A sort of day…

 

Morning: Barbershop Man

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As I go down the stairs of my exercise club, I notice a new poster: a fit-looking young woman in gym singlet and knee-length leggings is bending over backwards, so that both the soles of her feet and the palms of her hands (not to mention the end of her ponytail) are in contact with the floor. The legend is an uplifting ‘Acredita em algo mais’ (believe in something more). It isn’t clear in what, but I suspect in Wellness, or perhaps even in Better, which is what Sky TV recommends we Believe in. Anyway, one for the collection.

An hour or two later, I am at my hairdresser’s for a much-needed haircut. It is a minuscule place inside a small, old-style shopping centre. There are three chairs where you have your hair cut, and two which lean right back so your hair can be washed in a basin and your scalp get a free massage while you nearly go off to sleep. There is also a coat-stand, a tiny counter for bookings and payments, an awful little padded bench strewn with magazines, and a desk affair where manicures are done by a fat Brazilian girl with false eyelashes. It is so crowded that people are always getting in each other’s way and dropping things.

I enjoy being here. My hairdresser Teresa is a lady-like, quietly-spoken Portuguese who says little as she goes about her work; the other two are gay Brazilians (one of whom wears his hair in a little ponytail which he’s twenty years too old for), and the general atmosphere is chatty, gossipy, friendly, mildly camp, occasionally raucous. I am mostly ignored, content to sit and smirk. For what I pay here (ten euros), I would otherwise have to go to a low-end men’s barbershop, where I would get no hair-wash and a terrible haircut (straight Portuguese barbers don’t seem to know anything about hair), and would have to endure at least half an hour – probably more, counting the wait – of old-school masculine conversation à portuguesa. I used to go to such places in my first few years in Portugal, and I doubt they’ve changed much (a few weeks ago my son went to a fashionable one in Lisbon called Figaro’s, and his girlfriend wasn’t allowed inside to sit and wait for him.)

In the traditional Portuguese barbershop, people’s clothes smell of stale cigarette-smoke. There is silence, the steady snip of scissors, the occasional sharp hum of electric clippers, desultory chat. Occasionally one of the barbers will pause, clippers in one hand and comb in the other, and say something ponderous. He will be a male type found disproportionately often in Portuguese barber’s, either as the barber himself or as a customer: middle-aged, more opinionated than knowledgeable, completely lacking any ironical sense of himself, bluff of manner but basically humourless, given to holding forth on football and politics.

I met one or two bores like this when I first came to Portugal. My first wife, who worked for a Portuguese company, would be invited to dinner at someone or other’s house and I would go along as her partner. Such dinners would begin with four or five males standing in a circle at one end of the sitting-room, holding glasses of whiskey and talking about Benfica, or in some households about Sporting Lisbon. Other subjects might be the latest conspiracy theory (Portuguese males are partial to these) or a meal someone had recently eaten, but discussion of other topics was not common. When we arrived I would join this  group, rocking gently on my heels, smiling, nodding, studying the ice in my glass, laughing at jokes I half-understood, wool-gathering – and would mostly be left in peace, while I glanced wistfully at the cackling women getting tipsy at the other end of the room, comfortably sat on sofas and in armchairs (the upright phase of a dinner could easily go on for the best part of an hour.) However, if Barbershop Man was present, I could forget about being left in peace: Barbershop Man does not converse but holds forth contentiously, expecting full attention, and if any slackening of my own was sensed behind my increasingly fixed smile, my upper arm would be touched insistently (I dislike this), or in extreme cases grasped firmly (I like this even less), to restore me to a sense of my social duty.

And now there is in fact a touch on my shoulder: I have been daydreaming and the haircut is done. Teresa carefully lifts off the nylon hair-dresser’s shroud, turns through a few degrees to shake out the loose hair-cuttings, and plies her outsize shaving-brush to clean me off around the neck and shoulders. I stand, thank her and pay at the little counter by the door.

