Monday, September 13, 2010

The Point of a Lifetime

the point of a lifetime
its purpose and aims
just fitted
into a 20kg suitcase
and flew off
to university

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Having a Blog is like having a Rash

I thought I had managed to stop scratching when I stopped writing this blog, but all the while it itched.

Whenever I see something silly, I itch to post.

Or if I see something quite normal that strikes me in a silly way... the itch comes back.

Whenever a Google search pops up with this blog... the fingers twitch.

And when my ‘professional’ writing goes way off topic...

So here I am. Back again. I'm here for a jolly good scratch.

Just occasionally.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

addicted to the hard stuff

I haven’t posted for a while now. It’s been hard… I’ve been dealing with this new… addiction.

I had heard people talk about it, you know, half heard the word mentioned, never really paid attention. I never thought I’d be sucked in.

It was my wife who started me off. She gave me one, said it was easy. And she was right, it was. But she didn’t warn me that the little bit of a mind kick it gave me would leave me wanting more. The next one was a bit harder, and the kick was even bigger. After that, I was just hooked. I haven’t slept. It has taken over my life. I’m just chasing harder and harder stuff.

So if anyone ever whispers to you, “Pssst… wanna bit of Sudoku?”
Just say “NO!”

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Carnival at last!


Having a war with Flickr, Blogger and god knows what.

So no pics.

effing techbloodynology

Please steal my car

I hate my car. But shhh… it’s a secret. Both my wife and my daughter have been complaining about it since… well, since I bought it about six years ago, and I have been defending its existence. Six years ago, when we arrived in Gran Canaria (our first Canarian island), the plan was different. We were lifestyle refugees from the City of London. We’d precociously lived the life of big jobs, big houses and big cars. It hadn’t made us happy. So when I bought this car, we were rebelling against the land of walnut dashboards and heated calf hide seats. My ambition was to run a book shop with a hammock in the back. So after a few months of holidaying, we decided that we were going to live in Fuerteventura. And I needed the right car for the environment.

At that time, Fuerteventura was an island where goats outnumbered Majoreros (the local inhabitants). We were aiming to live in a sleepy town surrounded by glorious beaches. The town had very little to offer beyond the surrounding natural beauty. A few shops, a few bars and a few hotels on whose guests the local economy was based. The citizens were an eclectic bunch. There were the surfer dudes with their bleached blonde hair who wandered about the town barefoot with their boards under their arms. There were the local tradesmen: Indians sold electronics, Majoreros had supermarkets and Europeans had clothes shops. And there were the tourists. I think there was one mechanic. And this is what defined my choice of car.

In choosing the car, I remembered a story from my childhood, about the president of Bangladesh. Back in the 1970’s, shortly after gaining independence from Pakistan, the new president decided to buy himself a fleet of white Mercedes. He even built a lovely new dual carriageway to drive them on. My father worked in Bangladesh at the time, and I remember us bumping along on the normal, potholed roads until suddenly we reached this smooth piece of tarmac, so different from everything else in the country. For years I thought it was called a ‘Jewel Carriageway’, and imagined it had been built to bear carriages laden with diamonds and gold. Obviously driving up and down this road proved limiting for the president and eventually he was forced to drive his cars on the rest of the ‘road’ system. One by one, each car in his shiny fleet broke down. A process of cannibalisation for parts kept others on the road for a while, but not long. Within just 12 months he was in a Toyota, like the rest of us, because that was the only type of spare part you could buy.

So I looked about the Fuerteventuran streets and the most common type of vehicle was a hybrid Renault van. Of course it is very different if you go there now. Both cars and population have changed dramatically. The goats and Majoreros now find themselves outnumbered by two newer groups. There are the sub-Saharan Africans. Desperate for a new life, they have risked all and crossed the seas in rickety boats, called pateras, to reach this remotest outpost of the European milk and honey Union. The other group is made up of comparatively affluent Northerners, who have crossed the seas in rickety charter aircraft for their short spell under the equatorial sun. Their risk only comes from the avaricious estate agents who are hastily carving up the island, mandated by corrupt mayors, eager to flog off their legacy. So now the locals have each traded in the land their families owned, for brand new Mercedes, and they will cruise the streets swankily until their money runs out. Then we can expect a local glut of second hand luxury cars.

