The Wanderer`s Return

Princes

I don`t know if you grew up with those illustrated books featuring Victorian images of historical events – you know the sort of thing, the  two princes looking angelic in black velvet before being bumped off in the Tower, Richard Coeur de Lion languishing in his prison while Blondel sings beyond the walls, Boadicea and her daughters being whipped by a Roman tax collector – but if you did then you might be able to help me.

What was the name of the man who walked through London stark naked with a dish of flaming coals on his head and was he foretelling the Great Plague or the Great Fire? Or could it have been the Popish Plot?

The illustration is as clear to me now as when I first turned the page as a child…..but my memory has failed to dredge up either his name or the event he was foretelling, which  is infuriating for one who has always rejoiced in having the memory of an elephant when it comes to trivia while admitting to haziness on more immediately relevent phenomena.

I would like to be reminded because I was thinking of following  his example when visiting my bank in London…apart from the naked bit.

There are limits.

The bank, it appears, wishes to know its customers, or so it says.

Having been a customer of said bank for twenty seven years I feel that if it doesn`t know me by now then it has missed the boat.

It knows that it gets regular payments; it knows I don`t take up its offers of loans to go on holiday, to buy a car or to undertake plastic surgery, let alone buy a house; it knows it is a waste of time to try to sell me insurance; it knows that it has never had the pleasure of charging me for an overdraft and it knows that I am displeased when it makes a mess of a simple transaction because its systems are designed by overpaid cretins who probably do borrow money for holidays, cars and plastic surgery and pay for everything on a credit card so do not understand that I would like to make a transfer without having to find and turn on a mobile `phone in order to receive a code which will be outdated by the time that I have found the right glasses to read it, pressed the wrong button which promptly effaces it, try it again and finally change glasses to read the computer screen.

That is if the whole process hasn`t alerted some Dr. Strangelove security system at the bank which promptly freezes my account.

It is not alone in its lunacy, I know. Leo`s broker in South Africa refuses to deal with his bank as it claims that said bank is money laundering on the basis of regular payments of twenty to thirty quid to Better World Books UK.

What could be more suspect than buying books, after all?

Same broker rashly forwarded internal e mails about the problem which were written in Afrikaans. As Leo has an old fashioned form of Flemish he found the e mails totally clear – if unflattering – and expressed himself accordingly. In Flemish.

So, as Leo`s specialist decided that an op would not be necessary on his broken leg and as mother`s birthday was looming, I took a bolt to the metropolis to allow my bank to renew its acquaintance with me, leaving him in the charge of Danilo and Maria, a Nicaraguan lady we have known for years, to give twenty four hour cover in my absence.

Breaking the habits of a lifetime, I coughed up for a direct flight with British Airways which spared me the hassle of changing `planes in odd corners of the world and suffering the current whims of the bored people manning the security lines.

None of them seem to like the packets of coffee in my carry on bag. Madrid doesn`t like them because they are all regularly square….Toronto thinks that as coffee is organic matter, it could be used in a terrorist attempt….while Amsterdam wants to know why I don`t just buy my coffee in Holland.

All went swimmingly, as I had two empty seats next to me and could thus avoid the nuisance of the man in front of my original seat who, not content with reclining it to its fullest extent imediately after take off, jumped about in it excitedly while watching cartoons on the IFE. He did not even return the seat to its upright position in order to eat…had I been forced to suffer his antics for ten hours he might have received the contents of a container of chicken curry on his cranium. Hot.

Needless to say, an evening spent in the company of an old friend over several tissue restorers removed all wish to emulate he of the flaming coals…just as well, as London was suffering from a deluge which would have doused the fires of hell on the day I set out for the bank.

My regular bus had changed its route as the Mayor of London – whose name and portrait seem to appear all over the place like Big Brother – had decided that too many bus routes served Oxford Street and had had some of them shifted. Thus instead of a two minute stroll I had to leg it for some distance, arriving like the proverbial drowned rat.

