‘I have to follow them, I am their leader.’

A quote attributed to Ledru-Rollin, opponent of Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and whose inflammatory speeches at workmen’s gatherings were influential in bringing about the overthrow of the latter in the Revolution of 1848.

Supposed to have been said as he saw a mob passing in the street during the unrest in Paris, thus inducing him to climb out through the window to join them…’Il faut bien que je les suive, puisque je suis leur chef.’ An early example of false news, as it was related by an opponent when Ledru-Rollin was in exile in England – ironically, as he had published a book ‘De la Decadence de l’Angleterre’ – and could not easily respond to the mockery.

Needless to say, once in power he crushed the hopes of the working class..les bourgeois c’est comme des cochons…..and became a peripheral figure, distrusted by all sectors of political opinion.

We have about any number of would-be Ledru-Rollins in Costa Rica at the moment, anxious to

A…harness to their chariots the popular protests at government proposals to seek a loan from the IMF and the fiscal consequences of same

or

B…crush said protests by pretending to lead them.

In brief, the Costa Rican economy has been a basket case for years. Whereas in Ledru-Rollin’s France one hundred families were said to run the country, here some thirty families do likewise and the result has been tax evasion on the grand scale, failure to develop the country’s natural resources, and clientism on a scale undreamt of by the Roman Empire.

Like France, the country is controlled by an unholy troika of big business, the public sector unions and the government, sucking on the teat of the tax payer and producing solely excrement.

The last president tried to reform public finances but was stymied at every turn by the National Assembly and was eventually ambushed by the cement monopoly, setting up a fake supplier of Chinese cement whose products were granted priority in import by the President, only to be revealed – by the monopolists – as a scam, which brought his period in office to an insalubrious close.

The current incumbent, coming to office on the promises of his party, promptly set up a ministry of all the lack of talents from his own and other parties in what was said to be a government of national unity…more like a government to guard the interests of the troika.

It has finally dawned on the government that its expenses exceed its income…mostly because the various lockdowns have managed to close any number of the small businesses whose tax payments covered the bloated public sector..the clientism referred to above. Since the 1970s, the public sector was used as a means of gaining votes…the more posts, the more perks, the more votes for the incumbent governments. The public sector unions will not give up these perks willingly, neither will a government, established as it is, force them to do so.

The protests began when the President announced that he was seeking a loan from the IMF, and, in order to pay it back, he was proposing further tax measures.

Well, people have had enough of ‘further tax measures’ recently…the imposition of Value Added Tax, for example…..so this was not a popular measure…less so when it was revealed that in addition to the local property tax, the double of that tax would have to be paid directly to Hacienda – the Treasury.

Imagine, it…three times your property tax. And, unlike local government, Hacienda can confiscate your property for non payment.

And then it was discovered that Hacienda was uprating the value of properties…..

Spontaneously, people began to block the major roads – the traditional form of protest from the ground up.

Immediately failed politicians moved in to become the self proclaimed leaders of the movement….some only to denounce it as being fuelled by the drug mafia…the same mafia effectively tolerated by the government. Others pushed for links with the unions – another mafia – while the government ordered in the police with tear gas to disperse the protesters

After weeks of blockades and confontation the government agreed to hold talks…but with whom?

With the troika, of course…..

But there must have been representation from the people?

Of course there was.

In one area a Vice President assumed the voice of the people…in another, the First Lady….

Current democracy in action.

Begone Dull Care, Forever Be Gone From Me

This song came back to me as we sit out the progress of the bug that governments have allowed to paralyse the world. It came from the song book we used in junior school, containing all sorts of stuff which is now probably banned on the grounds of – pick and mix at your pleasure – race, gender, imperialism, disability, cultural appropriation and having a tune.

We have been at home, have had limited contact with people, have not gone out much, the height of wild excitement being a trip to the wholesale fish market – plenty of fresh, if fishy, air and wide open spaces.

Have we been bored? Are we driving each other up the wall?

As it happens, no.

Given Leo’s illnesses we are used to shutting ourselves away whenever there is a ‘flu outbreak so doing so now has not been traumatic and life has carried on much as usual. All we did was to buy another freezer to stock up on food for the dogs, even though we have had to refill it a number of times since all this started. Fifty kilos of chicken carcasses and the same of offcuts does not go far between ten dogs…nine of our own and Danilo’s dog who uses us as an hotel since she is an old lady and does not like walking home in the rain. Even the refills have been easy….we ring up the day before, fix a collection time and the chap meets us on the pavement to exchange carcasses for money. No need to go into the shop. I go to the feria each week for veg…almost open air and well regulated…and that is about it.

The downside is that regular hospital procedures have been ditched so my cataract op has been postponed – probably until the Greek calends – which has proved to be a real pain in the proverbial and promises to be more so when the summer sets in in about a month’s time…a hat and dark glasses do nothing for my comfort, let alone my appearance. Think the Mafia crossed with Jemima Puddle-duck.

Mark you, having a garden makes a difference. In the morning we can have breakfast on the porch on the sunrise side of the house……but you have to make haste as there is a pecking order as the sun rises in the sky. It does not do to keep their lordships waiting…

We like the plants…they like a warm table top

Here is a close up of one of the gingers…the emperor’s staff

And if we had had any sense we would have transferred this to the breakfast area too…

By the way, can anyone spot the fine example of Costa Rican carpentry work in the top photograph?

But life is not all isolation, books and the internet….the gossip still reaches us – by e mail, by ‘phone and by long distance shouting.

The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with a curly brim, has surfaced again after a long period of recovery from his five day marriage. He had not been seen in his usual watering holes even before the bug hit the country, but it appears that he has not been idle.

Having failed to interest the local car mechanic’s wife in a brief encounter for fifty thousand colones he found it best not to get out of the car on the approach road to his lane – the mechanic having cousins living the length of said road – so had to spread his net wider. As far as the next little town, in fact, to attract the mother of our local Transito policeman – public enemy number one of all those without the appropriate licence, papers or plates for their vehicle. Of which there are many.

