Friday, 31 July 2009

Bogging Juice

Although keenly priced in the conselho (local authority area) of Lajes das Flores at €4.25 a year for an unlimited supply, I don't like drinking tap water. Not because I think it's going to poison me or anything (Carol drinks the stuff by the bath-full with no ill effects), it's just I prefer to drink something else. In this very hot weather, it's important to have something cold in the fridge. I do like sparkling mineral water as long as it's not too - well, "minerally" - and Agua Castello fits this bill admirably:-

(Looking at that picture, I've just noticed it has a gratuitous apostrophe before the A of Agua so presumably it must be pronounced "Huh!-Ag-wa Ca-stello".)

Anyway, the problem with 'Agua Castello is price: even in the cheapest shop in Santa Cruz, each of these wee 25cl bottles is €0.35 bringing it in at a corking €1.40 per litre (considerably more expensive than petrol or even our dry white wine of choice I can tell you) so 'Agua Castello is a luxury and not for common or garden thirst-slaking.

As 'AC is the cheapest mineral water on the market, what was required was some plain ordinary juice - ginger, as it's called in the west of Scotland. So, we were down in the village shop yesterday afternoon perusing the juice shelf and I was just about to pick up a bottle of passionfruit flavoured Sumol (product placed to death in our fave Portuguese soap opera, Morangos com Açucar) at €1.75 for 2 litres when my eye alighted on a bottle of Unipreço (the Portuguese equivalent of Aldi or Lidl) pêssego (peach) flavoured Iced Tea more competitively priced at €0.95 for 2 litres: sold.

At this point, allow me a digression acerca de that peculiarly American drink, iced tea, which we Brits are not really familiar with at all. It reminds me of the funniest query I ever read on a Tripadvisor forum: "My husband and I will be touring Scotland, England for a day this fall and what we want to know is, if you go into a diner in Edinburgh [you can just hear her pronouncing it "Edin-boe-roe"] or Glasgow [rhyming with cow] and the waiter puts a pitcher of iced tea on the table, is it free or are you expected to pay for it and, if so, is it acceptable to say you don't want it?" I kid you not. I don't know what I found more hilarious: the notion of pitchers of iced tea in a "diner" in Edin-boe-roe or that anything might be free in Scotland!

Anyway, back in Fajã Grande, at the counter Linda the padroa says "Yeugh! You're not buying that are you? It's just coloured water and a load of E-numbers, you know!" Undeterred, the purchase is made but right there on the spot Carol immediately christens Unipreço pêssego flavoured Iced Tea "bogging juice" - talk about not giving something a chance! Anyway, we got it home and checked the ingredients on the back:-

Now you don't have to be an emeritus professor of Luso-Iberian Linguistics to tell that the only natural ingredient there is the Água. The last line translates as "Contains a source of fenilalanina". When I googled that, all I got was a Wikipedia page in Spanish which contained such unreassuring sounding words as neurotóxico and hormona adrenocorticotrópica - is drinking bogging juice going to make me grow breasts? And it doesn't exactly look very wholesome either: as you can see from the picture below, it's the colour of dark ...

... whisky (what did you think I meant?) But in actual fact, when it's cold enough it tastes just fine: more apple than peach, I would say, but not a problem. So, with the cold beverages having been taken care of, it was time for another of our classic lunches: tinned frankfurters (Nobre is the brand of choice) on a bun with Dijon mustard:-

All, of course, washed down with lashings of bogging juice.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Moscas de Verão

It means "summer flies" and is the expression on this island (and other Azorean islands I expect) for North Americans, mostly retired, of Florentine birth or ancestry who come "home" for a month or two in the summer.

It's another of these signs of the progress of the seasons, like the first cagarro of spring, when we're walking up from the shop and pass an old gent on the street - or gathered with the local old gents in the bus shelter on the village square or an additional member of the domino school in the garage - and Carol says sotto voce "I don't recognise him". To which I answer, equally sotto voce, "Must be a mosca" or "Don't you remember? That's the mosca who's so and so's uncle who stayed in such and such a house last year". In fact it would be good if we could carry on the whole conversation in Italian because moscas de verão all, of course, speak English, often with the broadest Tony Soprano "Noo Joysey" accents. They are immediately recognisable by the mandatory baseball cap.

One amusing aspect of the summer influx of North Americans is the sveltely gorgeous tanned blonde teenage grand-daughters who come as part of the extended family group. You see them in the bar in the evening pointedly sitting at a different table from their parents and grandparents, the girls speaking in English while the older generations speak Portuguese. As they swirl their great manes of hair around Miss Piggy-style, you can tell they're not wowed by the court being paid to them by their local male second cousins (another fly analogy springs to mind) and that Flores was not their first choice of holiday destination. I don't know about Californians but, in a British context, it's the equivalent of a 17 year old being told she's going to Iona with her grandparents rather than Ibiza with her mates.

There are many houses in Faja Grande which are second homes belonging to emigrés only ever occupied for a few weeks in summer. Where I come from, this sort of second home ownership in rural areas is becoming about as socially acceptable as drinking and driving because it prices locals out of the housing market. But not on Flores where the second/holiday home market barely exists. There are many more empty houses, abandoned by emigration: there's no other market for the houses in a shrinking population so they just chucked the keys in a ditch.

