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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Again the shrug.

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

No senora, it all depends on the workload.

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

Don Adolfo is not yet in the office, senora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So back down the hill to ICE.

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

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

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

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

Back downhill to ICE.

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

I explained the problem..

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


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

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


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

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

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

‘What’s for lunch?’

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

After lunch Danilo came to the house.

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

Yes, he should.

He did.

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

Now, before we go any further…some background.

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

No red cantons so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No, they won’t do that.’

I can’t say that I blame them.

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

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


37 thoughts on “The Grand Old Duke of York is Alive and Well in Costa Rica”

    1. it is the arrogance of it….but these people, paid full salaries, do not realise how much their disdain is resented by people struggling to put food on the table in this virus crisis

  1. Oh my! And I thought France was impossible. As you say, France’s lack of customer service offers good training for all of this – we have learnt to assume that they will say “the computer says no” and work our way round it.

    1. It would not have been so bad if I had had the car, but better to get the whole job done while I was in town.
      Oddly enough, the phone and internet had been repaired before I returned to the house…thanks, I suspect, to Don Adolfo.

  2. This sounds like the worst of France, combined with my memories of Mexico. I have to hand it to you. I couldn’t deal with it. I got far away from Mexico and here in France I have a notaire, an immigration attorney, a tax attorney and a very bureaucracy-savvy boyfriend to shield me from all this. Plus Julien, my Danilo-equivalent, except he doesn’t paint the phones. And still, things happen. The rain sounds good, though. Send some over here.

    1. The hell bent combination of the line being down and the mobile ‘phone giving up the ghost let me in for that lot….and the car being in use so that Leo could trap the Bandersnatch without having to go to his office where social distancing is unknown.
      I just wish the knees were not so argumentative…or the town less hilly.

  3. I was with you all the way!
    On the other hand I was awaiting Microsoft updating the phone as you went to use it, sad to see this was missed out, so far.
    Impressive however was the way the master of the house avoided all contact with humanity while you did the work. He really is a man to admire!

    1. No good getting older if you don’t get craftier….but he needed to see the lawyer and best to trap him at home to avoid the pack waiting in his office.
      Not that he narrowly avoiding having his chips on enquiring what there might be for lunch…

  4. You definitely have stamina, Helen!! You showed an incredible amount of patience. When I got to “What’s for lunch?” I knew what I would be saying!! 🤬

  5. Nothing worse than being held captive by telecoms and getting ‘that’ shrug. Especially when you have to pay outrageous bills for lousy service. Bureaucracy is maddening be it delivered by governmental agencies or utilities. I’m not sure my blood pressure could handle it as well as you do.

    1. Luckily the bills are pretty low…and it will give you the measure of French bureacracy and ineptitude when I find that my blood pressure is significently lower here than it was in France, but the shrug is something i could live without….!

  6. There, all’s well that ends well. You just need to know your way round the obstacles and, from what I read in your blog, you have a sufficiency of wiliness to cope with anything in any country on any continent.

    1. Question of having to, isn’t it!
      I could do with the knees being a little more flexible, however – those hills are quite steep.
      Now for the MOT….luckily not something requiring my attention.

  7. An ordinary day in the life of Helen Devries. And again, she prevails. Actually, she perseveres and prevails. Too much walking!

    1. Much too much walking! An op on my ankle has been put back thanks to the virus…and the knees are not what they were!

      I had to get that line repaired so that Leo’s specialist could contact him…and as it turned out the repair was done that very morning…I can only think Don Adolfo sorted it. Otherwise you can wait days for a repair to be done.

      They used to use only their own staff, but now there is a lot of sub contracting and that seems to slow things down a lot. Leo has the legal right to priority thanks to his age and illness, but these days it takes a battle with some of the staff to assert his rights. Xenophobia plays a large part….any English speaking foreigner is assumed to be North American and they don’t enjoy a good reputation locally. As always, a few spoil it for the rest.

      It was not like that when we first moved here…staff would move mountains to help someone old and ill.

      Still, France was a good training ground…

  8. Helen, your life sounds nearly as trying as mine.
    Currently feeling like a cross between a security guard and a night club bouncer, having to argue four times a week that deluded souls need to put their damn mask on if they want to come into my shop!
    Unfortunately shop is in the hippy central station of France

    1. It was, thank goodness, an isolated experience…but one I could have done without! Visiting the ICE offices is enough for one day on its own and with particularly obstructve staff it can feel like enough for one lifetime.

      You need one of those notices outside the shop to the effect that if they don’t want to wear a mask you reserve the right to take their temperatures…with a rectal thermometer! And have a cattle goad prominently displayed – half of them would fall for it, I am sure.

  9. I don’t know how you do it Helen. I cannot even manage a slight incline any more due to back and knees adamantly saying “NO”. Just getting up the stairs is a breath-taking achievement in the literal sense of the word.

    Last week I had an opportunity to put UK customer service to the test. We have a very small nest egg in a bank account we haven’t used for a couple of years. I thought it was time we considered moving it here before the pound sinks into oblivion. We have had the account since 1989 and never had any problems logging into it, so it was an unpleasant shock to discover I could no longer do so. The system has been updated and I now have to register for Internet banking.

    That proved impossible. Every time I began the process it announced, without explanation, that I could go no further.

    There followed four days of phone calls and discussions on Twitter, which on one occasion reduced me to tears.

    To register for Internet banking I had to receive a code on a UK mobile phone, which I do not have nor can buy because I don’t live there.

    Customer service were very sorry and they were very helpful, but none of their help helped. I kept getting the same ‘The computer says no’ message and I must furnish a UK mobile phone number.

