The World at Two, Monchique, July 2014

One afternoon at university in London in 1989 I sat with three other students drinking a pint of Stella lager and smoking Bensons in a beer-soaked, nicotine-stained SOAS student union bar. We were all slightly older than the average first-year undergraduates – early to mid-twenties as opposed to late teens. I felt at least thirty. I had been around the world several times, lived in Berlin and Tokyo. Two of my fellow students had grown up in Catholic communities (one Irish, one Croatian). We were talking about children, about having them or not. I, most probably, was screwing up my nose. I didn’t like children. I certainly didn’t want one. Children ruined your life. And they were mean. Even I was. I remember very well pinching a child younger than me behind the stage at play school. I must have been four at the time. Before that I had hardly any memories. An old gas fire with black and orange teeth. A coffee table. Sitting in a pushchair outside the Co-op. Bluebottles on the windowsill. Looking out the window at the hedge and beyond at the traffic on the by-pass. Waiting.

No more. Therefore, I reckoned, life began at four. My little Leo turned two at the weekend. He’s already been to Spain five times, including Tenerife, England and has travelled most of the Algarve and Alentejo. Last week we were camping in Evora and watched clowns perform in the main square. Yesterday we saw sea lions and dolphins at Zoomarine. ‘See more seals!’ he said, dragging me around the pools. He chose a seahorse to ride on the carousel. Leo_carousel

On a trip in the National Parque de Cabañeros he pointed out the window at a bush and said, ‘medronho’ (the medronho bush with red berries used here in the Monchique mountains to make the local white spirit). He spotted deer and a fox (having only ever seen one on an iPad).

Deer in the National Park of Cabañeros in Spain.

Deer in the National Park of Cabañeros in Spain.

The other day in Continente he grabbed his own basket and started shopping – much to my horror. He understands the notion of subject, verb and object. ‘Leo do it’, ‘Mummy fetch Leo’, ‘Leo coming’, ‘Leo shopping’. He knows what he wants and in three languages and combines them fluently. ‘Mais eier. Thank you’. He’s like an elephant with places. If we go to a beach he hasn’t been to for a while he will go to where we sat the previous time and say, ‘Mama cake’ (clearly where I’d eaten cake). Aside from (still) chucking things into the pool and spitting food out,  two is an amazing age.

‘So,’ said the Irish friend, ‘if you don’t think that children are conscious before four does that mean you’d agree with Herod and allow the killing of all babies of two and under? That’s what he did. He slaughtered all babies and young children.’

I didn’t know much about Herod but as I didn’t remember anything about being two, I shrugged and agreed. Not that it was a laudable act but that the children wouldn’t suffer as they wouldn’t remember. After all, we slaughter animals.

I still don’t know much about Herod and the biblical story or how much of it is true but I know a little more about being two years old and my answer now makes me shudder. The Irish woman shook her head, blew smoke out of her nose and looked at me in disgust. I can see myself sitting on that dark blue velvet poof defiantly sucking on a Benson’s and trying not to cough. It has become a painful memory.

caboneros3    cabaneros1

But it worries me that we remember hardly anything in our first three to four years. Of course without language we have no means of storing information. Nonetheless, I find it strange that Leo will never remember his five minute shopping spree or all those travels to different places. Of course, all these experiences are stored in our bodies and brains and inform who we become. Many of my preconceptions about children were learned but I didn’t understand that then. These days our lives are also stored in iPads, computers, cameras and videos. I don’t make videos but my iPad is full of photos and Leo loves to flick through at night or in the morning. He remembers nearly all the places and people (or, at least, he has learned through repetition). I just hope that our travels make more of an impression than the dazzling shelves of supermarkets or where Mama has eaten cake.

shopping2shopping3shopping1

A Night in Monsaraz, Alentejo, June 2014

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About three hours drive from Monchique, in the north-east Alentejo, lies a cluster of villages and small towns. Passing through them is like perusing the wine shelves of Intermarché: Reguengos, Monsaraz, Redondo, Esporão, Borba… I like the idea of staying in a village that is a good wine and Monsaraz is scenically pitched high up on a hill surrounded by castle walls and a walled bull-ring at the top end. Out of curiosity I read what Saramago has to say about Monsaraz (the village, not the wine) when he wrote Journey to Portugal.

From the main square the traveller can contemplate discreet and pretty houses, some of them uninhabited, acquired by people with money who live a long way away; he can survey their façades rather than their interiors, then lapse into regret that, after all, Monsaraz amounts to little more than a façade. But perhaps the traveller does it an injustice: some must have grown up, body and soul, within these castle walls, these steep alleys, in the fresh or freezing shade of these uncomfortable houses.  

Jose Saramago, Journey to Portugal, The Harvill Press, 2002 (first published in 1990), p399

It is twee, Saramago is right, but it certainly doesn’t feel uninhabited. Quite the opposite. It has a buzz. There are the usual shops selling tourist trinkets but there are some individual touches: a French couple own a café and confectionary shop selling local olive oils and organically grown teas, a Dutch woman runs a weaving factory that manufactures blankets, rugs and carpets and there is a heaving terraced bar looking down onto the Alentejo plains. And, despite the façade, there is a strong sense of history in the fortified village. The first time I was here I rode a horse up through the ancient road into the village. The clip-clopping of the horses’ hooves on the cobbles took me back centuries to what it must have been like for a traveller arriving into Monsaraz from the heat of the Alentejo.

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This time, revving into another era – albeit only four years later – Paul, Sérgio and I sput loudly into the ancient village in buggies (or kart cross as they are known as here). Sacrilegious perhaps in all the tweeness, but great fun and much kinder on my knees. Our guide, Sérgio, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Portuguese who travelled the world only to return to Monsaraz as being the place he wanted to live, is welcomed by everyone, both locals and ‘incomers’ and no one seems to mind the sput-sput-sputting of the little cars – with the exception of a few frowns from the visiting coachloads of tourists. I resist the urge to wave and walk to a viewing spot to take in the vast watery panorama below me. The great lake stretches out like a thousand octopuses, its tentacles forming peninsulas as far as the eye can see.

This is the one very big difference between when Saramago visited and now: Alqueva. Not, as it is tempting to think, a terrorist group (although maybe to the inhabitants of those sunken villages it was) but the name of the biggest dam in Europe.

 Its shores, Sérgio tells us, are longer than the entire coast of Portugal. And they are empty. Environmental laws in Portugal ensure that they remain pristine.

‘Even the cows aren’t allowed to craze there,’ he explains. He pauses. ‘But they are in Spain – the other side of the dam.’

