Monday 22nd December 2014. Week 183. Portugal
Upsetting the natives.
One possible downside of camp-site life is that you can't always pick your neighbours. Normally this isn’t an issue, in high season they, or you, are gone after a few days and in low season they're apt to be Dutch octogenarians who are tucked up in bed by 9 pm.
Couple of days ago, a British caravan parked next to us. Why, on a site that’s this empty, they took that pitch and not one that afforded them, and us, some privacy, shall remain a mystery. Until yesterday I'd not met them, then, while faffing around filling something that needed filling, I spied a chap peering through the bushes at me.
“Hello” he said cheerfully. I returned the greeting and a conversation ensued. His wife meandered over followed by their two dogs.
“Where are you from” I asked.
“Arm ferm Essex, an he's ferm up-norf”, the wife announced with a giggle. Being one quarter cockney I didn't need an interpreter. Now, I can't help thinking that some Essex people, much like some Liverpudlians I've met, and I mean no disrespect to any of them, (This isn't going to end well. Ed) seem, how shall I put it? Well, a tad larger than life. A few seem to bask in the unearned reputation, that they've been gifted with a natural comedic talent. This lady was about to proved that point.
Its just your average beach around here
Her dogs were cocker spaniels. Dogs, I've always thought, that have a wonderful temperament. You can leave them in a room full of annoying toddlers safe in the knowledge none will get eaten. They came up wagging their tails so violently their rear ends wagged frantically. That's how pleased they were to see me, a total stranger.
She explained her dogs required a sedative for the boat trip over. Why they needed a chill pill I don’t know. I wasn't really listening. She started to demonstrate, through the art of mime, how her dogs behaved after taking said medication.
“It was like, they'd just smoked a joint”. -Clearly she thought this was an experience I was familiar with- She then adopted the persona of a dog on drugs. Now, if you are going to play a dog on drugs, which has the potential to be almost amusing, you should have a witty line of two, else it won't work. Something, perhaps, along the lines of “Hey dude, I'm smoking and I ain't even a frekin Beagle”. She, however, appeared only to substitute the dogs personality with her own, that of an older women from Essex who had just smoked a spliff. This act might go down very well at the Ford Escort owners club in Basildon (Ouch!.Ed) but unfortunately it was just a tad embarrassing.
As we stood talking a cat took up position on a distant wall. From its vantage point it gazed down contemptuously at the dogs.
“I hope that cat keeps it's distance” She said.
“Really” I asked. “Why?”.
“Oh! these two will have it in a flash”.
“Really” I said, looking down at them. “They looked pretty chilled out to me”.
“Don't you believe it. If it gets too close. they'll kill it, stone dead” she said, drawing a finger across her throat. “As a Dodo” she added for extra gravitas.
I was tempted to point out it was almost certainly a feral cat. And as such, was more than capable of taking on her dogs and probably her at the same time, but decided against it. I looked down at my feet. The two dogs lay on their backs, legs akimbo, big floppy ears spread out, and tails wagging. I couldn't help but wonder if they knew just how dangerous they were supposed to be.
(Well that's managed to upset half the country. Ed)
Tuesday 23rd December 2014 Week 183. Portugal.
Thar she blows!
This morning we cycled to the secluded fishing village of Burgau. While only five miles away, none of the route was flat. So I found myself either whizzing down hills at what seemed like 60 mph or struggling up them at 3mph trying to find a gear, amongst the twenty one I have to choose from, that would make the climb anything other than a slog. The only gear I found was one that had me pedalling at the speed of an egg whisk while moving at a snails pace. Give me an engine anytime.
Once there, we wandered around before making our way down to the beach. There, Hazel whiped out her camera and started taking photos of just about anything that remained stationary long enough for her to focus on. At one end of the beach, cliffs rose 200 feet. The layered, and very colourful, sedimentary rock formations were very impressive, although you’ll have to take my word for it as it's the only thing she didn’t photograph. I marvelled at how incredibly unsafe it all looked. At the very top trees hung out at peculiar angles as if defying gravity. Their roots dangled in the breeze. Large rocks appeared balanced precariously on the edge. In Portugal, like so much of Europe, the world is not made 'playground safe' for us adults. Here you have to look out for yourself. Don't expect The Health and Safety executive to do it for you. If you're unlucky enough to be flattened by a two ton boulder, that’s down to you. It's not their job to protect you from the obvious, you're expected to use your common sense.
“Look a whale!” Hazel suddenly called out. I turned. She was frantically pointing out to sea. I saw nothing. She practically screamed it again, like Captain Ahab in the film Moby Dick.
“Ye Gods men, thar she blows”
I peered out to sea. Still saw nothing. I suggested she was seeing things.
“No, look there, just to the right of that point of land”. I was about to give up when I did spot something, a small plume of water. “There’s two of them” she said excitedly, “They're playing”. We made our way to the base of the cliff and I clambered atop a few rocks. I then spied some motion in the water.
