One Man And His Doghouse

IMG_2726

Some tourists come to Costa Rica for the thrills of white water rafting, zip lining through the tree tops, or even surfing…but locals have their own quiet way of having a thrill.

We had ours yesterday. We crossed the bridge connecting us with the direct road into town for the first time for months.

Readers of the previous post might wonder whether the council had had a change of heart and decided to make the repairs.

Fat chance.

What had happened was that one of those disgruntled by the meeting had taken it upon himself to hire a bulldozer last Sunday and blocked the stream with the remnants of the bridge and all the rocks it could scoop up – a four inch pipe embedded in the rubble to carry the water through.
A few passes on either side to lay earth on the top and lo and behold – a bridge!

IMG_2729
Note the natty yellow tape to prevent you from falling off it into the stream:
IMG_2731

What, you might ask?
No obligatory preliminary study of soil stability?
No obligatory anti seismic construction plans passed by the College of Engineers?

The Isambard Kingdom Brunel of the three valleys is unrepentant.

The hell with the lot of them.

Danilo brought us the news on Monday and we were keen to set out for the bridge but he shook his head.

Let it settle a bit first…see if anything happens.

Apart from Don Antonio, having drink taken, falling into the stream despite the existance of the yellow tape nothing of consequence had happened so Danilo allowed us to use it today.

He stopped on the other side to point out that it would never last….this is the dry season and very dry it is too. Not much water in the stream.

Ah, just wait until we get the rains! One cloudburst and the whole thing will be blown apart by the pressure of water!

Having seen two bridges lower down the valley disappear in this fashion his pessimism is probably justified so we’ll make the most of it while it lasts as this way into town is a lot easier on the car than the precipitous back road we have been taking recently.

There had been changes in our absence.

Where Dona Martha’s stable had stood there was now a tatty tin structure and a compound containing motorbikes and quad bikes in all states of disrepair.
Apparently one of her husband’s sons by a previous marriage had returned to live in the town and persuaded his father to let him use the land for his repair business.

I preferred the stable and I suspect Dona Martha did too as she had a certain tight lipped look about her…

A house on stilts had been built on the top of the hill at the junction with the main road. As the hill is over 800 metres above sea level I can only assume that the owner of the house has been listening to too many of Danilo’s jeremiads on the subject of the rainy season…or that he knows something we don’t.

Business done – buying paint in quantity before the half price offer ended – we returned by the same route but two thirds of the way down to the bridge our eyes were caught by something new to the scene.

If you roll up to the photograph at the head of the page you might well spot it too…

Can you see it?

A red band in the middle of the photograph.

We hadn’t realised that it could be seen from there….it was part of the frontage of our new house.

IMG_2723

It has been a long time a-building as Danilo is doing it himself – while running the finca and driving us about. He has taken on his son recently – good with welding and electronics – and is accompanied by his many dogs.
Under normal circumstances the floors would have gone down before any painting took place…but the offer was too good to resist and, once bought, The Men wanted to try it out.

The back of the house is not so vivid…
IMG_2725
And it has not yet been settled – three falls, three submissions or one knock out to decide the winner – whether the grassy area under the roof will be a conventional tiled terrace or a covered garden….

But the views are stunning:

IMG_2709

Even the one from the kitchen window:IMG_2714

So roll on the day when we move up the hill.

Still, we’re not there yet, so we drove on down to where we live now….the one time holiday house which is now bursting at the seams….where I was delighted to see this:
IMG_2728
Flowers on the trunk of the guanabana tree by the back door, which, if the rains keep off, may produce these:
guanabana
Massive green fruits with a white flesh…wonderful for drinks and ice cream – and held to be effective against cancer.

Not, as far as I know, effective against anything but good to eat with mayonnaise are these peach palm fruits which we bought ready cooked from a stall in town to form part of supper.
IMG_2737

Oh and why the vivid frontage of the new house?
Because it is directly in the line of sight of the house of the unpleasant North American who has done his best to prevent us from building, from threatening to cut off the water to denouncing us to the council – not applying for planning permission – and the social security authorities – not paying our workers’ national insurance.
Thwarted on all fronts he can now have the pleasure of sitting on his front porch and getting an eyeful of the Red Infuriator.

That’ll learn him.

60 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, landscape, local government

All the Fun of the Fair

IMG_2683

This magnificent Friesian stallion was, for me, the star of the show at the town’s agricultural fair, where local and not so local breeders showed the prime of their stock with the aim of attracting clients.

