Just a few days after New Year is my birthday. As the day approached Shirley asked me what I would like and I answered straight away… Electricity! We had been well over a month using only 12v and solar power, which works fine for the majority of the van’s needs but there are a couple of things that are a challenge. We can’t, for instance, charge our electric toothbrushes, even with the new inverter and charging my laptop takes a lot of power so we can only do it when the sun is strong. With electricity we can run the van systems from the mains, have whizzy toothbrushes and we can watch TV on the laptop without having it run out of power just before the end of a drama. A simple request, or so it seems, was fulfilled by four nights at Turiscampo, the poshest campsite in the Algarve. We had a serviced pitch with our own water and waste dump, access to an indoor pool, sports, a spa, an entertainment programme and a lovely restaurant.
Of course, the lovely Shirley gave me far more than my requested electricity, beginning with a round of golf on Espiche Golf course. I’m not a good golfer but I love it with a kind of crazed ambivalence. Sometimes I play with gusto and get some great surprises when the ball goes where I want it to and sometimes I cry, swear and huff my way round the course playing, as Shirley would say in the Scottish vernacular, “like a coo wi’ a gun” or as one of her former golfing buddies used to say “I couldnae hit a coo on the arse wi’ a banjo!” I must admit that the ambivalence was strong about playing the Espiche course. Portugal is a famous destination for golfers and most of the courses are of championship standard with championship prices to go with them. Undaunted by my worries, Shirley set off on her bike a couple of days before my birthday to find out what was on offer at Espiche. Despite her electric bike with all its added fire power, the ride up a very steep hill to the course was a serious challenge, so having booked us a round for the next day she came back to say we would take the van up the hill.
Arriving at the course we parked up and while I settled the dogs down for a long sleep, Shirley went to book in at the pro shop and collected our golf buggy. She was gone for a long time and I started to wonder if they had decided we weren’t posh enough for the club, only to see her rattling down the hill to the carpark at breakneck speed. True to form she had got lost coming back to the van and had ended up at the 10th hole, only to be saved by a couple of Brits who drove their buggy in front of her until she could see the van. After this inauspicious start we got ourselves and our clubs settled into the buggy and made our way to the first. I won’t bore you with a rundown of our game but suffice to say, having neither of us driven a golf buggy before, we had a lot of fun hurtling around the course. We laughed a lot, played moderately ok, given that parts of the course were very difficult and made friends with the Dutch couple who were playing in front of us and losing balls like it was going out of business. It’s surprising how friendly you can get with people when you’re raking round in bushes with them, even if you are secretly thinking, ‘Why not give up and use another ball? You’re holding up the entire course!’ They were lovely people and seemed genuinely surprised every time one of them lobbed their ball into the undergrowth. It did however make me feel quite positive about my own game. It was a great day out that made for a very special birthday treat. Thank you Shirl!
Back at the site we booked into the restaurant for an evening of Portuguese buffet and live Fado music. Fado is traditional Portuguese folk music, a style we’re not familiar with but we’re always up for a new experience. To be honest, I was less than hopeful, having heard clips of Fado on the internet and being less than inspired, however the reality proved to be truly lovely. The food was excellent, the restaurant warm and welcoming and the musicians outstanding. The singer was a young woman who walked between the tables singing directly to the diners. If we’d known this in advance we might have hidden in a corner but the reality was delightful. She sang with such feeling, that despite our near zero grasp of Portuguese, we could almost sense what the songs meant. It was a fabulous end to a really lovely birthday.
Back at the Lagos Motorhome Parking the next morning we were joined by Mary, whose partner Jacqui had returned to Scotland because she isn’t due to retire for another year and she’d used up all her leave allowance. We felt truly sorry for her, flying back to the cold and the rain. Mary, back to being a solo motorhomer, tucked in beside us and we made plans to extend the birthday celebrations together. First outing, as always, involved food and we made our way to Lazy Jacks for dinner. Here we were treated to great food, glasses of wine that you could swim in and desserts of killer proportions. Live music was playing and bit by bit the other diners got up to dance. We managed to stay in our seats but quite a bit of shoulder dancing went on as we munched our way through our food.
The next afternoon we set off to the marina to take a boat trip to the caves along the shore line. We’d spoken to Sonia, the salesperson standing on the prom, several days before and had been persuaded by her excellent sales technique that the weather, the tides and the swell would be perfect for such a trip for many days to come. She was ridiculously optimistic regarding the fact that our dogs would also love this trip and we should bring them with us. Fortunately, common sense overrode this notion and we left them in the van to sleep the afternoon away. What a good thing we did! Boo dislikes any surprises and is a creature who prefers to live his life according to a routine. He also doesn’t like sudden movements, loud noises and strange sensations and is inclined to scream as though in agony when something brushes against his tail. He would have hated this trip with a passion.