There are advantages on both sides…she is lonely as people avoid her because of her son’s reputation, and he is persona non grata in more places then there are personae…

I knew no more than this until Saturday afternoon. The sheep were kicking up long before feeding time and as I changed into my outdoor shoes to go down to investigate someone was klaxoning at the gate.

it is quite a trek…not helped by uncooperative knees which do not care for downward slopes..this photograph is taken at about the halfway point between house and gate.

A figure in black and white waited at the gate on his motorbike…theTransito.

What the blazes did he want?

After the ritual polite exchanges he came to the point.

Did I or anyone in my household, have a motorbike?

No….only electric wheelchairs.

They are not involved, senora.

Did I have friends with motorbikes?

No…not to my knowledge.

Then why has someone on a motorbike entered your property?

I have no idea…..did you see them do so?

No, but where else can it have gone?

I pointed to the assembly of shacks over the road where my neighbours carry out their nefarious activities. Fat chance of them letting anyone in…

What about there?

Could I check that it is not on your property first?

In case the rider is going to rob me?

No, I have no jurisdiction there…that would be a matter for the investigative branch.

In which case, senor, no.

Grumpily he heaved his bike over the road and I went in to see what was up with the sheep, to find that I had an extra member of the flock….a young man who had pushed his motorbike behind the trailer full of sugar cane destined for the sheep’s afternoon tea and was tucked up in a corner away from the road.

I knew him by sight…he works at the property at the end of the valley whose owner harbours dreams of opening a tourist attraction complete with massage parlours and tarts, dreams which are on hold as the bug has decimated the tourist industry…even that sort of tourist industry.

His bike, of course, had no number plates and propably neither he nor it had the appropriate papers.

He apologised for scaring the sheep and said he had to escape the Transito as he could not afford to put things in order on his pay and needed the bike to get to work.

But what is he doing down here?

Memo and the woman sit on their balcony with binoculars…they can see both roads from there and they call the son if one of us moves. Luckily he can’t always come…..

The police motorbike started up and pulled away.

Now he’ll wait at the bridge and get one of his mates to wait at the top of the back road….

Then you’d better leave the bike here – you can lock it to the trailer – and go home on foot. Better a long walk than having the bike confiscated. Pick it up on Monday.

The which he did. The traffic policeman had indeed been waiting for him as he had predicted.

Now, I know that the regulations help to keep unroadworthy vehicles out of circulation and I know too that the gangs of kids on souped up bikes render some neighbourhoods unbearable in the evenings…but in these times of economic hardship I think the government would do better to lower the fees for papers and plates and expand driving test programmes rather then coming down hard on those who need the transport to get to work.

I wonder if The Neighbour and his inamorata are on commission….

We Do It Our Way

Tour de France riders, eat your heart out. Forget the water bottles and snacks handed out from the cars, do it the Costa Rican way…find a passing cow and help yourself! You need to know what you’re doing though, or you might risk a hefty hoof in your derailleurs which would leave you looking more jaundiced than your jersey – but at least you can be sure you’ll pass a dope test.

Not that Andrey Amador, the only Costa Rican riding in the Tour de France, will be looking for a handy cow.

A long serving Grand Tour ‘domestique’ he is riding for Team Ineos this year and Costa Rica will be keeping an eye on his prowess – something to keep minds off the blasted bug which has hit the country.

In which respect, the wheels have fallen off the campaign to contain it.

All went well in the early days. Existing hospitals were reorganised, a special hospital set up and the populace told to keep themselves to themselves to protect the vulnerable. Those presenting with symptoms were treated with the hydrochloriquine and zinc cocktail which produced excellent results save in the case of those with grave pre existing health problems. Then the WHO banned that treatment, so the hospitals turned to the use of dexametasone and steroids (anti inflamatories), oxygen therapy – including EMCO which is an extracorporean oxygenation machine – interleukin inhibitor and antibiotics -when the patient is reinfected by other pathogens. Not so effective…..but funding depends on WHO approval.

It also depends, it appears, on the numbers of cases reported.

Initially, when the cases began to spike, it was put down to the number of Nicaraguan ‘informal’ workers coming down for the fruit plantations’ picking and packing campaign. The Nicaraguan government deny there is a problem with the bug – even hold fiestas at which attendance is strongly recommended should you wish to keep in good odour with said government – and encourage their nationals to seek care in Costa Rica. Care which Costa Rica will provide nomatter the status of the person seeking it

No doubt the influx is a factor. Imagine a couple of infected people arriving and living in the squalid, hugger mugger conditions provided…or who go to visit family living in Costa Rica…

But the numbers have jumped…have high jumped….and anecdotal evidence is that when one person is tested positive, all those in their household are counted as positive also….inflate the numbers and increase the funding.

We had had confidence in our health service…and their management of the situation.

We still have confidence in the dedication of the medical staff – even if they cannot use the most effective tools.

We no longer have any confidence in the way in which government and the management of the health service are handling things.

Contracts for masks which are useless handed out to some tart running a communications business….numbers inflated to drum up funding…which ends up in whose pocket?

Good treatment banned, leaving staff to do their best with what they have….

Government ministers giving their statements all masked up…then being filmed mask free in close bikinied company on a yacht off the Pacific coast….or tucked up in de luxe hotels on the beach – mask free, of course.

Vehicle restrictions which all would accept in the cause of reducing infection, but which have turned into a money tree as traffic police impose fines for all and any infraction, hitting hardest, not the fly by nights, but the hard up guy who depends on his unlicensed motorbike to get to work to feed his family. Why it does not dawn on government that the high price of getting a licence, and for keeping a vehicle on the road hit the most needy hardest is beyond me…but Costa Rica prides itself on being eco friendly, so the poor continue to pay while the country flaunts its green credentials.

