A lot of things have gone wrong over the past two years and so when things go right it’s worth writing about them.
Not that I want to jinx anything of course, but this dispatch will hopefully serve as an upbeat snapshot in time on which we can look back with a wry smile when everything goes to hell in a hobbled handcart...as it undoubtedly will.
But let me just get out there and say it: our builders are amazing.
Senhor Manuel and his three wise workers – youngest late-50s, eldest 76 – have been grafting so hard through the heat of the summer days digging holes, carpentering form-work boards for reinforced concrete and then mixing and pouring.
They work with the seamless efficiency and incredible pace of a tight team who’ve been doing this all their lives, and they’re always ready with a wave and a grin.
We had no idea so much could be done in such a short space of time.
It took us a while to find the right builder – and Senhor Manuel is certainly not the cheapest – but all I can say is so far so good and the progress is remarkable.
And yes, I will be taking up the offer of a fishing trip with builder Justo!
Up until a few weeks ago, both Ana and I had this overwhelming sense that our tourism lodge building project was dead before it had even started.
You may have picked up on that in the downbeat tone of some of my blog posts, but then heavy metal gave us hope.
All the time and money and effort expended over three years was going to be lost in a sea of bureaucracy, unforeseen delays, un-returned phone calls and ultimately an expired loan contract.
But it was the delivery of a large pile of steel reinforcing rods one overcast Friday and the building materials that followed which gave us hope: something was happening.
The days of can we/can’t we, shall we/shan’t we are behind us – this thing is going up – we will have a big loan and will need to build a good business to match.
I’m not sure what’s more scary...doing it or not doing it...but now the decision has been made and we’re off.
I’ve been tracking our progress, and as you’ll see the buildings are starting to take shape.
Three visitors in a week all have one thing in common – Northern Football Club (NFC) – my old rugby club in Newcastle.
Northern may not be in the highest league or winning the big trophies any more, but it regularly scoops national awards for being a fantastic community club – and it’s great to see old friends, former team-mates and legendary stalwarts still running the place so well.
All four of us have very happy memories...and the first guest is still refusing to admit he’s retired from rugby despite having passed 50.
Lee Longstaff is an old school friend and orthopaedic surgeon who is being kept very busy replacing the knees, hips and ankles of all the people we used to play rugby with.
Given that more than 185 former players are taking the rugby unions to court over early-onset dementia and degenerative brain injuries I guess I’d take the worn joints.
Rugby World Cup winning hooker Steve Thompson now can’t remember the match against Australia in 2003, or receiving his MBE from the Queen – there’s a BBC documentary coming up soon which I imagine will be as terrifying as it is revealing.
My back’s given me some issues, I’ve had a couple of knee ops already and I’m sure arthritis is on the way, but that’s even more reason to keep active and busy on the land.
And if the knees and hips give me jip, I know where to go.
Lee’s approach to keeping his joints going is running marathons (although I’m not sure what his orthopaedic surgeon would say about that) and this year he’s roped his wife Sarah into doing one as well...very impressive!
It was great to see them both with daughter Eloise – here for the weekend allegedly for a geography field trip for her university application personal statement.
We touched on migration issues in rural Portugal from when the countryside emptied out and people headed to the cities or abroad, to the recent influx of immigrants like ourselves looking for a beautiful place to settle or South Asians arriving to work in agriculture.
Climate change was covered by our experience searching for water (update: we had another water diviner come over and we’re negotiating), and the lessons learned when you have to drive all your recycling to recycling bins.
Popping every bottle into the green bin one at a time does make one wonder whether re-using bottles rather than recycling them is the way vineyards and breweries should go.
Every smash in the bin reminds me of the huge energy cost of melting down all that glass and then making the same bottles all over again.
That’s one topic we’ll be spending more time researching I think, because with all the recycling bins in Portugal it’s surprisingly the country ranks so poorly Europe-wide.
Given that most of the geographical musing took place on the beach, perhaps geology would have been a more appropriate subject, as I still haven’t worked out how the amazing faults and folds in our wild west coast formed.
Guest two was Sam El-Ebrashi – a Newcastle University medic who moved to Northern just in time to help us to win the Northumberland County Cup against the formidable Tynedale back in 1995.
With a dramatic final score of 6-3 those of you familiar with my sport of choice will understand it was less open running rugby and more war of attrition, but it was a huge win for us (and was last time NFC won the cup).
Sam has lived in the US for most of the time since then and is doing well with his dental medicine in Oregon, if getting wanderlust with an eye on Portugal.
Like many former players at NFC he went on to greater things in the sport becoming a player/coach and then playing Touch Rugby for the USA men’s over-40s national side in the Edinburgh and Australia world cups in 2011 and 2015.
He and girlfriend Samantha spent a few days at our flat in Lisbon before joining us in Vale das Estrelas for as many of our highlights as you can do in a couple of days.
I think it’s fair to say they fell in love with Zambujeira do Mar and this beautiful part of the world and have already started looking at property...it’s amazing how many of our visitors do!
When I told the wonderful Alan Gledson I was writing about three guests all linked with Northern rugby club he was slightly offended – his club has always been Tynedale (the team we beat in the 1995 final).
But the twist is he joined Northern as coach that year and believes the only reason we won on the day was grit, determination and the promise of a huge party at his sheep farm if we won.
It was a great party.
Alan and Marge are here all week and are already asking “what we need doin’ round the house”...and we already have a few jobs in mind.
Excellent! I know you and Ana have faced numerous hurdles on your wonderful project. So we’re really happy to hear things are moving forward. Having done my own little stint of building (3 homes in California), I know you’ll find it incredibly satisfying.
Would like to hear more about how successful the water diviner was when we see you next. By the way there’s a beautiful piece of music called “the water diviner” - check it out > https://youtu.be/kTxl563Az7E
Great update! It’s lovely how your good friends intermingle with the project’s progress. They seem to buoy your fortitude and conviction with fruitful results!