Dec 23, 2022 • 7M

S1:Ep4 - Musical pigs, bore holes and hoarders

Brain worms and their roots in rural Alentejo

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Alastair Leithead
From Our Own Correspondent-style despatches from a former BBC reporter who's now battling to live off the grid in the Alentejo countryside. Selected audio recordings of his weekly blog which began in 2020.
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Our local foe and why they’re so good I name them twice. A musical dispatch from December 2020…

Genus: Sus scrofa (Sus scrofa)


I have a few songs permanently on my mind at the moment, and none of them are by Simon & Garfunkel.

The first is by Duran Duran and is sparked by any mention of one of the valley’s wild inhabitants.

The second is linked to a regular off-grid chore and comes from the original Jungle Book soundtrack.

And the latest addition is Dire Straits courtesy of some dusty 1980s technology.

So, what’s the connection? Any guesses to the songs? Here’s a clue: pigs, bore holes and hoarders.

Ana captured this amazing sunrise on a morning walk with Simon & Garfunkel

Ana and I have both had some unexpected magical moments in the valley when a deer has suddenly popped into view on the hill across from the house. 

For Ana it happened early on the first morning we woke up here in our new home – the ninth anniversary of our second wedding (out of three…that’s another story).

It was beginning to dawn on us that we had given up careers and exciting globetrotting lives to live in the middle of the Portuguese countryside…and it was very quiet here.

A new life, new adventures, lots of uncertainties and a large beautiful buck with striking horns was checking us out. Ana took it as a good omen.

A couple of weeks later I was faffing around on the front patio when I heard rustling and my deer encounter involved a quick eye contact as it picked its way through the undergrowth and headed down the valley.

But it’s the wild boars that have infected my brain with a Duran Duran worm.

I defy anyone beyond a certain age to say “wild boars” only once.

It’s not that these wild boars (wild boars) never choose this way. Far from it – our wild boars always do –did. 

t I meaere are a lot of pine tree scratching posts on our land, they clearly used to have mud parties in the lake, and they had burrowed out nests in our veggie patch (who knew they liked nests?).

Our Finnish brother-in-law Pasi and Swedish friend Mina both shoot and so we have an idea of how hard – and dangerous – it is to hunt wild boars (wild boars).

Rather than a shotgun, Mina recommends a rifle (.308) and you’re allowed to have as many bullets as you can fit in your magazine – because if you injure it with the first shot, the tough little barrel of horns charges you.

And if you think you’re good at picking up the smell of frying bacon, these guys can sniff out a human with a smoking gun from a hundred yards.

Stock bacon pic…Photo by Casey DeViese on Unsplash

With apologies to the vegetarians, wild boar meat is fantastic – and they are becoming something of a pest across Europe.

And so, Ana plans to team up with our neighbour to learn to shoot with the local hunting club after having been re-invigorated by some clay pigeon shooting in California earlier this year.

It was a long road back from that surprise date I arranged some years ago at the concrete-box shooting range in downtown LA (my bad). It didn’t go well.

But it might be harder than we think…not just to shoot them, but to find them.

The mud-bath parties and the nesting seem to have stopped since we put our new bouncer Garf on the door.

“If you’ve got trotters, you’re not coming in.”

G’day bouncer…

Talking of wildlife, let’s move on to the Jungle Book.

Full disclosure, the soundtrack to the 1967 Disney animation was one of my first albums and I know pretty much the whole thing off by heart – songs and dialogue.

My A-level results would have been so much better if I hadn’t spent all that revision time learning lyrics and teaching myself to juggle with pool balls. 

The whole “I wanna be like you” section where Baloo meets King Louie in his jungle palace to rescue Mowgli had to be written out phonetically word by word.

Less well known is perhaps the last song, where Mowgli stumbles across the man-village and spies Shanti – the girl at the river.

We shall go to fetch the water…

Her song “My Own Home (I shall go to fetch the water)” is not only fabulously dated with its sexual stereotypes, but is also now the theme to our fortnightly visits to the spring at the Boa Vista dos Pinheiros Aqua park to fill up our plastic water bottles.

Our borehole water is a little salty, and we haven’t had it tested in the lab yet, bottled water comes (unsurprisingly) with a lot of plastic bottles, so we go to a spring to fill up.

“Father’s hunting in the forest, mother’s cooking in the home…I must go to fetch the water, ‘til the day that I am grown,” Shanti sings.

With my rapidly improving Indian culinary skills, and with Ana’s new intention to pursue wild boars (wild boars), I think we’re successfully turning that on its head…and are both still going to fetch the water even though we’re well and truly grown.

Dire Straits indeed.

Share Off-grid and ignorant in Portugal

I learned to make radio on quarter inch tape: recording it on a massive two-reel Uher recording machine and then editing it using a razor blade and white sticky tape (I’m sure there are producers out there who remember that well).

Thankfully I discovered a computer audio-editing system weeks later, but it still has a special place in my heart.

So, imagine my excitement when we arrived at our newly-bought house and discovered among everything that the German hoarder had left behind was a quarter inch tape machine wired up to a 1980s stacking stereo system – with a pile of tapes.

No need to imagine my excitement any more….

This was top of the range 40 years ago and the sound quality of the quarter inch is amazing. Sadly, the amp was burned out by enthusiastic playing of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA a year ago and suffered irreparable damage.

We’ve been focussing on making the inside of the house look nice and have finally wired up our stereo system…and I managed to find the right connectors to get the quarter inch machine pumping it out.

Hence the Dire Straits – Walk of Life – which was the tapes I settled on once I’d worked out how to stop it playing backwords (you’ll be reassured to hear there were no Satanic messages).

It was the perfect soundtrack after a day of digging clay out of pipes to stop the drive from flooding in the rain, and while constructing the latest attraction at Vale das Estrelas – Ana’s “shoe solution.”

I call it the Imelda Marcos Memorial Wall, but that isn’t well received.

Ana’s newly built Imelda Marcos memorial wall

(Incidentally, Dire Straits has now been replaced with Pink Floyd’s Brick in the Wall, which serves me right for editing it onto a video of my brick laying exploits).

Watch the video on YouTube

Watch the previous video on YouTube

And just a final note on hunting. We both have mixed views on it, but broadly think that if it’s for food and for pest control then it’s kinda OK: a surprise bullet in the head trumps the torment millions of cows go through at the abattoir.

Having spent a lot of time reporting on African wildlife, it gets more complicated thinking about big game hunting…and also about the local hunting club…who killed a beautiful big buck deer the other week just next to our land. 

That’s where the romantic ideal and the reality meet.

Another amazing sunrise over Vale Das Estrelas