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.