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’.

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.

I Don’t Like Cricket… I Love It….

cricket ground

While I can’t say that I recommend the rest of the lyrics of 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ that one line sums up my feeling for the game….and for the expression of that feeling, running from expertise to sheer tomfoolery, of those who also love it.

For those whose picture of England is coloured by John Major’s 1990s description of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer…..dog lovers….and Orwell’s old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the mists of an autumn morning, may I present another more contemporary image of the cricket lover, made by a gentleman named Kim Thonger who contributed his mite to ‘The Guardian’s over by over coverage of the First Test between India and England.

“I’m sitting outside Waitrose with the dog, listening to TMS through my hearing aid while SWMBO potters inside. When Stokes got Kohli I leapt into the air and now there’s a clutch of senior citizens eyeing me very strangely. I think one of them has called an ambulance for me.”

For the furriners among us, a glossary.

Waitrose. A supermarket chain which caters to those who consider Marks and Spencer ready meals to be downmarket.

TMS. Test Match Special, the ball by ball commentary on international cricket matches provided by BBC radio, staffed by people whose names are often given the suffix ‘ers’ – thus, Phil Tufnell, ‘Tuffers’, Henry Blofeld, ‘Blowers’, Jonathan Agnew, ‘Aggers’. The latter might have been called Johnners had that not been the soubriquet of a much loved and now deceased commentator called Brian Johnston, himself the originator of the ‘ers’.

Let it here be noted that Mr. Thonger has a dachshund, called, inevitably, Dakkers.

SWMBO. She Who Must Be Obeyed, from the white goddess/queen in Rider Haggard’s She’. Here,  as played by Ursula Andress – an actress whose name is often misspelled for some reason.

SWMBO is an alternative way for men to refer to their wives – though not, it seems, to their significant others  – and may derive from John Mortimer’s barrister character Horace Rumpole who, in respect of his wife Hilda, remarks gloomily that murder and matrimony both carry a mandatory life sentence.

hilda Rumpole

Stokes is a much tattooed chap who plays for England, except that he will be missing the next match as he will be on trial for alleged assault outside a nightclub. Perhaps he should have considered that the downside of tattoos is that they make one easily identifiable by the police.

‘Got’ here refers to the fact that he bowled, as opposed to allegedly assaulting,

Kohli, India’s captain, whose talent as a batsman almost matches his ego and who, in this context, had been making too many runs to please Stokes and his team mates.

I am aware that the glossary raises as many supplementary questions as it proposes answers, but that it the nature of the beast.

Just try getting your heads round examples offered by cricket lovers for everyday phrases as titles for dark thrillers….

A Tickle To Leg…There Was A Noise…First Slip…Chin Music…The Corridor of Uncertainty…It Reared Sharply Off A Length…The Wrong’Un….Deep Cover…The Man Who Was Mankaded…Whispering Death…

You’ll need more than a glossary for that lot…

So what is it that makes people…me included…sit up all night to hear a radio commentary on Test matches in Australia, New Zealand or Sri Lanka? We have not been able to watch cricket on TV unless forking out for a Sky subscription since the ECB sold the nation’s heritage for a bowl of baingan bharta. in 2006.

Glossary…ECB, England and Wales Cricket Board, not to be be confused with the European Central Bank even though both are staffed by people living in a fantasy world where you generate money in order to fritter it on mad schemes.

It is because we can see in our mind’s eye that which once we saw with the two others…the grace of a batsman who uses the bowler’s speed or spin against him…the art of the slow bowler spinning his webs to deceive….the thrill of a great fast bowler…

If you can bear the slow start, do take a look at this video of David Gower…a slight man, he uses the speed of the ball to send it to the boundary, seemingly effortlessly and with supreme elegance.

 

And just look at the peerless Larwood…perfect balance and speed

The matches, the players, the history, the enthusiasts….the ups and the downs….and, this year there is something special to celebrate.

The Scottish cricket team beat the English in a One Day International…it is 1314 all over again!

Culture on the Low Road

folk-groups

With the cuts in public expenditure in France, local authorities are reducing funding for what they were pleased to describe as cultural events. While some were well worthwhile, bringing top class performers to areas which would otherwise have no chance of seeing them in the flesh, like the Nuits Romanes in Poitou Charente,  a great deal of it betrayed the belief of official, authorised and therefore paid culture vultures that people should be provided with professional dispensers of approved culture rather than being left to develop their own.

