The bus to Fundão

Early one Tuesday morning Janet drove me to the bus stop beside the café ten minutes early for the bus to Fundão – there is one at 06:40 and another at lunchtime. As we drew near the bus began to move off but stopped when I waved at the driver. Once aboard I asked why he was leaving early. “Ah,” he said “On schooldays it is at 6.40 but in the school holidays it’s at 6.30am. On market day it’s always at 6.30 because there’s another bus at 8.30am. On schooldays we detour through a local village but we miss that bit in the holidays. If it’s a Holy Day . . .” and so on.

There was plenty of loud banter – very entertaining and a bit coarse, lots of naughty gossip, as we rushed along the narrow roads. Speaking this odd language is a real advantage if part of the banter is about you. I discovered that by now all the passengers had worked out exactly which farm is mine and the chap sitting behind me knew my neighbour really well, he’d even worked on my farm years ago. Twenty minutes later, in the middle of a little village we stopped and the driver got out of his seat. “Café!” he announced, and six of us went to get a coffee at the bar opposite the bus stop. Having swigged my shot of hot stimulant I was pleased to find that the man I was talking with, from the seat behind me, had paid! The trip to Fundão continued – for a hundred yards. A passenger was allowed off at the bread shop and our journey was paused again until she returned with two bags of bread and cakes.

Passengers swap garden produce on the bus, and a lad paid an old lady who had gone to the chemist for his medicine and gave him a dose there and then. Nearer to Fundão our road was blocked by a car left outside a village shop and our driver had to go and get the car moved so we could pass. This is pretty well the norm for the one-hour journey.

 

Knickers

On 12th April whilst Janet was in England I ordered some silk knickers for her from China, as a surprise present when she came back. After two weeks the company said the goods been despatched. On 6th May they had still not arrived and as I was writing an email to them the postman arrived with a registered letter. It said, “Your goods do not have the required documentation and are being held in Customs” so I deleted the email and rang the phone number from the letter instead. A functionary replied and demanded I send the original order form for the goods and proof of the price paid. He eventually agreed that electronic documents were OK so I sent pdf’s of them. They replied like this:

Exmo. Senhor(a),

Gostaríamos, desde já, de agradecer o seu contacto, que mereceu a nossa melhor atenção. Aproveitamos para informar que o mesmo está já a ser analisado, pelo que contamos enviar-lhe, o mais brevemente possível, uma resposta sobre o assunto em questão.

“Most excellent Sir or Madam, We should like, in advance, to thank you for your contact, which will merit our best attention. We inform that the very same is already being analyzed, concerning which we count on sending you, as soon as possible, a response on the matter in question.”

On 7th May they requested a scan of my tax number i/d card, to prove I am registered to pay tax, which I sent. A week later Customs sent an email demanding the same documents, again. I replied in a borderline snotty manner attaching them as photos this time. A week later they emailed me to say they had been in contact with the Chinese company in Zhenhai, to verify the order and to obtain the import documents. The value of the goods had been understated to avoid import tax. They now knew the real cost and required me to pay €34 (!) to release the knickers from Customs (Aduaneira), and from 1st June they would charge me an additional €5 a week warehousing. On 22nd May our postman arrived with The Knickers and a bill for €34.Unders P1040601 small

I would have to pay this before he would give them to me.

We hadn’t the cash handy so he took them away. The Post Offices closes for weekend on Friday lunchtime so we couldn’t go to collect them until the following Monday, and pay and sign for them with my passport as proof of identity. There remained one last matter, which is obvious after reading the label.

Unders P1040600 smallI had to ask the postman and the Post office lady if knickers are prohibited in Portugal. Were the classed as dangerous? Maybe silk knickers are? So could I believe they were not “Dangerous articles or articles prohibited by legislation . . .” ?

After waiting six weeks for sexy knickers could we care? !

And when we got them home, there’s the romantic little extra from the Customs to say they were “verified” – so that’s alright then.

 

 

 

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In 1997 Hong Kong was being returned to China and the Pet Passport scheme with microchipping was started, so that the Governor and his staff could bring back their dogs without the dreaded six months’ quarantine. It became available to the public in late 2000. We too could have a dog now, and take it abroad every summer on our holidays. We had wanted a dog for years.

Harry sit bHarry the Dog was in a small dog rescue home at Reigate in November. We went to get a labrador with a brown nose but it had been taken earlier that afternoon, and he, a liver-and-white springer spaniel whelp, was left. He was dumped with them some weeks earlier by a military family from Scotland and even now was only five months old. He bounded up and licked Janet furiously, “Please have me.”  Samuel and Laura liked him too so we took him home with us.

