Tuesday, 15 December 2009


I'm often asked what the weather is like in the Azores.

Being much further north than the Canaries and Madeira, the weather is correspondingly not as good as in these holiday hot-spots and I answer the question by saying the weather here is pretty similar to the west coast of Britain in terms of sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy-ness but about 10 degrees centigrade (18F) warmer over the year.

That figure of 10 degrees was one I'd sort of plucked out of the air by educated guesswork hitherto but I actually sat down the other night and compared three years of mean temperature statistics from Flores airport with those of Benbecula airport on an island off the west coast of Scotland (stats obtainable off the world wide interweb) and, lo and behold, the average difference was precisely 10 degrees C. (That's another question I'm asked a lot - what do you do all day? Well there you have the answer and it's a damn sight more fun that what I used to do, I can tell you.)

That's Benbecula airport above. Flores airport below:-

As it happens, the weather's a bit of a hot topic here just now. It's a fact of life on Flores that, in winter, you can't take it for granted that the plane will be able to land. So, if you're booking a flight from Lisbon to Scotland on a Friday, it's prudent to fly from Flores to Lisbon on the Wednesday so as to build in a day's slack in case the plane can't land on Wednesday and you don't get away till Thursday. If the plane does manage to land, then that means an extra night in Lisbon but, as we are flying to Scotland from Lisbon on Friday and the mid-week weather chart is looking like this (the Azores being right in the eye of that storm):-

... that extra day's slack is looking like quite a good insurance policy right now. The wind hasn't started to blow yet and if you don't hear from me again you can take it no news is good news.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Emotion, doubt, desire, influence

The thing about learning a foreign language is you discover how little you know about your own one.

For example, did you know that English only has two tenses - present ("I work") and preterite (aka simple past - "I worked")? Portuguese has four - present, preterite, future and imperfect (which is a bit like "I used to work").

Of course, English is quite capable of expressing these extra two tenses and many more besides but has to do it through the medium of compound tenses which employ auxiliary verbs such as be, go, have, will etc. You can really pile these on to come up with such constructs as "I am going to have been working". Don't ask me what that tense is called by the way (and certainly don't ask me to translate it into Portuguese!)

Another thing is that, in my ignorance, I thought the past participle of a verb was simply its preterite (simple past) tense form. The preterite and past participle of "work" are both "worked" but that's because "work" is a regular verb in English. The difference only appears in irregular verbs, for example "to go": the preterite is "went" but the p/p is "gone". Ditto I speak, I spoke (pret.) and I have spoken (p/p) etc. (But not all irregular verbs have p/p's different from the pret. - e.g. I think, I thought, I have thought.)

The p/p is the verb form used in compound past tenses. Scottish football managers (soccer coaches) struggle with this and are wont to deliver themselves of such utterances as "We've came to Celtic Park with low expectations but the lads done great, they've gave 110%, and we've went home with a point, Jim." (They're also apt to dig themselves in even deeper by adding what's known in English as a Colemanball such as "... we've went home with a point and you can't do any better than that, Jim.")

Where was I before I digressed into football? Making an arse of myself, actually, because when I said the p/p is the verb form used in compound past tenses what I meant was compound past perfect tenses. I think. Because there are also compound past continuous tenses - e.g. I was speaking - which employ the present participle ("speaking"). And, indeed, present and future continuous tenses (I am speaking, I will be speaking.) The past participle is also used to form the passive - i.e. "I have been spoken to by her" as opposed to "She spoke to me". Although passive might be a mood as opposed to a tense. I think.

Now Portuguese has compound tenses and participles, past and present, as well. Portuguese past participles are always different from the preterite (simple past) even with regular verbs. But it's never safe to assume that the same sequence of words translates as the same thing. For example, Eu estou falando literally translates as "I am speaking" and Eu tenho falado as "I have spoken" but that's not how you would say either of these things in Portuguese (at least not in European Portuguese - Brazilian may be different).

