I am tired by the turbulence and unsettled by the political jostlings. I am unsure where the final rounds of voting in the local elections in France on Sunday will leave us all.
Will this be a new dawn for local politics where there will be openness, transparency and accountability? Will future projects be relevant and undertaken after thorough and sound research and public consultation? Will decisions be made based on the best interests of most people with vested interests eschewed? Might there be imaginative solutions and risk taking and daring to deviate from the well trodden path of ‘we don’t do it like that here’? Are the talents and energies of interested, local people likely to be harnessed for the greater good of all?
In the village where I live, I watch and wait to see. Benefit and doubt etc. But I won’t be holding my breath.
The Neighbour has been in court again.
With yet another lawyer at his side.
Not the one who came to see me about this time last year to tell me to back off, but a rather more down market specimen, decidedly sub fusc alongside his client who was resplendent in smartly ironed shirt and jeans, sporting his crisp white hat with a curly brim in honour of the occasion.
The lawyer was there to defend The Neighbour in a preliminary hearing to see whether the Fiscalia (prosecuting service) would succeed in their bid to put him in front of a penal court in respect of his non respect of the law…..to wit, insulting, threatening and attacking people who had been granted protection orders prohibiting him from insulting, threatening and attacking them.
The behind the scenes cross and jostle work to replace the local prosecutor seems to have failed – in which case the owner of the hotel which caught fire last year resulting in multiple deaths might have cause to worry – and The Neighbour had been summoned to court to explain why, in his view, matters should go no further.
Perhaps made wiser by previous experience he elected to let his lawyer present his case, which was, reduced to its essence, that whatever it was he hadn’t done it and if he had done it it must have been when he was angry and anyway he wasn’t doing it now but he would be quite happy to be reconciled with everyone as he was a reasonable man and so there was no need to go to a penal court unless those who had complained to the Fiscalia had no respect for Christian principles.
It wasn’t as exciting as in the days when he took things into his own hands in court, and it took considerably longer than his old bravura performances, but at least the judge and his opponents felt safe from having violent hands laid upon them.
His opponents satisfied themselves with stating that in their view he should go before a penal court as he had respect neither for them nor for the law.
This was a step too far for The Neighbour.
With all his old brio he leapt to his feet, brushing aside his lawyer’s restraining hand and bawling that it was all lies and that he had witnesses…lots of witnesses…..important witnesses…..that he…he, you understand…was the victim.
The effect was enhanced by the black eye and swollen nose he was sporting after an encounter with a gentleman whose wife he had made the subject of insulting remarks earlier in the week, both eye and nose seeming to glow with the strength of his passionate outburst.
As his lawyer pulled him down into his seat the judge said pleasantly
Well, you can bring your witnesses into the penal court when the time comes.
And that was that.
The Neighbour and his lawyer departed in a cloud of mutual recrimination and everyone else went home.
I went to see our own lawyer, who had told me that I did not need him for this stage, to recount events.
But his lawyer missed the point, he said. It was nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do….he’s already been found guilty in court on all the claims the Fiscalia brought forward.
It’s about contempt of court…he’s done what the courts told him not to do…and been caught.
He can bring all the witnesses he likes….and the judge will hear them very courteously….but he’s had it.
He’s for the high jump.
So did his lawyer really misunderstand, or was it that he found it preferable to take his client’s instructions?
Given the Neighbour’s propensity for violence, it may well have been the latter…..I gather that he has assaulted his own lawyers before now and uniformly fails to pay them on the grounds that they have let him down in court even when he has been at pains to make available ready bribed witnesses.
What sort of a lawyer is it, he seeks to know, who can lose a case when his client has done all the groundwork for him?
Some other people will be wondering too, what sort of lawyer they had.
In 2009, the cables holding up a suspension bridge over the River Tarcoles gave way.
A bus which was on the bridge at the time fell into the waters below: five of the passengers died and thirty six were injured.
Two years later, the Fiscalia decided to bring charges against the bus driver and three officials of the Public Works Ministry…and the lawyer for the families prepared his case for the penal court.
Nearly three years after that the case came to court – in our local court – where the judge decided not only that no responsibility could be attached to the accused….yes, the poor state of the bridge was known, but a weight limit notice was clearly visible at the entrance to it…but also that he could not, in consequence, award compensation to the families of the victims.