‘Are there no boats or trip on the lake?’ I ask. ‘Or around it?’ I remember visiting Bewl Water in Kent and practically having to queue to cycle around it and then having to wait while 3000 joggers came the other way. The lake itself could have benefitted from traffic lights due to the number of canoes and boats. And, of course, nothing was free.

‘There’s not much but Tiago has a Dutch sailing boat and offers sunset boat trips down there on the lake,’ Sérgio says.

That’s a start, I think, but I can’t help worrying that Portugal is missing out. Then again I don’t know who controls what. Apparently, Beja airport doesn’t allow many tourists in which helps keep visitor numbers down.

After a coffee and a pastel de nata we fly down and out of the village and circumnavigate the hill of Monsaraz on ancient tracks. The carts scurry across the land like beetles, hardly noticing the ruts and stones, kicking up dust storms behind them. They will cross anything, climb anything. They will do almost everything that a horse will – and much quicker. But it is not a race. We pass through an olive grove. Here we see olive trees of several hundred years old and one old tree of more than a thousand years old. We stop at a menhir, a large phallic stone, one of the biggest in the Iberian peninsula and a stone circle (or square in this case) that constitute the ‘Cromeleque do Xerez’, saved from the terrorists before the flooding of the land and relocated closer to the Monsaraz skies.

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‘At night many people come here to watch the dark skies,’ our guide explains.

Where earth and sky meet, I think.

An old convent, Convento da Orada, restored and abandoned when funds ran out in 2007 is now turning to ruin. The same with an old templar church.

‘It is our patrimony,’ Sérgio says, a sense of frustration entering his voice.

But then we visit Herdade do Barrocal, a huge abandoned farm/manor house. We talk to the caretaker and, as it turns out, local ‘endireita’ or healer. He tells us that a partnership between the present day owner of the Herdade and a group called Aguapura, and a total investment of 90 million euro plans to turn the Herdade into a 5-star hotel with 70 rooms and another 85 habitation units or suites/small apartments. In two years. I can’t quite see it finished in two years but, when finished, it will be a spectacular place to stay or visit. He also offers to fix my knees. I wasn’t sure if we’d have time but maybe when I come back, I say, thanking him and climbing guiltily back into the kart cross.

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That night we eat in a restaurant Sem Fim, a converted ‘lagar’, or olive oil factory, its presses still visible. It is one of the best restaurants I have eaten in ever and certainly in Portugal (although I have only dined out three times this year so I’m probably not the best judge). I have a vegetarian dish of spinach and fresh cheese and we drink a bottle of Monsaraz Millennium on the terrace near to the dark sky.

The traveller, Saramago, did do Monsaraz an injustice but it was a different place then. Interestingly, the title of the chapter in which Saramago writes about Monsaraz is called the ‘The Night the World Began’ and there is a sense of a new world having begun around Monsaraz with the creation of the dam and a whole new micro eco system. I wonder what Saramago wrote about Monchique. I must go and look it up.

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Restaurant Sem Fim http://www.sem-fim.com/

Herdade do Barrocal http://www.cm-reguengos-monsaraz.pt/pt/conteudos/noticias/notas%20de%20imprensa/2007-10-12%20-%20Herdade%20do%20Barrocal%20apresenta%20projecto%20turistico.htm

Monte Alerta (Turismo Rural and Kart Cross) http://www.montealerta.pt/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

England Revisited, April 2014

‘So, you’ve come from the Algarve,’ the immigration officer said, looking through mine and Leo’s passports. ‘The good life, huh?’ He was a middle-aged man with short spiky grey hair. A smile cracked though the official lines.

‘Yes,’ I said, slowly, suspiciously.

‘Well, I hope you haven’t brought the rain with you!’ he said.

‘So do I. Looking forward to some sun.’

He laughed and gave me the passports and waved down at Leo who was sitting in a pushchair I’d found on the way from the plane.

‘Ciao-ciao,’ said Leo, waving back.

‘Ciao-ciao,’ the immigration officer said.

This was a new experience. A friendly immigration officer and free pushchairs at Gatwick. So far, so good. All would be well. We’d survived the flight and the plane had landed (I had carried Leo away from the cockpit). We would have a good time, meet lots of old friends, get the camper van and drive back to Portugal. I was sure that Leo would love it and air passengers from Faro could relax.

It was indeed warmer and drier in the UK than it had been in the Algarve where the rain had been torrential for days. The thunder had shook the house and the lightning had replaced lighting.

We waited for the cockney Portuguese taxi driver in front of twenty rows of sweets and chocolates at W.H. Smiths. Leo grew twenty arms, more like tentacles.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ John (João) said, as I took some jelly babies from Leo’s hand for the umpteenth time. ‘Bloody M25. Accident. Had to come off and come through the villages.’

Nothing new there then.  Another inconsiderate driver crashes.

The traffic in the villages was bumper to bumper. Leo got bored of saying, ‘car!’ and ‘truck!’ and fell asleep. But everyone else was busy. Even if their cars were reduced to caterpillars they were talking into invisible microphones or phones, or browsing files. Along the pavements people walked and talked on mobiles, got in and out of cars in three swift movements, released or belted up children in car seats in seconds, carried shopping, walked dogs with a plastic glove on one hand. Even the elderly scooted along on electric scooters.

England (at least this part) was busy. And rich. No litter, no fag ends, no graffiti, no dog shit. Not even any weeds. Every fence post was nailed in and painted. Every flower planted by numbers. So it seemed to me.

It was dusk by the time we got to the daffodil-lined village. An old couple quick-stepped around the pond and three young women exercised on outdoor gym equipment on the green. There were some brand new shiny slides, swings and roundabouts. Leo will like that, I thought. But, the next day, after sliding down the baby slide and the bigger children’s slide several times Leo began to do what he really loved doing – picking up litter. After depositing an errant crisp packet into the bin he still wasn’t happy. Finally, he found what he was looking for. A momentary pang for Portugal, I suspect. He held up the fag end victoriously.

I, meanwhile, craved afternoon coffee and cake but there was no coffee shop in the village. I persuaded my mother to take us to Oxted where I found one with a children’s corner and wine so we were all happy. One small cappuccino, one small slice of carrot cake and a large white wine. £10.50! Busy, rich and expensive.

Needless to say, we had brought the rain with us. But I was too busy on my mission to buy the camper van to pay much attention. I left Leo with my mum, and an old girlfriend, who I’d hardly seen for thirty years, came with me to Cambridge on the train to see the van I’d been drooling over for six weeks. As we walked out of the station we were greeted by twenty million bicycles – many of which were parked in the air. I don’t remember Cambridge as being a cycling city. I only remember one of my Japanese students from the UEA had fallen into the river from one of those silly punts. My fault, I’m afraid. But that must have been… twenty years ago.

