Friday, December 14, 2012

Humbug! It looks like Xmas is still on

 Now that we are approaching the shortest day and the longest night of the year, new light is being shed on old myths.
The much-debated idea that Jesus Christ was merely a mythical character finds new expression in the latest issue of the newspaper Jornal Algarve 123. The paper quotes an Algarve genealogist, Nuno Inácio, speaking about a friend who died just as he was starting to write a book based on 20 years of delving into the origins of Christianity.
“He died when he had proof of what he wanted to prove: that the Biblical Jesus Christ never existed….. Jesus Christ was created by Paul, as part of a family vendetta,” says Inácio.
Those wishing to examine the “proof” will have to read the newly published 706-page book Apokalipsis based on the research of Inácio’s friend Victor Borges (not to be confused with the Danish musical comedian of the same name who had a home in the Algarve for many years).
Meanwhile, Russia’s former president, now prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev this week remarked on two other subjects thought by many to be steeped in mythology. 
The cameras had been switched off after a TV press conference but a microphone was still live when a journalist asked Medvedev if Russia’s president handled secret files about extraterrestrials when receiving the briefcase he needed to activate Russia's nuclear arsenal.  
Medvedev replied: “Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president of the country is given a special top secret folder. This folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who visited our planet.”
Medvedev continued: “Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country ... I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it may cause panic. More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called ‘Men in Black’."
With tongue still firmly lodged in his cheek, Medvedev’s also discussed Santa Claus – or Father Frost as Santa is known in Russia. “I believe in Father Frost. But not too deeply,” said Medvedev. Anyway, you know, I'm not one of those people who are able to tell the kids that Father Frost does not exist.”
Film star Brad Pitt apparently is one of those people. The husband of Angelina Jolie and father of six recently revealed that when he was a child he was devastated to discover Santa wasn’t real as he had been led to believe. “I thought it was a huge act of betrayal when I was a kid. I didn't like that. When I found out the truth, I was like, ‘why, why, why would you lie to me, why?’”

According to an astonishing number of people around the globe, Santa will not be making his usual rounds this year. That, of course, is because the world is going to end before Christmas – next Friday to be exact. It says so in the Mayan calendar. Well, actually it doesn’t, but recent polls suggest that no fewer than 25 million Americans believe the end is nigh. Widespread alarm about the approaching ‘apocalypse’ has prompted people to stockpile food, fuel and weapons before going underground. Children across the planet are said to be scared to the point of suicide. Inmates in a Russian women’s prison experienced a “collective mass psychosis” so intense that their wardens had to summon a priest to calm them. Authorities in France are banning a flood of visitors from taking refuge in a supposedly sacred mountain said to contain an alien spaceship. It is believed to be the place that will protect a lucky few from Armageddon. 
Happily, Mayan scholars have pooh-poohed the notion and the large Mayan population in the Mexican state of Yucatán have scheduled a festival next Friday to celebrate the fact that the Mayan calendar does not predict any disaster at all.
The NASA space agency, through leading astrophysicist David Morrison, has described the December 21st doomsday prediction as just another modern hoax. Morrison has dismissed all the chatter about ‘End Times’ caused by a meteor strike, a solar flare or a polar shift as baloney. Despite what creationists believe, most scientists are agreed that the Earth is more than four billion years old and probably has another billion or so to go.
So, that’s that sorted. Phew! Now all we have to worry about is the Christmas shopping and getting into the festive spirit.
Bah! Humbug!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cheers to those helping save corks!

Getting into the spirit of Christmas, Ireland’s biggest selling newspaper, the Sunday Independent, ran an article in its last issue that will be welcomed by all in the Algarve and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula who side with corks in the War of the Stoppers.
The article was a timely reminder that market forces controlling how wine bottles are capped are still rampant and working against corks. Despite a reported cork resurgence in recent years, screw caps and plastic stoppers favoured by New World wine producers have  captured at least 20% of the market.
The Sunday Independent quoted the World Wildlife Fund in reporting that an estimated three-quarters of the western Mediterranean’s cork oak forests could be lost within 10 years. The plastic and screw top momentum could take up to 80% of the wine bottle market well before that.
While doing what it can to help, the WWF continues to express serious concern about a possible disastrous scenario. “Cork forests – home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and Iberian imperial eagle – have been protected and valued due to the centuries-old demand for cork in the wine industry. But the increasingly popular use of alternative stoppers threatens this environmentally and economically sustainable industry and leaves cork forests unprotected.”
Portugal produces about half of the cork harvested annually worldwide. In the past 10 years, cork forests in the Algarve have reportedly declined by 28%. One firm is said to have seen a fall of 70%, with its cork products now being used only for sparkling wine bottles.
The harvesting of cork oak, with the bark totally renewing itself after each nine-year harvest, offers one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use. Cork oak woodlands provide a livelihood for 10,000 people in southern Portugal and many thousands more in southern Spain and parts of France, Italy Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. It is not only these livelihoods that are in danger if the demand for cork dwindles as feared.
The worry is that market forces may lead to the woodlands being felled to make way for other cash crops. “Cork oak forests also play a key role in maintaining watersheds, preventing erosion and keeping soils healthy, says the World Wildlife Fund. “They are a great example of balanced conservation and economic development. Their preservation is vital for the well-being of the Mediterranean region.”
If they are not preserved, climate change and erosion could bring about desertification. If that happened, the natural undergrowth, wild animals and birds the oak woodlands now support would be displaced or driven to extinction. Livestock, such as black pigs free-ranging on acorns, would no longer have their traditional pastures.
Cork is so crucial ecomonically that the Portuguese government has declared the industry’s  survival “a national cause.” Scientists are hellping the cause with laboratory investigations designed to improve the quality of cork products and by introducing a new European protocol to certify standards. Reuters reported recently that Spain’s cork-producing regions had set scientists the task of ensuring that nature’s stoppers are free from any of that infamous ‘cork taint.’
There are pros as well as cons for the synthetic alternatives, but while the War of the Stoppers rages on, the writer of the Sunday Independent article last weekend urged readers to continue to pop corks by saying: “This simple choice is a small but positive gesture towards those Portuguese and Spanish farmers hanging in there. Raise a glass or two to them. I will join you. (O mesmo por favor!) Fill 'em up again, lads.” 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Leveson condemns press on McCanns

