Friday, 29 May 2009

Noite dos Sabores Internacionais

In the days leading up to Saturday 16 May, we had of course seen the posters up around town for the Noite dos Sabores Internacionais (literally "Night of International Flavours"). But it never occurred to me we might actually attend such an event until one of our neighbours - PL of the burning 4WD alluded to passim - e-mailed to ask if we'd like to go as he was going and could give us a lift. Well that put us in a bit of a spot because we're not normally Noites dos Sabores Internacionais type of people. However the clinching factor was when I looked again at the flyer I'd picked up:-

As my scanner's on the blink that's a photo of the logo for the event which is an outline map of the island with the foreign flags plonked roughly where the corresponding ex-pats live on the island. You'll note a Union Jack at about 9 o' clock approximately over Faja Grande where we stay. We're the only Brits on the island so the Grand Vizier of the Perola do Ocidente ("Pearl of the West") lodge of the Lions Clube (Porto. equivalent of Rotary or Round Table) - the organisers of the event - knows where we live.

So resistance being useless, we agreed to go in accordance with the following strategy: PL's driving so we'll deal with it by getting drunk - a bit of a flash of genius on my part, I think you'll agree.

The next problem we - by which I mean Carol - was faced with was that everyone was expected to bring along a dish or a drink from their homeland. I was all in favour of just getting a bottle of Scotch from José António's. As it's so much cheaper here, we could even run to one in a presentation box. But C felt more effort was required although with ingredients for haggis being thin on the ground, what to do? Until she came up with the brilliant of idea of oatcakes. (Which would not have been thought of were it not for the fun which ensued from when a friend of ours - you know who you are - was out here last year and said in JA's shop "Oh look, oatmeal, let's make oatcakes!")

So, posh bottle of Scotch and tupperware full of oatcakes (triangular this time instead of round if you're reading this oatcake friend) in hand, we mounted up on PL's 4WD (for the last time as events would turn out). A fellow passenger was Tino, a Finnish chap who lives in FG (Finnish flag duly represented on map above at quarter past nine) who'd gone to the trouble of making some sort of Finnish dish although its name escapes me now.

Anyway, on arrival at the village hall at Lajes, I'd expected to find about a couple of dozen of the mainly German expats who live here but was surprised to find half the island had turned out:-

After dinner (fortunately the Lions Clube had had the foresight to lay on a buffet in case the offerings of the foreigners were as meagre as ours) there was a concert of impromptu musical offerings with an international flavour. And at this point I want to totally stop being my usual flippant, glip, cynical self and say how nice and good quality the performances were. They were a lot better than similar amateur shows I've seen in Scotland. Just two photos:-

The lady on the left is French (she had earlier done a routine with her very young kids) and the lady on the right is Brazilian and they did a very clever routine whereby you thought it was going to be cringingly awful until they brought it up by degrees to being a Susan Boyle moment.

These two above were a chap from Cape Verde (I'm sorry I don't know your name) and his daughter (ditto) who brought the house down. Cape Verde is a country almost no English speakers have heard of. It's an archipelago of islands off the coast of West Africa colonised by Portugal but, with an overwhelmingly African population, they've been an independent republic since 1975. CV is to Portugal what Jamaica is to the UK.

The bottle of posh Scotch went down a storm (and the oatcakes disappeared without trace so we're taking that as no news is good news) so I'm brushing up my High Roads and my Low Roads for next year.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Oh, our Italian cousins!

One of my favourite moments in Blackadder is when he's strolling in Traitors' Cloister with the Queen making conversation and says in an ingratiating tone "And in Genoa, 'tis now the fashion to pin a live frog to the shoulder braid, stand on a bucket and go "bibble" at passers-by." To which the Queen replies in a tone of indulgent mock exasperation "Oh, our Italian cousins!"

Which is by way of introduction to a post, not about an Italian cousin, but one of my Italian neighbours. And at the risk of the usual digression, I use the term "one of my Italian neighbours" advisedly because, notwithstanding that this is a small and remote Portuguese island, I have two (unrelated) Italian neighbours. And there was a time when I had three but that's another story.

Anyway, that's a picture of the chap in question. We call him PL and I took the picture a week past Saturday as he was driving us to Lajes for the Noite dos Sabores Internacionais (International Cuisine Evening - I'll tell you about that another time). The vehicle we were in was one of these 4WD, SUV type jobs. Diesel. Two gear levers. PL has a guesthouse and he uses this car to give guests tours of the island and transfers to the airport etc.

Anyway, see that dark smudge on the road there? That is all that remains of said vehicle! The bloody thing only went on fire whilst en route from the airport with a couple of guests and burnt to a cinder!

