27 February 2013

Interesting bits and bobs

When I was looking a facts for my blog, 'Hundreds of Years of Friendship', I  discovered a few interesting things that I had not been aware of before and thought I might share them.

As a child growing up, the radio was a huge part of our lives and I learnt the names of fascinating foreign places using the dial to wander around the top of the radio.  We listened to the radio religiously on Sundays because that was the day when Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe  broadcast the very popular 'Two Way Family Favourites'.  This must have been where I came to hear a tune that stuck in my mind. 

When I started visiting Lisbon on a regular basis, I kept hearing a familiar tune but didn't take much notice except for having that fleeting feeling of having heard it somewhere before.  Last week, cruising around music sites, I discovered that the tune was called 'Coimbra' in Portuguese and was one of the signature songs of the famous Amalia Rodrigues - arguably one of the best Fado singers ever - but it had been translated into English and was known as 'April in Portugal' or more weirdly 'Whisp'ring Seranade'.  The reason I recognised it was that it had been a huge hit for Vic Damone (a very popular American singer) in 1953 and had reached the American charts and must have been a popular choice for the radio request programmes. 

Written by Raoul Ferrao about the beautiful Portuguese city of Coimbra,  the Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy put English words to it and gave it the title of 'April in Portugal' and it became one of the most recorded songs of the 1950's.  Jimmy Kennedy was also responsible for the words to 'The Teddy Bears Picnic', 'Red Sails in the Sunset' and 'My Prayer'.  I also discovered it had been covered by Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt and Louis Armstrong to name but a few.  It is a very haunting song but I never realised that it was originally a very famous portuguese fado song.

Amalia Rodrigues

In those days, we were privileged enough to have a TV.  Hilarious when I think of it now.  It had something like a 9 inch screen with a large magnifying glass hung over it by means of canvas or leather straps.  Our tomcat loved to sit on top of it and hang his tail over the screen which made viewing difficult.  I also vividly remember the excitement of being told we were at last going to have the second channel - ITV - and had memorised the programming from a luckier school chum who was already watching Hopalong Cassidy etc.  My poor father was up in the loft tweeking the aerial whilst we shouted up to him whether the screen was still 'snowing' or we could see a programme. 

This looks remarkably like the set we had and below is a magnifier - ours was clear and not pink!

 A TV magnifier 

I was a TV addict from an early age.  TV in those days was very exciting to a youngster.  I remember trying my hardest to get out of Sunday School afternoons because there would be an old film on which I wanted to see.  Sometimes I succeeded but most times I didn't.  The variety shows on Saturdays and Sundays were always interesting with their mix of singers, comedians, magicians and exotic acts of some description either with or without hoops, balls and plates.  I remember getting a bit of a lecture from my teacher at primary because my diary for the weekend consisted of a review of the programmes I had been glued to - most likely 'Oh Boy' and '6 5 Special'.

One image from old films was that of a lady with fruit in her hair.  Very glamorous and scantily clad - quite shocking in those days - she always made an impression and her name added to the vision - Carmen Miranda.  I  discovered that she was actually called Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha and had been born in Vazea da Ovelha e Aliviad in northern Portugal but moved to Brazil in 1910 and although she never came back to Portugal she kept her Portuguese nationality all her life. Carmen was a nickname given to her by her father because of his love of opera.  Later she got two more - The Brazilian Bombshell and The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat.

She showed a love of singing and dancing from a young age and, when she was 14 she went to work in a hat shop - later opening her own profitable hat business. She went into show business and was a successful samba dancer and singer and became the first contract singer in radio history in Brazil.  She was discovered by Hollywood from her appearances in Brazilian documentaries and films. After a brief appearance in an Abbott and Costello film she became a media sensation.  President D Roosevelt thought she was a good person to strengthen links with Europe and Latin America and her fame spread to such an extent that she was the first Latina to leave her hand and footprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre.  In 1945 she was the highest paid entertainer and top female tax payer in the US!

