30.11.04

Saltire in the sky


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Dundee, 30 November 2004

Sirs,

On this fine St Andrew's Day morning I decided to take the airs and amble down into the centre of the city where I had hoped to take some photographs of our fine flag proudly flying in the air above that wonderful example of Scottish vernacular architecture, the Auld Steeple. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that there was nary a breeze, and only one Saltire hanging limply in the still air. In vain I searched for other public buildings displaying this once proud nation's banner. The City Chambers had the flags of all the European Union nations on display, with the Union flag at the centre, yet there was no sign of the Saltire, not even one hanging its head in shame. The Bank of Scotland, one of the oldest banks in Britain and a national institution, which has been taken over by a Building Society that is named after a Yorkshire town, has apparently forgotten its previous status and, in place of the expected Saltire, was displaying a white flag with a large black 'X' on it. One cannot but venture to suggest that Rabbie Burns would be spinning in his grave if he knew that we remain governed by 'sic a parcel of rogues'.

With there being little prospect, because of the lack of any wind, of seeing the solitary Saltire available for display in Dundee actually on display, I desisted and instead sat in the City Square where I ate a sandwich and sipped on that most American of imports, a Cafe Latte to Go. Oh how I miss the days of chicory coffee and currant buns! Life was so simple then, and the breeze blew on demand.

On the bus home, I was both shocked and disgusted to hear two teenage girls, who really ought to have been at school, sitting having a very loud conversation in which every other word was f**k, or derivatives thereof. I have in the past confronted these uncouth tykes, only to be rewarded with a torrent of expletives. This time I, like all the other passengers (and, if his driving was anything to go by, the driver too), buried my head in my newspaper. Once these charming little 'darlings' left the omnibus, those remaining sighed a sigh of relief and shrugged their shoulders at it all. What has become of us?, I pondered. A sizeable proportion of our young people have no respect for anyone or anything, our politicians lie to us, our business leaders sell us out, and our local administrators make lobotomised cattle seem intelligent. I think I may have to emigrate.

Yours etc., absolutely shocked and generally disappointed,

Lt. Col. (RA-Ret.) Sir Ramsey Huffington-Buffington-MacGregor of that Ilk, KFC KGB CIA FBI CID BYOB G&T (bar) RSVP HMV BhS B&Q DIY DOA RIP
(By carrier pigeon)

29.11.04

It's that hill again...


I started off the day with the best of intentions. It's how I start off most days, I suppose. I opened the file that I was working on, and proceeded to look for distractions. The internet is both a blessing and a curse in this respect, for while it is a necessary tool in my locker, it is also a means of escaping from doing any work. Before I knew it, I had surfed from today's newspapers to information on the Hawaian monarchist movement. Whilst it was very interesting to read about, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Portuguese political history. I forced myself to stop pretending that I had the slightest interest in either David Blunkett's sexual relationships or the English cricket tour of Zimbabwe (or, in fact, any interest at all in cricket), and made myself a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I finished these just in time for the lunchtime news, which had an interesting report on David Blunkett's sexual relationship with a married woman and a piece about the England cricket team's tour of Zimbabwe. It is my duty as a political historian to keep abreast of current affairs. When the news finished, I came to check my email, then decided that I needed some lunch, which I ate whilst watching BBC News 24's in-depth report on David Blunkett and the English cricket team's tour of Zimbabwe. I now consider myself an expert. I rounded off lunch with a leisurely one-hour stroll to the bank and back to pay some urgent bills and add to my collection of Auchterhouse Hill photographs, and perhaps in the hope that someone might ask me about either David Blunkett or the English cricket team in Zimbabwe. By the way, I used to have two very close Zimbabwean friends: one was in charge of Harare hospital's Leprosy Unit, while the other was the son of one of Mugabe's ministers (they were both doing postgraduate degrees at Glasgow University). They were both very nice, and boy could they drink! I wonder whatever became of them.

28.11.04

This is Scotland


It's enough to stir the heart of any Scot; particularly this close to St. Andrew's Day. As you can see, I decided not to go to the football today. Well, when I say that I decided, I really mean that I was told in no uncertain terms by 'She Who Wears The Trousers' that we were all going out for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the country, and that I was taking us all to Reekie Linn where, instead of watching 22 grown men chase a small spherical leather object full of air around a field with the aim of getting it into a big net, I was going to walk along the banks of the River Isla, look at the Reekie Linn, then take everyone to the farm cafe for hot drinks and food - and that I was paying. Okay, thought I, I didn't really want to go to the game anyway, and the money that I would save by not going could be used for Reekie Linn instead. So off we went, myself driving, Linda, Liam and his small cousin, Ross. I am glad that I went (sometimes we just have to be told what's best for us), for not only did Celtic fail to win, but they also fell off the top spot of the league (temporarily, of course, I hope), but the scenery at Glenisla was absolutely breathtaking. If you thought Reekie Linn looked impressive during the summer, then you ought to go see it in the winter. It was simply awesome, in the sense of the word used by Bill Bryson in his description of the scale of Britain's natural beauty (and I recommend everyone to read Bryson's Notes from a Small Island). I was on a roll with the camera too, for it was so beautiful up there that even a hack like me managed to photograph what I saw - in fact, I had a very hard choice deciding which photograph should represent my day. In the end, I plumped for this one, simply because it looks so Scottish.

