welcome to emmas housethought

stranded on earth


I feel like my spaceship is broken and I can’t get back to my planet.

This isn’t the first time during this go-build-a-house-in-portugal-folly that I’ve thought what a absurdly huge mistake it has been.

Perhaps the first time was when I was trying to extract a building project, a visa and a house sale from a country whose language and mentality bewildered me. Next was when the Global Financial Crisis broke in and stole a third of my life’s savings. Then there was the dog episode and the physical collapse from vertigo, that was quite a problem. The ongoing migraine thing also made me think twice.


I’ve tried to do the right thing. I persevered with the stupid embassy and the stupid builder. I worked hard to start a new way of earning a living. I trusted, I forgave and I turned the other cheek to the backward philosophies of small-town Portugal. And in solidarity with my peasant brethren I left my home to find work to save the farm and so that the children might have new shoes one day. I should be lined up for a sainthood, but no…

Now I’ve fucked up my back.

It’s ridiculous. For the last 5 years I’ve been hurling stones, shovelling sand, carting bags of cement, heaving trays of mortar, loading timber, climbing, hammering, drilling, digging, chopping and lifting.

And I’ve done my back in standing still.


The prognosis is no longer completely dismal, praise to little baby jesus, and it seems I may not have to be cut up after all. The pain has reduced somewhat and I can now walk properly. But now that I’m not preoccupied with the prospect of being paralysed, I’m seeing this latest mortal confrontation in context of The Golden Wet Dream of chucking in a sensible life to go and bottle fruits and fawn over baby goats in an economically non-viable, confused little backwater on the edge of civilisation.

Good One.

What was wrong with what I had? I’d just put in a new kitchen. The car was hot. I was earning a relative fortune, drank a lot of champagne, threw a lot of parties, had expensive haircuts and I was getting laid. WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING?


While a few of my friends and colleagues also took a left turn, those who kept on the highway have made it through the slippery pass, put the chains on the tyres and are well on their way up the mountain now. And they don’t seem too miserable, or corrupt or even jaded. Unlike me, they seem happy and healthy and very, very fit. Indeed, they generously pay for the exquisite lunch we’ve just had before taking an early weekend to drive the family down to the holiday house on the coast. And I say bravo to that. And no, they are not stupid enough to wonder about, much less envy, my idyllic rustic country lifestyle amongst the olive groves and grape vines. And the next door neighbour’s dog shit.

Yeah. So. Back to the spaceship. Here I am stuck in the antipodes, not working, not earning, not even moving really and spending a week’s groceries on 30 minutes’ worth of back treatment. In the New Year (that brave new world) I’ll be back in the job queues (oh can’t wait to do all that again) and starting this bail-out-package-plan all over again. How long will it take?  It’s an known unknown, as Donald Rumsfeld would say.

I’m afraid I will never see home again.



  1. Ben November 29, 2012 11:59 pm Reply

    Bless you Emma, what a horrible time you’re having – I hope you feel better soon.

    I am familiar with the thought-pattern you seem to be in though – we slip into it sometimes, usually when one of our contemporaries back in London has got a huge promotion or moved into a massive house in Clapham.

    At those times, it’s good to remember that I DID have all that, and I STILL wanted to change my path. Maybe it would help to go back to some of your posts from the early days and remember your early happiness and motivation. That’s what tends to work for me when I have one of those times when I think “I could be earning £xxx a f£%ing DAY if I was in London!” It does no harm to remember what your motivations were in the first place…

    Are you coming back to Portugal for Christmas?

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: November 30th, 2012 at 12:14 am

    ah, no. But santa is coming anyway 😉

    [Reply to comment]


  2. Lyndall November 30, 2012 12:05 am Reply

    Every financial bump we hit, every out of the budget item we buy, my heart crushes. That’s a few less dollars from home. Home. PORTUGAL. Not here in Australia. Home. Real home. 18,000km away. The last sentence really hit me. It feels like we’ll never get back. 2 years so far…

    I’ve got my Oz lotto ticket in. I’ll take you back with us if it comes up.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: November 30th, 2012 at 12:13 am

    you’re on Lyndall! Lottery tickets go in the investments column on the household spreadsheet 😉 I keep telling The One ‘australia’s a trap! A trap! We’d never get out again!’

