It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day

Always good to see people happy in their work…

It has been a happy day here too, even if we have not been tying anyone down.

We are feeding an orphan lamb…Oliver…who is a complete tyrant. He sleeps in Leo’s office and at five thirty a.m. on the dot he calls for milk….drinks three bottles. Sleeps.

Wakes again at six thirty..three more bottles. At this point Leo takes him out on a collar and lead to his pen…

Little does Oliver The Insatiable know that once that the nights are fine with the approach of the dry season he will be overnighting in his pen for a while before joining the other sheep …though milk will still be provided until he is independent.

The dogs are well and happy…chickens are laying even if the ducks are on strike…the garden is looking lovely… but it is a hap hap happy day as Leo has decided to give himself a goal to get on his feet properly after his accident.

We are off to Guatemala in December.

We should have visited Guatemala before, when the brother in law came over for a tour of Central America, but we only got as far as Honduras – a country which enchanted me. I am so glad we saw something of it before yet another U.S. inspired coup plunged it into insecurity once again.

BIL wanted to see the Mayan ruins at Copan, so we did that, but I have to admit that Mayan architecture does not do much for me. It might have done more had I not read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Eric’ just before the trip.

Copan-Honduras

Accordingly while BIL clambered about among the ruins all I could think of was a parrot shouting ‘Whotsit’ and The Luggage sprinting up the temple steps  annihilating all in its path..

Better still if we had visited the site ‘El Puente’ before going to Copan.

A subsidiary city of Copan it has been far less explored…but had a superb museum. I was lucky enough to have been given a guided tour by the director of the site…one of the most handsome men I have ever encountered…who put the city into its historical and geographical context for me. Beats a guide book any day.

I preferred the old colonial towns…drowsing in the wake of their history, like Gracias a Dios…once the capital of Central America …now quiet under the walls of the fortress San Christobal

gracias a dios fort san christobal

Coming out of the hot lowlands I can just imagine how those men in their armour and hot garments would say ‘Thanks be to God ‘ on reaching the cool uplands….

We returned by a route which, while marked as a road on the map, proved to be a track…dusty trails, rickety bridges. close your eyes and hope for the best, you name it…but we survived and ended up in Comayagua.. another one time capital, this time of Honduras.

I had wanted to go there to see the oldest working clock in the Americas.

comayagua cathedral 2

It does not look very impressive at first sight, high up on the tower of the Comayagua cathedral, but it is a fascinating piece of machinery.

clock-comayagua

It is connected by wires to a two hundred year old bell – La Emigdio – which strikes the quarter hours and to a three hundred year old bell – La Conception – which rings the hours.

Popularly supposed to have first been installed in the Alhambra under the Moors, then given as a present to the bishop of Camayagua by Philip II of Spain in the sixteenth century, experts have suggested that it could have been made in that period in what was then the Spanish Netherlands….

Spoilsports.

With only a week to spare we shall not see much of Guatemala, but there seems to be plenty to do in Guatemala City, if we are not mugged or killed. Apparently casual crime is a problem to the extent that there are armed police on the city buses….

Our lawyer’s daugter was a missionary there a few years ago and was glad to get back to the safety of Costa Rica. I wonder if it was a coincidence that he asked us whether we wanted to revise our wills in any way before we leave…

Still, there are museums aplenty to keep us amused, a botanic garden to explore and squares to sit in while Leo rests. I expect we will survive.

A friend who visits Guatemala often in search of textiles bemoans the replacement of traditional dyes by modern, neon bright ones, but has given me a good address for finding the real stuff in Antigua, once – you have guessed it – capital of Central America until partially destroyed in an earthquake in the late eighteenth century.

As the real stuff will probably be at surreal prices I think I might confine my research to the museums. As one who used, in another life, to spin, dye and weave I am looking forward to  seeing how the Guatamaltecans go about it.

loom-weaving-fabric-art

We will try to go to Antigua, however. Now a UNESCO site, it is sanitised beyond belief, but still worth seeing for its architecture…

Antigua_Guatemala

Having thought that our travelling days were over I am delighted that Leo has determined that they are not.

Things have changed about the way in which we travel though…no more day long bus rides and no more hotels in the back of beyond with polyester sheets. The goal is to get Leo walking confdently again, rather than to slide off the bed and break a hip so we are letting the ‘plane take the strain and have found a comfortable hotel in the city centre in what appears to be a safe area.

Of course, we may be tempting fate by talking about it…Leo could have another attack, there could be another hurricane, I could drop dead…but if it comes off I shall be delighted to be travelling together once again, after all my solitary journeys.

To have someone to whom to say

‘Look at that!’

 

 

A Long Time Ago

The old year sent on its way with a boot up the backside and the new one greeted with the wariness of one who has been had before, it is nevertheless a time when the past tends to creep into the consciousness.

