Accidents Will Happen (let’s blame the French*)

Accidents Will Happen (let’s blame the French*)

Beautiful smooth rocks on the all-time-low River Mondego

Beautiful smooth rocks on the all-time-low River Mondego

It’s been quite a week for a number of reasons. It seemed that almost everywhere else in Central Portugal was in flames except us. So many people lost homes and lives, it’s been quite unbelievable. We missed it all by a day as we had left for the UK. From seeing maps of the burned areas, it looks unlikely that escape would have been an option once the fire came close – our land was surrounded, but we weren’t on it. There is much written on the latest fires and their aftermath, so I’m not going to dwell on it here, but in reality my mind has been thinking of little else. Along with deep sadness for those who lost so much and working out how we can help them, I’m pondering how we can continue to look at ways to protect ourselves in the short term and reforest our land in the long term.

In a previous post I mentioned the increased likelihood of Keith sustaining near fatal injuries due to our increased tool collection and usage in our much larger quinta. He didn’t wait long to prove me right and it’s all the fault of French Air Traffic Control*.

One evening, four days before the fires, Keith and I were indoors. Keith was washing-up. Suddenly, he said: ‘Sarah, we need to go to a hospital. I have lost my thumb’. I turned to find him clutching a blood soaked tea towel around his right hand. It was 10pm at night and had no idea what to do. Amidst a heated, panicked difference of opinion about whether we should call an ambulance (me) or drive to a hospital (him), we called 112 to find out where the hell the nearest 24 hour hospital was. Utilising our not-now-wasted First Aid training we kept the wound wrapped with Keith periodically becoming minorly hysterical about life with a severed digit. The emergency operator told us to stay put and the ambulance would come. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could find us in the forest as we have no address, road or post box – our mail goes to a cafe in the nearest village – and was yelling all this to the probably long-suffering operator, convinced that Keith was going to pass out through blood loss at any moment and knowing I couldn’t life him into the car. Amazingly from a few basic details she told me the name of our quinta and my name: we were registered somewhere and they knew us and the house. Phew! There is only one route to our house in a non-4×4 so I drove us up to the edge of the village to save the ambulance time. This meant sitting in a forest in the car, waiting for an ambulance that I wasn’t sure would come, with a man with a severed thumb, who I was expecting to pass out at any moment. I was flipping terrified. As is always the case in Portugal, stuff always works out in the end. Our friendly bombeiros (firemen) arrived (filthy fingernails – definitely not paramedics) and took us to a hospital 40 minutes away providing me with the best opportunity for practising Portuguese that I have had in more than  year – I now know exactly when to pick our olives – whilst Keith sat in the back with an ice pack. Every cloud, and all that.

Keith looking pensive, sporting Portuguese NHS jim jams

Keith looking pensive, sporting Portuguese NHS jim jams post-surgery.

The Doctor at the hospital diagnosed cut tendons and nerves all around his thumb – it was still attached, but he couldn’t feel or move it – but didn’t want to operate and sent Keith to a larger hospital another hour away, straight into emergency surgery and two days in hospital. I returned home after a night sleeping in the car to what looked like a crime scene. Next time, he needs to maintain greater control of the blood I now know that blood takes off the top layer of terracotta tiles. That night is literally indelibly etched on our kitchen floor.

A picture of a mantis on the table rather than one of a blood splatted floor

A picture of a mantis on the table rather than one of a blood splattered floor. You’d thank me for it

Three days before Keith had his mishap, we broke the coffee holding cup from our coffee machine.

One day before Keith’s mishap, my brother and his wife were due to arrive with a replacement coffee holding cup which we had delivered to their house. Their trip was foiled due to a French Air Traffic Control strike; their plane cancelled – while they were sitting on it waiting to take off. Without a replacement part, we were using a cafetiere. Keith was washing up the cafetiere when he pressed – somewhat incredulously – too hard on the glass at the bottom and pushed his thumb straight through.

If you know Keith, you will know that this is a particularly typical Keith accident which involves testing items to discover their boundaries. In order to discover their boundaries, it is necessary to go past the boundary to know where it is. This explains why he breaks things so frequently. ‘I’m an engineer’, he says, ‘engineering is all about testing for the edges’. ‘You’re a liability,’ I say, ‘you nearly lost your fucking thumb’. Even he conceded on that point. At least, he now knows the boundaries of a cafetiere. And a thumb.

