Plan B’s And Undercover Tortoises

Where to begin?… We have had all manner of excitement and mishap both in the final days of the UK and since arriving in Portugal! Fear not though, all is well, we are all happy, we are all safe, we are not all together yet but soon the furry and human Monsons will be reunited and the all new Mediterranean version of the Monson circus will resume.

I will start in the UK…We spent the final few days UK side manically running around and getting the house as packed as possible. Having not been feeling right after having Oscar a couple of weeks previously, and the last few days spent feeling delirious, seeing double and with a temp of over 40 the doctor prescribed me with antibiotics, 10 days later I finally found myself feeling well enough to look forward to leaving again, it also meant I could help more, even so, with a 3 week old baby and a 5 year old, two idiot dogs blah, blah, blah it’s lucky if one of the four adult hands between Andy and I actually gets to do any packing… The predictable end result of the lack of time spent on packing meant bin bags and baskets having random things thrown into them, as it has for every single one of the many, many, many house moves I’ve been part of… (7 in the last 5 years, and double figures when you look over the last 10 years) so, into a wicker cat cage went cast iron griddle pans, heavy school dinner bell, a roll of sandpaper, a t shirt, a hairbrush and a stray shoe.

Finally we felt we were getting there, by the time Saturday arrived we found ourselves feeling remarkably in control, thanks so the help of a surprise visit from a lovely friend who helped no end with juggling baby, child and rolls of pallet wrap. This was so unlike us!! The van man was due to arrive in a couple of hours, we could load the van shaped mass of stuff up, clean the house, order a takeaway, sit around chatting about the funny things that have happened in the house since we moved there, opening cold beers while sat on boxes recalling merrily the times we had to go out in the pitch black and pissing November rain to retrieve the turkeys from the top of the wall or the inside of a hawthorn hedge with one of us pushing them with a broom from one side and the other holding arms out to catch them, praying their prehistoric like feet didn’t get you in the face on their way down, the birthdays, the yules and anniversaries, then we would have our last hot bath for a while, early to bed, and leave tomorrow feeling quite relaxed really after a last wistful look around at the empty rooms we would close the door, and head off into the sunset and a steady pace…

POP! ….

…we were awakened from our daydream by the enormous sound of the bubble bursting, as we waved off a set of friends who had come to say goodbye the van man called, I turned from the front door, smiling, to see Andy with a serious face saying ‘oh shit…hmmm, he’s, ok, ah no’ you always know this is not a good conversation, and soon it became apparent that this was not a happy conversation. The van part of the van man was kaput, it had has a sensor issue and wasn’t going to be repaired this side of Tuesday… A van man, with no van, is just a man… and this is no use at all when moving such a huge amount of belongings. Meaning we had two dogs, two tortoises, a shit load of stuff and as of 24 hours time no house, thank god there weren’t new tenants trying to get in! Fast arrangements were made, we would take the dogs to the kennels (the last one in a 60 mile radius with a kennel spare) leave the torts with food after bathing them also leaving the issue of how to cross border control with not only two tortoises being transported in a WW2 ammunition box but also with two tortoises who have paperwork which was valid (only) for three days previous to the day he crosses into Portugal… Accepting there is nothing we can do about such an issue, we then start the hellish task of re stacking and labelling all the items we had already stacked into an order that the van driver could load on his own in a few days time, knowing we wouldn’t fit it all in, but not by how much meant we had to move the pile (all 17 cubic metres and over 1.5tonnes of it) around like chess pieces into ‘definitely keep and load’, ‘could be left behind’, ‘can go on pallet’, ‘leave for the neighbours’, ‘can be stacked on top of anything’, ‘light’, ‘heavy’, ‘haven’t got a clue’, ‘fragile’ etc etc… By a miracle the baby slept solid for 3 hours and the sling rescued the rest so we spent 6 hours re doing everything so it could be left for someone we had never met before and paid a lot of money to in advance to come and load up and drive to us in Portugal. We made the decision that the van driver would pick up our two (absolutely stinking and hyperactive) dogs on his way to the ferry on Tuesday morning and would arrive with us at midnight on Wednesday.