This could be because no government offices are open to plague us, shops close for all of half an hour, the internet slows to a crawl while everyone tries out their latest iProd and the best that the television can offer is a hideous pastiche of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels…false teeth figure largely, homosexuality has to be broadly signalled in a manner quite foreign to the original and novels that were masterworks of delicate observation have been perverted into Merchant and Ivory costumed slapstick.

Thus, there are some moments when thoughts of the past can creep in unobserved.

Christmas Day only became a holiday in Scotland in the late fifties…so the Christmas fever never really caught on with me. The birth of the Prince of Peace was just that…not an occasion to throw financial caution to the winds and splurge on a mountain of presents, decorations and food while averting the eyes from the bills due in January.
Not being too well in the run up to Christmas this year I was looking for diversion so turned on the T.V. and was presented with some woman decorating her house like a tart’s boudoir and an Italian themed Christmas party presented by another woman continually tossing her hair, pushing her bosom into the camera and licking her fingers while looking roguish. Must have been the tart for whom the other’s boudoir was designed.
Tchah! and Pah! Off with the box!

The arrival of Christmas card from a friend reminded me of our student days in London where we managed to miss the sexual revolution, LSD and anything even remotely swinging. It may well all have been happening, but not round our hall of residence it wasn’t.
I tried smoking a cigarette ( twice) and decided that wine was a lot more pleasurable, as evidenced by observing my tutor, having drink taken, attempting to descend the ascending escalator at Holborn tube station.
The student union bar…that place of suspiciously sticky carpet and dim lighting….falling into silence as the T.V. in the corner was turned on for the weekly emission of Noggin the Nog.

Later, visiting ex student friends, the same reverence would be shown for the Sunday afternoon post pub emissions of The Clangers…

Let all mortal flesh be silent.

The sailing club’s annual wrecking trip to the Norfolk Broads….usually wet and cold, encased in inflexible yellow oilskins which did nothing to enhance the wind reddened complexion, where the main aim was to reach Potter Heigham and get to the pub with the most remarkable collection of gins I have ever seen.
Getting back aboard could be interesting but at least you no longer cared that your bunk was a strange triangular shape which had you touching heads with the other occupant of your compartment while your frozen feet diverged to hit the bulkhead at the far end.
Potter Heigham’s other attraction was its medieval bridge. Not just for the bridge itself, but for the possibilities of mayhem that it offered.
If the water levels were high some of the high sided motor cruisers could not get under it. Some of the v necked pullovered skippers of said high sided motor cruisers would try anyway and get their craft firmly wedged under the arch, the strong current playing merry hell with their attempts to reverse as the men from the nearby boatyard gloomily launched their rescue craft.
Yachts had to lower their masts….the safe thing to do was to moor up alongside the bank, lower the mast and secure it before deploying the quants – long poles – casting off and attempting to line up on the bridge so as to go straight through.
Most sailing club skippers, raised on tales of Horatio Hornblower and Captain Morgan, would claim that it was easier and safer to line up on the bridge, lower sails and mast while under way and shoot it with the aid of the current. This took a crew with split second reactions who had not had drink taken the night before and usually ended in the men from the boatyard gloomily launching their rescue craft.
potter heigham bridge
The sailing club was just that…it sailed.
sailiong yachts norfolk broads
No engines, so you could spend a day tacking backwards and forwards in the face of a stiff breeze from the North Sea while high sided motor cruisers steered by gentlemen in v necked pullovers merrily passed you by, the wash of their boat knocking you back about another half an hour of tacking.
However, at some point in the trip one member would always manage to ram his bowsprit through the window of a cruiser rash enough to cross his bows – and with any luck it would prove to be the loo compartment with someone trapped within.

Warning…if you play this video apply the mute.

The Norfolk Broads might not have been swinging London…but it had its moments.

Back to London in term time we would frequent a Chinese restaurant off the East India Dock Road in Pennyfields…..I cannot remember if it was called Old Friends or New Friends but it was cheap (even on a student grant), offered good food – the first time I ate squid – and the pot of jasmine tea was continually refilled. I gather it is now called Noodles and is frequented by the sort of noodle who works in the Evil Empire of finance which has taken over Docklands and changed it from a place where the toil was honest into a lair of vampires sucking the blood from the world economy.
Tchah again!

Not far away in Coldharbour was a pub called The Gun.
the gun pub
Here on singing nights bearded young men armed with squeezeboxes and wearing aran sweaters would foregather to sing sea shanties…
aran sweaters
Most of which were culled from the pages of Stan Hugill’s masterwork ‘Shanties of the Seven Seas’ because if you had asked any of these bearded wonders to undertake a voyage on a Cape Horner to the flaming coast of Chile in the guano trade they would, in that unforgettable phrase used by journalists of ‘The News of The World’, have made an excuse and left.
cape horner

Mark you, they’d have been right.
‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters’ have always had a hard and dangerous life and it’s not one I’d have liked to have had to endure….