    [Reply to comment]

    Lyndall   Reply: December 3rd, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Awesome. Deal then. There are two conditions though. You gotta help me do up this place: http://casa.sapo.pt/Moradia-T5-Venda-Sintra-Colares-Azenhas-do-Mar-ad497bf4-a0e9-4ce9-ab77-0f0691a64bf6.html?pn=1

    HA! Just a small reno job, right? I’ve had surgery on my spine, so that may just include pointing at things together making somebody else do it. It’s the lottery. We can do what we want! I can’t for the life of me understand why they’ve decided that the year of construction was 2008. I’m assuming that was the year someone else started to smash it to pieces. Not much of a Sintra person, but Goncalo is a motorcyclist and there is a lovely road out to Cabo da Roca and we rock-climb so I guess I’d live. Ha!

    The second condition… Help me start an import business purely for Vegemite to Portugal and surrounds. 😉

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Simone November 30, 2012 12:21 am Reply

    Things must be bad if you’re quoting Rummy. Oh, Emma – I’ve treasured your many wonderful posts and your progress on the farmhouse. I’m sorry fate has dealt you such a cruel series of blows. Take good care of that back of yours, and know that this total stranger to you (albeit a fellow expat to Portugal) thinks you’re the bee’s knees. Hope you find your way back to your planet soon!

    [Reply to comment]

  4. Rodrigo Borges November 30, 2012 12:35 am Reply


    It’s never easy when you decide to change your lifestyle. Things go wrong and you start to think about all the “good” things you had before. You need also to remmember the real cost of having a good and easy life. You need to remmember the reasons that convinced you to change in the first place. You need to believe in your principles. You need to believe. You need to have faith, specially on the hard times. And you need to save your back. If you are breaking them, then you are doing something wrong.
    Breed, focus, have faith, be happy!

    [Reply to comment]

  5. Wendy November 30, 2012 1:28 am Reply

    Ah crap! I know those feelings. I used to get them, well before I came to Portugal, when I took the kids down to see my father on the south coast of England and we’d look at all those people with their heads buried in hedonism and their arses in the air. It was so tempting. So sorely tempting. I’d done the same as you: voluntarily turned my back on the £more-than-I-decently-know-what-to-do-with job. Mainly it was because I couldn’t square it with my friends, teachers and nurses and such, who were being paid £insulting for doing a far worthier and more difficult job. And that was before I fully realised what that insanely self-indulgent lifestyle was doing to the planet …

    Maybe the bailout package needs to be reconfigured with some far more sustainable options? You’ll get home. Just keep your backbone!

    [Reply to comment]


  6. helder November 30, 2012 3:10 am Reply

    I will not say much..
    Only thank You for the well humoured lines You have shared with us during a long time.

    And give You a long friendly hug.

    Be well @}-}-`-

    [Reply to comment]

  7. Horatio November 30, 2012 6:19 am Reply

    Emma, take this down time to think…no, to implore from yourself what you truly, truly, truly want (daydreams don’t count).
    You run the risk of ending up writing a blog like mine – ZentoZero.
    I’m in Portugal, I like it but, shit, I’m in the wrong racket…all because I took one wrong turn on a good path.
    Find your path and stick to it, everything else is fodder.
    Hope you get well. I also blew my back but recovered.

