I like speed, and from a young age always have had. Not all my friends were into the buzz you get from speed though. They never experienced the highs it can induce. The feeling of increased confidence, the excitement…
Since we moved to Portugal, getting a good supply has been a problem, despite Portugal being ranked 31st in the world. ‘Her Outdoors’ is not perturbed by our present level of supply, but I have been having serious withdrawal symptoms. The problem here might be because there are not enough dealers/providers, so there isn’t the pressure to provide a good, reliable service?
Some people might think I’m talking about amphetamines, but my reference to earlier days was about the highs I’ve had from doing a ‘ton’ on powerful motorbikes (not in Portugal of course!), from downhill skiing, even from sailing in a gale force 7. Actually I’ve done them all in the last 10 years. What I’m referring to in this post is to megabytes per second (mb per sec), a measurement of download/upload internet speed. It’s the thing that helps me save time, allowing me more of it to waste, usually reading some of the diatribe on Facebook or the like.
Recently though, I’ve been uploading a lot of videos to my Youtube channel. Now videos are large files, so you need a decent upload speed. Certainly you need more than the paltry max 0.6 mb per sec we had with MEO, one of only three major internet service providers (ISP) in Portugal, along with Vodafone and NOS. As they are large files I tend to set them to upload overnight when internet traffic is lighter, so speed should be better.
Sometimes though, I’d get up in the morning and the files would still be uploading. Consequently, I found myself forever checking the connection speed (using Ookla’s Speediest). Please forgive me for all the numbers, but some useful points to consider here:
According to MEO … “ADSL Internet service offers 24 Mbit/s downstream and 1 Mbit/s for upstream without traffic limitation, nationally or internationally.”
When our connection was newly installed we were getting less than 2mb although I clocked 5.5mb whilst the engineer was setting up.
After complaining about slow connection we were getting around 3.8mb
After more complaining, we were getting around 5.6mb and in fact it touched 10mb, but that was when we had the engineer working on the connection.
Recently, the maximum download we have been getting was around 4.6mb, but often it has been down to less than 1mb.
Sorry MEO but we have had enough of this poor service and are cancelling our 2 year contract. Instead, we are trying out a new 4g router connection. 4G is the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology, which basically works the same as a phone signal. .
Time will tell in terms of the reliability of this new connection but the early signs are good, with a maximum of 34mb and an average of around 18-20mb download. Upload speeds have also hugely increased, reaching a maximum of around 20mb. So now it’s not so necessary to be constantly monitoring connection speeds. Except, I like speed and so am now monitoring just how fast it can be.
So much for the slower paced Portuguese lifestyle!
Until now I’ve associated succulent plants with the spindly, sad specimens my mother had on her window sill. They appeared lifeless lacking the excitment and colour of other plants. But when I inherited this garden in Portugal, I discovered, they didn’t need to be indoor plants with all the limitations of a British home; far from being boring, these plants are the ones that have captured my imagination most.
An Aeonium growing out of a rock, enormous blue and varigated agaves that give drama to the rocky part of our garden that has less than 2 inches of soil, the subtle colours of echeverias which seem to show permanent flower rosettes until the flower starts to really flower with the prettiest of blooms. There is a wondrous variety of colour, texture, size and form. They can be spiky, fuzzy, often multi-coloured. They can be pudgy and round or leafy and delicate. They can be enormous and architectural and intimidating or tiny and intricate and itybity . They can be so cute or can be aggressive and poisonous and violent.
The last two summers in Portugal have been long and hot and we haven’t been here to water so most of the established garden has had to survive without water and on the whole it has especially, I note, the succulents. They look a bit sad when we arrive back from our summer holidays but after the first rains everything seems to revive miraculously.
The more succulents I meet the more I gawk in wonder. A word of caution though, don’t just plough into Agaves, Their sap is a nasty irritant. Just ask ‘Mr Sundance’. That was one rash move too many for him!
