PC 193 Stuck in The Lift!

Next month Celina and I will celebrate nine years together, although last week we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. Marking important events gives us a framework on which to build our lives, to be corny, putting flesh on the skeletal outline of the predictable sequence of ‘birth ….. marriage(s)…. death’.

Living in the half-life of Covid, we decided to have a night in a hotel, having been assured that it was safe! And it was! There were hand sanitisers everywhere and masks were obligatory in the public areas, except at the Terrace restaurant’s socially distanced tables when eating; at least they recognised that difficulty.

PC 193 1

In our room where one might expect a box of tissues there was a box of masks; the mini-bar and coffee machine were wrapped in a paper that indicated they had been sanitised. The mini bar price list, hotel facilities and even the menu for supper were accessible through your smart phone camera.

PC 193 2

Back on the Terrace again for breakfast. I imagine we may have seen the death of the ubiquitous ‘Breakfast Buffet’, those tables groaning with every conceivable need for the famished guest. I remember a Norwegian one in Voss where fish was predominant or Far Eastern ones focused on fresh exotic fruit. Today one guest’s cough and the whole table would need to be consigned to the incinerator! It was a misty morning and Estoril and its Forte da Cruz looked rather enchanting.

PC 193 3

Later Celina and I returned to the apartment on Avenida General Carmona (Note 1)

PC 193 4

As an aside, for some reason known only to the Portuguese authorities, the house numbers on this four hundred metre street are being renumbered. Previously they had run from No 1, obviously, at the bottom with even numbers on one side and odd on the other, to the top, No 26. Now, No 16 for instance has been made 292, two hundred and ninety two, No 14 two hundred and forty (240!) And why would you leave the old numbers up? Go figure!

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PC 193 6

At the bottom of the street stands one of the largest casinos in Europe, not some embryonic housing complex …… that I might understand.

Having dropped off our overnight bag we headed for the pool as the sun, which had been reluctant to make an appearance when we had been at the hotel, had changed its mind! An hour and a half later we made our way inside and entered the lift. The pool is at -2 (Note 2); we needed No 1 …… and we both needed the loo! We pressed the button, the doors closed, and the lift ascended ……. a few feet …… and shuddered to a stop ….. briefly ….. before going back down with a bump. We pressed the floor button again; nothing happened! We pressed other floor buttons in that vain hope that that would make a difference …… but all we got was a row of red circles but no moving jackpot. The lift was made by the reputable company, Otis, and designed to hold 8 people or 630kgs; surely I hadn’t put on that much weight since lockdown on 23rd March?

Celina is Latin by temperament and by looks so tends to get excited very quickly, although we had both realised we were stuck in a lift, neither going up nor down. She pressed the button with a ‘bell’ symbol a number of times and eventually the emergency control room answered.

PC 193 7

A team was dispatched. We also banged on the doors to attract the attention of others in the building. (Note 3) It was getting warm inside and we both began to sweat. Internally I was trying to remember which films had people stuck in a lift and what the outcome was. Were we going to see Bruce Willis or Jason Stathan pull the doors open with their bare hands, the aluminium crumpling under their efforts …… or would we have to wait until Jorge or Costa arrive, puffing on their cigarettes and pulling up their blue, stained work trousers?

We both wanted the loo ….. and as the minutes ticked by there was little else that took our focus away. We did an inventory; a small empty tonic water bottle and two rather damp pool towels. If push came to shove, towel or bottle, or …….

Celina got a bit emotional, imagining we were going to be stuck for hours, but by now her loud banging on the doors had finally attracted her family’s attention (note2). Camila and Cecilia arrived outside; sort of comforting to know but it did nothing to relieve our bladder pressure!! By now I was dripping with sweat as if I was in our hot yoga studio, not a metal box stuck somewhere between floors. True to their promise, Jorge and Costa eventually arrived, 5 o’clock stubble and blue trousers in evidence, used a key to allow them to open the doors manually (no need for Willis or Stathan), and we were out in the daylight; the relief, both emotional and physical, was palpable. Not a pleasant experience although this is not a tall building; imagine being stuck in a lift in, for example, The Shard in London, with its 95 floors. Not daring to take the lift, we raced up three flights of the stairs to find a loo – always a difficult manoeuvre when your bladder is full!