We heard about this yesterday, the day it happened, second hand (as you can imagine, it was the talk of the town) but I met PL today and got the full story. Apparently, he was driving along when he began to notice a smokey smell. Then there was the appearance of smoke in the cabin. He stopped, opened the bonnet (hood) to find a small fire burning. Emptied the fire extinguisher into it, then a 5 litre bottle of bottled water but even after that there was a still a persistant small flame feeding on melted wires. He reckoned that if he'd happened to have bought a second bottle of water, all might have been well but he hadn't and it's been very dry lately so no nearby streams to get more water from. So with no further fire-fighting opportunities to hand, it was judged prudent to promptly remove the clients' luggage from the boot (trunk) and repair to a safe distance. Apparently 10 minutes later, flames were shooting 10 metres in the air with a plume of acrid black smoke visible in Long Island as the tyres (inc. two spares) took hold. (No dramatic explosion as the fuel tank went up because diesel doesn't really burn at room temperature and, anyway, that's just Hollywood).

Anyway, this is the "Do you like border collies?" moment of this post: Thinking that if I'd been one of them I would have paid extra for this performance, I enquired how the guests - a couple of British honeymooners - had reacted. PL told me he'd said to them - and here you have to realise that he speaks English in a comedy "Just one Cornetto" Italian accent: "I told zem eet was zer passion, eet was zo hot, eet burn my car." I bet he did and all! Only an Italian could get away with that!

By the way, if anyone had passed as I was taking a picture of a dark smudge on the road this afternoon, I think the only reasonable thing to have done would have been to go "bibble".

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

History of Scotland Part II - Broken Pots

I like museums and I can't resist going in to them. The best ones are those which have working exhibits in glass cases with a button you can press and the exhibit - a Newcomen engine drawing water out of a flooded mine shaft or something like that, ideally - starts working.

But if there's one thing I can't be doing with, it's museums which turn out to be full of bits of broken pots. This is the era of Scottish history we've arrived at - the Pot Age.

I'm being flippant of course (moi?) because what I'm actually referring to here is the transition from the Mesolithic Era (Middle Stone Age) to the Neolithic (New Stone Age). It is the most seminal moment in the history of mankind because it's when we moved from acquiring food by hunting/picking wild animals/plants to harvesting domestic animals/plants: farming. This was a bigger step than the Industrial Revolution, the internal combustion engine and Microsoft Windows all rolled into one - it was verging on tomato ketchup in squeezy plastic bottles instead of glass ones in significance as a milestone in the development of human civilisation.

The Neolithic revolution started about 5,000BC in the Middle East. Of course, it didn't just happen on a single day when everyone was invited to drop off their wild boar hunting spears and berry picking - er - picking implements - and take away a sack of seed and a couple of lambs and a calf in exchange. Farming took time to spread out around the world with old habits dying hard. It reached Scotland in about 3-4,000BC (give or take the usual milennium or two), a couple of thousand years after it had been invented.

The two greatest Neolithic monuments in Scotland are:-

That's Skara Brae in Orkney - an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland where the geology is such that the rock splits very nicely for building purposes so it's a kind of Stone Age paradise. Skara Brae is a bit of a broken pot as major league international archaeological sites go (Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, et al can sleep easily) but it is reckoned to be the best preserved neolithic village in Europe. (I dread to think how dull the second best preserved one must be - it's probably in somewhere like Tubingen in Germany that, with luck, I will be spared ever going to.)

The second most famous Neolithic monument in Scotland is a bit more interesting:-

These are the standing stones at Callanish (or Calanais if you prefer the Gaelic spelling. I don't.) This is the "Scottish Stone Henge" on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I also have the pleasure to be able to record that, unlike Stone Henge, Callanish is not plagued by dirty, hippy, druidy types and you're still perfectly able to go there unmolested on Mid Summer's Day if you wish ...

And at this point - as this is history without looking any of it up to check - I've realised I may be talking out of an orifice which is not the one I normally talk out of and that Callanish may be later than Neolithic and may actually be Bronze Age - another couple of thousand years on. Sort of roughly 1-2,000BC-ish. Still a bloody long time ago by anyone's standards.

The Neolithic move to farming as opposed to hunter gathering was not all good news, however, and had two unpleasant side-effects: (a) war - the theory goes that the extra food generated caused a population explosion which led to pressure on available resources and a "get off my land" attitude. Anthropolgists reckon that they have never yet found a pointed or a heavy thing designed to kill another human as opposed to a seal or a wild boar dating back to hunter gathering days: so John Lennon would have been in his element in the Mesolithic; and (b) people started making pots, the broken consequences of which are still haunting us to this day as well. There was, indeed, a race known as "the Beaker People" after their distinctive beaker shaped pots. Whether they were Neolithic or Bronze Age, I forget but it's an ignoble soubriquet, I've always felt. It would be a bit like us being referred to as the Condom People or something like that ...

