Snapshots

23 May 2021

“Flaviaaa!” Momentarily startled, I glance out of the kitchen window, from where I’m toasting cheese in the tiny egg pan while my coffee brews, to see Lelita bellowing from her window in the direction of the alley to the side of my flat. I hear her daughter’s yelled response, from her apartment adjacent to mine, echo in through my side window.

It’s around 9:30am, Sunday, and most people are already waking. I turn the cheese in the pan and lean out of my window in my pink and white fleece pyjamas, my hair awaiting arrangement appropriate for public display, and I smile, “Bom dia!” Lelita looks up at me from checking her laundry. “Bom dia! Tudo bem?” “Tudo bem, e com voce?” I ask, realising that in my moment of having-to-speak-Portuguese-panic, I used the Brazilian “voce” and should probably have used “a senhora”. Lelita grinned back at me, in the affirmative, none-the-less, delighted once again at my continued gung-ho attempts to communicate with her.

“Escutamos fado, hoje, esta manha?” I asked, hoping she’ll put her records on loud with the windows open, as she often does, especially on weekends. “You want to listen to fado?” she asked me in Portuguese, although I can’t be certain of the exact grammar and word arrangement. “Siiim,” I beamed, “Gosto muito!”

Lelita smiled even harder, and nodded in the affirmative once again. An hour or so later, as I’m finishing the dregs of my cold coffee and reviewing this week’s vocabulary from my language book, I hear the warbling twang of the guitarra portuguesa, accompanied seconds later by the powerful and haunting vocals of a fadista…

Oh, Alfama; Alfama, you charming museum.

12 May 2021

The detachable strap of my swimsuit pinged off at the exact moment I looked up to notice the startled eyes of a young Portuguese woman standing a couple of feet away from me in the locker room, her lithe figure I could only ever aspire to suggesting she’s one of those mystical creatures who eats to live rather than the other way around.

She blurted something in a somewhat staccato fashion from behind her mask. I held the front of my swimsuit up with one arm while unsuccessfully attempting to reaffix the fiddly strap that had annoyingly come undone at the back. “Um.” I glanced at myself in the mirror behind her, wondering what on Earth she could possibly need to tell me. Something about shampoo..?

It turns out it was also her first day at this health club – hence her awkwardness and look of fright – and was trying to find out whether the shower gel in the showers also doubles as shampoo. Together we surmised it probably is.

“I’m Lisa,” I pulled my mask down and gave her a big smile. “Tania,” she reciprocated.

I snapped my padlock shut and double-checked I had everything I might need before heading into the shower area, pre-swim: towels, swimming cap, locker key…

I dumped my stuff on a bench and put on the tight, mandatory swimming cap that gives me an instant face lift. Did I need to wear the mask in the shower? Surely not. I squeezed the elastic straps off my ears that got stuck on my glasses [I’m still not allowed to wear contact lenses] which I realised I should probably take off, too.

There was a huge sign on the way into the pool area. Take a shower – check. Wear a swimming cap – check. Sanitise your hands – what?? I shoved my towels between my knees and balanced my key on top of a shoe-cover dispenser as I wondered why I was spraying sanitiser onto my hands 8 minutes after having had a temperature check, 15 seconds after having stepped out of the shower, and 30 seconds before getting into chlorinated water…

All three pool lanes were occupied so I stepped into the jacuzzi to wait, followed a few minutes later by a lady whom I got chatting to who explained it’s OK to swim two to a lane. The far lane was occupied by a guy shadow-boxing, the centre lane by a woman with high cortisol, and so I opted to share Lane 1 with a guy who didn’t look like too much trouble.

It’s been like a year since I last swam and it was so nice I didn’t even count my laps, let alone try to count the tiles around the edge. Eventually the steps beckoned and I headed back to the locker rooms. I was amused to find the mirrored room full of women all drying our hair, maskless, which really highlighted to me how many of us engage in the farcical public mask charade simply because it’s easier that way.

On my way home, absent-mindedly pondering whether my day’s calorie intake would last me until I got home or if I should call somewhere for a snack, I passed through a big open square, and can’t help finding it hilarious that the 360 holiday video being shot by a tourist while I was passing her features me saying out loud to myself, “I could eat a scabby donkey!”

9 May 2021

3 Terriers

I shoved the city bicycle into a vacant rack, checked the app had registered its return, and navigated my way across the dusty dual carriageway behind the fado museum to find a shaded place on the square to sit while I waited for my friend who was meandering her way down through Alfama to meet me for a quick drink.

The benches around the edges were scattered with locals, so I took my place on the low stone wall surrounding the water feature, right next to a collection of young teens in some sort of uniform who kept sporadically bursting into song while taking selfies with masks on.

My already-high spirits were instantly skyrocketed the moment I spotted not one but THREE small terriers excitedly scampering around the square. I leaned down to beckon over one with a cute little pigtail on top of her head.

As the two other dogs approached I looked up to find their owner who bizarrely turned out to be a girl I happened to have befriended in a Facebook group last year sometime.

We immediately recognized one another from our Facebook profile photos and, beaming all over our faces, we hugged our accidental first in-person hello and she came to sit with me and introduced me to her dogs, offering to help me find a dog of my own to adopt.

“Don’t leave yet,” I told her. “My friend that’s coming is as crazy about dogs as we are!” In spite of having an appointment to get to, she fully understood and agreed to stay a couple more minutes to allow my friend to meet her dogs, as I frantically texted her this photo to get her to hurry up!

As I hit send my friend turned the corner and immediately burst into happy excitement, throwing her arms open and bending down as one of the little munchkins raced towards her.

A few minutes later, there sparked the potential of a new friendship forming between 3 women from 3 different countries with our common love for dogs.

“We should all meet again!”

“Let’s do that!”

“And bring the dogs!”

[“Terriers are brave, mischievous, energetic, active, fearless, independent, playful, and cheerful…”]

6 May 2021

There’s a night-time museum you can visit in Lisbon containing rows of crumbling three-quarter-sized terraced apartments, their tiny filigree balconies crammed with flowers lit by yellowy street lamps, the clothes of the workers hung authentically on washing lines under windows as though drying overnight to be ready to wear in the morning.

As you pass along the labyrinth of steep cobbled alleyways of this magical museum, you’ll hear someone playing a saxophone, the clatter of cutlery on plates, the bark of a small dog, serious voices speaking Portuguese from a radio or television, and fado music crackling from vinyl.on an old record player, bleeding through the net-curtained windows.

Nothing is perfect in this museum and, at the same time, every meticulous detail offers a glimpse into a bygone era which you cannot help but experience viscerally as though you’re right there, an integral part of its past, a precious family-member, simply heading home to your bed.

5 May 2021

At a bureaucratic office, in a car-crash mixture of Portuguese and English, a conversation through masks with the security guards on the door…

Me: Good afternoon, I need to register.

Her: Good afternoon, do you have an appointment?

Me: No, it’s not possible to make an appointment.

Her: You need to make an appointment online.

Me: It’s not possible to make an appointment online.

Her: Then you need to phone.

Me: Nobody answers the phone.

Her: We can’t see you today, you need to make an appointment for tomorrow.

Me: How?

Her: [Hands me a leaflet with a website and phone number.] Here. Go online or phone.

I step away from the doorway and go to the website on my phone. As expected, to make an appointment, you need to be registered. I go back and now speak to the male guard.

Me: Look. I need to be registered to make an appointment. [I showed him my phone where their webpage indicated I needed my registration details.]

Him: You can phone. A woman was here before and she got through in ten minutes.

Me: But I’m right here, right now. Can I not just see the person I’d be phoning?

Him: No, it’s better from home. Then come back tomorrow or the day after.

Me: It’s so hard.

Him: I know.