There were also Falabellas:

falabella

Water buffalo:

IMG_2678

And something whose origins are said to be Indian…but I need to do some research:
IMG_2685

There were publicity stands…there was a canteen:

IMG_2688

And gentlemen practising their dressage for the parade of horses later in the day with the hope of a winner’s ribbon:

IMG_2686

An English County Show it was not…but it was a great day out…we even met a man who had the only herd of Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle in Costa Rica…he had encountered the breed while working in Canada and, despite all the administrative problems, had his herd installed locally.
The Blonde d’Aquitaine is a good beef breed…and can only be better in Costa Rica than on its native soil given that here it will be grass fed all the year round…no pellets.

No wonder the beef here is a revelation after France…fed correctly, hung in cold storage…
At its best it can approach Scots beef…and that is saying something.

There were plenty of the crosses between African and European beasts too…
IMG_2682

All part of the programme of improving the breeds…like seeing the agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century before your eyes in the twenty first…

And, as with all agricultural shows, there was food and music in over abundance.

A good time was had by all.

As if this was not enough there was more fun on Tuesday evening.

The bridge which links us to the main road into town collapsed before Christmas. This means that those few of us who live on the ‘tail’ of the district have to take the back road – unpaved, twisty and three kilometres vertical – to get into town.

All very well at this time of year, but the rainy season will arrive in a month or so and then things will not be so funny. The road will turn into a river during the rainstorms, vast ruts and channels will be gouged out and it is quite possible that the narrow stretch above our finca will collapse into the stream below.
In a stout four wheel drive we will get through – if the narrow stretch doesn’t collapse – but no way will our neighbour’s wife be able to pass in her ordinary car in order to get to work in the local college. Nor will the men working on an orange plantation down the valley be able to get to work…or, come to that, the man who looks after the goats on the farm below ours.

When the bridge collapsed the alcalde (mayor) came down to take a look.
From that day to this the council have resolutely refused to do more.

Set up a project to repair it?
What, are you mad?
National law (underlying message – new government, not the ruling party here) demands that before any infrastructure project is undertaken a proper study must be made to ensure stability of said project.
Years of motorways disappearing downhill and bridges falling into rivers have shown the necessity of having a study made, but, just as in the European Union, ‘studies’ have turned into a very lucrative business indeed.

So the council have said that they cannot afford to pay for a ‘study’ for which they have been quoted (probably by someone not unknown to members of the council) a vast sum.
No ‘study’, no project.

While this has been going on the development committee of the district has been busy. They have been talking to the development agency and to the roads department. They have had promises of aid and locals are prepared to pay towards materials and provide labour.

But only the council can order a ‘study’. And it’s not going to.
Thus the meeting at the town hall.

Not only did the disgruntled of our district attend, so did the disgruntled of two other districts, resulting in a turn out that required more chairs to be provided.

The video below shows an excerpt from the meeting…the interesting bit, but for those who don’t have Spanish here is a quick guide to the highlights:

As the video opens with the council sitting behind what looks like recycled kitchen units, the bald bugger doing all the bawling and arm waving is the council’s lawyer, whose incompetence leading to repeated defeats in court probably accounts for some of the council’s financial problems which he prayed in aid in his attempt to justify the refusal to stir their stumps and do their job.

The man in the pink shirt on his left as you see it – the one who looks as if he tried to tidy up his hair with an electric razor while hungover – is the alcalde.

The man in the mauve shirt on his left is the local deputy (same party as the council).

It gets more exciting at about 4.54 when a man in a blue shirt rises to his feet to refute the claims of bald bugger, haircut man and the deputy.

The police intervene at 5.37 onwards.

The man in the blue shirt, bouncing back, asks the audience to vote to allow him to continue at about 7.29. Hands raised (including mine).

After that it is more bawling, arm waving and shouting.

Democracy in action.

59 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, local government

Walmart People

walmart By now, shoppers in my local town should have had the pleasure of encountering something like this while buying their rice and beans in the aisles of a spanking new Walmart supermarket…..but the local council has, no doubt in the interests of health and safety, so far managed to keep the threat at bay.

Financial health and safety, that is.

The financial health and safety of certain important local people.

