All Systems Stop.

The bridge over the Quebrada Honda

We live up in the hills, some forty odd kilometres from the capital. The main road is a two lane double yellow line affair, so getting caught behind a heavy goods vehicle on the way home can add several minutes to the journey time. On the descent from the hills the road crosses a river..the Quebrada Honda….via a single lane bridge which was installed some seventy years ago and which has recently been closed as the various coats of paint applied to it over the years have done nothing to repair the underlying structure which has finally been recognised as dangerous.

Bus passengers have been aware of this risk for years, from observation of their driver crossing himself before crossing the bridge.

There are not many main roads in Costa Rica outside the conurbations, so the authorities’ bland statement that those wishing to reach the capital should use alternative routes was greeted with a less than cordial reception.

Given the lack of local employment people in this area are forced to go to the capital and its suburbs to find work….the morning and evening rush hours resemble the London North Circular at its worst as cars, motorcycles and buses jam the roads, so how was this mass of humanity to be assisted?

The bus company running from the capital to the coast on this road just stopped all operations, leaving those on the other side of our little town without any public transport whatsoever. That was until the local battleaxe, with the power of the church behind her, made forceful representations which restored service from the town to the coast.

But from the town to the capital?

No problem. The company running that service announced that they would run buses to the bridge, the passengers would then dismount and walk over to the other side where another bus would collect them for the onward journey.

Fine, except for two minor details.

Firstly the two ends were not co ordinated, which led to queues of half a kilometre waiting for a bus to arrive.

Secondly, the company charged two fares…….one to the bridge and another for the onward journey which amounted to more than the original fare for the complete journey.

Enter the battleaxe once more and the fares were revised……though the queues remained. An enterprising gentleman set up a business selling snacks and drinks until denounced to the authorities for having no licence to do so.

For Costa Rica, things moved swiftly. It was decided to install a Bailey bridge with a pedestrian walkway alongside while works were undertaken and a contract was awarded with a limit of twenty days to complete the project with an immediate start.

Except that the waterboard said that they did not have the necessary machinery to dis and remantle the waterpipe under the bridge. A thing about the size of a drainpipe. Par for the course for their local office. The mayor of the neighbouring canton invoked the powers of his office and contacted the national boss of the waterboard. Pipe dis and remantled in short order. Pity the same dismantling could not be applied to the local boss.

The walkway was quickly installed, and open to pedestrians and motorcycles – though it was necessary to remind riders to dismount rather than roaring through on full throttle. So some of the traffic was catered for.

Cars and lorries, however, had no such luck.

Deliveries were disrupted as lorries had to go from the capital to the coast on the laughingly called motorway – a two lane road with heavy tolls – then turn back on the old main road to reach the town.

Cars – and those lorries who thought they could get away with it – were left with the alternative routes.

Despite paying taxes which go to road maintenance, country roads are best approached with caution at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. To be fair, the neighbouring council started upgrading immeditely, while ours, of course, did not as the machinery needed was, as always, under repair.

The choice of alternate routes was stark. There was a paved road to the capital which meandered through the mountains, though ‘paved’ did not exclude potholes resembling archeological sites and yet another dodgy bridge…..apart from adding an hour at least to the journey.

There was a road just before the bridge on the town side which led up into the hills by the windfarm which disfigures the landscape and then down into the capital’s suburbs which offers wonderful views of the valley below, except you would be too busy trying to keep the car on the track to notice them.

Closer to home is the road which meanders cross country…one branch leading north to the motorway and the other east to the capital. It is a dirt road and whichever branch you take it involves crossing a rickety bridge bearing a notice prohibiting its use! Safer to drive through the river beneath it – at least, it is before the rains start if your car does not have a snorkel.

A further option is to drive through the indigenous reservation. The road is good through the village, and not too bad for a dirt road afterwards, if you can see where you are going for dust.

However, members of that community have got the hump at the road being used and have taken to laying heavy branches across it to impede traffic.

Don Freddy, caught by one such branch, announced that it was a pity that the conquistadores had not done a more thorough job, which, while it might be politically incorrect, sums up the general view of the matter.

So, as we were not obliged to go to work, how did the bridge closure affect us?

Badly, as Higher Authority had six hospital appointments in the space of the twenty days!