It might not have improved my temper, but it is impossible to be angry with the recepionist who does the triage of clients, or with the girls of the counter staff.

They know their bank is not universally beloved of its customers thus it is unfair to ask them to keep smiling while you foam at the mouth and gnaw the carpets….so I asked what more the bank wanted to know about me.

It appeared that it wanted a photocopy of my current passport.

But I could have sent you a certified copy!

No, I could not. That would not do.

It used to do when I lived in France.

Probably trained to observe when a customer was about to brake frith and cracke heads I was directed to a supervisor in an office out of earshot.

Ah! They had noted that my old passport had expired.

And?

They needed my new one, for their records.

Why?

Because they had to know their customers.

It was then that I realised that knowing your customer had nothing whatsoever to do with my banking habits but everything to do with ticking a box. The system could not give two penn`orth of cold gin whether I was likely to run amok with a credit card and blow the entire assets of the bank on botox….it just needed a photocopy.

So why could I not send you a certified copy?

You could…from the U.K. They do it at the Post Office.

Why not from Costa Rica?

Oh, that`s regarded as a dodgy country…a lawyer could be pretending to be you and siphoning off your pension.

Thinking that the average Costa Rican lawyer would regard my state pension as not worth bothering to  pick up if dropped in the street I produced my passport. The photograph  of a wild eyed woman with her hair on end would be enough to convince any bank official that this was not a customer to be encouraged but the box ticker showed no reaction and made her photocopy.

That was it. The bank now, once again, knew its customer.

The rest of the trip passed peacefully: I took Mother to see the film  `Dunkirk` to celebrate her birthday. Made a change from cake and flowers, though her friends had organised that too.

The cinema boasted all round sound and it lived up to its promise. Mines exploded under your seat, bombs unleashed themselves at your head while waves lapped incessantly around you. Mother said that while all the actors were remarkably clean for men who had been retreating for days the film was accurate in reproducing the distinctive sounds of the different aircraft. She had been straffed by a Heinkel when walking home from the sanatorium in Belmont and she remembered it well.

Of course, I had news from the home front in the daily telephone call:

Maria has brought her daughter, Stephanie, with her. (Aged about seven) She has used up all your printing  paper for drawing. (Give her all those old envelopes you hoard…)

Stephanie is using at least one loo roll per day. Is this normal? What does she do with it? (No idea, but stand by to unblock the septic tank…)

She is playing on my computer. I`ve had to use yours. (Aargh!)

I was fed up with rice and beans so I asked Maria to cook me a spaghetti carbonara. (And?) She garnished it with red peppers and coriander…

I don`t need help any more. I`ve sacked Maria. (I know she called me and told me. What you don`t know is that she has arranged for Luzmilla (cleaning woman) to deputise…)

Luz is here and she refuses to go away! (Good luck with that!)

My return trip was uneventful except for the ritual disembowelling of my suitcase at San Jose airport as, once again, I drew the elderly customs officer who regards it as his mission to preserve Costa Rica from outside influences.

Whats`s this?

Chorizo. Spanish.

But you came off the `plane from London.

They sell it in London. Look at the label.

Oh yes…it`s in Spanish. What are these?

Kippers.

Spanish?

No.

Could you open the bag?

On your own head be it.

Jesus Maria, close it up!

So home, to find the house sparkling clean, the dogs pleased to see me and Leo able to walk a short distance with a walking frame that Danilo had made him.

All is well…though I am still looking for either of my two rolling pins……

Where would you put a rolling pin….? Any ideas?

 

The man with live coals on his head….I remember now…he was called Solomon Eagle and it was the Plague.

solomon-eagle-or-eccles-1618-1683-a-quaker-a-pan-of-live-charcoal-D9CXRT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Moving Experience…

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Surprises usually await me on return from trips abroad: one year a load of bullocks, another a pair of American Staffordshire pups.

This year, after – for me – an uneventful return from visiting my mother another surprise was on the books.

We were moving.

