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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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.

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.


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….

All Systems Stop.

The bridge over the Quebrada Honda

We live up in the hills, some forty odd kilometres from the capital. The main road is a two lane double yellow line affair, so getting caught behind a heavy goods vehicle on the way home can add several minutes to the journey time. On the descent from the hills the road crosses a river..the Quebrada Honda….via a single lane bridge which was installed some seventy years ago and which has recently been closed as the various coats of paint applied to it over the years have done nothing to repair the underlying structure which has finally been recognised as dangerous.

Bus passengers have been aware of this risk for years, from observation of their driver crossing himself before crossing the bridge.

There are not many main roads in Costa Rica outside the conurbations, so the authorities’ bland statement that those wishing to reach the capital should use alternative routes was greeted with a less than cordial reception.

Given the lack of local employment people in this area are forced to go to the capital and its suburbs to find work….the morning and evening rush hours resemble the London North Circular at its worst as cars, motorcycles and buses jam the roads, so how was this mass of humanity to be assisted?

The bus company running from the capital to the coast on this road just stopped all operations, leaving those on the other side of our little town without any public transport whatsoever. That was until the local battleaxe, with the power of the church behind her, made forceful representations which restored service from the town to the coast.

But from the town to the capital?

No problem. The company running that service announced that they would run buses to the bridge, the passengers would then dismount and walk over to the other side where another bus would collect them for the onward journey.

Fine, except for two minor details.

Firstly the two ends were not co ordinated, which led to queues of half a kilometre waiting for a bus to arrive.

Secondly, the company charged two fares…….one to the bridge and another for the onward journey which amounted to more than the original fare for the complete journey.

Enter the battleaxe once more and the fares were revised……though the queues remained. An enterprising gentleman set up a business selling snacks and drinks until denounced to the authorities for having no licence to do so.

For Costa Rica, things moved swiftly. It was decided to install a Bailey bridge with a pedestrian walkway alongside while works were undertaken and a contract was awarded with a limit of twenty days to complete the project with an immediate start.

Except that the waterboard said that they did not have the necessary machinery to dis and remantle the waterpipe under the bridge. A thing about the size of a drainpipe. Par for the course for their local office. The mayor of the neighbouring canton invoked the powers of his office and contacted the national boss of the waterboard. Pipe dis and remantled in short order. Pity the same dismantling could not be applied to the local boss.

The walkway was quickly installed, and open to pedestrians and motorcycles – though it was necessary to remind riders to dismount rather than roaring through on full throttle. So some of the traffic was catered for.

Cars and lorries, however, had no such luck.

Deliveries were disrupted as lorries had to go from the capital to the coast on the laughingly called motorway – a two lane road with heavy tolls – then turn back on the old main road to reach the town.

Cars – and those lorries who thought they could get away with it – were left with the alternative routes.

Despite paying taxes which go to road maintenance, country roads are best approached with caution at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. To be fair, the neighbouring council started upgrading immeditely, while ours, of course, did not as the machinery needed was, as always, under repair.

The choice of alternate routes was stark. There was a paved road to the capital which meandered through the mountains, though ‘paved’ did not exclude potholes resembling archeological sites and yet another dodgy bridge…..apart from adding an hour at least to the journey.

There was a road just before the bridge on the town side which led up into the hills by the windfarm which disfigures the landscape and then down into the capital’s suburbs which offers wonderful views of the valley below, except you would be too busy trying to keep the car on the track to notice them.

Closer to home is the road which meanders cross country…one branch leading north to the motorway and the other east to the capital. It is a dirt road and whichever branch you take it involves crossing a rickety bridge bearing a notice prohibiting its use! Safer to drive through the river beneath it – at least, it is before the rains start if your car does not have a snorkel.

A further option is to drive through the indigenous reservation. The road is good through the village, and not too bad for a dirt road afterwards, if you can see where you are going for dust.

However, members of that community have got the hump at the road being used and have taken to laying heavy branches across it to impede traffic.