Me: Thanks, bye.

Him: You’re welcome, good afternoon.

1 May 2021

Lockdown Lesson

If there’s one takeaway for me from “all this” it’s the crucial element of social connections. Not just “activity partners” with whom to exchange pleasantries while wandering an exhibit, or simply acquaintances with whom to share superficial chit-chat, but deep, meaningful relationships built on mutual trust and support.

Meaningful relationships take appropriate vulnerability to share the depths of oneself, and a lot of courageous effort to be a rock for someone else when they falter.

Meaningful relationships take time to be created, step by step, one layer at a time, and they take sometimes difficult or even painful culling of “fairweather friends” to create distance from those unable or unwilling to demonstrate appropriate levels of vulnerability, courage, and commitment to their word; irrespective of what a person says, look at what they do. Talk is cheap.

Being a rock for another brings about social cohesion which is healing for both parties. Being real and vulnerable in front of those we’ve learned to trust, simultaneously allows us to feel our emotions, and allows others to feel the satisfaction of contribution.

28 April 2021

Absolutely GUTTED. I’m sitting outside my local bar engrossed in conversation and, after a while the owners Dario and Hugo come over to join us and we all get chatting about fado music, the genre I have fallen in love with since moving to Alfama…

“There was a famous fadista standing here a moment ago, did you see her?” Dario asks me. “No! Which one?” I asked, while thinking, “Please God, don’t let me have missed Raquel Tavares!”

“Raquel Tavares.”

“Noooo!!! I missed Raquel Tavares?! She was standing right here behind me?! Nooo! Awww noooo!!! I love her! I even learned to sing one of her songs!”

“Which one?” Hugo asked me. “Meu amor de longe…” “LonG,” literally everyone corrected my shoddy pronunciation.

“I think of her every time I see the Prazeres vinte-oito…” [a local tram she mentions in the song] I said, sadly; wistfully. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could have cried.

“Don’t worry, she just lives on there and comes here often so I’ll Facebook you the next time she’s here.”

“Does she?! Brilliant! Hold her tight and don’t let her go until I get here!” [Seriously, guys, I can make it from my flat to your bar in 2.5 minutes. I have no idea what I’ll do or say when I see her but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.]

24 April 2021

Where is the Uber?

Climbing the rain-sodden steps out of the metro station into the cooler night air, I slipped my mask under my chin, and took a breath of the familiar scent of essential oils and Indian spices.

There was a surprising number of high-spirited revelers around Martim Moniz, some haphazardly making their way up the cobbled tram tracks of Mouraria, alongside me, in dribs and drabs.

Halfway up the hill ahead of me, three very hip-looking young women hung around, the two black girls leaning on a parked car, the white girl leaning on the apartment building, one foot on the wall behind her – a scene ripped right out of a hip-hop video.

As I approached them, one of the black girls sang, “Where is the Uber..?” to the tune of “Where is the love?”

“The Uber,” I sang, as I strode between them. “The Uber…” the white girl chimed in as I passed.

“Where is the Uber, Uber, Uber?” all four of us sang together, as I turned back around to make eye contact and we all burst into giggles.

It’s beautiful to witness the return of joie de vivre.

(This was last night around 11:45pm. The photo is a screenshot I took the night before of the chords for “Where is the Love?” as I’ve been looking for a fado song with which to mix it…)

22 April 2021

PARAKALEO

“I’ll never forget the first time I met you,” my Austrian friend told me a couple of months ago. “Your accent was right out of Jane Eyre and within 5 minutes you told the filthiest joke, and I thought to myself, I like this woman!” I furrowed my brow, “It took me a whole 5 minutes?”

Well, I’ll never forget the first time I met this sister rebel, either, and I can’t decide whether it was her bewitching diction or her passion to salvage the feminine from the wreckage of feminism that first grabbed my attention, but I was eager to get to know her…

And so over the following months, Michaela became a valuable sounding board, my biggest cheerleader, my conspirer, and a trusted friend. We danced, dined, drank wine and, boy, did we laugh!!!

Our paths crossed, exactly as they were meant to, for this short period in Lisbon – me coming from Greece, her now leaving for Greece – and I wanted to capture in a special way one of our moments together: taking tea at the Miradouro das Portas do Sol, at the top of my street, bottom of her street.

I commissioned this wonderful painting, which I nickname, “Our Street”, by Wendy Beugels, a talented artist living close to Lisbon, whose vibrant and colourful watercolours I’ve been admiring online since last year and who, incidentally, inspired me to start painting again.

Michaela, for touching my life with the wonder that you are: efcharisto.

13 April 2021

“You know the price?” The pharmacist’s concerned eyes gave away that she hoped not to be the one to break the news. “Yes… is there a version that’s… mais barato..?” I asked, reaching down as though to pet a small dog, and without a shred of hope as the pharmacist down the street had already told me there isn’t another on the market but, for that money, I was getting a second opinion. She shook her head, slowly and gravely.

“Can I pay with..?” “Multibanco,” she nodded, sympathetically. Grimacing while wondering how much of it might be deducted off next year’s tax bill, I bought two of the items off my prescriptions and slipped them into my handbag, agreeing to return late afternoon for the other two that needed to be ordered in, then I ran back home up the thousand steep cobbled steps of Alfama, as I had a 2pm call with a pensions advisor – rock n roll – whom I messaged to postpone our call by 5 minutes so I had time to microwave and wolf down half a bowl of last night’s leftover takeaway curry.

“I’m sorry I haven’t got the, erm…” I apologised to the nice, besuited English chap on the video call to his office in the Algarve, while desperately rummaging for my pensions paperwork that clearly wasn’t in my blue plastic folder. “I’ll get my sister to look in my mailbox at my mom and dad’s house. Bad form, very disorganised, I know, I’ve been a bit… unwell, the last couple of days…” my voice trailed off as I realised he’s likely heard it all before. In fact, he was probably glad I turned up at all, and sober at that, on a sunny afternoon in Portugal a mere week after cafes reopened.

After finishing work, I dashed back to the pharmacy by the station to collect my prescription before they shut at 8. “Liza.” Portuguese people can’t say Lisa and I just go with it. The male pharmacist had been told I’d be coming and I guess something about the way I said, “Ola, boa tarde, boa noite,” because I’m never sure which I’m meant to use after 6pm if it’s still daylight, so I say them all to be on the safe side, exposed me as the non-native he’d been expecting. “As coisas para os olhos,” I confirmed pointing to my eyes.

When I got home, I laid out the boxes on the sideboard and wrote on each of them in biro how many times and when I’ve to use them, then calculated that I’ve to put the four different liquids and gels into my eyes a total of 11 – ELEVEN! – times a day, making sure that they’re spaced in a timely fashion so as not to wash one out with another, and that I leave enough time for my eyes to clear before I work so I can see my screen. [I’m winging it at the moment, but pondering creating a timetable…]

Unsurprisingly, my hands trembled as I tore open the silver packet containing the exorbitant miniscule vials of milky fluid. I tore one off the strip and held it up. Was that it? Was it one in each eye, or one vial between two? I’d forgotten to ask but figured that, as most of it will end up soaked into a cotton wool pad wiped off my cheeks anyway, one between two is probably enough…

12 April 2021

I’ve run out of deodorant and clean pants, and have had microwaved frozen pizza for my last two meals because my brain is sucking all my energy trying to figure out why the hell I can’t see properly.