Thus a rural village where some eighty per cent of the inhabitants are over fifty finds itself lumbered with a hip hop band for the Fete de la Musique: professional ‘story tellers’ infest the St Jean midsummer festival – probably sitting in a yurt to peddle their meretricious nonsense – while the only reason that the Bernache et Marrons (new wine and chestnuts) fair does not figure half naked men in red tights swinging from scaffolding towers is because it can be decidedly nippy in November in the Loire Valley.

So, on the grounds of every cloud having a silver lining, let us rejoice that  with the need to find money to pay the salaries of all the local government employees whose jobs have been duplicated by local government reorganisation people can, with a bit of luck, get back to doing what they like by way of culture.

Walks through the commune, pumpkin fairs, local folk dance groups, bands and choirs, fireworks on July 13th, the fire brigade ball (guaranteed bacchanalia) and, in my old area at any rate, amateur theatricals.

Some months after moving to rural France, I had had a toothache which oil of cloves would not touch, so I needed the dentist. Papy, my nearest neughbour, told me that there was no need to make an appointment, just to go down to the surgery in the village and sit in the waiting room, so that was what I did.

Two gloomy gentlemen were already in occupation – for some reason the usual round of handshakes doesn’t take place in dental waiting rooms – and one informed me that the dentist was out but would be back shortly. I passed the time looking at posters of teeth.

The dentist returned. The street door banged against the wall, there was a strong smell of drink having been taken and a tall handsome man with black curly hair strode in…..his white coat liberally splashed with blood.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting, but I had a spot of bother just now…Come on Jules, let’s get these false teeth sorted!’

I think I was rooted to the chair in shock…otherwise I would have fled.

Georges, the other patient, turned to me.

‘Don’t worry, he had a problem taking a tooth out…it broke and he had to put his knee on Jean-Paul’s chest to get the leverage to get the last bit out. Bit of a shock for both of them, so they’ve just been over to the bar for a restorative.’

Don’t worry! What, I wondered would qualify as something to worry about? A broken artery, dislocated jawbone….If the tooth hadn’t been giving me such gyp I would have been away in Olympic record time for the one hundred yard dash – or whatever it is in metric. But it was so I didn’t.

Dentists have an unfair advantage. They stick needles in your gums so that your lips turn to wood and then make you keep your mouth open while they talk to you. You have no way of responding.

This dentist talked to me while finding and dealing with my problem tooth.

I was new to the commune. I was British. This was very convenient. He ran the amateur dramatic society. He was putting on a Feydeau farce. There was an English governess in it and none of his regular actresses could say ‘shocking!’ properly. So there it was. First rehearsal on Tuesday evening in the mairie annexe at eight o’ clock.

He had a copy of the play in my hand, my role marked in pencil, before I could mumble a word.

Shocking!

So here I was, my French far from fluent, with no experience of amateur dramatics since being in the chorus of ‘The Mikado’ while at school, being propelled onto the boards by a dictatorial dentist.

I studied the part…small, luckily….and the cues. I turned up at the annexe to the mairie and found I already knew some of the people there. Then the dentist arrived and things took off. He was a ball of energy and enthusiasm, a perfectionist and, inevitably, not only director but also leading man.

Like everyone else, I was pushed and pulled into place, was prompted and scolded and learned an enormous amount about staging farce.

Timing, timing and timing, keeping the action going, getting his actors to have a signature expression or tone of voice that marked them clearly for the audience, he was dedicated to getting his crew to give of their best.

It was all very convivial…there was always wine and cake at the end of the rehearsal, and I was included in the cake rota automatically which surprised me given the French suspicion of anything emerging from a British oven. I supplied treacle tart and to my relief it was asked for again.

I got to know people…my French improved dramatically…and I learned a lot about the commune as we worked.

Although amateur dramatics – like music – had always had a strong following in the area, until fairly recently these activities had been duplicated. Those who attended mass – known as ‘les grenouilles du benitier’ (literally ‘frogs in the holy water stoup’)  to those who didn’t – supported the priest’s theatre group and band and the others supported the republican groups.

In that village, the war between state and church had been such that – Clochemerle like – the public toilets had been set up next to the church on the main square……and were closed on Sundays! Respect for the church or a strong determination that believers shouldn’t be able to use the facilities?