In his report proposing stricter regulation of the British press, Lord Justice Leveson cited what he called “outrageous” newspaper stories about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann while on holiday in the Algarve in 2007.
This comes a year after Kate and Gerry McCann made an impassioned plea for tougher press control when they gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry. In doing so last November, they spoke at length of their treatment by the British tabloids. They said they found some of the stories published about them “disgusting” and “offensive.”
Kate McCann said she felt “totally violated"  when the News of the World published her personal diary in which she recorded very private thoughts about her missing daughter. The diary, which had been seized and copied by the Portuguese police, was leaked to the Murdoch tabloid. The paper showed “absolutely no respect for me as a grieving mother,” she told the inquiry. She said she felt like “climbing into a hole and not coming out.” 
Leveson heard how the Daily Express reported there was DNA evidence to show Madeleine’s body had been stored in the spare tyre well of a hire car. It turned out that this allegation was baseless. An analysis conducted in the UK was “inconclusive.” Express Newspapers paid £550,000 damages to the McCann’s in 2008 for inaccurate reporting by the Daily Express and the publisher’s three other titles.
In a relatively small but striking section of his massive report, Leveson devoted almost 12 pages to the McCann family, noting that some papers were “guilty of gross libels” against them. He mentioned in particular the Daily Star, which ran a headline claiming the “hard up” McCanns had sold their daughter.
Whatever many people in Portugal may think about the behaviour of the McCanns as parents at the time of Madeleine’s disappearance, and regardless of the belief among many in this country that somehow they may have been involved, the fact of the matter is they must be presumed to be innocent. In legal terms, the presumption of innocence is the same in Portugal as it is in Britain.
In addition to the McCanns, many other innocent people were caught up in the press frenzy over Madeleine’s disappearance. The investigating Polícia Judiciária were crudely smeared. Individuals in Praia da Luz and elsewhere in the Algarve were directly accused or indirectly harmed by grossly insensitive, inaccurate or totally fabricated stories.
Whatever tougher regulations emerge from the debate now going on in the UK about what form the regulations should take, it is unlikely - thanks to Leveson - that British newspapers will get away with such crassness in future.
The agony of bringing about stricter regulation of the print press in Britain - self-imposed or with statutory underpinning - is just the tip of the iceberg.
Freedom of expression is a precious ideal, but innocent people continue to be widely abused in the digital world, often in the most vitriolic of terms by ranters hiding behind anonymity or pseudonyms. Facebook and Twitter fantasists and fanatics – or barmy bloggers - can carry on blurting out whatever they like with little fear of punishment.
In suggesting that bloggers might like to join his proposed new regulatory system, Leveson noted that some have called the Internet a “wild west." He preferred to think of it as an “ethical vacuum.”  
Those are not outrageous comments. They are probably understatements. The “vacuum” does not look like being filled any time soon - and the “west” is almost certainly going to get wilder. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Time for decisions on Salgados lagoon