More than half a million people escorted her coffin to her burial in Rio de Janeiro in 1955.  As can been seen from the photos, she certainly made an impression on me and people still remember her to this day and not that long ago John Cale of the Velvet Underground recorded a song for his album 'Words for the Dying' called 'The Soul of Carmen Miranda'.  Another legacy from her fame is costume jewellery in fruit designs which is now very collectable.  She also has a square named after her and a Star on Hollywood Boulevard. In Portugal there is Museu Municipal Carmen Miranda in Marco de Canaveses which has photographs and one of her hats with a statue of her outside.  In Rio de Janeiro yet another museum has some of her original costumes and also shows clips from her film work. To bring her up-to-date, in the new film 'Gangster Squad' (2013) she is played by Yvette Tucker in a nightclub scene.  How wonderful that she is not forgotten.

The famous Monty Python phrase "What did the Romans ever do for us?" led me to look for what the Portuguese did for us.  Now this was interesting. 

How many of us have heard of a mariner's astrolabe?  Probably only those of us with a keen interest in the sea and sailing.  I first saw one of these on the wall of my favourite restaurant in Alfama - Malmequer Bemmequer - and was told how it helped the explorers in the Age of Discoveries.  Remembering this I started to dig into it and found that the creation and perfectioning of the mariner's astrolabe was done by the Portuguese. 

The mariner's astrolabe was used until around the end of the 17th century and is now very rare.  In 1979 only 35 were presumed to exist but 65 were known about by 1988.  The biggest collection of them is held in museums around Portugal.  Archeologists hope that during more marine archaeology, more will be uncovered. As they were made from heavy brass, they tend to last a long time in the water. 

A Mariner's Astrolabe

As it was not possible to work out longtitude at sea in early exploration days, only latitude, ships sailed east or west along the latitude line until they reached land.  The sun and stars were used to calculate latitude along with an almanac.  They used a quadrant, a cross staff and then the mariner's astrolabe.   I honestly admit I do not understand a thing about this and have just put the basics!  For those who are thoroughly educated in physics or astronomy, I am sure it is all very simple.  Apparently it had to be vertically suspended to measure the altitude of the celestial object (star) so windy conditions were a bit of a nightmare I imagine, as they say that errors of four or five degrees were common even when made of brass and not wood. However, it must have been good as how else would anyone have found foreign shores!

The next surprise was the invention of the first 'aircraft' - 74 years before the Mongolfier Brothers took to the air in their balloon, Bartolomeu de Gusmao designed the 'Passarola'.

Bartolomeu was a priest from Santos in Brazil - still a Portuguese territory in those days.  He studied at the University of Coimbra and was said to have had a remarkable memory and a great command of languages. He decided to improve on the ideas of the Italian, Francesco Lana de Terzi (1631-1687 who is referred to as the Father of Aeronautics because he turned the study of aeronautics into a science.  Apparently he also developed the idea that eventually ended up as Braille. The things you find when you are researching!) In 1709 Bartolomeu went to King John V (Rei Joao V) to petition him for support for his invention of an airship which he really believed in. This petition has been preserved along with the picture and description of it. 

His idea was that if a huge sail was placed over a boat-like body (think covered wagon) and with tubes put through the body which, if there was no wind, air could be blown through them by bellows.  It would be propelled using magnets which would be placed in two hollow metal balls.  There was supposed to be a public test in the June of 1709 but it did not take place for some reason.  The King must have been impressed by him as he gave him a professorship at Coimbra, made him a Canon, a member of the Academia Real de Historia (1720) and he was made Chaplain to the Court in 1722.  High honours indeed.
One version I found in Portuguese, does claim that an experimental flight took place from the Plaza de Armas at the Castle of St George in Lisbon and that it landed about one kilometre away, in Terreiro do Paco.  It also claimed he had been persecuted by the Church as a wizard and had fled to Toledo, where he later died.  It's true that he died in Toledo in 1724, but I expect we will never know the real truth of it all.  Sad. This version also claims that he got the nickname of The Flying Priest or Voador, which reminded me of another famous story of a religious man. 

Now back in England, well before Bartolomeu there was Eilmer or Elmer, the Flying Monk!  Malmesbury Abbey is a beautiful building and dates back to the 7th Century.  In the 11th Century it contained the second largest library in Europe and was seen as one of the leading European seats of learning.  It was also the site of a very early attempt of human flight!  One of the Benedictine monks, Eilmer, thought he could fly and after attaching wings to his body, he took off from the tower and landed half way down Malmesbury High Street (although this has been disputed and Olivers Lane has been suggested as the true landing site), sustaining two broken legs in the process, which left him lame for the rest of his life.  Later he is quoted as having said the reason he did not fly further was because he did not have a tail! 

