Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Surely I'm not the only one to have noticed the remarkable resemblance between Scottish Gnashionalist Party leader Alex Salmond and recently cleared of sex offences Street star, Michael ("Kevin Webster") Le Vell:-

Le Vell                                                      Salmond

I wonder if by any chance they're related? I think Scottish voters should be told (and Sally).                                                       

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Regime change

Today was the day of the local elections (eleiçoes autárquicas) in Portugal and I can tell you there has been regime change in the concelho of Lajes das Flores.

The Partido Socialista (centre left - equivalent of Labour in the UK) candidate Luis Maciel has beat PSD (can't remember what it stands for - orange T-shirt lot, equivalent of Tories in Britain) candidate Alice Ramos. This is significant because the PSD has been in power in LdF for as long as anyone can remember - the reversal may be due to long term PSD presidente, local businessman João Lourenço, having reached the limit of his 150 terms in power.

Note the advertising on the www.autarquicas2013.pt website depicted above. At the top is an advert for the Casa do Rei restaurant in Lajes (which I can tell you is very good) while at the bottom is one for Single Ukranian Ladies. Given how closely targetted the first ad was, I'm wondering if the second reveals an equally closely targetted unmet need in the southern half of this island I'm not aware of which the new administration needs to get to work on ja pronto.

Below is the results in more detail:-

Quite a big swing to the PS. Last time, in 2009, it was exactly the opposite (54% PSD/45% PS). The result for the junta da freguesia (parish council) of Faja Grande is also interesting:-

Change of party (PSD to PS again) but not change of people in that outgoing presidente of FG, our neighbour Maria Lidia Oliveira, recently changed party allegiance and is returned under her new affiliation. Which just goes to prove that politics is about personalities rather than policies.

As I was typing just then, there was a motorcade of cars down the road, all tooting their horns and with people hanging out the windows waving flags. Tahrir Square it is not but the Euros do elections rather more exuberantly than we Brits what with the winning candidate dutifully thanking the returning officer and his team for counting the votes. And note these 80+% turnouts - you'd be hard pushed to get 50% out at a British local election.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fibre optic cable

For as long as we've lived on this island (seven years now, amazingly enough!), the talk has always been about the long awaited fibre optic cable to bring us faster broadband.  For a while, it's been promised for "fourth quarter 2013" but I've always said I'll believe it when I see a big ship with a big roll of cable on the back and not a moment before.

Photocredit shipspotting.com
Well I can tell you that such a ship - the MV IT Interceptor (pictured above) - is steaming towards the Azores as I type this. Below is the latest image from Marinetraffic.com showing her course (light blue line coming in from the top) towards Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel.

I gather that, from Ponta Delgada, the IT Interceptor will then steam west to Faial (the nearest island to Flores already linked by fibre optic) from where, on Friday (13 September), it will begin to lay the cable.

Apparently, a fibre optic cable is thinner than a human hair. Presumably this means it must be frightfully easy to get it tangled up. I'm thinking of bitter experience when I used to troll a fishing line out behind a boat as a child and if one of the spinner things got snagged and didn't spin, then the whole thing was in a bugger's muddle before you could say "terabyte of data". I expect the crew of the IT Interceptor will have got their spinner things properly greased up before they set off from Faial but I hope they don't fall into the same trap the crew of the Great Eastern did.

The GE was an overly large steamship built by the Victorian engineer Brunel which was ahead of its time in terms of mass transport. After disappointments too numerous to mention (pictured above - imagine today mischievous press coverage of an A380 running into severe turbulence on its maiden flight), the GE was pensioned off to the alternative use of laying telegraph cables across the Atlantic because it was the only ship at the time big enough to carry such huge rolls of cable. These were in the days when cables were as thick as tree trunks except not as flexible:-

Anyway, when they were unrolling the cable off the back of the Great Eastern, somewhere in the vicinity of Faial as I recall, they only went and dropped the end of the fucking thing into the sea, 3,000 miles out from Land's End or wherever they'd set off from!

