Monday, 30 November 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Him. Stewart Somebody to judge from the signature:-

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

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

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

Saturday, 28 November 2009


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 November 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 November 2009


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

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

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

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

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