuse? Well, where to start… Since April, we’ve sold a house, put our vastly reduced stuff in storage as currently homeless in UK and are in the process of buying the smallest studio flat you could ever possibly imagine… no, smaller than that, really – 18m sq. We’re moving from a 4 bedroom house into a cupboard. And one of us is a hoarder. Don’t ask. Someone is going to have to throw a lot of their (his) stuff away and remind himself that this is all part of the plan to reduce outgoings. Oh dear.

Anyway, I’ve done a few stints of ridiculously full-on exhausting round Britain working stints to get the funds to hang out here for a while. So, we’re hanging here for a while. Oh, and I’m writing a (non-autism) book while I’m out here, so have been a but busy in between sweating. Sweating is the main activity of the day and I’m getting very proficient at it. It’s hot, extremely hot with temperatures reaching 40+C up here in the hills. Never had so many showers in my life, all of which have been rendered virtually pointless within minutes of stepping out from the water due to the immediate recurrence of the sweating.

We’ve had visits from family some of whom have been hotter than even they thought possible and not altogether well because of it. It is becoming clear that summer is not the time for people to visit us, unless their idea of a good holiday is sweating, sitting indoors and moaning about being hot.

There are many feiras – local fairs and festivals on throughout the summer in the surrounding villages and towns but all start at 7pm and later due to the heat. We have been to several of these feiras, which are quite low-key and largely local affairs which, along with some entertainment, appear to always involve cake, knitted dolls and killing things (hunting). The headline act comes on around 12.30am, or in other words ‘tomorrow’ and we have so far failed to make it through.

Cracking The Algarve Feira Circuit - 04

Please forgive me, Portugal, but given the posters, warm-up acts and parcel tape that we have seen, my suspicion is that we’re not talking quality here, but something that is rarely witnessed in the UK – small rural communities getting together and having a good time. We’re not even talking tribute band level here (come back, Worthing, all is forgiven). We spent one evening in the company of such a support act in the form of a portly gent in his 50’s with full moustache and checked shirt singing along in Portuguese to a Euro beat backing track and his own efforts on an organ. His early evening audience consisted of 3 middle aged couples – both male/female and female/female couples (the female/female couples I suspect were borne out of necessity from a lack of willing males, rather than us having stumbled upon a large gay community out here in the rural Algarve hills) waltzing. Sometimes switching partners between the six of them to add a bit of a frisson to the proceedings. Well, needs must and all that. He relied on songsheets throughout, which leads me to wonder if the real act had failed to show up and someone’s Dad who grows a fine pumpkin had been dragged in as a replacement. And nobody cared either way. I guarantee that had we made it to the end of the night, a supremely good night would have been had by all.

Cracking The Algarve Feira Circuit - 05

The number of chairs did suggest that things were going to hot up considerably later on, but our Northern European stamina was not in the same league as these guys and we wandered off into the darkness to stumble home (wine is 60p a glass) hours before the main event. Keith and I even considered that we could break on to the Algarve rural feira circuit and perform our own infamous (never-seen-in-public) acapella rendition of The Rubette’s Sugar Baby Love claiming to be related to The Beatles, or something. Surely being British has some musical clout and glamour that we could turn into a lucrative career on this busy and burgeoning circuit where the same name and face has yet to be seen twice? We would work for a bag of figs and a plate of chips, which is somewhere near the minimum wage in Portugal. We can even do the whole Abba songbook where we replace one word in each title with the word ‘spoon’: ‘Dancing Spoon’, ‘Spooner Takes It All’, Take A Chance On Spoon’. You had to be there. That’s a USP for sure, no one else doing that. Where’s Portugal’s answer to Simon Cowell when you need him? Anyone know the Portuguese for ‘Living On A Prayer’? I feel a new world opening up for us where we are celebrities in a land where we can only ask people their name and what subjects their brother and sister study at school.

Wake us up when it’s time to go on, will you?

Gecko Poo and Hardcore Gardening

Gecko Poo and Hardcore Gardening

Here’s a question: If you buy an orange tree which has an orange on it and plant it in your garden, can you legitimately claim for have ‘grown’ that orange? Thought not.

There were two oranges on it, as you can see. Not anymore. The other one tasted fantastic.