Not far…just up the hill behind our current house to the house which seems to have been in gestation forever.

It was being built by Danilo  in his spare time from looking after the finca, so progress was never going to be a sprint.

It turned out to be far from that as Danilo’s mother entered her final illness, so for several months he was able to do just the basics with the animals each day before going off to spend time with her.

She was younger than my mother, but worn out by perpetual childbirth – nineteen children – and a hard life with no mod cons and insufficient  food, despite the best efforts of her husband – who died in his fifties – and the older children as they grew up to provide.

I met her once, at a family get together: it was obvious how much she was loved and respected for her sacrifice – they all knew how often she had gone without food in order that the children should be fed; the backbreaking work of endless washing to keep the children clean to go to school in apple pie order; her determination that they would all have a better life.

Further delays were caused by our unpleasant North American neighbour. He tried every trick in the book to prevent construction from denouncing us for not applying for planning permission – a good try there as the fine for being caught is less than the fee for the application – to denouncing us for not paying Danilo’s compulsory insurance for construction work – ditto – with an attempt to obstruct our access to water as a sideline.

Whatever it is he is up to it is clear that he doesn’t like the idea of someone being able to see who visits his house and at what hour…

Still, he was duly stuffed and eventually work resumed. The basics were there, but all the finishing details remained to be done.

Which was where matters stood when I left for England.

Mother is coming up to her hundredth birthday this year but, uncharacteristically, had had a series of problems with a chest infection which was pulling her down so, as – pre Brexit – there was an incredibly cheap flight to London I took the chance to see how things were going.

She was down pin, off her feed and fed up with the miserable weather, but the application of a cattle goad to her doctor produced a course of better antibiotics and retail therapy did the rest….ill or well, mother can shop till I drop.

No sooner had we exhausted one shopping area than she was planning the next sortie…an entire summer wardrobe was purchased and once again I have to hail the staff of John Lewis for their customer service. Nothing was too much trouble to find the right fabric and style and to undertake alterations.

I took the opportunity to do my own shopping: Marmite, of course, and kippers in bulk from a superb fish shop in the town, hoping that for once Iberia would not lose my luggage in Madrid as otherwise the suitcase would probably swim home of its own volition.

Kippers managing to arrive at the same time as myself I relaxed, looking forward to a few day of cuddling the dogs and recovering from an overnight in Madrid airport.

No chance.

‘Oh, I forgot to tell you…we’re moving.’

This was, I admit, my own fault. I had waxed large before my trip on the idea that if we waited for everything to be finished we would be waiting until Doomsday but never in all my puff had I imagined that The Men would do anything about it.

They had.

Boxes galore encumbered the house….none of them marked….

Cupboards had been ransacked…provender recently bottled jostled with that of previous vintages…

Wardrobes had been attacked….kitchen appliances desecrated…

Never did I feel more in need of a sign:

‘Danger! Men at Work!’

So we moved.

Moving is always somewhat chaotic,so no surprises there…

I eventually found the soup blender and the potato peeler….the clothes hangers…

But there was one feature which defeated me…

Where were the interior doors?

Ah!

Clearly there had been a hitch.

Julio -slated to produce the doors – had had a cashflow problem. His raw material supplier would not let him have any more wood until he had cleared his last bill, which he could not do as his last clients had not paid him.

His solution? As his last clients were gringos we would go with him to extract payment.

I put down my foot. Given that the gringos I see here are tighter  than a duck’s arse I could see no future in trying to extract payment in the foreseeable future unless armed with a machete and loaded for bear.

My solution was that we would pay for the wood and Julio would bill us for his work…

He has the wood…but until the finished articles appear the dogs are having a field day rushing from room to room and going to the loo involves a recce to see where The Men are working and  whence they are liable to appear without warning…

It has had decidedly deleterious effects on the morning George.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtue Rewarded, the Bodyguard’s Tale

The Men have a project.

The project requires heavy duty electric cable.which  is not available locally unless ordered especially and risks costing an arm and a leg.

