In The Morning, When We Rise

I have a habit of singing – or honking – along to myself as I start making the breakfast and this song popped up from the depths just recently.

It reminded me of just how much I enjoy the early part of the day – before it really gets going, when it is all mine.

The 5.00 a.m. pills, puffers and potions having been dealt with, Leo goes back to bed and I have the house to myself for an hour or so, before the chaps arrive to start the working day.

The dogs wander in and out, too sleepy to do very much, and I make a cup of Earl Grey to take out to the table on the inner balcony to enjoy the morning. The sun has hit the hill of Grifo Alto across the valley but everything between is still in the shadow of the mountain behind the house, soft greens and greys, the yellow flowers of the guachipelin groves muted and the bright red of the poro trees softened to a dull crimson. Small birds are chirping and warbling, but no other noise intrudes.

This, of course, in the dry season. In the rainy season I look out on the top of Grifo Alto and the summits above San Antonio clearing the white cloud that fills the valleys, an occasional breeze piercing the veil to reveal cattle grazing on the slopes. Different, but still peaceful and lovely.

Looking back, our decision to move from France all those years ago has paid off. Costa Rica is by no means an earthly paradise, and its vanted eco credentials would not stand impartial enquiry, but it has been good for us.

A climate which has kept Leo alive, a national health service which has its langeurs – some indefensible – but should you have an emergency is on to the problem like a shot, and a popular attitude to government which in effect derides it and circumvents its edicts whenever possible.

I was horrified to read, both officially and from friends, about the restrictions on normal life imposed in France and the U.K during Covid…..need to fill out a form to walk the dog, limited to a few miles from your home, police pushing you off park benches, prohibited to visit your elderly relatives…what a shit show.

Here, yes, small businesses were hit by closure orders while the big boys carried on trading, but people used their commonsense about limiting contact, much as Sweden seems to have done.

The then government, of course, followed the same path of those in Europe and the U.S.A….over ordering of useless PPE through cronies with no experience of the market including the obligatory tart. Injections were made compulsory for civil servants to use up some of the incredible number of doses ordered given the size of the population…but then we had a new government, voted in by people fed up with rule by oligarchy.

It has faced obstruction by the National Assembly, where the same old gang congregate and all the institutions of government, plus the judiciary and the press, all in the hands of the oligarchs down the decades.

Still the government is making progress…slowly, but progress all the same.

I can’t say the same of the U.K. or France.

Governments mad enough to cripple their own economies – already hit by the lunacy of lockdowns – by sanctioning direct Russian fuel supplies which they end up buying anyway, paying intermediaries top dollar for something which they were previously getting cheaply.

Governments whose reaction to disapproval of their policies is oppression rather than dialogue.

Governments who aim to outlaw non electric private vehicles – never mind that most people can’t afford the electric behemoths.

Governments incapable, or unwilling, to control the banks.

I could go on, but would need another cup of tea….too early for gin. The sun is not yet over the yardarm but it has risen over the mountain. The flowering trees take on their true colours, the pasture is green and the toucans in the tree by the house are croaking into action as the warmth envelopes them.

Time to start the day.


We Have An Electric Kettle

This was the mill that was offered us, many moons ago, though considerably less moons than the period in which this photograph was taken.

By the time we saw it, the upper stories had been converted into a large and elegant house with a suntrap courtyard and enough garden beyond to keep us happy. Ideal.

It was on the edge of a small town with all amenities, set back from the busy road that ran over the bridge and looked out over a horseshoe weir on the river where swans ruled the roost, with woods beyond, but the main attraction lay in the basement of the old building…….turbines. Turbines still working and producing electricity.

There was a drawback….EDF, the state monopoly power supplier, refused to accept the electricity thus generated, but a friend with experience of such set ups said he could find a solution which would obviate the need for all the windows to be open in winter and all the lights to be left on all night.

We had had enough of EDF and its continual power cuts – usually at hours when using the oven. On first moving to France we wondered why the big seller in the DIY shops was a hob with two gas rings and two electric ones. Thanks to EDF we soon found out why. Thus the attraction of the turbines.