For over two weeks, my eyesight has been getting gradually worse. Even the optician had no idea why when she moved the hot air balloon image around in the eye test machine it simply wouldn’t go into focus for my right eye. This morning I’ve been to two private hospitals, one I’m returning to tonight to try to get to the bottom of this…

But it’s NOT physical; with all my being I know it’s not. Every physical ailment is a manifestation of something mental/emotional: So, in this case, my eyesight is affected because I’m not seeing something, rather than the other way around…

I know that, as an INTJ, Extraverted Sensing (Se) is the weakest function in my stack, and something I still need to pay attention to developing in a healthy way. I feel I’m not seeing something right in front of me; not reading the available real-world, real-time data…

6 April 2021

On day 2 of “the measures” getting slowly lifted, I’m thrilled to find Feira da Ladra, the outdoor flea market open, albeit sparser than usual.

As my Polish friend and I strolled, post-lunch, discussing the social merits of men who can salsa dance, the shocking pink of this postcard caught my eye as I was close to stepping on it.

I stooped to pick up this treasure, my friend remarking that it was likely the casualty of a gust of wind through a nearby stall but, looking around, it wasn’t obvious where it belonged, so I carried it with me as we walked and talked until such moment that I felt it was mine, when I slipped it carefully into my handbag to read later…

EDIT: Translation of the postcard: This morning, at the break of dawn, to the chirping of birdies, it has come to my mind that my dear aunt would complete another smiling Spring.

I hope this day will be repeated for many years in the company of whom you wish most; and this is what your beloved niece wishes for you.

3 April 2021

Lelita always plays fado loudly across the beco while I clean my apartment on Saturday mornings. Sometimes we catch one another singing along and dancing. However, today she didn’t play any, and I missed it and I pondered whether it’s somehow ironic to long for fado…

But, after arriving home from the shops this afternoon, with a few unnecessary items to help out the locals suffering from the lack of tourism, as I was about to sit down in the window with my mug of vanilla rooibos and a half teacup of cashews, I felt delight to hear the sweet familiar strains of the guitarra portuguesa.

Saudade: a magic you’ve busied yourself against your whole life; one you’ve refused to surrender to. And here, in Alfama, it’s like the neighbourhood silently breathes a sigh of relief when you finally give in and just… feel.

Two of my most precious and incredible friends have told me – independently of one another – in the last few days, how they’ve finally learned to feel the lows they’ve spent a lifetime avoiding.

And this courage to allow the pain turned the key to release the top notes of their alegria.

31 March 2021

“People who don’t want the vaccine are SELFISH!”

Damn right! 😉 And let’s look at why, using me as an example…

Firstly, I’m NOT an “anti-vaxxer”…

As well as the measles and mumps vaccines when I was a kid, as an adult, I’ve been voluntarily vaccinated against:

Hepatitis A and Typhoid (Hepatyrix)

Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Polio (Revaxis)

(Some are due for renewal but I ain’t going anywhere at the moment…)

Did I get those vaccines for YOU? 

Are you kidding?! I got them for ME! I don’t vaccinate myself for other people, hahaha! When I vaccinate, it’s to protect MY health, not yours!

And why do I vaccinate? 

Because I travel a lot. I want to avoid bugs that have a high chance of killing me. And these vaccines are well-tested; they’re a small risk I’m willing to take.

Do I get an annual flu shot? No! 

Why not? Because the flu is unlikely to kill me. I’m young, fit, and healthy; I take care of myself. I care a lot about keeping my immune system in good shape. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll contract the flu but, even if I do, I’ll only be on my back for a few days and then I’ll be OK. So, even though the flu vaccine is well-tested, it’s a risk I’m unwilling to take as it doesn’t make sense for me to take it.

So, what about the Covid-19 vaccine?

As I work hard to keep my immune system in good shape, it’s unlikely Covid-19 will kill me. (Famous last words, lol.) But as well as this vaccine not being a risk I’m willing to take because I’m healthy and Covid-19 isn’t all that dangerous to me, the vaccination itself is new, not properly tested, a completely different type of vaccine to the ones I’ve mentioned above, and therefore extremely risky. We don’t know the long-term implications.

Do I think YOU should get a Covid-19 vaccine? 

Do what you want. If you’ve made your own risk assessment against the state of your own health, and determine that this brand new vaccine is worth it for you, you go for it – I don’t know the ins and outs of your lifestyle or your possible underlying health conditions, so I won’t tell you you should or shouldn’t be vaccinated. And I’ve made my own risk assessment about my own lifestyle and the state of my own health and, in the same way, I don’t welcome you telling me whether I should or shouldn’t vaccinate.

25 March 2021

As I was about to swing a right past the church to head back home, I spotted Michaela with her swooshing ponytail and floral jacket right over the other side of the sun-drenched plaza. She was too far for me to yell nor run after her and, besides, I was re-starting work in ten minutes after spending the end of my lunch break listening to live Brazilian music on the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, so I pottered to the railing overlooking the Miradouro das Portas do Sol to take in a few more seconds of the stretch of aquamarine before descending the steep steps to my street.

At the entrance to the archway painted with cartoons were two little boys – clearly brothers – jumping and climbing as boys do, while their mother chattered in Portuguese on her phone through a light green mask.

The elder child, maybe 5 years old and with a mop of brown, poker-straight hair and prominent spectacles, turned to see who was approaching, his face breaking into a huge grin presumably because I was mask-free and smiling or perhaps because I was an opportunity to practise English. “Hello!” he beamed. “Hello!” I answered just as cheerily, “Are you Harry Potter?!”

“Harry Potteeeeerrrrr!” his little brother chimed, with a strong Portuguese accent, as he took the bottom 4 steps in one leap. Their mum giggled with amusement and recognition as she regaled my comment through her phone.

17 March 2021

[All in Portuguese…]

Building #1

Female security guard: Good afternoon, what are you looking for?

Me: Good afternoon. The city hall to change my address.

Guard: Not here, madam, the building over there, round the corner, 3rd floor.

Me: OK, great, thanks.

Building #2

Male security guard: [No idea what he said.]

Me: [Rabbit in headlights.] Err…

Guard: Umm…

Me: No no, it’s OK, you can speak Portuguese, but more slowly.

Guard: [Pulls at his mask. Repeats himself. Still no idea what he said.]

Me: One minute please, I can’t speak Portuguese when I’m stressed… OK…

I want the third floor to change my address.

Guard: Not here, over in that building, the shop of Lisbon.

Me: The shop of Lisbon? I’m not a tourist, I live here, I want to change my address with the city hall.

Guard: Yes, the shop of Lisbon. It’s all a part of the same thing. Over there.

Me: The woman in that building tells me to come here, third floor. This is where I come two years ago.

Guard: Things have changed. Now you go to the shop of Lisbon.

Building #3

Me: Good afternoon. I want to change my address with the city hall.

Male security guard: You need to go to the city hall.

Me: The man in that building tells me to come here…

Woman: What’s happening?

Guard: She wants to change her address.

Woman: You need a residency certificate.

Me: I have it, I need to change the address. I moved house. [Pulls residency certificate out of handbag.]

Woman: You need the original.

Me: I only have a copy.

Woman: You must have the original.

Me: They don’t give me the original, only a copy.

Woman: You need the original.

Me: It’s not my fault they don’t give me the original, only a copy.

Guard: You need this, go here. [Hands me a tiny piece of paper with loads of info on.]

Me: The website?

Guard: Yes.

Me: I can change my address online?

Woman: No, you have to make an appointment.

Me: OK, I try… [Sits down.]

Guard: You have to go home to do it.

Me: I want to do it here then if I have a problem I ask you.

Guard: You have to do it at home.

Me: I try here… [Opens website in phone.] Change details? OK. My country is not here…

Woman: Put your country.

Me: My country is not here.

Woman: What’s your country?

Me: England.

[Woman talks to guard who gives me another piece of paper that says Brexit on it in big letters.]

Me: It is not about Brexit. I live here two years.

Guard: You are from England, you have to make an appointment with SEF.

Me: I live here two years! I do not need SEF.