Hence why I say Flores is like one of the islands off the west coast of Scotland about 40-50 years ago. Back then, people were emigrating from, say, the Isle of Skye in droves leaving their houses empty with no other market for them. But nowadays even the most basic cottage on Skye commands a six figure sum due to the second home market: that syndrome doesn't exist on Flores due to its isolation (whereas there's a bridge to Skye now). Hence on Flores (c.f. Skye) there's absolutely no animosity at all towards moscas de verão or other "white settlers" like us: quite the contrary as they keep a house wind and watertight and give the local builders a bit of work as most of the summer visitors get something done to the house each year to improve next year's visit.

I'm asked why people emigrated from Flores. Same reason as anywhere - poverty, lack of resources, better opportunities overseas. Faja Grande looks beautiful but there was no road here until the 1960s: the first car came to Flores in 1949 but there were only a few hundred metres of road in Santa Cruz it could drive on. There was a famine on this island in the late 1930s: American emigrés bought food and sent it on chartered ships to prevent the islanders from starving. There was no airport till the 1960s and no pier a ship delivering heavy supplies could get alongside until the 1990s. No surprise so many young people emigrated to North America in the 50s and 60s: you can't live on beautiful scenery. These people are now, of course, retired and, with the infrastructural improvements of the last couple of decades, Flores has become an easier (slightly!) and more desirable place to visit: they - with their children and grandchildren - are the moscas de verão.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

History of Scotland Part VIII - Christianity

I left you last time in 685AD and, as nothing much happens in the history of Scotland until 795AD (he says casually dismissing 110 years), I thought I'd take a quick digression into Christianity - not the mysteries of the Holy Trinity or anything but rather how, when and by whom Christianity was introduced to Scotland.

The short answer is nobody knows.

Christianity was introduced to Britain under the aegis of the Roman Empire some time during the first four centuries AD: it became the "official" religion of the Empire in 392AD but had been prevalent for a bit before then (give or take the odd throwing of a martyr to lions).

One candidate is Saint Ninian. The Venerable Bede - who sounds like a DJ but was actually history's first recorded Geordie and, pictured below, a monk at a monastery at Jarrow on Tyneside - wrote a book called "A History of the English Church and People" in the early 8th century which reported that Ninian had a church called Candida Casa (Latin for "white house" for reasons I forget now) which translated into Anglo Saxon (i.e. English) as Withern (sp?), the place we now know in Galloway in south west Scotland as Whithorn. As I recall, Bede claimed Ninian "converted the southern Picts" or some such extravagant statement. It's unlikely but who knows. When? Late 400s AD, I think

At which point we might as well fast forward another 150+ years to 563AD when Saint Columba arrived in Scotland. He was an Irish nobleman who had fallen out with someone over borrowing a psalter and as a result was banished to Scotland. I don't know what a psalter is but it must have something pretty special to warrant banishment to Scotland (although could have been worse - could have been Wales). Anyway, apparently Columba set sail and resolved not to stop until he reached somewhere from where he could no longer see Ireland. So he stopped on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland.

Did anyone notice, incidentally, how we've taken it for granted that Ireland was already Christian at this point (mid 6th cent. AD) when Scotland wasn't? That's got something to do with Saint Patrick - 5th cent., I think, but I'm not going to dwell because a) this is the history of Scotland without looking it up; and b) I don't know. What I do know is the Irish were Gaels and that a tribe of Gaels from Ireland called Scots had been settled in a part of south west Scotland called Argyll - which includes Iona - for a good few centuries prior to 563AD and had established a kingdom called Dalriada. So when Columba arrived on Iona, he was not really "abroad" - he would have been able to understand the locals. So it's a bit like being banished to Canada (Ugh! - I think I'd prefer Wales.)

Anyway, Columba founded a monastery on Iona and died there in 597AD. (Important thing to note about Iona is that all the numerous ecclesiastical buildings and ruins you can see there today which make it such a tourist draw are much later than Columba's time: his monastery would have consisted of wooden buildings of which no trace now remains.) Anyway, everything we know about Columba comes from a biography of him written by a later abbot of Iona, Saint Adomnan, who lived in the mid 7th century, about 50 years after Columba died.

Now, Adomnan made a lot of extravagant claims about Columba, about how many miracles he performed and all that guff, but nowhere does he claim that Columba actually converted anyone to Christianity. So are we to infer from that that Argyll and big lumps of neighbouring Scotland were maybe already Christian around the 550AD mark? It's entirely plausible.

This is the problem with the Dark Ages - nobody knows. Brilliant as the Celts and Anglo Saxons were at carving enigmatic symbols on standing stones and crosses, they were rubbish at writing down hard facts. Those who did write were usually clergymen more concerned to record miracles than useful facts. There were also the Annals of Gaelic (Irish and Scottish) culture which as I understand it was writing down dates of significant events to assist calculating the date of Easter each year. Don't ask me how that worked in practice but, as historical records go, Annals are incredibly frustrating and tend to include such delphic statements as "In this year, Brian O' Flaherty was killed in battle." But without telling us who Brian was or who killed him in battle or why.

So the thing about the Dark Ages is you have to try to piece the story together from clues in the written records of the time. So if Adomnan tells us that Columba performed a miracle at the court of King Bridei of the Picts, the only thing worth taking from that is that there was a King Bridei of the Picts sometime between 563 and 597AD. It's a start when there's nothing else to go on. And if Adomnan doesn't mention Columba converting anyone (which he surely would have done if he had) then what we are we to infer - Columba a rubbish saint or maybe he was too late and everyone was already a Christian?

Sunday, 19 July 2009


Doesn't the Open just make your heart swell with pride to be British?