27.11.04

Liam the Great


I have recently been very impressed with Liam's awareness of the world around him. Previously, all he seemed to have been interested in was music, guitars and Playstation games. However, while I was in Lisbon, he was speaking to me on the phone about Achilles, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Homer and the birth of the Roman Empire. When I got home, I noticed that he had raided my library, and had been reading everything I had about ancient Greece and Rome, as well as all my books by and about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. He has even been reading Thucydides' History of the Peloponesian War! Part of the reason for this is a history project that he had to complete for school. Everyone in his class had to write a report on a someone of their choice from history. While just about everyone else chose William Wallace, Robert Bruce or Mary Queen of Scots, Liam chose Socrates (the Ancient Greek philosopher, not the leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party or the famous Brazilian footballer). Sense prevailed, and he changed his choice to Alexander the Great. I left him to do the research himself, which he did, although I had to advise him that his history teacher would probably not believe that the phrase "imbibe from the Well of Knowledge" was one that he would normally use. Last night he started a discussion with Linda and myself about Bono (the U2 singer) and Band Aid. He was complaining about all those rich pop stars going through the motions without actually doing anything to solve problems. While I didn't agree with everything that he was saying, I was impressed by the amount of thought he had put into his views, and also with his willingness and ability to defend them. Anyway, he made me proud. He went to the cinema this morning with three of his friends to watch the Incredibles (thanks for the correction, Jude). While he was there, I drove out to Strathmartine. Now I'm back in the house listening to the Aberdeen v. Dundee Utd game on the internet, and debating whether to go to the Dundee vs. Celtic game tomorrow afternoon.

26.11.04

My domain... sort of.


It has been a beautiful and mild day here so far today. In fact, the weather has been lovely since I got back from Lisbon. I seem to have missed the snow and sleet that was Scotland's lot last week (lucky me). The forecasters are telling us that there is more clear weather on the way, but that the temperatures are going to drop from the present tropical 13ºC to a more typical 5ºC - and that we should be thinking about scraping the ice from the windscreens soon. That makes me happy, because I like the dry, crisp and clear days with temperatures struggling to get above zero much more than I like sleet, rain, snow and gray skies. As I don't really get much opportunity to take outdoor daylight photos at this time of year (it gets dark here very early), I decided to make the effort to get one today. I also thought that you might like to see what kind of weather we are having - as you can see: bright and sunny, and not very cold at all (I don't even have the central heating on, and the back door is open for Mizzie's sake). Taking this picture also gave me an opportunity to put my new monitor to the test - what better than a large pano (obviously this is the cut down version) to prove my newly upgraded RAM and the huge, pinsharp, monitor. I almost feel as if I'm at Pedro's house doing this! Just to let you know, this is my back garden in its normal state (it isn't much better in the summer - only greener). As you can no doubt tell, I am not much of a gardener; it's all I can do to cut the grass.

25.11.04

What's that smell...?


If there is one thing that you want to do if you are anywhere near me after I have eaten my favourite food, it is get away from me as quickly as possible. You see, my favourite foods all have lots of onions and lots of garlic in them. I just can't get enough of the stuff. I can eat raw onion as a snack, and I rub garlic cloves onto my toast. A meal is not a meal without garlic bread, and when I am in a less expensive restaurant in Portugal, I always grab the tub of garlic butter before anyone else can get their hands on it. I put it all down to my close association with the Iberian peninsula and my friendship with lots of Mediterranean people - be they Spanish, Catalan, Italian or French. The Spanish in particular have a love affair with garlic, and it was one of my Spanish friends who introduced me to a typical Spanish breakfast of toasted bread spread with olive oil then rubbed with fresh garlic, alternated with toast spread with pureed tomatoes in olive oil and oregano. All this accompanied with strong black coffee (their gesture towards their Portuguese hosts, since I know that many Spaniards prefer hot chocolate in the morning). I have no problem eating raw onions and garlic when I am in Spain or Portugal, because they are part of the diet there. However, I have to tread more warily here in Scotland, where some find the smell somewhat off-putting. Nevertheless, given that Scotland has the highest rate of heart disease in the western world, perhaps we could all do with eating a bit more fresh garlic, and be more like the Spanish, who have the lowest rate. You never know, it might even make us better at football as well! Oh! Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the US.

24.11.04

It's always the same


Big game tonight, so I had to put another picture up. Okay. So the fun begins again. Yesterday I decided to get a new monitor for my desktop PC, since the one I have been using for the past five years has a big scratch down the middle, caused during some decorating a couple of years ago. I also want a new one because using this one is like reading a fishbowl... I want a flat one. I was toying with a TFT, but decided against it because they are too small and too expensive, so a 19" FST is winging its way to me as I speak. I think having the laptops has demonstrated to me just how poor my current monitor actually is -- and there is no escaping the fact that the monitor is just about the most important part of the machine, particularly if you hold your eyesight in any regard at all. A few other bits and bobs were purchased... and I think I'm going to have to get another USB hub what with the sudden proliferation of USB devices attached to my PC! Gadgets... what would we do without them? As I was reinstalling the troublesome graphics card (problem caused by PC overheating in a case designed for a much less powerful machine - solved by removing the case completely, and having a table fan on standby) I was listening to a CD that I found lying around. What happened to come on but one of my all time favourite songs (albeit in a new version): A Forest, by The Cure. Ohhh, Fat Bob Smith... your songs have certainly stood the test of time. Frightening to think that that song was originally released in 1979 - a whole quarter of a century ago! Where did all these years go?

23.11.04

A little more conversation...


