25 May 2024


In the Casa Pologoda villa near Carvoeiro there was a 55 inch TV screen with instructions about how to access various extra channels. However, I am pleased to say that it was never turned on. Nobody wanted or needed that distraction - even Little Phoebe who is often in the habit of whining, "I want to watch something!"

Apart from not watching any television I also avoided being on the internet entirely. No blogging. No BBC News. No e-mails or Google. I was completely off-line. Of course the others all had their smartphones which they accessed every day but not me, nor Phoebe and the babies.

It felt good to detoxify. Most of us spend far too much of our lives looking at screens and I am not at all sure that this is good for our health - either mental or physical. Arguably, we become smaller, less significant beings when big chunks of our days and nights are devoted to screens. What is it doing to our brains?

A little Googling led me to some interesting numbers. The average American spends around seven hours a day looking at screens - TV screens, computer monitors and smartphones.  That is forty nine hours a week which is the equivalent of two full days out of seven.

For children living in the western world this is all they have ever known. They think that it is all very normal but people of my generation can remember times when there were no screens apart from very occasional visits to cinemas.

There was more time for quiet thinking, family conversations, shared social activities and sports. Surely- all much healthier than immersing ourselves in the multifarious offerings we find on our screens.

It also occurs to me that every interface with a screen involves consumption of electricity. Smartphones are charged up day after day all over the world. Think of all of that electricity! Incredibly, it is estimated that there are 6.94 billion smartphones  in the world. 1.5 billion of them are in China and India. Yes - huge amounts of electricity  every single day so that users can check "Facebook", share memes, take photos, play games and message each other.

Screen detoxification would do us all some good once in a while. I think we would have clearer heads and more focus upon the world around us. And maybe we would start to rediscover some of the things we have lost because of screen time. After the positive experience at Casa Pogoda, I am going to actively try to reduce the amount of screen time I accrue each morning of the week.

24 May 2024


Leftover images from our holiday in The Algarve, Portugal. Above - at the entrance to the castle in Silves. There have been fortifications on this site for two thousand years. What we see today is one of the best preserved Moorish castles on the Iberian peninsula.
From the castle walls my camera zoomed down upon a stork's nest. The young look ready to fly.
On Thursday May 16th we visited Praia da Marinha - just a ten minute drive from our villa. Ian's girlfriend Sarah found a shady spot by the limestone cliff with Zachary in her arms...
Because of the two babies we did not stay long on the beach. It has beautiful golden sands and is considered to be one of the top ten beaches in Europe. We were there for no more than an hour but Ian and I both went swimming in the pristine waters. Quite chilly to be honest.
Back at the villa, Ian took a well-deserved rest in the "Fatboy" hammock. Down in London, he continues to work so hard on all things "BOSH!".
In the villa there were many interesting objects and artefacts including this brass Buddha head from Burma...
And this massive shell atop a cupboard - probably from The Pacific Ocean...
Below there's a view across the villa's pool  to the Atlantic...
On one of the days we went into the nearby resort of Carvoeiro, I spotted this signage not far from the beach...
And finally here's Baby Margot having forty winks...

23 May 2024


On holiday I finally finished reading "Shadowlands" by Matthew Green. As you can see from the front cover, its strapline is "A Journey Through Lost Britain". How very intriguing. My friend Tony lent it to me at the start of this year.

It might be described as eight little books in one for the only thing that appears to connect the eight chapters is the sense that these stories have rarely been properly told. The writer puts his chosen tales into human and historical contexts and given the volume of explanatory notes at the end, you can tell that the content was very well-researched.

Chapter One looks at the neolithic settlement of Skara Brae in The Orkneys. This five thousand year old stone-built village re-emerged in 1850 during a terrible storm that shifted the sands that had concealed the place  for millennia.

Chapter Two featured the lost Welsh city of Trellech that was once the seat of great economic power and influence. Its decline was partly connected with the impact of The Black Death in the middle ages but there were other reasons too.

Chapter Three concerned the  once important seaport of Winchelsea in East Sussex. Coastal erosion and deposition were largely responsible for its decline. Matthew Green does a fine job of conjuring up a sense of its former glory.