The owner’s husband had recently died and she wanted to move to the south of France to be nearer family…she also wanted to sell a house in the medieval centre of a town not far away which was next door to the house we were restoring there, so had made contact for the latter purpose – no chance, we knew the state of that place – and then introduced the idea of the mill.

We arranged to view, but as it fell out I could not go and Leo went alone, being warned to sound his horn on arrival so that her daughter could shut up the ferocious Beauceron guard dog.

It was a boiling hot day and when Leo arrived in the parking area above the house he forgot to make the warning honk. He saw no sign of the ferocious Beauceron either until he walked down to the courtyard garden and an enormous dark shape rose slowly from the shadows and lumbered over to inspect him. Leo kept walking and the Beauceron turned to walk alongside him, all very peaceful until Leo entered the garden to find the daughter sprawled naked on a sunbed.

She let out a screech, the Beauceron leapt forward and bit her arm, and mother emerged at the gallop to collar the dog and shout at the daughter to make herself decent. Daughter fled to the house, mother let go of the dog and Leo stood very still, watching the dog make a bee line for the sunbed and crash himself down on it, panting happily.

Drama over, the tour proceeded, the Beauceron in close attendance throughout, and Leo agreed a date to see the notaire.

Then the second drawback raised its head….the owner had already agreed to sell the mill to people from Tours…except that they had had trouble raising the readies. The owner wanted to collar their deposit as the cooling off period had long expired. She had stayed her hand while no other buyers were on the scene but as we had appeared over the horizon she wanted a solution. Rapidly.

The notaire was not so sure. Well yes, in principle, legally…but would it be wise?

At this pronouncement we were sure that the buyers from Tours were well connected…people the notaire would not like to offend by looking after his client’s interests, and we were right. A friend, ex deputy mayor of Tours, confirmed our suspicions.

So we did not get the mill…but we did get the Beauceron.

Months later, the owner turned up at our place with a car boot full of tinned dog food – and the car itself full of Beauceron.

She had, she explained, no way to take him with her. He had been her husband’s dog and – with his reputation – her family would not accept him. He had obviously taken to Leo so she had brought him to us. The alternative was to have him put down and she could not bring herself to do that. No, I thought, you’d have to pay for that and then what would you do with the dog food?

Now the cheek of the French bourgeoisie is unequalled on this earth…but looking at the poor old boy, ears back and miserable in the car, the idiocy of the British with animals is likewise unequalled. We took him.

Our first visitor christened him Jaws, and to Jaws he answered…..he was a very old boy for a Beauceron and spent his days sleeping in the sun if it was available and by a radiator if it was not. He would accept visitors in daytime, but at night he came on duty. One flap of the hand and he had you.

He slept outside our bedroom, which meant that visitors wishing to visit the loo on that floor would either have to climb the stairs to the top floor or go down the main staircase, through the kitchen and up the back stairs to the loo in the library to avoid Cerberus….. a great pity we had not bought a collection of chamber pots when visiting the vide greniers – the ’empty your attic’ sales held in most villages over the summer months. We had looked at them but the eye in the bottom had put us off, nomatter how delicate the form. We had even seen a Bourdeloue….

an item named after a famous preacher of the 17th century whose sermons were so long that ladies were in need of a pit stop, and designed to fit under voluminous garments. One has visions of maids coming and going in the aisles with these chamber pots while the preacher boomed on, oblivious….

Needless to say, the Bourdeloue was not an option in Presbyterian Scotland… got through the three hour sermon on mint imperials handed out by grannie…one mint imperial per hour.

Visitors were not too bothered by the detours on the way to the loo…..despite warnings, someone always left their bedroom window open and bats entered the house at dusk to circulate in the staircase area…so those worried by encounters of the batty kind soon learned to go to the loo before retiring.

What has brought all this to mind after all these years?

Because we have bought an electric kettle.

These items have been banned by Higher Authority ever since I have known him….they waste electricity is the reason, as people always put in too much water for the task they have in mind.