In spite of recent torrential rains, the lagoon at Salgados has been empty for nearly two weeks. There is even less water in it now than when the environmental protest campaign got underway at the end of spring. Unlike then, however, the dryness now is normal and not a cause for concern.
When coastal lagoons like Salgados become overfull after heavy rains in autumn or winter, they break out and empty into the sea naturally. It is important that this happens so that the lagoons do not become overladen and eventually overwhelmed by sediments. Usually after 10 days or so of dryness, the basins refill with a mixture of freshwater and seawater. This natural, refreshing process is what is happening right now at Salgados.
It does not mean that all is well there. Far from it. If this popular birdwatching site is to become a stable sanctuary, two things need to be done quickly.
First, the Secretary of State for the Environment must decide, based on advice from the Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente, if an environmental impact study is to be carried out before construction is allowed to begin on the proposed tourist development between Salgados and Praia Grande. An impact study is mandatory in law when a new 18-hole golf course is planned.  In this case the development company may be hoping for a legal loophole. It is believed it has opted to build not a single 18-hole course but two 9-hole courses.  If such a plan circumvented the requirement of an impact study, it would, of course, be preposterous and strenuously opposed by NGO environmental groups. The Secretary of State is expected to make an announcement shortly.
The second urgent matter is to implement an agreed conservation management system so that the water level in the lagoon is under control at all times, especially during the breeding season. Such a system was agreed back in 2008 between all the parties involved in protracted negotiations aimed at protecting Lagoa dos Salgados.
As intended then, water is now being fed into the lagoon from a new, nearby sewage treatment plant. But the agreement to incorporate an overflow system to prevent flooding of the existing Salgados golf course has not yet been implemented. The stumbling block back in 2008 was who should pay for it.
The problem has been compounded by a major inadequacy in Albufeira’s sewage disposal. It is said that as much as 25% of Albufeira’s waste water is at present deposited straight into the sea near the mouth of the lagoon. The plan is to channel this waste through a pipeline to the Salgados treatment plant. It is a separate and much more costly project, but for practical purposes it would have to be carried out in tandem with the management plan. The combined costs would be well over €1 million. The question remains, where is the money going to come from?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting high on ‘bath salts’ sold online

While Portugal has been written off by the media around the world as an economic basket case, there is widespread acclaim for the courageous initative taken by this small country in tackling the scourge of addictive drugs.  A report just released in Lisbon, however, makes it clear that Chinese ‘entrepreneurs’ are revitalising and expanding the international narcotics trade. Young people are being exposed to drugs more than ever.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin as well as marijuana and amphetamines. Possession of more than 10 doses, defined by weight for each drug type, was considered dealing and still very much a crime. Possession of up to 10 daily doses for personal use was still illegal but not punishable as a crime. Instead, it was considered a public order offence - a health problem to be dealt with by counselling sessions or appropriate treatment in special centres.
More than a decade on, is the system working? Most say it is a resounding success. Others claim it has been a complete failure.
The diverse views may be due at least in part to researchers using insufficient data to promote biased preferences for promoting, or blocking, law reform elsewhere.
No one is arguing that the system is perfect. For example, the use of marijuana is still commonplace in the Algarve, especially among teenagers and young adults – and joints nowadays are far stronger than those of yesteryear.
On the other hand, before decriminalisation was introduced, fears were expressed that it might backfire and produce an upsurge in drug abuse and even turn Portugal into a drug tourist haven. That does not seem to have happened.
While the number of people receiving treatment has risen, drug-related court cases have dropped dramatically - and so too have the number of drug-related HIV cases due to sharing dirty needles.
Placing the focus on health rather than crime does not seem to have added to the country’s economic woes either. Expenditure has been transferred from the justice department to the health services.
A number of countries have tentatively introduced the pro-active decriminalisation approach. Even the mighty United States is coming around to following in Portugal’s footsteps.  After 40 years, many analysts in America realise that the ‘war on drugs’, which to date has cost a trillion dollars, is simply not working.
Alarmingly, China has now entered the fray big time. The European Union’s drug monitoring agency based in Lisbon has announced that, for the third consecutive year, a record number of new synthetic substances known as “legal highs” are now available via the Internet. Most are produced in China and to a lesser extent India.
These psychoactive substances are marketed under innocent sounding labels such as ‘bath salts,’ ‘plant food’ and ‘research chemicals,’ but they reproduce the effects of traditional illegal drugs.  
The number of online ‘head shops’ selling Europe’s 10 most popular ‘legal highs’ doubled in twelve months and at last count stood at 759, according to the agency’s latest voluminous report. More than one new psychoactive drug is coming on to the market each week.
Traffickers of cocaine, heroin and other traditional addictive drugs are now facing growing competition from what the agency calls “opportunistic entrepreneurs” pedalling synthetic alternatives, which have the potential for wider and easier distribution.
As if coping with drugs has not been hard enough in the past, this new fast moving market is posing fresh challenges.
For more information:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Oonagh Swift: a colourful, cultured life

