PC 129 A new experience

The streets of any strange city are often confusing; normally one city block looks like any another; one way streets and directions to unfamiliar areas compound one’s sense of unease, tinged of course with the excitement of discovery. Walking around is at your own pace; driving one is in the flowing traffic and you need to know where you are going, or at least have a sense of that direction. These days you can have as much assistance as you like in the form of a satellite navigation/information system beamed to your smart phone or in-car dashboard display. They help quite a lot, although when they  start ‘recalculating’ because that side road she (also a female huh?) asked you to turn down was either a one way street the wrong way, blocked by a council refuse-collecting vehicle or just looked plain wrong, you want to shout at the sky: “aaggghhhh”!

Lisbon city map

So it was on a Sunday in early July we found ourselves heading to a school building (Escola Secundaria Maria Amalia Vaz de Carvalho) in the Portuguese capital Lisbon in search of a yoga class, taking place in an inflated tent. I think the principal is great. Take over some space, in this case a spare classroom, inflate your yoga studio inside (note: not inflating your ego!), pump in the heat and conduct an hour’s Vinyasa or something similar.

On Rua Sampaio e Pina we found the entrance to the waste ground that was obviously used as a car park and nodded to Santos, who was the weekend security chap. “Bom dia. Yoga?” he asked politely, peering through the car window. “Bom Dia. Sim!” He pointed to a rusted iron fence through which we should drive; down a ramp and park in the dust, among the weeds, alongside an enormous building. The sun was high in the sky and it was hot. We were early and were just discussing life and the universe when another car pulls up and out steps a young woman who says she’s Sophia and she’s our yoga teacher; she had made a ready assumption we were there for yoga! Why else would you be there on a Sunday morning? We walk towards a small white metal door at the rear of the building. Up a flight of stairs …. to the door of the studio.

“Is there a loo I can use?”

“Yes, down this corridor take the first right, another 50 metres, on the right.”

We knew there were showers we could use after the class and took advantage of someone coming out of the previous class to guide us. She asked whether we were Sophia’s parents – think I could have been her grandfather more like!!  It was a ten day Camel Ride, as they say; along this corridor, down some stairs, along that corridor, turn right, another 100 metres – it’s a large school building. Dusty indoor plants (Ficus Benjamina), looking as though they needed sunlight, water and a good feed, make a feeble attempt to brighten the entrance hall

On the way we pass the signs of school life at this time of year; notices on doors: ‘Exams: Silence!!’; School Sports’ Day’s photographs; timetables largely coloured out; photos of past Alumni; displays in English and Portuguese of subject matter – biological systems, the planets, geological strata etc; a noticeboard with personal messages and holiday advertisements etc. The half-tiled corridor walls bring back my own memories of decades ago, although these are that blue colour so loved of the Portuguese, not the mud brown on my Wiltshire school corridors! We eventually reach the showers, look, and retrace our steps, hoping we’ll find those showers when we need them!

“You can change in there” says Sophia, pointing to one closed door for me and to another door for Celina. In mine lies detritus from the IT Department. How quickly machines become obsolescent and then obsolete in the technology sector these days; dead desktops, keyboards by the dozen, cables everywhere, the odd printer and many screens all piled higgledy piggledy in the corner. Dusty and forlorn; depressing actually! I am reminded of that little green cursor winking at me …… fond memories of my first VDU.

Hot Pod

The pod glows purple and blue in the room next door and our fellow participants, some nine in all, are gathering and finding a floor space. The light level is low so Sophia, when she starts the class at the front, sort of appears in silhouette. Soon we are sweating in the 38ºC heat and going through the asanas; after almost two weeks of no yoga, this is good. All too soon it was over, we say our thanks and namastes, and head for the showers; we are the only ones going in that direction, suggesting that the others preferred to shower at home.

Down this corridor, these stairs, left by the potted plants and there we were five minutes later, the girls and boys shower rooms. The building was completely empty, the echoes of children and staff and bells and doors closing all too apparent on this quiet Sunday; I felt like I was trespassing in this empty school, devoid of pupils and staff  yet haunted and inhabited by its past. We decided to simply use one room and chose the boys’ – easier to explain if interrupted maybe? Rather worn and paint-splattered floor tiles, a shower area around by the windows and ….. no hot water! But we coped – washing the sweat off and a brisk dry with a towel.

Then out in to the hot sunshine, into the baking car, switch on Jezebel 2, and ask her to take us to Jardim des Amoreiras in the Rato district. “Turn  right out of the car park ……” Here we go again, except this time we’re relaxed and exercised, so in theory it should be a doddle.

