PC 141 Saloio


For those who find geography a black art – an orientation!

Lying some 30 minutes travelling to the west of Lisbon, Estoril has drawn people for over 150 years; some settle down to live in this Atlantic coastal resort, others visit briefly on holiday. The Hotel Palacio, the five star establishment whose de luxe rooms overlook the swimming pool and beyond to the gardens, in front of one of the largest casinos in Europe, opened its doors in 1930 and the ground floor corridors are lined with fading photographs of those who came to stay.


European royalty, for example the Italian, French, Bulgarian and Romanian ex-royal families, mingled with actors and actresses, heads of government and Portuguese aristocrats. During the Second World War it was the home to both British and German spies and in 1969 featured in the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ I personally don’t think it is the best 007 film (starred George Lazenby and the gorgeous Diana Rigg) but it was in the Hotel Palacio that Ian Fleming had conceived the idea for the series, and that’s a great coincidence!


A sumptuously appointed corridor in the Palacio

My mobile rang when I was in Saloio, a very up-market grocer’s store on Avenida de Nice, a street in front of the hotel. It was my chum Stewart calling from Wimbledon in London to wish us a Happy Christmas. I could easily picture him as I know his house and whereas he might have some notion of the sort of place I was in, being a well-travelled chap, he would have been amused to actually witness it.


I call it a grocer’s store as this is what it is, like Partridge’s on the King’s Road in London for instance; one central shelving unit snakes down the centre, each part crammed with particular foodstuffs. On the walls to one side are little bottles of condiments from every corner of the globe, jars of jams and marmalade (Marmalade is a very English description and coveted by the international clientele who shop here.) and then racks of vegetables, dairy produce and cheeses. If you want more specialist cheese the deli counter on the other side of the shop provides countless alternatives. Meats and poultry, raw or already prepared, lie on the next counter, under the watchful and attentive Paulo.


A rather empty early morning on Boxing Day!

I told Stewart it was lovely and unexpected to hear his voice and that we were in the basement of the Saloio grocery store in Estoril. Down here, away from the shoving and pushing around the delicatessen counter, there is a moment to reflect in peace about which packet of loo paper to buy and to search for the dishwasher rinse aid.

On the narrow stairs back up to the frenzy of Christmas Eve shopping, towers of boxes of tea, of every make, type and taste, confuse and irritate one in equal measure. Those who linger here in indecision risk the wrath of the staff, moving in both directions, downwards empty handed, struggling up with replacement boxes to stack a small shelf, or clutching a single item asked for with an imperious tone and raised eyebrow in answer to the ‘they are downstairs madam’ response.
The old-moneyed Europeans mingle with the nouveau riche, both stretching past one for a packet of smoked salmon for instance without any consideration or acknowledgement of your existence. There’s a certain haughtiness, a sense of birth right, that gives them the confidence to act in this rude way, whether the disdain is obvious or not. Can you smell money? I think here there is a certain scent, whether it’s the classic Austrian Loden jacket that may not have seen the inside of a dry cleaners, ever, or the fur coat’s slight whiff of moth balls worn with a disregard for those who fight for animal rights. Maybe it’s the aftershave and perfume, or the cosmetics that cost a month’s wages. The younger generation, with their modern gilets and designer trainers, mix well, as they belong to this group where an excess of cash is the common currency.

The staff who stack the shelves, inquire whether it’s the smoked or unsmoked bacon of which you need 10 slices, ensure the baskets of warm fresh rolls are fully stocked, smile when you ask if they have any pickled ginger as you can’t find it, despite looking high and low, or simply take your euros at the checkout, unfazed by the bill for five items and a bottle of fizz that they wouldn’t consider value for money are, of course, lovely, polite, helpful people, with the patience of some saintly horde. Recognise them in some way, acknowledge them, and they ooze warmth and helpfulness, just like anyone in a similar position.