The Japanese tin box did not appreciate jolting over the dirt roads, and its engine has fallen apart, necessitating a trip to the garage – or in our case the local mechanic who is zillions of colones cheaper and a whole time zone faster. We hope to keep it going until Leo is officially declared handicapped – process bogged down for months because of Covid excuses – at which point we get a tax exemption on buying another car, so fingers crossed that he can do the job.

Still, the twenty days are up…the pedestrian walkway has been removed….our troubles – car permitting – are at an end.

If you believe that you will believe anything. This is Costa Rica.

The bridge has been installed, certainly….but the ramps are insufficient to support the weight of buses and lorries. Apparently ramps were not mentioned in the contract….

Now, the roads department has recently been involved in a large scale corruption scandal, so voices were immediately raised questioning whether this omission was down to incompetence…or something else. How long would we have to wait until there was a resolution?

Another week…another month….?

Much to everyone’s surprise, machinery is in action at the bridge today…the twentieth day….building up the ramps. I suspect that the mayor of the neighbouring canton hs got things moving again…but no one seems to know for sure.

Now all we have to do is to wait for a proper replacement bridge to be built……..considering it took three years to replace the one between us and the town I won’t be holding my breath.

Peek a Boo I Can’t See You

I was brought up, in the family as at school, to question and to seek sources when forming an opinon.

Relatively easy in those days where librarians could advise further reading and the interlibrary loan service would provide the book you needed within one week – long before AI held sway. And it was the book itself, not a propagandised bastardisation of the author’s work which met with governmental approval.

And we did have proper governments….not the bought handmaidens of international business…..and a diverse press to stimulate debate.

There was, as always, a strong spirit of conformism. You tended to do what your family did, or what was deemed acceptable in your stratum of society, but mavericks were just that, mavericks, not demonised as threats to the established order.

I remember people being not very interested in politics, but decidedly interested in the world around them. Hard not to be in the Cold War period aligning one block of powers against another, but luckily with leaders who had undergone wars and knew that they did not want them repeated, whatever the sabre rattling for domestic consumption.

Fast forward to today.

Increasingly on the social media I come across people who say that they no longer listen to the news, have no interest in current affairs or politics…’it is all so depressing’. They cannot cope with it all.

Forgive me – or not – , but I think it is their duty to cope with it.

Hobbes claimed that a sovereign with absolute power gave true protection to the subjects who had given up their liberties to obtain it, and criticism was unjustified.

“he that complaineth of injury from his sovereign complaineth that whereof he himself is the author, and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself, no nor himself of injury because to do injury to one’s self is impossible.’

Very much the French understanding of the social contract by which the government – the state – embodies the will of the people…and God help the person who decides that it does not.

For Hobbes the state of nature preceeding such a surrender is the negation of civiliation…thus the quote the life would have been ‘nasty, brutish and short’.

Locke had another view of the social contract. To preserve his liberty both in person and possession, the individual surrendered to the power of the state…but only insofar as the state protected both. Should the state overstep the mark then the citizen had the right to oppose it…to revolt.

But do we have Hobbes and Locke to guide us these days…or even J.S. Mills?

No. We have Twitter, Facebook, and a press with one voice, dependent on government subsidies to survive.

So, for those with their heads in the sand, never mind your own demise, think of the lives of your children and grandchildren…and side with Locke.

.

The Immortal Memory

Ca the yowes…for those unacquainted with the Doric….https://lyricstranslate.com/en/robert-burns-ca-yowes-lyrics.html

Robert Burns, poet of the human condition, whose life and works are celebrated tonight by Scots all over the world.

A man of his times, whose message is timeless.

A Scot, who speaks still to the world.

From the sheer fun of ‘ The De’il’s Away Wi’ The Exciseman’, written for a gathering of his fellow customes officers,

to the lyricism of ‘Flow Gently Sweet Afton’

his song of independence , ‘Scots Wa Hae’ – which, in faster time would still make a better anthem than that blasted dirge ‘Flower of Scotland’. No wonder we lose everything…..

and his song of brotherhood ‘ A Man’s a Man for A’ That’ as sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament…and those bastards should be ashamed of themselves all these years on at their betrayal of their country…yet another parcel of rogues in a nation.

