Sumer Is Icumen In

‘Sumer is icumen in’ is, we were told at school, the earliest non sacred song known in the U.K. If you have not grasped the lyrics, here is a link giving the original and the modern translation.

We learned it as one of the many ’round’ songs like ‘Frere Jacques’ and ‘London’s Burning’ and I think of it now that the bods at the Met office have officially declared summer in Costa Rica.

Glad to hear it.

I have had enough of large rocks descending on the roads….

enough of said roads collapsing….

enough of landslides taking out the telephone lines….

in short…

enough.

We have been organising for the heat to come. The fans are in working order and we are well supplied for cold drinks.

I have found a new recipe for lemonade with fermented lemons……..reading that it took some time to be ready I started early, and celebrated the first day without rain by trying it. I shall be making more, a lot more, so just as well that we have a glut of lemons to make both that and ordinary lemonade.

The stand at the weekly feria supplies me with fruit drinks straight from the lady’s finca. Orange, watermelon and guanabana – soursop – ready to put in the freezer for the week ahead.

There is, of course, beer. Made in Spain by a German firm, given a Czech name, exported to Costa Rica and currently on offer in the local supermarket. At that price I filled the car boot.

Roll on the cold soups – vichysoisse, the gazpachos, cold minestrone……..

Roll on the tabouleh, the melon, mint and feta, the cucumber and tuna……

Roll on the cold trout in orange juice and vermouth, the fish pate, the red snapper salad

Roll on the ham – thanks to the Italian deli on an industrial estate, found when lost – the cold chicken galantine, home made terrines, the pickles…….

Roll on the cheeses – thanks again to the Italian deli – and the puds……. burned cream, Eton mess with strawberries from Volcano Poas, fruit tarts…….

We shall sit on the balcony with a G and T looking out across the Central Valley to the mountains beyond and relax in the balmy weather, rain gear packed away at last.

Dogs shall sleep.

However, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that anticipation will be better than the reality.

Most of these delights involve cooking as part of their preparation.

And who will be doing that cooking?

In a hot kitchen in summer?

Muggins…that’s who.

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November 11th…..Armistice Day.

Until in her late nineties mother used to march past the Cenotaph for the annual ceremony of remembrance whether on foot or, in later years, pushed in a wheelchair by a chum from the Brigade of Guards .

Father would never attend any such ceremony, considering it all a masquerade which glorified the deaths and wounds of those who were sent to war for interests that were not their own.

Mother wanted to march with her comrades.

Father turned his back on the whole thing.

But on some things they were agreed. Those who died in war did not ‘sacrifice’ their lives…….they were killed, wounded, potentially maimed for life both mentally and physically, in actions ordered by their governments.

Governments which do and have not given a toss for those who serve in their wars. Plenty of lip service and ceremony, but a U.K. Ministry of Defence which throws money at inept procurement projects while sending the human beings out in the field with defective equipment to take their chance. Discharged veterans without aid and support, some even on the streets.

Further, those who go to war have a strong bond of solidarity…they look after each other through thick and thin…something in civilian, in political life, in these days of identity politics we seem to have forgotten.

Can you imagine them not going to the aid of a comrade because he voted for Brexit….was of a different skin colour….approved of Trump? No, you can not. They will bring him in and argue about their differences later.

It is a lesson we can learn from those who volunteer to defend their country…though all too often they end up defending some other country’s interests.

In civilian, in political life we should stop identifying people by the labels either they or others give them.

We need to band together to defend the values which we need to have a healthy society.

Good housing, good education, real employment.

We can argue about our differences when we have won.

And on a personal note, here is something that brings back memories of mother.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea offers care and accommodation for a limited number of veterans, known as the Chelea Pensioners and recognised by their red coats and black tricorne hats.

Every year at the Royal British Legion Ceremony of Remembrance they make their entry, clapped to their place on the stand to the accompaniment of ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’.