Solution?

Buy it in San Jose.

Fortuitously, Geraldo also requires cable of the same dimensions – and his son knows where to buy it.

cocacola

In the Coca Cola market where – anxious gringos would have you believe –  babies are barbecued to order and men leap from the shadows to cut off any finger bearing a gold ring.

There is some slight foundation for this folk tale: I was shopping for veg there when a gentleman sidled up alongside and advised me not to wear my tiger eye ring as it was genuine and might attract persons less respectful than himself.

What about my wedding ring? I enquired.

What do you take us for, senora?  We are not barbarians: of course we respect a wedding ring..but that tiger eye might attract the interest of the wrong type.

How do you know it’s not a fake?

We know.

 

Normally Leo would have accompanied Danilo and Geraldo  –  he loves the Coca Cola where bargaining is the breath of life – but, recovering as he is, he could not cope with the journey and a long morning of negotiations.

He would give Danilo the money – cash speaks louder than bank cards in the Coca Cola  – and Danilo and Geraldo would pick up what was needed, taking our car for transport.

No! This would not do!

Why not?

Danilo was worried  that he might be mugged with all that money on him. I should go with them and carry the money.

And what if I were to be mugged?

No problem…Geraldo and I will protect you.

 

So it was arranged that there would be a joint expedition to San Jose: the gentlemen would buy the cable and then I would pick up bulk bones and offal for the dogs and a freezer load of wholemeal bread from our favourite baker.

We set off……to a running commentary from Geraldo on the latest scandals relating to houses that we passed ……until arriving in the centre of San Jose where Danilo had planned to use his favourite parking lot.

It was full. It always is.

He proposed pulling up in front of it until the queue disappeared and then driving round the block to enter.

I proposed driving to Coca Cola and seeking on street parking.

As it was my car I eventually prevailed against the sucking of teeth and dire warnings of roaming the streets forever….

We pulled up in front of the shop recommended by Geraldo’s son and were directed to a spot further down the road where a ‘guatchiman’ (watchman) was paid to look after the car. Distinctly cheaper than the parking lot.

The shop recommended by Geraldo’s son did not have the cable of the dimensions required.

However, as we left a gentleman approached us with an offer to sell us the cable in question. We followed him to a back street lock up whose garage door – once raised – revealed  reels of cable in all dimensions – save  that which we sought.

Not to worry , he said…I can get it for you.

Thinking that we just bet he could we beat a retreat saying that we needed it today and started combing Coca Cola for the cable we required – and its price.

Leo on form would have loved it…by the time we had checked every stall my feet hurt and my brain was scrambled but eventually we hit on the shop we needed.

Our order was measured out on the pavement , upon which a series of five metre marks were indicated by strips of yellow paint. Danilo stationed himself at one end and Geraldo at the other to see  that no hanky panky took place while the staff pulled cable from the drum. All duly approved by the committee, our cable was rolled and we turned to Geraldo’s order.

But there was a problem. Geraldo had brought money enough to pay for the cable on his son’s estimate of prices. This cable was slightly dearer.

He would come back the next day and take the cable on the bus.

Nonsense. I lent him the money which he would pay me the next day – as he did.

Duty done we headed for the central market car park where I asked Danilo pick up a sack of bones and offal, giving him the money, while I  went to draw from the cash machine at the Banco Nacional down the road and do some general shopping.

BancoNacional

No, no, no! Thus Geraldo.

He, Danilo, could not let me loose, unescorted, in San Jose!  What was he thinking of?

So it was that I found myself shadowed by a tiny man of over seventy years of age – the Costa Rican version of Cohen the Barbarian – as I entered the Art Deco edifice of the Banco Nacional. Drawing my money I was about to sort out my bag at the table provided, watched over by security guards.

No, no, no!

I must put my card and money away at the cash point…who knew who might be watching!

But there are guards…

Guards! Where will they be if you are mugged on the doorstep…?

