Many and various are the rip offs in this country…mostly institutionalised and designed to rob the average citizen to the advantage of the government. Nothing new there….
However, there is another type of rip off which really annoys me…
Foreign goods from non Spanish language countries being sold in Costa Rica require an additional label which describes the contents and, of course, its dubious nutritional value.
Heaven forfend that the native population should buy a food item in ignorance of its nature. Despite the fact that to import any foodstuff into Costa Rica requires bureaucracy beyond belief, it is still a good idea that the housewife knows what she is buying.
Not fine, however….
At the application of labels institution…wherever that is…and by whom or by what machine it is done, why is it that the additional label inevitably covers the instructions for use?
Not only that…but the label is particularly adhesive…..
You can try softening it in water…no chance.
Then you try to scrape it off using a knife or your nails…..delicate work and likely to take away the underlying label, the one with the with the instructions, at the same time.
Eventually you either give up altogether or, if of a persistent temperament, try to decipher as much as you can,and then either abandon all hope or open the jar anyway and make the best fist of it that you can.
We do not buy much by way of jars and cans, but Leo had spotted a jar of Jamaican curry mix which he fancied trying, so into the basket it went and, in due course, was exhumed from same to enliven some chicken which I planned to use for lunch.
Then followed the ritual of softening and scraping until I could just about work out that you did not use the whole jar, though quite how much remained concealed….that you browned the chicken and then added the sauce….and by the fact that that was the last line visible indicated to me that you added no water.
Chicken browned, about a third of the jar’s contents added, stirred, covered and, after a bit of thought, cooked on low heat.
On the table, rice served and finally the chcken curry….the sauce thick about the meat.
I thought it would enliven the chicken…..it certainly enlivened us!
Ye Gods and little fishes! It all but lifted Leo out of his wheelchair!
After a mad rush for dry bread to subdue the blaze and a mango to calm things down Leo said
‘I think we’ll look for a jar where the sticker covers the front label next time….We might not know what it is, but at least we will know how to cook it.’
Here we are at the ending of a year that has brought pestilence and pain to many, has revealed the shaky foundations of our liberties and left us wondering when the next blow will strike.
Best it is buried deep, but not forgotten.
Its message being that we should take care to whom we surrender the power to direct our lives because the answer to the question ‘Quid custodiet ipsos custodes’ is no one but themselves. They can lie, cheat and steal with impunity if so inclined…and most of them seem to be on a pretty steep incline!
Still, a new year dawns and its hope brings us together, even if only virtually – preferably with a wee drappie o’t to ease the rough path ahead of us.
And now we’ve partaken of the clochan dichter – the penultimate glass – to warm the cockles of our hearts, we’ll prepare to set off to face whatever shall befall us in the coming year, with the deoch an doris…the parting glass itself.
To blazes with clean air acts….keep those lums reeking in the year to come!
Amidst all the vexed questions of the day – the virus, the collapse of the main road to the coast, the strange case of the hostel for ex criminals which either does – if you have eyes – exist or – if you are on the council payroll – does not, the failure to produce an annual budget …..well, you name it, the local council haven’t done it – our lords and masters have but one thing on what they are pleased to call their minds….
Where is the Christmas tree?
It was there in the park last year….but now that Christmas is upon us yet again it seems to have disappeared, leaving no bauble behind to mark its passage.
The deputy mayor has announced that no stone has been left unturned in order to find it…which might explain the total inaction of said council and staff on other matters, though cynics aver that no one employed by the council would consent to turn over a stone and that their union would have demanded that contractors – related to union officials – be hired to undertake so dangerous an occupation. Other cynics hold to an alternative theory…..that were you to turn over stones in the council building you might find where the bodies are buried and no one involved in local government can contemplate that possibility with equanimity.
Dark suggestions have been made that the disappearance of tree and ornaments coincided with the departure from office of the last mayor, a member of the PUSC party whose name to an anglophone conjures up images of badly wrapped bandages over running sores, which quite accurately describes its general policies. But it seems unlikely…even here, people would notice if he put up a towering, luminous monstrosity in his garden and questions might be posed.