Eilmer was known to have written about astrology and everything that we know about him is detailed in the 'Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings) written by William of Malmesbury - an eminent medieval historian - in about 1125.  As William was also a monk at the Abbey he must have had first hand accounts from people who had known Eilmer or witnessed the event. Some think that Eilmer was influenced by Halley's Comet which appeared in the sky in 1066.  However there are no known records of his birth but William works from Eilmer's quotation:

"You've come, have you? – You've come, you source of tears to many mothers. It is long since I saw you; but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country."

This quotation being taken to refer to the Norman invasion of 1066 means that perhaps he was born about 984 and would have been about 5 or 6 years old when he saw the Comet but it is all highly speculative.  Eilmer was an old man in 1066 and he made the flying attempt when he was quite young so the event is thought to have taken place some time early in the 11th Century - perhaps the first decade.  William also thought that Eilmer would have read the fable about Daedalus (the boy who flew too close to the sun) and that would have influenced him to fit wings to his hands and feet.
 Eilmer or Elmer the Flying Monk

Whatever the truth of the matter, The Flying Monk is still a much loved character who often appears at Carnival time and is part of the history of Malmesbury and its Abbey.  There was also a much loved, now sadly demolished, pub called The Flying Monk - tales of which were far and wide and very entertaining.

Courtesy of Athelstan Museum, Malmesbury, Wiltshire

22 February 2013

I just love my Butcher

It has been quite illuminating watching the 'Horsemeat/Donkey' scandal unfold in the UK, Ireland and Europe.  For the supermarkets it has become a very welcome look into their dubious practice of keeping prices low at any cost.  It also flags up the culture of blinding the shoppers with offers to save money - or so it appears until looked at in more detail.

Sky News happily shared with the world the revolting sight of a packaged lasagne being slithered onto a plate.  How an Italian 'Momma' would react to something that looked more like slurry to a traditonal Italian lasgne, does not bear thinking of.  All I could relate the vision to was the memorable occasion when Keith Floyd attempted an omelette in the kitchen of a fierce French lady and she ceremoniously binned it in front of him.  Wonderful moment.

When I was a child my mother instilled into me that cheap is not the best and that went for everything that she bought.  Cheap shoes last no time.  Spend what you can on a good pair and they last for years.  I, obviously, wanted to disprove this - a lot - and consequently when I was old enough to go out and buy my own shoes, quickly learnt the hard way that the cheap, fashionable shoes I pounced on, fell apart rapidly and soon went back to saving up and buying good, leather fashionable shoes from a wonderful family-run shop, Roses, in Macclesfield. 

She also hammered (verbally) into me that I should never, ever buy meat from a meat van market stall.  I always presumed this must have been due to her experiences during the war, when meat was a luxury and 'meat' might not have been what it was claimed to be on the vibrant Black Market.  She never made comment about other meat market stalls in indoor markets though, just the vans!  She may well have been wrong but it always stuck with me.

When we lived in Kettleshulme, our meat came from a lovely butcher in Whaley Bridge, all sourced locally and as fresh as anything.  When we moved to Macclesfield, our meat came from the butcher on Hurdsfield Road and was delivered by bicycle. 

Broadhursts of Hurdsfield Road, Macclesfield, which is sadly no longer there

When I lived in Kerridge, our butcher was in Bollington and again delivered.  In Edinburgh I had a wonderful butcher up in Davidsons Mains who taught me the differences between English and Scottish names for cuts of meat.  In Wiltshire I used a great butcher who made his own sausages and won awards.  Here in Portugal, I have used many different butchers and always been helped by the butcher to identify and name cuts of meat which are very different here to the UK. 

JJJ Heathcoate Butchers on Palmerston Street, Bollington

Here in the hills of Sintra I use a wonderful butcher in Almocageme (Talho Francisco Rosa) and I always enjoy my visits as I pick up local knowledge, jokes, occasional renditions of fado singing and recommendations or directions to other shops. 

The shop reminds me of English butchers of the old days in as much as everyone is served personally with a smile and a chat, there are chairs for people to sit on to wait.  Nothing is too much trouble.  I have even taken a photograph of a cut of meat I fancied for a dinner, and it was cut for me specially.  They also do a good line in dog bones which are much appreciated by our two friends on the estate.

