Wednesday 27 January 2010

Percy Update

Bad news about Percy the Palmeira I'm afraid.

He has succumbed and his mortal remains been removed. I don't know where they have been disposed of.


Sunday 24 January 2010

Delia's Vocabulary Collection

Carol was looking for a recipe on Delia Smith's website earlier (for non-UK readers, Delia's a sort of British Martha Stewart without the criminal convictions. A certain sector of the population considers Delia - unlike Martha - to have an element of sex appeal. I'm not one of them but I believe it's something to do with cold fingertips and a buttoned-up schoolmarmy tone of voice. Judge for yourself.

I've digressed already. Where is this going, you're asking yourselves? Oh yes, Carol was looking at Delia-Online for a recipe and left the page open and when I saw it, it wasn't so much the recipe as the advert on the right which caught my eye.

An advert for something to do with testing your IQ, note the question Qual é a capital de Portugal? Goodness knows what an awareness of the capital of Portugal has to do with one's IQ but that's beside the point because the significance of the ad for me was that it at last cleared in my mind the difference between the Portuguese words qual and que. Qual is "what" (as in "What is the capital of Portugal?") and que is "which".

It is from little breakthroughs such as these, from sources as unlikely as Delia Smith, that I grope slowly towards an  understanding of Portuguese. Now all I've got to do before tomorrow when the TV repair man is coming is master the Portuguese for "I think it's either because my satellite dish is misaligned or because it's vibrating in the wind." Whose website am I going to find the answer to that on - Jamie Oliver'sthe Duchy of Cornwall's, Dennis Compton's  ... ?

(PS - Dennis Compton doesn't have a website - it's a Fawlty gag.)

Wednesday 20 January 2010


When I first saw these things ...

... in the shops in Santa Cruz, I thought they  must be crude representations of rowing boats or badly designed ashtrays. Or perhaps badly designed ashtrays in the form of crude representations of rowing boats but, whichever, they must have had some vital function to judge from the volume of them on sale.

Little did I realise they are in fact assadores do choriço which translates as "sausage griller" (choriço being the generic Portuguese word for a sausage and not necessarily what we Brits would characterise as a chorizo:  every chorizo is a choriço but not every choriço is a chorizo, if that helps. That's a syllogism. Or is it a Venn Diagram? And what's a salsiche? I digress.)

Anyway, assadores de choriço work on the beautifully simple principle that you pour about a quarter to a half inch (1-2cm) deep of cooking alcohol into it, bung the choriço on top and throw a match at it (in that order).

A top tip for the operation of assadores de choriço to avoid dripping molten nylon is not to place them directly under Balinese boat kites suspended from your kitchen ceiling:-

Once the alcohol has burnt off (and your Balinese boat kite has decayed to a glutinous blob - only joking), the choriço is done and looks like this:-

I know what you're thinking. And I'm thinking it too looking at that pic but, seriously, this sort of choriço is called linguiça. It was home made and given to us by a neighbour. It's not really a sausage as we Brits would understand it, it's more chunks of meat and fat stuffed into a sausage skin.

I used to make the mistake of attempting to eat linguiça like a British sausage, i.e. cutting in slices and eating whole. Doing that with linguiça involves chomping through the fat and is quite revolting. Instead, the trick (for me anyway) is to cut the skin open and eat the meat and leave the fat - approached that way, linguiça is one of the tastiest things on this planet. It's rich though - I can't manage much more than about 8 inches at a time (as the actress memorably remarked to the bishop). 

Sunday 17 January 2010


I've spent quite a lot of time tonight devising strategies for advertising the Palheiro which is our self catering holiday apartment in the garden.

Apart from our own website ...

... we're also listed with the very excellent Archipelago Azores who I highly recommend for their personal service in putting together a tailor made itinerary round the islands and relieving you of the hassle of working out flights etc.

(How do they know we're lovely?)

We've also listed on a couple of the apartment rental websites which it's free to advertise on and these did produce a few bookings last year but we decided it was time to get serious and start - ulp! - paying for some advertising. I approached this by doing a Google search of "holiday accommodation azores" to see who came up tops and was fairly flabbergasted to find that our own website comes out on the first page!
Be that as it may, I decided that an entry on top listed was the one to go for at £209 for a year's listing.

Now I've been through the mill of listing one's property on these holiday accommodation websites, the free ones, before. It's a riot of checking boxes to list the facilities available. But it has to be said that took this to an entirely new dimension. Apart from the fairly routine is there a hairdryer and tumble dryer etc., I was asked such esoterica as how many oars did my kayak have, did I have WiFi access - there wasn't a checkbox for "don't know" and I was beginning to feel like I was in the Not the Nine o' Clock News sketch "We don't sell gramophones here, grandad! Do you want woofers and tweeters? Do you want a bag over your head?"

Even more astonishingly was whether we were a "low allergen environment"? That would surely depend on what you were allergic to, wouldn't it? And perhaps most bizarrely of all was, does the property have a fish cleaning table? I kid you not.

It does as it happens.
Not recommended if you're allergic to cats, though. Or fish.