Prisoner and escort – we must have looked like the Queen of Tonga and her lunch – headed back to the central market. Pausing to buy tomatoes from my regular supplier I found that  Geraldo had been vetting the bags prepared for sale and advised the stall holder to give me a bag of my choosing…and was given another for himself.

We met Danilo in the Central Market hauling the  huge sack of bones and offal to the car and went to buy fish and prawns.

Geraldo insisted on sifting through the prawns..something that – as they were on offer – I would not have done… and was rewarded with two fillets of fish for being so careful of my interests…

We were loaded by this time so I sent him with the bags to join Danilo at the car while I ventured into the Mercado Borbon – reputation even worse that that of Coca Cola – in search of pigs’ liver for sausages.

Three minutes’ later he was at my side…hailed by my regular butcher as my body guard and given a half kilo of sausages for his lunch…

Off in the car to  the bakery where Geraldo insisted on inspecting every loaf..and was given a chili pastry for his pains……

 

On the way home Danilo remarked that he was never given freebies..

That, said Geraldo, is because you don’t know your job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….

better 'ole
When we added an extension to this little house it took the form of a wide wooden balcony running the length of the house and more…the further part being divided off to make a large bedroom with more windows than walls: the palms and the guapinol tree with the red orchids in front; the bamboos and wild poinsettias at the side; the bougainvillea and more poinsettias behind, all reflected in the mirrors.
It’s as close as we can get to having the outdoors inside, and to keep the more disobliging insects at bay a mesh screen runs round the room, covering the gap between the top of the wall and the roof supports….breezes can blow through, but the stingers stay outside.
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This is all very well, but just lately the breezes have become gusts…and, for Costa Rica, chilly gusts. We are used to the Trade Winds blasting away in December, but they have obviously decided to visit us for rather longer this year and are still happily ripping off roofs in exposed areas, and, more particularly, keeping our bedroom well aired.

Fine for us…but not for the poodle.
The poodle was born and brought up in Costa Rica…in a ‘normal’ house where the walls meet the roof…where breezes do not play upon its sacred person while it is snoozing on the bed.
The poodle is displeased.

Not so displeased that it does not follow my husband to bed at night…it likes to keep a close eye on him and cannot wait for me to clean my teeth and close up the household for the night – a process which involves digging out the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi from his lair behind the sofa and evicting him before something alerts him in the night and he decides to raise the household; removing Black Tot from the laundry basket into which she has plunged as soon as my back is turned; checking that Arthur is on the balcony and not out hunting armadillos and going six rounds with the Alsatian who goes out, forgets why he wanted to go out, returns to base, drinks the water bowl dry, remembers why he wanted to go out, goes out, finds a bone overlooked earlier….by which time the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi has slipped in behind the sofa and the eviction process begins all over again.
I could have had a promising career as a bum bailiff had that animal come into my life earlier….

Finally getting to bed by the light of the bedside lamp I find that there is a well kent face missing.
The poodle.

Did she not come in with you?
Of course she did!
So where is she?
Try calling her!

We call.
Silence, not even a snuffle….Arthur, roused, scratches at the door.
I go out to see if she has been left behind on the balcony, or whether she is lurking, catlike, to trap a lizard.
No sign.
Did she get left behind in the house?
Lights on, evict Black Tot from the laundry basket and lock same in bathroom to prevent recidivism. The Alsatian wakes up, drinks the water bowl dry again and wishes to go out. And in. And out….
While a shadow slips silently behind the sofa….
No sign of the poodle.

Lights are on on the bedroom into which Arthur has insinuated himself.
My husband is lying on the floor looking under the bed….
Arthur is lying on the bed watching him with interest….
Arthur removed with swipe from towel.
Arthur stands, immobile, looking towards the wardrobe…then his periscope ears begin to swivel.
The right hand door of the wardrobe moves slightly; Arthur leaps in – and shoots out backwards bow legged in a flurry of jerseys and tee shirts.