Nowadays, we have risk assessment (to tell you not to do things) and loss adjusters (to tell risk assessors not to do things). In previous generations, you had officers and gentlemen who, having embarked on something appallingly dangerous, didn't give up without a fight. The greatest example of this was Captain Bligh (Tony Hopkins) of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. As you'll recall, his mission was to get bread fruit from Tahiti and take it to the West Indies. But to make it more of a challenge, he decided to go via Cape Horn, failed in that so went the other way to Tahiti instead, suffered a mutiny by Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson), navigated the rowing boat he was chucked in to all the way to Australia, got back to Britain where he was court-martialled (Larry Olivier, Edward Fox). Upon being acquitted, what do you think he did next? If it had been me, I wouldn't have set foot on another boat as long as I lived. But Bligh only set off to Tahiti again and took the bread fruit to the Caribbean!

But I digress, where was I? Oh yes, dropping the end of the cable off the back of the Great Eastern into the mid-Atlantic. I wouldn't reach in up to my elbow to get my car keys back but Captain What'sname of the GE decided to go fishing for the cable 20,000 leagues under the sea with nothing so much as a grappling iron. And he found it, pulled it back on board, coupled it up to the next length and next stop Long Island! Put that in your Global Positioning System and smoke it! I know about this because I've got a book which by coincidence I bought at Heathrow on the way out to the Azores on holiday for the first ever time in Jan 2004. Little did I know so much of the action would take place off the coast of my destination then and have such a resonance for where I live now.

Aye, well, there you go, as we Scots say. I trust the crew of the IT Interceptor will not have any such alarms and excursions. Although I do have a bit of a mental image of them arriving off the coast of Flores and someone loud hails ashore "OK, we've got it here, where do we plug it in?" And a harrassed Portugal Telecom official calls back "What do you mean "where do we plug it in"? I thought you were dealing with that ...".  

That's the sort of thing that happens here, I kid you not. Vamos ver as we Portuguese say but there's another little ill omen apart from the fact laying the cable is scheduled to start next Friday, the 13th. The IT Interceptor's previous name was Atlantida which was also the name of the ill-fated car ferry ordered by the Azores Government in 2007 from the Portuguese Government but never taken delivery of because it allegedly didn't come up to contract specifications. The ensuing acrimony is an ongoing saga to this day too tedious to recount (you think the Scotland v UK posturing is petty?) but see here.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

If I were a boy

It's the second weekend of September which means it's Carol's birthday and Faja Grande's annual festa.

For us that means two things, one we go out for dinner and, two, a band is thumping out tunes outside the church till about 4am. It also signifies a weekend when you recognise summer has begun to turn into autumn. Below is last year with a distinctly autumnal hue in the air.

This year has seen a number of differences. First, it's still freakingly hot weather-wise without the slightest hint of autumn round the corner. But more importantly, there's a different band fronting the Faja festa this year.

This year's and last year's bands have in common that they mostly play traditional Portuguese songs but have one - I'm struggling for the words to describe it and all I can come up with is - "western rock tune" they produce. For last year's band (same band - Captain Morgan and his Hammond Organ - for the last seven years), that tune was one by a group I can't remember the name of but it's a continent: as long as I've lived on this island, I associate Carol's birthday with "The Final Countdown." In my dotage, I find that embedding a Youtube video eludes me but this is the link. I think The Final Countdown

But this year it's all disturbingly different. A new band and this year's departure from "My conchita she has left me" and similar Portuguese classics (trad. ar.) is, of all things, "By the Rivers of Babylon"

It gives the word "incongruous" new meaning.

I don't like change at my time of life so it's just as well Carol's birthday dinner at Jorge's provided a soothing balm. The best restaurant in the whole world world just happens to be in  Faja Grande:

As I type this (1.19am), the band are bumping out what we call the "Boomp-Terah Boomp-Terah" song for what may be the 67th time this weekend. But it's sort of reassuring. I'd be far more worried if they were attempting "Let it be" or "If I were a boy".

Friday, 17 May 2013

Fork Handles

There's a classic BBC TV comedy sketch by "the Two Ronnies" in which a customer (Ronnie Barker) goes into a hardware (ironmongery - ferragens) shop and asks for four candles.

The bloke behind the counter (Ronnie Corbett) goes off, up a ladder, and eventually returns and says "There you are - four candles."

To which the customer replies "Nah, fork handles"

That sort of thing caused ratings busting gales of mirth in the early 1970s but is dated nowadays. I only mention it because I had a fork handles moment with Victor the plumber yesterday.