I've been trying to catch up with everyone's PaDs - I have missed an awful lot, so it looks as if it is going to take a while before I'm back up to speed, so please bear with me, and don't be offended if I'm slow in getting to you. Most of the morning was spent transferring my Lisbon stuff to my home network in preparation for the coming couple of weeks of hard translating and proofreading. I'm almost afraid to open my email in case I am called back to Lisbon at a moment's notice. You see, with all the problems caused by the woman who won't let us use her article (despite us paying to get it translated), we might have to have a meeting to decide what we need to do to prevent this kind of thing from happening again (I have some ideas, but I'd be arrested if I mentioned them). Myself and Filipe (the accountant) have decided to take things in hand ourselves, and run the whole venture without the assistance of the bosses, who are about as useful as chocolate teapots if the truth be known. We will, of course, give the bosses their due, and let them think that they are running things, while we just get on with it. In order to progress, however, it is possible that we have to have a meeting of the board, at which we will nod at the appropriate points. Filipe is to give me at least one week's notice if a meeting has been organised - which is something neither of us really want to happen because it will give the bosses an opportunity to cock things up. Anyway, here's hoping that everybody's too busy before mid-January, and that I can stay here at home until at least then. In the meantime, I have been lacking all inspiration in the PaD department. As I was playing about with an image in Photoshop, I got an instant message from Zak. He suggested I do an arty shot of toothpaste. I decided to do our conversation. I dare you to spam him!

22.11.04

Knackered


What an incredible feeling it was that washed over me as my 'plane headed up the east coast of England on its way across the border to Edinburgh. It was one of those cloudless nights, and from my vantage point 30,000 feet in the air, I could see all the towns and villages lit up as we passed over. I was listening to Liam's MP3 player (just testing it, honest), and Radiohead came on, singing one of their angst ridden anthems, the title of which eludes me (but it has the word 'worrying' in it, if that's any help). As I was listening to Mr Yorke crooning away, I thought of all the people in all the houses down below. People falling in love, falling out of love; making love, arguing; working, sleeping, watching TV; people giving birth, people dying. It was strange just to sit there in that metal tube travelling through the air at 500 mph, just wondering about all the stories that were unfolding on the ground. Not long after that, the 'plane flew over Portobello as it made its turn over the Forth to line up with the runway. I looked down at Portobello Beach, and thought of our very own Lee Kindness, and wondered what he was up to as I passed over his house. I know what he wasn't doing... he wasn't on his roof fixing his aerial or his posh skylight... I waved, but I don't think he saw me! Another amazing thing. It was so clear tonight as we approached Edinburgh, that I could see right across Fife to Dundee. Then I was thinking that I still had another two hours to go before I could drop all my bags and collapse on the living room floor. It is nice to be home.

21.11.04

Pois é...


I was very late putting yesterday's PaD up. This is because I am using someone else's internet while I'm here, and the machine was being used. This also explains why I have not had much of a chance to look around at what the rest of you have been up to - and for that I apologise, but hasten to add that (YIPPEE!!!) I'm going home tomorrow to sleety, wet, cold, dark and miserable Scotland (from lovely mild, bright, dry and sunny Portugal). Personally, I can't wait to get home; a fortnight away is quite long enough. So, I'll be back at my own computer tomorrow night (well, maybe Tuesday...). As for today, it passed in seemingly never-ending queues for public transport. I decided to head up to Benfica for some olive oil to take home, so I walked to Santos (I wanted to take some photos), then caught a tram to Figueira where I bought a day pass for the buses, trams and Metro (I had plans). I got the Metro to Luz, where I went to the supermarket and got the oil, and also an MP3 player for Liam. Walked down to Estrada Benfica, past an old house of mine, then caught the #58 bus to São Domingos de Benfica, where I went past another old house of mine. From there I went to Alto dos Moinhos and caught the Metro to Baixa-Chiado. This is where it all started going wrong... I went up the escalators to Chiado, and waited and waited and waited then waited some more for the #28 tram to São Bento. After 40 minutes I gave up and caught the #28 to Praça do Comércio. There I waited and waited and waited and waited some more for a tram to Alcântara. I finally gave up and caught a #100 bus to Cais do Sodré, where I took one look at the queue for the Alcântara tram before deciding to get the Metro back up to Figueira where I finally caught a #18 tram to Alcântara. It only took two hours (although it seemed like more). Public transport... dontcha just love it?!?!?

20.11.04

Fogos artificiais sobre Belém


Say what you like about the Portuguese (and I am not about to speak ill of them), but they certainly do know how to throw a party! Not only that, but they know how to make it last longer than perhaps it ought to. But, hey, we won't hold that against them, will we? After all, with finances being the way they are in this country, who can blame them for wanting to escape the daily struggle by watching a huge fireworks display, even if it is only for a couple of hours? I had to go to the National Library today to finish off the photocopying that I couldn't do yesterday because of there only being one functioning photocopier in the library. A quick (and disappointing) trip to El Corte Ingles, then it was back to the flat to get ready for the big fireworks display at Belem to coincide with the switching on of the lights on Europe's tallest Christmas tree. And what a display it was. It was superb - it made Dundee's Guy Fawkes' display seem like a back garden bonfire with a couple of sparklers and a banger. While watching the fireworks exploding in the sky to the sound of Wagneresque music, little did we notice the 'tree' erupt into life. Nice though the 'tree' was (and spectacular as the fireworks were), I still felt a little cheated that the 'tree' is not real. Nevertheless, the show was superb, and the 'tree', despite being wholly artificial, is beautiful. What better way to round off a day of photocopying and fireworks than to go round to the restaurant with some friends to eat some picanha and vitela? I could think of none, so Sílvia, Alexandre and their friend Anabela and I all went and did just that. Even Celtic losing 2-0 to Rangers couldn't spoil an otherwise good day. Now, where did I leave that caipirinha...?