And now, having been so slow to close the borders, we are to allow tourists back in. To be fair, as a tourist, you stand little risk, unless you decide to visit the shanty towns around San Jose, the shacks housing the workers in the banana and pineapple plantations or the hospitals, but the risk to the local population of allowing tourists to enter with minimal restrictions is something else…just so that the largely foreign owned tourist trade can recoup its losses.

Tourism counts for only some eight per cent of GDP…but it has clout…and doubtless the transfer of funds from one pocket to another.

And in our little town, the reported case of one of the employees at the Walmart outlet has been made much of….whereas the absence from service of staff at the locally owned supermarket has been passed over in silence…

This virus has been presented as equivalent to the Black Death, which is nonsense. We have the means to combat it if not to utterly defeat it.

But perhaps the consequences mght be similar…..either people submit to the ukazes of their increasingly detached governments, or they strike out to free themselves of unjust restrictions in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

I fear that it will be the former…I would hope it would be the latter.

In my short time here I have seen the changes…worried about the future for my friends’ kids and grandchildren…it was an oligarchal society, but one which recognised that social justice reinforced its rule.

This virus has ripped up the underbelly of that society….but will people submit…or react?

Costa Rica was never a paradise…but it was socially stable….will our friends’ grandchildren find that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone?

And will this virus be the catalyst?

The Grand Old Duke of York is Alive and Well in Costa Rica

In the early evening of Sunday, the internet and the landline went out….a not infrequent occurrence in the rainy season given the landslips and the likelihood of trees falling on the line. When that happens it is imperative to call the supplier, ICE, as soon as possible, as while its initials might stand for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, its speed of reaction to problems is that of a particularly constipated glacier.

No landline…so it’s the mobile ‘phone. Lucky I charged it earlier…

Charged to the hilt as it was, it did not work…it would make a call, but without sound.

Still, all was not lost……I could use Danilo’s mobile ‘phone when he arrived for work at 6.30 a.m. in the morning.

No chance….apparently he refuses to top up his ‘phone on the grounds that the service provider robs him so he can only accept incoming calls.

Right, off to town to catch the ICE office when it opens at 8.00 a.m.

Leo wished to trap our lawyer, a somewhat Lewis Carroll figure who, while resembling the Bandersnatch in his approach to conflict….

‘A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh
And grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair,
For he knew it was useless to fly.

He offered large discount — he offered a cheque
(Drawn “to bearer”) for seven-pounds-ten:
But the Bandersnatch merely extended its neck
And grabbed at the Banker again.’

….more closely resembles the Cheshire Cat when not desirous to be found.

Thus it is best to besiege his house before he has a chance to leave for his day’s occupations.

Accordingly, I was dropped at the offices while Leo went off to the lawyer’s home on the outskirts of town.

There was an elderly gentleman in front of me who started on a genealogical investigation into whether he was related to any of my neighbours…a very nice chap and most informative on the dubious past of a lady held to be highly respectable…and it passed the time.

Behind us, a queue formed. The security guard emerged from his lair to advise the queue that only ‘preferencial’ persons – the aged, halt, lame, pregnant or any combination thereof would be admitted at 8.00 a.m. The rest would have to wait until 9.00 a.m.

8.00 a.m. We two were admitted, guided to the washrooms to wash our hands and given a number. Both were called quickly.

I explained the problem and was informed that a crew would come out.

When?

Hands wide spread and shrug. It depends on their workload.

I have met the shrug before…in France. It denotes, bugger you, you’ll get what we give you. You used not to get it in Costa Rica…but it has crept into the institutions in the last few years and I deeply resent it.

I explained that a repair was urgent as, in the current virus situation, patients do not attend hospitals unless necessary…doctors will ‘phone with test results and organise prescriptions. Difficult for my husband’s doctor to ‘phone without a working line.

Again the shrug.

I informed him that he has an obligation to mark the work as urgent given my husband’s circumstances.

No senora, it all depends on the workload.

I quoted the relevant law and appropriate regulation for the institution and suggesed he consult Don Adolfo, his boss.

Don Adolfo is not yet in the office, senora.

Not a problem, senor. I can give you his home number. Thanks to the Bandersnatch whose little black book of numbers gives access to the movers and shakers – or, to be more accurate, the torpid bloated crocodiles – of the area.

He eyed me…contemplating. Is it likely that an an old bat, a foreigner to boot, would have the number of Don Adolfo? Had I been someone under twenty plastered in make up with hair extensions, plastic nails and a dress which left little to be revealed the matter would have been clear. But this old bat…?

He decided not to risk it…after all, the old bat knew his boss’s name…so finally marked up the repair as urgent and, with a little prompting, gave me the reference number, with which I could check that he had, in fact, done as asked.

France was a good training ground for customer service. You knew they were going to do you down and it behoved you to have your threats well thought out beforehand.

ICE behind me, I trekked up the steep hill to the big supermarket in order to buy another mobile ‘phone.

Choice was easy…but the purchase process was hindered by the manager being incommunicado in the lavatory with the keys to the necessary store, but once he emerged the member of staff kindly agreed to change the SIM card to the new ‘phone…only it wasn’t the same size, and, in any case, if I wanted to keep my telephone number I would have to go back to ICE to have them sort it.

So back down the hill to ICE.

By this time all and sundry were being admitted…but whereas when there were next to no clients during old age pensioners’ hour all the help desks were occupied now the waiting room was full to the gills and only two staff were available.

Still, thanks to the preferencial system I was seen quite quickly and a new chip was installed.

I thought I had better check it before leaving the premises but the security guard informed me that I could not use the old reception desk to do so thanks to social distancing rules.

Off then up the hill to the benches on the outskirts of the park – which is closed thanks to the bug. A first attempt to use the ‘phone revealed that it required a PIN number. Scrabbling in the box of goodies that came with it revealed the ICE chip details…so tried the PIN number on that. Did not work.

Back downhill to ICE.