The play was performed on the home ground first, in the salle des fetes and then toured neighbouring villages, always to packed houses and vigorous applause, two nights and a matinee a week for four weeks, the cast kept going by buckets of mulled wine backstage, dished out in an enamel mug.

It was fun, and I gladly joined up for several more years. It was always a Feydeau farce, there was always a place for a foreigner and in year two I even graduated to my own little round of applause as I entered, an accolade awarded by audiences to the regular players.

It came to an end, of course: the dentist left the area.

The lady from the chateau, whose cavities he had been assiduously attending to for some years, decided that enough was enough. She left her husband and, with the dentist in tow, moved to that Sodom and Gomorrah of the Atlantic coast, La Baule.

Shocking!

The last visit from the traveling circus took place in my time in that village…no lions or tigers,  but dancing dogs and the great attraction – the chicken that could count!

Not caring for the circuses I had not gone down to the trestles arranged in the square by the church….but I do rather regret not seeing the chicken tapping on the cards laid out on the sand.

Later, there was a new attraction – one which had nothing to do with the culture vultures.

It started with a man impersonating one of the iconic figures of French rural life..the old woman who ruled her family with a rod of iron: the show would start with this ‘lady’ roaring on stage on a solex, headscarf firmly tied under her chin, ready to wind up the audience with ‘her’ take on rural life: somewhat scatalogical and utterly hilarious.

Others copied….

These days the best known act is that of ‘Les Bodins’: much less scatalogical but reviving in its audiences memories of the old ways of rural life…set in a pastiche of a typical small farm of the not so distant past.

Here is an excerpt: you might not understand the words, but it is slapstick enough to be self explanatory given the title:

A dormouse has shat in the cheese.

High culture it is not…but neither are half naked men in red  tights.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

IMG_2830The pressure cooker hissing gently; dogs snoring; a warm and heavy head on my feet; catching up on the Great British Bake Off – peace at last.

Bunter – on the right above – is sleeping under my worktable, snoring happily. Black Tot is sleeping on top of the washing machine, curled up on her blanket. The other dogs are sleeping in the office.

The morning had been its usual hectic self…whatever were we doing to take on two more pups!

One, Stein – on the left above – has settled down since he came to us four months ago, but the other, Bunter, remains a pup.
A huge pup.
A huge loving pup full of energy.

After breakfast on the balcony he bounded into the kitchen, ready for action.

He played with a plastic bottle, waving it like an indian club…he reduced yet another cardboard box to flat pack status…he leapt on the garden chair and bounced it round the kitchen….he found the chayote, threw them in the air and chased them round the floor.
He supervised stripping meat from the duck carcass. At least this required him to sit down.For at least one second at a time.

After twenty minutes of high octane performance he went to sleep…flat out, relaxed, snoring fit to bring down the walls of Jericho.
Relaxed as only a pup can be, happy in the knowledge that it has fulfilled its obligation to keep you entertained and on your toes.

Two loads of washing went out to make the most of the sunshine.

A young man we know had called to see if we wanted a quantity of heavy duty fencing wire. His price was very reasonable and included delivery. Tonight.
All his deliveries take place in the hours of darkness but as yet none have been followed by a visit from the police.
As he also has available several tons of asphalt, however, his delivery methods may have to change.

Friends called to collect tilapia to start their own fish production: they stayed to a lunch of St. Omer beer and home made pork pies. The latter were a bit lop sided…but then weren’t we all by the time lunch was over.

We fed the sheep, fed the ducks and chickens – and watched Bunter’s matinee performance.
Much as before: minus the chayote but plus a box of fifty packs of spaghetti which I thought I had stored out of his reach.
And we all know what thought did.

Two loads of washing came in as the sky darkened…this is the rainy season and the afternoons are almost guaranteed to be wet. Soaking wet.

Two loads of washing which were not immediately ironed….there are limits!

The rain came down heavily so it was time for a cup of tea…and time to talk, brought on by something we had noticed last night.

We had had supper early, sitting out on the balcony as the sun went down over the hills between us and the Pacific Ocean…the sky pink and grey after an afternoon of violent thunderstorms.
As the light faded, the street lights appeared, one for each house….none to the right at San Antonio – the hill had been bought by a consortium who wished to develop it, unsuccessfully. No water.
On the left, however, creeping out from the town, there were lights where there were none when we bought the finca…and more to come. There are signs of construction on all the ridges.
The council has even given planning permission for houses to be built around the spring which feeds the river below us…

In front of us, however…no street lights.

