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…..

Ordure!Ordure!

This year, the Ashes are being played for in England. For lesser breeds without the law for whom that sentence means nothing, the cricket teams of England and Australia are playing a five match series – each match, in theory, lasting five days – to decide ownership of a tiny urn commemorating the defeat of England by Australia in 1882.

It is, generally speaking, a grudge match. Particularly so now since three Australian players are returning after a year’s suspension for ball tampering. See? Cricket is not so dull after all!

Ball tampering? Doing something unnatural to a cricket ball to assist the bowler in having an unfair advantage over the batsman. Polishing one side of the ball while leaving the other side rough produces a ball which is inclined to swing unexpectedly, thus wrongfooting the batsman. Polishing the ball on the trousers is an accepted method….other methods have been used which are more dubious…sucking sweets and slathering the resultant saliva on the ball – yuck …putting vaseline on your forehead and wiping it on the ball – slightly less yuck…having a pocket full of dirt and rubbing that into the rough side of the ball – not recommended by your tailor….

But these three went one further…the captain – and, no doubt the bowlers who escaped sanction as their country needed them – knew that ball tampering was going on. The opening batsman – and biggest mouth on the team – induced the latest team member, who wanted to keep his place, to have a sheet of sandpaper in his pocket, with which to rough up the already rough side of the ball. They were playing South Africa, whose team had already had their suspicions and who asked that the cameras were directed onto the sandpaper wielder…who was caught in the act

Thus the year’s suspension, which expired – what a surprise – to allow them to play in the Ashes.

Their reception has not been warm. Booed out to bat and booed back in again when bowled out…while when fielding the main culprit was serenaded by the crowd to the tune of ‘The whole world in His hands’ the words being ‘he has sandpaper in his hands’.

In normal circumstances a Test match has a certain effect in this household. Given that I will be glued to the radio for the duration and that we are seven hours behind the U.K. Higher Authority, dogs, poultry and sheep are resigned to being fed early – during the lunch interval in England – and thereafter being ignored until lunch here which is close of play in England. Meals from the freezer figure largely and barking is discouraged.

However, this year the fourth Test Match has a rival even more enthralling than sandpapergate. …

Brexit.

Where the main players could appropriately be greeted by the chant that greets the Aussies

Same old – fill in the name of your choice – always cheating’.

Such is the nature of the British constitution that it is possible to have a change of Prime Minister without a General Election. The ruling party sorts it out itself and lumbers the populace with the result, so as long as the new incumbent can maintain a majority in the House of Commons his, her or its bottom is safely on the seat of power until the rest of the five year term of Parliament expires.

So the current booby should be sitting pretty…no?

No.

He came in on a rush of blood to the head, announcing that he would settle Brexit once and for all. He wanted a deal with the European Union, but if not then the U.K. would go it alone.

Panic in the dovecotes! Someone sounding as if they meant what they said…unusual in subfusc Britain where so much is supposed to be conveyed in hints and nuances, lest the voters might discover what their leaders are up to.

Nuclear meltdown in the dovecotes! He wants to prorogue Parliament – suspend its sittings – to prevent M.P.s from fouling up his negotiations with the E.U. by offering the latter aid and comfort.

The four horsemen ride forth! He has withdrawn the whip from twenty one Tory M.P.s who have not supported the government in a vote in the House of Commons. Being Tory M.P.s one would imagine that lack of contact with the whip would particularly affect them – but these are heroes! They can forego the kiss of the whip!

These men and women have, over the years, brought forward, voted for and promulgated measures which have brought poverty and insecurity to the lives of many ordinary people…but today they are heroes! They are saving democracy!

But by withdrawing the whip the booby lost his majority in the Commons. His bottom is no longer secure on the seat of power. And all this since taking office on July 24th….he moves fast for one of his build.

And now comes the retribution from those saving British democracy….the Speaker of the House and opposition M.P.s – not forgetting the heroes, of course.

