Age Defying Dreams

Age Defying Dreams

So, we went for a walk one morning and we started talking, as we do, somehow always finding something to talk about together after all these years and with almost every hour of every day spent in each other’s presence. We ended up on the subject of whether there is any one right time, or age, for moving to a new country, doing some serious travelling or making a big life change, and how age can have an impact on the experience.

 

The inspiration for this conversation came from the past few weeks where we’ve met a number of new people who are all here in Portugal for the short or long term and who are all from different decades in their lives. Travellers and residents from their 20s up into 60s and beyond all turn up on these shores and have crossed our paths. Obviously, age does not entirely determine how someone will behave: we all know risk-averse youngsters and wild, crazy elders, but from our experiences these would be exceptions. We pondered where we fit in the scheme of things.

 

In comparison to the other foreigners living immediately around our neighbourhood, who arrived here in retirement in their 60s and upwards, we are the youngsters, roughing it and foolishly cycling up hills in the midday sun. They lead a life of lunches, golf and quiet pursuits, often choosing fellow English speakers for pals and often grumbling about the natives who, they live in proximity to but in total isolation from. The bulk of their lives were spent in their home countries and this life is a welcome retreat funded by pensions and a life of hard work. They live in lovely villas and don’t want to garden or decorate: someone else can be paid to do that. Eventually, many of them will return home due to health, finance or sheer boredom. There is only so much the sun can entertain.

 

Last week we met two women travelling who were in their 20s. One of them had rolled into town alone on the Solstice and immediately hooked up with some other young folks who were organising a party and spent a few days with them. It sounded like this kind of thing happens to her almost every day. No big deal. That all stops when you get older: other 40 somethings just don’t invite you to hang out with them; they/we are all too busy/sensible/fearful of doing such a thing with strangers. These women are happy to share a dorm room and live with basic comforts, whereas although we live a simple life, we shudder at the idea of being kept awake by noisy strangers in a hostel. They have no plans or cares in the world about health, mortgages or how to survive; everything seems possible and it can wait until they’ve finished hanging out here for a while. What’s the hurry? They are low on resources but long on time.

Age Defying Dreams – 02

We belong in a different gang to either of these, which is perhaps less typical. Most of the world’s wanderers are either young and yet to be worn down by the world, or older and enjoying the fruits of their labours. We are still in our working years, requiring income, but wanting to spend our working life doing it our way. Our requirements also differ from those both younger and older. We want more than a hostel and less than a villa. We desire a slightly more luxurious than basic lifestyle; to run a car and to drink good coffee to name but a few. We are neither mobile nor static: we want to put down roots, but we might dig them up and replant them elsewhere in years to come. We don’t want to seek solely English speaking interactions, we want to learn a new language and feel somewhat brave and willing to engage with our community, however long and faltering the steps to do so might be. We want to grow food, create a home and appreciate many joyful sunsets over our hills. We don’t have the casual encounters that our new young friends are having nor seek the ex-pat pals of our older neighbours, but we do try to meet people through voluntary work exchanges where we work on their land and with their animals in exchange for meals and vegetables. Our relative youth and physicality enables us to forge these relationships with like-minded souls in a way that wouldn’t be available to us if we had less physical well-being. We visit our local bar with frequency in order to show our faces, support the place and find rare opportunities to inflict our Portuguese on the captive audience. We are somewhere in the middle in age, courage, energy and aspirations.

Age Defying Dreams – 03

The correlation between risk taking and age seems to be inversely proportionate. Speaking to people casually, I hear that their priorities change as their lives move on. Conversation topics involve concerns about health, safety and financial security which feature less when talking with the young. The older we are, we appear more cautious and fearful of new people and new experiences, despite life being no more or less dangerous than it is at any age. I would like to say that it’s all in the mind, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. I think it is partly in the body. Whilst, Keith and I feel young, able and reckless in comparison to some of our neighbours, we feel old, achy and sensible next to these much younger travellers. For us, approaching 50, mortality bites and our increasing physical limitations are apparent to us, if not debilitating. We already know people of our age who are debilitated. We become scared at the prospect. As our bodies begin to show signs of fatigue and fragility, we become naturally more physically cautious, and perhaps more mentally cautious by default. We increasingly say No to the world, instead of Yes. No creates certainty, predictability and safety, but can also foster fear, boredom and a closed mind. Yes brings risk, possibility and new encounters. Instead of our awareness of time being limited making us braver and intent on making the most of the time and health we have, we try to preserve and protect our minds and our bodies by wrapping them up in cotton wool. This, I feel, is a big mistake.