And every year, without fail, mother would greet their entry with a cry of ‘Creepers!’ and then have to take to her handkerchief as she remembered the ‘boys of the old brigade’ now gone.

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

It’s Not An Aga Saga

Living in England we had solid fuel stoves, some of which also heated the house. I have never had an Aga, that mark of middle class respectability, but gather they must be sturdy beasts as Leo as a small boy watched his mother heat one up until the top was glowing dull red and then throw buckets of water over it. He was entranced as the water rose to the ceiling in bubbles….but the Aga survived.

I had a Rayburn for years….two ovens, a warming drawer and a solid top on which to slide the pans to achieve the level of heat desired while heating the house….. and then, in a larger house, a FrancoBelge which kept the house toasty on minimal fuel in winter though making the kitchen feel like the Black Hole of Calcutta in the chancy weather of spring and autumn.

In France we had a Godin….beautiful, but only good for top heat….and thus relied on an electric oven. I cannot say that it was a success.

It was top of the range at the time which in effect, meant that its technology was ahead of reality. One thunderstorm and the blighter packed up, thus requiring a visit from the installer and a large bill.

Surge plugs? It sneered at them.

I can tell you, watching your souffle sinking before your eyes is not a good experience.

The climax came when it packed up again when our supper, a hotpot, was just ready. The door would not open. Pressing this, that and possibly the other made no difference. The thing was giving the equivalent of the French shrug. It had our supper and what were we going to do about it….

Well, Leo might be Belgian but given conflict he follows the counsel of Henry V at the siege of Honfleur………

Imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage….

So he went for the oven with a screwdriver, liberated his supper, and the blighter gave no more problems.

Moving to Costa Rica we found things in the oven line to be decidedly old hat….an oven was the thing under the burners….if you had gas burners you had a gas oven below, if electric, electric.

I have never been a fan of low level ovens…..crouching down to see what’s going on, being assailed by a blast of hot air to the eyes when opening the brute…..and once town gas was replaced by natural gas you could not even end it all by lying down with your head in the thing.

Further, one thing living in France had taught us was that you must not be dependent totally on electricity….not if you like hot food….so we needed a gas hob and an electric oven. The first was easy. The second, more of a problem.

The only suppliers at that time were high end kitchen providers, at prices in the stratosphere, so it was off to the small ads to find something secondhand. Of course, as these ovens were not common, the search took quite a time, but eventually we unearthed one, took it home and it worked for years. Until it didn’t.

Off to the workshop of the Cubano, local miracle worker with anything electrical, who warned that , as it was ‘foreign’, there might be a problem obtaining the parts…..

Panicking at the thought of oven deprivation, Leo found another one…new in the box, an unwanted present sold by a young lady whose relationship had broken down, partly, it seemed, because the gentleman concerned expected her to want to cook, whereas her view was that that was why restaurants existed. It was as well that Leo did look around as we finally received the repaired oven one year later.

More modern, lighter…it never cooked as well as old faithful and we were glad to put it in storage and restore the latter to its rightful place.

All went well until the day that it had to be moved to place its ventilation under the new extended kitchen extractor. It still worked…but it gave me an electric shock every time I touched it. No one else…just me.

Well, you can get used to anything, so I became adept at using a tea towel to open and close the door, and developed the necessary gymnastic skills to insert and remove items without touching the racks, while not burning myself. And all was well until our baker packed up.

Local taste in bread demands a touch of sweetness, which we intensely dislike, and this man made proper bread….we had been his customers for years, traveling to San Jose to buy in bulk for the freezer, but the Covid restrictions had made it impossible for him to maintain enough clients to service his bills, so, approaching retirement, he took it.

Sweet bread? No way! We — for whch read me ….would make it ourselves!

Fine…I had not made bread for years, as it was next to impossible to get strong flour in France, but I knew how to do it and once into practice it was not too bad and getting better until Leo enquired why I was baking the bread under a large cooking pot, which entailed sharp work in removing the oven rack, loaf and pot in order to remove the latter once the loaf had risen sufficiently and whack the two former back inside.