They are passing an Act which will mandate him to seek yet another extension of the process of leaving the E.U. – a process which already resembles trying to walk up the down escalator at Holborn tube station in the rush hour. And they have written the letter of application for him too…

The booby sought an escape in the frenzy of a General Election….but the guardians of democracy will not permit it until the deadline for leaving the E.U. – currently at October 31st – is passed, just in case he wins a majority and heaves the U.K. over the line.

The whole thing has been very bad tempered. The Speaker made a personal attack on a member of the government, the booby called the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition a big girl’s blouse, M.P.s in general have been shouting down those wishing to speak and if this is the mother of parliaments one could understand a wish among its children to declare themselves orphans.

What is the booby to do? Set down a vote of no confidence in his own government to trigger an election outwith the provisions of the Fixed-term Parliament Act of 2011 – an Act designed to keep uneasy bedfellows in a coalition government together?

Resign and let the various forces which have constrained him hitherto sort it out for themselves?

Goodness only knows….but in the meantime we should examine the case of the blockage in the No lobby.

When the House of Commons votes, its members pass through either the Aye or the No lobby to be counted…both by clerks of the House and by tellers appointed by the appropriate sides.

Now, when the House began to examine the bill to block the booby from going hell for leather for a no deal exit from the E.U. it turned itself into a Committee of the Whole House…the mace was taken from the clerks’ table and a deputy Speaker took the chair.

The various amendments were proposed and discussed…among them a proposal to re examine the withdrawal agreement made between the E.U. and the previous booby, which had been rejected by the House three times already as even those who wished to remain in the E.U. could not stomach its provisions.

A division was announced…the tellers from the two sides were recognised by the deputy Speaker and the M.P.s toddled off to vote. It was assumed that the amendment would be lost given its history.

There was an inordinate delay and finally the deputy Speaker asked someone to investigate the blockage in the No lobby. The white tie and black tailed official went away and returned to report that there were no tellers in the No lobby….the votes could not be counted.

Accordingly, the Withdrawal Agreement was passed as agreed….Lazarus risen from the dead.

The tellers were provided by the government of the booby…so why did they not act? Why allow Lazarus to arise from his winding sheet?

Significantly, no one in the other parties questioned the lapse….

The amendment was proposed by the Honorable Stephen Kinnock, well known opponent of the leader of his party, Jeremy Corbyn and firmly in favour of remaining in Europe.

The current booby was previously a supporter of the remain in Europe faction…he took leadership of the Leave campaign in the referendum of 2016 convinced that his group would lose…but that his support would gain him a following among the anti Europe constituency members…useful for a later power coup.

Given the current situation, Lazarus may appear to weary M.P.s – and to an exasperated electorate – to be a ready made solution.

So…ask yourselves…why did the booby allow his parliamentary managers to ‘lose’ two tellers on what seemed to be an insignificent vote?

Is he what he seems to be…someone determined to leave the E.U. on the best terms possible…or is he cheating, serving those who wish to remain?

Goodbye To All That

Spain, for so many, is the costas…the beaches, the bars, the booze….

I remember conversations with older cousins who talked grandly of the qualities of the various hotels on the Costa Brava as if all should know of them, from the catalogues so eagerly perused before Christmas, the holiday booked in January.

My father’s Spain was that of the civil war where he went out a dedicated Communist and came back totally opposed to Russian communism, hardened by the realities of a war without rules of conduct.

Leo’s Spain was that of the intermediate period, when the resorts were still fishing villages, where widows would touch a visitor’s suitcase for luck and to find a lodging you asked for a room at the bar.

He remembers the beaches being full of cactus, the sewage pipes disgorging their contents close to the shore and a gypsy family camping there losing their baby to rats… washing his shirt in a room above a bar in Seville and hanging it out of the window – dry in minutes.

He remembers too, when holidaying with his father, returning to their room to find the latter plying the young chambermaids with sherry while they danced together to music from the radio. Luckily for the chambermaids the German in the next room complained about the noise and made his views known. Picture a very large middle aged German and a squat elderly Belgian vis a vis in the doorway. The German expresses his distaste for the goings on. The Belgian replies

‘Hitler tot’…Hitler is dead…

Collapse of stout Westphalian party. While the chambermaids, the spell broken, depart about their duties.