Guard: You are English, you need to make an appointment with SEF!

Me: I only want to change my address, I don’t need SEF.

Guard: You call SEF to make an appointment.

Me: Where is the office of SEF?

Guard: Near the airport.

Building #4 (The main city hall across the square.)

Me: Good afternoon. I live here two years. I want to change my address.

Woman: Good afternoon. Hmm. I think you need to tell the tax office first.

Me: No. City hall first, tax office second, health centre third. Hospital…

Woman: Fourth. OK. I need to think. It’s very difficult… I have a phone number, my printer is broken, I’ll write it down for you. [Hands me a post-it with 4 phone numbers on.] You have to try…

Me: Thank you. It’s difficult. I try a lot.

Woman: I know. They don’t speak English but your Portuguese is good. You tell them you’ve lived here two years and you want to change your address.

Me: OK, thank you so much for helping me, good afternoon.

Blimey, Portugal; it’s a good job you’re pretty!!!

12 March 2021

“Lelita!” The woman’s voice echoes around the alley and floats in through my open kitchen window, piercing the silence in my miniscule, low-ceilinged apartment. I notice the “t” of “Lelita” sitting neatly against the border of a “th”, in the elegant manner of Portuguese pronunciation.

Which one is Lelita? I try to imagine each of my female neighbours I’ve seen gossiping on their front steps or hanging washing on the rails out of their windows.

Is it the young lady who assists the one-legged man with the black dog and the loud TV on his trips to buy groceries, or the small girl with a school backpack squashed over her puffed jacket and eyes like chestnuts, or the older lady in the overall like my Grandma used to wear whom I suspect runs an under-the-table laundry business…

I peer at myself in the huge, round, cork-framed mirror as I attempt to balance the outer flicks of my cat eyeliner, and momentarily imagine myself as Lelita…

A fadista, finishing her dramatic make-up before slipping on black leather court shoes, the heels worn to the metal that clacks as she walks, and an heirloom tasseled shawl that leaves a waft of perfume in her wake.

She tip-taps down endless steep cobbled steps and ducks her head in through the tiny doorway of a dimly-lit restaurant packed with tourists athrone mis-matching wooden chairs silently absorbing the ambiance of saudade evoked by the guitarra portuguesa.

The audience is breathless, the strains of Maximiliano’s final strum hanging in the air as he lifts his melted chocolate eyes to meet hers, a smile spreading below his moustache that curls up to match her eyeliner.

The waitress breaks up their gaze. “Lelita!”

8 March 2021

A small furore in the street led me to stick my head out to see several smiling individuals with arms full of roses handing them out to women.

The older lady with the turquoise dressing gown in the window adjacent was wiping tears from her eyes. My red rose was placed through the grills of the front door. #HappyWomensDay2021

6 March 2021

“I’m sorreee!” exclaimed the mortified 20-something check-out girl from behind her white paper mask. I looked up from packing my shopping to see an entire large punnet of blueberries emptied out all over the check-out scanner, a few rolling down the metal hill toward my surprisingly-still-going-strong Lidl “bag-for-life”.

I started laughing uncontrollably at the ridiculous scene of her hurriedly trying to scoop them up with her hands to get them back into their plastic box. “It’s OK,” I reassured her, “I’ll go get some more.”

I returned a moment later with a new box of blueberries from the fridge in the fruit and veg section of Pingo Doce, and placed them on the scanner next to the girl who was still in a flap as she and her young male colleague exchanged what sounded like opinions on the cost of a box of blueberries.

To move things along – the Portuguese have a bit of a tendency to get lost in the moment – I helped to put the last of the blueberries in their box. “I’m sorree, lady,” the girl told me, sincerely, maybe 4 or 5 more times, each occasion seeing me reassure her that it was absolutely no problem at all.

“It could have been a lot worse,” I added, “it could have been shampoo!” She looked up and paused while finally replacing the plastic lid and popping the contaminated fruit on the shelf next to her, as I wondered what would become of it. “Or wine!” the girl realised, “or olive oil!” She appeared to love this game of gratitude that it was only fruit and not something sticky, stainy, or gloopy, and she shifted instantly from worry to playfulness.

As she handed me my receipt I told her, “It was nice to meet you,” to help further alleviate any residual concern that might tarnish her day and that of her customers and colleagues. Her eyes met mine as she smiled through her glasses above her facemask. “It was nice to meet you, too.”

6 March 2021

I just woke up from an amazing dream: H&M was open and you could just go in and buy clothes and shoes, as it was considered “essential” on a Saturday. 

4 March 2021

“Wow! This is GORGEOUS!” I exclaim, wide-eyed and fully aware that my enthusiasm eradicated any bargaining power I might have had on the rental price.

I take in the antique furniture and the chocolate leather armchair, and head straight for the balcony to see the view, as a yellow tram trundles past on the square below.

“It’s much better than the other one, look, somewhere to hang dresses and coats,” I touched the coathangers dangling from the almost-adequate clothing rail integral to the dark wood shelving unit nestled to the side of the heavy drapes. “I can forgive that it doesn’t have a proper oven. You’ll need to put some dining chairs in,” I indicated the circular dining table, redundant from its lack of somewhere to sit.

“We took those out,” Ana explained. “Tourists don’t really use dining chairs as they’re always out and about, but long-term residents do and therefore with daily use, they’d become damaged, so the owner had us remove them.”

I took a moment to digest what the owner’s assistant was telling me. “So, because long-term tenants such as myself will need dining chairs every day, the owner removed them?” “Yes,” she affirmed, like it should have been obvious.

“Doesn’t that…” I paused trying to fathom a way of explaining something that was so clear I couldn’t find the words. “Doesn’t the fact that long-term tenants will sit on the chairs daily tell you that long-term tenants… need dining chairs?”

“It’s not that the tenants will deliberately damage the furniture,” Ana went on to explain, needlessly. “It’s just they’re fragile and, you know, with wear and tear…”

“Yes, I get that,” I interrupted, “but… what’ll I sit on when dining?” Ana pointed at the rattan chair at the desk by the window. “And if I have a guest?” “You can phone me and we can loan you a chair for the evening.”

I stared at her in complete and utter astonishment, unsure if my eyes gave away what my facemask was covering.

“You could pick up two cheap ones from Facebook marketplace, ten Euros each…” I offered her a quick solution that would have seen me sign a rental contract and transfer the deposit within the hour. “Well, I could speak to the owner but it’s not really worth it for him, he’s not making much money on these apartments renting them long-term, they’re for the tourists, you see, what he makes from the tourists in one night…”

“There are no tourists,” I reminded her, firmly. “Long-termers are your target market, right now, and so you need to provide the basics. Like chairs.”

“We’re hoping that tourism will start again soon,” Ana went on, robotically. “Things are very hard…” “I know, for everyone, and so I’m telling you what you need to do to ensure your apartments are suitable for your current market. It’s good business. It’s OK to hope for the best, but you need to plan for the worst.”

“It’s hardly worth renting to long-termers,” Ana sighed wearily, making her resentment abundantly apparent. “We have to pay for electricity and cleaners and my wages…”

“That’s a strange mentality,” I offered, “and one that doesn’t make me want to do business with the owner. You’ve already told me you’ve taken out the nice ornaments because your long-term tenants might break them, and now you say you’ve removed the dining chairs because the long-term tenants will sit on them. This tells me that there’s no trust. If, even before I’ve moved in, I’m told that I can’t be trusted to take care of the place, it indicates that my tenancy will be fraught with issues as the owner will try to invent problems that don’t even exist. Therefore it’s a no from me. Thank you so much for your time, Ana, and for showing me around.”

“You’re welcome. If you do decide you’d like to rent one of our apartments for April just give me a call the week of the 20th.”

