Saturday, 24 October 2009

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

Stapelia grandiflora originates from the Transvaal in South Africa and is a very common succulent. It is easy to grow and quite interesting, with a big variety of colour in its flowers. However, the flowers are not grown for their beauty, nor for their perfume, which is quite evil smelling and gives rise to the popular name for Stapelia, namely "carrion plant." The idea, of course, is to attract insects and flies that otherwise go to rotting meat, in order for them to pollinate the plant.
I've had a Stapelia for just over three years and it has produced many other plants from cuttings. The "mother plant" is still thriving, though, and has just produced its second flower this year (with several others to come by the look of things). It takes a while for a flower bud to reach its mature size, but then things go quite quickly, especially on a warm day like today. In the course of just a few hours, the flower developed fully, as can be seen in this series of photos.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Chwarae Teg

Not too long ago I had problems getting my UK passport renewed (see UK Passport Service, Passport Control, High Noon). Then, to add insult to injury, my long-awaited, brand-spanking-new passport was stolen on its first outing (see previous post) and I had to go through the passport request procedure all over again (and the procedure to report the loss or theft of a passport). Even worse, I had to pay for the whole thing over again; no less than 156.25 euro (delivery included).
But, chwarae teg, the Passport Service did a good job this time round. I sent the duly completed stack of forms by registered post to the UK Passport Service in Madrid on 8 October, just two weeks ago, and at mid-day today, yes today, the new passport was delivered by DHL, all present and correct (and still looking very much like a bird-watcher's handbook). At least this time I didn't have to phone several times to discover what had happened to my application (later to find that those phone calls cost me over 30 euro!). No, a good job this time, so fair's fair.

(Chwarae teg is a Welsh expression, meaning "fair play" and suchlike.)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

Elise and I drove up to Belgium at the end of September. On the way we stopped at Girona, in the north of Spain and Albi, in the south of France. Both places are well worth a visit. The drive up went easily enough and without incident. Coming back, however, was a different story. All went well until we stopped at a motorway service area near the town of Tarragona, in the north of Spain. After filling the car with petrol, I parked at the side of the station's store and stayed in the car, while Elise went inside to make use of the facilities. Hearing someone who was clearly in distress, I looked around and saw a man on a mobile phone, just a few metres from the car, beckoning for me to come. Thinking he needed help, I went straight to him and he babbled questions in Spanish, but spoken with a foreign accent: do you speak German/how far is it to Barcelona/how much time is it to Barcelona…? Suddenly, he seemed to be satisfied and rushed off to a car that was then waiting for him. The car sped off, with him inside it. I went back to my own car, thinking he was a bit strange, but with no thoughts of ill-doings.
Elise soon returned and off we drove. After a few minutes, Elise asked where her bag was. She had left it on the floor of the car, in front of her seat, when she went into the service station's store. It didn't take long for us to realise what had happened: during that brief distraction, someone else must have quickly opened the car door and snatched the bag. A clever distraction, making use of the willingness of another to offer assistance.
As we were travelling back to our home in Spain from Belgium, the bag contained our passports, Elise's ID card, her digital camera, her sugar-level meter, her bank cards, her house keys, her car keys… a whole host of things, none really irreplaceable (other than the bag itself, which she had bought for her sixtieth birthday and was very fond of), but which require a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in order to be replaced. We first blocked the bank cards, then we made a "denuncia" (a statement to the police); on arriving home, we had the house locks changed, the car locks recoded, visited the consulates for Elise's Belgian passport and ID and my UK passport, had new photos taken, filled in and sent off all the necessary forms, visited the insurance company, and so on. All just hassle, really.
Oh, on the insurance front, there seems to be a difference between "theft" and "robbery": theft does not involve violence of any kind (and no violence was reported in the denuncia); robbery involves any level of viiolence, no matter how small -- a push might even be sufficient. Our travel insurance covers only theft, so we are likely only to receive the 200 euro maximum allowed in such a case (the insurance also covers the change of house locks). We estimate the total loss to be something over 1000 euro. Still, we were not hurt and are an experience wiser, so there are positive aspects.
It's just a pity that in future I shall think twice before going to help someone.
(The photo shows Elise in Girona, wearing the stolen bag and using the stolen camera.)