I tend to do a monthly shop with perhaps the odd spur of the moment purchase mid month and I thought I would share with you the contents of yesterday's shop and show how cheaply you eat by using your local butcher, where you do not pay for packaging and know exactly where your meat comes from.
In the photograph below, you can see on the left a large piece of turkey.  You can have this sliced in thin escalopes if you wish, but yesterday I decided on having it cubed and minced (which they do for you).  This came in as just over a kilo and cost me 8.39 euros. That should do about four meals for the pair of us. I then went for four chicken breasts.  These are cut off chickens in front of you (dead, of course) and just one breast is large enough to feed the two of us.  These breasts weighed in at just over two kilos and cost me 7.25 euros (about four meals for the two of us).  I also bought two free range chicken legs which I think again, one will be sufficient for two of us, and they cost me 5.66 euros for two meals.

The Chicken and Turkey Section

I then wanted some mince, stewing steak and steaks. The meat for these appeared from the cold store and was cut in front of me.  Miniscule fat on them.  The steaks were then cut into four (two meals for two), the stewing steak cubed (probably three meals for two) and the meat - twice minced (about three meals for two) and coming in at over two kilos cost 19.46.

The Beef and Lamb Section

Finally, I got some lovely ox liver for my favourite portuguese dish, Figado. About half a kilo and that cost me 2.91 euros and this will easily make two meals for us.

All of my purchases will last a month - 20 meals for the two of us at approximately 2.19 euros for two - plus my seven euro a week veggie box, I think I do rather well and am incredibly fortunate to be able to live so well here.  In case you think we might starve the rest of the time, we eat a daily salad of either local cheese or fish with soup!

The butcher also sells large containers of potato crisps to die for.  So pure and natural.  Reminiscent of what Smiths Plain Crisps (with the old blue bag of salt), used to taste like before flavourings and nasties were added.  They also do a mean pork scratching which are marketed as 'fat free' as all the fat has been cooked out of them.  They certainly taste rather good.

Portuguese pork scratchings - no additives

The best crisps on the planet.  Potatoes, salt and vegetable oil. 

I know I am extremely lucky because I have time to shop in my local butcher, but I am sure that now people are more aware of what they 'might' be consuming, they may well return to their local butcher - that's if they still have one - and ask them for help and advice on what to buy and how to cook it.  Here it is normal for a butcher to advise on recipes as so many of them cook themselves.

The secret is buy fresh- be it in your local butcher or butcher's counter in the supermarket.  Cheap, packaged supermarket meat is not always best or cheapest.

20 February 2013

Hundreds of Years of Friendship

The oldest alliance in the world is between Portugal and England.  I wonder how many people who live or visit Portugal, are aware of this? 
The origins of this alliance go back to the Middle Ages when the English Crusaders aided the Portuguese in the conquest of Lisbon over the Moors in 1147.  Then followed a period of lucrative trading between the two countries and commercial treaties were signed in 1308 by King Don Dinis of Portugal and later by King Edward III of England in 1353. 

 John of Gaunt being entertained by King John (Rei Joao)

The first formal treaty (The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty) was signed in 1373 in England when Rei Dom Fernando (King Ferdinand) and Rainha Leonor (Queen Eleanor) sent their envoys to King Edward III and the treaty was signed in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This treaty agreed that English Archers would be sent to Portugal to help with attacks from the Castilians and, in the August of 1385, they were supporting the Portuguese at The Battle of Aljubarrota (A Batalha de Aljubarrota) when the Castilians were routed. This battle has often been mentioned to me by Portuguese friends as being one of the most important ones in their history.
The aid given by the English to the Portuguese House of Aviz continued and in May of 1386 The Treaty of Windsor (a renwal of the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty) was signed at Windsor CastleSt George’s Chapel.  This Treaty was sealed by King Richard II of England and envoys of King John 1 (Rei Joao I) of Portugal.
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

The next year King Edward III's son, John of Gaunt (Duke of Lancaster) asked for help from the Portuguese to claim the Crown of Castile and in return he offered his eldest daughter, Philippa (Filipa de Lencastre) to Rei Joao I (King John I) and they married in 1387.