Victor was installing a new autoclismo - which sounds like a Woody Allen orgasmotron but is nothing so banal as a toilet cistern - in a house that doesn't belong to us but we manage for its owners. But Victor ran into problems when he discovered the seal supplied with the cistern wouldn't fit the sanita - that's the bit you sit on (or stand in front of according to gender and function to be performed). What was needed, said Victor, was an abraçadeira but he didn't have any of the right size with him.

Worry not, said I, I have an abraçadeira of the right dimensions in the house, I'll go and fetch it. Off I went in the car, returned 15 minutes later, brandished it triumphantly and Victor said, in true Ronnie Barker style:-

"Não, abraçadeira"

What I had thought was required and had brought was a jubilee clip:-

But what Victor actually meant was a cable tie:-

For once, however, this was not me being a nincompoop - Portuguese appears to have only one word - abraçadeira - for items as diverse as jubilee clips and cable ties: "Well if you'd meant an abraçadeira why didn't you say abraçadeira!"

The point was reinforced when today I went into Avila, Fraga & Filhos - the best hardware shop in the whole world and which just happens to be in Sta Cruz das Flores - to get some cable clips:-

I asked Edgar in AF&F - who speaks immaculate English - what's the Portuguese word for these? He replied:- abraçadeiras.

As it happens, AF&F is self service but if it wasn't, I'd been that close to a multiple fork handle moment, sending Edgar back and forth, Ronnie Corbett style, potentially three times until he eventually brought me the exact type of abraçadeira I was looking for!

In fact Edgar had the last laugh when I asked him what the Portuguese for these was:-

He said he didn't know but reckoned it would be a bucha. Except bucha is to buchas what abraçadeira is to abraçadeiras so I wasn't going to let him off with that. But I didn't know what the English for one of these is either except for "that thing for attaching things to plasterboard that you didn't realise you'd need until you've drilled a hole the size of a South African diamond mine and covered yourself in dust ..."

Edgar checked the computer and discovered it's called a bucha molly. I still don't know the English word for them. It could be fork handle for all I know. It would be about as useful for hanging that blind from plasterboard ...

South African diamond mine

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Tomato sandwich (another nautical tale from Flores)

Last Sunday (28 April) was another driech day with strong east winds. Being on the west coast of the island should mean you're sheltered from easterlies but, in practice, what happens is vicious gusts scream down off the cliffs, whipping the surface off the sea. At one point, I glanced out the window and saw a white spot which I initially took to be spindrift but, on closer examination, turned out to be a yacht.

Having been a minor league yottie on the west coast of Scotland in a previous life (though only a coastal day sailor which is a totally different kettle of rabbits from cruising the oceans), I immediately reached for the binoculars and followed its progress, smashing through the heavy seas, beating to windward close hauled (that's yot-speak for something it would be too tedious to explain to non-yotties) southwards (right to left) until it disappeared from view.

About an hour later, however, the yacht re-appeared much closer inshore, coming from left to right now ...

Makes sense, I thought: harbour at Lajes totally untenable in easterly, probably better off in comparative shelter of west coast at Faja Grande even with these gusts off the cliffs (although by now, the wind had moderated somewhat). The fact the yacht had approached FG by first disappearing out of sight to the left (south) and then reappearing inshore going in the opposite direction (instead of heading straight in from the position in the first photo) also made perfect sense to me as a nautical cove for reasons which, once again, I'll spare you. What did appear odd, however, was that the yacht was now closing the coast with only its foresails (the ones in front of the mast) set. To my coastal sailor's mind that breaks every rule in the book and I ascribed it to some mystery of oceanic sailing I was uninitiated in. Curious, however, I went down to the seafront for a closer look.

If there is one rule in the yottie's book (be he coastal or offshore), it's that, whenever you attempt an unorthodox manoeuvre within sight of land, there will be someone on shore peering through binoculars making adverse comments ("What the hell's he doing that for?") Subsection (1) of that rule is that, once close enough in, the same person will drop the binoculars and begin to communicate with you by ambiguous hand gestures. One of these involves cupping his hands round his mouth with no apparent result. Subsection (2) involves a second person joining the first and making gestures which appear to contradict the first person's.

