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the story of fatima

I attended a rather pious little Catholic primary school where a spooky caricature of a priest presided over our Christian indoctrination.

If you can stay clear of the paedophiles priests and the violent nuns, a Catholic upbringing can be very entertaining for a child. Catholicism is full of drama & costumes, and of fear of the titillating kind children suck up. Father Gayley of Our Lady of Good Counsel (no one knew what that meant) was of the damnation school of teaching, but in a reasonably benign way. As far as I know nothing nasty happened, he just freaked us out with his oldness and weirdness and the way he shouted at you if you had nothing to say at the confessional. Both my sisters recall having to lie about sins they’d committed to avoid receiving penance for… lying.


from the excellent wax museum at fatima

The most thrilling of our Thursday afternoon catechism class was when Father Gayley pulled something out of his collection of 16mm films. Setting up the projector was fraught with problems and the projection results pretty dodgy which just added to the mystique of the films themselves and of religion lessons generally. If Jesus was in the movie, you never saw his face, and if god appeared the special effects went into overdrive. The sound was always bad too. All this created a baffling atmosphere in which it was impossible to determine what was fact or fiction.

Thus The Story of Fatima was taught to us. How exciting to find, as a grown up, that Fatima the location was a real place and the children really existed!

At this point I would cross to wikipedia to check the facts before regaling you with my version of events as I remember it. Except that in this case there are very few actual facts. We can rely on the idea that the event happened and the characters existed – a bit like Jesus Christ – but after that the story is tainted either by religious belief or by those with vested interests or indeed by both.

So, back to the story as I was told it then.


In 1917 three children – Jacinta, 7, Lucia, 10 and Francisco, 9 – were out in the fields of Cova da Iria, near Aljustrel, Fatima, Portugal shepherding sheep. An angel appeared to them out of the blue and asked them to repent, pray and come again next month. So this they did and the next month on the same day she appeared again with a few more messages, and told them if they came again every month she’ll eventually tell them who she was.

In between dates with the angel they told a few people and were forbidden by their mother to ever see the angel again (not hard to believe). The local “anticlerical administrator” person interrogated them but they stoically kept to their story. Word spread about the visions and on the next few visits by the angel they were joined by an increasing number of onlookers. The angel started showing them stuff like visions of hell and asking them to get the world to repent and said stayed tuned for next week’s episode. By the 6th visit, the angel had been replaced by the Virgin Mary herself and the crowd had swelled to 70 thousand people – a mixed gaggle of the pious, the curious, at least one journalist, one scientist and those with nothing else on that afternoon.

They all waited with great anticipation and watched the sky and the nice but mysterious patterns the clouds were making. They all looked at the sun a lot and when the Virgin appeared, although she could only be seen and heard by the children, most other people experienced some sort of solar event of significant colour and magic. This was considered a miracle, one that had been requested by the clergy, via the children, to prove that they weren’t bullshitting. The swirly sun thing satisfied everyone and the Virgin went away and was never seen again.


apparently this is an actual photo of people witnessing the "Miracle of the Sun"

The following year Jacinta and Francisco died from the Spanish flu, (thanks for nothing Virgin Mary) leaving only Lucia to carry the whole story. The children had been told three secrets, it seems, which were of interest to the Catholic church as was the Fatima story of interest to Portugal. In the visions various predictions had been made about things I’m not convinced the children would’ve understood at the time. Take the prediction of another world war (when WW1 was still being played out), the conversion of Russia (where’s Russia, the kids must have asked, near Porto?) and the assassination attempt on the Pope, in 1983.

Whatever was said, the Fatima story hit a chord and became a huge success for the Catholics. Pilgrimages by the faithful to Cova da Iria started almost immediately and a chapel was built at the site. Lucia had become so famous that she though best to second herself in a nunnery where she wrote books about the experience.

Theories about what really happened at Fatima are as numerous as the variations on the story from a believer’s point of view. A UFO, magic mushrooms, gases which caused hallucinations, mass hysteria or religious zeal, whatever. The prominent scientific explanation for the “Miracle of the Sun” is that everyone simply stared at the sun too long.