Philippa of Lancaster (Filipa de Lencastre)

Philippa was a very well educated woman - something incredibly rare in those days.  She had studied science, poetry and theology under some of the most famous teachers of that time in England.  She was also rumoured to have been taught by Geoffrey Chaucer (who was married to another Philippa - sister to John of Gaunt's third wife, Queen Katherine).  She had also been tutored in Greek and Roman works such as Pliny and Herodotus.
The marriage of Philippa and King John (Filipa and Rei Joao I)

Philippa modernised the Portuguese Court and introduced a strict moral code of behaviour.  Possibly something to do with her husband already having a mistress who she managed to expel from Court?!  She also educated her children - Duarte (Edward), Pedro (Peter), Henrique (Henry) Isobel (Isabella), John (Joao), Fernado (Ferdinand) - to the highest level of the times.  She was also responsible for providing Royal patronage to English commercial interests. Of course we know Henrique much better as Henry the Navigator, a much respected King in both countries and worldwide.

Obviously the friendship faltered occasionally as all friendships tend to do.  During the Tudor era in England, relations were strained within Europe due to the Reformation - the Catholic Church being overthrown by the founding of the Church of England. 

Then, the Portuguese needed help; Spain had invaded in 1580 and for 60 years had made them part of Spain.  They wanted to be independent so in 1640 the Duke of Braganza turned to the English for help to reclaim their country and dominions.  This led to another treaty being signed in 1642 and a marriage between Catherine of Braganza (Caterina de Braganca) and King Charles II of England being agreed. This alliance defeated the Spanish and granted independence to Portugal from Spain.

File:King Charles II by John Riley.jpg
Charles II (not a very flattering portrait!)

 Catherine of Braganza (Caterina de Braganca)

I feel for Catherine.  She had a rough time with King Charles II and his many consorts, as well as having to deal with the political plotting at the English Court.  She suffered attacks on her faith (Catholic), struggled to learn English and was unfortunate in not being able to bear Charles any children which meant the knives were out for her, but Charles appeared fond of her and never agreed to a divorce and they remained married until his death. 

She stayed on in England but after more problems over her choice of religion she returned to  her beloved Portugal in 1699 and to the Portuguese Court.  She acted as Regent for her brother Rei Pedro II (King Peter II) in 1701 and again between 1704-05.  I think this also shows she was a strong character and had probably picked up quite a few pointers from her time in England.

Her best legacy to Britain was the introduction of tea drinking.  Yes, that's right.  The story goes that she used to have High Tea at 5.00 pm which involved drinking tea.  The Portuguese still keep to the 5.00 pm time and I wonder whether our habit of having High Tea at 4.00 pm is due to the time difference that was in practise until both countries were on GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)?  She also, allegedly, introduced the use of the fork but one of her greatest legacies was her involvement and support in 1703 for The Treaty of Methuen (or cheekily - The Port Wine Treaty) between Portugal and England. 

This treaty was very important as it protected the trade of wine from Portugal to Britain and the importing of British textiles into Portugal and it held throughout the 18th Century when both countries supported each other from attacks from France and Spain.  It was tested when, in 1807, Napoleon told Portugal to close its ports to British shipping when he declared war on Britain. 

Portugal bravely refused and the English fleet protected the Portuguese Royal family who had to flee the country to Brazil as a consequence of this decision. Napoleon and the French army invaded Portugal and captured Lisbon but in 1808 the British joined forces with the Portuguese to defeat the French and Napoleon.  This is what we know as The Peninsular War and went on for six long years.

Fans of the TV series Sharpe, with Sean Bean, will be familiar with this part of Portuguese history, as Sharpe battled away with the Duke of Wellington to expel the French and Napoleon.  Bernard Cornwall wrote the books that inspired the series, some of which was shot in Portugal.
(Courtesy of Amazon)

 Sean Bean and his men in Sharpe

As is the way of world politics, things got strained over the years and at times both countries managed to annoy each other.  Towards the end of the time of the monarchy in Portugal, the British were not popular but things resolved themselves and Portugal joined Britain and the Allies in World War I. 

Portugal, under the dictator Salazar, was neutral  during the Second World War, but when the Alliance was invoked by the UK, Salazar allowed Britain and the Allies to establish bases in the Azores - that must have annoyed the Germans, as Portugal was still trading with Germany - and offered the same to the Royal Navy during the Falklands War. 

So a brief look, and hopefully not too inaccurate, account of the friendship between Portugal and Britain.  Amazing to think that both Philippa and Catherine brought so much to our joint histories.  Philippa gave Portugal strong sons like Henry and Navigator.