(Unrelated, but does anyone remember the Bleakers? 60s sci-fi comic strip - I've a notion it was in the Blue Peter annual of all things - Yes, No?)

Monday, 25 May 2009

... but I couldn't eat a whole one

Yesterday - 23rd May - was our third anniversary of arriving on this island. To us it's now a more significant anniversary than our wedding - which, in fact, was always less significant than the anniversary of our meeting which, as it happens, will be 20 years this November...

But I digress as usual. To celebrate our third "Flores anniversary" we decided to go out for dinner to the new Casa do Rei restaurant. This was notwithstanding two important factors - 1. We're feeling a bit "recessioned" financially-wise due to collapse of £/€ and interest rates; and 2. You have to drive to the CdR as it's about 15km from our house and, due to point 1, I'm reluctant to hire a taxi. So no after dinner ports and Irish Coffees for me. However it was well worth it as the Casa do Rei is very different from all other restaurants on this island. It's run by a couple who are the ex-pats who've been longest on this island: 30 years - he is Belgian, she is Swiss and the food and general presentation is sensational.

Now, here I feel I'm being a bit disloyal to the Costa Ocidental snack bar here in Faja which doesn't do spring onions and humous (sp?) in wee square bowls as an aperitif. But it does do steaks and huge piles of chips and salad (with mayo). And I'm a steak and chip kind of guy (with mayo), let me tell you. And the really nice thing about the CO is I just have to put my head round the door and Ligia knows that means an espetada de porco with batatas fritas for me and an espetada de frango (chicken) with batatas cozidas (boiled potatoes) for Carol and a cold bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde at 8.30 sharp. Then an Irish coffee for me after - i.e. a cup of milky coffee with one of their customarily generous helpings of Scotch tipped into it. Different styles of eatery, horses for courses (if you'll pardon the pun), variety the life of spice and all that ...

Anyway, back in the Casa do Rei on Saturday, André (who has a comedy French 'Allo 'Allo accent) emerges out the kitchen and we talk away about food and meat and good things to eat and availability thereof on this island - not always to be taken for granted - seasonal - things that can be imported - etc... until, almost in the middle of a sentence he says "Do you like Border Collies?" And we're like that! - look at each other for a moment before I find myself saying "Well, they're OK - but not to eat, surely?"

Turns out he'd clocked we're Scottish and wasn't imagining for a minute dishing up Medallions of Lassie drizzled in a jus of whatsname but rather he was interested in training dogs to run sheep (and goats) - I should explain that cows are much the most prominent farm animal on this island, with sheep (and goats) being in such a minority, you tend to forget their existence.

Yes, well, you sort of had to have been there ...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

History of Scotland Part I - Pure Rubbish

This is the first of a series of blog entries on the history of Scotland I'm going to try and write without looking any of it up.

This first chapter is rather dull because it's an era I know particularly little about - prehistory. Later chapters (Braveheart and all that) will be more interesting, I promise. OK - here goes.

10,000 years ago, what is now Scotland was covered in glaciers as it was the last Ice Age - the bonnie heather clad banks of Loch What'sname looked like the South Pole on a bad day. When the ice had melted about 5,000 years later (give or take a few thousand years) Scotland was looking a bit like northern Siberia - still a bit parky but humans were beginning to move in. Probably the closest modern analogy to these people would be Inuit (Eskimos) a couple of hundred years ago before they came in contact with Europeans. That is to say hunter gatherers of seals, dolphins, fish and in summer, berries, roots etc. A nomadic people moving camp according to the seasons. This was the Stone Age, of course (Mesolithic).

I think I'm right in saying that the earliest traces of human settlement (using that word in its loosest sense because it was maybe just a nomadic seasonal camp) so far discovered in Scotland are on the island of Rum off the west coast. These are carbon dated to about 4,000BC. Although it might be 6,000BC - I can't remember now, he says bandying millennia around in a way that's going to sound a bit odd in contrast to when I later come on to say things like "it's important to understand that this happened in the morning of the 16 April 1746, not the afternoon."

The main tangible remains these people left to us are their rubbish: piles of seashells and animal and fish bones. These mesolithic landfill sites are called middens which is a good Scottish word meaning a rubbish dump. It's most often heard nowadays in expressions like "This room is a pure midden" meaning it's somewhat untidy. It also needs to be explained that "pure" is a peculiarly west of Scotland way of saying total, complete etc. Anyway, as I don't have a picture of one (and I expect they don't look that spectacular anyway), here's a picture of the island of Colonsay off the west coast of Scotland where mesolithic shell middens have been found.

Actually, it's Colonsay in the foreground with Oronsay across the water and Islay and Jura on the horizon. Total Celtic heartland.