I explained that at the heat required to cook the loaf, a hard crust would form, thus reducing the amount by which the dough could rise. You could put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven too, but, given the electric shock problem, I did not feel up to that experiment. Then, stupidly, I added that professional ovens had steam injection to give a moist atmosphere…….

The Cubano was summoned to rectify the electric shock problem – due, by what I understood of the language used, to the idiots who had moved the thing….and all continued on its diurnal round.

Until a week later when Higher Authority emerged from his office to announce that he had the solution.

A proper bread oven.

He had found it on offer from the onlne store of one of the major white goods firms. We would buy it. It would produce good bread.

Duly bought, the oven arrived at our local store

However, on unpacking it there were two problems.

A. The plug was not compatible with the local system….even my international plug adapter did not recognise it.

B. There were no instructions.

In respect of A, customer services told us that an appropiate wall switch could be obtained at any hardware store.

No way Jose. Not even at the most specialst of outlets.

In respect of B they sent us hordes of links.. none of which were appropriate for this oven.

We contacted the importers.

The receptionist said that as we were not wholesalers the firm could not help us.

After a brief and expressive outburst she put us in contact with the sales manager.

Yes, we could chop off the plug and replace it with the local variety. This would not affect the guarantee.

Here comes the Costa Rican version of Jarndyce v Jarndyce……

He would send the instruction booklet.

He did.

It was vague in the extreme, but all went well until testing the steam supply. The hose was connected, water turned on, but on pressing the steam button jets of water worthy of Niagara Falls leapt out…covering the floor in a realistic re enactment of Noah’s Fludde.

While the cleaner mopped up the results Danilo was on the ‘phone to the sales manager…..

It appeared that you had to have the oven engaged before geting up steam…….

So today I baked bread. On putting the loaves into the oven I pressed the steam button and was aware of the sudden absence of men….normally underfoot.

Steam rose dramatically, like the steam locomotives of my youth.

No water covered the floor.

The bread was a success.


Afternoon Tea With Your Dog

Photograph courtesy of ‘The Spectator’.

The Great Scotland Yard Hotel – which is not paying me to plug its attractions – is offering a Jubilee special.

Sunday afternoon tea for your dog.

This building used to be the HQ of the Metropolitan Police, a fine body of mostly men dedicated to the pursuit of vice and crime…the propagation thereof rather than prevention…to the extent that the man appointed to clean up the organisation, Robert Mark, stated that his aim was to ‘arrest more criminals than we employ’. He succeeded in that respect, and also in refusing to accept any part of London as a ‘no go’ area.

But that was back in the seventies…..now the Met Police rejoice in a shiny new HQ, have under cover officers infiltrating protest groups to the extent of impregnating members thereof and uniformed officers who run away from gangs of black men while their colleagues are dancing with environmental activists blocking the main arteries of the capital.

The force has gone to the dogs – indeed is currently in ‘special measures’ after the disastrous reign of the latest Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who clung on to her post until bribed to leave with a spectacular pension pot.

But, as every dog must have his day it is not inappropriate that their old building is offering afternoon tea for pooches.

According to Lara King’s article in ‘The Spectator’ the canine guest will enjoy a bowl of iced water, a ‘dogestive’ biscuit in the shape of a corgi, a fairy cake, a sponge cake with buttercream and added protein in the form of powdered insects, with, to finish, a bowl of organic meat and veg, and all for only twenty five quid.

I can feed my lot for a few weeks for that, thanks to the meat from casualties at the pig farm on the other side of the bridge, delivered by the young man from across the road.

Not surprisingly, you cannot just put your dog in a taxi and send him off for his treat. Each dog needs a human companion and here, courtesy of Lara King, for forty nine quid is what that companion will get.

