Friday, 20 April 2012

IKEA comes to Flores

When I used to live in the Athens of the North, I vowed never to go back to IKEA after the time I got caught in the returns queue behind a woman who'd bought a lighting solution FUKKA by mistake and wanted to swap it for something else.

The item in question was a light bulb and it reminded me of the scene in Blackadder about potatoes which goes:-

Blackadder - "What's this?"
Baldrick - "I'm surprised you've forgotten, it's a potato"
Blackadder - "I haven't forgotten, it's a rhetorical question."
Baldrick - "Nah, it's a potato."
Blackadder - "Look! To you it's a potato, to me it's a potato! But to Sir Walter-bloody-Raleigh, it's more women than his tongue can handle."

So, to you it's a light bulb, to me it's a light bulb, but to IKEA-bloody-Home Furnishings it's an ambience option FRIGGIN-BASTAD.

It's a measure of how far we've come, then, that when we had a day to kill in Lisbon last December, did we spend it culture-vulturing round the Torre de Belem or the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos? Or get on a bus to take in the architectural delights of Sintra? Did we co-co, we got in a taxi to go to an industrial suburb called Amadora wherein resides Lisbon's IKEA.

IKEA, Amadora - visible from space
This is due to the fact that, although the best iron-monger's in the world is Avila, Fraga e Cie in Sta Cruz das Flores and Helder and his wife (I'm sorry I don't know your name!) at "the yellow shop" carry a very good stock, there's no getting away from the fact that the shopping for household items opportunities on Flores, an island of fewer than 4,000 people, are necessarily limited. Hence even I find it quite engaging spending an afternoon browsing storage solutions WANKA and dining options FARTTE.

There were two highlights of the trip. The first was the pneumatic wooden buttock in a glass case (complete with button to press like in a museum to set the mock up steam engine running) demonstrating how robust the world famous IKEA Poang chair is:-

The other highlight was the display they have of a complete mini-apartment with sleeping, living and kitchen areas and lav all crammed in to something like 30 square metres ("living option SHAGGIN-PAHD"). It was fantastic and we were really choked we had a hotel room booked because I would have liked to stay the night there and perhaps invited some people round for supper.

Now you may be thinking this is all noses up against the window for us on the basis how would we get this stuff out to Flores anyway, considering we're usually hard up against the 20kg baggage allowance of SATA (that's an Azorean airline, not an IKEA product). We did, in fact, use up the remaining 100 milligrams of our allowance by buying on the day - of all things - a doormat (shoe wiping solution SAAD). But in reality, we were on a fact finding mission because there is a way to bring IKEA to Flores.

He's called Manuel Viana, the owner of a company called SAIrei, Lda. The SAI stands for Serviço de Apoio Insular which translates as "Island Assistance Services". Manuel's business is sourcing stuff on the mainland which you can't get on the islands and sending them out to you. Thus, we got our car from Manuel (who speaks very good English). We basically e-mail him an order from IKEA and he goes and gets it and then goes to the port at Lisbon and puts it on the ship which comes out here. Also car parts - the glass of the wing mirror got cracked and, not surprisingly, these aren't kept in stock on Flores but it's no problem because you e-mail Manuel and he'll get it and send it out. His own fees are very small (although the carriage, which is out of his control, is always a consideration but that's just part and parcel of island life we have to accept).

So that's all by way of a long introduction to the fact we had an IKEA delivery from Manuel yesterday which for Carol was like opening the presents on Christmas Day

I personally can't get too excited about cushions (bottom solutions SOFTI) or towels (cleft options SKRATCHE) but as Carol so appositely points out, a wife HAAPI is a husband less GRUMPE.


PS, I am rather cock a hoop with my LED (=light emitting diode, not an IKEA product name) reading light you clip to the headboard of the bed. Projector c/mola JANSJO. A snip at 9,99€. I'm finding I'm remaining awake at night reading because I can due to spouse option TORN-FASE not complaining about big light BRITE remaining on.


Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Athens of the North

Brilliant line in this week's Economist:

"In the 18th century, Edinburgh’s fine architecture and its Enlightenment role earned it the nickname “Athens of the North”. It would be a shame if that name became apt again for less positive reasons."

That may need some explanation for non-British readers.

The Economist is a British weekly news magazine that believes everything from climate change to global poverty can be solved by democracy and the unrestrained application of the free market. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, the autonomous regional government of which is now dominated by the Scottish National Party (SNP). It wants to hold a referendum about whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom. The Economist is agnostic about Scottish independence except in so far as it affects the economies of Scotland and the remainder of the UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland). Athens is the capital of Greece, a country that's economically up a certain creek without a certain instrument.