When his father acquired a Spanish mistress, Leo was sent to Madrid to improve his education – or to be kept out of the way – studying at the university while staying with the mistress’ family in an upmarket area of Madrid. A fellow lodger was the son of Franco’s chief of police, banned from the family home for licentious behaviour, with whom he toured the bars and the less touristic areas of the city, giving rise to cries of ‘I remember when tapas, proper tapas, were free…’ memories of the mussel shells crunching underfoot on the sawdust strewn floors of the bars.

Just as well that the tapas were free…his father was distinctly stingy with support – the mistress clearly offering better value for money – while his boon companion was also starved of cash. They might have toured the barrios in an ancient Hispano Suiza, but it only budged when mummy coughed up spending money unbeknownst to her husband.

The diet in their pension consisted largely of lentils…the lady of the house announcing their arrival on the table with

‘If you don’t like lentils…you don’t have to eat them…’

As any meat accompaniment would have needed a microscope to detect its presence one must assume that her lodgers preferred lentils to starvation.

Apart from the lentils, though, it was an idyllic period in his life….no father on his back, free to spend hours in the Prado., wine and a tapa for a couple of pesetas….which all came crashing to the ground when the mistress produced a baby whose crying sufficiently annoyed its progenitor to set up mistress and child in their own establishment and summon Leo home to be sent to the Stock Exchange. Leaving Madrid in a snowstorm, sharing the driving with an English student returninghome for Christmas, he said farewell to Spain…and farewell to lentils.

I have only come there relatively recently, to another face of the country in our house up in the hills behind the Valencian coast. Lying quiet against the pines on the hillside, it looks out over the vines, the olives and the almonds below and, in the distance, the peak of Mount Penyagolosa, dominating the skyline.

The village names bear witness to the long occupation by the Moors, and the road that lies beyond the olives marks the traces of the Reconquest…that long crusade starting in the eleventh century, its aims not to be achieved until Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada in 1492. The road in question is part of a side circuit of the Camina del Cid

Camina del Cid

marking the trail of that somewhat mercenary warlord from Burgos to Valencia and is, in all probablility dreamt up by a tourist office somewhere in the area, the background information being full of ‘he must have’s and ‘he would have’s….but it is a spectacular route in its own right, especially in the mountainous sectors, and with villages well worth a visit in themselves, whether it is tiny Culla, clinging to its rock under the old castle walls, once the stronghold of the Knights of Montesa who took the place of the Templars when that order came to disaster, ruling what was then a disputed border area,

or the winemaking village of Les Useres, whence departs a journey of another nature.

On the last Friday in April, every year since the fourteenth century, twelve pilgrims and a guide, representing Jesus Christ and his disciples, set off from Les Useres to walk to the sanctuary of St. Joan de Penyagolosa,

over thirty kilometres away. The original purpose of the pilgrimage is forgotten, though tradition has it that it is to ask for rain, so vital in that barren country.

Pelerins de Les Useres route

The thirteen have to follow an exact ritual…from growing their beards, their distinctive blue clothing, the parts of the route which must be made in bare feet, the prescribed halts and, above all, the observation of total silence. The only music comes from those accompanying them as the group makes its way over rough tracks to its destination where they will spend the night at the sanctuary before a religious ceremony – Perdon – in which the guide addresses the pilgrims, who must never transmit what has been said to them, before setting off on the return journey.

People do gather to watch or to follow for part of the way, but this is no tourist attraction like the medieval fairs which render horrid the summer scene…those men have a serious purpose and, I imagine, the journey offers the opportunity for self discovery.

Here is a video made in 1998, which gives a flavour of the pilgrimage…it is a bit long…but so is the route!