As the suggestions appear to emanate from the incoming party – Liberation – it might be thought that they are disappointed at having been robbed of the chance to liberate the Thing for themselves, but they are really scraping the barrel if they hope to smear the ex mayor with the disappearance of a Christmas tree when there is so much else with which to hope to smear him. The only problem being that to set up a proper smear campaign might remind people of the last time Liberation held the office of mayor.
There could be confusion.
So the tree it is.
There is a Costa Rican tradition of businesses contributing to the public good….in emergencies following earthquakes and floods their local shops take collections and their lorries make deliveries where needed.
They also contribute locally….currently one business is busy transforming a building in the park from what had once been consecutively an aquarium, a police post, a drug dealers’ bunker, boarded up, to a public loo – a much needed facility to those who spend most of the day on the benches in the shade watching the world go by.
Except that the trees offering the most shade to the benches have been cut down and the park has been closed off since the virus struck, leaving the park bench brigade to assemble on the benches on the streets surrounding the park in promiscuous disregard of distancing advice and at grave risk of sunburn now the rainy season is over.
And the work was begun under the aegis of the previous administration and only now is it ‘discovered’ that the appropriate building permits were not in order….and, horror of horrors, the firm concerned had their logo clearly visible on the bandstand, which they had also renovated without the appropriate permits….
I have a theory that they also donated the Christmas tree and have decided not to erect it this year in view of the ingratitude of the current administration, but that is only a guess. I have no inside information as social life has declined thanks to this blasted bug and the telephone and e mail are no substitute for the person leaning forward over the table to say
‘Don Freddy tells me that…’
Mark you, even the telephone, etc., would not have helped as the local development committee decided to sort out the back road into town and managed to take out my telephone lines in the process. Then the telephone repair man could not get through, thanks to said committee’s JCB blocking the road so he reported that he could not gain access to the property and messed off. Only by using my mobile ‘phone to ask when the work was to be done did I discover that officially the ticket had been closed and that I would have to open a new report and wait three more days for someone to show up.
Still, there are ways of passing the time.
A puppy has been inserted into the household….I had forgotten the delights of a puppy’s presence…beating it off with a loo brush while trying to pull up the knickers which it has seized in its razor sharp teeth….hopping on one foot to recover the shoe for the other foot which it has taken to hide under the bed….disengaging it from the curtains….trying to find the loo brush which it has dragged into the garden….
With or without a Christmas tree, but with a puppy, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
A quote attributed to Ledru-Rollin, opponent of Louis-Philippe, King of the French, and whose inflammatory speeches at workmen’s gatherings were influential in bringing about the overthrow of the latter in the Revolution of 1848.
Supposed to have been said as he saw a mob passing in the street during the unrest in Paris, thus inducing him to climb out through the window to join them…’Il faut bien que je les suive, puisque je suis leur chef.’ An early example of false news, as it was related by an opponent when Ledru-Rollin was in exile in England – ironically, as he had published a book ‘De la Decadence de l’Angleterre’ – and could not easily respond to the mockery.
Needless to say, once in power he crushed the hopes of the working class..les bourgeois c’est comme des cochons…..and became a peripheral figure, distrusted by all sectors of political opinion.
We have about any number of would-be Ledru-Rollins in Costa Rica at the moment, anxious to
A…harness to their chariots the popular protests at government proposals to seek a loan from the IMF and the fiscal consequences of same
B…crush said protests by pretending to lead them.
In brief, the Costa Rican economy has been a basket case for years. Whereas in Ledru-Rollin’s France one hundred families were said to run the country, here some thirty families do likewise and the result has been tax evasion on the grand scale, failure to develop the country’s natural resources, and clientism on a scale undreamt of by the Roman Empire.
Like France, the country is controlled by an unholy troika of big business, the public sector unions and the government, sucking on the teat of the tax payer and producing solely excrement.