The takeaway happened, but we were absolutely exhausted, and after yet more cleaning and clearing of the house it was midnight when we finally crashed onto the mattress on the floor, me getting only a few hours sleep, and sitting up with the baby facing the reality that the next day, our last in England would not be a relaxing, but would be a stress fuelled, manic race before heading up country! Right we were, by the time we’d caught up on what should have been done the day before we were over 2 hours late leaving, in belting rain with the knowledge that in such weather most often the garage, (where everything we owned in the world was now contained) would flood.

The rest of the day was much better than the beginning, we dropped in to see family, hugged, kissed, laughed and were packed off with the lunch we should have been having with them hours earlier instead in little Tupperware boxes so we could eat on the drive to Bristol. An hour late for the car return, a lovely Enterprise man told us not to worry and wished us well, and so off we flapped across the carpark to the terminal building, a blur of baby fabric wraps, child, straw summer hats, suitcases, bags, teddies, car seats and everything in between, once in the terminal the initial rush subsided, we had ages until the flight, at least an hour!! So after a much needed sip of coffee we sauntered down to the check in desk, to a wide eyed, jumpy lady who’s pillar box red lips told us to hurry the heck up as we only had 1 minute before check in closed! The blur resurfaced, and sped the entire length of the airport, only with one less bag in tow and after a 20 mile walk through corridor after corridor listening (rather ironically) to the Flamenco version of ‘Road To Hell’ following us through tinny speakers we entered the gate for our flight. Naturally being the last to check in, we were the last to board, one last blur from terminal to plane and we were on and flopped into our seats. Engines whirred, the plane moved to position, moving, moving, whirring……stop… Bing bong ‘this is your captain, a warning light has shown up and we have to stop and get it looked at’ 100 years of waiting, with Ryanair service ensuring we were allowed no food or water, until joy…bing bong ‘this is your captain, it’s fixed, the part is replaced, just need to do the paperwork and in a couple of minutes we will be off!’ A mere lightyear later we were in the air…FINALlLY!!

Two hours have never felt so long, but the boys were amazing, the guy in front even commenting he didn’t know he had a child and baby behind him when he stood up to get off the plane upon landing. We were here, out into the heat of the night, the smell of Portugal in the air… None of the rest mattered anymore, this was the start of a new life! Not too new though, we were still ‘us’ meaning in the line for passport control it was noted by me that Andy had left the entire bag of electrical stuff on the plane, iPad, camera, video camera, sat nav, the lot… Thankfully this wasn’t the UK, this was Portugal, meaning friendly people helping us to get the bag back, within ten minutes it had been radioed through, offloaded and returned to waiting hands in lost and found. This must be the third thing, the van, the plane and the bag…wasn’t it?…..

Car collected, lovely 5* hotel (thanks booking.com) we arrived and fell into bed by 1am, feeling totally ecstatic, the long journey and the trials from the days before had already melted to be nothing. We woke up early the next morning and after breakfast on the hotel roof overlooking the marina we started a long journey up country to the farm.