Well, as I said, that was a particularly dull introduction to Scottish history - mainly as it's not particularly Scottish and the same could be said about anywhere on the globe at the same lattitude.

Next time, I'll get on to something more distinctively Scottish like the standing stones of Callanish and the neolithic village at Skara Brae in Orkney. Also why Colonsay etc, as pictured above are not really Celtic at all but actually Scandinavian

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The captain's table

One of my favourite bloggists is my mate Baby Chou @ Le Moulin. As she's always very foody, I thought two could play at that game so I give you ...

... some sort of fish. I spent ages pulling their guts out of their cavities (my fingers are still honking) but there they are looking photogenic, stuffed with fennel and drizzled with pretentiousness. Much longer in the oven than is desirable when you're hungry, the result was this:-

And that was actually the high point of the meal. Carol did a very nice potato and onion bake thing and a home made tartare sauce and, of course, there's nothing finer than a bottle of Malaquias Branco (retailing at €0.97 a litre on this island). But the fish were rubbish. Very fresh but if there's one thing I can't abide it's a mouthful of fish bones. Come back Captain Birdseye, all is forgiven. Still, the cats had a nice night. Biccies and cheese for us later, though.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Lord John Marbury

This is another thing which gets on my wick - Hollywood getting the British peerage all wrong.

Take, for example, the character in "The West Wing" who is the British ambassador. He's called "Lord John Marbury" and in one episode explains that his full handle is "John Marbury, Earl of Croy, Earl of Sherborne, Marquess of Needham and Dalby, Baronet of Brycey". It's hard to know where to begin with the list of errors and solecisms that contains but I'll try:-

1. Anyone called "Lord Christian name - surname" (as in "Lord John Marbury") is not a "lord" at all. This is the form of address of the younger son of a duke or a marquess. The most famous example is Oscar Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, a younger son of the Duke of Queensberry.

2. If Lord JM really were the Earl of Croy etc., then he would have listed his titles in order of rank - i.e. Marquess of Needham and Dalby, Earl of Croy, Earl of Sherborne. (The titles in the British peerage are, in descending order of rank, duke, marquess (in some cases spelt marquis), earl, viscount and baron.)

3. There is no such thing as being "Baronet of Brycey" (or anywhere else). A baronetcy is, in effect, a hereditary knighthood with no territorial connection. It would have been entirely possible for John Marbury to have been a baronet in which case he would have been Sir John Marbury, Marquess of Needham and Dalby etc. etc. But a baronetcy is not a peerage.

4. If you don't know the geezer well enough to call him plain John, you would call him "Lord Needham" after his highest ranking title. (Even the British aristocracy accepts that it's not necessary to call him "Lord Needham and Dalby"). Thus, if you're Mrs Landingham, you would say "Good morning Lord Needham, the President will be with you shortly ..." (I feel Mrs L would have known that or at least taken the trouble to find out.)

5. Calling a peer Lord X for short doesn't work if he's a duke. If you don't know a duke well enough to call him by his first name, there's no alternative but to call him "Your Grace". (Some say it's OK to call them plain "Duke" (as in "Good morning Duke") but I'm not sure. The only duke I ever dealt with, I studiously avoided trying to call him anything.)

6. As well as referring to peers other than dukes as Lord X, you can refer to them as "christian name-title" - e.g. John Needham. In practice, this is how an aristocratic ambassador to the USA would have styled himself: being a gentleman, he would understand that our colonial cousins would get confused over the niceties so would make it easy for them. Back in the real world, the British politician Michael Ancram was actually Michael Kerr, Earl of Ancram.

7. The eldest son and heir of a peer bears the second most senior title of his father while the latter is still alive. This was the case with Michael Ancram whose father was the Marquess of Lothian. However, having made his political reputation as "Michael Ancram" he continues to call himself that even after his father died and he became the Marquess of Lothian and thereby "Michael Lothian".

The main privilege of being a peer of any rank was the right to sit in the House of Lords, the upper chamber (the Senate, if you will) of the British parliament. But that right was removed in 1999 and now only 92 representatives elected from amongst the hereditary peers have the right to sit in the HoL. The remaining members are all "life peers" (senators, in effect), worthies appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Life peers have the rank of baron. If Her Majesty were gracious enough to condescend to appoint me a life peer, I would be Baron King of Flores. You can call me Lord King.

I trust that's all quite clear now. It's perfectly simple really.

EDIT - I should make it clear that there are lots more serious things that get on my wick aside from the esoterica of the peerage - the abominable acting of Phil Mitchell in Eastenders when he's supposed to be drunk is one of them.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Did you know?

I'm currently involved in a very small way in a translation project in which the Portuguese word pisão came up.