28 February 2021

It was some time after 1:30am, heading home after an evening of vinho verde and cubes of Azores cheese – OK, and Pringles – that I climbed the hill behind the late-night bin truck and stopped to step through the police tapes onto the miradouro to look out over the rooftops and the lights of the ships on the silent Rio Tejo.

I backed into the shadows as a couple of cars passed, and fantasized about a bizarre point in history where simply being outside without “good reason” was an arrestable offence, and I snapped back to reality with the realisation that that point in history is now.

Neither car was the GNR but people in droves are losing their minds and I prefer not to draw unnecessary attention to myself, learning these days to avoid or navigate rather than confront.

A year of sitting at home, alone, would have hit my mental health like a cricket bat, too, and so I’m prepared to take risks. Eager, even. And not only for my own sanity but as much for that of others. I don’t know whether that’s a selfless act because I care about people, or because I don’t want to have to deal with a world of crazies – probably both.

I ducked back under the police tapes and headed down the steep cobbled steps next to the church that gets ignored because of its location sandwiched between two stunning viewpoints, and through the archway painted with Portuguese cartoons.

As I approached my apartment, I could hear a woman speaking very loudly and with purpose and, as I got closer, realised it was the television blaring out of the window of my groundfloor neighbour’s flat, opposite mine. The woman’s determined news presenting narrative boomed around the neighbourhood.

I stuck my head as close to the open window as the iron bars would allow, and waited for a gap in the monologue. None came. “Com licenca,” I said loudly through the window. Nothing moved. It was dark in there and the TV blocked my view. “Com licenca!” I tried again. Nothing. “O seu televisao e muito barulho,” I tried, knowing that even though I had the main keywords to express that the television was unacceptably loud for this time of night, it was terrible Portuguese. I repeated myself without concern for the grammar, only louder.

I pondered that only a drunk or a dead man could sleep through that din, and squeezed my arm through the bars to pull the windows shut which instantly stopped the noise echoing up and down the alley. In that moment; in that knowing of it being somehow OK to shut the drunk neighbour’s window; I felt my very first sense of belonging in Portugal.

21 February 2021

“World Explorer” – I remember being one of those! Now I have to hold video calls with friends who live in the next village! I haven’t seen the word “embark” in what feels like forever. But imagine wheeling your suitcase up the ramp of this, saluting the staff with a cheeky grin on the way past, finding your cabin, checking your bathroom then going straight out onto your private balcony and jumping up and down with excitement when the boat blows its deep horn! I love all that. I do miss travel if I allow myself to think about it so instead I wander backstreets for my own little exploratory adventures…

20 February 2021

It was well after 4pm and, if I was to secure a bottle of Portugal’s finest export for this evening, I needed to get down the Bengali shop pronto as all alcohol sales halt on weekends at 5pm sharp. Even the food delivery apps (Uber Eats, Bolt, Glovo and the like) aren’t permitted to deliver alcoholic beverages after a certain time and, as the rules keep changing, you can’t risk hoping you’ll find a shop open.

Last weekend my friend and I had forgotten the new regulations and had to take a taxi to a seedy backstreet right over the other side of Lisbon where I poked my head into a restaurant and asked if they’d put us in touch with a neighbouring shopkeeper. The staff member in his kitchen gear stuck his head out over the table blocking the doorway and looked right and left up the street. “The guy there,” he nodded his head toward a man in a raincoat and headphones loitering a few doors down. “Cheers, mate; much appreciated.”

“Wait,” the raincoat guy widened his eyes as we neared him, and made a sudden about-turn. I glanced down the street as two police cars crawled around the corner. I pulled my friend closer to me and started walking to make us look like a couple taking a stroll until the cars had gone. Raincoat guy reappeared and quickly and efficiently removed the padlock off a tiny dark painted door. He pushed it open and ushered us inside.

“What do you want?” he asked us inside the dimly-lit shop. “Two bottles of red wine, some orange juice and a packet of crisps,” I stage-whispered like I was reeling off an order of party drugs. It sounded ridiculous. 8pm on a Saturday and buying groceries is now illegal.

Raincoat guy disappeared into a back room and reemerged with a bottle of red and raised eyebrows. I didn’t even look at it. “Yes, two,” I told him, hurriedly. I knew what we were doing could result in a hefty fine for all three of us, and didn’t want to dawdle. “Round it up and give him a tenner,” I instructed my friend who had cash. I grabbed a family bag of crisps off a shelf and we stuffed the lot including two cans of orange juice into his backpack. “Put the crisps on top.”

“How much do we owe you?” “Seventeen Euros.” I winced. Danger money, I presumed.

Cut to today, and I’m scouting my studio for clothing options. I squeezed the cuff of my pink jumper, strewn over the radiator, which was still wringing wet from my walk a few hours prior through the torrential rainstorm to the phone shop that was closing at 1pm. My white pumps were sodden, as were my jeans. And my “shower proof” jacket was dripping from a hanger in the bathroom. Even my new umbrella was a mangle of black cloth and poking metal where I’d screwed it up and shoved it in my bag after it got wrecked in the wind within 3 seconds of stepping outside of the front door.

I rummaged in the glory hole for my hiking sandals, pulled on some pedal-pushers and a long cardi, ran my fingers through my still-wet hair, and set out into the rain that had subsided, considerably.

Even in hiking sandals, the cobble stones are a death trap when wet and I watched my footing as I navigated the puddles on the steep steps through the narrow alleyways of Alfama.

As I approached the shop, the owner was standing in the doorway putting his hand into a plastic bag to use it as a glove as he looked at an upside down pigeon that didn’t look to be doing too well on the path right outside. “Oh, dear,” I frowned. “Yes, I think he’s going to die,” the shop owner told me, with sorrow. The pigeon blinked and made eye contact as I walked past hooking my cloth mask over my ears, and I felt a pang of helplessness and, strangely, as I left the shop a few moments later with a bottle of vinho verde and a tube of sour cream copy-Pringles, guilt of my privilege over the pigeon’s tragic circumstances.

18 February 2021

If I told you I’m reclined on my bed in Alfama listening to fado breezing in through the open window and past the white cotton curtain from an apartment across the alley, would you even believe me?

17 February 2021

It’s almost 6am, and I’ve just eaten breakfast by the light of the yellowy streetlamp through the window of my “compact and bijou” studio in Alfama, the old Lisbon fishing neighbourhood famed for its narrow streets and fado music.

Moving house alone yesterday, and right after finishing a full day’s work, was hard. I’d put extra stress on myself by declining offers of help. I could say I don’t know why I did that but I think I do: when you’ve been told enough times how much trouble you are by folks unable to get a grasp of their own boundaries, there’s a danger you believe it in moments of uncertainty, so you become fiercely independent for emotional safety. I did, though, ask a neighbour on a high balcony to watch my piles of stuff as I brought it from the van down the steps to my apartment.

When I woke up at 3:30am (it’s been a tough week for more reasons than simply moving house and my racing head and heart gained victory over a full night’s sleep) it was totally silent, but slowly new sounds are introduced…

The neighbour clearing his throat the way dads do. The horn of a ship down at the port. The birds tweeting… a woman braying on a door up the street and yelling something in Portuguese that’s too muffled and native for me to understand… A cat mews.

I finish the dregs of my coffee that tastes as much of vanilla and cinnamon and wipe my eyes and blow my nose with AirBnB-issue toilet paper, reminding myself that stress has to exit the body in some way or other.

More hospital tests, 3 hours from now. Nothing to worry about, I’m told.

I post this on Instagram as a memento to myself as a snapshot of my life during second lockdown. And make another coffee in the yellow light.

