Saturday, 6 October 2012

Election fever look-alike

It's election time in the Azores again.

Already? I hear you ask. Yes, and not a moment too soon because the pen I got from the orange T-shirt lot the last time round has just run out so the pen deposited in our mail box this afternoon by the turquoise pen lot (above) could not have been more timely.

I don't normally like fat chunky type pens like that with the rubbery bit to get hold of [as the actress so memorably observed to the bishop]. I can't see past a plain Bic myself, the transparent ones, not the yellow ones. But what the turquoise pen lot's pen lacks on the tactile front, it gains on the quality of writing front:-

Not at all bad. But the key test will be whether the nib will be able to sustain that quality in the longer term - that's to say until the ink is about 75% used up (which is when Bics begin to go off the boil)?  Cheap pens have a habit of going a splotchy after a disappointingly short period and showing one up for being a jotter-blotter - a most unwelcome state of affairs.

But let us not prejudge and, anyway, that's not what I was going to write about. Which was that surely I can't be the first person to have been struck by the uncanny resemblance between the turquoise pen lot's Flores candidates Paulo Rosa and some other bloke - let's zoom in below:-

other bloke                                       Rosa
 and TV gangster Tony Soprano's nephew Christopher Moltisanti and veteran British left wing politician, Tam Dalyell:-

Dalyell                                                      Moltisanti
But when I looked inside the brochure of which the scan at the top is the front cover, I was equally taken aback to find a row of pictures of people many of whom I know:-

I suppose this goes with the territory of living on an island of fewer than 4,000 people but Anselmo's the boy with the high-viz "knock me doon jacket" who wheels the steps out to the plane at the airport; Catarina works at Bragas' supermarket (gets my vote because she cuts the leaves off the cauliflower before weighing it); Tiago is our computer whiz-kid (came to the house for negligible call out charge when our modem decided not to play ball); and Stella's mother in law lives across the road from us. I think the way it works is that, if the turquoise pen lot get voted in, then only the first two or three of them get to go to the Azorean parliament but if one of them demits, then you don't have to have a by-election because you've got all the rest of them pre-elected and ready to step up, as it were.

Under the row of photos, it says "O Que Queremos Para As Flores" which is "What we want for Flores". I won't bother to translate all of these but among them is the airport lights issue I alluded to in my previous post  -  I'm not sure if the fact it's third from the bottom on the right hand side is indicative of the priority the turquoise pen lot give to this issue.

I went down to the turquoise pen lot's sessão de esclarcimento (public meeting) this evening. When I got into the hall, Chris Moltisanti was speaking to an audience of about 20 people in that Fidel Castro way latin politicians have of not pausing for breath and with no notes: they don't do soundbites in this country. When at last he wound up and asked for questions, there was a cringingly awkward silence - a cough, a child cries. I was just drawing breath to say "I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse my very bad Portuguese but could you explain why there's enough money to put street lights up along the Avenida Marginal but not enough for the airport lights? Oh and - sorry to interrupt you - there's not much point in having airport lights unless SATA establish a schedule whereby, at least once a week, the plane arrives late at night, stays over and departs early the next morning and comes back again late the same day so as to permit the possibility of a day trip to Lisbon for a medical appointment etc. I've heard it's because the SATA crews refuse to spend the night away from home on Flores, is that true ...?"

Fortunately for Chris, he was spared that (unintelligible) rant as someone else broke the silence with another question although I didn't catch what it was. And by the time he'd answered it, I had to get back up for tea anyway.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Avenida Marginal

The Avenida Marginal along the sea front at Faja Grande is now more or less finished and contrary to earlier misgivings that big concrete retaining wall along the seaward side has been very skillfully faced in freestone and is undoubtedly a work of art:-

I do have one small problem with the Avenida Marginal, however. Up at Faja Grande's village square, there are half a dozen little lights on bollards.

They used to light up the square causing a pleasant glow under the trees on a warm summer's evening with the cicadas chirping as the old gents of the village gather on that bench to pass the time (I was going to attempt the Portuguese velhote there but thought better of it as I'm not sure if that word connotes "nice, wise older person, salt of the earth" or "tiresome old fart who's a thoroughgoing pain in the arse")

But I digress, where was I? Oh yes, unfortunately the mood lighting in the square has been switched off for as long as I can remember now. A sticker on each of the lights explains why:-

For anyone who doesn't read Portuguese, that says "Lighting switched off under the energy saving programme".

But what have they just stuck up along the new Avenida Marginal?

Un-fucking-pardon-my french-believeable!