 

Afternoon: a bit of fish       

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Later, I am at the fish counter in our local Pingo Doce[1]. I have come for a bit of fish for my supper (Veronica is away), and am waiting to be served. I have been waiting a minute or so, which doesn’t sound too bad on Pingo Doce’s part, until you consider that I’m the only one at the counter. I have taken a ticket to be on the safe side, and have been waiting for the lady to officially notice me. I know she knows I’m here, but her back is firmly turned while she gets on with some job she has to do. I am reminded of the waiter’s epitaph[2]. If this was in a TESCO or a Sainsbury’s she’d turn with an empty, well-trained smile, and that singsong intonation they have, and say something like “Good afternoon, sir, sorry to keep you, I’ll be with you in a moment” (though even in a posh place like Waitrose she wouldn’t have authorisation to use the modern and very irritating “bear with me, please”, which is restricted-use for people who answer the phone.)

Anyway and be that as it may, I might as well be a fish myself for all the attention I’m being paid here.

However, there’s no great rush, I still have to choose what fish to buy. I am no expert on fish. There are lots of bream-shaped ones on the slab, mostly silvery, though there’s a quite pretty one called a salema which has yellow stripes along its body (only three euros fifty the kilo, but we’ve had it before and it wasn’t great). The usual diagonal-cut sections of scabbard-fish, lots of colourful little tiddly ones that will be full of bones, a few laughably overrated and overpriced salmonetes, a couple of gormless-looking monkfish, very dead and sorry for themselves with their prognathous lower lips and wide toothy mouths, and their little fishing-poles keeled-over and stuck against their heads. It looks like it’s going to be the usual salmon-steak or  dourada[3] again, though the eyes of the douradas are a bit filmed-over, giving them that seedy, morning-after look which  means they aren’t fresh. I see this look in the mirror from time to time.

After another few moments, I say “Good afternoon”.

She turns her head a couple of degrees, no more, and says “Just a moment” (we are speaking Portuguese, of course.)

I am slightly taken aback by the offhand tone, but wait another half-minute and try again. This time she sounds quite irritated, but after a second turns and approaches the counter, in her gleaming white overalls, gauntlets and wellington boots. She is a stodgy, pale woman of about forty.

I smile winningly and say “Good afternoon” again. She regards me implacably, but after a second or two is able to say “Good afternoon” herself.

Knowing I am committing a basic error, but unable to stop myself, I ask: “Are the douradas fresh? Their eyes look a bit filmy.”

What happens next is hard to describe. The fish-lady doesn’t lift her shoulders, turn her palms upward, or pull down the corners of her mouth like a grouper. Her eyebrows remain unraised, her lower lip unpursed, her chin, unprojected, remains in the default position. And yet she clearly shrugs, in a way I have never seen before, not even in Portugal (where the shrug is reputed to have been invented), and she does it without moving a single muscle. I am fascinated. I watch her steadily, begin to feel rebellious, and once again cannot help myself.

“Sorry, is this a bad time?” I ask. “I can come back when it’s more convenient.”

I’m sure she does the invisible shrug again, or maybe it’s a continuation of the same shrug. Did the first one ever come to an end? Is it a lifelong shrug, a life-style shrug, a continuous way of being? I am out of my depth.

“I’ll just have a salmon steak, please,” I say.

 

Evening: leave everything in the tank

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Since Veronica is away, I am able to indulge myself with an orgy of catch-up televised sport. There is a club rugby match, some cricket highlights, and a football match.