Is it possible to have a sporting competition more woody than one in which the trophy is a silver claret jug hosted by an organisation called the Royal and Ancient Golf Club? ("Yes" - I hear someone say - "one hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club" and I take your point, sir, as Peter Alliss would say)

I've touched on this before but there's just something about a brisk Sunday afternoon in July on a Scottish links course - the leaders walking up to the 18th green to a ripple of applause as the shadows lengthen. And after the play-off, that wooden table with the trophy like an English public school's prizegiving. The president of the R&A's speech (in his rich Scottish accent) before he hands over to the Captain of Turnberry - in his navy jacket and crisp white shirt, hair blowing in the breeze - to make the presentations. The medal for the best amateur presented first - a 16 year old Italian boy. How quintessentially British spirit of fair play: remember that the next time you want us to invade somewhere for you.

And the BBC's cinematography (one can almost call it) is simply awesome: I'm always amazed at how they get camera angles which are visually stunning but without forsaking the aim of showing you where the ball is at any moment.

Someone sent me an e-mail alluding to the "so-called British (sorry!) Open" being held in Scotland. But there's nothing to be worried about - there is no impropriety in the British Open being held at Turnberry as Scotland is as much a part of the United Kingdom as Middlesex or Yorkshire is. Indeed, as Scotland is the home of golf, it would be surprising if the British Open were not held in Scotland from time to time. If anything, as a loyal citizen of the UK, I regret that it's not held in Northern Ireland more often (or indeed at all).

Anyway, we watched it on Portuguese Sport TV which is the BBC with a Portuguese voice over. We were amused when the Beeb cut in quiet moments to shots of the Ailsa Craig (which for non-British readers is an island off the coast of Turnberry). Peter Alliss would have waxed lyrical for ages about how the island is nicknamed "Paddy's Milestone" as it's equidistant by sea between Belfast and Glasgow recalling the days before aeroplanes when many Irish people used to migrate by ship to Scotland for work. Peter could also have chatted away for another ten minutes about how Ailsa Craig was the source of the world's finest curling stones. But the Portuguese commentator didn't know any of that and couldn't think of anything to say but "Aah - um ilhéu" - an islet.

We would have preferred a Brit to have won - and how close did we come with Wood and Westwood coming in at 1 under - but falta that (as we Portuguese speakers say: French speakers say faut de mieux), we would have preferred a European (Irish is good but Spanish works as well) failing which an old boy like Greg Norman (last year) or Tom Watson (this year). So Cink sneaking out of nowhere to win was not our first choice and I must say I would have felt better about it if there hadn't been that oafish chanting of "USA, USA, USA!" in the audience at the end. I'm surprised the stewards didn't move them on - indeed how did they get in at all: that sort of thing might be all very well at Augusta but it's NOT on at the British Open.

Anyway, that's all by way of a very long digression to the point of this post which was to provide you with a handy translation of golfing terms into Portuguese in case you find yourself here (or in Brazil) next year when the Open will be at St Andrews:-

hole - buraco
pin - bandeira (literally "flag")
shot - bancada (or shot)
bunker - bunker
birdie - birdie
bogey - bogey
eagle - eagle
putt - putt
par - par

You get the picture - the Portuguese commentary is not too hard to follow. The same goes for tennis, incidentally, and all you need to know is that set is partida. And point is ponto as in "ponto de break". Passing shot is passing shot. Etc. You'll be fine with Wimbledon in Estoril. I leave you with a picture of Peter ("tickle it up to the hole - I say, sir!") Alliss. Comforting:-

Friday, 17 July 2009

Bogging Soup Update

Successfully "de-bogged", you'll be relieved to hear. One teaspoonful of that Swiss bouillon stuff and it's now actually very nice. Sorted.

However, as I forgot to take a picture of the no-longer bogging spinach soup at lunch time, you'll have to make do with a picture of the peixe porco (literally "pig fish") we barbied for tea.

The good thing about peixes porcos is you don't have to de-scale them. You just chuck them on to the barbie and they cook in their skin. You can tell when they're ready when the water stops dripping out and the skin is cracking off to reveal flesh the texture of chicken. And the really good thing about peixes porcos is no bones! Serve with a swirl of potato salad and a drizzle of home-made tartare sauce.

I have to say, I have an ambivalent relationship with barbies. They sound great in theory on a hot summer evening but in practice can be a royal pain in the sphincter. For years I forbade them but a friend offered to build us the one pictured above and it would have been churlish to refuse. Tonight's was the first of 2009 and all the downsides of dining al fresco came flooding back to me.

For a start, it's a right pain in the neck to get the fire going no matter what accelerants are used (a tractor tyre and a gallon of unleaded is my preference but not always practical in a small garden). I always end up swooning with hyper-ventilation blowing on the thing to coax it into flame. A hairdryer's good but that ends up with burning embers flying everywhere and I'm lucky to escape with my eyebrows intact.

Then there's the dreaded timing issue. "When do you think it will be ready - about 30 minutes?". Erring on the side of caution I always reply "Better make that 45 mins-1 hour". And around three hours later (once the sun's gone down and the biting insects are out) the fish might be finally ready.

And then there's the carting everything out to the garden syndrome. You think you've thought of everything but just as you're finally sitting down to eat, something's been forgotten (in our case tonight an extra plate to put the lixo as we call it in Portuguese on - the bits of the fish like the skin etc. you can't eat). How much easier would it have been to have done the fish in the oven and then eaten it in the dining room where everything is within reach? And there are no biting insects. Or bluebottles alighting on your supper. But for some reason the allure of the barbie is irresistable (as I type this, my clothes are smelling pleasantly of wood smoke) ...

