Image by izahorsky via FlickrThere are times when I think that events in world history occur when women go away for the weekend and leave men to their own devices.
Deprived of the voice of reason and a suggested programme for the day, stuff happens.
A day out with the Wandervogelers turns into an invasion of Poland.
A get together round the BBQ and Joan of Arc goes up in smoke.
Off to the football match and Honduras and El Salvador go to war.
They shouldn't be let off the lead.
On the domestic scale too, stuff happens.
I had been away in the U.K.for a few weeks, going fifteen rounds with mother to get her organised for her forthcoming knee operation, so the men had been left to their own devices.
Propaganda messages came over the line every night....all quiet on the Western Front...until a few days before my return when I raised the question of being met at the airport.
'Ah' is a danger sign. Something which has been concealed - and for good reason - is about to be revealed.
At this point it is advisable to sit down with a glass of wine, ensure that the rest of the bottle is to hand, and make oneself comfortable in the best traditions of 'Listen with Mother'.
It will be an interesting story, told with pathos.
They hadn't wanted to bother me....very wise, gentlemen...but they had forgotten that the car needed to go in for its annual control.
They'd gone over it and toddled in, sure that it would pass.
Well, I could have told them that before they started.
Vehicle control tests in Costa Rica are the monopoly of a company called RITEVE and, like all monopolies, it makes the most of its position.
Under no circumstances - unless money changes hands round the back of the bike sheds - will you get away with a pass certificate the first time round.
Twice is normal, three times common.
We had taken our German vehicle in last year and the operative, finding nothing else wrong, had maltreated the engine in order to push the emissions just over the fail limit.
Outside, waiting for the certificate to be delivered, we were approached by two men whose small van was parked in the yard.
Had we had a problem with the tyres?
Oh. Pity, because we hire out tyres to get you through the test.
Indeed they did.
As we waited, customers arrived, tyres were checked and stock brought out of the van. Customers disappeared, returned with their fail certificate....but with tyres marked as in order....and tyres and money changed hands.
All this in clear sight of the RITEVE buildings.
Curious as ever I asked them how they were so bold as to park and conduct their business on the premises.
Well, people usually have their own 'arrangements' with their own garage, but for those that don't we provide a service and it's easier for them to find us here.
And it saves wear on the tyres.
And there's no problem with getting the tyres back.
But don't RITEVE kick up?
No, why should they? We have an 'arrangement' with the guys who work here...nothing to do with the company.
Well this year, our gentlemen, forewarned on emissions, had ordered some gunk from Europe which apparently removed any risk of failure in the test and had shared it with the postman, whose car had a real problem of emissions.
Both passed the emissions test with flying colours, but our sturdy German workhorse had failed on brakes!
There had been a problem with the brakes during the year. Driving home from town down the gravel road something metal had flown off and disappeared into the undergrowth. Part of the brake system. No one seemed keen to look for it, given the presence of venemous snakes, so we had to get a replacement.
Thanks to a commercial problem, the supplier of parts had closed down.
What to do?
Not a problem. A Japanese spare part had been adapted and we were on the road again, after testing the brakes at our garage to make sure all was in order.
Until they took the car for the test.
There, it appeared, the operative had noticed the substitution and had called foul.
This was the state of play at the moment of 'Ah.'.
No, there wasn't a problem for the test. Our garage would put on the proper part and the owner would take the car in.
I thought you couldn't get parts.
We can't. This is the one he keeps to put on cars to go through the test.
But the problem is meeting you at the airport. The car won't be back until the next evening.
'Oh' is a comment which ranks with 'Ah' as encompassing a great deal that is probably best left unsaid but which is well understood.
But we can sort something.
You could get the bus in to San Jose and get a hotel....
Not at fifty dollars a night I'm not.
I'd been thinking of the outfits round the bus station....about twelve dollars.
If you think I'm arriving at the bus station about eleven o'clock at night laden with luggage and looking for accommodation in a hotel which rents rooms by the hour in the daytime....think again.
But it would be interesting...like that night we spent on Montparnasse station....
Interesting, yes. Doable, no.
Well, I'll get someone to pick you up.
I've fixed up a couple of possible lifts.
Ivan's car has just got through the test, and he's happy to let us borrow it.....except Danilo says it has a problem with the brakes.
So how did it pass?
He went to the test station down near the coast with his cousin and poured brake fluid into it just before the brake test while his cousin had an argument with the test operative about the windows.
By this time you might well be wondering what is the point of a system which is designed to improve road safety if everyone gets round it by borrowing tyres and spare parts and then replacing the old ones and going merrily on their way with a pass certificate which bears no resemblance to the reality.
There is no point.
By setting up a private monopoly the state has abdicated all responsibilty for the outcome. The test costs an arm and a leg and by the time he's gone through it three times the average Costa Rican driver is financially paraplegic.
The only worse outcome is not passing it at all, in which case you are stuck with using the cargo taxis to move heavy goods which leaves the average Costa Rrican financially tetraplegic.
Costa Rica has an obsession with raising money from motor vehicles....and before anyone gets up on their hinds and starts applauding this green initiative let them look at the practical results.
Import taxes double the price of a new vehicle. Spareparts likewise. The annual test is a real burden. Traffic and parking fines are out of all proportion to average income...although here the Constitutional Court has taken notice and promised action.
Altogether, with what Costa Rican raises in penalising its people for running cars it could solve a fair proportion of the Greek debt.
But people in the country need vehicles.
Public transport is superb. You can get to work from remote corners with minimum difficulty.....but what do you do about heavy shopping, or animal feed, or bulky deliveries?
You need a vehicle.
Perish the thought that, once the monopoly expires, the control tests could be farmed out to approved local garages....there might be thought to be 'arrangements' with the clients.
Very possibly, but no worse, I suspect, than the 'arrangements' already arrived at and with the advantage of spreading the profits in local communities rather than collecting them in the hands of one (foreign) company.
Still, I arrived at the airport, struggled through the mass of taxi drivers and was met...by the postman.
As we chugged home on the sharp bends of the mountain road, the exhaust belching black fumes at moments of supreme effort, he told me that although RITEVE's monopoly runs out next year the government could not find any local companies to make tenders for the business countrywide....so it looked as though we were stuck with them for the foreseeable future.
Did you bring any of that gunk back?
Yes. Four tins.