Day 2 of my visit to Portugal began with a visit to see the state of Barry’s yacht now about 40% of the way through its refit.
After about an hour of taking a lot of pictures and doing my best to ask intelligent questions I was dismissed and drove Barry’s Renault Megane hire car back to the villa.
I mean it when I state I was quite proud of the feat, given my fame at both home and abroad for being hopeless at directions and map following – I only got lost twice in total on the way, despite managing to locate and stop off at a local supermarket to buy a bag of ground coffee, plus a couple of other food items, en route.
One of Barry’s main issues, now that he has given his notice, is identifying someone to replace him as yacht captain. This is hopefully not to over-sing his praises but last night, as we relaxed over a post-dinner tot or two of whisky before going to bed, there was a certain irony to his discourse on the relative merits of the two current short-listed candidates, the younger of whom is a Spaniard aged ‘thirty eight to forty’ – this when Barry himself is not yet 33 having completed four and a half years in the job.
Earlier, after he had returned from work, we went off to a local public sports facility run by a Brit who organises Wednesday night floodlit evenings of activity featuring successive ten-minutes-each-way hockey, basketball, soccer and touch rugby on one of its all-weather surfaces. It’s a pleasant social way for ten or twelve local ex-pats and others, ranging in age between about fourteen and (last night, courtesy of my attendance) sixty-three, to let off steam.
Taking to the pitch only too well aware of my various infirmities, I was prepared to be impressed by how dynamic, skilful and fast some of the more junior participants might be in comparison. As expected, despite the instinctive supply of adrenalin flowing through my veins, my expectation of being well off the pace due to my dulled reflexes was well-founded and I retired from the fray after the hockey and basketball games. The sheer speed and elusiveness of some of the younger players was probably not wildly superior to what I would have been capable of at their age, but in the context of the here and now it seemed positively super-human.
The playing mix ranged from middle-aged businessmen having a giggle to keen and seriously-talented youngsters who train with the owner of the establishment three nights per week minimum, including his son who plays for the local town club in a league. The owner’s football academy has had pass through it one or two who have made it into the pro or semi-pro game in Portugal or the UK, including (he claimed) a current member of the Spurs first team squad.
One sixteen year old kid on hand last night was truly exceptional – lightning fast; amazingly skilful on the ball; yards faster than everyone else at summing up a situation and/or passing a perfectly weighted ball; seemingly always in the right place at the right time without apparent effort; and, may I add, throughout notably devoid of ego or swagger.
I doubt standing more than five foot nor weighing more than seven stone dripping wet, the owner told me she had recently been signed by the Bristol academy and – since the day her parents first brought her along to practice aged 10 – her only ambition in life has been to become a female professional footballer.
At my time of life I have long given up bemoaning my waning powers or being envious of the special joys available to those who are in, or coming to, their sporting prime.
Last night I went to bed still marvelling at the gifts – however later honed by graft they may also be – that Nature can bestow upon some humans and withhold from others.