For the past six months we have stuck rigidly to both the UK and Portuguese guidelines and restrictions. Although this has meant that we have felt much safer and less anxious about the Coronavirus, it has not been without it’s downsides.
We have not been able to explore the local area, meet our neighbours, start language lessons or travel back to the UK to visit friends and family. We both come from very close families and love spending time with them. The biggest wrench for me was that my grandson, Rupert Peter, is 3 months old and I hadn’t met him. I was definitely pining for nanna cuddles.
Shortly after Easter, Portugal starting to ease up a little – we were able to shop for non-essential items, exercise and go for walks without the need to wear a facemask. We could also meet up with others outdoors.
Finally we were able to meet up with our closest neighbours, Dave and Julie for a beer and to pick their brains about their Portugal experience. They originally hail from Goole, not too far from our home town in the UK and have been living here for several years now. Their current farm is about 15 minutes drive away but they are planning to move into the the farm adjoining ours very shortly.
We arranged to meet up at one of the local bars in Vale de Prazares, deciding that as it was only a short distance from our farm we would walk there. True to form we were late and the stroll turned into a bit of a yomp, at one point Dave and Julie passed us in their car, probably wondering if we had forgotten. At least we didn’t get lost!
We spent a lovely afternoon sat outside in the sun and finding out a bit more about the area. The local shops, bars and cafes have struggled massively during the pandemic so Mark and Dave both had an extra beer as their contribution to supporting the local economy.
Every now and again the reality of the pandemic hits home and it seems so surreal that for over a year now we have been living in an every changing environment with new rules, new variants and constant debates about the best way to manage everything. Back in the UK, working as the manager of a busy dental practice, the wearing of facemasks and excellent infection control was always part of my daily routine, but having this spill over into my home life as I said earlier, is surreal.
By early May, the number of reported Coronavirus cases in Portugal was dropping rapidly and with this came news from the UK that Portugal was now on the green list. This meant that it was no longer a requirement to quarantine if travelling from Portugal to the UK which was exactly the news we had been waiting to hear. Within days we could see the obvious increase in air traffic as the contrails from the aeroplanes flying high above our little farm made an intricate patchwork of criss-crosses in the bright blue sky.
The travel update made me all the more anxious to visit the UK. Rupert was almost 3 months old and I so wanted to hold him while still a baby, just like I did his Mummy.
Unfortunately, the windows still hadn’t arrived so leaving the farm un-secured was not an option. With no date arranged for them to be fitted, we decided that I would spend a few weeks in the UK and that Mark would stay in Portugal looking after the farm and continuing with renovating the longhouse.
I received a very timely message offering me my first Covid vaccination the following week so we went off to Fundao and I received a shot of the Moderna. I must say that I was extremely impressed with the efficiency of the vaccination station. Everything was really well organised and seemed to run like clockwork. I was seen 5 minutes before my appointment time and after a short wait after the jab I was free to go. I’d heard different accounts of whether there were side effects or not – but I didn’t experience any at all. Mark received his Pfizer jab a number of days later and although his arm ached a bit it didn’t hinder him either.
Sorting out the travel arrangements for me to travel back to the UK was a nightmare but eventually we managed to navigate our way through the necessary tests, checks and paperwork and after a full day of travelling, I finally got to hold my grandson. Just looking into his little face made my heart almost burst with love and the stresses of the past 3 months faded away.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, Mark was very busy. The sun had certainly decided that this was its moment to shine and the temperature rose to somewhere in the high 90’s. On top of his normal day working on the longhouse, he had been left in sole charge of the propagator, veggie plot and tree watering as well as harvesting the cherries and he was finding that this was taking two hours out of his day. We really do need to sort out an irrigation system, ideally using our grey water, and we both agreed that we will look at setting something up as soon as I am back on the farm.
We have always said that our first year was going to be one learning about the land, the language and Portuguese way of life. The veggie plot has exploded into life and it is quite time consuming for Mark to keep on top of it, especially as I am not there to help. I’d decided to add ratafia strings to the beans and peas before I left, which was a good call as these have now changed from young seedlings into strong plants which have almost reached the top of the framework.
