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.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance


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Now, I shall apologise in advance for the contents of this first part of this post: they are about weeing. This is important and useful medical knowledge which may come in handy at some point in your lives (bladders weaken with age, you know). Skip over at your peril.

As a consequence of my kidney disease, it is recommended that I drink 3 litres of water per day. The general recommendation for any person is 2 litres, which is hard enough, but 3 litres is something else. I fail at this task almost everyday. On a good day, I guzzle a litre at a time and then nothing to several hours, because I forget. This is pointless as the body cannot utilise large quantities of water in one go. Today, I introduced a new strategy by setting an alarm on my phone every hour on the hour and when it goes off I drink a cup of water. This is how I shall live my life from now on. If you ever meet me and this happens, please know that this is part of me maintaining the function of my kidneys and not being a freaky, routine-obsessed weirdo – in this instance.

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Today, we went for a walk, which turned out to be over 9 miles. Every hour on the hour, I drank a cup of water. In between every hour, I did at least one wee. I did seven al fresco wees in a five hour period, which works out as 14 wees in a full day. My alfresco wees were mostly next to olive trees. Next time you eat an olive, it may be from a tree that was irrigated by me. Think about that. No need to thank me. I was doing myself a favour.

Managing my fluid intake in this fashion is so much easier in the countryside. It is also cheaper; in major cities it can cost 30p for a wee: that’s £4.20 a day for 14 wees, £1533 per year. That’s the price of a decent holiday (everything in life should be measured in holidays). Taking care of your health is expensive, unless you’re willing to get arrested by squatting next to a hedge in a suburban street.

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Final serious note about water intake: drinking even the recommended two litres of water a day really does make a massive difference to well-being, brain clarity and mood. Give it a try. But make sure you have 30p handy.

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We walked south from Gythio around the coast and up and back in a circle. The sun was out and the temperature was the warmest we have had so far. What a difference a bit of blue sky makes. This coast is just fabulous, another discovery, as we’ve never been here before or even considered it.

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This is the beach at Mavrovouni, 4 km long of sand and, even on a January day, deep blue sea. Coincidentally (or was it?), the only two people we saw on the whole stretch (we walked the entire length), were having a wee. Maybe they too were on a kidney management system. Solidarity, brothers.

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At the back edge of the beach are a row of houses and a few rooms to rent along with the odd bar. This would be an amazing spot to find yourself for a holiday. I can’t imagine it ever gets really busy. The notice board on the beach said that it was a sea turtle nesting beach and that dolphins sometimes pop by. This is a real slice of unspoilt Greece.

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The beach overlooks the Mani Penisula, a wild, mountainous region with ridge-top villages and stunning scenery. That will have to wait until another time.

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The only thing to distract you from your lazy days would be the odd cat in an old, abandoned Mercedes.

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Our walk passed by many prickly pears, ripe and ready to eat on their cactus plants. They are delicious, like a cross between a banana and an apple or pear (duh!). And they are free. Don’t try it though, please. In Morocco, street vendors sell them all smooth and prickle-free for 1 dirham (7p) a piece, so a few years ago on a holiday to Paxos, Greece, I thought that I could benefit from this free food source and pick my own. Despite the surface looking entirely smooth, they are covered in the tiniest spines, hundreds of them which get stuck in your skin and, being virtually invisible, are impossible to remove. I learned this through experience and got covered in them trying to be Ray Mears. It took days to get rid of the spines from my hands and arms.

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So… today, knowing all of this, I had another go. I know, it makes no sense, but I just really wanted one. And I thought these ones might be different. Or something. I don’t think the photograph adequately shows the multiple spines on my finger.

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Now, none of this would have happened if I’d have listened to Baloo. 1.21 in and he tells us exactly how to deal with a prickly pear. Just need to grow my fingernails longer.

We wandered home through miles of olive and orange trees. The olives were being harvested in great sheets on the ground. We later walked past the local press and smelled them all being processed. The trees were loaded with them. I don’t think I did a wee under this tree, although they do all look the same.