But before I go, I have to call your attention to the plight of my favourite blogista, my friend Baby Chou over at Le Moulin who has a situation with napkin holders which I feel would benefit from the sort of insights my readers (you know who you are) delivered in re (as we Latin speakers are fond of saying) our cruet set. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Bogging Soup

Who remembers - I think I'm only speaking to my Scottish readers here (both of them) - the anti-smoking campaign 10-15 years ago of cartoon characters on another planet addicted to sucking blue sticks? They went about their daily lives sucking the sticks with blue smudges around their mouths with a voice over describing their addiction to blue stick sucking until it got to a scene of cartoon alien girls in a bar all sucking away until the voice over falls silent and one of the girls says in a broad west of Scotland accent "Wait a minute - THIS IS BOGGING!"

(I should explain for the benefit of my non-Scottish readers that "bogging" is a Scottish word meaning unpleasant or distasteful.)

Anyway, one thing Carol's been having a lot of success with in the garden this year is spinach:-

This particular type of spinach is called "perpetual spinach" meaning no matter how many leaves you rip off the plant, it keeps regenerating and grows new leaves: it must be genetically modified or something.

Anyway, it's got to the point where Carol's having to think up new spinach recipes just to use the stuff up. This despite the syndrome that, if you bring a cubic metre of spinach into the same room as a pan of boiling water, it's reduced to a teaspoonful of green gunk 10 seconds later. It's rather as I imagine a galaxy that gets too close to a black hole and gets sucked in and reduced to something the size of a Big Mac (which I always find a convenient simile for something that's really small). If there are any quantum physicists out there who doubt the ability of a black hole to swallow a medium sized universe, they should try the armful of spinach and pan of boiling water trick.

It was the same with tomatoes last year and when Carol asked what we should do with all this spinach, I replied the same as last year in the face of the tomato glut - make soup. (I gather there's no such thing as sun-dried spinach.) So soup it was: it's basically a potato and leek recipe but with the addition of spinach. And despite spinach's magical vanishing properties, a good few hectolitres of the stuff was produced - most of it being consigned to the freezer in bags:-

Oh now, just seeing that picture, do I NOT like things like "soup 'n' sauce" - it's a bit too close to 70s hairdressing salons called "Kutz 'n' Kurlz" for my taste. It sets my teeth on edge.

But I digress because today we sat down to spinach soup for lunch. A couple of mouthfuls were sampled - mmmhh, maybe a bit more salt - yes - some pepper perhaps? uh-huh - until we eventually looked at each other and said with one voice:-


Now Carol does not normally mess up soup so I think the recipes editor of Hello! mag must have been rushing off early on a Friday afternoon or something. Either that or it is just not possible to make a nice spinach soup (as it is to make a nice spinach and ham lasagne, for e.g.). But the fact is we've got about a cubic metre of "bogging spinach soup" (as it's now been christened) in the freezer downstairs and in these recessionary times there's no question of just chucking it out. C's plan is to lace future portions with that very salty Swiss bouillon stuff in an attempt to get rid of that sickly sweet spinach taste. That sounds like a plan to me.

History of Scotland Part VII - Nechtansmere

I left you last time in 410AD when the Romans had sloped off leaving the Celtic Romano-Britons to fend for themselves in the face of attacks from Teutonic Angles and Saxons from north east Europe.

Starting in south east England, the Anglo-Saxons pushed their conquests slowly north and west for the next 250 years until the Celts had been pushed back to the fringes - Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

If King Arthur (of Round Table fame) existed at all, then it was at this point in British history - the 5th or 6th century AD: he would have been a native Celtic Briton fighting Anglo-Saxon invaders. He's most commonly associated with south west England and Cornwall but Scotland stakes a claim to Arthur due to a prominent hill in the middle of Edinburgh called Arthur's Seat (pictured below) - I don't believe it myself.

What is certain is that the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria - the land to the north of the Humber estuary half way up the east coast of England - with its capital at Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed extended its territory north of the Tweed to occupy the eastern half of what is now Scotland south of the Forth-Clyde line.

This Anglo-Saxon settlement of a big chunk of what is now Scotland is interesting for a number of reasons. It explains the existence in this part of the country of lots of English sounding placenames like Coldingham, Haddington, Swinton etc. Indeed what about Edinburgh - it's the capital of Scotland but it's not a quintessentially Celtic Scottish name like Inverness or Aberdeen is it?

It's commonly believed that Edinburgh derives from "Edwin's Burg" - Edwin being a quintessentially Anglo-Saxon name and burg being the teutonic word for a fortified town as in all the places in Germany which end in -burg (although I'm struggling to think of one now - Strasbourg is in France, inconveniently. Magdeburg. Hamburg.) But it's not. Edinburgh is an English translation of the previous Celtic name Dyneidin (I think that's how it was spelt) meaning the fort (dyn) of eidin - can't remember what that means now, it might be a personal name. Below is Edinburgh Castle - the original Dyneidin - on its volcanic crag although there's nothing in this picture that's older than the late 18th century:-

Anyway, all these names are English sounding not just because they're places quite close to England but because, for the thick end of 500 years (c. 500AD to c. 1000AD), they were actually IN England! Or, it would be truer to say, in one of the polities (Northumbria) which eventually merged to form England.

