Saturday 21 November 2015


I'm so rock and roll that my only two playlists on Youtube are called "Land Registration" and "Maintenance". Don't ask about the former but the latter is a collection of videos, mostly by Matt of eSpares showing me how to do things like ...

Reason I'm mentioning this is that, last year, we bought two venetian blinds from a British firm called for our new holiday rental (see here). They're made to measure by entering the required dimensions into their website and they post them out to you. 185,00€ including delivery (and a 20,00€ option so that, if when you when you receive them, you find you got your measurements wrong, you can get them to send a new set of the correct size gratis) seemed quite reasonable and we were very happy with the blinds we got (which did fit first time).

The degree of satisfaction evaporated somewhat a couple of weeks ago when the string that raises and lowers the blind (not the one which alters the angle of attack of the slats - if you're not sure what the difference is, think of the alpha floor protection algorithm on the horizontal stabilisers of an Airbus A320) snapped.

This was literally a matter of days after the one year warranty expired but I imagined that a reputable company like Web-Blinds would probably have a string replacement kit they would send out gratis. But when I wrote to them, the answer I got was:-

Dear Mr King

Thank you for your email

I do apologise but we are unable to send replacement cord to you.

This is because replacing the cord without perishing the blind is an extremely difficult task and often lead [sic] the blind falling apart.

With this being the case we do not advise this and have no instructions to assist.

Kind Regards

Ashley Richardson

Well FU2 Ashley, I was thinking, until it occurred that Matt at eSpares might have a more can-do attitude. I was half right because about 30 seconds googling brought me to a YouTube called "How to Restring a Horizontal Woodblind" by which did very much as it says on the tin:-

Next stop Ebay to order some venetian blind cord (£8.59/11,50€ inc. postage: here) and, this having duly arrived, yesterday I went up to the house to attempt the job. OK, it took about 45 times as long as the vid implies due to the fiddlyness of threading the cord through the roller mechanism but, despite the dire prognostications of Ashley at Web-Blinds, the job was ultimately entirely successful after remarkably little DIY Tourettes:-

The point here is that, if it weren't for YouTube (and by extension the fibre optic cable laid out to this island two years ago before which it wasn't possible to watch YTs), it would never have occurred to me that this was a repair I could have done myself and I'd have ended up paying 10 times as much as I did for a new blind.

Now I'm off to pen a carefully crafted reply to Ashley. It will involve telling her to:-

Saturday 31 October 2015

Rugby World Cup Lookalike

Has anyone else noticed the uncanny resemblance between Australian flanker Michael Hooper and the punk in Dirty Harry?

Hooper                                                           Punk
Even if not related, they share the same fate of not having been lucky.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Nazi lookalike (update)

As reported on the BBC today - here - but the record will show I trailed this unfolding scandal more than a year ago - here.

Surely it ought to be Hauptmann Ullmann suing to protect his image rights - the doll doesn't look anything like him.

Sunday 20 September 2015

Raptor lookalike

A friend (you know who you are and you're right!) has drawn to my attention that few appear to have noticed the uncanny resemblance between Eastender's star Samantha Womack and a bird of prey:-

Janus                                                    Steppe Eagle
As they almost certainly are related, Phil needs to be told so he can get la belle Ron stuffed and mounted in a glass case on the parcel shelf of a used Golf down the Arches to keep Kaff company:-

Wednesday 1 July 2015

FAQs: diesel

I regularly receive questions from people contemplating coming to live on Flores. Prominent amongst these are property prices (low-ish), Portuguese taxes (average) and internet speed (I've no complaints but judge for youself).

But I was surprised recently to be asked if you could buy diesel on the island. Particularly as the questioner had pre-supposed that he could get his SUV to a place where it might not be possible to refuel it on arrival.

For the avoidance of doubt (as we lawyers are fond of saying when in fact we're adding to it massively), you can buy diesel here. At petrol (gas) stations in accordance with the usual practice, in fact - you don't have to buy it in leaky jerry cans from a bloke who smuggled it off a passing ship, or anything.

