And the making of a Ta-da! list
What a difference a week makes.
The words from last week’s despatch, paragraph two, have been echoing in my head all week.
“We’re finally getting to grips with the day-to-day basics” I wrote, and right on cue, along came the first Atlantic storm and all control slipped away like a bald tyre on a muddy track.
It’s good to remember – after a long summer of endless sunshine – just how precarious our power/overall situation can be.
During four full days of cloud I was spinning all the plates while juggling fire clubs...just to keep the lights on and the water running for us and our friends staying in the guesthouse.
Under cloudy skies the solar batteries needed charging more often than a one year old iPhone…and the petrol backup price is sky high.
The generator has developed an annoying tendency of overloading itself into “passive mode” which involves continuing to run but not charging the batteries.
All the petrol consumption with none of the benefits: it would be nice if it would tell us.
I turned on the gas heaters, confident they’d be tickety-boo, only to encounter an immediate error message.
“Nooooooooooooo” came my muffled cry from the insulation-laden boiler room as my head filled with a montage of flashbacks from the two months we spent without hot water last winter.
That had been a nightmare of incomprehensible German error messages (I mean, do you know the difference between a Verbrennungsluftgebläse and a Rückschlagklappe?)
The solution involved a couple of key interventions (thanks Richard), German e-Bay, a metal machinist and Guido’s dogged determination not to give up.
While I should have been at WebSummit in Lisbon, I was battling just to keep the lights on…and that’s a humbling thing.
It was Groundhog Day in Vale das Estrelas.
No power means no borehole pump to fill up the water tanks, no washing machine and extremely selective oven, toaster and electric coffeemaker use (always separately, never together).
Rain is long-overdue and very welcome – particularly for Medronho Jorge who can finally start picking some fat little red fruit to ferment for his booze – but the rainwater collecting barrel didn’t even fill up as I’d put it in the wrong place.
Then the road started to get muddy and slippy and those flashbacks started reoccurring.
And then the internet went down: power cut on Monchique mountain.
With rain came wind…and trouble for the new car-covering sails which were badly installed by Matthew and I over days of head-scratching and geometrical debate concluding with the random drilling of holes and screwing of hooks.
Garfunkel the tough nightguard dog with the scary bark switched into “Ferdinand The Bull Mode” and was petrified by its flapping sound.
He barked at them every half hour through the night and they forces him to sleep in the wet building sand pile, most of which he would shake off his fur and into the house every morning at the end of his shift.
A terrible sails manager, one might say.
Or perhaps he didn’t like our sail’s pitch, one could add.
Woo-hoo! It’s November! Welcome to winter…
But this winter I have one thing in my favour: experience.
And this was just a little wake-up call of what’s to come.
The temperatures are still firmly in double figures and we have swum in the sea three times this week (it’s warmer in the Atlantic than it was in July!)
While this litany of disaster sounds bad, I’ve been quietly plotting and scheming all summer and knowing how long everything takes here in Alentejo got at least a few ducks/wild boars in a row.
So although I am still pretty rubbish at all this, I’m a little more prepared.
I might have poor tool etiquette and spend more time looking for a screwdriver than I do for my reading glasses (a long time), but I now have knowledge and I now have solutions.
First the water heater: I quickly saw the water in and out pipes were closed as Guido was mid-project and with a couple of twists the water was flowing and the heater was heating.
Secondly, I worked out what the generator’s flaw, managed the power successfully with minimum petrol and made sure we didn’t run out of water.
Thirdly – and most importantly – the storm passed, the sun came out, and great things started happening…
The wonderful local freguesia (parish council) came up trumps and a lovely man with a big grading machine appeared as if by magic and levelled our road!
The brilliant Guido put the finishing touches to the salamadra heating systems and Hey Presto! we have wood-fired room and water heaters in our house and the guesthouse. Boom! A backup.
The fabulously efficient Carlos from the construction materials shop delivered a 1000 litre water tank for me to plumb into the gutters to collect even more rainwater and – Hocus Pocus! – a few tonnes of tufna road gravel to lay over the beautifully flattened hillside road.
Solar Iain has some new panels in stock – Abracadabra! – we’ll have a much more efficient way of harvesting a weak winter sun in just a few short weeks.
And – Alakazam! – landscaper Carlos received his much-awaited new digger and will be back to finish off the lake clean-up work on Monday.
OK, so I have some more maths to do on the sails, lots of wood to chop and various half-finished projects to wrap up inside and outside, but life feels good.
Then there’s the podcasts, the journalism, the writing, the reading…
In the year since I started writing this blog we’ve come a long way – there’s still a lot to do, but as our fabulous guests this week put it: “it’ll never be finished – just enjoy it.”
Therese and Anthony (and Duncan and Hedda) brought us encouragement, advice, enthusiasm and loved our beach tours of this wonderful wild west coast of Portugal…even when it was raining.
“You need a to do list, but also a ta-da! List,” Therese told me. While I might not tick everything off, reflecting on what I did achieve in each day will really help.
“And three golden hours” to focus, she added, from experience working on her PhD.
Now it’s darker earlier and we sometimes discuss whether it’s too early to go to bed, a 5am start might not just be possible, but could be just what I need.