With typical Scots pawky humour that was the tune played to summon defaulters – military miscreants – to their punishment in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment.

He has inspired many over the centuries…..

Abraham Lincoln, who was given his poems as a young man…’From Shakespeare I learnt the sonnets, from the Bible, the scriptures, but it was from that man that I learnt humanity.’

Maya Angelou, who was given his poems as a child …..’He was the first white man I read who seemed to understand that a human being is a human being, that we are more alike than unlikeā€.

And when we link arms for Auld Lang Syne, whether it be with the lass from ‘Coming Through the Rye’ or Holy Willie we live out his dream, that whomsoever we might be we are capable of a belief in the goodness of each other and our collective ability to make a better world.

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to you all…..and may it be considerably better than 2021!

But it won’t be if we don’t take heed of the changes in our society.

We have seen governments taking on arbitrary powers to combat Covid…..and being reluctant to give them up.

We have seen private companies…Facebook, Youtube and Twitter……deciding what we can and cannot say and can or cannot read.

We have seen the rise of ‘hate crime’, where it is sufficient for someone to feel offended for Plod to appear on your doorstep.

We have seen respected academics sacked for holding unpopular views.

We have seen police giving more attention to controlling the public than protecting them from crime.

We have seen the rich get richer and the poor poorer, the latter stigmatised as lazy and workshy while those attributes should be realistically assigned to the former.

We have sick societies, so, in 2022, prepare to get up and stand up for your rights

Hello, Hello, Who’s Your Lady Friend?

Last week we had planned to do a major shop in San Jose, and the cleaner, a lady in her thirties who looks mid twenties, had asked to go with us to stock up on stuff for Christmas before prices rose alarmingly for the festive and exploitative season. We would keep the meat and poultry in our freezer for her until she needed it. This being a visit to the big city she was well dressed and made up…unlike Danilo who shows his contempt for the capital by wearing his oldest working shirt and wellies.

Fine, except at the last minute I was not well enough to undertake the car journey, so off went Leo, the cleaner and Danilo while I returned to bed.

On return, Danilo was bubbling with something, but could not tell me until the following day when Leo was at the local hospital.

First, the context.

It is not unknown that Costa Rican women, seeing foreign men as rich, will try to attach themselves to them, in the hope of supporting themselves, their children and their families. Fine….there are others who just wish to enrich themselves…..and do so at an exponential rate. The laws, made with the view of protecting women and chldren in situations of domestic abuse, assist these predatory women.

Back to Danilo….

The first call was to Maria, a Nicaraguan lady, who has been a friend since we first moved to Costa Rica. She has looked after Leo many times over the years while I was visiting my mother and is a genuinely caring person.

This time she had bought in a load of dog food for us at a low price from her butcher and Leo was going to pick it up….but not without going in to have coffee, catch up with the family and swap the news.

Except that Maria took one look at the cleaner and asked ‘Who is this?’

Apparently Leo, now to be known as Lothario or Bluebeard, convinced that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever, and full of bravado, said that this was his girlfriend.

At which point Maria said that he had a wife, and that, should he want a girlfriend, she was the first in line…all this accompanied with stroking him, cuddling him and darting evil looks at the cleaner.

Danilo was apparently in stitches. Maria protecting her ewe lamb from the ravages of a Salome…

Off they went to the Mercado Borbon to take breakfast at he caff we frequent.

Fine…the ladies took the order, and the cleaner asked for the same meal as Leo..chicken in sauce. His plate was laden, hers boasted a chicken piece so small that it must have been taken from a sparrow. The ladies asked Danilo why I was not there, but his explanations did not spare the cleaner dirty looks.

She wanted to buy chicken thighs, and, as the bulk price was better than the kilo price Leo bought her order with ours…. the chap selling them made a point of asking if Leo wanted separate bills…and looked very disapproving of the response.

Not the only reactions….we are well known at the Mercado Borbon – about the only foreigners who shop there – and I feel for the cleaner, whose treatment was humiliating .

However, should I pop my clogs before Leo I have no doubt that she would be under starter’s orders in the ‘catch an elderly Gringo’ stakes. But she would have to be wary of bumping, boring and obstruction on the part of Maria!

So now, before Leo is sent to Coventry at the Mercado Borbon, I shall have to make sure that I go with him on the next trip. Without the cleaner.