Library picture - this particular petrol station is now closed

Don't ask me about the price of diesel, though, as my car is petrol (gasoline). 1,38€ per litre as you ask, which, with the Euro trading so low due to the Greek crisis (how is that anti-austerity thing working out, by the way?), is about £1.00. Thus, petrol in this outlying island is considerably cheaper than in Britain where it currently averages around £1.17 a litre. That's no doubt because Portugal taxes petrol more lightly than the UK but the BBC's fuel price calculator also suggests that the price of petrol on Flores is about 9% below the Portuguese average.

Whether that's because the Azores suffer a lower rate of fuel duty than in continental Portugal, I don't know (we have 5% lower Value Added Tax (sales tax) here and lower Income Tax rates as well) but cheaper petrol in the islands is the complete reverse of the situation in Scotland where higher fuel prices in the islands is a constant gripe due to the transportation costs (even though the Scottish islands are much closer to the mainland than the Azores).

I've digressed away from things intending residents of Flores wonder about whether you can buy here. When we arrived in 2006 we were mindful of the fact our house's electricity supply had been disconnected (because there's a standing charge of 0,31€ a day - do we have that in Britain?) and it might take a while for it to be reconnected. So we brought a shed load of candles with us. We've still got most of them:-

If we'd known then what we know now, though, we'd have brought a suitcase full of this:-

Thursday 9 April 2015


Dipping in to the UK election debate last night, they were discussing the abolition of tax breaks for Non-Doms (Russian oligarchs who live in Britain and own football clubs there but are not legally resident). However, I was struck less by the policy differences as by the sartorial similarities between incumbent prime minister, David Cameron, and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband:-

Blue single breasted suit, cream shirt and plum tie.

Dress says a lot about politicians: much has been made of the open necked look affected by the new Greek government:-

Is that a pint of Guiness Varoufakis is holding?

Having got over the cheap nylon shirts and squint ties they were prone to in previous decades, ex-Soviet bloc leaders continue to embarrass themselves with over-sized hats and even bigger tits:-

Not that the leader of the free world should be feeling too smug: I always feel American presidents look particularly cringeworthy in their Air Force One bomber jackets:-

But all of this is a paling into insignificance introduction to what the FUCK is President of Venzuela, Nicolas Maduro's anorak all about?

More chav than chavista?

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Proper bread

Set in a fictitious working class suburb of Manchester, England, "Coronation Street" is the world's longest running TV soap opera.

Ken Barlow appeared in the very first episode in 1960 and the actor who plays him, Bill Roache, remains perennially youthful at the age of 82 despite having been caught up in the dragnet of British 60s/70s celebrities accused of sex crimes and acquitted.

The fourth of Ken's wives, Deirdre, has been in the Street since the early 70s and still is despite the fact the actress who plays her is dead. This is because Deirdre remains "away" sine die. You know, in that way soap characters go "away" at short notice to impossibly remote places like Scotland or sometimes even (shivers!) countries in continental Europe like Spain where, apparently, there are no telecommunications, low-cost airlines or even postal services allowing them to communicate with back home as if they were jihadis who'd gone to join IS.

Anyway, in what proved to be one of her latter appearances in the Street last year, Deirdre and Ken were on a caravanning holiday. Deirdre (but not Ken) is a townie uncomfortable in the country and is on the phone to her daughter, Tracy, back home in Weatherfield when she delivers one of the best comic lines in the history of soap:

Your dad's gone to the farm to get fresh milk. I don't know why he bothered - I told him they've got proper milk at the petrol station down the road!

That's all by way of a very long introduction to the fact that we've now got proper bread on Flores. You know, the sort that's already sliced and in a plastic bag and you buy in a supermarket instead of that awful rubbish you have to buy in a baker's and cut yourself.

