October 2017

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This has the potential to be an excruciatingly depressing month: no more drying washing outside, the onset of Christmas becoming increasingly unignorable, clocks going back so that it’s dark by mid-afternoon, having to turn the TV up loud to combat the sound of the boiler burning gas you can’t afford… I could go on. I know that some people love autumn and talk wistfully about log fires, woolly jumpers and bobble hats, mulled wine and cosiness. I am aware of these people and they are not normal. Who in their right mind would choose wrapping up in heavy clothing with a teddy bear and a Horlicks over sitting in thirty degrees of sunshine wearing nothing but bright red disco shorts?

No, I won’t be posting a picture of that.

Just walked into a small kitchen where I work. They say that the sense of smell is the most evocative of all our senses. I could actually smell it from about ten metres away and was thrust back immediately into 1973. What could possibly have such a profound effect, I hear you say.

Vesta – Beef Curry with Rice

There was no doubt about it. Not a chance that I was mistaken.

In order to combat the misery that I highlight in the first paragraph, I have been away. The island of Sal in Cape Verde. Over thirty degrees in the shade, up in the forties in the sunshine. Find something to moan about there, I hear you say. Okay, I’ll do my best.DSC03158

First of all, there’s the wildlife. Here we have the Orb-Weaver spider. Now, I took photographs of these in the UK a while ago and they are tiny. These in Sal are not. This was taken from about fifty feet away. They are completely harmless, so I’m told, but that doesn’t stop them from being the stuff of nightmares. Their spiny body is bright green and I got the distinct impression that they were all whispering about us.

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And our scary spider wasn’t the only visitor. We also had a resident Praying Mantis. He was pretty cool, I suppose (I’m presuming it was a ‘he’. I have no experience of sexing Praying Mantis’s) but he still gets the pulse racing when you open the door and he’s just hanging from the frame an inch or two away from your nose. As far as I could tell, he was changing colour depending on what he was standing on (either that or the alcohol was having an unusual effect). In the picture here he appears not to be changing colour. That, I imagine, is just so that I look stupid pretending that it did.

The island is half-way down the side of Africa, 16.4ºN. That’s about level with the north of Senegal so that, I imagine, is why it’s hot. Which is how I like it. However, it’s not conducive with any amount of activity. A hundred yard stroll across the beach (with 90+% humidity) saps the strength faster than you can imagine. So, it is a holiday destination which requires plenty of relaxation. And the Riu Palace in Sal is well equipped for that. Unfortunately, all the outside seating areas are hijacked by the smokers. The only place you can escape from them is in you room. Even around the pool, it’s a problem. And I know that smacks of intolerance but so what. I was unable to sit outside and breath clean air. I think it’s okay to be intolerant of that. All they have to do is provide more areas (plenty of space for that) and have them as non-smoking. Even the reception area reeked from smoke drifting in.
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The local town of Santa Maria had a small pier that was bustling with life. People selling fish, people catching fish, people playing music, jumping off the side into the sea. Kids running round. Amazing place. And all the people were lovely. This is clearly their space and we were made to feel completely welcome. There was a certain lack of health and safety but that made it all the more appealing. No railings, no big ugly signs telling you that water is wet and you can’t breathe under it. I think if this was in England then it would be cordoned off and unsuitable for people to access. We are poorer for it.

The town appears very poor as do the people living there (with notable exceptions). It was difficult not to notice the social divide that seemed to be based on skin colour. The more ‘successful’ people looked Spanish or Portuguese (the islands were owned by Portugal until they banned the slave trade, then it was of no use to them) and the guys desperately trying to sell us stuff or driving taxis were extremely dark. We were only there for seven days so not something I could explore with any chance of success. Rightly or wrongly, I considered the darker guys to be the indigenous people and the European looking guys not. I could be completely off the mark there, I know. But even in the hotel, the desk staff and waiters all were much lighter than the folks cleaning the pool or the toilets or tidying the gardens.
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However, the place is idyllic and everyone seems very happy. I didn’t pick up any sense of danger or tension from anyone. In fact, on a few occasions, when one of the locals either tried to get me to go to his mother’s shop or sell me a piece of art or just engage in conversation, they compared their colour to mine. One guy asked me where I was from. I told him Sheffield in England. He asked me what it was like and I told him he wouldn’t like it there as it rained and snowed and was cold. He insisted that he would love rain and snow, waved his hand up at the sun and said, ‘I don’t need any more of that, I’m black enough.’ and then pressed his arm against mine. ‘You do though,’ he added. So refreshing that our differences can be a source of amusement rather than hate. I didn’t want to come home to the land of extreme nationalism and intolerance.

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In fact, this raised an eyebrow: The cafe of colonialism (I’m guessing that’s what the sign means. I have no Portuguese or any other language, like all good English people, so I’m as bad as those I criticise). I just thought it a little odd that there would be a cafe celebrating what must have been a very dark time. No-one alive can remember slavery but it seems odd that it can be trivialised in this way, if that’s what’s happening. It seems a bit like naming a part of a British city Doodlebug Alley or Blitzkrieg Terrace.

Anyway, that’s as much moaning as I can fit in. The month has nearly finished. The clocks have gone back, the boiler is cranking away and the supermarkets are full of Christmas Tat. On a positive note, I went for a run last Friday in just shorts and tee-shirt and I managed the final cut of the lawn today with washing on the line. So I’ve spent the entire month mourning the loss of summer when I could have saved up my misery until November, which is next week…

 

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