The chap who dealt with me messed off for a coffee break as I appeared in the doorway but I spied Don Adolfo in the staff area and waved. He came out to see me and we had a small chat about the Bandersnatch before he asked me what I wanted.

I explained the problem..

He fiddled with the ‘phone and said that the shop which sold it had put a PIN on it. Did his employee not tell me so?

No.

He would have a word with him…but unfortunately I would have to nip back to the shop to have it rectified.

So back up the hill to the supermarket…wash the hands, have temperature taken in order to be admitted…where a very pleasant young msn explained that they put a PIN on display items to ensure people don’t start using them. Had i bought a display item?

Yes.

Then he would eliminate the PIN and give me a discount.

Sure that the brute was now working I walked back down the hill to the taxi rank and wended my way home.

My knees were by this time killing me and I needed to lie down in a darkened room, only to be returned to reality as an anxious voice enquired

‘What’s for lunch?’

While sorely tempted to reply with my grandmother’s riposte…..’bread and pullet followed by windmill pudding – if it goes round you all get some’ …I restrained the urge and dished up the pork casserole from the slow cooker.

After lunch Danilo came to the house.

The car had to go through its annual MOT…the Riteve. Should he ring for an appointment?

Yes, he should.

He did.

He came off the blower in a state of high indignation.

Now, before we go any further…some background.

Costa Rica, in its attempts to relieve pressure on the health service, rates the cantons of the country according to their level of risk. Yellow – medium risk, orange – high risk and red…we don’t want to think about it risk.

No red cantons so far.

In yellow cantons you cannot drive for two days out of the seven – according to the last number on your licence plate – and there is a curfew on vehicle movements after 10.00 p.m. In orange cantons you can only drive for two days out of the seven and the curfew starts at 5.00 p.m.

We are in a yellow canton. The Riteve station is in an orange canton. The only days on which we can drive in an orange canton are the very days on which we are forbidden to drive in a yellow one….

But, this being Costa Rica, there is a solution.

You apply for a rendez-vous online and if stopped by the traffic police you show them the reservation on your mobile ‘phone which will exempt you from a fine.

‘But I’m not online. Could you do it and lend me your ‘phone?’

No I jolly well could not. I had given Danilo the mobile ‘phone my mother had used. Teased by his mates because it was pink he had painted it green and buggered it up. No way did he get his mitts on my new ‘phone.

‘Get one of your kids to do it and borrow their ‘phone for the day.’

‘No, they won’t do that.’

I can’t say that I blame them.

£ventually, after manoevrings which would put Tammany Hall to shame it is agreed that a son in law will make the appointment on his mobile ‘phone and accompany Danilo to the testing station.

We will pass the son in law a lage red snapper from the freezer.

The Dog With No Name

For those who are not old and sere, this is a Lancaster bomber, as used in World War II and in the foreground is the canine mascot of one of the squadrons – 617 – whose men flew them over Germany and occupied Europe.

Casualties were high…nearly half in Bomber Command as a whole, just under thirty per cent of those who flew Lancasters. My mother, sent for a break from her job in London to the East Anglian countryside, watched in horror as an American bomber unit returned to base…the line of ambulances awaiting them, the broken bodies carried out on stretchers, the smell of blood…These men paid the price for the overthrow of a foul regime.

I think that, now, we would class those airmen who took part in the bombing of Dresden, of Hamburg, as war criminals – all the more so those who engendered the project and gave the orders, but at the time, well, war was war, propaganda ruled – and the victor’s justice of the Nuremburg Trials was yet to impose itself.

It was a period when emotions were repressed…when one coped with what arrived on one’s plate…and this was exaggerated among the fighting forces. As my father said after a rather nasty firefight…if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined. Not that there was much choice in the era of conscription. You were called up and you went where you were sent.

There was comradeship, of course, though not a given….but an animal could permit the expression of emotion that was frowned on in human contact. I think all those who have served in the armed forces could give witness to the importance of a dog – for example – in giving an outlet to the human emotions. Just look at the lengths to which servicemen will go to bring home an animal with whom they have served.

This dog gave those who served with his owner a great deal of comfort…

He was their mascot…their good luck charm.

617 squadron, made up of British, Canadians, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, was given the task of breaching the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, which supplied water and power to the highly industrialised area of the Ruhr, using a special ‘bouncing bomb’ developed to address the topography of the dams. To accomodate the bomb, which hung in the bomb bay below the fuselage, much of the internal armour of the ‘plane was removed.

Two of the dams were breached, more than a thousand people were killed, including French, Belgan and Russian prisoners of war. By Protocol 1 to the Geneva convention, passed in 1977, such action is outlawed except in exceptional circumstances, which, by the speed of German recovery, would not have met the criteria – had they been in force at the time.

Of the one hundred and thirty three aircrew involved, fifty three were killed.

But one other met his death. The dog, the squadron mascot, was run over and killed just before the operation took place. His owner, the squadron commander, ordered that his pet should be buried as his aircraft started the attack, and used his name as the confirmation that the dams had been breached.

The dog was buried as he had ordered…a tombstone was placed over his grave.

And there he was laid in peace, though his owner died later in the war as a result of friendly fire and the world resumed its diurnal round.

Except that now the dog has lost his name. The Royal Air Force has replaced the stone with another in which he is referred to simply as ‘the dog’.

Why?

Because he was known and loved by his name…..Nigger. And that might give offence in this era.

What should give offence is the deliberate pauperisation of the less well off….the wilful starvation of the National Health Service…the ruin of state education, all of which affect the underprivileged, of whatever race or colour they be.

Divide and rule has always been the measure adopted by the powerful….and it works! You can feel yourself to be LGBT, black, brown, muslim in the society of Great Britain or wherever else you be, all of which works to reinforce your disadvantage….but what the oligarchs fear is that you should feel solidarity…to work together to make your childrens’ lives better.

To live with the past, not try to relive it.