But for me,  there are bigger holes in the story. If you were an omnipotent being, would you choose three illiterate children to convey your message? If you were an omnipotent being and you had some predictions for the 20th century, would you really put the ‘conversion of Russia’ ahead of say, the holocaust? Is the attempted assassination of a Pope really more important than Hiroshima? Yugoslavia? Burundi & Rwanda? Just who is this omnipotent being anyway for failing to warn us about Hitler?


The Catholic church has a long history of visions and the 19th and 20th Centuries they were particularly in vogue. Other stories of seers may well have been told to the children of Fatima, as they are just the type of story that travels well by word of mouth. The most notable in their time was in 1858 in Lourdes, France where 14 yr old Bernadette saw visions. Unlike Lucia, she was not particularly religious beforehand and only initially identified the vision as being of a small young woman. In later appearances, the figure identified herself as the Immaculate Conception, a concept only recently invented by then Pope Pius IX. Bernadette’s family, extremely poor and illiterate, claimed that Bernadette could not have heard the term before. The story of Lourdes is even more curious than Fatima.


The success of the Fatima phenomenon needs to be seen in the context of the socio-political landscape of the time. Since the 19th century, religious participation had become more the domain of women rather than men. Catholicism had seen a feminisation in favour of the worship of Mary and female biblical stories and saints. Contemporary visions of Mary were almost always reported by women or children. Portugal’s monarchy had been abolished in 1910 and since then its government was in constant flux. The first republic was anti-clerical and the rural classes (traditionally monarchist) must have felt disenfranchised. Portugal was also fighting in the Great War. The children at Fatima had overcome the local authorities’ wish to suppress the story and Fatima’s followers continued to grow massively every year. This was a huge coup by the Catholics against the ruling classes. Lucia, along with the growing faithful, continued to keep the story alive long enough to have it recognised by the Pope. By this time Salazar had come to power.  Catholic and ultra conservative, with an agenda to keep the Portuguese people quiet and ignorant (and thus retain power), the Fatima story complemented his ideals.


Fatima today receives about 4 million visitors a year, but if you come to experience a quaint story of shepherds and angels you’ll be disappointed. Surrounded by souvenir tack shops (nice sheep with halos though), the shrine of Fatima is a utilitarian worship factory housing two large and charmless (especially by Portuguese standards) basilica centred around one humongous concrete quadrangle. The latest one was finished in 2007 and is apparently the fourth largest church in the world. Built at a cost of 60 million euros, it’s another example of grotesque which begs the question,  if the Catholic church never built a single cathedral would there still be poverty today?




the economy: run aground and underground

Passos Coelho pede aos portugueses “boas ideias para o país”

Yesterday the Portuguese prime minister was asking for good ideas from the people, for the good of the country. He’s not specific about saving the economy, but obviously that’s where we should start.

“We are making important changes in Portugal and it is important that during this period, we can broaden and deepen the democratic debate and this can not happen without the participation of all citizens,” said the prime minister in a video of 90 seconds published today on the Facebook page “o meu movimento”.

Zombie Europe

Portugal’s problem, in short, is that it cannot afford the repayments on its IMF debt. The EU policy of demanding growth and increasing employment while balancing the budget is simply more than the government can handle. The failure of this policy is being called “Zombification” by this economics blogger, in which nations “can’t grow out of their debts yet aren’t being allowed to fail on them either.”

Portugal is on life support, fed artificially by the IMF but kept in a coma by the EU conditions. Is the solution to let Portugal’s euro-based economy die and rebuild “from the ashes”? Do we return to the escudo?

The prognosis looks bleak.

Greece lines up Portugal

“This year Portugal enters its third year under a bailout and this year is expected to be the toughest with more tax hikes and the elimination of two months of pay for civil servants. The government is already calling for a economic contraction of 3%, but a look at the latest stats from the central bank suggest much worse.”


Portugal’s economic mess worsens

As Portugal’s economy deteriorates, a second bailout, Greek-style debt restructuring or even exodus from the euro zone loom as possibilities. “Not only will a second aid package be required, but the recognition that a debt restructuring may be necessary is increasing,” Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, said in a Jan. 24 report.