13 May 1929 – 25 October 2012

Oonagh Swift, who has died in the Algarve at the age of 83, was a cultured, charismatic and quintessentially Irish figure beloved by people of many nationalities.
While her life in Ireland, London and Portugal was steeped in the arts and literature, many will remember her for her beauty and her mischievous smile.
Born in Dublin, she was the third youngest of eight children of Séamus Ryan and Agnes Ryan, née Harding, from County Tipperary. They christened her Agnes Mary, but Oonagh, a Gaelic variation of Agnes, is the name that caught on from an early age.
Her parents were Republican activists during the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921. Her father, a successful, self-made businessman, was a totally committed member of the then fledgling Fianna Fáil party, a senator in De Valera's government and an active supporter of the old IRA.
The best known of her siblings were John Ryan, an artist, man of letters and an influential figure in bohemian Dublin in the 1940s and 50s, and Kathleen Ryan, a famous Irish film actress who appeared in British and Hollywood films between 1947 and 1957. Another brother, Séamus, became a Benedictine priest. Her older sister, Cora, married an Irish politician, Sean Dunn. A younger sister, Íde, became a nun, scholar and author.
After education in Dublin and finishing school in London, Oonagh spent a year in Belgium learning French. She met a Belgian linguist and literary scholar, Prince Alexis Guédroitz, whom she later married in Dublin when she was only 18. They spent time together in Brussels, Paris and Saint Tropez, returning to Dublin for the birth of their daughter, Ania.
It was in Dublin, after her separation from Prince Alexis, that she met the aspiring Irish artist Patrick Swift who would become her second husband. Through Patrick, she came to know the likes of writers Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, John Jordan, John McGahern and artists Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and Nano Reid. Brendan Behan was also a friend but, ironically, Oonagh had first met him through Alexis.
In 1954, Oonagh accompanied Patrick on a study visit to Italy, returning to Dublin the following year to give birth to their first child, Kate. On moving to London, the Swifts became further ensconced in creative bohemian life. The French House and the Coach and Horses pubs in Soho were popular meeting places for some of the most innovative artists and writers of the day. So was their flat in Westbourne Terrace W2 where Oonagh was able to feed the hungry, if not sate the gargantuan avante-garde thirsts. Frequent visitors included the South African-born poet David Wright with whom Patrick founded the quarterly review of literature and the arts, X magazine.
Dublin and London were the Swifts’ main stamping grounds throughout the 1950s and into the 60s, but then they chose a totally new working and family environment. In 1962, while still in their thirties, they pitched up in the remote and almost unheard of fishing village of Carvoeiro. It would remain their home for the rest of their lives.
As one of the first expatriate families in the Algarve, the Swifts totally embraced and integrated into the local community in a way few foreigners do nowadays. Their many Portuguese friends ranged from the humblest of village folk to leaders such as Francisco de Sá Carneiro who became Portugal’s prime minister.
Patrick and Oonagh established a pottery near the village of Porches with a renowned Portuguese artist, Lima de Freitas, who many years later would become the minister of culture in Lisbon. Their first studio was in a 17th-century cottage. It was there that they first applied old designs and motifs to handmade ceramic plates and panels. The revival of a dying craft turned into a small business. As demand from residents and visitors increased, the studio moved into larger premises close by.
After Patrick’s death in 1983, Oonagh managed Porches Pottery for more than 20 years, employing and training a considerable number of local craftswomen and building up a high reputation internationally. The creative side of the business was led by her daughter Kate, an outstanding artist in her own right, until Kate’s untimely death in 2004. Upon retirement, Oonagh was able to hand over control of the business to her two younger daughters, Juliet and Stella.
In 1987, Oonagh married David Wright, whose wife had died two years after Patrick. David, a prolific author and editor as well as a poet, had co-written with Patrick three books on Portugal: Algarve (1965), Minho and North Portugal (1968) and Lisbon (1971). Oonagh was very much involved in all three publications having previously written a book herself with the Canadian poet and novelist Elizabeth Smart. It was a book on French cookery contained 400 recipes “to add pleasure and variety to English mealtimes.”
Throughout the intellectually and culturally glittering years, the Swift home near Carvoeiro was a meeting place for a rotating cast of overseas visitors from the world of painting, literature and photography. The conversation and the laughter, like the wine, always flowed copiously. Music came into it too. Even in her more sedentary years, Oonagh had a wonderful voice. In addition to Irish songs, she would perfectly accompany recordings by Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.
After David died in 1994, there was a saying that if a book were written about Oonagh it should be called ‘The Prince, the Painter and the Poet.” That sort of jibe appealed to her keen sense of humour. She was often heard to come out with banter like, “he’s as blind as a bat flying through a thunderstorm.”
A lover of life to the full and an avid reader of everything from European classics to the latest bestsellers, until the very end Oonagh would quote from memory such poets as Yeats and Auden with a glass of wine in her hand and a twinkle in her eye.
The funeral service was held in the parish church at Porches.
Oonagh is survived by her daughters: Juliet (pictured left), Stella and Ania (right).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Holiday hell: shut out and shut in!

