Retirement in Portugal

In 1969 I travelled along the eastern coastline of Spain and into Algarve, the southern province of Portugal, exploring the possibilities of buying a property for retirement in Portugal. I had hoped to be accompanied by a friend and colleague who had previously explored Algarve and had bought an old farm-house near Almancil which he was converting gradually into a charming villa I wanted to check over Spain before going on to Algarve although I must confess I had almost made up my mind to reside in Portugal. My friend had a proposition; if I wanted a driver and companion for the journey he would be prepared for his Lebanese driver, Toufic, to accompany me. Actually, there was a little more to it than that. His driver was a young Lebanese who he had taken on soon after he had gone to Lebanon. Having been with him for some time he wanted to be sure that the chap had a good chance of survival when he retired from Lebanon, which was to be in the near future. He had contacted the Outward Bound organisation and arranged a course at his own expense for Toufic to go the Outward Bound School at Ashburton, Devon for three weeks.

I agreed. Toufic was to fly to London, come to my flat in Queensgate, and after a quick tour of London we would motor through France, Spain, Portugal and then take a sea trip back to U.K. for him to join the school in Devon on the required day.

I had hired a Ford car from a car hire firm in Bracknell, Berkshire. The Owner had once been in Oil Company service and a good slice of his business was from that area. The car was not new, not old, Freddie, for that was the owner’s name prudently persuaded me that a tried and tested car with a few thousand miles on the clock would be best suited for so long a journey. Of course there was much paper work to be done, the green card, the special insurance for Toufic as a driver, the numerous other expenses and charges which added up to a tidy sum before one kilometre was clocked up.

When the Escort was delivered I was not impressed. It seemed sluggish compared to the lively Peugeot and Starfire automobiles I owned in Qatar. However it was now on hire to me and I had not the will to attempt a change. It would take the two of us and our gear to Portugal and back.

Of course plans were revised. I motored out to Heathrow and met Toufic off the Beirut ‘plane. He rubbished the car after the first mile. He had been used to driving a fast and expensive Italian Lancia. The Ford was bad news. Not a good omen for the future journey. Other than his disappointment with the car Toufic was to prove a good companion. I knew he was a good driver having been driven by him several times over much of Lebanon.

The date booked for the channel ferry at Southampton didn’t allow much time for a sightseeing tour of London. Toufic carried an international driving licence obtained in Beirut, but he did not drive until we reached France. The route took us through Rouen, Tours, Limoges, Toulouse, Carcassone, Narbonne and on to the Spanish frontier at Perpigan. We stayed the first night at a small hotel in Chateauroux. It was late when we reached the town. After driving aimlessly around the small square I asked an aged local if he could suggest a small hotel where we could stay the night. He poked his head into the car, surveyed the two of us, and after a lengthy discussion with his pals sitting nearby he recommended a small hotel just round the corner. It was only hundred yards away but at the back of an old covered market. “This will have to do, Toufic”, I told him, noticing his nose turn up even before we had entered the place. Actually it turned out to be both a bar and a small hotel. We had time for a welcome drink before the patroness; an old crone eventually appeared to book us in. She showed us to a neat, spacious room, two floors up which had a large double bed supported on a brass bedstead. I asked for another room with single beds but either my French didn’t register with her or she didn’t have a vacant twin bedded room. She raised her hands in the typical Gallic pose, saying, in effect, we either took what we were offered or leave.

We took it; we were so tired. There was no other large piece of furniture in the room to make up another bed. Toufic wanted to sleep on the floor, he was embarrassed. I reminded him he would be sleeping much less comfortably when he joined the Outward Bound course and I hadn’t promised him a five star holiday. I gave him the duvet and told him to make a sleeping bag. I made do with the top sheet and the bed cover. We had enjoyed a substantial meal and a few brandies and soon fell asleep. I slept soundly, I think he did too; he seemed bright enough next morning. When we went down for breakfast, all we could get was a cup of coffee at the bar, although, when we came down with our bags we found the old girl had fixed a tiny table in the narrow hall and provided croissants and coffee. We took our leave to the waving farewells of locals sitting around the front of the cafe.