We couldn’t resist stopping off quickly to see the land, and we managed to only go wrong once when trying to find it again, I felt really quite sick at the thought of arriving, would it be what we hoped? Had we built it up in our minds to feel nicer, bigger, more welcoming? There was a very real chance that we might arrive and it not be anything like we remembered! We knew it would be massively overgrown and as we rounded the corner I had to remind myself this was the worst it would look, the wild flowers would be dried up, the grass spiky and long and access difficult, so if we still loved it now, in the hottest part of the day, when it had had no attention for 10 months we would be ok… Overgrown it was, the previously unkempt rustic track was now almost a solid mass of overgrown spiky things. But, it was home, and to make up for the tough access the land held out arms of dappled shade all the way around with the huge trees which bordered it, finally we were back, the smell was the same, the views of the mountains were more stunning than I remember, the trees bigger and more established than last year when we came, one field was just as we remembered it, and the other much larger than we thought, it was far too hot to brave crossing the land to go up into the woods so we just stood halfway, looking and taking it all in, it still doesn’t feel like we can be there long term, like we really have this opportunity to take care of such a beautiful special space it’s literally a dream come true. The smell of rosemary filled the air and that same feeling of welcome and calm was there, everything is new and yet totally familiar. The space we hope to build the house is a much better size than we thought, the blackberries are growing, and we found a huge old pear tree, an apple tree and a fig tree too, there is fruit everywhere! It will take a hell of a lot of work to get the land feeling more homely, I’m sure the horses will help shorten the grass when they arrive, in the meantime the first job is to cut back the brambles so we can pass through without getting stabbed, and then start seeing which areas need clearing so we can mend fences and start making the farm secure enough for animal and child! We left feeling relieved, and happy and only a little daunted :)

Night number two in Portugal and night number one in the area we would call home was spent back where it all started with our friends Pam and Mark who run Tippings Tipis, not only did Pam give me a heads up about the house sitting, she also kindly offered to put us up in one of their gorgeous Tipis for the night before we went onto the house sitting house the next day. We got out of the car to the loveliest welcome, hugs and kisses all round, and it was wonderful to see familiar faces again, including Josh and Jamie who found us the land, we all had a lovely dinner together, plenty of wine and lots of catching up! It felt like we had never been away!! The next door town has just had the hosted the BOOM festival for the week, meaning the local villages were full of colourful characters, beaten up old trucks, motor homes and converted lorries everywhere, people sat, with no reason to stay, no reason to hurry away, the area is buzzing with people smiling, there is a Festa on practically every night of the week somewhere locally too, it’s definitely a great time to have arrived!

By Tuesday we drove to meet Martine and Paul who’s house we are staying at in Castelo Novo for the next few weeks. When we arrived at the house we were met by two lovely warm characters who felt instantly familiar to me, Martine loves babies, she used to be the equivalent of a Health Visitor in Holland she is trained in baby massage and has said she will teach me everything when she gets back from their time away, I have always wanted to train in baby massage so this is music to my ears!! They are also musicians and have the most incredible collection of bongo and djembe drums I have ever seen! We are really hoping we can offer their drumming workshops as an added extra option when groups book to stay with us, and the same for baby massage too! I have a feeling we will be firm friends with them, they are lovely, as are their animal family, Sheeba an old lady though elegant as anything, and the two cats Hero and Pipette. We also got to meet a few of their friends who had come to see them off, one man who used to live a stones throw from where we will be and another lady who is just about to undertake the first ever retrofit earthship, it’ll be really interesting to see how it all unfolds! Sounds like it’ll be an amazing project!

Once we’d spent a good few hours together and were clear on where the horses would graze and how to take care of everything, we said goodbye and headed to Fundao to get food for the next few days, aware that we would not have a vehicle to get anywhere until late Thursday as the hire car needing to be back in just a few hours. Halfway around the hypermarket we had another phone call from the van driver who sounded like he was about to have a meltdown, the motorway had been shut and he was not going to make the ferry meaning he would now not be here until the next crossing which was midnight Friday… Again, faced with awry plans, horses due the next day, and all the horse fencing currently on a van somewhere on the M23 we calmly continued our shop and put it in the ‘what will be will be pile’ With luck finally on his side he decided to make a dash for it when the traffic started moving and Brittany ferries to their credit helped save the day by letting him on an hour after boarding closed! All being well he should arrive with the dogs here at midnight tonight, and then will grow to hate us on a whole new level when he sees that the road to the barn where all our stuff is being stored is impassable and everything needs carrying up a 100metre bumpy thorn lined track!… Lets hope he is in a good mood!

Once our things, the dogs, torts and horses are here, we will be well and truly living in Portugal, can’t wait for us all to be reunited! So far things are better than we dared to dream, Tom has spent yesterday and today in the pool, we have been lazing in the shade of the orange trees and daydreaming away!!

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