Chapter Four looks at a deserted medieval village called Wharram Percy in The Yorkshire Wolds. It is a place I have visited myself. Like Trellech, it was partly done for by The Black Death but again there were other reasons such as the growth of sheep farming in medieval times.

Wharram Percy

Chapter Five investigates Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. Like Winchelsea, it was once an important port but over a century it had to gradually surrender to the sea. I have been there myself and there is very little left to point to its former stature.

Chapter Six takes us out into The Atlantic and the remote, craggy island of St Kilda where a hardy community had carved out a meagre existence for hundreds of years. In the 1930's remaining islanders were evacuated to the Scottish mainland, never to return. I blogged about this melancholic place before. Go here.

Chapter Seven finds us in a vast military training site in the heart of Norfolk. There were villages there and farms too but before World War II the vast acreage was requisitioned by The Ministry of Defence. In the early years of this century, the army built a very realistic Afghan village there - complete with sounds and smells to prepare Afghanistan-bound soldiers for the kind of situations they might find themselves in. They even brought in Afghan immigrants and refugees to inhabit the place during training sessions.

Chapter Eight was about Capel Celyn in North Wales. Once a peaceful green valley it was claimed by the city of Liverpool for the construction of a new reservoir that would fulfil the English city's water needs into the future. In the 1950's the project sparked controversy and a cause celebre for Welsh nationalists everywhere.

I enjoyed this book greatly. It taught me many things and if Matthew Green should ever happen upon this blogpost, I would just like to say "thank you" to him. A great idea and well-executed.

22 May 2024


Holiday snaps that star our grandchildren. None of the pictures were taken by me. Instead they were snapped on Ian and Frances's smartphones. As the months and years pass and as we all grow older and the temporal distance widens, these innocent images posted on May 22nd 2024 will remain as reminders of  our lovely holiday on the Algarve coast.
The granddaughters

The grandson

Grandpa with smiley Margot

Cousins born nine days apart

Lovely Phoebe in one of her summery dresses

After all, who knows what might lie ahead?

21 May 2024


We clambered aboard a white speedboat on Carvoeiro beach - just four us - Frances, Stew, Phoebe and I. There were four other English trippers, an elderly Canadian man and two young Portuguese men - one taking charge of the outboard motor and the other acting as a guide. I do not remember their names.

As I said before, that limestone coast is hollowed out with numerous caves and at the head of some of them there are beaches with natural "windows" that look up to the sky above. Our pilot must have taken us in to a dozen of these caves during our ninety minute voyage that ended at beautiful Marinha Beach before heading back to Carvoeiro. It was quite thrilling and we enjoyed it very much. You should have heard Phoebe laughing like a dervish on the bouncy return to base.

In the picture below, we are approaching Farol de Alfanzina. You can see the red top of the lighthouse  peeping over the cliff and three sea cave entrances.
In one cave, the guide borrowed Frances's smartphone to capture the following image:-
And here is the author of this blog with his first and much loved grandchild...
Here she is again as we approach Praia da Marinha...
When we got back to Carvoeiro we treated ourselves to ice creams. Mine was rice pudding flavour as they didn't have Yorkshire Pudding. Phoebe had chocolate just like Peppa Pig but she wouldn't  allow me to have even a single spoonful... "No! It's mine!"

20 May 2024


The loveliest holiday ever. A peaceful four bedroom villa each with its own en suite bathroom. A spacious open plan lounge with a large and well-equipped kitchen area. A large swimming pool with twenty sun loungers. One indoor and four outdoor dining tables including one on the roof. A lawn with a day bed under a bamboo canopy. A pool table. 

And then there was Yuri.

Ian and Sarah hired a large black Toyota Hybrid and Frances and Stew hired a Nissan Qashqai. Grandma and Grandpa decided not to bother hiring a car. Instead, we travelled from the airport in a Yellowfish taxi. Our driver was a young Portuguese woman who drove competently and safely. We had  some polite conversation as we left the airport and then she settled down to do her job as we quietly surveyed the passing kilometres. Forty five of them.

And then there was Yuri. She was different from him.

