Fergus and Thomas became outcasts amongst their friends and banished from their homes, making it impossible for them to stay in the UK. They battled with unforgiving wives, left behind the children they adored, and it took its toll, not only on their emotions but their self-esteem as well.
Fergus heard about a remote, ailing vineyard inland from Guia in the Algarve, in need of a little renovation. They both agreed that what they needed was a project. Something they could immerse themselves in while trying to blot out the very raw trauma of their last few weeks in the UK, so they’d opted for the vineyard venture.
The first time they set foot on the parched earth of their new home and future source of income, it came as a shock. Dropped by taxi during the late afternoon, they stood like a pair of refugees, surrounded by their modest collection of baggage. Tired and emotionally drained, they stared out across the barren earth baking under the glorious Algarve sunshine. The heavy red clay soil had set like concrete due to years of neglect. Making the overcooked earth fertile again would be a monumental task. They were aware that the property had been on the market for some time, but as a working vineyard, it was clear that the last drop of wine was corked a very long time ago.
The house had seen better days as well. There was nothing white about Casa Blanca anymore. The once fine-looking building was crumbling, and there were large cracks in its fading facade. Long since used farm equipment lay strewn around the outbuildings, left to rust several years before.
Unspoken angst rushed through their minds about what they had so recently lost, weighing it up against what lay before them. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was looking more like a terrible mistake. At least they had each other. They were still under thirty, blond, and outrageously good looking. Two young men that you would expect to find on the front cover of Vogue magazine and not embarking on a seriously get-your-hands-dirty project.
‘Oh shit, Fergie. What have we let ourselves in for?’
Always the optimist, Fergus replied, ‘our future, Tommy, we’ve made our bed, and now we must lie in it. There is no going back for us now. This is our new start, our new life.’ He turned to face Thomas and cocked his head to once side, smiling, walking towards him with his arms outstretched. Clasping him to his chest, he whispered in his ear.
‘If anybody can do this, Tommy, it is you and I. Together, we will rebuild this place not only for ourselves but for our children as well. Somewhere they can come and stay whenever they want, for as long as they want.’ The tone of his voice was reassuring. Bolstered by Fergus’s words of encouragement, Thomas outstretched his arm towards the front door.
‘Shall we? Let’s go and explore minha casa e sua casa.’
‘I’m very impressed with your Portuguese, given that you only looked at the phrasebook for about ten minutes on the aircraft.’
‘Well, one should be always be prepared on the basics.’
They picked up their bags and went inside the house, giving the front door a good slam behind them and walked towards the heart of their new home. There was a thunderous crash as the hinges of the heavy pine door gave way, smashing on to the debris encrusted tiled floor. They carried on walking, not bothering to turn around as if they had been expecting it to collapse.
Instinctively they were drawn to the veranda where they stood for some time, completely mesmerised by the view. It stretched out beyond a small orange grove across the vineyard, sloping gently down towards the Atlantic Ocean. In the pastel shades of the evening sunshine, the view was stunning. The smell of dry, dusty earth replaced by the infusion of fresh, tangy pine emanating from the abundance of umbrella pine trees. The scent of pine blended with lavender, growing rampant and spilling over what used to be flowerbeds.
The bougainvillaea too ran wild and unrestrained, draping itself around the house, as if trying to cover the cracks, in a fusion of pinks, purples, and reds.
The sun had started its descent into the Atlantic Ocean, and its orange glow fanned across the horizon for as far as the eye could see. Crickets began scissoring their legs, and the calming resonance soothed their minds. The tension in their bodies, which just a few moments before felt so tightly wound up they thought they might snap, started trickling away as they breathed in the soft, aromatic air.
‘There may be a lot for us to do, Tommy, but just look at that! Nobody mentioned we had a view. I don’t know about you, but I can see us sitting out here in the evenings and sampling our latest vintage for many years to come.’
Thomas nodded in silent agreement as Fergus opened one of the bottles of wine he had bought at the airport. In the absence of chairs, they sat on the low, azulejo-tiled wall that encompassed the veranda, captivated by the sunset. In the absence of glasses, Fergus raised the bottle into the air and said, ‘Here’s to us!’ He took a swig before passing it to Thomas. ‘The first of many sundowners we will share on this terrace with this spectacular view. Until the day we celebrate successfully breathing new life into this desiccated earth, and start drinking our own.’ He looked down over the gentle slopes that rolled towards the sea.
‘How about Mount of the Grapes as a name for our new brew?’ Thomas thought for a moment.
‘That would be, er, Monte das Uvas. It sounds much better in Portuguese, don’t you think? I will drink to that. Monte das Uvas it is then,’ and fixed the bottle to his lips.