Thursday, June 29, 2006

You've Got to be Cruel to be Kind

Went to Canico today: I’ve missed the 9th Annual Festival of Onions, so will have to wait until next May to witness that.

I did however go to the local supermarket, where there were a couple of small cages in the foyer, populated by a spaniel and some kittens respectively - all looking uncomfortable and a bit distressed. There was much whining and mewing.

Now the interesting thing is that this was the work of an animal charity, who was busy fundraising. Because seeing distressed animals would encourage you to give money to the people causing the distress.

They’d probably use the funds to buy some torture devices for their live demonstrations on how cruel people can be to animals.

Still, it’s an interesting marketing strategy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Every Time I Move...

How many ficus (ficuses? ficii?) can one person buy in their lifetime? They’re like the tab-top curtains of houseplants.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Suggestion Box

So let's imagine that you move into an apartment and want to get broadband/cable. And let's say that the previous occupants of said apartment weren't so into paying their cable bills. They've paid off a massive chunk of it, but they still have a way to go. Captain Clever of the cable company decided that the deal in Madeira would be that the new person stands the debt until the welchers finish paying it off (and we all trust that the welchers will pay). Then when they settle their debt, the new person is refunded the money they should never ever have had to pay in the first place.

A truly bizarre system. Surely an easier way would be to cut the welchers off after a few months. Achieve some closure.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm in!

Moved into my apartment. Had coffee with the neighbours, unpacked, went for a wander.

This is the view from the end of the road.

It's awful purdy.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Seinfeld Breakfast

So, I get up from my table to top up on coffee. When I came back, someone has left keys & a plate of food at my table.

I stand there for a moment looking inquisitive; a woman at the buffet catches my eye and says ‘of course of course’, gesturing me to sit down.

She thinks that she’s let me join her table.

Then she sits down with another plate of food. After a minute the weirdness of the situation is obviously running through her mind – the restaurant is half-empty, why would I need to sit at her table. She glances around at the free tables. She keeps her head down.

I sit there willing her to notice the bowl on my side of the table, the bowl that proves I was there first, the bowl that proves she sat at my table. Make the connection…

And of course, she doesn't.

Friday, June 23, 2006

You Give Me Fever

I went to an Italian restaurant late this afternoon - a restaurant where the song 'Night Fever' played continuously.

I kid you not; it piped through the restaurant, looping eternally.

It was just me and the owner in the courtyard, with this song playing over and over, like a huge elephant that the two of us were politely ignoring. After the really annoying/traumatising phase had passed it became very funny; I sniggered into my pasta and had to fake a coughing fit to disguise things.

The really strange thing is that I remembered eating here with my Mom the year before last, and 'Night Fever' was playing back then. It took us a while to realise, because the place was crowded and noisy that night, and Bee Gees songs can have a certain samey quality to them at the best of times. Mom and I joked at how my sister might react in the situation: I figured she'd pull out an AK47a pulse rifle 10mm with over and under 30mm pump action grenade launcher, but who can say really.

I wonder has it been playing since 1978...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

First Levada Walk

I went on a levada walk today. Levadas are mini-canals built across the island (some go back to the 16th century). Locals don't see the attraction of walking along drainage systems, but levadas are a massive tourist draw.

Some of the walks are 'advanced', meaning you should kit yourself out in proper walking gear and avoid them after heavy rains (when the mountain turns to mush). This was not one of those walks: it was the kind where you amble along and end up in a café. The kind of café where they chill glasses for your beer. A happy place.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Plus ça change

Went to the gardens at Monte today. Apart from stunning botanical gardens, one of the other things the town offers is the chance to hurtle down the hill to Funchal in a basket.

How would you think of something like that? "Hey we’re up here on the side of a mountain, why don’t we pop you into that wicker basket and trundle you down, crossing main thoroughfares as we go…"

They've been doing it for some time apparently, although the hats have changed over the years.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

On the Money

Bank Account solved. Had plans A and B drafted, and needed neither. I just went into another bank this morning and as if by magic – an account was opened for me.

Time for a beer in the sunshine.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bank Account Issues

Trying to forge a new life in a new country requires some basic principles. Or at least one.

I’ve adopted it from diving: the ‘incident pit’. The premise is that when one thing goes wrong underwater (let’s say your buoyancy is all over the place), you tend to flaff around a bit and then continue with the dive. But when another thing goes wrong, and you’re already wired from the buoyancy issue, you can flip out quite easily.

So the rule is that you resolve each issue fully and you calm the hell down before proceeding; you don’t let things build up.

Translated into the whole relocation système, this means that if you should go to open a bank account only to discover that the legislation has changed in the six months since you’ve been here, and in order to open the account you now require a bunch of documents that you have packed safely away on a freighter that’s somewhere on the Atlantic, the ‘incident pit’ teaches us that that’s probably enough relocation work done for the day. It’s time to sit in the sunshine and have a beer, do some sudoku. I can feel some part of my brain ferreting around with solutions, but I refuse to address it right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow…

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Lazy Days

Had a swim in the morning, then went for a stroll, had a couple of beers, read some F. Scott Fitz.