    [Reply to comment]


  8. Colin November 30, 2012 7:17 am Reply

    Sorry about your back.
    If you have never had a problem with it before then it can hit you worse than your first migraine, or in the case of a German friend his very first hangover after years of heavy drinking.
    First thing is to watch your diet and not put weight on, as this makes it worse. Second is to make sure your bed is not too soft, if so put a board under the mattress.
    I broke the base of my spine in a horse fall 30 years ago and still have to watch my weight otherwise the pain comes back with a vengeance.
    It also makes you miserable as it seems constant and you walk like a zombie.
    There is little more I can say as you very obviously have the capacity to get over this, but perhaps justifiably feel everything is against you at the moment.
    I read one of your earlier messages on coping with a limited budget in a recession. This was in 2010 I think, and considering Europe has got worse it might prove very interesting if you felt like revisiting and updating it.
    I remember it got some remarkable feedback from people who were obviously really suffering, came up with their own solutions, but liked your take on handling the situation.

    [Reply to comment]

  9. IsabelPS November 30, 2012 8:28 am Reply

    One thing at a time… Back first, money next…
    You know, Cu de Judas has been there for a thousand years, it’s not going anywhere. It will wait for you.
    This damned crisis too shall pass. Just take it easy…
    A big hug in the meantime.

    [Reply to comment]

  10. spike cherrie November 30, 2012 9:09 am Reply

    you’ll be “back”!

    best wish’s and Merry Christmas to you, the one, your family and your reader’s.

    spike cherrie.

    ps. i can’t speak highly enough of the physiotherapist I was seeing for my back issues.

    [Reply to comment]

  11. Valerie Da-Silva CurtissV November 30, 2012 9:21 am Reply

    Oh my love, do everything in your power to get well, and then go back to Portugal… live in your beautiful house, money isn’t everything, and you know stress probably played a big part in this setback. What does The One think of all this, cannot he help you out, get you back on track? Isn’t health care free in Portugal or has all that changed also??? You have your house, your garden, and your man, what more does one want, fixing up the house can wait, it isn’t going anywhere, you need to be with The One, and your house! Put The One out to work!!! I am selfish and don’t want to lose your lovely blog!! I hope you have the best Christmas and hope all goes well so that you can get back to Portugal! If that is what you want! Like the other person said, get your priorities straight and do what your heart tell you! Love You Emma!

    [Reply to comment]

  12. Denise November 30, 2012 11:11 am Reply

    Emma – you are a brilliant writer, photographer and expert traveler. How about this 12 month job at Expedia in Sydney?


    In the meantime Qi gong – yoga – acupuncture for back and headaches. Stay away from the surgeon!
    Take care.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: November 30th, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    hot tip, thanks!

    [Reply to comment]

  13. pamela November 30, 2012 2:04 pm Reply

    I am one of your many admirers. You write a great blog, full of fun, plus thoughtful life comments about the struggles that come when you follow your heart. I, too, want you to get back to the dream and The One.

    I am told that the nerves in the back ‘remember’ the pain and have to be coaxed to unlearn it (even if the back is getting better). Good physio and Pilates exercises can help you – they did wonders for my daughter when she was desperate. But you can’t rush it, so there’s the rub…

    [Reply to comment]


  14. Thomas November 30, 2012 3:04 pm Reply

    I am a recent follower of your writings and am still discovering all the ‘pearls’ you left here over the years… it seems.

    I am not smart enough to give advice on backs and such important things, as I fool enough to be moving to Portugal at age 60 without a pension that buys more than rice every day, I assume.
    But… I lived on rice before and remember the terraces fondly.

    So while I am sitting in a cold country, loading Coltrane and Miles Davis into my laptop for listening pleasure when in my village, I am also listening to myself…
    per-chance listening to yourself and your body may offer answers..?
    I salute your spirit and it would seem that giving up is NOT part of your modus operandi.


    [Reply to comment]


  15. Riccardo November 30, 2012 3:44 pm Reply

    What to say? Loved the blog today – just really sorry about the circumstances. Fantastic photos too. I guess many of us readers live vicariously off your adventures, watching on from our office work stations….staying on the ‘path’ as best we can. So all I can do is add my words of encouragment. Merry Xmas and hope you are pain free, cashed up and heading home soon.