That part of the Three Valleys remains, if not pristine, then at least rural, agricultural.

And that is what had led to our chat.
Had we done the right thing…moving here…not just to Costa Rica, but here?

It had been our holiday house before moving…but when we moved we walked into the nightmare of a local fight against a well connected developer.

As it all happened just as we were moving there had been no time to consider whether or not so to do: it was a case of just getting on with it.

We have had unpleasantnesses – galore – but also much kindness and the chance to gain a full speed ahead apprenticeship into the workings of the country which might otherwise have taken several more years to achieve.
We now know where we are with a number of people locally….and they know where they are with us.

Armed with what we now know, would we come to Costa Rica again, as it were?

Yes: like a shot.

Not just for the climate and the beauty of the place, lovely though it is, but for the culture of mild anarchy which prevails…and the fact that there is always a way round things.
A winding way with many turnings…but always a way.

No country is a paradise, either for its own people or for immigrants: there are always downsides.
All depends on whether you can live with them.
After life in France in the last years before our move we certainly can.

There is a whiff of change in the air…a conflict of generations and a conflict of ideas…a possibility of political realignment on the international economic scale.

Would we come not just to Costa Rica but here, this little place, again?

Yes.

It’s a small town, the one up the road, and while we’ll never be ‘of’ the town we’ve progressed beyond the jokes at our expense to being part of the general joke scene, something I’d not come across before, where once in town your progress is one of constant greetings, involving insults, innuendo – and real kindness.

When Mantequa asks why you’re alone…is it that you’ve lost all your money and can’t afford to pay your chauffeur… it is de rigeur to ask him how come he is standing on the street corner when he is too ugly to attract any passing trade let alone that of women with money.

At which point old Rigoberto will pop his head out of the bar alongside and advise me not to talk to Mantequa

But then, senora, you were not to know that he is ‘maricon’ (homosexual).

Exit stage left at surprising speed for one of his age pursued by Mantequa threatening vengeance and both to be found in the bar together a few minutes later.

Coarse?
Yes, but when you drop in to see your lawyer after doing your shopping you’re exchanging jokes about the influence of Napoleon’s sexuality on French and – by derivation – Costa Rican law.

The town, like the country, resembles the horse from Surtees‘ ‘Mr. Facey Romford’s Hounds’, Multum in Parvo…a lot of horse in a little skin…and, like that celebrated equine, when the town or the country has one of its ‘going days’ there’s no holding it.

I saw the attempt to use riot police to disrupt a peaceful demonstration in the last presidency..and saw the city and the university turn out to put them to flight.

I saw the unknown candidate elected as president this time around…here, the people still have a voice.

And, speaking of voices, here comes the young man to deliver the fencing….the dogs awake in a cacophony of barking, the ducks protest from afar and the trees in front of the house deliver a shower of water as the birds roosting there rise in their indignation.

Not set in stone, our lazy Sunday afternoons, as is this:

And does anyone remember this one?

Down Your Way

Having been somewhat under the weather recently I have taken to resting in the afternoons and, thunderstorms permitting, listening to BBC radio via my laptop.

Thanks to the time difference the Test Match coverage is over by lunchtime, so the whole range of the iPlayer is open to me….but I’ve been disappointed much of the time by the standard of what is on offer.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be so tetchy were I on top form, but it’s because I’m not on top form that I want to listen to something stimulating and informative.

Still, given that the bumbrushers to big business now running Britain want to reduce the BBC to a muppet show I suppose I had best make the most of what there is while it lasts.

Music – the alternative to the spoken voice – is somewhat curtailed since the arrival of the pups.
They have objections to counter tenors so Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ is out…

As is ‘No lo diro col labbro’ from ‘ Handel’s ‘Tolomeo’….

The singer’s lips may not have the courage to utter, but the pups have no such inhibitions. Heads flung back they give it laldy with both barrels.

However they have no such objections to the song derived from the above; ‘Silent Worship’….

Unfortunately I do…much though I enjoy Thomas Allen’s voice I find the lyrics syrupy, so for now on the music front it is pups 15, me love.

What has astonished me is to find re runs of programmes I remember from way back….in ‘The Navy Lark’ Sub-Lieutenant Phillips is still to be found navigating HMS Troutbridge with his unique command of ‘Left hand down a bit’ which results inevitably in an unwanted encounter between several tons of moving warship and several more tons of immovable jetty to cries of ‘Everybody down!’ from the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee to be followed by the wrath of ‘Old Thunderguts’ – Captain Povey.