19.11.04

Está quase Natal


I slept well last night. I don't know what's been wrong with me recently, but I suspect that it might be something to do with the traffic noise, and the fact that the flat is directly under Lisbon airport's flight path. Anyway, I didn't waken up in the middle of the night last night, so I finally went to work refreshed. Work today was in the National Library, where I had to get a new card, since my old one lost its magnetic strip a few months ago. The library introduced a new entry system a few weeks ago, so now the card (complete with magnetic strip) is necessary to open the barrier. The security people still take newspapers off people, though, although it remains possible to get in with a laptop, scanner and digital camera. Go figure. Got paid a huge wad of money today, so I'm loaded (but whatever you do, don't tell Linda). I resisted the temptation to spend it on a 20D, and made do with a new memory card instead. I took some photographs of Lisbon's 1,000,000 euro Christmas lights. My photos don't do them justice - they are absolutely superb. I suppose you will just have to come here and see for yourselves. After being offered several blocks of something called hashishe (which I refused, BTW), I caught the tram back to Alcântara, where I had my very late supper of Picanha á Pedra in the lovely little restaurante that I discovered back in September. I leave you now with this image of the Nativity from the display in front of Lisbon's town hall. Beautiful.

18.11.04

Vou cantar até morrer


It's official. I'm exhausted. I'm so tired, in fact, that I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. It is difficult, but I think I am just about managing (although I seem to be hitting all the wrong keys on the keyboard). My flat in Lisbon is just round the corner from this Fado club, which seems to be very popular indeed with Japanese tourists. I must confess myself to you: I have never been in a Fado club in my life, and, I hasten to add, I have no real desire to make a start anytime within the next 50 years. I have heard real, live fado, as practiced by people of the bairro - authentic amateur fado. Way back when I lived here on a more permanent basis than now, I was very friendly with a fellow student whose parents owned a small restaurant near the centre of Lisbon. This wasn't a real restaurant... it was more like a social club for invited guests only. There was no sign on the door advising passers-by of what was going on behind that particular green door, there was no price list, and the door was always closed - oh, and did I mention that it was only open one day a week (Friday). The place was basic: two big rooms with long tressle tables covered with plastic, but the food was good and the music better. It was the same people week in, week out, so obviously I got to know most of them reasonably well, and they all seemed to bring their musical instruments with them. It was great fun. I'll maybe go past it tomorrow night to see if it still exists.

17.11.04

Jantar com amigos


Three attempts. Three. Not two. Three. That's how many times I had to take this photo before the Portuguese contingent managed to smile. The one Spaniard had no problem smiling. She smiled in all three. One of the Portuguese gave an enigmatic, Mona Lisa, is he, isn't he, smile in one of the photos. I don't know if they just couldn't be bothered with the camera: perhaps they weren't aware that it was going to be put on the internet for all the world to see. I imagine that if they had known the destiny of this photograph, then they would not have been so taciturn - afterall, they wouldn't want to promote a national stereotype, would they!?! Miserable Portuguese aside, let me introduce you to some of my friends. The one who is contorted is Alexandre, and directly above him is Sílvia; next to Sílvia is Marta, the Galega (who had just had a telephone argument with her sister, but still managed a smile in all three photos); then there is Ricardo, with Claudia rounding the group off. The only person missing from this image is me, but then you all know what I look like - from top to bottom, and front to arse - so I hardly need to be in front of the camera. Anyway, these are my friends, and we are all at Sílvia's house enjoying a lovely meal of chicken curry (faltou o caril) and the required glasses of delicious Alentejan red wine. Must go, because I have more wine to drink. Até amanhã.

16.11.04

Aí, caramba! Não me acredito!


Honestly. You just couldn't make it up, it's so ridiculous. Apparently, a new law has just been issued in Portugal that states that, from 1 January 2005, anyone who wishes to use a public swimming pool must provide the ticket clerk with a medical certificate, signed by a doctor, confirming that they have no communicable diseases, and that they are not about to shuffle off this mortal coil. It is not clear if this certificate is only needed once, or if people are expected to make a doctor's appointment every time they feel like doing a few lengths - just in case they might have the Lurgy without knowing it. What the already overstretched medical services think of this new duty is not known, although the people who rely on the public health service ought to start making appointments now, because it will be spring by the time they get to see a doctor. It seems all the more ridiculous when you consider that today Charles told me that while he was having his daily swim, the 'lifeguard' was sitting on the edge of the pool, with her feet dangling in the water, whilst playing around with a CD player that was plugged into the mains! Perhaps they should ask swimming pool staff to provide a doctor's certificate confirming that they have more than just mince and chewing-gum in the space between their ears! This piece of ill-thought out bureaucracy is going to cause me problems - for I don't have a Portuguese doctor, and I can just picture my overstretched GP's face when I ask him to give me a certificate that will enable me to use Portuguese public swimming pools, and I'm damn sure that I'm not going to pay the British Embassy 50 euros to have the certificate translated and notarised just so I can prove to someone, who is willing to fool about with mains powered electrical appliances at the side of a swimming pool, that I am not a public health risk. Still, this provided me with some light relief from the tedious article that I have to translate!

15.11.04

Ainda 'tou a trabalhar, pá!


