The Curse of the Chayote.

Summer in the French countryside would be bedevilled by the problem of what to do with the courgettes. You would put in a couple of plants and the next thing you knew there would be a forest of little green devils just waiting for you to turn your back before ballooning into marrows. They must have been eavesdropping when God told Noah and his sons to bring forth abundantly in the earth and thought that the injunction applied to them as well.

From the bible of Elizabeth David I thought that you picked them when young and crisp…my French neighbours thought otherwise. When the lady who delivered the bread agreed to take some of my surplus she eyed the crop and said she would come back in a couple of days ‘when they were a proper size’. Indeed she did and was pleased with her haul, which she intended to bottle. I’d been in the sous sol of her house… the shelves were full of produce she had bottled and she had picked the courgettes when they were the height of her bottles. I would not have thought of that – or of bottling the beasts at all.

Costa Ricans hold a similar view on the size of what they call zucchini which explains the heaps of green and white striped containers of spongy flesh which you find on the stalls of the feria. But at least they don’t bottle the things…

Mark you, as far as I can see they don’t bottle anything. You can mark the increase in the number of foreign settlers in an area by the availability of Kilner jars in the shops.

The curse of the garden here is the chayote. The things pictured above.

Should you wish to plant them Danilo swears that you can tell male from female fruits by the number of shoots protruding from their fundaments. I have no idea if they are male, female or transgender but it seems to me that if you hurl one out into the shrubbery it takes root with alacrity, while its ability to camouflage itself when young means that you do not see it until it leaps into action and invades the washing line. Peg out your smalls in the morning and they will have been entwined in its loving embrace by late afternoon.

Currently they have invaded the walls of the swimming pool and are advancing along the balustrades of the balcony, cunningly taking advantage of the fact that I can reach only so far down from the balustrade and only so far up from the pool giving a margin of several feet for their activity. Danilo flatly refuses to uproot the parent plant on the grounds that he can use the fruits. My suggestion that he get in the pool to pick them was addressed with scorn.

A. He is shorter than me.

and

B. The water would come over his wellies.

I can conquer A by handing him the long handled fruit picker we use for the oranges but B is insuperable.

Why don’t I use the fruitpicker? You need space to manoevre the thing and I am clumsy.

Higher Authority has decided that he will have to take matters in hand. He will propel his wheelchair out onto the small balcony which hangs over the pool, and use the fruitpicker. The chayotes will fall into the water whence I shall retrieve them with a bucket.

But which wheelchair?

The ordinary one? No, the brakes aren’t too good and he might be catapulted over the rails into the pool while lunging with the fruitpicker.

The mobility scooter? No. That lives in the car ready for action on shopping trips.

So the heavy artillery it is…the big electric wheelchair in which he rumbles around house and garden like the Mekon in search of Dan Dare.

I can take or leave chayote….usually the latter…but when they appear in the kitchen – thank you Danilo for finding yet another plant – I feel obliged to use them. When young they have a crisp texture…rather like a half frozen apple but without the flavour….and that’s about it.

I stew them in a pan with chicken, onions, garlic, potatoes, chinese cabbage and coriander – but all they add to it is bulk.

Likewise a stew with chicken, carrots and achiote – which you probably know as annatto, used for colouring cheese, but it has a distinct flavour. Again, the chayote was bulk, but took on an ominous neon colouring.

I did once try stuffing them….but for all the good that did I would have been better off stuffing them where the sun doesn’t shine. At least you can stuff a marrow.

Locals use them as part of a picadillo..a mishmash of veg served with the midday casado – the regulation plate of rice, beans, salad, picadillo and tortilla served with options from steak, pork chop, fish or beef stew as basics or ox tongue, tripe or chicken stew if the cook has ambitions. The chayote is boiled, then skinned and diced and mixed with sweet pepper and sweetcorn. Being boiled it loses its crisp texture, but the mix is pleasant.

I have mentioned the mobility scooter….