Henry the Navigator

Known as the patron of Portuguese exploration, Henry was responsible for making the Portuguese Navy a force to be reckoned with, not least because of the famous Caravel, that could go further and outpace any ships of the time.

The beautiful Portuguese Carvel (Caravela)

Catherine gave the British a serious tea drinking habit, the fork and possibly was instrumental in keeping the bottles of port going round to the left with her involvement in The Treaty of Methuen. 

I think we should raise our glasses in thanks to two rather amazing ladies - one who came from England to Portugal and one who came from Portugal to England.  Friendship indeed.



9 February 2013

Winter Memories Past and Present

I admit it - I am a sad soul.  I miss snow.  I miss watching it float gently past the window and land softly on the windowsill.  The realisation of waking in the morning to a total silence that can only mean the world will be white when I open the curtains.  Sun on the snow.  Blue skies.  Sigh.  Needless to say, Glenn thinks I am nuts.  He, unlike me, suffered far more winters in Derbyshire than I did in Cheshire, East Lothian and Wiltshire!  However, both of us remember the winter of 1963 when everything ground to a halt.  Hold on, every time it snows in the UK, the country still seems to grind to a halt yet times have moved on.  Or have they really?

When I lived in Kettleshulme as a child, the village had its own snow plough.  Not a huge big one but big enough to help clear the road through to Whaley Bridge - not all the way because Whaley Bridge was in Derbyshire and Kettleshulme was in Cheshire.  This meant that where the borders between the two counties met, the Cheshire snowplough reversed up the road so as not to encroach on Derbyshire territory and vice versa! I used to think this was a bit bizarre but low and behold, one year whilst living in Malmesbury in Wiltshire, it snowed and the plough from Wiltshire got as far as the border with Gloucestershire at Kemble and promptly reversed.  Puddled or what but very British!

As a child I vividly remember we had four seasons.  Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter but these are now blurred or non existent and friends here in Portugal say the same.  A common comment here is that the annual flu/cold season (gripe) is caused by not having a definite winter to kill off the bugs.

As the majority of us who live in Portugal know to our cost and chilblains, it goes VERY cold.  Yesterday the temperature in our house was 51 degrees Farenheit or for those modern souls, about 10 degrees Celsius.  Tiles floors are wonderful in summer for keeping houses cool, but not such a boon in winter.  Time to haul out the oil fired radiators.  The cats were definitely impressed.  We have a woodburner for the evenings but obviously it does not go right through the night.

Pompey defrosting his whiskers

However, I do not wake up to ice on the insides of the windows - common in Kettleshulme days as people of my generation will remember.  We only had what was gaily referred to as 'partial central heating'.  In other words we had heating downstairs of sorts along with coal fires in the living room.  The kitchen had to make do with an incredibly smelly paraffin stove which occasionally made its way upstairs to the landing.  Seeing the logo 'Esso' brings backs a strong sense of smell and remembrance of the song "the Esso sign means happy motoring" or paraffin cans.

We also had a well for water which in the depths of winter was useless as the pump for it was outside and promptly froze at the slightest chance. My father then had to bring home large containers of water to keep us going. I was very excited when my mother and I moved to Macclesfield and had access to mains water for the first time since leaving Surrey.  Took a while to get used to the taste of tap water over boiled though.

Nowadays people have central heating - if they can afford to put it on - and here the modern houses also have it but again it becomes cost prohibitive and most people survive with oil fired heaters, gas heaters and lots of layers and thick sweaters and if desperate, scarves indoors.

I see that schools regularly close in the UK due to snow.  I find that a strange concept but a friend said that teachers do not tend to live close to their schools these days but I think the old 'Elf and Safety' and the evil compensation racket is more likely the cause.  No longer do people have accidents due to carelessness but it is always someone else's fault and therefore compensation 'needs to be paid' or you are 'entitled to' appears to come into play.

Heaven help the 'Elf and Safety people if they could see what we got up to as children, let along the European Court of Human Rights!  We made ice slides as good as anything in the Winter Olympic Downhill Bob Sleigh team tackle.  If you fell over - your fault; try not to cry; rub your knees or whatever else got severely bashed and start again.  Snowball fights were vicious and finished with sitting on big, fat radiators, steaming gently as you dried off.  This was in the day of short trousers for boys and skirts for girls. The only warnings ever issued was usually on the lines of: "stop dripping all over the floor" or "can you make the slide start AWAY from the gate in case a grown up hurts themself".  Try that today and goodness only knows what would happen.