Walmart, for its purchasing power and the treatment of its workforce, is akin to a dirty word in certain circles….I remember being told by a ‘concerned’ North American expat not to shop in the down market Pali chain, as that was part of the evil Walmart empire – not that I took a great deal of notice.
Supermarket chains exploit as a part of their business plan, but if I need a bar of soap I’m going to buy it in a supermarket rather than drive up to the local indigenous people’s reservation to buy a suspiciously neon coloured bar of equally dubious provenance and be royally ripped off in the process.

I can’t say I am fond of Walmart here in Costa Rica….we once visited its store on the way to San Jose in search of a television.
The search lasted only as long as our arrival in the electrical goods area, where the prices were such as to blow us backwards bow legged. Still, as we were there, we decided to take a look round before we departed in search of cats’ whiskers and crystals and among the overpriced and flavourless cheeses, depressed looking tomatillos and frozen farmed salmon from Chile my husband found potatoes.
Not just potatoes…but potatoes on promotion.

Danilo was despatched to find trolleys; potatoes were sorted by Higher Authority, bagged by me and stacked in the trolleys by Danilo. An impressive production line which drew spectators wondering whatever we were going to do with that lot. Unlike France no one pointed out that potatoes on promotion were for everyone….
Grand Fleet
In line astern like the Grand Fleet we made for the checkout, where bag after bag was hefted onto the counter. I unloaded, Higher Authority counted the bags and Danilo loaded at the other end.

With a sigh of relief the checkout assistant presented the bill.

Higher Authority questioned it. The potatoes had not been billed at the promotion price.

But’s that what it says on the till.

It’s not what is says on the veg section.

Then, turning to me as the assistant rang for a supervisor, Quick…get back there and don’t let anyone move that price ticket!

We had been trained on French supermarket practice where the first reaction of management, once a price had been challenged, was to remove the price ticket from the offending item.
I legged it for the veg section and stood guard.

After a while an assistant appeared, reaching for the ticket. I interposed my person. The assistant departed.

After some muttering with his colleagues, he made a flank attack, trying to take the ticket from behind my back while sidling alongside me.
I put my hand on it.
He retired.

A smart young lady appeared. A supervisor. With a lovely smile she explained that she needed the ticket in order to verify the price and sort out the problem.
I agreed that she would need the ticket but explained that it would only be available in the presence of my husband and whoever was dealing with the problem.
Then she regretted that she could do nothing about a refund.
I returned her smile and said that she should then find someone who could.
She returned whence she came.

The manager of the veg section manifested himself to explain that he would need to take the ticket.
Was he the person arranging the refund?
No, he was not.
Then no ticket.

Eventually the enemy fleet bore down on me….a large gentleman in a suit, three well built ladies in office dress and the till assistant with my husband in tow, letting the side down in tee shirt and gardening trousers.
I took possession of the price ticket and we all moved off to an office behind the tills, passing Danilo standing guard over the trolleys containing the contentious tubers.
The price was checked against some infernal IT system and was agreed to be correct.
A refund slip was issued.
We were escorted by the large gentleman and his assistant ladies to another office where details were entered in a book and money was forthcoming. Apologies were made for the problem.

We gathered Danilo and trolleys and departed, never, so far, to darken the doors of Walmart again.

So why am I so keen to see a Walmart in my local town?

Because apart from offering more choice to consumers it would provided competition for the existing supermarket, controlled by a local family and, more importantly, would offer further employment opportunities.
Not short term contracts to avoid paying social security, but long term jobs.
The town needs long term jobs.

Agriculture, once the staple, has declined. Nothing has taken its place. Successive town councils – all of the same political stripe – have turned their backs on development of industry, solemnly invoking the quality of the environment while allowing large scale housing development which has destroyed the rain forest and led to water shortages.
The place has stagnated…to the advantage of the local bigwigs.

The bus station is crowded in the early mornings with hordes of people going off to work in San Jose, having taken the feeder buses from their villages in the early hours.
These people are transported by the locally owned bus company, which certainly does not want to see employment on its doorstep…just think of the decline in revenues…
But the people it transports would dearly love to be able to work locally and avoid a one and a half hour journey morning and night.

The coming of Walmart alone would not solve the problem…but it would be a breach in the wall and as such has been opposed by the council, for whom pleasing the local movers and shakers is more important than the welfare of the mass of the people.

Not opposed openly, of course….but opposed effectively.