Toufic was driving and on reaching the outskirts of the pleasant country town, I asked if he had slept well. He was silent for a time and then replied that we had stayed at a funny hotel. I had learnt a lot about Toufic’s background before I agreed to take him on the journey and one thing I knew was that he was innocent of life in the great wide world. He had been brought up in Tripoli, Lebanon and so I voiced my doubts about the hotel, which in my “worldly” way I had only just figured out:

“Do you realise we have spent the night in a brothel?” He didn’t think it at all amusing. He wouldn’t speak to me until he had driven for some miles and taken his wrath out on the engine of the sluggish Ford.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Toulouse I was driving. We had been travelling on a secondary road which I preferred and on reaching the main route a very large and many-wheeled lorry in front of us stopped at the entrance to the busy main road. A traffic policeman was on duty, his motorbike parked at the side of the road. As I drew up behind the lorry, the driver decided to reverse. This huge truck, forty feet long or more bore down on my bonnet. Hooting was no good. The roar of his exhausts drowned out my pathetic toot-toot-toot. There was a side road on my left I backed out as fast as I could and we escaped being squashed to pulp. By the time the chaos was sorted out I arrived at the stop lines to the junction in a touchy temper. The policeman had moved further along the main road, he seemed interested in what the lorry driver was doing. The “route” seemed empty of traffic so I edged out and down the main road. A piercing whistle rent the air. The jackbooted traffic cop was waving me back in a wild fashion which looked very threatening.

“I think he wants you to go back,” said Toufic, helpfully. I reversed back only to infuriate him. He marched up to the open side window. He ordered us out of the car. He demanded Toufic’s papers, scanned them and thrust ’em back at him. My dander began to rise. He asked for mine. I gave him my British passport, he didn’t even look at it, he wanted the papers for the car, the “green” card. I dug it out from the glove box, he snatched it and his eyes gleamed with triumph. Shrugging my shoulders in exaggerated Gallic fashion I asked what was wrong. He waved the green card under my nose. I still didn’t know what was wrong with it. He tapped it with his huge gloved finger, I had not signed it.

“Oh, is that all? ” said I, when I had taken it from him to peer falsely at it. Whipping out my pen I laid the card on the bonnet, signed it and gave it back. He went apoplectic. He reached into his top pocket, immediately withdrew his hand, stamped his foot, called me something very, very uncomplimentary in his own language and marched away. We got back into the car and drove very slowly down the road.

“I think he was very angry”, was all Toufic said.

We slept that night in comfortable beds, in a listed hotel in Carcassone. On the third day we stayed over in Barcelona that we found enjoyable and left with regret only to keep to the schedule I had set ourselves.

Motoring on through Tarragona and Vinaroz we lunched at a pleasant restaurant in Castelon, hurried through Valencia and on to Gandia where we slept the night in the Bayren Hotel on the coast. The next morning after Toufic had had an early swim in the sea we went down to Javea and looked over the real estate prospects. I found a first floor flat in a small size block immediately on to the beach. It had a large corner lounge opening on to a spacious veranda; a well equipped kitchen, three good size bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom, all facing the sea. The asking price was just above four thousand. I nearly bought it on the spot, and to this day regret not doing so. My reason for not buying there and then was I wished to see the Algarve and I had more or less already made my mind up not to settle in Spain, as it was said, by all and sundry, to be too “touristy”.

I spent so much time looking at various properties we went through Almeria at a late hour and got lost by taking a road inland and ended up in a tiny local hotel in Berja. The next day we rushed through Malaga and Algeciras, skirted past the Rock and slept at Sevilla. Eight days after leaving England we drove through Ayamonte and crossed the border river by ferry into Algarve, the southern province of Portugal. We were soon installed in the converted farmhouse belonging to my friend who was hard at work in Beirut. The old lady who looked after the place lived in a very pleasant cottage hidden in the trees just above the farmhouse. She appeared like the genie out of the lamp whenever one of us said, “Where’s Maria?”

I had work to do. To see the agent who was supervising the alterations; to fix a new site for a well to be dug. To make a general appreciation of the house and locality and also, to look around within a radius of twenty miles or so to find a place for me to settle. This took time. The Villa Rosa, the farmhouse, was not equipped with furniture and after a couple of nights on a hard concrete floor I decided it was not I who had to undergo the rigid discipline of the course at Ashburton, so we upped sticks and went to stay at a small hotel in Faro. I saw several properties but unfortunately my mind was not keenly tuned to retirement. I had four years more to complete.