A period piece now – Britain still had a navy when that series went out after all – and far from ‘edgy’, it is still a delight of comic timing and shines like a jewel among the clumping ‘comedies’ of the current era – as does the superb later series of ‘Absolute Power’ with its commentary on the backstairs of the Blair years.

But, joy of joys, they are broadcasting ‘Round the Horne’ again.
This had my parents in stitches when first broadcast and listening to it now it astounds me that the scriptwriters got away with it in an era when prudery ruled the airwaves.
Especially when you consider that it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

Older and more aware of the sheer misery suffered by a man straitjacketed by his society’s rigidity I can still enjoy Kenneth Williams‘ in his persona as folk singer Wandering Syd Rumpo

A lesson in how what you read into something defines yourself.

‘Gardener’s Question Time’ is still going strong, though the egregious Bob Flowerdew has long replaced the gentleman who prefaced all replies to queries with the statement that ‘the answer lies in the soil’, but one old favourite not so far repeated is ‘Down Your Way’ a programme which visited towns and villages across England interviewing local residents.
While my father refused to listen to it, denouncing it as a load of claptrap from town clerks and town bores I found it interesting. In an age where we did not travel much it was an insight into how others lived and worked….and in that pre Thatcher era there were still trades and industries to be described!

‘Down Your Way’ came to mind when I was reading an item in the local on line news: a gentleman has been giving a series of reminiscences of his youth in the sixties and locates the shops bars and dance halls he knew, together with the names of the adults and children of his time….with Violetta’s help I can place most of the shops he talks about – and found too that one of the kids with whom he ran about seeking tips outside the bars is my lawyer!

This sort of thing, oral history, brings the town to life for me….in the same way that the books of George Ewart Evans – ‘Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay’ and ‘Where Beards Wag All’ to name but two bring alive the life of the East Anglian farmhand from a century previous.
Those who wish to be superior decry what they call ‘anecdotal evidence’…but it is the very life of history.

So, what anecdotal evidence has been happening down my way recently?

Well, things are winding up for next year’s municipal elections so the current bunch of gross incompetents are counting on the short memory effect by a bout of sudden activity.

The alcalde (mayor) has been out and about drumming up grants from state institutions to pay for the obligatory study which has to be made before works can be done to repair or replace the many bridges either down or in a dangerous state during the length of his administration.
puriscal bridge
By the time he has the grants he reckons he will be back in power for another few years and the bridges can be forgotten until next time.

This is unlikely to gain him many votes among the indigenous community at Zapaton whose road exit has not been repaired since the great washout of a year ago, leaving many elderly people prisoners in their houses.
zapaton

Mark you, he may not even be put up as his party’s candidate as well founded rumour has it that among the four up for the job is one who will be in the toils of the courts in short order, so painting the podium in the park in his party’s colours may not pay off after all.
park puriscal

Still, he may yet be of service to the community…
puriscal dustcart
Following the travails of the municipal bulldozer, the municipal dustcart has been out of action for some time…perhaps the added weight of the alcalde will encourage its compaction unit to work as it should.
Well worth a try.

And we have had visitors.
IMG_2807
A pair of black bellied whistling ducks.
They have been feeding with our lot for a few days now, so I’m in hopes that they will stay.
Unlike the alcalde.

All The News That’s Fit To Print

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The Men have now accepted that the car has to pass the M.O.T. this month so are out and about ordering parts which may materialise when pigs take to the air and visiting the Cuban electrical genius to get the window opening mechanism sorted.
This latter visit may or may not have been pushed up the ‘to do’ list by my trip to town with Danilo yesterday.
Lulled into a sense of false security by the recent unseasonable days of heat and sun he had left the driver’s side window down and when the cloudburst hit us half way up the hill the mechanism failed and he was rapidly becoming soaked.
With a cry of ‘Puna!’ (polite version of ‘puta’) he reached into the back and dragged forth the plastic inner of a feed sack which he then draped over the window. Fine for protection….not so good for all round vision as at the junction he had to lift it to peer out for traffic coming down the hill towards us.

As in their absence the calls for coffee and the anxious enquiries as to the whereabouts of items last seen in their possession have decreased in frequency I have had time to
A Listen to the Test Match undisturbed
and
B Catch up on local events via the Facebook page set up by a chap who clearly finds the town hall version somewhat bland and uninformative.