Don Freddy, caught by one such branch, announced that it was a pity that the conquistadores had not done a more thorough job, which, while it might be politically incorrect, sums up the general view of the matter.

So, as we were not obliged to go to work, how did the bridge closure affect us?

Badly, as Higher Authority had six hospital appointments in the space of the twenty days!

The Japanese tin box did not appreciate jolting over the dirt roads, and its engine has fallen apart, necessitating a trip to the garage – or in our case the local mechanic who is zillions of colones cheaper and a whole time zone faster. We hope to keep it going until Leo is officially declared handicapped – process bogged down for months because of Covid excuses – at which point we get a tax exemption on buying another car, so fingers crossed that he can do the job.

Still, the twenty days are up…the pedestrian walkway has been removed….our troubles – car permitting – are at an end.

If you believe that you will believe anything. This is Costa Rica.

The bridge has been installed, certainly….but the ramps are insufficient to support the weight of buses and lorries. Apparently ramps were not mentioned in the contract….

Now, the roads department has recently been involved in a large scale corruption scandal, so voices were immediately raised questioning whether this omission was down to incompetence…or something else. How long would we have to wait until there was a resolution?

Another week…another month….?

Much to everyone’s surprise, machinery is in action at the bridge today…the twentieth day….building up the ramps. I suspect that the mayor of the neighbouring canton hs got things moving again…but no one seems to know for sure.

Now all we have to do is to wait for a proper replacement bridge to be built……..considering it took three years to replace the one between us and the town I won’t be holding my breath.

Hello, Hello, Who’s Your Lady Friend?

Last week we had planned to do a major shop in San Jose, and the cleaner, a lady in her thirties who looks mid twenties, had asked to go with us to stock up on stuff for Christmas before prices rose alarmingly for the festive and exploitative season. We would keep the meat and poultry in our freezer for her until she needed it. This being a visit to the big city she was well dressed and made up…unlike Danilo who shows his contempt for the capital by wearing his oldest working shirt and wellies.

Fine, except at the last minute I was not well enough to undertake the car journey, so off went Leo, the cleaner and Danilo while I returned to bed.

On return, Danilo was bubbling with something, but could not tell me until the following day when Leo was at the local hospital.

First, the context.

It is not unknown that Costa Rican women, seeing foreign men as rich, will try to attach themselves to them, in the hope of supporting themselves, their children and their families. Fine….there are others who just wish to enrich themselves…..and do so at an exponential rate. The laws, made with the view of protecting women and chldren in situations of domestic abuse, assist these predatory women.

Back to Danilo….

The first call was to Maria, a Nicaraguan lady, who has been a friend since we first moved to Costa Rica. She has looked after Leo many times over the years while I was visiting my mother and is a genuinely caring person.

This time she had bought in a load of dog food for us at a low price from her butcher and Leo was going to pick it up….but not without going in to have coffee, catch up with the family and swap the news.

Except that Maria took one look at the cleaner and asked ‘Who is this?’

Apparently Leo, now to be known as Lothario or Bluebeard, convinced that he is a thing of beauty and a boy forever, and full of bravado, said that this was his girlfriend.

At which point Maria said that he had a wife, and that, should he want a girlfriend, she was the first in line…all this accompanied with stroking him, cuddling him and darting evil looks at the cleaner.

Danilo was apparently in stitches. Maria protecting her ewe lamb from the ravages of a Salome…

Off they went to the Mercado Borbon to take breakfast at he caff we frequent.

Fine…the ladies took the order, and the cleaner asked for the same meal as Leo..chicken in sauce. His plate was laden, hers boasted a chicken piece so small that it must have been taken from a sparrow. The ladies asked Danilo why I was not there, but his explanations did not spare the cleaner dirty looks.

She wanted to buy chicken thighs, and, as the bulk price was better than the kilo price Leo bought her order with ours…. the chap selling them made a point of asking if Leo wanted separate bills…and looked very disapproving of the response.