Sue and Peter McCall of County Durham, England, are no strangers to the Algarve. They have been coming on holiday here for 28 years. On their latest visit, the third this year, they stayed for the whole of October in a rental villa near Carvoeiro. It was particularly memorable.
“Wednesday / Thursday was not good,” Sue said in an email to a friend back home. “It poured so much we had a power cut. Thank heavens I was already in bed and Peter was locking up for the night, ‘cos when I say it was pitch black, I mean pitch black. No street lights. Peter had to feel his way to the bedroom with the light from his iPad.”
Sue added: “We're back to normal now. It’s 20 degrees at the moment. Nice for sitting out in the day, but cold from 6pm on. To keep the place warm we have the radiators on all evening.”
Apart from the weather, it didn’t stay ‘normal’ for long.
“We had real shenanigans yesterday morning,” Sue told me.
Peter, the more technically minded of the two, put the situation into context. “We had rented a villa that had recently had new uPVC windows and shutters fitted all round. Coupled with some solid steel gates at the courtyard entrance, it was a bit like Alcatraz.
“We were told that just outside the gate there was a digital safe containing the gate keys. Then we were given the house keys plus a second gate key for general use. The new uPVC main door would close and lock on a gentle push. There was no handle on the outside of the door, a worrying combination, as we were to discover.”
 Sue takes up the story: “As we closed the main door and set off for the beach bar, Peter thought I had the door key. I thought HE had it.”
Peter adds a bit more detail: “‘No’, I murmured, ‘I don’t have the key.’  Three beats.... mouth starting to go dry…. she started to get that martyred look on her face that all women develop at an early age and use when things start to get tricky. I looked at the solid steel gates. Locked. I pushed on the main house door just in case. Locked too. Two choices: fall on the ground and start to hyperventilate, or call for help.”
According to Peter, this is what happened next:  “I said as sweetly as I could, despite gritted teeth, ‘ring the house management.’ Sue said, ‘I haven’t got the number.’
‘It’s not on your phone?’
‘No,’ she said in that careful voice you use when trapped with someone who might be about to become unpredictable.
‘It’s on a piece of paper in the house notes’ file they gave us,’ I said, trying to avoid a tic that was developing in my right eye.
‘I haven’t got the paper.’
‘Well where is it?’
I tailed off as her eyes shifted to the door of the house. It was still locked.”
Fortunately, Sue had the number of a couple of close friends who were holidaying nearby. They came over quickly. Peter shouted out the code and they got the spare key from the safe.
“Freedom!” thought Peter.
Well, no. It liberated them from the garden, but how were they going to get back into the house?
“Thankfully, I found a little scrap of paper in my handbag,” said Sue. “I’d torn it from a sheet in the house the previous day and scrawled the management number on it rather than sit with the huge house notes’ folder on my knee when I wanted to ring to ask them to get our maid to do some ironing. I'd turned the scrap of paper into a shopping list. Luckily, I hadn’t binned it. It was still in my bag!”
With a mixture of hope and trepidation, Sue rang the management number. Mercifully, it wasn’t pitch black, pouring with rain or cold.
“The young lady from the management company came after about 10 minutes. She had a key to the main door of the house. But we still couldn’t get in because our key was in the lock on the other side.”
The management lady then rang the maid, knowing that she (the maid) had a key to the kitchen yard and the kitchen door. The maid came over and was able to get into the yard. The trouble was she couldn’t open the kitchen door because, like the main door, it too had a key in the lock inside.
“We hadn’t put it there!” insisted Sue.
Anyway, to Peter and Sue’s amazement the maid straightened her key ring to make a wire lock-pick. She pushed it into the kitchen lock and wiggled it about to try to push the inside key out the other side.  
“It didn’t work, but she's wasted as a maid,” said Sue. “She had a lot more gumption than us. I suppose we can claim that we were so dumbstruck with the gravity of our situation - and a possible huge bill for a call out to a specialist locksmith - that our synapses by then had suffered a total shutdown.”
The resourceful maid fetched stepladders. She, Peter and the management lady started scaling fences, climbing walls and putting chairs up against windows to try and find a vulnerable spot. The new uPVC windows proved not to be of the highest quality. The management lady managed to force one open. This set off the burglar alarm. Happily, no one seemed to take any notice. 
“The maid managed to climb through the window and disable the alarm before the cavalry arrived,” said Sue.
“A trusting neighbourhood is a wonderful thing,” said Peter later while in contemplative mood. “As for the rest, we were profusely and lavishly apologetic.”
“To say we were relieved is the biggest understatement ever,”  Sue added. “ Sherpa McCall needed a very strong drink. And I needed a new pair of pants!”
Invigorated by their latest Algarve holiday, the McCalls have already booked accommodation for a five-week stay next spring. They will be near Carvoeiro for all of May and the first week of June – in a different villa.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama the favourite by far in Europe

