Portelas – moving – 21% – please do not switch off

There is very little happening on the Madeleine McCann front at the moment. I am currently working hard to get us moved out of Luz and into Portelas, just north of Lagos.

My better half is struggling with a domestic issue in Inglaterra, so has a flight planned ‘home’, plus is quite possibly suffering from gallstones, which may require keyhole surgery.

Hopefully, you will understand that my priorities do not involve Madeleine at this point in time.

We have to be out of Luz by the end of August. I intend to be up and active again on this blog by then. But please bear with me while we install a new location and reconfigure.

Kindly come with me and join us in our new home in Portelas.

Madeleine – Luz Tour #6

Luz Tour #6 took place on 1st May and 2nd May 2017, just before the 10th anniversary. It was with a UK press member, Michael Havis. I was somewhat apprehensive, given that I had already been flame-grilled by a UK tabloid that had never spoken to me in any way, shape, or form. Things went better this time round, and I consider I received a much more balanced evaluation.

We met up at a hotel in the west of Luz, had a chat for a few minutes, then headed into Luz on foot.

Our first stop was at Rua das Flores. I wanted to show why it made sense for the McCanns to haul rubbish out of their rental villa by car, hence the stinky boot story. The bins are at the entrance/exit to the urbanisation, not easy to get to on foot, but chuck a plastic bag full of rubbish in the boot and everything makes perfect sense. Including a stinky boot.

Off we headed down Rua 25 de Abril to look at the place where Operation Grange dug up the mound. Visitors seem surprised by the size of it. The key details pass them by. It is an integral part of the Luz one-way system. There were two nearby restaurants which opened in 2007, though whether they managed it by May 2007, I don’t know.

Critical point #1 is the statement of Kirsty Louise Maryan. She was up a hill in Luz with two other nannies in the early hours of 4 May 2007 when they encountered Barrington Godfrey Norton, who was sleeping rough in a Ford Escort van. The only place I know of in Luz up a hill where people park camper vans overnight is this mound. I don’t have confirmation from any of the 4 people involved in this encounter that it happened on the mound. It is simply the only place that fits.

We walked through much of central Luz and arrived at the Ocean Club. I was becoming very tired. I took Mr Havis part of the way along the short route between the Tapas reception area and the Ocean Club night crèche. Along the way we saw that the adults-only swimming pool had no water in it. The next day we would find that the indoor pool was also empty of water. Basically, the Ocean Club is dead.

Near the adults-only pool, the short route goes up half a dozen steps, then it goes down a large number on the other side, and I didn’t want to do that, so we parted and Mr Havis continued exploring on his own. It seems he ended up on the sea front for a meal.

He liked the café enough that we met up there at lunchtime the next day, and it was packed. The visitors included large Portuguese groups, presumably down from Lisbon, extending the Labour Day holiday.

On the sea-front promenade on the way to the café, I had been accosted by a charity collector. This brings my encounters with charity collectors in Luz to 6. 4 of these have been calls to my residence, and each of these I would consider suspect. The other 2 have been in busy public areas of Luz, and both of these I consider genuine. Mr Havis was relieved to hear I considered the promenade charity collector to be genuine, as he had made a donation on his journey to the café.

I explained the story about the alleged tunnels and O Pouço to Mr Havis, so he asked if we could have a look, and we did. Then it was back to the front for the renovated Paraíso, where the Tapas 7 went on 3 May 2007, the market stalls where Gerry bought sunglasses on the McCanns trip to the beach, and up Rua Praia da Luz.

This street has at least two components in the Madeleine story.

John Ballinger apparently lives on this street. I knew that previously, but what I didn’t know before was that he appeared on the Sky 10th anniversary special. He explained to roadworks that were open on the night of 3 May, and from his photos, he appears to be the source for a picture in the press. Mr Ballinger said he had reported the roadworks to the police, which implies at that time he was of the opinion it was a missing child who woke and wandered, rather than an abduction.

The other feature on Rua Praia da Luz is the Duke of Holland restaurant/bar. It was taken over and has since closed down, but in 2007 it was run by June and Paul Wright. When the news was made public on 3 May, one of the pair immediately joined the search for Madeleine, while the other closed the Duke later, then got involved in the search. After this they were checked re whether Robert Murat was around apartment 5A that evening, as they knew Mr Murat and could recognise him. Despite returning to the vicinity of 5A several times during searches, Mr Murat had not been seen.

