Hogmanay and New Year are a big deal in Scotland yet when we’re at home we usually either spend it relatively quietly with friends and family or just give each other a kiss and go to bed. Sometimes we even go to bed before the bells and then wake up with a fright when the fireworks start. We love the concept of a New Year and a new start but after the traditional excesses of Christmas we’re usually too partied out to start all over again a week later.
New Year here in the Algarve felt more momentous to us because it promised to be completely different. We’re not at home in Scotland where the traditions are well known to us, we’re in a different country where we have little idea about the local traditions. So we were keen to find out. First stop was reception on the site, where the staff are extraordinarily helpful. They told me that there is a big street celebration in Lagos with live music, partying and fireworks. Next stop was Katherine and James’ van where we invited them to come with us and I offered to stay alcohol free so that I could drive us to and from the party. This offer usually gets me loads of kudos but the truth is out there now. I don’t much care whether I have a drink or not. The experience and the good company is much more important to me. Katherine offered to feed us before we left and we accepted with no hesitation whatsoever. She is a fabulous cook. We were treated to Sicilian Orange and Fennel salad, pot roasted lamb and beans and a wonderful cold crumbly dessert. By 10.30 p.m. we were parked up in Lagos and wandering through the streets where massive crowds were gathering. A Portuguese band were playing on a stage in the square. It was loud with pulsing rhythms and the kind of bass line that shakes your chest cavity. Everyone was enjoying it and the atmosphere was great but we realised that standing outside for over an hour waiting for the New Year was going to be a bit of a challenge so we headed to a nearby bar where we ordered drinks and sat outside, watching the world stroll by on their way to the square. It’s cold, by Algarve standards, at nearly midnight on the last day of the year so we were glad of our coats but it was still pleasant enough to sit outside in a sheltered corner. How amazing is that? Oscar, K & J’s lovely Welsh Springer, was with us because he isn’t keen on being left alone in the van. Our two don’t give a hoot so we left them behind, snoring as usual. When we finally made our way back to the square ready for the final countdown the crowds were huge, the lights from the massive decorations, the sound from the band and the atmosphere incredible. At the countdown, which of course was in Portuguese, the roars from the crowd got louder and louder until at the bells a huge explosion of fireworks began with silver strips of paper falling from the sky. It was wonderful – at least for us – but poor Oscar was distressed by it all so Katherine slipped back to the bar and sat down with him in the relative quiet. Walking back with the crowd up the narrow streets to find her we were carried along on the atmosphere and realising with amazement that everyone was calm, polite and no one appeared drunk. What a difference to life in the UK. People of numerous nationalities were strolling along together on the streets that had been cleared of traffic for the occasion. We loved it.
We discovered, on one of our many chats with Katherine and James, that James likes an occasional game of golf. We haven’t played since we left Scotland and we don’t have our clubs with us but we were keen to work out a way to play a three ball if we could find somewhere that didn’t cost too much and would rent us some clubs. Katherine not only discovered such a place but also offered to do doggy day care for our mutts while we were out playing. To put the cherry on the cake she offered to feed us when we got back. How completely spoiled are we? The course K discovered is Vale de Milho near Carvoeiro and it is one that Shirley has played before when on golfing holidays with her parents too many years ago to admit to. It’s a 9 hole, par 3 course so not too challenging, which suited me very well. It took us just under an hour to get there and we were quickly fixed up with half sets of clubs, a dozen balls because there are a lot of water features on the course and a small bag of tees. It isn’t a difficult course but James’ game began in a challenging way because they had given him a set of left handed clubs. On the putting green before we started he couldn’t work out why a simple putt was causing his ball to chip up into the air. Once he tried to use his other clubs he realised that he’d been using the putter from the back edge. Soon fixed up with a suitable right handed set he was off sending his first ball into the fence behind the first green and watching it roll back onto the green as neat as you like. We looked at one another and shrugged – we were going to be thrashed. But Shirley isn’t known as the bum biter for nothing. Following on behind she soon had us both whipped into place beating us by nine strokes putting James in second place and me in my usual position, behind everyone else. Did it matter? Not one jot. It was January 3rd, the sun was shining, we were playing in T shirts and surrounded by palm trees. I asked my fellow golfers if there was anywhere else in the world they would rather be and we all agreed. Absolutely nowhere.
Walking around the Algarve we’ve noticed a lot of people wearing very colourful baggy trousers, some of them with gussets that hang down below the knee. We thought they looked incredibly colourful, comfortable and ridiculous all at the same time. The more I saw them, the more I wanted some – I think it’s probably something to do with the fact that another birthday is approaching giving me the urge to wear something distinctly ‘up yours’ to the concept of getting older. So I bought two pairs. One pair is normal baggy trouser shape and colourful. The other pair have the hanging down gusset – and they’re even more colourful. They’re both really comfortable but I haven’t been brave enough to be seen in public in the dangly gusset ones. Is it possible that all these months on the road are having an adverse effect? Or perhaps I’m just my own version of ‘When I grow old I shall wear purple‘?
The rally stewards invited us to a Chinese auction the other night. We had no idea what it was but we followed the instructions, to turn up with a wrapped gift each worth €5. Arriving in the site bar we handed our parcels over and received a ticket each. Once everyone was assembled and drinks purchased from the bar the fun began. A ticket is drawn from a hat, the person with the matching ticket goes up and chooses a prize. No touching of the prizes is allowed and some of them have been wrapped in such a way that it is impossible to guess the contents. once two people have chosen a prize the third person can either take one of the opened ones from the recipient and give them their ticket instead or choose a different one from the table and from then on it’s a free for all. One of the prizes we brought to the table was a rather cute hot water bottle cover that looked like a lamb with a hot water bottle inside. This became the most popular prize and people started to wrestle with one another to try to get it. It was hidden under jumpers and wrestled out again by people who had appeared quite prim when we met them in the street. What a laugh we had! Sadly, my prize was a jar of jam and one of marmalade. No-one was tempted to wrestle me for them and I carried them back to the van wondering what the heck we would do with them. With any luck there’ll be another Chinese auction before we go and I can put them back in.
Where did all the years go?
Facebook is one of those love it or hate it things that sometimes drives us nuts but just occasionally something really special comes out of it. This New Year’s ‘really special’ came in the form of my old pal Mark from nearly forty years ago turning up in Portugal when we just happened to be here. A couple of Facebook private messages was all it took for us to arrange to meet up and on January 2nd Mark and his lovely wife Rachel and Shirley and I had a great long catch up lunch together. Mark used to rent a room in our house when we lived in Harrogate and I seem to remember that I used to give him an earful quite often for his youthful ways. Looking at the successful mature man now I could still see that mischievous grin. I hope he couldn’t still see the bossy young mother who sometimes treated him like one of my kids.
I know Rachel for completely different reasons. She is the creator of The Mutton Club a great online resource for women in midlife and beyond. If you fit into that category, have a look at the link. You can join the group and receive really interesting tips, articles and inspiration. We think it’s great.
So the New Year has been a time of real contrasts. We’ve had great fun with friends we’ve only known for a short time but feel like we’ve known forever, caught up with a friend from what seems like three lifetimes ago and found that long standing affection can last through years of no contact. We’ve experienced a different and completely charming culture celebrating a new beginning and taken to wearing baggy breeks. What next? Who knows – but we’re up for whatever 2017 brings.