The Dog and Bone

The rhyming slang for the telephone has taken on a new guise.

According to ‘The Guardian’ a device has been invented which allows a dog to call its owner. Its current form is a soft ball which when moved sends a signal to your laptop and starts off a video link. The idea is to give ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ to the dog, which will aid its ‘wellbeing’.

As if we are not under the paw enough as it is!

Research has been, to say the least, interesting, and probably suffered for being carried out on a black labrador. Nice though they are, labradors are not the Einsteins of the canine world, so perhaps a collie might have not activated the thing when rooting round in its bed, or while rubbing its backside on it. The optimistic researcher says, however, that while from a human perspective it might be seen as accidental it is possible that from a canine perspective it was determined. The dog has not yet given the answer.

Just think……

You are out shopping and your mobile rings. You have a video of the dog with its paw on a pack of its favourite biscuits….no excuses for forgetting…..with a background view of the damage it did opening the cupboard door to get at said biscuits.

Or, for the machiavellian dog who feels it has been left to its own devices too long, a carefully staged sceene with one of its friends lying doggo, appearing to be at its last gasp, while the dog manipulating the device stands over it in the manner of a Great White Hunter. That’s guaranteed to get you home breaking the speed limit only to find both at the door wagging their tails.

Or you are the British Prime Minister in a face to face meeting with Monsewer Macron. At a vital moment your dog rings, holding up a placard reading ‘stuff the French poodle!’ That should stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood! You will be hanging the burghers of Calais before you can say Jack Robinson.

This is only the start….there is talk of technological inovation which will allow dogs to contact each other….

But is this not otiose?

Dogs seem to communicate with each other without any hi tech aids.

They have noses.

A bitch on heat will attract suitors from all the country round……a rotting carcass offers rolling opportunities to an infinite number of doggies…..meat cooking will bring an eager audience with noses lifted in the best tradiions of the Bisto kids..

They have ears.

They may not choose to use them, as when ignoring commands, yea pleas even, to do something contrary to their current interests, but they can hear another dog howling far off in the night and join in from a sense of solidarity, thus depriving a whole human community of its sleep, and if you want a re enactment of the charge of the Light Brigade just try opening a packet of crisps when you think they are snoozing at the other end of the garden.

They have eyes.

Like Autolycus they are snappers up of unconsidered trifles….i.e. things you left on the table while doing something else. They see intruders and rush to repel them, encouraging each other with that other capacity…….

The voice.

From a bark to a whine, from a snort to a growl, they can make their views clearly known to their cohorts.

So, time wasted on inter dog communication then, but they would, I feel, be all in favour of furthering means to assert their domination of humans.

The first step is to encourage the dog to take ownership of its ‘phone…….so can we have a hi tech solution to making it waterproof as its proud owner asserts possession by peeing on it.

And just to finish…or to finish you off

Hugo sings Hallelujah

Remembrance

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

A Dead Statesman

Rudyard Kipling

It relates directly to the man standing behind the current Prime Minister, but they are all capable of similar conduct and we need to open our eyes to what is done in our name but without our consent.

A Hole in the Ground

Our little town has its very own hole in the ground….a hole which has appeared every year since the council granted planning permission for a housing development which involved draining the lagoon which served the higher ground above, where a road runs from the town to the coast.

Without fail, the rains come, the drains don’t drain and the road collapses, leaving producers on the coastal side of the road without means to get their cattle and veg to market as the alternative road is too dangerous to be used by anything other than a normal car.

And every year the state roadworks department appoints the same contractors to patch things up…eventually. Just in time for the next rainy season at which point the road collapses again.

But this year, things changed. The locals and the producers got together under the leadership of Don Kiki, clubbed together and remade the road entirely, sorting out a new system of drainage to avoid future collapses. Producers could get to market, buses could serve the communities along the road…road users were asked for a contribution to the costs……everyone was happy.

Except, of course, the council.

Don Kiki was solemnly warned that any accidents would lay at his door….. he was threatened with legal action… I don’t know if he smiled at that threat but I did as the council’s tame lawyer is about as effective as a chcolate tea pot and costs the rate payers a fortune in lost cases. But given to whom he is related, the council is happy to contribute to his lifestyle.