Life on the edge!

Richard 26th August 2020

Note 1 General Antonio Carmona was President of Portugal from 1926 until his death in 1951. He appointed Antonio Salazar as prime minister and allowed him to run Portugal as an authoritarian dictatorship whilst his own powers became largely ceremonial. Just over twenty years after his death, in 1974, the Carnation Revolution saw the establishment of a modern democracy. Compare with Spain’s dictator General Franco who ruled his country from 1939 to his death in 1975.

Note 2 For other example of odd decisions by architects, the entrance level to the building is -1, the first floor is 0 and the top 1!!

Note 2 You could imagine someone in one of the apartments hearing a muffled banging noise and them thinking it was builders down the street …… and carrying on doing whatever they were doing!


PC 192 Why You Should Try Something Different – Ceroc?

In the coming months I suspect we are all going to have to be more open to different ideas, be more creative to achieve what we want to do, more accepting of restrictions and understand their necessity. When the future is uncertain and confused, it is natural to be cautious but it’s important not to let caution become a suffocating habit. Let me illustrate this from my own experience.

It was a busy late afternoon in early October, you know, when one begins to sense the evenings drawing in and feel the hint of autumn in the air; must have been about 1993. The Morgan & Banks office was in Brettenham House, opposite Somerset House on the north side of Waterloo Bridge in London. My desk telephone rang. (Note 1) It was Sophie, a bubbly friend who had established herself as the Office’s caterer for Boardroom lunches. Those of you who regularly read my PCs may remember a visit Celina and I made last year to The Anchor in Walberswick, run by Sophie (PC 153  Courgette Neutral June 2019).

“Why don’t you come Cerocing?” she screamed – she always screams, does Sophie.

“What the hell’s that?” I asked defensively, my alarm bells ringing, immediately thinking of reasons why I couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t!

“French Rock & Roll (See Note 2) – it’s great fun and I’m getting a party together – Thursday in Fulham; see you there about 7.30.” ……. And with that she ended the call ….. probably without hearing my “Not sure it’s my thing but thanks anyway.” Much relieved, I put the phone down and got back to work, resigning myself to the fact that Sophie rarely took “no” for an answer. Sure enough, two days later, another call to seek my participation!

“Come on! It’ll be fun.”

“But I’ve never done it/I can’t do it!”

“Doesn’t matter; everyone’s got to start at some time.”

“Thanks but no thanks!”

PC 192 Ceroc 1

All shapes and sizes have fun

Then on the Thursday morning a final “COME ON” – I had nothing on that evening but still my inclination was to say “no”. Yet the request and my response to it had me niggled; why had I been so dismissive, why did the negative response come first, particularly as I really had no idea what Cerocing was. Oh! Of course I could imagine …., I could visualise the evening … a disaster …. uncomfortable …everyone pointing to the chap who couldn’t do it.

Eventually, on my way home from the office on the Northern Tube Line, I began to take a more rational approach to my thoughts. OK, so I didn’t know what Cerocing was, so why shouldn’t I find out? I had never danced Rock & Roll effectively in the ‘60s, never did master Chubby Checker’s The Twist, but that should be no barrier to trying it now. “Oh! I see, you think everyone else will be able to do it quite well, and you won’t and you’ll feel stupid, inept, embarrassed by being completely uncoordinated. And anyway, what sort of people go Cerocing anyway, would I have anything in common with them?” the thoughts rumbled. Rational brain said I had no answers to these questions as I had never experienced it … so why didn’t I try it? Whoa! Get out of my comfort zone and try something different? No way! But why NOT?

My mind in turmoil, I eventually decided to call Sophie and tell I was coming. She was predictably delighted and I took down the directions to the ‘Dance Hall’, trying all the time to push the seeds of doubt further and further away.