I don't know if there's an equivalent expression in Portuguese (a melhor coisa desde pao laminado?) but in British English we talk about "the greatest thing since sliced bread" (as in "my mother thinks my brother's new girlfriend is the greatest thing since ..."). Well, we're currently living that moment on Flores - experiencing the arrival of something eponymously that good!

Anyway, the bread in question is imported from a Spanish company called BIMBO. Now I'm not some kind of namby pamby, hoity toity, la-di-dah, raggety arsed faggot of a lefty liberal tree hugger by a long shot but even I feel a tad queasy about the food miles involved in having beans (did I mention they've also got "proper beans" made by Heinz here as well now?) on toast baked in Barcelona of all the bloody places! Delicious though they may be.

The outermost ripples of globalisation are well and truly lapping on the shores of Flores but I'm often asked by tourists why you can't buy fresh locally grown vegetables in the shops here. The answer is, I think, that plenty of stuff is grown here: it just doesn't get into the shops because it's used at home by the people who planted it. The food economy has sort of skipped a generation (or two) and is presently sitting at an uneasy cross-roads between grow your own and import it from Barcelona.

Ken Barlow would understand. Deirdre wouldn't. Not sure I do. But I think these guys know the answer:-


Tuesday 31 March 2015

Encaminhamento (free flights to Flores!)

Between Germanwings in the French Alps and then Air Canada at Halifax NS, it's not been a good week for that ubiquitous workhorse of the skies, the humble Airbus A320.

But the one pictured below isn't being sprayed by fire trucks because it's on fire or anything but rather as a celebration of the first easyJet flight to the Azores which landed at Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel on Sunday, 29 March.

And the first Ryanair flight will arrive at PDL on Wednesday:-

That picture is clearly a photoshop because the mountain in the background is on the island of Pico which is nowhere near Ponta Delgada. You see Pico flying out of Horta on Faial and for anyone who gets queasy about airliners flying too close to mountains, here's a photo to give you the squitters:-

Oops, sorry! Wrong picture! This is the one I meant:-

That's one I took of Pico viewed from a passing TAP Airbus minutes out of Horta.

Anyway, easyJet will be flying LIS-PDL three times a week initially with the frequency increasing from June (see here) while Ryanair will be flying twice daily LIS-PDL six days a week and will also have less frequent flights from PDL to Porto and London-Stansted (see here).

But as well as the advent of easyJet and Ryanair, our own local airline, SATA (shortly to be rebranded as Azores Airlines, I gather), has introduced a new scheme called encaminhamento.

That's one of these words that I know what it means but there isn't an English word for. Caminho is the Portuguese for a path or a track: if it helps, re-encaminhar is the word for "forward" in the context of e-mail so encaminhamento would translate as "sending you on your way" or similar.

Anyway, what this means in the context of air travel is this. There are only three Azorean islands (Sao Miguel, Terceira and Faial) with direct flights to the continente. So, if, like us, you live on one of the other six Azores, you have to get a connecting SATA flight to your point of departure for the mainland. Encaminhamento is the concept that that connecting flight is now free.

Photo credit Paulo Santos

Another way of expressing encaminhamento is that SATA's fares to (and from) Lisbon are now the same from all islands in the Azores. And this applies whether you're a resident or a tourist: the only qualification for your free flight to, say, Flores, is that you spend less than 24 hours on the island where you initially landed from the continent.

And crucially, it's not just SATA's fares that have been equalised: you get your free onward ticket to Flores (or wherever) on SATA even if you arrived from the continent on easyJet or Ryanair!

Corvo Airport - photo credit Markus Mainka

Will we actually benefit from the advent of the low cost airlines and encaminhamento?

I'm awfae' cynical (can you believe that?) and find it hard to believe you ever get anything for nothing. Are Ryanair and easyJet actually any cheaper? In our experience of flying to the UK from Lisbon, TAP or British Airways can often be equally competitive with Easy/Ryan once frequency and timing of available flights are considered.