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of namby-pampy, wishy-washy, hoity-toity, lah-di-dah, middle class, tree-hugging, greeny-weeny, lefty, liberal tree hugger. Far from it - we run our washing machine and dryer during the day at premium electricity rates and pay the fellows and damn their impudence.

And I've always felt it's not my place as an incomer to this island to march in and start lecturing the locals how to run the place. But come on, Camara Municipal das Lajes das Flores - 45 new lamp-posts along a road that's a dead end and has only one house along it? You're having a laugh!

What kind of message does this send to the world about the Azores' commitment to the environment? The island of Flores is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, for Christ's sake.

Apart from general issues about the energy consumption of all these useless street lights, there's a purely local issue as well - cagarros. These are Cory's Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), a sea bird which breeds in burrows on the cliffs of Flores.

Photo credit - duffbirder
Every October, the young birds leap off the cliffs to fly out to sea for the first time. Except some get distracted by the street lights and land in the village. Unlike most birds, they can't take off again from a standing start so will die unless rescued and taken down to the shore where they can take a run at the sea to get airborne. We used to get a few in our garden every year until we learnt to put our outside lights off at this time of year. The picture below is of a juvenile cagarro, the first time we got one in our garden:-

We took that one down to the shore and it flew off out to sea just the thing - very satisfying.

Below is pic of a clutch of juvenile cagarros which ended up in an empty swimming pool as a result of the same syndrome of being distracted by lights from flying out to sea.

I don't know if the owner of that swimming pool was planning to release them or make a pot of soup but the point is, what have the Camara just constructed along the seafront of Faja Grande but a great big illuminated landing strip for cagarros? And the irony is that, every year, there's a "Save the Cagarros" campaign with flyers handed out telling you to switch off your outside lights etc. ...

Of course, I know the Avenida Marginal is being paid for by EU grant schemes. And I realise that this funding is helping keep people of Flores in work building it in troubled times for Portugal. But my point is, is this European assistance being targetted properly? Is it, dare I say "sustainable"?

If the EU wants to pay for a night-time landing strip, then could it not perhaps pay to upgrade the lights at Flores Airport? I understand that this is the issue which prevents SATA's planes from landing here after dark and thus permitting the chance of getting to or from Lisbon in a day.

It is not at all my style to whinge. Especially not in an adopted country. But I do pay taxes here in Portugal and I simply cannot bear to see money being wasted. If we're going to pay people to dig holes and fill them up again, could we not pay them to do it in the right places?

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ave Maria

Today was one of those Sundays when the statue of Our Lady (Nossa Senhora de Saude to be exact) is brought out of the church and paraded down the street with the brass band following Her.

I was just coming out the shop (the building on the right in the photo above; I'd gone down to get a Magnum (white chocolate) for Carol and a jumbo packet of Lay's ready salted crisps for me for full enjoyment of the final of Dois Mil e Doze) and found myself standing behind the last man in the band as OL emerged from the church. Peering over his shoulder at the card clipped to the top of his trumpet, I tried to read the name of the music they'd be playing. Ave Maria, it seemed to say. How fitting, I was thinking, so was a bit taken aback when, moments later, the procession moved off and the band struck up with - of all things - Fernando.

Turns out my eyesight was deceiving me. It didn't say Ave Maria, it said Abba Medley

Knowing me, knowing you.

Saturday, 30 June 2012


Has anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between England and Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart and 80s comic [using the expression in its loosest possible sense] Russ "See you Jimmy" Abbott?

Hart                                               Jimmy
Perhaps they could change the rules in time for Dois Mil e Catorze so that Ant & Dec could be in goal.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Dois Mil e Doze

 Nick Hornby summed the syndrome up memorably in Fever Pitch:-

"I was going to say 1980 was a torpid, blank, directionless year for me but that would be wrong; it was 79/80 that was these things. Football fans talk like that: our years, our units of time, run from August to May (June and July don't really happen, especially in years which end with an odd number and therefore contain no World Cup or European Championship)."

I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm a football fan but I do enjoy my summer international football competitions and I share Hornby's pain in odd years. Portuguese TV has a habit of emphasising the year when referring to international competitions, so this summer of EURO2012 is very much Dois Mil e Doze where last summer was plain old 2011.

Portugal has had the misfortune to end up in the Group not so much of Death as Total Annihilation With Your Remains Being Vapourised And Projected Into A Parallel Space Time Continuum. How unlucky is it to be ranked tenth in the world and still be the lowest in your Group (the others being Germany (3), Holland (4) and Denmark (9))?

In the opening Group B matches this evening, Denmark beat Holland 1-0 while Germany beat Portugal 1-0 but with Portugal having had some bad luck and not having been a pushover by any means.

