Memory Lane

Many of my stories are centred around our life in Lagoa and whenever I visit this town I relive our time there. I am always drawn back to the street where we lived and although much of it has been smartened up, the houses opposite having new roofs and facades, where once there were holes in the roof and rusting window frames, I still visualise the people that lived in them and how, although far from wealthy they always had a smile and a welcoming word for us newcomers.

The elderly Senhora who lived on the corner of the street, whose washing line straddled the front house wall and who, every day, hung fresh washing out to dry in the hot Algarve sun. She always called out a cheerful ‘Bom dia’ and asked me how I was.

There was a younger woman who lived opposite and had a string of children from a babe in arms to a ten-year old, with barely a year or two between their ages. A woman who, worn out with childbirth and caring for a large family yet managed somehow, to keep those children clean and fed and reasonably well dressed; beautiful-looking children who were always friendly and polite.


A middle-aged Senhora, whose house was further up the hill, sang from her backyard as she pegged out the washing; her lovely voice ringing out to us, as we sat at breakfast on our lofty balcony, was a pleasure indeed.

The young Portuguese girl in the local newsagent where I bought our daily newspaper, writing paper and pens for our workshop office, who would sit listening dreamily to English pop songs. I was looking around in there one day and Freddie Mercury was singing on the radio, she gave a deep sigh and said in perfect English “Oh I love Freddie’s voice”!, then giggled and blushed.

Then there was the pilot, the one we christened the ‘Red Baron’! When he first flew over, he almost gave me a heart attack.

I never had a washing machine in our apartment, so our smaller items of clothing I would wash in the large stone sink that stood in the corner of our balcony. Larger items such as sheets and towels I would take to the small launderette that was a short walk from our road, close to the old post-office. There, our washing, a large bagful, was washed, dried and folded for about 700 escudos, less than £3 in English money.


It was on such a day, as I stood at the sink with my arms deep in the soap suds washing some clothes and completely lost in thought, a loud buzzing came from the outskirts of Lagoa. The ‘buzzing’ got louder, then suddenly there was a mighty whooshing sound and a small bi-plane skimmed the rooftops and I remember physically jumping. As I looked, I could see the pilot in the small ‘red’-coloured plane as he weaved in and out at rooftop level above the town’s streets. Hence the name ‘the Red Baron’!

He became a familiar sight and sound that we very soon got used to! I have to say that I would rather hear that today or any day, than the deafening noise of the ‘war jets’ that we have on a regular basis overhead, here in the Lincolnshire countryside!

On occasion, I walked to my gardening job through the countryside and back roads. I have always liked this form of exercise and when son Jamie was at home, he would join me. Sometimes we seemed to walk miles, even in hot weather and I think Hub thought I was slightly mad!

One day, Jamie and I decided to go in a different direction. We walked through the streets to the front of our apartment and out onto the old Silves road. We were going to test ourselves to see just how far we could get. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the train level crossing which was some distance but I wanted to explore somewhere different.


It was a dusty but also quite a busy road and after some distance I was beginning to regret my plan! Then suddenly there was a fork in the road that went off to the left. It looked like nice countryside, so we left the busy road to explore new territory.

Small houses started to appear, all of them with gardens and it reminded me of the village life back in Benenden, Kent, our last home in England. As we walked the narrow road, children’s voices called out to us, as they rode past on their bicycles. We waved back, then they shouted “ Bonjour madam, ca va?”

This astonished us. Why the French? Did we look French? We laughed and called back “ Bonjour. Tres bien merci”

But this wasn’t the first time that we had been mistaken for French people, particularly Jamie. The first time that he went for a haircut at our local Gent’s hairdressers, he’d sat in the barber’s chair and asked for a ‘baixo’ (short haircut /crop)

The barber said to him “Nacionalidade?” (nationality), and before Jamie could reply the barber said “ Frances?” (French)


Jamie had laughed at this and when he’d told the barber that he was English, the barber had gestured to his face, implying that he looked French! He then tried to convey to the barber that he had ‘French blood’, way back on his mother’s side.

