I mentioned in the last blog about finding peace (on earth). Well, the mountains in central Portugal provide a good place to start. Little or no traffic makes its way up here. There is pure silence for large parts of the day. The sun beats down and the cicadas only begin to thrum late in the afternoon. Otherwise, it is just occasional birdsong – and the honk of Jose’s van at mid-morning to let us know he is delivering the bread and pastel de natas, ready for coffeetime.
But then there are the humans. An old Czech woman at the far end of the village who has developed a hatred of life encourages her poor rescue dog, an Alsation, to bark from the end of its chain out on the patio of her house, simply to annoy people; which in turn sets off the Pit-bull, another rescue animal, next door. Right now we are in touch with a charity to make sure these animals are properly cared for, and the mountain silence becomes further established.
We had only been here a fortnight when an Irishman rocked up saying he had bought the property beneath ours and there was an issue with the adjoining boundary. As he waved his mobile phone and its screen capture of a Google map image showing the immediate locality with a yellow line seemingly indiscriminately drawn in, it became clear the issue existed in his mind only. We had him over the same evening to share a bottle of wine and thought no more of it.
Except a day or two later something told me the issue had not gone away and he would be making a fuss sooner or later. To help him out, I cut back the brambles and neglected undergrowth to reveal fully the concrete posts and wire fence and low brick wall that clearly marked the existing boundary. Unfortunately, this failed to register with him, since I saw that he cut his way through some laurel bushes to gain access to the land while we were in town, and so I deposited some cuttings from our garden to make the parcel of land’s ownership all the more evident. Riled, he pushed the cuttings nearer to our house and laid out some branches as markers of his own. In response, a little embarrassed at the escalation of proceedings, I brought round branches of my own from the side of the house, and left them out in preparedness for burning in the autumn. Later in the day came a banging at the door and shouting from the lane which could only belong to the crazed neighbour. Knowing a fight would ensue if I went out, my intention was to phone the local police, until my wife announced she would go and try to calm matters. Some hope, as he effed and blinded, all the while waving his cutters and throwing tree branches around, oblivious to the fact he was manhandling private property at the same time as trespassing on our land. “Ask Ricardo!” he kept shouting jubilantly. “He’ll tell you!”
“Who’s Ricardo?” we asked each other, watching out the open window at the increasingly sweaty cavorting Irishman.
Since our solicitor was on holiday, and because there was no chance of reasoning with the unhinged new arrival – incidentally, a teacher of engineering at an East London school located round the corner from where my wife was brought up (what are the chances..?) – we simply let the matter rest. His Russian wife was due in a couple of days’ time and maybe she could help him see sense. In the meantime, he had enlisted the comradeship of a Cockney ex-publican with cancer also living locally, in the hope of creating numbers ranged against us.
What a set up!
And then a day later ‘Ricardo’ called round, with an assistant from the real estate agency he owns.
“Ah, that Ricardo!”
Apologetically the two of them assured us that we were correct concerning the boundary, that our over-wrought neighbour had been fully informed of the fact, and that now he was angry with them instead.
The following morning a previous Portuguese occupier of the Irishman’s property was despatched into the mountains to help clarify matters further. With her departure, I then set about restating the ownership of the contended land with the re-application of the branches and cuttings.
As this was taking place, the Irishman and his Russian wife appeared from below, like troglodytes, and he assumed an air of cheery banter.
“Don’t talk to me,” I warned.
“Ah, come on now. What’s the matter?”
Refusing to be drawn, I continued huffing and puffing with the re-arranged branches – he had caused me a lot of extra hard work, after all, not to mention emotional aggro – and had very little to say.
He approached the boundary.
“Put a toe over the line,” I told him. “And I’ll call the police.”
“Ah, come on now. Don’t be so childish.”
If this was his attempt at further negotiations or some kind of rapprochement, he was surely making a terrible hash of it.
“I know it’s not my land. What say I buy it from you?”
I knew this would be coming and so was properly prepared.
“I wouldn’t let you have an inch of it for all the tea in China.”
“Ah, don’t be like that. Don’t make it personal. It’s money we’re talking about.”
Now I stopped for a breather and stood facing him. His hands were rested on a couple of posts I’d hammered into the ground and I raised the implement with another warning he step back. He then went on from a safe enough distance to completely revise the events of the last week in order to ingratiate himself with his wife. He even gave a sob story how he had been sold a ‘pup’ by the agency. Failing to draw any feelings of sympathy from me however, I told him who he should be talking to, and made clear I would not be drawn into any meaningful dialogue with him at all. I did say that I had one question.
“What did you call my wife after she informed you we had been to the council to try and sort the matter out?”
“I can’t remember,” he lied.
At which point, I turned away, put my heavy-duty working gloves back on, and told them both there was nothing more to say.
They left yesterday for London.