While so calm and quiet now, the area has its stories….its wild isolation offering refuge for Cathars fleeing persecution in France, centuries later its conservative tradition providing support to the Carlists in the mid nineteenth century civil wars which while in theory disputing the succession to the Spanish crown, were in fact a face off between a liberal, urban, centralising government and traditionalists, who wished to preserve established religion and the particular laws and customs of the regions making up that crown. The civil war of the twentieth century, child of the Carlist Wars, did not pass it by….after the decisive battle at Teruel across the mountains Franco’s forces and the remains of the Republican army made a race for the sea…Franco winning and cutting the Republic in two, leading to its defeat. There were supposed to be Republican guerillas operating up in the hills into the fifties, somehow avoiding the genocide that accompanied Franco’s victory.

To this day ‘don’t mention the war’ is good advice….

While so many villages have all but died, the one closest to the house is – by village standards – booming. A butcher, several bakers, a supermarket with a fresh fish counter, an odds and bods shop, a hardware shop and white goods shop…where they delivered me a new washing machine before I paid for it… and the best maker of turron – nougat – that I have ever encountered. Not to speak of the bars and restaurants ranging from the plastic chairs and drop in when you like to oak doors and entry by appointment. There is an active cultural life…from historical research to, inevitably, bulls running in the streets, a big music programme for the kids…massive bonfires…all making for a community spirit.

There is even a bus….leaving at 5.30 in the morning and returning at 6.30 at night…but it is a bus…and I have taken it.

It is about the only village not perched on a hill….I remember being driven up to Xodos one day…stopping at the roadside halt to watch the eagles rising on the thermals before going on to the village itself where we ate a snail and rabbit paella for lunch in the plastic chair style caff by the church.

while closing the shutters of the house at night the lights of Benefigos would be shining across the valley like a beacon of security.

It is yet another goodbye, this year….the house has to be sold. The gentleman, in every sense of that word, who looked after it is no more and, given the state of Leo’s health, and now mine, the less complications in our life the better.

I came late to Spain….I came late to a house which has the most peaceful atmosphere I have ever experienced….and I have to lose both.

Getting on in life is a bugger sometimes.

U.K. Repel Boarders Force To Expand Its Activities.

Well, thank you all for coming tonight…and thanks to Bob for letting us use the back room once again. I’ll just get a round in and we’ll make a start.

Bob? Two Teachers, one Bells, two pints, a dry sherry, a gin and campari and a double rum, if you’d be so good.

Now, as you know, at the AGM it was proposed and passed nem con that Alf should be co opted onto the committee, given his experience in the Cod Wars, to give some persepective on the maritime side of the problem so, Alf, thank you for agreeing to take on the responsibility.

Oh, thank you Bob! And cheese and crackers…that is spoiling us!

Glad to help out, Mr. Chairman – and a nice drop of Pussers that, Bob!

Well, just as well that Alf is with us as the BBC have just said that the Navy won’t be able to keep foreign fishing boats out of our waters after Brexit.

Typical! Look how they’ve run down the Navy….reduced to sharing an aircraft carrier with the French…and that won’t be available when you need it, just you see…their wardroom will have run out of olives and won’t be able to put to sea…

I know, Deidre, but an aircraft carrier wouldn’t be much use in this case…Bob! A double gin and campari, please.

The thing is, there is already abuse as it is….Dave here likes to fish off the beach and, well, you tell them Dave.

Yes, Mr. Chairman. I have to dig for ragworm for bait during the day, of course, keeping an eye out for the council shitehawks now they have those quad bikes that can drive along the beach….

Sheer waste of public money! What was wrong with having a bike to ride along the promenade to spot baitdiggers without a licence the way they used to do? Too idle to shin down the wall and run after them, that’s what!

Yes, Mrs. Bracegirdle, I agree – Bob? Another round, please – but carry on Dave, will you?

Yes, Mr. Chairman. Well, as I was saying, I have to dig for bait during the day, but the fishing is good when the tide comes in at night and I like to get away from the wife’s soaps and cookery programmes anyway. Well, very often you can be down there and when the moon is up these French fishing boats without lights come along as close to the shore as they can get, dredging up everything in their nets….they come by night to avoid the coastguard spotting them, I think, but the point is that if they are doing that now, just imagine what they’ll be doing after Brexit! Hordes of the buggers, that’s what there’ll be, dragging the seas dry!

