Olhas D’Agua. Possibly one of my favourite places that I’ve ever been to. About half-way along the Algarve, this is a tiny fishing village that has three or more high-class hotels up above the cliffs but with a sufficiently steep slope down to the beach to deter too many holiday-makers from attempting the trek and thereby maintaining at least a taste of what the place must have been like before mass tourism arrived.
Having spent the last two posts moaning about brexit and all the lies associated with it, I thought I should perhaps give it all a rest this month. However, before I completely let go of the subject, I have to talk about a new friend I made near to those beautiful cliffs above: Jürgen (the German). I was having breakfast at the hotel and I was wearing my favourite King Lear tee-shirt from the RSC. Across my chest were the words ‘Jesters do oft prove prophets’. Jürgen called me over, apologised for his poor English (it was bloody excellent) and then asked what a jester was. I said, ‘A fool – an idiot. It means that idiots often tell the truth.’ Not a perfect interpretation of the quote but near enough. I couldn’t help myself though and had to follow it up with: ‘Although, our idiots back in England do not tell the truth. They are liars.’ Jürgen’s face almost crumpled and he said to me, ‘You know, we are all very sad.’ We stood talking for about five minutes. We finished by assuring each other that we would remain European and friends forever. We then shared a hug. It was a moment. We really are in danger of losing something precious.
A holiday is, of course, a time to reflect. I’m still working on the difference between reflection and pandering to anxiety but, it has to be said, this coast certainly helps. It has a permanence and an authority about it mixed with a sense of fragility that I struggle to adequately explain. It could be the colours: the white of solid concrete and the red of soft sandstone. Or maybe it’s the broccoli trees. Not their real names (Stone Pines Pinus pinea) but apt. It is a stunningly beautiful place. And it really does have a positive effect on the psyche, especially this time of the year. Despite it being uncharacteristically warm in England for the end of February and beginning of March, it’s still not the same as being able to wander out from breakfast and lie in the sunshine wearing only shorts and a vest (don’t worry, there are no pictures!). I don’t suffer from seasonal affective disorder but I do get seriously pissed off with dark and cold evenings. So a visit to the high twenties and blue skies lifts the spirits more than just relying on excessive amounts of gin (not that I would ever knock that!). And the pace of life down on the southern coast, be it Portugal or Spain, is so much slower and so much calmer. I am a naturally lazy person and I know that I should do something to combat that, but driving furiously through heavy traffic in the rain and the dark, trying to cut what should be a ten minute journey down to below forty five minutes is hardly a good way to gee yourself up. A couple of hours walking along the beach or around Albufeira is a far better alternative and has to be healthier. Especially if cocktails are involved.
I do worry about how our way of life impacts on our health generally. All the time that I was down there in the sun, I barely had a negative thought. Okay, me and Jürgen bumped into each other a few times over the period and exchanged various frustrations with the clowns who are in charge back home, but it was warm-hearted and full of hope. I’ve only been back in England a few days and already I’ve found some poor soul on social media who is posting comments on a group that are clearly designed to annoy people and cause arguments. Just general things about how Britain used to be a great country and how he’d like it back the way it was, the way it should be, posted alongside a picture of St George’s flag. And sure enough, within less than a minute, the thread’s comments were into double figures with accusations of racism and leftism and fascism and bullying being bandied around. I’m in no doubt that his intention was to cause upset between people and in that he was successful but… how bored do you have to be to want to do that? Doesn’t he have a film to watch or a beer in the fridge? Can his only source of amusement be from goading other people into disagreement and hostility? The thing is, he didn’t actually say anything that provocative. He just used terms and images that he knew would get under someone’s skin and trigger them to bite. If challenged, he would be able to hide behind what, on the face of it, was an innocuous statement that merely expressed a longing for a non-existent past. He simply lit the blue touch-paper and sat back. The very fact that it worked is a sign that there is something very much rotten in the state of Great Britain.
It occurs to me that what I’m writing about here is mental health. In order to control my own mental health (if control is the right word) I use a mixture of writing, drinking, holidaying, running (when my feet are working!), reading, acting, playing music and singing. I could add to that gardening but if you saw the state it was in then I would have to cross it off the list. Anyway, it all comes down to distraction. Or, probably more accurately, engagement. There was a time when a person’s job was enough to ‘fill the empty spaces’. Whether it was hard graft in the steelworks or down the pit or some technically challenging and generally enjoyable occupation or vocation, it would be enough to make a person ready for a relax in the evening at home or the pub. It would also, often, define a person. It was an idea that I struggled with as a young person but I once heard a wise old Japanese guy lamenting the ridiculously high suicide rate of young people in Tokyo. He put it down to the fact that they had all moved to the city, to pursue wealth, and were now working to live rather than living to work. It sounded foolish to me at first but, on reflection, it makes total sense. If you are spending a third of your life doing something then it needs to be important, at least to you. Successive governments have stripped this away. People can no longer do a good job as they are not given the time or the resources. There is no hope anymore. Ambition seems almost foolish. We have created a society where a person’s worth in their job is no more than the hours that they spend doing it. And now many of those jobs are made up of zero hours! How can they even be called a job! It’s utterly beyond me. And we wonder why we’re in a mess.
That sad guy who gains pleasure only by creating a hostile environment where he can watch others knock lumps off each other probably has a zero hours contract or a job that means nothing to him or a boss who considers him of little or no value. Most bad behaviour is a result of low self-esteem and we’ve created a society where low self-esteem is the norm. We have a generation of young people who daren’t have dreams and know only too well that their future is bleak; at least bleaker than that of their parents. It’s a crime and I don’t know if it can be fixed. Sometimes things are just too broken.
My advice, and it’s not great, but it’s all I have: find something that you really like doing and then stick two fingers up at consumerism. It’s only there to trap you anyway. Live on the absolute minimum and dance, swim, run, sing, play a guitar, learn a bit of stand-up, run round the garden in just your pants, get yourself down to the sea and maybe even visit my web site!
There’s plenty of free stuff to read on there.
See you in April