PC 65 Easter thoughts

It’s remarkable how early the celebration of the Christian festival Easter is this year. Unlike a fixed date say of Christmas, the date of Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is moveable, linked to the lunar rather than solar cycle, and can occur sometime between March 22rd and April 25th. Even after reading some of the interpretations of Old and New Testament scripts concerning the date of the crucifixion, I still find it strange that it can vary by over a month.  The resurrection was supposedly ‘on the 3rd day’, so they must count the day of the crucifixion as the first, otherwise we would celebrate it on Monday! And of course this is using the Gregorian calendar, which in the C21st is 13 days earlier than the Julian calendar used by Eastern and Orthodox Christians. This year The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that there are ongoing discussions between the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox communities to fix the date, possibly as 19th April – but not for 5 years or so.

Growing up I remember, or was told as a two year old’s memory is not reliable, that my parents had placed some chocolate Easter eggs on my bed. I had woken, found them, eaten them, and when my mother came in she found me covered in chocolate. Of course!

My mother and step-father lived in a small village in Sussex and went to the local Church of England C12th Saxon church every Sunday. At some stage the vicar discovered that they were confirmed in the Church of Scotland and so it was, on Easter Sunday, to take communion, we all travelled up to London to St Columba’s Church in Pont Street. Although we had driven the roads many times, I do remember a moment of confusion in 1962 when we reached a particular T-junction: “Left or Right?” Ahead of us was a poster advertising a Bob Hope film – “The Road to Hong Kong” and so the inevitable comment was made from the back seat – ‘if you go straight on we’ll go to Hong Kong’. (We probably thought this a preferable option!!)

Before the communion, those who were not confirmed left the church. My brother and I would go and find some Sunday papers and read those in the car, before we were joined by our parents and driven off to lunch at Lyon’s Corner House at Marble Arch.

So for many people, Easter is about religion, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus. For others, it’s about Easter eggs, of bunnies, and overdosing on chocolate. I read that this year in the UK it’s also all about eggshell wreaths, bunny string lights and stylish Easter trees; the sending of Easter cards has made a comeback. God Help Us! Incidentally the ‘egg’ association started in the C13th, as a representation of new life.

This year the Easter weekend has been used to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin. This had nothing to do with Simnel cakes, hot cross buns and the like, but an attempt by seven fervent Irish nationalists to form a new nation, independent from London. The rebellion was over in a week, and the ‘rebels’ executed, but it hastened the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, known as the Republic of Ireland from 1937. The Easter Rising was, according to a recent book about the seven nationalist, ‘a catastrophe that poisoned Irish veins with the toxin of political violence’. One sixth of the island of Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom and is known as Northern Island. That ‘toxin’ encouraged a thirty year terrorist campaign by the IRA to force the UK to end its governance of Northern Ireland. It ended in 1998 but fringe groups continue their misguided criminal activity. The actual date of the Easter Rising is 24th April 1916, but as Easter is so early this year ……!!

But for me, the abiding memory associated with Easter is completing the canoe race from Devizes, 125 miles west of London, to Westminster; the ‘DW’. You might not think of me as a roughie toughie canoeist, and you’d be correct; I’m not and wasn’t! On commissioning, I was posted to an artillery regiment in Devizes, Wiltshire. I duly wrote to the Commanding Officer, as required, expressing my enormous pleasure in joining his regiment. I was also required to say a little about myself; after mentioning playing rugby and a love of art, I was scrambling around to fill the page. Stupidly, I said I loved canoeing, having spent a couple of lazy sunny Sundays on the lake at the military academy, complete with female companion and bottle of bubbly. I never made the connection – that Devizes was the start of the DW Canoe Race. Volunteered in true military fashion, ie “Yates! We’ve entered a team of three two-man canoes in the DW. You’re in charge!”, I found myself on Good Friday morning 1968 on the Kennet & Avon canal, ready for the off. I won’t bore you with the details, as it’s immensely tedious to paddle 125 miles. The first 53 miles are on the canal, before one joins the River Thames. On the canal stretch, at every one of the 77 locks, you had to get out, carry the canoe around the lock, get back in and start paddling again. Some parts of the canal had no water and you just had to carry the bloody thing! The Thames becomes tidal, and consequently very choppy, after another 55 miles; those last 17 miles are “just mind-numbing” says Sir Ranulph Fiennes the British explorer. Indeed, many teams fail on this last 17-mile stretch. Suffice to say my crewman became sick, another team canoe struck something and developed a leak, and in the end it was just one canoe, mine, with a different crewman, paddling into London, against the coldest wind imaginable. Someone gave me a cup of tea – I dropped it, so exhausted, so wet, so frozen.

The winner that year came in in about 25 hours; we were not in racing canoes and took considerably longer. But we finished and I have the certificate to prove it, although as we had changed crew, we weren’t given a ‘place’ but simple recognition we had completed what has been described as the Mount Everest of canoe races. The former Liberal Democrat politician Lord Ashdown also completed it as a young Royal Marines commando, famously commenting afterwards that he could think of only one person who’d had a worse Easter than him!