I arrived in Fulham Broadway and found the alleyway – as I passed the flashing arrow pointing to the venue I almost, almost turned back! Then the sign-in, the table lit by red lights and the sound of music beginning to lift my spirits – “in for a penny, in for a pound” I thought. I made my way into the hall, looking for Sophie, but am met by an amazing sight: on the stage a couple with throat mics are explaining the next step whilst on the main floor six lines of dancers, alternating between all male and all female, filled the space, practising as instructed. At the end of the sequence, newcomers were asked to join a line.

Suddenly I find myself in front of a girl I’ve never met – “I’ve never done this before” I mumble by way of excuse. “Don’t worry, not many people have, let’s just enjoy it.” And so we did! Every so often the lines moved so that you danced with someone different and gradually, so so gradually, it all began to make sense. And the evening is now a lovely memory of music and dancing and fun – but more that that.

PC 192 Ceroc 2

Maybe this Ceroc move requires some practice?

It’s an important reflection of why you shouldn’t let your perceptions put you off from trying something new.

Richard 20th August 2020

Note 1 An office was somewhere you went to work BC, to engage with your work colleagues, to exchange gossip over the water cooler. We each had our own desk and could book a small meeting room where, in my case, I could meet clients. My ‘desk telephone’ was a landline with push-button controls; ‘the mobile’ was a bit of a misnomer as they were the size of a house brick and you needed to work-out in the gym to lift them. One person in the office had a ‘dial-up’ internet connection; that dialing sound remains with me as an example of technological change!

Note 2 The name ‘Ceroc’ is said to derive from the French “C’est le roc” (it’s roc), used to describe rock n’ roll dancing in France. Ceroc is an international dance club which has with over 200 venues across the UK as well as national and regional competitions and weekend events throughout the year. It also has franchises in many other countries in Europe, Asia and in The Antipodes.



PC 191 Not Normal Behaviour? Well, maybe now!

I started PC 189 with: “You remember back BC (Note 1) when we couldn’t envisage the future and we made plans …..” and I was thinking how to start this little scribble ……. and rather liked that ‘You remember back BC …’ because it’s possible that we will contrast much of our behaviour today and in the coming weeks and months with what we did BC.

BC we read people’s faces in an unconscious manner, looking for tell-tale signs of emotions, the whole gamut from happy to sad, from delight to disgust, from friendliness to suspicion, from openness to ‘keep your distance’, from love to hate. The list and pairings are endless. From two metres with reasonable eyesight you could pretty much gauge the messages, up close and personal definitely. Now ‘up close and personal’ is seen as an invasion of one’s space, as a mark of disrespect. For those whose natural inclination is to hug and French kiss at any opportunity, these new-found rules are hard to abide by. For those who are very internally focused and emotionally cold-blooded it’s a godsend; they see everyone behaving just like them!

Then comes the wearing of the mask, which the majority of us believe is a sensible way to shield oneself and others from airborne germs. There are those who want to kick against the perceived threat to their personal freedom and liberties and talk of court action – poor souls. The mouth, that wonderful feature that tells tales, conscious and unconscious, is hidden. My comments in PC 189 about unconscious communication and its difficulty wearing a mask prompted many comments. One highlighted the difficulty of the paramedic, communicating within the team and with the individual, the focus of their emergency call-out. Reading personal accounts of hospital staff coping with patients in the intense days of the pandemic reinforces how we have to consciously change our facial features to ensure the messages are received.

The other evening my brother-in-law celebrated his birthday and a few friends were invited to share some Thai food and the cake. Should I wear a mask? Well, these people hadn’t been out of Portugal since lockdown so we assumed (?) they were Covid-free …. but we didn’t know! Later in the evening I realised how hypocritical I had been, chastising those in the UK who had attended parties with scant regard for spreading the virus and yet here I was, surrounded by strangers with hardly a social distance in evidence. But of course in a nod to the new behaviour, we did ‘elbow kiss’ or ‘bum bump’ as they arrived!