Now here we were, in a tiny village close to Lagoa and locals were talking to us in French! An old lady stood watering her pots in one front garden. She looked up and said ‘Bom dia’. I stopped to admire her beautiful geraniums set out in their gaily painted pots. We managed to converse a little and it came to me then, that whether in Portugal or England, that senhoras / ladies, got a great deal of pleasure from the simple act of gardening.

We came to what appeared to be the end of the village and I recall a large Portuguese stone house on the corner that joined the main road. There was a high brick wall where a tall tree overhung. There were apple –shaped fruits hanging from the branches. On impulse, I reached up and picked one, the skin felt furry to the touch but I bit into it. UGH ! it was horrible and certainly not an apple. I later found out that it was Quince and that a ‘marmalade’ was made from this fruit in Portugal.


We didn’t get much further on our walk that day and soon made our way back to Lagoa. But it stands out in my memory and those children speaking to us in French!

On my recent holiday in Carvoeiro, I was invited out for coffee by a good friend who lives near Silves. She picked me up by the Anteak bar and we went for a ride. We were going to a pastelaria that she knew and as we drove along I found myself in what I thought was a new area for me. Then suddenly, whilst looking out the car window to our right, I saw a stretch of countryside that looked familiar. It didn’t come to me then, but later that evening as I relaxed in front of the TV, I remembered..

Hub and I had returned to Algarve in ’94 to try to salvage our carpentry business. During that period, we had once again taken on repair jobs to help our bank balance.

My garden agent Sally, who had retired from her business, still had a few expat’s homes under her care. On our return to Algarve she had asked if we would consider repair work for her clients and of course we readily agreed.


Seeing that piece of familiar countryside brought the incident back to me. I knew the area. We had been there.

One thing I’d always enjoyed during our time in Algarve was jumping in the van with Hub to visit various places. This particular day he had asked me to go with him to help with some repair job. He loaded tools and paint pots into the van and we set off.

It seemed quite a drive from Algoz and when we pulled up at the scruffy-looking gate and fencing, my thoughts were ‘what an isolated place’! I couldn’t see any other houses at all. The stone Portuguese cottage stood alone.

As Hub opened the large wooden gate, it fell, hanging off its hinges and some of the wooden slats were very loose. Hub proceeded to remove the gate and hammer the slats back into place and then started to rub down the peeling paint. I asked if he wanted any help yet but he said no, only later on with the painting. I asked if there was anybody in residence and Hub said the owner had retired back to England.


So I wandered off to look around the large neglected garden. To the back there was a fair size allotment which looked as though it had once been quite productive. Although I could still make out the rows where vegetables had once sprung up, it was now filled with dead plants and choked with weeds. My fingers itched to clear the ground. There was a small shed in one corner and leaning against the door a rusting spade; I couldn’t resist it!

The dry red soil crumbled at the touch as I dug and turned it. The ground was lifeless and I thought of the dark moist soil I had left back in my Essex garden and wished I could transport some good top soil to wake up the barren earth around me. I pulled at the dead plants, clearing and tidying up the untidy patch. It was very warm and as I stood up and wiped an arm across my forehead, a movement caught my eye, a twitch of the curtain at the back window. I dropped the spade!

“I can’t leave you alone for 5 minutes” Hub laughed “What are you up to? Come and give me a hand”

I put the spade back in its place and followed him back round to the front garden.


“Are you sure nobody is living here?”

“Yeah I’m sure. Why?”

“I saw the curtain move”

Hub went on to explain that Sally said the old house had belonged to an elderly British couple. They had lived there for years. Recently the wife had died and the husband had moved back to England..

“But I saw the curtain twitch?”

“Maybe it was a cat”

“What inside?”

“Oh I don’t know. Anyway its none of our business”

As I dipped my brush into the fresh white paint, I looked up at the windows of the cottage. They looked blank, empty. I thought of the old lady who’d lived there with her husband, of the vegetable patch, of the happy years they must have spent there together and I felt sad.

I still had the distinct feeling we were being watched, yet we saw no one.

It is said that houses can retain ‘memories’ of those who have lived in them. That day, in that isolated spot in the hot Algarve countryside, I felt that someone’s memories had touched me.