There's a lot to the learn so the following quote from chapter 40 of Teach Yourself Portuguese Grammar is the understatement of the year:  

"It is not surprising that many, if not all, learners throw up their hands in horror at the sheer mention of the word "subjunctive". Having spent precious hours mastering various sets of verb endings, it is frustrating to be presented with a completely new range." 

English has a reputation as a dfficult language to learn but at least our verbs are relatively easy and we don't have subjunctive. Or so I thought but actually we do - it's just that subjunctive in English is a bit subliminal and old fashioned and, in practice, nobody bothers about it much anymore. It certainly needn't cause a learner of English to throw his hands up in horror.

If "to boldly go" is the most famous example of a split infinitive, the most famous of the subjunctive's relatively rare appearances in English is "If I were a rich man ..." The fact that it's "were a rich man" rather than "was a rich man" is subjunctive, apparently. Also, we know that Jesus saves so have you ever wondered why God save [not saves] the Queen? That's subjunctive as well, apparently. You're not ordering God to save the Queen - after all it's not good form to address the Deity in such peremptory terms even where the safety of the Queen is concerned. Rather, you're saying "Let/may God save the Queen" in the sense of wishing/hoping that He will. And as TYPG tells me, expressions of emotion, doubt, desire, influence and counter factual situations (I'm not a rich man but if I were ...) call for the subjunctive. Life is one big subjunctive, really ...

How did I get started on this again ...?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

History of Scotland Part XI

I left you last time mid 9th century when Kenneth MacAlpin - reputed the first King of Scotland - had amalgamated the Scots of Dalriada in the west with the Picts in the east to form a kingdom called Alba. But this wasn't yet the whole of what was to become Scotland as we know it today.

To understand the history of Britain in the 9th to 13th centuries, you have to imagine two regional "superpowers" - Alba in the north and Wessex (the embryo of what was to become England) in the south - and their interactions with surrounding smaller statelets. You can add Norway as a third superpower due to the Viking settlements in the British Isles at the time.

In a process stretching over 400 years, Alba and Wessex gradually swallowed up weaker neighbours, kept Norway at bay and ended up as Scotland and England eye-balling each other over the medieval Iron Curtain of the Solway-Tweed line.

That would be a good point to stop reading if all you need is an executive summary of the early Middle Ages until you get to more interesting bits like Wallace and Bannockburn.

But as for the detail, as this is history without looking it up, all I can remember of the key landmarks of the consolidation of Alba/Scotland is:-

1018 - King Kenneth II (I think) of Alba defeats the Angles of Northumberland at the Battle of Carham on the River Tweed and extends the south east boundary of his kingdom to the Tweed.

1034 - King Duncan (he who Shakespeare had murdered by MacBeth) of Alba also becomes King of Strathclyde. With its capital on Dumbarton Rock, this was the last P-Celtic kingdom in Great Britain outside Wales and Cornwall. It had kings with names like Owain and Rhodri so thank goodness that sort of nonsense was stamped out in 1034 when Strathclyde became part of Scotland.

There's no unanimous academic opinion on when "Alba" fledged to become "Scotland" but I personally regard it as being the mid 11th century when it looked like this:-

Alba/Scotland is the pink bit. Above (purple stripes), is Moray which had a very ambivalent and not well understood relationship with Alba/Scotland. West and north (green) you've got the Earldom of Orkney and the Kingdom of the Isles under the suzerainty of Norway. Galloway in the south west (yellow) stubbornly independent.

1093 - King Edgar I of Scotland and King Magnus Barelegs of Norway do the famous "Everything you can sail your boat round is yours" deal. This is the episode you learnt about in Primary 6 when Magnus got his chaps to carry him in his boat over the isthmus at Tarbert and thus claim Kintyre. It's apocryphal, of course - Scandinavian history is littered with similar tales across the Viking world. The result was that Norway conceded the mainland to Scotland while keeping the islands. But the reality was more like Dutch and Greek UN peacekeeping generals deciding zones of operation in the eastern Congo ...