Today I overheard a scene that would not have happened BC. Firstly let me put my hand up and confess my knowledge of the Portuguese language is only marginally better than it was eight years ago which, given that then I had ‘da nada’, is not much to crow about! I had gone to the local upmarket grocers (read PC 141 Saloio from December 2018) to buy some supplies. They had a visibly stated policy of only allowing a certain number of people into the store at any one time, so there was a small queue on the narrow cobbled pavement of Avenida de Nice, although its masked participants were not socially distancing (so 50% OK!). I watched a woman and two children lift their purchases onto the checkout desk; as always when shopping with small children there were things in the basket that she hadn’t chosen but with some discussion with the animated children one or two items made it through the checkout. At the head of the queue outside, whether ‘at the head’ by taking her turn or by barging in with the air of entitlement, was an older woman, let’s call her Renata, clearly frustrated by having to wait:

“Children aren’t allowed in the shop. Come on! Hurry up!” Renata muttered in a voice clearly loud enough to be heard inside. The woman at the check-out looked up, acknowledged the other one, finished packing her purchases and paid the friendly staff. As she left she said to Renata who was already pushing her way in, completely oblivious of two little children and shopping bags:

“Now you can go in!”

Well, you could sense that this was a trigger, this well-mannered and quietly-spoken comment, to Renata whose fuse was set at danger.

I’ll paraphrase with my own personal observations.

“You stupid woman! Don’t you know that children are not allowed in the shop? I can’t afford to wait, as I have a very busy and important day.” (Note 2)

Raising her voice into a scream, twisting her face into a grimace, sure of the righteousness of her opinion, she wasn’t expecting anyone to dare a retort!

(We were all, shoppers and staff, who I later found out considered Renata always rude, were transfixed, frozen in the moment, awaiting the next interaction!)

It was clear that such selfishness deserved a response from the woman who, by now, was already on the pavement.

“Actually, you rude cow, children are allowed in and if you have such a busy life, why don’t you f**king shop when it’s less crowded?” she shouted at Renata.

Renata strode back towards the entrance, puce in the face, basket in hand and flustered: “How dare you talk to me like that; you don’t even know who I am! Bitch!”

The woman on the pavement screamed something like “Go f**k yourself!” and walked away, red-faced and probably inwardly regretting her own inability to control her temper.

Anyway this was only my reading of the situation, as the words were ‘lost in translation’! I couldn’t imagine this happening BC …… but maybe it did occasionally?


Richard 13th August 2020

Note 1. BC short for Before Coronavirus

Note 2. Somewhere in PC 141 I wrote: “…… a member of staff coming up the stairs 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, 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.”

PC 190 Up My Nose!

For those of you who follow my Face Book postings, you may have seen something about my nose? I have a nose for a good story and used to have a nose for a good Shiraz but this was about my physical nose.

Let’s cut to the chase; my mother-in-law was due in Portugal this week from Brazil and is in a ‘high risk’ category for Covid 19 (She arrived safely on Wednesday thank goodness.) Common sense said it would be sensible for Celina and I to have the virus test; after all we have come from a country where the pandemic has caused widespread suffering. As we didn’t have any symptoms, to be able to access a test a doctor’s prescription was needed. We had to book and pay for individual appointments, although in the end we were seen together! I might have imagined this gave the very overweight but charming doctor the opportunity to go outside for a cigarette break. Then on Monday we went to the Convention Centre (aka Covid 19 Centre) here in Estoril.

PC 190 1Covid 1

Forming filling, passport checking, another 200 euros across the counter and we wait on social-distanced spaced-out chairs in the cavernous building.

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We are called forward individually. I go to Room 4 and am directed to a chair. The swab is shoved up the left nostril of my nose ….. I am reminded of cleaning a rifle’s barrel with a ‘pull through’ ….. it feels as though the swab is going to pierce my forehead ….. instinctively I push back on the small plastic chair. I had been instructed not to close my eyes …… but as the discomfort seems to reach a climax I realise I have done exactly that! I do not apologise!

