I HAVE just returned from my annual UK visit, taking in family, friends, entertainments (the highlight being Town’s 4 – 0 home win) and meeting what must’ve been all my readers ... at least a dozen.
I returned to Portugal to get caught up in the wife’s schemes to open up more of our land for use by the horses – the aforementioned mini-jungle – and she had announced: “We need to sort out this break!’’ Taking her at her word, I found a reasonably comfy patch and stretched out for a nap.
Unfortunately, she didn’t much care for my satire. What she was saying was that we should get the stevas (stevash) cleared and the revealed area fenced and gated for her darling munching moochers.
I have mentioned previously that we had a visit by the bomberos, the volunteer fire brigade, who checked the amount of ground clearing we had undertaken since we first moved in, which was considerable.
They also received assurances of our ongoing commitment to clear the remainder, hence removing a natural fire hazard and creating a considerable fire break.
This is a requirement on landowners in the Alentejo every four or five years. If left alone, the stevas – a plant introduced into the Alentejo to be grown as kindling but now gone all wild and wandering – is a highly flammable shrub, being exceptionally oily.
Also we have had a very hot, dry summer which extended through into September with regular temperatures in the 30s and even reaching warmly into mid October.
As the roots of these plants are harder to winkle out than our dog, Bom, down a rabbit hole we hired one of the local farmers, complete with caterpillar tractor and plough to turn over the stony ground and uproot the offending bushes.
As with all things Portuguese the farmer, Carlos, had been coming for over a week, eventually turning up on Sunday morning, clanking over the hill like a tank on manoeuvres. I have to admit, when he had finished the remaining surface did resemble a pitted battlefield.
His appearance was unexpected and followed several days of being expected. The wife had to panic and rush up and down the hillside brandishing an armload of metal stakes and old electric fencing tape to map out the border of our land up against our neighbours.
I was also required to follow in her footsteps, brandishing a large hammer to knock the metal stakes in while she unwound and attached the tape, tangling up as many bushes as she could in the process. It was pure Benny Hill without the music.
Eventually our neighbour, Joseph, ambled over, spoke to Carlos, waved his arms about vaguely and told us to take back the poles and tape as precise instructions had now been issued ... by him! He must’ve been right because the area was cleared fairly sharpish and most accurately. Now there remains a mass of tangled, uprooted shrubs to be collected and burned later in the year. My back ached just at the thought of it all!
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