Motoring in Portugal: The Citroen “Club”

Within a week of landing in Faro and being taken to my little villa at Pera in my friend’s Land Rover I was scouting around for a suitable car with good servicing facilities. My first choice was to buy a Renault Five. I wanted a small, reliable and sturdy vehicle that did not use too much gasoline. The local agent was pessimistic and could not promise to supply one for five weeks. Indeed, he seemed reluctant to take an order. The Citroen dealer was a very different character. He had two “Club” models in stock and he said, if I gave him a deposit of ten per cent he would have the car I chose thoroughly checked and roadworthy by ten the following morning.

Citroën Club

Citroën Club

The salesman agreed with me, it would not be wise, but as he pointed out, one only found one’s self but rarely in tricky situations, if one was sensible. This made sense but did not seem to justify why the French had thought it necessary to design a car with suspension that pushed the car so high in the air it looked unstable. If for farm use, why on a saloon? And indeed I used it only when I wanted to get down to my special ‘private’ beach at the back of Aman¢oã de Pera. There the sand was so deep on the approach road that ordinary vehicles could not negotiate the last quarter of a mile thus leaving the beach undisturbed.Naturally I was interested. He took me for a test drive but he drove the car. However, I was taken by it, it had four doors and a hatch back and was more roomy than the Renault Five. The dealer spent much time explaining in good technical English the working details and the merits of the Citroen. We went out again in the car just at the back of the garage to a large piece of waste land and he set up the special hydraulic jacks which caused the four especially strengthened and elongated shock absorbers to rise and lift the car about three inches above the normal height. To show how the car would clear rough undulating ground he pushed the lever all the way and the and the car rose about six inches above normal level. I must say, it was quite an experience though the going was bumpy and I didn’t think it would be very good for the suspension to use it over long distances in this elevated position.

It was a good car. The suspension generally was excellent. Citroen have long been renowned for their good suspension and the Club was no exception. It was not cheap, at the time I bought it, in 1973, paying in escudos; the sterling equivalent was just over two thousand pounds. It was easy to drive, a quick efficient gear change. The first two days were not so comfortable, I felt very exposed. The bonnet above the engine sloped so much it disappeared from view if I sat well back in the comfortable position that I had been previously used to. When I became very familiar with the car it was a joy to drive. During the time I lived in Portugal from 1973 to 1975 the Citroen and I made many journeys the length and breadth of Algarve and the rest of the country. I returned to England at the end of 1974 to buy a flat in Brighton.

There had been the February Revolution in Portugal that year and I decided it was politic to have a place in the U.K. as well. The fact that I was to take up a seasonable position in the Qatar with which to pay for it helped make up my mind. I locked up the villa in Pera and piled all my gear I needed for the U.K. and Arabia into the Citroen and drove off across southern Algarve, Spain and France.

This time I had a companion a young Portuguese named Jose, a relative of my house maid Susanna, he was out of work and, I suspect eager to skip Army service, particularly if it meant being sent to Angola, a wretched and rotten posting. He begged me to take him to England. I said he could travel with me on the understanding he may not be guaranteed entry to the U.K. I could not be responsible for him getting in. Asked what he would do if he couldn’t get into the U.K. he said he would be quite happy to return to France and visit his sister and brother-in-law who lived there. Jose lived with his mother in Faro. Early on the appointed morning I drove into the little square where they lived and collected a thin, wiry Jose looking, smilingly happy and then sad as he said goodbye to his kinfolk. Driving serenely along the coast road through Olhao I asked Jose how much money he had to get him through immigration in the U.K.

He had not enough so I resolved to cut down on expenses and give him as much I could afford for should he manage to get into England I could not be responsible for him as I was committed to returning to the Arabian Gulf in two weeks time.

We journeyed happily along through Tavira and Cacela near Monte Gordo where Jose claimed he had acted as barman in a small beach bar. Once across the ferry at Villa Real to Ayamonte in Spain, Jose relaxed. I sensed he felt relieved having safely passed the police checkpoint at Villa Real with no problem of his leaving his country; he was still under military conscription age. I explained my plan to Jose. We would take cheap overnight accommodation and meals and the money saved would build up his meagre collection of escudos, pounds and francs. We would travel through Sevilla, Cordoba and on to Madrid, if possible taking in Toledo. Then up to Burgos crossing the frontier into France at Irun and on through the Bordeaux countryside finishing up at Dieppe to cross the channel to Newhaven.