So I thought I might give you a glimpse of what goes on in the area…a little bit skewed as the canton is celebrating the one hundred and forty sixth anniversary of its foundation.
Why the one hundred and forty sixth?
That’s our council for you…

So what has been going on?

Computers and suchlike equipment were seized from a house where a woman was suspected of copying child pornography for distribution in the U.S.A.

puris someone's built a house where he souldn't...Someone has built a house where he shouldn’t have, thus undermining a retaining wall just completed by the council, whose offices are in chaos as the police investigate some two and a half million colones (about two and a half thousand pounds) which grew legs and disappeared in the course of three days….and there were protests at two suspects having been named by the alcalde (mayor) as this is a small place and everyone knows them and their families.

puris busThere were further protests when the person who has managed to hijack the bus company’s radio frequency, thus obliging the drivers to switch off in order to spare their passengers impassioned diatribes of an improper nature, was described as a sexual obsessive.There were no protests at the suggestion that the same person was responsible for a bomb hoax which closed the company’s terminal in the capital.

A man in his seventies was killed when his sister in law – in her sixties – resisted what she took to be an attempt at rape by throwing him against the wardrobe.

puris a bridge over the virilla to piedras negrasA bridge has been flung over the river on the road to Piedras Negras…
puris pilgrimage to la negrita piedras negras
just in time for the annual pilgrimage in honour of La Negrita….

puris traffic accidentsThere have been the usual plethora of traffic accidents….

puris road under repair...at last
and some roads have finally started to be repaired.

puris marijuana in the parkA whopping packet of marijuana was seized from someone in the central park…..

puris drunken teenagers
While two fourteen year olds were found reeling drunk in a shop in town and attended to by the Red Cross.

The church has installed a credit card machine for donations….no more excuses there, then…

Deputies in the National Assembly came down to the celebrate the canton’s anniversary; one stating proudly that he had been down three times since being elected in May….

puris children dance group
puris gala 3
The anniversary was celebrated with rock concerts and traditional dancing….

puris the earthquake on july 24
There was an earthquake or two….

And someone lost to all sense of decency poured paint over the statue of the town’s mascot, symbol of the local farming community.
puris sapo
A cane toad.

The mind boggles.

From One Market to Another

harlemfoodlocal.com
harlemfoodlocal.com
I had come home from shopping in San Jose…and was glad to offload the two heavy canvas bags whose contents had survived the hour’s run in a hot bus.
I enjoy poking about in the two main markets, the Central and the Borbon and go to my favourite shops where by now, like the other customers, I am included in the jokes and the teasing that dart across the stalls and today, just after the election results, the discussions.

Here, Jorge, shouts the butcher in the Borbon, here’s a gringa that likes our new president!
Can’t be a gringa, then, replies Luis who sells hot peppers.
She’s not a proper gringa, bellows Jorge on the greenstuff stall. She’s from England!
Scotland, shouts Henry from the petfood stand, making what I now know to be his imitation of bagpipe music….which, curtailed as his eldritch shrieks might be, inevitably brings to mind the title of the pibroch ‘Too long in this condition’…

Things are quieter over in the Central where I buy my coffee at the Moka stand just inside the backstreet entrance.
There are better known coffee brands…particularly one which controls the airport shopping lounges and has the tourist tours pretty well sewn up…but for me the best coffee on general sale is to be found on this little stand at the quiet end of the market.
I know the men serving there by now; we enquire as to each others families…and, of course, today, we discuss the election results as with other customers I drink a coffee while waiting for my order to be to be ground and bagged.

journeytotheperfectcup.blog
journeytotheperfectcup.blog
For ‘normal’ coffee,made in the chorreador (sock) I buy Poas suave…grown on the slopes around volcano Poas north of San Jose….but as I have just been presented with a new gadget – an expresso and cappuccino maker – and have learnt how to use it without either blowing it up or scalding myself I asked for advice on the best coffee to use and returned home with a bag of Caracolillo, or Peaberry, coffee…beans which, instead of splitting into two as do normal coffee beans, remain unitary and are supposed to roast more evenly.
We shall see.