The trip wasn’t in vain. I bought my automatic La Strada and proudly slithered back over the QE2 to Kent.

The next day Leo started coughing, a runny nose.

‘Strange,’ I said to mum. ‘He’s never ill.’

‘It’s the plane,’ she said.

I contented myself with the fact that now that I had the camper van Leo would never get sick from being on a plane again. And no one would ever get kicked in the back or be deafened by screams. And, of course, Leo would love it.

‘Leo, shall we go and pack some things into the camper van?’

‘No.’

‘Don’t you want to come with me?’

‘Noooo!’ he said. And started crying.

It got worse. As I triumphantly made the bed and stacked up with Spaghetti hoops and a bottle of red wine, Leo got clingier and louder. This was not looking good. The day before we were due to travel I dressed him and noticed a rash.

‘Mum, look at this?’

‘What?’

‘The rash.’

‘What rash?’

His skin felt like sandpaper and the whole of his front was covered in spots.

‘We need to call the doctor.’

‘You’ll be lucky.’

 

I was lucky.

‘Aha,’ the doctor said, as soon as I took Leo’s shirt off. ‘I’m fairly sure this is Scarlatina. There’s been an outbreak. It was on the news last night. It’s not serious. Antibiotics will soon clear this up but you must make sure he takes it all. You’ll be okay to travel. Well, travelling with a sick child will not be easy but he’ll be okay.’

A disease that needed antibiotics sounded serious to me, but I was hugely relieved that we’d got the appointment and a prescription for antibiotics.

‘It’s not with sugar,’ the chemist said aggressively. ‘And it needs to be kept in the fridge.’

‘Oh?’ I said and shrugged. What did that mean? But at least I had a fridge in the camper van.

It meant Leo wouldn’t take it. I tried everything. I tried different spoons, I tried sugar, I tried those oral syringes. Every time he spat it out and cried and cried.

I looked up Scarlatina that night. It is considered either synonymous with, or a mild form of Scarlet Fever. Scarlet Fever? I didn’t even know it still existed. Antibiotics must be taken.

The next morning I tried orange juice. He took a sip and then cried and cried. I was packing up – difficult while carrying 12 kilos.

‘Leo, don’t you want to go in the camper van?’

‘Nooo!’

I mixed the antibiotics into his milk and he finally drank it and fell asleep so I was able to belt him in and get going. Relief. Fortunately no one had crashed on the M25 so traffic was moving – albeit slowly – and I got almost to Portsmouth before he woke up. Then up the ramp to the ferry. We’d made it! We watched from the deck as England receded.     Leo on the ferryThe ferry was very different from the booze cruise I remembered ten years ago. There was even a children’s play area, lots of eating areas and twenty-three and a half comfortable hours later we were in Spain.

As we chugged south to Salamanca and into the sun I exhaled stress and inhaled peace – despite the tin mugs or something rattling in the cupboards. Leo had long stopped crying, his rash was fading and he was watching out the window. I took off a jumper every two hundred kilometers. We stayed on campsites. It worked! I learned how to fill up and empty the various tanks, we heated up food on the stove, stocked up the fridge. We played on the slides, met other children, walked by the rivers. Leo loved it. Leo in the camperIt is a good way to travel with a baby/toddler (preferably not with Scarlatina). You have everything with you (I even have a changing area for Leo) and tin mugs don’t break. Sometimes it was difficult packing up (as Leo’s natural tendencies are to unpack) but I learned to put him in his chair and give him the ‘iPa’ half an hour before leaving. I drove while he slept and then for another couple of hours.

By the time we got to Portugal I wanted the trip through Spain to last longer – particularly after spending thirty minutes in the ‘Foreigners’  layby on an empty motorway trying to get a stupid machine to accept my credit card. Then as we drove through the mountains of Monchique it started raining again. I drove round bend after bend on the Eucalyptus-lined roads. For the last half an hour of the journey we saw no one – not even a dog. Only the old rusty red tractor was still there. For a moment I felt disappointed to be back. But I reckoned we had seen enough cars and trucks to last for a while. And now we have the van, one day soon we can go on another little adventure.

 

Happy Campers

Ten Years in Chilrão, Monchique, March 2014

On April 13 2014 it will be ten years since I left the UK. Ten years since I slid off the ferry into the sunrise at Santander in my new (ten-year-old) 4 x 4 Suzuki packed with plants, boxes of teaching files and my computer from Norfolk where I had lived for nine years. Mario drove ahead of me in his old white Ford van loaded with my books (no iPads or Kindles back then) and his tools. We were on an adventure, beginning a new life. I was so excited. That is until the Suzuki blew up near Salamanca and we had no breakdown recovery. We abandoned the plants but stuffed the computer and teaching files into Mario’s van and anxiously held our breath as the bulging Ford puffed up the mountains. Hundreds of Borelli eagles spiralled above.

‘It’s all your stupid books,’ Mario said, looking down at the temperature gauge. The motor groaned as he changed down to second.

‘Oh, and what about all your tools,’ I snapped.

‘We need my tools to build the house.’

‘I need my books.’ I couldn’t think what for.

Not a great start but we arrived. To the rain. Then the fires. Our land had already burned in 2003 but then in that torrid summer of 2004 the parts that hadn’t burned burst into flames before turning to black and grey dust and minimalist black sculptures, the remains of trees. The fire balls and mountain-size balloons of smoke are a sight I’ll never forget.

Two and a half years of buckets of cement, paint, plants and money.

Two and a half years and bucketfuls of cement, paint, plants and money.

LisaThen began the long haul of renovating. Two and a half years and bucketfuls of cement, paint, plants and money while still teaching online courses. In the meantime the forests pushed their way back through the black and grey earth, British and German neighbours moved in, music pulsed through the mountains at night at parties, medronho flowed from hip flasks.

‘I love it here,’ I said. It felt to me like the centre of the Western Algarve and a haven for anarchists and artists.

‘It’s too remote,’ Mario said. ‘You can’t even go out for a coffee.’

I have now lived here longer than I have lived here anywhere in my life. Mario finally left me with my books (and most of his tools). I met someone else who loved travelling – and books. Paul and I travelled to Mozambique and Cuba, all over Spain and Portugal. All was well but there was one thing missing: Leo. I had never particularly liked or wanted children so it was as much a surprise to me as to everyone else when I announced I wanted a child.

Now I am lucky enough to have Leo, Chilrão no longer feels like such a centre.

