Monday, December 19, 2011

Blogs & Facebook

As this is now my fourth post I have now officially joined that illustrious band of people that call themselves’ bloggers.  Now I can understand blogs that promote a business or services, I can understand blogs that are written by persons with a particular passion for something they wish to share with like-minded people but I find personal blogs – such as this – somewhat mystifying. Why do we do it? We are not receiving monetary gain – are our egos that frail?
In February this year someone took it upon themselves to count the number of blogs out there and reached an amazing 156 million with rate of 1 million posts per day. Previously I thought it was vanity driven (and many, I know are) but, with the exception of those who crave publicity such as politicians, sportspersons, actors, media folk and C list celebrities etc. I believe most blogs are written anonymously with a nome de blogue. So what’s in it for them? 
The above quandary has been brought about by my lying awake at 4am pondering as to my reasons for adding to the amount of useless words floating around in the ether. But a thought has just arrived and is nagging away in the corner of my head.  Could the reason be a form of Munchausen’s - praise by proxy. If you agree/ like what I say, I feel good but if you disagree/dislike what I say, well it’s not my name at the bottom and I can still walk around with my head held high.
Hmmm, I’m not sure whether I like the new me.
Whilst on the subject of web writing, last week I received an email from Facebook telling me that Jasmine Higginsbotham (not her real name) wants me to be her Facebook friend. Now Jasmine, with whom Sophie and I had dinner with 30 years ago and have not seen or heard of since, suddenly contacts me and gives me, on my screen, a choice of two buttons to click on. YES, I confirm our friendship or SEE all requests. This is akin to her bumping in to me in the street and saying “hallo, do you like me?” In the unlikely event of this happening I could always say something such as “Well I don’t know you that well but I’m sure if I did we could be good friends”. Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t give you that option therefor rather than be rude I always click the ‘confirm’ button.  So, Mark Zuckerberg if you’re reading this, could we please have a third button marked ‘WHY’. Clicking on this could open up a dialogue box in which I could write “Listen you sad person your insecurity is showing. We haven’t been in touch for 30 years and then we didn’t have much to say to each other. Why do you need me to be your 984th friend?”
Ho-hum. I’m off to plant a palm.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Partridges Ate my Brocolli

The partridges ate my broccoli. No seriously - they did. I should have known they would because Barry told me. He said “put up some netting or you won’t be able to eat your greens”. But what do I know, I’m a townie and what do townies know about veggie growing?  One minute I have a five square metre balcony in London and the next I’m perched on a bloody great hill in the south of Portugal.  Barry however, knows all about these things but then I would be surprised if he didn’t; he is a man of the soil, he’s a man in touch with nature but most importantly - he is a man with a tractor.
He is, I should explain, a neighbour and like myself an ex-pat Brit. He showed up one day astride his John Deere insisting that I needed furrows.  Furrows!  I thought furrows were wrinkles in the forehead but evidently it’s an agricultural term, like mulch, polyculture and hilling which are words that are alien to me, these words relate to pastimes far removed from my comfort zone. Apparently not only do I need to learn to speak Portuguese but if I want a balanced diet I also have to take on board a new vocabulary in my own language. And Barry, nice man as he is, is the reason I have an aching back, he is also the reason I now possess a pair of green wellies and why my field, once a shimmering carpet of wild flowers, now looks like a showroom belonging to a manufacturer of black plastic irrigation pipes.
And that is how it started.
So far I’ve terraced a piece of land and formed a level now given over to vegetables; I’ve built four raised beds and am growing more veggies than our family of three can eat in a month of Sundays. As we harvest a crop we visit friends and neighbours to offload surplus cabbages, lettuces, onions, carrots etc. They, unfortunately for us being occupied in the same manner, offload their surplus melons, rhubarb, broccoli etc. and the only people who profit from this mass barter are the local white goods retailers who are selling out of freezers faster than they can get them into stock.  Hell’s bells! What became of the urbane, man-about-town sophisticate, who believed retirement in the sun was going to be relaxing each afternoon, swinging slowly in a hammock after a long languorous liquid lunch? Well if you’re interested, he’s surfing the internet for garden sheds, Googling shotguns and gulping down Ibuprofen.
But this is not going to be a blog about vegetable growing, well hopefully not – it’s just that, that’s all I seem to have been doing for the last few months and yesterday my aversion to heights was tested to the extreme when Sophie decided she wanted to harvest the olives. Harvesting, to my wife, means I do the bending, climbing and digging whilst generally getting sweaty and dirty and she puts things in the fridge and freezer. Yes, a true division of labour. There I was, roughly fifteen foot (whoops, I’m a European now) five metres above the ground, plucking olives (from a tree that possibly took root around the same time Henry Ford produced his first car) in order for my wife to put them in jars of salted water and stand them on shelves in the garage for three months therefor displacing my half-full paint tins, dried out tubes of silicone sealant and calcified irrigation spray heads, all irreplaceable and bound to be needed in the very near future.
I’m almost pleased winter is arriving.

