The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life

ibera-plane-sjo

You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.

We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.

Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.

Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make  a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as  lead once ingested.

Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.

We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.

That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.

Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.

Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.

‘I’ve done something awful.’

‘You haven’t cancelled him?’

‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’

It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of  Leo’s family tree….his half brother.

The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.

Twenty plus years younger than Leo.

Last sighted over twenty years ago.

Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.

Well, not shortly.

We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.

The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.

A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.

Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.

The dogs bayed cheerfully.

The person shuffled.

The dogs bayed again….

‘Well, come in’ said Leo.

‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…

He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…

The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.

Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.

He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.

As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.

Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?

Wine.

He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.

Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.

After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.

He was at my shoulder in a flash.

No condiments! I will be ill!

So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…

I dished up.

Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…

He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.

Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life

I left them to it while I washed up.

Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?

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Had he seen any of the sights?

Yes…the Teatro Nacional…nothing special..

teatro-nacional

Museums? Pre-columbian gold? Jade? Contemporary Arts?

What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…

gold-museum

Pity he missed that experience…

Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.

‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.

Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station

‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’

‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’

church-purical

Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.

‘Can you give me directions?’

‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’

Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…

They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.

Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.

It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.

As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.

He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.

Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.

No.

Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.

By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.

‘What is in the sauce?’

Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.

‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be  ill! It contains gluten!’

Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.

He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.

Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.

He beamed at me.

Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?

Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight

While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.

How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.

Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.

soda

A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…

Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned  ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house  to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though,  he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting.  An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
‘Now.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the  table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.
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Christmas Day in the Doghouse

We had planned a quiet Christmas: Leo was not feeling too good and did not want to go to friends which was just as well as we had an orphan lamb to feed on top of the normal routines.

Jose had come to slaughter some sheep just before Der Tag, so I was fully occupied with butchering and looking forward to the sort of Christmas Day when the feet go up and the gin oges down but one ‘phone call after another announced  that  – as we could not go to them – friends would come to us on the 26th. Not for long, not to tire Leo, but just to say hello and have a chat.

Knadgers! I had mince pies and sausage rolls made but to cater for all eventualities salvaged the sheep offal to make a pan haggis – too late to rescue the stomach, which had been buried with the intestines – then started on the pastry for the Black Bun and whopped together a cloutie dumpling mix while waiting for fish to defrost to make a ceviche.

Too late to set out for San Jose for reasonably priced whisky, as Leo was not well enough to be left for too long, but with beer, wine and fruit drinks that area was covered.

Luckily I had not left Leo as he became very ill – and at one point it looked as though a trip to hospital would be on the cards – but by the time midnight was upon us he had improved so at 12.30 am I fed the lamb and went to bed.

3.30 am.The lamb woke up again and started bleating for milk. I would swear that it has a loudhailer concealed in its blankets…

With the kitchen light on the dogs woke up and wanted to go out. Front door opened for them and milk heated for the lamb.

Lamb fed and returned to its box in the spare bedroom. Lamb displeased. Lamb turned its box over and skittered round the room until the box was packed with the blanket in the exact way desired by lamb. Lamb settled.

An almighty kerfuffle outside shattered the peace of the early morning hours and set off every dog for miles: the night was hideous with barks and howls from Jose’s spaniels up towards the town to Chancho’s pitbulls across the  still unrepaired bridge.

The lamb took up its loudhailer again.

The porch light revealed a view of the agitated hindquarters of five dogs whose forepaws were busy throwing up showers of earth and twigs from the shrubs by the path while the puppies ran round trying to get a better view of proceedings.

Finally The Poodle emerged from the maelstrom bearing a very large dead rat.

Scruff followed with a few baby  rats in  her mouth, neatly arranged with tails hanging down and led her puppies off for a feast by the hen house.

Such is the prestige of The Poodle that the other dogs made no attempt to claim her rat as she strolled with it to the bench by the front door and settled herself to guard her trophy.

They came inside and resumed the sleep of the just.

The lamb decided that it would be more diplomatic to put down its loudhailer.

The local canine chorus ceased.

Tea for me and for Leo  – and off to bed. Again.

Hail shining morn, my backside!

We may be in the tropics and the shortest day may have passed, but it was still not light until after 5.30 am, so we had a leisurely start to the day and after letting out chickens, ducks and sheep took a late breakfast on the balcony.

The Poodle’s balcony.

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Luckily she was still guarding her rat at the other side of the house, so we got away with it.

Peace reigned, the sun rose over the mountain behind the house and the view was a symphony of green and gold. Perfect.

Then we heard the sound of a chainsaw.

It is illegal to fell trees within 50 metres of a watercourse but as we watched a large tree went down by a stream leading to the river in the valley, on the property of a retired money launderer.

