Friday, 30 April 2010

Time to cut to the chase and get down to the hard slog

Okay - enough is enough now. No more procrastination, no more dilly-dallying, and certainly no more faffing around (currently favourite pastime of Widget who has now been rewarded by Other Half with the new appropriate nickname of 'Speedi-not').

The Henley triathlon which I enrolled to compete in last year is only - gulp - some 43 odd days away. Since the mishap in mid February I have barely managed one swim a week (in abbreviated 12.5m pool... makes a good case for limited number laps due to inevitable dizziness after ten minutes in the water), one run a week (5km on my own, up to 12km if my slave-driving training partner BB is with me, just as well she is enrolled in the triathlon as well), and a couple of pathetic attempts to ride my old bike to/from the kids' school to drop off/pick up. That'll be a total of some 400m worth of cycling then. Although I defy anyone to try riding a bike with an inflexible right wrist, especially when balancing your body weight on the handlebars so you can hoist your dainty rear into the saddle is one of the lesser challenges.
Partner that with the usual gazillion bags and lunch boxes that have to be carted to and fro, and this type of training may have been more effective that I give it credit for.

Although last time I looked you do not have to wear this kind of additional apparatus in order to compete in a triathlon. So maybe I am just kidding myself.

Additionally since the Easter holiday saga, I have managed even less, so am basically right back to point zero so to speak. I hardly think one run in 85% humidity (at 6.30 am btw)  and a frolic in the waves with the kids counts as training. Although the term 'endurance' is still applicable.

Anyway - to get to the point. See the fancy link on the right hand side of the page? You know, the one called 'Just Giving'? Where you can sponsor me and write rude encouraging messages of support? Yep, that's the one you need to click on if you believe this is a worthy cause and would like to see me struggle over the finish line
complete the triathlon in one piece.

In return I promise to:

  • post a photo of before and after so you can all have a jolly good laugh at my expense;
  • write a humourous post to accompany it, and;
  • not take it out on my training partner if she beats me
Com'on fellow bloggers, readers, family members and assorted pets! Make this really worth my while - if you read the blurb behind the link, you will see why I am doing this.

Thanks in advance. Here's to generosity and an extremely worthy cause!

(And here's the link again, just in case you have a malfunctioning pc!)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

For the love of gardening

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One thing about having been away for three weeks is that upon our return Spring has well and truly sprung.
Of course that means that the trees are in full blossom, the bulbs are blooming and err, the grass is almost knee-high. So much so that our neighbours were about to cut it themselves as they thought we would not reappear in the UK until May 6th and such oversights were lowering the tone of the street.

Now our row of terrace houses is typical in that everyone can see - to a certain degree - everybody else's back garden. There are a variety of styles (modern, classic and pastiche, also known as confused) and tastes (English, Mediterranean and Pastiche, still known as confused although also called 'naf'). 

What is most entertaining though is the underlying gardening competition going on. This is what I call the 'turf wars' and Other Half is a committed fanatic. Never mind that the shrubs need pruning, the slugs are already attacking the lily and the aphids are appearing on the roses. 

No, of far greater importance is that our lawn - all 3 square metres of it - is greener, more lush and in better condition than anyone else's. Cue intense grooming, cutting, feeding, watering, nurturing, raking, and inspection along with advice-seeking, internet searching, reading and exchanging of opinions. All so that OH can proudly say "Ours looks much better than the neighbour's." Truly worthy of a guest slot at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Now. How to transfer these skills to his wardrobe?

Monday, 26 April 2010

The Gallery - LCM goes for the hat trick

For obvious reasons I have missed the past recent editions of Tara's Gallery: week 7 (Joy), week 8 (Seven Deadly Sins) and now week 9 (Portrait).

In repeatable fashion I am cheating again somewhat and rolling all three in to one. I will do a mea culpa if it backfires but in my books it is worth the risk. Let's see what you think.

So why all three topics and how do they merge?
Joy - seeing such a sight on the beach, totally un-self-conscious (on the face of it anyway), was enough to bring a smile to anyone's face.
Envy (one of the seven sins) - com'on, wouldn't you want a backside like this?
Portrait - no one ever said it had to be of her front...

Job done.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Home (and away)

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You know that saying about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs? I thought so. It would appear that when it comes to home content insurance we are all borderline village idiots to the companies trying to flog us something. A bit like when you when you go for a run (remember to tie your shoelaces), ride a bike on the road (wear a helmet and visible clothing) or drive a car (seatbelt please). You feel like they are stating the obvious and adopt a no-thanks-very-much-I-know-what-I-am-doing approach, similar to the one you assume when accosted by the people collecting money for charities in the street when you suddenly remember you are in a hurry for a meeting you never knew about.