 

‘But what if something terrible happens?’ you may say. ‘But what if something amazing happens?’ I reply.

 

There is no right time to travel, move or explore, but we must be mindful that the longer we leave it; perhaps the less likely we are to take that leap; if we are even capable of leaping by that time. We need to keep both our bodies and our minds open to all possibilities and recognise that some of our objections, excuses and self-imposed negativity really is all in our minds.

Age Defying Dreams – 04

Of course, we should take care and know our physical limitations, but at the same time continue to stretch our mental limitations. Age should be no barrier to an open mind, regardless of physical health. And if any 20 something wants to invite me to an all night Solstice party, then I’d be delighted. As long as there’s a flushing toilet and comfy chair, I’m there.

 

Do you think that we limit ourselves as we age? And if so, why do you think this is?

21st Century Broad Beans

21st Century Broad Beans

Spring is a beautiful time of year here and the hillsides are ablaze with colour and the swallows and bee-eaters have returned. Our layered beds are planted, our fingers are crossed and we’re hopeful of some kind of harvest.

Photograph of colourful spring flowers in the Algarve countryside

This is our first year of determined growing efforts and we have bought/sowed one of almost every edible species going in order to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s like the Noah’s Ark of gardening. Luckily, trees, plants and seeds are incredibly cheap in Portugal and so this feels possible without any huge financial risk. Our newly planted ‘vineyard’ (it is a patch of ground with vines in it, therefore it is a vineyard) cost €24 for 12 vines. They have more than paid for themselves already through the joy and anticipation we have had in peering closely at this pile of sticks protruding from the earth all winter pining desperately for a sign that reassures us that we are not the laughing stock of the market for having paid €24 for someone’s kindling pile. And that we are in fact, the Algarve’s answer to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the wine-making department (they make their own, but with considerably more staff, I suspect). Over the past few weeks our devotion has been rewarded and they all have sprouted.

Photograph of a young grapevine sprouting its first leaves
Broad beans have been the great success of early spring. We have observed that these are the crop do dia of rural Portugal and wondered why. My memories of broad beans are of pale minority members of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables thrown in a pan and boiled to death by my well meaning mother and the habits of 1970s cooking. To be honest, I only grew them because judging by their proliferation round here, they seemed like a sure fire success and I’m kind of desperate like that. I didn’t really expect to like them. Yet again, I was wrong.

We know now why they are so common: they are incredibly easy to grow and they taste amazing. Given the poverty in rural Portuguese communities in the past and to some extent in the present day, it is easy to understand why a twice a year, non-irrigated food source would become almost a national dish. From our perspective, they grow quickly, strongly and look like an impressive feat of garden expertise with zero effort. You get to see how the Jack and the Beanstalk tale originated when you see how tall they get in such a short space of time.

There are essentially two bean growing seasons in the Algarve – one sowing takes place at the arrival of the rains in the Autumn with a harvest around February and the second sowing goes in around February with a harvest in May before the heat hits. They don’t require watering or any assistance whatsoever. As an added bonus, the impatient gardener doesn’t even have to wait for the beans to reach maturity before reaping some free food from the plants: you can eat the plant itself. It is recommend by some that picking off the top shoots of the plants after flowering will stop the plant using its energy for leaf growth and instead focus it on bean growth, which makes sense to me. The tips are a pale, grey-green colour, but once wilted in a pan with a tiny amount of water they turn a deep and vibrant green and make a fine soup or addition to an omelette. Probably they could make a substitute for any recipe involving spinach or spring greens.

And if you end up with too many in your veg patch, you can always dry them and get fava beans, which should keep Hannibal Lecter happy should he ever pay a visit.

Photograph of a bowl of broad bean, courgette, and broad bean tip soup
Today we had them for lunch in the most delicious and pretty quick to make soup. I could eat this on a daily basis, it is so good, and so darned healthy.

Courgette, Broad Bean and Broad Bean Tip Soup
Makes 2 large bowls or 4 small bowls
Slug of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large courgette, chopped
500g fresh broad beans in their pods (less if already de-podded). I leave the little jackets on, but if you prefer a creamier taste, take ‘em off
3 handfuls broad bean tips
1 litre stock – I used some boiled up roast chicken bones to make the stock but a stock cube of any variety will do
Slug of vermouth or white wine (optional)

Heat the oil in a pan, gently cook the onion for 5 minutes, then add all remaining vegetables and cook for 10 minutes. Add stock and wine if using and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes before blending – either until completely smooth or leaving a few lumps for texture. Adjust liquid if required.
Serve with warm bread and some creamy cheese.

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?