It has enabled Higher Authority to enjoy shopping again without the limitations of being pushed by someone…it gives him independence. He can belt round the alleys of the Mercado Central and navigate the Mercado Borbon, whacking his shopping in the basket or, as in the case of the fortnightly visit for dog food, making his orders then zooming on while Danilo takes the sacks back to the car.

He can also navigate my least favourite shop….the Chinese Hell.

It is a large chaotic Chinese owned supermarket between the Central and the Borbon, where stuff is certainly piled high but is not always cheap. Previous to the purchase of the scooter Danilo would push him to the entrance and leave him to it while coming with me to pick up the dog food. As the floors are cracked and uneven he would become stuck at which point staff and customers would extricate him. Friendships were formed. When the dog food had been put in the car Danilo would go in search of him while I would wait in the packing area, looking for them on the security camera screen by the tills. It is the sort of place where you are supposed to leave your bags at the entrance, but as my bag contains my money I am reluctant to do that.

If Danilo returned in search of a trolley, then Higher Authority had found a bargain…whether it was top grade rice at rock bottom prices, top grade coffee likewise, or less welcome items like sliced bread – ‘it will be fine for toast’ – one kilo of sour cream in a plastic bag – ‘we use a lot’ – or six pineapples – ‘come in handy for stir fries’.

But all this has changed. Once mounted on his scooter he leaves us for dead. On his first appearance at the Hell, the security guard slapped him on the back, allowing him to go through with his bag in the front basket, and he went round in a welter of handshakes and smiles, even when demolishing a display of sweets. When his basket was overflowing a member of staff attached the contents with sticky tape…a regular triumphal progress.

Unfortunately the Hell has taken thought as to its image…..

On his last visit I was presented with a clutch of cards featuring recipe suggestions which looked as if they were stock from an upmarket shop from the quality. He had seen them by the till. Free. They would ‘give me ideas’.

The vegetarian hamburger suggestion was promptly turned down.

‘There must be better than that…give them to me..’

Harumphs from the front seat of the car indicated that other suggestions were not meeting with approval and then

‘Look! This looks O.K. and we’ve got everything on the list…’

A card was handed back to me.

Chayote soup.

On return, into the Mekonmobile and onto the little balcony armed with the fruitpicker. Despite lunges worthy of a duellist the thing did not reach.

What was to be done?

‘Fetch a ladder. You can put it in the pool and reach from there.’

‘It will float away.’

Call Danilo to stand on the foot of it’

‘He can’t. The water will be over his wellies’.

Ever alert, Danilo arrived bearing chayote from the other plant. I must follow him and find where it is in order to destroy it.

I consulted the recipe. Peel and boil the chayote. Drain and put chayote in a blender with a bug bunch of coriander. Blend. Pour into saucepan, add salt and pepper, greek yogurt and some of the cooking liquor to let it down. Heat and serve.

Higher Authority decided we would have it for breakfast the next day…so in the early hours of the morning I made it. It had a texture that reminded me of okra…viscous…while all I could taste was coriander. Perhaps 6.00 am was not the ideal time to sample soup…still, we ate it.

By 8.00 am we wereboth rushing for the loo…damned good thing we have two of them otherwise things might have become desperate.

Finally, I have found a use for the chayote…..

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Election Fever!

You know that an election is on its way when the council bulldozer, normally out of action for repairs caused by being unwise enough to start it up, is seen, not alone, but in company with the council road leveller, also usually hors de combat for similar reasons.

Not just seen as in passing the door of the council workshops…but working! Out on what are laughingly called the roads of the canton.

For the last three years the council has doughtily refused to waste public money on improving the roads….there are priorities, we are told. What those priorities might be has remained a closely guarded secret, save for a proposal to replace the current system of prowling traffic wardens with parking meters. Who is to provide these, and the relation of the firm to the sixth cousins once removed of current councillors also remains a mystery, as does the future of the current traffic wardens who must be related to someone to have got the job and so must be absorbed into the bosom of the council staff….probably to empty the meters, unless they introduce meters which only take bank cards as in San Jose, which is asking for trouble.