It's a shame that today had to be like it was, especially after such a nice weekend. Started out okay: woke up at a reasonable hour, read until the radio came on, listened to the news, looked out the window and saw the sun shining, put a washing on, had a shower, had breakfast in the cafe downstairs, then caught the train to the uni. Things went downhill from there. Got to my office and started working, then I found out that someone I have never met is blaming me for something that I am supposed to have done, but which I haven't, since I've never touched the thing that I am supposed to have done 'it' to - whatever 'it' may be, which I don't know, because this person refuses to tell me or anyone else what I'm supposed to have done. Apparently this person has a reputation for trying to blame other people for her mistakes, so no-one believes her anyway... it's just that she is not letting us use her article until this whatever it is is sorted out, and my boss has now got to the stage where he has told me to forget about using her paper. Which, whilst understandable, is unfortunate, because it means that I now have to arrange another article to take its place - and the only reserve paper I have needs to be translated by Friday - and it's over 25 pages long, and it is on a complicated subject that I know very little about. So, through no fault of my own, I am left with the task of either translating the article myself, or arranging for someone else to translate it on the understanding that they might get paid come the next financial year. Unsurprisingly there are not very many takers. The upshot of all this was that I was still up at the uni. slogging away over a hot keyboard until after 9pm. I didn't get anything to eat until past 10pm, when I had Bacalhau com Natas in my favourite restaurant. I'm feeling slightly more upbeat now, but I know it won't last, because I have to face it all again tomorrow. I never thought that I would ever truthfully say that I am disappointed that I will not be able to spend all day tomorrow in the National Library!

14.11.04

O beijo


I slept the sleep of the righteous in Pedro's spare house beside the beach (yes, that's right, spare house). I woke up this morning, looked at the sun shining on the sea, stood on the verandah and just soaked it all in. I had time to help Linda with her essay, then I went for a walk along the beach and something to eat at a beachside cafe. I met up with Pedro, Helena and Lucas and we drove out to a neighbouring village where we teamed up with José - a friend of Pedro's who is also a professional photographer as well as a very accomplished artist. More coffee was imbibed, then it was back to the house for a huge lunch. While Lucas was having his afternoon sleep, Pedro and I went down to the shore to take some more photos before we all headed out to Batalha - along with José and his wife, Ana, who is also a photographer - where we made the most of the gorgeous weather and the beautiful cathedral that was built in the middle ages as thanks for Portugal's victory over Castile at the Battle of Aljubarrota. It was an absolutely glorious day in every way, and I would like to thank Pedro and his family for making me so very, very welcome. Thank you all.

13.11.04

Pois, pois... umas partes tem, outras não!


Adventure. Yes, that's the correct word. Last night we (or rather I) managed to polish off three bottles of delicious red wine while sitting talking with Alexandre and Sílvia about everything and nothing. Before we knew it it was very, very late... well, actually, it was early morning. A spare bed was found onto which I collapsed and promptly fell sound asleep. I woke up early, however, and decided that I had better shake a leg and do all the things I had to do before heading up to São Martinho to visit Pedro and his lovely family. I discovered a wonderful technological thing today - USB memory sticks! I was so overawed that I just had to buy one. Purchase made, I headed back to the flat where I showered, changed and used my new memory stick to download Linda's essay from my email on Charles's networked computer onto my non-networked laptop. Magnificent thing that it is (smaller than a pen), it worked perfectly. I did what I had to do with the essay, saved it back onto the stick, then emailed it back to Scotland on Charles's computer again! Ablutions and chores complete, I headed back over to Sílvia's where I had my lunch and waited for my lift to Pedro's. We didn't get away until the back of 2pm - and Pedro was expecting me about 3.30! Sílvia (it was all her fault) wanted to take the coast road to São Martinho rather than the motorway. I managed to get a compromise - back roads to Torres Vedras, then motorway. We stopped off en route to have some pão com chouriço (and some pão sem chouriço too), and enjoyed wonderful vistas of Mafra. We passed Gibraltar on the way (seriously, we did). Pedro and Helena were very understanding about my arrival almost 3 hours later than planned. I'm sorry Pedro, but it was all Sílvia's fault... honest!

12.11.04

Olha para mim!


Yesterday's PaD had a message in it that either no-one saw, or they saw it and chose to ignore it. In case it was the former, I have tried to make the message clearer - of course, it will make no difference if you were choosing to ignore it all along! Enough about yesterday, let's talk of today and the future. Today was spent in the National Library reading newspaper reports of Sidonio Pais's elevation to the dizzy heights of President of the Republic. Gripping stuff it wasn't. Silvia invited me to her house for my tea, which I gladly acceded to because, apart from being a very good friend, she is a formidable cook. I got the good end of the deal - I buy the plonk (and Portuguese red wine is very, very good, and very, very cheap - Borba Alentejan wine is less than 3 euros a bottle), and get to eat too. Now to the future (can you tell I'm hurrying - I'm at Silvia's house just now, and she is cooking the tea as I type - it's a shame you can't share the smell....), I phoned Pedro and made arrangements to spend the weekend in São Martinho. And I really am a lucky bugga, because Silvia is going to her parents' house for the weekend, so I'm getting a lift to Pedro's. Sometimes it is just good to be me :-)

11.11.04

Para nunca esquecermos


Yesterday's excesses at the Irish Pub caught up with me last night.
At 2.30am my alarm clock inexplicably went off, and I mistakenly thought that it was time to get up.
Same thing happened at 5.30am, with much the same result.
Strange, I thought, as I reset the clock again - this time for 9am.
Exhausted, I went back to bed and managed to drift off to sleep for another hour.
Refreshed I certainly was not, though, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get back to sleep.

At 8am I gave up the struggle, picked up a book and started reading just for the sake of it.
Rarely have I been so engrossed in the writings of someone with whose politics I so disagree.
Although the author's views are to the right of sensible, he did at least manage to express them with a great deal of humour.
Forgiving him his political sins, I inwardly sniggered at his anecdotes from his travels researching the book he was writing.
All this was well and good, but time was marching on, and I had work to do.
Time to get out of bed and round the alfarrabistas in the search for some dull memoires that I need for my research.