You can tell from the top-of-the-range cars hustling for parking space outside in the little narrow street that this is a very up-market shop. In amongst the Mercedes and BMWs I spot a beautiful deep-blue Bentley convertible with a Principality of Monaco licence plate. Just stunning, if of course you can afford a car that probably costs about £175k? Of course the Portuguese will park anywhere convenient to them. Pedestrian crossings? Why not? ‘I never walk anywhere so why should I recognise something for other people?’!!


Hotel Palacio to the left, Saloio just right of centre

Down Avenida de Nice, towards the sea, you can see the end of the queue that stretches for over 100 metres to Pastelaria Garrett, a real cornucopia of all things bad for you, but just so yummy! Pre-ordering cakes, puddings and pastries is fine, but someone has to collect them! In Portugal the traditional Christmas cake is either the Bolo de Rei (King’s Cake) or a less showy Bolo de Rainha (Queen’s cake).


Bolo de Rei

Just some seasonal observations gleaned from looking up and down one little street in Estoril, Portugal on Christmas Eve 2018. More scribbles in 2019 no doubt.

Richard 29th December 2018





PC 140 Extra! Extra! (2)

The frequency of my blog continues to be fortnightly, although last December I wrote an extra one (PC113) to reflect the modern tradition of having a little something extra at this time of year. Some companies pay their staff a 13th month’s pay, some give bonuses, and that’s all well and good; when I was working I was paid to carry out a role, for which I got a salary – end of! My PCs 86 (Boxing Day) and 27 (Christmas) covered something of this period but here’s a little extra scribble; have a great Christmas.

I have two pieces of homework to share, one because it’s seasonal and the other because I think it works (but then I would, as I wrote it!).

The first brief was to write the story behind a Christmas song or carol.

“It’s just before dawn in an old dusty room in an outbuilding beside a wooden clapperboard church. The church has only recently been connected to the new electricity supply and old gas lamp fittings from the main building are stacked in the corner. A single electric bulb hangs from the ceiling, giving light to a large table in the centre of the room. At the table a middle-aged man, wrapped in an old, rather worn, silk dressing gown, is bent over a pad of paper, writing something; his moving hand casts eerie shadows on the wall. There’s a knock on the door and, without waiting for an answer, a woman enters carrying a cup of tea.

“Here you are dear. I thought you’d like something to warm you up; there’s a favourite cookie on the saucer. How’s it going?”

“Bless you Matilda, bless you. How’s it going? Well, I am trying to write something we can sing on Sunday, something based on my trip last year to the Holy Land.”

“And ….?”

“It’s coming on, you know! I was very taken by the little place I stayed at, in Bethlehem, and I recall dreaming about that village’s importance in our Christian story. It was such a quiet place; unable to sleep I had looked up at the stars and the great sweep of the heavens, you know how one does, and I felt so humble and in awe.”

“Ah! Phillip. That’s lovely. Why don’t you put that in the lyrics, something about how the stars are so silent, something about the morning star, the wondrous heavens, angels and so on?”

“ …….. and now I’m on a roll, Matilda; how about ‘O morning stars together proclaim the holy birth’?”

“That ‘Holy Birth’ is good, although I never quite understand how we Christians could create an enduring religion based on a biological impossibility. Drink your tea, dear, or it’ll get cold. I’ll be back in half an hour or so.”

Matilda goes back to the main house and Phillip continues to scribble phrases that work, complete lines that flow; rubbing out some, inking in others, all recalled from his Bethlehem visit. Before 8 o’clock Phillip looks up as Matilda come back, bearing a bacon butty on a kitchen tin plate and places it on the rough table.

“Do you think Lewis could compose some music for this little carol? I’m calling it ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.”

“Don’t see why not. He’s a dreamer like you; he’ll be inspired by angels and other celestial beings” Matilda replied with a slight smirk.

As Phillip takes a bite into his butty, Matilda mutters:

“You know what, Philip! It’s snowing outside; could you work into your carol something about snow and how it’s deep and crisp and even?””


The second brief was to write something using an ‘unreliable narrator’.