Language!

Sorry, Mrs. Bracegirdle, it slipped out.

And I heard some French minister say that Brexit or no Brexit they’d be fishing our waters, come what may! And what are we to do if the Navy can’t defend us!

Well, you can’t really blame the Andrew, Deidre, it’s not their fault if politicians don’t give them the means to defend our interests….Bob, could you do another double gin and campari, please?

Sold down the river, that’s what we are…and have been ever since they conned us into joining what was then the Common Market!

And don’t forget the Americans! We were winning the Cod Wars when we had to pull out because the Icelanders threatened to leave NATO and shut down the American bases there…

Too much foreign influence! That’s the problem!

Well yes, but we shouldn’t get into politics. We are just trying to help in a situation where official bodies, like the coastguard, are too hard pressed to do a proper job, and it looks as if the Navy will be needing a hand too…

Any ideas, Alf?

Well, round here, the problem is that we don’t really have home based trawlers of a size to do much for themselves….you need to ram the buggers – sorry Mrs. Bracegirdle – and cut their nets and you need to be of a size to do that. Bob, could you do another round please?…need to wet my whistle. So we have to think outside the box.

Where it comes to those trawlers Dave was talking about I have had one idea…and we don’t have to wait until Brexit, either!

Now, you need to confuse them about the depth of water…their sonar won’t be too good close in, with the sands shifting the way they do, so this might work. You’ll need an attractive young lady, though.

What…to lure them inshore?

Sort of. If she stands up, so that only her top is above the waves, always in the same spot, and they get used to seeing her – being Frogs they won’t miss clocking her – and then one night she sits down…still showing her top, they’ll think they have plenty of water but they won’t. They’ll run aground and then we can go for them and give them what for!

She’ll be pretty cold, though, won’t she?

She can wear a wet suit on the bits they can’t see…and she could take a thermos…

The other thing is to ask our local fishermen to harass them…surround them like, so that they can’t shoot their nets. It would be a bit chancy as your Frog is a violent bugger – sorry Mrs. Bracegirdle – but with enough of us we could board them and take over the boat.

But that would be piracy, Alf! Like those Somalis!

Well yes….but I had a think about that.

You know when Sir Francis Drake went after the Spanish, there wasn’t really a navy at all, so what he was doing could have been called piracy…but for one thing. Good Queen Bess gave him a Letter of Marque which authorised him to attack enemy ships and confiscate them and their contents – in return for a cut of the booty for the Queen when he returned.

So what we need is a Letter of Marque….and I reckon we might be able to get one!

How’s that, Alf? Bob, another round, please!

Well, the High Court of Admiralty used to issue them…but, of course, the bug….well, it’s sort of disappeared for years…but they’ve overlooked one thing. There’s still an Admiralty Court of the Cinque Ports, and it has jurisdiction over this area! Now, if we could persuade the judge to revive the Letters of Marque we could protect our boats if they attack the French!

I used to know who it was, introduced to him in the golf club…decent bloke….someone stole his oar years ago and he was very upset.

I’d always thought he was happily married!

No, Deidre, it was the silver oar that was stolen…the oar that has to be in the court when it is in session.

Surely there’s some law against it, though?

Only some treaty with a load of Europeans…and after Brexit we won’t be bothering about any of them, will we!

Well, is it the sense of the meeting that Alf looks into it all and reports to the next meeting?

Carried, nem con. Thank you Alf! Now, Bob, a last round for the road, please…and could you order a taxi for Deidre?

Needs Must When the Devil Drives

Sardines, anyone?

A problem requiring a quick solution saw me on a plane for Spain – via the U.S.A. and their dreaded airports. I had sworn never to darken their doors again after my last experience some years ago, but needs must when the devil drives. It was high season for travel to Europe, the direct flights were full and it was half the price of British Airways, even if I could have booked a seat with them.