Reluctantly, I dragged my weary bones out of bed and into the shower.
In little more than 20 minutes under the showerhead, I was beginning to wilt again, and wanted to go back to bed.
Perhaps that's what I should have done.

10.11.04

Linhas de ferro


All of the trains from Alcântara to Entrecampos have been affected by the recent problems that have closed the railway tunnel between Rossio and the rest of the Sintra Line. What it means is that instead of two trains each hour, there are now four - which is a good thing, I suppose. However, it also means that there are an awful lot more people using Sete Rios and Entrecampos stations - particularly the Metro stations. Now all the people from stations on the Sintra Line (which seems to be most of the people who work in Lisbon) have to get off the train at either one of these stations to catch the Metro into the city centre - before the tunnel closed, their trains took them right into Rossio station, right in the very heart of the Baixa. Now, of course, they join with the commuters from across the Vila Franca and Fertagus Lines, and fight to reach the Metro station. Of course, I don't need to get the Metro, but I do have to fight my way through the throng - and my exit is in the opposite direction from the Metro user's path. After pushing and barging my way out of the station (afraid that some idiot might shout 'FOGO!', and cause a stampede), I then have to walk up a fairly steep hill and then run a gauntlet of cigarette smoking, laptop carrying students who are deep in conversation about the merits of Rousseau's theories on human nature, or merely talking about so-and-sos recent night out on the ubiquitous mobile phone that, as I have mentioned before, seems to be grafted to their ears. After that, I had to attend a meeting (again) with the same chain-smoker in the same small office. I managed to get down to the Irish Pub early enough to take control of the Sky remote, thereby ensuring that myself, Charles and the bar owner, Connor (my old boss in my bar-managing days) could watch the Rangers v. Celtic game - much to the consternation of the arriving Chelsea and Newcastle fans. Unfortunately, however, Celtic squandered their one goal lead with five minutes of the game left, allowing Rangers to equalise and take the game to extra-time and an eventual 2-1 victory. Not to worry, though, I had four pints of Guiness, a plate of chilli, and good company, and now that Celtic are free from worrying about European and CIS cup runs, we can concentrate on the important matter of winning the league. Ho hum.

9.11.04

Que vista!


When I left Scotland, there was no mistaking that it was coming in for winter. When I woke up this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was summer. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, and the Ponte 25 de Abril from my window looked as awesome as ever. I know that it can be like that in Scotland too at this time of year, but the big difference between here and there is that here the sun gives off some heat. While it is not anywhere near as hot now as it was in September, it still reached 23ºC - if we get that in July in Scotland people start to wear shorts and sit on any available piece of grass while eating ice lollies, and the newspapers start warning us about water shortages and imminent hosepipe bans despite the previous five months of unrelenting rain. Anyway, the Portuguese seem to take it all in their stride, and they even get round to wearing heavy coats in the evening as the temperature plummets to 18ºC. Workwise, I had an awful day. Not on account of things being difficult or going wrong, but because I was in a meeting from 11am to 4pm in a small office with a chain smoker. Portugal hasn't yet succumbed to the idea of banning smoking inside workplaces, and just about everywhere you go in the university, there are people smoking like there is no tomorrow. There is no escape. As an ex-smoker, I am reluctant to start preaching to those who either can't or won't kick the habit, but today was painful, and even now - almost five hours later - my lungs still hurt, and I can still smell the smoke. Makes you think - I used to do that to myself and the people around me. Giving up smoking was the best thing I have ever done, and I urge all smokers out there to give it a go... especially when they are around me.

8.11.04

Bad hair day


I arrived in Edinburgh with plenty of time to spare before having to be at the airport to check-in. The weather was nice, so I decided to go for a wander. I went over the North Bridge, then down to Market Street, and then up to Princes Street Gardens, where there is a Remembrance Garden beside the Scott Monument. I stood and watched the service that was taking place for a while. Edinburgh was lovely and mild, but by now I couldn't hang about, so I caught the bus to the airport and checked-in for my flight. I thought I had lucked out on the Amsterdam flight, as my seat was in the business class - the stewardess even asked me if I wanted a newspaper. Wow, I thought as I read my complimentary Guardian, I've been upgraded, and I'll get something nice and hot to eat and a glass of wine instead of just a sandwich and orange juice! My luck didn't hold out as they realised that they had put the divider one row too far back. In the end I had to make do without the nice hot meal - which smelled very nice indeed. Still - I had my newspaper. I noticed that the airport shop at Schiphol were selling the Canon EOS20D for €1,600, and the 300D for €1,300. While the 300D had the battery grip, 18-55mm kit lens and a 1Gb card, the 20D was supplied with the 18-55mm lens only. Still, I thought, that was a bargain, and I very nearly gave in to temptation, until I remembered that Christmas was coming, and that it would not be a good idea to spend all my money before I buy any presents or food, or pay any bills. The Amsterdam-Lisbon leg of my journey was a nightmare. I am not a very tall person - 5'8" - and I had trouble getting into my seat - and forget about moving. I'm only glad that the person in front decided not to recline their seat, or I would have been pinned. Got to the flat absolutely shattered at about 10.30pm, but still managed to speak to Charles until 1am. So that explains the tardiness of this picture.

7.11.04

I'm offsky...


