A great mystery solved, and notes on starting a cult
This week is the first anniversary of our arrival in Vale das Estrelas, and we’ve learned a great deal in that time.
The first lesson – and the most important one – is that when you buy a house that’s off the grid, make sure the previous owner leaves you an instruction manual.
The second, not unrelated to the first, is that water doesn’t come from taps and electricity doesn’t come from a hole in the wall…there’s far more to it than that.
Over the last 12 months I have worked out how almost everything works – usually by breaking it and then having to repair or replace it.
The biggest mistake was destroying the lead-acid solar power battery system, but the list includes two petrol-driven chainsaws, a strimmer and a diesel generator.
The learning curve and the spending curve have both enjoyed a steep trajectory, but I’m glad to say that the R number had recently dropped below one.
One thing has remained a mystery, and today – after a weekend of Pagan rituals and the introduction of Portuguese children to the sounds Swedish frogs make – that mystery was finally solved.
Discoveries are often explained to Ana with a question: “Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news?”
There were two pieces of good news this morning and only one piece of bad news.
The first piece of good news is: I have now found the water pipe.
Just for background, since we arrived and discovered a working borehole on one hillside and water tanks on the opposite side of the valley, one of my personal obsessions has been to work out where the pipe is that links the two.
When I plug in a power cable borehole water magically starts appearing in the tanks.
Various specialists have added their opinion based on a series of assumptions:
The man who installed it was German, and so probably didn’t run the water pipe down one hillside and up the other
It takes far less power to pump water if it keeps its height, so it either runs along the road (a longer distance but easier to dig a trench), or it cuts across the face of the valley following a contour
The eucalyptus forest was already planted when it was installed so it’s probably not running through what’s left of that.
Our Bavarian baker neighbour Franz walked the land with me, looking for where he remembered it being laid 15 years ago, but to no avail.
A borehole specialist with water divining rods politely declined to use his rods for finding our water pipe (apparently “it doesn’t work like that.”)
And although we are fast running out of water, the second piece of good news is the borehole has not run dry – the pump is running.
So, I’m sure you’ve already worked out what the bad news is: we have a hole in the pipe.
Where the Bavarian baker and the borehole diviner failed, Paulo the eucalyptus root digger guy succeeded…and we’ve only just realised.
Once I have finished writing this week’s ramblings, we will head up the hill with shovels and start digging. If you don’t get an email from me next week, it might be because we have died of thirst.
But at least we do have an extra pair of hands – my godson Ollie Longstaff flew into Faro airport early on Saturday morning, and everyone will know the rugby expression: “two props make for light work.”
Poor Ollie woke up at half past midnight in Newcastle, was driven up to Edinburgh by his mum for the flight and arrived – blinking in the sunshine – to some emergency gardening, tree-felling and the kind of activity usually associated with joining a cult.
I picked him up in our new family member: ladies and gentlemen, please can I introduce Siouxsie the Suzuki Vitara.
Regular readers will realise it’s no revelation that I revel in alliteration and so obviously Suzy is what Suzuki’s should be called.
But something so obvious would be…disappointing…and so on the theme of Simon & Garfunkel we wandered into the world of 1970s music and settled on Siouxsie Sioux’s spelling (as in Siouxsie and the Banshees).
After some concern about cultural appropriation, we sought guidance from the young people in woke LA and were told by that naming the car after a punk rock icon should be OK, and we don’t intend to offend.
And as the rock star Mr Derek Day said: “Whoever is inside of the car can be dubbed ‘the banshees’ for the duration of the ride.”
It’s nice becoming Banshees.
Siouxsie is topless – appropriate for a two-door 4x4 beach car – and with Millicent’s recent and much discussed record of not going back and only flashing her headlights when she brakes, we needed a backup.
Our location means no Millicent means we don’t go anywhere (I suppose at least that way I’d finish the painting) – it’s why people in the country have spare cars.
Now we have two cheapo vehicles that can take turns going to the garage (if we ever find an affordable second-hand transmission box for the Land Rover).
It turns out that our long-awaited new Toyota Hilux is now in the country after a boat trip from Durban, but we were told by the dealership that Portuguese customs officers are working from home (!) and so it could be a while yet.
So, enter Siouxsie, stage left. Obviously once we bought her it was straight to the beach to test out that bit…and then an unexpected use of the 4x4 to pick up 20kg of wild boar (wild boar) meat from our neighbours which they couldn’t fit in the freezer. A regular Friday.
Some had defrosted and Simon & Garfunkel had the best meal they have ever had.
There is, I suspect, a direct link between their amazing sautéed wild boar supper and the lack of interest shown in dry dog food ever since.
And sticking to the 70s/80s pop theme, back to The Cult.
There are a number of cults in the valleys of Alentejo, and anyone passing by Vale das Estrelas on Saturday would have jumped to what would appear to be an obvious conclusion.
It was Swedish Midsommar – a much celebrated festival involving the erection of a May pole (in June) that looks like a cross with two hanging circles, but is actually a Pagan phallus.
It is very much worthwhile checking out this video guide: Swedish Midsummer for Dummies.
It was hard enough trying to explain to a shellshocked Ollie why we were cutting down eucalyptus trees, making a wooden cross and strimming a neat circle of grass for some unexplained ceremony.
It was even harder explaining to Rui and his girls why they we dancing in a circle singing about being a little frog with no ears and no tail and hopping to the chorus “kwak-a-ka” (after the noise that Swedish frogs make…and ducks apparently. Every day continues to be a school day).
I’m not sure if my jokes about human sacrifice were well received.
The meatballs, sill, cinnamon rolls and smörgåstårta helped us to stomach the homemade snaps - a recipe for adding some suitably weird Swedish customs to our multicultural valley.
If you haven’t seen Midsommar, the movie, it’s highly recommended (if somewhat dark and filmed in Hungary), but the Swedes do indeed have a word for encouraging old people to throw themselves off a cliff: ättestupa.
But we decided not to try that; not this year at least.