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.
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!
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’.