The last president tried to reform public finances but was stymied at every turn by the National Assembly and was eventually ambushed by the cement monopoly, setting up a fake supplier of Chinese cement whose products were granted priority in import by the President, only to be revealed – by the monopolists – as a scam, which brought his period in office to an insalubrious close.
The current incumbent, coming to office on the promises of his party, promptly set up a ministry of all the lack of talents from his own and other parties in what was said to be a government of national unity…more like a government to guard the interests of the troika.
It has finally dawned on the government that its expenses exceed its income…mostly because the various lockdowns have managed to close any number of the small businesses whose tax payments covered the bloated public sector..the clientism referred to above. Since the 1970s, the public sector was used as a means of gaining votes…the more posts, the more perks, the more votes for the incumbent governments. The public sector unions will not give up these perks willingly, neither will a government, established as it is, force them to do so.
The protests began when the President announced that he was seeking a loan from the IMF, and, in order to pay it back, he was proposing further tax measures.
Well, people have had enough of ‘further tax measures’ recently…the imposition of Value Added Tax, for example…..so this was not a popular measure…less so when it was revealed that in addition to the local property tax, the double of that tax would have to be paid directly to Hacienda – the Treasury.
Imagine, it…three times your property tax. And, unlike local government, Hacienda can confiscate your property for non payment.
And then it was discovered that Hacienda was uprating the value of properties…..
Spontaneously, people began to block the major roads – the traditional form of protest from the ground up.
Immediately failed politicians moved in to become the self proclaimed leaders of the movement….some only to denounce it as being fuelled by the drug mafia…the same mafia effectively tolerated by the government. Others pushed for links with the unions – another mafia – while the government ordered in the police with tear gas to disperse the protesters
After weeks of blockades and confontation the government agreed to hold talks…but with whom?
With the troika, of course…..
But there must have been representation from the people?
Of course there was.
In one area a Vice President assumed the voice of the people…in another, the First Lady….
This song came back to me as we sit out the progress of the bug that governments have allowed to paralyse the world. It came from the song book we used in junior school, containing all sorts of stuff which is now probably banned on the grounds of – pick and mix at your pleasure – race, gender, imperialism, disability, cultural appropriation and having a tune.
We have been at home, have had limited contact with people, have not gone out much, the height of wild excitement being a trip to the wholesale fish market – plenty of fresh, if fishy, air and wide open spaces.
Have we been bored? Are we driving each other up the wall?
As it happens, no.
Given Leo’s illnesses we are used to shutting ourselves away whenever there is a ‘flu outbreak so doing so now has not been traumatic and life has carried on much as usual. All we did was to buy another freezer to stock up on food for the dogs, even though we have had to refill it a number of times since all this started. Fifty kilos of chicken carcasses and the same of offcuts does not go far between ten dogs…nine of our own and Danilo’s dog who uses us as an hotel since she is an old lady and does not like walking home in the rain. Even the refills have been easy….we ring up the day before, fix a collection time and the chap meets us on the pavement to exchange carcasses for money. No need to go into the shop. I go to the feria each week for veg…almost open air and well regulated…and that is about it.
The downside is that regular hospital procedures have been ditched so my cataract op has been postponed – probably until the Greek calends – which has proved to be a real pain in the proverbial and promises to be more so when the summer sets in in about a month’s time…a hat and dark glasses do nothing for my comfort, let alone my appearance. Think the Mafia crossed with Jemima Puddle-duck.
Mark you, having a garden makes a difference. In the morning we can have breakfast on the porch on the sunrise side of the house……but you have to make haste as there is a pecking order as the sun rises in the sky. It does not do to keep their lordships waiting…
We like the plants…they like a warm table top
Here is a close up of one of the gingers…the emperor’s staff
And if we had had any sense we would have transferred this to the breakfast area too…
By the way, can anyone spot the fine example of Costa Rican carpentry work in the top photograph?
