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…

A Child Could Do It

But I can’t.

Not just computer repairs…..supposedly simple things like downloading Whatsapp and making it work, or anything, really when the instructions seem to bear no relation to the reality before me.

I am convinced that to conquer these new worlds you need to have the mind of a child….together with its limited vocabulary and lack of experience of the life in general.

And now I discover that you have to have the physique of a child!

To be fair, this was an ATM, not a computer, but it is all part of the system of infantilism.

Drawing money from an ATM in Costa Rica can be an experience in itself. Mastercard or Visa may declare on their location sites that you can withdraw funds from your foreign accounts on nomatter what machine….can you hell…..

Some Costa Rican banks’ ATMs will take the cards…some will not. Some have rediculously small limits on withdrawals and disproportionatly large commision fees…others claim to have the sky as the limit…but their pie never reaches the sky in your lifetime.

Normally, they just run out of money. Especially on a Friday when the paterfamilias, having had his salary paid into his account, brings the family in from the backwoods to do the shopping for the week. Enters card and all the details..no money. Then ensues a scramble round all the ATMs to find one which will

A accept his card and

B has not already been emptied by other paterfamiliae.

But no need to despair! If all else fails local stores will take his card and cough up money over and above the price of his purchases…as long as his card comes from a Costa Rican state bank, of which there are three. Otherwise, you can sling your hook. After a spectacular private bank failure in the last century businesses will have nothing to do with non state banks…and that includes your foreign abomination.

We have private and business accounts with one of the state three…having changed from another of the state three when our local branch tried to stuff us on currency exchange. We kicked up at their head office and the exasperated lady who dealt with our problem said ‘always the same with these indians… think they can get away with anything’. Not very PC, but Costa Rica in that era was anything but PC and we were out in the sticks with a branch which recruited indigenous staff. Xenophobia is strong in Costa Rica to this day and indigenous bank staff – aka ‘indians’ – are well in the vanguard when it comes to reverse discrimination.

We had found an ATM locally which would cough up which was fine as we could rely on withdrawing money when we did the weekly shop….until it was decided to move it to another area of the supermarket…at which point it was out of action for over a week.

Finally it was installed…but it was not the same style of machine. It lacked all the usual buttons to press….and under the screen there was a handwritten note which said ‘read the instructions’

The note itself was at waist height and the instructions were below, so I had to crouch down to read them. Well, as it turned out, reading was not what was required……..they were all in pictogram form, but even my young days haunting the British Museum did not allow me to work out what they meant.

Could Danilo make head or tail of them?

No, he could not.

We sent for the manager who, equally puzzled, sent for one of the checkout packers, aged about sixteen.

The young man took the card, fiddled about a bit and we had our money.

Was the machine causing problems generally, I asked the manager.

Well, yes…thus the notice, but it is mostly older people who have problems…you see a lot of them can’t bend and all of them expect instructions to be in writing.

So why would the bank design an ATM like this one?

A shrug…..probably dreamed up by one of their young IT people…they’re all illiterate. Still, if you have problems again, don’t hesitate, call one of the packers. Most of them don’t seem to be able to read…but they can work the machine all right.

.

The End of a Relationship

Dido and Aeneas it is not…no one is sailing off to pastures new, no one is committing suicide.

One party is disgruntled…the other, on reflection, decidedly gruntled. The gruntled party is me.

You know how it goes…one party makes incessant demands…the other slowly and inexorably resents same…tension builds, yet it was a mutally beneficial relationship while it lasted..but has finally ended through the intervention of a third party, as these things so often do.

Those kind enough to follow these ramblings may remember the case of the negotiable cow some years ago, when the young man who lives with a lady whose father had rented our finca tried to stiff us for one thousand dollars in claiming that a cow of great value had suffered injury thanks to our negligence in maintaining the finca..the which maintenance, according to the contract, was down to those renting the finca.