And within the Azores, unless the Azorean Government (which is devolved (autonomous) within Portugal like Scotland in the UK) has upped SATA's subsidy, presumably the prices of flights from PDL to LIS have had to increase to pay for the now free flights from FLW (et al) to PDL, to the detriment of those who already live in PDL. Bear in mind that the population of the six Azorean islands which don't have direct flights to Lisbon is only 15% of the total so perhaps the marginal increase to give that 15% a boon is hardly noticeable to the 85%.

SATA is wholly owned by the Azorean Government and only exists with public subsidy to maintain "lifeline" links to remote islands. In this, SATA is identical to Caledonian MacBrayne, the state owned shipping company which serves the islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Photo credit - Finlay Oman
The Scottish islands differ from the Azores in that, being closer to the mainland, a far greater percentage of passengers (and their cars) travel on the ro-ro ferries which also carry the cargo. And although everyone loves to hate Calmac, the very mention of privatisation or even allowing a private sector competitor on to the scene brings down a shit-storm of abuse.

But the Scottish Government recently introduced a new fare scheme called "Road Equivalent Tariff" (RET). This is that the fare to take a vehicle on a Calmac ship should be the same as the cost of driving it the same distance as the ferry crossing. And that passenger fares be the same as a bus or railway ticket of equal length.

RET has indeed resulted in an across the board reduction of shipping costs in Scotland. So perhaps I need to park my cynicism and view encaminhamento as another example of an imaginative approach to rationalising fares on lifeline services and reducing them at the same time.

Vamos ver. It's an interesting question whether that translates as "Let's see" - which implies an open mind - or "We'll see" which implies a closed mind. Or as we Scots say "Aye, right."


Friday 27 March 2015


Continuing with the theme (sort of) of the exigencies of island life and having to get stuff delivered, we have:-

(a) a mirror which has got a sort of a blotch on it (see above) so we need a replacement piece of mirror glass; and

(b) a sofa bed one of the foam cushions of which has gone saggy (see below) so we need a piece of foam

This presented sourcing challenges - do they sell cut to measure pieces of mirror glass on this island? And I'd be almost certain they don't sell made to measure cushion foam on Flores, but can it be sent here at reasonable expense?

First the foam. A bit of internet research led us to TWFoam. An e-mail correspondence with Tracy French at this company patiently answered numerous queries about foam densities suitable for sofa beds, wisdom or otherwise of stockinette covers and the inevitable postage costs to the Azores. Having double checked they really did mean £50 including p+p, I asked how I could pay and they said I should phone. Which I did. A bloke with a deep scouse accent answered and the conversation went as follows:-

NK - Hello, my name's King, I've been in e-mail correspondence with Tracy ...
Scouse bloke - Yeah, that's me ...
NK - Oh, you don't sound like a Tracy ...

In the background, Carol was listening to this and was doubled up with mirth.

But had we been guilty of some grotesquely egregious transgender prejudice? I was momentarily gripped with an image of:-

Let's not dwell. The fact remains the foam arrived last week - no welching over the postage costs this time - and we are well happy with it. With hindsight, we now particularly value the tip on TWFoam's website to add an extra centimetre for a snugger fit and how the stockinette cover helps you slip it in more easily. As Tracy said to the bishop ...

Now for the mirror glass. I had my doubts they would sell it here. But Carol had more faith and suggested we go to Joao Lourenco, the biggest builders' merchants on Flores. The staff at JL are very good, particularly "User Friendly" Vera at the Sta Cruz branch and "Can Do" Carlos at Lajes.

Given my doubts, I'd been practising a long spiel in Portuguese along the lines of "I don't suppose by any remote chance ..." and also a lot of stuff about might it be possible to order from the continent with mental pictures in my mind about how expensive it would be to pack a piece of made to measure mirror glass in a bespoke wooden packing frame ...

In the end, I went in to JL's in Lajes, plonked the existing mirror on the desk and said to Can Do Carlos:-

Pode ser? [Any chance?]

To which CDC replied:-

Sim [yes]

... got out his tape measure, went through to the armazem (store) to cut it, came back and told me it was only 7,50€

Bob's your uncle [Roberto e o teu tio].

It reminded me of a scene in a Woody Allen film where he goes up to a jeweller's window and cuts a hole in the glass and it's not the jewellery he wants but the piece of glass. Ring a bell?

Sunday 15 March 2015

Dia do balde amarelho

It means "Day of the Yellow Bucket" but if you're imaging it's the Portuguese translation of a Cold War spy novel in the genre of Hill of the Red Fox or Day of the Jackal, you'd be wrong. It is in fact ... well, let me explain.

Yesterday, I was asking Fernando when a certain event had taken place and he told me it was on "dia do balde amarelho". I understood what he meant immediately: Wednesday, the day when the yellow recycling buckets are collected.

Naming days of the week after the colour of the bucket collected is far easier for us English speakers, with our penchant for Roman and Anglo-Saxon deities, to understand than the Portuguese convention which is:-

Monday - segunda feira
Tuesday - terca feira
Wednesday - quarta feira
Thursday - quinta feira
Friday - sexta feira

Saturday and Sunday are easy enough (sabado and domingo) but which idiot decided that Monday was the second day of the week? (Answer own question - a Seventh Day Adventist, obviously). After nine years of living here (yes!), I have just got my head round the fact that Monday is segunda and that Friday is sexta. I'm half way to accepting that terca is Tuesday (which is also helpfully dia do balde verde (bottles)) but I still have to count my fingers to remind myself what Wednesday and Thursday are - and remember not to count the first finger. This is not recommended when driving.

Hence, Wednesday being yellow bucket day instead of fourth (yes?) is immensely helpful although this alternative recycling nomenclature does have its limitations in that the fifth bucket (paper) is only emptied every second blue. I don't have enough fingers for that.

In a future post, I'm going to explain how, not content with naming days of the week in a thoroughly illogical manner, in Portuguese, I can't come to you or bring anything with me. I have to go to you and take it: the Portuguese for "just coming" is ja vou which is "just going".

Getting your head round that is in a different league from possessive adjectives (his/her) being gendered according to the object rather than the subject. And this apparent lack of spatial dynamic is odd coming from the people who (a) discovered Brazil; and (b) perhaps because of (a) not only have two parallel versions of here and there (aqui/ali and ca/la) but also a third dimension in which ai is "there" but in the sense of "where you are" whether that be in the same room as me or in a different continent.

But I still think all of this pales into insignificance next to the mental gymnastics involved in saying "See you on Wednesday". Until I discovered you can say Ate amarelho!


Sunday 1 March 2015

The welchers' guide to contract law with

They do a good job the shops on Flores: their offering has expanded in the nine years we've been here but remains of necessity limited so thank goodness for being able to buy online through the likes of Amazon and eBay. Delivery charges are an issue, though - an inevitable part of island life and we regularly find ourselves choosing according to the delivery rather than the actual price of the item.

The other day, we ordered a garden bench off Amazon. It wasn't the cheapest but the delivery was a stonkingly competetive £5.00 (6,50€/$7.50) so we bought. 24 hours later came the "Your product has been dispatched" e-mail and then a few hours after that:-

"No! No-No! No-No-No!" I said in same tone of voice as Basil Fawlty when he discovered that a couple sharing a double room were not married.

For the remainder of this post, I'm just going to paste up the exchange of e-mails (click them to enlarge). Any first year law students looking in will find this informative.

Any idea I entertained about that causing Kate, Charlotte and Lesley to go scurrying for their (presumably pristine) copy of Gloag on Contract (13th ed.) was dashed. Guess what they replied:-

It would appear that, in this online age, the law of contract has moved on since I retired: the old certainties of White & Carter Councils have been overturned by the brocard paenitemus de incommodo causatur. At least I have the remedy of actio relinquat responsione negativa

 My review on Amazon didn't get published. They sent me an e-mail urging me to revise and resubmit it but keeping in mind their guidelines and in particular the need to refrain from obscene or profane language.