13 February 2021

AirBnB owners in Portugal, right now:

“During this pandemic with no end in sight of zero tourism, we’d like to rent out our furnished apartments long-term so that we don’t starve to death. But also we can’t be arsed to equip them with the things you need to stay long term – such as a washing machine, a wardrobe, a desk, and an oven – even though it would be very easy, only cost a few hundred Euros, and would guarantee we have quality tenants.”

1 February 2021

As well as the stratospheric levels of loneliness and terror implemented and perpetuated by the draconian restrictions ultimately leading to plummeting mental health and a decline in the efficacy of the immune system, and the inevitable associated deaths none of which are a direct result of COVID-19, I also keep wondering about the effect of “all this” on two other factors: education, and birth rate.

Sub-standard education brought about by understandably ill-prepared online classes is something I hear talked about, and I know it’s a wide concern that poorly-educated kids become poorly-educated adults… and that leaves society in the mire, further down the line…

Then there’s the social aspect of online schooling (for children) and how underdeveloped social skills affect, well, bloody everything; you name it.

But the birth rate? That’s bound to drop in a few years, isn’t it? Sure, those already coupled-up may even pop out an extra kiddy with all this time they have on their hands, but that’s obviously finite. What about single people who have no short-term hope of even finding someone with whom they can meet up in real life, let alone marry and start a family?

After “all this” (if and whenever that’ll be!) it’ll take a little while – a couple of years, at least, I should think – for all the singletons to find someone suitable and get into something secure enough to start a family.

As I see it, this could have two possible outcomes on new births:

1. Fewer kids in total are born.

2. People have kids a few years later than they normally would.

And (some of) the effects on our current kids:

3. An inability to relate.

4. An impeded education.

Over the next few years (I expect) there’ll be a big drop in new births.

A large chunk of these new kids will be born to older parents.

We’re giving birth to more kids right now who won’t develop adequate social skills.

We have kids right now who aren’t developing their social skills nor getting a decent education.

What are the long-term effects on society of there being fewer children born over the next 5 years?

What are the developmental effects on those children having older parents?

For our current kids, how does an inadequate ability to relate to others affect the individual, their mental health, their social life, their work..?

How does their impeded education affect not only the child himself but the future of society?

Feel free to engage me on this.

26 January 2021

I’d emailed umpteen times attempting to get the hospital to email me the letter with details that had been snail-mailed to my former address, but to no avail and so, here I was, as fully expected, parched and discombobulated from a lack of breakfast, and hyper-conscious of my deodorant-free armpits, baffling the hospital security staff with my impression of an MRI machine in order to gain entry for my 12:30 appointment.

Failing to interpret my mystifying charade and heavily Yorkshire-accented Portuspanglish he eventually waved me through in quiet desperation, and I made my way to the machine that issues tickets to the row of poker-faced ladies behind the counter.

“Bom dia. Errr… eu tenho uma reserva mas nao tenho a carta… eu mudo casa…” I trailed off, realising it wouldn’t help. “Seu nome?” “Beaumont.” She blinked.   “B, E, or is it pronounced I? … Oh God, hang on…” I pulled out my phone and typed BEAUMONT into notes and showed it to her. She clacked a few things into the keyboard while I loitered at the window, optimistically. “Nao,” she told me, firmly and without moving her eyes above her flimsy but secure turquoise face mask.

“Sim,” I responded equally firmly but I’m sure with considerably more brow-furrow above my muti-coloured polka dot cloth mask, handing her my complete file of X-rays, pointing to the identifying sticker on the front. Poker-face clacked; I rocked on my hip. “A baixa,” was all I could make out from her muffled final answer. It was enough. Downstairs.

I wound the shabbily-maintained rabbit warren, carefully navigating the occasional clot of shuffling pensioners, seeking stairs or a lift to take me “a baixa”. I hit an ambiguous fork in the road yet my never-ceasing resourcefulness [basically, I asked quite a lot of people how to find the MRI department, and realised that someone got it wrong and sent me to the morgue] finally led me triumphantly to “ressonancia magnetica”.

The daughter of Poker-face eventually tore herself away from chatting with her colleague to look inconvenienced at me through the reception window. She led me through a form of tick-boxes to which I said “nao” to every single one except for dental fillings. “Sim!” She stopped her box-ticking and made a motion to suggest she was removing dentures. “Nao!” and we carried on.

“Clips?” I put my hand through my hair. “Nao.” “Brain.” “Ohh! I assumed you meant hair clips! Brain clips. No.” “Peso?” she asked. “Pfff, no idea…” I shrugged, stepped back and opened my coat, “What do you think?” She stifled a giggle then looked me up and down. I considered Christmas and quarantine and added a few kilos to err on the safe side. “Setente?” I suggested, expecting her to say, no way, you can’t be much over 60! But she seemed fine with it and wrote 70 in the box.

Five minutes later I had an educated female doctor and her two groupies round my side of the counter, standing precariously close for Covid-times while I backed into some sort of vending machine, explaining in English why I was asked to sign a form permitting them to inject me with what they called “contraste”. When questioning this, I had hoped to be reassured rather than cornered, but I panic-signed it nonetheless.

Unable to pick up the hospital WiFi in the dungeon waiting room, I played Ball Sort Puzzle on my phone until two rotund ladies in overalls both came to tell me that my cloth mask was “inappropriate for the hospital” and I was handed a turquoise one to wear which was much cleaner than mine anyway. I folded the metal strip across my nose to prevent my glasses steaming up. (I’d suspected that you can’t wear contact lenses for an MRI, but I still don’t know.)

A few minutes later it was ascertained that this was my first ever MRI and Rotund Lady 1 ushered me into an alcove in a corridor with a paper curtain to remove everything but my knickers and socks and put on a surgical robe and plastic shoe covers like you get at airport security. I’ve seen in comedy films how these robes are open at the back but, considering the MRI machine would be looking at my front, I decided to put it on like a coat and hoped it would wrap around which thankfully it did as I was then led to sit in a drafty hallway on a medieval chair of torture. I was told that my new mask wasn’t appropriate and was given a different one without the metal nose strip.

The room opposite had a huge, heavy-looking door with a warning notice illustrating a giant magnet with other items – a chair, a mop bucket… – being pulled toward it. I wondered how secure my fillings are. Moments later, a traumatised-looking female patient emerged from the MRI room and disappeared into a small room with a proper locked door and I figured it was first-come first-served with the changing rooms.

I spotted a weighing scale in amongst some boxes and bins on the other side of the hallway, and decided that I wanted to know whether or not 70kg had been a vast overestimation. “Quero saber o meu peso. Posso?” I asked the rotund lady who was pacing up and down and doing nothing, clearly trying to make herself look busy. She glanced at the scale then back at me. “Nao.”

Rotund Lady 1 appeared again. “Tem frio?” she asked like she cared. She must have noticed me trembling. “Nao tenho frio, nao, mas tenho medo.” “Meda?” “Sim, medo,” I confirmed, my hopes for reassurance dashed once again as she laughed and walked away. “Jesus be with me,” I uttered.

A ball of energy in a blue coat arrived to give me my “contraste”. She placed my left arm on the holder of the torture chair. “Picadinho!” I think she said, brightly, as I looked the other way at the colourful butterflies painted on the wall. She ran a tube out of my arm and folded a syringe of blue liquid into my palm. Then she washed her hands more quickly yet thoroughly than I’ve ever seen in my life, pulled off a climate change inducing amount of paper towel, and disappeared round the corner. I looked down queasily to see blood seep into the tube, and committed not to look at it again.

Finally I was led into the heavily air conditioned white room containing the gigantic intimidating MRI machine. I didn’t have my glasses on but I knew what it looked like as I saw one on the telly decades ago when Blue Peter was doing a fund-raiser. Ball of Energy was giving me fast instructions in Portuguese. I had literally no idea what she said. I told her that my Portuguese is very basic and if it’s important she must tell me again but she just waved her hand while I hoped it wasn’t anything crucial.