I was told it meant a fulling mill. A what-ing mill? I asked. A mill where cloth is fulled came back the delphic reply. What the full is fuc... I was on the point of retorting when a penny began to drop. Fuller is a surname isn't it (not that I can think of anyone who's called it right now) so it wasn't totally alien to me.

Dived in to Wikipedia to discover that fulling is the process of finishing raw woollen cloth by - well - kind of yanking and flapping it around a bit. Apparently this has been done since the Assyrian Empire in water powered fulling mills - pisãos as I now know them to be called in Portugal - but it can also be done by hand. This must be the thing you see sturdy looking lasses in the Outer Hebrides doing to bolts of Harris Tweed round a table while singing dirgy Gaelic chants which sound like "Hoo-ruh Huh-rah Hoo-huh" in these grainy old black and white archive films. For reasons I didn't quite grasp from the Wikipedia article, urine is important to the process of fulling to the point where the Romans imposed a tax on it (and if anyone comments with any smart remarks about the origins of spending a penny, then I'm taking the opportunity to knock that on the head right now).

Anyway, I digress, because the interesting fact which I didn't know before and wanted to share with you is this:- Fulling is also known as walking (waulking in Scotland) or tucking and - here it comes - this is the origin of the surnames Walker and Tucker.

Isn't that interesting? So the chap on the bottles of Scotch setting a brisk pace can slow down a bit: he no longer has a reputation to live up to.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Missing numbers

I undertook to get back to you on the mystery of how we ended up being No. 5 Rua da Assomada when the house immediately across from us was No. 28 rather than in the 4 to 8 range as you'd expect (particularly piquant considering we'd been expecting to be in the high twenties as noted in posts passim.)

I must say I had suspected that the numbering fairies had been hanging out round the wrong magic toadstools but the answer's really blindingly obvious. There are more houses stretching further out the village on the other side of the road than on our side. And as the numbering started from the outside working in, we're the third house on the left but Tiago and Liliana across the road from us are the fourteenth on the right ...

Except they're not. They're the twelfth. Further investigation (you can see I've got too much time on my hands) revealed that there's a gap between Nos. 22 and 28. This suggests to me that the numbering fairies believe that there are two houses - Nos. 24 &26 - still to be built. On this field:-

Now, not that I would wish to be accused of NIMBY-ism because this is not my island, on which I am only a privileged guest, but I'd be sorry to see this field built over because of the back breaking (as the picture demonstrates) labour put in to it by the gentleman who cultivates it: he's in his 60s and I can tell you that I - at 20 years his junior - would have to retire to bed for the afternoon if I had to maintain that position for longer than about 5 seconds trying to retrieve a CD from our ergonomic ankle level CD rack never mind hand cultivating a field in the heat of the midday sun.

This field almost deserves a blog of its own because it never looks the same two weeks in a row and it's certainly radically different each year. It's seldom a monoculture either - note how our farmer (I do know his name but somehow think I ought not to mention it without his permission) is planting the second quarter of the field from the top. Until the other week the bottom half was planted with a very lush grass which our man progressively cut by hand with a sickle and carried away in bundles to (I assume) feed to his cows:-

The upper quarter is often planted with sweet potato and here I sort of run out of steam due to my profound ignorance of matters agricultural but it would be interesting to see a speeded up time lapse sequence showing the changes round the season. Roughly twice a week, you'd see our man dart in and out in "fast motion" as it were. Even when there's nothing to be planted or cut, there are stones to be picked up as I expect his ancestors have been doing for generations. Humbling. Better than Nos. 24 & 26 Rua da Assomada IMO.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


As far as I know, there isn't yet an -ory for this so I'm going to coin it now: obrasprazotory.

It means ongoing works which take a period of time to complete. The etymology is Portuguese: obras = works and prazo = a period of time.

There is a related noun - obrasprazoteurism - which is the pleasure derived from periodically inspecting progress with an obrasprazotory (OP for short) and reporting back to one's other half. Partakers of this delight are referred to as obrasprazoteurs and the sensation becomes the more delicious the longer the gap between inspections (obrasprazotations): 24 hours is optimal, 48 hours is daring and 72 hours is not medically recommended due to the complications which can ensue from such breathless disclosures as "You'll never guess! They've started on the other side of the road below the church ...!" It's also possible to become addicted with OP-holics sneaking off for furtive OP-tations when they should be getting on with other things (and in common with all such matters, the more often the hit, the less potent it becomes).