Outrage, both locally and in the comment columns of the press….one law for the rich, another for the poor: millions in compensation for a private company deprived of a road building contract awarded in dubious circumstance, nothing for people struggling to help their family’s kids through education, to support elderly relatives.
The judge suggested that the path to compensation would have been to have taken the case to the administrative courts….logically enough, as the condition of the bridge was the responsibility of the state….but that it was now too late.
The parties had had four years in which to bring their case….four years which expired six months ago.
Carried away by the public scandal of the lack of maintenance of roads and bridges – particularly in rural areas – the lawyer had gone for the wrong court….and, with all respect to his clients, I doubt that they would have instructed him to do so had he not suggested that course of action.
Clearly this raises the usual questions of justice…which is what people expect…and law, which is what they receive and which only reflects justice in so far as groups promoting justice have been able to influence the executive, whether parliament, national assembly or whatever else, to enact just legislation.
Otherwise law reflects the interests of other groups able to influence the executive….interests which might well be perceived as most unjust indeed.
But it also raises the question of the responsibility of lawyers…of any professional providing specialist services to the public.
Anyone can get things wrong….anyone can, with the best will in the world, drop a clanger.
But there are some clangers which will resound in the lives of the clients involved for years to come….and this is one of them.
You can be as outraged as you please with the blatant neglect of the affairs of the rural poor….but you don’t help the rural poor by your indignation…you help them by going for the right remedy in the right court.
Otherwise you are about as much use as a feature writer on ‘The Guardian’…gaining points at your dinner parties of right thinking – or should that be left thinking – friends, and about as much use to the people you claim to speak for as a snowball in hell.
Dragging what is laughingly called a hand of bananas down to the house, risking not only a hernia but also indelible latex stains on a clean top from the freshly cut stem I asked myself what else I expected….I had, after all, come to live in a banana republic.
And I can imagine that when I honk on about Costa Rican politics on this blog there are those who might well ask what else I had expected when moving to a banana republic with my eyes wide open.
I have to say that nothing so far has come as too much of a shock…but then before moving here I had had a masterclass in the mores of banana republics: I had lived in la belle France for over twenty years, under the reigns of Mitterand, Chirac and Sarkozy – and my friends in France keep me up to date on the doings of the latest incumbent, the Lesser Helmeted Hollandouille.
Now, while I suspect that years of contagion from the European Union has rendered the U.K. just about as corrupt as France, when I crossed the channel the process of turning a crafty private penny from public resources was in its infancy, so France came as quite a surprise.
Didier, done for having a defective rear light on his farm trailer, went to see an insurance agent who was the fixer for the local senator.
Didier undone for having a defective rear light on his farm trailer.
A neighbour’s son had lost points on his licence after driving under the influence and being tactless enough to run his car into the ditch in the presence of a gendarmerie van.
His father went to see someone at the court bearing an envelope and the points loss, awarded in court, never appeared on his record.
A maire managed, by the use of several shell companies, to buy a building belonging to his commune for a price below that offered the commune by a private buyer.
A retired senator had borrowed an enormous amount of money from the regional Credit Agricole bank, to finance the acquisition of property on the Cote d’Azur and the Ile de Re – neither area known for property bargains.
By way of security he offered some bonds…which were kept in his own safe deposit box at the local branch until the day when he walked in and removed them without a word being said on the part of the bank.
Mitterand brought about the process of decentralisation of government…by which more faces could be brought to feed at the publicly funded trough….and later Presidents extended the process, or trough, as often as needed.
But should one trough not suffice you could feed from several.
As maire of your commune, town or city you drew money related to the number of citizens you ‘represented’.
But you could also be a departmental councillor…for more dosh….and a member of the National Assembly for even more dosh and until relatively recently you could be paid for all these at the same time, and, in addition have an expenses allowance which was never checked….let alone an allowance for staff which enabled you to pay your wife for polishing her nails…and in some cases an official residence and a chauffeur driven car.
Needless to say, the egos became inflated.
The top dogs and their families were untouchable.