Harry not bite

He was a bit loopy and full of energy. We quickly loved him and he reciprocated – proving it by chewing my favourite tie and several socks. Walking him was like flying a kite, until he was let off his lead when he would run and run yet keep an eye on us ready to be called back. Janet and Laura took him to obedience classes but he failed. He once ate Samuel’s put-aside dinner and half a pound of butter. If you sat down he was determined to lick your face all over – or legs, feet, whatever, any skin. A loopy dog full of love.  He would never bite anyone, even if you grabbed his lower jaw, pulled his tail and turned him upside-down!

05aug clive&dog2

He would claim an object as a trophy and run past us over and over, growling and tossing it, getting us to wrest it from him before winning it back again and repeating the show.

He had to be walked every morning by Janet and in the evening we would both take him out, his tail held high or, if he were running, circling fast.

Walking the dog was an onerous yet pleasant task – having to walk out in heavy rain and mud, needing to hose him down before bringing him into the house; night-walking him even after eleven at night when we had been out and he needed his run in the woods (wearing a collar with twenty flashing red LEDs so we could spot him) he always had his walks. We have memories of walking him in Fetcham as heavy snow fell through orange street lighting at night, marveling at the outlandish Christmas lights some people have, or sliding on pavements of ice with doggo straining to pull and get a grip, or with a gale shoving us all around and clattering thousands of crisp brown leaves along the road. Times you wouldn’t go out, unless you had to walk the dog.

 

Harry passpt p1

We obtained a passport for Harry the Dog so that we could take him abroad.  Harry passpt p2For the next six years of his life he went with us on the car ferry to our house in Brittany every Easter and summer. He slept in the car boot unattended for twenty four hours as per Brittany Ferries regulations, before they thought of having kennels on the ferry.

 He just adapted to the routine – amazing!

He was a brilliant companion for Samuel and Laura, especially playing at chase on our big French lawn.

An excellent entertainer, one autumn he played in a field of cabbages, leaping as if he had springs on his feet for five whole minutes, full of the joys of freedom and unlimited energy, with green sheds of leaves flying around his flapping ears whilst we stood beside the field crying with laughter.

Harry camping a

We went camping for weeks on end in southern France and northern Spain and as part of the family he came with us, although he had to live in the car boot. He loved swimming and leaped into any open water wherever he could for a quick dip. He was taken to the seaside, to lakes and river beaches in Spain and to streams and rivers in the Pyrenees. He could run or walk for hours without tiring.

One evening we sneaked him with us into a restaurant in Amarante, Portugal, hiding him under the table which had just been vacated by a couple who’d nibbled a pile of spare ribs. As we waited we slipped a rib to doggo who silently scoffed it and licked his lips. Nice place, isn’t it? – another rib for Harry. It was a busy night and – another rib – whilst the waiter scooted round attending to other people – another – doggo swiftly and silently munched his way through the whole plateful – another – until the waiter finally came to clear up and – quick, last one! – thinking aloud “Oh, that’s odd.” Under the table, a dog full to bustin’.

Doggo enjoying a cup of tea

Doggo enjoying a cup of tea

Samuel and Laura realised that Harry the Hound would do anything for food, which was how they taught him tricks like putting food down and telling him to wait – he would even drool – then when told to “Go on!” watching him pounce on it and devour it instantly. He played hide and seek for food every morning with me, before I went to work. He would woof to be given a cup of tea now and again.

He loved to play “Stick” – show it to him, throw it, he ran for it, brought it back then would not give it up!

Clive, Janet and Harry Dog

Clive, Janet and Harry Dog

When Janet and I emigrated to Portugal in 2004 Harry came with us.

A year later his prostate swelled and he had to be castrated to save his life. His hormones changed, his once silky fur became woolly and his slim muscular form became tubby. We were sad there could be no little Harrys now. He had a great life, lots of woodland walks, and in the winter he slept in his basket near the wood fire in the evenings as it died out overnight. He remained alert, intelligent and active as he grew older, a good companion and always there. He would come into our bedroom and lick us Good Morning every day.

Harry Dog haircutA kind friend told us that he would need his fur cut every summer because it grew thicker now and the summer on Portugal is hot – and after a furcut Harry was very pleased with himself! He always waved his tail like a flag, up high and wagging. He joined us on our exploration of central Portugal and later on the quest to find a quinta to occupy our time.

The builders on our quinta liked him, tossed him scraps, took him to swim in the ponds and made a fuss of him; doggo liked to watch them working.

We drove the car to England every March and took him with us, visiting our families. At the start of our visit three years ago Harry, now twelve, was chased off the farm where we were staying by the farm dogs – they saw him as an old and unwelcome outsider. He was lost to us from before breakfast all day and all that night, which was frosty. Neither we nor our hosts could find him.