1124 - I have in my mind as the year in which an infant girl had her brains smashed out on the mercat cross of Forfar on the orders of King Alexander I of Scotland, her crime being to be the Anastasia Romanov of Moray. In other words this is when Moray's pretensions to independence from Scotland finally end after much strife.

116? - Galloway's pretensions to independence are crushed. I forget the detail now.

1266 - Norway cedes the Western Isles to Scotland. This followed the Battle of Largs in 1263 in which a Norwegian fleet attempting to assert suzerainty over the Western Isles was defeated by bad weather more than anything else. A bit like Scotland qualifying as a result of Andorra holding Moldova to a draw but Norway recognised it could not hold on to such far flung territories long term. Orkney and Shetland remain Norwegian till 1468.

That's skipped lightly over 400 years. I think I'll need to come back and fill in some intervening details in later posts.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Trust Busting

Remember Kinsey Gin - brewed from girders in Motherwell, Scotland (that well known centre of gin distilling) and retailing in Freitas, Braga & Braga's supermercado at an eye-catching €4.72 (about £4.30/$7.05 at tonight's exchange rates) a bottle?

Well imagine our dismay to go into Bragas' minimercado (sub-branch in Fazenda das Lajes) to find the price had escalated somewhat:-

I knew it was too good to be true. I'd been convinced all along €4.72 was due to one of Braga's girls (or boys - there's at least one) getting the bar code wrong and the price was really €7.42 (or even €14.72).

Imagine our surprise, then, to go into Boaventura Ramos (BV's as we call it) ...

... to find (a) Kinsey Gin on sale; and (b) at the suspiciously similar price of €6.98. My first thought was Senhor BV had discovered this cheap Scottish gin and decided to knock it out at that price, then Senhor Braga had wandered in on a fact finding mission and immediately jacked up his retail price to a similar level in response.

Then imagine our further surprise (just how much surprise can you take in one day?) when the talão (till receipt) handed to us at the checkout of BV's was headed Freitas, Braga & Braga - it seems BV's has been taken over by Bragas'. So, with gin prices being hiked by 50% overnight, if a crack squad from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is not on its way to Flores, bouncing over the waves in a Zodiac under cover of dark, black turtle-necked Milk Tray ad-style, then - er, well, perhaps they could get their secretaries to book them a flight on SATA Air Açores. When it's convenient ...

(Quick digression but we had to think whether the turtle-neck chap in the Zodiac was Milk Tray or Black Magic. What was the BM ad? "Who knows the secret of the Black Magic box?" rings a bell)

Anyway, the last bastion of competitive retailing left on the island is Arlindo, owner of the Miniflor minimercados in Santa Cruz and Ponta Delgada and the Superflor supermercado in Fazenda (pictured above). He's still knocking Malaquias Branco  white wine out at €0.97/litre. In a possible sign of things to come, Bragas' discontinued MB a couple of months ago.

The future's bleak - the future's Braga.   

Arvores Natal

I don't know who pays for them - the junta da freguesia (parish council), I expect - but Christmas Trees are given away free here. They pile them up in the car park and you just go down and take your pick. Which is nice.

For those interested in the botanics, they are Cryptomeria Japonica, the forestry plantation tree of choice in the Azores. An exotic conifer of the cupressus (cypress) family, it's closely related to the fast growing Leylandii of nuisance hedge infamy. So come Twelfth Night, you can stick your tree in a pot and it'll be there as a bigger tree for next year until it gets too big to get in the house. Then you can plant it in your garden and annoy your neighbours.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Corvo - Part 2

To get up to the caldeira, we needed a taxi but, as there isn't a taxi rank on Corvo, we were contemplating going into a bar to see if any one knew of one when we came across the Corvo branch of Rede Integrada de Apoio ao Cidadao (RIAC). The lady therein spoke immaculate English (with a North American accent) and phoned us a driver.

