The big scare
Perhaps the Pink Panther was right...
There’s nothing like a health check-up to focus the mind, and after my half-century MOT, my mind is currently focussed on my high cholesterol levels.
It appears – who would have thought it – that just living in the countryside is not enough to automatically become healthy.
Clean outdoor living only works if you live clean...and mostly outdoors.
Despite the unseasonably warm weather I have been neglecting the long walks and the hours of (necessary) strimming...let alone doing hot yoga or jogs with the dogs.
I haven’t even had the doctor’s consultation yet, but the emailed blood test results said it all - a heightened risk of heart trouble - and so I turned to the internet and was met with a confusion of mixed messages and contradictory advice.
It turns out I wasn’t joking when I said the biggest threat to our health is the cost of good quality Portuguese wine...which is becoming increasingly important as my journalistic focus slides from war to wine.
My first big achievement as we continued our wine tasting studies this week was learning to spit.
But despite our calm countryside setting, stress is playing its part as a worsening drought and the increasing costs of fuel and materials threaten to put our whole big project out of reach.
And there is nothing more stressful than realising your health is being affected by stress.
At least the nurse doing my heart scan didn’t immediately hit a red button and call the crash team.
But how high is my cholesterol? Pretty high. Worrying enough to get up in the night to consult Dr Google...but who do you believe? What’s true? What’s good information and what’s bad?
And isn’t that just the question of our time?
There is too much unfiltered information out there – petabytes of data on health and much of it contradictory – it was easier when we trusted qualified experts to filter it all and give us good advice.
So much data in a social-media driven world where opinions and disagreements get more clicks and follows, and where peddlers of disinformation can drive narratives.
Trust is destroyed and established truth – in other words exhaustively researched and peer-reviewed truth – is questioned as conspiracy theorists thrive amid the confusion.
My journalistic instincts vaccinate me from the worst effects of misinformation and disinformation because I always try to check sources, but when you need to know now whether to drink your morning coffee or have hot water and lemon...the pressure is on.
I have been filtering information for years as a foreign correspondent – an outsider listening to views from all sides, putting people and place in context and then packaging it all up in a small portion for easy consumption.
(Smaller portions...now there’s an idea).
It is a powerful position: to choose what people see and hear – and take it from me you don’t need to see many of the things we correspondents do – but trust in us and in the BBC has been key.
At least Dr Google’s headlines on cholesterol made sense and I’ve heard them before: eat better, drink less, do more exercise and don’t get too stressed...oh, and eat porridge.
There’s less clarity on fat v carbs, keto v fasting (or a combination of the two), vegan vs Banting and to calorie count or not to calorie count – that is a question.
(I gave up on Dr Robert Atkins long ago when I heard about his heart troubles – as you may read that takes us back to the discussion about truth again).
But there’s no answer on coffee v lemon water, almonds v walnuts, giving up wheat v adding more grains, red wine v white wine (v no wine), cheese/no cheese and is it OK to eat the deer and wild boar (wild boar) the Cow King gave us the other night after the local hunt?
A few years ago my last unpleasant health surprise was high blood pressure, but a good doctor in LA threatened a lifetime of medication before offering me an easier out: lose weight.
He recommended a book called The Wheat Belly and thanks to my all-or-nothing character flaw I gave up wheat and sugar and lost 18kgs in less than a year.
This required a complete wardrobe change, but I’ve recently started favouring the baggier shirts and shorts.
And I’ve occasionally found myself reaching up to the top shelf for some of those shirts I didn’t have taken in.
We blame nine months of hosting and not being disciplined enough to put in some hard yards.
Thankfully our most recent visitors gave us a head start (Ana’s cholesterol is also a little on the high side).
Ana’s mum Gertrud and stepdad Christer took a break from their Swedish farm to stay with us for a week.
It led to long walks with Simon & Garfunkel and some good advice from a real doctor about cholesterol...and a real farmer about chainsaws and strimmer maintenance.
As in the UK, their worries about water are dealing with too much rather than too little, and after a series of named storms in northern Europe I’m not expecting sympathy...but we are watching with a hint of jealousy.
The national weather agency here says 91% of Portugal is now under either “severe” or “extreme” drought – and the average rainfall for the first half of February was only 7% of the 30 year average.
Our neighbours down the valley have been relying on reservoir water from a big 1960s aqueduct project but have been told they will soon be cut off, prompting concern and a surge in borehole demand.
Meanwhile Carlos has been cracking on with the swales and if rain ever comes, hopefully a lot more of it will make its way into our lake.
It’s been an impressive feat of digging and we now have some fantastic footpaths across our hillside and have found the final piece in our off-grid jigsaw.
We found the borehole power cable...in the same way we found the water pipe last year...by digging it up, breaking it and then fixing it again.
With water worries on our mind and concerns over our big project it might be worth checking my blood pressure as well...but I guess weight loss will help with that as well.
The builder quotes are coming in very high...not surprising considering what’s happened in the two years since the first quote we got for our loan...and now we have two weeks to sign on the dotted line...no pressure.
So what did the doctor order?
With the clarity and simplicity of a lifetime as a GP, the qualified expert Dr Gertrud filtered it all and gave me the following advice: “more physical exercise and avoid fast carbohydrates. And eat less. Oh, and wine contains fast carbohydrates.
“The only way of sustainable food change is that you like the food and that it doesn't make you hungry too early after eating.
“Some doctors would prescribe statin pills, others would first give you a chance to lose weight and see the result on the values.”
What would the Pink Panther say? “Not now, Keto.”
A Mediterranean diet isn’t much of a push in Portugal, and at least the unseasonably warm weather has turned our indoor/outdoor room into the perfect hot yoga studio.
And yes, the dogs could also do with losing a few kilos.