The young couple have since moved into the finca in front of our gates, turning a beautiful green space into a diddicoy encampment. Animals cannot graze so are banged up in roughly built sheds, reliant on supplies of inadequate fodder

They seem to have overcome the problem of major debts…I believe the father sold another finca to keep the Colombian wolves from the door….but still live from hand to mouth…our hand to their mouth if they can manage it.

Since I have become more limited in what I can achieve, the offer from the young man to cover Sundays – letting the sheep out in the morning and shutting them up at night – was very welcome.

But very soon he started coming to the house, at all hours, asking to buy loo rolls, coffee, sugar – as if we were a shop – though for which, to be fair, he would pay on the nail. Leo, more patient than I am, went along with this, reminding me that the young man was not very bright and that he depended on the family.

In which case, since he worked like a dog for them why were they not supplying him with loo rolls, coffee and sugar?

Still he looked after the sheep well, so I let sleeping dogs lie and the loo rolls roll.

And then the old Adam reasserted himself…or, in this case, the old Eve.

Reckoning that while we would not lend her the drippings from our collective noses she thought she could make a flank attack, using the young man.

First it was that he was trying to build an independent enterprise, buying in chickens….

All he needed was the equivalent of one hundred pounds and it would make him free of the family…

No, it would not, said Leo, while he was keeping the birds on their finca….

Then he needed to pay off the hire purchase of a commercial freezer…..a loan of six hundred pounds to be paid off over six months – without interest because he could not afford that.

Leo doubted strongly that any commercial enterprise would agree hire purchase terms with a young man without an I.D. document – don’t ask – let alone paid employment….

Then Eve upped the stakes. The young man had a hernia…soon he would not be able to work. Not only had he no I.D. Document but he had no National Insurance coverage…so no treatment from the CAJA – the national health service.

He needed one hundred pounds for a private consultation.

Leo responded that he coukd have a free consultation as the family were members of the local co operative.

He is not family.

He had been for a private consultation…the op would cost four thousand five hundred pounds.

Leo…pull the other one it has bells on…bring me the estimate from the doctor.

No estimate and Eve drew in her horns…….slightly.

Three hundred pounds to buy avocados to sell door to door…

They would go off before you had had then two days…

The young man was pissing blood…needed a private consultation.

No he did not. The CAJA would treat him as an emergency and track down who should be paying his contributions.

He was not pissing blood.

We would be denounced for not paying his natiomal security for the Sundays.

Just try it!

In that case, said Eve, he cannot help you any more.

Fine.

A neighbour has stepped in to help on Sundays and it is working well.

The young man wants his job back.

Agreed he is good with the sheep….but if he blows hot and cold at the bidding of Eve then he is no good to me.

So, no chance.

End of relationship…end of loo rolls.

Farewell, Fornicating Cane Toads

The swimming pool seems to be a sort of love hotel for cane toads…you can hear them croaking endearments until the early hours of the morning, probably lolling on lilos and sipping cocktails adorned with paper parasols, before doing what one goes to a love hotel to do….but cometh the morning, cometh nemesis – me – armed with a dustpan, ploughing through the water to trap those still entwined and to evict them over the side with no more compunction than that shown by a caribbean pirate.

I loathe the things. They pop up everywhere, even in the house if the doors have been left open late into the evening, leaving their slimy calling cards to mark their passage, but they are incredibly toxic to the dogs. The slime they give off if attacked goes to the nervous system, the heart and the gastrointestinal tract and can kill a small dog very quickly if not treated.

Our dogs vary in their reaction to cane toads…most like to hunt them out and wait for me to dispose of them. Bunter likes to kill them ,so I have to be sure that I always have milk and lemons on hand,,,the milk to rub on his gums and round his mouth and lemon juice to round off the treatment. Fine if I am here, but it has happened that he has caught one while I was out and needed milk poured into his stomach – not so easy with a forty kilo dog who is becoming comatose.

Thus you can imagine with what delight I empty the pool and flush future generations of cane toads down the tubes…

Genocide?

Damn right.

But the pool has been emptied for the last time.