Rotund Lady 1 and Ball of Energy helped me onto the bed where there was a hole for my face, like a massage bed, and it shouldn’t have been surprising (nor amusing, yet it was) two holes for the parts of me to be under inspection.

I was given earplugs to put in and I wondered just how loud this was going to be as they wriggled me into position; Ball of Energy placed my arms above my head, and Rotund Lady 1 placed a grey puffer-ball (like those on top of old-fashioned perfumes) in my right hand. “SOS,” she warned me, sternly. “SOS,” I confirmed. “Shit! SOS?!” I thought.

“Cuanto tempo em aqui?” I asked, realising I had no clue if this was going to be a couple of minutes or the next four hours. “Trente minutos, thirty minoots,” Ball of Energy replied.

I put my face in the hole as I felt the bed reverse into the machine. I wondered if I should have called all my family. How dangerous is this? I ought to have done some research. I relaxed knowing I texted my sister earlier that I love her – she’d reiterate that to everyone, right? What about Josie if I don’t make it?! And Alfie?! My train of thought jolted to a new subject as something clicked. Is this radiation? Am I going to be radioactive for a while? Will I be allowed to hug anyone? Are magnets radioactive?

The low hum was suddenly accompanied by a repeated clunk clunk clunk like when the barista hits the coffee machine with the round metal thing with the black handle. There was a pause for several seconds and then I nearly jumped out of my freaking skin as a fog horn went off at 150 decibels. Is this part of the show or should I squeeze the puffer? I hung fire, my heart pounding out of my chest.

The fog horn eventually stopped and I spent the next moments forcing myself to breathe normally through the shock, trying to get my chest to stop heaving as I feared the movement would affect the reading. I hadn’t yet calmed down when an air raid siren went off – the kind of sound and at a volume you’d expect to hear in a red alert emergency at a nuclear power plant. This couldn’t be right! Something must have gone wrong; nobody would design a machine that makes this much noise as part of its regular operation! Would they? Am I going to die? Can you die from a magnet that can attract chairs and metal mop buckets? What if an earplug falls out and I go deaf? I opened my left eye and then closed it again because I had no idea how much movement would affect the reading.

The next 25 minutes was a terrifying blur of more clunks followed by a variety of blurting horns and screaming sirens, punctuated by tense silences. At some point I felt the intravenous tube move against my left arm and I imagined my body filling with blue ink. But I didn’t move a muscle in spite of how scared I was.

I realised, probably halfway though, that I’m probably going to be OK and also that it would have been extremely fucking helpful had someone bothered to give me an idea of what to expect. I only knew not to wear deodorant because I’d read it on the internet. Nobody mentioned trying to calm my breathing through nuclear power plant emergency sirens.

Finally things went quiet for an extended moment and with my face still in the hole I was relieved to feel the bed move forward and the nurses say something I didn’t understand. I lifted my head. “Posso?” “Sim.” Rotunda Lady 1 helped me off the bed while reminding me to pull my mask back up. I was trembling with shock and probably the lack of food, water, and caffeine – I’d been told I couldn’t eat on the morning of the scan, but I couldn’t find any definitive information about whether or not that included drinking water, so I hadn’t.

I walked weakly to my changing alcove as the nurse bade me goodbye. I thanked her, said goodbye, and got dressed, wondering what happens next. Do I just go home? I emerged from behind the paper curtain with my handbag and folder of X-rays that nobody had looked at today but that I’d brought just in case. “O que vai acontecer agora?” Nobody knew.

I wandered slowly and weakly, almost delirious, out of the MRI department and paused where it met the corridor. I stood there for a good 20 seconds looking one way and then the other. I had absolutely no idea where I was so I turned right for the heck of it. I found myself in the large entranceway I’d encountered probably only an hour or two prior but now the long line of people had gone. I didn’t know what to do. My brain couldn’t process and I wondered if this is how people with a really low IQ feel all of the time.

Spotting the toilets on the other side of this large indoor medical plaza, I decided sitting down would give me some thinking time and, besides, I probably did need the bathroom as it had been some hours, even though my body didn’t feel attached – or was it my head that didn’t feel attached? – so I didn’t feel an urge.

What had just happened? My thoughts waded through glue seeking an explanation for the shock I was in, and my legs felt to be carrying 200% of my bodyweight. Somehow I gathered sufficient wherewithal to find reception and make a future appointment to go through the results of the scan with my surgeon.

Then I left the building and walked into the daylight and fresh air. I pulled down my mask as I felt a raging headache. The plan was to find a cafe and buy water and a coffee but as I walked, the realisation dawned that cafes are closed and take-aways are no longer permitted to sell drinks. “Shit. SOS!” I thought.

23 January 2021

Equally disturbing and fascinating to witness so many Portuguese eagerly embracing this novo-dictatorship, especially considering they named a lot of their streets, monuments, and bridges “Liberdade” and “25 de Abril”…

18 January 2021

Anyone who knows me well knows that the two things closest to my heart, the two things that are my entire raison d’etre, are HAPPINESS and WORK.

FYI: My business Facebook group is called Work Happy! I have a book about finding fulfilling work, a course teaching interview skills, and I tutor business English to people who wish to improve their work situation but their English holds them back.

HAPPINESS and WORK are the two things that are being taken away from us in enforced lockdowns: People who cannot socialise become depressed, and if businesses are closed they cannot work.

This is why I will NOT accept forced lockdowns. It’s why I’m vocal and rebellious. It’s why I will continue to call out the bullshit narrative that “this is for our own good”.

16 January 2021

I was going to take a walk with a friend today but she just messaged to say a friend of hers got mugged last night, and so understandably she’s going to help her with a few things.

Muggings are pretty rare in Portugal. But when all but “essential” businesses are forced to close and many, many people are prevented from working, and the government offers little-to-no financial assistance, it’s inevitable that some will turn to crime so they (and their families) don’t starve to death.

Lockdowns are NOT the answer. Don’t fall for this nonsense narrative you’re being fed that it’s “keeping us safe” – that’s total rubbish. It’s a big fat lie.

Eventually we’ll all get this particular coronavirus inside us, it’s just a matter of time, and that’s fine and normal! The common cold is a coronavirus. The regular flu is a coronavirus…

But what will help this “new flu” spread more slowly (to alleviate the immediate pressure on the NHS from those who get severe symptoms) is for us to continue living life as normally as possible.

Our immune system responds negatively to fear, isolation, a lack of daylight, no exercise..

How do you think our bodies react to the horror of being told we suddenly have NO INCOME? That we can’t pay rent, buy groceries, nor pay for electricity let alone phone credit? That we can’t feed ourselves and our kids because where we work has had to close? Our body goes into SHOCK!

Do you think malnourished, terrified people in shock are doing OK? Do you think this is “for the best”? Really? Are you thinking AT ALL?!

If you want to increase your chances of NOT developing severe Covid-19 symptoms, you need to do whatever you can to continue life as normal.

Who in your neighbourhood, what friends of yours, what members of your own family suddenly find themselves without income? And what small businesses have had to shut? 

If you’re still earning, what can you do to help keep them afloat? Can you pay them for a product or service, irrespective of the fact their premises are closed?

Who is isolated, right now? Who needs a walk in the sunshine with a friend?

You have to navigate the bullshit rules in any which way you can. Am I advocating for breaking the law? Damn right I am. Not every law, just the ones that are wrecking society. Just be smart about it, and don’t get caught.

7 January 2021

I like to choose a “word of the year”. Last year’s lockdowns significantly bolstered my use of ARBITRARY, and I feel that this year’s vaccinations will foster my employment of SANCTIMONIOUS.