Not the only reactions….we are well known at the Mercado Borbon – about the only foreigners who shop there – and I feel for the cleaner, whose treatment was humiliating .

However, should I pop my clogs before Leo I have no doubt that she would be under starter’s orders in the ‘catch an elderly Gringo’ stakes. But she would have to be wary of bumping, boring and obstruction on the part of Maria!

So now, before Leo is sent to Coventry at the Mercado Borbon, I shall have to make sure that I go with him on the next trip. Without the cleaner.

A Hole in the Ground

Our little town has its very own hole in the ground….a hole which has appeared every year since the council granted planning permission for a housing development which involved draining the lagoon which served the higher ground above, where a road runs from the town to the coast.

Without fail, the rains come, the drains don’t drain and the road collapses, leaving producers on the coastal side of the road without means to get their cattle and veg to market as the alternative road is too dangerous to be used by anything other than a normal car.

And every year the state roadworks department appoints the same contractors to patch things up…eventually. Just in time for the next rainy season at which point the road collapses again.

But this year, things changed. The locals and the producers got together under the leadership of Don Kiki, clubbed together and remade the road entirely, sorting out a new system of drainage to avoid future collapses. Producers could get to market, buses could serve the communities along the road…road users were asked for a contribution to the costs……everyone was happy.

Except, of course, the council.

Don Kiki was solemnly warned that any accidents would lay at his door….. he was threatened with legal action… I don’t know if he smiled at that threat but I did as the council’s tame lawyer is about as effective as a chcolate tea pot and costs the rate payers a fortune in lost cases. But given to whom he is related, the council is happy to contribute to his lifestyle.

Under unacustomed pressure, the council sought to shift the blame for inaction onto the state roadworks department. Not surprisingly, given their lawyer, they lost. The constitutional court declared that yes…the roadwork bods should do something, but not before the council sorted out the drainage.

Collapse of stout party. The council, despite holding fiestas for its employees when social gatherings are strang verboten thanks to the virus and increasing said employees’ salaries in a time of austerity, has no money to sort out the drainage problem.

And this is normally where things would have rested….a legal obligation to do something negated by a previous condition while the road collapses yet again

However, this year, there is another factor to be taken into consideration.

Finally, a statewide corrupt connivance between the roadworks department and major contractors has come to light….so grave that the courts have been forced to put major actors in the contracting firms in preventive detention, rather than letting then swan about as they please or take off in their private jets.

Work deliberately done badly, to ensure a contract in the next year…inferior material used….and, of course, small, decent firms cut out of the contracting round.

The roadworks department felt that it must flex its muscles and be seen to be doing something. Its workmen put ‘road closed’ notices on each side of the new road.

Locals removed the notices.

A council employee denounced one of those doing the removal of notices.

The roadworks departmemt announced that it had to close the road as it did not meet the norms…and that it was going to install a Bailey bridge to solve the problem On the subject of when, the department remained tight lipped.

Contributors to social media were quick to point out that when it comes to dangerous bridges the roadworks department is content to put up notices to that effect…but neither closes nor repairs them.

Locals called for a show of solidarity, which was well supported, and a demand for approbation of Don Kiki’s action, supported by the Ombudsman, has been delivered to the council.

This month marks the bicentenary of liberation from Spanish rule….and locally, an attempt at liberation from old Spanish practices.

Scenes From Rural Life

Last week, as we were having lunch, there was an explosion and the power went out.

Six hours later, service was resumed. It appears that the transformer up the road had gone tits up.

A few days later, another explosion…and no power. But this time the electricity board’s technicians knew where to look, so we had power again in three hours.

The young man across the road explained proudly that the outages had been caused by branches from a tree on their finca becoming entangled in the cables, bringing two of which together thus causing the transformer to tranform no more.

Why did he not cut the offending branch after the first outage?

He could not. His inamorata had sold his chainsaw to pay something to the Colombian exortion racket to whom she was in debt….the chainsaw was worth about fifty quid…she had reduced her debt by only fifteen….

