All in a days work.


As well as making kitchens and other pieces of furniture, we also did some repair work for a Lagoan property management agency. These small jobs were very welcome and it was something that Hub often did and I would accompany him. Going out and about in this way helped us to find our way around the Algarve with work coming in from as far a field as Faro to Lagos.

One day as we were waiting for directions to a certain area, the young woman who ran the agency suddenly said to me "Do you know anything about gardening?"
I was surprised at her question, until she went on to say " I need someone really urgent. The gardeners just given me notice of a week and it needs to be kept in order while the owners are away".
I wasn't qualified in any way at that time. So, although I loved gardening and was eager to do it, I hesitated. Looking up at Hub I saw a big grin cross his face. He knew what I was thinking. Although I loved our apartment and I had started a small roof garden, he knew that more than anything I would love to have a proper garden to work on.

"Go on Elle. Have a go. She's got green fingers. She'll do it for you"
I looked at Sally and though feeling nervous as well as excited, I said "Okay. If you don't mind taking a chance. Ill give it a go"
"Lovely! Can you start next week?"
I nodded at Sally "Yeah. That'll be okay"
Well. That was the start of my garden 'career' in Algarve and I've already related my first day at work in a previous story.

It was the very hot month of July when I started the job. The garden was very large at almost half an acre, with a large expanse of lawn which I had to cut twice a week and because of the extremely hot weather I would water it every day too. There was no irrigation system in place so all the watering was done by hand. As the school holidays were under way, Jamie would come along to give me a hand (and earn himself a little pocket money!). Although he wasn't quite a just a teenager he was already as tall as me and quite strong, so the lawn mowing fell to him.

The garden had a large swimming pool and with the owners abroad, my agent said it would be okay for us to use it. This was very welcome in those searing, sweltering days of summer.
Around the pool were a few plastic sun beds, where we could take a rest after a few hours work. Here, we would sit and eat our lunch and relax in the beautiful surroundings. During one of these periods Jamie was lounging back, reading one of his favourite sci-fi books, when he suddenly called out,
"Hey Mum. Look at this!"
I went over to him and there, perched on his arm was a large praying mantis. We'd only ever seen them in the zoo before and I remembered that they had been green. But this one, sitting on his arm was the colour of bone. Its huge dark intelligent eyes stared up at him as it stood motionless on his bare arm. He moved his arm slightly but the mantis stayed perfectly still, just looking up at him, apparently fearless.

Jamie said "I wonder what its thinking?"
We were used to the little lizards that ran around; the geckos that lived on the villa walls. Our own apartment in Lagoa, though on the 3rd floor, also had a small population of geckos that seemed to live behind our pictures on the walls! But the praying mantis were new to us. Soon they were a familiar sight in the garden, these harmless silent creatures and after his first experience I do believe Jamie considered them as his 'pets'!

It was a few weeks after this and Jamie and I were shopping in Lagoa high street, at a small supermarket just 10 minutes walk from the apartment. I was moving round the aisles, trying to decide what to buy for dinner, when Jamie called out to me. I went to the back of the shop where he stood pointing down at some large boxes. There, on the top of one stood a large praying mantis. It was exactly like the one at the villas garden; bone coloured with big dark eyes. Jamie said "Can I take it home Mum?"

I was just about to answer no, saying it wouldn't be right to keep a wild creature indoors when SWIPE! a large broom head came smashing down on the mantis. A girl had been sweeping the back of the shop and had noticed Jamie pointing at it. The mantis now lay dead on the box. As we walked home I looked in sympathy at Jamie's sad tearful face.
"Why Mum? Why did she do it? It wasn't doing any harm"
I couldn't really give him an explanation, except to say that some people don't like insects and that perhaps they thought it unhygienic to have them in a food shop. I wasn't very convincing and he still kept saying "But why?"

Visitors were expected at the villa. The owners were living in South Africa and they were thinking of putting the villa up for sale. Some friends of theirs were flying over from Cape Town in order to view the place, so our agent wanted the garden spruced up to give a good impression. She also asked if Hub and I would mind being available to them, just in case they needed any help or guidance. We said okay. The extra money would come in very useful and so we agreed to be' on hand' for the visitors.
We made sure everything was in good order and stocked up the fridge with basic provisions and after their arrival, we called in to see if they had all that they needed.

They welcomed us into the living room, the man, his wife, married daughter and young grandson. They thanked us for making the place welcoming. Then the lady went to make some tea. They seemed a nice enough family, quite friendly, asking about our life there and the business. The villa seemed to impress them and they liked its countryside situation. The garden was praised, which made me happy as Id been rather nervous about it. Id put in extra work in an effort to make it look good.

As the conversation flowed, I told them of my family in Zimbabwe. I had several cousins living there from my Mother's side. They knew the country well and when I told them where my cousin William lived in Harare, they were quite impressed as it was quite a wealthy, exclusive part of the city.
Hub and I were enjoying the talk but as we went on to speak of the changes in South Africa; particularly since Nelson Mandela's release from prison, we noticed a definite change in their attitude and tone of voice.

Their remarks on the the black population became increasingly rude and insulting. We were affronted by the offensive words and I'm afraid we showed it! Coming from London we were used to living in an integrated society. We counted many black, Asian and other nationalities amongst our friends. Our children had gone to schools where they mixed and had lots of friends of every creed and colour. To our minds the conversation was becoming distasteful and alien to us and we didn't want to hear any more!