But life is not all isolation, books and the internet….the gossip still reaches us – by e mail, by ‘phone and by long distance shouting.
The Neighbour, he of the crisp white hat with a curly brim, has surfaced again after a long period of recovery from his five day marriage. He had not been seen in his usual watering holes even before the bug hit the country, but it appears that he has not been idle.
Having failed to interest the local car mechanic’s wife in a brief encounter for fifty thousand colones he found it best not to get out of the car on the approach road to his lane – the mechanic having cousins living the length of said road – so had to spread his net wider. As far as the next little town, in fact, to attract the mother of our local Transito policeman – public enemy number one of all those without the appropriate licence, papers or plates for their vehicle. Of which there are many.
There are advantages on both sides…she is lonely as people avoid her because of her son’s reputation, and he is persona non grata in more places then there are personae…
I knew no more than this until Saturday afternoon. The sheep were kicking up long before feeding time and as I changed into my outdoor shoes to go down to investigate someone was klaxoning at the gate.
it is quite a trek…not helped by uncooperative knees which do not care for downward slopes..this photograph is taken at about the halfway point between house and gate.
A figure in black and white waited at the gate on his motorbike…theTransito.
What the blazes did he want?
After the ritual polite exchanges he came to the point.
Did I or anyone in my household, have a motorbike?
No….only electric wheelchairs.
They are not involved, senora.
Did I have friends with motorbikes?
No…not to my knowledge.
Then why has someone on a motorbike entered your property?
I have no idea…..did you see them do so?
No, but where else can it have gone?
I pointed to the assembly of shacks over the road where my neighbours carry out their nefarious activities. Fat chance of them letting anyone in…
What about there?
Could I check that it is not on your property first?
In case the rider is going to rob me?
No, I have no jurisdiction there…that would be a matter for the investigative branch.
In which case, senor, no.
Grumpily he heaved his bike over the road and I went in to see what was up with the sheep, to find that I had an extra member of the flock….a young man who had pushed his motorbike behind the trailer full of sugar cane destined for the sheep’s afternoon tea and was tucked up in a corner away from the road.
I knew him by sight…he works at the property at the end of the valley whose owner harbours dreams of opening a tourist attraction complete with massage parlours and tarts, dreams which are on hold as the bug has decimated the tourist industry…even that sort of tourist industry.
His bike, of course, had no number plates and propably neither he nor it had the appropriate papers.
He apologised for scaring the sheep and said he had to escape the Transito as he could not afford to put things in order on his pay and needed the bike to get to work.
But what is he doing down here?
Memo and the woman sit on their balcony with binoculars…they can see both roads from there and they call the son if one of us moves. Luckily he can’t always come…..
The police motorbike started up and pulled away.
Now he’ll wait at the bridge and get one of his mates to wait at the top of the back road….
Then you’d better leave the bike here – you can lock it to the trailer – and go home on foot. Better a long walk than having the bike confiscated. Pick it up on Monday.
The which he did. The traffic policeman had indeed been waiting for him as he had predicted.
Now, I know that the regulations help to keep unroadworthy vehicles out of circulation and I know too that the gangs of kids on souped up bikes render some neighbourhoods unbearable in the evenings…but in these times of economic hardship I think the government would do better to lower the fees for papers and plates and expand driving test programmes rather then coming down hard on those who need the transport to get to work.
I wonder if The Neighbour and his inamorata are on commission….
Tour de France riders, eat your heart out. Forget the water bottles and snacks handed out from the cars, do it the Costa Rican way…find a passing cow and help yourself! You need to know what you’re doing though, or you might risk a hefty hoof in your derailleurs which would leave you looking more jaundiced than your jersey – but at least you can be sure you’ll pass a dope test.
Not that Andrey Amador, the only Costa Rican riding in the Tour de France, will be looking for a handy cow.
A long serving Grand Tour ‘domestique’ he is riding for Team Ineos this year and Costa Rica will be keeping an eye on his prowess – something to keep minds off the blasted bug which has hit the country.
