Wednesday 30 March 2011


Has anyone else noticed the extraordinary resemblance between Karima el Mahroug, the 17 year old Moroccan night club dancer (yeah, right!) at the centre of the Berlusconi charges, and Eastenders' Janine Malloy (née Butcher)?

                      Janine                                        Karima

Wonder if they'll get Karima for doing in Archie while they're at it?

Portugal: Crise Política

Last Wedenesday, 23 March, after Parliament refused to pass his austerity budget, the Prime Minister of Portugal, José Sócrates (pron. SOCKRA-tish), pictured above, offered his resignation to the President of Portugal, Aníbal Cavaco Silva (pron. Ah-NEEBLE Cuh-VACK SEAL-vuh), pictured below:-

The president has retained the services of Sócrates as caretaker prime minister pending deciding whether to dissolve parliament and call a general election. That decision will be taken after the president has consulted the Council of State tomorrow, Thursday 31 May, and the strong likelihood is that a general election will be announced for the last week of May or first week of June.

Sócrates is the leader of the centre left Partido Socialista (PS), the Portuguese equivalent of Britain's Labour Party. Since the last general election in 2009, he has led a minority government (97 seats out of 230 in Portugal's unicameral legislature); prior to 2009, he led a majority government (121 seats).

Whether the austerity budget didn't pass because it was ill-thought out as the opposition claim, or whether the opposition was just acting out of political opportunism, I just don't know. Socrates will be fighting the forthcoming election again as leader of the PS but the first opinion polls are already suggesting it will be won by the opposition Partido Social Democratica (PSD - centre right - equivalent of British Conservative Party) and its leader Pedro Passos Coelho (pron. PASS-ish KWELL-yoo) albeit not with an absolute majority.

So who will you be voting for - the man with the fake tan or the man with the dodgy barnet (almost certainly dyed)? 

Incidentally, the fact that I'm wearing a PSD t-shirt as I type this is no guide to my voting intentions. It's just that the PSD are the orange t-shirt lot from the municipal elections in 2009. And their t-shirt has just proved jolly helpful in a practical sense for typing this blog entry because I was able to unbutton my shirt and look at it to remind myself how you spell Democratica in the context of Partido Social. I've just done it again, in fact, and discovered that it's actually Democrata. And there was me agonising about whether it had an "o" on the end, as you'd expect for an adjective agreeing with a noun ending in an "o" (partido), or an "a"... 

So why the hell does it end with an "a", as a matter of interest? But I digress. If the PS (fake tan lot but there it is again, look - Partido Socialista - we seem to have been spirited off into a parallel universe of adjectival disagreement) could see their way to handing out a nice red fleece, say, with a handy pull out list of prepositions buttoned into the pocket, then my vote would be secured. And to hell with the government bond yield.

Thursday 24 March 2011


Given that we've got a smashing view of the Atlantic Ocean from our windows ...

... we're quite often asked "Do you ever see any ships going past?"

The answer to that is "occasionally, but not that often." About once a month, maybe, on average. And they're invariably so far away that they're just specks on the horizon - you can see them with the naked eye but for any kind of detail, I need to get out the "oculor" (= binoculors with one side broken. I refuse to buy another set as long as the remaining "oculor" continues to function perfectly well even if I do look like someone not quite right who's been let out for the afternoon when I'm using them (it)).

The ships we see are also invariably container ships. Shipping these days is terribly dull compared with previous decades. When I was a boy, the cargo ships that plied the oceans looked like this:-

Picture credit David Christie
They were generally built at Glasgow, registered at London and emptied their bilge oil into the pristine waters of some foreign port and if the natives dared to complain, they got a stiffly worded rebuke from the British Consul for their trouble (Col. Gaddafi please take note.)

But nowadays, the ships we see from our windows look like this:-

Picture credit Dominic Winsor

Built in Korea and registered in Panama, they're doubtless very efficient and economical in terms of stuff shifted per unit load but they need a risk assessment before they flush the lav and are generally lacking in eight bells and top masts.