There have been a number of OPs ongoing in Fajã Grande recently resulting in something of an over indulgence in OP-teurism, e.g. the street naming, house numbering, new pavements etc. as referred to in posts passim. But as these begin to wind down another one begins: the repainting of José António and Linda's village shop and bar (aka since recently No. 7 Rua Senador André de Freitas):

This is great news since it's one of the nicest buildings in the village (note the architectural details like the lozenges on the frieze above the windows), right at the centre next to church and I don't think JA and Linda would mind me mentioning that it was looking a bit, ahem, "tired" externally. The picture above shows some of the old paint having been taken off on Day 1. A very thorough job is being done here (on a back wall not visible in this pic, the entire plaster is being taken off, never mind just the old paint). It's going to look sensational when it's finished.

It's some days off yet, but I shall have to ensure I've taken my medication in the days leading up to the obrasprazotation which results in the report "The new paint's beginning to go on!"

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Now we are 5

The great "what street number are we going to be" mystery was solved the other day:-

Those who've been paying attention will recall that we were anticipating being in the high twenties Rua da Assomada so what gives with the 5, I hear you ask? Quite simple: they started numbering from the top down - contrary to the "from the centre outwards" numbering convention we're used to in Britain. If it's any consolation (and let me assure you it is to me), RdA ends downtown at No. 27 so, as we're last but one from the top of the road, I was right all along. As I usually am. Most of the time.

In my next post, I'm going to tell you all about how the house directly opposite us at No. 5 came to be numbered No. 28. Pending that, and to keep your attention, could I point out our nice new pavement visible in the photo above. May not look much to you townies but let me tell you that, until about a week ago, that was a sort yawning chasm of a Health & Safety nightmare since they dug up the previous concrete pavement some months ago that would have British council officials running for cover and American lawyers licking their lips. Out here, they say Pode ser no proximo barco - "maybe on the next ship". It's Azorean for manana - I'll explain that in another post as well as I'm on the verge of digressing again ...

Mobile Home

Further to my previous post on the topic of the transportation of one's staff in flat back trucks, I snapped this the other day which seems to take the art form to its peak of perfection. I shouldn't be at all surprised if there weren't a mini-bar and a plasma screen in there. And it's as well there aren't any low bridges on Flores.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

What the Full"k"?

Does anyone remember shortlived British pop band Hear'say?

They were the first ever winners of Pop Idol and one of them was Myleene Klass (someone with too many letters in her name like Jamie Foxx). She's now more famous for something else although I can't remember what it is - she's in Hello! mag a lot, though.

Anyway, I digress because the point is that, with that apostrophe half way through, how did one pronounce Hear'say? Was it "Hear-huh-say" with the "huh" sounding like an intake of breath? Well, if you thought there were pronunciation issues around Hear'say, what about -

- Full"k"ords?

Now maybe it's just me but, if an otiose apostrophe half way through a word should (I think we can all agree) be pronounced like an intake of breath, then I reckon incongruous quotation marks must be pronounced as close as is humanly possible to a tinkle of high notes on a piano keyboard. So Full"k"ords must sound something like "Full-plink-k-tinkle-ords". That's a phonetic transliteration of something that trips easily off the tongue of a Kalahari bushman - those chaps with dinner plates in their lower lips who whistle and click at each other - but when I attempt to pronounce Full"k"ord I have to be very careful about my gag reflex: only try it on an empty stomach.

The picture above is of a poster advertising last Friday's attractions at "Hotel Cafe" in Santa Cruz. This is what passes for the only night club on Flores - it's universally known as "Toste's" after the name of its owner. Before I get too snotty about it, I have to say I've never been in and I can't see me going any time soon either because I gather it doesn't get going much before 2am. Santa Cruz is a 25 minute drive over the other side of the island from us, taxis at that hour are like hen's teeth and my days of sleeping on park benches/strangers' floors are long past.

But Toste is obviously a shrewd kind of guy on account of where he posts his posters - right next to the cash dispensers. I don't know if they do this in Britain or other countries nowadays but Portuguese ATMs always make you aguarde um instante for a word from their sponsors which you can never see anyway due to the angle of the light shining on the screen. So, almost as a reflex, for 20 secs or so you look at anything else at all but that ad on the screen. Toste has cornered that particular span of attention on this island.

Friday, 8 May 2009

History lesson

I'm regularly asked about this, so here goes:-

The country I am a national of and used to live in is called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is quite acceptable to call this for short Britain or the UK.

It is not acceptable to call it England, Great Britain or GB.

England is the name of a historical part of the UK and to confuse the two is a solecism akin to calling the old Soviet Union Russia.

Great Britain is the name of an island - the big one off the coast of France which London is on. It's not the name of a country. Having said that, by quirks of history, "GB" denotes the UK in the following limited circumstances:-

* GBP is the recognised international abbreviation for the British currency, the pound sterling.

* GB are the initials you put on your car to signify it is British.

* GBR is the recognised abbreviation for the UK in international sports competitions.

While we're on the subject of sport, if you've been paying attention so far you will already have spotted that the UK is the only country in the world which gets to enter more than one team in international football competitions: four, in fact, these being England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. (These four separate teams also represent the UK at the Commonwealth Games.)

