‘Johnny Cope’ in the Morning

As the witness of  many a man of the Highland regiments would attest, there is nothing like a rendering of ‘Johnny Cope’ by a pipe and drum band to wrest you from your  slumbers.

Shakespeare might have proclaimed that Macbeth does murder sleep but he has been overtaken by the times…for the murder of sleep ‘Johnny Cope’ is your man.

Needless to say, Youtube does not have a full rendering of the initial drumroll which, as Terry Pratchett says of the initial chord in folk dancing, is there to enable people to get away in time…

Mark you, I can run General Cope  a close second.

I caterwaul in the mornings as I go about my business.’Nessun dorma’ has nothing on it.

Not in the bathroom – the toothpaste gets in the way – but once I hit the kitchen the air is rendered hideous by my renderings of whatever musical number has taken my matutinal fancy. If you can imagine a coyote singing, you have the idea.

I am not particularly aware of my repertoire, but recently Leo presented me with a playlist: he had noted what he could recognise over the period of a week and I was quite surprised by the diversity of my unmusical offerings.

Oh! oh! Antonio’ keeps company with ‘Bonnie Strathyre’….

The Black Watch are hymned:

while Mozart is murdered.

‘La Claire Fontaine’

accompanies ‘Le temps de Cerises’

while ‘Le Reve Passe’

competes with ‘Oh du wunderschoner deutscher Rhein’ – and how someone whose conscious knowledge of German stops at ‘Achtung minen!’ can remember this lot is beyond me.

‘My mother bids me bind my hair’

follows ‘It was pleasant and delightful’

and ‘Stormy weather, boys’ here sung by that delightful old gentleman, Bob Roberts, who kept the legend of the Thames barges alive for so many years.

Ireland features…

while ‘dauntless Red Hugh’ was my father’s nickname among those who dared…

And I suppose it is my father I have to thank for putting music in my soul.

He sang from morn till night…unless immersed in study of the form for a five horse accumulator on the flat …everything from opera to folk with a great deal along the byways between….but he had a voice…a lovely tenor.

Though he used to joke that he must have been singing ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’ – that harbinger of ill luck – when betting on the horses…

The main thing I remember, though, is father coming downstairs, freshly shaven, ready to take mother out for the evening, singing

Given the staid sort of outing that was habitual I asked him why he sang it

‘Hope springs  eternal’ said father.


Don’t rent my house through Airbnb and don’t arrive in a Uber car


I have decided to rent out the house in Spain when it is not in use by friends and family: it would be nice to see a small tiddler size cheque or two swimming bravely upstream against the flow of utility bills and taxes consequent upon being lucky enough to own property.

I do not believe that the results will entitle me to proclaim myself a ‘rentier’….for that I would need to be profiting from the sort of U.K. government tax hand outs to ‘buy to let’ landlords that are not classed as benefits  in that they are much more lucrative than the pittances begrudgingly paid out to those in genuine need of help….but it will give me the opportunity to get to grips with the Spanish tax codes to occupy my mind now that the Great British Bake Off has finished.

I enjoyed the French tax codes…who would have thought that investing in racehorses would give rise to tax deductions…and Costa Rica’s lot is equally fascinating: currently the tax on incorporated associations has been in abeyance since the Constitutional Court sniffed at the procedure used to pass the legislation and as the National Assembly cannot manage to run a whelk stall let alone a country there the matter lies still.

I will – with much use of bad language – put up a Facebook page for the house.

I will use word of mouth via friends and family.

I will list the house with a niche rental company – one that deals with the area and which puts clients directly in touch with me.

I will not be using Airbnb.

Or, come to that, Owners Direct.

Or Tripadvisor….

Why not? They are the major players….their ads come up top of the list on Google when you are thinking of booking a house for your holidays….they would give me much more publicity.

Indeed they would…but at a price both to me and to the potential client.

These sites are platforms which suck blood from both client and owner: they take commission from both sides and increasingly cut down the contact between both parties.

Airbnb, in particular, regard the property owners signed up with them as sheep to the slaughter.

You, as a client, are delighted that you can cancel at the last minute if something goes awry at home: the rental owner is not…how to fill a vacancy at the last minute for a period where he may have turned down other potential bookings?

Or the client has booked for a week and  decides to move on after two days – not from any fault with the property but just because the spirit so moves him. According to Airbnb who are trialing this, the owner must refund the five outstanding days –   with no chance of another booking to fill the gap.

I used to rent out holiday houses in France years ago: I paid for an advertisement in a niche agency and the clients contacted me directly. They knew exactly what was on offer and I knew exactly what they were seeking: the contract was between ourselves.

It was, on the whole, great fun – with a few notable exceptions – and we are still in contact with a number of people who came as clients and left as friends, but that depended on the personal link between us, all trying to make the much anticipated holiday as good as it could be.

