Gizzards To The Lot Of It!

Today is Sunday. In theory we are undisturbed apart from Carlos coming to let out, and later close up, the sheep.

In practice it is nothing of the sort. Leo has resumed buying day old chicks for meat production and as, from a wheelchair, he cannot supervise them out in the poultry house in the rainy season he has had a cage erected on the balcony in order to follow their progress. For cage imagine something the size of a police holding cell, roofed against the rain and surrounded by plastic sheeting to keep the wind from the chicks, who bask under a shaded lamp.

The dogs also follow their progress…noses pressed against the wires of the cage, squeaks and bellows of frustration that they cannot get at them until they forget about it a few minutes later.

At feeding time the dogs have to be shut in the house as otherwise they would be in the cage as fast as you could say ‘Jack Robinson’, demonstrating nature red in tooth and claw.

The chickens, however, remain unmoved, eating, drinking – prodigiously – and sleeping under their lamp, oblivious to the outside world.

Not only chickens inhabit the balcony….he is also supervising the pregnant rabbits whose vast hutches spread across one of the windows, giving us unprecedented access to bunnyvision in the evenings – the munching, hopping and scrabbling considerably better than any local TV offering.

Add to that the potting shed corner. Being the rainy season, all the pots, vast deposits of different soil types, ashes and orchid mixes have been translated to the balcony, on the side protected from the rain, giving great enjoyment to Mr. Darcy – small French bulldog – who burrows into the lot like a demented badger, spreading contents far and wide and treading the lot into the house on his little paws.

Thus on Sundays I have the joy of feeding the chicks and cutting fodder for the rabbits to add to the general round….so after lunch I look forward to a couple of hours of peace.

The rain has started, bucketing down. We are up in the clouds, a white world stretching out from the balcony with the shadows of the canna india and palms wafting in and out of view. I have closed the doors to the balcony and preparing to stretch out with a book when there is a hullabaloo from the dogs, all pawing at the front doors.

Muttering curses I go to investigate, only to find what I first supposed to be the Costa Rican version of Grendel’s mother….a dripping figure, hair plastered to its head, bearing two unpleasant looking knives. An aroma of pig seeps into the house.

It is the young man from across the road….

I open the doors and the aroma of pig intensifies.

He has, it appears, arranged with Leo to kill the cockerels.

What, today?

Yes, today.

Though living in Latin climes for many years, the British restraint inculcated in youth still holds strong. Instead of howling abuse and slamming the door I usher him onto the balcony and summon Leo who can give me his explanations later when I deliver a curtain lecture….for the moment, let him sort it out.

He does so…a killing zone is set up on the outer balcony…in the rain. This does not seem to bother the young man in the slightest. He probably thinks that the rain will wash his clothes thus saving on washing powder. I wonder if the rain will lessen the aroma of pig, but doubt it…..with his unintelligible speech – and the aroma – he reminds me of Edwin Pott, Lord Emsworth’s pigman, but without the latter’s level of sophistication.

Cutting boards and plastic bags set out, I close the doors and leave the two men to it.

The dogs range themselves on the chest in the bedroom for a good look at the unexpected spectacle and I return to the book. Apart from the odd bloodcurdling canine scream of joy as one after another of the cockerels are killed, all is peace.

Until Leo opens the doors to demand smaller freezer bags.

Someone has blundered.

The dogs are off the chest like the Light Brigade, heading for the killing zone.

The young man holds three plucked birds to his bosom as the pack deploy around him while I hope to hell that the rain has washed the aroma of pig from his tee shirt…..

Leo has seized the bowl with the innards….

Napoleon makes a dive for the intestines, dragging them over the tiles to be devoured under the rabbit hutches.The activity makes the rabbits nervous…so hoping for no miscarriages….

Aunty and Scruffy take the wings..the remnants .later to be discovered in the bed…

Mr. Darcy seizes a head, only to be cornered in the shower by Podge…

Black Tot takes another head to her lair under the sink…

Plush has the third which, on reflection, he discards and is later discovered when I tread on it in the loo when going to bed…

Order restored, the chickens luckily having acquired no offensive aromas, freezer topped up, when Leo, beaming, tells me that he has found a Mexican recipe for chicken gizzards with squash…..

At the end of my tether, all I can think to say is ‘Gizzards to the lot of it!’ and go to bed.

Fnd Plush’s discarded head.

In the early hours, nipping out for a pee without putting on the light, discover that Napoleon has disgorged the intestines…..

Clear up and wash feet in the shower…..tread on remnants of yet another head….