As Vila Nova do Corvo is such a small place, he was almost there before we got back out to the street. Another English speaker (with a North American accent), Joao drove us placidly up to the caldeira. Now I have been there before (when we were here on holiday in 2005 before we came to live on Flores) so I've seen the caldeira of Corvo before but two observations even so:-

1. When you look across to Corvo from Flores (and most people get no closer), what you don't realise is that it's basically an extinct volcano and the top third is hollow:-

2. Not only were we lucky to get to the island at all but we had the double good fortune that the summit and crater weren't enveloped in cloud as they are so frequently so we got to see the crater (caldeira) AGAIN! This is it (although I have to admit this is a pic from 2005 because it was sunnier that day):-

Also, because I'd seen the caldeira before (is this a third observation?), I found myself more interested in the terrain of Corvo above Vila Nova:-

Back down at the quay, we'd timed it perfectly for a death defying leap on to the heaving deck of the good ship Santa Iria. For the return journey, there were another three passengers including a jolly smiley German (altogether too jolly and smiley for my taste, but it takes all sorts, I suppose) with one of these - I don't know what you call them - but it's a thing you lie back on and pedal:-

My first thought was how did he pedal that up to the caldeira? But then my second thought was how did he pedal it down from the caldeira - can he put his legs into a low gear? Actually, these were thoughts #2 & 3, thought #1 being how did they get this contraption aboard? It was too delicate to be hoisted aboard by the crane and the Santa Iria doesn't half heave about in the swell through a matrix of 2-3 metres in-out and above-below the quayside at Corvo. Thought #4 was thinking in response to a question from said German as to whether there was a bike-spares shop in Lajes das Flores? That doesn't count as a full blown thought as the simple answer is No but I had to consider if the garage in Santa Cruz might be able to help (unlikely) so let's call it thought #3.5.

Anyway, on the return journey, the weather deteriorated somewhat:-

Now, that may look benign to you but let me tell you it was the only moment I could get my camera out (a two handed exercise) without being thrown across the deck or else (far worse) getting the camera drenched in salt water. Latterly, it was a bit crowded in the wheelhouse sheltering from the spray coming over the bow:-

All in all, a great day and thanks to the crew of the Santa Iria. As a minor league nautical cove, I was impressed with how they swooped round at Corvo to berth bow out when the ship had neither bow-thruster nor mechanical windlass to work the mooring warps. Respect - put that in your risk assessment and smoke it Caledonian MacBrayne!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


There's a new post about Corvo below but it's showing up out of sequence - it's two posts below, beneath the SNP rant and Respect for JA's chimney operations.

I think this is because entries are posted in the order you start composing them rather than the order you publish them and there's nothing you can do to change it. How daft is that? From the blogging arm of Google, the internet company which made it's fortune by being user friendly. Mind you, I suppose Blogspot is free so you can't complain. (Well you can - you can write to your MP.) But really - more things to get cross about.

As Sybil Fawlty so memorably (and accurately) put it "And the reason why it's cheap IS IT'S NO BLOODY GOOD!"

Monday, 30 November 2009

Things that make me cross # 2 - Eating, shooting, and leaving

Today (30 November) is St Andrew's Day, the patron saint of Scotland, and is the day the Scottish Nationalist Party, the dirigistes of Scotland's minority soi disant government, chose to launch their white paper on a referendum on independence for Scotland from the UK.

For non-British readers "white paper" is a term for a government document setting out proposals for legislation.

I think the expression "white paper" goes back to the days when they were pamphlets of a few pages printed on bog roll containing nothing more racy than starchy pronouncements such as "Her Majesty's Government proposes to raise the excise duty on sultanas by a guinea a hundredweight ...". Nowadays, white papers are hefty volumes replete with forewords and introductions and larded with photographs of smiling children, nurses and farmers - they remind me uncomfortably of these 1930s posters exhorting one to march together for Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany (take your pick) but without the artistic merit.

