Monthly Archive for October, 2016


A large farmhouse down the road has been bought by a young French couple with a child on the way. Such houses are normally owned by retired expats. They are large, cold and draughty but have lots of room for grandchildren and space to insert a swimming pool. The natives usually can’t wait to get out of them and into a bungalow. But it turns out he’s an employee of EDF, the electricity provider, and this means he pays 10% of the price that the rest of us would be charged to heat the place.
A neighbour a couple of house down has a problem with his septic tank. Ours leaks sweetly out into the lawn and the only evidence is a patch of very lush grass. His erupts into a noisome bog that is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Money needs to be spent upon it and he is refusing to pay for it and says repairing it is the responsibility of the commune. An expert says a sewer should be laid along the back of the houses and we should all connect to it. Those whose systems work have the power to say ‘nuts’ and have done so. The power that is – on holiday at the moment – is going to issue some fierce legal thing to make the mucky neighbour sort things out himself. There’s little fall from his house to the bog. It must be possible to make it back up and leave him no choice.


Largely as a consequence of school holidays I’m home alone in the village. I have been told to be ready to defend it against nefarious visitors and ensure that I lock my door if I go out, something about which I am very lax. I have also to feed three extra dogs and a hamster.
I am told that one of the advantages of being an expat is that one can re-invent one’s past far away from those who could tell it otherwise. I don’t think I have met any such but I may just be rather naive. I know of three ex-members of the SAS, for instance, but they were trumped by a man I came across who had banged Bardot. I once had an encounter with Jackie Kennedy but it doesn’t compare.


In this part of France we moan about the plastic covering the fields in summer to grow melons. Where we stayed in Portugal is on the edge of a delightful dell, plunging down to a stream bordered by immense eucalyptus trees. Beyond that hectare after hectare is covered by estufas, plastic greenhouses growing raspberries and tomatoes that are tended by immigrants; most seemed from the Indian subcontinent or Nepal. We threaded our way between them and looked into one that was growing tomatoes. Inside in the stifling heat the workers wore goggles, masks and hazard suits. One of the greenhouses held shipping containers that had been turned into living accommodation. The growing medium is plastic bags filled with some material that allows the plants to root. Great dunes of used bags surrounded the greenhouses and these are fed into furnaces that provide heat in winter. It does not add to the aesthetics of the countryside or to outlook of the scattering of large houses, mostly owned by the rich from Lisbon. Another consequence is the decline of open country for the wildlife. When a fruit tree is ready to to be picked, our hosts are usually beaten to it by 20 or 30 azure-winged magpies that descend and strip it. They’re lovely birds, confined to this corner of Europe.
I erupted into a humdinger of a cold soon after we arrived, my first for a year. I’m told it had nothing to do with the flu jab I took a few days beforehand. The matriarch remains in hospital. Her kidneys work only if she is given a particular drug but it sends her blood pressure off the scale.


We’re in Portugal for a few days. The intention was to take the dogs, but then we discovered their rabies shots were out of date and decided not to risk it. The car was stopped by the police a few hundred yards before arriving at our destination and they went through our papers very carefully and I suspect the dogs would have been confiscated and turned into sausages had they been on board. Another complication would have been our host’s new dog, a 20 week-old deerhound, already the size of a Shetland pony and bouncy with it. Poonkie would have made a good afternoon snack for it.
We had booked accomodation en route with the dogs in mind and we ended up in the midst of maze of dirt tracks on a farm with a block of half a dozen rooms attached to a barn where the farmer made wine; his wife ran the accomodation. We were the only guests; nobody spoke anything but Spanish and communication was possible only though her iPhone translate. They couldn’t have been sweeter people.
The lack of cars on the motorways of the Iberian peninsula remains startling. In both Spain and Portugal one can have the road to oneself for mile after mile. One puts one’s foot down since going too fast does not seem to be dangerous in the absence of other traffic. The limit in both Spain and Portugal is 120kph. I was dozing peacefully at 160 and was passed by the Guardia Civil who didn’t spare us a glance.


The matriarch went clunk at a family dinner a day or two ago. She was initially thought to be dead but she perked up a little by the time the ambulance came by and was whisked back to hospital. The village is in a sombre mood since hers is a presence round which the community revolves.
The chateau had its first viewers, a young couple said to be representing Americans along with a brace of experts. The maire was in charge of them and he came back gloomy. The experts said €2m to bring it back to life and who would spend that when there are plenty of chateaux in the region for less than that in decent condition? Apparently the building could be made watertight for €10k but what would be the point? In 20 years time the same economics would apply. It could end up being dismantled for its bits but there would still be a substantial ruin left behind that would quickly return to being an overgrown folly opposite our terrace.
Since its peak – in my time – last November, the £ has lost 20% of its value against the €. I can recall Harold Wilson being derided when he claimed that his 14% devaluation half a century ago did not mean that the pound in your pocket had lost value. It did, but long term. For expats here, this depreciation is being brutal.