Our climbing peas are now around four feet high and their tendrils have entwined firmly around anything they’ve come into contact with. Our first crop is almost ready to harvest which is amazing when compared to our garden back in the UK as we only managed one crop a year. We planted the seedlings on both side of our bamboo framework to maximise the yield and although the articles I read advised creating a string trellis with 1 inch squares, I stuck to horizontal strings which seems to have worked really well. Hopefully the beans, carrots, potatoes and beetroot will follow suit and I will be able to make a Sunday roast, with home grown vegetables served with gravy made from the Bisto I’m bringing back from my travels.
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that we are keen to try new food that we haven’t eaten before, but sometimes only the real McCoy will do – and Bisto is just one of those times.
Out of the blue, the day before I left for the UK, we received a call from Orlando to say that some of our windows were finally ready and the following day a team arrived to fit them. The ground floor ones were fitted in no time at all as were the two smaller first floor windows but as the patio doors leading out on to the balcony were so large, it wasn’t possible to carry them up the stairs so one of the team was dispatched to collect scaffolding so that they could be lifted over the balcony.
It has been a while coming without a doubt, but now they are in place we are really pleased with them. We still have an issue regarding the fly screens as we don’t really want to have a solid bar across the centre of the glass. It would appear we don’t really have an option due to the size of the window and we are told that the bar would help support and stabilise the screens. We keep looking around in the hope that we will stumble across something different, and in the meantime will wait until we’ve explored all options before making a decision.
Our several rainy days followed by several hot and sunny days had given everything a growth spurt, so Mark decided he would spend a couple of days out on the land to try and get things ship-shape again. He usually wears a face visor with ear defenders when strimming but this particular time he didn’t. By the next morning his right ear appeared to be ten times its normal size and stuck out from his head at a right angle. We had a bit of a difference of opinion – Mark was convinced it was sunburn, I was convinced that he had been bitten. Either way, it didn’t really matter as the ear just kept on growing. As it was a weekend we couldn’t really do anything about it so he doused himself up with anti-histamine tablets (albeit 4 years old) and I painted on some propolis. He also took some ibuprofen as it was really quite painful and by the next day the swelling had started to subside. Lessons learnt … sun-protection and replace out of date medication!
For anyone unfamiliar with propolis, it is a fantastic little bottle of healing that should be part of every first aid box. It can be bought online or from most health food stores. I first came across it when working at Castle Park Dental Care. My boss, Chris Branfield is always researching and looking in to the best way to look after his patients and has been using and recommending propolis for years.
It is made by bees by combining the sap on needle-leaved trees with beeswax and bee discharges to make a sticky greenish-brown product which the bees then use as a coating when building their hives.
Using propolis as a medicine isn’t new – the Greeks used it to treat abscesses, Assyrians put it on wounds and tumors to fight infection and help the healing process and Egyptians used it to embalm mummies. I put it on Mark’s ear!
Work on boarding the walls continued while I was away. The internal walls were fitted with dot and dab plasterboard and more metal batons were fitted to the inside of the exernal walls before these too were insulated with rockwool and membrane before also being boarded.
It was a bit time consuming doing the bathroom as Mark had to adjust all the plumbing that he had previously done in order to obtain the habitation licence in 2019. It all needed moving to make room for the batoning and as we hadn’t factored in having a shower, more pipework had to be adjusted under the sink and extended.
Working with materials that he isn’t used to or familiar with has been a learning curve. Back in the UK the material of choice would be copper tubing with soldered fittings. Here in Portugal the pipework is thick green plastic that is heated with a purpose made welder which heats and melts both the ends of the pipe and the fitting before then being pushed together. When it has cooled, this forms a sealed joint.
With the increase in the temperature we are keen to move out of the annexe as soon as possible as we remember living in it during August 2019. There is still such a lot to do in the longhouse.
The plan at the moment is to get at least three or four room ready to live in and then continue the renovations of the remainder of the longhouse. As we have not 100% decided on what we want, this is probably going to be a good call.