Having proverbially "been there, done that", I forebore from any attempt at communication with the yacht ("I say! Once you've dropped the hook - over THERE would be better! - do row ashore and pop up for pre-prandials!") Anyway, it was one of these days, weatherwise, getting dark soon as well, when I was pretty glad to be able to step back into a car and drive home rather than being on a yacht, keeping watch in the rain taking transits fretting about whether the anchor was going to hold.

The following morning (Monday, 29 April), I happened to glance out the window and see the Lajes pilot cutter apparently attempting to rendezvous with the yacht and take it under tow. Very difficult in a big sea but after much to-ing and fro-ing a line was secured and off they went.

I asked José António at the shop if he'd heard what the story was but he hadn't and, beyond looking at the Lajes webcam to checking that the yacht had duly arrived there (it had) ...

... I didn't think about it again until Friday (3 May) when I got a tip that there was a blog by a solo yachtsman who'd fetched up in Flores in slightly fraught circumstances and did I know anything about this?

Turns out the yacht is called Wild Song and belongs to one Paul Heiney (British readers may recognise the name of the BBC radio presenter.) You can read the blog here - for the approach to Flores, scroll down to the entry titled "Low in every sense" on 24 April and read up.

The long and short is, after cruising in Patagonia for the winter (our winter - summer in the Southern Hemisphere of course), Wild Song left Uruguay on 25 February bound for her home port of Falmouth, UK via a planned stop at Horta on Faial in the Azores (a popular yachtsman's harbour). After nearly two months at sea, Wild Song was within 140 mile of Horta when contrary winds drove her west. Moreover, the yacht's engine wouldn't start due to dirt in the dregs of the fuel tank. The main problem that caused was no power for the water maker. Hence Paul decided to make for Flores instead.

In the unseasonably awful weather we've been having this spring, he described the 48 hours around his arrival at this island as the worst in his yachting experience.

To add to the lack of an engine, Wild Song's mainsail tore catastrophically during the approach to the dubious shelter of Fajã Grande. That explains the unusual set of sails I observed. In anything but the most benign of conditions, a yacht is very difficult to manouevre without a mainsail. And having lobbed out 60 metres of chain to anchor at FG, which would be almost impossible to get back up by hand without the engine to power an electric windlass (machine to pull chain up), all these factors combined to make Paul (reluctantly as a very last resort, I should imagine from my own experience) call for help. This was achieved by phoning the UK coastguard on his mobile who contacted their opposite numbers in Portugal and the net upshot was the pilot cutter (boat) came round the next morning to tow Wild Song to Lajes - a distance of about 12 miles (19km). Note also that the pilot cutter is kept out of the water and have had to be launched by crane to meet this exigency.

12 miles (19km) from FG to Lajes
Four members of the pilot cutter's crew boarded Wild Song to assist with pulling up the anchor, a process which took 45 minutes (for any non-nautical coves still reading, it normally takes about 5 minutes, max).

But the troubles were only just beginning. With the yacht now free of her anchor, the tow rope to the pilot cutter broke five times before they got under way. On one occasion, Paul describes this as happening so close to the rocks of the shore, he could barely look. That must have been the lowest point of the worst 48 hours.

I watched this entire performance through the binoculars from my kitchen window and feel rather guilty now I was rubber-necking an event which must have been traumatic in the extreme for the participants.

Library picture of Lajes das Flores marina earlier this year
Anyway, a happy ending. They duly arrived at Lajes. An engineer came and fixed the engine and attempted to only charge 6 Euros! The tow round from Faja Grande cost only 100 Euros which seems pretty blooming reasonable to me. All in all, I think Paul Heiney will have some good memories of my island despite his inauspicious arrival thereat.

As I type this, Wild Song is en route to Horta on Faial, 120 miles east, powered by a combination of light following winds and her engine as necessary. At Horta, she can get her main sail repaired (essential to face the long haul back to Britain).

I shall be following the blog with interest from hereon in. I was amused by the fact that, despite the trauma of his arrival in the Azores, Paul managed to pen the very shrewd observation that, in centuries gone by, sailors judged their proximity to land by smell, colour of the sea, seabirds, stuff floating in the water etc. etc. Nowadays, it's by a text message from Vodafone as your mobile phone acquires a signal saying "Welcome to Portugal! Calls to the UK cost ..."