Almost all of Portugal’s key economic indicators are going in the wrong direction. Unemployment is climbing relentlessly. The national jobless rate is 13.2 per cent and the youth unemployment rate, at almost 31 per cent, is the euro zone’s fourth highest.”

Commentators are not just worried for Portugal per se, but concerned about the complete collapse of the euro and the shockwaves that would cause in their own economies.

Portugal’s borrowing rates rise to record 19.4%

New high arrives amid fears that bailed-out country will not be able to break free of financial crisis

The worsening crisis in the eurozone has hit the British economy, and analysts fear that the contagion from Greece may spread throughout the eurozone and drag Britain and the rest of the world into a prolonged recession.

Although this article suggests that Portugal may not be able to avoid defaulting on its loan, it recognises that there is an effort being made to restore fiscal health and therefore it may not be so difficult for Portugal to renegotiate the bailout deal. The government so far has denied it would try. The government is in denial.

The same point of view, this time from the American perspective:

Portugal Suffers as Loss of Confidence in Bonds Sends Yields Higher

Investors fled out of bonds of weaker European countries on Monday, sending yields on Portuguese government bonds to a record high over concerns that the euro zone debt troubles were spreading beyond Greece.

The higher yields means that the Portuguese government has to pay significantly more interest than, for instance, Spain, whose yields on 10-year bonds were around 4.98 percent on Monday.

Portugal, which is in a recession and has been lowered to junk grade by ratings agencies, has less debt than Greece but there was still a growing belief that the country would have to ask for a bigger bailout than initially expected.

But other analysts noted that Portugal was in far better shape economically than Greece. It has 100 percent debt-to-gross domestic product ratio compared with a ratio of about 160 percent for Greece, said Charles Diebel, head of market strategy at Lloyds Banking in London.

“To a degree, yes, Portugal’s in trouble,” Mr. Diebel said. “But the problems there are nothing like in Greece.”

So things are not all that bad, compared to Greece. Why, exactly?

A Bluffing Game

The Greek economy is not productive enough to generate growth. Aside from olive oil, textiles and a few chemicals, there are hardly any Greek products suitable for export. On the contrary, Greece is dependent on food imports to feed its population.

According to a study by the German Institute for Economic Research, a key cause of the problem is the relatively poor price/performance ratio. In Mediterranean tourism, (for example) Greece has to compete with non-euro countries like Croatia, Tunisia, Morocco, Bulgaria and Turkey, which can offer their services at significantly lower prices. The per-hour wage in the hospitality industry was recently measured at €11.39 in Greece, as compared with only €8.49 in Portugal, €4 in Turkey and as little as €1.55 in Bulgaria. The study arrives at grim conclusions, noting that the drastic austerity programs will not only remain ineffective, but will also stigmatize the country as “Europe’s problem child” for a long time to come.

Portugal’s problem is not that it is uncompetitive or unproductive. Portugal’s problem is its lack of growth. It is stifled by an internal fiscal policy that cripples medium sized business with beaurocracy,  punishes entrepreneurship and small business with taxes and allows corruption and cronyism in big business to run rife. The mother stymie of them all is 23% IVA, a tax which keeps mums and dads from spending and fails as substantial government revenue.

Here’s why. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole article. It describes the reality of the failure of the Portuguese economy. The Portuguese will not riot on the streets as the Greeks have. Theirs is a quiet revolution, another carnation revolution, through civil disobedience and non-compliance.

Portugal: Going Underground in Hard Times

The underground economy in Portugal is booming thanks to the steep increases in taxation and prices demanded by a ‘troika’ of international creditors to address the country’s economic crisis. 

Sheer survival instinct among those most affected by the austerity measures is driving them further into the parallel economy, which according to recent official figures amounted to 24.8 percent of GDP in 2010.And it is continuing to grow, owing to the severe economic crisis from which there seems to be no way out, a study from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Porto concludes. There are still no statistics for 2011, but economists who have analysed the situation and made their findings public concur that the informal economy grew last year, and is expected to grow again in 2012.