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We had a pathetic (by our exacting standards) picnic by the side of the road which comprised of two tiny pieces of French toast stolen from the hotel breakfast room along with some stolen peach jam, some Christmas chocolate (still going strong – the mince pies became extinct in Athens), some almonds from Morocco and some old crisps.

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Whilst sat by the road we talked about the Buddhist meditation book I read in Morocco – I have yet to actually meditate, but I’m thinking about it – and about how Zen the moment was as it felt as though, although we were sat on a deserted country roadside, all manor of life and change was happening around us: birds, crickets, moving leaves, chainsaws in the distance. There was no need to seek entertainment, possession or concern ourselves with the past or the future: now was all that mattered. And now felt perfect. We had a thought that we might never leave that spot and might sit there forever, just ‘being’. Perhaps people would eventually bring us food parcels, which might be an improvement on the French toast. We sat there for quite some time, but then the alarm on my phone went off and I knew that within ten minutes I would need another wee.

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Back to Gythio for a room dinner of Cup-A-Soup, bread and cheese for tea with a Greek yogurt and honey chaser. Off on the road again tomorrow to start to earn our keep.




Morocco: This Post is Brought to You by the Essaouira Tourist Board and Polycystic Kidney Disease

Morocco: This Post is Brought to You by the Essaouira Tourist Board and Polycystic Kidney Disease

Today’s ramble is mainly just an excuse for a few more photos of this extraordinarily photogenic place; there is a photo opp round every corner. The blue sky contrasted with white buildings is so aesthetically satisfying. We only have a camera phone, so quality is not great, but you get the idea.

Despite the business it will bring, not everyone here is so chuffed with the direct Easyjet flights as they feel it will spoil the place even more than tourism has spoiled it already. This is a double edged sword or employment, improved local facilities – this is hugely obvious from the years I have been coming here – tempered with the town being turned into some kind of Moroccan Disneyland of men in fezs and snake charmers (I have never seen a snake charmer in Essaouira – its too cool for that). You can see why local people would take the tourist route, perhaps changing their shop from selling saucepans or couscous to selling spices or slippers, but they may destroy their community in the process. And community is one of the overriding things you notice about this place, and Morocco in general; its all about family and people. Eating, drinking and chatting. The streets are always full, especially at night, when everyone seems to come for a wander. It is a highly social lifestyle. With a risk of appearing idiotically patronising and making sweeping generalisations, my perception is that, one the surface at least, these are a happier lot than we are; less stressed (in a western sense of the world). More about people; less about things.

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We wandered round the port with its boat building yard and numerous blue fishing boats of all sizes. Due to the Atlantic winds, the sea is usually choppy outside the bay of Essaouira and you can often see these boats appearing and disappearing amongst the waves.

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I have always found Morocco a very safe place to be and have never felt in any danger, even late at night. Obviously, there are places not to go at night in any city, but for me, the general absence of alcohol – you can buy it but most Moroccans don’t drink it – makes an evening out far more pleasant than in the UK. The atmosphere is completely different. Plus, as an added bonus, there are no Wetherspoons. Not one.

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Shopping is a slow mooch round shops selling different individual items; one shop only sells bottled water, nothing else. Many shops these days have set prices and shopkeepers appear to have largely abandoned the hard sell tactics of the past. I recall hearing years ago that the government had carried out some research where they found it that 85% of first time visitors to Morocco said they would never return due to the constant badgering. Huge amounts of money was spent on tourism and on TV advertisements explaining that European shoppers just like to be allowed to look. When I first came 13 years ago, the guidebooks would warn of harassment and scams to the point of making you terrified before you arrived. Morocco is nothing like it was, especially in laid-back Essaouira.

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Beyond tagine spices and saffron, the spice shop sell a range of cures for all known ailments, including diabetes, weight loss and kidney stones. I am not convinced that these jars contain anything more than some sticks and dust off the floor, but the older generation particularly, swear by them. On the top shelf is where the black magic lies, should you wish to put a curse in your neighbour for forgetting to put the bins out. Bats and hedgehogs feature in these recipes.