No! Mea culpa! I forgot…their staff have been repainting all the yellow lines in the town to improve traffic flow which was fine on the day the lines were painted and back to chaos the next day as there is little or no parking available in the centre. I solve the problem by making a small weekly contribution to the well being of the gentleman who looks after the parking lot of one of the supermarkets but most just park and hope that the traffic police don’t turn up with their crane and low loader….

A propos of parking, we have been investigating the process of having a handicapped sticker for the car…a process wrapped in mysteries like a Russian doll. I am convinced that you need a medical examination, from hints on the Ministry of Public Works website, but which institution for the handicapped delivers this remains obscure, given that their websites do not mention it and they do not answer e mails.

Seeing a gentleman sitting in a car with a handicapped sticker the other day I thought I would ask him how he went about getting it.

The process was simple, he informed me. I had to go to the MOGO print shop in town…turn right, then left and right again…and they would give me a photocopy of the sticker which would make life very simple.

The MOGO option sounds tempting….I wonder what the fine for having a false handicapped sticker might be…

Not that it is a great problem as yet…not here…but I notice that in San Jose the authorities are getting nasty with non stickered cars in handicapped parking areas so no doubt it will come here in time.

Still, roadworks are not the only sign of elections to come….the council have instituted rubbish collections for the outlying areas, not just in the town centre. We have received a leaflet detailing how to separate the rubbish into ordinary and recyclable, telling us which areas will be served…apparently on a Monday…but with no indication as to when it will start, so I suppose that we shall have to pin back our ears every Monday in the hope of hearing the dustcart’s loudhailer advertising its presence…

And, come to think of it, how come that the dustcart has emerged from hibernation, like a woolly mammoth emerging from the Siberian permafrost?

It could be because the council were threatened with an appearance before the Constitutional Court…but it might well be down to the elections.

As a friend said

‘We should elect the councils every year…that way we would get three months of action every year instead of every four years.’

Still, I bet the major political parties in the U.K. wish they only had to produce a dustcart to remove the menace of the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage in this week’s elections to the European Parliament…

Close Encounters of The Neighbour Kind…

You need to have a lawyer in Costa Rica…not just because any and everything needs to be formally entered in the National Register, but because they can arrange other matters too….

Some years ago the local council altered the drainage system on the road at the top of the finca, with the result that water poured onto our land and caused damage, destabilising one section. As the council had cloth ears on the subject of putting things right we went to the Constitutional Court which ordered the council to sort it.

Being our local council…which scored zero in the transparency section of the annual inspection this year – probably an improvement on past performance…it did nothing, pleading breakdown of its bulldozer, the absence of a qualified engineer, probably a rearrangement of the rings of Saturn…..until we rashly let it slip, altering the drainage ourselves to limit the damage.

Unfortunately, last year the affected section of land started to slip in its turn, so we were obliged to put in a retaining wall.

Promptly the council served us with a demolition order as we did not have planning permission for the works.

Which is when the lawyer came into the act.

He went to see the alcalde – the mayor – and had a few words in his shell-like to the effect that if the council did not withdraw the notice then the Constitutional Court would be made aware of the council’s disobedience to its orders which would result in ‘ooh nasties’ all round and the alcalde risking three months in the jug.

An immediate decision was made to withdraw the order and then the two chaps settled down over a cup of coffee to put the rest of the world to rights, as Costa Rican culture is distinctly non confrontational and little unpleasantnesses have to be papered over in a civilised manner.

Our lawyer enquired how the council came to know that we had put in the wall…after all, we are not on a main thoroughfare and the council’s officers rarely venture far from their fortress for fear of encountering outraged citizens.

Ah! We had been denounced!

By whom?

The Neighbour! He of the crisp white hat with the curly brim!

He had been lying low since the failure of his marriage, so what had brought him out of his lair?

He had thought we were going to build a house….a house which would overlook the entrance to the lane leading to his property.

Ah! The Neighbour is understandably sensitive about any potential observation of visitors to his domain…especially the taxis which arrive in the early hours of the morning and depart shortly afterwards….but had the council sent out officers to check?

No….they had not.