Saturday 16 January 2010

Caldo de Marisco

It's Portuguese for "seafood stock cube" and I'm feeling a bit smug because we get it in Portugal - indeed even out here on Flores - but you don't get it in Britain. This was pointed out by a friend who eyed our Caldo de Marisco enviously when she was out here visiting a while back and took a few packets home with her. The subject came up again when we were staying with her during our recent sojourn in Scotland and she spotted the cubic metre of ham stock cubes which we were taking back because - smugness wearing off now - we don't get them in Portugal.

Perhaps we could start a "Stock Cube Swap Shop" and could we extend it out to other provisions as well because another thing we don't get here is corned beef? And brown sauce. And noodles and cous-cous while I think about it. Coleman's mustard as well. Blocks of parmesan cheese. Pine nuts. Horseradish sauce. How about a couple of frozen octopuses for a hamper of the above items?
Is that Cheggers on the left?

Friday 15 January 2010

Travel chaos (Part 5)

Day 5 and another early start to get to Ponta Delgada airport for a flight to Horta (via Terceira - nice to see that airport again) whence we will get another flight to Flores. We hope.

We arrive at Horta in good order but it's becoming clear that the Azores have been affected by their own variety of travel chaos in the shape of very strong winds. I've mentioned before that the runway at Flores is vulnerable to adverse cross-winds and a number of flights seem to have been cancelled in recent days. So much so that this morning there's an extra flight to Flores to clear the backlog of stranded passengers.

Half an hour before departure of the flight from Horta to Flores, there's an announcement on the tannoy - both flights to Flores delayed due to weather at destination, more information in half an hour. A night in a hotel in Horta beckons (now armed with clean socks and pants at BA's expense, I could begin to get used to hotel life) but the next announcement was boarding now through Gate A.

The approach to Flores was, er, "lively". Carol reported it as being worse than the approach to Flores which she had hitherto described as her worst ever landing on an aeroplane (I was watching that one from the ground and the plane was certainly bouncing about quite dramatically). My reaction to this approach was that, if I were a trainee pilot on my first outing with fare paying passengers, I'd have been turning to the grizzled old captain saying "We're not actually going to go through with this and try to land are we?"

But land we did and our luggage even turned up three days later as well! Game over at last!

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Travel chaos (Part 4)

Day 4 and another early start in which we decided to get an early cab to the airport at our own expense rather than wait for the courtesy buses with a view to beating the check-in queue.

Being first at check-in (yes!) had the disadvantage that we were the guinea pigs for the "computer says no" syndrome which in this context was due to the fact that yesterday's flights were on TAP Portugal whereas today's will be on SATA Air Acores. The earnest young man behind the counter explained it all to us in his faultless English but did he think I looked like I cared whether I was going on a blue and white plane or a green, red and white one?. Anyway, after about half an hour's hammering away on his keyboard and a sprint across the concourse to both the TAP (green, red and white) and SATA (blue and white) ticket desks, we were eventually issued with boarding passes to a blue and white plane. By this time a satisfactorily large queue from the buses from the hotel had built up behind us.

All this only got us to Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel where we hot-footed it to the SATA (blue and white) desk to be told there were no more flights to Flores that day but that we were "on the waiting list" for a flight tomorrow. Uh huh - do I not like the sound of being "on a waiting list" for a flight.  However, after some chat about whether we were clients of TAP or SATA and half an hour's typing on her keyboard (probably trying to unscramble everything the earnest young man at Lisbon had done earlier), the lady behind the counter eventually produced a confirmed place on a flight the following day to Flores and a voucher for the Hotel Avenida (including lunch and dinner) and taxi thereto.

So, after lunch at SATA's expense (or was it TAP's?), we wandered up to the Parque Atlantico shopping centre in PD to hit Modelo (Portuguese equivalent of Tesco) for emergency supplies of socks and cuecas (pants) at British Airways' expense. Remember BA? The airline we handed our luggage over to in a far off land a long time ago (Glasgow, 4 days earlier. - actually, BA losing our luggage is a massive result because it means we're not paying the €100 or so excess baggage to check it in on SATA (TAP?) due to the fact we always return from the UK with a lot more than we took - vital supplies of ham stock cubes, pine nuts and other essentials not procurable on Flores.)

Will we get home to Flores tomorrow? Tune in to find out.       

Travel chaos - Part 3 - Day trip to the Azores

The morning of day three of this epic voyage from Scotland to Flores in the Azores saw us at Lisbon airport bright and early for an 08.30 flight to Ponta Delgada on the Azorean island of Sao Miguel whence we would catch another flight later the same day to Flores.

All went well until we seemed to be just feet above the ground at PD and the plane's engines screamed to signify it was breaking off the approach and climbing away. Moments later, the captain came over the tannoy to report he'd been prevented from landing by fog.

So having jumped out of the frying pan of the white fluffy stuff which causes travel chaos in Britain, we'd landed in the fire of the grey swirly stuff which causes it in the Azores - if you'll pardon the inappropriately mixed metaphors.