“Looks too small for a whale”, I said.
“It's Dolphins, playing” she said. Why these creatures appear, to her at least, to be playing says more about her than mammalian social behaviour.
I could make out something black, moving in the water. Another small plume of water rose. We were still too far away to get a proper look. “Give me the camera” I said. I then started to climb over the fallen boulders seeking a better vantage point. By the third rock I lost my grip, fell forward, cutting my hand, and grazing my knuckles. “Bugger” I said. Slightly disorientated, I then lost my footing on the wet rocks and my foot slipped into a small pool. -Home to a tiny startled crab- “Fuck” I said as I hastily scrambled back up.
“Have you got a photo?” I heard her call out optamistically.
“Not yet” I called back, “I'm empting my shoe at the moment”. I wondered if Richard Attenbourgh had this trouble. I found my footing, climbed back up and over as far as I could. I switched on the camera, wound out the zoom lens and spied the not so rare Hum-anus snorkellerus. The small plumes of water I'd seen was the chap clearing his snorkel after a dive.
What she thought was a whale/dolphins turned out to be some bloke in a wet suit mucking around in the water. Needless to say she was disappointed.
Me? Well I was just slightly battered.
Wednesday 24th December 2014.Week 183 Portugal
The impossible is possible
Well as custom dictates I try on this day, my birthday, to tackle some of the bigger questions. I've answered, or had a go at, depending on your view point, 1, The secret to a happy life. 2, Where did we come from? and 3, is death really the end? Toda, I thought I'd consider mankind's continuing evolutionary path. You see we, along with the earth, haven't arrived anywhere, we're all on a journey. We are not the end result of creation, nor evolution, but just at a stage. We're all still very much evolving. So what's next for us?
Well first let me get you into the right frame of mind.
Back in the early sixties, my dad, predicted that one day people would be able to hang their televisions on the wall, and remember, this was a time when a 26 inch colour TV was about the size of a Ford Escort. He also said the day would come when aeroplanes would be powered by sunlight. He made other predictions, some of which I've spoken about before, however, none of this seemed to worry my mum. I thought she should have at least upped his medication, but no.
When I asked, “how could you hang a TV on a wall without first drilling into next doors living room” he answered, “Bob, -he often forgot my name- if we can imagine it, then we'll do it”.
Over the years I've discovered he was bang on the money. Stuff that was once science fiction is now fact. And stuff that's science fiction now, will one day be the norm. Just imagine bringing someone back from the 18th Century and plonking them down in a high street, they'd seriously freak out. Life isn't just different, it's cataclysmically different.
Right, so in keeping with my hereditary tradition (Some might say quirk. Ed) my future prediction is that mankind will, one day, become one with machines. Let me explain.
The computer can be traced back as far as 1936 and Konrad Zuse who designed the first freely programmable computer. It wasn't until the invention of the Microchip that computers, as we know them today, took off. In 1982 the Sinclair Spectrum was launched. It had about the same computing power as your average TV remote. The growth of computer power has followed a remarkably predictable trend, doubling every couple of years.
Until recently the home of the fastest and most powerful computer was in China. The Tianhe-1A supercomputer. This machine is capable of making a mind boggling 2.5 quadrillion calculations per second. That's 2500,000,000,000, or to put it another way, a heck of a lot. America stole their thunder with IBM's massively powerful Sequoia supercomputer which came on line a couple of years ago. This is a thousand times quicker!
If this exponential trend continues it's likely that, quite soon, a supercomputer will be able to map the human brain and a complete simulation will be possible. Not long after they will be capable of simulating millions of brains simultaneously. In parallel with developments in artificial intelligence and with brain-computer interfaces, micro-SD cards with the storage capacity to hold the collective knowledge of the entire human race on a single chip which could then be inserted into our brains and be linked to our neural network, we will all become geniuses. At that point the advances in technology will be monolithic. Nothing dreamed, nothing envisaged, nothing imagined will be beyond our scope. What we think, will be.
By then of course, computers will be designing, building and programming themselves to such complex levels, few of us will comprehend. Soon after, supercomputers will become 'self aware'. At that point mankind will become a single consciousness, via the internet, for the greater good of........
Well that remains to be seen!
Thursday 25th December 2014. Week 183 Portugal
Christmas, what’s it all about? Well I'll tell you. Here's some barely interesting facts about our much loved Christmas heritage.
1, In 1843 Sir Henry Cole had Christmas cards printed because he couldn't be arsed to write to people and wish them festive cheer. This instantly caught on with the Victorians.
2, In 1819 Santa appeared for the first time flying in a sleigh, or weightless wagon, in a series of short stories by Washington Irving.
3, Robert May first created Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer as part of an advertising gimmick to lure shoppers into a department store.
4, Germans decorated trees during the winter solstice. When Queen Victoria married Germany's Prince Albert in 1840, he brought the tradition to England.
