Saturday, October 16, 2010

Double Busy

Half Term. And for me, the joy at not having to be up at six o'clock every morning stayed with me until, oh, Wednesday afternoon or so, by which time the constant nagging of two stir-crazy children had tipped the pleasure scales enough to make me wonder whether a week's holiday was just too long. I can't blame the children too much though, they've had fairly limited input from their parents for much of this week as it's been mild chaos here for the past few days.

We began last Saturday with the setting up of our home office. We have a garden room at the end of our long driveway and for various practical and financial reasons, Helen has decided to abandon her unnecessarily distant and over-cluttered office for the much more cosy and accessible home variety. Saturday was the day of the move, and as is usually the case out here, we began the day with a wait, abandoning our usual Saturday morning trip to Emporio Santa Maria so we could be here when the furniture van arrived mid-morning. It arrived mid-afternoon.

The first order of business was something I'd been dreading for a while and that was to move our car out of the way. It was the first time I'd sat in it since we got it, the first time I'd driven for four months and the first time I'd driven an automatic at all. Still, even I could cope with driving it out onto the road and parking it, although there was a lot of juddering and growling involved. Sadly, a couple of hours later once all the furniture was in, I had to put it back where it came from. Now, for most of you, this would probably have been no problem. After all, reversing round a 90 degree corner, up a ramp and into a narrow entrance between two huge walls is the kind of stuff you do all the time - and some of you, I know, can even do it with a 40 ft trailer attached.

Sadly, I can't. Not effortlessly anyway. After about five minutes, I'd made it up the ramp at least and had attracted an audience in the process. Behind me I had Helen, the boys and Angela, our cleaner. In front was Miguel, one of our street guards, and his weekend assistant. And if I'd been hopeless before, adding performance anxiety to the mix really made things much, much worse.


It had to happen sooner or later. Fortunately, it was only the huge and conveniently-placed plant pot and not the side of the house. There were squeals of delight from behind me, and knowing shakes of the head from in front. So, back down the ramp, straighten up, try again... and again... and again. Then the advice started. "You're too close. Go the other way. Turn the wheel the other way. You need to straighten up. MIND THE WALL!" Then Miguel wandered over, leant in through the window and started turning the steering wheel for me, motioning with a nod of the head that everything was fine now. "NO IT ISN'T!" from behind. So, back out, back in, back out, back in. And finally I was there, safe and sound without so much as a single chunk of plaster out of either wall and nothing more than a scratched bumper on the car.

Humility is such a wonderful thing. I thanked Miguel for his help and with a happy smile thought of the immense joy I'd brought to so many people on what would otherwise have been a typically dull Saturday afternoon.

So after all that excitement, what better way to come back down to earth than to spend the rest of the weekend moving furniture and unpacking boxes. To be honest, after the initial placing of desks and bookshelves there wasn't much for me to do so I went back to letting the kids make fun of my parking skills while Helen got to wade her way through several years' worth of old books and magazines which no longer had a home and which probably should have been put out to pasture a long time ago anyway.

By Sunday evening, it was actually looking quite cosy. The only thing missing was a phone line and an internet connection but these would, apparently, be easy enough to arrange and sure enough, one week later, we're already halfway there, having had five visits from three men from two different companies in the space of four days. All of which, of course, involved at least one of us having to stay in the house and prevented the kids from being taken to anywhere more interesting than the supermarket.

And then, on Thursday, I was ill again. This time it was what I'll just describe as digestive issues, but it kept me in bed for the whole day and enabled Helen to get in some interesting conversational portuguese practice with not one, but two, different pharmacists. Yes, I'm better now - thanks for the concern - but I can no longer wear my shorts without a belt. It's a somewhat extreme form of dieting, but some consolation I suppose.

But the week was saved by Tuesday which was Dia das Crianças, or Children's day. It's a bit like Mother's Day but much more of a big deal. It's a public holiday for a start and although schools and banks and offices are closed, toy shops and restaurants aren't. As there wasn't too much Helen could do on a public holiday, we decided to have a family day and although it began with a reasonably long walk, the kids didn't object as there were treats promised along the way.

We began by heading off to my favourite juice bar for some açaí and fresh grape juice. By chance, there was a little jungle-themed adventure area which had been set up for kids right beside it, so Helen and I got to sit in the sunshine and enjoy some civilised conversation while David ran wild with some soft toy animals and James, being far too grown up for such childish games, made a few paper aeroplanes.

For lunch we went to the cafe next to Helen's old office so she could let James have a try of the "fatty salty sandwich" (melted ham and cheese) she would be saying farewell to from now on. David, suspicious as always, joined me for some pão de queijo.

After that we were obliged to make good on our promise of toys. Buying toys out here is tough. Everything your children are likely to have heard of will have been imported, and everything imported has had to go through this strange process which trebles its price and no matter how hard I try, I just can't bring myself to spend £250 on a Lego set, even if it is based on The Prince of Persia. Still, it was Dia das Crianças and there's only so many times you can say "no, not that one, find a cheaper one" to a desperate child, so we gave in and forked out and came away with a handful of characters from Thomas the Tank Engine and and an impressive collection of Gormiti (a group of elemental warriors whose powers include the ability to suck money out of your wallet, to materialise underneath bare feet on staircases and a mind-control power which seems to compel children to sing their praises incessantly until their parents' brains turn to jelly).

But when all's said and done, we survived the week and even enjoyed bits of it along the way - especially those bits which didn't involve a toilet. And this weekend brings with it out three-monthaversary. Yes, it really has been three whole months since we said goodbye to Cambridge and began our new adventure out here. Most days it seems like much, much longer, but we can certainly give ourselves a collective pat on the back for all the things we've achieved so far. Helen has been nothing short of a human dynamo, the kids have been amazing in adapting to their new life and I have... well, I've kept us all fed and watered and made sure we all get up on time.

And I get to be the one to tell you all about it, which is perfect.

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