Absent Idiot

I left the house this morning to go to my regular contact session with students learning English at the local Technical College. A group of volunteers are at the disposition of the teachers to encourage the students to practice their english and it is a lot of fun. I have learned from the students how to cook beans properly, Costa Rican style…which is the best pizza takeaway in town…how you gain admission to public universities…what is reggaeton– dance music……a real breath of fresh air. The students are well behaved, responsive and really nice young people. They do me good. I hope they benefit from it as much as do I.

We have discussed all manner of things….why a true Scot wears nothing under the kilt, who are the kings of rock, the war in the Ukraine….and have worked on the skills they will need to find success in their future careers, not just language competence, but networking and continuing professional education.

So, on a high, I returned home.

One look and I would have done well to turn on my heel….the kitchen was in chaos. Higher Authority was directing operations, every surface was covered and the cleaner was brandishing cleaning cloths and dusters.

He had found all the kitchen gadgets which I had tucked away…out of sight and hopefully out of mind. Their discovery while I was out qualified me for the apocryphal Russian translation of said phrase…absent idiot.

Higher authority has a weakness for gadgets…..but he isn’t the one using them.

Some are useful….the one I use for steaming pan haggis, for example. Apart from steaming it claims to cook and fry as well, but I already have provision for these activities so apart from haggis and Christmas pudding production it remains in its lair.

A sandwich toaster has long been abandoned to a dark corner. Such is its shape that it requires supermarket sliced bread which is as vile here as in Europe and, what’s more, the major supplier of which rejoices in the name of Bimbo. Bimbo is also the sponsor of one of the major football clubs in the country whose supporters buy and wear copies of the team’s kit, thus the sight of gentlemen of all ages, shapes and sizes strolling about in tee shirts emblazoned with the name of the firm in bold letters across their chests. It gives an anglophone pause for thought in these days of transgenderism…

The blender had been brought blinking into the light. Not only do I not make ‘smoothies’ but the cup is a real beast to clean, the designer having given it internal ribs, so it rarely emerges from obscurity.

Not too much of a problem so far….the gadgets were being dusted and replaced…but too soon to breathe easily.

He had discovered the electric saucepan. To be fair, he had bought it thinking it a slow cooker, but having a sufficiency of normal saucepans I had put it aside.

Why had I put it aside? Look, it has temperature control! Ideal for making ersatz golden syrup!

To Britishers of our age, life without a stock of golden syrup is unthinkable.

No golden syrup, no brandysnaps, steamed puddings, gingerbread or, most importantly, treacle tart.

In the days that the British Embassy had some care for its citizens, there used to be a celebration of the Queen’s birthday in the garden of the ambassador, complete with highland dancing but most importantly with a stand supplying British essential consumables. Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies, Bird’s custard powder, proper loose black tea, pork pies – and how they got those through customs is beyond me unless they used the diplomatic bag – prepared suet, Mars bars, golden syrup…….the stand was mobbed and it was handy to have been trained in how to use the elbows at church jumble sales in order to get to the front.

These days the embassy could not care less if its fellow countrymen took a running jump…they are there for trade purposes only, and, being so commercially virtuous, there are no more cakes and ale for the hoi polloi. Thus, no more golden syrup. You have to make a substitute and for this, I am informed, the electric saucepan will be ideal. It is placed on the work top, ready for action.

Then, lastly, my particular bugbear…the air fryer. I hate the thing. Chips, french fries, call them what you will, are not meant to be cooked without fat. I loathe the results. I loathe wrestling with the thing, trying to release its basket for cleaning. I loathe burning the backs of my fingers on it when turning out its contents.

We ought to have another go…I’ll look for a recipe.

And look he did.

With the result that I have wrestled with the thing and burned the backs of my fingers again.

Air fryers? Humbug!


Emerging From the Sausage Machine.

Shabby and far from chic, but it works.

I had my second cataract surgery yesterday, in a purpose built state of the art eye clinic – the pride of the CAJA – the Costa Rican version of the British National Health Service.

The other eye had been dealt with at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in the centre of the capital…a maze of structures dating from the nineteenth century, constantly undergoing the construction of new buildings on a restricted site, where departments live hugger mugger, offices stuffed into Victorian cubbyholes while the ‘working’ stuff wallows in comparative luxury in areas dating from the thirties to the present day

We know San Juan de Dios well….with all Leo’s problems the joke among his specialists is that the only departments not treating him are gynaecology and the morgue.

