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 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.

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 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".