    [Reply to comment]

  16. Sheila Sim November 30, 2012 8:28 pm Reply

    Emma, I’m so sorry to hear about your troubles. I’m another of your many admirers, and though we’ve never met I’m sending you a big hug. Hope you feel better soon xx

    [Reply to comment]


  17. Lucy November 30, 2012 9:00 pm Reply

    OK Emma: when you moved back to Sydney, I suggested you could capitalize on your local following and give a cash-generating public talk. Still think you should, but now it could be called a “benefit”?

    [Reply to comment]

    Adam   Reply: December 1st, 2012 at 9:28 am

    @Lucy, let me second that motion. Gotta be enough people who daydream about ressurecting a ruin somewhere in the Old World, and would like to hear amusing tales about doing just that, with gorgeous pictures thrown in.

    [Reply to comment]

  18. Ali Birch December 1, 2012 12:23 am Reply

    Hi Emma, I am impressed that despite the obvious current shiteness of your present circumstances you have managed to hang on to your sense of humour, albeit with a good healthy slice of bitterness, and kept up with your impeccably high standard of writing. I reckon you have the tools to survive and return home just about in one piece.

    [Reply to comment]

  19. Vern December 1, 2012 3:54 pm Reply

    Emma, Contact public schools, clubs and so forth and give a good public talk, afterwards pass the hat round, you will be amazed at how people shell out.
    To get started contact the ABC and SBS and see if you can be interviewed about you stunning lifestyle in Portugal, you may even be paid for a talkfest. Once on air and people know about you, they will contact you.
    In 1953 I was the first Englishman to speak on Kabul Radio in Afghanistan and because of that broadcast I was invited to give adventure travel talks to various schools. That was the first time I passed a hat around for contributions, in the end I did quite well.
    I am fatalistic and think that something always turns up and always will.

    [Reply to comment]

  20. Dee Hawa December 2, 2012 7:53 am Reply

    I’ll second Simone’s comment!
    You are an amazing writer… chin up, you’ll find a way
    through this.
    Watch the back….and enjoy Christmas with your loved

    [Reply to comment]

  21. Ana December 5, 2012 4:07 am Reply

    Hope you get well and that you can be back here soon!

    [Reply to comment]

  22. Louise December 11, 2012 9:21 pm Reply

    Great to have made contact with you via us both doing much the same thing in very different parts of the world cousin Em. I am hoping like hell that your back has improved between you writing this entry and your writing on my blog? I too have a back that has an injury and which could go very bad… I am trying really hard not to do the wrong thing but it is hard to draw the line sometimes, I know. Look after yourself Em, I am thinking of you.

    [Reply to comment]


  23. Eddy December 14, 2012 4:59 pm Reply

    I feel for you.
    I used to live in Portugal, but injured my back.
    I had to come back to the UK, now I dream about being back in Portugal every day.

    my little boy woke up at 4.30 am, I got him back to sleep then stumbled upon you blog, I have been reading for 30 minutes now and there is no chance I will be able to switch off again.

    Stick with it, it’ll be worth it in the end.

    [Reply to comment]


  24. L hancock December 15, 2012 5:31 am Reply

    She is never going back! i said to my partner when I read you had gone to Australia.
    First of all I hope you are getting better… And glad you got over the worst.

    You are too young to be stuck in Cu de Judas forever. You have done it, now move on. All these foreigners who want to live in Portugal and want to play at being peasant deep down always know they can go back to civilisation and that’s why they want to do it. Why are these villages empty of young Portuguese if it is such a paradise? Paradise can turn into hell if you stuck in it like the Portuguese who can’ t really get out.
    Keep the place as a holiday home and rent it out. You can even rent it out to me who have been spending some of my summer holidays around your area( that’s how i found your blogg)
    Just like a few people have said: you have an amazing writing talent and your pictures are superb too. I had never seen my country in that way and I thank you for it.
    I am sure you could write a book about your experiences in Portugal. What you have in this blogg it’ s so much better than anything of the kind I have read in books which recount experiences of living abroad. Have you tried to approach a publisher? It would be a hit with Portuguese and non Portuguese i m sure…
    Publish yourself and get your blogg readers to contribute to the publishing as share holders. Is this possible? I am prepared to invest some money if I can get a share of the profits. Your book coud sell as much as pasteis de nata.
    Anyway… Wish all the best.. i wonder what will happen to the One…
    Portuguese and living abroad

    [Reply to comment]

  25. Leonardo December 19, 2012 5:41 am Reply

    “Why are these villages empty of young Portuguese if it is such a paradise?”