Richard 27th July 2018                                          richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 128 Travelling

Our luggage was different this time. Normally we’ve established how many suitcases we can take with our airline allowance and packed accordingly, with a weather eye on the bathroom scales – those extra pots of Oxford Vintage Marmalade that we believe are coveted or that special Muesli that someone the other end identified as their favourite in the whole wide world and could you bring a bag or two (another 500 or 1000g eating into your weight allowance!!). And eventually it’s done and we leave for the airport, our minds running a mental check-list to ensure that it’s only at the top of the road that we shout stop and not think f**k when you get to the departure gate at the airport!!

One of my pet hates is the electrical socket difference. How did the world develop different plugs and sockets? Bit like PAL and VHS but some of you will be too young to remember those video formats? Surely this is something the UN should insist on, a change to one standard and it would have to be the UK system because that’s the best!! How many travel adaptors do I own? Too many – and often not the right one! (See note)

Cables and plugs

This time we were packing for an extended time away in Portugal and not Brazil, where some of the European descendants still hanker after certain English favourites. In Europe these are probably now available in the Saloio supermarket in Estoril, an upmarket delicatessen that serves a sizeable British ex-pat community. …. but going by sea ferry and car we were able to take as much as we wanted – weird! For example: “Should we take a picnic bag?” “Why not, it doesn’t take up much room.” “A kitchen sink?” “Nah!”

Do you have a box or a tin or a bag with all your loose foreign change, or are you good and drop it into the charity envelope proffered by the stewardess on the aircraft prior to landing or into that cardboard box close to arrivals? When I worked for Short Brothers in the second half of the 1980s my role was to go and meet potential customers; I was a salesman but I think I was called Sales Executive or Manager or some such as the word ‘salesman’ in the UK carries certain connotations, connections with second hand cars and the name Arthur Daley!! In those 5 years I covered just under 300,000 miles with Singapore Airlines alone and visited a large number of countries. Each time I came back with some loose change and generally put it into old Schimmelpenninck cigarillo tins I had for some reason kept (in case ?). Being quite organised I labelled each tin, according to the contents – Deutsche marks, Danish Krone, French Francs, Indian Rupees, Singaporean dollars, Malaysian Ringget, Australian Dollars etc. Now I only have some Euros or Brazilian Reals in coinage and don’t really need those tins.

Some of you will be aware that Celina and I took the ferry to Santander in northern Spain and then drove to Estoril in Portugal. Apart from the Dartford crossing of The Thames to the east of London where you have to pay a toll, no longer through a machine but only ‘online’, it’s rare for me to travel on a toll road. Here on the Iberian Peninsula motorways charging for their use are common.


The locals will have one of those cards that are automatically read by sensors on an overhead gantry at the Toll Gate, and are charged monthly. Tourists have to pay at a personnel-manned or machined-manned gate. We thought we had got the hang of it, then found ourselves with a ticket that needed to be paid when we got off the motorway. An hour later, in the outside lane of three, the exit booths were upon us before we realised it and we drove through an open gate. Aagghhhh!!

So, when we got into the hotel in Porto, we asked the reception staff how we could pay. “On the right of the Praça do Marquês de Pombal there’s a Post Office counter inside the CTT bank.” The man we found there laughed and almost accused us of trying to avoid paying. Then he told us he couldn’t take the payment but if we went down the street, turned left etc etc “You are in a car, no?” “No!” “OK, rather a long walk.” But this wasn’t the half of it, as they say. The attendant in the garage to which we had been directed said he couldn’t help but if we went …… five sets of traffic lights …… turn left …… can’t miss it. “You’re in a car, no?” “No!” “OK, rather a long walk …..” Eventually we did find the offices of the company Via Verde who operate the toll roads and paid what we should have paid three hours before. The dubious bonus was we saw parts of Porto that tourists rarely see ……. and I understand why!

167 A traditional port cask boat

Porto, on the Douro River, is the commercial capital and second largest Portuguese city: the inhabitants think it’s the best. It has of course given its name to the fortified wine beloved of after-dinner drinkers and the warehouses of the great trading families line the river – Taylors, Sandeman, Graham, Vasconcelos to name but a few. I have drunk enough port in my life to know it’s glorious, in the right place and at the right time. It was an essential part of the formal dining I enjoyed, and endured, in my military life. After the debris of the last course had been cleared away, the port decanters came out and were placed at each end of the dining table. As far as I remember, the ‘form’ was for the person at the end to offer it to the person on their right …… and then pass it clockwise. Once all the glasses were full, the appointed president asked the Vice-President to propose a toast to The Queen who, in the case of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, was also our Captain General. We got to our feet, toasted Her Majesty, and then got on with the more informal entertainment. Maybe some of that port had been in casks on one of these small boats on the Douro River, decades ago.

Richard 14th July 2018

Note: The eagled-eyed among you will notice a UK plugged extension cable. This trip I decided to take one and then replace its UK end plug with a Portuguese one – that’s on the assumption that I can find a plug as most electrical appliances these days have a molded non-replaceable one.