The new orange tree (we have others already, but this is by far the biggest) brings with it hundreds of little orangelets and our great hope for them to transform into big ones. Oranges grow in abundance in the Algarve and as such are dirt cheap (€0.50 per kg) but they are not grown so far up here in the hills as its too windy for them and the soil is not their preference, so our hope may not be quite sufficient. Gotta be worth a try though. We already have an established lemon tree (as you know) full of ripening fruits.

And a grapefruit (which as you can see has some way to go) and a nespera which are fruiting, as well as a pomegranate and olive which are flowering beautifully.

We also planted a fig, tangerine and quince, so hoping to have a right little packed fruitbowl at some point in the distant future. They cost between a fiver and a tenner each, so not an expensive risk. Seems amazing to be able to buy these things so readily and so cheaply, and that they have a chance of growing. Too exciting.

We’ve been here almost a month now and the place is looking a lot better than it was. We have furniture, cushions and rugs but no telly. No Family Guy for Keith and no Place in the Sun for me. It’s a revelation; we cope. Our entire structure, routine and general way of life has gone out of the window and we’re alright. Perhaps we are cured of our *autism? If you remove enough stressors; a relaxed normality is possible. I feel like a different person here without that ‘life’ stuff that many seem to manage with relative ease and minimal fallout. Although it is fair to say we have barely spoken to a soul apart from ourselves, so hardly been pressed on the social front, which could be the true test or our ‘recovery’.

* NB. This is not a serious comment. There is no cure for autism and the amount of money spent on looking for one could be far better spent improving the quality of life for autistic people rather than in trying to eradicate future generations.

Moving on…

The person, apart from each other, that we have spoken to most since we’ve been here is Luis, our Portuguese teacher, and that’s hardly a social chat, concerned as he is for gender, verb endings and whether Maria’s house is green or yellow. The Portuguese lessons are a slow struggle starting from zero and having to unlearn all I know about other languages I have some familiarity with. Portuguese isn’t like any of them. They don’t have a ‘k’ in their alphabet for one thing so we have no idea how Keith says his name. For Keith having never learned another language even the jargon of ‘verb’ and ‘article’ is something that has to be understood before he can even begin. The only success I have had with my learning, apart from being able to order an espresso, decaf with milk and two Pastel de Natas with aplomb (frequently practiced), was when cycling up the 1:4 hill to our house today, an elderly country gentlemen asked me if I was tired and I was able to both understand and reply that I was. I’m practically a local now.

After becoming acclimatised to my environment after a few days of hayfever and general yuk at the beginning, I can report a drop in blood pressure (a very important kidney disease indicator), zero headaches – I had one for 4 months constantly before arriving here and no back (kidney ache). I am now going to live until I’m 103 and defy my cyst filled kidneys. Portugal is the cure for everything.

The streaks down the walls which we presumed to be rain have revealed themselves to be gecko droppings. They live in the roof except the one who lives behind the boiler in the bathroom and who poos on the washing machine, but you know, we’re new here and we don’t know anyone, so company is company. Beggars: choosers and all that. I did a Google on gecko poo and it’s a thing. Many people appreciate their appetite for bugs in the house and so feel that a bit of poop here and there is a fair trade and leave them be. Other people are not so kind… Ours are staying, especially Eric behind the boiler.

In summary the past month has been spent cooking, eating, doing DIY jobs, gardening and fixing or replacing all of the things that Keith has broken (washing machine, garage doors – two doors: both broken, toilet – 4 days and counting of using a bucket).

There are more but we tend to erase them from our memory in order to avoid them being resurrected during a future argument. Sometimes its just best not to know how much of a liability you’re love is. Keith breaks a lot of things. It upsets him more than it does anyone else, so he says, but how the fuck does he know??

For balance, and to avoid someone setting up Keithline to protect him from the horror of me revealing his failings to the world (he did remind me of extra things he’d broken so that I could include them here, so save your pity, he’s a media whore), I did this, whilst trying to ‘cleverly’ transport the paint, but ‘stupidly’ failing to check the lid was shut.

We’ve been doing a lot in the garden as its mostly way too nice to be indoors but still probably a bit too hot for our type of gardening, which is a bit hardcore by necessity of the environment. Our garden is made mostly of almost solid rock and every tree we have planted has required a pickaxe to break up the soil.

If the sight of pale Northern European flesh disturbs you, please scroll no further. If it excites you, please send £10 by Postal Order.