    So you are Portuguese and don’t know why? That’s because in the XX century and especially under the dictatorship, the famous sentence “Portugal is Lisbon and the rest is landscape” was more apropriate than ever.

    There were only a few universities in some district capitals. Of course, the young Portuguese (mainly the rich or the sons of the influent ones) moved to those cities, and the interior turned into an old-scenary. This internal migration for the litoral changed the Portuguese society. The smaller towns and villages were for the elder individuals and Christmas parties. But no one returned to the rural parts of the country. Even more since 1974, when Portugal changed from a primary sector economy to a terciary sector economy.

    In the past, there always was what we can call a balance between the power and the municipalities. Besides, the people did have the empire to try to improve their lives. Without it (and during the colonial wars) the people left for France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, USA, and so on.

    And you’re mistaken: more young people are leaving the litoral nowadays, i mean young Portuguese with college degrees, that cannot get a job and are creating their own in what they have studied: after all, there is so much to do in those lands. It’s like more than half of our country is waiting to produce as much wealth as the EU average. So, it is a paradise to be discovered.

    By the way, Emma, i hope you’ll returning to Portugal someday. Get well.

    [Reply to comment]

  26. Ken Terry December 19, 2012 10:23 am Reply

    I just found this blog looking for info about insulation regs. I’m doing up a place near Pera in the little valley there. I for one don’t feel that this part of Portugal is any kind of backwater, nor are my neighbours ignorant peasants. In fact it reminds me of what New England was like when I grew up. It is a place as yet untouched by many of the vagaries of consumerism and cultural disfunctionality that makes the U.K, the U.S and very likely Aus such ghastly and soulless places to live. It nicely filters out people, (flighty telly addicted Anglo expats) who shouldn’t be there. From the looks of your site you seem like the kind of person who should.
    Just my 2 centimes.

    [Reply to comment]

  27. Phil December 21, 2012 9:24 am Reply

    Well blow me down and roger me sideways…..we seem to be following the same script. Hi Emma…not written for a while. I was the chap ruin-hunting around Caldas de Rainha area etc etc…and ended up just outside Castelo da Vide….and damn glad I did. It’s fab here…apart from the backward local council and the fact that my septic tank has had to be approved by 4 agencies and thus signed-off by 4 presidents ! It’s been painful dealing with a Natural Park Authority as well as the local council prunes. Yes, I’ve given up the good job, 2 holidays a year, a car that works etc etc and half the ‘ruin’ collapsed last week coz the builder dug away tooooo much rock….and of course my back went….too many rocks and beams to move…and 60 groats for the only appointment with the only chiropractor in Portalegre….but she did say that included a ‘registration’ fee and my next appt will only be 52 groats…nice. Money is running out fast and don’t know how to resolve the problem…the last thing I want to do is go back to Blighty….I think I owe the sphincter-police at the tax office a few quids…whoops. Have a mooch at the ‘hovel’…..if I got the technology thang right..


    Ooooooh…nearly forgot…did you try TRANS-ACT…..nice smelly pad things that stick on your back for 8 hours and give off heat and Eucalyptusy type smells…

    Come back soon…it’s great here…if your a nutter !


    [Reply to comment]

  28. Ashley December 27, 2012 11:54 pm Reply

    Hello Emma. I’ve followed your blog now for about 2 years and really did envy you in your braveness in this big move and change of life you were brave enough to participate in. I write now for the first time as it saddens me so much that all your dreams appear to be falling apart and that you now suffer so much hardship. I truly hope that in the not to distant future that all righten and that you are able to get back on track.