There is very little to report. The football match is Atletico Madrid against Arsenal , a Europa League semi-final which turns out exactly as everyone knew it would. Before the game, Arsene Wenger demonstrates the challenge which football clichés can present to even the most fluent foreign coach. He starts well, promising that his team will play ‘with the handbrake off’, but makes a cock of his next one, assuring his interviewer that ‘we will leave everything we have in the tank’ . I am still intermittently puzzling over this one when I give up on the game and try the cricket highlights. England don’t do very well and neither does the otherwise very good Ian Ward, who seems to have forgotten his algebra when he informs us that ‘for England to win the match, it’s a simple equation: ten wickets’.[4]

In the rugby match the referee is  a slight, sandy-haired figure, and very young. Most of the players are so much bigger they look as if they could eat him in a sandwich. And yet he controls them like a lion-tamer, warning, explaining and guiding players through his decisions; and these are respected right or wrong in a way which would be unthinkable in football, where referees are routinely jostled, pushed and hounded round the pitch by players having tantrums that would disgrace a four-year old. The ten-metres-back-for-dissent rule has something to do with this, and also the fact that rugby’s better calibration of punishments gives the ref the option of the sin-bin, making the yellow card a far more effective deterrent in rugby than in football (where the red card is almost never used for even gross dissent: not every ref has Michael Oliver’s courage). An alternative view might be that quite a few rugby players are relatively rational, recognisably human beings, while professional footballers tend to be overpaid, under-educated virtual halfwits (just look at the excruciating goal celebrations.) Personally, of course, I do not hold this view.

[1] Pingo Doce- a chain of high-street supermarkets

[2]  ‘God Finally Caught His Eye’.

[3] Apparently, gilt-head bream

[4] In fact, Wenger has mixed two clichés: 1. ‘to leave nothing out there on the pitch’, and 2. ‘to empty (or leave nothing in) the tank’.  I’m afraid I’m lying about the cricket quote, which was on another day entirely.

A word to the young

Good morning, everyone. Now, as some of you might know, I will not be here when you return next year, because I am retiring from teaching. And as retiring teachers sometimes do, I am going to say a few words to you, to bid you all farewell and to pass on the wisdom which I have acquired during the course of my long career. I have acquired this wisdom through being what is called a Lifelong Learner. If any of you become teachers, you will hear that phrase incessantly, unless it has become unfashionable by … sorry, have I said something funny? Well, I realise the idea of any of you doing such low-grade work may sound hilarious now, but if things don’t work out for you, you never know what twists and turns life may take.

So what wisdom have I acquired? I am happy to pass it on to you.

(there is an audible click, and a video image of an hour-glass appears on the screen, sand running from the upper flask to the lower).

Study this hour-glass, please. Maria, can I take questions later? All right, what would you like to share?  Yes, you could call it an egg-timer. But the main point is that the sand is running down from the top part to the lower part. And, what, since it seems I cannot discourage audience participation, does the sand represent? May I just go to Veronica, Maria, since she has her hand up? Yes, that’s an original idea, Veronica, but … anyone? Perhaps one of the younger children for a change? Yes, it represents time. It is a symbol, of sorts. And when all the sand has run from the top to the bottom, what can we do? Yes, Veronica, good, but after we have taken the eggs from the saucepan, and cut the tops off quickly so that they don’t go hard in their shells? Anyone? Well, with an hourglass, we can turn the glass round, and the sand can begin running down again. I don’t know why we would want to do that either, Augustas, but the point is that we can. So, what is the big difference between the hour-glass and a person’s life? Well, one big one is this: once the sand of a person’s life has run out, we cannot just turn the glass over and start again. That person is what we call dead.

Now all of you before me today will end up dying: some sooner, some later, quickly or slowly, bravely or not. You must have seen this with pets. Has anyone had a pet which died? Oh dear, can someone pass Daphne a tissue? Thank you. Big blow, Daphne, that’s the ticket. Crikey, that is a big one. Perhaps another tissue, someone.  Or two. Good. OK, now nobody else start, please. Perhaps a joke will cheer us all up. What is the death rate in Portugal?

The usual, one  per person. What is going on here?