A chap whose car was damaged by Sarkozy’s son’s scooter found that a simple insurance job landed him with being accused of making a malicious prosecution….and he narrowly escaped a two thousand euro fine…; the Sarkozy family lawyer had even ‘phoned the chap’s insurance company to extract information by pretending to be the chap’s own lawyer.
But the top dogs fall out….usually at a handover of power, when the appointments made by Party A are joyously unmade by Party B and party A’s henchmen scramble for the seats on the magic roundabout of the well connected in France – the jobs in business which are at the disposal of the temporarily dispossessed party.
And it can prove nasty…..and is proving nasty for ex-President Sarkozy.
Escaping from charges of taking financial advantage of a senile old bat who was heir to the Oreal fortune, he applied to have his diaries, which were seized during the investigation, returned to him as he was worried that they might be used in other investigations involving him….a state pay out to a well known financial crook, and two little problems of campaign financing from dubious sources….one Pakistani and one Libyan.
He was quite hopeful…he had inside help at the court.
A well placed judge who thought he could talk his colleagues into seeing things the Sarkozy way in return for Sarkozy’s help in getting him a well paid retirement job in Monaco.
His lawyer thought it was a done deal…unless, as he said, they took a decision based on the law…
He was not only hopeful, he was cautious.
Suspecting, rightly, that his ‘phones were tapped, he got his lawyer to buy a mobile ‘pone in an assumed name – not so easy in France where they seem to want ID to go to the loo let alone buy a ‘phone – but no obstacle for this lawyer…the same who impersonated an opponent’s lawyer in the Sarkozy scooter case.
Unfortunately though, the judge investigating his little problems got wind of the mobile ‘phone and had that tapped too with the result that he now faces further charges of perverting the course of justice…..and the chase is on for the ‘sleepers’ he left in place when he left office.
So when, in Costa Rica, I hear that the candidate who wasn’t a candidate has become a candidate again…or that ballot papers for the second round of the Presidential election have been found in the street….that the warehouse where they were stored is owned by a company whose boss is a second cousin once removed of the President of the Election Tribunal, under a contract which does not meet standards of government transparency and which obliges the Election Tribunal to pay for all the services available at the warehouse in addition to the rent….I am not surprised.
Nor am I surprised when a Vice President of the Election Tribunal says that the newspaper which published the details should be sued.
Friday morning for me in Costa Rica, Friday afternoon for my mother in England.
Time to call her for her shopping list.
She used to have a shopper, but when she retired and handed over to a younger woman mother could not get along with things.
Items would not be bought…didn’t have any….the sell by dates could be as close as the next day….oh, it’ll be all right…or some cheaper alternative would be provided…that’s the brand my kids prefer…
So now I call her on Skype, she gives me her shopping list and I go on line to Tesco and make the order which will be delivered to the door a week later.
Thus she doesn’t have to carry anything heavy and doesn’t have to go out at all if the weather is inclement.
So, the nine o’clock coffee out of the way I wind up Skype.
The ringing tone is answered promptly and my heart sinks as a suspicious voice asks
Who is it?
Glory be, mother’s friend Adolpha, over eighty and hard of hearing, has collared the ‘phone.
I tell her it is me and I’m calling to get mother’s Tesco list.
Fatal error. I hear her saying to mother
There’s some woman here from Tesco trying to sell you something.
As I am about to bellow a correction down the ‘phone in the hope that mother can hear it at the other side of the room, Luzmilla – Friday is cleaning day – comes in from the balcony shooing a dog before her. Volubly.
At the other side of the world Adolpha adds
Some foreign woman.
Seeing I am on Skype and assuming that I am talking to my mother Luzmilla shrieks a greeting into the laptop.
I suppose they have to meet targets, says mother’s voice.
Plenty of English people would like those jobs replies Adolpha, herself from Austria. It’s a disgrace and she doesn’t even speak English!
Now look here, whoever you are….
At this point I manage to get her to understand that it is me on the line…
Well why didn’t you say so!
Here, it’s your daughter.
We get down to brass tacks and mother is just wondering whether to change her brand of tea bags when Monty the lamb, unable to find Leo and in need of milk, nudges me sharply on the arm and bleats loudly.
What on earth was that?
That doesn’t sound like a lamb….too loud.