So they took The Neighbour’s word for it?

Not exactly….The Neighbour is paying one of the Vice Alcaldes – wearing her hat as a lawyer – to get him a government concession to access water for his property so – wearing her hat as Vice Alcalde – she authorised the issue of the notice…

How much has she made out of him so far?

About two million colones…some two and a half thousand quid. And they haven’t even printed his request in the Gazette yet….

Where’s he getting the money for that, then?

Probably something to do with the taxis…

And so, mutually assured destruction having been avoided, there matters rested.

Until recently.

I called at the lawyer’s office to pick up a document and found him, as usual, drinking coffee while he contemplated the piles of dossiers on his desk. He did not, however, look at ease.

He had been at a fiesta the day before…no, hand lifted in reproof, he had not been on the sauce. He had not wanted to go even, but as it was the birthday of the man who looks after his horses it was a social obligation to show his face – and to take a contribution of beer to aid the festivities.

He had accepted a tumbler of whisky which proved to be of the sort that left you gasping for breath and worrying about the state of the enamel on your teeth, circulated for a while and then ran slap into The Neighbour who, scenting free booze, had invited himself on the strength of a distant family connection with the birthday boy.

So when are your clients going to pay me the twenty million they owe me?

What twenty million?

The twenty million they owe me.

For what?

Allowing them to take over my water concession…and the pipes. Cost me a fortune, those pipes…

You don’t have a water concession and apart from that they have their own concession…why would they buy yours..if you had one, that is?

Because my pipes run directly from the tank by the source and theirs have to go down the streambed…

But you don’t have a concession…what you are doing is illegal…

No, you don’t umderstand…I had a concession and I’ll have it back soon…I’m doing them a favour…but they won’t pay me! I just don’t understand you, helping foreigners against Costa Ricans…you ought to be shot…

Don’t even think about it!

He had left the fiesta before things got out of hand….

But had we ever agreed anything with The Neighbour?

Certainly not…but we had received an offer from him via one of his ‘friends’ to the effect that if we paid him fifteen million he would

A. Give back the pipes he stole from our finca seven years ago

B.Agree not to cut our water pipes

and C. Not poison the source with diesel.

So what had we done?

Suggested to his ‘friend’ that were he to poison the source he would find a number of very unhappy users of said source on his doorstep with machetes and as for the rest, he could go whistle.

Clearly, we have not yet fully adapted to Costa Rican culture as we did not offer the ‘friend’ a seat on the balcony nor yet a cup of coffee over which to mull the problems of the world. I showed him Einstein instead and he left abruptly.

You Need To Be Fit To Be Ill In Costa Rica

I had set the alarm for four in the morning….Leo had an appointment at San Juan de Dios, the main hospital in San Jose, at six and we needed to be off betimes in order to avoid the traffic jams which render the road to the capital impassable for hours in the morning rush.

I had been optimistic. Long before the alarm went off I had been roused from a deep sleep by something heavy and hairy breathing into my ear while sharp claws raked my head.

Sophie wished to go out and I had forgotten to leave the door open.

The door opened and Sophie released, followed by the other dogs who were now feeling the need to pee after being so rudely awakened I thought there was no point in disturbing Leo by going back to bed so washed and dressed, boiled eggs for the baby chicks’ breakfast and enjoyed a peaceful half hour with a book and a cup of tea. The alarm went off as planned and Leo was ready to roll by the time that Danilo arrived to feed the livestock by torchlight before setting off.

We were lucky with the traffic. The buses were picking up the workers with an early start as we headed for the capital and although we were half an hour early arriving, the streets on the approaches to San Jose were already becoming crowded with cars and commuter buses, their exhaust fumes knocking out the scent of the flowering trees which line those routes.

We had agreed with Danilo that he would drop us at the main doors…the nearest entrance to the department we wanted…and he would then go to a car park from which we could summon him once Leo was released. We rehearsed using his mobile ‘phone and all seemed well. We were organised.