Be quiet, can’t stop now. But before that dying day comes you will have a long time to live out your privileged, gated-community lives, unless you are murdered by one of the gardeners first, or die young of a horrible illness. And there is no shortage of opinion regarding how you should set about living these lives of yours. Priests of all religions are an excellent source of ideas, though these often involve following strange rules, and require the ability to believe in life after death. Other people will derive satisfaction from informing you, after Jean-Paul Sartre, that there is no God, nobody watching us and no one keeping score, but that even so we have no choice but to live, and must try to do so meaningfully.

We are condemned to be free.

Thank you, can you be quiet? Yes Max, he was French, excellent, well done! Katie, close your mouth, it’s been ajar for a little while now. Now if you find all that hard to manage, I can only recommend doing what most of us do, which is to spend half our time dreading or enduring the things which hurt, frighten or bore us, the other half looking forward to doing the things we like, and in between as little time as possible noticing how pointless the whole enterprise is. Thus you will probably spend nearly all of your time thinking about the future or the past, but only a tiny portion of it living consciously in the present moment. My own view is …

Excuse me, sorry to interrupt…

Oh for Christ’s sake. Yes?

What is this?

Have you just woken up? It’s a retirement speech.

Yours.

Could be.

This really happened?

It’s happening. As we speak.

It’s, um, how shall I put it? You might want to have a look at it, or is it too late? You can’t say for Christ’s sake in a school assembly, for a start-off.

You interrupted, three times. Look, if it’s all right, I’m shattered.  Can we carry on with this tomorrow?

You’re sure it was the French bloke who said that? Not Siddhartha or Carlos Castaneda or someone?

It was the French bloke. And anyway … look, can we drop this, actually? I’m going to bed now.

Fine by me, keep your hair on. Did you hear the one about the old man going up to bed carrying a glass of water and an empty glass?

Good night.

So they ask him ‘Why are you carrying that glass upstairs?’ And he says, ‘In case I get thirsty in the night, of course.’ So they say ‘No, the empty one.’

And he says, that’s in case I don’t get thirsty.

That’s right, so you knew that one.

Good night.

Good night, sleep tight.

Who else hates the English?

 

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(Continued…)

So Australians don’t get worked up about all that?

Nope. Being descended from a transported convict is a source of pride these days. That’s what I was told.

Pride that your great great great grandfather was arrested for impersonating an Egyptian?

It’s better if he was an Irish political prisoner, but there are only so many of those to go round. Jeremiah O’Donovan was a famous one, he’s on a 19 Crimes label, I think.

Are you telling me Australians don’t even mind the hilarious convict uniforms worn by English nitwits at Ashes matches?

All part of the fun of the fair.

So Australians don’t hate the English after all?

Oh no they do, but that’s because of Gallipoli.

And that was?

Is this a joke? Go and look it up.

OK, so that was in World War 1, when weak-chinned English toffs sent gallant, down-to-earth loveable Anzac boys to certain death in a doomed invasion which the layabout British army was spared, because English toffs don’t give a damn about the lives of Australians and New Zealanders.

Good work, you’ve got it.

Is that what’s known as an entrenched narrative?

It is.

Because of the trenches, right?

Don’t be stupid. Never mind, just be on your guard if you’re in Australia on Anzac day. Or maybe indoors. You don’t want to get king-hit.

And what is that? Simply please, because my brain is getting full.

But we haven’t even started on the bodyline tour yet. OK, king-hitting is a recent Australian custom, when you go and hit a complete stranger in the face, without warning, as hard as you can. It’s hilarious. It can leave the victim with a broken jaw, in a coma, whatever. The urban dictionary has a definition: ‘the most hardcore, damage-maximising, chronicly (sic) solid punch that can be thrown. Send’s (sic) the aggressor off balance if it doesn’t hit the intended target’.

Why do they have semi-educated teenagers writing this dictionary?

Someone’s got to do it, and all the harmless drudges are busy on proper dictionaries.

Who?

Google it, if you can be bothered. Samuel Johnson. Perhaps we’ll hold the bodyline tour over for another day.

Please.

