A Centennial of Ignorance
Moving faster forwards but apparently going in reverse
On the occasion of my 100th despatch from the Valley of the Stars I had hoped to share stories of success, of overcoming the odds despite a total ignorance and having reached some form of accomplished-DIY and self-sufficient level of consciousness.
Sadly it was not to be.
It was one of those days when something was clearly in retrograde.
You know, one of those days where everything you try to do just breaks, refuses to work in the first place, or generally doesn’t go your way...and then kicks you when you’re down.
I’ve blamed this astrological phenomenon before when satellite dishes mysteriously didn’t send lead TV news stories from frontlines, or when computers go into an endless “wheel of death” chug-mode and a hard reboot erases everything you’d spent the last three hours doing.
I had to double-check which of the planets it concerned, thinking it was probably Mercury, but could be Uranus.
I need to get better at identifying the stars, constellations and events like the Lyrids meteor shower this weekend...especially in the Valley of the Stars...but on the astrology front I clearly could not tell Myarse from Uranus.
And that infected everything I was trying to achieve on action day.
Action weekend had begun well.
I had dug out and brushed off the Stihl grass strimmer ready for the Spring strim-off when I clear land around all the buildings to protect them from fire in accordance with the law.
In a previous life the “Steels” was a pub in Camden...now it is the local machine supplier and repair shop...how things change.
I remembered the first year when I broke the strimmer which we inherited with the house (by not shaking the oil and petrol mix before starting it: who knew? I do, now) and had to invest heavily in a new Stihl.
I promised Ana I would pay back the investment in hours worked and shed pounds in the process...so at the €15/hour it would cost for contracting it out, it would take a while but would be worth it.
It’s my annual fast-track weight loss programme and last year it was very successful as not only did I lose lots of weight, but I also helped save the houses when fire unusually came our way.
So off I set with the confidence of someone who’s done this before – twice in fact.
Someone who doesn’t constantly power a strimmer at full throttle and risk “breaking its heart.”
Someone who knows to use the metal blade where there are fewer rocks and when to opt for plastic wire; someone with experience in these things.
Landscaper Carlos had reminded me we had until the end of April to clear all the land, but how did April get so far towards May without me even noticing?
It’s been amazing looking back at the pictures from last year when the land was so overgrown it took weeks of work and I became obsessed.
This year things are a little easier courtesy of the fire which did a huge amount of the clearing for us last autumn.
But rather than rest on my well-trimmed laurels, now is the chance to once and for all get in control of as much of the land as possible.
The hope is to get some sheep before too long...perhaps so they can graze away the first shoots of silves brambles and keep the grass even shorter next spring, but for now I need to crack on.
Three hours of self-satisfied strimming flew by, but it was day two of the strim-athon when things started to go wrong.
Firstly my beautiful new birthday pocket knife escaped a hole in my pocket. Every self-respecting Alentejano farmer has such a knife and would never be so careless as to lose one.
Then my incompetence of not loading the plastic cutting string properly (despite being Someone with experience in these things) led to the base flying off and the loss of a small but crucial part, without which my work here could not be done.
After an hour of small part searching and pocket knife despair I abandoned the exercise for other things.
We have a new word in the valley: “Kittenburst” – it’s the chaos unleashed when the cat cage is opened every morning and the little buggers scatter and start destroying everything we own.
I drove to the shops for kitten food, and after being distracted by other stuff, had to turn around and go back for the kitten food.
Irritation levels by this point rising, I arrived home to the sound of heavy hissing. Sadly it wasn’t Val the cat angry at not being fed, but it was my tyre – I’d picked up a huge puncture.
I sprayed in the can of stuff you spray into punctured tyres, but it seems you should wait until the air is out before putting the air (and stuff) back in, and so it sprayed all over me instead. Grr.
No problem, I thought, we have Siouxsie the Suzuki in reserve, and while a mouse nest had affected her performance a while back, that had been all sorted...but apparently it wasn’t: the battery was as flat as my tyre.
So I needed power from one of the extension leads...but they were all laid out across the hillside providing power for the new submersible pump which was draining the well in a wasteful experiment to open up the fissures in the water table (don’t ask).
Once the battery was awkwardly extracted from Siouxsie to be plugged in, it went on charge while I re-inflated the tyre.
By the time I discovered Siouxsie’s battery was officially dead, the tyre was leaking air again and it was a race against time (and the familiar hissing) to get to the garage before it was flat. Grr.
But what could possibly go wrong watering the new citrus trees in the bottom of the valley? Repeatedly forgetting things and having to walk back up and down the hill to fetch them.
What’s that military phrase again? Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Hmm.
I decided just to stop doing anything technical and to ride out the retrograde.
But despite the setbacks and the reminder that I still am Someone who still has no idea what he’s doing after 100 despatches, there’s much to be thankful for.
We had a wonderful Easter of guests: Ed, Rachel & Daisy joined Lotti and her three girls Sasha, Katya and Lina for a week of beaches, fabulous food binges and a couple of all-hands-on-deck planting power-hours.
And on Maundy Thursday we had Nick & Penny and our old pal Richard Sargent over for lunch with his sister and family.
The last of the olive trees went in – as did the plums, cherries and nectarines which have been loitering beside the house for far too long.
We’ve noticed a new little stream which was cute to start with, until we realised it might be a leak in the dam wall: not a torrent, but equally not something you can stick a thumb into.
The solution will be to use the water by planting some thirsty trees like avocados or almonds...but as the temperature here is rising, the planting window is quickly closing...
In the best efforts to no longer mix Mercury up with Uranus (this just never gets old to me), I did a little research on astronomy and astrology.
Being “in retrograde” relates to periods of the year when Mercury revolves around the sun slower than the Earth and although orbiting nearly four times faster, appears to be moving backwards in the night sky.
Now that sounds familiar.
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Each year – and for three times in 2023 – it will be in retrograde and one of them starts this week – from April 21st to May 14th.
“It can’t be that then,” I thought...until I was reliably informed the “pre-retrograde shadow” can happen from “as early as April 7th.”
So there we go. Not my fault. Blame the stars for the chaos in the Valley of the Stars. Perhaps I am getting somewhere after all.