Back in 1976 I started working for a company, specialising in renting villas in the Algarve called, imaginatively, Algarve Villas. I was seventeen years old and not widely travelled.

Within a couple of weeks of starting work, my employer sent me on an “Educational” – a trip to Portugal to see the villas.

In those days, there were only a handful of companies renting villas in the Algarve and we were the largest, with around twenty villas in Vilamoura, Albufeira, Carvoeiro and Praia da Luz – the only four real tourist resorts.

I arrived at Faro Airport, which resembled a rather tatty aircraft carrier and as instructed made my way outside to what was, back then, a large carpark. It was all ever so casual; I had been told to look for cars with a particular sticker in the back, fish for the key which would either be on the wheel arch or tucked under the sun visor and follow the roughly drawn map my office had provided me with. There were only 3 groups of car: Group A which was a Mini or Mini-Moke; Group B a Ford Escort; Group C a Ford Cortina. I had only just passed my driving test, had never driven “on the wrong side of the road” and was finding the prospect daunting, so I made sure I found myself a Mini.

To say I was scared is a bit of an understatement and the first hurdle to overcome was a lack of petrol in the car. There were no petrol stations in the airport but I could see from my map that there was one on the only road to Albufeira (my eventual destination).

I carefully made my way out of the airport – in many ways it was much easier with only two options on leaving the airport – left or right, with right eventually leading to Spain.

I had been provided with £50 in cash, which I had changed into the local currency, Escudos, at Gatwick Airport. This was a massive amount of money in those days and I was also supplied with some travellers cheques in case of emergency – this was long before most people had credit or debit cards.

I remember being overtaken by a little 3 wheeled vehicle, which was more of a bike than a car as I drove very slowly along, perched on the edge of my seat, clasping tightly onto the steering wheel. The standard of driving was truly terrifying with cars whizzing past as they overtook me on bends, the constant screech of brakes and honking of horns as I was almost rear-ended numerous times.

It came as something of a relief when I noticed a shack with a petrol pump at the side of the road. No such thing as self-service in those days and no such thing as English speaking Petrol pump attendants but I had already thought of this and had typed a list of useful phrases so confidently said, in my best Portuguese (which was non-existent) “fill me up please” – oh the shame when I later realised my mistake, I had an inkling I had got it slightly wrong when I noticed the look the attendant gave me. Paying was a complicated matter too, the Algarve accent is quite strong and often the beginning and ends of words are cut off so my learning to count from one to twenty from a phrasebook did me no good at all but eventually a pencil and paper was found, I handed over my Escudos and was on my way again.

The rest of the journey passed without incident, not so my arrival at the accommodation.

To be continued…..