At the top of the beach road we turned left on Rua Direita and headed SW. This also has a number of items of interest on it.

First, the roadworks in the files were being done on this street.

Then there is the Luz Sporting Club. This is one of two places in Luz I suspect Sr Euclides Monteiro may well have been on that evening. His widow has said he was at home in Portelas (about 15 minutes drive from Luz) on 3 May 2007, composing a poem on his computer. I suspect he was in Luz, with friends, watching the big game. There were lots of places in Luz to watch the football that night, but only two where the predominant language was likely to be Portuguese and where the predominant culture was likely to be Portuguese. So Mr Havers took a photo of the club for his stock.

The we went to the Ocean Club reception. Things have changed somewhat with Madeleine’s kids club no longer there, and the indoor swimming pool in disuse.

I didn’t fancy the large flight of steps on the short route used by the McCanns, so we opted for a slightly longer route that is set up for wheelchair users, hence there are no stairs. This is probably the way the nannies moved the children from the kids club to the Tapas zone because it avoids a steep flight of stairs and it is ideally suited to Sammy Snake, the preferred way of getting the kids to walk together.

As it so happens, this goes between Fiji Palms block and Casa Liliana. Fiji Palms was the location of the Carpenter family. Casa Liliana was the home of Robert Murat and his mother Jenny. This is the approximate point at which Stephen Carpenter and Robert Murat met on the morning of 4 May, when Mr Murat learned what was going on, and he went to block 5 to offer his services as an interpreter.

We then headed to the Tapas reception, using the same semi-circular route taken by the Carpenters when they left the Tapas zone on 3 May.

Mr Havis was being pressed by his editor to file at least one story by his editor while he was still in Luz, so he wanted a photo to go with it. This is the one he picked.

After 2 days of Luz Tour #6, I was very tired physically. Mr Havis was going to head back to his hotel, apparently to converse with a colleague. I had just enough gas in the tank to walk home. We did not discuss what either of us would be doing on the 10th anniversary.

I have no idea how Mr Havis spent most of his day on 3 May 2017. I decided that I only had the capacity left for a stab at one trip into Luz, so I picked the 10th anniversary ceremony at St Vincent.

There I bumped into a contact from AFP from Luz Tour #5. He was back down after another 3 hour trip from Lisbon, so he has more stamina than I have.

As it happens, I took the extremely grainy photo of Mr Havis with Reverend Haynes Hubbard that appeared in the UK press.

And yes, I missed the chance to introduce myself to Mr Martin Brunt of Sky TV. He, and the Sky team, looked like they were working their socks off.

Madeleine – weather station Luz

I am in the process of conducting a practical experiment in the run-up to the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance. It is weather station Luz.

I started this at the beginning of Nov 2016, with a simple aim. I wanted to check how well the weather in Luz correlates with the weather as logged at Faro to the east and Sagres to the west. If there is a high degree of correlation, it means the historical weather logs can be used as an accurate description of weather in Luz around 3 May 2007. And if not, it becomes clear that positing a connection on these records does not stand up to scrutiny.

In the beginning, I was collecting data at 12.37pm. This was the time of day when the sun was at its highest over Luz, giving me an accurate indication of due south.

Portuguese time is identical to UK time in winter and in summer, and the clocks go forward and back at precisely the same time. To all intents and purposes, weather station Luz is on UK time.

In winter, the sun is due south of Greenwich at 12 mid-day. Luz is roughly 8° west of Greenwich. The Earth rotates at 15° per hour. So the sun is due south of Luz at 8/15ths of an hour after mid-day.

Inserting accurate figures, the sun marks due south at 12.37pm in Luz in winter. When we move to Portelas, we are heading somewhat east, at the sun will be due south at 12.35pm.

In summer, these times become 1.37pm in Luz and 1.35pm at our new home.

The data I am collecting is temperature in the shade, wind direction, wind speed (including whether it is subject to gusts) and cloud or haze cover.

When the clocks moved forward, I realised I could improve my experiment by collecting data at 10pm, to see how well evening weather in Luz matches up with the Faro and Sagres weather stations.

