The house is a kilometre from a small traditional granite village with single-track cobbled streets only a little wider than a tractor or donkey cart. Each of the five corners in the village has a panel of painted tiles, azulejos, depicting a saint from the Catholic church. To find us you just turn right at Saint Antonio. This is because street names are irrelevant to a nearly illiterate populace, whereas a picture of a saint is familiar to a churchgoing community.

Electricity arrived in the village fifty years ago, with power lines slung between posts and stapled to stone walls. The houses were built well before electricity became available, and many oldsters only use it for lighting; in most rooms a fly-specked 25 watt light bulb hangs from a pair of wires in the centre of the ceiling and those two wires run to the switch on the wall. It is only switched on at night, mood lighting certainly has not arrived.

Mains water came in the 1970’s (some time after two Americans had walked on the moon). At the entrance to the village is a hand pump which is still in daily use. Not everyone has mains water; many houses have either a well or a borehole with an electric pump. There are still many wells which have a nora, a metal framework surmounting the well, with a chain of metal buckets strung together hanging into the water. Twenty years ago they would use a donkey harnessed to the nora, it would walk around the well to turn the gearwheels which wind the chain of buckets through the water. The turnover of the chain is above a collecting gutter where the water falls out and runs to a system of irrigation trenches or to a tank beside the house.

We don’t think our granite house was ever lived in, probably it was only used at busy times, when ploughing all the land, and at grape or olive harvest. It is divided in two with no linking doorway between. Half is a windowless barn which has an earth floor covered with compacted straw where a donkey and sheep used to sleep. It smells sweetly of wool because the stone has absorbed lanolin from their fleeces, making a dirty-brown band up to knee-height around the walls. Our springer spaniel, Harry, likes to sleep in it the animal barn. Built beside the rear wall opposite the wide door is a low wall made with boulders, topped by a eucalyptus tree-trunk running its whole length. Behind the wall is rammed earth, the whole ensemble forming a manger for animal feed. There is a series of square holes in the wall at head-height, where wooden joists were assembled and a shelf was made by laying cut branches across them to form a hay store out of the reach of sheep.

The other half has been made habitable by adding a ceiling, rendered internal walls and a tiled floor. It too has three massive granite stones forming the door frame, with a one-metre-wide metal door leading directly into the living room with a cross-corners fireplace, and in the opposite corner, a kitchen sink. The rest is divided into two small bedrooms and a bathroom as wide as its doorway.

It was only when Janet first went to the loo that we realised that there is no cistern to flush it, and no taps on the wash basin nor bidet. Nor does the “kitchen” sink have taps. Our quinta is too far from the village to have mains water, nor indeed mains anything. The storage tank beside the house is for rainwater, which we use to fill a bucket to flush the loo. Every day we have to drive into the village and pump our water for drinking into two ten-litre plastic carriers.

During our first year in Portugal we noticed that in Lousã, only a small town, there were half a dozen hardware shops. Not only did that seem a lot, they were all busy and all sold storm lamps. This seems to be a consequence of many houses in outlying areas having no mains electricity. Back to the quinta . . .

When the sun sets we retreat into the house and light a tea-light. As darkness deepens we light a candle near to the camping stove so we can see to cook. The light is dim, and if the candle is sufficiently high up to cast a wide light it is also dimmer. As for reading, forget it! We bought a storm lamp, which (unsurprisingly) burns lamp oil. It is brighter but glarey and gives a deep and wide shadow.

Villagers stay out until the sun has set.

Remembering that in old films, cowboys frequented saloons lit by sophisticated lamps with glass shades and chimneys, and Jed Clampett the Hillbilly had a lamp, what we needed was an improved storm lamp. Well, a year before we emigrated we had been to a jumble sale where out of intrigue I’d bought an incomplete Aladdin lamp like those in the Westerns. However, I had no instructions for it. Now having a need for it, I searched it out and bought a glass chimney and wicks to bring it into working order. I filled the large reservoir with most of a litre of lamp oil and soaked the new cylindrical high-tech wick in it. After carefully fitting it into its carrier, I lit it. The result? A smelly smoky yellow-white flame, not much better than candle-light. The glass chimney became hot, covered in smoke, and the light dimmed through orange to red before going out. I spent ages cleaning it all up again before discovering that I needed a gallery to support a mantle around the wick, which itself was nearly burnt out. Lamp oil clearly was not the correct fuel for this lamp. I telephone-ordered two special mantles from England. A week later they were delivered and I carefully fitted one to the Aladdin. Realising a mantle would need a hotter flame, I re-fuelled my now polished-to-gleaming complete lamp with petrol. This time it lit with a rapidly growing pale blue flame and the mantle and wick burned out in a very short time. During its five minutes of glory the residues of lamp oil occasionally sputtered through and sooted up the mantle. It was a failure. It must be paraffin they use, like paraffin heaters. We asked for paraffin in the local garage and discovered that paraffin is kerosene which is petroleo, petrol is gasolina, and gasoleo is diesel for cars and tractors. Sounds easy? When all is discussed with a village pump attendant with no powers of analysis nor mechanical knowledge (other than using a funnel to get diesel into a can) it is not easy to distil this information from him. So I changed fuel, wick and mantle and tried again. Success! Ten candlepower, twenty for a short time, and white light with less glare. Luxury!

Janet cooking by lamplight


How could I pump water from one of my storage ponds up to the tank near the house? When we bought the quinta we also paid Senhor M to leave all the farm equipment for us, and included in this was a pump. It has two fuel tanks and hearsay is they are for gasoline to start the pump then petroleo to run it. We were sorting out fuel and haw to start the pump at the same time as trying to work the lamp. After wasting hours on the thing I put the pump (50kg) into the car boot and took it to the garage. There’s always a helpful customer passing through. On this occasion a farmer got the pump attendant to put in petrol and kerosene and he did a few quick flicks of metal flaps, wound the cord onto the pulley, one powerful quick yank and VROOOMMMMM chugga chugga chugga. Easy. Back home, connect the two-inch pipes, fiddle with metal flaps, wrap the cord and YANK hard, chuggaphut, gunk. And again, and again. After half an hour and with “dead-arm” set in, I sent Janet into the village to seek more help. After a while she came slowly back with a little old lady dressed in black, Docelinda, looked like she could hardly lift a chicken. She said she has a pump like ours, everyone does, and this is how you do. She tickled the pump, wrapped the cord round the pulley, feeble tug and VRROOOOMMMM off it went. I kept it running, you bet I did. Off Docelinda ambled, happy to help, sweet old dear.