As a native of Edinburgh, I get majorly hacked off by modern political correctness which purports that Gaelic is somehow the lost "true" language of all Scotland banished to the outer fringes by some sort of cultural genocide of recent centuries by the English. This results in official signs in Gaelic being plastered all over the place. The truth of the matter is Gaelic has NEVER been the language of huge areas that are now Scotland including, no less, it's capital city! English has been our language for 1,500 years and Edinburgh arguably has more cultural affinity with London than with Inverness! As a matter of fact, there are more people who speak Urdu and Punjabi in Scotland than Gaelic. But try and explain that to a Scottish Nationalist politician grandstanding about Gordon Brown (the prime minister of the UK, a Scotsman) supporting England in a football competition Scotland hasn't qualified for ... Gah! it makes me cross.

Anyway, back in the Dark Ages (=approx. 400AD to 1000AD), the high water mark of Anglo-Saxon expansionism in the north came in 685AD when the Northumbrians crossed the Firth of Forth and took on the Picts. But the Picts won when the Northumbrians were beaten at a battle called Nechtansmere: it is reckoned to have been fought at a place called Dunnichen in Angus just north of the Firth of Tay. I wish I could tell you who the rival kings were but I can't remember: this is history without looking it up. I'm thinking Oswiu of Northumberland and Bridei of the Picts but I could be wrong. Which is inexcusable because Nechtansmere is arguably a more fundamental battle in the history of Scotland than Bannockburn. Below is a picture of a contemporary carved stone at a place called Aberlemno near Dunnichen believed to depict the Battle of Nechtansmere:

Net result, the Anglo-Saxon Northumbrians retreated south of the Forth and their northwestern frontier was fixed at the Pentland Hills which run south west from Edinburgh: it's said "Pentland" is a corruption of "Pict Land" in the sense that this was where the vengeful Picts stopped chasing the vanquished Northumbrians south and east. But I don't believe that either.

Just time to mention another polity of Dark Ages Scotland - Strathclyde. This was the remaining P-Celtic (Briton) kingdom south of the Forth-Clyde line which was not conquered by the Anglo-Saxons. It's capital was at Dumbarton - Dun = fort, barton = breatann = Britons. Pausing to recall that, minding their own business during all this Anglo-Celtic angst, a tribe of Irish Gaels called Scots were camping out in Argyll in a kingdom called Dalriada, let's summarise the polities of Scotland in 685AD:-

Picts - P-Celts - north east
Dalriada (Scots) - Q-Celts (Gaels) - north west
Northumbria - Anglo-saxons - south east
Strathclyde - P-Celts (Britons) south west

And finally, if anyone's not interested in the History of Scotland posts, could you leave a comment (or even if you are). Ta.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cruet Update

Thanks to all of you who commented on the Pop-up nozzle post with your ideas how to retrieve the scratched cruet bottle disappointment.

It reminded me of that 1970s BBC programme in which teams were each given a box of old toot - like a clothes peg, a toilet roll tube, a biro pen lid and an egg box - and given ambitious challenges like build a cantilever bridge. Then a team of "distinguished scientists" (one was a comedy German called Heinz with hair like Professor Patent Pending in Whacky Races) would give them marks out of 10 with a mark or two being available for how much "fun" (I use the expression in its loosest possible sense) their efforts were: it was all a bit like Masterchef with jubilee clips. So in that vein:-

Suze - the judges loved your first instinct to pay the fellow and damn his impudence and buy another cruet set. On your second attempt, we liked how you had applied yourself to the problem of improving the existing design of the cruet set so the oil and vinegar could be distinguished and we were impressed by the attention to detail exhibited by the nail varnish and masking tape suggestions.

Mary - redeploying the pop-up nozzle is something that has already been in the judges' mind lest there be a problem with oil/vinegar delivery once the cruet set is actually rolled out after paint issues have been resolved (and a morning's cruet induction training has been completed). Highly commended.

Kathie - coating the rings with a silicone application is a flash of genius although the judges felt it lacked practicality in terms of availability on the island of Flores. But the engineers at the Boeing Corporation - where issues with wing box attachments are delaying the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner - urgently need to hear from you!

Bob - the judges came close to awarding you the prize for the engineering simplicity of snipping the rings and extending them a bit (if you'll pardon the expression). Although we had slight reservations over the possibility of the silvery paint cracking off and the risk of the rings snapping off at the other end.

But in the end, the judges have decided ....

... you're ALL going home tonight because it's NONE of the above and we decided the best solution was to scrape all the paint off: half an hour's work with a Stanley Knife (craft knife, boxcutter) supplemented by a thumbnail.

Note how this expedient obviates the "which bottle is which" issue, it doesn't matter about residual chafing on the rings (Ooh!) and the whole ensemble remains functional and stylish. And - let me remind you - a snip at €3.30! In fact I was so pleased with the result, I took another picture as well:-

How "Year in Provence" does THAT look?!

Sunday, 12 July 2009


Has anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between Eastenders' Ronnie Mitchell (so brilliantly portrayed by actress Samantha Janus) and the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson?

I hadn't realised Michael had taken to wearing blue contact lenses latterly and I must say I've always preferred Sam when she's a blonde.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Pop-up nozzle

For the purposes of this post you have to imagine a Good Day/Bad Day graph in which the horizontal axis is time as the day progressess while the vertical axis is the goodness (+ value) or badness (- value) quotient of any given moment of the day.

