Why Computers Are Bad For You

Dog outdoors, dog lying down, dog in countryside, dog with lead, black dog, labrador cross, German shepherd cross

This morning we were out of dog food.  I had the bright idea of boiling up some pasta.  I popped on the pasta, went out and checked some blogs on the computer.  Then another, then another until…came across blog about dogs,  dog = cooking pasta = burning smell = burnt pasta, burnt pan.  Aaargh!  Fortunately the dog will eat anything, hungry or not.

Cooked a late brunch, scrambled eggs and rosti.  While cooking late brunch prepared soup for actual vitamins later.  Went up and did some work on the computer.  “Something smells good”, said Jae, as he lay down on the sofa looking bored.  Feeling of guilt as I should be playing with Jae in the holidays, doing cool stuff like sailing or surfing which is one reason we moved to the Silver Coast.

I suggested a board game. Jae retreated before I could come up with the sentence “how about some maths homework?”  Went back to work on the computer.

Soup, eating al fresco

Jae returned a while later.  “What’s that weird smell?” he asked.  I leaped up from the computer to retrieve yet another blackened pan off the stove.  Picked out the bits of veg. that weren’t black to try and retrieve lunch.  Unfortunately the children won’t eat anything, even if hungry.

Meanwhile, Jae went in the pool.

child swimming, swimming in portugal, above ground pool

Looking forward to dinner tonight.  Maybe I’ll just go straight for a flambé.



Pool or Pet Piglets?

"Take me home and I'll love you forever".

“Take me home and I’ll love you forever”.

Building dust everywhere. Not again!  At the Lisbon house the plumbers were working their magic, swimming in a cloud of rubble in the heat of the Portuguese summer.  I looked at the broom thoughtfully.  Time for serious action.  I hopped in the car and off to the garden centre to look for a swimming pool.

Many a happy, dreamy evening’s been spent browsing the internet for pools – above ground, in ground, steel, resin and steel, fibre glass, concrete.  Weighing up pros and cons.  Musing over decking or tiles.  Liner or no liner.  Chemicals or natural.  Hmmm.  We still have to order beds, a new door, new windows, heating, air conditioning, but….

Inground or above ground?

In ground or above ground?

I wandered into the garden centre in Cadaval.  Turning the corner past the hammocks and sun loungers a huge box blocked my way.  A box with a swimming pool inside.  A steel pool which could go inground or above ground.    It was forty degrees outside.  We really, really wanted a pool today.  My son was desperate to go snorkelling in it.  I had suggested the sea but he’d scoffed at the idea, mainly at the thirty minute drive to get there, round bends with heat and car sickness.

Snorkelling in the swimming pool?

I wandered around the shop for a little while, wondering whether to go for the impulse purchase.  Now then, garden centres in Portugal are pretty similar to ones in the UK except that they sell piglets.  I’m quite partial to piglets.  They also sell ducks, chickens, terrapins, rabbits and tanks for tarantulas.  I zoomed in on the piglets.  The piggies looked up at me with a ‘take me home and we will love you forever’ look on their faces.  The children too would love me forever.  Oh, it was a tough decision.

Done hens and ducks.  Tilly the hen.

Done hens and ducks. Tilly the hen.

A few hours later a truck arrived at the house and dropped a huge box into the garden containing a 7.5 metre long swimming pool.  Wahey!   It only needed assembling and it was just the job for a talented odd job type with a morning to spare.  Oh no!  I hadn’t thought about underlay.  Oops. Without underlay the vinyl would scratch and get a hole.

I sped back to the shop, hoping to beat closing time, and asked for a letter box and underlay.  Tried to anyway.  I was taken to an assistant who spoke a bit of English.  I followed the assistant round the shop while she showed me the various aisles.  I wanted to say “…oh, and a pig”. Just drop it in casually.  I tried the words out in my head.  “Oh and a pig”.  Or “and I’ll take the piglets too”.  How would I ask in Portuguese?  ‘Underlay for a pool’ had been a challenge.

You know what?  I arrived home with underlay, a letterbox and……no piglets. Sorry kids.  Not this time.

No pet pigs just a pool.

No pet pigs just a pool!

