Monday 26 March 2018

Extracting the urine

One of the ways of attacking the lunacy that is sometimes foisted upon us by the Powers That Be, is to take the Mickey.   I am minded of Pastafarianism, a religion that (as I understand it) pays homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.   The last I heard anything about it, they had demanded and been granted the right to wear a colander on their head for their passport photos, in the name of their religion, and of religious equality.

Today, to my delight, I read in the Ouest France, a french newspaper, of a 60-year-old former male argentinian worker in the tax office in that country .  (S)he has taken advantage of the law that says a person can identify as being of either gender, apparently without the need for surgical intervention or much other justification, and can insist on being treated as being of their chosen gender.

Sergio has become Sergia, and (s)he has just retired at 60 instead of the 65 that is the normal retirement age for men.  (S)he also apparently lives with a younger lady (relationship unspecified; it could be his daughter for all I know)

Friday 23 March 2018

Broad beans

As a kid, I was fed broad beans that my Dad grew.  At the start of the season, harvested immature, they were OK, being small and tender.  As the crop continued over the Summer and Autumn, it was hard to keep up and eat them all, so they matured and became tough.   The skins were especially unpleasant.   I planted broad beans last year, and had no difficulty eating the beans when they were still small tender, largely because there weren't that many.

This Spring is being pretty miserable, weather-wise.  It's drizzling today, and cool.  My veg patch soil is at 5°C and Accuweather tell me that I can expect to wait another three or four weeks before the average day/night temperature exceeds 10°C, which is the soil temperature needed by broad beans to germinate.

I planted some broad beans this morning, anyway.  I put them under perspex cloches in the hope that this will warm the soil a bit.  I get impatient.

Thursday 15 March 2018


I have finally finished all four bays in the new compost heap.  There is a little pile of compost left at the far end to be disposed of, but the rest of the old stuff is spread around the garden where I hope it will do useful things for plants.

The new greenhouse is starting to fill up with plant trays.  I've not planted anything really frost-sensitive yet.  We are expecting  -5°C in the next few days; I will need to see how well that is kept at bay first.  Which reminds me, does anyone know a good way of stopping lettuce from bolting to seed?

Meanwhile, we empty the septic tanks.

Thursday 8 March 2018

The greenhouse

One of the things that has been lacking in my garden is a greenhouse.  There is a conservatory attached to the house, but if I use it as a greenhouse, it gets a bit messy, and since it has a covered roof, the light isn't ideal.   Especially in Springtime, the window ledge is covered in seed trays and Dahlia cuttings.  Water gets everywhere.

Leclerc, a supermarket chain, were advertising a 3x2 metre greenhouse for 55 euro (A bit less than 50 quid), so I bought one.  At that price, it's hard to resist.

We put it up this morning.  It's made of a reinforced plastic stretched over a metal frame held together by plastic joints.  It is stabilised, and held in place during high winds, by guy ropes, one at each corner.  We placed it on an old tarpaulin to give it a base, and put some spare plastic tables inside, to make a workbench.  The little object on the bench on the right is a max and min thermometer, I will use it to see how well the greenhouse keeps the frost off during the next few weeks.

I might even try growing some aubergines or hot chillis, once the seed trays are dealt with.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Vinho verde

When your wine has stopped fermenting, you have to rack it off into another demijohn to get it off the yeast.  Dead yeast decays and will give a strange flavour to the wine if you don't. 

So I did, and at the same time I topped it up with a little water that had been boiled in the kettle, and added a little sugar.  The wine promptly turned a green colour, rather like pea soup.

However it did eventually clear into a pale yellow pee-colour, and this I then transferred to bottles, where, according to the instructions, you  have to leave it for a year before drinking it.  I have to admit that I tried a bit.  I hope that ageing improves it.

Monday 5 March 2018

Walking in the hotel gardens

It takes a lot of effort to keep a garden in good condition, and I was particularly impressed by the gardens around our hotel.  They are well-kept, and well-integrated into the general landscaping of the place.  Judging by the number of chairs spread around, I think it would be a lot more crowded in the hight season, perhaps a bit less peaceful to stroll around.

