Times past.

 

One day Hub said to me "Do you fancy an afternoon out?"
I didn't need asking twice! I always enjoyed getting out and about, meeting new people. We met so many through our business that I lost count of all the friends we made.

As Hub drove onto the 125 towards Portimao I asked where we were heading and when he said "Praia da Rocha", realised I'd never been there before. At that time the route was straight through Portimao over the original bridge. I liked to watch the waters of the river Arade flowing beneath and merge into the swell of the cold grey Atlantic of Portimao's great harbour. This particular day it was early afternoon and the restaurants at harbour side were filled to capacity. Getting through Portimao was always a struggle with the traffic never ceasing and then, if you were unlucky, another hold-up at the level crossing. But in the end we got through and out onto the cliff road of Praia da Rocha.

We were on the look out for a large ancient Portuguese house. It was a vague description. We were looking for a greyish/white building with green-painted door and windows plus a B&B sign! Hub told me it was run by an elderly retired British couple and he was going to measure-up for new window frames. Eventually it loomed up in front of us. Set back from the busy cliff road and fronted by a pretty Med-style garden the building itself could have done with more than a lick of paint but it did have an old world charm about it and I was fascinated to see inside!

In reply to our knock, the ancient but sturdy green door was opened by a small sweet-faced grey-haired woman who, with a welcome smile, showed us into a wide hallway. The coolness was pleasant relief from the blistering heat of our drive. As she invited us to follow her, I was drawn to the way she walked. Well, she didn't so much walk, as skate! She wore large moccasin slippers which slid across the floor in wide skating movements. I was fascinated and at the time thought it was maybe a new way of polishing the floor!

We sank down onto cosy chintz sofas in a pretty sitting room the size of a small hall. As our hostess went off to make tea we stared in amazement at our surroundings. The room was a veritable museum; absolutely brimming with ornaments and artefact. Obviously treasured possessions collected over a lifetime of travel. Every inch of wall space was taken up with beautiful paintings; mainly water colours depicting wonderful outdoor scenes of the Indian Sub continent. Some were not to my taste like those of tiger hunts but I had to remember that in that time this was not seen as cruel or a threat of extinction to this wonderful creature. It wasn't just the walls, for here and there mostly leaning against the walls were larger oil paintings. These were of another place but equally exciting; the dark continent Africa. One I recall particularly was that of an African sunset; the dark silhouette of African tree and bush; animals drinking at a waterhole, while the enormous orb of glowing orange threw down its relentless heat.

Gazing at this fiery spectacle brought on a raging thirst and the rattle of teacups had me look up to see our hostess pushing a small trolley into the room. As she set the tea things before us on a low coffee table we noticed a silver-haired wiry little man walking in behind her and immediately held his hand out in welcoming fashion. Our hostess introduced him as her husband. Then we all sat down to huge cups of fragrant sweet tea fruit cake and scones and for a moment, I was back in my grandmothers parlour. I think I must have let out a deep sigh of contentment as I felt so very much at home.

As we chatted, the lady told us that the painter of those beautiful scenes was her husband. That he had taken up the art on first going to India as young soldier. They had lived there till the independence in 1947, then he had been offered a diplomatic posting to Kenya. On his retirement, the Colonel and his wife had decided to live in Algarve. They had tried moving back to England but it was far too cold; all their years abroad had acclimatised them to higher temperatures. So, here in Algarve they had settled and spent a very happy twenty years. I listened avidly as their stories unfolded before us. It wasn't all wonderful, there had been times of great worry and stress; I stared in wonder at this tiny little woman as she "skated" round the room pointing out different objects to us, just stopping now and then to refill our teacups.

I was full of admiration for that tough little lady who had given all her life to this "gentleman of the regiment". Each time he spoke her eyes held him and even though both in their 80s, the love was still there for all to see.

After Hub had taken the necessary measurements for the window frames the Colonel asked if we would like to see the view and went to open the French windows that opened onto a small balcony. He invited me to take a look but as I stepped out instant vertigo overtook me for below was a sheer drop of at least a hundred feet. A sharp intake of breath and I stood back inside and holding onto the door handle I managed to control my giddy feeling and raise my head to look around. No artist, not even the talented Colonel could have done justice to the stunning view. A cloudless expanse of sapphire blue sky met with aquamarine Atlantic rollers that swept the never ending golden beaches that are Praia da Rocha. It took my breath away as I watched little matchstick figures at play on the glistening beige sands; people enjoying the wonders of a sunny Algarve holiday.

As we drove away from the old stone house that contained those treasures of times past we discussed the Colonel and his wife. Their amazing life of travel and adventure; having spent little of their time in England yet were still so very British in the old sense. But that was then and young Brits of today could not relate to the time of the "Raj". A good job too. The world has moved on for the better. But we still had admiration for those 80 year olds and we both said we hoped we would be as active and as interested in life as they were, when we reach that age.

These were just two of the many characters we met in Algarve and they are imprinted on our memory. Each day brought some one new into our life and every one had a story to tell.