A number of significant things have emerged from this experiment.

The weather at 1.37pm is not the best predictor of weather at 10pm on the same day. It can be raining at lunchtime and dry in the evening, or more often vice-versa. The most significant pattern change is that the wind has dropped on nearly every evening. Even when there is a medium wind with gusts at lunchtime, a typical evening pattern is very gentle breeze with very few gusts.

Yesterday, we had a bit of an oddity at lunchtime. Over the land, the sky was 100% clear. Over the sea, the sky was completely cloudy. I logged the 1.37pm temperature as 27°C in the shade, much higher than it has been since my records began. I suspect most of the moisture in the earth of the Algarve has already been burned off, explaining the lack of clouds over the land, whereas the high temperature was evaporating water from the sea to form clouds.

There is one factor in this experiment that I have not emulated. Luz is much like an inverted half-cone, with the sea at the bottom replacing the missing half. My weather station Luz is at the top of the cone i.e. at the top of a hill network that nearly surrounds Luz. Apartment 5A is much closer to the bottom than the top, and that is going to lead to a difference in weather re wind speed. I need to take some measurements close to block 5 around 10pm, as 3 May 2017 approaches.

I have not yet cross-checked my measurements against those of Faro and Sagres. I don’t want to introduce potential bias by tweaking my measuring routine and method. I do not expect to understand the value of weather station Luz until the time we move from Luz to Portelas. At the moment, this looks very much like being after 3 May 2017, as the builders have not yet started on our slice of the house.

Once we have moved, I intend to repeat this experiment in Portelas. This is mere curiosity and has nothing to do with the Madeleine McCann story. Portelas is a fair way inland compared to Luz, and I would like to know how well weather station Portelas correlates with the official stations at Faro and Sagres.

Algarve – GNR sweep April 2017

Our car got arrested by the GNR last week.

We found out our fate on Friday. A trip to Portimão on the orders of the Algarve GNR sealed the future of our aged VW Touran. Here are the facts and figures.

Because we have had the car in Portugal for more than 6 months, we got fined €375.

We have had the car valued locally, and the best offer was €1,000. The car is worth more, but we cannot get more than a grand for it.

We were told that as we had semi-Portuguesed it by getting it taxed here, MOTd here and having Portuguese residencia, we were getting fined at the same rate as Portuguese nationals. If we had not done these things, the fine would have been €8,000 (eight thousand).

On top of the fine, we got 3 options as to what we can do with the car. Option 1 is to drive it out of Portugal and keep it out of Portugal. It boils down to keeping the car for 6 months here per year and 6 months in another country. This option was dramatic. We would have to inform them when we were driving the car out, which border crossing we were using, get a form stating all this, and get the form stamped at the border to confirm the car’s deportation.

Option 2 is to pay the import tax to bring the car into the country. This appears to be calculated on the value of the car at new, not what it is worth as a 12 year-old. To import it, the tax would be €10,000 (ten thousand). On a car that cost us €6,000 and has a resale value of €1,000, that does not make sense.

Option 3 is to hand the car over to Portugal. The government can put Portuguese plates on it for free. We were told the car would then be offered to a school, to a bombeiros station, or to a GNR station, to see if one of these units could use it for service provision. However, it appears the requirements on CO2 emissions are to be tightened up around Portugal, and a 12-year old diesel is unlikely to survive the cull.

We are going to hand the car over as neither option 1 nor option 2 make sense. The car is LHD, so it must have been built for the continent, but someone had re-badged it for the UK. As to whether it gets scrapped or not, time will tell. I would rate it as having a value of 6,000 to 10,000 euros with Portuguese plates, so I think it will simply disappear into the Portuguese system.

The trip to Portimão was revealing. At every other roundabout on the N125 there were 4 or 5 GNR cars, with queues of 2 to 6 cars with foreign plates. It is difficult to get straight information about what is going on. One story we were told is that the crack down is because the UK has triggered BREXIT, but frankly, that sounds weak. All cars with foreign plates are being stopped, not just UK ones. Then there is the emissions angle, which makes slightly more sense. However, it looks like the GNR are being used as tax collectors. If our car was new, we would have little choice but to stump up an import tax. No doubt a lot of those trapped on the N125 yesterday will have to pour a lot of shekels in Portugal’s coffers.