So before we say farewell to Madeira, let's just note that there's a lot more to see.  We didn't see any of the North coast, nor did we walk along any of the little irrigation canals that carry water from the North to the South.  There are more cable cars that offer great views, and plenty of other restaurants to try.  There are good surfing locations too, for warmer weather.  There are guide books to the trails and paths of various degrees of difficulty that lead to places of interest and viewpoints up in the mountains.  Plenty to come back for.

Sunday 4 March 2018

Toboggan ride

The toboggans are of a wicker construction, built on wooden runners beneath.  They are pushed and steered (and for a brief stretch, pulled) by fit guys dressed in traditional white, with straw boaters, and in February, blue tops against the 17°C cold.

They are very much a tradition, of little practical use today, but the tourists keep it alive, and the locals seem to be happy with this.

Saturday 3 March 2018

Walking in Funchal -3

We came across the central market in Funchal.  It's mostly for produce and fish to supply the local restaurants and households, but tourists are also catered for.  You can buy T-shirts, bottles of Madeira, coffee, the local punch called puncha (by the glass or bottle).

The ugly, long black fish you can see laid out on the slabs is identified as Scabbard fish, sometimes mistranslated as swordfish.  It tastes better than it looks, with a fine delicate flavour that goes well with a light wine sauce, or with the local sweet bananas.

Also to be found in Funchal is the Madeira wine factory.  A guided visit, followed by a tasting, is a must of course, and we went in the afternoon.  The wine is fermented not in the cellar, but on the upper floor, to benefit from the heat in Summer that speeds fermentation.  The ceiling that you see when on the ground floor is supported by huge oak beams that are themselves supported on thick oak (or stone) columns.  They support a lot of weight.  Beware of termites!

I always like to see the old tools and machinery that are often found in museums to this or that traditional process.  They were built to do a specific job well, and to last for ever.   Not a philosophy to be found much these days, it seems to me.

Thursday 1 March 2018

Walking in Funchal -2

Walking away from the yellow fort towards the town centre, we come across various shops selling household goods for locals, and touristy stuff for tourists.  One thing I notice is that there is a surprising amount of goods on offer made of cork.

I remember that some time ago I went to see The Eden Project somewhere in the Southwest of England.  I wasn't particularly impressed, but I remembered a little screed about cork production.  It was about the time when plastic artificial corks were starting to be used, and the Australians were starting to ship wine in bottles with screw-off tops.  The point was made that the use of cork for ummm... corks meant that the trees were cared for, and the replacement by plastic corks could lead to their extinction.

Portugal produces about 50% of the world's cork, and if you can see a big fall coming in your most important market, then you have a big problem.  The response has been to process cork into a leather substitute.  It is then turned into purses, backpacks, handbags, hats; pretty much anything small that you might make out of leather.  It's vegan-compatible too, and very light.  You can dye it pastel shades.  I bought a hat, Anita bought a backpack.

A bit farther on is the cathedral.  I went inside to take some pics, but there was a service going on, so I just stood in the doorway and snapped.  And a jazz quartet setting up, featuring a creative percussion instrument (cheap to make, too)?

And finally on this stretch of the walk, some gardens, right in the centre of town.

Walking in Funchal -1

So we arrive in the hotel shuttle bus, at the central bus station.  It's on a stretch of flat land between the mountains and the sea.  We set off parallel to the coast, towards the yellow fort.  There seems to be no shortage of cats, some thin and scrawny, others well-fed.  We pass occasional plates of dog- or cat- food tucked away in corners, set out for the scavengers.  A big battle-scarred bruiser of a tom cat  guards his owner's car in front of a decorative door.

A little path behind the fort leads us to a bar where we had the best coffee we found on the island, and where we sat outside and watched the birds, the fishers and the tourist boats.

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