Let Gin Be Unconfined

After a few rough months we were finally lifting our heads again…we had had a visitor, life was returning to normal…and then you all know what happened – Corona virus. So now, as we are both elderly and Leo is more than vulnerable, we are supposed to stay on the property, have no visitors, wash our hands to an extent which would alarm Lady Macbeth – well, you know the drill. Distinctly frustrating, but at least we are not shut up in a small flat in this baking weather.

And, once the sun is over the yardarm we can enjoy a gin and tonic and look out over the valley below.

Makes me think of the First World War song to the tune of ‘in and out the window’…

Breaking out of barracks’, not to speak of ‘parading all unbuttoned’….giving rise to fourteen days in barracks…’as we have done before.’ ‘Yes, and we can do it, yes and we can do it, yes and we can do it, as we have done before.’

No doubt that we can…we have been living in each other’s pockets 24/7 for many years as Leo has been too ill to work since in his forties and so far homicide has not been on the menu.

Thanks to having lived in France, at the first sign of problems we stocked up on essentials so were not taken by surprise by the Presidential address to the nation which sent the entirety of said nation out in search of rice, beans and toilet rolls.

Why toilet rolls? I suppose in this digital age there are less newspapers available to be cut into squares and placed on a hook in the loo. As children visiting an appallingly pious aunt – who was as tight as a duck’s arse, watertight – we used to be intrigued by the newspapers spread on the floor by her cleaner after mopping same – excerpts from ‘The News of the World’ – a scandal rag whose reporters always ‘made an excuse and left’ when in tight moral corners. Even the aunt did not use Bronco or Izal…disinfected glossy paper rolls which left more liquid on your hands than on their surface, so time in the loo could be well spent trying to match one square of the NOTW with the follow up of the reportage.

As my father – who detested this sister – said, where did the newspaper come from? The cleaner hardly brought it in herself. Furtive equiry at the newsagent revealed that she had it delivered – ‘for the staff’. As if ‘the staff’ would have had time to breath under the supervision of Aunt Ellen, let alone read a newspaper…

As things are quiet on the confirmed cases front in this area I did go out to the feria – the farmers’ market – on Saturday morning. All very well organised with one entry point, then down the ramp where a large lady in an overall squirted soap on your hands and directed you to the basin provided with running water. Another overalled lady then gave you one paper towel to dry your hands before releasing you into the market area. The number of stand holders was down – including the lady from whom I buy tomatoes – no kissing or hugging – and the clients were few.

It appeared that, as usual, I had missed the action. It all went off on the Friday evening.

As this weekend marks the end of the month, people have been paid. Having been paid they want to shop, thus lines of cars blocking the roads as the supermarkets limit access – and a crowd headed for the feria.

The local news service is usually at the feria, to promote it, but this time they produced film of people pressing to enter, and the aisles, if not crowded, at least somewhat busy with people not keeping a distance. The commentary criticised the organisers of the feria, emphasising the risk of contamination and the clip went out that evening.

The response was immediate. Someone associated with the feria announced that the maker of the film should be lynched for endangering the livelihoods of the stall holders, with which there was much agreement, among remarks that the news service was, as usual, trying to kick up a fuss to attract viewers.

The frontman for the news service – someone whom I find bombastic, to say the least – claimed that his work was essential and unbiased and that he would take those who proposed to lynch him to court.

He will be out of luck there….the courts are shut for all non urgent matters. I expect that his case may be put back until manana…and manana…and manana…

I find it interesting, however, that the film clip appears to have been removed, to be replaced by still pictures of the feria with the headline ‘The feria cares about your safety’…

As he cares about his, I suspect.

There has been a positive angle to the campaign to limit the spread of the virus…a curfew on use of the roads at night – 8.00 pm to 5.00 am on the weekends and 10.00pm to 5.00 am on weeknights. If you are not travelling to and fro your place of work, then you are not to be on the road. People in the centre are rejoicing, because the gangs of youths on unsilenced motorbikes no longer strut their stuff or, should they do so, a call brings the police down on them very rapidly. The silence in the evenings is most appreciated, it seems.

On Saturday night the dogs alerted me to traffic on the road…it sounded like three unsilenced motorbikes followed by a jallopy, to judge by the engine sounds, all going like the clappers up the steep hill to town. Collecting the dogs from the gate I saw that this assortment was being pursued by the local police dog van, complete with flashing lights, barking from within and, as the driver waved in passing, the siren. I think they were having fun.

This curfew, and the closure of the parks, is felt to be very unfair on the drug dealers….they’ll probably be asking for a rescue package shortly.

Any type of ‘flu is potentially fatal for Leo, so, over the years, with every ‘flu epidemic, we have become accustomed to shutting ourelves away. When in France I used to put a notice on the gate asking people to call on the telephone rather than entering if we were not expecting them, and this worked well.

I was telling a friend here that I must do the same and he said that I must be joking…one look at our pack of dogs belting to the gate would have anyone in their right mind legging it. So I did not put up a notice.