But anyway, it isn’t the Australians who really hate the English.

It’s the Welsh.  

I was going to say the Irish.

And also what about the Scots?

No it’s the Irish all right.

And what have we ever done to them?

Funny man. Plenty, but perhaps we’ll hold that over for another time too.

What about that dressing-room speech Phil Bennett gave before a Wales-England rugby match.

Go on.

“Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon. The English”

Fair enough. Nobody likes us all that much, to tell you the truth.

Perhaps the Americans.

The Americans find us picturesque and patronise us, but they also think we’re alien and untrustworthy because we can speak English properly. That’s why they hire our clapped-out actors to be evil baddies in their films.

OK, so I’ll put the Americans down as not sure.

However, I did check into a shitty little hotel in Sri Lanka once, and when I handed my passport over the owner said ‘Ah very good, British,’ and beamed and waggled his head. He said he didn’t trust the Italian and French hippies, but the British were gentlemen. I found the same in India. In fact, middle-class Indians in hill towns are more English than the English ever were. They wear tweed jackets and cravats.

You did the hippy trail?

I backpacked around South Asia. Sorry, why are you laughing?

You did the hippy trail. When?

Years ago now. I was young, and it wasn’t the hippy trail. Anyway, the big difference between the Brits and the French wasn’t trustworthiness, it was dress-sense.

Well, well.

Yes, funny isn’t it. Brit freaks were just scruffy and looked as if they needed a shave and a wash, but the French would make an effort to turn themselves out properly.

Meaning what?

Hippy full fig: beads, hair, Rajasthani waistcoat, pyjama trousers, shoulder-bag with tassles, headband, or if not a headband a hat with a feather. If funds allowed, a monkey on the shoulder, though once I met one with a slightly uneasy-looking cat there.

Shades?

Oh no, no sunglasses. Or sun cream, ever.

The French aren’t very popular either, of course.

I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps not with everyone.

So who do the English hate?

In the last few months it’s been mostly cyclists, I think. Which is something else we might come back to.

TFSOM’s Holiday Project: ten things you can see, hear, touch, drink or eat in Australia.

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  1. The wombat

The world’s most adorable animal. A wombat is like a 35kg teddy-bear crossed with a hedgehog, only without the spines. Looking at the face, there could be a bit of harvest-mouse in there too (a very big one). I stroked a wombat between its shoulder-blades, one evening just after dark, grazing placidly on the lawn at my son’s wedding celebration. They can be seen plentifully in this location, known as Kangaroo Valley. Australians present said they’d never seen one that tame, and I shouldn’t assume every wombat would let me get away with it. Even so, a must.

  1. Hi-Vis parenting

Like many young middle-class Portuguese parents, a lot of young middle-class Australians go in for high-visibility, high-audibility parenting, leaving nobody within earshot in any doubt about their highly-developed skills. Overheard (therefore) on the Manly ferry, as it rounded Bradleys Head on its way to Sydney:

Mother: (excitedly) And when we get round that point there, what are we going to see?

Toddler: (looks blank) …

Mother: (prompting) We’re going to see …

Toddler: (with wild excitement) Tigers!

Mother: No, it’s a building, remember, a big white building

Toddler: (obliged to insist a little) Tigers!

Mother: (obliged to insist a little) No, it’s a white building

(We round the point, to see The Opera House 2 kms off in the distance)

  1. Sydney Opera House

Not white in fact, but a gorgeous creamy caramel colour. Unexpectedly huge, and even more beautiful than the hype has led you to expect.

  1. The Friday afternoon yuppie piss-up

From late Friday afternoon onwards, drinking places like the The Island or the Manly Wharf Hotel are crammed with smartly turned-out Sydney-siders, drinking with a single-mindedness which would make a football hooligan stare. The Island is on a posh boat with a flat bottom, and the cheerful roar it gives off can be heard half a kilometre away. It can be rented for a very reasonable $25.000 a day.