Luzmilla, who fed Monty on her lap when he was tiny and adores him, tells me she will heat the milk while I’m on the ‘phone and as Monty bleats again as he sees the fridge door opening she replies with a bleat of her own.
More like a camel…No, I think I’ll stick to the same ones…Now, meat…
We set off again while Monty is fed and Luzmilla moves off into the bedrooms, her progress marked by the banging of the broom against the skirting boards.
Then the insect sets off. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what it is though I imagine it to be some sort of over endowed cricket but it makes a noise like a dentist’s drill and can be heard over a wide area.
Now what’s going on….I’ve lost my train of thought…
An insect? No insect makes a noise like that…Danilo must be working somewhere…
Lamb chops – but loin chops, make sure they are loin chops – decided upon, the merits of gammon come under the spotlight as opposed to pork….and then the dogs bark furiously as Danilo’s son arrives on his motorbike with the day’s supply of fresh milk for Monty, to be received by Luzmilla with much shouting at the dogs to be quiet.
It’s a madhouse…whatever is going on? The milkman on a motorbike…still I suppose it’s better than mine – a new man I think, comes creeping around late in the morning, when he thinks I can’t get to the door fast enough to complain about the Gold Top! If that’s from Jersey cows I’m a Chinaman.
I think they must water it down, says Adolpha in the background and she and mother discuss the likelihood of this, oblivious to the seconds ticking away on Skype, their conversation ending in
You can’t trust any of them these days.
Mother decides on the gammon.
We have run through most of her list with a slight pause at Evian water as she was sent Buxton water in error last time and does not want a goitre at her age and then she thinks she will have a packet of breakfast cereal….
Puffed wheat, I think…
And then the guinea fowl strike up, legging it past the back door…
I know what that is. That’s those awful birds you had in France who kept trying to drown themselves….
Whatever possessed you to get some more….and don’t let them send me organic puffed wheat.
Tasted like cardboard and a tiny packet for the price….
Yes, that’s the lot….
We say our goodbyes and as I shut down the call I hear Adolpha’s voice in the background
They said it was organic, but how could it be? It came in a cellophane packet….what’s organic about cellophane?
To no one’s surprise there was no outright winner in the first round of the Costa Rican Presidential election in February…..but the leader by one percentage point was a total surprise…a dark horse who ran up on the rails to win by a nose.
His party has been in the doldrums for years under the leadership of its founder and the new candidate wasn’t expected to change things…but people who did not want a continuation in power of the ruling party but who were frightened of the mildly left wing candidate flocked to his support and so he came to the line one point ahead of the five – times – married- and – this – time – to -a – dentist candidate of the ruling party.
So these two gentlemen settled down to campaign for the final vote on 6th April: the mystery candidate tried drumming up votes in areas where his party had polled badly; the much married candidate hung around the bishops while his party hinted that the success of his opponent was what was causing instability in the exchange rate….in other words, campaigning as usual until the bombshell struck yesterday, on Ash Wednesday.
One of the gentlemen had been listening to God.
And God had told him that he should withdraw from the campaign, so that was what he was doing.
He elaborated, of course. For his style of politician the Word of God can always be improved upon with a few PR techniques.
He had realised that it was in the national interest to withdraw, allowing the nation the best chance of facing the coming time of economic trial in tranquility and offering his services to the future President.
Thus he bowed out, leaving a nation making its plans for how to spend the 6th April, suddenly become free.
All except for one man. The head of the Election Tribunal who had to put his oar in.
The Costa Rican Constitution forbids anyone to withdraw from the second round of the Presidential election…so the vote on April 6th must go ahead as planned.
The possibility of farce lies before us…..
Should by some chance the candidate who has withdrawn win the vote on April 6th he will, despite withdrawing, be President of Costa Rica.
So, if the Almighty should so guide him that he decided to withdraw his withdrawal- after all he had withdrawn as a Presidential candidate, not as a President – he could be installed in power.
And no that is not a quibble, just ask any passing Jesuit.
What if the Almighty stuck to His guns and over ruled casuistry?
Then he would withdraw.
So the mystery candidate would then be President?
Not according to the head of the Election Tribunal, rumoured to be close to the withdrawn candidate’s party.