Under unacustomed pressure, the council sought to shift the blame for inaction onto the state roadworks department. Not surprisingly, given their lawyer, they lost. The constitutional court declared that yes…the roadwork bods should do something, but not before the council sorted out the drainage.

Collapse of stout party. The council, despite holding fiestas for its employees when social gatherings are strang verboten thanks to the virus and increasing said employees’ salaries in a time of austerity, has no money to sort out the drainage problem.

And this is normally where things would have rested….a legal obligation to do something negated by a previous condition while the road collapses yet again

However, this year, there is another factor to be taken into consideration.

Finally, a statewide corrupt connivance between the roadworks department and major contractors has come to light….so grave that the courts have been forced to put major actors in the contracting firms in preventive detention, rather than letting then swan about as they please or take off in their private jets.

Work deliberately done badly, to ensure a contract in the next year…inferior material used….and, of course, small, decent firms cut out of the contracting round.

The roadworks department felt that it must flex its muscles and be seen to be doing something. Its workmen put ‘road closed’ notices on each side of the new road.

Locals removed the notices.

A council employee denounced one of those doing the removal of notices.

The roadworks departmemt announced that it had to close the road as it did not meet the norms…and that it was going to install a Bailey bridge to solve the problem On the subject of when, the department remained tight lipped.

Contributors to social media were quick to point out that when it comes to dangerous bridges the roadworks department is content to put up notices to that effect…but neither closes nor repairs them.

Locals called for a show of solidarity, which was well supported, and a demand for approbation of Don Kiki’s action, supported by the Ombudsman, has been delivered to the council.

This month marks the bicentenary of liberation from Spanish rule….and locally, an attempt at liberation from old Spanish practices.

We Are Not Amused

Queen Victoria may not have said it, but I certainly did on learning that the last Test Match of the India/England series had been called off at the last minute, while those who had bought tickets for the first day were still traveling to the ground. I expect that Lancashire County Cricket Club were not amused either. Hosting a Test Match is an expensive business -, preparation money lost, on top of having to refund ticket holders.

Still, I concentrate on my own displeasure. The last match of a see saw series…the last Test match probably until next summer, unless Australia does something about its damn fool quarantine policies…and I had prepared for five days of hedonism.

Meals, both human and canine, had been planned for speed of execution….wok and slow cooker featuring largely. Wild suggestions as to making puff pastry for tarte tatin treated with contumely. Outer gate locked to repel boarders, the telephone to be off the hook until lunchtime here – end of play in Manchester – and no appointments booked before afternoon.

All set…and then the blasted Indians refused to play……. the virus, of course….

Or was it? The whole team had been out on the town in London to celebrate the opening of an Indian owned hotel chain’s latest acquisition and the head coach and a few other back up staff tested positive. None of the players.

An assistant physio later tested positive. None of the players.

Yet at midnight before the first day of the Manchester Test the players told their ruling body that they would not be willing to play, for if they caught the bug they would have to quarantine in Manchester and thus would not be available for the big money spinner for their board….the India Premer League, sbout to start shortly. The fact that the same players had partcipated in the earlier rounds when India was undergoing the ravages of the virus, before stands packed with fans with no protection whatsoever did not seem to weigh with them.

So sod the cricket lovers who wanted to see them…sod the arrangements already made…they were off.

Hell and damnation! All the things I had pushed aside reared their heads… tarte tatin….making sausages….pistolei….talking to the local association about making up the road….appealing a parking fine – .paradise lost.

But in a way, paradise regained. As I was readjusting my sights, I received an e mail from friends who used to visit us every summer when we lived in France. They braved the rigours of the last house we had in France when we had just taken it over….and made that summer special for us.

The kids took our little boat on the river at the foot of the gardens, the friends cooked a barbeque, we sat out in the late evening while Tim outplayed Owen Glendower…who boasted that he could call spirits from the vasty deep. Tim could do better…he could call owls.

We spent a magic hour while he called, and gradually indignant owls replied to his challenges, first one, and then others, until the woods on the river bank resounded with their eery cries. Sitting out there, in the dusk, as the bats whirled out of the eves, was the most magical evening I have known.

And to top it all they sent over a photograph from that year….which epitomises for me our happiness.

A new venture…everything before us…together.

Thank you, Tim and family.