I still laugh when the snow hits the UK and the news services anxiously report from the centre of Buxton about how it is cut off due to adverse conditions and the road from Buxton to Macclesfield via the Cat and Fiddle pub is shut.  Well this is hardly news to anyone who knows the area.  Anxious relatives used to call my mother back in the 50's to ask if we were ok because of the closures.  I once had a very happy couple of weeks stuck at home due to the road being closed between Kettleshulme and Macclesfield.  I remember a lot of sledging ensuing and feeling sorry for the girls who could actually get to school!

The Cat and Fiddle Public House - the second highest pub in England in all its snowy glory (Photo courtesy of variousstuff.co.uk)

The following photos show what the weather was like practically every winter in those days but now appears to be an unusual climatic problem for modern times.

I borrowed this from Kettleshulme's own website

Walking the tops of walls was good fun
(Photo courtesy of varioustuff.co.uk)

A lovely view down to the village
(Photo courtesy of variousstuff.co.uk)

We get frosts here on the Sintra hills as we are very high and the temperatures go incredibly low but further north there is snow and here the first road to close is the one leading from Spain to Portugal and you often see news footage of bored lorry drivers stuck at the border because the ploughs have not managed to clear the route back.  Sometimes they get caught with no real warning and have completely the wrong clothes with them.  Nice cotton shirts and a T shirt really do not cut it in snow!

The area known as Serra da Estrela is one of the snowy spots up north and popular for skiiing and sledging.  Many Lisboetas (people from Lisbon) drive up to look at the snow as most have never seen it or even ice.  The last proper snow that fell in Lisbon and Sintra was around 1945.  Here are some sweet photos of it at the time. 

A view of the snow from the National Palace in the centre of Sintra 1945

Another scene of Sintra in 1945

One thing that happens in both countries when snow falls is the call to find something to use for sledging, be it a tray, a piece of plastic, a proper strong sledge or a plastic one.  Nothing beats the joy of hurling down a slope in the snow to end up in a heap at the bottom.   

Having fun in the snow in Serra da Estrela

Snow plough working hard in the north of Portugal

A beautiful snowy scene in the north of Portugal

Writing this seems to have appeased my 'saudades' for snow for the moment and brought back happy memories of a snowy childhood.  Glenn, needless to say is quite relieved.

7 February 2013

A Week for Firsts

Amazing to realise that it will soon be three years since we moved to Colares.  The time has flashed by and we love this area more and more.  The local people are so friendly and helpful and we find more and more that when we are out and about shopping or having coffee we get greeted with a smile and cheery “bom dia”.  Recently it has been a period of ‘firsts’.

We frequently shop in Mucifal and use the road from Nafarros. A pretty route with great views of Monserrate and the Serra da Sintra.  Every time we take this route, we always say we must stop at a little café on the outskirts of Nafarros as it looks interesting.  It has a tiny wooden deck outside with silver chairs and tables for the smokers, ladies for chatting, men for gossiping but until this week we have never got round to going inside.  So, after passing it yet again saying the same sentence, we determined to visit on our way back.

O Baeta café is decorated with beautiful blue and white traditional tiles; has about five tables, the standard TV up on the wall in the corner, a vast array of cakes and savouries and a good selection of spirits lined up on shelves along the walls. When I took the photograph it was a bit windy, hence the front door being closed and no-one on the deck.  The door to the right, l believe, leads to the upstairs apartment and to the right of that is a tiny gem of a local shop similar to one I used to use in Kettleshulme in the 1950’s, with a wonderful choice of fresh fruit and vegetables in their wooden boxes, various household needs etc, etc.  A real find and somewhere I can drop into within five minutes of home.  I really do enjoy a shopping expedition with a coffee combined.

Here’s another view showing the café at the side of the road leading down to Mucifal.

We had our usual coffee but decided to experiment with a different cake.  If we are in cake mode, we normally go for a pastel de nata or a broa but we decided on a Millefeuille for him and a slice of Bolo Marmore – marble cake for me.  Both were absolutely beautiful – light and obviously low in calories (tongue firmly in cheek).  We will definitely visit again.