I had a further complication. My wonky ankle had all but collapsed and it was not a good moment to travel further than a stagger from bedroom to bathroom, from bathroom to kitchen and then a lengthy rest in a chair. Still, needs must and all that.

As it turned out, it was to be a blessing as I booked wheelchair assistance for the connections through the U.S. airports and although the vehicles provided were not the equal of a London Transport diesel engine ninety seven horsepower omnibus – what could be? –

they were indeed a transport of delight. Collected on the airbridge at Houston and whisked away to one of those carts that always pass you empty when you are gloomily dragging your luggage for what seems like miles to encounter the warm embrace of immigration officials and Homeland Security goons….. it was another world.

Decanted into further wheelchair for the obligatory passage of what is laughingly called security my kind hispanic assistant passed several entrances into the inferno of queues and bawled orders until she found me a quieter entrance, with no queues and a friendly welcome. Well, for me…not for her. The distinctly caucasian officer gave her a hard time over the renewal of her badge – which was not due for another month. Hassle for the hell of it.

All continued well…I was allowed pre boarding which gave me time to hobble my way to the back of the ‘plane to a seat I had booked, in the aisle, near the loos, with room in the overboard locker for my case. Sardine class, of course, but at least the essentials were in place. The flight was packed….but the two seats next to me were still empty…hope rose, only to be crushed as barging up the far aisle came two fake panama hats. The lead number was borne by a large man in red trousers, the other by a woman whose long suffering expression resembled that of one who waits , plastic bag in hand, while the dog performs his business.

Red trousers identified the seats. Without pleasure.

‘We’re separated, Ursula!’

You would think that perusal of the tickets might have alerted him to that earlier…but men in red trousers are not noted for brain.

Turned to me, announcing loudly

‘I’m in the middle seat but I’m taking the aisle.’

He could have taken take the high road or the low road for all I cared…yet it was an opening gambit had I but realised it.

Having settled Ursula into her seat on the other side of the aisle, red trousers started to look for space in the lockers for his case. There was none. He was obliged to go forward, well forward, before he could find a gap and returned to base – in the free aisle seat, -spreading out his affairs on the middle seat and opening his newspaper.

So absorbed was he that when the stewards were trying to rejig all the cases, he did not notice that they were asking who owned his….I suppose we were minutes away from an unidentified luggage emergency when Ursula alerted him and he sprang to his feet, bellowing that he was not going messed around and demanding that his case was restowed immediately.

Finally he was mollified and returned to his newspaper, muttering that he had had enough of all this…but more was to come. The ticket holder of the aisle seat finally appeared…a mild young man who made it clear that he would like the seat that he had booked, so red trousers gathered his gear and plumped down next to me, clearly not happy.

Turning to me he said, in a tone of en haut de bas,

‘I am giving you sufficient space and I expect reciprocity’.

Clearly, someone who liked to impose himself on those around him…

I am told that when annoyed I sound like Princess Anne and I certainly borrowed one of her better known phrases in telling him to ‘Naff off’, though in a version more suited to his level of comprehension.

After which, peace reigned for the duration of the flight.

I made a brief stop in London, mainly to sort out a few things with my bank and to do the essential food shopping, staying with my friend in the now gentrified Kensal Rise.

Gentrified always seems to me to be a misnomer…most of those moving into the area would be – or would have been, my timescale becoming collapsed as I grow older – looked down upon by the country gentry who, while being so often shit in a silk stocking themselves, could tell a nylon stocking when they saw it.

I had become accustomed to the organic butcher, the vegan coffee shops and the wine merchant selling bio filth…to the fearsome juggernaut prams in which the slightly clad mothers protected their offspring from contact with the outside world…to the massive four by four cars lining roads where housing had been built long before the possession of cars had been envisaged, but a new horror had emerged. The electric scooter.

As if cyclists – as in self righteous ponces in lycra as opposed to people who wear bicycle clips – aren’t bad enough….now these pests have come to haunt us, moving swiftly and silently, giving no warning on road or pavement, mounted by some prat in a cycling helmet with no idea just how infantile he or she looks.