Yesterday I was washing the dogs. This needs careful preparation if one is to avoid having to hook dogs out from under beds, thus revealing more than I want to know about the fluff levels and have wet dogs dry themselves in our bedding after their ordeal. First close external doors – quietly so as not to alert them. Then close the gates to the swimming pool, as they can escape by running round its wall. Collect the gear on the table on the balcony. Close doors to the bedrooms. Entice dogs onto the balcony with a treat for Scruffy, who will be followed by all the others to ensure they don’t miss out. Close door to the house. Then grab first dog, pin against balustrade with knees and get to work…

I thought that they were kicking up more than usual…and as I cleared down the mess and let them out I saw that they had reason to do so.

Standing in my garage, sheltering from a shower, were two of the local God botherers.

There are notices everywhere telling people to stay at home, not to go visiting and there were these two, bold as brass, having opened the gate and walked all the way up the drive. To make matters worse, they knew that Leo was in poor health and at risk…but still they came.

Keeping them at a distance I asked what they wanted…oh, they had come to enquire about Leo’ s health…all with eyeballs rolling to the sky and the usual pious utterances…and while they were about it, could I give them the money to buy a gas cylinder?

Life in Costa Rica has softened me…when living in France they would have received a barrage of abuse and possibly a whack from a shovel in the posterior resgions. I contented myself with declining to assist them and shepherding them to the gates.

Once on the other side one of the ladies assured me, with a sugary smile, that Costa Rica would be safe.

Why is that, Senora?

The Virgen de los Angeles has flown over the country, giving it her protection.

The Virgen de los Angeles is the patron of Costa Rica…

and she has indeed flown from the national basilica in Cartago to cover the entire country, but not, you will be relieved to hear, under her own steam. The image was carried in a police force plane…it flew over us at about half past six in the morning last week.

The tempation was too severe.

A pity she did not drop you off a gas cylinder when she was passing.

Notices go up tomorrow…but for now – time for a tisue restorer.

Here it comes again….

Christmas is coming

The geese are getting fat

Please to put a penny

In the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny

A halfpenny will do

If you haven’t got a halfpenny

God bless you.

So here comes Christmas. Those with the cash will be splashing out for all the bling that the media can push at them – the clothes, the presents, the food and drink, the parties. Those who don’t have the cash but can get credit will be doing the same..refrigerators groaning under the strain of hoarding the items held essential to the season.

Those who have neither cash nor credit will be making do…the lucky ones helped by their families, the unlucky well in need of the the blessing of God just to get through.

I was in San Jose on Friday…the pavements have been cleared of the huge inflatable santas and the wickerwork reindeer which were, for all the years I have been here, a hazard to navigation, but in their absence the vast tide of shoppers now surges unhindered. All very well if you are coming in on that tide – next to fatal if not.

Trying to go down to the cheapo cheapo off licence downhill from the Mercado Borbon, where items for sale seem none the worse for their fall from the back of lorries, I made no headway whatsoever against the swarm of large ladies bearing shopping bags, followed by meek menfolk carrying sacks on their shoulders.

Women rule in Costa Rica.

I was reeled in by the tiny gentleman with a tomato stand by one of the entrances to the market and plonked down on his stool to recover my breath.

He summoned one of the market porters…

‘Take this lady down to the off licence…slowly now, she can’t walk very well. And bring her back!’

His solution to breaching the tidal wave was to take me by the arm and step out into the road, waving his arm to slow down passing traffic. It still amazes me how good humoured Costa Rican drivers are…try that in London and hope you have prepaid your funeral.

I made my purchases, was escorted back up the hill…still in the road despite going with the tide…and was deposited in the car park. Obviously I tipped him…but it was clear that he did not do it in hope of recompense. Helping old people is still regarded as normal here – at least as far as middle aged people are concerned. Younger ones are beginning to become less aware.

Christmas here is as commercial as in Europe…..and the tradition of the creche in each house and the visits among neighbours to pray together in the days before the 25th is dying out. State institutions still put up a creche in their premises, but this is increasingly cut off from the roots of the practice so will eventually become a hollow acknowledgement of tradition.

But Christmas is not just a commercial feast…it celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace as heralded by the prophet Isaiah and, nomatter what our beliefs, that peace refers to a truce among nations, devoutly to be hoped for…but fearing the worst given the U.S. coat trailing against China and Russia in recent months.

At midnight on the 24th we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace…and hope and strive that we can force our national leaders to respect the call to beat swords into ploughshares.

Atmidnight inthe 24thin gthe meantime

In the meantime, let us, as in Alcis and Galatea, be happy for the moment, nomatter what might befall.

Oranges and Lemons…

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clement’s

You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martin’s

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey

When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney

I do not know
Say the great bells of Bow

Thus the words of the nursery rhyme as now known – though the original version differed somewhat.

Why does the nursery rhyme come to mind?

Because a man owes me money for my lemon crop.

He is the father in law of the young man who featured in the Negotiable Cow. Having fallen on hard times when ill he needed credit to restart his fruit and veg business and asked if he could pick our crop and pay us when it was sold in the farmers’ markets in which he trades.