How true!

And a post-script on reading the blog was Linda at the shop who said "A tomato sandwich? Where'd he get from the tomato from?" It's a not entirely tongue in cheek allusion to the scarcity of fresh veg on such a verdant island (and how the vast majority of such of it as we do get is imported from other Azores or even further afield).    

Friday, 3 May 2013

Corvo - end of an era

Last month saw the end of an era for Corvo, Flores' satellite island 12 miles (19km) to the north with a population of 400.

Effective 7 April 2013, Corvo's cargo service ceases to be maintained by local Flores company, Maré Ocidental (literally "Western Tide"), and is replaced by a rival firm from the island of Pico, Amaral Felicianos e Faria, Lda. (AFF). Maré Ocidental has undertaken the Corvo sailings through three generations of the Lopes family: the first of these, the late José Augusto Lopes, was awarded the Portuguese equivalent of an OBE in 1994 for services to his community:-

This may need some explaining for British readers. If Corvo were an island off the coast of Britain (typically Scotland), then cargo - i.e. stuff you take for granted that you can buy in shops and petrol and things like that - would go on a lorry which drives on to a ro-ro ferry at a place like Oban or Ullapool, drives off and delivers its stuff to the island shops, then drives back on to the ferry the following day and returns to the mainland. On Corvo, there is no lorry and the stuff (having arrived on Flores in containers in a container ship) gets loaded by a crane individually (on pallets or smaller containers) onto a little cargo ship. Apart from the very smallest of islands (Fair Isle, Foula and North Ronaldsay in Orkney and Shetland with an average population of about 50 are the only ones I can think of), that doesn't happen in Britain. Below is a picture of stuff for Corvo in a small container being loaded on to Maré Ocidental's ship, the Santa Iria at Lajes on Flores:-

What that picture doesn't capture is that the Santa Iria was heaving about at the pier in the swell making it an extremely skillful job for the crane operator to drop the container into the hold - note the dimesions of the aperture in the ship's deck relative to the size of the container. Not easy. Below is a picture of the Santa Iria unloading at Corvo:-

Note the strong similarity between the Santa Iria and the Good Shepherd IV which serves Fair Isle, an island (pop. 69) 25 miles (40km) from Shetland in Scotland:-

Photo credit Ian Leask
But carrying cargo to Corvo is not a profitable occupation. It depends on being subsidised by the Azorean Government and under EU regulations such subsidies must be put out to tender (concurso público). And in the most recent tender Maré Ocidental (MO) have been beaten to it by AFF. Below is AFF's vessel, the similar but surely inauspiciously named Lusitania, at Lajes with the now redundant Santa Iria at her mooring behind.

MO also ran pleasure sailings to Corvo and around the coast of Flores (in a different boat) during the summer. They also have premises in Fajã Grande where you can hire bikes, scooters and kayaks etc. in summer. But without their core contract of carrying the cargo to Corvo, it's been announced the firm is to close with loss of eleven jobs. I don't know what's going to happen to the Santa Iria (or the scooters and kayaks). Given that Fair Isle is already taken care of, I expect there must be quite a restricted market for such vessels.

En route to Corvo on the Santa Iria in 2009
The other thing is, I don't understand is why the MO people have to lose their jobs. There's a principle of European Union law called TUPE - English speaking lawyers pronounce that "Choopy" and it's an acronym for "Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment". The basic principle is that, in a situation like the change of Corvo contract, the incoming company can't just sack the outgoing company's people and replace them with their own instead - they have to keep the outgoing company's people on unless there's some very good reason not to. I can imagine American Republican voters deriding this as socialist statism. And British UKIP (a political party opposed to memebership of the EU) voters likewise. But in the meantime, I'm not aware of the "good reason" why the change from MO on the Corvo run means their employees are out of a job.

Photo credit ferrymanjgb

I totally get why public subsidy has to be put out to tender and that this may inevitably involve a loser. But two things from similar situations in Scotland where I come from. First, the subsidised shipping services to the Scottish islands (pictured above) are periodically put out to tender. But it's always made a condition that the winning bidder must employ the outgoing contractor's people. To put that another way, any company submitting a bid must demonstrate that there is no "good reason" why the normal consequences of TUPE won't apply or their bid won't be considered.