‘I can’t even go out for a coffee,’ I moaned to Paul the other day on the mobile as I pushed Leo along the empty road to the waterfall.

In ten years little has changed but little for the better. Several Portuguese neighbours have died and their houses have been abandoned, many British neighbours spend more time in the UK, others are trying to sell up. Even on the coast cinemas have closed, as have many shops and businesses.

The other day I cycled my electric bike to Moinho de Agua (with Leo in the trailer) which is about 9km away. We were looking for a car but we couldn’t see one. ‘Tra-ta!’ Leo shouted, as we past an old and rusted tractor. We saw and heard no one the whole afternoon. Not even a dog. Only the wind rustled the eucalyptus trees.

lisa_bikeTen years ago I revelled in the absolute peace of the mountains.

‘It is too remote,’ I said to Mario later.

Time to visit England I decide. It’s been a long time for me and it will be the first time for Leo. I’m sure we will find plenty of cars and cafes there. So many that, no doubt, I will soon be glad to leave again. I plan to return to Portugal on April 12 2014, almost ten years to the day. Already I can’t wait to slide off the ferry into Spain – this time with Leo and, if all goes well, in a camper van – with breakdown recovery and this time with only an iPad.

 

 

Toddlers and iPads, Monchique, February 2014

I have one of the old iPads without a camera and with not much memory (probably almost antique in technological terms) but I love it. I even chatted someone up on a flight to Gatwick because he was using one. I remember asking him what it was as I’d never seen one before. ‘It’s an iPad,’ the man, who turned out to be a writer and journalist and, subsequently, a good friend, replied, handing it over to me. ‘I want one,’ I said. I bought one almost as soon as I landed and have used it every day for almost four years.

I had thought about using it with little Leo but he didn’t seem that interested and I didn’t think of looking up toddler apps. But I finally had the bright idea before we went to Tenerife in December thinking that it may help on the plane. But Leo decided it was much more fun trying to kick the chair in front, wriggle free from the seat belt and then chat up everyone on the plane (I, at least, was more selective). However, since January I’ve slowly introduced Leo to several apps. At 19 months old ‘Ipa!’ has now become his second most used word after ‘tea’.

Leo playing with iPad, age 18 months

Leo playing with iPad, age 18 months

I began with ‘Little Town’ by Wonderkind. This is a detailed and intricately designed animation of a scene in a town in the morning with an open view into apartments. You (I mean the toddler) can tap on various scenes including people cleaning their teeth, a dog eating the toast, a bear playing the piano, a man ironing. Outside in the street you (and/or the toddler) can tap on a helicopter, a motorbike, a bus, a man walking a dog, some birds, the traffic lights. By tapping you initiate a mini scene. Within days I could ask Leo to tap on the window of the woman waving, the man walking his dog, and all the other activities. His understanding tripled daily. There are also scenes ‘In the afternoon’ (in the park) and ‘In the evening’ (in a town square) and, by the same company, ‘My Animals’. I also downloaded lots of transport apps and puzzles, interactive nursery rhymes and music apps. ‘Animals for Toddlers’ is another favourite. (Unfortunately many of the apps that speak don’t know how to say ‘zebra’ but a minor fault).

A couple of weeks ago, Paul, Leo and I went out to a local restaurant in Marmelete. All the old people were gathered round a log fire drinking medronho and watching football – Manchester versus Barcelona. Leo kneeled on the chair and I tool out the iPad and we did some car puzzles while I de-stoned olives. For the first time ever we all managed to eat at almost the same time. Leo calmly ate bread, olives and cheese and then shared my omelette while we tapped on fish in the sea and jumped at a killer whale shooting out of an icy sea.

Most of the time I sit with him, help him with some of the puzzles and games like ‘The odd one out’ and memory games finding pairs in cards (difficult). We cosy up on the bed first thing in the morning and before his afternoon sleep and at nighttime. It has become a special time for us and we iPa for twenty minutes or so.

A couple of times I have left him on the bed on his own playing while I make tea, or put the washing in the washing machine, or light the fire. These are small miracles to me. It normally takes me half an hour to put the washing in as Leo is taking it out, mixing in the cat food, or climbing on a chair and trying to reach the detergent, ‘Da, da, da’. Or simply emptying the cupboards of everything.

It was only when Leo wouldn’t go to sleep without clutching the iPad that I began to get slightly worried. I did a search online for babies-ipad-addiction and the first article I came across declared that a four-year-old needed therapy to get off the iPad.

Dr Graham said that young technology addicts experienced the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts, when the device was taken away.’  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10008707/Toddlers-becoming-so-addicted-to-iPads-they-require-therapy.html

Oh no. My heart sank. I know alcoholism. Did that mean that I would have to cut out our quiet, shared moments? No more washing without cat food in the clothes?

But then I thought again. Rubbish. As with all technology it is how you use it that’s important. Of course it’s not good to plonk a baby or toddler in front of an iPad for five hours a day (now there’s an idea…), or, really, to sleep with it. But we spend so much time outside playing in streams (‘Tea! Tea!’) and walking in the forests and mountains it is good to have an indoor balance. And it’s fun and informative. I can even point out things that we have learned from iPa. ‘Look, Leo, there’s a woodpecker! A  frog. Well, a squashed one. A waterfall. And, today, ‘Look, Leo, there’s a wild boar eating the neighbours’ vegetables… Let’s walk back. Slowly.’ And yesterday he wanted to sleep with his new shoes during the day. Today he wanted an orange that we picked from a tree in the garden.

I check on him. He is still clutching the orange. Now where is my iPa…

 

 

www.lisaselvidge.com – lost or stolen?

About the middle of October 2013 I received an email from my father in Greece. ‘Happened to mention your website to friends here and saw that your site is now advertising male dysfunctional disorders …’ What?! My father must have hit the ouzo again. I looked online at my site (something I hadn’t done for a while) and, sure enough, there on the homepage was a link to buy Viagra. Hm, someone had clearly hacked my site and put that on. I remembered then that I hadn’t received emails from that account lisaselvidge.com since, I checked, July. I’d written to Streamline.net, my hosting service, about this but I had received an answer I hadn’t understood – something about needing to change the DNS…

I wasn’t too worried: I would just load up the homepage again. But I didn’t have time to do anything about it until I finished teaching in December. Then I spent a couple of days updating the site but I couldn’t load it up. Hm. I contacted Streamline.net again. And then began to unravel a sticky roll of strange events which I’m still ungluing. I discovered that my domain name, lisaselvidge.com had been due for renewal in August 2013. Unfortunately, I received no notification. In the past I had always renewed the domain through Direct Debit through, again, Streamline. I bought the domain from them almost ten years ago but the registrar was Tucows for some reason. Now it had passed to Hover and was being hosted by a Russian hosting service Echo-Host.com. It may have just been an admin error and I simply didn’t receive the notification for renewal but because I lost access to the email first I suspect my website was hacked, sold and moved to another hosting service. Apparently, once a hacker has the main email address (and they can easily ask for a new password) and you fail to renew your domain they can easily take control. When the domain is not renewed it will go to auction and be sold. Whatever happened no one will take responsibility and Hover have contacted the new owners of my site but they will not sell it back to me. I do not know who ‘they’ are.