I pushed Leo’s wheelchair into the Preferencial line…eye pads, plaster casts, crutches and wheelchairs…on one side of the entrance, while the mere walking wounded waited in line on the other side. The Preferencial are admitted five minutes earlier than the others to give them an advantage in the Gadarene rush to secure the chairs in the waiting areas before the late comers arrive.

The first roadside fruit seller arrived, paying off the porter who brought his load down from the market, and was soon doing a trade with his offer of eight mandarin oranges for aproximately a quid. Looking up through the branches of the roadside trees, the moon, which we had seen the morning before like a golden orb sinking over the hills into the sea, floated in the dark sky, silvering the clouds she wore as shawls about her chilly shoulders. For Costa Rica it was chilly at ground level too, and many in the queue wore those Peruvian hats with ear flaps making them look somewhat hieritic as they stood immobile in the half light.

The doors were opened and the Preferencial launched their asault. Through the general waiting area under its glass roof and off into the corridors which link the old buildings and gardens of its foundation with the various monstrosities of clinical blocks added over the years.

The department we sought was on the right as we we entered….but it was closed and a noltice announced that it had been temporarily transferred to the pharmacy building.

Fine, except that the pharmacy building was outside the hospital grounds, two blocks away, and Leo was in a wheelchair.

Others were similarly affected, but after a swift discussion it was agreed that the best thing to do was to head off down the low ceilinged corridor that led to the original part of the hospital, turn left past the laundry and out through the gates at the rear of the complex which gave onto a park used by Nicaraguan rough sleepers, then along the road to the next block

It was a spectacle worthy of treatment by Bunuel.

The halt and the lame, with wheelchairs and a flourish of crutches, surged through the hospital and out of the back gates…where we found Danilo. The car park had not yet opened and he had prevailed upon the security guard to let him park opposite the entrance to await our arrival. Just as well…the high speed hirpling through the hospital had exhausted me so Danilo was a godsend as the horde encountered the pavement which had not been repaired since the time it was built and invaded the cycle path alongside…yet another bright idea of the San Jose council to tick the boxes of eco virtue signalling while doing sweet Fanny Adams about the basics.

At the junction traffic stopped to allow us to pass…more from bewilderment than from obedience to traffic lights…and the horde moved on to the pharmacy building…an oversized garage on two levels with offices on its periphery.

Needless to say, our department was on the upper level….accessed by a ramp which needed oxygen, crampons and ice picks to assault. Those on crutches held onto the wheelchairs, rather in the manner of the infantry clinging to the stirrups of the Scots Greys at Waterloo while the helpers doubled up to push them up to the top where all concerned stopped to draw air into their lungs….and grab the seats.

The health service in Costa Rica has more ways than one of making you fit….




Costa Rica Rural Design Exhibition. Exhibit Number One…And Only.

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Here are the judges in the local – very local – rural design exhibition.

One is clearly unimpressed…the other curious.

Personally I embodied both views, mixed with incandescent rage of an intensity rarely experienced since leaving la belle France and the crew of overpriced bodgers more politely known as ‘les artisans francais’.

It was, of course, my own fault.

The combination of a cataract and a dodgy  ankle had sent me base over apex while – rashly – clearing the piles of books on the bedside table. Books were scattered in all directions while a despairing grab at the table led to catching my hand in the flex of the bedside lamp which fell to its doom on the tiled floor.

Much untoward language used while hauling my self up and messing off for broom and dustpan to avoid any ceramic splinters being left on the floor to the hazard of passing paws. Needless to say the disaster had attracted a canine audience, though Higher Authority had the good sense to remain at a distance. A muttering woman with a broom is best left well alone…..

I went shopping for a replacement that afternoon in the local Chinese tat emporium, as being the only place in this small town likely to have a bedside lamp.

You can buy a saddle easily enough, change your car tyres or buy clumpy furniture on the never-never, but a bedside lamp is another matter.

It did indeed stock bedside lamps.

One style stood about a foot high with a gold coloured twisted stem and shade in imperial red. Too big – and too red.

Another was miniscule.