The Curious Incident of the Bite in the Night

apologies to Mark Haddon


I'm writing this while looking out over the valley. The weather is now cooler but the sun still shines; this really is my favourite time of year. We have had the first autumn rainfall and the hedgerows and fields are no longer shades of khaki but brilliant green; the air is fresh, the dew glistens on the stonework and the streets are once again empty of pink tattooed flesh. For now, in my few square metres of this beautiful part of the world all is well. But life, as we know, is about checks and balances and the past week has not been too great.
It was Thursday morning, Sophie was in the UK for a few days and I awoke around seven o’clock feeling somewhat rough and with a high temperature, shivering body and a strange feeling in the face. Staggering into the bathroom I looked in the mirror but what looked back wasn’t me. This person had a lumpen face twice the size of mine, an off centre nose with peeling skin and nostrils in which you could hide your shoes . I don’t know what a stranger would have made of it but it frightened the life out of me.
Reckoning I needed some anti-histamine, I headed off to the pharmacy where there were two pharmacists on duty. The woman in front of me waiting to be served, turned to wish me bom dia and, seeing my face quickly jumped into the other queue. Wow, I thought, now I know how lepers must have felt and when the pharmacist took one look at me and said “Health Centre, NOW” I started to get worried.
At the Health Centre I was poked and prodded, given a prescription, charged €50.00 and told I had Herpes. By now I was beside myself, herpes, how could I have herpes - I mean - you know – there’s only one way of catching herpes. Isn’t there? I know it stays dormant – but 40 years dormant? How do I tell Sophie? How do tell the kids? How do I tell the pneumatic blonde cashier at the supermarket – forget the last bit – untrue. I knew it was a wrong diagnosis but I was still worried.
Looking at the prescription in my hand I realised that I couldn’t go to my regular pharmacy brandishing possible anti-herpes medication without raising a few eyebrows so I took my anonymous self to an anonymous pharmacy where I bought the potions anonymously and drove around aimlessly for a while trying to collect my thoughts. Eventually common sense took over and I made an appointment for the following day to see my own doctor.
And just as well. He took one look at me, said it certainly wasn’t herpes and that the first doctor had mis-translated and meant shingles (evidently a similar strain) but it wasn’t that either. It was purely a nasty bite that had become infected during the night, probably from bacteria that was lodged under my fingernails and transferred when I unconsciously scratched at the bite.  I was given some antibiotics and some good advice that I would like to pass on.
Evidently there are some nasty spiders in the Algarve and when working in the garden or clearing out a shed/garage and particularly when collecting wood from the wood store – wear gloves, thick leather gloves, thick leather gloves that cover the wrist and after you have washed your hands rub some antiseptic gel under the nail. I know I will in future.


With winter on its way I needed a waterproof cover for large umbrella on the terrace and went to my local supplier with the measurements to ask if he could make one up. No problem, I was told, it will be ready in a couple of days.  After a week I went back to enquire and was told that the woman who was going to make it was unable to do so at the moment as she had to harvest her olives.
I rather liked that, I liked her priorities and it made me realise that since I have been here I’ve changed, I’m more laid back; if the umbrella cover would take a while longer, so what.  It was then that I recalled my Damascene moment of years ago, the moment I realised that I wanted very much to live here – away from the big city, the noise and bustle and the must do it/want it/have it now aspect of my then life.
Loule, at that time, was a much smaller town, with just the main roundabout where the four roads met but it was starting to expand and parking was becoming a problem. To address this, the Camera installed parking meters in each of the four main roads and assigned four men as parking attendants – one to each road. The meters were the old original coin in the slot type with the flag that went into the red section when your time had expired and to complement their new shiny meters they also bought a new shiny wheel clamp. Yes that’s right a wheel clamp – just one, well perhaps it was a trial, to see whether they liked it enough and whether we hated it enough but the upshot was if you saw a car clamped you knew you were ok for a while.
So there I was parked in the Avenida going about whatever I was going about that day when I returned and saw the clamp – on my car. With no idea what to do and at that time not speaking the language, I phoned a Portuguese friend who said I should meet her outside the Camera with the parking ticket and every possible legal document relating to both the car and myself.
We met, presented ourselves to the Camera, were duly fined and told that in order for the clamp to be removed I needed to look for the man with the key and that he would be identifiable by his green armband. Off we set, receiving strange looks as we examined all the male arms in the vicinity. It took a while but we eventually found him enjoying a drink in a bar and convinced him to leave and do his job.
Whilst he was unlocking the clamp I glanced at the meter and saw that it had five minutes to run before expiry time. I pointed this out to my friend with the key and asked why he had clamped the car in the first place. He reached into his back pocket, pulled out a well-thumbed notebook, turned a few pages and said.
“Yesterday Senhor, you were parked in my street and yesterday you overran on the meter but yesterday it was not my turn to have the clamp.”
How can you not love that?