However, notwithstanding the above, some valid pointers about going away on holiday and ensuring your house is safe during your absence were of particular relevance in light of our recent family holiday. Especially as the LCM household waits until the 11th hour to pack bags, and relies on a variety of lists to ensure nothing is omitted. Which counts for little as we typically endeavour to leave behind certain essentials and then have to replete stocks at our destination at some cost. What can I say? Plus ça change. At least we are consistent.

So here's the checklist to ensure a worry-free holiday:

  • Cancel deliveries eg milk, papers, etc - √ (check)
  • Ensure the windows and doors are locked and curtains drawn (within reason – you hardly want to give an impression that a hermit has moved in during your absence) - √ (check)
  • Leave a light or two on, or better still get some timer switches (more importantly, check they have new batteries, otherwise who are you kidding?) - √ (check)
  • Give a set of keys to the neighbours – provided you are on speaking terms with them and they are not still holding a grudge about that all-night party you had last year to which they were not invited – and ask whether they would pop round occasionally and pick up the mail - √ (check)
  • Have a set of numbers people can reach you on should the occasion warrant it (this does not include your best mate calling to tell you the footie scores, nor the latest happenings on Eastenders) - √ (check)
  • Ensure you switch off or unplug all non-essential electrical items (TV, computer, hi-fi, etc) - √ (check)
  • Put your valuables away in a safe place (on an aside here, I have been told of two that rank highest: 1) the dirty laundry basket, preferably complete with soiled children's clothes, and 2) the drawer containing sanitary items, apparently a challenge for any male at the best of times, and yes I know I am making assumptions here) – ermmmm, check, sort of

Why the hesitancy on the last point? Well, the last trip we made I hid the valuables so well I am yet to find them.

Either that or the neighbours were still peeved and are taking the piss by hiding them elsewhere for me.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Where timing is everything

It's a bloody miracle. Taking a calculated risk and heading to Galeão International airport in the hope that we might just - JUST - manage somehow to get on a flight, despite having already had three cancelled on us, despite endless (and often pointless) phone calls to the airline to find out the status quo (we often knew more than they did), despite being told we were still waitlisted for a later flight (as in three days hence), and despite everything contriving to thwart our attempts to get home (including a tummy bug for yours truly), I am extremely pleased to state that I AM WRITING THIS SITTING ON THE FLIGHT HOME TO LONDON.

It had to be in capitals. Deservedly I think. Once more airborne.

So, a few notes with regard to who deserves recognition in achieving this, frankly, amazing feat. Bear in mind that the alternative was to stay put until May 6th and take out Brazilian residency.
  • Other Half – extremely pleased with himself and deservedly so. Persevered with the phone calls, hounded the airline staff, took the most proactive stance in the face of adversity since Mel Gibson's battle scene in Braveheart (the exception being that OH in fairness is far better looking) and did not give up. Considering he was quite taken with the Brazilian girls playing altinha (beach football where aim is to stand in circle and keep football in the air using anything except hands) and their beautiful bottoms, this is quite something. Even I was besotted with the bottoms but that is for another post.
  • Lovely ground staff administrator lady at the airport who immediately took pity on us with our three immaculately behaved children (bribed and threatened beforehand as the cause demanded) and promptly put us at the top of the standby list. A saint. Will be personally petitioning the Pope for some holy administration of sorts upon my return. Unfortunately did not manage to get her name – shame on us.
  • OH's head of European travel at his company, a true star. Not only did she contact OH to check his whereabouts, she then proceeded to find a viable option for us should the former 'world's favourite airline' not manage to fly us home. She also had the alternative carrier extend the time they would hold the flight for us, should we need it. Working some 20 hours a day to help us – and some 2000 other company employees stranded around the world – she is another saint. I do have her name and a bouquet of flowers will be forthcoming. Will also be petitioning for her to take up role as next chief executive of BA.
The cherubs have learnt a valuable lesson, and a new term: winging it. Explained around the words and tune of 'Take a chance on me' by Abba, it now seems to make sense although I wonder whether they will forever associate their parents' exotic travel exploits with the Swedish music phenomena.

I look to my left and see a trio of gorgeous sleeping children who have had a terrific holiday, pretty much oblivious to all the shenanigans aside from gaining fluency in anything to do with volcanic ash, lava and flight paths, along with the odd word of Portuguese.

I also see the woman who boarded with a six month-old baby seated next to them and whom the airline staff seemed to automatically assume had a family of four. OH and I are – somewhat conveniently after over three weeks of constant question answering – having a break and are seated on the other side of the aisle.