Strange. It is/was such a personal and handmade site I can’t imagine that it would be good to anyone other than me. But I’d be interested to know how the Viagra sales go. Better than books?!

A warning to everyone – keep control of your domain and if anyone uses Streamline.net I would be very careful. In the meantime, I will try to get a new site up and running. It badly needed upgrading anyway so thanks to whoever did it and good luck with the Viagra sales.

Toddling in Tenerife, Xmas 2013

Volcano in Tenerife - 3,718m

Volcano in Tenerife – 3,718m

I refuse to give up travelling just because I have a toddler in tow but I admit going on a Safari in Kenya is pushing it. My friend, Paul, invited Leo and I to the desert in Morocco in March but I am realistic enough to know Paul would not cope. But I still wanted to go away for Xmas. Mainland Spain was a possibility but it can be cold during the winter and, besides, we were in Tarifa, Malaga and Jerez last year. Driving more than eight hours could result in Leo and I throwing tantrums. I often think that a camper van would be a good solution but Paul flatly refuses and I’m not very practical when it comes to changing the loo and putting up awnings. So, for now, that only leaves flying

Paul and I finally agreed on Tenerife – geographically Africa but socially and consumerly, Europe. I spent hours ploughing through Homeway and spain-holiday.com to find a child-friendly property. I found one in San Miguel – far enough, I reckoned, to not hear the last calls from the pubs in Playa das Americas but near enough to get baked beans if necessary. It had a cot, highchair, microwave, an enclosed courtyard with banana trees so Leo could feed himself as well as not escape. And they knew someone who could babysit. It was always hot in the Canary Islands. There were short flights from Seville. Perfect.

We kicked and screamed into north Tenerife, Leo loudly, me silently, Paul in German. Leo had managed to escape the seat belt and was somewhere between my legs and the floor. I apologised to everyone on the plane. Fortunately they were all Spanish so no one minded.

‘Ciao-ciao,’ Leo said to everyone, smiling, completely in denial that he was responsible for almost deafening the entire plane for two hours non-stop. He then promptly fell asleep as I carried him to the carousel to get the bags and pushchair.

I was exhausted. I fell asleep with one foot on the trolley and the other on the pushchair while Paul spent a further two hours trying to find the hire car, then followed a further three hours stuck in traffic (traffic jams in Tenerife? An Ikea?) It was night time by the time we found San Miguel and another hour before we found the house.

‘Where’s the cot?’ I asked the housekeeper. ‘Para o bebe.’

She looked puzzled and shook her head. ‘No, no.’

‘No cot? But it said…’ I was about to launch an attack but realised I would get nowhere as it was not her property and she’d already told us that she hadn’t been paid and that the owner hadn’t been out for two years. There was no cot, no highchair, no microwave, no hairdryer, the TV didn’t work, there was no hot water in the kitchen, the most the fridge could manage was room temperature and there were rickety steps leading from the courtyard. And it was cold and damp. Only the thought of two hours on a plane kept me from flying home. So I simply cried, put two single beds together for myself and Leo, and left the milk bottles outside the bedroom door as I reckoned it was cold enough and the bedrooms were outside of the main house.

‘It will be better in the morning with the blue skies and sun,’ Paul said calmly, strangling a bottle of red wine as he tried to open it.

We woke to grey clouds. We climbed the rickety steps and found a terrace with a view to the sea – and a local dump. We went shopping – together with two thirds of the island on a pre-Xmas binge. But amongst the shoppers I found nappies, Puleva milk for Leo – even baked beans. And we bought a hairdryer in a Chinese shop. The sun came out. We had coffee in a marina. Things were looking better.

There are two main attractions in Tenerife: Loro Parque and the cable car up the volcano. On Xmas day we went up into the Natural Park and entered a black and burnt orange crunchy and sculptural landscape. Up and up. We left the clouds behind. 2000 metres and climbing. Snow glistened from the top of the Teide volcano.

‘Up! Up!’ cried Leo, pointing out the window.

We parked and toddled up a barren hill to look at the mountains, the rock formations and dusty ground. I sat waiting for hobbits to appear from over the rocks, a Gollum perhaps, but there was only the occasional tourist.

Leo in Teide              

The cable car was closed due to ice and/or Xmas – I wasn’t sure which due to two different notices. So, instead we went to Puerto de Santa Cruz, a west coast town with smooth black beaches and old buildings. I love black – and so I was at home in the black sand. The interminable journey round the mountains prevented us from ever going back to Puerto de Santa Cruz and the other main attraction, Loro Parque (an animal and marine zoo).

Leo coped well with the travelling. Eating was much trickier. Especially eating out. How do you eat out with a toddler? He’s too big for a high chair (and wouldn’t stay put anyway) and he won’t sit on a chair for longer than about 2.5 seconds. Fortunately in a way he was on hunger strike. I think the only thing I managed to get him to eat in a week were a few baked beans. The rest inevitably would go on the floor or over me. We did find a café in the village with a children’s room: brightly lit with a slide into a paddling pool of coloured balls, a push motorbike and some little dens. Paul and I managed to eat a pizza there one night – almost together. The rest of the time we had to eat in relays – while the other person took care of Leo. Eating at the house wasn’t much better as Leo had learned how to move a chair and could reach a whole new world that was forbidden. It was tiring.

I began dreaming of a restaurant with a crèche. Not for romantic couples but for couples with children who enjoy food and eating out. I imagine a large room with the central part matted and crash proof, lit up with colourful lighting and a supervised little fun island for youngsters to explore and then tables around the outside with dimmed lighting so that parents could observe but not have to chase around after the kids. And eat.

On the last day as I was heating up a pan of water to do the washing up, I said to Paul, ‘I have enjoyed it – despite difficulties.’ It was true. We hadn’t quite made it to the two main attractions but we had seen new things, different places, people. My senses felt refreshed – albeit the rest of me completely knackered.

‘Good,’ he replied and smiled.