On the last morning, Yuri arrived fifteen minutes earlier than the appointed time which was in itself quite annoying. Yuri said that he was a "professional driver" and that he came from Ukraine. After saying our now hasty goodbyes to the London contingent because of Yuri, he lugged our suitcases to the Yellowfish taxi's  boot (American: trunk) and we set off.

Stocky fifty two year old Yuri began his largely one-sided "conversation" as we headed up the lane from the lighthouse. He spoke rather quietly in broken English, looking at me via the driver's mirror. Shouldn't he have been looking at the road? And there was also tarmac and engine noise to contend with.

Yuri spoke about the war in Ukraine, Russian motivation, Russian tactics, the involvement of banks and greedy money people, Putin, the merits of different weapons, his own brother, President Zelensky, Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, Japanese support, the history of Ukraine prior to the dissolution of the old Soviet Union before moving on to other subjects such as the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban and Gaza and the Israelis.

Yuri never prefaced any of his remarks with "In my opinion..." or "I think...". His points were entirely made as if they were undeniably true. And what is more, Yuri only wanted me to nod and listen as if captivated by some intellectual giant which he was certainly not. He had no interest in anything I might have to say. This was "The Yuri Show" starring Yuri.

The kilometres flashed by on the motorway signs. Thirty five dropped to twenty five, then fifteen and before too long there were only five kilometres to go to the airport. Not long to go until the endless jabbering finally ceased. Surely I could hang on to the end.

It was my idea of hell. Leaning forward forever from the back of a taxi listening to the quiet monologue of a Ukrainian  man called Yuri - delivered in faltering English. Perhaps I should have said what my head was telling me to say: "Now listen up Yuri. We have paid for this taxi ride and we just want to sit quietly in the back so SHUT THE **** UP! And drive us safely to the blasted airport. Thank you!"

After listening to enduring Yuri, I almost wanted Putin to be given Ukraine on a golden platter. Almost but not quite.

19 May 2024


The Farol de Alfanzina was just a stone's throw from our villa and I mean that pretty literally. It stands  above a craggy limestone coastline which is in places hollowed out like a Swiss cheese. I could see it from our bedroom window and at night its reassuring beam infiltrated our red curtains though not enough to wake us.

It was expertly built in 1924, equipped with the latest French lighthouse technology and until the 1950's was powered by diesel. Its distinctive rhythm interwove merrily with the lights of Faro to the east and Cabo San Vicente on the south western tip of Portugal. On clear nights, its warning or welcoming light can still be seen by mariners who are twenty five miles away upon  the wide Atlantic.
Above you can see the western approach to Farol de Alfanzina from the clifftop path that begins in Caroveiro. It was a daunting path that didn't always boast fencing. Below and I am closer to the lighthouse but in front of me is a massive sink hole that leads down to sea level caves. Later the current lighthouse keeper told me that when showering he can sometimes hear waves crashing below him  or sounds from outboard motors.

Above - the owner of our villa must have commissioned  a traditional tiled picture of the lighthouse. It was the first thing you saw when passing through the villa's blue gates. Below - the lane adjacent to our rental property led directly to the lighthouse.
On Friday, I spotted a notice on the lighthouse's red gates. It said that guided visits to the place would happen at 14.00, 15.30 and 16.30. I was down there with Stewart and Little Phoebe for the final visit of the day. At the last minute, an older English couple who had been walking the coastal path hurried along to join us. We were met by the temporary lighthouse keeper, João - a lean man in his early fifties dressed smartly in a maritime uniform. He spoke pretty good English and did not overwhelm us with information.

João led us to the top via a  winding stone staircase and two fixed wrought iron ladders that brought us right up to the light chamber itself. Phoebe overcame this challenge with far less trepidation than I experienced up there.
View from the red gates

In the light chamber at the top

Above - the landward view from the top of the lighthouse. Our villa was the one with two lampposts by the hedge. If you look closely you can make  out a figure on the balcony That's Shirley looking our way.

Below - not an entirely original view of the lighthouse's spiralling stairs. Even so I rather like this photograph and I am glad I remembered to snap it.

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