Thursday, 22 December 2011

Nature's Carols

While at breakfast this morning, I heard this sound....the beating of wings as first one then another Montezuma Oropendola flew into the madera negra tree beside the balcony.

The first two were followed by two more, taking the early morning sun...and I began to hope that they might form a colony.

In previous years I had seen singletons crossing the valley, but this was the first time a group had appeared and as breakfast continued they began to chatter .

This was the first bird I heard...and then Costa Rica, when visiting the country for the first time and I was lucky enough to see one performing its mating ritual on a tree near the house in which I was staying.
It would be the first bird about in the mornings, warbling and swinging forward on its branch as if bowing to the mate it was trying to attract, its flash of yellow tail feathers making it easy to spot.

I would be delighted if the group were to take up residence as their nests are spectacular...though I think they usually prefer dead trees or those more scarcely furnished with leaves than the madera negra...but we shall see.

In the meantime, I am delighted by their presence....wonderful breakfast guests!

It has always amused me that while Costa Rica has many magnificent birds it has chosen perhaps the most drab as its national emblem... the clay robin.
Mark you, there is something to be said for not plumping for something exotic like the quetzal, as did Guatemala, only to find that it has declined to the point of extinction.
Not flashy, Costa Rica.

The calls of different birds...from parrots to laughing falcons via blue grey tanagers....enliven the balcony all day...nature's carols.

I am not sure if the bird calls will be audible...but you can hear a vast range on this site to whet your appetite.
Try the Laughing Falcon...worse than the Laughing Policeman!
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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas Shopping II

English: Self-made photograph of a Brita kettl...Image via WikipediaMother is a living, fire breathing advertisement for the success of the British welfare state.

Still living independently, at 95 she had a hip replaced and this year, at 96, she has had a knee replacement and her doctor tells her that she should now be good for another ten years!

She has help in the mornings and evenings, has a shopper for the heavy stuff and a wonderful young woman who mucks her out once a week and keeps me in touch with the things mother would rather I did not finding her on the kitchen table leaning on her zimmer frame to remove the batteries from her smoke alarm in case it went off while she was cooking her Christmas roast.

She shouldn't have been either..... on the table or contemplating cooking her Christmas she had planned to come out to us over Christmas and the New Year, but her plans have been scotched by her doctor who has told her not to take a long haul flight for several months yet, for fear of thrombosis following her op.

Believe me, the Skype was hot after that little announcement.
She had me consulting every flight comparison site in creation to find a way of breaking the flight into shorter components to get past the medical ruling and I am now an expert on how to get from Southampton to Milan via Amsterdam in order to catch a twice weekly charter flight to a provincial airport in Costa Rica while ensuring that only the cheapest ticket offers are used.
All to no avail.
The Atlantic crossing was something even mother could not overcome, but the research will not be wasted.

When she does get the green light to travel there is no way that she and American immigration officials should meet.
One request for fingerprints and a mug shot and she'll be over the counter before you can say Homeland Security, thrusting her British Legion badge into the operative's face and announcing that she hadn't fought Hitler to be treated like a criminal by...of all people...Americans!
Depending on their speed of reaction they might have her in an orange jumpsuit before she gives them chapter and verse on America's late entry into two world wars and her views on what should be done to President Bush...but I wouldn't place any bets...
So she'll be travelling on other from Madrid, or via Mexico City...or the charter from Milan.

So, unexpectedly at home for Christmas, mother needed to get her shopping done.

But not quite as you might think. She has resisted all attempts to get her online, even with offers of specially adapted keyboards and goodness knows what else by a very helpful lady from some section of the local social services.

No. She doesn't want to be swamped by spam.
(I have a sneaking suspicion that she is thinking of the canned variety of said...but best not to ask...)
And she doesn't want to be swamped by pornography....there's enough of that on the television.

But you can keep in touch with people....

There are some people you don't want to keep in touch with...the telephone's good enough for me...I can see who's calling..and anyway, people are always breaking into it. I don't want my details going all over the world...

So it works like this. She makes a list. I ring her on Skype. She gives me the order. I put it online and Tesco deliver.
Easy peasy.

Not this time.

She has two good neighbours.....both elderly.
The three of them have various disabilities and problems, but they work on the Norn system....sharing the abilities between themselves to keep all three of them going.

Mother is now mobile and can add up faster than the till.
Barbara has back problems but has good sight.
Adolpha (my nickname for this vegetarian of Austrian extraction) is hard of hearing but can carry the trays from the buffet once the other two have sorted out what is on offer and at what price.

So what's the problem?
The problem was that Barbara had just bought a mini jug kettle from Tesco to avoid her carer heating up more water than necessary for one cup on tea.
Mother wanted one.
I added it to her order.
I  rang her to tell her it was on its way.

Now, ringing mother has to be well planned.
Since her young days as a hurdler she has been keen on...not to say obsessed .in all its forms and the television offers a great variety most afternoons.
So before ringing it is advisable to check BBC and ITV programmes online to make sure not to commit a gaffe.

Interrupted in contemplation of Formula One she can be testy.
Interrupt the Hennessy Gold Cup and you've got Krakatoa on speed.

The seven hour time difference doesn't help, either.
Still, all prepared, I rang her number...only to be answered by Adolpha.