In which respect, the wheels have fallen off the campaign to contain it.
All went well in the early days. Existing hospitals were reorganised, a special hospital set up and the populace told to keep themselves to themselves to protect the vulnerable. Those presenting with symptoms were treated with the hydrochloriquine and zinc cocktail which produced excellent results save in the case of those with grave pre existing health problems. Then the WHO banned that treatment, so the hospitals turned to the use of dexametasone and steroids (anti inflamatories), oxygen therapy – including EMCO which is an extracorporean oxygenation machine – interleukin inhibitor and antibiotics -when the patient is reinfected by other pathogens. Not so effective…..but funding depends on WHO approval.
It also depends, it appears, on the numbers of cases reported.
Initially, when the cases began to spike, it was put down to the number of Nicaraguan ‘informal’ workers coming down for the fruit plantations’ picking and packing campaign. The Nicaraguan government deny there is a problem with the bug – even hold fiestas at which attendance is strongly recommended should you wish to keep in good odour with said government – and encourage their nationals to seek care in Costa Rica. Care which Costa Rica will provide nomatter the status of the person seeking it
No doubt the influx is a factor. Imagine a couple of infected people arriving and living in the squalid, hugger mugger conditions provided…or who go to visit family living in Costa Rica…
But the numbers have jumped…have high jumped….and anecdotal evidence is that when one person is tested positive, all those in their household are counted as positive also….inflate the numbers and increase the funding.
We had had confidence in our health service…and their management of the situation.
We still have confidence in the dedication of the medical staff – even if they cannot use the most effective tools.
We no longer have any confidence in the way in which government and the management of the health service are handling things.
Contracts for masks which are useless handed out to some tart running a communications business….numbers inflated to drum up funding…which ends up in whose pocket?
Good treatment banned, leaving staff to do their best with what they have….
Government ministers giving their statements all masked up…then being filmed mask free in close bikinied company on a yacht off the Pacific coast….or tucked up in de luxe hotels on the beach – mask free, of course.
Vehicle restrictions which all would accept in the cause of reducing infection, but which have turned into a money tree as traffic police impose fines for all and any infraction, hitting hardest, not the fly by nights, but the hard up guy who depends on his unlicensed motorbike to get to work to feed his family. Why it does not dawn on government that the high price of getting a licence, and for keeping a vehicle on the road hit the most needy hardest is beyond me…but Costa Rica prides itself on being eco friendly, so the poor continue to pay while the country flaunts its green credentials.
And now, having been so slow to close the borders, we are to allow tourists back in. To be fair, as a tourist, you stand little risk, unless you decide to visit the shanty towns around San Jose, the shacks housing the workers in the banana and pineapple plantations or the hospitals, but the risk to the local population of allowing tourists to enter with minimal restrictions is something else…just so that the largely foreign owned tourist trade can recoup its losses.
Tourism counts for only some eight per cent of GDP…but it has clout…and doubtless the transfer of funds from one pocket to another.
And in our little town, the reported case of one of the employees at the Walmart outlet has been made much of….whereas the absence from service of staff at the locally owned supermarket has been passed over in silence…
This virus has been presented as equivalent to the Black Death, which is nonsense. We have the means to combat it if not to utterly defeat it.
But perhaps the consequences mght be similar…..either people submit to the ukazes of their increasingly detached governments, or they strike out to free themselves of unjust restrictions in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
I fear that it will be the former…I would hope it would be the latter.
In my short time here I have seen the changes…worried about the future for my friends’ kids and grandchildren…it was an oligarchal society, but one which recognised that social justice reinforced its rule.
This virus has ripped up the underbelly of that society….but will people submit…or react?
Costa Rica was never a paradise…but it was socially stable….will our friends’ grandchildren find that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone?
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 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.
For those who are not old and sere, this is a Lancaster bomber, as used in World War II and in the foreground is the canine mascot of one of the squadrons – 617 – whose men flew them over Germany and occupied Europe.