Leo cannot use it any more…the steps are too much for him…so it is being covered over to provide an extension of the balcony for plants which do not need to have shelter from the weather. In theory this leaves space on the existing balcony for patio furniture but as Leo is of the opinion that hammocks make him seasick and that any soft furnishings just encourage the dogs to use them as bedding I suspect that the extension will be just that…an extension of plants….

So far, no covering has been envisaged, but let one cherished plant be upset and I guarantee that before the sun sets on the next day we will have enough awnings set to rival the Sydney Opera House.

I shall miss the pool…but not the cane toads.

Pura Vida!

Totally fed up with the basket case to which the corrupt leadership of the Scottish National Party has reduced my country…resigned to not seeing independence in my lifetime…appalled by the whole pack and boiling of them, I thank my lucky stars we live in Costa Rica, mismanaged though it is. That purchase on a whim, all those years ago, has turned out to have been a good call, despite walking into a local water war at the start of it all.

Mark you, the Costa Rica in which we live is not that of the tourist posters, specialising as they do in lunatics in helmets and water wings rafting down fast flowing rivers, other lunatics in helmets screaming down zip lines to the horror of the local wildlife, and thin women in bikinis prancing in the ocean. None of that round here, thank goodness.

We have a National Park…..the Cangrega….

Closed, needless to say, thanks to the bug, but a super place to visit if keen on nature in general and hiking in particular, but as it is off the beaten tourist track it does not attract many visitors even when open.

That might change as it is approachable by the old main road from the capital to the coast, deserted for years in favour of the laughingly named motorway – two lanes most of the way – which replaced it, but this year there has been a publicity campaign, pointing out the tedium of the endless jams on the motorway compared with the pleasures of running through the countryside and enjoying the little cafes and wayside stalls which mark its path. Judgng by the volume of traffic in town on the weekends, it seems to be working and a friend with a cafe on the route is delighted with the uptick in custom.

This is the view that comes free with the meal…..

This is the working Costa Rica, not the tourist traps of the coast, where family farms were the backbone of the country’s economy long before United Fruit started its plantations. While ox carts hauled coffee beans over tracks that existed before the arrival of the Conquistadors to reach the Pacific coast whence they were shipped to Europe, farmers produced for the local market and this area was famed for its beans – that staple of the Central American diet.

The farmers started to exploit the lands between the capital and the coast in the early nineteenth century, and as the population grew there was felt to be a need to supply its spiritual welfare. The Roman Catholic Church, under a couple of energetic archbishops, began evangelising the rural areas, providing priests and building chapels, a process which continued into the early years of the twentieth century.

It was a community effort. Someone would donate the land, others materials or means of transport, others would give their own time to work on the project.

Given the country’s links with England, through the coffee trade and through the cultural influence of the then British empire, many churches were buit in what is known as the Victorian style….adapted to the materials and skills of the builders…and there is a cluster of these churches in this area, well worth a side trip when heading for a beach holiday, or a day trip from the capital – take a picnic and enjoy a part of old Costa Rica.

Starting from the busy town of Cuidad Colon in moments you are out into the country, wending your way to El Rodeo

Still maintained and in good order.

On to Picagres with its tower…

And Piedras Negras…

Then Llano Grande with its twin towers and metal plates

Jaris….supplanted by a modern church….and in need of TLC when I last looked…

There a a couple of other churches in that style, but more difficult to fit into a round trip…Corralar

And dear little Balsilla with all of eight benches for worshippers.

I had to discover these places for myself…the tourist guides are not interested in these monuments to faith and solidarity out on the old gravel roads….but then, the tourist guides assume that Costa Rica has no culture save that of hedonism on one hand and much trumpeted ecologism on the other, with a passing – obligatory – bow to indigenous customs and handicrafts.

A friend who is a talented artist cannot fnd a gallery to show his work because he is not

A indigenous

B a recovered drug addict living in the streets

C an abused child or

D has no art world contacts

because people buy the story, not the art.

Just as people buy the idea of ‘green’ Costa Rica, the false animal refuges, the ‘spiritual’ scams of the exploitative hippies and the ‘pura vida’ of the tourist traps.