One alternative was a ceramic monstrosity in the shape of a boat. It weighed a ton and to say it was kitsch would have been an understatement, but the major factor in determining its rejection was that it reminded me of Captain Pugwash’s ship, the Black Pig, and there was no  way in which I was going to bed every night with the Pugwash theme tune running through my head.

You see what I mean? Once heard never forgotten – and for those of you who think there is a touch of Jimmy Shand in there, you are right.

.For the uninitiated, Captain Pugwash was a children’s programme on the BBC, using cardboard cut outs operated by levers and recounting the adventures – and disasters – of that most pusillanimous of pirates, Captain Pugwash, and his faithful crew who sailed the seven seas in the hopes of avoiding their dastardly enemy Cut-throat Jake, master of the Flying Dustman.

It was one of a series of programmes which would be played in my time as a ritual in student union bars to an adoring public…Noggin the Nog… Bagpuss…The Clangers, all had their day and if you take a look at The Clangers it may go some way to understanding how we turned out…

However, the kitsch boat rejected, there was one chance left….a monolithic lighthouse, obviously a product of the same tormented mind. It too weighed a ton and it too was rejected as its associations would not be conducive to slumber…

 

Ys, of course it is a spoof…but it still makes me laugh and laughter brings me back to wakefulness.

The first night without a bedside light was not a success. Trying to find the mobile ‘phone to provide light when going to the loo was  an enterprise fraught with disaster, but there seemed to be little alternative until the Chinese tat shop changed its stock.

I had reckoned, however, without The Men…Leo and Danilo.

I had had to go out and left them busily building a low fence from left over wood to keep the dogs off the garden. Fat chance, the dogs can jump and turned out to regard it rather in the light of an Irish hunter facing a double bank…a challenge to be overcome.

On my return I was told to take a look in the bedroom.

I looked.

I found the item in the rather poor photograph heading this post placed beside the bed. Between the bed and the bedside table which was no longer at the bedside as the plinth of the monstrosity was too large to fit underneath it, nor could it be turned to fit under the bed as the light was on the other side of the post

That I was not enchanted could be told from my expression.

Nor were matters improved by learning that they had had some wood left over from the fence and had come across the lamp they had intended to use in the chicken house so decided to make me a bedside lamp.

Lamp! More like a blasted lamp post….except in one respect which was to become apparent on going to bed that night.

I would have needed the arm of an orang utan to reach the bedside table…so no glass of water in case of accidents.

The light was so powerful and at such an angle that it could have been used to good effect in interrogations by the Gestapo.

And, the crowning glory, the height was such that every time I sat up in bed I hit my head on the blasted thing.

My mood by the morning was murderous.

The Men approached me rather in the manner of Agag King of the Amalekites approaching Samuel and with some reason. It was a case of light the blue touchpaper and retire to Worthing.

The dogs enjoyed jumping the fence into the garden.

The friend staying with us, who had followed the whole thing from start to finish, put things in perspective over a quiet women only coffee.

Yes, they meant well, but it just goes to show why we don’t castrate men….they would have nowhere to keep their brains.

 

 

 

Everybody Out! National Strike in Costa Rica.

Huelga-de-trabajadores-del-sector-público.-Cortesía

The fiscal deficit in Costa Rica has finally emerged from the closet after years of immurement. The previous government tried to take measures to resolve the problem but, having no majority in the National Assembly, could not get its legislation passed.

The new government…a sort of shabby rethink of the Ministry of All the Talents…has half a chance, as even the blowhard opponents of reform in the previous National Assembly feel the hot breath of the financiers on their backs and worry about a reduction in their personal wealth.

Accordingly measures have been proposed to impose tax on the proceeds of property rental – collapse of stout rentiers – the replacement of sales tax by Value Added Tax on both goods and services – collapse of stout lawyers and dentists – and a measure which was probably proposed by those holding crucifixes and garlic as a prophylactic – the removal of some of the privileges enjoyed by public service workers above and beyond those enjoyed by those in the private sector.