I arrived home, the Victorian terrace I’d shared with George for 25 years, deep in the backstreets of Brighton. I could feel myself sigh as I put the key into the lock, a sigh of resignation mixed with excitement perhaps.

“I’m back, George!”

Silence! I took my coat off and walked down the corridor into the small kitchen. George predictably was sitting hunched over a book of crosswords on the pine table. Ever since he’d lost his job 8 months ago he’d become more and more introverted.

“Five down’s a problem, Fiona. 10 letters for ‘deceptive’; third letter’s R.” he muttered, without even looking up.

“Evening George” I said, although I couldn’t find any warmth in my greeting. “How about ‘Unreliable’”?

“OK! that works; thanks. By the way there’s a parcel for you from Victoria’s Secrets; you must have been ordering something online. You normally buy M&S’s ‘Three knickers for £10’, don’t you?”

He wasn’t expecting an answer, his head already back into the crossword, so I picked up the padded envelope and went upstairs to change. Sam had suggested I look at the Victoria Secrets website and the result? A trio of gorgeous sexy panties dropped out of the black tissue paper. Yes! Yes! And I could feel myself grow slightly moist.

The following morning George dragged himself down to the kitchen as I was finishing my breakfast of two boiled eggs; it was still dark outside.

“Eggs? You don’t like eggs; what happened to the muesli soaked in apple juice?”

“Oh! I was reading this magazine article in the dentist’s waiting room last week and it said how good eggs are, full of protein and stuff, so I thought I would try them for a bit. Is that OK?”

“Of course, Fiona, of course! Just that I do notice things you know, even after all these years.”

Slurping the last of my coffee, I suggested he could telephone Mark down at Temporary Solutions to see if they had any work for him, but I could tell from his face he was more likely to look for a solution to 11 across or try a Killer Sudoku. I headed out for my 15 minute walk to work.

“Sorry George, I’m going to have to pull an all-nighter. Paul’s got a deadline on the Mental Health campaign and he needs his team.” The message on WhatsApp sounded plausible and George wouldn’t question it. This wasn’t the first time that I had had to work late.

By 8.30 that evening Sam and I were tucking into some lovely food at Terre Terre and thinking of the room we had booked at The Old Ship Hotel. When you’re in those first weeks of new-found love, it’s full on; our legs touched under the table and, completely engrossed in each other, we fed each other little morsels as if our lives depended on it. So much so that it was a while before I noticed George, standing by the door. He’s probably found my paper diary with ‘S. Terre Terre 8pm’ pencilled in. What I will never be quite sure about is whether the shock on his face was because I was there, or that Sam was a beautiful redheaded young woman.


Richard 21st December 2018








PC 139 University

Those who know of my early life will appreciate the service I gave to Her Majesty over twenty fun years. The devil is in the detail they say and it may not be common knowledge that I spent three years gaining a BSc in Civil Engineering. Some of you may wonder why two years at Sandhurst, the military academy, wasn’t enough? Well, the Armed Forces needed officers who were able to make a meaningful contribution to the development of future equipment and, to ensure that, those of a science bent went to the Royal Military College of Science (RMCS); those of an Arts bent were disregarded!! (See PS) I had joined the army with the intention of doing my bit for Queen and Country ….. and resisted the news I had a place to read an engineering degree; I didn’t want to! In characteristic institutional fashion the short answer was “Tough. Get on with it!” So 18 months after being commissioned, in September 1969, I started at the university, reading Civil Engineering as it had parallels with architecture, which had been an alternative career to wearing a uniform. My experience leads me to encourage those not really suited to an academic course to do something more vocational.

