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Algarve Shorts by Ellie Bowdery

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Book details

Title: Algarve Shorts
Genre: Real life
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1904976-03-5
Price: £ Sorry - out of print but now available as an eBook

Format: eBook
ISBN: 978-1904976-16-5
Price: £3.95
reduced to £1.25

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Ellie Bowdery

Algarve Shorts is a true story about a young British couple's attempts to make a new start in a new country. They had the opportunity, and the inclination, so they set off on the great adventure that took them to the Algarve in Portugal. Not everything was perfect and they eventually had to return to the United Kingdom but the experience left them all with many memories - some good, some bad - memories which Ellie recounts in her own inimitable style.


Algarve Shorts

I could sense his success as soon as I answered the telephone. “Well, I've done it! All signed and sealed. The business is ours. We can start packing!” The enthusiasm in Hub's voice was infectious and I found myself charged with excitement as he went on to recount his long weekend in Algarve. He started with the weather. Cloudless blue skies the whole weekend, the temperature never dropping below twenty degrees centigrade, yet it was still only February. He knew that would go down well! Next, he talked about the carpentry workshops – our carpentry workshops - situated amongst orange and lemon groves, surrounded by open countryside. He spoke of the friendliness of the workers, not just the carpenter lads, but the fruit pickers as well. Everyone had made him so welcome.

When he got round to describing the spectacular Algarve coastline, the pretty little bays and colourful fishing boats, I was lost in a dream of this lovely country that we were about to make our new home. When I finally put the phone down, I sat back in my chair thinking of how we had got to this point in our lives. It had always been a dream of ours to get away someday. To start afresh. We hadn’t thought it would happen quite so quickly but fate had lent a hand, though not quite in the way we had expected!

Hub had been a London fireman for twenty-three years and had always loved the job. Until the night he slipped from a rooftop and damaged his left leg. While it hadn’t disabled him permanently, it was serious enough for him to be invalided out of the brigade. The lump sum he got, together with a good pension, gave us the means and opportunity to seek out the new life adventure we had always longed for. Deep down, I had some reservations that he might miss his amazing, fulfilling career but, for the moment, there was nothing to stand in our way. We had the green light!

I had seen the advertisement for the carpentry business several times and mentioned it to Hub. After we discussed the pros and cons, he plucked up the courage to call the Algarve number. It turned out the vendors were an English couple. They seemed very friendly and within half an hour Hub had arranged to fly out to meet them and take a look at the workshops.

I called our young son Jamie and told him Dad had clinched the deal. I saw his eyes light up. He was keen to travel; to see new places and we always thought it would be a wonderful education for him. He was doing very well at his secondary school and had made many friends but he didn’t seem bothered about leaving. This would be a tremendous chance for him to spread his wings and experience life somewhere completely different; perhaps it would even lead to a better career for him. After all, Britain was going into recession and the unemployment figures were rocketing. So mainland Europe might offer better opportunities for all of us.

We spent the next couple of weeks making final arrangements for our departure. Outside the weather was cold and frosty and we were still wrapped in winter woollies yet we were packing shorts, T-shirts, mosquito repellent and sun cream! It was all so unreal but incredibly exciting!


Hub turned the key in the lock for the last time. He gave the door a nudge to make sure it was properly secured then strode to the car and climbed behind the steering wheel. Leaning over he gave me a quick kiss. “Ready, darling?" He glanced in the rear view mirror. "You okay, son?” Son didn't reply and we both turned to look at him. He was already half asleep, snuggled cosily in the back seat with his head on a pillow. We shouldn't have been surprised - it was almost two in the morning. He managed a loud yawn and a muttered, “Yeah. Okay. Night.” Hub glanced around outside the car. “Well, say goodbye to cold, damp Kent. Portugal here we come!”

Our ivory coloured BMW roared into life. We took one last look at the cosy cottage that was no longer ours and drove off into the dark quiet countryside. I settled back into my seat trying to relax. It was a long journey to Plymouth and I felt very tired after the previous weeks' preparations. But try as I might, I couldn’t relax. My excitement at the prospect of living in Algarve had now turned into sudden fear of the unknown. What had we done? For the past three weeks I had been swept along by this dream. But this was no longer a dream. This was fact. This was reality. I glanced at Hub but he hadn't noticed my sudden anxiety. He was concentrating totally on the dark road ahead. I took a quick look at Jamie. He was sleeping as only the young can sleep. Without worry, without fear. He was a picture of contentment: I was struggling with the doubts that were now welling deep inside. A cold sinking feeling gripped the pit of my stomach and would not go away.

As we drove further into the night it suddenly hit me. All that we possessed in the world was here in this car! Some books, music cassettes, talking books, clothes, a TV set. That was it! We had no home and not a stick of furniture. Sure there was money in the bank but most of that would go on the business. I already felt bereft, vulnerable, and cold. And now I felt decidedly sick!

A couple of hours later we stopped to eat the bacon and egg sandwiches I'd made for our breakfast. Daylight was beginning to show in the eastern sky and a soft grey mist was hovering over the Hampshire countryside. I shivered a little. It was the end of February yet the bare trees said that winter was far from over. Glancing at the suitcases strapped to the roof of the car, I thought of all the new summer clothes neatly packed, ready to be taken out and worn in Algarve’s wonderful warm sunny climate. The thought cheered me a little and I settled back in my seat in a more positive frame of mind. But it didn't last. The nagging doubts kept resurfacing. Negative thoughts, no use to anyone. Only the alarm in Hub's voice snapped me out of it. “We’ve only got couple of hours to get there. It’s taken much longer than I thought!” His anxiety was obvious and I realised how self-centred I was being.