I’ve become very interested in permaculture over the past few months in preparation for our new plot. Permaculture is the idea of working with nature and what you’ve got in your surroundings, rather than working against it in all aspects of your plot (and your life, if you like) – design, practical use, using existing resources rather than introducing new ones. So, for example, instead of chemically blasting your aphids, you introduce and encourage native plants which attract insects which like scoffing aphids, such as ladybirds and lace wings. Keith thought it sounded like a load of hippy guff when I first told him about it, but that’s not so and he is now converted. It is about efficiency, multiple functions and resilience (multiple solutions to each need/function) and so is right up our logical systemised street, as it were. It also means we get more food grown for less effort and we don’t do any digging, so it’s a Good Thing. There are a multitude of websites, books and courses to become properly knowledgeable about it, but my reading has, I hope, allowed me to understand the basic principles, which we are, and will be applying to our life here. We’ve started by weeing on all of our trees (nitrogen producing and save water on flushes), leaving patches of wilderness for the bug eating bugs, composting and making raised beds from the abundant rocks already here to mention a few. We have longer term plans for solar powered showers, compost toilets and veg companion planting methods, but they’ll have to wait a while. It’s my new favourite thing.

Bamboo mulched raised bed with rock border and rock path. We got a lot of rocks.

The dry stone (rock) wall compost bin. Still got a lot of rocks.

We have also tooled ourselves up for our horticultural adventures. This is a chipper which turns all your tree and grass choppings into mulch. It has a sign on it which tells you not to put people in it. It would be good for getting rid of people, but the blade gets a bit gummed up if the leaves are too wet, so I imagine a people would be quite wet and require some manual ungumming. Best stick to the leaves.

We also have this little beauty: a brushcutter; that’s a hardcore strimmer to the uninitiated. This is my job as Keith doesn’t really like to get smashed to pieces by bits of flying stick, grass and rock, and I do. I like the battle scars. It’s a deeply satisfying job; totally locked away in your own little world behind your ear defenders and mask making so much noise that no one can speak to you, turning the scruffy wilderness into something tidy. What’s not to like? Oh bugger, I’m still autistic, aren’t I? Not cured after all. No multi-million pound retirement for me once I have relocated all autistic people to Portugal to live a calm, warm and peaceful life with their own brushcutters.

*NB. If this does turn out to be a bloody brilliant idea, I’m claiming copyright and 10% minimum.

It’s a glorious rural environment both harsh and vibrant at the same time. Some days we have woken up and a new tree or shrub has burst into blossom from what we had presumed to be a half dead stick.

The novelty of almost wall to wall sunshine – apart from the night that it rained so hard on every single pair of shoes we have that it filled each and every one to the top with water – doesn’t wear off.

It’s a continual delight that every day is mostly warm and mostly sunny, to the point that when it does rain we don’t really mind because we know it won’t stick around for long, and anyway, we need it if we’re going to make that rendezvous with those oranges later this year.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

I don’t wish to start moaning already, but… it’s a bit too hot. It’s only March and it’s 31 degrees. We moved from Worthing because it was too cold to cycle (yes, we’re pathetic) and now we’re thinking that it might be too hot to cycle. It’s beginning to sound like we’re looking for reasons not to cycle.

The whole experience so far has been utterly overwhelming. It’s just so perfect and beautiful; a proper country idyll. There’ll be bad days and worse days, I’m sure, but right now it’s like a very long held dream come true; something I wasn’t sure would ever come to fruition throughout the decades (yup, that long) that this lifestyle has been on the cards (spreadsheet). I won’t get too smooshy here, but this is all a pretty big deal. If you’re reading this and thinking you’d like to live differently, but are scared to take the step: take the step. Mostly this is all wonderful because we have a lemon tree.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 01

The Algarve gets two crops of lemons a year because the climate is so warm for so long. These particular lemons are from the autumn batch last year and most were gathered from the ground, so are a bit old, but perfectly fine. The lemon tree is the paler green bush in the background, currently covered in blossom and green lemons. Hundreds of them, which will all be ready in the next few weeks. Lemon Armageddon. Lemageddon. Armalemon.

So, in the spirit of economy, good living and the utter joy of foraged food, we have eaten a lot of lemons in our first week here so as not to waste them. That is alongside three 200 miles round trip journeys to IKEA. That’s right, three visits to IKEA in one week. What fresh hell is this? In our defence, our doorways are both low and narrow and nothing but flatpack furniture will fit through them. We are in zero fear of burglars who will not be able to get anything out without first dismantling it, and no one in the history of the world thinks that would be worth a day of their life.