Travelling? Not Just Now…

rain-in-puriscal

We have both been under the weather lately and the weather seems to have been under the weather as well….

Normally at this stage of the rainy season we have sunny mornings followed by cloudbursts and thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening so there is plenty of time to go shopping and get the washing out in safety.

This year we have three volcanoes blasting their socks off, rainstorms for which cloudburst is a totally inadequate description giving of their best at all hours of day and night, thunderstorms creeping up on you unexpectedly at which point you beat  Usain Bolt to get into the house to pull out all the plugs and when rain and thunder take a breather you find yourself living in the clouds – an  occasional glimpse of the top of Grifo Alto being vouchsafed to you when a breeze shifts the white world enveloping you.

And with the rain comes landslides and with the landslides comes an absence of telephone and internet until the men from the electricity board struggle out to do repairs.

Oh…and powercuts. Not many, but neatly timed to catch you when you are cooking supper after dark.

Thus anything involving the oven takes place before lunch: evening recipes favour items which can be stirred with one hand while holding a torch in the other.

Still, at least it is warm, though we must be acclimatising as we found ourselves grumbling this morning at 5.30 am when the temperature was only 21°C which is 69° Fahrenheit for those who have never come to terms with Celsius.

Give me 21°C in the U.K. and I`d probably be shedding the cardies at a rate of knots which would astonish an exotic dancer…here and now I am wondering where I put the woolies.

Not only have we been under the weather…so have the dogs.

Poor Sophie was run over: a visit to the vet sorted her out, but although she came out all bathed and beautiful with a red ribbon bow round her neck she also brought with her a bug which laid her so low that only Leo`s devoted nursing pulled her through.

He sat with her through three days and nights, keeping her hydrated and warm until the little thug returned to herself, by which time the bug had spread to the others, manifesting itself in seas of vomit and diarrhea – just what you need when getting washing dry is not high on the weather`s agenda and washing the floor means going over it with a dry cloth afterwards unless you fancy it being a skating rink, given the absence of breeze to dry it.

Deep joy.

So our  travelling plans have been put on hold until we and the weather are on top of ourselves again….which may be some little time.

Not that we have been entirely confined to the house….

I went to San Jose a couple of times to retrieve documents from the water board and, returning, called Danilo from the bus to meet me at the bus stop nearest the house – now accessible again after three years as the bridge has now been repaired.

As usual, I said I was at Los Abuelos and asked him to pick me up at the Maravilla.

In so doing, I had fallen into the nature of giving directions in Costa Rica… where vital points are not all that they seem….

Los Abuelos was a big family style caff on the main road to the capital….it closed three years ago when the electricity board discovered that paying its bills  had become a very low priority.

La Maravilla was a depot which closed down two years ago.

Danilo obviously knows where both are….but without local knowledge you would be sytmied.

Looking for a government office in San Jose some years ago I was told to follow the railway line and turn left at La Luz.

Railway line…yes. La Luz, however, turned out to be a caff which had disappeared some twenty years ago.

Street directions which involve the Los Pinos depot…which has been closed for ten years  leaving no trace left behind…

Turn right at the fig tree…yes, you`ve guessed it. It is now a six lane roundabout…but you still turn right.

Go past the German`s place and turn left at the football pitch. The German left years ago and the football pitch is now a bus depot.

But, thinking back, indirect directions are not new to me.

At one period in France we had a house in a road called the Rue de la Francmaconnerie; in reality a tiny alley in the centre of the old town.

However, as I was to learn, no one seemed to call it that.

It was referred to as `la venelle qui mene ver La Biche`: literally the alleyway leading to the doe.

Eat your hearts out, Costa Ricans! Make sense of that!

In fact the alleyway, after a few twists and turns, did indeed end up opposite an old door with a doe`s foot serving as a knocker.

pied de biche

But why was the doe`s foot knocker of greater importance than the official name of the street?

Because the door was the entrance to the oldest of the men`s clubs of the town…a place where everything was settled over  a few hands of cards and rather more glasses of wine. It had an official name, but everyone called it the Pied de Biche.

So, just as in Costa Rica…you had to know!

 

 

 

 

Hard Pounding

Jim Goldstein photography

One of the fixed tasks of the day is that of letting out the chickens and ducks, once egg laying duties have been performed, releasing the ducklings into their wired enclosure and opening the outer door of the sheep pen under the gaze of its ruminating occupants.

No problem here….it is dry and sunny, the water and food bowls can be cleaned out, fresh bedding laid, the ducks’ drinking water, full of wasted maize flour, fed to the tilapia and a return to the house for a cup of tea.