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Universal Languages

Went for a walk through the tourist zone: from the hotel district out to a mall called Madeira Forum.

I was in the loos when a woman in her seventies asked me something in Portuguese. Despite me being clueless, she persevered until I got it – was her lipstick on alright.

It was perfectly applied. And for that moment, despite barriers of language and age, we were both ladies!

The photo here is of the seafront down by the Lido. I come down here most days, stand on the pebble beach and stare out at the horizon. The first time I came to Madeira I was stunned by this view: it reminded me of the end of a Keats sonnet -

"... on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink."

And each time I'm down here I am blown away - by the endless view and by the poem.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All is Ordered for the Best

All sorted. Spent the afternoon wandering around Funchal, trying to figure out how I'd manage in the unfurnished apartment until my stuff arrives. Distracted myself with pretty flowers.

Then by sheer fluke I off-roaded away from the town, wandered into a shopping centre that didn’t look promising, went in because there was a paper shop (and I love stationery), browsed in the window of a tiny estate agents, and decided to go in.

Within an hour I'd seen the perfect place: plenty of room, amazing view, currently furnished but the landlord will move stuff out as mine arrives. There's an English couple next door, and a friendly feel to the place.

It's a great end to the week.

Much to do

Nearly at the end of the first week. I’m in the hotel until the 26th, so I've got to get an apartment sorted soon. No news yet of when my stuff gets here - I don't even know if it's left the UK yet. I saw one apartment that would be okay but if my stuff is delayed the place would be pretty Spartan.

It'll be fine!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

It's like stealing!

Discovered that Absolut Citron is under 12 euro. For me, that’s probably really bad news long-term.

Imagination (is a Powerful Deceiver)

There’s one bug here that looks like a sassy three-inch maroon cockroach. Now, when you see it dead in the pool, that’s okay. However, when alive, they have four-inch antennae that manage to flick both lazily and with menace at the same time.

I found one this morning in the bath. It had flipped onto its back and didn’t seem able to right itself. The antennae just twirled and flicked silently.

Needless to say, I washed quickly, with many furtive over-the-shoulder glances. Back out in the main room, I noticed a couple of things:

1) The ‘scamper factor’: the fear stemming from the bug’s ability to move really quickly. I call it ‘scamper’ to make it sound cuter but really it’s ‘scurry’; bugs move fast and with seeming intent. The cockroach could have righted himself; he could be making his way across the bathroom floor right now. And even though he has a brain the size of a rice krispie, I’m convinced that’s big enough to hold the co-ordinates of my whereabouts, and to target straight for me.

2) The really irrational stuff: because on top of the little scamper fear, I also cleverly imagined a six-foot sized bug stepping quietly out of the bathroom – like something from Mimic. This one’s brain capacity was more like a bowl of rice krispies. It was a bug that knew I hadn’t helped to flip it over while it lay helpless in the bath. It too moved with intent.

Also needless to say, I scampered out of the room, and left my growing phobias to the cleaning woman (cue: Rigby Reardon). She’d have a whole bunch of chemicals for defence.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

...pronounced "Eeee-Vil"

Went to the remake of The Omen. It’s called ‘The Evil Genius’ in Portuguese, which kind of lacks any sinister quality. This guy sounds more like an evil cousin guest-starring on Pinky and the Brain.

Quite endearing really.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Long Day's Journey Into Night

This felt epic.

So, you need a tax number in order to open a bank account. The theory is that you present yourself at the Finance Office with passport and proof of address, and that's it.

I managed to find the Finance Office (no indications that it was any kind of professional establishment), where they said ‘no’ a lot. I consulted my Portuguese phrase book and tried again. They admitted that they were the Finance Office, and pointed upstairs.

It turned out that by ‘upstairs’ they didn’t mean that I should go upstairs, but that I should go back out on to the street, turn right at the next corner, go into the building on the right, past the construction site on the ground floor, go up to the first floor and ask there.

Which I did.

It was straight out of Terry Gilliam: metre-high piles of paperwork everywhere, people going from desk to desk in fathomless patterns. I finally found the right queue (and queueing here is another discussion entirely) and got my basic details entered.

When I tried to pay the administration charge, the money was pushed back to me; I had to pay ‘downstairs’.

Back out onto the street, around the corner, into the disguised office. The woman there begrudgingly accepted the money and gave me a receipt. Was that it? No, I needed to bring the receipt ‘upstairs’.

Back out again, through the construction site, up to the first floor, receipt in hand.

The mounds of paper had grown while I’d been away.

Then I got the magic bit of paper stamped with the magic stamp. My work here was done.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Flew in to Funchal from Exeter this afternoon. It's a gorgeous day here. Settled in at the hotel then went out for supplies (wine beer crackers).

It's almost a year since I decided to move out of the UK. It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to go, and then several months to resign, sell my house, and do a whole lot of packing.

I made it.