So farewell Rio – we loved you and are leaving you, but not forever, I promise.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Groundhog Day

Remember the film? Of course, who could forget? Waking up every morning to the same routine, going through the same paces as the hours tick by, enduring the same frustration and feeling totally helpless in the face of events out of your control.

That's us at present.

Of course a heartfelt thanks to BA for being the most completely useless customer service-oriented company in the world at present. Considering the circumstances are deemed to be having far greater (and more costly) impact than either 9/11 or the cabin crew strikes last month, it is truly incredible that the formerly self-nominated 'world's favourite airline' does not have a contingency plan in place.

No flights with partner airlines.
No alternative routes.
No offer of assistance for those travelling with small children.
And earlier assurances that we would automatically be put on the next flight out due to our 'imminent travel' status, previous three cancellations, and family circumstances were total bollocks. We somehow 'fell off the radar'.

And the reason why? It is "not in their policy".

Their advice? That (I quote) we should apply for a refund on our ticket and "try to get to Europe and make your own way back to the UK".

Even better than that, they actually had the gall to tell us that we "should have called earlier", because all the available seats were taken.

BA - I award you the Oscar for most pathetic performance in a crisis. Whilst Lufthansa, Air France and KLM have put on additional flights to ship travellers home from South America, you have told us that the earliest you can fly us back to London is - drum roll please - May 6th.

At this rate I will be applying for Brazilian residency.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Counting chickens before they hatch

So effectively right now I should be writing this post back in sunny London.

Except I am not. We are still in Brazil, courtesy of Southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano (try saying that after a few drinks) that decided enough was enough and if a referendum about reimbursing investors' losses incurred by the likes of Glitnir and Landsbanki was insufficient to show the might of the people, then it would huff and puff and blow a bleedin' great cloud of ash over Europe and ground the lot of us.

So there. Sorted.

Now I'll be honest here. I had written this post originally on Thursday just gone (that's the 15th of April for those of you losing track of time), and it was a rant of sorts against BA for a number of reasons. However, having seen the effects of this travel chaos on others less fortunate, I have revised my take on our own predicament. Much as I would love to be back home for a number of reasons – kids returning to school and giving me a break from constant demands for one – I can certainly appreciate that being 'stranded' in Brazil, in Rio of all places, is not quite the same as being left without accommodation, food, water and desperately short of money (or even without any at all) in places such as Calcutta, Lagos or even Bangkok where the situation seems pretty dire given the first hand reports on the BBC.

Which leaves me to curtail my 'BA bash' to a certain degree.

Cancelling some 250 plus flights last Thursday alone, given the exceptional circumstances, was understandable to an extent, and I grant you that safety comes first. That much goes without discussion. Being yelled at from every corner of the earth (maybe the call centres now know what it feels like to work for Ryanair, permanently) cannot be much fun either and undoubtedly there will be plenty of candidates for sick leave on the grounds of stress in due course. More fodder for the unions.

Thanks for the text message about the flight being cancelled on Thursday morning by the way, just as I was about to start the packing. Great timing. And the one on Saturday morning saying the same. Terrific. I am now just waiting for the third one to come beeping through tomorrow at 6.30am regarding the Monday night flight.

BUT. And it is a big but this one. After holding on Thursday morning (post text) for some 36 minutes on my umpteenth attempt to get through to BA at an extortionate cost on my mobile (conservative estimate, I am bracing myself for the eventual bill) before 'John' picked up my call and tried to sort us out, did they not think that maybe, just maybe, it would have been more helpful to have a recorded message stating what we are entitled to in light of events, instead of having smug woman and smug man ask every 15 seconds that "If your flight has been cancelled, then please visit our website to manage your booking," (would love to have this option but I have no internet access from my current location which is why I am phoning you) or "please hold the line, your call is important to us," (yes, I effing know that and it is costing me an effiing fortune to even get this far)?

What is even more interesting is that when you do eventually get access to the BA website, not only does it show that you have 'flown' on the original flights (interesting, how does that work?), it states you can reschedule your flight on line but does not allow you to actually do this. Which means another phone call to figure out where we stand, if we can get on another flight, and when this might be. Provided you can get through. Because trying to phone the toll free line today gave a recorded message about high volumes of calls and trying to sort out travellers due to travel imminently (thought we qualified?) and then hangs up. Every time. Every number. Even the one in Brazil.

Have they given up already?