It would be wrong to state that Kensal Rise is going to the dogs…even if the canine sex toy has been removed from the pet shop window. The hardware shop is still there…the corner shops still exist…and so do the original inhabitants, though these grow fewer over the years. Yet there is a more serious change. Drug related shootings have become, if not common, frequent enough to be shrugged off as ‘oh, another one’. A link with the new inhabitants’ habits, perhaps?

If so, shit in lycra leggings.

Off then, to Barcelona, the ‘plane so delayed that we did not arrive until the early hours, plenty of time for the earworm bequeathed me by my father to surface,

‘We are some of the nuts of Barcelona,

We think it such fun

We’re going to be hung.’

It has bothered me so much that I eventually looked it up in the Mudcat Cafe site, that source of all that is wild and wonderful, only to discover that father’s version differed radically from the original.

Hastening from the airport I discovered that the Barcelona Sants railway station did not open until 5.30 a.m. giving me a few hours to sit on a stone block by the entrance. I was approached by a young woman carrying a rose who told me, in French, that I was in great danger, sitting outside a station at night, and should come to her house. I had a feeling that I or my purse might be in more danger in her house and politely refused her kind offer.

My block is on the far side of the zebra crossing.

Shortly afterwards I made the acquaintance of a chap from Bolivia, working in Montpellier and going to visit his family in Valencia. He had missed the bus and found, like me, that the station was closed. I learned a lot about the comparison between life as a legal immigrant in Spain as opposed to France…he could not wait for his contract to end to return to Valencia. We talked food, politics…all the usual stuff, before being joined by an elderly man who had himself come from Montpellier on his way to Alicante and who had, too, missed his bus.

He was one of the ‘gilets jaunes’, pleased to inform me that the movement was still active – especially in Montpellier where the brutality of police tactics served only to keep the action going.

Why, he wanted to know, were there no ‘gilets jaunes’ in the U.K., where people were being bled dry even more than in France? The only answer I had was that identity politics in the U.K. had effectively divided the those parts of the population likely to rise up…so they were fighting each other for state resources rather than the state itself.

In the days of fake news and the hegemony of the media barons, if you want the lowdown, sit outside Barcelona Sants in the early hours of the morning.

6th June 1944…D Day

Provisional cemetary, Omaha Beach 6yh June 1944

Seventy five years since the armada sailed from the ports of England to attempt to release Europe from the grip of the German Nazis…

Seventy five years since the young men died on the beaches of Normandy, neither quietly, nor heroically…neither was it ‘dulce et decorum es pro patria mori’. They were conscripts, not volunteers, sent on a gamble on the weather against troops well dug in on Rommel’s Atlantic Wall

British, American. Canadian, French and many more…they died in their multitudes attempting to get ashore to take the fight to the enemy.

Think of them if you can…the men sent in by gliders who drowned in the marshes of the River Orne….the frightened boys plunging into the sea as the ramp of their landing craft crashed down…those killed in their droves on the beach as they sought to advance…

Think too that it was not just one day…the campaign that was to free northern Europe was only just beginning and the fighting was to be hard, on the Eastern where the Russians had taken the brunt of the work so long as well as the Western front.

You ask yourself how they coped…how they bore the hardship, let alone the fear…and I think the answer lies in the speech from a D Day veteran.

‘We were there for each other’.

If we carry any message from the ceremonies it should be this one, to try to heal our societies which seem so riven asunder.

We seem to see ourselves as members of a group rather than members of a society…we are black, women, homosexual, transgender, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist, young, old, disabled, rich, deprived – Leavers and Remainers in the case of Britain – and we defend our group’s interests and demand its rights.

I suggest that if we want to enhance the chances of our group we start by building a society where all can feel secure….decent housing which is genuinely affordable…jobs which offer a real living wage….education which encourages children to think for themselves and emphasises that vocational training carries an equivalent value to academic studies….a police force which concentrates on real crime and a justice system which works.

All to easy to propose it…but how to achieve it?