No chance of being caught as civil servants do not work on public holidays, which accounts for the frenzied activity in builders’ merchants just before Easter, Christmas and August 15th…ideal time to build a house before anyone can interfere with queries as to planning permission.

We retired to the inner balcony and passed the morning with books, coffee and cake – with intermittent feeding of the lamb in its pen once it was warm enough for it to go outside.

Leo had a nap, we had lunch in peace and Leo returned to bed, feeling tired.I was washing up when it started….a cacophony of snarling and yelping on the porch.

Tea towel – terror of the puppy dogs – at the ready  I shot out there to find The Poodle ensconced on the bench and beside her the puppy she likes best – Napoleon – who was busy eating the rat’s head while his brother and sisters raged below. The Poodle wore a sort of proprietary beam while the busy Napoleon gave every impression of one very happy with his lot, which was to change as the tea towel was deployed, followed by sharp work with brush and dustpan and the carcass thrown to the chickens.

Disconsolately Napoleon went to sit by their run, watching as they tore into the treat. I made a mental note to avoid being kissed by Napoleon…

The afternoon passed peaceably after that until tea time when with an eldritch screech The Poodle took off for the fields like a dose of salts, followed by the adult dogs.

I think the screech frightened the puppies because they all decided to tuck up on Leo’s foot, so I was able to close the front door on them and go down to investigate.

The screeching and barking grew in volume….Jose’s spaniel and Chancho’s pitbulls took up the theme…

A I can’t limbo dance under the wire I had to go round by the gate so by the time I reached the field the scene was  set.

The dogs were encircling the trunk of a tall guarumo tree.

guarumo-with-ants

Experience had taught them not to approach it too closely as the tree has a symbiotic relationship with some of the nastiest stinging ants I have yet met, but they were certainly on guard around it, for perched precariously on the upper branches were a number of vultures…

Every flap of a wing produced a screech from The Poodle and a chorus of barks from the rest – evidently the pack, not  taking into account the wonders of flight, thought that they had the vultures treed for the duration and were intent on making the most of it.

At that point Julio turned up, bringing a home made tonic for Leo – and to help me close up the sheep for the night. He was, he said, escaping from his house which was hideous with the din of over excited children…..

We counted the sheep and lambs…none missing. So why had the vultures arrived?

Julio looked around.

‘There’s your answer. Jose didn’t bury the guts properly when he did the slaughtering.’

It took some persuasion and the use of leads, but together we managed to return the dogs to the house where they threw themselves on their beds with an air of those who have done their duty.

We chatted over a beer or two, then Julio went on his way and we had supper, followed by an early night. apart from getting up to feed the lamb at 10.00 pm

Later I was awakened by a furious scrabbling  from the puppy box and in the darkness a small fat body plopped onto the bed and snuggled up to my ear, taking a comforting nibble of same

Not wanting to waken Leo I switched on the mobile ‘phone on the bedside table and in its dim light found that my affectionate visitor was – you’ve guessed it – Napoleon.

By that time too shattered to care if I picked up the Black Death  I turned off the ‘phone and went to sleep until the lamb woke me on the morning of Boxing Day at 2.00 am….

Of Bots and Men and the Answer to Everything

bot fly

A feature of television in my youth was the scheduling of what were known as ‘nature’ programmes at an hour when a respectable Scots family would be attacking a high tea.
You would be contemplating a slice of Lorne sausage when the screen would display an antelope meeting an unfortunate end….hyenas going about their unpleasant business would accompany a helping of salmon….even reaching for a potato scone had its risks…

I am sure that warble flies were featured too – how could the BBC resist? – but I had never in all my puff thought that I would come across the human version, the bot fly.

This delightful character captures a mosquito, lays its eggs on it and messes off. The mozzy then bites a human – or other species – and the bot fly eggs enter the wound thus caused.

The eggs then develop under the skin of the host for eight weeks before emerging to pupate.
Sounds innocent doesn’t it and, what is more, the thing exudes a sort of antibiotic which prevents the wound from becoming infected as an infected wound will kill the larva.

I have had one of these delightful visitors myself…and can assure you that it is far from innocent. The damned thing itches like hell and wriggles about like a underclad cabaret dancer seeking a hefty tip.

The local advice is to place a chunk of meat over the wound, stick it on with plaster and wait for the brute to emerge into the meat, but having apocalyptic visions of said meat rotting in situ given tropical conditions, I went to the local clinic instead.

Ah, you need Nurse Evelyn!

Nurse Evelyn seems to be the specialist in everything…
Electrocardiograms? Nurse Evelyn.
Gangrene? Nurse Evelyn.

Bot fly? Nurse Evelyn.

I was summoned to her office and indicated the affected area which was seized in a grip which would rouse envy in a banker foreclosing on a widow and gave up its larva – an unattractive, bloated sort of thing which met its end in the waters of the loo next door.