Harry and Roxy 2

In the middle of the next morning their neighbour came round saying they had found a dog under a thick thorn hedge.It was Harry, scared and defeated, now chilled to the bones, having had no food or water for 36 hours. We pulled him out and brought him to Laura’s house, where we warmed him and nursed him back to respond to us. Laura’s new puppy Roxy, a gold and blonde cocker spaniel, cuddled up to him, licked him and cheered him up, made him feel wanted again. After two days he could manage to get onto his feet but his tail never rose above half mast again and he ran no more.

 

After that he became an old dog. He slowed down and a year later on the ferry, I had to carry him up and down stairs. He did not want to go for a walk, he preferred to lie down rather than sit, and to stay indoors. His hearing was fading. Janet decided he might improve with a diet of a three-egg omelette for breakfast and meat or fish for tea. However over time his eyes clouded with cataracts, he started to pant more often, his heart became congested, and Janet stayed in Portugal with our doggo whilst I did the family visits alone the next year. He deteriorated, losing his sight altogether and hearing only loud noises, At least he could bark to tell us he needed to go for a wee, but that was sometimes during the night. He struggled to get to his feet, eventually needing putting onto his feet then only creeping as far as the end of the patio to wee.  He gasped for breath at times each day.

I made a short visit to England alone this year. By now his tail was weak and he slept most of the time, sensing very little except touch. His legs were so stiff that he couldn’t get up without help and even when placed onto his feet he needed holding to stop him falling backwards.

Once a month I have to drive over the mountains to check our former house. Over the last year or so Harry panted for most of that journey, it stressed him, so I would go alone and only rarely would all three of us go. This time (May) we did, because the air temperature over there is so much cooler than on the quinta which was forecast as forty degrees for three days. We planned to have Harry’s fur trimmed at the vet on the way back. With the forecast of a very hot summer and a dog already struggling to live, we made the decision, it’s time for Harry to go to sleep forever, life has no joy for him now.

The vet knew us and Harry and was very kind. With us by his side and whilst I stroked his head and said bye bye to Harry she put him to sleep. His feeble heart faded and in a few seconds he was gone. Free from his worn-out body.

He was a wonderful pet who enriched our lives so much. We paid £90 for him – what he gave us was priceless. We miss him immensely.

I think he will reincarnate as a lovely puppy for another couple, a brilliant pet for them too. One of our friends says his spirit will continue to live with us.  What do you think?

 

 

May and early June is the time of year when the olive trees are flowering. Their pollination is not done by insects but carried in the air because the flowers are tiny, so each tree makes thousands of them. The pollen is a common cause of an allergic reaction with symptoms like a bad common cold – sneezing, runny eyes, lack of energy and so on. Janet has developed this allergy so for about six weeks she tries to stay in and can’t do much; she is fine in the morning but deteriorates until in the evening she really suffers.

mowing 1

I have to mow the grass in our olive groves because it dries out to become a fire hazard. When I do it the pollen and grass dust fill the air – I can only cope with it for a couple of hours before I have to quit, come indoors, sneeze and have a shower to wash off the dust. I have mown only half our fields and groves up to now, because other jobs have become more urgent.

The weather here becomes seriously hot and dry, and I have to be out early to get in four hours work before lunchtime. It is very easy to become dehydrated so I come up to the house and drink half a litre of diluted fruit juice every hour.

P1040617 C hair abefore

P1040617 C hair afterNow I know how the vines feel – I spend a month at this time of the year watering them and giving them a haircut – removing excess shoots and tying the good growth to the wires installed over the past two years. The pictures here are of the vines beside our house, bordering the veg plot, before and after trimming.

Last year half of my vines were on wires and the vindima took only three days compared to well over a week in previous years; it was much easier as the grapes were more accessible.

vines after cropLast summer I had two men put a hundred posts in the vines abefore croplarger of our vineyards to make twelve more lines of wiring. The large vineyard is now all wired so this year all the vines are tied to the wires, getting them off the ground, making pruning and watering easier. Watering used to take at least two hours a day under the hot sunshine, lugging around seventy metres of hosepipe, from May until September.

irrig 1 tubingDrip irrigation is the way forward, which is what I’ve been installing for the last couple of weeks. This is what a hundred metres of irrigation tube looks like, and I’ve used quite a few of these!

irrig 3It required digging a trench in the hard baked earth and laying a heavy supply tube into it. Then I had to drill holes into it, fit connectors and a fifty-metre drip tube for each line, clip each 16mm tube to the bottom wire, and finally put in a dripper above every vine.

For over a hundred vines it took many hours, and there are two blank lines ready for planting more vines in the autumn.. The system had to be tested once the pipework seemed finished – a third of a mile in total – before refilling the trench. All this would be only a few days’ work if I didn’t have my basic jobs to do first – making the irrigation is what I do when I’ve finished watering those same vines with a hose! Now it is all done, watering the vines is almost as easy as turning on a few taps, and the pump is solar-powered and silent. It is lovely to work slowly in the vineyards, carefully pruning each vine, tying the best growth to wires to train and support it, listening to the water dripping and knowing the vine will use it to give us lots of lovely wine!

In January a black cat found its way to our house and decided to stay. We already have Harry the Dog who only eats and sleeps now he’s old, and can’t walk more than five metres from the house, but as he’s our dependent dog and our responsibility we are tied down and unable to go away together for more than twelve hours. The idea of allowing another animal to become our responsibility was unappealing so we only fed it a little in the morning to keep it hungry enough to hunt mice and so on for itself, and make it independent. It seemed pretty intelligent. It wanted to live on our patio table and I didn’t want it there, so I made it a box to sleep in on the floor.

a cat boxIt liked that, was happy and put on weight, then during March it inexplicably went away and we breathed a sigh of relief.

I went to England for three weeks and Janet stayed to look after doggo. After my return the now rather scrawny cat paid us a visit, and did the same for a few mornings, always leaving after breakfast. Then it went away again.

We discussed what we would do if the cat decided to stay here, against our wishes, knowing eventually it would have kittens. We decided we would put it in a box and take it away to somewhere distant, then release it near a village – goodbye and farewell ! – but didn’t do it.

cat 4kitsLast week the cat was waiting at our front door for breakfast with four definitely starving kittens, all small black copies of their mum. Oh. We could not leave them hungry so we had to feed them; Janet made them a three-egg omelette like Harry the Dog has for breakfast. They made it vanish like magic! They were really thirsty too.

They settled outdoors on the living room windowsill and patio table, and have lived there now for a week.

P1040611 cats patio With their meals of raw meat, fish, omelette and dried cat food all five cats are much healthier and bigger now. Every morning they are outside the window mewing for food, following Janet like the Pied Piper and getting under our feet every time we open the door. But, we don’t really want them. There are plenty of cats in the village so no-one wants them there. Our nearest cats home is over thirty miles away, but they don’t answer the phone or emails. Ideas anyone?

Well, after a week and countless attempts by the cats to move into our house, we took them to the council animal pound in Fundão. They re-home cats and dogs and do not put them to sleep, so that was an acceptable solution to the problem. They also spey female cats before re-homing them, which we thought is a good policy -at €90 a time we were not prepared to do that to the stray cat and two of her kittens!

P1040614 pile of cats

kitten prowl

Red, orange, green and chocolate peppers

Red, orange, green and chocolate peppers

We went out one afternoon in September and when we returned two of my tractor tools had been stolen – a big heavy chain mower and a scarifier – winched onto a trailer and taken from right beside our house.  After weeks of waiting the insurers said they wouldn’t pay my claim because the tools were five years old so worth half their cost, and they would put an excess of a thousand euros on my claim, which was €985. This was not in the policy, they made it up and put an annex onto the policy. Because they have in-house lawyers my legal bill and stress to contest it would not make it a worthwhile exercise.

When we discussed the theft everyone said the same, the thieves were waiting for an opportunity and watched us go out. It is someone local. We were upset at the theft but more upset that someone whom we know would betray our trust in them. Eventually their karma will rectify matters.

Janet cutting cucmbersWe have a broker trying (feebly) to get us a better policy with a lower excess but he is dragging his feet, having taken two months so far to provide one quote which was not acceptable.

In the meantime we are reluctant even to go shopping lest another window is smashed and more is stolen, especially with a €1000 excess on a claim. I won’t replace these essential tools until they can be insured, so much of my farm work has ground to a halt.

 

Clive boden, Dominic PlattIn October I had the vine-wiring team from Technicova over to complete the wiring of our vineyard with an additional fourteen forty-metre lines. This gives space for four hundred vines.

Laura and her family have been to stay with us during Dominic’s half-term break from school. He helped me to plant a few dozen vines in the newly-wired section of the vineyard, and Toby had a go too. We racked 350 litres of our wine whilst they were with us. We had a lovely time together.