5, In 1847 sweetshop owner Tom Smith invented the Christmas cracker.
6, Xmas pudding was originally filled with a mixture of beef, mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, wine and mixed spices. Yummy
7, In 1935 Haddon Sundblom, was credited with inventing the 'traditional' looking Santa Claus, we all know today, for an advertising campaign for Coco Cola.
8, Traditionally gifts were given on New Year. The Victorians moved it.
9, Sinterklaas was the Dutch name for Saint Nicolas. Early Americans changed it to Santa Claus because they couldn't pronounce it. They've struggled with words every since.
10, 'Holming' was once the celebrated Welsh ritual of beating the last person in bed with prickly holly twigs.
Lastly, Boxing day is so called because it was the day the landed gentry gave money -in boxes- to their servants. Since the servants were too busy looking after them on Christmas day they had to open them the following day.
Merry Christmas to all, and peace and happiness for the coming year.
Anyhoo, on the very subject of peace here's seven tips I took from a web site on how to survive Christmas day peacefully and harmoniously with the loved ones, in-laws and family members you’ve worked hard to avoid all year. My definitions are in brackets.
1, Beforehand, identify your own triggers in advance.
2, Take it all in stride.
(meaning: get bladdered first)
3, Remain pleasant, even if this means gritting your teeth.
(meaning: Take time to plan your revenge)
4, Be polite and then move away.
(meaning: Before you deck 'em)
5, Emphasize all the things your family has to be grateful for.
6, Be understanding and compassionate instead of angry and "right".
(meaning: Take the high moral ground early on)
Lastly:, Prepare yourself to enjoy the festivities.
(meaning: have the booze shipped in professionally)
Friday 19th December 2014. Week 182 Portugal.
What's on my mind
Well first off we'd like to wish Ged, my brother, a happy birthday. As a small boy I wanted to be just like him, that is until I saw The Lone Ranger. My elder brother was cool, but The Lone Ranger was way cooler. A year ago I watched the Lone Ranger film, I got goose bumps just hearing the theme tune. Amazing.
Okay where was I? Ah yes, I know. I had something mildly amusing to chat about, what with it being Christmas and all, but it can wait.
Seriously, you have to laugh. It's like a script from 'Yes Minister'. Less than what, three and half years ago? after some horse trading between Tories and Liberals a referendum was held to change the electoral system. The two main parties, because it suited them, convinced the public it would be folly to switch to PR. 'It would be too costly', they said. 'All too confusing for the electorate. They'd have to put two crosses on a ballot paper instead of one, some can't even do that'. (Last election, 81,868 ballot papers were incorrectly completed!) It would also result in more coalition governments which is bad for everyone -by everyone they mean themselves-
Well they did an excellent job because out of the 44 million people who could vote, and thereby shape the future of British democracy, only half showed up, 13 million. PR was duly kicked to the kerb. The big two breathed a sign of relief.
Yeah I know its a another beach shot. But not bad weather for Boxing day,
End of story.......
Well not quite. A week in politics, as they say, is a long time. Today, within the hallowed halls of power there are mumblings, even questions being asked. Were we being too hasty? Have we chucked the baby out with the bath water? After all, many countries do have some form of Proportional Representation. Germany being one of the most successful, and it works jolly well for them. So why the apparent changing of attitudes now? The Answer? UKIP. It's now looking unlikely, using our antiquated first past the post system, that we'll get a government, or rather a party that wins enough seats to form one. Recent upsets in bi-elections have shaken the establishment. The earlier horse trading has clearly left behind some dung.
Mr Cameron called the leader of UKIP a 'joke' and dismissed him. But what he can't ignore are his followers. In two recent bi-elections the Tories lost to the UKIP candidates. And worryingly, these were safe Tory seats. Pundits are now suggesting UKIP could win between 25 and 100 seats. If that happens it will change both the political landscape and our country's future.
It's obvious the Tories will lose the 2015 race. The questions is by how much. I seriously doubt they'll be forgiven for the ongoing austerity measures? The increases in retirement age? And the twenty four tax increases since 2010. Still, it's not all bad news, they did raise the threshold on inheritance tax to a million, should please lottery winners. And they lowered tax across the board for high earners. So the better off benefited.
In a desperate attempt to shore up his last few months as a politician, let alone a leader, he's offering to make eight billion in tax cuts and tackle the immigration issue, which we know he can't do. And I say that based on the fact he's done sod all about it during the last five years.
No, once the race starts, the Tories will run wide. Labour will take the early lead. The new comer, UKIP, a rank outsider at ten to one, will close the gap. The Liberals will jockey for position but, as always, pull up lame. The Tories will fall at the last fence.
And me? Well I won't vote. My home town is a 'safe' seat. The present chaps been super glued to it over twenty years. Voting for anyone other than him, is pointless. As it is for the millions who live in any of the 382 safe constituencies seats who wish to vote for someone other than the incumbent. So, like them, I'll watch from the sidelines.