The Secret Swimming Pools

Barragem Marateca

Barragem Marateca

“Mum!, the Bart Simpson picture on my pyjamas has turned into a zombie”. Hmmm. “Mum!, I’ve broken my leg”. Sigh. Not to panic. The scrape, scrape sound of nail file upon nail calmly came through the teenager’s bedroom wall. I was reading An Englishman in Italy’s blog www.englishmaninitaly.org and couldn’t tear myself away.

We were supposed to be getting our swimming stuff together to venture out in the 34 degree heat for a dip. My daughter emerged with leg intact wearing pyjamas so old they came to just below the knee. They’d been passed on to little brother but taken back in a fit of nostalgia. We have lots of fits of nostalgia now we’ve left England. Anything from home is sacrosanct. One thing we didn’t do at home though, which is one reason we have dragged ourselves halfway across Europe to live, is swim outdoors. Our little round pool would go up hopefully one rare hot day at the beginning of the summer holidays. We would look wistfully into it, and up at the cloudy, grey, sky every morning until it was taken down in September. We did become experts at insect rescue though because although I squash flies indoors with gay abandon, I cannot bear to see them drown, wiggling legs and gasping for breath.

Baragem Marateca

Baragem Marateca

Castelo Branco, on the other hand, is a great place to swim. It is inland. There is no sea. In that respect it’s a little like Switzerland, both making up for the lack of sea with stunning mountains, hills and ski potential. In summer the rivers of Castelo are dammed to make them deep enough for swimming in parts. Some have a café and a little beach for summer sunning. There are reservoirs for swimming and sailing, and a fabulous swimming pool near the centre of the city.

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

Baragem da Soalheira, Fundao

If you were to idle your way to Castelo Branco you would be generally unaware of all this. There are no advertisements, no signs to the river beaches. Maybe a little wooden, hand painted sign hidden behind a tree that could mean anything. I have no idea how we would have found any of these places without the help of friends and I know that after several years of livng here they have only recently found another swimming beach close by. But it was worth the wait. With a view of the hills above and eagles swooping by, often a stillness that comes on a hot day when you have the place to yourself, it is one of the best places to be.

Barragem Marateca - a place for all seasons

Barragem Marateca – a place for all seasons

The reservoir is ten minutes drive away from our village and fifteen minutes from the city, just off the A23 at the Lardosa turn off, then follow the sign to Barragem da Marateca. We come here all seasons, the children running around its shores playing pirates and Jedhi in winter, splashing in and out of the water with the dog, and swimming in the spring and summer. It’s a huge reservoir surrounded by heron’s nests with lagoon style areas which are fairly shallow though deep enough to swim. We won’t venture further into the lake than our little, rocky lagoon, staying safe from strong, hidden currents and sea monsters. Just in case.

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

Heron nests at Baragem Marateca

After the river beaches and the reservoir there is one more, perfect place to swim. Hard to find, it is hidden away in the industrial/commercial area, between the Forum and Jumbo shopping malls. The municipal swimming pool in Castelo Branco is a perfect, clean and clear, blue gem. Last year we stayed at an apartment with a lovely pool, a generous host, and children for my own to play with, so we had no need to venture further afield for entertainment.

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

The perfect pool at our apartment in Lourical do Campo last year

This year having only a balcony, we’ve been forced out of the village to drive around in search of the city’s pool, which we knew was out there. Somewhere. All winter I’d passed notices for the lagoa, where you can hire boats, and I knew the pool (piscina) was close by. So we drove around and around the area. Two or three times we went past the ‘Zone de Lazer’ which I thought was some sort of fun lazer place for kid’s parties and mentally started planning my son’s ninth birthday. We went in another circle and past the sign again. Oh I get it, leisure zone. Duh.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

The municipal swimming pool, Piscina Praia, Castelo Branco.

This was the best surprise. It is shaped like a lagoon so you can wade in to the warm water slowly. There’s a waterfall, and a small slide for children, it’s not too deep so if you want serious lap swimming or diving, this is not the place – although there is an indoor winter pool for that sort of thing which I haven’t yet explored. This is a pool to play in, no sand to get in your hair and mouth, you can sunbathe on the grassy decks, eat at the café, or just wade, splash, do water handstands, or gently swim around. We tend to play hide and seek around the columns which support the little wooden bridge.

You won’t miss the seaside if you come to Castelo Branco. Everything is here, you just have to look a little. Then again, the tourist board* may help and you can pick up a free map of the city.

*Tourist Board Castelo Branco, Praca do Municipio, 600-458 – just off the main square on the road that runs down to the station.