Trichocereus pachanoi… doesn’t that just roll off the tongue…. is it the name of a dinosaur; an Italian dish perhaps? To me, with my burgeoning passion for succulents, it is the San Pedro cactus, which grows like a candelabra tree and no spikes. Inspired either by the romance of those iconic giant cacti featured in the westerns I watched as a child, or more likely by the enthusiasm of Lyn Kimberley of Desert Plants of Avalon growing her weird and wacky cacti in the Emerald Isle I decided now was my opportunity and San Pedro was the one! My new found passion for succulents was taking off.
Lyn had grown one from seed in Ireland and was now getting a spectacular display of huge white, scented flowers, albeit 15 years later. Surely it would thrive in our Quinta garden in Portugal, whose climate is much more akin to Peru where it originated. Now I’m patient, but not that patient. I didn’t want to wait 15 years, so headed down to our local garden centre. There they had a few largish columnar Cactiwith lethal spikes, but no San Pedro.
Ever on the look out for inspiration from neighbouring gardens, however, I had noticed a rather huge and lovely specimen a few houses along from there. On closer inspection I saw a branch had broken off and was caught in the upper branches. Much to the embarrassment of Alan I called to ask if I could have it. The front door looked rather grand as if it wasn’t used so I went round to the side and shouted ‘Ola!’ in the open kitchen door. A little old lady appeared looking suspiciously at me, or it could have been me that looked suspicious… I’d practiced what I was going to say in Portuguese and while I was speaking suddenly a huge grin appeared on her face. Was it a smile at my attempt at speaking Portuguese or, as I prefer to think, was it her delight in finding someone who really appreciated her garden?
Her husband was called and along with ladder and broom handle, not only got that piece down but also broke off another piece especially for me. They were the size of leg body parts and just as heavy! Result… or so I thought! When I got them home, I found it was not in fact a cactus at all but Euphorbia ingens! I’ve dried them out and planted them in a sandy soil mix hoping they will ‘take’.
We have a number of palm trees around the garden, but the one right in front of the house was unsightly, made a mess on the paths when it shed it’s fruit and was quite noisy in windy conditions. ‘Her Outdoors’ decided to call in the professionals as trimming palms can be quite dangerous as there have been several fatalities over the years. Also, my life insurance cover had lapsed, but she did say I that I will be allowed to trim the Dwarf Palms. I shot the pruning process and then produced a promo video for CCServicos.net.
Remember when you were a kid and it snowed, how cool! In reality, how bloody cold and inconvenient! Back then we didn’t feel it, we enjoyed it. We looked forward to it. We went out and played in it, only coming back in when our hands were numb and our feet frozen. Our faces were glowing and even the agony of de-thawing didn’t put us off. Again and again we ventured out, some short-lived comfort afforded by fresh dry socks on our hands. Or was it just my family who couldn’t afford gloves?
The world looked a different place when it was white. There was a new beauty, even in the heart of a hilly housing estate. We loved going out sledging, especially on the steep roads. There were very few cars in those days, so it was worth the risk. How different at night too, so light as the street lamps illuminated the snow and reflected back and forth, to brighten up the wintery scene.
Having sweated through the usual long dry summer in Portugal, we got the same feeling of childhood delight when a couple of weeks ago it rained during the night. It didn’t rain for long, but heavy enough to give the garden a good watering. It was a welcome relief from having to manually water, as ‘Her Outdoors’ has decided the current irrigation system waters the wrong plants, having been set up years ago for a new garden.
When it rained that night we heard it splattering on the roof and windows and paths and were filled with excitement! Well, actually only moderate excitement, but allow me a little poetic licence here. Whatever the level of excitement, at 3am we got out of bed and, eager to feel it on our faces, actually went out into the rain, not because we hadn’t bathed that day, but because we could. It wasn’t cold. It wasn’t depressing. It was an unfamiliar but pleasing sensation and made us want to dance with wanton joy. Modesty, and ‘Her Outdoors’, prevent me describing our state of dress.
We had been waiting for the rain all month, daily checking the weather forecast and the water level in the cisterna. I’d set up a spreadsheet so I could record the level and decide if we needed to arrange an extra delivery of water. I’d even purchased an app, as the BBC weather site doesn’t give an estimated rainfall (and I suspect is a bit hit and miss anyway).
