Saturday, 23 July 2011

They Will Never Learn

This bloke used to be Prime Minister and is now engaged in saving the world. Blair Still Favours Euro. Read also the linked Independent europhile liberal hand-wringing lunacy. There will be blood.


It is the Saturday of the Lord's test, the incomparable Sachin Tendulkar is batting and even the most diehard Englishman wills him to make a century this afternoon and thus fill one of the few voids in his career record. At the same stage I turn on 5 Live to seek an update on the endlessly fascinating Tour de France. What do I get? Scottish Premier League football commentary. It's 23 July you idiots, what are you thinking of?

How Not To Behave

Tiger Woods and Steve Williams - was there ever quite so charmless a pair of plonkers. Now that nice Tiiger has sacked poor little Stevie and said Stevie has thrown his rattle out of the pram - a pram, indeeed a rattle, paid for by the sporting world's most infamous lothario - Pair of Plonkers. Shit give I none, as my old Jedi master used to say.

How To Behave

Rarely has a sporting outcome given me such pleasure as Darren Clarke's victory in last week's Open Championship. Skillful, smiling, modest and magnanimous, it seems that good guys do sometimes win. A word also for the two Americans who shared the runner-up spot - Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were impeccable and charming in the glare of defeat. Top stuff.

Travelogue: Postscript

Been home a week now and it's been a long week but more of that to follow.

The Tenth Circle of Hell: Miami International
The previous entry was scripted at San Jose Airport as we bid our farewells to Costa Rica - and despite the first impressions (involving flagrant thieving bastardy) those farewells were genuinely fond. But the holiday had its last few little tricks to play on us and these principally involved our established enemies, American Airlines and Miami International Airport. American managed to bollocks up the check-in process at San Jose so that we damn nearly missed our connection at Miami, while the staff at Miami (with a couple of  honourable exceptions) did their level best to compound the error and force us to spend another unwanted stopover on their grubby floors. The place is an unmitigated shithole devoid of any charm or redeeming semblance of organisation. As you stand in the unregulated queue to clear Immigration (as you have to do even if merely transitting - what the hell is that about?) you can see on the wall of the holy land on the far side a welcoming photograph of the Commander in Chief himself, St Barack of Obama. If he's got any sense he'll tell them to take it down rather than pollute his brand by association with the wilful intransigence and rudeness. Miami International Airport is state owned.

A small note of thanks to the caricature foul mannered Frenchman sitting next to Sharon on the plane who took such umbrage at her quite reasonable need to visit the facilities just once in a nine hour flight. His own bladder control was I suppose admirable though it is quite conceivable that he had simply taken the expedient step of pissing himself. Smelt like it. Anyway, many thanks monsieur, it is a pleasant distraction to have racial stereotypes reinforced during a transatlantic flight.

Travelogue VIII: Airport Bloody Airport

Airport Bloody Airport

(at San Jose 15 July)

I enjoy the actual act of air travel. A sense of wonder still overtakes me every time a plane lifts off the ground. What a piece of work is man that he calculated how to do this and made the experience accessible to the masses. But what a piece of work is man that made airport security and regulations necessary. You stand in queues to be searched, re-searched, questioned and stripped of your dignity. But, hell, rules is rules man, it’s the same for every one. But when is a rule not a rule? When it pertains to hand luggage limits that’s when. So departure lounges are full of smug twats carrying multiple oversized bags which serve only to advertise their impoliteness as they absorb all the baggage space in the cabin. It is a law of nature that those who obey the strictures will board last of all and it is their precious souvenirs which will be smashed to smithereens by heedless cabin crew slamming shut the overfilled lockers. This is the only thing Ryannair get right – strict enforcement of hand luggage allowances. All the rest endorse the taking of the piss out of the obedient by the miscreant.

Here’s a suggestion. If it looks like a suitcase and wheels like a suitcase, it is a sodding suitcase. Check it in you selfish bastard. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

Travelogue VII: Home Thoughts

Home Thoughts

(written over 13 and 14 July at La Fortuna and San Jose, Costa Rica)

Foreign hotels will cause you to watch a lot of CNN and CNN is currently revelling in what it rather hopes is the unravelling of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. All of this triggered by the passing of that dear English institution The Geriatric Wankers’ Weekly (colloquially known as The News of the World) whose despicable methods have begun to be fully exposed. I have blogged about this before and in particular Cameron’s hare-brained employment of Andy Coulson the former GWW  editor who was either right in the thick of the nastiness or just too plain thick to realise what his staff were up to. Neither is a good look. But now for a bit of my contrariness.