Beyond the boundary of a cafetiere

Beyond the boundary of a cafetiere

Keith is fine but one-handed for the next 3-4 months at least. He can’t drive, use a strimmer, a chainsaw or cut up his dinner. This may be a saving grace for his longevity, but it’s a bloody nuisance for making progress in our garden. After two days in hospital, he was so bored and so happy to be out, telling me how he could help again now. No, I said, kindly: when you were in hospital I only had one person to look after, now you are out, I have one and a half. It’s a jolly good job that I didn’t chose nursing. Pity him.

Hospital food, Portuguese style.

Hospital food, Portuguese style.

His stitches come out this week and physio should start soon after. He has no movement or sensation in his thumb. It’s a serious injury and it will be months before we know how much mobility and strength he will regain. He can still make tea and eat biscuits so he has retained all of the essential, life-affirming qualities. The tree felling and three hectares of strimming will just have to wait.

Bloody French*.

*None of this had anything to with the French. It was all Keith’s fault. If he had been consistently trying to find the boundaries of the original coffee machine since the day we bought it by cramming too much bloody coffee into it, the coffee holding cup thing would never have broken and we wouldn’t have been using the cafetiere. I love the French despite them screwing up my brother’s holiday, but hey, you gotta love a strike.

It’s been a while



I’m sorry, it’s  been more than a year, which is pretty poor in terms of contact even by my standards. It’s why I only have friends who are as low maintenance as I am. I should have said that the main reason that I stopped sharing our nonsense here in this blog was that I was sharing it elsewhere; in Standard Issue magazine, to be precise. Is that infidelity? Perhaps. If so, I’m sorry, but that fabulous magazine is no more and so now I’m back. That’s a bit shitty now I think about it: I’m back for you because the much more important people no longer want me. Don’t take it personally. I thought about you every day (I didn’t). If you want to read what I’ve been up to, check out the Standard Issue link above, it’s all there.

Anyway, I’m here now and stuff has happened. We have moved! We no longer stalk geckos in the Algarve, now we stalk mongooses (it’s not mongeese – I looked it up. Mongoose and goose have different linguistic origins, actually) in Central Portugal.

I won’t bore you with all the details but in brief we decided to work in France over the summer as we found the Algarve too hot. Keith got a job as bicycle mechanic, we both got qualified as bicycle mechanics and First Aiders and then the whole project he was due to work for collapsed, so we drove 5 hours north in Portugal and bought a house. Because. We are now qualified bicycle mechanics who live up the steepest hill known to anyone with no one stupid enough to cycle anywhere apart from us.



So, now we live in the middle of a forest in 3 hectares of land – that’s 28 times larger than our Algarve plot – in a granite, totally off-grid house (solar, mountain water and compost toilet) with a couple of stretches of the Mondego River thrown in. We are 3km down an off-road dirt track and require a 4×4 to reach our house up a 1:2.75 (20 degrees) slope, which we now own. For information: Owning a 4×4 has not made Keith any more manly, although I’m sure he thinks it has, which is all that matters. I certainly feel more manly. My ankles are killing me and we’ve only been here 2 months. Pushing a wheelbarrow full of mud up that  slope is only a very special person’s type of fun (we love it). I now have biceps, which may explain the manliness.

Our nearest cities are Coimbra and Viseu neither of which you will have heard of unless you are familiar with Portuguese geography, but both of which you should have heard of because they are both fabulous and entirely untouched by hen parties and Costa.


We moved away from the Algarve because of the heat or the summer meaning that we were more inactive than we wanted to be, wanting more land to keep ourselves amused, physically knackered and alive in my case (see About – PKD is kept somewhat at bay by good health and managing blood pressure), and the potential for some future income in the form of tourist accommodation, which our Algarve house didn’t have. That’s right – one day you can come and stay with us in our humble abode but don’t expect us to be interesting, because we’re not. We are some way from the brand launch of our boutique hotel yet due to our single compost toilet perched halfway up the garden hardly being anyone’s idea of ‘en-suite’ unless you plan to sleep in it. We are undoubtedly ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’ given that everything that goes in that toilet will one day end up aiding the growth of a lettuce that we’ll serve our guests for dinner making sure that we share the provenance of their hor d’oeuvres just at the point that the first mouthful has reached their lips. Circle of life ‘n’ all that.

Please stick around. Keith can have 28 times more near fatal accidents with all this land. And you wouldn’t want to miss that now, would you?