The President would then be the man who was named by the withdrawn candidate before he withdrew as his first Vice President should he be elected President.
A man no one had voted for at all.
Trusting that the above has made things as clear as muck, let us look at the factors that the Almighty might have taken into consideration in giving His advice.
Firstly, the candidate who withdrew represents the ruling party who have been in power for eight years and have presided over corruption scandals that would have been notable even for a banana republic.
I was tempted to add ‘or for France’ but that would be tautologous.
Secondly, his candidacy had upset the Arias brothers who regarded the party as their very own fief.
Oscar Arias, while President of Costa Rica, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his work in improving democratic practices in Central America by the signing of the Esquipulas II Accords – the groundwork for which was laid, interestingly enough, by the current mystery candidate in the Presidential elections.
His supporters later engineered the overthrow of a constitutional amendment banning ex Presidents from standing again for office and he was elected by a narrow majority to the Presidency again in 2006.
He was succeeded as President by Laura Chinchilla – one of his ex ministers whom he thought he had under control – as it might have appeared tactless to put up his brother Rodrigo – his enforcer while in power – to succeed him immediately.
Chinchilla was to keep the seat warm for him.
As it turns out, she kept it red hot: corruption scandals galore have kept even the conservative Costa Rican press abuzz and to add insult to injury, the party rejected brother Rodrigo as their candidate and chose the much – married – and – now – to – a dentist Mayor of San Jose instead…the candidate who has just withdrawn.
Who could whistle for support from the Arias wing of the party – where a lot of the money lies.
Thirdly, and in consequence of the above, his election campaign was running out of money. If he spent any more and lost the election his party would be looking down the back of the sofa for some years to come.
By withdrawing, however, and in such ambiguous circumstances as outlined by the head of the Elections tribunal, his opponent would be forced to keep on spending to be sure of a respectable mandate in the case of victory, thus transferring the back of the sofa activites.
And finally, a lack of political judgement. A catastrophic lack.
Just like Jospin in France, he underestimated his opponents and let an outsider into contention.
In Jospin’s case, Le Pen of the pariah Front National party….in his case, the mystery candidate from a party considered finished.
Too arrogant to do the hard slog of campaigning, the endless meetings and television appearances, he reckoned his main danger came from the mildly left wing candidate who he was sure to be able to knock out by the usual Reds Under the Bed formula – as indeed he did.
I couldn’t turn on my computer without a Red Peril video coming up on the screen and that campaign certainly affected his chances….but his potential voters did not just drop out, or vote for the ruling party – they found another candidate.
A candidate totally overlooked.
We shall see what we get on 6th April.
The mystery candidate promises transparency and improved equality….he’ll have a hard fight on his hands and, should he win, I hope that people will cut him some slack, for, not only in Costa Rica but in all countries we dearly need to elect people from outside the self perpetuating elites if we are ever to recover the liberties our not so far off ancestors fought so hard to win.
But one thing niggles…..when the much married one withdrew, he offered his services to the new government….
I sincerely hope that there has been no opaque agreement made with him, not even one made on the lines of the immortal Yosser
Night falls early here, so indoor things I would do in the daytime when in France I now leave until after dark….jam making, or, as last night, making spiced vinegar and peeling and salting onions for pickling.
And, just as when in the kitchen in France, I listen to BBC radio.
The iPlayer is a godsend, despite its new format which drives me up the wall as I want to know what the Book at Bedtime is before undertaking two processes to get to it only to find it is codswallop.
I shall never understand why people let IT specialists tinker with something that works well to turn it into a means of frustration to the user.
Despite the desperately unfunny comedies and the plodding trendy dramas there is much gold still to be mined on BBC radio and I turned up a little nugget last night which not only gave me pleasure in itself, but which turned back the years to when I was a child visiting my mother’s mother.
The programme was one called ‘My Kind of Country’, broadcast in 1968 by John Arlott, talking about his native county of Hampshire.
A brief description of the career of John Arlott would read: clerk in a mental institution, policeman, poet, wine lover and cricket commentator, but that list gives nothing of the reality of the man – a deeply liberal man in every sense of the word with a poet’s economy and exactitude of style and a warrior’s heart for a worthy cause.