On the plane as Leo was screaming again from the floor and even the Spanish were muttering beneath their breath, I began to think if this was really worth it?

‘Never again,’ Paul said.

Camper van?

Lisa and Leo

In the park of the Pyramids of Guimar.

In the park of the Pyramids of Guimar.

 

Life in West Berlin, Moscow and the Monchique Mountains – an interview with Catrin George for Kulturpunkt, Monchique, November 2013

Kulturpunkt Interview: Catrin George with the English author and editor, Lisa Selvidge, Montanha Books, Algarve, published on http://catringeorge.blogspot.pt/2013/11/lisa-selvidge-author-tutor-editor.html

 

–       Lisa, you are an author, editor and tutor. Therefore, books, literature, writing, tutoring, editing, publishing, distributing, all this makes the major part of your professional life. Would you call the World of Books and Literature also your major passion?

–       I am passionate about the telling of stories – not only in the written form but also in film and theatre, so not exclusively books. I am passionate about stories because they are ultimately the way we share experiences, gain understanding and insight and, hopefully, laugh, learn, see new places, meet characters we recognise and perhaps cry a little on the way. Stories not only provide entertainment but they often reassure us that we are not alone.

–       One pen, one book, one teacher, can change the world, said Malala Yousafzai some weeks ago when nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Literature is indeed a strong medium, always was, always will be. Do you believe so too? Why?

–       When a book or a paragraph or a spoken sentence resonates with something in your life or touches you in some way it can have the most profound effect. Words are our means of communicating and stories are our way of showing that we are made of the same stuff – only the little cultural things differ. I’m not sure that one writer, one book or one teacher can change the world but it can certainly have an impact. What writers do is mirror the world that is around them to show to the rest of the world. That is what I believe is the writer’s job.

–       Your first degree was in Russian Language and Literature with Portuguese as a subsidiary. What fascinated you most about Russian Literature?

–       I sat up one night freezing cold alone in an apartment in Dankelmannstr in West Berlin in 1984 and read Crime and Punishment. There were uncanny resemblances between Saint Petersburg and Berlin and the question resonated: was Raskolnikov right to murder the pawnbroker? Words of Brecht echoed in my ears, ‘What meanness would you not commit if at last you could change the world?’ West Berlin in the eighties was full of anarchists, artists, musicians, writers, pacifists, hippies, freaks, punks, Brits, Americans, French, Turkish, many of them wanting to change the world. Then just over the Wall there existed another world – a world without pawnbrokers. But then there was the problem of the innocent Lisaveta who he has to murder along with the pawnbroker and the fact that Raskolnikov couldn’t live with the guilt. The story resonated – with my life and with the world I lived in. Dostoevsky had mirrored the society of his time – and it was and is still relevant. I became fascinated with Dostoevsky and Russia, as well as the whole Communism versus Capitalism debate. The Russian affair was sealed when I took the Trans-Siberian train from Beijing to Berlin five years later in the winter of 1988. It was a scene from Doctor Zhivago – even the wolves seemed to howl at night in the tundra and the soldiers marched through the carriages and shook us awake demanding to see identity.

–       Having lived in Russia and Berlin, at historical moments in history, you have experienced the difference between daily life in the presence of the iron curtain, and later with the lightness of spring air of Perestroika. Can you tell us some of your significant memories of that time?

I stayed in the Soviet Union and the in-between country when no one seemed to know what was happening between 1988 and 1993. But there was never spring in the air. One time I stayed for months in one of the Soviet pre-fabricated cardboard apartment blocks that the Muscovites used to joke that they would fall over if you leaned too hard against them. It was misery. I even spent hours trying to get into the apartment I lived and only realised I was in the wrong block when a babushka started shouting at me. A bottle of Russian Brut champagne was cheaper than a tomato. The average Soviet citizen could afford almost nothing which was just as well as the State shops were empty anyway. Within months of the collapse of the Soviet Union a new Mafia was born and began to carve up one of the richest organisations of the world. Crime rose. I was on the Metro one night when I saw young men strategically line up along the platform. When the train pulled in I didn’t get on but I saw the men pull out knives. I don’t know what happened then. It was never reported.

I have written about some of my experiences in the Soviet Union during this time in a novel, The Extraordinary Tale of Comrade Rublov, but it has only ever been published as an ebook.

– Your novel, The Last Dance over the Berlin Wall, published in 2009. tells the story of a young artistic dancer, Johnny East, who is looking for a new direction in dance. He finds his inspiration in East Berlin at the circus. Where did you get the inspiration from? 

–       I had a friend in West Berlin with an apartment that overlooked the Wall in Neukoln. I often found myself gazing across. It was a narrow part of the Wall. The building on the other side was bricked up on the first floor but the rest of the apartment block was lived in. Then in the East I made friends with a guy who also lived near the wall (a little like Bodo in the novel) and he really did give me an old Bakelite phone telling me he’d been waiting ten years for it to be connected. We usually had to talk over music as he was sure his apartment was bugged – which given the Stasi revelations it probably was. These images were strong in my mind when I started planning the novel. It needed to be extraordinary like Berlin at that time. I have always been interested in dance and one of my best friends in Berlin at that time was a dancer. I started thinking about the possibility of a high-wire crossing of the Wall. I began my research. It was possible. Philippe Petit had crossed the Twin Towers on a high wire. When the Wall first went up it had been done. What’s more: the apartment block near the Wall that I chose was later that year demolished. So I had my story. A love story in a time when the two sides were not allowed to meet and a daring escape.

Image

–       You lived in Berlin 1984/1985. You describe Berlin as a very special place in a very special time. Have you ever been to Berlin since then, and if yes, how do you look at Berlin today?

I went back twice while researching the novel. Of course the city has changed but I can still feel the old Berlin in the back streets of Kreuzberg – and in the parks and open spaces. It is as if Berlin is wearing a different dress and lots of make-up: one that is much finer and fancier but take off the dress and the city is not so different. It is perhaps the only city I would go back to live in.

–       You chose to live in Portugal around ten years ago. What made you choose the mountains of Monchique, the other side of the mountains as people here say, instead of living at the coast?

My father came to visit me when we first moved here. I took him to a party down the road. There was live music, people warming their hands and wine around fires in oil drums, other people smoking, someone reciting poetry. They were anarchists, artists, musicians, writers, pacifists, hippies, freaks, punks, Brits, Americans, French, Germans, Portuguese, Americans, Dutch, Brazilians, Angolans. My father looked around, held up his Sagres and said, ‘I don’t bloody believe it! This is Berlin. Twenty years on.’ Of course it wasn’t. But he had a point. Like Berlin at that time, the mountains do attract a different type of people – people who want to live a slightly different life – away from the mainstream. The coast is more conservative and, of course, more expensive.