And they all have awful Stalinist job titles - for e.g. the woman above is the "Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning". Elsewhere there are forewords from the "Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth" and the "Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing". There's even a "Minister for Community Safety", a phrase which reminds me of "State Research Bureau" - the secret police in Uganda during the regime of President Amin (the Last King of Scotland - it can't be a coincidence).

Anyway, the white paper on the independence referendum is 198 pages so I certainly can't be arsed reading it all. Hence why I'm making my mind up by the sound-bites on the radio (that's how politicians get their messages across isn't it?) and do I not like what I'm hearing ...

Firstly, last night, on Eddie Mair, there was horrid Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy Second Secretary of Lifelong Growth and Comparative Wellbeing who said in her horrid shrill voice "Well, an independent Scotland would benefit from the flexibilities of being a small country." I'm not kidding. If I'd been EM, I would have riposted with "Explain why they're better than the flexibilities of being quite a big country like Germany or the UK, for example" but Eddie rather muffed it.

Then tonight, the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmon (is it significant that top SNP apparatchiks are all named after fish?) had the brass neck to say on the BBC that he'd been elected on a mandate of independence for Scotland! Er, no! You're a minority administration with a mandate to do diddly squat, fat boy!

And lastly, there was a sound-bite on the BBC from a punter on the streets of Glasgow who said "The people of Scotland are quite capable of governing themselves". At last a statement I agree with.

To be serious for a moment (must I?), "Nasty Nic's" point about small countries was that Scotland's population (5.2m) is comparable with countries like Norway, Denmark, Finland etc. Fair enough, but if the SNP can't come up with any better a sound-bite than that as a passport to a prosperous independence, then I remain to be persuaded (as we lawyers say). And as for saying we can govern ourselves, yes, but who's going to pay for it? As I understand it, Scotland plc. is a net loss making business kept afloat by subsidy from England. It scares me rigid that England might decide to cut us loose.

And don't mention oil. How much is there left - 10-15 years worth? All depending on the price, of course, and whether it's worth while sucking it up. Relying on oil is the ultimate surrender of your independence to forces you can't control - come back London, all is forgiven. And even if new easily extractable reserves of black gold are discovered, is it wise to base your future on a commodity for which, due to climate change concerns, the market is likely to dry up in - what? - 50 years? You might as well say we're rich in resources of animal tallow.

Like I say, I got bored reading the white paper after about 25 pages - there's was far too much waffle about dynamic this and sustainable that and not enough hard facts and executive summaries. But I did spot this on page 41:-

No pictures of wind turbines. Maybe someone should have consulted the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, and Climate Change - yes, with a comma between "Infrastructure" and "and Climate Change".

Him. Stewart Somebody to judge from the signature:-

I expect their spin doctors told them it would be good to include a picture of a minister looking "goofy" (as I believe Americans say) but how could you entrust your nation to people who can't even punctuate a key policy document correctly.

Of course the referendum ain't going to happen because the SNP is a minority administration and the majority of parties in the Scottish Parliament support the Union. Although I have to say I liked the attitude of the previous Scottish leader of the Labour Party (the party of Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the UK) to an independence referendum which was "Bring it on - let the public vote No and put this to rest". Alas, poor Wendy was summoned to Number 10 (UK equivalent of the Oval Office) and emerged looking ashen and less enthusiastic for the referendum. She lost her job soon after due to an expenses scandal. It reminded me of the junior defence minister who told the press in the morning the British army in Afghanistan didn't have enough helicopters then came out of No. 10 in the afternoon to "clarify" that, when he said the army did not have enough helicopters, what he actually meant was that it did have enough helicopters.

He doesn't approve. Neither do I. Just vote No.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Sorry I've been off-line for a bit but I wanted to share with you (to use a ghastly expresion used by the cumbersomely titled "Director of Business Relations and Client ... something ..." I think I've got that wrong. Maybe it was "Director of Client Management and Business ... Whatever. Who cares. It was someone at the office I used to work in. Let's start again.