Historically, there were two separate kingdoms, England and Scotland. In 1603, King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England upon the death without nearer heirs of his cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. He thereby became King James I of England but it must be emphasised that the two kingdoms remained separate and independent of each other (legally, if not always in practice): it was just that the same guy happened to be the king of two different kingdoms.

In 1707, England and Scotland formally merged to become a single United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Wales' warring petty principalities had not quite got their acts together to merge into a single state by the 13th century when they were all conquered by England: in 1301, King Edward I of England conferred the title Prince of Wales on his son and heir. Ever since, the heir to the throne of England/the UK (the "Crown Prince" although that's not a term used in Britain) has been known as the Prince of Wales: the current holder is Prince Charles. Wales was formally incorporated into England in 1536.

Ireland's warring petty kingdoms also hadn't quite got it together when they too were invaded by England in the 13th century. The kings of England styled themselves Lord of Ireland until 1541, thereafter King of Ireland - another case of one king, two kingdoms (three after 1603).

In 1801, Ireland was formally merged with the UK to form The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In 1922, 26 of Ireland's 32 counties seceeded from the UK to form the Irish Free State with its capital at Dublin. This was like Canada and Australia remain to this day: independent of the UK but with the monarch of the UK as its formal head of state. The IFS became the Republic of Ireland 1949.

In 1927, meanwhile, the UK had assumed its present title of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland - the part of Ireland which remains a part of the UK - is often referred to as Ulster but that is a mistake as well because Ulster was an ancient province of Ireland which includes the County of Donegal which was amongst those which seceeded from the UK in 1922 and is now in the Republic of Ireland.

A word or two about the Irish "troubles" as we call them with characteristic British understatement. When "the 32 counties" seceeded from the UK in 1922, this was a partition along ethnic lines exactly the same as India/Pakistan in 1947 and the messy break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The population of the "6 counties" (Northern Ireland) which remained in the UK was majority Protestant in contrast to the Roman Catholic majority in the rest of Ireland. But of course, it's impossible to draw a nice neat line of demarcation and the Catholic minority left in NI began an intifada in the 1970s. This was brought to an end by an agreement in 1998.

Since the 1990s NI, Scotland and Wales have had regional autonomy from the UK - just as the Azores and Madeira have autonomy from Portugal but we call it "devolution" in Britain.

I hope you've been paying attention to all that because I'll be asking questions later ...

PS - another thing which gets on my wick: there's no such thing as "the British Navy" - it's called the Royal Navy. This is a mistake sometimes even the BBC makes. Tsk ...

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Portuguese Man o' War

From a distance - whether floating or washed up like this one - these look like discarded bottled water bottles (it gets me every time) until you get up close and find them to be the beautiful but deadly Portuguese Man o' War jellyfish. The inflated bladder floats above the surface of the sea and they are carried along by the wind, hence the nautical name.

OK, they're not "deadly" but I believe they're pretty blooming stingy. It's never happened to me yet but if it's anything like these big reddish-brown ones you get in Scotland which come up on anchor chains (esp nasty if a gobbet of it pings you in the face) - same with pulling up creels I expect - then I'm going to be giving POMW's a wide berth.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


The flatback truck is the vehicle of choice for many on this island. These range from that ubiquitous workhouse, the Toyota Hilux to ... err ... ones bigger than Hiluxes but I'm afraid I don't know the names of any other FBTs. "Canter" is one. It may be a Mitsubishi - or is that the "Fuso"? I don't know...

But I digress because the point of this post is to draw attention to how the FBT can be adapted to the carriage of one's staff as well as one's stuff. Thus, the following example which I dubbed the Toyota Hilux Cabriolet:-

Note the exquiste coach work hand crafted from pallets and plastic sheeting.

Now in case anyone thinks I'm taking the mick (moi?), absolutely not because this Toyota belongs to my neighbour Vitor who's a very handy guy and who, if he's got a job on in a neighbouring village and it's been a bit rainy of late, would think nothing of knocking this up to keep the chaps dry en route. (More to the point, he probably got one of the chaps to knock it up for him - and if that's not good management, I don't know what is).

The reason I'm so impressed is that I'm a soft handed townie who can barely change a lightbulb so converting a Hilux to a cabriolet looks to me like one of these TV show challenges or executive weekends where you get a couple of pallets, a roll of plastic sheeting and off you go. I'm sure my attempt would wobble ignominiously to a collapse as the Hilux took it's first corner. So if I ever achieved a Hilux cabriolet of such sturdyness (is that a word?), I would want to preserve it for ever but what does Vitor do? He calmly dismantles it when the rainy spell finishes ... I was like that!