We spent the first night in Spain in Cordoba in a very clean guesthouse in the centre of the old town thanks to Jose knowing exactly who to ask and what to ask for. On my own I would never have found such inexpensive and pleasant accommodation. A slight detour for a quick look at Toledo caused us to motor through Madrid in the early afternoon that suited me there being not much traffic about. Staying overnight in Vittoria allowed us to cross the frontier at Irun early in the morning. We were so many in line that the customs chappy waved us on without even peering into the car.

Jose was a pleasant companion. The language difficulty precluded conversations in depth. Jose had more command of English than I of Portuguese but we got along quite easily. I learnt he had a little address book with many names and addresses of girls he had met and wooed on the beaches. I admired the way he spoke of his conquests in a general and matter of fact manner without going into too much detail; he was obviously a practised and manly lover. At sixteen he had experienced more sex life than I had at twenty. One of his favourite girls had given him an address in an upmarket part of Chelsea, it may have been genuine, some of the girls on the Algarve beaches could be upmarket too.

I began to school him in what to say to the immigration officer. He was going on holiday to see London for two weeks. On no account must he mention trying to get a job as a barman which was obviously his ambition. He failed to understand this although he listened intently and said he understood. He did not appreciate the rigorous questioning he was going to be put through by the British immigration official.

The money problem was easier than I had expected; I had enough to give Jose about one hundred pounds, buy our tickets for the ferry and to allow us to stay in a hotel with a little more luxury than we had been having. I found a modern hotel on the outskirts of Chateaudun where I decided we would stay for our last night in France. The patroness said she hadn’t got two single rooms but would let me have two double rooms if I paid the full tariff. The thought of bargaining had to be swiftly dismissed, however hard it was for me to do, as I wanted Jose to experience the luxury of his own hotel room. Earlier on the journey had told me since a child he had had to share a tiny bedroom with two brothers and the trouble he had safeguarding his few precious possessions and in particular his favourite clothes.

We reached Dieppe in time for the early afternoon ferry but had to wait until midnight to get a place. After buying the tickets for the car and we two I was able to give Jose ninety five pounds, which along with his mixed collection of currency amounted to the equivalent of £260, enough I thought to convince the immigration he had sufficient funds for at least two weeks. The trip was smooth. We snoozed in comfortable seats in a half empty lounge and again I made it plain that he should not mention anything about trying to get work when he was in England.

The man would ask him what work would he like to do in England. He must say he was on holiday and going back to Portugal.

“But I am not” he answered, “I would very much like to be a barman and stay with this girl in London”.

“Heaven help me”, thought I, ” why is this boy so thick?” Which was, perhaps, unkind. He was so excited with his voyage and the idea of getting into England he would not concentrate on how “wise” he had to be. He was a good-natured chap who I think trusted all Englishmen as gentlemen.

When the boat docked at Newhaven at six o’clock in the morning I was with him when the customs man interrogated him. He was getting deeper and deeper into a muddle, his English being poor. I tried to help him explaining I had given him a lift. Having done so I immediately realised it was a mistake, the officer asked if he was with me, I had to say I had given him a lift as a kindness, and I got deeper in to a muddle until I was asked:

“Are you responsible for him?”

“Yes, because I brought here in the car!”

“Will he be staying with you?” to which I had to say:

“No, he is here on holiday”.

“Can I see your passport, sir”? He thumbed through it, clouted it with his stamp and handed it back to me saying,

“Would you mind removing yourself, sir, whilst we deal with this young man.”

I was back in the queue for the car deck when Jose appeared accompanied by a junior customs officer to collect his kit from the car. From the hurried chat we had I learnt he may or may not be allowed ashore. They had asked him if he would be working in England, would he be working for me. He had told them his auntie worked as my housemaid and I had given him a free ride to Dieppe. No he was on holiday, and why had he not got a return ticket (a mistake made by me). What work did he do in Portugal? A barman eh? If he was offered work as barman in England would he take it? “Yes of course”, he had told them thus sealing his non-admittance.

As I was driving off the car deck the duty customs officer flagged me down with his checking board.

“May I look in your boot, sir?” I alighted and went round the back of the car, he searched deeply into the back and the manner in which he searched it was obvious there was not a small person hidden there. I looked him full in the eyes and said,

“Fully satisfied?”

“Thank you sir” was his courteous and unsmiling reply.

I waited outside the main gate of the port on a small lay-by for almost an hour for two reasons, to be there just in case Jose was allowed to land and to kill time as I did not wish to arrive at the flat where I would be staying and get my hostess out of bed at an ungodly hour.