A central plank of the SNP's economic argument for Scottish independence is that the UK's oil reserves in the North Sea are all off the coast of Scotland so would become Scottish in the event of independence. The British government's riposte is that, if you're going to play at that juvenile sort of game, you can have the Royal Bank of Scotland's £187 billion worth of toxic assets we (the British government) picked up the tab for in 2008. And we'll withdraw the Royal Navy's atomic submarines from their base in Scotland leaving an unemployment blackspot that would make a nuclear winter look quite cosy by comparison.

Again for non-British readers, that's the leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond. He's got up to look like MacBeth, an 11th century king of Scotland about whom a famous English playwright, William Shakespeare, wrote a play. A scene in the play has MacBeth unable to wash his hands of the blood of his predecessor ("Out damned spot") his ambition compelled him to murder.

Back to the point, who would bank on North Sea Oil nowadays? At current oil prices, the recoverable reserves in the North Sea are almost finished while the cost of decommissioning the rigs and pipes and what have you has only just started. If all the kit isn't humanely disposed of, it will start washing ashore in Arbroath and you'll have dirty Greenpeace types setting up camp and piddling in St Andrew Square again. The economics of North Sea Oil look like this:-

As I understand it, the British government has agreed to bankroll decommissioning through tax breaks so the oil barons are frantically dragging their rusty old toot out of Scottish waters as fast as they can. It's all totally x + y = 0 unless the price of oil soars due to another "oil shock" such as Israel nuking Iran. That probably explains why you won't be able to get over to Rothesay this summer - Salmond's got the entire Caledonian MacBrayne fleet patrolling the Straits of Hormuz waiting for the balloon to go up (although doubtless there will be a disappointment when the MV Isle of Eigg's ramp doesn't fit the slipway at Bandar Abbas any more than it does at Eigg).

Mind how you go with these nukes now, Lachie!
The more serious point is that, although "Scotland's oil" has flowed into the UK's treasury, Scotland has been receiving a disproportionately high share of funding from London as a result. Do we really want to swap an annual triple-A rated cheque for the dubious privilege of a flutter on the spot markets? I don't. 

Of course Fat Eck isn't putting all his eiggs in the oil basket. Oh no! Due to Scotland having totally bogging weather, he's pinning a lot of hope on Scotland becoming "the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy". (This quote explains why the SNP has become known in certain quarters as "the House of Ibn-Salmond".) You mean all these windmills and that wave machine off Ultima Thule that keeps breaking down ...

The picture above is of a landmark in Edinburgh. I can't remember what it was supposed to be for but it was never finished and it's known as "Edinburgh's Disgrace". I do know it was modelled on the Parthenon. Be careful what you wish for ...

Friday, 13 April 2012


If you've been tuning in recently for an update on progress with the Avenida Marginal or perhaps to hear how the first week of the Recolha Seletiva went (remarkably well!), then sorry I've been off air but it's been because I haven't had a camera to illustrate recent developments.

Anyway, I've now got a new camera - a Canon Powershot SX220 (pictured above), since you asked. It's got 14x optical zoom which is camera geek-speak for "my reproductive organ really is quite large". Though not as large as anybody with 18x optical zoom. But thank heavens I didn't let Carol persuade me to get a gay pink one (the colour being her only input) or I'd be remaining in therapy for quite a few months to come.

 Anyway, how did I get on to that? Oh yes! I was out with the new camera for the first time today and unleashed all 14x of its optical zoom (Ooh! Suits you, sir!) and took the picture below of the farolim at Fajã Grande. I thought it turned out quite well considering I was about 3 miles away from it at the time. That's an exaggeration - I was about 100 metres away but nevertheless ...

The thing is, there's a Portuguese word for a farolim (it's farolim) but not an English one. You wouldn't call it a lighthouse because a lighthouse (farol in Portuguese) is one of these:-

I'm not sure what you'd call a farolim in English and I'm a nautical cove as well and generally do know things like that. I think you'd just call it a "light". I can imagine non-nautical coves (and covettes) calling them "beacons" but that's not a maritme term of art. Just like there's no such thing as a "rope" at sea, there are only warps, halyards, sheets, braces (as in "splice the main ~"), painters - want me to continue?

But how interesting that Portuguese has a word that is effectively "lighthouse-let". And if you go to the excellent Linguee website (which is an online dictionary but much better because it gives you actual bi-lingual examples of words in context), you find that farolim can also be tail-lights whereas farol is headlights (although that could be Brazilian because they tend to refer to headlights as médios here).

Anyway, for those not so interested in nautico-linguistic trivia and more interested in the Avenida Marginal or recolha seletiva, I will report thereon shortly and leave you meantime with these pictures. Because I can.