To accept that a much loved dog had a name of its time and in its place and understand that the world has moved on and we need to fight today’s battles – oligarchy, modern slavery, wars for control of a fossil fuel that nobody nowadays needs – without dividing ourselves at the behest of those who seek to keep us divided.

If You’ve Been to a Party, You can Foxtrot Oscar

Until this week, our little area had been relatively untouched by the bug…two people who had returned from abroad and that was about it. People took the recommended precautions and all seemed to be going well until a bunch of idiots decided to have a Fathers’ Day party. A well attended Fathers’ Day party. Needless to say, one turned out to be affected with the result that the area is shut down again a week after opening up while the authorities try to trace all the participants.

I suspect that the bug ridden party goer is not exactly flavour of the month locally and his protestations that he thought it was all right to go to a party because he didn’t feel ill just add fuel to the fire.

On the whole, the shut down has not been too bad from a daily life point of view….one could go shopping, attend the farmers’ market, while the prohibition on driving at night has been almost a blessing as has the absence of passing callers trying to sell something you both know that you do not want, an event which starts with the caller honking a horn if in a car, or shouting at the top of his voice if not, both of which start the dogs into sound and action and involve turning off the cooker, finding and putting on my outdoor shoes and trecking down the path to the road. By the time I get there I could guarantee that if you were offering me a free pass to heaven I’d turn it down, so a plastic fir tree car deoderant stands no chance.

I knew that the restrictions had ended when a chap came to the gate selling subscriptions to a cable television service. My argument was that

A. I did not want a television service

and

B. There was no cable provision in this road.

His argument was that as he was working on commission A and B were of no interest to him whatsoever.

The main problem of the restrictions comes with the enforcement of the rules as to which day you can use the car, according to the last digit on the numberplate. We, for example, cannot drive on Thursdays and Saturdays – and, annoyingly, that is every Saturday, while we could drive on Sundays except that there is nowhere to go.

This restriction does not bother one of our neighbours. He rejoices in a car with no numberplates – let alone licence, insurance and all the other administrative inconveniences – but needs a co pilot to manage the Whatsapp which will tell him where the police are currently lurking. He was swearing well last week when he was holed up in the hardware shop’s car park for over two hours while the traffic police set up a road block just down the road. He had contemplated making a run for it but in the end decided it was safer to wait until it rained, at which point the police would be bound to disappear….and did.

He is not alone in his lack of the usual paperwork…wages are low, the costs of keeping a vehicle on the road are high and any number of people depend on old bangers or motorbikes to get to work – particularly important now when jobs are so scarce.

Which is why the Traffic Police – the Transitos – are not flavour of the month either.

While I don’t think they have ever achieved that accolade, their current reputation locally is at its nadir.

First, a little history.

The local official was noted for his habit of haunting the roads round the hospital, ready to pounce on any car or motorbike without the proper plates, insurance sticker or certificate of roadworthyness. He had bumper results which looked good on his record.

Fine, you might say, that’s his job. Well done that man.

Yes, but when you think that people have brought someone ill to be treated, or are visiting someone who has been kept in, the last thing on their minds is making themselves legal before making the trip – even if they could afford to which in many cases they could not. The fines, which are out of all proportion to normal incomes, ensure that those affected cannot easily get back on the road.

So his harvesting round the hospital was not appreciated.

Representations were made, but to no effect. He continued harvesting.

Eventually, someone set fire to his house, which achieved what using the usual channels could not…he was transferred.

Peace reigned…until the arrival of the bug….and with the bug, the Transitos. And with the Transitos – the previously transferred official, on the grounds that he knew the area.

Now, the stated aim is to enforce the vehicle restrictions…no traveling at night unless your work requires it, and having the correct numberplate to travel on any given day. That is fine with almost everyone. The drug dealers have adapted too. Even given the situation the number of home delivery van services is astounding…

However, thse are the Transitos…..not content with roadblocks to check numberplates they are going to town on issuing fines for bad parking, and confiscating the numberplates of cars and motorbikes without all the appropriate documentation. It costs a fortune in money and time to get them back…not to speak of getting all the appropriate paperwork first…

Not surprisingly, this makes for bad feeling. The current government is not popular as its answer to a fiscal deficit that makes a black hole look infinitesimally small is to whop up the taxes and invent new fiscal fines while exempting large companies from the consequences and paying out what are known as luxury pensions to state officials….in some cases to the grandchildren of state officials. So, given the context, a troup of Transitos whopping up the fines in our little town does not go down well…..

Still, people here are nothing if not inventive. The Transitos have noted that, having confiscated a numberplate, they come across it again when doing a control some time later.

Investigation – and probably an informant – revealed that certain lawyers in the town have a very nice business in accepting sworn statements that numberplates have been lost, passing these through the National Registry and thus obtaining replacements before the Transitos’ cumbersome notification system can swing into action.

‘No sex please, we’re British.’

In England, the lockdown is easing….officially. Unofficially it is dead in the water, but officially it is easing. Six people can meet in the park…or in the forecourt of a car showroom or at open air markets. Must have open air markets…how else are Toby and Fiona to sell the New Age crap they have been fabricating during the lockdown? Whether such a term includes car boot sales – more like Bob and Beryl selling the stuff they finally sorted twenty years after moving house – is open to question…as is just about everything – except for one firm stricture.

Meetings of two or more people indoors are forbidden. Strang verboten.

So bang goes the Socialist Workers Party meeting….two in a ‘phonebox is one too many.

So if you are having an – authorised – barbecue in the garden – for no more than six persons, all duly sanitising their hands, plates and probably the food – then in the name of all that is holy make sure that no one can meet whil trotting to the loo in the house.

A system of red and green lights? A door monitor? Tickets? A chemikarzie in the shrubbery?

Whatever your solution make sure you oberve it…because others are observing too. No, not observing the rules, but observing you observing the rules.