So, we set off for the shops today with - for the first time in my 46 years on this planet - "cruet set" on the shopping list. You know what I mean - one of these little sets with a bottle of oil and vinegar (really posh ones have salt and pepper pots as well) you see on every table of every restaurant in Continental Europe. We had finally decided that just having the bottle of olive oil and bottle (plastic) of vinegar on the table was not quite comme il faut (he says falling back on that small stock of bons mots with which it's so de rigueur to be au fait). Although I have to say that decision had been postponed for some months by the advent of the "pop-up nozzle" on bottles of Oliveira da Serra olive oil:-

The pop-up nozzle was a marketing coup. Saw it on an advert on the tellybox when we were down in the bar one afternoon. Overnight we were delivered from the bondage of our previous brand of olive oil with its conventional oil delivery mechanism which regularly involved skittering more oil around the place than the situation called for. Actually, things being what they are out on this island, bottles of OdS oil with pop-up nozzles (you can tell I just like saying that, can't you - "pop-up nozzle" - it's as satisfactory as saying "flash grill" or "Zinedine Zidane") took a few weeks to appear on the shelves from the appearance of the TV ads but that's the way it goes out here.

Anyway the novelty of the pop-up nozzle (there I go again!) had worn off so a cruet set it had to be. So, we're in the dimmer reaches of a shop in town. I must say I had something pretty plasticky looking around the 5-6 Euro mark in mind. Scanning the shelves (heaving with eveything from fish de-scalers to cooking pots the size of small gasometers) the eye eventually alights on a cruet set with one of its two bottles missing. And also bearing the alarmingly high price of €1,620! A moment's thought led to the conclusion that this was actually its price in the Portuguese pre-Euro currency, the escudo, showing that the thing had been languishing on the shelves for the thick end of eight years! The eye moves on to another cruet set - this one is plasticky in the extreme (the kitchen department of John Lewis this is NOT) and includes unwanted salt and pepper pots but is at least priced in Euros - 12 to be exact. Ouch! About to give up, when there appears, hiding at the back, a cruet set consisting merely of oil and vinegar bottles and also even manages not to look too tacky.

And the really good news is the price - €3.30! Remember the Good Day/Bad Day graph? Well, the discovery of something which is (a) better than I expected; and (b) cheaper than I expected, and the good day quotient surges skyward.

So we get home with our treasure and a general feeling of well-being and, on the way into the house, Carol checks the post box as she always does - a letter from the Portuguese tax authorities, the infamous DGCI which makes the UK's HMRC look positively benign by comparison. Do I not like getting letters from the DGCI - the graph dips a tad.

Anyway, up in the kitchen, the cruet set box is ripped open enthusiastically. Even that letter from the DGCI cannot dent the triumph of the functional yet tasteful cruet set for €3.30. But disappointment sets in when it becomes clear that the metal holder is actually too small for the bottles to be removed easily and doing so scratches a lot of the white paint off the bottles. Hmmmhh.

Good Day graph now flatlining - if this were Holby City or E.R., alarms would be going off and Art Malik/George Clooney would be calling for 20 mils of adrenaline and brandishing the mini travel irons and going "Clear!" (What is that all about by the way, because have you noticed they never are "Clear!", everyone's crowding around? And if it's so dangerous, why are they doing it to a patient? I digress.)

So this is as good a moment as any to open the letter from the DGCI. It's only got a cheque in it for a tax rebate in a four figure sum I hadn't been expecting! You can imagine that sent the graph soaring to stratospheric levels!

And as if all that wasn't good enough, one of our neighbours gave us a dozen fresh laid eggs. Friday 10th July 2009 will be a hard act to follow in the Good Day stakes. (I'll be able to repaint the cruet bottles if anyone's still wondering about that.)

PS - in the course of taking these cruet pics, I hadn't realised that Carol had, in the interim, actually filled them with oil and vinegar! So I inadvertantly created a salad dressing down the front of my trousers in the course of positioning them too photograph. (She also had the bad grace to remind me of the occasion when we were visiting a relative in hospital and I picked up a bed pan ... ) Still, such was the cruet/tax rebate bonhomie, nothing could spoil my day!

Great Summer of Sport

It was Nick Hornby in "Fever Pitch" (although it might have been Ian Rankin in "Set in Darkness" - I forget now) who memorably observed how sterile and dull "odd summers" are.

By odd summers are meant the summers of years which are odd numbers. The problem with them is there is no international football competition. In the 2006, 2010 et seq. cycle it's the World Cup and in 2008, 2012 et seq. it's the European Championships.

Of the two, I must say I prefer the Euro Champs because you know you're going to get straight into decent stuff like Croatia v Belgium in the first round. But with the World Cup there are such unedifying spectacles as USA v South Korea to be endured before the wheat is separated from the chaff and you get into the Latin America - Europe head to head of the second and subsequent stages.

One of the good things about being British is that - uniquely in the whole world - we get four shots at qualifying for these football competitions due being able to submit four teams - England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and ... what's the other one ? I forget. England usually qualifies, the other ones usually don't. But no matter, I'm just proud to be from a country with such an inbuilt advantage!

Anyway, in the odd summer of 2009 there is, of course, still tennis to be enjoyed. Bit of a disappointment about little Murray at Wimbles. Looks like he's heading down that great corridor of fame of "plucky British loser" lining up to be awarded the Eddy the Eagle medal (with oak leaves and bar) to be personally presented by Tim Henman and the ski-ing chap (he was in the year above me at school - still can't remember his name - Graham somebody, although that might have been his brother).

But seriously, I didn't care for the cut of little Roddick's jib at all - eyes too close together. I was mightily relieved when the doughty Roger finally prevailed. And I like the RF cardigan - it's in the same mould as Basil Fawlty's jacket in the Irish Builders episode:-

And the Duke of Kent must have been even more relieved that horrid Nadal wasn't there this year climbing up the woodwork and waving flags - that sort of thing might be all very well in the United States of America but you do NOT get up to that sort of stunt at Wimbledon in the presence of the British royal family. (You could tell that Crown Prince Felipe was embarrassed on the Duke's behalf.)