Actually it's a coincidence the googled picture above is a CMA-CGM ship because we saw one of theirs going past here once, the letters on the hull being big enough to make out with the oculor. It's a big French shipping company and I went to their website and was able to work out from their schedules where it was going from and to. (It was news to me that container ships operate to schedules like car ferries.) I can't remember now exactly where but the screen grab below from Google Earth suggesting Le Havre from somewhere in South America rings a bell:-

From somewhere in the southern states of the USA ( I believe Savannah, Georgia is quite a big port) to the Straits of Gibraltar is also a candidate for passing our front door:-

I'm quite glad the passing ships don't get too close, though. A container ship called the CP Valour suffered engine failure off the Azores in 2005 and ran aground on the north coast of Faial. It couldn't be towed off and there was the inevitable release of fuel oil and many of the containers were knocked off and washed ashore (although no BMW motorbikes to be looted off the beach by the natives as with that ship - MSC Napoli, I think - that went aground on Cornwall (England) a couple of years ago and caused a lot of extra work for Her Majesty's Receiver of Wrecks in the public education arena).

The official salvors of the CP Valour didn't have much luck either. They spent months removing the remaining containers and the superstructure of the ship with a view to lightening the load to be able to refloat the hull and tow it away for salvage but, as I recall, they got the hull off but it sank into deep water barely a kilometre or so off the coast!

Of course, the CP Valour wasn't the first ship to be wrecked on the Azores. In 1909, the Cunard liner Slavonia was steaming east across the Atlantic from New York bound for Trieste when it is said that some of the passengers, keen to sight the Azores, asked the captain to alter course. The request was acceeded to but they ended up getting a closer view than they bargained for:-

This was at Lajedo on the south west coast of Flores. There was no loss of life but it's said that all the houses on Flores dating from this era - and No 5 Rua da Assomada must fall into this category - have floors made from wood salvaged from the Slavonia. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but here's a sample of our floors in case there are any shipping woodwork afficionados out there who can spot a decent bit of fin de siecle Cunard when they see it:-

 More recently, in 1965, a ship called the Papadiamandis was wrecked right here at Faja Grande while en route between New Orleans and Hamburg:-

Recognise anyone? More pictures of that event at Memorias d'um Povo which is a great source of old pictures of Flores.
STOP PRESS - I started writing this last night and what happens this evening but a ship went by, passing from west to east. First time this year, I think - maybe the second. Photo below - even zoomed to the 12x limit of my camera, you'll have to take my word for it that that's a fully laden container ship:-

Saturday 19 March 2011


What's your favourite cheese?

Perhaps it's brie - with a soft oozing texture and a slight yellowish tint (from the carotene absorbed by the cow from the meadow grass and hay in its diet) served with sliced apple, fig jam and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

Beloved of surrender monkeys everywhere

Or perhaps you can't resist stilton, in great buttery rounds, blue-veined, crumbly and sharp tasting inside a pitted crust? [I got that Hugh Fearnley Filling Station buttery blue veined guff by googling "pretentious description of stilton" and needless to say the Guardian (British newspaper for middle class lefties) came top but I enjoyed the fact that the stilton article went to say "The French may think they are on to something with Roquefort, but that is mere salty slime when set against a good stilton."]

Personally, my favourite cheese is Kraft Singles - there is nothing quite so gratifying as peeling back that gossamer thin cellophane and popping a flacid orange slice into your mouth in a oner. ("Pop", whether transitive or intransitive, is a verb I normally tend to eschew but there is just no other word to describe the act of ingesting a Kraft Single.)

Hence it was a matter of no little regret when we discovered that they don't sell Kraft Singles on this island. Lately, however, there has been a slight improvement in the situation in that a company called LactAçores from São Miguel has begun making "singles" out of local Azorean cheese.

Now you may say why don't we just buy a piece of local cheese and cut it into slices? But that's missing the point completely: you can't manually slice cheese to the required thin-ness and, anyway, being wrapped in cellophane and chilled for lengthy periods imparts a delicate fragrance rather in the way that Scotch Whisky acquires its distinctive character from being matured in old sherry casks.