‘Three tiers of savoury treats include mini quiches of king prawn, courgette, rocket and Montgomery cheddar; smoked salmon, asparagus, horseradish and avruga caviar on pain de mie; coronation chicken finger sandwiches; truffle duck egg mayo on briochette; and garden pea, lemon and mint gougères. Next comes three tiers of the sweet stuff: miniature scones warm from the oven and topped with Cornish clotted cream and a summery rhubarb and elderflower jam; vast globes of blackcurrant and tonka mousse decorated with sugar flowers; oat, honey and apricot primrose ‘hats’; chunks of violet battenberg; and ‘Imperial State Crown lime cookies’, which are like a luxurious lime-flavoured take on Jaffa Cakes. Created in partnership with the Queen’s perfumier, Floris London, the menu has apparently been inspired by the notes of the brand’s Platinum 22 Eau de Parfum, but it’s the presentation that really stands out, with edible masterpieces so intricate they have to be seen to be believed. We wash it all down with glasses of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and pots of Breakfast Blend and Earl Grey teas.’ 

And you get a doggy bag for any leftovers.

Would I be tempted were I living in the U.K.? Probably not….I can almost feel the Scots soul slamming the catch on the purse as I write….but would any of my lot enjoy the experience?

They are all hearty eaters, though not averse to filling up the corners with more dainty fare if available, and I suspect they would feel that the meal was lacking in one important aspect.

Bones. They like bones. No meal is complete without a bone.

And being adventurous and confident dogs they would have gone in search of bones….right through the hotel, skirmishers Zuniga, Tinkerbelle and Tigerlily in the lead, the light brigade of Plush, Napoleon and Aunty behind, the heavy division of Einstein and Bunter following, the vertically challenged staff officers, Scruffy, Podge and Mr. Darcy beetling along to snap up any unconsidered trifles and Black Tot bringing up the rear at a pace suitable to her age and condition

Never mind not wishing to meet them on a dark night, I imagine that they would be a far from welcome sight in full cry in a hotel corridor in broad daylight, all lolling tongues, white teeth and scything tails. Pushed to the ground by the skirmishers, any unwary person would then be sniffed by Napoleon, slobbered on by Podge and walked on by Black Tot who has the same temperament as the Peninsular general Robert Crauford who believed in marching forward nomatter what the obstacle.

No….I don’t think it would be a good idea, on the whole. Quite apart from the risk that the hotel management would call the police who, after checking that there were no diversity issues and that the dogs were unarmed, would probably send out a firearms team, a sight of the afternoon tea offerings might give Mr. Darcy ideas.

He is not called Mr. Darcy for nothing. He feels himself to be entitled. He might feel that he is entitled to some of the dainties he had observed and, despite having been issued with a specialist pastry oven by Higher Authority – by which hangs a tale for another time – I am jiggered if I am going to bake ‘Imperial State Crown lime cookies’ for a short arsed French bulldog.

The Geese and the Common

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Until they go and steal it back.

Written in respect of the enclosures which from the sixteenth century onward, but most prominently in the eighteenth cenury, deprived villagers of their grazing rights in favour of the local landowner.

“Laws! We know what they are, and what they are worth! Spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the government.”

Thus Proudhon in the nineteenth century.

Let us now turn to the contemporary.

Since the banking debacle of 2008 when those who had played wily beguiled were bailed out with public money the people in general have suffered ‘austerity’…cuts to those public services that made a civilised life possible.

Further, thanks to the draconian governmental response to Covid, we have seen national economies tanked, national debt inflated beyond belief and basic liberties abrogated, without a dissenting voice either in politics or on the mass media.

Now we have war in the Ukraine, with governments damaging the interests of their own industries and people by their sanctions on Russian oil and gas, while inflation, born of policies aimed at boosting the stock markets at all costs, roars ahead.

And their solution to their own incompetence and cupidity? Work more years, tighten your belts and keep your traps shut.

