Carcavelos beach is busier than I expected this lunchtime. The weather is not yet fully autumnal, but it has turned cooler, and from the carpark just off the Avenida Marginal I am mildly surprised to see scatterings of beach-goers all along the broad sandy beach. Showing commendable fortitude, some still lie on towels in only swimsuits or bikinis, but those standing in little groups to chat, arms crossed, have mostly got T-shirts on over their swimwear. Nobody is keen to spend very long in the water, except for the scores of young would-be surfers who crowd the silvery-blue sea in their wetsuits. Surfing became fashionable among Portuguese children and young adolescents several years ago, but the boom in surf-schools shows no sign of slowing. However, it is dogs which are banned, as a lifeguard in a yellow T-shirt is patiently explaining to a dog-owner down by the water’s edge, observed equably by the offending animal, a fluffy terrier with its tongue poking out slightly. Modest but surfable waves are breaking a little way out, bright spangles of light flashing along each foam-patched front as it rears. The sky is a gentle blue above high cloud, crisscrossed by faint vapour trails in varying stages of dissolution.
There was a sad scene last night. About ten o’clock, the doorbell rang. As the dog barked and yapped, Veronica and I exchanged a wary look. Nobody calls at that time of night, so this wasn’t going to be anything good. Sure enough, when I opened the gate there was a skinny, beat-looking man standing there, supporting himself on a single crutch. He had a battered baseball cap on, over dirty hair which needed cutting. He was unshaven, the stubble greying. He looked forty-something, but was probably younger. His clothes looked as if they would be greasy to the touch.
I gave an audible groan, but he had already begun his patter, delivered in a low rapid mumble. His eyes were on the ground, and I had to strain to hear. I understood very little, except that he was sorry to come back again, and he was sorry it was late, but he remembered I had helped before. His father had died, he had just come from the hospice, he wasn’t well himself, he had a condition of the blood which he had inherited from his mother who was also dead, he couldn’t pay for the medication. He was rummaging with his right hand in a bag held against his chest with his left arm, and presently produced an empty, battered-looking medicine packet which he showed me.
I was ashamed that I hadn’t recognised him at first, but I did now. I didn’t remember how much I had given him the last time, but I suspected it might have been ten euros. He was still talking, but seemed to have gone back to the beginning of his story and started again. I had been hearing him out with my own eyes down, but clearly it was time to close the gate or give him something.
“OK I’m going to give you five euros,” I said, feeling stingy. I went to fetch it and ran into Veronica in the kitchen, who had come to see why I had been at the gate so long. I repeated what I had understood him to say, and she looked mildly sceptical. I was sceptical myself, but what did it matter what we believed or didn’t believe? One look was enough to tell you that this bloke’s life had come off the rails, and things weren’t going to get any better for him.
I handed over the money, and he thanked me and limped off. Judging by his decently embarrassed mumble of gratitude, he didn’t remember that I’d given him more the last time.
Meanwhile, another day in paradise is in full swing at Carcavelos beach. Down by the water’s edge, parked windsurfing rigs lie with their single sails upright and rippling cheerfully in the freshening breeze. Their shape reminds me of the wings of those flying ants we used to suddenly get swarms of when I was young, one day a year in summer. The cafes and restaurants all along the promenade are packed with tanned, relatively solvent, relatively healthy individuals, tucking into grilled fish, boiled potatoes and salad.
It felt mean-spirited. giving someone whose life was such a continuing calamity a five euro note, but a hundred or a thousand wouldn’t fix things. Also I was afraid that giving more would make me even more of an easy touch. You can’t be over-generous or you’ll never get rid of these people. It’s like Theresa May, creating a Hostile Environment for illegal immigrants with her nasty Go Home or Face Arrest vans (an instruction which will have raised a thin smile among the homeless).
But what can you do?
Heskey admits: ‘Thank Christ for that, I was shitting myself’
Alarmed by growing rumours of an imminent recall to international football, Emile Heskey is able to relax after the strong performance of England’s strikers against Spain. It is now a week since England became world-beaters again, by totally outclassing and walloping the ex-world champs 3-2.
TFSOM was as delighted as Heskey and everybody else by the scintillating performance of the front three (as the commentator on Sky enthused, perhaps venturing into the ungrammatical: ‘Spain give the ball away to England in this mood at their very peril’), but without wishing to rain on the tabloid parade, it was a bit worrying that England had:
- less than 25% of the ball
- only 5 shots on goal (Spain had 25)
- no corners in the entire match (Spain had 12).
On top of that, the defence looked as error-prone as ever, with the much admired Harry Maguire in particular misplacing passes, getting caught in possession, missing important defensive headers, and on at least one occasion being so well and truly stood up by a dummy that it looked momentarily as though somebody had left a step-ladder on the pitch. Let’s see how they do against mighty Croatia at home, but surely the jury is still out.