I'm going to upload this photograph. (Ooh, and at the risk of digressing again, how crap is Internet Explorer these days? I've had to log out of IE and go to Firefox to do the upload, Tchoh!)

I snapped this this afternoon and what you're looking at is Jose Agusto working on his chimney stack with the aid of some very rudimentary scaffolding consisting of a couple of tree trunks and a step ladder. He explained that he needed to heighten his chimney to stop the smoke blowing back down into the house.

It made me think that awful soft handed northern European townies like us would probably suffer in silence at the smoke in the house or else phone the council or Google who we could sue about it. But not Jose Agusto - he cuts down a couple of trees, commandeers a step ladder and hoys some breeze blocks aloft and sets about rebuilding his chimney. And if it doesn't work, then he'll go up and try something else.


I don't normally mention my neighbours by name but I make an exception for Jose Agusto as he's a very nice man who's one of these guys for whom nothing is too much trouble when it comes to helping out neighbours - a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

This is him ploughing a field opposite the house seen above. The horse is not for the tourists or some kind of retro-affectation. It's because he knows that ploughing a field as small as this is more practical with a horse than with the tractor so many of his neighbours have adopted.

I'd originally planned to write a blog entry about the interaction of researching the udal law of the seabed in Orkney with biscuits and cheese and tomateiro chutney of which I'd taken a photograph. But while downloading that photo, I came across the one of JA's chimney which I realised was a far better blog topic. But for the sake of completeness (as we lawyers say) here's the udal cheese pic (although the cheese has been eaten leaving just a chutney smudge).

It's a funny old life on Flores. But a good one.

Friday, 20 November 2009


Flores has a little satellite island called Corvo about 10 miles to the north.

Despite having a population of 400, it's not an easy place to get to. Where I come from, an island of 400 people would get four calls a week from a 4,000 ton car ferry. But Corvo is visited only two days a week by a ferry from Flores with space for only 12 passengers (no cars). Its main link to the outside world is the aeroplane four times a week to Faial: some of these flights call at Flores en route but they don't permit a day trip.

In September, we tried to go for the day on the passenger ferry. We started in the Posto de Turismo to enquire about the timetable for the following day and where to buy tickets. We were directed to the Rede Integrado de Apoio ao Cidadao (Portuguese equivalent of the CAB but without the stigma). Their timetable was totally different from the PdT's but we would not be able to buy tickets for tomorrow because we didn't have our passports. (Why? Is Corvo execpted from the Schengen treaty or something?) In any case, all sailings were subject to estado do mar - sea conditions - which surprised me a bit as I'd read in the local press that the Portuguese tax payer had shelled out a six figure sum for an all-weather vessel. Was there a phone number to find out if the boat was sailing to save us driving over from Faja Grande only to discover it wasn't going? No, there isn't. So, the next day, we drove over, passports in hand, sandwiches buttered, and were told the boat would not be sailing por causa do estado do mar. No, there was no way of finding out when the boat might next sail. It was all very dispiriting and almost calculated to make you never want to attempt to go to Corvo ever again.

So it was with no intention of imagining we might actually go there that we found ourselves at Lajes harbour the other week watching the Corvo supply boat (not the ferry) loading up with everything from petrol to white wine. The skipper was keen to let me come aboard for a better picture:-

Purely out of curiosity, I asked when they'd be sailing - "Tomorrow at 9am, do you want to come?" was the answer. No passport required. Not even a fare to pay.

The following morning, the good ship Santa Iria was off at 9.15am - very punctual by Portuguese standards. We were the only two passengers on what was, after all, not a passenger sailing. The only "passenger accommodation" was a bench of three seats on the poop deck although the crew made it clear we were welcome to join them in the wheelhouse if it got too cold outside.