The local small claims court moved into town from the outskirts….into a building owned by a local bigwig.
The vacant plot was eyed by Walmart for installing one of its big Pali stores, but it was beaten to the post by another purchaser.
The wife of one of the owners of the local supermarket.
The plot still lies empty.

Walmart, undeterred, took a closer look at the area and decided that, given the catchment area of the town, it was worth installing a proper Walmart.
They bought a large plot which had once housed the teachers’ insurance agency.
They applied for planning permission and jumped through all the required hoops.
All was ready to go ahead when, at the last minute the town’s engineer (laughingly so called) announced that work must stop as Walmart had not applied for a demolition order.
Walmart had not applied for a demolition order as there was only a remnant of wall to demolish. Some three metres of it.

I know the town engineer, I know his false smile as he tries to bugger you up.
He knows mine as I thank him effusively before setting off for the Constitutional Court where I have defeated him and his council twice.

The council which employs him was stupid, arrogant and ignorant enough to think that it could take on Walmart.
Walmart have taken them to court for not respecting planning procedures.
Walmart has won.
Walmart has just been awarded compensation for loss of predicted earnings, currently running at £125,000 and rising daily.

Add this to the matter of the large amount of money which went missing under the aegis of the last mayor and it wouldn’t take a Nostradamus to predict that there will be trouble at t’molina.

Shortly.

Because those responsible will not be paying from their own pockets…local taxes will rise, yet again.
We will see how the tribal loyalty which has seen this political party elected time after time will resist the wallop in the wallet come the next elections.

We’ve just had a visit from the new President – not of the same party as the council.
He has announced help to make the area build a profile in eco tourism but, more importantly, has set up a road building and repair project and has directed the Apprenticeship Institution to set up courses in IT to enable local kids to fill the jobs which are available on this side of San Jose.

None of the proposed projects involves the council, which can’t get its mitts on a peso of the proposed budget.

A breach in the wall…and those of us who remember the destruction of the Berlin Wall know what that can mean.
Our small town is not East Germany, but its denial of opportunity to its people is East Germany in miniature.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l46GNducsPk

65 Comments

Filed under community, corruption, Costa Rica, politics

Emerging from Hibernation

Afghanistan cricket team
Yes, I know that it is summer here…a summer which has come roaring in with searing heat and high winds, drying off the pasture and presaging no good for the months to come.
Still, summer or no, I have been hibernating.
Under the weather myself before Christmas, husband since after a spectacular fall resulting in large hole in leg, ten stitches and daily dressings at the clinic.
Then my dear Alsatian died, attacked by a galloping form of cancer, followed days afterwards by his ancient friend the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi….it might have been old age, but I fancy it was more like a broken heart.

Still, visitors arrived to rouse me from my torpor and the door to the hibernation cave is sealed up. Life, changed though it is, goes on, though no tail thumps the floor waiting for the breakfast egg.

I am following Scotland’s ‘progress’ in the World Cup….the One Day Cricket World Cup, that is.
Somewhere, distantly, I hear Adullamite beating his breast and crying ‘Ichabod‘ at this example of the decline of Scots values, but follow it I do.

As always with Scotland’s teams in whatever form of sport they suffer from an excess of sportsmanship.
They like to make opposing teams feel at ease by giving them vast leads and then fail gallantly to overtake them.

I consider that this is all down to the example offered by that flower of medieval chivalry the Good Sir James Douglas, companion in arms of the Bruce in the Wars of Independence who, charged with taking the (by now dead – yes, I know, but we are speaking about Scots here) Bruce’s heart on Crusade to the Holy Land,
A…hung about a bit before doing anything about it – Scottish team captains demonstrate the same tendency…
B…went on Crusade to Spain instead….Scottish football fans know the way by heart…
C…disobeyed orders and found himself cut off at which point he hurled the heart in its container ahead of him and followed it to certain death, bellowing ‘Lead on brave heart as thou was wont to do’ – a practice followed, though with less poetic language, by Scots rugby players and with the same result. Marmelised.

Add to that disadvantage the obligation on national teams to sing that dirge ‘Flower of Scotland': and you begin to understand the obstacles to success under which they labour.

What was wrong with ‘Scots Wa Hae’, I should like to know,

Or, come to that, ‘Blue Bonnets’ which, despite having the lyrics written by Sir Walter Scott, manages to stir up the memories of the Border reivers, whose motto was ‘nothing too hot or too heavy’…that is, nothing too hot or too heavy to steal from their English neighbours.