Casualties were high…nearly half in Bomber Command as a whole, just under thirty per cent of those who flew Lancasters. My mother, sent for a break from her job in London to the East Anglian countryside, watched in horror as an American bomber unit returned to base…the line of ambulances awaiting them, the broken bodies carried out on stretchers, the smell of blood…These men paid the price for the overthrow of a foul regime.
I think that, now, we would class those airmen who took part in the bombing of Dresden, of Hamburg, as war criminals – all the more so those who engendered the project and gave the orders, but at the time, well, war was war, propaganda ruled – and the victor’s justice of the Nuremburg Trials was yet to impose itself.
It was a period when emotions were repressed…when one coped with what arrived on one’s plate…and this was exaggerated among the fighting forces. As my father said after a rather nasty firefight…if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined. Not that there was much choice in the era of conscription. You were called up and you went where you were sent.
There was comradeship, of course, though not a given….but an animal could permit the expression of emotion that was frowned on in human contact. I think all those who have served in the armed forces could give witness to the importance of a dog – for example – in giving an outlet to the human emotions. Just look at the lengths to which servicemen will go to bring home an animal with whom they have served.
This dog gave those who served with his owner a great deal of comfort…
He was their mascot…their good luck charm.
617 squadron, made up of British, Canadians, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, was given the task of breaching the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, which supplied water and power to the highly industrialised area of the Ruhr, using a special ‘bouncing bomb’ developed to address the topography of the dams. To accomodate the bomb, which hung in the bomb bay below the fuselage, much of the internal armour of the ‘plane was removed.
Two of the dams were breached, more than a thousand people were killed, including French, Belgan and Russian prisoners of war. By Protocol 1 to the Geneva convention, passed in 1977, such action is outlawed except in exceptional circumstances, which, by the speed of German recovery, would not have met the criteria – had they been in force at the time.
Of the one hundred and thirty three aircrew involved, fifty three were killed.
But one other met his death. The dog, the squadron mascot, was run over and killed just before the operation took place. His owner, the squadron commander, ordered that his pet should be buried as his aircraft started the attack, and used his name as the confirmation that the dams had been breached.
The dog was buried as he had ordered…a tombstone was placed over his grave.
And there he was laid in peace, though his owner died later in the war as a result of friendly fire and the world resumed its diurnal round.
Except that now the dog has lost his name. The Royal Air Force has replaced the stone with another in which he is referred to simply as ‘the dog’.
Because he was known and loved by his name…..Nigger. And that might give offence in this era.
What should give offence is the deliberate pauperisation of the less well off….the wilful starvation of the National Health Service…the ruin of state education, all of which affect the underprivileged, of whatever race or colour they be.
Divide and rule has always been the measure adopted by the powerful….and it works! You can feel yourself to be LGBT, black, brown, muslim in the society of Great Britain or wherever else you be, all of which works to reinforce your disadvantage….but what the oligarchs fear is that you should feel solidarity…to work together to make your childrens’ lives better.
To live with the past, not try to relive it.
To accept that a much loved dog had a name of its time and in its place and understand that the world has moved on and we need to fight today’s battles – oligarchy, modern slavery, wars for control of a fossil fuel that nobody nowadays needs – without dividing ourselves at the behest of those who seek to keep us divided.
Until this week, our little area had been relatively untouched by the bug…two people who had returned from abroad and that was about it. People took the recommended precautions and all seemed to be going well until a bunch of idiots decided to have a Fathers’ Day party. A well attended Fathers’ Day party. Needless to say, one turned out to be affected with the result that the area is shut down again a week after opening up while the authorities try to trace all the participants.
I suspect that the bug ridden party goer is not exactly flavour of the month locally and his protestations that he thought it was all right to go to a party because he didn’t feel ill just add fuel to the fire.