Sorry but we'd troughed all the slices before I remembered to take the photo!

Anyway, we road-tested the local product at lunch today and rated it against various indicators including:-

# - gossamer thin-ness of cellophane wrapping - verdict: not gossamer enough, rather more the consistency of the impossible to get off wrapper of a DVD. And a real KS comes in a cellophane envelope whereas these were just sandwiched between sheets. Tacky. 4 out of 10.

# - adhesion of Single to wrapping - verdict: a real KS is difficult to detach from its wrapper in one piece. These almost literally fell away from the cellophane. Room for improvement. 5/10.

Carol's approach was somewhat less scientific and she summed them up thus: "Not very good, really - they taste like actual cheese."


Monday 14 March 2011

Japan: Scotland stands ready

The legendary late Scottish rugby commentator, Bill MacLaren, often used to allude to a scorer's club - either its town or the name of its home ground - in terms such as "They'll be cheering in the streets of Galashiels tonight!" or "They'll be pulling a few pints at Netherdale tonight!".

Well, in the true BMacL fashion, I can tell you there must have been a few sighs of relief being breathed in Fukushima this morning when they woke up to the news on the Scottish soi disant Government's website:-

Hyslop comments on earthquake in Japan - External Affairs Minister confirms Scotland stands ready to assist

You can picture the scene in the corridors of power in Tokyo, can't you: "Get on the phone to the Central Bank and get them to cancel that injection of 15 trillion yen to stabilise the markets, Scotland is standing ready to assist!! Aieeee!!!"

But the sighs and aieeees emanating from the Land of the Rising Sun were as naught compared with the expostulations and splutterings emanating from 5 Rua da Assomada this morning when I discovered that Scotland has an External Affairs Minister. And who is this Hyslop person in charge of this non-existent portfolio - is he or she perhaps also in charge of Scottish diamond production and the gorilla population of the Cairngorms ...?

Alex told me to give you this
Turns out it's none other than fat Fiona who, if memory serves, used to be the Minister for something slightly more relevant to Scotland (but I'm not interested enough to look up what it was) who was sacked for incompetences too numerous to mention. So presumably getting External Affairs is the Scottish equivalent of the Chiltern Hundreds.

It's worth having a look at the website to see what exactly it is the Scottish soi disant Government is pledging to Japan:-

* The Scottish Government is working closely with the UK Government to monitor the situation in Japan and the surrounding region  (The government will be reassured by this.)

* The Scottish Government is sharing information with the FCO regarding individuals who may be missing or unaccounted for
("Aberdeen man drowned at sea")

* The Scottish Government is in contact with the Japanese Consul General's office in Scotland and have confirmed an offer to assist where we the Scottish Government can ("Get off the f*cking line, we've got more important things to deal with than you saddoes grandstanding on the world stage ...")

* Scottish Development International is in touch with Scottish businesses in Japan (Ditto)

* The Scottish Government stands ready to consider any requests for support 

That last one could be interesting - "Ah, Salmon San (said in a Burt ("Tenko") Kwouk everyhere east of Mandalay accent.) you have 1.3 trillion Yen to stabilise Japan stock market?"

 Salmon San : "Well (said in a fat Scottish git with delusions of grandeur accent) we do have an underspend of £4.63 on the Cumnock wheelie-bin initiative, if that would be of any use..." 

To be a bit serious for a minute (must we? yes), I'd like to know how much a British local authority (which is what the Scottish soi disant Government is) has spent on maintaining a "Minister for External Affairs" and presumably a huge secretariat to support her in a role the authority has no legal jurisdiction over whatsoever.

It makes me cross. I feel another Freedom of  Information enquiry coming on (said in "take one of your pills, dear" tone of voice). I've a notion it was Fiona Hyslop I had to write to find out how much they'd spent sending people to London to have meetings about repatriating the William Wallce archives.

"For as long as but 100 of us remain alive, we shall engage with key stakeholders ...
And don't get me started on Libya ....