memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘on Cascais sands’

The History of the World (2)

Oh god, I hope they don’t see me! I’d seen two men, not even acquaintances – I’d only ever spoken to them once before in The Beefeater Bar in Cascais,


push their way through the glass doors and look around the crowded room for a table, spot me and thread their way towards my table. Reluctantly I closed my book and assumed a welcoming expression (just my luck, I thought).

They were an ill-assorted couple. The elder man, who did most of the talking, was a thick-set Irishman, a Dubliner, with a rich accent and a fluent confident delivery. He was accompanied by a young pasty-faced apprentice, sweating in a hopelessly unsuitable suit – thick, dark, cheap and English. His slack defeated posture seemed to be saying to his boss, look I know that I’m not really cut out for this job and I already regret leaving Stoke Newington.

They started dithering their way through the menu, laboriously trying to decipher the unfamiliar terminology of Portuguese cuisine (oh for God’s sake, I thought, get a grip; it’s only a cheap little taska):

–              You’ll notice that the Portuguese for turkey is peru

I remarked, just to keep the conversation going while they continued to worry what this word meant or what that dish was in English,

whereas in French turkey is dindon – des Indes; I wonder what it’s called in Turkey? As a matter of fact I suppose the animal is indigenous to the American continent …

–              I guess you Brits have got yourselves into a bit of trouble down there in the South Atlantic.

 (It was the time of the Falklands crisis; he spoke with the Irish relish for the discomfort of its larger neighbour).

–              Yes it’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it? Talk about gunboat diplomacy, it’s positively 19th century; of course it’s all about Mrs. Thatcher winning the next election; there’s nothing like a war with a weaker enemy to bring out the worst in the voting public … as Dr. Samuel Johnson put it Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel etc. etc.

–              Listen to this fellow, Mike, he’s making some interesting points, he instructed his side-kick (as though this was a continuation of some kind of training-course).

–              Anyway, I said to change the subject, what brings you down here?

–              Well, Tom, we represent a Dublin-based International Express Delivery Company; we’re looking to expand our markets in southern Europe …

At this point my attention drifted away as a tidal wave of business-speak washed over us. I felt sympathy for Mike, as he wretchedly poked around in his rabbit stew searching for the edible bits.

After the meal, as they got up to leave, the older man tapped the cover of my book The History of the World significantly, what do you think of this by the way? I’m quite enjoying it actually, I replied, why, have you read it?

– No, but I’ve seen the movie.

(This enigmatic answer still plagues me now almost thirty years later; what on earth could he have meant, I wonder).



Y WORRY (Be happy)

About one hundred years ago I lived for a few years on the Estoril coast near Lisbon.

I shared the upper floor of an attractive house in Estoril in one of those leafy streets just behind the Casino, with two female colleagues, Nina and Sheelagh (what, Sheelagh? Yes, Sheelagh, we used to tease her gently about the spelling of her name: what exactly was your parents’ problem; was it dyslexia or just sheer bad taste). The house had a lovely terraced garden which was tended by an old gardener. There was a large fig tree growing on the lawn, beneath which I once fell asleep at 6.00 on a summer morning after a long night spent carousing in the streets of the Alfama at the feast of S. Antonio, the patron saint of Lisbon, together with olive trees, wondrous bougainvillea and herbs and finally a lemon tree from which we would casually pluck a lemon for our gin and tonics.


Unfortunately we had to vacate the house for the three summer months because the wealthy owners, who lived in a grand old-fashioned apartment in the Avenida da Republica, needed to use it for their holidays. We would return in the autumn for I had already decided to stay for another year; (I was having far too a good a time). At the beginning of July I returned home to Yorkshire where I stayed for a few weeks before hastening back for the fun in the sun. I dossed down on a friend’s floor for couple of days before another friend, the young representative of a well-known British firm in Portugal, offered me his house while he went home for a couple of weeks.

John and I had got on famously from the start and his company-rented house was in a residential street in Cascais. It was a real bachelor-pad with the master-bedroom giving out onto a swimming pool and a fridge full of half bottles of champagne. My friend John was an interesting man – young, smart and personable, he was obviously a competent business man though one sensed that he preferred our slightly freer lifestyle. He once told me with an ironic smile that in his street there was a house (obviously built by an expatriate retired couple) called Y WORRY. He had studied English literature at Oxford; fish, flesh or fowl? he would intone inquiringly as we all studied our menus in the up-market restaurants to which he would invite us.


Usually during my life the door to my heart said occupied; but not that summer. That summer the sign said vacant – come on in.

Not that I was a stranger to the green-eyed monster, that most corrosive of passions, but not that summer. That summer I rarely went into Lisbon, preferring instead to hang around the down-beat and relaxed beach cafés of the Estoril/Cascais coast. Y WORRY?

Tender is the night.

On Cascais sands I lay in the arms of my girl in the sexy moonlight – liquid nights, golden memories.

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