By being there for each other, by pushing our differences into the background to work together to break the party system, to have the confidence to elect people who are really independent – not self described community leaders – to local and central government and to realise that, despite the legacy of the Thatcher years, there is a vital role for the state, one that no private sector provider can supply.

And perhaps, if we can start to see how destructive it is to see our group as in some way special…different…..we could start to see that every person is special and different and needs a safe society in which to be able to blossom to the benefit of all.

Let’s be there for each other…..but in peacetime, not just in war.

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.

Farewell to Southampton

And in keeping with the character of that city it was both low key and somewhat alternative.

Thanks to flight times and the pretence of security which in effect traps you in airports for sufficient time to be tempted to buy the overpriced rubbish on sale airside I am used to leaving Southampton in the early hours, keeping lonely guard over my piles of luggage by the bay into which I hope that the coach for the airport will arrive. I think one can judge the nature of a coach driver by his choice of bay…those who pull in where there is a queue and those who do not.

This time, though, I was not alone. A friend had accompanied me to the bus station, our journey enlivened by a sighting of her husband returning from the casino somewhat the worse for wear as he crossed the river by the Itchen Bridge using both hands on the parapet to propel him homeward like a crab seeking the safety of its rock.

Neither were we alone. As we trundled the suitcases to the waiting area a figure emerged from the shadows. Woolly hat a la Compo, jowly beard, puffer jacket and sock lined wellies, with a bag resembling grandmother’s knitting bag writ large, he addressed us.

Would the Pullman arrive?

Supposing that he meant the National Express coach we reassured him that it would.

But there are no signs!

No…the bus station offices are closed…you look at the timetable and it will tell you when the coach arrives.

Please? I am Italian. I do not understand. I am student at university. I am going home. I need the Pullman to come or I miss my flight.

Both wondering how he would benefit from a course at a British university if he had limited English we assured him that the Pullman would indeed arrive. Just look at the queue which was gathering!

How they know? There are no signs….

The coach – or Pullman – arrived and pulled into our bay….one up for the driver.

Our Italian friend was the first in the queue as we marshalled my luggage, assisted by a couple of students going home for the Easter holiday.

He faced the driver.

Gatwick Sud?

Ticket?

Gatwick Sud?

I tried in Spanish. I have no idea what ticket is in Italian but he seemed to get the idea, produced the e mail on his phone and was allowed to board.

Once underway all went well except that at every stop he would rise and enquire

Gatwick Sud?

To which the driver, face ruddy from stress, would reply

No Sir. If you listen I will announce each stop. The bus runs through Fareham, Portsmouth Hard, where we are currently standing, then Chichester, Gatwick North and finally Gatwick South.

At which our passenger announced that he was sorry to be breaking the driver’s balls but was this stop Gatwick Sud?

I had the strong impression that if the driver had not voted to leave the European Union previously he would now be doing so at the earliest opportunity which presented itself.

So…goodbye Southampton.

It being early spring the parks had been alive with flowering trees and swathes of daffodils, while gardens enjoyed from the bus windows showed camellias, their blossoms brown edged by frost, jews mallow flopping against walls and fences, flowering currant with the buds just colouring up over jewelled clumps of primulas, and everywhere a haze of pale green buds against a hard blue spring sky.

A fine last sight to remember.

Over the years I had become fond of the place….village style high streets in the suburbs with proper shops, good public transport, a restaurant where the owner’s Staffie bitch trotted among the customers, old fashioned pubs in the old town and all the glitz of the entertainment and shopping complex at West Quay.

Certainly there had been downsides…more and more people sleeping in shop doorways….. whole blocks of city centre premises torn down to be replaced by blocks of student residences as the two universities pulled in the money from overseas students’ fees…… the deterioration of the Friday market from one with a bit of everything for everyone to huts selling New Age balls and overpriced food.

But there was still a real market down at the pretty village of Hythe, so all was not lost to the forces of destruction.

I shall miss Southampton, but my reason to go there ceased to exist when my mother died in late March…my last visit was thus to attend to her funeral.