Leo suggested to him that when the Colombians returned for the rest of the debt she allowed them to take her son hostage, which would rid the area of a very unpleasant youngster. Preferably permanently. He brightened at the idea, but thought she would not come up for it.

If ever there was a type to be removed from society, preferably with finger joints removed one by one, it is this teenager.

We stopped him from hanging little Zuniga…we made a complaint, but nothing happened…grandad has a lot of friends…

In the meantime our car had to go for the RITEVE…the annual roadworthiness test, ….which is becoming stricter by the year. No longer can you change your tyres with the men with a van who lurk in the parking area of the test site….

It failed on two points. The back passenger door did not open. It does, but you need to know how. And emissions.

The Japanese tin box is as old as the hills, but perfect for where we live and what we do …….so, action this day!

Alvarado sorted the door, and Minor Retana up in the town sorted the emissions…that is to say he limited the amount of diesel getting to the engine, so you had to crawl up hills and could not take a steep gradient, but the emisssions would be reduced accordingly.

RITEVE passed, and off to Minor to put the motor back to itself.

Now, before the greens start kicking up, we do not belch black smoke when on the road unlike those public service vehicles who seem to pass the RITEVE painlessly…..possibly plata vincit omnia.

The Men went to investigate the progress of the television repair with the Twins.

No it was not ready…the supplier had sent the wrong card twice….

I only learned this after the return of the Men when Danilo started by sweeping the microwave onto the trolley.

He then went out to the car and staggered in under the biggest microwave I had ever seen. A stainless steel monster from a Sci-fi film….incubating humanoids…..

The egg trays, the toaster and the coffee machine joined the microwave.

I opened the door, and found rust in the hinge.

It is secondhand, said Leo, I saw it at the Twins when we went to enquire about the television repair and thought it would be useful.

It heats water, said Danilo.

I was despatched for a potato for demonstration purposes and on the vast turntable it looked like a pimple on a round of beef.

Door closed, Danilo at the controls.

Nothing happened, except that a message shot across the screen at the top of the control panel…’door closed’. Otiose, or designed for those who do not believe the evidence of their own eyes.

Danilo pressed something invisible to me, not, given the strange titles on the control panel, that vision would have helped.

Nothing.

The Men moved to consultation mode.

I left them to it and tried to find an instruction manual on the net…in the background, noises off of the nature of

‘well it worked when he did it’

‘but what did he press?’

‘something down here…’

‘oh look, the message has changed..’

I finally tracked down the model and the mystery was explained….the whole control panel was touch sensitive, and the ‘buttons’ on the lower part of the brute had been rubbed off over the years, so if any dab at it worked it would be at hazard…you would have to mark the dab if something worked.Turning to the mad scientists to explain my findings I found them replacing the potato with a bowl of water.

Catching my expression Danilo said ‘Well, it heated water…..’

The Thing was returned to the Twins with contumely, and I now have to test all the eggs before use as I have no idea which tray is which.

TheNeighbour has been up to mischief again…but even though he did not succeed I am too angry to write about it. As yet.

Up Tails All!

This seems to have been all I have seen this last week…..backsides in the air. Not, unfortunately, those of ducks…but human backsides…male backsides, the rest of the person hidden below my desk whence emerge mutterings, expletives and the odd shriek as Podge investigates the posteriors that are where, in her opinion, they should not be.

Under that desk lies the nerve centre of the household…telephone, modem, wifi, laptop, music centre and television. It has a forest of cables…most of them left by the electricity monopoly’s workmen as they cut off what had not worked and added what they assured me would work in the future. The man who came to install the security cameras took one look and left the mess well alone, adding his independent tangle to the Gordian knot.

