Portelas v Venus

This is a photo of our garden in Portelas, taken around dawn a few days ago.

Our land backs onto acres of farmland, then in in the distance on the hills sits a set of uninspiring blocks of flats. They are the orange blobby things on the horizon. The N125 from Lagos to Odiáxere runs just the other side of those hills.

The orange illuminating the flats comes from street lights. We also have orange street lights, but they are at the front of the house. Here, at the rear, we have kilometres of zero street lights before those flats. Not quite perfect darkness, but the best I have seen in my life.

And that is why I could use my little camera to take a photo of Venus, which is is the tiny white blob in the middle of the picture.

The larger orange layer is due to the fact that the sun was emerging from the horizon to our east. Probably at this time of year it is east-south-east, or similar. But as I am not an astronomer, I will not quibble.

Indeed, I had to look up on the Internet that the brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and Moon, was Venus. Otherwise I was just looking at a bright white blob. Now I know the blob as Venus.

I won’t be doing a great deal of astronomy. I don’t have the kit for it, and unfortunately I don’t have the eyes any more. But as this better than average view is now available, I might as well get some use out of it.


Madeleine v Algarve soil

Here is the second of two attempts to dig a hole in the Algarve by purely human effort.

On this occasion, the requirement was to dig a small channel to fit a tiny pipe to repair our irrigation system. We’ve got water, we’ve got pipes, we’ve got a garden and we have fruit trees. But the odd pipe is broken and needs to be replaced.

Bear in mind the June 2014 dig by Operation Grange in central Luz. That was fantasy. This is reality. It is a miniscule trench that was dug into soil which was heavily watered beforehand to soften it up.

This is roughly what you can dig by hand on the Algarve, based on a lot of sweat, a lot of time, and a lot of noise. A channel to fit a small irrigation tube.

This ‘trench’ was dug by someone who is – as young as Smithman – physically fit – and who had plenty of peace and quiet to muscle through it. The result is a channel where you can bury a miniscule pipe.

I still have not worked out a valid reason why Operation Grange dug up the Mound in June 2014. Not one.

Portelas – Os Cinco

We are now living in a relatively rural area of the Algarve, away from the coast and the cities. I have had a brief walk to scope the area, and it looks like most of the locals prefer Portuguese to English. So I need to improve my Portuguese, and I need to do it quickly.

Now I believe that learning a new language (or any subject) should be easy, fast and fun. My 6-year-old grandchild has been tasked by his school with reading a vast number of books in Portuguese this scholastic year, so here is my take on this challenge.

Os Cinco e o Colar de Pérolas. This is a children’s book from 1985, originally in French and then translated into Portuguese. If you are old enough, you will recognise it is a variant of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.

It is a book for children, so it is easy. It does not use complex words or complex ideas.

At 190 small pages, half of them comic-type illustrations, this book is fast. It is not the size of The Bible, Encyclopedia Britannica, or anywhere near the list of books my grandson is expected to read.

Is it fun? Well it is for me, because I can still think like a 6-year-old. Os Cinco e o Colar de Pérolas. The Five and the Necklace of Pearls. Novas Aventuras dos Cinco.

If you want a grown-up adventure, try this real-life story. My adult-but-young son started out for Lagos bus station at 11.30pm last night. That was 10 hours ago. There he got the 5 hour bus journey to Lisbon, then however he did it he got to the airport. And there he is waiting for his tin can to take off to cross the Atlantic. If it flies on time, he will depart in about two and a half hours from now, bound for the USA.

I don’t know how long his flight takes, but it is not direct. So he stops in the USA, waits, connects, and flies on. Where he then has whatever time it takes him to get to his destination.

The joys of being young. It Must Be Love, Love, Love.

Madeleine – septic tanks

My task one day had been finding out about the difference between a cesspit and a septic tank. The simplest answer seems to be that a cesspit is closed (it is just a big tank in the ground) but a septic tank is open (everything goes in, solids are trapped, liquids come out again). Both have to be drained.

Here is a photo of the land near our septic tank in Portelas.

Everything around it is the colour of straw, for the simple reason that it is straw. The house was empty for years and the grass grew to waist height. One of the local worthies got an industrial mower onto 3 neighbouring plots, including ours, and baled the crop as winter feed for GNR horses. The straw is what was left. It has not rained in many months so the grass is not re-growing.

The green circle of green grass in the photo is, I assume, where the fluid is allowed to drain from the tank. The grass looks healthy enough, despite the fact that the fluid contains liberal doses of bleach and clothes washing liquid. Maybe the large number of showers is diluting it enough to stop this from being a problem.

To empty the tank of solid waste, there should normally be a manhole cover, with vehicular access for a waste lorry. We appear to have neither of those. At the moment, it appears our tank was installed by a neighbour, but the work has not been completed. It requires a further €6,000 to install a pump. Presumably the pump is needed to pump solid waste from the tank to a mains sewage system, removing the need for a manhole cover and vehicular access.

But the norm would be a manhole cover, used for removal of solid waste.

What does this have to do with Madeleine McCann? As far as I can see, it reduces the likelihood of body disposal via a septic tank or cesspit. I know there was at least one case in the UK in which the body of a murdered woman was put into a cesspit. The police failed to find anything during a search of the property, until a neighbour told them there was a cesspit under the garage. The corpse had not dissolved, and presumably, the cesspit had not been drained since her death.