The impact on us is not financial. The car was getting old, and a replacement was under very active consideration. It’s the timing which is unfortunate. We have moved our largest items to Portelas already. We were building our VW into the move because it could swallow 98% of what we have left. Now we have lost that load-carrying capacity we have a problem. But don’t worry, we have a plan B. In fact, we have two plan Bs.

We are moving to Portelas.

Latest breaking news. It seems we can flog it for 1,000€, and the buyer regularly transports arrested cars out of Portugal in a totally legal manner through a legal shipper. We are now awaiting news of when the vehicle carrier will be in Portugal for its next shipment.

Madeleine – go straight to jail

It was a bit of a roller-coaster day today.

Yesterday, our gas went out, so no showers and no cooking on our hob. We had a tank of gas delivered, and things seemed better. The hob was working but the water boiler was not. Early this morning I fiddled around with this a that, and oh joy, our hot water boiler was restored to life. Hot water.

Then it was time for an appointment in Lagos. But our car was ambushed by the GNR at the pineapple roundabout in Luz. The message was that the GNR have been instructed to crack down on cars with foreign number plates that have not been through the import process in Portugal. In a nutshell, if you run a foreign car for 6 months plus in Portugal it is subject to import tax. That tax appears to be based on not the value of the car when you imported it, but the value it had when new.

So, we have a cheap and cheerful old workhorse, but we are going to get stuck with a bill based on its value when it was pristine 10 or 12 years ago. Oh, goodie.

In our move to Portelas, a lot of what we did when the kids moved in was based on having our work-beast around until we moved. You can take out the rear seats and then there is a cavernous space for large objects. That carrying capacity has just vanished.

Our car has been arrested. It was not permitted to pass go. It had to go straight to jail. We could not pick up £200. OK, the car is confined to our drive and we cannot take it anywhere.

There is of course a plan B. If one did not have a plan B in Portugal, one would not survive. A small antique runaround is now sitting on our drive. We own a trailer, so the larger items that remain will go across to Portelas on that.

As to the import charges, we will find out tomorrow what they will be before we decide what happens to our faithful steed. We have already been offered cash for it. There is an option to make it ‘disappear’ in Portugal. We can also simply drive it out of the country to relatives across the border. One rather odd ‘opportunity’ to avoid paying the import tax is that we can hand it over to the authorities. Then, without paying import tax, the authorities will give it to a school, to the bombeiros or to a GNR officer.

Guess what is going to happen?

Portelas – the joys of country life

The kids managed to move all their goods and chattel to our new residence in Portelas on Friday, 31 Mar 2017, aided by 3 helpers. There was the usual fun and games. When they tried using the taps down stairs, water leaked out of pipes in the garage, where most of their stuff is stored. Luckily, with builders working on-site the leak was quickly stopped.

The house has been sitting empty for a long time, and apart from a total clean inside, there was a major issue with the patio outside the downstairs kitchen. The overhanging roof was a perfect place for birds to nest, which meant the patio itself was covered in guano. Our daughter spent a couple of hours making sure all of this was cleaned up, as she has two young children and that patio is, for the moment, their safe outdoor play area.

Then on Saturday our son-in-law´s mother flew from the UK to the Algarve, bringing a friend. The mother visits several times a year, and rents a well-appointed flat in Estrela da Luz. It’s very handy because it is close to all of the amenities in Luz.

The weather in this end of the Algarve has now turned very pleasant indeed, so a barbecue was scheduled for Sunday 2 Apr 07. What we think of ‘our’ ‘small’ cleaned-up patio was to be the location. A total of 9 adults (family plus helpers in the move), 2 young children, the dog and the barbecue.

I got an invitation to the barbecue but I declined. I was still feeling rough with a cold, and I was coughing and sneezing, so It was better not to spread the infection about.

Apart from transporting 4 adults to attend this do, we sent over some old unwanted CDS, some string, and scissors. Two of the ladies put the men to shame by clambering up step-ladders to hang 8 or 9 CDs from the beams above the roof. Birds don’t like the movement or the reflection, so it keeps them off. I am told that after dark, the kitchen lights were reflecting off the twirling CDs, so we should have little further problem with bird guano on this patio.