The rise of the informal economy mirrors the ongoing decline of the formal economy, amid rumours of a probable new tax hike that has still not been confirmed or denied by the right wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.Rising prices, taxes, social security contributions and unemployment, along with cuts in social benefits and health care, are the main drivers behind the flight to the underground economy.

Activities in the parallel economy are not registered in the statistics tracking the country’s wealth. One-quarter of economic production is left out of Portugal’s GDP, which is nominally 223.7 billion dollars a year, says the University of Porto study, released this month.

The underground economy generates more than 52.6 billion dollars a year – half the amount of the international troika’s bailout plan.

Portugal has the third largest underground economy relative to GDP in the EU, after Italy and Greece. What all three countries have in common, and helps to explain the state of their economies, is high indirect taxation, high direct taxes on consumption and high unemployment, the study says. 

In 1970, when the first studies were done on the black economy, its activities had a value of 9.3 percent of GDP. By 2010 it had grown to 24.8 percent of GDP.

My message to you, Peter Rabbit.

First, reduce the debt. Renegotiate the bailout deal. Sell the submarines (€500 million) and freeze defence spending (€2 billion-ish – all governments in recession should do it). Install 1000 speed cameras on the roads (cost €20 million, annual revenue €20 million)

Then reduce IVA by 10% and introduce mandatory tax compliance and auditing by a new centralised finanças body: start with big business. Legislate to make hearings and penalties for tax avoidance immediate and severe. Create incentives & tax breaks for the self employed and small business. Create a grant scheme for medium business to take on employees.

Fundamentally, what this country needs is an active Ombudsman and an ongoing war against corruption and conflicts of interest. Royal Commission/Committee style investigations into the Police force, the Judiciary and local government should result in a cleanout of the protectionist, unethical and ultimately obsolete modus operandi which binds Portugal to its past and to a development stalemate.





agua de prata

This furniture is an inspiration. I spotted it in the Portuguese interior design magazine Attitude, impressively included in an Orgulho/National Pride editorial, a couple of years ago. I kept it in the back of my mind to go and see them whenever I got to the Alentejo.


When I finally made the trip visiting the Agua de Prata workshop it was the highlight of my visit to Evora. Roman era temple? For what we came. Pre-history Cromeleques? Saw them. But Nossa Senhora Da Graça Do Divor… Conquer me!

favourite furniture

The studio is situated on an enviably pretty hill, next to a notable church on a gently undulating Alentejan plain, dotted with the ancient water wells that supplied Roman Evora its silver water, agua de prata.

wool furniture

The wool producing town of Arraiolos is about 15kms away, and supplies the artist, João Videira, with the wool with which he reinvents and revives old furniture frames and other objects. There’s a magic fusion that happens between the old framework and the intensely coloured wool that creates an altogether new and beautiful design piece. The warmth of the recollected meets the tactile wool in a way that makes this furniture irresistible; it’s at once modern and antique, designer and personal, precious and cuddly.


And the recycled and recreated philosophy fits perfectly with the concept for my house. By taking what has heritage and soul and stripping back the parts that have deteriorated. Then restructuring and repairing those bones for a modern use, adapting outdated living concepts for today’s needs and integrating modern desires for comfort and pleasure. The result is honestly beautiful, luxurious and unique furniture of character and simplicity.

Collecting designer furniture is all very well, but I can’t see the point if the pieces are not useable and personal to you. You see so many houses in magazines with the standard Eames chair, as ubiquitous as a Warhol print rip off and equally unoriginal. Agua de Prata is the antithesis of this. It’s even easier to fill your house with cheap mass produced furniture, which looks OK for a month and in a year is downright awful. I’d prefer to buy one quality piece I adore, and have an empty house, or even use furniture hire temporarily until I can afford to buy something else.

My favourite things from Agua de Prata are, naturally,  the Pedras de Lã, Wool Rocks. At first glance their organic shape made me curious about the support around which the wool is carefully wrapped. Their weight gives nothing away, except that inside they couldn’t be hollow. Nor are the stones hard; they have a sponginess that adds to the organic characteristic of their shape. The answer is, that the Pedras are solid wool, a ball so carefully and tightly bound that it has taken on its own natural form, and like all the Agua de Prata works, is individual and unique.