On the whole, the shut down has not been too bad from a daily life point of view….one could go shopping, attend the farmers’ market, while the prohibition on driving at night has been almost a blessing as has the absence of passing callers trying to sell something you both know that you do not want, an event which starts with the caller honking a horn if in a car, or shouting at the top of his voice if not, both of which start the dogs into sound and action and involve turning off the cooker, finding and putting on my outdoor shoes and trecking down the path to the road. By the time I get there I could guarantee that if you were offering me a free pass to heaven I’d turn it down, so a plastic fir tree car deoderant stands no chance.
I knew that the restrictions had ended when a chap came to the gate selling subscriptions to a cable television service. My argument was that
A. I did not want a television service
B. There was no cable provision in this road.
His argument was that as he was working on commission A and B were of no interest to him whatsoever.
The main problem of the restrictions comes with the enforcement of the rules as to which day you can use the car, according to the last digit on the numberplate. We, for example, cannot drive on Thursdays and Saturdays – and, annoyingly, that is every Saturday, while we could drive on Sundays except that there is nowhere to go.
This restriction does not bother one of our neighbours. He rejoices in a car with no numberplates – let alone licence, insurance and all the other administrative inconveniences – but needs a co pilot to manage the Whatsapp which will tell him where the police are currently lurking. He was swearing well last week when he was holed up in the hardware shop’s car park for over two hours while the traffic police set up a road block just down the road. He had contemplated making a run for it but in the end decided it was safer to wait until it rained, at which point the police would be bound to disappear….and did.
He is not alone in his lack of the usual paperwork…wages are low, the costs of keeping a vehicle on the road are high and any number of people depend on old bangers or motorbikes to get to work – particularly important now when jobs are so scarce.
Which is why the Traffic Police – the Transitos – are not flavour of the month either.
While I don’t think they have ever achieved that accolade, their current reputation locally is at its nadir.
First, a little history.
The local official was noted for his habit of haunting the roads round the hospital, ready to pounce on any car or motorbike without the proper plates, insurance sticker or certificate of roadworthyness. He had bumper results which looked good on his record.
Fine, you might say, that’s his job. Well done that man.
Yes, but when you think that people have brought someone ill to be treated, or are visiting someone who has been kept in, the last thing on their minds is making themselves legal before making the trip – even if they could afford to which in many cases they could not. The fines, which are out of all proportion to normal incomes, ensure that those affected cannot easily get back on the road.
So his harvesting round the hospital was not appreciated.
Representations were made, but to no effect. He continued harvesting.
Eventually, someone set fire to his house, which achieved what using the usual channels could not…he was transferred.
Peace reigned…until the arrival of the bug….and with the bug, the Transitos. And with the Transitos – the previously transferred official, on the grounds that he knew the area.
Now, the stated aim is to enforce the vehicle restrictions…no traveling at night unless your work requires it, and having the correct numberplate to travel on any given day. That is fine with almost everyone. The drug dealers have adapted too. Even given the situation the number of home delivery van services is astounding…
However, thse are the Transitos…..not content with roadblocks to check numberplates they are going to town on issuing fines for bad parking, and confiscating the numberplates of cars and motorbikes without all the appropriate documentation. It costs a fortune in money and time to get them back…not to speak of getting all the appropriate paperwork first…
Not surprisingly, this makes for bad feeling. The current government is not popular as its answer to a fiscal deficit that makes a black hole look infinitesimally small is to whop up the taxes and invent new fiscal fines while exempting large companies from the consequences and paying out what are known as luxury pensions to state officials….in some cases to the grandchildren of state officials. So, given the context, a troup of Transitos whopping up the fines in our little town does not go down well…..
Still, people here are nothing if not inventive. The Transitos have noted that, having confiscated a numberplate, they come across it again when doing a control some time later.
Investigation – and probably an informant – revealed that certain lawyers in the town have a very nice business in accepting sworn statements that numberplates have been lost, passing these through the National Registry and thus obtaining replacements before the Transitos’ cumbersome notification system can swing into action.