So, on the menu this week has been Lemon Chicken, lots of sparkling water drunk with, you guessed it, freshly squeezed lemon juice. I’ve also baked a Spanish Almond Torta, which is traditionally made using oranges; not this time.Served with Lemon Curd Ice Cream made from the Lemon Curd that I made with my… er… lemons. Lemon Curd Ice Cream is as good as it sounds and just requires Lemon Curd and whipped double cream chucked in the freezer, if you don’t have an ice cream maker.

As I still had around 30 odd lemons after all that lot of culinary creativity, my brother, Frank, reminded me about Preserved Lemons, which are a staple of Moroccan cuisine and have a very different lemony taste; the bitterness goes. They are pretty pricey in the UK and, as it turns out, pretty easy to make. I now have to wait four weeks before I can eat them, by which time there will be another 300 lemons ready for consumption. Ah well, no such thing as too much lemon cake. Here I am, looking proud with my jars of (free) Preserved Lemons.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 04

Whilst making the house habitable, Keith has been banging his head. A lot. The doorways, as I said, are low and Keith is not. They are too low for me as well, but I don’t have to bend so far down and appear to have encompassed bending down into my general way of being whilst in the house and so far, I have not hit my head once. Keith probably does it at least once a day; a right hard thwack each time which has left him with lumps on his head and tears in his eyes, poor sausage. Apart from knocking through about 12 inches of stone which make up the walls of the house – interior and exterior – there’s not much we can do about the door heights, except…

 

A Post-It note Blu-taced next to every single doorway in the house. I somehow knew whilst I was packing for this trip that taking Post-It notes, marker pens and Blu-tac would be a good idea. Never leave home without stationery, I say.

The house next door to ours is a British owned holiday home and is empty most of the year (crazy fools). For the first time since we arrived, we saw a person in shorts getting debris out of the huge, turquoise, empty for most of the year swimming pool in the garden. We decided that this must be the owner and that we must be ‘sociable’. We spent about 20 minutes whispering,stressing, arguing and deliberating as to who was going to say what in way of an introduction to our neighbour. After approaching the adjoining wall in united and somewhat formal fashion and hailing the gentleman next door, we discovered that he was not in the slightest bit interested in making our acquaintance beyond a slightly confused and heavily accented hello… because he was the Portuguese pool guy and not our neighbour. Bollocks, we’ve got to go through all that again when the real neighbour arrives. The perils of sociability. It’d be easier just to ignore everyone and avoid the stress; but that pool next door is really rather lovely…

But it’s not all rural bliss in the country, I appear to be allergic to Portugal, or sun, or something. Since being here I’ve developed a lumpy rash all over my body, mouth ulcers, cold sore, streaming eyes and incessant sneezing. I’ve never suffered from hayfever or allergies of this nature, but it has been a while since I’ve been in the midst of quite so much nature. I’ve started eating a spoon of local flower honey every day to try and desensitize to the pollen and it seems to be working. A much greater risk to our new life is that we’ve also nearly run out of Tunnocks. Strangely enough, I’m not expecting much support or sympathy in our time of need here, guys. Guys?

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Time to pick up the keys to our new little house in the Algarve. It feels like I’ve been counting down the days obsessively since we had our offer on it accepted on 23rd December, and that’s because I have. No, far more obsessively than that: tally charts, crossing off multiple calendars, writing the new total days in my diary every day and Tippexing the previous day’s count out, counting over and over again just in case I got it wrong and it wasn’t REALLY that long to wait. And now it’s here and it feels weird, extremely stressful, and weird. Keith will be here for most of the next 6 months, I will be to-ing and fro-ing to the UK to work in order to keep us in fava beans and piri piri chicken. We’ll see how that goes.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 01

We decided to drive to Portugal so that we could take plentiful supplies of muesli, Listerine and Johnson’s talc – all things which are widely available in Portugal, but things which Keith can’t live without (see: Bold Crystal Lily Rain thing), so no risk could be taken. Had we considered that the car would do somewhere in the region of half its normal fuel consumption due to the ridiculous amount of stuff we packed into it and on to it, perhaps we would have thought again. Added to that we also had to buy a roofrack to put the bench that someone (me) took a fancy to in a second hand shop and wrongly calculated that it would fit in the boot. Expensive bowl of porridge, that. The sensible bonus of taking our car is that we don’t have to pay for car hire over the expensive summer months – you can legally take a car to Europe from UK for 183 days each year (as long as your insurance and MOT is sorted).