So why did we buy ‘on a whim’? Because we had the good fortune to have stayed with a family who loved their country, loathed the tourist industry and let us loose to explore.

But that resource is not open, in general. People come on tours…see the sights…swallow the publicity and see what they expect to see, as in all countries.

So, you can come to Costa Rica…no vaccines, no tests, just an insurance in case you have health problems…but when you are there, or in any other country you visit, don’t rely on the tourist professionals…ask local people what to visit and you will get some great surprises.

Like this great group..Malpais

Un-American Teeth

I first encountered American teeth when at school.

An American girl joined our class in the second term…she had no uniform, had no idea of the syllabus we were following, but made the best of it that she could.

We had been warned beforehand…her family were in the U.K. on a transfer from the father’s firm…she should have been going to a private school but arrangements had fallen through…..and we were to be kind and helpful for the brief time with which she would be with us.

Fine.

But…the teeth.She had what I knew later to be braces…some sort of metal cage round her teeth…a phenomenom completely unknown to us.

With true British reticence, no one commented on this or posed questions…

I was not in the circle who invited her to the house…father, having discovered for which firm her father worked, was not entranced…but I did cop the odd invitation to her family’s place, through her father’s commercial contact with one of my uncles.

The parents were very hospitable, making sure we were all at our ease…clearly, very nice, kind people…as we made our best efforts not to be surprised by a mould in which salad was encased in lime jelly – a far cry from the Sunday salad of beetroot, cucumber and lettuse to which we were accustomed – and the hot dogs served with sauerkraut and mustard…to me, a real treat!

But again…The teeth!

All the children had braces while the parents had perfectly even white teeth which made us suspect that they were false, so perfect were they.

My first encounter with American teeth was not of long duration. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party came to power and our classmate’s father’s firm was withdrawn from the U.K. tout de suite as it was assumed that communism had taken control of the country.

This view seemed to be shared by the more antiquated elements of the British army as their later aborted coup would show, but for the majority of people his promises of using technology to bring the country out if its traditional Tory torpor were nothing if not welcome.

Those American teeth struck us because we, profiting from the post war settlement, had had the privilege of being supplied with free dental treatment from an early age….

Unfortunately, this meant that we had the services of the school dental service.

Lined up to accept their attentions the accepted view was that, while the Americans and the Russians had captured all the rocket scientists, the British had captured the Gestapo operatives and were letting them loose on the nation’s chldren.

I was most upset because, though I dutifully brushed the teeth and was not fond of sweet stuff, I always seemed to have fillings whose treatment was administered without anaesthetic using a drill activated by the dentist’s foot.

This came to an end when one of the torturers assured me that what he was about to do would not hurt….. I was a fairly stoic child, but the pain nearly lifted me from the chair and, seizing my opportunity, I bit the bugger.

Not that that freed me from dentists….every six months off to a surgery hidden behind a belt of trees and a shrubbery. ‘Deadens the screams’ said father. Nowhere near so bad…though I can still recall the smell of that rubber mask for anaesthesia….

Then came a period when I kept on growing wisdom teeth….one would come through, another right behind it…by which time a wave of young handsome Australian dentists had hit the U.K.. Mine was a dab hand with the x ray machine…perish the thought of precautions…and kept showing me the next tooth on the rack with great delight. Any fear of dentists evaporated with this chap as he talked cricket non stop as he worked and was both deft and caring.

Having to repair a mess on my front teeth he showed me his colour chart by which he would match the repair strip to the existing tooth – and did a great job which has lasted to this day. British teeth, it seemed, came in all shades, from ivory to milky coffee….but never brilliant white.

Following the wave of Australian dentists came the wave of American Mormons…..we were used to the Jehoveh’s Witnesses, but this was a new plague. Pairs of young men in white bri nylon shirts with satchels over their shoulder, bearing name tags which identified them as Elder something or other…

Well if they were elders, what were the younger ones like, one asked.