Second, there was an awful hoo-hah recently when the hunting rights on a Scottish island called Raasay (above) which belongs to the government were auctioned. The lease was awarded to a company from elsewhere in Scotland which had bid only £2k (=2.2k€) higher than a syndicate of local crofters (small farmers) which had held the lease for a number of years. There was no question of anyone losing their jobs here and, on one view, the govt. had done the right thing by awarding the lease to highest bidder. But as the Scottish soi disant Government also espouses localism, shouldn't it have a policy of weighing in the balance the benefits of keeping contracts within local communities even if that's at the expense of a few thousand pounds a year?

I'm not aware there's been a similar hoo-hah in the Azores over the Corvo shipping contract. If it had happened in Scotland, it would have been be headline news. Maybe I just don't read the right websites. Maybe Azoreans have a more amanhã attitude than we uptight Brits do.

Friday, 12 April 2013

How green is my island

You know how you get really hacked off when you get something in the post like a bank statement or a utility bill and the envelope is stuffed with gratuitous extra leaflets and whatnot? Well I certainly do. It's probably a conpiracy to force you to go paperless but I'm absolutely buggered if I'm going to let the Royal Bank of Scotland (to name but one offender) off the hook from posting me a hard copy of my monthly statement in accordance with time honoured tradition.

Anyway, for once I was remarkably interested in a brochure enclosed with - as it happened - my electricity bill from EDA (Electricidade dos Acores). It showed in commendably simple graphic form the sources of generation of electricity on each island of the Azores:-

The brown bit of each doughnut (filhos) represents the proportion of energy generated by oil. Counter-intuitively, perhaps, the smallest island - Corvo - is 100% fossilly fueled whereas the largest island - São Miguel - has the largest proportion of renewables. That's mainly due to its access to geothermal energy, what with its hot springs and all. Flores is the second greenest island due to its high proportion of hydro-electricity. I know there's a hydro reservoir here but have never been there - note to self to remedy that shortissimo.

That's the reservoir on Flores as seen on Google Earth. To my untutored eye, it doesn't look big enough to generate more than a quarter of the island's electricity but what do I know ...

But anyway, thanks for that EDA - I was very interested in these stats. Nice one.

It was, however, all something of a contrast to an insert with another delivery in the same post - a DVD off Amazon of a film called Cockles and Muscles. I've seen this on the telly before and it's the sort of thing the Sunday Express would call "a delightfully sexy romp". But I was unprepared for the brochure in the padded envelope. My suspicions were tipped off by the inside of the front page:-

Oh Lord, I thought, bloody artsy-fartsy Euro films. But I should have realised the drift when I spotted the company was called Peccadillo Pictures.

Feeling somewhat queasy about what might be revealed under "Rites of Passage" or "Saffron Hill" (you do NOT want to know), I inevitably skimmed straight to "Women in Love" where I was rendered positively billious to be confronted by none other than Sharon "Cagney" Gless:-

Does Harv know? Who's going to tell Harv Junior? Was he played by John Goodman or am I thinking of someone else?            

Thursday, 4 April 2013


This is the big headline in the Azores just now: "Passengers delayed in the islands may have to pay for accommodation".

It's referring to the fact that, at present, if your flight is cancelled due to weather conditions, SATA (the inter Azorean airline) will accommodate you in a hotel (with lunch, dinner and breakfast including wine) for as long as until your flight can get away (in our longest experience, two days).

It usually follows a fairly predictable pattern. If, on a day of dubious weather, your plane doesn't board within +/- 20 minutes of the scheduled time, then you wait for a couple of hours punctuated by periodic announcements promising novas informações (further information) in half an hour. And you know they're just sitting waiting for a better weather forecast until the crew's duty time runs out whereupon the announcement is "A SATA informa que o voo SP587 com destinho Flores foi cancelado ..." whereupon eveyone dashes to the desk without without waiting to here that it's "... por causa das condições climaticas ...". In fact the clever people are already huddled round the desk so as to avoid the queue to be informed of the time of the flight tomorrow and be given a hotel voucher. Then the luggage is brought back out and it's on to a waiting minibus into town where lunch or dinner is usually just about to be dished up.