The annual rainfall in Faro is around 530mm which is actually very similar to Cambridge. Here in Portugal though, we get it in huge dollops instead of spread throughout the entire year. Somehow knowing it won’t last and soon the sun will be out makes it more tolerable.
The last time it rained before that was way back in May, some four months ago when our daughter and family were visiting. Was she keen to bring something for us that we miss? It rained part of each day, for most of the week and while not blaming her, she does live in the UK, in the Pennines, where it rains a lot. While we were glad of the rain, I suspect she wasn’t. There is precious little for visitors to do when the weather is bad. Strolling around pretty towns, lazing on the beach and sitting outside a café for a coffee are all activities that quickly lose their appeal when it’s pouring with rain. We have to say they handled it well. “We came to visit you, not just for the weather”.
After that first teasing night rain we had to wait another two weeks but now it’s rained again. It’s rained a lot for two days. It’s rained a hell of a lot in the last two days. It’s rained so much it’s topped up our cisterna, by nigh on 12000 litres!
So there you have it, our new attitude. “Rain is our new
snow”. It might just be a phrasal template to some people, but to us it’s a whole new outlook on life, one that we relish.
However, you can have too much of a good thing. The problem is when the rain can’t penetrate the soil that has been baked solid and there’s no way to control the water. Last year at this time our area was hit with flash floods. In our village a man died when rising waters swept him away and in Albufeira, floodwaters reached 2m high and many were left homeless. Our cisterna was in danger of flooding which meant an immediate, urgent reversal of our usual frugal water usage into one where we indulged in deep baths, running taps freely and brazenly wasting the valuable commodity. Water sneakily found some ways to enter our house, the outside steps became a waterfall and we lost power briefly but we’re thankful not to have suffered more.
Now, just as that fresh fall of snow brings slushy, dark grey days in it’s wake, so the novelty of rain can wear off pretty quickly too. It’s not long before we want our blue skies and sunshine back…the great thing about the Algarve is, we never have to wait long!
Before moving to Portugal we lived in Barton, a quintessentially English village, 3 miles from Cambridge. Each year they have a village day, the main part of which is the Barton Gardeners Annual Show in a marquee on the village wreck. The villagers can exhibit their work from flowers to photographs, from vegetables to cakes. Competition is very keen for the several trophies presented for the best exhibits.
In 2013 I was recruited to shoot the evening entertainment which was provided by ABandandADJ.
One of the first projects I worked on when I moved down to Cambridge in 2009 to live with my new partner Angela, was a joint building/AV production. Hence the “21/2 Minute Home Office“. The main aim was to build myself a space that was my own. So, if ever I was in the dog house, I could sneak out into my ‘man cave’.
Fortunately (for me) the back garden was large enough to build my log cabin, unfortunately (for Angela) it did mean knocking down of the chicken coop (the chickens had all gone by then) but also, to Angela’s great consternation, the moving of her beloved Mulberry tree.
Which subsequently died.
My bad. My very bad. My very very bad. My extreme bad.
Despite all that bad, it was a very rewarding project as a lot of the materials used were recycled, found, job lots, or ‘seconds’. Some items had to be bought, so the total cost was in the region of £1750. You can buy a ready made cabin (for around £12000 – £15000), but I like my custom build better!
I loved my cabin, until I watched George Clarke’s ‘Shed of the Year’. But then, mine is a cabin, it’s a home office, it’s a garden chalet,it’s a man cave, it’s a studio,it’s a creative space. It is not, definitely not, a shed!
We weren’t going to buy a property, just have some fun looking, you know, like those infuriating people who just view houses for sale because they are nosey and don’t have a life…
The seed was sown when we spent the winter away in our motorhome in 2013. The previous year we’d been on an extended trip from late October to December and really liked the area south of Cadiz in Spain. So, the plan was to first visit friends in N. Portugal, then head down and spend a couple of weeks in the Algarve before heading on to Spain. However, we liked the Algarve so much, we stayed three months.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed the motorhome trips, we started to talk about finding a place. Bit strange for us really, both of us really enjoy travelling, so the idea of having another base, even in sunnier climes…?