By the way, a Sydney-sider is defined simply enough in Wikipedia as ‘a native or inhabitant of Sydney, Australia’. The Urban Dictionary goes further: ‘a person who lives in Sydney, Australia and really hates Melbourne. Their hobbies include sooking about how Sydney is better than Melbourne because they have a massive chip on their shoulder. Most of them are having trouble dealing with the fact that Sydney has had its day, and Melbourne has no where (sic) to go but up.’

If you’re now wondering what ‘sooking’ means, the barely literate and apparently not very self-aware Urban Dictionary can help again: ‘to act like a pussy ass bitch. Wine (sic) like a two year old’

So now you know all you need to know about Sydney-siders.

  1. Asian tourists

Year-round, Sydney boasts large groups of Asian tourists, mostly female, often wearing colourful hats or visors. Polkadot patterns are often seen. These groups queue with other groups of Asian tourists at the main attractions, so that they can take photos of one another grinning and shrieking in front of  them.

To summarise the remaining items:

6-9.  Tasty pies, good coffee, birds, The Royal Botanic Gardens,

There are pie-shops everywhere, and the takeaway coffee is always good. There are loads of birds, and the botanical gardens are very nice, with great views of downtown Sydney, the harbour, the bridge, the opera house etc.   Shit, this isn’t very good, is it?

Not great. How long were you there?

Two or three weeks.

Perhaps something else will come to mind. You know you haven’t even managed ten items. Perhaps you need to change the title to ‘nine’.

I can’t be bothered, to be honest.

Ok, don’t beat yourself up about it. So did you read about that cricketer David Warner hating the English?

Yes. He seems like a nasty little git.

Very much so. At least he’s lost the parade-ground moustache.

What I didn’t understand, though, he said he has to dig deep into himself to activate his hatred of us, which seems like a greater effort than any self-respecting Australian should have to make.

Ha ha. Who’s us?

What do you mean? You’re English, aren’t you?

I’ve got a good quote I found in an article. Do you want to hear it?

If you’re not English, what are you? OK, go on.

It’s some Aussie bloke who was chief executive of Australian Rugby Union during the 2007 World Cup, and he said: “Whether it’s cricket, rugby league or rugby union, we do all hate England. All I’m doing is stating the bleeding obvious. No one likes England … Sadly, this is all a by-product of their born-to-rule mentality. It’s been there for a long time now and nothing has changed.”

Yes, Warner also said history was a big part of it. You can see his point, of course. They have a wine called Nineteen Crimes, which is nineteen of the 200-odd offences that could get you transported.

Such as?

I happen to have the list here. One was ‘Petty Larceny. Theft under one shilling’.  Another was ‘Stealing fish from a pond or river’. Have a look for yourself.

‘Impersonating an Egyptian’ is a good one. And ‘Stealing a shroud out of a grave’. They were weird times. 

They also have a beer called One Fifty Lashes, which is what the bloke who first brewed beer there got for stealing the ingredients, so the legend goes. They seem to revel in all this stuff.

Good beer, is it?

Excellent. Australia is awash with excellent beer, mostly pale ales, draught or bottled. That’s my tenth point, thank you.

 

A Spot of Rain

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Another delayed post.

11th October 2017

It’s about five-thirty, a hot and humid late afternoon. The sun is quite low, sloping in at 45 degrees or so, but its heat is still weirdly strong as I step out into the garden.  I potter for a while, bending, straightening, dead-heading, snipping.

Then, out of nothing, a quick patter and rustle around me, and spots of coolness on the back of my white work-shirt. I straighten up.

After three months, it is raining.

The sun continues to beam hotly from the south-west as the rain intensifies. I crane my neck to see a rare sight, a grey cloud directly above, slowly heading north.

‘It’s raining, it’s raining!’ I enthuse, but the dog has headed indoors.

I hurry to turn over the cushions on the garden chairs, and fuss about in wonderment for a while. But it’s over quickly – before the dots and spots on the tiles of the terrace have had a chance to join together, the rain has stopped.