Now that should inspire a bit of gumption!

‘The Ball of Kirriemuire’, as will be evident to anyone rash enough to look it up on Youtube, while well in the running in the enthusiasm stakes is more suitable to a victory celebration and is thus but rarely heard.

So far in the World Cup Scotland have been defeated by New Zealand – though they can comfort themselves with the thought that there is a great deal of Scottish blood in New Zealanders, not only from historic migration but also from ears bitten in encounters on the rugby field with the All Blacks.
I suppose that the Scottish cricket team should thank their lucky stars that the match was heralded by a Maori playing a didgeridoo rather than by several All Blacks performing a haka.

It’s enough to make you want to lie down in a darkened room with a cup of tea.

Unfortunately, Scotland have also been beaten by England.
For which there is but one appropriate musical reference…the piobaireachd ‘Too Long in this Condition’…. which while you’ll need the stamina of an ox to see it through to the end, does give time to smother all the untoward language which you might – if a Scot – wish to use on such an occasion.

After these performances Scotland can look forward to meeting Sri Lanka….prepare the mourning garments and the jet jewellery: Bangladesh….whose Asian players will perform the best?…and Afghanistan.

Scotland versus Afghanistan.
Given the current disparity between the teams the result can only be a re run of ‘Carry On up the Khyber’

And I have a horrible feeling that it will not be Scotland carrying on in the competition.

.

67 Comments

Filed under cricket, folk song

If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….

better 'ole
When we added an extension to this little house it took the form of a wide wooden balcony running the length of the house and more…the further part being divided off to make a large bedroom with more windows than walls: the palms and the guapinol tree with the red orchids in front; the bamboos and wild poinsettias at the side; the bougainvillea and more poinsettias behind, all reflected in the mirrors.
It’s as close as we can get to having the outdoors inside, and to keep the more disobliging insects at bay a mesh screen runs round the room, covering the gap between the top of the wall and the roof supports….breezes can blow through, but the stingers stay outside.
IMG_2272

This is all very well, but just lately the breezes have become gusts…and, for Costa Rica, chilly gusts. We are used to the Trade Winds blasting away in December, but they have obviously decided to visit us for rather longer this year and are still happily ripping off roofs in exposed areas, and, more particularly, keeping our bedroom well aired.

Fine for us…but not for the poodle.
The poodle was born and brought up in Costa Rica…in a ‘normal’ house where the walls meet the roof…where breezes do not play upon its sacred person while it is snoozing on the bed.
The poodle is displeased.

Not so displeased that it does not follow my husband to bed at night…it likes to keep a close eye on him and cannot wait for me to clean my teeth and close up the household for the night – a process which involves digging out the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi from his lair behind the sofa and evicting him before something alerts him in the night and he decides to raise the household; removing Black Tot from the laundry basket into which she has plunged as soon as my back is turned; checking that Arthur is on the balcony and not out hunting armadillos and going six rounds with the Alsatian who goes out, forgets why he wanted to go out, returns to base, drinks the water bowl dry, remembers why he wanted to go out, goes out, finds a bone overlooked earlier….by which time the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi has slipped in behind the sofa and the eviction process begins all over again.
I could have had a promising career as a bum bailiff had that animal come into my life earlier….

Finally getting to bed by the light of the bedside lamp I find that there is a well kent face missing.
The poodle.

Did she not come in with you?
Of course she did!
So where is she?
Try calling her!

We call.
Silence, not even a snuffle….Arthur, roused, scratches at the door.
I go out to see if she has been left behind on the balcony, or whether she is lurking, catlike, to trap a lizard.
No sign.
Did she get left behind in the house?
Lights on, evict Black Tot from the laundry basket and lock same in bathroom to prevent recidivism. The Alsatian wakes up, drinks the water bowl dry again and wishes to go out. And in. And out….
While a shadow slips silently behind the sofa….
No sign of the poodle.

Lights are on on the bedroom into which Arthur has insinuated himself.
My husband is lying on the floor looking under the bed….
Arthur is lying on the bed watching him with interest….
Arthur removed with swipe from towel.
Arthur stands, immobile, looking towards the wardrobe…then his periscope ears begin to swivel.
The right hand door of the wardrobe moves slightly; Arthur leaps in – and shoots out backwards bow legged in a flurry of jerseys and tee shirts.