Good riddance to bad rubbish
When I was a juvenile wannabe journalist my heroes (probably heroes to all similarly ambitious youngsters) were Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame. Investigative journalism was where it was at – it saved western democracy from itself. Now let us just suppose that Watergate was being investigated now. Is it not likely that phone tapping might help journalists to uncover a truth we would all deem in the public interest? So is what distinguishes the current revelations in fact the utter tastelessness of the objects to which the methods are applied? No decent human being should have wanted to pry into the private life of tragic Milly Dowler, much less hamper the search for her; no decent human being needs or deserves to know about Gordon Brown’s child’s health. The miscreants should be prosecuted, denigrated and put beyond the pale and the readers who gleefully swum around in the putrescence purveyed by the GWW  might handily take a little look at themselves as well.

It reputedly rains a lot back in Blighty but if you really want to see rain try Costa Rica at this time of year. The rain is huge, warm and beautifully tolerable.

Fitness update: have done a bit of guilty swimming here at Volcano Lodge but suspect I have gone up at least one trouser size. Tried some running as well but have exported my calf strain with me. Bollocks.

My favourite sports event of the year, the Open Championship, starts tomorrow. Will Sharon tolerate me catching it on Spanish language ESPN at 3.00am? No, you’re right , I should get some sleep in readiness for transitting back through Miami on Friday. Hopefully my usual bench will be free for me not to sleep on. Must sign off, check-out time at Volcano Lodge.

Now in San Jose. Better than last week – no one has stolen anything from us yet. Just back from a brilliant trip to a coffee plantation. I am at one with the bean.

Latest news, Daily Mirror accuses News Corporation of hacking the phones of  9/11 victims, quoting an unnamed source. This has a horrible whiff of believability but we might just pause to acknowledge that this is the same Mirror whose proud history includes both ownership by the arch crook Robert Maxwell and editorship by prize wanker Piers Morgan, both of which one is pleased to note came to a sticky end. Mind you the utterly unconscionable Morgan can be found leering at one from the studios of CNN these days. Why do people put up with this jerk and is there not some law by which his British passport can be withdrawn for the good of our world standing?

Smell the coffee
Have also been taking pained pleasure in watching the earnest financial news which treats as a revelation the information that the Italian economy may be a basket case. How could anyone not have known this? The country  has a prime minister who dies his hair, owns a media empire and aspires one day to ascend the moral plain occupied by Rupert Murdoch. Bugger me lads, wake up and smell the espresso. I recommend CafĂ© Tres Generaciones from the Doka Estate. Because I’ve been there.

I have adopted a Costa Rican football team – Saprissa – but my fashion advisors have prevented me from buying the stylish shirt, rather a pity because the sponsor’s name is Bimbo. This is a San Jose’s biggest bakery not some local sort with cash to spare, which would have been a better story.

It’s raining again. That straight, warm rain. I’ll miss it. English rain is slantier and far colder though has a rough charm of its own. On the flight home tomorrow I’m going to watch the BBC Troilus and Cressida on my DVD player. Paging Doctor Faggot.   

Monday, 11 July 2011

Travelogue VI: Bad Guys In The Supermarket, Good Guys With Guns

CEO of Walmart
Walmart. Bastards. Mas X Menos is the Costa Rican outpost of the evil empire and you should not on any account shop there. Judging by my own highly scientific review of the evidence, the only unpleasant people in Cost Rica all work for this institution. Let us start with the low-lifes who stole my daughter's bag from the bag deposit at the store. Let us be clear, this was not some unfortunate mix-up or administrative error, this was a sweet, little inside job based on the good old-fashioned precept of fleece the foreigner. Steal the bag full of electronic goodies, then play dumb when the gringos complain so that they depart defeated and seeking solace in their travel insurance. Not this time you scumbags. You f****d with the wrong marine.

At a desk laughably labeled 'Customer Service' my requests to call the police were ignored and we were not even told how to go about making a claim for recompense. Nobody would give us their name. But Kevin Gallas and Isobel Romero were wearing name tags so the pair of them get a name check here on The Overgraduate. Thanks for nothing guys, you gutless wonders. Did you get a cut?