Dominic helping with the transfer of 150 litres of red wine

Dominic helping with the transfer of 150 litres of red wine

 

 

Further demotivation came five weeks after the tools were stolen. I started to back up all my main computer files onto a USB stick, when the message “Unable to find files. Format the disc?” came up.  I tried the USB stick on all our computers with the same result, and internet searches said this fault sometimes occurs and there is no solution, either re-format it or bin it. Either way the files are lost. So I formatted it, and resolved to do the backup a day later.

The following day an isolated bolt of lightning struck the ground beside our house. Once the electric company had replaced two main cartridge fuses and Portugal Telecom had repaired the wires and replaced the modem, we found the bolt had burned out our telly, my computer, the new printer, and my lovely stereo amplifier. With no current backups to put onto my laptop I had to fall back on my three-month old secondary backup. All new blogging photos were lost. Disheartened, I lost the motivation to blog.

peppersThe veg garden has given us a large crop of cucumbers and we have nearly half a freezer-full of peppers, orange and brown in addition to the usual red yellow and green. The Bartlett bonnet chillies which Janet sowed in February grew tall (up to Janet’s shoulders) during the summer but only started to ripen in October and are now, in mid-December, still cropping well.

Bartlett bonnet chillies

Bartlett bonnet chillies

 

I met up with Samuel and Kate, her sister Nicola and my third grandson Leo in Lisbon for a long weekend, which was very enjoyable and was another tonic to me. Janet and I are both healthy and happy, and now I’m able to get on with pruning olive trees and vines I’m finding myself again. The claim for lightning damage has just been resolved well and we can now replace the damaged goods. We’re past the negative phase and are getting back to such normality as we previously enjoyed.

Toby Platt and grandad Clive

Toby Platt and grandad Clive

a grapes by tractor In late August we walk through the vineyards twice a week, sampling the fruit to see whether it is time for the vindima (grape harvest) yet. We spend twelve hours cleaning the adega, washing crates, rinsing the dornas (fermentation vats) and cubas (stainless steel storage tanks), ready to make wine.

c rose

When the grapes are plump, smell fruity and taste sweet it’s time to pick them. In the unwired parts of the vineyards, despite careful pruning to make the vines taller they trail on the ground and bunches are hidden, harder to find and uncomfortable to pick. With no air movement the grapes get damp and start to rot. Alternatively if there is a tree nearby they will climb into that, and the vines have to be cut free.

d cut from tree

This year the vindima was far easier than in the past because now there are fourteen lines where I have pruned and trained the vines along wires. This gives easy access to the fruit which grows at a comfortable height, is clean and has good exposure to sun and air.

e ready to start

September is usually sunny but this year there was rain forecast, which meant a lack of the sunshine needed to make sugars. Also rain washes the natural yeast off the grapes so fermentation takes a long time to start, increasing the risk of spoilage. The day before we intended to start it rained so we had to hold off for two days to allow some yeasts to re-colonise the grape skins. A lower risk of rain was predicted for four days up to the 15th, when a week of heavy rain would start.

g esmeg 1

We started picking on Thursday 11th and by Friday lunchtime we had 23 crates of red grapes. After lunch we were mentally ready to use the esmegador (crusher), a heavy fearsome machine which we have to manhandle into position on top of a dorna. It comprises a trough to receive bunches of grapes which are pushed by a rotating screw into a large pair of 9” long serrated rollers. Everything is crushed through and the pulp splatters into the dorna. The stalks, which would make the fermenting grape juice bitter, are pushed along a sharp steel perforated trough by spiral paddles and fall out of the end of the machine into a large bucket.

esmegador

It roars, bumps and grinds whilst I’m tipping the loads of bunches in to the exposed screw then feeding them evenly to the mangle. Such a dangerous machine would not be available to the public in England ! We really don’t like the machine at all but it does in minutes a far better job than we could do in hours either with a hand-powered crusher (where you have to take out the stalks from the wet pulp afterwards) or by treading (which is very slow, cold, inefficient and hard work).

We crushed 23 crates of grapes then added some Montrachet yeast to get the Red1 fermentation off to a clean start.

k white grapes in sunshineOn Saturday we picked and crushed three hundred kilos of grapes to make Red2, and as we still had two hours of daylight we started to pick the white grapes. On Sunday 14th we finished picking the white grapes, which after crushing gave us 150 litres of must. For the fourth time in a week we washed the equipment, this time storing it when it was dry, the crates ready for the colheita in November and the esmegador until next year.

m stir wine   n washed eqpt

For the next few days Janet will stir the must three times a day, pushing the thick layer of crushed grapes into the liquid so the juice all ferments. Then whilst Janet is in England, comes the dreaded racking. We met the weather forecast deadline, all our grapes harvested in four days. Just as well, as this picture was taken from our verandah this morning (15th Sept).

p  rain on 15th

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