Maybe not because – hold your breath – I was actually called by Luis from BA in Brazil yesterday evening as we drove to the airport to drop off the car (extended car hire, another story suffice to say 'Hertz suck' at present) to advise me that I was entitled to three (yes, three) nights' accommodation (capped, of course) and £25 per adult daily food allowance (£12.50 per child). Whoopee. Pay now, claim back later. Fair enough, better than the proverbial kick in the teeth. Anyone read about my post covering the cost of eating out in Brazil? Obviously not BA.

Just one small problem. The toll free number Luis gave me is the same one that has the recorded message and cuts off after delivering it.

So the variety of suggestions from friends and family back home – cargo ship, swimming, learning to fly my own plane – are amusing but not necessarily helping further.

I think what is possibly most frustrating is that BA can text me about cancellations, but I have to make another very expensive phone call to check about contingency plans (unless we can finally get either Skype or the toll-free number to work) as the website does not allow me to change flights. So it's ok to text if you cancel, but not ok to text to confirm? Mr Walsh, are you running an airline or a dating service? I am confused.

In the meantime thank goodness our host in Buzios was accommodating enough to tide us over for a couple of days. Never mind that half the house lost power and there was a 24 period without water. That just left the extra car hire, excess insurance coverage, calling the credit card companies to advise of our extended stay and other small items to sort out. Like the business meeting and trip Other Half had scheduled for Monday, the next piece of contract work LCM is due to commence next week, the kids' school, the physio appointments... those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head. In the chaos of the past couple of days I totally forgot to cancel the babysitter and advise our gracious host back in the UK that we would – understandably – not be able to make dinner on Saturday. Valid excuse this time round.

Now we are back in Rio in a hotel packed with other delayed travellers, biding our time and waiting for the next text message to beep through. The kids are going stir crazy, my mobile has been playing up (love the call centre of my provider, useless as always in sorting out issues, let alone trying to explain what has gone wrong in the first place), Other Half has cut his foot, but at least the sun is shining and we have cotton sheets on our beds – previous experience of poly-cotton bedding and humid climate not a good mix.

It's all so stressful I am going to the beach and will have a couple of caipirinhas before picking up my phone again.*

p.s. And before anyone gets on their high horse and gives me a hard time about my rant, please note that I have a number of good friends who work for BA and am sure they would see the humour in my piece above. I hope. Or maybe they will just ignore me next time we cross paths.

*Provided it still works after one of the brood accidentally dropped it in the sand.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Summary as we head home

Rather than rabbit on about the ins and outs and ups and downs, I thought a few lists were more in order. Time - and comments - will tell whether this is both appropriate and sufficient to convey our experiences about the trip, and I would really appreciate feedback. Bear in mind we have only covered a teeny weeny part (Rio and Buzios) of this enormous country, so the views are from a limited perspective. Let's see how we go.

Top five things about Brazil:
  1. People
  2. Scenery
  3. Caipirinhas (this is me, I am writing this so my choice overrides everyone else's, no arguing)
  4. Moqueca (seafood dish, mouth-wateringly delicious)
  5. Swimwear
Top five things that astounded us:
  1. Cost of eating out
  2. State of the roads
  3. Non-usage of mobile phones on the street (a correlation due to being visible targets for opportunistic thieves)
  4. Amount of flesh on show, regardless of age, size or shape
  5. Lack of 'conventional' coffee shops and patisseries
Top five things to do in Rio:
  1. Ipanema and Copacabana beach – walk, swim, cruise about, people watch
  2. Sugar Loaf Mountain – great views and a few marmosets thrown in for good measure to keep the kids entertained
  3. Barra – beautiful beaches, shame the mudslides prevented us from actually getting to them
  4. Corcovado with statue of Jesus the Redeemer – as above
  5. Róçinho – even just a drive through was enough to put matters into perspective, and instil a sense of value in the children
Top five things I will take away from this visit:
  1. The desire to come back and explore more, especially southern Brazil, the Pantanal (not quite feasible at present with young children) and Belo Horizonte
  2. Wishing I could speak Commitment to learn Portuguese
  3. Dreaming of an endless pot of money to buy more bikinis from the likes of Bum Bum Ipanema (yes, that is a real brand name)
  4. The softness of the water (and the mega-curl/frizz effect on my hair, reminiscent of 1980s perm)
  5. The natural warmth of the Brazilians and how lucky I am to have BB not just as a friend but also as a guide during our first week here.
Think that sums it up. This country has been a revelation and a wonderful one at that. We have felt welcomed with open arms, the locals have been more helpful than I could have anticipated, and the language an "explosive linguistic Jacuzzi", to quote our guide book*. There will be plenty more recollections in due course as the photos are downloaded and the video footage edited, but the bottom line is our answer to the most obvious of questions: would we come back?