At the older woman's words,
"And they breed like rabbits!"
I stood up, red in face and making a big effort to suppress my anger, simply said,
"We have to go now. We have work to do"
With that, we left the villa, having no real wish to speak to them ever again.
A couple of evenings later we had a phone call and as I picked up the phone I heard the anxious voice of the South African man on the other end. He asked to speak to Hub, so I handed the phone to him and wandered off to the kitchen to wash up. A few minutes later Hub came and told me their conversation.

It seems that his wife had been sitting out on the patio that afternoon, enjoying her sunbathing when, on looking up what did she see but a large black rat. It was less than a metre from where she sat. She had let out a big scream and ran into the house and she was now so terrified that she wouldn't set foot outside the villa door. The man didn't know what to do about it.
The previous conversation we'd had with them was still fresh in our minds and I'm afraid neither of us felt much sympathy. Hub simply told him, that as the villa was in open countryside, then rats would be in the vicinity. There wasn't anything we could do about it. The man was none to pleased and said he'd report it to the agent. Hub told him to go ahead adding,
"She won't be able to do anything either. They're wild creatures and that's that!"
Hub couldn't suppress the satisfied look that spread across his face. My response was a wide grin and as I went to bed that night, I couldn't help thinking,
"Good old ratty!"
and it came as no surprise that the visitors left the villa earlier than expected and with no intention of coming back!

It was August and the heat was ferocious. Hub was going to England for a few days to visit his sickly father. The boys were very busy on a job at Praia da Rocha. It was a big job and they were having to use both the van and the truck.
Hub had told me not to bother with the garden work while he was away and I said okay. But after he'd left I knew that I would go crazy without some work to do. So as Jamie was on school holiday, I suggested that we pack a picnic lunch and walk to the villa via the back roads from Lagoa.
We started out early, as I knew by lunchtime it would be scorching hot. It was quite a long walk of almost 2 miles, so we took umbrellas with us to use as parasols. I had done the walk before and I knew the shortcuts, one of which was down a short lane and through the side of a Portuguese family's property. But this was never a problem as I was a familiar sight and we stopped to chat with them on our way to the villa.

In the garden the ground around the lemon and orange trees badly needed weeding. So we watered all the surrounding earth thoroughly first, then with sunhats on and strong garden gloves we set to work. It was hard work and with the strengthening sun it became harder. The sweat poured from us so after a couple of hours, I told Jamie to take a break and go to the kitchen to make cold drinks.

By now I was sitting on the ground to work. I was beginning to feel the heat getting to me as I huddled as best I could beneath the trees slight shade. Jamie set the drinks down on the table set under the giant mimosa tree and we both sat there, relieved to sit beneath its welcoming shade, out of the relentless heat. I said that we'd done enough for the day. The sweat still ran down our faces but we were pleased at the results. The ground around the trees was now practically weed-free.

After our walk home that afternoon, we were glad to have cool, refreshing showers. But, as I dried myself I felt pain and soreness round the middle of my body. When I looked in the bathroom mirror I could see, around my waist and beneath my breasts spreading bright red patches and what looked like some blistering. Even though I'd had a cool water shower, sweat still covered my skin and as I continued to pat myself dry, I was alarmed to see pieces of skin coming away with the towel. I didn't say anything to Jamie as I did not want to alarm him. But by the time I went to bed that night I wasn't feeling at all well. I was uncomfortable and in some pain and I knew that in the morning I would have to seek medical help.

The next morning, after Jamie had gone to meet some of his school pals in Silves, I gave Maria a call. The red patches on my body were worse and painful. The weather was extremely hot and sweating made it even more uncomfortable. Maria came round to me straight away. She took one look at my blistering skin and said,
"Come. We go to the farmacia. I know the senhora. She will help you"
We walked to the chemist shop that is close to Lagoa's park and boy was I glad that Maria was there. The lady was very nice but didn't speak a lot of English. She beckoned me through to the back and I showed her my red blistered skin. She was very kind and sympathetic and talking to Maria (who interpreted for me) she said I must be in pain and very sore. I nodded. She went through to the dispensary and soon came back with a large tube of cream; she was also carrying a large tin of medicated talcum powder and some painkilling tablets.

Maria explained what I had to do. Put plenty of cream on during the night. Then talc during the day and take 2 tablets every 4 hours. I asked what was wrong with me. The Chemist explained and Maria said "She say, you have, in English er 'Prickly heat' and also a little sunstroke. She also say, don't let your clothes touch your skin. To stay in doors for a few days out of the sun and rest. It will take about a week to heal"

There was nothing for it but to do as she told me. So I was off work for that week and when Hub came home a few days later he was surprised to see me at home being lazy! But I'd learnt my lesson and would be more careful in future of working out in hot sunshine!
I'm happy to say, that the cream worked like magic and by the end of that week my skin was starting to heal. But then I always found that everything prescribed to us by that chemist was excellent and I couldn't have had better, or kinder treatment than from those nice folk there.
Of course, Maria was wonderful too. She did my shopping and my washing I didn't have a washing machine then). A better friend I've never had; either before or since, our time in Algarve.