Recounting my morning over lunch, my husband said it reminded him of his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange…when it still had a floor, and a wooden one at that.
The atmosphere was, he said, that of a real market….people you saw every day in the same place, jokes that built up, nicknames, daft pranks…before, as he gloomily added, they let women in and ruined it all.

stockexchangeHe had had no wish whatsoever to work on the Stock Exchange…or anywhere else for that matter.
He was, at that time, a student in Madrid having been sent there so as not to be under the feet of his father’s mistress and was having a whale of a time: the days in the Prado, the nights touring the bars in the company of the son of Franco’s chief of police.

But the mistress produced a baby whose imitations of the pipes put an end to the romantic idyll and, mistress and child gone, the father called his son back to the roost….he had to have someone to collect the rents on his property….thus ending the Madrid idyll as well.

Father then saw an advertisement seeking to recruit a trainee stockbroker: whoopee, with a son on the market he could gamble on shares without paying commission…and the die was cast.
Leo went to the Stock Exchange, where his employers promptly decided that ‘Leopold’ was too foreign a name and called him Paul.

It was a world to itself….no mobile ‘phones in those days. If you were on the floor and your office wanted to contact you they ‘phoned the waiter – a proper waiter – who worked on the entrance which your office used and he would flash up your number in lights on a board to alert you.

You fulfilled your clients’ orders by walking the floor and talking to the jobber who ran the book in the shares in which you were interested, playing a game of guess as to whether you were buying or selling, trying to get the best deal….you learned how to trade shares in a dead market…you learned who the dodgy dealers were and how they got away with it…you learned the nicknames – the Weasel, Mr. Round and Round…

He became very good at his job, enjoyed the challenges…but he says that what he enjoyed most was the sidelines of work…
Exploring the City in his lunch break, finding little tucked away caffs in the roof of Leadenhall Market, walking through double doors to find himself in a street between two office blocks that led to another street….and another…a complete maze.
And he enjoyed the people…not, on the whole, the Eastenders nor those who spent their time in the pub until summoned by their juniors to do a bit of work, but those who treated the place as somewhere to pass the time from more important matters, as exemplified by a friend of his who ran the smallest brokerage firm in the business but whose passion was frogs.
Word had it that if you were married to a wife like his you could understand his preferences, but be that as it may, this gentleman would collect frogspawn in his garden in Harrow and, in the season, solemnly bring in jars of the same for his colleagues to distribute around their bijou Surrey residences.

Then there were the pranksters, who would set fire to your Financial Times as you had it spread out in front of you…who would fill up their water pistols in the loos and let rip on the floor…even at the top hatted brokers in gilt edged stocks…and the elderly gentlemen who would while away quiet moments by fashioning aircraft from sheets of paper and attempting to launch them into the dome with the aid of rubber bands.
Successful attempts would see the fragile craft circling for weeks on the air currents.

Those were the days when your word was expected to be your bond…and when brokerage firms had to assume their own liabilities. Go bust and the firm was ‘hammered’.
Everyone was called to the floor and a waiter would tap with his gavel and announce that the firm of So and So was no longer trading.
It was a solemn moment, and one to give rise to second thoughts in those contemplating risky dealings.
No banks trading then on on their own behalf…no tax payers’ bailouts when they got it spectacularly wrong…no one was too big to fail.

He wasn’t around to see the Big Bang which swept away the working world he had known…he had had a final row with his father, obtained a mortgage on a wreck of a house which he restored and sold and decided that, as he could never afford to be a partner, there was no future in working all his life for others.
A series of events unrelated to work decided him…he packed it all in and set up his own business….but when he talks about that, his eyes don’t shine as they do when he talks about his days on the floor of the London Stock Exchange.

Which may explain why he always comes back laden with bargains when he does the shopping in the Borbon and the Central….

Jack Frost Roasting in an Open Fire

pinterest
pinterest
And if he isn’t already just give me the pitchfork and I’ll see to it myself.

If I hear one more blast of American secular Christmas songs when out shopping I risk bursting a gasket…

‘Let it snow’, indeed…as I step out of the shop into 35 degrees centigrade on the street.

The next rendition of Feliz Navidad by a choir of adenoidal children to the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’ will bring out the Herod in me and while that fell dirge ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ seems to be less popular these days it can still spring out and drive the unwary to drink at any moment.

Oh for a decent carol!

And with that in mind, I would like to wish you a merry Christmas, to thank you for all the comments which make the blog a pleasure to write and to hope that you will enjoy this carol from the tradition of pub singing around Sheffield and the Derbyshire Peak district…..

Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells