The Grand Old Duke of York is Alive and Well in Costa Rica

In the early evening of Sunday, the internet and the landline went out….a not infrequent occurrence in the rainy season given the landslips and the likelihood of trees falling on the line. When that happens it is imperative to call the supplier, ICE, as soon as possible, as while its initials might stand for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, its speed of reaction to problems is that of a particularly constipated glacier.

No landline…so it’s the mobile ‘phone. Lucky I charged it earlier…

Charged to the hilt as it was, it did not work…it would make a call, but without sound.

Still, all was not lost……I could use Danilo’s mobile ‘phone when he arrived for work at 6.30 a.m. in the morning.

No chance….apparently he refuses to top up his ‘phone on the grounds that the service provider robs him so he can only accept incoming calls.

Right, off to town to catch the ICE office when it opens at 8.00 a.m.

Leo wished to trap our lawyer, a somewhat Lewis Carroll figure who, while resembling the Bandersnatch in his approach to conflict….

‘A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh
And grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair,
For he knew it was useless to fly.

He offered large discount — he offered a cheque
(Drawn “to bearer”) for seven-pounds-ten:
But the Bandersnatch merely extended its neck
And grabbed at the Banker again.’

….more closely resembles the Cheshire Cat when not desirous to be found.

Thus it is best to besiege his house before he has a chance to leave for his day’s occupations.

Accordingly, I was dropped at the offices while Leo went off to the lawyer’s home on the outskirts of town.

There was an elderly gentleman in front of me who started on a genealogical investigation into whether he was related to any of my neighbours…a very nice chap and most informative on the dubious past of a lady held to be highly respectable…and it passed the time.

Behind us, a queue formed. The security guard emerged from his lair to advise the queue that only ‘preferencial’ persons – the aged, halt, lame, pregnant or any combination thereof would be admitted at 8.00 a.m. The rest would have to wait until 9.00 a.m.

8.00 a.m. We two were admitted, guided to the washrooms to wash our hands and given a number. Both were called quickly.

I explained the problem and was informed that a crew would come out.

When?

Hands wide spread and shrug. It depends on their workload.

I have met the shrug before…in France. It denotes, bugger you, you’ll get what we give you. You used not to get it in Costa Rica…but it has crept into the institutions in the last few years and I deeply resent it.

I explained that a repair was urgent as, in the current virus situation, patients do not attend hospitals unless necessary…doctors will ‘phone with test results and organise prescriptions. Difficult for my husband’s doctor to ‘phone without a working line.

Again the shrug.

I informed him that he has an obligation to mark the work as urgent given my husband’s circumstances.

No senora, it all depends on the workload.

I quoted the relevant law and appropriate regulation for the institution and suggesed he consult Don Adolfo, his boss.

Don Adolfo is not yet in the office, senora.

Not a problem, senor. I can give you his home number. Thanks to the Bandersnatch whose little black book of numbers gives access to the movers and shakers – or, to be more accurate, the torpid bloated crocodiles – of the area.

He eyed me…contemplating. Is it likely that an an old bat, a foreigner to boot, would have the number of Don Adolfo? Had I been someone under twenty plastered in make up with hair extensions, plastic nails and a dress which left little to be revealed the matter would have been clear. But this old bat…?

He decided not to risk it…after all, the old bat knew his boss’s name…so finally marked up the repair as urgent and, with a little prompting, gave me the reference number, with which I could check that he had, in fact, done as asked.

France was a good training ground for customer service. You knew they were going to do you down and it behoved you to have your threats well thought out beforehand.

ICE behind me, I trekked up the steep hill to the big supermarket in order to buy another mobile ‘phone.

Choice was easy…but the purchase process was hindered by the manager being incommunicado in the lavatory with the keys to the necessary store, but once he emerged the member of staff kindly agreed to change the SIM card to the new ‘phone…only it wasn’t the same size, and, in any case, if I wanted to keep my telephone number I would have to go back to ICE to have them sort it.

So back down the hill to ICE.

By this time all and sundry were being admitted…but whereas when there were next to no clients during old age pensioners’ hour all the help desks were occupied now the waiting room was full to the gills and only two staff were available.

Still, thanks to the preferencial system I was seen quite quickly and a new chip was installed.

I thought I had better check it before leaving the premises but the security guard informed me that I could not use the old reception desk to do so thanks to social distancing rules.

Off then up the hill to the benches on the outskirts of the park – which is closed thanks to the bug. A first attempt to use the ‘phone revealed that it required a PIN number. Scrabbling in the box of goodies that came with it revealed the ICE chip details…so tried the PIN number on that. Did not work.

Back downhill to ICE.

The chap who dealt with me messed off for a coffee break as I appeared in the doorway but I spied Don Adolfo in the staff area and waved. He came out to see me and we had a small chat about the Bandersnatch before he asked me what I wanted.

I explained the problem..

He fiddled with the ‘phone and said that the shop which sold it had put a PIN on it. Did his employee not tell me so?

No.

He would have a word with him…but unfortunately I would have to nip back to the shop to have it rectified.

So back up the hill to the supermarket…wash the hands, have temperature taken in order to be admitted…where a very pleasant young msn explained that they put a PIN on display items to ensure people don’t start using them. Had i bought a display item?

Yes.

Then he would eliminate the PIN and give me a discount.

Sure that the brute was now working I walked back down the hill to the taxi rank and wended my way home.

My knees were by this time killing me and I needed to lie down in a darkened room, only to be returned to reality as an anxious voice enquired

‘What’s for lunch?’

While sorely tempted to reply with my grandmother’s riposte…..’bread and pullet followed by windmill pudding – if it goes round you all get some’ …I restrained the urge and dished up the pork casserole from the slow cooker.

After lunch Danilo came to the house.

The car had to go through its annual MOT…the Riteve. Should he ring for an appointment?

Yes, he should.

He did.

He came off the blower in a state of high indignation.

Now, before we go any further…some background.

Costa Rica, in its attempts to relieve pressure on the health service, rates the cantons of the country according to their level of risk. Yellow – medium risk, orange – high risk and red…we don’t want to think about it risk.

No red cantons so far.

In yellow cantons you cannot drive for two days out of the seven – according to the last number on your licence plate – and there is a curfew on vehicle movements after 10.00 p.m. In orange cantons you can only drive for two days out of the seven and the curfew starts at 5.00 p.m.

We are in a yellow canton. The Riteve station is in an orange canton. The only days on which we can drive in an orange canton are the very days on which we are forbidden to drive in a yellow one….

But, this being Costa Rica, there is a solution.

You apply for a rendez-vous online and if stopped by the traffic police you show them the reservation on your mobile ‘phone which will exempt you from a fine.

‘But I’m not online. Could you do it and lend me your ‘phone?’

No I jolly well could not. I had given Danilo the mobile ‘phone my mother had used. Teased by his mates because it was pink he had painted it green and buggered it up. No way did he get his mitts on my new ‘phone.

‘Get one of your kids to do it and borrow their ‘phone for the day.’

‘No, they won’t do that.’

I can’t say that I blame them.

£ventually, after manoevrings which would put Tammany Hall to shame it is agreed that a son in law will make the appointment on his mobile ‘phone and accompany Danilo to the testing station.

We will pass the son in law a lage red snapper from the freezer.