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Oranges are around 12p a kilo. Fresh fruit and vegetables are incredibly cheap – a week’s worth would cost less than £1.

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Late night shopping is every night,although it seems more of an excuse to see and be seen. Snails, pyjamas and live chickens are but a few paces away.

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I hear that there’s something called Christmas going on in the western world. From friends posts on Facebook, it sounds stressful. We have escaped this final week to wander around in the winter sun. Christmas shopping? Slippers and tagine spices. Sorted. Here in Morocco, this is Christmas. One stall, selling a few inflatable Santas. That’ll do.

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The photo at the top of this page is of my land. Crazy, eh? It’s near the beach in a little place called Moulay Bouzerktoun, about 20 minutes drive north of Essaouira. It’s known only for windsurfing, kitesurfing and such and has a significant swell in the summer (so they tell me). In Europe, this hectare (2.5 acres) would be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, here it cost less than the price of a second hand car (I don’t even remember how much). You could live on it in a little house, spend your life shifting rocks, counting tortoises and live on very little money. Morocco is full of such opportunities; for the medium brave. We thought about what adventures we could have building a house on the land overlooking the Atlantic; something we’d never be able to afford anywhere much else. We talked about lots of ideas and things, but then we found out that my Polycystic Kidney Disease has caused high blood pressure for the first time in my life (it’s the first thing to cause a problem for most people with PKD). Apart from back pain and almost constant headaches, it’s not affecting me too much so far. A health and fitness regime begins 2 days before Christmas in an attempt to get it under control (weight loss and excerise help lower blood pressure) before I have to give in and tell a Doc who will put me on medication for the rest of my life. I’d like to delay that as long as possible. I may be well for decades, I may not. We just don’t know, but we’re not taking any chances and wasting healthy time thinking we have plenty of it. We weren’t too sure about Moroccan medical facilities and we also remembered that we’re not very brave, so we went home and put an offer in on a little cottage in Portugal that we viewed some time ago. That’s a more sedate kind of adventure that we can handle. With hospitals. And they said Yes.

We have a couple of Help Exchange / Workaway volunteering trips organised for the next few months, but after that, we’ll be being not very adventurous in The Algarve for many years to come.

This is happening

This is happening

It’s strange how big changes in life come about.

There you are dreaming, planning, wishing for years and years about how things might be different, but never really able to fully comprehend what it would feel like when they actually were different because it always felt so far away; like for most people, it was  always ‘one day’, always ‘not today’. A bit more off the mortgage, a bit more in the bank (we’ve only owned our own house together for a year). For us, it was always about the money; the perceived security, rarely about the quality. We were apart from weeks on end, often miserable.

Within the past 3 months, its all changed. I have a genetic kidney disease that I didn’t know I had and which might not allow me to be riding my bike and eating KFC until I’m 103 like I had planned, my youngest child turns 18 years of age, Keith has taken voluntary redundancy and is, as from this week, unemployed for the first time in 30 years.

It’s fair to say that Keith and I are quite different people (despite sharing an autism diagnosis). Keith is what you might call ‘risk averse’. ‘I’m an engineer’, he says, ‘ I have to look for the reasons that something might not work’. And he does, frequently. I, on the other hand, am a kind of low attention span Dill the Dog, always diving with 100% enthusiasm into some new, short-lived and often ill-conceived passion. Keith has mainly led a solitary life, doing the same job. I have had over 30 jobs, 2 kids, 2 marriages and a whole string of ‘life events’ (polite phrase for ‘poor choices’). We believe that somewhere in between the pair of us is a perfectly functioning human being.

So, we find ourselves in this new position. Overnight our income has halved, our time together has multiplied from sometimes zero hours a week to 24/7 and our sense of security has vanished.

And today we’re off on an 800 mile bike trip which we planned way before we knew that any of this was going to happen.

We have two choices here. Panic. Or just shut up and get on with it. We’ll start with the latter and reserve the right to shift to the former if we feel like it.