Very interesting, what an afternoon you had, but at the top there, are you sure ‘weirdly’ works? You just mean that it was unseasonably hot, yes?

When I get right down to it, you mean? No actually, I  don’t ‘mean’ that, whatever ‘mean’ means.

Fine, just trying to help.

And it makes no sense anyway.

Don’t start, of course it makes sense.

It has no meaning.

Everyone knows what it means. It’s even in the dictionary.

But unseasonably hot means that the heat was unseasonable, doesn’t it?

Obviously.

Well, also obviously, when something is called unseasonable, that means, and only means, that it cannot be seasoned. ‘Unseasonably hot’ thus means that the afternoon was so hot that it couldn’t be seasoned. And since an afternoon is not something that can be seasoned in the first place, the expression is meaningless.

You’ve lost me a while ago there. Listen, it’s clear to me and everyone else what it means, and it would have made things a lot clearer if you’d just used it in the first place.

Thanks for your views. I’ll give them some thought.

 

 

TFSOM is on the Sofa this Week

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This post is running a bit late.

6th September

We had eaten in a quiet restaurant in Rebelva, near Carcavelos, arriving early so as to get dinner out of the way by mid-evening. It is one of those little restaurants which are packed with quietly grazing elderly couples at lunchtime but are quieter in the evening. The food is simple, tasty and cheap, in the Portuguese way. I’d had some excellent braised pig’s liver with proper hand-cut chips, my wife had the sardines, and I’d had the lion’s share of a half-litre jug of wine.

On the way home we stopped in Carcavelos to drop off one of those light recliner-rocker chair things for babies, the sort of thing you strap a one-year-old into to watch cartoons until they doze off. My wife’s son and daughter-in-law have a new baby.

We parked and walked towards the flat along a quiet street. I was carrying the chair. In a two-and-a-half-glasses-of-red-wine sort of way, I thought it would be jolly to demonstrate an amusing thing I’d once done when carrying an empty Moses-basket across the school lawn (someone needed one, and I had one to lend).  It was lunchtime, and noting a number of chatting teachers observing me idly, I made a show of clucking and grinning into the empty basket as I approached, before simulating a trip which sent it somersaulting into the air, drawing gasps and shouts and screams of alarm in the split-second before everyone realised it was empty. I told you it was amusing.

Unfortunately, this time I was walking on an uneven pavement of those sharp-edged little Portuguese cobblestones, and in theatrically pretending to trip I actually did trip, falling forward  heavily and hard onto my right knee. It was a second or two before I was able to collect myself and inspect it. The impact had opened a jagged three-cornered gash in the kneecap, the shallow flesh split open in the manner of a burst sausage. Blood had splattered around it and on the ground. I gripped the kneecap tightly in my right hand to stem the bleeding.

Is there much more of this?

Quite a bit, but I can hurry it up.

If you wouldn’t mind. That’s probably enough detail on the knee, for instance.

Synopsis.

Veronica, that’s my wife, went on to the flat to get help. After some time an ambulance arrived, and I was taken to Cascais General Hospital, emerging an hour and a half later in a wheel-chair with nine stitches in my knee-cap. Since then I have been twice to the local Health Centre, for follow-up and to have the dressing changed. I was well-treated by the emergency services and have been well-treated at the Health Centre.

Main Characters

Very drunk man

Kept me company (ie wouldn’t go away) when I was alone sitting on the pavement. Kept trying to make me stand up by reaching under my arms, while I waved him off ineffectually. Every time he wandered off, he came wandering back.

Policeman

Called from the police station round the corner by the very drunk man. Young, calm, courteous and helpful. Seemed intelligent and well-educated. Called the ambulance.

The ambulance team.