Having finally achieved an appointment for cataract surgery at San Juan de Dios I had jumped through all the hoops – electrocardiagram, blood tests and Covid test – only to arrive at 6.00 am on the morning of the appointment to be told by the secretary that I had not, in fact, done any of them.

Th secretaries are the curse of the CAJA.

As the jefatura – the office – did not open until 9.30 am I messed off home and complained by e mail.

Another appointment…no electrocardiagram but another Covid test – with the same nurse, who wondered why I was there. We agreed that the secretaries were both incompetent and hostile and I returned for the next appointment.

Same gravy.

This time I was prepared. I had the surgeon’s e mail address.

Shortly a young doctor arrived, entered the secretary’s office, and voices were raised. He emerged, red in the face, and informed me that my surgery would go ahead.

Fine, except that I was now last on the list.

From there all went well. Nurses checked blood pressure, checked that that the lesions on my leg were not infected and helped me undress and put on the theatre garments.

Staff, from porters to nurses, talked to me while I was waiting and thus I was relaxed going in to the theatre where the surgeon explained what he was about to do at each stage so I knew what to expect, and before I knew it it was finished, with the surgeon explaining the follow up procedure.

Here the background staff took over, transfered me to a waiting area where they gave me coffee and biscuits, helped me dress and gave me eye drops to use in the following week to complete the process.

I had to return the next day for a check up and, as no secretary was involved, all went well. I was on the list for treatment for the other eye.

A year later came a telephone call from the blue, summoning me to the specialist eye clinic for tests – the next day.

With the new government has come a certain improvement in the standards expected of state institutions and the new health minister – duly loathed by the medical establishment – has set about the old Spanish practices in the CAJA. Good luck to her! I will know that she has won when the secretaries do their jobs rather than expecting the patients to do them themselves.

Operation backlogs are to be tackled….thus, I suppose, the surprise appointment.

I duly toddled off, had the tests, and had the date of operation confirmed. All hunky dory.

Until the day.

I turned up before time, was second in the queue, and awaited the formalities.

Oh dear…the secretary did not have my papers.

I – not she – would have to go to the Admissions office to retrieve them.

The snooty young lady at said office told me that surgical admissions could only be dealt with from 4.00 pm onwards. 4.00 pm being the time of my appointment.

Conveyed this to the secretary whose response was that I had better be at the office on time, then.

Had the state of the eye not been so bad I would have told her where to go and that she would find the papers where the monkey kept its nuts, but, faced with a further wait for treatment, I simmered in silence.

At 4.00 pm there was a queue at the Admissions office, and the sulky lump who had replaced the snooty young lady announced that we would all have to wait while she caught up with her backlog.

Half an hour later she wa still ‘catching up’ when I caught sight of the lady who had sorted out my papers when going for the preliminary tests and asked her if she could help.

She could. She entered the office and blew the sulky lump backwards bow legged, then said she would give me my dossier herself, but I would have to return to the office to get the all important slip of paper authorising the op.

Duly returned to the office where the sulky lump was still ‘catching up’. I would have to wait.

Went in search of the helpful lady – now dishing out documents to the others in the queue – who came back to the office and repeated the blowing backwards bow legged performance until the slip was produced.

I was, by now, last in the queue.

No help to get changed here…..wheeled off in theatre clothing to sit in line with those now ahead of me. The staff involved in their own chatter, ignoring us all.

Finally wheeled to the theatre, where music was blaring, and up on the table. No clamp or headrest…just ‘stay still’. Luckily I had undergone the process previously and had some idea of what was to come as the surgeon’s voice was drowned out by the radio.

Process completed, handed a bag with eye drops and paracetamol and wheeled back to change.

That was that. Coffee? Biscuits ?Time to recover? No chance.

A check up? No one mentioned one but one there must be as on the slip of paper in the bag with the eye drops was a list of dos and don’ts – no cooking, lifting, exercise, etc. – and a reminder that the plastic eye cover applied after the op must be returned at the next appointment.

Given the two experiences, shabby San Juan de Dios beats the shiny sausage machine hands down.

P.S. The ‘no cooking’ instruction has somewhat ruffled the domestic dovecot, but the resident Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht, otherwise known as Higher Authority, has a solution. I have been presented with a wrap round pair of goggles, which, I am assured, will keep the steam out.

He is getting sandwiches, notwithstanding.

The Queen Is Dead

Whatever one’s views on monarchy, the class system, the state of the nation, a family have lost their matriarch and many in society feel a loss at the death of a woman who has been part of national life for nearly one hundred years.

Let us leave partisanship aside and join with Handel’s Jeptha in hope of the welcome above of a good and faithful servant