The military calls it “mission creep,” we call it the Paddington Bear effect.
In April we gave ourselves a month to refurb the guesthouse for some summer rentals.
Three months, buckets of paint and plaster, industrial quantities of car paint and one dice with death later…and we were finally able to welcome our first guests.
Not real guests, but old friends Alan and Margery Gledson who inexplicably think a great holiday is working all morning…and then having fun all afternoon and evening.
They didn’t have to offer twice, and so not only did we see the sights, tick off our top beaches and our favourite restaurants, but we also managed to get the other side of the guesthouse almost finished as well.
It felt like we lived two or three days for every one and now the end of the refurbishment is in sight…and we can finally start thinking about painting our house.
I didn’t have to search very far online to find that Paddington Bear episode that accurately represented my DIY skills.
It’s the one where he tries to level a wobbly table by cutting a little bit off each leg in turn until the table is practically level with the floor.
And that’s pretty much what happened with the guesthouse.
First I cleaned the tile roof with a power washer (the early dice with death) and then turned its jets to the walls to clean off a layer or two of paint.
The more I washed, the more came off, and before long it was down to the original plaster and all the cracks had been opened up into caves and I had to re-plaster the whole thing.
See what I mean about mission creep?
We painted outside and inside which is a blur of scaffolding, tape and rollers…but then the windows looked oh so old and dark and wooden.
“I spray with car paint,” said our friend Richard (whose impressively white glossy woodwork has defended against sun and salt for years) and so began a big adventure with paint hardeners, spray guns and compressors.
An adventure which continues to this day…and hopefully not for much longer.
Egged on by Ana we turned the spray guns to the tiles, the kitchen cabinets and the furniture…but obviously in a subtly different colour.
Encouraged by overoptimism, hindered by a deep-seated inability to know how much is possible in days that only last for 24 hours, and left shy of a deadline by the continuance of COVID…we are…where we are.
But it looks beautiful.
And once I get the windows back in and the tiling done, and the furniture finished…etc, etc…it will be ready to welcome our next round of guests/helpers.
Alan and Marge went above and beyond the call of holiday duty with their prepping and painting, strimming and scrubbing and generally taking our definition of work up to a new level.
And so we reciprocated with a tight schedule of beach and restaurant visits…ticking off the top ten (or so) of our bit of Alentejo.
We began with beer and barbecue: porco preto (black pork) in Ana’s soy sauce marinade with a starter of fresh oysters.
Our first beach day was a rock climb which the brilliantly belligerent Margery managed to get down and back up again despite only having one working knee.
The secret beach comes in a package deal with Ana’s famous sandwiches and low tide led us to the other two hidden beaches. We’re not telling you where they are.
We feasted at our favourite local restaurant O Sacas and as we arrived there was much excitement about the fish they’d precured and saved for us.
It was a giant wrasse, easily enough for four, and chef and owner Silvia came from the kitchen to tell us it was her favourite fish.
We popped into the monthly São Teotónio Market to think wicker lampshades and then ate Ana’s duck rice; got as far as Almograve beach bar; and gorged on the dressed crab at A Chaminé.
We walked to the Algarve through a river, went off-road to reach a fantastic clifftop restaurant near Carrapateira and even called on Donna Paula in Monchique for a wild boar (wild boar) feast. We’re not telling you where that it either.
Then there was Daniel’s curry, Marge’s squid and a literal embarrassment of riches on the wine front (on the basis that when I go to the recycling today I will be embarrassed about how many bottles there are).
Alan’s newly discovered love of medronho was suitably requited.
We submerged ourselves in the most wonderful conversations about the many years that have passed since I was a young prop forward and Alan was the Northern and Northumberland coach.
We heard the story of how the former sheep farmer came to coach the Indian national rugby team, leading to friendships, lavish weddings and Sri Lankan adventures.
Of his years maintaining Hadrian’s Wall trail, their amazing farmhouse conversions and Marge’s financial advisor awards.
We talked through heat pumps and building construction, solar panels and water treatment plants.
See what I mean about fitting two or three days into every one?
As the mist started to lift out of Vale Das Estrelas this morning I pondered how wonderful it is to reconnect with old friends after so long on the road lurching from country to country and story to story.
It’s why we came back to Europe – to be closer to friends and family – and to have home where we can welcome people, learn new things and share what we discover.
And after this week, with an end to the guesthouse refurbishment now in sight, we can start thinking about the next thing on the to do list.
Our big project has been slowly progressing in the background with engineers’ drawings being finished, quantities being surveyed and builders being approached.
It’s August when little gets done here as the country goes on holiday, but hopefully we can soon start building our lodge and our little business.
Before they left Alan and Marge said there had been one little problem all week with the lighting in the guesthouse…there were no light bulbs.
I was horrified, but they simply said it was even easier to see the Milky Way and the wonderful star-scape with no lights.
That’s way, way more than half full, that’s the Gledsons, and they’re an inspiration.
Marge & I have been delighted to have been two tiny stars in your amazing galaxy.Fantastic hospitality, special times with great friends.
A grand weekend read, as usual - since foreign travel is fraught with Covid hurdles and testing inconveniences, this is deffo the next best thing........thoroughly whetting ones appetite to visit once restrictions dissipate into history - Bring it on!!!