In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, she’s playing I-Spy… not a single mince pie.
After 29 years of family Christmases of one denomination or another, this year we escaped. Christmas is for kids, they say. So, we made sure we did our duty and hung out with the wee buggers before tiptoeing out of the country.
First stop, a pre-Christmas gathering with in-laws, with a lovely roast dinner, crackers and even Christmas pud, in lieu of our absence on the day itself. In among the cracker jokes, paper hats and assorted humorous repartee, the niece squawked up: “Auntie Sarah, take off your glasses.”
I dutifully obliged. “Ha, ha, it’s real,” she guffawed.
Puzzled, the gathered throng turned to her to learn more. It turned out that she thought my nose was fake and was attached to my glasses. Having been known as Concorde and Barry (Manilow) since childhood, this should come as no surprise and I wish her no ill, but hope that Santa was watching and made note on her Christmas good girl tally.
“We spent Christmas Day with my brother and wife having lunch in a restaurant overlooking the sea, eating from a normal menu and paying everyday prices. It was glorious, quiet and no one puked from having eaten too many Celebrations at 7am.”
Second stop, a weekend away with the grandtwins. A weekend away means a car journey and a car journey means I-Spy. The letter T is our mystery to solve from Twin 1. We struggle for a while and ask for a clue. “They’re everywhere,” he tells us. “Testicles!” shouts Twin 2 with confidence. The no more likely answer was T-shirts.
Despite not being able to actually see a T-shirt, Twin 1 says that there is probably one in every car that passes us. I-Spy takes on a new depth and profundity when the answer may not be visible (T-shirts), solid (miles) or even begin with the letter that you’ve been given (emoji – ‘I’).
The remainder of the journey involved the resurrection of a song that Twin 2 had composed while in the cinema and performed at the front of the auditorium as an alternative to the Kia Ora adverts. The entire lyric being: “Diarrhoea, constipation, diarrhoea, hard poo” repeated ad infinitum. This catchy little ditty kept us company all the way home from Bedford. And Grandma didn’t even cry once. In fact, she may even have joined in just past Leatherhead.
What with brutal insults and aural assaults, I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty in spending a child-free Christmas in a warm place. Hell, we earned it.
The festive season is a much more laid-back deal in Iberia. Shops are empty, no one bulk buys bread and you can pretty well guarantee that lunch will be in the garden, although judging by the ad in the local paper, it might well be octopus. Not a turkey in sight.
The word for turkey in Portuguese is peru, which led Keith and I into a lengthy and surreal conversation about one nation calling the Christmas bird by the name of another nation and whether all countries do this: UK – Turkey, Portugal – Peru. We pondered whether somewhere in the world a family is tucking into stuffed Uruguay on 25 December. That’s what happens when you have no kids to take your mind off things at Christmas.
We spent Christmas Day with my brother and wife having lunch in a restaurant overlooking the sea, eating from a normal menu and paying everyday prices. It was glorious, quiet and no one puked from having eaten too many Celebrations at 7am.
After lunch, we came home and read on the beach until the sun went down. We Skyped all the kids and grandkids, patted each other on the back for fulfilling our parenting duties from a distance and then ate and drank our own body weight in cheese and port.
On Boxing Day I went skiing for the first time in 34 years. A few lessons on an indoor slope in Milton Keynes and we were set. The Sierra Nevada is quite different from Milton Keynes. There is a lot more snow, sun and Spanish people in all-in-one ski suits circa 1986. Skiing was too expensive to do with a family, so two days of it without them felt a decadent luxury in our new adult life.
We left the snow at 9am in 2.5 degrees and arrived in the Algarve five hours later in 19 degrees. I strimmed the garden in my shorts, discovered a cauliflower that I didn’t even know I’d planted and fell asleep in front of the fire, aching from head to toe from all that bending of ze knees. It was a different kind of festive season, with not a block of Lego or a selection box in sight, but none the worse for that.
But they do say that Christmas is for children so I suppose next year we could take them with us. I’m putting a nose job on my Christmas list and will cook a slap-up Portuguese Christmas lunch. I-Spy with my little eye: octopus testicle, kids?
Read all of Sarah’s ex-pat dispatches here.
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Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.