Long/short, the flight diverts to the nearby island of Terceira where it lands and the captain announces we're not getting off because there's just time to refuel before returning to Lisbon!

An unhappy band of travellers it is which disembarks back at Lisbon. It is little consolation to able to claim the fame of having been on a day trip to the Azores.

We're booked on a later flight to PD to depart at 7.00pm but that too is cancelled due to continuing fog at PD. Another night, another hotel (and dinner) at the expense of an airline. Also another night, another day with the same socks and pants as our luggage - last seen at check-in at Glasgow - has not caught up with us yet and no opportunity to get to a shop to buy replacements.

Monday 11 January 2010

Travel chaos (Part 2)

When the chap at the British Airways desk told us we were booked on Flight BA500 to Lisbon at 07.30 the following morning (Thursday 7 Jan), he was careful to point out that there was no guarantee that that flight would actually depart.

When travel chaos strikes Heathrow in the shape of half an inch thick of white fluffy stuff lying on the ground, BA respond by cancelling some of their flights in order to keep the rest of their flights moving. I'd love to know how the flights to be culled are chosen - is it random? Or do they have a computer which calculates how few of their customers will be pissed off by any given cancellation? And/or, if a flight to Lisbon is axed, does that mean that no further flights to Lisbon will be cancelled and that it will be Copenhagen's turn next? Or perhaps it's alphabetical order and it's Lyons?

Whichever, it was with low expectations that we pitched up at Heathrow on Thursday morning (via, due to the early hour, a cab to Paddington and the Heathrow Express (as opposed to the Tube the previous evening) at a total cost of £51 which BA will be picking up the tab for). So we were pleasantly surprised when BA500 did actually depart only about an hour late.

On arrival at Lisbon, our luggage wasn't there. Oh well, I suppose that was too much to hope for. All further flights from Heathrow to Lisbon that day also cancelled (so that blows that theory) so not likely to be reunited with a clean pair of socks any time soon. After lost luggage palaver, we were too tired to attempt to source new socks/pants in Lisbon and just time (or rather inclination) for dinner at our usual restaurant, the very excellent but unpretentious and reasonably priced Adega Sao Roque (€45/£40 for two course meal for two inc. wine, Irish Coffee and tip).

Sunday 10 January 2010

Travel chaos (Part 1)

Well it started to go pear shaped before we'd even left Glasgow in that we discovered our onward flight to Lisbon had already been cancelled.

The saving grace of that knowledge was that at least we weren't fretting about making our connection what with the flight from Glasgow being about 1.5 hours late leaving and then, on arrival at Heathrow, there being no gates available so the plane had to sit with its engines switched off in a remote corner of the airport until one became free. Fortunately, we were only in that state of purgatory for about 20 minutes although the captain reported over the tannoy that he'd heard of some arriving flights waiting for up to 4 hours for a stand to become available. (Can you imagine how gruesome that must be?)

At this point, I want you to do a quick "spot the difference" competition. Before taking off from Glasgow, we asked the British Airways staff the following three questions in light of the cancellation of our connecting flight:-

1. What happens about a new onward flight to Lisbon?
2. Do we have to collect our luggage at Heathrow?
3. Will BA pay for a hotel overnight in London?

The answers from the Glasgow BA staff were:-

1. Phone this (not free) number (replied to only by recorded message about unprecedented volume of calls).
2. Yes.
3. No.

On arrival in Heathrow, the answers were:-

1. You're already booked on BA500 departing at 07.30 tomorrow morning.
2. No.
3. Yes.

Can you spot the subtle differences there?

The roast lamb at the carvery at the Marble Arch Thistle  Hotel was excellent and I'm grateful to BA for their hospitality but their people at Glasgow Airport need to go on a travel chaos training course.

To be continued ...

Tuesday 5 January 2010


The last time I wrote, I was prognosticating gloomily about the prospects of getting off Flores due to the weather.

I sit here tonight prognosticating gloomily for the same reason about the prospects of getting off another island, this one called Great Britain.

The picture above shows a scene which will be familiar enough to residents of North America (except Florida possibly) but is rare in the extreme in Scotland.

Yes, Britain is currently in the grip of one of its periodic bouts of a rare syndrome called winter. The more extreme manifestations of this tragic condition involves fluffy white stuff falling from the sky and settling on the ground. This in turn causes a reaction known as "travel chaos".

Unluckily, we're due to fly tomorrow through London Heathrow airport, a place singularly ill-equipped to deal with winter and with no natural immunity to the fluffy white stuff. This results in great suppurating scabs of travel chaos which can endure for up to 24 hours.

We've just been watching the main evening news on the BBC reporting the weather in cataclysmic terms reminiscent of 1970s public information films about about the aftermath of a nuclear attack. ("Isolated outbreaks of radiation in some of those Scottish glens".) There was no actual reportage of conditions at LHR but, by coincidence, my mother phoned with a real time report from on board a Thai Airways jet there destined for Bangkok (where else?) to say they were being held up waiting for a de-icing rig. At JFK, I expect they have de-icing rigs aplenty but at LHR, they only seem to have about two. 

Wish us luck.