Hub had handled everything so far. He flew out to a strange country and sorted the business deal, he made all the travel arrangements, and now he had days of driving ahead. I was a new driver, not at all confident, and certainly not good enough to drive on the continent. I determined to be more supportive, patted his arm and murmured, “Don’t worry, love. We’ll get there on time.” Though I wasn’t at all sure we would be there on time, I tried to keep an enthusiastic note in my voice and got him to talk about his few days in Portugal. Speaking of the sunshine and friendly people put us in a happier mood and, as we approached the outskirts of Plymouth, we were actually laughing and joking.

For a while at least, my negative thoughts had vanished. We pulled into Plymouth's quayside with just a quarter of an hour to spare before sailing time and joined the long queue of vehicles waiting to board. As we moved closer to the ferry we could see that the hold was filling up fast. “I don’t think we’re going to get on this one!” Hub said. A few minutes later we were driving on board, the last car to be accepted. The ferry’s massive door was lowered into place behind us with a might clunk!

This was destiny; our fate. We were meant to go. I had no doubt of this now. We were on our way now and for the next twenty-four hours this massive boat would be our home. We felt the powerful surge of the engines below us. Soon we were out at sea and in a short time we would be crossing the turbulent waters of the Bay of Biscay. I stood alone in the lounge while Hub and Jamie went to collect the key to our cabin. I was a little uneasy. I never liked being on water and I could already feel the motion of the boat getting to me. I gripped the handrail for support and then suddenly felt silly as I looked in disbelief at the people crowding the bar, buying drinks and sandwiches. How could they do it? I felt queasy at the thought and I prayed that our voyage wouldn’t be too rough!

“Pardon, madam.” The man seemed to appear out of nowhere. “Excuse moi, madame. You haf a cabeen?”

He was swarthy, Arabic in appearance yet his accent was French. The look in his eye matched the slightly sinister smile. I glanced around, panicking. Where on earth had Hub got to? They’d been gone ages. My eyes searched anxiously across the crowded lounge.

“You are alone, madam?" Arab insisted. "You haf a cabeen?”

“What? I’m sorry … er pardon, monsieur?” I was worried now and didn’t know how to play this.

“You are alone?” he asked again.

“No, no. I'm not alone. I’m waiting for my husband. Mon Mari!” Right on cue, Hub and Jamie appeared. I waved enthusiastically, pointing toward them. “There he is now. My husband!”

But Arab had gone. The dark stranger had made his way to the bar and was soon lost in the milling crowd.

When I told Hub what had happened, he made a joke of it saying, “He was probably looking for a bed for the night”

Not funny! I was scared enough about the boat trip but that man had really unnerved me. I could actually have been alone and I thought it was no laughing matter.

I was even further dejected when I found that our cabin was below the water line. As we sailed into the Bay, the ferry seemed to be permanently at the top of mountainous waves and we held our breath waiting for the inevitable plunge downwards. This didn’t happen occasionally but throughout the whole twenty-four hour journey. It was truly awful. Everybody on board seemed to be seasick and, though it was only early evening, we took to our bunks and stayed there convinced we were dying and would never see dry land again!

In all that time, we existed entirely on a few ginger biscuits and sips of bottled water. Next morning, we stood on deck as we sailed into the grand harbour of Santander. After the terrible night of tossing, rolling seas it was absolutely wonderful to drive onto terra firma once more and we all swore we would never do that particular journey ever again!

After a short stop for a few provisions and some much needed breakfast we were soon heading for the old Castilian capital of Burgos. As Santander disappeared behind us, we found ourselves driving through beautiful green hilly countryside. Then the low soft hills suddenly climbed steeply and the landscape took on a familiar look. I saw low dry stonewalls criss-crossing the sloping fields. Turning to Hub I said, “This could be North Yorkshire and the Dales.” We were very fond of the Dales and had visited many times so the similar scenario brought great comfort.

For the first time since leaving our home we began to relax and enjoy our travels. As I absorbed the surrounding countryside, I recalled of the conversation I'd had with an English woman on the ferry. She was resident in Spain and was returning from a short break in UK. We spoke of North Spain and of the animal and plant life.

Then she told me about the wolves. This was new to me. I never knew there was a wild wolf population in North Spain and Portugal. I looked around me at the undulating and wooded countryside; comparing it to Yorkshire. It was very similar - but Yorkshire didn’t have wolves! This place did. They could be out there right now, watching us from the dense wooded glades.

I remembered Laurie Lees book 'As I walked Out One Midsummer’s Morning' - a wonderful book about his trek through Spain as a nineteen year old; of how, on sleeping rough one night in a hollowed out hillside, he woke in the middle of the night to find the slanted yellow eyes of a wolf looking down at him! I shuddered a little then prayed that we would arrive in Burgos before darkness came.

We arrived in Burgos in late afternoon, hungry and very tired through lack of sleep the previous night. But, on finding the El Cid hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to see such an elegant building; one of great character. It was quite old but full of charm and the family room was large and airy with very comfortable beds, which we flopped on immediately!

As I remember, we all fell asleep but were woken by a mighty bong. I jumped up and ran to the window. On raising the blind I found our room was almost shaking hands with the cathedral clock, barely fifty metres from our window!

I looked at Hub and said, “Another sleepless night!”

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Rowland McKenzie
Ellie Bowdery
Julie Hathway
Mike Carver
Karen Boliver