No one has suggested looking closely at the tax efficient co operative status of big firms which are co operative only in name, like Dos Pinos whose dairy products sell in Costa Rica for double the price that they command in, for example, Panama…

No one has suggested having a blitz on big firms who pay little or no tax until Hacienda – the Tax Man – gently suggests that they might like an amnesty by which they pay about twenty per cent of what is owed…..

No one has suggested having a look at the agricultural subsidies which keep the big rice producers in the pink – including the ex President who expanded the public sector enormously in order to  bolster his party’s power base – while abstracting water from the surrounding population…

Which is why most of the members of the National Assembly are in favour of the reforms as they do not touch their precious pocket books.

The public service unions, however, are distinctly unchuffed by the proposals.

They are quite attached to their bonuses for turning up to work on time, for maintaining confidentiality, for not taking a second job in their spare time, for having the government pay for professional education for which they receive a further bonus once the course is completed, receiving aid to educate their children, having their car, their mobile .phone and their food in working hours paid for from public funds and any number of other odds and ends, depending on which public body employs them.

People in general are demanding an end to institutionalised profiteering from the public purse….in particular calling for a halt to the ‘luxury pensions’ by which university professors, judges, top staff of the state banks and other institutions receive enormous monthly  sums on their retirement, regardless of whether or not they have made full payments to the appropriate pension schemes.

Oddly enough, while the government has proposed some modifications in this respect neither members of the National Assembly nor the union bosses are very interested as both groups look forward to receiving such pensions….one union boss retiring and taking his monster pension the day before calling his members out on strike.

For those accustomed to the British way of striking….Grunwick, Wapping, Orgreave,

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a national strike in Costa Rica is like a walk in the park…which generally it is, as in the capital, San Jose, the marches start at the Parque Merced

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then proceed along Avenida Secunda – the main traffic artery of the capital – past the central park, then uphill to the national park by the National Assembly which they picket assiduously while the fat cats within vote through the legislation.

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It has all been relatively peaceful…on hearing of the strike, trained as we were in France, we shot out to fill up the car, buy gas tanks and stock up on animal feed….but within days the blockades on the refineries had stopped and supplies were getting through…

The unions have blocked roads…but not for long….the President was jostled as he left the Teatro Nacional…Costa Rican Presidents don’t have  much by way of bodyguards…but the legislation has rolled inexorably through the National Assembly and will shortly be presented to the Constitutional Court.

Here, however, it might meet an obstacle more effective than the unions….

Judges and many of the staff of the Justice Ministry have the union perks…and the luxury pensions. They are not at all eager to see these go up in smoke.

Already some self righteous spokesperson has warned that if the judges are deprived of their perks they may feel obliged to accept bribes…

As a friend said…what, then is obliging them to do so at the moment and what would be the difference?

Feeling that this approach is not receiving good publicity the judges have now announced that, given the separation of powers under the constitution, the justice ministry is self governing and so can decide for itself on the terms of employment of its members…..

While I am not aware that ‘Through the Looking Glass’ is required reading for employees of the justice ministry that pronouncement could have come straight from the lips of Humpty Dumpty.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

And just in case, the presiding judge of the constitutional court has declared that as the proposed legislation involves changes to labour contracts, he is not at all sure that his court is legally able to hear arguments ….

Strikes here are completely different beasts to those in the U.K.

Until a strike is declared illegal by the courts strikers continue to be paid. When their strike is declared illegal they have three days in which to appeal, or to return to work. The norm is for them to return to work, under the cover of an agreement with their employers that they will not suffer any financial liability for going out on strike illegally. In the U.K. the union pays its members….

The police, while being unable to strike, have a great deal of sympathy with the strikers…having similar perks to defend…unlike the police in England who were paid double time to break the strikers….so violence is rare.

But there are similarities with the U.K. too…the fat cats look after their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manhunt!

helicoptor

Up the road towards San Jose and near the local hospital is an area known as Loma Linda, or, less pleasantly, the Precaria.

The land itself is, or was, a finca which was the property of  a governmental institution which neglected it….and gradually seasonal workers, Nicaraguans come to pick coffee, started to set up permanent homes there, undisturbed.