Those of you who know the Moomin books will know of ‘Moominland in Midwinter’ where as part of Moomintroll’s advenntures he encounters the hairy eyebrowed Dweller Under the Sink
dweller under the sink

The Dweller was not pleased to be disturbed from his hibernation….and the poodle was not pleased to be disturbed from its nest in the wardrobe, carefully fashioned from the softer elements of the clothes contained therein.
It had expended thought and energy on building its shelter against the wild elements and did not take kindly to being disturbed.
It had, faced with the Trade Winds, found a better ‘ole and gone to it, only to be rousted out by a hairy brute with no finer feelings.
Low growls punctuated by high pitched snarls rent the air. The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

Chastened, Arthur slunk back to the balcony.
Chastened, we went to bed and turned out the light.
The wardrobe door creaked slightly.
From the house the unchastened Costa Rican King Charles Corgi made the night hideous until a yelp indicated that the Alsatian had had enough.
The poodle growled a last low warning – and the household slept.

The poodle has the right idea….if things don’t suit you as they are, look for a better ‘ole.

But try to reconnoitre the ‘ole first….otherwise you run the risk of finding that you have swapped one pit of evil smelling slime for another. Not so easy under fire, agreed, but when you have the leisure for investigation – do it. It won’t save you from all nasty surprises, but at least you will have avoided the main ones.

I thought of this last night.
I was too tired to read so turned on the box and enjoyed the latest episodes of the French police thriller ‘Engrenages’ which the BBC translates as ‘Spiral’, all bad language, bad behaviour and attitude on the part of all concerned.
Then I flicked through the other offerings and found one of those ‘Escape Anywhere Abroad’ programmes, where smarmy presenters drag starry eyed punters round unsuitable properties in unsuitable places to the sound of unsuitable background music.
If it’s an accordion, it must be France, and France it was.

The punters on this occasion were a retired couple, comfortably off, who had holidayed in France for years and now wished to make a permanent move. They wanted a house – their sanctuary – with room for the family to visit, a swimming pool ditto, and some land – for reasons which would become clear.
They also planned to use it to run therapeutic courses for retired people – keeping the husband’s hand in as a psychotherapist.

Viewing the first house – and all subsequent ones – the wife would exclaim…
‘Oh, so French….shutters…’ and they would move off on a voyage of exploration.

The presenter walked them through the big open plan kitchen..
‘Oh, I can see myself here, cooking and talking …and – maybe – a glass of wine!…’
The sitting room, where the stairs to the top floor made a bad impression…to the main bedroom which he suggested would be ideal for people attending the courses.
‘Oh no!’
‘We’re not having them in the house….they’ll be in tents outside.

Thus the need for land.

They reminded me of an American I met – briefly – here. He was explaining to an admiring group how he had found and purchased a vast tract of land on which to build his dream home – and then came his Damascus moment:

‘It was so beautiful that it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to myself…I just had to share it!’

I took it upon myself to explain to the group that he was selling plots of building land rather than indulging a philanthropic whim and he was not best pleased, thus the brevity of our encounter.

On the box the search continued…all the properties would need revamping – even if the paying visitors were destined to remain under canvas – and at no point did the presenter mention planning permission, let alone costs….and certainly didn’t mention the formidable formalities entailed when setting up a business.

He took them to meet expats who could show them the ropes….put them wise to the pitfalls….
They themselves had lived in France only six months, did not speak French and the only advice on offer was to be aware that draught beer was not available in the locality.
A lot of talk about the French this and the French that….but without French how would they have known?

Cut to the couple making breakfast in the kitchen of the first house, which had been lent them for the duration of their visit.
The wife is breaking eggs into a frying pan….
‘Fresh eggs from the farmer…’
The yolks are pale and the whites spread across the pan in the best traditions of an egg which has seen better days …many better days….