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 02

We caught the Plymouth-Santander ferry which is a 19 hour voyage of joy last travelled in reverse on our way back from last summer’s Channel to Spain bike ride. The onboard musak features low budget cover versions of familiar songs sung in such a way that they sound absolutely nothing like the original. It’s as though the vocalist was given the lyrics of a song completely unknown to them and asked to make up their own tune. The result is an interesting game of Name that Tune and a wonderment that anyone can destroy a perfectly good Hall and Oates song quite so magnificently. On the subject of music, you’ll be pleased to know that Sinitta is alive and well on Spanish radio.

Once in Santander its a 600 mile drive down to the Algarve. 600 claustrophobic miles sat in an overloaded car with a picnic box and a rucksack on my lap because the boot was full of Alpen and Marmite. The weather was interesting to say that least with a snowstorm and temperature of 0 degrees. In Spain. Bloody grateful not to be on a bike this time.

Followed 20 minutes later by:

I may have said before how much I really like kilometres. There are more of them, it’s true, but they pass so much more quickly than miles and are far more satisfying in terms of progress. We did more than a thousand of the buggers.

We spent the night in a hotel in Merida and went for a wander in the evening. I had never heard of the place but it has an incredible amount of Roman architecture all over the city. We had some food in a tapas bar and ordered various random unknown things from the Spanish menu which turned out to be clams and cuttlefish. Er, yum? I am one of those people who feels the need to at least make a dent in the food that is given to me, even if I really don’t like it. It’s a stupid trait considering I’ve paid for it, but that’s the way it is. Keith doesn’t feel any social requirement to not upset the chef, so my burden is not even shared. Let’s just say that I have committed the Spanish word for cuttlefish to memory so that I never make that mistake again. Not a patch on KFC.

On our way home we passed what can only be described as 40 people carrying a giant bed with some wrapped up statues on top accompanied by a brass marching band.

The quality of the photo is poor, but there are definitely 40 people walking extremely slowing under there. Makes my picnic box on the lap car experience comfortable by comparison. Don’t their heads hurt? Are the ones in the middle freaking out? Where are they going? So many questions and no answers. Much like life, eh?

Our past experience of stumbling across random festivals (the tuna stew competition in Castro Urdiales springs to mind, the ‘Let’s-dress-up-as-pirates-and almost-drown-swimming-across-the -bay’ in San Sebastian does too) says that this is standard fare for Spain, even at 9.30pm on a Monday evening in March. I presume this was some kind of practice for an Easter do of some religious nature but it might just be what the Meridians(from Merida?) do for fun. Next morning provided another opportunity for ‘Asians at Breakfast’ (last seen in Athens), which involves watching the coachload of middle aged Asian tourists navigate a European breakfast buffet. Today’s piece de resistance combo was bacon, egg and doughnut. There are Japanese people sitting in hotels in Tokyo at this moment crying with laughter at Europeans eating the Japanese food faux pas and mixing their bento with their sashmimi.

Back on the road and eventually arriving at Casa Torta, our house; which translates as ‘crooked’ or ‘cake’, so take your pick. Both fit pretty well given the predilections of the new residents and the height of the doorways. OK, so it was all we could afford. What’s a daily dose of mild concussion in exchange for a life in the sun.

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This is the view from our house once you have ducked down far enough to leave it.

It is the same view as from the much larger, luxurious and expensive villas which surround it. Our house is the slightly drunk, dishevelled uncle at a family gathering: seen better days, wonky and with an odd smell. But you love him all the more for it.

The house has been empty for many months – or so we thought. On opening up Keith’s old French house, we were frequently greeted by scorpions. Here, it’s lizards, big ones with suckers on their feet. Our new squatters. They are far, far more welcome than a scorpion, although that opinion is subject to change the night that one falls on my face from the ceiling. When we went to Santorini, we found that the lizards there were partial to cake, so maybe these are too.

First meal at our house. Too cold to eat outside really, hence the coat, but it’s not every day you move to Portugal.

Nice bench.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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.