    My dreams are so much like yours and your blog has been a real eye opener and education as to the reality of such dreams. Perhaps, just perhaps, some day in the future we shall meet as the dream I have remains and in an area close to yours. Perhaps I am in a slightly better financial position and I suspect a few years older, though the dream can’t become a reality until I sell my uk property so enabling me to leave the rat race as has become the place I have called home throughout my life.

    Keep the chin up and given time, your fortunes may change.

    [Reply to comment]

  29. Aaron Corey December 29, 2012 4:07 am Reply

    Oi! Tudo Emma?

    I know you are feeling better because of your latest post, But I wanted to comment on your back situation. My qualifications being that I was raised by stubborn port-a-gees who thought it was a great idea to start me on the heavy lifting at about 5yrs old. My back was ruined by the time I was 25.

    The suggestion about the stiff mattress above is a good one. Even better is to sleep on the floor on about 1 inch of folded blanket for cushion. Works miracles I can tell you. You won’t get a good nights sleep, but your back will fix itself in the night. I promise.

    Second; Swim. Swim swim swim… Breast stroke is best but any swimming will do. If I don’t swim, I don’t walk..

    Keep your stomach muscles fit. Your abdominal muscles support your spine.

    Avoid dehydration.

    Drugs and surgeries don’t address the problem. Just mask it. And make you dependent. A Back friendly lifestyle is the only answer.

    For super advanced back friendly lifestyle; Take up Aikido. Your core strength will never be better and your back will be hammered into shape.

    I know people offer all kinds of advice when you don’t feel good, and I guess I am one of them. But this is something I have had to deal with for a long time and I know my remedies work… So there you have it..

    Best wishes,


    [Reply to comment]

  30. Sara de Lisboa December 30, 2012 10:07 am Reply

    Oh my sweet Emma, I haven’t visited your blog for a while and now this. I do hope you’re much better, but to be honest, I wouldn’t begrudge you not going back to that ghastly country.

    The culture may have so many nice things to offer, but it is such a hard place to live in, things are just so difficult.

    I think you darlings are all mad, I love my country but I’d rather live in London, and I’m suprised anyone could swap London or Oz for Ptg, especially if you weren’t born there. It breaks my heart to see adopted Portuguese kindred go through such hardships. Not that it doesn’t break my heart to see my fellow countrymen suffer either, but to you, that chose to love my country, alas it just seems so unfair.

    Anyway, I hope you’re well now, you sounded in much better spirits in your Christmas post.

    Ta, beijinhos, take care,

    [Reply to comment]

  31. Vern May 22, 2013 3:42 pm Reply

    Emma. I have lived in many lands and in prosperous countries I have always done well. However, I am the sort of person who becomes bored with prosperity and affluence, so what do I do?
    I throw it all away and plunge myself into untold hardships by living in places where nobody wants to live.
    We all hear about the current trend of refugees pouring into Europe, North America and Australia. Nevertheless, we don’t hear much about the thousands of people who are leaving the West to live in Thailand, Phillippines, Panama, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali and many other numerous places.
    They are all going to escape the ratrace of the West, and the daily outcry to make more loot, and develop everywhere to extinction.
    Of course many fail, but the vast majority stick with it. In such situations you need to accept a lower standard of living, but you can be happy without consumerism gone mad. All depends on what your mind thinks about as being important in life.
    Also look at how many Greeks, Italians and Spaniards leave Australia once they reach the age of 65 and get the state pension. Literally, thousands of them have gone back to their home countries, as they prefer the simpler lifestyle.
    I like adventuring and throwing everything away as I love the battle to survive, and climbing back up to the top once again. I don’t use the modern idiom of calling it stress, to me its jolly good fun and makes my life far more interesting.
    Since my age of twenty I have never stayed anywhere more than two years and consider I have had a ball of a life, not much money, but loads of fun. I am now 84 and busy planning my next move.

    [Reply to comment]

  32. Donzilio July 23, 2013 7:13 am Reply

    I feel myself on the cusp of a similar adventure. I hope I have half the strength you do. Cheers.

    [Reply to comment]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin