On Wednesday night, I had the most terrifying nightmare about an earthquake hitting our village. I woke with a horrible, sweaty start just before 5am and immediately checked that husband and dogs were in situ and safe, as of course they were. (I didn't check the cats: I figure they have the right attitude of casual indifference to events that would enable them to take a full-blown earthquake in their strides.)
But just as I thought it was safe to go back to sleep, the news came on the BBC World Service: Earthquake in Spain. Terrible events, buildings demolished, thousands sleeping outdoors, people dead.
So here's my thought process at that point: Spain's not that far away. We live in a long, skinny country, so distances west-to-east are not that huge. From here, you could be in Spain in two hours, probably a lot less if you're being driven by a competent, confident driver, and not by me. It's the same land-mass, for God's sake. And where the hell are our passports, our residency papers, our credit cards, if we have to get out of here in a hurry?
More to the point: What bloody business do I have dreaming of an earthquake when it was ACTUALLY HAPPENING, and not that far away? Am I possessed of some Special Powers, hitherto undiscovered?
In fact, the truth is probably more prosaic: I keep the radio on all night, in order to distract me from the terrible snoring that goes on in our bedroom - husband, dogs, who knows? (I know, believe me - but I'm also discreet.) I probably heard the news at some stage in the night, when I was already half-asleep and not 100% conscious. And, in any case, Lorca (where the earthquake happened) is some 400 miles from here.
I'm not dismissing what has happened in Lorca: it's a horrible, horrible thing. And I'm conscious there have been far worse earthquakes this year, in Japan and New Zealand, with far more devastating consequences and far greater loss of life.
For the record, then, this is why I fear earthquakes so much: as a child, I lived in California for a while. The town my family lived in was pretty much on top of the San Andreas Fault. At school when I was 7 years old, we had earthquake drills. They went something like this: your teacher says 'earthquake' to the class and then you all position you tiny, vulnerable child-bodies under flimsy, non-load-bearing desks. Which were situated under much heavier, non-earthquake-proof ceilings. (I sincerely hope it's moved on from this now. This was the 1970s, after all.) Even as a child, I saw how ridiculous and futile this would be in the event of a 'Big One'.
Later on in my twenties, when I found myself living in California again, I actually got to experience an earthquake for myself. It was nothing serious - just enough to tip a few books and photoframes off the shelves in my apartment, send a few chairs on castor wheels careering across the kitchen floor and set the water in the apartment block's swimming pool slopping over its edges. But I felt weirdly seasick and on edge for days after.
So you'll excuse me if, in the wee small hours of Thursday morning, I was considering all sorts of Worst Case Scenarios. In fact, when I tweeted my worst fears that morning, I was incredibly relieved (and grateful) to get a tweet back from another English woman here in Portugal, one who's been here much longer than I. She was, she said, planning escape routes from her own home to safety.
Two days later, my own Night Fears seem like a bit of a moment of madness - but the news from Spain is awful and people in Portugal have no reason for complacency. The grid layout of central Lisbon (the Baixa) today is entirely due to the fact that, in 1755, the city was decimated by a huge earthquake. Probably around 8.5-9.0 on the more modern Richter scale, it resulted in the deaths of around 30,000-40,000 people (thank you, Wikipedia), and the effects were felt much further afield. Almost as far north as where we live.
People regularly pop up on Internet forums doomily predicting that Portugal is long overdue for another 'Big One'. There was a rumble here in March (when I was safely in London E9 with my sister) that set every dog in the area barking in the middle of the night and did some minor damage.
But if I'm taking any lesson away from this, it's not that I need to fear earthquakes (although, naturally, I still do). The first lesson is that it's not a good idea to keep the radio on all night, however much your husband snores (oops) and however much the radio distracts you from putting a pillow over his head during the worst bits.
The other lesson: if the worst happens, I'm in a place I love, among people who look out after me. And that's pretty much the best that any of us can hope for.
(Since this whole earthquake scenario never happened, I'm flummoxed if I can find an appropriate picture. So here's one of our orchard at its Spring Best.)