The day went well. The company was good. The weather was delightful. The littlies enjoyed racing toy cars on the patio. And then the tales emerged.

It seems that our neighbours on our east side did a bit of pig-butchering that Sunday morning. The squeals were reported as lasting for 8 or 9 minutes. This episode caused our grand-daughter to declare that if this happened once a week, she was becoming a vegetarian. A friend pointed out that a pig being butchered does not last 8 or 9 minutes, and the norm here is to slaughter 4 or 5 at one session, share them around the family, and stuff the ‘spare’ carcasses in a freezer.

Then came the second bit of the tale. It turns out the person who runs our local hostelry considers his first profession to be not hosting a café/bar, but being a butcher. Yikes, we know the local butcher!

We have gone from the artificial ex-pat bubble that is Luz to a fairly wealthy part of Portelas, but one which appears to be typically Portuguese. We are going to have to get used to bird guano and local slaughtering of pigs. These are the joys of country life!

Madeleine – M-Day 1 – restricted service

We are entering a couple of months when my normal focus on interesting-things-Madeleine is going to have to be restricted.

There are little annoying things buzzing around. Agora, estamos constipados. In Brazilian Portuguese, this would mean what it looks like, but being that we are in Portugal, it means that at the moment both of us have a cold, which is slowing us down a bit.

Today, Friday 31 Mar 2017 is M-Day 1. The kids (4 adults, 2 children, plus 1 dog) have to move out of Luz to Portelas. That means hiring a large van (not cheap!) and getting some friends to provide a lot of muscle power. We need to relocate most of their goods and chattel, and we need to move a heck of a lot of large items from our home to Portelas, to avoid another day of van hire and muscle power. Our ‘smaller’ items will then fit into our people carrier and our car trailer, and we can shift them bit by bit, as and when.

The builders are beavering away in Portelas, working on the middle and top layer, where the kids will reside. That is going to take another 2-3 weeks, so when they move today, their family is going to reside in the bottom layer temporarily, before the builders work on that part, and finally us oldies move into it. So the kids have another relocation, M-Day 2, from bottom layer to the top two in the offing. Oh joy!

The bottom layer is more than a bit cramped for 4 adults and two young children, plus a dog. So we have agreed to squeeze in our eldest grandchild to where we live in Luz now, until the builders are finished in the top two layers.

Now this grandson is a vegetarian. And since he is the only vegetarian in our family, he has had to learn to cook his own meals, and seemingly has become quite proficient at doing so. I have already challenged him to come up with a 3-course vegetarian meal consisting of his signature stater, main, and dessert, I intend to reciprocate while he is here, so I need to think about my 3-course signature veggie meal. It’s going to come in handy later, when all 8 of us are in the same house, because I would like to invite him to join us for the occasional meal together, and our new kitchen is ‘bijou’, so those particular dining occasions will be veggie only.

The other family event on the horizon is our ‘farewell’ party. At the moment, to allow the builders to change our lower level, we need to remain in our current location until end-May. That will be M-day 3. Apart from the cost of more rent, it means we can move across to Portelas at a more leisurely rate. More importantly, we have a swimming pool and a ‘posh’ garden here, whereas when we move we can’t have a pool and we will have a giant meadow, not a garden. So our farewell bash looks like being a pool and BBQ do in the garden.

The other non-Madeleine event I want to have a look at, given I will still be in Luz, is the 4th annual Luz triathlon, which should be around 25th April. I have been to the last two and for some reason my amateur photographs of this event attract (modest) world-wide attention. Whatever, I have an enjoyable day whilst topping up my vitamin D.

On the Madeleine front, two occasions spring to mind. In April, Martin Grime is scheduled to talk at an international conference on the use of dogs in specialised police work. This is to take place in a part of Spain that I happen to be fond of, and were it not for the fact that our family has to relocate in this period, I would cough up the money to have a holiday there and attend the conference.

And the other one is obviously the 10th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance. The schedule of building refurb in Portelas means that I will be in Luz on 3 May 2017. I am simply not sure how much time I will be able to devote to this anniversary. I don’t think this is important, because I treckon the media coverage will tell its own tale.

Due to the other priorities in our family life, the amount of time I can spend Madeleine-ing is likely to get severely restricted over April and May. Normal service should resume sometime in June 2017.