The husband is cutting up a baguette….it is taking him a great deal of effort. He clearly has one of the French rural bakery specialities – brick hard dough surrounded by crust resembling razor wire.
‘That’s the thing about France, the bread is fresh, not like the stuff in England which lasts ten days…’

Clearly the couple weren’t going to buy any of the places they had been shown…they were coming back to explore the area at leisure….but if their knowledge of France was as stereotyped as it appeared to be, and if they were incapable of telling fresh eggs from stale I reckon that they will need all the money they have to cushion themselves from the realities.

‘.

Boots, Boots, Boots, Boots….

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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.

Si se puede! Si se pudo!

Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera President of Costa Rica
Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera President of Costa Rica
Yesterday, the eighth of May, Luis Guillermo Solis Rivera was installed as President of Costa Rica.
‘Si se puede’ – a chant of football fans in Costa Rica – became the slogan of the candidate that rose from nowhere to challenge and overthrow the then ruling party…’you can do it’ and the national stadium, where the official transfer of powers took place, resounded to the counterpart…’si se pudo’ – ‘and you have’… as the President elect entered the arena with his companion and his family.
As always in Costa Rica the ceremony was low key and had its unrehearsed moments….which is one of the reasons I like the country so much….as well as the usual youth choirs and orchestras and the singing of the national anthem.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Jose was miffed that he had not been asked to officiate and conservative opinion was outraged that the new tourism minister was accompanied by his male partner…the times are indeed a’ changing.

And they need to.

Solis sees the task of governing Costa Rica as being the equivalent of taking over a farm that has been abandoned for years…fertile soil supporting parasitic plants….
He has to rebuild not only the institutions of the country, but also public confidence in those institutions and he faces an uphill task.

People expect changes…and have short memories….

The party that lost the elections have the greatest number of deputies in the National Assembly…

Institutions left to their own devices for years resent the arrival of new brooms….

The outgoing government installed supporters in key positions before leaving office…..

It’s not going to be easy.

I’ve always been interested in politics – the buggers are spending my money after all – and know just how regularly good intentions get bogged down by the sheer immobility of the government machine, let alone outside interference…but I hope that this Costa Rican spring brings forth the summer of good governance that the people here deserve.

And I can’t resist putting up another photograph from the handover of powers yesterday…. the new president and his old dad….a shoemaker.
It’s a good omen…historically it was the shoemakers who fought for civil and workplace rights in Costa Rica so it is – dare I say – fitting that it is one of their sons, descended from the Chinese and Jamaican labourers brought in to build the railways and cut the sugar cane, who is today President of Costa Rica.

Father and son... photograph from La Nacion
Father and son…
photograph from La Nacion

Legal…Eagles?

legal eagleThe Neighbour has been in court again.
With yet another lawyer at his side.
Not the one who came to see me about this time last year to tell me to back off, but a rather more down market specimen, decidedly sub fusc alongside his client who was resplendent in smartly ironed shirt and jeans, sporting his crisp white hat with a curly brim in honour of the occasion.

The lawyer was there to defend The Neighbour in a preliminary hearing to see whether the Fiscalia (prosecuting service) would succeed in their bid to put him in front of a penal court in respect of his non respect of the law…..to wit, insulting, threatening and attacking people who had been granted protection orders prohibiting him from insulting, threatening and attacking them.

The behind the scenes cross and jostle work to replace the local prosecutor seems to have failed – in which case the owner of the hotel which caught fire last year resulting in multiple deaths might have cause to worry – and The Neighbour had been summoned to court to explain why, in his view, matters should go no further.

Perhaps made wiser by previous experience he elected to let his lawyer present his case, which was, reduced to its essence, that whatever it was he hadn’t done it and if he had done it it must have been when he was angry and anyway he wasn’t doing it now but he would be quite happy to be reconciled with everyone as he was a reasonable man and so there was no need to go to a penal court unless those who had complained to the Fiscalia had no respect for Christian principles.

It wasn’t as exciting as in the days when he took things into his own hands in court, and it took considerably longer than his old bravura performances, but at least the judge and his opponents felt safe from having violent hands laid upon them.