The interior of the lovely shop

We keep finding these little jewels of cafes dotted around and I hope that tourists take the time to visit them and to get a feel of real Portugal.  I can count on one hand the times I have had a bad coffee in over 30 odd years of visiting and living here.  I seem to have an in-built sensor now and find, without looking, that I have chosen a Delta, Nicola, Segafredo or Sical coffee bars.

Another first in coffee bar visits was today in Almocageme.  Again we always say we will visit and never do as being loyal to another café further down the main street but today, and using the excuse of buying next week's Euromillions ticket we chose O Moinho Verde – The Green Windmill.  It has a nice, covered exterior seating area overlooking the market place and it is much larger than it looks from outside. Traditionally tiled walls and floors. it also has a large counter with cakes and savouries, soft drinks, draught beer etc.  A concession for the lottery and Euromillions tickets, a tiny newsagent area and a very large TV screen – ideal for watching football!

Photograph 'borrowed' from another wonderful blog riodasmacas@blogspot.com

Continuing the theme of firsts was a visit from some lovely friends of mine who were touring Spain and came to call on us on their way back up to Bilbao.  I had the pleasure of working for both of them during the eighties and we have stayed in touch.  Their touring was not just by car, but with attached caravan.  This was a new one.  We knew there was no problem accommodating them here but to enter our drive involves a steep hill and a rather nasty sharp bend.

As someone (who will remain nameless) read the mileage wrong, they arrived in the dark rather than daylight.  Glenn went down to meet them down by the main road and then he drove them up to the house to see how complicated it would be to negotiate the bend with the caravan.  They decided it was ok so off they went again to get the caravan. 

Well getting up the hill and round the bend went well – not so well getting through the gates.  After much pushing, shoving, unhitching the 4x4, hitching it up again, a successful entry was effected.  Parked up safely much to the delight of the estate guard dogs who thought all this excitement in the evening was brilliant plus they got something new to sniff and christen! That’s the caravan, not our friends!  We had a wonderful time catching up on news and realising how long ago we had worked together.  It always seems so recent in our minds but it appears that a silver anniversary of one part of their business will happen shortly – amazing.  It is also nice to hear of changes to where I used to live – good or bad.

The following evening we did yet another first of the week.  Very much like the story of the cafés, we pass the Estalagem de Colares every time we drive into Colares.  For the first few months we lived here, we used to think it might have been a fish shop as it has a swinging sign of a prawn outside.  We were corrected fairly quickly and learnt it was a small hotel with restaurant.

The entrance to Estalagem de Colares

Typically we had been saying we would go and check it out, have dinner, etc, but never got round to it until my friends arrived and I pondered on where to go for dinner.  So nearly three years later we made it and were very cross that we have never been before.

What a fabulous little hotel and restaurant.  As you can see from the photo, there are outside tables for coffee etc in the morning next to the river and inside it has a lounge with bar and offers an area for meetings upstairs.  The dining room is decorated in traditional tiles and unusually, they were not blue but wine coloured ones.  It has a massive fireplace burning logs so even though it was tiled, it was just the right temperature. 

We were looked after by Carlos, who kindly showed me around after the meal and told me that the hotel has 3 stars and is very popular with English and French tourists – hence his excellent English.  A double room is 80 euros a night and a single 60 euros.  They are also offering an afternoon tea with scones which I have a feeling we may just test drive very, very soon!

What I loved best was the meal.  Always a worry trying somewhere new with visitors, but this was impressive.  There is an extensive menu of starters, fish, salads, pasta, meat and desserts.  We sampled Canja de Galina (traditional chicken soup), Sopa de Tomate com Basilico (tomato soup with basil) and a grilled goat cheese with salad leaves.  We all then went traditional with Bacalhau a Bras – one of the best recipes for salt cod.  Simple but very filling. 

A photo of Bacalha a Bras

We felt we should try a dessert even though we were rather full.  We sampled a chocolate marquise, a semifrio of orange with chocolate sauce and a crème brulee.  All delicious.  We finished with mint tea.  We also went for a traditional Colares wine which was excellent.  Our friends left the following morning with very positive feelings about their visit and an easier exit out of the gates than their arrival.

I think the words 'tight squeeze' come in here

Now we have to have a good look around for more ‘firsts’ to celebrate our first three years in this beautiful part of Portugal.