Begone Dull Care, Forever Be Gone From Me

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….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When?

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?

No.

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?

Yes.

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

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

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

‘What’s for lunch?’

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

After lunch Danilo came to the house.

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

Yes, he should.

He did.

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

Now, before we go any further…some background.

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

No red cantons so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No, they won’t do that.’

I can’t say that I blame them.

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

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