His voice is unique…a southern English accent such as you no longer hear among the blare of the north and midlands favoured by broadcasters who think that only something north of Watford can tick the box marked ‘regional’.
If you are quick you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer…if not, here is a link to him talking about how he became a cricket commentator.
Just listening to him brought me into the world he was describing….peeling off the layers of the outliers of the county to come to what he considered its heart…then he recounted an interview with a shepherd who gave a rendering of that old song ‘Buttercup Joe’ and instantly I was back in the past, in a garden in Surrey, while another old boy sang the very same song.
My mother’s mother came from an Oxfordshire farming family…but there had been a tremendous bust up when she married her Australian husband and they had upped sticks and settled in Surrey in a quiet house on the outskirts of a town that was then half country.
By the time I knew that house it was well within the purlieus of the town – the only ‘country’ aspect remaining being the stables of the Co-op milk delivery horses some distance away.
I was taken to visit when we moved from Scotland to England and was usually, with my cousins, banished to the garden while the mother and daughters got down to gossip.
It was a garden divided between grass and flowers and a huge veg plot…but in spring, when it was warm enough to sit out, we used to gather round the creosoted cable bobbin that served as both table and chair in the shade of the lilacs, purple, mauve and white, behind the rabbit hutches.
The purple and mauve lilacs graced the house with their scent, but the white were never taken indoors. Bad luck.
My father thought it was by way of regarding them like the white hawthorn that you would pick when you went maying…but which should never cross the threshold…white was the colour of death…and was the colour of the mourning clothes worn by the queens of France.
There was also – as he pointed out when I was older – the sexual connotations of plucking the flower, the relief after the sexual drought…listen to Morley’s madrigal ‘Now is the Month of Maying’…where playing at ‘barley break’ means a sex romp. Eat your heart out ‘The Sun’.
But all this was hidden from us as we drank our R. White’s lemonade…
Goes off pop.
A penny on the bottle when you take it to the shop.
One of my mother’s sisters was married to a director of R.White – but I don’t remember any cut price bottles of dandelion and burdock or cream soda darkening our doorsteps.
So, engaged in cousinly wrangling, we were surprised to hear the creak of the hinges of the back gate, followed by the appearance of a total stranger.
An elderly man in a brown suit, the jacket buttoned high as in photographs from the Edwardian period, a face well tanned by the weather and the whole crowned by a brown bowler, or, as we used to call it, a billycock hat.
He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but soon recovered himself.
I’d forgotten the gals was visiting.
The ‘gals’ being our mothers.
I’d just slipped out for a bit…you know how it is..’
Fascinated, we nodded as he seated himself on the bobbin. We knew how it was when the coven got together.
Yer grandad is still in the Rose and Crown…
We nodded again: this was par for the course.
But I thought I’d just take a few bottles home; the rounds was getting heavy.
We might not be too sure about rounds and heavy but the sense of unwelcome financial burden was clear to us.
He produced a bottle and crown cork opener and took possession of a glass, throwing the remains of the lemonade on the ground.
This, he said, is brown ale…take a sip.
We did. It was not what we were accustomed to…but we weren’t going to miss out.
He took a draught.
Now. I suppose you’ll be wondering who I am.
Well! I’m a cousin of your grandmother Ellen and I’m the dirty dish in the family!
But you don’t want to know about all thaat.
We did. Oh, how we did, but the rules of our upbringing forbade us to ask what a grown up said we should not know.
So while we’re out here and they’re in there – jerk of the head – I’ll sing you a song or two to pass the time.
He sang us Buttercup Joe…then The Fly be on the Turmut….
And was well launched on the next, which started promisingly with
Be I Berkshire,
Be I buggery,
I comes up from Wareham
Where the gals wears calico drawers
And we knows how to tear ’em
At which point the female posse emerged and put a stop to it all…I don’t know what happened to the old boy but we children were pushed inside and fed seed cake.
On the bus going home I asked my mother about our visitor..
She told me that his own parents had fallen on hard times and had farmed the children out to various relatives.
He had gone to her mother who was a superb plain cook, but, thanks to his circumstances, he was not used to cooked food but rather to the stale cakes sold off by the baker….
So every home cooked meal from roast to shepherd’s pie via pig’s fry on Saturday was greeted with a cry of