Well that's me all packed and ready to go. I tend not to take too much with me: just my cameras and the laptop. No need for clothes, since I have clothes over there. Makes it a lot more hassle free at the airport that way, since I don't have to hang about at the carousel praying that my bags aren't half way to Capetown. Apart from the quick getaway and the freedom from worries of lost baggage, it is also an awful lot easier to carry. Travelling light is the way I like to do it. Linda, on the other hand, is incapable of travelling light - especially when Liam is concerned. Take the last time we went to Rothesay as an example. We were going for three days (two nights), staying at my sister's. For me, I had two sets of clean underwear (in addition to the clean underwear I wore on day 1), two t-shirts, a jumper, spare trousers and a coat. For Liam, Linda packed five t-shirts, two sweat shirts, three pairs of trousers, a fleece, two coats, enough underwear for a month, pair of trainers, pair of boots, a hat, gloves and scarf. Needless to say I unpacked most of it before we left. Still, as for me, there's nothing left to do but get a good night's sleep, then catch the train to Edinburgh in the morning, giving myself a couple of hours in the capital before I have to be at the airport to catch my flight to Amsterdam for the connection to Lisbon. All being well, I should be at the flat by 11.30 tomorrow night. You may have to wait until Tuesday to see my PaD, though. Can you wait?

6.11.04

Asserting my lack of authority


A severe lack of inspiration today has led me to share with you, gentle readers, this rough map of my personal corner of the world. This already cramped space, in which I am supposed to run my business, has just become even more crowded. Under my desk there are no fewer than 22 electrical sockets, and all but one of them is occupied by: (1) telephone desk lamp, (2) telephone answering maching (3) paper shredder (4) ring binding machine (5) office telephone (6) cable modem (7) network router (8) CRT monitor (9) PC stereo speakers (10) printer (11) scanner (12) desklamp (13) USB hub (14) Fuji S7000Z digital camera (15) desktop processor (16) table fan (17) portable radio (18) laptop (19) external CD-RW drive (20) stapler (21) battery charger. The new additions to my cramped workspace are a laptop and an external CD burner. Surely not another laptop!!! Yes, well... yes, another laptop. There is a twisted logic to this, however. Firstly, I could sense a fight looming as I broached the delicate matter to Linda of my taking the laptop with me to Portugal. Let's just say that Linda has become very fond of 'her' laptop, and doesn't want to part with it. If I have only ever learned one thing in my life, it is that Linda wears the trousers in my house - and I am man enough to admit that. So, I took the coward's way out, and said that I would buy her a desktop - it doesn't have to be fancy, since all she uses it for is word processing and internet browsing. She was reluctantly amenable, but only on the condition that any new PC had an LCD monitor. I reluctantly agreed to abandon my hopes of fobbing her off with the bargain basement lowest of low spec machines that can be had for around £300. I could tell that this was going to be difficult. I went to the computer store and had a look at what was in my budget that would be acceptable to Linda. You won't be surprised when I tell you that there was not much... but I did see a laptop with a reasonable spec for an affordable price - end of line clearance, last one in the shop. I bought it and an external CD-RW. There, I thought. This is perfect, I thought. It is smaller than the other laptop, so will take up less space on her desk, I thought. "So you'll be taking that one to Portugal with you, and you won't need mine" were her first words as I entered the house. Knowing my place, I simply replied, "Yes, dear. I suppose I will, dear. That was my intention, dear."

5.11.04

Remember the 5th of November


Remember, remember the fifth of November.
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

So here we are on the Fifth of November - Guy Fawkes Night - commemorating once more the foiled attempt to blow up the English Parliament during the official State Opening in 1605, and thereby kill, in one fell swoop, the unpopular King James VI and I and the whole Protestant establishment. Back in those days, homeland security was not what it is today, and underneath London - and directly underneath Parliament - there were a series of cellars that were for rent. One Guido Fawkes rented the cellar directly beneath Parliament's debating chamber, and proceeded to fill it up with barrels of gunpowder. His plot was foiled, however, and while Guy's neck was stretched, he did at least ensure his place in history. Now when the young nyaffs solicit a penny for 'the guy' (which is usually some old clothes filled with crumpled up newspapers with a burst football covered in a Hallowe'en mask for a head, completed with a baseball cap), they are asking you to contribute to their fireworks fund. The poor unfortunate 'guy' is destined for the top of the bonfire, where he is symbolically consumed by the flames of Hell, thus ensuring the Protestant ascendency and the defeat of religious tolerance (by the ensuing state condoned persecution of Catholics). Leaving the history aside, for very few people know why we light bonfires (or rather, attend officially organised and professionally run bonfires) and set off fireworks (or rather, watch officially organised and professionally run fireworks displays), Dundee City Council tend to put on quite a show. Every year the city council has two separate and simultaneous displays, and from my preferred vantage point atop the Law, it is possible to watch both. This is where Liam and I went tonight with Gavin and his charming son Callum. The display was superb, as always, and this time the weather was just perfect - clear, dry and mild. Gavin made me jealous with his D70. I felt inadequate and even more determined to jump on the DSLR bandwagon. I need to learn willpower. All evening I found myself repeating 'wait six months and the 300D will be half the price... wait six months and the 300D will be half the price...', whilst simultaneously telling Liam that he and Linda had better NOT get me the Canon 300D for Christmas, that we really can't afford to buy me a Canon 300D for Christmas, and that while I don't have a CANON 300D, my Fuji is a good little camera.