Jose went back on the ferry to France, travelled to his sister’s house and worked on the land there for four months before hiking back to Faro with more money in his pocket that he started out with. He wrote several letters during the next ten months I was away in the Middle East always hoping he could get to England and thanking me for giving him the chance to see France and something of Spain.

The Citroen was garaged in Hove for the time I was away in the Gulf for although I had purchased a Regency flat in Brighton soon after this return to U.K. there was no garage attached. I had written to the Brighton customs people asking if my son could take the car for servicing to be made ready for my return, and asking them to let me know how much customs duty I may have to pay should I keep it in the U.K. This caused much trouble for the dear lady who owned the garage. The officious language they used made her nervous and I think she wished she had never loaned me the garage.

The customs people were quite accommodating when I went to see them. The eleven months would expire before I took the Citroen back to Portugal. Two days before returning I left the car overnight in the courtyard at the back of the flat in Sillwood Place in Brighton. I was staying there with my son and his wife who occupied it whilst I was overseas. Standing by the kitchen window with my morning mug of tea I looked down at the car and noticed the back window was down.

Sillwood Mansions, Sillwood Place, Brighton, East Sussex

Sillwood Mansions, Sillwood Place, Brighton, East Sussex

“You’ve been done!” and shot out of the flat down to the yard reaching the car in seconds.”Damn I must have left the car undone last night. Peering over my shoulder my son said:

The expensive stereo radio and tape machine I had installed had been stripped from the car. I was not worried so much at the loss of the machine, I was more annoyed that the thief or thieves had prised down the back window and broken the winding mechanism. The police wanted the car at the station for fingerprints and they held out little hope of finding the thieves. I tried to get the window repaired before setting out on my journey to Portugal but the delay would have been too long. Whilst the garage man had it undone for inspection, I found a piece of wood just the correct size to prop up the window. The door panel was neatly replaced and other than the fact that the window could not be wound down the car was and looked in fine condition.

It was a delightfully fine day when I reached Dieppe and the four-day drive through France and Spain almost in reverse order to the trip Jose and I had taken is a pleasant memory other than this time I was on my own.

The villa was much as I had left it except there had been a break in to one of the exposed bedrooms. This was remedied by having inside shutters fixed to all the windows, making the house almost like a fortress. Jose came to see me learning of my return from Susanna. He brought his pal Joel a short stocky lad of cheery countenance and infinite good humour who had shared the latter part of Jose’s adventures in France. They still had no work and swanned around the beaches meeting and squiring the unfulfilled ‘maidens’ on holiday.

Having decided to sell the villa I had the option of selling the car in Portugal or taking it back to England and paying duty on a left hand drive car. The Englishman who arranged for the furniture and my personal belongings being shipped to the U.K. asked me what I was going to do with the car. And when I told him I would drive it back or sell it should I get a fair price he asked me to sell it to him. It had cost me just over two thousand pounds. It was two years old. In the U.K. it would be worth as much as £1,500 should I be lucky to find someone who wished for a left hand drive car. I would have a bill of £375 to pay in customs dues plus the monthly garaging costs of around £200 a year, plus third party insurance. Some quick thinking, and balance on the fact that I intended to return to the Arabian Gulf for some time to come caused me to say after a long twenty second recap.

“Give me £1,000 in Sterling and it is yours!” I had not expected an immediate reply but it was there.

“Done” he said, and when I tried to tell him about the duff window he was disappointed not about the window, he thought I was trying to renege. He wrote a cheque for £1,000 on the spot. I had no means of clearing it before I was due to return to the U.K. this time by air. I trusted him and the trust was well placed. £1,000 banked at fourteen per cent, no tax to pay, for the next few years was a far better bet than paying customs duty, insurance and garage costs.

Jose and Joel knowing I was leaving had asked for a lift as far as France, which of course was now not to be. I gave them an old but valuable, serviceable and powerful amplifier with cassette and recorder. I think they had visions of opening a disco; more likely they sold it and enjoyed the proceeds. Susanna was luckier. I gave her the gas cooker and a huge wooden and leather settee that filled up much of my study. It was actually a magnificent double bed when extended, I had forgotten it was a bed settee until Susanna revealed it’s secret.

Fred drove me to Faro airport in the Citroen. He was delighted with such a bargain and I was happy the car had found an appreciative owner. It had given me many safe, delightful journeys and in it I had traversed the length and breadth of Algarve and most of the rest of Portugal.

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