And if you’re passing the town through at lunchtime, as we were, wondering where all the folk could be, tuck your head into the first café on the left, which will be packed and dishing out delicious local plates with atmosphere and conviviality. Happiness all round.





Making my aquaintance with Portuguese bread has been similar to discovering Portuguese cheese. At first I thought the Portuguese had got it all wrong, what with the tasteless mass-produced fresh cheese offered on every restaurant table. Totally boring, I thought. But these first impressions were wrong. There is a world of decadence out there, of both cheese and bread, if you know where to look.


So here it is. The Papo Seco, or white roll, is the family staple of Portuguese bread. It is breakfast to the suburbs and not called dry throat for nothing. It is ordinary. And stale the next day. I prefer the smaller, cuter, Bico, or beak. Straight from the oven with butter and vegemite. Yum.


The bread truck’s horn is our alarm clock. I’ve given strict instructions to Bruno the Bread Man to start honking as soon as the village is in sight as waking up, getting up, pulling on coat, finding money, finding shoes and running down to the road takes much longer than the brief window of opportunity he normally allows on a stop. If I was organised then I’d hang out a bag with the next day’s order but I have an ingrained habit of breakfast spontaneity. I can’t decide the night before what I’ll want the next morning. And unlike the bread truck at our previous village, this one has more than the usual to choose from. It has cakes.


After the white rolls, the next most popular bread in our village is the Cacete. It too is white and no different in recipe than the rolls, but that’s like saying there’s no difference between spaghetti and spirale. They have different functions. The Cacete’s job is to make a good sandwich. The One is a sandwich enthusiast and he rates the Cacete for this purpose. It’s light and fluffy with a crunchy crust. Excellent with just tuna or ham, also good with jam. But rubbish as toast.


Other whites include the baguette, which can be the same shape as the French but not the same, and pão forma – a square loaf, sometimes twice as long as a loaf of sliced white death. It’s used in cafes for tosta mista, (ham and cheese toasted sandwich) and torradas (toast) cut an inch thick with lashings of butter. Bring your own home made jam and order up a galão and breakfast bliss is yours.


Moving on to where there are more variables and opportunity for baker’s creativity. The Mistura is the Portuguese light brown bread, it also comes in rolls and loaves. At about 37% wholemeal, it is as I say, light brown, not brown. Pão de Mistura is mostly ordinary, but if you shop around you can find exceptional loaves in this class. Anyone near Vila Facaia (Pedrogão Grande territory) should try their mistura, now available from the small supermarket rather than from a bearded woman in a shoe in the wall shop with “depósito de pão” handwritten above the door. I always wondered if she was the baker too and I suspect so, if only to drawn a line between a curious old woman and a curiously delicious kind of bread. Ultra spongey, moist and elastic. I have been known to eat an entire loaf in one sitting. And it seems bakers around here have started copying the Vila Facaia style… I suspect it’s doubling the yeast or something. The bread truck’s mistura is pretty good.


Better though is the Pão de Agua. Note the irregular shape of the loaf, signalling its slightly rustic and artesenal character. I think it’s made with white flour but it’s not especially white in colour. The best way to describe the flavour is watery. I’ve no idea why it’s better than the mistura but it is. The bread’s texture however can be very holey and therefore renders it unacceptable for sandwiches according to The One (who goes a little overboard with mayonnaise). I don’t mind a bit of oozing with toast, and toasted, the Pão de Agua is unreal.

The same can be said for a Pão da Avó, which has a similarly rustic and home made personality: grandmother-style to be sure. It’s made from a stronger dough with more wholemeal flour. Then there’s something called Pão Rustico, which I’d say is the name given to something that is not a Mistura, Agua or Avó.


This here is a Broa de Milho. I suppose one might say this is the traditional Portuguese bread. Very dense, with a tightly woven texture, quite dry. Has a much longer shelf life than the others. Makes excellent toast. It is not corn bread as the name suggests, but half cornflour (maizena, cornstarch) and half wheat flour. Always keep your eye our for a real Broa de Milho which looks just the same except yellow because it’s made with corn meal. Quite special.