WheGood Queen Bess wanted to get her point across, she would ‘tune the pulpits’…..have sermons delivered to the faithful, which in that era meant everyone who did not want to be regarded as a closet Catholic or Anabaptist. Not much use trying that these days…not enough parish clergy for one thing and sermons superseded by ‘messy church’.

These days governments have ‘nudge’ units at their disposal, to push people into the desired behaviour – desired, that is, by governments – and given the long term dumbing down of education and the monopoly ownership of the press this has been a very successful process resulting in people accepting restrictions which pervert family and social life for fear of social pressure – and of the police, who have hardly covered themselves in glory.

In H.G. Wells ‘Time Machine’ we meet the Eloi, gentle beings who swan along on the surface of life, and the Morlocks, who capture and eat them. Do the Eloi gather together to repel the Morlocks? No…they are totally inapable of defending themselves and accept the situation as ‘how things are’, just as the majority of people now see their stability, their ability to plan for the future of themselves and their children, their access to health services, decent housing and education going down the tubes….and do nothing.

But what can one do against the power of the state? It has the ability to bankrupt you, make you homeless, imprison you, take away your children….and if you poke your head over the barricade it can and will do all it can to chop it off ‘pour encourager les autres’. And don’t count on your friends and neighbours to support you either – you risk being a pariah.

Two things are possible….but they are long term.

We need to get away from the established political parties who have become nothing more than enablers for wealthy lobbyists. We all know, at our local level, people who are both honest and competent. We might not agree with them on everything, but we can trust them not to sell us down the river on party orders. We need to enourage them to stand for office, to work to get them elected and to crowd fund to make it possible to meet the financial hurdles imposed by legislation.

The other possibility has been demonstrated to me here.

A road subject to subsidence has been ‘repaired’ year after year by corrupt contractors. The council could not give a toss about the problems of those affected. Finally a local man, Don Kiki, took measures into his own hands and and gathered a group of supporters who with their own labour remodelled the road completely so that even after two years of exceptionally heavy rainfall the road is passable so that kids can get to school and farmers to market.

This year, a bridge on the main road to the capital was declared dangerous and was replaced by a Bailey bridge. But somehow the making good of the access on both sides was not included in the contract by the roadworks department. A local gentleman took the initiative and with the help of neighbours and money collected via local internet media has not only made good the access, but has a team of volunteers repairing any problems that arise day by day.

Local action not only gets things done, it makes for local solidarity too, which in turn throws up people able to truly represent the ordinary person’s concerns.

As I say…long term measures. I just hope we have the time, otherwise life will become nasty, brutish and short for the Eloi while the Morlocks feed.

Start hissing and flapping your wings. You have more power than you realise.

The Road Trip

Perhaps the old ways were best….

Our Japanese tin box, our mode of transport for many years, has been showing increasing signs of wishing to give up the ghost just lately thus incurring hefty repair bills.

We had been hoping to wait to replace it once Leo had obtained his certificate of disability, which gives rise to tax relief on the purchase and maintenance of a car, but his application has stalled in the works thanks to

A. Covid

B. Working from home due to Covid.

C. Not working at home thanks to Covid.

D. Government institutions’ websites being hacked for ransome.

E. Government unable, even if willing, to cough up.

F. Government institutions more bothered about starting a witch hunt among their IT personnel than sorting out the problems of the end user.

Had we had the disability certificate we might just have been able to afford a second hand hybrid …as it was, we could only afford second hand diesel or petrol.

Accordingly, the internet sales sites were consulted. The car had to be relatively economical – given the recent price hikes at the pumps – not too high off the ground to allow Leo to access it without gymnastics, while the boot had to be large enough to take the electric wheelchair.

That cut the candidates down to a very few options….and then the fun began.

There were two cars in a town on the other side of the Central Valley…one owned by an elderly lady, the other by a garage.

Telephoned the elderly lady to arrange to view.

All was organised and the team set up for the morrow….Leo, Danilo – to drive – and Alvarado, the local mechanic and car nut, to deal with the inspection and to obtain directions by Whatsapp.

For what follows I have the testimony of Leo and Danilo……Alvarado wisely stayed mum.

They set off at 7.00 am, heading for the lady’s town – a two hour drive away – but did not ‘phone for exact directions until 8.00 am, as she had requested. She replied, and then told them that the car was actually in a suburb of the capital….a suburb on the far side of it, and gave directions via Whatsapp.

Fine, except that by now they were en route for her original rendez-vous and much swearing ensued while they changed direction.

Guided by Alvarado at the Whatsapp they entered the capital and then Danilo baulked at driving through a notorious no go area….one where the population hook their property to the electrical supply system without the aid of official technicians who are too frightened to go in there and without the need to pay as no one is prepared to go in to cut off the supply.

Danilo….They’ll have the wheels off the car!

Alvarado…..Well, don’t stop!

Danilo…..Not even at the lights? That’s where they lurk….and we’re carrying money!

Leo………I have the cosh. Just drive.

They emerged safely, though, as Alvarado remarked, that was probably because the inhabitants were sleeping off their lucubrations of the night and did not emerge from their lairs until the pavements were aired.

They arrived at the destination in a respectable suburb to find a locked garage and no elderly lady.

More swearing.

One hour later she arrived, complaining at having to drive from her home to show the car, but unlocked the garage and let Alvarado loose.

Apparently there were a few dents in the bodywork, but all looked sound enough, so he prepared to take it for a drive.

Elderly lady……….How do I know you won’t just drive off in it?

Alvarado….Hop in,Senora!

The ill assorted pair drove off, to return some fifteen minutes later with the elderly lady white as a sheet. He had driven her through the no go area to pay her out for the delays.

He thought the car was a bargain at the price and Leo asked the lady…now fanning herself….to call her lawyer to arrange the transfer.

Nothing so simple in Costa Rica as to simply note change of ownership at the National Registry…no fear. As with all transactions a lawyer has to have his sticky palm crossed with silver.

Her lawyer’s office was in a suburb to the south of the city but he would not be available for another hour as he had to drive there from his home out in the country.

More swearing.

The lawyer’s secretary was in the office, however, and provided the group with coffee and cakes while they waited. And waited.

Half an hour late, the lawyer arrived and got down to business.

Had they the funds to pay?

Leo showed him the envelopes conatining the money. The lawyer gathered them toward him and Danilo gathered them back.

The appropriate document was drawn up, but there was, it appeared, a slight problem.

The elderly lady had taken out a bank loan and given the car as security, but, not to worry, she could sort it out with the bank once she had the purchase price in her hand and then the car would probably be available at the end of the month.

Alvarado….How do we know, Senora, that you won’t just run off with the money?

Danilo………Why did you not tell us about the loan?

Leo………We are leaving.

The which they did, to the sound of the elderly lady complaining that they had been wasting her time.

This beng somewhere near mid day they stopped at a caff for lunch and decided that, as they were out, they might as well see the other car, and so it was that they finally arrived home in the late afternoon with Alvarado driving it. The garage had been organised, even to having their tame lawyer come to their own offices, the car was fine and the price had been haggled down.

Just another transaction in Costa Rica, where surprises abound and everything takes at least twice as long as you expect. But you do get coffee and cake.

Gizzards To The Lot Of It!

Today is Sunday. In theory we are undisturbed apart from Carlos coming to let out, and later close up, the sheep.

In practice it is nothing of the sort. Leo has resumed buying day old chicks for meat production and as, from a wheelchair, he cannot supervise them out in the poultry house in the rainy season he has had a cage erected on the balcony in order to follow their progress. For cage imagine something the size of a police holding cell, roofed against the rain and surrounded by plastic sheeting to keep the wind from the chicks, who bask under a shaded lamp.

The dogs also follow their progress…noses pressed against the wires of the cage, squeaks and bellows of frustration that they cannot get at them until they forget about it a few minutes later.

At feeding time the dogs have to be shut in the house as otherwise they would be in the cage as fast as you could say ‘Jack Robinson’, demonstrating nature red in tooth and claw.

The chickens, however, remain unmoved, eating, drinking – prodigiously – and sleeping under their lamp, oblivious to the outside world.

Not only chickens inhabit the balcony….he is also supervising the pregnant rabbits whose vast hutches spread across one of the windows, giving us unprecedented access to bunnyvision in the evenings – the munching, hopping and scrabbling considerably better than any local TV offering.

Add to that the potting shed corner. Being the rainy season, all the pots, vast deposits of different soil types, ashes and orchid mixes have been translated to the balcony, on the side protected from the rain, giving great enjoyment to Mr. Darcy – small French bulldog – who burrows into the lot like a demented badger, spreading contents far and wide and treading the lot into the house on his little paws.

Thus on Sundays I have the joy of feeding the chicks and cutting fodder for the rabbits to add to the general round….so after lunch I look forward to a couple of hours of peace.

The rain has started, bucketing down. We are up in the clouds, a white world stretching out from the balcony with the shadows of the canna india and palms wafting in and out of view. I have closed the doors to the balcony and preparing to stretch out with a book when there is a hullabaloo from the dogs, all pawing at the front doors.

Muttering curses I go to investigate, only to find what I first supposed to be the Costa Rican version of Grendel’s mother….a dripping figure, hair plastered to its head, bearing two unpleasant looking knives. An aroma of pig seeps into the house.

It is the young man from across the road….

I open the doors and the aroma of pig intensifies.

He has, it appears, arranged with Leo to kill the cockerels.

What, today?

Yes, today.

Though living in Latin climes for many years, the British restraint inculcated in youth still holds strong. Instead of howling abuse and slamming the door I usher him onto the balcony and summon Leo who can give me his explanations later when I deliver a curtain lecture….for the moment, let him sort it out.

He does so…a killing zone is set up on the outer balcony…in the rain. This does not seem to bother the young man in the slightest. He probably thinks that the rain will wash his clothes thus saving on washing powder. I wonder if the rain will lessen the aroma of pig, but doubt it…..with his unintelligible speech – and the aroma – he reminds me of Edwin Pott, Lord Emsworth’s pigman, but without the latter’s level of sophistication.

Cutting boards and plastic bags set out, I close the doors and leave the two men to it.

The dogs range themselves on the chest in the bedroom for a good look at the unexpected spectacle and I return to the book. Apart from the odd bloodcurdling canine scream of joy as one after another of the cockerels are killed, all is peace.

Until Leo opens the doors to demand smaller freezer bags.

Someone has blundered.

The dogs are off the chest like the Light Brigade, heading for the killing zone.

The young man holds three plucked birds to his bosom as the pack deploy around him while I hope to hell that the rain has washed the aroma of pig from his tee shirt…..

Leo has seized the bowl with the innards….

Napoleon makes a dive for the intestines, dragging them over the tiles to be devoured under the rabbit hutches.The activity makes the rabbits nervous…so hoping for no miscarriages….

Aunty and Scruffy take the wings..the remnants .later to be discovered in the bed…

Mr. Darcy seizes a head, only to be cornered in the shower by Podge…

Black Tot takes another head to her lair under the sink…

Plush has the third which, on reflection, he discards and is later discovered when I tread on it in the loo when going to bed…

Order restored, the chickens luckily having acquired no offensive aromas, freezer topped up, when Leo, beaming, tells me that he has found a Mexican recipe for chicken gizzards with squash…..

At the end of my tether, all I can think to say is ‘Gizzards to the lot of it!’ and go to bed.

Fnd Plush’s discarded head.

In the early hours, nipping out for a pee without putting on the light, discover that Napoleon has disgorged the intestines…..

Clear up and wash feet in the shower…..tread on remnants of yet another head….