–       Does the “Serra” inspire you? Why?

The way of life of the people here and the people themselves inspire me. It is a world which is fastly disappearing. Many of my neighbours belong to the last generation who will cultivate the land, keep donkeys, chickens, pigs, make medronho. Most are illiterate and yet they have such an impressive knowledge of the land passed down from generation to generation – without books but with lots of stories. When I came here there were four such families living like this in the hamlet I live in. Now there is one – a couple who farm the land, make medronho, sell their produce at the market in Monchique. They don’t drive, don’t read, don’t write. They are the last of a kind.

–       In 2008 you edited and published a collection of stories from seventeen authors living in the Algarve, or who had some connection with the Algarve, called Summer Times in the Algarve. Then in 2010 you wrote, edited and published a collection called Beyond the Sea, Stories from the Algarve, which includes several interlinking stories about people living in the Algarve, both locals and foreigners. Beyond the Sea is translated and edited in German as well as in Portuguese with Montanha Books. What made you decide to initiate an editing and publishing service?

–       As a writer I’m very interested in place. It is one of my first inspirations. There seemed to be a gap in the market for books about Portugal and, in particular, the Algarve. At least books written in English – other than Monika Ali’s evocative Alentejo Blue there are not – or there weren’t in 2008 – that many books that opened a window onto the province. I thought it was a gap that needed to be filled. I wanted to show the Algarve as being much more than a tourist destination for golfers and sun, sea and sand seekers. I also thought that as an independent writer/publisher it would be easier to control distribution.

–       Amazon is a huge distributor. Is it difficult to enter this kind of market for a single publishing author? What are your experiences with big and small distributers?

–       Amazon is fantastic. Anyone can publish and sell on Amazon. It has opened many doors for writers. It has provided an equal playing field – almost. It still helps to invest money in getting reviews and marketing in general so those with money are able to make more of a splash. Nevertheless it has given writers a chance – particularly with Kindle. Sadly, most of the independent bookstores in the Algarve have closed down and it is almost impossible to get into the big stores such as Bertrand’s or FNAC – unless you are a publishing company with a turnover of 20,000 plus pounds/euros.

–       Apart from being an author and tutor teaching Creative Writing Online courses for the continuing Education Departments of the University of East Anglia, University of York, and Oxford University, you do occasionally edit and publish authors who live or write about Portugal/Algarve under Montanha Books. Your newest publication is Janice Russell’s An Algarve Affair, which will be presented soon, on December 17th, at Quinta dos Vales in Estombar. Without telling too much about the story, what made you decide that this was a book you wanted to edit and publish by Montanha Books?

–       I’ve workshopped with Janice for many years and I knew this was a good book, a very good book and one which I believed in. It has everything: a stunning setting and a very convincing and humorous protagonist – a woman, Izzie Child’s who’s spent her life studying feminism and women’s studies, has done courses in counselling, is now approaching fifty and yet finds herself worrying about her looks and lusting after a man who cleans the pool of her villa while on holiday in the Algarve. It is intelligent, witty, assertive and hilarious. It has been a great pleasure to edit.

–       Last question, dear Lisa, tell us about your plans as author and editor. How can an interested author get in touch with you with her/his book-project about Portugal/Algarve?

I’m happy to consider editorial and possibly publishing projects if anyone is interested – and we also have editors in German and Portuguese. We cannot take on too many projects due to other commitments but if you have something you think will be of interest then do contact me: lisa.selvidge@sapo.pt

As a writer I hope to publish a novel called Twelve Steps to Separation which is about a thirties Portuguese woman living in London, an alcoholic who hits bottom when she shags her boss, crashes her car and has conversations with an imaginary friend, Gordon. She contacts AA and embarks on a journey without alcohol to lose Gordon and find a new life. Initially she is influenced by her partner, Mark, who is a teacher turned environmentalist whose mission is to save the planet. But on a trip to the Algarve, at an AA meeting, Ana decides to leave Mark and embark on a journey to save herself.

       Thank you very much for the Interview, dear Lisa!

Social Insecurity/Insegurança Social, Monchique, October 2013

I was just wondering what to blog about this month when my phone rang. It was Mario again. He was gasping each word as if someone had stabbed him in the stomach.

‘Did you pay your segurança social?’ he said.

‘You know I did,’ I replied, confused. ‘Why?’

‘They’ve frozen my account,’ he hissed.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Your name is still on my account and they’ve frozen over 1000 euros.’

‘It’s not possible. I paid it. You know that.’

I had gone to the Segurança Social (Social Security) with Leo in the beginning of September as – hands up – I hadn’t paid my National Insurance contributions since November 2012 as 124 euros a month when earning approximately 6,000 euros a year (500 a month) is, quite simply, outrageous. But I believe in a welfare system and I do live here so I decided I would pay out of my savings (rather than declare bankruptcy like most people in Portugal). Leo was in a somber mood that day and looked at the woman attending us with his dark-eyed saudades look. She fell for it.

‘I would wait until November,’ the very kind woman advised me. ‘Bring in your tax returns. It may be that you won’t need to pay if you haven’t worked much since having the baby,’ she said.

‘But I won’t be fined for not paying?’ She looked again on the computer and shook her head.

I went back a couple of weeks later with my tax returns. She wasn’t there and Leo was being less dark-eyed and more wriggly and punchy. The man who attended us told me the tax returns wouldn’t make any difference. He advised me to pay. I did. 1295 euros. Ouch. But at least I didn’t feel guilty about the plants Leo had uprooted from during the hour we were there.

‘It’s possible,’ gasped Mario. ‘I can’t get the money out. Check your …’

At that moment I lost him. My phone’s not the same since Leo posted it into the water tank. But Mario has a tendency towards drama. How could they have frozen money in his account?

But they had. And in mine. Apparently my case had gone to court. Without my knowledge. Without a letter, a phone call, an email… This happened last Friday. I had no time to sort it out before the weekend. Fortunately, I had a little more than 1000 euros in my account so I was able to go shopping.

And it cost me 40 euros to unfreeze it. Pure theft. Outrageous.