I gather he asked others whom he knew to come to a similar arrangement…for yucca, for pineapple, plantains, oranges…..all he needed for his business, and people obliged. He was well liked and people trusted him.

He also asked his wife’s family to finance building the house for his daughter, on the finca across the road from us. Needless to say the house – or prefabricated shack – was built exactly opposite our gates which did not delight me. I don’t mind shacks in principle, but could do without one surrounded by rubbish right under my nose.

Well, as you can imagine, we were not paid for the lemons….not the end of the world, but the last favour we would do him. Had he paid even a quarter, that would have been fine – it is a struggle to get going again from zero – but no payment at all was another matter.

At the same time he asked Danilo to lend him his small lorry to go to market….and when Danilo next went to the petrol station he found that the owner expected him to pay for the other man’s fill up…he had said he was doing Danilo a favour by taking the lorry up there and as the owner knew it was Danilo’s lorry and knew the chap was a friend of Danilo he thought nothing of it.

This is a trusting community. Danilo can use Leo’s bank card anywhere in the town without ID as people know he works for us and knew that, until Leo had his electric scooter, he could not get into the shops himself.

In the meantime, the daughter continued her financially disastrous cattle business with the proceeds from the market business, while those who had helped her father went unpaid. Small debts individually, but a week or so ago we gathered that things had escalated.

The young man came to see us one night to ask for help. He had, he said, contracted a debt of six hundred thousand colones – some eight hundred quid – and the matter was pressing. He had to pay it or there would be consequences.

Dire consequences.

Remembering the negotiable cow, we suspected that this was yet another invention of the daughter….after all no one in their right mind would lend the young man the drippings from their nose given his financial situation. Effectively a slave on the property, he was obliged to pay for his clothes and food from the amount he was paid for part time work in the local pig farm.

We declined to assist and he took his leave.

Then, over the weekend, we had visitors. Men on foot, men on motorbikes, men in large cars, men in trucks, men looking for the father…the wife…the daughter. No one looking for the young man.

Why had they come to us?

Because the father had given our address as being his.

Remember in Costa Rica, especially in the country, addresses are somewhat fluid…we, for official purposes, are two kilometres north east of a corner shop which no longer exists. As is the finca opposite, occupied by the daughter.

Clearly father had had dealings with more than his usual suppliers, who knew where he lived, in the town centre. From the conversations with the visiting gentlemen it appeared that he had asked for short term loans, for sums not large enough to make anyone want to impose a mortgage, showing our property as evidence of solvency!

We indicated that the daughter lived opposite, but no amount of hooting and hollering raised any sign of life so we directed them to the father’s house in the centre.

I rather liked the enterprising gentleman who enquired hopefully if we would like to take out a loan…very good conditions…..a rate of only three per cent per month!

We politely declined his offer, and he took the refusal in good part, becoming confidential.

No he didn’t think we would want a loan but as he was there it was worth a chance…and if we ever changed our minds….but whatever we did, not to take out loans with the Colombians!

Colombians?

Yes…they advertise unsecured loans in notices on lamp posts….don’t touch them! They charge daily interest…and come round to collect it.

And if you can’t pay, what happens? It’s like your situation…you gave a loan without security.

Well, if you can’t pay the Colombians you’ll risk being beaten up and that’s just for a start….so you’ll find the money somehow.

But what will you do to get your money back?

Simple. Sell the debt to the Colombians.

We started with the best known words of ‘oranges and lemons’…but the rhyme has a coda used when the song is used for a playground game….one all too appropriate.

‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed

And here comes a chopper to chop off your head’.

The Curse of the Chayote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. He is shorter than me.

and

B. The water would come over his wellies.

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

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

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

But which wheelchair?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have mentioned the mobility scooter….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vegetarian hamburger suggestion was promptly turned down.

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

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

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

A card was handed back to me.

Chayote soup.

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

What was to be done?

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

‘It will float away.’

Call Danilo to stand on the foot of it’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Fever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a friend said

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

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

Close Encounters of The Neighbour Kind…

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

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

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

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

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

Which is when the lawyer came into the act.

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

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

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

Ah! We had been denounced!

By whom?

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

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

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

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

No….they had not.

So they took The Neighbour’s word for it?

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

How much has she made out of him so far?

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

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

Probably something to do with the taxis…

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

Until recently.

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

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

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

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

What twenty million?

The twenty million they owe me.

For what?

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t even think about it!

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

But had we ever agreed anything with The Neighbour?

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

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

B.Agree not to cut our water pipes

and C. Not poison the source with diesel.

So what had we done?

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

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

You Need To Be Fit To Be Ill In Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a spectacle worthy of treatment by Bunuel.

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

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

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

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




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

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

One is clearly unimpressed…the other curious.

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

It was, of course, my own fault.

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

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

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

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

It did indeed stock bedside lamps.

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

Another was miniscule.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

I looked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mood by the morning was murderous.

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

The dogs enjoyed jumping the fence into the garden.

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

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

 

 

 

Everybody Out! National Strike in Costa Rica.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manhunt!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah yes…the police. There have been changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A manhunt was organised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank goodness for the helicopter!

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

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

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

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