Yes, of course. Children included.

*The Rough Guide to Brazil (October 2009)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Further afield – the Brazilian equivalent of St Tropez

Escaping the worst downpour in 48 years – this according to the Brazilian meteorological society – has seen the LCM troupe head up to Búzios. Armação de Búzios to give it its full name, a bustling resort town on the Costa do Sol some 180km east of Rio.

Passing over the very long and quite impressive bridge that spans Guanabara Bay, through Niterói (which suffered the bulk of the recent horrendous mass landslides in the favelas), we embarked on a journey that was a) without a map, b) without any signposts, and c) with some of the biggest potholes ever encountered in all my driving life. It is worth noting that the Brazilian state highway agency equivalent was intent on fixing the latter, although their method of 'barely there' safety for their workers amidst all the traffic (fluorescent jackets over t-shirt and shorts, hard hat, boots and adequate shoe wear optional) and the 'bucket and spade' approach – literally - to filling the trenches puts the UK process under a positive light. Never again will I complain about the state of our roads in Britain. And I won't mention the speed humps that appear out of the blue and are high enough to wrench the axis off your hire car. Actually when you think about it maybe these are something they could import to Blighty: it might just do the trick and replace the expensive speed camera mania we are succumbed to on all our roads. Imagine driving down the M4 and being more concerned about when the next raised hurdle will be, rather than whether that average speed camera has clocked you doing over 70mph.

I digress. So, the maps. Or lack thereof. Neither the car agency – not one to name names but it is a household name with a yellow and black logo – nor any of the service stations we stopped at (three) had a map. Of any sort. Not even a postcard with an outline of the region and its coastline. But the locals, friendly as ever, pointed and gesticulated and I am happy to say that we arrived at our destination without so much as a wrong turn, relying on my interpretation of their Portuguese (dubious at the best of times), a mental recollection of the Google map I had looked at the previous evening (pre caipirinha), and a guide book that was long on words but short on directions. Personally I was quite impressed, but mentally I made another note to take a compass with me next time so at least I could be sure we were heading the right way. Bear in mind I say this every holiday, and still forget.

A few interesting facts about Búzios: supposedly 'discovered' by Brigitte Bardot, it forsook its sleepy fishing village origin for that of a playground for the rich during the 60s, and underwent some serious property development in the 1980s. The atmosphere though is more Spanish Riviera chic than Costa del Sol bling: the designer shops and upmarket eateries testify to this, and the backdrop of Búzios harbour and the cobbled roads – some of which are car-free – give the whole place a sense of easy-going laissez-faire.

The downside is that the restaurants, bar a few exceptions, are expensive. In fact, as an aside, eating out in Rio overall is on par with London prices, a fact I am choosing to ignore until the credit card bills come through next month, at which point I will probably embark on another caipirinha-fest to get over the shock.

The upside is that there are some 27 beaches within easy reach of the town centre. I am now trying to dissuade Other Half from attempting to visit each and every one of them over the coming few days. The huge seas following the tropical cyclone that hit us earlier this week are creating some very impressive surfing conditions. (Another note here: OH decided to not bring his surfboard this trip, a fact I am grateful for if for no other reason than our 'upgraded' rent-a-car – I use the term loosely, thanks Mr H for nothing - can barely fit the 5 of us with a mere two bags between us, so I hate to think of the outlay if we had opted to tag this extra piece of equipment along with us and needed a people carrier to get about.)

Most poignant observation of the day came from OH as well. Watching the kids play on the beach directly outside our current abode, he noted that we could just as well be in Cornwall, considering that they would have happily splashed around in the water and built sandcastles even there. "Except we would be wearing anoraks," he noted, "and trousers and a woolly sweater."

Whereas at least here when it rains you can still wear shorts and go barefoot. Surely that counts for something?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Any shape will do. Obrigada.

An article in the weekend FT last month by the fetchingly-named Tyler Brûlé (surely made up?) had the author in Rio. His own experience - aside from noting what we have as well, ie that the locals are extremely easy-going and very helpful and friendly – concluded with an observation about the amount of flesh on show. On this basis alone, he concluded, how could the IOC not award the city the Olympics for 2016? Aside from the fact that I believe Mr Brûlé is most definitely of a gay persuasion (pun intended), and hence impressed by the number of young, firm and rather fit-looking men that abound the length of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, it has to be said that otherwise any shape or size is fair game here.