Not necessarily the police, though given the attitude of some Chief Constables it is a wonder the skies are not full of drones monitoring the new ‘freedom’ which you are ‘privileged’ to enjoy. You have invited your neighbours to the barbecue in your garden and all is going swimmingly…the pinot grigio is on intravenous drip and the salmonella chicken is strutting its stuff when someone drops in through the back gate to warn you that police drones are in the area. Seven people in your garden!

Immediately a voice from the heavens announces that groups of more than six are forbidden to associate…

‘Isolate by order of the Daleks – sorry, the Chief Constable…exterminate…exterminate…’

Better take shelter before it has you filmed, identified, fined and filed as a dissident…but whatever you do…do not go into the house!

Flee for the shelter of the gazebo, and try not to fall over the chemikarzie.

The police cannot be everywhere…but Neighbourhood Watch certainly can! The idea was to keep an eye out for potential crime problems, but the lockdown has led to the discovery that while the television might be boring, the goings on of the neighbours has more than compensated.

‘George! The woman at no 31 is out again with her dog!’

‘It isn’t her dog, Marjorie! It’s Shep, old Mac’s dog….he’s half blind and incontinent. Mac can’t get out with him anymore – his daughter used to walk it but she’s not allowed to come to see him.’

‘So that woman has appropriated a dog in order to leave the house! Three times today!’

‘It pees a lot…don’t you remember, Mac’s daughter had to replace the hall carpet?’

‘Well, she isn’t incontinent…or not in that sense!! I should report her to the police…’

As night falls and television programming leaves a lot to be desired, Marjorie is again at her upstairs window…

‘George!’

‘What is it, Marjorie?’

‘A car has pulled up outside no. 31!’

”That’s a surprise…never a parking space normally when you want one..’

‘A man has got out! I think it is that foreign looking one who was always hanging around there when her husband was out…before he left, that is…the husband, I mean, if he was a husband and not just some toy boy.’

‘For goodness’ sake, Marjorie he was forty if he was a day!’

‘That’s nothing now…and she could be any age under all that make up… Oh look! He’s going round the back!’

‘So that’s that…you can’t see anything…come and watch the Sewing Bee.’

Blast the Sewing Bee! I’ll ring Tessa…her house overlooks the back of no.31.’

‘Tessa? Marjorie here. Remember that foreigner who used to visit no 31 when her husband was out? Yes, him, with that pointy beard! Well, he’s here again and he’s gone round the back!…Yes, I can hold on until you get upstairs….ooh, there’s a light on in the back? Can you see any more? No…the blinds are down…I see…but it is clear that he is there? Thanks, Tessa…I’ll call the police.’

Thus it is that the lady at no.31 hears the repeater of the doorbell, and, unentwining her self from the gentleman with the pointy beard, goes to the front door, where she encounters two policemen.

They tell her that they have information that she is entertaining a person in her house, contrary to government guidelines.

‘No officer…your informant is mistaken. I am indeed entertaining a friend….in the gazebo in the garden. We are but two…unless you care to join us…..’

The Spider in the Bath

We have moved to one of the spare bedrooms as it is more convenient for Leo if he is wakeful in the night. Wakeful or not, he still starts his day at five thirty, collecting the dog bowls and recuperating any leftovers into the pan which will go out to the chickens. I, however, unless there is cricket on the radio in the small hours, give myself another half hour in which to come to life before checking my slippers for a scorpion which lives among Leo’s papers and has made more final appearances than Frank Sinatra, prior to trekking across the house to perform my ablutions in the main bathroom.

However, on that particular morning, I was not alone.

There was a very hairy spider, larger than my outstretched hand, trying to escape from the bath. Good luck with that, I thought…the bath was constructed by Danilo and resembles the sarcophagus of a Pharoah – without the lid.

Or the gold.

I don’t mind spiders as a rule…they rid the place of other pests…but this one is described by Danilo as a horse killer which does not inspire me with confidence.

I eyed the beast warily.

It was immobile. Probably eyeballing me with a view to goodness only knows what.

Best not to whinny.

I went to find the long handled dustpan and a heavy cloth with which to trap the brute

On return…no spider.

How long had it been trying to escape? And why did it choose that moment to succeed?

Why, in the wilds of Costa Rica, did I have to come across a descendent of the spider that inspired Robert the Bruce?

I know that the Scots get everywhere….but that this tradition extended to Scots spiders had remained unknown to me..

It was the worst of all possible scenarios…it could be anywhere.

However, as it was clearly no longer in the bath that was a safe zone. I drew a bath.

Now a bath is said to be a relaxing experience…not if you are scanning your surroundings for a monstrous horse killing spider it isn’t. Nor was it. I was out of that bath, towelled and dressed, with the speed of a rat up a drainpipe.

Over the next few days the spider made irregular and unexpected appearances…..on the wall behind my desk…..emerging gaily from the shower……..on the seat of Leo’s electric scooter…only to disappear before dustpan and cloth would be brought into play.

We christened him…not, as you might expect, The Scarlet Pimpernel, as we decidedly did not seek him either here or there…but the Black Douglas, Bruce’s companion in the Scottish Wars of Independence in the fourteenth century, the master of guerilla warfare.

Scots tend to go on a bit about Bannockburn and beating the Sassenachs…not so much about the raids led by the Black Douglas, more politely known as the Good Sir James, that forced England to accept the independence of the kingdom years later. As a reminder of his exploits, children in the Border regions would be lulled to sleep by the rhyme

‘Hush ye, hush ye, dinna fret ye

The Black Douglas willna get ye.’

I know how they felt.

Scots also tend to go on a bit about the union of the Two Kingdoms in the eighteenth century – brought about by the near bankruptcy of the lowlands of Scotland caused by the failure of the Darien scheme, which aimed to establish an Atlantic/Pacific trade route in what is now Panama in the face of sabotage by England and hostility by Spain.

As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, ‘It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.’ and the Act of Union certainly cast a cloud over the Scottish psyche in the succeeding centuries, fuelling calls for independence and a habit of ascribing all ills to governance of Scotland from Westminster.