We waited outside Lazy Jacks in the sunshine, enjoying a small beer and listening to live jazz – later we were thankful it had been a small beer. Before long the skipper appeared and guided us, along with two Frenchmen, to the boat… a large open dinghy with a powerful outboard motor. As we left the marina Mary pointed out that there was nothing to hold onto. I found a ridge under the seat and held onto it for a bit, reassuring myself that should the ride get a bit bouncy I could stay in my seat. Little did I know.
We motored down the inlet in the sunshine at a very gentle speed, forgetting that this is the rule in a marina and it meant nothing in terms of what was to come when we hit the open sea. Puttering out of the inlet we met reality. Large waves and speed! We bounced along, shrieking and giggling, getting the occasional soaking as the boat cut through the waves towards the rocks along the shoreline.
Here the skipper began to describe the shapes of the rocks, amusing us with the names they had been given before frightening the bejesus out of us when he drove the boat, still bouncing like a cork, in through the entrance to one of the caves, driving it close to the ferocious looking outcrops. I muttered to Mary that I hoped he knew what he was doing but my comment was lost in the squeal from the passengers as he gunned the engine to get us out of there again.
This was the marine equivalent of a fairground ride but without the safety harnesses. We were out for an hour and returned a bit damp, slightly shaken but happy. It was a great experience but not one to try if you suffer from sea sickness. Sonia was standing on the marina when we got back laughing slightly nervously. “You enjoyed it yes?”
The life of Boo
Boo, our black poodle, is not your average dog. Sometimes we call him neurotic, sometimes grumpy and often we watch him with a kind of worried concern because the truth is he’s ageing and he’s not doing it gracefully. From being a tiny 1.5 kilo pup he has always been a bit precious, trying to make sure that everyone he loves is in the same place and doing his best to imitate a Border Collie, rounding us up and objecting when someone gets up and leaves the room. As he’s got older, he’s had some health problems that include a painful spinal condition that is treated with strong pain killers. These drugs make his already strange view of reality even stranger and at certain times of the day he is definitely spaced out. Poppy, on the other hand, despite being a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle, is definitely more cocker and just lives life with relaxed gusto. You can step on Poppy and she’ll just pull her foot away, possibly squeaking a bit if it’s sore but forgetting about it straight away. I should add at this point that we never do this on purpose but in the small confines of a motorhome accidents do happen. Boo, always on the lookout for potential disasters, screams when someone’s foot lands within six inches of him. The contrast between them is very pronounced and the only things they share in common are curly coats and being part of the species called dog.
Evenings have become a particular trial for poor old Boo. There is a short bench seat beside the door that Boo has adopted as his own, causing him real grief and not a little resentment if Poppy sits on it. On the other side there is a small L shaped sofa where Poppy, forever keen to avoid conflict with Boo, tends to settle down to sleep. In the evenings Shirley and I often play games and I sit beside Poppy, facing Shirley who sits in the turn around driver’s seat so that we’re at opposite sides of the table. Poppy’s position puts her at easy reach for me and so, as we play, she gets an occasional tummy rub or neck scratch as she lies peacefully beside me. Boo is outraged by this apparent injustice and most evenings he wanders up and down the van moaning softly. We can’t reach his seat from our playing positions so he doesn’t get the tummy rubs that he believes are his right. We’ve tried getting them to swap places so that he can get a tummy rub but he can’t enjoy it because Poppy is now sitting in his seat. All of this is reminiscent of living with two small children, one of which is easy to live with and cheery and the other fractious and prone to temper tantrums. You try hard not to show preference but it’s really hard.
The other night Boo decided on a new technique. He joined Poppy and I on the L shaped sofa, where we willingly made room for him and Shirley could reach Boo while I patted Poppy. The game of Rumikubs, with all its numerous tiles, was going well when Boo started to shift away from Shirley and towards Poppy where he shuffled and shuffled until Poppy’s breath became laboured and loud. He was also pushing against my leg and, despite his tiny frame, I could tell how uncomfortable Poppy must be with the rest of his body pushing her further and further into the back of the seat. Poppy opened one eye and tried to shift away. Boo leaned ever further into her and then Poppy, much to everyone’s astonishment, made a desperate bid for freedom by leaping over the table, scattering tiles everywhere and ruining the game. We didn’t have the heart to tell her off as it was that or near suffocation so we set about finding the tiles from all the awkward corners they had disappeared into, only to find Boo nonchalantly leaving the sofa and turfing her off his seat.
If anyone has an answer to the problem of managing a temperamental elderly poodle we would love to hear it. So would Poppy.