It would be easier to state, as a matter of fact, that spotting the 'beautiful people' is far more difficult than I expected. What has been amazing to see firsthand is that the Brazilian melting pot of cultures, races, colours and sexes has given rise to a phenomenal society here. Furthermore, regardless of how you may look or where you come from, your background, wealth (or lack of it), or residential postcode, the beach is one great leveller. Anyone – and anything – goes. Feeling a tad flabby? Thighs like thunder? Boobs seen better days? Belly showing the signs of that one (daily) beer or five too many? Well come on down then to Rio's glorious beaches! No bikini is too skimpy, no bum is too big, no tummy too muffin-like to warrant being hidden away. And does anyone give a damn? Absolutely not. People smile, chat, make easy conversation, laugh and enjoy the sunshine and the waves. It is probably the most unpretentious atmosphere I have come across in a very long time.

And they love the children. How different from Anglo-Saxon society which frowns upon a child being noisy in a public place or pushing to the front of the queue. As BB's husband said to me yesterday, in Brazil children are seen as 'a gift' and are treated as such at all times. Never mind that communication is hampered by the language barrier – I am getting by on a mixture of Italian, Spanish and pseudo-English, with a dollop of French thrown in for good measure, it makes for great entertainment, especially my own – the genuine affection and gestures that accompany comments can be interpreted regardless: how wonderful to have these children.

I feel blessed.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Facing facts - truth in ugliness

Appropriately enough Tara's gallery this week has the theme of 'Ugly'.

And just this afternoon we took this photo:

Look familiar? I doubt it, unless you have previously visited or even passed through - as we did, courtesy of a wonderful taxi driver who provided us with an inpromptu and insightful detour - the infamous Rocinha favela.

The photo does not do the conditions justice, but suffice to state this:
- all the buildings are 'illegal' and by and large have no proper foundations, sanitation, or other basic facilities and are home to over 250,000 people
- the electricity is syphoned off the mains - again, illegally - via live wires that criss-cross the roads and dwellings (you can see these if you look closely enough)
- there is little or no education on offer, thus severely limiting the opportunities for young people to escape the cycle of poverty, and ensuring the drug warlords maintain their grip on power (so much so the police do not venture on site)
- the recent rains (the worst in 44 years, talk about great timing with our visit) are a favela's biggest threat as they literaly cling to the mountainside and risk being washed away when the ground beneath shifts due to saturation.

So - ugly? Yes. But sobering for those of us who have the good fortune to live elsewhere, in safer and sounder surroundings.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

When LCM found out what was going on via the BBC

You have to hand it to the BBC. While LCM and the troops were pondering what to do on a very wet day in Rio, the reliable journos back at the Beeb were filing important stories about what was going on right outside my front door.

We had decided that since the beach was – very obviously – off the agenda, other entertainment had to be sought for the cherubs. Like a trip to the Museu Naval e Oceonografico and the Espace Cultural da Marinha, both promising an insight to Brazil's naval history past and present, as well as the options (at the latter venue) to view a restored galleon, a submarine and a helicopter. Perfect for restless young children who love to explore and are game for something new and intriguing (to you and me this means about a gazillion questions in tandem with the outing, but a small price to pay when compared to perennial whining sessions if they are bored instead).

All fine and well in theory except that Rio in the rain is much like London in the snow: everything comes to a halt and shuts down. Or so at least I was told by BB when we spoke by phone to exchange plans for the day, a fact later confirmed by the BBC when I read their news report in the evening.

Despite this we still caught the Metro from Copacabana to Carioca (cheap, clean and – hear this Boris Johnson – air conditioned), wandered around Centro (downtown to you and me), spotted a few of the historical buildings in need of much love and restoration, headed towards the ferry terminal and arrived at the aforementioned venues. Which were both closed. Like I said, when the rains come, the cariocas stay at home!

So back we trundled, the fine drizzle occasionally abating enough to take off our waterproofs – only to then have to put them back on, bit like a comedy routine, "Looks like it's clearing up.... Oh, no here comes the rain again" – and witnessing a few amusing events along the way.

Like the business man holding an umbrella waiting in vain for a taxi, wearing what looked like a two-tone suit until I realised his entire bottom half was actually soaking wet.

Or the restaurant manageress hopefully expecting some horde of tourists to grace her entrance in want of a feed, gaily wearing her brightest smile, but careful not to venture too far outside the premises least she also end up with a two-tone ensemble.

Or the two bus drivers who carefully parked their vehicles on the side of the road and then got out and went hammer and tong at each other yelling goodness knows what obscenities. This garnered the most interest from the children of course. Two fully grown men doing a slapstick version of kicking and punching one another on the footpath.

At times like these I rue my Portuguese being so sorely lacking. I could have then offered a better explanation to the kids than just stating that the men were 'being naughty'.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Boys on tour (brains at home)

Sponsored post

This is a first for me. I am actually being sponsored to write something on the blog. Conveniently it has to be around a related topic, but does not have to actively advertise the brand.