And all with American teeth! It was alarming…..all brilliantly white and even…uncanny! You would catch yourself looking at the teeth as they gave their spiel, wondering if they had all been supplied with false teeth before venturing into the wilds of Europe or whether anything like that could really be natural…

Gradually, though, American teeth began to take over the U.K. White even teeth, you were informed, would give people confidence in you.

Yes, well, up to a point, Lord Copper. As far as I was concerned, if you formed your views of someone on the state of their teeth then you were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Teeth are there to reduce food to a state fit for digestion, they are not cosmetic. To me the whole thing stank of dentists keen to bolster the incomes which had made them notorious as lovers of fast cars and fast women….but people fell for it. Off they went to have their gnashers straightened and bleached, kids had their teeth caged….while those who could not afford the nonsense practised smiling like Good Queen Bess – a sort of grimace which did not show the teeth at all for fear of revealing their state. A belly laugh became a thing of the past.

Many years later, moving to Costa Rica, I soon noticed that the country was infested with lawyers and dentists. While in the smarter areas the dentists just had normal shop signs, in poorer areas their presence was indicated by huge depictions of teeth with vast roots. Let not the inability to read deprive you of dental services.

The country was also marked by American teeth. No one who is anyone lacks American teeth. Especially lawyers. Vast expanses of perfectly even, brilliantly white teeth. Very boring…no character, no inkling that under that perfect smile a gat toothed Wife of Bath might be lurking….

But it matters….

While we were quite fresh to the place, a developer was trying to abstract water to get permission to build a pile of houses nearby and we were involved in the succeeding water wars which went on for some time. As foreigners, we came in for a fair bit of calumny which has taken years to die down and while it was at its height I was chatting to a woman in the supermarket.

All went swimmingly until she asked where I lived and said in hushed tones that Senora X – wife of developer – had told her that there was a really obnoxious gringo living nearby who did nothing but cause trouble.

Well, that was either us or our unpleasant North American neighbour, the one who tried to stop us building out new house.

So I told her that there were two gringos in the area, which one did Senora X mean, did she think?

The one with yellow teeth.

‘Like this?’ And I bared my fangs in a most unElizabethan smile.

Rip Off Costa Rica

Many and various are the rip offs in this country…mostly institutionalised and designed to rob the average citizen to the advantage of the government. Nothing new there….

However, there is another type of rip off which really annoys me…

Foreign goods from non Spanish language countries being sold in Costa Rica require an additional label which describes the contents and, of course, its dubious nutritional value.

Fine.

Heaven forfend that the native population should buy a food item in ignorance of its nature. Despite the fact that to import any foodstuff into Costa Rica requires bureaucracy beyond belief, it is still a good idea that the housewife knows what she is buying.

Not fine, however….

At the application of labels institution…wherever that is…and by whom or by what machine it is done, why is it that the additional label inevitably covers the instructions for use?

Not only that…but the label is particularly adhesive…..

You can try softening it in water…no chance.

Then you try to scrape it off using a knife or your nails…..delicate work and likely to take away the underlying label, the one with the with the instructions, at the same time.

Eventually you either give up altogether or, if of a persistent temperament, try to decipher as much as you can,and then either abandon all hope or open the jar anyway and make the best fist of it that you can.

We do not buy much by way of jars and cans, but Leo had spotted a jar of Jamaican curry mix which he fancied trying, so into the basket it went and, in due course, was exhumed from same to enliven some chicken which I planned to use for lunch.

Then followed the ritual of softening and scraping until I could just about work out that you did not use the whole jar, though quite how much remained concealed….that you browned the chicken and then added the sauce….and by the fact that that was the last line visible indicated to me that you added no water.

Chicken browned, about a third of the jar’s contents added, stirred, covered and, after a bit of thought, cooked on low heat.

On the table, rice served and finally the chcken curry….the sauce thick about the meat.

I thought it would enliven the chicken…..it certainly enlivened us!

Ye Gods and little fishes! It all but lifted Leo out of his wheelchair!

After a mad rush for dry bread to subdue the blaze and a mango to calm things down Leo said

‘I think we’ll look for a jar where the sticker covers the front label next time….We might not know what it is, but at least we will know how to cook it.’