As it happened, it was fair all the way although the ship rolled a bit in the heavy seas and you really had to hang on. The Santa Iria, not exactly being a greyhound of seas, took 2.25 hours to get to Corvo. On arrival, the skipper told us it would take 1.5 hours to unload the cargo so that gave us time to wander round the only settlement on Corvo, Vila Nova do Corvo:-

Where I come from, Vila Nova do Corvo would be a "Conservation Village" where the cheapest property would be six figures (with the first one not being a 1 or a 2) and resident artists would fight retired lawyers for places on the community council and unanimously object to every planning application. But I don't think they have planning applications in VNdC never mind objections to them. It reminded me of one of those fishing (conservation) villages on the coast of Yorkshire like Staithes or Runswick Bay except a bit more "lived in".

There was also time to visit Corvo's "must see" - well, let's face it, Corvo's "only see" - the caldeira, the volcanic crater. That's not fair to call it the "only see" as just being on Corvo at all is a very interesting experience. But as this post is getting overlong, I'll talk about the crater next time.

Friday, 6 November 2009


You know how an Indian Summer is when you get a nice patch of summer weather in mid/late October? What's the winter equivalent of that called when you get a spell of prematurely bad weather around the same time? Whatever it is, we had one on Flores this year.

For almost two weeks in the second half of October, the rain poured and the wind blew but the thing is that, once the storm has blown itself out and the rain stops, there's still a massive swell coming in from the sea which breaks on the rocky shore and casts up a salt spray which just hangs in the air and drifts slowly inland: it's called salmoura in Portuguese.

If I were a poet, I'd be able to describe this hauntingly and beautifully in a poem. But I'm not so I'm going to show you in photographs instead. And as I'm a pretty indifferent photographer, you're going to have to use quite a lot of imagination to conjure up salmoura.

The thing about salmoura is that it doesn't half bugger up plants, many of which are still flowering merrily away around the end of October in this mild climate. As witness this clump of cubres:-

Observe how the seaward (left) half has been blasted by the salt spray while the landward half is still hanging in there. (Note to self to put windward pelargoniums in greenhouse. If not too late. Just one thing after another on this island.)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Kroten Wanderung

I don't know if any German speakers read this, but, in case they do, can I draw to your attention the following shortly to be published crime thriller:-

The reason I'm mentioning this is that Kroten Wanderung was written right here in Faja Grande. Indeed, Rainer did a bit of research for it from our computer (there being no Wi-Fi in FG). So if it becomes a best seller, we'll get one of these plaques on the front of our house saying "In this house ...". (When we used to live in Edinburgh, about three doors up the road was a plaque saying this was the house the Icelandic national anthem was written in - I'm not joking. So by that measure, if Kroten Wanderung sells more than about 10 copies, we're definitely in line for a plaque.)

Kroten Wanderung is German for "toad migration". Except kroten is also German slang for money so it becomes "money migration" = money moving around = corruption. It's an idiom which doesn't really work in English so before we get that plaque, we're going to have to think of a better name for the English translation (not planned at present).

Nice bloke, Rainer. Only German I've ever met with a viable sense of humour - very good gag about lifejackets on Filipino boats. When he's not writing crime novels, he's a travel writer. Last week he was in Curacao and as I write this he's in Zanzibar. Bastard.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Google Earth

It's not all planting orange trees and picking grapes out here, you know!

Time has to be found to Google Earth the nearest villages to Faja Grande in Europe (bar Madeira and the Canaries) and North America - a dirty job someone has to do considering FG flatters itself as the west-most village in Europe (if you don't count anywhere in Greenland or the French departements outre mer - Guadeloupe and Martinique - in the Caribbean).

Anyway, at No. 1, the nearest mainland settlement to here is a place called Peniche on the west coast of Portugal about 40 miles (65km) north of Lisbon. It's 1,160 miles (1,870km) from Flores.