The Death Star
From there the story gets better. A lovely tour guide called Ricardo was doing his shopping and came to offer his assistance. A manager from our hotel (the excellent Apartotel Cristina) was equally supportive and we were put in touch with the estimable Jason (named, he told me after Jason Priestley, his mother's girlish crush) taxi driver cum interpreter who guided us through the process of reporting the crime and missed the kick-off of Costa Rica v Bolivia in the Copa America as a result. Last but by no means least we met Carlos the detective who took up the case and despatched two rozzers down to the store to investigate. This shouldn't be cool at all but it is - Carlos had a gun. If nothing else I hope Kevin and Isobel were hugley inconvenienced by the visit from the fuzz. They will hear more of the angry gringo that is the Overgraduate. I wonder if Costa Rica does no win- no fee speculative litigation because I fancy some egregious shit-stirring might suit my purpose here.

Happy ending: Costa Rica 2; Bolivia 0. Pura Vida as we say here at the poolside.

Travelogue V: Bloody Hippies


Travel Writing

Travel writing has a long tradition and its most commercial manifestation is the now ubiquitous guidebook. Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, we have used both of these on our little family adventures and found them useful. Bradt Guides are new to us and we bought the Panama guide because of good reviews on Amazon. These reviews are wrong. Sarah Woods’ views on Panama are a masterpiece of partial and inverted snobbery. Partiality is quite acceptable (you have read this blog haven’t you?) but when it is lame-brained and badly written it does not deserve a commercial outing. Did any one proof-read this book? There is an opportunistic and wholly unilluminating foreword by Irving Saladino, Panama’s first ever Olympic champion, described as a high jumper, which he is not. Ignorance on the topic might just be excusable but when the text is accompanied by a photograph of Saladino manifestly long jumping it betrays a lack of attention. Even worse is the brief (and again worthless) biography of the athlete on page 291. This is a  piece of journo-trash obviously badly translated from Spanish which nobody has bothered to check over. If you run a writing class and want an example of lazy, cut and paste journalism read Appendix 2 to this guide.

But what really got my goat was the unremediated condemnation of the Red Frog Beach Resort at which we stayed in Panama. In truth the resort is sloppily administered and open to criticism but Woods’ damnation of it is a piece of bien-pensant western romanticism which stems from an attitude of mind that denies countries like Panama the right to grow up and make their own mistakes, if mistakes they be. Yes there has been a lot of construction and it involves brick rather than the more prevalent wood and corrugated iron (a product which Woods might like to observe is hardly a natural resource) but if you actually take time to observe the architecture of the villas (admittedly difficult if one is looking down one’s nose as Woods does) you might note that they mimic the shape of the traditional waterfront properties and are tastefully screened from view. This is Woods’ vitriolic conclusion on a place one doubts she visited with her eyes open,

How this sorry excuse for legalized devastation passed through Panama’s planning checks one can only hazard a guess. The completion of this multi-million dollar real estate eyesore has been fraught by financial hiccups and delays but not before it is altering one of Panama’s most beautiful sandy stretches for ever – a crying shame.

So that you, dear reader, can have the full story I counted the man-made intrusions on the resort beach. There are twelve palm fringed umbrellas, a rudimentary bamboo volleyball net and a sign warning bathers of the rip tides. No doubt it was a purer place when unwary visitors were drowning in those tides.

As I hinted, the administration of the resort is pretty ham-fisted (the polar opposite of intrusive, it is completely invisible, inaudible, inaccessible) but the place itself is beautiful and the properties top grade and tasteful. We are not, Ms Woods, all of us backpackers kidding ourselves that what we experience is authentic, in fact, dare I whisper it, the locals might just be glad of the presence of some of us who are not parsimonious with the tips and have a bit of cash to spend. I liked Red Frog Beach Resort and I’m not ashamed to say so.  

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Travelogue IV: Sonnet

Sonnet Number One : Red Frog Beach, Panama, July 6 2011

Civilization has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance.
Evelyn Waugh, 1930

‘Especially today.’ Unlikely place
may have provoked swift sober thinking
but wrong. Particularity of face
perplexed then smilingly pinking
will colour memory misguidedly
the Americans swam in the rip tides
new imperialists and so did we
though ours was more defeated. Shingle glides
clatters rests retreats. Ramshackle defeat
nature’s modest triumph signed in sand
we mark sweet briefly hand in hand
only victory complete.
And still a sweet mental music will play
a deception. ‘Especially today.’