Gradually the shacks made of galvanised sheeting became proper houses inhabited by families. The electricity system was hacked into to provide light and power…the water system likewise. It looks like any other village in the area and the council has now started a scheme to legitimise landholding…and to collect taxes!

Being something of an Alsatia, where no writ ran and dubious characters took refuge – many thanks to Mike of A Bit About Britain for reminding me of that part of London’s history – the area has been viewed with disfavour by its neighbours for some time, a view exacerbated now that Costa Rica has changed from being a staging post for the drugs trafficked between Columbia and the U.S.A. to a full blown market in itself.

Our little town has been hit hard…drugs on sale outside the schools, not to speak of inside, where the police now mount raids with drug detection dogs. Drugs on sale outside a popular restaurant and in the central park.

And with drugs use comes crime, to get the money for the next fix, so  not only is there the regular crime of stealing anything not nailed down but also housebreaking and mugging.

Little crime kingdoms have risen and have become profitable enough for other crime kingdoms to try for a takeover.

Last month there was a shoot out in Loma Linda between the resident crooks and a gang from one of the suburbs of San Jose, the action ending suddenly with the arrival of the police.

Ah yes…the police. There have been changes.

The new police chief has sussed that the regular penal judge has a great respect for the presumption of innocence and for the level of proof necessary to disturb that presumption. In other words, the alleged criminal will be free  to leave the court without  stain on his character on a normal judicial day.

Personally I think that the Fiscalia – State Prosecutors – might have something to do with the attitude of the judge. From what I have seen of their preparation of certain cases they seem to be acting as substitute lawyers for the defence…but, however that may be, the new broom has decided that it is only worth mounting large scale action at the weekends, when a duty judge is sent down from San Jose.

These gentlemen, used to the rough and tumble of the city’s summary courts, seem to have a looser definition of the necessary level of proof…bring one of the undesirables before them and they end up in preventive detention before you can say Jack Robinson.

So, last Friday, police nabbed a well known ne’er do well as he and his female companions were boarding a bus for San Jose. They were found to be carrying a quantity of good reported as stolen.

The duty judge issued a search order, and the home at Loma Linda gave up a vast quantity of other goods reported as stolen.

Six months preventive detention, and our boy was marched off to the police cells to await transfer to the jug.

By now public feeling was running high. Social media resounded to calls of ‘Burn the Precaria’, while honest residents of same responded that it was not their fault that they had criminals as neighbours and where were the police…

Public feeling was to run a damned sight higher that night when it was learned that our boy had escaped!

He had asked to go to the loo, and once out of his cell had assaulted the officers and made a run for it…through the main entrance of the police station!

Now, our little town is a bit of a joke, even to itself, but this was too much!

A manhunt was organised.

Local police, the local detective branch, specialised police from San Jose…and even a helicopter!

The ‘phones were hot as locals alerted the police to possible sightings…

He is Barrio St. Cecilia…he is climbing in and out of gardens…

He is in Barrio Carit….running off into a cafetal…

I am in Barrio Corazon de Jesus…I have shut myself into my house and he is in my garden…

I’ve just seen him in Barro San Isidro……

He is in Charcon! No, not that Charcon, the other one….

Thank goodness for the helicopter!

Not being a very bright criminal mastermind, our boy had legged it for home in Loma Linda where one of the San Jose police was keeping an eye on the premises. Spotting him, the lady…for it was a police woman ….attempted to arrest him. He fought back, injuring her, and she later said she thought she would be obliged to use her firearm, but a – female – colleague, alerted by the noise, came to the rescue and between them they managed to overpower him.

He was taken to the local hospital to have his physical state recorded…he seemed to have various injuries related to his refusal to be arrested…and was taken thence to the cells of the local detective branch where I suspect that he will have to exercise a great deal of bladder control before he is taken off to the jug.

As he now faces charges relating to escaping detention and attacks on the police women it is likely that his preventive detention will last rather longer than six months…to the delight of all right thinking people in the area.

Lucky that they caught him before the regular judge came back to work on Monday, though…