How marvelous then that this should dovetail with what I was planning to write about anyway.

Other Half went on a boys' long weekend skiing recently. He of the double t-shirt standard and extra pairs of boxers/socks/swimmers "just in case" (just in case what? there is a mix-up in destination and you end up in Madagascar instead?) managed one mere piece of hand luggage. He even dispensed with taking his own ski boots. Mind you, after traveling with Crappy Air myself, I would also opt to keep all my belongings close and dispense with unnecessary extras. 

So, the evening prior to his departure he is going through his documents for the trip.
Itinerary. Check.
Passport. Check.
Boarding pass. Check.

"Are we covered for winter sports?" he asks.
"Of course," I answer, thinking what a shame it is not applicable to recent ice skating mishaps.

And off he goes. 

Fast forward to the re-entry. 

"How was it?" I ask, nonchalantly.
"Oh, good fun," he replies (so talkative these blokes, aren't they?)

Eventually this is what I could surmise:
- they spent most of the time skiing in fog low cloud (sorry, and the difference is...??)
- one member of the party fell down an 'invisible drop' due to the poor visibility and twisted their knee (cue lots of laughing)
- another member of the party fell down a further 'invisible drop' due to poor visibility and bent both of their thumbs backwards (cue even more laughing, especially as said individual's main concern was whether he would still be able to drive later that week at a sports car racing track day out - typical)
- the flight back was delayed meaning they missed the last trains and had to catch taxis home (so much for savings and cheap flights)

But - they had a good time. And he brought me back a present.

A packet of pasta.

(Am sure this is more what the boys on tour had in mind when they set off.)

Image courtesy of

Notes from Rio

Flying in the other night I caught my breath. Rio sparkled below like a cluster of precious jewels, welcoming her visitors with the promise of a rich experience. It was one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen from a plane window, and the excitement was not only palpable, it was contagious. Even the three cherubs could not contain their glee and happily told anyone who would listen that we were "in Brazil". The cariocas are a very friendly bunch, so the irony of stating the obvious did not faze them.

After the twentieth time it was certainly fazing me. This was possibly due to witnessing the slowest baggage claim carriage at an airport I have ever come across. The lack of speed as it creaked around its course was painful. I was sure it was being powered by a single hamster in a wheel who had been fed valium to keep it going.

With the eyes of the world starting to turn to Rio as the next World Cup (2014) and Olympic hosts (2016), I noted to my training partner BB – who is here, hence the extremely valid excuse for our trip out for her milestone birthday celebration – that the infrastructure will be under scrutiny and ripe candidate for vast improvements.

Correct, she answered, "The eyes of the world are upon us, and that is a good thing." Corruption in this part of the world is also rife and sadly the reason why many basic items are neglected. I will not dwell on the favelas which are visible from every rooftop as they cling to sides of the mountains that form Rio's stunning backdrop. That is a whole post unto itself and certainly not a flippant subject for any type of irony, least of all mine.

But by being forced to improve basic amenities and facilties before the world descends upon it, Rio has a lot of work to do.
Some examples which I recall reading about but conveniently forgot as I gazed from the airplane window:
  • Roads: a never-ending succession of potholes, patch-up jobs, ruts, ditches, speed bumps and lack of lines. You undertake, you overtake, you take your life into your own hands. Driving style reminiscent of Naples circa 1988. Not as bad as some countries I have visited, but nonetheless pretty hairy. And that was just the road from the airport to the flat in Ipanema. On the upside an amazing amount of VW vans abound which has sent the boys (Mr Man, Widget and Other Half) into a right 'spotting frenzy'. OH is now talking about renting one for our second week as we venture further down the coast. Hmmm...

  • Sanitary facilities: ok, so the sewage system is not the most sophisticated of the developing countries (or developed, if you consider BRIC, ie Brazil, Russia, India and China as the 'new' powers of the 21st century), however having to put toilet paper in the bin by the loo is almost a step too far for me. Used toilet paper, that is. Enough said.

  • Hot water: in order to heat the water in the kitchen, you need to run the shower in the bathroom. This is the only way the boiler ignites. So bar carrying dirty dishes from the kitchen sink to the bath, I have to clean the utensils with a shower running on full blast. Not quite what they had in mind when they mentioned 'caring for the environment' in the tenant lease I think. Sort of negates switching off the air conditioning when you go out to save energy.
But – but - who really cares when the view from our apartment looking out towards Ipanema beach and the distant hills is enough to keep a permanent smile on my face? (I would post a picture here but amidst the myriad of cables, connectors and chargers that came with us – some eight and counting – we appeared to have omitted the one for downloading photos from the camera. So much for portable technology.)