These booking platforms are doing their best to rupture that link: to them, the property is an item upon which to make money from both ends…they have not the slightest interest in making the holiday a success.

Booking platforms seem to be the new thing: you want a cleaner? You ring a platform and some poor sod arrives, whose payment depends on how much the platform milches you for and how much it takes for itself.

Some of these platforms even have their desperate non employees bidding each other down for work…

Non employees: no job security…no sick pay, no holiday pay…provide your own materials…

What sort of society have we become to tolerate this?

Uber is a prime example of the exploitative platform.

In Costa Rica they proclaim that they do not provide transportation services…in order to evade the law which regulates said services. Explain to me how contacting a platform to obtain a taxi is not transportation services.

Car owners sign up with them…all is hunky dory.

As it will be until Uber have enough of a presence in the market to reduce the rates paid by the clients and increase the commission paid to Uber by the drivers – as they have done elsewhere.

Drivers who have to maintain their cars at their own expense….

Please, avoid the platforms.

Make contact with real people.

The Glass That Cheers And, With A Bit Of Luck, Inebriates.


The rain clouds – and the accompanying ravening insects – caught us before we had finished supper outside this evening so we went indoors, applied calomine lotion to the parts every insect could  reach and settled down to chat  over  slices of goat cheese  and a glass of epine.

Both items had returned with me in my suitcases…accompanied by spices impossible to obtain here, marmite and kippers. Luckily, Aeromexico surpassed themselves and did not lose my luggage as otherwise it could probably have walked home unaided.

I remember a suitcase loaded with cheese which Iberia managed to lose for twenty four hours in the summer heat of Madrid. The gentleman driving the van which delivered it to the house handed it over with alacrity and asked me if I were sure that nothing had died inside it.

Surely, I said, the customs would never have let it pass if anything had…

You don’t think that customs are going to open anything that smells like that, do you?

Still, this time all had gone well: the goat cheese had become a little deliquescent but was not yet in attack mode and accompanied the epine with brio.

The epine itself dates from a batch made in 2005, while we lived in France: it traveled to the house in Spain when we moved and thence, a few bottles  at a time, to Costa Rica.

I think I can say that we are probably the only people in the country to possess it. Even the French embassy gets its wine from Chile….well, at the far from exalted levels at which I encounter the said embassy it does and I can’t see it serving an old fashioned country aperitif at its more glamorous receptions. Apart from anything else it would  have the guests half seas over after a sniff at it.

The recipe is simple.

To one kilo of sugar you put one litre of eau de vie and four litres of wine – red is usual but should you have a supply of white wine for which the term cats’ pee would be a compliment you can use that too. To this you add a large handful of the new pink shoots of the blackthorn – or the mirabelle plum, or wild cherry – and mix it all up to dissolve the sugar. Keep for a couple of months, strain and bottle.

After the first batch we made – from a supply of Merlot which would have removed the enamel from your teeth – we turned to the wine made by our friend and neighbour, a retired vigneron who had kept back just enough vines to make wine for himself and friends.

He had sold the commercial parcels of Cabernet Franc grape but had retained his pride and joy – the lines of Oberlin and Castel from which he made wine strong enough to knock your socks off – and decidedly palatable even if it was as well to visit him on foot as he was a hospitable soul and enjoyed sharing a bottle or two.

Given the strength of his wine as compared with the regular sort of stuff we used to up it to five litres in place of four in the recipe – and the results met with universal approval among our rural neighbours.

You will no doubt be accustomed to seeing wines made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc on the supermarket shelf, along with the Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons,  Chenin Blancs and Chardonnays – but you won’t see Oberlin or Castel, any more than you will see Baco or Tete de Negre though at one time these and similar varieties like Othello and Noah were common in France.

After phylloxera ravaged the French vineyards in the nineteenth century solutions were sought, and the eventual winner was the idea of grafting french vines onto phylloxera resistant american vine stocks but in the meantime hybridisation was popular, mating french varieties of vitis vinifera with american vitis riparia or vitis rupestris and the results were vines giving wine of varying quality – but with a trailing habit which made restocking a vineyard simple – and cheap. Let the trailing stems root, and, hey presto, a plant for nothing, resistant to anything.

As French wine production revived the powers that be decided that only the grafted stuff would be authorised for the production of wine to be sold commercially, so the hybrids began to disappear, surviving only as relics preserved by people who remembered them fondly.

But every dog has its day. As vineyards succumb to the effects of the pesticide and herbicide levels imposed by the authorities interest in the hybrids has been revived. They are tough as old boots, resistant to just about anything, don’t need to be sprayed with poison and with modern winemaking techniques their quality can be more than acceptable.

No doubt we will not see it, but with a bit of luck people in the future will be able to buy their Castel or Oberlin as opposed to acquiring it by stealth – and make an epine worth the name.

Tchin tchin!