At No. 2, only 40 miles further from here than Peniche in the other direction, is a village rejoicing under the name of Renews-Cappahayden in Newfoundland, Canada, 1,200 miles (1,930km) away. It reminds me a lot of Lochmaddy in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland:-

But Newfoundland is an island so, at No. 3, the nearest village on the continent of North America, 1,465 miles (2,360km) away, is St. Lewis (previously known as Fox Harbour) in Labrador, Canada and officially recognised as the eastmost permanent settlement in mainland America.

Nearest points in:-

* the British Isles - Skellig Michael, an island off the SW coast of Ireland - 1,310 miles (2,110km) - further away than Newfoundland.

* the UK - the Isles of Scilly off the west coast of Cornwall, England - 1,410 miles (2,270km) - closer than Labrador.

* Scotland - the Mull of Kintyre (as in Paul McCartney) - 1,600 miles (2,580km) - a stone's throw from Campbeltown.

You're mocking now but you'll thank me next time you're attempting to break a ballooning record and you look round and find Richard Branson slumped over the controls.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


What connects fictional troubled Mafia boss Tony Soprano with the island of Flores?

The answer is flowers - specifically seaside goldenrod (solidigo sempervirens). In the last scene of episode 6 of the second series, Tony is holding a bunch of flowers which includes seaside goldenrod.

Sorry for the poor quality of that picture but I don't know any cleverer way of doing it other than taking a photo of the TV. The seaside goldenrods are the small yellow ones - the uppermost in the bouquet above the yellow daisy and to the left of the upper red rose Tony's got his hooter in.

Known as cubres in Portuguese, seaside goldenrod is native to the Azores and is said to be the flower the abundance of which on Flores led early travellers here to christen the island "Flowers" - although how anyone knows that in the absence of a watercolour undeniably of a cubres in bloom endorsed in a late 15th century hand with "This is the plant the abundance of which led us to christen the island two day's sailing west of Faial Flores - (Signed) C. Columbus", I do not know.

Anyway, here's a clump of cubres at the carpark at the balneário (swimming area) in Fajã Grande this afternoon.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Cumbernauld Pie

You'd think that living on this verdant island in the middle of the ocean, we'd spend our time dining off the freshest of fish and vegetables but, au contraire, we prefer Cumbernauld Pie.

Back in the 70s, some marketing genius (probably employed by Marks & Sparks) invented the Cumberland Pie. An extension of the successful Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie franchise, it's basically mince and potatoes except you mash the potatoes and put them on top of the mince and serve it in a pie dish.

Cumberland is a very picturesque district of north west England (it's where the Lake District is), replete with shepherds and, indeed, cottages so, all in all, it was the logical next step in pie branding.

Which is why in King-Duncan iconography, the Cumberland Pie is always referred to as the Cumbernauld Pie. Cumbernauld is a 60s "New Town" in Scotland, built full of hope for a new generation but which quickly degenerated into one of the most blighted places on the face of this planet. Carol worked there as a lawyer in the 90s when she defended people against sex crimes too unwholesome to mention and represented divorcing couples in which the upbringing of the children was a secondary consideration to custody of the Elvis Mirror (you think I'm joking?)

Anyway, how did I get on to this? Oh yes, pies. Carol was telling me that the secret of a good Cumbernauld Pie topping was to "fold some cheese in to the potato". Which I have to say set my teeth on edge in rather the same way as when sperm donation is mentioned at the dinner table.

"Folding in" is not unakin to "grilling off" - it's like the bit in Blackadder when he says "Don't say "tush", Percy - it's only a short step from "tush" to "hey nonny-nonny" and then I shall have to call the police."

To my mind "grilling off" is a short step from saying "through Friday" when the speaker means until Friday. That ghastly Americanism which implies passing through Friday to Saturday (or even Sunday or Monday for aught anyone knows) has even begun to appear on the BBC, the organisation which until quite recently was still holding the line on "disinterested".

I seem to have just inadvertently covered "Things that make me cross" #2 through #4 ...