So, some thoughts at Easter in 2016

Richard 28th March 2016                                               richardyates24@gmail.com


PC 64 Molars and, er, Wisdom?

My recent encounter with a dentist away from his treatment room (PC 62) started another train of thought. Just what is your relationship with your dentist? One to be put up with, an acceptance of a necessity, or one you would prefer not to think about? After two close encounters recently with chums who are undergoing ‘dental work’, but not really wanting to know too much detail, I saw an old man on the bus the other day who had clearly given up going to a dentist – absolutely no front teeth, top or bottom, and what teeth there were, were stained by tobacco or too much coffee. Could I dare to scribble about our teeth? Worth a try!


We do not want this sort of decay!

First the details, in case you’ve forgotten? Children have 20 deciduous teeth which they lose after some 10 years. A normal adult mouth contains 32; 8 incisors, 4 canines, 8 premolars and 12 molars. The latter include 4 wisdom teeth; they are the last to appear right at the back of the mouth, by which time you are supposed to have gained some degree of wisdom – personally I’m not sure about this!

I lost one of my baby teeth on a sailing trip on the west coast of Scotland in 1956. I fondly remember the feel of the coin under my damp pillow in the wet berth, for in the UK we have this tradition of placing a coin under the pillow when a child loses one of their baby teeth. It used to be an old sixpence, but I’m sure inflation has increased the coin’s value. I learned later that the yacht had been in danger of capsizing – but that detail is hidden in my psyche!

One’s tongue is a funny part of one’s body, very sensitive, strange-looking, and indicative of good health. But when you have a loose tooth, you use your tongue to ….. lick the tooth, to tease it, rock it in and around in its socket, push it so it almost comes out ….. just a little more!! What a delicious feeling!

Growing up in 1950’s Britain, sugar, which had been rationed during World War Two, was more available, but only just! I am old enough to remember Ration Cards that allowed me to buy sweets from Mr Sugden’s newsagents in Margaret’s Buildings, a small pedestrianised shopping street around the corner from The Royal Crescent in Bath where I lived. Four Black Jacks cost one penny (in old decimal currency a two hundred and fortieth of a pound). I think I indulged my love of sweets too much, trading other’s sweet ration for chores; that and an oft-quoted ‘we all have soft teeth in the family’ and visits to the dentist became a regular feature of my life. If you have ‘soft’ teeth you should not eat Winegums or toffees, especially caramel, but they’re my favourites!! (Oh! And dark chocolate-covered Brazil nuts ….. and Cadbury’s Chocolate whole nut and …….)

I haven’t talked about this nightmare before, so forgive me if I get a little emotional! Mr Sharp, my dentist, had a practice in one of the honey-coloured Bath stone buildings in The Circus, a circle of large, tall, terraced houses with a stand of enormous trees in the centre. As a schoolboy, wearing shorts and long socks, I would ring the well-polished brass bell by the large front door, and step into a stone-flagged hallway. Mr Sharp’s surgery was on the first floor ….. and he stood hands on hips at the top of the stairs, with the light from the surgery behind him. He looked threatening and I climbed those stairs with huge reluctance, wishing that I could have been transported away, anywhere actually; “Beam me up Scottie?”

Hello, Richard!” His cold clammy hand did nothing to lighten my mood. “Come on in.” The chair of course becomes your prison, its back the wall. If I had an injection, it always seemed to me that the numbness was at its most effective just as I stepped out of the chair at the end of the appointment. In those days I think the drill was a cable & foot-pedal affair; it might have been driven by electricity but the fluctuation in its speed suggested otherwise. When that drill bit made contact with a tooth, it made me sympathise with concrete when a workman starts digging it up with a hydraulic jackhammer. You couldn’t talk as you were like a hamster, with bits of cotton wool stuck in both cheeks. The suction device that was meant to take away the saliva was never quite in the right place but you couldn’t move it as your hands were gripping the armrests of the chair so tightly. Oh! How I hated going to see Mr Sharp!

In common with many children I managed to come off my bicycle, in this case crashing into my brother, and chewed the tarmac. This hastened the loss of the front teeth – and reminded me of that song “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” There was a small gap between my two top teeth which aided my ability to play the trumpet in the school orchestra. My passion for sweets created cavities in my teeth, much like the hole at the core of the Chernobyl Nuclear reactor that needed a concrete cap, although the covering in my case was made of a nicer material. Most of the work was done by an Army dentist and I spent so much time in his chair that we became good friends! Those crowns remain in good shape, such was the quality of his work. I am still in touch with his wife who, forty years later, lives in Hastings.

Other memories of the dentist cover a broken crown that I glued back temporarily with super glue (the dentist was not amused!); failing asleep in the chair; and a root canal that required a second mortgage to finance.