2 January 2021

As I trampled the multicoloured metallic confetti into the grimy cobblestones of a Lisbon backstreet, this afternoon, I mused about the emotions and aspirations with which these bright strips were tossed from balconies at midnight on the final day of 2020.

Having moved apartments today, yet again, I considered that there are some remote-workers who apartment-hop even more frequently than I do, presumably seeking that elusive blend of reliable Wi-Fi, respectable neighbours, and a landlord that isn’t round the bend. Perhaps this newest situation will deliver more than the usual one or two out of three…

Fifteen hours prior, my black faux-fur jacket (and I think someone’s leather jacket, too) got sprayed with champagne from a reveller on the first floor as our intrepid group quit our illegal houseparty in search of a viewpoint from which to witness the fireworks we could hear faintly pop-pop-popping behind the clang of church bells.

For the first few minutes of New Year’s Day 2021, after clinking vessels of whatever alcohol remained, we enthusiastically roamed through the dark alleys in the direction of the river.

I skipped across the main road where there was little-to-no traffic, to the central reservation, stepping up to look around but, with no obvious destination, we stopped and formed a casual circle. I leaned on a sign post with my left arm, my right hand holding a large glass of white port.

In the pause, I perceived a collective sense that something was lacking. “We haven’t missed anything,” I reminded my comrades, smiling. “We ARE the party; cheers!”

26 December 2020

As I was out shopping for my “Secret Santa” on Christmas Eve, I got side-tracked by a HUGE building with shiny gold windows. Other than a logo I didn’t recognise and random inspirational words (trust, transparency, etc.) plastered on banners hanging from its external façade, there was no indication what was inside. Eventually, through an archway, I spotted an impressive Christmas tree through a window, and a small door that was propped open. I stuck my head through the door. A security guard seated at a reception desk hurriedly shoved his facd mask on, as did I. “O que e que, este edifício, por favor? Posso ver as palavras “confiança” e “transpiração”, mas… e um banco..?” The guard muffled something through his cloth mask. I narrowed my eyes as I’m convinced it helps me understand Portuguese a little better. “Mmm, again..?” I asked. He pulled his mask an inch away from his mouth to stop the muffle, and switched to English. “It’s the headquarters of the national bank of Portugal.” “OK, got ya, cheers, thanks. Nice building. Feliz, erm, how do you say it?” “Feliz natal!” we said in unison.

10 December 2020

All this talk of getting COVID

It’s getting you down, my love

Like a cat on hot bricks, waiting to get sick

When are you coming out?

And I hope you’re thinking of me

As you stay all day inside

Now the masks don’t work

They just make things worse

And I’d like to see your face again

Now the masks don’t work

They just make things worse

And I’d like to see your face again

But I know I’m on a losing streak

As I pass down by your street

And if you wanna show, then just let me know

And I won’t sneeze in your ear again

Now the masks don’t work

They just make things worse

And I’d like to see your face again

‘Cause baby, oh

For heaven’s sake, just listen to you

Just what you said

If you leave your house, might wind up dead

All this talk of getting COVID

It’s getting you down, my love

Like a cat on hot bricks, waiting to get sick,

When are you coming out?

Now the masks don’t work

They just make things worse

And I’d like to see your face again.

7 December 2020

“The Prime Minister has announced…” blah blah blah blah blah… just tell me what time the shops shut. For everything else he can bog off, I’m done.

5 December 2020

COVID-19

COrona-VIrus-Disease-2019

=CO-VI-D-19

“Coronavirus” is any one of a large number of viruses, passed between humans and animals (ranging from the common cold to the flu to more severe respiratory diseases such as SARS) which is shaped like a crown; “corona” is Latin for “crown”. Under a microscope, the virus is shaped like a crown.

Novel Coronavirus. “Novel” just means “new”, nothing more. “New crown-shaped virus.”

More info…

For many years, scientists have been working to come up with a vaccine for influenza (the flu) which an estimated 250k-650k people a year die from (and many more suffer from), EVERY YEAR, but sadly, the best they’ve managed to come up with is only 40% effective. This flu shot hasn’t wiped out the flu at all.

Yet, in less than 10 months, out of nowhere, they have created a COVID-19 vaccine that is apparently 95% effective. (Isn’t that incredible…)

My take…

When it comes to my personal health, including the common cold, the flu, and this latest virus, I strongly believe each of us is responsible for our own health.

I take the following precautions:

I keep myself and my belongings clean.

I don’t touch anything that other people have touched without being hyper-aware that my hands now need washing.

I give a very wide berth to anyone coughing, wheezing, or sneezing, or just looking generally unhealthy.

I open windows.

I cough or sneeze away from other people and into the crook of my arm.

I eat a diet of loads of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I drink a lot of water, and if I get a tickle in my throat I will literally push spinach out of a bag down my throat and drink fresh ginger and lemon “tea”, and get an early night.

I don’t smoke and I honestly think you’re a prat if you do.

I take regular walks, outside, in fresh air and daylight.

I eat breakfast and lunch, weather-depending, outside in the daylight. If it’s cold I wrap up.

I spend time with my flatmates and friends. Sometimes that simply means two of us taking a walk outside, or sharing wine in the kitchen.

I plan things to look forward to: social events within the restrictions, putting up the Christmas tree, carol singing, heck just my advent calendar!

I get creative by cooking, painting, and writing.

None of this means I don’t care. Nor does it mean I won’t catch a virus.

It means I will not be ruled by anyone’s fear-mongering, nor a mindset that we’re all doomed, nor an insistence that taking care of my own immune system in a way that I know works well for me should be overruled by someone else’s arbitrary counter-health regulations allegedly created for my “safety”.

Be well. 😉

2 December 2020

Mistletoe’ll be cheap, this year.

29 November 2020

How very dare you! My party of 10 identifies as two parties of 5, my bowl of peanuts identifies as a square meal, and my watch identifies with 12 hours ago!

28 November 2020

How isn’t EVERYONE questioning this?

Surely anybody with a few brain cells – you don’t even need average intelligence, surely! – can see that the catastrophic effects of the bizarre, illogical, arbitrary curfews and lockdowns are far outweighing any alleged “benefits”.

How is it possible that anyone who can manage to tie their own shoelaces can’t see how nonsensical this all is?

My 10 year old nephew has even been saying, “Mummy, this doesn’t make sense. Why can I spend time with all my friends at school but not my Aunty Mandy?”

Kids are in school, mixing with 30 other kids, but they can’t see their aunties, uncles and cousins. WHAT?!

In the UK, you can go to the pub but only if you order food. WHAT?!

In Portugal, you can go to any bar or restaurant any night until 10pm but not on a Saturday or Sunday, meaning they’re heaving on Fridays! WHAT?!

Supermarkets are CLOSED after 1pm on weekends, meaning they’re chockablock from 10am for 3 hours. WHAT?!

I can go to my friends’ houses literally any day, except Saturday/Sunday after 1pm. WHAT?!

If you’re having a party there can only be 5 of you, but if you’re in a restaurant there can be 6. WHAT?!

We can’t move between counties, yet tourists can do whatever they want. WHAT?!

Small businesses are forced to close and it’s considered illegal for them to try to make a living, but only on certain days of the week. WHAT?!

It’s common and basic knowledge that when humans don’t socialise it causes anxiety and depression and knackers our immune system, yet we know that boosting our immune system is what protects us from viruses and those with shitty immune systems get sicker easier and are more likely to die.

There’s NO LOGIC!

If my small kid nephew can see this, why can’t literally everyone?!

Why, when you point this out or raise questions about it are you labelled a conspiracy theorist or “disrespectful”?

It’s gaslighting on a gigantic scale. Those who’ve fallen for it are flying monkeys, and we’re all being triangulated.