Whilst the cesspit/septic tank route would be available to a local with knowledge of such and the ability to lift up a manhole cover, it is not a viable body disposal or body concealment option for the McCanns or other members of the Tapas 9.

Portelas – 99 red balloons

We now live a few miles north of Lagos airport, so we get all of the folks going up in their little airplanes. It’s not a problem. Typically they are 500m high when they fly over our property, so we hear them but they are hard to see.

We seem to get very little wind here, but it is still the case that the planes tend to fly in early morning and late afternoon, when things are very still indeed.

Early this morning I set off towards our garden to collect bits and bobs that are ankle-turners, so that when the rain comes I will have a flat path. And this is what was flying in the distance.

It was heading south at a fairly rapid pace, and it was also descending quite quickly. It must have taken off to the north of us, and presumably someone came along to pick up the passengers and the balloon itself.

By that time, I was picking up builders’ rubble and petrified oranges. We will have a nice garden. It’s just going to take time and effort.

Luz Tour #7 – the trailer

Luz Tour #7 is in planning, but the logistics are not going to be easy. This visitor is coming from the Low Countries. I will spare you the details, but it is a marathon trek to get from start to finish. I happen to rank this person as one of the top 6 Madeleine McCann experts in the world, and on a personal basis, easy to get along with. As far as I am aware, the visit is mainly for some sunshine and a change of scenery, but there may be a window of opportunity to spend just a little time on Madeleine’s disappearance.

I am still unpacking in our new home in Portelas, and I’m nearly done with my stuff.

In the UK, the family priority is recuperation from surgery. There was a flight back here scheduled this coming Tuesday, but the recovery is not going well. It looks like a delay of at least a week, and then there will be more unpacking.

So the timing is tough, but one has to make hay while the sun shines. The weather here typically changes to rain around mid-October or November, so we also need to get our ‘meadow’ under control, before the rain transforms it to meadow-grass again.

My visitor is travelling in on Friday 15th September to Faro and flying out on Friday 22nd. As yet, I have no idea how much time we will get to spend together and we have already touched most of the important bases in Luz itself. However, the BBC Panorama programme turned up a few people-leads that remain to be checked out, in Luz and Lagos, so we might pursue that angle.

Portelas – the hay wain

If things seem a little quiet at the moment, that is because I am moving into Portelas. By that, I mean the dozens upon dozens of boxes are all here, and what I am doing is unpacking them and stacking the goods away. My bedroom is sorted. The rest of the house looks like a disaster zone.

My beloved is under the weather in England after a gallstone operation. This may be a blessing in disguise as it has saved us from arguing like cats and dogs over what goes where, and what gets chucked away. I simply decide, and that is the end of it.

Life here in the village is at the opposite extreme to life in Luz. Luz is 99% English. Portelas is 99% Portuguese.

I have met and spoken to one of my many new neighbours. On the plot next to ours they have built 4 separate houses for 4 separate generations, so just that lot will take quite a lot of getting used to.

The gentleman I talked to speaks little English, so my Portuguese is going to get a good work-out. This neighbour keeps a very small herd of goats. This seems to be mainly for goat’s cheese. But we discussed whether we might get a piece of goat around Christmas time. I am not a fan of roast chicken and Brussels sprouts, so I’m thinking of more like a Jamaican goat curry. Something quite different from the leftovers.

As well as the neighbours, the landscape is also totally different to Luz. I might as well be on a different planet. The view we have from the ‘front’ of our house is away from the main entrance. The kids upstairs face west, onto the ‘main’ road. We face east, onto sunrise and sunset.

Between us and the low hills in the distance, there are no streets, so there are no street lights. What this means is we get a stunning sunrise, particularly before dawn, when the sun backlights the hills to the east in fiery morning red. While in the evening the sun sets, and the sky goes through every shade of blue and purple that you can imagine.

I would love to take some photos just to show you a little bit of local life, because it is completely different to anything I have experienced in my life so far. Here’s where we hit a snag. I know that my pocket camera went into the packing. But I haven’t got a clue where it is now. I am sure it is here in our apartment, but I just don’t know whereabouts.

This post is titled Portelas – the Hay Wain. Wain simply means a waggon or cart. Today, the people who recently mowed our ‘meadow’ and baled the hay, turned up to collect the bales. This being Portugal, there was no phone call or appointment. The guys just drove onto our land with a truck, via a neighbour’s property. What they did was they scooped up all the bales of hay. Those bales came from our property, our neighbour to the right, who did not ask them to mow his meadow but was happy that they did, and our neighbour to the left. I don’t have his views so I can’t comment.

Our hay wain lorry was stacked to the sky with bales of hay. Have a look at the painting. Constable’s hay wain has no hay whatsoever. And the wain is in the middle of the river, going nowhere.

Now if you thought this was a gentle tale without a Madeleine McCann twist, you would be wrong. The man who mowed our meadow, baled the hay, and took it away looks after horses for a living. There is no real surprise here – horses plus horse food. But part of his livelihood is transporting GNR horses around the Algarve. So some of our hay will be fed to some of the GNR horses this winter.

We are doing our bit to support the Algarve GNR.