His sister bemoaned the absence of such a device when on holiday years ago, and, to his great displeasure, bought one. It rapidly appeared at the next vide grenier and nothing replaced it.

What has changed his mind?

Costa Rica’s equivalent of EDF….ICE, that’s what.

When we were first here, power cuts were frequent and long, then matters improved for a number of years only to decline again over the last two years. If Leo has to get up in the night, it is a very risky procedure without light, so it is a joint effort to get him safely into his wheelchair and then to light him to the loo and back.

They also seem to time their power cuts when I am using the oven or the microwave….and it always crashes the internet when in the midst of something.

We had already abandoned ICE’s internet service…..every time it rained it went down while the speeds would have disgraced an arthritic tortoise….and the increasing number of power cuts made it tempting to abandon their power service too.

Thus a good offer on the installation of solar panels came at the right moment. It was not viable economically, given our low usage of electricity, but well worth it to have independence.

So, finally, we have an electric kettle!

A One Horse Dorp

A description well befitting our local town. When we were first here, elderly gentlemen were still coming into town on horseback to make their purchases, just as, when we were first in France, elderly gentlemen were coming into town on old tractors to make theirs.

But time flows by.

These days the elderly gentlemen arrive on the bus or are brought in by their families in cars, the latter giving rise to a problem.

According to the local council.

Parking never used to be a problem…..if all the kerbside spaces were in use, you double parked. The roads were wide enough to cope without traffic being blocked and you could move from shop to shop as the fancy took you, dumping your purchases in the car before moving on to your next port of call.

All very relaxed. Especially for those of us suffering not only anno domini but also avoir du pois with the resulting effect on the knees. Most shops here, like the local shops I remember from childhood, have chairs for their customers, but that is not much compensation for having to hirple over uneven pavements to reach the shop in the first place, which is the result of the council’s latest scheme to rob us.

They started off by covering the place with yellow lines to indicate the prohibition of parking but soon discovered that the fines thus obtained went to central government and not into their pockets. Central government knew…the place was crawling with traffic cops…..but the council is a bit slow on the uptake.

Then they had their eureka moment…probably inspired by the example of the capital, San Jose, governed by the same political party as our one horse dorp.

We would have delimited and numbered parking spaces, but you needed an app to access the system which was fine for those who trust in technology, but not so fine for those without any mobile ‘phone, let alone a smart ‘phone nor for those who had suffered losses due to the hacking of the national inter bank payment system.

Nevertheless, the marking out of the numbered spaces took place, only to be obliterated a week later when the national roads agency laid down a layer of asphalt over the lot.

Undeterred, the marking was undertaken again and, in response to those without smart ‘phones, little payment booths were set up on every corner, supposedly to make life easier, no , not for the user but for the council to collect its share of the booty from the un’phoned and the technically suspicious.

At the same time, the price of parking doubled, despite promises that there would be no increases for six months. To be fair, it is not expensive even now, but it does not give much confidence on future price stability.

What is the annoyed citizen to do? Complain to the council? Might as well shit in your hat, they are making money, despite paying the army of blue clad parking space inspectors who prowl the streets all day.

Reactions vary.

Park without paying, leaving a passenger in the car to keep a weather eye out and move the car swiftly at first sight of a council shitehawk.

Park in one of the three shop car parks where all depends on your relationship with the chap who minds the place. I have long paid pension contributions and the odd bottle or two to one of these gentlemen so for visits on that side of the town I am covered.

Use the private car park run by Don Julio. More expensive than the council parking, but it covers the council offices and the major bank and I would prefer to pay Don Julio than the council. He was very kind when we first moved here and I don’t forget it.

Businesses have suffered as people have started to do their shopping at the next town down the line – which has no parking regulations – not that the council is interested. One goes bust there will be another one along….

Perhaps we will have to return to the days of coming in on horseback, though no doubt in that case the council would be installing tethering posts to be paid for by the hour…………but good luck identifying the owners.

Horses don’t wear licence plates.

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…


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.

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.