Slowly but Surely!

Who would have thought back in January 2020 when we first heard of a new virus, the devastating effect it would have.  The speed at which the coronavirus has spread around the world has shocked us all, with almost everyone being affected in some way or another. 

With the uncertainty around Brexit back in December 2020 and the ever-changing travel restrictions we were fortunate to be able to make the move without any real challenges along the way. 

Now here, we feel really safe living on our remote little Quinta, leaving only when we need to shop for essential things and even then, making sure we stock up on supplies so that we minimise the number of times we needed to venture off reservation.

We are working hard on our renovations, with Mark now doing much of the work himself to save on labour costs.  He’s one man, with one pair of hands and at times we feel that we are not progressing as quickly as we would like – but slowly but surely we can see the changes that are taking place. I suppose it’s only when we take a step back to remember what the longhouse was like when we first arrived that we can really appreciate what has been achieved.

Google translate has become our new best friend when ordering materials and finding out what is available – but the problem is that not all materials are available.

We were aware that post-Brexit the cost of raw materials was expected to dramatically rise and in some cases this has exceeded 35%.  This increase has had a knock-on effect with construction companies in-turn increasing the cost of the services they provide.  The demand for materials is high, but there is a shortage of supply, which causes an inflationary effect.  Some companies pre-empted the situation and stocked up on their essential raw materials but this is not the case for every business.

There is now a shortage of wood for carpentry, steel for building works and PVC, glass and aluminium for doors and windows. This problem seems to be world-wide and something that we have heard to be extremely challenging for Portuguese companies.

We ordered the first batch of our windows and doors for the longhouse back in February only to be repeatedly told that there was a shortage in the glass that was needed to finish our order.   There was then the problem of most people taking their holidays during August, causing firms to close for much of the month again delaying the manufacturing of necessary raw materials and then the production of the windows.  All very frustrating.  Not for one minute did I think that we would still be living in the annexe 10 months down the line!

Finally, at the start of September phase 2 of our windows and doors were fitted meaning that we are now water-tight.  It feels good not having to perform the daily ritual of removing or re-fixing the boards where the windows should be and we can get a better idea of how the longhouse will look at completion.

To a lot of people, the concept of spending the majority of our time on the farm sounds like an ideal situation, and in many ways it is.  On the farm we can we can walk around, without the need to wear a mask,  we’re not forever being reminded about hand-washing (although we do, because you should anyway!) and as we live in a very rural part of Portugal, we don’t really mix with anyone, other than during our trips to the shops or when catching up with the Hipwells or the Handscombes. 

This being said, for the past 10 months we have often felt as though we have been stood on the perimeter of a world disaster, watching the news with a feeling of helplessness, wondering if our family and friends back in the UK are safe.  We love our farm, we love living here and we look forward to the time when we can have visitors to stay.  With regards to the virus, it is quite obvious that it won’t be going away.  Focussing on the positives, truly appreciating just what we have and learning to how to live with the coronavirus is the way forward. 

Apart from the problems obtaining materials, our biggest challenge has always been our inability to speak Portuguese.  We had been looking to sign up for a course since we arrived and only now have we been able to do this.  We’ve had a couple of chuckles over the past months when we have got things totally wrong and always knew we needed to learn sooner rather that later.  One glaring example of this was Mark’s attempt to communicate via a Whatsapp message in Portuguese with a builders merchant.  The translation obviously didn’t cut it and the reply was What??  Goodness knows what he nearly bought.

I noticed a posting on a local Facebook page advertising a government language course in Alpedrinha, about 15 minutes drive from where we live.  We completed the necessary paperwork and to our delight (well mine anyway!) were both accepted on to the course.  We’d heard that these courses were often intense, focussing on being grammatically correct instead of purely conversational Portuguese, but after being assured that it was not essential to have a large Portuguese vocabulary we went along.  There are two lessons each week on a Thursday and Friday evening between 7pm and 10pm.  The lessons are split into 6 modules with a test after each one and an exam at the end, sometime during March.

It has been a long time since either of us have studied and if I thought getting my head around the physics of my radiography qualification was difficult, this is something else.  Our teacher, Professora Isabella is lovely and very patient, but by her own admission her English is limited and she hopes to learn English as she teaches us Portuguese.  There are 13 other students on the course, some have a good command of the language already and all seem to have more knowledge than us. 

We have bought a children’s educational book and do Duolingo to supplement the workbooks we are given in class.  We’re finding it extremely difficult, but to help I have written out post-its and crib-sheets which I have stuck on the wall wherever Mark is working so that anytime he lifts his head up from what he is doing he can practice his numbers and phrases.  Anyone peeping in the window when he is in mid-flow,  will find a spectacle to behold. 

Last month we managed a mad dash back to the UK to visit friends and family – which was long overdue and thoroughly enjoyed.  It was lovely to be able to hug our families without having to wear masks even though it did seem a bit strange as Portugal still requires the wearing of face coverings. It also seemed strange to drive on the left of the road and live in a street with neighbours all around – just shows how we have become used to our new life.

We knew that while we were in the UK, our vegetable plot would take a beating due to the lack of water, there was nothing we could do about it as we are yet to install automatic irrigation.  It is on our “list” but way down in the priority stakes at the moment. Our neighbour, Dave, offered to take us to and from the train station and while we were away he very kindly watered our vegetables. Having invited him to help himself to anything while we were in the UK, he said there was so much growing he just couldn’t let it go to waste so brought his pump and used the water from the well to keep everything watered. 

Today I harvested yard long beans, aubergines, quince, yellow plum and black Russian tomatoes with still the promise of much more to come. It seems unreal that at the end of September the courgettes and aubergines are still flowering and there are tomatoes growing outdoors.  Apart from some potatoes and carrots, we haven’t bought fruit and vegetables since April and we now have a bountiful supply of jams, chutneys and pickles as well as fruit pie fillings, moussakas and roasted vegetables in the freezer. We’ve even been able to share some of our crops and produce.

Mark convinced me during one of our shopping trips that a a rather industrial sized breaker gun was classified as an essential purchase. It is huge and makes him look like something out of the Terminator. There is a need to totally remove the kitchen floor to lower the level but also as we are frequently finding a circle of moisture appearing in the middle of the floor, we are keen to find out what is causing it. There are a number of theories … it may be simply moisture penetrating through the cement, it may be that the floor was built on granite boulders so only a thin layer of gravel an concrete has been used, or as it is a circular shape, there could even be a well underneath. Whatever it is, Mark and Beasty Bertha, the Breaker Gun are going to find out. Watch this space!!

Obrigado por ler nosso blog

Mark and Gill

Published by vinhadasalmas

a couple of fifty somethings who want to start a new life in rural Portugal

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