Meanwhile, jammy Ingerland (6) have landed up with France (14), Sweden (17) and Ukraine (not even on the list I printed off) in the Group of "Ought To Be A Breeze To Qualify From But Good Chance They'll Screw It Up Royally Leading To Tabloids Screaming For Woy's Blood, Terry Never Playing For Ingerland Again, Should Have Taken Ferdinand, Told You So".

For the avoidance of doubt (as we lawyers say when in fact we're adding to it massively), I hope Ingerland do screw it up royally in the group phase (like France in Dois Mil e Dez) but if they do get through, then I will support them after Portugal have gone out. (Ideally, I'd like to see France fail to go through as well although that might be too much to hope for again.)

Scotland, I need hardly add, failed to qualify for EURO2012, having buggered up some challenging matches against Liechtenstein and the Faeroe Islands in the Group of Having a Tickly Throat in the qualifiers. It'll be different in the future, though - Uncle Alex says if we become independent, we'll qualify in Dois Mil e Catorze and triumph in Dois Mil e Seize.


Friday, 8 June 2012

The 4th Verse

With the British national anthem having been heard more often than usual in the last few days due to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the throne of the United Kingdom, it's timely to be reminded of the fourth verse of "God Save the Queen" as composed in the 1740s:-

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.

Rebellious Scots being crushed

Marshall Wade was the Commander in Chief of the British Army during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. He'd been relieved of his command by the time the rebellion was finally crushed at the Battle of Culloden (pictured above - last pitched battle to be fought on British soil in April 1746) and is better remembered (as General Wade) for the military roads he built in Scotland in the 1720s.

One of General Wade's military roads from the 1720s
Often misunderstood as rebellions by Scotland against England, the Jacobite Rebellions (there were five in all between 1689 and 1746) were simply armed attempts against the government of the day back in the days when it was still not uncommon to articulate political grievances by taking up arms rather than demanding judicial enquiries. The misunderstanding is due to the fact there were proportionately more "Jacobites" in Scotland than England (though a tiny minority in both) and the main theatres of war happened to take place in Scotland.

Whatever. The message of the forgotten fourth verse of the National Anthem is as relevant today as it was in the 1740s.

Rebellious Scot needing crushed

Monday, 28 May 2012


Surely I can't be the only one to have noticed the uncanny resemblance between Phil Mitchell in Eastenders' lawyer, Richmal "Ritchie" Scott, and International Monetary Fund chief, Christine Lagarde:-

Lagarde                                                   Scott
I'd forgotten she used to be in Howard's Way (Ritchie from Easties, not Christine Lagarde).

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Keep calm and carry on

Probably wondering why I've opened this post with a picture of a pan of potatoes boiling.

It's because these were the last three potatoes in the house and there was no chance of securing any more in the near future. That's due to the fact the fortnightly container ship which brings 99% of Flores' supplies, and which was already several days late, was unable to berth at Lajes last week due to heavy weather. After having hung around off the coast at Fajãzinha for a bit, it gave up and returned to the mainland. It's not scheduled to make another attempt at berthing until sometime this week meaning that Flores won't have been resupplied for nearly a month.

M/S Ponto do Sul alongside at Lajes in happier circumstances
The consequence is that the shelves have become distinctly bare in the last week or so with such basics as potatoes and onions having become unobtainable - Germano's in Lajes resembles nothing so much as the Dnepropetrovsk branch of GUM in 1972.

So much so that the Azorean airline, SATA, has laid on extra flights to fly in fruit n' veg (seriously) although the story I heard was it all sold out within two hours of landing.

That was obviously a slight exaggeration as there was a small amount of potatoes to be had at Braga's in Sta Cruz this afternoon although their appearance in our basket did provoke Didia at the check out to exclaim "Ah! Consegiu apanhar batatas!" (Oh! You managed to get potatoes!)

So it's all been a bit Dunkirk spirit and make do and mend round here recently. But did I keep calm and carry on? Did I stuff as like. I went out and panic bought a bottle of gas (pictured above) even though we didn't immediately need it to keep the potatoes (if you can get them) boiling at 5RdA. Didia the check out reckoned gas would be the next thing to run short and she usually knows what's what. As it happened, José Antônio had a few bottles left but that could have changed by tomorrow in which case I shall be open to offers for my bottle shrewdly acquired today. You have to take your chances while you can.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Equal Opportunities

In yesterday's post about recolha seletiva, I described Flores as an island without newspapers. That's not entirely true. There are, in fact, two monthly newspapers, As Flores and O Monchique. I have to confess I don't buy them with any regularity because you can catch up with news more easily online via Forúm ilha das Flores. And, as regards the non-news articles, I don't find Portuguese an easy read due to their habit of writing in such long sentences that you've forgotten how it began by the time you get to the end. (You think I'm bad?)