Another point of the day is far from fixed in the rainy season.
The point of feeding and banging up for the night all those enumerated above.

The sheep are no problem at all…..they will return to base bawling for food at a quarter to three on the dot as that is the hour when Danilo brings down swathes of sugar cane and camaroon – a tall red grass – and passes it all through the cane cutter.
On Sundays, Danilo’s day off, this is my job.

I am distinctly wary of that cane cutter….it sucks in sugar cane that seems as hard as bars of iron and spits it out in grated fashion into the trough.
Having no wish to turn myself into mince I switch it on, its roar echoing off the valley walls, and feed it the stems from a distance…being careful not to have any catching my hands or arms…and turn it off only when there is clear ground between me and it.

Rake the minced grass down the length of the trough, shut the outer door and leave the sheep feeding greedily.
Easy peasy.

Later I will return with a bucket of sliced bananas, at which point they will climb up me to get at the bucket while I’m trying to close the inner door and there will be an unseemly jostling for position around the two tubs during which I will make my escape.
With the sheep, you’re only the belle of the ball while you have the bananas.
When they have the bananas you are Cinderella at one minute past midnight.
I know people like this, but the sheep are less hypocritical about it.

So where is the problem?

More like what is the problem.

This is the rainy season. You can be reading on the balcony, the sun shining, soft breezes playing about you and then it will start.
The sky will begin to cloud over….this is when to put down your book and head for the feed supplies which you have laid down in the morning.

If you are lucky, you will return from the sheep pen just as the first drops start to fall and a curtain of cloud makes the valley invisible. You can hear the main force of the rain hitting the hill across the stream…just time to leg it to safety.
If not lucky, you will be imprisoned as a lightning bolt hits the field next door, thunder rolls overhead, and the rain does not just pour…it pounds down on the tin roof.

You can see it running down the drive in torrents…the drain from the house gutters filling the area between you and your base with water well over ankle height…

You can be an interested spectator as a gust sends coconuts flying from the tree onto the roof of the house, rousing the dogs to howling fury….

You can wonder if your husband has remembered to turn off the computer…

You can be assaulted by indignant sheep as the tubs are emptied of bananas…

The neighbour’s dog will sprint past you heading for your house….and, inevitably, the sofa. He resembles a drowned rat.

And that’s just the sheep.

The chickens will generally be hanging about if it is dark…they like to be inside and tucked up on their perches in less than clement conditions…but the ducks are something else.

First the ducklings.
You have left it as long as you could, hoping that the rain will stop, or at least become less intense…but the moment has come.
Up to the enclosure carrying food in one hand and bearing an umbrella in the other.
Ducklings object to umbrella and scoot round to the back of the enclosure under the passion flower vine in which you entangle your umbrella and roar expletives.
This attracts mother duck who has spent the day outside the enclosure and now wishes to return to protect her offspring – or, more likely, get more of the food than she would among the other adult ducks.
From the outside, she leads them round past the back of their house…where you cannot follow.
They sit, ten pairs of beady eyes watching you rave.
You go outside the enclosure and shoo them out of their lair with a stick rattled through the wire.
Mother attacks you….if you’re not wearing wellies you’ll have a purple mark for days as ducks have a sort of hook under the top part of the beak which gives rise to a sensation for which the word peck is totally inadequate.

Now for the ducks, most of whom are disporting themselves in the tilapia ponds among the flowering water hyacinths.
Down the steps, umbrella in hand, to find the spring at the bottom in full action and nothing but waterlogged ground between you and your prey.
You advance in a flanking movement to avoid the brutes legging it further down the garden and then doubling back up the hill through the rice.
You turn, you advance on them and get very wet as you use the umbrella as a sort of reverse bullfighter’s cape to encourage them to retreat from you up the steps while dashing forward to prevent the black one from making a jink to the side and disappearing into the papyrus.
From the papyrus no duck extraction is possible.

You get them up the steps…and find them huddled in the doorway of the duck house.
The broody has chosen this moment to manifest itself, leaving its nest to eat and, puffed up and hissing, is refusing to let any other duck pass her.
You leave the open umbrella in the gangway to prevent the ducks returning the way they came, seize the broody and cast her forth, while guiding the others in with your foot.
You shut the door.
You retrieve the umbrella.
The broody, furious, flies up to her nest above the door and voids her bowels.
Depending on your timing you are
A. Unscathed.
B. The umbrella gets it.
C. You do.

in any case you head for the shower.

So the race between yourself and the rain could be described as Wellington described Waterloo….
‘A damned nice thing – the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’.

On a daily basis. For six months of the year.