Those of you who know the Moomin books will know of ‘Moominland in Midwinter’ where as part of Moomintroll’s advenntures he encounters the hairy eyebrowed Dweller Under the Sink
dweller under the sink

The Dweller was not pleased to be disturbed from his hibernation….and the poodle was not pleased to be disturbed from its nest in the wardrobe, carefully fashioned from the softer elements of the clothes contained therein.
It had expended thought and energy on building its shelter against the wild elements and did not take kindly to being disturbed.
It had, faced with the Trade Winds, found a better ‘ole and gone to it, only to be rousted out by a hairy brute with no finer feelings.
Low growls punctuated by high pitched snarls rent the air. The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

Chastened, Arthur slunk back to the balcony.
Chastened, we went to bed and turned out the light.
The wardrobe door creaked slightly.
From the house the unchastened Costa Rican King Charles Corgi made the night hideous until a yelp indicated that the Alsatian had had enough.
The poodle growled a last low warning – and the household slept.

The poodle has the right idea….if things don’t suit you as they are, look for a better ‘ole.

But try to reconnoitre the ‘ole first….otherwise you run the risk of finding that you have swapped one pit of evil smelling slime for another. Not so easy under fire, agreed, but when you have the leisure for investigation – do it. It won’t save you from all nasty surprises, but at least you will have avoided the main ones.

I thought of this last night.
I was too tired to read so turned on the box and enjoyed the latest episodes of the French police thriller ‘Engrenages’ which the BBC translates as ‘Spiral’, all bad language, bad behaviour and attitude on the part of all concerned.
Then I flicked through the other offerings and found one of those ‘Escape Anywhere Abroad’ programmes, where smarmy presenters drag starry eyed punters round unsuitable properties in unsuitable places to the sound of unsuitable background music.
If it’s an accordion, it must be France, and France it was.

The punters on this occasion were a retired couple, comfortably off, who had holidayed in France for years and now wished to make a permanent move. They wanted a house – their sanctuary – with room for the family to visit, a swimming pool ditto, and some land – for reasons which would become clear.
They also planned to use it to run therapeutic courses for retired people – keeping the husband’s hand in as a psychotherapist.

Viewing the first house – and all subsequent ones – the wife would exclaim…
‘Oh, so French….shutters…’ and they would move off on a voyage of exploration.

The presenter walked them through the big open plan kitchen..
‘Oh, I can see myself here, cooking and talking …and – maybe – a glass of wine!…’
The sitting room, where the stairs to the top floor made a bad impression…to the main bedroom which he suggested would be ideal for people attending the courses.
‘Oh no!’
‘We’re not having them in the house….they’ll be in tents outside.

Thus the need for land.

They reminded me of an American I met – briefly – here. He was explaining to an admiring group how he had found and purchased a vast tract of land on which to build his dream home – and then came his Damascus moment:

‘It was so beautiful that it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to myself…I just had to share it!’

I took it upon myself to explain to the group that he was selling plots of building land rather than indulging a philanthropic whim and he was not best pleased, thus the brevity of our encounter.

On the box the search continued…all the properties would need revamping – even if the paying visitors were destined to remain under canvas – and at no point did the presenter mention planning permission, let alone costs….and certainly didn’t mention the formidable formalities entailed when setting up a business.

He took them to meet expats who could show them the ropes….put them wise to the pitfalls….
They themselves had lived in France only six months, did not speak French and the only advice on offer was to be aware that draught beer was not available in the locality.
A lot of talk about the French this and the French that….but without French how would they have known?

Cut to the couple making breakfast in the kitchen of the first house, which had been lent them for the duration of their visit.
The wife is breaking eggs into a frying pan….
‘Fresh eggs from the farmer…’
The yolks are pale and the whites spread across the pan in the best traditions of an egg which has seen better days …many better days….

The husband is cutting up a baguette….it is taking him a great deal of effort. He clearly has one of the French rural bakery specialities – brick hard dough surrounded by crust resembling razor wire.
‘That’s the thing about France, the bread is fresh, not like the stuff in England which lasts ten days…’

Clearly the couple weren’t going to buy any of the places they had been shown…they were coming back to explore the area at leisure….but if their knowledge of France was as stereotyped as it appeared to be, and if they were incapable of telling fresh eggs from stale I reckon that they will need all the money they have to cushion themselves from the realities.

‘.