Anyway, the tennis is behind us and we have the ecstasy of golf to look forward to. There is just nothing more woody than the British Open being played on a Scottish links course - Turnberry this year. Coverage by the BBC, Peter Alliss commentating, "Ooh - up she goes - tickle it round behind, I say, Sir!", the "woof-woof" sound of the gale blowing past the microphones - the point of the Open is it's better in bad weather! Trousers rippling in the wind, umbrellas blowing inside out. Starts next Thursday and I can't wait.

It's even better when Portuguese Sport TV doesn't cut to beach volleyball at 4pm on the Sunday afternoon and graciously returns to the Open just for the presentation of the trophy. Give me STRENGTH!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pasteis de Bacalhau

As I've previously mentioned, one of my favourite bloggeuses is Baby Chou from Le Moulin. Her blog is stuffed with mouthwatering recipes from the area of France where she lives so I thought it would be fitting if I responded with a traditional Azorean dish - pasteis de bacalhau. These are traditional potato fish cakes simply reeking of the culinary flavours of the islands.

The most important thing for this dish is to select the right brand. After much road-testing, I've concluded that Pérola da Ilha and Frigaçor are total pants and that the pasteis of choice are made by Prato d' Ouro. Easily recognisable by the red and gold logo, they can be found in the freezers of most shops on Flores:-

Carefully peel the wrapper off and bang them a bit ("Suits you sir!") to separate and place on one side. Meanwhile heat the oil in a deep fat fryer. Again, much experience has taught me that the choice of oil is crucial. I prefer Fula oil:-

I can remember television adverts for cooking oil in the 70s - before deep fat frying became about as politically incorrect as pederasty - when the mark of a good oil was that, when you took the chips out, they scarcely made a spot on a piece of kitchen roll. Can you remember that? "New Spry - Crisp and Dry" was the jingle. Well, I can promise you that Fula passes the kitchen roll test and produces pasteis as crisp and dry as New Spry.

OK, so you get the picture. Chuck the pasteis into the pan, recoil backwards as a gobbet of hot oil gets you in the eye (blooming painful, I'm not joking) and the rest of it skitters over the hob. Remember to set the extractor fan to full for all the bloody use it is.

Serve with a swirl of Thai chili dipping sauce and a cold bottle of Sagres beer. Ecstasy on a plate - ultimate hangover cure:-

Cook along to Handel's Zadok the Priest (although Tommy Gun by The Clash works just as well if you can't find Zadok.)

Saturday, 4 July 2009


I hate printers. I've always felt they're the weak link in personal computing. For the 10 years I've had a PC, my keyboard has never given me a moment's grief; my monitor has migrated from being fat and clunky to being a thin screen with never a day's cause for concern; the mouse has transformed to being cordless without a hint of bother; and the modem - well I've never been that sure what modems do - best not to ask - but it's always behaved itself. Even my joystick - my black man's cock as Carol calls it - consistently lands British Airways A320's in the stormiest of conditions (but not, intriguingly, Air France ones) In short, all these computer peripherals you can take for granted.

But not printers which have given me nothing but grief. They never live up to expectation in terms of the print quality they claim. It always seems a total lottery whether they will print anything at all. And if that weren't enough they demand vast quantities of expensive consumables such as paper and ink, large amounts of which can be wasted in futile attempts to "maintain" it if the bastard has decided it's not playing ball.

Early on I decided I was not going to feed the monster with genuine EPSON cartridges at £34.99 a go when I could get cheapo ones from at £2.99 for a pack of six. I was unphased by the on-screen threats: "It has been determined you are not using genuine EPSON ink - This could lead to your warranty being voided and your neighbour's grandmother dying - Do you wish to continue?" Hit yes and it follows up with "Are you sure? We can do the old bag, you know?" Anyway, Ink-U-Like's cartridges have worked well enough for three years (despite the threat being escalated to "Do you want the Prince of Wales being assassinated on a state visit to Panmunjon on your conscience?") until a few weeks ago when it gave up the ghost - pages coming out not just faint but pure white. For a while, it was still scanning OK but even that died after a few more days. ("Ha-ha - told you, loser!").

Time for a visit to warranty busting repair man in Santa Cruz. I better not mention his name but he's got a small shop in town which is waist deep in broken televisions, coffee makers, outboard motors, missile launchers, you name it.

Anyway, warranty busting repair man is phased by nothing except time deadlines. The conversation with him usually goes "When do you think you may be able to look at it?" To which the answer is invariably "At the beginning of next week". Which is Portuguese for "At the end of the week after that". And seeing as I speak Portuguese so well, I know not to bother phoning to enquire about progress until after another week. Net upshot in this timescale was that WBRM pronounced the printer dead. In fairness to WBRM, he refuses payment when he hasn't been able to fix something (and even when he has, his charges are absurdly low.)

So across the road to the Yellow Shop:-

It's actually called "Novo Era" but for some unfathomable reason we call it the Yellow Shop. Anyway, it had exactly one printer (inc. fax, copier, scanner, tea-maker) on sale so it wasn't hard to choose. Got it home, plugged it in, loaded the software, teabag, tried a test print and eff me if the swine didn't do what printers always do: produce immensely disappointing results - Carol's Scotsman crossword barely legible. That said, switching it off for 24 hours and switching it on again seems to have done the trick and it's now working as well as any printer I've ever possessed.