Since 1999 Scotland has had a devolved parliament, deciding most domestic policy, and, over time, the Scottish National Party has assumed overall control, currently with a massive majority.

There was a referendum on independence on 2014, lost after promises were made by the leaders of the three main parties in the Westminster parliament, and the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, was obliged to respect the result.

However, as might have been expected, the promises came to naught, and the SNP settled into ruling Scotland with, in general, beneficial results for the country.

But there has been disquiet…to Alex Salmond and his like the new leaders of the party have lost sight of the goal of full independence and are, instead, intent on consolidating their power over party and country – potentially dangerous in what has almost become a one party state.

The criticism is unwelcome…..to the extent that women with contacts in the higher echelons of the SNP decided to bring concerted accusations of sexual impropriety against Salmond….since MeToo, how better to destroy a male reputation. Touch a woman’s backside these days and a man will be cast into outer darkness. Unless he is Prince Andrew, of course.

How the case was ever prosecuted is beyond me….the evidence was always questionable….but prosecuted it was and the jury threw it out.

A triumph for Scottish justice? Hardly….a politically motivated case is brought to court on evidence so shallow that it would not drown a mouse. The triumph is that the jury was more concerned to sift the facts than to be politically correct.

Yet the SNP government proposed to take unto itself the power to abolish jury trials as part of the response to the current virus scare and was only forced to withdraw by sustained pressure from the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, pointing to the potential for abuse.

What might have happened to Salmond without a jury, one wonders….

Given a judge who knows on which side of the bread the butter has been spread and we might have a new Lord Braxfield stalking the courts.

He was a judge in the period when the Establishment feared the influence of the French revolution on the people of Great Britain and he was an Establishment man to the core.

His view of his role was as follows, when it came to ordinary people seeking reform

‘Let them bring me prisoners and I will find them law’.

Responding to the claim of a reformer appearing before him on a charge of sedition that Jesus Christ too was a reformer, he said’…and muckle guid it did him for he was hingit tae.’

And were he in sole charge of the Salmond case his best known quote might well have been resurrected.

‘Ye’re a vera clever chiel, man, but ye wad be nane the waur for a hanging.’

Clearly the resurrected Lord Braxfield would adopt a different tone…that of political correctness, more soothing on the ear, but equally punitive.

Elizabeth I stated that she did not want to open windows into men’s souls – outward conformity in matters of religion was sufficient

Political correctness – especially in the sphere of what is called hate crime – not only opens a window, it ram raids the door. For a ‘hate incident’ to take place it suffices that the victim – or anyone else – thinks that what took place is motivated by prejudice or hostility. No intent is required to be shown.

Not unlike Braxfield’s invention of the crime of ‘unconscious sedition’.

And yet it can all look so reasonable. Complainants making allegations of sexual impropriety guard their anonymity nomatter what the outcome of the case. Given the hurdles faced by women bringing such actions guaranteed anonymity is a necessary encouragement.

So in the Salmond case, the women concerned have the right to the protection of the law if there is a risk of their names being made public.

The problem is that, given their proximity to Salmond in his role as First Minister and leader of the SNP it would not take a genius to work out who most of them are, and the press have gone pretty near the mark in so doing.

So are there any prosecutions of the mainstream press?

No.

Are there any prosecutions at all?

Yes……of two bloggers, neither of whom have gone anywhere near as far as the press.

One happens to be someone who was once high up in the SNP but disagrees with the current leadership, the other a man with a high profile on revealing the underbelly of power.

In the latter case a virtual hearing on management of the case will be heard and the gentleman concerned is anxious that he will not be steamrollered by inappropriately applied procedural devices.

He is keen to have people ask to have access to the virtual proceedings and, as his Twitter and Facebook utterances have a high level of suppression, asks people to read his statement of the case and to spread a link to it.

I am not a great fan of Alex Salmond, nor a follower of the gentleman in question, Craig Murray, but I am not at all happy at what seems like the Scottish justice system being used to attack fair comment, so here is the link.

Oh, and by the way, I thought I would float in the pool today before the afternoon rains started…and guess who was there already, clinging to the side?

The Black Douglas. Clearly the bath was not the limit of his aspirations to conquest.

Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow-Wow

We shall return to this in due course, though, in passing, my maternal grandmother’s neighbour, a woman of firm views and strong language, used to do an impressive interpretation of said Jessie Matthews singing ‘Over my shoulder goes one care’…

which involved her miming throwing one large breast after the other over her shoulders…though from a woman whose pronouncement ‘There she stood, tits akimbo’ had puzzled our youth, anything was possible….if well outside our comprehension.

Revenons a nos moutons.

The BBC, aware that cricket fans deprived of their sport might run amok with Awful Consequences, decided to run commentaries on famous Test matches…five days on the trot at eight hours a day should keep them from menacing the police with bodyline bowling in the hours of daylight, thus aiding said police in their mssion to prevent people from sitting on park benches – Avoidance of Piles Caused by Corona Virus Regulations as ordained by Statutory Instrument.

The first one, the second Ashes Test of 2005, was due to start today…advertised as being at 10.30 am U.K. time, which translated as 3.30 am Costa Rican time.

Accordingly, I rose at 3.00 am in order to set up the proxy server which is supposed to kid the BBC that I am in the U.K. Why the BBC cannot understand that any number of people abroad would prefer to pay the BBC direct rather than go through this rigmarole is beyond me…

Mark you, the subscription should be for the whole range of BBC output, not that which its mandarins consider ‘suitable’, that is, unfunny comedies, so called celebrities and blasted David Attenborough, whose extinction at the hands, or claws, of some primeval monster would give me great pleasure. Preferably underwater.

Make tea while waiting for the proxy server to kick in. Am detected in such as a plaintive voice announces that it, too, would like tea…but not tea on its own…that would give rise to indigestion.

Would there be custard to go with trifle?

Trifle at 3.00 am is, in my view, akin to the Pelagian heresy. And, furthermore, there is no custard.