“We can just look” says ‘Her Outdoors’. “We don’t have to buy”. “Sure” says I, thinking that it would never happen, we are always having grand plans. Shows how much I know about such things.
Our starting point for research was to watch what seemed like at least two full series of each of; Home in the Country, Home in Sun , Winter Sun, Grand Designs, Grand Design in the Sun, George Clarke’s Amazing Sun, Location, Location, Location…in the sun, Escape to the country… in the sun, and especially A Place in the Sun. (Notice the common element yet?) Mostly the programmes pointed us to Spain or Portugal, so considering our experience on our trips, we leaned towards Portugal. Couldn’t lean far enough to feel the sun, but it was a start.
In October, ‘Her Outdoors’ got a tip off about an event at overseas property show at Newmarket Racecourse. We were off and running. Figuratively speaking, I hasten to add. Not actually running in one of the Newmarket races. Literally though, it was only ‘Her Outdoors’ that was off to the event, as I was otherwise engaged in an event with ‘The Challenge’, a charity that aims to build a more integrated society. I wasn’t too worried when she came back from her racecourse visit and was referring to ‘gelding’ as I thought it was something to do with money and currency…
Now the winter of 2014/15 was not a good one in the UK. Cold, wet, windy, very little sun and arthritus playing up. By the beginning of February winter was doing its damndest to drive us out of the country. ‘Her Outdoors’ kept describing me as a ‘sad git’. I was feeling a little aggrieved and down at this, but eventually realised she was referring to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I knew about SAD as my youngest daughter had made lots of references over the years about my winter ‘moods’. I just thought it was due to having to work outdoors in cold, wet conditions and that I’d had to give up playing football due to an injury. Seems I have now got a newly recognised, trendy ‘condition’.
Either way, we were ready for… something! ‘Her Outdoors’ came up with a suggestion – “We could make use of one of those subsidised ‘inspection visits’ I heard about at that show I went to. It would be nice to get a bit of sun”. “Great idea” says I, not knowing what they entailed, but all for a bit of sun.
So, three Googling weeks later, (not a swear word, just lots of research deciding what type of house, location, buying advice, money laundering services etc) we were off. Flying that is, not running this time.
On the plane, we practiced our mantra “We are not buying anything, just looking”. Strange though, how we had transferred some monies, ‘just in case’…
We were picked up at the airport by John, from Ideal Homes Portugal late on… whatever night we flew. We’d been emailing John regarding the type of property, budget etc and he had arranged a few viewings over the following three days. We’d stipulated;
Quinta style property with character
‘Outdoor’ living space.
Within easy travelling of Faro airport
Rural or semi-rural but near a village/Portuguese community
Good view of sea or hills
South facing garden with fruit trees, but low-maintenance
Annex or second property suitable for rental
Room to park motorhome
We were really impressed with his understanding of our needs and also what we could get for our budget. But by day two, we hadn’t quite found ‘the one’. A house that is, not the messianic Jose Mourinho (He of course, is the Manchester United Manager and hails from Portugal for you non football fans!). We were tempted by a couple of properties, one of which was three-properties-in-one, so to speak.
With a well. And a vineyard. And a tractor. (It was extra, but after all who wouldn’t want a tractor to ride round on…)
Non football fans stay with me a while longer as we follow the football theme for a moment…
Although we had specified that we were looking for a characterful ‘quinta’ type property, John strongly recommended that we view a beautiful villa, owned by the daughter of Terry Venables, former England Football Team Manager. I couldn’t resist, thinking of the tale I could tell about the link between me and ‘Tel’… (Woah boy, this isn’t a football blog!)
The villa was excellent, in a complex with beautiful gardens, community pool and virtually no maintenance needed. The finish was superb, well laid out, plenty of space, plenty of storage. ‘Her Outdoors’ and I just looked at each other and said “But what would we do all day?!”. It was just too perfect and what we wanted was more of a project. John was right in showing us the property though, as it confirmed what we didn’t want a ‘turn key’ solution. We wanted a house to live in, not just for holidays.