I want to complain but I can’t see a way of making a complaint on the Segurança Social website – there is a phone line but that doesn’t help me with my phone – so I will write a letter to the president. It will go something like this:

Caro Primeiro Ministro Coelho,

Sou residente de Monchique e tenho um filho com 15 meses. Vivo numa aldeia antiga que era um aldeia viva mas quase todos foram para outros paises ou sitios para ganhar uma vida. Nos ultimos anos vieram mais pessoas que querem fazer agricultura e viver uma vida mais simples conjuncto com a natureza – então não estamos completamente sozinhos. Mesmo assim a nossa aldeia ainda nao tem agua de rede – só o penico de deus, como dizem. Eu ensino cursos online para universidades na Inglaterra part-time e faço workshops e vendo alguns livros – mas não muitos porque nos ultimos anos todas as livrarias pequenas cairam a falencia e os grandes não nos deixam entrar.

Mas nao é isso que quero dizer. Eu quero dizer que não está certo que o custo de Segurança Social é tão alto – quatro vezes mais do que na Inglaterra por exemplo. Parece que voçe não compreende que as pessoas não podem trabalhar quando eles ganham 500-600 euros por mês e pagam 124 euros por mês. Não pensou que está a causar as pessoas ou trabalhar ilegalmente ou simplesmente não trabalhar?

Quanto a levar os cidadões para o tribunal sem informa-los (e quando eles já tinham pago tudo) acho, para dizer a verdade, uma vergonha. E o facto que voçes tem o poder congelar o dinheiro nas contas das pessoas sem avisa-las, acho, francamente, criminal. E que eles tem de pagar para descongelar o dinheiro é escandaloso.

Gosto muito de viver em Portugal, Senhor Primeiro Ministro, mas isso faz me zangada. Com troika ou sem troika isso não é uma maneira para tratar dos cidadões – senão quer que eles vão a procura outros paises onde eles podem trabalhar. E isso seria uma pena – quando, finalmente, temos alguns vizinhos.

Melhores cumprimentos,

Lisa Selvidge

Which very roughly translates as:

Dear Prime Minister Rabbit,

I am a resident of Monchique and I have a 15 month-old son. We live in what used to be a thriving mountain village before it was abandoned by people who scurried off to other lands to seek their fortunes. Recently, more people have settled here –in search of a more simple life – so we’re not completely alone. But our village has no mains water – just God’s gussunder, as the locals say. I teach online courses for universities in the UK and run occasional workshops and sell a few books but not many as most of the book shops have closed down in recent years and the big ones aren’t interested in selling from independent writers.

But that’s not what I want to tell you. I want to tell you that it is wrong that the cost of Social Security is so high – at least four times more than in the UK. Do you not realise that it is putting off so many people from working (at least legally)? How realistic is it to ask people who earn 500-600 euros a month to pay 124 euros in Social Security? Have you not thought that perhaps people might sign off and work illegally when they can, and not work at all when they can’t?

As for taking people to court without their knowledge (and when they have already paid their dues) and freezing sums of money in their accounts is, to be perfectly honest, criminal. And then to make them pay to unfreeze their accounts which have been frozen for no fault of their own is downright theft.

I don’t get angry very often, Mr Prime Minister, and I love Portugal but this makes me angry. Troika or no troika, this is no way to treat your citizens – unless you want them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. And that would be a shame – just when I’ve got some neighbours.

Best wishes,

Lisa Selvidge

iPhones, tea and creches – Monchique, September 2013

Leo was due to start at the local crèche in Monchique at the beginning of September. I had decided that I would take him there for three afternoons per week while I went to the library and did some work. Good for him, good for me.

It didn’t go quite to plan. His age group (12-24 months) sleep from 12.30 – 2.30 (even though Leo still sleeps in the morning and afternoon) so I got there at 2.30 when the little ones were waking up. Only some of them were twice the size of Leo. With long hair and big feet. But I was assured they were less than 24 months – just, as it turned out. It took about half an hour before I managed to unclamp Leo’s fingers from my arm and put him on the floor with the others. I got some mismatching rings on a little plastic pole – similar to something he has at home and sat down with him on the floor. The room was stifling. The woman in charge opened the window but no air seemed to get in. The other children were somnolently wandering around holding pieces of plastic vegetables. One little girl with corkscrew dark curls pushed a pram with a one-armed human-like doll. The girl smiled but her eyes were tired.

Leo looked in horror at a pile of dolls with broken limbs and went instead for an aubergine. A blonde-haired boy came and snatched it from Leo so I snatched it back. That is to say, of course, I gave the other boy a potato and Leo the aubergine. No one spoke apart from the staff as they changed nappies and chatted to each other and monologued with the little ones. ‘Come here, Maria, it smells like you’ve done a poo, come on, let’s change you…’ The children didn’t answer but as soon as they were released continued pacing the room. One by one they were sat down and given a yogurt. Not one of them tried to wriggle away –unlike Leo, who tried to climb out of the window. It reminded me of a scene from ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ – except with little people.

Leo loves water, which he calls ‘tea’ and he always plays with the watering can at home – both a toy and a real one. I found him a toy one and he happily took it and went to a tap and turned it on. But the tap wasn’t real. Leo looked up at me, with saudades in his eyes, and said, ‘Tea? Tea?

Leo_watering can

Later, at home, thinking it would be fine, it was just for a few hours a week in the afternoon, my iPhone rang.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the educator, ‘but we can’t accept him only in the afternoons. He must be here before 10 am.’

‘But what about mums and dads who work in the afternoon?’ I asked.

‘They must come in the morning.’

I said I would call her back. Now I don’t know anything about crèches or child pedagogy but surely it makes sense for the parent to spend as much time as possible with their child and for the crèche to try to accommodate that?

I paced around the terrace at home wondering what to do while Leo happily played with his real watering can and real ‘tea’. I thought that maybe two days a week from 10-3 pm would be okay.

‘What do you think, Leo,’ I asked absentmindedly. ‘Would you like to go the crèche a couple of times a week?’

He ignored me and went on playing with his watering can.

I went into the kitchen to get a real cup of tea. I decided I was being silly, suffering from separation anxiety. I would call the crèche and book him in for two days a week. Just then Leo let out an ear-piercing screech. I ran outside and found him pointing to the fenced-off water tank aka swimming pool – two square metres of tea. 

‘Tea, tea!’ he said. There was an unusual sense of urgency in his voice.

Yippee! I get to stay at home!

I looked in and there was my iPhone lying at the bottom of the pool floor. I screeched, opened the gate, jumped in fully dressed and retrieved it. It was, not surprisingly, drowned. Leo went on happily playing with his watering can while I tried to give my phone the kiss of life. Miraculously, after a few hours and some gentle massaging with a dry towel it came back to life. That is to say the internet and camera work, as does text messaging, but unfortunately the phone itself gurgles and then goes dead.

So I was never able to call the crèche.