But two islands later I still have my Renault jalopy. Having bored of the shop / hammock scenario, we have come to Tenerife, the most commercial of the islands to dip a cautious toe back into the real world. It’s not going to be the fully fledged high pressure, high stakes City of London life that we rejected. Nor is it to be the flaky, flip flop wearing Fuerteventuran opt out. Something in between. Some moderation. And my daughter and my wife have raised the volume and frequency of their complaints. Loathe to shell out for a new vehicle when I spend a maximum of forty minutes a day behind the wheel, I have been defending my car on the grounds of economy. It’s cheap to run. It never goes wrong. Well, it never went wrong.

Then last month I had to replace the gearbox. And the clutch. And last week it was wheel bearings. And two days ago the starter motor went, so I have to park on top of hills and roll down to start it again, until the mechanic has time to mend it. And with all that I have spent in the last month, I could have bought another car. I may have to admit that the car should go. But the more they complain, the more stubborn I get. However I am now at a point where my contempt for the car exceeds my stubbornness. I have taken to leaving the doors unlocked and the windows open when I park it. If someone would kindly steal it, then my problems would be solved. But even the thieves here have more taste. So now it’s time to eat some humble pie, suck up my pride and look for another ride.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Off to the CARNIVAL!

Shrove Tuesday – a day off – Yay! Forget the pancakes… this is CARNIVAL! Of course carnival here is not just a one day event. The whole thing takes months of preparation. Seamstresses slave, burning the midnight oil to make extravagant costumes; bands and dancers practice and prance for endless hours; drag queens mince and pout till their eyelashes can flutter no more. The whole of Tenerife is a hive of carnival activity.

The main procession is at 4pm. It’s 3pm now. I look in the mirror, anticipating the metamorphosis about to take place. The precedent for carnival costumes is a noble one, dating back to the 13th century Venetians, with their elegant masks. Tradition weighs heavy as I survey my reflection and ready my mind. A deep breath, eyes shut, head bowed. I feel positively thespian. And then it is done. Head erect, once again. Slowly I open my eyes to inspect… I smile. Perfect. My wig is green, bright and very, very frizzy.

We jump in the car. As I turn the ignition a large raindrop splats on the windscreen. My wife and I look at each other and silently agree that we have just witnessed a joint hallucination. It was not rain.

We drive off. Santa Cruz is an hour away. Splat, splat. I drive faster, but the splats are following us. Eventually I give in to reality and turn on the windscreen wipers. Just because it is raining in the South, does not mean it is raining in the North. I should win medals for my optimism.

Then we stop. We all stop. And start. And stop. It’s already 5pm and we’re stuck. We weren’t expecting our first procession of the day to be here, on the motorway. And the splats have turned into one large, continuous splosh. But we are in carnival mood and the in-car atmosphere is still jolly.

5:30pm. We have advanced a further 500m. The conversation has turned to Christian festivals. Carnival is a precursor to lent. We start to get into theology. Two atheists, one ex-catholic, the other ex-orthodox and we’re debating about the modern protestant perception of Christianity. Obviously we’re both experts.

5:40pm. We’ve stopped debating. Now we’re arguing. Both of us have changed sides at least three times and we’re getting into repetition. We decide to phone a protestant to ask them. We scroll through the phone’s memory. Stupidly, I have neglected to record anyone’s religion. After this failure to call a witness to the stand, we lapse into silence.

5.50pm. We see the saddest person in the world. We both feel deeply sympathetic. He is a policeman standing forlornly by the road and he has been given a little red flag to wave. We imagine him, only this morning, showing up bright and eager to perform his civic duty on a carnival day. He is given a little red flag, and he looks forward to a busy day of self-important flag waving. Perhaps directing carnival floats, or waggling his little flag at over exuberant revellers. Perhaps he even phoned his wife excitedly, to tell her that he had been given his own flag to wave at carnival. She was probably so proud. And then they deposited him beside the rainy motorway, miles from the carnival. All by himself.

6:30pm. Finally we arrive in Santa Cruz, having been diverted onto a winding country road, due to an unforeseen puddle on the motorway. We drive into the centre of the city, and suddenly our luck changes. We find a parking place less than 50 metres from the carnival route.

6:35pm. We are told the carnival has been postponed due to bad weather.