The young man from the family across the road came to ask if our cameras were recording – on the pretext that his chainsaw had been stolen. As we had heard his chainsaw in action that very morning we lied and said that our system did, indeed, record everything. Shortly afterwards nocturnal traffic visiting his finca became rare…

All was working well, apart from Black Tot taking refuge under the desk in thunderstorms and detaching the plugs, until we had a humdinger of a storm in which you could smell the lightning strikes and which narrowly avoided the electrocution of the chickens. Danilo did explain how they had been put in peril – as usual, something touching something it shouldn’t have touched, as perilous in humans as in electricity – but whatever it is has galvanised the buggers into laying eggs after a long period of shortage of same. Remind me to give them ECT next time they go off lay…

However, the same storm burned out the television…..despite a surge plug. Costa Rican storms laugh at surge plugs…probably regard them as targets…and this one was right on the mark.

Could it be repaired?

Repairs locally are a gamble…you pays your money and it either works or it doesn’t, which you only discover when it has been torn from the clutches of the repairer weeks after being placed with them and when money has changed hands. The exception is the Cubano, but he doesn’t repair televisions.

After much sucking of teeth, the box was dropped off at shop of the far from heavenly Twins up the road with a promise that they would ring to tell us what the prospects might be.

Well, wait for a call from the Twins and you might as well shit in your hat, so the next day Danilo bearded them in their lair, only to hear that they would have to send for a new card, that they did not know how much it would cost or if it would work and no, he could not take it back as they had stripped it down.

He told them that if they did not call with the price of the card and a prognosis they could whistle for their money and returned with the news.

Council of war.

Did we need the television? Yes, otherwise we had to view the security cameras on a mobile ‘phone. Leo’s hands are paralysed so he can’t use one…I am waiting for a cataract op on the good eye and have limited vision.

Could we wait for the Twins? On current form…no. If they came up trumps it would be like Foinavon winning the Grand National

So…buy another one and if the Twins ever repaired the original it would do as a spare. Possibly the man who installed the security cameras could link them up to that and reserve the new box for less exciting things.

Leo and Danilo set off to town accordingly and returned in triumph with a thing much larger than the old box – and at a discount to boot – but which would not hang on the wall – it had to sit on my desk. The printer had to be removed to a shelf, thus displacing any number of files which lurked there, and the box was put into place.

Fine…except how to set it up. It had to be done as the shop would only accept a return within twenty four hours and the next day was a Sunday. Not a problem for the shop, which like most Costa Rican shops worships Mammon rather than God, but a problem for us as, thanks to the absurd vehicle restrictions imposed – supposedly to stop the spread of the bug but in reality aimed at imposing fines – we could not go out on Sunday to take it back.

No problem extricating it from the box…except that Carlos had to be called to assist as it was so large. I had cleared my desk top…finding several interesting things in the process – why do I have two masks and a staple gun living in a mug commemorating the ATS, in which my mother served during the war?

It was set up and then they started on the puzzle of matching up wires unplugged when moving the old box to slots on the new box…not to speak of the wires supplied with same….

At which point the backsides under the desk started….and persisted…..

Somthing was plugged in…did it work?

Well, what was it supposed to do?

How the hell do I know? Is anything happening?

Well, as it was clear that the thing worked…even if no one knew what to do with it, we called a truce.

On Sunday I fiddled with it but came up against the need for a password wihout a clue as to how one was to make the necessary input. No cameras.

Monday, the whole gallimaufrey had a go, Danilo, Carlos, Andres…….it looked like success but then I could only use my laptop if the cable to the box was removed and still no cameras…

Call the man who installed the cameras.

Tuesday it was his posterior under the desk while his assistant beat off the dogs. Then he had Andres under the desk while he fiddled above, finally achieving a very limited view on the cameras and a total absence of communication with the laptop…his assistant was occupied with cuddling Black Tot.

On Wedenesday Andres thought he had a solution….but it was not to be.

On Thursday the man who installed the cameras returned with a magic box….both he and his assistant disappeared under the desk while Carlos stood guard above, beating off Podge and Zuniga.

Success! We had cameras and action! I could watch the highlights of the Test Match! As long as I did not want to watch the cameras at the same time….

Should the Twins ever repair the other box could he set it up on another circuit?

Well, if the Twins ever get back to you…give me a call.

Talk about hedging your bets…