His opponents satisfied themselves with stating that in their view he should go before a penal court as he had respect neither for them nor for the law.

This was a step too far for The Neighbour.
With all his old brio he leapt to his feet, brushing aside his lawyer’s restraining hand and bawling that it was all lies and that he had witnesses…lots of witnesses…..important witnesses…..that he…he, you understand…was the victim.
The effect was enhanced by the black eye and swollen nose he was sporting after an encounter with a gentleman whose wife he had made the subject of insulting remarks earlier in the week, both eye and nose seeming to glow with the strength of his passionate outburst.

As his lawyer pulled him down into his seat the judge said pleasantly

Well, you can bring your witnesses into the penal court when the time comes.

And that was that.
The Neighbour and his lawyer departed in a cloud of mutual recrimination and everyone else went home.

I went to see our own lawyer, who had told me that I did not need him for this stage, to recount events.

But his lawyer missed the point, he said. It was nothing to do with what he did or didn’t do….he’s already been found guilty in court on all the claims the Fiscalia brought forward.
It’s about contempt of court…he’s done what the courts told him not to do…and been caught.
He can bring all the witnesses he likes….and the judge will hear them very courteously….but he’s had it.
He’s for the high jump.

So did his lawyer really misunderstand, or was it that he found it preferable to take his client’s instructions?
Given the Neighbour’s propensity for violence, it may well have been the latter…..I gather that he has assaulted his own lawyers before now and uniformly fails to pay them on the grounds that they have let him down in court even when he has been at pains to make available ready bribed witnesses.
What sort of a lawyer is it, he seeks to know, who can lose a case when his client has done all the groundwork for him?

La Nacion Costa Rica
La Nacion Costa Rica
Some other people will be wondering too, what sort of lawyer they had.
In 2009, the cables holding up a suspension bridge over the River Tarcoles gave way.
A bus which was on the bridge at the time fell into the waters below: five of the passengers died and thirty six were injured.

Two years later, the Fiscalia decided to bring charges against the bus driver and three officials of the Public Works Ministry…and the lawyer for the families prepared his case for the penal court.
Nearly three years after that the case came to court – in our local court – where the judge decided not only that no responsibility could be attached to the accused….yes, the poor state of the bridge was known, but a weight limit notice was clearly visible at the entrance to it…but also that he could not, in consequence, award compensation to the families of the victims.

Outrage, both locally and in the comment columns of the press….one law for the rich, another for the poor: millions in compensation for a private company deprived of a road building contract awarded in dubious circumstance, nothing for people struggling to help their family’s kids through education, to support elderly relatives.

The judge suggested that the path to compensation would have been to have taken the case to the administrative courts….logically enough, as the condition of the bridge was the responsibility of the state….but that it was now too late.
The parties had had four years in which to bring their case….four years which expired six months ago.

Carried away by the public scandal of the lack of maintenance of roads and bridges – particularly in rural areas – the lawyer had gone for the wrong court….and, with all respect to his clients, I doubt that they would have instructed him to do so had he not suggested that course of action.

Clearly this raises the usual questions of justice…which is what people expect…and law, which is what they receive and which only reflects justice in so far as groups promoting justice have been able to influence the executive, whether parliament, national assembly or whatever else, to enact just legislation.
Otherwise law reflects the interests of other groups able to influence the executive….interests which might well be perceived as most unjust indeed.

But it also raises the question of the responsibility of lawyers…of any professional providing specialist services to the public.

Anyone can get things wrong….anyone can, with the best will in the world, drop a clanger.
But there are some clangers which will resound in the lives of the clients involved for years to come….and this is one of them.

You can be as outraged as you please with the blatant neglect of the affairs of the rural poor….but you don’t help the rural poor by your indignation…you help them by going for the right remedy in the right court.

Otherwise you are about as much use as a feature writer on ‘The Guardian’…gaining points at your dinner parties of right thinking – or should that be left thinking – friends, and about as much use to the people you claim to speak for as a snowball in hell.