Unfortunately our view of Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado (you know the one, seemingly embracing Rio from above) shows him shrouded in scaffolding, so we will have to make do with postcards – or another visit – to appreciate him in his full glory. But otherwise this destination is a huge thumbs up so far, and the locals are certainly part of the attraction. Where else can you don your bikini, do the grocery shopping, catch public transport and walk into a restaurant for a spot of lunch with no-one batting an eye about your (lack of) coverage? And I am not talking model figures either: any shape goes. And I really mean any shape.

More to follow.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

LCM down under – with a Latin flavour

Well, not quite down under yet (as in southern hemisphere), but en route as I compose this post squished in the middle seat in the affordable cabin – aka economy – with a phantom farter in front of me, a Widget beside me and another fellow writer in the aisle seat*. And a pesky kicker behind. That'll be Blossom then. Between her and Mr Man I have been interrupted about a zillion times as they tell me incessantly what films they are watching and "would I like to see?"

No, I would not.

The phantom farter then. Ok, we have all been guilty of dropping the ubiquitous 'silent but deadly' ones at some stage of our lives in populated environments, but for goodness sake, will this person please go and relieve themselves before I risk the wrath of the cabin crew and light a match? Give me strength. I am on the verge of demanding they forcefully release the masks from above just to get some respite. It's been 6 hours now and no let up in sight smell. Excuse me a moment whilst I get out the safety card and waft away the fumes....

Anyway, on to more amusing items, ie other observations on the trip so far.

  • Young girl at security with ring through her nose. The type that looks like you have a permanent bogey hanging from your nostril. One question: why? I could ramble on at length about the ugliness of certain piercings (in my book eyebrows, lips, tongues to name a few) but that would be a case of the pot calling the kettle black as I have a ring – albeit a very thin one from many years ago – through my own belly button. But why you would wish to imitate a bull going to market and always look like you have forgotten to wipe your nose properly is truly mystifying. Enlightenments welcome. (I may have to ask one of the Kevinettes who gave me the funniest rendition of a conversation with her young niece who was intent on piercing her tongue, but then desisted after some frank facts. Topic for another post but let's just say the discussion was around fellatio.)


  • Lady at the gate complaining about the on-board meal before she was even on the plane, let alone being served with food. Not quite sure where she has been hiding out for the past week or so, but obviously the cabin crew strikes that have affected the carrier we are flying with to our destination seem to have passed her by. So when a member of staff (attempting to be helpful, I think) stands by the queue and starts yelling loudly that there are "no hot meals on this flight" and that passengers "may want to bring some food on board", said woman accosts the uniformed lady and starts a rant along the lines of "I was not told" and concludes "I will complain later". Sorry, how does that work? You are forewarned, you take what they give you, and then you complain later? Sounds a bit like being told the dress is the wrong size but you buy it anyway and then complain that it doesn't fit. Interesting logic, must try it some day.


  • Woman sitting across the aisle from me is so large she can barely squeeze in to her seat. In fact when she tries to get up it is a case of assisted exit and gratuitous usage of leverage as the entire row is almost expelled at the same time. Oh yes, and she also needs an extension on the seat belt, you know, the orange bit usually reserved for babies on laps. Am I being cruel and unsympathetic? Possibly but quite frankly I am not interested in being politically correct. I have already seen her food consumption and believe me when I say this has nothing to do with genes. Am just grateful she is not overflowing in the seat next to mine.


    Enough for the moment. Combined headache from the pressurised cabin, writer man to my left being deaf (cue his airplane headphone volume being so loud I can hear what he is watching without even looking at his screen) and the visual display showing that we are about to cross the equator is proving lethal concoction. Or maybe it was the effort of watching 'A Single Man' (need a big screen to appreciate better) followed by 'The Blind Side' (rubbish feel-good Americana same ol', same ol') that has done me in.


    Or the phantom farter. Oh for heaven's sake, there they go again. Excuse me while I find that box of matches.


*Amusingly I did peek at what he was writing – as you do – and note that it entailed a very, nay highly, unlikely screen/stage play involving a heavily pregnant woman who is being dictated to by her obstetrician without being able to get a word in edgeways about her condition. Supposedly 40 weeks gone and unable to say more than "But perhaps..." to his ramblings. Am very tempted to put him right and state that she would be far more likely to say "Get this f*cker out of me or I will cause mayhem," but that may not go down very well and we still have half the trip to go. Never mind.

Yadda yadda yadda...