6:40pm. On the way back south. My wife consoles me. There’s more carnival on Saturday and Sunday… and then the Carnival comes south soon. I will still get to wear my rather dashing green, frizzy wig. I smile back weakly and ask if I can also have a little red flag.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Losing weight by eating more

Well nothing has worked so far. As we draw close to the end of February, I have been singularly unsuccessful at becoming an alcoholic. You may remember, from my 2006 health plan, that I was supposed to be entirely dependent on alcohol by this point in the year. Alcohol was to replace the food, after my January of gluttony. And the food was replacing the nicotine. Oh, yes, I believe in nursery rhymes… I swallowed the spider to eat the fly. But now I can’t stop eating spiders (well not REAL spiders, obviously. That would be icky. I mean METAPHORICAL spiders – the ones that taste like bacon sandwiches and seconds of jam roly poly).

I just can’t stop eating at all. My attempts to replace food with alcohol have failed dismally, largely because of my limited opportunities for inebriation. They tend to frown at dribbling behind desks in an alcoholic stupor at my workplace. Very uncivilised. I knew I should have become a lawyer.

To cap it all, a couple of days ago I was offered my dream job: Restaurant Critic! Ok, it’s part time (1 restaurant a week), and the pay is in … er food. But who cares? I get to eat at the best restaurants regularly, and for the cost of only 500 words a meal. After describing the décor and ambience, that’s only 100 words a course! As you would expect, I accepted in a dignified manner (fell to my knees and wept with pleasure). I can hardly wait for my first mission… hopefully no one tells them about the Valentine’s dinner debacle.

My wife was unimpressed when I bounded (wobbled) home with the news. I was too elated to listen much, but I recognised the odd word like ‘cholesterol’ and ‘not coming to your funeral’. Anyway, the eventual upshot is that I have promised to go on a diet, or else I am only allowed to review salads.

So I have been pondering deeply about this diet. It’s obvious that conventional diets are not going to work with me. I get hungry too often, and I’m damned if I’m going to eat cottage cheese and celery. I have taken a brief peep at the Atkins diet, but spotting which bits on the plate are carbohydrates is going to be too complicated for me. And looking at the list of banned foods… nah.

And then I hit upon it! All these diets are aimed at reducing energy input. And everyone recommends doing exercise in order to burn up the energy. Well, what is needed is obviously a way of eating that uses up more energy than I consume! For instance, chewing gum: lot’s of chewing, not a lot of calorie intake. It’s like exercising while eating. And what else makes you sweat when you eat? Chilli! Eat some hot chillies and all that sweating must burn off bucket loads of energy. And the more chilli you eat… the more weight you must lose! So that’s the basis of my new dietary plan. I will add chilli to absolutely everything (except when I’m doing restaurant reviews: those chefs can be sensitive types). And then I will eat as much as possible. The pounds will drip off me.

Now the hottest chillies in the world are scotch bonnets. (Wikipedia: these peppers are known to cause dizziness, numbness of hands and cheeks, and severe heartburn). They don’t grow in Tenerife (or at least there’s no one mad enough to grow them). You are advised to wear gloves before handling them. But these little babies are gorgeous, and surely worth at least 1kg of weight loss each. And I have a bag of them in my freezer… Tally ho!

Post Script:
Shit! Only 2 scotch bonnets left in freezer! No one stocks any real killer chillies here. I have looked everywhere. I have asked everyone I know. Normally I have scotch bonnets smuggled in for me, but my supplier’s not coming out for a while. So this is a quick shout out to any trans-atlantic smugglers trafficking to Tenerife: forget the cocaine… that’s for wimps. Go for GLORY: smuggle scotch bonnets. Will swap for surplus of calabaza jam. Oh and, er… wear gloves.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Shopping in Tenerife

I just wrote an article on shopping in the Canaries for a magazine (yes, I do sensible writing, too, and people even pay me!). The Canaries is a special tax zone, so stuff here can be a lot cheaper than the rest of Europe. In the article I was looking at the retail experience on the Canary Islands, and I started to look at the different types of shops here. The international chains, the multitude of electronics shops, the Moroccan bazaars… and then there were the shops owned, managed and run by islanders, that come from a different retail tradition. I had to edit the whole chunk out because it just wasn’t suitable… but in the spirit of recycling etc, I’ll paste it in here…

Don’t expect these indigenous businesses to have the entrepreneurial initiative that you might be used to, by opening at times when you are likely to want to go shopping, or even displaying their stock so you know what they have. Oh, no. Canarian shopkeepers don’t enjoy over contamination of customers. More customers means more sales, more ordering stock, more cleaning up, more serving … it all hardly bears thinking about. These shops close religiously for the ‘mediodia’, at 1.30 or 2pm, and re-open after a relaxed lunch and siesta at 4.30 or 5pm when they stay open for another three hours or so.