We're now at that critical phase in any printer's life - it's first re-load of ink. Lexmark's threats are slightly less menacing than EPSON's - Lexmark have merely been threatening to burn my house down for the last few weeks whilst still cheerfully printing off the crosswords. But on the other hand, this printer TALKS TO ME. I kid you not. In a sickly sweet mid-Atlantic accent it says "Printer ink is running low - please take a moment to order genuine Lexmark products - would you like me to go online for you now? If you wouldn't, I'm going to poison your dog."

Now, of course, the elephant in the room of this post all along has been about the picture of the Lexmark printer at the top - "Why does he have Wet Wet Wet, ER and Alan Partridge VCRs on his printer?" Answer - to keep the cat from sleeping on it. I can't be entirely sure that my over-indulgence in letting her sleep on top of the previous printer didn't lead to its demise due to cat fluff getting into its innermost workings. Mind you, if I leave the speakers on it might say "Cat, take a moment to order some genuine Lexmark ink and you can sleep on top of me ..."

Thursday, 2 July 2009

History of Scotland Part VI - Ramada

We all know what happened to the Roman Empire - it declined and fell, mainly due to relentless attacks in the late 4th and early 5th centuries AD by barbarians. They mostly came from what is now modern day Germany and the Netherlands and they often left their tribal names in the places they invaded and colonised - for example the Jutes (whence Jutland, the peninsula off the north coast of Europe now occupied by modern day Denmark); the Franks (whence France); and the Angles (whence England). These barbarians were all of the Teutonic race as opposed to the Celts who had hitherto dominated Western Europe but there was also a pesky crowd of Q-Celtic Gaels from Ireland called the Scots - no prizes for guessing where they ended up.

Actually, the Scots invaded earlier than the rest: around the mid 3rd century AD is the best guess. They weren't that much of a threat to Rome which, as we have already seen, never seriously attempted to pacify Scotland - especially the bits the Scots settled in, namely, Argyll (to the west of Drum Alban - refer back to the map) and Galloway in the far south west. "Argyll" is a corruption of the Gaelic "Earra-Ghàidheal" meaning "Coast of the Gaels". I can't remember what Galloway means now except I seem to recall that the "Gall-" bit derives from the Gaelic word for a foreigner/stranger. No matter.

Below is a picture of Dunadd, the hill-fort capital of the Scots in Argyll. It's a bit of a broken pot as hill-fort capitals go - not exactly Masada, is it?

(I momentarily couldn't remember the name of the Jewish hill fortress which held out so bravely to the Romans - all I could bring to mind was Ramada the hotel chain! Easily confused.)

Anyway, in the south of Britain a century later, the Angles invading from north east Europe were a big problem to the Romans who responded by doing what Italians do best in the face of military adversity - engage reverse gear on their tanks and retreat. It was in 410AD when the Roman legions departed Britain for the last time (a bit late to save Rome itself from being sacked by barbarians the following year). This left the native Celtic Romano-Britons in a bit of spot vis a vis the invading Angles and also Saxons: I can never remember if Saxony in modern Germany is where they came from or was another bit they conquered but they certainly left their name in the English (!) counties which end with "-sex": Essex, Sussex, Wessex etc.

Now this post is beginning to get long and unwieldy so I'll wrap it up with a summary: 410AD - Scots (Gaels) and Picts (P-Celts) in the north. Romans bog off and leave Britons (P-Celts) to the mercies of invading teutonic Angles and Saxons from north east Europe. To be continued but I leave you with a picture of the sack of Rome by barbarians - it looks to have been a relatively laid back affair:-

Obrasprazotory Update

Firstly, the shop/bar. A coat of white primer is on now:-

It looks a bit ghostly white but that's because the features (windows, cornices etc.) haven't begun to be picked out in black yet. Although in the following picture taken a few days later, some of the features had begun to be painted black (note the lozenges on the frieze at the top) except that, tragically, it began to rain that day and, if you look closely, you can see the black paint has run a bit. I believe work is suspended until the weather settles again.

Where I come from, Faja Grande would be declared a "Conservation Village" meaning you could get the VAT back on repainting like this and probably even get a local authority grant but I don't think there's anything like that here and Joe and Linda are doing this out of their own pockets so good for them - they didn't have to do it and the shop and bar (which are spic and span inside) function just as well in a building which is not decorated on the outside.

Elsewhere, the first layer of plaster has gone on the house down the road. I assume that's a first layer and that this will be topped off with a finer coat which will be painted. It's not "plaster", of course - it's cement, really: perhaps "mortar" is the better word, he says showing his ignorance of such matters:-

Elsewhere, a new OP has begun with what would appear to be the restoration of a fine old house in the village which has been empty for many years:-

Apparently there's a syndrome in Portugal (which I don't properly understand) whereby local authorities gain much more from giving planning permission for new houses rather than renovating old ones. This has led to there being 5 million houses in Portugal but only 3 million households. A Northern European free market capitalist like me cannot even begin to understand what breakdown in the law of supply and demand has brought that imbalance about - who is paying for all these unwanted houses?

Anyway, here in Faja Grande there are a lot of old empty houses due to emigration in the 60s - about a third to a half of the houses are empty and decaying because there is not enough of a second home market to take them up as there is in, say, the Western Isles of Scotland, which also suffered massive emigration in past decades. And yet, paradoxically, there are new houses being built ...

Which is why I'm always pleased to see an old house being restored. Here's another one. Albeit it's tiny and just a holiday house, it's been beautifully refitted with wooden sash and case windows and door made by a local carpenter:-

Rant over. Haven't been to Sta. Cruz for a bit, so don't know the latest on the church (or who won the colcha em lã)