    After three days of fruitless discussions, one helpful young lady found the simple answer. All I needed to do was to go to my nearest branch and use my card reader. I tried not to scream whilst reminding her that the nearest branch was 500 miles away in another country, which I had previously explained to numerous other help desks ranging from Cardiff through to Norwich and up to Fife.

    To break the cycle of helpfulness, I fell upon a loathesome male person who sounded as if he was baby-sitting his neighbourhood’s feral infants as the background was a cacophony of shrieks and roars. He kept telling me to follow the procedure that I had been following for the previous four days and refusing to accept my explanation that it would not work. The shrieks and roar were punctuated with loud, dramatic sighs from him and he said that if I would only do what he told me the problem would be solved. It was lucky he was out of range of my paperknife otherwise it would have been embedded in the space between his eyes. I hung up on him in mid-sigh.

    By the fourth day I was almost broken when I finally made contact with somebody who understood the problem and knew the way around it. They would send the code by mail and no UK mobile phone would be necessary.

    I carefully spelt out our French address, and almost immediately received an email confirmation of it and an assurance that the magical code would be in the post the next day. I was dubious when I saw that the address contained “newword” between Saint and Romain, but all credit to La Poste, it arrived.

    It took 4 days for me to put it to the test because I fully expected the computer to say no, again. But lo! It didn’t.

    With so much dependent upon mobile phones these days, I really wonder how older and technologically challenged people manage.

  10. What a horrible experience!
    Now, if someone could just sort out virtual murder, that revolting man would have had his just deserts.
    From what I gather, this demand for further identity is an EU regulation…for the safety of the customer! More likely to give the customer heart failure trying to get to grips with it…Perhaps a Brexit bonus will be that U.K. banks won’t use it from next year..but somehow I doubt one could be so lucky. It is like those signs on French roads…for your security this road is monitored by cameras….’my security’, my backside!
    I see we are all being edged to use electronic currency…can you imagine what a horlicks the banks will make of that!
    Given the weakness of the dollar the pound hasn’t done too badly for us here, luckily….but the struggle to find a cash machine that will cough up the amount I want without charging commission is like playing musical chairs…I used to draw out at the local supermarket when going to the farmers’ market but then it wanted commission so now I go to supermarket in the next town when going to pick up cheese…I suppose it all helps to keep the brain active and ward off Alzheimers…
    It would all have been so much easier had I had use of the car…but as it was I thought it best to get the whole thing settled while I was on the spot and as one blasted thing succeeded another. One thing it proved…exercise is not good for your well being. The knees and back protested for days!
    I think the crowning glory of the whole thing was, having extracted myself from the taxi and crawled up the drive, the enquiry as to what was for lunch…

  11. Is the question: “Are we having something to eat?” even more infuriating? Considering that we have had something to eat three times a day, every day for the last 40 years

    Our French bank demands verification of every transaction via a code sent to the mobile phone. It’s good to know that they are protecting our money, but the fact that my mobile phone could not pick up a signal in the house was something of a hindrance. I had to roam around the hamlet waving it in the air until the code appeared. By the time I returned to the house, the code had expired and I had to start again ………….

    Having changed our provider there has been a slight improvement. I can pick up a signal standing at the front door, or up in one of the bedrooms.

    1. Until four years ago, the only way to get a mobile phone signal at our French house was to stand with one foot in tbe river.
      Good job my UK clients don’t skype or zoom me…

  12. Especially when the question is put a few minutes after the last meal….
    The ‘what’s for lunch?’ drives me mad as meals are micromanaged from the day before. I am going to get a blackboard and put up the day’s menu, I think…or will that lead to furious rubbings out and changes…

    Banks here have a little card with a grid from which you fill out the verification form…finem except that after a few years the card is faded and needs good light and glasses…but at least i don’t have to hang from the balcony to get a mobile ‘phone signal!

    Banks? Give me a good mattress any time!

  13. Sorry Helen it must have been very frustrating for you but you did make me smile at your antics! That gallic shrug is the most annoying move I have ever seen and as well you know, it is very common here. Good job you could throw a good name around. I just hope that everything was fixed quickly. Modern technology is wonderful when it works, when it doesn’t………..
    We are having a problem with the bank in RSA. We have to re-register online, they say they are sending us a code to get into the new set up, they have the right number, but noting arrives here. This has now been going on for 6 weeks and we are getting absolutely nowhere. Obviously, an IT problem but they are blaming us!!!! Friends can SMS from there so why not the bank Grrrrrrrr.
    Take care both of you and stay safe. Diane

  14. Laugh away all you like…thanks, I think, to Don Adolfo, the line was fixed before i returned home…but thanks to the Bandersnatch for giving me the contact in the first place! As for the mobile ‘phone and the PIN….the mind boggled then and boggles still
    There must be some new IT regime in RSA, Leo had a similar problem with his broker there and no sooner was one problem solved than another rolled up! Eventually someone took control and sorted it, but it was a nightmare as he could not trade until he had proper access – and perish the thought that they would be responsible for any losses!
    I hope it gets sorted…but these days the customer is always wrong!

  15. Goodness, what a surrealistic rigmarole. All I can say is, I’m glad I live in Northern Ireland where I have a totally reliable mobile, landline and broadband service. If there’s a problem, I ring BT and they sort it out straightaway. As for the MOT, our car is currently exempt until such time as MOT tests are running normally again and then they will send me an MOT date. Clearly you need the patience of a saint (or the fury of a woman scorned) to get anything done in Costa Rica.

    1. Depenfd on the day! It was bad luck having the mobilr ‘phone go down at the wrong moment otherwise I could have reported the fault the minute it occurred – and would not have to have combine the two jobs, but the local office staff are the pits.

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