60 Comments

Filed under Costa Rica, expat, france

I’m Not Charlie. I’m The Doorman.

All must by now be aware of the murderous attack on the offices of the French magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’, leaving so many dead or seriously wounded in its wake while the security forces thrash around in the search for the culprits.

What appears to be the cause of the attack? The publication of rude drawings of Mohammed with more or less witty commentaries. Alongside rude drawings of rabbis, priests, popes and politicians with equally more or less witty commentaries which have, so far, led none of the groupies of those so attacked to assault the offices with kalashnikovs.

I was never a fan of Charlie Hebdo…it drew on the tradition of the muck raking pamphleteering of the nineteenth century where fact could be overlaid by scatalogical innuendo to bring down opponents, allied to the more modern French passion for strip cartoons- Bandes Dessines – where ‘strip’ seems to be the main interest where female subjects are concerned. Macho, sexist, downright rude.

But sometimes extremely funny.
mohamed
Mohammed bewails his sort…how hard it is to be worshipped by stupid bastards.

I also disliked it because it was run, edited and supplied with material by people who used and misused their perceived views of ‘les beaufs’ – the Parisian hoi polloi – to reflect views not publicly acceptable in their own social, PC milieu, however much those views were subscribed to sub rosa.

There was always a whiff of de haut en bas in a publication which appeared to be designed to allow the ‘haut’ to revel in the perceived views of the ‘bas’ without admitting that those prejudices mirrored their own.

France has been on a terror alert for years…there is a programme called ‘Vigipirate’ which seems to consist of putting crush barriers in front of small rural primary schools and not much else. It costs a fortune to administer and is..as events have proved….totally useless.
Ah, says the spokesman, that’s because it was it was designed to reassure the public rather then to be effective.
So you can’t park outside the school without the police moving you on but you can attack a building already subject to threat just as you please.
Or so it seems.

One of the editors of the magazine had a personal police bodyguard…who died in the attack.
Would it not have been better to have had a police watch on the premises? That way the poor chap on the door of the building might not have died.
Still..he’s not a journalist…not someone who matters…except to his family.

It reminds me of the attitudes of an earlier age which we thought – hoped – were forgotten…

All quiet along the Potomac


Not an officer lost, only one of the men, moaning out all alone the death rattle.

I sincerely hope that this incident will not prove to be an excuse for governments to further restrict the liberties of their citizens in the name of ‘security’…because ‘security’ it is not….

The services listening in on Tante Fanny’s conversations with her neighbour did nothing to prevent this incident: neither did the mad restrictions on what you can do with your own money when you move it through banks…and where were the CCTV cameras which are supposed to prevent crime and do nothing of the sort.

How could the police reaction have been so late and so puny in scale, giving rise to the death of officers? They might well be called upon to face danger in their job, but they don’t have to be put into danger by the poor planning of their superiors.

How could the perpetrators drive off through Paris without let or hindrance?

In meeting the threat of terrorism, this incident shows that the authorities have put in place neither prevention nor cure.

Already, politicians are playing games…the Front National should not be allowed to join in a march showing solidarity with the victims, trumpets a Socialist Party politician….
Already this appalling crime has become a debating game for the talking heads.

I hope that people will not let it fade to this…when marching, when putting up ‘Je Suis Charlie’ on their Facebook page, I hope that people will show their determination to defend freedom of expression -including against their own governments.

49 Comments

Filed under france, police, terrorism

A Long Time Ago

The old year sent on its way with a boot up the backside and the new one greeted with the wariness of one who has been had before, it is nevertheless a time when the past tends to creep into the consciousness.

This could be because no government offices are open to plague us, shops close for all of half an hour, the internet slows to a crawl while everyone tries out their latest iProd and the best that the television can offer is a hideous pastiche of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels…false teeth figure largely, homosexuality has to be broadly signalled in a manner quite foreign to the original and novels that were masterworks of delicate observation have been perverted into Merchant and Ivory costumed slapstick.

Thus, there are some moments when thoughts of the past can creep in unobserved.

Christmas Day only became a holiday in Scotland in the late fifties…so the Christmas fever never really caught on with me. The birth of the Prince of Peace was just that…not an occasion to throw financial caution to the winds and splurge on a mountain of presents, decorations and food while averting the eyes from the bills due in January.
Not being too well in the run up to Christmas this year I was looking for diversion so turned on the T.V. and was presented with some woman decorating her house like a tart’s boudoir and an Italian themed Christmas party presented by another woman continually tossing her hair, pushing her bosom into the camera and licking her fingers while looking roguish. Must have been the tart for whom the other’s boudoir was designed.
Tchah! and Pah! Off with the box!