You see, to a great extent, shops here come from a tradition of considering themselves as performing a public service. Every time they flipped the sign on the door to ‘abierto’, they were doing a favour to the general public. They prefer to keep their stock behind a counter. That way, they know where everything is, and it keeps the customers in an orderly queue while they go and fetch things. Of course they have convinced themselves, over the years, that this is providing a better and more personal service to their customer. That’s great, but the whole system collapses when a shop gets two or (heaven forbid) even three customers. The shopkeeper is still offering his personalised service by discussing the weather with the first customer when the third has persuaded themselves that they don’t really need whatever it was they came for, and abandons the idea completely.

And the whole process comes to a complete stop if the customer is one of the many hundreds of thousands of foreigners on this island who don’t speak fluent Spanish. It is excruciating to watch an exasperated German become increasingly red as he tries to explain that he needs a waterproof washer at the ‘ferreteria’ (hardware store). His forefinger jabs in and out of a loop formed by the finger and thumb of his other hand, not dissimilar to a rude sign seen in playgrounds, made by giggling children. Well, maybe there are some comedic consolations to the system!

Generally speaking, the older the area, the more entrenched is this attitude. Such shops have become rare in the tourist dominated south, but are still common in the north. But even there, they are becoming a dying breed. Tenerife News’ reports on the hilarious misadventures of ‘FEDECO’, the association that binds these independent retailers in Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital. The city is a stop over for cruise liners, who spew out their passengers onto the streets of Santa Cruz, wallets stuffed with Euros. This is an affluent group, stir crazy from being cooped up on a ship with no mall in which to spend their wads of Euros: they’re desperate to part with their cash. And of course they arrive on Sundays, or Saturday afternoons, when the whole city has shut up shop and gone home. FEDECO refuse to open, despite their members going bankrupt left and right. Indeed, they look at the bankruptcies blame them on the newer, out of town shopping centres. They declare that it is unfair that these centres open during siesta times, and even on Sundays. It is just too convenient for shoppers. Meanwhile the cruise liners are not coming back, because their passengers are not content.

Yes, there are social issues to be taken into account. But the hard fact is: if it wasn’t for out of town centres, then a family like us, an hour’s drive away, would never buy anything up north. I work Monday to Friday and I wake up late on Saturdays. So if there were no out of town centres, then the north wouldn’t get any of my money at all. And if Santa Cruz bothered to open on Sundays, then we’d spend some there, too. And we’re not alone.

Just when you thought the blogosphere was safe!

My daughter and I communicate across the few metres that separate our computers, via msn.

She has just sent me a message to say that she has started her own blog. You’ll find it here, and if you enjoy a surreal and pythonesque sense of humour, then you’re well advised to take a peek.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentines dinner

Today I have spent the day off work, convalescing from our Valentines dinner. I took my wife to one of Tenerife’s better known restaurants. Mainly middle aged couples. And, of course, a few older gentlemen, who seemed to be sharing the evening with their buxom young, faketan, blonde nieces. (How nice of them).

I think it all went fine. Things are a bit vague. I remember the third bottle of wine. I remember the Mariachi singers. Yes… it’s starting to come back to me. They were around our table… big moustaches… toothy smiles… variously sized guitars…

Oh no… I’m starting to remember! They were singing that really cheesy song, you know…

Yay-ay ay-yay, ay-yay amore

And then I remember we spontaneously joined in. Both of us… in chorus. With our own, alternative version...

My sister Belinda
Just pissed out the window
All over my brand new sombrero
Yay-ay ay-yay, ay-yay…

My wife and I burst into uproarious laughter. Strangely, nobody else seemed to find it quite as amusing. Eyebrows hit the ceiling and jaws crashed to the floor at all the tables around us.

But at the time it didn’t seem to matter. The two of us were hugging each other, tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.

Surely this is what Valentine’s Day is all about?