From Vila Mea to Gloucester via Harrow

Long time no blog post, yeah yeah I always say that. So since I wrote in June, I came back to the UK for my dad’s funeral, and then decluttered, packed up, said goodbye to friends and made the long journey back to the UK. Now I am living temporarily in my childhood home in Harrow, NW London, awaiting a move to my very own house in the new year.

So let’s break all that down a bit, for posterity’s sake…

My last three months in Portugal were very busy. First, I had to make all sorts of arrangements for the trip back to the UK, including booking a ferry, sorting out pet passports, deciding what to drive back in and filling in the required paperwork to be able to bring back the dogs, a car and my possessions without paying any import duty. (Damn you, Brexit, for making everything so complicated!)

Initially I looked for a UK registered car in Portugal, as I thought it would make sense to have something I could drive long term once I was back. However, that was challenging – as a Portuguese resident it’s illegal to drive a non-PT registered car in Portugal, so I ran the risk of buying a UK car, being stopped by the GNR and having it confiscated… So then I thought about buying a bigger Portuguese car, but realised that anything I bought at this stage would have big import duties to pay. And so it was that I decided to make the journey back – along with two dogs, a cat and all my worldly goods – in my little 30-year-old Peugeot 205. Eek! I bought a roof bag, a friend constructed a wooden dog guard so the dogs could travel in the hatchback boot, and I began a decluttering mission as I needed to pare down my possessions by a fair bit to fit everything in. I did a couple of markets, sold some things to friends, and gave lots away. I still seemed to have a lot of stuff, but it did all fit, thank goodness!

While all this was going on I was struggling through client work but also wanted to have some fun in my last few weeks in Portugal. I had a list of places I wanted to visit, and I didn’t get to all of them, but I did have a few fun outings:

  • A lovely day in Aveiro (not the Venice of Portugal, but very nice all the same) with my wonderful neighbour Cate. We explored the city, had lunch and took a boat trip, which was great fun, especially spotting all the smutty paintings on the boats
  • A morning at Loriga, one of the prettiest river beaches on the Serra da Estrela mountain range. It’s a beautiful place, a series of rock pools filled with ice cold, crystal clear water. It’s also one of the locations in my 2021 NaNoWriMo novel, so I’m pleased I finally got to visit!
  • Two nights at the big Carregal do Sal festa. The first night we went to see the incredible Funcao Publika, a covers band who put on a mega show with lasers, videos, dancing girls, many many costume changes, props, Queen impersonations (the band, not the deceased monarch), an Abba megamix, “Elton John” in a boat lifted to the sky, and a huge dollop of cheese … plus an epic last half hour of Papa Roach, Linkin Park and Architects covers! The second night we had dinner and then saw a bit of Augusto Canario e os Amigos, which was traditional Portuguese pimba (think smutty Benny Hill songs!).
  • Our village festa, which was so much fun, especially doing a conga-type dance around the square with all the old ladies. Day two was traditional dancers, and it was cute seeing people I chat with every day wearing their costumes,
  • Film club and book club, and a sad time saying goodbye to people who I’ve become firm friends with.
  • Two get-togethers with my best friend Andrea – one at a drift event (cars going very fast sideways around a small track…!) and then at Gois, where we drank beer and swam in the river.
  • My first (and hopefully not last!) experience of eating a francesinha – a HUGE pork-filled sandwich, smothered with melted cheese floating in a sauce made of tomato and beer. Quite an experience!
  • Several lunches at the Chicken Church of Tabua (the outdoor chicken restaurant at the market)
  • An afternoon in the park with friends, followed by the most amazing party back at my cabin with four of the most wonderful people I know.
  • And for my last night, I went out for pizza with my neighbour Cate and my wonderful Cheyne….. Gosh, it was hard to say goodbye.

So, it was quite a busy few weeks!! This was all against the backdrop of 40 degree-plus heat, and the worst forest fires in Portugal since 2017; there were fires on the mountain range for days and the fire risk was really high. There was also a severe water shortage and we were concerned our well would run dry; fortunately it didn’t, and the fires didn’t reach us either, but it was quite a tense few weeks.

And then it was time to leave. Cheyne helped me load the car the day before and I was really impressed with the roof bag – until the following morning, when I discovered it had rained all night and the water had run along the straps securing the bag to the roof and into the car. Loads of stuff was soaked before I even set off, and I spent much of the 9 hour drive to northern Spain with water dripping onto my head. The weather was horrendous – thunder, lightning and torrential rain for most of the drive – and I was very relieved to arrive at the pet-friendly hotel I’d booked for the night. After a decent night’s sleep, it was off to the port at Santander, where I was told all three pet passports had errors with them and the beasts wouldn’t be allowed on the ship! Fortunately there was a vet just down the road, and an hour and 105 euros later we tried again and were allowed to board, but it was stress and expense I could have done without.

Then followed 30 hours on the ferry. The pet cabin was a decent size and comfy, and we spent the time watching films and walking along the dog deck – well, Buddy did, but Casper hated the whole experience and wouldn’t go further than about a foot from the door. Bob, who I’d thought would yowl the entire time, was remarkably well behaved, thank goodness!

The final stage of the journey was an hour’s drive (on the wrong side of the road, in the dark!!) up to Oxfordshire, where Mum lives, and then into London to my dad’s house in Harrow the following day. And that’s where I still am – waking up in my childhood bedroom, and walking the dogs in the park I played in as a child, next to the school I attended for eight years (although it’s been rebuilt in the 32 years since I moved away and is unrecognisable). I’m actually quite enjoying living in Harrow, despite the house being a bit of a state. The boiler’s knackered so we’re reliant on the immersion heater for hot water and electric heaters (so expensive to run!!) for heat, the place smelled of smoke (it’s more or less gone now, two months on), the gas cooker doesn’t work so we’re cooking everything in a microwave combi oven and on an electric hotplate, and the roof leaked the first time it rained (because of an old leak that hadn’t been fixed) and the kitchen ceiling fell in… But strangely, despite all that, it still feels like home.

Over the past two months I’ve been combining Proof Fairy work with decluttering and clearing out the house – and there’s a LOT to clear! Dad was a bit of a hoarder and there was, in some cases, 52 years’ worth of stuff to get rid of. Through a combination of eBay, charity collections, Freecycle/Freegle and the tip, I’ve got rid of most of it – just a few hundred books to go now – although I did get a bit “rehome it happy” at one stage and gave away things I wish I hadn’t, like cutlery and some power tools that might have proved useful. Never mind…

So this is home in the short term, though we’re in the process of getting this place valued and it will be on the market soon. But the exciting news is I have had an offer accepted on a lovely house in Gloucester and will be moving there hopefully late Jan or early Feb 2023. Why Gloucester? Well, I want to live as close to Mum as possible – but Oxfordshire is way out of my budget, and Gloucester was the closest place that had affordable houses with enough space for me, my son, the dogs and an office. I viewed a few and saw one I loved, but wasn’t sure about Gloucester itself – but a second visit revealed the city to be pretty cool actually, steeped in history and with plenty going on and friendly people. So Gloucester it is, and next year will be all about settling into a new place, a new house and making it home.

As for Portugal? I adored my time there. It’s a beautiful country, with beautiful people, and I made friends with amazing people who I miss a lot. Moving there probably saved my life, because I wasn’t in a good place when I ran away there back in 2019, and living there has taught me so much about myself. I’m sure I’ll go back there for holidays, but as for living there again? I don’t think it will happen. For all its problems, the UK is home, and home is where I want to be.

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