The arrival of Christmas card from a friend reminded me of our student days in London where we managed to miss the sexual revolution, LSD and anything even remotely swinging. It may well all have been happening, but not round our hall of residence it wasn’t.
I tried smoking a cigarette ( twice) and decided that wine was a lot more pleasurable, as evidenced by observing my tutor, having drink taken, attempting to descend the ascending escalator at Holborn tube station.
The student union bar…that place of suspiciously sticky carpet and dim lighting….falling into silence as the T.V. in the corner was turned on for the weekly emission of Noggin the Nog.

Later, visiting ex student friends, the same reverence would be shown for the Sunday afternoon post pub emissions of The Clangers…

Let all mortal flesh be silent.

The sailing club’s annual wrecking trip to the Norfolk Broads….usually wet and cold, encased in inflexible yellow oilskins which did nothing to enhance the wind reddened complexion, where the main aim was to reach Potter Heigham and get to the pub with the most remarkable collection of gins I have ever seen.
Getting back aboard could be interesting but at least you no longer cared that your bunk was a strange triangular shape which had you touching heads with the other occupant of your compartment while your frozen feet diverged to hit the bulkhead at the far end.
Potter Heigham’s other attraction was its medieval bridge. Not just for the bridge itself, but for the possibilities of mayhem that it offered.
If the water levels were high some of the high sided motor cruisers could not get under it. Some of the v necked pullovered skippers of said high sided motor cruisers would try anyway and get their craft firmly wedged under the arch, the strong current playing merry hell with their attempts to reverse as the men from the nearby boatyard gloomily launched their rescue craft.
Yachts had to lower their masts….the safe thing to do was to moor up alongside the bank, lower the mast and secure it before deploying the quants – long poles – casting off and attempting to line up on the bridge so as to go straight through.
Most sailing club skippers, raised on tales of Horatio Hornblower and Captain Morgan, would claim that it was easier and safer to line up on the bridge, lower sails and mast while under way and shoot it with the aid of the current. This took a crew with split second reactions who had not had drink taken the night before and usually ended in the men from the boatyard gloomily launching their rescue craft.
potter heigham bridge
The sailing club was just that…it sailed.
sailiong yachts norfolk broads
No engines, so you could spend a day tacking backwards and forwards in the face of a stiff breeze from the North Sea while high sided motor cruisers steered by gentlemen in v necked pullovers merrily passed you by, the wash of their boat knocking you back about another half an hour of tacking.
However, at some point in the trip one member would always manage to ram his bowsprit through the window of a cruiser rash enough to cross his bows – and with any luck it would prove to be the loo compartment with someone trapped within.

Warning…if you play this video apply the mute.

The Norfolk Broads might not have been swinging London…but it had its moments.

Back to London in term time we would frequent a Chinese restaurant off the East India Dock Road in Pennyfields…..I cannot remember if it was called Old Friends or New Friends but it was cheap (even on a student grant), offered good food – the first time I ate squid – and the pot of jasmine tea was continually refilled. I gather it is now called Noodles and is frequented by the sort of noodle who works in the Evil Empire of finance which has taken over Docklands and changed it from a place where the toil was honest into a lair of vampires sucking the blood from the world economy.
Tchah again!

Not far away in Coldharbour was a pub called The Gun.
the gun pub
Here on singing nights bearded young men armed with squeezeboxes and wearing aran sweaters would foregather to sing sea shanties…
aran sweaters
Most of which were culled from the pages of Stan Hugill’s masterwork ‘Shanties of the Seven Seas’ because if you had asked any of these bearded wonders to undertake a voyage on a Cape Horner to the flaming coast of Chile in the guano trade they would, in that unforgettable phrase used by journalists of ‘The News of The World’, have made an excuse and left.
cape horner

Mark you, they’d have been right.
‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters’ have always had a hard and dangerous life and it’s not one I’d have liked to have had to endure….

So as the Christmas cards go into their box, taking the past with them, it’s back to the present, to the calls for cups of tea, the noise of the cane cutting machine and the Costa Rican sun….with just one last blast from the past.

49 Comments

Filed under folk song, holidays, nostalgia, sailing