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Travelogue III: Word Games

I had the fish. $5.95
'Asinine' adj. extremely stupid or foolish.
'Asshole' n. an asinine individual, often American.
This similarity of words occurred to me yesterday as I unavoidably listened to the fat bloke who was simultaneously dining and working on his laptop in a waterside restaurant. Chill man, or if you can't do so please be uncool less loudly. If not you will risk becoming as loathsome as the reptiles we British export to the world's watering holes every summer. There are none of them here in Panama so far as one can tell with the result that we are not regarded as the scum of the earth. Which is nice.

Travelogue II: Journeys And Arrivals

Journeys Are Often Better Than Arrivals

(written 4 July)

If you are travelling with American Airlines this is palpably untrue. If they should ever invite you to a brewery you may rest assured that there will not be a piss-up occurring. They’ll probably lay on a piddlingly small number of staff who haven’t got an earthly about what’s going on and then make you sleep on a chair for a while for no apparent reason. At no point will anyone volunteer the word ‘sorry’ for the inconvenience you are quite obviously suffering.

Gap year Overgraduate style
Here are the pertinent facts for the prospective traveller: Fact 1: Miami Airport – shithole with gratuitously rude security staff. I’m fed up of having to defend the USA to people. I have a love of the place and its people but really lads your current conduct of airport security is impolite, unnecessary and probably ineffective. Get over yourselves and revert to being charming please. Fact 2: American Airlines – shower of shit. And that goes for our own flag carrier too – British Airways were only too willing to get us to Miami late, dump us there and leave us to our own devices without a word of comfort or advice. Fact 3: Panama City restores one’s faith in human nature even if you arrive a day late, unshaven, unwashed and unrested. People are nice, which makes up for no amount of infrastructure or systems failure. Fact 4; we have our own pool here at Red Frog Beach Resort. Actually that is rather more of a boast than a pertinent fact. I didn’t want you to worry about me. 

Travelogue I: Writers Write

Writers Write

(written 1 July and posted when emerging from the internetless abyss)

The wise words of Ian Marchant of course. Writers also read. They must also kill their parents but we shall perhaps leave Marchant’s controversial third rule for another day.

This is my travelogue. I have just graduated from university – for the second time. I marked the first such passing by working the summer in Massachussetts. Very excellent. Vey influential. An experience that empowered me to be a writer. So empowered that I came home, pissed about for a year and then bottled it and became a lawyer. This time my grand tour will endure for even less time – I am on holiday with the family in Central America for two and a half weeks. Then I am going home and I am not going to piss about this time. I am going to bottle it immediately and take up an appointment as an in-house lawyer on 18 July. This is a subject we will skate lightly over and never speak of again. Instead you may continue to regard me as the same fun-loving criminal I ever was. By day sober-suited commercial lawyer (Group Legal Counsel is the grandiose title I have elected) by night (or evening more probably – one has to be careful at my age) thrusting writer and Renaissance man.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows
Sorry, too much back story there. The travelogue: dateline, July 1, 01.05 EST, place, the passenger lounge at Miami International Airport. We should be tucked up in bed in Panama City by now but instead my family slumbers uneasily around me, snatching a few Z’s between the interminable latino announcements calling Maria El Nino Parasso to the phone. For fuck’s sake Maria pick up the bloody phone, some of us are trying to sleep.

How did we come to this uncomfortable and undignified pass? The simple answer is we got here by plane, but only eventually. We had an unscheduled detour to Nassau because of severe weather here in Miami. Can I now say I’ve been to the Bahamas even though all we did was sit sweatily on the tarmac and the plane doors never so much as opened.

So my travelogue starts with people because I have spent the last twenty-four hours in undesirably unrelieved contact with my fellow man. In days of yore I travelled at the front of the plane courtesy of Sharon’s air miles but those mogul days are gone and today we have suffered  cattle class. Of course one shouldn’t complain but that’s hardly going to stop me is it. Actually the back of the plane is good for people watching as long as you don’t have to listen to them all day. There was a prize specimen tosser bore sitting behind me today. I  could hear him even with my headphones on. Remember that scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen is plagued by overhearing a bore in a cinema queue and speaks to camera of the desire to have a large polo mallet to hand for such eventualities. Well that’s how I felt today. Thank God for the in-flight entertainment and headphones to muffle the wanker. At one point I listened to some Mozart and pictured myself beating him to a pulp with my mallet while an adoring public applauded my good taste. I’m bloody uncomfortable here, perched on a vexatiously unamenable bucket seat but I’m going to have to try to sleep. Good night dear reader. By the way I’m unable to post this in real time because I’m buggered if I’m paying Miami International Airport $10 for the privilege of using an internet feed that costs them sweet F.A.