Express said view.

Ah…would there, in that case, be any chance of a pickled sea bass sandwich with lettuce and mayonnaise?

Said mayonnaise is a bone of contention in this household. I think mayonnaise is made with olive oil. Higher Authority, reared on frites with mayonnaise made with inferior oils, thinks sunflower oil is fine.

Not content with that, he has introduced to the household a vast jar of appalling mustard, heavy on the turmeric and vinegar and light on anything else. It is dreadful…but ought to be used. Personally I would use it to asperse the rulers of the England and Wales Cricket Board as that would certainly learn them…but we are an ocean apart. It is to be used in the fabrication of mayonnaise.

You want mayonnaise with that?

Not if it is too much trouble…in faint tones…

Make said mayonnaise, apply to sandwich, supply same and tea.

Return to computer.

The so and so BBC have cocked it up…the broadcast now begins two hours later….5.30 am.

Return to bed?

No….the floor needs washing as doggie paws have revelled in the start of the rainy season and this is an ideal time as it will dry before Danilo stamps his boots over it.

Floor washed.

Settle in front of laptop.

Name of the wee man! BBC Five Live not available!Frenzy of hiding the history, turning off, restarting…same gravy!

Turn off and go to interview the tiny black kitten dumped here some days ago, now living in a large rabbit hutch while we try to find a home for her. Very sweet and cuddly….but who wants a female kitten even if we will pay for treatments and injections?

Return to house, humming ‘Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow Wow ‘….’I’ve got a little cat and I’m very fond of that but I’d rather have a bow wow wow.’

Am greeted by Higher Authority who informs me that the lyrics of that particular ditty indicate that I prefer a penis to a vagina…according to some article in ‘The Guardian’.

I may be in total agreement, but after the the affair of the mustard and the mayonnaise am in no mood to say so.

Return to laptop. Find BBC Five Live.It works!

Marcus Trescothick is flaying theAustralian bowlers…all is well with the world…or at least it was in 2005.

Is it time to open Joanna Southcott’s box?

Rulers, of whatever complexion of domination they claim to exemplify, are not generally a very intelligent lot. They get to the top by low cunning allied to the use of someone else’s money and, if they are sensible, once in power annihilate the someone else before he, she or it demands payment in kind.

Current rulers, either not being sensible or in thrall to Stockholm Syndrome, generally fail to do this and thus put their countries in hock to some very dubious hes, shes and, in these days increasingly, its.

However, that is not their chief concern…their armies do not go out to fight to protect their country…they are sent out, usually ill equipped, to protect and promote the interests of the hes, shes and its who put their government into power.

And the rest of the population? Can go hang as long as they vote the right way at the right time, ‘informed’ by the very media which promotes the politicians who will keep the media owners in luxury yachts and expensive women.

I was a child of the post war settlement in the U.K…..under governments, both Labour and Conservative, which recognised that good housing, good health and good education were the essentials if the nation was to thrive as a whole…governments which had a sense of nation, of society. Governments whose members had seen for themselves the results of the Depression of the thirties and the world war which followed hard on its heels.

And then came the Thatcher/Reagan years of deregulation, letting the wolves loose in the sheep pens…the years, in the U.K., of Blair and Mandelson, where wealth accumulation counted for more than societal justice…the years of Brown’s conjuring tricks which left the National Health Service paying private operators for the privilege of running the hospitals – which saw the gold reserves sold off for a song to the extent that South African gold miners were buying it in for less than their costs of production – in order to shore up the banks when the balls they had been juggling fell to the ground so spectacularly in 2008.

Banks before people. A sea change in national culture, feeding on the individualism and greed which had replaced the post war settlement as a paradigm. The individualism and greed of those who bought their council houses for a song used to justify the overweening greed of the really rich.

I had left the U.K. for France in the 1980s…and was that an eye opener! At least the U.K. had had its war…those returning determined not to suffer the inequalities of birth any more…in France the system remained unchanged…never mind the Trente Glorieuses, people knew their place and the ‘fils de papa’ would always trump the guy with good ideas but no money. An education system in which not only was there only one answer to a question…but there was only one question to answer!

Having lived there, in an area where the Front National was strong, I can see why both central government and the EU were loathed and how state power punishes ‘unorthodox’ thought and action. No wonder Macron thinks the corona virus outbreak is a perfect opportunity to crush the ‘gilets jaunes’…those who, week in and week out for over a year, have opposed his austerity measures which have ruined their lives.

Now living in Costa Rica, I see the same phenomenon….the state is bust as it will not attack the monopolies of the rich, any more than it will reform the bloated public service sector, the poisoned chalice it inherited from the governments of the 1980s, keen to gain adherents with the promise of jobs, pensions and perks. Driven to desperate measures by its full hearted response to the arrival of the corona virus it has sought a loan from the IMF.

Any study of history would show that the strings attached to a loan from the IMF will destroy the social fabric of a country…positing as it does private interest over public weal.

With that loan bang goes what is left of Costa Rica’s social coherence…the coherence which has permitted the people to accept guidance as to staying at home for all but unavoidable trips to town…

It will become like the U.K. where overweening police believe that they can corral the population nomatter what the law might say…law which has, without opposition, destroyed the civil liberties of the mass of the people in the name of controlling a virus which, as yet, seems less harmful than the outbreaks of bird ‘flu or pig ‘flu…

We feel this as, given Higher Authority’s susceptability to any sort of ‘flu, we have been isolating ourselves on and off for decades….but never under the auspices of a police state.

A friend in France has been joking that Macron has exceeded the powers of the Sun King, Louis XIV…who had only one man in an iron mask to silence….if Macron gets his way it will be a whole masked nation doomed to silence.

Is it the end of days? Is it time to open Joanna Southcott’s box?

Even were it to be so, you can count on current governments to act like King Tarquin when faced with the Sybil and her books….too expensive and we’re not buying a pig in a poke – while expecting the people of their country to do just that at their hands.