It won’t make the slightest difference to the outcome of the US presidential election, but it is interesting to note that the overwhelming majority of people in Portugal seem to favour Barack Obama over Mitt Romney.
A straw poll conducted by United Press International found that 97% of Portuguese would like to see Obama voted back to the White House. Similar percentages were recorded in the Netherlands and Germany, and only slightly less in several other EU countries.
The poll, which surveyed 26,000 people in 30 countries outside the US, showed Israel as the only country where more than half the population would support Romney. The poll was conducted several weeks ago. The TV presidential debates don’t seem to have substantially changed opinions.
A BBC World Service opinion poll this week surveyed 21,797 people in 21 countries, but Portugal was not one of them. All four European countries included – France, the UK, Germany and Spain – showed Obama’s popularity far ahead of Romney’s.   
“Obama remains widely popular abroad, and there are signs that many leaders are unprepared for a Romney presidency,” said the Washington Post this week. “From the Scottish Highlands to the heel of Italy, it’s Obama country all the way.”
Romney’s great-great grandparents came from England and his father-in-law was Welsh. He spent two years in France as a Mormon missionary. But none of this endears Europeans to him - or him to Europe. He sees Europe as dysfunctional.
Conservative leaders in Europe seem to prefer the Democrat rather than the Republican candidate. Angela Merkel is thought to be pro-Obama even though her centre-right Christian Democratic Party traditionally supports the Republicans. While Obama has been supportive of bailouts, Romney has been harshly critical of the handling of the euro crisis and may try to reign in America’s contributions to the International Monetary Fund.
The third and last presidential debate focused on foreign policy, but Europe got only the briefest of mentions in passing. Obama said “Our alliances have never been stronger: in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, with Israel." That was it. Romney did not utter the word Europe at all. “Point taken: foreign politics plays no role in the American election,” said Le Monde.
The Guardian said: “Failure to mention Europe may be just the way the Europeans want it. After talking to French and European diplomats, Libération's Washington blog sensed they were OK with the fact that Europe had ‘disappeared from America's radar’, happy that Obama was not blaming the eurozone crisis as a source of US economic woe, and that Romney had stopped riffing on the dangers of ‘European socialism’.”
“Under a headline, “Debate reveals outdated US foreign policy,” an article in Der Spiegel  said “the two candidates appear stuck in the Bush worldview, and reveal a global power on the decline.”
Portugal’s Diário de Noticias today found something more interesting to report on than the presidential debate. It gave front-page prominence to a revelation from President Obama’s wife, Michelle, about her husband’s underwear – or lack of.  Asked on American television  if the president preferred boxers or briefs, Mrs Obama said: “none of the above.” 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Positive news about Portugal needed

Reuters marked the latest phase in the nation’s economic crisis with the headline, “Portugal faces suffocating 2013 budget.”  
The lead paragraph in an Associated Press report on the same day said that “Portugal's government is taking the bailed-out country deeper into austerity, announcing Monday sharp tax increases next year that risk worsening a recession and stoking public discontent.”
The South China Morning Post ran the story below an AP photograph of riot police guarding the parliament building in Lisbon near a fire set by protesters against the austerity measures.
A couple of days later the Economist commented: “Seldom have protesters, economists and politicians been so united in describing the plans: ‘brutal’, ‘a crime against the middle class’, a ‘fiscal atomic bomb’. Few agree with (Finance Minister) Mr Gaspar’s claim that ‘this is the only possible budget’ and that to question it is to risk being subjected to a ‘dictatorship of debt’ with Portugal condemned to depend on its official creditors indefinitely.”
As the story moved on, the Washington Post declared in a headline that “Bailed-out Portugal raises $2.4 bln in debt auction despite economic crisis.” Bloomberg Businessweek’s take on the same subject gave no hint of achievement: “Portugal raises less that maximum amount set at bill sale.”
A dispatch run by Canadian Press among others was about as good as it got this week: “The junior party in bailed-out Portugal’s coalition government has ended days of political tension by endorsing a plan for severe tax increases next year, ensuring the new austerity measures are approved in Parliament.”
An important side issue in this grim economic saga is that not only has it created great despondency in this country, but also made Portugal internationally synonymous with despair.
Time magazine recently ran an article by Bill Clinton entitled ‘The Case for Optimism.’ The former American president opened with the following observation. “Our world is more interdependent than ever. Borders have become more like nets than walls, and while this means that wealth, ideas, information and talent can move freely around the globe, so can the negative forces shaping our shared fates. The financial crisis that started in the U.S. and swept the globe was further proof that - for better and for worse - we can't escape one another.”
Optimism about Portugal has become hard to find, but there was a welcome respite amidst the reportage of economic gloom. “Portugal: small but mighty in the world of wine,” declared a headline in the Huffington Post, which claims more than a billion page views monthly on its worldwide news network.
We could do with more of that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dumpling voyage postponed

Nick Cole’s dream of sailing off into the Atlantic on Dumpling is in limbo – at least for the time being.
He took extended leave from his work as a dentist in the UK to work solidly on Dumpling for the past six months. But it has proved to be just too big a challenge.
The niggling things that still need to be done are relatively small but there are too many of them and time has run out. To make things worse, deep depressions are developing over the Atlantic. Favourable northerly breezes between here and Madeira have changed into adverse southerly winds. Storms are brewing.
“When I took her for a test sail in perfect conditions, I felt no joy because I found so many things not working. I feel so physically and mentally drained that if I went now, it would not be with relish. I want to go with gusto.
“If I was 39 again, I would not hesitate to deal with the remaining problems as I sailed. But this time I don't want, for example, to find myself in the path of a fast moving fishing boat and no navigation lights due to a flat battery as happened before. No, I want Dumpling to be properly seaworthy.
 So Nick has put off his planned voyage until next spring. He is arranging to have the boat lifted out of the water to spend the winter tucked up on the dockside in the fishermen’s harbour at Portimão.
The postponement is obviously a big disappointment - but in no way is Nick abandoning his dream. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dumpling’s departure delayed!