So as the Christmas cards go into their box, taking the past with them, it’s back to the present, to the calls for cups of tea, the noise of the cane cutting machine and the Costa Rican sun….with just one last blast from the past.

Boots, Boots, Boots, Boots….

IMG_2554
Boots. upon the availability and solidity of which depended the British Empire as its small professional armies marched to support the interests of the Lancashire cotton barons and the monopolies of the London Stock Market against the wild hopes of native leaders to exploit their peoples in their own interest without having to share the profits.

In this post imperial age, boots were to play their part in our journey back to Costa Rica from Spain.

My husband is into boots – and before the back row of the stalls starts slavering I mean gardening boots, not thigh high horrors in latex, whose existence only became apparent to me when trying to buy boots in his size on eBay.

There is a whole world on eBay which is unknown to me and which, with a bit of luck, will remain so.

While the size of his feet posed no problem in the U.K., lesser breeds without the law first in France, then in Costa Rica, seem to go in for small feet. His size is unobtainable.

While we lived in France he would buy his boots – and shoes – on visits to England….and then occasionally would find a clutch of them in the end of line shops: Noz, Mille Stocks, Moulin des Affaires, who would knock them out for absurd prices given that no Frenchman worthy of the name would sport feet which took size 47.

In Costa Rica there is no chance….though he did once find a cache of boots on a trip to Nicaragua and made the salesman’s day as he bought up the entire stock. Costa Rican customs officers – more accustomed to cocaine and heroin in their rummaging activities – were very puzzled, but no doubt put it down to mad gringo syndrome.

His health had been very poor in the last few years in France, whose much vaunted health service had let him down very badly, so by the time we left for Costa Rica he could no longer wear gardening boots, the weight being more than he could bear. Accordingly we left them behind and, as the dishonest caretaker took a smaller size, they were still at the house when we exchanged it for the house in Spain and so came down with the removal van last year.

He greeted them with delight…there were four pairs, steel toe capped, all weighing a ton…and they became the footwear of choice, offering as they did firm support for his ankles.
Given the tiled floors you could hear him coming from a long way off which gave rise to the more irreverent of the party goose stepping to the strains of ‘Die Fahne Hoch’ or the ‘Panzerlied’ as he arrived in the kitchen to cries of ‘Godverdomme!’ and a brisk exchange of ammunition in the shape of almonds from the trees in the garden.

The family gone, our holiday nearly over, it was time to pack.
Travelling in sardine class we had only carry on luggage and one suitcase in the hold…23 kilos limit.

What to do about the boots? Let alone the books?

Come to that, how to weigh the suitcases?

Luckily the gentleman who looks after the house could lend us his bathroom scales and at the first attempt it was apparent that not only were we well over the limit but that we would risk a hernia trying to move the suitcases more than an inch at a time.

What to discard?

Not the marble pestle and mortar.

Nor the books.

Nor the ceramics.

It had to be the boots.

Two pairs were put aside for the next trip…one pair was packed and one pair would be worn.

We were just under the 23 kilos.

The gentleman who looks after the house and his lovely wife – a real English rose – were to take us into town to catch the bus to the airport….and they were kind enough to show us a caff in the port area for a light meal….it was a perfect end to our holiday…a balmy night, simple food, good wine and better company and so in high good humour we settled down in the bus station for the couple of hours remaining.

As you do we surveyed the (limited) action in late night Castellon de la Plana.
A series of dustcarts came and went…a few beggars tried to tap us for money (no chance)…other passengers arrived for buses to the ferries to Morocco…and a light went on in the window of one of the flats opposite our bench.

For the next hour or so we..and the other occupants of the bench… were the spectators of a floor show as a young lady changed her garments and donned and doffed pairs of elbow length gloves. No nudity, but a great deal of suggestion.

Someone should put her on Tripadvisor.

Our bus arrived.
A surly eastern European driver who refused to load our suitcases for us.
People sitting in our seats to be ejected.
Stuffy overheating.
A halt at a miserable service station for forty minutes.

Finally we arrived at Barcelona airport…but at which terminal?

The driver had not elaborated…and it is a long trek between Terminals 1 and 2.

Leo descended to ask..got a dusty answer and called me to unload our luggage as it was clear that the driver had no intention of offering assistance.

Luggage unloaded we headed for the zebra crossing to the departure area.

But the driver was blocking the way, scratching and yawning.

A polite request to pass got us nowhere….so Leo went ahead, stamping on the driver’s feet with his gardening clodhoppers in passing. The path was clear..the driver displayed more activity then heretofore revealed to us…and we were on our way.

The clip below is so familiar to me…not just the music but the surroundings…I hope you will play it and enjoy the pleasures of a past age.