Who's that?

I told her. I also said that I'd wanted to tell mother that I'd ordered her kettle.
Fatal error.

I could hear her reporting to my mother....

There's some woman on the 'phone who wants to sell you a kettle.
Noises off (mother).
Adolpha returns to the telephone.

She doesn't want one.

Receiver goes down.

I ring again.
I get Adolpha.

I've just told you she doesn't want one. It's a disgrace, harassing elderly people...if you don't get off the line I'll call the police. And how do you know she wants a kettle anyway?

Reports to mother again.

Something's not right would this woman know you've ordered a kettle? She must have hacked at your daughter's computer....they're not safe...nothing's private these days...

Returning to me

She doesn't want one. Understand?

Receiver down again.

The next day, another attempt.

The receiver is picked up and a voice says suspiciously


Not mother, clearly.

Is that Adolpha?

No! Wrong number!

And down goes the receiver again.

I did catch mother the following day and gave her the news of her kettle.

Oh, you might have to cancel that.
There's been some telesales woman on trying to sell kettles, and I wanted to  get a price...but Adolpha put the 'phone down on her and the next day I think it was her again...about the same time...and Barbara did the same before I could ask her about the price....but she might ring back...

Yes. mother...she well might...

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Shopping

CaƱa india is planted here to form hedges and windbreaks, and very stately it can look, too, but the flowers are a bonus...they smell wonderful.
The plants down in the garden have been blooming for while now, but the younger ones near the house have just started and every slight breeze sends their scent through the rooms...soft, heavy and sensual.

I just wish someone would make a perfume of would beat a lot of the commercial big name stuff hands down.

I've always liked wearing perfume and I laid in a stock of my favourites before moving to Costa Rica - luckily, as I've seen none of them here!
(Watch out the next visitor from will have to find room in your luggage not only for anchovies but also for a large bottle of Eau de Nice!)
I tried some newer ones when I was in London, but nothing really appealed  except Flowerbomb.....until I saw the price. They should have named it Screaming Habdabs.

One relief here is that men do not go in for the 'knock you down and drag you out' aftershave lotions typical of rural the time you'd gone through the kissing routine at an AGM you would be reeling from sense wonder so much was passed on the nod!

Still, I'll be looking at perfume when Christmas shopping in San Jose as well as in the self described upmarket suburb of Escazu......home to expat business men and ambassadors, with its numerous malls and speciality shops, not to speak of its housing.

Gated communities and tower blocks.....condominiums.
Those lowering blocks always remind me of overpriced Glasgow tenements, while if I wanted to live hugger mugger with communal sports facilities and pool, an open prison would be a better bet.
I just don't see the attraction.

Security, say those who choose this way of living...but who wants to live with guards on the gates?

Still security can be a problem at this time of year.
December is the month of the 'aguinaldo'...the thirteenth month, when employees are paid a sum equivalent to a bonus month's pay.
People have money in their pockets, the shopping areas are crowded and bag snatching is a real worry.

The police in San Jose take it seriously. Tall platforms are erected at intervals in the main shopping streets manned by police keeping an eye out for trouble, while detachments stand on almost every junction.

I know it works, because last year I was walking in the pedestrian area with a friend when her bag was snatched.
The man was off and running before we could react....but the police had spotted him and he was brought to the ground in the next street.

We all went to the police station to sort out the formalities...and we were both shocked by the appearance of the robber.
He was young, his clothes of poor quality but spotlessly clean and he was crying.
Not an experienced thief, either, or he would have thrown the bag away as soon as the pursuit started.

My friend identified her bag, was relieved that the contents were intact, and asked the police what would happen to the young man.

Well, we'll want to see his papers. He says they're at home, so we'll take him there...but I know what it will be. He'll be an illegal immigrant....couldn't find work and desperate for money. He'll end up being taken to the immigration lock up and be sent home. Nicaragua by the look of him.

Poor young devil.
My friend could not afford to have lost the contents of her bag...not so much in money terms but in terms of her papers, bank cards and all the odds and ends that take an age to replace once lost...endless queues and paperwork.....but what a contrast between our lives and his.

Trying to make a better life, help his family at home, setting off - and probably paying the 'fixers' to smuggle him over the frontier - in the hope of finding work, and meeting nothing but disappointment and despair.
Poor young man.

My friend asked if she could refrain from laying charges.
Yes, but it won't do him much good. He won't be charged anyway...just sent back.

Could we give him some money?

You could, but there are some hard cases in that lock up...they'll soon have it off him.

We gave him some anyway...something to enable him to make 'phone calls, buy soap and odds while he was awaiting his return, but nothing could stop his tears.

I wonder where this young man is now....I'm sure his family were delighted to have him back with them, but the basic problem won't have been solved.

People need work to maintain their self respect and poor countries need investment, not aid.
They need to be allowed to develop in their own way, not constrained by the ideologies of the IMF and the World Bank.
And they certainly don't need politically based embargos on their economies.

I have no faith whatsoever in the institutionalised as national governments...but I do have faith in people helping people direct.

So while I'll be looking at perfume I won't be buying.
I'll put the equivalent to a group in San Jose run by Nicaraguans helping illegal immigrants to get their position regularised and finding them work.

I think the money will smell sweeter that way.