Today was supposed to have been the day, but, sure enough, Sod’s Law stepped in.
Mention of it at the end of our last report had nothing to do with premonition or tempting fate. The fact is, if something can go wrong, it will – especially on a delightfully unsophisticated sailing boat like Dumpling.
Nick Cole admits that over the long hot summer, with a tight budget and an October deadline, he cut a few corners in trying to refit his 10-tonne, 13-metre ketch.
“As time passed, I had to accelerate the work. I put things off in the process. After we got Dumpling back in the water, I made lots of little discoveries. I found too many things half finished.” 
And then there were one or two mishaps. The bowsprit got slightly biffed in a dodgy quayside manoeuvre. A paraffin lamp mysteriously smoked out the galley and head one night.
Even when Nick finally managed to get the rigging sorted, he still could not go for a trial sail because of a two-day delay in loading 140 sandbags of ballast.
Eventually they had to be lugged on board across the deck of a fishing boat moored between Dumpling and the quayside. While this was going on, maritime police officers dropped by to check that the contents of the 25 kilo bags really was sand.  
Meanwhile, Nick discovered an underwater plug was leaking where Dumpling’s propeller shaft would normally be – if she had an engine and a propeller, that is. The leak was “no big deal.” But then he found a more serious one in the bow.
“I was a bit morose for a few hours after that. You must be sure everything is okay before you set out. Unless the boat is right, you can’t go.”
He has now reluctantly concluded that not only will his departure be delayed, but he will have to curtail his plan to sail via Madeira and the Azores to the Hebrides off the west coast of mainland Scotland. For now, Madeira will probably be as far as he can go.
Despite these disappointing developments, Nick, his wife Sally and one of their twin sons visiting from England, David, manage to sit down on Dumpling’s deck occasionally and have a laugh. 
“Boats bring out the Laurel and Hardy in people,” says Nick.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Never a dull moment on Dumpling

Dumpling was placed in a quayside position exactly as a top harbour official directed, but no sooner was her bottom wet than another official came along and said she couldn’t stay there.
“Could she not just stay tonight? Nick Cole asked.
“No,” was the blunt reply.
The space allocated to Dumpling had suddenly been given to a fishing boat apparently in need of a power line for minor repairs.
The first indication of trouble was when another fishing boat tried to nab the space while Dumpling was still airborne over the quayside. You can see it trying to muscle in on the right in this photo.
A harbour official arrived as Nick and his crane driver were preparing to put Dumpling’s masts in position. The official insisted that as soon as the masts were in, she had to move.
So, late in the afternoon of what had been a spectacularly eventful day, Dumpling had to be hauled a short distance along the quay to sit alongside a bigger sailing vessel charmingly named Atlantic Rose.  
As Atlantic Rose occupied the inside position next to the quay, Nick would have to cross her deck every trip to and from Dumpling. Luckily, Atlantic Rose is owned by a friendly German couple who don’t mind. Still,  coming and going with heavy gear is not possible. Another plan had to be devised to later take on board three and a half tonnes of sand as ballast, plus a month’s food and water. For that, Dumpling will have to move again.
Today, there has been no activity on the fishing boat that successfully muscled in, or on the smaller fishing boat  in need of repairs. Together they are still occupying Dumpling’s original mooring.  A bit irritating.
Tickled, perhaps, by the sight of Dumpling twice in mid-air, Nick has spent time aloft himself. First time (pictured here) was when he was hoisted by crane to unsnarl a sling on the main mast. He has since been busy up there on the main and mizzen securing shrouds and stays, or “tuning the rig” as it’s more romantically called.
Nick is spending his second night on board after the relaunch. He’s starting to feel at home on Dumpling once again. He says he tends to wake up every time a rope creaks, but the good news is that the paraffin stove works well and the ‘head’ is flushing just fine.
The other good news is that the forecast for Sunday, the day Nick plans to leave, seems ideal: wind northwest force 4. That sort of weather should see him safely through to Madeira without problems.  
“So far, so good,” says Nick. 
      But of course you can't rule out Sod's Law!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dumpling – back where she belongs

A sailing boat looks odd propped up in the countryside amid gnarled olive trees and dry stone walls. What looks even odder is a sailing boat in mid-air. It all looked very odd indeed yesterday (Wednesday) morning -  nerve-rackingly so – as Dumpling was hoisted over telephone wires, before being lowered on to a truck to be transported back where she belongs – in the water.
“I could do with another day,” said Nick Cole, as he worked feverishly on essential last minute tasks before the huge crane and truck arrived.
He could have done with another two days, another week, another month. Fastidious improvements and fiddling can go on for ever, but time had run out.
Dumpling had been parked at Nick and Sally Cole’s rural retreat for years. She had been painstakingly refitted stem to stern, intensively so over the last six months. Now, with the red antifouling on her hull gleaming in the early morning sunlight, and the fresh white and blue paint on her masts and spars barely dry, it was time to go.
Suddenly, Dumpling’s weight was a worry. Apparently the crane could only manage a maximum of nine tonnes. Would Dumpling make the weight limit? Would she be able to leave at all? As the crane took the strain and started lifting, the weight registered as six tonnes, seven tonnes, eight, nine…. ten!
To great relief, the crane’s capabilities turned out to be more than adequate. After a careful loading operation that lasted all morning, the truck drove Dumpling on the scenic route through beautiful countryside to Silves, over the bridge and on past Lagoa, to the fishing harbour at Portimão.
It took most of the  afternoon to get Dumpling safely into the water.  It had all been rather tense, but it had all gone better than anyone could have expected.
Nick had confided at the start of the day that he was “excited but anxious.”  Now he was obviously knackered.
Sitting next to deep-sea trawlers and navy vessels, Dumpling looked small and vulnerable. And that’s when things went unexpectedly wrong….
We’ll talk about that later today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nick Cole - Daring to fulfill a dream