But I have had sufficient money to get the treatment when and where it’s been needed. Woe betide those who don’t. (To be continued …….)
Richard 20th March 2016                                                         richardyates24@gmail.com


PC 63 Santa Catarina – the penultimate southern state of Brazil

Should I have worried when the receptionist fixed a plastic strap around my wrist and said: “Welcome to Il Campanario Jureré”?  It was like that thing they do when you’re an in-patient in hospital, so you, and they, can remember your name, but this was apparently for ‘security’. It was a shade of green that I adore …. but I could have done without it. According to the travel agent, on Ilha de Santa Catarina the place to go was Jureré , some 40 minutes drive north from the capital Florianópolis. After two days we thought otherwise. The pool was fine except the muzak too loud to talk comfortably … we asked for them to turn it down but they said: “no”. Welcome to Jureré!

Although it was low season, and only at 40% occupancy, everything took an hour and a half. We had a problem in the shower in our room; well, actually a major problem –  no water! We called reception – after a long wait they eventually answered and said they would send someone. Thirty minutes later another call, another ‘we’ll send someone’ adding they were very busy. A man arrived, mumbled something, and went away. The words Faulty Towers were beginning to surface from my memory pool. He came back, muttered to himself, fixed it and left. An hour and a half. We showered; unfortunately my towel was so threadbare you could see through it so it didn’t dry well. I almost took it to reception ….. but decided to go for dinner instead.

Most guests from Argentina, Uruguay and some of the locals seemed to be tucking into the buffet …… and an hour and a half later we knew why. We sat in the alternative  ‘bar restaurant’ and waited. Laverina bought the menu and suggested we order our starters and mains at once as they all came together! Not quite sure what she meant at the time, but as we waited ….. and waited ….. her words came backs to haunt us. How long does salad and 6 little cod croquettes for an appetizer take to make? Almost exactly an hour and a half later our starters and mains arrived, together. We decided not to have pudding as …..

We didn’t have Manuel attending to us when we tried the buffet the second evening but Andrico, who had learnt English in London and was keen to impress us with his knowledge – standing too close to our table, he wanted to talk about English football, of which I know nothing, and the European Union, of which I know a little. (But I am being extremely hypocritical here, as my knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese hardly runs to more than ‘boa tarde’.)

After two days we drove south to Quinta Do Bucanero on Praia do Rosa, north of Imbituba. We had arrived! At the end of a sandy track with pousadas left and right, very much like on the Mediterranean coast, a wonderful seductive atmosphere awaited us. … and seclusion. The pousada was cleverly built into the rocky hillside, and consequently on many levels. Our room overlooked the beach and you walked down a steep path to get to the sea, which was a little cool. The staff were attentive, the food was lovely, the massage relaxing and ……… we had that view!


Praia do Rosa, voted one of the 30 best beaches in the world in 2003

Next to Praia do Rosa was Praia do Vermelha: almost deserted as to access it you had to climb up and around a headland, so few bothered! After three nights we moved on.

It’s only about 250kms to get to the top of the Serra do Rio do Rastro mountains from the coast, a climb of some 1500m, but the final 20 kilometres are extremely steep. We came up behind a lorry which, in order to complete particularly sharp corners, had to reverse! Traffic backed up, the roads wet with rain showers and with low cloud, one could be anywhere apart from Brazil. It was slightly nerve racking and with visibility low there are some anxious moments.


Into the Serra do Rio do Rastro

The economy of this southern state, population 7 million, is mainly agricultural-based, with apple production and cattle farming abundant; tourism is on the increase. Vineyards abound and the local wine, I’m told, is delicious, the expertise being handed down through the generations by the Serra Catarinense people, descendants of the Germans and Italians who settled here in the C19th. This part of Brazil still retains the traditions of those original European settlers; for example, as we drove into Orleans, the sign over the road declared: “Hertzlichen Willkommen”!

The Rio Do Rastro Eco Resort, in Bom Jardin da Serra, where we had planned two nights was a mistake!! I guess we imagined more of a hotel complex, not a group of chalets lying in a natural bowl …. with no view. It’s the only place in Brazil where it snows every year, so we expected a change of temperature, but the drizzle and cold did nothing to lift our mood ….. so we went to check out the restaurant. After some trout laced with ginger and honey (terribly sweet), I liked the sound of the ‘ice-cream with wild berry sauce’ …. but got some microwaved raspberry jam instead. The alternative was what turned out to be a few strawberries swimming in 500ml of balsamic vinegar and 500g of sugar! Then we decided to spend only one night here!

The following morning the sun came out as we headed for breakfast and the American comedian Allan Sherman’s ‘Camp Granada’ song came into my head. Sung to Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, it’s an amusing letter from a teenage son to his parents, moaning about his summer camp in the rain. At the end, the sun comes out and he writes: “Wait a moment it’s stopped hailing …. muddah, fadduh kindly disregard this letter.” But the clear visibility gave us a wonderful view from the top.


We went home …. back to Quinta do Bucanero for one night before flying back to Rio.

More scribbles to come!

Richard – 4th March 2016 – richardyates24@gmail.com

PS When you book a flight you think: “Oh! That’s ok, we leave at 0915.” forgetting if you work the times back you have to get up at 0450 to get to the airport! C’est la vie