Monday 29th December 2014 Week 184. Portugal


    Good Christmas?. Excellent. We made ours special even though we had no gifts, no tree, no decorations, no crackers, no daft paper hats and no turkey to carve. So........ pretty much indistinguishable from any other day then. We did, however, feel Christmas was in the air and set out to enjoy the day even though, Bill Gates, he of Microsoft fame, did his best to spoil it for me.

    (Might need explaining that. Ed) True.

    Well the best way I can illustrate it, is that in Switzerland euthanasia is legal. -Stay with me here- They have this system whereby the victim...... sorry patient, is given a cocktail of drugs and peacefully slips away. The whole process is handled by a computer which in turn, is controlled by the out going patient. They are plumbed into the drugs and are then required to answer a series of questions via the computer. The questions are designed to ensure they're fully aware of what they're about to do. And also to ensure they not being coerced into checking out prematurely by ruthless family members eager to get their hands on the patient's dosh. Once their sanity has been established they're then given the option to administer the drugs via the press of a key. (Would it be the Esc key? Ed) I do the jokes luv.

    Now that has to be a dramatic moment. You are about to exit for good, ain't no abort key at this stage. Imagine it. The room full of loved ones. Your finger poised over the 'Y' key. You saying your last farewells. Sinatra is singing I did My way in the background. -Christ! It would be like watching a Ron Howard movie- You then, holding back the emotion, move to press the key. And at that precise moment windows shuts down to install updates. You're told not to unplug or switch off your machine. Or worse, it informs you the copy of Windows is not authentic and tells you to ring some chap in Mumbai. Frankly, if you ask me, the moments passed. You can't expect everyone to hang around waiting for the thing to reboot, people have busy lives. You'd do the decent thing, I hope, and leap out the window taking the computer with you.

    I think we've all been there with computers.

    Christmas eve Microsoft took control of my laptop and automatically installed SP1 (Starter pack one). It took over three hours. During this time the laptop switched itself on and off several times and reassuringly beeped at me. When it eventually finished it looked absolutely no different from when I'd switched it on earlier.

    However, one major difference became quickly apparent, it had gone from being a fairly responsive machine to one that was glacially slow. I actually felt myself getting older as I watched that fucking little cursor thingamajig going round and all I asked it was to opened my Browser. Feeling life slipping through my fingers I opened office. Well that was a mistake. That confused it even more. It turned the whole system into gloop. No longer was it powered by electricity: it had become treacle powered. It's fair to say I was ..........miffed.

    Once I was able, I turned to Google. I discovered I was not alone. Lots of people were complaining about SP1. Microsoft offered a few pathetic remedies. None worked. By Christmas morning I couldn't go on. I'd had enough. In frustration I deleted Windows 7 and installed Linux Mint 17 which is a free operating system, and boy, was I mighty impressed. It races along like a ferret on speed. And the kicker is: you don't need anti virus software because all the nasty people who write viruses, write them for Microsoft because like me, they've all had their Christmases spoilt by Bill 'bloody' Gates and his loony tunes company.

    You can download Mint 17.1 from I recommend it and it might just stop you from blowing your brains out.









    Tuesday 30th December 2014. Week 184 Portugal

    Keep taking the....

    Oh dear, I'm not happy. It started when I went to buy my medication. And yes, I'm of that age where taking medication to control some inner bodily function is compulsory, although I'm suspicious of this tradition.

    “Mr King”, my doctor said, all too cheerfully. “If you want to keep the old motor running you best start taking these”. He prescribed one to control my cholesterol (can you ever have enough?) and one for blood pressure which, up until then, I'd been managing quite successfully with alcohol.

    “How long will I have to take them for ” I asked naively.

    “The rest of your life!”.

    “Really!” I said, inadvertently raising my voice an octave.

    “Afraid so Mr King” he said, actually sounding as if he was concerned. “I'll start you off on a low dosage, see how we get on” The use of 'we' made it sound like he was going to take them as well. As he wrote out the prescription I thought, it's official, I've reached that age. Tablets for life.

    “I'll give you a months supply” he says, handing me the script.

    “Not expecting me to live long then”, I joke.

    “What...........? Oh I see.”

    “If I'm taking them for life, why not give me six months supply?”

    “Well we're not allowed Mr King. Government and all that”.

    I realised, back then, these drugs were going to cost me £170.40 a year. Today that would be £194.40, thanks to rises in prescription charges since 2008. But what can you do? Right. Suffice it to say I left the surgery feeling worse than when I went in and a little poorer. But that's doctors for you. 

Gateway to Spain. Unless your coming in the other direction, in which case its the gateway to Portugal.

    Now I commented, five months ago when in France, I ran out of these tablets. I went to an apothecary and they replaced them, no prescription needed, I just produced the empty boxes The Cost? Almost half what I would have paid under the national health service. Buying them in Portugal at the weekend I was charged, for exactly the same tablets, £6.80: the NHS charge would have been £16.20. And at £6.80, I didn't get a discount for being an EU citizen, I brought them outright.

    So now I'm left wondering, how much do these ruddy things actually cost? How much does the NHS, taking into consideration their Titanic buying power, buy them in at? I estimate a couple quid, an item? Maybe? We're being seriously overcharged for them. And let's not forget most people already pay National Insurance

    So why am I being overcharged? Well of course the government would turn around and say: Look on the bright side Mr King, if your tablets were more expensive you'd still only pay £8.10 for each item. Basically you're paying more so others can pay less.