That’s it for the basic range, all you can expect really from a bread truck. Next stop is your local pastelaria or dedicated padaria where you’ll find more interesting shapes and flavours, of infinite regional variety. My favourite regional bread is Pão de Alentejana, a cojoined-twin looking white loaf that a local café makes even though we are not in the Alentejo. Portuguese will argue it’s not authentic – if you want to be sure it’s the genuine article, you’ll have to go to the very region to find out. I’m not so pendantic about the names, just grateful that the baker is doing something slightly different.


Darker wholewheat and black breads are hard to find in Portugal. Try organic markets where expat Germans and Dutch supply genuine home made artesanal breads, made with love and good health.

Surprisingly a good place to look for bread is in the freshly baked bread bread department of chain supermarkets. Maybe high turnover raises the quality, but perhaps breakmaking is an art and it’s all up to the individual baker and their oven. In Lousã, if you’re passing, the Lidl has great fresh bread and the baguettes and croissants at the Intermarché are an excellent imitation of the real thing. Really, nothing much beats the white stick of France, or for that matter, the black breads of Germany. And who doesn’t miss sourdough? If you have major longing for the bread of your origin you can of course, bake your own, or even buy a breadmaker and bread mixes from better supermarkets.


There are many sweet breads too if we are not being too precious about what is bread and what is not. Pão de Leite is like brioche. Pão de Deus is not like anything but is good with ham and cheese. Pão de Ló is like a sponge cake, so, not bread. Broainhos cannot be found on the internet so maybe they are an invention of Figueiró Dos Vinhos. They appear at Christmas and Easter and are small dark fruit breads which I insist on being toasted and buttered despite it being against Portuguese law. Broa Doce is a generic name given to another sweet bread but not Little Sweet Corn Bread.

Also to consider is this. The Bolo de Berlim. Not a bread. A cake. But not to be ignored.



successes and failures

I’ve just come from another baffling and futile conversation with an insurance broker who is apparently unable to cover my house and its latest improvements. Okay, small difficulty in valuating the property, given its initial age and its work in progressness. But so what? Where I come from insurers will jump at practically anything and leave it to the claims dept to refuse you if, and big if, the time comes. Instead of just dumbing it down to a fundamental cultural difference, I must know why my place isn’t interesting enough for local insurers to cover. On the Caixa website form, for example, things abruptly terminate when I enter the age of the house. Yes it’s an old house. So, we live in a forest. And I know we are in zone that’s considered by at least by Portugal Telecom to be a high default risk, I.E. it’s kinda poor. But none of these things should, logically should, stand between me and home insurance. I discuss it with the neighbours and I can divine nothing – I take this to mean no one is insured. Which is why they have a dog tied up outside? Is dog a fire-fighter? Am I confused?


Please, dear reader, if you can shed any light on this Portuguese insurance malarky, please don’t restrain yourself. I am, once again, off to hunt down satisfaction from somewhere .co.uk, where they understand this Anglo Saxon peculiarity to be prepared.

In one last post about the house building, until “phase one” is ready for photography and housewarming, let’s take a look at the good and the bad decisions made so far.


This is not an invitation for any lurking troll to lay shit on me – as does happen once in a while and always by another amateur with barely formed half ideas supposed on unfinished photos and the scraps of information divulged here on these pages. You see ladies, anyone with a dick is an expert builder, and a erstwhile blondish chick is the most easy post for the least competent of these to cock a leg. Here’s some advice for you, little boys, in return for all the “careful that wall doesn’t fall on you” type comments I’ve endured:  Expert builders do not give out unsolicited advice. They do not condescend. They work with you, not against. Real builders, just like real men, have balls, and they do not need to piss on women to prove it. They don’t need to prove anything.

As if the condition of my self esteem isn’t already quite plain, I see no shame in sharing with you where I think I wasted money or time or made things way much harder than they needed to be. I know what I am: I am a perfectionist, and I take on very ambitious projects. Arguably too big for someone who might be more comfortable with a drama-less life. I am a paradox just like any decent human being.