It’s over and I leave; the results were emailed to us within 24 hours and we are negative. When I read of the search for better means of testing for Covid 19, such as using saliva, to avoid the invasiveness of the swab test, I now know what they mean.

If you Google ‘nose’, apart from the obvious links to descriptions about the proboscis (Note 1) that sits between your eyes, you get ‘The Nose’, a short story by the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, ‘The Nose’, an opera by Dmitri Shostakovich and ‘The Nose’ aka El Capitan, a particular difficult climb in the Yosemite National Park in California.

‘The Nose’ is satirical short story by Nikolai Gogol, written in 1835 during his time in St. Petersburg. It tells the story of a City official whose nose leaves his face and develops a life of its own. The use of iconic city landmarks by way of illustration, as well as the sheer absurdity of the story, has made this an important part of St. Petersburg’s literary tradition.

Over 90 years later Dmitri Shostakovich picked up the story and scripted an opera called ‘The Nose’. I am not a Shostakovich fan but the little snippet on You Tube of the Royal Opera House performance (24 November 2016) of the ‘noses’ tap-dancing is both intriguing and delightful.

PC 190 3 The Nose Shostakovich

I have done some hill walking in the Brecon Beacons and in the Lake District, been targeted by swarms of the Scottish midges strolling up Ben Lomond and abseiled down cliffs, but I have never been that interested in actually climbing mountains. That said, I do have ‘Climbing Wall Centres’ on my ‘To Do’ list for a bit of fun; maybe a bit contrary huh!

PC 190 4 El Capitan

The Nose, El Cap, otherwise known as El Capitan, is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face, and is a popular objective for rock climbers. The top of El Capitan can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls, then proceeding west. For climbers, the challenge is to climb up the sheer granite face and that has now been climbed by ‘free climbers’ ie those not using ropes or pitons etc. BASE jumping from it is currently illegal.

PC 190 5 Nose diagramme

The nose is a particularly delicate part of my anatomy. On a positive note I use it to filter the air I breathe, to smell my surroundings and food; on a negative note it drips when I have a cold and blood flows from it when I bang it – or someone else bangs it! It’s the most prominent structure between my eyes, contains the olfactory organ and is the entrance to the respiratory tract. The air I breathe in is cleaned, moistened and warmed and the nose cleans itself of any foreign debris that I have inadvertently inhaled. Good eh!

When I was a teenager I suffered for years with poor quality sinuses. If you have never heard of the sinuses, they are a connected system of hollow cavities in the skull. The largest are behind your cheekbones, the smallest low in your forehead. They produce mucus that moisturises the inside of your nose.  Sinusitis gives you the most horrendous headache, probably on a par with a migraine, although fortunately I have never suffered from one of those. There was a progression in the treatment; I had all three. First they were washed out, with a pressure pump stuck up your nose; I remember today why it was a pressure pump! That didn’t work, so I had them cauterized with a wire stuck up my nose and into the sinus cavity; then the doctor turned on the electrical current …….. I could smell my flesh burning! Yuk. That didn’t work, so I went under a general anaesthetic and had them enlarged, the drill going up my nose! It’s a useful access, the nose!

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When I think of noses, some cartoon characters immediately come to mind.  Pinocchio, for example, the wooden puppet of an 1883 Italian children’s novel whose nose had a tendency to elongate when he lied, which he did frequently. Or each of the Seven Dwarfs (apparently the politically correct word; not midget!) who all had big noses. I also think of the actor who played Cyrano De Bergerac, Gerald Depardieu, as he has a very large nose!

Richard 7th August 2020

PS My family name on my maternal grandfather’s side is Nation. Looking back over old photos it’s easy to see the resemblance past and present – the ‘Nation nose’ is quite prominent.

Note 1: The word Proboscis refers to a mammal’s nose, although strictly one which is long and mobile, like that of an elephant or Tapir.