Hotel Avenida, Ponta Delgada - scene of a very pleasant night's stay at SATA's expense

Of course, SATA doesn't do all this out of the goodness of its heart - it's mandated by a European Directive. Nor is it totally free in as much that the risk is priced into the cost of your ticket - in effect Brussels is forcing you to buy a travel insurance policy. This is the sort of thing that plays right into the hands of British Eurosceptics - "How DARE a motley bunch of namby-pamby, wishy-washy, lefty socialist, cheese eating, garlic honking boche, frogs, dagoes and wops abrogate our constitutional right enshrined in Magna Carta not to have to buy travel insurance (but nevertheless complain bitterly to the tabloid press about how shabbily we are treated by damned foreigners when our flights are cancelled)? Did the blessed Margaret earn herself the soubriquet in Europe of Madame Non for this?"

And the low cost airlines, who are in the business of selling you nothing that you don't pay extra for, hate it as well. As witness Ryanair having to accommodate people who'd only paid £5 for a ticket for weeks on end during the ash cloud fiasco a couple of years ago.

The funniest thing about the ash cloud was the CEO of British Airways, wee Willie Walsh (an Irishman), running out of patience with Eurocratic dithering and ordering his fleet stranded at out stations like Cape Town and Singapore to take off en masse for home.

"Bomber" Walsh shrewdly calculated that the 15 hours or so before massed ranks of Airbuses appeared over the horizon would be enough to focus the attention of Brussels on whether 0.00001% of ash per cubic whatsname was really that much of a threat. Meanwhile, girls looking like Susannah York were cycling with gas masks in bags over their shoulders to Nissen Huts to push models of 747s around a big table marked with a chart of Western Europe with Iceland conspicuous at top left and lines snaking their way to Brussels like the title sequence of Dad's Army ("Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Barroso ...?"). And at 39,000 feet over Morocco, to the tune of the Dambusters march, square jawed airline captains looking like John Mills are saying to squared jawed first officers looking like Christopher Plummer: "Tell 'em to stow the drinks trolleys - we're going to be coming in for some flak but it'll take more than the European Commission's ash cloud [read "Goering's Luftwaffe"] to prevent me putting this kite down at Heathrow [read "Biggin Hill"]."

 But I digress. It's not the pleas of low cost airlines which have melted the cold heart of Europe but those of small regional airlines. Hence, the proposal is that the right to free accommodation in case of a cancellation will not apply in the case of flight less than 250km operated by a plane with 80 or less seats (unless the flight cancelled is a connection from a >250km or >80 seat flight).

Applying that to SATA, their fleet are all 80 seats or less (tick). There are regular direct flights from Flores to Horta (Faial), Terceira and and Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel). Of these three, only Horta is less than 250km away (tick). So if you happen to be flying from Horta and your flight is cancelled, you don't get put up whereas if it's PD you do. This matters because people mostly don't CHOOSE which other Azorean island they're flying to/from, it's generally dictated by where they are sent for medical appointments etc. I'm not talking about tourists here, although that's another hornet's nest - the central point is it would be ludicrous to discriminate between the Azores according to the accident of +/- 250km distance between them.

For us personally, it doesn't really matter because we will usually be flying the  less than 250km flight to Flores as part of a connection from Lisbon so if it's cancelled at Horta due to the weather at Flores, we'll still be OK for a free nosh up at the Hotel de Fayal (above).

It's also relevant here that SATA is not a "for profit" organisation. It's bankrolled by the Azorean Government to provide an otherwise unprofitable public transport service round the islands. In this respect, it's exactly the same as Scotland's Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (who, I may add, do not put you up if a sailing is cancelled because there's no law that says they have to.)

But if I were entrusted with the judgement of Solomon over this and couldn't bring myself to say that SATA inter island flights will all continue to offer the same service as regards accommodation for cancelled flights regardless of distance, then what I would propose is this: there are two tariffs of ticket, one equal to current fares where the accommodation in the event of cancellation is included as at present and a cheaper fare where it's not. But even for those who select the cheaper fare, the "infrastructure" will still be there in terms of the pre-booked taxi and room etc, it's just they will have to pay 50 Euros (or whatever) where those on the current fare won't.

Does that sound reasonable?