Living In Paradise (AKA Self Isolation)

Martyn Torr


LIVING the dream...although the next few weeks (months?) are threatening to become a nightmare.

Most of us, I reckon anyway, have been on holiday somewhere or visited a place and thought: “Wow.  Wouldn't it be great to live there!”

My thoughts summed up succinctly after my first visit to Portugal, way back in 1987, to play a squash match for my club, Village Hyde, against the locals here in Burgau.  Two of our members had an apartment in the fishing village in the early '80s and then the Robinson family came along in 1984 and built a sports centre around tennis and squash.

And so began a love affair with a place I now call home.  Along with ex-pats from most of mainland Europe, I am living the dream...albeit in retirement.  It took a while but I'm here now.

And now this.

Coronavirus/covid-19/kung-flu, call it what you will, has torn apart the modern world as we know it and is putting at risk all that the we understand and hold dear.  Including our health and our very existence.

Stay indoors is the message and from what I can see a lot of us are doing just that.  Certainly I am, but who am I? And where am I?


My name is Martyn Torr and I'm a retired journalist and also a founding director of an event management company, for which I still work on an as-and-when needed basis.

Twelve months ago I took the decision to relocate, more or less full-time, to the Algarve, the southern most tip of Europe. For me, this part of the world is Portugal at its magnificent best.

Year-round sunshine, tennis four days a week, golf at a huge variety of courses and friends aplenty.  I wear shorts every day, ok, perhaps not that big a deal but, trust me, this is a lifestyle to which you can easily become addicted.

The pace of life is relaxed, with endless visits from friends and family – not always your's, but friends and family of friends.  The cost of living is way below that of the UK – a fresh chicken here is circa two euros, my council tax here is 196 euros every six months compared to £128 a month back in Saddleworth – and life is good.

I acquired the place, a two-bedroom (one en-suite) apartment with a large lounge, good-sized kitchen, large bathroom, sun terrace, garage space and shared pool, back in 2006. 


And now I live here 90 per cent of the time.  Alone.  And currently in glorious self-isolation.  The government here ordered a complete lockdown on March 19 and we are all at home.  Everyone, certainly in my social circle, is observing the government's instruction to stay at home.  There is nowhere to go, anyway.

Local buses are free.  No fares to pay.  The drivers don't want to be handling money and being in contact with the general public so they are roped off.  But the buses, for the most part, are empty of passengers.

Portugal has adopted Emergency Powers which allow the government to do virtually anything they need to contain covid-19, and so far it seems to working.  Looking at the images on the News Channel, as of today (March 25) Portugal has under 3,000 coronavirus cases and only – and that is really subjective word in the circumstances – 43 deaths.

COVID-19 Cases

My village – Burgau – is permanent home to 700 people according to the road signs – but there are always visitors and tourists here, even throughout the winter.

Not now.  This glorious, beautiful, inspiring idyll is deserted.  A ghost town.  All the bars, three, are closed, the cafes and coffee shops, a few more, closed, the beach, closed.  The restaurants, numerous, closed, although some are doing takeaway services.

Two stores remain open – plus the fresh bread shop for two hours each morning – albeit on much reduced hours, to service our food and other shopping needs.   They are well stocked, with everything you could want, and there has been no panic buying as far as I can tell.

We are allowed out of our homes to shop for essentials and for exercise, but only once a day.  On those trips you are lucky to see more than two or three people.  It's eerie. 

I sit on my sun terrace and look out – not that inspiring as I don't have a sea view and developments, some actually legal! - have taken away what little aspect I used to enjoy.

I read a lot, I speak to people, locally and in the UK, and this week to friends in Sydney Australia, via Facetime and WhatsApp and Messenger and Facebook.  Thank God for technology, eh. 

I had a message on my iPhone this week saying that my average screen-time had increased this month by five hours a day.  Is that all...?

I have a rule not to turn on my television until 7pm when I watch the UK news on Channel 4.  A brilliant programme in my opinion.  Yes, I have access to all the UK television channels, including all the subscription versions, and I have Netflix and Amazon Prime.  I have used these more in the past couple of weeks that all the other weeks put together that I have been here. 

I am guessing they will get hammered in the new weeks (months) as the world reacts to this unprecedented disaster.  For that is what it is, let's not kid ourselves.

So I, like everyone else, have to stay in.  Is it a big deal, in the great scheme of things?  I think not.  

I would much prefer to be playing tennis on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and golf with our Burgau society every Thursday up a Golf Santo Antonio, on the road to Sagres, mainland Europe's most westerly point.

I am missing my four pals from our Burgau Bad Boys' Luncheon club, a weekly Monday occasion when we find a restaurant for a two-course lunch with red wine that is less than 10 euros a head.  Easy peasy. 

But I can't do any of these things, and I won't be for a while. I won't be going on the beach either, or taking cakes to mates Dino and Jao in the Beach Bar three mornings a week.  Or going to Rui's garden bar for a sundowner with all the other ex-pats and locals as we watch the sun set over the hill where George Galloway is reputed to have a place.

And Friday night live music nights are out with my pals Jamie and Dave down in O Clube as is the fabulous – trust me, that is not an exaggeration – Sunday afternoons with live music in E-Manuel's wooden bar perched on the harbour wall overlooking the Atlantic swells as they roll into the picturesque Burgau bay.

All on hold. 

Instead I sit on my terrace,  I read, a lot.  Luckily there are literally scores of books here left by guests who have used this place for a holiday over the last 14 years.  Not all to my taste, obviously, but what's a bloke to do...?

I answer my emails, I try and keep in touch with friends and family back in the UK and around the world.  We have developed a support network whereby we talk to each other regularly.

And I worry.  Not for myself, I'm doing ok.  Alright a couple of holidays to Europe are on hold but that is as nothing compared to the hardship the locals will suffer.  They are suffering now, as, with Easter fast approaching, the tourist season should be building and building. 

Until November, when the vast majority of enterprises close.  We are on the Atlantic coast, 3,000 miles from New York in a straight line, and the weather can be tasty.

So the local bars, cafes and restaurants – and our local pub, The Pig's Head – need to make their money now, the fat to see them through the lean winter months.

It ain't happening.  It's unlikely to be happening soon.

So who am I to complain about my dream-living being temporarily compromised?

I sit on my sun terrace and hope, dream too, of the future when the world will be back to normal. 

It will be one day, won't it?