Nick Cole, an Anglo-Australian with strong Algarve connections, is about to reach a key moment in fulfilling a dream that has been brewing for six decades.
At an age when most professional men are looking forward to taking it easy, Nick has taken on a daunting physical and mental challenge. Having spent virtually every day for the past six months single-handedly refitting a sailing boat he built by himself in the 1980s, he is preparing to put her back in the water and set off alone from Portimão into the wide blue yonder.
His boat is called Dumpling.  Nick delights in her simplicity. Most sailing boats nowadays are high-tech, luxury items, but Dumpling has no engine, square sails and is equipped only with basic necessities. She's "green".
Nick's latest adventure is fostered by a seemingly insatiable wanderlust. Born in Melbourne, Australia, he went off with his parents to Singapore at the age of two. A year later, they took him to England where his father set up a dental practice in London’s Harley Street. After graduating from Cardiff Dental School, Nick started his first job - back in Melbourne. He was soon on his way again, to a string of far-flung locum appointments in Somerset, London (where he met his wife Sally), the far north of Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.
He took a break from dentistry, bought a 45-foot trading boat in Java, sailed her to Bali for a refit and later “pranged” her on Christmas Island.
After a short spell working in Charing Cross Hospital, the intrepid traveller followed in his father’s footsteps and bought a dental practice in Harley Street. That was in 1979. A busy decade followed. Sally gave birth to twin boys. Nick created Dumpling from a design he had found in a book in a Melbourne public library. He completed a master’s degree in advanced restorative dentistry before sailing Dumpling to the south of Portugal where he opened a dental practice in Lagoa in 1990.
Six years on, the twins, David and James, completed their secondary education at the Porches International School. The family returned to England so that the boys could go to university. Since then, Nick has worked as a dentist in various places, all close to the sea: in the port of Plymouth, on St Helena island in the South Atlantic, Totnes in south Devon,  the Isles of Scilly, the Shetland Islands, North Wales, Scarborough in North Yorkshire, and the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.
His passion for sailing was aroused as a child by the stories of English author and journalist Arthur Ransome. His childhood hero was Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail around the world single-handed. Nick greatly admires Slocum’s qualities: “He was skilled, brave, enduring, modest, kind, funny.”
So is Nick.
Having sailed dinghies and small boats from his school days, the design that took his fancy in the Melbourne library was an 11.6 metre ketch, gaff rigged and with square sails on the main mast.
After four years in the building, the voyage on Dumpling from England to Portugal in 1989 was most eventful.
Nick recalls with typical self-deprecation: “I got a bit beaten up in Biscay and felt like a hero when I dropped anchor just east of Sagres. But I felt like a berk shortly afterwards when I ran aground off Ferragudo.”
Worse was to come on a subsequent trip off Portugal’s south coast.  “I went out without checking the weather forecast and got clobbered. Lost my mast and had to sail back under jury rig. Tried to get into Portimão but missed. I anchored off Praia da Rocha but had to be rescued by a Portuguese naval patrol boat.”
Dumpling has been standing propped up on a grassy patch in the Cole’s rural home near Silves ever since.
Over the past four years, Nick has periodically taken time off from private practise in the UK to restore her, always on a tight budget.  Crucially, he has enjoyed the unrelenting understanding and endorsement of his wife and sons. Dumpling now has a fully repaired hull, new masts, better accommodation, a proper galley and a ‘head’ that works well.
It was on the remote island of St Helena that he came up with the idea of getting back to an old-fashioned unpowered sailing boat with a hold for transporting traditional cargoes. All rather arcane and looked down upon by those who spend most of their time anchored in expensive marinas, but Nick has incorporated most of his fundamental ideas.  Dumpling has no way of going anywhere without wind in her sails. Her navigation lights will be powered by a solar panel but all other lighting will come from paraffin lamps, candles or a head torch. While a small GPS will be on hand for emergencies, he will navigate by the sun and the stars - just like his hero Joshua Slocum.
Dumpling will be back in the water next week and departing - first stop Madeira – a few days later. Initially anyway, Nick does not plan to sail around the world like Slocum. But who knows?

* We will report on the  final preparations in our next blog and keep track of Dumpling’s progress thereafter.