However, I came by a free copy of April's O Monchique because José Antônio at the shop used it to wrap a wine glass I'd bought to replace one that got broken (and which, of course, I am precluded by current regulations from recycling). I was intrigued to note from this that, as well as recycling, equal opportunities have arrived on Flores in the form of the annual Miss Flores competition having become, for the first time (I think), Miss & Mister Flores.

According to the report, nine raparigas (girls) and five rapazes (guys) took part and there are 107 photos of them to be seen on Facebook. Below are twelve of the competitors pictured against the backdrop of Flores landmark, the basaltic columns of the Rocha dos Bordões:

Picture credit - Associação Jovens
The winner of the coveted title of Miss Flores was Tamara Sousa:-

Picture credit Associação Jovens
Picture credit Associação Jovens
While the inaugural crown of Mister Flores was carried off by Gustavo Alves:-
Picture credit Associacao Jovens

The grand final of M&M Azores is on Terceira on 27 June. I'll need to break another glass in late July to find out how the Flores team gets on. Let's hope there's a Flores story from the event to report - muito boa sorte pessoal.

Picture credit  Associacao Jovens

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Recolha Seletiva

Q. When is glass not glass?
A. When it's a glass.

Let me explain. You know how men don't read the instructions (whereas women read the instructions and then ask their husbands how you do it anyway)? Well I was caught red-handed on this front last week for having blithely imagined that the glass pictured above (free gift with bottle of juice hence urgent need to dispose of the wretched thing) would be eligible for removal on the glass collection day of the new recolha seletiva (literally "selective collection") regime in place on Flores and whisked off to the brand new Centro de Processamento e Valorização Orgânica de Residuos das Flores so big it can be seen from space.

As is no doubt the international standard, it's paper in the blue bucket, glass in the green and plastic and metal in the yellow. Glass and plastic/metal is collected every Wednesday whereas paper is every first and third Thursday of the month (not too much of a problem on an island with no newspapers). Collection of indifferenciado organico ("miscellaneous organic") - i.e. potato peelings - continues to be every Monday and Friday.

Anyway, what we've noticed is that the vast majority of our cack is plastic and metal (once a week) whereas very little of it is indifferenciado organico (twice a week) on account of how Carol composts the potato peelings. Don't for a minute imagine from that we're some sort of hippy-dippy, tree hugging, Independent reading, lah-di-dah, namby-pamby, lefty-liberal, don't send our children to school (if we had any which thank heavens we don't) eco-warriors - very far from it. It's just that Carol thinks the compost is good for her tomatoes. Personally, I think compost is like spinach - you start out with great armfuls of the stuff but once it's cooked, you're left with a teaspoonful and wonder why you bothered. But I digress, where was I?

Oh yes - I was somewhat taken aback last Wednesday when there was knock at the door and the chap who's second in command of recolha seletiva pointed out that there had been extracted from our cack and left neatly on the pavement (I wish I'd had the presence of mind to take a picture) the glass at the top of this post along with a bunch of plastic flowers (stiffened with metal wire) and a metal grill thing. He pointed out (perfectly politely and slightly apologetically) that these items should be put out with the indiferenciados organicos (potato peelings) on Friday.

I was so astonished, I didn't argue but when I got back inside and consulted the instructions (above) - which I hadn't bothered to read - I found the chap was quite right. It's only plastic and metal embalagens - wrappings - which are allowed (hence the plastic flowers and grill being vetoed) and specifically excluded under the vidro (glass) section are copos - glasses.

Does anyone know the scientific reason for a drinking glass being any less eligible for recycling than a perfume bottle (specifically included in the instructions)? I wish now I'd gone along to the sessão de esclarecimento which was held in the casa de povo (village hall) on the day the recycling was rolled out to find out.

I have to say, we'd taken to recolha seletiva with fair gusto but this set-back has sort of inhibited us a bit. Only today, I had to rebuke Carol for having put a plastic dishwashing brush in the plasticos e metais bucket instead of the indiferenciados organicos - it's plastic alright, but not a wrapping, you see? I wonder if there have been any empirical academic studies about whether the pristine purity of a melange of Coke tins and shampoo bottles is really so badly tainted by the odd dish brush (or plastic flower) that it's worth disheartening folk in this way and risking distracting them from the cause?


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.