Let’s start with booby number one: the windows. For those who don’t recall, I bought for a bargain, a few thousand old timber windows and doors that were ripped out of Versailles or somewhere. We discussed the best way to restore them and then the financial crisis came and they shelved, quite literally, for two years which did nothing to improve their deteriorated condition. Now, for “phase one” of the renovation we only needed four windows and three doors. And just this small number drove us all crazy with the amount of work they needed and the tediousness and discomfort of the work required. And I’m sorry to say, the results aren’t impressive. Sure, they are kinda cute, but they are also warped, uneven and don’t fit into frames that were straight and built around them. They have been a total pain in the arse from start to finish. And they are still not finished.

I don’t have a solution here, because as The One said, he too would have bought the windows at the price I was offered. New windows, double glazed, are at least €350 each, so you can very easily dispense with a few thousand bucks. I can’t recommend saving money by installing them yourself either, unless you’ve had a lifetime of practice. It’s a fiddly, skill-requiring task. And I’ll stand up and say this level of carpentry is out of my league.


Scheduling. Don’t bother. Waste of time. Building is, surprising to me, an organic beast. And you are in Portugal on Portuguese time. Your timber will not be ready when you want it. You will not be able to get products you want that day from the local shop. Delay, delay and more delay. Don’t set a deadline. Just let it happen. Even when your builder is on a contract with a penalty if they run late, they will still run late.

The mess. Somehow you’ve got to get everyone who works on the site to clean up after themselves. Obviously, this is anathema to tradespeople – even the gentlemanly PT guys leave crap everywhere. If I did not have to ferret about with a plastic bag collecting flotsam almost constantly I could’ve got a lot more done – and there is always more on my job list than anyone else’s. Make it part of the work, in that half hour before downing tools there is a cleanup session. And the tools! How much gets destroyed & money wasted by inadequately cleaned tools and equipment. I neglected checking on the cement mixer for a while and now it’s irreparable. And no matter how much I laid down the law, or the ashtrays, I could still spend an entire day now picking up cigarette butts. Why am I still cleaning mortar off floors, roof tiles, window sills, when one sweep of a sponge at the end of the day would have spared me these hours?! Grrrrrr!


Let’s change the subject lest the poor reader loses the will to live. Let’s instead talk about the glory of the wood burner. I checked out makes and models and prices for a few years before this day, and so I had a fair idea of what I needed. I needed to spend more than I wanted to, that was clear, but when choosing a wood burner you can exchange kilowatts for quality. I went for a Portuguese made brand called Solzaima, which smacked of quality – it’s easy to spot: environmentally mindful, good supply of information about the product, trained sales staff. I thought I’d spend €500, I spent €800. And then I handed it over to penfold the builder who has installed his own and for others and knew exactly what I had to achieve: central heating.

Thus I spent another €1400 on installation, including a secondary fan to boost the traffic of hot air to other rooms, (in addition to the recuperador’s own fan which generally serves as radiant heat) a chimney, a major amount of floor support and a whole lot of unseen tubing.

It is worth every cent. It is as warm as socks in here, even with single glazing and drafts blowing in through every unfinished door and window. It is efficient and low maintenance and it looks sensational. It unmistakably adds value to the house. We love it.


In the same vein – the double insulation, with all the pain it took, has paid off. I already knew it would when in mid-August the outside workers were dying, we, rendering inside, were singing along to the radio. Our morning inside temperature (no fire) will be above 15º when outside is under 7º. And we haven’t even insulated downstairs yet and anyone with a rés do chão knows how cold it is down there…

Ilhamdulillah, the bath. It’s big, it’s lovely. I have no regrets on the money spent on the bathroom. Everything is big – the sink, the taps – but it works in the space. I love the floor tiles (expensive) and the wall tiles (cheap). I love the insulated water pipes (my insistence) and the strong water pressure (pure luck). And I’ll love it even more when it’s finished – door, tiling, heated towel rail, cupboard, and a damn inspection hatch door to stop the cats playing chasings under the bath…






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