    Hang on a moment, why am I subsidising other people medication? let them buy their own bloody tablets. We're not asked to contribute to their weekly shopping bill or help fuel their car so why their Viagra pills?  Surely this is the responsibility of government, not me/us/you. And while on the subject how come Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don't pay any prescription charges? just us in England?

    Shamefully, according to a Mori poll one million prescriptions a year are never dispensed because of cost to the patient.

    Has to be a fairer way.









    Thursday 1st January 2015. Spain. Week 184.

    Happy New Year to readers, friends and family.

    Those of you with eyeballs that work this morning will see we're in Spain. We left Portugal Tuesday morning and headed 260 miles down to Zahorra, which is on the west coast of Spain, south of Cadiz, sixty miles from Gib.

    The drive down, under clear blue skies, was a breeze. Spain's more than twice the size of the UK and with a population of just 45 million there's plenty of room on the roads for everyone. Drive here, and the pleasures of driving soon come back to you. On route we pulled into a garage and brought diesel for 79p a litre which made it cheaper than the fresh milk they were selling inside.

    The main reasons we came here was to be reunited with friends who winter here. And later, Hazel's sister and her husband are coming over to visit. But we also wanted to gate crash the New Years Eve party which, over the last three years, has always been a blast!.

    I think the first year I almost married a couple off -and yes I can actually marry people, legally- It was two in the morning, bride and groom were sloshed, as were we all, making the bar keep the only sober person in the building. What a night! One I'll not forget. The following Christmas we were in the band which this year, with out me holding them back, have gone onto bigger and better things around here. 

    Last night's party was no different.

    Both bands were excellent, even though most of them were nursing heavy colds. The band members are all campers. But don't let that fool you, they sounded as hip and happening -do people still say that?. Probably not- as any semi pro band you'll find playing in the UK.

    At midnight we celebrated the Spanish New Year by eating grapes, one for each chime at midnight. Then, an hour later, UK time, we formed a circle and sung Olde Lang Syne. By one o'clock, most of the sick had returned to their vans having set back their recovery by a few days. By two, we were down to the die hards. By three, only the borderline alcoholics remained.

    At some point Hazel was recognised by a couple who reads this, my near daily ramblings. Apparently, I'm practically famous (Infamous. Ed) for my rants within certain circles. So we propped up the bar and chatted away. There were just a handful of us left toward the end. The young barman was coaxed into getting out his guitar and singing some Spanish songs: this at three in the morning.

    I'm pleased to say, perhaps not proudly, we were one of the last ones to leave. I awoke this morning fully clothed, in bed, not knowing how I got there. That's how good a night it was. And before you pass judgement on me, I agree.......... totally juvenile behaviour.

    This morning we are feeling a little fragile.

    The origins of making New Years resolutions, started with the ancient Babylonians. They would ponder on the mistakes they'd made during the past year and then vow not to make them again in the new year. I should imagine there's a few around here this morning thinking...... never again.

    I know I am. (Me too! Ed)





 Friday 2nd January 2015. Week 184. Spain.

    What's on my mind today?

    As most of my regular readers know I have a serious problem with experts. I've highlighted, in the past, just a few of the cataclysmic clangers they've dropped, so I'll not rehash them again. Because of my dismissive attitude, my mantra has always been, it's folly to take them, or their findings, seriously. To do so will lead one not to a state of enlightenment, but only muddy the waters of common sense and reason.

    I noticed this week a team of experts have stumbled across a simple test which purports to tell us how long we're all likely to live. You may have seen it. The test is a simple one And one you can conduct in your living room, apparently.

    But first, I'd have to question why anyone would want to know such a thing. Ignorance is more than just bliss, it's a pathway to a stress free and happy life. For example: if my neighbour knows a meteorite is hurtling toward Earth which will do to us what it did for dinosaurs, how does that knowledge benefit him? it doesn't. His last few days on Earth will be spent panicking and crying a lot. Whereas me, ignorant that Armageddon is just days away will be busy renewing my AA membership and sitting down to re-watch season one of Downton Abbey. So I have to query the wisdom behind such a test. Besides the Grim Reaper, I'm sure, only ever calls at the most inconvenient of times. Being given a date for his arrival isn't likely to be helpful.

    I dare say if we all knew it we'd probably turn to fatalism, or nihilism as a way of coping. We'd be a planet of manic depressives maxed out on Prozac. It's the very fact we don't know that keeps most of us away from such thoughts, and mildly cheerful.

     Anyhoo. This didn't stop these experts coming up with this test, one we can use to check our own mortality, and from the comfort of our living room. Apparently all you need to do is stand upright, cross your feet and now lower yourself to the floor into a seated position. The idea is to do this in a controlled way. If you find, whilst attempting this, you've basically collapsed in a heap I'd abandon the rest and get your affairs in order. Okay? Right, now raise yourself back up to a standing position without using your hands, arms, bits of furniture or block and tackle. I've not tried it. But I fancy it's one of those things that sounds a damn site harder than it is.

    The researchers looked back over their finding a year later. They discovered that of those people who 'scored' low, a large percentage of them had checked out, permanently. Those that scored well were still very much alive and kicking.

    So there you have it. Simple test. Simple result.

    I should add, apparently, as a side note, it was the older people who had trouble with this test. There's a surprise. They scored low. Those that scored high were the young. (Who'd have thought Ed) Now I'm no expert, but I'll go out on a limb here and say, it strikes me the age of the people in the test group, rather than the party trick,  affected their findings more.

  You all have a good weekend.




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