John knew of another property which he thought would fit the bill, but had not been able to arrange a viewing as the owners were away. We decided to drive to the house so that at least we could see the location. Fortunately, the owners had just returned and he was able to arrange a viewing the following morning.
Next day, bouyed up by our quick glimpse of the house (or was it the copious amount of wine the previous night?), we set off to view. Well view is very apt. The house has such a commanding panoramic vista of the coast stretching from Faro to Vilamoura. Tick!
It had an attractive garden, part landscaped, part meadow. Tick.
With lemon, orange, fig, pomegranate, olive and almond trees. Multi Tick.
It had a driveway with enough space to park three motorhomes. (Just one tick here as we only have one motorhome!)
5 mins cycle to a Portuguese community centre and 3km from the quaint village of Boliqueime. Tick.
The house itself had plenty of character. Typical Algarvian ‘quinta’, with traditional ceiling, log burning fire. Bread oven in the utility room. Tick.
By this time I’m starting to get downhearted as I hear that familiar mantra in my head. “We are not buying a house, just looking”.
It had a swimming pool, was quite secluded, easy reach of Faro and it had an annex, just perfect for rental! Tick bloody tick tick tick.
My card playing skills do need developing but I would make a good poker player. The point is, I have the driest of wits (one has to keep dry in the UK somehow) and therefore I can keep a straight face. However, ‘Her Outdoors’ often finds it difficult to withhold her emotions when excited about something. But, I learned something very important about ‘Her Outdoors’ that day. She can too!
Neither of us wanted to give anything away, fearing we would sway the other despite both of us feeling excited about the prospect of living there. But we said we wouldn’t buy a house, we were just looking. So, “Not bad” says I to ‘Her Outdoors’ and “it’s alright” to John, with typical Yorkshire understatement.
When on our own, we both admitted that we loved the property and wanted it. It would be a pity if it wasn’t still for sale when we would be ready to buy…
The following day we were due to fly home, but had time to do two second viewings; to the ‘tractor’ property and the ‘tick tick bloody tick’ property. Consequently the ‘tractor’ got a tock and ‘tick tick bloody tick’ got another bloody tick! So we had to buy it!
Decision to buy made, I was under pressure to negotiate a knock down price. Now there’s another blog!
Not every house has a post box, so if you want to receive mail, you need to get one. As we live in a semi rural position, we don’t have a postal service to our door, so we set off in search of one. Or rather we did a bit of research, before embarking on what became a three day quest, a problem solving exercise and thanks (?) to Aldi, to get one. Bear with me on this…
First day, first stop, was the local post office in Boliqueime, where we learned that we have to go to the post office in Loule (10 km). Second day off we trot (well actually we drove, but allow a little literary licence here…) to the post office in Loule. There we learned that we have to buy our own postbox (about 30€). We also learn that the custom in Portugal seems to be that old and pregnant women have priority in queues. Fine I’m ok with that, but Angela doesn’t meet either requirement so that by the time we get to the front, they haven’t time to serve us. Instead they tell us to come back after lunch!
Return after lunch (nice menu complete for 10€) and buy post box. We were then advised to pop next door to the mail sorting room to meet our local postman, in order to get a postal number for the postbox.
Day three, we took our postbox to the location where other postboxes are, not to our house! There we discovered that to fix the postbox you need to bolt it through one of your neighbours boxes, as well as the post. Problem! We had no idea who our neighbour was, so we left a note in their box explaining that we needed access. Problem 2, we do not know if the neighbours understand English,so were we wasting our time? Problem 3,we do not know if our neighbour is an absentee owner or holiday home owner. We prepare to wait for 2/3 months or so for them to come on holiday.
Wait only lasted four days before we get a visit from the neighbour! Great excitement, our first visitor! A nice German couple from further up the hill. Arranged to collect keys and fixed the box. Result!
Our excitement and joy was further heightened only two days later when our first lot of junk mail arrived! Thanks, Aldi…