The young woman who saw to the first aid was capable, courteous, articulate and friendly. In Portugal, the ambulance service is mostly provided by the Bombeiros Voluntários. This is the volunteer fire brigade (men and women), who are paid either nothing or virtually nothing. 90% of firefighters are volunteers. Anything up to a dozen are killed each year (in 2005, it was 16). This friendly and efficient young woman told me she was a trained  socorrista, which is translated not very helpfully in my dictionary as ‘lifeguard’. Her dream was to complete her nursing qualification.

The doctor who stitched up my knee.

Young, capable, overworked. She’d been on all day. Asking advice from a slightly older colleague, she asked how long he’d been on. ‘Since yesterday’ he replied.

Can I see the wound? Have you got a photo?

Ah. I thought you’d never ask.

Well. I’ve seen worse.

I was expecting you to say that.

So, about the chips.

What?

They’d be called ‘hand-crafted’ in England of course. And they’d be ‘heritage potatoes’. Ridiculous, the menus these days. I read an article in the Mail the other week which summed it up for me …

OK can we come back to that? My point is how efficiently and politely I was treated by the emergency services, in a country suffering badly from economic austerity.

And what does that even mean, anyway?

‘Difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure’.

Is that from a dictionary?

And what it’s meaning is that huge numbers of young, well-trained Portuguese doctors and nurses can’t get a job in their own country, and are now working in places like Britain.

Lucky Britain

Lucky Britain unless they get kicked out because of Brexit

So the article was about a menu at some big dinner, and a piece of cod ‘delicately balanced on a sumptuous organic pearl barley risotto, hand in hand with an English courgette flower beignet.’

Was it tasty?

I didn’t eat it, I read about it. I told you, in the Daily Mail. You don’t listen.

Was it ‘line-caught’? You do see that on menus.

I’m not discussing fine dining with someone who eats braised pig’s liver when they go out to eat.

Suit yourself, but it was very tender and tasty. I’ll take your wishes for a prompt recovery as read, shall I?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2002594/Why-ludicrously-pretentious-menus-turn-stomach.html

https://www.bombeiros.pt/homenagem-2/

 

Forewarned…

grim-reaper

Why I am writing this blog

This is a new blog. WordPress say new bloggers should say something in the first post about what their blog is going to be like and what the point of it is.

I live in Portugal. I am retiring from work very soon, and people concerned for my mental welfare are keen that I should keep myself occupied. They fret that I may become depressed if I knock about the house doing nothing. This is nonsense, because I don’t get depressed. However I may become:

  • bored
  • scared
  • gloomy
  • prone to bouts of staring introspection
  • unable to get up in the morning
  • a convert to Catholicism

so I have had to give it some thought. My wife will not be retiring for a year or two, and likes to assure me that a lot of my time will be taken up with cleaning, changing bed-linen, dealing with laundry, planning meals, sorting out the garden, going to the supermarket, cooking dinner, loading and emptying the dishwasher and so on. She also thinks it would be good for me to have an allotment and to spend more time with the grandchildren.

So I have decided to write a blog.

Why a blog?

Two reasons:

  1. I enjoy writing, and a blog may help the time pass more quickly until I can give up without embarrassment and begin quietly waiting for my final ailment.
  2. The other week a colleague at work said ‘Well, you could always write a blog’.

What will the blog be like?

  •  A sort of irregular journal, a way of publishing mockery and sarcasm at the expense of things which annoy or amuse me. There will be quite a lot about living in Portugal, language, sport, and what’s on British television. It will mostly aim to be humorous, but not always succeed. It will avoid complex issues like the plague.* It will not, even intermittently, be Tolstoyan in its seriousness, ambition and moral scope.
  • There will be anecdotal descriptions of incidents, places and so on. The easily-embarrassed reader may wish to give these literary sallies a wide berth, but I enjoy writing them.
  • It will be a ragbag of bits and pieces, reminiscences, jokes, other people’s poetry, critical comment on old pop songs nobody cares about any more…
  • And so much more.

* I don’t have much to say about the plague.