Abel Tasman

There are certain events which are milestones each year, for example, the first cagarro of the year (February) and the first tourist (early April). Well yesterday was the first yacht of 2009

A big Dutch schooner (due to foremast being shorter than aft mast - other way round and it would be a ketch or a yawl depending on the relative position of the rudder post) of about 55-60 feet (17-18m) called Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer of the South Seas after whom Tasmania is named. And, indeed, the Tasman Sea although I'd need to get an atlas out to remind myself exactly where that is - is it the bit between New Zealand and Australia? Might want to go 50/50 on that and if the computer didn't take away the bit between Oz and whatever it is that's north of Oz - New Guinea? - I'd be phoning a friend (you know who you are). But I digress because having a Dutch yacht called Abel Tasman is a bit like having a British yacht called the Captain Cook. And that in turn is bit like having a car registered your initials 1.

Being a something of a nautical cove myself, I can tell you Fajã Grande is not a safe anchorage and only ever tenable in the calmest of weather as we've been having for the last few days. The slighest hint of a blow and you have to clear well out to sea. After all, these jaggy rocks in the foreground could make a right mess of your topsides ...

Saturday, 2 May 2009

House Numbers

I'd promised a couple of posts back to tell you all about how they're putting house numbers up in Fajã Grande so here goes:-

They're putting up house numbers in Fajã Grande ...

... and in case you're thinking this is like the moment in Blackadder where Sir Walter Raleigh says to the Queen "Perhaps, Ma'am, I could entertain you with the tale of the time I fell into the water and was almost eaten by a hammerhead shark?" and with Her Majesty's assent proceeds "Well, ma'am, I fell into the water and was almost eaten by a hammerhead shark", there is actually more - but not a lot - to be said on the house numbering saga.

I'm not sure who is carrying out the house numbering initiative but, whoever "they" are, they've chosen discreetly classy uniform brass numbers which are being applied to all houses. Here is Number 7, Rua Senador André de Freitas (you've got to look closely, it's to the right of the door but a bit squint I think):-

Now I can tell you for a fact that José António Ramos Teodósio has been successfully receiving parcels addressed simply to "JART Flores" for as long as - well - as long as he's been old enough to receive parcels. Indeed I myself have received a letter (from the Inland Revenue, inevitably) addressed simply to "Mr N King, Main Street, Flores". That's the sort of place this island is. Someone told me that the usual postie knows where everyone lives but, when he's on holiday, the relief postie struggles a bit and will appreciate the house numbers - but I'm reasonably certain that person was pulling my plonker.

Anyway, the main street, Rua Senador André de Freitas, has been all "numbered up" as has Rua da Tronqueira - which until the recent orgy of putting up the street names (see posts passim) we just called "the street where José Grande lives" and the house at the end of which bears the highest number yet seen, 43 - but there the numbers run out. In particular, they haven't yet started on our street:-

We've counted up the road and reckon we're going to be in the high twenties RdA - the uncertainty is whether some houses down little side caminhos (lanes) will count as being on RdA itself. I'm also slightly gutted to find that it's spelt AssOmada as I had always believed it was AssUmada - although you do see it spelt with a "U" as well. So I'm not sending out any change of address cards yet.

Actually, I think it's great the way they just get on and do things round here. If Fajã Grande was in Scotland where I come from, it would undoubtedly be a conservation village which would mean not a single house number could be put up until the Planning Commitee had received reports from Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (who of course would need to consult with their statutory consultees) and a risk assessment had been commissioned from the Health & Safety Exectuve and ... ... ... (yawn, snore) Here, they just send a couple of geezers with a wheel barrow to get on with it.

Friday, 1 May 2009

World Tour

A batch of printer ink which has seen the sights of Puerto Rico and Brazil on its 6 week odyssey to the Azores from Manchester.

This is not the first time this has happened. Because I initially believed the name of the street we were going to be living on was Canada Assomada (as opposed to its actual name Rua da Assomada), that was the forwarding address I gave my pension company. Do to the fact that AXA's computer slightly cocked up that already cocked up address, and compounded by the precise size of windows in the envelopes employed by AXA, what the postie sees is "Neil King, Canada Assomada, Faja Grande, Ilha das Flores, Canada". So my annual pension statements do the rounds of a country located to the north of the USA before someone (probably in Thunder Bay, Yukon Territory or similar) tears a nick in the envelope below the window to reveal the magic word "Portugal".

Incidentally, I don't know why AXA bother sending me these reams of paper round the world when they could equally well send me a text saying "You're going to get stuff all."

Useful links

I gather it's good manners in blog-land to add a link to one's favourite blogs so these are mine:-

Life at the end of the Road - crofting and car ferry maintenance on a Scottish island

Le Moulin - watermill restoration in France with a culinary twist.