4.11.04

Crisp blue autumn sky



What a beautiful day it is today. We have a lovely clear blue sky, and the air is so crisp and clean that you just want to be out walking in the countryside. I love days like this, when you can see your breath and for miles. The sun is out, but it is giving off no noticeable heat. I really hope we have a nice clear crisp night tomorrow. Liam, Linda and I are heading off up the Law with Gavin and his kid to watch the fireworks displays. One thing about Dundee City Council, they really do put on a good Guy Fawkes' Night. They have two bonfires: one in the west of the city, at Lochee Park, and the other in the east, at Baxter Park. From up on the Law you can see both, and both sets of fireworks. If it is clear, you can also see across Fife to the fireworks from the St. Andrews display. I haven't heard the forecast for tomorrow, so let's just keep our fingers crossed. As for today. Well, I am proofreading and correcting a very interesting article about the Croatian Ustasha leader, Ante Pavelić, and getting ready for the after-school onslaught as Liam brings Joe home with him for a couple of hours. I will take Liam to his guitar lesson, then I will go to the supermarket and get some sparklers and a lighter to take up the Law tomorrow. Fiz. If you are anywhere that celebrates Guy Fawkes' Night, then I hope you enjoy yourself and have a safe one. Cheers until tomorrow.

3.11.04

Kiss my sweet soft Scottish arse

Picture the scene, if you can. A man is put in charge with protecting something extremely valuable, and is given all the resources imaginable with which to meet his responsibility. The extremely valuable thing is destroyed, at huge human cost, while this man is in charge - he didn't see it coming, and therefore doesn't believe that it is his fault. Imagine that this same man then lies about the criminals' whereabouts, and then causes immense destruction to be brought down on the heads of undefended people on the basis of a whole series of lies that this man has dreamt up to justify the destruction. Imagine then that the criminals weren't there afterall, and that the weapons they were said to be there weren't there either... Aw. Enough of this bull. I will say what I think, and I don't care what you think of me. The American people had a golden opportunity to get rid of a proven incompetent, barely literate and dishonest warmonger from the most powerful political office in the world. That more than 50% of the American electorate who voted decided to keep him in office says more than we need to know about the majority of Americans. Forget about the world for now. Is America a safer place now than it was five years ago? Do most Americans feel more secure now than they did five years ago? Do most Americans truly believe that Bush has done a good job in the past four years? Do most Americans actually believe that it is a good thing that their government is pissing off its allies, and leaving it isolated? Do most Americans actually know where Afghanistan and Iraq are (for that matter, do they know where the United Kingdom is?). Take note of this: Tony Blair's popularity in Britain is suffering because of his support of Bush - our government might support Bush's war, most of our people don't. I have to ask this final question: were the 51% of Americans who voted for Bush because they believe him to be a 'good commander in chief' dropped on their heads as babies? How on earth they come to that conclusion is beyond me. So, for these people I have this to say - as a friend of America - you can kiss my sweet soft Scottish arse. For Kerry and his cohorts, I have this to say: you lost, give it up, don't drag this pitiful travesty out any further. It's time we move on and plan that revolution...

2.11.04

You say you want a revolution

Well, the whole universe knows that the US goes to the polls today (hopefully) to elect a new president. All of my crossable parts are crossed that the US electorate (or the few million in Ohio who 'matter') make the least unwise choice, and elect someone who can at least speak the English language. Anyway, that is up to the Americans - we have our own worries here with Blair and his group of sycophants. Apparently we are being primed for a general election in February. While the British Prime Minister can call for a dissolution at any time within the five-year term, the date of our election matters not a jot because, barring some extra-ordinary miracle, there is simply no realistic alternative on offer (and the Tories, I believe, would be worse). Perhaps Scotland should declare independence from the UK - at least that way we would get our soldiers back home before any of them get killed (apparently the Black Watch have been attacked by rockets and mortars every day since they took up position in the American sector). Should Scotland declare independence, it will leave the British government in a tricky situation, what with Tony Blair and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, both being Scottish (although you would never believe that Blair is Scottish - but he is). The Chancellor represents a Scottish constituency, so he would have to resign from the remnants of the UK's government, and while Blair represents an English constituency, speaks with an English accent and supports the England football and rugby teams, would the English be so willing to accept a turncoat Scot (no matter how hard he tries to hide his nationality) as their prime minister? So, with the election happening over there, and one on the horizon over here, and with their being no real choice on offer in either, what is to be done? I have an idea... the Portuguese did it 30 years ago. We could do it here and now. Hey, we got rid of Bertie! We can do anything!

1.11.04

Bury my heart



Back in 1988 I was quite friendly with a couple who were fascinated with the history of the Native Americans. At that time, I suppose my view of the Native Americans was that of most people brought up on a diet of Hollywood westerns in which the heroes were John Wayne and Gary Cooper. All that changed, though. This couple led the campaign to have the "Glasgow" Ghost Shirt returned to the Lakota Sioux. Through them, I became aware of the history of the Lakota, and even met a couple of their representatives who had travelled to Scotland to press for the shirt's return. The biggest impression, however, was made by the book they recommended I read: 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee', by Dee Brown. As a historian, I am very aware that history is written by the victors, and that the vanquished are often demonised. Brown's book, however, presents the case from the defeated people's point of view, and does so without bitterness or hatred. It is a deeply passionate recounting of the destruction of an entire culture, the virtual genocide of an entire people who defended themselves as best they could with the limited resources at their disposal. Brown tells us how the Native Americans, people who had initially welcomed the white settlers, were cheated and lied to as the 'whites' broke just about every treaty that had been made between the two peoples. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to restore some balance to the history of the 'Wild West', and to see how these 'brave' pioneers escaped the repression and intolerance of the old Europe, only to practice it on the people that they dispossessed. The Native Americans lost their struggle back then, and they continue to pay the price today: they have higher infant mortality rates (15.3/000 as opposed to 8.7/000 for whites), shorter life expectancy, lower educational attainment and much lower earnings than the US average. On the eve of the most important election in US history, perhaps this is also something that people should be thinking on.