RMCS was based at Shrivenham, which should have been a sleepy village on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border. But it was on the main A420 road from Oxford to Swindon; in those pre-bypass days (see note) the road ran straight through the middle and traffic had to negotiate a tight S-bend in the village centre. Most of the larger lorries carried pressed-steel car bodies, made in Oxford, on their way to the automotive manufacturing and assembly plants in Swindon; ‘sleepy’ it was not! But the establishment nestled under an escarpment on which ran the ancient Ridgeway, a path in use for some 5000 years. It runs from just to the west of Marlborough to the north west of London, a distance of some 87 miles. From my bedroom window I could see the Uffington White Horse, a huge chalk figure cut into the hillside during the Bronze Age. This was very much a rural campus.


The Uffington White horse

I was one of two non-Royal Engineer officers doing Civil and it was suggested I should gain some hands-on ‘engineering’ experience. At the end of the first year, our general year, I spent 6 weeks with Alexander Gibbs & Partners, the consulting architects for the construction of a section of the M4 Motorway between Newbury and Swindon. Apart from memories of checking levels and survey points, I can vouch for the fact that the tall transmitter mast at the Membury Service Station is within a few seconds (of degree, obviously) of vertical!

The Army didn’t accept that us military students should have the same length of vacations enjoyed by our civilian counterparts and ensured our holidays were busy. They had a point as we were being paid a salary!! In addition to my time on the embryonic M4, we went off to coastal South Wales on a geology field trip one Easter and went ‘wow!’ and ‘oh!’ and ‘that’s so ….’ about synclines and anticlines, conglomerate rock formations and Freshwater Beach.

Survey is an important part of a civil engineer’s skill set, so apart from doing a great deal of outdoor surveying and plotting, we spent two weeks at the School of Military Survey at Hermitage (awarded its Royal accolade in 1997 on its 250th birthday) during one summer vacation. Surveying is all about mathematics and during our examinations we had to use both slide rule and mechanical calculator. The latter are completely extinct but for dividing Log Sines by Log Cosines to six places of decimals (for whatever reason!) they were a godsend. Every time you got a decimal place the bell rang.


 A state-of-the-art mechanical calculator

On the second summer vacation we had to attend a three week ‘Workshop Practice’, when we spent time in the foundry, in the turning shop and in some other workshop with an unremembered name. In the first we learned how to make a mould and fill it with some molten metal; if your first visualisation is of white hot metal rods and steam, we were of a slightly smaller scale! I copied a brass doorstop and my mother-in-law’s front door’s Georgian door knocker, which I still have – I have been looking for a door on which to hang it ever since!


In the second we spent time turning metal rods, using a lathe to cut threads etc. I have kept a little bollard I made, with a movable collar. It still amuses me after 47 years!


Our instructor in the workshop with the forgotten name had an accident while we were there and we had a day off; his tale of woe is hard to make up. In his kitchen, he was putting down some floor tiles with Evostick, a very effective glue. Halfway through, he thought he could clean the glue off his hands with a piece of newspaper. When finished, he threw the balled-up newspaper into an open coal fire. Sadly a part of the newspaper stuck to his hand; as it caught alight and flames began to burn his skin, he tried to pat it out ….. with his other hand – which also had some glue on it. Big mistake! Both hands needed hospital treatment!! Ouch!

Of the subjects we studied the only one that really brings a smile to my face was ‘Materials of Construction’. It stood apart from Squiggly Amps & Ohms (my name for the Mechanics of Electronics) and Mechanics of Fluids, where we studied, for instance, Water Hammer, by its practical aspects. Can you imagine getting excited about breaking a concrete beam? Well, for even greater pleasure was the ‘Concrete Slump Test’!


Ah! Yes! University!

Richard 14th December 2018

PS. You know how it is at school; you begin to concentrate on subjects which you seem better at than others (note in my case not ‘good’ but ‘better’!) So I left school with very average scientific A Levels …….. and in my next life would like time for some of the more creative aspects of human existence.

PPS. Having graduated I thought, and hoped, I would never go back to ‘university’. However as part of our Staff training, I spent another year there seven years later completing a quasi MSc/MBA!

Note: Part of our Survey module was to design a bypass around the village. I wistfully hope that one of our designs was actually used but think it highly unlikely!